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"It feels so ungrateful not to take pleasure in life..." How Nigella Lawson healed after heartache

The renowned British chef shares how cooking with other people helped her overcome life's challenges.

By Samantha Trenoweth

"Companionable cooking is such a treat," Nigella Lawson tells us as she whips up a delicious carrot, walnut and ginger cake with Mary Poppins-like ease.

"I like cooking with people who know me well and know my kitchen well," she explains. "I used to love cooking with my sister, Thomasina. I loved cooking for her and with her and just talking to her while I cooked."

Thomasina died tragically young (31) from breast cancer in 1993 and Nigella missed her terribly but, since then, she has welcomed other culinary companions into her kitchen. They have helped her develop a recipe for open-hearted communication and rekindled her joy in life.

"I have a very good friend and we sometimes cook together. It's a lovely thing to do," she says. "I also think it's a wonderful way of talking with people generally. A lot of people are more comfortable talking when your attention is a bit elsewhere.

So, if you have a friend or a child or anyone who is going through a difficult time and wants to talk about things that aren't easy, I think you stand much more of a chance if you're chopping some carrots at the same time.

"It's rather like the way people sometimes feel they have important conversations while they're driving. People are more relaxed when you haven't got full-beam on them. So I quite like chatting while I cook. The other person doesn't need to be cooking with me. Sometimes they can just be there, having a glass of wine while I'm chopping and stirring and unwinding. I like that."

Friendships are precious to Nigella. At 58, she has lived more closely with death than most of us would choose. Not just Thomasina but also her mother and her first husband, the journalist John Diamond, were felled by cancer too young. It has, she says, given "a sense of urgency" to the way she lives her life.

"I don't want to waste life," she says. "It feels so ungrateful not to take pleasure. You have to take pleasure in life while you can because people have that ripped away from them."

If the lives, deaths and upheavals around her have taught Nigella anything, it is that the surest place to find both pleasure and meaning is in the moment. "One of the reasons I like cooking is that it forces me into the moment, and that's good," she explains, "as I'm rather an anxious person."

"I don't do anything before I've had two cups of tea," she says earnestly. "So that's what I do first. Then there's a place I go to for breakfast sometimes, a gorgeous cheese place called La Fromagerie. So I might go there. I don't drink coffee very often – I'm more a tea drinker – but they have very good coffee there so maybe I'll have a coffee.

"Then, what I do often is go to the farmer's market in Marylebone and get a few things for the week. There's a guy who grows his own potatoes who I often chat with. It's a nice thing to do. I like that little mooch around the market."

Another Sunday favourite is catching up on some reading. "If I haven't got people coming around for lunch, then what I really like is lying about reading. That to me is such a joy. It depends if the kids are around and how many people I have in the house, but if I could be lying around for a big part of my Sunday, I'd like that. I like mooching around the kitchen too – in that sort of way where the meal builds up gradually."

For Nigella, joy is to be found in the little things. Whether she's shopping, cooking or sharing recipes with her followers, food will always be "a celebration of life".

MasterChef returns to Network Ten in May and the May issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, with more on Nigella, is on sale April 26.

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