Friday, 27 December 2019

Fairy Tale Friday--Cinderella Pantomime

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.
From our local panto

Today we look at the Pantomime –that great British Christmas tradition. I have chosen it to follow musicals because a pantomime is an all singing all dancing extravaganza with lots of famous guest stars.

 According to Wikipedia:
A pantomime is a type of musical comedy stage production designed for family entertainment. It was developed in England and is performed throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and (to a lesser extent) in other English-speaking countries, especially during the Christmas and New Year season. Modern pantomime includes songs, gags, slapstick comedy and dancing. It employs gender-crossing actors and combines topical humour with a story more or less based on a well-known fairy tale, fable or folk tale. Pantomime is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.
Pantomime has a long theatrical history in Western culture dating back to classical theatre. It developed partly from the 16th century commedia dell'arte tradition of Italy and other European and British stage traditions, such as 17th century masques and music hall. 

I have chosen to talk about the pantomime because Cinderella is one of the most popular stories performed. So what makes a pantomime a pantomime and how does it differ from a conventional play?

Again, thanks to Wikipedia for this information.

Performance conventions

The form has a number of conventions, some of which have changed or weakened a little over the years, and by no means all of which are obligatory.

The leading male juvenile character is traditionally played by a young woman in male garments (such as breeches). Her romantic partner is usually the principal girl, a female ingénue. NOTE: I have actually only seen one panto like this in the nearly sixteen years that we have lived in the UK.

An older woman (the pantomime dame – often the hero's mother) is usually played by a man in drag. NOTE:  This has been true in every panto we have attended, which is why Cinderella is such good fun—you get two men in drag for the price of one as there are two ugly step sisters.

Risqué double entendre, often wringing innuendo out of perfectly innocent phrases. This is, in theory, over the heads of the children in the audience and is for the entertainment of the adults. NOTE: This is true in every show we have seen along with the most terrible, corny jokes that make me laugh like a donkey.

Audience participation, including calls of "He's behind you!" (or "Look behind you!"), and "Oh, yes it is!" and "Oh, no it isn't!" The audience is always encouraged to hiss the villain and "awwwww" the poor victims, such as the rejected dame, who is usually enamoured with one of the male characters. NOTE: This is the best part. You get to shout at the stage!

Music may be original but is more likely to combine well-known tunes with re-written lyrics. At least one "audience participation" song is traditional: one half of the audience may be challenged to sing "their" chorus louder than the other half. Children in the audience may even be invited on stage to sing along with members of the cast.

The animal, played by an actor in "animal skin" or animal costume. It is often a pantomime horse or cow (though could even be a camel if appropriate to the setting), played by two actors in a single costume, one as the head and front legs, the other as the body and back legs.

The good fairy enters from stage right (from the audience's point of view this is on the left) and the villain enters from stage left (right from the point of view of the audience). This convention goes back to the medieval mystery plays, where the right side of the stage symbolised Heaven and the left side symbolised Hell.

A slapstick comedy routine may be performed, often a decorating or baking scene, with humour based on throwing messy substances. Until the 20th century, British pantomimes often concluded with a harlequinade, a free-standing entertainment of slapstick. Since then, the slapstick has been incorporated into the main body of the show.

At some point during the performance, characters including the Dame and the comic will sit on a bench and sing a cheerful song to forget their fears. The thing they fear, often a ghost, appears behind them, but at first the characters ignore the audience's warnings of danger. The characters soon circle the bench, followed by the ghost, as the audience cries "It's behind you!" One by one, the characters see the ghost and run off, until at last the Dame and the ghost come face to face, whereupon the ghost, frightened by the visage of the Dame, runs away. NOTE: Okay, I was wrong. This is the best bit. It does involve shouting at the actors but also some spooky music and jaunty dancing.  

When you watch a pantomime of Cinderella there are some features that appear in almost every show:
   Cinderella lives at Hardup Hall. Her father has died, and she is awaiting her two stepsisters to come and join her at the dilapidated manor house. The house has fallen into disrepair since the death of her father who died leaving debts.
      A servant named Buttons works at Hardup Hall. He is secretly in love with Cinderella, but she sees him only as a friend. When he comes on stage, he shouts, “Hiya kids!” and you have to shout, “Hiya Buttons!” or something similar. At our local panto, he is called JJ Buttons and he shouts, “Wayhey!” and you reply, “JJ!”

·        The prince and his manservant Dandini swap places so he can venture out in the world without being recognised. In it is in this disguise that he meets Cinderella and the stepsisters who think of him as a servant.
The stepsisters wear increasingly outrageous outfits as the show progresses. In every show we ever seen of Cinderella, they have also picked out a poor man on the front row and flirted with him outrageously.

Cinderella being "tested" by the Good Fairy in disguise to see if she is generous and kind and deserving of help. She is. 
Buttons try to cheer Cinders up by dressing her for the ball with a colander on her head for a crown, 14 carrots on a string for a 14 caret necklace and a clothes horse to pull an imaginary coach before she gets transformed by the Good Fairy.

Real ponies are often used in as a "walk on" to pull Cinderella's coach. (I don't like this bit from an animal welfare standpoint) 

The rest is as you would expect—abuse, redemption, a ball and a slipper, a midnight curfew, and a wedding. The cast is also riddled with famous actors taking the lead roles. At our local panto, they are more local famous people, but famous people nonetheless. 

Here are some scenes from a panto version of Cinderella. It was filmed live for TV and is full of famous faces that sadly my American friends will not recognise, but my British ones will. 

This is an introduction to Cinderella, Buttons and the evil stepmother.

Meeting the ugly stepsisters and the real Dandini. 

Cinderella's "test" (in this one the Good Fairy is played by gay icon Julian Clary) and the Prince and Dandini swap places. 

The Prince in disguise meets Cinderella in the woods, the stepsisters wear some ridiculous outfits, and Cinderella thinks she is prevented from going to the ball.

Buttons tries to cheer Cinders up, the good fairy transforms her rags to a ball gown and a real pony appears to pull her coach. 

At the ball Cinderella and the Prince dance, fall in love and kiss and then she runs away at midnight.

Slapstick with the ugly stepsisters which involves hanging wallpaper. 

Trying on the slipper and a marriage proposal.

That's all for this week, stay tuned next week for a gender bending Cinderella. 

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

What We Ate Wednesday for Christmas

Hello lovelies! Happy holidays to you all!
Image result for happy vegan christmas"
This is my 15th year being vegan and it just gets better and better. Knowing that our Christmas meal is cruelty free makes it even more delicious. Some people think they will feel deprived being a vegan because of "what you have to give up" but really you can count on one hand things you DON'T have and then can count to the moon and back all the scrumptious, healthy (and decadent) things you CAN have. It is truly a win-win situation--for the animals, the planet and your health.

Last night on Christmas eve we ate Christmas Soup by The Happy Pear.  This soup with sweet potato, parsnips and chestnuts topped with cranberries really does taste like ChristmasYou can find the recipe in the video below.

This morning we woke up and I made Sinless Sticky Toffee Pudding for breakfast. This recipe has considerably lower fat and sugar than you would find anywhere and bakes up a treat with gluten free flour. You can find the recipe by clicking the link: STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING

Tonight we had a cashew and cranberry nutroast, with a mix of mashed white and sweet potatoes, roasted carrots and parsnips, orange cranberry sauce,  petit pois and lashings of gravy. I bought the nutroast in a "just add water" packet to make life easier. Links below to show you how to make the roasties and the gravy.

Cranberry Sauce
300 g fresh cranberries
1/2 cup water
zest and juice of 1 orange
1/3 cup liquid sweetener of choice (we like it tangy...but if too tart for you add a TB or two more)
Boil until the cranberries pop and break down and it thickens. Let cool.

Mashed Potatoes 
Top tip: boil your taters in vegetable stock then save back some stock when you drain them. Then instead of milk and butter add back some veg stock for the creamiest, most flavorful mash ever!

Tomorrow we will have Chestnut and Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Carrots and Parsnips (see method above). This will use the chestnuts I didn't use in the Christmas Soup and will look something like this:
from last year's Christmas
That's all for What We Ate Christmas....may 2020 be the year that you do something wonderful--GO VEGAN!


Friday, 20 December 2019

Fairy Tale Friday--Into the Woods

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. then I'll begin.

For the last few weeks we have been looking at musical versions of the classic tale of Cinderella. Today I want to look at the award winning musical Into the Woods with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. This musical intertwines the plot of several fairy tales by both the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault.
Image result for into the woods play"
 One of the reasons I like this musical so much is that it harkens back to the darker versions of these tales and is sort of the anti-Disney. Which is why it is a shame that Disney produced a live action version because they chopped and changed it and made it just another musical rather than the dark and often quite creepy production that it really is.

I am biased though having loved this musical for a very long time. The original show premiered in 1986 and transferred to Broadway in 1987. I have the "filmed live" version with the Broadway cast on DVD and the performances are top notch. The Broadway run was nominated for ten Tony awards and won three--Best Score, Best Book and Best Actress in a Musical for Joanna Gleason.  When it premiered in the West End it was nominated for seven Olivier Awards and won two--Best Actress in a Musical for Imelda Staunton and Best Director. These last awards are so well deserved. Staunton injects a range of feelings into the role of the Baker's Wife and Gleason really brings out the humour in Lapine's words unlike the po-faced Emily Blunt in the live action film.

But I digress. We are here to talk about Cinderella.

This musical uses many of the elements found in the oldest versions of our classic tale:

1. The King is giving a festival--not just a one night ball--that last for three days.
2.  She is forced to sort lentils from the ashes as an impossible task.
3. Cinderella can talk to birds and they help her in her impossible tasks.(see above)
4. Her mother's grave has a hazel tree on it that was watered with her tears and serves as the magical helper.
5. The slippers are golden and not glass (the glass slipper was an invention of Perrault)
6. Pitch or tar was spread on the steps to keep her from running away.
7. The stepsisters cut off their toes and their heels to try to fit into the shoe.
8. At the wedding, birds fly down and peck out the eyes of the stepsisters.

I have seen this as an outdoor show in Regent's Park and it was delightful. That show was adapted and brought to the US and played in Central Park in New York. The Broadway version is top notch and even the West End version with it's strange stark whiteness of set and costume was better than the Disney film, in my opinion. I had hoped to show you songs from different versions, but I can find no video clips from the West End version.

The first song is from the opening of the show. It is everyone that we will meet in the show and tells of the dreams and wishes of all of fairy tale characters.

Here we have Cinderella at the grave of her mother.

Here we are with Cinderella meeting the Baker's Wife in the woods and talking about her feelings about being at the ball. I would have loved to have found a clip from the Broadway version for this one as Joanna Gleason's performance adds so much warmth and humour to the scene that I feel Emily Blunt is lacking.

Lastly, we have Cinderella stuck on the steps of the palace. I like this version because it's a time freeze where her split second thinking is broken up by a song as time momentarily stops everything around her. You also get to see what it would be like to be stuck in real pitch.

Here we have the Stepmother mutilating the feet of her daughters to fit into the shoe. The Disney film was the only clip I could find which is a shame as they don't show the cutting. The Broadway version does this masterfully with the spirit of Cinderella's mother warning the Prince to "look for the blood within the shoe" as he passes the hazel tree on his horse. 

If you have only seen the Disney adaptation and you want to watch the Broadway production, you can watch it here in its entirety.

That's all for this week. Stay tuned next week as we explore the very British tradition of Pantomime.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

What We Ate Wednesday--Mexican Bowl

Hello lovelies! I am jumping on the bandwagon of eating stuff in bowls. Not just any bowls, but those nice wide flat bowls where all your food can be side by side and not piled on top of itself, if you know what I mean.

We recently invested in some nice bowls for meals such as this. I thought I would do a Mexican one as my inaugural meal. This was really easy to could add any extras you fancied like guacamole (I can't do this due to my avocado allergy, but for the rest of you go on) or some salad greens with chopped tomatoes.

Mexican was a good choice as it tasted delicious and it looked really pretty all laid out side by side.

This meal has Spanish rice, spicy black beans, sweetcorn with red pepper and lime and cucumber. I just used half a cucumber and fed the rest to the Bronte Snails.

Mexican Bowl
For the Spanish rice:
1 TB red wine vinegar
2 TB tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
3 TB tomato puree
1 cup easy cook brown rice
 Add your vinegar and soy sauce to a one cup measuring cup and then top up until you have a full cup and add it to your rice pot. Then fill up another cup of water (to make a total of 2 cups liquid) and add that to your rice pot. Add the spices and tomato puree and whisk until the puree is broken up and dissolved. Bring your liquid to the boil then add your brown rice and turn down the heat and let it simmer until all the liquid is absorbed. It will take slightly longer than standard rice as the tomato puree makes the liquid thick. But it will be worth it.

Meanwhile make the black beans:
1 onion, sliced into rainbows
tin of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 TB taco seasoning of your choice (mine is a pre-made mix i buy at Tesco)
juice of half a lemon
Cook your onion in 1/4 cup water or vegetable stock until softened then add your garlic. Add in your beans and spices and lemon juice and cook a few more minutes until heated through. If the rice is still not quite there yet, take it off the heat and then warm it back up again when rice is done.

Side dishes:
1 cup frozen sweetcorn
half a red pepper, diced
1 TB lime juice


Defrost your frozen corn in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and add the red pepper and the lime juice. Slice the cucumber into rounds.

Serve all together in a lovely wide bowl if you have one and marvel at how pretty everything looks and then scoff the lot.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Fairy Tale Friday--The Slipper and the Rose

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

Last week we looked at the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version of Cinderella. This week I want to look at the musical The Slipper and the Rose. This musical was a British film that was produced in 1976 and was selected as the Royal Command Performance motion picture selection for that year. The music was provided by the American duo The Sherman Brothers who were responsible for the songs in such films as Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Charlotte’s Web, The Aristocats and The Jungle Book (except the Bare Necessities which was written by Terry Gilkyson.) They are also responsible for that earworm “It’s a Small World.”

The cast is full of the crème de la crème of (mostly) British actors—Gemma Craven as Cinderella, Richard Chamberlain as the Prince, Michael Hordern, Kenneth More, Edith Evans and Annette Crosby. Several of the songs were nominated for an Academy Award. The Georgian era costumes are stunning. So why did I hate it?

I know I am here merely to report to you, my loyal readers, versions of Cinderella. Having watched countless videos of it on YouTube for research for today’s blog post led me to same conclusion over and over—I found it extremely boring with forgettable songs. There are highlights—Michael Hordern is quite funny as the King but overall, I felt it was dreadful.

So now you must suffer through it too. Here is the plot:

Prince Edward of Euphrania wants to marry for love but is told that he must marry tactically to form an alliance so that his country will be safe from invaders. If he marries someone from a neighbouring country it will prevent war in the future. It is decided there will be a “Bride Finding Ball” so that he can find a match. Richard Chamberlain sulks. His slightly pervy and very camp cousin, however, is delighted. He says, “I realize that I won't have first pick, but that doesn't matter to me because I'm not proud. I'm just desperate."  They sing about women as if they are merely objects or property (which they were in Georgian times, but still) while Dr Kildare rolls his eyes a lot.

Cinderella is tasked with making her stepmother and stepsisters new clothes for the ball out of old ones--a clearly impossible task. A local woman appears and helps Cinderella re-work the old gowns into something more fashionable and reveals she is a Fairy Godmother. She agrees to borrow some magic to help Cinderella's dream come true, but as the magic is borrowed it must be returned by midnight. I appreciated this idea as the arbitrary midnight deadline has always bothered me. I thought the effects in this scene were good, but the song "Suddenly It Happens" sung by Annette Crosby is tuneless and forgettable.

As you would expect in this story, Cinderella and the Prince meet and fall in love at first sight and then sing a forgettable number about their newfound love in their "Secret Kingdom."

Then we have the midnight escape, the lost shoe and all the elements we are familiar with that make this a Cinderella story. This is the part that differs from our traditional tale as we do not have our happy ending just yet. The pair of lovers are reunited and go before the King and Queen. While they are impressed with the strength of their love, duty comes first. A military alliance must be secured as their kingdom is on the brink of war. A tactical marriage has to happen quickly or the fate of Euphrania is at stake. The prince simply cannot marry a commoner like Cinderella. In order to save the kingdom, she bravely allows herself to be exiled. She lies and sends a message that she does not love him ("Tell Him Anything But That I Love Him") so that he will marry the wrong person and save the kingdom. I found this to be the best part as well as the worst part of the film. It was, by far, the best song--the most passionate when all the others had been quite bloodless. But it is also worrying. It is presented like "Isn't she noble for sacrificing her happiness for the greater good" but women often sacrifice and sabotage their happiness for men which is not a good message to be sending. There is also a whiff of "You won't understand all these important tactical things because you are just a girl, but don't worry your pretty little head about it, just give up your dreams."

After being in exile for a bit, she does worry her pretty little head about it and decides that her happiness counts too. With the help of her Fairy Godmother she crashes the wedding wearing a wedding dress and gets to have her happy ending. The country is saved too because the foppish cousin who was happy to have sloppy seconds in the Bride Finding Ball gets to marry the Princess and form a tactical alliance and save the kingdom from war and destruction. So it's a happy ending for everyone (except perhaps the poor Princess used as a pawn by her own father and then just given to another man) but the film portrays that it was love at first sight for her and the cousin, so I guess that excuses it.

That's all for this week. Stay tuned next week for a trip Into the Woods.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

What We Ate Wednesday--Super Fast Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup

Hello lovelies! I am still coming home really tired from work in need of something fast and nourishing. This is the third recipe I have tried from the cookbook Vegan in 15 and it really does live up to its name.

The trick is to blitz your veg in a food processor into tiny really does help it cook in 15 minutes.

The original recipe called for Thai curry paste....I can't find any without fish sauce and I already had Korma curry paste in my fridge, so I just used that. Her recipe calls for 2 Tablespoons curry paste which I felt was not punchy enough so I made it with 3 Tablespoons. I dunno, maybe Thai is more potent than Korma.  She also ends with a garnish of fresh coriander, but I ain't got time for that as I am avoiding single use plastics as much as I can.

Super Fast Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup
2-3 TB curry paste of choice (I used Korma)
1 onion, roughly quartered
2 medium sweet potatoes, roughly chopped
1 large or 2 small carrots, roughly chopped
400ml tin coconut milk
tin refilled with water
1 tsp vegetable stock powder (or half a stock cube)

1. Heat 2 TB curry paste and 1/4 cup water while you chop your vegetables. Throw your onion in a food processor and blitz then add to pan with curry paste.
2. In your food processor, add the sweet potatoes and carrot and pulse til the size of rice grains. You may have to do this in 2 parts...all of this would not fit in my machine in one go then throw into the pan with the onion and curry paste.
3. Add the tin of coconut milk and refill the tin with water and add to the pan. Add the stock powder/half a stock cube and bring to the boil as quickly as you can.
4. Vigorously simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on then test for doneness. My sweet potato was soft after 10 minutes. Taste and see if you think it needs extra umph. If so add additional TB of curry paste.
4. Remove from heat and quickly blend with an immersion blender. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Another perfect, warm and nutritious meal for after a busy day at work.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Look at your life

Hello lovelies! It's my birthday, hoorah!
Image result for happy birthday 50"
I am fifty! Half a century! did that happen?

Some people don't like birthdays. I am not one of those people.
Some people fear getting older. I am not one of those people.

Some people (particularly women) worry about the effects of ageing. I am not one of those women.

Some women fear a milestone birthday because it means they are coming to the end of their fertility and the start of the menopause. I am not one of those women.

I love my birthday because I am so happy to still be here. Every anniversary of my birth is another chance to do good in the world.

I love my birthday because I love getting older. Don't get me wrong, I do not like getting OLD. My joints and chronic pain issues are more and more affected by the cold and damp which is a bit tricky as we live in Wales where it is perpetually cold and damp. But I do love getting older. Every year I am alive is another year that I have been married to the Amazing Spiderman. When I was 27 years old I had to face the idea that I might become a widow as my beloved was not responding to his cancer treatments,but here we are celebrating our 28th Christmas as a married couple. Every year that we get older together is the happiest year of my life.  We are growing older together.

I do understand that it is much harder to be a woman than a man on the ageing front. I get that. A man turns into a silver fox where grey hair is sexy whereas a woman in her thirties is told she is too old to play his love interest in a film. Perhaps I don't fear this as I am lucky to be ageing very slowly. I look basically like I did thirty years ago. If you look closely, there are a few silver hairs and wrinkles at the corners of my eyes. I am not as thin as I was on our wedding day (I was 90 lbs soaking wet) but I am healthier.

We all move through stages of life--maiden, mother and crone. Many of my older friends have alluded to me about the wisdom of the changes that will be coming for me in the next few years. I have to laugh because I am already a crone. I had an emergency hysterectomy ten years ago and so the wisdom phase of my life has already begun.

Birthdays are always a time for reflection. What have I done in the last year that brought Light to the world? What can I do in the upcoming year to make the world better? How can I stand up more effectively for the people and animals who are abused and neglected?

How can I be kinder to myself and judge myself less harshly? How can I love myself as much as I love the world? How can I use my voice to ask for what I need?

None of us know how long we have on this planet. If life is a book, some people only get a few chapters whereas some get a weighty tome. Being fifty years old means that there are more chapters behind me than in front of me. The Cruxshadows' song Birthday says:

So look at your life, who do you want to be before you die? 
Look at your life and what do you want to do.
So look at your life, who do you want to be before you die? 
Look at your life, you haven't got forever.

May this year be one where I learn and grow and help and be wise and surrender what does not bring me peace. 

Friday, 6 December 2019

Fairy Tale Friday--Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella

Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

 Image result for rodgers and hammerstein cinderella
For the next few weeks we will be looking at musical versions of Cinderella. I want to start with Cinderella by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were the leading contributors to the golden age of musicals. With Rodgers on music and Hammerstein on book and lyrics they are responsible for such musicals as Oklahoma!CarouselSouth PacificThe King and I and The Sound of Music. According to Wikipedia, their shows (and film versions) have won thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, and two Grammy Awards.

Their version of Cinderella was actually written for television as a vehicle for Julie Andrews and was broadcast live on CBS on March 31, 1957. It was based very closely on the most familiar version we know-- the French version Cendrillon, ou la Petite Pantoufle de Verre, by Charles Perrault. It was later performed on stage to critical acclaim. 

There were two remakes for television—the first one in 1965 starred Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon (I remember seeing this version on television) and in 1997 a version with a more ethnically diverse cast was made starring Brandy Norwood as Cinderella, Paolo Montalbán as the Prince and Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother.  

Interesting fact:  In the summer after my sophomore year of college I did an internship at City Park Players (our local community theatre) and was stage manager for this show.

The first song I would like to share is In My Own Little Corner from the 1997 version starring Brandy. This is a song about how Cinderella copes with her stress through escaping into her imagination. I found it interesting that they changed the lyrics “I’m a slave in Calcutta” to “I’m a thief in Calcutta.”

The next video I want to share is the Leslie Ann Warren version of the Fairy Godmother song Impossible/It's Possible.

The last clip I want to share is the scene at the ball where the Prince and Cinderella fall in love. The song is called Ten Minutes Ago and I am using the Julie Andrews version.

That's all for this week. Stay tuned next week for a slipper and a rose.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

What We Ate Wednesday--Borlotti Bean Soup with Rice and Kale

Hello lovelies! Working in retail as Christmas approaches is no joke. We are crazy busy at work, it is freezing and by the time I come I home I am frozen, exhausted and ravenous. Not a good combination.

I am trying to develop a series of easy to make, fast and healthy meals (mostly soup) that can be made quickly after work to warm me up and restore my energy. This way I have a bank of recipes for meal planning that I can call on for those nights I work until close.

Luckily, I work in a bookshop. I saw a cookbook called Vegan in 15 by Kate Ford in our cookery section and I knew that was what I was looking for.

This recipe was adapted from her recipe. She used onion, carrot and celery. We don't dig celery so I used 1/4 red pepper. She used orzo pasta, I can't find that gluten free so I just used white rice.

The one thing she does suggest is using a mini chopper or food processor to blitz your veg very small. This really reduces cooking time. I have also taken to preparing as much as I can before have to be at work at 11:30. If that veg can be blitzed ahead of time and stored in the fridge, it is one less step that has to be done at night.

Her other secret is to boil your kettle. Add your stock cube or powder (I use powder) and top up with kettle boiled water to make your stock. This comes to the boil so much faster than adding cold stock to the pot and waiting for it to warm up and boil.

Borlotti Bean Soup with Rice and Kale
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 stick of celery or 1/4 red pepper, roughly chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 litre water boiled in a kettle plus a stock cube or powder
3 TB tomato puree
1/3 cup (70g) orzo pasta or white rice
tin borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
100g kale
salt and pepper
juice of half a lemon (optional, but nice)

1. Heat your pot with a splash of oil or water and throw all your onion, carrot and celery/pepper in the food processor and blitz until small. Throw this mix in your hot pot with some garlic and cook for a few minutes while your kettle boils.
2. Add everything else but the kale to the pot and bring to the boil. Then reduce heat and put the lid on and simmer for 8 minutes. Throw in your kale and cook for 2 more minutes. By now the kale should be soft and the rice done. Taste for salt and pepper and add the optional lemon juice.
3. Done.

I managed to do it in 20 minutes. I think I can get it down to 15 if I pre-chop the veg and measure out the rice before work. I liked the addition of the wasn't much but it made it more filling, plus it was cooked in the soup pot and not separate so one less pan to wash.