A few months ago, my father-in-law died. It was expected, and yet the phone call blindsided me, as these calls tend to do. I hung up on Himself after some feeble words that would not and could not touch his loss. I cast about for something useful to do.
thought back to the time, some years ago, when Himself and I had this same conversation, but in reverse. I can’t remember where I was, though I imagine I was probably standing outside the room in which my father had just died. I held the phone to my ear. I don’t remember if I cried. And I can’t remember my exact words, but I remember perfectly Himself’s response to the news that my dad was gone.
“Soph,” he said quietly. ‘I’ll cook a ham.”
What else is there to say? His resolve to immediately go and boil some meat was funny and comforting, much more so than any words of commiseration are in such moments. As such, in the last few weeks of fear and uncertainty, I’ve seen a huge swell of people on social media – where else do we see anyone these days? – making cakes, stirring jams and roasting chickens. It’s nearly as soothing to watch them do it as it is to join them in the meditative application of hands to dough, the repetitive chopping of vegetables, or the almost alchemical process of applying heat to ingredients to transform them.
In these odd times where, for most of us, the act of inaction is the best help we can offer to the collective problem, these small steps towards a fresh loaf or warming bowl of stew feel eminently satisfying and productive. Cooking is another way to tap out the hours – time being the main cure for any malady you care to name: grief, much illness, even a pandemic.
There is also a certainty in cooking – cream some butter and sugar until they are pale, add eggs, some vanilla and flour, and some approximation of a cake will result. Beyond our kitchens, all is unknown right now, in fact, it’s always unknown out there – only the structure of our usual day-to-day existence cons us into believing it’s not.
Work and school and nights out distract us from the fact that we’re collectively veering on and off the path of imminent calamity at all times.
In the kitchen, over the stove, the old rules still govern our actions – even while the radio blares the daily figures and updates, speaking in a new language of ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ that none of us will likely ever leave behind fully. And so I chop some onions, sweat them in oil and add spices, to lose myself for a moment in the heady savour of cooking and the comfort of a good meal on the way.
Spinach & Chickpea Hotpot
You will need:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon butter
100g baby spinach, washed
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 sweet potatoes, diced and roasted
A little salt, to taste
Toasted slivered almonds, to serve
Rice, to serve
1 Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the diced onions. Sweat the onions until they’re soft, then add the sliced garlic, the ground coriander, the ground cumin and the chilli powder. Add the butter and the baby spinach, and combine to wilt the spinach.
2 Pour in the tinned coconut milk and bring to the boil, then remove the saucepan from the heat and blend until the mixture is smooth.
3 Add the tinned chickpeas, the roasted diced sweet potato and a little salt to taste. Heat the hotpot through thoroughly. Serve scattered with the toasted slivered almonds and some rice.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine