It was only 11 years ago that people would give Emma Galloway funny looks when she talked about making kombucha and kefir. The cook behind My Darling Lemon Thyme is part of the first wave of New Zealand food bloggers — and one of our most successful, recommended by both Oprah.com and the Guardian, with more than 67,000 followers on Instagram and a 2014 award in the influential American magazine Saveur's Best Food Blog Awards, presented to her, somewhat ironically, in Las Vegas. Now, as she launches her third cookbook, Every Day, from her laidback home in Raglan, she's a voice of reason in a sea of "wellness" gurus peddling their restrictive diets online.
"No one bats an eyelid now when you say you make your own kombucha," she says on the phone from home. "We've come a long way but in saying that, some people have taken it too far, with an obsession with healthy eating, because everyone has their own idea of what's healthy, and every body is different. What works for one might not work for another. There's more rigidity around what you should eat. It makes me sad."
Sure, Emma's recipes are vegetarian and gluten-free (because of the wheat intolerance she shares with her daughter, which started it all), but there's no pretence with her food. She's wholesome but accessible. She's a trained chef but not, she insists, an authority on what we should eat. And although she can be outspoken and "too open sometimes", she confesses — one blog post in 2017 controversially warned readers off buying anti-inflammatory pain relief after she developed an adverse reaction to it — her preference for natural, cooked-from-scratch food has evolved to prioritise ease over effort.
She wrote most of Every Day during level 4 lockdown. Trips to the supermarket were fewer and farther between than the daily stints she was used to, but having to simplify the recipes turned out to be a good thing.
"It was quite hilarious timing," says Emma. "I was already aiming for as simple as possible. I really had to consider every recipe and that even went into my styling. I don't garnish my meals when I cook for my family!"
Whereas her other two cookbooks, My Darling Lemon Thyme and A Year in my Real Food Kitchen used eight gluten-free flours in her baking recipes, this one narrows it down to four. Every Day includes chapters such as "On the Fly" including super-simple dishes like omelette with rice, as well as family favourites, like mushroom and lentil spaghetti and speedy vegan nachos. There are also ingenious tips and tricks she's learned from being both a chef and a mum of two, with ideas for leftovers, meal-planning and mitigating food waste — that includes a large section on pickles, recipes for a multitude of fritters, and easy baking ideas with swappable ingredients, like "anyfruit" cake.
"Within a two-day timespan, two of my friends asked me for a pumpkin soup recipe," she laughs. "I'm someone who's always been so into food and most of the time I cook I don't use a recipe. It was a reality check that not everyone is as confident as I am in the kitchen. I really wanted to give readers more confidence at having a play."
As a chef working for a catering company for the rich and famous in Sydney (racehorse trainer Gai Waterhouse was among her clients) and later, in Perth, when she worked in cafe kitchens, she became adept at using "base recipes" for foods such as pizza dough or pastry, and swapping out the ingredients depending on seasonality and flavour. It's a modus operandi that has given her new perspective when friends or followers tell her they can't cook without a recipe.
"I really want to convey that if you don't have parsley, it doesn't mean don't make the recipe — just leave it out or swap it. It's not super integral to the recipe working. Now's the time to really simplify what you're eating, to cook more at home."
Her own home-cooked meals are uniformly simple. Most days, you'll be able to open her fridge and find leftover fried rice that either she, or one of her two children, Ada, 14 and Kye, 12, have made. This morning, having returned from a yoga class, she's eaten her current favourite: homemade gluten-free sourdough with tomatoes from her garden and eggs laid by her chickens. If that sounds too "Good Life" to be true, Emma is the first to insist there's nothing perfect about their way of eating. Desserts and sweet treats are always on the menu. Her husband eats meat, and even though the kids were raised loosely pescatarian, her son has recently decided he wants to incorporate a little red meat into his diet. He's also managed to convince his mum to buy packaged muesli bars to fit in with the other kids at high school.
"It's a mixed bag these days," Emma laughs. "I'm open to change."
Although she's not coeliac, it was during her pregnancy with her daughter that she discovered an intolerance to gluten. Until then, she'd eaten everything, including dairy — and her frequent go-to chef snack of a large slab of bread, butter and cheese.
"I probably overdid it," she says. "Then when I was pregnant my tummy was killing me all the time. I couldn't figure it out. Neither could my doctor."
When Ada was born and Emma started breast-feeding, the baby cried day and night; it wasn't until Emma eliminated gluten that Ada's distress eased, as did Emma's chronic headaches. It was a relief to have found the culprit — but bittersweet.
"At the time it felt like my world had ended. It was way before you could go out and buy gluten-free bread. For a while I lived off quinoa and roasted veges. I was feeling overwhelmed at the idea of trying to figure out gluten-free baking in particular."
Despite the transition to gluten-free, healthy eating was always a priority. Although it's taken most of us a few years to cotton on to the benefits of sustainable eating, consuming less meat and more plant-based, organic food, for Emma, it's always been that way. She's come full circle, having grown up in Raglan with parents who raised her and her siblings vegetarian — and it was such an accepted part of life, she didn't question it.
"I've never really had the conversation with them about it, but they followed a spiritual practice from India, where vegetarianism has been practised for millennia. Dad used to do vege boxes for the community long before that was a thing, so I grew up in the garden. Although I don't think I was very helpful. I remember putting a fork right through my gumboot when I was young."
Later, when she and her husband moved home to Raglan after living in Perth for five years, she was overcome by an urge to nest, planting pots and growing lettuces on the patio.
"If you'd told me then I'd one day have a green thumb, I wouldn't have believed it," she says. "Now [the garden] is my total happy place. I guess as I get older, it's where I go to find a little peace and quiet."
From her kitchen, she looks out over freshly dug garden beds that will soon be home to kale, silverbeet and broccoli; elsewhere she can gaze at her mature pear and chestnut trees for inspiration, or use the chillies that are growing in abundance. Also on the agenda are plans to renovate the kitchen, so she can host cooking classes. Whatever the year ahead brings, two things are certain: there'll be food — and lots of chat.
"I love talking," she says. "I'm a pretty honest person, sometimes to my detriment. I enjoy it — I'm a born communicator and something I really do like is sharing and teaching. When I was a chef, that was one of the parts I liked the most. We'd have new kitchen hands starting and I'd show them how to make muffins or cookies."
If there's one thing she's like to impart to those who are hesitant in the kitchen or parents who want to cook healthier meals for their families but don't know where to start, it's to take the pressure off. "Get your kids to help you make muffins, make some pasta. When children make their food they're much more likely to try it. Get them to flick through a recipe book and pick out something they'd like to try. Just keep offering, keep trying. And don't be so hard on yourself."
Every Day by Emma Galloway, published by HarperCollins, is out now.