A well-meaning soup

The minute I open the windows now: birdsong. They’re in constant and urgent conversation, the birds, from dawn to dusk. Sometimes even after the sun has set. They’re catching up, their chirps like phonecalls bouncing from one branch to another, hey Martin how was Africa, didja have a good flight?

It’s been a long winter of quiet; it’s good to have them back.

We read a springtime book without meaning to. We started reading it to Chotto-ma at the end of winter, and as the pages turned, the season did too. It was timed like a perfectly improvised tune. Season and literature jammed, and we read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, ate chicken noodle soup, and willed the weather to get warmer – Chotto-ma’s introduction to unabridged English classics.

Getting a six-year old interested in a book written more than a hundred years ago requires stealthy planning – the language is heavier, the vocabulary unfamiliar, the pace slower, the pleasures quieter. Inspite of that, I wanted Chotto-ma to start with the unabridged version of a great book. Because if you read the abridged first, you often don’t get around to the original. But, I was also sure that I wanted her to enjoy it.

We had almost stopped reading aloud to Chotto-ma, because she was doing so much reading by herself. (The first novel she read on her own this year was ‘The Story of the Blue Planet‘ by Icelandic writer Andri Snaer Magnason, about two children who live on a planet with no adults.) Studies show, quite logically, that even when children become completely independent in their reading, a book read aloud to them by a parent continues to have a special place – there’s a sense of comfort and connection in shared stories – and that need not end when a child becomes a fluent reader; it’s a bond worth keeping as long as you can. We decided to split her books into two categories: she’d read the ones she picked out – like the Roald Dahl she’s reading now – and D and I would read to her the classics, and some poetry.

We chose The Secret Garden to start with. The language is not too challenging, and it’s a book filled with the beauty of nature, a couple of loud, ill-mannered children, and a happy ending. It also has plenty of overt racism, and that’s not a bad thing either – it gave us a chance to talk to Chotto-ma about prejudices and wrongs and rights. She loved the story, looked forward to it every evening, and enjoyed the drama as it unfolded. We also discussed the racist elements of the writing, of how India is portrayed and Indians described as inferior (Mary Lennox, the protagonist, is a little British girl who was born and raised in India till she moved to England to live with her uncle.) It opened up conversations about India’s history, the British Raj.

 
Our next read-out might be E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. But no matter which classic you choose, I’d highly recommend reading it to your child to begin with instead of handing them a beautiful hardbound copy. Guide them into an older time and an older language, till they find their feet and are comfortable enough to read one by themselves. 

Goodness, I’ll stop right there. I sound far wiser than I am. Ignore this unwanted advice by all means, but I beg you, DO NOT ignore the noodle soup that comes with it. It’s our any-weather soup. It’s a soup to read with, to listen to the birds with. It’s a well-meaning soup, much like this post.


Chicken Noodle Soup

Ma would often make this soup when we were young. She’d throw in scraps of chicken and bits of vegetables left over from the week, and suddenly we’d have the most wonderful smell wafting out of the kitchen. Our Spring is cold and windy still, and I needed this. Like birdsong, it makes everything better.

Ingredients

The vegetables really depend on what you have at home, but these are what works really well. You also won’t find quantities for the vegetables in this recipe – since it’s meant to be made with whatever you have left over, feel free to put more of one, less of another.

4 chicken thighs, skin on
Cabbage, cut in big cubes
Mushrooms, cut in half if small, or quartered
Courgette, diced in thick circles, then halved so you have semi-circles
Carrots, diced diagonally
Cauliflower, cut in small florets
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
A few whole black peppercorns, crushed coarsely (the ready-powered version really doesn’t do it!) 
Spring onion, chopped fine, white part and green part separate
A bayleaf
Salt

In a deep pot, heat 8 cups of water. Add chicken, garlic, white part of spring onion, bayleaf, salt. Simmer on medium heat.
After about 15-18 minutes, start adding the vegetable in order of cooking time. In this case – cabbage, cauliflower and carrots together in first, and after about 6 minutes, mushrooms and courgette.
Add more water if needed, check salt. You want a nice, thin broth, full of flavour.
Once the mushrooms and courgette are in, don’t simmer for more than 1 minute, and take off the heat.
Take the chicken out. Get rid of the skin. Shred the meat in pieces and put it back in the soup.
Serve with pepper and the chopped green part of the spring onion.

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The windows are open

I think I can say it now. It’s summer.

IT. IS. SUMMER.

It’s summer because my toenails are blue.

All my socks are in the drawer.

Chotto-ma went to school in her pyjamas and bedroom slippers today (It’s Pyjama Day)

Our clothes are drying on the clothesline instead of the radiators

Everyone’s eating on pavements. And smiling at strangers.

Our room is all happysillysummery.

The evenings look like mornings.

We decided to move house. (Yeah, it’s our summer thing)

D has a heat rash on his neck (A heat rash. Hear?)

We spent an hour at the V&A, and the cool felt good. (Cool? Good? In England?)

 We had ice-creams and beers by the Serpentine. That felt good too.

We’re sleeping with the windows open at night.

There’s jazz in the park, and hampers on the grass.

And the most that I have cooked lately, are things that cook by themselves.

Sujoc spiced chicken & summer vegetables

It’s a one-dish, so all you do is put it in the oven and let it cook. You read a book. You watch the light outside go from four-o’clock-yellow to six-o’clock-white. And then you take it out. And you sit in the morning-like-evening, with a bottle of chilled Pinot. And you tuck in.

Summer makes me hungry for more. Of everything.

. . . . .

Ingredients ( I used vegetables I had in my kitchen. Feel free to add the ones you have in yours.)

4-6 chicken thighs
8-10 slices of chorizo
2 carrots, diced diagonally
2 potatoes, diced in circles
6-8 plum tomatoes, whole
6-8 shallots, whole
6 cloves garlic, crushed
A sprinkle of raisins
A drizzle of white wine (about 2 tbsp)
1 tsp sujoc (Or, soujok/soujoukh is available in most Middle Eastern shops. If not, the spice is a blend of fenugreek, cumin, garlic, black pepper, paprika, red chilli)
A few springs of basil (I used the fragrant, small-leafed Greek Basil)
Sea salt

Pre-heat your oven at 180 degrees C.
Put everything into an oven proof dish, and mix. Turn the chicken skin-side up. Tuck the chorizo under the vegetables.
Cover with foil, and put it into the oven for an hour-and-a-half.
Take off the foil, and put the dish back into the oven till the chicken is done, and the skin is crispy.