WHEN I was a child my brothers, sisters and I ran home up the hill from the village school in Cullohill every day for lunch. How lucky were we?
I didn’t even think about it at the time but now with hindsight I realise how fortunate we were to have a nourishing meal at midday.
Mummy didn’t have the daily hassle that mothers all over the country have of trying to provide school lunches that their children will actually tuck into and eat.
Mums who feel strongly about the importance of simple healthy food have the added challenge of the children’s fear of their friend’s jeers and snide remarks when they spy something which they perceive to be odd or peculiar in a lunchbox.
A daily reality for many kids and a form of bullying which can cause distress and anxiety.
Few young children have the confidence to be different and many parents quickly succumb to the sliced pan sandwich rather than risk their little dotes being taunted and upset. Parent/teacher groups can be enormously influential in this area.
Teachers of whom so much is asked already can really help by explaining to pupils that passing derogatory remarks about a friend’s school lunch is simply not an option. But being curious about the content can be a learning experience.
Many schools are now multiethnic, so what delicious but unfamiliar food does my Nigerian/ Lithuanian/Croatian/Polish friend have for lunch?
What’s it called? How do beans, lentils and avocados grow? What’s a spice? A chilli?
One friend told me that her daughter’s friends laughed even if she had a raw carrot or one of the delicious home-grown tomatoes from her Dad’s tunnel.
This is an urgent ongoing problem for parents and teachers to work together to find a solution.
There’s also the ever-increasing challenge of food allergies and intolerances. So I include some recipes from the Hemsley Hemsley sister cookbook which my grandchildren have been reading.
Good bread is vital and for many people impossible to buy and I don’t use that word lightly unless you make your own or have access to a natural sourdough bread or a stoneground wholemeal bread.
Fortunately, more craft bakeries are emerging but it’s easy to make your own soda or brown yeast bread. It just takes time.
So here are some of the ideas I got from a quick poll of my grandchildren and their friends.
A flask of soup particularity in autumn and winter, one loved brothy soup with lots of bits in it; salads with a base of rice, lentils, quinoa with chickpeas and beans; dice of avocado, cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, apple, tossed in a vinaigrette (make enough dressing to last for the week).
Bits of cold chicken and ham or bacon are great to keep in a box in the fridge to add to a sandwich filling or sprinkle on top of salads.
One of my grandchildren loves slices of salami or chorizo that can be picked up and nibbled easily or added to a sandwich. Chopped fruit tossed in lemon juice and honey was also a daily favourite, hummus and raw carrot dippers or strips of pitta.
Homemade potato crisps, or tortilla chips or oatcakes or rye crackers were also loved. Several others enjoyed smoothies and or homemade milk drinks. For example milk, vanilla and maple syrup is India’s current favourite.
If you have a Nutribullet (which certainly costs a few bob but everyone I spoke to raves about it and says it is so worth the money) nutritious drinks which are almost meals in themselves can be made in seconds which include all kinds of fresh vegetables, fruit and good things.
I include some recipes from the Hemsley Hemsley sister’s cookbook The Art of Eating Well which my grandchildren have been reading, they also have the added bonus of being gluten- free.
Crudités with Penny’s Sweet and Sour Dip
Crudités are a perfect first course for winter or summer, but to be really delicious you must choose very crisp and fresh vegetables.
Cut the vegetables into bite-sized bits so they can be picked up easily.
You don’t need knives and forks because they are usually eaten with fingers.
Penny’s Sweet and Sour Dip
4 tbsp Soy Sauce
4 tbsp Local Raw Honey
4 tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
Use as many of the following vegetables as are in season:
Tomatoes quartered, or let whole with the calyx on if they are freshly picked
Purple-sprouting broccoli, broken (not cut) into florets
Calabrese (green sprouting broccoli), broken into florets
Cauliflower, broken into florets
French beans or mangetout
Baby carrots, or larger carrots cut into sticks about 5cm/ 2in long.
Cucumber, cut into sticks 5cm/2in long approx.
Tiny spring onions, trimmed
Red cabbage, cut into strips
Celery, cut into sticks 5cm/2in long approx.
Chicory, in leaves
Red, green or yellow pepper, cut into strips 5cm/2in long approx, seeds removed
Very fresh Brussels sprouts, cut into halves or quarters
Whole radishes, with green tops left on
Parsley, finely chopped
Thyme, finely chopped
Chives, finely chopped
Sprigs of watercress
A typical plate of crudités might include the following: 4 sticks of carrot, 2 or 3 sticks of red and green pepper, 2 or 3 sticks of celery, 2 or 3 sticks of cucumber, 1 whole radish with a little green leaf left on, 1 tiny tomato or 2 quarters, 1 Brussels sprout cut in quarters, and a little pile of chopped fresh herbs.
Wash and prepare the vegetables. Arrange on individual white side plates in contrasting colours, with a bowl of aioli in the centre. Alternatively, do a large dish or basket for the centre of the table.
Arrange heaps of each vegetable in contrasting colours. Put a bowl of Penny’s Sweet and Sour Dip in the centre and then guests can help themselves.
Note: All vegetables must be raw.
For the dip
Place all the above ingredients in a clean jam jar, put the lid on and shake to mix. Pour into a small serving bowl.
Shanagarry Wholemeal Bread
Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves
This is a more modern version of soda bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin. This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.
400g (14 oz) stoneground wholemeal flour
55g (3oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (bicarbonate of soda/baking soda)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
1 egg, preferably freerange
1 tablespoon arachide or sunflower oil, unscented
425ml (15fl oz) buttermilk or sourmilk approx. (put all the milk in)
Sunflower or sesame seeds optional
Loaf tin — 9 inches (23cm) x 5in (12.5cm) x 2in (5cm)
Or 3 small tins 6in (15cm) x 3in (8cm) x 2in (5cm)
Heat oven to 200C/ 400F/ regulo 6.
Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well.
Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey most of the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary.
The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins and bake for 60 minutes approx, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped.
Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 24 bars
200g bar of creamed coconut
6 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp raw honey
1½ tsp vanilla extract
A pinch of sea salt
150g desiccated coconut
200g (85% cocoa solids) dark chocolate
Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment. In cold weather, place the unopened packet of creamed coconut in a bowl of warm water to melt it through. In warm weather, the creamed coconut will already be fluid.
When it’s soft all the way through, pour into a bowl and mix in the coconut oil (it will melt if it’s hard), raw honey, vanilla, salt and two to four tablespoons water if you like a softened centre.
Stir in the desiccated coconut evenly to create a dough consistency.
Pour the dough into the prepared tin. Press the mixture down with the back of a spoon to make it level and set in the fridge for 15 minutes until hard.
Turn the tin of coconut mixture out onto a chopping board and slice into six horizontal slices by four vertical. Place them onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment and keep in the freezer while you prep the chocolate.
Melt the chocolate in a glass or metal bowl over a pan of warm water — make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl and do not allow the water to boil or simmer — you may have to keep removing from the heat. This should take about 30 minutes.
When the chocolate has almost melted, take the bowl off the heat and place on a tea towel to avoid slipping. Leave it to cool as much as possible without it hardening to give a thicker coating to the paradise bars — stir occasionally.
Dip the frozen coconuts bars into the chocolate using two forks, letting the excess drop off, and carefully place back onto the cold baking tray, leaving space between each bar.
If the chocolate mixture becomes too cold, you may need to put it back over the simmering water again.
When you’ve finished dipping all the bars, place the tray in the fridge until set. Once set, seal in a glass or ceramic container in the fridge or freezer until required. If they are kept sealed in the fridge, they will keep for a month — or longer in the freezer.
From Hemsley+Hemsley The Art of Eating Well
West Cork Food Festival:
Liss Ard Estate in Skibbereen is hosting events as part of the festival – April Danann from Rebel Foods Market Stall in Skibbereen will give a Wild Fermentation Talk on Monday September 7, at 6.30pm.
The next day Trevor Danann, a 14-year-old beekeeper and owner of 12 hives will give a beekeeping workshop for children 7-16 years at 4pm. Booking is essential for both events. Tel: 087 236 1616 or www.atasteofwestcork.com
Also at the West Cork Food Festival, in conjunction with Time Travellers Bookshop, there is a Rare Cookbook Workshop at Urru Culinary Store, Bandon today at 4.40pm. Bring your rare and prized cookbooks. Tickets are €5; 023 8854731.
On Tuesday September 8 Grove House will host ‘Three Generations of Gastronomy’, a tasting menu showcasing recipes passed from grandmother to grandson. Dinner is at 7pm; 028 28067
Date for your Diary:
Sounds from a Safe Harbour is a new festival of music, art and conversation in Cork from Sept 17-20. Past 12-Week Certificate student Jack Crotty, aka The Rocketman, is taking charge of the food. www.soundsfromasafeharbour.com
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