This week is proving to be one where comfort food is very necessary for my sanity. Not just because of the chillier weather and dark evenings.
I wasn’t looking forward to taking our kittens to be castrated this week. Much as I want to prevent them harming themselves in fights and would rather Tiger and Mog didn’t go around the house spraying, watching them romp around blissfully unaware of their forthcoming operation has made me feel guilty.
What I hadn’t reckoned on was that the trip to the vets would be a traumatic experience for me rather than the kittens. Having dropped them off with mixed feelings after the school run, I hoped that I’d get a call to pick them up before school pick-up. I was picking up another lovely but inevitably tired little girl along with Ruby from school and had an inkling that the vets trip may be easier on my own. When I heard the kittens wouldn’t be ready until 4pm, I optimistically decided the girls would like a trip to the vets. I was right, but on the journey there I quickly realised that they were both tired in that crazed/manic way that reception class children often have after school. You know how it is when they’ve used up all their attempting to be good efforts trying hard to be on the gold (or at least silver) zone at school, then they’re picked up and really relax/let rip.
By the time we reached the vets both girls were in dire need of the loo and we made our entrance noisily and desperately. It wasn’t ideal that a computer problem meant we were delayed quite a while in the waiting room. Not for the other unfortunate pet owners anyway. Ruby and I both enjoy the Hairy Maclary book, ‘Rumpus at the Vets’ at bedtime but I hadn’t envisaged re-enacting it. My plea for a quiet journey home for the kittens sake was of course selfishly motivated. Obviously it didn’t work.
Later in the evening I took comfort from the woodburner and found myself reaching for the glass of red wine I’d dreamt of all through the trip to the vets. Chocolate too. But I realized it’s too tempting to do this a bit too frequently on dark evenings. And my tummy is reflecting a tad too much comfort eating.
So I’ve tried to think of comforting food that feels wholesome and frugal, doesn’t take up too much time but is tempting. If the cooking temperature can be fairly imprecise and so it’s easy to cook on the woodburning stove, all the better.
My oatcakes are based on the Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe in River Cottage Everyday, but I add pumpkin seeds. They’re great with a little honey or damson jam for a snack or even with soup. Very quick to rustle up from store cupboard basics, if I’ve run out of bread I find it easier to rustle these up to go with soup or cheese than go to the shop. I’m looking forward to enjoying them with homemade membrillo and cheese. And they make an easy breakfast with marmalade.
I buy organic oats from Suma wholefoods, they’re excellent value for lots of organic and fairtrade dry goods. My recent order included enough rice, oats, pumpkin seeds and lentils to last months and the dried fruit ready for stir up Sunday. It must be my Autumn squirrelling instincts again, but a glance at the jars of wholesome ingredients on my kitchen shelves is very comforting. Even if the cornflakes and rice crispies may be more seaside boarding house.
Lentil soup is a warming favourite for this time of year too. Almost a soup version of an Indian dal, this version is very easy and quick to make, the subtle spices are warming and comforting, and for anybody not wanting to squander calories before Christmas feasting it’s satisfyingly filling.
Lentil Soup with Cumin and Coriander
2 tablespoons olive oil or local rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon each of coriander, turmeric and cumin
350g red lentils, washed
1.2 litres stock (I used ham cooking liquor this time, just as I had it handy and thought the flavour would go well with lentils, but vegetable stock is good too)
400g tinned tomatoes
handful coriander leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook onion in oil for 5 minutes in covered saucepan. Add dried spices and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Add lentils and stock, tinned tomatoes (half fill tomato can with water and add to soup too)cover and bring to boil. Simmer for about 25/30 minutes, add half of the lemon juice, cool a little then puree in liquidiser or hand held blender with the fresh coriander. Season and add extra lemon juice to taste. For extra heat you can garnish with chopped chilli.
This soup freezes well, I make lots and freeze portions for easy lunches.