What started out simply as a way to help her family to understand her Paleo lifestyle Nicola Halloran has turned The Wonky Spatula into one of Ireland’s leading health food blogs and a go to source of recipes (there’s over 400 on there!) for those following Paleo, gluten-free or dairy-free diets and for those just wanting to make healthier every day food choices.
Dedicated to sharing simple recipes that help you to stay track without making you feel like you are on a diet Nicola backed up her passion and instincts in the kitchen by training as a chef and recently completed a diploma in Nutrition.
Along with her skill for recipe development Nicola’s fun-loving, down to earth personality has garnered her respect in the Irish food industry and a family of loyal fans, who enjoy following her real life kitchen conundrums and every day experiences just as much as her recipes.
We caught up with Nicola to chat about her latest project, the #TastyEasyLamb campaign, why lamb is the perfect match for her Paleo lifestyle, and her mission to prove just how tasty eating healthily can be.
You’ve teamed up as a ‘Lambassador’ for this year’s Lamb – Tasty, Easy, Fun campaign. What is it you love about cooking with lamb?
I love how versatile it is, you can make a meal and have it on the table in as little as 15 minutes or you can take your time and prepare something a little heartier in the slow cooker like lamb shanks or a tagine.
What made you decide to start the Wonky Spatula blog?
Believe it or not The Wonky Spatula originally started out as a simple list of what was and wasn’t Paleo so my family to wrap their heads around what I was eating! I then began playing around more and more in the kitchen putting together different meals that I wanted to keep track of for future reference and that’s how it began. I didn’t tell many people and to be honest never imagined the level of readership that I currently have.
How have you built what started out as a blog into such a comprehensive website with a vast array of recipes and resources for those looking to eat more healthily?
To be quite honest it is just something that has evolved over time, I post about twice a week and now have a repertoire of 400 recipes for users to choose from, dependant on what they have on hand!
Where does your love of food and cooking come from?
Cooking has always been a central part of life in my family, my great grandparents were hoteliers and my grandfather’s sister was a cookery instructor, both of my parents are really good cooks so as a child I would have had all my meals made from scratch and I think it developed from there – watching them enjoying making and eating good food.
I have such strong memories as a child of watching my mum making plum jam in the summer time. We would pick the fruit together from our garden and she would make me my own ‘special blend’ which I would boast about in the playground – there aren’t many toddlers who have their own jam! Of course, I know now that it was the same as the rest of the batch but in my own little jar!!
Where do you get inspiration for your recipes?
Absolutely everywhere! It varies from things I’ve eaten out, to unhealthy treats I would like to recreate, or things that I have seen other people try that I would like to put my own spin on.
How did you learn how to cook and how did you get on with the Professional Cookery Course in Cooks Academy?
Originally, I was self-taught with a little help from my mum and Google! Cooks Academy got in touch with me to see if I would like to do their course and I jumped at the chance. Every time I see new courses beginning I wish I could be there and do it all again – it was a fabulous experience.
How did you come to follow the Paleo lifestyle?
I decided to try out both Paleo and CrossFit for 30 days in January 2014 as a challenge to myself post-Christmas and it very quickly became a total lifestyle change. Little did I know at the time that I would now be an avid Crossfitter and recipe developer.
How has following a Paleo lifestyle changed the way you cook?
I became far more adventurous in the type of meals I was preparing and ingredients I was using. The health food scene in Ireland was just beginning to evolve so even getting things like almond butter was difficult. The Punnet Health Store in Glasthule, was my go to for all wild and wonderful ingredients.
It is crazy to think that just a 3 years later you can go into any local supermarket and stock up on just about anything! There are always exceptions though as I seem to be one of the few regular users of Coconut Aminos which I still stock up on in The Punnet.
Why is lamb the perfect choice for those embracing a Paleo lifestyle?
It’s full of flavour and an excellent source of protein – what more could you ask for! Whether it’s cooked with just a little seasoning or combined with exotic spices and flavours, lamb is the perfect hero ingredient for everyday meal occasions.
Who has been the biggest inspiration in your cooking journey?
On the Irish food scene I really admire Donal Skehan, I see him as the original Irish food blogger. I think he set up his website in 2008 – I would have been sitting my junior cert at the time and cooking was definitely the furthest thing from my mind!
I also follow a lot of bloggers in the US, Juli Bauer of Paleomg is amazing I love reading her stuff.
What does your daily schedule look like?
I get up in the morning and the first thing I do is grab a coffee and relax for a few minutes before getting ready for the day. Then I head off to work and when I’m finished the working day I head straight to the gym and then home for dinner with my family. There’s lots of scrolling of social media and copious coffees scattered throughout the day but that’s very similar to most people I would say!
Do you work full-time on The Wonky Spatula and how much commitment does it take to maintain a multi-award-winning website?
I work in advertising Monday to Friday, and the blog is my weekend alter ego! It takes a lot of hard work and commitment both in the evenings and mornings before/after work and throughout the weekend, however, for me it doesn’t feel like work at all because I love doing it.
Who do you admire most in the Irish food industry?
There are honestly too many to name, it’s a fantastic time for Irish food everywhere you look there are new products and places to eat popping up.
What is the most popular Wonky Spatula lamb recipe?
My Lamb and Chia Meatballs are hugely popular and totally delicious. In fact, a few minutes ago, someone messaged me to say they were making them!
What is your favourite lamb cut to work with?
Lamb shanks, I love putting them in my slow cooker and experimenting with different rubs. I picked up a delicious rub in Elbow Lane when I was visiting Cork recently that I am dying to try on some!
What’s your go-to easy midweek meal?
Anyone who follows me on Snapchat (@thewonkyspatula) can probably predict this… Lamb with whatever herbs or spices I can get my hands on, sweet potato or baby potatoes, with either spinach or courgette, a small knob of clarified butter and generous glug of hot sauce – it never gets old!
What advice do you have for foodies looking to improve their Instagram feed with food photography?
Natural light is a must – in the winter time you won’t catch me with a camera past 4pm. Don’t over edit, there’s nothing worse than putting Valencia or X-Pro II over a gorgeous food photo.
Who is your local butcher/meat supplier?
John O’Reilly Butchers on Deerpark Road in Mount Merrion, his meat is superb my mum has been buying from him for as long as I can remember.
What food can’t you live without?
What is your nightmare food?
Tuna! The only food I will point blank refuse to eat, and I don’t even have a reason other than it freaks me out!
What is the strangest ingredient in your fridge/pantry?
Dillisk, I love it and have been eating it for as far back as I can remember. My Grandad was born in Sligo and used to take me there every summer, we would bring back huge bags of it to munch on while watching TV.
As someone with such influence in the food community, how do you choose which brands are a good fit for you to work with?
I only work with brands that I personally use, I think there is a huge level of responsibility when it comes to endorsing products when you have a large following behind you so I would never partner with a brand that I didn’t already know and love.
What is your death row meal, who would you share it with and why?
The sharing portion of chicken wings from Riba Restaurant in Stillorgan, with sweet potato fries (make that a double of those!) with my family and friends.
What plans do you have for the future of The Wonky Spatula?
I just launched a new-look website to host all my recipes, tip and tricks for creating delicious dishes!
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.