I’m feeling in a celebratory mood (and a tish nostalgic). Friday was “Sweet Treats” 5th birthday! So much has happened in the five years I’ve been baking, photographing & writing in this space….
When I started “Sweet Treats,” I had recently moved across the country, all by myself to Charleston, SC, and was enrolled in my first semester of pastry school at the Culinary Institute of Charleston. I had already been reading food blogs for several years and I figured that starting my own food blog was a great way to merge my background in graphic design & photography with my other love: baking and pastry. Plus, I kept reading about the “Daring Bakers” challenges on different blogs, and I wanted to participate. My very first Sweet Treats post chronicled my first DB challenge: vols-au-vents. I continued with many DB challenges until ultimately my work schedule made it impossible to complete the projects. Also over the first couple years of posting, I chronicled projects made both as a pastry student and instructor.
(some highlights from the past 5 years of blogging)
I’ve had fun re-reading the “Sweet Treats” archives & looking through old pictures. If you’d asked me in September of 2009 (when I started Sweet Treats the blog) where I thought I’d be in 5 years (2014), I never would have guessed that I’d be where I am today. Along this journey, life has taken some very different paths than I ever expected....
- Teaching at CIC: Before attending culinary school, I spent some time teaching in a demonstration kitchen . I loved teaching and was thrilled when I was unexpectedly asked to become a pastry chef instructor at CIC after my first year as a student. I taught a variety of different courses & feel very thankful for all I learned in developing much of my own curriculum and from my teaching experiences. One of the hardest parts of leaving Charleston was leaving my job at CIC--I still miss the classroom!!
- Meeting Helene Dujardin: One of the very first food blogs I ever read was Helen’s Tartelette. At the time, I had no idea that she lived in Charleston (or that I’d be living in that city one day), but through the wonders of social media & email, we eventually connected and became friends in-real-life!! She is such a gem (and the best wedding photographer we could have asked for).
- Meeting Tami Hardeman Boutté: Through working as the kitchen manager for several of Helene’s food photography workshops, I met Tami, who also has become a great friend. If ever you find yourself stranded in the ATL area due to an unexpected snowstorm, I highly recommend getting stranded at Tami’s house :) I’ve since also been fortunate to work as a food styling assistant for her on a commercial job. (and, hopefully for another shoot next month!)
- Moving to Texas: When I first moved to Charleston, I didn’t know how long I’d be there.... a year? Two years? More? But I certainly didn’t expect to end up in the middle of nowhere Texas, thanks to my husband’s job. The things one does for love :) Everyday of living here is a bit of an adventure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
- Instagram: Let’s be honest, Instagram has become a staple in my life. I may have a bit of an addiction, but the way I see it, Instagram helps me get to know people I never would have found before & helps me keep in touch with friends and family who live far away. And I’m able to share more behind-the-scenes things about my everyday life. Spoiler alert: not every recipe is successful & my entire life most definitely isn’t Pinterest-worthy.
- Adventures with autoimmune conditions: Shortly after moving to Texas, my health problems began to compound, and I began searching for answers. After many visits to various doctors and a plethora of tests, multiple autoimmune conditions were diagnosed. Subsequently, I’ve made a number of dietary and lifestyle changes that I never anticipated making. Going “gluten-free” was not a choice I made based on a fad--it was a necessity! (as was a year of eating only foods with low acid properties...) I’ve tried conventional medications, some with success, though most included unpleasant side-effects. I’ve also had to come to terms with the fact that there is no quick fix for autoimmunity, or even a 100% cure. In all actuality, I will be dealing with these conditions (in some shape or form) for the rest of my life; there are steps I can take to manage my symptoms, but I still will need to be very self-aware.
- Paleo & the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP): I never expected to find myself following the Paleo lifestyle. I thought Paleo was silly, and expensive. How could I, a pastry chef, ever expect to give up ALL grains, as well as many other ingredients I considered to be “staples” ?!? As it turns out, the clinical nutritionist/functional medicine doctor I began seeing in April 2014 uncovered a ridiculous amount of food sensitivities, which, coupled with my other autoimmune issues, basically put me not just on a paleo diet, but the even stricter autoimmune protocol of paleo (aka AIP). The results from following AIP, along with supplements & treatments from my doctor, showed dramatic improvement of my symptoms almost immediately. I’m going to be honest, though: AIP is a lot of work & takes a decent amount of planning. It isn’t always fun or easy (and it isn’t always a miracle cure), I think it is the best option for me. While I hope to not have to follow strict AIP forever (I’m already on the reintroduction stage), I do think staying on a paleo-esque diet will be important for the foreseeable future (and that gluten and I will never be friends again).
The past 5 years have certainly had their roller coaster moments of high highs and low lows, but I’m choosing to celebrate them with an AIP-friendly coconut macaroon recipe. These macaroons are free from dairy, eggs, gluten/grains, and refined sugar, but they’re not free from delicious taste. In fact, I do have to hold myself back from eating too many.....
As I’ve jumped head first into the autoimmune protocol and watched my life change dramatically in the past months, I’ve also been thinking a lot about this space. How on earth does a pastry chef with a dessert blog adapt her subject matter to fit within paleo/aip and not completely alienate her readers? I keep returning to two principles 1) staying true to myself and 2) helping others. Here are some of my thoughts as I look to the future:
- I have to keep my health in check. One of the major healing components of AIP is low-sugar consumption, even if that sugar is from natural or unrefined sources. It simply is detrimental for me to make sweets as often as I have in the past. They should be an occasional treat, not a regular thing.
- While I might not be eating sweets as often as I did in the past, I am eating some really fantastic foods that not only taste great but make me feel better too. I plan on posting more of these every-day “staples” and savory foods, although I won’t lose the sweets entirely. I often post pictures of what I’m eating on Instagram, partially to remember what I’ve eaten and partially to show people that although AIP can be a bit daunting at first (and honestly sort of a lonely journey) & one of my goals moving forward is to take my experiences & recipes to help inspire people to live a more healthful lifestyle (though note that everyone is different, so my dietary choices might not be the best choices for you).
Whew! I feel like I’ve written a novel :) I do want to thank you, my readers, for sticking with me on this journey. It hasn’t been what I would have predicted, but I can’t wait to see where it leads! I’m grateful for your company along these adventures. Please let me know if there are any topics or recipes you’d like to see me cover. And even if you’re not following AIP, I still encourage you to make these fantastic macaroons. They couldn’t be easier or more delicious.
Coconut Macaroons (egg-free, paleo, AIP)
Yields approximately 18 cookies
120 g (1 1/2 c) Shredded, Unsweetened Coconut
7 g (1 Tbl) Organic Coconut Flour
pinch Sea Salt
26 g (2 Tbl) Organic Coconut Oil, room temperature
85 g (1/4 c) Organic Honey (or sub maple syrup to make vegan)
1 Tbl Vanilla Extract (optional for AIP)
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & set aside. Note: I used my toaster oven & a quarter sheet baking pan.
- Pulse the shredded coconut, coconut flour and sea salt in a food processor until combined.
- Add the oil, honey & vanilla extract & pulse until well mixed.
- Use a 1 Tbl cookie scoop to portion mounds of dough onto the prepared baking pan. Pack the dough into the scoop to ensure all macaroons are the same size.
- Bake for 10 minutes (rotating the pan after 5 minutes), or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pan at least 10 minutes. Store any leftovers in an airtight container. Macaroons may lose their crispness over time, depending on the humidity.
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