Sisters on a mission: Twice Baked Twins tackle cancer together

The Twice Baked Twins.

The Twice Baked Twins.

You may recognize Joy and Judy from their appearances as the Twice Baked Twins on WFSB’s Better CT television show, or from the photo that accompanies their column in this newspaper. Judy Vig and Joy Paoletti, a Trumbull resident, are more than just twin sisters and work companions, though: Each is the other’s greatest cheerleader and support.

This May, the Twice Baked Twins came out publicly on Better CT with the news that Judy had undergone treatment for stage 2 breast cancer. The sisters are now on a wild ride, with a mission geared toward a healthy lifestyle and making the lives of busy women and “business moms” easier with tips, tricks and timesavers in and out of the kitchen.

On a hot spring morning, the twins both dress in stylish workout wear, looking as if they have just stepped out of the pages of a fitness magazine. Their sense of style and love of everything beautiful is reflected in their physical appearance and enthusiastic personalities.

Raised in Bridgeport by a police officer father and beauty queen mother, they attended Catholic school. Food was always important to their Italian family, especially since their family owned grocery stores.

“We learned that you eat with your eyes first,” Judy explained. “There was always food around us. We had the best of everything.”

Judy followed tradition right from the start, after leaving school becoming a wife and homemaker. Many years later, she started blogging.

“I learned that I could write something other than a grocery list,” she said. “Why didn’t anyone tell me that?”

“We have to teach our kids that,” Joy added.

Joy and Judy had always loved to cook and started a luxurious dessert business focused on elaborate displays and presentation. The business expanded over five years and served the elite of Fairfield County. They wanted to do more, but wanted to wait until their kids were grown.

In 2009, Judy saw opportunity and entered the twins — without telling Joy, who would have said no — in a contest for Bobby Flay’s Rock Shrimp Productions, called “Grill It with Bobby Flay.” The sisters were invited to do a holiday special called “Dear Food Network,” where they recreated a recipe for a roast goose that was a favorite of their grandfather. Ever since, the twins have been working hard on their vision, building a brand that makes a difference.

“I have to push her,” Judy said, to which Joy rolled her eyes and laughed.

“Judy told me, ‘If we don’t try something now, we don’t grow,’ ” Joy said.

Explaining her apprehension about appearing on television, Joy said, “You’re exposing yourself; it’s a bit scary. I feel like I’m going to throw up or faint all at the same time.”

“Not for me. This is me; I’m home,” Judy said. “But these past three shows, I’m worried that chemo brain will come back.”

Speaking of the fuzziness in memory that can sometimes come with cancer treatment, Joy reaffirmed her support: “But I’ll back you up.”

“I know — for the first time in my life, I was like, excuse me … can I have a turn to talk?” Judy said. “Joy is my rock. We’ve always been close.”

The sisters banter back and forth in an endless stream, laughing and gesturing across the table.

“We’re all faced with difficult decisions; that’s what makes us who we are,” Joy said. “My angel reader told me that it’s time for me get out from behind her shadow. What she said keeps ringing in my ear. There’s no more safe space since Judy’s cancer diagnosis. Have I dealt with my fears? I haven’t. Not yet. I haven’t had time to grieve the shock of it. Some people say cancer is a gift.”

Team effort

“When I got sick, I put complete faith in my team,” Judy said. “I let my son Nick do the research on the illness and treatment. I needed to keep mentally strong to be physically strong.”

On the heels of Judy being a breast cancer survivor and having diabetes in the family, eating healthy means a lot to Judy and Joy, both personally and professionally. After participating in a charity fashion event in 2010 and 2011 and donating sugar-free desserts benefiting diabetes research, Judy and Joy began meeting and working with the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation (DRIF), cooking and eating in healthier ways became a new way of life.

Now that the Twice Baked Twins are preparing a healthier lifestyle, they have made simple cooking switches: No butter; they use coconut oil instead. They throw in more juice and use raw foods. But they believe there’s always room for a treat and that you have to feed your soul, too.

Judy and Joy share classic recipes with a new twist on BetterCT, what they call their “The Judy and Joy of … .” Both prepare the same recipe, but in very different ways. Joy makes everything from scratch (for all the diehard cooks and chefs) and follows a recipe precisely; Judy takes a shortcut in finding the easiest and fastest way to do anything. Judy uses Kool Whip, but Joy would never think about not making her own traditional whipped cream.

Joy and Judy have a successful food blog on their website, TwiceBakedTwins.com, and are pursuing their dream of writing a cookbook. Their future holds so many possibilities right now, including a breast cancer bracelet they are designing which includes two healing stones — one for the survivor and one for the caregiver. A portion of the proceeds will benefit The Pink Fund, thepinkfund.org.

“When Judy was dealing with the wrath of chemo, she always said to me, ‘How are all the moms working during this time? And so many are single Moms?’ ” Joy said. “Then we stumbled upon The Pink Fund whose  mission is providing short-term financial aid to breast cancer patients in active treatment so they can focus on healing, and our partnership was born.”

The Twice Baked Twins are on regional television weekly on WFSB/CBS, WPIX 11, News12; on national television monthly on Better National, and their Food Network special airs a few times throughout the year. They have joined Better.tv, a nationally syndicated lifestyle show shown in 53 cities throughout the country. They also filmed their first video blog for Ladies Home Journal. Judy and Joy write a newspaper column and make guest appearances on radio talk shows such as WICC, The Morning Breakfast Show and WDRC’s The Mary Jones Radio Show.

In a 2012 partnership with their longtime business management team, there is no stopping Judy and Joy and the mission of the Twice Baked Twins.

“We have seen many talented people fall behind in their missions because of a lack of attention on the business side. It really takes dedication from a talent and business perspective to pull it all together. Our vision and mission to make a difference is big — it takes a village, as they say,” Joy said.

Currently a Twice Baked Twins “From Pasta 2 Pantyhose” blog, web TV and lifestyle project is under way. The series and webisodes will run on First Run TV. Food segments include “The Judy and The Joy of… ,” in which Joy does the traditional “let it simmer all day” version of a recipe and Judy demonstrates a delicious time-saving “I have kids on my ankles” cheater’s version of the same recipe. The series is designed to make busy women’s lives easier and more fulfilling through tips, tricks and shortcuts in family life in and out of the kitchen.

As if they are not busy enough, they are also in the midst of doing a “Kitchen Table” photo book series named after the weekly segment series. “The Judy and the Joy of …,” showcasing both the long and short of everything from cooking to party planning, weddings, at-home entertaining as well as proper pairings of coffee and desserts and best little known uses of products, including other uses for olive oil. The first two titles, The Judy and the Joy of Pasta and The Judy and The Joy of Olive Oil, will be sponsored by Old World Olive Oil and in stores by fall of 2013.

‘You can’

When first faced with her cancer diagnosis, Judy recalled, “I asked, ‘Can I do it, Joy? Can I?’”

“I said, ‘You are a confident, powerful woman,’ ” Joy said.

“I was starting to miss myself,” Judy said. “I have a very happy soul. I think Joy was more upset about the cancer than I was.”

“I hated chemo day,” Joy quietly said.

Moments of seriousness pass between the sisters with silent looks, but one is always ready to pick up the mood and focus on the joy of their lives and that there is life after cancer.

“She’s so powerful, but she doesn’t realize it,” Joy said. “She didn’t have her usual confidence. I took her out every day. Judy’s pretty funny anyway; she’s always turning her wig around. And constantly dancing.”

“You can laugh through cancer,” Judy and Joy both said countless times.

With each other’s support, the Twice Baked Twins exude that sense of life and joy into everything they do and help others feel that same magic that anything in life is possible.

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