Home cooking, quarantine style

Isolation – It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Weeks on end stuck at home, unable to delight in my favourite marmite, schlossenberg and spring onion pastry from Pophams, accompanied by a posh coffee. No ramen from Tonkotsu, or hunting down new places to find fresh pasta. No languid Sunday brunches with friends; poached eggs and avocado on toast, a side of halloumi and a mimosa or Bloody Mary depending on the previous evening.

Excessive deliveries were out thanks to my furlough a few weeks previously, and an unfortunate lack of funds. So I made the odd omelette and dispiritedly threw store bought pesto and shredded cheese on spaghetti. Then something magical happened. Veg boxes began to pop up in my insta feed. Of course I realise that this had existed long before, but I had never paid much attention. I was so busy chasing the next place to experience that I had forgotten to embrace the joy I could create cooking at home.

I decided to order a produce box from Detox Kitchen on a Sunday and it arrived promptly on Monday. I hadn’t felt so excited for a delivery in weeks. There was an abundance of fresh produce, fruit and veg like a rainbow, oat milk, eggs, tinned tomatoes, Borlotti beans and quinoa, a tamarind dressing and white bean mash and peeking from underneath it all, dark chocolate almond cups and recipe cards. Recipe cards are always a thrilling prospect of potential waiting to be discovered.

Red peppers, tomatoes, onion and shallots, Italian tinned tomatoes and eggs, in that moment it could only become one thing, shakshukah. I chopped and watched the peppers sizzle then slowly soften. Add the herbs, and then the liquid until my slightly too small fry pan is full to the brim. Give it a stir and meditate as it slowly reduces to a sticky thickness. Create holes in the mixture and throw in the eggs which have the brightest yellow yolks I have ever seen. Watch the whites get cloudy as they cook from the outside in until they are opaque, yolks just a bit runny in the middle. I serve it with fresh herbs, za’atar and a generous dollop of hommous. I had forgotten how much I love shakshukah, a delicious and easy but nourishing dish and the first time during this period, that I feel satisfied by the experience.

Beets, and carrots, shallots, potatoes, the first thing that came to mind was borscht. The beetroot shredded with the cubed potatoes and carrots, the chicken broth slowly becoming the colour of luxurious red velvet. as I sat down to eat alone at my kitchen table, I felt my much loved and long past grandparents watching over me. I remembered the Friday night dinners when my mum would cook borscht and my grandparent would happily slurp it up, the soup escaping from the spoons and running in thin rivulets down the cracks in their mouths making them look, just like elderly vampires.

I’m out of inspiration, and so I turn to the recipe cards. Quinoa stuffed aubergines. The box had supplied me with quinoa, and an aubergine! I have tomatoes and olives, the necessary herbs. No dried apricots like the recipe calls for but they have included a pomegranate so I can swap that out. The aubergine is seasoned and baked to soften and be scooped out. The flesh combined with the quinoa and tomatoes, roughly chopped mint tossed atop. I Pull the pomegranate apart with my hand and liberate the seeds to add to my aubergine a slightly tart fruity tang. Delicious.

I have another card; Stuffed middle eastern sweet potatoes. Ever the rebel, and patience never being one of my better qualities, I bake the sweet potato in chunks rather than whole, and add to the fried almost translucent red onions the Borlotti beans which are included in the box, rather than the suggested chickpeas which I don’t have. I add a good squeeze of lemon juice and a generous splash of olive oil, za’atar, a handful of mint. I haven’t any tahini as requested so I use hommous instead; turns out I will put hummous on anything and everything. I do still have leftover pomegranate so that goes in too. It is a large pomegranate, which will continue to ‘pimp’ my porridge for days to come.

The next day I pick up an orange, a fruit I rarely eat, but it’s in my house now, and so am I. I pull it apart with my fingers, rip off the pith and slurp at the flesh. It’s fresh and sweet, and very messy. I can appreciate being able to eat it close to my kitchen sink. I’m reminded of how my mum would cut thin slices of orange when she had dinner parties and drown them in a healthy dose of Curacao liqueur. I wonder if it’s too early to have a tipple, it’s still early afternoon. Best to wait a few hours.

I have sticks of rhubarb and green apples. It would be rude not to make a crumble. I chop the rhubarb into chunks and massage the oats brown sugar and butter between my fingers. On the counter top sits two bananas, slightly too far gone, but waiting an extra day to achieve just the right level of brown for me to whip them into the Detox Kitchen’s recipe card version of banana bread with berry compote.

The thing is, learning to cook is lovely, and having beautiful produce to cook with is a real privilege. These few weeks in isolation have for me been an awakening. I’ve been so thankful to be able to stay safely at home and I’ve felt so lucky to have the time and opportunity to learn new things in the kitchen and appreciate the simple things which all too often I overlook. I will definitely order the Detox Kitchen produce box again and delight in doing it.

What I have really come to realise though, through this period of cooking in isolation, is that while beautiful fresh food is an important and cherished part of my life, it isn’t really about what I eat at all. It’s about who I get to share it with.

Check out the Detox boxes and all their other great products here – https://detoxkitchen.co.uk/

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