little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: a bowl of soup

Putting things together

20170123_122043I’ve done boot camp, Christmas, Trump, summer holidays, the return to work, gardening, adventures with children, movies, books, terrific whiskey, and a sleepover for 11-year-olds. Yesterday it rained and I had a cold, so I lit the fire, made hot drinks and retreated to the sofa. I wouldn’t describe it as restful, exactly — the children were tired and scrappy and stuck indoors — but it was a necessary grinding to a halt, of sorts.

It’s often hard to know what will save a day, but in this case, it was minestrone. I don’t always like minestrone, but this was a light, summery number with enough savour and steamy heat to restore just enough wellbeing for me to get to bed.

20170123_122942Ian made it, so I don’t know the fine details of the recipe, but here’s what I think he got right. The vegetables were sliced at angles, thin enough to fit well on the spoon, but large enough to offer definite taste and something distinct in each mouthful. There weren’t too many carrots, giving a layer of sweetness but not overwhelming the fundamental earthiness of the dish. The cooking started with bacon and ended with strong, fresh chard from the garden. I had extra tomatoes in my bowl, and a scattering of feta. The pasta was rigatoni, thick and knubbly. There were broad beans from our garden. The zucchinis were young and flavourful, with firm, peppery skin. The stock was light and hot.

20170123_122034The Rabbit was home sick today, so I had another quiet day. He made a Lego lawnmower — my role was to find the pieces and offer moral support. We succeeded, but only just. I left my work phone on, which was a mistake.

20170123_121854I reheated some of the minestrone for lunch, something I would avoid with a less robust pasta. Still, it needed a bit of tarting up for a new day, so I sliced in a couple of dusky Nigella tomatoes, a few shredded leaves of chard, some leaves of purple basil from the glasshouse. Feta again, of course.

The sun came out after that. We went to the gardens, kicked a ball, flew a kite. The Rabbit rescued his toy bandicoot from the animal rescue boat. We put ourselves together, not perfectly, but from what we had.

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Peasant soup

P1080936It’s one of those scrambly afternoons today (soccer), so I’m going to be making peasant soup. That’s my name for it. Jamie Oliver wrote the recipe I base it on, and he calls it “Leek and Chickpea Soup”, which is either a more or a less descriptive name depending on your leaning towards connotation or denotation. You can probably figure which way I tilt.

P1080934Anyway, it’s a terrific soup and at the moment everyone in the house seems to be on board. I often find a meal that I think everyone likes, but, with time, preferences for variations emerge and so I can end up making three different tweaks of the same meal, which is a big pain in the arse. And, yes, they could all cope with the same version (apart from the allergy issues), but what can I say, I’m a sucker for an appreciative bunch of eaters, often to my own detriment.

This is another of those earthy protein and greens type soups. You can blend it to varying degrees or leave it unmushed. I used to blend because that’s what Jamie says to do, but now I blend half for the boys and leave the adult version straight. I find the textural ying/yang of al dente potatoes, round chickpeas with their slippy skins, melty leeks and hot, sweet broth deeply satisfying — the blended version tastes good but is more boring.

As opposed to an actual proper recipe, I’m going to live-blog this one. If that turns out to be a DISASTER, I’ll bail and update once everyone is fed. There may be typos. Fair warning.

5.25pm It would be good to get started now. We got home at five after soccer practice. The Rabbit was tired and hungry and the Cat was tired, hungry, hysterical and thirsty. A drink, some food and the iPad seems to have solved most of those problems FOR NOW. Preemptively, I am going to have a drink and unpack the lunch boxes.

5.30pm Am actually going to start now. First empty lunch boxes, then light the fire.

5.49pm Fire is going well, lamps are on, curtains are pulled, screen time is in final lap, compost is out, animals are fed, bedroom heaters are on. I CANNOT BELIEVE A UNICORN DID NOT MAKE DINNER WHILE I WAS DOING ALL THAT. DOES THAT MEAN I HAVE TO DO IT? Briefly scan what is left of my brain for other chores that need to be done first.

5.51pm Right, will get out ingredients.

5.55pm Have bread, parmesan, yoghurt, leeks, chickpeas, potatoes, salt, pepper, stock, olive oil and garlic. Forgot to have a drink. Doing that now.

5.57pm Boil kettle and peel potatoes. I’m not going to give you quantities. It’s too hard. I do what I need to do in this household, but if I had my way, there’d be less potato and more leek and chickpea.

5.58pm Ian is home and I hand over responsibility for children.

6.07pm Potatoes are chopped and in a pot to boil. You want them in chunks. Small enough to fit on your spoon, but not so small that they’ll fall apart if you boil them five minutes too long.

6.08pm Ian wants to help. I tell him he’s on accompaniments. That’d be oily toast and yummy things. Actually, he just reads this over my shoulder and gets to work. Don’t you, darl?

6.11pm I’ve drained a can of chickpeas and Ian has poured a glass of red. Cheers!

6.17pm Washing leeks is annoying. Nevertheless, do that, then slice then thinly and sweat them in olive oil with sliced garlic and a bit of salt. That’s what I’m doing now.

The children are at the end of screen time and getting ratty. Ian is starting on the bread.

The potatoes are boiling, so I turn them down.

6.23pm Drain potatoes. Decide to move half the leeks to the rinsed-out potato pot so that I can cook the boys’ soup separately and therefore adjust potato/chickpea quantities for their respective audiences.

6.26pm Ian has oiled the bread and put it under the grill. The Rabbit is doing train work. The Cat is dragging out his screen time by deciding to do something too difficult and time-consuming for this point in the evening. The leeks are all sliced and starting to cook.

6.32pm Ian has been commandeered to play hallway soccer. The bread is out and the leeks are a juicy tangle. The garlic is in, more for the big people than for the small. I add the potatoes and chickpeas to each pan, pour on some stock and take a deep breath.

P10809336.36pm Lids on for ten minutes. A word about the stock. I just used powdered, okay. THEORETICALLY, I understand that homemade chicken or vegetable stock would be ideal here, simmered with loving care for an hour or so, the chicken — had there been one — organic, free-range, the centrepiece of a calm and delicious roast meal. But, clearly, we’re not in those realms tonight. We’re never in those realms when I make the soup. If you’re in those realms or are one of those horrendously organised people who not only has homemade stock in your freezer but can also remember which pottle it’s in and how long ago you made it, then bless you and go right ahead and use it.

I have more chopping to do.

6.40pm Oh, and put some pepper in that soup. And turn it down to a gentle simmer.

P10809316.49pm Table is set, soup is done. I’ve put out little bowls of olives, sundried tomatoes, some leftover tuna, cucumber and a bit of avocado. I take photos and realise how much crap lives semi-permanently on our table. Time to blend and serve. Also yoghurt and parmesan.

P10809376.59pm Everyone is eating. Of COURSE I got soup on my top when I blended it. It looks good though. The soup.

If you have lemons, add a squeeze of lemon juice. That’s life advice right there, not just for this recipe.

Earth soup

There’s a soup I make when something needs nourishing — the body, the bank balance, the soul. It’s a soup that restores, that brings quiet to the frazzled, goodness to the weary, sustenance to the hungry.

I’ve made it on Thursday nights when the end of the week feels still too far away; I’ve made it for new mothers, for friends facing health problems, for my father, who welcomes all meals with joy and thanks, and for my sons, who freely express both gratitude and distaste as the mood takes them. I’ve made it in the face of death and as the murky heart of a dinosaur-themed birthday party, where it did a convincing job as mud soup.

It’s good with scones or bread, or just on its own. I like it with a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of yoghurt, and I like it best with a cold white wine and a book, bien sûr. It’s from Cuisine, with editorial tweaks.

It’s a soup that tastes of earth and green, green leaves, of warmth and freshness and life. It’s a soup for earthenware bowls and old kitchens and good people. It’s a soup for you.


Spinach and lentil soup

olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 or 2 carrots, finely chopped
175g Puy lentils (or other green lentils if not available)
1 litre vegetable stock
350g spinach, well washed and coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons of cumin, fennel and coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
juice of 1 lemon


Place enough olive oil in a large saucepan to cover the base. Add
the onion, garlic, celery and carrots, then gently fry for 10 minutes until everything starts to colour. Obviously, I just use whatever combination of soup-base vegetables I have in the house.

Wash the lentils and check for little stones and grit then drain and add to the saucepan. Add the vegetable stock and simmer for 20 minutes, skimming off any foam that accumulates on the surface. Puy lentils are the bomb, but they can be pricey, so feel free to try any other lentils, split peas, etc.

After 20 minutes, stir the spinach into the soup; it will wilt quickly. Season with salt and pepper, and add the crushed seeds and lemon juice. Use whatever seeds you like — fennel is really good with this, but some of those warmer flavours are helpful too.

Purée the soup, but not too much. Taste and adjust the seasoning (it takes a generous amount). Squeeze extra lemon juice into your bowl if you like that sort of thing and bung in some yoghurt.

Good times.


Lady, you have a knitted animal on your head

How I know I’m in a small city; how I know I’m home:

  • There’s a lot of novelty wet-and-cold-weather gear. Knitted animals are a particular feature.
  • There’s a lot of woollen wear full-stop. I start putting in knitting orders to my sister and scour my wardrobe for big jerseys.
  • People socialise at home. Cups of tea and bowls of soup are good. Children create minor havoc as the backdrop to most conversations.
  • We’re in the middle of a solid week of rain. When this stops, we’ll get bright skies or snow or more rain.
  • The chance of bumping into an old friend in the supermarket, gardens, library, or museum is high. Close to 100%. The chance of catching someone’s eye and knowing that you know them but having no idea where they fit into your life is also high. One of these people (we refer to him as “that guy”) introduces himself to me and my sister in other places (Melbourne, Stewart Island, etc) and says that he always saw us around in Dunedin, but he’s never introduced himself here. We consistently fail to recognise him.
  • People remember me as a child. I remember me as a child.
  • Nature is just outside the door.
  • There’s a memory trace on most every street.
  • The sound of the rain is like belonging.
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