I started writing this post about a week ago. Then it got put on hold as life, or rather death, got in the way.
Normally I wouldn’t write about very personal things on this blog; it’s a food blog after all, and people come here for food. But it just felt wrong to publish a new post without marking or acknowledging in some way the passing of my mother-in-law Judith who taught me so much about food.
Judith died last Wednesday and will leave a huge hole in our family in so many ways. She’s the one who taught me the trick to Aga rice, and showed me how easy it is to make soup – I recall the revelatory feeling when during one of our family holidays in France she took one look at what I thought was a sad collection of leftover vegetables and transformed them, with the ease which comes from family cooking for many years, into a truly delicious soup. So this is what proper cooking is really about, I remember thinking.
After my first Sunday lunch at Judith’s house, meat and two veg were never the same again. It is from eating well at Judith’s table that my own values around food developed – the importance of eating as a family, buying the best ingredients you can afford and eating seasonal and locally produced or reared produce whenever you can.
The last time I saw Judith in hospital I told her about having just seen Claudia Roden at the Bath Literature Festival. I was as excited as a school girl. Of course, it turned out that Judith and her husband Tom are actually old friends of hers. I wasn’t surprised.
There is so much more to tell you about Judith. Her family, her career, her art, her love of the countryside and of walking. But this isn’t the right place for a eulogy, people come here to hear about food. So here is the post I started last week.
* * *
There’s been a fair bit of illness in our house in recent months. The girls still have stubborn coughs they can’t shake off. It’s easy to tell when my daughters are genuinely unwell, as they normally have such insatiable appetites, my oldest daughter Jessie in particular. When they say they’re not hungry, you know something’s wrong.
This chicken soup with rice though was one of the few things that did go down well with both girls. My aunt shared some of her tips with me for feeding poorly babies over on Facebook and her suggestion of adding soy sauce and fish sauce to a simple chicken broth provided just the savoury combination of flavours to appeal to wonky tastebuds.
It might also have helped that Jessie has been on at me for ages to make chicken soup with rice. One of our favourite albums to play on car journeys is Really Rosie, Carole King’s brilliant soundtrack from 1975 for an animated short film based on stories by Maurice Sendak, including the fantastic The Sign on Rosie’s Door. There are so many great tracks on this album from the alphabet song Alligators All Around and the counting tune One Was Johnny to the deliciously comical cautionary tale of Pierre, a little boy who finally learns to care when he is eaten by a lion.
Not surprisingly, with our family fascination with food, Chicken Soup with Rice, a song to teach the months of the year, is the one we all love most.
Ideal for using up Sunday lunch leftovers, this simple soup can be made in a matter of minutes from cold roast chicken and homemade stock. And if you don’t have homemade stock, use a really good quality chicken stock cube.
Chicken soup with rice
1 tbsp sunflower oil
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
150g basmati rice
1.5 litres chicken stock
½ tbsp light soy sauce
½ tbsp fish sauce
120g cooked chicken, shredded
2 handfuls frozen peas
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the spring onions for a couple of minutes to soften.
Stir in the rice and cover with the chicken stock. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce and shredded chicken and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 10 minutes until the rice is soft.
Add the frozen peas, bring back to a simmer and cook for a couple more minutes. Serve with love.