Tuesday, October 29, 2013

wholefood mama: michelle from norfolk exposure

A big welcome today to wholefood mama Michelle who blogs at Norfolk Exposure. I love popping over (virtually) to visit Michelle in her island life, you can count on Michelle to say it how it is and for a grounded approach to feeding her family real food.

Michelle and her husband Ben live on Norfolk Island with their two children, Harry 11 years and Matilda 8 years.  Norfolk Island is located in the South Pacific, around 1600km from Sydney. If you're feeling energetic you could jog around the island as it spans 8kms in one direction, by 5 in the other. Originally from Bathurst in NSW’s Central West, the family moved to Norfolk Island 4 years ago after Michelle accepted a teaching position at the island's only school. Ben, Michelle and their children are smitten with their island lifestyle. Michelle says,

“Coming here was a bit like stepping back in time, in all the right ways. Norfolk is a safe, close-knit community. Our kids can run free, neighbours look out for each other and people are generally less concerned with the haves and have nots”.

Who or what started you on your wholefood path? 
Healthy eating has always been a priority for Ben and myself, although our ideas about what constitutes eating well have flipped and morphed over time. As young newlyweds we took food shopping and preparation quite seriously. We believed we were doing the right thing by choosing low-fat options, we ate margarine instead of butter and whilst we didn’t consume huge quantities of sugar, we didn’t really see processed food as anything more than just that, food!  It’s laughable (now) to think that back then our dinner often revolved around a ready-made pasta sauce (think Chicken Tonight) or a Continental flavour sachet (well, it never occurred to me to make beef stroganoff any other way). We scoured food labels diligently and never bought anything containing the “numbers” 621 or 635! If the product contained more than 10 percent fat – pfft – back on the shelf it went! I’d never heard anyone speak of or against food miles – it was a fact of life that the supermarket provided everything we needed, regardless of the season.

Fast forward a few years to find us a happy little family of four. Determined to give my children the best possible foundation for good health, nutrition became more important than ever. It was at this time (around 7 years ago) that my sister loaned me her copy of Michael Pollan’s ‘In Defence of Food’. I still remember vividly, sitting at the kitchen bench reading it out loud to Ben whilst he cooked dinner... each of us trying to fathom this new and thought-provoking information.  That book blew our minds! We were horrified to learn how manipulated and industrialised the food industry is. We were mortified to think that most of what a supermarket contained was in fact, not even food. Michael’s words Don't eat things that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize’ are forever etched in my brain!

Not long after reading ‘In Defence of Food’, a friend steered me towards Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions. To begin with this book pushed me a bit far, a case of too much too soon. I didn’t know where to start. Drink grass fed raw milk – heck, where on earth was I going to source that? Grind your own flour – yikes….where do I buy whole unmilled grains? How much does a grinder cost? Ferment vegetables – who will teach me? When will I find the time? Soak and sprout nuts, legumes and grains – should I just chain myself to the kitchen? Luckily I got the opportunity to attend a one day workshop that focussed on Sally Fallon’s recommendations. We were presented with practical approaches and examples, plus the workshop opened the door to a network of friends who were about to embark on the same wholefood journey. After this I realised we could make some simple and realistic changes to our diet. Little steps at a time.

Moving to Norfolk Island four years ago, my food philosophies merged with my environmental concerns, a desire to create less waste and to eat and live more sustainably.  A drive to further limit unrecyclable rubbish from going into the bin (and ultimately into the sea) pushed us even further towards an unprocessed, whole food diet.

Can you tell us about your approach to feeding your family?
To begin with, we try to eat a minimal amount of processed food. But I’d be deceiving you if I didn’t declare that some items still find their way into our shopping basket; rice crackers, buckwheat cruskits and now and then a box of Carmen’s brand muesli bars. A large proportion of our diet consists of locally grown fruit and vegetables, locally sourced meat and fish, plus our own eggs. We try to eat ethically and sustainably, but it’s difficult at times. Whilst fruit, veg and some meat is grown here, a large quantity of our food is shipped to the island from New Zealand and Australia. I’m conscious of food miles and it’s an issue I try to grapple. The reality is I order an extensive list of organic products which cannot be sourced locally. The sorts of things I order from online organic wholefood suppliers include quinoa, cocao powder, shredded coconut, rapadura sugar, dried fruit and nuts, popping corn, coconut oil, almond meal, herbal teas and chickpeas. Whenever we travel to Oz or someone comes to visit us we stock up on organic ingredients that can’t be bought here.

I prefer to buy organic produce when possible. Lucky for us all fruit and vegetables grown here are free of nasty pesticides and chemicals. Ben catches fish fresh from the sea and we buy local grass fed beef and pork. We rarely eat chicken as we cannot source it locally. Sadly I cannot buy organic milk, cheese, cream or butter but the New Zealand products flown in are of good quality and I’m happy to buy them as opposed to go without altogether.

Two years ago Ben and I undertook Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar program. It was worthwhile as it helped us to realize how much we craved sugar. It also helped us to understand just how much sugar is in supermarket food, showing up in places I never suspected. We aren’t strictly sugar-free anymore, but we limit our intake and opt for less refined sweeteners such as rapadura, maple syrup and local honey. There is so little sugar in our diet I don’t get too hung up about what my children eat at other people’s houses or at parties. They have learned to understand how sugar makes them feel and are becoming excellent self-regulators. Even my daughter (who can smell sugar a mile away and usually comes running for it), recognises that sugar leaves her feeling grumpy and emotional!

Breakfast is a meal we give great consideration to. We are a family of hearty breakfast eaters, all of us waking up hungry!! Rarely a morning passes where we don’t eat a cooked breakfast. We don’t buy cereal except for special occasions ie while we are on a family holiday. Our breakfast menu changes week to week, but the staples include omelettes, French toast, corn meal fritters, sprouted buckwheat pancakes or oat porridge (we always soak the oats overnight).

I’m the queen of simple.  Working full time, I don’t have the time to spend hours in the kitchen. I guess we don’t eat a hugely varied repertoire. I tend to stick with what’s nutritious but fuss free, even if that means eating the same soup two nights in a row. We are forced to eat seasonally – there’s no such thing as supermarket cold storage for fruit and veg on Norfolk Island! My kids go to school with wholesome lunch boxes but I’m not one of those Mum’s who mixes it up much. If carrots and cucumbers are in season, then expect them every day while the going is good!! Truth be told, my two never complain. I ate a peanut butter sandwich, vita-wheats with vegemite and an apple nearly every day of my school life and I don’t remember being bothered by it. I sometimes think parents put too much pressure on themselves to be creative. Keep it simple (and healthy) and don’t over think it. Just trust the kids will eat it. Be creative on the weekend, when you have time and the kids can help!

We try to limit wheat in our diet – for the most part because it doesn’t seem to agree with my digestive system, but also because I don’t think it should be consumed unless prepared the old fashioned way. Our local baker kindly agreed to bake us a slow rise fermented spelt bread. We pick up 4 smallish loaves every Saturday morning and this lasts the week (we freeze it of course). If the kids have a sandwich for lunch I ensure they have nothing else wheat-based in their diet that day….not an approach I’m suggesting anyone else should take, I just don’t think my family needs more wheat than that. We don’t eat pasta very often and hardly miss it. I try and bake at least one grain-free/refined-sugar free lunchbox snack each week.

What do you find challenging when it comes to following a wholefood path with a family?

Time. Eating well takes time and planning, especially when you commit to soaking, fermenting and preserving foods. Every few months we soak, sprout and dry almonds, pumpkin seeds and other nuts. We always prepare oats and other grains by soaking before consuming and on top of that I’m attending to our water kefir every few days. Ben is in charge of making beef stock and fish stock (oh my god, the SMELL) which he does expertly. Ben thankfully also takes charge of bottling tomatoes when they are in season using our Fowlers Vacola system and he uses our Vacola Dryer to preserve fruit once in a while. We make our own washing powder and cleaning products as well as apple cider vinegar. Sometimes my kitchen feels like a science lab; there’s always something soaking, simmering, sprouting or fermenting! Sometimes it all feels too much and we fall off the wagon a bit. But we always get back on eventually. I try not to beat myself up about it.

For us on Norfolk, availability is a BIG challenge! We have no choice but to eat what is in season. Months go buy when I dream of a carrot or would give my right arm for a pumpkin! It’s not a bad thing really, but it takes some getting used too. The trade-off is that we eat fruit and veg of superior taste and quality, often of heirloom heritage and always picked just hours before it’s sold at the market. As for getting hold of the other wholefoods, well I’ll admit it can be a pain having to order online. Not only do I have to think ahead, I then have to wait for it to be shipped over. Sometimes I wait 2 months for supplies to arrive and there’s always the risk that it will have spoiled on the ship during the journey (which has happened).  Shipping foods here is very costly. As is sending it via air. The fresh milk here flown in from New Zealand every Sunday costs $6 a litre!!!!!!!! Ben or I make a weekly batch of plain EasiYo yoghurt (not ideal because it contains soy lecithin, but we haven’t been able to come up with a better solution as yet). In an ideal world I’d own a milking cow!!!!!!!!!!

What is your go to meal when you are short on time or inspiration?

When everyone has run out of puff, and the fridge or pantry stock lacks lustre, veggie soup or eggs on toast are our meals of choice. To make a simple soup we chop up any veggies we can find and add it to some stock. It’s probably one of my favourite meals actually. And who can go past eggs on toast. With our own chooks, eggs are in plentiful supply at our house. Add to this some cooked tomato, fried cabbage and freshly sliced avocado and voila…an easy but nutritious meal perfect for a ravenous family.

Whenever I cook a mince based dish such shepherd’s pie or chilli con carn, I always make a double or triple batch to freeze for emergencies for those days when everyone gets home late and tired. When we have soup or rice for dinner we make enough so that everyone can have it for lunch the next day.

In the warmer months my kids love a salad plate. My Mum made them when I was little too. Think boiled egg, carrot sticks, cold meat or tin tuna, cherry tomatoes, cheese cubes, olives etc…all arranged on a plate. Easy and effortless and best of all, my kids eat it all. We love salads, of all kinds!

Who are your wholefood heroes and why?

I really admire Jamie Oliver. I think he has done so much to raise awareness of the pitfalls of fast food, plus he offers realistic, family-friendly alternatives. I also admire the food providers of yesteryear. Our great grandparents had a good handle on food preparation. They knew how to grow their own, how to preserve excess, how to be fugal. They knew about good fats, soaking grains and fermenting foods. Lastly, I’d also have to say my Mum. She loves cooking and rarely follows a recipe because she has that natural ability to whip things together instinctively. My sister, brother and I were raised on a very wholesome diet, and none of us has had any teeth cavities! We rarely consumed fast food and only ever ate treats at birthday parties and other such celebrations.

Your three favourite ingredients and why?
Eggs. They are so versatile and nutritious. Onions. Honestly. I love them and I can hardly think of a meal we cook that doesn’t call for them. We ran out of onions on Norfolk Island recently and I realised how much I rely on them. Berries. I keep frozen mixed berries in the freezer all the time. I top pancakes with them, I add them to natural yoghurt, I use them for baking, in smoothies and recently I discovered a recipe that uses them to make a sugar free chia seed jam.

Tell us about your two essential kitchen gadgets or utensils...

I bought a second hand hand-held stick blender for $20 from a garage sale. It’s the most used appliance we own. It gets used for making everything from smoothies to dips. Our slow cooker is a life saver. I don’t know how any busy family can survive without one.  There’s nothing better than coming home on a cold winter’s day to be greeted by the smell of a stew or soup ready to eat!

Sugar or salt, which do you crave? And when you do what satisfies you?

I crave sugar. Oh boy….I actually put that in print. Mostly a piece of dried fruit and a slice of cheese will leave me satisfied. But, there are moments that call for something a little more indulgent right, so a square (OK, or two) of sugar-free dark chocolate will certainly settle my cravings. If it’s in the house, and it’s not good for you, I’ll eat it….I have little self-control in that way.

Favourite cookbooks and food blogs you'd like to share...

Despite the initial overload of information, Nourishing Traditions is now a go-to book in our kitchen. I don’t own many cookbooks anymore (we could only bring a limited amount of stuff when we moved here) so I rely on websites and blogs for new ideas. 
I totally adore Petite Kitchen which I discovered only recently. Nourished Kitchen is worth visiting, and although not a food blog specifically, I’ve really enjoyed following Tania’s wholefood journey on her blog Ivy Nest I also recommend checking out Maria Hannaford’s wellness blog ‘Econest’ Maria often shares great recipes.

What do you enjoy about blogging?
I love sharing snippets of our island life with others. We feel privileged and lucky to live in such a safe, pristine, unique and beautiful environment. When I started Norfolk Exposure I never imagined it would lead to new friendships and associations. For me, blogging makes the world feel smaller and more connected.

Please share links to a couple of your favourite posts on your blog...

What are you loving about your life right now?
Everything! What’s not to love about island life! I’m particularly enjoying spring; the days are getting warmer and longer. I think the beach is calling me….

Michelle's Recipe - Sprouted buckwheat pancakes

1 cup of raw sprouted buckwheat kernels
2 cups of filtered water for soaking
1 egg (optional)
1 mashed banana (also optional)

1.     Soak buckwheat kernels overnight (in the warmer months, soak in the fridge overnight)
2.     The next day, rinse and place soaked kernels in a blender with 1 ¼ cups of filtered water
3.     Add an egg and/or a banana if you like (we make them with and without) and blend until smooth
4.     Add a little extra water if you want your batter to be runnier
5.     Heat your frying pan to a medium heat and add a good dollop of coconut oil. Gently tilt the frying pan to disperse the oil evenly
6.     Spoon the batter into the frying pan just as you would for any other pancake recipe. The pancakes will begin to form bubbles as the underneath side cooks first. Take a peak to check the underside of the pancake and flip when ready. The first one may not work so well, it takes a pancake or two to get the heat right! Reduce the heat slightly if the pancakes begin to get burnt spots on them. When ready, flip the pancake over and cook for a further minute,
  7. Serve with a dash of maple syrup or honey, some chia seed jam, sliced banana and a dollop of cream or natural yoghurt! Enjoy :)

    A big thank you to Michelle for taking the time to share her wholefood story, it is always great to hear how other mamas are nourishing their family with real food. Visit Michelle at Norfolk Exposure or on her facebook page.
     Read more wholefood mama interviews: 

      Jay Black from and the trees
      Kellie from dear olive
      Robin from Transition Farm
      Rachel Pitts from Hungry Girls
      Vanessa from slow heart sing
      Farmer Liz from eight acres
      Catherine from A Time To Create
      Renee from ki flow yoga

     (I'm hoping I haven't left anyone off this list, if I have big apologies let me know and I will add you in).


  1. Thanks for interviewing me Nikki - I really enjoyed the experience! x

    1. That's a pleasure Michelle! We loved hearing about your island life xx

  2. I love that saying - ‘Don't eat things that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognise’... so true!

    1. Isn't it?! I have my great grandmother Emily to thank for my love of real food, I grew up beside her seeing her grow vegetables and cook everything we ate from scratch so important to keep this tradition alive with children today. Thanks for commenting x


Thanks for your comments. I read every one!

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