Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Day Trip to the New Forest

Since we're not going out of town anywhere this summer, we've been trying to make the most of day trips with the kids.  It's actually been a lot of fun and requires a lot less packing.

We're lucky to live near the beautiful New Forest,  so I recently enjoyed a day out there with the kids.  We packed a picnic, put Indigo Girls on, and set off.  I let Miriam navigate (no, she can't read maps yet or read fast enough for road signs as we drive past...she just picked whichever direction took her fancy).  It turned out to be a good choice as we discovered the New Forest Reptile Centre.  I had no idea that such a place existed, but it turned out to be good fun as we tried to spot the various frogs, lizards, and other animals.

There was also a RSPB centre there.  We went in and learned about wildlife in the New Forest and the different types of birds that live in the area.  Miriam made friends with all of the volunteers by telling them about the bird boxes at her school and our bird feeders at home.  Soon she had them stroking her invisible unicorn ponies (her version of an imaginary friend) and letting them play with the wooden display birds.

We decided to try out the "reptile trail" as well.  No, there weren't any reptiles (that we could see anyway).  It was a nice hike to do with young children, though, as there was a flat, easy-to-follow trail.  We found some little houses made out of sticks that the girls were thrilled about, and enjoyed spotting different plants and birds.  Anya was good at finding logs to rest on and sticks to use as pretend phones.  Even though it wasn't far from home, it really felt like we were enjoying nature and somewhere different.  As Miriam summed up, "It's pretty in the New Forest, and sometimes it's important to be alone and just see the trees and things.  It makes me feel happy."

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Rainy Summer Days

 When I think of summer time, I usually think of sunny days, barbecues, and swimming pools.  I think of the childhood summer feeling when you're free from school and feel like the warm weather can never end.  Not all summer days are sunny though.  In fact, I love a good thunderstorm, and even in the summer (especially here) you can get cooler rainy days.  After a good day of rain the air just smells cleaner and everything looks a bit brighter and greener again.

Shopping on a recent rainy day, I found some celeriac (also known as celery root) reduced down to just a few pence.  Not sure what I was going to do with it, I bought it and brought it home.  Watching the rain trickle down the windows, it felt like a soup kind of a day.  So here's my celeriac soup for a rainy summer day.

Celeriac Soup Recipe

1. Put a knob of butter and dash of olive oil in a large saucepan on medium heat.

2. Chop and add a shallot (you can substitute any variety of onion if you don't have shallot, or omit completely).  Let it start to sweat.

3. Chop and add one celeriac (I peeled it first).  Add any other root vegetables you want to include as well (I added several peeled and chopped potatoes and a couple carrots).

4. Stirring regularly, let the vegetables cook and soften.  If they get dry, start adding a little stock (I used vegetable stock, but you could use chicken stock).

5. When the vegetables are getting soft, puree them (I used a hand blender and did it with them in the pan).  Then add the rest of the stock (about 2 pints, but you can add more or less depending on how thick you want your soup). 

6. Season to taste with salt and pepper (best with roughly ground black pepper and sea salt).

7. Serve and enjoy.  If desired, finish off by adding a little creme fraiche or yogurt (or cream if you feel indulgent).

We ate the soup with home-made croutons.  They are delicious and so easy to make.

Rosemary Croutons

1. Preheat oven to about 400F/200C. 

2. Roughly chop up a loaf (not pre-sliced) of bread into cubes.  I used a home-made loaf of bread (it was a mixture of white and wholemeal flour with added poppy seeds).

3. Put the bread and some sprigs of rosemary in a large pan.  Coat lightly with olive oil.

4. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and black pepper.

5. Bake for about 20 minutes.  They should be crispy and light.

6. Serve with soup or salad.  Or just eat them.  These turned out to be so delicious that my daughter Anya stole the bag of leftover croutons from the kitchen.  She carried them around with her as her new favorite snack, and absolutely refused to let anyone else taste one.  It took all of our parenting skills to convince her that she could not bring the bag of croutons to bed with her.

Recently I discovered two new blogs thanks to Secret Post Club.  I love taking part in this gift swap.  First off, it's always nice to get a surprise present.  It's also kind of fun to be exposed to new blogs, make cyber friends, and snoop around people's blogs to try to figure out what the perfect gift would be for them that month.

Thank you to Living Abroad for the cute baby clothes.  Preston's already gotten lots of wear out of them and they are a perfect fit.  I like the mix of book reviews, pictures, and family tidbits in your blog. 

I got to play elf for 'Cross the Pond.  As you can see, I sent off a chocolate recipe book and some chocolate molds (because who doesn't like chocolate).  I also included a cd mix.  I'd put the mix together when in the kitchen, and called it Baking on a Rainy Day.  If you want to know my rainy day playlist (and hopefully hers now too), here it is:

1. Fixing Her Hair, Ani DiFranco
2. Lady on the Water, Blitzen Trapper
3. You Still Hurt Me, William Fitzsimmons
4. Broken Telephone, The Be Good Tanyas
5. Bracket WI, Bon Iver
6. What Are We Gonna Do, Brenda Weiler
7. Such Great Heights, Iron & Wine
8. The Luckiest, Ben Folds
9. Beach Baby, Bon Iver
10. Original Sinsuality, Tori Amos
11. Judas, Antje Duvekot
12. Just Not Each Other, William Fitzsimmons
13. The Awakening, Jennifer Nettles Band
14. Dilate, Ani DiFranco
15. Pearls, Antje Duvekot
16. Human Thing, The Be Good Tanyas
17. Decide, April Messervy
18. Wish for the Sun, Brenda Weiler
19. Come Away With Me, Norah Jones
20. Lit Elephants, Madeline

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

A long overdue post on brownies...

Everyone has a stand-by recipe.  You know the kind that I mean.  A recipe that you know will turn out every time.  The kind of recipe that you don't need any special ingredients for and that can be made at any time.  If you need to bring a potluck item, this is the recipe you automatically turn to.  For me, my most dependable stand-by is brownies.  They are easy to make and turn out perfectly every time.  Brownies are always popular and you can make a lot of variations on them (like cookie dough brownies). Somehow I've never gotten around to blogging my brownies recipe, so here it is.  I hope your family loves it as much as mine does.


1/2 cup butter (soft but not melted)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F.  Butter and flour the pan (about 6 x 6 is good, but be flexible--it just means thicker or thinner brownies if you use a different size).
2. Put all ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  Mix by hand until blended (don't over mix).
3. Bake for about 30 minutes.  I like mine still gooey in the middle.

We last made brownies for a school fundraiser.  My daughter's school has an annual summer fair as a fund raiser, and they have donated treats for a cake stand and prizes.  We go to support her school, but it's actually a great community event.  There's a different theme each year (this year was pirates), but there are always a wide variety of activities including pony rides, hot air balloon rides, bouncy castles, live music, barbecue, and much more.  Even if you don't have kids, find out if your local schools have similar fundraising events (most primary schools do).  They're a lot of fun and all of the proceeds go to a good cause.