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A former competitive athlete's morning rituals

We are so excited to work with Caitlin of Star Infinite Food for a truly special, limited Chef's Blend: Carrot Cake Granola! Caitlin's cookbook, Just Eat Real Food, is full of simple, wholesome, delicious recipes, and she doesn't shy away from dessert. It's one of the things we love most about her - her cooking style is approachable but impressive, and centers whole foods with the goal of nourishing, not restricting. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok for tons of inspiration, and check out our collaborative granola here.

How did you choose these particular flavors for the Star Infinite Food x Nana Joes Granola granola?
Carrot cake is my favorite cake flavor—I love the warming spices and the sweet and tangy frosting. I have made and tasted loads of granola flavors throughout the years, but I have never had a carrot cake flavor. It’s been on my mind for a long time, and when I began brainstorming a flavor to develop with NJG I knew this was what I wanted to do. When I felt the excitement from both parties, it was a no brainer!

You chose to support Feeding Displaced Ukrainians through the sales of this granola. Can you tell me more about what they do and what this organization means to you?
This organization was actually started by my aunt, Kathy, who is a master baker and chef for that matter. She recently went to volunteer at World Central Kitchen in Poland to bake bread for refugees in Ukraine. During her first trip she decided to start her own fundraiser to raise money for the families in Ukraine. After seeing first-hand the number of women and children fleeing their country in need of shelter, she chose to donate the money she raised to shelters for women and children. After her volunteer experience, she took a job with World Central Kitchen and continued with her fundraiser in hopes to raise even more money during her second trip to Poland. 

What’s your favorite way to eat granola? 
On top of yogurt, smoothies, pancakes, ice cream…straight from the bag!

Do you have any morning rituals?
My mornings are sacred to me, as I am an extremely early riser! Typically, I don’t sleep past 5:30. I always start my day with 32 ounces of water, followed by a wheatgrass juice, my supplements, coffee and a workout. I spend time making myself a solid breakfast and start working!

How did you take that first leap toward food development and photography? Was there a final straw that pushed you to just go for it?
I owned a dog-walking company as well as a small catering business before I became a food blogger. Even years before that, I worked in corporate Public Relations, the field I left because I knew it would never make me happy. I was never really sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to work for myself. 

I was overcoming an eating disorder in my mid-late 20s and found myself snapping pictures of my meals and posting them to Instagram as a means to hold myself accountable. I began falling into love with food styling, food photography and sharing my recipes with the world. Never did I think I could make a career out of it! Within about 12-18 months on Instagram, I had built a following and was able to sell my dog walking business to become a food blogger full time. My passion had fallen into my lap, very unexpectedly. It was the best leap of faith I’ve taken this far in my life. 

How did your experience as a competitive athlete change the way you think about food? Has it evolved more since?
My experience as a competitive athlete had many positive and negative affects on my relationship with food. I spent a lot of time educating myself, and even got my nutritional certification. I found it fascinating, and the more that I applied it in my life, the more I could feel the benefits of a whole-food lifestyle. 

I am, however, a “perfectionist” by nature and my fascination with “health” soon became an obsession and led to a disordered relationship with food and exercise. After a few years, I ended up taking a step away from the competition side of things. It took years to fully recover, but once I did I was finally able to apply balance in my life. My core beliefs about nutrition and a focus on whole-foods is very much a part of me and who I am, but I also enjoy the “soulful” part of living. You know, the part that drinks the wheatgrass but also knows how to enjoy the tacos and a spicy margarita. 😉 

How do you spark your creativity on days you’re not feeling it?
If I have the option, sometimes I choose to do the parts of my business that require less creativity…you know, the necessary stuff that may not be the most “fun” for me like the books, excel sheets, emails, cleaning my “office” (kitchen) or my filming studio. However, I don’t always have a choice with deadlines etc. On those days, I may turn on the Food Network, look through a cookbook, journal for 30 minutes, go for a walk outside or simply scroll through TikTok or Instagram—looking at yummy food is sometimes enough! 

What does your food development process look like? 
It’s funny, I am such a planner/routine person, EXCEPT when it comes to my work! I struggle to keep to a “schedule,” especially when I get creative urges and just decide to go! Typically, I like to sit down 2-4 times a month and make a list of a bunch of ideas I have. Oftentimes these lists start with a seasonal ingredient, a craving I’m having, a genre of food or an ingredient I might be using for a sponsored partner. I will usually write down a recipe idea, an ingredient/shopping list and the first test run will be just for myself and my husband and sometimes my step kids. I take feedback and make notes, then the next run will include my tweaks and the third will be a final. Some recipes I nail on the first try, while others I have to test and tweak multiple times before I’m happy.

Okay, you’re about to start a new project. What music are you listening to in the kitchen? What are you snacking on while you work? What helps you get in the zone?
Music—Tom Petty and Bob Marley are two of my favorites to listen to in the kitchen or working on a project! Upbeat, inspirational but calming. Quite different from what I would blast while working out. Snacking—if it’s recipe testing or filming day, I am probably eating a little bit of everything! My favorite snacks are usually something with fruit and yogurt, some sort of granola or cereal and chocolate! I am a choco-holic.

Any words you live by?
My dad passed away ten years ago—his last written words to me were, “Life is constantly changing. Embrace it with an open mind and a good sense of humor and it will be a hell of a lot more enjoyable.” It’s a constant reminder to myself, as I have a tendency to take things too seriously from time to time. 

What’s your favorite recipe you’ve ever developed? (Or top few, if you can’t pick one!)
Ha—I guess that could change based on my cravings! I would probably say that my seafood dishes are my personal favorites, but I am a seafood lover so maybe I’m biased! Side note—I make a delicious gluten-free carrot cake 😉 

What are your top tips for people who want to cook more, but are feeling uninspired, strapped for time and energy, or don’t know where to start?
Just start! But start small and start simple. If you can find a handful of recipes that you love with minimal ingredients and minimal time, then you can work on really perfecting one or two dishes at a time. Once you feel good about those, move onto the next couple and create a rotation. People just need to get comfortable in the kitchen, and once they’re comfortable it becomes so much less daunting. My cookbook I released last year is filled with 30-minute recipes, and it is intended to help to guide as well as inspire anyone who feels this way. There are a ton of resources to help make cooking at home a more seamless experience, you just need to search.