Tuesday 30 September 2008

The Creme de la Creme

Just when you think things cannot possibly get any better. . . or more delicious . . . someone comes along and picks a recipe that tips you over the top to delicious decadom, and you fear you will never, ever see the light of day again!

Welcome to Tuesdays With Dorie. The one day of the week that is rapidly becoming my favourite day of the week. The one day when I, along with umpteen bazillion other baking nuts from all over the world, get together in unison, and bake the same recipe, from the same book, and expose our results to the world on the same day! Yes, tis that delicious *Award Winning* baking book, *Baking, from my home to yours*, by the grande poupon of all grande poupon's, Ms Dorie Greenspan!

This weeks recipe was Creme Brulee on page 393, as chosen by Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake .

Mari, I have three words to say to you . . .


However did I get to this point in my life having never tasted Creme Brulee???? Yes, that's true. I confess . . . I was a Creme Brulee virgin. It was just something that never quite came up, both at home and at work, and I admit, not in cooking school either! However did that happen ???? and oh how much I've missed!!!!

I could have been devouring this glorious yumminess for years and years up til now, and alas, I shall have to make up for lost time and have it twice, no make that three times a week from now until the day I die . . . and in fact, when I die, please do bury some with me and don't forget to hand me a spoon before you shut the lid . . .

This was fantastic! Not ever having tasted it before, I really have nothing to compare it to, but, it really was wonderful, it truly was. Thanks so much Mari for choosing this!

What is there to say about it??? Custard is custard . . . or is it? The recipe came together perfectly, and the custard was in the oven and baking before I knew it. My custard did, however, take about 15 minutes longer to bake than the recipe said. It could be because I used a variety of dishes to bake it in, (not owning more than two of any one kind), or maybe because I couldn't find 200*F on my oven temperature gage, so I just kind of stuck it on a bit before 120*C and crossed my fingers.

And, I forgot to put cling film onto it when I stuck it into the refrigerator to chill . . .

Just before tea time yesterday, I heated my grill up to the highest temperature it would go to, (yes, my gun was out of gas . . . . ) popped these little dreams onto a baking sheet, (I also didn't have any ice). I sprinkled some Castor sugar over each one of them through a tea strainer, and then ran them under the grill for about 5 minutes total. (I kept taking them out to check them so it probably took me longer because of that). They got a bit darker in some places than others, but that's probably because a grill is not as evenly heated as a blow torch would be.

I let them cool for a few minutes and then lightly tapped one of them with a spoon . . . YES!!! I had a glorious hard glass like surface there. It was all I could do to get through dinner so that we could dig in . . . mind you we still had to wait until the required photos had been taken, which I'm not entirely happy with but, what the hey! Photos is photos and eatin is eatin, and we wanted to be eatin!

Thanks so much Mari for de-flowering me and introducing me to the utter decadence of creme brulee. My life will never be the same again . . .

If you are interested in seeing the recipe, please check out Mari's delicious page to find it and be sure to check out the Dorie Blog Roll to see what all the other ladies have come up with. I bet I gain ten pounds this week just from looking! (Ok so I lie, there are two more sitting in the fridge and they're mine . . . all mine!)

Next week's recipe will be Caramel-Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake on pages 264 and 265, as chosen by Tammy of Wee Treats by Tammy . Be still my beating heart . . .

PS ~ if Tuesdays with Dorie is a baking group that you have long been fantasizing about joining for a while now, but never have had the courage or time to do so, you better get off your butts and do it now. As of the end of October they will not be accepting any new members. Yes, they've decided to put a cap on the group, so no more sitting on the fence ladies (and or gents), buy the book and play along NOW!

Monday 29 September 2008

Best Shot Monday

*To the Fringed Gentian*

Thou blossom bright with autumn dew
and coloured with the Heaven's own blue,
and openest when the quiet light,
succeeds the keen and frosty night.

Thou comest not when violets lean,
O'er wandering brooks and springs unseen,
or columbines, in purple dressed,
Nod o'er the ground bird's hidden nest.

Thou waitest late, and com'st alone,
when woods are bare, and birds are flown,
and frost and shortening days portend,
the aged year is near his end.

Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye,
Look through it's fringes to the sky,
Blue - blue - as if that sky let fall
a flower from it's cerulean wall.

I would that thus, when I shall see
the hour of death draw near to me,
Hope, blossoming within my heart,
May look to heaven as I depart.
~William Cullen Bryant

The garden is fast falling asleep now. Few blooms remain untouched. Our Sweet Peas have waited til now to bloom. All summer we fretted because they were doing nothing, and all of a sudden they have burst forth in summer's last hurrah to tease us with a last brush of the season's wane before all the earth falls asleep and lays dormant for the winter's lament. I captured this single shot of a solitary bloom, with the dew still laying on it's beautiful petals. I thought it a breathtaking gift from above and it brought a smile to my face and heart . . .

This is my entry in this weeks, Best Shot Monday. Now hop on over to Mother May I and see some of the other wonderful entries for this week!

The Simple Woman's Day Book . . .

FOR TODAY, SEPTEMBER 29th, 2008 . . .

Outside My Window . . .
The sky is still dark. I imagine the dew is falling softly upon the grass. We have had a lovely few days this past weekend . . . the loveliest all summer, and it is autumn . . . they say tomorrow that will change and the rain will move back in. I am grateful for the sunny days we have had. They have done my heart good. Funny how when the sun shines, your mood is automatically lifted by a few degrees without anything else even happening. The glass automatically looks fuller!

I am thinking . . .
About my friend Erin and what she is going through right now and I am praying that the problem soon resolves itself. She is such a good woman and has given much to her family, her friends, the world . . . more than anyone I know right now, she deserves to be happy. I know Heavenly Father knows this, just as He knows the righteous desires of her heart. I am trusting in His goodness . . . please continue to keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

I am thankful for . . .
Having been born in, and living in a country that allows me the freedoms that I enjoy. The freedom to worship God in any way I desire. The freedom to come and go as I please. The freedom to be me. The freedom to speak and think and act as I please, within the laws that guide us as a nation. Freedom that has been bought with a price and I am ever grateful for those that paid the price so that I can be free and for those that continue to fight and give their lives for this cause in the world today, wherever they may be.

From the kitchen . . .
I have some apple pie left on the counter that beckons to me and I am trying hard to resist. Later this morning I shall be making some custards that I shall turn into Creme Brulee later on. Although the price of food has risen dramatically in these past months, we have been very lucky in that we can still afford to eat reasonably, although I am using more of my food store now than I ever have. I have been trying hard to keep our food costs down as much as possible and so I now think twice before indulging us and every scrap gets eaten, either by us or by the dog. Nothing is wasted. That's as it should always be and I am ashamed that it hasn't always been so . . .

I am wearing . . . get ready for it . . .
Pajamas! Of course! Bright pink bottoms covered in little white hearts and a cream top with three quarter sleeve, trim to match the bottoms around the neck and soft gathers down the middle of the front. Comfy . . . YES!

I am creating . . .
Today I am finishing off some sketches for a friend's book. Okay, it's for the Land of the Flowered Bed and we've been working on it for some time now. It's exciting to see it come closer to being finished. I can't wait to see it all come to life. It will be great!

Yesterday late in the afternoon, I was putting the finishing touches on my cookbook. Each chapter now has a piece of my artwork on the introduction page and there are lovely little special thoughts scattered throughout. I just have to do my dedication page now and the index and then of course I have to upload it onto LuLu.com so that I can have it put together for sale. It's quite exciting to think that I am this close now to having it finished!

I am going . . .
Back to work tomorrow. The hardest part of any holiday is having to go back to work. Oh, that every day could be a holiday, but then . . . we wouldn't really appreciate being on holiday would we? So I guess work is a necessity, if only to help me appreciate the days I don't have to work more! I really do love my job most of the time. Not many people can say that, so I am blessed, and in these uncertain times, when a lot of people are losing their employment, I would have to say I am blessed twice over!

I am reading . . .
The latest Ensign. It is a magazine our church puts out every month. It is filled to the brim with wonderful stories written by ordinary people and special articles written by our church leaders. It is always inspiring and interesting. I could devour it as soon as it comes through our letter box. We always save them as you never know when you may need one to help you write a talk for church, or even when you will need some of the advice within it's pages to help you through a particular problem in life or to help a friend. I wish everyone would read it, and everyone can. You don't have to be a member of the church to do so. Anyone can subscribe to it. All you have to do is call the church magazine subscription department and order a subscription. I'd be happy to share the number with anyone who asks.

I'm also almost finished The Shack, and I have to say I am feeling a lot differently about it this week than I did last week. It's a wonderful book and there are a lot of truths in it and I am finding it quite inspiring.

I am hoping . . .
That the kids I am teaching in Seminary are enjoying the lessons and getting as much out of them as I am. Seminary is a church based course of study offered to all young people in our church between the ages of 14 and 18. It is invaluable to both the student and to the teacher. This year we are learning from the New Testament. There is nothing finer or more rewarding than being able to draw closer to the Saviour by studying his doctrines. Just a few weeks ago I was thinking about how much I would have liked to have been able to be brought up in the church so that I could go to Seminary and Institute and guess what . . . Heavenly Father must have been listening, because now I get to go to Seminary! It's wonderful!

I am hearing . . .
The clock ticking on the wall here in the kitchen. It's a teapot with a little tea cup pendulum that moves back and forth. I love it. The ticking of a clock is a very comforting sound to me, very soothing. I wonder why that is? I would love to get a clock that has Westminster chimes. We have a cuckoo clock upstairs, but it is silent right now. We need to get some new batteries for it. I wish that we had bought one that works on gears instead of batteries. It has a cuckoo that comes out of course and cuckoos, but it also has little dancers that come out and dance around on the hour, to a different tune every hour. I just adore it. We also have a little Germanic clock that looks like a chalet and had a girl dressed in German dress sitting on a swing beneath it for a pendulum. She swings back and forth as she ticks away. I love her too. I guess I just love clocks!

Around the house . . .
We have been doing an autumn clean up. Cob webs have been dusted away and beams polished and swept. It's nice to see everything looking neater and more pristine. I am a bit of a clutterbug I confess . . . I know it drives Todd mad as he is a person that has a place for everything and everything in it's place. I am a person that just loves having all my treasures laying about me. It is a real struggle for me at times to put things away. My brain just doesn't operate that way. Where he sees clutter, I don't . . . I just see life, an abundant and joy filled life . . .

One of my favorite things . . .
Is these few hours I spend on my own each morning, with only the clock ticking and Jess snoring by my side. It is my quiet time, my time to think and to ponder and to pray. I reckon everyone needs a quiet time each day, a time of reflection and renewal. It's not selfish, or self indulgent . . . it's necessary. (Or at least it is for me!)

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week . . .
Well, back to work tomorrow and making up for the time I've had off, but I am not going to think about that today! On Thursday night I have my seminary lesson to teach and then immediately afterwards is our Mutual Activity for the teens. This week we are having a combined one with the Young Women and the Young Men. One of our boys will be leaving on his mission very soon and the kids wanted to have a bit of a celebratory party to show him how much they care about him, which is nice. He is a grand lad! I have cupcakes to make and popcorn balls. They really liked the ones I made for the Princess night! I have my press packs to finish up as well. I have really enjoyed putting them together, although it has been somewhat of a challenge to do a lot of different little things promoting my artwork. I have managed to make little gift tags, some bookmarks, some Christmas ornaments, large cards, tiny cards, some tiny envelopes that I am going to fill with confetti, luggage tags, and I have some tiny gift bags, just large enough to hold a small trinket or treat. I will put a packet of herbal tea in each one of those, and tie the tops shut with a bow. I also had business cards made, moo cards showcasing my artwork on one side and with all my details on the other. They're really cute!

Here is picture thought I am sharing . . .
I was crawling through the garden at the weekend, early one morning trying to capture the autumnal feel that is very prevalent in it now and some of the dew. I just love this one of a purple petunia . . . the dew is making such a pretty pattern all over it, it looks almost crystalline and jewel-like. . . I just love nature. It's a gift from God.

And that's my Simple Day Book for today. I just love doing this every Monday. It's a great way to stop and think about all the wonderful blessings in my life and the important things that one might well start to take for granted and shouldn't. If you would like to read some of the other day book entries for the day hop on over to The Simple Woman and have a gander at them. It's a great way to find some new blogs to read, and perhaps even make a few new friends!

I made these lovely twice baked potatoes last night for our supper. I had a bunch of things I needed to be using the last of and thought they’d all be very tasty stuffed into a jacket potato!

*Leek, Mustard and Parsley Filled Baked Potato*
Serves 4

These tasty potatoes have all the flavours of a potato and leek soup, except in the lovely crisp jacket of a baked potato! It’s like all your Christmases have come at once! They also freeze well. I just wrap them up individually in some cling film and then pop them all into a heavy zip lock baggie. Then I can just take one or two out as and when I need them.

4 large floury baking potatoes
3 TBS olive oil
1 large leek, finely chopped
2 TBS grainy mustard
4 ounces mature Cheddar Cheese, grated
4 TBS double cream
1 ounce butter
3 TBS chopped flat leaf parsley
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F. Scrub the potatoes and dry them very well. Prick a few times with the tines of a fork and place them into the pre-heated oven, directly on the oven rack. Bake until tender, about 1 ¼ hours or so. Remove from the oven and set aside until they have cooled down enough that you can handle them comfortably.

Carefully slice a lid from off the length of each one. Scoop out the inside flesh, leaving a thin shell. Try very hard not to tear the skin. Put the insides into a bowl, and keep warm.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the leek. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very soft and tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the cooked leek to the potato flesh along with the mustard, cheddar and cream. Mix in well. Finally mix in the parsley and the butter. Season to taste and then stuff the mixture back into the potato shells.

Rub the outside of the potato shells with butter if desired and place the stuffed shells into a baking dish. Place back into the heated oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the filling is hot and bubbly, the cheese is well melted and they are beginning to get all crusty and brown on the top. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

WE have a winner of my Autumn Giveaway, as chosen by an online number generator:

I'm so sorry that you all can't win, but don't worry, knowing me, I'll be doing this again soon!

"Anonymous said...
hi marie..! Happy 300th blog..!

its alwayas been a pleasure reading your blog.
lots of love

Congratulations Fariah!!! Please contact me with your personal details so that I can get these goodies out to you in the post as soon as possible!

I'm so sorry that you all can't win, but don't worry, knowing me, I'll be doing this again soon, so keep checking back, as you never know when it will be!

Sunday 28 September 2008

The Ultimate Mender . . .

"Faith is . . . Remembering I am God's priceless treasure when I feel utterly worthless."
~Pamela Reeve

Back in the 1970's, I lived for a time in the province of Alberta, in Canada. I lived both in Calgary, where my oldest daughter was born, and then, up North in a small town called Stony Plain, where my youngest daughter was born, and then again, we lived for a couple of years in a place about an hour outside of Medicine Hat, called Ralston.

I loved Alberta. It was a beautiful province. When we lived in Calgary we could see the Rocky Mountains from our back doorstep. They looked so close, but in reality were several hours away, through the foothills, with their rolling beauty. The prairie too, had a simple beauty. You could see for miles and miles.

We often used to go for drives at the weekend, throughout the countryside, seeing all that we could see, visiting places we might never again have the chance to visit. Because my ex husband was in the military the risk was always there that we would be transferred at any given time to another province or even country.

One weekend, on one of our travels, we happened by a most unusual house sitting on a back road, quite near to the railway tracks. We just had to stop the car and have a look. The house was composed almost entirely from pieces of scrap and salvaged materials. Tin cans, old hubcaps, pieces of old cars, rubber tires etc. all fitted together to compose the most unusual house I have ever seen, both then and since. At first glance, it looked just like a piece of junk, but upon closer inspection it was a fine thing to behold . . . a masterpiece of salvaged materials. It was a definite curiosity and something quite interesting and also fascinating. I often wonder if, all these years later, it still stands . . .

It was only this morning as I was thinking about it that I realized that it was quite a bit like God and us. God, too, pieces back broken lives lovingly. Sometimes pieces are irretrievably lost, but still, He gathers what He can and restores us into something quite fine to behold . . . a masterpiece of salvaged materials, interesting and fascinating, and totally His . . . He is the Ultimate Mender.

Just my thoughts this fine Sunday morning.

What a busy day we had yesterday, what with the breakfast in the morning, a birthday party in the afternoon and then we were supposed to go to a talent show last night at the Stake Centre, but we were both too tired to make it. I hope that it went well. We did go for a walk in the Orchards with Jess later in the day and picked up some windfalls, just one of the pleasures in the autumn of being surrounded almost completely by orchards. Once back home I decided to make Todd a real treat and bake his choice from the Make Me Bake poll tie from last week . . .

*Lumber Camp Apple Pie*
Makes one 9 inch pie

This is a most unusual pie, in that the top crust ends up being the bottom, all crisp and covered with deliciously sweet and spicy cooked apple. We both really love this. I had forgotten all about it until I was looking for a recipe to put into my make me bake apple poll last week. I am so glad I found it and that you all were discerning enough to choose this one for me to bake. We both thank you from the bottoms of our hearts. It's truly delicious, and oh so very easy to execute!

a 9 inch pie plate
1 tsp softened butter
5 to 6 tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
a pinch of salt
1 TBS cornstarch
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 TBS cold butter
sufficient pie pastry to cover the top of the pie
(Your own recipe or ready made)
To serve:
3/4 cup of whipping cream
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla or rose water

Pre-heat the oven to 450*F/230*C. Butter the pie plate generously with the softened butter. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil and set this, too, aside.

Place the brown sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg, salt and cinnamon into a small bowl and mix well to combine.

Fill the prepared pie dish evenly with the apple slices, mounding them slightly higher than the rim of the dish. Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture evenly over top, probing gently with the tip of a knife, to help distribute the apples evenly down through the top layers. Chop the cold butter into little bits and dot it over top.

Cover the top of the apples with the prepared pastry. Trim and crimp the edges. Make a tiny slash in the centre, only about 1/4 inch long, to allow for any steam to escape.

Place on the tinfoil lined baking sheet and then place it into the oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350*F/180*C and continue to bake the pie for another 40 to 50 minutes, or until the apples are tender and the crust is golden brown.

Remove from the oven to a wire rack to cool completely. When ready to serve. Loosen the crust around the edges very carefully with a sharp knife. Place a large flat serving plate over top of the pie and carefully turn it over. Lift off the pie plate very carefully.

Whip the cream until beginning to thicken. Add the sugar and flavouring and continue to whip until soft peaks form. Spread decoratively over the apples and serve immediately. Enjoy!

PS - I wonder if you could all spare a few prayers for my lovely friend Erin and her husband Patrick right now. They could sure use them and I thank you very much.

Saturday 27 September 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge, Sept. 2008, Lavash Crackers and Toppings

I was really excited when I saw the challenge for this month for the Daring Bakers. First of all I am really proud and happy to be a member of this large group of dedicated bakers who come from all over the world. Each month we all bake the same recipe as chosen by a member of the group and some of them are really very challenging. In belonging to this group I have been able to make and experience such wonderful delights such as French Bread, Swiss ButterCream and Choux pastry to name but a few, all from scratch and I am happy to say that I've been able to master each one as it has been presented. I just love belonging to the group as it challenges me and allows me to stretch and grow in the field that is one of my great loves . . . baking!

This month as you can tell from the title we were challenged to bake some Lavash crackers with a variety of toppings. Not only that but this month we are making Daring Bakers history as our September challenge is vegan and/or gluten free. As you can imagine belong to a baking group such as this makes for some pretty great challenges for those of us who are vegetarians and allergic to gluten amongst other things, so this was really special that finally we have a recipe that caters to those of our members who face this challenge in their daily lives! This month's challenge was chosen by none other than Natalie from Gluten A Go Go, and co-host Shel, of Musings From the Fishbowl.

It was really nice to be baking something savoury for a change and I was just so pumped to make these crackers. I have always wanted to try making my own crackers and so this was great! We were also challenged to come up with a dip or spread to serve with the crackers that was also vegan and gluten free!

Whilst I am not a vegetarian, I do like to toy with the idea from time to time and I have to say in recent years Todd and I have been eating a lot less red meat, and if we are going to eat any meat at all, it is mostly chicken or fish.

This was a very easy recipe to execute actually. In my quest to create something healthy and good for us, I decided that I would use a bit of whole wheat flour in the cracker dough. The hardest part came with the rolling it out. I tried to roll it as thin as possible, although after they came out of the oven I realized I should probably have tried to get them even a bit thinner. I brushed the tops lightly with some olive oil before baking them and scattered a mixture of sea salt, oregano, some cumin and garlic over top. They smelled incredible when they were baking.

To go along with the savoury toppings I decided before I even started that I wanted to make a type of hummus dip. I just love hummus. Hummus and some raw veggies have always been my favourite snack of choice (next to chocolate of course!) I love the roasted sweet potato hummus that you can get in Marks and Sparks and I just adore Lemon Coriander Hummus as well, not to mention Sun Dried Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper, but I wanted something with a distinctly Medditerranean feel to it, not to mention taste. I just love Kalamata Olives and Capers and so I decided that I would use them. Well, enough talk, see for yourself. This was delicious!

Many thanks to the other Daring Bakers for all the incredible presentations they make each month with their challenges and to Natalie and Shel for choosing this recipe. If you would like to see some of the other challenges feel free to drop onto the Daring Baker's Blog Roll and check them out!

Mmmm . . . I wonder what next month's challenge will be! I can't wait!

*Lavash Crackers*

Makes one baking tray

Based on the recipe from The BAker's Apprentice.

1 cup strong bread flour
1/2 cup strong whole wheat bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 TBS agave syrup (or sugar)
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup, plus 2 TBS water, at room temperature
olive oil
Sea salt
Ground cumin
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp dried oregano

Place the flours, salt, and yeast in a bowl. Mix together the syrup, olive oil and 1/2 cup of water. Pour this slowly into the flour mixture and stir it together to get a workable dough. Add only as much of the 2 TBS of water as needed. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning it to coat with the oil, then cover and allow to rest for 90 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Pre-heat the oven to 160*C/350*F. Line a large flat baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out at thinly as you can, aiming for a rectangle roughly 15 inches by 12 inches. Carefully lift onto the parchment paper lined tray, cover and let rest for 5 minutes.

Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top with a bit of olive oil, then sprinkle some sea salt, ground cumin, the garlic and the oregano as evenly over top as possible.

If you want, take a pizza cutter and make several cuts through the dough to the size of crackers you desire. If you prefer a more rustic look, just leave it as is and break it up into shards after baking.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top. Allow the crackers to cool in the pan before snapping or breaking into shards to serve with your favourite spread or dip.

*Kalamata Hummus*
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups tinned chick peas, drained and rinsed well
1/4 cup tahini paste
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
the grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3$ tsp cayenne pepper
2 - 3 TBS olive oil
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
2 TBS capers, drained and rinsed
1 small red pepper, seed and cut into chunks
3/4 tsp ground cumin
a small handful of fresh flat leaf parsley
To top:
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 TBS chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Place all of the ingredients into a food processor and puree. If necessary add some cold water to adjust the consistency.

Spoon the hummus onto a serving plate. Dust the top with the cumin and cayenne pepper. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle on the pasrley.

Serve with your favourite cracker dippers, crisp pita breads or raw vegetable crudites.

Friday 26 September 2008

I think, therefore I am . . .

"Thoughts mould your features. Thoughts lift your soul heavenward or drag you toward hell . . . As nothing reveals character like the company we like and keep, so nothing foretells futurity like the thoughts over which we brood . . . To have the approval of your conscience when you are alone with your thoughts is like being in the company of true and loving friends. To merit your own self-respect gives strength to character. Conscience is the link that binds your soul to the spirit of God."
~David O McKay

When you ponder it, every single action we have, begins first with a thought. Before we grab a cookie, or walk out the door, or tell that lie, or have that argument, or help that little old lady across the street . . . we first have the thought. The decision to do right or wrong happens right in our heads before we even do it. The thought may be inspired by good or by evil, but ultimately the choice of action is our own to make. Every action has a consequence. When we think good thoughts and do good things, good things come back to us. When we harbour bad thoughts and act on them, well . . . I’m afraid not much good can come from that.

We cannot help bad thoughts from coming into our minds from time to time. It’s only natural and human. We can stop ourselves from acting on them though, and we can choose to counter them with an equal and opposite good thought when we find ourselves thinking them. When I have a bad thought I try to think about or hum my favourite hymn for a few minutes and that usually takes it away.

Think about it . . . you’ll see that it’s true.

Right about now, if you are reading this early in the morning over in the UK, I am at our chapel cooking breakfast for a group of growly and overtired teens, and a fed adults (who are probably feeling even growlier!) that have just spend the last six hours, indeed overnight, tramping around the English countryside. Todd and I are probably a bit bleary eyed as well for we have to be at the chapel and have breakfast ready by six a.m.! That means we shall have gotten up about 4 a.m. so that we can be there and be ready. Now, I am used to being up quite early, but not my Todd. We go to bed the same time everynight, but he sleeps most mornings until past 8, so he shall be getting up quite a bit earlier than he is used to getting up! But, he's a sweetie pie and I know he is doing it to help support me and my calling as a leader in the youth program of our church. Not to mention, it's not every day of the week he gets to enjoy a cooked breakfast made by none other than moi!

On the menu is bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, bread and butter, juice and pancakes . . . not to mention a great big jug of my own homemade pancake syrup. It's the best!

*Marie's Pancake Syrup*
Makes 2 cups

I have been making this for years. With five growing children in my home money was always a little bit on the short side. This was my way around having to buy expensive pancake syrup or maple syrup. Actually my children always liked this a lot more than anything I could buy and to be honest so did I, and I still do. You could flavour it with some maple flavouring of course, but why bother. I like to use pure vanilla and some cinnamon sticks to flavour mine. That makes it just that little bit more special!

1 cup white sugar
1 cup soft light brown sugar, packed
1 cup corn syrup (In the uk, use golden syrup)
1 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

Put all the ingredients into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before removing the cinnamon stick and pouring it into a large bottle. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator.

This is delicious on pancakes, french toast and drizzled over ice cream believe it or not!

It's only a minute a day . . .

"Kindness is like fresh-fallen snow; it makes beautiful everything that it covers."

I was at the shops the other day doing my weekly shop. The weather this summer and autumn has been so dreary and dismal. It really can get you down at times, and I was feeling a bit blue, as you sometimes do. I was pushing my cart up and down the aisles, lost in thought, when all of a sudden I ran into an acquaintance who immediately greeted me with the cheery words, "Hello Marie!!! I was just thinking about you this morning!" All of a sudden, my mood lifted and things didn't seen so blue anymore. In fact, my day acquired somewhat of a rosy glow about it. Imagine . . . someone had been thinking about . . . me!

It made me stop and think . . . wouldn't it be nice if we, each one of us, could all stop for just one minute once a day and think about someone else other than ourselves???

Only one minute . . . not long . . . it wouldn't take much, and actually it doesn't sound like much . . . but, I bet if we all did this, each day, something great would be achieved. Afterall, we've all been given so many minutes each day . . . surely we can find one single minute to be quiet and think quiet peaceful and loving thoughts of others, perhaps even a tiny little prayer. What do you all think? Can we do it?

I managed to get another painting done yesterday, from a sketch that I had done quite a few months ago. She's a little girl all dressed up as an Angel for her Christmas concert. I can remember when my oldest boy was quite small and had started school They used to have a Christmas concert every year and they actually called it that. There was always a nativity at the end. What a change when my youngest lad started school. There's fourteen years difference in their ages and what had always been a Christmas Concert had morphed into a Winter Festival incorporating Kwanzai and Duwali and whatever else winter celebration that exists and not a mention was made of Christ or the reason Christmas actually truly exists . . . there was plenty of Santa and Frosty though!

I may get on tommorrow morning, or I may not. I have to be at my chapel with a cooked breakfast ready by 6 a.m.! I know, it's crazy! The young people of my church are going on an overnight hike which will take them quite aways, and then back to the chapel at that time. I had a choice . . . I could go hiking all night, or I could cook breakfast! I think I got the better end of that deal!

Cauliflower was on for a good price this past week so I picked up a couple of them. I just love cauliflower. It's one of my absolute favourite vegetables, next to the potato. I made Todd and myself a lovely Cauliflower cheese soup yesterday for our lunch. It was delicious and I am really looking foward to the leftovers today!

*Cauliflower Cheese Soup*
Serves 6 healthy appetites

This does make a lot but it freezes quite well, as long as you freeze it before you add the cheese. You can then take it out of the freezer, thaw it out, reheat it and once it's been heated add the cheese then. I like to freeze it in individual quantities. Then I can just take out as much as I need at any one given time. I love Cauliflower cheese. It can be a bit of a faff to make sometimes. This gives you that lovely taste with only half the effort!

a knob of butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
1 large potato, peeled and cut into chunks
about 3 cups of vegetable stock
(I use marigold vegetable stock boullion powder)
1 3/4 cups milk
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
75g of mature cheddar cheese, grated
25 g of mature cheddar cheese, cut or broken into small chunks

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, without browning, for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the cauliflower, potato, stock, milk and seasoning to taste. Bring up to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes, just until the cauliflower is soft and the potato ready to collapse.

Whiz in a food processor, or crush with a potato masher, or, if you are lucky like me, blitz with a stick blender until you get a creamy and thick soup. If it is too thick, add a bit more milk to bring it up to the right consistency. (If you are going to freeze any, take it out now) Warm it through again until quite hot and then stir in the grated cheese, stirring it until it melts.

Serve hot in mugs or bowls, with the cheddar cheese pieces sprinkled on top as a garnish. These can then be stirred through before eating. Delicious!

Thursday 25 September 2008

Friends . . .

"Once in awhile a friend is found who's a
friend right from the start
Once in awhile a friendship's made that
really warms the heart
Once in awhile a friendship's found to
have a lifetime through
It really does happen, just once in a while -
it happened to me and you."
~Author Unknown

Yesterday I had the most wonderful experience of being able to talk to a very special lady via the telephone. Lura of Grammy's News . I was so excited to finally be able to talk to her and her husband John, that I was doing the happy dance all over the kitchen afterwards. She was just as lovely on the telephone and had such a sweet voice, exactly as I had imagined. Every once in a while you meet someone, either real or an invisible friend, like I like to call you all on here, and you just connect in a very special way. So it has been with Lura since she first left a comment here on my page. It was so very nice to be able to connect with her now in real life instead of just the written word.

I've made ever so many wonderful friends through this medium we call the Internet. Real women, with wonderful soul . . . women who touch me daily with their hearts and their words, who are not afraid to share that which means the most to them in their lives . . . with me and with the world. It's really special, this online relationship, this special connection we feel with one another.

I live a pretty isolated life here at Oak Cottage. We are quite separate from the village up here, and in fact I can say with all honesty that in all of the five years I have been living here I have not met one person from the village, so there have been no friendships made. It is somewhat of a bedroom town. Most who live here work elsewhere and in truth we all lead such busy lives today there is not a lot of time for standing around and making each other's acquaintance. I work long hours and so I don't really get out and about much anyways. My main social time is early in the morning when I get up and come on here and pen these words, write and answer e-mails, chat a bit with my family and friends.

I have church friends of course, dear ladies that mean the world to me. We don't get to see each other very often though. Mostly on Sunday's I'd say, unless we make special arrangements to see each other at other times. Because of the hours I work, I don't often get to go to Enrichment evenings or activities. For some reason, most of them are held on the nights I have to work, or during the daytime when I am at work as well. Our church Ward covers a really large area and so we are also quite spread apart distance wise and it's not that easy to get together during the week unless it's for something special. It's not like we all live in the same community within an arms reach of each other. On Sunday mornings though, that church hall is full of chatter and friendly faces and welcoming arms. It's pretty special.

“We are all in this together. We need each other. Oh, how we need each other. Those of us who are old need you who are young. And, hopefully, you who are young need some of us who are old. It is a sociological fact that women need women. We need deep and satisfying and loyal friendships with each other. These friendships are a necessary source of sustenance.” ~Marjorie Pay Hinckley

I cannot remember my mother having very many friends when I was growing up. I expect that she was too busy taking care of the home and us children, until she started back to work again, and then it was her job that took up most of her time. I have always surrounded myself with friends. I am a woman who enjoys the company and companionship of other women. I’ve had many good friends through the years, some younger, some older, all dearly loved by myself. When I make a friend, I make them for life and I cherish each one of them for what they are and who they are. Friends are indeed family you get to pick for yourself.

I have often heard it said that in order to have a friend, one must first be a friend, and that is so very true. There is nothing less satisfying than having a relationship with someone who only takes and never gives anything back. There is something very special about the easy camaraderie of two people, who know each other well, and can give and take with the ease of knowing the other’s faults and yet loving the other anyways, despite their shortcomings. I expect people to take me as I am, and so, I accept them for who they are in return.

I look upon other women as fellow sisters and companions in this great adventure we call life. We are not in this to compete with each other, but instead to uphold, cherish and love each other. When we see one of us beginning to falter and fall back along the way, we have a duty as a beloved sister to grab hold and help the other to come forward and to support and uphold her in every way possible. You never know when you might need the favour in return. At the end of the day, I could live without the companionship of a man, but I would dreadfully miss the companionship, understanding and friendship of other women. We’re really are all in this together. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give, and I thank each one of you for all that you give to me each day with your lovely comments and caring words. They truly do mean the world to me.

I did a little Christmas Painting late yesterday afternoon. I have in mind to do a whole series of nativity paintings. This is the first boy I have done. What do you all think of him? I'm not sure what I am going to do with him yet. Perhaps turn him into a Christmas ornament?

I made the most delicious little mouthful's the other day. I have always been a fan of Amaretti Biscuits. I just love almonds and these are truly an Almond Lover's delight. Slightly soft and crumbly these are not like the crisp amaretti biscuits you can get which are also very good. They're also very easy to make. I'll never buy amaretti again . . . these will definitely be on my Christmas Baking trays this year!

*Soft Amaretti*
Makes about 36

Slightly crisp on the outsides with a soft and crumbly interior these are full of delicious almond flavour. Little bites of almond pleasure . . .

1 1/2 pounds of ground almonds
(Make sure they are ground as fine as possible without becoming paste)
2 cups fine white sugar (440g)
(not powdered)
pinch of salt
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp of pure almond essence
(Make sure it's pure and not the artificial)
icing sugar for dredging the finished biscuits in

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F/180*C. Line two flat baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Make sure your oven rack is on it's lowest level.

Check to see if your almonds are fine enough by passing them through a sieve. If not, give them a quick whirl in the blender. You don't want an almond paste, but you do want them very finely ground.

Place the almonds into a large mixing bowl along with the sugar and a healthy pinch of salt. Whisk together well. Mix together the eggs and the almond essence and add it all at once.

Using two teaspoons, scoop out balls of the dough and drop them onto the prepared baking sheets. They will be somewhat irregular in shape, but that's ok. It only adds to their charm. Leave about an inch between each.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven. Raise the oven rack to the middle position. Return the biscuits and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan for another 5 minutes, before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the other baking sheet.

Sieve the icing sugar into a large bowl and dredge each cooled biscuit completely in it. Store in an airtight container. If anything, these taste better as the days pass.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Happiness is . . .

"Happiness is like a butterfly;
the more you chase it,
the more it will elude you,
but if you turn your attention
to other things,
it will come and sit
softly on your shoulder."
~Henry David Thoreau

How would you define happiness???

There are lots of cute posters out there that try to do just that, with such catching phrases on them as "Happiness is a warm puppy" or "Happiness is an Option." I once had a poster which read, "Happiness is an unexpected hug."

But happiness is so much more than that. Some people spend their whole lives searching for it . . . and never finding it, and yet other's spend their whole lives in an extravaganza of happiness. Happiness is defined as ‘the overall appreciation of one’s life-as-a-whole. In other words . . . how much one likes the life one lives.

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
- Abraham Lincoln

Some people can be happy living in very meagre circumstances, and yet others seemingly cannot find happiness living in the luxury of a richly appointed penthouse apartment. To many people, happiness is as elusive as the whispering wind . . . it caresses them from time to time, but they cannot grab it and take hold . . . it's always just within, but not quite within their grasp.

Money cannot buy happiness. I've often heard this said, and we all see the evidence of it daily in the empty lives of those who would be rich and famous, and seemingly have everything anyone could possibley want at their disposal, and yet . . . they have nothing . . . They spend their lives in a frenzy of trying to fulfill all their desires and needs, and yet . . . it is never enough. That hole is still empty . . .

I have three suggestions for achieving happiness, for this is what happiness is to me:

Make it a habit to do something nice for somebody else every day.

Look for something cheerful every day . . . be it a flower, a bright thought, a good word, the sun shining.

Add something to remember . . . a motto, a verse or a short phrase.

If you do these three things every day, I guarantee that one day these memorized thoughts and the memories of having put them into action will return to bring you peace like the heartfelt whispers of a loving God.

I don't think we ever truly begin to live our lives in full . . . until we learn how to give them away. That is happiness.

What can you make for supper when you have nothing but a bit of leftover cooked chicken and some sliced ham in the fridge? In my ode to thrift, and my desire to stretch our food dollar that little bit further, I came up with this delicious casserole yesterday for our tea. It was really very good.

*Chicken, Ham and Broccoli Casserole*
Serves 4

I have always loved chicken and ham pies and I also love chicken and broccoli casserole. It seemed just natural to combine the three and then to cover the result with a delicious thatch of creamy cheesey mashed potatoes. The result . . . a very delicious casserole that we both really enjoyed!

2 leftover cooked chicken breasts
4 thick slices of cooked ham
1/2 bunch of broccoli, separated into florets, stalked chopped
(blanche in salted boiling water for two minutes and drain)
2 TBS minced onion
2 ounces butter
1 1/2 ounce of flour
3/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup white wine (can use chicken stock if desired)
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 bunch of fresh tarragon, chopped
1/2 cup cream
salt and black pepper to taste

Cheesy Mash Topping:
5 large floury potatoes
2 ounces butter
3 1/2 ounces hot milk
4 1/2 ounces of mature cheddar cheese
salt and black pepper to taste
1 medium egg, beaten

Pre-heat the oven to 190*C. Butter a large shallow casserole and set aside.

Chop the chicken and the ham coarsely and mix together in a large bowl. Add the blanched broccoli, give it a stir. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for a few minutes to soften without browning. Stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes without browning. Add the milk and stir until smooth. Add the wine and just enough stock to bring it to a creamy consistency. Stir in the cream and the tarragon. Season to taste with some salt and pepper. Stir this sauce into the chicken and ham mixture. Spread this into the prepared casserole dish.

In the meantime peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Put them into a pan and cover them with some slightly salted water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 12 to 15 minutes until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain well and then return to the pot. Shake them a bit over the heat left in the burner to really dry them out. Mash them completely with the butter and a bit of the hot milk. Add only enough milk as necessary, without making them too liquidy. Stir in the grated cheese, stirring it to melt it. Season to taste with some salt and black pepper, then beat in the egg.

Spread the potato mixture evenly over top of the chicken mixture. Rough up the top a bit with the tines of a fork. Bang it all into the oven and bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown on top and the filling is bubbling nicely. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

PS - It's almost October and my sweet peas have finally decided that they are going to bloom profusely! I've been waiting all summer for this!