Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cooking Saturdays

Many years ago I used to spend Saturday mornings cooking with my friend "Aunt Enid." I'm not sure how we got started, but every Saturday Aunt Enid's fire-engine red jeep would pull up outside our gate and wait for me to hop inside.

We were living in Uganda at the time and there were a handful of expatriates in our town from various countries. Aunt Enid hailed from the UK. Thus, the plan was for her to teach me some of the basics of British cooking.

I had great fun! I learned the basics of soup-making, pastry, food preparation and some classic British dishes. Our mornings always ended with cups of tea and a biscuit. Aunt Enid's influence was very timely and looking back now I see how wonderful it was to get out beyond the bounds of my own family's repertoire and learn new things. I also think how privileged I was that an older woman would take the time out of her schedule to invest in a young girl.

Here I am, standing in the heart of downtown Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

Aunt Enid and Uncle Keith now live in Wales. We've kept in touch over the years and even managed to meet up again when we lived in Scotland. Today I decided to phone them up and see how they were.

It's always fun to catch up on each others' news: hear what the grandchildren are up to, tell what my children are up to, find out any health concerns, hear about any exciting holidays. And it is always fun to tell Aunt Enid just what I've been up to in the kitchen (I had to mention the puff pastry!)

Enid and Keith spent some of their time in Dubai before living in Uganda. Recently I sold a tea cozy from my Etsy sight and noted that it was headed to Dubai! A fun bit of trivia, and it got Uncle Keith talking about a trip back to Dubai several years ago.

As the phonecall ended, I told them that I was off to spend a good portion of the day in the kitchen -- cooking of course. I've got a bunch of new recipes which I've collected in my "Fall Folder" and a list of things to prepare for tomorrow's lunch (company's coming).

There is a big bowl of apple slices covered in flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice, just waiting for me to throw them into Rustic Apple Tarts. A small bowl of defrosted cherries are waiting to be turned into cherry-pomegranate chutney, and a loaf of sour-dough bread is thawing prior to its reincarnation as Sour Dough Sweet Potato Stuffing. How I wish I had my camera so I could take pictures.

I hope you all have a good weekend!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thoughts on Hospitality

Today I'm participating in Keeping Creative Kitchens over at Reflective Ponderings. Without my camera I feel at a bit of a loss as to what to blog about these days. :) I know it's silly, but I guess I'm sort of a photo-blogger and it just isn't the same without the pictures.
Anyway, today I thought I'd mention a book on hospitality that I'm reading right now. It's called A Life That Says Welcome by Karen Ehman. I like to periodically read books on home management, hospitality, parenting, marriage just to "keep creative".
So far I'm enjoying this book. One thing Ehman says early on in her book is that the object of Christian hospitality is to refresh not impress. I think this is such a great little phrase to keep in mind and to encourage us in whatever efforts we make at hospitality.
She also devotes a chapter to reminding us that our family comes first. We need to put thought and care into taking care of our family's physical needs before taking care of others.
Since I'm only beginning chapter 4, I can't give you a run down of the rest of the book yet. :) But, I'm looking forward to the encouragement it should offer.
In the mean time, I think contentment is the word I need to be focusing on just now. When I feel frustrated at my lack of creativity, or the plethora of beautiful things I see in magazines and not in my own home, or disappointed at what my cupboard has to offer, I think it's time for me to sit back and be grateful for the many, many things I do have and foster a contented spirit. Funny enough, contentment seems to inspire creativity sometimes......
PS: Last week I did make the Pumpkin Raisin Bread and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. Both are really, really good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Remembering Paris

A friend of ours is heading to Paris one week from today! In anticipation of Carla's trip, and with the pressing need of Thanksgiving menu-planning, we had a Paris-themed lunch today.

We enjoyed French Onion Soup, Baked Brie with Brown Sugar and Pecans, grapes, crackers and bread. For dessert I made Pain au Chocolat -- puff pastry in which a little square of dark chocolate is wrapped. It was very, very good. It was my first attempt at puff pastry from scratch and all the effort paid off!

I thought I'd list some of my favorite things about Paris and include a reading list at the bottom of some great books to read (since my camera is still in the shop and I have nothing else I can blog about :) ).

1. Walking the streets: just taking all the sights and sounds in, people-watching, picture-taking, window-shopping.

2. Looking in the fancy food shops -- this one had a case full of glace fruits, even whole pineapples, preserved in ghastly amounts of sugar syrup.

3. Buying breakfast at the bakery every morning: my favorite was the Pain au Raisin

4. Visiting a Flea Market -- the crowded lanes and mob of people added to the atmosphere and I did find a bag of lace and linen to bring home!
5. Walking around Reformation History sights -- here we are in the area where John Calvin had his room.6. Sitting on Pont Neuf and admiring all the beautiful architecture

7. Going to Versailles - and looking through the incredibly gaudy rooms!
8. Watching the kids experience Paris
Our trip to Paris was not without its moments of surprise and fatigue: like arriving the evening of the hottest day on record (ever!) in Paris and being shown to the 6th floor of the elevator-less, air-conditioning-free, fan-free youth hostel with two children, two buggies and all our luggage in tow. We survived on wonderful French bread, cheese and fruit for two weeks, plus an insane amount of money spent on water bottles to keep us hydrated in the heat..... Now, of course, only the idyllic memories surface when one says Paris.
Now for a recommended reading list:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Week in Review

It's finally beginning to feel like that warm, fuzzy time of year. The temperature definately changed this week and now we can wear fleeces and sweaters! I think I'm excited. :)

No, my camera isn't back. It'll be in the shop for a week to ten days, with a hefty bill at the end. I suppose that is how life is.

The cool weather motivated me to switch over our clothes for the cooler seasons. I've just finished and it's such a good feeling to have everyone's clothes neatly organized and to know who needs what, etc. Sorting through everything, I found myself very thankful for how God has provided yet again for our clothing needs -- mostly through hand-me-downs from family and a few great garage sales I hit at the beginning of the summer.

I've been enjoying the fall foliage so much this week! I can't believe I don't have my camera to record it. One morning we went on a family walk down a nearby canal. It was so beautiful, peaceful, quiet. Later that afternoon we all tried our hand at capturing the sight with watercolors.

The fall colors happened overnight, literally. I took the below picture about 5 days before the overnight change. This same picture today (if I could take it) would show bright yellows and oranges with brown leaves underfoot.

And, just before I broke the camera, I figured out where my flower setting was! Yeah! Now I can get it to focus a little better!

We made it to the library yesterday to stock up. We carry so many books out of there that I bring the stroller just to cart them. Somehow the cold weather took my aversion to Christmas-planning away, and I came out of the library with a stack of idea books. :)

The boys decided to decorate their room for fall this week. After a leaf-collecting trip in the woods they snuck away to their room and taped (!!) leaves to windows, doors, walls, furniture, etc. Then they proudly gave a show of their decorated room. :) Very cute! Not so cute a few days later when the leaves dried and crumbled. But, that's what Saturday is for -- extra cleaning and chores.

We're off to visit a different church tomorrow. Michael's switching pulpits with a friend for the morning service. It will be a chance to meet new people and get to know a congregation in a different part of the city.

The children and I have started Little Women. I'm so excited. I just read a biography of Louisa May Alcott, which I found fascinating, and so it's going to be fun to read this favorite again, with the kids. I think Rachel will really enjoy it.

Oh, the knitting night went really well! Better than I expected! We had 15 girls and about 7 moms. Everyone caught on straight away! It worked well having my sisters and another mom to go around the room and help each one along. After snack time the girls regathered in a large circle in the front room to talk and knit -- priceless!

Soccer season ended this morning. Andrew has enjoyed himself and is looking forward to Spring. The cool weather held off until just the right time!

I'm off to read a bit and then I think I'll be in the kitchen for a good part of the day. There is wheat to grind, dinner to cook, dinner to organize for tomorrow, and I really think we need something around here to snack on!

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Today I am joining in again with my friend Alaina for Keeping Creative Kitchens.

This post is all about the magnificent and wonderful pumpkin, and how to be creative with it.

I'm a big fan of the pumpkin. They've always been a symbol of Autumn to me, and especially of Thanksgiving time. I remember my mom taking us kids to pumpkin farms where we were each allowed to pick out a pumpkin.

We used our pumpkins to decorate around the house and then turned them into pies at Thanksgiving. The best part was cutting up the pumpkins and roasting the seeds in the oven, sprinkling them with salt, and then eating them by the handful.

My earliest recollection of really being taken with pumpkin was at my eleventh birthday when I requested a pumpkin cake with cream cheese icing. It was so soft and moist and gooey, and covered with that delicious mix of tangy-sweet that is the hallmark of cream-cheese icing. Ever since, I have snapped up recipes from friends for things like pumpkin muffins, cookies, bread, and even fudge!
Much of my pumpkin cooking in previous years involved lots of sugar. Recently I've discovered many recipes for savory dishes using pumpkin. I find that very exciting (especially since I'm supposed to avoid sugar). So, here is a collection of recipes, ideas, and links for using pumpkins this Fall.
Sausage and Pumpkin Roast

Bacon and Pumpkin Pasta

Tagliatelle with Roast Pumpkin, Sage, Ricotta and Smoked Cheese

This last recipe is from a cookbook that I reviewed once called Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry. A lovely cookbook for this time of year.

I try to stock up on butternut squash and other squashes when they go on sale. Wal-Mart had them for 48 cents a pound last week and so I stocked up. The cashier ringing up my 30-pounds worth asked if I was decorating my yard with these. "No," I replied. "We are going to eat these -- probably much to my childrens' chagrin." This week I added 5 pie pumpkins which I found for a bargain. At present this huge collection is decorating my hearth, but, fear not, we will be (and have been) eating it!

Just for a note on the price of canned pumpkin: Aldi's has canned pumpkin for 79 cents which is much better than Wal-Mart's $1.29.
I don't yet have a pumpkin soup recipe that I'm crazy about. However, there are plenty to discover on the web. I did try a pumpkin soup "topper" that I enjoyed: parsley, grated orange zest and dried cranberries. Lovely! You must try it!
Now onto things with a bit more sugar (or honey).....
Healthy Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

Pumpkin Seed Brittle -- you can see the brittle in the picture below, to the left. I can't find the recipe I used! However, you will surely find one on the web if you look!

And then there are:

Pumpkin Cheesecake -- a terrific idea for Thanksgiving

Emily's Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Pie -- which has been my favorite pumpkin pie in years past

Pumpkin Fudge

Golden Pumpkin Raisin Bread

Sugared Pumpkin Seeds

I'd also like to try Easy Pumpkin Chutney and especially Pumpkin Whoopie Pies!

And then there are pumpkin cookies, pumpkin scones, pumpkin bars, pumpkin rolls, pumpkin cakes, pumpkin mousse, etc. etc. etc.

Last, but not least, my friend Heather gave me an idea for the children: Pumpkin Play Dough! Adding orange food coloring and pumpkin pie spice to the regular play dough recipe makes for a great twist to playdough!
I hope you all will enjoy pumpkin in one form or another this Fall!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wedding Flowers -- Behind the Scenes

The last wedding of the season has come and gone. The wedding was lovely, and the flowers came out so well!

Friday (flower day) was a day I had looked forward to all week. I must have caught the flower bug while doing Stephanie's flowers because I couldn't wait to do more flowers! I felt that same anticipation that I feel before Christmas.

The day lived right up to my expectations, although there seemed to be a few added things I wasn't looking forward to.....

Friday dawned bright and early and I went downstairs dressed in winter clothes to handle the "freezing" temperatures of the kitchen where all the flowers had slept for the night with the windows open.

Our fellow flower workers began to trickle in and work started, accompanied by plenty of tea and a Pumpkin Streusel Coffeecake!

Tragedy #1: I opened my camera and started taking pictures only to drop it on the floor after the 2nd picture, jamming the lens open.

I could hardly believe my eyes! My camera is my 3rd arm! Fortunately, my sister assured me I could borrow her camera, and Laura offered her camera for more pictures (so, thanks to Laura, we actually have 2 pictures for this post!)

So the flowers began to take shape: 14 bouttonneirres, 6 corsages, 4 bridesmaids bouquets, 1 bridal bouquet, 8 table arrangements and 6 church arrangements. We laughed about Emily's search around the city to find 9 Beta fish to complete the table arrangements, and the floral wholesaler's forgetting to send Emily home with the 150 red roses.

The wedding colors were red and black and thus we were using all red flowers (and even some black ones!). Peacock feathers completed the theme and appeared in everything from the invitation to the cake.

After a nice lunch, and plenty more enjoyable chatting, it was time for me to run an errand.

Tragedy #2: Off I go in Christina's car to run the errand, forgetting to pull the parking brake and driving 1/2 mile until a blue cloud of smoke and acrid smell alert me to my mistake.

Nevertheless, the flowers are finished in good time and we send Mom and Emily off to the church to do more work there. We decide to trade cars and send Emily in our van, leaving her car here for us to take to the rehearsal.

Michael and I dress for the rehearsal, the babysitter arrives, and we are about to depart. Where are Emily's keys?

Tragedy #3: I forget to get keys to Emily's car, thus leaving the minister stranded at home, far away from the wedding rehearsal.

Fortunately, we live very close to the groom's sister. A frantic call finds them still at home and, yes, they can pick us up. (Poor Alaina then has to rush around to organize her departure as she had no reason to be at the church by a specific time).

Meanwhile, Christina calls.

Tragedy #4: Christina is stranded at the pharmacy where her car is refusing to start. Oh no! Driving with the brake on must have mixed up her car's finicky computer. Unfortunately, all I can do is leave her to be rescued by her husband and wish her well.

Andrew and Alaina arrive to pick us up.

Tragedy #5: My child pees all over the furniture just as I'm walking out the door.

I hope the furniture dries and the smell will not linger. Off we go to the rehearsal where everything seems to go just fine. Emily's arrangements are done and looking beautiful.

Next comes a lovely rehearsal dinner with the bride and groom's families.

Tragedy #6: While passing someone the sugar, I inadvertantly brush my sleeve into the top of the cheesecake. Not realizing my mistake I replace my hand back in my lap. Several minutes later I feel something very squishy in my lap. A glance down reveals cheesecake and chocolate sauce smeared all over my clothes.

Fortunately it is the end of the evening and everyone is tired. No one will mind my stained outfit.

Saturday morning was spent helping Emily with all the finishing touches: putting flowers on the cake, making sure all the fish are still alive, and making a toss bouquet (which we almost forgot to do).

The ceremony was beautiful. Everyone looked terrific in their outfits and the flowers were stunning. The Fall weather was perfect: October blue skys, temperatures in the 80's and yellow and orange leaves everywhere we looked. All the flowers held up well - in fact, Michael's boutonnierre was still going strong on Sunday afternoon, pinned up to my bulletin board.

In the end my sister's car started for her to get home, but unfortunately continued to repeat the problem. Her car is in the shop now. Our car limped on its very last leg into the parking lot of the mechanic late Sunday evening. My Dad called yesterday to say his car would not start. That's us out 3 cars out of 6 in the local family. :)

Once I have a car back then I can deal with the broken camera and then I will have lots and lots of beautiful pictures to show you.

And now I must clean my house. Twenty to thirty little girls and their mothers are coming tonight to learn to knit and I've got to get ready....

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thought for Food

Today I'm participating in Keeping Creative Kitchens over at Reflective Ponderings. (And I haven't figured out how to make the picture link yet -- next week! :)

Our mantle has finally been changed over for Fall. Truly the Autumn season is here in all its glory!

Fall is definately my favorite season for food. Here is Sunday Lunch from this past weekend. The cupboards were nearly bare, no fresh veggies to be had, but we managed to dine well.

I sauteed a pan full of onions and apples to be served underneath thin cuts of pork loin which I also cooked in a saute pan and let rest a few minutes before serving. There were rolls leftover from my sister's party and a lovely, Autumnal salad: romaine (Cos) with pears and dried cranberries.

This salad is so versatile and I make many, many versions of it. Here is a recipe:

Choose a green: Romaine (Cos), spinach, or leaf lettuce

Choose a fruit: pear, apple, peach, nectarine, strawberry

Choose a dried fruit: dried cranberries, dates, raisins, currants, golden raisins, dried cherries

Optional: blue cheese, feta, shards of parmesan, almonds, walnuts, pecans (candied pecans too), poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds

Dressing: juice of 1 lemon, canola oil in double the amount of lemon juice, salt and pepper

A new ingredient I've been using this week is Horseradish! I went cheap and bought the bottled version and it seemed to work fine. We had it mixed with sourcream and parsley as a topping for hamburgers and then discovered that combination made an excellent dip for veggies. I even used the horseradish in devilled eggs in place of mustard. You'll have to try some!

We just got this cookbook out of the library and Rachel and I are reading it together. It is very kid friendly but still grown up.

Rachel's first project was her very own loaf of bread. Good job Rachel!

I hope you all have a good weekend -- a weekend that will hopefully include some good food too! We are gearing up for a wedding on Saturday. The house is filled with flowers and the flower ladies will be hard at work tomorrow morning!

Homeschool Group

This year the circumstances were right for us to join a Homeschool Group. Lighthouse Home Educators is a group of homeschooling families in our area that meet once a week for 6 weeks of classes in the Fall and 6 weeks in the Spring. In between there are optional field trips, family activities, and mom fellowships to participate in.

So far, the kids have really enjoyed our day at LHE. It starts at 9 a.m. with Praise and Worship. Then, everyone is dismissed from the gathering area to their first class.

The Group is highly organized and each mom has a schedule of just where to be and what to do for the 3 hours of classes. My first hour is spent with Andrew in the Kindergarten and 1st Grade class.
Next I join the 2 and 3 year olds for snack and playdough hour. They are very cute!

During the final hour I help supervise the Preschoolers in the indoor playground. LHE meets at a nearby church. It is an amazing facility and very well suited for a homeschool group.

At the end of the morning we all meet back for a short puppet show before eating picnic lunches on the floor.

All in all it is a great opportunity for the kids to experience more "formal" classrooms and to interact with a large group of children their own ages. And of course it is nice to meet other moms who are doing the same thing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fall Handiwork

I find it amazing that I actually have time for crafts during the school year. I thought the summer would be the time when, free of homeschooling, I'd have so much time to devote to projects. Not so! I was frustratingly absent from the crafting corner. But, now I'm back.

I just finished my Fall purse. It's made from a felted sweater and some chocolate courdoroy and embellished with some tapestry yarn:

I also finished another double point needle case (I sell these on Etsy). Interestingly, I've finally sold 2 tea cozies on Etsy -- one travelling to Canada and the other all the way to the United Arab Emirates!
I've finished one sock! The other is almost half way done! It was easier than I thought and I'll have to do more.

And I did sneak another baby sweater in as well. I must get busy on some more -- my cousins are due in the upcoming weeks.

Rachel asked if we could make her a purse from an old pair of trousers. This is what materialized:

I'm brainstorming the next purse/bag. This time I'll have to sell it rather than keep it. :) I know I'm supposed to start thinking about Christmas presents, but I really don't want to! Michael says, "Don't think about it!"

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Fall Birthday Party

On Saturday my sister hosted a 30th birthday party for her husband, JK.

It was an outdoor dinner on their deck.

Everything was so festive for Fall. Don't you love the color scheme!

Food was conveniently handed through the kitchen window to the "outside help."

We started off in daylight with French Onion Soup:

Daylight faded and soon it was time for the main course.

We enjoyed roast pork with tomatoes and mushrooms, steamed green beans, apple/date salad, scalloped potatoes and dinner rolls.

It was SO much fun to dine outdoors! The air was cool and just a bit nippy. The only light was that of the candles on the table. It felt almost like camping -- but luxurious camping. I want to do it again.

Christina brought out the chocolate cake (which Baby insists "he made") to the tune of Happy Birthday:

Then we all moved indoors for cake, tea and coffee, and funny stories about JK:

I'll have to post this recipe sometime. I had a little sliver the next day and feel this was a good chocolate cake -- very dark chocolate, not extremely sweet, and with the best ganache icing:

Another week has begun. There is a wedding at the end of it! The food shopping has been done and school started for the week. Now it is time to rest before another day begins!