Friday, December 10, 2010

The Autism Cookbook: 101 Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Recipes

The Autism Cookbook: 101 Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Recipes
Author: Susan K. Delaine
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (2010)
Imagine: you and your child, in a shopping mall, the Saturday before Christmas. Santa and his elves are ringing bells, dancing around in bright, sparkly get-ups. Kids nearby are screaming for the latest toy. Harried shoppers shove their way through the crowded department stores with armfuls of packages. All the while, the cheery holiday music is blaring over the sound system, interspersed with announcements of the latest door-crasher sale. It’s enough to cause an instantaneous migraine.

Only it’s not December. Nor is it a weekend in your city’s major shopping centre. The two of you are just in your local grocery store on a completely unremarkable day. Yet your young one is treating the excursion as if it was Christmas Eve. Because, to your child, every trip to a public place is an experience akin to those holiday – rush mall crawls. Like 1% of the population, your child lives with Autism Spectrum Disorder: a condition that affects social and behavioural development patterns. ASD can present in a rainbow of symptoms, like withdrawing into silence and avoiding eye contact or acting out in “temper tantrums” brought out by innocuous events. There are many associated conditions that come along for the ride – most commonly gastrointestinal difficulties like allergies and intolerances. Problems digesting gluten, casein and many chemical additives are widespread, often forcing individuals with ASD and their families to rely on medically prescribed drugs and specialty foods. Even the most dedicated individual with a basic cooking background can be balked by the list of “cant’s”, and the completely foreign style of living and eating often throws any meals once innately prepared out the window. Often the special “ASD-approved” recipes are just as confusing and complicated as the condition itself – and the last thing any parent needs is to spend hours reading up on that night’s dinner components.

The Autism Cookbook: 101 Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Recipes was compiled by one such parent of an autistic child. Susan K. Delaine’s book is not directly marketed as a book of child-friendly recipes, but the bright, photo-packed cover gives away her intentions. Simple, nutritious recipes are the rigueur de jour here, and for busy families coping with cases of food allergies, the promise of quick and easy food is nothing short of a godsend.

The Apple Bread (p. 122)

Unfortunately, that feeling of salvation is short lived with this book. While Delaine has good ideas, the “quick and easy” mentality and her obviously rushed lifestyle are all too apparent. Of the “one hundred and one” recipes included, none of them contain a yield notation. While the dust jacket boasts that there are twenty raw recipes, the introductory note mentions twenty-three, and if you were to check the lengthy index you would not find a single entry under “raw”. A manual count of each recipe designated as a raw food in parenthesis reveals only ten in the category. In reality, there are actually 23 of those specialty recipes in the pages of The Autism Cookbook, as described in the “Why Raw?” section of the introduction, and the variance is not overly staggering, but consistency throughout the book would have been beneficial.

What I did find staggering, however, was the amount of glaring errata in the actual recipes. I tested out several different recipes and each of them was a complete, inedible failure – and by reading the ingredient ratios and methods it’s no wonder why. For example, the scone recipe on page 171 gives no temperature for baking, nor any yields (a common theme in the book). It also calls for 1 ¼ cups of dry ingredients, using only a single (and very “strong” tasting) flour without a single binding agent, and yet 1 cup of liquid. In that liquid ingredient ratio is a ¼ cup of vinegar – and half a cup of agave nectar! Then it instructs the would-be baker to “form a dough”, then “cut [it] into wedges”. Well, it doesn’t take a professional baker to realize the outcome of my “verbatim” experiment – a waste of (expensive) ingredients and a bowl of sweet, sour and funky-smelling grey mush. The Brownie Bites recipe on page 167 looks appetizing in the photo, but calls for flour in the directions and omits a listing for it in the ingredients. If you wanted to try one of Delaine’s raw recipes, and decided on the enticingly-named “Velvet Pudding” (p. 204) you will have to look elsewhere – the recipe under the title is for some sort of oily muffin that’s baked at 400F for 25 minutes.

On the savoury side, there is a turkey or beef-stuffed turnover recipe on page 54. The filling itself is great - flavourful and a good texture for making tacos or burritos with. But the pastry recipe and assembly directions included alongside this gem is problematic – like the scones and the Apple Bread (p. 122) I tried, there was too much liquid for the (single) flour, no binder to keep the dough together, and the author expects the cook to knead, roll out, fill, crimp and seal 2" squares of dough!

Chocolate Chip Scones (p. 171)
- after a lot of tweaking and a lot
less liquid!

One of the biggest issues I have with The Autism Cookbook is that the photos are completely inaccurate representations of any of the recipes they accompany. Not a single baked good shown could possibly be made with buckwheat flour as Delaine calls for, nor would a frosting recipe made with blueberries like the one on page 228 look anything like the shock of electric colour in it’s representative photo. If you are hoping to find the chocolate cupcake recipe used for the front cover’s main shot, unfortunately it, like all of the other photos, is there more for style than substance: there is not chocolate cupcake recipe on offer.

While the book is clearly written by a mother with the best intentions, it was not written by an author or a cook, nor tested or proofread prior to publication. If I had bought this book with the pressing need for nutritional support that many families with food-related issues have, I would be extremely angered by the waste of money on it. As it is, I am very disappointed at the obvious lack of testing and editing this book was subject to and am even more dismayed that it is being marketed to families with food-allergic children who are desperate for a semblance of “normalcy” in their daily living.


Ali said...

Great review! Sounds like a lazy publishing company. You are such a great writer, I always enjoy reading your work :-)

OMC said...

SOOOOOO true! I wish I had more closely read the recipes - I wouldn't have bought this book. Many of the recipes don't have baking temperatures and none of them have turned out pretty or delicious. You're review is spot on!