Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Photos Today

Rain today. Rather a lot of it. So much that I had to - regretfully - cancel the end-of-year ju-jitsu barbecue down at NorthEast park. I'm glad I did, though. By four pm, the rain was coming down in supertankers (as opposed to buckets) and there was thunder and lightning about. North-East park is a fine facility, with a large sheltered area and undercover barbecues... but it would have been cold, damp, dark, and relatively miserable.

As a result of the rain, I didn't get much done on Moby Swingset. The railings are now on, but I'll have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to kick off again. On the other hand, there's really not too much major assembly left to be done. I hope.

I still went to the school to cook Chili Tamarind Chicken for Jake's class, mind you. On the good side, that gave me a solid excuse to avoid the infant-school concert, in which the Mau-Mau and Younger Son both had vital roles. Natalie got to attend that one. Heh. She's getting a taste of my end of the stick this year... and I'm not at all sure she's enjoying it.

The cooking went well. Once again, I find myself surprised and pleased. I thought perhaps the enthusiasm of Younger Son's class reflected the fact that they were younger, with less fully-formed taste prejudices. But if anything, Jake's year 4/5 group were even more enthusiastic. They tasted everything, exclaimed over the ginger, nibbled the chilis and ran around gobbling up cucumber to cool their mouths -- and then they ate the entire pot of chili tamarind chicken and all the turmeric rice, and came back for seconds (and even one set of thirds!)

I had kids telling me they didn't like beans... but once they realised the beans were still crisp and crunchy ('cause I don't cook 'em to death in my stir-frying!) they sucked them down and announced that they were delicious. I had kids who didn't like capsicum who did the same. And I had at least a couple of kids who were all glum and downcast when they found out I was cooking a stir-fried dish... but when they got a mouthful, it was on for young and old, folks. (I suspect there's quite a difference between scratch-built stir-fries and stir-fries which come out of a big jar. I wouldn't know. I've never eaten one out of a jar.)

I gave 'em a basic melon salad with ginger syrup and fresh mint for dessert. That disappeared too. In record time. And later, when I went home (briefly), I emailed Jake with the recipe. He tells me that his classmates were jumping with excitement and demanding copies, and that he kept "getting hugged by people" (you have to imagine a perturbed and grumpy look on a ten-year-old boy's face at this point) because he gave them the recipe.

So here we are. In a small, rural community that has a love affair with meat and potatoes, yep. Feeding two different classes of kids a spicy Malaysian dish full of ginger, garlic, chili, tamarind, sweet soy and garam masala, and absolutely loaded with fresh, still-crunchy baby corn, bok choy, green beans, capsicum and carrot. Served over brilliantly yellow turmeric-cooked basmati rice.

You'd imagine there would be some sort of reluctance or protest. I certainly thought so. But I was wrong, and I'm both pleased and dismayed by that. I'm pleased, because forty or so kids have now had a taste of fresh, healthy, somewhat exotic food and shown that they were more than ready to expand their horizons. I'm dismayed because it implies it's a lot easier to change kids' dietary habits for the better than I thought -- and that the lack of change is therefore not down to the kids, but to the people feeding them, and the systems of food production and marketing which influence those people.

It took me about forty minutes -- while answering questions, moving bits and pieces, and prepping a place to cook outside ( didn't want to stir fry inside, under the smoke detectors) to cook a nutritious, tasty meal for more than twenty kids (and a few adults.) If I'd been working in a home kitchen feeding four or five, it would have been a fifteen minute job. The total cost of the meal for all those twenty-odd people was about sixty dollars, but that includes things like the disposable plates, bowls and spoons, plus things like tamarind pulp and sweet soy and sesame oil which will go on to serve another half-dozen or more meals. Again: in a home kitchen, I'd guess this one would have cost maybe five dollars a head. Probably less.

So. Inexpensive, healthy, really tasty, prepared in fifteen to twenty minutes -- and incredibly popular with the kids.

And yet, apparently, we've still got a growing childhood obesity problem.

Something's fishy here.


  1. How much does it cost to just have you come and do it?? Ha! Sounds more appetizing than any thing that was plunked on to the sectioned tray when I was in school.

  2. Mmmmmmm... that chicken sounds fantastic, Dirk. Can I get the recipe? :D Big fan of Malaysian, Thai, Indo food and you're right - there's nothing like a good stirfry/curry cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients.

    I was talking recently with some people about exotic herbs and spices, and someone said there are tamarinds growing as street trees on Dornoch Tce. You do have to be quick though to beat the Asian ladies to it to get some when they're in fruit.

  3. Cultural addiction to sugar, dead carbs & meat, laziness, and the deep seat resistance to change: "my parents and grandparents only ate stodge, so I will too!"

  4. Timmo -- do I have an email address for you? I think I do, but remind me?

    Bartski -- I can't help but think the whole food system is problematic. Easy-quick junk food everywhere; quick-cook, quick-thaw pre-cooked shit all over the supermarkets; the 'duopoly' of Coles and Woolworths reducing available brands (I had to use Woolworth Home Brand sweet soy sauce. That hurt.)

    I agree there's a strong cultural element, but I think it's being reinforced for profit, and it bothers me deeply when I see just how easy it is to interest kids in really tasty, healthy stuff.

  5. Interestingly, I was just discussing this with my cousin and his wife (who is Korean) last night. One of the differences in Korea at least, and probably most Asian countries is that the healthy food is the cheap food - fresh veges, grains and fruit make up the majority of meals. Meat is something of a luxury and stuff like pizza and hamburgers is a rich person's meal.

    Here it's either cheaper or a similar price to buy junk food and prepackaged sugary stuff as it is to buy healthy fresh fruit and veg at the supermarket at least.

    I was half joking about the recipe, Dirk, but I'll gladly have a copy, thanks - my email is mcmaster.tim at the gmail place.