Special Chicken Soup

1 medium chicken, giblets removed

3 carrots

2 or 3 stalks of celery

1 turnip

1 slice of pumpkin

1 medium sized potato

1 tomato, deseeded and peeled

2 salted bones from the butcher’s ( 1 marrow bone, 1 ribs)

1 bouquet garni

1 chicken cube

salt and pepper to taste

This soup is served at my mum’s house every Christmas Day before the turkey. It is the one dish that every one looks forward to regardless of age, mood or fussiness.

1. Place the chicken in a very large pot.

2. Peel and chop up the vegetables into thick chunks then add to the pot.

3. Cover all the ingredients with hot water.

4. Rinse the two bones until all the salt has been thoroughly removed and put them in the pot.

5. Dissolve the chicken cube in boiling water and place them in too, together with the bouquet garni.

6. Bring to a good simmer, cover and allow to cook for an hour.

7. Remove from the heat and carefully take out the chicken. I always place it on a chopping board where I can carve it more easily.

8. Remove and discard the two bones and the bouquet garni.

9. I then blend the vegetables with some of the liquid in the pot to the desired consistency. Some people prefer thinner soups and use more liquid. I prefer slightly thicker soup, especially in winter. So I tend to have more liquid/ broth left over in the pot.

10. The remaining broth I pass through a sieve and pour into small foil containers. I allow them to cool completely, label them and freeze them. Any future recipes that call for chicken stock see me defrosting my own homemade and delicious creation.

11. The chicken can be served as part of the main course or saved for another meal.

12. Serve the chicken soup piping hot. I love it with crusty bread and butter. On special occasions I chop up, very finely, two hard-boiled eggs and approximately 150g of spanish ham (jamon serrano) and place them in two bowls on the table. Guests can help themselves to a sprinkling of these in their soup. Heavenly!

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Spring is coming!

The wisteria is beginning to bloom. Thank God! It’s my annual reminder that we have survived another grotty winter and are so much closer to the those amazing, lazy summer months. The truth is that there seems to be little to celebrate at this time of the year; the period of time between the christmas tree going down and the easter eggs coming in. (Yep, I deliberately missed out St Valentine’s – I’m not on speaking terms with him right now). There is however, a lot to worry about and I am a grade A worrier. The list is endless; wars, recession, unemployment. And closer to home it doesn’t get any easier as I worry about my nearest and dearest. Heck I can even have sleepless nights over my daughter’s career prospects, her wedding and her pension fund –  and she’s only 13! To add to my anxieties there is now scientific evidence that I could truly be stressing myself into sickness, premature aging and a shortened lifespan!

In an interview on Spain’s TVE Canal 2 last night Eduard Punset (REDES) spoke to Monica de la Fuente, a professor of physiology at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, about the aging process. And it got me thinking about the number of minor medical niggles which have been plaguing me  and getting me down since Christmas. The University’s  research points to the fact that the immune system whose principal function is to fight off viruses and infections, works closely with and is affected by the nervous system and the hormonal (endocrine) system. Ms de la Fuente points out that feeling anxious, depressed  or suffering a loss can impair the immune system and make a person more susceptible to infections and serious illnesses. And although stress is a complex matter, what is stressful to one person is not so to another, small amounts of stress are crucial and prepare people for the challenges that life throws at them. Indeed a relaxed stress-free life without challenges does not generate the defences required to face stress and change. (Not a deficiency I have to concern myself with right now.) Thus individuals find they are emotionally unprepared unable to cope.

On a positive note the reverse is also true and positive emotions help to regulate the immune system and result in better health. So, all those hours spent watching the Comedy Channel were a sound investment in my health. Even more good news; it appears our genes account for 25% of our health and longevity whilst our lifestyle accounts for the remaining 75%. This puts over-anxious control fiends like me in control of the quality and length of our lives and our health. It is deeply empowering.

Healthy eating, exercise, sleeping well and staying mentally active are essential. Avoiding alchohol, drugs and obesity is vital. Yet , now that I know just how important it is to avoiding crippling anxieties there is just one more thing to worry about. To lose sleep about. So it’s back to the gym, to doing my pelvic floor exercises as I do the ironing, to focusing on deep abdominal breathing three times a day and that’s without the day job, the housework, my kids…. Still, should sleep soundly after all that. Spring is almost here! And if you, gentle reader, have any surefire stress relief tips – please share. xx

For a full transcript of the interview in Spanish go to www.redes.tve.es

Juzcar – A white village, turns blue.

What could possess me to spend a precious Sunday travelling inland from Malaga in search of a tiny white village simply because it has been painted bright blue? Previously unheard of, Juzcar was selected for marketing purposes to promote Sony’s 3D movie premiere about the Smurfs. Sanity would usually have me heading towards the sunny coast without a second thought. However, my daughter’s Facebook page was brimming with photos and comments from frenzied teenage friends who had already visited Juzcar. And thus guilted into thinking she was missing out and I that I might be a horrible mother, I agreed to undertake the hour and a half hour car journey up winding mountain roads in spite of a propensity towards car sickness.

 I was under the impression that we would be the only visitors to this tiny village with less than 250 locals. I was expecting a ghost town. But the two police officers directing traffic at the entrance to the town were a surprise.  And the sheer volume of visitors and cars was quite confusing. Clearly this marketing gimmick has been hugely successful. Eighty thousand visitors have dropped in on Juzcar in a period of approximately six months. Two tiny bars/ restaurants have done their utmost to offer refreshment to the curious masses who await their turn patiently outdoors. We saw two locals dressed as Papa Smurf and a Smurfette. We took photos against the walls of houses adorned with pictures of Smurfs and toadstools. And the mountainous landscape, so green at this time of the year was amazing.

A couple of kilometres before you reach Juzcar there is a roundabout with a couple of shops on the roadside. About 20 Harley Davidson bikers, all of them in full leather gear, were parked in front of one of the shops which was also a manufacturer of leather goods. I kept expecting to see them in smurf town but this never happened. Instead I spotted a different group in what appeared to be cream combats, walking boots and small wicker baskets in hand. They appeared to be collecting different shaped mushrooms. And judging from the identity tags hanging from their necks they must have been a nature group studying the local produce. Each to his own! Who am I to judge? I have just bought tickets to see One Direction in concert next year. So why would I choose to fly over to the O2 to see these boys at considerable expense? Once again my daughter’s Facebook page……