It’s a reasonable question, and the answer is Partly, yes. They had borrowed it from a friend, and taped it onto our family’s reel to reel recorder. Thereafter it was mine.
So after school I walked home with some friends. It was late November and I was having a birthday party. They weren’t organised, expensive celebrations back then. Basically, school friends came to your house, ate whatever food your mum gave them, played with your toys then went home.
It’s worth mentioning here that I didn’t like many of those “school friends”. I preferred the girls who lived in our street. But the unwritten rule was, invite children who score roughly the same marks in exams as yourself.
So we ate our food, then my school friends wanted my toys. I had a better idea. I fetched the reel to reel tape recorder and played The Paul Simon Songbook.
Probably several times.
My school friends found my toys. They ignored me; I ignored them. Bliss.
This week I heard someone on the radio asking what songs are helping us through lockdown. I’m a cynical woman, so I rolled my eyes.
“Hiding in my room, safe within my womb, I touch no-one and no-one touches me”
A hundred and one memories of playing my favourite childhood song, “I Am A Rock”, from my favourite childhood album, “The Paul Simon Songbook“, flooded my mind. It was part of me, a little girl who liked her own company, had no confidence, but loved music and lyrics so much.
Years later the album was rereleased as a CD. I bought it.
It’s 2020, we’re in lockdown due to COVID19, and Paul Simon’s youthful lyrics feel meaningful once again.
Look in your cupboards. You probably have a forgotten packet of dried beans, lentils or broth mix. That’s an excellent meal right there.
Do your beans say Best Before 2011? Ignore! They’ll be fine. You may have to cook them a bit longer, but they don’t go bad. (UNLESS they’re damp. In which case they probably have gone bad, and you’ll need to throw them away)
So you have a packet of beans, lentils, peas, broth mix, and you’re thinking, “Boring!”
Wrong! You’re about to make a tasty main meal or side dish that you’ll love. Let’s begin with lentils as they’re dead easy.
You can buy two types of lentils. Whole and split. A split lentil is what’s inside a whole lentil. It’s that simple. Take the husk off a brown lentil, you’ll find two split red lentils.
Split lentils cook fairly quickly, about half an hour. Whole lentils take a bit longer. You can tell when split lentils are cooked by simply looking. Some completely disintegrate; some look mushy. Whole lentils swell up, but if you’re unsure you only have to bite one – but not while it’s boiling hot!
If you have a pressure cooker, dried beans are a doddle. If not, no problem. They take a while but only need keeping an eye on occasionally. I’ll talk about the stovetop way. If you’re using a pressure cooker reduce the time as per instructions. But please, don’t release the pressure quickly. I have done this and cleaned bits of cooked beans off the ceiling. Let the pressure drop gradually.
Most straightforward of all is in a normal, big pan on the stovetop. Boil beans until soft. This can take between one and two hours, but you can do other things while they cook. Use fewer beans – and a much bigger pan – than your logical brain tells you. They need plenty of water. You can soak them overnight to (slightly) reduce the cooking time. I seldom do. I’m not that well organised. Check on them frequently and add water back to its original level.
Now you can use your cooked beans in stews and curries, in cheese sauce and minestrone. In anything you choose.
Cooked beans freeze well. So if you have a really big pan, boil more than you need today and freeze the rest in portions. My guide to a “portion” of cooked beans is the amount you get in… guess?… a tin of beans! In fact, if you like to reuse and recycle, wash out some tins and freeze your beans in them. Easy storing and measuring right there.
So let’s add a step, making the beans a meal with very little extra work.
You can use bigger beans that take longer to cook, but I suggest trying aduki or mung beans first time.
Heat some oil or butter in a big pan – not too hot – and add your choice of spices, herbs or curry paste. Fry for a few minutes then add some beans. Again, don’t overdo it. They really need space. A layer a couple of centimetres high, over the entire base of the pan, is a good guide. Stir the beans around for a few minutes till they’re fairly hot, then add water.
If you have hot water in a kettle, use that. But cold is fine. It’ll soon heat up. The water should come to about four or five times the height of the beans to start off. Bring to the boil then turn the heat right down. There’s a good chance the water will boil over. My solution is to leave a wooden spoon in the pan, meaning it’s impossible to put the lid right on. Alternatively, don’t bother with a lid at all, but you’ll have to watch the liquid level doesn’t fall too much.
Unlike the plain boiling method, most of the liquid needs to be absorbed into the beans. You don’t want to be draining them. So after 45 minutes remove one bean with a teaspoon, dip it into cold water and bite it. If it’s almost soft, now is the time to adjust seasoning and reduce the liquid to almost none. At this point, don’t walk away! They could burn and you’ll only be having a jam sandwich for dinner.
If the beans are soft, all you need to do is add salt if liked, and turn the heat up slightly until there’s not much liquid left. Now you can add whatever you like to your meal – tinned tomatoes, leftover meat or vegetables, a tin of tuna or anchovies… Or nothing at all. They’ll taste delicious as they are.
If they’re still a bit hard add a little water and test again after fifteen minutes or thereabouts. Once they’re soft, you’re at the seasoning stage above.
Broth Mix – no need tomake broth!
Do you have a bag of this at the back of a cupboard, but no inclination to make Scotch Broth? I know the feeling. But look at it. What do you see? A random muddle of useless coloured things? If you’re like me you will see three side dishes.
Barley, lentils, split peas, and possibly whole peas. If you have a little patience to separate them, you’re on the way to making a tasty meal.
Okay, confession time. See those dinky little peas? I put hem in a small pan with “plenty” of water. I brought them to the boil, got distracted, and burned them. Don’t do that!
Boil the barley until soft, then use as you would any other grain.
I decided the red lentils and yellow split peas should be eaten together. Once cooked, they’re pretty similar. The peas take longer so I simmered them for about twenty minutes, then added the lentils.
If you don’t get many green peas in the mix, keep them in a jam jar and use them another day.
Well I could write so much more. But instead, please ask me any questions that come to mind as you read.
Anne: Are there aspects of the lockdown that are better than you thought?
Isla: This whole situation we are in is so strange and as a teenager myself I am finding it hard.
Are there aspects that are worse than you thought?
It’s a shock from being able to go out with your friends and be free to have fun, to be in what feels like prison.
When lockdown first was put in place, I did panic and worried about what I would do with all this time, but now more so about my exams.
Do you organise your day, or just deal with what turns up?
After a few days I started to relax as it’s out of my control on what’s happening. But I was still finding it hard to keep busy as there was little to do.
About a week in I decided to try and get back into art, so I designed my own unique pair of jeans and then tried some painting designs that I had never done before.
Do you feel more or less anxious than you did when the lockdown started?
At the current moment in time I am actually okay, obviously I’m bored but its manageable. There are some downsides though, for example siblings.
Being stuck with a 6 year old 24/7 really gets to you. Currently we can’t seem to last more than 20 minutes together without arguing.
Have some of your friends lost their jobs?
It’s also very annoying that for many adults there are aspects of work they can do from home, but for most teenagers they can’t do that and many have lost thier jobs as businesses can’t now afford young, less experienced people to be working for them.
Thanks Isla. I’m always interested in your point of view. It helps to see things from a totally different angle.
Self catering holidays when my children were young could have been seriously exhausting. To see me through a fortnight of family life up close, I always took my Enamelware Coffee Pot.
Since we have become so used to filter machines, drip pots, espresso makers and French presses, have we forgotten the simplest method? A jug. So simple you can make coffee anywhere. Even by a campfire.
I love enamelware. I’ve been making coffee in enamelware pots since I was a teenager. It’s so easy, and you need no specialist equipment. If you have ground coffee, boiling water, a pot, and a little bit of patience, you can make delicious coffee any place, any time.
You don’t even need an enamelware pot. An old teapot, a charity shop china coffee pot, even a saucepan with a lid will do. But I’ll always opt for an enamel pot.
Here’s my infallible method:
Put the kettle on to boil. To warm the pot, put a little hot water in it, or run it under the hot tap. At very least don’t use it stone cold. Enamelware will lose heat, so there’s no point in being part of the problem.
Put ground coffee in the pot. Any grind will do. No need to worry – use what you have. Even if it’s very fine or course, we’ll make it work in your pot. If you grind your own coffee, or have the choice when buying it, take a medium grind. The amount of coffee is up to you. First time you make it use the recommended measure. Next time you can add more or less.
Pour almost boiling water over the coffee, but only to just below the spout. Don’t be tempted to add more at this stage. You’ll need space for Step 5. The water should be “off the boil”, that’s to say, not bubbling. So boil the kettle as you gather together what you need. It will be perfect when you use it.
Put the lid on, cover the pot with a tea cosy or a folded tea towel (that’s what I use) and leave for about 5 minutes. Don’t cheat. Listen to a couple of songs, read a short article, chop some vegetables. If you think you’ll get distracted, set a timer. More than five minutes is fine, but if you completely forget about the coffee it will go cold.
Now you have to do some work. You’ll need more boiling water soon, so have that ready. Stir the coffee for a full 2 minutes. It will seem like a long time but keep going. It’s worth the effort. You will see and feel the grains sinking, and the liquid will begin to look clearer. When you’ve stirred all you can, fill the pot to the brim with boiling water, put the lid on, cover, and leave for a few minutes.
Take the lid off and stir again, briefly. Cover and leave for a few more minutes. If you have stirred as instructed, you won’t even need to strain the coffee. Handy if you can’t find that strainer you thought was at the back of a drawer! However if you don’t want to risk the occasional piece of ground coffee sneaking into your cup, strain.
I’m seeing more of my human family than usual – they call it Lockdown. Thank goodness they’re leaving my hair alone!
My favourite thing ever is sitting outdoors in a breeze. I love to feel the wind in my hair. Don’t humans know that cutting my hair = ruining my life? They have zero empathy. I tell them clearly to leave me alone, but do they listen?
Let me keep my fuzzy ears and crinkly beard forever.