After my sourdough exploded and I’d tested every banana bread recipe known to mankind, I moved onto Tarte Tatin. I must have made one every two or three days - writing notes about the pastry, which apples to use, how long to cook the apples for before plonking the pastry on top, and whether the finished dish was better served with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of crème fraiche.
My fixation with Tarte Tatin was finally broken when I was gifted a new cookbook: FALASTIN. It was a window into a completely different world. International food is an area of growth and the spring lockdown gave many of us an opportunity to become more adventurous, with bolder flavours and cuisines, trying to recreate the restaurant experience at home. My planned getaways to Greece and Spain fell through, but through FALASTIN I travelled across Palestine in the summer months: lamb shawarma, chicken musakhan, sumac onions, and everything with za'atar, lemons and tahini. Incredibly, sharing photos and new experiences with others on Instagram via #falastincookbook made me feel like I was on a culinary journey together with other people, despite being at home in my kitchen.
Thankfully the recipes in FALASTIN don’t require a long list of rare and expensive ingredients and I already had most things in my kitchen cupboard or could buy them from my high street in Nunhead Village. I always try to shop locally, but as the world shrank, local food stores became more important. The shop keepers all know me, which is a pleasant addition to my life and helps me to feel connected to my local community. However, in the spring lockdown, after spending the best part of a morning queuing at each store for 30 minutes, I gave in and headed to a major supermarket. I was immediately reminded just how much packaging is involved with supermarket food. All the meat, fish and bread are covered in single use plastic – even the herbs. Now that normal life is returning, I’m even more determined to do something positive for the planet and use local stores.
My kitchen is a place of comfort and adventure, but there were occasions when even I wanted a break from my own cooking. Enter Deliveroo! Craving a regular night down the pub with friends, I ordered a humble burger and chips. Despite being lukewarm, it was a simple taste of being out on a weekend with my friends. Food is essential for emotional wellbeing - not just fuel for the body. It’s creative, a distraction, can be challenging, encourages you to spend time with your loved ones, it can relive a moment in time and connect you to the world.
At Alleyn’s, Food and Nutrition is at the heart of our approach to wellbeing. The curriculum develops pupils’ understanding of the cultural, nutritional and ethical dimensions of food and culinary practice. We emphasise practice to equip students with the life skills they need, and give them confidence, while a holistic dimension helps them make ethical and informed decisions about their food choices. Topics covered include environmental sustainability, local sourcing, global supply chains and resource management.
Co-curricular clubs have always been an important dimension of the department’s work, but our virtual cookery club initiative was developed to meet the specific challenges and opportunities of lockdown. Together, we focussed on family favourites such as spaghetti Bolognese, shepherd’s pie, chilli con carne and chicken Kiev, and our Ottolenghi themed night gave pupils the chance to speak with food writer, Tara Wigley. There were many things that were enriching about the virtual experience. I would email pupils the recipes, but the onus was on them to make adaptions to suit their family’s dietary needs, plan and shop for the ingredients and decide what equipment they had available at home to cook the meals. Virtual Cookery Club taught our pupils to be truly independent and it gave them responsibility for cooking whole meals for their families, without the limitations of school, such as finishing and washing up in time to catch the late coach. Replicating this authentic experience is something I wish to take forward into the classroom. Over 70 pupils joined Virtual Cookery Club and it took our mission further and deeper, giving pupils a truly meaningful context for home learning, a connection between their family and the School, and a community to enjoy and share their experiences.