Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Making A Christmas Wreath

Nothing adds a bit of Christmas cheer to a house like a wreath. The ones that you can buy, though, are often over-priced and, to be honest, not that great looking. Making your own wreath, though, is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.

To start with, you need a base to hold your wreath in shape and give it structure. I have a woven wooden wreath that I bought for a few pounds at a craft store, but you could also use a floral foam ring, a shaped wire, etc. You just want a basis to work from to help hold everything together and keep it in a circle.

Then you can use whatever greenery you have available. My daughters and I went into the garden with a basket, and picked some holly, evergreen branches, rosemary, roses (including leaves, rose hips, and flowers), St. John's wort, ivy, etc. Pick a nice selection of green leaves from whatever you have growing around your home.

Then shape it around your ring. My base ring is woven twigs, so I can stick branches into it, and you can also use floral rings to push things directly into. However, you could also use twine, string, or wire to secure the foliage to the wreath. Experiment moving pieces of foliage around the ring until you find a shape that you're happy with, and add some "features": rose hips, holly berries, a twig of mistletoe, etc. If you want, you can add a nice bow out of ribbon, some cinnamon sticks, or other Christmas-y items.

When we finished the wreath and hung it on the front door, Miriam exclaimed, "Wow. The house looks all beautiful for Christmas. Good job mummy!" Then she insisted that we use the leftover greenery to decorate inside the house, so we now have beautiful leaves decorating our mantelpiece as well.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Christmas Treat Plates

One of the great things about Christmas time is making Christmas treats. Even people who never venture near an oven feel the urge to make Christmas cookies or attempt a Christmas cake. Baked goods and other treats can make great Christmas gifts.

Everyone has people that they want to do more than just a card for, but don't really want to buy a gift for (for example, your children's teachers, neighbours, friends at church, etc.). Putting together little plates of treats is fun, easy, and relatively inexpensive, and makes a great home-made gift. We recently made up some plates of goodies for people that we go to church with and my daughter's preschool teachers.

It's traditional at Christmas (here in England at least) to have mince pies. The problem is, not very many people actually like mince pies. So we made mini apple pies instead. I cheated for the sake of time and used pre-made pastry, and just rolled it out myself. I put it in buttered and floured muffin tins, and blind baked the shell (to blind bake, line the uncooked pie shell/pastry with greaseproof paper, and put something like dried beans on top of that, and part bake in the oven. This makes sure the the bottom of the shell is properly cooked and doesn't go soggy when the filling is added). Then we filled it with the apple filling. Earlier in the year when we harvested our apples, we had jarred some apple butter: spiced apple sauce. I pulled that out, and added some chopped crystallized ginger and mixed dried fruit (mostly raisins and candied orange peel). If you don't have apple butter, you could use plain apple sauce, and add cinnamon, and a dash of cloves and nutmeg, as well as some brown sugar and dried fruit. We filled the mini pie shells.

For the top of the pies, we wanted something that was easy and seasonal. So we rolled out the pie crust, and then with the kitchen scissors we cut out shapes like stars and hearts that we placed on top of the pies.

After that we baked them for about 20 minutes. The result was adorable. Single serving size, delicious mini pies that looked Christmasy.

We also made rice crispy treats (your standard butter, melted marshmallows or marshmallow cream, and rice crispies ones with sprinkles on top). The girls loved it because they could do almost all of it by themselves.

We also made mini brownies (in paper cupcake cases), with white chocolate drizzled on top, and several varieties of sugar cookies (I'll try to do a separate post on those, including recipes).

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Feed the Birds

This time of year, many of us are busy decorating our homes and gardens for Christmas. This week, we put up Christmas lights in our front yard. We've wanted icicle lights for the front of the house for years, and finally treated ourselves to a set :)

When we decorate our garden for the winter, we try to make it look festive and remember the local wildlife. Winter is often a difficult time for birds and other wildlife because food is scarce.

We recently juiced some apples (the last of this year's apples from our trees). We were left with all of the apple pulp in the juicer, and didn't want to just throw it away. So we used it to make our own bird feeder balls. Here's how.

1. You will need apple pulp, peanuts and/or bird seeds, and string/ribbon/twine. You also need an oven.
2. Take the apple pulp (this would also work with pear or another similar fruit), and a piece of string at least 8 inches long. Form the pulp into a ball with the string running through the middle of it.
3. Push peanuts and birdseeds into the pulp--push about halfway in so that they are easily visible and accessible, but are still firmly attached to the ball. The birds will be more interested in eating the nuts and seeds than the dried fruit, so be generous in how many you add.
4. Bake the balls. I put them directly on the bottom tray of the oven while dinner was cooking. Ideally you want them to cook for about an hour (until firm) at a low heat.
5. Use the ribbon to tie the balls onto branches of trees, bushes, gates, etc.

Not only are these fun, cheap, and easy to make, they look great out, and help to feed the birds. It's really cheerful on a winter's day to look out and see birds gathered in your garden because you've provided them with a snack. If you want to make them more festive looking, use green or red string, or a Christmasy ribbon.

For more ideas on decorating your garden in wildlife-friendly ways, click here.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Being Spoiled

Saturday was just one of those days. When Jared called me from work (yes, he works Saturdays), he thought I sounded stressed. So he came home from work with a big bouquet of flowers and a box of Maison Blanc Macarons Parisiens for me, and then proceeded to cook dinner. After we put the girls to bed, he ran me a hot bath.

It was very relaxing, romantic, and rejuvenating. So here's to being spoiled sometimes. Thanks hun xxx

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Poppies, Poppy Seed Muffins, and Paying Tribute

I've been meaning to write a post for Veteran's Day for over a week, and finally have the time to actually do it. I'm sorry for the delay. I can only say that although the message is belated, it is no less sincere.

At 11:00 on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, World War I officially ended and peace was declared. Remembrance Day, also known in different areas as Veteran's Day or Armistice Day, began to commemorate this establishment of peace, and to honour the sacrifice and service of the war veterans and the many men and women who lost their lives during the war. The first World War, or the Great War, was considered 'the war to end all wars.
Unfortunately, the peace founded in 1918 did not last for long. We now have many more veterans to honour and remember, including those involved with WWII, the men and women currently serving in the Middle East, and those involved with all of the wars in between. War has touched all of us in some way, no matter how indirectly. My grandparents were involved with WWII: one of my grandfathers was in the airforce, the other in the navy, and my grandmother was in the women's forces until she was discharged when she admitted that she was under-age. There were many involved with the Korean War, Vietnam War, First Gulf War, Falklands War, and other modern conflicts. There are now thousands of soldiers serving in the Middle East, many of them in Afghanistan. These are men and women with families and communities back at home.
Whether or not you agree with the politics of the war, whether you are a pacifist or a military general, regardless of nationality or political affiliation, you must feel something when you think of the many many people who have been involved with these wars. I would love to imagine a world at peace without the need for military. Unfortunately, history has shown that nations are often compelled to fight, and I am thankful for the people who are willing to do so on our behalf.
Poppies have become a symbol of Remembrance Day. In Flanders, where the landscape was devastated by WWI, poppies now blanket the country side in shocking swathes of color and life. These beautiful wild flowers grow best in disturbed ground, and so the battlefields that had been bathed in blood were soon red with blossoms. One of the most famous poems from WWI centres on the image of the poppy. John McCrae, serving with the Canadian military, wrote the poem In Flanders Fields after his best friend died in battle in WWI:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarell with the foe.
To you from failing hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
[I copied this from First World War Poems.]
In the UK, everyone wears red paper poppies on their coats and collars around Remembrance Day. The money donated to charity for them is used to care for Veterans and their families.
It seemed only fitting for Remembrance Day to do something with poppies. I decided on poppy seed muffins. They are easy to make, easy to share, and have a mixture of sweet and tart flavours perfect for an introspective day like this one.
Rememberance Muffins Recipe
3 oz butter (room temperature)
3 oz sugar
1 egg (room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
8 oz plain flour
1/2 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup cranberries (I used dried, but you could use fresh)
120 ml (1/2 cup) milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1. Cream together the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla. Beat well (preferably with an electric mixer).
2. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and fold into the wet mixture.
3. Stir in 1/4 cup of the poppy seeds, 1/4 cup of cranberries, the milk, and lemon juice.
4. Put into either greased and floured or paper-lined muffin tins. Fill each muffin about 1/2 to 3/4 full. Use the remaining cranberries and poppy seeds to sprinkle over the tops of the muffins.
5. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for about 20 minutes (until a butter knife comes out mostly clean).
These are delicious hot with a little butter on them (stick in the microwave for 20 seconds to reheat if needed). They will also keep for several days, and are good cold as a snack or stuck into lunchboxes.

(A special thank you goes out to the kind Freecycler who gave me the beautiful poppy design dishes.)

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Closure of the Women's Research Institute at Brigham Young University

Normally this is a feel-good blog. I write about my projects at home and in my garden. You hear about my kids. However, I feel compelled to write a post that is different. There are times when you hear news that forces you into some type of action because you are so dismayed by what you hear that you have to try to make a difference. This is one of those times.

A few days ago (on the 29th of October 2009), Brigham Young University (BYU) gave a very discrete statement. It wasn't widely spoken about or really announced. You can find the announcement hidden away on the BYU website news page, next to links to stories like Cleanliness IS next to godliness:new research shows clean smells unconsciously promote moral behaviour. The story I'm interested in is titled BYU reorganized women's study program. When you read the story, you realize that the title is misleading. BYU is not just reorganizing a program. In fact, they are discontinuing the Women's Research Institute.

The director of the program, Dr Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, is being moved to the psychology faculty. It gets worse. The women's studies minor, instead of being under the jurisdiction of the Women's Research Institute, is being allotted to the College of Home, Family, and Social Sciences. The implications of this move are seriously disturbing. As the Women's Research Institute, women's studies has it's rightful place as a serious academic area that researches the special issues pertaining to women, including the role of women in history, current issues specifically related to women, etc. This approach respects and validates the role of women both in the world now and in history, by showing that they are worthy of serious research, and by viewing them as part of the larger world as they contribute to and are affected by larger environmental, social, political, religious, and other issues.

If women's studies becomes part of the College of Home, Family, and Social Sciences--as it will in January 2010--BYU is implying that the study of women is not a serious independent pursuit and that women's studies and research is an inferior area. Within the same college as home and family, women' studies will be relegated to the position that it had before the feminist movement, and we will be back in the suffragette type position of being forced to fight for the right to be viewed outside of our familial roles. It is a subtle statement that the correct position of women is in the home and family, and it automatically creates a dichotomy seperating women in the home and family from women in the world and workplace. It implies that women's studies is not necessary as an independent study because it is included in home and family studies. In short, in one fell swoop BYU has completely negated everything that the Women's Research Institute faculty and students have worked so hard to establish since it was founded in the 1970s.

What is truly infuriating about this decision is the lack of communication associated with it. I understand that sometimes programs will be changed and reorganized, or even cut out altogether. However, this has been done in a secret way, as though it was either something that they wanted to hide, or something that wasn't important enough to bother mentioning. (To view the news release, click here.) BYU has not communicated with students or staff, and so there are lecturers left unsure whether they will still have their job or not, or still be teaching the same courses or not, or whether conferences that they were scheduled to speak at will still occur. There are students unsure of whether their funding, which came from the WRI, will continute past January. There are students unsure about whether they can continute their studies as they have planned. And they are not getting any answers.

There are a lot of good things that I could say about BYU. For example, they have a mind-blowingly amazing library and special collection. They offer an excellent education at low prices. Yet this decision, to me, undermines their academic credibility as well as limiting the freedom of ideas and respect that is necessary for excellent scholarship. I don't think that BYU has realized yet the ramifications of this decision.

I don't know if there's anything that we can do to save the Women's Research Institute. I hope that if enough people are concerned, they will reconsider, or at least discuss their reasoning behind the decision and their plans for how to move forward with women's studies. There is a Facebook group devoted to trying to save the WRI.

Here are some thoughts by other people on the dissolution of the Women's Research Institute:
Deseret News
Weightier Matters of the Law
The Universe (BYU's newspaper)
Feminist Mormon Housewives

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Rosehip and Apple Jam

Both rosehips and apples are in season from about September through November, varying slightly depending on the weather and plant varieties. Roses and apples are actually related plants, and so the flavours and textures compliment each other really well.

I gathered rose hips (each variety of roses will have slightly different rose hips that vary some in size, taste, and colour---although some varieties are better than others, you can eat any of them; I used rose hips from several different types of roses that happened to be growing either in my garden or nearby) and apples (this is a good way to use up windfall apples if you have an apple tree) and made jam.

Rosehip & Apple Jam

1. Pick the rosehips. You can tell they're ripe when they turn a nice red or orange colour instead of green. As you'll cook them, you don't need to be too picky about how ripe they are--I used a range of very firm and mushier rosehips. Then you need to prepare them for use. Cut off any stalks and dried up flower bits and then wash them off. (Remove unwanted bits before washing or else the shrivelled up flower bits will cling to the rosehips and be difficult to remove)

2. In a large saucepan, cook the rosehips. Add enough water to cover them and keep them from catching on the bottom of the pan. You may need to add more water as they cook. You want the rosehips to simmer until they are all soft and pulpy and broken up. If you want to help speed up the process, you can either make cuts in the rosehips before adding them to the pan, or use a masher on them while they're cooking to help them break down. Exact cooking times will vary depending on how many you're cooking at a time, how ripe they are, etc. Generally, a colander full of rosehips will need about 6 cups of water and about half an hour.

3. When the rosehips are fully cooked, then you need to separate the good pulp from the waste (seeds, etc.). There are several ways you can do this. I cut up an old, clean pair of tights, and lined the inside of a sieve. With the sieve placed over a bowl to collect the juice, I put the pulp into it. I left it to drip, and then gathered the tights into a ball around the pulp and squeezed it to get out as much of the useful pulp and juice as possible. Keep that pulp/juice, and discard the seeds that are left behind.

4. Next I prepared the apples. I peeled and cored the apples (I kept those bits for juicing to make syrup with) and cut out any bruised or bitten bits. Then I chopped the apples into small pieces (the size you want them to be in the jam, so it's a matter of personal preference--I like them to be small enough pieces that they don't make the jam lumpy, but distinct pieces as opposed to apple sauce). Cook them with just a little water and a splash of lemon juice until they are soft.

5. Combine the rosehips and apples. You want about equal parts fruit to sugar; the easiest way to do this is to weigh it. Add the fruit and plain white granulated sugar to a large saucepan. You don't need to use special sugar or add pectin. (In fact, both apples and rosehips have high levels of pectin in them naturally, so you need to be careful not to over-set the jam).

6. Bring the fruit and sugar to the boil and--stirring regularly--boil vigorously for about twenty minutes or until set. Test for a set by pouring a little jam on a cold plate as you would for any jam.

7. While cooking the fruit, you need to have sterilized jars to put the jam in. An easy way to do this is to fill clean jars and lids with boiled water, and then pour out the water and put them in the oven on a low heat to dry.

8. Jar the jam. You can put some in the fridge to eat now, or save sealed jars for a couple of years. I particularly like rosehip and apple jam spread on wholemeal toast, and my daughters love it in peanut butter and jam sandwiches.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Late Season & Autumn Planting

Thanks to the beautiful warm weather that we've been having, I'm enjoying late season crops. The unseasonably mild temperatures mean that I'm still getting food from my summer crops in addition to the things I normally harvest in the autumn! My raspberries and strawberries have had a new crop in October when they would normally be finished for the year in August! I'm also still picking courgettes--the yellow ones seem to be doing especially well, physalis, runner beans, and spinach. So make sure and check your plants to make sure they haven't surprised you with some delicious new fruit and vegetables for you!

Also, we've been enjoying the beautiful weather as we've been clearing out the garden some and planting new crops. Although most plants like being planted in the spring, there are some things that you can over-winter. We just planted two varieties of onion (a red variety and a white spring onion variety), cauliflower (not all varieties are suitable for planting in the autumn, but some are, so check the seed packet), and yellow radishes (I've never had yellow radishes before, so I'm excited to try this out). All of these were planted directly outside in the vegetable patch. Cross your fingers that we'll have lovely crops from them in the spring and summer.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Spicy Rice Balls & Stir-Fry

This recipe is based on one by Betty Crocker from her book easy everyday Vegetarian. However, she makes rice balls as a meatball substitute, which didn't seem to work to me (carbs on carbs instead of a protein...). However, I thought rice balls would be a great spin to an Asian-inspired meal.
The spicy rice balls:
2 cups cooked rice (that's about 1 cup precooked of just ordinary white rice)
1/2 cup oats (I used standard porridge oats--non instant)
1 onion, chopped finely (or you can use any combination of onion, shallot, and green onion)
1 slice of bread, broken into breadcrumbs
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
seasoning to taste (I added liberal sprinklings of black pepper, chilli powder, dried chillies, and paprika. I also added a pinch of cumin and ginger. It takes a lot more spices than you would think to make them spicy. You can also add a dash of soy sauce.)
outside topping (Betty says to use 1/2 cup of wheat germ, but I felt like it could be better. Instead, try a mixture of wheat germ, fine bread crumbs, and crushed peanuts.)
1. Mix all ingredients except for the outside topping. Form into balls.
2. Put the outside topping in a shallow bowl or other dish with sides. Roll the balls in it until they are lightly but evently coated.
3. Shallow fry the balls until the coating is golden coloured and they are piping hot through.
I served them on a vegetable stir fry.
Vegetable Stir Fry:
Courgette/Zuchinni cut into ribbons (I use a vegetable peeler to slice it)
Carrot (I like julienne type thin strips, but you can cut it in standard circles if you prefer. It needs to be cut quite finely though, or else it will take a lot longer to cook than the other ingredients.)
Spring onions, finely chopped
Peanuts, about a handful
Any other suitable vegetable you have on hand that needs using (peppers, mushrooms, etc.); you could also add chopped firm tofu
Spices (I used a pre-mixed seasoning mix that included lemon grass and coriander)
1 dash of lime juice
1. Heat oil in wok until it is steaming hot, or items sizzle when added. For extra flavour, use some sesame oil.
2. Add all of the vegetables and peanuts. Cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables reach the desired level of tenderness.
3. Add the dash of lime juice and spices, stir in well.
I surrounded the whole thing with a peanut sauce that helped add some extra flavour and moistness and unify the dish.
My peanut sauce:
I can't give you exact amounts because I never measure it. Here's my guesstimates.
A generous glob of ketchup
A spoonful of honey
A dash of soy sauce
A dash of vinegar (I use malt, but you could also use rice vinegar or white wine vinegar)
A heaped spoonful of peanut butter (you can use smooth or chunky--it depends on what consistency you want your sauce to be)
A few drops of lemon juice
A glug of sweet chili sauce (chili and ginger relish also works well)
Taste it and make modifications according to taste. Mix well (I use a hand blender).
To serve:
Dish up the stir fry in the middle of the plate first, top with rice balls, and garnish with the sauce.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Collecting Seeds

This month lots of plants are going to seed. Many things will self-seed, and so you can leave them to scatter their own seeds and enjoy the new plants next year (many wild flowers are particularly good at this). However, gathering the seeds means that you can plant them more selectively (losing less to rotting and birds, and also choosing where to put them), or you can even give them away (a home-made packet of seeds, perhaps with other produce from the garden or gardening tools can make a lovely Christmas present).

My sunflowers have finished blooming, but the heads are heavy with the seeds. I snipped off the flower heads and hung them inside to dry. During the winter I'll hang them outside on trees to make home-made bird feeders. I did this last year, too, and our garden was full of little birds all winter long.

My broccoli plants also went to seed this year. I've never tried gathering broccoli seeds before, but I gathered all the seed pods and hung them to dry inside as well. When they're all dried, I'll collect the seeds in an envelope and store them for the spring. Make sure that the seeds are completely dry so that you don't have problems with mould. We'll find out next summer how the home-harvested seeds have done, but I'm excited to try it.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

October Means Pumpkins!

One of my favourite things about October is--you guessed it--pumpkins! I love them. They look so autumnal, you can carve them for Halloween, and, best of all, you can eat them! During October I tend to use a little pumpkin in almost everything I cook.

This particular pumpkin is from my garden. It's vine shrivelled up and died, so we had to pick it a bit early. It's a variety that is white when fully ripe, and never grows very big. Unfortunately, it never completely ripened, but it was still delicious.

Here's my first pumpkin recipe for this autumn.

Pumpkin Lasagna

Pumpkin is delicious in lasagna. Make lasagna as usual, but add an extra pumpkin layer, or use this to replace the cheesey layer of lasagna.

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Peel and core pumpkin (remember to keep and bake the seeds!). Dice the pumpkin. Put on a large baking sheet.

I liberally sprinkled it with chillies. I LOVE The English Provender Co. Very Lazy Red Chillies. They have a rich, almost sweet flavour as well as adding some warmth and spice. I spooned it over the pumpkin, including some of the liquid from the jar. I also added ground black pepper. Then use an olive oil spray to coat the pumpkin evenly, and then drizzle lightly with some good olive oil.

Bake 20 to 45 minutes depending on how ripe the pumpkin is and how big the pieces are. When it is finished, it should be cooked through and slice easily.

Mush the pumpkin. I used a hand blender, but you could also use a potato masher or food processor.

For a super super easy, but delicious pumpkin cheese lasagna layer, mix the pumpkin puree with creme fraiche (I used low fat and it still turned out delicious). Season to taste with more red chillies, salt and pepper, etc. I added a spoonful of wholegrain English mustard as well. It wasn't enough to make it taste mustardy, just to add a little edge to it.

Then use it as a lasagna layer, and cook lasagna as usual. I like mixing it with other flavours. For example, alternate pumpkin layers and traditional tomato sauce & mince layers (particularly good with grated courgette--zucchini--in it).

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Scrapbooking Challenge Deadline Extension

In August, I launched the first Hidden Domestic Competition. The Scrapbooking Challenge (with a prize of scrapbooking supplies) was to create a page for free, using no store-bought scrapbooking embellishments. The deadline was the 1st of October. However, the deadline has come and gone, and I am sadly lacking in entries. So I'm being optimistic and trying again.

The Challenge: Create a scrapbooking page for free (things you already have around the house are fine to use). Either post it as a comment on the blog, add it to our Facebook page, or email it to me.

The Prize: The best entries will be posted on The Hidden Domestic website (with the creator's permission), and the winner will receive some great scrapbooking supplies.

The New Deadline: You've got a month. The new deadline is the 8th of November.

The pictures are of simple examples of free scrapbooking pages. Using ink pads that we had around the house from a former craft, I took hand and foot prints of my daughters. Then I used multicoloured pens to write down information about them at this age (for example, what size clothes they wear and what their favourite toys are). I figured that these kind of details are often forgotten over time, and it makes a nice, simple page with good memories.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Blackberries: The Last Lingering Mouthfuls of Summer

I've been meaning to blog about blackberries for awhile, and somehow I just haven't gotten to it until now. Depending on where you live, blackberries are in season mid-summer to early autumn. We're just at the end of the season now, but if you're willing to go look for them, most brambles will still have some good berries on them. I love blackberries. They're delicious, and they grow like a weed in many places around the world, meaning that you can go pick them for free.
My daughters loved going blackberry picking with me. I brought a bucket for the berries to come home, and their bucket was for the berries that they picked and ate while we were out. There are lots of ways to store blackberries so that you can enjoy a taste of summer all year long: make blackberry jam (particularly good is blackberry and apple jam), blackberry compote (good with some lavender), dry them (nice added to cereal), make pies (blackberry and apple pies can be made and then frozen), or freeze them (make sure they're clean and dry before freezing).
We did a lot of cooking with blackberries this summer. Here's a picture of the blackberry muffins we made. I just made a basic muffin, but used half white and half wheat flour, and added fresh blackberries.

I also made pancakes with wholemeal flour, fresh blackberries, and oats. They were denser than normal pancakes, but so yummy (and healthier)!

So enjoy a last mouthful of summer. Go out for a nice autumn walk, and watch out for brambles (blackberry canes) along the way. Stop and pick the last few berries, enjoy the juicy pulp melting on your tongue, and feel the autumn breeze on your face. Or bring them home with you to make a last summery treat.

Corn on the Cob

With the summer sun lingering into a beautiful autumn, we harvested this year's corn crop on a dry day. Miriam held my basket for me and counted the ears of corn as we picked them, and Anya tried eating them raw. A few bugs had wriggled their way into some of the ears, but the birds hadn't touched them yet, and so on the whole they were in pretty good shape.

The girls love eating simple corn on the cob. I also used the corn, especially the smaller ears, to make corn chowder. You can find my basic recipe here, and I have actually mentioned corn chowder here on the blog before, but it's a little bit different every time I make it. This time I used shallots instead of onions, a large yam instead of potatoes, and the fresh corn from the garden. Delicious!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

A Whale of a Tale

I am a firm believer in having artwork--both reproductions and original pieces--in the home. My husband is a wood carver, and uses traditional techniques and hand tools to make beautiful carvings and other wooden objects (clocks, decorative frames, etc.) I just wanted to show off a piece that he just finished. This carving was a commission, so sadly it didn't get to stay on our mantel. It's called A Whale of a Tale and is carved in local yew. My photography doesn't do the piece justice, but it's a lovely little carving.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Sensational Sticky Figs

For a quick and simple dessert that is delicious and impressive, try spiced sticky figs. For the basic recipe, click here. They are super easy to make. Get the best figs that you can (they're in season right now so they will have the best flavour this month), cut a cross in the top and peel back so that they are partially opened but still connected, and fill with honey, butter, and cinnamon. Sprinkle flaked almonds over the whole thing, and bake until the figs are melt-in-your-mouth soft and the butter and honey makes a sticky syrup.
Serve it with mascarpone cream. Whip together mascarpone cheese and cream with a dash of vanilla and a spoonful of honey.
The result is simple ecstasy. The figs are still earthy, the honey adds a sweetness to it, but the dessert is not overall sweet, the cinnamon adds a depth of flavour, and the macarpone cream adds a richness to it and balances out the other strong flavours.


We planted a variety of sunflowers this year. My daughters loved planting and caring for them. Sunflowers are really good for little kids because the big seeds are easy to plant, and then the plants are fairly sturdy. None of them grew very big, but the different varieties produced some beautiful unusual colours.
When the flowers are finished, we snip them off and then hang them to dry. Then save them for the winter, when you can hang them out in trees to make instant natural bird-feeders. It's a fun family project and supports local wildlife too.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Mellow Evening and Spanish Style Rice

After a busy morning with two tired little girls and lots to do, the day ended on a surprisingly mellow note. After rushing around all day, both of my girls just fell asleep at about 4:00. Not normally an ideal time to nap, but they were so tired that they had pulled the cushion off of the sofa onto the floor, brought in a blanket from one of their beds, and made themselves a little bed. So I let them sleep peacefully.

It started to rain, the kind of constant drizzle that turns the whole sky grey and saturates everything with damp. It was the kind of rain that most people would expect me to be having here in England, but really it reminded me of my childhood years when I lived in Oregon. Watching it form a constant wet sheet in front of the windows put me in a nostalgic kind of a mood. I watched the robins in my garden hide from the rain by our roofed bird feeder, and thought about the Portland area. I remembered my family: playing with my siblings when we were little, my youngest sister being born, living near my grandparents. I thought about my grandfather, who died this year (you can read what my uncle wrote about him here), and my grandmother, who just moved away because she couldn't manage the house by herself. I remembered their house. The garden was always damp from the constant rain, and we weren't supposed to mess up the gardening. Their closets all smelled of mothballs, and in my memories their house sounded like their grandfather clocks chiming.
I was feeling peaceful and thoughtful when I put Ani DiFranco's Reckoning in the cd player and started work on dinner.

Spanish style rice
Sautee chopped onion and garlic in a large frying pan in a nob of butter and splash of olive oil. When they are still only partially cooked, add the rice. Stir often and let the rice brown some. Add spices to taste (I used cumin, chilli powder, paprika, a dash of lime juice, cilantro (coriander) and dried chilis).
Add any other desired vegetables that benefit from cooking for a longer amount of time. You could add chopped celery or small carrot peices, for example. Before the rice can get too cooked or dried out, add about a cup of stock. As I'm vegetarian, I used vegetable stock, but you could use a meat based stock if you preferred.
Add the rest of the vegetables (I chopped bigger ones into bite size pieces first). I added kidney beans, mushrooms, brocolli, aubergine (eggplant), and corn. Add either chopped fresh tomatos, or a tin of chopped tomatos.
Cook on a medium heat, stirring often. When it starts to dry out, add a half cup of stock. Do not add all of the liquid at once, but just stir in a little bit as it is needed. This risotto style of cooking really gives it a nice consistency and flavour. Continue until the rice is well cooked and soft. Taste and add extra seasoning as desired.
To serve with it, I made a sweetcorn and bean salad with the rest of the corn, kidney beans, and black eyed peas with some malt vinegar and cilantro. I also made a bean dip by sauteeing shallots and garlic, and then adding kidney beans and black eyed peas. Then I pureed the mixture with a splash of vinegar, some cream cheese, and a splash of vinegar. It would be nice with some fresh cilantro chopped into it. I served the rice, salad, and dip with tortillas and cheese.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Recovery Milkshake

Other than eating the sugar from our Feel Better Cakes, my poor daughter (the one with swine flu) hasn't been very interested in food. So when she walked into her bedroom, put on one pink polka dotted sock and one blue stripey sock, and announced that she was getting dressed so that we could go buy milkshakes, I was more than happy to make her a milkshake. She helped me to make it, so the ingredients are a combination of what she asked for and what I snuck in to add some more nutritional value.

Recovery Milkshake

about 6 scoops vanilla ice cream
sprinkling of fortified chocolate milk powder
milk--enough to be able to blend it up
1 heaped spoonful of smooth peanut butter
1 heaped spoonful of nutella
1 heaped spoonful marshmallow fluff
1/2 block tofu (silk or smooth texture works the best)
2 bananas

Blend it all up until smooth. We served with whipped cream and sprinkles on top. My daughter looked at it and said, "That chocolate drink is beautiful!".

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Feel Better Cake

This week we have been busy taking care of sick little girls. My baby is teething and has a cold, and her big sister has swine flu. So they're both a bit pitiful and miserable and sick of being sick and getting stir crazy from being cooped up at home.

We had some plums that needed using (plums are in season right now and tasting their best, so be sure to enjoy some this month), so I decided to bake something with them. I was inspired by French plum and almond tarts, but with two girls who want to be held a lot right now, I didn't have the time to make a pastry case. I wanted something that was sweet, but that highlighted good, simple, natural flavours.

My daughter decided to help me experiment, and dubbed it "Feel Better Cake". Eating the batter (and stealing spoon fulls of vanilla sugar when she thought I wasn't looking) seems to have helped her to feel better, if only for a few minutes. Here's what we made.

5 egg whites from small eggs (room temperature)
3/4 cup (5.5 oz) caster sugar
1/2 cup vanilla sugar (for coating plums)
3/4 cup (75 g) ground almonds
3/4 cup flour
140g/5 oz butter (melted and then cooled)
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 plums (halved and stoned)--you can use any variety, preferably fresh and local

1. Beat the egg whites for about 30 seconds with an electric mixer. Add the sugar a little at a time, beating constantly. Beat the sugar and eggs together until they are white and frothy, but not stiff.
2. Beat in the flour and ground almonds.
3. Beat in the butter and vanilla extract. The batter will be quite runny.
4. Pour into a greased and floured pastry dish or small cake or baking dish.
5. Coat the halved plums in vanilla sugar, then place (skin side down) in the batter.
6. Bake in preheated oven at 350 F/180C for approximately 25 minutes.

The finished product was a delicious frangipane-ish cake with a rich almondy taste, a beautiful light texture, and delicious melt-in-your-mouth plums. If you want a caramelized effect on the top of the plums, sprinkle with a little sugar and then use a kitchen blow-torch on them after baking. It would also be delicious with flaked almonds sprinkled on top of the cake around the plums.