Friday, July 20, 2007

Prayers Requested

Last weekend we were thrilled to discover that we were expecting another baby, due in March 2008. This Wednesday I began to bleed and this has continued, increasingly. I have a scan booked for Tuesday morning. We are praying, trusting God and hoping for a miracle, trying not to panic and continuing life as 'normal'. Your prayers would be really appreciated at this time. Bless you.

For Dinner Tonight:

Sweet & Sour Chicken
Homemade Gooseberry Ice-Cream

Frozen ready meals again for us (the boys had ham and/or peanut butter and jellyjam sandwiches, probably the healthier option). A disjointed day: doctor's appointments, trying to rest and a torrential downpour of rain with thunder and lightning to go with it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Meat Loaf
Baked Beans
Homemade Gooseberry Ice-Cream & Flapjack

The meat loaf recipe, once again, from the ever excellent Tammy's Recipes. I passed on the beans and chips. There is something about this sticky, humid weather that just ruins my appetite - and it's possibly the only circumstance in which you will hear me saying that!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Mediterranean Chicken with Pasta
Chicken in a Honey Mustard Sauce
Homemade Gooseberry Ice-Cream

Not homemade but frozen ready meals again. Today has been a difficult day and dinner didn't even make the edge of my radar screen. All day long the chorus 'We bring a sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord' has been going through my head and the concept of praising and thanking God when you have no inclination to do it, in the midst of difficult circumstances. But oh, the precious practicality of God's Word. When we praise Him in difficult times, as an act of faith in His goodness and obedience, something does truly happen and our spirits are renewed. So the day has ended well. Thank you Lord.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tiny Tablet Provides Proof For Old Testament

We read about this astonishing find in the Daily Telegraph and my husband has blogged about it here. When I was a young girl one of my cherished ambitions (one among many) was to be a world renowned scholar who would make astonishing discoveries from materials hidden in dusty archives that had been overlooked by others. My fame would lead to me being asked (nay, begged) to take over the directorship of the National Gallery - which I would graciously accept, art history being my passion at the time. Ah, what folly!

I don't know if this 'tiny tablet' was quite discovered in a dusty basement cupboard but it is fun to think that it was and I am certain that most, if not all, scholars, dream of uncovering something that has been overlooked by others. I do so hope that the British Museum will put this tablet on prominent display now that its importance has been recognised.

For Dinner Tonight:

Spaghetti with Beef & Sweet Pepper Sauce
Homemade Gooseberry Ice-Cream

I suspect that this is the sort of dish that would make an Italian throw up his hands in horror. I tend to call any tomato and beef based sauce 'bolognaise' but I guess that some minced beef, fried up quickly with the addition of a bottled sauce doesn't really come anywhere near it! Very nice though and much appreciated by the boys who love a plate of 'worms'. The gooseberry ice-cream was a bit of an experiment, made with a jar of gooseberry jam that didn't really set right and didn't seal either. It is an intriguing taste - not like gooseberries at all - sweet, fruity, slightly sour and a delicate salmon pink colour.

Monday, July 16, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Lemon Chicken & Egg Fried Rice
Pea & Garlic Soup
Black Currant Ice-Cream

Rob had the Lemon Chicken - a frozen ready-meal which he pronounced 'very nice'. I had a very quickly made bowl of soup (frozen peas, boiled up with some garlic, milk and cream, whizzed in the food processor and thickened with some dehydrated potato flakes). I've been craving this all day. It must be the rainy weather. My body thinks it's November.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Pork Sandwiches with Courgette Relish & Mayonnaise
Black Currant Crumble

A very quick and easy supper tonight - we are up to our elbows in raspberry jam! The crumble recipe was from the excellent Nigel Slater book Real Fast Food. I'm on the quest for the perfect crumble and can never seem to get it right. I want the crumble of my childhood memories and sadly my dear Mum is no longer around for me to ask her the recipe. This crumble was most certainly not it but was nonetheless, delicious - very buttery and sweet. However, Nigel Slater must be made of stronger stuff than us because the black currant base was unbelievably tart. Either that or our black currants were of a more sour variety than his. I would double (or even triple) the amount of sugar next time. Black currants are one of the new 'super foods', right, so that makes up for all the sugar and butter, don't you think?

Black Currant Crumble

6oz/175g plain flour
4oz/100g butter plus 1oz/25g extra
2oz/50g sugar plus 2T extra
1lb/450g black currants topped and tailed

Whizz the flour and 4oz butter in the food processor. When they look like breadcrumbs stir in the 50g/1oz sugar. Pile the currants into a deep pie dish, sprinkle over the 2T of sugar and dot with the remaining 25g/1oz butter. Cover the currants with the crumble mixture and bake in a pre-heated oven 200C/400F/ gas mark 6 for 25 minutes until crumble is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Serve hot with cream or thick creamy yoghurt. Serves 4.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Italian Pork Muffins
Homemade Black Currant Ice-Cream

This is a recipe from the menu4moms plan - Italian Pork Hoagies. I substituted English Muffins and some of the leftover lemon dressing (from the other day) for the Italian dressing. Couldn't be easier to put together and cook - just as well as we were in the middle of jam making tonight (gooseberry) and needed something simple. The verdict from my husband: "These are lovely - you will make these again won't you?" Yes, indeed!

Friday, July 13, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Umm, let's start with last night shall we ....

Shanghai Chicken
Sweet & Sour Pork
Noodles with Bean Sprouts & Onions

No, not on the menu4moms plan or anywhere near remotely homemade! My sweet husband rang yesterday afternoon (day 3 of the migraine, ick) to say that he didn't want me to have to cook so would I mind a take-away. Would I mind? I cannot tell you how grateful I am that migraines never remove my appetite (even if they take away my desire to cook)! I know some people who can't even bear the thought of food when they have one, which would indeed be adding insult to injury. I did feel pretty washed out though, so no blog.

Tonight was an odd night. Rob had the day off (hurrah!) and helped a friend move house, I had to go into London in the afternoon and didn't get back until later than expected (feeling like a limp dish rag) and then Rob did some work on a friend's computer - which took up most of the evening (giving me the opportunity to chat and catch up with said friend, which was very nice indeed). The long and the short of it is that dinner didn't happen as planned again: Rob had a frozen ready meal and I had a piece of fish from the fish shop (with some free chips thrown in as a thank you for some of our allotment raspberries!). What is it they say about the best laid plans of mice and men .....?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Santa Fe Beef
Corn Salad
Black Currant Coffee Cake

An entire meal of leftovers! On day 2 of a now 3 day migraine (hence the late post), what could be more glorious than being able to eat but not having to cook! I enjoyed it so much more this time round too. Some things do taste better the next day I think, and of course having it all ready prepared adds to the attraction.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Cooking From Scratch

A few weeks ago someone said to me “Oh I think it’s wonderful how you cook every thing from scratch”. Much as I would have loved to bask in such praise, I had to confess and assure them that I reach for the ready meal and jar of sauce far more than I should. Truth is that some time ago I misplaced my frugal motivation and I’m finding it very hard to get back into the habit of making things from scratch again.

There are a number of things I used to make regularly but no longer do (granola, cakes, biscuits etc) and many more that I would like to try but never have (mayonnaise for example). I’ve been thinking about the whole business of cooking from scratch and how to make it work for me again. So here are some (very) random ideas for kick starting the process:

Think about why you want to cook from scratch: Identify your motivation. Is it to save money (if so do you have a goal)? Is it to broaden your tastebuds or acquire new skills? Is it to provide a healthier alternative for your family? It is important to know your motivation so that you can picture it and keep it in mind to inspire you when you are discouraged or tired and want to give up.

Look at your cupboard shelves: Look at the foods you normally buy, that your family likes. Is it possible to make healthier homemade varieties of these items? Or less expensive versions? Start with the things you routinely buy and make a list. No point in making granola if you never buy it because nobody likes it (though you may want to tempt them with it further down the line).

Look at the supermarket shelves or at the Farmers' Market. Are there things that you would like to buy but can’t because they so expensive, or things that you won’t buy because they are stuffed with nasties but that you would quite like to eat if they weren’t? Make a list.

Look at your cookery books and online for recipes and ideas. Much as I love recipe books (and I really do – vintage ones are especially helpful in this venture) the internet is an incredible treasure trove and you can find a recipe for practically every product or dish you might want to copy at home.

Think about your circumstances and what will work best for you. Does the recipe require equipment you don’t have and can’t borrow or improvise? Does it require time and a level of attention duing the process that you just can’t spare right now, or ingredients that just aren’t readily available where you live.

If you are starting cooking from scratch practically from scratch, start with one thing at a time. If you are starting again after a period of ‘backsliding’, go easy too. Trying to introduce a lot of new things to most families all at once is a recipe for disaster and many tears on the part of the one doing the cooking.

Repeat that ‘one thing’ as often as your family and your budget can stand it until you get a result you are all happy with. You first loaf of bread may not be up to much (mine wasn’t) but your tenth will be (unless of course your yeast is out of date – please don’t ask me how I know this). Some things it must be said are so very easy to make that you can get good results first time and you will wonder why anyone would ever want to buy it ready made. But be realistic, especially if you are wanting to do this for reasons of your budget. Not everything made from scratch is cheaper than the ‘factory made’ article, especially if you are skilled at using coupons or spotting great mark downs. It almost always tastes better and is better for you, but when you are really on a bare-bones budget it just may not be possible, especially if you would have to buy a lot of new ingredients for it.

Keep your perspective. This is only food. Home making is not a competitive sport. I have never come across anyone in the blogosphere who makes it that for others but I do sometimes make it that for myself. When this happens we can become easily discouraged, depressed and bitter, bringing no joy to the Lord or our families and certainly not to ourselves. You are not a bad mother if you buy your child a birthday cake from the store and serve up sandwiches on shop bought bread. Cooking from scratch is not a spiritual virtue. It is not wrong to want to do more than you are doing and to want to do the best you possibly can for your family (however you may see it) but if you were able to do it all at once and do it perfectly, you would probably be doing it already.

For me, cooking from scratch – whether food items or whole meals – is a very enjoyable and creative part of my role as a wife and mother. I like learning new skills and not being dependent on going to the store for things. Some of the things I make from scratch we just can’t buy in the local shops and we can’t afford them in the shops that do sell them. I’d like to think that my family is healthier because of it (although I think that is really down to God’s goodness). But anyone who reads this blog will see from the ‘For Dinner Tonight’ posts just how often tiredness, boredom and plain old bad organisation has me reaching for the microwave. I’m not in a position to pontificate on this subject at all but I do need to remind myself of just how well cooking from scratch works for me. I hope it will work for you too.

For lots of splendid tips and advice visit

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Santa Fe Beef
Homemade Bread
Corn Salad
Rhubarb Yoghurt

Hmm, not so sure about this one. The Santa Fe Beef was unusual, nice but unusual. Rob said it was 'delicious', but I suspect he was practising the gift of encouragement. It was supposed to be chicken but I had some stewing steak in the freezer already and thought I would use it up. To the beef was added sweet corn, kidney beans, salsa and, towards the end of cooking, cream cheese. I worried that there might not be enough liquid and that it might dry out but it turned out just fine. The menu plan said to serve with rice, tortillas and crusty bread but I decided that was one carbohydrate too far and settled for the rice and bread! The corn salad (sweet corn, red pepper, lemon dressing and basil - which I forgot to add) was okay but the dressing was somewhat sharp. Sweet corn in the main dish and sweet corn salad? Well, we like sweet corn but ... The rhubarb was left over from cordial making at the weekend and I added it to homemade yoghurt with, I must confess, lots of sugar. The boys fell upon this with delight but treated the main course with great suspicion! Never mind, the most wonderful thing is that it made a huge amount and we can have it for dinner tomorrow. Bliss!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Our Weekend

We spent a very happy and contented 'home centred' weekend, but I have to say it did feel like a whirlwind of activity. Rob was not joking when he said that the black currants were like marbles! I have never seen such a harvest of them. They must really like all the rain we have been having. All the berries seem to in fact (with the exception of strawberries which were very poor this year). We are still holding our breath concerning the tomatoes, courgettes and garlic. But this weekend, for the first time in ages, it seems, the weather was fine and Rob took advantage of it to do some major picking.

Of course, once picked they all have to be processed and what to do for the best? Both our freezers (half of a fridge freezer and a similar sized upright one) were already short on space. Oh for the massive chest freezer my parents had! So we changed our plans. Instead of open freezing and bagging the black currants we stewed them down and pureed them. The puree we froze in 2 cup measures in plastic containers (Chinese take-away containers actually), popping out the blocks when frozen to store in plastic bags. The theory is that this way we can use the puree for ice-cream, yoghurt or for jam making. We make a cross between a jelly and a jam with most of our fruit - avoiding the pippy-ness of jam but getting a higher yield than just using the juice. The boys call it, not surprisingly, 'Jelly Jam'. This, on and off, took most of the weekend, together with making black currant cordial and, a new one for us, rhubarb and ginger cordial (I found some of last year's rhubarb in the freezer and thought I'd use it up to save space).

Add to this hoovering, washing and hanging on the line, a shopping trip to Lidl, playing with the boys, visits to the park, a trip to the recycling bank and the charity shops, cooking, endless washing up and all the usual Sabbath day pursuits ... we are exhausted and would dearly like another weekend, right now, to get over the last one!

For Dinner Tonight:

Roast Pork
Baked Potatoes
Courgette & Tomato Sauce
Banana Cake with Lemon Icing

My first day following the Menu4Moms menu (with slight alterations!). The pork was delicious and much appreciated by my sweet husband who likes nothing better than a slab of roasted meat. I added more garlic to the marinade together with some lemon juice, olive oil and coriander seed. The side dish was supposed to be Summer Squash Saute and I had intended to substitute courgettes, until I saw the price of them! So, from the freezer, I dug out the last of the courgette soup base I had made last year, added some frozen tomato passata and cooked it down with some onions and garlic. The banana cake was by special request of Isaac and he did a very good job helping me with it. It was so nice to have a hot meal, planned and ready to eat when Rob got home (just missing by a whisker the thunder storm that broke out of a clear sky as he arrived).

Sunday, July 08, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Couscous with Chicken & Vegetables
French Bread
Black Currant Coffee Cake
Cantaloupe Melon

There isn't much you can do with 3 little chicken thighs, left over from the night before, but this stretched them nicely. I fried some onion and mushrooms, added garlic, cinnamon and tumeric and then the chicken, stripped from the bone. I added the couscous with peas (another leftover) plus a fresh batch to bulk it out, salt and pepper. It was good, especially with some garlic and chilli sauce on the side. The coffee cake was an adaptation of this recipe from the lovely Pleasant View School House. I've made it before and it is very nice indeed. I used melted butter instead of oil this time, a cup of black currants and white flour as I was out of wholemeal. It made a very tender, crumbly cake and was wolfed down by the hungry boys. I'm trying to introduce the tastes of different fruits to the boys as often as possible in things like cakes and ice-creams and yoghurts (i.e. things I know they will eat). Isaac, in particular, is wary as can be about new foods but I'm hoping that this way he will not only discover new things that he likes to eat but also get used to the whole idea of trying new things in general.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Garlic Chicken
Couscous & Peas
Homemade Raspberry Ice-Cream
Cantaloupe Melon

An exhausting, but fun day. The garlic chicken was chicken thighs coated with 'Crispy Garlic Chicken' coating which we bought from the Chinese supermarket (an amazing place) some time ago. I unearthed it at the back of the cupboard while I was looking for something else! It was going to be baked potatoes but I opted for couscous instead because it is just so quick. The melon was half price at Lidl - such a bargain. I adore melon and could eat a whole one of any variety. One of my abiding memories of living in east London is the sight of dozens and dozens of watermelons piled up outside the Greek and Turkish shops. They looked quite unreal in their hugeness!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Menu Planning

Do you make a weekly menu of meals? I have done several times in the past and when I have I’ve always been encouraged by how well it works and how much easier it is when you have one. Then I forget that such a thing exists and just wing it for a while, and we end up eating pizza and ready meals because I haven’t planned anything and now haven’t the energy or the inspiration. It’s a self discipline thing, or rather the lack of it I guess.

But today I jumped back on the wagon and made a menu for the week. All this week I have been trying to rethink the organisation and running of our home. My sweet husband makes no demands in this area and I am aware of how my tendency to procrastinate etc has led to our current state of chaos. To put it plainly, I’ve been lazy. With God’s help, that will change and here is a small start.

While I was looking for some homeschool resources last weekend, I came across this splendid service . If you sign up for their service they will send you a 5 day dinner menu each week plus recipes and a grocery list to go with it – completely free! I’ve taken the menu for the 9th – 13th and adapted it a little bit to suit what I needed to use up from the freezer. I also had to make a couple of budgetary changes – food in the USA tends, I think, to be a little cheaper for most items and certainly for meat. I feel so excited about trying it and even if it doesn’t work out I think it has definitely encouraged me to start menu planning again. Off to Lidl tomorrow, list in hand!

For Dinner Tonight:

Homemade Black Currant Ice-Cream & Raspberries

Hurrah for frozen pizza! Especially on a Friday night. Tonight is the first day in ages that it hasn't rained. Hurrah again! Rob is busy down the allotment as I write, picking black currants and raspberries and trying to rescue our poor drowned tomatoes. Have a blessed weekend!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Meat Loaf
New Potatoes
Homemade Black Currant Ice-Cream

I had intended never to attempt meat loaf again. Previous disastrous attempts (too salty, too dry, too bready) had scarred me and I had begun to wonder if you actually had to be American to make a decent meat loaf. Then I found this recipe on the ever wonderful Tammy's Recipes. It was delicious, my faith is restored and I intend to make it again and again.

Universal Martha

Imagine if you will, a small village in rural Wales. Actually, village is probably too grand a term; more of a hamlet, just a road with houses either side. There is a pub (naturally), a church and a post office/general store. Nothing more, not even a craft centre or pottery (this is possibly the only place in Wales where there isn't one).

In some villages in Wales the post office/general store is quite a thriving concern, having diversified from the normal run of the mill foods to providing organic vegetables, locally sourced foods and other delightful goodies to the discerning customer. Not so this little shop. It is a sad little shop and in sore need of a business makeover. You will not find produce from the local farm here or even local honey. In fact you will not find much of anything of any description on the shelves. The day we visited it reminded me of what you might find in a shop on the last day of its closing down sale, just before they sold off the shelves themselves. We were holidaying nearby in a little cabin in the woods, belonging to Rob's parents, and had braved the rain to venture out in search of bacon, milk and a newspaper. Then as we paid for our few purchases, I saw it, glowing out from the dismal news' stand and you could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather.

Yes a copy of Martha Stewart's Living Magazine and not an edition that had been languishing there for months or years but that very month's current edition. Utterly astonishing!

Now, normally if I want to buy this magazine I have to make a special trip up to London, to Borders in the Charing Cross Road. It is just not that widely available here, scarce in fact. And yet here it was in this forlorn little store, with nothing to speak of on the shelves, in a little Welsh hamlet in the middle of nowhere. Proof indeed that Martha Stewart is a global phenomenon. I gave thanks to God and paid for it quick, praying that I wasn't depriving a regular customer of their copy. Then we went on our way, marvelling at such unexpected bounty and, it being a holiday, I devoured the magazine at one sitting. Yum!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Fourth Of July!

Wishing anyone who is celebrating today a very happy holiday filled with family, friends and good things!

For Dinner Tonight:

Tuna Fish Steaks
Green Salad
Chip Shop Chips
Homemade Black Currant Ice-Cream

Fresh tuna is usually way too expensive for us to buy (in fact I’ve only ever had it once before) but these frozen steaks were on special offer at Lidl: 2 for 99p. They were okay but I think I over cooked them (a bit tough). The green salad was from lettuce Rob grows in old milk cartons outside our window. The tomatoes were from the supermarket – I can’t wait until we have our own, although if the rain keeps up we may not get any. The black currants in the ice-cream were the last of last year’s frozen harvest. We await the onslaught of this years crop. A little black currant goes a long way in my book. Rob tells me the bushes are groaning with them and that they are as big as marbles. Oh dear.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Spaghetti Puttanesca
Raspberries, Bananas & Cream

A migraine and the appalling weather meant a quick change of plans tonight. I had been going to Southwark Cathedral to attend a friend's commissioning as a pastoral assistant and we were going to get by with sandwiches or a pizza. But it was not to be. So I used a jar of sauce (Lloyd Grossman brand on special offer at Lidl - very nice and 'un-processed' tasting) and added some minced beef and mushrooms for extra protein and bulk. As I write, there is thunder, lightning and teeming rain outside. A good night to be home - as it always is.

Monday, July 02, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Pork Chops
Rice With Red Onion & Mushrooms
Homemade Raspberry & Vanilla Ice-Cream

Quick and easy: pork chops (marked down for quick sale), left over rice with lots of red onion and mushrooms added. Should have been a green salad too but I forgot it was in the fridge. The last scrapings of two batches of ice-cream mixed together.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

For Dinner Tonight:

Vegetable Samosas
Vegetable Pakoras
Homemade Yoghurt & Mint Sauce
Sweet Corn
Raspberries and Cream

Sweet husband defrosted both our freezers today and although both of them are only small models it is still quite a job (especially with 2 little helpers!). We discovered some ancient relics, some edible others not so. This meal used up some of the edible ones. We have a bumper crop of blackcurrants on the way!

Edited to add the sweet corn. Not our own yet but frozen 'mini corn cobs' from the supermarket and so delicious that we cooked some more to eat just on their own.

God Is Working His Purpose Out

God is working His purpose out
As year succeeds to year;
God is working his purpose out,
And the time is drawing near;
Nearer and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.

From utmost east to utmost west,
Where’er man’s foot hath trod,
By the mouth of many messengers
Goes forth the voice of God:
“Give ear to Me, ye continents,
Ye isles, give ear to Me,
”That the earth may be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.

What can we do to work God’s work,
To prosper and increase
The brotherhood of all mankind,
The reign of the Prince of Peace?
What can we do to hasten the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.

March we forth in the strength of God,
With the banner of Christ unfurled,
That the light of the glorious Gospel of truth
May shine throughout the world;
Fight we the fight with sorrow and sin
To set their captives free,
That the earth may be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.

All we can do is nothing worth
Unless God blesses the deed;
Vainly we hope for the harvest-tide
Till God gives life to the seed;
Yet near and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.

Arthur C Ainger 1894

For more wonderful hymns visit