Simply Souper! or ‘the day the soup maker arrived…’

As I am sure you have gathered by now, I love to cook, love food and kitchen tools generally.  I am not a complete gadget addict, but occasionally one catches my eye and is great to try.

Years ago it was my slow cooker.  To me it’s a fantastic investment.  I use it all the time, even to slow cook Sunday roast if I’m busy, with amazing gravy base that creates itself.  Wouldn’t be without it.  Would certainly replace it.

I’ve avoided Bread Makers.  Not because I don’t like them, quite the opposite.  I love fresh bread but don’t want to end up doubling in size as a result.

Ice cream makers I do like the idea of.  I can keep my control with a bowl of ice cream.  Unlike a loaf of bread.  So there’s one to try.

The latest thing I keep seeing everywhere and hear glowing reports both online and from my friends is a soup maker.

Now I adore soup.  I am always making it for my family.  It’s delicious, often very healthy and can be so economical.   My toddler loves every soup I’ve made.  Wonderful nutrition for him and so quick when you’re a working Mummy too.

And for dieting.  If you’re in total control of what goes into a soup it can really tasty and filling.  Lots of flavour, so satisfying, but very low in fat.

Of course it’s nice to be decadent too.  In Winter, especially Xmas holidays I make a creamy turkey soup with sage and onion croutons.  Also Broccoli & Cauliflower with Stilton and cream.  I tell you, after a long and freezing walk a hot boil of either is wonderful.  I make sandwiches from crusty white fresh bread spread with butter and filled with ham.  Dunking those is pure bliss.

In Summer, Gazpacho.  So light and lovely dinner party food.  Garlicky greens or Spiced tomatoes, blitzed smooth and served cold with some grilled Ciabatta and olive oil.  Mmmm I’m on holiday…

Isn’t soup comforting.  The smell is like a great big hug.  When I make celery soup I can’t get enough of the aroma in my kitchen.  Pure heaven.  I have recipes from my Mum, Aunt and even Grandma.  From different regions and even countries.  I’ve suddenly realised I really do have a thing about it!

I’ve always made soups the old fashioned way, chop, simmer on stove, blitz with food processor.  This really isn’t hard work at all.  But the other day I was browsing and succumbed.  I ordered a soup maker.  By hunting around there are amazing offers.  My Morphy Richards cost me £30 Inc. delivery.

Anyway.  It arrived.  Oh my I don’t think I’ve unwrapped anything that fast since my Crystal Barbie in 1982!  Such excitement and first impressions didn’t disappoint.  It’s nice and chunky yet compact and wouldn’t look out of place on the work top.  Shame it’s not purple, but you can’t have it all.  It has options for chunky and smooth soups, also juices and makes smoothies, which I know little one and his dad will love.

Well all I wanted to do was try it out.  So I hope my boys are ready for a soup fuelled week.  My first batch was tomato and red pepper.  I’ve made it by hand a million times.  It’s my partners favourite and super (no pun intended) healthy.

I chopped a dozen tomatoes.  One large onion and 2 red peppers.
Added some salt and a good grind of black pepper.
I had some fresh basil so roughly chopped a great big handful.
I de-seeded and chopped 2 mild red chillies.  Gives a little kick.  You can leave them out or add more.
I then added approx. 2 litres of vegetable stock (chicken is lovely to).  Just from stock cubes
I used the smooth setting on the machine and switched on.

While it worked its magic I dug out all my own soup recipes and started typing up some new ones I’ve been dreaming up.   I am salivating thinking about watercress or asparagus.  I adore green soups.  This is such a fun and yummy project.  I’d love to turn it into a book

If you have a favourite soup/recipe you’d like to share I’d love to hear it and happy to credit you and publish it.

Bye for now.  I’m off to chop, cook, blend and savour J

Victoria

xx

NB The image is from one of my favourite stories.  Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

Scent of a Woman… (my life in perfume)

It’s no secret that our sense of smell is an incredibly important part of our memory. Different scents can immediately transport us to a time or place in our lives. Place us with people we’ve loved or lost. We can feel the emotions, happiness, nerves, excitement, fear, longing etc

To me, one of the most powerful memory triggers is perfume. Different perfumes instantly bring to mind people, places, times and events. I can map my life through perfume…

My first ever perfume memory is from Childhood and naturally) my Mum and her bottle of ‘Tweed’. She actually gave it to me in the end for ‘dressing up’ after I wore away at her constantly. Always been a girly girl. I remember always touching the small square glass bottle and thinking my Mum was so amazing and posh because she could wear perfume – without asking! But the smell. So strong, almost after-shave. A really heady and woody kind of scent. I had a sniff recently and it just conjures up my Mum and Dad dressed for the work Xmas dinner and dance. My mum in new dress and lots of make-up. Hair streaked and lots of perfume on. Dad in a tie, only once each year. Much excitement at my cousin Sally coming to baby-sit my sister and I. Being allowed to stay up late and Mum always bringing us back the after dinner mints. Happy and innocent times.

Various Avon perfumes came and went in our house. Moon Wind was a favourite in a glass candle bottle one Christmas. I loved the flowery smell and used to dab it on my wrists when Mum was not looking.

When I reached Middle School I remember being in love for the first time, it was innocent and Playful but required liberally applying ‘Dewberry’ from the Body Shop. It was the thing to wear and so naturally we ALL did. Our classroom must have been like a huge giggling fruit pudding. In our rush for sophistication it was compulsory to perm our hair, wear bright blue eye-liner and ‘iced cham-pink’ lipstick (how do I remember that name). We were a curly, pink, berry-scented army and our goal – the school disco. We learned routines to Mel & Kim’s ‘respectable’ and insisted on slow dances to Berlin’s ‘take my breathe away’. Oh those poor boys…

And so to Upper School. More self conscious days. I was particularly fond of Impulse ‘Gypsy’ (I probably believed the ads). I remember my Mum starting to wear Tresor by Lancome. A beautiful smell. It makes me remember having very long hair and exam leave. Nice times walking the dog, just me and her. During this era my auntie gave me a tiny bottle of Beautiful by Estee Lauder. I loved it and it was my special and rarely used perfume. I also met my first proper boyfriend and spent an incredibly turbulent two years learning about love and heart-break.

Starting work in my very early 20’s I remember Safari by Ralph Lauren. Sadly not made now. A lovely smell in a really big fancy glass bottle. It makes me think of my first job in sales, my favourite bright blue mini-skirt and jacket, my curly perm and gold framed glasses (no prescription – thought I looked clever in meetings!). Hilariously getting a taxi (couldn’t drive yet) to GEC Marconi and winning a 30k order on my own. I knew if I asked for a lift with a senior sales person my glory would be stolen. My sales Manager bought me flowers and praised me.

By night I would wear Ysatis by Givenchy. I tried it again recently and dear good it could strip paint. I remember wearing my hot-pants and dancing all night.

In my later 20’s my job took me to Milton Keynes and I became a Calvin Klein fan. I always wore eternity to work and smelling it now I can just feel my old office and wonderful memories in a job I adored. I was still in love with ‘Beautiful’ (kept for best) I also loved ‘Chance by Chanel’.

In 1998 I got married.  Definitely not the right move for me but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

In my late 20’s Mum bought me Poemme by Lancome for Xmas.  A gorgeous really heady smell and I loved it. But it’s amazing how the sense of smell can bring back feelings of sadness. It’s in my drawer now and one smell brings back the leaves falling, the night’s drawing in, driving to hospital in the half-light and sadly losing my Mum on Sept 10th 2002

In 2003 and 2006 I had my first two little boys. The most beautiful gifts yet the most enormous life change. Oh the wilderness years! I was still reeling from losing my Mum so suddenly. I gave up work and stayed at home full time. I don’t regret that for one second, however it was incredibly lonely. I endured post-natal depression and completely lost myself.
My Dad moved to Cyrprus to start a new life after so much heartache over Mum.  I missed him – and still do – more than words can say.

I gained weight, lived in jeans, t shirts, no make-up except a smidge on a very rare night out. During this time I can recall wearing the dwindling Poemme sometimes. I just can’t wear it now. I would be like spraying on sadness.

Going back to my Mum, when we eventually sorted through her belongings I found the Tresor I’d bought her 8 months previously for her birthday. Unopened and saved ‘for best’. I really cried finding that but it was a life changing moment. I vowed that some things shouldn’t be saved or made to wait for ‘best’. Life is the best. I now wear perfume every day, no matter what I’m doing. I love jewellery, dresses, heels and make-up. Every day I wear some or all of them…just because…

Sadly this black cloud just didn’t lift for me and in 2010 I left my marriage.  Sometimes you just grow apart and such a lot of trauma made me realise life is too short to be so sad.  Mum would have agreed I know.

It was a very tough transition for me, living alone and for some reason just hitting an incredibly black, lonely and poorly few years, crossing paths with too many unkind people.  I have no good memories.

But in 2012 I met John.  Just when I thought I’d never smile again I found the love of my life.  My best friend.

Shortly afterwards John bought me a bottle of ‘Jimmy Choo’  It’s gorgeous and to me highlights the early and bonkers years of our relationship.  One sniff and I recall hot Cyprus fun, hurricanes on lands’ end and late nights listening to music, chatting and snuggling until the sun rose.  John helped me to come alive again.

Then surprise!  In 2015 I found out I was expecting and along came Oliver, my third little boy and our little Angel.  Oliver is amazing and I swear is heaven sent.

We now live in a beautiful little market town.  I have my church, friends, gorgeous cat Smartie and of course John and Oliver.  I am well, happy and working again.  I never thought it possible.  And the Tresor? It’s in a box in my wardrobe. If ever I ‘need’ my Mum I can smell her and it’s a huge comfort.

This is – briefly – my life in perfume. Nowadays I love my Jimmy Choo.  I like Alien by Terry Mugler and if I fancy bathing in something ‘Sparkle’ by next is wonderful and full of shimmer.

But I like to think my signature scent is – and always will be –  Beautiful.

Victoria xx

Flaming June

Flaming Junecatwithumbrella

Well.  What can I say?  Welcome to the Great British Summer peeps.

I walked to work today with tights on again and a warm fluffy jacket.  I have to say the only thing ‘Flaming’ this week is the pilot light for the central heating!

Yesterday was one of those days where the wind is destroying your umbrella.  You can’t even keep your hair dry.  Even Smartie my cat had a duvet day and literally didn’t move for around eight hours!

Last night I felt so chilly all I wanted to do was be cosy.  Then I pondered how sometimes everything can have a Purpose.  A good purpose.  Even a bad weather day on 1st June.  You sometimes need to look for the positives and so I thought great, I’ll make home-made soup with crusty bread, savour in my pyjamas with candles lit and some recipe books to trawl through.  The kind of evening you’d have in November, but so heart-warming if you embrace it.

So I set about my mission.  Grabbing a couple of essentials on my windy walk home I got cosy and then made a gorgeous creamy leak and potato soup with crusty bread.  Leak and Potato soup is hardly ground-breaking.  But my version yesterday was a ‘throw it all together soup’.  And it was an absolute winner.

I pre-heated a big favourite pan with a knob of butter and splodge of olive oil

I had a pan of already cooked Charlotte potatoes – John obviously hadn’t spotted them in the fridge or they’d have vanished J  I chopped these along with two large leaks then finely chopped a big fat white onion.  2 crushed garlic cloves and a big bunch of chopped fresh parsley.  I had some left in the fridge but dried is just as good if not.  Plus a couple of bay leaves.

Everything was added to the pan and given a really good seasoning of salt and pepper.  Left on a low heat I let everything soften gently, about 10 mins.

Now I do love to make bread, but sometimes, after work a good fresh crusty loaf from a 76739_Cobs-Rolls--Wraps-The-Cooperative-Batardsupermarket is more than adequate.  Doesn’t mean you can’t jazz it up though.  I  bought an onion and red Leicester loaf from our local and sliced it almost through (like garlic bread).  I then added a little butter (Clover actually) in each slit.  Sprinkled the top with salt and black pepper, wrapped loosely in foil then put the whole thing in a pre-heated oven, just to warm through.

potato-leek-soup-4

Meanwhile I made a pint of chicken stock (veg is just as good) I use stock pots or cubes.  When the veg was tender, I added this to my mixture and stirred well.  I then added a pint of semi skimmed milk, stirred well and let the whole lot simmer gently and thicken.  I find you don’t need a thickening agent like flour, the potatoes do the job just fine.

Sometimes I love smooth velvety soup.  But today I felt like rustic and chunky.  So instead of blitzing I attacked it with the potato masher.  This thickened and squished it beautifully.  My last thing was to stir in a big dollop of low fat crème fraiche.  Love crème fraiche as it doesn’t split but adds that luxury creaminess.

10 minutes later I had bowls of thick creamy soup with a little leftover parsley and black pepper sprinkled on top.  Alongside hunks of comforting, warm, cheesy bread.

Oh goodness, the smell in my kitchen!

Well if reading this is making you hungry I do apologise.  Who am I kidding?  I’m trying to tempt you all deliberately.  Or is that on ‘Purpose

Happy Cooking!

Victoria