I am a passionate baker who has been dabbling in the scrumptious art of combining flour, sugar, butter and a warm oven since the tender age of ten. When I started to experiment with baking, my speciality was chocolate chip cookies. However, my flair for baking eventually progressed to include home-baked bread, scones, shortbread, sugar cookies, banana bread, brownies, oatmeal chocolate chip cookie bars and muffins. I have always taken great delight in baking love into my goodies and I have a deliciously whimsical notion that to eat one of my home-baked treats is to get a big dose of love and a giant hug. And it doesn’t stop there; I believe that the love I have shared is like a giant glow around the person who has eaten my yummy treat. That glow of love then touches every person with whom they come in contact and the love is passed on and on. I might go so far as to say that I could heal the world with my baking. A fanciful notion, I know, but one I have held for the past 32 years!
Winter is the deliciously cozy season in which I hunker down and rarely let my oven cool between batches of freshly-baked goodies. There is nothing more satisfying to me than the house bathed in the aroma of sweet ingredients baking together in delicious harmony. There is a warm feeling of childhood nostalgia that I tap into as I catch that first whiff of the delicious contents of my oven and I love that cozy smell to greet my kids at the end of a wintry school day. The hopeful romantic in me believes that every time my boys smell something freshly-baked, they will unconsciously think of me and how deeply they are loved. And if I am feeling blue, there is no better therapy than to whip up a batch of cookies and allow the sweet aroma of love to bathe me in soulful comfort and simple joy.
I did an inordinate amount of baking last winter in a futile attempt to chase away the demons that seemed to be stocking me with relentless persistence. Michael had been assaulted by his teacher, our beautiful house was on the market, we were facing a distressing move at the end of March, our financial situation was dire and my marriage was on rockier ground than it ever had been. It felt like the pressures surrounding me were way too big and far too painful so I chose to simply shut my emotional doors for business and hang a ‘Closed’ sign on the door. Simon and I were barely talking except for the necessities of communication when you have three children, a mound of debt, a house on the market and a pending move. To add insult to injury, I was in full denial of Michael’s physical and emotional health and my life felt like it had a terrifying momentum in the wrong direction. It didn’t seem to matter how much baking I did last winter, my life and my relationship were well and truly on the rocks.
Shortly after beginning my journey into acceptance of Michael’s ADHD diagnosis last May, I was walking vaguely through the grocery store wondering what to feed my family for dinner that night. We had just changed Michael’s diet on the advice of our new naturopath and attempting to feed him without any gluten or dairy was feeling like an insurmountable challenge. As I stood in the produce section of the supermarket (knowing Michael could eat anything there) my cell phone rang; it was Simon calling from work to check in and see how I was doing. At that time it seemed that the only time we were able to talk without arguing was on the phone. Short and frequent calls from work ensured that we were not losing each other completely. When I told Simon that I was wandering around the store trying to shop for our dinner, he asked me how I was feeling about Michael’s ADHD diagnosis. I gulped and felt tears stinging my eyes. I told him that I didn’t want the diagnosis to be true but that it was a relief to finally be facing the painful truth which I had been holding at arm’s length for so long. When I reciprocated the question, Simon felt much the same.
As I continued to wander through the busy supermarket and pretend that having a civil conversation with my husband was the norm, Simon told me that he thought Michael’s diagnosis was a gift. He told me that he felt Michael was going to lead us all to health and wholeness. He went on to say that Michael is the trailblazer in our new life and our new beginning. As Simon spoke I felt my very first glimmer of hope and I clung to it as desperately as a drowning sailor to a life raft.
Flashing forward six months I can see that Simon’s prediction was startlingly and stunningly prophetic; thanks to Michael, our family is in better physical, mental, emotional, financial and spiritual health than ever before.
Many of these changes are due to a dramatically altered diet. At Michael’s lengthy intake appointment with our new naturopath last year, I was told that allergies and intolerances are often passed through the mother. Therefore, a full health history from me was an important piece of Michael’s physical puzzle. After listening to my health history (seasonal allergies, asthma, severe eczema, stomach cramps after meals and very sore knees) Sonya informed me that every one of my symptoms was pointing toward dairy and gluten intolerance. She then suggested that I might want to consider following the same gluten and dairy-free diet as Michael. After four astonishing weeks, every physical symptom literally disappeared; my eczema was gone, I no longer felt sick after every meal, I lost 12 pounds and I no longer had to cling to the railing to walk down the stairs in the morning because the pain in my knees was so acute. Physically, I felt like a teenager again.
Even with his mother following the same dietary regime, Michael was struggling emotionally with his new restricted diet. In a show of paternal solidarity, Simon promised Michael he would cut out gluten and only use dairy in his coffee. Simon has suffered from severe migraine headaches since the age of four and has often needed to retreat to a cool, dark room to recover from the agonizing attack. Due to the significant and unrelenting stress in our marriage and our lives last year, Simon was returning home with a pounding headache at the end of every work day. I got to the point that I couldn’t hear the word ‘headache’ come out of his mouth without wanting to scream. In addition to the headaches, Simon has been struggling with weight loss and has tried bouts of committed exercise to no avail. After four weeks gluten-free, Simon realized that he could not recall his last headache. And to his great delight, he also started to see the bathroom scale report the best news imaginable; six months later Simon has lost 40 pounds and is still dropping. He looks and feels better than he has in more than 20 years. Gluten consumption is now a thing of the past and, miraculously, so are the migraine headaches.
With the unqualified success of Michael, Simon and me, our attention turned to Max who has suffered from severe allergies for the past eight years. We decided that we would take Max to our brilliant naturopath and she predicted that his food intolerances would likely be in keeping with mine. Max’s allergy testing confirmed a severe allergy to eggs, citrus fruit, wheat and dairy. Even though the naturopath warned us that the effects of his new dietary regime would probably not be felt until next summer, this summer was the best one Max has had in years. He used to take an allergy pill every single day with little or no relief and this summer he didn’t even need one.
At 11 years of age, Max has had the most difficult time changing his diet and understandably so. He does not want to feel left out and dearly misses the things he used to enjoy, particularly dairy products; hot buttered popcorn and toast, ice cream from the local parlour, cream cheese with his bagels, cereal with milk and milkshakes. In early August, Max threw caution to the wind and indulged in an extra-large milkshake after a day at the beach with a friend and her family. I shuddered as I saw him walk into the house with the remains of the milkshake. He defensively told me that he doesn’t “buy in” to his dairy allergy. Unfortunately, Max suffered through 4 weeks of a severe episode of hives that kept him awake night after night in frustrated and excruciating itching. Needless to say, Max is now completely dairy-free and his allergies are slowly waning.
I am delighted to report that our youngest, Zachary, has a system that seems to defy the pattern of the rest of the family. He can eat anything in any amount and have no adverse effect at all. Go figure!
As I grew accustomed to our new dietary needs it started to feel easy. It meant that there always had to be a meal plan in place and coming home from work at the end of the day to no food in the fridge was not an option. I discovered all kinds of delicious and satisfying alternatives to our old favourites and we were eating in a way that resonated with my spirit; fresh, organic and healthy. I felt like a good mom again. Gone were the days of ordering a pizza or stopping at Tim Horton’s while on a road trip but things were starting to feel better than they had in years.
Thanks to our dear friend (and raw food chef), Barb, Simon and I have been experimenting with raw (or live) food. The principal behind raw food is that it is not cooked in the traditional way of steaming, baking, broiling or frying. The food is never heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit which preserves the naturally-occurring enzymes, nutrients, vitamins and the natural metabolic structure of the food. To make a very long story short, our bodies have to do less work with live food than with traditionally cooked food. We have followed one of Barb’s very first lifestyle suggestions religiously; to start the day with a ‘green’ smoothie. To this day we have not let a morning go by without indulging in our favourite breakfast; spinach, ground flax, spirulina, almond butter, banana, strawberry, raspberry and blueberry all whipped together in the blender. It probably sounds appalling to those who enjoy a more traditional fare, but our smoothies are truly addictive and we feel great after starting the day with our rather alien-looking concoction!
To date, we have not made the giant leap to a 100% raw diet; that challenge feels more than slightly daunting at this point in time. However, we are incorporating as much live food as we can and thoroughly enjoying a new and deeply resonant culinary experience. There are a few tools that are necessary for the raw lifestyle and one of them is a food dehydrator. A dehydrator slowly removes the water content from the food while delicately preserving its living quality. My mom is an ardent supporter of our new lifestyle and the changes she has seen in the health of our family (particularly Michael) has caused her to leap delightedly onto the bandwagon (even indulging in green smoothies each morning at the cottage this past summer!) When my birthday rolled around in early June my parents arrived looking as excited as kids on Christmas morning. My birthday gift was to be a brand new dehydrator ordered through Barb’s website. Needless to say, I was delighted and my parents both looked like the proverbial cats that had swallowed more than one canary!
It took me about a month to get around to ordering my new dehydrator. It arrived during a particularly hot day in July and I unpacked it with delicious anticipation and set it proudly on the counter. And there it sat for weeks on end looking a little ungainly and entirely daunting. A dehydrator is not like any other appliance I have ever known. It is not straightforward or intuitive and it does not do any kind of cooking to which I am accustomed. So there it sat like a white elephant week after week taking up valuable space on my countertop. The only purpose it served was as a mail collector and a great conversation piece to any visitors who happened through my kitchen over the summer. Unfortunately, it had become one of those ‘when I have some time’ kind of things. Summer went by, school started, the nights started to get cool and still the dehydrator sat on my counter as one of the least successful birthday gifts of all time. And every time I laid eyes upon it I felt guilty that my parents had wasted their money on such a large and rather unattractive counter ornament.
Cool September nights were not quite enough to get me motivated to dive into dehydrating our food. However, once the leaves started to turn, a hunger deep inside me was reawakened from summer hibernation.
Spring and summer are never big baking times for me so I did not really notice the absence of wheat, sugar and dairy-laden treats baking in my oven. This fall, as the leaves have been turning in stunning display, my mind has turned with regret to the winter ahead; no baking, no hot chocolate after tobogganing and none of the sweet aroma of love healing my blues and nurturing my rosy-cheeked sons. I knew that this winter just wouldn’t be the same and I silently mourned the loss of my passion for baking.
Just as the regret was sinking in, I got a phone call from the library. My name had finally come to the top of the list for the raw food book that I had ordered two months earlier. As I started to read ‘Raw Food Real World’ by Matthew Kenney and his partner Salma Melngailis, I could feel myself being lured into yet another new phase of my life. Their book is so well written and their shared passion for flavour, presentation, health and vitality is so strong that their message literally jumped off the pages and into my soul. I felt myself devouring their book and awakening a new passion for food that Barb had begun to kindle months previously. Who knew that a book about raw food would be so compelling? The authors explain in great detail the wonder of the right foods and the detrimental effect of the wrong foods in our bodies. Their recipes are beautiful and easy to follow. I found myself utterly inspired and suddenly I felt the white elephant on my countertop shaking off its summer malaise and standing at inspired attention.
By this time it was late October and I had a deep longing to make something sweet and warm. As I pored through my newest companion I came across a macaroon recipe, both chocolate and vanilla. I absolutely love Barb’s raw macaroons so I decided that I was going to be really brave and go for it. I carefully shopped for the ingredients I needed; shredded unsweetened coconut, maple syrup, coconut butter, vanilla, Celtic sea salt, cocoa for the chocolate recipe and almond flour for the vanilla recipe. As I prepared the batter for the chocolate macaroons I sang along to the music I had playing in the background. I silently marvelled how surprisingly soul-satisfying it felt to be preparing a new treat for my family that did not have any processed sugar, white flour, eggs or butter. Once I had finished the chocolate recipe and got them safely deposited onto the dehydrator trays, I dove into the vanilla recipe. I must admit that after placing all the macaroons on the dehydrator trays I almost gnawed off my own hand in an attempt to get every last drop of the most delicious batter I had ever tasted off my fingers. If the batter was this good I could only imagine how the finished product was going to taste!
One of the most significant differences between baking and dehydrating is time. My macaroons were going to take 24 hours; no instant gratification there, I was going to have to wait. I also counselled myself that there would be no sweet aroma of love drifting through the house to wrap us in healing and love. I reminded myself that we live a new life now and that those feelings are a thing of the past. I felt a little heaviness in my heart as I bid adieu to my old ways and set off to collect the kids from school.
As my alarm awakened me the following morning at 4:30 I slowly became aware of an aroma in the house that I could not identify. As I came to full consciousness I realized that I could smell the macaroons! And it was the most delicious smell I have ever had the pleasure to experience. I had been utterly mistaken that there would no longer be the sweet aroma of love in my house. The smell in the house was dancing and wafting in delicious waves and with a heart bursting with joy, I bounced from my bed. (And, as an added bonus, because dehydrating takes so long, the mouth-watering smell lasts for hours and hours!)
As I made my way downstairs (not clinging to the railing!) I marvelled at how, yet again, this new lifestyle has surprised me with its richness and resonance. I gently allowed my conscious mind to revisit Simon’s prophecy and offered thanks for the profound healing that has occurred in our family. We have been handed the opportunity to completely reinvent ourselves thanks to our beloved Michael. And as I sat in meditation with the sweet aroma of love wafting through my senses I gave thanks for the opportunity to discover the magical combination of physical, mental and spiritual health that comes with putting the right food into our body temples.
So now I am heading into winter with a pantry stocked with new ingredients and the deep knowing that I can nurture my family in a new way. I can celebrate the joy of a snowy day with delicious ingredients that are not a sinful indulgence but a stunningly healthy choice. I can soothe away any winter blues or blahs that may come my way with the yummiest therapy ever. I can watch my sons tumble through the front door covered in snow and know that I can love them and nurture them in my favourite way. And I can sit back in sweet maternal bliss as their bodies glow with health, vitality and love.