From Africa to Maine; Lyme Disease to Healthy

Hi, I’m Taryn!

I’m a foodie, a traveler and a professional writer.

I was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, and have since lived in Maine, Japan, Washington D.C. and California.

I spent a large chunk of my twenties battling Lyme Disease, and came out the other side grateful, happy and healthier than ever.

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A little bit more about me…

I grew up in a house with parents who were always cooking and throwing big dinners. Guests could be heard raving about various dishes each time they walked out the door.

My dad got his culinary start as a chef for the South African Navy, while my mom has been a strict vegetarian for over thirty years (long before it was popular) and has inspired countless of my own recipes.

Cape Town, South Africa circa 1988

Due to apartheid and the resulting high crime rates in South Africa, my parents moved our family to Maine, U.S.A. when I was thirteen. I struggled with culture shock and tried to fit in by partying hard and all but dropping out of school. All the things you hope your teenager never does, I did. From drugs to sex to a full blown eating disorder that had me hospitalized, it was a big, harsh struggle growing up.

After high school, I ran off to Japan where I was on my own for the first time—at least, when it came to cooking.

Japanese subway life

I loved many things about the Japanese way of eating (including onigiri, seaweed-wrapped rice triangles filled with salmon—or so many other things—that you can pick up at any convenience store). But I often found myself calling my parents to ask for nostalgic recipes I could learn to cook in my new home.

At the same time, my body was changing rapidly from a very negative experience with birth control. I didn’t fit into my clothes, I spent many moody days depressed and in tears, and I once ate a massive (Costco-sized) chocolate sheet cake all by myself.

Then I met an American personal trainer, who handed me a Suzanne Somers book called Eat Great, Lose Weight.

While I did want to lose the new extra weight, I was floored, impressed and shocked to read the information behind Suzanne’s ideas.

I know it seems basic, but I had never really thought about the foods that went into my body and how they worked (or didn’t work) with every organ. The chemical reactions in my system interested me. Learning that eating high sugar foods would make my pancreas secrete insulin interested me.

And so began my fascination with food and health.

What started as an interest became a life-saving mission as my twenties rolled by and I moved back to Maine. I was incredibly sick, and had no idea why. Neither did the doctors. It was hard to explain to them how I felt myself slipping away. I was exhausted all the time; felt like I had a cold all the time, and one sip of wine would send the room spinning.

In one of the moments when I tried to push myself to find some happiness and find myself, I decided to get a few new ear piercings one day. By that evening, my ear had swollen into what looked like a giant tomato. By later in the night, the right side of my face was paralyzed.

Days turned into weeks and my doctor tested me for everything and found no explanation. I had Bell’s Palsy, and she guessed it was from my massive ear infection crushing a nerve in my neck. I saw neurologist and an ENT who couldn’t figure it out either.

Attempting a full smile with Bell’s Palsy

For the time being, I had to tape my eye shut at night because I couldn’t close it. I stayed away from public places because I was so embarrassed at the reactions I got when I smiled without remembering what I looked like. I was deeply afraid that my life would never be the same.

My life never really was the same, but after a month or so the Bell’s Palsy began to fade. I cried so hard with joy to have my regular face back. The experience changed the way I view beauty, and the the way I now understand those who aren’t as lucky, those who don’t recover or those who are born in a shape that the world doesn’t perceive as “normal.”

I was relieved, but still felt extremely sick with no explanation of why. I frequently had infections from my bladder to my eyes, and it was my eye doctor who urged me to see a Lyme Disease specialist. I told her I’d already been tested for Lyme and everything else under the sun, but every time I saw her she pushed a little harder.

Even though a “western blot” test had showed negative for Lyme, I was fed up with no answers. I remember the moment I was driving around feeling like my body was garbage wasting away and I pulled over and just stood outside. I decided right then that I’d just find a specialist and pay out of pocket and try anything I could to get better.

Lo and behold, when I found a specialist I immediately tested positive for Lyme Disease.

I took antibiotics for many months and saw an improvement, but I’d been sick for years. Antibiotics work better on Lyme the sooner you take them.

So I had to clean myself up from the bottom up. Antibiotics did some heavy lifting, but the rest of my healing came from my lifestyle. It was a whole new lesson in what food goes in and what it does. If I ate crappy, I felt crappy.

Making a kombucha scoby

I realized more than ever that whatever I consumed was going to have a real effect—whether it was good or bad was up to me.

All I could do was try my best to take care of myself. I exercised and meditated regularly, slept 9 hours each night, and tossed out all caffeine, alcohol, toxic cleaning items and beauty products with names I couldn’t pronounce.

During this time, I continued visiting various doctors, physical therapists, acupuncturists and other healers and was told more than once to cut out gluten.

I tried every diet under the sun, from gluten-free to ketogenic to carnivore to vegan. What I learned most of all was to practice moderation, but to err on the side of giant salads packed with veggies.

It turns out that eating mostly plant-based whole foods was not only best for me, but also best for the environment of the whole planet.

While teaching myself about nutrition, I was getting two degrees: one in Media and Communications, and one in Gender Studies. I had an interest in media and journalism, and decided to double major when I stumbled upon a feminist perspectives class. It was there that I found a new language that explained the world—and my own life-in a way that I needed to understand.

I began my career as a freelance writer often tackling the subject of food. I moved to Washington D.C. for a couple years, and then to California, where I was invited to write the restaurant reviews for the Monterey County Weekly.

Being a food critic was a strange job for me.

Pointing at my own review in a Thai restaurant

Obviously, it’s an awesome gig to get paid to eat. But back then, I was so rigid about only eating healthy foods. If I ate animal products, they had to be organic, pasture raised and local. Processed foods and sugar were the devil to me. There were many restaurant visits where I balked a little at eating all this factory farm meat and sugary desserts. And don’t even get me started on seed oils.

Man, I really had to loosen up a little bit.

At that time I was as recovered from Lyme Disease as I’d ever be. I had always maintained my healthy lifestyle, and was feeling great. Having Lyme somewhere in my body was not a reason to be so strict with my diet that I couldn’t indulge once or twice a week. I remember my editor once saying that even though I struggled internally with eating whatever a restaurant served me, it would make a great cover story one day. And so being food critic really helped me learn to let go, and gave me a level of peace around food that I still have to this day.

Well, mostly. At least, it made me less of a judgmental a-hole about food.

When the pandemic hit the restaurant section closed for a bit, and I decided to leave it be. I’m still happy to be on the contributor list, but my life is pretty full and busy at home these days. The rare times I go out, I eat whatever I feel like—but mostly what I feel like is on the healthier side anyway. My fridge and pantry’s ingredients are pretty much all clean, organic and not overly processed. And the things that aren’t are reserved for convenience snacks and special treats, and that is perfectly fine with me.

Starting this blog was a decision to spend more time with my background and my passion, both good food AND health. I have strong views on the big ag industry, but I don’t believe that me promoting extremism is the answer. I’ve learned that people, including myself, just don’t like that!

So here my recipes will be mostly plant-based, but I have a “flexitarian” section for chicken.

Chatting with Kris Carr (Crazy, Sexy Diet Author)

Do I like chicken factory farms? Of course not. But chicken and eggs have the lowest carbon footprint/effect on the environment and they can plausibly be raised by almost anyone in their backyard (to get eggs, and even meat if you have the stomach for it).

If raising animals isn’t your thing, there is always the option of supporting small local farmers if you don’t want to eat vegan. The “pasture-raised” eggs and meats on the big grocery store shelves may be green-washing, but the small produce stands and neighbors at the farmer’s markets are not. Beyond farmer’s markets, there are many small cattle owners who sell whole cows, pigs, lamb, etc.—it’s just a matter of looking them up in your area.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

I’m a big believer that everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have.

I know that as I’ve grown into a healthy and happy person, my resources have grown along with me. I hope Cook & Crumbs can be a resource to you, if not for interesting health tidbits, then for delicious food! I’m always open to tips, suggestions and hearing from you about your own story.

Please see my contact page if you’d like to get in touch.

And if you’d like to support me further, please consider joining my free email list below. My emails will never be super frequent or annoying—they will just be a quick hello with some kitchen inspiration.

Thank you for reading!


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