Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In Defence of Carbs

My name is Kit and I love carbs. There I’ve said it... I’m not doing the paleo thing, I send my kids to school with sandwiches made of bread and cheese, and I love baking. And it may be crazy to feel you have to defend a love for what has always been a staple part of our diet, but there are so many articles out there now demonising the simple slice of bread that it is time for me to speak out!

Let me just say that I eat meat, vegetables and dairy too. I stuck with butter throughout the many years that Flora reigned supreme. I use cream in my cooking and sometimes buy whole fat milk as well as low fat, so I don’t only love carbs, my devotion is shared between all the major food groups.

The ‘paleo’ diet sounds great for those who can afford to buy good quality meat and dairy products in decent quantities; and for those who really do have medical reasons to go low carb, such as diabetes. I’ve heard from several friends, whose opinions I respect, that going paleo has really made a difference to them. But why does a food trend have to swing so violently one way or the other. Suddenly all the information I’m bombarded with says carbs are bad, carbs are poison. Can’t we have some sensible middle ground here?

For most of us (and I mean those without medical problems, intolerances and allergies) a balanced diet is one that includes all the food groups. Carbohydrates give us energy, they are filling and satisfying, they are feel good foods. Yes it’s better to go for complex carbohydrates, like brown rice, wholewheat flour, oats and so on, but even white bread is fine in moderation. Moderation being the operative word here; a diet disproportionately heavy on carbohydrate isn’t going to be good for anyone.

 Moderation, middle ground, middle of the road sounds so dull... it’s not as interesting, dramatic or colourful as being at one of the extremes, but I really believe that when it comes to food it makes sense. Too much or too little of anything can be bad for you. All those claims for thirty years that low fat diets were the answer for a healthy heart now seem to be being refuted. I’m vindicated in my championing of butter. Who knows what research will find out about carbs in thirty years? That they actually are essential after all?

I want my children to enjoy food, to eat sensibly and not get stuck on the latest food fad. I’d like them to be able to travel the world when they’re older and eat with their local hosts without having to cross reference the menu against a long list of foods that they don’t eat.  I’d love it if they ate more vegetables. I’d love to be able to afford ethically raised meat to feed them several times every week. But as long as they are eating a fairly broad spectrum of home-cooked foods, I think that they are getting adequate nutrition.

If we are going to have any food issues in the house, I’d rather banish processed foods and focus on home-cooked. But even that I can’t take to extremes; I still feed our son on baked beans, which he loves, and eat bought peanut butter with marmalade myself as a lunchtime snack.

I have an unsubstantiated suspicion that it is modern methods of preserving and farming foods that is at the bottom of the mainstream reaction against certain foods; that it is the preservatives and traces of agricultural chemicals in flour that may be a factor in many cases of gluten intolerance; that it is hormones and chemicals in intensely farmed meat that may result in meat or animal fat causing health problems.

So my idea of a culinary utopia would be us all sitting down together and dining off a laden table of organic fruits and vegetables, cheeses and cream, organic pasture-reared meat and breads made from organic stoneground flour, without counting a single calorie, and living healthily ever after... with a generous serving of organic fair trade chocolate to finish off with.

But until that day dawns I will just do the best I can with the freshest and most ethical foods I can source and afford on a variable budget. I will bake bread, crunchies, cakes and pastries without feeling guilty about it, and I will happily cook for paleo friends, vegetarian friends, vegan friends and gluten intolerant friends (although perhaps secretly hoping that they are not all present at the same meal!)

How about you... are you finding that paleo is right for you? Or are you an unrepentant carboholic like me!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Autumn, School, Pies, Pasties and Lard

Autumn moonrise

Autumn has set in early this year. Already the children are shivering as they set off for school, still in their summer uniform, their winter rain jackets and woolly tights not even bought yet. Summer has disappeared in a blur of homework. Projects have been laboured over on weekends and it seems like we’ve hardly swum since school began.

Middle Daughter's pre-industrial farm project

The two girls have both started at our son’s school, one in high school and one in primary, both making the transition from Waldorf system to conventional, from cosy home school group to busy, bustling classes, even though it’s a small school by any other standards. I’ve gone from believing homework was something that the kids should be able to manage themselves, to being on hand every day after school to go through Maths, consult on ideas for English, test spellings and rack my brains for any fragments of knowledge to do with Accounting and EMS. Luckily for Middle Daughter, her big brother is a whizz at Accounting and Maths, so she can rope him into helping her. And Afrikaans is my husband’s department – he can get by in it, but the grammatical demands are challenging and this is the area where the girls both need to catch up, so there is much angst over orals and essays.

Homework, for once without parental intervention needed!

All this to say that life has been fairly taken over by school and work, with little time left over for blogging or thinking up new food ideas.

Peach Pie

I’ve been running on autopilot in the kitchen, except for an inspired excursion to Pomegranate Days where I found this delicious recipe for peach pie, that I’ve since made twice, to get in quick before the end of the cling peach season. You really do need the firm flesh of the cling peaches for this one and it was a hit with the whole family, so it’s worth all the hassle of peeling the peaches and fighting the flesh from the stone.

My other new cooking venture was Cornish pasties, a bastardised version that uses mince instead of steak, but is delicious nonetheless. I’m still working on the best pastry recipe to use. I know real Cornish pasties use lard, but does anyone know where you get lard in South Africa? It used to be a bog standard ingredient that you found in any supermarket in the UK, but I have never seen it on the shelves over here. Seems like it’s a speciality ingredient rather than a cheap and cheerful staple. Anyway, I’m going to get hold of some and try again soon. We’re visiting my mum in the UK in July and will actually be going to Cornwall for a few days, so I’ve got some motivation to get my version as authentic as possible before we get there and my culinary cover is blown!

There have been pear muffins too.

Anyway term is with a sigh of relief drawing to a close at the end of next week and we have a brief respite of a week’s holiday, followed by a topsy turvy April with a long weekend break for Easter and then a whole week off at the end of the month when two public holidays fall in the same week. And hopefully our autumn will be long and serene to make up for our briefer than usual summer, so that we can picnic, go to the beach and maybe even fit in an open air movie before the end of the season.

Edited to add: I tracked down some lard.... at a trendy butcher's, in a jar, organic and oh so chichi! Designed for those doing the paleo thing. Lard, a gourmet ingredient and priced to match... can you believe it, my UK readers!!!

And an autumn sunset just to finish off with.

Have a happy weekend everyone!