ELANA AMSTERDAM, AUTHOR OF THE JUST-OUT “GLUTEN FREE ALMOND FLOUR COOKBOOK,” hesitated when I asked her to join TSP for a profile some months back. We get this reaction a lot: No, she said; her relationship with her own sister, a noted yoga teacher, hasn’t always been easy, and as Elana put it, much of what she learned about sisterhood came from outside her family, not within. But what seemed like an obstacle was merely the proverbial opportunity in disguise. Before learning what happened, though, get to know Elana a little better:
I initially discovered Elana Amsterdam, left, via (who else?) a sister-friend, who knew I liked to cook and eat gluten-free, and thought I just might enjoy her sister-friend’s sister-friend’s blog on that subject. (You’re following along, right?) I may have been one of the early adopters of Elana’s Pantry, but in the years since, the site has become beloved among gluten-free eaters as well as others interested in Elana’s unique style of cooking, which melds healthy ingredients into ultra-simple, delectable recipes. It has also helped me enormously to make positive changes.
It’s no surprise that Elana’s approach to food is such a hit; before dedicating herself to educating herself and others about how to eat well without eating gluten, Elana (you can follow her on Twitter) was a highly successful entrepreneur. As the founder of a major recycling company, Ecosav, she was one of the first to encourage mainstream businesses to embrace recycling as not just a benefit to the environment, but as a benefit to the bottom line.
After a celiac diagnosis and a new baby, Elana shifted her focus, as she says, “from what we throw away to what we put into our bodies.” And her goal, not surprising from someone who once dealt professionally with trash, is to keep our food, and our bodies, super-clean.
But she emphatically doesn’t want to sacrifice flavor, or joy. After all, she’s cooking not just for herself, but for her Colorado-based family. Elana’s husband is her chief tester, and she describes her sons (aged 9 and 10) as her “enthusiastic chefs-in-training.” All that family participation has paid off, with the publication this month of Elana’s first cookbook, The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.
Now about that initial hesitation around a sister story: We sent our usual questions, and some examples of other profiles, and our encouragement. And then, Elana’s email with her answers arrived in our inbox. By the end, Elana had found a shift (and a photo of Dina, left, was even part of the offering she gave us):
This profile, she said, “brought so much consciousness and sadness and acceptance to my views on my relationship with my sister that the entire dynamic with her has changed into something I like. Yes, this exercise was a life-changing experience.”
What can we say? We’re thrilled. Elana is someone who impressed us as being a change-agent herself, inspiring others including myself to live with health and joy, even when confronting health and dietary changes. She’s a food activist in the best sense, and we’re so happy to have brought some positive change back to her.
The Sister Project Interview with Elana Amsterdam:
Q. You know you’re a sister when…?
A. “When you can accept your positive and negative feelings about your sister…and yourself.”
Q. What does the word sister mean to you?
A. “Being a kind and good friend to others and myself; accepting, slowing down, laughing.”
Q. Can you share some best-of/worst-of sisterly experiences:
A. “Cooking with my sister, trading recipes and connecting around gluten-free food (we both have celiac), are things that connect us. I recently visited with her and we had a great time discussing food–after our visit I posted a recipe idea of hers [the cookie, above] on my website.”
Q. Are there any cultural or pop-culture references that make you think of your sister?
A. “Even though we’ve sometimes gotten along and sometimes have not, we definitely share a lot of similar interests. She is a yoga teacher who loves to cook, and I am a cook who used to teach yoga.”
Q. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from your sister?
A. “Joy, acceptance, patience.”
To learn more about Elana:
The Elana’s Pantry website is brimming with wonderful dishes, but two that we highlight for their sisterly vibe are her Chinese Chicken Salad, inspired by her dear friend Helen (the friend of MY friend who originally brought us together!), and (as above) her sister Dina’s amazing “breakfast” cookies. Who can resist a cookie for breakfast? For a more traditional start to the day, or to enclose any sandwich, there’s her popular Grain Free Seven-Grain Bread (above). And then there’s my personal favorite of her recipes, her incredible cupcakes. Healthy cooking, foodie style. Perfect!
A footnote: TSP’s Sister Paige Smith Orloff is part of Summer Fest 2009, a cross-blog food event that you may wish to join. More on that here. Come to think of it, Elana Amsterdam’s Peach Crisp would be a good addition to the entries this week…