Back to school, three words kids may dread and parents rejoice at hearing. The roads have become busier again, and everywhere I look I see backpacks and lunchboxes.
I’m sure for some it’s a relief, while others have had some difficult memories at school. As a child we moved location mid-term so my first day at school was in January, kitted out in my new uniform, packed lunch tucked in my satchel along with my new pens and pencils — I was the new kid.
It’s a terrifying experience, for both parents and kids. Waving goodbye at the gates was scary. I didn’t know anyone and certainly didn’t know where I was supposed to be.
Lunchtimes bought new challenges. I was ushered into the dining hall; try and find a seat wherever you can, I was told. Scanning the hall I saw a girl who was in my class, and very shyly moved towards the table and planted myself opposite her. Looking down into my lunchbox I began to tuck into the lunch my mum had prepared. ‘My name is Donna; you’re new aren’t you?’ she said. I replied very softly saying my name and yes I was new, I only started today. She said I could sit with her for lunch every day if I wanted. ‘Yes please’ I replied, and just like that I had found my first friend!
Lunchboxes were always a surprise; there were a lot of kids in our house growing up, and preparing lunches was a military operation. Homemade pastries were a favourite, quiche or sausage rolls were regularly packed, along with pots of raisins and fresh fruit. Looking back we did have premium lunches, no soggy sandwiches or cheesy strings — me and my new friend Donna would often halve and share our meals.
The luxe-lunches are still a thing for me; I pack a lunch every day for the office. I spend a couple of hours each weekend preparing meals for the week ahead. I’ve seen loads of posts on Instagram of people taking #mealprep to the extreme, days’ worth of food neatly arranged by weekday and mealtime. I agree it’s very satisfying to see your week’s food all neatly packed into identical boxes, but I haven’t taken to posting mine yet.
Reminiscing about lunchboxes gone by, there are a couple of things I still enjoy making. And harking back to my schools days when I used to assist in the kitchen, I love making food with kids. My nieces enjoy cooking, and whenever I visit we always prepare something tasty in the kitchen. It’s a great way to introduce kids into food prep and help them understand what goes into the things they eat. These two recipes are quick and easy to make; 15-minute pizzas and rocky road are inexpensive, great to share and the kids will love preparing them for their lunchboxes. Now Donna’s an art and design teacher. We never lost touch and are still great friends 43 years later, and I do miss sharing our lunchtimes together.
CHERRY ROCKY ROAD
Serves 10, prep time 15, plus 2 hours to chill
■ 2 bars 70% cocoa chocolate
■ 85g unsalted butter
■ 1 tbsp golden syrup
■ 15 ginger biscuits broken-up
■ 15 glace cherries
■ 1 tbsp of mixed peel
■ 3 handfuls of mini marshmallows
■ 12cm deep baking tray
■ 6 chunks of melted milk chocolate for decoration
Heat some water in a pan and place a glass bowl over the top. Break the chocolate into the bowl, add the butter and syrup and allow to melt. Break the ginger biscuits into small pieces into a mixing bowl, combine the glace cherries and mixed peel. After about 5-6 minutes, the chocolate should have become melted. Stir with a fork — the mixture should be silky smooth in texture. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for five minutes. Line a rectangle dish with some cling film, making sure there is excess over the edge of the tray. Pour the melted chocolate into the bowl coating all the ingredients. Then add the marshmallows and mix. Now pour the mixture into the dish, flatten and even out — best done with a potato masher. Once the mix is flat and even place the dish in the fridge and allow to set for two hours. After two hours gently melt the milk chocolate chunks in the microwave for a minute, stir so there are no lumps. Remove the tray from the fridge, gently pull the cling film to release contents. Place on a wire tray on top of some baking parchment. Using a fork, drizzle the melted chocolate diagonally. Return to the fridge for 20 minutes, then with a sharp knife, cut in half then into rectangle strips and serve.
15-MINUTE CHEESE AND TOMATO PIZZAS
Makes 4, prep time 10 minutes, cooking time 20 minutes
■ 4 x 15cm Kuboos bread (Kuboos or Khubz are round Arabian pita bread made with wheat flour or all-purpose flour. You can also use regular pita bread)
■ 4 tbsp of tomato puree
■ 2 sliced red onions
■ 250g of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
■ 4 large tomatoes, evenly sliced
■ 4 chopped spring onions
■ 2 tbsp of mixed herbs
■ 12 anchovy fillets (optional)
■ Fresh black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180c degrees, Place each bread on a lined baking tray, add a layer of tomato puree, red onion, and half the cheese. Sprinkle over half of the mixed herbs, add the tomato slices, then the remainder of the cheese. Top with spring onion, anchovies, and black pepper. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve with some homemade chips.
— Recipes, food styling and photography by Mark Setchfield, follow him on Instagram @gasmarksix