Kitchen zen (+ recipes)
More change is likely to happen between now and 2020 than has occurred over the last 200 years. Every day brings news of some seemingly impossible innovation. Microsoft has made software that beats humans at recognising objects in photos and just recently I read about the launch of a new US$2 billion microchip designed to accelerate artificial intelligence.
Within the next five years, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, biotechnology and nanotechnology will all be as familiar as the web is today. It's hard not to feel fragmented and a little bewildered by the unprecedented pace of change.
One of the insidious things about change is that it pushes us to make decisions faster and faster, creating more and more pressure. So how do we cope? Humans haven't changed, unless you count being more stressed-out as change - although actually we probably should, as stress is largely responsible for the modern plague of burnout and anxiety in the Western world.
It may sound trite, but I find cooking is one of the best ways to unwind from the increasing busy-ness of the day, to get into the moment, and reclaim a sense of rhythm in my life.
In the world of cooking, soup embodies an ideal of comfort and care. The aroma of a pot of soup bubbling away on the stove makes a house feel like a home and a mug of warm broth literally warms us to the core. There's a nostalgia about soup, a reminder of a time when someone was always at home, planning the next meal and dedicated to the nourishment of the household.
Standing at the bench, chopping veges, layering in goodness, stirring and waiting for the rich, welcoming aroma to drift through the house, gives us back our balance and restores a sense of inner calm.
This is where soup becomes a meal - add in beans and/or lentils or starchy veges and a bit of protein and your soup is now officially dinner. Bacon hocks create a rich stock base that forms the backdrop for beans or lentils and veges.
I like to add some smoked chipotles to give this soup a little kick but it's also good without. If using dried beans, start with 1¾ cups dried beans to get about 3½ cups cooked beans. Get the recipe
Simmering vegetables in stock then pureeing is a super simple way to create a fresh full-flavoured soup that's packed with goodness - almost like a smoothie, but hot. I like to add a little cream and parmesan to enrich and carry the flavours.
Instead of parsley and a little lemon oil, you could crumble in blue cheese or feta, or add crunchy toasted sunflower seeds, croutons, gremolata, crispy bacon bits or sour cream mixed with a little pesto. Get the recipe
I love the nutty sweetness and toothsome texture of barley, and the great thing is that no matter how long you cook it, it doesn't fall apart. You could use a cup of lentils or farro instead.
In winter, when I was growing up, my mother would make a big batch of this soup and keep it in big Agee jars in the fridge. After school she would warm up a small potful and pour it into mugs for us. It was something we always looked forward to - and such a smart, healthy option. Get the recipe