Disclaimer: After writing this up I suddenly spotted the bit about how all the proceeds from this book go to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, so you should probably ignore any mean things I say and buy it anyway. The curry recipe alone will more than make your charitable good deed worthwhile.
Look at me, I’m Gwynnie P…
Every Sunday afternoon, from the age of about nine until 12, I watched Grease. I loved it. Adored it. Even invited my Year Six girlfriend over once to watch it too. I wonder if, as I sang all the words to Summer Loving, she guessed we wouldn’t stay together forever? Of course, I didn’t understand most of the film – that Rizzo got preggo went over my head, that Kenickie’s broken insurance policy was actually a worn-out condom, not an expired certificate from the RAC, was a subtlety I missed.
But one thing I caught was Sandy’s amazing transformation. She taught me there was hope for us all. Like her I was a suburban goodie two shoes, desperate to break out, rebel, act like all the cooler kids. If someone who was mocked so badly by Rizzo, the most laughable “teen” to ever enrol in high school, could become cool, perhaps I could, too. (I eventually bought a leather jacket in Brighton, aged 16. That afternoon I got my friend Gemma to push a blunt silver stud through my left ear, and wore both along the sea front. The strut was pure post-makeover Sandy.)
But Olivia Newton John’s latest metamorphosis is one I’m less thrilled about. Yes, she’s doing a Gwynnie. “People often ask me what my secret is and want to know how I manage to stay slim, active and healthy at my age,” she trills, as if anyone ever asks her anything other than whether she still has those leather trousers, or if Stockard Channing was a bitch. “Even though my passport says so, it is hard for me to comprehend that I am 62 years young!” Sigh.
The secret, of course, is not eating anything very delicious. Like Gwyneth, she swears by agave syrup, wholegrains, raw food. So far, so celebrity cookbook – and this one comes with the scrotum-clenchingly bad name of Livwise. Still, one of the sub-headings is, naturally, “Let’s Get Physical,” so perhaps it wouldn’t be all bad.
With my boyfriend out of town on a rainy Easter Monday I invited my ex boyfriend (no judgement, babez) and two of my best friends over for lunch. “We’re doing Olivia,” I inform them as they arrive, one by one. “I love Grease!” they each say in reply, as if the poor woman doesn’t have an entire back catalogue of other work to go alongside it. Like, um, that one about that thing… *imdbs furiously*… Xanadu!
Olivia’s Pumpkin and Beetroot Salad with Mustard Dressing (pumpkin = butternut squash, apparently. They’re cray cray Down Under)
Like Gwyneth, Livvy’s starters are mainly salads, and mainly involve beetroot. The hardest part of her Pumpkin and Beetroot Salad with Mustard Dressing was peeling the butternut squash. “There is something very homey and earthy about root vegetables,” claims the ghost writer pretending to be ONJ at this point (later revealed to actually be two women, both with scarier coifs than when Frenchie’s goes pink). “This recipe is easy and brings out the best of these vegetable flavours – scrumptious!” And actually, attributed authors Kristine Matheson and Karen Inge APD FSMA FSDA (to give her her full title) are not wrong.
My version. I was lucky enough to get two halves of one of the curiously specific eight cherry tomatoes
I thought the amount of oil used to roast the squash - half a tablespoon - wouldn’t be enough, but it was. I thought that wrapping the beetroots individually in foil would be a faff, but it wasn’t, and they roasted perfectly. The honey and mustard dressing worked perfectly with the toasted walnuts to help everything feel fresh and tangy. “I don’t even like lettuce, but I love the dressing,” claimed one guest, going in for seconds. Conversely, the ex boyfriend left most of his. “I don’t like the dressing,” he admitted, eventually. Considering that, when we went out, the only vegetable he liked was broccoli, this actually shows personal growth.
Liv’s Balinese Chicken Curry
“Collaborators” Kristine and Karen didn’t bother with a pithy summation of the Balinese Chicken Curry, but that was probably because they were too busy licking the saucepan. It was incredible. All it took was to whizz up the curry paste ingredients in the blender, then add them to the pan of coconut milk and chicken. Coconutty, zesty, creamy, all the things a good curry should be. “And it must be healthy, or it wouldn’t be in the book,” claimed one guest, and you can’t fault that logic. Liv might admit at the beginning that she’s not a cordon bleu chef or nutritionist, but all the initials after Kaz Inge’s name must mean something.
Lots of sauce, but no complaints. I would drink the stuff, and gladly.
So far, so good. Perhaps I was too quick to judge, I thought, smugly clearing away four empty plates.
Her Cashew, Macademia and Raspberry Tart
And then I got the Cashew, Macademia and Raspberry Tart out the freezer, where it had sat for two hours.
My version. Beware, the impostor cheesecake. Also, v expensive.
It had been a fiddle to make. Nuts don’t like to be blended, I learnt. Blenders are annoying to wash, which I had to do between blitzing each layer. On the way from worktop to freezer I’d dropped it, spilling almost half the middle bit on the floor. “Will!” I’d almost screamed before remembering he was away, blaming my boyfriend being my default setting. I sighed instead, cleaned it up quietly, cursed the Beauty School Dropout in the Sky.
And then here it was, looking like a cheesecake, smelling like a cheesecake, almost with the consistency of a cheesecake. But it tasted like a Jetson’s version of a cheesecake – something that was there to simulate cheesecake but without actually being it. The biscuit base was made with blitzed macademia nuts and dates, the cheesy bit was actually blended cashews, lemon juice, coconut oil and agave syrup (obvs). The raspberry topping was sweetened by dates. It wasn’t bad, as such, it just wasn’t cheesecake. It felt like a con – the nutty flavour unexpectedly where a sweet lightness ought to be. “This is not the one that I want,” I said, at last putting to good use what I’d been hoping to drop in all lunch time. “I’d rather have the real thing. That nobody asked for seconds was telling.
I guess in Ms Newton John’s life, however, there is never any left, for she doesn’t say to store in the freezer. I placed the remains in a pot in the fridge, and left it there for later. With no setting agent, it wasn’t long before it looked like this:
Oh Olivia. Perhaps I won’t be Hopelessly Devoted to you after all.
Cost of ingredients: £42.37 (not including items already in store cupboard) The million bags of nuts for that wretched pudding were bank.
Starter: * * *
Main * * * * * ( I would happily eat it every day for ever, and ever, esp if I still got to look as good as Livia tells the world she does at 62)
Pudding * * (Well, it wasn’t technically dreadful)
Overall 6.5/10 A lot of the ingredients are too pricey to eat every day, a lot of the notes too preachy
Livwise by Olivia Newton John and some other people was out last week, Murdoch Books, £16.99. Original photography by Michele Aboud/Natasha Milne