Spoonless in the Kitchen – Making Vegetable Soup, the Hard Way…

This, by the way, is not an extended whinge. My intention is to demonstrate to the doubters, of whom there are far too many, just how difficult, for those of us who are chronically sick and disabled, something they take for granted as quick and simple, can be – like making soup.

And for cynics who say, and some who really should know me better have done so “If you’re as sick and exhausted as you claim, how can you write?” the answer is simple – somebody has to.

NB: For those mystified by my references to spoons, I’d refer you to the Spoon Theory. In a nutshell, those of us who are chronically sick and disabled, have only a finite amount of energy per day, in units designated as “Spoons”.  Once all our spoons are used up, so are we. But do click through – it’ll be worth your time.

And I am by no means unique, there are very many people out there as badly affected as I am, or worse, sometimes very much worse, but we have one thing in common – we never have enough spoons.


Monday, November 19 (written in real time from 08.15 on, so apologies for any clunkiness or typos).


03.00 Wake up screaming from the pain in my right foot. That’s not happened for, ooh, at least days. God knows what my neighbours think. Don’t much care. Next door’s bedroom is far enough away she probably can’t hear and the guy above is a noisy prick anyway, so I have no conscience about disturbing him at all.

06.00 Take first meds of the day. Go back to sleep – sort of – until 08.00

Open curtains in the kitchen on a grey and gloomy day, refill filter jug, put it back in the fridge.

08.15 Sit down for a rest – well, to be fair, it is all of ten feet to the sink. Fire up PC, check/send email, and read online newspapers.

10.30 Log in to Twitter and back to papers

11.00 Kitchen – do a little washing up.

11.20 Back at PC for a rest (might as well sit here as anywhere else, at least there’s entertainment).

Midday: Back to kitchen, portion beef stew in foil dishes, for freezer. Remember to label and date them. Feels like I’ve been on my feet half an hour or more, so back to chair – turns out it’s been 10 minutes – that’s how severe pain distorts time perception – in the wrong direction, sadly.

12.10 Chat on Twitter for a while.

12.45 Back to kitchen to make a start on my vegetable soup. Need to wash casserole that had the stew first.

12.50 Abandoned as totally spoonless. Casserole soaking in sink.

The soup needs to be made, as I’ve had the ingredients for over a week, and haven’t had a day good enough so far. I have no idea at this stage if that will happen today or not.

13.15. Try again. From here on in, I’m running on empty and drugged to the eyebrows (Spoonie Speedball – two 30/500 Co-codamol, 60mg DHC, 200mg Naproxen).

Perhaps I should mention, at this point, that for me this is actually a good day.

13.45 Leeks shredded, carrots and half a swede finely diced, all gently sweating off in olive oil. Rest for a few minutes – not too long, the soup dictates the timetable now, like it or not.

14.05 Soup’s on. Root veg simmering in vegetable stock for now, passata goes in later.

Also prepped a quarter of a Savoy cabbage, coarsely shredded then chopped, and two pointed red peppers, much better flavour than bell peppers, deseeded and finely chopped. Cabbage and pepper pieces about half the size of a postage stamp (ish).

I can rest now for half an hour.

I had planned to put in diced potato, but am totally out of spoons already, so a can or two of Napolina Five Bean Salad, well rinsed, will be going in instead, depending on how much room – must remember to take off the lid and reduce the soup if too much.

My intention is that, because after today’s effort I’m going to be wiped out for the rest of the week, this soup will be a meal in a bowl – lots of veggies, plus pasta and beans for protein. And bread to dunk.

14.30 check progress of soup.

14.45 Soup’s in the final stage, passata , cabbage, peppers and orzo pasta, added, brought back to the boil, and reduced to simmering point.

Running on imaginary spoons now, pain horrendous but already taken everything I’ve got. Once I run out of DHC I’m screwed, as idiot GP won’t prescribe it even for occasional use. He thinks I’ll take it with Co-codamol – well, of course I bloody will, ffs!

13.00 Stir soup so pasta doesn’t stick. It is, so scrape bottom of pot with (clean!), fish slice.

13.15 While on my feet, drained and rinsed 2 cans of  bean salad – if it won’t all go in, what’s left can be mixed with mayo and eaten. Had forgotten there was sweetcorn in it. Bugger!

Also removed lid and turned up heat to reduce the liquid in the soup to leave room for beans.

15.45 See how soup’s doing.

15.50 Beans added to soup, which tastes fantastic. Seasoned with black pepper, I’ll check for salt later as there’ll be some in the beans that will leach into the soup.

So far, so impressed. And exhausted.

Muscles of right arm in spasm from chopping veggies and stirring soup. Not unusual but should be OK by tomorrow. Left hand less good, mega arthritis flare in thumb joints. Legs completely buggered.

So that’s my cooking done for this week (the beef stew was last week’s). I now reserve the right to collapse in a heap.

The prospects of my being able to cook something fresh for myself on a daily basis are roughly on a par  with my chances of a place on the first Mars mission, and have been so for over 10 years. Cooking happens sporadically, at best.

So what am I cooking next, and when? Haven’t the faintest idea – right now, the thought of cooking anything appals me.

As for tonight, it’ll either be something out of the freezer or – and this appeals quite a lot – another can of bean salad, drained and rinsed, with a small can of shrimps, likewise, well seasoned with celery salt and white pepper, mixed with a little mayo and garnished with a chopped balsamic vinegar-pickled egg (actually balsamic and cider vinegar, but the balsamic dominates). I’d probably get two meals out of that, with my appetite, for minimal effort.

That will probably be at about 22.00, assuming I’m still awake.

And for anyone who’s interested – and you should be, it’s excellent – here’s the soup recipe.


Vegetable soup


3 Sweetspear carrots, finely diced

3 Leeks, pale green and whites only, cleaned as needed, cut in half lengthways and shredded crossways

Half a swede, finely diced

2 Long, pointy, sweet red peppers, finely diced and added about half-way through

Cabbage – about a handful, shredded coarsely, then chopped

2 tablespoons Orzo pasta (the rice-grain-sized stuff, which swells nicely in soup).

Canned beans of some sort (got lots to choose from but probably pinto beans**)

1kg of Napolina passata***

A good pinch of sugar

2 Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes

Olive oil

Black pepper to taste, ditto fine sea salt if needed

**What I wound up with was 2 cans of Napolina’s rather good Five Bean Salad, well rinsed

***This comes in cartons, and a surprising amount clings to the sides. So, pour it in and set the cartons aside. Half an hour later it will all have run to the bottom from where it can be rescued by adding a little hot water, giving it a swirl, and pouring it into the second carton, swirl, then into the pan.

The aim here is to get all the veggies, except the leeks, more or less the same size. Don’t be obsessive about it, but you want to be able to dip your spoon and come out with a bit of everything.

The bean salad is mostly suitably small beans, with just a few red kidney beans and a little sweetcorn. Unlike a lot of canned beans, Napolina are always perfectly cooked. In fact, it’s the only brand I buy these days. Not cheap, compared to supermarket own-brand, but worth every penny.

Spoonie note: Lightweight stainless steel casseroles are easier to handle than pans – two handles for a start – and for the clumsy among us (probably most of us as exhaustion bites), those handles don’t stick out to cause a hazard. And no glass lids to drop and break!

I used the 3litre one for this.


Pour a generous slick of olive oil in the bottom of the casserole (the pot, from now on), add the leeks, carrots and swede, stir, and sweat over a low heat for 15-20 minutes. Then add sufficient boiling water to cover, add the stock cubes, dissolved, stir well and simmer, covered, until carrots are soft.

NB: If you put the passata in early, the carrots and swede will take forever to cook.

Then add the passata, the peppers, cabbage and orzo, stir well, return to the boil, and simmer until the orzo has swollen to at least twice its size, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick.

At this point you can drain and rinse the bean salad too. And if the pan looks too full already, remove the lid, increase the heat, and let it reduce for half an hour (it’s soup – it’s almost impossible to overcook it!).

Add the beans, stir well, leave to simmer for 10 minutes, just to heat the beans through, check the seasoning (I just seasoned mine with black pepper as I don’t doubt the beans will add a little overnight).

Leave to cool and, when cold, refrigerate overnight for the flavours to get to know each other and snuggle up.

I have had a taste and, frankly, it’s bloody wonderful!

That’s me being modest, that is…