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 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.