One woman who has been inspiring me the past couple of months is London based, Austrian born Susanne Sinmara. Her beautiful blog Soul Feasts provides a wealth of healthy, nutrition packed recipes which will make you want to sign out of Facebook, rush into the kitchen and rummage through the vegetable drawers in the fridge.
What prompted you to develop an interest in cooking and nutrition, and what has your life journey with food been like up until this moment? Were you always helping out in the kitchen as a child? Have you always cared about what you eat?
I enjoy good food, and I like to know what I put into my body. It’s also a rather comforting and a good way to wind down, baking and cooking. My mum is a great cook, and I learnt a lot from her. My parents have a pretty big vegetable garden and growing up in Austria in the countryside around farms we were not only semi-self sufficient when it came to vegetables & fruit, we also got milk, eggs & meat fresh from the farms around us. Unfortunately I’ve always been on the bigger side, and over the years I piled on the kilos. Not that I ever felt really fat, but I was chunky, let’s put it that way. It never bothered me when I got called names at school, or my mum told me to lose weight – I didn’t feel that big. I never dieted, I hate feeling hungry and so I was looking for alternative ways to lose fat and get healthy.
When I hit 30 and realised I got too big for my liking and I overhauled my diet: out with pizza, biscuits and chocolate and ice cream, in with regular, smaller portions of more veg & fish, healthy carbs, and occasionally chicken. I allowed myself one treat a day – a small portion of ice cream, for example, or a biscuit. You got to learn to say no if someone offers you cake, and you have to train your brain to like healthy foods. Additionally I joined the gym and go there 4-5 times a week. That did the trick – the kilos just went off, and over the course of 4 years I steadily lost 23 kilos.
You are passionate about working out every day, and regularly undertake gruelling exercise challenges. What prompted you to start putting your body through such intensive training, and how have your new routines changed your life?
I kept my healthy diet that I started 7 years ago, however after a breakup and subsequently moving into a flatshare 4 years ago I started going out a lot, and drinking more than was good for me for a couple of years (catching up on 8 years of not much socialising basically) and I gained a few more kilos.
New Years Eve 1 ½ years ago I realised it’s not doing me any good (when you hit a certain age hangovers ain’t fun anymore) and I thought I’d give up booze for a couple of weeks. It felt so good that I stuck with it since. At the same time I re-joined the gym and started to work out with weights and kettlebells, and I lost a further 16kg within a year, whilst gaining a nice amount of muscles. I guess I’m addicted to endorphins and pushing myself further.
Not only is it nice to see results, it’s also a fantastic feeling when you pushed your body over the edge and achieved something you thought you would never be able to do – sheer determination and willpower. I loathed sports when I was younger. Funny how it turned out! Now I can race up a mountain without getting out of breath, and it’s the most glorious feeling to be fit and healthy, AND being able to eat lots of good food. With these heavy workouts you have to eat more than what a normal female does. More fuel = heavier workouts = more muscles = losing fat = getting lean! It’s simple.
It was simply a natural progression, no boozing meant a little bit less socialising, and more travelling the world with my boyfriend (who’s very much into weight lifting as well). We both get up at around 5.30 am every morning, work out for 45 minutes at home and then head to work. That means we’re in bed by 10.30/11 and sleep for 7 hours.
I work out 6 times a week, usually around 30 – 45 minutes, depending on what workout I’m doing: kettlebells, HIIT, resistance or yoga/pilates. Even at the weekend I get up at 5.30, simply because I’m most productive in the morning and I naturally wake up at that time. I try to meditate and make time for myself to wind down as well. Luckily I sleep very well, because you need a lot of rest and good sleep to be able to workout properly without wearing your body down.
You recently established Soul Feasts, a blog where you share the cuisine you cook up. What inspired you to set up Soul Foods, and how have you enjoyed the blogging experience thus far?
Oh, simply because people kept asking me for the recipes, but also for myself, since I conjure them usually up on the spot and forget how I did it. I don’t spend much time writing it, and only put recipes up that I think are worth keeping/sharing.
One of the things I love about your blog is its personal touches. Most recipes and cooking instructions online are incredibly dry and dull, but you bring life to each post with your fascinating insights and beautiful photography. Are the recipes you use your own, and how have you enjoyed photographing your food and sharing your cooking with the world?
Usually I pour over my many cook books – I’ve got some nice ones from Austria, but most are in English – or the internet and look for inspiration, then loosely follow a recipe and tweak it with the ingredients I have. A lot of inspiration come from cooking shows as well. More often than not it works out and tastes great, although I had some abysmal failures too. Especially with baking, because I often think I can get away with leaving out ingredients or adding some, and then I have fail-cakes. If it says ‘cream the soft butter with the egg yolks and sugar until it’s light and fluffy’, the butter really HAS to be soft, because you’ll end up with a weird mess where the butter is just clumps in sugary egg yolks. Still edible, but not really a looker when you bake that…. This is where The Great British Bake Off comes in handy, because they explain why a certain ingredient or technique is used to get the results.
With the food photography, I’m still learning – lack of proper daylight in our flat is a problem, and I’m still figuring out how my DSLR works. Simply don’t have the time to look into that at the moment. But thank you for thinking the photos look good!
From what I gather, you lead an extremely busy life! You are editor in chief at Destructive Music, the drummer for two bands and you have a job in the city. How do you find the time for your workouts, for cooking up such fantastic meals and blogging about them?
5.30 am start in the morning, multitasking and good time-management! And taking adequate time off to de-stress and recharge. I don’t waste my time with playing games or too much procrastinating, I like to create and do productive things with my life. It’s too short to waste it. Be it with sewing, craft stuff, gardening, reading, cooking, travelling, making music etc etc. I like to cram as much into my life as I can. A day without doing at least something productive is a wasted day. Maybe that’s why I sleep so well, I’m usually dead by the time I hit the sack. To de-stress and recharge I go for walks in the forest, bake, cook, meditate, read books (Currently on book 9 of The Malazan Books Of The Fallen. If you know/love Caladan Brood, you’ll know what I’m reading! Forget A Song Of Ice And Fire, the Malazan books are way better…)
Frozen yoghurt is great, as is dark chocolate and dried fruit. Beware though, dried fruit is very concentrated in sugar. My dehydrator is very often in use – I see organic apples being sold half price at the market or a shop and make a few kilo in advance. I’m also fond of Sukrin, stevia (the powdered herb) and occasionally xylitol. Sukrin and xylitol are sugar substitutes in form of sugar alcohols, and healthier than aspartame and sucralose.
Probably the one vice I have – Sukrin & stevia. Stevia is great for baking, and a little goes a long way. Coconut oil is great for baking, and there are lots of raw and vegan recipes out there – although beware, what they commonly use for sweetening is still full of sugars: dates, agave syrup, honey…. When I bake for others occasionally I will use proper brown sugar, but then I put only half of the sugar in of what a recipe asks for. It will still make whatever you’re baking sweet enough. I try to incorporate healthy foods into baking as much as possible, and use organic and ‘clean’ foods.
You can be so creative with vegan food – there are so many foods out there that people simply don’t know. That’s one good thing about living in London, you can go to all these ethnic shops and find fresh ingredients that you don’t get anywhere else. Indian, Jamaican, Thai, Chinese shops – it’s a wealth of new and exciting ingredients that can be used for vegan cooking. I’ve recently re-introduced red meat into my diet (only organic and free range, of course), so I’m eating a bit less vegan/vegetarian main meals, but there’s still a large amount of food I eat that is raw. People don’t realise that a lot of vegetables can be eaten raw. Try making your own sauerkraut – tastes miles better than the shop bought sauerkraut (which often isn’t even fermented anyway).
One of my favourite vegan meals is for example is super simple: baked root veg and tofu cubes drizzled with olive oil. Just cut sweet potatoes, parsnips and swedes into long strips (like chips), brush olive oil over it, bake at 200 degrees for 30 minutes. 15 minutes in chuck in tofu that is cut into cubes, and a few mushrooms (I don’t bother cutting them). Simple, nourishing, yet most delicious in winter. I had a phase where I ate just that for dinner for weeks, and I didn’t get tired of it.
In your recipes I have noticed the use of a lot of organic ingredients. Why is it important to you to eat organic and from where do you source produce such as meat and eggs? Do you grow much of your own food and what are your goals in terms of self-sufficiency?
There’s certain vegetables and fruit that I mostly buy organic, because the regular ones are ridden with pesticides, or genetically modified: tomatoes and apples are on the forefront. Additionally I try to buy local/British products and rather wait until something is in season. Waitrose is great for local British food, as are farmers markets and organic veg boxes. I recently started buying meat from Farmer’s Choice online – free range meat and organic produce that is very reasonably priced. They do goat meat, which was the main reason I bought off them. Eggs I buy in the supermarket, usually the higher end eggs. Occasionally, when I see that Waitrose have organic meat going for cheap then I’ll stock up on that and freeze it.
I have no problem with animals being slaughtered for food, as long as they were treated fair, had a good, happy life and didn’t suffer when they were slaughtered. I grew up in the countryside around farms and the slaughtering of animals was just something that was normal. I remember going to my aunt’s farm to collect fresh milk from her cows, and eggs from her chicken. When it was slaughter day at the neighbouring farm my parents got fresh meat and sausages when they were ready. I have no problem killing an animal for food, and this is what me and my boyfriend plan in the future: owning a farm, breeding sheep, goat and pigs, working the land and living as self sufficient as possible.
At the moment I don’t have that much space to grow a lot of food, but generally I always have several tomato plants on the go in summer, plus pepper, paprika, cucumbers, courgettes, loganberries, and shitloads of herbs. Right now my tomato plants are coming along nicely, as are the peppers – usually I buy heritage seeds and rare seeds. Last year I went to OrganicLea farm in Epping Forest and bought lots of plants from there, strawberries etc.
Concerning your physical health, what differences have you noticed since adapting your diet? Has there been any changes in your mood and behaviour? What are your long term goals concerning your health and are you happy with how far you have come?
Oh gosh, I can’t even begin to describe how much healthier I am now – usually I get a bad cold twice a winter. This winter I had nothing. No cold, no headaches, nothing. I simply do not get ill anymore. I can’t remember the last time I took aspirin or over the counter medicine.
My metabolism has increased, and since I ditched hormone contraception it feels like a veil has been lifted. You don’t realise how much hormone contraceptions interfere with your body until you get off them. Any small ailments I try to treat myself with herbal medicine and positive thinking. I know, that sounds stupid, but don’t knock it until you tried it. The body can often heal itself if you know it well enough. Simply: don’t put crap into your body and it’ll thank you. Actually, this is one of the most important things in life: Have a positive outlook. Smile. Life’s too short to fret over menial things. That’s a mantra I keep telling myself as well, and it’s something you can learn. As with most things in life, you got to want it and get your ass off the sofa and DO it.
True, my muscles are sore a lot of times from the heavy weights I’m lifting, but they’re growing, and that’s a good thing.
It’s only started, so for now I just continue to collect recipes – maybe I’ll start incorporating some advice based on my own experiences on how to get fit and healthy because so many friends ask for advice. I deliberately will not include any words like ‘diet’ ‘losing fat’ or ‘weight loss’ because it’s SO easy to get onto the wrong track and end up with an eating disorder.
You can find all of Susanne’s recipes at her blog Soul Feasts.