Real Life

How a car crash inspired this mum to bake every day for a year

When the going got tough for this mum, she decided to get baking.

Ally Birt has always loved baking. However, there’s a good chance she may never want to see a cake tin, mixer or bag of sugar again by the end of the year.

The mum-of-one has set herself the challenge of baking a different recipe every single day this year in an effort to boost her self-confidence, as well as raising awareness of – and money for – epilepsy.

It means spending a large chunk of her time in the kitchen, but Ally’s only too happy to do that as epilepsy awareness is a cause close to her heart. About a year after being in a car accident, Ally was diagnosed with the condition.

“I was in the crash with some of my mates and took the whole impact,” recalls Ally (23). “Everyone else was fine, but I was unconscious and went to the hospital. I sprained my neck and had a big bang to my head. I thought I would just get over it, but then I started having these strange symptoms.”

Her partner, Jarad Taylor, noticed that she would stare at him while he was talking to her, but not respond to what he was saying. Then she would snap out of this trance-like state with no idea of what he’d just said.

“I also started getting the shakes and I couldn’t grip things properly,” tells Ally. “It was difficult to hold my son Josiah, who’s two. It was pretty scary.”

When she was told it was epilepsy, she found the diagnosis hard to deal with and worried about how the condition would affect her life.

“My epilepsy is quite mild, but I let it get in the way of me getting on with things,” she reveals. “Thinking that I couldn’t do things properly any more put me in a really negative frame of mind.”

But one of her friends came up with a brilliant idea.

“She saw that I was really down and she said, ‘You need something to make you Ally again. You like baking, why don’t you bake?’”

‘It’s a lot of fun but it is also helping me with my confidence’

Her friend had just watched the movie Julie & Julia, in which a young woman cooks a recipe by famous chef Julia Child every day of the year.

“She suggested I watch it and, when I did, I was inspired. I thought, ‘Why not do something like that? Why not bake something every day for a year?’”

Ally, who used to be the assistant chef in a café and is now a full-time mum, started on January 1 and set up a Facebook page, which followed her project, as well as helped her to raise money for the New Zealand Epilepsy Foundation.

Her baking is auctioned online – obviously the winning bidder needs to live near Ally’s home in Whangaparaoa, north of Auckland, so they can collect the food. Items that don’t sell are given to local families who could do with a pick-me-up, says Ally, and her family are also getting lots of treats.

“They love me for it!” she says. “I try not to eat very much of it myself – I’m being careful to try not to put on weight.”

So far, she’s not sick of baking and is enjoying the challenge of finding different recipes, which she sources from favourite cookbooks, family and friends, and suggestions she receives from people on Facebook. She’s also inventing some recipes herself.

Not everything she makes is sweet – she has also produced dishes, such as an avocado egg and bacon bake. Muffins, cheesecake and pastry are her specialities and she has attempted some complicated recipes, such as a Crème Egg Toffee Pop layered chocolate cake that took eight hours to make.

Some of Ally’s creations (clockwise from left): Chocolate chip brownie cheesecake with berries, salted caramel Tim Tam cheesecake, mini Tim Tam cheesecakes and red velvet Nutella brownie.

Ally hasn’t had too many disasters. A raspberry Tim Tam cheesecake tried her patience because the weather was so hot that the chocolate biscuits initially wouldn’t stick to the cake.

She also spent hours making a large cupcake in the form of a snow globe. She used gelatin to make the globe and fondant for the Christmas tree inside it, then put it in the fridge to set.

“Everything was going to plan until my seven-year-old sister got excited and tried to touch it.

It fell out of the fridge. I ended up doing another recipe that day, but will try the snow globe recipe again some time.”

Ally has been moved by the support she’s had from her family and friends, and also the local community.

“People have been wonderful – they have been doing things like giving me flour, milk and eggs,” says Ally, who usually spends around $50 to $60 a week on ingredients.

And even though she is only a quarter of her way through her year-long project, it has already achieved her goal of lifting her spirits.

“It’s a lot of fun but it is also helping with my confidence. The comments I’ve been getting on Facebook have been great and a lot of those negative thoughts are gone. This has shown me that I am capable of doing something when I put my mind to it.”

Words: Donna Fleming

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