As I write this, I’m sweating through another French heatwave. Please note this is a climate phenomenon, not a fancy euphemism for an affliction suffered by women of a certain age. If you’re currently in winter’s grip, you might think a heatwave sounds lovely. Trust me, when the temperatures soar above 40C and it feels like your brain is swelling faster than your ankles, you’ll think differently.
It’s too hot to eat in this kind of weather and you soon learn that a cold beer only makes you feel hotter (and not in a good way). So I am contenting myself with thoughts of cold, refreshing ice cream. If I had some right now, I’d scoop out a bowlful and bury my face in it. I’d rub a palmful on the back of my neck and let the rest slide down the backs of my knees. But I digress. If you’re lucky enough to be in cooler climes, you can enjoy this fruity ice cream in a more traditional manner. As Weird Al Yankovic once sang, just eat it.
Rhubarb and rose ice cream This will convert any rhubarb haters in your household – the rhubarb cuts through the richness of the cream and the sweetness of the condensed milk.
450g rhubarb, chopped into 2cm pieces 3 Tbsp caster sugar ¼ cup water 600ml cream 1 x 400g tin condensed milk 3 tsp rosewater Dried rose petals, for garnishing
Put the rhubarb, sugar and water in a small pot set over low heat. Stir well, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is very soft. Remove from the heat and tip the rhubarb into a bowl. Set aside to cool completely (this can be done up to three days in advance and stored in the fridge). Whip the cream until it just reaches the soft peak stage. Pour in the condensed milk and rosewater and stir until well combined. Fold through the rhubarb and pour into a plastic container or lined loaf tin. Cover and freeze for five to six hours. Remove from the freezer and allow to soften for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with dried rose petals if desired. Makes about 1.25 litres.
For reasons too complicated to explain in detail here, I recently found myself teaching four groups of school children how to make rocky road. In French. Yes, I know. I’m not sure how I get myself into these situations but once the gate clanged shut, there was no getting out. (Literally – French primary schools are like fortresses.)
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I’d been in similarily challenging teaching environments before (though I wasn’t sure this French primary school would enjoy being compared with a medium-security New Zealand prison, so I kept that to myself). Luckily, I also had help: an ex-nurse and a former army officer whose CVs were packed with far more useful and impressive feats than mine.
I don’t want to go telling tales out of school, but trust me when I say that all three of us needed to be on our A-game. Fortunately, French school kids are used to being told off. Unfortunately, they’re like all other children (and adults) in the presence of chocolate. Suffice to say, it was an exhausting morning, much mitigated by a refreshing glass of cider at 11.30am in the staffroom afterwards.
Should you wish to recreate this experience yourself during the school holidays, invite 10-15 children to come and make the following recipe with you. Make sure you’re in a classroom without aircon, preferably a few days before a record-breaking heatwave. For best results, have very rudimentary cooking equipment, at least two children who will be fighting at any one time, and eyes in the back of your head to stop them running with scissors and licking the bowl before you’ve finished mixing. Bon courage et bonne chance!
You can substitute other dried fruit or nuts for the cranberries and peanuts if you like.
Line a tin or plastic container (measuring about 20x25cm) with plastic wrap or baking paper. Put the butter, chocolate and sweetened condensed milk in a large pot. Set it over low heat and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Put the biscuits in a freezer bag and crush them gently until they are crumbs. It’s good to leave some bigger pieces to make the rocky road crunchier. Using scissors, cut the marshmallows in half or into thirds if they are large. Put the crushed biscuits, marshmallows, cranberries and peanuts into the melted chocolate mixture. Stir well. Pour into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Leave to set in the fridge for 1 hour. Cut into pieces and store in the fridge.
Vous pouvez remplacer les cachuetes et les canneberges sechees avec des autres noix ou fruits secs.
Tapisser un moule ou un Tupperware de 20x25cm avec du film étirable ou du papier sulfurisé. Deposer le beurre, chocolat et lait concentré sucré dans un pot. Chauffer doucement pour les fondre, en agitant souvent. Laisser refroider 10 minutes. Mettre les biscuits du thé dans un sac de congelation. Utiliser un rouler ou vos mains pour les éraser. Couper les guimauvres en petit pièces avec les ciseaux. Ajouter les biscuits écrasés, les guimauvres coupés, les canneberges séchées es et les arachides au chocolat. Melanger bien. Verser dans le moule. Placer au frigo pendant 1-2 heures. Couper en petits pieces et garder au frigo. Bon appétit!
Need more school holiday baking ideas? Check out these ones.
Meet my latest ally in the war against food waste: Chipie, aka Goaty McGoat Face. Handsome, isn’t he?
Goaty and his two allies have been an unexpected bonus of my current (temporary) home in rural southwest France. I’ve never been terribly fond of goats, but I’m warming to these three every day. They’re becoming increasingly keen on me too, mostly because I’ve become the bringer of unexpected treats. I used to think goats would eat anything, but these ones are quite discerning (they are French, after all). They don’t fancy egg shells very much, are a bit sniffy about orange peel and look askance at onion skins. However, they LOVE leftover rice or pasta, adore stale bread and are quite partial to apple cores. I think they might be my spirit animals.
Food waste is a major issue in France, as it is in much of the world. The UN estimates that about one-third of all the food produced in the world is thrown away or wasted. People in industrialised countries waste around 222 million tonnes of food every year – which is about the same amount of food as produced in sub-Saharan Africa. To me, this is appalling.
In 2016, France was hailed as a world leader in reducing food waste after it passed legislation that required large supermarkets donate unsold food to charities. This is a good start in a country where industrial food production is an art form and one that many other countries could emulate. I fear that the real problem is that commercial food production has changed the way people eat so much that food is no longer valued in any way. How do you expect people to respect what they eat when they’re being urged to ‘buy one get one free’ at every turn? At that price, it doesn’t matter if the item goes off or you don’t eat it, does it? Then again, most things that are offered in this way are so denatured that they’ll probably never go off anyway. But I digress.
Even if you eschew commercially produced food there will be food waste of some sort. Sure, you can make radish leaf pesto and find 101 uses for a stale baguette (this is a life skill that I am particularly proud of, especially now), but what about vegetable peelings, three-day-old leftover rice and tomato stalks? At the moment, this is where the goats come in. Unfortunately, I won’t be in a position to take them with me when I return to New Zealand later in the year, but I do have a few other ideas.
Thanks to The Very Green Gardener, my Wellington garden is home to a worm farm that deals with the bulk of our food waste. Worms aren’t as cute as goats and they’re also a bit fussy (they don’t like citrus, onion skins or meat). But boy, they are certainly efficient! If you want to know what true smugness is, feed your worms the peelings or ends of vegetables that you grew yourself, nurtured by vermicast and worm wee that your own worms produced. Worm farms are ideal for people who fear that a compost bin will turn into a rat hotel (that’s me) or those with not much space. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
The most obvious thing we can all do starts well before the food turns into ‘waste’. I feel anxious when I read reports claiming that people no longer have the interest or skills to cook because I believe they are losing connection with the natural world, with social heritage and with what should be a basic human skill. If you can’t feed yourself or those around you, what hope do you have? Being able to cook means being able to liberate yourself from Big Food and shrinkwrapped food that bares little or no resemblance to anything natural. Being able to cook means knowing how to shop so you’re not wasting money or time. Being able to cook means you can stretch not much into dinner.
The photo above is a case in point. It’s not fancy – an onion, some lardons and a ripped-up stale baguette fried in a splash of olive oil, tossed with some spaghetti and a handful of ‘haricots beurres’ (along with a splash of the pasta cooking water) – but it was fast, delicious and cost about 3 Euros to make. The goats ate the bean ends and the onion skin will hopefully break down to nourish the earth. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
I’m currently trying to get to grips with a range of different French idiomatic expressions involving food, such as ‘raconter des salades’ (literally: to tell some salad – to spin a story), and ‘la moutarde me monte au nez’ (literally: the mustard goes up my nose – I’m getting really angry).
This has reminded me of two things – one, teaching a Khmer colleague in Cambodia the New Zealand expression that ‘it’s all going to custard’ and two, of the English saying that ‘fine words butter no parsnips’. The former is a way of saying that everything is going wrong, but the latter is somewhat harder to explain. I think it means that fancy words mean little, but I’m not entirely sure. However, I am much more certain about this parsnip soup, which is entirely fine and yet contains very little butter. I’m not telling you any salads, I promise.
Creamy parsnip soup
2 tsp olive oil
2 large onions, finely diced
3 large cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 kg parsnips (about 8 large ones), peeled and cut into chunks
1 sprig fresh thyme
4 cups chicken stock
Juice of one lemon
½ cup cream, plus a little extra for drizzling
Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onions and garlic, and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsnips and cook for a further 10-15 minutes, until softened and starting to turn golden. Add the chicken stock and simmer gently for another 5-10 minutes, until the parsnips are soft. Remove the thyme, and puree with a stick blender or a mouli. To make it really silky, push the puree through a sieve (tedious, but worth it). Stir in the lemon juice and cream, then return to the heat and warm through (don’t let it boil) before serving.
If you’re in the mood for more winter soups, check out my latest crop of recipes on bite.co.nz.
How do you define a superfood? The venerable Oxford Dictionary says it’s “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”. Whether you buy into the superpowers of so-called superfoods is a matter of personal choice and/or susceptibility to clever marketing. I think there’s also room in your daily diet for things that make you feel super-happy, or that you just really enjoy eating. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a superfood can be all those things.
Take blackcurrants, for instance. The small-but-mighty blackcurrant, with its powerful burst of tart, purple juice, has superfood status thanks to its high levels of vitamin C and calcium. Blackcurrant skins also contain impressive levels of antioxidants. Recent studies point to blackcurrants having beneficial impacts on mental and physical health (a brand of New Zealand blackcurrant powder is also endorsed by several athletes, who claim it boosts their recovery time and performance).
Now, not being either a scientist or an athlete, I can’t say with any certainty that blackcurrants are the answer to all your problems. But I can promise you that this blackcurrant quinoa porridge is a nutrient-rich breakfast that will set you up for whatever the day may throw at you. And if you top it with a blob of creme fraiche or mascarpone, you’ll definitely be on to a winner.
Blackcurrant and quinoa porridge
You might think you don’t have time to cook something for 10 minutes in the morning, but it’s all a matter of perspective and planning. What I do, when time is short, is set this up on the stove and then attend to some other task (like having a shower, or getting cross at a politician being interviewed on the radio, or making a school lunch). It’s multi-tasking, but at a very gentle level. Just don’t go off to work and forget that you’ve got something cooking on the stove!
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed under cold running water
1 cup water
3/4 – 1 cup milk (dairy or not, as you choose)
1 tsp natural vanilla extract
1/2 cup frozen blackcurrants
Put the quinoa and water in a small pot set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the quinoa ‘tails’ are visible. Stir in the milk, vanilla and blackcurrants and cook over low heat for another five minutes, until the mixture is thick and porridge-like. Divide between two bowls and top with a dollop of cream, creme fraiche, mascarpone or Greek yoghurt. Serves 2.
If you’re interested in New Zealand quinoa, check out this story (excuse shameless self-promo) about The New Zealand Quinoa Company, who are growing and harvesting quinoa in Taranaki.