Monday, January 31, 2011

A welcoming draught excluder...

So... it's pretty darn cold here, with yet more snow forecast this week... I feel I've been starting a lot of blogs with that opening line... I guess all of this snow is still a bit of a novelty for me...
Anyhoo, our little old house is standing up to the elements (so far... I hope I don't jinx it), but this harsh weather does bring a few problems with it... like the half-inch gap at the bottom of the kitchen door... normally not an issue, but the cool breeze that circles around my ankles while I drink my morning cuppa is becoming a bit of a pain... even my ankle booty slippers aren't helping. So, in an attempt to address the micro-climate I have going on in the kitchen, I decided to make a draught excluder... or draft dodger as the hubby calls them...

Sorry about the cat flap, but this is real life...
Got to say, I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew, as sewing the letters on was a tad tricky (beyond my novice capabilities), but I stuck with it, and I like the results. My mother-in-law said it looked homely... I think that's a good thing... right?

Anyways, I'm chuffed to pieces (very pleased) with the fact that I tackled piping and succeeded... I had no pattern to work from and even put weighty bits in it so it stays put!  But, the point of this post today was to let you know that if I can try my hand at this sewing malarkey, then anyone can. I know my end product isn't amazing, but it's a start... if you're on the fence and want to start sewing, but don't think you can... give it a go and, before long, you'll be churning out all manner of creations! Now, I'm going whip up another one for the living room... Oohh, I wonder if it would work for the windows, too... Perhaps I'll just wrap the whole house in fluff!

More snow tonight and tomorrow... this is New Jersey, right. and not Canada??

Have a great week, all, and thanks for visiting today. You bring warmth and sunshine to me on these cold, cold days!

I've linked up with Sarah at A beach cottage - Good life Wednesday ... head on over and you'll find more inspiration than you can shake a stick at!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A birthday and a Friday Flower...

So, this past Tuesday was my birthday... another year closer to the big 4-0... not that I'm that worried by this prospect... honest... From what I hear, 40's are the new 30's... and, I have to admit, with each passing year, I become more confident in my own skin. Crazy, that when I had youth on my side, I spent so much time preoccupied with my weight, skin, hair, etc. instead of just enjoying what god gave me and making the most of it! When thinking about this, I always think of the Baz Luhrmann lyrics from 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)':

You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. 

But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and 
recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before 
you and how fabulous you really looked….

Anyhoo, what am I wittering on about? My mum assures me that I am still a spring chicken, and mums are always right...
And so, to my Friday Flower this week... naturally, a birthday bunch from the hubby... well, a selection of them, as they also included roses, but I decided to split them as I found the colours jarred... beautiful and thoughtful nonetheless...

This week's floral offering is dedicated to Maureen from Daydream Living. I visit her blog whenever I see a post and always come away with a smile on my face. Sometimes her posts are short and sweet, while, at other times, she introduces us to individuals that inspire her... and, sometimes, we are treated into an insight into Maureen's life... whatever the post, though, you will always leave feeling happy, as Maureen's warmth and friendliness radiate through her blog. While your tea is still warm, you could nip over and say hi. I know you'll be welcome!

Take care, all, and have a fantastic weekend... I have Disney Princesses on Ice to look forward to... a treat for the girls, for my birthday... how did that happen??

If you would like to link up with Friday Flower, use the linky widget below... share your blooms!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Raspberry, White Chocolate & Almond Muffins

January is a month that drags... well, for me anyway. I feel as though January has 60 days... no, make that 90! This year, we have seen an exceptionally snowy start. In fact, the last time I saw green, green grass was Christmas day... and, this evening, we had thunder-snow again... and, boy, was it loud. The poor dog nearly shot up her own backside (sorry, but that's the best way to describe it)...

Anyhoo, with all this dastardly weather, I feel compelled to bake and cook... It's an almost primitive instinct... not unlike the squirrels I see gathering whatever they can in the garden (usually all the bird food I placed outside moments earlier). I get great comfort from the knowledge that I have multiple options readily available when asked the age old question, 'I'm hungry, what is there to eat?'... and, even though I might fall down in a zillion and one other categories, I know that, at least in this one, I'm keeping pace!

When the wind is howling outside and the snow is whirling around the street light, I get the most comfort from this little old house and it's little old oven. And, even though by many people's standards, it's not all that much to look at, I am thankful that it is warm, welcoming, and full of good food to eat...

Speaking of which, I whipped up a batch of muffins this morning and once my chief taster (the hubby) tried one, he promptly told me to share the recipe with you guys...  They're super easy to put together, and as I'm on a total raspberry kick at the moment, they are just the ticket. If you give these a try, let me know what you think of them.

Hope you're all having a great week. Catch you on Friday for a Friday Flower.

Raspberry, Almond & White Chocolate Muffins


2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ground almonds (I usually get slithered almonds and chop them in the blender for a course texture)
1 cup of raspberries
1 cup of white chocolate chips.
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), melted
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line 12 muffin pan cups with muffin cases.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder, and salt.
In a medium bowl or jug, using a fork, beat the milk, melted butter, egg and almond extract until blended. Add to the flour mixture and stir until flour is just moistened. Stir in the raspberries and white chocolate chips, to the batter mixture.
Spoon batter into prepared muffin pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center, comes out clean.... approximately 20-25 minutes.
Remove muffins from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Blue Peter Special Recipe

Growing up, I was a pretty poor eater... in fact, my hubby would say that I still am... My mum was 'old school,' in that everything was baked from scratch and nothing went to waste. There were no meal choices... meals were dished up and eaten... no questions. I remember coming in from school during the winter months with the kitchen windows steamed up from the pots bubbling away on the stove top... On asking what what was for dinner, my mum would reply, "Dinner"... to which I would respond "Dinner?  What, dinner, dinner?"... you see, I hated 'Dinner' mid-week... dinner being 'meat and two veg'... When my mum would confirm that it was in fact 'Dinner, Dinner', my bottom lip would tremble and I would burst into tears... Can you imagine crying over meat and two veg? Ahhh, the troubles of an eight year old...
Anyhoo, when it was my birthday, my mum would cook an evening meal of my choice (no fancy eating out for me)... I had to wait a whole 365 days to chose the meal that I actually wanted, and it was always 'Blue Peter Special'... Now, what's this, I hear you ask? Well, to anyone not brought up in the 70's in the UK, Blue Peter was a kids show on the BBC... My mum felt that is was more educational than other children's television shows, and so, deemed it appropriate to watch... there were all sorts of craft segments (like making spaceships from washing-up liquid bottles) and a cooking segment... the poor hosts would cook live and would generally hash it up... burning or dropping something mid-scene... 
Anyways, I would furtively scribble down the recipes and ask my mum if we could make them... some we did... most we didn't, but this recipe stuck... it's my go-to meal... my 'had a bad day' meal... 'I need comfort' meal... This recipe, as stood me in good stead, and still does to this day, being an all round family favourite... and, it's even better now that I don't have to wait until my birthday to eat it.
So, if you want a quick supper meal, give it a try (it tastes delicious with a dash of Worcestershire sauce)... It sure would make me smile to know that others are eating my birthday meal!
Here's to the start of a great week!

A Recipe for Blue Peter Special

2lb potatoes peeled & diced small (I usually use approx. 4 baking potatoes)
1 large onion (chopped)
4 tomatoes chopped
1 tablespoon flour
4oz cheese (you can use more if you like it cheesy like me)
salt & pepper 
1 1/4 cup (300ml) of warm milk 
2 tablespoons butter chopped into small cubes
4 teaspoons of chopped parsley (I add a little more)

Preheat the oven to 375F and grease an ovenproof dish. Add the diced potatoes, chopped tomatoes, chopped onion, grated cheese, chopped parsley and flour, and mix together.

Pour the warm milk over the top. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the pieces of butter on top of the mixture.

Cover with foil and pop in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and cook for a further 40 minutes or until the top has nicely browned and the potatoes are cooked through.

This dish tastes delicious with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and is great reheated for a bit of supper... Mmmmm....

Friday, January 21, 2011

The circus that is life...

First, I want to apologise for not posting mid-week... I had every intention of sharing a little of my world with you, but life happened, bowled me over, and left me with a migraine... You know, one of those heads where even the glare of the television is too much.
Before all this, I had one of those days where you sit back and look at what's going off around you and wonder, 'When did I join the circus?'
As I walked through my front door, I had my youngest screaming 'Coat! Coat! Coat!' at me... you see, she hates clothes, and as soon as we enter the house she starts demanding that I de-robe her... This is all with a sense of urgency, that if I don't do it in seven seconds flat, she'll spontaneously combust...

Add to this chaos, a dog running around, bounding up at said child... charged with sheer happiness... happy that we have finally returned from our 2 hour jaunt... and if I don't acknowledge her and her joy, she'll promptly skulk off to the kitchen and tear apart one of her stuffed animals... leaving the innards of little doggie toys floating around my kitchen like tumbleweed in the desert...

... then there was the 4-year old... asleep in the car... yet to be brought in... the phrase, 'don't wake sleeping bears' was running through my mind... knowing (from experience), that, once awoken, I would be greeted by crying... no, make that shrieking and tantrums... followed by a bathroom break (her) and more tears. The energy level in the house was at 10... and none of it was happy energy (apart from the dog's, although at this point, I think even she had started ripping up her stuffed elephant). After all this had finally calmed down to a dull roar (about 45 minutes later), I locked myself in the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea... I imagined what my house was like 5 minutes before we descended... imagined it still, and quiet, the peaceful haven I try to create... you see, I never see it like this... ever... it's always full of energy, noise... life... that's what a home is... it takes on the energy that fills it and becomes this persona.  One day, it will be quiet... one day, I will hear the tick of the clock in an empty house and remember these 'happy' times... Not on this day, though... this day, the house had a migraine and needed the blinds pulled!

Sorry for the long post today... I just wanted to share a little... Anyhoo, my Friday Flower, was brought by my hubby this week... a pity bouquet... he picked them all out and presented them to me last night. I think they have a country feel to them... they even have a little bit of lucky heather in... I guess he thinks I need it.

Wishing you all a fantastic weekend... Lets make it a relaxing one!

If you would like to join in with this weeks Friday Flower, simply use the Linky widget below... we all could do with more flowers in our lives! 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tea cozy love...

I love tea... I think I've mentioned it before. First thing in the morning, I plod down to the kitchen bleary-eyed, and pop the kettle on. It's a red stove-top one... I toyed with getting an electric kettle, but there's something about the urgent whistle of a stove-top that I find quite soothing... like it's shouting, 'Tea! Tea! Quick!' (which is exactly the sentiment I'm feeling when I get that cup of tea).
I start the day by having two cups of tea (to 'wet my whistle,' as my grandad used to say)... I would have more, but by the last sip of my second cup, the girls are awake, and my attention turns to Cheerios, milk, and settling disputes over princess dolls.

Anyhoo, in an ideal world, I would make a pot... When I was little, we had a big brown teapot (a 'Brown Betty'); whoever was first up in the morning would make the pot, and then we would all saunter downstairs at various intervals and take a cup from it. Our big brown Bess was kept warm by a tea cozy... and this is where my problem lay... You see, I'm currently the only tea drinker in the house (this is practically unheard of in Blighty), and so, when I make a pot, it gets cold... and, unlike some, I like my tea piping hot!

Anyways, to circumnavigate this problem, I decided to drag out the sewing machine and set about making a tea cozy. I used this website here to help me... I didn't follow it to the letter (mainly because I have no idea what I am doing), but it gave me the framework... and I would have never worked out how to line the thing without this helpful site. There's a couple of things I'd do differently if I were making it again.. like invest in a compass, so I'd have a more rounded tea cozy, and create a little loop in the top, so I can hang it somewhere... but, as they say, 'practice makes perfect'... so, I think I'll be making another for my English gal pal T... after all, you can't have a teapot without a tea cozy.

Have a happy start to the week all!

This post is linked to A Beach Cottage- Good Life Wednesday, pop over for inspiration!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Friday Flower and hope...

It is bitterly cold here in New Jersey. Once upon a time, this would have been a day where I'd have waved the hubby goodbye at the door, and then snuggled up on the couch with my little ones all day... but times are 'a changing...  I now have to bundle us all up and get my eldest to Pre-K ('nursery' for anyone outside the States), much to my youngest daughters displeasure. It feels like a whole lot of effort for a mere 3 hours break. By the time I've dropped her off, settled her in the classroom, cajoled my other one back into the car, and then driven home, it's almost time to think about heading back! Needless to say, on days when it's this cold, I do mull over the possibility of us all staying at home... Does that make me a bad Mum? Wait, don't answer that.

Anyhoo, even though it is in the low teens here (Fahrenheit), I know that we are heading in the right direction... shops are, once again, full of Spring flowers... from hyacinth bulbs, to narcissus, to daffodils and, my favourite, tulips. Spring flowers, so vibrant in colour, so delicate and yet so hardy. A symbol of new beginnings, fresh starts, and better things to come.

With this sentiment in mind, I would like to dedicate my Friday Flower this week to all those individuals that have been tragically effected by the floods in Queensland, Australia. The stories that have come out of this disaster are beyond comprehension... families dealing with the loss of fathers, mothers, and, most tragically, children. Dealing with the loss of their homes... a sacred place to all individuals... Some things can be replaced, but not all... All we can hope for is that time will heal and that each day is a step in the right direction.

If you would like to donate to the Queensland Flood Appeal, please click here.

Take care all and wishing you all a relaxing weekend...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Blueberry muffins, hot chocolate and bird watching...

We woke up to even more snow this morning in New Jersey, and, even though it came over the top of my wellies, I was quite blase, declaring that, 'it's not too bad at all'... I guess I have been living here a while now. Nevertheless, the hubby got the day off work, and so, I had someone to share the parenting load with me.  While he cleared the snow outside, the girls and I whipped up a batch of blueberry muffins... a little mid-week treat to enjoy later in the day with a hot chocolate... I try to get the little ones really involved in the whole baking process... it makes it a bit more messy, but they get so much out of it... and, while the hubby was around to tag team with the kids, this endeavor appeared less daunting.

Anyhoo, early this morning, when the house was still, I brushed the sleep from eyes, pulled on my wellies, trekked across the snow in the garden, and cleared the bird bath so that I could add some much needed sustenance for the poor little birds that were sat in the trees with their little chests puffed out. By the time the girls woke up, the garden was alive with the chatter of birds. I managed to shoot these through the kitchen backdoor and I just had to share them with you...

As a child, my Mum would teach me the names of all the birds that frequented our garden... living here in the States, I've had to re-educate myself on the birds native to New Jersey, and it hasn't grown old... I still get just as much enjoyment out of watching these dart around our garden...

... but, best of all,  I think I've managed to pass this love of birds along to my little girls. They independently pushed a chair to the back door, just so they can watch our little visitors (although they still have to learn the art of being still and quiet, so as not to scare them off)... hopefully, this skill will come sooner rather than later...

Hope you are all having a great week.

Blueberry Muffin Recipe

2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of light brown sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of milk
1 stick butter  (1/2 cup), melted
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
oats for topping

Preheat your oven to 400f and line 12 muffin pan cups with greaseproof muffin cases. In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

In a medium bowl or jug, using a fork, beat the milk, melted butter, egg and vanilla essence until blended. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture; stir just until the flour is moistened (don't worry, the batter will look lumpy).

Spoon the batter mixture into the prepared muffin-pan cups. (I use an ice-cream scoop to ensure nice even sized muffins). Sprinkle the muffins with oats and a little brown sugar.

Bake until toothpick inserted in center of the muffin comes out clean. Approximately 20-25 minutes. Remove muffins from pan and cool on a wire rack...

I like to eat these why are still a little warm... Mmmmm...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A winter walk and a recipe for pear & raspberry crumble

Today, I took the dog for a walk. There was a fresh coat of snow from the day before, and so, the dirty grey snow left over from Christmas had been given a new lease of life. It was, once again, pristine and white, as though the land had been draped in a crisp white sheet, hiding the messy bed beneath. 

During the warmer months, this path is alive with wildlife... birds darting in and out of the reeds, young rabbits nibbling lush green grass at the side, and butterflies twirling around the sky, as though they were taking part in an elaborate ballet... but, today, it was still and quiet. The only sound was the crunching of the snow underfoot... each footstep pushing the snow back to reveal the glassy ice beneath. I trudged along the path, pulled my hood tighter against me and buried my head into my scarf so that I could feel my warm breath against my skin.
As the wind blew, the dog braced herself against it, until I turned on my heal and declared, 'Come Bea, let's head home...,' to which she returned an almost grateful tail wag.

As I walked into our little home, the warmth of the house was greeted by the throbbing of my cold cheeks. I looked at the healthy snack of raspberries that I had left on the side, pre-walk, and decided that today was a crumble day... it's too cold for diets...

If you're wanting a little comfort food, give this delicious combination a try... you won't be disappointed.
Take care all and have a great Monday!

Pear & Raspberry Crumble


1 cup plain flour
1 1/4 stick of butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup of brown sugar
3 pears peeled and cut into slices
1 cup of raspberries (I used a small carton)
2 heaped tablespoons of vanilla sugar (granulated sugar if you don't have it)
honey for drizzling (optional)


Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the pear slices and raspberries in an oven-proof dish or pie dish, sprinkle with the vanilla sugar and stir in with a spoon.

Sift the flour into a bowl, add the cubed butter and rub in with your fingers, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir the brown sugar into the flour mixture.

Spread the crumble mixture over the pears and raspberries. Don't pat down the mixture... you want it to stay airy. Drizzle the top with a little honey... this gives a chewy texture to your crumble top... it's not necessary, but I like it.

Place the crumble in the oven for approximately 40-45 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown on top and the fruit is bubbling at the sides.

Serve with either custard of vanilla ice-cream... both are delicious!

Note: I don't precook the pears, as with apple crumble, as they're usually softer already. If you're not able to get vanilla sugar, you can always try and make it. Sarah's blog here offers a tutorial on how to do this. It really does make a difference.

Friday, January 7, 2011

If January were a dress...

December is a month of excess, opulence, and over-indulgence.. the perfect way to end the year. It's as though the eleven months prior were there simply to build anticipation, leading us to the crescendo that is December. During this month, we bid farewell to the year, surrounded by vibrant colours, rich food, drink, glitz, and glamour! If December were a dress, it would be a figure-hugging, swanky, red velvet number, encrusted in rhinestones... the type of dress Jane Mansfield would have worn as she sashayed down the red carpet...

... and now, here we are in January... the beginning... the bottom step. A month of reflection, cleansing, simplicity, hope, and optimism. All the brashness of December has been packed away and we return to normality. I imagine that the sentence, 'it's so bare in here now' has been uttered in many a household this week. Furniture is pushed out and allowed to breathe again. Walls are, once again, bare and uncluttered. Lighting becomes subdued. Meals are functional... During the month of January, I find myself wanting to be grounded, and am reminded as to what is really important in life... If January were a dress it would be a plain, simple, practical, grey, and wool...

... with this in mind, I picked a Friday Flower that encapsulated the month of January. Clean, pure, and uncomplicated... displayed simply in a vintage jar... no hoopla, just pretty...

Wishing you all a great weekend. Looking forward to catching up next week!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Smile in 2011

I'm a little bit late off the starting block when it comes to the New Year... but I've made it... I'm finally here in 2011. How's yours going so far? I've been trying to get the this little old place ship-shape and ready for the up and coming year (which mainly just involved packing away the holiday decorations). A job which I never relish, packing away all the magic, carefully, in bubble wrap, knowing that it will be a whole 11 months before I see them again (by which time I've usually forgotten what has been squirreled away).

Anyhoo, I was listening to the radio (yes, Santa did treat me to that cream Roberts radio... I must have been a really good girl...) and there was a segment on New Year's resolutions... who makes them and what they were for 2011. There were the usual... stop smoking... diet... be more organised, etc... and then, one women announced that, in order to keep her New Year's resolution, she was setting her goals a lot lower in 2011... My ears pricked up and I decided I liked the cut of her jib... my kind of gal... Anyways, her resolution was to smile every morning... and my first thought was, 'attainable... really?'
This thought was closely followed by 'You cynic, Laura. Is it really that hard to smile every morning?'
I'd love to say no... I'd love to say that I wake up, think of my life, and smile... just as the bluebirds peal back my bed linen and the dog runs in with my nicely warmed slippers, and places them beside my bed... but life isn't a fairytale... I'm not going to go into my morning routine, as I'm sure, most of you out there have your own morning tales to tell. All I will say is that it's like waking up strapped into a roller coaster and knowing that there's no way off until bedtime.

Where am I going with this?... Ahh, yes... to smile every morning... Yes, this is my New Year's resolution... to do it right before the chaos happens... that split second where my eyelids are still heavy and clinging onto my eyeballs for dear life, I'm going to remind myself that I would not have my life any other way... remind myself that, throughout the day, there will be tears and there will be tantrums, but there will be lots and lots of smiles...

Take care all and keep smiling!
L :-)
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