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Embers glowing…

We love to have a roaring open fire, there is nothing quite like the smell of wood burning throughout your house and the warm golden glow radiating throughout your home making it feel cozy and warm, but tonight as we lit our fire and watched it burn the house began to fill with smoke, the fan inside the chimney was not working properly, but at this point we were not aware of this. After deliberating what to do Paul decided to try to put the fire out as the house was becoming more and more smokey. I took Florence Blu and Mabel upstairs into my warm bedroom as all the doors and windows were open downstairs, it was freezing and extremely smokey, next thing I know my Mum is panicked and telling us we have to leave the house, it looks like the actual fireplace and chimney are alight… I grabbed a blanket for Florrie, Mabel unknown to me grabs her iPhone and iPad but no shoes or socks and runs out into the snow, thankfully we get into our car and move onto the other side of the road while Paul dials 911.

I have only praise for the Sparta Emergency Services, they were here in minutes, I think 3 fire trucks, 5 police cars the chief of the fire department and within seconds the road was blocked off and they were in our house. It turns out that whoever put our fire place in did not put it in to be used, it would have been nice to have been told that though, wires sitting just above the fire insert, no concrete above to hold the tv correctly and a very outdated fan system, one that the firemen had never seen before… We had a house inspection but nothing was ever said, you think that you have an open fireplace and chimney stack to be used, but obviously not in our house, just another bodge job to add to the many we have discovered living in this house over the last 4 years!

I am just thankful firstly to my Dad and Paul for spotting the smoke and fire in the first place, to Paul for remaining calm unlike his panic stricken wife, the Sparta Emergency services for responding so quickly and being so thorough, but most of all I am so thankful for the time of day it happened, had it been later and we had gone to bed without noticing, letting the embers glow, who knows it could have been far worse!

Thankfully we are all safe, my poor fireplace will never look the same again… But we will just add it to the list of many jobs we need to do in our house and be grateful we are at home cozy and warm right now!

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Reigning champion delight!

I am totally in love with iPad photographic apps, once upon a time not so long ago you needed expensive software like photoshop, hours of patience and a drawing tablet to create photographic effects on photographs, now with an iPad, a cheap or quite often free app… the photographic editing world is at your fingertips in minutes… Click a photo on your device, download it to your favorite app then get to work! Diptic is my favorite app for combining more than one photo in a border, then snapseed is my app of choice to create a world of effects and finally color splash takes my photo turns it black and white then allows me to bring back color to an object within the photo… Quite often I will use all three apps before sharing my masterpiece with the world… Ha, ha!

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Back to the subject of food, on Christmas Eve, Dominic was asked to bring in a dish of food to share with his work colleagues, of course Dom being Dom asked me to cook something for him… That is when my chicken pot pie tartlet emerged as an idea, this idea was not only delicious but won the Liquor Factory Christmas Cook off… Yes I am reigning champion of the 2012 Christmas Eve buffet at Dominic’s work place… And here’s how I made it…
Pastry crust – take 1 cup of flour add one 1/2 cup of cubed, chilled butter, pulse 10 times in the food processor then drizzle in chilled water until the dough just comes together to form a ball, wrap in cling film then chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Pot pie filling – chop 2 carrots, 1 onion and 2 strips of celery finely in the food processor, saut√© in a tablespoon of olive oil for 10 minutes until soft them add 1 teaspoon of thyme, season with salt and pepper then add shredded rotisserie chicken… Yes, this is where I cheated, rotisserie chicken is my favorite cooked ingredient of 2012.
White sauce – melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan, add 2 tablespoons of flour and combine, cook for a minute or 2, then slowly add about 1/2 pint of water stir until combined then heat through stirring constantly until thickened. Take the thickened sauce off the heat and add one tablespoon of chicken boullion, mix and then allow to cool. Once cooled add one beaten egg to the mixture then combine with vegetable and chicken mixture. An optional ingredient here is grated cheese… It’s up to you!

Roll out chilled pastry either cut into small tartlets or make one large pie, fill with chicken mixture and bake at 400f for 20 minutes for small tartlets and 30-35 minutes for large pie… Serve warm or cold, delicious either way!

Well on this snowy day right at the end of December 2012 I want to thank each and every one of you for reading my ramblings throughout this past year, sometimes I wonder what to write, but then when I begin the words begin to flow, this is not only a diary for myself to remember each and every detail but I want to keep our lives in touch with those people near and far away… Be happy, stay warm and dry!

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Festive mumblings…

Christmas organization…
Where to begin… That is the question, my head cannot or will not function to get a list of food and other items needed for the festivities of the next week, so I thought rather than ramble on about this and that I would write down my thoughts right here and try to make sense of the jumble that is my brain right now…

I finally managed to get the last item on Mabel’s list yesterday, a cardigan from Abercrombie, I refuse to pay full price when you just know it is going to be discounted sooner rather than later, and that was last night, it was not quite the 40% off, but 30% was good for me and now I can check off all presents bought… Finally!

The other thing on my check list yesterday was gifts to England… yesterday I placed my Amazon orders, ok they will not be there for Christmas Day but they will arrive next week and in my book that is still the Christmas season to me… So done and checked!

Last thing I needed to do was my Christmas cards… I know they are going to be extremely late, but I have a resolution for this… They are now Happy New Year cards, and now they won’t be late… I uploaded the photo, chose the card, ordered the cards… Done, or so I thought until I got a phone call from Costco… I had not cropped the photo properly, so now first job of today… Redo my cards!

The last thing on my Christmas check list… FOOD, the dreaded grocery shop is looming… This is where my head is confused and muddled, so here goes…

Menu plan for the Christmas week

Tonight – mulligatawny soup with fluffy rice and chicken

Saturday – broccoli pasta, chopped garden salad and sausages

Sunday – green risotto with bacon

Monday – beef kofta curry, rice, beans and peas

Christmas Day – bacon sandwiches
lasagne… A family favorite and a ham, another family favorite
Sausage rolls
Minced pies

Boxing Day – spending the day with friends

Things to make… Mincemeat for mince/jam pies, cookies, bread, sausage rolls

On a last note… I was speaking to a friend in England yesterday, she recently sent me a photo of home made mincemeat for her mince pies, she was telling me how easy it was to make, and that she will never buy jarred mincemeat again… So here goes, this morning I will attempt to make some mincemeat too!
Mary Berry mincemeat recipe using butter… so good for vegetarians!

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Bah Humbug…

Christmas comes but once a year and with it brings a lot of cheer… This may have been true once upon a time, but the sad truth is Christmas is now all about crowds of people everywhere you go and money, money, money! I find myself longing for the first week in January and a sense of normality back in my life… Errands like running to Target for tea bags used to be quiet and simple, no lines of people with their carts full of toys!

Christmas should be about the joy of giving a simple gift, but instead we go crazy to give the newest gadgets, fanciest boots and most expensive games to our children… I am as guilty as the next person for doing this, Blu and Mabel want an iPhone 5 and a mini iPad, and I would go to the ends of the earth to get this for them, but in my heart of hearts I wonder what will they want to get next year as they seem to have everything and they are only 11 and 13!

I look at my 18 month old Florrie, so innocent and unwanting and I wonder what this modern world with all it’s iPhones, iPads and all sorts of branded products is doing to us!

With my soap box moment over, I will move onto more normal December topics… Menu planning is at it’s best with my new fridge/freezer in place and organized, I am not over shopping and using everything in there before I restock up again, it worked well last week and then inspired me to do the same with my pantry cupboard, so now that is organized and only stocked with products we need… Lets see how long I can keep it looking this way as I’m loving being organized for once!

The house reorganization is coming along now, with my parents being here to help out I feel like I am finally making progress, the rooms as they are now are working out well for us, the dining room table is now a much used item in our house, the comfy sofa by the kitchen is a permanent hang out for my Dad now and Paul is loving his new work from home office situated conveniently next to the kitchen so he can have his many cups of Tazo Tea throughout the day… Project change the house around… Done and successful!

My menu plan for this week

Saturday – tomato and lentil soup with grilled panini’s
Sunday – chicken pot pie with steamed broccoli
Monday – endive and ham gratin (James Martin), homemade rolls and a green salad
Tuesday – veggie and lentil stew, grilled spicy sausages and chili, cilantro dough balls
Wednesday – cheesy turkey sausage slow cooker spaghetti and garlic bread
Thursday – potato and bacon gratin (James Martin) with steamed cauliflower and broccoli
Friday – chicken Posole (Mexican stew) breadsticks and salad

So far this week we are completely on schedule for every meal, thanks to my Mum being here to help!

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‘Tis the season…

In tales of houses far and wide, Christmas comes but once a year and with it comes the squeals of joy as families gather to put up their tree and decorate it with frivolous glee! Not in my house this year… I admit I am a total control freak when it comes to decorating our house for Christmas, but I do usually let my children decorate the tree how they want to, then on Monday morning whilst they are safely deposited at school I change it all around and hope that they don’t notice, but they always do! Anyway back to my point our house was not full of the joys of Christmas this year, there was no festive tunes playing on the radio, and the snow had inconsiderately melted away outside, instead our house rang with the sounds of Xbox games thumping away and sulky children, Blu was totally immersed in whatever battle he was fighting in his room to even notice we were getting ready to decorate the house, and Mabel was totally over excited and then sulky about our new refrigerator arriving, she then stayed in her room whilst I, on my lonesome, well I did have a little helper at the bottom of the tree, decorated our house for this season of good joy… Ha, ha!

Every year I try to get a few new decorations to add to my collection, this year I have the mantle above the fireplace to decorate… We finally took the tv down that was above it, I am totally delighted, and love, love, love my new christmas additions for our fireplace! My table once again follows a Cath Kidston theme, much to Mabel’s dislike as it is not your traditional theme, but now it is finished she has come around, and kind of secretly likes it I think! My biggest thing this year was decorating our staircase, this is something I have never quite gotten around to in past years, but with the help of Pinterest, I was totally inspired to visit my local dollar store and create something for less than $10… This I completed last night, my staircase took 4 $1 garlands, I tied on silver and gold bells, 4 $1 packets of 9 bells, with some green gingham ribbon I already had then added larger tartan ribbon bows, present wrapping ribbon from Costco… Voila a traditional green stair garland, all for just under $10! Next on my list is red and green bunting for my tree, a fantastic idea I got from a friend back in England!

My two new favorite items of this month are my two new cookbooks, bought over by my parents from the UK… Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals and James Martin’s slow cooking, as many of you know me, you will know I love, love, love cookbooks, strange for a former anorexic to love recipes so much, but now in my 40’s I am a true Taurean foodie, and now much wiser, I realize the only way to keep healthy, maintain/lose weight is to eat a well balanced diet with of course the odd vice here and there, Starbucks salted caramel mocha, decaf, non fat with the whip being my biggest vice these days, and of course wine is still an added staple of every day around 7pm to help me relax and unwind from the chaos that is every day in our house… Happy sunny warm December days, long may they last!

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