Self Love, Destruction and Beignets

Jennifer Hulley food photographer food writer hamilton

I stood there, arms wrapped tightly around my chest attempting to squeeze some heat back into my torso. A steady drizzle fell from the sky softly enough so that when drops landed they rested on you forming a patchwork quilt of sorts.

Slowly but surely the line shuffled forward. I kept my gaze on the ground, took a few baby steps and stopped again. Dirt, debris, and debauchery were splayed at my feet. Crumpled receipts,  rain-soaked bus maps, discarded metallic beads, chipped and peeling, sprinkled among shards of glass wedged deeply between the cobblestones. I wondered just how long they had been there. Was it from last night? Weeks ago? Years perhaps?

Jennifer Hulley Food Photographer Food Writer Travel Writer Hamilton New Orleans

It was that time of fuzzy boundaries, where the night creeps into the day so intricately that they haven't quite separated completely and coexist in a somewhat eerie partnership. The streets were empty. The sounds had finally fallen, creating a sense of serenity and calm and yet there was complete and utter chaos strewn beneath me. The street cleaners were yet to show their faces to sweep away all signs of a party. Or did that even happen here? Did they bother? I wasn't quite sure. What I was sure of was this city was a fucking mess. A confusing mix of broken and beauty. There were street signs never replaced, broken windows, discarded homes and debris all adorned with glitter, sparkle, and shine.

This city was one that wore its scars quite visibly.  She had been through hell and back, finding herself broken, battered and almost destroyed and yet she managed to find the strength every day to show up, dress up and throw her hands up. This was not a place for self-pity or martyring. This was a place of love, baby. Unadulterated, self-confident and self-indulgent love.

Jennifer Hulley food photographer food blogger hamilton

Self-Love Is Having Its Hay Day

It's swirling around the internet, sprinkled here and through popular media in various forms: self-help and wellness blogs, news articles,  inspirational quotes, memes and listicles, you name it, it's everywhere.

These posts focus on the importance of pouring unconditional love to yourself. To accept yourself as you are, to find beauty and grace in the present and most importantly, take time and energy to consciously make decisions that promote your well-being. Things like taking a mini vacation, treating yourself to a spa day,  time to reflect and journal thoughts of gratitude by a quiet lake, some yin yoga, meditation, and movement are often subjects of focus.

So, are these things acts of self-love? Sure. If that’s an experience that makes you feel genuinely happy, whole and recharged But if it doesn’t? What if the idea of sitting by a lake writing in your journal causes you to suppress waves of nausea? Journaling, meditation, and spas are not for everyone. (Take this from a gal who has never had a mani/pedi, much to my female friends' shock and horror)

The Key Is Knowing What Makes You Happy

Simple, right? The reality is we tend to shunt along the conveyor belt of life, doing things that we are supposed to do, enjoying things we are supposed to enjoy and basically going along for the ride, ticking the boxes as we go. It takes a whole lot of power, clarity, and awareness to yank down that emergency lever, stop the conveyor belt and ask yourself what is it that makes you truly happy.

So stopping the belt and taking notice, that’s the first minefield. Once we are aware of what brings us pure joy, contentment and happiness, an eye-opening exercise is to look further and note how frequently we make time for those things. Do you love the experience of sipping a coffee in a beautifully designed independent café? Great! Do you find you are more often than not spending your time grabbing your java in a Starbucks or Tim Hortons drive-through? Not so great.

The cold reality is that often we deny ourselves the things that bring us the most happiness. This usually comes from a subconscious place of fear, guilt, shame. They can be feelings like guilt about spending money when you should be putting it away for your family, or a fear that if we do something we love, but others find totally geeky,  we are destined to be outed for the true loser that we really are. Or maybe it's shame about spending time on something others classify as frivolous or selfish, such as a time on your own.

Chew On This:

If certain things can bring you such uninhibited enjoyment and pleasure then what can the act of denying yourself this over time have on your feelings of self-love, life satisfaction and well-being?

I love food. I love everything about food. I love the geekery and science behind it, I love the experience of baking/cooking and creating with it. I love to read about it, style it, photograph it, and most importantly eat it.  The idea of having a slice of handcrafted bread or a forkful of freshly rolled pasta brings me such joy.  Oddly, I typically don't indulge in these things unless I am on holiday. Weird, right? Actually, it's pretty counterintuitive it seems. While spending some time in Paris, I suddenly allow myself the luxury to indulge in a melt in your mouth pastry at breakfast. Or, I'll take the time to sip some ridiculously good wine alongside some pizza al fresco in Florence, even if it's 2 pm. But at home? Rarely. More often than not it's low sugar,  avoid refined carbs, up the kale and quinoa intake and keep it clean.


Current Mood: Deprivation

I don't even think I was conscious of the fact that when at home, which in reality is about 95%  of my year, I exist in a  state of deprivation. Not deprivation in that I am starving myself, believe me,  quite the opposite. I eat an almost nauseating amount of food every day. People who know and love me have come to accept my states of hanger that come on quickly and have adjusted to the fact I need to eat every 2-3 hours should they value their lives. But the deprivation IS there. I have been depriving myself of the things that typically bring me huge amounts of joy. The slices of fresh bread just because. The glass of wine with lunch at home. The baking a new fancy treat for no other reason than it grounds me and makes me feel right.

It's not that I have been totally banishing these things from my life. I have constructed a life where I exist in a sort of limbo state, with one foot in and one foot in and out of these experiences.  I'd let myself bake, but only if there was a reason for it or an event to bring stuff to. Sure I'll grab a slice of bread but only if it meets the criteria for high protein, low sugar and fits into my concept of a well rounded day of food.

Since the awareness of the dissonance between my lifestyle and my joy factor came into my consciousness, I am now in a position where I can make changes. One where I can decide to actively choose to experience and to spend out  (both in time and money) on the things and experiences that make me happy on a daily basis. Does this mean I throw all ideals of health out the window and go on a raging bread and butter binge washed down with red wine at 10 am? As glorious as this sounds, no. Because for me, being healthy and feeling good is a BIG part of what brings me happiness. However, a big part of health and happiness is balance. 

In an effort to establish better balance I've made a pact to consciously indulge more in my interests and things that contribute to a state of happiness. A big part of this has been retraining my brain to release the reigns a little bit, which is how I found myself standing in line, the freezing rain at 8 am for a breakfast made solely for champions: a gigantic cafe au lait and a bag of beignets.


Get Your Beignet On

Click the image to be taken to the recipe for cute little self love cookies with an authentic NOLA beignet inspired twist:


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