Yo Momma Monday: Tiffany McCauley of The Gracious Pantry

yo momma mondayAfter I had Cecilia, I got really interested in clean eating and living a clean lifestyle and one of my biggest inspirations was The Gracious Pantry. Tiffany’s recipes were simple, easy to follow, I didn’t have to search endlessly in a health food store for the ingredients and best of all – they were good! I was even able to trick my boyfriend into eating healthy. I learned about cooking from scratch from her website, and it forced me to slow down a little in the kitchen.

This is why I’m so happy to feature Tiffany in this week’s Yo Momma Monday!

Tiffany, 40, lives in Sonoma County with her son, whom she lovingly calls “Mini Chef” in her Facebook posts and recipes. She became a stay-at-home-mom soon after she found out she was pregnant, as her difficult pregnancy did not allow her to work much. She and her then husband had already planned on raising their son on their own, so that pretty much sealed the deal.

“The balancing act is always something I struggle with. The truth is, if you are giving your full attention to work, you will be lacking something in your mothering. And if you give your full attention to mothering, you will be lacking something in your work. So it really is a juggling act.

I think the most important thing you can do is forgive yourself for coming up short every once in a while. While most moms like to think they can do it all, it just isn’t humanly possible to actually do it all. So you have to focus on doing your best and forgiving the rest.”

Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Tiffany is a self-taught cook who says the most valuable lesson she could pass down to a beginning cook is that burning your dinner is not the end of the world. She assures that just because you burned it one time doesn’t mean you’ll burn it again. “You can’t give up because of one mistake,” she says.

“I also learned that when you start out with making a casserole and end up with soup, you don’t throw it away, you have soup for dinner! Cooking is a very creative thing. It’s an ongoing experiment. Evolve with the food you make instead of trying to make the food conform. You never know, you might end up with a new family favorite!”

Now that she is comfortable in the kitchen, she heavily involves her son in cooking, and says that she never questioned whether or not he would cook.

“And I think that is the very reason he loves doing it. It’s not a matter of teaching your kids something they already like, it’s a matter of teaching them to like something they absolutely must do to survive. Showing them that cooking can be fun. After all, the memories made in the kitchen just can’t be made anywhere else.

It’s really just a process of getting your kids involved with the everyday functioning of your life. They are definitely their own people, but when you function as a family unit, everyone needs to contribute in some way. Making time in the kitchen a regular thing is important. And I have found that most kids naturally gravitate towards cooking. They love learning about food and how to prepare it. It’s usually a naturally fun thing for them to do. You just have to present it the right way, and set things up so it’s not intimidating for them. 
 
For my little guy, that involved a stepping stool so he could reach the counter, an age-appropriate knife with careful supervision, and apron that was just for him, and even a special pig spatula that he got to pick out at the store himself. When you set kids up to succeed in the kitchen, you’ll find very little, if any, resistance.”
 
Kid-Friendly YoNuggets

Kid-Friendly YoNuggets / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Tiffany realizes the importance of teaching kids how to cook, and she says our society has become incredibly removed  from the very thing that sustains us.
 
“I’m finding that many grown adults these days were raised on boxed and packaged food from a freezer or on food that came through a drive-thru window. I know kids today who get three meals a day from a fast food restaurant. It’s a sad state of affairs. But that doesn’t mean we can’t fix it.

 
I think that teaching kids about food is the most important gift we can give them. Because it not only empowers them to feed themselves and their own families some day, but it also gives them power over their own health. Anybody who has health problems can tell you how important that is. Particularly when the life expectancy of our children is now getting shorter instead of longer. All you have to do is step back and take a look at the bigger picture where the health of our country is concerned to see why teaching our kids about real food is so critical.
 
Gone are the days when we could “trust” a large food corporation. And I would argue that those days never really existed. Because if you really dive into food politics at all, you’ll see that the stuff they label as “food” is actually very far from it. Our bodies were meant to run on food. Not food-like products. So it’s easy to see why health can go downhill so fast when you are not giving your body the fuel it needs.”
 
Tiffany talks a lot in her blog about how she dealt with body image problems through much of her life, something she learned from her mother. She says that the hardest thing is to not pass those problems down to her own child.
 
Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

“It’s a constant struggle and sometime I fail miserably. When you have been raised to view your body a certain way, it’s a very difficult thing to change. Sometimes it feels impossible. I don’t think I’ll ever really get past it completely, but I am learning to respect my body for the things it does every day and appreciate it for what it can do.
 
I mean, this body of mine made an entire human being. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me!! But I do still struggle with body image. It’s not an easy thing to overcome, no matter how much I try to show it respect. I think becoming a mom has simply made me far more aware of how badly I can put myself down sometimes. Not wanting to pass that on to my child has been a huge motivation for me to overcome this.”
 
For Tiffany, the biggest change she noticed after adapting clean eating to her lifestyle was how clear her skin was.
 
“I also lost some weight and started to feel much better. I noticed I actually felt full after a meal instead of wanting more and more food. I later understood that it was because my body was actually getting the nutrients it needed. I chose this lifestyle because I believe that real food is the answer to many problems we face today. My own personal eating plan is constantly evolving to suit my needs, but it’s always based on real food.”
 
Clean Eating Blueberry French Toast Casserole. Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Clean Eating Blueberry French Toast Casserole / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Before The Gracious Pantry, she had several other blogs, so she know she loved the blogging process. With this site, she wanted to track her own progress and share recipes she created.
 
“The best part about the blogging community is how small it really is. There may be a million blogs out there, but the community itself has sort of a “small town” feel to it. Once you start to grow, you get to know everybody and everybody gets to know you.”
 
Since starting The Gracious Pantry, Tiffany has also wrote a cookbook, which she says was a long and difficult process, but one that is filled with creativity and passion, one she equates with giving birth.
 
“You work really hard, sweat some, cry some, spend a lot of money, and in the end, you have this wonderful, amazing thing you can hold in your hands. You forget all about the difficult stuff and can’t wait to do it again! And at the end of the day, you are doing something you love and something you hope that others will love as well.”
 
Clean Eating Vegetable Basil Macaroni Salad. Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Clean Eating Vegetable Basil Macaroni Salad / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

She posts every other day without fail, because she wants to show people the endless variety of dishes they can make with real food. She wants people to learn that real food is delicious and to not be afraid of the kitchen. She also hopes people will learn that their health really will improve when they focus on real food and that cooking food does not have to take a lot of time, or money.
 
“The best compliments I get are the ones where people tell me that their lives/health/bodies have improved since they started cooking with my recipes. I think that sort of compliment is the most validating thing a health blogger could ever ask for.”
 
Her favorite recipe on her blog is the plum torte, and while she never posts a recipe that she does not like, she has had some fails – like a low carb brownie recipe that she is still working on. As for her favorite blogs and magazines, she likes iBlog Magazine and Will Write for Food.
 
“I tend to gravitate towards the blogs with the magazine quality photos. Really great photos are something I aspire to.”
 
Plum Torte / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious  Pantry

Plum Torte / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Now that Tiffany is in culinary school, she would like to host a cooking show in the future and to continue writing more books. “I’d also love to start teaching healthy cooking classes to kids. I’ve taught one or two and they are just so much fun,” she says. Her biggest advice for people who are beginning a clean eating lifestyle is simple: take it slow.
 
“Take it one meal at a time. Realize you WILL make mistakes. But the secret in success is using those mistakes. If you throw in the towel every time you goof up, you’ll never stick to anything. Using those mistakes to learn. A mistake isn’t the end of the world and it shouldn’t be the end of your healthy endeavors. Just keep at it. Success is found in perseverance. Come back to it again and again, no matter how badly you mess up.”
 
You can find out more about Tiffany and her recipes by visiting The Gracious Pantry. And for all you awesome moms out there, I still have two spaces left for a Yo Momma Monday feature so drop me a comment and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + and Pinterest!

Yo Momma Monday: Karen LePage

yo momma mondayMeet Karen LePage, 42, a sewin’ mama from Michigan. I met her through Oh My! Handmade and I instantly swooned over all of her work. She not only sews up a storm, but she also creates patterns, sells custom-made garments and shares tutorials on her website at One Girl Circus! Oh, and she also co-wrote a sewing book for boys, appropriately named Sewing for Boys.

Before she started working for herself, she sang at weddings, sold cars, managed a coffee shop, taught German and worked in Strategic Planning. To say she is well-rounded would be an understatement.

Karen started a blog after she read and loved blogs from other people. Initially, it started as a means for documenting her children’s special moments.

“I guess it’s not surprising that I’m not very consistent with it, however, because I was never a child who could keep a journal beyond “dear diary” for more than a few weeks.”

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

After her mother bought a sewing machine when Karen was five, she started experimenting and made every project in the booklet that came with the machine. From there, she spent several years making wardrobes for all of her dolls. As a kid, she started watching Sewing with Nancy when it came on PBS, a show she still watches to this day.

I always say Nancy Zieman taught me to sew…I still watch it.  I still love it.”

Karen still remembers her first sewing project – a drawstring bag – and she says there have been plenty of disasters along the way. When she first got started, she would wear her disasters; now, she tucks them away until she’s ready to try again. Her latest creation was a Japanese double-gauze newborn outfit that was in a box for six years because she couldn’t stand to look at it.

“I’m so happy I could rescue it!”

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

As a mom, Karen says that her children not only inspire her work, but also keep her balanced and admits that if she didn’t have her kids, she would probably just work all the time.

“I love making things, and having humans relying on me for comfort, food, and shelter ensures that I nourish myself with their companionship while meeting their needs, too.”

The creativity bug has definitely hit both of her kids, as her son likes to design the garments she makes for him, and her daughter is a quilter. Her son also shops at thrift and vintage stores, so he has become quite the master at button replacing, and he already has an eye for what can be fixed, and what cannot. Her daughter will often work up a patchwork when she’s in the sewing space.

“She has an amazing eye for color and pattern.”

Karen describes her workspace as chaotic yet comforting. While she is always moving things around in there, she still keeps an open space for her kids to visit while she’s working. She does like to take some time tidying up in between projects.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“But as soon as I have a clean space I’m inspired to start making again – immediately.

Although there’s no such thing as a normal day, there is one consistency in her morning routine – coffee (ain’t that the truth). Her daily activities are determined by deadlines, inspiration and commitments – and she does try to get some sewing in every day.

“I start to get twitchy when I’m away from my sewing machine for too long.”

Karen says that the best and scariest thing about running her own business is that everything – from what get made to what gets published – is all her.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“Sometimes it’s wonderful and sometimes it’s terrifying and sometimes it’s wonderfully terrifying.”

She started teaching classes after someone asked her to do it, and that is one of her favorite things about what she does.

“There’s something super-satisfying about nudging my students toward sewing confidence.  I love that it’s a skill they can use forever. I love holding their hands through the tough part and saying “Look how awesome you are!” when they make it through and realize they can make something they didn’t think they could make.”

When Karen is not teaching classes and making clothes –  or thinking about new classes and new projects – she loves reading, hiking with her daughter, yoga and cooking.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“Actually, strike that, I like reading cookbooks.”

And of course, she loves all forms of crafting. There isn’t a craft she hasn’t stopped, and thanks to Creative Bug and the craft section in her local bookstore, that won’t be ending anytime soon. She loves making anything from  baby clothes to formal gowns – all of it.

“If it goes on a body, someone will wear it and love it, and that’s something that makes me happy and keeps me going.  There’s always something new I want to try, whether it’s a technique or material I haven’t yet attempted; I incorporate my latest learning into each new project.”

She gets the majority of her fabric from local fabric stores and loves visiting new stores in any town she visits. When she cannot find a fabric she wants locally, she will shop online.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“I spend my dollars locally whenever possible.”

Karen loves being a part of the handmade community because she has always been just one of a handful of people she knows that love sewing. Of the four high schools she attended, she only found one friend who could sew. ONE! Now that she has a whole community of friends who also love the same kind of things, she counts it as a blessing.

“I feel so energized and inspired when working collaboratively; even when working on my own thing amongst fellow makers.  The handmade community is what has made my 30s and 40s the best years of my life.”

She currently has two patterns in the Stitch Magazine Spring issue and there will be another one in the Summer issue. She is also working on a handmade garment line and is hoping to hire some local people to help with the sewing and sales of her products.

“I’m really excited about it, but I’m also thrilled to have a steady stream of consultancy projects.”

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

Karen hopes to inspire people by being an advocate of all things handmade – whether its making, buying, spreading the word, or all of the above.

“I also hope I can inspire people to try something new every once in a while, and to really enjoy the process of making.”

Thank you to the lovely and wonderful Karen for participating in this series! You can find her blog here, buy her stuff here and read the book she co-wrote here.

If you enjoy this series and would like to be a part of it, or know someone who should, please leave a note in the comments or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest and Instagram. Next month, I will be talking with Jane Skoch from Maiden Jane!