1) Manx kippers. I'm hoping to buy a lot more food locally once we are living in rural England but as a treat (and it is a fantastic treat) we will occasionally be ordering a box of smoked fish from the Isle of Man.
2) Local beer.
4) Pubs. Gastropubs. Independently-owned-pubs-with-local-ales. Pubs with outdoor play areas where you can keep an eye on the kids while you enjoy a warm, flat beer. (Okay, the latter is going to take some getting used to - I might have to stick to cold cider initially.)
6) The Borough Market (which I have not yet visited, by the way).
7) Cheap beanz.
8) Clotted cream, cottage cheese and cream cheese.
9) The space to grow my own vegetables.
10) Sausages and bacon.
What have I missed? Those of you who love England and its much maligned cuisine: what do you love about eating in England?
In no particular order:
3) 365 cheeses and the wonderful, knowledgeable people who sell them to me.
5) Moules frites.
6) Raclette (what will I do with my old battered machine now that I have no access to the right cheese?)
9) The best fries in Paris. (Note to anyone else who would like to experience them: the Mozart has sadly changed owners this summer and so I cannot guarantee the continued quality of the fries. It's still a great place for an after-work beer, though.)
10) My kitchen. The first new kitchen I've ever cooked in, the first I've ever designed. It had a few problems and I'm sure I could have done better. But it was my first kitchen of my own making and I shall miss it. Especially the six gas rings.
What would you miss most if you had to move to a new country?
As our moving date looms over us, I've been playing a culinary game. It's the "how many meals can I make without going to the grocery store?" game. I have a freezer full of duck stock, gyozas, frozen artichoke hearts and frozen beans, bits of gravy, frozen herbs...oh yes and a few pounds of English sausages. I also have cupboards full of those gourmet items you can't resist when you are on holiday or that kind friends and family members can't resist giving you at Christmas: flavored mustards and 37 varieties of hot pepper sauce (the Critic's love of spicy foods is well known) and grains that you think you should eat more often. So on the day that the Critic left for two weeks in Singapore* I started rummaging through the cupboards and freezer looking for ingredients for a sweet treat to cheer us all up. Banana cake: Big Brother loves it when I make them into cupcakes and I had a couple of bananas in the freezer. However, the recipe I use calls for butter and we had none. Then I thought of the yogurt cake I've made, which calls for oil instead. And I wondered: if I add bananas to the yogurt cake, what will that do to the consistency? Now an intelligent cook would, at this point, realize that you could probably substitute oil for butter in the banana cake recipe and everything would be just fine. But I have always disliked the idea of using a cup full of oil in anything and so instead I wondered...what if we replaced the oil with banana? Would it work?
The answer is a qualified yes. The cakes came out a little chewier than usual, but definitely tasty and definitely healthier. The only mistake I made, really, was in throwing some dried blueberries in the mix too. They were delicious - don't get me wrong - but not a hit with a suspicious three year old. But at least I now won't be packing blueberries...
*Yes, that's right: I've been left alone with the two monsters to battle the forces of Evil French Bureaucracy and organize a move in less than four weeks' time. Feel free to pity me - or better yet, send gin...
No-Fat Banana Cupcakes (makes 12-15)
The name of this recipe may be a bit of a misnomer: for all I know, bananas may have some fat in them. However, I can at least confirm that I added no fat myself. They are actually particularly good for small children (providing you omit the blueberries or have open-minded blueberry-loving children) because they don't crumble easily. Personally, I am always in favor of a cake that doesn't add to my twice-a-day sweeping habit.
1 pot of plain yoghurt (125 ml)
2 very ripe bananas, peeled
2 yogurt pots of sugar
3 yogurt pots of flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 c dried sweetened blueberries (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.Cut the banana in chunks and add to the mixing bowl with the yogurt. Beat until smooth and then add the eggs one by one, beating after each one until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and then the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix in the blueberries (if using). Pour the batter into lined cupcake molds, filling them 2/3 of the way. Bake for 15 -18 minutes, until golden on top and cooked through. (Test with a wooden toothpick to make sure: if it comes out wet, the cakes are not done.)
And for anyone curious about what I did with the 12 leftover cupcakes...well, I managed to lock myself and the children in the flat last week and had to call on our neighbors to come and free us with the spare set of keys we gave them. Their poor teenaged son had to get up before nine for this kind deed so I left a half dozen on their doorstep the next day. As for the others, only my scale and I know where they went...
[Little Brother at 12 months, the first time I let him play with the remains of his dinner on his own.]
When my first son started solid foods, I dreamt of creating the perfect food lover. He was going to eat a variety of foods, all organic, nothing processed. I was going to prove that it was ALL about raising, nothing to do with those pesky hard-wired genes. But as we all know, the road to a very hot place is paved with good intentions. And sometimes I feel like I have arrived in Hell, because despite my good intentions I have a fairly picky 3 year old. He likes: apples, carrots, cucumber, hot dogs, chicken (sometimes), pasta, bread, cereal (not the sugary kind), watermelon, ham, eggs, peas, pizza, peanut butter crackers. Which may sound like a lot, but really it's not when you consider the millions of other exciting foods out there. I should also point out that he likes these things more or less unsullied by any spices or exotic cooking methods. Steamed or boiled carrots only, not raw ones. Pasta with butter and cheese only. Plain bread or if it's toasted it has butter and cinnamon sugar. Where did I go wrong?
Well, the more I consider my boys and watch them grow, the more I have to admit that a lot of who they are is just there, from birth. My eldest loved cars and balls from the moment he could clutch them in his tiny baby hands. His brother? Not so you would notice. The youngest likes music, and even at eight months would start swaying and clapping when he heard a jingle on the TV that he liked. Unlike his older brother (who just bangs away), when given access to the piano, little brother carefully plays with individual notes.
So perhaps my first son was destined to be a picky eater. Then again, I think I made some classic first time parent mistakes when I started him on solid food. I worried far too much about whether he would have an allergic reaction, whether the food was organic, whether he would choke to death on a tiny piece of unprocessed food. The baby books and Internet told me that adding salt and butter to his food was a grave sin and I believed them. They told me that I should never give him more than one new ingredient at a time and I believed that too. As a result, I couldn't follow the common sense advice of my mother to just purée a bit of our own dinners for him: when was the last time you cooked using no salt, no butter or fat and no more than one spice? So now he likes plain food.
His brother, on the other hand, is an omnivore. He's an eating machine and I have yet to find a food he doesn't like. In the last five months, he has eaten curried rice, Hungarian goulash, fish and chips, English breakfast sausages, pork and lemon meatballs, Cranberry and Quinoa Salad with Coriander and Chili Dusted Chicken, roast potatoes with roasted chicken meat, and a load of other adult dishes. In addition, I have been so much more relaxed about the baby food I create just for him, using salt, pepper, butter, olive oil, mint, basil, paprika and even garlic to make them more tasty and interesting. I don't know if it's due to this early training, but he tends to eat very little of a dish if it's missing one of these elements. So I thought I would put together a list of some of the baby food combinations I have made for him recently. There aren't actually 101 of them, but still there are quite a few. And some of them have led to interesting dinners for the rest of the family when I tasted his and decided it was good. (For example, the zucchini, mint and yogurt combination, which makes a lovely cold soup!)
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a dietician, just an opinionated mother. Do discuss with your doctor what your baby can eat before you blindly trust my example. Some children are more likely to have allergies and I would hate to be the cause of a trip to the emergency room.
I use my Braun hand mixer to purée most of these, though now that Little Brother is 14 months old I am starting to mash things more and even sometimes hand them to him as finger food.
Baby food ideas
1) Broccoli, potato, butter and salt
2) Zucchini, a drizzle of olive oil and a leaf of fresh basil
3) Carrots and leeks boiled together and whizzed with a bit of crème fraîche
4) Potatoes mashed with Parmesan cheese and butter, salt and pepper
5) Carrots and turnips with a bit of butter
6) Butternut squash baked with a fennel, oregano and thyme (this recipe, minus the onion sauce)
7) Carrots and Boursin cheese
8) Zucchini steamed and then puréed with a few leaves of mint and a dollop of plain full fat yogurt
9) Puréed (cooked) celeriac with a tablespoon of finely minced ham
10) Peas and mint with a dab of butter
11) Peas and potatoes, salt, butter
12) Overcooked rottini pasta tossed with garlic butter and grated Parmesan (great finger food!)
13) Toast fingers with jam or cinnamon sugar and butter
14) Applesauce made with dried apricots
15) Applesauce made with prunes
16) Pureed nectarines (uncooked, now that he is old enough) mixed with yogurt or petit suisse cheese
17) Green beans with potatoes, butter, salt and a dash of parika
18) Fava beans with minced ham (in France, you can buy frozen fava beans - fèves - at most grocery stores)
19) Artichoke hearts with lemon butter (again, these are available in the frozen food section of French supermarkets)
20) Sole with mashed potatoes and butter
21) Leek and potatoes with crème fraîche, salt, and butter (you need to purée, not just mash, to incorporate the leek)
22) Potato, cheddar cheese and finely minced ham with a little salt and pepper
23) Potatoes with any leftover gravy you may have in the fridge (One big hit was the gravy from a Pork roast with Fennel and Apples.)
24) Bananas and yogurt
25) Strawberries and bananas
26) Zucchini and Parmesan cheese with a drizzle of olive oil
27) Carrots, butter, mint
28) Roasted eggplant with a dollop of yogurt and a dash of home made curry powder
29) Frozen artichoke hearts, peas and a potato boiled together and puréed with butter, salt, and a touch of lime juice
30) Mashed potatoes with anchovies and a sprig of fresh thyme and a dash of pepper
31) Baby borscht: boiled beets, a boiled or roasted potato and a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream. You can thin it with a bit of beef broth if you have any on hand.
32) Spaghetti squash, roasted potatoes and chicken with a bit of dried sage.
33) Baby bubble and squeak: steam a few leaves of cabbage until good and limp, being careful to remove the tough center of the leaves first. Purée with a big spoonful of mashed potatoes, butter and a generous pinch of salt.
So what are your favorite tricks and tips and recipes for little ones?