Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

March is going out like a lion here today, with blustery cold winds and grey skies. It feels more like autumn than spring. But despite the fact the birds are shivering outside on my bird feeder, my garden is reminding me that spring is definitely here and the good weather is coming. I noticed this morning that there are flowers forming on my tulips:-

and that before long my hyacinths will be in bloom.

Even the aquilegia are coming through beautiful bright green.

Soon they will be covered in delicately elegant blue flowers.

We have a four day weekend here in England to celebrate Easter and I’m hoping to get more done in the garden. The weather is not predicted to be nice until Sunday, but that won’t stop us going to the garden centre to choose some new flowers for when the sun finally does come out. Hopefully on Monday it might be warm and dry enough to plant them!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Pasta with Chicken in White Wine Sauce

I’m linking this recipe up to Tasty Tuesday at Beauty and Bedlam, Tempt My Tummy Tuesday at Blessed with Grace and Tuesdays at the Table at All the Small Stuff. Do go along and visit them for some great Easter ideas.

This recipe tastes really special, but it is so quick and easy it is as appropriate for a weeknight as a dinner party. It would make a quick and easy dinner for the Saturday of Easter weekend as well. It serves four adults as a main course or six as a starter. Kids like it too, and as most of the alcohol in the wine cooks off, it should not cause any issues. Do be sure to use a good wine (it doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to taste good!) as you can’t make a tasty sauce without a tasty wine!

2 generous tablespoons butter
2 generous tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine (a nice one, that you would enjoy drinking)
about 1/4 cup light (single) cream or half and half
2 to 3 cooked chicken breasts, cut in small chunks
8 to 10 ounces of penne pasta (roughly 3 generous cups)
fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped, to garnish (optional)

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes to make a roux. Add the wine and stir into the roux. Gradually add the chicken stock, a bit at a time, stirring and allowing to thicken after each addition. Stir in the cream.

The sauce should be just the right consistency at this point, but if it is a little thick at this point, you can add a bit more stock or cream, whichever you have on hand.

Drain the pasta and return to its pan. Add the chopped chicken breast and the sauce. Stir over very low heat to coat the pasta with sauce and warm the chicken through.

Serve in warmed bowls, garnished with parsley if you like it.

By the way, I’ve got a giveaway going in partnership with Ecover, makers of effective ecological cleaning products. If you have an address in the United Kingdom, click here for details of how to enter.

Happy Easter everyone!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ecover’s Big Green Spring Clean & Giveaway

Get powered by nature for a super green clean this spring.

I’m excited to announce a new giveaway in partnership with Ecover. It’s that time of year when everyone starts to think about spring cleaning, and the cleaning experts at Ecover are challenging us to say goodbye to unnecessary chemicals as well as grime this spring by giving our homes a great green clean with Ecover’s wide range of effective and ecological cleaning products.

Ecover guarantee that their range will leave your home sparkling clean. They say their “powered by nature” products are “not only as tough on dirt as most leading brands, but also kinder to the environment and your skin”. Because Ecover use only sustainable plant -based and mineral ingredients in their products, “you don’t have to worry about strong chemical smells” or leaving chemical residue behind after cleaning. In my experience in my own home, this has certainly proven to be the case.

So if you want to detox and clear out the chemicals when you clean up this spring, why not put some of Ecover’s hardworking cleaning products to the test in your own home?Here are some of Ecover’s recommendations for every type of household grime. And don’t forget to check out the giveaway below them!

Grimy oven, bbq, cooker hob, extractor hood or grill?
Try: Ecover Power Cleaner – RRP £3.99 (500ml) – Transform your oven from grimy to gleaming this spring with this powerful degreaser.
Instructions for use: Spray onto surface, leave to work for 1 minute, wipe with a sponge or cloth and rinse off with water.
Top tip: This powerful spray is also ideal for cleaning up the often greasy and grubby tops of your kitchen cupboards.

Dull and dirty surfaces and worktops?
Try: Ecover Multi Surface Spray Cleaner – RRP £2.84 (500ml) – Guaranteed to leave all washable surfaces sparkling clean, and twice as powerful as Ecover’s previous spray surface cleaner, this versatile spray is safe around food.
Instructions for use: Spray lightly over the surface and wipe clean. No need to rinse.

Dusty windows, mirrors, glass and chrome?
Try: Ecover Window & Glass Cleaner – RRP £2.69 (500ml) – Let the light of spring shine in and take dirty windows, mirrors, glass and chrome from dull to dazzling with Ecover’s new Window & Glass Cleaner.
Instructions for use: Spray directly onto surface and wipe off with a soft dry cloth.
Top tip: Ecover recommend that you re-use before you recycle by using scrunched up balls of newspaper once you’ve cleaned the windows to remove any excess solution and dry the panes. Also, don't clean windows when they're in direct sunlight, as they'll dry too fast and look streaked.
Stubborn stains on floors and other hard surfaces?
Try: Ecover All Purpose Cleaner – RRP £1.59 (500ml) – Give all hard washable surfaces a new lease of life with this great all purpose cleaner that naturally and hygienically cleans. Great for removing stubborn marks on floors and making taps and other shiny surfaces sparkle.
Instructions for use: Use 1 to 2 capfuls in half a bucket of warm water.
Top tip: For more stubborn stains use undiluted and wash off with a soft wet cloth. For extra sparkle wipe with a dry cloth.

Ground in dirt on fridges, enamel, stainless steel, tiles and chrome?
Try: Ecover Cream Cleaner – RRP £1.16 (500ml) – Remove obstinate stains without scratching by giving your fridge and other hard surfaces such as enamel, stainless steel, tiles and chrome, the once over with this hard working cream cleaner.
Instructions for use: Apply either directly to the surface or onto a wet sponge. Clean the surface and then rinse off.
Top tip: A quick scrub of Ecover Cream Cleaner is great for eliminating unattractive stains around taps as the clay and limestone content provides a gentle scouring action ideal for tackling stubborn dirt.

Dull limescale covered porcelain tiles and sinks, taps and basins?
Try: Ecover Limescale Remover – RRP £3.51 (500ml) – Use Ecover Limescale Remover to get your bathroom and kitchen limescale free. It’s chrome-friendly and is based on citric acid which is rapidly biodegradable.
Instructions for use: Spray directly onto surface and wait for a few minutes depending on limescale build-up. Rinse off with water.

Soap scum in the bathroom?
Try: Ecover Bathroom Cleaner – RRP £2.34 (500ml) – Take your bathroom from grubby to gleaming with this powerful bathroom cleaner that’s tough on soap scum and bathroom dirt. Suitable for all surfaces including glass, enamel, acrylic and chrome, Ecover Bathroom Cleaner will ensure your bathroom smells great and sparkles throughout.
Instructions for use: Spray onto surface and wipe with a dry or damp cloth. For tougher marks, leave to act for a few minutes before wiping. Rinse off with water.

Now for the giveaway! Ecover will send one UK reader a gift package containing:-

Ecover Multi Surface Cleaner
Ecover All Purpose Cleaner
Ecover Power Cleaner
Ecover Window & Glass Cleaner
Ecover Bathroom Cleaner

to help get them started on the Big Green Spring Clean in their own home. Just send an email to with the words “Ecover Big Green Spring Clean” in the subject line and I’ll enter you into the draw for this great cleaning package. You can also enter by leaving a comment on this post. Closing date for entries is midnight UK time on Wednesday 7th April, and the winner will be notified on 8th April. You must have a UK address to enter this giveaway. The prize will be sent directly by Ecover.

Disclosure:- Other than the prize Ecover are offering the winner of this giveaway, no promotional consideration or reimbursement has been received for this post. I use Ecover products in my own home and am happy to recommend them.

Here are some more tips from Ecover (with notes in italics from me) for greening your spring clean:-

• Unsavoury smells? Save money on artificial air fresheners – open windows to freshen your home or try Ecover’s Room Fragrances range which are based on plant extracts and essential oils instead.
• Stale smelling laundry – make the most of the spring weather and dry your laundry outside for a truly fresh fragrance.
• Blocked drains? To keep your drain clear and odour free, mix one cup of baking soda and one cup of salt in a container. Every so often, tip a quarter of the mixture down the drain (save the rest for later) and follow with a pot of boiling water.
• Smelly fridge? Remove strong odours from your fridge by placing half a lemon in there and leaving it in over night. I also find placing a small dish of baking soda in the fridge and just leaving it there also works well for this. You need to change the baking soda about once a month.
• Greasy microwave? Try Ecover’s new Power Cleaner.
• Dirty kitchen bin? Use a solution of water and a teaspoon of Ecover’s chlorine free Laundry Bleach (RRP £1.82). Swill, leave for a while and rinse for a gleaming finish.
Blocked shower head? Try a few squirts of Ecover’s Limescale Remover; leave overnight and rinse in the morning. To avoid them becoming blocked in the first place, I soak shower heads monthly in white vinegar. Just leave for a couple hours and then rinse thoroughly before re-attaching them.
• And finally…don’t think you need a different cleaner for each task. A good All Purpose Cleaner like Ecover’s can be used for all washable surfaces including floors, tiles and painted woodwork. I always check new cleaning products on a small unobtrusive area just to be a hundred percent sure they are suitable before I use them on the whole area, although I have never had an issue with any of Ecover’s products on any of the surfaces in my home.

So “get powered by nature” for your own “super green clean this spring” - and don’t forget to enter the giveaway!!

Ecover products are available in major supermarkets and also in health food stores. For a full list of stockists visit their ‘Where to Buy’ page on

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sweet Sunday

After a frantically busy week, yesterday we headed to our friends’ home in the Buckinghamshire countryside for a quiet weekend. We had a lovely visit over dinner last night, and this morning we awoke to birdsong and lambs gently baa-ing in the fields beside to their house. Bliss.

Our friends’ home, which they designed and built themselves, is a beautiful oak framed dwelling backing onto three acres of open countryside. The adjacent field belongs to a farmer who raises lambs - for what I am not sure but they are so cute I really do hope it is for their wool!

On good terms with the farmer, our friends often allow him to open the gate and let the lambs wander into their acres of field to eat the grass. (It saves having to mow it!) This morning we wandered down to visit with them. They were very friendly.

The mama lamb brought her babies over for us to see and watched curiously as I took photographs. It felt like time stood still.

We have just wandered back into the house and I’m still amazed at what a joy it was to get so close to those gorgeous baby lambs. The sun is trying to peek through the clouds, Norah Jones is on the stereo, and as we sit reading the papers, Sunday lunch (definitely not lamb!) is cooking in our friends’ beautiful kitchen. Sitting looking out on to their garden and the fields beyond, I know that this is how Sundays were always meant to be.

I hope you are having a Sweet Sunday with family and friends too.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© French Country Chicken

This recipe is really easy and utterly delicious.  It is an old French recipe that I learned about in my travels and then played around with a bit over the years.  Like many French recipes, it is heavy on the butter and cream, so it is definitely not low-cal or heart healthy and is a dish for special treats, not every day.

Don’t let the vinegar scare you; you really do have to taste this to believe how yummy it is. And despite the very grown up ingredients, kids absolutely love it. (The majority of the alcohol cooks off, so it really isn’t a problem.) In fact, this is the recipe I make when we have visitors whose kids are really fussy. I have one friend whose son refused to eat much else other than bread and Marmite (a spread here in England) when he was little, but this he would ask for, and he always cleaned his plate. And now he is practically grown up, he still asks for it!

The quantities here are for four, but I have doubled this recipe on many occasions with no problems at all.
4 chicken breasts, free range if possible
Salt and pepper
2 generous tablespoons butter
1 to 2 garlic cloves
¼ cup red wine vinegar
3 large shallots, very finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine (it doesn’t have to be expensive, just delicious)
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 cup heavy cream (not whipping cream)
1 to 2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard or Wholegrain Dijon Mustard
Melt butter in a frying pan.  Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken for 10 – 15 minutes on each side until nearly done. Grate in the garlic cloves and continue frying.  Turn the heat up to high and add the red wine vinegar.  Boil for a few minutes to let the chicken absorb the flavour of the vinegar.
Remove the chicken from the pan, cover with aluminum foil and place it in a dish in a warm oven. 
Add the shallots to the juices and vinegar remaining in the frying pan and stir until the shallots are nearly translucent.  Add the wine and the tomato puree.  You need to boil this mixture until it reduces by half, stirring all the while.  When it has reduced, lower the heat and stir in the cream.  Add mustard to taste.  Put the chicken back in the pan and turn to coat. 
Serve the chicken with a bit of sauce on top, and pour any remaining sauce in a container to serve at the table. Delicious!

As it is Friday I’ve linked up to Friday Feast at Momtrends where there is an article about a healthy new option from Uncle Ben’s, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s blog where there is a great idea for quiche and Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum where there are some gorgeous photos and great ideas about how to use lavender in sweet treats. There are also links to many other great recipes at all these blogs, so do go along and visit. Have a great weekend everyone!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Time In The Garden

Spring has definitely sprung here, and I could not be happier. There is something about the way the air smells and feels that just makes me feel so grateful to be alive. One of my favourite spring flowers are crocus, and I was thrilled to see these little guys popping up in my garden the other day.

Last week, my friend S came to stay for a couple of days. She is an amazing gardener. A few years ago she helped me landscape the garden in our previous home and I was so happy with it. I chose most of the plants for the meaning they had attached to them. For example I chose nasturtiums because my Mom used to talk about using them for pretend dishes when she and her sister played tea parties when they were little and trilliums because they are the provincial flower of Ontario, the Canadian province where I was born. I’m going to do that in this garden too. I like my plants to have meaning. There’s a lot of ground to cover though as this garden is nearly double the size of our last one, and our last one was pretty big!

All the gardening aside, it was great to spend a couple days with S just pottering around in the garden. It had been ages since we had a chance to catch up and now we live so far apart I really miss her! She brought me some very pretty bulbs in colours I love, including some gorgeous purple gladioli (which my Grandma used to grow) and six amazing tree lilies, some pink and some yellow. I admired the tree lilies in her garden last year so she brought me some of my own. I’m really excited for them to start coming through. They can grow to be ten feet high!

Since S’s visit, I’ve been working on gradually adding a few more plants including some evergreen clematis to grow up the trellis between the main garden and the kitchen garden. They will all have white flowers. I’ll grow some sweet peas between them. I love sweet peas. I’m also waiting for my Rocket Gardens - a veggie one and a herb one. They do baby plants you can just pop in the soil for an instant garden - perfect for my raised beds, tucked away in a tiny corner of the garden, which look very empty at the moment. There’s just one lonely rosemary plant in there at the moment.

Poor thing, I hope to get some company for it soon! I do have some seeds that I must get planted too. I’ve been waiting for the warmer weather but it seems to have arrived so I’d better get a move on.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy watching my lovely flowers pop up (including my bleeding hearts which are just now slowly waking up - their little red shoots gradually curling their way out of the soil).

I love spring!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Apple and Walnut Loaf

I’m linking up once again to Tasty Tuesday at Beauty and Bedlam, Tempt My Tummy Tuesday at Blessed with Grace and Tuesdays at the Table at All The Small Stuff.

I developed this recipe to serve with cheese, and it is one I make a lot because it is so easy to throw together. It’s not really a bread as there is no yeast involved so I like to think of it as a loaf with a somewhat cakey texture. Using buttermilk gives it its savoury edge and the maple syrup adds a faint hint of smokey sweetness. Fabulous served with a cheeseboard, particularly one offering Brie or sharp cheddar cheese, it is also delicious spread thickly with butter for breakfast.

You can use any kind of apples for this recipe, from sweet eating apples to more tart cooking apples. Bearing in mind that I recommend you serve it with cheese you don’t want it to be too sweet, but if you like things on the sweet side I would choose to use eating apples. I nearly always use Bramley apples, a popular British cooking apple which makes the bread very savoury. If you do use cooking apples though, be careful of their size as they can be really big. You really only want the equivalent of two ordinary fist sized apples - if you use really big ones the bread will be too moist. If your apples are very large, just use one.

This bread is best baked the day before and allowed to rest before serving. Or if you are using it as part of the cheese course for a dinner party you could bake it in the morning and let it sit for the day. Simply wrap it tightly in foil once it is cooled to keep it moist. It does taste lovely warm from the oven, but attempts to slice it while it is still warm usually result in a crumbly mess, so I do try to restrain myself and save it till later!

¼ cup butter, melted and allowed to cool slightly
¼ cup maple syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1¼ cups plain (all purpose) flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
2 apples, peeled, cored and grated
(wait until the last minute to do this so that the apples do not brown)
¾ cup to 1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Prepare a loaf tin by buttering and flouring it, or line with greaseproof paper or a liner. Preheat the oven to 175℃ or 350℉.

Whisk the butter, maple syrup, egg and buttermilk together in a large jug. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the flours, salt, bicarbonate of soda and nutmeg. Add the chopped nuts. Peel, core and grate the apples into the flour mixture and blend together.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and fold together gently until well mixed.

Put the mixture in the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until the top is slightly golden and a piece of dried spaghetti stuck into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. Take the loaf out of the oven and allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before removing it and cooling completely on a wire rack. The loaf will keep, well wrapped in foil in a cool place, for two to three days.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Ideal Home Show

It’s that time of year again; the Ideal Home Show is on at Earl’s Court in London. This year they have divided the show into seven sections - Idea Interiors, Ideal Home Improvements, Ideal Gardens, Ideal Home Gadgets, Ideal Shopping, Ideal Woman and Ideal Food. There was definitely a lot to see. The Ideal Home Show Village featured three full size houses including the amazing Cub Home by Cube Housing Solutions. As I’m used to a much larger and more luxurious home, I’m not sure I’d want to live in one, but these environmentally friendly pre-formed and furnished cubes which fit together to make anything from a one bedroom to a four bedroom house truly are fascinating.

They are ultra modern and have very “square” lines, but they are also incredibly light and bright due to the huge number of windows and use of white. Marketed as an “off the shelf modular system that allows your Cub to grow as your family does”, the idea is that you just add more cubes as time goes on. It’s a cool idea.

I liked some of the staged rooms that were on display in the interiors section:-

I’m not sure I could ever be that brave with colour but it did look very nice. My red living room is as brave as I’ve ever gotten, and I have to admit that I loved these classic creams.

And can you believe this amazing kitchen is from IKEA?

I think the gardening section was my favourite, although even it seemed to suffer from a sense of disorganisation that was apparent throughout the show. It’s like they tried to include both too many ideas and too many things in too small a space and as a result it seemed that very little of the show seemed to flow. But maybe that was just me.

I did like the “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” even it I’m not a hundred percent sure why it was in the gardening section (although I’m told it is because Alice in Wonderland is set mainly in a garden).

I have to confess though that this garden highlighting recycling tickled me more than it inspired me. Am I the only one who thinks using a toilet as a planter is seriously weird?

I’m a big fan of recycling, but to me that is just a step too far!! I like the bathtub planter in the background though.

The cooking demonstration by Lesley Walters in the Ideal Food section was very good, as was the talk about gardening by Monty Don.

My husband and I had a lovely day out at the Ideal Home Show, which runs until April 5th. It was not the best one I have ever been to, but it’s definitely worth a visit!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Friday's Post - My Grandma's Special White Cake

I hope you don't mind if just this once I redirect you to my main site to look at this blog post. There are a lot of links in it and it would be very time consuming to copy over, so please do click here to read Friday's post.

Hope you all had a great weekend!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Victoria and Albert Art and Love

Last Friday night I attended a Preview Evening of the new “Victoria & Albert Art & Love” exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The Queen’s Gallery is tucked around the corner from the impressive frontage of Buckingham Palace, on Buckingham Palace Road just before the Royal Mews. It has been home to many wonderful exhibitions over the years, but none that I have enjoyed so much as this one.

The Curator of the exhibition, Jonathan Marsden, who was also recently appointed Director Designate of the Royal Collection by the Queen, gave a talk at the beginning of the evening. He encouraged us to remember that at the time the works in the exhibition were collected, Victoria was not the melancholy queen dressed in mourning so many of us remember from photographs in the history books. In fact, she was a beautiful young woman, transparently in love with her husband. Mr Marsden discussed how Victoria and Albert were the one of the first couples to develop a collection together, and how they were perfect foils to one another - with for example, Albert preferring more modest pictures, and Victoria being quite comfortable art that stimulated the senses. I had not expected this, but the collection is not, despite being collected by the queen who gave the era her name, Victorian. Instead it is a collection of works by two people largely influenced by the Romantic period.

After the talk we were allowed to walk freely through the galleries, although Mr Marsden did accompany the group and speak about various pieces when asked. It was a fascinating evening.

Many of the works collected were gifts given each to the other by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. There are many examples of the work that Xaver Winterhalter painted for the royal couple, such as the Royal Family portrait painted in 1846. (Please click on the links to see the paintings on the exhibition site. All the works in the exhibit are of course copyright to HM Queen Elizabeth II so I cannot reproduce them here.) There is also a painting by Winterhalter that Queen Victoria had painted specifically for Prince Albert. You can see it here on this link - it is the one with her hair undone. Mr Marsden explained to us that it was very much for Prince Albert’s eyes only.

The collection comprises works of art, busts, statues, jewellery, furniture and photographs. One of Queen Victoria’s dresses is exhibited as are many watercolours painted by her and other members of the Royal Family, and also music written by Prince Albert. The collection is utterly stunning, and beautifully laid out. As I walked round I became aware of the passion that existed between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Deeply in love, they spent almost all their time together, even cataloguing their collection together. Their marriage was very atypical of the sort of relationship that existed between most husbands and wives at that time.

When I came towards the last room, which displays many works from the Great Exhibitions so popular in the middle of the nineteenth century, I was shocked to see the doctor’s report of Prince Albert’s final hours and death framed on the wall just before the entrance. He died in 1861 when both he and the Queen were only 42. Particularly as I am not far from that age myself, I struggled not to cry when I read this. I somehow imagined Prince Albert had been older when he died, and although it is common knowledge that he and the Queen were deeply in love, the exhibition had drawn me in to such an extent that I felt a huge sorrow for the young Queen, left to reign and raise her family without the man she loved. I have to say the splendour of the last room lifted me from my melancholy though as it is quite simply stunning, and gave a tiny taste of what it might have been like to have attended one of the Great Exhibitions all those years ago.

Mr Marsden pointed out in his talk that it took over thirty people about three years to assemble the exhibition. Their hard work is patently apparent and they should be very proud of what they have done. Of course the works of art stand up for themselves, but the way they are arranged makes the exhibit not only a pleasure to view, but allows you to see the Royal couple as very real people with a very real life together.

‘Victoria & Albert Art & Love’ opens to the public tomorrow - 19th March - and runs until 31st October. If you live near or plan to visit London, I highly recommend going along to The Queen’s Gallery to have a look. Do check out The Royal Collection website as well. If you book your tickets through them directly you can get the back of your ticket stamped when you visit, and return as often as you like for a whole year free of charge. If you cannot visit in person the exhibition microsite is really very good, and well worth a look. You can see it by clicking here. You can also check out a BBC news report on the collection by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St Patrick's Day

This young lady is the reason I have Irish blood. She’s my Grandma on my Dad’s side, one Mary Elizabeth Eddis from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

She left Ireland in 1920 when she was just about as old as the century, with a group of girls heading to Canada to work in the mills at Galt, Ontario, Canada. She left behind her parents and several brothers and sisters. On the day she left, she was wearing this locket containing photographs of her mother and father.

I don’t know how frightened she must have been, or how excited. I don’t know what the journey by sea was like either. All I know is that not that long after she arrived in Canada, she met a young soldier, just returned from World War One. His name was Joseph Edward Killingback. He told me that she “roller skated right into him” and he was besotted.

They were married on 1st June 1922 and later had four children - Irene, Dorothy, Joseph William and Edward. Joseph William was my Dad.

When I think about my life today, I stand in awe of this woman and others like her. While my Grandpa went off to join the Canadian Home Guard during World War Two, she raised the children on her own. To contribute to the war effort she worked in a munitions factory making shells, and she also billeted soldiers for the army before they were shipped off to the front. It must have been pretty crowded with four kids and two or three young soldiers at any given time in the house! Plus she did the normal stuff that most women do like cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing - without any of modern conveniences we have today. It’s pretty humbling when you think about it. Sadly, I never knew my Grandma because she died pretty much exactly nine months before I was born, but I would have loved the chance to get to know her. I bet she had some stories to tell.

Sixty-nine years after my Grandma travelled to Canada, I immigrated to England. I arrived on 16th March 1989, so my first full day on English soil as a new immigrant was St Patrick’s Day. The luck of the Irish was definitely with me because less than two weeks after that I met the man who was to become my husband - and the rest is history. So I have lots to celebrate today - the memory of some fantastic people in my family, my anniversary of coming to England to live and of course the fact that although “everyone is Irish on St Patrick’s Day”, I really truly am just a little bit Irish all year round - and in my opinion, that’s a very good thing indeed!

Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone -

“May the blessings of each day be the blessings you need most.”

Powerful Women

I was really sad to read a comment reportedly made by Jessica Simpson during an interview with Barbara Walters on Sirius XM Radio. She is quoted as saying,

“I want a confident man. A man who understands me and can deal with my life and is not embarrassed of my life. And can support my life. And allow me to be a powerful woman. And allow me to be powerful in the relationship. I’m not going to give up my role in this life to just be a housewife.”

Ouch - especially that last sentence. What a terrible thing to say. Don’t get me wrong, being a housewife isn’t for every woman, nor should it be. But ouch.

I could be really nasty and flip her statement around, saying something along the lines of that from my point of view, I would not want to give up my role as someone who is making a home and raising the next generation to be “just an actress”. However, I don’t believe that anyone is “just” an anything. Actresses are an important part of society. So are housewives. So is Jessica Simpson. So am I.

There is no reason that Jessica Simpson should ever be a housewife if she does not want to, but she needs to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that housewives as a rule do not “give up their role in this life”. Some may put their dreams on hold in order to work together with their husbands towards a common goal of building a career or raising a family, but they certainly are not “giving up” on anything. We have rich, full lives and are nothing like the stereotypical housewives of the 1950’s, nor are we anything like those inaccurately named “Real Housewives” on television.

You don’t have to be well known to be powerful. Just like most other housewives out there, I am a powerful woman. I am well educated, well read and well informed. I am also powerful within my marriage. My husband and I are and always have been equal partners, working together for the common good of our family. We take all our decisions together. He’s not henpecked, and I’m anything but downtrodden. By working together we have created a life that we love and are working towards making our dreams come true.

Being a housewife has enhanced my experience both of and in life in ways I could never have imagined. I may not be as well known as Jessica Simpson, but I sincerely doubt my or any other housewife’s contribution to the world is any less valid or important than hers in its own way.

Truly powerful women don’t make negative comments about other women’s lifestyle choices. If you don’t want to be a housewife, there is no reason why you should be - but please don’t refer to me or anyone else as “just” anything.

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Ecover Concentrated Bio and Non-Bio

The people from Ecover got in touch with me once again a couple weeks ago. This time they asked me to trial their brand new Concentrated Laundry Liquids - a biological and a non-biological version.

Despite my enthusiasm for Ecover’s other products, I had tried their original laundry liquid some years ago and while it had worked pretty well, I was not a hundred percent thrilled with it and had gone back to conventional laundry products. In fact, I still had a half bottle of it in my laundry room. So I was a bit concerned about what I would think of these new products; however I was very happy to give them a try. I’m really glad I did.

Ecover’s new concentrated formulas offer more washes in less packaging which is good for the environment and for me as a housewife as it means they are more economical and take up less space. But how do they work compared to the conventional laundry liquids I normally use?

I was really impressed by the cleaning power of both the concentrated biological and non-biological Ecover laundry liquids. Even the non-bio got all my laundry bright and clean, and worked well at low temperatures. Admittedly no one in our household is heavily into football or sports that get you really muddy, but as a keen cook and gardener, I do have to deal with quite a few food-based stains and a moderate amount of dirt and mud on our clothes. I have trialled both products for a little over a week now on all of our laundry and I found them effective on any of the stains I came across.

I was pleased to know that Ecover’s new concentrates have no optical brighteners, biodegrade fast and completely, contain no phosphates and have a minimum aquatic toxicity. I also liked the light fragrances - Ecover’s popular ‘Under the Sun’ which evokes the smell of summer for their biological formula and a light lavender fragrance for the non-bio. A little goes a long way too. I estimate that I do about fifteen loads of laundry each week and I’ve used less than half of each bottle of liquid so far. (I do have a water softener.)

I’m so happy with both Ecover Concentrated Bio and Ecover Concentrated Non-Bio that after the two free bottles I was sent run out I plan to continue buying them and will use them regularly. Well done to Ecover for developing these excellent products - both great performers that are good for the environment too.

To learn more about Ecover, check out their websites by clicking here and once on the site you can then select your country from the drop down menu.

Disclosure - Aside from the two free bottles of product that I was sent to test, no promotional consideration has been received for this post, which contains my honest opinion based on my use of these product in my own home.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mothering Sunday

It’s Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom today. Mothering Sunday has been celebrated in much of Europe on the Fourth Sunday of Lent since the sixteenth century. Its origins may date as far back to a pagan celebration of the Roman mother goddess, Cybele. The first Mothering Sunday commemorations were more about visiting the church you were baptised in (your “mother church”) than celebrating mothers, but in later years this was the one day each year when boys and girls in service were allowed to go home to visit their mothers. (Imagine, only being allowed one day off a year, and one visit home!) More and more in the UK, this holiday is becoming more secular and is often referred to as Mother’s Day, just as it is in North America and other parts of the world.

There are a lot of people in the UK who feel that people in North America “hijacked’ Mother’s Day by celebrating it in May, and by celebrating the holiday largely as a secular thing. Actually nothing could be further from the truth. Unless you live in a very southern part of North America, March is hardly the time for celebrating this kind of holiday as the weather has the potential to be pretty awful. We often had snow in March when I was a kid in Canada and this makes travel difficult and dangerous. May, on the other hand, is when Spring is usually pretty much in full swing, a much nicer time of the year to get together and celebrate moms.

Today in my part of England, the sun is shining, spring flowers are bursting through and the flower pots on my patio are in full and glorious bloom. I know for a fact that while it may be sunny, it won’t be like that in Canada or much of the US today. So it is definitely not a case of hijack, rather much more one of practicality! Instead of arguing over the details of this celebration, or trying to claim it for our own, let’s spare a thought for those for whom this day is a hard one - those who have lost children, those who wanted children but could never have them, and those who miss their mothers, whether because of death or distance.

Since the death of my own mom, I find both Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day very bittersweet. On the one hand I have the most wonderful family, with a marvellous husband and son who are making today really lovely for me. I’ve had some beautiful cards, flowers and some rather scrumptious chocolates plus I’m looking forward to being taken out for dinner this evening. On the other, just like so many other people, I miss some amazing women who were a huge part of my life. For me, these include my Aunt Irene, my Aunt Trish, my wonderful Jenny and of course most of all my own fantastic Mom. I am forever grateful to all these women for how they helped to shape the woman I am today, and for the wonderful, wonderful memories I have of them.

Whatever you call today - or if today is just an ordinary day and Mother’s Day falls in May for you - I hope that it is a happy family day for you and that you are surrounded by those you love doing the things you enjoy the most.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Great Auntie Margaret's Spice Cake

Margaret Piott Jones was affectionately known as “Auntie” by my Mom and her other nieces. Although she married, she never had children of her own, but she had two nieces and five great nieces (and that was just on her side of the family). Actually, she has six great nieces, but I was not born until after she died. I’ve known a lot of folks who knew her, and I have never heard anyone speak of her with anything but the greatest of affection.

When Auntie died, she left my Mom her desk. This is a photograph of it here, with my cousin Holly (another great niece) standing beside it. It lives upstairs in my library.

This desk has a really special place in my heart. My Mom was not really into ‘things’ but she loved this desk because of the feelings she had for her Auntie. Even though I was born three years after she died, Mom talked about her all the time and when her memory got bad towards the end, Auntie was one of the people she vividly remembered. So it seems fitting that one of the first recipes I’m sharing as part of my Family Food History and Recipe Project is one of Auntie’s. I’m also linking this post up to the Friday recipe exchanges at The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Friday’s Feast at Momtrends, Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s blog. And as it is the first time I have ever made this recipe, I’m linking up to Friday Firsts at Dinner at Christina’s.

I never remember my Mom actually making this recipe, but then she rarely made cakes as she was always watching what she ate. Having never tasted it before I was a bit concerned as it seemed like there was a lot of spice in it, but actually, it tasted beautiful - kind of like gingerbread, but with a much deeper yet somehow milder flavour. It fits perfectly in a nine inch square tin, and I iced it with buttercream. In fact it was so nice I took it to my in-law’s as a birthday cake for my husband on Sunday!

The only thing I changed was to replace the sour milk called for with buttermilk because I like how it tastes in cakes and muffins, and I was never really that into the idea of adding a teaspoon of white vinegar to milk thing to make sour milk. However, if you don’t have any buttermilk you can always do that. The method of making this cake is different to the one used most commonly today but I highly recommend it. It gave a beautiful light texture to the cake.

Auntie Margaret’s Spice Cake

½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar (I packed it lightly)
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
2½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg (I used freshly ground, but the ground variety is fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the butter, sugar and egg yolks together. Mix the milk and soda together and add to the mixture along with the vanilla.

Sift the flour and spices together and add to the mixture.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. (I used a whisk for this and it didn’t take all that long but you could use a mixer or food processor.) Fold into the cake mixture.

Pour into a greased and floured (or lined) 9 inch square baking pan. Bake at 350℉ (170℃ but my fan oven runs hot so I put it at 160℃) for about 25 to 30 minutes until a piece of dry spaghetti inserted in the cake comes out with no batter clinging to it. I watched the cake after 20 minutes so it didn’t over cook.

You could definitely serve this without icing, or even just sprinkled with icing sugar, but it was delicious with the buttercream icing. Just mix ¼ softened butter with 2 cups icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) and add enough milk or cream to make a spreadable icing (usually about 1 to 2 tablespoons). Here’s how it looks ‘naked’ :)

Have a great weekend everyone, and stay tuned for the next instalment in my Family Food History and Recipe project sometime next week. Don’t forget to visit the blogs I’ve linked up to for some great recipe ideas!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Celebration

Nineteen years ago yesterday my husband and I were married in a beautiful 13th century village church in the south of England. It was a miracle we had found each other. We were born a world apart and the steps God took to bring us together perfectly illustrate one of my favourite non-dictionary definitions for the word “coincidence” which is “a small miracle in which God prefers to remain anonymous.”

It was a wonderful day.

And it’s been an amazing nineteen years. I’m so grateful for my the wonderful man who is my husband and for the blessings we have had. I’m also grateful for our lovely son, who was born just a little over eighteen months after we got married.

Nine years ago today - on 10th March 2001 - Guy and I renewed our vows at our local Parish church in Burton-on-Trent in the presence of our family and friends. The photo below was taken at the party afterwards. A month after that we travelled to Canada and had a big party for our friends and family there too.

We did not want to wait until our 25th wedding anniversary to do something significant to celebrate our marriage, and I was really glad we didn’t because it meant some very special people who are no longer with us got to celebrate too. If we had waited, they would not have been there.

Of course, our anniversary is always just that little bit more special because it is my husband’s birthday too.

We’ve come a long way from that young couple just starting out in South London all those years ago. That’s us in the photo below a few months before we got married.

I'm so grateful for the family we have become.

The 21st Century Housewife's© Sugar Cookies

I’m linking up once again to the Tuesday recipe exchanges - Tempt My Tummy Tuesday at Blessed with Grace, Tuesdays at the Table at All the Small Stuff and Tasty Tuesday at Beauty and Bedlam.

I’m not sure if these are my favourite cookies or not - I like so many different kinds - but they are certainly in the top ten. This is my Mom’s recipe, and one I normally make at Christmas, but I am thinking of making some for St Patrick’s Day this year. I bought a cute little shamrock shaped cookie cutter when I was in California and I’ll ice them with green icing and sprinkles.
1 cup butter (softened to room temperature)
1 ½ cups sifted icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond flavouring
1 egg
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and the egg and stir to mix.  Sift together the flour, soda and cream of tartar.  Blend into the butter and egg mixture.  Stir the mixture into a sort of ball shape, and put in the refrigerator for at least two hours, longer if possible.
Preheat the oven to about 350º – 375º F or about 150ºC.   (Ovens can vary wildly so do go carefully, and err on the side of cooler rather than hotter.  You can always bake the cookies longer!)  Line baking trays (baking sheets) with greaseproof paper (wax paper).  Divide the dough in half, putting one half back in the refrigerator. 
Roll out one half of the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of about ¼ inch. Cut out shapes using cookie cutters.  Carefully remove the shapes and place them on the baking trays.  Half the dough should fill two baking trays.   You can re-roll the scraps and cut them out as well, but only do this once or twice or the dough will get very tough. 
Place the two baking trays in the oven for about 10 minutes, switching the trays from one oven rack to the other half way through.  Cooking time will depend on your oven.  The cookies should be just beginning to go golden on the edges.  Don’t overcook them though, you are aiming for a pale cookie so they look good decorated.  Remove the cookies from the oven and let them sit for a minute or two.  Now carefully remove them from the baking trays and place them on wire racks to cool.
Meanwhile, remove the remaining dough from the refrigerator.  Roll out, cut out and bake as above. 
When the cookies are absolutely cold, you can ice or decorate them as desired.  You can make an easy icing from 1 cup icing sugar, ½ tsp flavouring (try vanilla, lemon, peppermint or almond) and 1 ½ tablespoons cream or 1 tablespoon water.  Just mix everything together carefully, adding a bit more (or less) water or cream to make a fairly thick but spreadable consistency.   You can add a drop of food colouring if desired – try green for St Patrick’s Day.  I always like to ice the entire cookie in one colour and then sprinkle with decorative sprinkles that you can buy in the baking section of your supermarket – but you can do whatever you fancy.
If you are in a real hurry and don’t want the fiddle of icing the cookies, sprinkle them with white or coloured sugar BEFORE baking.  They cook up a bit more golden but you’ve got pretty and delicious cookies fairly quickly this way. 


Monday, March 08, 2010

Manic Monday

My husband has taken today through Wednesday off as tomorrow is his birthday and our 19th wedding anniversary. We are all really looking forward to celebrating. Yesterday we celebrated with my husband’s parents. I took a nice roast of beef and all the trimmings and cooked it at their house, as well as taking a birthday cake. I made the cake from one of my Great Auntie Margaret’s recipes, as part of my Family Food History and Recipe project. It was delicious, and I’m looking forward to blogging more about it later in the week.

Although we had planned to have a day out today, we couldn’t because there was just too much going on. The work on our gates that I blogged about on Thursday didn’t get done to schedule, so they were coming back today to finish off. That meant we could really only go out in the morning, so we drove through the countryside to our favourite local garden centre and chose a few plants for the garden. I’ve got a really big L-shaped garden, with so much space to fill the plants I chose today will hardly make a dent, but I’m very pleased with them.

I’ve also got a two new raised beds as a kitchen/herb garden. I found a beautiful rosemary plant, but as it is the first plant I’ve chosen for this part of the garden it looks like it might be a bit lonely at first :)

We chose some three evergreen clematis to grow up the trellis that will screen the kitchen garden from the rest of the garden. Here’s one of them. They all have white flowers, so I’m hoping it will be really pretty. I’m planning to grow some sweet peas up the trellis as well.

I think my favourite of the plants we chose today were these two gorgeous Hellabores. They are also called Lenten Roses because in England they bloom during Lent. I think Lenten Rose sounds so much prettier than Hellebore!

I need to go and wrap presents and bake a birthday cake now - I’m really behind in my preparations for tomorrow!

I have posted a Recipe of the Week today after three weeks without one. I’m sorry it’s been such a big gap, but it’s been a busy time. Anyway, I hope you like this week’s recipe - it’s easy and quick, but also just a little bit special!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Delicious Fridays

I really enjoy the Friday recipe swaps and today I am linking up to The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Friday’s Feast at Momtrends, Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s blog. Do go along and visit these lovely blogs - and get some great recipe inspiration at the same time!

My cousin Esther makes the most amazing cakes.  When we had our tenth anniversary party nine years ago, Esther made us an anniversary cake that was tastier and even more beautiful than the one we had at our wedding.  Esther does make cakes to order but she’s a very busy lady so it is mainly her family and friends who benefit from her culinary expertise. Esther shared this recipe for her chocolate and banana cake with me a few years ago. It’s one I make quite regularly as it is keeps so moist and delicious. It even freezes well (without icing).  I tend to freeze slices as opposed to the whole cake as then you can just thaw a slice or two at a the time. 

I have played around with the recipe a bit, as some of the ingredients – like Crisco - are not easily available in England.  No matter what I do though, this cake is always delicious.  Esther recommends you frost it with your favourite chocolate icing which is fabulous, although when I’ve been pressed for time or wanted to freeze some of the cake, I’ve just sprinkled it with icing sugar. It’s very tasty that way too.
Esther’s Amazing Chocolate and Banana Bundt Cake 

1 cup Crisco or softened butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup sour cream
(I have used crème fraîche when unable to find sour cream - and I use the low fat variety as well so I am sure you could use low fat sour cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/3 cup cocoa
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 160ºC or 350ºF.   Grease and flour a Bundt or tube pan.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cocoa and salt.  Set aside. Cream together the Crisco (or butter) and sugar in a large bowl.  Add eggs, one at a time, and continue creaming.  Add bananas, sour cream and vanilla.  Blend well.  Now add the dry ingredients you set aside earlier and stir until mixed.  Carefully pour the 1 cup boiling water over the entire mixture.  This sounds silly, but it really does work!  Blend the water in.  The batter will be quite loose, but that is okay. 
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes until just starting to brown and a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 20 minutes in the pan before attempting to remove the cake.  If you are planning to frost the cake, or dust it with icing sugar, be sure to allow it to cool completely first. 

Have a great weekend everybody!


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Busy Thursday

There’s so much going on today at our house! First thing this morning, the workmen arrived to electrify the gates at the end of our driveway. I was a bit nervous about them drilling a hole in the living room wall I have to say but other than that it is going well. Then I had a chap come to clean my oven. I really hate cleaning ovens, and I find the strong chemicals you have to use really scary. Luckily, the company I chose only uses non-toxic, environmentally friendly products to clean ovens along with - in the words of the chap who did the cleaning - a lot of very strong elbow grease! Well, however he did it, I’ve never seen such a clean oven inside and out. The price was very reasonable as well. If you happen to live in Berkshire and need your oven cleaned, check out the Tip Top Ovens website.

Then in the middle of all that, my husband’s birthday present arrived from Amazon. For the first time, they really let me down. They had not wrapped the box the present came in so it was perfectly clear exactly what was inside. As my husband is working at home today, he answered the door so the surprise is ruined. I’m big on surprises, so I’m absolutely crushed - and extremely cross with Amazon. I’ve been having a bit of a “battle of the e-mails” with them this morning. I appreciate people are trying to be environmentally friendly, but when you ask to have a gift card enclosed with your purchase, you would think it was common sense to put it in a box to conceal what it is!

Then I had a phone call from a researcher at the BBC. It was a really interesting conversation and I thoroughly enjoyed talking to her, but this was all before lunch so today is shaping up to be a very busy day!

I’ve also just taken delivery of two new products from the folks at Ecover that they have asked me to trial.


Ecover have extended their laundry range to include two highly effective and truly ecological concentrated laundry liquids:- Ecover Concentrated Bio and Ecover Concentrated Non-Bio. I’ve done some testing for Ecover in the past, and I’m looking forward to trying out these new products. I’m well placed to do the test because a) although I use Ecover products to clean my home, I don’t use their laundry products and b) I have two laundry baskets full of laundry to try them out on! I’ll report back next week with my findings.

Oh, and it was pointed out to me by a reader that have published some of the blog entries from my food blog Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen over the last year or so. I was really pleased to hear about them and I’ve now included links to the articles on my Press page (in chronological order).

I’m sure you are having a busy Thursday as well, but whatever sort of a day you are having, I hope it is a good one :)