Unbalanced: The (gluten-free) staff of life

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Carol Schaal

Our stepdaughter, who is allergic to soy, is bringing her new boyfriend for the Christmas meal. He’s a vegetarian. Cheese manicotti sounds like a good possibility. Except that my parents also will be over Christmas day. They think Italian food is a bit too edgy. My mother’s mantra: “I like plain food.”

Our Christmas meal should certainly be easier to plan than the one for the extended-family gathering of 34 that my husband, Jim, and I hosted two weeks ago. For along with the no-soy dictum and a couple random vegetarians — brought on when a niece went to the 4-H fair and learned what they do with those prize-winning cows and pigs — we also had the gluten-free crowd.

So we did what any right-thinking hosts would do. We served roast beef and turkey cold cuts.

The gluten-free group showed up with and feasted on a rice-fruit-vegetable casserole. The soy-free member of our family ate sandwiches with the soy-free homemade bread happily baked by Jim, who loves to cook and is a bit frustrated by the food constraints. The mini-vegetarian chowed down on mac and cheese. My husband and his brothers gladly dug into the roast beef.

I ate cookies.

And when the 2-year-old spilled soda on the rug and the 7-year-old locked herself in the upstairs bedroom and the 18-month-old decided that a bottle of beer looked like a fun toy, I ate a chocolate-peanut butter buckeye.

And when the nine people who had stayed overnight left the next day, amid laughter and hugs and joyous wishes, and Jim and I washed dishes and moved the furniture back and took the 7th bag of trash out, I ate a piece of the leftover gluten-free, soy-free chocolate cake.

And it was good.

Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine.