I always used to think of my family of four as kind of the difficult eaters among my broader family of thirteen. We’re the vegetarians, and my kids have been picky. But as we all– my three siblings, two siblings-in-law, niece and nephew– prepared to gather at my parents’ home this Christmas, I realized there were more dietary issues to take into account than in the past. Meal planning everywhere these days involves an increasing number of allergies, food sensitivities, and food preferences, and my family is no different. Among the thirteen of us, we currently have two on low-salt diets, four managing chronic illnesses with dietary adjustments, one vegan, five vegetarians, one on an elimination diet and one more still in the midst of figuring out what foods are causing new sensitivities.
One sent me — at my request — a long list of “no” foods, including wheat, oats, dairy, black pepper and canola oil. She acknowledged that it’s tricky to cook for a group without using any of them, but I read the list and decided to face the challenge. At Christmas, all I wanted was for our family to gather happily. I didn’t care about the individual dishes so much as the overall experience of the meal and this meant, paradoxically, paying really close attention to the food, even taping a post-it on the stove to remind us all to avoid a couple ingredients. My sister, Tony and I assembled a vegan feast: stuffed portabella mushrooms, mushroom gravy, roasted carrots, parsnips, mushrooms and bell peppers, three kinds of cranberry sauce, kale salad with spicy pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries, shredded carrot salad.
It was not the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding of years past, but I don’t think anyone missed it. Well, maybe my teenage nephew missed it. But we made up for that by serving up crazy cake with raspberry sauce for dessert.