Curried banana soup I hear you cry – though I’d ask you to keep the noise down because Goomba has just been out for a tom-tit and he’s very volatile. One loud noise and his training will be set back two weeks and he’ll be back to pooing on the utility room floor with a glint in his eye that just screams ‘you wanna dance, bitch’. For a dog of ten weeks he’s got an awful lot of attitude and a very efficient bum, I can tell you. But hear me out on the curried banana: as long as you use good madras powder (the type that may suggest putting a roll of Andrex in the fridge for after), the sweetness of the banana and the cream cut with it to make a very flavourful, surprising dinner. If the thought of it still turns your stomach, then at least this is only the smallest of blog entries to work through with pursed lips. We are, after all, a food blog.
But of course I am going to talk about the dog for a moment more, given I’ve now become a dog-sitting shut-in (and there’s an assemblage of syllables you don’t want to mix up) and therefore have nothing else to talk about. We’re almost at the end of the week following his second jab and are very much looking forward to going out, though I am braced for the onslaught of people coming over and fussing him and giving me their sage advice on how to raise him. You have to understand that although I am a fairly social being at the best of times, when someone ambushes me first thing in the morning when my eyes are still stuck together and I’m dry-heaving my way through picking up his droppings, my responses will be quite curt.
One lady, who I have never met before in my entire life and who looked as though her ears were still ringing from the Big Bang, came to our gate the other morning to tell us that Goomba must be muzzled outside (in our own garden, no less) and that we mustn’t be afraid to beat him in order to establish dominance. I laughed in her face, but thought better than to mention that such a strategy hasn’t worked in the fifteen years I’ve been with Paul and that he still leaves empty milk bottles on top of the bin instead of inside it. I understand that everyone has an opinion and they’re welcome to it but she wouldn’t have enjoyed it if I’d knocked on her door and suggested a couple of ways she could make her moustache frame her face better.
That said, if anyone has some tips on how to get cats used to a new dog, I’d welcome them. Bowser isn’t arsed, he just hisses and sends the dog packing, but Sola is a different beast entirely. She’s already a very skittish cat – she won’t allow you to pick her up under any circumstances and the closest you’ll get to affection is her showing off her anus as you take a bath – and seems to be quite put out. We’re fussing her the best we can (telling her we hate the dog really, leaving Mein Kampf playing on Audible as she sleeps) but she is spending most of her time in her box atop the kitchen cabinets. Lots of online guides say she will come round in her own time and it’ll just take one swipe at his nose for her to draw a line. That’s fine, but they haven’t met Sola – she won’t use her claws, but instead a shiv she’s whittled from a toothbrush. Tough times ahead.
Anyway, I said this would be a quick and easy entry (my favourite) so let us not linger amongst the dogchatter and get straight to the curried banana soup. First thing I want to say is: it’s really hard to make a white bowl filled with yellow gloop to look exciting in a photo. The book we adapted this from suggested serving with sweet potato crisps and indeed, I went to Lidl especially, but I ate them on the drive home. Once a chubby cub, always a chubby cub. You’ll note that this recipe uses butter and single cream and still comes in under 300 calories.
Curried banana soup: tasty, I promise
I had to turn up the brightness to try and salvage the photo, hence this curried banana soup looking almost radioactive
So if you trust us enough to try this curried banana soup, please note a couple of things: we use butter and single cream in this recipe, and it still comes in under 300 calories for a lunch. If you're on Slimming World, you'll need to swap your butter for olive oil (though if you use Frylight, I'll do time) and you could maybe swap the single cream for some Philadelphia. I dunno anymore. Frankly, you're better off synning the ingredients, but we've been saying that for years and do you listen? Do you bugger!
We worked this out at around 295 calories per serving.
one teaspoon of garlic paste
one large white onion, chopped
one heaped tablespoon of madras powder
120g of basmati rice
1200ml of chicken stock
250g of single cream
two decent sized (ripe) bananas
squirt of lime juice
gently fry the onion in the butter until the onion is golden and soft
stir in the garlic paste and cook for a minute more
add the curry powder and stir
add the rice and chicken stock and cook for around twenty minutes on a simmer, until the rice is cooked through
add the cream and bananas and blend the absolute dickens out of it using a hand-blender, but do be careful you don't burn yourself
serve with a squirt of lime juice and those crisps you bought and ate in the car
the banana needs to be ripe - you want those bananas that you're saving for the banana bread that you'll never make
we're using garlic paste because it's handy but you could just mince a clove of garlic if you don't have the paste - but then again, you could do a lot of things if you just believed
this very well may be a soup that you have right there and now - it'll certainly get 'gloopy' if you leave it to sit, but if that happens, just eat it through gently and you'll be cooking on gas
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Whilst we are on the topic of soups that look like hot-arse but taste good, here’s another soup for you to try: spinach, pea and ham thick soup! Click it to go straight there, and you can find all of our other soup recipes here.
Syn free leek and blue cheese soup: if you can get past the gipping and the heaving as you open the packet of cheese and you smell that uniquely manky honk, then a delicious soup awaits you.
You know, if I may, do try and persevere with blue cheese, and indeed any food that leaves you cold. Tastes change as you mature. and you only have to look at me as proof of that maxim: I used to believe that the best look I ever had was my shoulder-length black and blue hair, whereas truthfully I looked like something an insane person would draw crawling from a well in their nightmares. Samara? I barely trapped her!
Anyway, today’s recipe for leek and blue cheese soup is a quickie, and so I won’t keep you for too long with the blog post only to tell you my idea for a movie. We’ve all seen Speed and decreed it amazing, and Speed 2 is an enjoyable bit of popcorn fluff, even if Jason Patric has all the acting range of a greased doorknob. In fact, this idea only came about because I was listening to the excellent Speed 2 score on a drive home lately, which always adds a frisson of excitement to navigating the central motorway.
So: Speed 3. Obviously they’ve done a bus, a subway train, a boat and Willem Dafoe, a man whose face would frighten toothpaste back into its tube. You’d think the possibilities are exhausted, but no. Aeroplane. It seems so obvious when you think of it but the fact it hasn’t been done already leads me to think I’m Alfred Hitchcock reincarnated, and not just because I’m fat and look good with a cigar. Where were we?
It’s a ‘smart plane’ with lots of fancy technology but oh no – the pilots are no longer needed to fly them, they’re that safe. But what do you know? A disgruntled ex-pilot sabotages the first passenger-carrying flight because he’s got a tittylip about being put out of a job. The plane climbs to 33,000ft and then suddenly boom – the inflight entertainment displays a message to everyone saying that if the plane descends below 15, 000ft, it’ll blow up. It’s an altitude bomb. Heavens! Lots of panicking and shrieking and heavens-to-betsy but what do you know? Sandra Bullock has retrained as a flight stewardess. That’s right: she had so much fun driving that bus that she swapped it for a trolley full of perfume and cigarettes.
Now I can’t work out for the life of me why Sandra Bullock would end up trying to control the plane but that’s what scriptwriters are for. I’m also not a certified pilot, or indeed any pilot at all, so I’m not 100% it would work, but a couple of the set-pieces would be a fire which necessitated one of the doors being blown off in order to suck the oxygen out and starve the fire. But then that creates a new problem because there’s only limited oxygen in those wee tanks everyone gets. WHAT A CALAMITY. There’d be a scene where they’re all trying to fight the plane but it’s throwing them around and all it’s all terrifically exciting.
Anyway the end would involve the plane flying upside down to trick the altitude bomb and Sandra Bullock parachuting out the back. No, I don’t know where she got a parachute but haway, it’s Sandra Bullock, she flew through space with a fire extinguisher and an anguished grimace, she can do this. Oh and the passengers? Dunno. SHIT NO yes I do: they climbed inside the terrorist-proof cargo hold with a tonne of pillows and when the plane went kaboom at the end they were fine.
Best part? It’s called Speed 3: Bad Altitude and the tagline for every poster would be ‘Fear Takes Off’. Admit it, you’d watch the shit out of that. Hollywood? Call me!
That’s enough of that nonsense anyway, young lady. Let’s do this SYN FREE leek and blue cheese soup, shall we? SHALL WE?
You try making a leek and blue cheese soup look good. Go on, I dare you. Mind it does look a bit like the opening of Heroes but in soup form.
Remember last week when I gave you a quick recipe for soup? Well! Here we go again – this time it’s for pumpkin and bacon soup. Big fan of soup here at Chubby Towers Adjacent and this series of soups is all about recipes where you can buy the stuff pre-chopped and hoy it all in a pan or soup-maker and crack on!
Now had we been one of those super organised blogs we would have had this soup up around the hallowe’en time so that people had spare pumpkin around, but we’re not. We’ve only just got round to updating Realplayer and we can’t wait to bring you some video recipes soon.
Mind, I used to love hallowe’en, even if trick or treating in my family meant putting on a barely cleaned bag that had blown in from the farm next door, hollowing out a turnip, sticking a candle in it and schlepping around the village knocking on locked doors. No wonder they didn’t answer: nothing says ‘trick or treat’ than a ‘ghost’ emblazoned with ICI Chemicals mincing down your path smelling like a carvery.
They didn’t bother dressing Paul up to go trick-or-treating either, though I presume when he rocked up on a doorstep with his fragrant mother by his side, they assumed it was just Fester and Grandmama from the Addams Family. The realism!
Anyway, I said this would be a quick recipe, didn’t I? So we must crack on! To the pumpkin and bacon soup!
This spicy pumpkin and bacon soup is gorgeous, but if you have a sensitive nipsy, leave the spice out!
If you can’t find pumpkin, then swap it out for butternut squash! Right, let’s get this pumpkin and bacon soup on the go!
Now then, this spicy pumpkin and bacon soup doesn't need to be spicy, you can always leave that bit out at the end if you so desire. As before, we made ours in a Tefal Easy Soup but you can just chuck it all in a pan and blend it after half an hour. You don't need anything fancy here! But they are good, mind.
500g of finely chopped pumpkin
100g of chopped white onion
75g of chopped cooked bacon
1tsp each of garlic and ginger paste
500ml of chicken stock
1 tsp of chilli flakes
if using a pan, chuck everything in (save for some of the bacon) and simmer for about twenty minutes or until the pumpkin is soft
blend and top with chilli sauce and bacon bits
Of course, if you're using the Tefal Easy Soup - chuck it in, press the soup button, it'll blend when it's ready!
as I mentioned, you can swap pumpkin for butternut squash, and I dare say it will be easier to peel
you can buy pre-chopped pumpkin and butternut squash in most supermarkets, you lazy cow
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Just the quickest of posts tonight for this spicy tomato and beetroot soup, which has already featured on our Instagram but needs an airing on here. As the cold nights draw nearer we all need something warm slipped inside us, and frankly, this soup does the job perfectly.
I shan’t keep you with my usual 1000 words of hooey, but I will slip in a note of caution for you (and if you’re sensitive, do skip forward to the recipe pictures, I beg you) – please remember that you’ve had beetroot the day after you demolish this soup. I tell you this only as someone with a tendency towards the dramatic. Paul doesn’t like beetroot, it reminds him of kissing his mother, so I consumed four bowls of this soup in one day a couple of weeks ago.
That wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem – I’m a big lad and can wear the extra calories like one might wear a winter muff – however I clean forgot about my intake of beetroot the day after when I’d dashed home especially to see a friend off to the coast. That dealt with, I took a quick look (and bugger off, everyone does this) (your own I mean, I don’t fancy a bus trip being put on to come look at mine) and was left aghast by the fact I was clearly shedding blood at an alarming rate.
Naturally, I was beside myself, and that’s coming from someone who is only ever two brief shocks away from hysteria.
I called Paul at work to explain that I would probably be dead on the floor by the time he got back and that he wasn’t to take another lover for at least five years after my death. He calmed me down in that patient, complaisant manner of his and then downgraded my self-diagnosed terminal illness to simply overindulgence of beetroot. It was a rollercoaster few moments, I can tell you, and I’ll ask that you exercise appropriate caution with this tomato and beetroot soup.
It’s hard to make tomato and beetroot soup look sexy, but honestly, this is gorgeous!
We served this with a lump of beetroot bread from Morrisons. Yes, it does rather look like a diseased knuckle. But…
If you're not a fan of beetroot, I still recommend giving this a go: it doesn't taste very...beetrooty! Also, if you are really fussed about spending syns you could swap out the Philadelphia for a bit of horseradish - but only a teaspoon otherwise you really will be in trouble on the thunderbox.
We used a Tefal Easy Soup for this - but you can use a pan just as easily! We love it because you chuck everything in and press a button and away it goes.
400g chopped cooked beetroot
60g of chopped white onion
400ml of chilli and tomato passata
one garlic clove, minced
450ml of beef stock
50g of Philadelphia Lightest
chuck everything in a pan bar the Philadelphia and cook for about twenty minutes
blend and serve with lovely bread
I mean it's that easy.
swap Philadelphia for horseradish if you want a more 'sour' soup
cooked beetroot is different from pickled beetroot mind you - you'll find cooked beetroot in the fresh vegetables part of the supermarket, but vacuum packed
Chernobyl soup: it cooks itself! No, stop it, we won’t have any jokes about Chernobyl in here, this is a tasteful blog. However let me tell you this: the soup looks like something you’d find in a layby nappy, hurriedly thrown from a moving car by some frazzled parents, but it tastes bloody good. If you’re looking for something very quick, cheap and easy, then nip over and I’ll sort you out, and we can have the soup after. It’s a simple enough combination of stock, veg and sausage with paprika. It uses an Instant Pot but fret not – you can make it on the hob just as easy.
Why are we calling it Chernobyl soup anyway? Because it was part of the meal we had at the Chernobyl Power Plant Workers’ Canteen, and so, with the confident ease of someone who has played the up-a-bit-down-a-bit-push game all too often, let’s segue straight to part two of our Ukraine holiday report. Look! A fancy banner approaches – click it to whisk straight to the recipe – and this is a VERY long entry, so I won’t even hold it against you.
Chernobyl, then. Our holiday package came with a twelve hour tour, which at 5.30am in the morning, pulling on sodden Dr Martens and wishing for death, felt like an awfully long time to stand around looking at dusty, toxic relics from a bygone era – we can do that easily enough by Skypeing Paul’s mother, and she’s only slightly less radioactive. We were up early as we had to be at a random hotel by 7am and we had no idea of the Metro schedule. After spending forty minutes feeling each individual drop of water hit me from the shower, we bustled out, asking the hotel concierge to call us a taxi. He gave us an earnest smile, coughed into his beard and pushed us outside to wait. Perhaps we were cluttering up the lobby or detracting from the entrance to the ‘Gentleman’s Club’, I don’t know. Anyway, we waited for a while until what would turn out to be a recurring theme of this holiday turned up: a car that looked like it was put together by my nephew in a fever dream. Rusted? I could see the petrol flowing through the door. No way were we getting in that, so the next ten minutes were spent stealthily hiding from both the very angry looking taxi driver and the concierge, who seemed bemused that we had disappeared into fat air. We stayed around the corner until the taxi driver drove off in a cloud of toxic blue smoke and the concierge went back to extracting new flavours of phlegm from his lungs. Paul called an Uber Exec in a fit of excitement and thankfully, a car that hadn’t been witness to seventy years of history rolled in, accompanied by yet another beautiful Ukrainian man whose name I’d never learn but whose eyes I’d always remember.
Honestly, long term readers of this blog will know that I have a real thing for taxi drivers – I think it’s simply any lust that allows me to sit down and rest my legs, to be honest – but it’s getting to a point where Paul’s having to pop a meter on and hang a Magic Tree off his knob if he wants to get his leg over.
The driver was cold and efficient and dropped us where we needed to be with a grunt. We gave him a tip of 5, 667,344,667 Ukrainian hryvnia (about £2.10) and sent him on his way. There were several white minibuses all boarding tour groups and of course, the anxiety of having to get on the right bus was overwhelming. Imagine my distress if I’d hopped on the wrong bus only to be taken to a gulag and passed around like life-raft chocolate. After I’d double-checked that this wasn’t happening, and hidden my disappointment from Paul, we climbed aboard. There’s always a worry about shared tour groups that you’re going to get onto a bus and find yourself sandwiched between folks who want to talk to you about Jesus and others who snack with their mouths wide open. Luckily – for the most part, ssh – this was a decent group – and once our tour guide (Cynthia, the doll beloved by Angelica from The Rugrats, electrified, made human and given an action-jackson gilet) jumped on, we were away.
She explained a few things: we were to buy snacks en-route because, obviously, nowhere to buy them in the Exclusion Zone. We had to try for a tom-tit at the petrol station because you really don’t want to be flaring your bumhole in the wild open air (she phrased it better, admittedly) and the toilet facilities were ropey. Don’t pick anything up. Don’t eat the berries. Buy some wet-wipes for your hands and dog treats for all the wild dogs that have set up home. We then had to sign a very official looking document (well sort of – the Ukrainian flag still had ‘shutterstock’ printed across it where they’d lifted it from google images, but top marks for theatre) to say we understood the risks of entering the Exclusion Zone and that we would be subject to punishment if we broke any of the rules. One of those rules? Don’t enter any abandoned structure. Just remember that. After twenty minutes, we pulled into the petrol station. I wish I could tell you the name because it was hilarious but I’d get wrong. So I can’t.
Whilst Paul busied himself trying to work out the coffee machine I took the role of class swot and went for a shite, bought my snacks and wet-wipes and then went outside to stand by the bus. Well no, I wanted to smoke, and as nonchalant as the Ukraine seemed to be about health and safety, I didn’t fancy sparking up in a petrol station. Oh and I know I shouldn’t smoke, but something has to take the bitterness of my words away. Luckily, my COPD-Club of One became three with the addition of two other Northerners, Vicky and Natalie. It took me a while to understand they were from the UK because with their strangled vowels and hissing sibilants I’d just assumed they were local engineers here to fix the bus. We bonded immediately over the sight of a dog and Paul’s ashen face at trying to drink a takeaway coffee consisting entirely of milk foam and cherry syrup, and then we were on our way. It was a good hour drive and I could tell Paul was itching to chat excitedly, so I shut my eyes and listened to my Billie Eilish tapes.
I can’t get enough of her, by the way. Imagine being eighteen and having a Bond theme out? The only thing I was responsible for at eighteen was an especially virulent outbreak for gonorrhoea. Well, it was the noughties after all.
An hour or two passed with very little to look at outside of the window save for the oncoming traffic, which the bus driver seemed to be taking a personal affront against given he was driving on both sides of the road at once. After twenty minutes of wincing, I nodded off, only for Paul to shake me from my slumber when we reached the first control point, where we told not to take pictures under any circumstances. There were a few burly mean-looking blokes hanging around so I’d cracked the emergency exit and slithered off like Tooms before our guide had finished telling everyone to behave. Our passports were checked, some tat was bought (I bought a gas mask, for reasons, not realising it was to fit a child – I look like one of those videos on Youtube where people put elastic bands around a watermelon when I wear it) and we were cleared to go exploring.
I should say at this point: we were given little Geiger counters to clip on, but at no time are you really in any major danger as long as you’re sensible. I did start clicking like the girl from The Grudge at one point but that was deliberate to shit Paul up.
This video, from the recent Chernobyl docudrama, explains what happened – and honestly if you’ve got ten minutes, watch it – amazing acting and you’ll never feel more like you could run a nuclear powerplant. Alternatively, cut to the ten minute mark, absolutely terrifying:
Now, since the reactor went boom, there were two exclusion zones set up – one 10km around the plant and another 30km. Both are safe for a day as long as you’re not snorting lines of dust, but you do have to be careful. You can’t explore yourself and must stay with a tour guide. Our tour started in a little village in the 30km zone, with us all tramping off the bus to walk around. Of course, it is eerie – a whole village lost to the forest – and we took some shots, walked around respectfully and went back to the bus. That was just a taster. Someone on the bus asked whether or not the dogs you see roaming around were the same dogs from thirty years ago and we all had to politely ball our fists in our mouth to stop laughing. Bless her, though I do like the idea of an irradiated Cujo wandering around looking for some glowing Bonio. That was a whistle-stop tour and the bus drove us to the next destination: the plant itself.
Perhaps you might not think it interesting to spend an hour looking at a power-plant, but in all honesty, the tour was captivating – we stood just outside the Containment Chamber which houses the incredibly radioactive remains of Reactor 4 and it’s mind-blowingly huge – an incredible piece of engineering when you consider it’s the largest man-made moveable object in the world. After Paul. Our tour guide showed us pictures of how it used to look and how it looked after the explosion and usually I zone out at stuff like that but she was terrific – and standing in front of something so destructive was genuinely terrifying. Brrr.
We drove on, with the next stop being Pripyat, the town built for the families of the workers of the powerplant. 50,000 people lived here in what looked to be a gorgeous town – then in the two days following the explosion, those who didn’t die were evacuated. This number rose as the Exclusion Zone grew to over 300,000. The bus turned a corner and we were on the Bridge of Death, where residents of the town gathered to watch the fire in the distance, all of them not knowing that they were watching their lives burn out in front of them. Everyone on the bridge died within days, captivated by the electric blue smoke pushed out by the reactor burning. The bus didn’t stop, which was entirely the right decision, and we parked up in the centre.
Our tour guide made a very stern face and told us we weren’t, by law, allowed to explore the buildings – partly out of respect, partly out of the fact they are unsafe structures, partly because they’re radioactive. If we were seen by the police who patrol the area we would be tossed back out with a flea in our ear. So, very clearly, if she saw us exploring inside the buildings, the tour would stop. Lucky, then, that she followed up this strict message by saying she would stay outside and do her paperwork, and if we wandered off…
So we explored five main points: the swimming pool, the school, a block of high rise apartments, the fairground and a nursery. I won’t go into all of them bar to tell you the common theme – imagine if someone pressed pause on an entire city. Everyone had to leave everything behind, soaked in radiation, and despite promises about returning, never could. You’re walking through a ghost city and it’s one of the must vaguely unsettling feelings I’ve ever felt. For example, in the high-rise buildings, you can walk up all twenty floors (and we did, with Paul gasping the entire way) and walk into people’s flats to see snapshots of their lives left to the dust: board games halfway played, pots left on the cooker, beds half-made and photos of loved ones cracked and fallen. It’s safe – so far as walking around buildings that haven’t been maintained for thirty years can be – but it’s absolutely haunting. When I’m uneasy or anxious I get an ache at the bottom of my back like someone is pressing on my spine and that feeling never left me. The faint taste of metal was a distraction though.
There’s so many photos out there of the various places you can visit so I won’t put my own up here, but have a look at our Instagram shots for a selection:
The floor full of children’s gas-masks was what got me though – tears actually welled up in my eyes when I realised that I shouldn’t have paid £20 for one from the gift shop and instead, just lifted one from here. Quick going over with a wet-wipe, job done.
One thing slightly irritated me – in quite a few places, you could tell things had been set up to make it ‘creepy’ – dolls with gas-masks on, faces half-buried in the soil. Chernobyl is dark tourism in its purist form – you don’t need to make a spectacle of it. Says the two lads who paid to tour it. That’s a fine looking high horse, fella.
We spent about two hours touring Pripyat and then it was back to the power-plant where we would join the current workers on site for lunch. We had another radiation check before going in – climb inside a little scanner, press your hands and wait for the beep – and then took a place in the queue (after I managed to fall up the stairs in my haste to get fed – they probably thought the reactor was having another wobbly when they felt the tables shake). We were warned that the ladies serving were miserable and christ, were they right – I’ve never been served lunch with such malice. I wanted to ask if I could swap my rye bread for a brown bun but it wouldn’t have surprised me if the bewhiskered babushka had pulled me over the counter and held me face down in the soup until my legs stopped kicking.
Lunch wasn’t bad mind – a little salad which I left because I’m not vegetarian, a soup which looked like someone had already digested it for me but tasted wonderful (see recipe below), a breaded (I think) piece of pork (I think) served on sticky rice (I think) and a lovely little muffin that I keep under my tongue even now so I can have a few more stabs at chewing it. This sounds like I’m being mean for the sake of it, and I am being facetious, certainly, but it honestly wasn’t bad at all. I made the mistake of scooping some mustard up off and putting it in my soup, not realising that this wasn’t mustard but something that must have been scrapped off the side of the blown reactor. Hot? I didn’t want to lose face, though ironically I did lose face as it burnt through my cheek. We made our way back to the bus, stopping (the group) to pet all the dogs milling around the plant and stopping (me) to smoke with all the workers in the vain hope I’d be squirrelled away as the office entertainment.
Next stop was something I hadn’t expected – a stop at the DUGA radar installation and the accompanying secret Soviet base. I adore stuff like this – incredible feats of engineering built for menace. I tried to take a photo to try and encapsulate the sheer size and freakery of this place and failed – it’s 500ft tall and half a mile long of tarnished metal, long-silent wires and rusting joints. At some points, you can stand under it and look up and it is all you can see. I’ve mentioned my phobia of dams before – part of that phobia is that dams look so unnatural and man-made set in usually beautiful countryside. This was the same with the DUGA station – so unnatural, so weird. That phobia of large structures is called megalophobia and I can’t deny that as excited as I was to see it, that little knot of anxiety was back in my spine. You can hear it creaking in the wind which is unsettling enough, and knowing it needs to come down soon but has to be taken apart by hand due to the radiation…nope. It was used to listen out for ballistic missile launches – I can’t help but think if Comrade Paul Anderson had his hands on it, he’d be using it to check my WhatsApp. Brrr.
The rest of the tour involved lots of little stops at various points – the working town where the current workers live (had to check we hadn’t turned off and ended up in Gateshead for a hot second), the memorial to the fallen, the little robots they attempted to use to shift the burning, highly radioactive graphite off the roof. The radiation was so intense that the robots only worked for moments before cutting out – they had to send humans up onto the roof to do what the robots couldn’t. Think on that for a second: so radioactive it fries a robot, so they sent these ‘bio-robots’ onto the roof instead. One minute to chuck as much rubble over the side as you can, and that’s you done, never to serve again. Fall over onto the graphite and you’re dead. Brush against it, and you’re dying. The thought of having to do something so intense made my spine hurt again: you’re talking to the man who fell up the stairs on his way to get soup, remember.
Though I have a confession: throughout the tour the guide kept telling us we would get a chance to meet the Roberts who helped with the clean-up exercise. I thought it was going to be a meet and greet of two blokes called Robert and spent a while on Wikipedia trying to work out who she could mean. Nope. Robots. I was a trifle disappointed.
Throughout the tour we spoke with the various folks on the bus with us – some were more engaging than others – and we made friends with the previously mentioned Natalie and Vicky, and then later Reiss and Sharlette (which made for an awkward moment when they both said that’s not how you spell my name when I was trying to find them on Facebook), a lovely couple who had come along on the same flight, with the same company, having watched the same documentary as us. I’ll circle back to these lovely four in the next blog entry but haven’t we come a long way since Paul and I pretended to be Armenian so that we didn’t have to make small-talk on a previous tour?
And that’s it – the driver got us all back on board, we cleared the checkpoint and then he cranked up the heating so we all fell asleep. I woke myself up with a fart so noxious (and I pray, silent) you’d be forgiven for thinking I was smuggling rubble back with me. It’s OK, I shut my eyes and went back to sleep with the lullaby of dry-heaving behind me to whoosh me to sleep.
So: would I recommend it? Absolutely. I knew Paul would enjoy it because he’s always been a fan of desolation, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. Your experience will depend entirely on the skill of your tour guide – ours was incredible, the right balance of humour, knowledge and pathos – and we tipped her well. The bus – awash with jokes and jibes about radiation on the way there – was silent coming back. They played a video of what the town was like on the drive back, which was an especially timely touch. It’s fascinating to see an entire town held in a time bubble and utterly incomprehensible to realise what an evacuation on that scale would actually mean. It was almost so much worse, too – had the core hit the water pooled underneath the reactor, almost all of Europe would have been rendered uninhabitable by the subsequent nuclear explosion.
As a footnote: the official Soviet death-count for Chernobyl, as of today: 31. Official studies actually put the numbers up near 90,000.
And there’s me grumbling about my weak shower.
To the Chernobyl soup, then. If you have an Instant Pot this is truly the work of minutes, but if not, fear not: you can make it on the hob just as easy. This makes enough for four servings of Chernobyl soup, which I really ought to call veg and sausage soup, but hell. To the recipe!
Yeah I should have cleaned that bowl first. But I was too busy playing with my gas-mask.
Curried cauliflower soup – and syn free to boot – perfect as the winter sets in and Christmas approaches. This is a dual purpose recipe: I wanted to find a soup recipe that took no effort at all AND used a vegetable that is cheap and abundant at the moment. Added bonus: it’ll make your arse so toxic that, should you be like me and have a husband who is constantly knocking on your nethers with Ole Blind Bob, you’ll be given a free pass. A free ass, if you will, though no-one’s ever thrown socks at my bottom. Pity. Anyway, the curried cauliflower soup will follow shortly, but first the usual balderdash.
One thing I haven’t mentioned on the blog lately is that I’ve been gallivanting quite a bit – a veritable blizzard of trips away and driving around the country snaffling a hundred service station sandwiches whilst owlishly ignoring my ‘Service Due’ spanner light on my car. One such trip took me to Birmingham to see Chernobyl Edition Paul who took me along to see Frisky & Mannish. Now, when someone recommends something to me, I’ll often nod and smile and die inside whilst I have to pretend to be interested in something awfully unfunny or just not up my street. If you ever meet me, you’ll see the exact ‘but I don’t care‘ face I pull the very second I ask you how you are and you reply with anything other than the most basic acknowledgement of the question. Honestly, it should be a crime to actually give a proper answer. In the North East we have this down to a fine art, which goes like this:
See? Didn’t even answer the question and then it’s off back down t’pit. Learn from that, people.
Anyway, it turned out his recommendation wasn’t duff at all, and after a few Youtube videos which actually made my insides ache we were booked and ready to go. Now, if you’ve never heard of them, they’re a musical comedy duo act who do shows which play on musical themes and mix pop parodies, jokes and some actual amazing singing. That’s a shit way of describing them, so let me simply encourage you to watch this:
It even won over my stone-hearted husband, who last laughed back in 2014, and even that was mainly acid-reflux.
Aside from spilling my beer as I sat down and creating a heart-stopping moment when Frisky came speeding out in massive heels and oh-so-almost slipped over, it was a genuinely fantastic show. You know how these things tend to go: there’s nearly always a ‘down bit’ where they try new material and not everything sticks. Not here: I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much at a live show, and I’m someone who ends up in paroxysms of laughter watching You’ve Been Framed. My benchmark isn’t high. I left that venue with my ribs aching like someone had spent four minutes slapping me about with a pair of fish slices to the key-change in Scared of the Dark by Steps. That’s a musical joke and you know it.
We were given a chance to meet them after and to their absolute credit, they remained entirely unfazed and positive even in light of being hugged by a giant sentient Sugar Puff and his glazed companion. I’d post the picture but I look like I’ve been awake for eight days and that’s not a treat for anyone. However, they were that bloody good that when I returned home I booked three more tickets to see them in Newcastle with Paul and someone who was sick of hearing me bang on about them. They loved it too, and it was great to see them playing to a much larger venue. Actually! Because I’m a narcissistic sod, I wanted to redo the picture I had taken from the other week and they were only happy to oblige:
I’m the one in the middle, in case you didn’t realise. Did I feel guilty about leaving Patrick and Paul outside in the pouring rain whilst I went full Annie Wilkes in the foyer? I did not. Worth it! They’re taking a break now but honestly, if you ever get a chance to see them, you absolutely must.
We also managed to squeeze in to see Jay Rayner on his Last Supper tour when we were both in Birmingham. I’m going to use that as a jumping off point for a fuller blog entry down the line but I’ll say two things now. Firstly, the man was an utter delight – hilarious, self-effacing and full of anecdotes you actually want to listen to. Which leads me to my next point: if you’re attending a show with a ‘question and answer’ element, don’t be that irritating raclure-de-bidet who thinks everyone in the room has come to hear your thoughts on the act as the show goes on. My word, she was bothersome – talking over everyone’s questions, guffawing in that ‘look at me look at me oh god won’t you look at me’ way at everything he said…the list could go on. I sure hope her heartbeat doesn’t.
Anyway, we’ll come back to Jay Rayner another time, but in the meantime, let’s do this curried cauliflower soup, shall we? I can’t pretend I’ve found a way of making curried cauliflower soup look exciting, but damn it’s syn free and delicious. What more do you want?
We're trying to spin our meals around whatever vegetables are currently in season here at Chubby Towers - plus, eating meat for every single meal is getting a bit tiresome on both the entrance and exit doors. What can you do with a cauliflower? Some people - we'll call them mental - pretend you can make steaks with them. You can't. You can no more make a steak with a cauliflower than you can make a lamppost with a giraffe. Get ahad of yerself, lass.
However, the good folks at Olive Magazine posted this recipe last year, and although we've adapted it ever so slightly for twochubbycubs and Slimming World, it didn't lose any flavour in our tinkering. We heartily recommend!
We've also included a tip to really speed things up if you're pushed for time, but honestly, there's very little to do here.
one large cauliflower - remove the outer leaves
few sprays of olive oil
one large white onion (we used the cannonball onions from Morrisons, but only because the name got me all a-frisk)
two teaspoons of garlic paste
one tablespoon of hot curry powder
one litre of vegetable stock (made from bouillon powder if you have it)
100g of fat-free Greek yoghurt
chop up your cauliflower into little cauliflowers - don't waste the stem either, chop it finely
save a few shapely florets aside
slice up your onion
in a nice big pan, gently sweat off your onion and cauliflower until nicely golden
add the garlic paste and curry powder and give everything a good stir and cook for a couple of minutes more
add the stock and allow to simmer gently for around 25 minutes, or until everything has softened up
if you like a thicker soup, simmer for a bit longer to take off some of the stock
allow to cool, add the yoghurt and then blend together with a stick blender
taste and if it needs salt, add it and reblend
For the top, I sliced the cauliflower florets nice and thickly and then in another small pan, fried them off in Worcestershire sauce - you want them to have a bit of a bite, but the Worcestershire sauce adds a lovely flavour - totally unnecessary though! I also added a bit of chilli oil because I'm not content unless my arse is melting like a summer ice-cream
want to speed this up - you can buy already chopped cauliflower in Tesco sold as 'cauliflower rice' - combine with a pot of chopped onions and you could have this done in no time at all
want more fabulous recipes of this scale and complexity - of course you do, you're wonderful - click away!
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This freezes well, I should have said – and what better way to say I want a divorce than present your partner with some freezer-burn soaked curried cauliflower soup? I ask you. You want some more ideas for soup? We got you – here’s all our syn free soups:
Cheesy pea soup sounds revolting, and what better way to open a blog entry about food than with that line? I know, we’re awful, we took a month off to concentrate on a few things – most notably for me (it’s always me, James, who writes the blog) was half-heartedly walking away from a career in law, only to be tempted back in with the promise of working from home one day a week and condensing all my hours into one day in the office. Well, as someone who likes to sit at home and pick his bum, how could I refuse? It gives me a bit more time to write the cookbook and ogle at our gardener. Speaking of cookbook…
It’s been a sad day near Chubby Towers with the passing of one of our neighbours. It’s inevitable, yes, when the average resident took their pension before the Boer War, but still, nobody likes to see a private ambulance trundling into the street early in the morning, do they? Especially when they park in my parking spot, but I didn’t think it was the time to cause a fuss. I’ll send a parking fine later with some white lilies. It did cause a slight moment of discomfiture when I realised I knew the name of the lady who had passed, but not her husband. The only time he’s ever talked to me was to ask me to remove my Vote Jeremy Corbyn sign, which to be fair to him I’d only put up to be mischievous given we live in a sea of Tory voters. You have no idea how much I want to put a pole up and hang a BEAR PRIDE flag up, if only so we get a few confused questions from the less enlightened. There’s one neighbour on the street who I hope to tempt over to the dark side and literally nailing my colours to the mast might just do it. Me going out in stretched hot-pants and wearing a permanently surprised look hasn’t done it yet.
Anyway. Not knowing the name only became an issue when it came to sending a Deepest Sympathy card. How do you address such a sensitive card when you don’t know the name of the recipient – it’s not like I can do my usual name-fudge and pop ‘soz she’s popped off, Chief‘ on the envelope, is it? In the end, after much agonising, I put ‘Sorry for your loss’ on the card (which seems incredibly disingenuous, as though the poor chap has mislaid his car keys or dropped a bank card down the drain) and signed it ‘Love James and Paul’, which I also immediately regretted because it looked piss-taking. Least I didn’t stick a xoxo on there. Sympathy and human emotion is just too much hard work. In retrospect, signing the card in glittery silver Sharpie probably wasn’t the most elegant move either, but look, it’s all I had to hand. I live in a very camp house.
I can’t imagine we’ll be invited to the funeral.
Which frankly, is a shame: I look splendid in black and I’m all for a wake buffet. Hell, we accidentally gatecrashed a wake in Oslo and only realised our error when we were shooed out by some hurly-burly bearded Norwegian whilst we filled our pockets from the koldtbord. Honestly, the grieving can be so touchy. Only been to three funerals in my time. My nana’s was a particular highlight: both Paul and I suffer from nervous laughter and even though I was genuinely distraught, the absurd sight of her coffin right in front of me whilst the entire church lurched through the eight-hundredth verse of All Things Bright And Beautiful really tickled me. Half of the congregation was made up of her equally elderly friends who were all on the last double-digit breaths of their life – I’m surprised we didn’t lose any. Plus, despite being 31 years old at the time, I still guffawed when the lavender crowd burst out in raptures about the purple headed mountain. Me too, loves. The vicar kept getting her name wrong too, which added an air of tension between the sobs – she didn’t even look like a Norman. I bit so much of my cheek that I can stay lying on my front when Paul wants a blowie.
It has got me thinking about what I want when I die. No fancy funeral, big coffin, lots of jewels – none of that. Nope, sell off all my chintz and bibelots, stuff me full of fireworks and pop a pipe cleaner somewhere indecent as a fuse and then push me out to sea. I want people to remember me how I lived – damp, colourful and usually on fire. No fake solemnity, no wailing, no dabbing daintily at your eyes whilst you remember times past. It’s an open invite to you all that, should you read in the paper of me dying in some tawdry fashion (it’s more inevitable than you can imagine), you can all come to the service. Just make sure you stop by Iceland first because fuck me, it’s going to have to be a good buffet.
What might not make it onto the buffet is this cheesy pea soup, which is a bloody shame because considering how quick it was to make, the fact it is syn free and actually tastes bloody good, it doesn’t deserve to be betrayed by the fact it looks like something Grotbags would cough into a handkerchief. Please, give it a go, and if you don’t like it I’ll take a personal responsibility for your loss. Hell, I might even send you a With Sympathies card. Written in silver Sharpie, natch. Snatch.
There's no way I can make that look appetising and for that, I'm sorry. Unless you like sink trap soup. But it's one of those meals that looks appalling but tastes nice, like moussaka, or Paul. Plus it's low in fat, like moussaka, or unlike Paul.
This does take no time at all to make however, uses only a few ingredients and is just the thing for those summer evenings when you have nothing in and the takeaway menu is just a shade out of reach.
one big old lettuce from the shops, or garden, if you please
400g of frozen peas (I used petit pois - not for any culinary reason, but just because I couldn't be arsed to find the proper peas at the back of the freezer)
two large cucumbers
one large bunch of spring onions
1 litre of chicken stock
80g of extra mature cheddar (two x HEA, but this serves four) (and listen, you can totally get away with adding 160g, I'm just being polite)
slice your spring onions - including all the green stalk - and gently fry off in a little oil
cut the lettuce and cucumber up roughly - it's all getting blended so no need for neatness
once the spring onions are softened, add the stock, lettuce, peas and cucumber and boil for about 10 minutes until everything has softened but still stays green
carefully blend the soup with a hand blender
stir in the grated cheese until everything is thick and tasty
serve adorned with cress and cheerful wishes (and a lot of black pepper)
I’ve tried so hard to make this soup look faintly attractive in the photos, but I can’t. It’s green slop, but it’s so tasty – pea and ham thick soup that looks like something from the sink trap. Anyway, it’ll do the job for days when you want something quick and easy to satisfy your hole and the postman has already been. I say that with an air of familiarity – our postman is delicious. I know it doesn’t do to judge people on looks but goodness me, he has legs I could spin around on and a face that just screams ‘I’ll apologise after’. Here’s me looking forlornly out of the window once he’s passed by.
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This syn free pea and ham thick soup - there's no way of making it sound attractive - comes straight from Jamie Oliver himself. I know he's divisive but I have a lot of time for him - anyone who can make decent food through such a heavy mist of spittle is a winner in my books. This soup is so easy to make - chuck it in a blender, throw it in a pan, spin it out the window, dance like no-one's watching. Keeps well in the fridge.
1 bunch of spring onions
350g frozen peas
300g frozen chopped spinach
big handful of fresh mint
300g dried pasta, any old shite will do
50g feta cheese (use your HEA)
1600ml of chicken stock
chop the spring onions
throw the peas, mint, spring onion, ham, frozen spinach and 400ml of chicken stock in a blender and blend the buggery out of it - add a pinch of salt and pepper
pour into a pan and add 1200ml of chicken stock
smash up your pasta - hit it with a rolling pin - and tip it in - let everything bubble for about twenty minutes until the pasta is cooked
serve with the feta crumbled in
lots of black pepper and salt, natch
this recipe came from Jamie's book all about his family and their expensive house and wholewheat pasta and Cath Kidson tableware. If you fancy replicating the experience with your B&M saucepans and Charles and Diana pinny, you can order his book from here
actually fair play to him, it's a great book - tonnes of recipes easily adapted for SW
it won't surprise you but we have a fancy blender that could blend anything, you can get one, or just use a stick blender - you don't need to spend lots of money to do our recipe!
we let ours bubble away for a good two hours (accidentally, I fell asleep watching Murder She Wrote) and it was lovely and thick - don't be frightened to cook it for longer!
Fancy, right? Want some more soup that you could smash your face in? Of course, we’ve got loads that are syn free!
Creamy parsnip and apple soup – part of a new category of budget Slimming World recipes that we’re planning on doing. We’ve done a budget week before, you understand, but it became such a ballache having to work out a tenth of a stockcube that we stopped doing it – I know, I’m shameless. But at the time of writing ASDA are selling bags of parsnips for 20p, so you can make this entire pan of soup – which serves six – for less than £1.50. Freezes well, too.
Forgot to say: apologies everyone who received an empty email talking about a risotto – we haven’t published that yet and the email was sent in error – pressed the wrong button. Blame my sausage fingers, it’s why I’ve never mastered the keyboard or wettened an eager beaver. I’m a hamfisted slut! That’ll come online shortly, I’m sure.
Budget is a difficult topic to gauge, to be honest. What is cutting back to me might be eye-watering extravagance to you – what might be penny-pinching to everyone else might be essential to a few of you. Who knows. The reason we’ve decided to reboot this category is simple: I read an excellent article from Jack Monroe, author of cookingonabootstrap, entitled My Ready Meal is None Of Your Fucking Business. She tears apart the whole argument that people can eat ‘well’ on a few pounds a week far more eloquently than I ever could. So I won’t try, but I’ll give you the strongest push to have a read of her blog, especially if you’re struggling for money and need some cheap but decent food ideas. To think, somewhat ashamedly, that my only initial recollection of her was someone who used to vaguely vex me (because she looked like a teacher I disliked) on the Sainsbury’s adverts. Having read up, and realised that as well as everything else she does, she also managed to royally piss off the Daily Mail, well, fair play to her.
Paul and I are lucky – no dependents to fund, no mortgage to pay, plenty of that luscious pink pound to waste on Ritter chocolate and extravagant trips around Lidl. In theory. In reality, we’re both tighter than a photo finish – we hate spending money and will desperately try to avoid doing so unless it’s for a holiday. There’s a certain outdated stereotype that as gay blokes, we should be tripping the light fantastic in decadent clothes, but trust me when I say the most expensive thing in our wardrobe is the dehumidifier. All of our clothes come from the supermarket – I don’t think I’ve ever owned a shirt that hasn’t come from a multipack and poor Paul has been barrelling into work now in shirts that are almost six sizes too big for him. He fell over the other day in the wind and it took five minutes for him to float to the ground like a feather. I park 2.5 miles away from my work and walk in to save the £7 a day parking fee I’d otherwise occur. I like to tell people it’s because I’m trying to get fit but actually, it’s all about the money. The biggest muscle on my body is the thumb I use to keep my wallet shut. I’ve been trying to encourage Paul to allow us to be a ‘if it’s yellow, let it mellow’ sort of household but we had to stop when the entire house started stinking like Sugar Puffs mixed with tuna.
Both of us came from families that didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but neither of us is any worse off for it – I wasn’t one of those spoiled brats who looked enviously at other kids going to Florida for their holidays – I was more than happy piling into the back of my parents’ car for the eight hour drive to the top of Scotland, thank you very much. Even now I can’t relax in a car unless I’ve got a tent peg threatening to burst my eardrum as I drive along. We never stopped at a Little Chef or anywhere fun en route either, no no – it was warm egg sandwiches and sullen faces all the way. Paul didn’t even get to go on holiday bar a trip to Ireland at the height of the troubles and some trip to Spain at the height of teletext-bargains. I’ve just asked him for a ‘poor’ memory and his was going to school with a pair of Activ trainers from Whittlesea Market whilst everyone else had Diadora specials. Pfft. He won’t elaborate further but I bet his Adidas trousers were two-stripe, with the third stripe being formed from his mother’s cigarette ash. Tsk.
There’s two exceptions to our thrift that I can think of: we like expensive aftershave (Tom Ford) and decent shoes. I like to think when I leave a room that I leave a pleasing order and a wonderful footprint, even if I do look like I’ve come dressed for a bet. Cheap shoes are a false economy – Paul struggled the three miles into work one day in a pair of gardening shoes when the entire bottom of his shoe came away, leaving him limping home in the rain like he’d staggered away from an explosion. A good pair of boots will last you forever, but of course, getting the funds together to buy them in the first place…
Anyway, in my usual roundabout way, I want to apologise if our budget recipes aren’t budget enough for you – but please, do feel free to suggest some more to us! Without further delay, let’s crack on with the creamy parsnip and apple soup, shall we? It’s from the Hairy Bikers, you know. Nope, not the first time two hairy bikers have left us satisfied and smiling with a slight pain in our bellies, but here we are. Do enjoy!
Remember: according to the folks at Slimming World, if you cook fruit, it becomes synned. We don't always agree with this blanket rule and in this case as we've used two apples between six people and haven't made it into an apple pie so we've chosen to not syn it. I know. Mags will put my lights out.
If you want to follow Slimming World's exact advice, this would be about 15 syns - 2.5 syns per bowl - or approximately 2x HeB choices split between six. How silly.
2 medium onions, chopped
600g parsnips, peeled and cut into wee chunks
2 garlic cloves, minced
600g Bramley apples, peeled, quartered and cut into chunks
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
150ml milk (3 syns)
spray a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a bit of oil
add the onions and parsnips to the pan and gently fry for about fifteen minutes
as an aside - if you want, take your parsnip peelings, spray them with a bit of oil, rub in some curry powder and roast them for a few minutes to crunch them up - you can use these to top the soup!
add the garlic and apples to the pan and cook for another couple of minutes
pour in the stock and bring to the boil
reduce to a simmer and cook for about twenty minutes - the parsnips should be soft
remove from the heat and blend until smooth
add in the milk and give a good stir - add plenty of salt and pepper
Syn-free minestrone soup in a hurry tonight, and that’s very fitting indeed because I have to get the blog done, get washed and showered and dressed all before our taxi gets here at 7.30pm. I wish I could say we were off to do something exciting but good lord, we’re going to play bingo in Ashington. If you’re not familiar with Ashington, just picture Aleppo but with more B&M outlets. It’s a safe bet that I’ll be mugged, but all bets are off as to whether it’ll be by the taxi driver, the smokers outside the entrance doors or the old biddies feeding their pensions into the lobby slots. Wish me luck!
Now this syn-free minestrone soup looks like it’ll be a pain in the arse but it’s ridiculously easy, although I’ve taken some liberties with the recipe. The recipe this is cribbed from (Delia Smith) has you sweating vegetables and taking your time. Balls to that: this is soup in a hurry. This makes enough for four big bowls of soup.
Ours looks a bit oily because we didn’t cut the fat off the bacon. Because we’re decadent.
to make syn-free minestrone soup in a hurry, you’ll need:
100g of bacon medallions (see note below)
one large onion (see note below)
two stalks of celery (see note below)
150g of carrots (peeled) (see note below)
2 large tomatoes, ripe
1 clove of garlic (minced)
two leeks (see note below)
handful of spring greens
75g of pasta (little macaroni is best, but we only add proper size)
1.5 litres of chicken stock
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
top tips for syn-free minestrone soup:
you really don’t need to worry about exact amounts of things – and you can take out or add in whatever vegetables you want
the onion, celery, carrots, leeks and bacon need to be chopped fine – either get yourself a good knife and some wrist pain or do what I did and chuck it all in the food processor and pulse it – there’s no need for uniform pieces, just get them into small chunks