Tag Archives: gluten-free party food

How I accidentally terrified my peanut-allergic friend

trader-joes-sunflower-seed-butter…and you can, too—not that you should—in three easy steps:

Step 1. Buy sunbutter.
Step 2. Make buckeyes.
Step 3. Serve.

See, I like peanut butter. I like peanut butter a lot. Give me Thai peanut sauce, Reese’s cups, Nutter Butters, any flavor of Peanut Butter & Co.—if it’s peanuts, I’ll eat it.

I have a friend, whom I’ll call B., who is allergic to peanuts. When I discovered that sunflower seed butter (or sunbutter) has a taste and texture like peanut butter’s, I was surprised to learn B. had never tried it. No peanut butter and no peanut butter substitute? How did he live?

Sprue Jr.—that’s Althea, who thought she should have a special name on my blog, and should be more careful what she wishes for—loves peanut butter, too. We always have a jar in the fridge, and we sometimes even make our own. (Lightly salted Planter’s peanuts make the best peanut butter ever, and if you add in pumpkin puree and pie spices, it’s all over.)

So, at a party we threw, we decided to show B. what he was missing. We made all the food not only vegetarian and gluten-free, but also peanut-free, tree nut–free, and soy-free (because a soy-intolerant friend of ours was also attending). We wanted to ensure everyone could try everything, without feeling nervous. It’s just nicer that way.

Now, buying groceries with gluten in mind is annoying enough, but this was harder still. I’ve never been more grateful for my smartphone. I scrutinized package labels and manufacturers’ websites until I thought my eyeballs would fall out and roll away down the aisle. It seemed every brand of chocolate that wasn’t processed alongside wheat was processed alongside nuts—or, failing that, contained soy.

Once I had found acceptable ingredients and resecured my eyes in their sockets, Sprue Jr. and I had a wonderful time rolling slightly-too-warm sunbutter balls around in not-really-tempered chocolate. By the way, the forks method only works for the first dip.

Clockwise from top, we've got white-chocolate- and dark-chocolate-covered no-bake cake truffles, dark-chocolate buckeyes, more truffles, marshmallow-swirl brownie bites, and milk-chocolate buckeyes. And you probably recognize the berries.

Clockwise from the top, we’ve got white-chocolate- and dark-chocolate-covered no-bake cake truffles (made with KAF vanilla cake mix), dark-chocolate buckeyes, more truffles, marshmallow-swirl brownie bites (made with Bob’s brownie mix and marshmallow fluff), and milk-chocolate buckeyes. You probably recognize the berries.

Despite the not-fit-for-the-Cooking-Channel preparation, the buckeyes, once set overnight in the freezer, tasted perfect. When I carried the desserts platter around at the party (to collect the oohs and aahs and you-MADE-this?s), I thought B. would be thrilled.

Instead, he took the candy with trepidation and said, “It smells like peanut butter.”

Silly me, I nodded enthusiastically. Sprue Jr., who was standing by, did too. We know!, I suppose we were both thinking. Isn’t it great?

“Are you sure there’s no peanuts in this?” B. said, and it finally dawned on me he was nervous. We assured him it was safe—not processed alongside nuts or anything—and he took a bite.

“It feels like death coating my tongue,” he said.

Crestfallen, we began a chorus of apologies and oh-nos.

“No, it’s good,” B. continued, “but it tastes just like what I imagine peanut butter would taste like.” Later that evening, he exclaimed—more than once—that he couldn’t believe he wasn’t dead.

He later elaborated, in email,

At the time it felt really strange…I had this visceral sense that I was eating poison. Whenever I smell peanut butter there’s this burning in my nose—not because of an allergic reaction, I don’t think, but my body just knows it’s poison, and it mixes my immune system with a fear reaction and the adrenaline starts pumping and I just know something is terribly wrong. And sunbutter smelled exactly the same way to me, or at least my body had the same response, so it was hard to force myself to just eat it…

Of course, I didn’t intend to scare B., or make him feel like he was being poisoned. All I wanted was to share something I enjoy with him, the best way I could. But he hasn’t had sunbutter again since the party, and though he said that the aftertaste was clearly sunflower seeds, not peanuts, and that he’s not opposed to trying it again, he clearly didn’t respond with the “here’s what I’ve been missing all my life” sense of joy I’d been expecting.

The experience showed me how different it is to have celiac disease, diagnosed in my twenties, than to have anaphylactic food allergies from birth. There are specific things I have happy memories of eating, and therefore want to recreate now. For someone who has never had anything but scary or painful memories associated with a food, there’s understandably less reason to find a substitute. And, although I can certainly relate to being nervous that something I’m eating might turn out to contain gluten, accidental peanut exposure poses a more immediate risk for B.

The lesson here is this: If you, like me, love peanuts, and have a friend who can’t eat them, by all means make and serve these delicious buckeye knockoffs (taking, of course, the same cross-contamination measures you’d want someone to take for you).

But remember: one man’s favorite is another man’s poison. Your friend may not run right out to buy a year’s supply. If not, well, more sunbutter for you. And the only thing scary about that is how quickly you’ll go through it.

Do you like to eat “free from” substitutes for old favorite foods? Is there anything you draw the line at trying? And are you a peanut butter or sunbutter fan, too?

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Gluten-free piñatas, and other celiac party games

I only just told you about the snacks at our last party, but we’re already menu-planning for the next. This one is in honor of the birth of a certain Libra you all know: my sister! To celebrate, we decided to channel our mom—an excellent themed-party-thrower if ever there was one—and make a piñata.

paper mache piñata in progress

Newspaper is gluten-free and also, unlike most printed products, often vegan.

There was a brief moment when we thought it wouldn’t work: paper mâché is made using flour, and our home is a flour-free zone. I’m also extremely averse to touching anything with gluten in it, inside the house or out. And our piñata dreams were not worth breaking out the sorghum flour.

Fortunately, cornstarch seems to do the trick. I don’t want to speak too soon—the piñata is still hanging in our kitchen to let the first layer dry, where I risk puncturing it prematurely every morning when I forget it’s there and headbutt it in the dark; and we haven’t yet decorated—but so far, so good.

Making the piñata got me thinking about other classic party games that could be made gluten-free. I know by now you’ve all tried Celiac Sorry!, but if you’re itching for more, here it is.

Which sounds like the most fun to you?

Silent line-up

The classic ice breaker. In this version, players must line up in order of their date of diagnosis without communicating out loud. This makes the hierarchy clear early in the party.

Simon says

One player is anointed Simon and calls out commands to the other players. If the command is prefaced with “Simon says,” players must do it. If not, players must not. Disobeying, whether on purpose or by accident, is grounds for dismissal. Nice Simons do not make commands starting with “Simon says” that end in “Eat a pizza.” Mean Simons do.

boy chasing girl in duck, duck, goose game

What we’d all like to do to everyone who glutens us.
Photo © amanky | Flickr

Duck, duck, gluten

All players sit in a circle except for one, who walks around tapping people on the heads one at a time saying, “Duck…duck…” until bored. Then he or she whacks a random person on the head hard enough to daze the seated player and yells “GLUTEN!”

This person, now “the Glutened,” must clamber up and chase the original player around the circle as the remaining players still sitting, do their best to trip the unlucky Glutened—simulating the action of our immune antibodies after we ingest gluten.

If the Glutened catches the Glutener before the Glutener can sit in the Glutened’s original spot, the Glutened wins, and has a full recovery. But otherwise, the Glutened is so consumed by gluten that he/she becomes the new Glutener, spitefully paying it forward to another poor duck. (Two things: 1) that’s not really how it works. 2) Ducks with celiac disease would be sad. They’d miss out on all the bread crumbs.)

Pin the villus on the intestinal lining

If you misplace the villus under the intestinal lining, then your villus is blunted. You lose.

Hide and sleep

Besides one, all players find cozy hiding spots. Being typically fatigued, they take the respite from socializing as an opportunity to catch some Zs. The remaining player tries to find them until brainfog sets in, then wanders off in search of gluten-free cake.

cat sleeping under blanket

Cats are really good at this game.
Photo © Yuxuan Wang | Flickr

Scavenger hunt

Everyone is given a list and set loose in a grocery store to find items such as “gluten-free sourdough pretzels” and “gluten-free filo dough.” They emerge hours later, groggy and miserable, having not found any of the items and cursing whoever wrote that stupid list. To lift their spirits, they binge on gluten-free cake.

Gluten-villus-celiac

Like rock-paper-scissors. Gluten flattens villus; villus starves celiac; celiac eliminates gluten.

Bobbing for apples

It’s like the traditional version, except no one trusts the gluten-freedom of the other players’ mouths enough to stick their own face into a shared bucket of water. Everyone stands around looking at the apples for a while, then wanders off to find gluten-free cake.

Donuts on a string

Forget it. GF donuts are too expensive to drop half of them on the ground.

The flour game

I discovered this on a UK “traditional party games” site, and it is so not gluten-free. I quote:

“Firstly you need to make the ‘flour cake’ by tightly compacting flour into a medium sized mixing bowl. Then turn this out on to a board and top with a large chunk of Mars bar. Each child takes it in turns to slice away sections of the flour cake ensuring the chunk of chocolate remains at the top. The child who eventually topples the chocolate from the top has to find it with their teeth.”

Basically, it’s Jenga, gone oh-so-wrong (especially in an age of increased allergies!).

*

And there you go! With the exception of that last one—unless you substitute cornstarch—you’re ready for your next celiac-themed birthday party.

As for us? No, we probably won’t play these, and our theme isn’t really “gluten-free.” But the food, drinks, piñata, and candy will be gluten-free (and nut-free!), and those in search of gluten-free cake will not be disappointed. Cross your fingers for us that the piñata actually breaks.

What’s your favorite party or parlor game? Do you prefer parties with or without themes? Have you ever made a piñata, and what candy did you fill it with? (P.S. Are we too old for piñatas?)

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A tale of two cakes

Recently I attended a party. You might imagine from the post’s title that it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, etc…but actually, it was a pretty darned good gluten-free time all around, heavy on the wisdom and light on the foolishness.

The party in question was in celebration of my sister’s graduation and, secondarily, my twenty-fourth birthday. At such occasions where just one gluten-free eater is present, said eater might count him or herself lucky to have a quarantined corner of gluten-free snacks, or to be allowed to bring his or her own food. At this occasion, though, the hosts—my parents—went all out creating an entirely gluten-free spread, complete with TWO cakes.

Cutting the Cakes

No, not one gluten-y graduation cake for Althea and a separate gluten-free birthday cake for me, but two gluten-free layer cakes made from King Arthur Flour gluten-free yellow cake mixes (and KAF cake enhancer). Since we didn’t do a taste test of one cake with the enhancer and one without, I don’t know how critical this ingredient was, but I can tell you that both cakes tasted and felt just like they should: like cake.

They were both vanilla, one with buttercream and M&Ms, and one with a cornstarch-based pudding filling and a dark chocolate ganache: a classic Boston Cream Pie gone oh-so-gluten-free. Just what I wanted! (My cake looks like it’s about to tip over in the photo, but I assure you that I cut the entire thing without the top sliding off—a feat that I undertook in grave doubt at my ability to achieve.)

We also tried the King Arthur Flour gluten-free cookie mix. Although we added lots and lots of chocolate chips, the consensus was these weren’t quite as impressive as the cakes. They were best right out of the oven, which is when I tried them, but I’ve been informed that as they cooled they became a bit crumbly and that they had an odd aftertaste. I’ve noticed an aftertaste in many gluten-free desserts I’ve tried and, after struggling to pinpoint its origin, I now blame the tapioca starch, which a gluten-free cookbook author I work with told me can have a metallic taste, depending on its source. Have you noticed a metallic aftertaste in your GF goodies? Do you blame the tapioca?

KAF Cookies

I started with dessert because it’s always the most important thing, but let’s pause for a moment to discuss the second most important thing: avoiding cross-contamination. My parents don’t have a gluten-free kitchen, but they did go to great lengths to make food that was safe for their invalid offspring:

  • They wiped down every surface and took all of the silverware out of the cutlery drawer and washed everything, tray included.
  • They bought new mixing and serving bowls, spoons, spatulas, knives and cutting boards, measuring cups, and more.
  • They used disposable foil cake pans and killed thousands of parchment-paper trees covering everything else (the cakes were served on the usual cake stands, but with a layer of parchment paper, just in case).
  • Everything on the buffet was gluten-free, from the appetizers to the main course to the desserts, and they asked guests not to bring food. This meant I could pick at the buffet like a normal person, rather than worrying about contaminated serving spoons or crumby hands.
  • They explained cross-contamination concerns to many of my family members who weren’t yet aware I had celiac, which was a load off my shoulders. Once in a while, believe it or not, I don’t want to talk about gluten.

My mom has been insisting that when I write this post, I be absolutely ruthless in laying bare all of the things they didn’t do right, but to be honest, I don’t have much to complain about. To appease her, though, here is the run-down:

  • Beer was served, but there’s not a high risk of cross-contamination with that, since it tends to go straight from bottle to gullet.
  • A couple of guests did bring food, but nothing that used gluten ingredients (though I still avoided it in case of cross-contamination).
  • We realized we’d forgotten to get new cooling racks when it came time to take out the cookies, but we made do by setting them on parchment paper over the racks (maybe this contributed to the cookies’ crumbliness).
  • Mom suggested I make a plate of food for myself in advance, just in case, so I’d feel extra comfortable, even though everything would be gluten-free. I didn’t, because I wanted to feel normal. But I probably would have felt even more comfortable if I’d taken her advice. Turns out, Mom does know best.
  • Mom feels guilty for having eaten Twizzlers after the party. But as much as I’ve never cared for Twizzlers myself and never shall now, I know what they mean to her and would never want to take them away from her.

All in all, the party planning gets an A from me.

Along with dessert, we had an array of intriguing gluten-free chips and crackers (Boulder Canyon hummus & sesame chips, Eat Your Vegetables sea salt chips, Wild Riceworks crisps, and tortilla chips), dips and cheese, and a beautiful spread of gluten-free salads, including one brown rice and wild rice salad which was, I think, the first wild rice–based salad I’ve ever really liked.

It was a tasty springtime spread full of great fruits & veggies, nuts, beans, and grains, and many of the guests were surprised to learn such a varied menu could be entirely gluten-free. Mom’s qualms aside, it was a fun, delicious, and—dare I say it—educational gluten-free party.

As for which cake was best? M&Ms are fine, but obviously it was my favorite, the Boston Cream.

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