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Nestling: Part One

I have a new house!

Artist's depiction

(The capsicum bushes were a big selling point. Drawn in gimp.)

M and I have been nestling into our new territory by cooking.  On our first weekend, M made a gloriously tasty batch of croissants. Ooooh, croissants: you taste even better when you are made in celebration of a new oven.   He has been keeping us well-supplied with hand-made pasta, pizza doughs and many many loaves of rye bread.  (I have been in charge of making ice cubes.)  Cooking is such a soothing process, for both of us, and exploring the potentials of a new kitchen and workspace has been a very important part of establishing ourselves in our new context. I find moving a really challenging process, and after all the dust has settled I feel kind of…filleted. So cooking gives me a way of finding my feet. And, in some weird way, it lets me re-establish my context: it’s as though there’s part of my brain that says “aha, this must be home, because she’s cooked muffins”.

One of the first things I made was some long-missed chai syrup.  I was out of some of the usual ingredients — cloves, ginger and cinnamon being the big absentees — so I altered it a little.  In addition to the standard black tea base, I used a generous measure of Earl Grey leaves; then added some mandarin zest and a squirt of mandarin juice.  These two modifications gave a fantastic citrus twist.  I used a lot of allspice, nutmeg, some bay leaves, and a little bit of garam masala to add the required spiciness, then simmered it all for a while until it was thick and syrupy.  While it cooled, I stirred in plenty of honey and vanilla extract and left it to cool.  It’s beautiful: I love that chai is one of those things that you can play around with according to whim and circumstance. There’s a lot of scope for experimentation.

The smell of spices while cooking both soothes and excites me.  It calms me and makes me feel creative and alert and I love it.  So it is unsurprising that the next thing I made was spicy roast vegetable and lentil soup.  Aw, baby, this was a good one, albeit tricky to photograph.

Spicy and steamy

Two small potatoes, some wedges of pumpkin, two carrots, a purple onion and a brown one, all rubbed with olive oil, salt and some chilli powder and roasted in the oven; right at the end, add a few cloves of garlic and roast only briefly.  Meanwhile, finely chop some celery, carrot and shallots and quickly fry in some butter and salt.  Have a litre or so of vegetable stock on standby, with some bay leaves in it. Roughly chop the roasted vegetables and toss them into the pot with the celery/carrot/shallots, then lightly fry the whole lot.  Add your spice mix: mine had (from memory) tumeric, cumin, coriander seed, garam masala, cardamom, nutmeg, cayenne pepper (and plenty of it), white pepper and mustard powder, and I needed a lot more than I originally thought I would. Throw it in and stir the vegetables around in it, until they get dry and spicy and very aromatic; the smell of the frying spices will fill your kitchen and sinuses.  Pour in your stock, make sure it covers the vegetables, and then throw in some generous handfuls of dried red, yellow and green lentils.  I soaked my lentils for a little while before chucking them in, but if you don’t, make sure you keep a close eye on how much water they suck outta the soup. They’re thirsty little blighters. Taste the soup regularly to make sure it’s flavoursome enough: you may need to top up the salt levels as you go, especially if the lentils go in dry. Let it simmer.  Eventually everything will have merged into a glorious, spicy, hot pulp of vegetables and you can mash it roughly or puree it with a blender.

This soup was fantastic.  I miss it still. And it was wonderful to have such a spicy, hot, flavoursome thing to serve with M’s homemade rye bread when our erstwhile housemates came over for dinner.

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