Steph’s Super Comforting Tomato Soup

When I was growing up, Fridays always seemed to be ‘soup and sandwich night’ at my Memom and Granddad’s house.  Inevitably I would opt for the Campbell’s Chicken Noodle and a tuna sandwich (no onion!) while my grandparents went for the more adult tomato or veggie soup choice.  Now a grown up myself I’m happy to report that my tastes have evolved to encompass many different flavors, including tomato soup!

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Sorry for the photo of a half eaten bowl of soup. It was so good I forgot to take a photo until halfway through!

I’ve been a bit homesick lately so last night was ‘soup and sandwich night’ in our flat.  I’d found a really basic recipe for a simple tomato soup online and doctored it a bit to give it more body and flavor.  I wasn’t sure whether it was going to be overly fantastic but I have to say that both N and I were greatly surprised by just how damned nice this soup was.  We couldn’t stop exclaiming over how tasty it was–in between scarfing down mouthfuls.  We served ours alongside some scrummy grilled cheese sandwiches.  The meal honestly tasted like a warm, fuzzy hug and was really calming and comforting.  It definitely hit the spot!

I thought I’d share my recipe as it’s getting colder and gloomier out there… feel free to play around with quantities and ingredients.  That’s how I got it to be so tasty–by experimenting!

Steph’s Super Comforting Tomato Soup (serves 2 as main with sandwiches)

  • 1 white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic (or two small cloves), minced
  • 400 g can cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp sugar (to be honest, I used a smidge less)
  • 100 ml stock (veg or chicken, your choice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon harissa paste (or pinch chili powder)
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp mascarpone
  • A few torn basil leaves (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  1. Gently fry onion until soft and translucent (about 10 minutes).  Add in garlic and fry for another minute.
  2. Put the tomatoes, sugar, stock, Worcestershire sauce and harissa in with the onions and garlic along with some salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for as long as you’d like, but for a minimum of 10 mins.  If you don’t have harissa, a pinch of chili powder will do but really harissa is amazing and you can use it in so many dishes to add a bit of spice!
  3. Add basil into blender (if using, and why wouldn’t you?) before soup and then blend until smooth and return to heat until just about ready to serve.  We made our sandwiches while the blended soup sat on a low heat.
  4. Remove from heat for one or two minutes.  Stir in the mascarpone and dish up with your sandwiches!

Let me know if you try it, or if you have any simple soup recipes you’d like to share!  I love a good soup in the winter and this one is definitely going into regular rotation.

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

 

‘You’re sayin’ the FBI’s gonna pay me to learn to surf?’

Ahhh, Point Break… so classy, so Keanu.

I’m here… I’ve got my (homemade) hot cocoa and I’m hanging on by a thread… but I’m here.  You don’t want to hear about the wall of fatigue, the dizzy spells that are more constant than not, the stomach problems… so I won’t go there.  Suffice to say I feel like I’ve just been sort of existing.  Hopefully a visit to the GP on Monday will shed some light.

In the meantime, surfing! Waves! Wipeouts! Overuse of exclamation points!!!

H and I (of triathlon fame) had come up with the idea of a long weekend away a while back and somehow, what I envisioned being a nice, relaxing spa weekend turned into six days in Morocco.  Surfing.  And not even in a major city–in a little fishing village outside of Agadir called Taghazout.

If you know me, you know I’m pleasantly plump and (of late) fairly lazy.  I knew surfing was going to be a challenge… much less doing it in a country I’d never been to.  Would there be clean water? Terrorists? Ebola?  Thankfully, my overdriven, panic stricken brain was just that–and very mistaken!

Well… apart from the flight to Agadir.  That was slightly hellish, particularly for a nervous (though frequent) flier.  Full disclosure, H took most of the photos as I was a lazy bum and only brought my iPhone and no camera.

Fog over Agadir

Those aren’t clouds… that’s the fog.

So there was this monster fog over Agadir.  It was so thick and so widespread that, after circling the area for around 45 minutes, the pilot decided he didn’t feel that the situation was safe enough to attempt a landing and he didn’t ‘trust the airport enough’ to go in with limited/no visibility.  Fine.  So we flew to Marrakech (about 3 hours away by coach).  We circled Marrakech for a bit.  Again, the pilot comes on.  There was an emergency situation in Marrakech and a plane had been evacuated on the runway, so the airport was closed.  Hm.  After a few minutes the pilot comes back and said we were going to try and land in Casablanca (“of all the gin joints…”).  We get to Casablanca and (after some turbulence over the Atlas Mountains) land safely, despite it being pretty foggy there as well.  I guess maybe they trusted this airport more?  After sitting off to the side of the airfield for a bit the pilot said we were being bussed to Agadir.  And people went crazy.  Mental.  It was pretty intense… considering it’s a 12 hour coach ride.  Passengers were getting very aggressive and confrontational with flight staff and it was all really ugly–almost made me sad to be a human, really.  One guy who was, without embellishing, drunker than anyone has any right to ever be, was shouting in various languages and tried to run up to the front of the plane.  He threatened staff and, from what I understand, used the word “bomb” a few times.  Obviously a no-no.  Cue the Moroccan police who quickly boarded the plane and arrested Mr Drunk-man and his bags were offloaded.  After all of that carryon, the pilot  came back on and apologised and, in a stroke of luck, said that the fog in Agadir had cleared somewhat and despite it not being normal procedure, they were going to re-fuel and take us on to Agadir.  Hurrah!

Crazy flight plan

Our screwy flight path (thanks, N)

I think (without tooting my own horn) I handled the flight debacle quite well.  I didn’t cry/scream/pass out/go into hysterics.  Other than a really strong rash of turbulence during which I latched on to H for dear life, I was fine.  What could I do?

So our holiday got off to a weird start.  We landed in Agadir, went through passport control where my passport was very much scrutinised and collected our bags virtually hassle free.  I nearly got cheated out of half of my spending money by a slightly forgetful (or dodgy) bureau de change employee–thankfully I was switched on enough to notice or else I would have been out over 1,600 dirhams (£120).

We passed into arrivals and it was like a hallelujah seeing a guy holding a sign for our hotel/surf camp.  The ride from the airport was fairly uneventful.. I say that like driving in Morocco in general is uneventful.  It’s not.  They’re all manaic speed demons and seat belts are a luxury, not a law.

Regardless, we made it to Taghazout unscathed and were dropped off at the top of a series of stone steps leading down an alley to our hostel, l’Auberge–owned and run by the brilliant Surf Maroc crew.  H and I had sprung for the triple bed room with ensuite (one of the only ensuite rooms) and paid extra to keep the third bed empty.  Right choice.  It was great not having to worry about strangers in the room and having our own bathroom/shower was a plus as well.

Advice from the ocean

Chill kitty

There was a house kitty!!! He was everywhere all the time.

l'Auberge beach2

The view from our window

It was so nice falling asleep each night (and for our afternoon siesta) to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach below.

Sunset2

On to the most important bit! The surfing!

Boards

Steph and board

Steph catching wave

I have to say, Surf Maroc’s surfing instructors were brilliant.  We’d booked four lessons and my only goal was to stand up once by the end of the last lesson.  H took to surfing really quickly and looked like a pro by the end of the first day.  Me on the other hand?  Less so–again, I’m not really athletic and my balance is shocking on a good day.  Negativity aside, I like to think that I challenged our lovely instructors.

Each day ran virtually the same.  Breakfast at 8, pickup by instructors at around 9 (hey, we’re on surf time) and on the beach no later than 10:30.  Our instructors made sure that we had the right beach/waves for our skill level (all beginners) so occasionally we’d get to one beach only to move to another straightaway.  It was fun squishing up in the sand filled vans, music blaring and wind in our hair.  There was a sense of freedom which was very appealing!

Lessons consisted of a warm up followed by board work on the sand, each of us demonstrating our technique and taking on pointers from the instructors.  Finally, they’d let us loose in the water, working one on one with each of us.  I think I might have gotten a bit more attention on days three and four, purely because I hadn’t stood up on my board yet.  Finally, on the last day, my instructor told me to get over my fear of falling, put my mind to it and just stand up.  And I did!  A few times!  Not for long, but long enough to be noticed and to get cheers from a few of my fellow surfers.  Everyone was so lovely and supportive.

After a couple of hours in the water, we sat down to packed lunches and then had the choice to go back out or to chill on the beach and sunbathe.  I’ll be honest, I mostly took the second option.  There was no way I was coming back from Morocco with a wetsuit tan!!

Beyond all of that, there wasn’t much of note that happened… other than the goat men.

The weekend we were there was Eid-al-Adha, a big Muslim holiday.  There are two Eids each year and this particular one is known as the Festival of the Sacrifice–commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son to God.  Families purchase goats (we saw loads of them being dragged down the street), have them blessed and then slaughter them, giving 1/3 of the meat to neighbours or friends, 1/3 to the needy and keep 1/3 for themselves for the feast.  It’s all very interesting and on the Friday night the mosque in Taghazout blared the prayers over the loudspeaker at dinnertime (the call to prayer was also played daily).  As I listened, I honestly felt like I was in a whole different world.

So in Taghazout, after the feast, young men use the skin of the goats and dress up in scary masks and roam the streets.  If you give them change, they give you a blessing.  If you don’t, they wish a curse upon you and (as some of my fellow hostel mates found out) they’ll smack you with a bit of rope.  Luckily we only got caught once by them and I had change.  They insisted we pose for a photo.

Goat Men2

Gareth (out walking with us) got pulled in for the photo as well.

I can’t even tell you how bad my shirt smelled after. Let’s just say you could tell those goat skins were relatively fresh and untreated.

On the day we flew out, we did venture into Agadir on our own to go to the souk.  I came home with so many amazing spices, a lantern, a gorgeous throw for our bed and a few gifts for other people.  While there, I did have the pleasure of having a chameleon placed on my head by a very friendly vendor.

Steph in souk2

There’s a slight look of madness on my face…

Souk Lanterns2

Beautiful lanterns

I think that’s the bulk of the trip!

I would wholeheartedly recommend Surf Maroc‘s accommodation, their yoga classes and their surf coaching.  The staff were brilliant and made us feel so welcome.  I’m so glad that I got stuck in and went with H on this trip… I had an absolute blast and definitely am thankful for such a diverse and out-of-the-norm experience.

For the full set of photos, click here.

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

 

Coming soon…

I promise I’ll have a lovely little wrap up post about my surf trip to Morocco soon… I just got back late (late, late) on Tuesday night and went straight back to work the next morning.  I’ve had very little sleep since, so to say I’m knackered is an understatement… plus I’m a brand new auntie again!

There’ll be a post soon.  I swear.  After I’ve had a good, long sleep.

steph2

September 2014 Book Wrap Up

Right now I’m in Morocco… How exciting is that??  Thank goodness for being able to auto-schedule posts on WordPress!

I enjoyed reading whatever I wanted at my own pace in August so much that I made a very big decision.  I’ve got one or two review books left in the queue.  Beyond those, I won’t be taking on any further books for review for the rest of this year.  I forgot how much I missed just picking books up, putting them down, and, shockingly, not reading for days at a time.  I’ve also started going back to the library which has been missed greatly as well.  I’ve got a couple of long books I want to tackle like A Dance with Dragons (book 5 in the Game of Thrones series) and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy which is finally out on Kindle.

Anyhow, let’s get on to the list for this month.

Sept books

Books Read:  7

Books Abandoned:  1

And I’ve taken a few books for while I’m in Morocco…

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

Surf’s up!

This time tomorrow I’ll be embarking on yet another adventure… this time without N.  I’ll be heading off to Morocco to a little town just outside of Agadir called Taghazout.  Don’t worry–I’m not flying solo… my good friend H is going too!  Actually… it was her idea.

So we’ll be surfing, when we’re not chilling, reading on the beach or doing sunset yoga (hah!).  I have zero balance/grace/athleticism so I’m not confident that I’ll be riding many waves but it’ll be fun either way!

I’ll be back next week–get ready for photo spamming!

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

Plans for the rest of 2014

It’s only mid-September and yet the rest of 2014 is virtually planned out for me.  Slightly scary!

As far as travelling goes, there’s a lot coming up from a trip to Morocco, another to Kentucky and potentially a return trip at the very end/start of the year to Seville.  To say it’s all slightly daunting (and that my bank account is whimpering) is an understatement.

Trips aren’t the only thing that will be occupying a lot of my time… from next month I’ll be a student again.

Oh lordy.

I’ll be taking a 140 hour (90 day) online course in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).  TEFL is something I’ve been casually looking into in the past year or so but just never took the plunge.  Granted, this won’t give me an international certification but it will at least give me a solid foundation to do some private tutoring and, most importantly, give me the opportunity to find out if TEFL could be a career option for me down the line.  Fingers crossed!  It’s a bit exciting and slightly intimidating… I haven’t been a student since 2008.  Yeah, it’s online but there’s still tests and stuff.  With that comes the inevitable self doubt and thoughts of failure.  I’m sure it’ll be fine though.

What else is there?

Oh yeah.  At the start of 2015 I’ll be looking at putting in an application for a British passport/citizenship.  So there’s that too.  Originally I was against the idea of having dual nationality… it almost felt like a betrayal to my identity as an American.  But I’ve given it lots of thought and reflection (and talked to fellow expats) and the pros of having a British passport far outweigh the cons.  So I’m going for it.

Pile on the stress, eh?

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

Steph (and N) travel to… Seville!

N and I have been long overdue for a proper holiday–our last real one was in 2012.  A few months back, I threatened N with a homicidal breakdown if we didn’t get out of London at some point–even if for just a weekend.  Well he went and did me one better and booked us a super long weekend in Seville in sunny southern Spain!  (Or Sevilla if you’re Spanish…)

Madrid is one of my favorite places in the universe but Seville is a whole ‘nother world, my friends.

I think for this trip’s wrap-up, I’m going to have to divide it into categories to fit everything in!

Just a warning… this post is super image heavy, so click the jump for more!

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