Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to be happy

I like this post about insecurity that my friend Debbie linked to on fb recently. The other day I noticed the tag line on Debbie's blog is a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, 'Comparison is the thief of joy.' True dat Teddy.

Living in central London where wealth and poverty sit, often uncomfortably, side by side has repeatedly taught me that comparing my lot to that of others is fruitless. There will always be people with so much more (materially) and many many with so much less. Like, without a home kind of less. Following American Thanksgiving I am continuing to mull over the many status updates and blog posts reflecting on gratitude and the importance of being grateful for what we have from week to week. It's a good and worthy exercise, especially when I start to let myself feel grumpy that our flat is small or my dishes are chipped (it is and they are but that's okay!) I am trying to focus on the big and little (often free!) things that bring me abundant joy every day - smiles from the boys, hot cups of tea, walking in the park, good library books, sleep . . . okay so I know I'm not quite at the heart of the matter on this one but it's a start. Lots more to say and think about here . . .

Happy happy joy joy

This made me feel all happy like. Enjoy!

Go tell it on the mountain

Feeling all wintry and - dare I say it - Christmasy all of a sudden! I am definitely feeling the vibe. Little wonder considering that this week I've eaten (a couple) mince pies, been listening to Over the Rhine Christmas album (download it for free here - you won't be sorry!), reading The Snow Child (amazing so far) and Christmas shopping (if clicking away online counts.) Oh, and tonight boy one was singing 'Go tell it on the mountain' as learned at nursery school. Love that! Only a little over two weeks until we are Canada bound and the festivities commence in earnest . . . :)

Soup night

It's been pretty rainy and grey in London during these past few weeks. Pretty typical for the end of November, and today it felt positively wintry (by UK standards) with woolly hat and gloves required! We're wearing our wellies and still smiling most of the time.

On these dark evenings there are few things better than a lovely bowl of homemade soup with some fresh bread. This morning I made a massive pot of this potato soup (any version of which will forever happily remind me of Pioneer Camp where potato and corn chowder was a lunch mainstay!) And I made this minestrone soup the other night which got the dinner table thumbs up - even boy two, who is a newbie on the eating front, sucked on the pasta and supped the broth! Boy one said, 'Mom, this is so good. Did you see Daddy making homemade soup and think that you could do it too?' Ha! I guess I'm a culinary copycat in his books. The recipe is my take on the version in the Hairy Bikers diet book that I recently got from the library. It makes a big pot with plenty extra for the freezer which is a must in my world. Serve with Stu's fresh crusty bread spread liberally with soft butter.

Minestrone Soup

6 ripe tomatoes
1 tin chopped tomatoes
3 tsp olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 litres stock - chicken or veg, I like Marigold salt free bouillon
200 grams fusilli pasta
1 tbsp tomato puree
200 grams frozen peas
handful of fresh green beans (optional)
1 tsp pesto
salt and pepper

Fry the onion and garlic gently in oil until softened. Add carrot and celery and continue to saute for a few more minutes. Add chopped fresh and tinned tomatoes, pour in stock and bring to a boil. drop in the pasta, add the tomato puree and bring to the boil, then cook for 8 minutes. Add frozen peas and beans and cook for another 5 minutes or until the pasta is just tender. Stir in pesto. Season to taste. Stay warm and wear your slippers.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A history of violence


'This dvd is lovely. It's so sweet. There's no violence.' Boy one said this a few days ago about the Winnie the Pooh movie that he got out of the library. (It is actually very sweet - great soundtrack.) I was happy to hear that in his own way he had figured out why we have been saying no to spiderman cartoons despite his undying love for all things superhero. It is my non-expert opinion that *kapow* style fighting on screen makes my already energetic boy unusually aggressive and hard to manage.

Violence. Death. Hurt. Loss. Not really ideal topics for discussion with a three and a half year old. But they do come up. On Friday we went to the Imperial War Museum and tomorrow after church we are going to the National Army Museum for a soft play session - timely visits as tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday.
We actually go to the War Museum fairly often as it's a short walk from our flat. Boy one especially enjoys the old airplanes suspended from the high ceilings. Up until now we have not actually talked about what war is. He thinks the missiles in the museum are 'rockets' and doesn't know what the 'cool' big tanks are for. He sometimes makes up adventures for his little 'army men' plastic figurines that he knows from Toy Story. But this week as we stood looking at a field of paper poppies we had a short conversation about remembering soldiers that have died. At one point he interjected with concern, 'But no soldiers were in London.' I didn't tell him about my grandmother's younger brother Steele who was killed in a collision with a bus while riding his motorcycle during a blackout in London in 1941. And I didn't tell him about fighting in Afghanistan that continues to claim lives on all sides daily. Our talk ended with boy one thoughtfully asking, 'But everybody's happy now though right?'

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sleigh bells ring


The Christmas baubles are up in Covent Garden and last night the lights were lit on Oxford Street! I really love this season in London. The decorations took me by surprise today since Halloween has only just passed, but the weather feels sufficiently chilly and we are happy to be counting down to our trip home to Canada. This pic of boy one looking little next to the very big bow on the even bigger tree cracks me up! Time to make some gift lists (we keep it pretty simple thankfully but it requires some thought and some dosh even so) and peruse some recipes! Off to bed for me now with visions of Christmas baking dancing in my head . . .

Profundity escapes me

There's many a blog post floating around in my head. I draft them while pushing the buggy or washing dishes but when I finally get to sit down at the computer in peace at the end of the day, alas, the profundity escapes me. This afternoon I was mulling over various possible themes for my blog ranging from politics (dear knows there's plenty to talk about from the serious to the surreal, but I think I'll leave that to Guido) to parenting (despite my hippy dippy attachment leanings I am not really looking to take up a side in any Mommy/Mummy wars.) After much debate (with myself) I decided in the main to stick to telling you what we had for dinner (like this divine autumn on a plate lentils with sausages recipe) and recommending things to eat with a cup of tea (like these Northern Irish classic fifteens - yum.) After all, when all's said and done it's hard to cause offense when talking about marshmallows. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sew inspired

I don't get Pinterest. To be fair, I haven't really tried. In truth, I don't really have any more free time to spend on the internet than I already do. But every now and again Facebookers tells me that a friend has 'pinned' something and from time to time I have clicked through out of curiosity. Most recently I found that my ever creative and crafty sister-in-law had pinned this amazing tutorial (in Finnish) for a stuffed whale made from old jeans. Like whoa. I have old jeans! I have a child who loves stuffed toys! And best of all, I have a friend who is from Finland who just happens to be an amazing seamstress! It's a sign.

And then today I stumbled upon this tutorial on how to make a skirt from an old jumper. I really love these and, I'm probably being naive here, but the instructions sound pretty simple. Definitely time to dust off the old sewing machine . . .

Sunday, October 28, 2012

#birthdayweekend

Who doesn't love a good birthday? Stu's birthday is today so we have been enjoying a #birthdayweekend in our world (is it weird that I think in hashtags? Don't answer that.) We recently watched a Modern Family (love) episode which revealed that Claire is hilariously bad at giving gifts to Phil ('Feel') who is hilariously good. Let's face it, I was aware that this year, factoring in sleep deprivation and needs of two smalls to attend to, 'pulling a Dunphy' was a possibility so I ended up making a bit of an extra effort to ensure we had sufficient birthday accoutrements including balloons, sparkly packages and a sugar high from dang good cake. Pleasingly the trappings were appreciated by lads young and old, with boy one engaging in the revelry as if it was his own b-day. 
  

Weekend highlights were many. Saturday afternoon we all enjoyed walking/scooting in the crisp autumn air. Lots of baking was done by both Stu and me (soda bread, cob loaf, Paul Hollywood's scones and chocolate cupcakes and lemon cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery book - you might be starting to get the idea that this is my go-to for special baking recipes at the minute.) And today we gained an extra hour with the clocks falling back (ever so confusing for the Saskatchewanian abroad) so we had lots of time for church this morning and a lovely afternoon with a few dear friends for Stu's birthday tea party. Please forgive the food table picture. I just can't help myself.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday night lights

A wet and cold Friday night here in London town, but we are warm and toasty, tucked up on the sofa with some Green and Blacks and a cuppa and ready to watch an episode of The Killing II. We watched the first series (the Danish one) in the summer and mercy me, it is so very good. (Disclaimer: It's pretty graphic/scary and haunting, like it says on the tin.) But oh the suspense and intrigue! Very edge of your seat. And great characters. Those Danes are flippin' geniuses. Next up will be Borgen if I can get my mitts on it.

The only other things we're watching at the moment, now that GBBO is over *sigh* - are series three of Downton and series two of Homeland. And I have happily heard rumors that a new series of Call the Midwife is coming sometime soon. Any other recommendations?

I have to say, we really love our AppleTV which stops us from mindlessly channel surfing as everything's on demand. Anyhow, let's face it, by the time we do bedtime/dishes/laundry/tidy we *just about* have time for one episode before bedtime. Rock 'n' roll!!! I keep contemplating doing something crafty of an evening like this or this but so far it's all in the mind.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sleepless in SE1

This isn't at all fair to my Stu, who faithfully does the morning shift with our early bird boy one who is often partial to the buttcrack of dawn. But it made me laugh. Some nights are not so bad but every now and again the lads tag team us with amazing efficiency, kindly ensuring that we see every wee small hour. Yawn. Props to KVPA for sharing on Facebookers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

One Fish, Two Fish...

So, I went to my first 'school open day' this afternoon as we navigate the process of applying for a reception place for boy one. Can I just say, London schooling is a little bit crazy town?! Alas, despite my repeated declaration that I will remain chilled out about all this, I get to spend from now through April wondering exactly how the application forms and school ranking and competition for church places (it's just like Rev) and distance measuring will turn out! And breathe.

Let's change the subject . . . to kids' poetry! Ain't nothing more soothing than some rhyming couplets I say. It was an exciting day for all of us when boy one became ready for proper stories after the baby stage of his beloved (but, let's face it, predictable) 'That's not my...' books! We are extremely fortunate to have the Southbank Centre's Poetry Library right on our doorstep. Many (many) an afternoon have we ended up hanging out in its lovely children's corner. In addition to well known and deservedly much loved authors like Dr Seuss, Julia Donaldson and Quentin Blake, we have had the joy of discovering some lesser known but equally wonderful titles.

Rosie and the Rustlers by Roy Gerrard is a good old fashioned western with a strong lead woman (hurrah!) and melodic verse. A good opening is key when it comes to children's books (and for adults, come to think of it) and who could resist this first verse? 'Where the mountains meet the prairie, where the men are wild and hairy/There’s a little ranch where Rosie Jones is boss. It’s a place that’s neat and cozy, and the boys employed by Rosie/Work extremely hard, to stop her getting cross.' 

We also love The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen. This is the story of how a group of shipwrecked circus animals work their way into the hearts of a small village. The author's note tells that the poem is actually inspired by the wreck of The Royal Tar in 1836 which sank off the coast of Maine carrying circus animals. The verses and illustrations are fabulous.

And last, but certainly not least, we would recommend The Hound from the Pound by Jessica Swaim which is a whimsical love story for dog lovers! Great fun. We bought it for our niece who has a big black poodle.

Looking for more titles? I stumbled upon this fun little blog with heaps of good picks!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lemon Drizzle Fer Shizzle

We had an awesome and felicitous day today celebrating the baptism of our 'bonny baby' boy two! Stu's parents and sister's family were able to join us at our church along with many London friends. (Please know that you far away family were dearly missed!) It was a lovely service followed by lunch together in the church chapel. Stu and I enjoyed every moment and treasured the opportunity to share our joy with people that we care about as our Felix was welcomed into the church family. More pics to come from a friend who was snapping away for us but in the meantime I love this one of the Noblemen x
Lunch was catered (good call to avoid stressed out mommy syndrome!) so I only had to do bits and pieces. Stu baked bread (natch) and I made the Hummingbird Lemon Drizzle Cake, as recommended by Auntie Ali. It is divine with a cup of tea - definitely going on the list of favourites!

85g unsalted butter at room temperature
245g caster sugar
grated zest of 1 1/2 unwaxed lemons
15g poppyseeds, plus extra to decorate (I skipped these but I'm sure they'd be nice)
165 ml whole milk
235g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 egg whites

lemon syrup
freshly squeezed juice and zest of 1 lemon
50g caster sugar

lemon glaze
freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
250g icing sugar, sifted

a 24-cm ring mould, greased and dusted with flour (which I don't have but want to get - I just used an ordinary springform which was grand)

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C. Beat together butter, sugar, lemon zest and poppy seeds with electric mixer. Slowly add the milk and continue to beat until incorporated. (Don't worry if mixture looks slightly split.)

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three additions, scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Beat thoroughly until all the ingredients are well incorporated and the mixture is light and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with a handheld electric whisk until stiff peaks form. Using a metal spoon, fold the whisked egg whites into the cake mixture until well mixed but do not overmix. Pour into the prepared tin and smooth over with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the sponge bounces back when touched.

For the lemon syrup: While cake is baking, put the lemon juice and zest, sugar and 100ml water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over low heat. Raise the heat and boil until it has reduced by half, or until it has a thin syrup consistency. When the hot cake comes out of the oven, pour the syrup all over the top. Leave to cool slightly in the mould before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

For the lemon glaze: Mix the lemon juice and icing sugar in a bowl until smooth. It should be thick but pourable. Add a little water or more sugar to thin or thicken as necessary. When the cake is cold, put it on a cake stand, pour the glaze over it and decorate with poppy seeds.

 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Easy Peasy


Living in a smallish flat with two energetic children means getting outside lots, rain or shine! Check out this autumn pic of my very cute sis and her even cuter little dude at one of our favourite local parks during their visit to us last year. Because we pack a picnic with us most days to sustain us on our London adventures I'm always on the lookout for homemade lunch bag treats.

So, here's a quick round up of some super easy, quasi healthy(?) recipes that I've stumbled upon via some of the kajillion foodie blogs that I follow on Facebook. And yes, they just happen to all contain chocolate. Don't judge.

To start, the other night I tried these granola bars. Thanks to sleep deprivation I didn't follow the instructions properly so they ended up falling apart. To be honest it didn't matter all that much because even the crumbly bits disappeared pretty quickly. I will definitely be making these again and I'm pretty confident that next time they'll keep their shape.

I also wanted to highlight these dulce de leche sea salt and oatmeal no bakes. These caught my eye because I love the idea of sea salt and caramel together but had never made anything with that combo. In the end the cookies reminded me of the no bake 'haystacks' that I used to have as a child (anyone else remember them?) but a bit more moist and chewy, in a good way. Stu approved when I brought these for an energy booster after he ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon a few weeks ago.

As I type I'm sitting here wondering, have you tried black bean brownies? They are dead easy, very quick to put together AND gluten-free. They have a lovely texture and a nice deep chocolate flavour. And you would never guess you're eating beans. I promise! For this recipe and the next I use Green and Blacks cocoa powder which gives that something extra.

And now the choccywhoccydoodah grand finale! This chocolate peanut butter fudge is something special. (Disclaimer: The link is from a bit of a weird blog but the recipe is too good not to share.) We have made this with both butter and coconut oil and both were really good. I like throwing in nuts, oats, raisins or desiccated coconut if I have them on hand. These little dark chocolate cups are ideal for keeping in the fridge to enjoy with a cup of strong coffee.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Kid Art

Since boy one started nursery school this autumn we have been spending even more time than usual in the kids' section of our local library. After pickup, weather permitting, we go to the play park for a snack and some monkeying around on the climbing frame, and then we enjoy a couple of hours reading stories and hanging out amongst the stacks. We do change it up occasionally (like yesterday when we went to the Tate Modern for the afternoon - the picture above is from a sensory light and sound igloo in the kids play area), but such is boy one's love for the story corner that skipping the library requires a good lot of negotiation and convincing. These early signs of book lovin' are music to my ears! (I *think* boy two is down with reading too - he just kinda goes with the flow!)

Anyhow, tonight as we were reading Puffin Peter by Petr Horacek before bed I thought it might be fun to do a few posts highlighting some of our fav writers for children. I have found that both repetition (to foster familiarity) and variety (to generate interest) are key when it comes to young children and books. To start I've focused on art and picked some wonderful author/illustrators that have recently captured our imaginations. So here's the run down . . .

We really like Horacek's pictures and Choo Choo was one of boy one's tried and true favourites when he was one. Horacek's books for older children are also lovely.

We are mega Oliver Jeffers enthusiasts, and not *just* because he's Northern Irish! How to Catch a Star is poignant and beautiful and has been read over and over again over the past few years in our world.

We have also been enjoying a lot of titles from Eric Carle's collection (not limited to, but of course including, that caterpillar!) and many of Quentin Blake's sketches as Stu and boy one have begun working through the Roald Dahl collection. I personally loved listening to boy one's shrieks of disbelief, wonderment and delight as they were recently reading George's Marvelous Medicine! (That mean old granny!!)

I know these are all mega popular writers so there are no cutting edge newsflashes here, but I wanted to record what we're into at the moment. Please share any recommendations, old or new, in the comments! Coming soon, favourite poetry for children . . .

Monday, October 15, 2012

One does like a good chocolate chip cookie

Now I'm not going to lie to you. I've baked (and, ahem, eaten) a cookie or two in my time. My quest for a really good go-to chocolate chip recipe was answered this year when the fabulous Stu got me the fabulous book by the Hummingbird Bakery for my birthday. I was reminded of how delish they are tonight as I enjoyed one with a cup of tea and watched Downton on catchup . . . and (slight spoiler alert for any North Americans in the crowd) let's just say the cookie was sorely needed for comfort after that episode!!

Hummingbird Chocolate Chip Cookies
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
350g soft light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
400g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
225 g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I find Cadbury's buttons do the trick nicely - and I also add raisins)

4 baking trays, lined with greaseproof paper
Makes 24

Preheat the oven to 179 degrees C. Cream butter and sugar together with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Turn mixer down to slow speed and beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda and mix well until a smooth dough is formed. Stir in the chopped chocolate until evenly dispersed. Arrange 6 equal amounts of cookie dough on each prepared baking tray, Make sure that the cookies are spaced apart to allow for spreading while baking. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges and quite flat. Leave the cookies to cool slightly on the trays before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely the cookies should be soft and chewy.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Starting from scratch

Have you heard about October Unprocessed? A lot of the foodie/health type Facebook pages that I follow, like this one, have been throwing down the challenge to eat all unprocessed foods this month. For the sake of this exercise, the definition of unprocessed food is 'any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients.' Sounds reasonable enough right?

The principle appeals to me because I hate the idea of eating something with a mile long indecipherable ingredient list. And I hate that idea even more when it comes to my little lads . . . Anyhow, we're not sticking hard and fast to any rules (so please don't shout 'hypocrite!' at me if you see me scoffing Percy Pigs in the park with boy one) but I have been keeping this challenge in mind when doing my weekly grocery order (spot the Ocado loyalist) by aiming to keep my shopping trolly as 'simple' as possible with actual food ingredients rather than pre-prepared items. Not a huge change for us as we don't go big in for packaged stuff really, but the challenge has helped to motivate me to think carefully about our meal choices. Anyway, isn't it funny to think that only handful of decades ago this whole discussion would have sounded like complete nonsense?

And I definitely can't sign off without mentioning that the best part about eating unprocessed means increased baking! (Yes, we have GBBO fever like the rest of the UK. It would be wrong not to.) This autumn Stu has gotten way into bread baking and on Saturday mornings makes three loaves that easily do us for the week. God bless my own little Paul Hollywood. And I've been enjoying baking treats to enjoy with a cuppa rather than buying custard creams etc which has led me to discover some pretty dang good chocolate recipes. More on that in the near future . .

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pages

So I'm happy to report having a new baby is actually a good way to get some reading done! I am a multi-tasking mama, but even so, happily one does end up spending a good lot of time sitting and breastfeeding. Where possible, I love spending this time curled up on the sofa or on my bed with the quiet little man and a good story. And I should note that it's not always possible. Often times boy one wants me to play Spiderman while breastfeeding which is *slightly* less peaceful. 

Anyway, at the minute I am reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. This is the story of Ernest Hemmingway and his wife during the jazz age, the period depicted in Moonlight in Paris which Stu and I watched last Christmas. I had seen this book very strongly recommended by many in the blogosphere so I was keen to borrow it from our local library. It's very good so far, quite romantic and sad and written in a way that makes it easy to connect with the narrator, but full verdict will be reserved for when I reach the end. It's an interesting window into the heart and mind of an artist.

UPDATE: Egadz!! Just finished this book this morning. I have declared to Stu how glad I am that I was never married to Ernest Hemmingway. That is all.

Our life so far

I'm just going to dive back in. Tonight I decided to resurrect my old friend the blog - I have been missing having the opportunity to write and having a place to keep track of our adventures, not to mention all my favourite recipes. I will spare you a long recap of everything we've been up to in the past year or two . . . in short, boy one is nearing three and a half (how did that happen!?) and boy two (yes, there's a boy two!) is almost five months old (weighing in at just over 20 lbs - wowsers.) So yes, we've been busy. Here they are looking scrumptious as we sat down in our little kitchen to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with roast chicken etc last weekend. Stop in again soon. I promise there will be lots of good posts (foodie and otherwise) forthcoming.