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Book Review: “Gluten Free Girl” by Shauna James Ahern

Island Epicure

Newsweek described Vashon Island author Shauna James Ahern’s first book, “Gluten Free Girl” published by John Wiley & Sons in the US and Canada, as “A delightful memoir of learning to eat superbly while remaining gluten-free.” Her book has inspired me to broaden my cooking repertoire to include more kinds of gluten free grains than I even knew about before, and to experience some delicious flavors new to me. I’m working my way now through Bob’s Mill specialty flours from Thriftway, starting with sorghum, teff, and quinoa.

Shauna’s book tells the story of her journey from junk food junkie to a gluten-free gourmet cook. That journey began with a diagnosis of celiac disease. Celiac’s victims often go undiagnosed for decades, undergoing hosts of futile tests, before finding out that the gluten-rife diet they’ve consumed all their lives makes them literally sick and tired.

Wheat has the most gluten, and wheat alone can make bread rise well. Most gluten-sensitive people notice wheat’s effects first, and the health benefits from giving it up. If their gluten-sensitivity has progressed to celiac disease, they remain sick, depressed, and chronically fatigued. It’s immensely challenging to ferret out the last, least smidgen of gluten. Spelt, triticale, and emmer, have lots of gluten. Barley and rye, contains less, and in oats milled in the same machinery that processes wheat grains can contain a smidgen. It’s sneaked into processed foods of all kinds under many aliases:  food starch, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, malt, dextrins, maltodextrins, and “natural flavors.”

Shauna says that in Europe, laws require food packages to confess gluten’s presence, but the USA has no law requiring food processors to announce that their products contain gluten. In Italy, children get tested for gluten allergy before they can enter first grade. Up to 12 % of the population of Italy tests allergic to it—pretty hard on a population that bases so much of it’s diet on pastas and pizzas! I doubt the percentage is much lower, if at all, in America. Among my direct descendents, the percentage is 40%. It must be genetic.

In my own experience, just giving up wheat ended frequent migraines, diarrheas, and sinus infections. For years I ate no bread, nor anything made with wheat.  Several years ago a book titled “Gluten Free Gourmet” came out, followed by More from the Gluten Free Gourmet, both by Bette Hagman. The set did benefit people with celiac disease. It’s recipes, based on refined starches like rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour didn’t fit my conception of “gourmet”, nor of healthful eating.

Shauna James Ahern’s recipes feature whole grains, high in proteins, minerals, B vitamins, and flavor. She includes only a little pure starch, but lots of creativity. Look for Chocolate Banana Bread, and a crusty, sliceable sorghum bread, and salads made with quinoa and with millet. Reading her book is like enjoying a chat with a good friend. She writes entertainingly, and dishes out loads of valuable information. I give “Gluten Free Girl” five stars.

Inspired by Shauna’s book, and her talk at the recent Food Summit, I created this waffle recipe. Put a little more liquid in it and you can make sorghum and teff pancakes, crepes. or blintzes.

Makes 2 waffles (2 to 4 servings)                       
½ cup sorghum flour
¼ cup teff flour
1 teaspoon baking flour
¼ cup salt or to taste
2/3 cup soy, almond, or rice milk
1 egg, beaten
1 Tablespoon olive or canola oil
Cooking oil spray

Sift dry ingredients into mixing bowl. In a small bowl, beat egg, milk, and oil. Stir into dry ingredients. Let stand 30 minutes so flours can soak up moisture. If too thick add a spoonful or two more milk.

Spray oil on cold waffle iron. Heat it until a drop of water sprinkled on it goes “ssssst” and bounces.

Spoon batter onto hot waffler. Cook according to waffler maker’s directions. (If using Belgian waffler, bake 3 minutes, turn, and bake 2 minutes more. If waffle does not easily come out, bake a minute or two longer. Eat with vanilla or fruit yogurt, and sliced strawberries or raisins, or with butter and jam of your choice.

Margaret McKinstry gave me this quinoa Quickbread recipe. It has a pleasant texture and is neither too moist nor too dry. You’ll enjoy its flavor as shortcake with a little honey added to preserve and sweeten it.

Margaret McKinstry’s Gluten Free, Dairy Free
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1 cup quinoa flour
1 cup millet flour or brown rice flour
¾ cup almond meal
¾ cup oat bran or quinoa flakes
2 heaping teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon soda
Combine and stir in:
1 cup soy milk or almond milk
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
frozen apple concentrate to taste
3 Tablespoons canola oil
½ to 1 teaspoon salt

Oil a baking pan and preheat it 5 to 6 minutes.
Transfer batter to pan. Bake 45 minutes.

Shortcake variation: Oil tablespoon-size measuring spoon. Measure and drizzle and stir into batter: 2 Tablespoons honey. Bake as above.