Caitlin Prettyman’s Cal-Mex Cooking: A Story of Healing, Wellness, and That One Guacamole Recipe That Changed Her Life

Get ready to dive into a world of kaleidoscopic flavors and culinary fun with Caitlin Prettyman, the mastermind behind Kalefornia Kravings. If you’re not one of her 485K Instagram followers yet, you’re in for a treat. Caitlin’s page is bursting with vibrant, healthy recipes that make health and wellness look easy and fun.

In our conversation, Caitlin opens up about her inspiration behind her cooking style, her relationship with food, and how a simple guacamole recipe played a huge part in her healing journey. Her story isn’t just about creating tasty dishes; it’s about growth, health, and wellness, and really savoring life, one bite at a time. Discover more quick and easy recipes from Caitlin in her debut cookbook, Fast & Fresh Cal-Mex Cooking.

How has being born and raised in San Diego influenced your cooking style and the flavors you gravitate towards?
We have some of the best food here in San Diego! Between the fresh produce, seafood and amazing Mexican food – it really has become a foodie’s playground. I think that’s why for most of my dishes I tend to gravitate more towards Mexican-inspired flavors. Peppers, citrus, a lot of spice/heat, and fresh herbs – those are the flavors and ingredients I feel very comfortable around and also best for health and wellness. I love creating a fusion with my recipes that utilize all of the fresh locally-grown ingredients we have here in California with a little Mexican flare inspired by traditional Mexican dishes/flavors.

What’s the most popular recipe you’ve ever posted on Instagram, and why do you think it resonated so much with your audience?
My Baked Salmon with Avocado & Feta. I actually posted this recipe earlier this year and it’s already surpassed all of my previous “most popular” recipes. I think it resonates with people because the ingredient list is short so it doesn’t feel intimidating and the end result is SO GOOD! I’ve had several people tell me their picky eaters love it too which is always a huge win! It’s simple, easy and delicious.

health and wellnessWhat’s the most unique or unusual ingredient you’ve ever experimented with in your recipes?
Butternut squash brownies! I make these all the time and they’re one of my favorite desserts! My friends and family were very hesitant about them at first but now they love them too. Don’t knock them until you try it!

Do you have any kitchen hacks or tips that you swear by and think everyone should know?
Yes! If you ever have leftover guacamole or avocado (that hasn’t turned yet) place it in a plastic bag, remove all the air, seal it and freeze it. It’ll stay fresh and green for weeks! Also if your lettuce is feeling a little limp, cut off the ends and stick it upright in a bowl filled with water. Within a few hours it will crisp up again. (You can use this trick for all fresh herbs and veggies too!)

How do you unwind and relax after a long day of cooking and creating content?
This sounds so cliche – watching tv. I’m a sucker for most reality tv shows and find them fascinating. I think because during the day I’m constantly making decisions and using my “creative brain” so at night it’s nice to switch it off and watch something that doesn’t require a lot of thinking. (Nightly dessert is essential too!) My favorite shows are Below Deck, Survivor, The Bachelor and The Amazing Race.

What’s the best piece of cooking advice you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?
“Don’t be afraid to try it, even if it fails.” My mom told me this all the time when I was first starting out. I’d be so hesitant to try a new technique or a new ingredient fearing it would turn into a disaster. But this advice has actually led to some of my best recipes.
“You can’t un-salt a dish but you can always add more later.” – My husband, Charlie

Can you talk to us about your relationship with food growing up and the challenges you’ve had and how that affected you?
Honestly, when I was younger I never had an issue with food. I ate everything, had a huge appetite and never really thought about what I was putting into my body. That all changed my junior/senior year of high school. (One thing you have to understand about me at the time – I was a HUGE people pleaser. If someone didn’t like me, I felt like it was the end of the world.) I was also an avid softball player but started realizing that I didn’t want to play in college like I had always talked about before. Because of my people-pleasing side, I didn’t know how to express that I didn’t want to play softball anymore. So I forced myself to keep going and soon found myself hating it. I started playing terribly (not on purpose, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore) which made me feel even worse and like I was letting everyone down even more. My social life started to become affected, I was depressed and I just felt like I had no control over anything in my life anymore and my health and wellness were ruined.

The one thing I could control was food. I could control what I ate, when I ate it, how much of it I would eat….and I abused it. It started out small where I told myself I was just “trying to be healthy” but that quickly escalated into a laundry list of “fear foods” I vowed to never eat again. It almost became like a type of punishment too. For example, if I played horribly in a game I wouldn’t let myself get Starbucks with the team afterwards or have ice cream for dessert; all these things that I had no problem doing before. Before long I even found myself thinking “how little can I eat today?” And it felt like an accomplishment to only have an apple for the entire day.

I felt so “in control”. Flash forward a year or two later I realized this wasn’t best for health and wellness and I didn’t like living this way. I needed help so I got the help I needed and started my recovery journey.

health and wellnessHow did discovering and making a recipe for guacamole become a significant part of your healing journey?
You should see the reactions I get when I tell people a simple guacamole recipe is what really catapulted my recovery journey. On that laundry list of fear foods I mentioned earlier was guacamole. (I thought it was this horrible unhealthy thing you should stay away from at all costs.)

I remember being in college at the time taking a speech class and our assignment was to give a “How-To” speech. My professor decided to randomly hand out topics to the class and I kid you not, he gave me the topic “How to make guacamole”. I was furious! I remember being so mad walking back to my dorm room. It’s funny saying this now but back then I’d never made guacamole from scratch so I had to look up recipes in order to complete the project – that’s when everything changed. I was shocked when I saw that all the recipes called for super simple, basic ingredients; avocado, lemon juice, cilantro and some spices. All of which (in my mind) were completely fine on their own… so why was I so afraid of combining them together to make “dreadful” guacamole?! It was like a switch flipped in my brain and guacamole was suddenly ok to eat again.

That got me thinking “what else am I afraid of that I don’t really need to be?” After that I started picking certain “fear foods” from the list, looking up their recipes and before long I was knocking them off the list right and left.

What advice would you give to others who are struggling with eating disorders and looking for positive outlets through cooking and food?
Have fun with it! I know it might seem impossible right now but food should really be enjoyed, not feared. Once I started playing around with recipes and having fun in the kitchen, that’s when everything became so much easier. It doesn’t have to be elaborate either. It could be something as simple as making a tostada instead of a taco because you want the crunchy shell.

Can you talk about the emotional and mental aspects of your recovery journey and how they intersected with your culinary journey?
I think trying to change your mindset plays a big role in recovery. If you’re somehow able to take those thoughts of “I can’t eat this”, “This isn’t good for me”, “I’m afraid to eat this” and switch it to “What can I do to make myself feel more comfortable eating this food item?” I really believe that little switch allows you so much freedom. It could be a simple swap, changing a lot of ingredients in a recipe or maybe something completely random – but if it makes you feel good and actually gets you to eat your fear food without feeling guilty about it later – then who cares right?!

What message do you hope to convey to your followers through your recipes and the content you share on your blog and Instagram?
Good food doesn’t have to be complicated! With a few simple ingredients you can create a delicious dish that’s good for your health and wellness. Also all types of food can and should be enjoyed – there’s nothing better than a veggie-packed salad in one hand and a big bowl of ice cream in the other!

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