Babette. A beautiful French name for a very Australian little girl. My parents decided against Babette Forge, and instead opted for the slightly more straight-forward Stephanie Babette Forge. The name was inspired by the film ‘Babette’s Feast,’ something that had always seemed quite romantic and serendipitous (given my love of feasting), which is all about the transformative power of food.
I grew up in Melbourne and, as many do, learned to cook from my mum – always on hand to lick the cake spoon or roll the Anzacs – whose recipes I still use today (her lemon slice is one of my oldest favourites). Fast forward to when I was 12 and we had a young Italian couple living with us. I watched on as Simona and Eros produced delicious, yet simple food with a huge amount of passion.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a very good-humoured dad as my Head Taste-Tester, who thinks everything his daughters cook is ‘The Best Ever’ (my lovely sister knows her way around a kitchen too). We probably need to source someone a little less biased! I’m always learning from my family (of which we are nothing if not food lovers) and friends, as well as restaurants, food blogs, young chefs, health experts and foodies around the world.
The only thing to match my love of food, is my love of travel. I spent my earliest trips recording my every thought, adventure and ticket stub in very precise little journals. That was of course great, but super exhausting and limited in practical terms. So this seems like a much more accessible place to store it all, to document what I liked, what I did, what I thought and of course, what I ate along the way.
A FEW THOUGHTS ON EATING
I share Michael Pollan’s sentiment, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Although I tend to fail on the middle one a little too often. Despite ongoing attempts to lead a healthy existence, I’ll never say no to a margherita pizza, an almond croissant or some sticky date pudding (etc. etc.). Life is too short to do otherwise!
But as much as I can, I like to try to eat foods that nourish and strengthen the body. To this end, I eat lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish (I’ve been a pescatarian for the past 3 years), avoiding processed foods as much as I can. I also try to reduce how much sugar and dairy I consume.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve had a recurring ongoing problem with my stomach, which has since been diagnosed. Over the years, I tested out various diets trying to figure out what was wrong with me and began exploring recipes ‘free from’ certain ingredients – whether it was gluten, dairy, FODMAPs – I’ve tried them all. Through all the experimentation, I found many wonderful recipes that are suitable for people with dietary restrictions.
Below are some general tips on food, totally based on my own approach and views:
- Eat local, seasonal, whole foods as much as possible.
- Buy organic (or biodynamic) as much as your budget will allow – but always for meat and dairy (pasture or grass-fed). Organic is also best (rather than free-range) for poultry (free-range farms sometimes use antibiotics, pellet feed the animals and living condition standards can vary). For fruit and vegetables – anything with a soft skin (berries, stone fruit, tomatoes) should ideally be organic or anything which comes from heavily sprayed crops (apples, spinach, potatoes) – use EWG’s Dirty Dozen list as guidance here.
- For fish – go to a fishmonger and try and source local, sustainable fish (this is, fish that are caught or farmed in a way that isn’t damaging to the species or the ecosystem in which they live). A super useful resource to work this out is the Good Fish Bad Fish website, and if you’re a tuna lover visit the Change Your Tuna website for brand rankings. To avoid mercury, the best approach is to eat small fish (e.g. Anchovies, Trout, Sole, Haddock, Scallops) and avoid the bigger ones (e.g. Tuna, Sea Bass, Mackerel, Shark) as they have a much higher concentration of mercury which can be damaging to your nervous and cardiovascular systems (particularly in young children or pregnant women).
- Avoid highly processed foods and anything with lots of unknown ingredients.
- Reduce how much meat and dairy, and other animal products, you consume (livestock are putting a huge strain on our resources (water, land, forests), not to mention their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions) see more here.
- Grow what you can! Even if it’s just having some herbs pots (which was all I could manage in London) – this is truly one of life’s pleasures and much better for you and the environment.
- Try to cook and consume everything you buy (be organised about your schedule and how much food you/your family can consume). Cook in large batches when possible and freeze leftovers
- Dispose of rubbish in the best ways available to you: reuse, recycle, compost, worm farms etc.
- Feed your gut with good bacteria from fermented foods and drinks (sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, kefir etc.) – this is beneficial to the whole ecosystem of your body, from your mental health to your immune system.
- Sugar – we all know less is more, which can be very tricky I know! But when required, try and use natural sweeteners (maple, malt syrup, dates and honey), in place of modern refined sugars.
- Fats & Oils – use oils with a high smoke point for frying/baking (coconut oil, avocado oil, rice bran oil, animal fat, ghee) and any oils for salad dressings and for drizzling and finishing dishes (extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, flaxseed oil). Regular olive oil is generally okay at a low heat. In short, when oils are heated beyond their smoke point they oxidise (releasing free radicals into our bodies when eaten) and consuming them in this state has been linked to heart disease, cancer etc.