When Tiffany McCauley made the decision to start eating clean five years ago, little did she know that she was, not only altering the course of life as she knew it, but shaping her destiny. Since 2009, she has been spreading the word, educating and inspiring others on the ins and outs of clean eating through her popular blog, The Gracious Pantry. Tens of thousands of followers check in on her site daily, looking for the latest drool-worthy recipe (from Coconut French Toast to Quinoa Tortillas to Avocado Pesto Alfredo Sauce), hoping to learn about a new culinary tool or trick, or simply to bask in the warm community that Tiffany has created. This busy single mother based in Northern California is up to the task as she finds herself at the forefront of a massive lifestyle movement, with a knack for making it accessible and engaging for both novice and advanced clean eaters. With a booming business, including two co-written cookbooks under her belt and her first solo one due out this Fall, Tiffany is living proof that success comes from following passion and that life can evolve to exceed one's wildest expectations.
Precious Beast recently had the opportunity to sit with Tiffany for YOU OUGHTA KNOW… WITH THE GRACIOUS PANTRY.
PB: Tell us about The Gracious Pantry - what inspired you to start it and how long did it take to catch on?
TM: I started The Gracious Pantry in September of 2009. I had been eating all the wrong foods for years, and my health truly reflected that. Once I had my son, I knew I had to do something to become a healthier mama. So I researched various diets, hoping to find one that would fit my lifestyle. I found a few books at the bookstore on clean eating, and realized that the recipes in those books were very similar to the foods I grew up on. They were the same types of dishes my grandmother used to cook for me when I was young. I soon realized that cooking with whole, natural ingredients was a creative outlet for me. Food became for me, what paint is to an artist. A means to create and express myself. The blog was a natural extension of that. A way to keep track of the recipes I was creating. When it started, it wasn’t really with the intention of turning it into a business, although I hoped early on that I might be able to do so so that I could work from home and raise my son. It really was just a means for me to share healthy recipes with people. But now, it’s become my passion to do so. I thrive on the idea of showing people that real food can taste amazing.
PB: Here's a tricky one - Can you define what "clean eating" means to you?
TM: In a nutshell, clean eating is about avoiding processed foods. It’s about eating real food, the way nature intended. It’s also about the quality of your food and getting as many nutrients into each bite as you possibly can. Quality, real, whole food is what our bodies were designed to use for fuel. When you give your body what it needs, it thrives. There are various diets that have sprung up around clean eating and a few different methods with which you can approach it. But at it’s core, it’s simply about real food.
PB: How long have you been "clean eating"? What drew you to the lifestyle?
TM: The birth of my child is what initially got me started on the idea. I wanted to stick around to see him grow up! When I started having actual health problems, getting healthier for him became my main motivation. Everything I do is to try and give him a good life. And that means being able to live long enough and well enough to give that to him. He’s a high energy boy and I have to keep up! I live for that kid.
PB: Can you tell us a little more about you?
TM: I’m a California native. I’ve lived here my whole life but I’ve never been to Disneyland. <gasp!> I live with my son in beautiful Sonoma County. I got my degree in fashion design. I love music by Elvis Presley and the one addiction I’ll never give up is pistachios. I think I could forgive somebody almost anything if they brought me a pound of roasted, salted pistachios (with the shell, please). I’ve played the piano since I was seven years old and I’m somewhat okay at singing in an operatic voice, but I don’t know a single opera song. <tragic> I sing a lot in my car, usually country music or oldies. I can knit, sew, play one mean game of Connect Four, and my favorite color is red.
PB: Where do you find inspiration?
TM: I find inspiration in everything, everywhere I go. But particularly at the grocery store, and especially at this time of year when the fresh produce really starts to hit the shelves. I could spend hours in the produce section.
PB: You share the the most amazing recipes. Where do they come from - do you create them yourself or find them somewhere? Have you always been skilled in the kitchen?
TM: I grew up with a few cooking lessons from my grandmother when I was younger. But ended up avoiding the kitchen for most of my life. I just couldn’t be bothered. I essentially had to start teaching myself from scratch when I started to eat clean. My mother has lived through thousands of my phone calls with all sorts of culinary questions. Thankfully, she’s patient with me
The majority of my recipes I create from scratch. I simply step into my kitchen, see what I have in the fridge and start thinking about what combinations would go well together. It’s one big culinary experiment, but it’s working pretty well so far. I do occasionally convert other recipes just to show people, not only how to do it, but also to prove that it can be done. You can absolutely still enjoy most of your favorite recipes. You just have to use different ingredients. But recipe conversions are pretty much the minority on my blog. I love the process of creation too much to do that very often.
PB: What has been the most exciting moment so far with The Gracious Pantry? The most frustrating?
TM: I’ve had several exciting moments along the way. But two stick out in my mind the most.
First is getting a cookbook deal on my own. The first two cookbooks I wrote, I actually co-authored with a friend. But this new book is all me and I’m really pretty proud of that.
But truly, the most amazing thing for me has been to look back at nearly 5 years of hard, round-the-clock work and realize it actually paid off. I’ve created something worthwhile, something that helps other people, and I did everything on my own. It’s been a wild ride, but the gratification and accomplishment has been worth every bump in the road. That’s really exciting for me.
The two most frustrating aspects of blogging have been trying to get good photos (I do okay, but there is a lot of room for improvement, particularly with food styling.) and seeing my work get stolen so frequently. I’m constantly hunting down my content that has been copied in full and pasted into some other site on the web with not even so much as a small credit link provided. But that’s part of having an online business. It comes with the package.
PB: What do we have to look forward to from The Gracious Pantry?
TM: Definitely more cookbooks! I have a million ideas and can’t wait to tackle each and every one of them. I’ve recently started to develop meal plans, which have been well received so far. I’m also considering teaching some clean cooking classes locally and hope to write for a couple publications in the next year.
PB: Any advice for your fellow clean eaters or any aspiring bloggers out there?
TM: For my fellow clean eaters who are just starting out, it’s critical to remember that the difference between this being a diet and making it a lifestyle is what you do when you "mess up". If it's a diet, you'll throw in the towel after one mistake. If it's a lifestyle, you realize that you aren't perfect and you’ll simply do better at the next meal. The choice is truly yours. Focus and achieve!
For any aspiring bloggers out there, the key to making it work is to be persistent and never stop learning or improving. You also have to do this because you love it, not for the money. If you love it and keep at it, the money will come eventually.