Discovering New Food Heroes…
This year, amongst the usual 'New Year New You' claims of how a gym membership, a bowl of granola or some kind of spin/step contraption will change your life & give you instant Brad Pitt-in-Fight Club abs, there's a gentle breeze of good sense blowing.
As ever, the advertisers play on our addiction to ‘new’ everything, when the ‘old’ - even these last few weeks of festivities - was really not that terrible. We set ourselves impossible goals through drastic diets which our minds and our bodies, perceiving them as threats to our survival, are programmed to resist. But increasingly we are realizing that just as in a good plate of food itself, it's balance that counts and that the small, incremental changes in habits & tastes, quantities & quality will eventually make for healthier lives & smaller waistbands.
Food writer Bee Wilson suggests in her new book ‘This is Not A Diet Book’, that we banish the word 'diet' completely. The now outdated notions of deprivation or demonization of certain ingredients or food groups in restrictive diets do more harm than good in the long term, leading to obsessive, and at times anti social behaviour when you have to exclude yourself from usual gatherings with friends or bring along your own, sad tupperware. Bee Wilson points specifically to the benefits of trying out new foods and dishes, and recommends gently integrating them into your shopping and cooking - exactly what I've been doing with my first Ardkeen Food Hero Experience Box over the past few weeks.
Arguably, a restaurant critic/food writer’s job still gives a Get of Jail Free card when it comes to l’embonpoint, but I admit it is high time I made some changes to my own lifestyle. I know only too well the feelings of failure when, come February, all my resolutions have gone down the drain and once again the kilos stay firmly in place.
There has to be another, better way.
Creativity is always made easier within a restrictive framework, especially when the frame takes the form of a big box of the best of Irish food. I loved the idea of having Ardkeen's expert team make choices for me based on seasonality & quality of Irish produce. It felt like a holiday, or even a return to childhood, when all my food choices were made for me. There were a few items in there which would never usually reach my shopping basket - I wouldn’t naturally reach for kale or sprouted beans in my usual shop, for example, and why on earth would I need Spelt flour with no gluten intolerants around me? – but grown-up me knew it was high time I gave them a little more attention. And it's been fun cooking for friends & family with such great produce, including the alien cupboard dwellers.
An eye AND appetite- opener, I can't think of a better way to gradually try new, Irish products throughout the year and start making those small changes which are becoming so important. Here are my remarks and a few recipes from my Food Hero Experience so far.
Happy Pear Bean Sprout Mix
Honestly? As someone completely immune to the hyped-up nutri babble of the clean-eating brigade, I have always struggled to see the point in these. They reminded me of school Biology classes, always seemed to shout, “I’m alive, eat me OR ELSE”, threatening to burgeon into some kind of fridge-dwelling triffid, all the while managing to be fibrous, harshly oniony & mealy at once. But, on kitchen parole thanks to the sensible people in Ardkeen, they kept well in the fridge & proved super useful as crunchy, nutritious garnishes on a creamy soup and welcome additions to at times bland turkey and ham sandwiches (we’ve all been there over the past few weeks.) They are just perfect for adding a little freshness to a dish of warm or cold, plain-Jane grains with a mustardy vinaigrette and definitely a keeper if you have a household needing packed lunches.
Kilbeggan Irish Oat Cookies Dulce de Leche
Ok, I confess, they lasted two days. The Dulce de Leche gives them a delectable softness which is utterly irrestistble. Good cookies are good cookies are good cookies.
Des and Olive Thorpe’s Organic Kale and Leeks
Leeks are fine and always welcome in my kitchen, but confronted with the magnificent bouquet of kale springing from the Food Hero treasure trove, the farmer, the gourmet and the nutriswizz sceptic voices in my head kept whispering, “Don’t go there Trish. There's a reason we feed most of our kale to our cattle, they have six molars, top and bottom, to deal with it. But you are a human and you DON’T HAVE TO. It feels like eating the green bit from a kitchen sponge soaked in dish water and tastes like cabbage, so JUST EAT CABBAGE.”
But thanks to Ardkeen, my newfound New Year spirit of experimentation and the promise of pure goodness from Des and Olive Thorpe’s organic cultivation, I persevered.
Steamed or boiled, well-drained, with plenty of butter, the flavour was, of course, excellent. Roasted with oil & spices its frilliness was just lovely on the palate, & the intensified taste holds up well to chilli, cumin, garlic or paprika or any combination of those sprinkled with a little sea salt flakes. Chopped or shredded, it has a slight advantage over thicker cabbage as it is super quick and handy to cook into stir fries, omelettes, quiches, cheesy toppings for baked potatoes and pasta sauces.
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