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.

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Some things have to change!

25 April: I am not a person who likes routine. This quiet life that Corona has visited upon me, and the  routines, I find very irksome. This week I sought to change at least some things. Other changes were thrust upon me!

  1. I decided that my daily walk in the park would incorporate a walk through the meditative maze in the park. This particular maze is a “labyrinth-like design based on a fingerprint set into the turf using stone, on a slight incline in the park”. Such a design is said to be “an ancient, mystical pattern – a meandering path to the centre, which is often used to symbolize the journey through life.” http://www.publicsculpturesofsussex.co.uk/object?id=358 Rather unlike life, the labyrinth has only one path to the centre, requiring no decision and allowing the mind free to contemplate – in theory. I set off rather pleased at the prospect of something different only to find that two people were sitting right in the middle of the maze – and showing no signs of moving. Pipped at the post. Tomorrow is another day. And the day after that.
  2. Our shopping list has been, more or less, the same – week after week. Nice enough dinners but the sameness is what gets one. An Instagram advert presented the possibility of a change. A company called #Mindfulchef delivers – once a week – a box containing five selected recipes and all the ingredients necessary. Everything is fresh – and all are gluten free. Today is Day One of a more adventuresome diet. Can’t remember when I was more pleased.
  3. I have big plans for my balcony garden. Getting planters and pots was easy enough but pot trays impossible. I couldn’t get potting soil either. Everybody who could was out there, gardening their heads off! Finally a kind gardener I know said he would deliver potting soil and some plants to my front door – if I put out plastic sheeting. His choice of plants, not mine. Beggars can’t be choosers. Nearly fifty plants and eight (eight!) bags of soil were duly deposited in the passage outside our door. I already had taken delivery of three dozen plug plants. The first hurdle was the absence of crock. We have recently moved and I didn’t think to bring such a thing with me. Any delivery that entails polystyrene has been greeted with unusual delight and I spend evenings pummeling pieces of polystyrene into suitable sizes to go at the bottom of my pots – and, in the process scattering little white balls all over the apartment. Some routine that! Watering not a simple matter either: one watering can at a time from the kitchen to the balcony – taking care to only water when the woman in the flat below me is safely tucked in bed and cannot be rained on from above! This is not gardening as I know it. Bloody but unbowed, I continue.
  4. I signed up with the Commonwealth of Learning to act as a mentor for young women in far-flung places. I was informed of the names of my mentees today. None of my present cohort would imagine that they are doing me a much greater favour than I am doing them. I will tell them!