In The Kitchen With: Elana of Elana's Pantry

in the kitchen with elana's pantry

Elana in her garden with her two boys

Elana Amsterdam of Elana's Pantry confronts health challenges head-on with a healthy, gluten-free diet. Today she tells us about raising chickens, writing a new cookbook, and keeping up with her two sons, all the while taking us inside her Colorado kitchen...


CM: Tell us about your family.

I have two boys. They are 9 and 10 years old and very athletic. Still, they enjoy cooking tremendously. My younger son likes to make everything, especially omelets with caramelized onions and broccoli—that's one of his favorites. My older son has a real sweet tooth and enjoys making desserts. The other day he made brownies as the snack for his baseball team. As they came out of the oven he said, "My little brother is a better all around cook than I am, but my specialty is desserts."

in the kitchen with elana's pantry

These are the brownies my older son baked.

I keep my boys busy with chores and playtime. They help with the chickens, clean out the bunnies' cage, harvest greens from our garden, set and clear the table, and help me make dinner just about every night. My favorite time of the day is being in the kitchen with them in the late afternoon when we're all working on dinner. They know how to deal with the stove and how to handle a sharp knife. I've been working on those skills with them for years.

in the kitchen with elana's pantry

Knife skills as demonstrated by my 10-year-old.

When they're not in the kitchen, during summer they turn the sprinklers on under the trampoline and bounce for hours on end. Sometimes we go bowling or play board games—our favorite right now is Clue. They also help me with work quite a bit. They sit in on meetings with me, drop books off with me to potential speaking or sales locations, and help me take photos for my Web site.

in the kitchen with elana's pantry

My older son handling one of the new chickens.

How do you describe your cooking style?

I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease (an auto immune disorder triggered by eating gluten which is found in wheat, rye and barley) when I was pregnant with my first child, more than a decade ago. Back then I had an environmental consulting business that set up recycling programs for Fortune 500 companies. My son wasn't diagnosed with Celiac until he was 3 years old. By that time I was working on my consulting business part-time and spending a good deal of time at home with my two children. Still, I had no interest in cooking two separate meals three times a day. I decided to make family meals that would all be gluten-free. My husband has seen how well we all do gluten-free and has begun eating this way outside of our home as well, while on business dinners and trips since he feels so much better that way.

The biggest hardship for children on a gluten-free diet is not being able to break bread with their peers. This heartbreaking fact (no mom wants to watch their child feel bad or be left out) was my call to action. I made it my mission to bake treats that were gluten-free, safe for my son, and that could also be enjoyed by his peers. I measured my success in this endeavor by watching to see if the children (friends in our home, or in my son's classroom) would eat the food I made. Thankfully, they continue to gobble down my desserts, without any trouble or any awareness that it is "different," i.e., gluten-free!

Out of that mission came my blog, Elana's Pantry, and my new book, The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook, which is full of super easy, high protein, whole food, delicious gluten-free recipes.

I cook simply—high protein with an abundance of green vegetables. I use a few main ingredients repetitively, rotating in fresh seasonal produce, mostly from our garden. Because we have a small cold frame (about 2-feet-high) in our front yard, we are able to harvest our own greens (kale, mustard, arugula, and several varieties of lettuce) all year long. For me, the kitchen extends well outside the house; many kitchen resources such as herbs, vegetables, fruit trees, and of course the chickens, dwell in our little yard.

in the kitchen with elana's pantry

The newest members of our family, the chickens.

Can we see your kitchen?

I love my kitchen because it truly is the heart of my home. My favorite part of this room is the farm table I have in the middle, which draws people in and creates a lovely gathering space for breaking bread.


in the kitchen with elana's pantry

My children and their friends,

gathered around the table making gingerbread.



On a technical level, I have organized my kitchen like a cockpit, so that everything is nearby and right at my fingertips and this works very well for me. I have always had lovely kitchens, whether they were the size of a tiny closet or more spacious, as this one is.

in the kitchen with elana's pantry

Me, loading the dishwasher.

My coveted spice rack is in the upper-left corner of the photo.


in the kitchen with elana's pantry

Salt is in the foreground, spoons and kitchen utensils

are placed just to the right of the stove so they are

within reach when the boys and I are cooking.



in the kitchen with elana's pantry

A closet attached to the kitchen that I have stocked

with all of my favorite and frequently used ingredients,

the pantry is another one of my favorite places in the kitchen.


in the kitchen with elana's pantry

I use glass mason jars for food storage in the fridge (and pantry) because they utilize vertical storage space, cost much less than plastic, and are conveniently see through -- forget about moldy mystery food in hidden containers at the back of the fridge. Both organization and eco-friendliness prevent waste and make operating my kitchen far easier.



When it comes to cooking, where do you find inspiration?

I love to create chaos in the kitchen and test out many recipes at once. Being organized helps me keep the chaos controlled and allows my creativity to flow unhampered. I love to cook by season and especially by color. Nature is my  biggest guide. As I am putting the boys to bed, I often discuss what we will have for dinner the next night, and they come up with creative, wonderful ideas. I remember one night a few weeks ago when I asked my younger son what he wanted for dinner and he said, "Thanks so much for asking, Mommy!" They love to be included. My family inspires me to keep coming up with new, interesting recipes.

What traditions do you and your family have with respect to food? Are any of your recipes passed down from other family members?

My husband and I were both born and raised Jewish, so the Jewish holidays are a big part of our lives. Matzo ball soup is a staple in Jewish families, and my husband (and sons) were thrilled when I came up with a gluten-free version, and I was happy that my own recipe is super healthy and extra high in protein. My bubby (grandmother) made the most amazing matzo ball soup with homemade chicken stock, and I love to do this for my family as well. My grandmother was an amazing cook and business woman and remains an inspiration to me to this day.

What do you make better than anyone else?

Well, my husband says my chocolate chip cookies are the best. He thinks they taste great (sometimes the boys hide them from him so he won't eat them all), and he loves the fact that they are a healthy, high protein treat. He especially likes to eat them after his long (50 + mile) bike rides, saying they are the perfect recovery food.


in the kitchen with elana's pantry

My husband likes these chocolate chip cookies best.



Because I cook with high protein almond flour, the desserts I make are super nutritious and also very moist, unlike most of the dry, grainy, starchy gluten-free baked goods that are out there. The recipe for these cookies and a how to video, are available on my Web site.

in the kitchen with elana's pantry

I think these double chocolate mocha cookies are just a bit better.

What is your one indulgence?

Well, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis three years ago after a decade of health challenges. So right now I am on a somewhat strict, experimental eating plan (it's very close to what's called the Paleo diet). I think that while many diseases are caused by poor choice of food intake, the reverse can be true also, foods can heal. For now my indulgence is fresh fruit—peaches, cherries, apricots, blueberries, and strawberries. Other than that I mostly eat greens, fish, chicken, and a small amount of nuts and seeds. I don't eat any dairy, grains, soy, corn, potatoes, or sugar. I feel great eating this way, and because my main goal is to stay healthy enough to keep up with my children, I do not feel deprived on this diet due to the energy it gives me; that is the most rewarding thing, being able to be with my children.

I still cook all kinds of treats for my family and enjoy watching them eat good healthy desserts such as cake, cookies, and ice cream that I make from scratch.

How has your cooking changed since you had children?

I was a junk food-aholic in my early 20's; however, I was reformed prior to having children. I took a years long Ayurvedic training, which included the study of yoga, herbs, and foods. I taught yoga and changed my food consumption patterns (cooking from scratch) in my mid-20's well before I had children. I was making their baby food in my blender as soon as the boys could eat and was lucky to nurse each of them.

What is one ingredient you could never, ever live without?

I love cooking with almond flour. I have a couple of hundred pounds of it stored in our basement. I think that says it all!

What are you favorite food Web sites or blogs?

I adore the creative recipes and whimsical prose of Karina at Gluten-Free Goddess.  I also enjoy Simply Recipes and 101Cookbooks. Mark Bittman's New York Times blog, Bitten, is also a favorite. Though with my book coming out and maintaining my Web site (I add 2-4 original recipes every week, which I make from scratch, test, photo shoot, and write about) I don't have much time to peruse other people's blogs as much as I'd like to.

Thank you to Elana for sharing her kitchen! And don't miss these other "In the Kitchen With..." features:

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