Dear StyleBlueprint:

I have a celiac friend who I would like to include in an upcoming dinner party, but I’m really nervous about preparing the meal.  I guess I really don’t understand what celiac is, but I keep hearing the term pop up.  Can you help me out?

-Jennifer, Belmont

Jennifer-

I think this is a great question because the general rules that apply here can apply to any guest with a special diet.  Limited dietary choices are a dilemma that many find themselves with, and knowing how to include such guests at a dinner party is simply knowledge that everyone must have.

Celiac sufferers cannot have ANY gluten in their diet.  Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley.  Dinner parties are especially hard, as it is so easy to cross contaminate.  I asked my friend Callie, who has celiac, to answer your question.

Liza says: This book makes it easy to grasp what celiac is, and how to handle it, either for yourself or a friend with celiac.

From Callie:

Having a guest with celiac is a true act of hospitality.  I often think that giving up gluten meant also giving up my manners.  I am a southern girl who used to rarely ask restaurants to make substitutions.   Since my celiac diagnosis, I ask my hosts/chefs/servers about every single ingredient by brand name and their cooking equipment.  For example I recently asked these questions of two dear friends:

  • Yes to nutmeg, but what brand of nutmeg?
  • Are you using a plastic cutting board or your wooden one (wood can hide leftover gluten)?
  • Can you wash your hands before you do that?

I could go on, but I would never get invited to dinner again.
You see, celiacs think of gluten in parts per million (ppm) as our autoimmune systems are amazingly sensitive to gluten.  With both the gluten intolerant and the person with celiac, exposure to gluten will result in a wide range of symptoms with varying degrees of suffering.  Since I already mentioned giving up my manners, I will be blunt, specific and personal.  If I get “glutened” (that’s our lingo), I have terrible stomach cramps, major IB distress, exhaustion, headaches, various rashes and acne.  Although this fun only lasts a week to ten days, celiacs also worry about long-term damage from each gluten exposure.  Most gastroenterologists claim that it takes six months on a gluten-free diet to restore the autoimmune system to its gluten free state and internal damage can take even longer to heal.
Does anyone need a glass of wine after reading this?  Good news — many wines are gluten free!  In fact, that is my first entertaining-a-celiac tip.  Ask your wine merchant for un-oaked options, since many oak barrels are sealed with a wheat paste.  I have received excellent advice at Grand Cru and Mid-town Wine and Spirits.

Now that we are all fortified, some other tips:

  • For a small dinner party with a celiac guest, you really can cook gluten free.   Many wonderful dishes are naturally gluten free and the Internet is a great resource for recipes.  Your guest will love helping you select ingredients.  Plan in advance, talk to your guest about preparation, pick simple recipes and when in doubt, ASK!
  • If your celiac guest offers to bring something, let her! Now she has something to eat without you needing to worry about the whole thing!
  • As for buffets – we do not do buffets – too much risk of double dipping and cross contamination.  If you have a dish that is gluten free, set aside a portion in advance of the party.
  • Be understanding if your guest doesn’t eat, even if you think the food is gluten free.  I have learned to be very cautious unless I can speak to the person that prepared the dish.  After all, it is my body that has to deal with the consequences.
  • If you simply cannot live with yourself for not feeding your celiac guest (after all you still have your manners), buy a pre-packaged gluten free meal or snack.  Run by Whole Foods and get a freezer item well in advance of the event.  Your guest will feel cherished and you will both sleep well that night.
  • Kateelayne Bakery and Fiddlecakes both offer delicious gluten free – and all sorts of other special diet – treats.  Celiacs, and anyone else with special diets or allergies, are always more than happy to pick up dessert.  Both of these local stores offer delicious treats that can be loved by all!

One of the gifts of celiac is realizing that social events are really about the people, not the food.  Last Friday night I reached into a good friend’s crumb-filled silverware drawer (you with crumb-free drawers can throw the first stone/slice of bread), marched right over to her sink and washed it in front of her face.  My hostess didn’t even bat an eye.  That is friendship!  That is hospitality!  And it tastes better than all of the bread, cakes, and cookies I could eat before going gluten-free.

-Callie

Celiac and gluten-intolerance diagnoses are getting more attention in America.  The diagnosis has been better recognized in Europe and Australia for far longer.  There are many gluten-fee foods and cookbooks on the market.  Nashville’s own Anne Byrn, author of the popular Cake Doctor cookbooks, is releasing a gluten-free cookbook in December called “The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free.”  Look for her book signing at Davis Kidd on December 11th.

-Liza