Saturday 31 May 2008

In Loving Memory . . .

"Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on the snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken,in the morning's hush,

I am the soft uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there, I did not die."
~Author Unknown

Two years ago today, my beloved Aunt Freda went on ahead to the other side. (She is the one holding me in the above picture.) I could not let today pass without saying how much I miss her. Friend, Sister, Mother, Wife, Daughter . . . she was all things to many people and much beloved by any who were privileged enough to know her. You could tell her anything, and she would never judge you . . . she was always ready to listen. She loved a good laugh and you could always count on her to have a funny joke to share, or two or three. At her table there was always room for one more, just like her heart . . . it also knew no bounds, there was always room for one more in there as well. There are times when I feel her around me and I know she's watching over me still. Aunt Freda, I miss you each and every day, and always will . . . til we meet again.

Rhondi of Rose Colored Glasses is hosting a Front Porch party on June 5th! What a wonderful idea! If you want to participate, all you have to do is leave a comment on her blog anytime between now and next Thursday, and then on the 5th, post some pictures on your blog of your front porch, and she'll include links to your blog on that day so we can all visit each other. If you don't have a front porch, perhaps you have pictures of the front porch you've always dreamed of having? Whatever! I think it's a lovely idea and I plan on participating. Come on and join in on the party, it should be a lot of fun!

A few years ago they did a program on the telly over here, where they were searching and interviewing people about Britain's favourite food dish. Not surprisingly, Fish and Chips was very high on the list, as was the traditional Sunday Roast. Interesting enough, curry also featured amongst the top ten favourite dishes. I'm not surprised really. I think I had only had it once in my lifetime prior to coming over here in the year 2000, but I soon became hooked once I arrived in the UK and have been a curry lover ever since. It's one of those dishes that you just find yourself craving every couple of weeks or so. You can buy it in cans over here just like soup. It also figures very prominently in the ready meals section of the chiller cabinets in supermarkets. Supermarkets have large sections of their stores dedicated to the stuff and you can choose from numerous varieties of jarred sauces and condiments, and kits to buy so you can go home and make an almost homemade version in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Nothing beats one made at home from scratch though, and this is one of my favourite versions. I confess, I'm not a vindaloo kind of girl . . . I prefer mild curries like a Korma. I don't mind a little hint of a bite, but I don't want it to reach out and grab you by the throat! This is my adaption of a recipe I found in a John Burton Race cookery book. It's just mild enough to please me with just a touch of heat.

*Kids' Chicken Curry*
Serves 4

Okay so I'm a curry wus . . . a pansy. It's ok . . . I put my hand up! This is a tasty yet mild curry, and if you want more heat you can easily add more heat. It's up to you. As for me, I prefer to bite my curry and not have it bite me back!

1.5 kg chicken, cut into eight pieces
1 TBS vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 granny smith apple, peeled and cut into fine dice
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and minced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger-root, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 TBS tomato puree
1 tsp ground cumin
1 TBS mild curry powder or curry paste (korma)
1 TBS hot curry powder or curry paste (Madras) more or less to taste
1 cinnamon stick, broken in two
200ml coconut milk
250ml chicken stock
1 TBS mango chutney

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C/450*F. I like to remove all the skin and fat from my chicken. You may leave it on if you wish, but I prefer it without it.

Heat a large skillet. Add half of the vegetable oil and fry the chicken in it, turning it frequently until it is nicely browned all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well. Place in large casserole dish. (choose one that has a lid) Set aside.

Add the onions, apple, garlic, ginger and peppers to the dripping in the pan and cook for about 5 minutes over a high heat, stirring constantly so that it doesn't catch. Stir in the curry powders or pastes, along with the cumin. Add the cinnamon stick and the coconut milk and bring to a boil, stirring. Stir in the mango chutney and chicken stock. Bring back to the boil and then pour it over the chicken in the casserole. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Take it out and give it a stir, then return it to the oven and cook it for a further 30 minutes.

You may serve it now if you wish, but I prefer to leave it to cool, then remove and discard all the bones. I then chill it in the refrigerator over night, covered of course. If anything the flavour improves and gets even tastier.

You can serve this with traditional garnishes if you want . . . sliced bananas, boiled egg quarters, red onion rings, mango chutney and sliced fresh tomatoes . . . or you can be like me and serve it simply with some rice pilau and naan bread to soak up all the delicious sauce. Whichever you choose, I am sure this will become a family favourite.

Friday 30 May 2008

A Story, A Giveaway and a Delicious Strawberry Pie

Early in the 19th century a young American lawyer was riding to court with is friends one day. Along the way they noticed on the ground two baby robins which had fallen from their nest. Mother robin was cheeping frantically nearby as she fluttered over head.

The friends rode on, but the young lawyer didn't. He did rejoin his friends eventually, but with muddy boots and clothing, which caused a bit of aggro from his friends and good natured ribbing.

He admitted that he had put the two young robins back into the comfort of their nest and added . . . "If I hadn't, I would not have been able to sleep a wink all night."

What a special young man this was and I don't think you'll be surprised to find out that it was a young Abraham Lincoln, who was later to become the President of the United States of America. It would seem that acts of kindness were second nature to this man throughout his lifetime. It's no wonder he was such a powerful leader for his country.

We, in the Western world, could use a few good men like that today. Men who aren't afraid to get their hands and clothes dirty in doing what is known to be the right thing, the true thing, the Godly thing. Men who aren't afraid to claim Christ as their master or live by His precepts. Men who really do seek what's best for their countries, instead of having secret agendas and toeing the party line. Men who are honest, and truthful and just. Men who love their countries more than they love themselves . . .

I want to say thank you this morning for the lovely e-mails and comments that I get from some of you. They mean the world to me, and my life is truly enriched and blessed by your words. It means a lot to me to know that these things I pen each morning have inspired some of you in little ways, and that others of you appreciate the cooking and recipes. It really makes my day to know that you have tried the recipes and enjoyed them or that my words have helped to uplift you in some way, large or small. As a small way of thanks I would like to give to one of you a little token, a set of two medium size prints of my art work, suitable for framing, of your own choice. Have a look at my page BLOSSOM TIME CREATIONS and pick out two of your favourites, and then leave a comment on this entry. I'll put your name into a draw for them, one week from today.

I just love my *Make Me Bake* Poll. I have been able to try some new recipes that I have long wanted to try out, and to revisit some old tried and trues that I haven't made in a while. This week was no exception when you chose for me to bake the Triple Strawberry Cream Pie. I had kept my fingers crossed the whole week because I really wanted to make this, and you didn't let me down! (I love it when that happens!) Mind you, I would be happy no matter what you picked. The shop shelves are starting to show early season British strawberries now, and I was able to get a few punnets at a really reasonable price the other day. I really love eating fruit when it's in season, as it tastes so much better and sweeter. Todd thanks you as well. He really enjoyed tucking into this after his tea yesterday!!

*Triple Strawberry Cream Pie*
Makes 1 (9 1/2 inch) pie

Lovely seasonal ripe berries presented in three delicious layers . . . a cooked, thickened strawberry sauce, a layer of fresh berries and a luscious topping of berry sweetened whipped cream. Another one from my Big Blue Binder of tried and trues.

1 Graham Cracker crumb crust (see below)
1 1/2 quarts fresh strawberries, cleaned and hulled
(This works out to about 1 3/4 pounds)
1/3 cup white sugar
the grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 TBS cornstarch (cornflour)
1 1/2 cups cold heavy or whipping cream
1/4 cup icing sugar, sifted

Prepare the crust as outlined below and set it aside.

Take half of the strawberries and slice them into a large bowl. Stir in 1 TBS of the white sugar and the lemon zest. Set them aside for 10 minutes to juice.

Using a large fork or a potato masher, crush the juiced berries just enough to make a coarse puree. Place in a medium saucepan. Mix the remaining white sugar with the cornstarch and stir it into the crushed berries, mixing it in well. Place over medium heat and cook and stir until it comes to a gentle boil, becoming thick and translucent. This should take about 1 minute after it boils. Scrape the sauce into a glass bowl and allow to cool for about 1 hour. (You can do this part ahead if you wish and keep the sauce in the refrigerator until you need it.)

Place the cold cream into a chilled bowl and whip it until it begins to thicken and hold soft peaks. Stir in the icing sugar, and then fold in 1/2 cup of the cold strawberry sauce.

Spread the remaining strawberry sauce in the bottom of the prepared crust. Halve the remaining berries and arrange them in a tight layer on top of the sauce. If you run out of room, chop any remaining berries and scatter them over top of the halved berries, filling in any gaps. Spoon the strawberry whipped cream over top and smooth it over with the back of a spoon. Serve immediately or store in the fridge until ready to serve. This is a pie that you will want to serve on the same day as you prepare it.

*Graham Cracker Crust*
Makes one 9 1/2 inch crust

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (We can't get graham crackers over here in the UK, and so I always use crushed digestive biscuits as the perfect substitution)
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Mix all the ingredients together and press evenly into the bottom of your pie dish and up the sides. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes and then cool before filling.

Thursday 29 May 2008

The Monster Beneath My Bed

"When I was a little girl, I was convinced that there was a monster that lived under my bed. No amount of cajoling or reassurances from my parents could convince me otherwise. I had not seen the monster, and I had not heard the monster . . . but to me he was very real. I felt deep down in my heart that he was there, waiting under my bed . . . and what’s more, I knew his dietary habits.

This monster was not just any old hungry monster. He was a monster with peculiar tastes. He loved to eat children and stuffed toys. Right from the tips of their toes and on up to their necks. That’s where his culinary appetite stopped. He could not abide eating heads. He thought heads were yucky. In fact, he thought heads were so yucky that he would not go near any one that he could see. He would not touch a head with a ten foot pole.

Laboriously, night after night, once my prayers were said, I would line up all my dolls and stuffed toys in the bed next to me and make sure that the covers covered them all the way up to their heads. My sister with whom I shared a bed with, and who had already been in bed for an hour or so and was already laying there fast asleep, got the same treatment. It was almost a ritual for me. Lining everyone up and making sure all their tasty morsels were covered . . . I would lay there in the darkness afterwards, very still, wide awake and quite sure that I could smell his monster breath, lingering right there under my bed, all the while being very careful that none of my own delicious bits and bites moved from underneath the covers, or showed, until later, at some point, I too would fall asleep.

I have no idea of how it all started, and I have no recollection of when it finished . . . this fear of mine. I do know it kept me in my bed after dark for years and years, on up into my early adulthood. It took all the faith I had to be able to kneel next to my bed and say my prayers, and once I got into bed, I did not move out of it, not for anything. Not even the need to go to the loo or wanting a drink of water could make me budge from my safety zone, all because of the fear of something I had never seen or heard, with only my imagination making him real and something to contend with.

The thought comes to me this morning, that . . . in this lifetime of ours, many of us still have monsters under our beds . . . things that keep us from moving around in the dark, and causing us to protect all our tasty bits, for fear of being found out or of losing them to some imaginary demon. This fear of the unknown, often prevents us from realizing our full potential and our dreams. It prevents us from stretching beyond our safe little circles, and perhaps even means we are only living half the life we were meant to live . . . and all because of something invisible . . . some fear that probably exists only in our imaginations. One wonders at the potential we could have if only we were able to throw caution to the wind and break free from our cocoons, flying out into the unknown in faith and in hope . . .

I reckon I live a pretty charmed life, this life of mine. This life . . . these experiences . . . they are things I could only have dreamt of as a child . . . much nicer thoughts than monsters under my bed. It suddenly occurs to me, that I have learned to take my tasty bits out from under the covers. This life I am living is solid proof that I have flown in the face of fear and conquered my imaginary monsters, for if I hadn’t, I’d still be alone and working in a donut shop back in Canada, for the equivalent of £2 an hour, and dreaming of how much better things could be. Yes, I have been blessed, but it took courage and faith for me to be able to take the steps necessary in order for heaven to be able to pour those blessings out upon my head. It took me believing in myself and putting all my monsters to rest, and stepping out into the unknown with faith both in myself, and in my God."

This was a re-print of a writing I did on my muses back in December. I am slowly moving some of my better pieces over here so they don't get lost. Hope you don't mind. If you've already read it I apologize, and if you haven't, then I hope you enjoyed it!

Thirty three years ago today, I was in the hospital getting ready to give birth to my oldest son. I can remember being very exited! I was only nineteen years old at the time and so incredibly naive. What a wonderful journey it's been these last thirty three years, watching my baby boy grow from a child into a man and now a father. I'm so proud of him, as indeed, I am of all my children. He's a wonderful son, a great husband and a fantastic father. I hope that he has a lovely Birthday today and that he knows how much I love him and all the good things I wish for him.

One of the things I fell in love with when I came over here, was Cheese and Onion Pasties. I had never heard of cheese and onion anything before and was a little bit reluctant to try the flavour combination at first. It was in a sandwich, and I can remember thinking how very weird it was. You could say it was "love at first bite." I was hooked with the very first mouthful, and it was an easy job to move on from a sandwich to a pastie and so on. I had some pizza dough I needed to use up the other day and so I thought to myself . . . why not a cheese and onion pasty pizza? Why not indeed!

*Cheese and Onion Pastie Pizza*
Makes 1 12-inch pizza

I had heard of potato pizza before and as potatoes are my favourite vegetable of all time I had longed to try it one day. It was a simple stretch to combine the flavours of a cheese and onion pastie and turn it into a pizza. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

Pizza dough for one pizza (click on the link for the recipe)
prepared Caesar Salad dressing
4 cups frozen hash browns, thawed out and crumbled
2 ounces strong cheddar cheese, grated
2 ounces red Leicester cheese, grated
2 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated
2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6 spring onions, chopped
fresh wild rocket leaves (arugula)

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F. Lightly grease a 12 inch pizza pan with vegetable shortening and press the dough out onto it to cover and fill it, making it a bit thicker at the edges and forming a rim. Place it into the pre-heated oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until set and dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and spread with about 1/4 cup of Caesar salad dressing.

Place the crumbled hash browns in a bowl along with the different cheeses and the onions. Give it all a good mix and then sprinkle it over the partially baked crust, spreading it out evenly. Drizzle with another 14 cup of salad dressing. Return to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the potatoes are lightly browned and the cheese is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes before cutting into slices to serve. Top each serving with a small handful of rocket leaves and drizzle with some more salad dressing.

PS - The winner of my Make Me Bake Poll this week was the Triple Strawberry Cream Pie. Yumm!! I will put up a new poll shortly for next week!

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Be Still and Know . . .

"Life is teaching you some painful lessons.
But it is from adversity that strength is born.
You may have lost the inning, but I know you'll win the game."
~from PS. I Love You.

I was feeling rather down the other night. Yes . . . even I have moments of despair and times when I feel like just sitting down and having a good cry. I don't think anyone on this earth is immune to those types of feelings. It's just human nature. As I worked away at what I was doing, I was listening to my i-pod. I have quite a few songs on there, probably a good 150 or so and I always keep it on shuffle so I never know which song is going to come up to next. Music is the greatest companion, no matter what you are doing. As I went on with the business at hand, I took a deep swallow and said a silent prayer to my Heavenly Father. I asked him for strength and for comfort. It's amazing what happened next.

The song that was playing on my i-pod finished and the very next song that came up was "Be Still" by Steven Curtis Chapman. If anyone of you are not familiar with this singer you should acquaint yourself with him. He has a beautiful voice and his songs are mainly inspiring and uplifting. He is no stranger to tragedy himself. Just this past week, one of his older sons hit one of his youngest daughters with the family car by accident and killed her. Pretty devastating to that poor family, to say the least. Anyways, the words and music started to wash over me . . .

"Be still and know that He is God.
Be still and know that He is holy
Be still, O restless soul of mine
Bow before the Prince of peace
Let the noise and clamor cease
Be still

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is faithful
Consider all that he has done
Stand in awe and be amazed
And know that He will never change
Be still

Be still and know that he is God
Be still and know he is our Father
Come rest your head upon his breast
Listen to the rhythm of his unfailing heart of love
Beating for His little ones
Calling each of us to come
Be still"

It was as if God himself had reached out to me and offered me some words of comfort and my heart immediately was at rest and the worries that had been bothering me seemed to fall away in the knowledge of how much He cares for me. Once the song finished the very next thought that came into my mind was the following scripture . . .

"For I know the plans I have for you saith the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. " ~Jeremiah 29:11-13

God was listening. I was amazed, and then again, I don't know why I should have been. He always listens and He always cares. No problem is too small, no worry too un-important. He is there for the weak, and for the strong. He is just there, and waiting for us to call upon Him in our time of need, no matter what it is . . . He loves us all, no matter what, no matter who, no matter where, no matter when . . . we only need to reach out to find Him.

We had a busy day yesterday what with work and then Jess had a trip to the Vet for her jab and I had an appointment to the Chiropodist. I love going to the Chiropodist. My feet always feel like a million bucks afterwards! It's worth every penny. It was getting rather late by the time we got home and Todd had to go out to meetings last night so I rustled us up something quick with some bits I found in the fridge. It was really rather tasty, if I don't say so myself! (I love asparagus season!)

*Asparagus Spears with Poached Egg and Hollandaise*
Serves 2

400g fresh asparagus spears
1 TBS white vinegar
2 large eggs (I like to use free range organic, but it's up to you)
1 TBS unsalted butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 quantity of warm Hollandaise sauce (either store purchased, (Mary Berry's is very good), or see recipe below)

Wash your asparagus well and trim off any woody ends. I just take each spear and then snap them off about an inch or two from the ends. Take a vegetable peeler and peel it from just below the tip to the end of the stalk, trying hard not to peel too deeply. I have a special peeler that is used for soft fruits like tomatoes and it does a perfect job. In fact, I use it for everything now. The alternative is to take a sharp knife and remove all of the buds down the length of the spears. They can be quite bitter and so it's always better to remove them.

Place the asparagus in a steamer basket and steam them over boiling water for exactly 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. (alternately cook in boiling salted water for exactly 4 minutes and drain well. I prefer to steam them.)

Half fill a saucepan with lightly salted water and add the TBS of vinegar. Bring the water to the boil and then lower it to a simmer. Crack each of your eggs into a small bowl. Now I take the pan off the heat to add the eggs and I just hold the lip of the bowl at the edge of the water and let it slip in. Repeat with the other egg. Return them to the heat. The water should barely be simmering. Cook for 3 minutes exactly. Remove with a slotted spoon to some paper kitchen toweling to drain.

Return the pot you cooked the asparagus in to the heat and drop in the butter. Place over the heat and once it melts and starts to foam, drop in the asparagus. Reheat it through and season to taste with some sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Divide the asparagus between two heated plates. Place a poached egg on top of each pile and then spoon some hollandaise sauce over each. Serve immediately.

*Blender Hollandaise Sauce*
Makes about 6 servings

Quick and easy and always perfect. This never fails. You can use this on eggs, fresh asparagus, or both!

3 egg yolks
1 ml Dijon mustard
15 ml lemon juice
1 dash hot pepper sauce (e.g. Tabasco™)
115 g butter

Combine the egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice and hot pepper sauce in a blender. Cover, and blend for about 5 seconds.

Place the butter in a glass measuring cup. Heat butter in the microwave for about 1 minute, or until completely melted and hot. Set the blender on high speed, and pour the butter into the egg yolk mixture in a thin stream through the hole in the top. It should thicken almost immediately.

Keep the sauce warm until serving by placing the blender container in a pan of hot tap water.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

A Sticky Situation

Welcome everyone to the Tuesday, May 27th, 2008 edition of Tuesdays With Dorie , the Internet baking club that is tastily baking their way through the delicious cookbook by Dorie Greenspan, "Baking, from my home to yours." Each week one member gets to choose one of the recipes and they, along with the rest of us, bake it together and reveal our results all on the same day. Tuesday! Reveal day! (If you would like to join the group it's really easy. The only requirements are . . . one, that you actually own the book, and . . . two , that you love to bake and are willing to participate 3 out of 4 weeks a month.)

The recipe this week was Pecan Honey Sticky Buns on pages 51-53, as chosen by Madam Chow of Madame Chow’s Kitchen . Ohhh . . . yummy, sticky and tasty, full of cinnamon and smothered with an oooey and goooey and moreishly sticky and nutty caramel sauce. What's not to like about those! I was really looking forward to this challenge.

I normally do my challenge on Saturdays, as this is my day off, and the only day of the week that I don't regularly have something else to do, like go to church, which is what I do on my other day off. (not that I am complaining, because I am not. I really love going to church. I look forward to Sundays as being my "Recharge my Spiritual Battery" day!) I should have had an inkling though, that all was not going to go according to plan when Saturday dawned and Todd ended up having to go to PC World three times for something that should have only taken one trip. When I went to my cupboard and saw that I was out of yeast . . . my heart sank. Could I? Dare I? Must I? I just could not possibly ask him to face the hourly increasing crowds of Bank Holiday weekenders jamming our roadways yet one more time . . . just to get me a packet of yeast. What to do? What to do???

I put my thinking cap on.

Now . . . I don't live in a neighbourhood where I can easily pop next door, cup in hand to ask for a cup of sugar or a packet of yeast. I live in a very rural place and so that was not an option. I do, however, have a big blue book of cooking receipts that are very treasured and very old and quite wonderful. I decided that I would make the dough part from an old Baking Powder Biscuit recipe that I inherited from my ex mother in law. It would make just the right quantity for this recipe, and it is the recipe that I have used to make cinnamon rolls with for years. I knew it would work perfectly. Sticky situation resolved, so to speak, and I hope you will all forgive me for this most cunning adaption! Other than the basic dough recipe, I stuck faithfully to the rest of the recipe, with most delicious results.

A baking powder biscuit is very easy to make if you know what you are doing. There are very definite techniques to follow if you want a lovely, tender and flaky dough, the most important of which is . . . "The less you handle the dough, the better." End of . . . They're really so easy, all you do is to sift the dry ingredients into the bowl, cut in the fat and then stir in the liquid. Easy peasy, lemon squeasy. A few strokes with a fork and you have a lovely dough that is ready to be lightly patted out. (On a floured surface of course) For this particular occasion I opted to use butter as the fat in my recipe rather than the required vegetable shortening. I thought it would give the dish more flavour and perhaps more closely resemble Dorie's brioche somewhat, although we all know that a baking powder biscuit and a brioche are nowhere near the same thing at all.

From that point on, the recipe was the same as Dorie's. I made the lovely caramel sauce on top of the stove and poured it into an oval glass baking dish I have that was the perfect size. I didn't need a huge one as they would not rise as much as a yeast dough recipe would. Thank goodness I had some pecan nuts, which reminds me . . . I used them all up so I need to get some more.

Normally when I make cinnamon rolls, I use only brown sugar, but Dorie uses a combination of white and brown. I have to say it worked very well, and I may use this combination from now on when I make my own cinnamon rolls. I spread my biscuit dough with the softened butter and sprinkled on the cinnamon sugar, then rolled it up as tightly as I could. As quick as a wink I had 12 delicious looking cinnamon rolls sitting in my glass pan atop some of the most luscious looking caramel sauce and nuts I have ever seen in my experience. Fingers crossed, I banged my dish into a hot oven and then awaited the results . . .

As I removed the dish from the oven I was pleasantly surprised as how nice they looked. Some of the caramel juices had bubbled up on the sides and they were looking decidedly delicious. How much better could you get than this???

I tipped them out and wowser, wowser, wowser . . . . I had died and gone to heaven. I have never seen anything so delicious looking in my life. It was all I could do to contain myself and wait for a bit to dig in. I wanted to break them apart right there and then and partake . . . but I couldn't. For one thing they were too hot, and I would have burned my fingers not to mention my lips, (Sugar burn <=== Not nice, speaking from experience here) and two, I had photos to take and as Todd knows only too well, neither fork nor spoon shall get in the way of photo taking. Let me tell you though . . . as soon as I had the photos done and I was happy with what I had snapped, neither one of us missed any time in getting stuck in!!!

These sticky buns are amazing. MAKE THEM NOW. Either with Dorie's delicious brioche recipe (which I have made in the past and can attest to as being truly tasty) or with my wonderfully tasty biscuit base (see recipe below). When I say "TO DIE FOR" here, I truly mean every word. These are real keepers!

Next week's recipe will be French Chocolate Brownies on pages 92-93 (Oh goodie goodie!) as chosen by Di of Di’s Kitchen Notebook , and amazingly enough "I" (yes, that's me!!) get to choose the recipe the week after that!! Woo Hoo! Can you spell e-x-c-i-t-e-d?? Don't forget to drop over to the Tuesday's With Dorie blogroll and have a gander at all the other delicious delights baked by the members of the group this week!

*Pecan Honey Sticky Buns*
Makes 15 buns

For the Glaze:
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup honey
1-1/2 cups pecans (whole or pieces)

For the Filling:
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the Buns:
1/2 recipe dough for Golden Brioche loaves (see below), chilled and ready to shape (make the full recipe and cut the dough in half after refrigerating it overnight)

Generously butter a 9-x-13-inch baking pan (a Pyrex pan is perfect for this).

To make the glaze: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the brown sugar, butter, and honey to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Pour the glaze into the buttered pan, evening it out as best you can by tilting the pan or spreading the glaze with a heatproof spatula. Sprinkle over the pecans.

To make the filling: Mix the sugars and cinnamon together in a bowl. If necessary, in another bowl, work the butter with a spatula until it is soft, smooth and spreadable.

To shape the buns: On a flour-dusted work surface, roll the chilled dough into a 16-inch square. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, spread the softened butter over the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon sugar, leaving a 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Starting with the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months . . . . Or, if you want to make just part of the recipe now, you can use as much of the dough as you'd like and freeze the remainder. Reduce the glaze recipe accordingly).

With a chef's knife, using a gentle sawing motion, trim just a tiny bit from the ends of the roll if they're very ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into 1-inch thick buns. (Because you trim the ragged ends of the dough, and you may have lost a little length in the rolling, you will get 15 buns, not 16.) Fit the buns into the pan cut side down, leaving some space between them.
Lightly cover the pan with a piece of wax paper and set the pan in a warm place until the buns have doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The buns are properly risen when they are puffy, soft, doubled and, in all likelihood, touching one another.

Getting ready to bake: When the buns have almost fully risen , center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the sheet of wax paper and put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Bake the sticky buns for about 30 minutes, or until they are puffed and gorgeously golden; the glaze will be bubbling away merrily. Pull the pan from the oven.

The sticky buns must be unmolded minutes after they come out of the oven. If you do not have a rimmed platter large enough to hold them, use a baking sheet lined with a silicone mate or buttered foil. Be careful - the glaze is super-hot and super-sticky.

What You'll Need for the Golden Brioche Dough (this recipe makes enough for two brioche loaves. If you divide the dough in half, you would use half for the sticky buns, and you can freeze the other half for a later date, or make a brioche loaf out of it!):

2 packets active dry yeast (each packet of yeast contains approx. 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch water
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch whole milk
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm
What You'll Need for the Glaze (you would brush this on brioche loaves, but not on the sticky buns):
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

To Make The Brioche: Put the yeast, water and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit into the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can-- this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you're doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point, you'll have a fairly dry, shaggy mess.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2-tablespoon-size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You'll have a dough that is very soft, almost like batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap to the bowl. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the uncovered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight. (After this, you can proceed with the recipe to make the brioche loaves, or make the sticky buns instead, or freeze all or part of the dough for later use.)

The next day, butter and flour two 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-inch pans.

Pull the dough from the fridge and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Cut each piece of the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each piece into a log about 3 1/2 inches long. Arrange 4 logs crosswise in the bottom of each pan. Put the pans on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat, cover the pans lightly with wax paper and leave the loaves at room temperature until the dough almost fills the pans, 1 to 2 hours. (Again, rising time with depend on how warm the room is.)

Getting Ready To Bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

To Make the Glaze: Beat the egg with the water. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the tops of the loaves with the glaze.

Bake the loaves until they are well risen and deeply golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pans and turn the loaves out onto the racks. Invert again and cool for at least 1 hour.

*Elizabeth's Baking Powder Biscuits*
Makes roughly one dozen

2 cups white flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup shortening (In this case I used butter)
3/4 cup of milk and water mixed in equal parts

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter, or two knives, until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add the milk/water mixture all at once and mix quickly with a fork until it all draws together into a soft dough. Dump out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 3 times and then pat the dough out until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Cut with a sharp biscuit cutter, giving it a sharp tap straight down. Do not twist the cutter as you lift it up or you will have lop sided biscuits. A sharp up and down is correct. Place on a baking pan and bake at 200*C/400*F for 15 to 20 minutes.*

*Note - this is the temperature I used for the sticky buns and I baked them for 20 minutes. To do the sticky buns, just pat the dough out to a large square, about 1/4 inch thick and proceed as for the recipe. For whole wheat biscuits you can use 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 cups of white.

Monday 26 May 2008

These Things I Wish For You

I have five children, and I love them dearly. They've all grown into wonderful adults, and, I'm very proud of them. Like any parent though, I can look back on the years and see things that I wish I had done differently, and I hope and pray that they all realize that I did the very best that I knew how to do at any given time, however inadequate it may seem now.

I also have two lovely grandsons, both of whom are now two years old, them having been born within several months of each other. Oh, to have had two such great blessings in life so close to each other was truly magnificent. The hardest part of it was being so far away. I finally got to see one of them last year, when he was about 18 months old, and it was glorious . . . I enjoyed every minute of the time I got to spend with him. Sadly, I have not yet been able to see or spend any time with the other one, but I live in hope. In the meantime, I do my very best to spoil them from afar.

I found this lovely piece written by Paul Harvey to his grandchildren, and I wanted to share it with you this morning. As a grandmother it really touched my heart, and I hope it touches yours, and that you don't mind me repeating it here.

"These Things I Wish For You"

We tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse.
For my grandchildren, I'd know better.
I'd really like for them to know about hand me down clothes and homemade ice cream and leftover meat loaf. I really would.
My cherished grandson, I hope you learn humility by being humiliated and that you learn honesty by being cheated.
I hope you learn to make your bed and mow the lawn and wash the car . . . and I hope nobody gives you a brand-new car when you are 16.
And I hope you have a job by then.
It will be good if at least one time you can see a baby calf born and see your old dog put to sleep.
I hope you get a black eye fighting for something you believe in.
I hope you have to share a bedroom with your younger brother. And it is all right to draw a line down the middle of the room, but . . . when he wants to crawl under the covers with you because he's scared . . . I hope you'll let him.
And when you want to see a Disney movie and your kid brother wants to tag along, I hope you take him.
I hope you have to walk uphill with your friends and that you live in a town where you can do it safely.
And rainy days when you have to hitch a ride I hope your driver doesn't have to drop you two blocks away so you won't be seen riding with somebody as uncool as your mom.
If you want a slingshot, I hope your father teaches you how to make one instead of buy one. I hope you learn to dig in the dirt and read books, and when you learn to use one of those new fangled computers, you also learn how to add and subtract in your head.
I hope you get razzed by friends when you have your first crush on a girl, and that when you talk back to your mother you learn what Ivory soap tastes like.
May you skin your knee climbing a mountain, burn your hand on the stove and stick your tongue on a frozen flag pole.
I hope you get sick when some stupid old person blows cigar smoke in your face. I don't care if you try beer once, but I hope you don't like it. And if your friend offers you a joint or any dope . . . I hope you're smart enough to realize that he is not your friend.
I sure hope you make time to sit on a porch with your grandpa (grandma) or go fishing with your uncle. May you feel sorrow at a funeral and the joy of holidays.
I hope your mother punishes you when you throw a baseball through a neighbours window and that she hugs you and kisses you at Christmas time when you give her a plaster of Paris mold of your hand.
These things I wish for you . . . tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness.
~Paul Harvey

As I sit here at my computer this morning, I can hear rain softly pelting down onto the skylight at the top of the stairs, and the birds trilling away in the bushes and trees outside. It amazes me. It rains and yet they sing at the top of their hearts, making most beautiful noises. We could all learn a lesson from that. Perhaps we should choose to sing through the rain that touches our lives as well. What could it hurt?

I normally don't have a lot of time for cooking by the time we get home from church on Sundays. It's a pretty long day, as most weeks we don't get back until gone 3pm. That's one of the bonus's of having a husband who is in the church leadership. I don't mind really. I rather enjoy those few hours or so sitting in the back of the chapel by myself and reading or thinking, or listening to my ipod in solitude. By the time we get home though we are both starving and so I usually rustle up something quick, unless I've been smart enough to stick something in the slow cooker before we leave in the morning. Usually we'll have egg and chips or beans on toast or something like that. I usually make up for it later in the day though and make Todd something special to eat during the evening when we settle in for a bit of telly and relaxation. Yesterday I made him one of his favourite comfort foods . . . and, I must confess, one of mine . . .

*Bananas and Custard*
Serves 4

You can call it many names . . . creme de la vanille, creme anglaise . . . it matters not. It's all vanilla custard and it is wonderfully delicious when properly made and homemade. Why anyone would ever bother with the powdered version when they can make it so easily from scratch is beyond my comprehension!

1 pint whole milk (2 cups)
1 vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
1 TBS caster sugar
4 medium bananas

Put the milk in a saucepan. Slit the vanilla pod down the centre and scrape out the seeds into the milk with a sharp knife. Drop the split pod into the milk as well. Heat the milk over a medium heat, just until you see bubbles forming around the edges. Remove from the heat and remove the vanilla pod. (Just rinse it off and dry it and you can then stick it into your sugar bin where it will give your sugar a lovely flavour and fragrance . . . no worries and no waste.)

Beat together the egg yolks and the sugar. Pour the hot milk over top of it very slowly, whisking constantly. Strain the mixture into the top of a double boiler. Place over the top of the bottom of the double boiler over simmering water and cook ove rvery low heat, stirring all the time. When it thickens to the consistency of double cream (it should coat the back of your spoon), remove it from the heat and pour it straight into a bowl to reduce the heat. Let cool to warm, before proceeding.

The secret to successful custard is to not be in a hurry. If the worse happens and it starts to separate, whizz it in the blender. You can of course, pre-empt this problem by adding a small teaspoon of cornstarch to the egg yolks before adding the milk.

Peel and slice the bananas into four dessert dishes. Spoon the warm custard over top of them and serve.

Sunday 25 May 2008

The Secret to a Successful Marriage . . .

I heard a story once about a couple who were happily celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. Fifty years, what a milestone. Not many make it that far nowadays. The husband was asked what the secret was to his successful marriage and, as the elderly often do, he answered with a story.

It seems his wife, Sarah, was the only girl he had ever dated. He had grown up in an orphanage and had had to work really hard for everything he had. He'd never had the time to date girls until his precious Sarah had swept him off his feet, and before he knew it, she'd even managed to get him to ask her to marry him.

Soon after their vows on their wedding day, Sarah's father had taken him, the new groom, aside and handed him a small box. He told him that inside was a gift for him, and that "within this gift is all that you really need to know to have a happy marriage." The nervous young groom, with nervous fingers, fumbled his way through untying the ribbon and unwrapping the paper to see what was inside.

Within the box, all wrapped up in tissue, lay a beautiful gold watch. He picked it up with great care and upon closer inspection noticed some words etched across the face of the watch . . . words which would serve as a prudent reminder to him each time he checked the time of day . . . words that, if heeded, indeed held the secret to a successful marriage. They were, quite simply . . . "Say something nice to Sarah."

What wise words those were, and ones that we can, and should, apply to our own lives, for . . . as the bible tells us . . .

"Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones."
~Proverbs 16:24

We had a lovely day here yesterday. The weather was warm and the sun shone brightly. I love those types of days and have long said that you just cannot beat England on a sunny, warm day. There is no finer place on earth.

Poor Todd. Despite the beautiful weather we had yesterday, he wasted most of it in the car driving back and forth to the PC World at the local Trading Estate. We had bought ourselves a new printer in January and, just of late, it had been acting up. Having purchased the maintenance agreement when we acquired it, he finally decided enough was enough and he would return it to the store for exchange. He took it all apart and piled it into the car and off he went. It didn't take too long, and he was back home within the hour, and started the process of setting it all up again.

As you know, nowadays . . . that is never as simple as it sounds. He got almost done and he realized that there was no thingamajig in the box to connect it to our computer. It was not included with the printer and he obviously had returned ours with the old one. So off he went, back to the shops to get it back. He returned home and got it all hooked up again, only to find that the printer he's brought home is faulty as well. A few phone calls to the tech people confirm this and so back into the box it goes and back to the shop again. (This is the third trip now)

He brings another one home and gets it all set up and oh no . . . it appears to be having problems as well. So onto the telephone he goes again and finally . . . with some help . . . he gets it working as it should. Whew!!! What a relief! I think if he'd had to face another trip to the shops, he would have wanted to scream! Thank goodness he is such a mild mannered and gentle man. I'm so lucky to have him!

I made these delicious Salmon Burgers for our lunch yesterday. It's another wonderful recipe from my Old Blue Binder and makes good use of things I generally have on hand. You can have them in the buns or not as you wish. I often just have them with some salad on the side, but for a heartier appetite a toasted bun is a great addition. If you want to make them for supper try making some sweet potato fries on the side for a super food addition! (sweet potatoes are one of the super foods and, come to think of it, so is Salmon!)

*Salmon Burgers*
Makes 4

The next time you feel like a burger and fries, try digging into one of these. They're a whole lot healthier for you and I think they taste a whole lot better as well!

1 (14.75 ounce) tin of wild red salmon, drained and flaked
(I remove all the skin and bones)
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup heavy cream (I use no fat evaporated milk, undiluted)
2 TBS finely chopped shallots
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup minced sweet red pepper
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less as desired)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
the grated zest of one lemon
1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1 TBS canola oil for frying
4 split and toasted whole wheat buns for serving
Tomato slices
Sun Dried Tomato Basil Mayo (see below)

Combine the flaked salmon, egg, cream, shallots, garlic, red pepper, bread crumbs, lemon zest and seasonings together in a bowl. Mix all together well. Divide and shape into four equal sized patties, about 1/2 inch thick.

Heat the canola oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add the patties, and cook for approximately 5 minutes on each side, until nicely browned and cooked through. Spoon some of the Sun Dried Tomato Basil Mayo onto the bottoms of the toasted buns and then top with a patty and some of the lettuce and tomato, and the toasted top of the buns. Serve.

*Sun Dried Tomato and Basil Mayonnaise*
Makes approximately 1/2 cup

This mayonnaise is delicious. You will be able to find all kinds of tasty uses for it. Try it on your BLT the next time you make one or on a club sandwich for a really delicious addition!

1/2 cup low fat mayonnaise
2 TBS chopped sun dried tomatoes, packed in oil (drain well and pat dry)
2 TBS chopped fresh basil leaves

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.

Friday 23 May 2008

I Am A Child Of God . . .

“There is something about spirituality that is central to the life of a woman. Not the kind of spirituality that only takes you to church on Sunday. I am talking about the kind of spirituality that makes you behave like a child of God.” ~Marjorie Pay Hinckley

"I think most people would concede that we have a spirit, even if some might say that there is no God. I wonder then . . . where do they think our spirits come from . . . if not from God; but then again . . . that’s a whole different question and topic.

I can remember, as a small child, sitting in a chair and looking at my hand. Around the outside of it I could see a glow, an aura . . . and I can remember thinking to myself, that’s my spirit. Even today, when I look at my hand I can see the same thing. My spirit still looks the same to me now as it did to me back then. It’s the very essence of my being, the part of me that makes me, well . . . Me! It’s the part of me that comes from God. My parents here on earth gave me my body, that part of me which will one day die and be no more, but it’s God, my Heavenly Father who gave me my spirit, the part of me that was with him before I came to earth, the part of me that he breathed into my body at my earthly conception and the part of me that will leave my body when my body is no more. My spirit is that part of me that is eternal and will go on forever in one place or another. I knew that even as a child. It was not something anyone had to ever tell me.

Knowing that you are a literal child of God makes a big difference in how you think of yourself and how you behave in and of yourself and towards others, because, let’s face it . . . if I am a child of God, then so are you and so is everyone else here on this earth. We don’t just happen to all know it. I think if we did, we’d all be behaving in a much different way, and earth would be a completely different place . . .

This is a precious knowledge to me. When I look in the mirror every morning yes . . . I see the me that is getting older, a few more wrinkles around the eyes, those extra pounds that I have to lose, grey hairs appearing at my temples . . . I also see the me that shines out from behind my eyes and that me is not any older than I was when I came here to earth. I still feel the same way inside that I did when I was sixteen or six, except I like to think I am a whole lot wiser now. All my experiences here have taught me things I did not know before and I continue to learn and experience new things every day.

I hope that most of the time I behave like a daughter of God, a daughter he would not be ashamed to call his own. I know that once in a while I fall down and I must disappoint him, and probably at some times more than others, but I like to think that as I get older and experience more, learn more, those moments become far and fewer between. I hope that when people look at me and watch the things that I do they see a difference and that they see a good person, that they see a reflection of my Heavenly Father and all that is good about people, and the good things they can do.

I am far from perfect, and I still have a long ways to go to be the person that I truly want to be. But with each day that passes I get closer and that’s a good thing. I see so many people around me struggling with the problems of life, and in the struggle to find their place in it, and I’m so glad that I have this knowledge of who I am and why I’m here. It makes things so much easier, and it helps me to feel so much better about myself. How can you not love someone you know is a daughter of God? How can you not respect them? That is how I feel about me, and how I feel about each of you. When I see a young girl struggling to find herself in this crazy world, someone like Britney Spears for instance, my heart breaks and I think to myself, if she only knew who she was, what a difference that might make in her life, in the way she behaves and the things that she does. Instead they have bought into the hype of the world, which tells them who they ought to be, and they measure their worth on a scale of unrealistic proportions and distorted opinion, instead of trusting on that quite still voice inside which will tell them who they really are and what they're really worth. . . if they would only be still enough to listen and wise enough to hear.

We are not here by accident. There is a purpose to all of this and to these lives that we live. I am so blessed to know that. I wish everyone did."

This is a piece I originally wrote on my Muses. Slowly I am moving a few of my better pieces from there over here. I don't think it hurts to repeat little gems like these. I think we all need reminding from time to time of the things which really matter in this life, don't you?

I baked my Jam Jam's yesterday afternoon. These are a cookie with a history, and yes . . . they are another one of the treasures from my Big Blue Binder. I had a lovely friend named Leona, years ago when all my babies were young. We met at Bingo one night and both of us, as army wives, had just moved into the area so were quite new and knew literally nobody. We became close friends and although we have both moved several times since them, we still are in contact from time to time. Leona was quite a bit older than myself and from New Brunswick. She was a great cook, an old fashioned cook, and a wonderful friend. We often got together as families, perhaps once every couple of weeks or so and broke bread together. This is a lovely cookie recipe that she shared with me. Now, back home, you can buy packages of "Jam Jam's" in the shops, but let me tell you the truth, not a one of them ever came close to the home baked version. These are wonderfully old fashioned . . . tasty . . . the type of cookie your nan would have filled up the cookie jar with!

*Jam Jam's*
Makes a lot! (about 70 or so)

This is one of those old fashioned recipes that exists on a scrap of paper, just a list of ingredients with no timings, temperatures or method laid out. A lot of old and handed down recipes come that way, relying on a cooks basic knowledge to help them to know exactly what to do without being told. In the old days these things would have been learnt at a mother's side. These are a soft and mild flavoured molasses cookie filled with raspberry jam, and are the type of cookie that invokes thoughts of home and hearth and the warm lap of a loving grandmother. Since the recipe makes a lot I would advise freezing half of the baked cookies without filling them for later use. You can thaw them out when you need them and fill them then. In the meantime enjoy!

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup molasses (if you are in the UK and can't get molasses, I recommend equal measures of dark treacle and golden syrup, 1/4 cup each)
1/2 cup firmly packed soft light brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
2 tsp soda, dissolved in 3 TBS hot water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
flour (The recipe says 2 cups but I find I always need about 4 cups. The important thing is to add enough flour to make a soft dough, without it being too sticky and yet also not overly dry.)
To Fill:
seedless raspberry jam

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Beat in the egg and molasses. Stir in the vanilla, salt and soda water. Stir in the flour, one cup at a time, until you have a soft dough, not too sticky and not too dry, just right for rolling out. Mix it in well.

Divide the dough into quarters and roll each quarter out one at a time (On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin) to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into circles with a 1 1/2 inch cutter. Place them about 1/2 inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until nicely risen and lightly browned on the underside. Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks completely before filling. Repeat until you have used all the dough. You may reroll the scraps. I usually do this as I go along, incorporating the scraps into some of the fresh dough and mixing it all in together so that you don't get too dry a mixture from the extra flour.

Once they are all baked and cooled, sandwich them together in pairs with a teaspoon of seedless raspberry jam in the middle of each. You can use other flavours of course or even seeded raspberry jam. Raspberry jam is just what's always been used and is my preference. I have seen these put together as well with Maple buttercream icing, which is also lovely. (In that case they are no longer jam jam's though!)

The photos in this post of the flowers were taken at Regent's Park in London last summer when Todd and I went in for a day trip. I thought they were particularly lovely.

Thursday 22 May 2008

Twas Only a Cup of Water . . .

"It was only a cup of water with gentle grace bestowed,
But it cheered the lonely traveller upon life's dusty road.
None noticed the cup of water as a beautiful act of love,
Save the angels keeping the records, away in the land above.
The trifles in secret given, the prayer in the quiet night,
And the little un-noticed nothings are great in our Saviour's sight!"
~Author Unknown

I believe in little nothings, small random acts of kindness that don' t mean much to anyone but the recipient. Sometimes they even go un-noticed by the recipient, but I know I've done them . . . and it's comforting to know that the Lord does too.

That's not to say that I go around doing things just to chalk up "Brownie" points in the heavens. The funny thing about being kind to others is that, in trying to bless their lives in some small way, you end up blessing yourself as well. Another funny thing about giving is, that the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature to you. After a time, you don't even think about it . . . you just do it, because you can't not do it.

Simple things like . . . picking something up that someone has dropped and making sure they get it back, letting the person standing behind you in the check out line in the grocery store with only two items go first, asking your elderly neighbour if they need anything before you nip into town to do some errands, putting a bowl of water at the end of the drive on a hot summer day so that dusty and tired dogs being walked past have a tiny spot of refreshment before they go on their way, when you're baking cookies, baking a few dozen extra for the elderly shut in just down the lane . . . it doesn't take much . . . it doesn't even cost much more than your time . . . but it pays out in huge dividends. A kind word, a charitable thought, a helpful action, a heartfelt prayer . . . these are the true treasures in our lives.

My life has been ever more enriched by doing simple kindnesses for others. For me, it's a way of life . . . a soul nourishing, heart expanding, beautiful way of giving back some of the goodness that's been thrown my way throughout the years.

I've been trying to incorporate more fish into our diets of late. Fish is good for you, especially oily fish. I'm not all that fond of mackeral or sardines, but then again, I've not ever had fresh, only tinned. Todd tries to have a tin of sardines for his lunch at least once a week and we give one to Jess as well. It's supposed to be very good for her, not to mention her coat. I always have tins of salmon and tuna in my larder. They're really good to have around for those times when you need to throw together a meal really quickly or when someone unexpectedly drops by.

I love risottos. Oven baked is the perfect way to make one, if you're pressed for time. It takes a lot less attention than the traditional style and has delicious results! Who knew???

*Oven Baked Tuna Risotto*
Serves 4

This is a store cupboard favourite of ours. Quick, easy and just perfect for those days when you are totally lacking in inspiration and time.

3 1/2 cups chicken stock
10g butter
2 tsp olive oil
1 medium cooking onion, peeled and chopped fine
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups arborio rice (300g)
425g tin of good quality tuna in oil, drained
1 cup frozen peas
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
the juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 375*F/180*C. Bring the stock to a boil in a medium pan.

Melt the butter along with the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, cooking and stirring until the onion softens. Tip in the rice. Stir it around to coat it with the onion mixture. Add the lemon zest, stock and drained tuna.

Pour the risotto mixture into a large 2 1/2 litre (10 cup) shallow baking dish. Cover with foil. Place on a baking tray for ease of removal and place the tray into the heated oven. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through the baking time. Uncover and bake for 20 minutes. Stir in the peas, and scatter the tomatoes over top. Bake, uncovered for 15 minutes longer, or until the rice is tender. Remove from the oven. Stir in the lemon juice. Serve.

If you like you can stir in the basil leaves just before serving as well. I sometimes do . . . I sometimes don't. It all depends on the mood I'm in!

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Thirteen Un-interesting Things About Me

"The world is a great mirror. It reflects back what you are." ~Thomas Dreier

Some people have bats in their belfries . . . we have sparrows in our eaves. I go to sleep at night whilst listening to them settle down for the evening and I wake up in the morning listening to them chitter and chirrup away. I am sure they are nesting and the eggs have now hatched . . . between the baby sparrows and the peacocks down the lane there is not a lot of sleep going on early in the morning these days! (Peacocks are very noisy birds!)

Alison of The Rabbit Hole has tagged me to write down "Thirteen Un-interesting Things About Me." I love this sort of thing, but don't know how un-interesting I can be. I have always found that reading these things about other people is very fascinating, and so I'm sure someone will find these things a bit fascinating about me as well! (I could be wrong, but who knows!) I'll try to make them as boring and uninteresting as I can!

1. I'm an early riser. I am up at the crack of dawn every day. I try to sleep in, but I can't help myself. If that sun is a rising then so am I!

2. I'm an early to bedder. (See number 1) It just stands to reason that if I am up at the crack of dawn then I'm to bed fairly early as well. Who was it who said, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise?" I'm still waiting!!

3. I love animals and watching television shows about animals. I'm so excited because Bill Oddie's Spring Watch is about to begin again next week. I love watching all the nesting birds and fledglings and other animals he has on the show, especially the foxes and badgers. I don't like watching animals killing each other though. My head tells me that they have to do so in order to survive, but my heart doesn't like to see it.

4. I was once in a local summer school talent show with my sister, where we sang some stupid song, up on the stage, that I can no longer remember. What I do remember though, is hogging the micro-phone. I was such a ham and glutton for attention. It's kind of embarrassing now . . .

5. I love to read and always have done, although these days it generally puts me to sleep, and so I only have about a fifteen minute time slot to get it in before I am nodding off . This means it takes me months and months to get a novel read, although I do accomplish it eventually. It also means that I am no good as a member of a book club . . .

6. I miss snow. I always found the first snow fall of the year so very exciting! It would make my heart dance to see those first few flakes falling. It usually meant that Christmas was not far behind, my most favouritest time of year! We only very rarely get snow here it seems and we NEVER have it for Christmas . . . sigh . . .

7. I used to be an ardent counted cross stitcher. I always had a piece of work in my hands, the more complicated the better. I especially loved the patterns put out by Shepherd's Bush. They are lovely and include a lot of beading and intricate stitches. I love doing samplers, or I did at any rate. My old eyes don't co-operate so well these days so I very rarely do it anymore, but I have a box full of finished projects that need framing.

8. I get motion sick at the drop of a hat. I cannot even sit on a swing, as it makes me feel rather ill. I was real fun to go on long trips with as a child. I think I have vomited my way all across Canada and back again and now I'm starting on Europe! Wait . . . we lived in Germany when I was a little girl . . . so I'm fairly certain I've vomited across a fair bit of Europe as well. Two years ago when we were on holiday up North we went to go on a day trip across the Yorkshire Dales and Todd had to stop the car halfway across as I was feeling rather violently ill. I had forgotten to take my motion sickness medicine. I took it then and there and we had to wait about 20 minutes before we could proceed. It was rather nice though as we found a lovely trickling brook by the side of the road to explore and some sheep to watch.

9. My dad was in the air force, as was my ex husband, so I have done a lot of moving and travelling in my day. I have lived in every Canadian province except for Newfoundland, Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, although I have been to all those provinces at some point, if only to visit. I've also lived in Germany and now England. I love travelling and seeing new places and meeting new people!

10. I've been Baptised three times. Once when I was fifteen in the Baptist church back home. All my friends were doing it and so I thought to myself why not! You got to wear a white gown and everything. The water was cold and smelly and I was freezing afterwards. The second time was when I was in my late 30's and I wanted to make a commitment to Christ and to maybe help my ex to make the same commitment. This was in a Fellowship Baptist church. It didn't work. My ex never did make a commitment. The last time was in the church I belong to now, and I consider that one to have been the only one that truly counted, for it was the only one where I actually felt truly changed as I came out of the water, and touched to the very heart of me. It was a pretty wonderful feeling.

11. I love chocolate cake, chocolate cookies, chocolate brownies, and chocolate candy . . . but I cannot stand chocolate milk or chocolate ice cream . . . I know weird! Todd is the opposite. He likes hot chocolate and chocolate ice cream but can't stand chocolate in the cake/cookie/brownie form! He does like chocolate candy though.

12. I have been married three times, which is not something I am proud of. I wish I could say that I had gotten it right the first time, and only been married once and was getting ready to celebrate my umpteenth anniversary, but alas . . . it took me three times to finally get it right. I think that the reasons you get married for at 45 are completely different than the reasons you get married for at 19. Back then I was going for cute and sexy . . . the last time I was going for someone I actually had something in common with, and who liked to do the same things as I did and who I enjoyed being with on a great many levels. I often wish we had met each other a lot sooner so we could have had a family together. Never mind . . . he gets to enjoy my children anyways, and he considers them to be his family too. It's just too bad there is a whole ocean between us all.

13. (Whew!) I like to eat almost as much as I like to cook, maybe even more! (unfortunately for my waistline!) I've always been a pretty good cook and that could be because I love food so much. I sometimes wish I didn't . . . love food so much, that is. But I guess I can only be me, and that is a part of who I am, and I love being me. I just sometimes wish there wasn't so much of me to love. My son, Bruce, always used to say to me, "Mom, you're not fat. You're just fluffy!" I like his way of thinking.

I see Jam Jams were the winner of this past weeks Make Me Bake poll so look for them real soon! They're one of my favourite cookies so you guys did well!

Someone recently gave me the "You Make My Day" award. I am so sorry that I can't remember who it was. Do you think you could possibly jog my memory? (I feel like such a cad!) I really want to accept it and to give credit where credit is due! I need to write these things down from now on. This menopausal brain of mine keeps letting me down!

We had the missionaries over for supper last night and enjoyed a wonderful meal with them. I made a delicious Strawberry Rhubarb pie for dessert. I just love this time of year when the rhubarb is in season and the strawberries are starting up. Rhubarb and strawberries are the perfect combination! The recipe that I use is actually a combination of several recipes that I have made and liked. I love it and I hope that you like it too!

*Strawberry Rhubarb Pie*
Makes one nine-inch pie

This is a delicious pie that combines the sweetness of fresh spring strawberries with the tartness of rhubarb all encased in a delicious egg custard and topped with a yummy cinnamon and brown sugar streusal. This truly is to die for!

1 9-inch unbaked deep pie shell
2 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1 inch slices
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup plain flour
3 large eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F. Line your pie dish with the pastry, trimming and crimping the edges. Place on a baking sheet and set aside.

Beat together the eggs, sugar, flour, salt and nutmeg, mixing well. Mix together the chopped rhubarb and sliced berries. Place them into the prepared pie shell. Pour the egg mixture evenly over top.

Combine the dry ingredients of the topping. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle this evenly over top of the fruit.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the filling is barely set and the crumbs are crispy and golden. You may have to shield the pie with some foil if the crust is browning too quickly. Remove from the oven to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cold, cut into thick slices, with either ice cream or pouring cream. Delicious!