Tuesday, October 01, 2013

wholefood mama: vanessa from slow heart sing

Many of you will know Vanessa from her heartfelt and honest blog Slow Heart Sing. Vanessa and I have a few things in common. An uncanny few things in common actually. We both live by the beach, have two young sons, are both married to professional photographers who love to fish, we have both worked as food writers, both love yoga, grow food in our backyards and blog about real food and family life!

I love Vanessa's blog for its honesty, good humour and down to earth approach to real food and parenting. I'm looking forward to the time that I can share a meal with Vanessa in real life but for now I am really thrilled to share her interview with you...

About Vanessa

A half-English half-Egyptian girl graduates from a London uni in 2000 and, very confused, heads to Australia for a year. Meets a wonderful man, they move back to the UK, start a family and years later return to Australia. Several house moves and a very rocky couple of years eventually lead to the Central Coast of NSW.  

{Breathing sigh of relief!} We've finally found our home, here in our sun-drenched house, just by the ocean, with two boys Luca (5) and Kian (2) and a cheeky chocolate lab, Sydney (7). I write, I cook, I garden, I read more children's books than anything else, I dream of opening my own café, a deli, B&B and a cheeseshop too.

Who or what started you down your food writing and wholefood path? 

I graduated with a degree in Maths and French, and not the first clue who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. After a year spent in Sydney, I went back to London temping in banks and finance departments and absolutely hating it. A job came up for an assistant to the head of a food channel, and miraculously I got it. I eventually moved my way to editorial within the company, trained as a chef and studied journalism, then landed the job of Food Editor at Food and Travel magazine. I went freelance months later and have been ever since! 

From the word go, I believed in home-cooked food, made from scratch, and ingredients that make food sing: pastured meats, line-caught fish (as it was in the UK, now it's spear-caught by my husband), unrefined, stoneground, handmade, pure and simple food. I suppose I grew up eating homemade food, but I realised later on that nothing gives me more pleasure than cooking and most importantly, eating (!) this food. It's not a fad and it's not a way of eating. It's my definition of good food.

Can you tell us about your approach to feeding a young family?

There wasn't any change to how I cooked and how we ate when it was just Luca – he has a massive appetite and eats almost everything. I love hearing his standard 'can you make this again Mummy?', but Kian couldn't be more different. It was quite a shock. So my approach has had to change a little; I try and go with the flow and not focus on what Kian isn't eating. A very good breakfast, a half-hearted lunch and a piece of roasted sweet potato for dinner is all he seems to need. He's happy, he's healthy so my approach is to let it go!

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

All the conflicting messages and the enormous focus on nutrition. I'm not saying the nutrition aspect isn't crucial – of course it is – it's just that we're all somehow expected to understand it all and put it into practice. The nutrition/wellness aspect of a food doesn't concern me as much as the joy factor. I know I'm being very simplistic here, but unless there are issues to address, we could all just do with using a little common sense and listening to ourselves. The science is all there but I don't need to know it all – it's exhausting and for me it takes away from food. The green smoothie/juice is a classic example; I was adding raw kale to my green juice for a long time before I started getting confused about all the messages that say raw kale is not advisable. Should I, shouldn't I? I stopped it altogether and have gone back to enjoying my homegrown kale the way I've always liked it, sautéed in a knob of butter. It's not an approach that would work for everyone – especially as there's so much talk out there on what is and isn't good for us – but I feel happier trusting in my instinct to make chicken liver paté because I want to savour it (not because it's necessarily nutrient-dense). I guess my approach comes from watching those who really enjoy their food, without stressing over its nutritional components: the Greeks, the Italians, the French and all the Egyptians I grew up with. Food was truly savoured. 

Oh, and eating out is another challenge – such a pain! I love eating out and it's so much easier to eat well out and about when you're living in London or Sydney. Where we live, the cafés mostly wax lyrical about double-certified organic coffee and yet it's all cheap bacon, cheap bread and sugary fat-free yogurt. I don't get it.

You have been experimenting with adding fermented foods to your diet this year can you tell us about how that is going?

Well the truth is, it isn't! We often start these things with the best of intentions, don't we, but if no one is enthusiastic about it apart from you, it's hard to keep it going. The boys were enjoying kefir smoothies but then suddenly they went off them. Kian enjoyed kefir with honey, but again he started to turn his nose up at it. No one would drink the kombucha I was making and I can't quite achieve the beautiful flavours I have tasted elsewhere, so I've given up with that too. We were drinking raw milk for quite a while but getting to that shop added unnecessary stress. It's really hard to focus on everything at once. While I was fermenting, the garden became neglected. When I pour myself into the garden, paperwork piles up. We're not meant to achieve it all – I take a simple approach and do what I feel like doing at the time. No guilt and 'should dos'. My health has dramatically improved with this approach. 

What sort of foods do you remember eating as a child?

I grew up in the Middle East so while my Mum cooked spinach flan, pizzas, cauliflower cheese and chicken pie, there was also a lot of Egyptian food. Stuffed vine leaves, meat stews, rice-stuffed cabbage leaves and eggplant, macaroni béchamel bakes, soups, lots of chicken and okra, and every now and again Egyptian biscuits and cake!

Who are your wholefood heroes and why?

My mother who baked and cooked everything from scratch without so much as a set of scales, who waited in long queues in Cairo when the flour and butter came in every six months, who carried and lugged shopping in 40-degree heat and who made the best waffles for us to eat before bed.

The Greek women, and all the other wonderful Greeks we met, who took Graeme and I into their kitchens nine years ago and gave us what is still one of our most memorable meals; the French who used to irritate me when I lived in France (aged 20) with their two-hour siestas and lunches (all the shops and banks would shut!), but there's nothing better than a long lunch (or a siesta for that matter) and of course Western society would be so much better off if we all followed their example, and finally everyone out there – farmers, growers, artisans – who are dedicated to growing, raising and producing our food with integrity, compassion and love because they're the ones who make it possible for us to eat good food.

Your three favorite ingredients and why?

Impossible question! But I'll pick three: butter, streaky bacon from outdoor-bred pigs and parmesan. I don't need to tell you why I love butter! With an abundance of leafy greens and herbs in my garden right now, I can rustle up something special with bacon and parmesan. Funnily enough though, I always had bacon in my fridge when we lived in the UK, but it's something I rarely buy here. I can't get hold of it easily – good-quality pork is very hard to come by. 

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

Depends on the time of day but I'm more of a savoury kind of gal! I'll take salty crisp-skinned roast chicken with a sticky oniony tarragon gravy and buttery kale over chocolate mousse any day, but ideally I'll have the two in the same sitting please!

Favorite cookbooks and food blogs you'd like to share…

My favourite cookbook authors: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Skye Gyngell, Tamasin-Day Lewis, Diana Henry. Oddly enough I follow very few straight food blogs that just offer recipes and pretty pictures. I need more. More depth, more insight, more stories and more real life. It feels full and rounded and it draws me to their food even more. I guess it's having a connection, and I always seek connection. Not Without Salt does that for me. This post explains what I'm saying perfectly. 

What are you loving about your life right now?

Living by the ocean, eating from my garden, practicing yoga, watching my boys grow and giving them the kind of childhood I feel passionate about, and feeling so utterly completely free.

You'll find the recipe for Vanessa's eggplant curry with green beans and lemon grass here.

Thank you so much Vanessa for taking the time to share your story with us. It is always inspiring to read how other mamas do this most important job in the world - nourishing our families! xx

(beautiful photos supplied by Vanessa)


  1. Thank you. I have really enjoyed reading this interview.
    I would love to get my hands on that fresh fish!

    1. Thanks for your comment Jean, yes nothing beats fish that fresh!

  2. So many of these thoughts resonated with me. The confusion around 'healthy eating' - i.e the kale smoothie, the overwhelming info there is out on what to eat and to not eat and the reminder that food is their to be enjoyed. Whenever I read about how the Greeks, the Italians ate it makes so much sense to me. Simple, fresh and whole.

    1. Me too Nat, that's one of the things I love about Vanessa her honesty and realism. I hope all great with you in sunny QLD xx


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