Although not many of you like to comment on here in person, (perhaps I have shy friends? Perhaps I am too vehement and I scare you off with my diatribes?) but I do get an awful lot of lovely feedback and also requests (via facebook, dm, sms and in person) from friends and acquaintances to share recipes of things which I share on Instagram. And it has been soooo gratifying to be on the receiving end of these. Especially so because I felt so sheepish sharing anything at all at the outset. I mean, does anyone care? I feel like these days everyone feels that their opinion counts, regardess if they have any credibility / expertise in the field and (worst aspect of all) there being no barrier to entry. Anyone can have a blog or be on Twitter or whatever – so you never know if you are just another annoying bit of static clogging up someone else’s life or whether there is a place for your contribution/perspective. I find this a horrifying thought. Normally I am (was) one of those lurkers just abstaining from joining the other lemmings navel-gazing and sharing it on the ‘interweb’. Sharing anything on Instagram – which I am relatively new to – I began to do reluctantly and purely as a stopgap, because I realized that I cook so much but am unable, due to time constraints, to publish it all on here. A mere fraction of it is actually written up and thoughtfully presented – perhaps about 5% of what is bubbling away under this roof any given week. Until I started snapping away at the stove and on my worktop, I never actually realized how much weekly cooking that amounted to, and that was only the stuff I remembered to shoot. It is also a reminder to me that I am, in some way, being productive even if it often feels the reverse. Instagram has also served as a surprising testing ground for what people are interested in eating and cooking for themselves: the feedback is instant and is shaping this blog in its infancy, which feels very positive in that it is living in the moment, it is current. Although it often results in the derailment or postponing of planned posts, it does divert me towards not just what I think may be, but what really is appealing to others and this in turn is exciting as it means engaging with a quiet community, despite the interaction not being face to face. It also means things are new and surprising, and topics organically arise rather than being fabricated. When I was writing this unpublished blog (for my sanity and the kids’ posterity) back in the Spring, I shuddered at the thought of having anyone peek into the chaos and intimacy of my daily life. But then my good friend Daphne, over one of my lunches, piped up with “what is the point of a blog if there is no audience? I mean, isn’t that the point? To share and react and have a dialogue?”. On the other side of the coin there is my husband who is extremely private and sceptical albeit very encouraging towards me, (I mean he got me into this blogging lark in the first place) who always needles me good-naturedly by referencing the famous tree falling in the forest – when no-one is there to hear it has it really fallen? eg. does the food we eat have any value if it is not Instagrammed, if noone is there to virtually see / “like” it? Ultimately we both know we enjoy the food and eat this way regardless of our audience but it is key to not become a slave to outside approval. They both have point.
With children to please – and, contrary to what it may appear I often don’t please my children at all with my culinary offerings – you can see why every micro-hit of appreciation from others is so addictive, so eagerly lapped up! My husband, who is trying to get me to unplug from technology at night and to be more present (I see his point and appreciate his concern for my welfare) doesn’t see that most of my mum-friends are most active at night when their time has fewer demands upon it and that they, or rather we rely on our cyber-friendships because we are a fellowship of mutual supporters, mothers struggling against the relentless “rinse and repeat” of daily child-rearing.
And this is the thing that I have come only very recently to understand:
…Our lives are lived in tiny modest, little increments, not attention-seeking flashes of public, marketable glory. Going repeatedly through the motions, whether they are “please hang up your coat” or “please eat your broccoli”, “have you finished your homework”, “please go and practise” – much like the Tiger Mom’s rule of 10,000 hours, eventually means that after apparently countless, relentless, seemingly empty and unappreciated gestures made in the hope of shaping your precious charges, these seemingly ineffective gestures, suddenly appear to have garnered value. Except it hasn’really been sudden at all, we just suddenly notice it, that is all. It has been the slow growing fruiting of our labours, we don’t immediately see the fruits of our labour or the progress we are slowly making. It may feel soul-destroying during the apparently invisible growth period because it appears that nothing is happening – we can all hear our enemy voice “what is the point?” and then, it suddenly catches up, just when you are at your lowest ebb and feel like throwing in the puke and tear-stained towel. Yoga is like this, also parenting and perhaps also giving birth…and they are three of the most rewarding things in life that I can think of. It is almost like a retroactive sprint that occurs to restore your faith in humanity after months, years of apparent going through the motions, of mindlessly repeating yourself of trying and trying and returning to the coal face. It is not dissimilar to when your first kid is not able to read and you sit there with them, countless bedtimes, and yet you think at the outset: “will he / she ever get there?”. With your first child you can’t even picture it. Same with potty training and sleeping through the night. Looking at your child and not seeing them grow on a daily basis doesn’t mean they aren’t growing, it is simply that for those closest to them, those in the eye of the storm, the changes are too subtle, too minute, to be easily detectable, but they are cumulative, they are real and they are there. But then maybe the season changes and you find yourself dusting off a pair of long unworn winter trousers and – it seems to have happened so suddenly – those trousers are just too small. There are tiny little increments in which we are living that are easily ignored or overlooked and which are in great contrast to the constantly revolving door of high-impact-instant-gratification-goldfish-sized-attention-span-heavily-filtered-overly-styled nuggets we are becoming accustomed to when scrolling on social media. Our obsession with instant gratification is making a chasm open up between “IRL” (in real life) ACTUAL living, breathing moments our and our online personae. No wonder we feel like our efforts are failing when they aren’t. We are too busy actually living and not necessarily documenting our own lives. AND THAT IS A GOOD THING!! The naked eye, much like the soul, doesn’t always see the progress being made and I have to remind myself of this. Scrolling back through my 70-odd instagram pictures lets me enjoy the otherwise immediately extinguishing trail of phosphorescence that is bringing up and feeding my lovely children. I used to love (and still do) any tv show that indulges me with ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots or accelerated time lapse photography of things being improved (Changing Rooms, Extreme Makeover, America’s Next Top Model etc.) it is like crack to me, someone who is constantly frustrated by all I don’t feel I achieve in one day. It is a hard line to walk, this dipping one toe in to social media and documentation, while the other toe is in the other camp, actually being present and doing without appreciation or thanks or yardsticks. There is a febrile sort of tension that many of us are struggling with: the living vicariously through technology on the one hand and the being present, the actual living of the very moment in which we exist. Then again feeling the need to immortalize, create umpteen time-capsules for every precious experience because everything feels so fleeting, when only a couple of generations before us, our very own ancestors were lucky if they had a family story passed on from mouth to ear or a single dog-eared photo of their wedding day or loved one. We no longer seem to appreciate the minutae of daily drudgery, or harbour the notion that it could have any positive elements. Well I am trying to, I want my kids growing up knowing how to make their own beds, do the dishes and sort their own laundry and manage their affairs. The thing that keeps me cooking (…documenting, photographing) is that I do honestly enjoy creating something beautiful, and then connecting with others emotionally through it. It may take time but for me it is not work, it is play. This is the antidote to all the other pressures and niggles of life. I can make things look appetizing (because to me they are) but it is not a fabrication, it is just a little tweaked with a filter here or there, in reality, with the smell and shared with my beloved it is even better. Just as it’s hard to find the middle ground between virtual and present, it can also be hard to be positive and not annoying, authentic but not boring and moany (plenty to bore with and moan about). I don’t want to create a moan-blog, nor an airbrushed one… I have a post pending following a terrible evening last week, and I can’t bear to read it and am not sure anyone else will either. Much like me sharing my terrible pregnancy snap however, chances are that, when I find the right tone (not the tone I adopted while hammering the keys in anger) I may share it too, because I have a blatant contempt for the overly curated lives represented on most social media and blogs. This is one of my favourite articles right here on the subject. I clearly have acquaintances like this and in the spirit of my very own basest of rubber-necking instincts I can’t bear to unfriend them because I cannot resist the so totally un-self-aware post-modernism, the black humour that they provide, the contemptuous grunts and guffaws they elicit from me.
Anyway back to the task in hand: Souped up Broccoli/Cauliflower Cheese. One very pertinent, interesting and thought-provoking interaction was thrown up by my instagram proffering of this broc-cauli cheese baked dish. It followed a thread initiated by an old school friend on Facebook, to whom I shall refer as NG, that had us all wading in. She had made a frankly gorgeous-looking ‘Spinach, ricotta, dolce latte & Parmesan gluten free lasagne’. She captioned it with : “Took me ages. And I bet all my coins that the children won’t eat it 😂😭😁”
I mean who in their right mind, wouldn’t eat this? the answer was: “Well one ate it, the other one did the ‘I don’t like it!’ without even trying it”
This touched exactly on the notion that we try and often feel we fail to get our kids to be good eaters. I personally think it is an acquired skill, like sleeping and good manners, and that some are naturally easier eaters and sleepers and some a nightmare but that real, positive progress can be made with all of them regardless on all these fronts. It is the same idea that underpins much new thought on talent vs effort and how we praise our kids. Anyway, a few days later I had to follow my own advice with the broc/cauli bake…
I had (as usual) been seduced by the veg at the Farmer’s Market (see wistful veg still life photos of last week) and found myself not so much in a chard overkill mode but in broccoli and cauliflower overkill mode. I confess it does make me feel righteous and wholesome to cart back a trolley full of greens, (just like putting on yoga pants can make you feel fitter even when you don’t get around to any actual yoga). Since I then feel bad throwing anything left away, I force myself to use it up any which way, and then by necessity it finds its way onto the kids’ menu.
In this instance, all three put up an initial fight but ended up consuming quite a lot but all adults who came in contact with it devoured it. I will also be repeating this regularly because to quote what I told my son :”broccoli and cauliflower kick cancer’s butt! They are from a family of greens that are some of the healthiest things you can eat and I will keep serving them, even if you complain”. I then did a little dubbed “kick ass” sound effects with accompanying gestures and he eventually ate 75% of his bowl. I also held off serving the fish fingers until I had deemed they had eaten a satisfactory amount. I felt flat but in retrospect, when sitting in bed later that night, I was glad I just went ahead and did it. I need to keep going through the motions and they will eventually respond!
Now here’s the recipe, admittedly inspired by a Jamie Oliver I saw way back, but with the addition of purple cauliflower and romanesco and pine nuts and anchovies and stuff… Mmmm. I will put up some super-duper snaps when I am not rushing next time I make this dish, so for now Instagram ones will have to do… at least they are “before” and “after” shots which, as you know, I personally find quite helpful : )) As soon as a recipe has no picture, I start to doubt whether I am doing everything wrong – you? Anyway, whether it is a recipe or teaching your kids how to eat, the trick must be to simply repeat going through the motions, practise, practise, practise and in the end it will all be good!
Here are some pics to help you follow the recipe:
As with all my recipes, the herbs / veg / seasonings pretty interchangeable! You will see similarities to my chard recipe but you could also use leeks and potatoes for this.
This dish can be "vegetarianised" of course, just skip the anchovies and opt for capers and choose the right, animal-friendly cheese.
Also you can make it gluten-free by using gluten-free bread or skipping the breadcrumbs altogether. It is still utterly fab with just the pine nuts and almonds.
You can also make it nut-free and it will still be wonderfully tasty.
For this recipe, these quantities filled a large oval dish measuring 25cm x 35cm.
I reheated it in the oven the following day and ate as a main dish and since the cauliflower had been left satisfyingly crunchy the first day, it withstood a second heating really well and was still very tasty.
If your kids like it, it also withstands shovelling into a hotpot for school packed lunch the following day.
Basically this is a classic bake recipe in which you fold your puréed broccoli into your anchovy-and-garlic-enhanced white sauce and pour it over the raw cauliflower, top with cheese and crunchy bits then blast in a medium oven.
You will find that the cauliflower underneath the crispy top, will still have a nice bite to it and not be mushy and sulphurous. This is key!
- For the roux / bechamel / white (green!) sauce
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 7-8 anchovies
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pinch of nutmeg
- drizzle of olive oil to prevent the butter from burning in the pan
- chillies (fresh, dried / to taste or omit altogether)
- 60g salted butter
- 50g spelt or kamut (khorasan) flour, preferably wholemeal
- 600ml whole milk
- 500-600g fresh broccoli (c. 1-1.5 large head)
- a few sprigs of oregano, marjoram or thyme, de-stalked
- for the main body of the dish and topping
- 20g flaked or ground almonds
- 20g pine nuts
- 4 tbsp breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp salted butter
- 80g strong hard cheese, grated (c. 4 heaped tablespoons - I used Comté and Appenzeller because that is what I had to hand which made it super potent but a mature Cheddar or Parmesan will be just as divine)
- 1kg fresh cauliflower (one variety is fine but three makes a showstopper! Romanesco, purple and classic white are a great combination)
- Pre-heat the oven to 180° (350°F / gas mark 4), preferably the fan setting. You can see if the top is browning too much or not fast enough and see how you go. You can always save the day and prevent burning with a self-fashioned silver foil lid if need be.
- First, as your oven heats up, get the tedious bit over and chop up your brassicas!
- The broccoli can be chopped up fast, the stalky part should be peeled to remove any overly fibrous parts, as it will all be blitzed to a pulp shortly after cooking. The florets cook easily sit will do if you break them up into micro-florets but the stalk should be cut into small pieces about 1 cm cubes or 0.5cm thick slices. Steam or boil these stalks first then when they are tender to the point of a knife, add the florets as this way you retain more vitamins by not overcooking the florets.
- Remove the leg and attached florets of the various cauliflowers from the main stem, chop the smaller stalks in to 1cm pieces and break any dense florets up. I try to have no chunk over an inch cubed in size, as it is not easy to fit in the mouth and will take too long to cook. The other florets can be a variety of sizes as this allows for a varying degree of creaminess and crunchiness post cooking.
- Combine the raw cauliflowers, season them lightly with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and transfer them, so the colours are nicely distributed, to the bottom of a greased oven-proof dish.
- Remove the broccoli from the heat and blitz to a purée, season and stir in the herb-leaves.
- Now for the white (green) broccoli béchamel sauce. As per my other recipes, the usual method applies of frying the garlic and chillies (if you are using them, or switch in the chopped capers instead) in the butter and then once the anchovies have dissolved and the garlic has become translucent (but not burnt!) stir in the bay leaf, nutmeg and ground black pepper and cook it through for 4-5 minutes, until bubbling and foaming.
- Whisk in the milk a little at a time until the mixture has a syrupy texture.
- Remove from the heat, stir in the broccoli purée and pour over the bed of cauliflower in the baking dish.
- Combine the breadcrumbs and herbs in a saucepan with the tablespoon of butter until the latter has melted and soaked through the crumbs.
- Stir in the pine nuts and almonds then sprinkle over the top of the broccoli béchamel layer.
- Lastly scatter the grated cheese over this and a last fine drizzle of olive oil.
- Put in the middle of the oven and let the top "gratinate" and become golden and crispy before removing.