a Thanksgiving Menu, Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms, and Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning

If you’re online at all these days, you’ll notice October ended and we’re straight on to the holiday season. For many, this is a time of year that is especially difficult whether it be because of the dark and cold days, the pressure of the season, or the extra challenges of navigating all the holiday gatherings.

Historically, Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays – until my food intolerances got in the way and it became much more difficult to enjoy the meal without anxiety, asking lots of questions, educating the host, and planning to bring more of my own foods so as to be able to enjoy it. I grew up in the kitchen and whether it’s in my own house or that of anyone else, I feel most comfortable in any gathering when in the kitchen with my hands in the food. So it’s a given that I absolutely love the idea of Thanksgiving, which is essentially a celebration of food.

For the past few years, I’ve gotten better at navigating this big holiday feast and partly because I’ve been better prepared, more comfortable as I’ve aged into this lifestyle of navigating food intolerances, and because I’ve been better at informing and educating the person(s) I share space with.

In light of that, I’m sharing a couple of my favorite recipes for the season, first, a platter of simple and delicious roasted vegetables that pleases just about everyone, and second a Moroccan-inspired seasonal millet, quinoa, and persimmon creation that fits most food intolerances and special diets.

If you have food restrictions that makes joining others for big meals a challenge, are hosting persons with food restrictions, or are just looking for some delicious seasonal whole food dishes for your holiday feasting, look no further. Though our Thanksgivings are always spent traveling to large family gatherings and only have marginal representation from the recipes below, this is the Thanksgiving meal that is my ideal — with a couple special additions per my loved one’s request and some savory recipes that have been big hits in the past. 😊

Savory //
Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms (Recipe Below)
Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning (Recipe Below)
For the Joy Salad
Celery Root + Potato Mash
Wild Rice Stuffing Balls
Celebratory Turkey (the best you can find, brined and rubbed with thyme)
Slow-Cooked Creamy Beans with Thyme, Sage + Oregano
Black Olives and homemade mini-dill pickles, as obligatory (and delicious) table accompaniments

Other savory ideas:
Apple, Fennel + Pomegranate Quinoa Salad
Moroccan Butternut Squash + Wild Rice with Garbanzos
Pumpkin, Sage + Rosemary Baked Risotto
Delicata Squash, Rosemary + Cranberry Flatbread
Simple Vegan Cornbread Stuffing (make with gf cornbread)

Sweet //
Apple Pie with a Fabulous Gluten + Dairy-Free Pastry
Pumpkin Pie
Blackberry Pie

Notes about the Menu:
– If you eat turkey and are highly sensitive to gluten, you may need to make sure your turkey has been processed without any gluten-additives. My first recommendation is always to purchase a turkey from a local farmer, if available, but I know that can be asking a lot, especially if you’re not hosting the meal. Otherwise, here is an excellent list of available brands that don’t process with gluten.
– For dairy-free / vegan mashed potatoes, we tend to skip the russet varieties and opt for German Butterball, red potatoes, or Yukon Gold varieties. They have more flavor and moisture, and work well by mashing without butter, and just a bit of non-dairy milk, seasoning, and a splash of olive oil, if desired.
– Most traditional stuffing recipes can be adapted to be gluten-free by using gluten-free bread or cornbread. Use vegetable broth and olive oil or a vegan butter to eliminate animal products.


Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms
– I find roasted vegetables to be pleasing to just about everyone, including picky young eaters and those that ‘don’t like vegetables.’ Just about any vegetable tastes great when roasted correctly, which means that it is deeply golden brown, a little crispy and caramelized around the edges, and soft all the way through.
– I add a bit of herbs and spices to round out the flavors and help support adequate digestion, a needed component with these heavy-feasting meals. Use equal parts of all vegetables or what you have, in an amount to fill your roasting pan or to feed your number of guests.

Small red, striped or golden beets
Parsnips
Carrots
Red or yellow onions
Mushrooms, any type you prefer
a tablespoon or so of coconut oil per baking sheet to provide moisture and flavor
dry thyme seasoning
Balancing Spice blend (see below)
salt and pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub clean and dice the vegetables and mushrooms until they are medium in size and roughly uniform. Combine them on a large roasting pan and mix in about 1 tablespoon each dried thyme leaves and the Balancing Spice Blend, along with salt and pepper to taste, and just enough coconut oil to provide moisture and flavor (about 1 tablespoon for a large pan).
  • Roast in the oven for about 40-60 minutes, until all vegetables are completely soft all the way through. Since the mushrooms will take less time than the rest, you can add them in about half-way through if you’d like them less well-cooked.
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Balancing Digestive Spice Blend (makes about 1/4 cup)
1 Tbs. coriander seeds
1 Tbs. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbs. ground turmeric
a dash of black pepper

  • Toast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a frying pan over medium heat. Stir constantly for approximately 3-5 minutes, until you can just smell them.
  • Cool and then grind the seeds together with the rest of the spices until it reaches a uniform powder.

Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning, serves 4-6 as a side-dish
Ras El Hanout is a Moroccan spice blend, somewhat similar to a garam masala. The name actually means “Top of the Shop” and each spice house will usually have their own blend which features their best spices. I made my own (see below), but there are several good ones available to purchase, or improvise with the Balancing Digestive Spice Blend above, or curry powder, knowing it won’t provide quite the same flavor profile.
Use any gluten-free whole grain such as quinoa, millet, rice, wild rice, buckwheat, etc. I love the combination of millet and quinoa here, but choosing just one also works well.

1/2 cup each of millet and quinoa
1 small onion or 2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. Ras El Hanout
2 Tbs. tahini
1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
2-4 Tbs. water, as needed
salt and pepper, to taste
a large handful of cilantro, finely minced
1 large persimmon, sliced thin into half-moons
a handful of toasted and chopped hazelnuts or sunflower seeds, as desired for flavor / texture

  • If you have the time, cover the grains with a few inches of water in a pot and soak for at least 8 hours. Drain and rinse. If you don’t have time for this step, it’s okay!
  • In a pot, heat a splash of olive oil on medium and soften the onion and garlic until tender. Add 1 teaspoon of the ras el hanout and sauté until fragrant. Add the grains and stir well to let the flavors infuse for a few minutes. Stir in a big pinch of salt and 2 cups of water, cover, and simmer on low heat until the grains are cooked through, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  • Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, remaining clove of garlic and season to taste. Thin as necessary with water.
  • Tip the cooked grains into a serving bowl and then toss with the cilantro, tahini dressing, and sliced persimmon. Add the nuts or seeds as desired, stir, and taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Ras el Hanout seasoning
Blend this up by weight or by teaspoons.

4 parts cumin
4 parts ginger
4 parts turmeric
3 parts black pepper
2 parts coriander
2 parts cinnamon
2 parts cayenne
1 part cloves
1 part allspice
1 part cardamom
1 part rose petal powder

Apple Pie and a fabulous gluten + dairy-free Pastry

I’ve been making apple pie as long as I can remember, a fall / holiday season staple since at least my early teens.

Still, it’s taken all these years of tinkering with filling and pastries to get the combination just right.

I’m not a pie person, per se. I’d take a really dense and elaborate layer cake, a quick bread / loaf cake, or even a muffin over pie most days. But I do like pie and if you’d ask, I’d take apple pie every single time.

We’re at the point in our outdoors / landscaping overhaul that our apple trees are producing this year. So the timing of getting this pie right is pretty special since a good portion of the apples came from one of the trees, a Goldrush variety.

And the pastry, though this version is latticed and rustic, is dreamy to work with, particularly when it comes to being gluten-free. If there’s a downside to it, I’d say it rolls out too well, meaning I can get overly enthusiastic and roll it too thin, knowing I can pick it up and transfer it easily with no breaking or falling apart.

And, after several years of tweaking and testing it out on all sorts of folks that don’t have to avoid gluten or dairy (or any other foods), I can say it meets with approval, and often is favored over the other pastries during the holidays because the flour blend makes for a little more nuanced flavor profile that plain white wheat flour will never have.

Enjoy this one. Fill it with the best and most local apples of the season, or whatever filling you most prefer.

Apple Pie, makes a 9″ pie with double crust
The key to a good apple pie is to use a mixture of at least two different apple varieties, one slightly softer, and one that’s more crisp. I used Goldrush and an unnamed “pie apple” from a local farm and it was delicious.
For the pastry recipe, I’ve listed the preferred flours first, and another option second, depending on availability. It’s important to use a mixture of flours to get the right flavor and texture and many trial versions has lead me to this particular combination and ratio.
For a non-dairy butter, I like Miyoko’s European Style Vegan Butter most. It has the right texture, flavor, and is simple on the ingredient list. If you can tolerate dairy, a nice quality unsalted butter is also a preferred option.


3 pounds assorted apples (about 6-8 cups sliced), peeled and sliced
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. coconut sugar
2 Tbs. maple syrup
2 tsp. arrowroot starch
3 Tbs. sorghum flour
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cardamom
1/8 tsp. salt

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12″ circle, dusting the dough lightly with flour as needed, rotating and flipping it to prevent it from sticking. Ease the dough into a 9″ pie pan, fit it into the corners, and trim it to a 1″ overhang.
  3. In a large bowl, toss together apples, lemon juice, sugar, maple syrup, spices, and flour.
  4. Turn the apple mixture into the pie pan.
  5. Roll out the top crust and add atop, making a lattice crust if desired. Fold the overhang of the crust under, and flute the crust by pressing it between the thumb of one hand and the index finger and thumb of the other hand. Freeze it for 20 minutes, then remove and put in the preheated oven to bake.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, until the crust begins to turn a golden brown. Then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until browned on top and the juices are bubbling in the center, about 60 to 70 minutes.
  7. Let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving.


Gluten + Dairy-Free Pie Pastry, makes a double crust pastry

160 grams  / 1 cup brown rice or teff flour
70 grams / ½ cup sorghum flour
70 grams / ½ cup buckwheat or millet flour
60 grams / ½ cup arrowroot starch
30 grams  / 3 Tbs. tapioca starch
30 grams / 5 Tbs. finely ground chia seed
1 1/2 Tbs. coconut sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
230 grams/ 16 Tbs. cold, unsalted vegan butter, sliced ¼” thick
12-16 Tbs. ice water
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flours, ground chia seed, sugar, and salt. Scatter the butter pieces on the top, and work in with your fingers until the mixture resembles gravel, with lots of butter chunks the size of large peas.
  2. Stir together 12 tablespoons of the ice water with the apple cider vinegar, and drizzle the mixture into the flour mixture 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing the dough with a rubber spatula to moisten evenly. Add just enough water for the dough to hold together when you give it a squeeze, and add it directly to the dry floury bits that like to hang out on the bottom of the bowl; you may need 12 tablespoons or more of water.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out into a rough square that is about ¼” thick. Fold it in thirds like you’re folding a letter, then roll up from a skinny end into a loose spiral. Gently press to flatten it slightly, and chill for 30 minutes before rolling out. This folding, rolling and chilling technique will yield a flaky, delicious pastry.

Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity and Wheat Allergy: what’s the difference and what are the concerns?

I remember the beginning nearly exactly. Lower GI pain that began in the afternoon, dull enough at first I tried to ignore it, and would only go away after eating dinner, coming back at nearly the same time the next day without any apparent linkage to what I had eaten. I was in the first month of my one-year graduate program for teaching at the time, age 22. I was otherwise healthy and relatively stress-free. Over the next two and a half years, without doing anything about it, the pain intensified and some days was nearly constant.

And I developed more symptoms, many of them far beyond my GI system.

After the first couple hour-long meeting with my doctor, a naturopath, she told me she highly suspected what was going on, but we’d confirm with further testing. It was nearly Thanksgiving then and some of my symptoms were overwhelming anxiety, daily headaches, acne that was far worse than I ever had as a teen, and a nearly complete inability to concentrate. Having formerly struggled with an eating disorder, I was weary of having restrictions in what I ate. Plus, I was making incredibly delicious homemade bread and pastries regularly and I didn’t enjoy the idea of changing that. So I pushed the testing off, dug in my heels, and waited to confirm or change anything until after the holidays. What we confirmed was that I was significantly depleted in nutrients despite eating normally, and highly reacting to gluten. In addition to those other symptoms above, test results also showed a bunch of the wrong type of bacteria hanging out in my system, further contributing to my complete sense of not-at-all-wellbeing. At the time I had many other life events happening with tight finances, job/career uncertainty, and an upcoming wedding halfway planned–so I didn’t push for further testing or a celiac disease biopsy like I should have. Instead, I grudgingly and not altogether stringently, took out gluten from my diet with the knowledge I had.

I felt better very very slowly, but after six months, I was only better enough to know I was still reacting to more than gluten. So we tested again and found more problem foods.

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune condition characterized by damage or destruction of the villi in the small intestine resulting in malabsorption of nutrients and widespread pathophysiological symptoms throughout the digestive tract and often in other areas of the body (1, 2)

The only current long-term treatment to successfully stop the autoimmune response that occurs in celiac disease is to strictly adhere to a life-long gluten free diet. This includes avoiding wheat and its relatives (spelt, kamut, emmer, einkorn, triticale, etc.), barley, rye, and in some individuals, oats (3). In celiac disease, the inflammatory response invoked by the gluten proteins leads to destruction of enterocytes, the cells in the small intestine, then atrophy of the intestinal villi, the tiny, fingerlike projections along the small intestine lining that enable nutrient absorption to occur.

The lining of the small intestine is one cell thick, and these cells are semi-permeable, which allows for tiny molecules of nutrients to pass through into the bloodstream. The cells of the gut lining are also joined together by what are known as tight junctions, which are supposed to be tight, but damage can cause larger particles to slip through. When the body negatively reacts to gluten proteins, chemicals that are released in their presence causes the lining of the small intestine to become much more permeable, and substances that normally would not be allowed to pass through now can, causing even more inflammation.

When the area of the body that is responsible for nutrient absorption is so critically damaged, decreased nutrient absorption quickly follows. Likewise, the immune complexes attacking the small intestine don’t just stay there. They travel throughout the body and can damage other organ systems, which is why it is common to see symptoms that are far beyond the gut in those negatively responding to gluten, such as depression or anxiety, headaches or migraines, joint and muscle pain or weakness, skin conditions, fatigue, infertility or repeat miscarriages, frequent bruising, brain fog or difficulty concentrating, osteoporosis, tooth enamel damage, canker sores, and many more associated with lack of adequate nutrients. Lastly, if not diagnosed, or one does not adhere to a strict gluten-free diet, those with celiac disease are at much more risk for developing secondary autoimmune and other diseases, such as cancer.  

When gluten is no longer triggering the immune system, the enterocytes and then villi can begin to heal (3). The goal in implementing a strict gluten free diet is to heal the gut lining so nutrient depletion and widespread symptoms stop occurring. After just one meal containing gluten, symptoms can appear for up to six months in those with celiac disease, which makes paying close attention to cross contamination, and educating friends and family who prepare meals a primary concern. So too is being particularly careful about eating out at restaurants that pay strict attention to cross contamination, or that don’t prepare any food with gluten, which is rare but a real haven for those that need to avoid it.

Gluten Intolerance

Beyond celiac disease, there is the slightly more common gluten sensitivity (also called gluten intolerance), which often displays the same or similar symptoms as celiac disease, but does not cause intestinal damage, often will not take as long for healing and symptom remission to occur, and is not always lifelong. Gluten sensitivity also is not autoimmune, and does not appear to have a genetic linkage. When enough healing has occurred in one that is gluten sensitive but does not have celiac, the individual can often reintroduce gluten in small amounts and/or return to eating it normally.

The one caveat in determining between lifelong strict avoidance of gluten for those with celiac disease, and perhaps less stringency with those with gluten sensitivity, is that the only way to definitely diagnose those with celiac disease is with an intestinal biopsy, and damage will only be ‘complete’ enough to diagnose with daily consumption of gluten for at least six months. I had an unfortunate episode a couple years after I removed gluten in which I unknowingly was eating contaminated oatmeal every day for a month. After realizing and removing it, it still took me over six months to be symptom-free, and that very small amount of gluten daily for about 30 days was nowhere near enough gluten to be able to diagnose. So if one suspects gluten is a problem, I always recommend ruling out celiac disease before completely removing gluten from the diet.

Wheat Allergy

Now, for a slightly different but similar condition—wheat allergy.
Those with wheat allergy have developed an antibody to a particular structure in wheat. Similar to a peanut allergy, symptoms can occur immediately after eating, up to within two hours later, and include swelling, itching or irritation of the mouth or throat, itching, hives, or skin rash, itchy watery eyes, GI concerns such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, chronic hay fever, heart palpitations, etc. Like other food allergies that cause similar reactions, even a trace of the food allergen can trigger a severe reaction, and the way your body reacts to a food allergen one time does not predict how it will react the next time. So a mild response in the past does not mean the response will always be mild, and vice versa for severe reactions.

Gluten-Free Diet for other Autoimmune Conditions

A question and/or concern that comes up routinely in those that have been diagnosed with other autoimmune conditions is why is a gluten-free diet commonly suggested if one has something like Hashimotos thyroiditis, Lupus, or others?
The answer here is slightly complicated—but the simplest way to describe it is that it is commonly believed that the gluten proteins are highly complex and difficult molecules to break down, and they are mildly inflammatory in most individuals, but highly inflammatory in others. For those individuals that already have an autoimmune response occurring in the body, an immune system that is “on alert” does not need more inflammatory molecules entering the system. That is why many feel better when removing gluten and other inflammatory foods, such as refined sugar, dairy, processed meat, etc., and load up on anti-inflammatory foods to help heal the whole system.

Sourcing Gluten-Free Products

If one does need to avoid gluten and/or wheat, pay particular attention to sourcing, packaging, and labeling of all foods, and in particular grains that might be processed in the same facilities as wheat and other gluten-containing grains. Flours that are certified gluten-free, or that at least say on the label they are not processed on a line that also processes gluten-containing grains is essential –that’s how I got into trouble with the oats! This means purchasing flours and grains from bulk bins needs to be done with care, as well as knowing the source and details of the processors so as to avoid cross-contamination. Edison Grainery (my favorite source currently), Arrowhead Mills, Bob’s Red Mill (which has two lines so pay attention to whether food is from the gluten-free line!), and One Degree Organics are great companies, but there are many more to be found as long as you read the ingredient list, look for a gluten-free certification, and read the small print about allergen cross-contamination.

I hope this informational article clarifies some of the myths and misconceptions about these challenging dietary conditions. Feel free to comment below or contact me with your further questions or for more information on working with me if you or a loved one are concerned about gluten and/or wheat. In addition to my own experience mentioned above, I studied gluten-associated pathophysiologies extensively while in graduate school for clinical nutrition.

References:
1: Lipski, L. (2012). Digestive Wellness (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
2: Hardy, M.Y. and Tye-Din, J.A. (2016). Coeliac disease: a unique model for investigating broken tolerance in autoimmunity. Clinical and Translational Immunology, 5(11): e112. doi: 10.1038/ct.2016.58.  
3: Barker, J. M., & Liu, E. (2008). Celiac Disease: Pathophysiology, Clinical Manifestations and Associated Autoimmune Conditions. Advances in Pediatrics55, 349–365. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.yapd.2008.07.001.