Posted in Family

Living With Fussy Eaters – By One Who Knows

An iteroparous organism is one that can underg...
This little piggy went to Hawkesbury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This new blog post is about catering for my fussy, faddy family – my vegetarian daughter who doesn’t count bacon or sausages as meat, and a husband who professes to be omniverous but prefers not to eat pasta, rice, fresh tomatoes, etc.)

“Mummy, can I please have some bacon for breakfast today?”

My nine-year-old daughter Laura’s request surprises me. She has been an ardent vegetarian for the last year.

“Bacon? Really? Are you sure?”

I know the smell of sizzling bacon is said to be the cause of many a vegetarian’s downfall, but ours is still in the fridge.

” Yes, because I haven’t had any bacon for such a long time.”

The way she says it suggests that it’s me that’s been wilfully depriving her, rather than her fussy, faddy eating habits holding her back.

In her carnivorous days , bacon was one of her favourite foods, especially the cold, crispy pre-cooked strips you can buy for salads, christened ‘sun-dried pig’ by my nephew. But lately no meat has passed her lips, save the occasional sausage or slice of pepperoni, which, I have to admit, doesn’t look like it comes from an animal. She also doesn’t care for nuts, cheese or any yoghurt with bits in. As such, it has been difficult to provide her with a full protein ration each day. I would therefore not object if she regained her taste for bacon, even though there are leaner, healthier meats that I’d prefer her to eat. But she is specific about which bacon she wants.

back bacon, better known as pork loin chops
Are you a fan of bacon? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I don’t want to eat any bacon that comes from a pig that I actually know personally,” she declares, tucking into a couple of rashers from the Black Farmer, whose livestock are strangers to us.

Living where we do, hers is not such a far-fetched consideration. In a field a hundred yards from my house live several large pink pigs. Some Gloucester Old Spots reside at the far end of the village.  We’re on first name terms with the two big pigs at Severn View, a small organic farm just down the hill from us. We’re frequent visitors to their excellent farm shop. While practising humane animal welfare, the proprietors remain unsentimental.

“Meet Bacon – and More Bacon,” is their opening line by the pig-pen.

I can see Laura’s point.

They say parents get the children they deserve. I am a reformed fussy eater myself. I vividly remember bursting into tears at the age of 5 at a birthday party, when I bit into what I thought was a “safe” bread and butter sandwich only to discover it was filled with cheese. My horror of beetroot, acquired when a school dinner lady tried to make me eat it, will be lifelong, I’m sure. But otherwise, as an adult, I am pretty much omniverous. So how have I earned not only a fussy daughter but a faddy husband too?

“Do you know, I much prefer tinned plum tomatoes to these because they don’t have skins,” he says, disdainfully prodding some beautiful home-grown tomatoes, as sweet as the cherries that gave them their name.

“I don’t much like rice,” he says, pushing to one side an empty plate where previously a delicious curry nestled on basmati. He’s eaten the evidence.

“I don’t see why people make such a fuss about Italian food,” he declares, while I’m still savouring a delicious Pizza Express meal, all the more tasty for having been paid for by free Tesco vouchers.

“What’s the point of pasta?” he queries, dismissing a foodstuff that is God’s gift to busy working mums.

Diagram of how a pig is turned into pork
A cut above the average pig

The complexity of my husband and daughter’s catering requirements is compounded by their both being Type 1 diabetic. This means all carbohydrates consumed have to be carefully weighed and counted, so that they can take the right amount of insulin to process their food. (They’re both on insulin pumps, which have to be worn 24/7 to keep them fit and well – and alive, in fact.) The insulin must be taken at just the right time to match the speed of digestion, which varies from one dish to another. There are easier diners to cater for.

Pondering pigs while I clear away the breakfast things, I consider their reputation for eagerly eating and savouring any scraps put down for them. It occurs to me that it would be much easier to cut out the middleman and just keep pigs instead of my family.

But then I don’t think I could train pigs to empty the dishwasher or put the bins out.  So fair exchange – I’ll stick with the status quo. I have my aversions too, you know.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read about the time I really did keep animals in my garden – not pigs, but chickens – in Recharging Battery Chickens.

Posted in Family, Travel

Always Read the Label

A butcher shop specializing in horse meat in P...
Image via Wikipedia

Eating local food and drinking local wine or beer is as inseparable a part of the holiday experience for me as sending postcards, without which no holiday is complete.  When abroad, I steer a wide berth of any cafes offering an English style menu.

In my mission to eat local, I’m aided by a daughter with an unusual aversion to the staple foods of most eight year olds.  Not for her the ubiquitous chicken nuggets, fish fingers or burgers. But give her a crepe nd she’s happy.

I’m torn the other way by a husband who equates holidays – wherever they are – with Full English Breakfasts. I still remember the look of horror on his face when presented on a Greek beachside taverna with a supposed English fry-up garnished with cucumber.  “Cucumber?  For breakfast!?”

On our French odyssey, I’m particular keen to eat native because one of my holiday reading books is  Julia Child‘s autobiographical “My Life In France” – a highly enjoyable account of the American chef’s love affair with French cookery.

So we hit the patisserie to start each day.  Croissants for Laura, pains au raisins for the grown-ups, plus the occasional chausson de pommes for good measure.  For lunch, we combine the inevitable baguette with charcuterie, salad and fruit bought from local markets or local producer’s roadside stalls.

Evening meals are compromised by my desire to minimise the use of gas and water, both of which are in limited supply in our van.  Quick cook pasta, never used at home, makes a frequent appearance on any camper van trip, as does bread in all its forms.  Canned food and ready meals are a godsend.  And here in France I must make judicious use of the tin opener, with the proviso that any product used must be of French manufacture.  I don’t think Julia would approve .

Early on in the trip, we find ourselves parked in a layby just south of Montdidier in Picardy, enjoying an unbroken view of rolling farmland hills.  To reflect our position on the edge of French Flanders, a tin of that popular Flemish dish, Carbonnade Flamande is on the menu.  We once enjoyed this in a restaurant in Ypres.  A hearty stew, it’s more of a winter dish, but we’ve burnt off a lot of energy with an afternoon at Montdidier’s municipal pool and my appetite is keen.

With two diabetics to cater for, I’m an inveterate reader of labels.  From force of habit.  I’m scanning the ingredients of the tin when an unexpected animal catches my eye.  “Viande de cheval.”  Horsemeat.  My hunger is instantly abated.  I edge up to my husband, mouth silently “This is made of horse” and await his reaction.

“Mmm, great!” he replies, licking his lips.”I could eat a horse!”

My daughter – a newly converted vegetarian, due to her love of animals – must not find out.  I hope she won’t notice as she tucks into her omelette that I’m having only potatoes and haricots verts while Daddy lays into the stew.

At the next hypermarket stop, I’m more cautious.  I check out the fresh meat counter for a ready-prepared local dish that lacks an equestrian theme.  I opt for a comforting, beefy looking package that shows some kind of tidy-looking meatball with mushrooms in a sauce Madere.  They look smooth and shiny and there’s something vaguely familiar about them.  There’s a clear mention of boeuf as the creature of origin, and it’s only when I’m warming the pack later that I realise what these sleek knobs of lean meat are. They are rognons.  The boeuf has kindly provided its kidneys.  Oh well, I suppose it could have been very much worse.

For the rest of the holiday, I’m awfully careful to make sure I always read the label.  And I’m very glad that I know that the French word for tripe is tripe.

Posted in Family, Personal life

Let Blending Commence!

krazy kitchen tea towel
Image by wine me up via Flickr

Still flushed with the success of my recent purchase of a glass kettle, I am stopped in my tracks tonight in Sainsbury’s by the sight of a shiny new food processor, the subject of an alluring special offer.  I take down the huge cardboard box from the shelf and turn it over, admiring the pictures of its smart design from all angles.  Such a contrast to the dusty, rusting 80s model in my kitchen cupboard!  Its awkward uncleanable crevices harbour ecosystems all of their own.  I’ve long since stopped using it for fear of what new lifeforms might have evolved in there.

Can  I justify this impulse buy?  I’ve onlycome in to Sainsbury’s for a pint of milk.  Yes, I jolly well can!

A flashback to our half-term trip to the Science Museum  endorses my decision.  As we looked around its fascinating exhibition of antique household appliances, it had occurred to me that my old cream and brown (how 80s is that?) food processor would have looked right at home there.

This particular machine was a Christmas present from my then boyfriend.  Fresh out of university, we were feeling terribly grown-up and we were starting to embrace a domesticity that had passed us by until then.  I’d made it through my degree course with only a milkpan and a frying pan in my kitchen locker – and I was one of the better cooks in our hall.  My previous birthday present to him had been a “Multiboil” – a kettle that included a little plastic basket in which you could supposedly rest tins or eggs and boil them till done (provided that you didn’t mind turning the kitchen into a sauna in the process).  It pre-dated the “forgettle kettle” so it wouldn’t switch itself off when reaching boiling point.  We thought it was the apex of kitchen sophistication.  The Multiboil was also, inevitably, cream and brown, as was most of my wardrobe and indeed most of my possessions at that time.

My new food processor, by contrast, is snow-white, sparkling, compact and modern. I take it home and lovingly lift it  from its packaging.  Clearing a space on the windowsill, I set it down gently alongside the new glass kettle, as if introducing it to a new friend. It’s much too smart to hide in a cupboard.  By now my old machine is gracing the inside of the wheelie bin.

At this point, my small daughter comes  into the kitchen.  She looks at it and frowns.

“Why have you bought another kettle?” she asks seriously.

I don’t let her criticism burst my bubble.  I’ll treat myself to a new food processor every thirty years, whether I need it or not.

Posted in Family, Travel

A Holiday Treat

Image via Wikipedia

Tucking into muesli and strawberry yoghurt one morning during the half term break, I am startled by the strength and depth of the flavour.  I do  a double-take and inspect the bowl as if I might find a hidden mystery ingredient that’s making it taste so good.  My search is fruitless, (or as fruitless as Marks and Spencer 48% Fruit Muesli allows), and I surrender, sitting back to savour this unexpected pleasure.  I let the mixture roll voluptuously across my palate like a wine taster, seeking the right vocabulary to describe the complex sensation.

Why does my breakfast taste so different today?  It’s much the same breakfast that I have every day of the week, though the type of yoghurt may vary slightly, depending on what’s currently on special offer at the supermarket – or whether I’ve misread the label.  Cherry, blueberry, strawberry, rhubarb – hurrah; forest fruits – bother, I thought it was blueberry, but still it will do.

How can this familiar taste suddenly strike me as exotic?  I gaze across the table and out of the caravan window for a clue – and this gesture is in itself a clue.  Usually, I’m not facing a window at breakfast.  Nor am I sitting at a table.  First gulp of the yoghurt is grabbed as I pass by the kitchen counter, a chaser to the handful of tablets I take on waking (thyroxine for an underactive thyroid, sulfasalazine for rheumatoid arthritis).  Before the next spoonful, I whisk upstairs to give a ten-minute warning to my sleeping husband and daughter; the next is grabbed on the way to the utility room to iron the latter’s school uniform.  My morning yoghurt may or may not be mixed with muesli, depending on hungry I’ve been on waking.

I thrust a few coins into my daughter’s purse to pay for her toast at morning break, then grab another spoon of yoghurt on the way to pack her schoolbag.  (Better not mix those two actions up.)

Occasionally as I dash about on my early morning auto-pilot course, I recall my lovely, late friend Eileen’s insistence that there are no calories in anything you eat standing up.  If there’s some raisin bread in the breadbin, I’ll add a slice of fruit toast and butter, confident that it will pass my waistline bywithout sticking.

On workdays, my mind is far too full of early morning routine tasks to spare a thought for the enjoyment of my breakfast.  Now, on holiday, with time and energy to spare, I wonder what other pleasures my usual morning rush makes me miss.  And vow, when I go back to work next week, to take the time each day to smell the muesli.

Posted in Family, Personal life

Let them eat toast!

apricot and raisin toast
Image by penguincakes via Flickr

I don’t know why I am so averse to buying toasters.  But the fact is that for a number of years I’ve been eking out other people’s cast-offs, rather than invest in a new one.   As my mother progressed to a four-slice machine, we stuck with her old two-slicer.  Sprinting up and down the kitchen to reload the thing every few minutes whenever the three of us were having a toast-themed breakfast, I must have burned off enough calories to cancel out my consumption of at least the crusts.

It was not my fault that the toaster lives so far from the kettle – blame the electrician who sited the sockets in my cottage so eccentrically.  But it dawned on me eventually that promotion to a four-slice toaster would save me an awful lot of time and trouble.

I therefore declared the demise of my old white two-slice toaster and  decided to splash out (not literally – although that certainly have hastened its end).

I thought choosing its successor would be a simple task.  Surely there can only be so many variations on a theme, even in the ever-growing Argos catalogue?  But no.  There was page after page of the toaster and its cousins, with mind-boggling, unheard-of (by me) features now apparently all the rage.  A toaster that changes colour at the same speed as the bread? A little annexe in which one can simultaneously boil an egg?  Bun-warming attachment, anyone?  This decision was going to take longer than I thought.

Eventually I settled for a shiny new aluminium one which offered all sorts of extras that I didn’t know until now that I’d needed.  The bagel feature, for example, handily toasts just one side of the slice – ideal for muffins and teacakes.  The optional “reheat” button is brilliant on a school day, when my complicated early morning choreography means I’m never in the kitchen when the toast pops up. The subsequent quick blast is just enough to ensure effective butter-melting – the hallmark of a perfect slice of toast.

Before my purchase, toast in my household had become a snack of last resort, I so hated using my naff old two-slicer.  But now my microwave hardly ever gets a look-in.  When the cupboard is bare, its my multi-tasking toaster that comes to the rescue.  Hungry, are they?  Then let them eat toast!

Post-script: I still retain a strong allegiance to another small electric kitchen device eloquently referred to recently by a Malapropian relative as “The George Formby Grill”.  Now there’s a gadget to conjure with – hot food and ukelele tunes at a single stroke.  What’s not to like?