In this day and age, we often hear families rarely share meals, much less share in their preparation. The time we spend preparing and eating good, healthy, lovingly prepared food holds us together as a family.
I will be the first to admit that almost everything involved in preparing a meal can be a chore. But the “simple” value of passing on cooking skills and the time spent together shopping, cooking, and washing up are bonding and learning experiences for you and your little ones.
Farmers markets and local shops are more likely to provide pleasurable shopping experiences than the local supermarket. Take your time and make it an adventure with the children. Help them to learn where things really come from (eggs from chickens, milk from cows). Don’t let them grow up believing everything comes from supermarkets.
I want to give my family the best. I have learned it’s just as easy to buy organic and fresh produce as it is to buy the supermarket stuff. What surprises me most is discovering careful selection of food doesn’t blow our budget. One of the secrets is to buy seasonal foods. By buying seasonal local foods you not only save your budget, you help the planet. A recent study says our diets (consisting of flown around the world) account for up to two times as many greenhouse emissions as driving. Learn what is in season and how to make delicious meals from seasonal choices. Many celebrity chefs now have published their own seasonal recipe book; one yummy discovery is Nigel Slater’s cookbook.
This is the season for making Christmas gifts. Nothing goes down quite as well, or conveys love and care as prettily wrapped homemade goodies do. The pride of a child who hands over a parcel of something they made is immeasurable. It’s also a simple way to step back from the season’s commercialism and frantic shopping for mass produced, preservative filled, plastic gifts. Onions are easy to grow and store. They are packed with anti-viral properties—super for sore throats and coughs. Baked, they become so sweet and caramelized; children will like them. This recipe would also go well as a Christmas side dish.
There are online resources aplenty for seasonal eating, too. One very clever U.S. site I’m fond of is www.Epicurious.com. It has a seasonal ingredients map, which can also link to recipes, cooking tips, and inspiration which are then rated by readers.
Onions with Parmesan and Cream
4 medium/ large onions
300 ml (1-1/4 cups) whipping or double cream
Good handful of grated Parmesan
Set the oven at 180˚c (350 F). Peel the onions and bring them to a boil in a deep pan of water. Leave them at a simmer for about 25 minutes, until tender. Lift them out with a draining spoon. Slice the onions in half from root to tip and put them cut side down in an ovenproof dish. Tip the cream over the onions. Season with salt, pepper, and grated cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and bubbling.
One of my favourite, more unusual seasonal recipes is beetroot chocolate cake. My boys are most suspicious of the usual borscht, but this goes down splendidly. I know, it sounds weird, but trust me; think carrot cake in pretty pink.
Beetroot and Chocolate Cake
375g (1.6 cups) Organic, unrefined caster sugar
250g (2 sticks) organic butter
4 organic free range eggs
250g (1 cup) plain flour
2 tsp organic bicarbonate of soda (baking soda).
450g (2 cups) finely grated raw beetroot (beets)
100g (1/2 cup) organic unsweetened grated chocolate, high cocoa content
2 heaping tablespoons of organic cocoa powder
Half a tablespoon organic vanilla essence (vanilla extract)
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
Mix the softened butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk eggs in a separate bowl, then add them to the cake mix gradually. Sift the flour, bicarb of soda, and cocoa powder into the cake batter and stir in well. Cut the stalks off the beetroot and peel them. Finely grate them and add to the cake mix. Add the grated chocolate and stir well. Add the vanilla essence. Pour cake batter into a 23cm greased cake tin. This cake takes 50 to 65 minutes to bake, depending on your oven and the depth of the cake tin. Check whether it is ready by carefully piercing the cake with a skewer. It should come out relatively clean.
For a change from all those root vegetables, there are also quite a few lettuce varieties that will happily thrive in frost (at least here in the UK!) and children will love wrapping up warm to brave the weather and plant seeds. Also sprouting seeds like chickpea, sunflower and alfalfa in a jar on the windowsill gives a super winter boost of vitamins and provides satisfyingly quick results for children. And one of the best bits of getting cold outside is coming in to hot cocoa. Again, Willie’s Supreme Cacoa wins the day. It’s a solid block of 100% cacao that’s been storming the UK. You just grate it into the milk, and for us, the milk’s sweetness and the chocolate’s creaminess means we can pass up on the sugar.
If you are not up to all that work, there is always organic convenience available such as the Mummy Delicious organic risottos and soups, ready and on the table in under 20 minutes, loved by both adults and children. Add some pure Willies Cacao to the Porcini Mushroom risotto and you have a meal that would mesmerize any dinner guest.
Barbara Kingsolver has written an exquisitely hilarious and inspiring book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, A Year of Food Life regaling her family’s attempt to be self sufficient, organic, and local for a year. It will inspire you to get up and create if nothing else will!
Vanessa Arelle de Peeters is Founder and Managing Director of Mummydeli.com. This online emporium offers shoppers in the UK more than 450 local products that are natural, organic and sustainable. Watch for Mummydeli.com to expand to the U.S. and Canada with local and sustainable products.www.mummydeli.com