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.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Harvest Ratatouille

As I was doing my grocery shopping at ASDA, I noticed something tucked away in the kitchenware aisle. White ceramic casserole dishes, with lids, for only £1. They're oven, dishwasher, microwave, and freezer safe. Obviously I bought one.

Later that afternoon, I went into the garden and was able pick lots of fresh vegetables. Inspired by the desire to use my new casserole dish, I made a ratatouille inspired dish (this is my version using what I had available from my garden--if you want an authentic French ratatouille, click here). I wanted something that was simple, fresh, seasonal, and flavoursome.

I chopped up one red onion, several small shallots, two cloves of garlic, one aubergine (eggplant), one yellow courgette (zuchinni), one green courgette, and a green bell pepper. I also sliced up a selection of runner and green beans from my garden. I like cooking with green tomatoes, so I added small green tomatoes (and left a group of then to roast on top of the dish). I added a tin of chopped tomatoes, and stirred everything up with a selection of fresh chopped herbs. Then I added a sprig of rosemary to the top. I cooked it with the lid on for about forty-five minutes, until everything seemed well cooked, and then I left it in the oven for a few minutes longer with the lid off.

To try it yourself, feel free to alter it slightly to include whatever you grow in your garden, or have in your fridge that needs using.

Serve with whatever type of carbohydrate takes your fancy. It tastes good served with brown rice, French bread (and a creamy cheese like Camembert), or can be served with pasta or even couscous or quinoa.

This meal is extremely healthy and full of flavour, so enjoy!

Global Warming

I don't want to get too in-depth about this issue because there are so many great sources out there about climate change already. Here are just a few reliable, respected sources: the BBC, the United Nations, and The Environmental Protection Agency.

The thing is, most of us look at this as a huge problem that we can't individually influence, and so don't bother doing the things we can do, and the problem continues to esculate at an alarming rate. WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE. If everybody tried to be a little more environmentally friendly at home in their daily lives, it would add up to huge effects that could really help our planet.

Here are a few things that we can all do.

Try to reduce and reuse.
Make items, like clothing, last longer.
Cut back on what we send to landfill by composting and recycling.
Use less electricity and water.
Use less chemicals and more environmentally friendly products.

Everything adds up either for good or bad. Even the little things can make a difference.