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  

Humpday hearts 20.01.15

Brie warmed in the oven makes a delicious post-dinner treat
Brie warmed in the oven and topped with cherry jam makes a delicious post-dinner treat

It’s been one of those crazy weeks fortnights that has gone by so quickly. I’ve gone into work four days per week, which means those rare, quiet moments at home with my baby are more precious than ever, and that one elusive day off, which is meant to be reserved for writing, is filled with errands and doctor’s appointments and eyebrow waxes. I’m approaching the one week mark since the relaunch of the blog and already, I’m running out of time to take pictures to accompany my posts. I almost didn’t make the ring one (below) which is why it’s sub-standard: I got a colleague to take it in the awfully-lit office building I now spend my time in. All of the above mean some of my new year’s resolutions are falling by the wayside, but that’s got me determined to keep at them. And despite all the deadlines, I am making an effort to enjoy the little things. There are a backlog of blog posts in my Feedly that I am looking forward to reading (although I have recently managed to catch some great ones by Rachel Hills, Vicki Archer and Rachel Gadiel) and loads of Evernote clippings to catch up on (like this, this and this much needed one on productivity), but there’s also been a lot to savour. I love these last few days before the Australia Day long weekend, when it almost feels like Sydney is still in holiday mode, before school takes off again and we find ourselves chugging along until Easter. Happy Humpday!

Skinceuticals CF
This SkinCeuticals serum has made a major difference to my skin, making it worth the slightly high price tag
Kind of obsessed with fine jewellery at the moment. This is a good mix of high and low end
This book, which was published through the author’s writing group, was so adorable.
I bought this T2 jug as a gift to myself at Christmas time, and I am obsessed with it. It comes with tea bags + recipes perfect for summer. 

Books: Lessons from Madame Chic

It’s no secret that I am a Francophile. Regular readers of this blog are accustomed to my French-themed purchases, musings on the Parisian lifestyle, and my scouting for secrets of French women and their fabulous ways. So it was with much excitement that I began reading Jennifer L. Scott’s Lessons from Madame Chic, a collection of tips and musings on practical ways of embodying the elegance and class of the Parisian femme.

Scott, who first published the tips on her popular blog, learned the art of said femmes when she took a long exchange trip to Paris in her college days. Taking up residence in the exclusive 16th arrondissement with the aristocratic ‘Famille Chic’, she is both inspired and shamed into shedding most of her American ways for their more refined European ones and is taken under the wing of their matriarch, the fabulous Madame Chic, from her first night there.

In this part memoir, part life-guide, Scott reveals some of the notorious secrets of French women as well as her own faux pas and awkward moments as she learns to embrace the style of her stylish hostess. From cultivating an air of mystery, adopting (what looks like) a no make-up look, learning the art of entertaining and honing your elegance to a ten-item wardrobe, she shares everything she’s learnt and finishes of every chapter with practical tips on how to incorporate it in your life.

The book is a very easy read. I read it in less than a weekend and posted about it on my Facebook page afterwards, and someone saw it and said the same. The tips are practical and point to the Parisian way, but aren’t anything new or ground-breaking, and therefore more suited for those who are only new to French obsessions. Despite my seasoned love and know-how of the women of the City of Light, I still enjoyed it, moreso thanks to Scott’s own memories and anecdotes than the tips I have already become familiar with.

Still, it’s easy manner, cute stories and simple strategies for living life more beautifully will go a long way, so I have happily included it in my Christmas Gift Guide (coming this week).

On your marks, get set, chase: 

Lessons from Madame Chic (Harper Collins) is out now. RRP $24.99

Books: Children of Liberty

Note: I’ll be interviewing this wonderful author when she tours Australia next month. If there’s a question you’d love to have her answer, please email me or post on my Facebook page. If not, stay tuned as I ask her about her writing patterns and research methods, how she got into the business of being author, and of course, the inspirations behind her wonderful stories. 

Amongst many of my family and friends, I am the obsessive reader, and I have worn my crown with pride for as long as I can remember. Most of the time, the good-natured, but teasing, comments that have come my way about my reading resulted from the fact that those whom I was surrounded by had no interest in whatever tales I was engrossed in, except in the case of The Bronze Horseman. This was probably one of the only books I had not heard of before my friends and family started reading it, and before I took it with me on my European sojourn circa 2008, I had never even heard of the author or her other works. But everyone was obsessed with the love story of Alexander and Tatiana, and now, four years later, there are still friends reading it and falling in love with the couple much like I did on the island of Santorini many years ago.

This month, Paullina Simons, the author behind the best-selling trilogy, released a prequel* to the series. Children of Liberty (Harper Collins, $30) tells the story of Alexander’s fated parents at turn-of-the-century Boston. Gina Attaviano sails with her brother Salvo and mother Mimoo from Sicily to Boston’s Freedom Docks, where the family encounter Ben Shaw and Harry Barrington, dashing young men trying to find their place in the big, wide world.

Much to the immigrant family’s chagrin, 15 year old Gina doesn’t exactly behave with the respectful air of a 19th century woman, although her forward ways and exotic good looks are enough to charm Shaw. Of course, this only means a clash between her brother and the dignified white boys working for Harry’s father, himself a man with very strict rules about business, propriety, life and pleasure. Rules that consume every conversation with his wayward son, who cares for nothing but intellectual ideas, politics, economics and philosophy.

As time goes by, the fates of the families become intertwined, and Harry and Gina long to be together. But like all spirited stories of love and longing, they’re only driven apart by the expectations of his blue-blooded, first-family status and the limits placed on her rebelliousness. But time and fate have other plans, and when they finally question into their hearts’ true desires, they discover that the companion to love is choice. The choice of being torn, or being torn apart. The choice of what they can’t have, and what they can’t be without. A choice that will leave a trail of destruction for themselves and everything they hold dear, setting in motion a future we already know the ending of.

Like all of Simons’ writings, this book was an easy pleasure. Simons is gifted with an ability to set historically-rich scenes, believable characters and plot lines that have you hooked. But where The Bronze Horseman left me with a wonderful sense of peace at its finish, Children of Liberty leaves many questions unanswered. For starters, most of the book seemed slow, spanning what seemed like years of irrelevant dragging of events and characters, and leaving me wondering where it was all going. This seemed like more of a complexity in the context of the trilogy, where Gina tells her son that she married his father when she was 19, yet in the prequel they weren’t even in contact at that point in time.

Apart from that, I struggled to really understand the characters and their motives, though eventually I could see how some of their traits made Alexander. But the action was left to the end, and after three quarters of novel, I was well and truly craving it. Unfortunately, by the time it came around, it was rushed, and like those readers who’ve already reviewed it internationally (I did a little research to see if I was just being a glum), I found the ending to be almost chopped at the crux. Overall, it was still an enjoyable read, but unfortunately I am not filled with the same understanding I was filled with at the completion of the trilogy. Perhaps Gina and Harry will be back to tease me with more of their story, despite the fact that all readers of the trilogy know how it ends.

Despite my slight disappointment, I ravenously read the book and devoured every aspect of it. I have to credit Simons for keeping me on the edge of my seat, wondering if Gina and Harry will return to answer the things I’m still not privvy to (I hope this is the case, because I can be quite nosey). I’ll still happily recommend it to those who love Alexander and Tatiana as much as I did, because in reading Children of Liberty, they’re likely to encounter more of the lessons in life that are a true mark of Simons’ writing: that there’s more to life than duty and expectation, that love is destructive when it is both blessed and tainted, that honesty and loyalty – to the self and to the cruel realities of life – are the honourable traits that give definition to courage…and ammo to a stellar story.

If you’ve read The Bronze Horseman, The Bridge to Holy Cross, or The Summer Garden, I’d love to hear your thoughts below, on twitter or on my Facebook page. Did you love the trilogy? Do you think you’ll read the prequel?

*Disclaimer: I’m actually not averse to prequels, having two months ago outlined the story for what will be my third book, a prequel to the third and like this one, the recounting of the love story between an immigrant girl and a WASP guy who happen to be the parents of one of my characters. Although it’s going to be interesting to write, it’s going to be less dramatic in its outcome than Children of Liberty is. Just had to put it out there lest I be branded a copy cat.



Books: Empire Day

There’s nothing I love more than cups of tea with my grandmother and great aunt, where I am regaled with stories of their youth in the old country and their passage out to the new one. We all know that Australia’s multiculturalism stems from a wonderful heritage, giving migrants whose lives, homes and entire realities were rabaged by wars, famine and struggle a new chance to dream, live and prosper down under.

As they get older, I’ve started to think that now is the time that I need to record their stories. The kinds of stories that have inspired spin-off tales in my head for future novel ideas, and that have instilled in me a massive admiration for their character and all that they went through.

My grandparents came out here in 1966, and are still settled in the same area that they lived in when they first came out here, though their reality is obviously far different. By all means, Australia already had a diverse influx of migrants from the second world war at the time, so they weren’t the only different ones, but their experience is still a source of fascination for me. I love reading about assimilation, integration, ethnic communities and culture, and as some of you know, it does form the basis for a lot of my writing and research work.

Which is why my chase of the day today is this fantastic book by novelist Diane Armstrong. Polish by birth, she arrived in Australia in 1948 and grew up at a time where European migrants were still finding their footing, amidst the distrust, fascination and curiosity of their Anglo-Celtic neighbours.

This is the framework that dominates Empire Day (4th Estate, $29.99), a book based on Armstrong’s childhood memory of the Empire Day bonfire that blazed in her Bondi street as a child. A beautiful story of old Australia meeting new, it tells the story of refugees like Sala, unhappily married but trying to negotiate her wartime past with her Australian future, and Hania, a teenager who wants to be like her Anglo friends but whose Polish Jewish mother’s distrust and fear forbids just about anything. Then there’s the mystery man, with troubles of his own thanks to a war-time ache that’s wedged itself in his heart.

But the Aussies in the street aren’t exempt from troubles either. And even though the strange ways of the refugees are a threat to gossips like Maude McNulty, for others, like Ted Browning, they bring opportunities of new love.

Somehow, despite all the drama, you get the feeling that everything is going to be all right, but it still makes for impeccable story telling. I absolutely loved the book, and would totally recommend it to those who have similar interests to yours truly.

A couple of weeks ago, I emailed my friend Rachel Hills and said more ethnic Australians need to be included in our debates, especially those concerning feminism, gender and other women’s issues. Empire Day had the power to transport me to an Australia that exists in the memories of my family and older neighbours. But even though I was reading it from a seat in an entirely different time and a vastly different place, I couldn’t help but wonder that in reality, we hadn’t moved at all.


Books: Shoe String Chic

I ran out to buy this book after I saw Hess’ apartment in a fairly ‘Frenchy’ issue of Madison. Hess’ Parisian apartment was white, lots of clean lines and pretty accents anf finishes, and I absolutely fell in love. And although she didn’t decorate the majority of it on a shoe string (she’s from Melbourne and has shipped items back and forth) I still wanted a piece of her style. Her book features 101 ways to live the fashionably luxe life for less, and as you know, we here at The Aphrodite Chase are all about little things that add luxe to our everyday. So apart from the Tiffany Blue interior and the 101 tips, what’s so fabulous about this book? The illustrations! Hess has created displays for Neiman Marcus, worked for Net-a-Porter, and drawn for the likes of Vogue and Instyle – and her work is amazing. Alongside tips like ‘Think Parisian’ (ie, quality over quantity when it comes to your wardrobe) and ‘Entertain in’ are the kinds of pictures that a fashionable girl will hang all over her walls as art. In my opinion, the tips were all about cliche but the drawings are what make the book. It’s a read-it-once-and-place-it-on-the-coffee-table book, but at least that way even your guests will appreciate her amazing talent for drawing. Check out Kerrie’s blog for more.

Books: Sweet Valley Confidential

Sweet Valley. Two words depicting a destination in Southern California where we all played as kids, where we did assignments at friends’ houses after school while discussing prom dresses and boyfriend dramas, where we went to College at SVU and learnt that there are some things that we can’t escape. Like the love of a series that made us think we did all those things, even though in reality we didn’t. All because we lived vicariously through two blonde, blue-eyed California girls named Elizabeth and Jessica.

And now they’re back. And Aphrodite Chasers everywhere are rushing to catch up on their latest gossip. But this time, things are very different in Sweet Valley, so much so that one of our favourite sisters doesn’t live there anymore – after an epic fall out with Jessica, Elizabeth’s moved away and gone to pursue her journalistic aspirations as far away from Sweet Valley as possible. In New York, no less. And Jessica has no hope of forgiveness, let alone a response to an answering machine message.

This is where Francince Pascal’s Sweet Valley Confidential picks up – 10 years after we last heard from the girls. Admittedly, the excitement surrounding the launch of the book, in my opinion, far outstripped the actual quality of the storyline. Much as I loved catching up with old buds, an Aphrodite that is pretty much incomparable with anything, I couldn’t help but think I would have loved the book a hell of a lot more had I felt the author did not go to so many lengths to change characters, their relationships, and such. It was almost as though she was going for the OMG factor in more than just the main plot, which was a bit frustrating to read, but admittedly, it is still something worth reading for that sense of closure where some our fave characters are concerned.

The blurb tells us that the tables have turned in Sweet Valley, that it is Jessica who’s longing for forgiveness and Elizabeth who is seeking revenge, and it couldn’t be truer, albeit Elizabeth’s quest for revenge falls short as the good twin has always lacked the passion behind the evil that her sister possessed. But either way, most of the characters that we loved growing up make an appearance, with surprising reactions sure to be had.

So tell us, have you read it? What are your thoughts?

Sweet Valley Confidential, published by Harper Collins, out in bookstores. $32.99.