Stuff and things

INKYHello!

Hope your life has been swell. Mine has been OK and mostly quiet (because depression) but I have been eating a lot of crumpets and honey, and buying my favourite Easter eggs before they sell out (the Ferrero Rocher Hazelnut ones, and I don’t even like Hazelnut or Ferrero Rocher), and watching The People vs OJ Simpson on Netflix, so even though I am not exactly doing anything of accomplishment, I am proud of myself for getting out of bed.

Despite the downers of my current condition, I have had some lovely experiences of late so I am going to share them with you now.

  • I got long-listed for a Gold INKY award! This is really exciting because the INKY awards are chosen by actual young people, and when you write books for young people that’s a very good thing. I’m longlisted with a bunch of incredible authors, so I feel sorry for the judges who will have to whittle the longlist of 10 down to a short list of 5.
  • I’m going to Japan! And Hong Kong! I will eat sushi and ramen and dumplings to my heart’s content, and hopefully I will see cherry blossoms, and good Lord I am excited (about everything except the plane ride, I hate plane rides) for my first overseas holiday since September 2013. Unfortunately I had to decline appearing a writer’s festival because this trip was booked, and I will miss Gabby Tozer’s book launch, but still, Japan.
  • Also, last week I went to Lorraine’s for the first time, and I got a few different things, like vanilla toffee choux puffs, which were amazing, and some rum and raisin bread and butter pudding, which was phenomenal. I shared these sentiments with my publisher, Chren, and she told me that the cheesecake at Lorraine’s is pretty fantastic, so I went again two weeks later for their homemade marshmallows (delicious) and the cheesecake (did not disappoint). It might just be my new favourite place.
  • Speaking of gastronomic delights, I have just returned from Flour, Eggs, Water at Tramsheds in Harold Park. For those unfamiliar, it’s a pasta joint (hence the name) by the same owners of A Tavola (in Darlinghurst and Bondi). My companions and I got two entrees, a salad, and three pastas, plus drinks. The pastas were pretty incredible, especially the spaghetti cacio e pepe, which I highly recommend. It was packed, and we had popped in sans reservation, but the staff were incredibly accommodating and the service very good.
  • And speaking of pasta, one of my favourite dishes in all of Sydney is the Casarecce with eggplant, tomato and ricotta at La Disfida in Haberfield. I’ve shared why I love it so much in the Good Food on Sunday page of The Sun Herald. Check out the web link here.
  • I haven’t managed to write much of anything lately, but last year, I wrote about my life, in the context of the experience of women in my family across decades, continents and social norms. Five generations of Ayoub girls feature in the article (published in Sunday Life just last week), starting with my 100 year old plus great-grandmother, and finishing with my two year old daughter. I’ll post about the experience when I am for it, but in the meantime, here’s the story.
  • I’m also stoked to have some bookings in place for speaking gigs, residencies and writer’s festivals taking place in Sydney and beyond over the next few months. I used to hate speaking as a student, but it’s definitely one of the aspects of being an author that I have really enjoyed, and it’s one part that has not really been affected by my illness. I’m hoping to spend more time organising panels with other authors, where I can do more moderating and less speaking about my own work. No matter how much I love the creative writing part, it’s the asking questions part that drew me to journalism to begin with that makes my heart sing.
  • Given that I have had a hard time getting stuck into my TBR pile of late, I’ve been reading a lot of material on the web. I really resonated with Lauren Sams’ latest piece on writing (from her excellent newsletter, Wine Time, which I subscribe to and which I heartily recommend), mostly because everything she says is true, but also because everything I am feeling now makes me realise that all that fretting I did about my writing career (that I hardly fought for, apart from meeting my deadlines) is not as important as my health. I am addicted to reading the Money Diaries on Refinery29 and I adored this short post on womankind by TheUndone . There’s also been so much in the news on footballers (specifically NRL players) and their treatment of women that has been excellent discussion material in my journalism classes. I am looking up profiles of people like Emily Weiss and Jo Rodgers (the former the woman behind Glossier, a minimalist beauty range born in NYC; the latter a literary agent-turned-writer who has moved to London from the USA and has the dreamiest Instagram account ever, filled with foods I salivate over, swoony London home fronts and trips to faraway destinations in her job as a contributor to Vogue – she doesn’t compromise on her captions either) to draw inspiration from. Thanks to the interweb I have also found merit in my fatal flaws, found another reason to love Rue De Bac in Paris (the other is grand department store Le Bon Marche) and laughed out loud a billion times over the BBC-conference-call-with-a-Dad video and loved it’s steeped-in-reality Kiwi spoof follow-up.
  • I’m trying to be less of a maximalist but I couldn’t resist these cute little egg cups at Bed, Bath and Table. My daughter loves boiled eggs and soldiers for breakfast so I’m glad I have a cute way for dishing them up to her on special days.
  • Oh and I went to see Bell Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Opera House a couple of weeks back, and even though I hate the play, I loved seeing Kate Mulvany playing the villainous lead.
  • Finally, late last year I sold the audio rights to both my novels which means they’re now available for purchase through Bolinda Audio.

Before I wrap up, I also wanted to flag this crowd funding campaign to help my friend and mentor Rachel Hills get the play inspired by her fantastic book, The Sex Myth, off the ground. There are only ten days remaining so if you can lend a hand, now’s the time to do it.

That’s it from me. I started writing this post on February 25th, and it’s now March 20th, and I don’t even want to do the math because of how bad that is. But it’s done, and I feel a sense of accomplishment, which means I can now enjoy a bowl of homemade minestrone (leftover from last night) and a slice of garlic bread (because carbs are my life) before I have to start thinking of packing and laundry and what to cook for dinner tonight.

Over and out.

 

 

 

Starting Over, Sparking Joy

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A few nights ago, while my husband was away on business, I rearranged our bedroom furniture by myself. At midnight. This required some considerable effort, as I am a rather petite person with very little physical strength (all those Kayla Itsines workouts I never do), and our bed is the size of a small city. But when I was done, I felt instantly more contented. The layout of my bedroom had bugged me for months, and finally, I had fixed it. That night, I fell asleep that much happier.

Less than two weeks into a new year and I am committed to doing just one thing a day that makes me happy. On one of those first eight days, I started a list of all the hotels in Sydney I want to staycation in. On another, I booked a bunch of hotels (including a traditional Ryokan) for my upcoming trip to Japan. I let my daughter jump in the ‘muddy puddles’, Peppa Pig-style, in the heavy rain outside, and even put on my own wellies to join her. A friend came over to talk about her vacation plans for 2017, so we had pastries and French tea with the pretty tea cups and the gold cake knife and cake forks – not my generic mugs and cutlery. I had a long pub lunch with a good friend, and we spoke about our shortcomings and aspirations with brutal honesty. I kept decluttering my belongings – a la Marie Kondo – feeling lighter with each haul that went off to the charity shop.

I felt like I had a handle on life, for the first time in ages. And it felt good, because most of my last year felt like a total write-off. I didn’t write much. In fact, I wrote very little. Probably three blog posts, two freelance articles (both of which were months late), a couple of opinion pieces and zero new fiction drafts. For much of 2016, I fought the demons of depression on a daily basis. I suffered a traumatic miscarriage. I didn’t write about either, because I come from a community where these things are hush hush – something to be ashamed of – even though I didn’t ask for either and even though I spent days wondering why – and how – I was experiencing them.
At times, I felt this shame too intensely. There were Christians being persecuted in the Middle-East, Muslims were being blown up in their places of worship on their religious holidays by their own countrymen, children were dying in Syria, Mexicans were hearing about walls by a man who would become their president, girls were going missing on their walk to school, families were being torn apart by drugs, mothers were getting diagnosed with terminal cancer. And here I was: young, healthy, working and free, and I was depressed? Like seriously, what did I have to feel sad about?

My husband asked me this every few days. I got sick of repeating myself: the old ‘I can’t control it – it’s a chemical imbalance in my brain’ excuse felt a little weak.

So I let myself do nothing. I didn’t write. I moped. I stopped reading. I stopped applying for things, pitching articles, putting myself forward for events. I didn’t go out as much. I got a referral for a psychologist from my GP, but then just sat on it, doing nothing. I booked a last-minute appointment at the end of 2016, because a friend said I should. Then I cancelled my follow-up.

I thought that all that nothingness – coming off the grid, staying quiet – would help, but it didn’t. On some days, still being alive was the miracle. Getting out of bed, being a semi-functioning human who would smile at you as you spoke to her, was like running – and winning — a marathon. As 2016 drew to a close, I realised that I would have to actively try and improve my mood. I knew it wouldn’t improve my condition, but I had to hope that it would help.

And in some ways, it has. I ushered in 2017 with a sense of optimism. I vowed to do one little thing – no matter how small – to fall asleep a little happier each night. I was determined to extend Marie Kondo’s ‘Does it spark joy?’ philosophy to everything in my life, not just clutter. I even bought a book on the Danish Hygge way of living, ready to curl up with in Autumn.

It took a good nine days for the despair to hit in again. A big part of that was probably due to coming out from under my rock in the second week of January. For the first time since Christmas Eve, I was going online for (more) extended periods of time. I would pop onto Twitter or read an opinion column or hear something on the news. It was like culture shock – those first moments of a new year that don’t feel as good as the first days did. But, and here’s the light at the end of the tunnel, it did take a whole nine days for me to feel that despair. I was able to finish reading a book in those nine days, and although it has taken me three days to write this, by the time I hit publish on this post, I would have actually written something.

Considering how I fared in 2016, those are big achievements.

Today, I took a long lunch at a lovely French restaurant with views of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge. There was champagne and chocolate fondant, and that was my little dose of happiness for the day. I’m probably cheating, but I will also go out to dinner tonight, with my husband, for a cheap meal of freshly-made northern Chinese noodles and some steamed (or pan-fried, I don’t discriminate) dumplings. Tomorrow, I’ll take my daughter to the beach for a couple of hours.

I’m taking baby steps, but I’ve been able to start over – and that in itself, is sparking joy.

 

16 things I’ve been thankful for in 2016

2016-postAs I’ve gotten older, I’ve been aware of how much better I have gotten at ‘seeing the bigger picture’. Which is why, when faced with a problem in recent years, I’ve had a little whinge but focused on my sense of perspective (ie, the things I do have/experience, in comparison to so many other people throughout the world, as exemplified in the picture above). At the end of each year I like to reflect on the things I’ve been grateful for. This year has been harder for me than most, due to a myriad of reasons, so I’ve decided to write my things down, so that I have them on the record. Just as a little reminder of how (hashtag) blessed I really am.

  1. Living in Australia: Land of perpetual sunshine, democracy, great freedoms, medicare, mostly friendly people, Patties sausage rolls, and yes, even some imperfections that give us something to strive towards and work for.
  2. My own place, with a red door and gorgeous little reading room, and a pinterest-y kitchen with a 90cm oven perfect for baking in.
  3. Turning 30: And the contentment, and lessons, that come with hindsight.
  4. My health: I’ve had a few minor hiccups this year, and will probably have to operate on my sinuses in 2017 after years of delaying it, but my health is something I’ve learned not to take for granted.
  5. My loved ones: My husband, my family, my friends, even acquaintances or social media friends. A new nephew. A Godson. Part and parcel with age is that some friendships change or fall away completely. While that can be sad, you’re left with people who really love you. This year I’ve become aware of who those people are, and that’s a blessing in and of itself.
  6. Bookish Fan Mail: This year I got dozens of emails and even hand-written notes from teenagers who love my work. One girl, the sole hijabi in her grade, told me that my novels give her ‘solace and peace’. It warmed my heart.
  7. Little things: A mid-week escape to the Blue Mountains. Trying Kale for the first time and deciding it was actually quite good. Discovering that Brussel Sprouts taste good baked with some coconut oil and sumac and cumin sprinkled on top. Getting a delivery of French pastries and pink flowers from a friend who just wanted to tell me I was loved. Finding my Teas after many trials and errors (Jardin Bleu by Laduree and Twinnings Apple and Ginger, and Peppermint if I am just out of it). New Instagram accounts to follow. Running. Fresh ideas. Walking around the City. Dancing to songs that were big in High School at bars in the Rocks. Fabulous additions to my wardrobe. Finding a good facialist. Saying No for the first time. New books for my shelves, and new authors to love. Discovering that wine is actually OK. New health bloggers to follow, whose recipes don’t involve elusive ingredients but things I can actually find in Coles. Trips to the farmer’s markets. New favourite restaurants. Learning what looks good on me. Just little things.
  8. So many speaking engagements: My busiest year yet – with so many grades, so many schools, so many events all over Sydney. Thank you to the teachers and librarians who have supported my work this year.
  9. Inspiring colleagues: The #Loveozya movement, its readers and supporters, and the authors who I’m delighted to write alongside and share platforms with (especially Kirsty Eagar, Justine Larbalestier, Gabrielle Tozer, Tara Eglington, Melina Marchetta, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Erin Gough and many, many, MANY others). And my mentor, Rachel Hills, for becoming a friend.
  10. Kicking some career goals: Things I never imagined and things I never shared, things that I stored in the depths of my heart so I can remember them at my lowest moments. Even teaching at a university and being around so many young and vibrant people whose energy was wonderful to be around.
  11. My girl: Who reminds me of love and reasons for living.
  12. Marie Kondo: My sister-in-law lent me her book on tidying up. I haven’t finished it, but just having it in the house has made me feel infinitely lighter, and made my decluttering more successful.
  13. Rediscovering Google Keep and Pinterest: And being much more organised and inspired as a result.
  14. So many French events in Sydney: From So Frenchy So Chic to the Bleu Blanc Rouge Festival and many other French dinners and weekend festivals in between, just having a chance to experience France from home with my friend Lauren in tow has done wonders for my wanderlust.
  15. Online shopping: I know this is so shallow, but this year I’ve enjoyed French mustard and NYC deli pickles; bought sparkly shoes, out-of-print books, and a Chloe bag; and donated some vegetable seeds, a goat and a chicken to needy families via World Vision. The internet allows me to indulge, and I am guilty as charged!
  16. The promise of up: I love the potential that comes with a new year, and that things could always go up from wherever you are in an old one. While I am not writing anything new, I am working on my self in 2017. I’m planning to cut out refined sugar in January (I’ve even written up meal plans to be prepared), I’m taking a long-awaited holiday and I intend on being less attached to my phone. Time will tell if I succeed.

Wishing you all an excellent Christmas and New Year. Hope you finish 2016 on a high, and hope 2017 brings with it so much peace, promise and joy.

Last minute gifts you can buy right now

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Books make excellent last-minute gifts. No matter where you are in Australia, there’s probably a book store (or at least a David Jones/Myer/Big W/Target) in a shopping centre open late on Thursday or Friday where you can duck in and gift something amazing. Ask the booksellers. They know.

The great thing about books is that they cost very little compared to say, a gadget or leather belt or a fancy tea cup. But also they’re priceless. They can educate and inspire, foster empathy and a sense of solidarity, and can be passed on or treasured. They can be easily wrapped (no strange oblongy shapes that ruin your under-tree aesthetic).

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked this year, but I read a few books I’d heartily recommend. Including a couple of picture books from the many that I bought for my daughter. I’ve also included some of the titles in my ‘must-read soon’ pile, and four titles I am looking forward to reading in early 2017 just in case you’re looking for the kind of gift that keeps on giving, and would like to give your recipient something for now, and a pre-order for later.

They didn’t all make the picture, because I have books in different parts of my ‘spaces’ and after I did this picture (and pictures are NOT my strong suit) I kept finding others. But just type the titles into google and you’re set.

I hope whoever gets these values them. So many are by Australian authors, which is a testament to our literary landscape but also a big help to an industry that’s under threat. Big love to you all at Christmas.

Books I’ve enjoyed: 

  1. The Regulars, by Georgia Clark
  2. Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer
  3. Pig the Elf by Aaron Blabey
  4. Ruby Red Shoes goes to London (the Paris one is magnificent too)
  5. My best friend is a Goddess by Tara Eglington
  6. Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar
  7. The Flywheel by Erin Gough
  8. All in good taste by Kate Spade
  9. New York by Megan Hess
  10. Bad Girls throughout History by Ann Shen
  11. When Michael met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah
  12. Me before you by Jojo Moyes (But wish I can undo ever buying the sequel)
  13. Thicker than Water by Brigid Kemmerer
  14. Bro by Helen Chebatte
  15. My Paris Dream by Kate Betts

Books I bought this year but that I haven’t read yet, but want to read ASAP: 

  1. Tell the truth, Shame the devil by Melina Marchetta
  2. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
  3. Southern Ruby by Belinda Alexandra
  4. Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
  5. The Life-Changing Magic of not giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight
  6. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
  7. My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
  8. Frankie by Shivaun Plozza
  9. Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
  10. The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and his Ex by Gabrielle Williams
  11. The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis
  12. My Part-time Paris Life by Lisa Anselmo
  13. The Natural Way of things by Charlotte Wood
  14. The Safest Place in London by Maggie Joel
  15. All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Early 2017 releases that I have pre-ordered and wish-listed for next year:

  1. Remind me how this ends by Gabrielle Tozer
  2. Crazy Busy Guilty by Lauren Sams
  3. Living the Healthy Life by Jessica Sepel
  4. The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil

 

An at-home picnic under the Eiffel Tower

I turned 30 in May. I wanted to write about it at the time, but I just didn’t have a chance to sit down and write. This year has been both a curse and a blessing: I’m having some major career/direction anxiety (specifically around writing YA), but I’ve also gotten so many school and event bookings. It’s ironic: the passion that stops me from writing is the same passion that you hear when I speak.

I used to say that I wanted to celebrate my 30th birthday in France – maybe Paris, maybe Provence. Somewhere wonderful and pretty and heavy on scenery, pastry and cheese. But as the time approached, and my husband started asking questions about flight bookings and dates off work, I realised that I didn’t want to be away from those I loved, and sadly, that I was a little afraid to go somewhere that was going through such turmoil.

So my loved ones brought Paris home for me. My best friend Danielle hired a huge Eiffel Tower for the backyard and my cousin Jo put all the things she’d hoarded to good use and set up a lovely little Patisserie in my back pergola. There, people could fill miniature baskets with pastries, cheese, baguettes and picnic-y foods, and then join me for a Picnic under the Eiffel Tower.

I didn’t look my best – I had moved into an unfinished house two days prior and was overwhelmed with a zillion writing deadlines, writing workshop preparation and university assignments that needed marking. My shirt didn’t match my skirt, I didn’t have time to do my hair or nails, and I was incredibly tired.

But I had ordered so many French pastries from La Banette in Glebe, pulled a few recipes out of Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen, and stocked up on French wines, champagne and imported cheese at Dan Murphy’s and the David Jones Food Hall. So I let myself get excited by the prospect of bringing my wanderlust home.

I hung French bunting in the yard, displayed my collection of French memoirs and coffee table books, and put a flower crown in my hair. That day, we ate salad nicoise, fresh oysters, quiche and baguettes. French fries and brie and croissants. Fresh berries, baskets of pain au chocolat and delicious tarts and eclairs.

And just like that, I was a French girl in my own little Paris, heralding in a new chapter with my loved ones at my side, and a glass of champagne in my hand.

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Five simple steps for beginner minimalists

Steps for beginner MinimalistsRecently, I blogged about my desire to buy less and part with more. It’s an ongoing exercise that I am happy to share with you as I read more and more about minimalism. I’ll never be a proper minimalist. I’m fine with this – I love books and pretty things but there’s nothing wrong with wanting my pretty things to be functional and few.

There are some areas in my life where this minimalism thing has been so easy to apply, with good results. My closet and my kitchen are good examples. I started with the closet. I’ve been paring back my wardrobe for a while now, with the aim of having only a few of each item in functional styles and neutral colours that allow me to mix and match with ease. This is a gradual process, particularly as I replace older things with better quality items I couldn’t afford in my early 20s. I still have a few ‘stand out’ pieces that one wouldn’t call neutral, but they’re statement dresses that I pair with opaques in winter and stacked heels in summer and as a result they get a lot of action.

Surprisingly, I yielded the best results with my active wear. For a person who did very little ‘proper’ activity (as in, in a gym or fitness class), I had a lot of active wear. For example, I had three pairs of Nikes – not casual sneakers, but actual running shoes. They were three different colours that I purchased to go with different workout gear. I parted with two and stuck with one pair of Nike Free Runs – in neutral black and white – which go with anything. Then, inspired by Sarah Wilson and her green shorts – I took to culling my workout gear. Out went yoga pants that I never wore, shorts that were not flattering and daggy tracksuit pants that I held on to for super-cold days. The items that remained (and I made sure there were few) were useful, and some had more than one purpose, like my Lorna Jane tights. I have a couple of cool pairs that I wear in winter, either to do whatever exercise I am into at a given time, or layered with tees, scarves and chunky knits, and with knee-high boots. They’re so good!

When I turned my attention to the kitchen, I realised I had gotten a little zealous with my crockery. I blame my consumption of lifestyle magazines. My dinnerware was plain, white and simple. But I had all these ‘accessories’. Coloured glassware and cool serving ware. Things I purchased just because they were pretty. I decided to cull some of those items, and keep the things that were easy matched with other things. You know, multi-purpose stuff. Like stemless wine glasses that can also be used as ordinary glasses and for individual desserts like eton messes and so on (I use the Siena ones, which are $20 for a set of four from Target, and I adore them).  And if I feel like I need to get creative for an event (and let’s be honest, these ‘events’ happen once in a blue moon), I know I can draw from the internet minefield of trendy napery, napkins and table runners.

The best thing about all these exercises (apart from the sense of freedom that comes with letting go) is that I know if I ever had to move again, I could just pack up and leave. I am slowly tackling everything from my desk drawers to my nail polish bucket, and although I know I am no real minimalist just yet, it’s amazing what a few little changes have done to my sense of self.

Want to try it out? Here are some easy ways to start:

1. The stuff inside your closet

The (mis-understood) mark of a stylish woman has long been an extensive wardrobe bursting with items, a la Carrie’s closet in the Sex and the City movie. For me, this would be nothing short of a nightmare. Organised? Yes. Extensive? No. I’d rather follow the Parisians and have a small closet with a few key, quality items that I will always wear, and which will never go out of style. This is easier than you think: it involves narrowing done to five fundamental jackets/coats, a few basics (tees, shirts, jeans and a good pair of black pants), a few dresses and key accessories. More on this later.

2. The things you only part use

You know, the odd appliance. Outdoor gear. Cookbooks with only a bunch of recipes you love, and dozens of others you don’t. Can you go without the once-in-a-blue-moon appliance? Borrow it? Figure out an old-fashioned way to do its job? I donated 90% of my cookbooks to charity. I photocopied my favourite recipes and put them in a folder that has 100 plastic sleeves in it. I edit this folder as I find new recipes and learn the others, or if I try them and find they’re not that great. The bonus to this is that if I get sauce on plastic, I can easily wipe it down. Now, I don’t have more than 7 cookbooks in my kitchen, and they’re all useful or REALLY loved (a few are also holistic health guides too, so they’re a great reference point too). Then there were all my magazines. I had hundreds, and truth be told, my love affair with print is far from over. But print accumulates. Even all the magazines containing my feature articles, lovingly treasured over many years, had to go. I had established myself now, I had an online portfolio…there was no sense in keeping them.

3. Keepsakes + Souvenirs

Sentimental gifts, cards from various occasions throughout my life, souvenirs from trips and so on: they all add up to a whole lot of stuff. I’ve thrown out cards that don’t have personal messages in them. I have my wedding on a DVD, and I know who was there. I don’t need my Year 12 Graduation medal. When I die, it won’t add any value to my children’s lives. My school yearbook however, will have snapshots and anecdotes of me in my youth. This they might like. It’s all about picking and choosing. When it comes to souvenirs, I recommend buying useful things that can be part of your everyday experience. Think French pharmacy buys, jars of Italian pasta sauce and bottles of Croatian truffle oil. You can re-use the glass they come in, which is fantastic.

4. Emails and Loyalty Programs

I stopped signing up to Loyalty Programs. I was sick of the emails and sick of the cards. The rewards weren’t worth it compared to having a lighter, less-cluttered wallet and a clearer inbox (I’m aspiring to shrink my wallet contents to what would fit in this card holder I got for Christmas). I buy from a lot of different places, so I felt it wasn’t particularly worth it to hold on to a loyalty card for a store I purchased something from once or twice a year. That said, the Stocard app is good for this. You can still benefit from the loyalty program but you can scan and store the loyalty card on the app on your phone. I also have one frequent flyer program that I belong to, and it’s a fantastic one that actually delivers rewards, and the points that don’t run out (FYI, it’s the Virgin one). This is a far cry from my early 20s, when I belonged to three completely useless ones.

5. The hidden stuff: debt, drawer-contents and gift bags

I once read that people who are into home organisation are just much-tidier hoarders. I loved that! It’s amazing how much stuff can creep into the crevices of our lives. I have spent the last seven or eight years being invited to media events where I was given gift bags, or receiving samples and new products to trial in the post. I tried a lot of it, gave a lot of it to friends, and still wound up with two trunks worth of stuff. I’m thankful for that generosity and the experience it has added to my work, but I have reached a stage where I’d rather not deal with it and have (I hope) respectfully declined most future mail-outs (and cancelled my post office box). Where people now run to freebies and samples, I run the other way. Not because I have nowhere to put this stuff, but why create a job of it? I am a working 21st century parent – I don’t need other shit weighing me down. Including debt. I decided to start 2016 debt-free (with the exception of my mortgages) and dropped a big chunk of my marital savings on my HECS debt. The indexing meant it had gone up some three thousand in six years but getting rid of it was still a massive weight off my shoulders and I am facing the new year with much more optimism. Sometimes it takes setting yourself 15 minutes on a stop watch and forcing yourself to face those blocks to a clutter-free life.

About six months ago I read a memoir where the author culled her life to move to France. She was so focused on saving money and ridding herself of anything that would prevent her from making the move that she used every last drop of freebie product – including those little sachets in magazines. That’s the other upside to minimalism – it compels you to work with what you have.  There’s so much merit to this movement: the lack of stuff to worry about, the mental challenge associated with getting creative about how you do things, the contribution to the environment, and the financial benefits of living simpler. And that’s a whole lot more for less.

 

Five cookbooks for the health conscious

When I decided I wanted to slightly pare back my belongings, one of the first (and easiest) things to part with was my collection of cookbooks. I had a dozen or so books that I hardly used with regularity – rather, there might heave been five to ten recipes in each one that I would look to at odd times. On the contrary, I had started putting together a folder of recipes I printed out or tore out of magazines, and I copied my favourite recipes into this folder. My new resolve was to keep this folder, and to complement it with a select few books that I knew I could count on to encourage me to eat in a healthier, more whole food-oriented way. These are the titles I have added to my shelves in recent months, and they are so wonderful, that even in my resolve to live with less, they add a little more to my life.

1. Nourish – The Fit Woman’s Cookbook, by Lorna Jane Clarkson ($44.95):

There’s no denying that Lorna Jane Clarkson has built an empire out of her ‘Move Nourish Believe’ Lorna Jane Nourishphilosophy, and after flipping through this book, I totally get her appeal. In addition to recipes for juices, smoothies, main meals, snacks and desserts, Clarkson shares her wellness tips, active living philosophy, and advice on living and eating well in this lovingly-styled collection for the busy, health-conscious woman. From omelettes and granola recipes for breakfast, soups, fritatas and salads for lunch (even rice paper rolls!), and a variety of meaty meals for dinner, Clarkson shares her own recipes for a full life and a slimmer waistline, without entertaining the thought of compromising on the sweeter things (like friands, ice-cream sandwiches and chocolate bark for dessert). The book is interspersed with motivational quotes and inspirational mantras, as well as tips on gardening, shopping and mindful rituals, so you can reform your eating habits and your life in one go.

 Winning Recipe: Out-The-Door Energy Bars on p. 64 

2. Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen, by Abla Amad ($35, Penguin Lantern):

Abla's Lebanese KitchenNot a healthy eating book per se, but the Lebanese diet is akin to the Mediterranean diet and thus boasts many health benefits. Furthermore, owning the right Lebanese cookbook would mean a nostalgic nod to a childhood that was filled with home-cooked, wholesome meals. I had no idea how hard finding the right Lebanese cookbook would be however. There were so many! After a couple of false starts, I found the perfect one in Abla’s – a book that married the famed recipes of Lebanese restaurants with the hearty meals that were made with love in the small, traditional villages that my ancestors came from. One of these recipes would determine my purchase: a simple dish that hardly warranted a recipe, but one lovingly made by Lebanese Christians every Good Friday. Monks’ Soup was a garlic and lemon broth brimming with lentils and vegetarian dumplings, and it was definitely one I wanted on my book shelf. Thankfully, this book featured so much more – pumpkin patties (also served on Good Friday), traditional pickles and mezze delights, and the everyday meals that you wouldn’t find in a restaurant, like stuffed marrows, Shish Barak (‘Lebanese Tortellini’) and Kibbe balls cooked in yoghurt. Needless to say, all the recipes of my childhood are in here, which makes the prospect of sharing them with my own children so much more realistic, and thus exciting.

 Winning Recipe: Monks’ Soup on p. 61  

3. The Healthy Life, by Jessica Sepel ($34.99, PanMacmillan):

The Healthy Life by Jessica SepelI was intrigued by this book the moment I saw it, even though I’d never heard of the blogger and nutritionist behind it. Still, in the spirit of paring back I left it in the shop, only to realise I couldn’t get it off my mind. I bought the e-book and read bits of it before bed one night and whenever I had free time the next day, before coming to the easy decision it was so good I had to have the soft copy for my collection also. There is so much to this book – it’s well-styled, beautifully-designed, and the recipes are doable and simple (no obscure ingredients here!). Plus, they all look great. Often, I buy cookbooks and realise there are only 70% of recipes that I would actually try, but in this book, everything looks amazing and has the added perk of being good for you. Sepel has combined a simple plan for optimum wellbeing with a collection of doable, tantalising recipes that don’t compromise on the joys of eating. Think ricotta hotcakes and breakfast (N)ice Cream, teriyaki chicken and an assortment of vegetable mashes, homemade rubs, dips and dressings, and macaroons and chocolate crackles. She gets bonus points for her ‘build a meal’ plans for things like pancakes, salad dressings and stir-fries, where you choose ingredients from each section and build your own custom dish that you can tweak and rework for a spin on old favourites whenever you need something new. Definitely one of my favourite purchases this year.

 Winning Recipe: Chocolate Paleo Souffle on p.277 

4. I Quit Sugar for Life, by Sarah Wilson ($34.99, PanMacmillan):

The sequel to Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar debut might not fare as well as its forbear and its newer I Quit Sugar for Life counterpart, Simplicious, but in my humble opinion (very humble, as I am still treading super-slowly around the quitting sugar movement, mainly because of my deep attachment to cake and ice-cream), this book is the best of the lot. Simplicious might be bigger, but this book has a great intro to a holistic healthy life. Wilson’s wellness code covers things like movement as the basis of ‘good’ exercise, the importance of routines, and tips on reading food labels, freezing foods, minimising waste and choosing booze. Most of the recipes are tweaked old faithfuls which could be easy enough for the health-conscious, but Wilson wins points for sweet treats sans the fructose – think lemon meringue pies, oh-oh oreos and red velvet cupcakes, plus a few tips on DIY versions of packaged things that have become staples – dressings, sauces and pickles, oh my!

 Winning Recipe: Bone Broth on p. 190 

5. The Healthy Chef App, by Teresa Cutter ($6.49, apple and android):

The Healthy Chef AppNot a cookbook per se, but it might as well be considering it contains over 140 recipes for the healthy home cook. Cutter’s collection features drinks, breakfasts, baked goods, salads, soups, dinners, and desserts, as well as a few ‘yummy extras’ like pesto, jam, chocolate spread, tomato sauce, nut butters and fermented foods. The app is so well-made that you can select your favourites which appear under their own tab right at the top of the app, and you can also read Cutter’s expert advice on how your body will benefit from each ingredient in the meal. She also includes tips and variations at the bottom, and the photography and styling is really great. The fact that it’s an app means it’s with you at the supermarket which is fantastic, and at under $7, it’s a real steal and excellent value for money.

  Winning Recipe: Sweet Potato Hash in the ‘Breakfasts’ category