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Talking Honuts & Other Bad-Ass Foods with Virtuous Tart Author Susan Jane White

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In NewsWhistle’s weekly question-and-answer series, Clara Morgan speaks with some of her favorite influencers and finds out more about their lives and careers. This week, Clara speaks with food writer and cookbook author Susan Jane White.

Susan Jane was born in 1979. For the last 13 years she has been “levitating on a cloud of superfoods, love bombs and badass brownies,” as she puts it. She is best known for “taking the hell out of healthy.” Her number one best-selling cookbook, The Virtuous Tart, is being released in America on January 10th, 2017 by Roost Books.

A former President of Oxford University’s Gastronomy Society, she prides herself on weaning an entire generation of students off anti-depressants and dodgy kebabs. As the author of Ireland’s Cookbook of the Year 2016, Susan Jane has amassed a foodie cult following, misbehaves regularly on Irish radio, writes a weekly column for Ireland’s Sunday Independent newspaper, and enjoys exercising her cheeky mouth on live national television.

She lives in Ireland, with her husband and two little vandals, 4 and 6-years-old respectively. Read more about her favorite nutrition-packed sweet treats in this week’s Q&A.

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1. How did you end up making a career out of food writing?

My diet used to be very restrictive. Cereal and milk for breakfast, biscuits, cakes, scones for snacks, pizza or pasta for supper, followed by hot milky drinks and more white-floured, white-sugar snacks. Where’s the excitement in that? I even counted pepperoni as my one-a-day. And coffee is basically a bean, right?

I was so obsessed with wheat, sugar, and dairy that my diet became incredibly restrictive. Giving up these foods for a while offered my taste buds many new discoveries, as well as giving me a new lease on life. It’s the opposite of restrictive–it’s the most liberating thing I have ever done. So suddenly I was exposed to hundreds of outrageously tasty ingredients that I never even knew existed. Chestnut pancakes, soba noodles, buckwheat waffles, chickpea falafel, raw chocolates. My diet became mind-blowingly tasty – it just happened to be kick-ass healthy too. That’s when I started blogging about this nutritional pilgrimage. And it took wings. I’ve since published two best-selling cookbooks, won an Irish Book Award as an author, bagged a column in the country’s biggest newspaper, and now I’m launching in the States. I’m as giddy as a Pokémon on LSD!

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2. Any celebrity clients or memorable stories related to your business that you want to share?

Cooking for the former Irish President on national television. I did a three-tier lemon, ginger and turmeric “cheesecake” which also happened to be my wedding cake recipe from The Virtuous Tart. It’s hard to suppress the memory of my making this cake at a cookery demo. And receiving a standing ovation. It was one of the most mortifying and confusing moments of my life. I must have missed a beat, but suddenly I was parading around the room holding it like the cup of Christ. I think they call this Jerusalem Syndrome. Anyway, no one was harmed.

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3. What is a typical day like for you?

My day often starts with a soggy, loud kiss. He’s an enthusiastic four, and hasn’t got the hang of cooking porridge by himself yet. It’s 5 a.m. We sing “Bob the Builder,” go horse riding on teddies, build Lego, and belt saucepans together. I secretly hope we wake the neighbors. By 5:15, I expire, at which point my husband usually arrives downstairs with our other vandal (aged six).

I pack everybody up and hurl them onto their prospective wheels (bike, scooter, buggy). As soon as the little ones are in kindergarten, I light a fire and get to work. Emails, Instagram, Facebook and blog comments come first. Every day I get about 60 comments looking for a response, of which 59 are from escort agencies in Beijing. The next time I write a book it won’t have the word “tart” in the title. The one non-pornographic comment usually starts with the words: “Hi Sarah. I’ve been your biggest fan for years…” Pah!

Then it’s to the kitchen with Fleetwood Mac, while I experiment with the latest superfoods and crazy-gorgeous trends. I like to alchemize my husband’s favorite dishes into something healthy but stealthy. Then I cash-in on his experience by writing about it for Ireland’s largest national newspaper. I’m classy like that. Four or five hours could go by, before I pass out with a full tummy and a cartoon smile.

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4. What are people doing differently today, compared to 10-15 years ago?

Taking the hell out of healthy! Let’s hear it for the nuts! (Nutritional cooks, that is).

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5. We’re in New York. What are your three favorite locations to visit here?

I adore traipsing around the independent bookstores like McNally Jackson in SoHo, and getting lost in other people’s lives. Bookstores frequently cast spells on me.

I’m from a small city called Dublin in Ireland, so Central Park blows my mind. It’s so arrestingly beautiful in the fall, I have to remind myself to breathe. I have frequently fallen off bikes from laughing too hard. I’ve also hurt my face laughing so much in the Irish Arts Center, at any of Maeve Higgin’s gigs. Maeve is an Irish comedian in NYC. She is the sorcerer of happiness.

Then it’s to the High Line where I will sit and soak up every swatch of sunlight on my thirsty Irish face. I love this walk so much. If you pass me, I’ll likely be humming loudly with a Cheshire smile.

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6. Since you are working within the food industry, do you find that it enhances your love of food or do you find it is a different feeling when you cook in your leisure time?

It’s all one. I’m like a caffeinated Kermit the Frog, in a kid’s playground. Everything is amazing. Even after ten years.

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7. What was your best New York moment? Your worst?

The best? Walking around the greatest streets of NYC, and bumping into Irish neighbors.

My worst? Walking around the greatest streets of NYC, and bumping into Irish neighbors.     

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8. Tell us something that people do not know about you.

I love tweezing my premature grey hairs on my head.  Love it, love it, love it.

David Letterman also proposed to me once on live TV. It was my first trip to NYC. I was sixteen, and found myself in the front row of his show.

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9. How would you describe your personal style? 

I’m very tall and feline looking (red lippie, big mane, 1950’s glasses) so I need to pair all that femininity with flat blokey biker boots, corduroy shorts, and crazy colored tights. That’s my daily uniform, with rotating over-sized cashmere sweaters. Sounds horrific, but it feels fabulous. (My husband might have a different opinion, by the way).

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10. Who is your style icon? Where do you find your style inspiration?

My web designer, Graham Thew. He’s the Snazz. Michelle Obama is a scorcher too. I love snappy simplicity.

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11. Who is your favorite fashion designer, artist or architect – and why?

Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They straddle art and architecture. I love how they challenge and surprise us as a community, not just as individuals.

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12. Favorite perfume or skincare range?

Beauty Heroes! I have it FedExed to Ireland, it’s that good.

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13. Name your favorite vacation spot and hotel? What makes these places so special?

Ballyfin Demesne (where Kanye and Kim honeymooned). It’s close to my home in Ireland, and has champagne on tap. Champagne comes from grapes, so it’s basically one of our five-a-day, no?

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14. Which three things can you not live without?

My husband’s wit. My children’s cuteness. And my taste buds. If I had a fourth, it would be cashmere socks.

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15. What song, meditation or mantra can you listen to on repeat? And why?

Lisa Hanigan’s song “Fall.” Her voice is hauntingly beautiful. Find her on Spotify. She gigs every year in NYC – unmissable. She is every rock star’s wet dream.

Also, if I could have Michael Fassbender on audio telling me “You is smart, you is beautiful, you is kind …” I’d like that very much and probably would listen to it on repeat.

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16. If you could meet anyone in the world, who would you like to meet? And why?

AA Gill, the Sunday Times food critic. Gill inspired me to write honestly about food thirteen years ago. He gave me rhythm and wings. Since then, my unexpected career took off, against the strongest of currents. We never met, but I feel like I know him. Creepy, eh? First-person columns do that, you see. We get to know columnists as if they were perched on our shoulders, tickling us. I’m still mourning his death. I imagine I always will.

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17. Can you tell us about your new cookbook, The Virtuous Tart?

It’s about turning my pesky sugar cravings into a nutritional slam-dunk, and giving my taste buds something to rave about. I’ve alchemized recipes that are so darn good, I don’t crave trashy confectionery anymore. I prefer the taste of my homemade sweet treats like pomegranate halva, honuts (healthy donuts), boozy chocolate cupcakes, and chewy teff cookies, all made with natural sugars and battery-boosting flours.

I’m pretty cheeky and potty-mouthed. So there’s a lot of sass in this book, and taking the mickey out of the “clean eating” trend. Cookbooks shouldn’t have to be po-faced. Can’t they be fun too?  The Virtuous Tart helps you service your sweet tooth, without the boring stats or dietary instructions. Healthy food should never tax your taste buds. I’d rather neck a glass of sneeze than go on a diet.

Link to pre-order on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Virtuous-Tart-Sinful-Saintly-Recipes/dp/1611804051/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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All images courtesy of Joanne Murphy