One of my earliest childhood memories was learning how to make scrambled eggs in the microwave. I can clearly remember writing out the “recipe” over and over in my notebook – I was partly testing out different handwriting styles, but also ensuring I wouldn’t forget the right amount of milk to pour in or how many seconds it needed to get blitzed. I needed a guide to make sure I got it right every time.

That reliance on recipes has stuck with me over the years. I love to cook but have always felt like I needed a tried and tested recipe by my side in the kitchen unless I’m making something simple like a smoothie or breakfast scramble. Our bookshelves are overflowing with cookbooks and the vast majority of my pins are recipes. For years  on Sunday mornings I would sit down with a stack of books and meticulously plan our meals for the week.

Becoming a mother changed that. Life with a newborn is a crazy, exhausting time and I could barely find it in me to eat a proper meal let alone plan a week’s worth in advance. But still being able to piece together a decent for lunch or dinner made me feel like a real, whole human and so I often pushed myself to get creative in the kitchen. As the months wore on I my confidence grew as both a mother and the kind of cook that could pull something together with a little of this and a pinch of that. When I’m feeling energetic and organized I still manage to pull together some loose plans for the week, planning to make a few specific recipes and then winging it with leftovers and pantry staples for the rest of the week.

That’s how this salad came to be.

We were a few hours out from a picnic with friends and I hadn’t yet made anything to bring. I read through the lentil salad recipe in the My New Roots book  and I had some but not all of the ingredients but still figured I could make it work. I liked the savoury spices in the dressing but wasn’t sure of the sweeter ones so decided to skip them. Then as I was reaching for the lentils I came across a bag of rice and beans which sounded good to me so I ran with that instead. I had one last apple in the fruit bowl so I threw that in, the last of a box of arugula and a few stalks of celery that were about thisclose to wilting in the crisper. The juice of a lemon brightened the whole salad up and voila — lunch was made.

Having a baby has taught me to trust my instincts, not just when it comes to caring for my child but in all facets of my life – the kitchen included. While I’ll always have a stack of cookbooks on my bedside table now I look at recipes as inspiration not commandments set in stone. It’s a win-win-win kind of situation: I get to flex my creative muscles, I get to eat the delicious fruits of my labour, and I get to share it all with you.

Are you a recipe reader or an intuitive cook or an in-between, like me? I’d love to know!

Wild Rice Salad
Inspired by My New Roots Best Ever Lentil Salad
Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main with a little left over

I buy Lundberg’s Old World Pilaf, a mix of rice and beans, at Costco. If you can’t find the pilaf you could use one cup of cooked rice and one cup of cooked lentils or small beans.

Ingredients:

1 cup Lundberg Olde World Pilaf Rice and Beans
3 stalks celery, diced
1 large crisp apple, diced
2 packed cups baby arugula
1/4 cup parsley, fined chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced

Dressing:
1/3 cup olive, flax, hemp or avocado oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp seat salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Method:

1. Cook rice and beans according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile make dressing. Put all dressing ingredients into a blender or jar with a tight fitting lid and mix to combine. Set aside.

3. Transfer cooked rice and beans to a large bowl and allow to cool slightly. Add 1/3 of the dressing and mix to combine.

4. Add in celery, apple, parsley, arugula and additional dressing to taste (I added about another 1/3) and mix.

5. Add lemon juice and adjust seasoning to taste.

Enjoy!