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Brigid, Creativity and Almond Crescent Cookies...

Feast of Brigid Imbolc Offering

Feast of Brigid Imbolc Offering

One of the most wonderful things about children is their pure creative spirit. They draw, sing, write, dance, play make believe and create just for the sheer pleasure of it. Watching them in action you can see just how immersed they become in whatever they are doing. They don’t concern themselves with what other people think. They don’t worry about whether what they are doing will eventually reap financial rewards. They don’t have doubts around what they create – they proudly give their pictures to their parents to stick on the fridge or they show off their latest dance routines for their grandparents. For them it is all about having fun and getting lost in that magical moment of creativity.

I long for those moments in my adult life. Now I am too self conscious to dance in public. There is no amount of money that would get to me to sing out loud for anyone. My husband (an art teacher) recently signed me up to a local college life drawing class. Already I am worrying about other people seeing – and judging – my work. Today I have decided to banish these negative thoughts from my mind and to be more supportive of myself. I realized it’s time to nurture my creative spirit and have some fun!

Today is Imbolc the feast day of Brigid, the Goddess of Art and Healing. She has a particularly strong connection to writers, poets, storytellers and metal workers (smithcraft) as well to those who practice the healing arts. Although today is Her feast day she is watching over us all the time. If ever we need clarity, support or inspiration all we need to do is ask for Her guidance. Lighting candles or using specially blended Aromatherapy oils while sitting in quiet reflection can help connect us with Her powerful energy.

There are other ways to connect with Brigid and celebrate Her presence in our lives. Don’t wait for Imbolc to come around again – start today and remind yourself how wonderful it is to lose yourself in the magic of creativity!

• Write! Write! Write! Poems, short stories, songs or letters to friends and family. Just put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) the main thing is getting your words onto paper.

• Consider crafts. Have you ever thought about taking up knitting, scrapbooking, decoupage or crochet? There are so many different types of crafts out there to explore and have fun with.

• Listen to some of your favourite music (you may even be tempted to kick up your heels and have a dance around the house)

• Sing. Sing a song. Sing it loud. You get the picture! You don’t have to do this in front of an audience. Just do it for yourself and to express yourself through your own voice.

• Find inspiration in nature. Get outside for a walk. Breathe in the fresh air, listen to the birdsong and let your mind drift.

• Draw. Doodle. Colour in. Have some fun with pretty coloured pencils, pens or paints. When you’re done – stick it on the fridge!

• Get in your kitchen and bake!

The kitchen was my first port of call this morning. I found this recipe for Almond Crescent Cookies which I was eager to try. I set up a little altar by the hearth and left some of the cookies and a small glass of Cointreau out as a thank you to Brigid (and my ever so helpful house fairy). I sat for a few minutes and thought carefully about everything I want to achieve in the upcoming months as well as those things I need to let go of. Now I am going out for a walk. I feel the need to listen to birdsong and walk off the 4 cookies I just ate. They really are tasty!

I wish each and every one of you a happy and magical Imbolc.

Here is the recipe courtesy of Squidoo.com

Almond Crescent Cookies for Imbolc

Ingredients:

• 1 cup finely chopped almonds (or other nuts) (I used ½ cup almonds and ½ cup walnuts)

• 2 sticks (1 cup) softened unsalted butter

• 3/4 cup powdered sugar plus extra for coating

• 2 teaspoons vanilla (I used 1tsp vanilla extract and 1 tsp almond extract)

• 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

• Lightly grease two cookie sheets.

• In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until well blended. Add in the 3/4-cup powdered sugar and beat until combined. Add vanilla and almonds and stir until blended. Add the 2 cups flour gradually while stirring. At this point, you will have to knead it until well blended with your hands.

• Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to make the dough easier to handle.

• Shape the dough into crescent shapes (see picture) using 1 tablespoon at a time. To make it easier, roll into a string shape first and then shape into a crescent. Place onto cookie sheets and bake for 12-16 minutes until the edges are slightly browned.

• Remove from oven and let cookies stand for a couple minutes until firm enough to remove from the sheet. Remove from the cookie sheet and place onto a rack. Let them cool for 10 minutes. Sift the extra powdered sugar over the cookies for the topping and let cool completely.

• If you want to skip the crescent shaping process, just roll them into tablespoon-sized balls and bake the same as above. When the balls have cooled for 10 minutes, roll them in powdered sugar to coat evenly and let cool. You can also skip the nuts in case of possible allergy. They will simply taste like delicious shortbread.

Enjoy!

Almond Crescent Cookies for Imbolc

Almond Crescent Cookies for Imbolc

Zucchini: The Magic Ingredient For A Sweet Scrumpt...

Zucchini or courgette is what is known as a summer squash. It has a lighter texture and more delicate flavour then some of the heavier winter squashes. Looking like a greener more rugged cucumber the zucchini is an incredibly versatile vegetable.

Zucchini The Magic Ingredient

Zucchini The Magic Ingredient

They can be eaten steamed, grilled, baked or fried. They can be stuffed. They can be grated into pasta. They are also wonderful additions to stews and curries. For me one of the tastiest ways to use zucchini is in baking.

This recipe for zucchini bread is one of my tried and true all time favourites. It is moist, not too sweet and goes very well with a hot cup of tea. The addition of walnuts adds a little extra kitchen witch magic! This really is a very simple recipe and kids will love it. It’s a great way to get them to eat some veggies!

If you’ve never tried it – give it a go. You will never see a zucchini in the same way again!

Luna Raye’s Recipe For Magical Scrumptious Zucchini Bread

Ingredients

3 eggs

1 cup canola oil (I didn’t have enough for this batch and used ¾ canola and ¼ olive oil)

2 cups white sugar

2 cups grated zucchini

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups all purpose flour

3 teaspoons all spice

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup chopped walnuts (I have alternated this with ½ cup fresh blueberries in the past)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 165 degrees C (or 325 degrees F)

Grease two 8×4 inch loaf tins

In a large bowl beat the eggs until they are light and frothy

Gradually mix in the oil and sugar

Stir in the grated zucchini and the vanilla

In a separate bowl combine the flour, all spice, baking soda, baking powder, salt and chopped walnuts (NOTE: if using blueberries instead of walnuts mix them in with the wet ingredients)

Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly

Divide the batter into the prepared bread tins

Bake for approx 60 – 70 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centre, comes out clean.

I cover the loaves with tinfoil about ¾ of the way through cooking to make sure they don’t brown too much on top.

Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Slice it up and enjoy with a cup of tea and a good book!

Zucchini Loaves

Zucchini Loaves

Zucchini Bread

Enjoy with a cup of tea and a good book

Mum’s Marvellous Muffins: A healthy snack and a ...

Well I have been back from Australia for just over 5 weeks now and I am still trying to get myself settled back into a daily routine. Fortunately Nutmeg hasn’t been having the same problems. Once we picked her up from the cattery and brought her home she hopped straight up onto the sofa wanting nose rubs and cuddles. All seems to be forgiven – which when dealing with cats is a good thing, however I am still sleeping with one eye open – just in case!

The time spent with my parents was very special. My husband and I spent time in Sydney, Brisbane and Airlie beach. There were some wonderful trips to nature reserves where we saw some amazing (if not slightly terrifying) wildlife. We also helped my parents move house which was an adventure in and of itself. There were restaurant visits of course but what we really enjoyed was cooking together and sharing our meals at the dining room table.

While my Dad and husband were in charge of making cocktails and occasionally throwing something on the barbeque, it was my Mum and I that did the majority of the cooking. She shared many wonderful recipes with me – some were old favourites that I hadn’t had since I was a child. Others like this muffin recipe were new to me.

I have to say this muffin recipe is one of my favourites and I have made them several times since arriving back in the UK. They are so simple to make and are perfect for breakfast or as a healthy snack during the day. They are nothing like the ’cake’ style muffins we get here in the UK and I am delighted. If I wanted cake I would eat it – but muffins should taste like muffins!

So here it is, my Mum’s Marvellous Muffin Recipe.

Ingredients:

2 ½ Cup of Raisin Bran Cereal

¼ Cup All Bran Cereal

5 dried apricots chopped in large chunks (one apricot chopped into 3 pieces works well)

5 dates chopped (same as the apricots I like to chop each date into 3 large pieces)

¼ Cup walnuts

¼ Cup dried blueberries OR cranberries

1 ½ Cup of low fat milk (I actually use 2%)

2 ½ tbsp of Oil (you can use vegetable oil or canola)

1 egg

1 ¼ Cup self raising flour

¼ Cup brown sugar

3 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp dried ginger

¼ tsp nutmeg (the magic ingredient!)

(You can also add wheat germ or any other nuts or dried fruits you like. I did use fresh blueberries which also worked well. It made the muffins really moist)

Directions

Heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Grease the bottom of 12 medium sized muffin tins (or see my Mum’s Top Tip below)

Mix the Raisin Bran and All Bran in a large bowl and slowly add the milk.

Let this stand until the cereal has softened (about 5 minutes)

Muffin Mixture After Adding Milk

Muffin Mixture After Adding Milk

Gradually beat in the oil and egg.

Mix the remaining ingredients (including the flour) in a separate bowl and gently stir into the cereal and milk mixture.

Mix until everything is just moistened.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove muffins and place on cooling rack.

Enjoy for breakfast with some fruit yoghurt on the side or in the afternoon with a cup of tea!

Top Tip

Greasing muffin tins is not only messy but it adds unnecessary calories to your cooking.

I have never felt comfortable cooking with parchment paper but my Mum showed me a really easy way to use it.

Cut some squares of parchment paper (I use 4 inches by 4 inches)

Fold the paper over the end of an upturned glass (my Mum used a can of olive oil spray)

Top Tip For Lining A Muffin Tin

Top Tip For Lining A Muffin Tin

You get a nice little ‘cup’ of paper that neatly slots into your muffin tin.

Getting The Muffin Tins Ready

Getting The Muffin Tins Ready

Carefully spoon the batter into each cup.

Mum's Marvellous Muffins About To Go In The Oven

Mum's Marvellous Muffins About To Go In The Oven

Once the muffins are cooked the parchment paper peels off really easily.

There was no mess and no fuss!

Mum's Marvellous Muffins

Mum's Marvellous Muffins

Scones: A Sweet Sunday Treat....

I woke up this morning with a craving for scones and an urge to bake. The sun was streaming in the windows and the birds were singing loudly, it just seemed like the perfect morning to get in the kitchen and chuck some flour about the place. My husband has a love/ hate relationship with my baking. While he always appreciates the final product, it’s my somewhat haphazard approach (mainly my wild handling of flour) that offends his delicate Virgo sensibilities and his need for a completely spotless kitchen.

When I mentioned scones I could hear the slight tremble of fear in his voice. To be honest it’s been so hot here that I almost didn’t feel energetic enough to make anything and I certainly didn’t want to clean flour off the kitchen counter, walls and floor (I really am a messy cook!).

Fortunately I found a very simple scone recipe that is minimum fuss (and mess). It is courtesy of the BBC Food website and you can find it here.

One big problem I had was that I only had plain flour in my cupboard and the recipe calls for self-raising. I wanted the scones so much that I decided to chance it – I just added a generous teaspoon of baking powder (plus a dash of wishful thinking). I was also feeling creative so I decided to add some cinnamon and raisins to the mixture as well.

These scones are great as they don’t take long to bake at all – approximately 12–15 minutes. So by the time was husband wandered sleepily out of the bedroom the scones were made and on the wire rack cooling and the tea was steeping in the pot. There wasn’t even flour on the kitchen floor, which is saying something.

O.K so they didn’t rise very much but they were very light and moist. The cinnamon came through nicely and combined well with the raspberry jam I served on the side. The raisins added some nice texture as well as additional sweetness. They went down very well with a pot of Clipper Everyday Tea and a morning episode of Burn Notice.

In case you can’t access the link, here is the recipe I used for the scones. It’s from the very helpful BBC Food website

Scones

Preparation time: less than 30 minutes

Cooking time: 10 to 30 minutes

Makes 8-12 scones

Scones are the easiest English teatime treat. There’s scope to customise these sweet ones with dried fruit or cinnamon.

Ingredients

• 225g/8oz self raising flour

• pinch of salt

• 55g/2oz butter

• 25g/1oz caster sugar

• 150ml/5fl oz milk

Preparation method

1. Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

2. Mix together the flour and salt and rub in the butter.

3. Stir in the sugar and then the milk to get a soft dough.

4. Turn on to a floured work surface and knead very lightly. Pat out to a round 2cm/¾in thick. Use a 5cm/2in cutter to stamp out rounds and place on a baking sheet. Lightly knead together the rest of the dough and stamp out more scones to use it all up.

5. Brush the tops of the scones with a little milk. Bake for 12-15 minutes until well risen and golden.

6. Cool on a wire rack and serve with butter and good jam and maybe some clotted cream.

Cinnamon and Raisin Scones on the Cooling Rack.

Scones A Sunday Treat

Best Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies In The World!!...

Well it’s that dreaded time of year…. tax time! Tonight I will be sorting through receipts and paperwork which isn’t the best way to spend a Friday night. So, to make the task more enjoyable I have made some chocolate chip cookies.

I am not much of a baker but this recipe for the best big fat chewy chocolate chip cookies is quick, simple and foolproof.

Some top tips for extra chewiness;

  • After mixing the wet and dry ingredients allow the mixture to rest for at least 45 minutes to an hour. This allows the hot melted butter to cool.
  • Half way through baking take the cookies out and bang the oven tray once on a heat proof surface before placing back in the oven for the remainder of the cooking time.

When making these I like to substitute half the chocolate chips for some chopped walnuts or pecans .

If you like cookies then give these a go – they are simply delicious! Now to put the kettle on, I think it’s going to be a long night!

Organizing Your Weekly Shop....

Saturday is the day we normally do our weekly shop. It’s a good day to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables as there is farmers market nearby. For the other bits and pieces we need we visit our local supermarket.

During the week I make a note of items that need to be restocked. This helps to make sure I don’t forget anything (believe me I need all the help I can get!). I also always check that I have the ingredients for some simple no fuss suppers. Things like;

Pasta: for macaroni and cheese or another simple pasta dish.

Butter Beans or Pot Barley: for soup.

Rice: for egg fried rice.

Baked Brown Beans: for beans on toast.

Self Raising Flour and chocolate chips: for easy bake cookies.

I also like to research at least 2 new recipes and buy the ingredients for them. That way we have the option of either cooking something new OR  if we are feeling tired we can put together something tasty and homemade very quickly.

One of the recipes I am going to make this week is from All Recipes. It’s for a wonderful looking dessert – Lemon Possets.

I will let you know how they turn out!

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients

750ml (1¼ pints) double cream

200g (7 oz) caster sugar

3 lemons, juiced

3 tablespoons additional double cream to serve

Preparation

In a saucepan over medium high heat, stir together 750ml cream and sugar. Bring to the boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Pour into serving glasses and refrigerate until set, about 5 hours. Pour a little more cream over the tops just before serving.

Banana Bread: Old Favourite, New Favourite!...

I know we are already well into the New Year but I am still recovering from all the fuss and general craziness of the holiday season. During the holidays I was able to spend a bit more time in the kitchen trying out different recipes and experimenting with some new kitchen gadgets.  However, I was so caught up in exploring the new and different that I neglected a few things in my kitchen.

The main casualty of my neglect was a bunch of bananas which were almost at the point of no return. Not wanting to waste them, I found myself going back to one of my all time favourite recipes – Banana Bread.

Banana Bread is one of the easiest things to make. What is so wonderful is that you can have it just as it is OR you can jazz it up a bit if you want. Here are just some of the things I love to add to a basic Banana Bread recipe:

  • Chopped Walnuts or Pecans
  • Fresh Blueberries or Raspberries (you can also use frozen)
  • Grated Courgette (Zucchini)
  • Grated Carrot
  • Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips

For this particular recipe – which is a low fat version – my husband and I decided to add 2 Heaping Tablespoons of Un-Sweetened Coco Powder and approximately 9 Glace Cherries cut into quarters. We also used a spring form cake tin rather than a loaf tin. The results were simply amazing and ok we confess… not as low fat as it could have been. However it was absolutely divine with a cup of tea and an episode of Columbo.

I found the recipe on the following site; lowfatcooking.about.com, which is brilliant. Have a go with the recipe as it is – or add a little something extra. Then sit back, relax and enjoy!

For low fat banana bread recipe click here

I have also written out the recipe below.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened or 1/4 cup trans-fat free shortening
  • 2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 small bananas)
  • 1/3 cup plain fat-free yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spoon flour gently into measuring cups and level with a knife. Stir flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Put aside. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat at low speed with a mixer until well blended. Add one egg at a time and blend well after each one. Add in mashed banana, yogurt and vanilla extract, beat until blended. Add flour mixture and blend until just moist. Do not over-mix. Spray an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Pour batter into pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean). Remove from pan after 10 minutes or so and cool on a wire rack.

Yield: one loaf, 14 slices.