I’m not usually the sort to spend hours on end pondering deeply philosophical issues such as the meaning of life, but I’ve found myself lost in thought over the last few days about how/why we develop our personal identities. Our family may see us in certain ways, our friends another, and our coworkers yet another. I suppose it is human nature to find that niche where we both fit in and yet still stand out. This may seem like an odd topic for a food blog, but it all started over an internal debate I’ve been having over Christmas cookies.
My great grandmother was famous for her baking, particularly her pies, which I unfortunately don’t remember. I do remember her cookies, however. I remember sneaking up to the giant Tupperware container when I was a tiny kid, standing on tip toes to reach my hand inside, fingers searching between the layers of waxed paper to find a chocolate chip cookie (my favorite). They were fabulous. She died when I was 10 and no one else ever really filled her shoes. When I was in high school I started baking chocolate chip cookies. I took a batch to the family Christmas party one year and everyone exclaimed that they were just like grandma’s. That praise was like crack for a teenager who really wanted to be seen as something other than a little kid.
My repertoire was pretty much confined to chocolate chip cookies until I finished grad school. Suddenly I had my own kitchen and some disposable income for extravagant things like flour and butter. I started making other traditional family favorites, from both sides of the family. Every year I made more and more as the matriarchs got older and did less. I never did an official count, but during peak years I baked 8 to 10 different types for a total of 80 to 100 dozen (I may have gotten a little carried away). Huge cookie trays went to family parties and to my office as well as smaller trays to many family members, friends, and neighbors. Everywhere the cookies went, the praise followed (It turns out I inherited my great grandmothers knack for baking). So it is no surprise that one of my identities, particularly within my family, is as the official Christmas cookie baker. I freely admit that there are worse identities to have — You could be the crazy aunt with six cats and a collection of corn flakes shaped like famous people.
So where does my internal debate arise? I have only been doing paleo for a relatively short period of time, but there is something to it that has really clicked for me. It just feels right. I’ve been losing weight without trying. Everything I’ve read about the way sugar, grains, and legumes effect the body was spot on for me and my life-long struggle with my weight, so it has really been fairly easy for me to make some pretty big changes in my diet. I’ve been following paleo fairly strictly, but certainly not 100% (I’ve already confessed to my ongoing love affair with Miracle Whip). I’m not really opposed to baking cookies for the masses (and even munching on a few myself) for a few days each year. However, considering my new outlook on eating, I wasn’t as excited about baking as I have been in the past and I thought about not baking at all. When I considered not baking, I felt vaguely panicked. What would people think if I didn’t bake? Would they be disappointed? Why does this freak me out so much?
My brain kept churning on these questions over the last few days. I’m sure you have all intuited by now that my unease had less to do with people being disappointed over a lack of Christmas cookies as it did with what would be a radical change in how I saw myself fitting into the family — and the loss of a source of some self-esteem boosting praise as well. This got me thinking about how our personal identities — those we impose on ourselves as well as those others give us — effect how we live our lives and effect how we deal with changes in our lives. Are these the things we let stop us from making positive healthy changes in our lives? How do we go about changing our identities to ones that are healthier for us (physically, emotionally, whatever)? Beats the crap out of me — I’m still a work in progress. Although I suppose realization is the first step. We could have an Oprah moment where I send you all out to figure out what your own personal “Christmas cookies” are, but I won’t. Instead I will tell you how I’ve decided to tackle my problem (at least the immediate one). I’ve decided to bake two or three family favorites and to experiment over the next few weekends with a few paleo friendly treats too. I’m going to try to figure out a recipe for a bite size paleo pumpkin pie and also for a date & nut mini tart — all cookie tray friendly! Hopefully I’ll get the kinks worked out in time to share some recipes with you in time for the holidays. Maybe one day I’ll be known as the “healthy one” in my family and can inspire others to make positive changes in their own lives.