What can people expect from your new book Cooking With Love?

Keith Squires

Keith Squires

The first thing is a good laugh, even I find it funny and I know what’s coming next. Also, that it is beautifully designed and put together by my wife Samia. It is like a piece of artwork that is such a nice thing in itself to have in your home. Practical too, because it is heavy enough to hold straight the other books on your shelf.

It is based on the healthy cuisine at the yoga centre in north Wales. People always wanted to take the cooks home with them. Now they can as the book captures the essence of the cooking at the centre.

The next thing is that it introduces the idea of plant based meals as a healthy option for everyone. How to balance a simple vegetarian meal so that is delicious, and has the right protein and other nutrients. Then we introduce the whole world of Ayurveda so now you can match your cooking and eating habits to your constitution type.

Plus a look at lots of ingredients we use, including lots of inspiring legends and stories. We also remembered it is a cookbook so there are over 100 tried and tested favourite recipes.

Please tell us about your journey into vegetarianism.

I suppose like a lot of children I really loved animals like cats, dogs, rabbits and especially my pet gerbils. Also loved feeding the cows at the end of our garden and friendly sheep when we went out on picnics. The idea of meat never really sat comfortably with me,  but as a child in the late 1960’s and 70’s I never really knew much about being vegetarian.  It’s great now that there is so much support for children and parents to explore a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.

Some years later when I was 18 or 19 a friend of mine was vegetarian. One day I was tucking into a plump chicken drumstick and she said ‘you know what that is, an animals leg’. That comment really stopped me in my tracks!

A few months later I was away from home in a student house in Bangor, North Wales. This was my opportunity so I grabbed a few vegetarian recipe books and got started. To be honest it was a huge relief. For years I had to split my mind between the part that loved animals and the other part that thought it was ok to eat them. Now this boundary was shattered and for the first time I felt totally integrated in my thoughts and actions.

Then I started yoga and spending time at the yoga centre near the university in Bangor. There all the food was vegetarian so it was normal and I wasn’t different. Also some of the teachers were from Gujarat in India where their whole culture was vegetarian. It was also part of a yoga philosophy called ahimsa or non- harming. It was all presented in a very loving way and not judgemental at all. I think the desire to become vegetarian comes from a clear inner feeling. So we were always careful we didn’t impose our views on people not resonating with that.

However eating more vegetarian or vegan style food is definitely a healthy option for anyone. To have meat free meals or using less meat in your favourite dishes is a great investment in your health.

At the centre there were lots of hungry people so my early love for cooking was put to good use, and started spending many happy days cooking for everyone.

You started cooking at 9 years old- so who was your greatest influence at this age?

My greatest influence was my mother because when I had the idea to start making some cakes she totally encouraged me. In those days gender roles were much stronger so being in the kitchen was not something boys did. She must have been patient too to let me get on with it. So I am so grateful that she nurtured that flicker of enthusiasm.

My grandmother also got enthused by the idea and started buying me ingredients in bulk because she had a shop and could get a cheap deal at the cash and carry.

At that time I became a favourite of the headmaster at our village school. He was lighting up a cigarette and I piped up saying you shouldn’t smoke sir. It wasn’t the done thing but instead of punishing me he asked why not. So I told him that my grandfather had just died from smoking. From then onwards we had this friendly banter every time he lit up I would say you shouldn’t smoke sir, and he would smile sagely and carry on.  

He was a typical English gentleman of the time and could be quite strict but also he was like a genial grandfather too who made sure his boys got the best of everything.

I started taking my cakes a bread to school and this hit another soft spot. He loved it and was another way to find favour with the headmaster. The other boys twigged on so they started doing the same, so we started vying with each other. Our interest then expanded to growing food so the headmaster let us set up allotments in the school grounds and we started our own market garden complete with shed and kettle.

How did Cooking With Love come about?

Running a kitchen is a full-time job so it’s hard to find time to write recipes let alone a whole book. But my wife Samia encouraged me so about 4 years ago we rented a villa in Zante (a Greek island) for two weeks with book writing as the excuse. It was September so not too hot and the sea beautifully warm. The owner of the villa had a taverna just on the beach with beautiful homemade food.

So the days were spent with a morning swim, some writing, lunch, siesta, second swim and more writing.

I surprised myself how I enjoyed the creative process and the words started to flow out like a beautiful song. Although I was typing with one finger and spending quite a lot of time in the sea or sitting in the taverna, it was a time of inspiration and very productive.

Back home the daily routine started to take over again, but about 2 years ago we decided to get focused and finish the book that year. So I passed on some of my responsibilities, and found a nice café by the sea in North Wales where I could buy a coffee and spend the morning writing and got going again.

It sounds funny but it sort of wrote itself. For instance I was writing about herbs parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme and the Simon and Garfunkel song came into mind. I started looking that up and an amazing story came with it. How the herbs are symbols of love and had a language when the song was written in the middle ages.

This and other tangents meant we overshot our 1 year target by more than another year

Why is the way you cook and eat just as important as the food itself?

We sort of all know that if you enjoy something you do it better and easier. Especially something creative you have to be ‘in the zone’. So cooking is the same if you enjoy making it people enjoy eating it too. Even the same recipe comes out very different when different people try it out.

In yoga and Ayurveda it goes a bit further suggesting that we put part of ourselves into the meal. I don’t mean a false eyelash or finger nail, but our feelings and moods. This may feel a bit farfetched but just imagine how we feel about our mothers or grandmothers cooking. Also the atmosphere in a dining room or restaurant often seems to reflect the cooks mood. We don’t want to eat food cooked or presented in an angry way.

Eating too is important, if we eat in a rush it is not very good for our tummies. Irregular eating too can mess up your digestion. It’s like grandparent’s wisdom to take time to eat at a regular time. In Ayurvedic there are six tastes and a bit like French dining you are advised to savour the tastes to fully stimulate your palate and digestion.

Why is dietary advice so contradictory when there is a logical way to eat and live well? /     What are ‘doshas’ and how can they help you to make a food plan bespoke to you?

Dietary advice is contradictory only because it is being applied to everyone as being the same. One person may say eat raw food or juices another other slow cooked. So what do you choose?

Ayurveda provides the logic because it has a measured way of looking at your constitution type. This is composed of three parts ‘vata’ which is airy ‘pitta’ which is fiery and ‘kapha’ which is earthy. The fiery one is hot so is more ok with cold food and juices. Airy is cold and dry so they are better with warm moist food like soups and stews. Earthy is also cold but also heavy so they are better with light warm foods like a stir fry.

Then you can look at the ingredients and spicies. Hot ones like chilli increase fire so are not so good for a pitta constitution, but can activate a heavier earthy kapha type. Sweet food is classed as earthy so grounds an airy vata constitution, but the same food can be a disaster for kapha types as they put on weight easily.

Ayurveda also considers the season, your age and even the time of day.

Why does health start in the kitchen?

We know that the heart of the home is in the kitchen everyone loves to hang out there, even at parties. It’s the place where we nourish ourselves and our connection with people.  

A couple of quotes from Hippocrates sort of sum it up.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.

For many of us our health is quite robust as our body works very hard to stay balanced. It puts up with years of stress, unhealthy junk food and bad habits. Then after a long time the doctor diagnoses an illness and we are shocked. So Ayurveda turns the clock back and looks at prevention. They say disease is like boiling a pan of milk. As you watch it nothing happens, then you ignore it and it suddenly boils over creating a terrible mess. The bad habits are the heat and the boiling over disease that seems to happen suddenly.

So Ayurveda gently suggests turning that heat down a little bit so the milk just simmers. Yoga is good because it tones, sooths and relaxes your body. Eating more healthy food going for a daily walk’. Its lots of little things that make a difference.

Which is the recipes do you tend to make the most?

I actually love cooking in a very rustic way. Just to see what is in the market fresh at the start of the week and make something from it. At the end of the week I love using up all the bits and pieces that have been left and creating something wonderful.

For me it’s always meat free so I normally cook some pulses like split peas or lentils in a good stock. Add my vegetables in turn so they all finish cooking at the same time. Then spices to suit the time of year and my preference for that day. Served with fresh salads dressings great bread or rice I am in heaven.

What is next for you?

I am ready for a break now so it’s a nice cuppa follow by a walk in the woods. Beyond that we are looking forward to more of what we enjoy, sharing our passion of healthy eating, yoga and Ayurveda. With workshops in North Wales a book tour in UK, Netherlands and then Australasia early next year.


Author of Cooking With Love: https://keithonfood.com/cookingwithlove

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