I love food. Everything else in my life could be falling apart around my ears (the boiler broke down...little L is up 5 or 6 times a night...I've got a stinking cold...and little M's bedtime routine has, for no obvious reason, completely unravelled...things are definitely a bit frayed around the edges if not falling apart right now) but I'll always find time to eat. And usually (but not always!) pretty 'good' grub. For me 'good' to means 'full on flavour and nutrition, a generous helping of ethics, and ideally not too much packaging'. I've been particularly enjoying food recently and feeling new inspiration to spice up some everyday ingredients.
The year started off well with homemade sushi - a fun evening in and a great way to enjoy sushi with sustainably sourced fish. I've also been loving the new Jerusalem cookbook from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It has some brilliant dishes to breathe a breath of fresh air into seasonal and local food. We cooked up a feast of butternut squash and tahini spread, a spicy beetroot dip, and amazingly tasty chicken sofrito from it recently. Adding one or two interesting ingredients to some not-so-exotic staples can definitely liven things up a bit. This book also has some great recipes traditionally used by time-poor women with children and crams extra veg into lots of the recipes.
I've also been enjoying finding some new inspiration in my old favourite cookbooks too. There's a great cabbage pilaf in the Moro East cook book with oodles of Sumac and fresh parsley. It's brilliant served with grilled mackerel and definitely a bit more interesting than boiled cabbage! I was a bit sad to discover today that Mackerel has been taken of the Marine Conservation Society's 'Fish to eat regularly' list - I've only just started to fancy it again after developing a strong aversion to it whilst pregnant with little L. It will have to be an occasional treat now.
Little L is also helping me rediscover my food mojo. It's so great to see her discovering foods for the first time and loving them all. And little M seems to have passed the peak of fussy eating. She is eating more foods and showing interest in some new foods. She even tries them occasionally! She surprised me by asking for a tiny spot of date syrup (bought for the squash and beetroot recipes but great on ice-cream and porridge too) on her porridge today. I'm not going to push her too much - I'm still revelling in the fact that basics like broccoli, peas, pasta with sauce and sausages are back on the menu!
I think food is one of the human race's finest achievements...and most embarrassing failures. So many types of cheese and bread, so many ways to eat a humble carrot...and so much obesity, hunger and malnutrition! I get a bit depressed when food is boiled down to nothing more than it's sugar or fat content. I'm not suggesting we should ignore this completely. I do watch what I eat a bit, and although I'm not a new year dieter, I'm watching what I eat more than usual right now as I've just stopped breast-feeding little L and will see baby weight piling back on if I'm not careful rather than gradually falling off with help from my chase-after-the-kids-and-don't-sleep-much excercise routine! But good food is brilliant, powerful stuff. So much more than a calorie count.
I've been prompted recently to think about how I can pass a love of good food onto my children. We do lots of cooking together which I'm sure will help. I'm also getting back on the organic veg box wagon after a small pause. Little M loves getting 'the veggies' from the local pick-up point on our way home from nursery and having a rummage through to see what we've got. She'll hopefully eat a bit more of it now (or I might get better at hiding it now she's prepared to eat sauces!). We get through more food now we're four so I think we'll easily use all the lovely veg. It should boost our veg intake too - it definitely went down during our veg box holiday. It's important to me that we care about where our family food comes from and how it was produced - the veg box scheme is an easy way for us to know that a good portion of our food fits with our values.
Food should be fun too. In my view life is a great big food adventure - I'm really excited to be helping my girls start theirs. So I've got my thinking cap on to come up with some fun family traditions around food. Watch this space! My food habits have been picked up from my parents, my friends, countries I've travelled to, favourite TV chefs and by having confidence to experiment. My children will, of course, evolve their own habits as they grow up but I'll take great pleasure in giving them a good start. I'll try to put aside my anxiety that they'll be exposed to the worst of today's food culture and focus on helping them be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about lots, and lots of different, tasty foods. Yes, there will still be plenty of macaroni cheese on the menu. But the world is our oyster - I'm intrigued to know what will be the girls' favourites as they start to explore a bit more.
What are your favourite family food traditions?