If you’re like, well, pretty much every woman we know, the words “allergen free” are more than just a label in the grocery store; they signal safety and the chance to eat without worry of a debilitating or dangerous allergic reaction. So we were so excited to connect with the women behind Everyday Allergen-Free, a business focused on educating people on food allergies and providing delicious recipes and everyday alternatives for those suffering from food allergies.
We joined founders Amanda and Joella at an allergen free cooking class they organized at Cambria Gallery named “Sips and Sweets.” Amanda and Joella are not only polished and accomplished, but they are passionate about their mission. Throughout the course of the evening they proved to us – over a series of inventive, easy-to-make desserts – that having food allergies does not mean that you have to miss out on the foods you love.
For those who have trouble finding allergen free ingredients or just prefer to buy their snacks pre-made, Amanda and Joella are opening an online Everyday Allergen-Free store that will be carefully curated with all of their favorite allergen free brands, spanning a wide variety of products from snacks and flours to makeup and body care.
We arrived and were offered incredible “mocktails” with freshly juiced watermelon, fresh berries and all of the flavors of San Pellegrino a girl could ask for.
The tables were set with delicious and fluffy coconut bars as well as lettuce bouquets as centerpieces. The coconut bars (pictured above) were covered in a chocolate drizzle and so delicious we may have made our own “goodie bags” and taken a few home! The recipe can be found here. (You’ll never guess the ingredients!)
Our first “course” (yes, we got to eat three courses of dessert) was a big beautiful fruit salad, chopped by Joella while Amanda began the next course, a sweet potato chocolate mousse.
Complete with a cookie crumble base (Enjoy Life cookies crumbled by one of our fellow attendees), this mousse was hearty and delicious, with a creamy and appetizing texture. We thought it was going to be our favorite until we got to the last course.
These creamy coconut cups were light and refreshing which was a nice shift from the chocolate-packed second course. Amanda cooked down some strawberries with honey and placed them on top of some Yoso coconut yogurt and more crumbled cookies. We will both be making this again as it would be a perfect complement after a large or rich meal.
After the event, we got to sit down with Amanda and Joella to hear a bit about what they are doing, their motivation, and their future plans.
Well TO Do: Please introduce yourselves to the Well TO Do readers
Amanda: Heyhey! I’m the one with the allergies in this relationship. I’ve had them my whole life; peanuts, nuts, dairy, and legumes are currently on my list of anaphylactic allergies, but the list was a lot longer during childhood. I started spreading awareness about food allergies at age 23, when I got a contract for my first cookbook. A year and a half later, Allergen-Free Desserts was published. It’s a fun cookbook for parents and kids. I LOVE to cook, write, and take photos. By day I’m a book buyer for Indigo Books & Music, and I also run Sage House, a cosy b&b in Prince Edward County. I have another cookbook coming out in 2019, called Everyone’s Welcome.
Joella: I’m the friend of the girl with allergies! Though really I am lactose intolerant as well. The difference is I know really well that it is not as severe as an actual food allergy. I grew up in Dubai and came to Toronto for University, where I met Amanda. I worked at a start up for about 3 years before working in banking after that. I have been interested in entrepreneurship for a long time and continue to attend countless MarsDD workshops and Startup Canada sessions. I’m also a huge foodie and went crazy with my Foursquare and Twitter some years ago (now deleted, too obnoxious) so being able to create something like this with Amanda was a natural fit as it combines both our passions.
WTD: Tell us about Everyday Allergen-Free. What was the inspiration to start the website? How did you get started and how has it grown?
Amanda: Hmm, kind of a long story. A few months before my book released, my agent suggested I start blogging, which I was a bit hesitant about. Coincidentally, a few weeks after I opened a blog called Amanda’s Recipes, I had an anaphylactic reaction to store-bought bread; the same bread I had been buying for years. After sending it to a lab the test results proved it contained a form of dairy that was not labelled on the package.
Having a reaction as an adult changed everything. It was so different than what I had experienced as a kid. I was riddled with anxiety and fear towards food; I felt like I had PTSD. That was the first thing I wrote about on my blog and immediately I received such positive feedback. The blog began growing from there and fast forward to June of last year when Jo and I decided we really needed to create a resource for teens and adults with food allergies that wasn’t clinical or institutional-looking. As one of my best friends, Jo had a lot of knowledge about being a food allergy bff, and a strong desire to spread awareness too. Thus, Everyday Allergen-Free was born! Now it’s more than a blog – it’s a platform, and soon to be an online shop too!
Joella: The inspiration has always been Amanda’s food allergies and it grew from something she’d been embarrassed about to something we can help others with too. It’s grown in a way we couldn’t have imagined possible but its so rewarding to see Everyday Allergen-Free resounding so strongly with the community. Colleagues, friends, strangers, moms and entrepreneurs have reached out to let us know we should ‘keep on choogling’ and so we’re hoping to inspire confidence in a holistic way with our new direction.
WTD: Mandy, how has working on this business helped or affected how you handle your own allergies? Jo, have you changed your eating habits at all (despite not having allergies) from working on this business?
Amanda: I can honestly say I learn something new from every contributor we have on the site. I used to think I knew all there was to know about managing my allergies, but then I joined parent forums, started scouting writers, and engaging with other bloggers. Turns out I had a lot to learn not just about managing my own allergies, but about how fortunate I am to have the support system that I do. From medical insurance, to an inclusive and considerate circle of family and friends… I have a much stronger sense of appreciation.
Joella: I haven’t changed my eating habits at home at all but I have changed what I’m eating around Amanda because I’m aware of what makes her nervous. I’ve been in training since our roommate years together at Woodsworth College, at UofT so I like to think I’m the badass allergy best friend support system (but I have a lot to learn) because working on this business has helped me learn more about the world of living with a food allergy in a more encompassing way. My motivation, aside from Amanda, has always been that there’s a statistical chance my kids or my kids friends may have allergies too and I want to be prepared for whatever situations may arise.
WTD: We know you also love to do events. Tell us a bit about some of the events (besides the awesome one we just attended!) you have run and any you plan to do in the future.
Amanda: Jo and I have someone cooking in our kitchen nearly every week, and we love to entertain. We’ve done several cooking demos and later this fall we’re planning to host a party to celebrate Everyday Allergen Free’s success. Success for us means increased awareness and inclusiveness for people with food allergies, so it makes sense to celebrate it with our community.
Joella: We really started to build more of a following once we did the combination of cookbook reviews and having friends over in the kitchen. It started to be an avenue where people without allergies got to get involved and learn something new. Whenever we plan something, we make a lot of effort to make sure it goes well and our guests really enjoy themselves so we’re excited to host another event soon to celebrate together.
WTD: Are both of you also working day jobs or have you made Everyday Allergen Free your full-time job? (If you’re also working day jobs, tell us how you juggle the two roles. If your sole focus is on Everyday Allergen-Free, talk about how you make that work).
Amanda: Yes I still have a 9 – 5 in addition to my 5 – 9, and the answer to making it work is to have black coffee and a banana with oatmeal every morning. Without that I can’t get through the day! I’m working on a second book with a Canadian publisher called Touchwood Editions, so I guess I have a 9 – 1am too. It’s a recipe and lifestyle book called Everyone’s Welcome (how fabulous is that name?) and will be a cookbook that also incorporates experiences from my life as an allergy girl. My day job at Indigo has taught me so much. I feel like it’s a place where you’re encouraged to be ambitious, and that quality tends to be contagious. It’s a lot at the moment but I’m the type of person who can never sit still. I love being excited about something new every day.
Joella: Google Calendar, Keep & Dropbox Paper combined with weekly workout sessions. I used to juggle my 9-5, the CHRP (HR designation), and the blog. When we began Everyday Allergen Free, we didn’t have a business or growth plan so it was easy to manage – it was just about spreading awareness. Soon we realized our creativity could help solve a problem.
I was looking to align my career path with the opportunities in front of me and simultaneously wanted to complete my education as well. Our idea for Everyday Allergen-Free was coming to life and so I took the risk. I quit my job about a year ago in operations where I had really learned the integral role a good backbone department plays in combining all aspects of an effective business to run smoothly – a strong solution to a problem, and measurable working parts of a business. With the foundation set and a designated team in place, I am embracing a 9-5 again where I can fully realize all of my talents. Everyday Allergen-Free is our passion project, and with the bulk of our groundwork complete, we will continue growing it as our 5-9 with the assistance of our team to helps us achieve our goals.
WTD: We are excited for your next venture, an upcoming e-commerce shop geared towards allergen free products. Tell us a bit more about this!
Amanda: I absolutely cannot wait for our shop to launch! We’ve sourced cosmetics, skincare, and food products that are allergy-friendly and fabulous. We’ll also have an assortment of allergy-related accessories that are quirky and cute. All the things I love now and would have loved even more as a young adult! We’ll be doing packages that make great gifts for your friend with food allergies, or for parents to send their allergic kids who are away at school.
Joella: During our time at University we learned the benefits of living on a campus that was located within the city. We realized that university towns didn’t have similar advantages and teens with allergies weren’t able to really find required daily products as easily. Even young adults were facing the same problems, we learned. The Everyday Allergen-Free shop will make things accessible to a wide group of people: parents can buy things for kids, teens can shop for themselves, millennials just starting out in the workplace can order packages for themselves and their friends. Even the Gen-X community have reached out to us as allergies have developed in adults past 40. It’s a one stop resource that’s really applicable to anyone but especially convenient to people with food allergies because a lot of the products are just as Mandy said, “fabulous.”
WTD: What is exciting you most about the Toronto wellness scene?
Amanda: Self care. Wellness is expanding beyond food and fitness. I think there’s a silent movement towards self care as part of the wellness umbrella. It’s about making time for yourself, and addressing mental health. It’s about authenticity, and getting that massage you’ve been needing, but also empowering yourself. It’s very no-bullshit. Jo and I recently went to an event hosted by With/out Pretend. A group of women stood in front of the crowd and each shared a story from their personal lives. In my mind it was a wellness event. It was about being true to yourself, being authentic, letting yourself breathe. I can’t wait to see how this movement unfolds.
Joella: The growth! The Toronto wellness scene has been growing tremendously. At workplaces and universities/colleges, the focus is shifting on meditation, mental health, consistent activity and mindfulness. We tend to overestimate what others around us should be expected to put up with, family and friends included. Mindfulness is the KEY to really making that difference, whether at work, or taking precautions around your friend with allergies, or saying no to that anxiety-inducing event to care for yourself. It grants the opportunity to be forgiving and empathetic. To echo Amanda, the With/ out Pretend gathering celebrated the space to have unresolved feelings, mistakes and vulnerability which for women in business and especially entrepreneurship has been a big no-no to date. So that’s exciting – its exhilarating to push boundaries.