Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I have found one good reason to persevere with Broccoli.
According to that very reliable source of great quotations, the internet, George W Bush said : " I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli. "
Clearly I have a duty as a parent to feed my children broccoli at every given opportunity and to instill in them a lifetime's love of this green hero of the supermarket. If only George Bush's mother had got it right.

I feel sometimes as if I have unleashed people's private passions about vegetables. Read this thread on a BBC Food Message Board. It started off as an innocent appeal for Broccoli recipes and ended up as a etymological discussion of brassica oleracea botyris asparagoides.
I have been referred to wikipedia articles, quoted at by the Oxford English Dictionary but most touchingly of all, been sent the most enticing range of broccoli recipes to tempt young master Frederic. You can see him now with his sister in the top right hand of the blogsite. Anyway, Freddie is a little in awe of this public warmth for the brassica and bravely chomped his way through broccoli pesto and pasta this evening, whirred up by my own fair hands. He liked it - not a lot - but he liked it.
I'm thinking of suggesting a new book title for Lauren Child - "I will not never ever eat broccoli" with a new character, George W Bean.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A is for Asparagus with poached egg

What luxury! I'd never tried this before one of you recommended it. Asparagus wrapped in ham and topped with a poached egg and placed on a slice of toasted bread.
Freddie was seriously impressed. To be honest he is easily impressed when it comes to my cooking. He is touchingly loyal about all my efforts, however modest and regularly boasts to his mates about his fathers' qualities as a chef, based entirely on the one dish - scrambled eggs. So when I rolled out tonight's vegetable challenge he turned quiet. And not the kind of quiet that is usually accompanied by a dramatic slump back into his chair, eyes lifted to the ceiling in disgust. Oh no - this time he was impressed. And he ate every bit. Who would have thought that three vegetables into our GreatBigVegetableChallenge we have already found a firm favourite?
Its time to move on. Now I am told that avocado is not a veg but a fruit so its on to the B's. Broccoli is the next challenge. Any of you out there know what to do with Broccoli to give it the red carpet treatment? Please leave your comments, ideas, recipes or encouragement.......

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

“Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts.”

“Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts.”

So said the poet Charles Lamb. And although he has been dead for well over a century I worry for him. Firstly, what is a gentle thought? Frollicking lambs, sleeping infants, lapping waves - those are the sorts of things that spring to mind. But surely not asparagus.

Speargrass, spargel, esparrago, asperge, asparago, espargos - whatever you call it, its far from gentle in appearance or inclination. For a start once the plant gets rolling, in its second year asparagus spears shoot up as much as 10 inches in 24 hours. This is a family column so I won't draw attention to what it resembles. But gentle thoughts - methinks not!
Anyhow in our house as of last night, asparagus has achieved god-like status. Freddie likes the fact they looked like spears. I served them with melted butter and lemon juice. And we haven't looked back since. So we are now planning to emulate the Germans and hold our own home spargelfest. Why didn't I serve him them to him as a toddler?

Please keep your asparagus recipes flying in....

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Calling all spargelfesters out there !

I see that I have a number of bleaders (aka blog-readers) in Germany. Given the German embassy website advertises the joys of the country's Spargelfests, I'm anticipating being deluged by asparagus-inspired recipes. Apparently German towns vie for the title "Asparagus Capital of the Year." Tremendous aspiration. In Britain we have awards for "Crap Town of the Year" or "UK's Fattest Town."
So please all you spargelfesters out there - is it simply a matter of boiling and dousing in butter?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Feel guilty about Christmas Lunch a month early...

Another reason to feel guilty about the excesses of Christmas lunch even before its happened.... I read in the news today that an academic at Edinburgh university has calculated that on average it takes 84,612 miles for your christmas dinner to reach the plate. Thats if you have all the traditional trimmings - sprouts, stuffing, chestnuts, cranberries etc. So the aeroplane carrying this festive fare would emit 31 million kilograms of carbon dioxide - thats the same as the yearly emissions for over 48,000 semi detached family homes. So the lunch that lasts a few hours leaves an indelible carbon mark on the environment. Actually in our house it probably leaves even more carbon through over-cooking.
Got me thinking about our GBVChallenge. Was I committing a crime against the planet by seeking to travel through the A-to Z of vegetables out of season? So far artichokes and aubergine - none of which originated anywhere near Britain and now its asparagus which I think will probably be coming from Peru. Trouble is if I was to stick to UK vegetables in season it could get dull - as a challenge that is.
I did have one small feeling of smugness though - apparently Tom Cruise had his flunkies search the markets of Rome to satisfy his need for nuptial artichokes. As they are out of season in Italy, there was a shortage. If I had known I could have pointed them to a stall in Kentish Town where there were hundreds up for grabs....

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Campaign to ban conference food.

I have been a poor blogger this week. I've been in Wales working and living off conference food. I know that old style school dinners have been discredited by Jamie Oliver's campaign. But there should be a new bete noir. Its conference food. It makes school lunches look like haute cuisine. And the irony was completely lost on the caterers as they served six fried snacks to delegates at a health conference. A dish labelled Chicken Firecrackers glistened menacingly under the flourescent lights, accompanied by these filo covered deep fried prawns that looked like they had been wrapped in a fire blanket before incineration. And all this while people tried to find inspirational solutions for improving public health... Anyhow I returned home with a new sense of purpose. Friday night was pizza night. Aubergines were sliced, seasoned and grilled and scattered on pizza bases with mozarella and pancetta. Freddie rated them 6 out of ten. (Peas are 0, artichokes were 8) Pizza provides a useful foil to the vegetable interlopers. It's a safe setting to introduce these new ingredients. So that is how aubergines made their debut in our GBVChallenge.
Tonight I went further. I found a recipe from a Jamie Oliver cookbook for Rigatoni with sweet tomatoes, aubergine and mozarella. I made sure Freddie was really hungry, keeping his appetite keen so that the chances of rejection were slightly minimised. He liked the flavour of the aubergines, which was something, but complained that they were chewy. So although he didn't resort to his old trick of retching, he picked round the aubergines. All is not lost - he asked that we have that recipe again. Next stop is Asparagus....even though its way out of season.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Time to move on from artichokes - especially while the going is good. It's aubergines next. My husband is not happy that I have diverted from a strict alphabetical dictionary listing of vegetables and feels that asparagus should come next. But at the risk of offending other similarly lexicon-sensitive readers, I've already bought the aubergines. Ideas please....

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What's the point of subterfuge?

A good few of you have been extolling the virtues of culinary subterfuge. Hide the vegetables! Coat them, puree them, ketchup them, mash them, blend them - just don't let on to Freddie. I like the glamour of secrecy.... the curious feeling of power as I trick my unwitting infants into eating their worst nightmares. But the truth is it hasn't worked. Maybe I'm not made out to be a mother-turned Mata Hari. I admit I have used such tactics in the past. But the GreatBVC is about a new approach. It's about trying to inspire change. Learning new ways of cooking. Going on an adventure to find out what works in other homes. And having a laugh in the process. Or not, as the case might be.

So with this new spirit of glasnost, I returned last night to artichokes. This time tinned. And Freddie and his sister were given passata, mozarella, lardons of bacon and sliced up artichokes to place in an artistic fashion on two pre-made pizza bases. And do you know what - it actually worked. He handled them, knew what they were and most importantly ate a few on his pizza. So the challenge continues....

Friday, November 10, 2006

Artichoke Friday

I rushed back from work, turning down two invitations to go out for a drink (very tempted), in order to prepare for Artichoke-Friday. This had taken on the air of a pagan ritual. The chosen ones were crouching on their sacrificial plate. I had four cookery books at the ready. I chose the simplest option. Chop off the stem, pick off the outer leaves, trim the top and plunge into boiling salted water. 25 minutes later it was D-day. When I took them out I had to squeeze out the water which rather took the glamour out of the artichoke - reducing it to the status of any old boiled vegetable.
Freddie was enthusiastic. There was a generous knob of butter on his plate and he joined in the dipping of the leaves. In fact butter was crucial to the whole thing. There was no retching , no tears and no arguments. He happily sucked the butter off the artichoke and scraped a little bit of the flesh with his teeth and only grimaced when he bit into the heart. As a challenge to eat butter it was a resounding success. In terms of vegetable consumption a rather more modest achievement...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The arrival of the Artichokes

It has been a bit of a unholy grail trying to find fresh artichokes. All I could find were these pasty-coloured knots floating in olive oil. I suspect if I presented those at the dinner table, Fred would faint. But then as I emerged from the tube in Kentish Town I was confronted by a mob of globe artichokes glaring at me from a market stall. So far as you can humanise a vegetable, artichokes really do look quite angry. They are prickly-looking creatures who seem a little reluctant to let you enjoy them. I feel a bit uneasy about them. I'm not sure what to do with them. I think its a case of boiling or steaming them for 40 minutes. And then cutting off the stalk and somehow pulling off the prickly leaves and dipping the ends in butter. Artichoke fans speak in hushed tones about the bit in the middle. How I get to that bit is unclear. I think that artichokes should be sold with an instruction manual.
Anyhow I've brought them home and put them pride of place in the kitchen. Fred is interested. He thinks they look like something out of Jurassic Park and has asked if they have meat inside.
Maybe that's what the artichoke junkies get all breathless about.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A is for Artichoke

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First thing this morning I checked my blog and experienced what must be very special to all fledgling blogger - a buzz from the fact that people had visited the site and added their thoughts. People from Canada, Singapore, and even far-flung Norfolk. Thank you.I went down to breakfast which is prepared with military precision by my husband at 7 am. He runs our house as if it were a kind of bootcamp for weaklings. We are yelled at to get dressed quickly, asked whether we have the right equipment for the day - sports kit, Oyster Card, coat, correct shoes etc. But then his bootcamp has a strange edge. Classical music is piped into the kitchen. All tastes in bread are catered for. And for me there are added privileges. Coffee and newspapers. I am very very lucky.I mentioned to everyone my small triumph in the world of blogging. Husband was impressed but worried about the implications of time-wasting in the morning if I was checking my blog rather than getting ready for his 7am- sharp breakfast. Daughter asked why her brother and not her had inspired a blog. ( Sibling rivalry is big in our house.) And Freddie? Well he looked up from his brown toast with honey ( always the same, every single breakfast) and said. "Twenty-eight visitors? You still have something like 6 billion to go then." He likes statistics. And he has an unerring knack of bringing me back down to earth with a bump.But I am undeterred. I've decided I need a strategy to make the GreatBVC work. As Fred is complete in his dislike of vegetables I will set about introducing the A to Z of Veg. First stop, the Artichoke. I don't know what to do with it but might as well start at the deep end.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Drama Over Peas

Last night we had a drama over peas. What happens is that a very very small portion of whatever vegetables the rest of us are eating are placed nonchalantly by me on to Freddie's plate. I have taken on board the whole "take the heat out of eating" line and don't refer to the offending articles of greenness on his plate. I don't draw attention towards them. He eats around them like a small bird pecking out bits of breadcrumbs. And at the end of the meal, of course, the peas are there waiting... He looks up at me and the bargaining begins. "If I eat two peas is that enough?" I am used to him starting the bids low. "Now Fred there are only seven peas on your plate, can't you just eat them? ". He then starts to turn pale. He slumps down into his chair and fiddles with his cutlery, accidentally on purpose knocking them onto the floor to create a diversion. I remain very calm and come in with my next bid. Five peas. Just eat five small green peas you can have pudding. Now I don't care if this breaks every child-rearing rule if it works. Trouble is it doesn't work. To cut a long drama very short, its peas or bust. No peas, no pudding. By then all of us have finished our meal. My husband has tried reasoning with him. My daughter has offered to eat them for him in return for two puddings and they are now elbowing each other. What happened to the nice family meal? I don't know how the Waltons did it. I don't remember them arguing over the kitchen table over peas. And there were five times as many children.
In the end freddie's love of puddings persuades him to eat four peas. No more - no less. Four measly specks of green. And to cap it all as he places them in his mouth he retches. Then I feel sorry for him.
You might be thinking does it matter if he eats them. Well no, of course not in the grand scheme of things, it matters zippo. But its the same WHATEVER vegetable I give him. We have dramas over peas, carrots, courgettes, broad beans, green beans, avocados, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions - everything but potatoes. Sweetcorn he will eat reluctantly. He picks everything off pizza, sieves soup, searches in casseroles to extract any trace of vegetable. Its not a pretty sight. If it really were just peas that made him retch of course he wouldn't have to try. But surely he can't ban every goddam vegetable on the planet. Now if any of you have any neat ideas with peas, send them my way. I'll try them out. And I promise not to retch.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

First Post - let the challenge begin!
Let me start with the basics. I am a mother of two children (I will resist the temptation to add the obligatory "wonderful") who represent polar opposites in terms of their relationship with vegetables. My daughter, who is ten, has always enjoyed food, relished new tastes and even been prepared to eat foods that she doesn't particularly enjoy. My son however, who has many talents, cannot count vegetable-eating among them. In his seven years he has been nothing if not consistent - consistently refusing all vegetables barring potatoes and sweetcorn. Now I do realise that in the grand scheme of small fussy-eaters he wouldn't warrant a second glance. I have read about a boy who survived on nothing but jam sandwiches all of his childhood, of a girl who will only eat food that is brown in colour. My son at seven wouldn't even get a nomination in the Fussy Eating Oscars compared to the likes of those two. But I don't want his determination to avoid vegetables to be overlooked. It shows sticking power. All I want to achieve though in this challenge is to cajole, charm or even trick him into eating just a little more than potatoes. I read that there are 200 types to choose from and thousands of variations on those to try. There has to be something that he will like. And given all the pressure on us as a parents to get our kids to eat healthily it almost feels like a legal obligation to at least try. No doubt in twenty years time there will be newspaper reports of children suing their parents for failing to instill healthy eating habits in them. Maybe a passive-snacking law will be passed to protect the impressionable dears from being exposed to unhealthy eating habits. Anyhow in the spirit of the World Wide Web I am opening up this blog to all of you parents out there who have tried and succeeded to introduce your offspring to the joys of carrots, peas, lettuce, spinach, asparagus, avocado, beetroot, green beans - in fact any vegetable. Any ideas gratefully received.