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Nigella’s sweet return

The domestic goddess is back with a new book, a new figure and a new lease on life.

Nigella Lawson has always been something of a contradiction. She’s the sexy domestic goddess whose curvaceous figure defies belief when you consider the cakes she’s constantly baking – cakes that have a butter content Julia Child would be proud of.
But as the 55-year-old mum-of-two emerges from one of the darkest periods of her life (with a cookbook, TV show and brand-new figure to boot), she’s finding that a new kind of incongruity is working very well for her – organised spontaneity.
“I’m right here, right now,” she tells British lifestyle magazine Good Housekeeping.
“This is a great place to be. I’ve always thought that, when you cook, you have to be in the present. And that’s really how you have to live your life. With my family history [her mother, sister and first husband all died at young ages of cancer], I never want to plan for the future.
Nigella's weight has fluctuated over the years, but the celebrity chef has shed the pounds after a particularly brutal phase in her personal life. She revealed her new figure in Good Housekeeping (left).
“I’m not a planner,” she says. “There are certain things you have to organise – you need structure in order to be spontaneous – but that’s how I cook and how I live.”
Happiness, and an even keel, has finally come after that horrendously public divorce from ex-husband Charles Saatchi, and a court trial involving two former assistants.
And that’s reflected in her new cookbook, Simply Nigella. This, her 10th book, is reflective of her more relaxed approach to life. Gone are those trademark tight black dresses and vampy hair. In their place, more slouchy checked shirts... and jeans!
And it’s telling that one of the chapters in the book is simply called “Breathe”.
“What I’m trying to do, and this is true for the whole book and in my life, is to make food that makes me feel good.”
That’s not to say the cheese and cream-loving Nigella is but a memory – “I wouldn’t want a life where I lived on chia seed pudding,” she asserts. Instead, she chooses whatever it is that makes her feel good on any given day, whether that be a bowl of broccoli or a block of chocolate.
“Life is about balance, it’s not about being smug... so I am interested in how I feel. I am intuitive about my body.”
Food has always been a comfort for the self-taught chef, from her favourite jam tarts dating back to the ‘60s, to her great-aunt Myra’s pea, mint and avocado salad from the ‘70s, to all of the recipes from the “bittersweet“ ‘90s and finally, the dawn of her love of cake – the noughties.
“Believe me, I never set out to become a domestic goddess, and nor am I one,” she tells. “I just learned to bake. For me, it wasn’t an act of submission, but of liberation. Yes, the title [of the book] was provocative, but only if you miss the irony, and given the pictures in How to Be a Domestic Goddess, it seems to me hard to do!”
As Nigella has evolved, her food has too. It’s no coincidence that her latest book is focused on helping people feel better – it’s a personal symbol of how she’s managed to heal herself. It’s been three years since she last released a cookbook, Nigellissima, and the long hiatus can be attributed to her tidal wave of personal tragedies.
“In that time, I cooked in temporary kitchens and created a new one – and in the process rediscovered why cooking matters so much to me,” she says.
And while she’s sticking to her guns when it comes to her distaste of dieting and the term “clean eating”, she has started doing yoga – albeit a “rather slow” form called Iyengar. “Yoga certainly makes you feel great, and you want to carry on feeling great,” she says. “I’m not a fanatic. I just do a bit in a very slow way. Sometimes, lying down!”
Nigella’s weight has famously fluctuated through the years, but she’s now content at size 12. She says she never actively tries to lose weight, but that she does so when she’s feeling good. “I do not feel it is possible to live well without eating well... I cook the way I have always cooked – with greedy impatience and without heed to dietary pieties,” she says, adding that she refuses to sanctify or demonise any type of food – even kale.
The down-to-earth food writer – who, in her new book, endearingly admits she still can’t use chopsticks, despite a trip to Thailand last year – will soon be gracing New Zealand screens when Simply Nigella airs on Prime next year. The show will have the same message as the book, she tells. “So this is what Simply Nigella says, and it is an aptly simple message: Here’s where I am, here is my food, this is what my life tastes like right now.
“And, it’s tasting pretty good to me.”
Words by: Vivienne Archer

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