This is an excerpt from the beginning of my book, My Paleo Patisserie. To get a copy of the book, click here.
Pretty much as early as I can remember, my family’s culture revolved around the kitchen. I grew up in the far north part of Minnesota and many a grey, cold and billowy day was spent casually gathered with friends and loved ones around the kitchen table with a warm cup of coffee and a story to be shared. Some of my very earliest memories are of my parents preparing meals and welcoming guests into our home from near and far.
Our home was a place that was open to anyone and everyone, from local friends to traveling acquaintances, and there was rarely a time when we didn’t have a French press of coffee and a big pot of soup ready to warm up anybody who stopped by to say hello. For us, food was far more than sustenance for our bodies; it was the means by which people from all walks of life could come together and find common ground.
Both of my parents are avid cooks and the unique blend of their very distinct personalities created an interesting environment for me to grow up in.
My mother is a kind and generous woman whose exuberance tends to spill over onto anyone who comes through our door. In our small circle she is famous for her fresh baked bread and her home made cinnamon rolls will forever live on in the minds of hundreds of transient travelers as perhaps one of the greatest culinary encounters of their lives. Coming home to the smell of a kitchen under her direction is possibly the strongest and most enduring sensation that my young memory holds.
My father is a fascinating combination of cultured intellectual and rugged mountain man; He is as equally adept at teaching complex theology or catering an upscale gala as he is field dressing a deer or running a dog sled team across the frozen tundra. It’s from him that I learned to love the vast and varied cuisine of the world and there are very few things that brought me more joy as a young girl than getting to work side by side in the kitchen with him as he prepared the meals that welcomed so many into our home.
A Sense of Occasion
This unique culture lent itself well to creating a strong “sense of occasion” in my life. Because so many of the meals we shared happened as a sort of spontaneous moment to welcome surprise guests, any meal or get together that was planned ahead of time carried with it an enhanced sense of importance. If we knew days or weeks ahead of time that we would be hosting friends, the sense of anticipation combined with the time to plan afforded us the ability to put together unique and very elaborate meals to share with our guests. Often times we would spend days planning and preparing every detail of the event.
Living in a small northern town and having a close knit group of friends meant that more often than not, our family became the go to choice for facilitating every wedding reception, baby shower, birthday party and good old fashioned neighborhood shindig that went down. Over the years my love of serving people by creating amazing food for them became one of the most central parts of my identity. Still to this day there is almost nothing that I enjoy more than seeing the fulfillment of a lifelong dream sweep across a bride’s face when she sees her wedding cake for the first time or watching the elation of young girls as they walk into a daddy daughter dance that has been completely transformed into a Victorian era ball.
When I left home at 19 I carried this “sense of occasion” with me and because I married a man at 22 that was every bit as much of a renaissance man as my father is, the tendency to be at the center of all special events, especially when it involved food, quickly became the culture of my newly formed family as well. As we began having kids of our own and exploring our new life together I found a new depth of expression in this idea of a “sense of occasion” as I transitioned into the role of parent. Seeing my own children come alive and take joy in this lifestyle was even more fulfilling that I could have imagined and more so than ever I knew that this way of doing life was truly at the core of who I was as a person.
Over the years we have made numerous wedding cakes ranging from the traditional to the exotic. We have catered special dinners, organized everything from elegant charity events to backyard church picnics, and had the pleasure of hosting countless people in our home. But this lifestyle that I loved, that was so central to my identity, was abruptly cut short in the winter of 2011.
When Things Changed….
Over the course of several days my health sharply declined to the point that I was virtually paralyzed and unable to escape from persistent, excruciating pain from head to toe. Months of fruitless investigation followed but despite the best efforts of numerous doctors and specialists, my husband and I slowly began to accept the reality that not only was the life that we had built together gone, but that we may also have to seriously consider what life without me at all might look like for our young family.
In our desperation we followed the advice of a dear friend and made an appointment with a natural doctor and nutritionist she had recommended to us. At our appointment, and without any real hope in our hearts, we began to convey the sequence of events that had led us here, just as we had done so many times in the preceding six months. To our surprise, our story was not met with skepticism or vague speculation as it had been thus far. Instead, it was followed by a series of insightful questions about the subtle details of our experience which had never before been deemed as valuable information by the previous doctors we had visited.
After over an hour of discussion it was concluded that we should run some blood work to confirm the suspicion that the decline of my health was in fact due to an acute autoimmune response. The results of those tests confirmed our doctor’s suspicions and further testing revealed that my immune system was extremely unstable and that I had developed a significant sensitivity to, among other things, gluten, grains, dairy and nightshades.
Our doctor immediately put me on an extremely restricted diet and started actively working to supplement my failing immune system in order to alleviate my symptoms and try to restore some balance to my broken body.
Over the course of several more weeks I began to experience some relief from the most physically debilitating symptoms of this immune system dysfunction but the reality of my situation also began to become clear: Because of my particular genetic disposition and the nature of this reaction, there were certain aspects of this health condition, namely my extreme food sensitivities, that I would never fully recover from.
As compared to the notion of continuing in the state I had been living in, dealing with various food sensitivities would be a comparatively insignificant obstacle. However, for someone who has built their life around loving and giving to people through extravagant food, this news still came as quite a blow to the newly emerging glimmer of hope that I had only just begun to cling to.
Why The Urban Poser?
Despite this fact, hope still prevailed and we chose to move forward by embracing the challenges we were facing. We determined to find a way to enjoy our food, however limited that prospect might be, and as a means of journaling my experience and desperately clinging to any remnant of my former creative endeavors, I decided to begin blogging about my journey.
Before my crash I had been working as a Yoga teacher and had created a blog called The Urban Poser to serve as a resource for my students to find extended instruction and for me to expand on some of the more complex and philosophical aspects of the yogic experience. Because of the physically debilitating nature of my health issues, the notion of a continuing a fully yoga focused blog was all but gone, but since the idea of creating an entirely new blog was a bit daunting at the time, I decided to simply keep my existing setup and continue my blogging in this new path that I was walking out.
At first my blogs were limited to my internal experience; they were a way for me to emotionally and philosophically process what was happening to me and my family. To be honest, to call what I was doing at this point “blogging” would still be a fairly large overstatement. In the beginning I had to dictate what I wanted to say as my husband Ben typed it out because though my mind was streaming with creative ideas, I was still unable to hold my head up long enough to type out a blog post on my own without triggering neck spasms or severe back pain. This was truly a “spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” time of life for me.
As time passed and my recovery continued, I was eventually able to begin cooking again. Having had weeks of recovery time in which to imagine creative expressions for my newly limited diet, I hit the ground running and immediately started creating recipes. I quickly realized that I would need to start taking photos of my creations in order for people viewing my blog posts to understand what I was trying to represent so we purchased a $50 point-and-shoot camera from craigslist and off I went.
During this time, a good friend of mine who had begun following my blog mentioned to me that much of what I was creating was consistent with the Paleo diet. I had previously heard of Paleo but had not really looked into it at all because my primary goal over the preceding number of months, with regards to my diet, was one of simply following my doctor’s instructions in order to survive.
After looking into it more in depth I began tagging my posts as Paleo and interacting with other bloggers in the Paleo community. What I discovered there was a group of generous, encouraging and creative people who were all facing down their own unique set of challenges with grace and enthusiasm. They welcomed me with open arms and to this day I count many of them among a growing circle of very dear friends.
It wasn’t too long after this that I began to feel creatively limited by my own photography skills. I was creating beautiful recipes that I was extremely enthusiastic about, but my ability to capture and represent them in all the glory that I was seeing was decidedly insufficient. I purchased my first DSLR camera, a very used Canon 20D with a stock lens, and set my mind to learning “real” photography.
As my photography skills grew, the response to my blog posts began to increase and I was amazed when I began to receive emails and comments from people who were trying out my recipes and enjoying my creations. I began to realize at this point that food blogging could provide a great opportunity for me to experience again that life of sharing and touching people’s lives through my own love of creating beautiful food.
This realization brought with it a new sense of purpose and clarity for what I was doing. I knew then that despite the natural ebb and flow of my overall level of health, a lifestyle of connecting with people through sharing food, as I had in my childhood and as I had carried on with my own family, was still possible. I knew that it was my choice, and that I had before me a way to truly enjoy the lifestyle that had always been “me.”
The choice was not really a choice at all. This is not just what I do; it’s who I am.