Monday 30 June 2008

Best Shot Monday

Melody from Slurping Life is hosting Best Shot Monday for a couple of weeks, so I thought I would particpate since I am one of Melody's bestest fans! I'm not so sure this is the greatest picture ever, but it sure speaks to me. To me is screams . . . "There but for the Grace of God go I." What does it say to you? (I saw this snail in our garden and I was trying to get a good picture of him and this one was a complete surprise! Oh the pains an artist goes through for their art . . . )

The difference between right and wrong

We live in a confusing world today. The line between what's right and what's wrong is becoming increasingly blurred and it shows. Messages that we should not be listening to, or paying heed to, bombard us from all sides . . . television,newspapers, magazines, radio, computers, video games . . . even the very streets of our own villages, towns and cities. Is it any wonder that a great deal of the youth of our nations are running rampant . . . afraid and lost, with no moral standards and not knowing the difference between right and wrong?

The breakdown of family, political correctness, loss and lack of religious values . . . these are some of the things that have contributed to the great pervading sickness we are seeing around us in today's society.

When I was a child I knew that when I went to school, if I did anything that I should not be doing on the way to school, one of the neighbours would see and they would tell my mom. If I did anything wrong at school, I'd be punished and then my parents would be told and then I'd be punished again. Teachers were allowed to care and they cared. The values that we had been taught at home and at church were also expounded at school. Most people went to church and sent their children to Sunday School. Family was important, upheld and revered.

There was a consistency in life. Things that were correct . . . had always been correct . . . they were correct today and would still be correct tommorrow . . . there was no grey area. It was all black and white.

Children were surrounded with people that cared . . . in most cases two parents . . . father's who cared enough about them and about their mother's to want to get married and stay married. I heard on the radio the other day that Charlotte Church was expecting her second child with her longstanding boyfriend Gavin. I thought to myself, if you love someone enough to want to have two children with them, surely you want those children to have the stability of having a father and mother who are committed enough to each other to want to get married . . .

Teachers cared too. Most teachers in those days looked at teaching as a calling in life. Sure there were teachers who never should have been teaching and who were mean and quite obviously didn't like children . . . but for the most part we had people at school who really and truly cared for us and who guided us along a straight and narrow path, and were able to teach us from the heart. That is not to say that teachers today don't care . . . I'm sure there are lots who do, but their jobs are frustrated with the red tape of bureacracy and political correctness which binds their hands and hearts.

Neighbours cared about each other as well. They took the time to get to know each other and kept an eye out for each other. It was really distressing a couple of years ago in this small village that I live in, that an elderly couple passed away in their home and it was several weeks before anyone noticed. It was only because a postman noticed an obviously starving dog on one of his rounds that anyone was alerted that something might be amiss. The wife had been an invalid and bed ridden, and her elderly husband her caregiver. He had had a heartattack and passed away in the bathroom and she, unable to move and too feeble to call for help had died in her bed a day or two later of starvation and neglect . . . the family dog, wandering in and out of their open back doorway, quite obviously distressed and hungry . . . thirty, forty or even twenty years ago this would not have happened. People would have noticed within the first couple of days and once noticed they would have acted . . .

When we went to attend our chapel a couple of Sunday's ago, the lawn was strewn with beer bottles and the grass had been burnt. There were about half a dozen burnt out disposable barbeques laying about. Someone quite obviously had decided to use our grounds to have a get-together of sorts and just left their mess behind. We have had to have the lead on the church roof replaced several times as some person keeps stealing it and our windows are often cracked and pitted by stones thrown at them by the youth in the neighbourhood. Where is the respect?

Oh, it does paint a dismal picture, but not all is dark and gloomy. There are still pockets of good to be found and people with standards to be found. We just never hear about them. I wish someone would start a newspaper filled with good news and good stories. A paper with positive and uplifting messages. Do they think we don't want to hear them, or that we would not be interested? I wish someone would try and then prove them wrong. What a turn around that would be!

A wise man once remarked that he had never known a good thing that was not beautiful or a bad thing that was not ugly . . . it's really quite simple isn't it? The spirit of the Very Cheerful easily rubs off onto everything around it. I guess it starts with me . . .

A Merrier World is hosting a blogging event until the 16th of July promoting the ethical rearing and use of chicken. I know that it's not always possible for people to spend the extra money to buy free range chicken and that with growing families and the rapidly increasing cost of food these days it is becoming even more difficult to eat with a conscience. I try to stock up on it when the grocery store has a special offer going. In the past year or so we have made the decision that if we were going to be eating meat of any kind we would only eat free range and organic if possible. That means that we don't eat it quite as often as we used to, but it does mean that when we do eat it we can feel good about it. This is a lovely dish that takes a few chicken breasts and makes them see like a whole lot more, and with very delicous results!

*Chicken with Parsley and Capers*
Serves 4 to 6

Simple, quick, easy and tasty. This delicious way of preparing chicken wins on all counts! We like to have it with some chips and peas, but they would go equally as well with rice or mash or even boiled potatoes.

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
(wipe dry and then using a very sharp knife cut each one
horizontally into three or four thin flat slices)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 TBS plain flour
3 TBS olive oil
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and slightly squashed
the juice of half a lemon
1 TBS capers in vinegar, drained and chopped
2 TBS chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Season the chicken pieces with some salt and pepper and then dust them lightly with flour, patting them and then shaking off the excess.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat and then add the garlic. Once it begins to become fragrant add the chicken pieces, a few at a time, frying them lightly until golden brown on each side. Once you have all the pieces browned, put them back into the pan, and reduce the heat. Squeeze the lemon juice over all and add the capers and the parsley and a couple tablespoons of hot water. Let it bubble up and then put a lid on, turn out the heat and let them sit for just a few minutes longer to make sure they are cooked all the way through. Don't overcook them or they will be dry and tough. Just a few minutes insures that they are moist and tender and that there are some juices in the pan to spoon over.

Serve immediately.

Sunday 29 June 2008

Lightening Up the Burdens of Your Heart

“ I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy.” ~Louise Bogan

“With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” ~William Wordsworth

Think of yourself as a garden. Each day, being grateful helps to till the soil of your soul. We plant seeds of modesty and harmony, which root themselves deep into the earth of who we are and our everyday being. The flowers of tranquility inspire us with courage for both ourselves and for our loved ones, and the courage to make it real. Patience and beauty blossom around us, and we are happy. Not only are we happy, but, we have found joy, a wellspring of joy that refreshes us, nourishes us and renews us from the inside out. We have found our bliss, our place in the world.

I have been lucky enough to walk amongst the daffodils that Wordsworth wrote of so beautifully, and to spend some time in Wordsworth country. It is indeed very beautiful up there. A beauty we can all share in by reading his very beautifully penned words. He was able to see into the life of things through the power of his mind’s eye and he was able to share it with us through his words.

Seeing into the life of things is truly a life transforming step. In doing so, we should be able to embrace the path of true joy, the joy that is there for each one of us to take, instead of the path of struggle many of us walk upon so very often . . .

This involves learning to live in the present moment . . . in letting go of the past and the future. We must stop telling ourselves that the worst is going to happen and expecting it to happen. In doing so I truly believe we “will” it to happen, and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. “WE” are the authors of our own misfortune. As we struggle through each day, from one crisis to another, allowing circumstance to batter and bruise us, we have forgotten that we always have a choice. We can choose to expect the best things to happen to us . . . instead of the worst. We can start to look at the glass as half full . . . instead of half empty. We can stop the drama and learn to trust in the flow of life and the goodness of the Spirit. We can be the authors of our own happy endings.

Today, suspend your disbelief and take a leap of faith. Tell yourself that today you are going to let go of the struggle and embrace the joy. Claim all the blessings that this day . . . today . . . has waiting for you to discover. They’ve been there every day. They’ll be there everyday. They’ve just been waiting for you to find them. In doing so, you will change the spin of your universe so that it now spins on the axis of joy, pure joy. That’s not to say that bad things won’t still happen, but let’s face it . . . In the midst of all that joy, how can misery and despair ever hope to gain a toehold in your life again??? After all wasn't it Paul who said:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for 'My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
~2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I see the Lemon Cupcakes won my Make Me Bake Challenge this week! Time to put up another one. I really enjoy doing this on my blog. It makes it a bit more interactive with you my readers and gives you a little bit of input in the types of things you want to see me cooking on here! I hope that it's become something you all enjoy participating in as well!

I don’t think I know anyone who is not fond of Roast Potatoes. Their crispy brown outsides and creamy insides just go perfectly with anything. Heck I’d even eat a plate of them all on their own, I love them so much. Here’s a potato you’ll love even more. These delicious little babies truly can stand on their own, but they’re heavenly with Lamb, Chicken or Fish! (Just in time for that Sunday lunch!)

*Oven Roasted Lemon and Herb Potatoes*
Serves 4

Crisp on the outside with a creamy interior just full of lovely flavours, these potatoes are like the Cadillac of roast potatoes. Their flavour is truly amazing.

4 - 6 large potatoes, quartered. (You may peel or not as desired)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup butter, melted
½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and minced

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F. Lightly grease a large baking tray with deep sides. Put the quartered potatoes in a large bowl.

Combine the melted butter, oil, lemon juice, oregano, salt, pepper and garlic. Pour this mixture over the potatoes and toss them all together so that the potatoes are well coated.
Spread the potatoes evenly into the baking pan, making sure that you leave some space in between each one.

Roast for 20 minutes. Take them out of the oven and give them a good shake, turning them over with a spatula and spreading them out evenly again. Place them in the oven and roast for another 15 minutes.

Repeat the shaking and turning them over. Roast for a final 15 minutes until they are golden brown and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Serve hot as an accompaniment to your favourite roast!

*Note - this was, in part, a post that I originally wrote on my Muses back in January of this year. Once more, I am moving some of my best bits over here to Oak Cottage.

Saturday 28 June 2008

Early Saturday morning thoughts . . .

"There is nothing as energizing, as confidence-building, as sustaining as the power of love. How substantial is it's influence on the human mind and heart! How great and magnificent is it's power in overcoming fear and doubt, worry and discouragement!"
~President Gordon B Hinckley

As I read these words of our late prophet this morning they rang with truth to me. All I ever wanted my whole life . . . was to feel loved. I think that's all most people want. We yearn for it and strive for it. We preen for it and spend oodles and oodles of money each year trying to make ourselves attractive enough to others so that we can earn it. There is nothing that warms the heart more than to see two people so very obviously in love with each other that they cannot take their eyes off of each other and can scarce notice the world going on around them . . .

There are so many types of love . . . the love of self, the love a man and woman have for each other, the love of a parent for a child, the love for others in our immediate and extended family, the love for a friend, the love for our communities and countries, the love for greater mankind in general . . . the love for our Saviour and His Father . . . indeed our Heavenly Father . . .

Paul said:

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (love), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and not have charity (love), I am nothing . . . Charity (love) never faileth." (1Cor.13:1-2)

Love has the power to change lives and worlds. Love is a gift which pays huge returns and great dividends . . . no matter who you are, or where you live, or what you have. Love is a powerful force that can erase boundaries and differences and build bridges across the "chasm of bitterness" (Quote GBH) Love is the one constant in an ever changing world . . .

Sincere and true love, never moves . . .

It is at the core and centre of the Gospel and should be the primary motivator in each one of our lives. It can and should be a lighthouse of hope in a world of humanity drowning in despair and distress. People act the way they do, and do the things they do, because they don't feel loved . . . they have no hope . . . they are afraid or in need . . . they don't know any better. It is up to us who do know to show them the way, and the first step is taken in reaching out to others, and in reaching out with love, one small step at a time.

"Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be stong, fear not: behold , your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you." ~Isaiah 35:3-4

Love everyone you can, with all that you can, whenever you can . . . and mean it. It will change lives . . . it will change your life. Pray for your enemies . . . it is awfully hard not to love someone you are praying for. Even if that is the only thing you can manage to do . . . it is life transforming. I guarantee . . .

I'm up extra early this morning as I have a big day ahead of me. Right now it is overcast and a bit gloomy looking but here's hoping it brightens up! For those of you who asked 225g of strawberries is a little over half a pound and 300ml of milk is slightly more than a cup. I have a lovely recipe to share with you this morning. It is an oven baked Spinach Risotto that is gorgeous! I adapted this recipe from a little book I have called "101 Veggie Dishes" put out by Good Food Magazine. Todd and I had this for dinner the other night and here I am several days later still thinking about it!

*Baked Spinach Risotto*
Serves 2

I love risotto and don't really mind standing over a hot stove to make it. So much the better though when you can let your oven do all the work for you! This is delicious!

1 ounce butter
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 ounces of arborio rice
1 TBS chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 pint hot vegetable stock
1 cup of white wine (if you don't want to use this, then just use an equal amount of vegetable stock)
1 (290g) jar of antipasto mixed peppers in tomato dressing (Sacla makes a great one)
2 ounces of spinach leaves, washed and dried well
1 ounce of Parmesan Cheese, grated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat your oven to 180*C/350*F. Take a 1 litre casserole dish and put the butter and the garlic into it. Place it into the heated oven for a few minutes until the butter has melted and you can smell the garlic. Remove from the oven and toss in the onion. Give it a stir and then return it to the oven and let cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the onion has begun to soften.

Remove the casserole dish from the oven again and add the rice and rosemary. Stir to coat the rice with the butter. Stir in the stock and wine (if using). Return it to the oven and bake for a further 30 minutes, stirring it once or twice during that time.

Remove the casserole dish yet again and stir in the jar of peppers and the spinach. Return to the oven one final time and bake for another 10 to fifteen minutes, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with some salt and pepper. I find I usually don't need any salt. Serve with a fresh green salad and enjoy!

Friday 27 June 2008

Embracing the "You" in You

“Conformity is one of the most fundamental dishonesties of all. When we reject our specialness, water down our God-given individuality and uniqueness, we begin to lose our freedom. The conformist is in no way a free man. He has to follow the herd.”
~Norman Vincent Peale

It seems I’ve always walked a few steps out of beat with those around me. I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, but not in a bad way. I guess some might think me a bit odd. I suppose it’s that oddness that opened my heart to this weird and wonderful church I belong to. When I am at church and I see those around me and ponder their unique ways and personalities, I can see that we are all a bit odd, but in a very beautiful way. I’m really quite glad that we are.

I went through a period of time when I was a child at school, and especially in my early teens, that I got teased and bullied mercilessly. I think it was because I was different . . . because I didn’t fit in the same as the rest of them did. I suppose that it was the wolf pack mentality of the others, the law of the herd, that made them feel the need to weed out all that were different, or that they deemed as somehow being weaker. Quiet and sensitive, I was probably a sitting duck for all their slings and arrows.

Looking back, I am quite glad that I was different and I’m glad that I was strong enough to withstand their aggressiveness. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I truly believe that through those hard years I learned a lot about compassion and forgiveness for others, and about tolerance and endurance. Thankfully, we moved after a few years, and so the teasing and bullying stopped, but I still carry some of the scars on my heart and in my mind. They are a part of the fabric of who I became and who I am . . .

In my later teen years, I did follow the crowd a bit, all the while trying to maintain as much of my uniqueness and individuality as I could. I was everyone’s friend, even those that nobody wanted to be a friend to. I always had great compassion for those sorts of people, having once been ostracized in much the same way. Besides, secretly . . . deep down, I knew I was still one of them and had just not been found out yet. As I got older too, the bullies were fewer and far-er between . . . and most of the people I knew were starting to strike out a bit more as individuals anyways.

I guess I’ve always known that I was special, even if I didn’t always act like it. I may have taken a lot of abuse from my ex husband, and perhaps I even felt for a time like I wasn’t worth not taking it, but deep down I think I knew that I was special, but I allowed him to squelch it through the years. Every once in a while though, this unique person that I was would stick it’s head up above the mire and wave it’s arms. When you are busy raising a family and taking care of a home, you hardly have time to think about your own needs and wants, your days are so full of taking care of others. It's quite easy to get lost in the business of the needs and wants of others for a time. And as a mother, how can you do anything but?

In my later years, I have come to realize just who I am as an individual, and to embrace that unique and wonderful person, and yes . . . celebrate her for who she is and all with her differences and various talents. I am a special individual, unique in all ways, and I love who I am and who I’ve allowed myself to become. I still walk a few beats out of step from everyone else, but I am quite proud that I do. I love that I stand out in a crowd. I’m still a bit of an odd duck, but I love my oddness. It works for me. I have come to recognize my God-given talents and embrace them, explore them, use them . . . I relish every opportunity which comes my way to share them with others and to help them in some way, if I can and if they'll let me.

I look at my life like a huge piece of embroidery that I have been working on for years, quite different than anyone else’s, but every bit as beautiful and even more so in some ways for it’s individuality. I have stitches here and stitches there, it’s randomness creating something quite wonderful and unique and special, this tapestry of my life. I suppose when it’s finally finished I will be able to look back and count all the stitches and be quite proud of my accomplishment, but in the meantime I’m just enjoying creating it, in my unique and beautiful way.

Just my thoughts this morning . . .

It's strawberry season here as I expect it is in a lot of places in the Northern Hemisphere. I love strawberries. As a child, I spent many hours in the strawberry fields under the hot sun picking punnets and punnets of delicious berries, that my mother would later make into jam, but in the meantime there would be lovely things like bowls of fresh strawberries, still warm from the sun with cold cream poured over them and delicious strawberry shortcakes . . . One year, when my own children were growing up, and we were visiting my in-laws on Prince Edward Island, we took them strawberry picking for a morning. They picked about a dozen punnets of their own and we set them up a strawberry stand at the end of the driveway. They had a great time selling their berries and were thrilled when they got to sell several of the same boxes more than once! Generous neighbours in that neighbourhood of elderly retired people, just wanted to pay them for the joy they received in watching these hard working children revel in their accomplishment, whilst learning the value of hard work. I wonder if my kids ever think about that afternoon like I do . . . happy memories.

They are getting quite cheap in the stores just at the moment and so I picked up a punnet yesterday so that Todd and I could enjoy a couple of these last night as an early summer treat! Ahh . . . watching the film Braveheart, whilst supping on a delicious homemade strawberry milkshake . . . bliss . . . he might be a bit of a kook, but the sight of Mel Gibson in a kilt gets to me every time . . . hmmm . . . I wonder if I can get Todd to run through the house wearing nothing but a car blanket wrapped around his waist yelling "They may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom" at the top of his lungs??? (the thought boggles the mind!)

*Strawberry Ice Cream Shake*
Serves 2

Life couldn't get any easier or any tastier . . . summer in a glass.

225g of strawberries, washed and hulled and cut in half
300ml of cold milk
3 large scoops of vanilla ice cream
an Extra two strawberries to garnish (optional)

Tip all the ingredients into the blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Pour into tall chilled glasses and garnish with a whole berry.

Sup and enjoy.

PS - This is a piece I posted orignally on my Muses page back in November, well except for the strawberries that is!

Thursday 26 June 2008

Thursday Morning Meanderings . . .

The lazy man said,
Turning over in bed,
"Today's going to be such a bore,
The time will pass slow
For I've no place to go
And nothing to do any more."

The busy man said,
As he leaped out of bed,
"Today there's so much to be done,
The time will flash by,
The minutes just fly,
For I'm going to be having such fun!"
~Author Unknown

Todd has always found it hard to understand why I get up so early in the morning. I rise at 5 o'clock every morning, no matter the time I have fallen in to bed the night before. I need no alarm . . . that's just when I wake up. He sleeps another 3 hours after that. I just can't help it though, that's when my body clock tells me enough is enough and it's time to get up! Life's just too darn short to spend it sleeping! (Mind you I really enjoy crawling into bed gone 9 o'clock at the other end!)

Each day to me holds such promise . . . a new adventure waiting to unfold, a new page in my story waiting to be written upon. I would say that something exciting happens to me every day, that there is some new discovery. Oh, it may not be exciting to anyone else . . . it might even seem mundane to an innocent onlooker, but to me it's all a part of the "grande adventure."

It could be something as simple as discovering a new flower or as exciting as getting to watch mother birds and their fledglings at the feeders in our garden. It's all new and it's all pretty wonderful to me.

There have been lots of rabbits in the garden these past weeks. Most afternoons on these sunny days, if I look out my kitchen window, there is a nice fat one sitting on the patio area next to our clothesline, seemingly sunning himself. He looks so content and happy sitting there. Often there are one or two sitting in the grass and munching on clover that is growing there. It's so idyllic and restful to watch . . . just like a private show from God just for me.

We got a new nut feeder a week or so back. The squirrels had been emptying out our old one on a daily basis. We had tried everything to put them off. Todd tried putting a plastic flower pot on it upside down and that worked for all of several hours before they had figured out a way to get around it. The next day he tried putting another larger pot over top of the bottom one, only standing upright and that seemed to work for a couple of days. Later in the day I looked out and one of the squirrels was actually sitting in it. He looked like an adventurer sitting in the basket of a hot air balloon, just waiting for it to take off and carry him on a journey to parts unknown. We thought it quite amusing . . . later in the day when we got back home from church we realized just how crafty they had been, when we noticed that they had chewed through both pots and down into the nuts!!!

And so we looked at each other and decided that it was time to invest in one of the squirrel proof nut feeders and so we did . . .

It's ever so clever. It's a nut feeder within a boxed affair with holes in the sides just large enough to let birds in and out. The squirrels tried for days to get into it but it would seem we have finally managed to outwit them!!! (not that they haven't tried really hard to find a way to conquer this challenge! One almost feels quite sorry for them!)

Each morning I receive an e-mail sent to me from my brother's ipod. He and his wife and their four girls are enjoying a lovely holiday on Prince Edward Island at the moment, and at the end of each day he sends everyone an update on what they have been doing for the day. It sounds as if they are having a lovely time. I think tomorrow they are on their way to Nova Scotia to visit my mother and then off to Quebec to visit my father. I love hearing about their daily adventures, and am amazed at the technology that exists today, and that he is able to do this so easily! And then, sometimes when I read it my heart pangs a bit with regret . . . as I realize my children never got to go on a holiday, or at least not one like that. The only places we ever took them was home to visit the grandparents, either to Nova Scotia or to Prince Edward Island, which is where both sets lived. It makes me feel kind of sad to think that they never got to frolic at seasides or go camping or anything like that at all. We never had the money to do more than visit our folks so I suppose I have an excuse, but it sure would have been nice to do something else . . .

Todd and I try to take a holiday of some sort every year. Mind you, there are only the two of us and so it's not as expensive an undertaking. One year we went down to Devon for 4 days, staying at little B&B's we discovered along the way. It bucketed down rain for the whole time we were there, but I still look back on it fondly, and can remember having a wonderful time while we were there. The scenery was spectacular and the little villages quaint. One day we shall go back when the sun is shining, I am sure!

We've done several coach tours to Germany, which have always been lots of fun. Germany is one of my favourite places to visit. I love the scenery, the people, and of course the food! We always make some new friends on the journey and it's nice that Todd doesn't have to miss half the fun by being behind the wheel and having to drive.

This year we are spending a week up in Cumbria at the edge of the Lake District. We have rented a cottage there, at the same place we stayed at two years ago. It's lovely. Uther Pendragon's castle is right at the bottom of the hill our holiday cottage sits on and the River Eden runs by it. It's largely a ruin but the last time we were there we walked down to it every morning and evening. I loved sitting on it's stones and looking out across the fells and thinking about Knights and Ladies and magical adventures of days gone by . . . with the pleasant bleating of the sheep in the background soothing my soul . . . We had lovely weather the week we were there the last time, so that was quite lucky as it is an area of the country that gets a lot of rain. I am hoping we will be lucky like that again this time, but even if we are not, it will still be nice and we'll still enjoy ourselves.

Well, I have written a whole lot of words about nothing this morning, but sometimes that is nice . . . writing and reading about nothing can be pretty exciting and interesting at times, don't you think?

Quite often when my kids were growing up I would make this tasty side dish for them at suppertime. It seemed to go with everything and was a real favourite. I could remember making something similar in Grade 10 Home Economics at school, and loving it then, but no longer having the recipe, I improvised and invented my own. I could eat a whole plate of this and nothing else! I am sure there is a proper name for it somewhere and it's not really anything new (there is nothing new under the sun, only different ways of doing the same old thing!) . . . it is tasty though.

*Noodles and Cabbage*
Serves 4

I love noodles and I love cabbage, the two together are just wonderful!! Who knew simple could be so good, but then again . . . it often is. A great side dish that goes with just about anything, but especially pork or chicken, this is also a great Vegetarian Main dish. When used as a main the amount of servings is somewhat less though. (I can assure you the leftovers warmed up tasty every bit as good and maybe even better than it does the first day!)

1 small head of white cabbage, trimmed, cored and then sliced thinly
1 large onion, peeled, cut in half and then sliced thinly
1 large knob of butter
a sprinkle of sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound of egg noodles, cooked and drained
sour cream (optional)
freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

Take a large skillet with a lid and melt the butter in it over medium high heat until it starts to foam. Add the onions and cook, stirring until they soften and begin to slightly caramelize.

Throw in the cabbage and cook, stirring it as well, until it is coated well with the butter and beginning to wilt. Sprinkle with the sugar and some salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and bang on the lid. Cook over low heat for about 8 to 10 minutes until the cabbage is almost cooked through.

In the meantime, cook your noodles according to the package directions. Drain well and keep warm.

Remove the lid from the skillet and turn up the heat again and cook, stirring until the cabbage is golden brown in places. Toss in the noodles and give it all a good stir, until they are well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Stir in a good spoonful of sour cream, if desired, and then tip the mixture out onto a heated platter. Sprinkle with some Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Spreading Love

I am but one amongst millions and billions of people on this planet. Even though I be only one, I can be a powerful force for good or evil. Every single thing on this earth has a purpose for being here, a reason d'etre . . . an effect. Just like a pebble thrown into a pond, every single thing we do, every action we take spreads out in ever widening circles, hugging and embracing, engulfing everything it touches . . . no matter the action taken, be it for good or for bad . . .

That concept . . . that idea of all things being connected to one another . . . that whatever happens to each of us affects all of us in a very real way, however large or small . . . that idea can be somewhat difficult to concede . . . to understand. This means that whatever we do, whether good or whether evil, it's not really a private affair. It means something to us all.

As long as we live in a world where there is pain or suffering . . . loneliness . . . hunger . . . people doing without, cruelty to others . . . whatever the need or loss . . . it is our responsibility. As a member of the human race we have the responsibility and the power to change the lives of the people we love simply by caring and by giving, and in doing so . . . we have the power to change the world . . .

Someone shared some love with me the other day. When I found out about it I grew two inches in stature, I kid you not! It made my heart sing and my toes tingle. It made a smile break out on my face a mile wide! Melody of Slurping Life shared her love with me in the way of a Sharing the Love Gift. Melody is a gal with a heart as big as life itself and that she would think me worthy of this type of thing really amazed me! Like a pebble in the water this gift ripples out and spreads, hugging each person that it touches and I would love to touch . . .

Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage
Rhondi of Rose Colored Glasses
Lura of Grammy's News
Erin of The McGibbon Family
Schotzy of Winging Upward
Angie of Can You All Hear Me At The Back
Jeannene of Love Conquers All

I hope this gift of love touches them in the same way it touched me, and the way I am touched each and every time I visit one of their pages. Can you feel the warmth of the love water lapping at your heels ladies?

Who wouldn't love to share these delicious little cheesy baskets with people they care about?? Quick, easy and perfect for sharing, these delicious little babies are wonderful!

*Cheese and Chutney Basket Melts*
Serves 2 (but is easily doubled and multiplied)

These wonderful little bread baskets are so easy to put together and so delicious when they are done. They're perfect for light and cosy little meals a deux or for a light meal for friends. All you need is a lovely leafy salad on the side and you have perfection. If you keep fresh crusty rolls and cheese in the freezer and a jar of chutney in the larder you have a delicious meal ready anytime just at the drop of a hat.

2 large crusty bread rolls
1 TBS olive oil
2 heaped TBS chutney (I used Apricot the other day but any chutney would be delicious. Fruit and cheese and spice go together very well)
2 small rinded goat's cheeses
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 190*C/375*F. Get out a small baking tray.

Take your bread rolls and cut a deep hollow in the top of each roll, just the size to drop the cheese round inside. Remove the bread from each centre and brush the insides of the rolls with the olive oil. (Share the love and give the bread from inside to the birds in your garden) Season with a touch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Place them on the tray and bang them into the oven for about 5 minutes, until lightly crisped.

Remove from the oven and spoon a tablespoon of chutney into each hollow. Remove the rind from the top and the bottom of each cheese round and drop one into each hole, on top of the chutney. Press a spring of thyme into the top of each and then season with a bit more freshly ground black pepper and a light sprinkle of sea salt.

Take some foil and scrunch it around each roll, covering the bread, but leaving the cheese exposed. Bake for a further 15 to 20 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Remove the foil for the last five minutes of baking.

Serve with a mixed and leafy green salad on the side.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Cobbler, Cobbler, mend my shoe

Cobbler, cobbler, mend my shoe.
Get it done by half past two.
Half past two is much too late!
Get it done by half past eight.
~Author Unknown

cob·bler –noun
1. a person who mends shoes.
2. a deep-dish fruit pie with a rich biscuit crust, usually only on top.
3. an iced drink made of wine or liquor, fruits, sugar, etc.
4. a fabric rejected because of defective dyeing or finishing.
5. a mummichog.
6. Archaic. a clumsy workman.

Similar to a fruit crisp in that they both have a delicious juicy fruit filling, cobblers are an American invention, most likely invented by those talented American Pioneers who were very adept at pulling delicious rabbits out of hats made of simple and lacking ingredients. They were very good at improvising. Having brought their favourite recipes from back home with them they had to make do with the ingredients that were available for them in the New World and came up with delicious recipes such as these, and unique names as well, such as cobbler, crumble, grunt, pan dowdy, slump, buckle . . . essentially all the same dessert but with different toppings and names.

Yes, today is Tuesday and it's the Tuesdays with Dorie Challenge day . . . the one day of the week when a bazillion bakers around the world pool together their resources and talents and bake the same recipe from the delicious book "Baking, from my home to yours" by Dorie

This weeks challenge was, you might have guessed it, Mixed Berry Cobbler, on pages 416-417 as chosen by Beth of Our Sweet Life .

Beth, Beth, Beth . . . this week you were surely singing the song of my heart for I love fruit cobblers almost more than anything in this world! Thanks so much for choosing this recipe!

I decided early on after reading about all the experiences that the other ladies of the baking group were having with this recipe, that I would make a few changes in the basic recipe. I have always loved the combination of blueberries and peaches and so I decided to add a tin of sliced peaches into the cobbler filling mix, chopped into small squares of course. I knew you wouldn't be able to see them in the final baked mix as they would be coloured blue like all the little blueberries, but I thought that they would create a simple taste surprise in every bite! I also added a tsp of cinnamon because blueberries, peaches and cinnamon go together very, very well.

A lot of the other ladies had found the topping to be rather bland and so I kicked it up a notch by adding a heaping tsp of my own homemade pumpkin pie spice to the flour and sugar before I rubbed in the butter. I also added 1/2 tsp of pure vanilla essence to the cream before I stirred it in. The dough for the topping came together very nicely. I patted mine out to the required size between two pieces of cling film, and easily popped it on top of the berry mix that was waiting in my little blue casserole dish.

Blueberries, peaches all tucked under a biscuit dough blanket in a pretty blue casserole dish . . . all it needed now was my little blue pie bird that I received from my friend Susan from Not Quite June Cleaver as a cute little decoration. I had been dying to use it ever since it came in the mail! This was the perfect excuse!

I brushed the biscuit blanket with some more cream and sprinkled on a healthy topping of demerara sugar before I popped it into the oven to add some colour and lovely crunch to the finished creation.

It smelled heavenly when it was baking . . . oh my!

It looked so beautiful when it came out of the oven with those delicious blueberry juices oozing around the edges and that cute little bird peeping up out of the middle, not to mention with that sugar crust adoring the top!

They say the proof is in the eating, and this turned out to be very delicious on the day, served up warm and adorned with a couple slabs of Green and Black's organic vanilla ice cream. We both loved it very much. The crust was short and buttery and melted in the mouth and those blueberries and peaches . . . well . . . they were nothing short of wonderfully, tastily, moreish!

With a few adaptions this was a lovely recipe and I would make it again. I was also able to cut the recipe in half quite successfully, which I like to do sometimes as there is really only Todd and I here to eat these things and I am quite stout and shouldn't be eating too much of things like this and Todd is only one man and can't possibly get through a lot of it all on his lonesome. In a way I was glad though that I had only made half as it is not a dessert that sits well I found for the next day all the juices from the blueberries had soaked into the topping and it was not quite as appealing, so it's truly an eat on the day type of dessert!

For the recipe you must visit Beth's page, and for a gander at what all the other lovely members of the group came up with, hop on over to the main Blog Roll! I'm on my way over myself as I can't wait to see what they each came up with. Maybe I'll meet you there!

Next week Karina of The Floured Apron has chosen . . . Apple Cheddar Scones on page 32. Mmmmmm . . . I can't wait!!!

Hmmm . . . now I'm wondering what a mummichog is . . .

Monday 23 June 2008

Sharing our Burdens

Once upon a time there was a man and his very young son. It was Saturday, the one day of the week that the man had to do some chores around the house and to spend some precious time with his family. On this one particular week he was facing the rather large chore of moving some books out of the attic and into a larger room downstairs. His son had been looking forward all week to spending some time with his father on Saturday, and so he wanted to help his dad with this chore so that it could be done quicker and then they could spend some time together doing something fun. It was really important to this little boy that he was helping his dad to do this, even though in all reality he was probably getting in the way and slowing things down a lot more than he was actually helping his father out.

What was special about this event was that the little boy had a father who was patient and wise, and who know that it was more important that he and his son do this together than it was to do the job quickly and efficiently.

Some of these books were rather large and cumbersome, big and very heavy. It was a real struggle for the little boy to gather them up in his arms and then try to get them down the stairs. He dropped them and fumbled with them, but nothing would deter him from his course of action. After dropping one particularly heavy pile several times he finally sat down on the stairs and cried in frustration. He recognized that he wasn't doing much good at all. He wasn't strong enough or big enough to carry these large, heavy books down such a narrow stairway. It hurt him to think that he was letting his father down and that he couldn't do this chore that he so very much wanted to be able to do.

When his father saw his son sitting there with tears rolling down his cheeks, he said not a word. He merely picked up the stack of books the little boy had dropped, and put them into his son's arms . . . and then he picked the both of them up, the boy and the books, and carried them down the stairs. This is the way the rest of the morning continued, for load after load, both of them enjoying each other's company in a most beautiful way . . . the boy carrying his father's books . . . the father carrying his son . . .

Sometimes it's that way with life. We struggle through it carrying load after load. Sometimes the burden is easy and light and we manage quite well, and then at other times the chore is very heavy indeed and we feel like sitting down and crying. Thank goodness for our Lord and Saviour who knows our burdens and our cares and who has said to us:

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

~Matthew 11:28-30

Thank goodness for a Saviour who is very willing and all too happy to help us carry our load, when it becomes too heavy and cumbersome for us to carry alone.

Since coming over to England I have fallen in love with Indian food. It started with a ready made curry that I had picked up in the grocery store and then progressed to one night when we went out to share a lovely Indian meal with some friends at an Indian restaurant. I bought several Indian cookery books for myself and from time to time love to make one or two of the dishes inside. Indian food is a bit like KFC or a good Chinese . . . you just find yourself craving a good curry once in a while and this is one of my favourites . . .

*Creamed Chicken with Nuts*
(Malai Murgi)
Serves 3

This is a medium hot curry with lots of lovely flavours all mingling together in a delicious symphony. It looks like a huge list of ingredients, but really a lot of it is spices. It goes together very quickly. I have given quantities here for 3 servings but it is very easily doubled to make 6.

2 1/2 TBS oil
2 large fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 inch of a knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large bay leaf
2 whole cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cardamom pods, bruised
2 peppercorns, crushed
1 1/2 pounds chicken, boneless and skinless, cut into medium/large chunks(breast or thigh meat, or a combination of both)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground red chili
(cayenne pepper)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground mace
salt to taste
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup of blanched almonds (heaping) cut in half lengthwise
or slivered
1/3 cup cashew nuts, coarsely chopped
1 TBS coarsely chopped pistachio nuts
1/4 cup sultana raisins, heaped
1/2 tsp ground green cardamom
3/4 cup single (light) cream

Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan. Put in the garlic, ginger, onions, bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon, black cardamom and peppercorns. Fry gently until golden brown. Add the chicken pieces and fry for about 10 minutes or so, until golden brown on all sides.

Stir in the garam masala, ground cumin, cayenne, turmeric, nutmeg, mace, salt and milk.

Bring this to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring it occasionally.

Add the chopped almonds, cashew nuts, pistachios and raisins along with the cardamom and cook on medium heat until all the liquid is absorbed and the chicken is very tender. Reduce the heat to low and pour in the cream. Simmer for 2 minutes and then serve.

I like to have a nice Pilau rice with this.

*Pilau Rice*
Serves 2
8 ounces of basmati rice
1 small onion, peeled and chopped finely
a knob of butter, plus extra to serve
2 cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
1 piece of a cinnamon stick
a pinch of turmeric
1 bay leaf
1/2 pint (300ml) of hot chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
salt to taste

Wash the rice in several changes of cold water and then leave to soak for about 30 minutes in fresh cold water. Drain well. If you don't have time for this put the rice into a sieve and rinse it under cold running water for a minute or so. Drain well.

Melt the butter in a saucepan until it begins to foam and then add the onion. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes until it is softened. Add the spices and the bay leaves and cook for a minute or so longer, until the spices become very fragrant. Add the well drained rice and cook and stir until the grains are all coated in the butter. Stir in the stock or water along with some salt to taste. Bring to the boil then cover with a lid and turn the heat down to low. Leave to cook for 10 minutes and then turn off the heat. Do not remove the lid. Just leave it to continue cooking in the pan for a further 5 minutes until you are ready to serve. Stir in an additional knob of butter and fluff it up with a fork. Serve.

By the way for those of you who asked yesterday about American measurements for the Marmalade Cake. If you look under C in my menu at the right you will see a link to my measurement conversion list! Just click on that and it should help you to covert the measurements properly. If you still need help, ask me and I will do my best!