Saturday, January 4

Leftover Vegetable Soup

I love making soup!

I think soup is the best thing about winter. It is amazing how leftovers can be transformed into warming bowls of yumminess with the addition of a bit of stock, softened onions/garlic and a quick blend together. Quite often H will have made a vegetable dish one day with a portion left over which, with a few simple additions, makes a quick and easy soup.

1. Start with your 'base'. For some people it's just garlic in oil, others use butter, I like chopped onions (half for one person, a whole for two people) and crushed garlic softened in olive oil.

2. Vegetables. The magic of vegetables, especially left over vegetables (E.g. mash potato or yesterday's side dish), is that most of them will work together in a soup! I recommend no more than three vegetables otherwise it just gets to busy. If in doubt, just Google the vegetables you have in the cupboard/fridge with the words 'soup recipe' and see what comes up! I normally end up combining a root veg (e.g. carrot, potato) with one or two vine vegetables (e.g. tomato, pepper, or courgette). Just add them to the base for a bit to either soften (if fresh) or to heat through (if a leftover). Now is the time to add any spices/flavourings, like salt, pepper or chili pepper but these are always optional and depends on the vegetables.

3. Boiling water: add the quantity you need for the thickness you want. I usually measure out the water with the bowl I'll use to serve it in, filling it to the amount I would serve (doing so once for one person, twice for two people etc.). You can always reduce it by simmering for longer, or add more later. I usually add one stock cube per person too to add a bit of extra flavour/saltiness, a vegetable stock is my go to.

4. Blend. Once the veg has been simmering for a while, 10-20 mins or so depending on the quantity and whether the ingredients are fresh or not, take it off the heat and blend away. I find the easiest thing to blend with is a good old hand held blender as it's quick and easy to clean. Of course you don't have to blend it, you can serve it as it is.

5. Cream (optional). If you did blend your soup and feel luxurious, stir in a bit of cream, or sour cream, and heat it back through slightly before serving. I find tomato soups, carrot soups, broccoli soups, pepper soups and of course mushroom soups taste good with a bit of cream!

Soups are usually really good the day after too as they have had time to thicken. You can change up a soup by adding a bit of spice, e.g. paprika, chili pepper or a mixed spice combination for bhryani, or by blending a soup that you ate 'chunky' originally.


Saturday, September 28

Recent Recipes

Every so often I get my bake on, or I have to be creative with meals to use what's in the fridge or cupboard.

I have always loved cottage cheese, ever since I was young. This recipe stopped me eating the whole pot in one go! I halved the quantities which made six, the perfect amount for H and I. 

After getting home after an 11-hour working day, I typed in 'bresaola gorgonzola recipes' into my search engine and found this recipe. The only thing is I highly recommend reserving it for lunch, especially if you are sensitive to cheese before bed, as I had the worst nightmare I've had in a long time the night I ate it! Still, it is very yummy and very quick as everything can be prepared in the time it takes to boil the spaghetti (I'm afraid English readers will need to translate it).

Finally, H wanted a cake, a chocolate cake, so, with only semolina or chickpea flour left in big quantities in the cupboard, I went with this recipe. Quick, easy and a good option for when there are no eggs in the house!

Sunday, September 1

Today I steam-cleaned my parrot

Puppets...every teacher's best friend. 

When I lived in London my Mum and I visited Kew Gardens, she even tackled the tree-top trail there. After looking around, and posing with the griffins (as mentioned in this Ralph Mctell song), we pottered around the souvenir shop. It was there that I found Louie.

Louie is a blue and yellow macaw who I think is about nine years old. He got his name shortly after I purchased him as when we were sitting on a bench just outside the souvenir shop, with my then parrot puppet on my hand 'kawing', a boy with a dinosaur head on a stick (like this) came and had a 'battle' with the puppet, laughing. It wasn't long until the boy's mother was calling him furiously and he trampled across the flower bed to join her, much to our amusement. The boy's name had been Louie.

Louie has shown over one hundred children how not to behave: he has 'eaten' and 'bitten' things that you shouldn't, like shoes and mud and spoons and hands; he has hit things, and pulled things and hidden things; but, he has also refused to do things until a room is completely silent; he has refused to play with children that wouldn't sit still; he has sat attentively with children who listened to others; he has helped children count chorusly in 10's by being swung by his feet. Oh the fun he's had! 

Louie now has a girlfriend, Cluey. She is a blackbird of sorts, a new arrival to my puppet team - Louie plus Fredrick the Cat (who has gone walk-abouts), Bob the Duck, and Holly the Hedgehog (after this Ralph Mctell song). Cluey is noisy, but nice and although shier than Louie, she won't be seen as much as Louie as she prefers to stay in the puppet bag until the children have demonstrated how to interact with puppets respectfully, she has something Louie doesn't have: a 'kaw'. 

Louie's voice 'ran out' years ago but even so, after a steam and comb through, an upgrade to last year's washing machine cycle, he's preened and ready to meet this year's cohort. Unbeknown to my new class, we will be celebrating his birthday on Thursday (unless I find Fredrick beforehand as it's actually his birthday) and making birthday crowns to celebrate. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, July 2

Random Recipes

Mushrooms, chocolate, almond milk and cornflakes. Ingredients I have used in the last week, not in the same dishes I might add!

H and I went shopping today, the monthly food kind of shopping which spurred us to buy some mushrooms for our dinner, which led us to discover a new recipe. Recipes are something I have recently been searching the internet for. I blame the weather: it is now officially summer, with the temperature in our lounge/dining room usually around 32 degrees celsius, so my go to soup making efforts for dinner are no longer a good go to!

The mushroom recipe I attempted to replicate today, is here: It asks for kale, but I put in four cubes of frozen spinach and simmered the water off a bit more than it said to, and I must say H and I gobbled it up. I had just prepared some cous-cous for my packed lunch so we put it as a base and voila, a decent meal for two with enough left over for my lunch. 

With the heat I crave gelato, which costs money, which I’m trying to save so I can eat gelato during the fast-approaching holidays and not 'willy-nilly' for breakfast, lunch and dinner as my inner child would like. I have, therefore, started exploring ways to use the ice-lolly mould I bought at the end of summer last year with the ingredients I have in the house. Last week I made my first ice-lolly batch with almond milk as a base. After an internet hunt, I found this recipe which I had all the ingredients for, except the cornflour so I just simmered it for a bit: Ridiculously easy and very yummy! (This week’s ice lolly is a simple squash and water concoction!) 

This final recipe came about because in last month’s shopping we bought some supermarket own brand cornflakes that were too thick and went soggy far too quickly when eaten with milk, but they are perfect for chocolate cornflake cakes, quite possibly my favorite thing right now. As I found a 400g bar of cooking chocolate in one of the nearby corner shops I have made two batches of this recipe so far: Good old Tesco! I highly recommend eating these critters straight from the fridge so that they are extra crunchy and cold, a great treat in the heat. 

And there we go, three very random recipes, enjoy!

Sunday, April 14

Things I do since...

...I moved to Italy.

While walking to the metro one Sunday morning, in the rain, with my umbrella, this led me to reflect on how certain actions have become habit since I've lived in Italy. I would have seldom done the equivalent in the UK!

1) use an umbrella

In fact, until a few years ago, I was very anti-umbrella, but now, I do use one. In the UK umbrellas would be at my eye height and cause many problems, add to that how British rain doesn't necessarily fall in a straight line, but can float around, lingering in the air, and so a waterproof jacket was my preferred option. However, rain in Milan falls down in a line, it can be diagonal, or vertical, but a directional line none-the-less. Therefore you can block it with an umbrella with minimal dampness occuring: it's usually just my bag and feet that get wet now when using an umbrella.

2) 'hug' buildings

I use this term in reference once more to a rain defense system. Coupled with the above umbrella usage, it is very effective protection to walk as close to buildings as possible when it is raining. In the UK, the areas I lived in didn't have buikding directly on the pavement, but front gardens or low walls, both useless in protecting people from the rain. 

3) use the colon in sentences 

I must admit, I never really knew what a colon did in a sentence: turns out it adds extra information! From what I now understand it can be used like a connective/conjunction and I only know this because in written Italian, it's used more than I experienced in written English. In fact Italian paragraphs can generally be one sentence that is divided up using colons, commas and lots of words, rather than the three sentence paragraph I learnt to write for essays.

4) say "no problem" 

...or "my pleasure" or "no worries" or "you're welcome"...these are terms that have one word in Italian, the infamous prego. I say "no problem" at school after someone says thank you to me that the children in my class have picked it up too (a good thing). Yet I never used to say forms of "no problem" this much in the UK.

I'm sure there are more things I've picked up, but living them I don't notice!

Monday, January 28

Crochet and a Post Office

I am a big fan of crochet, it's one of my stress busters and it can make things so much faster than knitting.

Today has been a regular Monday at work, it was after work that leads me to a blog post: I managed to complete two rows of a crocheted gift (76 double crochets and 76 single crochets for those of you interested), tie off the loose ends, and pack it into a jiffy bag in the time it took six numbers to roll past at the post office. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

There was a hair raising moment between the numbers 162 and 166 (my number) as numbers 163 and 164 had in fact left the building, with 165 being assumed so too. My heart was racing as I fought with the sellotape to close the packet securely as 164 flashed up, I still had to stick on the address label. I jumped up just as 166 was called with my coat, scarf, bag, jiffy package and purse flailing away but I managed it. By the time I'd refocused on my destination, 'sportello' 5, I saw that 165 was present after all: 165 saved the day!

I headed to the empty counter (sportello 4) where I stuck down the label and copied the address onto it from my phone. It then transpired that number 165, even though appearing quite a pristine, well-prepared client, had just whipped out some items from a holdall that needed packing: he was faffing with his parcel at the counter! Did he not know this irritates cashiers?

Thankfully I was close enough to make eye contact with the cashier and show him my 166 ticket, the number that should be at the counter. He took my jiffy package to be weighed while number 165 continued writing away. I did get reprimanded for not having covered all the writing on the jiffy bag (I recycle them), but the cashier stuck sticky labels over the words anyway. Last time I posted something at the post office I was reprimanded for having used envelopes that were too small, and therefore cost twice as much: it seems you can't get anything right at that place no matter how prepqred you think you are.

Anyway, the crochet gift has made it safely into the postal system and will hopefully be on its way to the recipient soon, with standard postage. It could take weeks, if it arrives at all. If it doesn't arrive it just gives me a reason to crochet another gift. Win, win!

Sunday, October 14

A Summer of Reading

With Autumn on the doorstep, I don't know how much I'll be able to read now I'm back at work so here's a reflection on what I read over the Summer.

I have never read as many books in my Summer as I did this year. Normally it’s one or two books, during the flights here and there, however, as I ended up having five mini holidays I ended up reading eight books in the months of July and August, six of which were between July 26th and August 26th…so…here's what I read...

It started with ‘Il Piccolo Principe’ (The Little Prince) in Italian. For anyone who hasn’t heard of this childhood classic, it is originally written by a French author, Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, and is a lovely dialogue between the narrator and a little prince who elaborates on the different worlds he has been visiting looking for a friend. Each planet has a character, which tells a moral. It’s full of wonderful imagery, and really calls your imagination to wake up! I read that between park breaks and weekends, finishing it on the way to Pescara, I think.

I can’t really remember which book I read next, but I remember taking Oryx and Crake with me to Marseille, finding it really hard to put it down. It is a classic Margaret Atwood science fiction, which creates a world, a few decades ahead of us, with the characters living in a very split world. I won’t say anymore as it's worth a read and enjoyed it because I didn’t have a clue what Oryx and Crake were until reading it. But I will tell you it is the first of the MacAddams trilogy, which I didn’t know until I finished it!

The book I read in the fastest time was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling. As this is a script, it took me roughly two and a half hours one afternoon while H was at work. I enjoyed the quick pace of the story as it gathered the old, well-loved characters together and added their offspring. In particular I found the main storyline focusing on the relationship between Harry and one of his sons well written and a common ‘story’ that I’m sure many parents may fight themselves.

The least enjoyable book of the Summer was Righto Jeeves, one of the many Jeeves series by P.G. Wodehouse. Strangely there was an inscription in the book that said something along the lines of ‘you must read at least one Wodehouse in your lifetime’. I am glad I have indeed done that, but I won’t be picking up another Jeeves book in my lifetime. I found the main character far to idiotic, and the language itself, in it's famous ‘BBC’ English was, for me, unbearable. As a sitcom it works perfectly, but as a book, it was just too much for me.

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life was fantastic! I read the sequel/prequel thing (A God in Ruins) last Summer, and although I enjoyed that book more, I found that Life After Life was a real ‘thinker’ of a book. It was irritating the amount of lives that are in it, but then that is the point. I liked how Atkinson led you through the characters and added more depth and breadth to them each life around.

The last book I read was given to me for my birthday by a friend: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It was a tale inspired by the Bible story of Hosea, with the main character called ‘Micheal Hosea’. I read it very quickly, and actually managed to read each paragraph (I tend to skim read unless I like the book, i.e. I skimmed pages and pages of Righto Jeeves). The main character was set up well, and I felt such a strong connection to her as she struggles to understand emotion after years of having to suppress it. 

I left one book with my brother in England as I finished it while staying with him: A Short Guide to Tractors in the Ukraine by Marina Lewycka. It was the silliest book I read of the Summer as an elderly gentleman marries a much younger Ukrainian woman and the story leads you through the marriage, and subsequent separation by the point of view of one of the daughters. I think that there were some aspects of the storyline I didn’t catch as there were insinuations of situations that led me to reread some passages a few times, but other than that, it was ok.

The book that struck me the most was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hossain. Following the life of a boy and his friend, who live in Afghanistan during turbulent times, the writing was incredible. I am not usually able to read passages of ‘gory details’, but the writing was so poetic and attached me to the characters that I was able to ‘hold on’ to the characters even when they were going through hell. I highly recommend this book as it really is emotional yet eye opening to what I imagine is still happening in some parts of the world.

Out of the books I read I’ll be keeping Redeeming Love, Oryx and Crake and The Kite Runner on my shelf until I am ready to part with them, they have left their mark. Whereas the others, except the Harry Potter, will be moving on to any colleagues or the Christmas Fair at church: I don’t like to keep books unless they have really had an impact.

Roll on the Christmas break!