August-in-a-blog-post …

… or something that attempts to sum up what’s happened in my month!

My August got overtaken with illness. Yup, it’s me that’s ill. It’s a long-term thing – been around for too long and not going away anytime in the near future. Some days are better than others and August has been a collection of mostly bad days. Life has been a struggle and finding the energy for the every-day essentials has been flakey, so my blog has sort of slipped …

I wanted to tell you because my blog and the blogging community I’ve found online has become very important to me. I love sharing my photos and life with whoever is reading these pages and getting to “meet” some of you fellow-bloggers and share my passions with you has been an amazing experience! Even though I have not been commenting on your blogs, I’ve been keeping in touch with what is going on in your lives, praying for you when you’ve had tough times and loving all the photos, recipes and fun! So I guess it’s my turn to ask for the prayers and/or thoughts. Not something that comes easily to me, but even though I don’t post as regularly as I want to, I’m not giving up!

Here are a few other things that happened in August …

I cooked a fish meal for the first time! I baked salmon in foil parcels with a sauce of chilli, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and oyster sauce, and lots of spring onion, red pepper and fresh coriander (cilantro). I served it with rice and green vegetables and it seemed to be a success! πŸ™‚

One of L’s cousins got married in a country manor house in Shropshire! The staircase used for the bride’s entrance was amazing! They handed out homemade dried-rose confetti and had a beautifully done afternoon tea for the first part of the reception! The couple was obviously happy, despite it pouring with rain most of the day and the bride’s vintage-style lace dress was pretty. There were some photos of L and I taken, but my father-in-law still has these! πŸ˜‰

My youngest sister had her 21st birthday!! Eeeek! Makes me feel old … πŸ˜‰ I had a lot of fun planning and creating a special gift for her. T has quite a number of pen-friends and writing letters and keeping in touch with them is important to her. I found a Jane Austen-style writing desk which I painted with her favourite flower – daisys! I also covered a box with old stamps from around the world (I love Ebay! πŸ˜› ) and filled it with notepaper and cards. My other two sisters had informed me that T was very set on having cards with 21 on them … so the card, some of the wrapping paper and a key-ring made sure she wouldn’t forget how old she was turning!! πŸ˜‰ My sisters and I have had this tradition of giving each other number badges for big birthdays and this year I got to buy the badge – I’ve been assured it will be pinned on her bag for a while! πŸ™‚

Just this past week we had some good friends of ours round for supper. E and S got married just 7 months after L and I did and L and E had lived in the same houses for 6 years and have been in a prayer-triplet together with another guy for nearly as long … so yeah, they go way back. They have had us round for dinner twice and we really wanted to have them round to our house – once we could find a date that worked for both couples, that is! πŸ˜‰

I kind of went a bit over-board on the cooking front … not at all common forΒ  me πŸ˜‰ I like to cook something which is ready ahead of time and just needs putting in the oven, so I baked Chicken, Leek and Cider Pie. It comes from this amazing pie recipe book that my sisters gave me for my birthday last year. I decided to replace the whole chicken and homemade stock with chicken pieces and chicken stock cubes and made a classic mistake – the recipe called for a chicken weighing 1.5kg so, of course, I bought 1.5kg of thigh fillets … let’s just say that not counting in the weight difference for a whole chicken made a massive quantity of filling! πŸ˜‰

Apart from that little slip-up, everyone seemed to enjoy the individual pies, sweet potato wedges and vegetables. For pudding we had lemon-curd biscuits, fresh fruit and homemade ice-cream. I’d been wanting to have a go at making my own ice-cream in ages and I found this recipe that just need me to whip up condensed milk, double cream and vanilla, then put it in the freezer and forget about it … until pudding time! πŸ™‚ So simple!

A few weeks ago L surprised me with this gorgeous bouquet of flowers – he knows how to make me smile! πŸ˜€

I hope to be writing again soon!

What has happened in your August?

Diamond Jubilee Tea Party!

This weekend people have been celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee all over England!

There have been massive celebrations and events over the last four days and we were given an extra bank holiday today, in addition to the normal June holiday yesterday.

I love the Queen and admire her very much and I have loved seeing the way communities have come together to celebrate our nations’ Queen 60th year of reigning as our monarch!

There have been concerts, parades, street parties, picnics, village lunches, commemorative services and gun salutes galore!

For my celebrations, I chose a wonderfully English Tea Party!

When organising things like this, I tend to leap in with a ‘all or nothing’ attitude. I get obsessed with the details, think about little tweaks and improvements even when I’m meant to be concentrating on something else, research the shops and web every couple of days, plan, plan and re-plan.

I started thinking about the tea party in March. The invitations were in the post by the middle of April.

Sadly, this didn’t stop me from becoming overcome by life and convincing myself I had two weeks preparation left … when I actually had just one … πŸ˜›

However, with the help of the wonderful man who is my husband, and the un-ending assistance of my dear friend K, who was staying that weekend, we made it to this point:

I went for a high tea theme of savouries as well as cakes.

I just had to have the traditional cucumber sandwiches and threw in a childhood favourite of Marmite and cress – yum! I was rather pleased with the mini quiches, which is something I’ve wanted to have a go at for a long time.

This wonderful cake stand – complete with coloured dots! – was a wedding present from my friend A and her husband. Doesn’t it look splendid all loaded up with sweet treats?! I was quite pleases with the sponge fancies I made – I decorated them with card-making decorations! πŸ˜‰

A made this scrummy chocolate cupcakes, which embraced the English Jubilee theme hook, line and sinker! Aren’t the decorations so cool?! I had a Big Ben!! πŸ˜€

One of my closest friends, R, baked scones and brought the essential clotted cream and jam to go with them. They were absolutely scrummy and the party would not have been complete without them!

I loved planning and setting up the details of napkins, tea cups and saucers, napkins, flowers, little decorations …

I snagged a beautiful vintage-style table-cloth from Ebay for a bargain price and dissected a wedding candle wreath to add some rose-like elegance to the setting.

All three of my sisters came, so plus my friends K, R, a and myself, we were a comfortable seven round our games-chest-come-coffee-table.

My final little thing was a favour bag, containing each girl’s favourite kind of chocolate – or as near to that as I could come! πŸ˜€

I’m so glad I threw my Jubilee Tea Party and hope that everyone who came had lots of fun!!

What did you English readers do to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee?!!

Bargains!

Today I bought a massive chicken (meant to serve about 7 people), for the bargain price of .90p (about $1.41)!!!

I snagged a second bargain too … a large duck for Β£1.60 (about $2 .51)!!

I mean, come on, what’s not to find attractive about this stunning bird?!? πŸ˜‰

And stunning is about the right word too!! I’m positive that if I’d been able to get up enough strength to swing my shopping bag with a good amount of power, (providing, of course, I’d found myself in a situation – in the ten minute walk home from the grocery store – that warranted such drastic measures …) I could easily have stunned someone with these two fine gals!! πŸ˜›

My first big worry was weather or not I was actually going to be able to fit these two fine birds in my freezer, which I filled up just last week with a huge batch of Spicy Sausage Pasta, Chicken Curry and reduced bread rolls … thankfully I discovered some utterly redundant items that made space for my latest trophies … phew!

My second, and much larger, worry is really a long-standing fear of mine …

… cooking a roast chicken dinner!

If I’m honest, I have a bit of a thing about all raw meat … due partly to growing up mostly as a vegetarian (from age 2 my Mum cooked meat from time to time but more often pre-processed as I got older, but not much and then after 12 there was no meat at all) … due also to a life-long paranoia of being sick/throwing up, which led at 14 to me refusing to eat any fish or eggs or anything else which had much of a potential to lead to food poisoning …

… Although now I eat pretty much eat anything except courgettes (zucchini), aubergines (eggplants) and any organ-related part of an animal, I’m still pretty fussy about kitchen hygiene (depending on who you ask: L and most friends put me in the paranoid category!! πŸ˜‰ ) … if I can do it without too much extra cost, I always buy pre-chopped meat, that way I have to handle that slimy raw substance as little as possible and don’t get ny chopping boards or knives “contaminated”!! πŸ˜› (and yes, I am laughing at myself and yes, you may laugh at me too!! πŸ˜‰ )

I have now cooked a roast belly of pork and two roast beef dinners, so progress has definitely been made … I don’t have any major issues with the timings or any of the other trimmings to go along side … nope, it’s just the raw joint itself … and for some reason, chicken is The Big Deal … the idea of a big, pink, cold, slimy, raw chicken just sitting there waiting for me to handle it … ‘nough said!! *Shudder*

I am, however determined, determined, to conquer this most fearsome and traditional of roasts!!! I am not going to let myself be beaten by a dead bird! No siree!! Not this girl! If at some point in the next couple of months you hear in the news about a crazed woman who has become the first person in history to take the precise study of roasting chickens to degree-level standards … that’ll be me!! πŸ˜‰

The duck in my freezer would like to be cooked in the yummiest way possible so, as I have no idea how to go about cooking a duck and no particularly firm notions about good duck/flavour combinations …

What recipes/suggestions do you have for cooking duck?!?

My apologies for the photos … right now I can’t access my own photos or take any new photos off of my camera … so here we have internet photos … !

Apples, apples, apples …

A friend from church was giving away crates of cooking apples from her garden.

My own one-person apple cooking marathon ensued…

Luke put in a special request for a spiced apple cake … rather yummy, though I do say so myself!! πŸ˜‰

After a bit of research, the purchasing of vinegar and jars, followed by lots of chopping …

… and many hours of simmering and stirring …

I ended up with six jars of Spiced Apple Chutney!

These were followed a couple of days later by four (and a half! πŸ˜› ) jars of Apple and Blackberry Jam!

These goodies (except for the apple cake, surprisingly!! πŸ˜‰ ) are now stashed in the bottom of my wardrobe (aka: cool, dark place!) to mature …

Yummy, yummy!!

I’ve received one chocolate suggestion so far – thank you! – so keep them coming!! πŸ™‚

National Chocolate Week

Today I learnt from Frugal Feeding that this next week (10th-16th October) is national Chocolate week!! Nom, nom, nom!! πŸ˜› Check out Frugal Feeding’s Chocolate Biscotti recipe for a yummy, chocolately delight!

In honour of this auspicious National Chocolate Week, I am undertaking to bake something involving chocolate … what exactly that will be, is up to you, my readers … !! Am I doing a very stupid thing here?! Yes, probably, but here we go …

Enter the recipe ofΒ  your favourite Chocolate Bake as a comment (be that cookies, brownies, cake, cheesecake, bar, pudding … ) and I will randomly select one of the recipes (maybe more, who knows?!?) to tackle!! πŸ˜› You will get to see photos of the process and photos of the result … and hear all about my hubby’s and friend’s review of the finished bake!! πŸ˜‰

Please do let me have your favourite chocolate recipes!!! πŸ˜€

And you are …?!

Over the summer I got accepted as a member of my local Youth Offending Team Panel – a long-cherished ambition of mine – and today I my second day of training … yes, that’s right, I am talking about Saturday and no, you didn’t hear me wrong when I said “day” – we’re talking 9am – 4pm here! πŸ˜‰

For someone like me, who always gets thoroughly excited about young people, youth crime and helping make their lives better, this is a wonderful – though awe-inspiring! – experience!

As well as being filled up and over-stuffed with loads of information, it is also providing about 26 or so opportunities for meeting someone new!! πŸ˜› Lot’s of new names to try to remember and lot’s of new faces to associate with the right name … lot’s of introductions and the usual set of “I’ve-never-met-you-before-how-should-I-be-relating-to-you” questions … you know, “What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do? What degree did you do? Are you married? Do you have kids? Why are you here?”

Some questions are more comfortable to answer than others and all of them are only brushing a surface picture of the outside of each of us … but that’s how it goes – this is the way we humans normally start down the road of getting to know each other.

This, along with some very welcome comments from some of my blog readers that I have never met before, has set me thinking …

Who are you?!? πŸ™‚

If you think about it, it’s kind of a little unbalanced, right? Each and every one of you know quite a bit about me now … but I know hardly anything about you!! No-fair, ok?! πŸ˜‰ There are some exceptions – some of you I know in my every day life and some I know through your own blogs – but I am getting more and more confirmation that I have mystery readers that I know nothing about!! Ooooooh mysterious!! πŸ˜€

On principle, as long as I am making you smile and, for whatever reason, you enjoy reading my blog, that’s me content! Please keep on reading, laughing and hopefully taking something positive away with you!!

I’m also thinking of running my first-ever little mini-series!!! Just incase you can’t tell, I’m super excited about this!! πŸ˜‰

Let me introduce … big fan-fair please! …

From My Front Room.

You’ve all been welcomed in over my front step, so now I would love it if some of you would like to come and take a seat on my comfy red sofa, get hold of a steaming mug of tea, munch on a piece of my warm Apple and Cinnamon Cake and share a little about yourselves …!!

I will start, by sharing the answer to some questions about myself … then it will be your turn! πŸ™‚

If you’d like to come and sit on my sofa one cosy afternoon, just email me with your name, blog home if you have one and the reason why you read my blog: alldotty atΒ  gmail dot com

I’m excited about meeting you soon!! πŸ™‚

Cupcake crazy!!

If you had stepped into my kitchen on Friday afternoon you would have found me elbow-deep in clouds of icing, splatters of cupcake batter, daubs of melted butter, dustings of flour, drops of vanilla flavouring, spoons covered in chocolate icing …

If you had stepped into my kitchen on Friday afternoon you would have found me making cupcakes!! πŸ™‚

My mission? Apart from enjoying baking something yummy, that is!! πŸ˜‰ … to bake and decorate thirty cupcakes for a friend’s wedding! What better reason could there be for a baking day?!? πŸ™‚

I’ve never been able to accomplish a large-scale baking episode without a mess to remember … I wasn’t exaggerating when I talked about spoons covered in chocolate icing, daubs of melted butter and dustings of flour … πŸ˜›

I haven’t used an electric whisk to make a cake in about three years … mostly because I didn’t have one, then because I’d got so used to not having one that I always forgot that now I did have one!! πŸ˜› As I was making a triple quantity of cake mixture, didn’t fancy beating that mountain of batter by hand and this time remembered there was an un-used electric mixer collecting dust in my cupboard … out came the mixer and my arms sang alleluia! Or at least, they would have done if arms could sing … mine haven’t mastered that skill yet!! πŸ˜‰

I’d forgotten how much I love seeing the swirls the mixer makes in the batter …

… and how glossy, light and silky the cake mix is when it’s ready to pour into the cases … wonderful!

I’d bought these cute little cupcake cases to use especially for the occasion and was kinda like a kid with them … I couldn’t wait to break open the packet get them filled with gooey chocolate mix!! πŸ˜›

Because of the quantities used in the recipe I was using, I ended up with 40 of these little beauties, rather than the 30 needed …

… oh well, who’s going to complain about a few extra cakes to go around?!? πŸ˜‰

Having use my one big bowl for the cake mixture (which was baked in batches, so not empty for ages! πŸ™‚ ), the bowls I had left to make the icing in were not big enough to use the electric mixer in … trust me, I tried … I barely managed to control the icing-sugar-explosion that threatened to bury my counter-top under a sticky mess … maybe not such a great plan!! πŸ˜‰

So it was back to the wooden spoon and aching arms we went … whoop whoop!! 😦

As a result, the frosting was not as light and fluffy as my baking-pride would have liked, but hopefully these cute little strawberry hearts made up for it … ?!?

Let’s say it did!! πŸ˜‰

T and A are the first names of the groom and the bride, so I was quite pleased with the all-chocolate version …

… although I would have gagged at the first bite with all that sweetness … let’s hope there were enough sugar-devoties out there to appreciate them!! πŸ˜› I’m not selling my baking very well, am I ?!? πŸ˜‰

The third and last flavour of frosting is my favourite!! Not only is it so simple to make, πŸ˜€ it is the best to eat!! πŸ˜‰

Cream cheese frosting … yumtastic!! Of course, it’s best on top of dense, moist carrot cake, but hey, if it comes on top of chocolate cupcakes, do you expect me to say no?!? πŸ˜›

This was also my favourite decoration …

… not surprising as sprinkles have everything to do with lots of colour, right?!? πŸ˜‰

What is your favourite kind of cupcake?!