Sarah Akhurst is a food writer and recipe developer, currently working as Food Editor for Weight Watchers magazine. I was inspired by Sarah’s story because it demonstrates that despite juggling family life (and parenting a child with complex needs) she has been able to carve out a successful career in an industry she’s really passionate about. It also goes to show that social media can be a positive force in people’s lives.
Sarah shares two quick and healthy supper recipes (perfect for busy working mums): sticky peanut butter chicken with egg fried noodles and middle eastern style stuffed aubergines with mint and feta (see bottom of article).
Tell us about yourself
I started my career in radio production before moving into magazines, working across women’s and consumer magazines at the BBC as a commercial editor on titles such as Eve, Good Food, Vegetarian Good Food & Radio Times. From there, I moved to Guardian News & Media where I continued to work for a number of years as a commercial editor producing sponsored editorial content for sections such as Guardian Weekend, the Observer magazine and Observer Food Monthly.
I’ve always been a food obsessive – as a child I used to spend hours in the kitchen prepping Sunday dinner or cooking for my mum’s dinner parties. I had always wanted to direct my career in that direction, but the opportunity never really presented itself. Then, in 2010, the chance of voluntary redundancy came up so I decided to take the leap. After nearly 15 years of working in media, I swapped my laptop for a pinny and embarked on a professional cordon bleu diploma at Tante Marie Culinary Academy. It was wholeheartedly one of the best decisions I have ever made and I loved every second of my training.
When I graduated with a first, I initially worked as a private chef, cooking for a family of nine. Whilst it was an amazing experience, I knew it would be difficult to combine this kind of career route with family life if I planned to have children. I started doing a bit of private catering and styling for photography shoots, before finally moving into doing recipe development for brands. In 2014, a couple of years after having my son, I took a job as a Food Editor at Seven Publishing and am now the Food Editor for Weight Watchers magazine, and also produce recipe content for the Sainsbury’s brand.
How has social media been a positive force in your work and personal life?
Social media is a really important tool of my job, most particularly Instagram and Facebook. I use them both to keep in touch, and get inspiration from, the communities I develop recipes for. The Weight Watchers community is particularly engaged on social media, sharing recipe ideas and using each other for motivation to hit their goals. I’m always on Instagram checking what foods or cooking techniques the community are raving about, to help inform what we do in the magazine.
Social media is an even more vital part of my personal life. As the mother of a child with special needs, I literally don’t know where I would be without the support I get from specialist communities on Facebook! Our 4-year-old son Dexter has a very rare chromosomal disorder called 2q23.1. As a result of a small but significant genetic deletion, he has a diagnosis of autism, global development delay (which includes delays in his speech and language, as well as gross and fine motor skills) and also low muscle tone. To add to this, he also has problems with his colon and in April last year had to have stoma surgery. He now lives with a colostomy bag, which he may or may not have permanently. There are less than 300 people with his condition scattered around the world and without Facebook we would all be dealing with the condition in isolation. With very little medical research or medical experience available, there is scant professional support so the practical experience of other parents is like gold dust! I can post about an issue we are struggling with and I know that within a few hours someone somewhere in the world will respond. Even if they don’t have the answers, knowing that there’s a sounding board is so important. Parenting someone with special needs is an incredibly unique experience, and social network support from people who understand exactly what you go through on a daily basis is a lifeline I couldn’t cope without.
Eleanor Ford @smalleleanor: amazing food writer, beautiful Instagram account showing her recipes, travels and family.
Claire Thomson @5oclockapron: food writer who specialises in cooking with kids, great ideas of things to cook that kids can help out with.
MIDDLE EASTERN STYLE STUFFED AUBERGINES WITH MINT AND FETA
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes
4 medium aubergines
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cinnamon
1 each red, orange, yellow pepper, thinly sliced
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Handful fresh mint
100g feta, crumbled
- Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan. Halve the aubergines lengthways and score the flesh in a crisscross pattern, making sure not to cut through the base. Place them cut side up in a roasting dish and brush with 1 tbsp oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until soft and golden.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large, deep frying pan and cook the onions for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and spices and cook for a further minute or so. Add the peppers, and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the peppers are starting to soften. Add the chopped tomatoes, pomegranate molasses and vinegar and stir well to combine. Bring to a simmer and leave to cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the peppers are nice and soft and the tomato has reduced down. Add the sultanas, ½ of the pistachios and most of the mint, reserving some for garnish. Season well.
- When the aubergine is cooked, remove from the oven. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh, making sure you leave ½cm around the edges and taking care not to pierce the skin at the bottom. Add the aubergine flesh to the tomato mix and stir to combine. Divide the mixture between the empty aubergine shells and return to the oven for around 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes. Scatter with the feta, remaining pistachios and mint. Serve.
STICKY PEANUT BUTTER CHICKEN WITH EGG FRIED NOODLES
Prep time: 10 minutes (plus marinating time)
Cook time: 20 minutes
For the marinade
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin
½ tbsp sriracha
3cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated
2 x large chicken breasts, cut into thick strips
For the noodles
100g soba noodles
½ tbsp sesame oil
3cm piece of ginger, peeled and thinly julienned
2 tbsp soy sauce
400g spiralised vegetables (I used carrot, butternut squash, celeriac and broccoli stem)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Juice of 1 lime
Handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Handful of peanuts, roughly chopped
- Whisk together all of the ingredients for the marinade. Put the chicken in a shallow dish and pour over the marinade. Chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the noodles to pack instructions. Drain and set aside.
- Spritz a griddle pan with a little oil and heat over a medium high heat. Griddle the chicken pieces for 5-7 minutes, basting with the extra marinade as they cook, and turning half way through. Turn off heat when cooked and leave to rest in the pan while you cook the noodles.
- Heat a large frying pan or wok over a medium high heat and add the sesame oil. Fry the ginger for a minute, before adding the noodles and the soy sauce. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, then add the spiralised vegetables. Continue to cook for a further 4-5 minutes, tossing frequently, until the vegetables are cooked but still retain a bit of bite.
- In a separate pan, scramble the eggs until cooked. Toss the eggs through the noodles, along with the chicken and any sticky residue from the pan. Squeeze over the lime juice and stir through most of the fresh coriander. Divide between two bowls and scatter with more fresh coriander and the peanuts.