My eyes are hurting from looking at hundreds of photographs of children in school uniform. It’s Back To School time, when children engage in that September rite of passage: a photograph in the garden/by the front door, wearing a stiff shirt straight from the packet (which smells of polythene) and a pair of shoes which look like black Cornish pasties.
I wonder if it is a British thing, or a place-where-kids-wear-uniform thing. Somehow, photographs of children in casual clothes on their first day at school have less impact. These kids may well be going off to learn something important and become world/industry leaders, but when they are doing so in football shirts and jeans, they just look like children on any old day. Seeing a child in a miniature business suit, or a loud stripy blazer and flannels, or a severe pinafore dress, or itchy pleated kilt and starched blouse, brings home how little they are, and how grown up they are being asked to be -making for a more ‘poignant’ image.
I am hugely in favour of uniform. If I had any discipline whatsoever and weren’t a massively squeamish vegetarian, I might have joined the army: partly because I like weapons and being outside, but mostly because I hate thinking about clothes. I like the levelling effect uniform creates -particularly for school age children. Uniform removes the opportunity for unpleasant and competitive label-watching and associated bullying about money and status.
The return to school brings with it an inevitable string of infectious illnesses, and as the weather has turned unpleasant again, it is probably time to take defensive action. I think garlic is a wonderful winter ingredient and it seems to be something many children like. Broccoli currently has celebrity vegetable status as a superfood and also seems to be one of those vegetables which even quite fussy children will eat.
This very simple Chinese broccoli and garlic dish was one of the most popular with expats when I lived in Beijing. It is quite bland by Chinese standards, has no heat or exotic ingredients but is completely delicious. The sort of expats who would say: “The food in Beijing isn’t like the proper Chinese we get at home” (and plenty of them did, to my great amusement) would wolf down this dish without any complaints -as would my vegetable-dodging children.
Back To School Broccoli
I head broccoli cut into florets.
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp. cooking oil
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add 1 tbsp oil and the broccoli and cook for three minutes. Drain in a colander and plunge into a bowl of cold water. Drain again and set aside.
Heat the rest of the oil in a wok over a medium flame. Add the garlic and move it about, being very careful not to let it go brown. After about 45 seconds add the drained broccoli and stir for another 45 seconds to a minute, until hot and evenly covered in the sauce. The little heads of broccoli should be wearing the chopped garlic like dandruff. Season well with salt and taste. Serve immediately.