Wednesday 29 June 2011

Wednesday This and That . . .

We were picking the strawberries from our garden yesterday and I was reminded of picking wild strawberries when I was a girl. They used to grow along the railway tracks which ran along the back of the little two bedroom house we lived in for a time in Gimli, Manitoba.

They always appeared in the hot weather . . . when the air was filled with the humming of summer insects and the smell of the hot tar from the railway ties.

Small and not much bigger than a baby fingernail, they were so sweet and delicious. My mother would give us little bowls to collect them in. It seemed to take quite a while and really we wouldn't have many when we were each done. Only a few . . . but enough to eat at once . . . covered with a sprinkle of sugar and a drizzle of cream.

I don't think anything on earth before or since has tasted so heavenly as those warm and tiny wild berries. Truth be told, we don't have many in our garden either. When we do manage to rescue some from the birds, we end up with a handful . . . just enough for Todd and I to enjoy together in a small bowl, sprinkled with sugar and drizzled with a bit of cream . . .

We think at the end of the summer, we are going to dig up the rhubarb and put it in another spot and add some more crowns to it and then next summer we will expand the strawberry bed and cover it with nets so that we can get a few more berries than we do now. I would love to be able to put in some raspberries as well. There is nothing like food you have grown yourself. It always tastes so much better. We picked a bunch of peas yesterday as well, which I am really going to enjoy today with our supper!

I had a positive day at the centre yesterday and they are recommending that I receive a walk in shower. Now a person has to come to our house and do an assessment here, which should happen in about 4 weeks time. There is then an 18 month waiting list for showers, but at least I know that it is looking good for us to have one put in. Getting through this first assessment was half the battle! I am going for the cortizone shot in my left knee this afternoon. Perhaps then for a few days I will be a bit like my old self. One can but hope! I am not as afraid of this one as I was the one last week, as now I know what to expect, but I am still not looking forward to it!

We are making the most of the lovely weather we are having this week. One thing that I have learned living over here is to grab the good weather and summer when you get it as you never know how long it will be with us! I know they have been having some stinking hot days down in the South East, which can be very hard to take, but up here in Chester . . . we are having quite liveably warm and comfortable days, which is very nice. I can live with that!

I found this sweet poem yesterday and wanted to share it with you:

Count your garden by the flowers,
Never by the leaves that fall.
Count your joys by golden hours,
Never when life's worries call.

Count your days by smiles, not tears,
And when birthdays come around,
Count your age by friends, not years,
And the gifts of love you've found.

I think when all is said and done . . . it is the small and simple things in life that bring us the most joy . . . things like wild strawberries, and warm days when we find them . . . tiny blessings from each day we are given . . . the feel of the warm sun on our faces . . . the touch of a friend's hand . . . a kind word spoken . . . birdsong . . . My days are filled with a mulitude of such simple blessings. I am so grateful for a heart that is able to seek and take these things in.

Here's a tasty casserole that is simple to make and that doesn't take a huge effort or a lot of time. It's also quite delicious! Even Todd doesn't mind the fact that it contains noodles. Perhaps I am slowly converting him into a noodle lover? Ummm . . . no. I don't think so . . . but I do think he's more or less reconciled himself to the fact that once in a while he just has to humour my pasta loving soul!!

*Beef Noodle Casserole*
Serves 8
Printable Recipe

A delicious Beef and Noodle casserole that is baked in 8 layers. You can use low fat ingredients and cut down on calories and fat. Because of the sour cream and cream cheese it doesn't freeze well, so I normally cut the recipe in half for us. It's also a great pot luck dish. Easy and quick to put together.

6 ounces dried egg noodles (3 cups)
1 pound ground beef
2 cups of tomato sauce
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream
1 (8 ounce) package of cream cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 (10 ounce) package of chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed until dry
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

Grease a 2-quart round or square glass baking dish; set aside. Cook the noodles according to the package directions, drain and set aside. Cook the beef in a large skillet over medium high heat until brown. Drain off any accumulated fat. Stir in the tomato sauce, basil, sugar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Beat together the sour cream and cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed in a bowl, until smooth. Stir in the milk and onion. Layer half of the noodles (about 2 cups) in the prepared baking dish, half of the meat mixture (about 1 1/2 cups), half of the cream cheese mixture (about 1 cup), and all of the spinach. Top with the remaining meat mixture and noodles. Cover and chill remaining cream cheese mixture until needed.

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 5. Cover the casserole with a sheet of buttered foil. Bake in the heated oven for about 45 minutes or until heated through. Uncover and spread with the remaining cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese. Bake, uncovered, about 10 minutes more or until cheese is melted. Let stand for for 10 minutes before serving.

Note: Because there are only two of us I normally halve the recipe.

There's a delicious salad cooking in The English Kitchen today, an Avocado and Baby Gem Salad with a Warm Pancetta and Mustard Dressing!

PSSTT!!! My dishwasher arrives today!! Can you spell E-X-C-I-T-E-D?????

Tuesday 28 June 2011

The Simple Woman's Day book . . .

FOR TODAY, June 28th, 2011...

Outside My Window...

It is beautiful and sunny, although a bit cool. It remains to be seen what the day will be like. We can but hope it will be fine!!

I am thinking...
I was thinking about how you can give someone life and do everything within your power for them, and be the best that you can be for them, within your experience and environment . . . and then, even though half the blood that courses through their veins comes from you . . . and you love every inch of them with the passion that only a mother has . . . they can still turn their backs on you and hate you with an equal passion. This is something I have a difficult time understanding and am having a very hard time coming to terms with. I pray for peace about this every day . . . but it ain't coming . . .

I am thankful for...
everything else in my life, and there is an awful lot of it that is very good. I know things could be so much worse, and I am very grateful that they aren't. If you have your health, someone to love you, a roof over your head, food in your belly and faith . . . you have everything a person could possibly need.

From the kitchen...
I have cookies. Homemade gumdrop cookies. But that's all. I need to cook something!

I am wearing...
Pink and yellow jim jams.

I am creating...

This is a slide show of all my Christmas Cards for this year. (SO far.) I think I am done, but you never know . . . there could be another one or two floating around in my head! Never say never. I found a card shop in Chester that takes handmade cards and sells them. I am going to do some samples up and take then in. If they will take some of them, it will be a start. I look at all the stuff that is out there and I know that what I create is as good as a lot of it. I just need to have a lucky break. I have come to realize that talent doesn't really matter all that much. You have to be in the right place at the right time, and be noticed by the right person.

I am going...
I have an appointment this afternoon at an Assessment Centre in Ellesmere Port to see if I can have a shower put in our house. We have a bath, and it is very difficult for me to get in and out of the bath. I am afraid that one of these days I will get into it, and never be able to get out. So they are going to assess my abilities and see what we might need around the house to help me out. If they are anything at all like the disability people I will get nowhere. Tommorrow I am having a shot in my other knee. Then on Thursday we are having the missionaries over for their tea. I also have a lesson to prepare for Relief Society on Sunday. My first one and I hope I do the subject justice!

I am reading...

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted, by Elizabeth Berg

Every now and then, right in the middle of an ordinary day, a woman kicks up her heels and commits a small act of liberation. What would you do if you could shed the “shoulds” and do, say—and eat—whatever you really desired? Go AWOL from Weight Watchers and spend an entire day eating every single thing you want? Start a dating service for people over fifty to reclaim the razzle-dazzle in your life—or your marriage? Seek comfort in the face of aging, look for love in the midst of loss, find friendship in the most surprising of places? In these beautiful, funny stories, Elizabeth Berg takes us into the heart of the lives of women who do all these things and more—confronting their true feelings, desires, and joys along the way.

As you know, I love Elizabeth Berg's books and am enjoying this newest one. It is nice to read some short stories for a change. I have been laughing a lot as I read them. I can really related to a lot of them!

I am hoping...
I leave for Ipswich on Sunday, along with Julie. I am hoping that we have a great time down there and that the weather is good for our trip! They have put us into a hotel for the Sunday night at their expense and even paid for us to have a cooked breakfast!

I am hearing...
Early morning sounds . . . the clock on the mantle humming as the wheels inside it turn. The odd car as it goes by. Mitzie snuffling here curled up behind me on the sofa. The tap tapping of the computer keys as I write. Birds singing in the garden. All is right with the world.

Around the house...
I still have the craft room to finish sorting out, but I have been too busy working in it on other things! One of these days I will get my act together and get it done!!

One of my favourite things...
I like chocolate. Good chocolate. Green & Black's Milk Chocolate or Hotel Chocolate. If you were to give me either a bar of Green & Blacks or a box from Hotel Chocolate I would be one very happy camper! Mind you . . . my waistline would not be grateful, but what the heck! You only live once!

Here is picture thought I am sharing...

I don't know where this is . . . but it makes me smile! It makes me think of Rapunzel and Snow White . . . and Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and every other Fairytale Princess of my childhood. And then the thought comes to me . . . you don't need a big building like that with turrets and drawbridges to be living in a castle . . . even a mud hut can be a castle if you love it enough . . . and there is peace to be found within it's walls!

And just as a closing thought for today . . .

The test of thankfulness is not what you have to be thankful for, but whether anyone else has reason to be thankful that you are here.
~author unknown

My prayer every day is for me to be God's hands here on earth in some way. Let my life not be in vain . . .

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!

I just love Pizza! It is the one thing that I could eat every single day of my life and never get tired of it. You have everything there . . . bread, sauce, cheese, toppings! I could eat it for breakfast, or lunch or dinner. I can eat it hot or cold. I just love it no matter which way you cut it! This is a delicious vegetable topped one here this morning. Oh so yummy!!

*Rustic Veggie Pizza*
Serves 8
Printable Recipe

Flavourful and filling and very easily adapted to use your own favourite veggie toppings. Mushrooms are a tasty addition.

3 TBS Italian Vinaigrette Dressing, divided
1 onion, peeled and cut into thin wedges
1 small yellow pepper, cut into strips
1 small zucchini, cut into half moons
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, cut lengthwise in half
1 can (11 oz.) refrigerated thin pizza crust
1 cup grated Mozzarella Cheese
1 pkg. (4 oz.) Crumbled Feta Cheese
1 cup rocket leaves (arugula)

Preheat the oven to 220*C/425*F/ gas mark 7. Have ready a large baking sheet. Butter it or spray it with nonstick cooking spray.

Heat one TBS of the dressing in a large skillet. Add the onions. Cook and stir on medium-high heat until crispy-tender. Add the peppers and zucchini. continue to cook and stir until onions are golden brown and peppers are crispy-tender. Remove from heat and stir in the tomatoes and olives.

Unroll the pizza crust onto the prepared baking sheet and pat it into a 14 by 10-1/2-inch rectangle. Fold over edges of dough to form a 1/2-inch-wide rim. Bake for five minutes and then brush it with the remaining TBS of dressing. Top with the vegetable mixture and cheeses.

Bake for a further 12 to 14 minutes, or until edges of crust are golden brown. Top with the rocket leaves and serve. Delicious!

Baking in The English Kitchen today, some delicious Gumdrop Biscuits (aka Cookies)!!

Monday 27 June 2011

A trip back in time . . .

I thought it would be fun today to be a bit nostalgic and look back at the 1960's. I turned 10 in 1965 and so I was of an age that the 1960's meant a lot to me. All of my early teen years were spent in the 60's. It was a time of teen parties in the garage, dancing to the latest 45 rpm records. It was also a time of great transition in the Western World. There were sit in's and freedom marches. It was "Make Love not War," time, and "Flower Power." Hippies and Haight Ashbury and Woodstock, all of which I was far too young to embrace but that didn't stop me from dreaming. We thought we could do anything and be anything we wanted to do or be. It was a time of great promise and dreams . . . anything was possible! Or so we thought!

Music really evolved from the rock and roll of the 50's to what became known as the British Invasion of pop music and culture! I can remember exactly how old I was and where I was when I first got a glimpse of The Beatles and they were only the tip of the iceberg. I can remember watching them on Ed Sullivan with their first North American appearance and falling in love . . . but I also loved Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and Lulu. I wanted to be and look like them. I wanted to marry a Beatle!

We used to stay in on Saturday Afternoons so that we could watch American Bandstand and catch up on all the latest dance steps and number one hits. I think I knew most of the kids that danced on the show by first names, and my friends and I would practice all the steps in fron t of the television. American Bandstand was an absolute must on Saturday afternoons!

I wanted a pair of GoGo Boots with a passion! I wore bright orange and lime green fishnet tights and I had wild coloured mini dresses. I thought I was soooo cool. With a pair of GoGo Boots, you could dance better doncha know!

We all aspired to be Twiggy. Tall, skinny, waif-like . . . all eyes and arms and legs. This was impossible for me . . . I was short and chubby and my hair was curly . . . it was never going to be straight. I was never going to be Twiggy, but that didn't stop me from trying!!

I devoured every teen magazine my meagre allowance would purchase, so that I could keep my finger on the pulse of the latest fashion, makeup and teen idols. I can remember saving my money for weeks and weeks so that I could buy a set of Mary Quant eye shadows and eye liner. Bright blues and Pinks . . . so I, too, could have the "London" look! White lipstick. Drawn on eye lashes . . . Oh lala!!

Our Boots Were Made for Walking and that's just what we did! I can remember walking for miles and miles with my friends so that we could walk past the boys that we had crushes on, so that maybe they would notice us . . . all giggles and hair and hokey makeup. I can remember crying all the way through Romeo and Juliet at the local movie house because my heart throb was there with another girl . . . and I wanted it to be me. His name was Dougie McDonald and he looked just like Dr. "Bones" McCoy from the Star Trek show . . . or at least I thought he did, and my little heart was broken . . . the cad!!

Everyone wanted a mini . . . painted with a British Flag . . . but one of these covered in pretty flowers would have done me quite nicely!! It didn't matter that we were still riding bicycles . . . a girl could dream couldn't she?

Emma Peel from the Avengers was another role Model for us. She was strong and smart and athletic. She was just wow. I loved her leather cat suits and the way she always got her man . . .

And yet at the same time I wanted to be Mary Richards . . . she, too, was smart and pretty, plus she had really great clothes, a fab job, cool friends and that fantastic apartment!

I dreamed about having an apartment just like that one day! She sure packed a lot of living into that one room! I loved all the furniture, and the fact that her sofa pulled out into a bed, and that cute little kitchen with the pull up window pass through thingie . . . and I adored her "M", which is probably why I have an "M" on my kitchen wall today. I love my "M."

Although I was not that old throughout the sixties, it was a decade that helped to shape me and my opinions, and I love revisiting it in my mind. I've really enjoyed revisiting some of it here this morning too! That's probably why I love the British series, "Heartbeat." When we were up in Cumbria a few years back, we took a trip over to Barnard Castle in an old 1960's bus and I felt just like I was in an episode of "Heartbeat, " as we drove across the moors. If you have never watched it, you should. I think it lives on in reruns now, but it is really an excellent show in my opinion!

I would just love to hear of some of your 60's loves here this morning. That would be so much fun. What did the 60's mean to you? Please share some of your memories with me in the comments section!

They didn't have these wonderful cookies in the 60's I am sure! At least not in my house! My mom very seldom did any baking at all, except before the holidays. We got store bought cookies, and they were counted!

*Raspberry Filled Lemon Cookies*
Makes 1 1/2 dozen double cookies
Printable Recipe

A bit fussy to make, but so beautiful and delicious when done. These would be perfect for a special garden party!

1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup corn flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup icing sugar, plus more for dusting
2 TBS granulated sugar
the finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup of seedless raspberry jam

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside. Whisk together the ground almonds, flour, corn flour and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Put the butter, sugars, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low. Add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing well after each addition. Cover the dough with plastic cling film and then refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4.

Place the cold dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll out to 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough on parchment to a baking sheet; freeze 10 minutes.

Using a fluted 1 1/2-inch round cutter, cut out the dough. Transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheets. Reroll scraps, and cut out (you should have 40 rounds). Bake for 10 to 11 minutes, until pale golden, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Let cool slightly on the sheets before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Place the jam in a small bowl, and stir in the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice. Spread 1 teaspoon jam mixture on flat side of half of the cookies, and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Dust with sifted icing sugar sugar. Unfilled cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Filled ones are best eaten the day you assemble them.

Over in The English Kitchen today, delicious Sunday Sarnies!

Sunday 26 June 2011

Sunday Morning thoughts . . .

I love to wake up in the wee hours of the morning and experience the first rays of light conquering the darkness of the night. It fills my heart with an unexplicable feeling. I watch the ebony melt away from the sky and being replaced with the golden glow of the day ahead, and my senses awaken . . . Those first few moments of the day . . . the sun seems to ignite my day with a beautiful horizon of hope, a new dawn . . . a new beginning.

Truth is . . . yesterday cannot be changed or altered in any way, not the good of it, nor the bad of it, nor anything in betwixt the two. Tomorrow remains a mystery, which I can no more predict than I can the winning lottery numbers of the next lotto draw. Today can't be controlled any more than I can adjust the sun's path . . .

This might make some feel helpless . . . not me. I find, instead, a deep comfort in the knowledge that the one who placed the sun on it's course across the skies . . . has also lit a distinct path for us to follow. A path filled with purpose and the potential for great prosperity.

While travelling through this veil of tears on earth . . . we will encounter both the darkness and the light. The rains and storms will fall upon each of us at one time or another. We can take heart in knowing it will not always be so . . .

A day will come when Christ, in all of His glory and light, will fill every shaded nook and every shadowed cranny . . . and darkness will be no more. Nothing on earth will remain as it is now. The earth and God's people will be able to experience the fullness of His redemption and love in an unimaginable way. This is not something to be afraid of. This is something which can bring each of us a wonderful hope in a beautiful future, and solace for anything which we may have to go through today. The fulness of that promise is ours to grab hold of, if we will only endure to the end . . . and keep hold of our faith.

Just my thoughts on this beautiful Sabbath morning.

I am giving a talk in church this morning on The Restoration. It's a wonderful topic and I quite enjoyed all the research I did when I was putting my words together. I am a bit nervous, as . . . aside from the Primary Presentation and Nativity last year . . . it will be my first time standing in front of this Ward and giving a talk. I hope that I do ok and that they are able to feel the spirit in my words. I know, I surely did when I was writing it.

We didn't go to Llangollen yesterday after all. It was too overcast and windy and it looked all day as if the heavens would open at any minute and pour down upon us. Instead we took ourselves off into town and I picked up something to wear on my adventure to Ipswich and Jimmy's Farm next week! Not long to wait now. My new dishwasher will arrive this week as well, so I have a lot coming up in the next few days!

Here's a delicious way to prepare chicken breasts on these warmer summer evenings. Do plan ahead as you have to marinate the chicken overnight. If you don't want to do the citrus marinade (I hope that you do though as it is delicious) you can just marinate your chicken in Italian Salad Dressing, which is also fabulously wonderful!

*Citrus Grilled Chicken Breasts*
Serves 6
Printable Recipe

Boneless chicken breasts marinated overnight in a tangy citrus marinade and then grilled to perfection and served over salad greens, topped with a delicious Balsamic Drizzle!

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 lemons, halved
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

For the Balsamic dressing:
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
3 TBS finely chopped fresh oregano
1/2 cup plus 1 TBS canola oil
1/4 cup plus 2 TBS olive oil
3 TBS Dijon mustard
1/2 cup plus 1 TBS Balsamic vinegar (Use a good quality vineger not a cheap one)

Salad greens to serve

Place the chicken breasts in a large shallow pan. Squeeze the juice from the lemon halves into a separate bowl, then whisk in the oil, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper. Pour this marinade over the chicken. Place the lemon halves in between the chicken breasts, cover the pan tightly. Refrigerate 6 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Heat your grill to medium high. Grill the chicken, occasionally turning and brushing with any remaining marinade, until the juice runs clear or the inner temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Remove from the grill and place on a plate of greens and garnish with lemon slices and sprigs of oregano.

Whisk the ingredients for the balsamic dressing together in a bowl. Drizzle over the chicken and salad greens and serve immediately.

Over in The English Kitchen today I'm serving up delicious Oatmeal and Cranberry Breakfast Custards!

Saturday 25 June 2011

Poetry Saturday . . . I met a man . . .

I met a man in love with life,
Who felt the magic of the world,
Whose heart thrilled to the commonplace,
Smoke from a chimney lightly curled,
The blue upon the distant hills,
The blessed gold of daffodils.

His eyes beheld the rainbow's hue,
And marvelled at the sky's clear blue,
A clump of marigolds . . . a tree,
The golden wonder of a bee.
A woven nest against the eaves,
The scarlet tracery of leaves.

He loved to see the shadows crawl,
Along a quiet garden wall,
As night was settling on the town;
He loved a dog's soft coat of brown,
The furry warmth against his skin,
A kinship you could almost see.

He loved his church and found therein,
A sweet forgiveness of all sin;
A happy man in love with life;
Proud of his children, and his wife,
Taking the day for what it brought,
And clothing it, in happy thought.

A man in love with Simple things,
Who wouldn't trade his lot with kings.
~Edna Jaques, Fireside Poems

I hope you've enjoyed the poem and the pictures I have shared here this morning. They are all pictures that I took at Scotney Castle several years ago. That was a place that Todd and I loved to go. It was breathtakingly beautiful any time of the year and it was no small wonder it was known as one of England's most romantic gardens! With a beautiful moated castle surrounded by beautiful gardens it was a place we frequently visited.

Yesterday we popped off to one of the trading estates close by to pick up a new mouse for the laptop. I can't get on with the mouse pad on the laptop. It is ok for some things, but I like a real mouse for most things and the mouse I had was beginning to cock up! Anyways we found one in the Curry's shop and then I said to Todd, lets have a look at the mobile phones. I wanted to upgrade at some point to a more modern phone that you could do e-mail and such on. We couldn't find the phones but a nice young lad kindly directed us to the area where they were and we were looking and I was pointing out the different features etc. Then a sales person came over and started to talk to us and he told us he could give us this really wow phone for free, and not only that . . . he could give us £150 cash in hand for my old phone! To make a long story short, we walked out of there with not only a new mouse, but a great new phone and a Nintento Wii Sport system so that I can whoop Todd's arse at bowling and such, and all we paid for was the mouse! I am on a phone contract, but I was anyways, so that's no biggie. I have a new mobile phone number now though, so if you had my old one, it won't work , and I need to send you my new one. E-mail me!

We are supposed to have a heat wave starting today. I'm not sure about that, but Todd and I are going to be optomistic and go to Llangollen this afternoon for a walk and a drink, while my knee is behaving pretty well. (Here's hoping it lasts for a bit longer this time.) We might even take Mitzie, depending on if it is showery or not. If it is showery we won't because if it starts to rain we will want to pop inside and we can't do that with a dog in tow!!

I'll probably pop something into the slow cooker for our tea, something like this delicious bean dish here today. SO easy to make and quite delicious! You can't really find the Great Northern Beans over here in the UK, but no worries, I used tinned haricot beans, which work out very well! You could actually use any mixture of tinned beans and it always tastes great. I've even used chickpeas! If you want a heartier dish, add some browned beef or turkey mince and some sliced smoked sausage! Delicious!!

*Slow Cooker Tex Mex Beans*
Makes 14 (1/2 cup) servings
Printable Recipe

Hearty and delicious. You will want to serve these with some warm cornbread or a crusty loaf to sop up all of that delicious sauce!

2 (15 1/2 ounce) tins of great northern beans, drained and rinsed
2 (15 1/2 ounce) tins of black beans, drained and rinsed
8 fluid ounces of tomato sauce (tomato passata)
1 (4 1/2 ounce) tin of chopped green chilies
3/4 cup of your favourite barbeque sauce
3/4 cup of chunky tomato salsa
1/4 cup soft light brown sugar, firmly packed

Combine all the ingredients in a 3 1/2 to 4 quart slow cooker. Mix together well. Cover and cook on low for at least 4 1/2 hours, until the flavours are well blended and heated through. Delicious!

Note: you can make it heartier by adding some well browned minced beef, and or sliced smoked sausage!

Baking in The English Kitchen today, a delicious Oatmeal Cake!

Friday 24 June 2011

Friday this and that . . .

No surprise here, I LOVE children's books. When my children were growing up we had a whole bookcase filled with a beautiful assortment of books. I was always buying them. I'm not sure if I was buying them more for me or for them! To this day I still love to read them and pick them up when I find some at charity shops and such. Next summer when my eldest son comes over with my two grandsons, we will have a nice collection to read to them! (Including all the Rupert Annuals!)

Anyways, I was reading one the other day about a sad little squirrel who had lost her bounce, and who was moping around the forest floor. Her friend the rabbit noticed.

"What's wrong?" the rabbit asked

"I'm so unhappy," the squirrel replied. "I can't hop like you, I can't tunnel like Mole, and I can't swim like otter. I can't do anything and I'm no use to anyone." She hid her head and cried.

"But, Squirrel," cried rabbit, "You have such a beautiful tail! We all love watching you dancing along with it flying gracefully behind you."

The squirrel looked at her reflection in a nearby pond and realized that rabbit was right.

Oh, Rabbit," she beamed, "Thank you for making me ralize that there is something special about me after all!" And she scampered off happily through the forest, displaying her fluffy tail behind her.

How utterly charming this story is and there is a lesson there not only for children. We can learn from it as well. We mustn't sit and always compare ourselves to others and find ourselves wanting things or talents we'd like to have, but probably never will. It's nice to admire others and appreciate their finer points, but we must learn to appreciate our own as well, and we all have them, as much as we may think that we don't!

Each of us brings something special to the table. It could be that your talent is helping other's to feel better about themselves, or maybe you have a smile that lights up the room when you walk in. Perhaps you are good at helping other's to see the positive, or maybe you are really good at praying for others. We are all good at something and have wonderful qualities that should be celebrated no matter how small and meaningless we may feel that they are!

Well, my party last night was a bust! In fact, it didn't even qualify as a party and my consultant will have to put whatever orders we have in with someone else's party. I had only one person show up at first, and she was someone I had only invited at the last minute. She is a friend I have had on facebook for the past year, and she had sent me a message to say that her niece, who lives next door, was unable to come but didn't know how to work facebook. It suddenly dawned on me that she possibly lived here in Chester, and so I told her she was welcome to come if she wanted to. I had not realized before that she lived here or that she was my neighbours Aunt! Oh how lovely she was. I really enjoyed our time together and I was so glad that she came. It was lovely talking together and being able to put a real face and a personality to the name. I hope that we can see each other again soon! The neighbour from across the way came over as well, which was nice, and the little boy next door was there also. It was nice to get to know the neighbour across the way better as well! I think it's a shame that in a lot of cases, nowadays, we don't get to know who our neighbours are. I think we are missing out on something really special.

Anyways, I did feel bad for the consultant that did my party, and for all the trouble she had gone to, but the few of us that were there did enjoy ourselves and I think she did too. I told her I would have another one closer to Christmas and hopefully more people will be able to come to that one! (I think yesterday was just a bad day and people had plans!)

I got through the knee injection ok yesterday, but boy oh boy was I suffering afterwards. I slept in the spare room last night as it was throbbing and I didn't want to disturb Todd. I will be taking it easy today! I have to go next Wednesday and have the other knee done.

We changed our living room all around yesterday as well. It's amazing what a difference it makes and how much larger the room looks. Todd had always said we would never be able to fit an armchair in here, but is now realizing that we probably could! I shall be on the lookout for one now. Actually we have a friend who regularly changes her furniture around. She picks up the most lovely suites at charity shops, second hand. She has a lovely black leather suite at the moment. A full sized sofa and two arm chairs, with wood trim, and I know she will be wanting to change it before too long. I shall offer to buy hers up when she tires of it! (Fingers crossed! Is that naughty of me??? Probably!!)

Two of our missionaries came over yesterday afternoon and helped Todd to dig up the rest of the garden as well, so that next summer we will have more space. We are really enjoying our garden this year and are now picking peas, early potatoes, lettuce and chard. Food you grow yourself always tastes better for some reason!

Well, I have prattled on long enough so will leave you now with a recipe. This is one of the things we had last night at the party. They were delicious and so easy to do. Quite impressive really for the little effort that was taken. I just love the Pampered Chef recipes and the products as well! I have gone to lots of different kitchen parties through the years, and alot of what I've bought has been relegated to the dusty back of the cupboard, but I have to say with all honesty, that every Pampered Chef thing I have ever bought gets used with regularity. Their stuff is Ace, and so is this dessert!!! I hope that they don't mind that I pinched their picture! We were all too busy stuffing our faces to break out the camera!

*Strawberry Amaretto Pastries*
Makes 12
Printable Recipe

Sort of like a Strawberry Shortcake, but made with scrummy puff pastry topped with sugared almonds, and a mascarpone cheese filling! These are fantastic!

1 sheet of fresh ready rolled Puff pastry, remove from fridge at least 20 minutes before using
60g of flaked almonds, divided (1/2 cup)
3 TBS granulated sugar
1 orange
284 ml carton of double cream (about 1 1/4 cups)
85g of sifted icing sugar, divided (1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp almond extrt
115g of mascarpone cheese, softened (about 1 cup)
12 large strawberries, sliced

Preheat the oven to 200*C/400*F/ Gas mark 6. Unroll the pastry sheet onto the rectangle stone (OR a parchment paper lined baking sheet) and trim the edges to make a rectangle measuring 12 by 15, discarding any excess.

Finely chop two thirds of the almonds and mix together with 2 TBS of the granulated sugar. Sprinkle this evenly over the surface of the dough. LIGHTLY press the almonds into the surface.

Cut the dough lengthwise into three strips and horizontally into 4. You should have 12 squares. Gently ease them apart and position them evenly over top of the stone. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cooked, puffed and golden brown. Remove from the baking stone (sheet) to a wire rack to cool completely.

Place the remaining almonds into a pan and lightly toast. Coarsely chop. Set aside.

Zest the entire orange and then combine the zest with the remaining granulated sugar. Set aside.

Whip the cream, half the icing sugar and the almond extract until soft peaks form. (It is important you don't over whip) Combine the remaining icing sugar and the mascarpone cheese. Fold this mixture together with the whipped cream.

Slice the strawberries.

Split each pastry square in half, arrange half of the strawberries on the bottom of each shell. Top with a dollop of the cream mixture. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds, then the remaining strawberry slices. Sprinkle with the sugared orange zest and then place the tops of the pastries over all. Serve immediately. Delicious!!

Over in The English Kitchen today, a delicious Tomato and Cucumber Salad!

Thursday 23 June 2011

Not a lot!

It was only a cup of water with a gentle grace bestowed,
But it cheered the lonely traveller upon life's dusty road.
None noticed the cup of water as a beautiful act of love,
Save the angels keeping records, away in the land above.
The trifles in secret given, the prayer in the quiet night,
And the little unnoticed nothings are great in our Saviour's sight!

I just love this little verse. I try to do what I can for those around me at all times, not because I think they will do something in return for me, but because I just cannot see someone in need and not do something to help out. That is why those commercials on the television of starving and deprived children and animals break my heart. I wish that I had the means to help all of them, but I do not, and it makes me sad sometimes that I can't . . . but I do what I can and that's what's really important.

It is another gloomy day out there today. Another day of not being able to hang out the wash . . . we are getting our April showers in June!! I don't mind, just so long as we don't get January in July!!

I was able to paint two more Christmas Cards yesterday for my 2011 collection. If you are on Facebook, you will have already seen them, but if you are not, here they are for your perusal!

The World in solemn stillness lay . . . Imogene and Puff are making snow angels! I used to do this when I was a child. In fact I think it was sometime before I got pregnant for my youngest son, so some 23 or so years ago now that we were having a huge snow storm and I took myself off outside for some fresh air and I remember making snow angels on our front lawn, out there all by myself. It was a nice feeling. Sometimes you just have to get away don't you . . . and making snow angels was the perfect escape!

And then here is Puff in his Christmas Finery! I do have a thing for orange cats, or ginger cats, whatever you want to call them. We had one called Dandy (short for Dandy-lion) when I first moved over here. He was so sweet. My mother has one now, called Ginger. He is getting quite old now and has bad arthritis. He is my mother's best friend and companion. Animals become just that don't they? I don't know what we would do without our pets. They add such a beautiful dimension to our lives.

I am off to tidy up the house now, as I won't be doing much after my injection this afternoon and I want the house to look nice for my guests tonight. I do so love to have company! We'll be making a tasty Kalamata Olive Dip and some Strawberry Amaretto Puffs!

Even though we have been getting lots of rain, I have been making more salads these days. It's just the salad time of the year! Our lettuce is ready in the garden as are the spring onions. This layered salad is one of our favourites, although in all honesty when I make it here at home I scale it right back as there are only the two of us! I sometimes add a layer of cooked macaroni, some sliced boiled egg, and a layer of cooked ham or turkey, which turns it into a heartier main dish salad! If you don't fancy red onions, you can use chopped spring onions!

*Layered Salad*
Serves 12 (1 cup) servings
Printable Recipe

This is the perfect salad to take to pot lucks or barbeques. It's pretty to look at and everyone always loves it! It does need to be made at least five hours in advance so plan ahead!

4 cups torn romaine lettuce
1 1/2 cups grated mild cheddar cheese
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 small red onion, peeled, sliced thinly and separated into rings
2 tomatoes, chopped
1(10 oz.) package of frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise (I like Hellman's)
1/2 cup dairy Sour Cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
4 slices streaky bacon, cooked until crisp and then crumbled

Layer the lettuce, 1 cup of the cheese, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and peas in a large see through bowl. (I use my Pampered Chef Trifle bowl.)

Mix together the mayo, sour cream and basil. Spread this mixture over top of the salad, completely covering it.

Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bacon. Refrigerate for at least five hours or overnight.

In The English Kitchen today, Creamy Dilled Potato Salad.