From Anne in Adelaide, Australia. Back to basics: home cooking and hints of spring.

August 18. Let’s talk about home cooking. What have you been cooking and how has your meal preparation changed during these COVID-19 months?

In early March, when we first heard about ‘lockdowns’, there were certain common world-wide reactions. Our supermarket shelves emptied in a couple of days. Packets of pasta, flour, sugar, tins of tomatoes, beans, tinned ham, became restricted purchases before they were out of stock. Within hours, supermarkets limited on-line orders.

Companies that supplied complete meals were inundated with new subscriptions. HelloFresh, Dinnerly and Marley Spoon, are the popular meal-kit delivery companies in Australia. A day or so later, they closed their books; they could take no new customers. After a few weeks, these companies increased capacity. However, the meals supplied are usually only for 3-5 main meals a week.

All this meant we are doing a lot more cooking at home. And this has continued for five months. I have noticed that I have not been enthusiastic in preparing any challenging recipes. Just the opposite. It’s been a case of reverting to the tried and tested, an emphasis on feelgood meals. I do think, that we have been eating more than normal. Mealtimes are now an occasion! Until recently, we were on the 5 -2 diet made popular by Michael Mosley. But during COVID-19 we have lacked commitment to hold to any diet – especially one that involves eating almost nothing all day for two days a week.

More than ever we have had to plan our meals. After all, we are no longer going to the shops at will. The Australian government has established a website which is headed ‘Healthy eating during Covid-19’. This site includes lots of obvious advice: what to eat; what to avoid; how to wash your vegetables; where to go grocery shopping; making sure you have a list of items and asking for assistance if you need it. They have a meal planner which you can download to facilitate your weekly outing or on-line purchase. I liked the section on motivation and support where it states “it can be hard to stay motivated to eat well in difficult times”.

Next to the meal plan it is a physical activity plan. They have thought of almost everything, even encouraging you to involve the whole family in your food preparation. After all, it is quite an entertaining daily event! It can be a time to forget the news flooding in on your computer and TV.

At the very bottom of this government website there is a section on mental health. I do wonder how many people would have read that far and actually see the mental health advice.

https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/ongoing-support-during-coronavirus-covid-19/healthy-eating-during-coronavirus-covid-19-restrictions

The kind of meals that have been most popular in our household hark back to earlier times in our lives – comfort food. I have an old Thermomix machine and a recipe book of their South African recipes. One of them is the rusk recipe. I have merged this with an online one which is more exciting, containing nuts, seeds, sultanas and all sorts of healthy things. Rusk have an origin in South Africa’s Cape Colony, the word coming from the Afrikaans, ‘beskuit’. They were happily dunked in your black coffee at start of day.

Rusks are super easy to make. The warm rich smell of the rusks in the oven, and they cook for eight hours or more, fills the house. I can linger in bed with a cup of tea, a rusk, a book and a warm dog curled at the bottom of the bed.

Another childhood recipe that I have returned to is bobotie. Bobotie is an old Malay dish. Probably brought to the South African Cape Colony by the slaves during the Dutch occupancy (beginning in 1652). Some of the slaves were political exiles from the Dutch East Indies colonies. Some captives came from East Africa – even from Zanzibar.

The recipe has many variations, basically involving a curried mince mixed with bread soaked in milk, a chopped apple. It is topped with eggs beaten with milk before being baked. Serve with yellow rice and home-made chutney.

Bobotie.

Spring is around the corner. The prunus is already dropping flowers and now the peach blossoms and spring daisies are out. My long-suffering cymbidium orchids are in full flower. Rain remains in short supply this year. For example, we are promised 5-10mls and received about 3, promised 15 and get 7. And so it goes. We had hoped for a wet August.

old wine press with spring flowering in Penfold Reserve

I have forgotten what real rain sounds like: rain that thunders on the roof, overflows the gutters and makes our Roy dog hide under the bed. Once upon a time, I used to jog in the rain in the streets of Durban, South Africa. That was warm semi-tropical rain and such a delight. In Zanzibar, we would swim with the monsoonal rain pounding the waves flat. Only memories.

It is time to dunk another rusk in my afternoon tea.