Photo courtesy of Liz Fetchin (📸: @octofree)
When she’s not strategizing creative marketing for Pittsburgh businesses, North Hills native Liz Fetchin has her hands in the kitchen, cooking up allergy friendly food for her family. Recently, Liz launched Octofree, a blog where she shares recipes for everyday meals and comfort food free of the top eight food allergens; product reviews for her favorite ingredients, snacks and kitchen tools; and how-to guides for navigating life with food allergies and intolerances. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
What made you want to start your allergy-friendly food blog, Octofree?
I come from a family with lots of food allergies and intolerances. If there’s an allergy or intolerance out there, chances are we’ve got it covered. I’ve been cooking meals without the top eight food allergens (dairy, gluten, peanuts, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, soy and eggs), for 15+ years, and for a lot of that time, I thought our family was unique.
After I had my son and started talking with other moms, though, I realized that many other families are navigating life with food allergies or intolerances. In fact, in the U.S. alone, more than 32 million people, including 5.6 million children, have food allergies. There are so many of us dealing with the same challenges. It can be exhausting to find quick, convenient foods, and we are often made to feel like our allergies – which can be life-threatening – are burdensome or a nuisance to others. I realized that the recipes and tricks I’d learned from my own experience living with food allergies could help other people.
My mission with Octofree is to normalize and celebrate food allergies and intolerances by providing beautiful, calming resources that empower people to create safe, easy and delicious meals, tackle the challenges that food allergies present with ease and connect with one another in a positive and supportive environment.
Do you have any lessons for our readers about dramatically changing your eating habits?
It gets easier once you learn how to master ingredient substitutions (sign up for my emails at octofree.com/subscribe, and I’ll send you a free substitutions chart for common ingredients such as butter, flour, nuts and eggs). It can definitely be overwhelming at first, though. After my husband realized that his eczema was the result of gluten and soy allergies, and I already was dairy intolerant, I remember standing in the grocery store thinking, “Okay, what CAN we eat?”
But once you get used to cooking for allergies, things get a whole lot easier – and in many cases, just as delicious. There are now so many wonderful brands that make gluten-free, dairy-free staples like flour, cheese alternatives, bread alternatives, etc., that make it much easier to create an authentic-tasting meal without allergens than it was when I first started. It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. Most of the meals I make take 30 minutes or less, and many can be prepped ahead of time and frozen.
Call out some of your favorite recipes or upcoming features that we can look forward to on your blog.
The Four-Ingredient Sesame Chicken Tenders are so easy, and they’re real crowd pleasers for the whole family (kids included). And a delicious surprise was the Top-8-Free Scalloped Potatoes, which started as an Instagram challenge. Next week, I’m planning to post a roundup of top-eight-free recipes to stock your freezer for spring and summer. I’m especially excited about that one because I think it’ll really help people to have convenient, fresh, safe, homemade meals on hand.
Where do you like get allergy friendly food in Pittsburgh?
Interestingly, I don’t know of any restaurants around here that are officially top-eight-free, but there are lots of great options that will accommodate for allergies. With COVID-19 restrictions, we haven’t eaten in restaurants at all in the past year, but as restrictions lift, I can’t wait to try out Bar Botanico in Lawrenceville, which I’ve heard is very accommodating.
More exciting news this month: Gluten Free Goat is relaunching as a wholesale/retail kitchen, and you’ll be able to get their pastries at Adda Coffee & Tea House, Mediterra Bakehouse, the Speckled Egg and other coffee shops and breweries around town. I love that they’re also offering a service where you can order pastries for pickup or delivery straight to your home, and add curated items by local artisan makers such as honey, tea, spices and specialty coffee.
We couldn’t live without Naturally Soergel’s in the North Hills – they stock all the good stuff, including items I can’t find anywhere else.
And Consider the Lilys is a top-eight-free bakery in New Castle that I’ve been ordering a lot of novelty desserts from lately, including pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and adorable bunny and chick cookies for Easter.
When you're not working in PR or plugging away at your blog, what else do you like to do around the 'Burgh?
The pandemic has helped me to realize how simple pleasures can be so rejuvenating – I’ve been walking and hiking in North Park with friends and spending time outside at McConnells Mills and Moraine State Park with my husband and son. There are so many wonderful attractions in Pittsburgh, like Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which also happens to have a very accommodating café; the Andy Warhol Museum; the National Aviary; and the Carnegie Museums. And I’m a major book worm – I like to end every day with a good read.
Read the full Q-and-A here to learn about sustainable practices Liz uses in her kitchen, ways she fights the restrictive mentality of food allergies, and projects you can expect from her next.