By Jody Vassallo, author of Beautiful Food
I start each day by reading a book taken from the pile on my bedhead; something from Rumi, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Melody Beattie, Eckhart Tolle and others. Their words are the foundation of my morning meditation, which helps me ground and centre myself for the day ahead.
My work day revolves around cookbooks and food. When I was writing Beautiful Food, my house looks a bit like a cookbook library. When I was not cooking and recipe testing, I curled up on the day bed in my kitchen, researched recipes and make myself unnecessarily hungry.
People often ask me, ‘What is your favourite cookbook?’, and I say it depends on what I am cooking. For everyday family-style food it has got to be Jamie Oliver; his recipes work and are really user-friendly. Nigel Slater is the man if you want a delicious English-style meal or perfect pudding and Delia Smith is fabulous for never-fail classic recipes. I’ve learnt from them (and from years of working in the field as a home economist and stylist) to write my recipes and test them very carefully: readers need to be able to trust my recipes, to know that they will work every time.
If I want to make something I haven’t attempted before, I want precise instructions, so I use Claudia Roden for Mediterranean, Paula Wolfert for Middle Eastern, Luke Nguyen for Vietnamese, David Thompson for Thai, Neil Perry and Kylie Kwong for Asian, Karen Martini for Italian, and Harumi Kurihara and Tetsuya Wakuda for Japanese. Most of these writers are not as focused on healthy eating as I am. My approach in Beautiful Food, was to take inspiration from their ideas but transform them into healthy recipes that have no processed sugar, are low fat, low allergen and completely gluten-free, because gluten is so problematic for so many people these days.
InBeautiful Food, I incorporated Ayurvedic principles into the recipes, as this ancient Indian ‘food as medicine’ practice underpins my approach to cooking. Whenever I write recipes I keep a list of all the foods that cool, ground and warm by my side and I try to think about the time of year people will be cooking and which foods are in season. Ian Hemphill’s Spice Notes has pride of place on my desk, along with a Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari and Vasant Lads’ Ayurveda, The Science of Self-Healing .
I teach yoga three times a week and I am always weaving tidbits of food lore through my class. My copies of Yoga for your Body Type by David Frawley, The Path of Practice by Maya Tiwari and Healing with Wholefoods by Paul Pitchford are my most treasured possessions: I go into a small spin if I misplace them for a day. If it is a yoga-free evening, I give myself permission to switch off and read a bit of fiction — it is my sweet treat in the reading world. I have to be careful, though, as I can become extremely antisocial once I am into my book. You know how people get really hooked on a TV series? Well that is how I am with books. Whether I am reading one writing one, I get totally hooked.