Gone are the days when all I had to think about was what to stuff my face with... and more often than not, as a student and/or single this either means how to secure the next treat or how to cheat your way to a four-course meal for the £2.50 that's left of your monthly allowance after a boozy night out with your friends.
Then you grow up, have a family and all of a sudden you become concerned about what they stuff their faces with... for me this began when I was pregnant with my daughter and gave up vegetarianism to be sure the growing baby would get all the nutrients she needed - eating well in pregnancy is difficult enough, overcomplicating it by sticking to a vegetarian diet didn't seem like a good idea.
When they grow up, you realise just how much of a role model you are. Since they learn mostly by observation, it's no good trying to drill them to "eat yer greens" if you yourself shudder at the sight of a tenderstem broccoli or sprint faster than a runner bean at the sight of a vegetable curry. You have to lead by example. Which is not too hard for me, given that I like all vegetables, some more some less, but there's only one I loathe with a passion: beetroot.
But I get side-tracked.
Where was I? Oh yes, the importance of eating your greens. You might have taken that on board already, when you realise that even the latest wisdom in nutritional science has a sell-by date - what used to be considered healthy in my teens is no longer so... my Mum, for example, used to insist that we should eat rye bread always, yet years later it emerged that it contains just as few nutrients as white. I felt like I had been cheated out of years of eating crunchy baguettes and buttery croissants... and my poor mother sought solace in the tasteless wholewheat cakes and no-fat spelt muffins that were so popular in the Eighties - and with popular I mean that everybody made them, but nobody actually ate them.
Another such wisdom that will haunt me forever is one that my gran almost beat into me: babies need to eat spinach at least once a day! That tender leaf might have been nutritionally valuable when my father grew up after the war, but it then emerged that spinach attracts heavy metal like nothing else... it can actually be quite toxic - so another theory went out of the window. And don't get me started on the whole cholesterol issue and that unbearable margarine!!!!
The current nutritional buzzwords in my part of the world are melatonin and fatty acids. Young mothers should be particularly familiar with the former, as it is the reason for babies having crying sessions in the evenings, which can be quite debilitating for the poor parents, but it serves a purpose. It encourages the shedding of melatonin in the mother, a hormone that plays an important role in the sleep cycle and makes babies (and adults alike) sleepy. So the baby might cry at first, but after being fed, it'll sleep better. And this is the reason why we now can buy milk in the UK that has been fortified with melatonin.
It seems to me that these days, you don't even need to be concerned about what you're feeding your kids anymore because manufacturers add nutrients to everything: added calcium and vitamin D in your yoghurt, vitamins in your cereal, melatonin in your milk, folic acid in bread and possibly now tap water (!), omega3 in your smoothie... if people ate regular diets, instead of gobbling down burgers, sandwiches, chips and soft drinks all the time, they wouldn't need all that! But it looks like we're on the best way to eating astronaut food in a few decades!
So here's how to add some oleic acid to your diet, said to help prevent breast cancer. Apparently it also helps with concentration (and as everything these days is said to help you to a higher IQ - looks like parents don't listen until you tell us that our children are going to be as dumb as a stump unless they eat it!), enough reason for me to bring it into my kids' diets more. These spaghetti are a sure hit, as apart from the health benefits, they're also incredibly easy to make - if you want, you can even use store-bought pesto rather than making your own, but I guess it's worth going the extra mile given that it doesn't take more than ten minutes!
So even if I should find out a few years down the line that those poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs for short) raising your IQ is all a big hoax and our bread producers start adding the next best thing to their food, I'll still be making this quick and healthy pasta sauce - after all, it's all about the taste with me, you know? And this one sure is a keeper!
Spaghetti with avocado & cashew pesto
140 g cashew nuts
140 g parmesan
3 cloves garlic
75 g basil
¼ tsp dried crushed chilli
60 ml good quality extra virgin olive oil (or hemp seed or flax seed oil)
60 ml water
juice of 1 - 2 lemons
Toast the cashews in a dry, non-stick pan until browning and fragrant. Add to a food processor with the garlic cloves and grind until very fine. Grinding the garlic with the hot cashews will almost "cook" it - rendering the garlic less sharp and smoother in taste.
Chop the basil in the food processor - of you're having trouble with the blades pushing the leaves up too much without chopping them, add some of the nuts to weigh them down. You can also start adding some oil. When all the basil and nuts are combined, reserve in a bowl. Mash the avocados in the food processor (or with a fork) very finely, then combine with the nuts & basil. Add olive oil to achieve a smooth paste. Season with lemon juice and chilli flakes, salt & pepper to taste.
If preparing this in advance, leave one stone of the avocados in the pesto, smooth the top of the pesto and tightly cover with cling film.
Cook 400 g pasta to packages instructions. Drain, then stir in the pesto and serve immediately, with a salad on the side.