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Eating for the Seasons
Posted by Byron Movement on 2012-06-15 15:52:32.0

Most of us know what we ought to do to eat healthily. But ‘oughts’ are often just that. Many of us remember the youthful idealism of the 1970s when vegetarianism, macrobiotics and juice fasting were essential if you were to have any sort of alternative credibility. Such diets were deemed to cure all human ills and bring about world peace in the process, though the latter probably came about from the lethargy induced by the ill-informed use of these nutrition styles. You can’t make war in a semi-comatose state, and besides the sarong will trip you up.

A few decades on and we’ve generally refined our attitudes to food. Never before have we been required to be so specialised in some areas. Gluten, dairy and sugar are our demons and the rest of us just muddle through hoping to avoid most of the pitfalls of mediocre nutrition but lost in an avalanche of proscribed ideas. What to do, we wonder? Enter Janella Purcell, our nutritional fairy godmother with her book Eating for the Seasons, aptly subtitled ‘Eating for health and happiness’, that makes the inner 70s girl squirm with joy.

From the front cover showing a glowing Janella with gorgeous baskets of lush produce in evocatively rustic containers to the wonderful inspiring recipes inside, we feel we can achieve her style with a sophistication that has been lacking in the more virtuous cookbooks up till now. Let’s say for example that you want something special to have on a cold lazy Sunday morning. Well, brew the local organic coffee and settle down to dairy- and gluten-free corn fritters topped with asparagus and prawns, or how about a lunch of oysters topped with Asian vinaigrette or an asparagus, cauliflower and white bean salad.

Janella liberates us from the shackles of the rather gloomy healthy recipes of the past while not stimulating your tastebuds too much lest a mouth party be started that will quickly lead down a tasty road to metabolic destruction. She manages to give us both the mouth party and the health. Purcell is well credentialled to undertake this task. Her background is in nutrition and naturopathy and her enjoyment of food is clearly lifelong. There is no rejection of the pleasures of the table but rather she gives us a way to embrace these pleasures and increase the benefits to our health on the way.

The holistic principle of the balanced life is the focus of her book. It is divided into the four seasons, so that hunting up what to eat is easy and raises the question, ‘Why eat seasonally?’ Janella answers this for us in the first few pages. We are part of the living world and thus subject to seasonal change ourselves. This principle of a seasonal physical cycle is laid out very simply at the beginning of each section and within each section she refers to our smaller daily cycle of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The larger and the smaller cycles, the microcosm and the macrocosm.

Apart from the undoubted health benefits of eating in harmony with our wider larger environment, there are other benefits. Seasonal produce is more abundant in its season, tastes better and is cheaper too. The focus for the four seasons is outlined at the beginning of each section. Winter is for warmth and comfort and spending more time in bed to pamper the sensitive organs. Emotional and physical aspects and things to watch out for each season are noted and the seasonal foods and methods of cooking them to enhance optimum benefit are detailed.

Even the flavours of foods eaten during a particular season are significant, as is what to avoid. These sections make for interesting reading and also make a great deal of sense, particularly as here in the Northern Rivers we are well placed to embrace this way of eating with our easy access to cheap, organic, seasonal foods at our many farmers markets. All this information could have been delivered in a dauntingly instructive tone but it is presented in an easy, simple and flowing style. Janella creates a keenness to try a trip down this culinary road.

The tone is practical rather than preaching, as she will use canned and frozen produce and other conveniences that allow us home cooks to breathe a sigh of relief and turn to our pantry cupboards again. Although red and white meats are absent, fish and shellfish are represented and should you be vegetarian or vegan, guidance is given with the recipes. Ultimately, the success of a cookbook comes down to the recipes and Purcell’s are excellent.

You can whip up a gorgeous rich cocoa and walnut cake for a warm winter pudding or just a lovely indulgence, make your own bliss balls, tart up mum’s rice pudding or treat your nearest and dearest to salt and pepper silken tofu which is not only gluten free but is also vegan friendly and tastes great. And that’s only winter; there are another three seasons all treated with the same verve and imagination. It’s a great recipe book and a wonderful resource for those of us who may wish to embrace a healthier lifestyle without sacrificing taste for virtue.

It has a particular resonance with the young but also with our inner youthfulness. The recipes are lovely, easy to follow and often quite stylish, the ethos clear and sensible. It has something to offer us all. I was going to give my copy to my daughter but I think I just may need to buy her one of her own - I need Janella in my kitchen. Janella Purcell will be attending the Byron Bay Writers Festival.

Eating for the Seasons by Janella Purcell (Allen & Unwin). Reviewed by Dianne Wilson.