Life In Balance by Donna Hay
Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 4 stars
It should be said that I bring a healthy dose of eye-rolling scepticism to any cookbook that invokes the superfoods trend, especially when the book in question just so happens to be part of an influx of similarly themed books released right before Christmas. Far too many friends have handed me bowls of quinoa gruel that have tasted like feet and broken dreams for me to be a fan of the devotion to these holy-grail wonder-foods.
To have a cook like Donna Hay, renowned for her baking and indulgence cookery skills, talking kale and quinoa seems odd, and yet, it actually works. This isn’t a book about giving up all of the indulgences of life, but about striking the balance between the treats and the fresh and nutritious.
The philosophy behind Life In Balance is simple: it’s not about forsaking all the foods you love. It’s about adding a few healthier meals in there, too, and trying to make them taste so good that you forget they’re healthy. If you’re tired of the idea that everything should be made into healthier versions of itself, there’s something nice about hearing an author say you don’t have to give up the baking you actually enjoy.
Though I came to Life In Balance as a sceptic, I actually really enjoyed meandering through the book, finding must-try recipes like matcha tea ice creams. The recipes are short and to the point; and for the most part they’re going to be easy to make. There’s minimal faffing about, which feels rare in the post-Masterchef™ cookery market. Even better, Hay has ignored the urge to jump on the vegetarian bandwagon that often accompanies a freefall into kale obsession. While, to be fair, the proteins do lean somewhat towards fish and tofu, the carnivores of the family certainly haven’t been forsaken here.
The words ‘wholesome’ and ‘nourishing’ have pretty much been decimated by the healthy eating industry, to the point that they’re often associated with the sort of bland, overly processed foods that taste like cardboard, feet, or worse. But here, Hay is taking back these words, reminding readers that wholesome, nourishing fair can be delicious and visually appealing. It must be said, though, that there’s an abundance of green foods here, from omelettes to ice blocks, and everything in between. It’s a common trend in superfood cookery, and the sea of green foodstuffs can start to look unappealing. Here, though, it looks delicious.
The photography is stunning, so vibrant you feel like you could reach out and touch the food. The food styling is impeccable, which isn’t surprising for Hay’s team. If you’re an aspiring food blogger or photographer, you could learn a lot about your craft from this book.
One of my issues with trend cooking is that more often than not, the ability to try recipes rests on finding a boutique store that sells the more exotic sounding, hard to source ingredients. Oftentimes, it feels like a lot of time and money will go into simply finding all of the elements of each dish, which is great for foodies looking to find a new store to fall in love with or flavours to explore. But for those of us wanting ‘simple’ to mean ‘no trips to Mordor for exotic things I can’t pronounce’, trend cooking can be a bit of a nightmare. There is a growing number of beautiful sounding recipes that I’d love to try, but can’t because I can’t easily source the ingredients required. Probably my favourite part of Life In Balance is that it’s genuinely a great starting point for people who want to add quick, easy, and healthy ideas into their meal rotations without it being an epic quest for ingredients.
There are some ingredients that might take a bit of looking for, but overwhelmingly, Hay has tried to keep the hunt for ingredients as simple as possible. Most of the recipes can be made with only a trip to your local supermarket, and a side trip to a health food store.
This probably isn’t the ideal read for die-hard haters of kale and quinoa, but even so, there are enough fantastic looking recipes in here to tempt even a cynic like myself towards working with superfoods. Life In Balance is published through Harper Collins, and is available through the publisher’s website, and in bookstores nationally.