Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Bakery For Allergies & Health

Yes, Anna is always this smiley!
A few months ago, I became acquainted with one of the most amazing people in my area- Anna Simeonides. Why is she so special? Because Anna is the founder of To Your Health Bakery- a bakery that specializes in not only allergy-friendly items BUT also vegan, gluten free and wholesome baked goods. I mean, anybody that has food allergies or dietary needs would be drooling if they saw what Anna does....don't believe me? Here, take a peek and try not to lick the screen-

Still not convinced? Well, I interviewed Anna and not only are her baked goods completely delectable but on a personal level, I felt like I connected with her immediately. She is completely passionate about what she does and it shows in her conversations as well as her marvelous foods that I was more than willing to try out. Because there are so few allergy-friendly options in my area, I wanted to share her information with all of you. I could not think of a better way to begin a new year than by sharing this new safe haven for those who truly miss baked goods. You will notice that I will also share additional pictures of her mouth-watering goodies on the side of the interview to further entice you to order some...no shame in this- it's for the good of our food allergy community.

drooling..
NM: Tell me about what inspired you to begin baking, especially allergy-friendly and vegan items?

Anna:  When I was 8 years old, my entire world changed. My little brother, Panteleimon, was born and he immediately became the apple of my eye. I was devastated when we quickly discovered he had a plethora of food allergies and intolerances that only seemed to grow in severity as the years passed. So I suited up in my pink apron and began to do some serious experimentation in the baking field. My mom bought me a book "Allergy Cooking with Ease" by Nicolette Dumke and I still refer to it this day. It truly was a life saver and taught me so much about food science and ingredient alternatives. We take allergies very seriously around here. EpiPens are always on hand because when Panteleimon has an allergic reaction, his throat immediately begins to swell and close up. This is called anaphylaxis and is probably one of the scariest things a person can witness.  To this day, Panteleimon remains allergic to wheat, meat, eggs, all dairy products, corn, soy, sugar and half of the fruits and vegetables but we are grateful for his health and abundant energy.
still drooling..

NM:  Can you please share what allergy-friendly options you offer to your customers?

Anna:  If you go to our website at www.toyourhealthbakery.com, you'll see that not only do we have an online store but we also have a "Special Orders" tab. This tab is designed for those who have restrictions that need to inform us before they order anything. We work with a variety of different flours including coconut, almond, spelt, gluten free oat, brown rice and more. We use Soy Free Earth Balance in lieu of butter and flax seeds, chia seeds and arrowroot in place of eggs. The sky is the limit when you order with us... if we don't know how to do something, we love a good challenge and will gladly find a solution! We once received  a request for a two tier chocolate strawberry cake that needed to be gluten free, grain free, corn free, soy free and dairy free. It was for the birthday of a five year old who had just been diagnosed with all of these allergies and was devastated at the thought of not having her usual cake. We ended up making her an incredibly moist chocolate cake out of coconut and almond flour, filled with a strawberry cashew cream, drowned in chocolate ganache and topped with fresh strawberries. They put My Little Ponies on top to decorate and she was as happy as could be. We love our customers and give 110% to accommodate their needs.
thinking of licking the screen
NM:  What are your certifications for your baking skills and your bakery itself?

Anna:  As mentioned before, I've been baking since I was eight years old. I also went through a two year culinary program at WS/FC Career Center that allowed me to compete in national cooking competitions for both years that I was enrolled. I worked at a bakery for two years before moving to the bakery at High Point University where I had my own line of desserts, "Panther Pastries". I opened my own bakery this past summer of 2015 and have also been working at Fratelli's Italian Steakhouse creating the dessert features there. I currently bake out of my home kitchen which was inspected and is certified by the NC Department of Agriculture. However, the long term goal is to save up enough for a retail space and have allergy-friendly, vegan, gluten free, paleo and gourmet baked goods on a daily basis!

Umm, yes please!
NM:  Your bakery is by appointment only- what is the typical time frame a customer could place an order and expect to have it?

Anna:  Our business cards do read "By Appointment Only" as we have had people stop by the house randomly, not realizing that we are not a retail location. However, we are constantly taking orders both by phone and through the website at all hours. At least five days in advance is preferable for an order but we have had people call in last minute and we've been able to service them. We try to stay flexible around here so if you're in a pinch, it never hurts to give us a call!

NM:  Are all of the items that you make from your personal recipes?

Pie! Oh my!
Anna:  A lot of the items I make are personal recipes or they are recipes that I have tweaked to become my own. All of our award winning cookie recipes are original, including our Caramel Apple Butterscotch Delights, Triple Chocolate Bombs and Blueberry Lemon Twists. Sometimes I'll just have ideas pop into my head, flavor combinations that I need to try and I become so inspired. I like to do a lot of research when I'm trying something new and read all of the different recipes available for a product. Then I take the best parts of all of the different variations and compile them into what I think is the master recipe! There's definitely a lot of guess and check involved but that's how you learn- through lots of practice and perseverance.

NM:  Could you share some of your favorite allergy-friendly brands that you use in your recipes?

I did NOT stick my finger in..
wanted too though
Anna:  Bobs Red Mill has been with me since day one. They've been there since before allergy awareness started to pick up and all of these other wonderful companies kicked off. They have such high quality products and have never let me down. Their new 1:1 Gluten Free Flour Mix is incredible and such a time saver. It makes flawless cookies, muffins, pie crusts.. you name it. Definitely a fan. I am also grateful for Glutino and their awesome mixes. Their products help me out when I'm in a pinch and I also have a lot of fun experimenting with their blends. Soy Free Earth Balance is the best thing next to real butter and they sell margarine in baking stick form which makes life so much easier. I was recently introduced to Winona Pure Oils and they absolutely rock. It's so nice not to have to stop and grease the pans by hand- it's just spray and go with superior product ensuring great taste and no stick.

Gee, I wonder how she met up with
Winona Pure Oils? (heh-heh)
NM:  What one kitchen item could you absolutely not live without and why?

Anna:  MY MIXER. Maybe I'm just weak, but I can't seem to function without it. There was a point in time where my little Hamilton Beach Electric Hand Mixer rode in the trunk of my car with me because it seemed that I was always running into situations where I needed a mixer and one was not present. It finally gave out a couple of weeks ago and it was rough letting it go... until the new Kitchen Aid took it's place :) Listen, if everything isn't fully combined, it won't bake right or taste right and no one's a happy camper! Also, mixing things by hand not only triples your baking time but it also seems to triple your mess and physical therapy visits for your arm...okay, kidding about the last part! But honestly, if you haven't already, invest in a mixer. You can thank me later.

NM:  Do you have any allergies of your own? If so, please share what they are and what symptoms occur.

Anna:  I've been very blessed to be allergy free thus far. I did suffer from pretty severe acid reflux growing up and it was only through an elimination diet and drinking apple cider vinegar that it has subsided. Otherwise, I am very blessed to lead such a healthy life.

NM:  Any advice or words or wisdom for others looking to bake as well?

Anna:  Never give up! I know that sounds cliche but it's so crucial in both baking and cooking. When you exhaust yourself and pour your whole heart into making something only to have it come out a rock yet gooey, unidentifiable substance, you really want to throw in the (kitchen) towel (and the apron) and eschew baking forever ( or as least until you've waited long enough to forget what a disaster the last time was). But don't do that! You're wasting precious time where you could be discovering new recipes and creating family favorites and lots of memories. No pain, no gain is totally true here. Keep persevering, tweaking, bake the same thing 15 times until you perfect it! Because once you've got it, you keep it for life :)

Many warm thank you's to Anna for her hard work and dedication to her family as well as all of ours who need her. I did want to share one last item that I saw on her website as I truly feel the exact same way- don't you agree too?









3 comments:

  1. When I read her name I thought, she just has to be a sista! Aha! The Greek quote gave it away. No wonder I enjoyed this article!

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    Replies
    1. Is that the secret ingredient to all of the really good allergy-friendly cooking? :)

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