Thanksgiving 101: Pleasing Everyone and Living to Tell About It
When it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ve never been into the whole sitting-back-and-relaxing routine. I’d imagine that some celebrators do indeed spend the day watching football and drifting through semi-consciousness to combat caloric overload and relatives, but for me, and for most like-minded foodie-home cooks, Thanksgiving is most certainly not a day of rest. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – a day to go crazy in the kitchen, revisit the previous year’s worth of enticing recipes, and generally pull out all of the stops for an unbounded cooking adventure.
However, while there’s nothing I’d rather be doing on a day off than cooking great food in a house full of people, I’m still trying my best to avoid any extra holiday stress. The kind of stress that comes from Grandpa hating Brussels sprouts, and What’s-her-name’s not eating anything with butter, and that hippie cousin’s insistence on strict veganism, etc., etc.
But then again, isn’t that what cooking for a crowd is all about? While I’ve gotten flustered by dueling dietary restrictions before, I’ve recently come to realize that there’s no use crying over spilt (soy) milk. When you sign up to cook for a crowd, you sign up to cook for all of their idiosyncrasies, intolerances, and allergies. It may be challenging – even stressful – but in the end it is truly worth it, no matter how much of a royal pain in the butt it is to roll out that Earth Balance “buttery” pie crust.
This year, I’ve given some extra thought to my menu planning, because my sister was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease. No bread stuffing, no dinner rolls, and no pie crust. Now, since I’m not one to go the traditional route in the kitchen, this would not ordinarily present much of a challenge. But if there is one day of the year on which I tend towards traditional, and one day of the year on which it seems extra important to cook food that everyone can enjoy and share, it’s Thanksgiving. So, back to that stress question. From the get-go, I haven’t been too flustered over the dinner rolls (who really needs them?) or the stuffing (as the saying goes, there’s more than one way to stuff a turkey), but it’s the gluten-free pumpkin pie that I want to talk about.
For ordinary dinner affairs, I have several desserts at the tip of my whisk that are completely, and naturally gluten-free: ice cream, panna cotta, flourless chocolate cake – need I say more? But there is something about having Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie that just seems downright wrong – kind of like making bacon-wrapped scallops for a Hannukah party. You can do it, but you’re going to feel dirty afterwards. I toyed with the idea of making a gluten-free pie crust for the big day, but since I’m cooking at someone else’s house, I didn’t know if I’d have the time, the ingredients, or the expertise to execute it deliciously enough for the Celiacs and non-Celiacs at the table. (Surely my sister wasn’t planning on eating the whole pie by herself, or was she?).
So that’s where the cookies come in. Gluten-free, fresh from the grocery store cookies that, mixed with a bit of butter, make a mighty fine pie crust. I don’t usually include packaged items on my holiday grocery list, but there are some pretty high-quality products on grocery store shelves these days. Especially when it comes to special diets. So, if you, like me, are hoping to please all of your guests without having to sacrifice your sanity this Thanksgiving, go ahead. Step away from the rolling pin, it’ll be OK.
Although the recipe below is specifically gluten-free, I think the principle of finding balance between making a delicious, homemade meal to please all of your guests and taking a few shortcuts applies universally. Be open to the possibility that a few (high-quality) store-bought items here and there will make your life easier, but don’t forget that a little creativity and careful recipe selection can go a long way. Now that special diets are such a fixture of the modern food scene, there are unbelievable resources in the form of books, magazines, and websites that can help make Thanksgiving delicious and stress-free for everyone – frenzied cooks included.
Before diving into the recipe, a few notes: I made this pie crust with Ian’s cinnamon-flavored Cookie Buttons. You should use any type of crunchy, gluten-free ginger or spice cookie that you can find in your local grocery store, but be sure to taste it first. I’ve provided a simple recipe for the filling here, but this would work with any pumpkin pie filling recipe. Just note that since most of the cookies you’ll find are quite sweet, you might want to tone down the sugar a tad. And finally, this recipe is for a tart, instead of a classic pie. Since the structure of the gluten-free crust will be rather delicate, a regular pie dish might result in some less-than-lovely slices. The tart option seems to work quite well from an aesthetic perspective.
Gluten-free, stress-free pumpkin tart
6-8 oz. (about 1 package) crunchy, gluten-free cookies (gingersnaps, grahams, spice cookies, etc.)
2 tbs. butter, melted
1 egg white
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
3 oz. Neufchatel or cream cheese
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