Stick insects are resilient creatures.
One summer I was given the dubious honour of looking after the class stick insects. I took the tank back home, and put it in the corner of a room. Occasionally I’d feed them a few leaves from a privet hedge in the lane. Otherwise the stick insects required as much love and attention as they gave, which wasn’t much really.
This story takes a turn for the worst as I introduce my little sister. Back then, an inquisitive white-haired toddler, who took it upon herself to inspect, and ultimately liberate the stick insects. She took the lid off the tank, mauled a couple and pottered off.
Now, I think the phrase is: ‘like herding cats’. But it should be: ‘like herding stick insects’. At least you can easily spot cats. And being able to see something is surely the first step to herding it. Everyone was on edge for the next few days, as stick insects cropped up when we were least expecting it. I’m really not making it up when I tell you that I sat down for a piano lesson, lifted the lid – and there was one waltzing up and down the keys.
It was about two weeks since the stick insects had been liberated. We figured that they’d either been rescued, or met an untimely death. Either way, a little like Joe Simpson in Touching the Void, we really thought that that chapter had closed – that the time had passed for any to remerge and crawl toward us.
It was a Sunday morning. Mum was peeling apples for a crumble, and my Great Grandma Grete was sat at the kitchen table. She was nearing one hundred years old, and still spoke with an almost-incomprehensible Austro-Hungarian accent, despite fleeing Czechoslovakia decades before, during the Second World War. Her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. And it wasn’t good to start with – I know this, because I remember her telling me that her parents pierced her ears as a child because it was thought to help bad eyesight back then.
“Carol” she said to my mum. “You have dropped a piece of zee apfel peel”, pointing a finger at an astoundingly resilient stick insect which was limping across the kitchen table. Extraordinary.
It makes me laugh to think of it. Except for one memorable trip to an eat-all-you-can Chinese buffet, my main memories of Great Grandma Grete revolve around her seated at the kitchen table, chipping into family life. I particularly remember her ability to pick a chicken carcass. After a Sunday lunch, she would sit with the remnants of the roast on one plate, and an empty bowl next to it, which she’d quickly and deftly fill with the scraps of chicken which had been left on the bone. Her old fingers worked away, until the skeleton was as clean as a whistle. These, I suppose, are the sort of skills people develop when they’ve survived a world war. A deeply humbling thought.
This Sunday, Thomas and I cooked a little roast chicken. After lunch, I picked the leftover meat off the carcass, and put the bones in a stockpot. By the time it got to tea time, we had a couple of litres of lovely stock. I used it to cook a pearl barley broth, and added the leftover vegetables. Sure, it didn’t taste totally dissimilar to Sunday lunch – but then I’m not one to complain of anything that resembles double-roast.
[For variations, or other flavours ideas see my 'Tips' below.]
Sunday Lunch Pearl Barley Broth
1 onion, diced
65g pearl barley, rinsed under the tap
1.5 litre chicken stock
1. Heat some oil in a casserole dish, and cook the onion on a low-medium heat, until they begin to turn translucent.
2. Stir the pearl barley with the onion for 20 seconds or so. Pour the chicken stock over it all.
3. Bring the stock up to a gentle simmer, and let it softly bubble away – with the lid off – for 35 minutes.
If the broth starts to look a bit dry, then add some more chicken stock, or a slosh of hot water. Ideally, you want to be left with something which has the texture of a wet-risotto.
4. A few minutes before you’re ready to go, add the leftover Sunday Lunch ingredients, and make sure that they’re fully heated-through before serving.
5. Top with freshly cracked black pepper.
Notes on making chicken stock
If you’ve never made stock, do give it a go. Put the remnants of a Sunday roast chicken in a stock pot, and fill with 2-3 litres of water. If you have any carrot tops, onions, whole peppercorns, bay leaves or rosemary to hand, add these for extra flavour. Bring to the boil, and then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Let it cook like this, covered, for 1.5 hours. If it gets a bit dry, then do add some more water. Strain. Now use to cook with, or freeze.
Nb. If you’re used to stock cubes, you’ll notice that these are far saltier than homemade stock, so make sure that you season well.
- This Sunday lunch recipe uses chicken, but it works well with leftovers from a lamb or beef Sunday roast. Lamb stock, lamb, pearl barley and carrots is a particularly delicious combination, especially if you stir in a tablespoon of ras el hanout spice mix with the onions before adding the stock.
- When you’re picking leftover Sunday lunch ingredients, exercise a bit of common sense.
- If you have leftover whole-roasted carrots, then dice them before adding to the broth.
- Roast potatoes are a controversial choice, because it means double-carb with pearl barley and roast potatoes. If you use them, then dice first – don’t just chuck in the whole tattie.
- If you have any leftovers which are already dark green and wilted eg. Mange tout, then perhaps they’re better in the bin rather than dragging down an otherwise tasty leftovers dish . Instead, chuck in some frozen peas for some more fresh-looking greens.
- I said that you should aim for a ‘wet risotto’ consistency. This is, of course, entirely down to personal preference. If you prefer more of a Scotch Both-style soup, then simply add more stock. It’ll eke it out further too.
- If you have any celery in the fridge, then add with the onion at the start of the dish. It adds a delicious richness.
- One of two tablespoons of cream is also a delicious thing to add to the stock.