Kids’ books and food: what a winning combination. Two of my greatest joys as a parent have been reading (and re-reading) children’s books and remembering the sweets of my youth. Delicious indulgences, both. On our recent trip to England, someone asked one of my boys what his favourite part of the trip had been, and he said, “The candy!” I had only myself to blame. I had given the kids free reign to try anything new to them: jelly babies, lemon sherbets, ginger beer, dandelion and burdock pop. I, of course, joined in the fun, and we all enjoyed ample samplings of the sweet treats on offer in the corner shops and grocery stores. When we did finally make it into an old-fashioned sweet shop, with thousands of sweets arrayed in jars behind a high counter, I was so overwhelmed by the selection that I left with only one little bag of dandelion and burdock sweets. If there is one place in children’s literature I would love to visit, it’s the sweet shops in the Harry Potter books, because the only thing I can imagine being better than the English sweets of my youth are the magical English sweets of J K Rowling’s fiction.
I have looked up the recipe for Turkish Delight so that my kids can taste the magical sweet that tempted Edmund to betray his siblings in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (With nut allergies, we cannot eat the Turkish Delight available in stores.) It requires a candy thermometer. It requires you to stand at the stove watching that thermometer carefully and stirring constantly for 45-90 minutes. A recipe for kids but perhaps not to be made by this parent, who has much better things to do with 90 minutes than stand at a stove stirring.
Actually, the most magical cooking experience we’ve had is much more wholesome than the sweets that make me wax lyrical. And that, perhaps, is just as it should be. Inspired by the book Stone Soup by Marcia Brown, and happening by chance to come across the perfect round river rock with which to make it, my picky eater and I decided to make our own stone soup one day, and it has become a family staple.
In the story, three soldiers arrive in a village and overcome the villagers’ hesitation to feed them by outwitting them with the invention of stone soup. They put a large pot of water on the fire to boil and add three stones to it, promising a delicious feast. “But, oh!,” they say. “It would taste so much better with a bit of salt and pepper.” And off someone goes to get a bit of salt and pepper. “And, oh!, how much better it would taste with a few carrots.” And someone else goes off to get those. And on and on it goes, until the soldiers and the villagers have worked together to create a delicious soup to feed everyone.
My little guys love any story that involves trickery, and when we make the soup together, Mummy gets to be the trickster. All you need is a lovely stone, scrubbed clean, and the ingredients to make a hearty vegetable soup. It’s the perfect recipe to use up leftovers or the last two carrots in the veggie drawer. If the kids can be the ones to chop and throw in their choice of vegetables and other delicious additions (barley, alphabet pasta, leftover cubes of ham, chicken or steak, etc.), then they make that soup disappear as fast as you can say “Magic.” The perfect recipe for picky eaters.
The recipe is very, very flexible, but here is mine:
2 vegetable stock cubes
4-6 cups of water
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 cup of diced carrots
1 cup of sliced celery
1 cup of green beans, in 1-inch pieces, or 1 cup of frozen peas
Heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and celery and sauté until just tender. Add 4 cups of water, carrots and stock cubes and bring to the boil. Whisk so that stock cubes dissolve. Add more water if needed to cover vegetables. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes until carrots are just tender. Add green beans for the last two minutes of cooking. Throw in any other additions at the end to warm through (small cooked pasta shells or letters, cubed cooked meat, chick peas, any other leftover cooked veggies.)