Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Pearl Barlestrone Soup - and character building

Character building. It's one of those phrases that echoed through my childhood - and still does today. Whenever something doesn't go particularly my way, or is more difficult than I'd like it to be, it floats unbidden into my mind, usually in my mother's voice. It's there, too, in my relationship with my kids. Resilience is so important, but it doesn' necessarily come naturally. While I am always available for cuddles when life is tough, the cuddles are often accompanied by a gentle discussion about how it's sad/a shame/disappointing but you have a choice about how to deal with a situation - die in a ditch or learn from it. Don't be ground down by it. While I don't think I have yet used the actual word "character building" to them just yet - they are a bit little - that's what those chats are really saying. It's all character building - take a bad or disappointing situation, learn from it and move on.

'Character building' doesn't just come from 'bad' things or experiences. I once spent 2 weeks in the North West of Scotland being beasted through a pretty extreme outward bound course. The kind of course where you had to get up at 6 a.m. and run 3 miles every morning, but if you weren't all out of bed and ready to run at 6, an extra mile was added for every minute. The kind of place where you had a lovely afternoon fishing and not catching much from a yacht only to then be told that all 4 fish you had between 15 of you was the food you had for the next 24 hrs, and " the way you see that island we're now sailing away from, that's where your sleeping bags are, so jump in and swim. You can each have a match and a bin bag to keep your clothes dry. " It was totally mad and I loved every minute of it, but it was definitely character building.

I will admit though, that these days, 'character building' seems to be more about managing situations that are less than ideal, and whenever they occur, my brain follows 'character building' with a mental foot stamp and a "Yes, but I am 40 and my character is built enough, isn't it?". Harrumph.

So you can guess that I've had that sort of scenario today. The circumstances are not important (well, they are, but only to me), and no one is hurt or anything like that, but my mental foot is stamping, and my mental bottom lip is quivering. I'll get over it - it's nothing like the end of the world, but there it is, writ large. Character building.

Lucky then, that the kids had chosen school lunch today (they get one a week - for them both to have chosen the same day is something to be grateful for) so I was required to produce nothing more strenuous than soup this evening. It was going to be minestrone (I had some savoy cabbage looking resentful and unloved in the bottom of the fridge), but I decided to use up some pearl barley that's been hanging around, opened, in the cupboard - no doubt purchased for one of my vegetarian forays courtesy of Veg Everyday. If Hugh can replace risotto rice with pearl barley (check out his 'speltotto'), I can substitute it for pasta in a minestrone soup. I also made flatbreads to go with. 

Soup is comforting anytime, so it was perfect today, and kneading of the dough for the flat breads gave me an opportunity to channel the mental foot stamping...

Pearl Barlestrone Soup

Serves 4 

1 onion, 4 sticks of celery, 2 carrots, 1 clove of garlic, 1 tsp smoked paprika (yes, I know, it gets everywhere), a good squirt of tomato puree, 1 litre veg stock ( you may need some more to thin down the soup before serving) a 400g tin chopped tomatoes, 75g pearl barley, 1/4 savoy cabbage

 Dice the onion, celery and carrots fairly small and finely chop the garlic. Slosh a little olive oil into a pan, heat it up and cook the diced veg and garlic till softening. Stir in the smoked paprika and tomato puree, and cook a little longer, then tip in the stock and chopped tomatoes, season then add in the barley. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 mins or so till the barley is cooked. While the barley is cooking in the soup, thinly slice the cabbage, then just before the end of cooking, chuck the cabbage into the pan, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

For the flatbreads, I used HF-W's method in Veg Everyday, which involves half and half plain and strong white flour. Assuming 500g of flour in total, for 8 flatbreads, you mix this with a tsp each of salt and yeast, a tbsp of olive oil and 325ml warm water. Mix altogether to form a dough, then knead for 10 minutes or so till soft and springy, then set aside in a warm place, covered with cling film, for 1-2 hrs (mine usually needs closer to 2 but my house is cold) till the dough has doubled in size.

Split the dough into 8 equal sized pieces, and roll out into rounds (or whatever you can get the dough to roll into - I've never managed rounds).

 Heat a heavy based frying pan or griddle till it's pretty hot, then lay the rounds one at a time in the pan. Cook for approximately 2 minutes then flip over and cook for another minute or so. You can keep the cooked breads wrapped in a tea towel while you finish the rest of them off. 

As the pan gets hotter, the dough may need less cooking time - you do need to keep an eye on it. I love watching bread cook this way - puffing up as it heats up, 

and the slight charring you can get. 

Admittedly, it's not great bread to eat cold, much after it's been cooked, but if you do have some left over, you can reheat it reasonably succesfully. And I have just discovered that it tastes very nice with peanut butter.


  1. Sometimes a simple soup is the best thing ever!

  2. Oh RJ, did the soup sort you out? Hope so. It looks like a no-nonsense kind of soup to fix any kind of situation

    1. Yeah - pretty much, thanks - still licking the wounds today but once I've made a cake or 2 I'll be sorted

  3. yeah well, I think this is what parents tell their kids but we all know we make them do it purely for the fun of watching them suffer!... there are some people who love all that stuff, so you can never win!... GREAT soup... perfect for this dreadful weather x

    1. :-). The soup was very good - looking forward to having the leftovers for my lunch.

  4. Funny how soup can be so soul soothing... I hope you're OK. Character building or not, these things aren't always easy. Emma :)

    1. Yeah I'm fine, wounds pretty much licked now. Onwards and upwards, as they say! and thanks!

  5. Ahhhh soup... a cuddle in a bowl!


I LOVE comments - please leave one. Unfortunately, I have been getting hideous amounts of SPAM so please can you do the word verification thingy?