Returning home from a long day of work, the first thing I reach for after walking in the door and dropping my bag of books is one of my “healthified” cookies from the freezer. Before dinner you say? You bet! How about before breakfast… (Slightly menacing smile). I have suffered through my fair share of diets in my day. As a former dancer, I know all too well how to limit food intake and I have been wary my whole adult life not to repeat that pattern. Dieting is something I know how to do, and do well. So where do massive amounts of cookies fit in this picture you ask? Like the stock market crash, The LA Lakers playing like a “B” team and my youngest child leaving for college… desperate times call for desperate measure.
For me desperate times was the years leading up to my inevitable and crushing divorce after over two decades of marriage. Let me walk you through the evolution of my life as a cookies monster (I prefer the title cookie connoisseur) without sharing too many of the gory details.
The Rice Krispie Bar
I know what you are thinking. A rice krispie bar is not a cookie. I humbly object. Not a cookie in traditional terms, but most definitely a cookie bar in my universe. I enjoyed everything about these sugar filled M&M carriers. As a mother of two middle school aged kids who loved inviting their friends over, I ordered copious amounts pizza and made my famous (roll the red carpet) holiday themed, M&M Rice Krispie bars. Life was good. Or was it. Behind the sugar high was a deep and growing sadness. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been having an inappropriate relationship with a dancer for six years…let me say that again…. six years. That is not an affair that is a relationship. She lived with us for a while and as life would have it, I was oblivious to what was happening right under my nose. After the whole thing exploded in epic fashion, I chose to take him back and try to preserve my idea of a family. Hence the sugar themed, everything is awesome parties. Except everything was not awesome.
The Whole Wheat Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie
No arguing here, the classic oatmeal chocolate chip cookie is definitely a cookie. To say I was depressed at this point is a gross understatement. I even stopped eating for a while. When my appetite finally returned and my husband agreed to limited counseling (skip forward to the next section if you want to know how limited), I focused on renewing my health. Looking back, I wanted to be attractive again and feel desirable. Not that I ever wasn’t attractive by most standards. Given the circumstance I found myself in, I felt the need to amp it up. Unfortunately, whole-wheat flour did not agree with me. My face broke out in hives, I itched and my stomach regularly did cartwheels. Not a pretty site and not good for what was left of my self-esteem.
The artificially sweetened Chocolate Chip Cookie
Arriving almost on cue, in rode Splenda and for a moment I thought all my prayers were answered. Still on a crusade to lose those pesky ten pounds that life can throw at you, I came across the chocolate chip cookie made from peanut butter, splenda, and eggs. Hot Damn! This I could get on board with. This was the ultimate cookie for dieters. I didn’t care that Splenda seemed a little sketchy? I was in. It didn’t help matters that I had just had a miscarriage. I was so very sad. My husband didn’t have much to say; in fact he left for work in the middle of the tragic event . Denial rears its ugly head once again. I know you see it, but I was not ready to. After all, I had Splenda cookies and they were awesome…until they weren’t (foreshadowing alert).
Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
By now you can probably see a pattern. I love, love, love chocolate chip cookies. Hand down my favorite. If you are looking for the sugar cookie divorce chronicles, you are reading the wrong story. The gluten free cookie marked a turning point in my separation and eventual divorce. You will be surprised to hear that I was the one that asked for the divorce. Crazy right? All of that denial and I finally grew a backbone, blew up like Mt Vesuvius and gave him his marching orders. He had lied to me over and over, cheated on me and continued to blame me for most of his wrong doing. Stay tuned for my soon to be published psychological thriller titled “The Narcissist and me”. Not only did he blame me for destroying our family and sending our children to a life of inevitable crime (so dramatic), but he also rented an apartment right next to my building that overlooked my unit. Stalking is a real thing folks. He then proceeded to suck the financial life right out of me. We never had a lot of money, but this period of time was akin to being two clicks away from homeless. I had worked for him, encouraging his artistic endeavors for two decades. Now what? My health was not good due to the ever growing, huge load of crap I was going through. Thankfully my sister suggested I look into food allergies. I eliminated gluten and BAM things started looking up. I experimented with brown rice flour, brown rice syrup (see my new food advice book, brown rice syrup and gas…not the good kind) and just about rice anything. I was no longer making a dozen cookies at a time but three or four dozen a couple times a week. I was a crazy, cookie machine. I gave most of my creations to others and thankfully didn’t blow up like a whale, but that did not stop me from constantly baking. I was sad, really sad. I am more than sure that there were a few tears in some of those bowls of cookie batter.
Grain Free Cacao Butter Cookies
Confused? Yup, I was too. I improved for some time, but all of the stomach upset, crushing fatigue and foggy head symptoms returned in full effect. Being a woman of extremes, I decided to try a completely grain free eating plan. If the cavemen could do it, why couldn’t I? That’s right, no rice, no barley, no sourdough, no nothing…(sad face). Almond flour was my new baking companion. I ditched the gas producing brown rice syrup and graduated to honey. Experimenting with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, I discovered Cacao Butter cookies with only four ingredients: cacao butter, honey, almond flour and baking powder. Amazeballs! At the same time I was going through that nasty divorce and trying to finish graduate school so that I could support my cookie habit and myself. I made the big step to move to a new apartment. It was the first time I had lived in my own apartment ever! (I was 19 when I got pregnant and married…don’t judge.) My daughter had moved out to pursue life and my son was getting ready to leave for college. A deep sadness for what I thought could have been lingered and I did what I always do, buried it. My body begged me to pay attention. I was in the throes of what I thought was IBS. I couldn’t eat anything and I felt like crap constantly. (I didn’t write s*$t because my parents could be reading this blog). Standing in the courthouse, being demolished by my narcissist of an ex, I felt utterly defeated and not able to fight any longer. My stomach was so turbulent it was singing. I threw up most of the day and (gory detail alert) lost a lot of weight via the other end too. At the same time, I was lucky enough to find a temporary job with my new degree but worried that I might never be able to support myself, and pay off my new and massive student loan. Not to mention the necessary work of healing wounds from decades of emotional abuse. The cacao butter cookies saved me. I mean it. I truly mean it. I stored plastic cartoons of them in the freezer and munched on them whenever I felt absolute despair, which was quite often. The process of making them felt so nurturing. The ingredients were healthier and the side effects of eating them less irritating, but still my health issues lingered. Maybe my ex husband had finally killed me…literally.
Grain Free, Nut Free, Dairy Free Chocolate Chip Cookies!
These cookies are so free that I bet you are wondering what is actually in them. Getting to these cookies was my rock bottom. Two years after my divorce, I was finally diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. (Awkward silence…) I am sure that my difficult marriage and divorce slowly wore me down and my body finally succumbed to family genetics of autoimmune diseases. One doctor looking excited about the discovery told me I won the gold star in my family. According to him, MS was the center of the Venn diagram for autoimmune diseases. (Yay! I guess I had finally won something!?) To be completely honest, this was my dark night of the soul. I felt that I had made it out of hell only to wither and die from this awful disease. My children were off living their lives and I was alone. Once again, cookies saved me from what on a few occasions was far too close to giving up and leaving this world. I was tired…just tired. I didn’t think I had anything left in me to fight, so I chose to surrender. This was my moment of salvation. I had been moving through life with my fists clenched constantly fighting and protecting those that I loved. By choosing to surrender to whatever curve ball life wanted to throw at me, I was slowly unclenching two decades of tight fists and choosing life. After all, I could not keep fighting my body. The very idea that we are to fight disease sounds like an inner battle against ourselves. I decided to love myself…for all that I am and all that I am not. I learned to bake for the love of it and not so manically. I embraced the new ingredients that I could use; coconut flour, sunflower seed butter, coconut sugar and dairy free chocolate chips. I let go of the idea of a limited diet and instead celebrated all of the nourishing ingredients I got to use everyday. I still make batches of cookies and freeze them, but do it to have nourishing food around rather than hiding the results of a cookie monster binge. I tentatively have begun to step back into the world as a new person.
Today, the raw truth is; I have MS, I have not dated in five years, I am middle age and living alone. That being said, I am okay with it. I have reinvented my life and can humbly support myself. I thank cookies for helping me survive and even thrive during the darkest period of my life. Some people crochet, some buy a fancy car, some sell everything and go on a vision quest…. I, as it turns out, bake. The evolution of the cookie in my house is a visual history of where I came from and where I have finally arrived. It is as much a story about me as it is about my beloved cookies. I have been thinking about what it means to take the next step. My daughter has even nudged me to test the waters of online dating. In my profile I will be sure to say, “Those who do not like cookies need not apply.”