Life

Wednesday 26 June 2019

'I've basically been on a white diet' - Pregnant food writer Indy Power admits she couldn't stomach her morning green smoothie

A visit to her grandmother in Japan when aged 12 set Weekend food columnist Indy Power off on her adventures in cooking. And now, with a new plant-based recipe app, and a baby on the way, she's ready to bring her food philosophy to a whole new generation, writes Orla Neligan

Plant-powered: Indy’s concern for the environment inspired her switch to a plant-based diet. Indy wears: Dress, €52, Topshop, jewellery, Indy's own. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Plant-powered: Indy’s concern for the environment inspired her switch to a plant-based diet. Indy wears: Dress, €52, Topshop, jewellery, Indy's own. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Indy wears: Mesh top, €43, River Island, halter top (worn over), €34, Topshop. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Indy wears: top, €145, Kilkenny Store, skirt, €100, Topshop, shoes, €77, Topshop. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Indy wears: dress, €275, Maje, Brown Thomas, earrings, €16, Topshop. Photo: Naomi Gaffey

Orla Neligan

It would be easy to be a little intimidated by the elfin beauty that is sitting across from me. After all, there are not many 26-year-olds who are revered in their industry, have a newspaper column, a successful blog, cookbook, recipe app and close to 70k followers on Instagram.

Indy Power has packed a lot into her short career. And yet, the results of her hard graft are worn lightly, with the insouciance of someone who still isn't quite sure what all the fuss is about. In the three years since I last interviewed her, she is the same: warm, friendly and self-effacing, with just a little more self-assurance, and as arresting in her appearance as ever.

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Despite the pitfalls of the first trimester of her pregnancy, she has the look of someone who just came from a brisk walk, with glowing skin, rosy cheeks and a tumble of beautiful beach-swept hair. She begs to differ. "My skin isn't good thanks to my raging pregnancy hormones," she sighs, eyes rolling. "And these are the only trousers that actually fit me," she stands up to show me her faux leather 'vegan' trousers. I'm somewhat surprised at their coolness and tell her so. "I know," she practically squeals. "Can you believe they're vegan?" Considering the global phenomenon that is veganism, I can.

Driven by health, environment, animal welfare concerns and coaxed along by celebrities like Jay Z and Beyoncé, the social shift has catapulted the vegan lifestyle into the mainstream. Buzzy vegan restaurants, bloggers and big supermarket chains such as M&S are jumping on the vegan bandwagon; even Guinness has stopped using fish bladders in its brewing process, after two-and-a-half centuries.

Indy wears: dress, €275, Maje, Brown Thomas, earrings, €16, Topshop. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Indy wears: dress, €275, Maje, Brown Thomas, earrings, €16, Topshop. Photo: Naomi Gaffey

A vegan wardrobe is high on Indy's list of priorities for living the vegan lifestyle. She is completely plant-based in her diet but "making an effort" in other areas. "The more I'm detached from meat-eating, the more I realise how unnecessary it is to kill animals," she says matter-of-factly.

Indy's transition to an entirely plant-based diet started two years ago when she was tested for allergies and discovered intolerance to cow and sheep's milk, and eggs. But a huge part of her decision was the environment. Vegan diets would require 3.1 billion hectares less land to produce our food, an area the size of Africa. "Globally, the livestock industry contributes almost 20pc of human-produced greenhouse gases, that's more than planes, trains and cars put together," she says, eyes wide.

"The stats are scary. Animal agriculture is said to be responsible for 91pc of rainforest deforestation and [I believe] a plant-based diet is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on earth." But surely she misses the odd egg? "I really thought I would," she muses. "I ate them every morning." What about bacon? "I make a mean vegan BLT with charred shitake mushrooms, avocado and vegan mayo. It's really about finding things that are as enjoyable." Admittedly she hasn't been able to eat said BLT, or any of her favourite food, for the last few months. Instead, she's been craving carbs, in particular potatoes. "Anything white," she laughs. "Pasta, potatoes, rice... I've basically been on a white diet thanks to this pregnancy. I'm calling it my 'beige phase'. Normally I love lentils but I was literally repulsed by them for the last few months. But, I'm back on the lentil wagon now," she laughs.

I can't imagine the 'beige phase' is pertinent to many iron-rich foods, a pre-requisite in any mother-to-be's diet. She couldn't stomach her morning green smoothie, she admits, but is now making up for it. "I'm feeling so much better now as I'm 14 weeks so I'm back on the smoothies and getting loads of good greens in. Plus, I'm taking pregnancy supplements."

So, will they be raising a plant-based baby? "At home, yes; I'm not going to be cooking anything different to what Tom and I eat. If someone is minding the baby and it is fed dairy I won't freak out, I'm fairly flexible. I don't think everyone has to be all or nothing. If you love steak that's fine but maybe have it as a treat, even cutting down makes a difference."

The last time Indy and I met was on the cusp of her wedding to fiancé Tom Parsons in her family's holiday home in the south of France, a mere three months after her sister's wedding in the same location. "It's kind of spooky how similar we are," she smiles. Indy's sister is also pregnant, they are eight weeks apart and, she tells me excitedly, they even kissed their husbands for the first time on the same day. Following the wedding it was straight into developing her new plant-based cooking app - a riot of flavour and colour that gives the proverbial two fingers to the dowdy, spartan image of vegan food. "It's a common misconception that plant-based food is boring and lacking in flavour," she says. "The very word 'plant' sounds dull but when you think about it, plants are so colourful and vibrant. For me, it's about creating flavour using spices and herbs. Also, another misconception is that just because it's vegan, doesn't mean it's healthy. For example, Oreos are vegan but they're not low fat or very healthy. You have to do your research."

Indy wears: Mesh top, €43, River Island, halter top (worn over), €34, Topshop. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Indy wears: Mesh top, €43, River Island, halter top (worn over), €34, Topshop. Photo: Naomi Gaffey

Her recipes are designed to feel so doable that unhealthy quick-fixes become a thing of the past. A quick glance at her Little Green Spoon app and Instagram feed is enough to make you want to hand your diet over to her for the foreseeable future. Her photography is bright, clean and fresh, her instructions brief, ingredients easily accessible and process simple, offering the familiarity of comfort food while appealing to your taste buds. Most of the dishes on the app take 15-20 minutes to make and since she's big on avoiding food waste, include lots of leftovers.

"Apparently one-third of household food in Ireland is thrown away and, for me, it's always things in the fridge sitting there for days and going off rather than cooked meals, that go to waste. I love using up old veggies in curries and they freeze really well which is an added bonus for those cold nights when you're late home from work and you can just grab a dinner from your freezer. My cashew curry is a favourite of Tom and I; it tastes good with any veg - cauliflower, aubergine, courgettes, sweet potato - and is so easy to make."

Ketchup, on the other hand, is a repellent. She can't even "touch the bottle". And while we're on the subject of things that irk her, those Instagram ads for laxative teas and, don't even mention clean eating. "The phrase annoys me because if we say one thing is clean it implies the other is dirty."

What's admirable about Power is that, despite family connections (her parents Laura George and Robert Power are both directors of Image Publications) that could have assisted her meteoric rise, her stellar career is a product of her own graft. She possesses the sort of mettle only those honing their skills for years seem to have.

Even more surprising is the do-it-yourself philosophy. She has no assistant. Photography, styling, cooking, recipe creation, social media is all done by her. "I don't really know what I'm doing half the time," she smiles modestly. Mondays are spent recipe writing, Tuesdays-Thursdays cooking and editing, and Fridays are for "everything else".

Currently her workload has doubled as she prepares for maternity leave. "I'm hoping to be six months ahead with the app," she says, biting her lip. The very nature of a subscription-based app means she can't slow down and, while she's well aware that working alone doesn't help, she prefers it that way, although her husband Tom helps with the technical stuff.

She does get into styling "ruts", she adds. At the moment she likes just two bowls in which everything is served and photographed, and she definitely needs to do a photography course to break some "bad habits". As for the spoils, her husband Tom and parents Laura and Tom are happy guinea pigs since the couple are living with them while they wait for their house to be built. "It was supposed to be a few months but we've had a planning nightmare so here we are two years later - my poor parents," she groans, putting her hands to her face.

Dinner parties will have to wait until August when they hope to be settled in the new house, just in time for the arrival of their baby boy in November. She hopes to squeeze a "baby moon" in before then too. "We're going back to Greece, where we spent our honeymoon. Next to France, it's definitely my favourite place in the world and the food…," she trails off, mouth open.

Also on the wish list is a three-week trip to Japan. She cites a visit to her Japanese grandmother when she was 12 as inspiration for a lot of her recipes. "She was an amazing cook and would prepare these incredible feasts. I've always loved Asian flavours as a result," she reveals.

When I probe her about her culinary fails, she's quick to answer. "There's been loads. Most recently I was trying to make these jam swirl muffins and I honestly don't know how many batches I made. It was epic fail territory," she laughs. Baking is one of the trickier elements of vegan cooking, she tells me, due to the lack of eggs; you have to tweak other elements of the recipe.

Although her 70k followers aren't privy to the "duds", her food is vegan without a hint of prissiness and she's not afraid to show people a bit of reality.

"I don't wear a lot of makeup and I do sit around in my gym gear and my pyjamas a lot," she laughs. "I often think people don't really want to see 'this' me on Instagram but at the same time I'm not that bothered. Of course I'm self-conscious like a lot of women, especially in the last few months when my skin was bad with the pregnancy, but I don't try to make up content or be someone I'm not. If someone makes you feel bad, just don't follow them."

It's a good maxim for life. And if she had any advice for someone kicking off a plant-based diet? "Go through apps, books and websites and pick five dishes that excite you, make a shopping list and fill your fridge and cupboards with that food - that's half the work done and likely to inspire you to cook it now you're looking at the ingredients. And try not to focus on the things you can't have but make a list of those things you can have."

Although meat, dairy and processed foods are off the table, her 'can have' list includes a glass of wine (although she's waiting until the baby arrives to get back on that wagon), chocolate (of the dark variety) and anything with nuts, salt and caramel. "Oh, and currently, chips," she smiles. The healthier sweet potato fries or chipper chips, I wonder? "Oh, I wasn't thinking about those," she pauses. "Chipper chips don't sound bad at all right now," she looks at her watch. "Just in time for lunch."

Indy wears, clockwise from far left: Mesh top, €43, River Island, halter top (worn over), €34, Topshop; top, €145, Kilkenny Store, skirt, €100, Topshop, shoes, €77, Topshop; dress, €275, Maje, Brown Thomas, earrings, €16, Topshop; (as seen on cover) dress, €295, Maje, Brown Thomas

Photography: Naomi Gaffey

Styling: Sarah Corcoran

Hair: Donna at Zero One salon

Makeup: Jennah Loughman for One Dame Lane

Shot on location at the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin

 

Indy's five go-to meals

1. Lentil bolognese - it's always a hit no matter whom you're cooking for and it's so comforting.

2. The best ever tofu - it's honestly so delicious you just have to try it. I have it with crunchy Asian slaw and crispy chargrilled broccoli. All really quick and so much flavour.

3. Moussaka - it's great for making earlier in the day if you'll be out for the afternoon and it's almost better reheated the next day.

4. My favourite snack hands down is my cookie dough balls, they're irresistible and I'm always in the mood for one.

5. On colder nights I love my quick chickpea bean stew - one pot, minimal effort and great when you have an empty fridge.

Recipes available on the app and website Littlegreenspoon.ie. For exclusive recipes, check out Weekend magazine every Saturday

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