Half Hour Hero: Roz Purcell's new book offers real food — fast

A proper food fan with an appetite to match, Roz Purcell tells Clodagh Finn about her new labour of love, a book of recipes that are as quick easy as they are delicious

EXCUSES just don’t wash with Roz Purcell. Tell her that you don’t have the time, the money, the inclination, or even the right ingredients to eat healthily, and the bestselling cookery author will direct you to Half Hour Hero, her new book that shows you how to make real food, real fast.

Not that she’s a purist. She spent long enough dieting and feeling deprived in her modelling days to know that life is about finding a balance and learning to give your body the nutrients it needs.

In fact, she wonders when exactly people stopped listening to their own bodies.

“It’s as if we are waiting for someone to tell us what to have. You are the only one who knows what your body needs and if you enjoy what you eat, that is half the battle,” she says.

Roz certainly enjoys what she eats and is done with calorie counting and miserable portions. In fact, when asked if it’s true that her boyfriend, music promoter Zach Desmond, once said she eats like a bloke, she laughs out loud and nods. “A lot of my guy friends are surprised by how much I eat. I enjoy big portions, but I know when to stop.”

She goes on to talk about all the things she enjoys — porridge topped with berries and toasted almonds; banoffee pie; mashed potato with Kerrygold butter. That last dish would be her death-row meal, although the humble spud doesn’t appear in the 100 recipes in her new book, mostly because of the time it can take to cook.

The focus of this book is on recipes that can be prepared and cooked in 30 minutes — but that doesn’t mean there is any shortage of choice. She says she did a significant amount of research online and asked people what they wanted — the answer was, easy recipes using ingredients that you could buy in your local corner shop.

She drew on that research to come up with a list of her top 20 hero foods (see panel above) and uses them to produce an inspiring range of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, and snacks. There is no deprivation in the sumptuous pages of Half Hour Hero, but all recipes use natural foods and whole ingredients.

In 2013, the former model started a blog to share her love of food and to spread the wholefood message. Her first book, the bestselling Natural Born Feeder, grew out of the blog and since then she’s been on a mission to make the healthiest possible versions of every dish on our daily table.

Her passion for food started when she was a child growing up in Killurney, Co Tipperary. She cooked with her grandparents Aida and Johnson Purcell, who lived beside them and, from the age of seven or eight, was preparing full meals and serving them on a linen-clad table.

She’s quite the city woman now, dressed casually in denim skirt and sweat-top, sipping coffee with almond milk on the terrace of Balfe’s in the Westbury hotel with her miniature Jack Russell, Wilko, on her knee.

Her morning routine starts at 6.30am when she goes to Beau Jacks Boxing Club in Dublin city centre — “a lot of my closest friends are there and I aspire to be like my trainer Steve Dawson who at 52 is full of life and in great shape” — before embarking on a day full of all sorts of engagements.

Yet, she’s a countrywoman at heart and was keen to start her book-signings outside Dublin because she knows only too well how the rest of the country is often overlooked. She talks easily about her childhood, in fact, about everything.

There isn’t a subject that Roz Purcell isn’t happy to discuss and we talk politics (she admires Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau); travel (she spent two weeks in the Amazonian jungle after winning an essay competition, aged 16); social media (“I’ve been in the industry a long time so I have a thick skin on me”); music (she relaxes to the music of film composers Ennio Morricone and Hans Zimmer, and Zach compiles her playlists so she always knows what the next big thing is) and just about anything you care to mention.

One thing that is striking is how important family is to her. She says she is a really positive person but gets down when her sister Rachel isn’t feeling well. Her sister (30) was diagnosed with leukaemia just before Roz’s first book came out. The whole family, her eldest sister Rebecca and parents John and Cecily, were wonderfully distracted by working together in the pop-up shop set up to launch the book.

The project raised €12,000 for the Capuchin Day Centre for homeless people in Dublin, but it was also a blessing at a very difficult time. Roz says it was like Christmas Day every day, along with its wonderful closeness and family spats, and helped them get through the shock of the diagnosis. Rachel is doing very well now and is back at work, but her sister keeps a watchful eye on her in the city-centre apartment they share with Wilko.

Roz Purcell’s dog, Wilko, gets in on the act too — the book includes a recipe for delicious biscuits for our canine pals.

The adopted pup gets a special page in Roz’s new book with a recipe for dog biscuits and he is, says Roz, the apple of her eye.

What harm that he chews things. “In fact, he only ever chews my stuff. He chewed my passport once. The only page I needed. I had to get an emergency one,” she says, but somehow you can see that he’s forgiven.

Looking ahead, it’s all about healthy food and fitness and also remembering to live life to the full and not to be too hard on yourself. “On your death bed, you will probably ask yourself why you didn’t have more fun. I feel so lucky to be doing something I love.”

Half Hour Hero by Roz Purcell is published in hardback by Penguin Ireland, €23. Roz will be signing copies of her book in O’Mahony’s, Limerick, at 2pm on Saturday, October 14; at Eason, Cork at 2pm on Saturday, October 21; and the Book Centres Waterford and Wexford on Saturday, December 2, (12 and 3pm).

Top tips from Roz Purcell’s Half Hour Heroes

Follow the 80/20 rule

My biggest piece of adviceis to take an 80/20 approach to food (follow a healthyeating plan 80% of the time and be more flexible for the remaining 20% of the time). We’re all human, so saying that you’re going to be good 100% of the time just isn’t realistic.

Plan

Plan, plan, plan!

Meal prep and planning is one of the biggest keys to my success.

Experiment

Don’t cut out foods, much less entire food groups, before you’ve given them a chance. There is no right or wrong diet and the best judge of what works for you is you.

Educate yourself

Read the labels to figure out what’s in your food and take back control.

Get moving

I’m fanatical about training, but you don’t have to be a fully-fledged fitness jerk to move. Just move more: walk more, take the stairs more, join a gym.

What’s your excuse?

If you feel you are failing in your goal to lead a more balanced, healthy lifestyle, what’s your excuse? For me, it was lack of willpower. On the weekends I’d look at food as a reward and eat all the stuff I told myself I wasn’t allowed during the week. I couldn’t deal with the Monday guilt any more, so I decided to have a treat if I really wanted one, no matter what day of the week it was.

Let go of the guilt

I wasted so many years feeling guilty about food. If you’re going to have something a little naughty, just go ahead and have it, enjoy it and move on. Go back to your normal routine the next day and don’t beat yourself up over it.

The dribble approach

Make small changes. You don’t have to dive in head first and try to do everything all at once. Rome wasn’t built in a day and a balanced lifestyle won’t be either.

Roz’s top 20 hero foods:

Almond milk (unsweetened), avocados, bananas, berries, broccoli, chia seeds, courgettes, dark chocolate, eggs, feta cheese, lemons, maple syrup and honey, nut butter, porridge oats, protein powder, raw nuts and seeds, rice, lentils and quinoa,sweet potatoes, tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and beans and yogurt.


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