This feature on Among Friends Baking Mixes is a sponsored post. For more on our sponsorship program, read this.
The other day, I finally had the chance to speak with Lizann Anderson, one of the founders of Among Friends Baking Mixes. We’ve been enjoying these mixes for months, not only for their ease in the making (Lucy feels like a baking master when she puts one together herself), but also for their whole grains and good ingredients. These mixes are free of the gums, preservatives, or anything funny. These are the only gluten-free blends we buy for our own family.
There are good mixes out there for gluten-free people but most of them contain xanthan and guar gum, which make me sick in regular doses. We do almost all our own baking, from scratch, with our own flour, which is 40% whole grain. However, sometimes, it’s such a relief to have a well-made mix in the house, something we can trust. For us, the only mix we really love is Among Friends.
I was so happy to talk with Lizann because she has the same passion for food that Danny and I do, not only as a delicious part of our day, but also as a means for gathering people to the table. And her stories of entrepreneurship and the special patience it requires to deal with grocery stores and brokers made me feel much better. The woman who runs this company is full of integrity and good humor, just like the mixes. It was a good conversation.
We’re happy to announce Among Friends as our latest sponsor. I asked Lizann to share more of her story with you.
Can you tell us about the story of this company? How did it begin?
Among Friends Baking Mixes was founded by my friend, Suzie Miller, and me. Passionate, busy moms and foodies, we saw a need for whole grain baking mixes that would make it easy for people to bring family and friends around the table for treats that are both nutritious and delicious.
Our families played a pivotal role. We were tired of our own kids reaching for the ubiquitous and nutritionally vapid white flour treats. And the whole-grain options we tried tasted like cardboard. We were our target audience. Then in 2013, my niece Sarah Anderson was diagnosed with celiac disease when a routine blood test showed persistent anemia with no cause.
Sarah was lucky. She was diagnosed at a time when the doors of the gluten-free world were being flung wide open. And at Among Friends, we were doing our small part to create that world. We’d been experimenting with gluten-free mixes for a few years before Sarah’s diagnosis, and we were delighted to be able to offer guidance on whole grain, gluten-free eating. Suzie and I know many other people who pursue gluten-free eating to help mitigate the effects of autoimmune disorders or other sensitivities. Our goal always has been to bring everyone around the table for nourishing and delicious whole grain fare. We aim to create products that the whole family can relish—no sacrifice needed, no separate baking required.
Suzie has two daughters and a son and I have three boys. We are fortunate that none of our kids has dietary limitations or allergies. The beauty of that is they compare what comes out of our kitchen with what’s out in the world—not the “free from” world.
So when our picky kids and our friends give our treats the thumbs up, we know we are on to something. They are skeptics at heart—especially when responding to their mothers.
If you have a motto for the company, what is it? And what does it mean to you?
“Friends don’t let friends eat white flour.”
At Among Friends, we just don’t use anything besides whole grains. No white stuff, gums or fillers. As my dad says, the truth is efficient. For years, brands telling whole grains were only adding back a smidgen of whole-grain to the white stuff. I always tell people — just check the first ingredients. Cookie in point: gluten-free oats and gluten-free oat four are the first two ingredients in our ever popular SuzieQ cookie mix. Not a bad way to get fiber and magnesium, probably the number one ingredient in whole grains that we need.
And frankly, this is one of those ”The whole is greater than the sum of its parts “stories. Scientists tell us to eat fruits and vegetables, not for a single component, but for the nutritional magic that happens when the whole package is consumed. It is the synergy of the various nutrients in the whole-grain that promote optimum nutrition.
I would also like to mention our first motto that provides the underpinning of our business goals… “Among Friends, handcrafted baking mixes for the people you love.” Again, we wanted to invite others back into the kitchen to bake for the people they love, removing some of the common barriers to baking…sourcing, procuring ingredients, time, more mess, whole grain knowhow, recipe development and searching.
Can you tell us more about some of the specific mixes and why you make them?
SuzieQ: The original cookie is a classic oatmeal chipper, perfect for lunch boxes, coffee breaks, study breaks, pre-workout nosh, portable sustenance for a hike, even breakfast on the run for teenagers dashing out the door without a sitdown breakfast. It is named for Suzie, co-founder, and the first completely whole grain oatmeal cookie our kids would consistently eat.
Evan’s Heavenly: Named for my oldest son Evan who would not eat cereal for breakfast…I tried all sorts of things but to this day he will eat a few of our cookies or a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast. Originally made with spelt, this cookie with a hint of cinnamon is now made with gluten-free oat flour.
Trish the Dish: This mix is a crisp topping packed with flavor and goodness. It is perhaps our most versatile mix. It is the friendliest dish to take to a potluck as everyone, no matter what dietary inclination, seems to enjoy it, no explanations required. (well, not for paleo people.) When I am taking it to a party I make it vegan with coconut oil or earth balance. I make granola from the mix almost every week as my husband tops his cereal with it. Suzie and I love it “the day after” with peaches, raspberries, and cold greek yogurt. It is a great pie topping as well.
Shane’s Sweet-n-Spicy: Named for my son Shane, who remains sweet and spicy, this mix really was developed because Shane wanted a cookie like his grandma made and I wanted to reduce the sugar, fat, and make it whole grain. The dough is lovely and fragrant and easy to roll out. The crumbs of Shane’s make a great crust for key lime pie, which is the only pie my son makes.
[And there are three more cookie mixes, a pancake, brownie, and cake mix. Among Friends will have a mix exclusive to Target this spring!]
Why does gluten-free matter to you?
The first reason is personal. I went through a period in my early 40s after a late miscarriage where I experienced a cluster of symptoms ranging from numbness in my face and feet to extreme fatigue to hair loss to depression, despite the fact that I exercised, ate well, stood on my head, etc. I was eventually diagnosed with autoimmune thyroid disease, Hashimotos. But before that, I plunged into my own research and diet management and tried all sorts of things, including an elimination diet and avoided gluten. This was more than 10 years ago and the available products were just plain awful…and just as distressing for me, the products were void of nutrition. So much white rice. I have always been interested in nutrition, but never content to sacrifice flavor.
The second reason is philosophical, a reason I share with Suzie. I believe breaking bread with family and friends in a spirit of gratitude is one of the most profound and satisfying ways we express ourselves as human beings. Three times a day, we pause to eat, to reflect, refresh, and nourish ourselves. My husband, in our blessing, often says, “May we use the strength that this food gives us wisely.”
You can make a feast of anything. At its best, a meal is a source of communion, not a division along dietary lines. Sharing food is a central part of our human experience, so break bread, or not bread. The important thing is to gather.
Can you share a story of customers who have been affected by the food?
A customer recently sent us this email.
“Ladies, I purchased “Phil ’em up” cookie mix…I am an avid baker but have almost completely stopped baking due to food allergies in my daughter. This is the first gluten free mix EVER that has not made my little girl sick. Even recipes made from scratch with honey, no sugar have made her sick. I was able to make a batch for her to eat during a birthday party we had Saturday and she wasn’t left out. She wanted me to tell you they are delicious and to keep making more.”
This email launched a wonderful exchange. I suggested that perhaps her daughter has reacted to the gums that are ubiquitous in other gluten-free products. Mallie wrote back and sent photos. “We had a great time baking today. Miss Mallie was super excited to take pictures of her baking and tasting the dough!…We sure appreciate you and your company!“
A picture of a little girl with a smile truly is worth a thousand words.
Earlier this week, Danny and I made the ginger-molasses cookies mix, rolled it out like a pie dough, and used to make a tart shell, which we filled with the dairy-free chocolate pudding we developed for the chocolate meringue pie in our latest cookbook, American Classics Reinvented. It was mighty fine. A gluten-free chocolate-ginger tart for Valentine’s Day? Sign me up.
However, since Valentine’s Day truly means the most when you’re a little kid, we made the ginger-molasses cookie mix again, rolled them out, and made cut-out hearts. After we baked them and let them cool, Danny made a pink frosting with butter, powdered sugar, and fresh beet juice. Sound strange? It was delicious. The earthiness of the beets cut the sweetness of the powdered sugar and gave it all an interesting taste. We took these to Lucy’s 1st-grade Valentine’s party today. The two plates of cookies came back empty.
Gluten-free or not, everyone enjoys these cookies.
Thanks, Lizann, and everyone at Among Friends Baking Mixes.
Among Friends is giving away mixes to 3 lucky readers. Simply leave a comment about why you are interested in trying these and you are eligible to win. Winners will be chosen at random on Monday, February 22nd and informed via email.