"After yesterday's darkness and self-indulgence, I open the kitchen door to find the garden refreshed after the rain. The air is suddenly sweet and clean, you can smell the soil, and the ivy and yew are shining bright. The dead leaves are blown away, the sky clear and white. There is a new energy and I want to cook again ...
"My energy and curiosity may be renewed but the larder isn't. There is probably less food in the house than there has ever been. I trudge out to buy a few chicken pieces and a bag of winter greens to make a soup with the spices and noodles I have in the cupboard. What ends up as dinner is clear, bright, and life-enhancing. It has vitality (that's the greens), warmth (ginger, cinnamon) and it is economical and sustaining, too. I suddenly feel ready for anything the new year might throw at me." — Nigel Slater
The quote above was taken from a volume of Nigel Slater's kitchen diaries titled Notes from the Larder (10 Speed Press) and was written on January 6th, the Christian feast day of Epiphany which marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Of course, you don't have to be a religious person to note the end of holidays or feel the effects of transitioning from the hurly-burly of celebration to the bare, simple days of early January. Many of us are a little bedraggled and bewildered right now: who doesn't need a little encouragement to cook again after all that indulgence? In this quote, Nigel Slater leads us away from brooding darkness and bare cupboards and offers up the possibility of energy, curiosity and resilience, which is exactly what we need to turn towards the bright, shiny new year.
Nigel's soup is a basic chicken broth simmered with a whole star anise, a few black peppercorns, a half cinnamon stick, and some ginger coins. It is served in a shallow bowl with cooked rice noodles and a handful of wilted winter greens. Simple enough. If you don't have any broth on hand, you can simmer some chicken pieces (Nigel used a few wings) in water along with the spices for a half an hour or so. A few basil leaves is the final garnish, but only if you happen to have some around.
But you don't necessarily need to copy this particular soup. Whatever dish you can bring together with relative ease will do. Just choose one that feels warming, nourishing, and full of vitality. Don't fuss, don't stress: just cook.