Saturday, January 31, 2015

Spring Planting . . . . . .

A January trot through the garden department at Walmart - headed to the 
birdseed section - had little to excite a gardener expecting pots of pretty flowers. 
Much too early, much too cold.

This splash of greenery was heart warming.

I've not grown potatoes and onions since helping mother in our English garden
 after WWII when everyone seemed to tend a 'Victory Garden'. 
I do recall digging up new potatoes and how tasty they were.
I have a raised bed sitting idle, perhaps I should have Bob dig it over, refresh 
the soil and plant something to add to the bubbling soup pot.

Do you grow potatoes and/or onions?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Toast and marmalade. . . . . . . .

No getting away from it, I absolutely love buttered toast and marmalade.
I grew up in a British home with a family who loved a couple of slices of good bread 
 toasted up into light, crispy crusted toast, at breakfast and often at other times.

Yesterday while in Aldi for mushrooms, tomatoes and avocados - I happened to see
this 'Italian' bread on a rack. The large 2 lb bag of bread - at just $3.49 - looked 
interesting, and when I picked it up I immediately thought 'toast'. 
I was right, this bread makes wonderful toast, light and crispy, no sogginess 
when buttered, holds marmalade without collapsing, perfect for breakfast.

There was always good local butter - in Devon we lived surrounded 
by dairy farms, thankfully many are still there. Mother made many delicious jams.
I especially loved her Damson plum, raspberry and strawberry, fruits available 
locally in season. However, nothing compared to her homemade orange 
marmalade, boiled, stirred, and 'bottled' from the annual glut of bitter
Seville oranges which arrived, just once a year, in England's little corner 
greengrocer shops.

Today's breakfast.

I am always on the lookout here for British-made marmalade, even passing 
up French Bonne Maman!  Although I love their jams, their marmalade is too runny 
and the peel too fine and soft. Good marmalade has chunks of peel you can bite into. 
Personally, I give a wide berth to any commercial American-made versions all of 
which have far too much sugar, plus unacceptable too finely chopped/shredded peel.

Today I'm spreading, generously I might add, my current jar of Mackays Dundee 
Orange Marmalade, "made with the whole fruit" in traditional open copper pans. 
Peel not as thick as some other Scottish brands but still very good with a nice bite. 
BTW, the best marmalades seem to be made in Scotland, the first jar supposedly
 produced there in 1797, and Dundee holds the name "The Home of Marmalade".

What do you put on your toast?

My vintage marmalade crocks.

It has been said that Seville Orange Marmalade was created by an Englishwoman in the 1700's. The wife of a grocer was stuck with some sour oranges that were bought cheaply from a boat carrying them from Seville, Spain. There was a storm and they wanted to get rid of their cargo of oranges quickly, so the grocer purchased them. Sadly, or maybe not, they were inedible and his wife decided to try making jam from them. Viola! - Seville Orange Marmalade was invented.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Happy life and many thanks. . . . . .

Bob thanks all of you who wished him well. 
Yesterday he came through some quite intense dental surgery 
with flying colors. 
Meanwhile, I continue my role as nurse, driver, and mixologist of liquid
nourishment in all forms, except citrus and booze!

I thank you too my good, dear friends - wishing you good health,
someone to love, and someone who loves you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mornings like this. . . . . . . . . . . .

 . . . . . . aren't much fun!

Even with a beautiful sunrise.
Even without a couple of feet of snow - stay safe and warm 
dear northern friends.

Dear husband will spend part of this morning in the dentist's chair having 
major oral surgery. 
While dreaming only those strange dreams one gets while under general anesthesia,
I'll be knitting or reading in the waiting room - it could take a couple of hours.
I'll be worrying too - you know how that is. 

Must run now - my role for today, and the next few, is chauffeur and nursemaid.
The best part of today will be when we pull up the driveway later. 
The Welcome home sign will be for us today!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Australia: A Very Special Land. . . . . . . . .


To my dear Australian friends who welcomed me warmly to their beautiful, 
amazing land - from east to west I loved it all and hope to return some day.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Delicious AND healthy. . . . . .

While still hanging about in the January kitchen, thought I'd just share some 
liquid refreshment. More substantial than just a mug of strong black coffee, 
or a delicate china cup and saucer filled with Empress Grey (my favorite tea),
my new drink, replacing a midday meal, or sometimes for breakfast, is 
something I concocted for want of a glut of fresh fruit on hand and a blender. 
I'm keeping Kefir and Naked juices in my refrigerator from hereon out!

This is my quick version of a smoothie - those often over-priced, fancy blended 
drinks purporting to be the elixir to quaff in the quest to perfect health. Well 
perhaps some are, but we don't really need to be snacking on them often when 
away from home, far too many calories to be consuming between meals.
My quick and easy 'smoothie' has become a meal replacement, enjoyable and 
extremely healthy. 
Read the history of amazing Kefir. It has so many health benefits. The 
Helios Greek Nonfat brand, with extra protein and honey and several different 
flavors to choose from, is my favorite. Here I'm using pear & honey.

To the Kefir I add - about half and half - Naked brand juice, fruit or 
veggie, here I'm using their delicious sugar-free Blue Machine.
A quick stir together and you have a great tasting, healthy combo.
Both items are easy to find in grocery stores.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Homemade Flatbread/Pizza . . . . . . .

Here's my quick, easy, and hopefully healthy flatbread mentioned 
recently. A few of you said you'd like to have the recipe.

Leek and Mushroom Flatbread/Pizza

A pre-made flatbread or pizza crust - I like Stonefire brand, or 
of course you can make your own crust!
1-2 med. leeks, washed well, dried and trimmed, sliced thinly
7 oz mixed mushrooms - white button, cremini, shitake - sliced 
4 oz Fontina cheese, sliced 
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Arugula tossed with a little olive oil.

Place a large shallow-rimmed baking sheet on center rack while pre-heating oven to 375F.

In a medium skillet, sauté the sliced leeks in a little olive oil over moderate heat 
until soft, but do not let them color. Add the sliced mushrooms along with salt and 
pepper and a little more oil if they soak up the oil already in the pan. Let all soften 
together for a few minutes then remove from heat.
Remove baking sheet - remember it will be hot - place flatbread on it and 
spread the leek/mushroom mixture over the crust, tucking in the slices of cheese.
Return to oven and bake 15 minutes until cheese has melted and crust is crisp.
Top with the arugula, slice and enjoy!

I concocted another version last evening to use up items lurking in the 'frig - 
bag of chopped rainbow chard (sautéed with a little garlic), 
a chunk of Manchego cheese, mushrooms, a thinly sliced shallot, and scattered 
pine nuts on top - quite delicious.
That's the fun part of flatbreads, you can create a rustic, healthy version with so many
good ingredients you may already have on hand. I keep the pre-made crusts, white 
and whole wheat, in the freezer and thaw before using.
A bowl of a homemade soup, along with a slice of healthy pizza, makes a 
satisfying meal.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Kitchen 'art gallery' ---------------------

I didn't 'stage' my refrigerator for this post - I was just wiping down the door handles 
when it occurred to me that we haven't talked a lot about what we put on those 
big doors! They are a bit like a blank canvas - whether white, bisque 
(such as mine), black or stainless steel. 
I have seen people who turn their doors into photo galleries - their life comes to the 
forefront sharing memories with pictures of everyone who has crossed their path, 
from childhood friends to the latest cute baby of the family.

My doors may not be engaging to those who love overload. I lean more toward one 
major seasonal photo or illustration, surrounded by a changing collection of 'frig 
magnets, many from my travels. 
My favorite thing to display is a page torn from a magazine, most likely the British 
edition of Country Living as they have the most beautiful nature inspired  
articles. I keep folders of these favorite pages for each of the four seasons, 
changing the page every couple of weeks.

I do love to have something handy to write on - reminders, shopping lists etc.
This current magnetic notepad - a gift from my fabulous friend Penny from the 
blog The Comforts of Home - has thick, smooth paper, easy to tear off, and I found
 a bundle of these 'posh' paper wrapped pencils at Anthropologie.
The useful set of magnets with quotes I've had forever.

The current 'gallery' page shows a rustic table and vintage metal chairs illuminated 
by quite lovely chandeliers. Food, wine, candles, and urns with blooming 
paperwhites cover the table. The overall feeling is one of a warm place to sit and 
enjoy the Winter days in the kitchen or dining room. 
The French-style fleur-de-lis magnets are perfect for securing this page to the door.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Weekend Walking in Winter. . . . . . .

Sunday afternoon. 
Bright sunshine and quite warm.
We went back to the pond to see how it looked after the heavy rain we heard 
falling Saturday night. Our bundled up shadows fell on chilly water. The ice was gone, 
the water was much higher, and several Canada geese were being fed by passersby.

Colors were few, but when we found some they were bright and beautiful.

A nearby creek, its gunmetal water flowing quite fast, brushed the 
leafy edges as it twisted through a subdivision.

Winter walking can be pleasant . . . . . . . I'm doing mine while I can 
because I still think the worst weather is yet to come in these parts!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Kitchen in Winter. . . . . . . .

It's Sunday morning and I have nothing exceptional to write about. 
Winter teases us with icy claws, damp fogs, cold rain, occasional sunshine, 
lip blistering winds, even snow in many places.  
January seems to be dragging here in the southeast, perhaps because we all 
seem to still be awaiting real Winter weather which, to date, hasn't arrived. 
We've had some very cold days and nights, but we would like 
little snow, after all what's Winter without at least a dusting of the white stuff,
and the garden would enjoy the moisture.
The wellies/snow boots stand waiting near the door. The old gloves with 
the holes have been darned ready for throwing snowballs and building a 
snow person. Mufflers and warm ear-covering hats are hanging on the 
peg. . . . .and there's plenty of hot chocolate waiting to be brewed to fill 
those hand warming mugs.

The Winter kitchen here at the cottage continues to bubble, steam, sizzle at 
different times of the day. We still enjoy eating at home rather than restaurants.
Although I'm the vegetarian, now and then I fix a meat dish for my dearest. 
This past week I made him a savory beef stew - it even smelled appetizing to me.
I used my dear mother's old recipe, she called it 'braised beef', just beef, onions, 
carrots, good quality beef bouillon, seasoning, all cooked together long and 
slow, then thickened with a little cornstarch and served with mashed potatoes.

Today however the kitchen will be strictly a place to 'veg out' in.
I have a chubby butternut squash awaiting the chef's knife and 
I'll be pulling together this simple, but tasty, small plate found in an 
old UK magazine. 

Roast Butternut Squash 
with Goat's Cheese, Sage & Garlic
large butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and cut into pieces
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
150g (5 oz) medium-to-mature goat's cheese log 
Handful of fresh sage leaves
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced

Preheat oven to 350F (180C or gas 6)
Toss squash pieces in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and
salt and pepper to taste.
Heat large frying pan over med-high heat and sear squash pieces
about 2 mins. on each side - do in batches if necessary. 
Transfer pieces to a roasting pan, snuggled up in a single layer.
Trim ends from cheese and slice log, laying slices on top of 
squash pieces. Scatter sage leaves on top and drizzle with 
2 tablespoons of oil, especially on the leaves.
Roast for 20 mins., then toss garlic with remaining tablespoon 
of oil, scatter over and roast another 10-15 mins. until cheese 
is golden.
Serve straight away.

We'll enjoy this tonight alongside a slice, or two, of 
Leek and Mushroom Flatbread/Pizza - if anyone would like that recipe, 
a delicious very easy version, leave a note in a comment please.
We'll light a fire, sip a glass of excellent Layer Cake Malbec 
from Argentina, and get ready for Downton Abbey of course.

Have a lovely Sunday.
Doing anything special you'd like to share?

Edited: 8:00 PM Sunday

Here's my version - this is the first time I've made it!
Very good, but I think I'd use less goat cheese next time, just the recipe 
amount - I doubled up because I had to use up a larger roll of cheese, made it 
very rich. The fresh sage is definitely required, it looks dark but doesn't burn, 
just gets very crispy and delicious. Also, do use plenty of garlic, it really adds 
great flavor to this dish.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Good mug of java!

Looks like this will be a coffee drinking day!
I'm meeting a dear friend at Starbucks this afternoon, however, later this morning . . . 
I'm picking up my granddaughter Jasmin after early release (she's doing exams) 
and we're going out for coffee, at her invitation, and it will be at our favorite local 
independent coffee shop.
 I'll let her drive as she needs more practice before taking her test for a license. 
Icy conditions of the past couple mornings have gone, thankfully, and we have 
bright sunshine despite the chill. All in all, a cheery looking morning. 
I even spy some robins at the birdbath, always a sign of a distant Spring.

I enjoy coffee. I don't like bad coffee. I usually drink mine black, no cream or 
sugar - it must be strong, not bitter, smooth and flavorsome.
If there's no good coffee available I'll stick with a nice cup of tea.
Do you agree with that statement on the wall above?

Do you have a favorite brand of coffee?
Do you grind your own beans?
Do you frequent a particular local coffee shop?
If so, is it a chain or an independent business?

What are your thoughts on coffee drinking?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Sweet Carolina Wren . . . . .

Yet another 'bird post'. I seem to be surrounded by feathered friends lately.
You may recall this tiny house covered in birdseed - my sweet neighbor Lori 
gave it to me at Christmas. Hanging on the front porch it's been visited mostly by 
chickadees. Yesterday I was thrilled to see one of my wrens chomping away 
on the tiny seeds lodged in between the sunflower seeds on the roof. I grabbed a 
camera and managed a few shots as it stayed for quite a while. This morning he/she 
was back, pecking hard to get at the seeds because we had an ice storm overnight.

Isn't it just incredible how these tiny birds stay warm and active even on the coldest
winter days . . . . . and bring so much beauty to our window gazing?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Woodland Walk Part II ---------------

We seem to have a love/hate relationship with the Canada goose, don't we?
They are quite magnificent looking birds. I especially enjoy them when in a
 V-shaped loud honking flyover above the garden at dusk. . . . . knowing they 
are heading home to their pond. Whereas, when grounded in our parks, 
ponds and local gardens, I must agree they are extremely mucky pests. 
Having become non-migratory, their numbers have increased to thousands 
in my area of North Carolina. 

Extremely successful at living in human-altered areas, Canada geese have proven able to establish breeding colonies in urban and cultivated areas, which provide food and few natural predators, and are well known as a common park species. Their success has led to them sometimes being considered a pest species because of their depredation of crops and issues with their noise, droppings, and habit of begging for food, especially in their introduced range.   via Wikipedia

Only a dozen geese were hanging out at the pond Saturday afternoon, along with 
two pairs of Mallards. They seemed to get along fine together - there was no bickering 
or pecking, just quiet sharing of the open water for resting or swimming, and preening 
on, or sliding about on the more stable icy parts of the pond. They mostly ignored me 
when I managed to get down close to the bank, no begging for food or honking.

Reflections in the cold water were interesting. . . . . . .

 . . . . . impressionist style paintings came to mind.

Have you taken an interesting winter walk this month?
Do you tuck a camera in your pocket when walking?