Amanda Orlando is the creator of Everyday Allergen Free, which she started to inspire confidence in people who live with life-threatening food allergies and dietary restrictions. Her writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, and she is the author of Allergen-Free Desserts to Delight Your Taste Buds (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015). She lives in Toronto.

Have you ever struggled to think of date ideas that are safe for your food allergies or celiac disease? It certainly can be a challenge. When I was in the dating world, I often felt stressed when it came to suggesting activities or restaurants that I thought my date and I would both enjoy. Bringing up my food allergies (peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy protein, legumes) was a source of anxiety for me, and it made me feel very self-conscious. I always worried that the enjoyment of the date would be sacrificed, or that the guy would be weirded out by my autoimmune disease.

It was after a date that was so clearly un-Amanda-friendly that I realized I had to improve my lines of communication, even if it made me uncomfortable to do so. If the other person was “weirded out” by me, then they weren’t the right fit anyways.

Many years ago, my boyfriend at the time took me on a double date to a dessert café where the only menu item I could have was a black coffee. This was followed by a resto-bar, where I was too young to order a drink. No thanks. I went home feeling like I had just sat in on someone else’s date.

Needless to say, that relationship did not last, but I did take that experience to heart for my future dating life. That’s not to say it didn’t take time for me to overcome my self-consciousness about my allergies, but as I grew up and met the man who is now my husband, I developed strategies for making dates less stressful. The more relaxed I was (about my allergies) the more I could let my personality shine.

One of the things we loved (and still love) is having a picnic, just the two of us. In the beginning, I’d make a meal at home and pack it up, and we’d head to one of Toronto’s many parks. Later, as our relationship grew, we’d make our meal together and found that laying on the grass with our feast was such a nice way to spend the afternoon. We even started adopting this habit during travel. One of our favorite travel moments was during a picnic in Central Park. We gathered up different ingredients from Eataly and Whole Foods, and spent the day laying on the grass and enjoying each other’s company.

Enjoy Life chocolate has long been a staple product in our home, and for our picnics. Preparing thoughtful sweets with these allergy-safe chocolate chips will definitely be a welcome addition to your picnic. Who wouldn’t love such a velvety sweet indulgence? You can use Enjoy Life chocolate chunks or mini chips as indicated in these recipes, or you can add in some dark chocolate if you like a deeper, richer flavor. I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite chocolate treats from my book, Everyone’s Welcome, that would be perfect for picnic grazing. I assembled all three of these recipes in under forty minutes and left them in the fridge to set for a couple of hours. You could even make them the night before. Just wrap them up and toss into a small cooler or insulated bag for transport. Enjoy!

Chocolate Bark (page 172)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Enjoy Life Foods Mini Chips
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ cup shelled, salted pumpkin seeds
  • pinch of sea salt
  • You can add other seeds, such as flaked hemp seeds (pictured) or whole sunflower kernels, and fruits such as dried cranberries or orange zest.

Melt the chocolate and vanilla in a double boiler or the microwave. Mix well to ensure the vanilla is evenly distributed. Mix in the cinnamon and ginger. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour the chocolate onto the parchment and spread it out to a ¼ inch sheet. Sprinkle the seeds, zest, dried fruit, etc., evenly over the top. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, then smash it all up into pieces. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Chocolate Pots (page 180)

Ingredients:

Makes about 4 – 5 individual servings

Blend the banana, milk, organic honey, oil, vanilla, and salt. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave. Fold the chocolate into the banana mixture. Spoon it out into individual servings and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour before serving, to allow it to set. Garnish with fresh fruit, berries, mint leaves, or more mini chocolate chips.

Two other variations of this recipe are offered in Everyone’s Welcome, using different fruit and vegetables in place of banana.

Seed Butter Cups (page 184)

Ingredients:

Makes 10 small or 4 large cups

Line a muffin tin with foil or parchment muffin cups. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. Pour a spoonful into each muffin cup so it is filled about halfway. Mix the sunflower seed butter and honey or maple in a small bowl, then add a small dollop to each of the cups. Pour more chocolate into each cup to fill to the top. Chill for at least 1 hour to allow them to set.