Thursday 31 July 2008

A Mother's Thoughts On An Early July Morning

"Being a mother at any age is a blessing, but as we age and our children become interesting and productive adults, we really begin to savour the joys of the harvest, the fruit of our labours. How could we have known when they were young and the demands so constant that we would ever have the luxury of simply enjoying their loving companionship."
~Marjorie Pay Hinckley

When I was a little girl, all I ever really wanted to do was to grow up and become a mother. Other little girls dreamed of one day being ballerinas and nurses, but I wanted to be Aunt Bea . . . As a teenager, my best friend, Mary, had a baby sister who was only about 2 years old. I used to envy her that. I so very much would have loved for my mom to have had another baby so that I could have taken care of it. I used to love babysitting the little girls that lived across the street from our house. The family had two older girls, but also a baby girl, and I can remember waking the baby up from it's nap on purpose while I was there . . . just so that I could play with her.

I think mothering was in my blood . . .

Nothing on earth could ever match the joy I felt in my heart when I found out I was expecting my oldest child . . . that is, unless you count the other four times I experienced the same thing . . . likewise the joy I felt on the days that each one of my five children were born. Holding those precious little newborns in my arms was a feeling like none other and to this day my heart is overwhelmed with wonderful feelings when I hold a newborn baby in my arms and feel them snuggle in close . . . hear their little newborn baby sighs . . . and smell those little newborn baby smells . . .

I loved my children's growing up years. It was a busy time, and I can honestly say there was never a dull moment! With five busy and very active souls in my care, life was certainly never boring. There were days I would have given anything to have sprouted an extra pair of hands or arms, or even legs . . . not to mention a few extra hours in the day . . .

There were small joys and simple pleasures . . . like first steps and first teeth . . . first days of school . . . bedtime stories and prayers . . . snakes in the basement . . . tree forts in the back garden . . . proud, smiling faces bearing report cards and end of the year certificates . . . school recitals and plays . . . sticky kisses . . . fresh cookies after school and tender hugs . . . giggles and laughter . . .

There was chicken pox . . . scary accidents . . . hospital stays, cuts and bruises . . . broken fingers and arms . . . petty childish arguments . . . homework that didn't get done . . . boys that broke hearts . . . and hearts that got broken . . . plenty of tears and tender teaching moments . . .

On Sunday morning my last fledgling finally leaves the nest for good . . . he has joined the Canadian Air force and is off to boot camp in St Jean, Quebec . . . My heart is filled with many feelings. Remorse that I did not get to finish bringing him up these last few years of his life as a child, and young adult . . . pride at the wonderful, decent young man he has become . . . and the fine soldier I know he will be . . . the fear that only a mother of a soon to be young soldier can't help feeling . . . and the uncertainty of what that future may bring . . . and my heart is full of the love that only a mother can have for her son . . . her baby . . . her boy . . . now a man.

It seems like only yesterday I was slicking down his hair, strapping on his book bag and sending him out the door to catch the bus on his first day of school . . . and now he is going out the door and closing the final chapter on his childhood . . . and soon will be a man . . . nevermore a boy . . .

My goodness . . . I am all choked up here as I re-read my words this morning . . . such is the joy and pain of motherhood, but what a beautifully wonderful pain it is . . . a pain I would not trade for anything in this world . . .

A perfectly scrambled egg is a beauty to behold, and to eat! Here is my fool proof way of making the perfect scrambled eggs and after that a delicious recipe to use them in!

*Perfectly Creamy Scrambled Eggs*
Serves 4

When done right, there is nothing more delicious than scrambled eggs. Soft and trembling on your plate with a few slices of buttered crisp toast they are food for the gods . . .

2 TBS unsalted butter
8 large free range, organic eggs
1/2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Whisk the eggs together in a medium sized bowl, along with the sea salt and black pepper, until the whites and yolks are completely combined.

Melt one TBS of the butter in a large non-stick pan over medium high heat. Once the butter begins to foam, tip in the whisked eggs and let sit un-disturbed until they are slightly firm on the bottom and beginning to set around the edges. Immediately begin to stir them with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, with gentle movements, stirring and cooking gently until they are no longer runny, about 2 to 3 minutes. You want them to be slightly moist as they will continue to cook after you remove the pan from the heat. Add the final TBS of butter and stir it into the cooked eggs.

Remove the pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Divide between 4 warmed plates and serve immediately with warm buttered toast.

*Tasty Breakfast Quesadillas with Scrambled Eggs and Crispy Bacon*
Serves 1 (can be multiplied easily)

2 pieces of streaky bacon, fried until crispy and drained well on paper kitchen towelling
2 large, free range organic eggs, scrambled as above
1 ounce grated medium cheddar cheese
1 ounces grated red Leicester cheese
1 large flour tortilla (I like whole wheat ones)
1 tsp of olive oil
fresh Tomato Salsa to serve

Sprinkle the red Leicester cheese on one half of your tortilla. Top with the scrambled egg and bacon. Sprinkle the grated cheddar on top and fold the other half of the tortilla over to cover. Press gently.

Heat the olive oil in a medium non-stick skillet. Add the quesadilla and toast until slightly crisp on one side, before carefully turning it over to toast on the second side, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Serve warm, sliced into quarters with some fresh tomato salsa on the side.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

What I did on my Summer Holidays, Part Deux

The cottage we stayed in up in Cumbria was the same one as we had stayed in several years ago. Outside a sleepy village and down a winding lane . . . right in the lovely Mallerstang Dale, it stands on the top of a hill. It boasts spectacular views no matter which way you happen to look and we were so impressed with both it's situation and comfort the last time we were there, we just had to stay there again. Ing Hill Lodge is a place I would highly recommend to anyone wishing to visit that beautiful area. Not far away from both the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, it sits virtually on the edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park.

There is an air of wildness and romance inspired by it's natural beauty and legend in the Mallerstang Dale. The name in itself sounds both ethereal and mystically mysterious, but in fact simply means . . . Duck Pool.

It is said that the Mallerstang is a land where witches and fairies dance . . . a land, where, in days gone by, fearful stories filled men's imaginations. Early inhabitants actually conjured up the frightening image of a dragon to haunt the Eden Valley . . . where our cottage lay and . . . in fact, the dragon was an image often associated with places sacred to pagan people.

It lay at the foot of the hill on which our holiday home away from home sat . . . an easy and picturesque walk of several hundred yards or so . . . Pendragon Castle . . . named for the man made mound on which it lays. "Pen" being the Celtic word for hill . . . and the "Dragon" being the legendary beast, once thought to have lived within the mound and a symbol of the power of ancient beliefs and myths . . . giving birth to yet another myth and legend . . . that the castle itself was the home of Uther Pendragon . . . father to King Arthur . . .

It stands on the top of the mound. Easily visible from our cottage home . . . imposing and romantic. Largely a ruin, where sheep amble in and out amongst the stones and shadows . . . where grass and fern grown and spring from out of the most unlikely places. The view from it's crumbling stone walls is spectacular to say the least and one could sit there for hours just breathing in the beauty of the Eden Valley and the Mallerstang Dale.

The river Eden winds and twists it's way alongside of the base of the mound in places and then trickles on down the valley, cutting a peaceable swathe amongst the rolling hills filled with bleating sheep, trickling over stones and pebbles in some places, and coursing over rocks in others.

It is a pleasant walk down to the castle and back along a narrow roadway, flanked on either side by the ever present stone walls, decorated beautifully with the wild flowers that grow freely along their length and girth . . . Red Campion, Queen Anne's Lace, Thistle to name but a few . . . swallows swoop and swirl in an aerial dance above our heads . . . it is a glorious day. The sun is shining and there is scarce a cloud in the sky. This feeling of wonder and amazement is priceless . . . another holiday treasure to store within our beating hearts . . . a feeling that tugs us back to this place time and time again . . . and probably will for years to come . . .

Oh my, but we have been having very hot and humid weather these past few days! Not that I am complaining, but I AM COMPLAINING! haha I am not a person that copes with with heat and humidity combined! It seems to sap all my energy and strength. These are salad days . . . one scarcely dares put the stove on and risk the extra heat it brings to the kitchen . . .

*Tomato, Mozzarella and Avocado Salad*
Serves 4

Best eaten straight away to maintain the freshness of the basil and avocado, this salad is perfect for these hot summer evenings when one doesn't really have the appetite to eat much more than this. Delicious with thick slices of fresh crusty bread, it pleases on many levels . . . colourful and full of wonderful flavours and textures.

2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes
5 1/2 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese (I like to use Buffalo as it has a lovely flavour)
2 ripe Haas avocados
4 TBS olive oil
1 1/2 TBS white wine vinegar
1 tsp coarse grainy Dijon mustard
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
a few fresh basil leaves torn into pieces
several handfuls of fresh salad leaves
20 black olives

Using a sharp knife, cut the tomatoes into thick wedges. (I never refrigerate my tomatoes. I leave them on the counter and allow them to get ripe and juicy at room temperature. This brings out the most delicious flavours)

Drain the mozzarella cheese and tear it roughly into pieces. Cut the Avocados in half and remove the stones. Slip off the skins and then cut them into slices.

Place the salad leaves in the bottom of a large serving bowl. Arrange the sliced tomatoes, avocado slices and torn mozzarella over top.

Whisk together the oil, vinegar and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over the salad and scatter the basil and olives over top.

Serve immediately along side of some fresh crusty bread.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Fit for a king!

Welcome to the Tuesday, July 29th, 2008 edition of Tuesdays With Dorie, the Doriest day of the week when umpteen bazillion baking nuts get together and bake one recipe . . . the same recipe . . . from the lovely baking book, Baking, from my home to yours, by Dorie Greenspan! (Whew that was a real mouthful!)

Speaking of mouthful's, this week's recipe was a wonderfully delicious one . . . Summer Fruit Galette on pages 366 - 367, as chosen by Michelle from Michelle in Colorado Springs . . . and yes, I have fallen in love!

Having just gotten home from my summer holiday late on Saturday, I was a bit worried that I would not manage to get this challenge in, but after a good think on Sunday and a grocery shop on Monday, I managed just fine and I put my hand up . . . for one and all to see . . . that I confess, I am having a love affair with this recipe.

I decided that I was going to use a quintessentially English combination for this lovely dessert and do an Apple and Blackberry Galette. The Blackberries are ripening in the hedgerows all around me (a tad early I'd say!) and the cottage is surrounded by orchards, although there are none for the picking just yet, so apple and blackberry just seemed to be the perfect Oak Cottagy dessert for a mid summer's evening. (I can't believe that summer is already half over! It's going fast!)

I decided also that I was going to follow Dorie's suggestion and use Ginger preserves in my galette because ginger and apple go so very well together and what the heck, as apples and blackberries go together like peas and carrots, I thought hey, ginger will go with blackberries as well!

OH MY GOODNESS! Monday was so not a day for me to choose to start a diet!

I have a real thing for pastry. I just love it!! You could put anything into pastry and call it a pie, or whatever . . . and I am so there! My mother once went away for a weekend and left us a lovely meat pie for our dinner the first night, which I only had to heat up. I cut it into pieces and was accused of taking the largest piece for myself, which at the time I hotly denied . . . but today will admit that I probably did . . . and worse still . . . would do it again . . . I am such a pie fiend!!!

Now is a galette a pie? Or is a pie a galette? Hmmm . . . I decided to find out. I looked it up on Wilkipedia (you got to love Wilkipedia) and found this: Galette is a general term used in French to designate different types of round and flat crusty cakes.

I would not call this a cake . . . it's definitely a pie, albeit a very rough and rugged pie . . . casual even, and soooo very easy to put together!

Mine didn't come out exactly round . . . but then again, I am an artist that cannot draw a straight line, so it comes as no surprise that I am a baker that cannot do specifically round . . . but nevertheless, it turned out scrumptious to say the least!

Just who could resist a flakey, crumbly delight . . . delicious slices of granny smith apple . . . plump, juicy blackberries . . . laying on a lovely blanket of scrumdiddlyumptious ginger preserves and half wrapped in pastry . . . ohhh, and just to add another demon to my dieting list of shouldn't have but couldn't resist's . . . a yummy custard poured into it halfway through baking . . . I tell you I could not!

Served up warm and juicy, with a delicious spoonful of cold . . . full fat . . . creme fraiche (in for a penny, in for a pound, I always say!) . . . this was truly a dessert to die for . . . and I'm betting will also make a lovely breakfast . . .

Just . . . one . . . more . . . mouthful . . . and the diet can start then . . . I promise!

Next week's recipe will be the Black and White Banana Loaf on page 232, as chosen by Ashlee of A Year In The Kitchen. In the meantime please hop on over to the Dorie BlogRoll, and check out all the other lovely galettes, and if you want the full recipe check out Michele's page. You won't be sorry . . . now . . . where did I leave my fork?

Monday 28 July 2008

Best Shot Monday

"The road winds onward long and white,
It curves in mazy coils and crooks
A beckoning finger down the height;
It calls me with the voice of brooks
To thirsty travellers in the night.

I leave the lonely city street,
The awful silence of the crowd;
The rhythm of the roads I beat,
My blood leaps up, I shout aloud,
My heart keeps measure with my feet.

A bird sings something in my ear,
The wind sings in my blood a song
Tis good at times for a man to hear!
The road winds onward white and long,
And the best of earth is here!"
~Arthur Symons

Cumbria, where the land is rugged and beautiful and the air rings with the sound of bleating sheep, trickling streams and humming insects. It's the perfect place to lose yourself . . .

*Note - that is a portion of sheep's wool that I found caught up in the barb wire of the fence next to a stream. It is a common sight and I thought made for a very interesting photograph.

What I did on my Summer Holidays, part 1

"First Thoughts of Cumbria:

Driving along the M6 just north of Kendal, on into Cumbria, one is quite un-prepared for the magnificent sight that greets you. The car winds around a bend, and there they are . . . all of a sudden . . . rising out of nowhere from the right, like sleeping giants they lay all cloaked in green velveteen . . . the Northern Fells.

You feel as if you durst not touch them for fear that you might awaken them from their eternal slumber. Their green shoulders lay silent and immutable . . . sleek and soft, dotted with bleating sheep and meandering stone walls . . . the stones placed one by one with ancient hands, stone upon stone. It must have taken hundreds of years. Your heart is instantly touched by the magnitude of what you are seeing, and thoughts of an ancient people and their ancient ways.

My heart sings once more, and I feel as if I have come home. What is this song these silent velvet mounds sing to my inner being? Why do I feel this way? Is it like this for everyone?

We fell in love with this area several years ago when we visited it for the first time. It's rugged beauty touched our souls and plucked at our heart strings like nothing else ever had.

It is a rustic beauty . . . plain and un-complicated . . . simple . . . and yet, it takes your breath away. Each corner turned, and mile unfurled engraving themselves in a little corner of your heart reserved just for special moments and scenes such as these and these alone. How can one be in the presence of such majestic wonder and not be cognizant of the master and all that He has created . . . it is almost more than the heart can bear and you think to yourself that you just couldn't possibly see anything more beautiful than what is before your eyes. . . and then you turn another corner, and your heart is touched yet again . . .

It is quiet . . . the sound of very few cars break the silence . . . it is a gentle song . . . sung only by the bleating of contented sheep and the soft whisper of a Kestril's wings as it dips and soars through the air over our heads."

These are the thoughts I wrote down in my journal the first morning after we arrived at our holiday home. I hope you don't mind me sharing them with you in this way . . . my way.

We had a truly lovely week and are back home and settling in again. It's back to work tommorrow for me. I'll be putting up a new "Make Me Bake" poll later this morning, and we will be picking up Jess from her holiday home away from home, and things will be back to normal. But we feel rested and relaxed and ready to face whatever life decides to hand out to us in the next months. Holidays are lovely things . . . but whoever said it, said it right . . . "Be it ever so humble . . . there's no place like home."

Last night I made a delicious risotto for a nice light supper. Learning to make a good risotto is a little bit intimidating to some, but really, it’s quite easy if you follow a few simple steps. With a little bit of practice, a certain amount of concentration and some adherence to some sensitive timing, you can come up with a tasty and richly textured risotto, with that “just right” doneness you would never find in a restaurant.

*Sweet Potato and Mushroom Risotto*
Serves 4 as a main dish, or 8 as an accompaniment

I love sweet potatoes and I could eat them in any way shape or form. I rarely have any leftover, but when I do this is the perfect dish to showcase them. Rich and delicious, this is a savoury dish that will put a satisfied smile on everyone’s face. I call this comfort food.

2 TBS dry white wine or water
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
½ cup dried porcini mushrooms, soaked for half an hour in a bit of boiling water, then drained (strain the soaking liquid and use it for a part of the chicken broth needed for the recipe)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice or other short grain rice
½ cup mashed cooked sweet potato
3 ¾ cup chicken broth, heated and simmering in a pot
2 TBS freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 TBS chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
A drizzle of olive oil, or a knob of butter

Spray a 3 quart, non-stick saucepan with cooking spray. Place the wine or water into the pan and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. Cook the onion and garlic in the wine for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently until the onion is tender.

Stir in the rice and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the sweet potato, soaked mushrooms, and ½ cup of the heated broth. Turn the heat down to medium low, and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is completely absorbed.

Stir in an additional ½ cup of broth. Continue cooking for about twenty minutes, stirring constantly and adding ½ cup of broth at a time, as each previous addition has been absorbed, until the rice is creamy and tender.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Serve warm in heated bowls, with some more Parmesan Cheese grated on top if desired.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Finding Reverence

“Let knowledge grow from more to more
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before.”
~Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I think I was probably in my forties before I was ever able to take a holiday all on my own. My children were mostly teenagers by then and I really felt the need to go off somewhere all by myself and think for a time, sleep in . . . un-interrupted for twenty four hours if I wanted to, spend hours in contemplation without having to worry about anything or anyone else . . . unfortunately I couldn’t afford to go off to a special retreat or anything like that, which would have been ideal, and so instead I went off to my Sisters’ for a few days, which was just as noisy and busy a place as my own had been, but still . . . it was some else’s noise and some else’s busy mess, and not my own. A change of scene is as good as a holiday, or so they say.

There is something most beautiful about the hush of reverence that can envelope you when you go off somewhere all on your own. Reverence is an altered state of consciousness. A place of being, where you feel awe and wonder, all because you know you are in the presence of Spirit. You know the feeling well . . . it’s the very reason we all begin to speak in hushed tones when entering a cathedral or other large place of worship. It is a feeling that wraps you in perfect peace, in a place where there is no past and no future, only the beauty of the here and now of special moments when you are at one with Heaven and earth . . . your body and your soul being singular with each other.

I hadn’t realized then, that I did not need to go away to a special place to achieve this special reverence, this solitude. I didn’t know that I had the capacity to have this feeling and this rest deep within myself all along. It has been something I have only discovered now, in my later years, but something I wish I had taken the time to find when I was younger. You can achieve this sense of being whole, through meditation or quiet prayer, or it can be through the simple task of creating something beautiful . . . be it a special meal, or an act of sewing something special for yourself or someone else, picking up a brush to paint, weeding the garden, washing the dishes . . . Concentrating on one simple task, one task at a time and doing it with care and attentiveness can invoke serenity and reverence in our lives, without the need to take oneself off to a cloistered nunnery or retreat. We don’t need to run away to find peace of mind, or solitude. It can be woven into the very fabric of our daily lives.

Gratitude is indeed the portal to being able to experience more reverence in our daily lives. I once read a quote that said, “If the only prayer you say in your daily life is ‘thank you’, that would be enough.” I can’t remember who said it, but I know from experience that it’s true. The joyful life that we are meant to be living starts with the sense of reverence we can seek, find and restore to our daily lives, the sacred things that we can find in the very ordinary, as long as we go about the process of seeking with gratitude in our hearts. We can be reverent and at peace, right where we are . . . true joy and reverence really begin at home.

This is the perfect way to while away a Sunday afternoon . . .

*Maple Walnut Ice Cream Sundaes*
Serves 1

This hardly seems a recipe, it is so simple. You can multiply the amounts according to however many people you are wanting to serve it to. Once you taste how delicious it is, and see how easy it is to do, you will wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself!

¼ cup of pure maple syrup
¼ cup chopped walnuts of pecans
1 cup of vanilla ice cream

Heat a non stick skillet over medium heat for a few minutes and then toss in the nuts. Toast them in the heated skillet for about two to three minutes. Once they are toasted and begin to smell all fragrantly nutty, pour in the Maple syrup and let it bubble up. Remove it from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes, until it is just warm. (Not hot, unless you want soup, instead of ice cream!)

Scoop vanilla ice cream into a dish andthen pour the maple nut sauce over top and enjoy!
I love it with walnuts myself, but that is probably because it reminds me of the maple walnut ice cream from home. That was always my father’s favourite flavour and every mouthful always reminds me of him.

*Note: I'll be back tommorrow with pictures and tales of our adventures in beautiful Cumbria!

Saturday 26 July 2008

How Do I Look

“How women look and how their looks change in the course of their lives, is not a frivolous question . . . “How do I look?” she asks as her eyes meet the eyes in the mirror. She listens carefully for an answer, because it might prove quite illuminating. ~Kennedy Fraser

Almost every Sunday morning, without fail, after I have dressed myself for church, I come down the stairs here into the kitchen, and the first question out of my mouth to my Todd is, “How do I look?” As any man knows, this is a loaded question, and he had better answer it carefully. Todd is smart. He always knows the right thing to say. We really don’t want to hear the truth do we? And they really don’t want to suffer the consequences from having been totally honest with us do they?

In all actuality, nobody could be harsher on judging us than we can be on ourselves. We really need to gently ask ourselves this question, “How do I look?” , and we need to carefully listen for the answer. Better still, while we are gazing into the mirror and pondering what we see, we should really ask ourselves … “How do I feel?” In truth, how we feel on the inside has a lot more to do with how we look, than what we are actually wearing on the outside.

Instead of concentrating on how we package ourselves on the outside we need to really change our approach to beauty completely and go for the “whole” beauty routine and approach. Being strong on the inside and beautiful on the inside is the key that can completely transform the outside. Transforming the outside begins with a strong and secure inner life. We need to let our spirits show us the way to go, whether it’s something as simple as changing our hairstyle or something as big as losing a few pounds or even our total attitude and outlook on life.

I look at pictures of myself when I was younger, and where I should be seeing a much more attractive woman with a lot less wrinkles and grey hairs, I only see an unhappy person. It shows in the eyes. We all know the eyes are the windows to the soul and these pictures prove it. My soul was in a lot of pain throughout those years. Thankfully, I was able to get a handle on it and make the changes in my life that were necessary in order to change what was making me so unhappy. When I look at pictures of myself now, I see a much prettier woman and it is the transforming beauty of the soul that has done it.

Simply spending twenty minutes a day in reflection or quiet meditation and thinking about the things in life that mean the most to you, can be the key to beginning your transformation. A long restorative walk at the end of a busy day, whilst seeking your inner self, can do more for your looks than you might imagine. Not only will you have the benefits of having caught a bit of exercise, but you will also have the mental benefits of having caught a bit of your soul and communing with it. Remember your thoughts, feelings and desires are just as important as anyone else's. Learning to listen to them and paying attention to what they are saying is really important to your inner transformation. That can’t be bad. I think if we search ourselves and are prepared to listen to the answers we find, we’ll discover that we all have exactly what we desire to begin with.

I love summer and sunny days. That’s when we can drag the barbeque out and cook some really delicious food. This chicken is one of my favourites!

*Barbequed Chicken with a Sweet Chili Glaze*

Serves 4

You can do this with chicken pieces or with a whole spatchcocked** chicken. The end result is a deliciously moist chicken with a finger licking spicy glaze that will have them coming back for more! Plan ahead as it needs to marinate for a bit before cooking.

8 pieces of chicken (thighs, drumsticks, quarter breasts) or 16 wings (trimmed) or one (1 ½ lb) chicken, spatchcocked*

For the marinade and glaze:

½ cup sweet chili sauce

4 TBS soy sauce

4 tsp dark sesame oil

2 tsp freshly grated peeled fresh gingerroot

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all of the marinade and glaze ingredients and mix together really well. Divide the mixture in half and use half to marinate the chicken and the other half for grilling.

Place the chicken into a non-metallic, non-reactive flat dish and pour half the marinade/glaze over it all, rubbing it in and making sure it’s all coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Fire up your grill and remove the chicken from the fridge. Place the chicken pieces on the grill, cooking over medium heat, until the skin begins to crisp, about 10 minutes, turning once or twice. Brush with the remaining glaze and continue to cook until the meat is no longer pink at the bone, turning and brushing with the glaze as required for at least another 15 to 20 minutes. Serve.

Sometimes I get a head start on the grilling by pre-cooking the chicken in my oven for about 15 minutes. Just pre-heat your oven to 160*C/350*F and put the chicken onto an oven tray and cook it for 15 minutes before removing it and finishing it off on the grill. If you don't have a grill you can still cook this chicken totally in your oven. Once you have finished the initial cooking, continue to cook it in the oven, brushing it with the glaze occasionally for a further 30 minutes or so, until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a fork and the skin is crispy and sweetly glazed.

*To spatchcock a whole chicken: Spatchcock Chicken is an easy way to impress your guests. You're basically going to butterfly a whole fresh young chicken (buy them as fresh as possible). I buy whole chickens that already have the cavity cleaned out - if you can't find one of these, then first clean out all the giblets. Take your chicken and using a sharp pair of kitchen shears, cut down all along the side of the back bone on each side from front to rear to remove it. Once you have the back bone removed. Place the chicken on the counter, right side up and give it a sharp tap down with the base of your hand to flatten it out.

Note~This post is a re-print of a post originally written on my Muses in July of last year.

Friday 25 July 2008

The Simple Life

‘Tis a gift to be simple,
‘Tis a gift to be free,
‘Tis a gift to come down
Where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves
In the place that’s right
‘Twill be in the valley
Of love and delight.
~Nineteenth Century Shaker hymn

There used to be a show on the television called “The Simple Life.” It was about two rich girls moving to the middle of the sticks in the middle of nowhere and their struggle to get along without all the things they were used to in life. They got into all kinds of scrapes and I think they were miserable all the time and really kind of nasty, looking down their noses at simple people and country ways, elevating themselves in their minds to something better than where they found themselves and who they found themselves with. Some people called it entertainment. I just thought it was stupid and very sad.

The other night Todd and I were sitting there watching one of our favourite shows that we have on DVD. “The Waltons.” He looked at me and he said, “If you could trade your life right now and go back and live in that house, with that family, in that time, would you?” That question really made me think. Who wouldn’t want to live in a simpler time, when all you had to think about was whether the chickens laid any eggs last night and what to cook for breakfast, and the rest of the day unfolded itself in the gentle ease of whatever happened next . . .

Who, today, doesn’t yearn for a simpler life? But what is it we are hankering for? To give everything we have up, and move into a log cabin somewhere in the wilds of Cornwall? We find ourselves living busier and busier lives. Time seems to pass by far too quickly. Todd always jokes and says it’s a wonder that our faces aren’t all warped from the “G-force” of it all passing by so quickly! It seems the week has hardly begun before it is Saturday again and we are staring Sunday in the face, and we wonder where the week has gone. I think if we only made a few changes in our lives we could transform all of that, and it starts with something as fundamental as the simple pleasure of concentrating on one task at a time. Time can indeed stand still, and it starts with the importance of living and appreciating each moment for what it is, therein lies the secret to having and living a simpler life.

If we could take stock of our lives and be grateful for all that we have and let that gratefulness begin to transform our lives I think our lives will naturally evolve into simpler lives. In appreciating how much we have already, we can feel the urge to get rid of all the clutter in our lives, and to get back to basics and discover the things that truly make us happy. We can begin to realize the things in life that are truly important, and those things have nothing to do with new carpets or furniture, or attending the ladies club, or driving the kids to the mall. Perhaps better choices such as cleaning the carpets you already have and buying some chair covers and some pretty new cushions for the couch you already have could be a part of simplifying your life?

Some people think that simplicity means doing without. In all actuality simplicity as a conscious life choice can help illuminate our life from within. It helps us appreciate all the blessings in life that are ours already and liberates our spirits from the bondage and burden of excess and extravagance. It can help lift ordinary moments, dreary lives and inanimate objects from the mundane to the transcendent. Simply put, less can and will become more.

There is nothing more beautiful than a simple jug full of wildflowers sitting in the middle of your kitchen table, while the glow of sunlight streaming in through the windows gives the room a feeling of peace and comfort, and of home. When we concentrate on the simple things of life, the simple pleasures . . . we can calm our frazzled and weary minds and find the place our souls ought to be. Lets embrace the simplicity of each day and take the gifts it offers, and stop looking for something out there beyond our own reach. Lets be content with the place that’s already ours. Living a simple life has nothing to do with living in a certain house, in a certain time, or with a “Walton” like family . . . it is searching our hearts for the place that’s right for each of us and accepting the simple gifts life offers us each and every day of our lives. Its not about having what you want in life so much as it’s about wanting what you already have . . .

We had some sun yesterday, and some rain and some wind. It was really a mixed bag. I had a yearning for some burgers for our supper, but because of all the wind and uncertainty of the weather I cooked them indoors instead of out on the barbecue like I wanted to. Burgers is comfort food . . .

*Tasty Cheese and Bacon Burgers*
Serves 4

Delicious and moist beef burgers topped with a mixture of three lovely cheeses and sitting on a bed of shaved onions, lettuce, tomatoes and crisp bacon … what more could a person want in life?

1 pound of ground beef
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
8 slices streaky bacon
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
4 ounces cream cheese
4 slices medium cheddar cheese
4 TBS mayonnaise
1 medium onion, peeled and shaved
Lettuce leaves
1 large tomato, sliced thinly
4 large buns, sliced in half and toasted

Combine the blue cheese and the cream cheese in a small bowl, mixing them together well. Set aside.

Mix together the ground beef, garlic and a little salt and pepper. Shape into 4 round patties. Let sit for a few minutes for the flavours to melt together while you slice the onions and tomatoes.
Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Fry the bacon slices in the heated skillet until they are crisp. Remove to paper towelling to drain some of the fat off. Keep them warm while you are cooking the burgers. Cook the burgers in the pan drippings, browning them well on each side until they are done the way you prefer them. Once they are cooked, top each with ¼ of the blue cheese mixture, with a slice of cheddar on top.

Spread the mayonnaise onto the bottom half of each bun, top with two slices of the bacon, and divide the onions, lettuce and tomatoes equally amongst them, laying them on top of the bacon. When the cheese has melted a bit on the burgers, carefully place one on top of each dressed bun bottom, and cover with the top halves of the buns. Serve.

Thursday 24 July 2008

I just can't help myself

“A wife was making a breakfast of fried eggs for her husband. Suddenly, her husband burst into the kitchen. 'Careful,' he said, 'CAREFUL! Put in some more butter! Oh my gosh! You're cooking too many at once. TOO MANY! Turn them! TURN THEM NOW! We need more butter. Oh my gosh! WHERE are we going to get MORE BUTTER? They're going to STICK! Careful. CAREFUL! I said be CAREFUL! You NEVER listen to me when you're cooking! Never! Turn them! Hurry up! Are you CRAZY? Have you LOST your mind? Don't forget to salt them. You know you always forget to salt them. Use the! salt. USE THE SALT! THE SALT!' The wife stared at him. 'What in the world is wrong with you? You think I don't know how to fry a couple of eggs?' The husband calmly replied, 'I just wanted to show you what it feels like when I'm driving.”

back seat driver: noun.
1. A passenger who constantly advises, corrects, or nags the driver of a motor vehicle.
2. A person who persists in giving unsolicited advice.

Alright, I confess . . . I put my hand up . . . I AM a front/back seat driver. We will be driving somewhere in the car, and I just can’t help it , when I see Todd doing something that I construe as incorrect, I just have to point it out. It’s not that I think he’s a bad driver . . . it’s not that at all. I am really just trying to be helpful. I know it’s annoying. I know it’s frustrating. I don’t know how to stop. I try, but then . . . a few minutes later, it just slips out . . . again.

I think it’s down to the inherent differences between the way a man drives, and the way a woman drives. Men like to put their brakes on at the last minute . . . women like to anticipate that they are going to have to shortly stop, and put their brakes on gradually. It’s the same thing with signal lights. I like to notify the person behind (or even the empty space behind) of my intentions well before we get there, just so there’s no confusion you see. I also don’t really like passing other cars. There is just NO WHERE on earth that I am in that much of a hurry to get to!!! I like to park straight when I park in a parking spot. I don’t want the wheels turned to the left or to the right . . . I want them straight on. I also want the car to be parked in the centre of the parking space, not halfway over on to the one next to it, or laying in it at an awkward angle. It just looks better . . . you know how it is. I also don’t think people should fiddle with the radio controls when they are driving 70 miles an hour down the motorway! It’s always just fine on the station that’s playing. If it’s raining out or has been raining out, I like to clean the wind screen off BEFORE I leave the drive . . . not after I‘ve already started to drive down the lane.

I'm quite sure that Todd is an experienced and capable driver. What I don’t understand is why I become such an overwrought, twitchy, neurotic passenger when he is at the wheel.

Although I don't usually voice my concerns out loud, it seems that Todd has become quite adept at reading my body language. For instance, when I notice that we seem to be the only vehicle that is passing every other car on the road, I will subtly lean to my right and peer through the steering wheel at his speedometer with one eyebrow raised, or I will subtly voice my concerns . . . as in “I’m not really in any rush to get there. Let’s just drive slowly and enjoy the scenery along the way.”

If he drives too fast, I let him know. If he drives too slow, I let him know . . . in short when he does anything at all that is contrary to the way I would have or would do it, I let him know . . .

I understand that I am really irritating and that there are times he probably just wants to pull over and let me take over the wheel. I don’t really want to do that. I’m completely ok with him driving . . . really I am . . . I just want him to do it properly . . . you know the way . . . without making any mistakes, the way we are told to drive in the manual. You know the “manual?” It’s the book we all study before we take our driving test. That one right there in the glove compartment of the car . . .

Hmmm . . . maybe I missed my calling in life . . . maybe I should have been a driving tester, or at the very least a driving instructor? What do you think???? (Todd’s not allowed to answer . . . )

Here’s a lovely refreshing salad that’s a real dawdle to make on these warm summer nights.

*Punchy Pesto Pea Salad*
Serves 4 to 6

I like to make my own pesto for this. It’s so easy and tastes so much better than the stuff you get in the jar. If you must use store bought pesto though, try to get the fresh stuff from the refrigerator cabinet. Not only does it look 100% better, but you really can’t compare the taste. There is a whole world of difference!

4 ounces of baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
10 ounces frozen baby peas, de-frosted
½ cup prepared pesto
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 TBS toasted pine nuts

Make sure your spinach leaves are really dry. Blot them with some kitchen towelling if they aren’t. Place the spinach leaves in a medium to large sized salad bowl along with the de-frosted peas. Add the pesto and the Parmesan cheese. Toss together. Season with the salt and pepper. Toss again and then sprinkle the pine nuts on top to serve.

*Green Basil Pesto*
Makes approximately 1 cup

There is nothing better than making your own pesto. It’s so easy, especially if you have a food processor that you can use.

180g fresh basil leaves
1 pinch sea salt
2 ounces good quality olive oil
2 - 3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 ounces pine nuts
4 TBS freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

Wash your basil well, by swishing it in a pan of cold water. Dry it very carefully between kitchen towels so as not to bruise it and then pick off the stems.

Place the basil in the bowl of the food processor. Add the garlic, pine nuts and salt and pulse for a few seconds to chop it all up finely. Begin to pulse again as you slowly add the olive oil through the feeder tube. When it has all emulsified and is smooth, stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste for seasoning and if needed add more salt and a bit of freshly ground pepper if desired. Scrape out into a bowl.

This will keep several days in the refrigerator.

~This is a post I originally wrote on my Muses back in July of last year.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

To Smell A Book

I was sitting in Relief Society yesterday, waiting to sing the first hymn and held the hymnal up to my nose, closed my eyes... and breathed it in...immediately my mind was overwhelmed with wonderful thoughts and memories. I am not sure if anyone saw me or not, but who cares, we're all allowed a moment of wierdness once in awhile.

I have enjoyed a lifelong love affair with books. It started with my father reading to me when I was very young. I remember two stories in particular...Heidi and one about Tom and Jerry. My father would put on character voices and to this day has the Tom and Jerry book do I....."Jerry mouse stepped out of his mousehole one day. "My, he called over to his friend Tom as he looked across at the big people's kitchen, "What a beautiful day! Let's go for a walk, let's go for a sail, lets go for a PICNIC!" I can still hear my father's voice all squeaky and excited as he regalled me with this tale.

The love affair continued on and when I was old enough I would take my bicycle and pedal to the local library every day in the summer months and at the weekends during the other months. We were only allowed to take out two books out at a time and so I was there every day as, not only was I a voracious reader, I was a very quick reader, and I was hungry for books, books and more books. I read my way through all the Nancy Drew series, Trixie Beldon, the Adventurous Five, The Bobbsey Twins, Little Women, etc. not once but several times. I loved anything by Enid Blyton and still do to this day. (I recently bought some of her works for my grandsons, but haven't parted with them yet . . . I promise I will!!!)

I also read the entire Book of Knowledge encyclopedia that my parents had bought us children. That is no lie . . . I read the entire thing. I was amazed at all the things between it's pages and as I read it I dreamt of far away lands and peoples and distant times and places. I was as pleased as punch when my mother gifted me with it several years back. I know it was old, and alot of the information in it was out of date, but it was special to me, and I treasured it.

I hope that I instilled my same love of books in my children. Every night after bathtime we would gather on the big double bed my two daughters shared....faces all dewey, pink and clean from their bath..eyes shining...and I would read to them, putting on the voices for each of the characters, just as my father before, invoking as much enthusiasmand expression into each telling as I could. Sometimes I would make up my own stories for them and tell them those, which they enjoyed as well. They each had their own favorites....."Oliver and the Sticky Buns" Alison Uttley's "Little Grey Hare" "Goodnight Moon" "Just Me and My Dad" ohh, and I mustn't forget "The Cat in the Hat" and "The Pants With Nobody In Them." When one was finished...they would beg me . . . just one more mom . . . and how could I resist . . . one more it would be!

I continue my love affair to this day . . . my side of the bed is stacked with books I am reading, as not only am I voracious, I am greedy and I can never read just one at a time . . . I generally have several on the go. I am always finding books that I just have to read . . . and I have a bookcase full of favourites that I can read again, and again . . . and again.

Now where was I . . . oh yes . . . to smell a book . . . next time you get the chance . . . take a book, put it up to your nose, close your eyes . . . and breathe it in . . . you will smell paper, leather perhaps, adventure, the past, the future, hope, despair, sadness and joy, history, love . . . ruffle it's pages and smell it again . . . and then . . . don't stop there . . . dig in and read . . . experience one of life's greatest pleasures . . . a book . . . expand your vision and your mind . . . and if you are really lucky . . . your heart . . .

Here's one of our favourite summer salads. Great when you have leftover roast chicken that you want to get rid of!

*Curried Chicken Salad*
Serves 6

This is a very delicious salad. I make it quite often. It's one of our favorites! Prep time is the time it takes to roast the chicken breasts. Time does not reflect chill time.

6 chicken breasts, bone in,skin on
olive oil
fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good mayonnaise
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup major grey chutney
3 tablespoons curry powder
2 large celery ribs, medium diced
1/4 cup chopped scallion (2 scallions)
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup whole roasted salted cashews

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*f. Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin and dice the chicken into bite size pieces.

For the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, wine, chutney, curry powder and 1 1/2 tsp salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Combine the chicken with enough dressing to moisten well. Add the celery, scallions, raisins, and mix well. Chill for several hours to let the flavors blend. Add the cashews and serve.