Monday, August 16, 2010

Hello Pamela, and a Giveaway!!!

     I’m honored and excited to share this particular post today; as I’ve mentioned before, this blog was partly inspired by a cookie: a Pamela’s Products Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookie, to be exact.
     Ever since that savory moment of inspiration, I’ve wanted to know more about Pamela, the woman behind these deliciously indulgent treats—made sans gluten, wheat, and in most cases, dairy. Thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook (and social media in general), I was fortunate enough to hook up with some of Pamela’s people, and voila! An interview with Pamela is what followed.

     So, without further ado… Hello Pamela!
Sweet Sensitivity (SS): I have to ask what the story is behind the Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookies; they are, after all, the product of yours that made me fall in love with your line of gluten-free goodies! Is there a particular place and time that you came up with the idea and/or discovered the perfect combination of ingredients to make them taste so irresistibly delicious? (Because they are by far the best wheat-free, gluten-free, non-dairy chocolate cookies I’ve ever tasted.)
Pamela (P): That is so sweet—thank you for the kind words. The story is, I am a chocoholic, and I was working on the Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookie (because what is better than chocolate and more chocolate) and testing various recipes on my bachelor neighbor. I started with the first version and tweaked it, and my neighbor and friend Dino would always go back to that first version. He was so passionate about it, that I figured I had it right.
SS: I read a bit of background on your website, so I know that you grew up in the midst of health foods and food-allergy-friendly “treats” via working in your grandparents’ store when you were younger. What motivated them to open the store and cater to the gluten-free and otherwise food-sensitive population?
P: My grandmother became a vegetarian in 1920 and remained [one] throughout the rest of her life. She meditated, did yoga and drank carrot juice for over 50 years. My grandparents attended nutritional lectures and found out that one of the first  health food stores in San Francisco was for sale. This was a perfect opportunity for my grandmother to be involved with a world that she was passionate about. There was a small bakery in the back where “special dietary baked goods” were made daily. This included salt-free, dairy-free, alternative sugar, raw food, organics, and gluten-free goods. We outgrew the store after about 15 years, and became a wholesale bakery and flour mill (the mill is still in business today). I worked at the wholesale bakery, which by then my father and uncle had purchased from my grandparents. It was and still is an industry that we understand and care deeply about.

SS: How did they (and the store) influence your personal food choices and overall health consciousness?
P: I was the kid with the brown bread and carob chip cookies during the 1960s in a world of white bread and Ho-Hos. I completely understood what it meant to eat food that looked different than your friend’s. But my parents raised me [with the understanding] that “natural” foods were what was healthy for you. As a family, we never ate out so I was very influenced by the meals that my mom put on the table and the baked goods, wheat flour, brown sugar, [and so forth] that my dad brought home from the bakery. Also, having a vegetarian grandmother, alternative lifestyles and diets were a part of my upbringing. It never seemed odd to me.  
SS: What drove you to take on the challenge of venturing out on your own in 1988?
P: I could see the need for improved gluten-free foods, and I felt that if my products tasted good then everyone could enjoy them and the retailers wouldn’t have trouble selling them. I wanted to alter the typical attitude of just having something on the market no matter what it tasted like. What frustrated me was that I loved the family business but had two brothers working there. I was told that I couldn’t run the company because I was a girl, so I packed up my belongings and rented a warehouse down the street (close enough to steal boxes from my dad and use his copy machine…), and I was on my way.
SS: Did you have a lot of outside support, or did it feel more like a lonely pipe dream at the time?
P: I did not have a lot of outside support in the form of cash. I had friends and my husband and mom who believed I was smart and believed in my abilities, but my dad kept asking me, “Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel?” I could only see that I owed money and I couldn’t stop until the debts were paid. I sometimes would find myself crying at my desk, feeling alone. It’s a long, stressful process to grow a business, in particular when you are learning on the job.
SS: When you look back now, do you think you could have envisioned at the time just how successful your company would become?
P: I never knew that gluten-free was going to become mainstream. Natural food stores were very small in 1988 and I assumed I would only be selling to them, same as my dad’s company.  No one cared about gluten-free foods back then except those who had to eat GF. I don’t believe anyone thought that it would become a recognized issue. I was only thinking about the customers that had to eat the horrible GF food my dad made. I just wanted food to be different for them.
SS: How have you seen the gluten-free community evolve over the years? 
P: The grassroots Celiac Support and Gluten Awareness Groups have been the catalyst for moving the gluten-free industry forward. Without their unrelenting dedication to getting the message out and asking stores, doctors, manufacturers, and the like to understand their needs, I believe gluten-free foods would still be ignored. Technology is also a part of the huge surge in awareness. There are meet-up groups, websites, blogs, and so much more going on because of it.
SS: I notice that you seem to go out of your way to use top-quality ingredients in your products. From a business perspective, I’m aware that the good stuff typically costs more (which is why the majority of processed, packaged food producers opt for the cheaper ingredients). Why is it so important to you to use organic, top-of-the-line ingredients?
P: It’s important to me that food satisfies both mind and body. I look for flavorful ingredients to completely satisfy the palate, and ingredients that will not harm—no artificial anything, and organic if I can. If you have a special dietary need, the last thing you should have to worry about is the food going in your mouth. Food needs to be delicious and nutritious, and in the case of Pamela’s Products, not harmful for those eating gluten-free. 
SS: Of the cookies you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
P: That depends on my mood. I don’t like really sweet cookies so I tend to go for the Extreme Chocolate Simplebites, the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, the Spicy Ginger Cookies, or the Pecan Shortbread. But every time I try one of the others, I am pleased that I still find them delicious even though they are not my favorite. 
SS:  Empty your mind of all thoughts, but contemplate the cookie. This is one of the meditative cookie reflections that appears on your website. What does this mean to you?
P: I love these meditations. I believe in being aware of the smallest treasures in life. Stop and smell the roses, acknowledge how perfect the blue in a blue sky can be, and how nothing else matters as you eat your favorite cookie.

    Phew! Wherever you are, Pamela, thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule; this was such a treat!
    And now, for the giveaway… 

    The folks at Pamela’s have a lovely package prepared for whoever wins my first-ever product giveaway: a bunch of baking mixes and one box of cookies (of your choosing!).To enter, you just need to do three things:
  1. Leave a comment on this post sharing your favorite Pamela’s Products cookie. If you’ve never tried her cookies before, choose one from the following gluten- and dairy-free flavors that makes your mouth water: Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chunk; Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip; Spicy Ginger; Peanut Butter; Chunky Chocolate Chip; Old Fashioned Raisin Walnut; and Espresso Chocolate Chunk
  2. Visit Pamela's Products on Facebook and "like" their page.*
  3. Visit Sweet Sensitivity on Facebook and "like" my page.*
*Obviously, if you don't use FB, numbers 2 and 3 don't apply to you!     
     It’d be lovely if you would share about this giveaway on other social media outlets, too, seeing as how I'm still fairly new to the blogging world. But that’s just a request—not a requirement. 
     And finally, Pamela's next Gluten-Free Challenge isn't until May 2011, but it's never too early to start prepping. Click here to find out more about how you can receive recipes and tips from Pamela's in the upcoming months.


  1. Yay for giveaways! What an awesome interview! I see a possible career path for you...

    I would love to win, but I've never tried any of the packaged cookies. I think her baking and pancake mix is amazing though. But the chocolate chip sound awesome. And I'll tweet this for you!

    When are you going to join twitter? :)

  2. Thanks for reading and tweeting, Iris! This is my first giveaway, so I need all the help I can get!

    RE me joining twitter: I did! But only because a friend made me do it, and I never go on there. It's still too foreign to me or something... and my phone is so ancient that I couldn't tweet on it even if I wanted to!

  3. Great interview! I really enjoyed learning more about Pamela. It's so nice to be able to have a down to earth conversation with the leading gluten free baking mixes maven! Thank you so much for sharing!

    I love the lemon shortbread and pecan shortbread cookies, but ironically I never tried the Spicy Ginger. That sounds delicious!

  4. Oh, and I'm following you and Pamela's Products on Facebook. :)

  5. I also have never tried the cookie mixes (I'll need to place an online order to try them though!) but I love the cake mixes. I make a triple chocolate cke with the chocolate cake mix and I love the vanilla straightup, but I also use it to make a pumpkin spice cake and a apple sauce spice cake. Yum! Off to tweet this post...

  6. I love the interview! And I have never tried Pamela's products but now I want to for sure. I'd look for the Espresso Chocolate Chunk. I "liked" you and Pamela on Facebook also. Good luck your blog.

  7. I read an interview of Pamela in Living Without a few months ago - but I definitely get the feeling of WHO she is from yours. Wonderful job!

    My faves are the double chocs. No question. Last Friday, I woke up with a horrible bladder infection in the middle of the night. I couldn't sleep. So what did I do? I drove to Giant for cranberry juice and Pamela's cookies.

    They are comfort in a box.

    Btw I have liked on FB. :) Great post Sax! <3

  8. Thanks, everyone! I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview. I loved getting to see that side of Pamela, too.

    I'll keep this open for a week or so, and then I'll announce the winner of the giveaway!

  9. The chunky chocolate chip sounds really great! My son has milk allergies and I live in a tiny town with one store,they do not have dairy free anything and my own cookies taste terrible. This would be wonderful to try.

  10. I like both facebook
    Rachel Carter Crisman

  11. Great interview, I loved reading it and learning more about Pamela.I saw your blog from the foodie blog roll and I love what you have here.



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