quinoa soup heroAre you in a cooking rut? Do you need something to mix up the midweek staples? Do you have a can or two of black beans in the pantry that you should put to use (and don’t fancy making this old favourite of a chocolate cake?)  If so, I think I can help. This pressure cooker/slow cooker friendly, blurble-on-the-stove-for-a-few-hours friendly one-pot-wonder is what you’re looking for. It’s mildly spiced with Mexican aromas (so mild that even my baby ate it), but can easily be punched up at the table for those who like a bit more excitement in their bowl. It’s warm and soft and all those good things.  It’s packed with protein (beans, quinoa, chicken breast etc), but also is a great host for a riot of veg on top. This dish is all about the garnishes- so if half the fun of Taco-Tuesday is getting to choose your own adventure (or that’s one way to get your kids enthused about their supper), then lay out all the options. I’ve gone for diced avocado, crumbled feta cheese, pepitas, coriander and fresh corn, but diced peppers and tomatoes or corn chips would also go well.  If you’re very busy and important and need the recipe, stat, then skip straight to the matching image at the bottom of the page. If you have time for a little prattle and some endorsements, read on.

So; first up. It’s been a while. Confession; I fell into a cooking rut. Deep into the ditch of it all. There wasn’t much that was coming out of my kitchen that was novel or interesting. I could blame it on the fact that my offspring thrive on familiarity and routine and one of them will still only eat the diet of a miniature sumo warrior (miso, salmon, avocado, rice, broth, fruit. Oh and pizza. And a rolled French omelette when gilded with kecap manis sweet soy. But only a rolled French omelette. Not scrambled eggs. Cue me desperately trying to find a youtube video explaining the process of making a rolled French omelette on date afternoon to send to our Argentinean babysitter after he roundly rejected her version of eggs. God help us all).

It’s hard to be enthused about cooking when you’re cooking for tricky, picky audiences, or for yourself.  There were a lot of nights in the past few months of ‘seared protein of choice, greens cooked in broth, with quick pickled onions’, plus red wine. Copy, paste, repeat.

Cooking lost a lot of its allure for me. It just became another one of the rather thankless domestic tasks, something that by rote had to be completed by the end of the day, another station of the motherhood cross, often performed with one child whinging and the other clinging to my shin. I once heard someone ironically refer to the kind of basic snack they make out of necessity for for a complaining child as a ‘hateburger’. It’s sandwich slinging, plain pasta boiling, toasted ham and cheese making, carrot peeling, brown bit of avocado removing, apple slicing monotony and it is a real thief of joy.

And by god, I’m writing this from a lofted position of someone who has made food my profession, my delight, who can perform those tasks with some sort of ease and efficiency. So I can only imagine how grating the whole night-after-night, day after day process must be for those who don’t have any affinity for food in the first place. (Mum, please accept my gratitude and apologies for all those years of service).

So, how did I get some mojo back?

Well, I forgave myself for a while. I removed the pressure to be interesting (and by default, post here). I just saw the season for what it was and hoped it would pass like inclement weather. Which in some part, it did. I put more of my mother-love into other bits of the day; assembling lego kits, jaunts to the zoo, trips to the library, starting to read chapter books and there were more nights of smashed avocado on corn crackers and rolled omelettes for all. The fun started coming back with company. We reinstated occasional Friday night pizza parties with Will’s friends. I try not to be too horrified when he insists on putting blueberries on his ham and cheese pizza, with the six veg, pear and pulse sauce .

And I’m forcing myself out of my comfort zone by putting some more creative thought into it. I always respond best to briefs. I’ll pick a protein (or make it vegetarian night) and a region of the world and then encourage myself to come up with something new derived from those two variables. It’s like scattergories for food.  So next time you ask one of your nearest and dearest what they want for dinner and they say ‘NOTHING’ or ‘I DON’T KNOW’ you could get them to do the same. Spin the wheel and see what comes out. Vietnamese Pork! French Beef! Italian Chicken! Vegetarian Indian! Southern Fish! British Lamb!

Or you could just say ‘well, fix your own gosh darn dinner then’.

Here are a few other things that are going on.

Reading: I’m half way through Meg Worlitzer’s ‘The Female Persuasion’ and loving it. (Evie’s pretty keen too). 

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Loving: There is a new pastry and coffee shop in one of the laneways of Manly Corso that is a dangerous addition. Rollers has filled croissants that rotate whimsical, indulgent flavours and the coffee is good.  One of the folks behind it is Bo Hinzack, who was my favourite barista at Showbox Coffee (another great spot in Manly). On Sunday morning we made a family trip and had to hide the croissants from Evie (so mean of us). Will got a croissant with peanut butter crème patisserie and raspberry gel baked in its belly, I went with the ham, cheese, seeded mustard and pickle and the Hungry One got stuck into a dark chocolate and coconut bear claw. None of us regretted it.
https://www.facebook.com/rollersbakehouse/

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Writing: This profile on sea changers Clare Marshall and Stuart McLaughlin and their transition from being directors in advertising, to living their best life on the south coast of NSW and running the innovative kids educational toy company Curious Columbus. If you’re tempted to pull the rip cord on your city life, it’ll definitely help give you a kick a long. See here.  (nb, if you’re after a unique and adorable present for a small person in your life, or need something to keep the kids occupied on a long car or plane trip, check out their stock, in particular their ‘My Big Day’ kits. https://www.curiouscolumbuskids.com/)

Also this piece for Harris Farm on some ancient grains that should be new friends. The amaranth harira soup is a cracker of a recipe. See here

Listening: I’m still on the train of the MasterClasses. There is some terrific content here (Margaret Atwood just launched hers!)  even if some of the assumptions of the male presenters on the way that people other than themselves would be able to exercise their creativity makes you want to bash your head against the kitchen sink. Why yes, David Mamet; leisure is a universal essential for good writing (SAID NO WORKING WRITING MOTHER EVER).  Or perhaps consider James Patterson, who insists that to be a real writer you have to write, everyday (can you imagine the luxury of that?) It just makes me recall the way celebrated Australian author Ruth Park produced her novels; on the ironing board in her house, because the desk was reserved for her husband, who did the ‘real’ writing. Or Glennon Doyle, who woke at 4 am each day to write before her children woke to work in the dark of her wardrobe (only problem being with the hours many/my children keep, you’d get in 30 minutes). Thank god for the Shonda Rhymes’ MasterClass, where she gives great advice, like investing in a pair of noise cancelling headphones, which have become her anchor for productivity. As soon as she puts them on- even if it’s outside her children’s classrooms while she’s waiting for pick up she knows she’s in the zone to write things like the scripts for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. As the author Bec Sparrow said; ‘most mother’s write in the hemlines of the day’.

Watching: Condor on Stan. It’s a tense CIA thriller, based on the novel ‘Six Days of the Condor’.  It’s got William Hurt in it. I would watch him fold his laundry, even today. If you liked ‘The Night Manager’ you’ll probably get a similar kick out of this.

Learning: We still don’t know if Evie is allergic to wheat as well as dairy. We went to Evie’s 18 month check up and vaccinations and it turns out there’s a difference between a big tummy and a (concerned voice) Big Tummy. Luckily after a barrage of other tests we’ve ruled out more sinister things, but we’re still struggling to get a blood test done to confirm the rest. Today we’re heading to the Kids Hospital for our third try of finding a tiny vein on her well-covered-with-flesh arms to draw blood from. Wish us luck please.  

Loving: If you’re having a crummy day, please just search Instagram for #hedghogsofInstagram . 

Black Bean, Chicken, Chorizo and Quinoa Mexican Soup

quinoa soup hero

Shopping/foraging

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1 chorizo sausage, skin off and crumbled, or if cured, finely chopped
2 large chicken breasts
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dry oregano
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 cup quinoa
1 x 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
2 x 400 g tins of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp chipotle chilli in adobo (you can always add more later)
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 ear of corn
3 cups of chicken broth
Salt to taste
Lime segments to serve

Optional: chopped kale to fold through at the end if you feel like you could do with some greens. 

Garnishes: fresh coriander, crumbled feta cheese, pumpkin seeds/pepitas, crumbled corn chips, diced avocado, diced peppers, diced tomato (choose your adventure. 

Here’s how we roll

Take a pressure cooker, or slow cooker. Turn it on. Add all of the ingredients, except for the corn and lime. Turn the pressure cooker on, seal the valve and cook for 18 minutes and allow to come back to pressure on its own. If you want to put it in the slow cooker then it should be ready in 6 hours on low or 3 hours on high.

Remove the chicken breasts and shred with two forks. Then return to the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add more chilli or salt if you want. 

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Serve with any garnishes you like on top. If you cook out some of the liquid it also makes great fillings for enchiladas or burritos.