The title of Eleanor Ozich’s new recipe book, My Family Table, couldn’t be more reflective of the way she goes about creating, writing and styling the wholesome recipes inside. Rather than stretching herself to fill its pages with idealised versions of her family’s daily fare, the mother-of-two, blogger and café-owner, values simplicity above all else.
“All of the food that’s in there is whatever I was making for the kids that night. That’s why I’m so proud of this book: I absolutely love it because it really is the food that we were eating,” she tells me shortly after dropping her youngest son, Obi, off at day-care. “That’s the great thing about taking the photos myself too: I’d just whip my camera out, take some snaps and say, Yep that’s a winner!”
While her first publication, My Petite Kitchen Cookbook (published last May) was also centered on her family, she began the long process of writing her second book with a renewed focus on practicality.
“Everything’s even easier and simpler than the first book," she says. "I find that when I don’t plan too much, that’s when I make the most tasty, delicious food. I never put too much stress on myself to make anything too fancy. I’ve tried to do that in the past and it just never turns out well.”
Her favourite recipe from the book is the creamy mushroom chicken served on cauliflower rice that her family adores. A flexible recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies comes a close second – Eleanor's always experimenting and she enjoys trying them with different dried fruits. “I make those most Sundays for the kids; they’re good lunchbox fillers. I have so many favourites. I genuinely love all of them – there’s not one recipe I’m iffy about. Everything’s pretty awesome.”
Eleanor’s focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients coupled with thoughtful styling saw her blog, Petite Kitchen, garner a dedicated following soon after she started it. She says it began as a personal diary to document her food-based tactic to healing her daughter Izabella’s growing list of health issues. After six months she was surprised but delighted to find she had garnered a following of like-minded cooks and mothers.
“When my daughter was about three-years-old she had heaps of health issues – really bad eczema and asthma and some quite serious food intolerances. No one could really work out what the problem was until went to a naturopath and she explained that everything is stemmed in the gut which we could heal by following a simple wholefoods-style diet.”
Taking inspiration from Nigel Slater’s food philosophy and Jamie Oliver’s unmatched zest for good food, Eleanor values taste just as highly as health. “It’s really about making everything really tasty and delicious, I just love really hearty, comforting food. Mediterranean, Italian-style food is my favourite – Nigel Slater makes a lot of that.”
Scrolling through the rustic, tranquil scenes that fill Eleanor’s blog, you could be forgiven for assuming she lives something of a charmed life, but she tells me it hasn’t been easy to find the sweet spot between work and play. “Last year was really hard – a real struggle. I definitely took on way too many projects.”
She says with the help of her business partner, Hannah Horton, her Kingsland café, Mondays Wholefoods, has now found its groove, 18 months after opening. “Hannah and I jumped into it and we had no experience – we didn’t know what we were doing but we’re feeling really confident now.”
She also credits a move from inner-city suburbia to West Auckland as another reason her life flows more smoothly these days. “It’s made a huge difference to our working style and I just make sure that I never take any work home. When I’m with the kids I try not to go on my phone or anything like that, which I didn’t do last year.”
Eleanor now makes sure to spend more time on the parts of her life she values most, such as the intimate events she holds at Mondays. “Hannah and I love what we do with our blogs and everything but it’s great to have a physical space where we can talk to people. It’s awesome, we love holding dinners, book launches and little events like that.”
I ask her what her plans are for the rest of the year and she assures me she’s “just chilling for a bit” before immediately revealing there are tentative plans for a second Mondays in the works. “Kingsland would still be our kitchen, but we’d have a hole-in-the-wall spot in a busier location. Kingsland’s great but it’s a bit out of the way for most people.”
Considering how much she’s accomplished already her ambition comes as little surprise. With her fingers crossed, Eleanor heads off to view a potential location, her mind firmly set on making city-life a little slower and a lot more delicious.