Soup from scratch

Savour life slowly like a homemade meal

There are days when you just don’t want to go anywhere. The rain is pouring outside, the winds are wrenching branches off the trees; really, it’s simply safer to stay at home. Fast food delivery is out of the question (the poor delivery guy may drown in this deluge); instant noodles smack of desperation.

Oh dear, do we really have to cook a meal from scratch?

Why are we so afraid of cooking unhurriedly and leisurely these days? Are our nerves that frazzled from chasing one deadline after another that we can’t slow down and take stock? (Or make stock, from real animal bones, even.)

It’s about taking the time.

This is why I believe thunderstorms can be a blessing in disguise. It forces us to check our pantry and figure out how to create a meal from raw ingredients. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate five-course menu; a one-pot dish would do. But what works best for a rainy day?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is a steaming hot bowl of soup. I’m Cantonese so I grew up enjoying a bowl of lovingly home-cooked soup with every meal. From watercress with spareribs to kampong chicken with whole cracked peppercorns and garlic cloves still in their skins, soup is an incredibly versatile dish for both amateur and professional cooks to play with all manner of ingredients.

Soup is what our mothers and grandmothers made for us when we were unwell as kids, or to nourish us in the weeks of cramming before final examinations. Soup tastes of simple, unconditional love.

Now that I’m an adult (or as grown-up as the ripe age of 35 ought to make me), soup is still a regular feature at our dining able, albeit an easy version that involves nothing more than placing a whole chicken into a slow cooker, adding water, some root vegetables and various aromatics, covering the lid and waiting.

Convenient and fuss-free, certainly, yet on a day when one is sequestered at home thanks to inclement weather, one is up for more of a challenge. Instead of Cantonese soups, as nutritious and healing as they are, why not attempt something more Western?

When we dine outside, one of our favourite soups is pumpkin soup, if the restaurant has it. I remember having an excellent bowl of this in Milan many years ago: creamy, naturally sweet with a robust heat that must come from ginger. I chatted with the English-speaking chef and he told me the secret was to roast the pumpkins before making the soup.

These days, I prefer my food slightly less sweet, even if the flavour is from the caramelisation during the roasting, and not from added sugar. One way around this, I find, is to add some potatoes; this lightens the sweetness somewhat while its natural starchiness means I can use less cream. (My waistline approves.)

We cook a big pot, so the hearty soup will serve as a simple brunch for two with enough for dinner too. Simply grill some vegetables to accompany the soup (it reheats beautifully) for the evening meal.

Time-staking? Not really, if you prepare ahead and have all the ingredients at hand. Besides, the slow cooking process can be quite meditative, especially on a rainy day with nowhere to go. So, no; it’s not really time-staking. Try timeless.

If there’s one thing I’ve realised over the years, it’s this: good cooking, just like living and loving well, takes time. And it’s worth it.

Sleepless beauty

Getting enough rest can be quite the test

You tell me you have trouble getting to sleep. You’ve been flying too much these past few months. Different time zones mean jetlag; frequent flights mean it’s all but impossible to adapt before you are off again.

I tell you not to try so hard to sleep. Let go and breathe easy. Read a novel. Play Scrabble on Facebook; there’s bound to be some players awake somewhere in the world at the same time.

You worry about the lack of sleep appearing as eye bags and dark circles and early wrinkles. I tell you it doesn’t matter; you can be my sleepless beauty, especially if you don’t snore.

The boy in the café

World Cup mornings and cups of coffee

The café is quiet this morning. Everyone is still sleeping off their World Cup binge. The sunlight has a dreamy glow too, as though the sky had enjoyed the live satellite games also. The coffee tastes smooth and thin today, the way I like it with a slice of cake. There is still much work to do but I can take it slow.

In walks a boy. No, not a boy. This is another regular, a chap a few years younger than me. Usually in office wear and well-pomaded hair, he looks like he has just woken up. Sleepy eyes and bed hair. Tussled and sweet. The boy in the café orders his coffee and chats with the barista.

Laughter and easy smiles. The morning is getting better with every grin captured, softly lodged in my memory. Will I go over to say hi? Let the games begin.