Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Wishes

This is the final parcel for Christmas 2015.  The tree is finally completely decorated, all the wreaths are hung and the food is ready for our tiny feast for two (plus one furry little black cat).

There really isn't anything left to do except enjoy the day and wish you all a very Merry Christmas! 

P.S.  There is still time to knit one of these woolly flower parcel toppers for a special present.  CLICK HERE for the instructions.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Christmas Tree Cookies - No Piping Required

Do you have bored children at home for their Christmas holidays?  Martha Stewart may have just the project you need to keep them busy AND help with the holiday baking.  

Just make up your favourite batch of sugar cookie dough, divide the dough into smaller bowls and add food colouring.   I used Mom's old fashioned sugar cookie recipe.

CLICK HERE to see Martha's fun HOW TO video.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

More Woodland Creatures on the Tree

Decorating the house for Christmas is an on going project which doesn't really ever stop until the very last day of the holiday season.  Everywhere I go I find something new to add to the tree or an adorable ornament that I simply MUST have. 

This year we have collected new birds and deer to add to our woodland themed tree.

I think this one is supposed to be a partridge. 

Deer have become a bit of an obsession for me this season.  I found this little chap at the supermarket!

On a historical note, the White Hart was the badge of King Richard II in the 14th century.

Not all of the ornaments are new or as elegant as the White Hart.  This slightly mad looking owl has graced many a Christmas tree in our house.  That's one of the best things about Christmas, mixing the old and the new. 

Monday, 14 December 2015

Sparkly Heart Parcels

Today the Christmas parcel wrapping continues.  I love the act of wrapping packages but some people find it a chore and frankly, a little stress inducing. I like to wrap the gifts as soon as I can, usually the same day as I purchase them.  I find it much more pleasant to wrap and decorate one or two boxes at a time rather than facing an intimidating present mountain.

Now I don't want to ruin the surprise, but I think one of the parcels I wrapped today may actually be for me! 

I'll just have to wait until Christmas morning to see if my package is wrapped in brown paper with a sparkly heart.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Brown Paper, Garden Twine, and Glitter Trees

Now that the tree and decorations are in place it is time to start buying and wrapping a few gifts.  I like to wrap our parcels in a similar style and colour to our ornaments.  This year, we've gone for a woodland theme so what could be better than simple homemade Christmas tree tags and brown wrapping paper?

My little Christmas trees are made of left over ceramic clay, cut out using a cookie cutter, and painted with acrylic craft paint.  You could make them from salt dough or even recycled cardboard.  I think they would be a great project for children.  

You can make them as fancy or simple as you like.  Best of all, a light dusting of glitter will hide a multitude of sins and add a bit of sparkle to your parcels.

A bow of garden twine completes the rustic, woodland look.  After the present is opened, you have another ornament to add to your Christmas tree. Brown paper packages tied up with string really are one of my favourite things...especially at Christmas. 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Snow Ice Cream

There are certain memories that define childhood, things that you never forget and always make you smile when you think of them.  For me it was those deep, pristine snowfalls that used to come, almost on cue, just before Christmas.  My Mom would always get as excited as we children when it snowed.  She loved it, too.  She would wade out into the middle of a snow drift with a big mixing bowl, collect a small mountain of snow and proceed to make Snow Ice Cream.  

There is no hanging about with Snow Ice Cream.  You have to eat it as quickly as you can.  Brain freeze is guaranteed.  Mom only had one rule, you couldn't make Snow Ice Cream until the second snow fall.  Apparently the first snow of the season was radio active or something!  

Here's the recipe:

4 cups fresh snow
1 cup very cold milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Before you collect your snow, mix the milk, sugar, and vanilla in a large jug. Stir well to make sure the sugar is dissolved.  

Pour the milk mixture over the snow, gently mix as quickly as you can to avoid making snow slush.  EAT!  

I would show you what Snow Ice Cream looks like, but I am still waiting for the first snowfall.  

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Bears and Bambies

I am afraid I have been negligent in my blogging responsibilities but you know how it is this time of year.  Christmas preparations make all of us time poor and chore heavy. 

Not that I am complaining, I love Christmas, especially the tree decorating and cookie baking.

As you can see, we've been shopping for a few new ornaments. The house is being decorated in a woodland theme this year.

The inspiration came from the little foxes, bears, and 'Bambies' we saw in our favourite Christmas shop.

Which lead to us purchasing several stags in three different sizes.  

Some of the larger ones are decorating the hall table.

While the smaller ones stand guard on the Welsh dresser.  Practically every room contains a Christmas tree or special ornament and I am still on the look out for more bears and Bambies.  Maybe I'll go 'hunting' again this afternoon. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Keeping Traditions Alive - Elevenses

I am a traditionalist.  Some might translate that to 'Old Fashioned' but I don't mind.  Some things are too good to let slip away.  The mid-morning coffee break or Elevenses is one of those great traditions that should be honoured as often as possible... at least once a day!

Traditional recipes should be remembered and made, too.  This morning's revisited recipe is for SNICKERDOODLES!

Rolled in cinnamon and sugar, these old fashioned American cookies are great with a cup of coffee for Elevenses.  They also make a lovely after school treat for those too young for Elevenses.   Click HERE for the recipe and enjoy an old fashioned treat.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Woolly Flowers for Christmas

I know it's rude to use the C-word (Christmas) before the Thanksgiving turkey is eaten but I've got an idea for decorating some really special Christmas packages. Here in Britain we have a plant known as the Christmas Rose and it inspired me to make these simple knitted flowers. 

I think they would be lovely used in place of bows on the Christmas gifts.  Sew a small safety pin onto the back of the flower and they can be worn as a brooch or pinned to your favourite winter hat.  

They are easy to make, take next to no time to knit, and can be made from the bits and pieces of left over yarn in your knitting basket.  You can customise the basic pattern by adding a button and a skinny pom-pom to make the stamens. 

Are you ready to knit?  Here is what you will need:

Pair of small knitting needles - I used 3.25mm
Some yarn -  Double Knit is best - mine was from the Pound Shop!
Buttons and a darning needle

Here's the pattern:

Cast on 60 stitches
Rows 1 -10:  K2, P2 across the whole row
Row 11: Knit 2 stitches together across the row ( 30 stitches)
Row 12: Slip 1 stitch, Knit 2 stitches together then pass the slip stitch over
             Repeat across the whole row (10 stitches)

Break off the yarn leaving a long tail. Tread the tail back through the stitches on the knitting needle. Slide the stitches off the needle and pull the tread tight, forming a flower shape.  Sew the edges together to complete the petals.  Finish with pom-pom stamens and buttons.    

That's all there is to it.  I am going to get back to my knitting.  Watch this space to see the final floral flourish on wrapped Christmas parcels.  Of course, I haven't actually bought any Christmas gifts yet.  It's far too early to think about Christmas shopping!  That only happens after Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Acer Ablaze

After a glorious show, our little acer tree in the front garden is about to give up all her leaves.

For about a month she has been gradually changing from green to a rich red.

Each day we watched as the colour grew more vibrant.  The dark red became more crimson.

In the sunshine, the leaves looked as if they were on fire.  In fading evening light, they gave off a deep rich glow.

Now, with each blustery autumn wind, the leaves drift down making a faded tapestry on the green grass. 

I wouldn't be surprised if her branches were bare come morning... the grand finale to fall. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Cinnamon Scones and Hugh's War on Waste

One of my favourite TV personalities, eco-warrior, and chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has taken up a new campaign.  This time it's THE WAR ON WASTE.  You wouldn't believe the amount of perfectly good food that goes to landfill or doesn't make it out of the fields at all.  How can food waste on an industrial scale be allowed to continue when so many people live in a state of food poverty or worse, starvation? We are so blessed to live with the luxury of an abundant and safe supply of food and it is one of the things I am most grateful for everyday.

I must confess that I am almost fanatical about food waste.  I try very hard to make wise food purchases, cook only the amount of food we will eat at a meal, and consume all the food we buy.  Sometimes we have some pretty strange meals made up of bits and pieces and odds and ends but generally, the kitchen experiments are very successful.  

For example, I found some double cream in the fridge that was left over from the pear and apple pie experiment.  In the spirit of the War-on-Waste I decided to try to make some cinnamon scones for breakfast.   I started with our favourite recipe for RIVER COTTAGE SCONES and elaborated from there.  CLICK HERE for the scone recipe, make the dough and follow the instructions below to spice up your scones. 

A mix of 3 Tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon makes the filling.

Gently roll out the scone dough between two pieces of plastic wrap, brush with a little cream or milk, and sprinkle over 1/2 of the cinnamon sugar.

Fold the dough into thirds, roll it out again, brush on a bit more cream or milk, and sprinkle over the remaining sugar cinnamon mix.  

Fold the dough into thirds again, but DO NOT roll it out.  Use your hands to pat it into a rough rectangle that is about 1 1/4 inches thick.  Pinch the ends of the dough together to seal in the cinnamon sugar.

Use a big, sharp knife to cut the dough into triangles or squares. Dust the knife with flour to keep it from sticking to the scone dough. You should get six big scones or make them smaller if you like.  Brush the tops with a bit more cream or milk.  Place the scones on a baking tray lined with baking paper and let them rest for at least 15 minutes before baking them.  Resting relaxes the gluten in the flour so the scones will be tender and flaky. 

Bake the scones at 200C/400F for 15-20 minutes or until they are a light golden brown around the edges.  You may want to leave your cinnamon scones just as they are... deliciously naked... or...

Leave them on the baking tray to cool completely before drizzling over a simple glaze made of icing sugar mixed with a little milk.  Store any leftover scones in an airtight container and enjoy them the next day.  After all, we all agree there should be a war on waste.  

Monday, 26 October 2015

Pear and Apple Pie

I love pears but they can be an awkward fruit.  They start out hard as bullets, malingering in the fruit bowl for days.   Suddenly, without warning, they can
turn soft ... too soft if you don't watch them. I am afraid I took my eye off the ball, or more accurately put, the pears.  They did exactly what pears do...became slightly over ripe.  I was about to bake a pear cake when Andy said he preferred a pie.  

My response was, 'But we've just had an apple pie.'   Andy replied 'Yeah, and I really enjoyed it'.  OK, pear and apple pie it is.

I used this BASIC APPLE PIE RECIPE.  Two pears were substituted for some of the apples.  I add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the filling mixture and reduced the cinnamon to 1/2 teaspoon.  To my surprise, IT WORKED!  

So if you find yourself with a pair of awkward pears, try this pie.  It really is rather good! 

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Apple Pie Impulse

I didn't intend to bake an apple pie, it just sort of happened.  It was an apple pie impulse brought on by the fact that our home grown apples were beginning to look a bit 'less than perfect'. 

We've had several apple cakes and made apple jelly.  Baking a pie was just the logical thing to do, a grand finale to the home grown apple season.  

Let me get the apologies out of the way right now.  Sorry the photos are AWFUL.  It was twilight when I started baking so I'd lost the light.  Sorry the crust isn't decorated with pastry apple leaves or lattice work.  It was an impulse bake so I didn't even think about doing something fancy.  But, hey, if apple pie can't look rustic then what can?!  The truth is, I love a double crust apple pie because it has double the crust and that is my favourite part, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.  

The first thing to do is prepare the crust.  This recipe makes an 8 inch pie so you need enough short crust pastry to line the pie plate and top the filling.  Lots of people are put off making pastry.  If you are one of them don't deny yourself the pleasure of pie. Shop bought pastry will do just fine.  

This is the recipe I used for the Short Crust:

250 grams plain white flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
70 grams cold butter - cut into cubes
70 grams vegetable shortening  (Trex or Crisco)
Cold milk - approximately 4-6 Tablespoons 

Mix the flour and salt, add the butter and shortening.  Use your fingers or a pastry cutter to work the butter and shortening into the flour.  It should look like breadcrumbs.  Add the milk ONE Tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork until the pastry begins to come together.   Use your hands to finish combining the pastry.  Wrap the pastry in cling film, pat it into a rough circle, and place it into the fridge to chill while you make the filling.

Apple Filling

5 cups thinly sliced apples - peeled and cored
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar -  this depends on your apples, taste for sweetness
3 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon butter

Place the apple slices into a large bowl sprinkle over the flour, cinnamon, and salt.  Add about 1/3 cup sugar, stir well to coat the apple slices and taste.  Too tart?  Add more sugar, stir and taste again.  You will know when you've got it right.  

Set the oven to 400F/200C.   Butter the inside of an 8 inch pie plate. 

Take the short crust pastry out of the fridge and divide it into two equal pieces. Place one piece of the pastry between two pieces of plastic wrap. (This will keep the pastry from sticking to the rolling pin and make it easier to put into the pie plate.)  Roll the crust into a rough circle large enough to line the bottom and sides of the pie dish.  

Place the pastry into the pie dish.  Let the extra bits just hang over the edge. You will need them later. 

Pour the sliced apples into the pastry lined dish.  Break the tablespoon of butter into little pieces and place over the sliced apples.  

Repeat the pasty rolling technique with the remaining short crust.  Top the apples with the pastry 'lid'.  Using your fingers, pinch the two crusts together to seal in the apple juices.  

Brush to top crust with a little milk.  Sprinkle over a pinch of sugar.  Dust with cinnamon and place the pie on a baking sheet lined with a bit of baking paper. Make a few cuts in the top crust to let the steam out of the pie as it bakes.  

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and apple juices are bubbling out of the slits in the crust.  

To avoid a 'soggy bottom' you must allow the pie to cool before cutting into it. If you aren't bothered about the soggy bottom bit... and I AM NOT... you can enjoy a slice of warm apple pie.  Some like vanilla ice cream, clotted cream, or custard with their pie. I've even know those who like a slice of Cheddar cheese.  I prefer mine just as it is... RUSTIC!  

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Cotton Candy Tree

It's my favourite time of year again, Autumn.  It's the fall foliage that does it for me.  I love summer's flowers but not nearly as much as I love the flame-like leaves of fall. 

Every October I visit all the local garden centres to see what I can add to my collection of foliage plants.  

Today I purchased this beautiful, glow-in-the-dark smoke bush called 'Cotton Candy'.

She is only little but BOY does she brighten up the garden.  I understand the name Cotton Candy comes from the frothy pink flowers that look a bit like smoke. 

I'll let you know next summer about the pink smoke.  Right now I am just enjoying the incredible luminosity of these autumn leaves.