Creating a gluten-free kitchen is one of the greatest challenges of a gluten intolerant individual. Great care and vigilance must be taken to ensure the risk of cross-contamination is bridled and that proper ingredient substitutions are used in recipes. Such acts can be daunting in a household that is not entirely comprised of gluten-free individuals. Wary of preparing separate meals, Elana Amsterdam conquered these difficulties by experimenting and creating a plethora of recipes that are both delicious and gluten-free, and enjoyed by every member of her family.
Elana Amsterdam, Gluten-Free Blogger and Cookbook Author
Elana Amsterdam has more than a gluten-free kitchen. This native Northern California boasts a horde of accomplishments, from her work as an environmentalist and owner of a recycling consulting firm entitled Ecosav to the maintenance of her popular blog, Elana's Pantry, which is currently one of the most active online resources for innovative gluten-free cooking. Moreover, in 2009, Celestial Arts published Elana's masterpiece, The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook. This glowingly reviewed cookbook features 144 pages of unique and vividly illustrated recipes that remain a beacon of hope for today's celiacs.
Interview With Elana Amsterdam: A Gluten-Free Kitchen
Starting Out Eliminating Gluten
LovetoKnow: Gluten-free cooking can be quite an adjustment for newly-diagnosed celiacs. It often requires all sorts of recipe substitutions and procedural changes which often discourage celiacs from merely looking in the direction of a kitchen. With the rise of gluten-free products in supermarkets, what are the advantages of preparing meals at home from scratch?
Elana Amsterdam: Much of the gluten free products available in supermarkets are highly processed and full of nutritionally devoid ingredients. When preparing meals at home, one has control of one's food intake. There are hundreds, if not thousands of delicious, wholesome, nutrient-dense gluten free recipes available for free on the Internet these days --I have more than 500 on my website elanaspantry.com.
LTK: What food products do you consider absolutely indispensable for proper gluten-free baking/cooking?
EA: I'm not a traditional gluten free chef. I don't use white sugar, butter and white flour -- that means I don't use traditional gluten free ingredients such as rice flour, tapioca starch, potato flour and all sorts of strange gums. I base my recipes on more nutritious ingredients such as super food almond flour. I also enjoy cooking with coconut flour as well.
Helpful Innovations in Gluten-Free Baking
LTK: What advantages do ingredients such as almond and coconut flour hold over gluten-free grain varieties such as rice and amaranth?
EA: That is a great question and I am thrilled to answer it. Almond flour is more nutritious than rice flour and other grain based flours --I am so passionate about almond flour and its nutritional benefits that I wrote an entire book on it called The Gluten Free Almond Flour Cookbook -- if you ever have a chance to flip through it, be sure to check out the nutrition comparison of flours on page 6!
LTK: Some experts have suggested that the consumption of oats, particularly those prepared without the threat of cross contamination, are safe for celiac. However, oat-ingredients seem to be absent in your recipes. Is there a particular reason why you avoid these products?
EA: My son (he has celiac disease) does eat a limited amount of gluten free oats. I do not eat any grains (including oats) as I cannot digest them. I have somewhat severe symptoms when I eat grains, so they are not a part of my cooking repertoire.
The Healing Process
LTK: Your own particular journey with celiac disease has led you to become a leading voice in the field of gluten-free cooking. Is there anything you would share with the celiac community regarding healing foods and your own journey back to health?
EA: I basically follow a modified Paleo eating plan. Because celiac disease is a multi-system organ disease predicated on malabsorption and malnourishment, I have found that focusing on super foods such as animal protein, nuts, greens and berries has been very helpful and healing to my body.
This is what works for me, though I believe that everyone is different and that we are all bio-chemical individuals. Healing is a personal journey not a Cartesian process (if I do X, then Y). From my perspective it takes a lot of stresses for the body to degenerate and it can take numerous and varied strategies (sometimes implemented simultaneously) for the body to heal; though I do believe we all have our own path to wellness, that includes knowing (and confronting) the self intimately and compassionately.
LTK: The "About" section on your website outlines the story of how both you and your son were diagnosed with celiac disease. In your experience, how easily do children adapt to a gluten-free lifestyle and what tips would you impart regarding this transition?
EA: First, get your child tested if they have any symptoms -- you will save them a lifetime of potential disease. Second, be firm about implementing a gluten free diet if your child does receive a diagnosis, it is very, very serious and can lead to diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and multiple sclerosis. On a better note, find buddies for your child that have similar eating plans. Learn to cook, teach your child to cook and focus on what they CAN eat so that they feel bountiful about food and life.
More Gluten-Free Tips and Recipes from Elana
Be sure to drop by Elana's Pantry for helpful tips regarding ingredient alternatives and cooking adjustments. Elana's blog also touches on techniques for both sugar-free and dairy-free cooking ideas that can supplement your gluten-free regimen. To fortify your recipe bank you can also pick up a copy of The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook at Amazon.com.