from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: A late-enjoyed Christmas present or Learning to Cook

October 4. Last Christmas, our Capetown son and daughter-in-law gave us a present of two tickets to attend a cooking course at Scoffed Cooking School in Adelaide. Scoffed offer a range of themed evening and day-time cooking options for children and adults, for beginner and more advanced cooks.

We planned to select a course in the New Year, but before we could, COVID-19 shut down the cooking school along with everything else. Fast forward 7 months and the business has reopened. We now had two credits to attend a cooking session of our choice. The numbers they allow into the school’s classes have been reduced and Covid-safe rules are strictly applied. (This is although there is only one active case in South Australia … a young man arriving from overseas and already in quarantine. Deaths? Four people died overnight and 479,000 tests in total have been undertaken.)

New Zealand green-lipped mussels ready to finish in the oven – one of the largest mussel species reaching 240mm in length!

Previously, I had chosen a course on how to cook fish, but this was not available. So, instead last night I attended a course on Spanish cooking, more particularly how to cook paella and pintxos (typically, a small snack eaten in bars in Spain and Portugal … like tapas).

When the 13 of us gathered – socially distanced in the professional kitchen – we were first informed about the ‘Covid’ rules for the evening. I have never washed my hands so often! Then there was a demonstration in ‘how to chop with a sharp knife’ … how not to slice the end of your fingers off while slicing the parsley.

Seafood Paella

I have to admit, in all honesty, that I’m not a good cook. I have learnt and adapted over the years and there are moments when I am quite pleased with my cooking. However, in my family there are very good cooks. My sister-in-law, Meri, is a phenomenal cook, a natural, and my daughter, Shannon, in Seattle is another – although she uses almost every utensil in the kitchen in the process. But the result is worth the wash-up.

the three student paella-cooks

Anyway, last night, under instruction, I had a lot of fun cooking up a series of Spanish-themed entrees and a delicious seafood paella. My co-cook of the evening was a younger woman who had had to ditch her Spanish travel plans for 2020. She continues language instruction on Zoom and had decided that acquainting herself with Spanish cooking was the next best thing to do!

(The crux of the evening was to show us how to form a crust in our paellas– the essential mark of a good paella.)

in style …

Between each course, we adjourned to their small cafe carrying our food to enjoy there with an accompanying half glass of wine. So, with the cooking demonstrations and the frequent hand-washing, the whole process took over three hours. We ended the evening by deep frying churros for our dessert – the churros (delicious deep-fried pastry) were dipped in chocolate or / and dulce de leche.

I realise that these are the kinds of evenings we have missed with the shutdown. Everyone at Scoffed Cooking School was so light-hearted, so relaxed, so prepared to have a fun evening. Even though in South Australia we have not been in a ‘hard’ or lengthy lockdown like other countries, I felt as if I had been let out of school. There are still fun things to do and life to be lived!

And of course, there is now time to buy a special paella pan so I can practice at home and burn the pan with equanimity.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: what makes a ‘good’ day?

South African Rusks

July 19. I have had a good day. Maybe, we each have to define in our terms what a good day entails.

Some simple things. We stayed at home all day – with no committments and no energy to rush out. It was chilly and misty at first so I made a wood fire to take the edge off the cold . Later, we took our slow-walking, one-eyed dog for a walk up the road. The birds were out by then: little red-browed finches, the Adelaide rosellas, the wattlebirds busy making nests. Sometimes, we count the number of species that we see on our walk. Usually, it is not much short of 10.

Then, after a little prompting plea from my husband, I did some cooking: I made rusks. These are South African biscuits that are first cooked in a block, like a cake, then cut up and returned to the oven to dry for eight hours. They are delicious: the tradition is to dunk one (or two) in your early morning coffee – at the risk of crumbs falling into your coffee. I have been experimenting with the recipe – adding all sorts of nuts and raisins. Today, the result was spectacular. (I recommend you try the following recipe from Drizzel and Dip. All day the house smelt marvellous.

My son, David, phoned from Cape Town to tell us about their two-week-old baby girl. She has now been named. It took a little while for them to make that decision. Her name is Chloe Anne … it is charming and most popular in that both grannies are “Annes”. Both grannies have an ‘E’ at the end of Anne as well. Good choice. Chloe is a very pretty little thing. I cannot remember babies being so cute. Or so tiny.

Mid-afternoon, after a little prompting, our grandson in Seattle phoned. It is Frost’s 19th birthday (and yes, he is named after the poet). I remember him well as a cute baby and that does not seem very long ago!!

Late afternoon, I took Roy for another walk: this time through our bush. I noticed that the spring native flowers are starting to appear. It has taken many years for the native understory to re-establish itself after we cut out the feral olive trees. On the way home I harvested some of our spinach, parsley and coriander.

Dinner this evening was another success. Two in one day! And here I must be honest – I’m NOT a good cook. Honest friends will confirm that! I made a mushroom risotto and included the spinach and parsley from the garden. I love mushrooms and having grown up in Zanzibar, I love rice. Even creamy Arborio rice.

Perhaps another one of the reasons why I feel happier today is that I have not listened to the news much, nor read any online papers like the Washington Post. It is frustrating to continually read depressing news when there’s nothing you can do about it.

It is enough to bake some biscuits, take a one-eyed dog for a walk and to hear from your family.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: a pattern of days – a second retirement

14 May. We both retired. 18 years ago. I found retirement was a process of adaptation. There were at least two years of adjustment as we settled into working out what to do. And we did get going, we got the message that this was a gift – time – valuable FREE time. So we… moved house; studied; travelled; planted trees; travelled some more with our local museum; bought a holiday home at the seaside; got a dog; planted more trees from our own seed; I wrote a short biography of my grandmother as requested by my 90-year-old father when he emigrated from South Africa to Chester, UK ; I wrote a longer biography of my father published after his death at the age of 97, and I wrote two novels about Africa.

And now, it’s as if a second retirement is before us, with a further consideration of what we should do. However, there are fewer options and in the background is the possibility of being stricken with Covid-19. Times have changed. We constantly hear that our age group bears the highest risk for hospitalisation and death. Especially so if you have a ‘comorbidity’. (Comorbidity is a word I have never used before. It ‘refers to the presence of more than one disorder in the same person’. I am assuming that old age is now regarded as a disorder, a ‘morbidity’.)

In Adelaide, South Australia, we have not been as constrained as many other major cities but still the flow of disturbing news has been a constant since early March … that’s two months for us to adapt to a second retirement from our first retirement.

And how has our life changed? For a start, each day is much the same as the previous day. Small, hardly noteworthy differences: driving to walk the dog in the park and fetch the mail; sometimes a big supermarket shop in the early morning … etc.

So, most of the time is spent in the house or our garden. And somehow the day goes by very fast. We have ordered three vegetarian meals a week from a service called HelloFresh. The box is delivered to the door on Monday and consists of the ingredients for the meals plus a comprehensive guide to the process of cooking. This is entertainment as much as anything else, for these are meals I would not normally cook: roasted sweet potato risotto … pesto, roast pumpkin and fetta risoni …

My husband complains about the lack of MEAT. Since I am verging on becoming a vegetarian, this is not what I want to hear. During the week, there are 4 other dinners that can feature meat. The trouble is that the meals from HelloFresh are generous and we have leftovers. There is a definite greater interest in food and home cooking during this new retirement. We used to eat out 2-3 times a week.

The phone: we are spending more time talking on our mobiles (we don’t have a landline). We catch up with family and friends and since two daughters live in the USA, another daughter lives in Sydney and a son settled in South Africa, these calls go on throughout the day.

The computer is a huge resource and gobbler of time: for emails; Zoom meetings of my writing group and my husband’s geology club; for bridge games and lessons; for watching movies on ‘demand’. We are indeed lucky to have such a marvellous array of entertainment.

the Serengeti National Park

Every night, on YouTube, I watch the ‘Serengeti Show Live’ show for 30 odd minutes where Carel Verhoef and Sally Grierson show us their camp in the Serengeti and take us on a game drive. In 2018, we spent a week with their company, Great Migration Camps, on the shores of the Mara River. Watching these episodes, I can immerse myself in the landscape of Africa. And soon Serengeti Show Live will take us up Mt Kilimanjaro and then to Zanzibar. (Once upon a time in Africa, I lived in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro and then moved to live in Zanzibar).

I belong to the Adelaide Lyceum Club, a women’s club that was begun in London in 1903. (‘Clubs for women interested in arts, sciences, social concerns and the pursuit of lifelong learning’). We gather in interest groups called ‘circles’ and one of the circles I joined was the film circle. Our members have joined the Zoom brigade and meet to discuss certain films which are available online. Our SBS on Demand and ABC iView channels provide hundreds of films and TV shows free. Quite distracting in fact.

Don’t forget the dog! Roy, aged 11 has his own program, more insistent now that we are around almost 24/7. He wakes at dawn at 6.45am and goes out to check if any koalas or kangaroos are around. Whether they are or not, he wakes the neighbourhood with a morning bark. I am growing accustomed (as winter comes for us) to spend more reading in bed before a short program of yoga. This laziness delays breakfast as well as Roy’s walk up the long drive or in the local park.

Home maintenance and gardening fill in the holes in the day. April and May are planting months in South Australia as the rains arrive. I have paid more attention to edible plants this year – there’s nothing quite like picking your own herbs, lettuce and spinach for an evening meal. I have given up on actively growing potatoes but remnants are doing well. We have planted 20 trees that will give joy one day. I am reading City of Trees by Sonia Cunningham, a series of absorbing essays about our urban landscapes and how we are losing forests. Sonia Cunningham was a speaker at our Adelaide Festival’s Writers’ Week in March this year.

So, our new retirement is OK; we have lots to do, lots to entertain us. Soon we will be able to travel within the borders of South Australia and in July they might open up to other states … and one day maybe New Zealand will be included.

Second retirement is not so bad, so far.

from Rajan in Mumbai, India: apple chapati for my mother-in-law

apple chapati

Apple Chapati. My mother in law is 91 years old. She has stayed with me since 2010. After my daughter got married recently only two(oldies) of us are at home. She did not move out of the house except twice. Once when I moved to another city for a job and once when my daughter got married. Otherwise she is confined to her room. Past ten years she is following a fixed time table: have morning tea and breakfast, then read newspapers/books/magazine, followed by lunch, again read, have a nap, have evening coffee & snacks followed by dinner and then sleep. She manages on her own except taking bath on her own.

She is very much missing newspapers due to lockdown. The only question she asks is when this lockdown will get over. Even though she is almost in a quarantine situation since  more than 9 years as she can’t really move out, even then she is living her life as per her wish. Whoever comes to meet me, she meets and greets them enthusiastically, shares some stories with them and laugh with them. I am astonished and surprised over her approach towards life, her attitude with which she is living. Not complaining about getting bored. On the other hand I recieved many telephone calls from young and adults including some teachers that they are getting bored because of Lockdown. There is so much to learn from these kinds of old people. At least I am learning something.

She is very fond of eating tasty Indian food, especially sweets. Every alternate day we give her some sweets to eat. But yesterday there was no sweet at home. I was thinking what to do. Suddenly  I saw an apple lying in the fruit bowl, inviting me to eat it. An idea came to my mind – to use it to make Apple Chapati out of it and I made it. She liked it.

I used an apple, sugar, cardamom, ghee( butter), whole wheat flour, very little salt and milk. First I made a dough out of wheat flour, milk and a pinch of salt then made a filling(paste like) out of ghee, apple, sugar by heating it till you get a paste. Then follow the procedure as we follow to make a stuffed paratha. You may try one. Taste depends on the skills. I am sharing a picture of the final product with you.

My experiment was successful!

from Megan in Brisbane, Australia: Anzac biscuits for Anzac Day …

22 April. I enjoyed the post describing the takeaway dinner which was savoured  at a well set table with a bottle of wine, and at the civilized dinner hour of around 7:30pm.

This led me to think about what happens in our house. 

Firstly, it is a long time since I cooked. The work I did saw me arrive home after dinner hour and my plate was kept in the warming drawer. My husband continued doing the cooking although I had stopped working. Because we live in an open plan lounge, dining room and kitchen, I know when he’s starting to make something and I say, just in case,

‘I’ll have what you’re having.’

This has changed since the start of the virus. I decided to pick up cooking and baking where I left off many years ago, and I have been enjoying the experience (#Greater Purpose). I now pull things out of a previously empty culinary hat that I never thought I was capable of.

It works like this. There are two specials of the day. 

I’m trying to create the restaurant atmosphere, you see. 

Only one special can be chosen. 

This is a small restaurant after all. 

Once decided, the preparation and cooking time are calculated and dinner is planned to be served around 6pm. The plates are placed on the kitchen counter, the food is dished up, and in accordance with the rules around restaurants in this time of coronavirus, we go to this takeaway counter and then set off to the TV room to eat. I love takeaway. 

I have made Mongolian Chicken, Cauliflower and Pumpkin Soup sprinkled with Chopped Chives for Presentation; I have produced Spinach and Feta Pie with a Hint of Dill; and Lasagne baked to a turn with a Slightly Crusted Cheese Topping. 

And now for the baking.

Two of my grandsons (in different houses) and I are participating in a bake off. So far, we have each made a batch of biscuits, which we shared amongst us. The parents are required to deliver and leave at the door (their #Greater Purpose). Other specialities have been dumplings, doughnuts and apple cake. We have our tasting time and report back. 

The next baking challenge is Anzac biscuits for Anzac Day on 25 April. I’m am reading up on every available recipe. I want to do better at this than I did at the algebra challenge (#Greater Purpose).

from Nike in Katerini, Greece: Dark Thoughts …

I’ve been having dark thoughts. So dark I’m not sure I should express them. Greece is going to remain in full lockdown for the remainder of April and most likely till early May. We’ve been in Greece over six months now. We come often, we being my parents and I. Every year my father announces he wants to die in Greece so every year we come over spend half the year here, he doesn’t die, and we return to Australia until the next year.

Last year my father fell so ill I didn’t think we’d make it over in time. His doctors all said don’t bring him to us any more, there’s nothing further we can do. It was okay – I wasn’t even sad. The man is 92 years old and riddled with disease and chronic conditions. He’s lived a big life, seen children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. There’s nothing to mourn, indeed it should be a celebration to have lived like that.

The flight over from Australia was horrendous. That long haul never gets any easier no matter how many times you do it. During half of the flight my father kept yelling how dreadful this cinema is and he kept trying to leave. I spent most of the flight restraining him from trying to open the exit door. A couple of the burlier gentlemen on board kindly helped me out a few times. Dad then lapsed into a semi-coma. I genuinely believed he was going to die on that flight and I was absolutely okay with it because we would be landing soon – in Greece. But, we made it to our home and then he bounced back again.

A month after that again he seem to be at death’s door. Another recovery. He fell over on the pavement outside on the road after a dog scared him. He was startled by its loud barking, fell over backwards and cracked his head. I thought he was going to bleed to death right there on the road. He bounced back. That man has been hunted by Nazis, attacked by communist guerrillas, been accidentally electrocuted, escaped a house fire, had two heart attacks, bypass surgery, a stroke, stroke surgery, been in heart failure twice plus myriad other operations, illnesses and incidents and has myelodysplasia, a rare blood cancer. He doesn’t know he has it. Why tell him?

There are days he just stops eating. He’s been talking to people for the last seven or eight months. There’s no one there but he’s having a spirited conversation. I can hear him when he has his afternoon siesta. He is welcoming someone in. ‘Hello, hello, come in and sit down how have you been?’ This is happening every day.

I’ve read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Keep the environment serene, calm and loving so their passing can be serene too. All very nice advice but it neglects to mention the one who is doing all this for them, how do they stay serene?

He’s in a bad way. He can’t walk, except to shuffle between rooms. He demands a fat juicy steak every day which I supply and he takes maybe half a bite and leaves the rest then demands a fresh one the next day. It took my boy (son) more than 20 days to start to feel somewhere near normal after his battle with COVID-19. It’s a terrible thing to begin to resent someone just for being alive. I came to bury my father yet he’s ordering juicy steaks while my son was battling for breath. Let the dead bury the dead, said Jesus. Am I dead? I must be because I certainly don’t feel alive.

Ritual saves me from my own thoughts. It’s Greek Orthodox Easter. The rituals of Easter are many and mostly to do with food. Ritual and it’s related foods offers the refuge from the surreal. During Holy Week one favourite food is octopus. I see a good large specimen at my regular fishmonger but decide to walk further down the street to see what another fishmonger has in stock. Right in front there’s a case full of smaller cephalopods. One glance reveals to me they are not the true octopus. Every fishmonger warns of buying the small ones with only one row of suckers on their short tentacles. ‘Don’t buy those!’ they warn. ‘They’re not as tasty and they take too much work to prepare. It’s not worth it.’
They’re called musk octopus and they’re 6€ a kilo. The big fellow up the street is 10€ a kilo. I already know that even though it’s almost double the price it will be five times as good so I turn my back on the musky ones and go back to buy the real one with long fat tentacles and double rows of suckers. It’s also the day of Lazarus. The Lazarinas can’t sing and dance
so Greek Facebook accounts are flooded with videos of past Saturdays of Lazarus. The Lazarinas are young women dressed in flower festooned traditional costumes to symbolise the double meaning, that of Spring, the rebirth of the Earth, and the rebirth of a man who had just died.

The Lazarinas fast in the lead up to their dance to be performed in the churchyards. My mother was a Lazarina when she was a girl. She said they could only break their fast for the duration of the pealing of the church bells before the call to come to church. She said the bell-ringers would draw out the chimes to last for many, many minutes to allow for extra mouthfuls of food.

On the way home to cook the octopus I passed one of the many greengrocers. The lady proprietor is named Margarita. She calls out to me, ‘How is your son?’
‘He is well!’ I surprise myself by repeating. It must still be reverberating in my heart. ‘He is well!’
She nods at me with a satisfied look on her face. ‘Of course he is. I prayed for him and I lit a candle for him.’

I left her smiling allowing her to believe she held sole responsibility for his healing. My little outing was beneficial. Grecian sunshine is kissing my cheek, my son is well. I feel alive again.