Thursday 30 September 2010

Finishing what I start . . .

Stick to a task,
‘Til it sticks to you.
Beginners are many,
Finishers are few.

I’m afraid I am one of those undisciplined people who have a really hard time finishing the things I start. I am well intentioned . . . but something often happens to prevent me from finishing most tasks I start.

I’ve always been that way I’m afraid. I have lots of fingers in lots of pies but most of them are never followed through to fruition. I have boxes of unfinished crafting projects sitting in the spare room. Folders full of unfinished stories and books. A head full of ideas galore that never get past the idea stage. Probably about 5 or 6 books started, but rarely finished.

I don’t know why I am that way. It totally drives Todd up the wall, I know. He is a finisher. He never starts a new task without finishing the one he’s on right now! Me, I’m the type of person that sets off to tidy up a cupboard and then finds something I haven’t seen in a long time in the cupboard. Next thing I know, I am off doing something with whatever it is I have found, and the cupboard is left behind . . . forgotten, half finished . . .

I’m ashamed to say that, although I have read the whole Book of Mormon and the Bible, I’ve never actually read either one of them from front cover to back cover, all in chronological order. I hop around like a rabbit in a vegetable garden, feasting on this bit and on that bit . . . but never in tidy rows. I know it is important to feast on the Word of God, and I suppose I should be content that I do manage to do what I do. I do so love the Scriptures. I just wish I could discipline myself enough to sit down and do it properly . . . and orderly.

I have quite a few stacks of cookery magazines. (I bet you are surprised to read that, NOT! Haha) Several years back I went out and purchased some folders and paper etc. with the idea in mind that I was going to go through my magazines and clip out the recipes I wanted to save in each one and then discard the rest. HA! I got started, I truly did . . . But the magazines are mostly all still sitting there, except now there is a pile of folders and paper sitting there with them . . .

I’m not sure what the answer to my dilemma is. Perhaps more hours in the day? Maybe a few extra hands? I seem to get bored very easily, and that annoys me. I wish I had the ability to stick with something big, and see it through to the end. I guess that is something I will have to keep working on. If any of you has a solution or any hints to help solve this problem, let me know!

One thing I’m pretty good at though is finishing recipes. Hmmm . . . I guess I’m pretty good at eating them when they’re done as well!!!!

*Moroccan Baked Potato Skins*
Serves 4
Printable Recipe

These are supposed to be a snack, but I could make a meal out of them. I love the way a potato is like a blank canvas. You can put just about anything with them and come up with a tasty and delicious dish. These are a bit spicy, but in a very wonderful way! I’m not sure how authentically Moroccan they are, only that they are mighty tasty. Serve hot or warm with sour cream for dipping.

1 ½ pounds of baking potatoes
3 ½ ounces of olive oil
1 TBS harissa paste
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp turmeric
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C/425*F. Scrub your potatoes really thoroughly and then dry them really well. Cut the potatoes into thick wedges and then cut the skin off of the potatoes until it is about ¾ of an inch thick. (You can keep the rest of the potato for a few days, covered and refrigerated in a container of salted water to use for mashed potatoes another time)

Mix together the olive oil, harissa paste, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and garlic. Add the potato skins and toss them all together really well, making sure they are well coated with the spice mixture. Place in a single layer on a shallow baking tray, season to taste with some salt and pepper, and bake for about 35 minutes until golden and crisp.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the cheddar cheese. Return to the oven and bake for a few minutes longer until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve hot or warm with some sour cream for dipping if desired.

Cooking in The English Kitchen today, scrummy Ploughman's Scones, a deliciously tangy cheddar scone, filled with a sweet and spicy windfall chutney!

Wednesday 29 September 2010

To be content therewith . . .

If you haven't all the things that you want in this world, just be grateful for the things you don't have that you never wanted.

~An old Chinese Philosophy

Sometimes it is very tempting to look at others and see the new car, or the fancy clothes . . . the nice house, the latest gadgets . . . etc. and to feel a bit envious. We tend to forget that envy is a symptom of a lack of appreciation of our own self worth and uniqueness! Not only that . . . it is a sin.

"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house; thou shalt not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.” ~Exodus 20:17

Each of us has something to give to this life that nobody else has, talents that belong to only us, individual personalities and a unique way of doing and seeing things that is ours and ours alone. There are people in this world that have anything and everything that money can buy . . . but they don't have people to love who love them back, or they may not even have a true and honest friend. They may not have the blessing of good health, or the joy that comes from being able to see the simple and everyday gifts that life brings us.

I once knew a very wealthy woman who made the remark to me as I was getting ready to go on holiday . . . "I've never had a holiday!" At first I was aghast at her remark. Here was a woman who had everything anyone's heart could desire. She wore beautiful designer clothing, and expensive jewelry . . . she had servants to see to her every need, and enough money to buy her anything her heart desired. She often flew to exotic and beautiful locations for weeks at a time, places you and I could only dream of going. I couldn't understand how she could say she had never had a holiday . . . but then, when I had thought about it for a time, I realized that, if every day for you is a holiday with nothing to do but please yourself, then getting away to a place that is different or relaxing isn't really a holiday is it? It's just every day life.

Today, try to take pleasure in all that you do have and give thanks to the Lord above for His bounty and blessings. That is the secret to a full and happy life I should think . . . to be content therewith!

I did another one of my little paintings yesterday. You can find her in her entireity here.

Everyone always loves my chocolate chip cookies and I confess they are more than a bit addictive. Buttery and crisp and chock full of nuts, chocolate chips and raisins if you enjoy them! (We do!)

*Marie’s World Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies*
Makes 7 dozen
Printable Recipe

These delicious cookies are everything a chocolate chip cookie should be. Crisp and buttery and chock full of chocolate chips. Bet you can’t eat just one!

2/3 cup Trex or White flora
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup soft light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
3 cups plain flour (may need more
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 pound chocolate chips

Pre-heat the oven to 190*C/375*F. Lightly grease several cookie sheets and set aside.

Cream together the butter, shortening and sugars in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Sift together the flour, salt and soda. Stir into the creamed mixture to make a soft but not sticky dough. You can add a bit more flour if you need to. Stir in the chocolate chips. (You may substitute some of the chocolate chips with some sultanas and chopped nuts if you want)

Roll tablespoons of the dough into balls and set on the prepared cookie sheets, two inches apart. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let sit on the baking sheets for several minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with the rest of the dough. These are fabulous!

Note - you may add 1 cup of chopped toasted pecans or walnuts, and 1/2 cup of raisins if you wish. I do, because we like them that way.

Did you know that today was St Michaelmas Day? It is, and over in The English Kitchen I am cooking Michaelmas Dumplings. Delicious apple stuffed dumplings steamed on a bed of lovely blackberries!

Tuesday 28 September 2010

The Simple Woman's Day book

FOR TODAY, September 28th, 2010...

Outside My Window...

It is dark and cold . . . I am hoping it will be dry today, but over here in the UK, autumn usually means that it is a bit wetter. When we do have a dry sunny day though, there is no nicer place on the earth!!

I am thinking...

"It is possible to give without Loving, but it is impossible to Love without giving." ~ unknown

I've always been a giver. I just love giving people presents, and it doesn't have to be material things either. Often your time and a listening ear is all people want. I find that it brings me ever so much more joy though, if I give with a cheerful heart . . . Of course you can give without a cheerful heart, and your motivations can be more selfish than loving . . . but love just makes everything better, don't you think?

I am thankful for...
The Primary Presentation went well on Sunday. The older girls wouldn't give their talks, so their teachers did them for them, and the children didn't sing that loudly, but it was ok. I am glad that it is all over now for another year!

From the kitchen...
We had company for dinner last night and neither one of us felt like doing the dishes after they had gone, so there's a huge pile of dishes to be washed!! I don't mind really. I have always enjoyed washing the dishes. Besides this lot looks pretty tiny compared to all the dishes I used to have to wash after cooking and serving a dinner party at the manor when I worked there! If there was 25 people that meant 25 charger plates, dinner plates, bread and butter plates, dessert plates, and all the cutlery associated with each, plus 3 each water, white and red wine glasses, the coffee service and all the hors d'ouevres serving dishes and pre dinner drinks glasses . . . and lets not forget the cooking and serving dishes for the meal. It's no wonder we never got home until the wee hours of the morning! Whew! I got tired again just reading that!

I am wearing...
A pink nightie and a blue terry bathrobe. Keep me warm clothes. Comfy and homey.

I am creating...

I am still doing my cards and have a few new designs ready to put my paints to. I love the act of creation. It's very fulfilling. I was thinking the other day. I am 55 years now, so it is highly unlikely that at this age I will become successful, but if I at least have fun in the creating, then that is all that counts . . .

I am going...
There is the Relief Society General Broadcast in Rhyll this Thursday evening. Not sure if I am going or not. It's for sure that I can't drive there as I am not sure of the way, so I will probably just try to get it on the internet. General Conference this weekend as well, which we will watch online also. Petrol is so expensive that it just makes sense to watch them at home, as we would have to go to Rhyll or Wrexham to watch that also.

I am reading...

A Virtuous Woman, by Kaye Gibbons

When Blinking Jack Stokes met Ruby Pitt Woodrow, she was twenty and he was forty. She was the carefully raised daughter of Carolina gentry and he was a skinny tenant farmer who had never owned anything in his life. She was newly widowed after a disastrous marriage to a brutal drifter. He had never asked a woman to do more than help him hitch a mule. They didn't fall in love so much as they simply found each other and held on for dear life.

This is a book that I read a long time ago and that I am now re-reading. I have read a few of Kaye Gibbon's books, my absolute favourite one being Ellen Foster. This book, A Virtuous Woman is at once sad, and inspiring. I highly recommend.

I am hoping...
Tomorrow we will be able to begin taking Mitzie for walks. Finger's Crossed. She is doing a lot better at it in the garden, so we are hoping that once she realizes that walking means a whole new world is opening up to her, she will take to it and be even better still!!

I am hearing...
Clock ticking, keys tapping . . . Mitzie snuffling next to me here on the sofa. I've got the soundtrack to Little Women playing on the stereo. It's all very peaceful and serene.

Around the house...
Ironing, ironing, ironing! It's never-ending! But I don't mind. It is the kind of mindless chore that allows you to do a lot of thinking and daydreaming while you are doing it!

One of my favorite things...
is having people over for a meal and cooking for others. I think I must equate feeding people with loving them!

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week...
Not a lot really . . . tis a pretty quiet week! Sometimes that is a very good thing!

Here is picture thought I am sharing...

This is a picture that I took of Mitzie this past Saturday. She is growing like a weed and is looking more and more like a Cocker Spaniel. When I look at this picture of her, I fall in love with her all over again! That sweet cuddly face, that beautiful fur, that incongrously white tail that goes with nothing else, those two white freckles on her back paws, and that lovely little white kissing spot on the top of her head . . . she brings us so much joy and love. Can you tell I am totally smitten???

And just as a closing thought for today . . .

Laughter is the sun that drives the winter from the human face.
~Victor Hugo

There is so much warmth and love in a true smile. I have always thought that a smiling face is a face filled with love and is so very beautiful . . .

And there you have it . . . my day book for this week. Don't forget to hop on over to the Simple Woman to check out the other day book entries! (Or better yet, do a simple day book entry yourself! It's not that hard and I am betting you would enjoy it!)

Here's my version of that spicy chicken sandwich that you can find at a lot of the fast food places! Easy to do and so very tasty!

*Marie’s Spicy Chicken Filet*
Serves 4
Printable Recipe

If you like a bit of spice, then this is for you! Tasty and very easy to make. You’ll never settle for the fast food version again. You can make this healthier by broiling the chicken filets if you wish, rather than frying.

1/3 cup of hot pepper sauce
2/3 cup water
1 cup plain flour
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne pepper (you can use more if you are so inclined!)
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp paprika
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast filets
4 burger buns, or 8 slices of nice bread (I used an oat and barley loaf here)
8 tsp of good quality mayonnaise
4 lettuce leaves
4 thick slices of tomato
Oil for cooking

Combine the pepper sauce and water in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the flour, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, onion powder, paprika and garlic powder in a shallow bowl and mix well. Set aside.

Put the chicken filets into a plastic baggie, one at a time, and give them a good bash, without tearing them, until they are about 3/8 of an inch thick.

Working with one piece of chicken at a time, coat them in the flour mixture, then dip them into the pepper sauce mixture and then again in the flour mixture again, making sure they are well coated. Set aside on a plate and repeat until you have all four pieces coated.

Heat about ¼ inch of cooking oil in a large skillet. Once it is hot fry the chicken fillets for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side over medium high heat until they are light brown and crispy. You may need to do this in batches, so keep the ones you have done warm in the oven while you do the rest.

Toast the faces of the hamburger buns under the grill or if you are using bread, in the toaster. Spread about 2 tsp of mayonnaise on one slice of each of the four buns/slices of bread. Place a tomato slice on the mayonnaise and then stack a lettuce leaf on top. Place the cooked, warm chicken filet on top and then place the top half of the bun/bread over top. Serve hot.

In The English Kitchen today, very naughty Malteaser Brownies.

Monday 27 September 2010

One is nearer to God's heart in a garden . . .

I want to show you someplace new this morning. It is called the Cathedral of the Trees, and lays on a highland Estate in Glencruitten, Scotland. Although I have never been there myself, it is a place that I have always wanted to go.

Moved in his heart by the quotation . . . "One is nearer to God's heart in a garden . . . only God can make a tree.", it was the dream of a man named Alexander Mackay back in the early 1920's.

He chose a spot on the side of a hill on his Highland Estate at Glencruitten, Scotland. Realizing that this might be his last great spiritual act in this incarnation, he decided to spend all of his life's savings and give to future posterity something that would symbolize the spirituality of the soul in meditation, the principles of universal brotherhood and love, and the symbolism of the Cross. He therefore sent to various parts of the Continent and also to America for rare trees and shrubs, and engaged artists, artisans and landscape experts to assist him.

The outline of the cathedral is marked by a double wall of chestnut and lime trees. The entrance is formed by two evergreens, trimmed in the shape of an archway. The pillars are of yew, the altar is clothed in cotoneaster, and above it stands a golden yew, clipped to form a cross. In the place of paving,the floor is carpeted with different types of heath in a mosaic design, with pink, yellow, white and purple blooms . . . and instead of stained glass windows there are trees with foliage of purple, crimson, copper and every shade of green.

Mr Mackay began to plant the cathedral in 1892, knowing full well that he would never see it completed, for he was already an elderly man and it would take around fifty years for the trees to grow to maturity and reveal the cathedral of his dreams in all it's splendour. Today the trees will have attained a height of fifty feet or more, causing this cathedral on the hillside to stand out above everything else in its vicinity.

Oh . . . how I long to see it and be able to meditate amongst the trees . . .

I found a description of sorts written by someone who had been there online that I would love to share with you in part:

"On a spring morning, while the dew remained, the snares of spiders hung with extreme craftiness between the borders, and on every strand of the spiderwebs were beads of dew. Through the trees representing the East Window of this Cathedral, the sun came up through the mists into the clear blue. Soon its magnetic power had gained mastery and had drunk away the dew. Then seemed to be the appointed time for the emergence of many dragon-flies and butterflies. As the air became more heated, the brimstone butterfly--newborn and speckless--fluttered over the hedge and the daffodil-colored wings conjured a vision of spring. It was not long before the butterflies--blues, small heaths and small coppers--brought a charming animation to this enchanted place. The finest of the dragon-flies is not more splendid than the butterfly fresh from the chrysalis. This Cathedral of trees has provided a sanctuary and the comfort of a home for birds and myriads of creatures."

Oh, it does sound a beautiful place . . . and to think . . . it started as only as a man's dream . . .

Sorry if I caused some of you to worry yesterday through my absence. I could not get online in the morning and by the time Todd got up and got it all sorted it was time for me to get ready for church! We had our Primary Presentation yesterday, which went very well. They usually do. The children always put forth their best efforts and all the high jinx that are present in the rehearsals seem to disappear on the day!

I baked them some lovely cupcakes for afters to help them celebrate all their hard work! They went down a real treat. They are very easy to make, using a cake mix, and very impressive when done. Of course you can use your own cupcake recipe to make these instead of a mix, following your own instructions and then proceeding as per this recipe to bake them. The kids just loved them! They would make great Birthday Party favours as well!

*Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes*
makes 24
Printable Recipe

This is really a no brainer, but really cute when done. Kids love them.

1 boxed cake mix, plus ingredients listed on the box to make up
24 flat bottomed ice cream cones
vanilla buttercream frosting
sprinkles to decorate

(ready to go in the oven)

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4. Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with paper liner. Prepare the cake mix according to the package directions. (I made a white cake and then stirred in 1 heaped TBS of nonpareil decorations to give some rainbow colours) Fill each paper cup 1/3 full. Place an ice cream cone upside down on top of the batter in each cup.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. (The cones may tilt a bit on the batter when baking, but that's ok.) Remove from the oven when done and cool completely.

Remove the paper baking cups very carefully. Generously frost the cake tops on the cones with the buttercream and decorate as desired.

Over in The English Kitchen today, delicious Pork Cutlets with a Port and Cherry Pan Sauce!

Saturday 25 September 2010

A gate that opens in the shadows . . .

A gate that opens in the shadows
Often proves for you . . .
To be a place of blessedness
Where life begins anew.

The very thing that causes trouble,
Heartache and distress . . .
Often brings much benefit
And ends in happiness!
~Patience Strong

I was visited by a friend one day, who'd had a particularly hard day . . . a day when it seemed that everything had gone wrong . . .

She'd quarrelled with her husband, forgotten her umbrella on her way into town and gotten soaked, missed the right bus back and had to wait an extra 15 minutes . . . you get the idea I'm sure. Her day had been a series of mishaps . . . one after the another.

I was baking a cake at the time, and as I puttered, I carefully listened to her tale of woes . . .

The thought occurred to me as I looked at all the ingredients for the cake set out before me. A bowl of beaten raw eggs would not appeal or be very tasty. Neither would softened butter on it's own or a spoonful of flour. I wouldn't sit and eat a teaspoon of baking powder either, nor can I imagine sitting down and eating grated lemon zest . . .

Put together though, in a magical combination, and baked in the oven . . . you end up with a very delicious cake, that most of us would quite happily want to eat!

It is like that with our days and lives . . .

A lot of our experiences don't seem that good on their own . . . but put together in a seemingly magical sequence, we often find that they turn out all right in the end.

That's the way God works . . . we often don't know why He allows certain things to happen to us, but . . . if we allow Him to, He can bring them together and turn them into something special. We only need to have faith and trust in Him to do what He has promised.

Our good friend Angie, Can You All Hear Me at the Back, is in hospital again with another chest infection. Prayers would be much appreciated! I'll relay your messages to her via my cell phone if you like. She is able to sneak in a text now and then, when the matron is not looking!

In our bid to try to train Mitzie how to walk on a lead, we purchased a harness for her . . . with comical results. I did do a film, which I will try to upload a bit later on to show you! Oh she is a stubborn gal!! She's losing her baby teeth. I noticed a gap in her mouth yesterday as she was nibbling on my elbow! Only love bites . . . of course!

Here's a very tasty variation on the coleslaw theme that I developed in my bid to eat lighter and get away from all that gloopy mayonnaise. Have you noticed that they just saturate store bought coleslaw in it? I have and it's nasty! Yet, they sell bucketloads of the stuff every day. Give this a try . . . I'm sure you will love it! Well, as long as you like pineapple that is!

*Pineapple Slaw*
Serves 6 to 8
Printable Recipe

In a bid to get lighter and away from all that mayo in regular coleslaw I developed this tasty salad. Crisp veggies in a delicious pineapple vinaigrette. If anything, this gets better upon standing.

4 or 5 cups of thinly sliced and chopped green cabbage
(about 1/2 head)
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsley shredded
3 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 cup of pineapple tidbits (drain and save the juice)
1/2 cup of chopped dates

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup pineapple juice
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
1 TBS finely minced shallot
3 TBS sunflower oil
sea salt to taste
black pepper to taste

Combine the cabbage, carrots, spring onions, pineapple and dates in a large bowl. Toss together well.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing and then pour it over the slow, tossing to combine. Let sit for an hour or so before eating. If you would like to add some delicious heat you can also stir a couple of teaspoons of sweet asian chili sauce into the vinaigrette. Enjoy!!

Cooking in The English Kitchen today, a delicious Parnip, Apple and Thyme Soup!

Friday 24 September 2010

Friday thoughts . . .

About 20 years ago now, something happened that would change the way I looked at life and people forever. I learned a lesson that would have a profound effect on the way I lived the rest of my life.

My ex father in law passed away . . . and the fragility of life and relationships came crashing home to me. He had not been a particularly kind man to his wife, or his children, although I do have to say he was never unkind to me. He had spent most of his adult life in a drunken alcoholic haze, which was very sad. Upon his death, the family behaved in a most peculiar way and not one of them shed a tear . . . no-one outside of the immediate family was allowed to go to the funeral . . . not even us, the daughter and son's in law for whom he had been a part of our lives for a very long time. The immediate family held their grief silent and close to their hearts, not even willing to share their feelings with the ones they supposedly loved.

I did cry though, and I grieved . . . I grieved for a life having been wasted and now gone, for missed opportunities forever gone and never to be re-captured, for words never spoken and tears never shed . . .

I learned that life is fragile, and all too soon over, and that . . . for bad or for good, we had better grab hold of it while we can . . . and say all the words that need to be said . . . and cry all the tears that need to be cried, before it is too late and the opportunity is forever gone . . .

I learned that we are given the parents and families we are given, for whatever reason, and that we need to embrace both the good and the bad, and accept it for what it is. That families are precious, no matter what else they may be . . .

I learned to love my parents, unconditionally, for who they were, warts and all, and to let go of all the ghosts of the past.

I learned that all any one person is doing at any given time, is the very best that they know how to do according to the sum of their experiences and knowledge. When they know better . . . they do better. No-one can ask for any more than that.

I learned to be grateful for a childhood in which I was never hungry, cold or without a roof over my head, and . . . most importantly, I learned that my parents loved me in the only way they knew how. It might not have been manifested in the same way that I perceived other parents as loving their children, but it was love all the same, and it was mine. We should always be grateful for love, no matter how it is shown.

I became, I believe . . . a better person, a better mother, a better wife, and a better daughter. Life is too short to hang on to the negative. Find the positive in all things and you will be much happier for it . . . life will not be wasted . . . and your love will not be in vain . . .

I did another painting yesterday. This is one for the Christmas Cards. Hop on over to The Artful Heart to see it in all it's glory, and while you are there, don't forget to sign up as a follower to get in on the Giveaway for some lovely cards!

This is one of my favourite ways to cook chicken breasts. Chicken breasts can be very dry and tasteless . . . They can use a little bit of help to put some flavour in there. Here’s my secret way of doing that!

*Flash Fried Chicken with Lemon, Capers and Parsley*
Serves 4
Printable Recipe

Simple meats are so much tastier when you prepare them simply with simple ingredients and not much fuss. These chicken breasts are cut thinly and then flash fried, preserving much of the moisture. The flavours of lemon, parsley and capers really go well with chicken. It also helps to make a little bit of chicken go further.

3 chicken breasts
3 TBS plain flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 fat garlic clove, peeled and mashed a bit, but still in one piece
The juice of a lemon
1 TBS of capers in vinegar, drained well and chopped
3 TBS coarsely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Slice each chicken breast into three or four thin escallops, through the middle horizontally with a very sharp knife, being very careful not to slice through your hand. I like to hold the palm of my hand on top of the chicken, pressing it down gently and slice through it that way. It also helps if the chicken is really cold.

Place the plain flour on a plate and dip each escallop into it on both sides, patting them lightly to help the flour adhere.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat along with the garlic. Once it becomes very fragrant add the chicken pieces, trying not to crowd the pan. (It is better to do a few at a time. If you have too many in the pan the chicken will steam instead of fry.) Fry the meat on both sides quickly, until golden, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go.

Remove from the pan as each is done and continue to fry until all the meat is lightly browned and seasoned. Return all the chicken to the pan and squeeze the juice of the lemon over top of it all. It will bubble up and begin to glaze the chicken. Toss in the chopped capers and parsley. You can add a tablespoon or two of hot water if needed and give it a swirl to make a sauce. Remove the chicken from the heat immediately and let sit for a few minutes, covered, for the flavours to develop, then serve hot with some boiled potatoes or rice. Delicious!

Baking in The English Kitchen today, some delicious Raspberry Buns! Oh so scrummy!

Thursday 23 September 2010

Autumn memories . . .

The Seed-Shop

Here in a quiet dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry . . .
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.
In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That will drink deeply of a century’s streams;
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.
Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;
Here I can blow a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.
~Muriel Stuart

When I was a child at school, long about this time of year . . . we would be given an autumn project by our teachers. It would be the same project every year, it seemed . . . To gather as many different leaves and seeds from the plants and trees around us that we could find, and put them in an album along with all the facts we could find out about the various plants and trees as well.

After school we’d take to the woods around our small town in a flurry of activity, each of us armed with plastic bags to collect all our findings in . . . scarlet maple leaves, golden oak leaves and a multitude of other leaves cloaked in the gold and amber colours of autumn . . . the seeds being slightly harder to come by. There were acorns of course . . . the seeds of grand oaks, treasured by squirrels and humans alike, and so too, I had heard the fairies loved them as well. I loved the little propeller like seeds of the maple. They were fun to play with . . . twirling about in a ballerina like dance as you threw them up into the air and watched them flutter and twist about as they fell back down to the ground. Then, of course . . . there are the huge seed pods of the horse chestnut trees, or conkers as they are called over here. I had never heard of playing conkers as a child, but children over here in England have been playing this game for years.

"On finding your first conker of the season, you should say:" Oddly oddly onker my first conker"." This ensures good fortune and few tangles throughout the coming season.

The best conkers to play with are un-cracked, firm and symmetrical. Make a hole through the middle of your chosen conker. Thread a strong piece of string about 25cm long, through the hole and tie a knot at one end, so that it doesn't pull through. Each player has a conker hanging on its string. Players take turns at hitting their opponent's conker. If you are the one whose conker is to be hit first, let it hang down from the string which is wrapped round your hand. The conker is held at the height your opponent chooses and is held perfectly still. Your opponent, the striker, wraps his conker string round his hand just like yours. He then takes his conker in the other hand and draws it back for the strike. Releasing the conker he swings it down by the string held in the other hand and tries to hit his opponents conker with it. The game goes on in turns, until one or other of the two conkers is completely destroyed!

It sounds like great fun! It’s been banned in most schoolyards now though, because of health and safety issues, sadly. (you might poke your eye out or the eye of your partner!) The little fella next door to us down in our cottage in Kent was out with his little tractor and wagon on the lane outside our two houses for hours each day this time of year gathering conkers to play with his older brother. He always reckoned he had some winners there! He's getting older now . . . I wonder if he still does this . . .

Anyways, I digress . . . now back to the topic at hand! We’d gather all our leaves and seeds and take them home, and then would begin the long process of readying them to put into our scrapbooks, which our mother’s would dutifully have purchased at the local five and dime for us. All the leaves would be carefully ironed between pages of wax paper for preservation (again by our mother’s of course, for fear of us burning our fingers). The seeds would be put into small envelopes we would fashion out of the same wax paper and each item would be carefully pasted and taped onto the pages of the album, leaving space underneath for our written observations and facts about each one. All the facts would be painstakingly and neatly printed out, with no mistakes please and then once finished the whole project would be handed in to our teacher for marking. We would have learned so much and it didn’t seem to matter that we would repeat this same project year after year. It was always fun and interesting, at least to me anyways, this annual schoolroom rite of autum.

I’ve always found seeds fascinating. It seems a miracle to me that something as beautiful as a tree or flower should . . . with a little care, sunshine and water . . . come out of something so simple, dry and plain looking . . . Such is the beauty of nature. The single head of a dandelion gone to seed can, with a single breath blown, fill a whole garden with dancing golden dandelion heads. How wonderful is that and how magical!!!

Nature is so perfect in it’s yearly dance and planning . . . each event happening with regular clockwork to ensure that we are blessed in the following year with more of it’s fruits and beauties to behold. How ever can anyone ever think it all happens by accident . . . The mind boggles!!!

A picnic can be just as fun on a warm and sunny autumn day as it can be on any day in the summer. I love to capture as much of the wonder of autumn as I can before the cold blast of winter sets in. This is a lovely and quick salad to make up and tote along with you on your autumn walks and jaunts.

*Mediterranean Couscous Salad*
Serves 2
Printable Recipe

This goes together really quickly and uses ingredients I most often have at hand. A container of this and a few bread sticks or a crusty roll, and you have a lovely picnic to take with you as you wander about the fells. Easily multiplied to feed more.

4 ounces couscous
7 fl ounces of hot vegetable stock
5 sun dried tomatoes, quartered
1 medium avocado, peeled, stoned and cut into chunks
2 ounces stoned black olives
A handful of roasted nuts (such as pine nuts, cashews, or almonds)
4 ounces of feta cheese, roughly crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 ½ TBS of good olive oil
1 TBS lemon juice
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Put the couscous into a large bowl and stir in the hot stock. Cover with cling film and let sit for about five minutes or so to soften.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and then stir it into the couscous. Add the tomatoes, avocado, olives, nuts and cheese and stir gently to combine. Taste for seasoning and add some salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed. Divide into two portions and serve.

And in The English Kitchen today, Macaroni Shepherd's Pie!

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