Alexandra McMaster talks dance, delicious food, and exciting plans for 2019.
Energetiks Ambassador Alexandra McMaster has had a pretty exciting year. Besides dancing and performing with esteemed companies in France and Germany, she’s also lived in three different countries, cooked her way through even more cuisines (her take on samosas is not to be missed), taught her very first ballet workshop in Germany (it went marvellously), squeezed in time for a photoshoot with Energetiks (you can find her gracing our 2019 Calendar), and made it home for Christmas with the family. All whilst maintaining a steady stream of tantalising new recipe creations for her food-loving followers. What’s more, throughout all the travelling and performing, and on top of her Ballerina Bites series both here and on her website, Alex had another little surprise project up her sleeve: her debut eBook 'A Dancer’s Guide To Plant-Based Eating’. Which after months of writing, research, cooking, recipe-testing and photographing, she released at the end of October to an incredibly enthusiastic reception from dancers and foodies alike.
We spoke to Alex earlier this month to catch up on all the highlights of the past year and find out what’s next on the horizon, both in the kitchen and on the stage! Read her interview below and see the photographs from our latest shoot in beautiful Daylesford, Victoria.
E: It’s been over a year since we last chatted to you on the blog! Catch us up on what you’ve been up to; Has it been nice being home in Australia for a bit and reuniting with family and friends?
AM: Wow, 2018 was a whirlwind of a year with lots of travel and new experiences. Some highlights included working with Stuttgart Ballet during their 2018/19 season, writing an eBook on plant-based nutrition for dancers and of course returning to Australia for some much needed catch-up time with family and friends (sunshine too!).
E: And we hear your Christmas was a smorgasbord of delicious goodies, in true Ballerina Bites style! What was on the menu?
AM: I was thrilled to celebrate Christmas with family and friends in Aus this year. It’s been 2 years and sure have I missed it!
As you can imagine, myself, brother (@emerson_cooks) and mum like to take the catering pretty seriously on the festive day with many traditional dishes turned plant based/vegan. See my blog post What I Ate on Christmas, 2018, for mouth watering pic’s and details of the dishes.
E: Can you share three favourite dance moments from 2018, and something you’re most looking forward to this year?
AM: 1. In 2018, I really grew as a dancer. It was the first time I finally had the opportunity to branch out of school life. Due to injury, I ended up doing another four years than I potentially should of. I am grateful for what this led me too, but I was itching to step out into professional life.
2. Learning and performing Fredrick Astons La Fille mal Gardèe & John Cranko’s Swan Lake.
3. Having the opportunity to do an ‘on location’ photo shoot with Energetiks in Daylesford, just outside my hometown, Ballarat. The photos where taken in an old convent-turned gallery. Absolutely stunning!
This year I’m most looking forward to finding my place. I’ve been lucky enough to experience many different cultures in Europe and the US, but now I look forward to staying still and relishing in what is immediately around me.
E: What’s something you’ve learned recently, and a goal you’re working towards?
AM: I’ve recently learned “You can’t please everyone and you must maintain your true self.”
It is so easy to think you need to change the way you dance just because a director or choreographer is looking for a particular something. I’ve found the more you fuss over this, the more it has a negative effect both mentally and physically. They either take it or leave it.
E: Current savoury obsession:
AM: Tahini! I drizzle tahini on everything as it adds a wonderful creamy richness to dishes. It’s also high in calcium, iron and protein, great for plant-based eaters who sometimes find it difficult to consume this.
E: Current sweet obsession:
AM: Livia’s Kitchen Raw Millionaire Bites. The raw, unrefined and gluten free nibbles of greatness, ahhh they’re incredible, especially when enjoyed straight from the fridge… Although, I think I need to create my own version as it’s eating away at my savings!
E: Current beverage of choice:
AM: Coffee! Towards the beginning of the year I started drinking coffee. At first I wasn’t too fused with my expectations of a good cup, but since living in Australia for the last few months, boy can I tell a good one from a bad one! Now, I feel like I’m a total coffee snob and will be disappointed if my daily brew is not right- traits I think a lot of Australians have.
E: You recently released your very own eBook (it’s amazing!), but what people may not know, is that apart from including incredibly delicious, balanced recipes you’ve also shared a lot of fantastic information for dancers about nutrition, as well as the plant-based/vegan lifestyle, and also answers to all the key questions that many of us have around food and ‘diets’. Can you tell us what inspired you to include this in your eBook, and a bit about the creative process of writing the book?
AM: Sure! To be honest, I was very frustrated with the dance world’s outlook on food, and although we say ‘things’ are changing, disordered eating is still there. I wanted to showcase the importance of one’s diet and why the foods which we consume really has an effect on how we perform as dancers.
In the book I go through why I’ve chosen to eat a plant-based/vegan diet for the past 3 years (and counting). I wanted to help dancer’s who are or considering eating this way because in reality, it does take some effort to ensure you’re receiving enough nutrients and minerals. However, with today’s research and evidence there’s enough positives backing this lifestyle and I definitely think the effort is worth it.
As you’ve mentioned, I’ve also ‘debunked’ a lot of statements with topical conversation around them e.g. ‘Carbs will make you fat if consumed in the evening’. With my knowledge and the help of friends in the medical field, we really took the time to address these remarks and why they definitely shouldn’t hinder you from enjoying a balanced diet.
The creation of the book took a lot more time and effort than expected. As I began to write I realised more information was needed to ensure what I was saying was clear and flowed from my previous points. The easy part was recipe developing, making the dishes and photographing, the fun part!
E: We also hear you consulted with a medical professionals whilst you were developing these recipes to ensure each dishes composition was as nutritious, balanced and energy efficient as possible for dancers, is that right?
AM: Yes, I worked closely with the medical doctors behind Aus Dancers Overseas; A team specialising in nutrition, exercise & sports, endocrinology, physiotherapy, psychotherapy and wellbeing coaching.
E: Do you have a personal favourite recipe from the book?
AM: Ooo, I obviously love them all, but if I had to pick one it would be the ‘Sweet Citrus Tofu Salad.’ For me, it’s the perfect combination of everything - spicy rocket leaves imbedded through protein rich quinoa, baked tofu to add fullness and a scatter of roasted walnuts for healthy fats. The dressing is a combination of sweet and sour, which delightfully ties the salad together. Yum!
Do you remember the first food you fell in love with as a kid?
AM: I was a child of simple tastes and grew up eating a standard Australian diet (meat & three veg), my mum was a very adventurous cook but my favorites were simple dishes; Bangers (sausages) and mash with peas & gravy, and homemade nachos was also a favourite. I remember eating Nacho’s every Saturday before a full day of ballet. I know, questionable.
For dessert it was always vanilla ice-cream with milo, which Dad would mash and stir into soft serve, epic!
Looking back now this way of eating is definitely not as health conscious as I try to be today, but I think it worked as Mum always made sure we consumed lots of fruit and veggies too. Sometimes this more ‘simple’ or uncomplicated way of eating can have its positives, as I find today food can be ‘too gourmet’, if you know what mean. Now, I try to down scale my meals using only a handful of ingredients that taste just as delicious and nutritious.
E: What’s next on the horizon for Ballerina Bites?
AM: This year I really want to update ballerinabites.org. It’s already had a facelift, but there’re a few recipes that I want to re-test and photograph. In regards to bigger plans, I have something under my sleeve, but you’ll just have to wait and see!
E: What gets you in the zone for cooking/recipe creation?
AM: I think with any creative field, it always ebbs and flows. More often than not I go through weeks where no recipes are created and photographed, I eat quite simply, like I said. During this time I also like to cook recipes from my beloved cookbook collection, where I follow the recipes to a T, a true insight to the creator and their thought processes for the creation.
When the creative juices flow, I can smash out 4 weeks worth in one weekend! This can be in the kitchen or on my laptop recording recipes and how I’d like them to be styled. My inspiration comes from everywhere and I always seem to be on the lookout for ways to incorporate new ideas into my cooking and recipes.
E: What ingredient are you obsessed with at the moment?
AM: Like I mentioned before, I’m pretty obsessed with tahini and for the past 2 weeks my dinner has been a simple veggie & bean soup served over rice, then drizzled with a generous amount of the savoury liquid gold. A hearty healthy meal, which the body loves!
E: Which essentials are making it into your dance bag this season?
AM: My Thera band for feet and turnout exercises, one of those long elastic bands for stretching and a foam roller for my personal 24/7 masseuse. My drink bottle is also an obvious essential, but mine’s completely flat and fits into my bag rather nicely. It’s called an A5 Memo bottle, check them out.
E: Do you have a favourite activity (other than cooking of course!) to help you unwind after a big day?
AM: Most likely watching Netflix or YouTube. I’m often very stimulated and I will work at 110% for the entire day, so when it’s time to relax (or rest) I opt for an activity that doesn’t take too much brainpower.
E: What’s a moment you always think back to when you’re having a challenging day with dance?
AM: Probably reconnecting to old roots and corrections. If I’m struggling with a certain turn, I refer back to my basic foundations, and if it’s something more mentally challenging then I know it’s time to show some self-love, generally having a quiet moment at one of my favourite cafés.
E: Any items from your dance wardrobe on rotation right now?
AM: When it comes to my dance attire, I like to keep it pretty simple. I think it’s because I don’t like distractions in class and I always go for comfort. These include Energetiks clean basic camisoles, that I’ve been wearing most of my dance life. More often than not they’re paired with one of my Designed by Alice skirts.
I do have days where I wear something more flowery like my like my Energetiks Dawn leotard or my leo covered in fruits and vegetables, but for the most part when it’s a working day, I keep it pretty simple.
E: What does your daily routine look like at the moment?
AM: At the moment it’s slightly out of whack. I’ve recently moved back to Europe (which I’m very excited about!), but I’ll update you soon!
E: Finally, what would be your advice for other dancers who are wanting to try a more hands-on approach to food, and start out on their own journey with healthy cooking?
AM: Keep it simple, and big-batch-cooking is your best friend. Making meals that you can scoop into containers and then freeze for upcoming dinners, in my opinion, is a true saviour. I find this keeps cooking easy and no-fuss, so there’s no excuse to leave your body undernourished.
Once you know this, then start googling! In the beginning I seriously wrote ‘healthy brownies’ into my web browser and found 100’s of recipes and recipe video’s via YouTube. I particularly found YouTube useful, as it shows you exactly how to do it!
Lastly don’t be too hard on yourself, I don’t have enough hands to count how many times I’ve had failed attempts in the kitchen. As with anything, this is how you learn, discover and grow.
Article and photography by Elly Ford
The Ballerina Bites Series