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I wish the internet would just chill the hell out…

Usually on my instagram page I post lovely pics of recipes I’m trying out, coffee I’m about to gulp and probably too many photos of alcohol (I live on Sydney’s northern beaches, which is nearly as thirsty as Alice Springs, but with more seagulls). Today I broke ranks and posted a selfie!!!!! I know right, I never post pics of myself here, but I’m gonna do that too!!!!! Why? A moment of vanity? A love of overt punctuation??? A need to out myself unshowered? If only the screen was scratch and sniff!

Urgh! I know! An exercise selfie....

Urgh! I know! An exercise selfie….

No, I’d just got back from an early morning walk and glancing in the mirror I thought I looked ok. Now most ladies will know that this tends to be a rare and big moment. So I snapped it. And posted it. Just because I wanted to combat all the ‘wellness’ extremism that stalks me online. I don’t have a 6-pack! I’ve got no 12 week program to pitch you. I’m not detoxing or committing to an unachievable eating plan.

Here’s what I wrote…

“I eat sugar & carbs. And also tonnes of veggies and delicious tasty food that I usually cook myself. But not always. I’m busy. I work. We eat takeaway. I love wine. I refuse to be anxious about what goes in my mouth. I make food about joy not stress. I exercise most days. But just walking or yoga… It’s totally possible to find wellness within moderation. I’m sick of the internet bullying people into health extremes.”

For full disclosure I’ll also add that I love coffee. And anything sweet. And kisses. And cuddles. I’m nearly 43. 52kgs. 5 foot tall (I prefer the term ‘petite’ to ‘shortarse’. I’m doing just fine.

And the real secret to my success?

Tiny choices every day… Go for a walk. Eat a piece of cake. Maybe don’t eat the third piece of cake. Take a salad to work for lunch. Don’t drink soft drink. Cook as much as you can manage. Listen to YOUR body and eat what seems to suit it.

It seems pretty simple, yet the internet likes to make this shit hard.

By posting this pic my message is this… Keep wellness simple. Enjoy living. Be grateful. Have fun.

Here’s five dishes that are a steady and regular part of my ‘wellness’ routine…

Easy to cook, everyone loves it. We feel great afterwards.

Vegie stew/soup. Easy to cook, everyone loves it. We feel great afterwards.

Dou itashimashite.

I’ve been making this Japanese potato salad constantly. Goes with everything. Everyone loves it. Keeps a couple of days in the fridge.

Salad. I eat heaps of salad. Top it with this amazing dressing.

Salad. I eat heaps of salad. Top it with this amazing dressing.

vegie smugglers egyptian chicken

Quick, easy, single-tray baked dinners work well at my house right now.

I make muffins pretty much every week! Did I mention that I love cake?

I make muffins pretty much every week! Did I mention that I love cake?

Click the pics to visit the recipe. My stats will show me the recipes you choose…. I know you’ll all click the cake :)

If you like my food philosophy, you'll love my cookbook!

If you like my food philosophy, you’ll love my cookbook!

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What the ‘wellness’ bloggers are not telling you about happiness

Hasn’t the world of healthy eating become boring lately. With all the emphasis on particular ingredients, exacting methods of preparation and overwhelming ground rules, there’s just not much space left for food to be fun.

Remember the good old days, when you could tuck into a piece of Sara-Lee cheesecake and just enjoy it? Not any more.

These days it has to be a homemade raw cheesecake, made with organic ingredients that you’ve sourced ethically then churned and milled yourself. And the results are yummy, but the method so onerous that some of the enjoyment seems to slip away.

Cooking has become the latest way to prove your superiority, your discipline, your martyrdom. Despite our luck at being surrounded by so much plenty, we apparently need to abstain. Food seems to have become the latest guilt stick with which we are supposed to constantly beat ourselves.

And beat ourselves up, we will. Because, let’s be honest – who has the time to live with such holiness? It’s just not possible in my real world.

For each post I read about some an essential health concoction that I MUST make for my kids to thrive, my guilt increases as I inevitably end up in the supermarket buying the Friday night fish fingers (not every week – just the crazy busy ones). And I’ve kind of had enough of it.

For a thought provoking read, grab a copy of “The Gluten Lie”. I don’t agree with all of it, but it is an interesting reminder of how food messaging has twisted. There is now so much fear and guilt around this whole topic. We’ve lost perspective entirely, as we get caught up in the specifics of tiny nutrients – as if particular enzymes or antioxidants are the key to a happy life.

Just enough omega 3 and all your woes will be gone. You’ll get that job, have nicer children, be sexier.

And of course it’s not true.

When I started this blog, my focus was to find recipes that got fussy kids eating vegetables and enjoying healthy food. And as the years have gone by, it sort of hasn’t been ENOUGH anymore. But what about fermenting vegies? Or activating nuts? Am I considering salicylates? What about protein supplements? And how dare I use a teaspoon of sugar to make something more kid-friendly? Don’t I love my children? Don’t I want the best for them and my family? Don’t I want happiness?

But it turns out that I am quite happy. Focusing on positive and inclusive attitudes to eating has changed two formerly-fussy kids into ones who now enjoy a huge range of good food. We eat with glee. We relish life and all it’s bounty. Basic healthy eating and home cooking gives us the energy to walk on the beach, swim in the ocean, huddle together in cafe booths (enjoying whatever treat we want). We talk. We fight. We piss each other off. We achieve stuff as individuals and as a family. We get stuck into life with as positive an attitude as we can. Because food isn’t the only way to happiness in our household – balance is.

And even as the wellness movement dominates the food world, the fact remains that only one in 20 Australians eat enough vegies, so it seems to be a shame that the basic, simple message to eat right, has been hijacked. In our quest for individual health perfection, we’re losing bigger health war.

For me, healthy eating has become too complicated. And it just doesn’t need to be. Just eat lots of delicious food, full of good stuff. Every day. With joy and gratitude.

Here’s five basic recipes that introduce a bunch of vegetables that can start your kids onto a lifetime of happy (and guilt free) eating… (click the pics to visit the recipe)

Basic multi-veg mash.

Basic multi-veg mash.

mini meatloaves

These mini meatloaves are a complete hand-held meal (and they freeze well).

Noodle salad

Noodle salad for a flavour burst.

Easy to make. Easy to eat. Chicken pasta bake.

Easy to make. Easy to eat. Chicken pasta bake.

And I can see what vegies are in here, too, but the kids can't.

Cute little fish cakes – perfectly sized for toddlers.


If you love slow cooking, you'll love my latest e-book!

If you love slow cooking, you’ll love my latest e-book!

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Aaaahhhh. Fiji. And what I learned from resort holiday fun.

Mana Island, Fiji

Mana Island in all it’s glory!

In a happy chance my return from Fiji coincided with some winter sunshine and a cheap bulk buy of passionfruit at my local fruit shop. Which resulted in these sweet little morning tea treats that have me closing my eyes and drifting back off to the tropics (scroll down for recipe).

This trip was our first family-resort holiday. Usually we’re a van-park type of family, but stuff it, I hate winter and a few days of heat seemed entirely MEDICINAL. Of course the credit card may not agree for the rest of the year.

But we did create some pretty amazing family memories. With my kids a bit older, we skipped the kids club in favour of family frolics and some pretty adventurous snorkelling afternoons. It was so impressive to watch the kids step up, overcome some fears and get stuck in.

We moved about, but our favourite place was Mana Island – I can’t say enough good stuff about it and it’s still currently under renovation. It will be incredible in another six months or so.

And my tips for taking kids to a resort holiday in Fiji?

• If possible, find flights that don’t have you up for bus transfers at 3am. Or 2am. It kind of squishes some of the fun out of a short trip.

• Take a bunch of muesli bars and snacks to tide them over from buffet to buffet.

• Smother everyone in sunscreen all the time. Don’t trust the kids to do it themselves (speaking from experience).

• And even though the big resorts want you to tip when you pay the bill, slip cash to the staff who’ve been awesome. It makes a big difference to fantastic people who’s daily pay is about what you’d pay for a couple of beers. I find being the affluent-Aussie-in-poorer-countries thing quite awkward. The lady who was bringing me my cocktails by the pool had four kids under six and worked 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. And she smiled the whole time.

Lesson learned.

vegie smugglers passionfruit coconut madeleines

Regular patty pans will do instead of madeleine trays. And sorry for the rubbish pic – I was too lazy to dig out the good camera

Passionfruit & coconut madeleines

3 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar (or golden caster)
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
4 passionfruit (juice & seeds). Use 3 tbsp tinned passionfruit if you can’t find fresh
75g melted butter
Icing sugar to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease madeleine or patty pans with HEAPS of butter – or they’ll stick.

Pop the eggs and sugar into a large bowl and whisk for several minutes until lighter and thick (sounds tedious, but very good for tuck shop lady arms).

Sprinkle over the flour and coconut and fold through gently. Stir through the passionfruit and butter.

Scoop tablespoon quantities into the trays and bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden and springy (these don’t rise much).

Leave to cool for several minutes before turning out and tossing in a bit of icing sugar (optional).

Makes 30ish.


For another tropical treat, try my delicious little pineapple cakes.



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Those elusive, healthy & yummy 10-minute dinners….

Almost there!

Almost there!

It is not lost on me that the reward for completing my kitchen renovation is a return to the everyday drudgery of feeding the family. Don’t get me wrong, I’m entirely grateful for my lovely new surroundings – and they make my daily tasks easier – but I’ve quite enjoyed having 5 weeks off from the kitchen.

Lunchboxes were whatever we could find, dinners were strange, cobbled together affairs, with whatever gadgets were available. And somehow this slackening of standards seeped through to the rest of my domestic life. Suddenly the urge to keep us stocked with groceries disappeared (well, where was I going to put them, anyway?) and even my determination to keep my home vaguely clean dissipated too – as if there was any point dusting the piles of junk that covered every surface.

So while I still might be waiting for the splash back & new lights, everything in the kitchen is back to operational. There’s a lovely new oven and stove to master. Drawers that close themselves (which is lucky, since I keep opening the wrong ones all the time) and enough bench space to have both my slow cooker running AND a spot to pack lunch boxes. And it’s all a relief really, to be returning to normal. While the first couple of weeks of the reno were a glorious guilty pleasure of packaged food and takeaway, the shine tarnished somewhat by the fourth week as my battered taste buds longed for simple, fresh flavours.

So… to my promise to deliver a bunch of 10 minute meal ideas, making the most of supermarket convenience in a healthy way… and how I wish I could deliver. But I can’t really. The challenge of cooking well with a microwave, thermomix, no bench space or wash up space and a fridge down a flight of stairs and out in the garage, defeated me.

There were some winners here and there.

• Pre-mixed, pre-washed salad and BBQed meat is always a winner. But that wouldn’t have worked for my kids until a year or so ago once salad became popular.

• BBQ chicken meat, shredded in wraps (or tinned tuna) with salad was eaten often. A bit of tzatziki helps.

• The frozen salmon portions that can be microwaved were good. Expensive though, but broken up through microwave rice and frozen vegies and you’ve got a good quick dinner. Although you are cooking stuff in plastic, which always feels weird.

None of the soups I tried compared to home made. Regardless of whether they were tinned, in sachets or gourmet, their salt contents were all extreme and left me thirsty.

Of all the takeaway we ate, the clear winner was sushi, but there’s only so much cold fish I want to eat on cold nights. The kids’ first prize would be awarded to McDonalds. We had it twice and they got good toys, both times.

None of us enjoyed Pizza Hut. What’s happened there? It used to be ok, but has dumbed down to be in the running for worst takeaway around. Price wars, I guess. $4.95 for a pizza is hardly going to buy you anything good.

And the thermy? Well, I like Quirky Jo’s creamy rice & chicken soup. It’s a clear one-pot winner. And really the only yummy TM meal that I made (dinner porridge featured too often – I know, I could have cooked my own recipes, but I was wanting to just try new things). Possibly there are a bunch of good one-pot meals on the recipe community that I missed (let me know if you have any favourites).

So as much as I’d love to continue on as a mum-who-doesn’t-cook, seems I’m being forced back to work by my own damn standards. Curse you tastebuds.

What do you think? Did I miss the world’s easiest supermarket compilation meals? What are your 10-minute wonder recipes that keep you going on the more hectic days?


And while I’ve been slack with blogging here, I did post over at Mother & Baby the other day, explaining the story behind this craft masterpiece.


You can read all about it here.

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How I’m surviving after 3 weeks of convenience foods…

There’s an interesting experiment happening at Vegie Smugglers HQ at the moment, as we enter week 3 of kitchen renovations, and I face the challenge of feeding the family whilst kitchenless. With some glee, I spent way-more-time-than-any-person-with-a-life-would in some of the supermarket aisles negotiating my way around the convenience products that stack the shelves.

I’ve got no ethical problem doing this you see, since healthy eating is not an extreme sport for me (hell, I still have a teaspoon of sugar in my tea). And I like to be a bit more of-the-people in my approach, so it seems totally fine to spend a few weeks sampling what is on offer in all those packets and tins that I never normally bother with. And let’s face it – the kids are excited. Mum’s constant healthy cooking is a pain in the arse and cramps their love-of-a-shiny-packet style.


We started out ok. There was a bunch of freezer options that taste quite good. There’s cous cous and quinoa and vegies and I was pretty happy with it all, except of course for the cost. Like, MAN, it’s expensive to eat this way. I’ve whipped up a wee piccy to prove my point….


I am a bit of a tightarse (I am trying to fund my reno), so eating this stuff definitely isn’t sustainable. Especially since the only benefit is saving about a minute of knife time. If you don’t have a good knife at your place YOU NEED TO BUY ONE. Judging by the money you save, you can pay off full set of Globals within a couple of months.


The second week dawned and we stretched into some of the weirder convenience food territory. Strange packets where you add water and microwave for 15 minutes and return to find fried rice all ready for the eating. Some of these options are quite tasty and the kids in particular were wetting their pants over them.

Me, not so much since the flavour comes from weird sources, additives, sugar & salt. Oh my god, so much salt. I have spent the past week desperately thirsty and unable to quench it. I guess I’m supposed to have a Coke to reset my tastebuds.

And this is where I’m actually shocked that people can eat these regularly. My mouth is actually HURTING after a week of them. I understand in a busy household that it’s easy to slip into eating these foods (especially if you hate cooking), but they are bordering on dangerous when eaten regularly.

Consider the current guidelines that recommend daily maximum sodium intakes of:
1 to 3 years: 1,000mg
4 to 8 years: 1,400mg
9 to 13 years: 2,000mg
14 years and over: 2,300mg

To put that in perspective here’s some sodium content info for you….

1x420g Heinz salt reduced tin of baked beans = 1000mg
1x420g Heinz regular tomato baked beans = 1510mg
1x420g Heinz spaghetti = 1210mg
1x420g Heinz salt-reduced spaghetti = 740mg
1x535g Heinz chunky beef soup = 1720mg
1x70g Fantastic noodles pot = 1577mg

But it’s not ALL bad news, on those nights when you really can’t summons up the will to live the energy to cook, choose a no-added-salt baked beans tin with only 40mg per tin. You are of course, still dealing with additives and other nasties – but that’s a whole other post.

I guess the moral of the story is to take a bit of time to find the products that suit you and to rethink just how convenient these foods are in the long term.

For now, with another 3 weeks of renovations to go, I’m on the hunt for healthier quick options. I promise to report back with how I go.


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The starsign most likely to be a fussy eater is…


Combining two of the internet’s favourite topics – food and astrology (sadly I couldn’t find a way to also include conspiracy theories) – I recently conducted entirely credible research (on Facebook of course) that drew staggering results as to the connection between sun signs and whether or not your child is likely to be a fussy eater.

Got a child born between August 23 and Sept 22? You have a VIRGO and according to me, they are statistically OFF THE CHART and by far the most picky eater in the zodiac. Of course, you could call my research entirely flawed since the question I asked was, “What sun sign is your fussiest little eater? Mine – VIRGO.” With the benefit of hindsight I realise that this was biased qualitative questioning. But hey, I went to art school and spent three years painting, not actually learning anything useful like how to prepare a credible survey.

But if you removed Virgo, there were still some pretty interesting results. Next fussiest was Leo (Jul 23 – Aug 22) which is a ‘fixed’ sign – known for a certain level of stubborness. Another fixed sign, Taurus, came in next. As you’d expect there was a mid-result clump that was separated by ‘statistically insignificant’ amounts, but the two easiest signs to feed were Capricorns and Librans.

Moving on to another internet darling – cacao nibs – and I’ve been doing a bit of experimenting. The first is a healthy-as-you-like option, a dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, processed-sugar-free, is-there-anything-left cookie that I enjoyed but only got 50/50 approval my my sample study of 6 children.

The second is a pretty regular cookie, with choc chips swapped out with cacao nibs. Between the two options there should be something for everyone.

Free from everything except flavour.

Free from everything except flavour.

The healthy cacao nib biscuits

This is based on a recipe from Joyous Health.

1/4 cup maple syrup 3 tbsp tahini
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup combined currants & cacao nibs

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Line a tray with baking paper.

Mix everything together and dollop the mixture on the tray. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Leave to cool on the tray.

Makes 10.

Free from nothing.

Free from nothing.

Classic cookies (with cacao nibs)

125g butter, softened
1 cup raw sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup cacao nibs
1 cup sultanas

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line two trays with baking paper.

Use hand held beaters or an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar together. Cream them well for several minutes until light and flufffy. Add the egg and beat in well. Also tip in the vanilla and salt.

Sift over the flour and fold it in (slow setting on the beaters will be fine). Then stir in the oats, nibs and sultanas. Dollop amounts onto your trays and bake for 15-18 minutes.

Makes 36ish.


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OMG, have I just become a paleo convert?

There is such a kerfuffle in food land this month, isn’t there! And on my Facebook page I’ve been receiving a bit of hate from both sides. Being moderate in my approach, I’m confusing people. So for the sake of transparency, I thought I’d be CLEAR on just what I think about the current Pete Evans/paleo ‘debate’.

I HATE that we are having a ‘debate’ at all, and that sides must be picked in a healthy food war. It’s silly and ridiculous that food has become so ‘either or’. Apparently if I am not eating paleo and drinking raw milk, I am sat on my fat bum eating as much processed food as possible, and washing it all down with Coke. The fervour of this debate exhausts me.

I LOVE that a person with such as large following as Pete Evans is inspiring people to lift their game, cook, eat fresh produce and rethink what goes in their mouths.

I HATE that he doesn’t share a bunch of recipes for free, online. They’re all in cookbooks, or in tv shows that he’s being paid to do. It makes me suspicious of the motives. Or just aware that he’s surrounded by very smart people. And hey, we’ve all got to make a dollar, and possibly I’m just jealous that he makes more out of a speaking engagement than I do all year.

I LOVE that he has such twinkly, lovely blue eyes. He’s quite handsome.

I HATE that certain foods are now ‘poison’. Even lovely foods straight out of the ground, like potatoes. Poor little potatoes.

I LOVE that he’s questioning the role big business plays in food production. Although there is a point where we DO have to feed everyone on this planet. Resources are strained, especially with all these healthy people living longer and needing to be fed for so many years.

I LOVE that the paleo/wholefoods movement is offering alternatives. I’ve read ‘Wheat Belly’ and have to agree that processed flour is overly prevalent and bad for us. There are other ingredients that we can use instead, although not in a sponge cake. Sad.

I HATE that food and fashion are so intertwined. Maybe I’m just jaded, but at 42 I’ve seen a bunch of fads come and go and I consider kale to be similarly aligned to shoulder pads in terms of taste and longevity.

I LOVE that Pete Evans is prepared to put himself on the line and be one extreme end of this debate. He’s shaking things up and I have a sneaking suspicion that the general consensus will end up resting somewhere in the middle between food evangelism and pragmatism.

I HATE that people are so uptight about food. It’s masking a bunch of problems. Heard of Orthorexia? It’s like a socially acceptable anorexia and it really concerns me. It comes complete with food group exclusion and obsession with what you’re putting in your mouth. I hate to see people being anxious rather than grateful over food.

I HATE that there’s no sense of humour around this topic. NONE. And this is possibly what I hate most, because while food definitely is thy medicine, so too is laughter.

So am I turning paleo? No. But there are some fantastic ideas in paleo in terms of ingredients and cooking methods that I’m happy to incorporate into my own long-term healthy approach to food and life.

So don’t hate on me if I decide to post a ‘paleo’ type recipe from time to time and don’t fret. Because next week it might be vegan, then sugar-laden, then vegetarian then raw. And that’s ok. I’m going to be the ultimate mum and not pick a side, but to urge you all to use your words, stop whining and play nice.

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