Friday, July 29, 2011

When Home is... Eating Well. An Interview with Cookbook Author Kathleen Gandy

It’s Sunday morning, you’re about to face the weekly grocery shop but you are 10 weeks pregnant, feeling sick and tired. You love cooking and food but you can’t bear the thought of meat or standing over the stove for hours preparing meals. You barely have the energy to make it through a week of work, let alone a week of cooking dinner.

Or, it’s Sunday morning and you have to somehow squeeze in the grocery shop between kids soccer games, ballet classes and birthday parties. You remember the days when you spent weekends reading through cookbooks, preparing dinner parties and meandering through farmers markets with a coffee in one hand and a bunch of flowers in the other. Now you are struggling to think of meal ideas beyond spaghetti bolognaise. Anyway, who has the time?

It’s a dilemma everyone faces during the years of pregnancy and raising a young family; even cookbook editor and author Kathleen Gandy who has always loved cooking and turned her passion into a career.

‘I always loved reading as a child, applying for my first library card when I was five and I always loved food. My mother is Cantonese and I grew up surrounded by that food culture. Later when I went to boarding school the food was awful: boiled chicken, boiled potatoes, boiled cabbage. I’d look at it and cry. When I’d go home in the holidays, mum and I would plan our days around meals rather than activities.’

After working as a recipe developer and food writer, Kathleen joined Gourmet Traveller’s food team. Then she fell pregnant with her first child. While researching what she couldn’t eat she decided to focus instead on all the foods she could eat.

‘There were so many different cuisines. I had never been a “food is fuel” person and even though I suffered morning sickness I still looked for pleasure in my cooking. As Nigella Lawson once said “there is no excuse to eat a bad meal”. I kept a food diary of all the meals I ate and felt like during the different trimesters of pregnancy and realised, while looking for different recipe ideas, that I wanted a book that celebrated all you could eat during this joyful time. I was completely overwhelmed by the What to Eat When You’re Expecting-style regimen of calculating and combining units of food groups.’

So the idea for a foodlover’s guide to pregnancy developed. Kathleen’s first book, Eating for Two, was published last year in Australia and will be published later this year in Germany.

‘The recipes were developed from the perspective of flavour first. All are simple and quick to cook as I found cooking smells difficult to deal with during both my pregnancies. I wanted the book to speak from a shopping list point of view rather than units of food, so at the beginning there is a list of pregnancy superfoods that form the basis of the recipes. They are the superfoods I still buy weekly.’

While all the recipes and information were checked by an accredited practising dietitian and written within the Australian food safety authority pregnancy guidelines, Kathleen emphasises that this is not a ‘health’ book as such.

‘It’s more a celebration of that exciting time in your life by highlighting all the fabulous things you can still eat. I approached my dietary needs of pregnancy through the eyes of a guts. I love eating; why should pregnancy be any different?’

And why should mealtimes with a young family be any different as well?

‘The recipes are very "family friendly" and have come to form the basis of my ongoing weeknight repertoire, as they are healthy and generally fast to prepare. My kids have particular favourites (I guess they got a taste for some of the flavours during pregnancy).'

Pregnant or not, particularly helpful are pages such as ‘Ten things to do with a packet of pasta’ or ‘Ten things to do with a can of tuna.’ Who has ever stood in front of their pantry wondering what to do with a lone can of tuna or realised that the pantry is bare aside from a packet of penne?

But if you are pregnant, it’s hard not to go past the ‘Ten quick fixes for morning sickness’ page.

‘The book is authentic to my food experience of my two pregnancies – I kept notes of recipes I created to deal with the different phases such as morning sickness, carpal tunnel syndrome, heightened sense of smell; and cravings (citrus was big, hence the citrusy salads). I also went through a protein phase, where I just wanted to eat loads of meat.’

After the book was published, Kathleen began a blog titled Next Week’s Dinner which tackles the stresses of menu planning. Working fulltime as a senior cookbook editor with a six-year-old and four-year-old who need to eat by 6pm, Kathleen quickly realised how organised she would have to be to get dinner on the table every night.

‘The blog came about as an extension of my life now,’ says Kathleen. ‘I am lucky to have 45 minutes to prepare dinner. There are no shops on my way home, so I have to know what I’m cooking beforehand.’

As she writes on the blog’s ‘About’ page, ‘On the spontaneity–stress-relief continuum, meal planning literally saves my bacon every week.’ The blog acts as a food diary, recounting the family dinners eaten each day and also how sometimes the plan goes straight out the window.

‘Rules are made to be broken – if my train is cancelled it might just be that we eat pasta on Thursday night instead of Friday, or say there’s a school event in the middle of the week, I may just dish up the re-purposed Sunday night leftovers then instead of on Monday.’

The blog is a great read for anyone who is sick of worrying about what to cook for dinner or has stood in front of a full fridge or pantry and feels like there is nothing to eat...

‘What is most important to me about the book and now the blog is that they are authentic and capture my everyday experience; how the daily act of nourishment and a love of good food intersects with family life,’ says Kathleen. ‘The two are not mutually exclusive.’

For more information about Kathleen’s book, Eating for Two, click here.
To read Kathleen’s blog, Next Week’s Dinner, click

Author Image by Richard Birch
Cover image, Eating for Two by Kathleen Gandy, photography by Mark O'Meara, published by Viking, RRP $35

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When Home is... Fiction

I’ve been busy writing book reviews for Good Reading magazine lately. It is always fun to dwell in the world of fiction for ‘work’ when the books are ones I would choose to read for pleasure anyway.

So was the case with the following two books. Both, appropriately, are about what ‘home’ means to the characters. Very different – one literary, one mass-market –both explore the ideas of what we need in life to make us feel safe, nurtured and at home.

And what more do you need to feel at home on this windy, wet and cold night in Sydney than a good book, glass of wine and pasta sauce simmering away on the stove-top?

Too Close to Home
By Georgia Blain
RRP: $32.95

Georgia Blain has crafted a page-turning story of a generation and a moment of time in Australia’s history that will resonate deeply with anyone in their 30s or 40s.

Freya and Matt are living with the ‘Real People’ in an inner western suburb of Sydney, while their friends – writers, editors, artists and actresses – have stayed in the East. Set during the period that saw the Labor Party fall out of favour, the ousting of Kevin Rudd and culminating with the election that marginally kept Labor in power, Blain navigates the sometimes messy and complicated lives of this old circle of friends.

When Matt discovers he may have fathered a child 17 years ago, his and Freya’s world is turned upside down. Both are tested and forced to look at themselves and the choices they have made in a new light. It’s this tension between them and how that affects their relationships with their friends that makes this story so absorbing.

It’s easy to relate to the characters and their moral and ethical dilemmas of living in this modern world. Blain has created an excellent work of fiction and years from now people will read this novel to understand life in Sydney during this period.

Sing You Home
By Jodi Picoult
Allen & Unwin
RRP: $32.99 (Paperback)

Jodi Picoult’s greatest strength has always been her exploration of moral dilemmas and she excels with the moral minefield she presents in her latest novel, Sing You Home.

In this absorbing work, readers will be faced with the complex emotional issues of a couple facing infertility, IVF, stillbirth, divorce, alcoholism, adultery, homosexuality and the religious opposition to it. Yet, perhaps the most fraught dilemma is that of frozen embryos: after a divorce who has the right to choose to use them, give them away or have them destroyed? Who gets to decide what constitutes a family unit today? Church or State?

Picoult manages to present a balanced view; sympathetic to both sides of the debates at all times and ultimately will leave readers feeling satisfied with her resolution. The courtroom drama that always unfolds with her novels will not disappoint. She continues to weave tight, suspenseful plots and her main characters are well-developed.

Readers will empathise with the plights of Zoe and Max, the main characters, regardless of their personal views of such contentious issues.

Yet again Picoult has created a world that will keep people turning pages long into the night.

*Reviews originally published in Good Reading magazine

Monday, July 11, 2011

When Home is... Boarding School. An Interview with Author Jacqueline Harvey

I think I have reached my favourite moment of motherhood so far... Lily and I reading the same book and both of us loving it. After reading at bedtime, Lily has started bringing the book downstairs so I can continue reading it while she’s asleep.

‘But don’t go past Chapter 29,’ Lily cautions, ‘because I don’t want you to find out what happens before me.’

Secretly I do read past Chapter 29, not out of competitiveness but because I really do want to know what happens next and I can’t wait until tomorrow night. I write her a note and paperclip it to the front of the book, returning it under her pillow where she will find it in the morning.

‘I can’t believe what Miss Grimm said!’ one note may exclaim. Our notes continue to shuffle back and forth over the nights until we come to the end. But it’s not really the end as today we plan to walk to the bookshop together and buy the next instalment.

The Alice-Miranda series written by Jacqueline Harvey has been a delightful surprise for me; finally, a well-written and crafted story for parents and children alike. A chance for Lily and I to talk about the magic of books and reading; of characters feeling like friends and talking about them as though they really are. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t get lost inside the pages of a book so it is extremely satisfying to see my daughter skipping off to bed because she can’t wait to keep reading.

But what is it about the first book in this series, Alice-Miranda at School, that has captured us both so?

Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones is seven-and-a-quarter years old; a determined and optimistic little girl she has decided she’s ready for boarding school. All is not as it seems at the Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale-Academy for Proper Young Ladies and so begins Alice-Miranda’s adventures at her new home.

Throughout the generations, boarding school adventures for children have always seemed popular favourites. But why?

‘I think that’s probably because most people don’t attend boarding school so it does hold a degree of mystique and perhaps even romanticism,’ says Jacqueline. ‘I know whenever we were naughty my mother and father would threaten to send us to boarding school – so there is also that idea that it could be a rather nasty and foreboding place. I never actually went!’

Instead Jacqueline became a teacher and has always worked at schools with boarders, some with children as young as nine living there.

‘I always admired the courage of the little girls who were away from their families often as a result of difficult circumstances like parents working overseas or a family breakdown. I thought that the concept of boarding school would allow a lot of freedom to set up the characters and really show Alice-Miranda’s independence, her courage and generous spirit.’

The idea for Alice-Miranda first began as a concept for a picture book.

‘I had at the time recently won Honour Book in the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards (2006) for my picture book, The Sound of the Sea and I remember thinking that maybe I was destined to be a writer of picture books. I’d also had another series of junior novels published earlier and was a little confused about my writing identity. So the idea of a little girl who takes herself off to boarding school was born.’

‘But the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that this was longer than a picture book – and in fact had potential as a series. Initially I envisaged 4 books but now there will be at least 8 and possibly more.’

Setting the book inside a boarding school allowed Jacqueline more writing freedom.

‘I love the quirky characters. Writing about boarding school lets me invent a whole ‘family’ of people who look after the girls. There’s a certain freedom in not having the parents around all the time.’

Throughout Alice-Miranda at School, there is a strong feeling of home, belonging and family despite mean girls, a principal who hasn’t been seen in 10 years and a garden bereft of flowers. How did Jacqueline manage this?

‘I think the food is a big part of creating that feeling of home. The fact that poor long suffering Mrs Smith has now had a holiday and returned a new woman – and also become firm friends with the Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones’s cook, Dolly Oliver who has superb culinary skills, means that the children look forward to their delicious meals together.’

‘Howie, the Housemistress is a very firm but lovable character and after Miss Grimm’s personal epiphany she too becomes very important in creating the homeliness of the place. The children have animals at school too (Alice-Miranda gets to take her pony Bonaparte in the third book) which creates a feeling of home.’

Perhaps it’s also because Alice-Miranda feels so at home at school.

‘I think Alice-Miranda loves being with her friends and she certainly adores her clever teachers and all of the things she gets to do. Right from the beginning she said that boarding school would be helpful to her parents as well because they are both busy people and they didn’t need to be running around after her all the time.’

Ultimately, Alice Miranda’s strength of character is such that she would make a home for herself no matter where Jacqueline decides she has to go.

‘Alice-Miranda is such a joy to write because she takes everything in her stride. She looks for and usually finds the good in everyone. There is nothing that’s too much trouble for her and she delights in helping people,’ says Jacqueline. ‘Of course she comes from a family with vast resources but she is in many ways blissfully unaware of her privilege but at the same time realises that not everyone lives the same life.’

‘I guess she really challenges the stereotype of a spoilt little rich girl.’

And thankfully ignites the imagination of my very own seven-year-old without a fairy, princess or ballerina in sight.

To read more about Jacqueline Harvey and her books, click here.
To read more about the Alice-Miranda series, click

Author photo & book cover images © Random House Australia

Monday, July 4, 2011

When Home is... Living with Environmentally-Friendly Solutions

When Paula Cowan first started buying the Solution Living brand (environmentally-friendly household, personal care and baby products) four years ago, it wasn’t just about helping the environment.

‘I did like the fact I was buying an environmentally-friendly choice that worked, but more than that I liked the way the products looked and smelled!’

After her daughter arrived nearly two years ago, Paula realised how much more waste you can easily create having children and began to think of ways to reduce, recycle and reuse at home. Combined with the opportunity to buy the Solution Living business in December last year, she was forced to clarify even further her thoughts about consumerism.

‘Owning the business has made me research more environmentally-friendly ways to live and question the choices I make. What really are the benefits of using these household products? I needed to understand the science behind it which has led to a re-education.’

This re-education has also led to learning more about the manufacture of products before we even buy them.

‘I like to think of it as upstream and downstream,’ says Paula, ‘We’re all well-educated to what happens downstream; we know what certain chemicals do to our skin and we know how to recycle plastic and paper packaging, as well as the consequences of washing these products down the sink.’

‘Slowly we’re becoming better educated on what happens upstream: what actually goes into our products. We already understand more about what really happens to our food before we eat it and now we are learning about what goes into our laundry, dishwashing, cleaning and personal care products.’

What goes into the Solution Living products are plant extracts and renewable sources so the overall impact on the planet is small in manufacture, use and disposal.

Today, Paula thinks we are all on a path of understanding our environmental impact and is always interested in listening to the range of understanding her customers have. Some have specific reasons for wanting to buy the products – perhaps they have sensitive skin or have a family member with allergies – while other customers are actively looking for as many environmentally-friendly alternatives as they can find.

In her own house, aside from using any environmentally-friendly alternative for cleaning, personal hygiene and nappies, she and her husband have also made the choice to buy a diesel car. They compost and recycle and plan to get solar panels and a water tank installed.

They have recently moved to a larger fixer-upper house and these changes will all be made slowly. As Paula says, ‘trying to live completely environmentally-friendly is overwhelming whereas incremental changes are more sustainable.’

Paula and I both grew up during a time when environmentally-friendly products were expensive, didn’t work as well or smell as good. Recycling was only just starting to be considered important and I don’t even remember the word ‘organic’ being used in relation to food or cotton or anything.

Today our children are growing up with separate bins for waste, paper and glass at home as well as in their parks and other public spaces. They know which food scraps go into the compost bin and despite living in the middle of a city understand the concepts of worm farms and vege patches.

But, unlike Paula, I hadn’t really become a conscious consumer when it came to household products. Ned and I recently visited her Solution Living stall at Sunday’s Frenchs Forest Organic Market and he spotted the bubble bath. At home we were still using Johnson & Johnson soap free and I hadn’t really thought about changing over.

Ned insisted we try the lavender bubble bath and that night the kids enjoyed more bubbles from one squirt than I would have thought possible. They were happy, clean and smelled good too.

The J&J bottle still sits half full on the side of the bath because every night the children ask for the ‘really bubbly bubble bath’. No wonder it is Paula’s biggest seller.

Yes, incremental changes are happening in this house too... one bottle of bubble bath at a time.

For more information about Solution Living, visit the website here.

To read about how Paula and her family live in an environmentally-friendly way at home, visit her blog

All photos © Paula Cowan


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