Lunch During Lockdown (or yes, godsdammit, it’s soup again)

A level of routine is, as any fule kno, essential to getting through the long haul at home without going completely cuckoo-lala crazy. As a gentleman of a furloughed persuasion, I am led in that routine by TLC, who works from home and therefore finds her days filled with meaning and purpose (and endless Teams sessions and slow-loading document uploads and all the other pitfalls and nightmares surrounding the transition to domiciled employment).

Therefore, no lollygagging in bed. As TLC showers, I am making tea. As she breakfasts, I shower. A brace of coffees as she hits the network. Then I leave her to it, and start considering the next big event of the day—lunch.

Well, ok, there are other things to do. General housework activity. A spot of morning TV (Daily Kitchen Live, which apparently finishes this week THANKS BBC) and a designated hour of gardeneering. This generally counts as my exercise for the day as well as a fine excuse to get all the swearing out of the way at once as I wrestle with brambles and weeds at the wild end of the plot.

But come half-twelve I need to have a plan in action. A hungry TLC, especially a hungry TLC after a morning of video-conferencing, needs the placating hug of a good lunch (as well as a placating hug from her husband but let’s be clear on priorities here, it’s food first).

Let us consider the concept of lunch. In some cultures, especially once we hit warmer climes, lunch can be a languorous, gently-paced affair with perhaps time for a snooze before returning to work. This model, although it sounds pleasant, is also the key to extended working hours and, perversely, less sleep. In Spain, fewer and fewer workers take siestas, particularly those that are employed by companies with a multinational presence. Why would you want your workforce to be unavailable for most of the afternoon?

For we Northern Europeans, lunch is a much more snatch-and-grab option. So many of us eat at our desks now. The notion here is a quick refuel, often with emails still open, hovering in front of you. That’s not nutrition. That’s not nurturing.

When it comes to lunchtime with TLC, I make damn sure both options are baked into the offering. We sit to table, with a view of the garden and some gentle music on the Sonos. It’s important, quality time and I’m not going to waste it. She deserves a decent break and a good meal.

So what’s on offer? I am not, it has to be said, a fan of salad for lunch. It’s virtuous enough and filling when paired with grains and some protein, but—oh, I dunno, it just doesn’t tick my box in the way that a big fat sammich does. Plop a tuna melt or a turkey club in front of me (side of crisps) and I’m a happy bunny. Bread does, I have to confess, feature quite strongly at lunch time—the aforementioned melts, even a simple cheese on toast can be satisfying if you use good cheese and good bread. More on that in a mo.

It’s important to note, though, that lunchtime is not an unending presentation of stuff-on-bread. The other primary concern for me when it comes to lunch is variety. I don’t want TLC to get bored with what’s on offer. At the same time, I need to be able to rustle up something interesting for lunch and dinner. Therefore, quite often the two will combine, with elements of last night’s repast retasked for the lunchtime pause. Chili and rice go into a burrito. Left-over mash becomes fritters. Left over veg can go into a frittata.

And then there’s soup. The saviour of the busy* man-about-the-house. Let me take you through one I served up recently, that also gives an example of the frugal eating we’re all fans of these days. This one is a proper back of the store-cupboard special.

I have a pack of mixed beans and pulses I picked up from TK Maxx on a whim (I mean, who goes there for the clothes? It’s the home of esoteric pasta, strange-shaped bottles of olive oil and flavored coffees, right?) Lentils, barley, split peas, that sorta thing. Cooks in half an hour, according to the pack. I put the claim to the test, simmering them in a litre of stock… ok, Marigold bouillon powder and water, but that stuff is genuinely delicious and a real life-saver.

Rooting in the fridge for the remnants of Geo-Cafe’s last veg box brought up some cabbage (savoy and white), celery and a carrot. These were shredded up using a mandolin. Rob recommends you always use the guard when using a mandolin. Rob bears the scars for ignoring his own recommendations. Anyway. Veg prepped.

After half an hour the pulses were, remarkably, about done. In went the veg (I could have also thrown in mushrooms and maybe a little fennel, but I felt there was enough going on). Also joining the fray, a small packet of gluten-free ditalini that came from gods only knows where. Five minute simmer to cook the pasta and soften the veg. Done.

Served with the last of a sourdough that Vegivores sent us by accident, warmed through on the griddle. Some Parmesan on top. Lunch is served.

There was enough for the following day, for which I added some tomato sauce I’d made earlier in the week, some red kidney beans and a little chili spice. Dollop of sour cream and coriander over the top. And I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t slice up a couple of tortilla wraps, sprinkle with oil and bake while the soup was heating. Easy peasy tortilla chips, yo.

Meanwhile, the culinary adventure continues. I’m baking, of course. I mean, everyone’s baking now, but as the proud owner of a twenty-year-old Panasonic bread machine it’s kinda nice to see how everyone’s catching up. Now, if you could just leave me the odd bag of flour, that would be great.

That being said, when you’re forced to snag what flour you can, the expansion of one’s culinary repertoire inevitably follows. I don’t have the patience for sourdough, and with Geo doing such excellent bread, why should I? But baking with spelt flour has been a delicious revelation and finally forced me to dig out the proving basket I picked up cheaply back in 2018. You want Instagram worthy? I’ll give you Instagram worthy…

I know, right?

Speaking of culinary reinvention, we seem to be eating a lot less meat these days. It’s not even a conscious decision, and it’s not as if we don’t have a freezer full of lamb mince and pork shoulder and bacon and sausages. It’s just, this is how I’m cooking now. This is how we’re eating. Meat is on the menu maybe twice a week. It’s just simpler being vegequarian. I just wish the Ready Tasty chippy on the Henley Road was open. I could really go for a big fat haddock chips and savaloy (don’t you judge me) right about now.

Mind you, I see The Last Crumb are offering their filthy yummy burgers on Deliveroo. You know what? I might let someone else cook tonight. I can figure lunch out tomorrow.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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