Category — How She (or he) Does It

How She Does It: Rebecca Jones from Village Kitchen 3

November 22, 2016

I want you to meet the woman who saved my life.

Okay, a bit dramatic. I want you to meet the woman who saved my sanity. This is Rebecca Jones.

 

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I’m guessing that you, like me, sometimes feel some, er, disdain, for dinner. Perhaps it’s not cooking the dinner but the preparation that goes into cooking the dinner (with kids / pets at your ankles and work / chores / worries on your mind). Perhaps it is deciding what to cook for dinner. Or, days earlier, figuring out which ingredients you need. Or shopping for said ingredients. Shopping for ingredients while children hang off the trolley like wild monkeys demanding and tantrumming like they just know your mental health is perilously fragile. Do any of these activities make you feel less than chirpy?! Don’t worry, I know those feels. And so does Rebecca Jones.

Thankfully, instead of losing her own sanity after the birth of her third child, Rebecca put those frustrations to good use and set up a business to cure them. Village Kitchen, Rebecca’s business and “baby”, as she describes it, provides delicious, hearty, home-cooked dinners. Think – slow-cooked meats and roasted vegetables, ribbons of papardelle, tangy fresh slaws, Mexican fajitas, Thai salads studded with pieces of pineapple or Beef Bourguignon. Traditional with a twist, I’d describe it. The kind of food you really, really want to make… but don’t have the time, patience, energy or inclination to do so.

Since our youngest was born we have been getting Village Kitchen meals for Matt and I several times a week. The meals are so hearty, tasty and “real” – they don’t use packet mixes or bought sauces and do not taste like takeaways – that we now have a subscription we simply roll over week to week. We know the food will be great and the portions generous – it is really good value for money – but frankly, mainly, Village Kitchen simply makes our lives a LOT easier. Initially I felt a bit guilty about getting help with dinners but now I just feel really lucky to have access to a service and business like Village Kitchen. Plus, it is so satisfying to support someone like Rebecca, who is creating a wonderful, thriving and meaningful local business.

 

Rebecca, tell the good people how Village Kitchen came to be:

Long story! It definitely didn’t happen overnight. It came from an idea I had after I had three babies…close together! We had no family anywhere near, and life was hard – so so hard! All I remember in that hazy blur was 1) how hard it was! 2) how, at the end of the day, when we’d finally got everyone into bed, all I craved was a beautiful, home-cooked dinner and some quiet time with my husband, and how that never actually happened and we always ended up with takeaways – EGH! And 3) the kindness of people, two in particular, that I met through Plunket [baby healthcare support and organisation in New Zealand]– local girls both with daughters born within 2 days of my eldest. In the early years, these lovely souls would appear at my door to take one or more toddlers away for an afternoon of fun – always just when I needed it most. So I got this enormous appreciation for doing things for others – it really resonates with me, because I really know how the teeniest act of kindness can make a world of a difference to someone (it did with me, a lot!).

Obviously doing nice things for others out of the goodness of one’s heart is not the sort of hard-nosed strategy one might build a wildly successful business around, but I feel that that philosophy does underpin everything we do at Village Kitchen. It genuinely makes me happy to know that what we are doing is lightening people’s load – lots of people! We know many of our people by name, we know what they like, what they don’t like, and we genuinely care about the meal that each customer will receive each evening. The feedback we receive on a regular basis makes it all so worthwhile. Village Kitchen has elicited an incredible response – I knew it would – so to be sticking to our values, and attracting new customers each week (as well as retaining our loyal fans) – well to me, it’s all good! I really believe that business doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be all ruthlessness and no heart – there is most definitely flexibility.

 

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It seems to me that business-building really resonates with you, really fits who you are as a person. Was this always the case? Tell us about some of your past life jobs…

Okay, I’ve had some interesting ones…. Sorting dags (dictionary definition: lock of matted or dung-coated wool), pulling claybirds (from a 1m3 dugout for 2x 12hr days), clearing an acre of gnarly scrub by hand, scrubbing a vast cigarette-stained ceiling (stiff neck!). The awful ones spring to mind, but there have been so many interesting past life jobs. A best friend and I set up a ‘handyman/odd job’ business one school holidays. We charged $5/hr for both of us, and we cleaned windows, scrubbed toilets, polished silver, water-blasted, weeded, cleared out garages, cut back hedges – basically anything that needed doing. We were booked every single day of that summer hols, made several hundred dollars each and managed to fit in a huge amount of fun. It was most definitely a case of work hard, play hard. Neither of us will ever forget it – so much fun (despite most of it being back-breaking, smelly and horrid)! I’ve always craved independence, and to me having your own hard-earned money is hugely gratifying. That’s always been my big motivator – to earn your own money, and do with it what you will (for me, the big goal was getting overseas, to as many places as possible, off my own bat, which I did, and loved). It’s something I want to impress upon my own kids. To learn the value of a hard day’s work. Plus, I have huge determination. Tell me it can’t be done and I’ll be forced to prove you wrong. I don’t know where this craziness comes from! Sometimes it’s painful (ask my husband!).

 

Is that the advice you would give others who might want to start their own business – Be Determined? What do you advise others? Was there a pivotal event that spurred you on?

Erm… hang on tight? It is such an emotional rollercoaster! So many ups, and many downs – but these all balance out, and in the rare moments when I’m able to step back from the business, I get a huge sense of pride in what we have achieved, and continue to achieve.

The pivotal event I experienced wasn’t so much a ‘kick up the bum’ moment – because I was almost desperate to get Village Kitchen started – it was more that the tiny flicker of a dream I’d harboured, over the course of seven years of the demands of tiny people and domesticity, had grown into a raging bushfire! Our second daughter starting school in 2015 combined with reading a book on business by an entrepreneur I very much admire were the catalysts – I wasn’t prepared to wait any longer with Village Kitchen. So I started. And that part was remarkably easy – looking back!

 

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So if entrepreneurship is at your core or in your blood….what lead you to work with food?

Well, I always loved food, and cooking, and I’ve got a massive sweet tooth. From 1997 to 2007, I lived in Europe – ten years in six different countries. During that time I experienced quite a few years of ill-health. It was not attributed to anything and never explained, until one specialist tested for coeliac disease. When I got the positive result I really despaired about the rest of my cake-eating future. Actually I got very down about it – such a sweet tooth, never to eat cake or biscuit again! But necessity made me look outside the square and actually the coeliac thing became very easy to manage. I found ways to build the sweet stuff back in (told you I am determined!). In recent years the popularity of gluten-free food, and even better ‘clean’ eating, has been so great for people like me. There are so many incredible sweet treats to be had that are kind to my tummy.

 

Who is your favourite chef or cookbook author?

Many many. My style is casual, but properly thought out, rustic, whole, homemade, seasonal, delicious. I admire the style of Al Brown and Jamie Oliver, people like that. Starting Village Kitchen brought me into contact with chef Jeremy Schmid. Such a dark horse on NZ’s cooking scene, but has excelled in almost anything you can think of in the industry. Not at all precious, very down to earth, incredibly clever, and so generous with his time, knowledge, equipment, supplies (especially in the early days when I was learning about ordering, quantities, suppliers, etc). I don’t think we’d be where we are without his guidance over the past 15 months. So yep I’d have to say Jeremy (and yes he’s a 3-time cookbook author – there’s nothing the man can’t do).

 

Pet food hates?

Overcooked greens.

 

What about dream dinner party guests?

My Brick Lane (London) posse; all nine of us. School and university friends who ended up living together in London’s dodgy East End (it was dodgy then!) for several years. We would be sitting around our rickety old kitchen table, where we had so so many laughs, parties, tears, drama – but mainly laughs; with copious amounts of wine. And we’d likely be eating a curry from one of the world-famous Brick Lane curry houses we lived up the road from. We are spread out all around the world, so I’m not sure when we’ll be able to get together again but… one day!

 

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Finally, what is life like as a business owner and parent of young kids? Which qualities are most important for the work that you do?

The business is like a fourth baby, but instead of fitting in around the other kids, as subsequent babies usually have to, this one takes front and centre stage for all of us and we all just squeeze in around it. Such a show off! I have to say, in the past 15 months my actual three children have become hugely resilient! Which I joke about, but secretly makes me feel pretty chuffed.

As for the qualities that are most important… Guts, stickability, determination, heart and compassion.

…….

 

As you know, we don’t do sponsored posts around here (we are willing to accept very large donations from adoring fans, however) but I will make this one public service announcement / plea – Please don’t feel guilty about resenting (insert swear word) dinner or getting help to get it on the table. We all have mad, busy, full lives. We all have big and small humans to connect with, to love and to support, work to be done and projects to be completed. If you are lucky enough to be able to support a local business – and, therefore, family! – to give you a helping hand then I say – do it! In my experience, outsourcing dinner has made cooking more joyful again and gives our family extra opportunities to connect with one another.

So, thank you, Rebecca. My mental health gives Village Kitchen two thumbs ups, a huge hug, several high-fives and a big kiss.

 

With love,

Hannah x

In: Food, From Hannah, How She (or he) Does It, Interviews, Kids and Parenting

How She Does It : Julia Batchelor-Smith 1

March 9, 2016

Julia Batchelor-Smith and I have known each other for a long time. We went to the same primary school. My enduring memory is of a magnificent cake her Mum made for one of her birthday parties – an upright lolly shop (made of sponge cake), filled with dozens of sweets, exactly like the one featured in this post and she still has a letter from me, aged 8, approx, detailing just how beaaauuuuuuuutiful I thought she looked with her hair crimped. We lost a few years, due to school changes and home moves and the absence of facebook, before reconnecting recently to discover we lived in the same neighbourhood, both with two daughters of similar ages. Time for a chardonnay and a chin wag…

 

Julia running

 

Even before crimped hair days, Julia has always been gorgeous, driven, energetic, fun and all-round inspiring. It was unsurprising to learn that she had, in the gap in our friendship, become a successful lawyer, lived abroad, run marathons, travelled the globe and created two humans. Oh, and written a book. As you do. Though the title, Balancing Work and Life: A Practical Guide for Lawyers, suggests specificity for lawyers, Julia originally conceptualized the book with a general audience in mind, which is evident as you read it. This book is for all new parents and anyone trying to balance and juggle work and home and kids. It is THE GUIDE for “How She Does It” so of course I had to interview her for our series.

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In: From Hannah, How She (or he) Does It, Kids and Parenting, Writing

How She Does It: Rachelle Delaney 2

June 3, 2015

We are excited to present another installment of our ongoing How She (or He) Does It series, wherein we ask the deep questions about–you guessed it–food and books. We interview fascinating, passionate people who are striving to balance life’s demands with their drive to create so that we can learn from them and, of course, share their thought-provoking responses with our readers. We’ve had quite the lineup of interviewees over the past few years and here they are if you wish to get caught up:

Louise Lamont, literary agent

Tabitha Emma, graphic designer

Zoe Daniel, journalist

Suzanne Cleary, ceramic jewelry artist

P.J. Tierney, author

Ryan Zuvich, chef

Marissa Stapley, author

Theodora Armstrong, photographer

And now, without further ado, we present Rachelle Delaney, the acclaimed author of multiple-award nominated novels for children. In 2010 Rachelle was named the top under-30 author in Canada and she continues to prolifically produce witty, smart and thoroughly absorbing novels that can (and should!) be read by readers of all ages. Rachelle is the definition of adventurous:  she’s always trying new things and travels to a new place around the world at least every year. She’s gone to circus school, babysat sloths and hung out with orangutans. She’s recently learned to play the fiddle and, as you’ll see below, she’s now trying her hand at visual art. Her novels are equally adventurous, from shipfuls of pirate children to dogs riding the subway in Moscow. It’s always a thrill to speak to her about what she does and how she does it, and we hope you enjoy this interview as much as we have.

 

Welcome to Fork & Fiction, Rachelle! We’re delighted to have you with us. First off, can you tell us what it is you do and where you live?

I write novels for middle-grade readers (ages 8 to 12), including The Metro Dogs of Moscow and The Circus Dogs of Prague. I also usually have a day job—I’ve spent the last four years working in communications and as a project lead for the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental organization.

I consider several parts of Canada home, including the west coast, where I spent most of the last 15 years, and Alberta, where I grew up. But for the last year I’ve been calling Toronto home.

Tourist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Tourist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

Can you give us some background for how you came to be doing what you do?

I didn’t ever plan on, or really think about, being a published author. I just always wrote, from the time I was about eight until I reached university, at which point I decided to study it more seriously though still not with publishing in mind. My first degree was in environmental studies and creative writing, and I went on to do an MFA in Creative Writing (where I met Fork and Fiction’s own Ria Voros). My Masters thesis was my first children’s novel, which was published a few years after I graduated.

Way to start strong out of the gates! What’s been your proudest career moment so far?

I’ve published five novels in the last six years, which has been exciting and intense and sometimes totally exhausting. But I’m relieved to report that the thousands of hours I’ve spent writing (and rewriting, and rewriting again) seem to be paying off—I can see and feel myself improving as a writer. So I think my proudest moment was the publication of my last novel, The Circus Dogs of Prague. I knew it was my best yet, and also the one that feels the most me.

I know what you mean; the more you work, the more you know yourself as a writer. What about your work gives you the most joy?

One of the things I love best about writing is that it allows me to study so many things. I spend vast amounts of time (sometimes years) researching and planning before I ever actually start writing a novel. This usually involves interviewing interesting people and travelling wherever possible. When I wrote The Metro Dogs of Moscow, I took the opportunity to spend some time in Russia tracking down stray dogs on the subway. I’ve spent the past three years taking in circus performances for a yet-unpublished novel. And because I’m a firm believer in “method writing,” I had to dabble (albeit clumsily) in some circus skills classes myself. Sometimes research is painful.

Circus

 

 Who is your biggest cheerleader?

My mother. Not only does she read everything I write and offer feedback on drafts, she has gamely accompanied me on a few research trips, including the one to Russia, which involved frostbite, getting lost on the Moscow subway, and a mildly traumatic afternoon the St. Petersburg State Circus, which inspired The Circus Dogs of Prague. She’s a trooper.

Sounds like you’ve had some great adventures together. What do you enjoy least about your work?

Spending vast amounts of time by myself. In my late-twenties I spent a few years freelancing, working from home, often in pyjamas, on my novels and other writing contracts. I was constantly being told I was “living the dream,” so it took me a little while to realize how much I hated it. I mean, I adore writing, but I also absolutely need to work with people. Finding a balance between human interaction and alone time is often tricky.

What do you still hope to achieve creatively?

Confession: this year I decided that, at nearly 35 years old, I would learn to draw. I’d done everything in my power to avoid drawing since about age 10, when I got it in my head that I had zero artistic ability. Whether illustration will ever become part of my creative work will not, I imagine, be determined for a very long time. But I’m loving the challenge and the way it wakes up a different part of my brain.

What quality do you think is most important for a writer to be successful?

Perseverance and dedication. Good writers might have some innate talent, but they get really good by sitting down and writing, every day. My dad used to coach every sport imaginable, and he always told me, while we were practicing lay-ups or the triple-jump or overhand serves, that if things are worth doing, they’re worth doing poorly. And that goes for writing as well.

Good advice, Dad! I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m berating myself over a poorly written paragraph. How do you juggle the work you do with your other demands and responsibilities?

I try as much as possible to make writing my first priority. On my days off, I start the day with writing (well, usually after a run or a yoga session. Otherwise I get too restless). I have a deadline, I’ll get up super early and squeeze in writing time before I go to work as well.

What book made a big impact on your life?

I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak during a pretty formative time in my writing education, and I remember needing to be alone for a few hours after finishing it. I think I felt equal parts shattered by the story and gobsmacked by how Zusak had managed to connect the reader so completely to these characters (including the narrative voice of Death. Death!). An author friend of mine summed it up nicely when she said, “I had no idea you could do that!”

I also think that much of what I know about humour I learned from The Princess Bride by William Goldberg. I’d say anyone who knows me well would agree with that.

Who is your favourite author and why?

I have so many much-loved authors. Isabelle Allende for beautiful magic realism. Jessica Grant for her near-perfect debut, Come Thou Tortoise, which I so admire for being at once hilarious and profound. In the world of contemporary kids books, I’ve recently discovered Katherine Rundell, who wrote Rooftoppers, a delightful middle-grade novel set on the rooftops of Paris.

Digital reader or paper?

Both. I love having a physical library, and some books, like poetry books, just feel like they should be in print. But e-books have kind of revolutionized my travels. No longer do I have to lug around a suitcase or backpack full of novels—they’re all on the iPad.

Who would be on your dream dinner party guest list?

I recently saw the film Iris, so Iris Apfel is definitely invited for her wisdom and sass. Also Maria Popova, the brainy and eloquent creator of Brainpickings. Maybe David Sedaris for hilarity? Oh, and Maria Tagliaferro, the pastry chef at Helmut Newcake (more on that below). Who would, of course, bring cake.

Do you eat while you read? If so, what?

So I recently developed a thing for mug cake. I know, I know—microwaves. But mug cake, guys! In my humble opinion, an adorable little warm cake in a mug is basically the perfect reading snack.

Oh, I just looked up that link…mug cake looks like it’s in my near future. What was the best meal of your life?

I have celiac disease—basically a severe gluten allergy—which you might assume would make travelling a little challenging. But I travel a lot and don’t find it too tricky, especially in France, which happens to be one of my favourite places. So this past November, I was on my way home from Laos and decided to extend a four-hour layover in Paris for four days (because how could I not?). And several people, including my baked goods guru Ria, told me that I had to check out Helmut Newcake, which has basically revolutionized gluten-free desserts. We’re talking true Parisian-quality pastries. My visit resulted in my eating a giant Madame de Fontenay for dinner. And it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted. Tears might have been involved.

 

 

Mme de Fontenay

 

What is always in your fridge and/or pantry?

Right now I live by myself and have a bad habit of only buying food for a few days at a time, so sometimes my fridge is embarrassingly bare. But there is almost always quality dark chocolate around. Because priorities.

What is the most important non-food thing in your kitchen?

My moka pot. I know there are far more sophisticated ways of making espresso, but I just love the ritual of boiling water, heating the pot, and watching the espresso rise out of the spout and (if I’ve done it just right) form a nice crema. I take my coffee to my table and sit down with a book that has nothing to do with the day ahead, and I spend fifteen minutes or so reading before running off to catch the subway. I think of it as taking back my day before I devote it to other things.

Who are you most inspired by?

I recently discovered the illustrator Lisa Congdon, who inspires me not only because she’s crazy talented and accomplished, but because she didn’t take up drawing until her thirties. She’s always very honest about being a “late bloomer,” and how she gets braver and freer, in art as in life, as she gets older. I’m into that right now.

How would you sum up your life in three words?

I’m going to go with this, found on a building in Toronto.

Toute est possible

 

Thank you so much for giving us insight into your writing (and eating) life, Rachelle! We wish you all the best on your next book; no doubt it will involve a lot of adventure…and maybe a trapeze or two? We can only hope!

 

XO

R & H

 

 

In: Books & Reading, From Ria, How She (or he) Does It, Interviews, Writing

How She Does it: Suzanne Cleary (+ Giveaway!) 6

March 17, 2015

I’ll confess: sometimes I use How She Does It posts to learn more about my own friends; incredible friends who have lived complex, interesting lives, overcome challenges, set forth on new paths. Because there are some questions that seem too probing, too nosy to casually ask on email or Facebook (curiosity is a writer’s curse and blessing) so I shamelessly use this forum to do just that. Besides, how selfish it would be to keep their incredible stories to myself when you too can be enthralled and inspired by them!

 

Suzanne Cleary and I met when we were both working at Medibank Private in Melbourne. We were both young New Zealanders keen for fun and adventure. We shared stories and drinks and become good friends. I have always been entranced by Suz’s energy, ambition, intelligence, thirst for knowledge and fearless, independent spirit. Suz and her husband, Dave, stayed with us when we lived in Macau and then again in Vancouver. Not long after her stay with us in Canada I learned she had suffered a terrible accident in Colombia. Only through this interview did I come to appreciate the full extent – “I was crossing the road and was hit by a large motorbike. The impact of the blow sent me flying 20 metres down the road and I landed instantly smashing my pelvis in several places. The impact with the motorbike broke my hip, and my left hand (my dominant one) was badly mangled in the bike’s headlight resulting in 3 severed tendons and several fractures in my hand and fingers. Amazingly my spine, neck and legs were all untouched, but I did have a haematoma in my brain (which meant operations to stabilize my pelvis had to be delayed several days).”

 

These days Suz has not only recovered from her major accident and trauma but is the artist + operator of her own ceramics business, Tess + Trix, works as a Senior Strategic Transport Planner (urban / town planner specialising in transport) and is Mama-bear to a darling 14-month old daughter I recently had the pleasure of meeting. This woman is, in short, an absolute inspiration! But how did she get from a debilitating accident to this happy, busy, creative, fulfilled life? My curiosity got the better of me and I had to find out every little detail.

 

Suz

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In: From Hannah, How She (or he) Does It, Interviews

How she does it: Marissa Stapley (+ Book giveaway!) 14

October 4, 2014

The story of how Marissa and I *met* : Around this time last year a book arrived in my mailbox from my Canadian publisher. It was a novel titled Mating For Life, written by Marissa Stapley. {SPOILER ALERT: You could win a copy! Keep reading. Yes, to the very end of the post. Cheeky.} I expected to take my time reading the book but once in I was IN and IN DEEP. Marissa’s writing is rich and authentic, her characters real and flawed and hopeful, her plot woven together so beautifully, so elegantly, I just couldn’t put it down. I love that the chapters are titled after animals that mate for life (including references to the animals hidden within each chapter) and I love the settings, especially the family cottage on Muskoka island. Mating for Life is an enchanting read and I was gob-smacked to learn that Mating for Life is Marissa’s debut novel. Watch this space, I say.

 

Since then, Mating for Life has been published, with a beautiful and evocative cover I should add, and Marissa has been busy busy busy with Life and Family and Writing. But from the moment I put down Marissa’s novel and looked her up online (what? That’s not stalk-y. Stalk-y isn’t even a word.) I knew we had to feature her on How She Does It. And now I have her responses to our favourite questions I wish I could thieve the answers for my own How She Does It. I’d also like to be invited to the dinner party please, should that magic ever occur. I promise to bring the chips and dip?

 

author shot

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In: Books & Reading, From Hannah, How She (or he) Does It, Writing