Sunday, June 28, 2009

From the earth

When I visited my friend Kath on Thursday, her husband gave me a bag of fresh veges from their garden - baby sprouting broccoli stems, a cos lettuce, and some baby beetroot. I served the broccoli on Thursday with a beef casserole and mashed potatoes - we had Rae to dinner. The cos lettuce made a delicious little Caesar salad for my dinner on Saturday - Harvey had a cheese omelette. Today I cooked and peeled the beetroot and am about to turn it into soup - as luck would have it, there's a very good recipe in the latest Cuisine, which friends gave me for my birthday. It gives me great satisfaction to make this gift of veges into such nice food. Harvey used to grow a good range of fresh stuff for us, but that was at Farm Road, when he was well. We don't have the scope here, and anyway he's not able to garden any more. I do have a few pots of salad and herbs, but I'm not very good at keeping them going. Right now they're almost all in need of replanting, but it's been too cold and miserable to get out there. I'm obviously not a real gardener like Harvey - which makes me all the more appreciative of bounty from people who are real gardeners.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Do children need breakfast?

This post sits oddly beside the last one about eating in Melbourne, but here it is.

A startling headline appeared in my inbox this week: "Providing breakfast in primary schools – is it the right way to start the day?"

The Health Research Council is helping to fund a study into "the effect of a free healthy breakfast on primary school students and their learning ability, academic performance, and nutrition".

It will look at the Red Cross Breakfast in Schools programme operated by New Zealand Red Cross and Progressive Enterprises. It's been running for two years now, and it gives all decile one primary schools in the country (the schools in the poorest areas) the opportunity to offer their students a healthy breakfast at the start of the school day.

In 2002, a National Children’s Nutrition Survey showed that almost one in five children aged 5-14 years did not regularly eat or drink at home before leaving for school. I know some teenagers hate eating breakfast, even though they need it so much - partly because it means they have to get up slightly earlier. But younger kids both need and want breakfast. The prospect of so many kids trying to cope with school without anything to eat first is awful.

Dozens of other surveys ram home the real problem: not enough money for food, after paying for the inflexible basics of rent and power (and we all know how much that's gone up by). In 2002 one in five households with children said they could only sometimes afford to eat properly.

And that was before the recession and the huge rise in unemployment.

That's why the programme is aimed at the poorest schools. The research team hope that if they can come up with clear proof that the breakfast programme is good for children's learning, this will back up "wider implementation of breakfast programmes as a means to improve the school achievement and health of vulnerable New Zealand children".

It's incredibly sad that in a country which is supposed to be such a great place to bring up children, there are so many poor kids that the Red Cross and a supermarket chain have to come up with school breakfast programmes.

But it's even sadder that precious health research funds have to be spent on proving that children do better at school when they get breakfast than when they don't - yes, really! - in the hope that this programme will get the funds it needs to reach all poor kids.

Why isn't it good enough just to prove that they aren't getting breakfast because they're too poor?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Eating my way round Melbourne

I've just had five days' holiday in Melbourne, thanks to the kindness and generosity of three friends - one of whom gave me the airpoints, one of whom came to stay with Harvey while I was away, and one of whom had me to stay in St Kilda and took me with her and her little dog (in a doggie pushchair - don't laugh, it meant she could take the dog into the markets and on the trams, and it was amazing how many people came up to talk about it!) to all her favourite food haunts.

I'd already been to the Queen Victoria market. This time we went to Prahran Market (almond croissants, prawns, ham on the bone, Tuscan bread), and South Melbourne Market (dim sum, Greek honey cakes, ready-to-cook kofta, a huge Turkish bread for $2, two cheeses for $5, paella for lunch). We ate at Kamel (modern Turkish), the George at St Kilda (modern Italian - cauliflower pannacotta - trust me, it was superb), Richmond Hill Cafe (Venetian custard fritters with poached quince and cinnamon icecream), and the inimitable Brunetti, the original one in Carlton, a huge, bustling, heartwarming pasticceria.

It wasn't quite as indulgent as it sounds, we shared most things (cheaper, plus it meant we could try five of Brunetti's tiny sampler cakes for $1.80 each). Why, oh why, did the blinkered NZ Governments of the 1950s keep out Italians, Greeks and anyone else who didn't meet their rigid criteria for immigrants who would "fit in"?

Never mind, a new Sunday City Market has just opened down on Wellington's waterfront, alongside the existing fruit and vege (and excellent lamb, bread, sausage, cake, jam, etc) market next to Te Papa. It'll make the already dire parking hassles even worse, so I think I'll haul my faithful shopping trundler (naff, but a necessity) onto the bus when I get the chance to go and explore it.