This week’s Balanced Babe has a powerful story to share about the importance of “balance” when life hands you obstacles and heartbreak that seem to be insurmountable. Yet, we are happy to say that currently Melanie is creating her own picture of balance with her wonderful family in Brisbane, Australia. Her passion for helping people understand that they can create a healthy, varied and delicious diet with no animal products is evident in her blog: The Kind Cook. Thanks Melanie for sharing your story with such openness and wisdom!
BB: As a professionally trained chef, you weren’t exposed to vegetarian and vegan cooking? What was the turning point for this transition?
My turning point was 5 years ago, but I recall it so vividly that it could be yesterday. I had been looking online for a recipe to make for dinner and stumbled across a website that had information about the dairy industry. A few short weeks later, a stranger in the street handed me a pamphlet about the dairy industry. I went home that day and did my own research because I loved all things dairy. I then Googled everything else I ate, chicken, fish, eggs. I stepped away from the computer and my entire word changed from that moment. My transition to veganism happened in that moment. I had no idea what I was going to eat, only what I was no longer going to eat.
BB: Here at Balanced Babe, we are big fans of plant-based cooking! Can you dispel a few of the many myths surrounding the plant-based diet?
There are so many but I will start with the one I am most passionate about dispelling: “Vegan food = sacrifice” It is the complete opposite. I eat a much more diverse diet than I ever use to plus most everything I use to: pies, burgers, pizza, cheese, pasta, desserts etc. I simply now eat the plant based version. I substitute the meat with beans, jackfruit, lentils vegetables, nuts and a range of other plant based ingredients. Egg replacer, chia or flax seed eggs, banana and apple puree are some of the many ingredients I use instead of eggs in baked goods. I easily replace cow’s milk with organic soy milk, oat milk, almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk and rice milk, but there are a plethora of other alternatives. My pantry use to have white rice, white flour and white pasta. Now it contains red rice, black rice, wild rice, sushi rice, quinoa, barley, polenta, freekeh, coconut flour, almond flour, chickpea flour, quinoa flour, lentil pasta, rice pasta, bean thread pasta, just to mention a few. Honestly I could write a book just on my pantry.
“Vegan food is bland” – People seem to almost forget that everything we flavour meat with such as garlic, herbs, spices and so on, is plant based. The only thing standing in the way of anyone and a delicious vegan meal, is creativity.
“I could never be vegan. I love cheese too much” I get this, I really do because I LOVED cheese. But you won’t. There is an ever increasing array of vegan cheeses available these days and so many simple recipes for cheese sauce, parmesan, feta and most any cheese people are eating.
BB: Any suggestions on how a beginner cook could ease into preparing healthy meals?
The easiest way to ease into preparing healthy meals is to start by making small changes to dishes you already enjoy and then slowly expand your repertoire. Reduce or eliminate the oil that is in them. Invest in some good quality non stick oven ware and start sautéing ingredients in a small amount of water instead of oil, increase the vegetable component and reduce the portion size by using smaller bowls and plates. For example if you love minestrone soup, sauté the onion and garlic in water instead of oil, add more vegetables to it, even reduce the amount of pasta in the recipe and serve it in a smaller bowl. Write a weekly roster for what you are going to make. Sunday – Mexican, Monday – soup and salad, Tuesday – raw pizza etc. It’s less overwhelming.
Drink water. We consume so many calories just in our drinks. Still water, chilled, served in a gorgeous glass with lots of ice or scented with slices of lime, herbs or fruit makes for a gorgeous drink.
If you eat grains, eat whole-grain.
Introduce one raw or mostly raw meal a day. Simply substitute vegetable juicing for breakfast, fruit salad and raw nuts for lunch or a huge salad for lunch or dinner.
Eat a rainbow! Inject as much colour as you can into as many meals as you can. If you are juicing, throw in a golden beetroot or purple carrot. If you are making a noodle salad, add a vegetable that you wouldn’t normally eat. Add cauliflower, peas, pumpkin or purple beetroot to mashed potato.
BB: How do you maintain the Balanced Babe lifestyle?
I smiled when I was approached to do this interview because balance has been my principal focus of late. I am in a creation phase though. Maintenance will be my next project. I attended a conference recently where one of the presenters bravely and honestly spoke about her success but also losing balance. Her raw, vulnerable candid story resonated with me and moved me to share mine.
Over the last many years I too had lost all balance. Behind the success and the smiles was implausible sadness. It began with a diagnosis of PCOS a very common but mostly invisible condition in women that wreaks havoc on hormones and blood sugars, but also contributes to infertility. My diagnosis was followed by twelve years of attempting to have and complete our family. Then came the surgeries for ovarian cysts, including one where more sinister cysts had destroyed my right ovary and it needed to be removed. The scars were multiplying and hope diminishing as the years went by but finally 6 years later we saw 2 blue lines on a store bought pregnancy test. One of the lines was so faint I was sure I was imagining it. Shortly after though we learnt that our tiny son had a severe kidney issue and joy and pregnancy was soon replaced with specialty scans, counselling sessions where termination was suggested and the news throughout my pregnancy that he would likely not make it. We didn’t plan a nursery, we just took each day at a time. He did make it though. It was a triumphant entrance and a punishing 27 hour labour that left my body broken and hemorrhaging, while he was whisked away to specialty care where he remained till we were both discharged. His left kidney is permanently damaged but his right kidney makes up for the shortfall and he is a healthy, thriving beautiful little boy that stole our hearts. It took months to heal physically and years to consider a second and final pregnancy. When we did we began an arduous journey of miscarriages, fertility treatments, the subsequent emotional, financial and physical costs, weight gain, and the indescribable loss and grief both my husband and I experienced along the way and the affects were enormous. Throughout this we endured our fair share of traumas, not related to our fertility journey and it all became too distressing to process, so I did what I could to dull the pain – I made myself busy, so busy that I wouldn’t have time to feel anything. I said yes to everything and everyone, took on stressful personal and professional projects and I formed bad habits. And it took its toll on every aspect of my life.
Increasingly my health was affected to the point that I was ill more than I was well and constant and unforgiving stresses had resulted in adrenal fatigue. I just knew none of it was sustainable. There is so much we couldn’t change but so much we could. So last year I fronted a boss I not only respected but adored to quit a job I loved, we sold our beautiful home that we had built that we had dreamed of raising our children. We moved states to a warmer climate with a more relaxed lifestyle and to be closer to family. I took almost everything off my plate and began rebuilding my physical health and sanity with fresh air, sunshine, hugs, swimming, walking, cooking, photography and quality time with family. I am being a mum, appreciating the now. Some of it is painful too. I am writing letters to the babies we have lost. The twins we lost also. I could never describe in words how grateful I am for the gift we have in our son. He is deeply cherished. We have what so many, whom also tried, do not and he is our daily reminder of how blessed we are. But I am also working to not forget, but to accept and find peace with the past and the life we had pictured.
Pain brings lessons and I have learnt that balance is different for everyone and it changes as our lives do. For me, in this moment, a balanced lifestyle means taking some time to make clear and comfortable decision to say no more and yes consciously, to stop and smell the proverbial roses and assess what my most dear priorities are such as good health and family.
Society often sees “balance” as juggling a hectic job, the car, the home, the holidays, the wealth, the success, the hobbies, the extracurricular activities, and the BUSY. Someone recently said “Even those that have made it don’t know what they are doing. We are all making it up as we go along”. So if I could leave your readers with just one thing to think about, it would be – It’s ok if you are trying to find your balance. Be brave. Create your own personal picture of balance, whatever that may look like. Create one that will leave you with the least regrets. Create one that nurtures you and be prepared to make changes along the way.
BB: Any exciting plans or changes coming up for you that you’d like to share?
There are plans, vision boards and creative projects drafted, but you will have to “watch this space”!
BB: Melanie has shared a few of her favorite recipes with us….enjoy!