It is that time of year again! We have shining lights on all the streets, the fire light of Menorahs shimmering through windows and stars twinkling atop 6-foot tall trees. The winter holidays are by far my favorite despite the accompanied stress they tend to bring. Personally, I love when the whole family gets together for the holidays. We don’t have any of the often satirized family drama you see on TV and in the movies about family gatherings during the holidays. The holidays usually bring around a different type of stress for me: how to avoid gluten during all of the holiday dinner parties. This year, however, this won’t be an issue because my family has figured out how we can tweak our Italian traditions to be totally gluten free.
If you have followed CC Gluten Freed since the beginning then you already know that my big Italian family has a big Italian Christmas Eve feast every year. A couple days before the big dinner party a few of us would get together to make ravioli. This isn’t any old ravioli either. This is our family recipe that has been made for Christmas Eve dinner more Christmas Eves than I can count. Growing up, it was fun. We would make the dough and fold each little bundle of goodness by hand, spilling flour all over the kitchen in the process (this was before my diagnosis with Celiac Disease). After being diagnosed, we weren’t really sure what to do with our ravioli tradition. The first year we made our ravioli as usual but also tried making GF gnocchi which really did not work out. Our gnocchi tasted like mashed potatoes and egg! My second Christmas as a Celiac we discovered the wonder of GF lasagna made with De Boles GF lasagna sheets. We could use the same meat mixture and sauce that we use for the ravioli just with a different starch-medium for it! Instead of pining for the ravioli on everyone else’s plates, I was perfectly content with my personal lasagna. Year three and year four worked out the same way: ravioli for the gluten-eaters and lasagna for the gluten free guests.
Close to five years after my diagnosis one very important thing in my family has changed: a good portion of us are now gluten free. My dad, brother, uncle, aunt and grandma. In fact, the only people who would be eating the ravioli would be our family friends at our Christmas Eve dinner party! So what do to? It seemed odd to spend 12 hours cooking a meal that not a single Bonaduce would eat. How can we tweak this tradition to be gluten free but still please out guests who wait all year for Bonaduce ravioli?
My Aunt came up with the answer: a modified ravioli-lasagna. Traditionally, lasagna is made with sheet-noodles, tomato sauce, ground beef, ricotta cheese and parmesan cheese (people add all sorts of other ingredients though to keep things interesting). Also, traditionally, our ravioli is our secret-meat-mixture wrapped in dough. My Aunt realized that we could break down our lasagna until it is basically the exact same ingredients as the ravioli: noodles and meat mixture. We will serve it with the same sauce we serve with the ravioli.
This year we will have (1) GF traditional lasagna, (1) GF vegan lasagna, (1) ravioli-lasagna and a host of side dishes ranging from caprese salad to Italian brijole (all GF).
It is sometimes hard not to feel like the Gluten Free Grinch who stole christmas. I mean, this was a family tradition for years and years and, I will be honest, I do feel like I ruined it (just a bit). But let me remind you of something very important: the Grinch ultimately saved Christmas and was invited by the Whos the dig in for the holiday festivities. So yes, maybe I stole this tradition from my family but now we have an even more meaningful tradition. We came up with our own recipe for a hybrid ravioli-lasagna. We have all heard the saying “change for the sake of change is no good.” Well, along those lines tradition for the sake of tradition is also no good.
I’m very lucky to have a family that is so supportive but I know there are a lot of people out there with Celiac Disease whose families have not yet realized what a fundamental life change the diagnosis represents. All I can tell you is to hold on, advocate for yourself relentlessly and it will get better. My first christmas after my diagnosis I didn’t even know how big of a deal being diagnosed with Celiacs was. I even helped my the ravioli that year and wound up feeling ill from all the air-borne gluten. It takes time for people, yourself included, to get a hold of what it means to be truly gluten free.
My advice? Start the conversation about tweaking traditions now. Maybe you can’t change things for this Christmas but at least you can dialogue with your holiday guests about what to expect next year!
CC Bonaduce, Creator of CC Gluten Freed, a blog dedicated to navigating the social aspects of the gluten-free diet in our gluten-filled world, www.ccglutenfreed.com