Today’s self-care dialogue is with Renee Byrd, photographer, writer, yoga teacher, and overall magical woman, who shares her plant-forward recipes and self-care musings on her website, Will Frolic for Food. Renee has a way with images and words, and we always walk away from reading her blog with a bit more lightness and optimism, as well as a million new, colorful recipe ideas.
In this interview, Renee tells us in depth about her bedtime and beauty routines, her approach to nourishment and exercise, her ways of dealing with stress, and much more. Such good stuff here, enjoy :)
— Is routine important to you or do you like things to be more open and free?
I am not a naturally routine-oriented person. I prefer my days to be flexible and I like to have the freedom to switch up my work/play depending on what’s inspiring me. That’s a big reason I feel I’m able to remain inspired when it comes to my many projects. On the other hand I’m a lot more efficient when I have a loose routine in place. Especially when I have a morning routine that includes my coffee, journaling, yoga and meditation. So I really don’t gravitate to creating routines for myself but I know I function better when I’m consistent about them.
— What do your mornings look like? If they differ from day to day, describe your ideal morning.
My mornings tend to change every day. I teach yoga two mornings a week and work the farmers market with my husband Logan’s coffee / chocolate company on Saturday mornings. So on those days I just do my best to get up early enough to make a healthy breakfast and be mentally prepared to interact with people. My ideal morning routine is: wake up at 6:30 am, make and drink coffee, meditate for 15 minutes, journal, then do 30-45 mins of yoga, then eat breakfast. I do all that before starting my work day. I try not to check my phone in the mornings so I’ll put it on airplane mode and keep it in a separate room while I’m doing my wake-up routine. I usually start work between 9-10am.
— Do you have any bedtime rituals that help you sleep well?
I absolutely love to sleep, so I’m pretty religious about my bedtime rituals. After I brush my teeth and floss I wash my face with raw honey, then spritz my face, neck and chest with rosewater, then I moisturize with macadamia oil. About 20 mins before sleep I take a magnesium-calcium supplement from Natural Vitality which helps me get really deep sleep. I always wear an eye mask to sleep and I keep my phone charging outside of my bedroom. I have bruxism (teeth grinding) which has caused me more and more jaw and neck pain, so I wear a mouthguard and I’ll frequently do a jaw/neck massage before sleep with a warming balm that includes arnica and cayenne.
— Describe your typical or ideal meal for each of these:
Breakfast – I hate repeating meals but avocado toast with an egg is a staple of my life. I eat it a few days a week. I’ll also frequently have a low-sugar smoothie with lots of adaptogenic herbs in it (maca, reishi and ashwagandha are my current staples). I mostly do berry-based smoothies as opposed to banana-based smoothies.
Lunch – Ideally this is a big salad with pre-prepped roasted cauliflower, spiced chickpeas and tomatoes from the garden. But I usually end up eating some sort of snack combo, like mezze with flax crackers and maybe a chipotle bean dip.
Snack – I’m not a big snacker. But when I do snack I usually have some fresh fruit or a handful of cacao nibs.
Dinner – I typically do a different improvised meal every night depending on what we have from our CSA or what I’ve picked up at the market lately. I love hearty vegetable moroccan spiced stews, thai-inspired coconut soups and noodle dishes. Meals like that are really easy to pile up with lots of vegetables whether they’re raw, roasted, steamed or cooked right into a broth.
— Do you partake in caffeine and in what form? If not, what is your drink of choice in the morning?
I am a big fan of coffee although I’m pretty sensitive to caffeine. I’ll usually do 1 black cold-brew coffee in the morning. Logan roasts his own coffee and specializes in cold-brew so we always have the best coffee ever around the house.
— Do you have a sweet tooth? If so, how do you keep it in check?
Salty crunchy foods are more my weakness (I’d take chips over ice cream). I’m not a big lover of sweets, but I do like naturally-sweetened treats occasionally. I have sugar cravings like anyone else (and Logan is a total sugar fiend). So to keep us both balanced I never bring sugary treats into the house. I keep dates around for recipe development, but other than that I never buy cookies or cakes. And refined sugar never enters my house as a rule. When I do make pies or ice cream they’re usually made with less evil sweeteners. So I don’t feel so bad about having an extra serving occasionally.
— Are there any particular supplements, herbs, or tinctures/tonics that you take regularly and find to be helpful with your energy level and general wellness?
I’m really on top of taking supplements now as I’ve struggled with some deficiencies over the past few years that caused various problems. As I mentioned earlier, my bruxism (which may or may not be full blown TMJD or Myofascial Pain Syndrome) causes me a lot of discomfort. So for that I take curcumin with boswellia for pain, taurine for muscle recovery and a magnesium-calcium supplement that helps with muscle relaxation and nervous system health. I also take a sublingual liquid b12 complex and D3. I take a complex of Bach flower essences for my emotional and spiritual health. Pine, gentian, scleranthus, walnut and wild oat are common allies for me. I frequently add maca and/or ashwagandha to blended tea lattes or smoothies for endocrine system support. Reishi is a magical ally that helps me on many levels, from improving my immune system and preventing cancer to helping me feel more relaxed and open. I also consider it a friend of good dreams, as taking it before sleep frequently leads me into illuminating dream-work.
— A book/movie/class that influenced your view of self-nourishment or self-care.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a creativity book technically, but it’s full of activities that have helped me to understand the nature of the human spirit, of my own spirit and of Great Spirit (God). On a practical level it’s helped me to deal with subconscious desires and feelings and figure out what to do with them. It’s given me a lot of direction and helped me to value my life and invest in whole-being health.
— Do you exercise and do you have a particular exercise routine that you repeat weekly?
I teach 6 or more yoga classes a week right now so there’s a good amount of movement involved in that. I also practice yoga at home a few days a week, alternating between advanced Hatha and Vinyasa practice. I have some HIIT, lifting and bodyweight routines that I do three days a week. I like the elliptical, jogging or dancing for cardio. I live in my city’s downtown so I walk just about everywhere as well. I struggle to stick to a specific routine because I find routines repetitive and boring, so I switch it up a lot.
— Do you find exercise to be pleasurable, torturous or perhaps a little of both? How do you put yourself in the right mindset in order to keep up with it?
I really love yoga and dance and any exercise that feels like it has a deeper purpose. So whenever I can bring that feeling of deeper purpose to movement it transitions from torturous to meditative. Even running, if I can sync up with my breath, can be a meditation. Sometimes it’s a struggle to make myself go to the gym or exercise. I resist it just like everyone else. I especially resist my yoga practice (probably because I already spend 6-9 hours teaching it every week). On the days I’m resisting really hard I’ll turn on a youtube yoga video and practice for 15 minutes. Sometimes that’s all I can mentally manage, and other time that leads me to do two hours of practice. Each day is different.
— What is your idea of beauty – external, internal or both?
I find that inner (spiritual/emotional) beauty reflects on peoples faces, on their aura and I can see that kind of beauty immediately even if that person isn’t traditionally physically beautiful. A beautiful spirit far outweighs a beautiful face. I also find that inner physical health produces a beautiful exterior: glowing skin, healthy nails and hair, healthy teeth and a clean natural scent. That being said, I definitely love aesthetic beauty. I’m getting deeper into portrait and fashion photography and exploring the beautiful shapes different bodies and faces make in relationship to environment is endlessly fascinating to me.
— What is your skincare approach – face and body?
Consuming alkaline plant-based fats and plenty of dark leafy greens is an essential part of my whole body skin health. I moisturize my body with unrefined grapeseed, coconut or sesame oil. And after a year of using the oil-cleansing method on my face I just recently decided to switch over to washing my face with honey and moisturizing with macadamia oil. That combination really works for me; I think partly because I’m now acclimated to using oils as moisturizers.
— Are there any foods, herbs or supplements you find to be helpful to your skin/hair/general glow?
Magnesium is fantastic for glowing skin. Since I started taking a magnesium supplement for my muscles I’ve had twice as many positive comments on my skin. That’s been a happy side effect! And again honey is great as a mask or general face wash. And I eat at least half an avocado every day and that nourishes my skin from the inside out.
— Do you have any beauty tips/tricks you’ve found to be especially useful throughout the years? Family heirlooms are very much welcome.
Always do your eyebrows! I have really pale eyebrows which makes them look sparse, even though there’s actually hair there. I use an ash-blonde creme eyebrow pot with an angle brush and I draw hair-like sweeps of the color over my eyebrows to create a full, angled shape. My grandmother — a famously glamorous and charming woman — also has extremely pale eyebrows and she’s been “painting her eyebrows on” since she was in her 20’s. Eyebrows not only frame and shape the face but they communicate subtle emotions. They’re essential! Also, highlighter over your brow / tip of your nose / chest makes you look like an angel. It’s pale people bronzer, as I always say.
— Do you practice any consistent routines in order to avoid stress?
Journaling is my most powerful tool. I get most stressed when I haven’t consciously processed what’s going on in my life. I approach life from a more emotional lens, so thinking-out-loud into my journal helps me to separate the petty anxieties from the real ones. So then I can intelligently deal with those mountains instead of sweating the molehills. I try to journal every day.
— If stress cannot be avoided, what are your ways of dealing with it?
Prayer is a big one. I try to find some silence and talk to Great Spirit. I also like: showers with a few drops of lavender essential oil; frankincense essential oil on my wrists, chest and crown to fortify my confidence; lavender and passionflower tea to calm my senses; exercise to express blocked energy; journaling; positive intention setting; retail therapy in the form of buying new plant friends for my house; massage; restorative yoga; long talks with friends; and dancing.
— What measures do you take when you sense a cold/general feeling of being under the weather coming on?
I make a super healing broth. I make a vegetable stock with onion, garlic, root veggies, celery, dark leafy greens, fresh oregano, fresh rosemary, olive oil and slices of reishi mushroom. I cook that down for a few hours. Once I’ve strained off the cooked veg I’ll add fresh minced turmeric, ginger, raw garlic, cayenne, apple cider vinegar, chlorella/spirulina/blue algae, nori and miso paste. I’ll sip that throughout the day. I also do fresh juices with green apple, turmeric, parsley, ginger, garlic and oregano oil. Not tasty, but very effective.
— Do you strive to maintain a healthy work/life balance or do those things overlap for you? What is your approach?
Working from home and having a career centered around my lifestyle makes the line extraordinarily blurred. My goal is to be more efficient with my work hours so I can have more intentional free time. I typically take Sundays completely off and I try to stay away from screens. I frequently wont even respond to texts or calls because being near my phone means I’m going to check Instagram and my email. When I spend time with Logan and friends I try to make a point to put my phone away and not check it. I’m not perfect at this, but it definitely makes a difference. I can’t really be present with my pocket tamagotchi constantly asking to be maintained (“feed me! love me!”).
— Describe the actions you take or mindset you try to tap into in order to stay on track with your self-care practice and being nice to yourself?
I like to write positive goals and intentions for myself regularly. I do this as part of my journaling practice at least a couple times a week. And I often schedule exercise and self-care into my agenda.
— What do you consider to be the single most important change you’ve made to your routine or lifestyle in terms of wellness?
Finding a good functional medicine doctor has been the most significant shift for me in the past year. I tend to try and take everything on all by myself, including solving the puzzle of health and healing. Being able to let go of that and let my doctor help me on my journey has been transformative.
— What was the path that led you to becoming a yoga teacher?
In college I majored in Philosophy with a concentration in “Indic Studies” which in our program meant Hinduism, Buddhism and the philosophy of Yoga. After college I was split between wanting to pursue an academic career in religious studies and wanting to have an artistic career in creative writing. I decided to go to yoga teacher training in the mean time. I thought it might be a way I could make a living while I figured out my direction. I had been practicing vinyasa-style yoga for a few years already. After training I taught for about a year, then I got discouraged and took a break. I don’t love the modern uber-bullshit-spritualism of American Yoga. And having studied how yoga was assimilated into American culture, I really know where a lot of that pseudo-depth comes from. I still keep my distance from studio culture because of that. At the same time I have loads of respect for teachers who are passionate, well-trained and understand yogic history and philosophy. I rediscovered teaching yoga three years ago when I moved to Charlottesville after practicing Ashtanga Yoga with a local teacher for about a year. I teach at a gym… which might sound lame! But the program is highly developed and offers a wide range of practice including meditation and pranayama. I’ve never encountered anything like it. It has given me access to the kinds of students who would never attend a studio (seniors, injured folks, exercise junkies, athletes, folks with tight bodies, busy moms and people who generally find studios intimidating). It feels like a gift every time I get to teach. I’ve hit a happy stride with it now.
— Do you teach a specific kind of yoga? Would love to hear about it and why you chose this particular kind.
I’m trained in Integral Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. So my classes — all of which are labeled “Hatha” — tend to be slow with a breath-focused flow. I approach postural alignment from an Ashtanga perspective and build sequences equally inspired by both Integral and Ashtanga yoga. I teach a lot of intro classes, all-levels friendly classes and gentle / restorative classes. Those are my favorite. I do technically teach vinyasa. But my true love is definitely Hatha. I prefer the spaciousness and slowness of Hatha classes where you can really be awake in your own body: no rushing, no flinging yourself into postures before you’re ready. Just connectedness to your body, mind and spirit: witnessing what’s actually happening in your body beyond the judgements. All yoga practice should do this for you, but personally I find that sweet spot in Hatha.
— What are your recommendations for someone who wants to establish a daily yoga practice but doesn’t know where to begin?
I work with a lot of beginning students and from my experience the most important thing is to practice regularly! There’s a ton of new information to learn. I think going to one or two classes a week with a teacher you love is an ideal place to start. Then do 10 or 15 minute Youtube yoga classes at home whenever you can fit it in. I love Yoga with Adriene on youtube, she’s absolutely brilliant. Start there.
— You also have a bean-to-bar chocolate and coffee company together with your husband! How did you get into chocolate-making and coffee roasting? Tell us a bit about Frolic.
When Logan and I were first dating we both went vegan and got really fascinated with raw chocolate. After a lot of time spent diving into the chocolate world we discovered that raw chocolate is not particularly better for you than roasted chocolate. Soon after that we encountered bean-to-bar chocolate while on a trip to Brooklyn. Learning about the cacao plant and the process of making real chocolate completely blew our minds. We couldn’t believe how complex the process was! It’s similar to wine-making. There are a lot of factors at play, and a lot of them have to do with the region the cacao is grown in and the processing the cacao goes through before it even touches a chocolate makers kitchen. Bean-to-bar chocolate is made simply from whole cacao beans, sugar and maybe a touch of cocoa butter. It has a more complex flavor than the chocolate candies we all grew up with. For example, a bar made with beans from Tanzania might taste like raisins and vanilla and oak. A bar made with beans from Madagascar might taste like candied lemon peel and dried blueberry. I’ve even had a bar that tasted like a strawberry pop-tart! It’s been a long and meandering road since Logan and I decided to seriously pursue our own chocolate company — which we call Frolic Chocolate. Chocolate-making requires a lot of big machines, many of which we had to ship from the West Coast, pick up in New Jersey and import from Italy. It’s taken a long time to get all of the basic machinery together. Logan’s been doing research and development on our chocolate process for a little over four years. In the meantime Logan decided he would learn how to roast coffee, since our cacao roasting machine was technically designed for roasting coffee beans. Since we both really love cold brew coffee and noticed that there was no cold-brew blend out there that really hit the mark for us personally, Logan got obsessed with developing the perfect roast for cold brew. He has a science background so he had lots of charts and tracking devices and what not. I helped with taste testing of course. We officially launched both the coffee and the chocolate back in May and we sell at the Charlottesville farmers markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We’re both really excited to widen the scope of the business and sell to more Virginia retailers and online! So keep your eyes peeled for some pretty fantastic Frolic products coming soon.
Fun and Inspiration
— What do you do to unwind or treat yourself?
I really love to go swimming at the lakes and rivers around Charlottesville. And I love hiking and walking in nature. Treating myself generally entails going out to a nice restaurant with Logan or one of my girlfriends. Or taking a trip out of town to hang with my best friends who don’t live locally. I like going to concerts and playing music. And shopping for home goods and clothing is something I really enjoy. I generally shop small boutiques, second hand or thrift which is sort of like treasure hunting!
— A book/song/movie/piece of art to feed the soul:
Book – A Book of Hours, Thomas Merton
Song/Album – Undress by Jesca Hoop
Movie – La Belle Verte (this is a really rare indie French film from the 80’s and it’s super special! If you can rip a version with english subtitles from the inter webs I highly recommend it!) / Other than that: What Dreams May Come
Piece of Art – I love zines and graphic novels, so I’ll give you two. One: Relish by Lucy Knisley should be in everyone’s kitchen. Two: The Cauldron Zine from The Woman Who Married a Bear is really special and essential for all emerging spiritual feminists and witches / fairies / mermaids at heart.
— We are captivated by Joan Didion’s compact travel packing list. What are some essential objects that would be in yours?
– 2 pairs jeans
– 1 raw silk t-shirt
– 1 floaty/sparkly blouse
– 1 romper or floaty dress
– hoop earrings1 t-shirt bra
– 1 racerback bra
– THINX period panties
– 1 kimono
– 1 pullover sweater
– 2 bodysuits, one neutral one blue or pink
– 1 pair lace up boots
– 1 pair clogs1 pair footbed sandals or slip ons
– cross body pursesoft T-shirt to sleep in
– eye mask
– matcha green tea powder
– 4 nut-butter based energy bars
– 1 baggie mixed adaptogen powders (reishi, ashwaganda, maca)
– trace minerals
– magnesium supplement
– curcumin supplement
– extra contacts + contact solution + eyedrops + case
– small jar raw honey
– rosewater with spray top
– small jar macadamia oil
– small jar coconut oil
– tarte bb cream with SPF
– tarte eyebrow creme in ash blonde + angle brush
– tarte undereye concealer
– tarte highlighter powder + blush
– tarte tartiest lash paint mascara
– toothbrush + toothpaste
– clay deodorant
– small journal + pen
– iPhone + dual wall car charger
– Canon 5d Mark IV Camera body
– 50mm f/1.4 lens
– microfiber lens cloths
– memory cards
– Thinktank sling bag
– extra batteries + battery chargers
– house and car keys
– wallet + drivers license
— Is there anyone you would like to hear from next in this interview series?
Lily Diamond of Kale and Caramel! She’s a constant inspiration. I love all of her body care recipes so much. Also I love her whole being, so there’s that.
All photos courtesy of Renee Byrd, Lauren Stonestreet and Kelsie McNair.