Wednesday 31 December 2008

A New Year Dawns . . .

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."
~Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Ahh . . . here we are. January 1st, 2009. A brand new month. A brand new year. January, the month of new beginnings and a time to cherish memories. The month in which winter weaves her magically ponderous spell about us with it's cool and crisp days. This is the month where we will be glad of woolly scarves, warm mittens and log fires. We snuggle in with long dark evenings . . . comforting, savoury suppers, lively conversation, or even solitary joys, our only companions. The temperatures plummet and, if we are lucky, snow falls softly . . . all of nature is at peace and at rest. This is the perfect time for us to draw back and relax as well. All the hectic busyness of Christmas is past and a new year waits before us to be drawn upon like a new page. This is the month to dream and to look ahead . . .

Only dreams can give birth to change. Take some time today to quietly reflect on what your dreams are. What are your hopes for the future? What are the gentle yearnings of your heart? This is not a time for resolutions. Resolutions that only get broken , one by one as the year waxes on. This is the time for private aspirations and hope. What are the longings you have tucked away in your heart, waiting for just the right time? Have faith and trust that NOW is the time. Ask the questions that need to be asked of yourself, and then have confidence that the answers will come, and that you will see them, minute by minute . . . day by day. Trust that you will find a way to live them and then . . .

Take a leap of faith into the future! Let us begin this wondrous new year by believing. Believing in ourselves and our dreams, and, believing in the Great Master Creator . . . the sower of dreams and hope, who is just waiting for us to ask Him to help us make our dreams come true.

Today IS the first day 0f the rest of your life and how it goes is up to you and the choices you make. You may be called this year to do any number of things . . . some may be easy, some may be hard. Success at times may seem impossible, but I firmly believe if we call upon God for help and seek the Saviour's guidance, all things are possible. May this be a year when we can, each of us, seek His voice and have the heart to listen to His answers. May we, each one of us, have enough faith to move forward and walk in His steps, and to know that whatever, wherever, whenever . . . He IS there with us.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"
Philippians 4:13

Read the words . . . know them and take them into your heart . . . believe them and then move forward into the future, hand in hand with the Master. I am really looking forward to the journey over this next year and taking you along with me. Isn't it exciting!!

We had the missionaries over for supper last night. I didn't do a raclette after all. I had a big rib roast in the freezer that I had bought for another evening where sickness meant it was not needed, so I thought rather than let it sit in the freezer for months and months deteriorating I would take it out and cook it up. So we dined on Roast Beef, and potatoes, swede, carrots, Brussels sprouts and puffy Yorkshire puddings and for dessert we finished off the cheesecake and then had these . . .

*Cape Breton Pork Pies*

Makes about 24

Over here if someone is caught telling a *Porkie Pie* that is Cockney rhyming slang for telling a lie! I think these come very close to that, coz there's no oink within an inch of these delicious little *cookie* tarts! With a rich buttery shortbread base, a luscious date filling and a crown of delicious butter cream, these are pleasing on all levels. Impressive and yet easy, this is an old Nova Scotian recipe that you will find on many holiday trays around this time of year.


1 cup butter

4 TBS icing sugar

2 cups flour


2 cups chopped dates

1 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 cup water

the juice of half a lemon


2 1/4 cups sifted icing sugar

4 ounces softened butter

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 TBS milk

Pre-heat the oven to 425*C/205*C. You will need either two 12 cup mini muffin tins or one 24 cup.

Place the flour and icing sugar for the base into a food processor. Add the butter cut into chunks and then process it for about 3 minutes, until the butter is all cut in and the mixture starts to come together. Dump out and knead for a few minutes. Divide into 24 walnut size pieces and roll each into a ball. Place each ball in one of the muffin cups and press it out to line each one evenly. Bake in the heated oven for 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool.

In the meantime make the filling. Mix all the filling ingredients together in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until smooth and thick. Set aside to cool.

To make the butter icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add the softened butter, vanilla and milk. Beat together on high until thick and creamy. You may need more or less milk. It all depends. I add it about half at a time. Sometimes I need the full amount, sometimes not.

Divide the date filling between each of the cookie cups. Dot each with a bit of the butter icing to finish, or use a piping bag to pipe some on top of each.

In all likelihood, you will end up with some date filling leftover. This is what I do with it . . . yumm, sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies and with a glass of milk, this is bliss . . . pure bliss.

Happy New Year Everyone!

And so a year ends . . .

Well, here I am sitting in my little cottage at this final day of the year, 2008. Year's end is a chance for us to reflect on all that has been good in the past year and all the ways we have grown . . . perhaps things we might be able to improve on in the coming year, happy memories made and the achievements, both big and small of the past year. It's a time to look forward with hope and a time to look back with nostalgia. I thought this morning I would do a review of my past year here at Oak Cottage and that I'd take you along with me . . .

January saw me enjoying a sunny day after weeks of rain and waxing on about Fairies . . .

"The sight of a fairy ring of toadstools on the mossy floor of a forest has always fueled my deepest imaginations, and indeed if you were to look across the rolling fields behind our cottage on a warm summer's day, the air will be filled with little fairy wings dancing in the soft breeze. Some would say seed pods on their airborne journey, but I say differently . . . "

In February, I did my first giveaway here at Oak Cottage, a Valentines one, discovered the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, started my Make Me Bake feature and discovered snowdrops in the garden . . . a sure sign that spring was on it's way.

"As I walked home to the cottage on my afternoon break, I chanced to see some little snowdrops blooming at the edge of our soggy garden, their dainty little white heads dancing in the soft breeze that was blowing. They are hope to me, a promise that spring is just around the corner. Can the bluebells be very far behind? What a difference a day makes . . ."

March saw me relishing the spring time and taking a fairy on a walk around our garden. I did an Easter Giveaway, and took a bunny on a walk through the Orchard to greet her friend, her arms filled with a delicious basket containing a lovely cinnamon loaf. I baked cookies and Hot cross Scones and spoke of empty holes . . .

"I guess I am a kind of a fanciful person at heart. There is this big tree down at the edge of our property that has a hollow right at it's base. It's not just any hole though . . . it's a very intriguing hole . . . deep and dark, and full of lots of scraps of earth and leaves and rotting bark.

Every time I walk by it on my way to work, I look at the hole . . . just laying there empty and I long to fill it with something, with some piece of my heart. I want to take a big rock and paint it up like a fairy house and plant it right between the roots, tucked into the hollow heartbeat of the tree. Tis only lack of time, and the fear of someone stealing it that prevents me from doing just that. If I had my way, there would be little fairy houses tucked in here and there all throughout our cottage garden . . . "

April saw me baking Gingerbreads, enjoying the antics of the squirrels in my back garden, wondering about small and simple things, forgiveness and lessons learned in life, and vapour trails . . .

"Vapour trails often decorate the sky where we live and at any given time we are able to look up and see at least two or three, maybe even more, sometimes trailing behind the actual planes . . . but more often than not, just the tell tail white streak in the sky that lets me know they have been there, the residue simply being the evidence left behind which tells me they were here . . .

We are all a bit like planes in that respect. Everything we do in life leaves a trail behind it. The good things . . . the bad things . . . the special things . . . the ordinary things . . . We wander through life doing this and doing that, most of the time not really giving much thought to what we are leaving behind in our wake . . . every action producing a consequence, and leaving it behind, however big or small . . ."

During the month of May, the lovely month of May, I took stock of simple pleasures, and precious truths. I dug for diamonds and talked about making my life count, mothers, and finding contentment in who we are . . .

"I have come to the conclusion that I just cannot do everything, and do it all well. I can do some of the things I do really well, and some not so well, and that’s ok. I have learned to prioritize and decide which are the things in my life that are the most important and which really deserve my fullest attention. God and family come tops of my list and then comes my job, ( which is very important obviously, as I am the main breadwinner) and finally everything else. If some things don’t get done today, then I don’t panic. It’s not really all that important. I dress neatly and tidily, and I keep myself clean. I do wear a bit of makeup, but I don’t obsess on any of it. I have learned to be content with how I look and what I have. If Todd is happy, and I am happy, then nothing else matters, and that’s as it should be. I take great joy in the simple things of life and I have them in great abundance. I am a simple woman, and very content to be such . . ."

June brought me Sunday visitors and front porch days. The roses were all in bloom and we could sit in the back garden listening to the bees buzz about the lavender. We were busy enjoying the warmer days and the sunshine and stars . . .

" If we sit under the umbrella at the picnic table on the back patio, we can hear bumble bees humming as they go about their work gathering pollen from the lavender, which grows beneath my kitchen window. On a hot June evening, it's serene scent lulls us into lazy feelings and peaceful thoughts and quiet dreams . . ."

July was the month when I got to finally meet my dear friend Tracy from Pink Pearl in person for the first time! Oh what an exciting day that was. Although we also went on holidays up to Cumbria that month, meeting Tracy was the highlight of the month, and indeed year for me . . .

"On the computer Tracy has always seemed larger than life to me, but I was so surprised and thrilled to find that she was as tiny as a little doll when we met. I felt like the friendly giant next to her. I totally dwarfed her! This was proof that the best things come in small packages. We hugged and tears were shed, because . . . we are both a couple of softies and so very tender hearted. Spirit speaks to spirit, and our spirits had been speaking to each other for a long time. The opportunity to finally see each other in the flesh was just so overwhelmingly special . . . "

In August I shared the tale of my summer holiday with you all and discovered the Simple Woman's Day book. It was also my Birthday month and so I was able to celebrate along with each of you. We had ever so much rain last summer. It seemed that the sun hardly shone, and it rained the whole month through . . .

" What a nasty weekend we have had here at Oak Cottage weather wise. It had cleared yesterday morning and so we thought to go to the beach at Eastbourne for the day, but then the dark clouds rolled in again just as we went to leave and so we decided not to take a chance. Good thing too as it turned out to be a horrible day with rain and wind and everything that goes right along with it. It would not have been nice at the beach at all, and today is much the same! "

September brought me thoughts of artists and flowers, small and simple things, and Todd's 70th Birthday celebration. The wild flowers in the orchard surrounding us began to go to seed and the hedgerows filled up with blackberries and hips and haws. The apple pickers arrived and the children went back to school. The orchards around us rang with the sounds of laughter and children at play during their break . . .

"My mama always told me that any job worth doing, was worth doing well. I try to do my best at whatever I set my hands to, and I try hard to be pleasant when I am doing it. It's ever so much easier to get through the worst things in life, if you do them with a song in your heart . . ."

October brought about cooler days and cooler nights. The days were beginning to become noticeably shorter and I thought about making your days count, and every day epiphanies, having a humble home and my hands . . .

"As a very small child my mother taught me how to put my hands together, bow my head and pray, so they have been instrumental in helping me to commune with my Lord, and even now when I listen to a very spiritual piece of music that touches my heart I like to raise them in the air and somehow feel as if I am able to touch the hem of His garment. They have helped me throughout my life to feel closer to my God . . ."

November brought spectacular fall colours this past year, more spectacular than in years past. Todd and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary and I thought about things like love and magic and finding joy . . .

"It is easy to find joy in small things . . . a baby's sigh . . . a sunset . . . the feeling of warm sand between our toes. These are things that will never change, for joy is constant . . ."

December has been a lovely month, if ever so cold. I cannot recollect a December in my brief time over here that has been colder. It's been a wonderful time of getting ready for Christmas and enjoying the company of friends and reflection on all that is good about life and the blessings it brings us.

"I am so thankful for a heart that has passion enough and the will to take the time to soak it all in, the wonder of life and the joy that it brings, blessings both great and small . . . sometimes I think that the smallest joys are the greatest blessings of all . . ."

It is hard to believe that here we are at the end of the year. It has gone by ever so quickly. It seems it has hardly begun and now . . . it is over. What will the new year bring? Only God knows for sure. I know what I hope it brings, but we shall see. In any case, life is what you make of it and life is good . I look at the coming year as if looking at a clean new page in my notebook . . . what will I choose to write on it, how will the story come out. It's really up to me . I look forward to another year of the journey, and I hope you'll all enjoy coming along with me on it!

I cooked ever so many things over this past year and showed you a few hundred of them. I was trying to think this morning of which thing that I cooked over this past year that was my very favourite thing. It was really hard to come up with one but I think this is it . . . my chosen recipe of the year, 2008. It was the winner of my Make Me Bake Challenge during the second week of July. It was delicious!!

*Strawberry Toffee Tart*
Serves 6

A crispy, buttery and oaty crust covered with a tangy cream and a plethora of sliced strawberries, this is truly moreish. A final drizzle of toffee sauce is it's crowning glory. Easy, quick and pleasing on all levels this is a true winner!

6 ounces of hobnob biscuits (a buttery oatmeal cookie)
3 ounces of butter, melted
14 ounces of double cream
5 soft toffees (such as Werther's original soft toffees)
200g tub of Greek Yoghurt
icing sugar for dusting

Line an 8 inch tart tin with baking parchment. Crush the biscuits to fine crumbs either in your food processor, blender or by bashing them in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Tip them into a bowl and mix together with the melted butter. Press this mixture evenly in the base of the tart tin. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so until it feels firm. Once firm, remove the biscuit base from the tin and carefully slide it onto a flat serving plate.

Slice the strawberries and set aside.

Take 2 TBS of the cream and put it into a small bowl. Whip the rest of the cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold in the yoghurt and then spoon this mixture over the top of the biscuit base and cover with the sliced strawberries.

Add the toffees to the cream and place in the microwave. Cook on medium heat for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir until they form a sauce. Drizzle this sauce over the berries. Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

PS - I posted a new piece of art over on Blossom Time Creations. Pop on over and have a gander, and tell me what you think!

Tuesday 30 December 2008

An Ode to Cheesecake . . .

Cheesecake, cheesecake, you're so dreamy
With your filling, oh so creamy.
Atop a crust, all crunchy and sweet
You're the best dessert on the street.
You make me gasp with pure delight
And sneak downstairs in the middle of night.
To eat that last piece in the fridge
oh please, oh please, just one more wedge.
I love you more than cake and jelly
even if you add to my ample belly
With trembling lips
and widening hips
You make me utter sounds of joy!

Okay, so a poet I ain't, but I know good cheesecake when I taste it. This latest recipe of Dorie's has to be my favouritest yet, and made me want to wax all poetic about it! I know, I know . . . I was supposed to save it for New Years Eve, and I fully intended to do just that . . . but how could I write about it before I had even tasted it, so I just had to cut one piece so that I could fully do it justice here today. (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

Welcome to Tuesdays With Dorie, that delightful baking group, soon to be one year old, that bakes together every week, albeit in spirit and around the world, one delicious recipe . . . the same delicious recipe from that wonderful baking book, *Baking, from my home to yours*,written by that equally wonderful cookery book author and bakestress, Ms Dorie Greenspan herself. This week Anne of AnneStrawberry chose Tall and Creamy Cheesecake on pages 235-237. As God is my witness . . . my life will never be the same . . .

I toyed with the idea of flavouring the cheesecake with things such as eggnog, or salted caramel . . . but then in the end executed the recipe exactly as written by Dorie with no variation, the only exception being that I used crushed digestive biscuits in the crust as graham crackers are not widely available over here. I have actually come to love digestive biscuits more.

After reading on the Dorie page about some people having had water from the water bath leak into their cheesecakes when baking, I made sure that I wrapped my spring form pan doubly in foil. It worked a charm as I had no such problem.

Easy to make and easy to bake this is a wonderful cheesecake recipe. From beginning to end I had no problems whatsoever with it. My only problem came when I removed it from the pan and it cracked a bit, but not to worry. I dusted the top thoroughly with icing sugar, thinking that would hide a multitude of sins, but it did not . . .

I decided to make a black current and port syrup to grace and gild this precious lily. Tart and sweet with just a hint of booziness it, it ended up being the perfect accompaniment to what will be the cheesecake recipe that I use from now on. I love, Love, LOVE this cheesecake! I dare say I may have to bake another dessert for New Years Eve as there may not be any of this left . . . ahem . . .

The recipe can be found on Anne's page, Anne Strawberry. Do go and check it out!! She did a tall and creamy Peppermint Bark version that looks fabulous. Please drop by and check out all the other luscious entries on the Dorie Blog Roll as well! Looking doesn't hurt and it doesn't put on pounds either! Now where was my fork???

When I make this again, and trust me . . . I will . . . I am going to play around with the other variations . . . perhaps a gingersnap crust with a lemon and candied ginger filling. Oh, that is calling my name!

Next week's recipe will be the French Pear Tart on pages 368 and 369, as chosen by Ms Dorie Greenspan herself!! How exciting! What a wonderful way to celebrate the one year anniversary of Tuesdays With Dorie!

In the meantime, here's the recipe for the Black Current and Port Syrup I made to go with it. It's also pretty tasty over Ice Cream or even rice pudding . . . hmmm . . . snow pudding, Spanish cream . . . this sauce goes pretty well over anything like that!

*Black Current and Port Syrup*
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

I saw a bottle of this in the store the other day, but at £5 a bottle I thought it was a bit pricey. I decided I would make my own. I'm not sure how it compares, but the one I made was pretty tasty indeed. This goes very well over a creamy dessert, and it was absolutely delicious drizzled over this cheesecake!

8 ounces of black current juice
6 ounces of white sugar
4 ounces of good quality port wine
the juice of half a lemon

Put all the ingredients into a non reactive saucepan and cook and stir over medium heat with a wooden spoon, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until thick and syrupy.

Monday 29 December 2008

The Simple Woman's Day Book . . .

FOR TODAY, December 29, 2008 ...

Outside My Window...

The sky is clear and dark, but the stars are shining. The ground looks to be covered in a thick blanket of frost. Winter is indeed here. Brrr . . . January brings the snow, makes our toes and fingers glow . . . when I was a girl I didn't seem to mind the cold. We played outside no matter the weather, but now that my bones are getting old and the hair's going a bit grey the cold really seems to get to me more . . . there is nothing nicer than a warm fire in the stove on a cold winter's day.

I am thinking...
that the last year has gone every so quickly. It has just flown by and here we are sitting on the cusp of a whole new year, 2009. How did that happen? It seems only yesterday we were celebrating the millennium and worried about how the millennium bug would affect all of our technology! Could that really have been 9 whole years ago?? I look at the calendar and note that is indeed has, but my those years have just whizzed by. My life has changed massively in those nine years. Just think . . . at that time I had no idea Todd even existed, except for in a single woman's fantasy . . . I was living in a rented room in someone else's house in Canada, having only been single for a very few short months. I was trying very hard to find a job in an area that had high unemployment and I was completely unaware of any skills I might have had. I was a baby in the Gospel and taking tiny steps forward. Your life can change in an instant, a moment, a day, a week, a year . . . I have been so blessed.

I am thankful for...
the holidays. It's nice to be able take the time to pause and reflect on all that's good in your life and on the true meaning of Christmas. I've always been a Christmas person. I love the sights and smells and feelings associated with it. It seems to pass far too quickly, but then we have all the joy of it to look forward to again and it seems to come around quicker and quicker each year! I am so thankful that I can rejoice in the true meaning of this very special holiday and that I have a deep love and respect for my Saviour and His priceless gift to us. I am so glad that Christ is in my Christmas and the centre of our celebrations and I am so thankful that I now have a husband who is on the same page. It makes things even better and more sacred in a very special way.

From the kitchen...
I put the rest of the turkey in the freezer yesterday along with the ham so today I am going to cook something completely different. Not sure yet what it will be, but it is sure to be tasty. I was looking at some of my older cookbooks in bed last night and I think the by-words for the next year will be healthy and thrifty, as much as possible that is. We can all use a bit more of both of those things!

I am wearing...
Yes, pajamas. I am ashamed to say I never took them off all day yesterday. I just wallowed in my cold and a warm fuzzy blanket on my chair down here, watching Oprah and Diva TV. I know, pretty sad for a Sabbath Day . . . I used to watch Oprah all the time in Canada. I don't get the same feeling from her anymore. It's hard to put my finger on, but I feel like she thinks she is the end authority on everything. I do have news for her though . . . there is ONE who knows more, and I think she should start listening to Him again instead of scriptures mingled with the philosophies of men . . .

I am creating...
I hope to get a few more pieces done this week with my artwork and then I am going to put together my portfolio and send it off to Hallmark. It is kind of scary. Hallmark are the epitome of greatness in the card world. If they don't like my drawings then nobody will. I am afraid, and yet at the same time, I know that I must have faith in what I am doing or I can't expect anyone else to either.

I am going...
back to work today. I know . . . big sigh . . . it's always hard to go back to work after having had some time off. Good thing I love my job, eh!! I've got a lot to get done though so the sooner I get started on it, the better.

I am reading...
I am still reading, "The Heretics Daughter", by Kathleen Kent. I'm down to the last couple of chapters and already thinking about what I am going to read next. I got a really cute book for Christmas from a friend, called "How To Be A Better Foodie" by Susie Pigott. I've been reading through it over the past couple of days and it's really cute and informative as well, containing all the foodementals of gastronomy and suggestions for such things as the Ultimate Foodies store cupboard essentials. It's quite witty and light hearted and I am enjoying it, although I begin to question . . . am I truly a foodie?

I am hoping...
that the last vestiges of my cold disappear quickly. I am already feeling a lot better, and so far it has stayed in my head and not migrated into my chest. I really hated to miss church yesterday but it would have been quite irresponsible of me to go and pass my germs around. If more people stayed home when they were feeling poorly a lot fewer people would get ill!!

I am hearing...
I have a second window open and I am listening to my Christmas Play List. In just a day or so I will have to moth ball it and bring my everyday play list back out. I have added a few new songs to the list. and I do confess, I miss it, but then I love my Christmas songs as well. I guess I just love music full stop!

Around the house...
It still looks a bit like Santa's Grotto in here. It's kind of sad to have to take all the decorations down at the end of Christmas. I tend to keep them up until New Years Day and then they have to come down. It always looks a bit bare in here after that, with all the sparkle and tinsel gone. I do keep my gingerbread men on my stairs year round though. They look so cheery sitting there.

One of my favorite things...
is making lists. I am a great list maker. I make lists for everything . . . shopping, cleaning, letter writing, e-mailing . . . you name it, I have a list for it! It would be great if I was also a list follower too, but alas . . . I rarely follow them through, I just make them.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week...
We are having the missionaries over for supper on New Years Eve. I am planning on doing a raclette. It's a bit special and out of the ordinary and I think they will enjoy it. We have not done one of those in a very long time, so it's about time we dragged our raclette machine out! We have plans to go down to Broadstairs to visit a friend at the end of the week, depending on the weather. I really like Broadstairs. Did you know that Charles Dickens used to summer there? His house is up on a hill overlooking the beach. In the summer you can go on historic walks through the town and people in period costume will accompany you and relate the history of this seaside town to you along the way. It's really quite interesting and fascinating.

Here is picture thought I am sharing...

This is a painting of the Saviour by my favourite Christian Artist, Liz Lemon Swindle. I just love the look on the little girl's face in this painting, and the look of love that the Saviour is casting down upon her. I reckon that the way that little girl is feeling, is the way I will feel when I walk into His presence at the end of my life. There is a song I just love called, I Can Only Imagine. I have the version of it on a CD as sung by Amy Grant and it's just beautiful . . . (You will have to turn off my playlist if you want to listen to it. It's at the bottom of this page)

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By your side
I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When your face
Is before me
I can only imagine

I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus
or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence
or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah,
will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine . . .

It is a beautiful song and I love how it makes me feel inside.

That that's it for this week, the 29th of December 2008! Make sure you check out some of the other Day Book entries on The Simple Woman .

Oatmeal is the perfect rib sticking breakfast for these cold winter days we are experiencing. Of course you can just grab a packet of the instant stuff for a quick, fill you up, warming experience, but why . . . when it is just as easy to make it from scratch and oh so much tastier!

*Oatmeal Marie's Way*
Serves 2

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
pinch of salt
Heaping TBS of chopped dates
small splash of vanilla
pinch of cinnamon
1 ripe banana

Put the rolled oats, milk, water and salt into a medium size saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook stirring constantly until it comes to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to low. Toss in the dates, vanilla and cinnamon. Continue to cook and stir over low heat for about five minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the heat.

Mash the banana and stir it into the cooked oats.

Serve hot, spooned out into bowls with a sprinkle of brown sugar and, what the heck, why not go full hog and drizzle a little cream over top. Heaven . . . pure bliss.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Marie's Sunday Six Smile Makers

Here it is the last Sunday in the month of December, indeed the year 2008. We are sitting on the cusp of a brand new year. I have a rotten cold which has been making the rounds and one might think that I would have a problem finding six things to smile about this week, but never fear, there is always something to smile about and here's my six for this week.

1. Having the missionaries over for dinner on Christmas Eve. We love to have the missionaries over for dinner, no matter the occasion. I have such great admiration for these young men and women, and sometimes even older people, who give up so selflessly of their time and energy and take two years out of their lives in service to the Lord and His church. There are literally thousands of these missionaries out in the World at any given time going about His business, in all sorts of different places. My dear friend Eliza just sent her baby, Kevin, off to a mission in Uganda recently. I know how her heart must feel . . . one half must feel so very proud of this wonderful young man who has made this decision to serve in this way, and the other half must be a bit afraid that he is doing it in such a scary place. These missionaries get no pay or compensation for their labours. Many of them have spent their childhood years saving up to do just this. Families have also scrimped and saved to help them raise the money to go. Some families manage to send quite a few children on missions. Why do they do it? Because they believe in what they are doing and because they have a deep love for their Saviour, and for their fellow beings . . . for mankind. As they study their scriptures daily and spread His message of love to the world that they serve, they grow in their own faith and testimonies . . . Back home, families and wards pray them through each step of the way. I try to have them over for a meal whenever I can. I know that somewhere a mother is praying for her son or daughter, and families are praying for their parents, in the case of an older couple that has chosen to serve a mission. I like to do my best to help them along the way, even if it's only by feeding them once in a while. I love them. I love the special spirit they bring into my home. I love the cause they are serving. I've never met a missionary yet that I didn't love or want to bring home with me. They make me smile. Please be kind to them when you see them. A gentle word costs nothing, nor does a warm smile. Remember they are someone's son or daughter or parents, and their motive is love.

2. Being able to spend Christmas in a warm home, with my dear husband and our much loved Jess. No, it didn't turn out exactly as we had planned it. Our guests were not able to come, due to illness, but it was not the end of the world. We still had each other and it was the best Christmas ever. I know . . . I say that every year! I am so thankful that I am the kind of person who can say that every year! I truly am blessed and I am so glad that I know I am blessed and that I am able to see the silver lining in most things, and bring out the good in most circumstances. I am no angel, for sure, but having experienced some sorrow in my life, I do know what true Joy is when I find it.

3. I am so thankful for the love of friends and family, and for the many Christmas Cards sent and received. We got ever so many Christmas Cards this year from people we care about, both near and far. Just looking at them makes me smile. Each one reminds me that we are loved. I save my cards from one year to the next. Indeed, I have a whole box just full of them that I have saved through the years, and I like to take them out and read them from time to time. They help to remind me of people I care about. Right now the ones from this year are strung about on strings throughout our cottage kitchen, and they look so cheery and lovely. Todd can't understand why I keep them from one year to another, his practical side being his strongest side. Me . . . I think with my heart most of the time, and I just can't bear to part with any of them. Besides . . . they might come in useful one day!

4. I am thankful for these free hours I have had to spend this week sketching and painting. I don't always have a lot of time to do these things and so, when I do have some extra time, I am really thankful for it. I managed to get one painting done earlier this week, when I did my card for you all, and then yesterday, despite my stuffy head, I managed to get two more done. Here is a little tease of the two I finished. If you want to see more just visit my art PAGE. They make me smile, and I hope they will make you smile too!!

5. I am so thankful for a husband that loves and cares for me. Finding my Todd was an answer to prayer for me. As hard as it may be to believe, I had prayed just a few days before meeting him on the computer to my Heavenly Father, and asked him what I should do. I had been thinking about going on a mission, and was not sure. I had also wanted to find a partner in life that I could share my faith with and who would understand that part of me that is the most important part, my heart and my spirit, and who would be willing to share that most important part of himself with me. I had asked Heavenly Father to show me a man that would be good for me. I had had ever so many disappointments in the months leading up to this, and kissed so many frogs . . . never finding a prince. That day when Todd came into the chatroom, something drew me to him, and he to I. Even if at first I did not recognize that he was the one, I did know that he was a special person, and day by day began to recognize that he was, indeed, the one. This special frog did turn into a prince, and I am so thankful to have him in my life. No, it is not perfect, we do have our moments from time to time that any couple has, when we could wring our hands in exasperation, but we love each other and that love outweighs any and everything else. Because I am not well today and filled up with cold, he is going to give my talk for me. I dare not go to church and risk infecting anyone else with my germs. I know he will do a good job of it and that he will be able to convey to our Ward what I wanted to tell them. How do I know? Because he carries a measure of my spirit with him everywhere he goes . . . as I carry a measure of his . . . that is as it should be.

6. Believe it or not, I am thankful for Turkey! I know we have ever so much of it to use up and I am trying my best. I just love turkey. Did you know not all turkey's are the same? When I lived in Canada, I used to often go over to the US to buy a turkey for our special dinners. American Turkey always tasted better for some reason. It must be what they feed them with. In any case I love turkey. It's quite expensive over here for some reason and always even dearer at Christmas, but it just would not be Christmas for me without one.

I love the leftovers even more and love coming up with inventive ways to use them up. Oh, of course we always have the inevitable sandwich with them or even two, but I love creating delicious casseroles and dishes that I can use it up in and that we can enjoy eating. Yesterday I think I made the best dish yet. It's like a cottage pie, but much, much tastier. Because we had roast ham on Christmas Eve and then turkey on Christmas day I have the both of them to use up and I think I did a good job of it yesterday. This was most delicious!

*Post Christmas Cottage Pie*
Serves 4

Imagine a thick and creamy sauce, with just the merest hint of tarragon, and full of lovely chunks of turkey, ham and buttery mushrooms, all topped off with creamy, rich mashed potatoes. This was delicious!

1 TBS butter
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 cups cooked roast turkey, cut into cubes
2 cups roast ham, cut into cubes
1 cup turkey or chicken stock
1 1/4 cups cream
1 TBS chopped fresh tarragon, or 1 tsp dried
2 1/2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
knob of butter
1 large egg yolk
3 TBS milk
salt and black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/375*F. Lightly butter a large shallow gratin casserole dish. Set aside.

Place the butter into a large skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the onnion and mushrooms. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onions are softened and the mushrooms are beginning to turn golden brown. Add the chopped meat. Pour on the stock and add the cream and the tarragon. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for a few minutes until it is nicely thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Place the potatoes in a saucepan of boiling, lightly salted water. Cook until soft and then drain well. Return the potatoes to the pot and mash them thorougly, adding the butter. Mix the egg yolk with the milk and stir that in. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place the creamy meat mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, roughing up the surface a bit with a fork.

Bake in the heated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the potato topping is golden brown and the filling is hot and bubbling. Delicious!

Saturday 27 December 2008

A Letter From God . . .

I've come down with a bit of a head cold, which is rather annoying. I have not had a cold in a very long time, but there seems to be a particularly virulent bug going around right now, several of our friends have it and, well . . . it would seem that I now have it too. I am supposed to be giving a talk in church tomorrow so I had really hoped that this bug would have held off until after that, but oh well, I will try my best to do my best, regardless.

I received this lovely e-mail a time back. I have a folder that I keep special things like this in because I often like to go back and read them. I thought I would share this one with you today as I am a bit fuzzy headed. It's well worth the read. As the owner of a beautiful Border Collie, it really touched my heart and, as I know a lot of you are also pet owners and lovers, I thought you would really appreciate it as well. It’s possible you may have already read it, but this is so heart-warming it deserves to be read more than once. It just makes you feel so good to know that there are kind people like this out in the world, and don’t we all need to hear a little good news for a change??

“This is one of the kindest things I've ever experienced. I have no
way to know who sent it, but there is a kind soul working in the dead
letter office of the US postal service.

Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died,
my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much
she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that
when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I
thought we could, and so she dictated these words:

Dear God,
Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with
you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have
her as my dog even though she got sick. I hope you will play with her.
She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of
her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog. I really
miss her.
Love, Meredith.

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith
and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then
Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because
she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to
heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post
office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet.
I told her that I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front
porch addressed, "To Meredith" in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened
it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, "When a Pet Dies." Taped
to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its
opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey &
Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,
Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help. I
recognized Abbey right away. Abbey isn't sick anymore. Her spirit
is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being
your dog. Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any
pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in
this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping
you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have.
I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and
remember that I love you very much.
By the way, I am wherever there is love.
Love, God “

Isn’t it great to know that there are such kind and thoughtful people in the world? What a beautiful blessing this must have been both to Meredith and her mom, and also to the special person that thought to do such a kindness for an unknown little girl . . .I, personally, think they were inspired. God does work in mysterious ways His wonders to perform . . .

As you know I like to eat Vegetarian from time to time. This tasty dish is very similar to a war-time dish called “Woolton Pie”, but I like to think I have improved upon it somewhat.

*Winter Garden Pie*

Serves 6

This all vegetable pie might be filled with humble ingredients, but there’s nothing humble about the taste. This makes a delicious lunch or supper dish. It’s also a great accompaniment to roast beef or lamb if you really must have some meat, but trust me when I say that it is truly satisfying on it’s own.


1 kg (2.2 lb) assorted mixed winter vegetables (an onion, a celery stick, a large carrot, a large piece of swede, ½ a cauliflower, a couple of Jerusalem artichokes, a small celeriac, sweet potato, etc. whatever is available)

2 TBS olive oil

Vegetable Stock

Salt and black pepper

½ tsp summer savoury or mixed herbs


2 pounds of floury potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

(use a King Edward, Maris Piper, or good Idaho potato)

2 ounces butter

¼ cup of sour cream

1 TBS finely grated onion

Salt and pepper to taste

4 ounces grated strong cheddar cheese

A little warmed milk if necessary

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C/450*F.

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and dice all the other vegetables into a uniform dice. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and vegetables and cook them over medium high heat, stirring from time to time until they just start to colour. Add enough stock to just barely keep them from sticking to the pan and reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally until all the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables are still crispy tender. Season them to taste with some salt and a good grinding of pepper. Stir in the herbs, and then pop the whole mixture into a pie dish. It may seem a bit dry, but not to worry, the final baking in the oven will release all those delicious vegetable juices.

For the topping put the potatoes into a pan of salted boiling water and cook them until they are fork tender. Drain well and return the potatoes to the pan. Give them a good shake over the still warm burner to dry them out a bit and then mash them well along with the butter and sour cream. Stir in the cheese and grated onion. Add only enough milk to make them nice and fluffy. You don’t want the mixture to be too loose. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Pile the fluffy mash on top of the cooked vegetables and bang the pie dish into the heated oven. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes until the topping is nicely browned. Serve hot.

Friday 26 December 2008

The Perfect Day . . .

We pray to God in times of stress,
But when in realms of happiness,
Do we find time to stop, and say --
"Thank you, God, for a perfect day?"
~Elizabeth Gozney

Yesterday was the perfect day, and as I lay in my bed last night at the end of this perfect day and thought back on all the wonderful things I had experienced throughout the day, I did, indeed, give thanks to God for all of my blessings.

It started out as most days do, with a word of prayer and thanksgiving, and then I hopped on here to see what you all were up to and to leave a few words myself, while I waited for Todd to wake up. Todd always sleeps a few hours longer than me. I'm not sure though if he is so much sleeping as he is laying there dozing. I wish I was the kind of person who could do that, but I'm afraid that I can't, once I'm awake I want to be up and doing!! Yes, I am an annoying morning person!!

The first thing Todd and I do when he comes downstairs in the morning is share a big hug and good morning, I love you with each other in front of our kitchen window. It's really funny coz Jess always tries to get in between us. She wants her good morning cuddles from Todd as well! Yesterday we each had a Christmas Card to share with each other and usually I go from there to read him the blog I have written, but yesterday I didn't. Hmmm . . . how could I have forgotten, oh well, I'll just have to read him two today!!

We both got dressed (I know . . . I really would have loved to stay in my pj's but I thought that was a bit much even for me on Christmas day!) and then we opened our gifts. We are not gift crazy people. We usually go to a charity shop and get something for the other there and I was the lucky recipient of a beautiful little crystal bowl that will be perfect for holding a tea light, a cut glass water jug that's just lovely and some great plates that will be perfect for showcasing some of my food photos!!! We had a few gifts from friends to open as well and then the phone rang and it was my mom!!

My mom calls me twice a year. On my birthday and on Christmas day. I can count on that as sure as I can count on the sun coming up in the morning and going down at the end of the day! We had a lovely conversation. She always opens my gifts to her while we are talking on the telephone. It is just nice to hear her voice. I know I talk to her every second week when I call, but that Christmas call is so very special to me and I really look forward to it every year. Our missionaries get a special call from their families on Christmas day as well. The only other day during the year they are allowed to talk to their families is on Mother's Day so as you can see a Christmas telephone call is very special to us all!!

Todd had ham and eggs for breakfast and then he took Jess out for her exercise. She was a bit miffed as things had not gone according to her plan! (usually she gets exercised first!) But then, she is not one to hold a grudge for very long and was soon back to her usual self!

We had been going to have company for Christmas Dinner yesterday, but due to ill health it got cancelled and so there was just Todd and I for our meal. I scaled things back a bit, but still ended up cooking enough for an army, but my oh my it was good. We shall be eating turkey for about a year I think, but it will be fun trying to come up with inventive ways to use it all up!! We feasted on Turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and swede, carrots and Brussels sprouts, not to mention honey roasted parsnips . . . all with lots of gravy, bread sauce and cranberry sauce. We were a bit full after, that so put off our dessert til later on. How blessed we are that we are able to eat like Kings. Would that I could share this feast with everyone that is hungry . . .

After the dishes, we settled in then to watch the Queen's speech. That is a must do for us on Christmas day. I always listened to it back in Canada when I lived there and I always listen to it here. I thought it was a lovely speech this year. She spoke of the dark times that many are facing today in these uncertain economic times, and then went on to praise those who know that the true secret of a happy life lies in unselfish service to others. I said to Todd . . . "She's been reading my blog!" It did make us chuckle. I really enjoyed seeing the film of Prince Charles as a toddler and thought to myself, how amazing that this little baby has grown up to be this man who will one day be our King, and about how beautiful the Queen was when she was younger.

I then got up enough courage to call my children at their dad's. It was lovely to talk to them, although not all of them were there. I am so glad that I did call. It was a wonderful gift to myself. Todd got to talk to them too.

Then it was time for Christmas pudding and Mary Poppins! We settled in next to each other in front of our telly and just relaxed for several hours. What a marvel that film is. I can remember going to see it at the cinema when I was just a girl. Indeed, Mary Poppins has always had a special place in my heart. When I was in Grade one I received the novel by P L Travers as an award at the end of the school year and I have long treasured it. As the film began and the screen panned over the London skyline, with Big Ben lit up, I thought about back to when I had first seen this movie as a young girl and how exotic that skyline had seemed to me, and how magical and wonderful it was that I had now seen these very things in person. As a child I could never have guessed . . .

I called my father and spoke to him for a few minutes. He sounded very tired and I expect he was. He and his girlfriend had gone to the Reveillon celebrations at her family's on Christmas Eve and not gotten back until about 3 am on Christmas Day so he had not gotten a lot of sleep!! It was nice to hear his voice though and wish him a Merry Christmas.

I also got to talk to my sister on the computer yesterday for a time, which was lovely. We used to speak every day, but with the time difference, and us both working full time, we rarely get the chance these days to do so. She and her partner are planning on saving up and coming over for the 2012 Olympics, so that is something to look forward to!!! I have not seen my sister in about 6 years so that will be wonderful if they can manage to pull it off. Todd has never met her either so it will be great for them to finally meet and also for me to meet her partner whom I have never met either! Most of all it will be wonderful to be with my sister again. Happy thought!!

We ended the evening by watching the Dancing on Ice Special on the telly. I love to watch the figure skating and this was extra special as it was a one off. I marvel at how good these amateur skaters are . . . and how very brave. I don't think that I could do it . . . mind you they'd have to find a partner for me that was exceedingly strong with massive muscles if he was ever going to lift me up!!! We might have to do things the other way around!

It is a wonderful day when you can lay in bed at the end of it and think back on all the special little pockets of joy that you have experienced. I am so blessed and I thank the Lord for all of them. I am so very lucky, and not just because I have all this joy, but mostly because I am able recognize these special moments for being what they are and because I am more than happy to share them with others. Elvis once sang a song that went like this . . .

Oh why can't every day be like Christmas
Why can't that feeling go on endlessly
For if everyday could be just like Christmas
What a wonderful world this would be

I'm here to tell you that every day can be like Christmas. It starts in the heart and it starts with recognizing the small blessings and gifts that are there each day to take and enjoy and to share . . .

I thought I would share the recipe for my sticky topped ginger bread with you today. It really is lovely and I just know you will enjoy it. I may just have some leftovers for breakfast today . . . you know . . . so it won't go to waste . . .

*Sticky Topped Gingerbread*
Makes one 8 inch square cake

I am a gingerbread connoisseur. I have tried many recipes through the years and this is the ultimate version that I have come up with. Dark, spicy and moist with a lovely and stickily decadent topping, this version wins on all counts!

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup firmly packed soft dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sour milk
(or buttermilk)
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup slightly salted butter, melted and cooled
For the Topping:
3 TBS butter
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 TBS double cream (heavy or whipping)

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Lightly grease and flour an 8 inch square baking dish, tipping out any excess flour. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa and ground ginger together in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl until foamy. Beat in the brown sugar, beating it until the mixture is smooth and lump free. Beat in the sour milk (or buttermilk), molasses and melted butter. Beat until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Fold in the flour mixture, mixing it in only until just blended in and no dry mixture remains. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Give the pan a gentle smack down on the counter a couple of times to release any air bubbles and then bang it into the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly touched and the edges have pulled away a bit from the sides. Transfer to a rack to cook for several minutes while you make the topping.

Pre-heat the grill or broiler of your oven.

Place all the topping ingredients in a small saucepan. Heart over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove from the heat.

Take a fork and poke a few holes here and there across the top of your gingerbread. Pour the hot topping mixture evenly over top of the warm gingerbread, allowing it to seep down the sides. Place under the grill and broil until the topping is bubbling, about 40 seconds or so. (watch carefully so it doesn't burn!) Remove from the broiler.

Serve warm with sweetened whipped cream if desired.

Happy Boxing Day everyone!!