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After taking part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, Gastrono-me’s Gemma Simmonite urges us to use the time in lockdown at home to enjoy the curative effects of nature and dishes up the ideal reassuring winter warmer




I’m not mentioning it, I am NOT mentioning it! You will not read one single utterance of the ‘C’ word from me in this article. It feels like it’s all I’ve been forced to write about of late, and all that any of us can talk about, understandably. So, what is it we Brits talk about when we’re desperately trying to skirt around an awkward elephant in the room? The weather of course!

The British have an inherent and barmy preoccupation with the weather. The world may be falling apart, but we can always find an easy segue into discussing the recent appearance of fog or drizzle. So here we go with my weather swerve – I for one am loving this frosty and twice snowy weather we’ve encountered recently. After all, if we have to have a prolonged reason to look out of the window (please note I’m obediently NOT saying why), then we may as well gaze at fields and streets transformed into a veritable Narnia. Each twig and bough looking as if it’s been dusted in icing sugar, and the skies tinted with a pink tinge of promise.

In my family it’s become an obsession to check the snow percentages on our weather app or to watch out for posts on social media showing fortuitous snowfalls of nearby friends and family, and then the ensuing determination of figuring out when our sprinkling will appear. Then the delight when it did finally make its stunning wintery appearance – didn’t it feel like a delicious break from the monotony? I think we all felt the national thrill of a snow day despite their being no formal school or work. But oh, then the mutual disappointment when it lasted barely a day and melted clean away as if it had never been there at all. . .

Comforting Smoky Bacon and Corn Chowder (44212254)
Comforting Smoky Bacon and Corn Chowder  (44212254)

Today, however, I arose to such beautiful sunshine streaming through the windows, the feeling it gave me was practically heady, such was the pre-empting hope of spring’s beautiful arrival. Then it struck me how very dependant we are of small changes at the moment. Changes that would’ve been missed when in competition with everyday life.

Something I try do every year, but sometimes miss due to the demands of a busy restaurant is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, which this year was held over last weekend. I first started doing it some 15 years ago, when I was temporarily home-schooling my seven-year-old daughter in Brighton. I would desperately search out interesting things to do with her every day, just in the same way as many of you are now forced to do. This fantastic initiative was ideal as it sent out free resources and was a great excuse to put the pen down for a spontaneous nature lesson.

How strange that here I am again not home-schooling this time, as my eldest is now in her last year of university. But this year I shared a lovely morning with my younger daughter who would normally be busy at high school dealing with the stresses that Year 11 brings. You can do the birdwatch on your own and the bonus is you won’t feel lonely for very long, or do it with your little ones like I did all those years ago – they will love this ornithological eye spy. The idea is that you pick any day during the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend and simply count the birds you see in your garden, or from your window, for an hour. You then send in your results online or by post, and it aids the RSPB no end, by helping them identify the current challenges faced by wildlife. As I mentioned, there are super printable sheets and posters for identifying your feathery visitors, and it’s simply the loveliest way to spend some time.

We decided to turn it into a family lunch date and sit outside in a quiet spot with a warming flask of soup. I decided to choose this comforting chowder, minus the bacon for me and my daughter, but definitely a double sprinkle for Mike. Its silky creaminess is high on the comfort stakes, so I thought it would be the perfect dish for a chilly birdwatch.

I hope that you enjoy this chowder, perhaps while doing your own birdwatch in your garden, along with all the recipes I’m posting and filming on Gastrono-me’s socials and website. It’s our way of staying in touch with you and a way of sharing a little bit of our restaurant with you.

Please stay safe x

COMFORTING SMOKY BACON AND CORN CHOWDER

(Serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon of olive oil

25g of butter

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

30g plain flour

1 large potato, peeled and cubed

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of fresh thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

½ teaspoon of smoked paprika

1 litre of chicken stock

150ml double cream

400g tinned or frozen sweetcorn – or approximately 4 ears of corn on the cob

6 rashers of streaky smoky bacon, grilled until crispy

Method:

Melt the butter and oil in a large saucepan.

Add the onion and soften, then add the garlic and cook for a minute or two until fragrant.

Add the flour and stir well.

Add the stock, drained sweetcorn, diced potatoes, thyme, smoked paprika, bay leaf, and season well with salt and black pepper.

Let simmer for approximately 20 mins, or until the potatoes are just tender.

like to reserve some of the soup for texture instead of blending all of it, if wished separate approximately a fifth of the soup at this stage. Remove the bay leaf and allow to cool slightly.

Pour the cooled soup into the blender and blitz until smooth or use a hand blender.

Pour the blended soup, the reserved chunky soup back into the pan and add the cream. If at this stage it’s still a little thick, you can add a little more stock.

Add the cooked crispy bacon.

To finish, sprinkle with snipped chives, and freshly ground black pepper.

Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Call 01284 277980

See gastrono-me.co.uk