The Breakfast Club #4 Rene Byrd’s spirited cooking and her Raw Strawberry Cake
The Breakfast Club on Nourish Atelier is a Q&A series with the finest people in food inspiration.
Muse: Rene Byrd from willfrolicforfood.com
One of the features in this series is that each breakfast muse gets to nominate the next one. This makes it very exciting for me as I don't know who the next muse will be. In the last Breakfast Club, Laura Wright from The first Mess nominated southern beauty Rene Byrd. I was already following Rene on Instagram to not miss out on her creative cooking and stunning yoga shots. And I'm grateful to Laura for making me dive into Rene's beautiful blog. I'm now officially having a big crush on her personality and writing; I love how each post is full of warmth, fun and a love for food and life.
Rene lives in Charlotteville, Virgina in the south east of the U.S with her husband Logan. She is a creative maverick that describes herself as a combination of a nona, alchemist and Stevie Nicks. She created Willfrolicforfood.com in 2013 and it's now a treasure chest of vegan, vegetarian and often gluten free recipes. When she isn't cooking, she is making music with her band Larkspur , practising mysore-style ashtanga yoga, or just enjoying life with friends and reading cookbooks.
Her free spirit is present as a blue print in all her recipes, healthy and modern, with a joyful twist - expect lots of fun easy and mouth watering dishes like smoothies, papaya boats, vegan sloppy joes and a raw strawberry banana cake (for recipe scroll down). She's an absolute must visit inspiration for anyone looking for inspiration for nourishing and fun plantbased food.
Let's get to know this sparkling lady a little more:
Credits: photography and recipe by Rene Byrd
Interview by me :)
N/A: Good Morning Renee. I’m so excited to have a breakfast session with you. In the spirit of willfrolicforfood.com what are we having for breakfast?
RB: Well typically I eat avocado toast with sea salt and black pepper. Or a smoothie bowl. If you were eating with me I would most definitely be making us my blackberry maca smoothie doused in calendula flowers and violets and buckwheat groats and bee pollen!
N/A: Getting to know you through your reading was like finding a sister, I’m just nodding to myself going through your recipes, also learning that you’re the Stevie Nicks of home cooks, a free kitchen spirit makes me sure that we would have a buzz hanging out, I’ll drop by for a coffee if I get around to do that American road trip I always dreamt of. Becoming who we are and finding a strong voice in the process of writing is a creative goal for most bloggers I would think; it makes me curious about how Willfrolicforfood.com came to life and what drives you to share your beautiful food?
RB: I’ve been using food as a mode of expression for a long time. Creating in the kitchen puts me into a flow state. It’s a lot like playing music, for me. It’s hyper-aware while simultaneously at ease. I love the tactile, improvisational nature of cooking. The here-and-then-gone nature of creating things made to be eaten. I think what drives me to share, at this point, is the desire to give people a little slice of that flow state. I don’t know if I can put a finger on it exactly. The desire to share and be seen is compulsive. I get so many recipes and ideas for food and photography overflowing out of my brain it only seems natural to share that wealth. It’s sort of like being gifted inspiration pie, and there’s just too much for me to take on all by myself. I need other people to eat some. Here, take a slice! And you! And YOU!
N/A: Thank You! I'll have whatever you're having :D! What is “good eating” and “a good life” for you?
RB: It’s so funny, those two concepts are so intermingled for me. Good eating is good life. Good life is good eating. Personally, when I’m eating badly my quality of life suffers. And when I’m eating clean, intentional plant-foods my quality of life is bright and joyful and bountiful. On that same note, good eating for me is intimately linked to a sense of sharing in community and bounty and connecting to the core of things. I can’t imagine either good eating or good life without also imagining my community of happy friends and family breaking bread with me. Food is family is love is spirit.
I’m getting this image in my head of a long, low table outdoors set beautifully with local flowers and beeswax candles. Enormous jugs of iced tea scented with rose and honey. Friends all around, mingling and drinking wine. Course after course of creative plant-centric dishes made with organic, local and seasonal bounty. Someone playing guitar in the background. Happiness. Laughter. Soaking up the juice of life. Maybe all of us jamming afterwards. It’s a very vivid image. Food is family is love is spirit.
N/A: That sounds like a beautiful celebration of life and friendships. I long for those al fresco gatherings every spring - food is best when shared! Now I'd like to ask you a little about yoga; ashtanga yoga is my preference too and I’m in total awe of the yoga shots you posted on Instagram, (Yoga goals, anyone? check out Renee’s Instagram here) I started out with ashtanga myself and later got creative with vinyasa yoga, and I have a sense of things being yoga outside the mat too, like an attitude or gentleness applied to food and relationships. What does your yoga practice mean to you and can you see yoga influencing your food? :)
RB: Oh definitely. Yoga is a huge part of my life. And the philosophy spreads into every crevice, every corner. Like indigo on linen. It enriches my days, adds depth and meaning. It makes my existence more graceful. I’m a more grateful, compassionate, kind and enduring person because of yoga.
I started my yoga journey studying yogic philosophy in college. My major was Philosophy with a concentration in Indic Studies. For a while I thought I would go into academia, become a professor. My passion for food just kept chasing me, though. So I split away and found my way to what I do now. My asana practice has waxed and waned over the years. But the philosophy is always there.
I resonate with that sense of gentleness you mentioned. There’s no doubt in my mind that yoga influences my food. Both the way I eat personally and the way I approach recipes for the blog. In yoga we practice Ahimsa (“non-harming”), which is a huge reason I eat plant-based. It impacts my buying choices and the way I approach nourishing myself. I’m often asking myself, as I pick up items in the grocery: “what is the impact of this food, on the planet and on my body?” It keeps me eating a lot of whole, unprocessed, unpackaged foods. Food lives at that crossroads between spiritual and sensual. Between illuminated and mundane. It becomes us. For me, food is just another aspect of yoga.
N/A: I know you like speciality ingredients like maca and bee pollen, do you have any current favourites and how do you apply them in your food? There’s of course a lot of hype around food and trendy ingredients surfacing all the time - is there hyped food you find overpriced or not worth it? And tips on what’s a keeper from from the health food store in the cupboard?
RB: I definitely am still on a maca and bee pollen kick. Reishi and cacao and hemp hearts are my other favorites. Reishi (a medicinal mushroom) is heart-opening and calming. I whip it into hot cocoa with coconut sugar and coconut milk. Cacao is my heart, for sure. I’ll put cacao nibs in a mint-chip smoothie with fresh mint from my garden. I like it in baked goods and sprinkled over ice cream. Or I’ll eat cacao nibs like nuts. Hemp hearts lower inflammation and improve cardio vascular health. I literally put them in everything. Soups, smoothies, salads, vegan cheeses, baked goods… all of it.
I don’t really dig fad foods. I hate being “convinced” of some new foods fancy attributes. And the pricing of “super foods” is just totally insane. Kale chips are bonkers expensive. UGH. It’s like if something is healthy for you its automatically really pricey. I think that really limits access to all sorts of natural food and plant-medicine (that grows for free in the ground you guys). Which means its harder for everyone to live their best life.
The worst culprits of overpriced trendiness and super food silliness are protein powders and protein bars. I don’t consume that sort of food, generally. Mostly because it’s cost prohibitive. Maybe also because it makes my diet feel sterile and joyless. Although let’s be honest in a pinch a bar made with whole fruits and nuts can be a lifesaver.
When it comes to buying my own superfoods, I stick to the most super powered foods I can find. Bee pollen, maca, reishi, cacao and hemp hearts serve me really well. Bee pollen contains a whole amino acid complex. Maca is an adaptogen and promotes hormonal homeostasis. Reishi improves immune function, is highly anti-cancerous and anti-viral. Cacao is good vibes and has massive amounts of antioxidants (which means it’s also anti-cancerous and youth-providing). And hemp hearts provide protein and essential fatty acids. If you’re frustrated with the price of super foods I strongly suggest learning to forage. It’s fun! It’s free! There’s medicine and superfood goodness all around us! It’s kind of mind blowing when you really start to get into it.
N/A; I need to try that mushroom and I still have to learn foraging better, our flora is a bit poor in the dune landscape where I live. There's so much goodness on your blog. Which recipes must I try from willfrolicforfood.com? I can’t wait to have time to try a bunch of them!
RB: My turmeric cookies, cinnamon rolls and ice cream sandwiches are some of my personal favorites. If you’re going to try one thing, make my watermelon refresher. It’s the most popular recipe on the blog for a reason! I make it all the time.
N/A: Those turmeric cookies are on the top of my to make list! I was wondering, I’m really curious about places and I’m imagining Virgina beach where you live as beautiful and scenic spot in America. What do you love about where you live and what should we not miss if we visit. What is the food scene like?
RB: I actually live in Charlottesville, which is Central Virginia. I grew up in Virginia beach. Which is also lovely (parts of it anyway). Charlottesville is the chillest city in Virginia. It’s relaxed and beautiful. The city is surrounded by gorgeous countryside and by lots of historic manor-houses. Not to mention the University of Virginia (which is known for its beautiful landscaping and architecture). It’s like this perfect mix of city and country. There are tons of hiking trails, crystal clear mountain swimming holes and camping spots. It’s quiet but there’s a lot to do. We get world-class touring music acts here. And there are some amazing art festivals.
The food scene mostly revolves around local food. Local produce, local animal products. Meat, mostly. So I don’t go out to eat very often. But restaurants around here treat plants with respect. They understand how to make carrots taste like pure gold, how to make a pile of roasted tomatoes mouth-watering. If you visit you definitely have to take a drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway (especially in the Fall when the leaves change color). You have to eat at Mas Tapas and break all of your rules. You have to get a cocktail at Alley Light. You have to walk the grounds at UVA and eat a picnic lunch in one of the little brick-lined gardens. You have to go swimming with me at my favorite secret swimming spot that I can’t tell the internet about :)
N/A; I'll exchange my secret swimming spots with you when you visit Amsterdam! I’m always curious about food bloggers life outside the kitchen - what are your passions, not food related, apart from swimming?
RB: I write a lot. Poetry and short stories. I don’t really publish, not right now anyway. But it’s a big part of my life. I do a lot of personal photography projects that I don’t share on the blog, either. I also love teaching yoga, especially to beginners. And I play drums and sing in a band called Larkspur. We play 1 show a week pretty regularly. And we’re recording our first EP this Fall.
N/A; Where do you surf and spend time if online, any great bloggers, web shops, or other inspiration you can share?
RB: I try not to spend too much time on the internet. I know, that seems backwards. But it’s a vortex. An addictive, fascinating, glittery vortex that completely consumes me. I only really go on the internet to update my social profiles, read my friends blogs (because community yay!) and research recipes. But I definitely have to shout out to Amanda at Heartbeet Kitchen, Sherrie at With Food + Love, Lily of Kale and Caramel and Beth from Tasty Yummies for being the best humans. These women shine like the sun and make me a better person through their friendship. And their work inspires me every day.
N/A; Thanks for sharing, all great blogs! So what’s a typical Saturday for you?
RB: Teach two yoga classes super early. Wander around the farmers market with my husband while drinking a watermelon water kefir soda. Eat vegan Caribbean street food. Go home, chill out, be a hermit and read for the rest of the day. Or sometimes I’ll use my Saturday to play with outrageous, weird recipe concepts. I love reserving my weekends for totally impractical, childlike creativity and laziness. If I’m feeling extroverted I might have some friends over for dinner and wine and chill!
N/A; On eating together, do you have good tips for making meals for a whole bunch of people?
RB: My best tip is probably just keep it simple by cooking a one-pot meal. I’ll usually do a huge soup or giant pasta dish for big groups. Salad with dark leafy greens on the side. Served family style.
N/A; I'm always doing a bunch of bowls for sharing, but I've probably been making it difficult for myself, one pot meals are brilliant! Which recipe from your website are you most excited about?
RB: My Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joe Stuffed Sweet Potatoes are probably my favorite savory recipe up on the blog. They’re a crowd pleaser. And everyone loves them. I love that they’re naturally gluten free and vegan too. And they’re so easy. I make them a lot.
10 quick questions for Renee
N/A: Your favourite kitchen tool?
RB: Cast iron skillet.
N/A: Whats' your favourite music while cooking?
RB: Anything by Kishi Bashi.
N/A: Culinary heroes?
RB: Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Ina Garten.
N/A: Your most memorable dish ever?
RB: I once made a gluten free, dairy free rainbow layer cake out of trix cereal that tasted like a rainbow cloud. With the help of Emilie from The Clever Carrot. Dream team.
N/A: Not without my _ _ _ _ _ ?
RB: Husband. Or lemon zester. Both… definitely both.
N/A: Favourite TV show (if any, mention a character if you have a fave :)_ _ _ _ _ ?
RB: Nick & Schmidt from New Girl are the best thing that’s happened to sitcom TV in forever.
N/A: Favourite book so far:_ _ _ _ _ ?
RB: All the Harry Potters OR A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (she’s my spirit animal)
N/A: Favourite ingredient?
RB: Currently, balsamic vinegar. In everything. Is that basic of me?
N/A: Whats your best cooking tip?
RB: Learn how to balance salty, sweet, acid and savory flavors and you will rule the kitchen.
N/A: Thank You Renee! Every breakfast muse gets to nominate the following muse for the next Breakfast Club, who would you like to see for the next session?
RB: Hmmmmmmm how about… Sherrie of With Food and Love! withfoodandlove.com
Strawberry Banana Ice Cream Cake
This ice cream slice cake is as simple as it gets! 1 part nana ice cream + 1 part raw almond coconut “cake.” It’s all very quick — but it at least 6 hours of freezing time, so factor that in to your prep time.
1 1/2 cups almond meal (poured into your measure, not packed)
1 cup coconut flakes
2 tablespoons melted virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
teaspoon vanilla (or 1/2 vanilla bean pod)
1/8 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
pinch sea salt
1 cup cashews, soaked overnight or in hot water for 1 hour
1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen banana
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/2 vanilla bean pod)
up to 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup fresh strawberries, cored and sliced thinly
garnish: chocolate drizzle (1 oz chopped chocolate melted with 1/2 teaspoon virgin coconut oil)
- Line a loaf pan or small brownie pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the almond meal, coconut flakes and sea salt. Add the coconut oil, maple syrup, vanilla (if using vanilla bean, split + scrape out the seeds and discard the pod). Stir everything together for a minute or so, until the mix looks like wet sand and can be pinched together between your fingers.
- Press the raw cake base firmly into the bottom of your pan and smooth out the top.
- Drain your soaked cashews and discard the soak-water. To the bowl of a high powered blender, add the cashews, frozen strawberries, frozen banana, lemon juice, vanilla (if using vanilla bean, split and scrape out the seeds and discard the pod) and 1 tablespoon water. Blend, scrape down the sides of your blender and add more water as you need (up to 1/4 cup) to grease the wheels of your blender and get everything smooth and creamy.
- Scrape the thick ice cream base into the pan over top of the cake base, spreading out the top smoothly.
- Arrange your thinly sliced strawberries overtop in a pattern that appeals to you.
- Freeze for 6 hours, up to overnight.
- To serve, let thaw at room temp for 10 minutes before slicing + drizzling chocolate lightly overtop. While it\'s still cold it can be eaten with your hands, but if you prefer it softer serve it plated with more strawberries and eat with a sharp-edged spoon. Enjoy!