Do you have a food philosophy?
Yes – conscious eating with a conscience. With my business, FoodFights, I aim to remind people to make responsible food choices in terms of health, nutrition, animal welfare, social connectedness and environmental impact.
What makes you feel healthy?
Enough sleep; regular wholesome meals with lots of fresh veggies and salads; and fresh air and exercise, preferably in the park or woods.
What is your fondest food memory?
I grew up in Johannesburg where we had lots of summer thunderstorms and hardly any winter rain. On the rare occasion that our weather resembled a drizzly, grey and cold day in London, we would call it ‘pancake weather’ and have crêpes with delicious savoury fillings for lunch, followed by a couple with cinnamon sugar and lemon juice.
Is there a food you really disliked that you’ve grown to love?
I used to hate celery, but it is now one of my absolute favourites, especially in a chunky salad with apples and pecan nuts. I also use it in soups, stews, braises and green juices.
“The people that I admire most are cooks who eschew fussiness and pretence in favour of simple, delicious plant-heavy dishes.”
Who inspires your cooking?
I find inspiration in many places, but the people that I admire most are cooks who eschew fussiness and pretence in favour of simple, delicious plant-heavy dishes made with the best-quality ingredients. When I got my hands on the first Ottolenghi book many years ago, I felt like Yotam had written it just for me!
Since then, thankfully many chefs and cooks have upped their veg game. Isaac McHale of The Clove Club in Shoreditch is a real inspiration, and Skye Gyngell’s food is a treat to eat.
The motivation always to have a nutritious home-cooked meal on the table for my family comes from having been brought up this way and from understanding the advantages it carries.
Where are your favourite foodie haunts?
Brockley Market is my favourite foodie excursion in London, and I love eating at Spring in Somerset House. A visit to Gelupo in Soho is also a real treat for the whole family. On our most recent trip to Cape Town, we visited the Oranjezicht City Farm and had tangy cacao kefir at their market day in Green Point – it was fantastic!
What’s your go-to meal on a busy night?
An omelette with some kind of shredded green, a big salad and baked sweet potato.
Your last supper would be?
This is a tough question to answer, as I love good food and have many favourites. But it might be something like this: to start I would have an avocado, tomato and red onion salad with sea salt, black pepper, and an aged balsamic and olive oil dressing.
As a main I would have a grilled lamb chop with loads of freshly-made salsa verde, baked sweet potato fries, home-made chipotle mayonnaise and a large mixed salad with some sliced mango (Zill mangoes are my favourite). I don’t really have a sweet tooth and don’t like very rich desserts, so to finish I might have a nutty rhubarb and apple crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
“A banana at its perfect point of ripeness with a handful of pecan nuts is my favourite.”
A banana at its perfect point of ripeness with a handful of pecan nuts is my favourite. But I mix it up with other fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, organic dried fruit, or occasionally home-made treats such as my buckwheat fridge bars for those desperate moments. I often take vegetable sticks and hummus or another dip, or apple and celery slices dipped in nut butter as an after-school snack when I pick up the kids.
Favourite food treat?
I love to bake and almost always make a pudding or cake for the weekend, most often with whatever fruit is in season. But as a daily ritual, I treat myself to a cup of Tick Tock Rooibos Earl Grey tea and a couple of squares of dark chocolate after the kids have gone to bed; Doisy & Dam’s Mulberries, Black Sesame & Spirulina bar is one I love.
How about your favourite way to treat yourself without food?
Having a lie-down with a good book or a new cookbook. And going for a deep-tissue massage (although this rarely happens…).
What is your ‘hero’ ingredient and why?
Eggs. Not only are they a very versatile ingredient and can be used to aerate, thicken, bind, emulsify, leaven, glaze, moisten, enrich and add flavour, they are also a wonderfully nutritious food that can be enjoyed in many different ways. One of my favourite meals is a Caesar-inspired salad with boiled eggs and an intensely-flavoured anchovy and garlic dressing.
Do you enjoy trying new foods when travelling – and which countries/places have stood out to you most?
Oh yes, I’m a very adventurous eater! Although I also very much enjoy arriving home after my travels and tucking into something familiar. We went sailing around the Greek islands a few years ago and ate exceedingly well. The food is simple, but fresh and bursting with flavour; I have never tasted tomatoes as good…
Five things you can’t live without in your kitchen/pantry?
Extra virgin olive oil; Maldon sea salt; onions; butter; lemons.
“One of my goals is to keep my children’s diet as savoury as possible.”
How do you try to get more healthy goodness into your kid’s lives?
One of my goals is to keep my children’s diet as savoury as possible. This means giving them carrots and cucumber with hummus as a snack, instead of granola bars, for example. I also view each meal as an opportunity to add plants: I add spinach or lamb’s lettuce to their breakfast smoothie and include lots of vegetables in a stew at dinner.
I will often chop things like kale, mushrooms and aubergine up finely to make it a little easier for them to get used to eating these, and I add grated or chopped vegetables to almost everything I make, including rice, mashed potatoes and polenta. With salads I discovered that a delicious dressing is all that was needed to get the kids to enjoy them.
What are your top tips for fussy little ones?
This is a particularly passionate topic for me. I think most of us totally underestimate our kids when it comes to food and flavours. Children have many more taste receptors than adults, and they are programmed to be a little more cautious about what they eat from the age of one and a half, so they will naturally be more reluctant to try and like new things. But it is our example and the encouragement we give them as parents, as well as what we expose them to, that will augment this reluctance or turn their apparent fussiness into an adventurous approach to eating.
If we present them with nursery food for the first few years of their lives, we unwittingly narrow their palates. I have always only made one meal for the whole family, so my children have grown used to finding lots of new and different dishes and ingredients on their plates. I don’t force them to eat, but they won’t be given anything else until the next meal. I also try not to serve dessert every day or use it as a reward.
Is there a particular healthy recipe you’ve found children love?
Most kids really love the green chickpea pancake recipe from Good Better Green, and I have found that baked sweet potato fries go down very well. Dosas (fermented rice and lentil pancakes) are also a winner and can be filled with anything from mashed banana and peanut butter to pesto guacamole.
Any tips to keeping dinner table conversation flowing?
In our house we have the opposite problem! Getting the kids to stop talking and focus on eating is sometimes a real challenge but a game of ‘would you rather…?’ is always heaps of fun.
What does ‘balance’ mean to you?
A good day for me, is one where I make time to talk to God, have fun with my kids, get some productive work done, am super efficient in the kitchen prepping meals, and am in bed with my book by 10pm.
How do you stay on track when you travel?
I used to travel a lot for work but the long flights, dehydration and draughty planes lead to one urinary tract infection after another, until I discovered D-Mannose powder – now I don’t travel anywhere without it. I also make sure I drink lots of water and pack a dark rye bread sandwich, nuts and a piece of fruit. If I am staying somewhere for more than a couple of days, I will pack my trainers and go for a run as soon as I can, especially if there is a time difference.
Does your interest in a healthier lifestyle cross over into any other parts of your life?
Yes, absolutely. I have been using eco-friendly non-toxic cleaning products and skincare products for the past 15 years. With my first pregnancy I also decided to stop using fragrances and sourced a gorgeous perfume made with only natural oils. I only clean my face and body with a microfibre cloth rather than using any soaps or shower gels.
What supplements do you take, if any?
I have been taking the Viridian pregnancy complex on and off for the past eight years. And I usually also take a chelated iron supplement as I am borderline anaemic. If I am feeling under the weather, I take some vitamin C, and make ginger, Manuka honey and lemon shots. I also add kelp to my food for the iodine.
“If I am feeling under the weather, I take some vitamin C, and make ginger, Manuka honey and lemon shots. I also add kelp to my food for the iodine.”
What mantra do you live by?
If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. I try to apply this to all aspects of my life, including the way I raise and care for my children, friendships, work and marriage. I don’t live in half measures.
Best advice you’ve been given?
Play to your strengths.
Do you have a bucket list – if so, what’s on it?
My bucket list is as long as my arm! I have so many things I want to do, see and experience but at the moment, my top five are:
- doing a triathlon with my husband
- opening a café/food emporium
- travelling to Istanbul on the Orient Express
- getting a puppy
- perfecting my modern calligraphy skills
What’s your exercise routine/schedule?
On top of lots of walking, I usually try to go for a quick run about twice a week, and I aim to do two high-intensity workouts per week (I follow a program called Freeletics) using only my own body weight. No matter how often I do these or how fit I am the workouts are tough and challenging. I always stretch after exercise too, which I think is crucial. During my pregnancies and after the births I focused more on Pilates, swimming and weight training.
Do you power up for exercise with specific foods?
I prefer exercising first thing in the morning, about half an hour after having had a glass of water and getting up, or mid-morning, about two hours after I’ve had my breakfast.
Do you like trying new exercise classes/trainers/trends?
Not so much anymore as I feel I have figured out what I enjoy and what works for me. Sometimes a friend will tempt me to try something new, if they find it revolutionary, but for the most part I follow a tried and tested routine.
“One of the mothers at my children’s school came up to me the other morning and said: ‘you are such an inspiration for exercising every day!’ I laughed and admitted to her that just because I was in my running gear it did not mean I had actually been for a run!”
Describe your workout wardrobe…
Cotton tank tops with running shorts in summer and extra long dance leggings (from Sweaty Betty) or black running leggings with a long-sleeved T-shirt and a feather-light windbreaker in winter. And always my headband and earphones!
How do you motivate yourself to get up and go when you’re feeling sluggish?
I remind myself of the wonderful feeling I will experience after doing exercise, although that doesn’t always work… ha! I have found that if I put on my exercise kit in the mornings, I am a lot more likely to exercise that day, regardless of my actual plans. One of the mothers at my children’s school came up to me the other morning and said: ‘you are such an inspiration for exercising every day!’ I laughed and admitted to her that just because I was in my running gear it did not mean I had actually been for a run!
Header image credit: Nassima Rothaker