VAIL VALLEY, Colorado - When Elana Amsterdam - an author who visits the Vail Valley Wednesday --was diagnosed with celiac disease, she was relieved to finally have an answer as to why she was so sick. But when her three-year-old son was also diagnosed, she was concerned. Would her little boy have to live a life deprived - a life without cupcakes?
Amsterdam wasn't going to let an allergy to gluten - a kind of protein found in grains, including wheat - deny her son of food pleasures. So she made it her mission to turn all of her favorite dishes into gluten-free classics, and the result is her Web site, elanaspantry.com, and her new cookbook, "The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook."
"All of my recipes are wonderful for those on restricted diets and those with no eating restrictions whatsoever - that's what my book and Web site are designed for, to help friends and family break bread together again, whatever their eating situations," Amsterdam says.
Amsterdam visits the Bookworm in Edwards Wednesday for a discussion and book signing from 6 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and includes wine and appetizers. Proceeds benefit the Gore Range Natural Science School.
"The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook" features a full-color collection of 99 gluten-free, lightly sweetened, quick and healthy recipes. Recipes range from chocolate chip cookies to chicken parmesan and smoked salmon tart in an herb crust. When describing the book, Amsterdam likes to refer to a review written on amazon.com.
"One of the reviews said that the recipes are simple and easy to make and 'dirty dump-and-stir affairs.' That's my favorite review, I think it captures the essence of my recipes - no fuss," Amsterdam says.
Since most grains and traditional flours are off limits for people allergic to gluten, Amsterdam has found through numerous experimentations, flops and successes that almond flour is not only the best substitution, but is far superior to other flours in terms of taste, nutrition and ease-of-use. And most frequently, people want to know why she uses almond flour, as opposed to standard gluten-free flours, like rice flour, potato flour and tapioca flour among others.
"I prefer almond flour for three reasons," Amsterdam says. "First, it tastes amazing and is very moist, especially compared to other gluten-free flours, which often have a strange gritty taste and funky flavor. Second, almond flour is super easy to use. Most gluten free recipes call for five or six flours combined in place of wheat flour, plus gums like guar gum. Not so with almond flour, there are no long lists of strange substitution ingredients, so I love the ease-of-use factor. Third, almond flour is a super food and not only far more nutritious than other gluten-free flours, it is more nutritious than wheat flour."
Almond flour, writes Amsterdam in the introduction to her cookbook, is a super food with twice as much protein as wheat flour and one quarter the carbohydrates. Then there are all the anti-oxidants found in copious amounts in almond flour that are negligible in wheat flour. The fats in almond flour are healthy fats that raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol.
Almond flour is a food everyone can benefit from, Amsterdam says, so she feels good about serving it regardless if someone has allergies or food intolerance.
"All of the children in the neighborhood come to my house after school for snack and especially love my pancakes, which I often make for my boys and their friends in the afternoon," Amsterdam says. "None of the neighborhood children have any eating restrictions whatsoever, they just want to eat all the cookies and other fun stuff that I make."
In fact, part of the motivation for the cookbook was that friends without food restrictions were requesting her recipes, and she thought maybe there is a larger audience for this kind of whole-food, low-sugar cooking, and she was right.
"I often hear from people on my Web site that they made a dish of mine and brought it to a party and no one could tell it was gluten free," Amsterdam says. "That makes me very happy, as that is my goal in creating recipes."
Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail.