Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I love new beginnings, and there is nothing that gives us more of a fresh start than a New Year.

I’m not that big on New Year’s Resolutions. I prefer instead to set a few goals and to celebrate the things I have achieved in the last year. I highly recommend this approach as it is much more uplifting to celebrate achieving a goal than to beat yourself up for breaking a resolution.

Whatever your goals for 2010 might be, I wish you and yours a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year full of dreams come true!

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
Helen Keller

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Catching Up With Friends and Keeping Things Simple

Sharing a laugh with my friend Lel

Doing a word search with my God-daughter

In my kitchen with our friends' daughter Mia

In our friends' amazing kitchen on Boxing Day

One of the things I love about this time of year is being able to take time out to visit with friends. Life seems to move so quickly these days and we don’t always get to spend a lot of the people who are important to us, so it’s lovely to have a bit of time to do that. For the past few days we have been entertaining and being entertained and it has been really wonderful.

Years ago I used to really fuss when I entertained, making sure that everything was perfect, and serving fairly formal meals most of the time. But now I have gotten to the stage where I want to spend time with my guests - not on my own in the kitchen - so aside from the odd formal dinner party, I try to keep my entertaining fairly casual. I mentioned in my blog on Sunday that I was doing a buffet for dinner that night, and I did that for lunch on Monday too. I served virtually the same buffet as on Sunday, but left out the roast potatoes as it was lunchtime, and added smoked salmon, some nice rolls and a plate of cheeses, including a big wedge of Stilton, which is very popular here this time of year. (It’s not my favourite, but to each his own!) Our friends on Monday stayed for dinner as well, so I got up first thing in the morning and made two Cottage Pies before they arrived. Once I had cooked the beef mixture and the potatoes, I just assembled the pies, and then cooled the whole lot down and refrigerated them. Later in the afternoon, all I had to do was gently re-heat them in the oven for about an hour, making sure the potato topping was nicely browned. It didn’t take long to cook some broccoli and I also made a quick and delicious side dish with leeks. (I’m just writing the recipe for that one up, and I will put it on the site in the near future.) Dessert was store-bought mince pies sprinkled with powdered sugar, store-bought Stollen slices and home-made butter tart squares. I had tons of time to visit with my friends, and everyone ate well too!

Yesterday we had a day on our own and after a fairly lazy start, we spent the day catching up on jobs around the house, and also visiting Costco to stock up a bit. We’ve got friends coming to celebrate the New Year with us, so today I’m busy cleaning, catching up on the washing, running some errands and cooking. Again I’m keeping New Year’s Eve dinner simple, centering the meal around the delicious individual Beef Wellingtons I can get ready-made at my butcher. I’ll skip the starter and just serve squares and mince pies for dessert because we will be having a cheese course as well. Plus I always do a little buffet at midnight, the centrepiece of which is Shrimp served with my Mom’s seafood sauce - a fantastic combination of horseradish, ketchup and lemon. I’ve never paid much attention to the quantities (Mom taught me to go by taste) but this time I’ll will actually measure so I can share the recipe!

When I was growing up in Canada, my Aunt Dorothy always made a big New Year’s Day dinner and invited all the family. I used to enjoy it so much that since I moved to England over twenty years ago, I keep Aunt Dorothy’s tradition by always cooking a nice lunch or dinner on New Years Day. This year I’m planning to serve Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Roast Shallots and Madeira Gravy as the main course. I’m still not sure about the dessert, but I’m sure I’ll think of something :)

I can hardly believe another year - indeed another decade - has nearly gone by, and my goodness, what a decade it has been. I have really high hopes for this coming decade - not just personally and as a family, but also corporately, for the whole world. Technology is moving so fast the potential for improvements to our lives, the lives of others in less fortunate parts of the world, and particularly in medicine, is absolutely huge. Events of the last decade, both good and bad, have reminded us of the importance of family, home, community and corporate responsibility. We are all very different than we were on the eve of the new millennium., but although the evening news would have us believe otherwise, we all have every reason to be optimistic.

New beginnings are wonderful things, and this new decade is a bona fide new beginning. With a bit of faith, hope and love, we can all do great things with it!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The 21st Century Housewife's© Tasty Cabbage

This is a really yummy side dish I developed over the Christmas holidays. I was trying to think of new things to serve alongside leftover turkey and ham, and this was fantastic with both. It does not take long to make either. It’s really colourful and fresh, and also very economical - always a plus this time of year!

2 tablespoons oil (I used olive, but sunflower or Canola would be fine)
1 red onion
1 tablespoon sugar
1 small cabbage, shredded
¼ cup Madeira or sherry
¼ chicken stock (made from a cube is absolutely fine)
1 tbsp soy sauce
½ cup frozen peas

Heat the oil in a frying pan (with a lid) and sauté the red onion over low heat until it is just beginning to soften. Add the sugar and stir to mix through.

Turn up the heat to medium and add the shredded cabbage. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the cabbage is tender-crisp. Add the Madeira or sherry and the chicken stock, along with the soy sauce. Stir to mix and bring to the boil. Allow to bubble away for a minute or so just to let the liquid reduce a bit. Stir in the frozen peas. Then put the lid on the frying pan, lower the heat and cook for about three to five minutes. (You still want the peas to be nice, bright green.)

Serve with just about anything, from turkey or chicken to ham or even fish. Unfortunately I never managed to get a photograph of this one – it kept disappearing too quickly!

I’ve linked this post up to my three favourite Tuesday recipe exchanges - Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays at Blessed with Grace, Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, and Tuesdays at the Table at All the Small Stuff.

Happy New Year Everyone! And don’t forget to enter my Le Creuset Giveaway if you haven’t already - the deadline is fast approaching!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas with Family and Friends

Pictures from top - My sister-in-law and I in the kitchen at my in-law's house, the Christmas pudding, and my (fraternal) twin nephews who made it!

We had Christmas with my husband’s family, going to his parents’ house on Christmas Eve. My sister-in-law Gail and I cooked Christmas dinner on the day itself. It was the first time I had cooked such a big turkey (18 pounds) but it turned out really well, despite cooking much faster than anticipated! Dinner was very traditional, and the plum pudding at the end was as it has always been, except I think it was the most delicious we have ever had. My (fraternal) twin nephews made it, to my husband’s step-Grandmother’s old recipe (she was a cook in a manor house in the early part of the twentieth century), and it was really wonderful. My husband flamed it with brandy and vodka, a piece of holly from the garden crowning it off.

On Boxing Day we went to our friends’ house in Buckinghamshire, where we had a delicious lunch of ham with Cumberland Sauce, which our friend J had made from scratch. It was incredible. Our friends have just finished building their own house, and it was so beautifully decorated. Their Christmas tree was wonderful. I didn’t get a picture of it, but they have a galleried landing, so the ceiling in their family room is about thirty feet high. The tree was over twelve feet tall, and absolutely beautiful, decorated with ornaments that were not just pretty, but also had lots of meaning, including some their grown up sons had made when they were little. J is so good at decorating; her house always looks gorgeous at Christmas.

Today we were at home, and had friends come round with their lovely little girl, who is just 16 months old and full of beans. We had a really nice afternoon with them. I kept dinner really simple so I could visit, serving a buffet with cold marmalade roast ham, hot roast potatoes and salads. Dessert was a store-bought pudding - orange sponge with mincemeat and Grand Mariner served with vanilla custard, alongside mince pies and a bowl of sweet satsumas. I love easy meals!

Tomorrow we look forward to welcoming dear old friends (by this I mean the time we have known them, not their ages!!). They now live down in Dorset, and we only see them a few times a year, so every visit is precious. We are so looking forward to seeing them. Once again, I want to make sure I have lots of time to visit - so it’s a buffet for lunch, and Cottage Pie for dinner (which I will make tomorrow morning, chill and re-heat later). I just have to figure out what to make for dessert!

I hope you are having a wonderful Holiday Season, and finding some time to relax as well!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas To All!

Well, everything is nearly done - or as done as it is going to be! I’m just making a couple more kinds of stuffing and we are getting ready for this evening’s journey to my husband’s parents house. We opened our cards to each other this afternoon, and my husband and I were so touched by our son’s card. As well as personalising it so it was very much uniquely from him, he also took the time to write on little slips of paper the things he wanted to say thank you to us for. It was quite funny when they all fell out of the card as we opened it - and so touching to read them. Some were funny, some were thoughtful, and some - like one that said “all the happy memories” very nearly made me cry. It’s lovely to know that in the midst of all the chaos that is our life, our son feels supported, loved and secure. It means everything to us.

It further underscores what I wrote about yesterday - that one of the most important parts of this season is the love - both God’s love for us, and our love for each other. I hope that you are able to spend this Christmas in the company of those you love and that as well as having a very Merry Christmas, the spirit of Christmas will stay with you in a tiny corner of your heart all year long.

Thank you for being a reader of The 21st Century Housewife© this year, and a very Merry Christmas to you all!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Getting Ready for Christmas

Despite seriously good intentions, I have found myself making the final preparations for Christmas in a huge rush. I’m never quite sure how this happens. I make every effort to be the traditional domestic goddess, serenely offering up trays of cookies, the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger wafting from the kitchen, the house perfectly tidy and welcoming. The reality is sadly somewhat different. There are good smells wafting from the kitchen all right, but it is also full of dishes queuing up for the dishwasher as I struggle to get all the last minute cooking and baking done. There are unwrapped presents and wrapping paper in the living room, despite my best efforts to wrap as I buy. The washer and dryer are going non-stop and the ironing board is set up in the kitchen as I try to make a dent in the ironing monster that seemingly grew up overnight. Oh, and because I kept all the gifts in our guest room, I have not managed to get it ready for our guests, the first of which arrive on Monday.

I suppose I could use the weather as an excuse. We have had some appalling weather these last few days - well, appalling for us. It’s pretty every day for North America, but here in England there is a real refusal by city councils to accept that despite global warming our winters are getting colder and snowier, and that investment in ploughs, rock salt and grit would not be considered an extravagance by their constituents! Seriously, this is how much snow it takes to snow us in here in England.

Getting out in the car is nigh on impossible because so few of the roads have been ploughed, salted or gritted and even though some of the snow has melted, ice is making driving really hazardous. It took my husband six and a half hours to get home from work on Monday night. (It’s only thirty-five miles from his office to home!) Over two thousand people in our area alone were stranded and had to sleep in shelters. An American lady interviewed by Sky News in the airport the other evening pretty much summed it up. She got to the airport through nearly two feet of snow at home, and then got stuck at Luton Airport because of a few inches. I find it embarrassing. It makes us all look silly. It has also made last minute Christmas preparations a nightmare. Thankfully I arranged to have most of my groceries delivered yesterday by companies that use large vans with chains on their wheels. For everything else, I walked - from the store to the post office. I’m just hoping I don’t have to walk to the butcher tomorrow - it’s two miles away and I’m collecting an eighteen pound turkey, two-four pound cooked hams and a two pound pork pie! It should be okay as they are promising a thaw tomorrow, a good thing as we have to drive to my husband’s parent’s house nearly a hundred miles away. However, I’m really not ready for Christmas and it is making me feel frazzled and inadequate.

I amaze myself with how even I get caught up in the delusion of domestic divinity this time of year - an impossible vision of how I “should” be. Seriously, have you ever caught sight of the elusive domestic goddess except in the movies or in glossy magazine spreads? That’s because she truly does not exist. I love being a housewife, but I have to accept that it means embracing life in all its glorious imperfection and just doing the best I can. I cannot judge myself on how close I get to my vision of the “perfect” Christmas. It, like the domestic goddess, doesn’t exist.

When I think about it, a perfect Christmas for me would be just one more family Christmas with my Mom and Dad. I don’t care what we would eat or drink, or whether there were presents, or even if it snowed. Just to be with them for even a few hours one more time would be more than enough. I know so many other people feel the same way about people they have lost. So why am I, like so many other women, rushing round like a headless chicken today? We need to enjoy the people we have with us now, and not worry about the stuff that really does not matter. And if anyone gives us a hard time about something they perceive has made the day a tiny bit less than their vision of perfection, we need sit them down with a nice cup of tea (or even something a little stronger) and remind them that our time here on earth is short and it Really. Doesn’t. Matter.

Most of all, we need to take time out to remember the reason for this season. It wasn’t about luxury, or presents, or tables heaving with food. It was about a very frightened teenage girl, miles away from home with nowhere to stay, giving birth to her first child in a stable - a child who would change the universe forever.

“In a world of injustice, God once and for all tipped the scales in the favor of hope.” Max Lucado

Christmas is about the hope that child Jesus brought us then and still brings us today, about family and community, and most of all, about a Love so big it takes infinity to hold it.

Merry Christmas from my home to yours.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Banana, Coconut and Pecan Muffins

These muffins are positively decadent, but you can still pretend they are a little bit good for you because of the whole wheat flour and the bananas :) The ginger makes them lovely and spicy, just right for this time of year. Use as much as you like, up to 3 teaspoons. (We really like ginger in our house, so I always use 3 generous teaspoons.)

My recipe makes a big batch of 24 large muffins, but that is no problem as I find they disappear very quickly, and anyway they freeze very easily once cooled. If you really don’t want 24 muffins, pour half the mixture into a loaf tin and make a loaf cake and just 12 muffins. You just have to remember to bake the loaf cake for longer - about 50 to 60 minutes instead of the 20 to 25 minutes the muffins take. Allow the loaf to cool completely before slicing. Or make 2 loaf cakes if you prefer!

The muffins or slices of the loaf cake are delicious for breakfast or as a snack any time of day.

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 - 3 teaspoons ginger
1 cup pecans chopped
1 cup desiccated or flaked coconut
3 medium ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup oil
(sunflower or mild olive oil works well, but not extra virgin olive oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups buttermilk

Measure the flours, baking powder, ginger, pecans and coconut into a large bowl and stir to mix.

Place the mashed bananas in a medium bowl and add the sugars, eggs, oil, vanilla and buttermilk. Mix thoroughly.

Add the banana and sugar mixture to the flour mixture and stir thoroughly until well blended, but don’t beat. Divide the mixture between 24 large lined (or greased and floured) muffin cups. (I use an ice cream scoop with a release trigger to do this.)

Bake at about 350℉ or 170℃ for 20 to 25 minutes or until a piece of dry spaghetti inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean (ie. with no batter clinging to it). Keep an eye on these in the last five minutes or so of cooking or they will over-brown.

Take the muffin pans out of the oven. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool on wire racks. I feel obliged to mention here that these are delicious warm from the oven with a nice hot cup of tea!

Once cooled, store in a sealed container in the refrigerator if possible. (Bring to room temperature or warm in the microwave before eating.) To freeze, wait until completely cool and then seal in freezer bags or containers before freezing. Thaw overnight in the fridge. These taste nice warmed in the microwave for a few seconds before eating.

I’ve linked this post up to Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays at Blessed with Grace, Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, and Tuesdays at the Table at All the Small Stuff. There’s lots of Christmas recipe inspiration out there, so do go and visit! Have a Merry Christmas everyone, and don’t forget to enter my Le Creuset Giveaway!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Night at the Museum

The Natural History Museum in London is an amazing building. Its main entrance is in Cromwell Road, and as you walk in the massive doors it is easy to be overwhelmed by the building itself, before you even begin to look at the exhibits. The main entrance hall contains a cast of a diplodocus dinosaur, which stretches almost from one end to the other. To give you an idea of how big the hall itself is, Dippy, as he is affectionately known, is 105 feet long. The vaulted ceiling is ornately decorated and at one end of the hall a huge staircase goes up and then off to both sides, leading up to galleries on either side. A seated statue of Charles Darwin sits on the first landing, looking very serious as its sightless eyes gaze out over the massive cathedral-like hall in front of him.

Up till now my experience of this building consisted of visits with my son, walking through its hallowed halls talking in hushed tones as we surveyed the very carefully arranged exhibits. The only noise was the hushed babble of other visitors, interspersed with the occasional delighted squeal of a child on its first glance at the quite impressive Dippy. When I heard that the company my husband works for planned to have its Christmas party in the museum, I was curious as to what it would be like, and had in my mind the idea of a rather staid, quiet celebration in an historic setting. What I actually experienced could not have been further from what I imagined.

When we arrived at the museum gates, we were met by several burley security guards asking which party we were attending. It seems that there was not just one, but actually several parties in the museum that night. We were directed through the entrance halls towards the party we were attending in the great hall, and when we walked through the arched entrance,what I saw took my breath away. Dippy was completely illuminated, as were all the galleries. The statue of Charles Darwin almost hid in the darkness, occasionally lit by a beam from one of the spotlights moving round the room. A light show played over the ceiling of the hall, and at the end, a curtain of fairy lights gave the impression that Dippy was looking into the night sky. The buzz of people was louder than any noise I had ever heard in the museum before, and as a waiter offered me a glass of champagne, I noticed that there was a bar right underneath Dippy, a huge circular installation with more than four barmen offering wine, beer and water. The light show in the museum was so spectacular that it made taking photographs nearly impossible, but this photo gives a bit of an idea of what we saw:-

Waiters and waitresses wandered through the crowds offering interesting hors d’oeuvres - tiny hamburgers, little slices of beef Wellington, baby crab cakes, tiny cones of fish and chips, and brie and cranberry club sandwiches sliced tinier than any tea sandwich I have ever seen. My glass was never empty, either refilled or replaced by a passing waiter, something I would sadly regret the next morning!

Later in the evening, a DJ set up on the stairs in front of the statue of Charles Darwin, who would definitely not have approved of the very loud and boisterous disco that followed. To escape the loud music from time to time, we wandered through various exhibits just off the great hall, including one of the winning and commended entries from the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. The quality of the entries was staggering, especially some of the images captured by children as young as eleven. By this time, the waiting staff were offering tiny desserts - mince pies the size of fifty pence pieces, tiny cookies no bigger than my thumbnail and baby squares of light fruitcake.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and gave me a glimpse of the Natural History Museum as I have never seen it before. Although the founders of those hallowed halls might not have approved, I found the transformation quite incredible. Even more amazing is that, next morning, the hall was back to its original quiet self, the bar gone, and Dippy surveying nothing out of the ordinary. Things were even back to normal for dear old Charles Darwin, until the next time the great hall is hired for a celebration - something that happens much more often than you might imagine!

If you fancy hiring a room in the Natural History Museum, click here for more information. It requires very deep pockets, and might be better considered on a corporate rather than a personal scale, but it certainly is one of the most impressive party venues I have ever visited anywhere in the world.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Le Creuset Giveaway - and Luxury Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie is a great dish for this time of year, not least of all because you can make it ahead and reheat it. I often make two at a time and freeze one so I have a delicious and easy meal tucked away for busy days. I make lots of different variations on my recipe, but this version is just that little bit extra-special as it contains Madeira, a fortified wine. One of my favourite casserole dishes to use for my Cottage Pies is my Le Creuset oval casserole dish pictured above. It’s a brilliant oven to tableware dish that is also fridge and freezer safe. I own a number of Le Creuset products and they are a brand I trust and use regularly. And the great news is that the generous folks at

have offered to send one of these very useful Le Creuset oval casserole dishes to a reader in the United States or Canada. (Sadly they only ship to North American addresses.) If you click here you can see a Le Creuset dish like the one are giving away. In return they have asked me to mention their new line of Paula Deen Cookware, which looks really interesting. I saw Paula’s products at her very famous shop in Savannah and they were definitely very covetable! For a chance to win the Le Creuset dish, send an email to with the words “Le Creuset Giveaway” in the subject line and I will enter you into the draw - closing date is Sunday 10th January. Remember you have to have an address in the continental US or Canada to enter as the prize is being shipped direct from*.

Here is the cottage pie I made the other night, with its lovely gravy peeking up around the edges:-

and here is the recipe!

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Luxury Cottage Pie
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 pound of ground beef
1 generous tablespoon flour
2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
3 parsnips, peeled and cut in chunks
(if you don’t like parsnips, just use an extra potato)
3 tablespoons butter
about 1/4 to 1/2 cup light cream or half and half
about 1 cup beef stock
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Madeira (or dry sherry if you do not have any Madeira to hand)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, and sauté the onions gently over low heat until they are beginning to soften. Add the beef. Break up any large chunks with a spatula or spoon and brown, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes and parsnips in a saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for about ten minutes until the potatoes and parsnips have softened. Drain and return to the saucepan. Mash with the butter. Add the cream gradually, continuing to mash, until the potatoes and parsnips are moistened, but still have a fairly firm consistency. Cover and set aside.

When the beef is nearly cooked through, sprinkle with the flour and stir it through. Allow to cook for about a minute. Gradually add the stock, a bit at a time, stirring after each addition. Add the ketchup, Madeira and Worcestershire sauce and stir in. Bring to the boil, and allow to bubble away merrily for about five minutes so the gravy can reduce a bit, stirring occasionally so the mixture doesn’t stick. Lower the heat, cover and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. If the mixture appears to thick, add a bit more stock, but be careful not to add too much.

Put the beef mixture into the bottom of a casserole dish. Carefully dollop the potato and parsnip mixture on top with a spoon. Gently spread the mixture over the beef using a fork, covering it right up to the edges. (The Shepherd’s Pie can be cooled at this point and refrigerated or frozen for another day.)

Bake the Cottage Pie at 350℉ or 175℃ for about 20 minutes or until the potato is beginning to turn golden. (If you have made the pie a day or so earlier and taken it from the fridge, you will need to heat it at about 375℉ or 190℃ for about 30 to 40 minutes or until heated through. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then cook as for from the fridge.

Incidentally, if you are wondering why this is called Cottage Pie and not Shepherd’s Pie it is because Shepherd’s Pie is made with lamb and Cottage Pie is made with beef. And yes, there is absolutely no reason why you could not use ground lamb in this recipe and call it Shepherd’s Pie :)

I’ll be back tomorrow with a post about my very own Night At The Museum! Don't forget to enter the giveaway!

* have not reimbursed me for this post in any way, except for providing the Le Creuset dish for the giveaway, which will be shipped to the winner directly from them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Recipes at the Holly Bloggy Christmas Bash

It’s the fourth day of the Holly Bloggy Christmas Bash, and I’m joining in over at Simply Sweet Home where Jerri is hosting a Christmas Recipe exchange. This recipe has been in my family for years and was given to me by my Aunt Dorothy when I was about ten years old. We always had these at Christmas time, and at the big New Year’s Day dinner Aunt Dorothy always used to have at her house. This recipe is really , really easy and very, very yummy!

Butterscotch Squares with Vanilla Wafers

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup butterscotch morsels
1 - 8 to 9 ounce package of vanilla wafers, cut or broken into pea-sized pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla

Butter an eight inch square pan.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the sugar and egg, blending quickly to avoid the egg scrambling. Stir to blend well. Put the pan back on the stove on medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture boils. Allow to boil for one minute, stirring constantly so the mixture does not stick.

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla wafers, nuts, butterscotch morsels and vanilla.

Press the mixture firmly into the prepared eight inch square pan. Cover with foil and store in the refrigerator. Cut in small pieces to serve.

I’ve also been posting Christmassy recipes these last few weeks both here in my blog, on my Recipe of the Week pages and over at my food blog, The 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen. You might like to try some of these:-

Mincemeat and Brandy Cake

Creamy Christmas Turkey with Rice

Christmas Parsnip Soup

There is also my Christmas Gravy, My Mom’s Mincemeat Oat Squares, Christmas Cherries and Christmas Squares.

Hope you enjoy them! Do be sure and pop back to see me tomorrow when I’ll be announcing a new Giveaway in partnership with the nice people at

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Snow, A Giveaway and Vintage Chic

It’s snowing here in England today which is something that still happens rarely enough to make it noteworthy. I surprise myself by how excited I get when it snows here. When I was growing up in Canada, snow was a pretty regular occurrence in the winter - something I hardly noticed - but here it is something of a treat. It’s a fine balance though because if we get more than a couple of centimetres the whole country will grind to a halt and this time of year that could be very inconvenient. Frankly, it has not amounted to much -

but for the moment I’m enjoying the fluffy white flakes and letting them make me feel very Christmassy indeed. From the looks of things, they won’t be around for long!

And now for some news!!
Watch this space for a very special Giveaway announcement on Friday! The nice folks at

are joining up with us here at 21st Century Housewife to do a very cool giveaway. They have some great products on their site, including some wonderful Paula Deen Cookware.
I saw some of Paula Deen's Cookware products in her shop when I visited Savannah a couple years ago and they looked amazing. The item being given away is from one of my favourite lines, and one of you could find it a very useful addition indeed to their kitchen - so be sure to be here on Friday for the announcement!

And to finish - a quick tip for the Christmas season. Be sure to check the back of your wardrobes, attic etc. Everything old really is new again, particularly clothes, shoes and accessories, many of which are considered terribly chic these days. (Seriously, have you noticed how often the words “in vintage” appear next to a celebrity’s name?) And in these slightly dubious economic times, it can really save some pennies to use something you already have. For example, when I bought some rather beautiful new shoes at Russell and Bromley for a party the other day, the saleslady took great pains to point out the matching bag. It cost more than the shoes - which were rather expensive themselves!! Luckily, I have a wonderful evening bag that used to belong to my Mom which is in perfect condition. It is circa 1950, black with silver trim and a darling clasp. I get loads of compliments every time I use it.

Don’t they look like they were made to go together? And, it’s saved me over £100 ($200!) Seriously, check those closets and attics!!

Tomorrow I’ll post another yummy Christmas recipe as I head off to the Holly Blogger Christmas Bash again - and don’t forget to be here on Friday for the Giveaway Announcement!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Looking Even More Like Christmas

I posted some photos last week of how my Christmas decorations were coming along at home, but I’ve made quite a lot of progress since then so I’ve decided to post some more. It also means I can join up with the Holly Bloggy Christmas Bash - Day 2,

which today is being hosted by A Baby Changes Everything. Do go along to the party so you can have a look at lots of lovely Christmas trees and styles of decorating - the ones I have looked at are absolutely inspirational!

Our Christmas tree in the living room is the photo on the top, and it is all based around gold and red. It’s my more “formal” tree and I chose a lot of the ornaments specially for it. The photo below it is the Christmas tree in our dining room and it is the tree that I put all the sentimental and traditional ornaments on, including all the ornaments my son made when he was a little boy, and even one I made in Kindergarten. I don’t care what colour they are, although I have a penchant for blue! This tree is always crowned with my very special angel.

She is my favourite Christmas ornament in the whole world. My Dad bought her for me when I was two years old, and every year he would help me put her on top of the tree. Apparently he told my Mom he bought it for “their little angel”, although I’m not sure exactly how angelic I really was as a child!! Anyway, when I got married, Mom and Dad gave me the angel, and every year since our son was two, my husband and I have helped him put it on our tree - except now he needs absolutely no help at all as he is seventeen and well over six feet tall! But he still puts her on the tree every year, and she is very special to him now as well.

Here’s a few more photographs of the decorations round our house this year:-

The dining room sideboard, and the fireplace in our living room.

The breakfast nook in the kitchen and the secretary in the hallway.

and my wreath and one of the two table centerpieces, made by the very talented ladies at The Green Parlour in Pangbourne, Berkshire.

Merry Christmas from my home to your home!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gourmet Sugars

Jerri from Simply Sweet Home got in touch to let me know about the Holly Bloggy Christmas Bash being held from 14-18 December.

There is a different linky-event each day, with prizes for the participants. I was very pleased to be invited and hope to join in with lots of the events. Today’s is over at Tater Tots and Jello, and is about Homemade Gift Ideas. So do go on over and be inspired!

Homemade gifts are wonderful because they really do come from the heart and yet they don’t have to cost a fortune. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people who is really very talented in the crafting or sewing department, but thankfully I discovered early on that people really like to receive food as gifts! I frequently give plates of cookies, a homemade loaf cake, or even a basket of muffins. Prettily wrapped and tied with a ribbon, they make a very welcome surprise any time of year, but especially at Christmas.

Another thing I like to do is give gifts of ingredients, and one of my favourite ingredients to give is flavoured sugars. It might not sound like much, but it’s the sort of thing folks don’t often buy or make for themselves and really brings delight. (Seriously, have you seen those very tiny, incredibly expensive jars of vanilla sugar in speciality stores? You can make the same thing for a fraction of the price.) Imagine fresh cinnamon sugar on hot buttered toast, or a cup of hot milk or cocoa with a teaspoon of vanilla nutmeg sugar stirred in. Delicious! Plain vanilla sugar is a great ingredient for cookies and cakes too. Flavoured sugars make a cute small gift all on their own, or if I want to give something larger, I pack them in a homemade hamper with other baked goods.

All you need is a bunch of small, clean preserving jars that have been thoroughly dried out, some granulated sugar and some spices. It’s a really economical gift that is something very special. The photo above is of one of my jars of cinnamon sugar. For each small jar, all you need is about a cup and a half of granulated sugar, 4 to 5 tablespoons of powdered cinnamon and two small cinnamon sticks (or one long one broken in half). Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, pour into the jar, and pop the cinnamon sticks inside like this:-

Then just seal and tie with a pretty ribbon. Pop a little tag on the jar labelling it as “Cinnamon Sugar” and suggest uses for it on the label. For example, I write things like “Sprinkle me on hot buttered toast, or stir a teaspoon of me into a mug of hot cocoa.”

For vanilla sugar, you need the same amount of sugar as for the cinnamon sugar and a vanilla pod. I know vanilla pods can be expensive, but the rest of the ingredients for the gift are so reasonable it makes up for it. Sometimes you can even buy them in bulk. Fill the jar with sugar and pop the vanilla pod inside. Seal and label. On the tag, I write suggestions like, “Stir a teaspoon of me into hot milk or use me in your favourite cookie recipe.” The nice thing about vanilla sugar is the recipient can just top up the sugar in the jar as they use it because a vanilla pod will last for at least six months. (I mention that on the tag too!) For a bit of a grown-up twist, grate some fresh nutmeg into the vanilla sugar and stir it through. You don’t need too much - about two teaspoons is plenty for a small jar. Label it“Vanilla Nutmeg Sugar” and and write on the tag that it is lovely stirred into hot, milky drinks or to flavour coffee - especially liqueur coffees!

Don’t forget to make an extra jar of each of these - they make a lovely treat for yourself as well :)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

To Market, To Market...

Although I am really not keen on the words of this nursery rhyme (you know the one, “To market, to market, to buy a fat pig, home again, home again jiggety-jig”) because I always feel sorry for the pig, I do love going to our local farmer’s market. We live in a small village so it is only once a month, but I think its rarity makes us look forward to it more.

It’s not that far away from where we live, but we always drive because we buy so much when we are there. I particularly like the plant stand, where we can get beautiful planted baskets. Today we found this gorgeous outdoor basket:-

with the earliest daffodils I have ever seen. Apparently they are called “Early Bloomers” and they really are! I also bought this basket for indoors:-

and these potted hyacinths which should be blooming for Christmas or not very long afterwards.

They were all really reasonable, and I know their quality is wonderful as I already have two of their planted baskets outside our front door which have bloomed non-stop since we bought them two months ago.

We always start our visit to the market with breakfast at one of the farmer’s stands. They make the best bacon rolls I have ever tasted. My husband and son always have the “full English”roll which has sausage and egg in addition to the bacon. One day I will have that too - but I’m always trying to be “good” so I just have the bacon roll! Today we bought some of their bacon and sausages for the first time to bring home. Hopefully they will taste just as good when I cook them as they do in the cold, crisp morning air at the market!

I buy huge trays of free range eggs in the market building which are great for all the baking I do, and I also get vegetables and fruit to top up the things I get in my organic vegetable and fruit boxes which I have delivered once a week. Today I got some broccoli and parsnips which look really delicious, and some pears from our favourite orchard.

There is a bakery stall as well, and we always pick up some of their wonderful almond croissants (delicious for Sunday breakfast with a hot steaming cup of coffee) and anything else that looks yummy - which today was their mince pies.

We buy Scottish tablet (kind of like fudge, but even nicer) from a lady who sells sweets and treats, and something you might not expect at a traditional market - freshly baked samosas and onion bhajis. They are still warm from the oven, and you can bring them home and freeze them - if you don’t eat them first!! There is a lady there who sells not only these, but also homemade curry sauces as well.

It’s a lovely little market and I always look forward to the second Saturday of the month when it is on, but it was extra special this morning. As we walked along in the cold morning air, with our breath visible and the sun shining down, the sound of Christmas carols echoed through the air. It was the perfect Christmas market, and just being there made me feel festive and grateful for this wonderful time of year.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Squares

Christmas is that time of year when you can unashamedly, unabashedly, bake to your heart’s content, and no one dares mention calories or cholesterol. I make a point of taking full advantage of this, and bake as much as possible over the Christmas period. It makes me - and those around me - very happy!

Many of the things I like to bake this time of year have a huge sense of nostalgia attached to them. I made a point of asking for the recipes for things I liked when I was a little girl and I am so glad I did. Now it is a great way to remember not only Christmases past, but also people who are no longer here, and who I miss. One of these people is my Aunt Irene. She was an amazing lady, full of fun with the best laugh I have ever heard. If I shut my eyes and concentrate really hard, I can still remember what it sounded like. She was the sort of Aunt who really enjoyed spending time with you, and I remember food was often a big part of our times together. She and my Uncle lived on a lake and wild strawberries grew down the hill leading down to it. We’d go out in the morning and pick the sweet little morsels, eating most of them as we went. She also had a cherry tree, and showed me how to make pretend earrings with the joined up cherries by hooking them over my ears. We’d walk along the two of us, bejewelled with the gleaming red orbs, laughing and chatting, pretending to be well-to-do ladies. And my goodness, could she ever cook.

This was one of her recipes, appropriately called “Christmas Squares” as I never once ate them at her house any other time except at Christmas - even though I could have cheerfully eaten them all year long! I think I was about eight when she gave me her recipe, and I’ve been making them every year since.

My Aunt Irene’s Christmas Squares
Makes one 8 inch pan

2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt
2 and 1/2 cups finely shredded sweetened coconut
(dessicated coconut will work if that is all you have on hand)
2 cups dates, chopped
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, chopped

For topping:-

2 tablespoons soft butter
1 cup icing sugar
milk or cream

1 to 2 oz semi-sweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350℉ (170℃). Mix everything together and press into an eight inch square pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, make the icing by blending the butter with the icing sugar. Add enough milk or cream to make a rich, spreadable icing.

When the squares are totally cooled, spread them with the butter icing. Carefully melt the chocolate and drizzle it over the icing.

Cut in small squares to serve.

I’ve linked up with several of the Friday food blogs again today. Do go along and have a look at The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap where Gayle has posted some Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies Dipped in Chocolate that sound very yummy indeed, Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum with its gorgeous photos, Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s super blog and Friday Feast at Momtrends where there are some great ideas too.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Home for the Holidays 2009

Rhoda over at Southern Hospitality is hosting a blog party today so I thought I would link up and post some of the photos of the Christmas decorations I have put up in our house. I have to confess I’m actually still not finished yet, so this is very much a work in progress but at least I can show you how I am coming along! Rhoda has some lovely decorations, and it has given me lots of inspiration. I’m looking forward to taking a peek at other people’s posts as well. I love Christmas decorations and am always looking for new ideas.

The wreath on my front door was made by the clever ladies at Green Parlour in Pangbourne, Berkshire. I love its traditional simplicity.

They also made a pretty centrepiece for me, which I love so much I have asked them to make me another one - this time with white roses and blue thistles so that it will work well in the breakfast area of our kitchen. This one with the lovely red roses is just stunning.

I’m very sentimental when it comes to decorating, and I feel very attached to many of my decorations. This angel is almost as old as I am; my Dad bought it for our Christmas tree when I was two years old.

This is the sideboard in the kitchen:-

The centrepiece I have put on there is actually for the dining room, so if you can imagine the one with the blue thistles and white roses in place of the red one, that is what it will look like tomorrow :)

We have two Christmas trees, the one in the dining room and the one in the living room, along with some other little trees scattered throughout the house. The living room one is more formal, and the dining room one has all the very sentimental decorations on it - from my angel on top, to all the decorations my son made in school, and even one I made in Kindergarten!

I found it very hard to photograph the trees as it is too dark at night (with these wretched new energy saving bulbs - I like the idea of them, but they just are not bright enough) and too bright in the sunshine (when we get any!!). At least this gives a bit of an idea anyway.

I try to sneak greenery in wherever I can, even on the more formal pieces of furniture like this secretary in our hallway.

I still have a lot more work to do. Here is part of the stairway which I have just begun to work on. I’ve got some pretty ornaments to hang on the garlands and also some gorgeous ribbon to work with.

And here is the fireplace in the living room. The painting was my Grandma’s and both my Mom and I thought he was Santa when we were little :)

Our home is a new build, so all the walls are still beige - but next year, we’ll have colour! As I said, I’ve only just started with the Christmas decorations but it has been fun to share what I have done so far. It will be too late for the blog party, but I’ll try to post some more photos next week when I’ve actually finished.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmastime!