I grew up in the tiny surf town of Raglan on the west coast of the North Island in New Zealand. At a time when many families were buying their first microwave ovens and tucking into ready-made meals, we were living an altogether different life…
My family lived in a wooden house my dad built, we collected rain water to drink, grew our own fruits and vegetables and made things like yoghurt from freshly collected goat’s milk from a farm at the end of the winding gravel road. My parents provided us with food as it’s supposed to be – fresh from the earth to the kitchen, seasonal, nourishing and delicious. It’s this philosophy that natural, whole food should also be flavoursome, fun and easy to prepare that I’ve carried through to my life as a chef, author and mother.
I trained as a chef after working in cafes while finishing my final years of high school. I then went on to work in the industry for over eight years before having kids. I took a few years off when my kids were babies and in 2010 I decided to start my food blog My Darling Lemon Thyme as a place to share my newfound knowledge of allergy-free cooking. Everything has stemmed from my blog. I’m a self-taught photographer and stylist and have learned what I know from doing it a lot over the years since starting my blog. Writing, styling and photographing both of my cookbooks wouldn’t have come about if it wasn’t for the experience I gained from my blog.
Food was a central part of our daily life growing up. As vegetarians, we paid a lot of attention to what we ate, ensuring the right combinations of foods were eaten together to maximise the nutritional benefits. Eating seasonally was a way of life, not just a modern catch phrase, especially as so much of what we ate came straight from my parents’ organic vegetable garden. Dried kelp and nutritional yeast were sprinkled onto everything, brown rice was the only rice we knew, we ate peanut butter and alfalfa sprouts on wholemeal bread at school instead of the usual vegemite and cheese, and banana cake was always made using wholemeal flour and topped off with icing flavoured with carob, never cocoa.
My childhood shaped so much of who I am as a person, but none more so than the food I cook and eat now. Making food from scratch, with love, is something I learnt watching my mother in the kitchen all those years ago, where she’d spend hours preparing the most beautiful meals from our homegrown produce, cooked in our wood fired coal-range oven that doubled as our water heater and clothes drier in winter. The simple beauty of my childhood, without modern ‘necessities’ such as the microwave oven (something both my parents, my siblings and I have never owned) gave special meaning to the food we prepared and it’s this love for real food that I’m trying to pass on to my own two children.
I wish I’d know before I was pregnant how much of an impact my own gut health could have on my two children. If I’d known this, I would’ve worked really hard to get it on track before risking passing on food intolerances to my children.
My daughter was about two and my son a baby when we finally found the reason for her discomfort (which she’d been experiencing since birth) – gluten and lactose intolerance. As a mother of two little ones, I found it really hard to get my head around changing our diet and as any mum will know, finding quick and easy things to grab whilst holding onto a baby, with a toddler hanging off your leg, isn’t always easy at the best of times, let alone when you find out huge parts of your diet can no longer be eaten. There were many times when I was breastfeeding my son where I’d look into the fridge or cupboard, hungry, only to close the door empty-handed and feeling sorry for myself! I learned to love roasted vegetables and quinoa, as for a good while there that’s all I could eat without it upsetting my son’s or my tummy. But I slowly got my head around cooking without gluten and most dairy and have never looked back.
I’m a vegetarian. However I do very occasionally eat a little fish sauce in dishes (especially if my Vietnamese mother-in-law is cooking!). My children eat vegetarian with me most of the time and then occasionally eat a bit of seafood, local fish or free-range chicken with my husband.
My children are pretty happy when I make pizza (a recipe in my first cookbook) and sushi. They also love simple vegetable stir fries with rice and crispy tofu. My son is a little hard to please at times and prefers quite simple food, whereas my daughter eats pretty much anything and everything. Often when the boys of the family are eating chicken (something my daughter’s not a huge fan of) I make up a big batch of roasted vegetables (Ada’s favourite) and we eat them with quinoa, homemade sauerkraut and a fried egg.
My daughter’s really getting into cooking her own breakfast at the moment –usually scrambled eggs on toast – which I love! They both also LOVE helping me with baking. Anything sweet and they’re usually super keen to help! And they both help out in the garden when they can.
It took me a good year or two to really get my head around the dietary changes and it was around this time that I decided to start sharing my new-found knowledge via my blog with the hope my recipes and experiences would help out others who might find themselves in the same situation. The feedback I got over those first few years was the reassurance I needed to then go on to write my first cookbook, My Darling Lemon Thyme. The humbling success of that first book allowed me to then go on to write my second cookbook, A Year in My Real Food Kitchen. I receive emails and messages nearly on a daily basis from people saying how much my recipes have changed their lives. That’s the best thing anyone could ever say and it totally makes all the hard work worth it.
As a mother, it’s super important for us to follow our own passions, doing what we love, to have an identity inside and outside of the home.
I feel like in doing so, we’re showing our children what it means to follow your dreams. So that they can believe anything is possible if you’re prepared to work hard. Sure, it isn’t easy being a creative and a mother, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Emma Galloway, 35, is a chef, food writer, photographer and mother. She lives in Raglan, NZ (she previously lived in Perth) with her husband Si and two children, Ada, 9, and Kye, 8. You follow more of Emma’s work and life via her beautiful blog My Darling Lemon Thyme and join her social community on Instagram, Facebook + Twitter.