About a month before the full extent of the crisis which is now overtaking the whole world was obvious, I began quietly accumulating food-stuffs in my store cupboard. Two of this or three of that instead of just one. So when the catastrophe reached this country, and we went into lockdown within a few days of the first cases of the plague arriving in these shores, I didn’t need to do any panic shopping, just last minute perishables like milk, mushrooms and courgettes.
When the drawbridge went down and we all retreated to our own castles, I felt like a biblical wise virgin – perhaps not – a wise crone perhaps, with the oil in my lamp, ready for the challenge, not of spiritual growth but of living without all the amenities that we take for granted in the western world. We had stocked up on gas for the cooker, and petrol for the generator in case the power went down, filled the car and checked the oil.
The old freezer we’d replaced when a friend bequeathed her up-to-date appliance while re-modelling her kitchen, was still sitting here. No-one else had wanted it. So it came back into service in this emergency and absorbed all the bulky things like bread, and the extras like the butter and grated cheese and pastrami that we weren’t going to be shopping for in the foreseeable future. We felt ready for anything.
I can live off baked beans for a month, my love bravely declared. There’s no need, I kept re-iterating, we’ve got plenty of everything. And now we seem to have so much more time than we did before the Great Retreat, I’ve also had more time to think about food, and how to marshal our resources; and also to read new recipes and ideas.
We seem to be living rather luxuriously, rather than frugally… though that may come. So instead of just putting together my normal macaroni cheese which is a favourite in this house, I found a French recipe which we tried last night.
I left out the tomato puree, which I didn’t fancy, and for lack of a bacon hock, just chopped up and lightly fried some rashers of good bacon. Instead of making a normal cheese sauce, I broke into the packet of mascarpone nestling in the fridge as per the recipe, and beat it into the yolks of two eggs.
I added grated cheese, no Gruyere in the house, just good old Cheddar, leavened with some Gouda with cumin seeds, found at the back of the fridge and grated, which added a layer of je ne sais quoi to the mix. With plenty of black pepper, the bacon, the cooked pasta and all, was tipped into a casserole with a layer of grated parmesan on top, and left with enough time in the oven to warm it up and grill the top till crisp.
Even the pasta wasn’t macaroni. I had several packets of two-minute noodles sitting in the cupboard, having previously used their sachets of chicken stock for flavouring soups. I simply pour boiling water over the noodles, and leave them for a few minutes until they’re soft and ready to drain and use. Combined with all the other ingredients, their humble origin didn’t matter. The whole dish took only as long as separating the eggs, frying the bacon at the same time, and soaking the noodles, before ten minutes or so in the hot oven.
This is my idea of cooking these days – something quick, easy and delicious, using for the most part good ingredients, and not shying away from short cuts. I do a lot of things now, that I inwardly swore when I was young, I’d never do, like using chopped garlic from a jar, buying grated cheese, and even using pre-cooked packets of rice, when I lack the energy to slave over a hot stove. These packets of basmati, long grain and jasmine rice, which are more expensive of course than loose rice, were the despised unwanted items left on supermarket shelves during the Great Shopping Rush, but for me, they are a gift.
They mean a fried rice, or a kedgeree, or a curry in a few minutes instead of the hard labour of thoroughly washing and rinsing, boiling and draining of the real thing. Nearly fifty years ago, I remember watching in Stanley Market in Hongkong, an old Chinese lady, wispy white hair scraped up into a tight bun, wearing clogs and grey sam-fu with black trousers, crouched by a tap on the edge of the pavement, washing and rinsing rice in a battered aluminium pot, over and again.
She poured in the water, swishing it about with her hands, draining it carefully out through her old wrinkled fingers, never losing a single precious grain, and then beginning the whole process over again until the water ran clear into the gutter.I think of her, every time I cook rice, but no longer feel guilty at cutting corners to save my energy, as I used to.
Energy is precious, and so is time; and while plenty of time is the gift of the Great Retreat, energy is not so plentiful. Yet this too is the gift of this unexpected home detention, isolation, withdrawal, lockdown, whatever we call it. Time is our own. We can measure our energy, plan our time, listen to our inner clock, and nurture the needs of our mind and soul as well as our body.
Those of us who are retired, and those who have no duties of care for children, or family who need us, are fortunate. We can still enjoy human contact by phone, the internet, skyping, even blogging. Even those of us who don’t have pets to nurture, and be nourished by, still have the time to enjoy the pleasures of books, music, knitting and other pastimes we often don’t have space for in our busy western lives.
I’ve been painting a new porch and veranda black – posts and roof and steps and lovely curved front, a bit Japanese looking, jutting out into the forest. Bitten by the bug, I then painted the wicker chairs black, and then a white side table which had once been gilt and then white, became black, and a big pot which had once been black, and then white, is also black again!
And so now we have another place from which we can look into the trees, watch the weather, listen to bird song, gaze at the sunset, and see the moon rise. So many people in their homes and apartments, in so many places throughout the world, are cut off from the outside world, and yet by a strange paradox they are now savouring the growth of spring in the northern hemisphere, watching the clouds and the rain, becoming conscious of the sun rising and the moon waning, and connecting more and more with the natural world. So too, are we, in the southern hemisphere, as autumn creeps up on us. For once, in the poet’s words, we all have the time to stand and stare.
Food for Housebound Gourmets
For those who fancy trying my fancy French macaroni cheese, here are the amounts for four people:250 gms crème fraiche, 2 egg yolks, 225 gms macaroni, 115 gms gruyere cheese, and a sprinkling of parmesan
Stir crème fraiche and egg yoks together, add cooked pasta and all the other ingredients, including pepper. Sprinkle parmesan over the mix and bake until hot and the top golden. Enough for four, and we will have it again tomorrow jazzed up with salad etc.
I would use cream instead of creme fraiche next time, as I like a looser cheese sauce… or I’d use my other short cut… cook the pasta and stir in a tin of condensed chicken soup, grated cheese, black pepper and nutmeg, loosen it to taste with cream or milk – and hey presto.
I’m keeping a record of what we’re eating and will be fascinated to see how it works out over the time. So far:
Day one: Coq au vin using chicken legs.
Day two: pork chops, plus leftover risotto from the deep freeze, fried onions for him, kumara/sweet potato for me, and acid free tomatoes cooked in butter and cream a la famous chef, Dr de Pomiane.
Day three: spaghetti Bolognaise for him, egg/avocado/tomato salad for me.
Day four: chopped cooked chicken from deep freeze stirred into a white sauce flavoured with chopped bacon, chopped mushrooms and nutmeg, the sauce made with some meaty stock made from scraping the pork chop pan the other night. (plus cream!)served on rice with green beans.
Day five: baked chicken drumsticks cooked on a bed of chopped onions, with rice, mushrooms and tomatoes for him, kedgeree with hard-boiled egg for me, and enough to store half in the deep freeze..
Day six: macaroni cheese.
Ah, food, glorious food. As someone once said, “The only thing I like better than talking about food is eating it.”
Food for Thought
Over three hundred years ago a prisoner in the Tower of London carved on the wall of his cell during his long imprisonment: ‘It is not adversity that kills, but the impatience with which we bear adversity.”
34 responses to “Keeping body and soul together”
What a marvelous view from your veranda. What are your autumn colours like? Your thoughts on food storage, preparation and consumption resonated. A friend, Sylvain Charlebois, is a food specialist (https://www.thetelegram.com/business/local-business/sylvain-charlebois-covid-19-will-change-the-food-industry-forever-429913/ ) believes that how we shop, what we consider food safety will see dramatic shifts. “COVID-19 is likely going to redefine grocery shopping in more ways than one. Convenience now has a different meaning. It’s less about saving time and more about survival and safety. Before the crisis, barely anyone ordered online and many Canadians wondered why someone would ever order food online.” Your post celebrates the joy, rather than the fear of food. When this time passes (and it will), things will be different in many ways. But what I want to remain the same – the pleasure of breaking bread, sharing a meal, tasting the goodness that comes to our bodies. Another wonderful post, Valerie.
Glad you like the view… that’s what we call our kitchen veranda, where we step out from the kitchen… the veranda I painted is the other end of our little complex, where the forest comes up to the house site…
It’s a called a podocarp forest, native trees with thick undergrowth and evergreen – bit like a jungle!
Autumn colours come from non natives everywhere else …lots of self seeded cherries ( the songbirds love their blossom in spring ) and poplars, pin oaks and liquid amber…
What an interesting article about changing food habits…I suspect it is only one aspect of life which will change post covid 19.
Love that you read and enjoy my ramblings good friend, thank you.
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You have the best “ramblings” to follow. I love to ramble together!
My husband and I have joked for years that I’m always prepared for a small famine. And it turns out that also prepared us for a pandemic. We were traveling overseas when this all unraveled and returned home just in time to have to self-isolate but not in a hotel of the government’s choosing. Phew. Thanks to friends and the local grocery delivery service that has prevailed for those of us in genuine need, we, too, are finding some peace in the slower pace of things. Very best to you all.
Strange times, aren’t they, Ardys… what challenges we all face, and how fortunate that you were able to quarantine at home.
We are being very strict about self-isolation, as D has asthma, and like you, we have friends who deliver anything we need, like fresh milk, to the top of our drive. Keep well, and enjoy the solitude !
Your recipes are always interesting. That’s a great quote also.
Thank you, friend, good to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed the quote – it gave me interesting food for thought when I stumbled across it…
Go well in these strange times…
When I hear people whining about the isolation it conjures in me a mixture of humor and irritation. As you point out…we have Skype, internet, telephones.
With the absence of my pool, I’ve taken more long walks around the area and enjoyed the beautify of early spring.
We haven’t hoarded but are fairly well stocked up. When I go to the grocery these days, I do grab a few extra canned goods I wouldn’t normally. So far fresh produce is in good supply. I guess people aren’t panicking for those things. 😉
It makes me happy to read good reports and descriptions from my two friends in their haven.
From your friend in Missouri USA enjoying her rat poison…I mean…natural peanut butter.
Shalom and continued good health,
PS I dare say your love could live on baked beans…coupled with bags of Doritos.
I had to ask Douglas what Doritos were, and received a detailed reply, ending with the information that they are junk food…the great thing is, he’s discovered for himself that junk food is bad for him!
Enjoy your rat poison! You made me laugh!!
Keep well, Love, Valerie
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I’m happy to hear that he’s mended his wicked ways. 😉
I am enjoying the peace of it all. We have to find something we enjoy or we will go crazy. We have been eating well, taking the time to be creative. I was lucky that I did a big shopping excursion in January, well before any talk of hunkering down so we are in good shape with supplies. I have found perishables (veggies and fruits) in good supply. People don’t seem to fight over those!
Yes, Isn’t it funny, those of us who love our vegges aren’t having to fight for them!
For once virtue is its own reward !!
And the peace is lovely, I agree… though trying not to worry about all the people out of work and struggling… NZ relies on tourism, and of course, no tourists allowed in under lockdown… plus today, six magazines which ave been going since the 30’s have had to close, no advertising, no revenue, no wages…it will only be the first collapse I fear…
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Oh, what a beautiful photo of your forest! I don’t think I had seen a picture of where you live before – it looks spectacular. 🙂 And I expect it’s a paradise for birdwatchers.
Hello Grace, glad you liked the picture… the one in the previous blog of the forest and ranges and the tiny clearing with our house in it, is also us!
This picture is our kitchen veranda, the one I painted black is at the other end of the building site, where the trees come up to the house…
Our land goes right up to the furthest mountain in the picture… yes, lots of birds, rare lizards, butterflies and almost extinct frogs elsewhere – but thankfully, lots here….
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Oh, how wonderful! What a sense of freedom you must have, living in such a gorgeous place.
Thank you for all your tips about cooking.
Hope you enjoy the grub! Good to have time to experiment and enjoy cooking, isn’t it…
We are faring well here also. Not much to worry about in the food section, as I too have things we can use collected over-time. Then, being on a farm helps…its spring. So all the spring-time work is in full-force. Being busy the key to forced isolation.
I love the idea of your black sitting area…I wish I could be there with you. Alas, it is not to be. Like you, I will be very interested in how the world will be changed after ‘this time passes.’
One thing that happened to me, (Oh so exciting) is a Face Time call from a blog friend in Australia! WOW! Technology has brought the world closer, which is a very good thing.
Hugs to you my very wonderful friend for times long past,
What fun to enjoy Face time .. I am envious of your technological skills – I cant even do emojiis…
So much to say to you but have been all out painting .. now the laundry… will be back …
Much love, long time friend XXX
What a beautiful view, Valerie. My love flowing to you both and I love how you are nourishing through food and your words. ❤ ❤ xXx
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Hello Jane, thank you for your loving words.
Can’t believe it’s Easter already – only discovered it was Good Friday today, and for the first time in my life have no hot cross bun!
I’m flat on my back for the second week, doctors pills almost impotent to muffle the pain of putting my back out. Que sera sera..
Happy Easter to you, with love, Valerie
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Valerie, you are in my healing book and prayers. Wrapping you both in much love. ❤ Xxx ❤
Thank you, loving friend XXXXXX
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Be safe, Valerie. Greetings to you from lockdown in southern Germany. xo
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Hello Jadi, Lovely to hear from you… how are you weathering these strange times, it feels as though we are on the brink of a new and unknown world, Doesn’t it…
So lovely that in so many places the skies are now clear and cloudless, and the air sweet and fresh !
I hope this gets to you -I’ve tried every which way to get into your blog and leave a comment, but the Great God of Technology refuses to let me in… this is my last hope of finding a way to contact you,
I enjoyed both your blog and the beautiful pictures
Hope you’re both keeping well, with best wishes from the Antipodes…
What a terrific post, Valerie! i love the ‘Great Retreat’ and the ‘Great Shopping Rush’ concepts suggesting momentous world events which of course they have been and are! I too have been house painting – a bright turquoise for our little back entrance at the cottage. I already had the paint before lockdown. I also have the whole kitchen to paint in a buttercream, I already had the paint for that too. I’ve been enjoying making soup instead of it being a chore, enjoying simple things, creating things and writing, and enjoying nature.We country dwellers are so so lucky, and i do think about those less fortunate and I keep in touch with what’s happening with the ‘Great Plague Virus’ too. Where will it all end? What will we be like afterwards? Will there be any improvements in how we treat one another or in our values afterwards? Will we learn or not? Well, I hope so.
I also love the poem you took a line from. I read a book from a charity shop about the tramping life of a hobo in the US in the 1800s. It was called ‘The Autobigraphy of a Supertramp’ and was written by W.H. Davies the author of the poem you cited. He travelled all over America longing to be a published poet. I had no idea he wrote this memorable poem until I looked him up after reading the book! A special man and a special poem and perfect for this current time. Cheers, Valerie, stay well.
Lovely to hear from you Lynne, and share your thoughts..yes, I too wonder where we will all be when these strange times are over… it feels as though we could be on the brink of a new and different world, doesn’t it…
Some time ago I wrote a blog which included WH Davies story, and also Francis Thompson, who wrote the sublime poem The Hound of Heaven, and those lovely words
The angels keep their ancient places—
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
’Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing
.He too lived on the streets… both contemplatives …
A tardy response, but have been flat on my back for over a week now, filled with painkillers which hardly muffle the pain – que sera sera..
Keel well and enjoy your purdah!!
(note two exclamation marks !)
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Lovely poem, beautiful to say out loud, which, for me, the best poems are. Hope your back is a bit better by now, Valerie. And purdah can certainly have two exclamation marks!!
I’m so sorry about your back, left helpful, I hope, comments on yours this morning. I love the sound of your special macaroni cheese. Like you I had been filling our shelves slowly but with a very different moment in mind, a terrible fall-off-the-cliff Brexit so we are well stocked too. Heaven knows what Brexit will bring now or even if we will leave as timetabled now that government can’t really function as it should.
I rather hope we are on the brink of a wonderful new world after this Great Retreat.
I hope you recover soon. xx
Yes, Sally, I hope for a wonderful new world too.. My daughter told me how amazing it was to walk her dog at the weekend, and with no traffic, there were dozes of families out on bikes together, and other families, all walking together….a sight which is normally quite rare !!!
How beautiful your view Valerie, doesn’t it just make the difference in this time of great retreat to be so near to nature. As I know many only have the four walls of their flat! We too had been taking a little more than normal a couple of weeks before our strict spanish retreat! So we have been enjoying retired life having a beautiful outdoor balcony ourself that looks on our community garden. The birds singing has been a delight and I do manage to get weekly fresh food from a local supermarket. Love your recipe, sounds yummy and easy! Will give it a try! We’re on our 7th week so we are itching to get out… which we might be able to do from next week, starting with an hour a day within 1km of home! Until the next time Valerie, enjoy this most surreal time x Barbara x
So lovely that you’ve been reading back numbers Barbara – so validating…Your lockdown sounds almost idyllic – I expect lack of exercise slightly takes the gloss of it – we are so lucky not to feel confined with al our walks in our own forest…
I see today that the numbers are creeping up again, as they seem to be in so many other places… such a strange and insidious threat to people, and yet the seas are clean and blue, even round places like Portsmouth, the skies are clear so people can see the Himalayas and so on again animals are taking over gardens and parks and beaches and empty place, greenery growing between paving stones in Rome… it feels so beautiful to know that it is possible to find a better way to live and preserve the planet if we had the will and could work out the way…
Love Valerie XXX
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It’s always a pleasure Valerie to read your everyday stories… Tom and are are enjoying observing how the world is dealing with this and wonder will they or won’t they change how they live with others after this❤️Take care, Barbara x