Tasty Pumpkin Soup for Halloween

This week in group, we’ll be celebrating Halloween with a taster of this warming, lightly spiced soup which marries the flavours of pumpkin with cumin to produce a soup that is deliciously comforting. 

Did you know that the custom of making ‘jack-o-lanterns’ for Halloween is thought to have originated from the Gaelic festival of Samhain (31Oct-1Nov) in the 19th century in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, where turnips, mangelwurzel or beets were used?

I’ll be carefully scooping out the flesh of an orange pumpkin and making this delicious soup, then carving my traditional lantern to ward off evil spirits at Halloween – what will you be doing with yours?

Spicy Pumpkin & Cumin Soup

Spicy cumin and pumpkin soup

  • Serves: 4
  • Prep. time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 35 minutes
  • Total time: 30-60 Minutes
  • Syns per serving:
    • Green: FREE
    • Original: FREE
    • Extra Easy: FREE


  • Fry Light
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1.2kg/2lb 11oz pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 750ml/26fl oz vegetable stock made with Vecon
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves

To serve

  • 4 tbsp fat-free natural yogurt
  • roasted cumin seeds
  • paprika


  1. Spray non-stick saucepan with Fry Light and place over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion to the pan and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until softened.
  2. Add the pumpkin and ground cumin and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Season well, add the stock and bring to the boil. Cover, lower the heat and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes until the pumpkin is tender.
  3. Allow the soup to cool slightly, place in a food processor and blend until smooth. Stir in the coriander and ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Garnish each bowl with a spoonful of yogurt and a sprinkle of roasted cumin seeds and paprika.

Slimming World Recipe of the Week

Every week in group I put together a raffle prize to encourage members to Food Optimize by preparing fabulous filling meals.  Some weeks it might be a fruit basket, other weeks I might concentrate on a mixture of seasonal veg, but most weeks I try and inspire my members to try some of the fabulous recipes from the amazing books, magazines and ideas posted every week online.
This week’s raffle had the ingredients for a classic Ratatouille Recipe, which I had adapted from a favourite recipe courtesy of Nigel Slater I’ve been cooking for years, food optimized to make it healthy, filling and delicious!  Try it for yourself and see!

Classic ratatouille recipe

Conjure up Provence with this lush mixture of tender vegetables…
Serves: 4
Syns per serving: FREE on Extra Easy & Green

1 onion, sliced
Fry Light
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 aubergine, thickly sliced
2 courgettes, thickly sliced
1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper, seeded and quartered
1 Can Plum Tomatoes
Fresh or Dried Thyme
Fresh Basil leaves (to serve)
Salt & Pepper to taste

1.    Sweat 2 sliced onions in Fry Light until they are soft, add 2 sliced garlic cloves and cook until soft.
2.    Remove to a deep roasting tin or baking dish. Fry each of the other vegetables separately, until each is pale gold.
3.    Remove as each one is ready and add to the tin or dish
4.    Add the plum tomatoes, seasoning with salt, black pepper and herbs.
5.    Bake at 180C/gas mark 4 for about 40 minutes until soft and tender.
6.    Stir gently with a handful of torn basil leaves and serve.


(Image from Nigel Slater @ Observer)

Back to the Beginning. . .

Two years ago I joined Sue’s Slimming World group in Brighton at a point in my life when I was suffering from weight related ill-health and realised that something had to be done before things got even worse.  Today I’m seven & a half stones lighter, 100% fitter and now spreading the word, running the Brighton Group.

I’ve never looked back!  Until yesterday when I came across my journal which I fastidiously kept in my first few weeks, using the online facility on the member’s website – Lifeline Online.  It made me chuckle and is a fairly typical record of a new member’s early weeks of Food Optimizing!

Here’s my first week’s meanderings. . .

Friday 8 October 2010My first day of Food Optimizing

I chose to have Muesli for breakfast, with fat free plain yoghurt and grated apple – all of which I have as staple store cupboard items – I make it myself with nuts and seeds and dried fruit. I made the Spanish omelette for lunch – using Fry Light & served with a salad, making a dressing with Extra Virgin Olive Oil & lemon juice, and counting as a syn. For the first time in my life I measured out a teaspoonful and was very surprised it was enough to coat the salad leaves. The olive oil thing is going to take me a while to adjust to, as I do tend to use it with everything. I’ve chosen Spag Bol for Supper – had all the ingredients in – will have to stock up on things I don’t normally buy, like fromage frais/quark etc. for other meals.

Went for a drink with a friend to mull over the week, and rather than sharing the normal bottle, I stuck to just one white wine spritzer and several glasses of plain soda water. . . I didn’t feel hungry at all, in fact I was quite full! I had half a packet of tempestuous cheese Nachos lurking in the back of the cupboard, which has now been relegated to the bin. Also nearly half a pound of butter has been carefully removed from it’s dish, wrapped and deposited in the freezer – I refuse to waste it, but it removes temptation – it is now banished from my fridge. I walked 1914 steps today (1 mile – to the pub & back) – all uphill on the way there!

Sat 9 October 2010 – Late cooked SW breakfast – avoided bread – actually didn’t really need it. Went to early showing at the cinema making sure I had a bagful of fruit, then Brighton Slimming World Cooked Breakfastshopping. Had fruit and cheese for lunch with some cooked ham. Prepared chicken for supper, with lots of veg and mashed potato – instead of a large glob of butter and milk, I used just low fat greek style yogurt in the mash – a bit dry, but OK when eaten with all other veg and chicken. I used balsamic vinegar (which I thought would be a syn, because of the sweetness, but which seems to be ‘free’) to cook the chicken with onions, mushrooms, garlic, tarragon & courgettes – teasp of extra virgin olive oil –  accounted for this as a healthy extra.

I’ve counted skimmed milk today as a syn – I calculated how much 3 tablespoons was (1syn) and made up a jug with 12 tablespoons which I used for tea and coffee during the day.  I also drank about a litre and a half of water – which is around my usual intake (bottle firmly fixed about my person)! Oh, and I walked 4,518 steps (2.38miles) today – I purposely stepped up the pace, to make it count! I’m feeling a bit bloated today – pains in my upper abdomen – very gassy!

Sun 10 October 2010 – Late breakfast – omelette with veg & cheese. Went out and had a walk in the local park, and then onto farm shop. Resisted the wonderful aromas of their pasties cooking in the cafe when we stopped for a coffee. Bought some really great fruit and veg and excellent lamb for the rest of the week. Had quite a late lunch of Pasta & tuna salad, using some fat free dressing, I reluctantly purchased (food of the devil)! To make it taste marginally acceptable I added some balsamic vinegar and squeezed some lemon & added fresh mint on the salad, which made it quite palatable! Chicken & veg for supper. Not feeling so bloated today but have a mighty fine headache!

Drank about 1 litre of water today and a peppermint tea, a lemon & ginger tea and 1 cup of coffee – perhaps the headache is caffeine withdrawal? Managed to lose my pedometer somewhere between getting in the car and walking in the park, so have no idea how many steps I’ve taken today – the walk was more of a stroll really, just soaking up the sunshine!

Mon 11 October 2010 – I work from home, so easy to stay on top of menu choices. Had an apple mid morning as I was feeling quite hungry. Made the Minestrone from the SW Recipe booklet – which was tasty. Had a bowlful for lunch, which was very filling. I took a walk to the local shops to do a couple of errands – downloaded a pedometer app for my i-phone to replace the lost freebie which fell off my person yesterday! Clocked up only 1615 steps.

In the post this morning, I received a mailing from O2, which congratulated me on being a customer for 10 years, the package contained 10 small 2g milk chocolates – typical! Anyway, before just popping one in my mouth, I checked and worked out that I can have 3 of these for 1.5 syns, so will save them for later! Chicken & veg for supper after going to photography course – walking there and back 3906 steps – total miles walked 3.5 – total steps today 5521.

Tues 12 October 2010 – Had toast, boiled egg, ham and beans this morning and wasn’t at all hungry until lunchtime. Yippee – no upper ab pains and all gas dispersed! Still a bit of a headache though. Had two cups of coffee this morning – that got rid of it!

Leftover Minestrone from yesterday for lunch. Deskbound today – apart from trip to wholesalers car, so no walking as such today! Chicken stir fry for supper – again from recipe book – it lacked a little flavour, as I’m so used to putting a drizzle of sesame or other oil to finish the dish – it was still tasty though and it completely filled me up!

Ok, for the record I would just like to state that the following are foods of the devil which I refuse to eat – they’re homogenous substances which are expensive and quite frankly taste disgusting – Fat Free Dressing, Low Fat Spread (this is just my personal taste and opinion)!

Wed 13 October 2010 – Muesli for breakfast with sliced banana and yogurt. Working from home, deskbound this morning, lunch was jacket potato with ham, cheese & baked beans with a lettuce, cucumber and tomato salad, with 1 teaspoon of dressing made from extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Afternoon spent tidying up garden and clearing out workshop, so a bit of exercise, but not measured. Supper was penne pasta with tomato sauce made with toms, mushrooms, bacon & chilies with a splash of low fat yogurt. Apple for pudding. It’s my 6th day on the plan, and sticking to it determinedly – weigh in tomorrow – I don’t feel any different at this early stage, although I seem to have a bit more energy!

Thurs 14 October 2010 – Boiled Eggs and toast with Marmite today. Up early to fetch flowers from wholesalers, so busy morning standing up in workshop prepping. Lunch was a Feta Salad – big bowlful with 1 tsp extra virgin balsamic dressing with figs and a banana late afternoon. Tonight I’ve made the Mediterranean Lamb Tagine from the SW Recipe Booklet, with cabbage. Weigh in tonight – eeeek! Walking there and back – about 15 mins each way – not sure of steps.

4 pounds loss – yeay! Being so bloated and gassy most of the week, I didn’t feel like I’d lost an ounce, so was very pleased at the result. It’s given me a big boost to continue in the same way this week!

12 Winning Ways with Quark

The Slimming World Way. . . .

Quark is a fat free cream cheese, which is a versatile substitute to add to some classic recipes to make them healthy and delicious!  Available from most supermarkets or health food shops.

1. Mixed with sweetener  – great substitute for cream – add strawberries or fruit of your choice! Delicious and free!

2. Make syn free pancakes by adding 1 whisked egg to a tablespoon of quark and mix together to make a batter. Add sweetener for sweet pancakes or herbs for savoury.

3. Whisk with eggs and stir in cooked pasta, mushrooms and bacon for Carbonnara. (Add some grated parmesan for another 0.5 syns)

4. Mix with crumbled meringue nest with sweetener and strawberries for Eton Mess (3 syns).

5. Add chocolate options (any flavour) with sweetener to a tub of quark for a yummy chocolate mousse (2 syns).

6. Add a Knorr stockpot cube to a level tablespoon of quark and pour over meat for syn free sauce.

7. Mix with Nutella (4.5 syns per level tablespoon) for a great dessert topping.

8. Crumble a Bag of mini Maltesers (4.5 syns) with 3 level tablespoons quark for a light and delicious dessert.

9. Crush a tin of garden peas (or use frozen, cooked) and mix with shredded fresh basil and grated garlic and stir in Quark for an alternative ‘Pesto’.

10. Stir a tablespoon into a curry at the end of cooking to make it creamy!

11. Mix with equal quantities of 0% total Greek yogurt and 0% Fromage Frais and stir into porridge or top your cereal and fresh fruit as an alternative to milk!

12. Stir into Soup at the end of cooking for a creamy finish!

Keeping your Cool. . . .

Five simple steps towards stress free healthy living

1. Controlled breathing will help to diffuse feelings of stress and anger.  Five minutes each day breathe in slowly counting to five. Hold while counting to five again. Exhale slowly through your mouth, once again counting to five. Do 30 of these controlled breaths to remain calm.

2. Zzzzzzzzzzz  – get enough sleep – at least 7 hours each night will ensure you are able to control your immediate reactions.  If you can’t get 7 full hours each night, sneak a 10-20 min nap in the afternoon.

3. Healthy food – try to eat foods that contain B vitamins, such as whole grains, fish, eggs and leafy greens every day. These will help to regulate your nervous system and make it easier to remain focused. To keep your blood sugar levels steady and be less irritable, eat a nutritious snack or meal every three hours.

4. In moderation. . . .  Avoid excess alcohol and caffeine which can impair judgement and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, which can cause confusion and irritation.

5. Body Magic – get rid of pent up energy by doing some form of exercise at least 3 times a week or indulge in a hobby such as gardening, painting or walking.