Around the world people are grappling with a new world view. After nearly 5 weeks in lockdown we in New Zealand are about to emerge slightly from the extreme rules of the level 4 restrictions. We have learned (and I mean my family personally, but hopefully all of us collectively as well), that things look different from inside our “bubbles”. Our bubbles have provided an odd sense of perspective that perhaps our busy lives have been lacking. An enforced slowing of the normally frenetic pace of life. Things that seemed important (getting to the shops after school, fitting in play dates, birthday parties, and sports practices, buying cloths, or take away coffee), don’t seem as pressing when you are looking at the world from the (hopefully) safe confines of your bubble. A collective purpose to protect the vulnerable members of our families and communities is more than enough reason to sacrifice our freedom temporarily. Perhaps you (like us) have had time to discover the joys of being with your kids, having time to play lego, enjoy board games and family jigsaws, have movie nights and snuggle longer in the mornings.
This new world of bubbles is definitely not easy, and homeschooling kids is mind bending. I have taken to educating by stealth – hoping they won’t notice they are learning and studying until they look back later. Add to that, working from home and it can feel exhausting. That’s because momentous change is exhausting. So I reckon its import that we go easy on ourselves and just do what we can. There is no point in comparing yourself to anyone else. Their situation is not the same as yours.
Covid-19 has ushered in a desire in many people to be more self-sufficient and to rediscover the joy of cooking. Going forward, the traditional ways to feed our families may not be as reliable or easy to access. As the coronavirus spread, so too did the panic buying – toilet paper, pasta, flour, yeast and even seedlings and seeds. Obviously people were suddenly visualising a future where greater self-sufficiency might give them greater security.
Because of the abundance of time on our hands, it seems many New Zealanders have suddenly turned to the idea of a home garden. I think this is a hugely positive step for the population to be taking. Every person who has pots or a tiny patch of garden can start producing nutritious fresh produce to supplement their families diet. If you have enough space then you can actually grow pretty much everything you need to eat. I encourage everybody to take the time to start growing food. It is good for the soul and good for the body.
I know that one of the things I have found hardest in lockdown is the need to cook mindfully. By that I mean rationing butter and other ingredients to make sure they last as long as possible so that our trips to the supermarket are infrequent. Also making things from scratch takes a bit more planning and time than I have often had in pre-corona times. Everyone seems at least to be enjoying the meals coming from my kitchen so that is a blessing.
One of our go to dishes for the winter months is a good hearty soup. I call it elbow soup because the amounts that I put in are estimated by the “feel in my elbow”. No soup is ever the same twice because I very rarely have the same set of ingredients to hand. My Grandma used to keep a pot of soup on the stove and throw all her leftovers into it. She was a renowned soup maker. She taught my Mum, and Mum taught me. Now I am teaching my three kids. This has turned out to be one of our easiest lockdown lunches. It is flexible and works with whatever I have handy. What I love about soup is that it gives us the opportunity to change our perception of useless or inedible by turning disparate scraps into a rich new creation.
Every soup I make starts with good stock. I do buy dried stock powder, but wherever I possibly can, I always make my own. Vegetable, or chicken stock is my go to soup starter, but you can also use beef stock. Soup stock is something you can make yourself, it doesn’t need to come in individual plastic containers or in a plastic jar. A simple way to make a healthy meal for your family also has the added benefit of using food scraps that would otherwise go to waste, and saving you a trip to the shop and potentially the environmental impact of plastic packaging. I hope you find these recipes simple and useful during the strange times we are living through.
Homemade soup stock:
Next time you have a roast chicken (or any chicken actually), save the bones and boil them up. Boiling the bones is where the flavour and goodness comes from. We always boil up the remains of a roast and I will usually get two boilings off one chicken frame. The first is more meaty than the second boiling and so I tend to add more veges and herbs to the second boiling to bulk it up a bit. I create a bouquet garni, which consists of a sprig of rosemary, thyme, oregano, half a teaspoon of black pepper corns and maybe a bay leaf. Sometimes I add parsley, but I am not traditional about this, I just add what I have to hand and what I think will add a nice flavour. You are supposed to tie them into a muslin bag or tie them together in a bunch, but I just throw them in the pot with the bones (or vegetables) and strain the lot through a sieve when the stock is finished. I also throw in a roughly chopped clove of garlic and and a slice or two of onion. Sometimes I put in carrot peelings, celery leaves, and mushroom stalks. All these things add to the flavour but you can just go with the basic herbs and pepper together with garlic and onion. Cover the bones with water and bring to the boil before reducing the heat and simmering slowly until the liquid has reduced by about half (or until the flavour is good). Sieve the stock into a clean container with a lid (discard the bones and bits or if you are going to boil them a second time start over adding fresh herbs and veges etc and repeat), allow to cool and then freeze it. If you are using the stock immediately to make a soup, then decant it into a large pot and progress with the soup.
I make vegetable stock by throwing into the pot everything as before (except the bones obviously). I add more garlic, onion and celery (You can use celery leaves in stock). Then I add anything that is a vegetable that I have to hand. Odd bits of pumpkin, celery, potato and carrot peelings and ends, mushroom stalks etc and boil up as for chicken stock.
My “elbow”soup recipe:
Once you have your soup stock (instant stock powder or cubes is fine if you haven’t got a homemade stock) you are ready to begin your soup. I always cast about the bottom of the vegetable bin for old mushrooms, slightly wizened looking carrots (with a bit of life), bits of limp looking cauliflower or broccoli. In short anything that might be a little past its best that might otherwise be discarded. I put those in first, Chopping into 1cm chunks if I intend to end up with a chunky soup, and throwing in bigger chunks if I intend to mouli, sieve or blend it. Then I cast around in the fridge for any leftovers and throw those in. I use leftover rice, stir fry, pasta, pasta bake, spaghetti bolognaise, sausages or chicken.
I usually put in some or all of the following:
- tomatoes, (however many feels right to me – but usually between 2 and 8 depending on size and availability. If I have a half used tin of tomatoes or pasata sauce I will put that in too.
- a chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. If I lack garlic I have sometimes used garlic salt.
- one or two medium potatoes or left over mashed potato
- bits of bacon (I am always sparing with the bacon and I use it for flavour rather than bulk).
- a sausage or two. I either cook them up especially for the soup or use any that are left over from previous meals. Simply slice them and add. Frankfurters are good too.
- a carrot, grated or sliced
- frozen corn if I have any
- left over baked beans
- pearl barley, red or brown lentils
- left over porridge or a handful of porridge/rolled oats
- sour cream
- smoked paprika
- a teaspoon of mixed herbs
- some fresh ground black pepper
- salt to taste
- spring onions,
- pumpkin or kumara
- pasta or rice (leftovers get used first to save wastage).
- a nice fresh courgette but I don’t use too much and always add near the end of cooking so they retain their colour and flavour.
Once I have finished adding the ingredients, I bring it to the boil stirring to make sure nothing sticks and then I reduce the heat and let it simmer on a low heat for as long as I can stirring every now and again. I find the longer the better for flavour development. Add extra water if it is getting too thick. If the soup is to be moulied check things like lentils are soft and tender and that harder ingredients like carrot and potato are soft. Then I mouli the lot. Sometimes we like to have noodles in our soup so I add cooked pasta after I have moulied it. Sometimes I moulie the soup pasta and all.
Taste the soup and adjust the flavours to your taste. My Mum always says soup tastes better if left overnight but soup isn’t safe in our house for long and so we very rarely have soup left to sample next day!
To go with your amazing soup you could try making your own bread. During lock down, getting hold of flour and yeast has been more difficult that usual. We have enough but are trying to make our supply stretch for as long as possible. I was also concerned about friends and family trying to make their flour and yeast stretch the distance so I did some looking and found a recipe for overnight bread. It is the simplest bread I have made yet. No knead, no fuss, just simple and delicious.
You need a casserole dish with a lid ( the deeper the better) or a dutch oven. If you don’t have something with a lid use a deep oven dish and cover with tin foil instead. You will also need baking paper. I have found that I can reuse my baking paper several times before it reaches the end of its life.
- 3 cups of flour (standard white flour nothing fancy)
- half a teaspoon of active yeast (granules) or one teaspoon of Surebake.
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 1/2 cups of water. I have used both luke warm water and straight cold water from the tap. I think the warm water is better if it is a really cold night but both work fine
Simply mix the ingredients together in a bowl. It makes a very sticky dough much wetter than my usual dough. Sometimes when I am mixing it it seems a bit drier than usual so I add a little bit of extra water (say a tablespoon or two) in little dribbles until all the dry flour is mixed in.
Then cover with a plate and leave on your bench overnight. I leave mine for between 8 to 12 hours, and on occasion even 24 hours. It is very forgiving and so far I haven’t noticed any difference in the finished bread.
Next day after 8 (or more) hours scrape the dough out onto some baking paper that you have sprinkled liberally with flour, and using floured fingers or a spatula shape it into a roughly circular shape. This doesn’t have to be perfect, just rough.
Leave for 30 mins to rest. While the dough is resting, turn your oven on to 220°C and put your casserole or dutch oven or oven dish into the oven to pre-heat.
When the rest period is over, use a serrated knife to cut a rough cross into the top of the dough, remove the preheated casserole from the oven (carefully because it is super hot) lift the bread dough on the baking paper and drop the whole lot into the casserole, cover with the lid, and place in the oven for 30 mins.
After thirty minutes carefully (it will be VERY hot) remove the lid and return the bread to the oven for a further 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and lift out of the casserole using the baking paper and place on a wire rack to cool.
It will make a very crusty and super yummy loaf to go with your soup, or to simply enjoy with stretched butter. I have no idea how well it keeps because it never lasts our family of 5 for more than one meal! I do note that it is easier to cut when it is cooled a bit.
I hope these recipes are helpful and inspire you to try making your own soup and bread. Let your kids try making their own bread and soup for the family. This is a skill they will definitely be grateful to have when they are flatting in the future. In the mean time, look after yourselves, stay safe, and be kind.
Kia kaha (stay strong), this too shall pass.