There are few things in life that I adore more than a good day out. I would even make the controversial statement that I would prefer one day of intense mooching, munching, and meandering than completing the same activities at a more leisurely pace across a couple of days. This is particularly true of days out in the capital when, spurred on by the knowledge that time is fleeting (as is the validity of my all-day travel card) and much like a modern-day Cinderella, I try to cram in every feasible activity before the ‘clocks strike midnight’ and the last train back to Reading pulls away from Paddington.
Fortunately, my sister and I share this philosophy thus making her the perfect travel and excursion companion. If Cat and I are committing to a day in the capital, we make damn sure that each available minute is dedicated to worthwhile activities: cocktail sipping, freebie spotting, tube-hopping, handbag buying (an activity where Cat comes into her own!) and of course cake-sampling.
However, our most recent London adventure would never have come into fruition without the nous and creativity of one hard working, medjool date-loving woman…
Olivia Wollenberg. The Livia behind Livia’s Kitchen.
For those un-enlightened folks out there, Olivia Wollenberg is the brains behind a range of delicious free-from treats which include Raw Millionaire Bites and the newly-launched ‘Biccy Boms’ which have been flying off the shelves in Selfridges Food Hall. In addition, Livia’s Kitchen also excel themselves by hosting highly delectable events such as baking courses and “cream-free cream teas”. These ‘cream free teas’ were London’s first ever completely vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, refined-sugar free afternoon tea and continue to run on a monthly basis. Now, March’s cream free tea, was an event that Cat and I just so happened to acquire tickets for!
Okay. Wait, hold up.
I know, I know…a cream-free cream tea. What the hell, Milk Maid? I know some of you are probably thinking that this was completely counter intuitive to my quest to patch things up with dairy.
However, given that the tickets had been brought before my reconciliation with the juice of cows and that this the cream free tea was something I had wanted to get tickets for since Livia’s Kitchen first started hosting them, I was certainly not going to let an eating disorder diagnosis get in the way of a prior engagement. I had RSVPed after all. Moreover, what would Mrs Bennet or my Fairy Godmother have said if I had turned down a confirmed invitation of tea?!
In 2014, Olivia Wollenburg was placed on a low-FODMAP diet to manage acute digestive issues. Fermentable oligo-saccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP) are all types of short chain carbohydrates which Livia’s body struggled to absorb and digest. Putting the science-y jargon aside, foods which are identified as having a high FODMAP index include wheat, rye, mammalian milk, legumes, honey and certain fruit and vegetables. However, a reduced intake or elimination of these foods can alleviate and decrease symptoms in some cases. For Livia, this meant that the consumption of certain foods including life-long favourites and dietary staples was no longer possible.
However diagnosis aside, Livia was determined to make the best of her situation. Aware that her days of consuming “the sweet snacks and desserts” she “used to love so much” were over, Livia began experimenting with recipes for natural, gluten, dairy and sugar free versions of these sweet treats which she could enjoy, too. Intent on making wholesome, sweet treats “accessible, delicious and fun”; Livia set up her own blog, posted her recipes and later built a business around making and selling her own products.
Whilst it was an autoimmune disease which was the root of Livia’s altered diet and made the consumption of many snacks and treats no longer possible for her, I could empathise with Livia’s struggle. For instance, at times, living with my eating disorder has made me feel equally strapped for choice and isolated from foods which I previously enjoyed.
Being able to tuck into the literal ‘fruits’ of Livia’s focus and hard work has only reaffirmed the colossal quantity of respect I hold for Ms Wollenberg. Meeting her face to face and witnessing how driven yet grounded she has remained was incredibly inspiring.
This is a person who has made the best of a crappy situation by making sure that she could have her cake and eat it.
If I was to take anything from this afternoon (other than the raisin and maca cookies which I stashed in my bag for the aforementioned last train to Reading snackums’) is that you can’t let anything stop you or hold you back be it an illness, a lack of confidence or any form of adversity. Life frequently gives us a bum deal. Livia’s had her instalment already and ‘Life’ certainly won’t be getting a Christmas card from me any time soon…but nevertheless we carry on. The ability to grit her teeth and keep trudging forwards is what got Livia where she is today; a resilience and determination that I am trying to emulate each time I pour out my daily dairy dose and post about my Milks. For me, Livia is proof that a diagnosis does not have to be a debilitating life sentence – I am still free to be creative, my life remains full of possibility and many adventures lie ahead. I’m not saying I’m going to be opening a Milk Bar or selling my own shakes in Selfridges anytime soon… I would simply be happy with the knowledge that something good, or something I can be proud of, will emerge from my Recovery. That will be enough of a fairy-tale ending for me.
Funnily enough, these profound musings about life after my eating disorder came to me whilst I was in the process of popping another dollop of nut butter onto one of Livia’s delicious raison and almond scones. It was in between bites of fresh, crumbly, nut-buttered to perfection scone and whilst listening to the cheerful murmurings of many other equally satisfied cream free tea-attendees that it dawned on me, that at that moment in time, that neither Livia nor I were doing too badly!
Here is the link to the Livia’s Kitchen website if you also feel the need to satisfy your scone cravings! Enjoy!