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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Baking and Other Stuff

On Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving with my side of the family, my sister Michelle and her husband Nick are both in the US until Monday when they will return to London.  On Wednesday we were blessed with beautiful weather and a high of sixty, very rare in late November.  Each Thanksgiving we have family picture day, it works well because we are all together in one place at the same time, this does not happen very often, it was extra fun taking the pictures this year as we had two new additions to the family this year.  Follow the link if you would like to see our fabulously fun family pics, it was super awesome because we were able to be outside, always the best place to be photographed in my opinion.  My Dad is the family photographer and does a fantastic job.
Tomorrow we will celebrate Christmas at Manitou with my family and it will be a year until we are all together again. This year I will treasure especially as Emily is leaving for the Air Force at the end of January and it may be a few years before we are able to have everyone together again.

Now on to Baking.
Every year a make traditional English Christmas cakes, the recipe is rich and includes 2lbs of dried fruit, almonds and cherries.  Once the cakes are baked they are kept in a tin and each week I "feed" them a little dry sherry, I usually bake the cakes at the end of October and by Christmas they are ready and oh, oh, oh, oh, oh are they good.  It is standard to cover the cakes with marzipan a week before Christmas, and the day before Christmas decorate with royal icing, the cakes look splendid.  Over the years we have decided to pass on marzipan and royal icing, who needs the additional calories? and the fruit cake stands well on its own.  I have a standing order each year to bake a cake for both of my sisters and my parents and of course for Dave and me, I now make 6" diameter cakes, again we can all enjoy the Christmas cake but not live to regret it :).
English Christmas Cake
Another annual baking tradition for me is the making of shortbread, I give a small tin to each of my sisters and my parents at Christmas.  I think shortbread is amazing!!!  It is made with very basic ingredients, I quadruple the recipe from my Marguerite Pattern cookery book, it goes as follows:

12 oz butter - softened
7 oz sugar
12 oz plain flour
4 oz rice flour

Cream the butter with half of the sugar until extremely well mixed, add the flour and again make sure it is really, really worked into the butter/sugar mixture.  Then add the remaining sugar and mix in well.
This quadrupled batch needs to be baked in a 9"/13" baking pan. Put the dough into the baking pan and then push it into the pan and make sure the dough is even throughout the pan, lightly sprinkle sugar over the top.  Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, it may take a minute or two or three longer.
Allow the shortbread to cool for ten minutes, cut into one and half inch squares and leave it in the pan to let it cool for another half hour. Remove the shortbread from the pan and enjoy, but make sure you pack most of it up to give away as gifts, this stuff is NOT lo-cal.
Today I also baked a Victoria Sandwich, this is a very traditional English sponge cake.  In England it is not the norm to frost cakes. The Victoria sandwich cake if usually filled with strawberry or raspberry jam and a light dusting of confectioners sugar is sieved over the top. If you want to get fancy with the light dusting of sugar you can lay a doily over the cake, lightly sieve the sugar and then carefully remove the doily, this is a delightful way to finish the cake.Another interesting tidbit about the VS, it has four ingredients, butter, sugar, eggs and flour, and the authentic way to make it is to weigh the eggs (usually 3) and then add the exact same weight of each of the other ingredients.  To make you cream the butter well, add the sugar and mix well, slowly incorporate the beaten eggs and then add the flour.  Most recipes now call to add 1 T of milk which should be folded in gently after all the other steps are complete.  If you use plain flour (all purpose) you will need to add 1 t of baking powder.  The VS bakes at 355 for 18 -25 minutes and calls for a 7" diameter cake pan, if you do not have one, in the US 8" seems to be standard, you can use the 8" and simply bake for a little shorter time. Keep in mind that an 8 inch pan will produce a wider, flatter cake than the 7" one. After baking allow the cake to cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then remove and finish cooling on a rack.  Spread strawberry jam thickly on the bottom half, put on the top, sieve lightly with confectioners sugar and voila you have a Victoria Sandwich.  This is NOT a rich cake, but is nice and goes well with afternoon tea.
Victoria Sandwich
I love that my family incorporate many English traditions into our family celebrations, we always have Christmas Crackers  please note these are not something you eat :) We always have our English Christmas cake, my Mom makes the best trifle, we have mince pies, sausage rolls, a large tin of Quality Street (excellent candy), and some years Christmas pudding. We have lived in the US since 1978 and in many ways are very American and in other ways we are still very English.

Oh, and yes, unfortunately none of the above recipes are vegan, I generally do not eat desserts so do not mind having a little of something really good once in a while. I will say that the vegan baked goods I have tried have not been very good, it seems that sugar, butter, and eggs are key ingredients for a rich, tasty dessert. I guess I am practicing quality over quantity, I am quite happy to enjoy a vegan diet 99% of the time, but on a holiday or special occasion enjoy a tasty treat.  Moderation is the key to good living.

Today I took Emily and the grandsons into Fort Wayne, we stopped at the Fort Wayne Historical Museum to tour the Gingerbread Festival, this is fun event and there are an awful lot of gingerbread creations on display. The creators ranged in age from pre-school to adult along with a professional category. The boys really liked the SpongeBob Squarepants entry, and another that recreated a large red barn with lots of little animals.  A girl scout troop had a fun log cabin entry with a pond with "goldfish" swimming in it, the boys liked this as goldfish crackers are a favorite treat.  All entries have to be made with edible stuff, and some people are very creative. After the Gingerbread Festival we headed over to Christmas at the Old Fort, there were vendors set up in each of the fort buildings, and games for kids, unfortunately our nice weather from Thursday is long gone and today it was overcast and the high was only in the mid thirties, since this activity was primarily outside we did not stay as long as we might have done if the weather had been warmer.  I was able to visit the Heirloom Spoon man and purchase some more beautifully made wooden cooking utensils for Christmas gifts, and another vendor was selling everything beeswax. I purchased my FIRST EVER beeswax candles, what a pleasant surprise to find that they have the most delightful aroma, I also purchased some beeswax soap that smells divine.  One of the games for kids involved tying a donut on a string and then the participant, in this case Patrick, had to put his hands in his pockets and attempt to eat the donut, this is not an easy task.  With some help Patrick did finally manage to master the donut and his persistence paid off with a tummy full of yummy donut.  When we returned home we had lunch and warmed up and then watched The Wizard of Oz, what a fab movie.  During the movie Pat and Charlie fell asleep, a little later Henry and I headed into the kitchen to assemble our gingerbread house kit, we had fun putting it together, we had a few collapses during assembly but in the end it turned out fine.
Henry really enjoyed this project
And in today's mail my package from Minnesota arrived, I had ordered a tie-dye piece from Beth, another blogger, and it arrived today, I just love it and was pleased to pop it on the kitchen table and then place my beeswax candles in the candlesticks. Beth's husband Matt is the tie-dyer and he does some amazing stuff, follow the link to check out some of his other work.
I just love the colors in this tie-dye

Well that is today's update, I hope all that celebrated Thanksgiving had a wonderful day with family and friends.

Monday, November 19, 2012

It Doesn't Really Get Much Better Than This!

Time spent with family is just about the best thing ever. We were given a beautiful day on Sunday, mild temperatures and sunshine. We make the most of these kinds of days because how many of them are you likely to have in November? After Mass and a quick lunch Dave decided to work outside while I ran an errand in Fort Wayne.
  Our daughter Amber is a hairdresser she planned to come over in the evening to do haircuts for anyone who needed one and we would provide dinner.Amber, Brad and the boys came over around five, Brad and the two older boys headed outside to help Grandpa at the campfire. By seven, Matt, Traci and Alivia had arrived, our neighbor Nancy popped in, and Emily got home from work.  We had some good music playing in the background, good food, good wine, and good company.  Once everyone had had their fill Amber started the haircuts, everyone looked very nice once finished, it is a wonderful thing to have a professional hairdresser in the family.  
After haircuts and a bit of a tidy up we all moved into the living room, it was wonderful to just hang out, we laughed and enjoyed the little ones,  took pictures of the grandchildren, and the kids took pictures of us with the grandchildren, it was noisy, fun filled chaos and we loved every minute of it.  By nine-thirty everyone had headed home, Emily went up to bed (she is battling a nasty cold) and Dave and I just chilled together. In the family room a Neil Young cd was playing, Harvest Moon, one of our favorites, so together we slow danced and held each other tight. I said to Dave that we were so lucky to have such great kids and such great grandchildren, he agreed and became quite teary eyed. There are moments in life where you are so totally, absolutely tuned into the blessings in your life that the moment becomes quite overwhelming and sears itself permanently upon your soul, last night as we danced it was one of those moments :)
Here are some pictures to enjoy:

Hair Cutting Madness

Pat gets a trim

Dave models his new look

Henry gets a tidy up

Our oldest two babies with their babies! Where does the time go?

 Alivia two weeks and one day old and  taking everything in

Henry just loves baby Charlie 

Dave, me, and our fantabulous grand babies
A cute story of word substitution. On Saturday I left with the boys to go on a walk, Charlie was tucked up snuggly in the stroller, and Henry and Patrick walked alongside hand in hand. We had walked about fifty feet from the driveway when Henry fell down, he started to cry as if he was really hurt and when he stood up he refused to put any weight on left foot.  Fortunately Dave was working in the front yard, I called for him and he ran over, picked up Henry and carried him back to the house. Once we were all back in the house I took a look at Henry's foot, I could not see any bruising or swelling and told him that he had probably twisted his ankle. We hung out on the couch and watched a movie until Brad arrived to pick the boys up.  Later that evening when Amber returned home from work Henry told her that he had spinned his ankle at Grandma's house!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Vegan Cooking

In my late twenties and early thirties I was a vegetarian, my husband and children were not, it was challenging and eventually I stopped being a vegetarian. Earlier this year I started to consciously reduce the amount of meat in my diet and when I did eat meat I made sure it was good quality.  I also decided to drastically reduce the amount of sugar I consume, sugar is SO destructive causing a lot of inflammation and tiredness, not to mention the affect on blood sugar. Slowly but surely my diet became vegetarian, it wasn't my goal, it has just happened as I move to healthier and healthier eating.  Change comes slowly and is best implemented  over time, reducing meat, reducing sugar came first. Then no meat, then removing food items made with white flour, and cutting back on my consumption of high carbohydrate vegetables.  Next it was time to make sure I was getting a consistent amount of fiber in diet, I eat a serving of All Bran each morning. Another thing I have changed is the amount of water I drink each day, I try to at least three quarts per day plus tea, and my morning cup of coffee.  Soon the morning cup of coffee will be history as I plan to cut back the amount of caffeine I consume. Then all of sudden I wasn't eating cheese, I discovered Almond Milk, so have that on my cereal in place of cows milk, and I am not eating eggs. Google almond milk to learn of the health benefits, there is 1 gram of fiber in a 1 cup serving and ONLY 40 calories and it tastes great on cereal. I like rice pudding, using almond milk instead of cows milk, brown rice instead of white, eliminating the butter and halving the sugar, I get a wonderful rice pudding dessert with a 1/3 of the calories of conventional rice pudding and still get all of the flavor.  I like to add cardamon or nutmeg to my rice pudding.
 As I read the above paragraph it seems like a huge amount of change, yet it does not seem like it, as one change was made the next change just seemed the right thing to do and was easily incorporated. I eat a wide variety of low carb vegetables like onions, kale, collard greens, spinach, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, lots of beans, fresh fruit, quinoa, brown rice, and the occasional squash.  I have experimented with different recipes and made some extremely flavorfully complex soups, stir fries and casseroles.  The best thing is that Dave is eating so much better, he loves his meat and I could not imagine him ever being a vegetarian, but he consumes more vegetables then he ever has and enjoys many of the dishes I make served along side a pork chop or piece of chicken, it seems like a win win for both of us. Dave discovered that hummus is good, he is eating a lot less cheese and now eats Wasa whole grain crackers with hummus!
I have raided our local library for vegan cook books, and found one author I really like, Robin Robertson. I like Robin's cook books, she does not get into complicated recipes, they are generally easy to make and most often I have all of the ingredients.
Am I preaching here that everyone should be a vegan, absolutely not, but I am preaching that incorporating some healthy new things into your diet may pave the way to more healthy changes and ultimately good health. Would I say I am a vegetarian or a vegan, for the most part yes, but if I felt like eating some salmon, or a small steak, or a piece of chicken I probably would, I just really haven't felt like eating meat that is all. And my overall goal is to make sure that I do all I can to ensure good health. If you have Netflix you might want to check out the documentary Forks Over Knives, it is a bit long, but the message is good and it is inspiring, I have watched it several times.

Today I made Black Bean Soup with a Splash - the splash was a 1/3 cup of sherry, a delicious soup which will feed me for the next few days. The recipe was out of 1000 Vegan Recipes.

Along with the black bean soup I made Portuguese Kale Soup, the recipe is from Carb Conscious Vegetarian, this soup is amazingly good, I have made it over and over again, this too will feed me over the next few days. I don't always use kale, collard greens work well too.

 Most soup recipes call for vegetable broth, I have tried several brands and I like this one the best, I buy it at Kroger in the Natural Foods section.  I like the Swanson vegetable broth, but they do not offer a low sodium version.  I have tried a few store brand vegetable broths but was not overly keen on the flavor. Purchased broth is convenient, I may start to experiment with making my own.

I have renewed my loan from the library for the Carb Conscious Vegetarian cook book multiple times, the book now looks extremely well used as I have had it in constant use, I am going to order my very own copy for keeps. I just found the 1000 Vegan Recipes cook book this week at the library, I have only made the black bean soup, it is good. I may end up purchasing a copy of this book too if it proves to be useful. I certainly will continue to sing the praises of Robin Robertson she has done a phenomenal  job with both of these books.

I found the Vegan Holiday Kitchen cook book at our local branch library, it has some very nice recipes, more suitable for holidays as most are quite rich.  I plan to make the wildrice stuffed acorn squash, pictured on the front cover, for Thanksgiving, along with all the traditional foods for the rest of the family.

On Monday I went to a Walmart in Fort Wayne, rather than my local one, and I found that they had an International aisle, something my Walmart does not have. What an array of foods are to be found in this wonderful aisle, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Bosnian, African, Middle Eastern, Greek, and probably more countries represented.  As I perused the selection, I came across Ahmad Tea of London in the Middle Eastern section, I bought a box of the Cardamon tea, (I love cardamon), along with the tea was a complimentary glass tea cup, all this for $4 what a deal.  The tea is so nice, no bitterness, and nice hint of cardamon.  I am going to try some other varieties of the Ahmad tea, I looked it up on Amazon, all kinds have 5 star reviews, although the prices on Amazon were five to six times higher than Walmart. And don't you just love the tea cup??

An interesting fact about cardamon, it is the worlds third most expensive spice, with vanilla coming in first and saffron second.  Cardamon is very nice when added to rice pudding, in fact it is da bomb!!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Board Games and Cooking

Dave and I have always enjoyed a good game of Scrabble, we used to play often then life got busy and games became very infrequent. Recently I dug out the Scrabble board and we have been playing again, we play several times a week, we have played games with our neighbor and daughter Emily, it has been fun.  I found online and printed off a Scrabble cheat sheet which we use when desperate :) And we always have our old standby, The Oxford American Dictionary. Our game evenings usually follow the same pattern, a nice glass of wine, candlelight, good music in the background and good food.  Last night we listened to Neil Diamond and Bob Marley and the Wailers. We played Scrabble, enjoyed some good wine and ate Jamaican Roasted Vegetables and Wasa Crackers with Humus and sliced cucumber, as usual I lost, but only by a couple of points, to  Dave.
We have had this Scrabble board our entire married life!

Yesterday I went to a big once a year resale that occurs in Fort Wayne, it is put on by the Junior League and  some amazing deals can be found, the resale is called the, New To You Sale.  I spent $50 and came home with 3 really nice skirts, 3 tops, 1 blouse, 2 sweaters and a cardigan, 1 vest jacket, and a couple of pairs of earrings. For entertainment for the grandchildren I found 3 puzzles, the original Memory game, Arthur's Library game, the game of Perfection, and 4 books.  I think I got a really good deal, the clothing for sale is good quality stuff, good name brands and there is an awesome selection, and to top it off it is the main fundraiser for the Junior League and they use the proceeds to promote various ministries.

Have you ever played the game of Perfection?  I have not, it is not so easy!!! I am determined to master it. The premise is simple enough, a game board with around 25 different shaped holes, and 25 different shaped pieces to fit into the holes.  A timer is set, the board pushed down and all the shapes have to put in place before the time goes off and board pops up bouncing all of the pieces out, it is fun to play.  Henry enjoyed it yesterday, and I played it several times yesterday evening while Dave was preparing some meat to make into jerky.

I recently borrowed a cook book from the library, Carb Concious Vegetarian, and I have to say it is amazing.  It is really a vegan cookbook, it is full of low carb delicious soups and salads and stir fries and I cannot recommend it enough. I am going to order a copy of the book for myself as I cannot keep renewing my loan from the library forever.

 Oh, and of course a pic of the grandbabies, we lined them all up on the floor, so here is presenting the Class of 2026, 2028, and 2030!!! Isn't that crazy to think about??

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Grandbaby Number Four Arrived Today !!!!!!!!

Wowsers! What an eventful day it has been.  Daughter-in-law Traci was admitted to the hospital yesterday so that her labor could be induced. Around eight-thirty this morning her water broke, and things seemed to be progressing well. At noon we all received a text message that Traci was 6 cm dilated and we excitedly thought Alivia would be here within a few hours.  Alivia however had other plans, at twelve-thirty we received a text message that Traci was being rushed off for an emergency c-section.  Dave and I left for the hospital about twenty minutes later and almost immediately received a picture text of a beautiful healthy looking little girl, Baby Alivia was finally here.  I am so happy to report that Traci is doing very well and is absolutely in love with her new little girl and Matt is pleased as punch!  Alivia weighed in at 6 lbs, 8 ozs and is 20 1/2 inches long. Here are some pictures from earlier today.

The new family, finally the long awaited day has arrived and Baby Alivia is here and Matt and Traci will now be known as Daddy and Mommy!

Proud new Mommy gazes lovingly at baby.

I think little Alivia is already showing off her personality :)

Dave and me with our very first granddaughter.

Sleepy time

Thursday, November 1, 2012

October Catch Up

Guess I got tired of blogging for a while, so I didn't blog, but today I feel like blogging so here goes.  This is a lazy post, just a catch up of October and mainly in pictures.  In some ways it has been a busy month, yet in other ways not. Yesterday was a cold, windy, rainy day, Amber picked the boys up around four, so I made a big mug of tea, put a movie on Netflix, The Lady Vanishes, a 1938 Alfred Hitchcock film, and picked up my knitting. I enjoyed the tea, the movie, and got a lot of knitting done!! A lazy yet productive hour and half. What am I knitting you might ask, a v-neck cardigan for myself in a color called oatmeal in the Vanna's choice yarn line.

Product 860-400

A week or so ago we had some rather splendid weather, an Indian Summer, a few days of highs in the seventies, it is very important to get outside and enjoy the gift of a balmy fall day. The day before, a Sunday afternoon, I started to clean up the gardens, pulled some weeks, cut back suckers on some of the fruit trees, and pulled up all of the dead plants, zinnia, marigold, tomato, green bean, peppers, then cut back the asparagus, and generally had a good tidy up.  I started a fire and burned a lot of the stuff in our campfire ring.  On the Monday afternoon I went out to burn more stuff that I had piled in the center of the tomato patch.  Once the fire was going I decided to burn all of the tree limbs and debris that came down after the bad storm on June 29. I had a fabulous time outside, my fire was amazing, in fact I ended up with two fires going and by the following morning all I had left were piles of ash that I can spread over the gardens.  I still need to clean up the raspberry canes, and do a few more clean up chores, and am living in hope that we will have another balmy fall day to do the rest of the work.

Dave and I have been enjoying board games lately, we have always enjoyed Scrabble, but one evening we were "game" for anything, we played cards, we played Othello, a game I always enjoy playing but Dave thinks it a rather silly game, we played Scrabble and then we played chess.  We only have one chess game and it belongs to our son Ben, it is The Simpson's chess set, it is rather hard to take the game seriously when Homer is King!!!  Boy when the game started I was kicking @@@, then my opponent made a sneaky move and everything went downhill for me super-de-duper-de fast!!  I don't think I won a single game all evening, but I did have a good time.

Can you believe it?? Little Charlie was 5 months old on the 10/27, he is a gorgeous little chappy!!

Pumpkin carving took place at our house about ten days before Halloween, some of the pumpkins we grew and Amber bought some to add to the pile. Every one had a pumpkin to carve, most of us carved the old fashioned way using a knife. Dave had to be hi-tech, he used a Dremel, and Matt and Traci decided it worked well so they used it as well. One draw back to the Dremel, it emits a fine mist of pumpkin while carving, I kept finding bits of pumpkin to clean up for several days!!! While everyone carved I made them waffles and sausage for supper.

Let the carving begin.

The Pumpkins anxiously awaiting carving!
Henry enjoys a few waffles. 
 Traci means business when she cleans out a pumpkin!
 Matt being creative with the Dremel.
 One of Matt's pumpkins, he is a Notre Dame fan - can you tell!!
 Our handiwork on display - I think they look wonderful.

 Fun in a box.  A few weeks ago Amber and Brad had a mini disaster at their house.  They have a well pit in their back yard, it is about 6 feet deep, at the bottom of the pit is their pressure tank for the well.  Brad went out to mow the grass and noticed water gushing out from under the cover on the 6 foot deep pit, YIKES!!  Dave and I went over, Dave turned off the well and went to look in the pit, the pressure tank was floating on the surface, surely not a good sign.  Anyway, long story short, once the well was shut off and the pit drained  Dave was able to install a new pressure tank, turn on the well and the little family had water again and all for the price of a pressure tank.  Our pressure tank also needed replacing, so Dave picked a new one up for us when he got one for Amber and Brad, this was very cool because now we had two identical good sized boxes for making box boats!!!  The boys were very excited and have played for hours in their boxes, they have been cars, boats, beds, houses, space ships, just to name a few things, they have eaten lunch in them, hidden in them, looked at books in them.  Don't you just love how such a simple item, an empty cardboard box, can just cause the imagine to churn and create hours of contented fun.

 Fun with cooking.  I recently decided to try fingerling potatoes, and ventured into the trying the purple variety, aren't they beautiful when freshly cut?  I tossed them in a little olive oil and herbs and roasted them, very nice they were too.  The bottom pan is Potatoes with Garlic and Peanut Butter - an extremely good curry, I enjoyed it with Quinoa.  Don't get me started on Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) I love the stuff and can't imagine how I ever survived without it. If you like tabouleh you will probably love it if you make it with quinoa rather than bulgar wheat.  The recipe for the Potatoes with Garlic and Peanut can be found here:

And last but not least, Traci - no Alivia has not yet arrived into this world. I took this picture on Sunday, it was  Alivia's official due date, she is not making any signs of impending arrival yet, Traci is keeping herself busy and not going too crazy with the waiting.  But we can't wait, how exciting for Matt and Traci they are going to be good parents and they are so ready for little Alivia to get here as are the rest of us.