My hats are off to all the parents out there who are taking time out of their lives to make life better for all of us with food allergies.
I’d like to introduce you to one such parent, fellow food allergy mom, Nicole Seevers of Cole’s Moveable Feast. On a quest to ensure her son always feels included, she began experimenting in the kitchen. The results aren’t just safe and delicious for her son, Cole; they are scrumptious for everyone!
We were the lucky recipients of the above OUTSTANDING allergy-friendly dessert: iced tea cupcakes with lemonade frosting – possibly my favorite flavor combination of all time. I opened the box and thought they might be almost too beautiful to eat. Almost. Their mouth-watering aroma sucked me in immediately. I’m usually more of a frosting girl (and, oh my gosh, was this frosting good), but it was the moist and tasty cake that balanced the tart and sweet original frosting so well that just made the treat. My kids loved them and my extended family had no idea they were made without wheat, dairy, peanuts or tree nuts. I’m planning on ordering these again for my next brunch. And my food allergic son has requested I call Nicole for his next birthday. That’s ONE thing off my party planning list!
Nicole can cater to almost any allergy and any occasion. Check out her gallery of goodies at Cole’s Moveable Feast. And, for those outside her delivery area, please check out our ever-growing list of allergy-friendly bakeries on Allergy Shmallergy’s Allergy Friendly Bakeries page.
Inspired by her story and motivation, I took a moment to ask Nicole a few questions…
1. Tell us about how you got into the baking business? Were you always a baker?
Not long ago, a lot of my friends and family would have been surprised to see the word ‘baker’ connected to my name. I grew up here in Virginia, and like most people, food was a big part of my family life. My mom and my grandmother were wonderful cooks, and the desserts were especially good. I learned a lot from them, but it wasn’t a passion for me. I headed to New York after college and stayed there for 12 years, practicing law and eating a majority of my meals in restaurants. My husband is a great cook, but it was never really my thing. When we did eat at home, I was usually in charge of dessert (I have a big sweet tooth). But things got more complicated when our second child was born.
2. What inspired you to bake allergy-friendly goods?
My son Cole. As soon as we introduced solid food, we knew. His first taste of yogurt made him sick. He vomited and started wheezing. Eggs did the same thing. Over the course of the next few months, we learned he was allergic to dairy, eggs, tree nuts, buckwheat, sesame and shellfish. He also has asthma and spent nearly a year avoiding gluten to try to reduce inflammation. I think under normal circumstances, it could have been overwhelming, especially for someone who didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. But I had watched my own mom handle it. My younger brother struggled with the same allergies and more … including wheat, soy and corn. Those are tough allergies anyway, and in the ’70s, there was no popping into Whole Foods for an allergy-free snack. But my mom rolled up her sleeves and dealt with it.
So for me, it meant figuring out how to make sure Cole didn’t feel deprived or left out. Celebrations are big in our family. I wanted to learn how to make treats we could all enjoy. And it turns out, I LOVED baking. But what about when Cole was invited to a birthday party? Or when he started school, and had to say ‘no thanks’ every time a parent brought in cupcakes for a celebration. I was spending so much money on expensive, processed snack foods that were allergy-friendly but kind of bland. I thought, I can’t be the only one who wants better options. So this spring, I launched Cole’s Moveable Feast.
3. Do you cater only to the food allergic community?
At first I did, but then people started asking me to do “regular” cakes for their events also. But I’d say 90% of what I do is customized around specific allergies. Frankly, I like some of my allergy-free goodies more than the regular kind! I probably shouldn’t admit that, huh?
4. What are some of your biggest challenges in the kitchen?
Time and space! It’s me, one oven, one dishwasher and two mixers. I have a separate pantry and fridge for bakery ingredients and dedicated cabinets for equipment. But allergy-free recipes, especially those without gluten or eggs, require additional steps and ingredients, so it takes longer and makes a bigger mess. And I’m fastidious about sanitizing surfaces and equipment, especially between orders. That takes more time than you’d think. So I’m starting to think about next steps … my dream is a bakery where anyone can walk in and find something on the menu board. Cole has never experienced that.
5. Is there any allergen/other obstacle you’ve had a hard time accommodating? How do/did you overcome obstacles?
Oh yeah. It’s hard enough to bake without egg, dairy and gluten. In fact, I had to come up with my own gluten-free flour blends and egg substitutes, because I just couldn’t get my baked goods where I wanted them with commercially-available substitutes. But when you take soy and corn out of the equation, it gets even harder. Those ingredients are everywhere because they’re cheap (and genetically-modified and federally-subsidized, but that’s a rant for a different day). But I’ve gotten there, after lots of research and working closely with my customers … and throwing out a TON of failed experiments. I am so thankful for the Internet, for all those people that forged ahead of me and blogged about it. And for companies like Earth Balance, Authentic Foods and Enjoy Life, among others, that are dedicated to producing high-quality allergy-free ingredients.
6. Has taking customized orders forged a connection to your clients?
YES! That was the biggest surprise in all of this. I figured, if I got lucky, word would get out and I’d get a nice flow of orders listing the ingredients that needed to be excluded. I didn’t realize that nearly every single order would come with a unique story. The mother that was told a party venue could handle her child’s food allergies … until they heard it was soy. The child with a severely restricted diet that hasn’t had cake in years. The adult struggling with health issues. Everyone has something they’re dealing with, but we’re wired to connect and comfort, love and celebrate, through FOOD. When I can be part of that connection, it’s awesome. Baking for someone can be a very intimate act.
7. What has been the most rewarding aspect of starting your company?
Well first and foremost, it’s that connection I was talking about. I really can’t believe I get to do this. Meet interesting people, help them out, bake and get paid for it?! It’s pushing me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to connect, solve puzzles, make mistakes, rethink. But also, my three kids are SO excited about it. I love letting them be a part of this, letting them witness the fact that you can find what brings you joy and go after it. My dad has always pushed me to do that: to have a vision and do the hard work to make it happen. I want my kids to learn that lesson too.