Interview with Nicole Van Hoey

Published 2016-06-13.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Northeast Ohio, right near the Pennsylvania border, in a small town filled with Italian Americans. Good food was everywhere, and I didn't usually have to make it, just enjoy it. I took my family's recipes with me when I moved away, to the DC area, but I didn't think about them as anything special or integral to who I was until our house went dairy free for my youngest child's allergies. Then, I really missed pizza, lasagna, and other favorites a lot! But, combining my family memories with our new way of cooking made it easy to become a recipe developer---it's not the ingredients that are's the sharing of time in the kitchen and at the table.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I remember a few favorites from very early on, like Peter Rabbit or Where is My Mother? but my first favorite read that I carried around and re-read and memorized was Little Women. It made me want to have my own sisters, and I remember seeing a little bit of myself in each of the March girls. Now it's a favorite of my own girls, too.
What do you read for pleasure?
Now, I spend my work day reading a lot of laboratory science research, and I spend my evenings reading a lot of classic tales and young adult books with my kids. When I have a chance to read for myself alone, I like to curl up with a good mystery or crime novel on a rainy day or a fantasy series for a long reading stretch. Short stories by authors like Gaiman, Borges, or Millhauser, and some favorites from C.S. Lewis, round out any reading time that remains.
Who are your favorite authors?
It's impossible for me to nail down favorite books or authors, but a few come immediately to mind. Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen, for their novels...C.S. Lewis for his Narnia and Silent Planet sets and his nonfiction...Italian (or adopted Italian) authors like Italo Calvino, Eco, or Elena Ferrante...Agatha Christie, of course. And so many more.

Some of my favorite special-diet cookbook/essay writers are Sandra Beasley, Colette Martin, and Alisa Fleming (GoDairyFree), and not just because of the ingredient lists (which only sometimes overlap with my own needs) but mostly because of their attitudes, community efforts, and creativity.
Describe your desk
Because I freelance as a writer and editor in a few different fields, my desk is covered with multiple piles---at least one for each topic I've worked on recently. Right now, I have two medical journal style guides and notes next to my laptop, a rough draft of a magazine article on sleep disorders underneath my kids' photo frames, and three inspirational cookbooks with a folder of recipe ideas on the rug next to my slippers under the desk.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
In the kitchen! If I'm not reading or playing music with my kids, I like to be in the kitchen trying new recipes (usually alone, at first) or making old favorites (with my girls). It can take awhile to get a recipe without eggs, in particular, just right, but the experimentation is part of what I enjoy...even when it means I have to throw out a first go (or eat a cookie batter with a spoon!).
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Well, my kids are the ones who keep me up and positive each and every day. They are the ones to teach me to think outside the box, to enjoy what life offers instead of worrying about what is coming next. They are completely confident in my ability to finish a new recipe, and they eat the trial results (and usually say they love them!) even when I think they taste terrible.

My husband brings laughter to every moment and makes it easier to replace anxiety with joy or peace. He also keeps my kitchen clean after I trash it with recipe experiments!
How did you start writing cookbooks?
I've always had a lot of allergies, and my first child had a few minor ones as well. But my youngest child was born with severe food allergies that were diagnosed at just a few months of age. It's definitely more fun to cook and bake all together in the kitchen instead of making separate meals, so I started substituting ingredients into some favorite recipes. Pretty soon, we had a big collection of "new favorites" that my kids insisted I share with other people who are learning how to do this, too.
What is your writing process?
When I am writing new allergy-free recipes, I like to make a grid of the original recipe (with eggs, butter, or milk) and of some recipes that I or others have tried with substitutions, like applesauce. I look at the proportions of things like fat-to-sugar or egg-to-gluten and try to figure out what each ingredient contributes to the end product. Then, when the ingredients are selected, I start changing amounts to get the texture just right. A lot of the planning for a recipe happens on paper, well before the taste testing part.
Why do you focus on "pantry ingredients" in all of your recipes?
Early in recipe remaking, we couldn't use anything with soy or any types of seeds. We weren't even sure that something like flax was safe to use. Also, although we live in an urban area now, I grew up in a pretty rural setting, so specialty replacements became impossible-to-find items when we were visiting there. I wanted to make sure that the recipes we revised or made used healthy, safe ingredients without costing a lot, too. Pantry ingredients really means that they are probably already in your pantry or at least are available at a corner grocery store.
Do you make gluten-free recipes?
Fortunately for us, no one in the family has allergies to wheat (or any grains) or celiac disease (gluten sensitivity). The dairy-free, egg-free recipes in my cookbooks almost always contain a type of gluten---wheat, or sometimes oats.
Do you only write recipes?
In my day job, I read and research a lot of hard science topics and write plain-language versions for patients. I also write education programs for health professionals. But in my free time, I focus mostly on writing recipes or blog posts on a recipe-related topic.
What are you working on next?
Right now, I have so many different book ideas started, or at least outlined, but never enough time to build up and polish them! My next step is a large recipe collection, followed by a few more mini-cookbooks that meet some more narrow special diet needs. In addition to recipe collections, I am working on a set of health essays for consumers that are based on longer pieces I produced through my day job as a medical writer.
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Books by This Author

Cookie Chemistry: Kid-Friendly Creations Without Dairy, Nuts, or Eggs
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 4,300. Language: English. Published: June 13, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » Health & healing / allergy, Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » Health & healing / heart
Even nonbakers break out a cookie sheet now and then. It’s hard to really mess up a cookie—even flat or crunchy ones taste yummy. Through a bit of chemistry magic, here are favorite family cookie recipes reinvented as easy-mix egg- and dairy-free treats that anyone can make.
Bakery Bites: Breads and Treats Without Dairy, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds, or Soy
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 4,200. Language: English. Published: June 13, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » Health & healing / allergy, Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » Health & healing / heart
Breakfast recipes can be fun and delicious, even without eggs, butter, or milk. Whether you want something savory or a sweet treat, you can find heart-healthy, allergy-friendly options in Bakery Bites.
Kitchen Adventures With Multiple Food Allergies: A Recipe Collection for Celebrations Without Dairy, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Seeds, or Soy
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 5,150. Language: English. Published: June 9, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » Health & healing / allergy, Nonfiction » Health, wellbeing, & medicine » Allergies
If celebrations seem off limits because of food allergies, intolerances, or health restrictions, try these delicious quick-mix recipes without top allergens and with healthy pantry substitutions instead. From cookout side salads to sweet treats, Kitchen Adventures has a new favorite for your next gathering.