Wednesday, 29 December 2010
Instead of looking barren, though, it's really beautiful and inviting. We decorated it with simple white lights and natural ornaments (bundles of cinnamon sticks, wooden ornaments, etc.). Our girls love it (and moving ornaments back and forth between it and the traditional Christmas tree in the same room).
To find out more about decorative winter trees, click here.
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Every year we pick a sunny day in December and make our own Christmas wreath. They're different every year (click here for a picture of last year's wreath). We had a great time this year gathering our own supplies and making our wreath for our front door. Jared and I gathered foliage in a basket. The girls followed behind us emptying out the basket and forming patterns and decorations all over the front lawn. It makes a great family activity and really helps me to get into the festive spirit.
For instructions on how to make your own Christmas wreath, click here.
Wednesday, 22 December 2010
Sunday, 12 December 2010
It's always good to have a few recipes for home-made treats that are relatively quick and easy to make, and you know will turn out perfectly every time. One of the best treats is a chocolate cupcake. They're perfect for almost any occasion (including when you just need a chocolate fix).
My daughter wanted to visit her old preschool. She wanted them to be able to see how grown up she is in her school uniform, and to wish them a Merry Christmas. So the girls and I made chocolate cupcakes together. This is the kind of recipe that still turns out well when you're letting your kids do all of the measuring and mixing.
For my simple chocolate cupcake recipe, click here.
We gave them the cupcakes with a Christmas card. We wanted to individually wrap them so that all of the teachers and other workers could bring one home with them, and wanted to make them Christmasy. Here's what we did.
To add a Christmasy feel, we made a mint chocolate icing. I used a piping bag without a nozzle. To be even more festive, add some crushed candy canes into the icing and then sprinkle a little on the top. We sprinkled edible glitter on the top because it looked festive and reminded us of snow.
To individually wrap them, we used plastic sandwich bags. We put them in then tied around the bag with scraps of festive ribbon. This is great because you can use up any scraps you have leftover from wrapping presents or other festive activities. We had a mix of different red and gold ribbons.
These made a delicious and really simple Christmas gift.
Friday, 10 December 2010
I'm not sure who was more excited--my husband and I or our kids. I think he was the first to go out in it (at like seven in the morning with his coat on over pajamas). Miriam thought that, since there was so much snow outside and she wasn't going to school, it must be Christmas. She was quite disappointed when she realized that Father Christmas hadn't come to fill her stocking during the night. We had to explain that it was Christmas time, but not Christmas day. Anya kept looking out the window and pointing out everything that was covered in snow. Her monologue went something like this: "Snow-car! Snow-tree! Snow-bike! Mummy, snow! Snow-grass! Snow-road! Daddy, look snow! Snow-car!".
We enjoyed going out to play in the snow. While Jared was lying down on the ground making a snow angel, the girls took advantage of his vulnerable position and started pelting him with snowballs. They really liked making tracks through the snow (and looking at the tracks left by a fox, birds, and other wildlife). It was a lot of fun, and was made even better because we kept going inside for a mug of home-made hot chocolate to warm up.
Almost all of the snow has melted now, and we probably won't have snow on Christmas day (although I'm keeping my fingers crossed), but it was a lot of fun and made us feel very festive. So Merry Christmas everybody! As the song says, "May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white."
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Sometimes you need a dinner idea that is quick and easy to make, but also warm and delicious. Here's a meal perfect for when you don't have a lot of time to prepare.
1. Roll out puff pastry onto a greased baking sheet. (I used pre-made and pre-rolled pastry, so all I had to do was pull it out of the box.)
2. Leaving a little room around the edges for a nice crust, cover the pastry with whatever toppings you want. We added chopped sun-dried tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, and caramelized red onions.
3. Bake in pre-heated oven according to instructions for the pastry (usually about 15 minutes).
4. After removing from oven, add any extra toppings (we added rocket/arugula leaves and shredded mozzarella).
5. Serve hot and enjoy. We really liked it with a spinach side salad.
In unrelated topics, I'm excited for Thanksgiving. Pictures and recipes will--hopefully--be added soon.
Also, thank you so much to Ginger Bread House for sending me the book "Random Acts of Heroic Love." It arrived just in time for Remembrance Day.
Monday, 1 November 2010
|Jared carved the one with the owl; mine has oak leaves and acorns.|
|Anya's is on the left with a cat face; Miriam's is the one on the right with "a funny face".|
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Friday, 15 October 2010
Saturday, 2 October 2010
|Some of our goodies from the Romsey Show.|
Our family enjoyed a fantastic day out at the Romsey Show held at the Broadlands Estate. It's kind of like a county fair. There were animals to see. The girls loved seeing the cows, especially since many of them had their little calves with them. We also enjoyed seeing horses, sheep, goats, peacocks, quail, rabbits, and more. There were plenty of children's activities, and the girls were very excited to go on some of the rides like the spinning teacups. I particularly enjoyed the large food area with countless stalls of local food. It would have been easy to spend a fortune, and we did buy a few things.
Although we stopped and got some delicious treats during the day (including goodies from a local bakery and fresh strawberries), we were all starving when we got home in the evening. So we used some of the things that we had boughten to make a delicious watercress, leek, and potato soup. It was easy to do and based on the recipe that the farmer gave us when we bought the fresh local bunches of watercress.
Romsey Show Soup:
big bunch of watercress
salt & pepper
1. Chop all of the vegetables and put them in a pan with the butter and a splash of olive oil. Just put it on a medium or low heat. When the butter is melted and coating the veggies evenly, put the lid on the pan and let it cook until the vegetables are soft. Stir every few minutes so that it doesn't stick to the pan.
2. Add the vegetable stock. Leaving the pan uncovered, bring it up to the boil and let it cook for several minutes.
3. Puree the soup. (I use my hand-held mixture for this, but if you don't have one you could pour it into a blender or food processer and then return to the pan.)
4. Add a few spoonfuls of the creme fraiche and season to taste.
5. Serve with grated cheese on top (we used a delicious local mature cheddar). Enjoy.
(This recipe is just a foundation to work from. You could always add slightly different vegetables depending on what you have on hand, for example, or substitute cream cheese for creme fraiche--or just leave it out entirely. To make it vegan, just leave out the butter and cook with slightly more oil and a little stock, and then use vegan cheese or omit cheese at the end.)
It was a simple and delicious meal made with all local ingredients. A delicious end to a fantastic family day.
|The vegetables cooking in butter.|
|A delicious bowl of watercress soup.|
Thursday, 23 September 2010
There's a group of bloggers from around the world that form the Secret Post Club. It's a lot of fun to do because you get to know people from around the world through their blogs and cards, and also you get a gift each month :) Basically, each month everyone picks a name and sends that person a present.
This month I received a fabulous gift from the lovely lady who writes the blog Cherished By Me. She's a mother of five with an adorable blog and recent adventures into the world of high fashion. She sent me the coolest retro style Union Jack tin. It's already being used around the house, although my husband keeps mentioning that he'd like to steal it to use for his lunch box... I have no idea where she found it, but you can see it in the picture. As if that wasn't cool enough, the tin was filled with delicious dark chocolates from Thorntons! I would have put them in the picture, but they seem to have evaporated (mysteriously the wrappers are still around my desk).
Thank you so much for my fab gift!
|Cake Pops under construction|
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
|Furzey Gardens, August 2010|
I've mentioned how much I love Furzey Gardens before. It's an inspiring place to be, so I'm very excited about this announcement. I'm going to teach some creative writing workshops (and longer courses if there's enough interest) at
Furzey Gardens this autumn. The first one is on Friday the 15th of October from 10.00-12.00. The workshops should be of interest to anyone who writes or is interested in writing. The setting is amazing. Please don't miss this opportunity.
If you would like to find out more about creative writing classes at Furzey Gardens, please contact me.
If you would like to register for the class, please contact Furzey Gardens.
Monday, 13 September 2010
A few months ago I mentioned Fine Doodles (click here for the original post). It took us a really long time to pick which of our daughter's drawings to have transformed into a Fine Doodle, but we finally chose her self-portrait with a rainbow. You can see a copy of her original drawing and the Fine Doodle reimagining of it. Unfortunately, both of these are cropped. You can see the full size images in the Fine Doodles gallery here, along with other great Fine Doodles.
Now we just need to choose where to hang our new picture up...
Saturday, 4 September 2010
Sunday, 8 August 2010
To see some examples of bog oak sculpture that I really like, click here.
Wednesday, 4 August 2010
Who doesn't love summertime? I love long warm evenings sitting on the patio, all of the vibrant colours and flowers, the more relaxed feeling, and especially all of the fantastic fresh produce. There are so many fantastic fruits and vegetables that are in season during the summer.
I don't remember ever eating gooseberries before moving to Britain. They're certainly a very British fruit, but I've grown to love them. It's a bit late for gooseberries really now, but you may still be able to find fresh ones. I have a gooseberry bush, but unfortunately didn't get any fruit off of it this year. (My gooseberry bush died from the extreme cold this winter and then my toddler repeatedly digging it up during the spring, so we recently bought a small new bush to replace it. Hopefully we'll have home-grown gooseberries again next summer.)
My family went to a nearby farm to pick our gooseberries. I love pick-your-own farms, and even if you don't garden yourself, it's really satisfying to pick your own fruit and veg. I promise it makes it taste better. I particularly love Ganger Farm. My husband and I started going there as newlyweds, and we've kept going over the years. Now our kids love picking (well, mostly eating) fruit there.
Gooseberries are funny little fruits. The bushes have big, hard thorns, and are--I think--always a bit scrubby looking. Most people will recommend wearing leather gloves when you pick gooseberries to protect yourself from prickles. I prefer doing it without the gloves and just being careful. It makes it easier to maneuver through the bush after the best fruit and to handle the fruit gently. The fruit itself is green and kind of hairy looking. Gooseberries taste quite tart on their own, and when ripe have an almost grape-like crunchiness to them.
My favourite way to eat gooseberries is to make gooseberry jam. These tart little berries make a fantastic jam than you can save to enjoy all year long. This is my daughter Miriam's favourite jam.
How To Make Gooseberry Jam
Before I begin making the jam, I get the jars ready. You can buy jam jars, or just reuse any glass jar with a metal screw-on lid (preferably the type with the pop down seal). You can also use Kilner style glass jars. It just needs to have a good air-tight seal. Always sterilize jars before using.
Friday, 23 July 2010
To break in my new apron, I wore it while we worked on a new kitchen project. My in-laws are involved with a cooperative farm, and they are responsible for the beetroot section of the farm. They recently harvested their beetroot crop, and gave us a bag of their freshly picked baby beetroot.
We really wanted to pickle some of it so that we could enjoy it throughout the year.
Here's our simple pickled beetroot process:
1. Sterilize storage jars. Fill with boiling water, then empty and put in the oven on a baking sheet until ready to use. Keep it on a low temperature. If you are using jars with seals, soften the seals.
2. Wash the beetroot. Cut off the leaves, but do not yet top and tail. Then boil the beetroot for about 30 minutes in heavily salted water. (Adjust cooking time according to the size of the beets; we had quite small beets.)
3. Remove and drain the beetroot. Rinse to remove excess salt. Then top and tail them using a small knife. This should make them quite easy to peel. Holding them in your hands, you should be able to just slide the beetroot out of its skin. Put the prepared beetroot into the storage jars.
4. Bring pickling vinegar to the boil. When it is boiling, remove from heat and pour directly into the jars over the beetroot. Put on the lids as quickly as possible so that they seal.
The beetroot pickled like this will keep for years. It's great to pull out later and slice into salads or cook with.
We didn't want to waste the rest of the beetroot that we didn't need for pickling. So we decided to make a vegetable stock. All of the washed beetroot leaves got tossed into a big pot with any other extra vegetable bits we had, including some garlic and onion offcuts, pea shells and shoots, carrot peels, some spinach, some bits of pepper, etc. We also tossed in big sprigs of fresh herbs from the garden, and a handful of peppercorns and coriander seeds. Add just enough water to cover, and then put on a lid and let simmer for a few hours. We poured the stock through a colander and then a sieve, and then poured into a storage jar (while still very hot) to seal.
We ended up with a very rich and earthy stock that will be great to use for gravy. All of the ingredients were either from the garden, or things that would have otherwise been thrown away.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Macarons always seemed to be a mythical type of food to me. I had heard of them in hushed, almost reverent tones from friends who had been to Paris, and seen them make or break aspiring chefs on TV shows. Macarons are resplendent on the pages of foodie books and magazines.
Until recently, it never occurred to me that I could actually make such a fancy dessert. However, my husband and I spent a night together making macarons. It was our first attempt, and I have to admit that I'm pretty proud of it. So here's our adventure making violet macarons.
First off, you should prepare in advance if you want to make macarons. One of the most important ingredients is egg whites, and for macarons it's better if they're old. Separate your eggs a couple of days before making the macarons. (For more explanation about using old egg whites and more tips for making perfect macarons, click here.) You'll want to make sure that you have the right ingredients in advance, too. The possibilities are endless when it comes to macarons, but I loved these violet flavored ones. Flower flavors tend to be dainty and elegant in a way that pairs really well with macarons.
Thursday, 8 July 2010
I love Furzey Gardens. My daughters love it at Furzey, and Miriam especially loves the fairy features around the garden. She was so excited about finding all of the little fairy homes that my husband decided that some fairies should move to our garden just in time for Miriam's birthday. On the morning of her 4th birthday, she woke up to find a tiny birthday card for her from the fairies, and discovered that a fairy house had shown up overnight. It's an adorable, natural little house complete with windows with curtains, a working mailbox, milk waiting by the door, a little well with a bucket, etc. Miriam is thrilled that there are fairies living in our garden now too, and she often goes to check on them.
Sunday, 4 July 2010
Saturday, 3 July 2010
Saturday, 19 June 2010
We bought some Geranium Dainty Dollops from Montezuma's. These are great little milk chocolates with geranium oil. The chocolate is creamy and just melts on your tongue leaving the geranium aroma to fill your mouth. We thought they could be even better, though, if combined with another texture and taste. We brainstormed, and finally we came up with the perfect combination: geranium, chocolate, and pistachio nuts.
We bought salted and roasted pistachio nuts and shelled them, removing as much of the papery inside lining as possible. Then melt the dainty dollops (always double boil chocolate). Put the pistachio nuts into the chocolate, then spread out on greasproof paper and allow to cool. Then enjoy:) The smooth, creamy, sweet chocolate and the crunchy, salty pistachios are perfect together. This is a combination you haven't had before, but once you taste it you'll wonder why not.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
My husband and I are planning a small garden dinner party to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks. People keep asking me if I can believe it's really been five years. On one hand, it seems like a milestone type of anniversary, and I think Wow. 5 years already!. Usually, though, I can't believe that it hasn't been longer. We have two beautiful little girls together, and are so close, that when I think of things that happened before then, it's hard to believe that they weren't a part of it. As we're not normally overly social people, we decided it would be fun and throw a little party to celebrate. We're really enjoying planning it together, especially coming up with the menu.
We tested out our appetizer, and I am thrilled with how it turned out. I've decided this is the perfect starter for early summer, especially here where we can get fresh local asparagus. So here it is:
Steamed Asparagus with Poached Quails' Eggs and a Hollandaise Sauce, Garnished with Fresh Dill and Herb Flowers
You should allow four spears of asparagus and two quaills' eggs per person if serving as a starter.
Buy the best freshest green asparagus spears you can find (local and/or organic if possible). Snap off the bottoms (the cut end will naturally snap off). Steam for about four minutes. They should still be vibrant green. A sharp knife should slice through them easily, but they should still stand up straight if you hold them up.
Hollandaise is one of those intimidating sounding French sauces. On chef programmes, you always see them whisking away and talking about all the things that can go wrong with a Hollandaise. Actually, Hollandaise can be pretty easy to make, plus it looks and tastes great. A home-made Hollandaise really adds a wow factor to dishes like this.
To make the Hollandaise, put two egg yolks (room temperature) and 1 Tbsp of lemon juice in your blender. Yes, your blender. It makes a really smooth sauce and is way faster and easier than using a whisk. Blend them until it makes a really smooth mixture. Then, with it still blending, slowly add a 200g of butter (use the real unsalted stuff and melt it first). Blend until it reaches a nice sauce consistency. Your Hollandaise should be smooth and creamy with a pretty yellow colour. Salt and pepper to taste.
I like using quails' eggs because they are so small and dainty. They really add an extra elegance to the dish, and taste perfect with it. If you can't find quails' eggs, though, you can use small chickens' eggs.
They should be poached and then placed on top of the asparagus. To poach the quails' eggs, let them reach room temperature first. Half-fill a large frying pan with water and a dash of vinegar, and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, find some small cups. Crack the eggs into the cups (one each). When the water is boiling steadily, slide the eggs from the cups into the water. Putting them into a cup first and then sliding them in helps them to stay together better, and avoids problems like the eggs sticking to the bottom of the pan. The quails' eggs are so small that they cook really quickly. It will only take a minute or two for them to be ready, so watch them closely. They're ready when the white is solid and cooked, but the yolk is still runny if you cut into it. Use a slotted spoon to take them from the pan so that excess water can drain off.
Not only do the fresh herbs and flowers look great, they really elevate the flavour of the dish as well. Tear up a little fresh dill over the top of the dish. (Dill is really easy to grow, and will grow well in pots--we used fresh dill from the garden.) We're having a floral theme to our party menu, so we're incorporating some type of edible blossoms with each course. We sprinkled just a few fresh herb blossoms (thyme and oregano) over the top of the dish. When you bite into them, you get a strong burst of the herbiness that makes it all taste fresh and summery.
This was possibly the most delicious savoury dish we've ever cooked at home. Delicious.
Friday, 4 June 2010
1/3 cup cocoa
My daughter Miriam celebrated her 4th birthday in May! On one hand she seems so big and grown up, and on the other hand it's hard to believe that my little girl is already four. The only thing that she asked for was a pink bike with a pink helmet, so she was very excited to get a bike for her birthday. (We're still working on learning to ride it...unfortunately her little sister gets a bit jealous and tries to climb on with her, so it's hard for Miriam to really ride it. Also, she has a weird tendency to petal backwards.) She enjoyed some other goodies, like new art supplies, as well.
Miriam's favourite food in the world is strawberries. So it wasn't really a surprise that she asked for a strawberry birthday cake shaped like a butterfly.
Strawberry Cake Recipe
1 1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup strawberry milk powder (like strawberry nesquick, only I used Asda's brand)
2 Tsp baking powder
2/3 cup milk (room temperature)
1 egg (room temperature)
1/4 cup butter (room temperature)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
(if desired: add a handful of chopped dried strawberries)
Follow the same instructions as for the chocolate cake above. (Sift dry ingredients, then blend all of the ingredients. Bake in a greased and floured pan at 350F/180C.)
1. Roll out fondant.
2. Boil strawberry jam. (Do not overboil because it will go too thick and sticky. Bring it to boiling point and then remove from heat.)
3. Paint the cake with the jam, and then cover with fondant.
4. Smooth and cut off any extra fondant.
5. Decorate! I cooked this in a butterfly shaped cake mold, so then I just decorated with coloured icing and candles.
Miriam wanted to bring cupcakes to preschool to share with her friends. Here's a recipe for easy plain cupcakes.
1 1/3 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tsp baking powder
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1. Mix all ingredients with an electric mixer to make a smooth batter.
2. Bake in paper or silicone cupcake cases at 350F/180C for about 17 minutes.
3. Decorate. I piped on a simple chocolate butter cream (butter, icing sugar, vanilla extract, a few drops of milk, and cocoa), and then Miriam added pink sprinkles.
All of the cake recipes are variations on my standard cake recipe that can be adapted to pretty much any flavour and always turns out perfectly. To see the full recipe (adapted for lavender cakes), click here.
Happy Birthday to anyone else who's celebrating birthdays right now!
Sunday, 23 May 2010
I love seeing wildlife into the garden. We try to attract and support local wildlife, and put out birdfood, have a bird bath, etc. We've had a wide variety of birds (including an owl who was fond of sitting on our chimney pot and robins that are so friendly that they'll literally land on your shoe while you're gardening), hedge hogs, mice, a degu (very unexpected in this part of the world, but that's definitely what it was...we think it was an escaped pet.), rabbits, etc.
Right now, we have hundreds of tadpoles living in our paddling pool. It's been exciting seeing them grow from frogspawn into the large tadpoles they are now, and we're looking forward to seeing them turn into frogs. The girls have loved watching them grow and go check on them everyday. (You can hear Anya giggling in the background of the video of the tadpoles. She thinks they're funny, and both the girls like imitating the way they wiggle.)
There are also several frogs who are normally around the paddling pool enjoying the shade and water.
Sunday, 16 May 2010
Here are some pictures of his sculpture taken in the studio.