I thought it was about time I shared a little bit more about me. This post is a little longer than the others so I’d suggest you pour yourself a nice mug of wine, make up a bowl of popcorn – seasoned just the way you like, and settle in for the ride!
Things you know… I owned and operated a gluten bakery for five years, I wanted a change of lifestyle, I am passionate about bringing my GF Flour Blends to market, I am joyfully writing a cookbook(s) to pair with the Flour Blends, and I love my Oma & Opa to the moon and back :)
Things you don’t know…
I’ve actually been an avid baker for as long as I can remember. My mom never bought processed foods (no chips, no Oreos, no cereal, no pop…). If we wanted something sweet, we had to make it. So that is exactly what I did.
My first cookbook was Mrs. Fields Cookie Book – I hate to admit I don’t know where it is these days or if it even survived all my moves. Boy though, that cookbook was a gem! It had pages ripped out and taped back in, eggs, batter, & butter smeared on nearly every page, and dog-eared corners marking all the recipes I wanted to try.
I actually remember one of the first batches of Chocolate Chip Cookies I ever made. We didn’t have any fancy equipment so I mixed all my wet and dry ingredients separately with a fork and then combined them with my hands. It was messy and it was bulletproof. The cookies were magical - even in spite of burning my arm by accidentally swiping the uber hot sheet pan ever so slightly against my skin!! I still have the scar from that day; it is a faint yet constant reminder that baking was my first true love.
Fast forward through an incredible childhood to my teen years…
When I reached the age of 14 I started to feel immense amounts of achiness and pain. My parents thought it was growing pains – I never questioned them even though I was never actually growing?! In fact, I never did grow after I reached a short 5’2” :)
By 18 (Summer of 2006) I was in a wheelchair. Yes, I know I skipped SO many details yet again but I am trying to fast track this story just a tad bit. During my Senior Year I was forced to quit the Cheer Squad and didn’t even try out for Track, as my condition only seemed to get worse daily. I missed the last two weeks of my senior year entirely because I was on bed rest!
Matter of fact, I couldn’t even get into my own bed – I had this awesome bunk bed with my desk underneath, so hip – so my parents set up a bed on my floor, one that I could easily roll in and out of. My neck, back, legs, arms, and face all hurt endlessly. The pain was aching, shooting, piercing, sharp, throbbing, and relentless.
Over the next 7 years I was in and out of the hospital, in and out of wheelchairs or crutches, wore knee, ankle, and back braces, saw over 100 doctors, had colonoscopies, endoscopies, Epilepsy EEG Tests, Lyme Disease tests – basically I was tested for everything under the sun, got CT Scans, MRIs, you name it!! I was put through the medical system wringer.
During this time, trying to eliminate my pain and various other symptoms, I decided to take treatment into my own hands as best I could. I went to massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga, hypnotherapy, water aerobics classes (I was the youngest person in the class by 40 years!), I saw several shrinks, I enrolled myself in a pain clinic where I received several RFA procedures, more and different kinds of behavioral & physical therapy, and used spinal decompression machines often. Life was crazy!!
Disclaimer: I would add some photos here to break up the text but I avoided taking photos during those years. I suppose I just didn’t want to hold on to the memories in that way…
It was during all of that crazy that I started to eat, cook, and bake gluten free. The change didn’t help much with my overall pain and suffering but I puked less and no longer had diarrhea daily!! TMI?? I counted this as a big win!!!
Cooking and baking GF was hard though!! My first batches of just about everything were complete garbage! As were my second and third batches… My mom will tell you my first batch of gluten free chocolate chip cookies was actually pretty good but I think she was just being nice.
Though garbage at first, I kept on trying. I baked in the dorms at school and took every chance I had to bake when I got home during breaks and summer vacation. I continued to bake my heart out when I got my first apartment too! This was when I enrolled myself in that pain clinic I had mentioned…
It was 2009 and I just started my 4th year of college; I had transferred to ASU and was continuing my major in Economics. I had moved to Arizona with just my dog, Apple, and we didn’t know anybody there. I was at the clinic multiple times a week for treatment and between treatments and classes, I was usually pretty exhausted. So, I spent my down time at home with Apple baking. It was actually there, in my first apartment, that I began creating my own flour blends.
While in school, I was paired with a guy named Jason to complete all of our senior projects together. And it was he who not only recipe tested many of my first products but also so wisely said, “You should produce and sell your gluten free flour blends! They would be huge!”
Jason, if you are ever read this, thank you for believing in me so many years ago and inspiring me to chase dreams I hadn’t even realized yet!
Zooming forward another 2 years (to 2011)…
Instead of pursuing a career in Finance after I graduated, I applied to culinary school to become a Pastry Chef. Yes, total change of life plans!!! I have my dad to thank for this courageous move as he encouraged me to go to culinary school and pursue something I was truly passionate about. I packed my bags up yet again and headed out to Boston!
I continued to bake my heart out both in school and at home with my own blends. I was constantly sending my boyfriend at the time to work with boxes of pastries, cakes, and cookies; it was then I was given the nickname RylieCakes. I adored the nickname and soon after bought the domain name www.ryliecakes.com - ya know, just in case I decided to start my own business in the future...
I graduated from The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts as a Pastry Chef in June 2012. I was even awarded The Blossom Award for the most improved student throughout the year :) I take much pride in both!
Mind you, through all of this, I was still sick as a dog. It hurt to walk, laydown, sit, move, and be, just be. I suffered from fatigue, exhaustion, short-term memory loss, occipital neuralgia, numbness, tingling, sleep problems, vertigo, and tinnitus to name a few. But to speed up this never-ending blog post, I’ll skip to my final diagnosis!
In 2013, shortly after I opened up RylieCakes Bakery and started dating Ben, I sent him an article that quite accurately described many of my symptoms. Our relationship was new and I was always trying to find different ways to explain to him what I was going through, why I needed help with such basic tasks like zipping up my pants, brushing my teeth, and changing the laundry from time to time.
Ben read the article and went on a search to find at least one doctor associated with the script that was in the PNW. Low and behold, he found a rheumatologist who was located just 5 minutes from the bakery!!
I called immediately to make an appointment but the doctor was no longer seeing new patients, he was retiring. Instead of giving up, I talked his secretaries ear off – I started when I was 14 and blabbed on and on and on about what I’ve been through until she agreed to ask the doctor if he would consider seeing me. HE SAID YES!!
From there, I got yet another MRI – this time a fMRI, and right away the doctor knew! He thought I had a Type 0 Chiari Malformation and referred me to a neurosurgeon in North Carolina.
Yet another long, long story short, Ben and I traveled to NC where I received Posterior Fossa Decompression surgery in October 2013.
Fast forward another 4.5 years and here I am today! Not 100% pain free but far better off than I was before. And I am still chasing my dreams one day at a time!!
Through all of this I’ve learned to always appreciate the little things in life and never take anything for granted. Life is an incredibly precious miracle that we are so lucky to have the opportunity to live!! Take advantage of it and choose to be the best you always - every day and in every way!
Oh, and definitely SMILE way more than you could ever imagine possible!! I swear it was the one thing that helped me survive all those years!!
So to bring it full circle, to sum it up…
Baking has been a part of my life ever since my mom let me start using the oven. It has remained near and dear to my heart throughout the years serving as a therapy to help me cope, de-stress, eat my feelings, and ultimately, bring me insane amounts of happiness through so many joyous times and equally awful times.
This was the short and simplified version of the journey that brought me here to you today - thank you for listening! I simply cannot wait to continue on to the newest part of this thing called life and I very much look forward to bringing my love of baking/cooking into each and every one of your homes and hearts :)
Lick the Bowl - You Only Live Once,