T.S Eliot may have claimed that April was the cruelest month, but he hadn’t experienced Wellington in early August. By now, the gloss of wearing one’s winter coat and boots has well worn off (especially if you’ve been wearing them since March) and the grimness of rain, wind and more rain is starting to eat away at any joie de vivre you have left. Or maybe that’s just me. I can cope with June (a long weekend, a half-marathon) and July (my birthday, school holidays), but August is rough. Thank goodness for books, binge-watching and bowls of soup accompanied by lavishly buttered baguettes.

Sweetcorn And Kumara Soup

Sweetcorn and kumara soup

After a recent Three Ways With column extolling the virtues of frozen vegetables I had a large bag of frozen sweetcorn taking up valuable room in our tiny freezer. I am emotionally scarred by the frozen vegetables we had to eat at boarding school and the other members of my household are fervently anti-corn campaigners, but I was determined to use it up. This sunshine-y soup is the result.

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely diced

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

600g (1 large) golden or orange kumara, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

3 cups good chicken (or vegetable) stock

3 cups frozen corn kernels

Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 large lemon

A splash of cream

A handful finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onion, garlic and celery, plus a large pinch of sea salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to colour.

Raise the heat slightly, then add the spices and kumara. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to coat the kumara in the onion and spice mixture, then pour in the stock. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the kumara is nearly tender. Add the corn and cook for three minutes.

Remove from the heat and puree (with a stick blender, ordinary blender, or food processor. Don’t try pushing this one through a sieve, you’ll hate yourself – and me.) Return to the pot and add the lemon juice and zest, then taste and season appropriately. Reheat gently until piping hot, then serve in warmed bowls topped with a swirl of cream and a scattering of parsley. Makes about 1.5 litres, freezes well.

What are your tactics for surviving the bleakest month of winter?

The lurgy is upon us all, again. I thought we’d kicked it to the kerb, but it’s back in a slightly morphed form. Everyone I know is sick in some form or other – one of my colleagues told me yesterday that she felt like “little demons were sticking red-hot pokers into me”, which made me feel glad that I haven’t had that symptom yet. I think we all need holidays in the sun, but they seem a bit thin on the ground this year.

Obviously, I am not going to pretend I have the ultimate panacea in my kitchen cupboards, but I can share instructions for a ‘cure’ that mitigates the more common winter virus symptoms (particularly the ones that involve feeling very sorry for oneself).
Cold cure soup
Relax, this doesn’t require a major kitchen assault, just a bit of heating up. You can do this, trust me.

Step 1: When you’ve stumbled to the shops for another box of tissues, toss a tin of chicken soup in your basket too. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it shouldn’t be creamy – simple chicken and vegetable or chicken noodle soups are best. Add a lemon, some chilli flakes and some garlic (of course, if you had these things in your cupboards you might not have gotten sick in the first place, but now’s not the time for a lecture on pantry management). Stumble home again and lie on the sofa to regain your equilibrium.

Step 2: When you’re ready to stand up again, heat the soup to nearly boiling point. Remove it from the heat and add two cloves chopped garlic, the grated zest and juice of the lemon and a good sprinkle of chilli flakes (or chopped fresh chilli). A little chopped parsley boosts the vitamin C content, too. Stir gently and pour into a bowl.

Step 3: Return to the sofa with your healing bowl of soup. Sip slowly, then lie down to rest while it works its magic. Repeat as necessary.

If you’ve passed this stage of the lurgy but still have a nagging cough/sore throat, this thyme tea might help. Anything’s worth a try, right?

I’m sorry, the recent cold snap is all my fault. I was the one who said winter was over; I was the one who ignored the merino tights sale and who figured my daughter’s ever-shrinking raincoat would last out the year. Rest assured I have been paying for my folly. Last weekend, while running in four layers (vest, long-sleeved running top, Icebreaker, rain jacket) plus hat, plus beanie, plus husband’s gloves, all I could do was think about the steaming bowl of porridge I was going to have when I got home and my hands defrosted enough to stir the pot. The temperatures have since returned to double figures (just), but I’m not going to take any chances.

Apple and almond porridge
I find the easiest way to do this on busy mornings is to get it going over low heat and let it bubble away while I get ready for work/chivvy child out of bed/make lunches. If you’re not a morning person, you can start this the night before – just put all the ingredients in a pot and leave it somewhere cold until the morning. In the summer, you can do this and call it bircher muesli. But those days are still a bit too far away to think about, I reckon.

2/3 cup rolled oats
1 apple, grated (include the skin)
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp (a small pinch) ground cloves
a good pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 – 2 1/2 cups almond milk

Put all ingredients in a small pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring often, and cook until thick and ‘ploppy’ (ie, bubbling lazily like a mud pool). Add more almond milk or water if it gets too thick. Serve with the porridge topping of your choice – here it’s Zany Zeus Greek yoghurt, a drizzle of vanilla syrup and a scattering of chopped almonds. Cream and golden syrup are also good options. If it’s a really cold day you can justify cream and Greek yoghurt…

Hope you are keeping at exactly the right temperature, wherever you are in the world.

Today’s Three Ways With… column is all about food waste – using up the stuff you’d normally throw away. While I was thinking about it, I realised I do a lot of food ‘saving’ that’s unconscious. Things aren’t so desperate that I reuse teabags (I remember seeing a posh and terrifying friend of my mother’s doing this and being thoroughly shocked), but I do like to extract maximum value from things.

Leftovers get taken for work lunches, baguette ends are turned into breadcrumbs or crostini, spotty bananas are frozen for smoothies or baking – it’s stuff that seems basic household common sense. But I fear that the very existence of campaigns like Love Food Hate Waste (which I’m proud to support) means that people have lost their way.

I guess if you don’t cook often, or see cooking as a difficult chore, then you’re less likely to think about using up your leftovers. Or, you may be like someone I know who cooks a lot, but over-caters massively and then just chucks stuff in the bin (a long-lost Presbytarian gene means I am morally outraged by this). But it’s not that hard.

If you want to waste less, you need to be mindful right from the start. You need to plan meals to a certain extent, you need to shop with purpose and cook with efficiency. That means, when you get excited by seeing huge bunches of cavolo nero at the shops for $2.50, you need to think on your feet about what you’re going to do with it. In this case, I let it sit in the fridge for a few days, waiting for inspiration to strike. We have a small, ill-designed fridge and it’s fundamentally unsuited to having lots of stuff in it. So, when I realised the cavolo nero was balanced on Sunday night’s leftover roast chicken, something stirred in my brain.

The chicken, stripped of fat and skin, went in the pot, with an onion, a carrot and some limp celery. I covered it with water and an hour or so later, I had a vat of delicious stock. I sauted the rest of the celery, another onion and some garlic in a bit of oil leftover from a jar of sundried tomatoes, added a bowl of cooked quinoa from the fridge, a kumara from the cupboard and the cavolo nero. The stock went in, along with some herbs from the garden and before long ‘nothing’ had turned into soup. We ate half of it on the spot, and the rest went in the freezer. Not complicated, not costly, not wasteful. Why is this stuff dressed up to be difficult?

What’s your favourite way to combat food waste?

Four years ago, not long after my mother died, someone I didn’t know very well left a lemon verbena tree on our doorstep. I found this gesture incredibly touching and kind, not least because my parents’ garden had a huge lemon verbena tree and Mum often made tea from the leaves. I’m not sure if I ever properly thanked her – but Kate, if you’re reading this, I often think of that kindness when I walk past the tree.

The tree has thrived, despite my neglect, but I seldom do anything with the leaves except for the occasional cup of tea. Then, while pottering around in the kitchen a week or so ago, I made this syrup and the whole house smelled like lemon verbena. It was gorgeous.

If you’ve got a lemon verbena tree, make this syrup now to get a dose of that intense lemony sherbet flavour in the depths of winter (or scent your house with it in summer). You can use it in drinks (nice with soda, or with very cold vodka as a kind of martini-ish number), or pour it over vanilla ice cream, or use it in this simple and elegant fruit salad (recipe follows). I’m thinking a lemon verbena sorbet could be next…

Lemon Verbena Syrup

1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 packed cup lemon verbena leaves

Put the water and sugar in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then lower the heat and add the lemon verbena. Let bubble gently for five minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
When the syrup has cooled completely, strain it through a fine sieve into a sterilised bottle or jar. Discard the lemon verbena leaves or use them as a garnish (they will be almost candied). Makes about 1/2 cup.

Simple fruit salad with lemon verbena syrup
2 white-flesh peaches
2 apricots
2 dark-fleshed plums
1 1/2 cups blueberries (or boysenberries)
1/4 cup lemon verbena syrup

Cut all the stonefruit into slim wedges – about eight slices – and put in a bowl. Pour over the syrup and stir gently, then add the berries. This can be done in advance, but I think it’s nicest at room temperature rather than fridge-cold. Serves 4-6.