Monday, 21 May 2012
Source for this image here.
Osborne House was commissioned by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, in 1944, to be used as a vacation retreat by the Royal family so that they could enjoy some privacy away from the eyes of the public. It is situated on the Isle of Wight near to the seaport village of Cowes, which is famous for holding boating regattas during the summer months. The house has beautiful sea views and was designed to look as if it was an Italian palace. The Royal family spent a lot of time there - not just in the summer, but to celebrate birthdays, holidays and other special occasions too.
Like most Royal properties, Osborne House is very opulent and elegant. It has 39 rooms and a separate Swiss play house for the Royal children, which was actually built out of a real wooden Swiss chalet that was dismantled and brought by ship to be rebuilt in the grounds of Osborne House, where it was furnished as a proper house - but with everything in miniature, so that it was suitable for children! It was used not just as a play house, but as a way of training the Royal children to know the skills needed for ordinary men and women of the time. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert believed their children should not be cushioned from reality, and as well as letting them see what real life was like for ordinary people, they also taught them to understand the value of money - something they would ordinarily not have ever needed to worry about. Prince Albert encouraged them each to have a small garden plot, where they grew vegetables which they were then encouraged to sell to him! The Royal couple were also concerned to make an example to their subjects of how parents should raise their children. They were devoted to each other and to their 9 children and enjoyed an extremely happy marriage which many people admired - and still do today.
As well as the childrens' vegetable plots (which you can still see if you visit Osborne House now) the extensive grounds boast beautiful rose gardens, a walled kitchen garden, gracious cedar and pine trees, paddocks and more besides. If you are lucky enough to visit the Isle of Wight (Papa Bear and I enjoyed our honeymoon here - quite a long time ago! We had a wonderful time and spent the last day of our honeymoon at Osborne House, a truly unforgettable experience) then you will be impressed at how lavish and well kept the grounds are, and the house inside has many of the rooms set out just as they were when the Royal family occupied them. Not all of the rooms were used just for privacy - some of them where where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert liked to entertain and these are very lavishly decorated.
Some of the furnishings in Osborne House have an Indian theme to them as they were given to Queen Victoria, who from 1876 was "Empress of India" and recieved many gifts from important Indian statesmen and kings. There are beautiful embroidered tapestries, heavy silk and satin drapes, luxurious rugs, and ornaments and paintings from all around the world, including gifts that were presented to Queen Victoria when she celebrated her Golden and Diamond Jubilees - our present Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, will be celebrating her Diamond Jubilee next month.
But the parts of the house that weren't used as rooms for the Royal family - such as the kitchens - are also interesting to see, and there are plenty of examples of ordinary life in the Victorian times visible, such as the utensils needed for preparing meals, and the bathing facilities - the Royal family had one of the very first working "showers" in their holiday home!
Queen Victoria loved Osborne House so much that it was here that she passed away. After her passing, Osborne House was not used by members of her family, and it has been passed into the ownership of the State - which means it is now open to the public. We were very pleased to be able to visit there, and in a few years' time, when we have a "special" wedding anniversary to celebrate, Papa Bear and I intend to revisit it, and enjoy sharing a glimpse into the life of a very special Royal couple.
Sunday, 20 May 2012
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.
Amen. (Mark 16: 15-20).
Saturday, 19 May 2012
We've been doing "date nights" since our cubs were wee. They are a great - in fact I would say essential - way to celebrate your togetherness as a couple! It's so important within your marriage to ensure that you do have special times together, when you make an effort to set aside time when you do nothing but enjoy each other's company. I'm not talking about the day-to-day stuff like doing the supermarket shop, but about specially planned occasions, like the dinner party pictured above, which we enjoyed on one date night a while ago - occasions that you are willing to invest your time and imagination in, to do something nice with, that you will both enjoy.
You don't need to go out to have "date night" - in fact, we don't usually. The whole point for us, is that we get to stay at home, but still have a special occasion. When we first started having "date nights" the cubs were too small to be left, so it was a sensible solution to the need to have precious times together, but without leaving home, and we found it worked so well that we have carried on doing it even now that they are well old enough to be left!
We don't have a "date night" every single Saturday. Sometimes there are other things happening that mean we won't have time, or there are weekends when we want to do things with the cubs, too. But at least once a month, sometimes more, we do set aside a Saturday to do this.
Nowadays, we tend to watch a film - we have a "LoveFilm" subscription which means we get to choose exactly which films we want to see, and can watch them at our leisure which suits us great. (This is also a good facility for families who choose to restrict or entirely abstain from watching TV but would still like to use films for entertainment, especially if you have young children, as you can screen films before the rest of the family watches them. Papa Bear tends to screen our films first). But we've done many other things too - see the list below for some extra ideas.
We really enjoy our date nights! We can't recommend them strongly enough to other couples. We look forward to them as a time when we can be "just us", just as we were in the early days of our marriage, and when we can sit and chat about what really matters to us, and share in the special closeness that you can only have with your spouse. To us, it is a really valuable investment in our marriage, and part of what helps us to stay so very happy as husband and wife. After all, we married because we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together! Tonight, we plan to watch an old-fashion black and white movie on DVD and enjoy some "TV snacks" that we will prepare together beforehand.
But what other ways are there to enjoy a "date night" with your spouse at home?
- Cook your evening meal together! This can take some planning, but it doesn't have to! Sharing the preparation of a meal - even a hastily thrown-together one - can be great fun, and afterwards you get to enjoy eating it, too! Treats like popcorn and coconut ice are especially fun to make together.
- Order a take-away from your favourite restaurant.
- Do a home project together - not your husband's tax return! Something fun, like restoring an old chair, or redesigning your living room.
- If your children are old enough to be left, you could go for a walk in your neighbourhood. This is especially lovely done after dark. We enjoy doing this at Christmas, when we can see all the pretty illuminated festive garlands and decorations that our neighbours have used to decorate their homes with.
- Learn a new skill together - such as a language, or a home decorating technique.
- Or why not do some research about a subject you don't know anything about? Get books from the library, pick up leaflets - or use the internet!
- I wouldn't otherwise recommend using the internet - but if you have a blog or website, it can be fun to sit together and think up some new posts or extra features for your joint online project. We don't tend to do this - as a family we don't use the internet very much at all.
- Plan a forthcoming event like a birthday or other family celebration. In our family this is usually left up to me, but Papa Bear enjoys adding his views and ideas to our plans for upcoming family events. We write lists, think up menus, and talk about our memories of other happy times we've enjoyed as a family.
- Talking of memories - why not look at your wedding album together - or pictures of the family as they were growing up.
- Do some puzzles, like Sudoku or crosswords. Papa Bear always knows the solution when we do a Sudoku puzzle!
- Read a book together - take turns to read out loud to each other.
- Give each other a "pamper session" - a foot or back rub, massage or even a haircut!
- Enjoy a work-out DVD! We've done this before - with hilarious results. I've got no co-ordination, and it was very comical to see! It was fun, but we got fit too! If you allow your children to have a computer games console, there are also similar games and sports activities available for these, that you can do together in this way.
- Teach each other a skill that you know well but your spouse doesn't. This might require a little patience! Papa Bear is great at knitting, but I didn't do so well learning how to re-plaster the bathroom ceiling one evening!
- Play games together - not just board games, but paper games are fun too. We like the one where you have to write the first part of astory or draw part of a person, and fold over the paper so that the piece you have written or drawn on is covered up, before passing it over to the other person. Or categories - write a list of 20 different keywords such as "a tree", "a flower", "a colour" "a city" and so on, then pick a letter of the alphabet. Set a timer for 2 or 3 minutes, and see how many of the keywords you can think of with that letter of the alphabet.
- Do some creative writing - a poem, or a song! Or we think up silly jokes to tell the cubs when we are travelling. Oftentimes they seemed very funny to us when we thought of them - but the cubs aren't quite so impressed!
Friday, 18 May 2012
One of the skills that I have endeavoured to share with Little Bear in preparation for womanhood, is the ability to manage a food budget and to create menus based on meals that are frugal but healthy. I've been thinking a wee bit about healthy eating recently and about how to fit this into a sensible weekly menu without spending more money, or creating meals that are overly restrictive. It is our belief as a family that God doesn't intend for us to eat diets that unecessarily restrict or avoid certain foods. He created all the foodstuffs that are available to us - meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, dairy, pulses, nuts - and things like sugar, too! Unless one of us were to develop a food allergy or other illness that required an adjustment of our diet (as guided by a medical practitioner) then we see no reason to become obsessed with our food. We eat well, but sensibly - with room for the occasional treat!
The menu and recipes that follow are ones that Little Bear and I have put together recently to provide meals for a family on a limited budget that still fall within the category of sensible but hearty. They could easily be multiplied for a larger family than our's, or even halved, for a newly-wed couple just starting out in their first home together. The menu doesn't include breakfasts but these could easily be added using simple dishes such as oatmeal, yogurt and fruit, and toast.
This is a long post - so make yourself a cup of tea and settle down somewhere comfortable before you begin to read!
- Saturday - cheese coleslaw and herb bread
- Sunday - soup and herb bread
- Monday - soup and herb bread
- Tuesday - rice salad and wholegrain rolls
- Wednesday - tuna salad and wholegrain rolls
- Thursday - coleslaw and peanut butter sandwiches
- Friday - pasta salad and cheese sandwiches
Evening Meals ...
- Saturday - meatballs in tomato sauce with pasta and cheese
- Sunday - pork casserole
- Monday - spicy potatoes, lentils and rice and herb bread
- Tuesday - beany potato pie
- Wednesday - Boston baked beans
- Thursday - Bangers and mash with Boston baked beans
- Friday - tuna and pasta bake
On Saturday morning, prepare a double batch of bread dough to make the herb bread that you will be eating for the next 2 days. This is best done by hand and baked in 2 2 lb loaf tins in the oven together. Use a simple wholegrain bread recipe like this one ... (this is for 2 2lb loaves)
1 tablespoon dried yeast
1/2 cup tepid water
2 1/2 cups milk or water
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup dried milk powder
2 tablespoons wheatgerm (this is usually found in the cereals aisle in the supermarket)
2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs
1 teaspoon garlic salt
7 - 8 cups wholegrain flour
Activate the yeast by placing in the 1/2 cup tepid water. This may take as long as 15 minutes.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Make an indentation in the centre of the mixture and add the yeast.
Mix gently, then begin to incorporate the milk or water. Stop when you have a stiff dough.
Knead for 10 minutes on a floured surface, then place back in the mixing bowl. Rub a little butter or oil on the surface of the dough to stop it drying out as it rises, and cover with cling film and a clean dry towel. Leave to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
When risen, place on floured board and punch down. Knead for a couple of minutes.
Now divide into 2 equal pieces, and place in 2 prepared 2 1/2 lb loaf tins. Cover with cling film and a clean dry towel and allow to rise again for about 30 minutes.
Now uncover and place in a hot oven - as hot as it will go. You can spray the surfaces of the loaves with a little water if you wish, or do as I do and sprinkle with seeds.
After 15 minutes, reduce temperature of oven to a moderate heat and bake for another 20 minutes or so. It may take your loaves less time than this to be baked, or it may take slightly longer. They are done when the base of a loaf sounds hollow when knocked. If it isn't quite done, replace in tin and bake for 10 minutes more, then test again.
Remove from tins immediately when baked, and cool on a wire tray.
Saturday lunchtime - make the coleslaw. Use 1/2 head white cabbage, 4 red apples, 1 onion, 4 carrots, 6 oz grated cheddar cheese, 4 tablespoons mayonnaise, the juice of 2 lemons and some seasoning to make up a fresh batch of coleslaw. Serve with the warm bread and some butter.
Saturday afternoon - put on a big pan of tomato sauce to simmer for the meatballs. Use 1 chopped onion, 3 14 oz cans of chopped tomatoes, 2 teaspoons mixed Italian herbs and 1 teaspoon garlic paste. Sautee the chopped onion in a little oil, then add the tins of tomato and the seasonings, and turn down the heat on the stove. Simmer for about an hour.
To make the meatball dish ...
1 package 24 ready-made meatballs (I use 8 per man in the family and 4 for the women)
Tomato sauce as already made
1 package dried wholegrain pasta shapes
6 oz grated cheddar cheese
Begin by putting the pasta on to boil in a large saucepan. I normally use 2 or 3 handfulls of pasta per person when I am making a dish like this, which has other ingredients, but the lunch on this day is not heavy, so I tend to serve a larger evening meal.
While the pasta is cooking, put the meatballs on a baking sheet and bake in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes. This is healthier than pan-frying them, but seals the outsides in the same way.
After the pasta is done (will take about 15 minutes), drain, then combine with the sauce in the pan.
Place the part-baked meatballs in a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish or roasting tin. Add the pasta sauce, and cover with the grated cheese. Bake in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling.
Serve with a mixed salad. We tend to only eat dessert at weekends, and at this time of year, this simple microwave banana pudding is a nutritious and tasty dish to serve which is cheap and simple to make. Sometimes I will use self-rising wholegrain flour instead of the usual all-purpose, to make it healthier still.
Sunday morning before Church - prepare your soup for your lunch, and the pork for your evening meal. Start by cutting up 4 onions, then divide into 2 equal portions. Do the same with some a swede (these can be tough! I find them easier to handle if I shave off a little from one side first so that I have a flat surface to lean on. Then I use a large butcher's knife to slice into cubes. Peel and cut into cubes about 8 potatoes. Now cut up 2 apples - no need to peel. Put 2 of the chopped onions, the swede, the potatoes, and the apples into your slow-cooker. Add a piece of pork shank - the cheapest cut of pork available in the supermarket and often less than £2 for the entire joint. Add 1/2 pint hot stock of your choice, and leave to cook on high until you are ready to eat in the evening.
Now sautee the other 2 chopped onions in a large pan. Add to these chopped vegetables of your choice - carrots, celery, potatoes, leeks, parsnips, beets, courgettes (zucchini) - whatever is seasonal or on offer at the supermarket.
Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add about 2 pints vegetable or chicken stock, and 6 oz yellow split peas (no need to soak first).
Turn down the heat and cook for about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and leave until you are ready to eat your lunch. All you will need to do to prepare the meal when you return from Church is to cut half of the second herb loaf into slices, and warm up the soup!
Your evening meal is also ready whenever you want to eat it without any extra work - so you have the rest of your Sunday to enjoy as you please! I like to serve the pork casserole with some steamed fresh spring greens. For dessert we often enjoy impossible chocolate pie with this dish.
Note - pork shank is not smoked, so although you will fetch up with a bone, this is not suitable for using to make stock for soup with (trust me, I've tried, and it tastes horrible). Although it may seem less economical to use this cut than a bacon joint that you could then use to make stock with, the cost of the port shank is considerably less than an equivalently sized bacon joint, so I prefer to make a vegetarian soup by using stock cubes instead of home made bone stock, as this works out as a cheaper option all around. When we do splash out and have ham hock instead of pork shank, it does make the most beautiful pea and ham soup, though!
On Monday morning, get the lentils and rice ready to soak by placing 10 oz green lentils and 10 oz brown rice in a large bowl. Cover with cold water and leave to soak with a plate placed over the top of the bowl. Make a batch of wholegrain rolls using the recipe above, halved (it will probably fit into your breadmaker on the dough cycle if you prefer), omitting the seasonings. These will be for tomorrow and Wednesday. Prepare Monday's lunch now if you have members of your family who will need a pack-up, using thermos flasks to keep the soup warm. Make sure to keep a portion over for yourself!
Monday's evening meal is quite simple to prepare - just cook the lentils and rice with a chopped onion in some vegetable or chicken stock, and prepare a roasting pan for the potaoes.
Peel and cut into quarters about 10 medium potatoes (or more if you have a hungry family like mine). Place in the roasting tin and spray with one-cal cooking spray (called FryLite in England).
Now toss in a mixture of chilli flakes, garlic salt, nutritional yeast flakes, salt, pepper and savoury seasoning - the choice is yours - see what you have in your cupboards and experiment! Sometimes I add onion salt or a little chilli powder as well. Roast for about 45 minutes.
I often cook a few beefburgers or veggie burgers with this, if we have some in the freezer, but it is very satisfying just as it comes. You will have left-overs from the lentils and rice - this is the base for your salad for tomorrow's lunch.
Before you go to bed on Monday, put about 10 cups dried pulses to soak in a large bowl and leave out on your countertop overnight. This is for Tuesday and Wednesday's evening meals.
For Tuesday's lunch, mix the leftover lentils and rice with some chopped fresh tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and one red onion. Make a salad dressing using walnut oil, lemon or lime juice, garlic salt, apple cider vinegar, English mustard and honey. This needs to be kept chilled if it is being taken as a pack-up, so send off with a cool-pack in lunchboxes if you have members of your family on the move all day! Pack up some wholegrain rolls as well, spread with a little cream cheese if you have some. It's easy to make your own cream cheese, if you have some plain yogurt (which is also easy to make yourself without any fancy equipment) - just strain a few tablespoons into a bowl using a clean cloth such as a new dishcloth or a piece of muslin or similar close-weave fabric. Stretch the fabric across the bowl and secure with cord or elastic bands. Place the yogurt on the fabric, cover with cling film or foil, then leave in the fridge overnight. You will fetch up with "cream cheese" in the cloth, and whey in the bowl - which can be used to add to salad dressings or cereals.
During Tuesday afternoon, cook your soaked pulses. Start by rinsing them well with fresh water, then place in a large saucepan or cooking pot and cover with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil and boil fiercely for 15 minutes (this is a little longer than recommended but will ensure absolutely all your pulses are safe to eat). Then turn down the heat to the lowest-but-one setting, and simmer for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes. When done, strain, and place half the cooked beans in a sealable plastic container to refrigerate until tomorrow. Keep the other half out to make Tuesday's evening meal.
Wash up the pan you cooked the pulses in, and now boil about 8 peeled, cubed potatoes. When soft, drain and mash with butter or margarine and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to use in Tuesday's evening meal (I do it in this way because I only have one large saucepan. If you have the luxury of two pans, you can do this stage when you are simmering the bean mixture as described below).
For Tuesday's evening meal cut up one red onion and sautee in a little oil (you can also use Fry Lite, in which case I would advise adding about a tablespoon of water to the pan as well).
While it is cooking gently, cut into 1 cm cubes 4 peeled carrots, 8 peeled potatoes, 2 prepared leeks and a couple of peeled parsnips. Add these to the pan as well and sautee until soft.
Add to the saucepan 2 tins chopped tomatoes, and simmer for a few minutes.
Now add 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg and simmer for another minute or two.
Add the cooked pulses, and then add to the mixture just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes.
When cooked, turn the mixture into a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish, and layer the mashed potatoes on the top. Grate some cheese over the top and bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling. Serve with salad, or cooked greens (that second pan will be handy again!).
For Wednesday's lunch, make a tuna salad on Wednesday morning before your family leave for work. Use 2 7 oz cans of drained, flaked tuna canned in brine or spring water, and mix with 1 can drained sweetcorn, 1 can drained mushroom pieces, 1 chopped red onion (chop 3 all at the same time and reserve remainder), 1/2 chopped cucumber, 1/2 chopped red pepper (chop 2 all at the same time and reserve remainder) the juice of 2 lemons and 6 tablespoons mayonnaise. with salt and pepper to taste. Add some flaked almonds and salad leaves of your choice.
After that, get your slow-cooker out ready to prepare Wednesday's evening meal. For this you need the other half of the pulses that you cooked yesterday. Get the rest of the red onion and the red peppers that you prepared when you were making the salad, and place these in the slow-cooker. Add to them the cooked pulses, 2 cans baked beans in tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon tomato puree, 1 tablespoon barbecue sauce, 1 teaspoon molasses, salt, pepper and a dash of apple cider vinegar. Cook on high until you are ready to eat.
An hour and 15 minutes before Wednesday's evening meal is to be eaten place 6 large potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, and pierced a few times with a fork, in the oven and bake. I usually serve 2 for the menfolk and 1 each for Little Bear and I.
You will need another 2 loaves of bread for the next 2 lunches - I usually make one in my bread machine overnight and we may eat some of that hot with our breakfast, and then another one the next day in the same way. This adds variety to the sort of loaf we eat, and also to our breakfasts.
For Thursday's lunch, use the coleslaw recipe above, and make up some sandwiches with peanut butter (and jam/banana if liked - Cubby likes his with cheese as well, but then he likes cheese with everything!).
Thursday's tea is easy too - bake some sausages in the oven (we like Cumberland sausages, which come in a pack of 8, so I normally cook 2 packs and use the leftovers for Friday's pasta salad lunch). These can be bought in bulk when on discount and frozen - to freeze, separate into pairs, and wrap in greaseproof paper first, then foil. You can cook them straight from frozen, in which case add 10 minutes to the cooking time. I normally bake sausages in the oven as they are already quite high in fat, but if you prefer, they can be grilled (broiled) or fried. This will take slightly less time than oven-baking them. If you would rather try something altogether healthier, what about vegetarian sausages? They take about the same amount of time in the oven, and taste almost exactly like "real" sausages. The texture is not quite as rich, but they are nevertheless a very good substitue - and about half the calories of their meat counterparts for almost the same amout of money.
While these are cooking, boil 12 peeled chopped potatoes in a pan on the stovetop. When soft, drain and mash with butter or margarine, and season. Serve the sausages and mash with left-over Boston baked beans from Wednesday.
Before you get ready for your evening's rest, cook some pasta for tomorrow's lunch and tea. Take 1 1/2 bags dried pasta shapes, and boil in plenty of water. When cooked, drain and store in the fridge in a plastic container or ziplock bag. Cooked pasta will keep in this way for several days in the fridge so you can do this to suit your schedule. As I say, I only have one large saucepan, so I like to do this when it is not needed immediately for something else.
Ahh, Friday! Friday's lunch uses the left-over sausages from yesterday's evening meal - slice them into eighths, then add 1/3 of the cooked pasta. Add chopped salad vegetables of your choice, such as cucumber, celery, tomatoes, red onion, red peppers or radishes. Then make a dressing of walnut oil, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, mustard, honey and seasonings. Make up some sandwiches of cream cheese or grated cheddar cheese to go with the salad.
For Friday's evening meal, take 2 7 oz cans drained, flaked tuna canned in brine or spring water, the rest of the cooked pasta, 2 14 oz cans chicken and mushroom soup and 1 can drained mushroom pieces. You could also add some sweetcorn or frozen peas to this, but we prefer it just as it is. Place the ingredients in a 9 x 13 inch casserole and cover with grated cheese, then bake for 40 minutes in a moderate oven. Serve with cooked greens (we especially like it with green beans).
We hope you will feel inspired to try creating your own frugal menu! This one is designed to make the most not only of your money, but also your time - it's quite flexible, but a little planning ahead means you save minutes in the kitchen, yet still get to enjoy wholesome, home cooked food that is suitable for all the family. Enjoy!
Thursday, 17 May 2012
I often make these bread rolls (or "stottie cakes" as we know them) for Papa Bear and the cubs to eat with their packed lunches, or with soup for our evening meal. They are especially delicious straight from the oven, but they keep quite well, and if made with fresh yeast (as opposed to the dried sort), I find that they retain a lovely crisp crust in a way that no other home-baked bread I make does. They are very good indeed - and we enjoy them quite frequently, as they are quite simple to make, too!
We come from the North East of England. where stottie cakes (rolls) are still sold in most bakeries, and for us they truly are a "taste of home". I thought I would share with you the recipe and instructions, so that you too can have the chance to taste a little bit of our traditional regional baking! As I say, they are very tasty - but I make them quite small, so they aren't too filling! Well, not if you can manage to only eat one ...
To make them you will need ...
350 g or 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour (I used strong bread flour, as this is what we prefer - it makes a slightly heavier, more "doughy" cake (roll) which is what we are use to).
1 teaspoon salt
half a teaspoon caster sugar
15 g (half a cube) of fresh yeast (you should be able to buy this at your supermarket - if it is not on the shelves, go to where the freshly baked goods counter is, and ask there. Failing that, some smaller bakeries may sell you some - it won't cost much - or you could try health food stores. I have never made these with dried yeast, but I would guess that the equivalent would be half a sachet, or 7.5 g).
1/2 pint or 300 mls warm water
Start by preparing the yeast. It needs to be kept refrigerated, so you may need to remove it up to an hour beforehand, as it will not become active until it is at least at ordinary room temperature. If it is a hot day, it will not need so much time. Place it in a small mixing bowl with the sugar and 3 tablespoons from the 300 mls tepid (baby-bottle warm) water. Leave it to sit in the bowl until it becomes frothy. Here is mine before it became frothy (I forgot to take a photograph afterwards! The froth will look like the bubbles on top of sourdough starter, if you have ever made this - not lots, but just a thin surface covering of tiny bubbles).
(Don't leave the spoon in, while it is becoming frothy!). It may take as little as 10 or 15 minutes, depending on the temperature of the room for your yeast to become "live" and frothy - or it may take a lot longer. This took about 40 minutes as our kitchen wasn't very warm today!
Now measure out the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt, stir well to mix. Make a small dip in the centre of the bowl, then add the yeast mixture.
Add the rest of the water, and stir to blend. You are aiming for a stiff dough, but if it is too stiff to move easily add a little more tepid water. Now remove the dough from the bowl, and place on a floured surface (I use a non-stick pastry sheet). Knead well - I set my timer, and knead for 10 minutes. After this, it is ready for rising. Place it back in the bowl you mixed it in, and add a light coating of butter to it, to prevent the surface of the dough from drying out as it rises. Cover the bowl with cling film, and then on top of that a cloth such as a tea towel. Now leave at room temperature until about twice its original size - this will take approximately 1 hour. You can leave for longer at this stage, if you wish, by placing it in a refrigerator, but it will still need an hour at room temperature before it is ready to use. Here is my dough before rising ...
And afterwards ...
Now remove the dough from the bowl, and place back on your floured surface. Flatten with a rolling pin, and divide the dough into 12 equally sized balls (we are going for a "proper" dozen - not a "baker's" dozen!).
Shape them into neat cakes (rolls) with your cupped hands, then place on a greased baking sheet. Press the surface of each cake down so that it is flat (else it will rise too fast in the oven and the top may crack and burn). You do not need to do a second rising with these rolls. This is a picture of mine, ready to go into the oven, at a moderate heat of 375 F/180 C/Gas 5 ...
They will take about 20 mintues to bake in the centre of the oven. The word "stot" in North East English dialect (or, as it is known where we are from, Geordie) means to throw, or bounce - and traditionally, these rolls were baked at the bottom of the oven with the leftover dough from a bread-making session on bake-day. Nowadays we tend to bake them in the centre of the oven, where they cook more evenly, but if you are lucky enough to own a proper range cooker, do try baking them as our old-fashion grandmamas would have done! I am sure they will taste even better cooked that way! Here they are right out of the oven ...
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
I've been busy with two different knitting projects recently. I had some white double knitting yarn left over from when I made a couple of wee "Easter" chicks as gifts for people, and instead of adding it to the crochet blanket that I am also working on, I decided to use it to make something for myself! I don't often knit things for myself - but at the moment, I am working on two different things! The other one is the frilled "sea lettuce" scarf that I started using some leftover yarn a few weeks ago. I knew there would not be enough of that yarn to finish the whole scarf, but I wanted to start it off anyways, to see how it turned out. When Papa Bear very sweetly bought me some yarn at the seaside town we visited on our wedding anniversary, he picked out a really pretty white and pastel variegated yarn for me to use to make a whole scarf - and so I am currently working on that too! It's so easy once you have the pattern "set" that I can do that without looking at it - so that's my "TV" knitting, that I can do when Papa Bear is watching a movie or the football (now finished for the summer close season) and the other project is for when I want to concentrate a little harder.
I'm prioritising this other project, because I shall want to wear this before I do the scarf (hopefully - though our weather is very unseasonally cool just now so I wouldn't be at all sorry to have a new scarf to wear also!) . It is a long sweater (or what we call in England) which is designed to be worn with a blouse or shirt underneath - but which is light enough to wear on cooler summer days. Here is a picture of it knitted so far ...
Apologies as usual for the poor quality of the picture! I hope you can see enough there to pick out the different techniques I'm using to create the details. There is a pretty frill around the bottom and sleeves of the sweater, and two different pattern repeats - one with "popcorn" bobbles and one with an openwork lace design. It looks much more complicated than it actually is, and becuase it is knitted in double knitting yarn instead of the 4-ply that I normally use, it is growing very quickly! I hope to have it done within 3 or 4 weeks. I can usually spend an hour or so at least knitting every evening, but sometimes there isn't time or I am too tired, so it usually takes longer than I had anticipated to get something done! This is the largest project I have worked on for a while. I normally have a crochet blanket to work on, but I tend to go backwards and forwards with that, picking it up when I have nothing else to work on, and then leaving off it again when I do. But since the cubs have been older, I have not knitted so much for them. Knitwear for adults is usually a lot more expensive to make by hand, than it is to buy - although in the case of this long sweater, that is not the case. This takes 5 100 g balls of double knitting yarn which came to a grand total of £7.50 (Papa Bear bought me four more in addition to the one I already had). That is considerably cheaper than the same sweater would cost to buy ready-made, even from a discount store, and possibly even a charity (thrift) shop too! Of course the other great advantage of making it myself is that I can adjust it exactly to fit me - and I get to choose the colour! As I plan to wear this mainly with a couple of long tiered denim skirts that I have, I thought the white yarn was ideal for this design - and Papa Bear agrees! He is pleased that I am making something for myself for a change - but I've promised that the next thing I knit will be for him! I'd like to try making him some socks for when he goes fishing - in the colours of his football team! He thinks that sounds like a very good idea!
I love to knit - it is so rewarding! It is interesting and creative, relaxing, entertaining - and you get something useful and beautiful at the end! If you haven't ever tried knitting before, please do consider teaching yourself. It really isn't difficult. Here is a step-by-step guide with pictures, or you may prefer a video, like this one. As an experienced knitter, personally I wouldn't use a video to begin with. Everyone knits slightly differently for each other - just as we all hold pencils and write differently - and it is probably easier if you develop your own technique without seeing other people first. For example there are many different ways to cast on - find a way that suits you best at least to start with, and then after you are comfortable with this, you can look at other techniques to see if there is one which is neater, or quicker, that you actually prefer. If you have at least become familiar with the basics in a way that feels comfortable for you, then you will probably find it easier to pick up the more technical stuff, rather than trying to copy someone else's individual technique right from the start. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to knit - as long as the finished result looks neat and holds together, you are doing it right. What matters is that you enjoy it! Just remember, practise makes perfect - and even the most skilled knitters make mistakes and have to start over - I did, with this sweater!
Happy knitting everyone.
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
How quickly the weeks seem to fly by! It seems only minutes since I was last posting a "Tuesday's Time To" post for the blog! This week in our lives it's ...
A time to plant ... Outside our windows there are signs of spring now everywhere. It's windy today and each gust of wind brings clouds of blossom petals like snowflakes swirling down from the trees. The leaves are the most beautiful fresh, bright green, and all amongst the grass in the park are dotted daisies and dandelions - silver and gold, like jewels.
A time to heal ... I'm looking at ways to introdude more "healing foods" to our diet - foods like blueberries, fresh fish, tomatoes, wholegrains and pulses. This week I'm spending some time finding new recipes which will reflect a healthier, more wholesome diet - without making too many dramatic changes to the foods and meals we enjoy and eat regularly - or spending any extra money at the supermarket.
A time to laugh ... Have you ever played the "yes/no" game? We enjoy doing this when we're in the car, and played it on Sunday when we were returning from Church and hit some traffic. You can play it with any number of people - one person has to answer the questions that everyone else playing asks. They can be questions about just about anything - the only rule is that the person answering cannot say "yes" or "no" in reply. It's amazing how difficult it is to do this - especially if there are several players, and there are hilarious results as the answerer tries to skirt the question by saying anything but yes! It always makes us laugh - and is great for passing the time on long journeys as everyone can join in.
A time to embrace ... I gave Papa Bear a big bear hug when he came home from work today! He had brought with him a bag of chocolate caramel candies! Yum! I don't usually care too much for sweets and candies, but today I did and oh my goodness how good those caramels tasted! We all enjoyed some after our evening meal today.
A time to keep ... I have such a sweet wee white wicker basket in our bedroom. It is lined with pretty pink polka-dot fabric that ties at the front with a bow, and oh it does look beautiful with my two "wedding bears" sat in it! It's the perfect place to keep them, and I can move it about wherever I please! Papa Bear is so happy with how much pleasure those 2 little bears have brought me. It was the sweet thought that touches my heart so much - he wasn't embarrased at all to go into the shop in front of all his burly workmates and buy those bears because he knew how much I'd like them - and the fact that, even while he was busy at work, he saw them and thought of me! I know I'm very blessed to have such a loving and caring husband.
A time to sew ... Today I have been busy sewing a sweet new pincushion with some scrap fabric. I shall share how I made it in a future "Wednesday's Workbox" post - but can you guess what shape it is?
A time to speak ... Our male birds have learned a new phrase recently - "how are you?" That is because every morning when I uncover them, I say to them "good morning birds - and how are you today?" They have heard me say it so many times, they've finally learned to copy me! I didn't try to teach it to them deliberately, but they've picked up the pattern of my speech because the repeated phrase is so familiar - and we're very impressed! How are we? Very well indeed, thank you, birds!
A time to love ... We watched the DVD of "The Young Victoria" on Saturday night for our "date night". It is the film of the beautiful love story between Queen Vistoria and Prince Albert and it was very good but I'm afraid to say that I fell asleep right in the middle! Just as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were joined together in marriage! I was very tired and sooo comfy sitting curled up with Papa Bear on the settee! I tried very hard not to doze off, but when Papa Bear saw me falling asleep he didn't want to stop me - so I slept through the whole of the rest of the film! He said it was very good and sad in parts too. but we will have to watch it all over again together!
A time of peace ... We've had lots of rainy days here recently in between some sunshine too. I love listening to the sound of rain falling - especially when we're all safe and warm indoors! Yesterday it rained very hard just after we had eaten - and it was a lovely cosy, peaceful feeling, sitting all together as we studied our evening devotional while the rain splashed against the windowpanes. Even the greyest, rainiest days can be good too!
Monday, 14 May 2012
Source for this image here .
Yesterday at Church we had such an interesting sermon. The theme of our service was love - not our love for God, but His love for us, revealed through His son Christ Jesus - "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life". (John 3: 16). That love should be, our pastor explained, what motivates all our behaviour. As Christians, we too, as did Jesus, should witness to others through our behaviour. Like Him, we should be patient, gentle, wise, truthful, helpful - and caring! Our Pastor gave the examples of people whose lives involve showing love through caring and selflessness - nurses, firefighters, carers, teachers - and of course, mothers! And he said that these roles were in themselves a form of witness for Christian people - not everyone is called in the same way, but whatever our calling, that should be our witness to others, and we can use the natural skills and qualities that we have, to bless other people with the examples that Jesus gave when he walked the earth. Everyone has character qualities that they can use to witness to others with - they do not necessarily need to be gifted with the skills of writing or speaking to groups. Just by their everday actions, they can inspire others to seek to know our Saviour Lord Jesus.
I was very inspired to listen to this sermon as I felt that it linked in well with what I had talked about in Saturday's post about how our "meek and gentle spirit" (1 Peter 3: 4) should be our outward witness - showing the working of the Holy Spirit within us and blessing all those around us. To show love is a natural extension of this. The pastor went on to say that this is our way of "preaching the Gospel". Unlike him we do not need to speak to witness - our behaviour speaks for us. But equally importantly, he also talked about how the "beauty of holiness" can be experienced through our behaviour, and it got me thinking some more about this.
I was minded of some of the lovely, inspirational books I have read over the years by Christian authors such as Emilie Barnes, Ann Ortlund, Elizabeth George and Stormie Omartian. In particular, Emilie Barnes writes much about the importance of creating a calm and pleasant environment as part of a woman's ministry to her family and friends. I had never really thought too hard about this in terms of how this could be seen as a way of witnessing to others - I considered it more to be of importance in our role as God's servants - keepers of our homes - and how our work there is done in accordance with His will for us as married women. But clearly it can be seen as a way of witnessing too. I was quite excited to think of this, as I sat in Church yesterday!
Of course, writing here on the blog is a form of witnessing too. By sharing our experiences and ideas we are witnessing to others who, we hope, may be inspired to apply some of our suggestions themselves - or to perhaps be motivated to make some changes they had already been thinking of in their own homes so that they too can bear witness of the brilliance of God's glory in their lives. It made me feel greatly encouraged that the time I spend writing on the blog (and that Papa Bear spends checking it) and, more recently, our website (which is taking quite some time to get to grips with!) is actually time invested as part of my duties as a wife and mother. Just in my everyday activities, working to create a pleasant and clean home, well organised and attractive, welcoming and peaceful, I can still work to be an inspiration to others. I had never thought of my role as a Helpmeet in that way! In fact if I am honest, I have leaned more towards thinking of anything else beyond keeping our home clean and functional - the extra "frills", that make it pretty, rather than just tidy - as an indulgence that isn't strictly necessary! Now however, I see that creating a pretty home can also be an extension of the role of home keeper and Helpmeet that I am called to - and so I shall enjoy spending a little more time focussing on this!
I am not talking about spending money, or having everything co-ordinated and matching. That is fine if you can afford it - but we can't (and even if we could, I know that Papa Bear would have other, more important things, to spend that money on) but about making the best of what we have - giving attention to the smaller details - and ensuring that wherever anyone goes in our home, there is something nice to look at. Not opulence, but something uplifting, or calming, or just purely beautiful. Of course everyone has different ideas about what is beautiful. And ultimately, the things that are most beautiful of all, are those which are God's creation - the world around us, and the people in it. Our Pastor spoke also of this, and of how those who are able to draw out the beauty of holiness, such as artists and writers, also have a gift for witness. In God's creation, we see something of His nature -
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath He set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof" (Psalm 19: 1 - 6).
We do not need to speak to share the beauty of God's glory - but we do need to be conscious of our actions. As a Christian wife and mother, it is my duty to serve God through my work at home - work which should speak for itself of His greatness. What a wonderful privelige to have this role - my High Calling as a servant of God.
"The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed" (Titus 2, 3 - 5).
Sunday, 13 May 2012
"As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
These things I command you, that ye love one another." (John 15: 9-17).
One of the other hymns today was "Love Divine"! Papa Bear and I couldn't help smiling at each other whilse we were singing that. The whole theme of our service today was love, and we will be sharing more about that tomorrow. In the meantime, we wish all our American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealander readers a very happy Mother's Day!
Saturday, 12 May 2012
I've been thinking recently a great deal about this particular passage of the Bible, in 1 Peter 3, which will I am sure be familiar to many -
" But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Peter 3: 4).
It is that phrase "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit", that I have been focussing on. Just recently, with the unexpected problem with the kitchen sink being blocked, I have been a little more challenged than usual to maintain my "meek and quiet spirit", and I've found it very helpful and motivational to ponder on this passage of Scripture, what it actually means, and how I can apply it in my life - and by so doing, be an example to my children.
This passage appears in the book written by Peter in times of great unrest, when the persecution of Christians in Rome was gathering power. He wrote it to encourage them to trust in God no matter how great the challenges around them, that by so doing, their behaviour would act as a witness to others of their faith. In Chapter 2 of this Book, Peter reminds the Christians of Christ's suffering for his faith, and that even in the face of huge suffering like that He endured, trusting in God will bring glory and salvation. He reminds them,
"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Peter: 2, 21).
This example that we must follow includes the need to have a demeanour of meekness, gentleness, quietness and humility - just as Christ Jesus Himself displayed. These are not merely character qualities, however. In order to have such a disposition we have to allow the Holy Spirit to move within us - so that our faith shines out from within and is evident to those around us. It is not just a matter of presenting to the world a "meek and quiet spirit", but actually allowing ourselves to become transformed. However, as we are naturally disposed to be quite the opposite of these gifts - our fallen natures meaning that we are motivated by the need to serve ourselves, rather than others, this is a challenge that we must work at, to become surrendered to the will of our Father God in this area of our Christian living.
I'm sure we all know people who are inspirational because they appear to have a demeanour of great calm and sweetness. My mam, Grandmama Bear, is one! In all my childhood I am not sure that I could even count on the fingers of one hand - let alone two - the times that I heard her voice raised. And yet she was not a "doormat". She just had - and still does - a naturally sweet and placid temperament which even the greatest challenges do not seem to alter. Although she suffers terribly with pain from severe arthritis in many joints, she is always cheerful and positive too. A great inspiration! And I know that I gain a lot of encouragement from her, seeing how she is able to be this way - not just on the surface, but deep inside her heart also.
In Galatians 5 we read that
"... the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5: 22 - 25).
I truely believe this is the only way that we can adopt the countenance of a "meek and quiet spirit" - by learning to "walk in the Spirit". That means having to die to self - to learn to cast aside our own impulses, desires, emotions and needs, and focus on those of others first. But how can we achieve this without an enormous struggle? Is it possible to "be gentle unto all men" (2 Timothy 2: 24), even when all around you is chaos, misery, doubt, or despair?
Well, it is God's will that we should be - so yes, it is possible! But it isn't easy, and it needs to be a conscious, lifelong endeavour, that will eventually become so ingrained within us that it is part of our very nature - our spirit - and not just something that we choose. We can work towards this goal by ...
- Focussing on Scripture. It's impossible to know God's will without learning of it directly from His Word. It isn't always easy to make Bible study a priority, but it should be. Make some time each day to study your Bible - I find early mornings are my best time, at this season of my life, but some people prefer evenings, or even a quiet time during the day. Whenever it is, make it a commitment that you won't stray from. Before too long, you'll find as I have, that if you are forced to miss your regular Bible study slot, your whole day seems to suffer as a result. I need my daily quiet time with my Bible to ground me for the whole day. Without it I feel as if I am never really on top of anything, out of sorts, and as if I have lost my focus. It's become a habit now that is second nature to me, and I don't mind the early start to the day at all.
- Along with this, also set aside time to read devotionals or other Scripturally inspired literature. You don't necessarily need to buy books to do this. There are many wonderful blogs and websites available where you can find inspiration and understanding. One website that I visit regularly has a great study on the topic I'm writing about - the Revive Our Hearts ministry - and you can read that study here.
- Also spend time in family devotions if you are able. Family devotions serve a separate purpose to that of private devotions in that as well as allowing each individual to grow deeper in their relationship with and knowledge of our Father God, they also provide a precious time for bonding together as God's servants, and in sharing the joy and blessings of being a close and Godly family. They are a time for celebrating not only God's presence in our lives, but each other's presence too! We have two devotions each day - a couples' devotion in the morning before we rise, and then a family devotion in the evening after we have eaten. This suits our current schedule, but it has altered several times over the years, and as our faith as a family has grown stronger and become a more central focus in our lives.
- Although making God's Word a central part of your daily life is the most important feature of nurturing a "meek and quiet spirit", it's also important that we practise adopting this demeanor whenever possible - regardless of our circumstances. Only in this way will it become part of our fundamental character and not just something assumed, or worn like a garment. Although the spirit of gentleness is described as an "ornament", it is far more than this - it is an intrinsic part of our character, and this is formed and strengthened, as with all character qualities, by being tested - over and over again. Whenever we are confronted by a test or challenge we must choose deliberately to react to it as Jesus has shown us by His example. By being patient, calm, enduring, accepting. It doesn't mean we can't react at all, but it does mean that we must learn to cast aside all negative responses. These are selfish - our anger, frustration, despair or irritation not only hurt us, but they hurt those around us. If we want to have a harmonious home, with peaceful and productive members living in it, we must practise contentment, even when that contentment has to be worked at. It was this way when we had the problem with the sink! I told myself that even despite not having a kitchen sink that was working, I was still extremely fortunate. I have a home, a roof over my head, light, heat, food, clothes, transport. I am luckier than hundreds of millions of people living in the world right now who would give anything just for a cup of clean water to drink, let alone a sink and taps to wash up in. Putting my circumstances into perspecitve like this helped enormously!
- When you are feeling tested, the best way to cope with the challenge you are facing is to offer it up to God. Pray, pray and pray some more. Your prayers don't need to be elaborate or even spoken out loud. God can still hear us even when we whisper, or offer a silent prayer. Just offer up a prayer in the way that feels best to you. In so doing, we acknowledge our weaknesses and recieve His strength in return.
- Finally, thank God for each and every time that you do manage to endure your trials with "kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering" (Colossians 3: 12). Acknowledging His transforming power in our lives helps us to forge the character qualities that He desires for us, that we might be His joyful and willing servants, and with each challenge that we overcome, we can grow closer to Him and to the gift of our eternal salvation.
Pray without ceasing.
Quench not the Spirit.
Despise not prophesyings.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ". (1 Thessalonians 5: 16 - 23).
Friday, 11 May 2012
For today's Frugal Friday, I am going to share with you something that recently happened to us! By managing to deal with this problem ourselves, we saved quite a bit of money, and through our experience, maybe we can help others to save money too!
On Tuesday this week, our kitchen sink became blocked. This happens more often that you might expect, partly because of the way our sink has been plumbed into the ground pipe - we live in an upstairs apartment, so there is no outside drain, and the pipe that carries the waste water out of the building is far too narrow - and could not be replaced without considerable expense. We don't own our apartment - we rent it - but it is our responsibility to arrange and pay for repairs such as blocked sinks, so we always try not to let them happen in the first place because it seems such a waste of money to have to pay for someone to fix a problem that could have been avoided.
Usually when it happens, I am able to resolve the problem quite easily. The simplest way to unblock a kitchen sink is to pour a bag of soda crytstals down it (the washing sort, not bicarbonate of soda. It can be found with the laundry products in a supermarket, or in hardware stores, often with the stronger drain cleaning products). Follow this with several gallons of boiling water, and leave to sit for a few hours. This often clears the blockage without any further action.
But sometimes it doesn't work. On this occasion, I used two bags of soda crystals, and nothing happened! I didn't tell Papa Bear, because I didn't want to bother him at work with something that I can usually fix myself. Instead, on Wednesday, I went to our local hardware store and purchased a stronger drain cleaner, the sort that advises you to avoid contact with skin or eyes, and not to mix with any other cleaning products. When I got back, I dismantled the pipework under the sink so that I could see exactly where the blockage was. To do this, I first had to get all the trapped water out of the sink itself, and then place a bucket underneath the U bend and undo it. This is quite easy to do - and it is worth knowing about, becuase oftentimes, if you have lost something such as an earring down your sink, you will be able to rescue it if you immediately shut off the taps, and undo the U bend under the sink. It has usually fallen into the U bend and becuase of its weight will have settled there without going any further (though it will, if you keep running the taps). I have rescued 2 earrings using this technique! Of course a better way to prevent your earrings getting lost down the sink is to put the plug in before you remove them!
Anyways, having dismantled the pipework as far as the ground pipe, I was able to see that the blockage was just where the pipe left the building. The water inside it was trapped about 4 inches down from the level of the inside of the cupboard under the sink. This is where the problem always seems to be, because the pipe is too narrow. The waste water from the washing machine also empties through this same pipe, and it isn't wide enough to cope with the flow from both the sink and the washing machine, so it blocks quite frequently unless I am careful to keep the water flowing freely with regular washes of soda crystals and hot water.
Well I poured the whole entire bottle of drain cleaner down the pipe as instructed. It smelled horrible and I got a chemical burn on my arm in the process, even though I was wearing gloves and long sleeves. I was so sure it would work becuase it was obviously quite powerful! I put the pipework back together, and then left it overnight. It was difficult to keep from telling Papa Bear about it, but fortunately he didn't notice, though Little Bear did whilse she was helping me wash up (we had to drain the water into a bucket)! We agreed we would not share with him yet about the sink becuase he had plenty else to be concerned about and I was still sure I could fix the problem myself.
The next day, yesterday, the sink was still blocked however! Oh my goodness! I was starting to worry now that we would have to call in a plumber, and I really did not want to have to do this. For one thing it would cost us money we didn't want to spend, and for another I was certain that something as simple as a blocked sink ought to be fixable without calling in a professional. After all, nothing had gone down that sink except the usual bits and pieces that escape through the plughole when we wash up, so it couldn't be anything too serious! I did a bit of research on the internet, and found a small gadjet that I thought would be the answer. It is called a drain auger or plumber's snake, and you can buy one like the one we got here. Of course, I had to tell Papa Bear about our problem then! But he said he thought he would be able to pick an auger up cheaply from the wholesalers where he gets supplies for jobs for his work. He sometimes has to get tools and materials at short notice, and knows of a good wholesalers just outside the town where we live. Luckily he was going there anyway yesterday, and he was able to buy a hand held auger for less than the price of the one I've linked to! That is way less than a plumber would have cost us!
I can't tell you how pleased we were, when Papa Bear used the auger to unblock the pipe! It was very easy to use. He just unwound the thin, bendy metal cable, which has a coiled spring on the end of it, and fed it down the pipe until it wouldn't go any further. Then he locked it off and spun it around to clean out the inside of the pipe, and withdrew it up again. It was a bit messy, but we all took a turn so that next time it happens, any one of us would be able to deal with the problem! In all it took about 7 attempts, and then we put all the pipework back underneath the sink, and ran the taps into it, and - yay! - the blockage was gone! Papa Bear said he was very proud of me for trying to fix the problem all by myself - but that next time the sink blocked, he would much prefer that I didn't have to worry about it all alone! Oh Papa Bear! He gave me such a sweet present today to say thank you for dealing with the blocked sink so well. Next to the Church that he is working on at the moment there is a small charity shop, and in the window of the shop he had seen something that he knew I would like. He'd been too busy to go to the shop whilse it was open until today, but he was very glad that he did - I love his present so much! It is two sweet bears, made like a bride and groom, that someone has hand knitted. They are beautifully made with the prettiest detailing, so unique and characterful, and just perfect for an almost-anniversary gift! He said as soon as he saw them he knew I would like them - and I do! He knows me so well! And I am so thankful that we were able to fix our sink problem without spending lots of money. I hope that our experience helps other people too. It's always worth trying to fix something yourself, before getting professionals to do it. Oftentimes the simplest DIY tasks really just need a little research and patience, and they can be fixed by most people. And there's so much satisfaction too, in knowing you can do it youself!
Thursday, 10 May 2012
I promised that I would share the recipes for our anniversary tea with you - and here they are.
I am afraid there aren't any photographs (the one above is of a cake that I made on another occasion) because there just was not time, on our anniversary - using the webcam on the laptop makes it a little more awkward than just pointing and clicking as you would with a camera, and in all truth I did not even think of it until much later on - we were all so busy enjoying ourselves! But I shall nevertheless endeavour to share the main recipes, and hope you will still be inspired to try some of them!
For the first course of our meal we had salad and sandwiches - the fillings were quite simple. Smoked salmon may sound fancy, but in fact if you buy the packs of "trimmings" that all the major supermarkets sell, it is not at all expensive. I normally serve it on wholegrain bread spread with plain cream cheese (we use the low fat "Philadelpia" brand) and thinly sliced cucumber (patted dry with kitchen paper first) and seasoned with just a little pepper. The ham and English mustard sandwiches are very simple to make and again, I use the condiment to hold the filling together, rather than butter, which we don't find necessary in sandwiches. English mustard is a little stronger than its American and continental counterparts, so if you choose to use this, go very sparingly! Finally the egg and cress, a traditional English tea-time sandwich, which we have on mixed grain bread. For this filling I hard-boil eggs (about 10 minutes) and then cool. Once shelled, I add low fat mayonnaise and lots of home-grown cress! We grow our cress from seed on our kitchen windowsill - even though we don't have a garden, we can still grow our own food! When making sandwiches of any sort, I tend to use "bought" bread - the sliced kind - as this makes a neater, slimmer sandwich (you don't want "doorstops" for a tea party!) and I normally trim off the crusts too, to make them even more elegant! Occasionally I will use a large cookie cutter to make sandwiches in novelty shapes - particularly at Christmas, or on St. Valentine's Day, when you can easily make heart shaped sandwiches to please your loved ones!
I have shared the scone and cheese straw recipes before - they are both from Taste of Home, as is the spinach and strawberry salad. I normally make a double batch of the scones and cheese straws so that they can be eaten for lunches too! They are best served warm however - straight out of the oven, if you can manage to time it that way. They can sit happily on the baking trays before being baked for a while without coming to harm, so I normally prepare them a little in advance, and then get them into the oven just before I set the table and we are ready to eat. The salad too tastes best if you let it sit for a while and allow the flavours to blend, but don't add the nuts until the last minute!
Now for the sponge cake! A Victoria sponge (as pictured above, this one had lemon buttercream and a glace icing frosting made with lemon juice instead of milk) is simply a basic sandwich cake, made with 6 oz butter, 6 oz of caster sugar, 3 eggs and 6 oz flour. In point of fact, it is named after our favourite monarch, Queen Victoria, and is an absolute standard at an English tea party - you can't have one without it! As we are big cake eaters in our family, I tend to make an 8/8/8/4 cake, but bake it in the same size tins as the recipe states for the smaller quantites. This gives you a beautiful cake that looks like it rose really wonderfully - even if it didn't! You might need to adjust the cooking times accordingly if you use this technique. I like to vary the filling and frosting according to the occasion - sometimes in the summer using fresh fruit and whipped cream with nothing but a sprinkle of sugar on the top, other times I use vanilla buttercream with plain frosting tinted pink. It makes a great birthday cake, especially for childrens' parties, as it is quite plain, but still very delicious! The traditional treatment is to sandwich it with just strawberry or raspberry preserves, and not to frost it, but I think we like it best the way we had it on Friday last week for our anniversary - with cherry jam and vanilla buttercream, and a plain frosting decorated with pink heart sprinkles!
Now for the trifle. An English trifle is quite different to an American trifle for one particular reason. I have made, and we have all enjoyed, many American trifles, such as Taste of Home's caramel apple trifle. But an English trifle has an altogether different texture and appearance. In the main this is because the sponge cake - in England you can buy packs of sponge cakes specifically manufactured to put into trifles - (called, not surprisngly, "trifle sponges"!) is soaked with a liquid - usually sweet sherry or another type of alcohol, but in our case, the juice from 2 cans of raspberries. This gives the trifle a softer, more puddingy texture than the American recipes we have eaten. Normally the sponges are placed in the dish that the trifle is going to be eaten in, and then the liquid is poured over them and they are left to absorb it for at least 2 hours. After this time, the next layer is added - usually fruit, and on top of this, a layer of vanilla custard. Sometimes jelly (flavoured gelatine) is added before the custard, but we do not care for this so I have always omitted it. Finally, a thick layer of whipped cream is put on top, and the surface sprinkled with flaked almonds and glace cherries.
A traditional English trifle recipe is as follows -
1 pint custard (I use canned - 2 14 oz cans are sufficient)
1 vanilla sponge cake, or 1 pack trifle sponges, broken into inch size cubes. You can also use "ladyfinger" biscuits, but in this case reduce the liquid to 100 mls or they will become too soft.
150 mls liquid of your choice - sherry is the traditional choice, but we use raspberry juice or cherry juice
The drained contents of 2 14 oz cans of a fruit of your choice - mandarins, peaches or apricots are nice as well as raspberries, or you can use a mixture. If using fresh fruit, I would advise you to stew it first for a few minutes and then cool before using (drain any liquid off beforehand).
300 mls heavy cream, whipped
40 g flaked almonds
50 g glace cherries
Start by placing the cake pieces in the base of the dish you are going to serve the trifle in.
Pour the liquid over this, and set aside for at least 2 hours so that the cake absorbs it all.
Add the fruit if using, spreading across the soaked cake pieces.
Pour over the custard and spread to cover the entire base of the trifle.
Cover this with the whipped cream - it may need loosening with a little milk to begin with until you have got a layer covering the custard.
Sprinkle with the almonds and cherries.
It is ready to eat now, but can be put aside in the fridge for a few hours without coming to harm. The next day it will still taste just as good, but not look quite so pretty!
We like raspberry trifle best, and I often serve it in individual sundae glasses, so that you can see the pretty layers inside (we don't have a large, clear glass dish). I also vary the flavour sometimes by using a chocolate Swiss (jelly) roll as the cake, chocolate custard, and canned black cherries instead to create a "Black Forest" version. Yum! I'm afraid to say that whenever I make a trifle, there are never any left overs, because everyone in our family loves it so much!
We did have a delicious meal last week when we celebrated our wedding anniversary - but we weren't very hungry the next day!