Sunday, 31 January 2016

Laughing together and crying alone

 'Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone,' was often heard while I was growing up, my mum would often say this. For a long time I thought she meant that if you were happy and laughing then everyone else would like to join in with you but if you felt sad it was better if you went away in a quiet corner somewhere until you felt more cheerful, like it's not fair to show other people your sadness. My job was to be cheerful.
 The other day though I happened to come across this poem that she must have been quoting from and I  thought maybe it has a different more negative meaning. Other people aren't interested in your sad state. I know I am very grateful to those friends that let me get things of my chest every now and then. The ones that don't abandon you when you go through a bad patch, that like being with you whatever the weather.

The poem is called 'Solitude' by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, (1850 - 1919)

Laugh, and the world laughs with you,
weep, and you weep alone.
for sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer,
Sigh, it is lost on the air,
the echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you,
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many,
be sad, and you lose them all,
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life's gall.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Oatmeal Cookies dipped in chocolate

These cookies are so easy to make and are actually good for you, because they contain oats which help steady blood sugar, of course there is some sugar and butter as well and they are even better dipped in melted chocolate, but.. there are the oats! Make them today for the weekend , they keep well in an airtight container for up to a week.

Oatmeal Chocolate Cookies

125g butter
125g self -raising flour
125g light brown sugar
125g oats
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tbsp golden syrup
125g melted chocolate

Heat the oven to 180 and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

In a large bowl mix together the sugar,flour, oats and bicarbonate of soda.
Melt the butter and golden syrup together over a low heat in a small saucepan and add to the dry ingredients and mix well.
Divide the mixture into about 16 balls and lay them on the baking tray, then flatten them a little with a spoon.
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until golden then cool for about ten minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Melt the chocolate over a very low heat and then use to decorate the biscuits.

Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack so the chocolate hardens before serving.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

One last batch of Mince pies

Making Mince Pies on a lovely afternoon.

My cousin always eats a mince pie every day over the Festive season to bring good luck for the year ahead, sort of like 'a mince pie a day keeps the doctor away.'  So I follow her example. Then for the rest of the year, no mince pies until December. Today though I noticed an opened jar of mincemeat in the fridge and thought no way could that keep fresh for another eleven months, so just the thing to do on a cold January afternoon is to make one last batch of mince pies.
 Just for a change I tried a different type of pastry and it gave them a new year flavour.

January Mince pies

200g plain flour
25g cornflour
25g icing sugar
pinch of salt
150g butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1 - 2 tbsps. cold water
milk for brushing

Heat the oven to 170 c
Sieve the plain flour, cornflour, salt and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl and add the butter cut in cubes. Gently rub in the butter using your finger tips until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs.
Add the egg yolk and the cold water and mix together quickly using a cold knife. Flour your hands and form a ball.
Sprinkle some flour on the table and then gently roll out the dough to 3mm thick and then cut out 12 circles and 12 star shapes using a pastry cutter.
Butter a tartlet tray and then line them with a round shape.
Put a teaspoon of mince meat into each pastry case.
Brush the edges with milk and top with a star shape.
Brush with more milk and then bake for 15 - 20 minutes until golden brown.
remove from the oven and let cool for about ten minutes and then using a knife gently ease them out of the tartlet tray and cool on a wire rack.
Dust with icing sugar to serve.

Just the thing for a cold winter afternoon.
Everything at the ready

Rolling out the pastry is always fun

Cooling down while the waters boiling for the tea

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Banana Bread for a speedy breakfast

I used to think the words to this song went like this, 'Highly deadly black banana'.....

Banana bread is a perfect breakfast for people in a hurry in the morning and a perfect way to use those bananas that have lost their appeal and are lurking in the fruit bowl.
This is an easy recipe and keeps well, it can also be sliced and then wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen in plastic freezer bags.

100g butter, at room temperature
100g brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
3 or 4 bananas, mashed with a fork
45ml yoghurt
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)
3 - 4 dates, rinsed and chopped
40g chopped walnuts.

Heat the oven to 180 and butter and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
Beat the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon until creamy.
Add the egg and beat until smooth.
Add the mashed bananas and the yoghurt.

Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and cinnamon if using and gradually beat into the banana mixture.
Stir in the chopped dates and walnuts and then pour into the prepared loaf tin.
Bake for about an hour or until a cocktail stick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Turn onto a wired tray to cool, decorate with chopped walnuts.
Spread the slices with butter if liked.

All ready to start

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

There's something about a snowdrop

Here is my poem about looking for signs that Spring will soon be here.

Looking for Snowdrops

There's something about a snowdrop
That lifts my spirits high
It surely is a sign
That winter's passing by.

There is a lot beauty
In a rosy, frosty dawn
Sparkling ice around a lake
Snow sprinkled on the lawn.

Hot chocolate sitting by the fire
Cappuccino in a bar
Walking home in darkness,
Guided by a star.

For Winter is an empress
Dressed in fur so white
Her jewels are silver icicles
And golden stars at night.

But after months of long dark nights
We start to look around
For the signs that Spring is on the way
Right there upon the ground.

Among the dry, brown Autumn leaves
That haven't blown away
The brave and graceful snowdrop
Says Spring is on the way.

By Angie

Here is another poem about the snowdrop written by William Wordsworth:-

To a Snowdrop, William Wordsworth

Lone flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they,
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise!
Blue-eyed may
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Best Ever Brownie Recipe

Brownies are a special American treat. They are not biscuits, cookies or cakes, they are brownies. they have a unique texture, a bit squidgy in the middle, not too crisp or dry, just right. Everyone has their own special Brownie recipe and the best ones are often safely guarded family secret recipes. After a lot of trial and error to get the perfect squidginess this is mine, I hope you like it.

Angie's Brownies

150g chocolate
3 eggs, lightly beaten
250g sugar
150g butter
100g plain flour
vanilla essence

Heat the oven to 180.
Line a 20cm square cake tin with greaseproof paper.
Melt the chocolate and the butter in a saucepan over very low heat.
Remove from the heat and quickly mix in the beaten eggs then the sugar and lastly the flour and the vanilla essence.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes.
Let cool completely in the tin and then cut into 16 squares.
Leave over night if possible and then serve dusted with icing sugar.

Friday evening is the best time to make these Brownies. They will only improve over the weekend and you will be able to share them with friends and family because otherwise you may regret having made them by Monday morning.

Beat well until thick and glossy.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Beautiful Voice of Professor Llewellyn

When a friend of mine told me that she had written a book I was full of admiration and in awe and couldn't wait to read it. So here it is, my review of a wonderful heart warming book written by a friend.

The Beautiful Voice of Professor Llewllyn

Elaine Fitzgerald- Burrowes

From the first page I was hooked. I immediately warmed to the main character Phil, a widow struggling to bring up three children with love and good humour. The children are beautifully described and I found myself cheering them all on and caring about what was going to happen.
Phil has a larger than life best friend called Maisie who adds light relief and is someone we would all like to have as a friend.

The beautiful voice of the title belongs to a retired Welsh professor who is also
widowed and moves into the house opposite Phil. Romance seems round the corner
and the only fly in the ointment is the professor's daughter Megan.

I do not want to ruin the story for you so here I will quote from the cover of the book which sums up the story so well.

A contemporary novel that will have you laughing, crying and cheering from the sidelines.
It explores the complexities of two families coming together and the ups and downs of finding love in later life.
It also takes on a serious and psychological element too, and sheds a much-needed spotlight into how a family member's mental health issues can impact on and threaten a blossoming romance.

You can order the book on Amazon or download on kindle.

Mental health is now often rightly considered in the same way as physical health, something that needs looking after and in the book there is an acknowledgment.

St.Patrick's University Hospital Dublin (founded with money left by Dean Jonathan Swift in his will in 1745) has been innovatively and tirelessly working to break down the barriers of stigma around mental illness and empowering people across Ireland with mental health difficulties to speak up and seek help through their walk in my shoes campaign.

So make yourself a cup of hot chocolate and settle down for a heart warming read with Elaine Fitzgerald-Burrowes first book and then look out for the next two due out this year.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Welcome Visitors

When my son was three we went for a whole year without seeing my parents. A year is a long time when you're three, a third of his life. It wasn't like it is now with Skype, cheap phone calls, facetime, he just had to rely on me talking about them to keep his interest and feel their love.
When eventually they came to see us having driven for two days my son was shy, holding back and unsure,holding back. My mum, his grandma smiled at him and spoke with her gentle voice, 'We've driven a long way to see you.' That was all it took for him to rush to her arms and give her a big squeeze. He knew that of someone had come on a journey to see him it must mean they care for him.
A dear friend of mine wrote me a text saying that friends are important and precious but they need nurturing. When you are already fond of someone all the technology available to us keeps the flame alive, because it can go out, be aware.

When visitors come to see you from afar it is surely a sign that they care for your company.
As you await their arrival you might give your house an extra thorough clean, get out your best plates, make something special keep your diary free for them. Then you might start worrying if they will like the food you've prepared, the bed that you've made for them, the other friends that you introduce them to. When they've gone you might feel a bit at a loss, feel melancholy, so you cheer yourself up by watching a funny film or going for a walk.
What will stay in your heart though will be their smiles, their laughter and the fact that they wanted to be with you so much that they made a journey all the way to see you.

Wishing you all a happy new year with friends that care.

Friends run together

Monday, 11 January 2016

Romance in the ordinary

You're a pink toothbrush, I'm a blue toothbrush, romance in the ordinary.

I've got a friend who likes to do things properly. The napkin on the left side of your plate, that sort of thing. In Italian it's called Galateo, in English etiquette.
She tells me that there are even rules as to how you put in toilet paper, and this made me remember how it felt to be six again. For then I would look at toilet paper and try and decide if I preferred it to look like a princess or a bride, I'm not joking, I gave it a lot of thought, not because of what should be proper but because of what looked nicer. In Britain the princess is the official correct way to hang toilet paper if you're interested.

Seeing romance in ordinary objects must be quite common though because there was a song about two toothbrushes falling in love when I was a little girl and so I wasn't alone with my princess toilet roll.

My toothbrush fancies your toothbrush

Princess or Bride?

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Life is a Minestrone

Anyone who grew up in the seventies might recognize the title of my post. It was a song by a group called 10CC.

Regular readers of my blog will have often seen recipes for soups and know that  Minestrone is a big soup and that I like making soups.
It is a bit like life isn't it?  It's good to have the basic ingredients, and someone to share them with.


 Mid Winter Minestrone. Serves 2

2 carrots,
1 leek
1 red onion
half a pumpkin

Wash and peel and chop all the vegetables.
Place them in a large saucepan with some olive oil.
Cover the saucepan and cook over a low heat for about 20 minutes stirring every so often until soft. This makes sure the flavours develop.

At this stage add whatever seasonings you feel like, saffron, curry powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Some days you might like some ummph and on others just happy with a sprinkling of .salt and pepper. Maybe you could add a dash of the brandy that you bought to flame the Christmas pudding or some tabasco.

By trial and error you will make a minestrone that suits your taste and brings joy to those around you.

When you are happy with the flavour add some hot water and continue cooking over a low heat for another twenty minutes. If liked you can add a tin of beans or chick peas at this stage and a handful of pasta shapes.

Serve your minestrone with crusty bread and grated cheese and a swirl of olive oil.

Buon anno nuovo and Buon appetite.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Eating Lentils for Good Luck

How often do we eat things mainly because they are good for us?

 Many of us must have chomped our way through childhood trying to swallow green things because they clear the blood and scoffed porridge because it lines the stomach to keep out the cold, had an apple a day to keep the doctor away and limited our intake of chocolate and sweets

 There is so much information about what is good for us we just don't know what to believe. It is used to be easy, a little bit of everything, every meal should contain some protein, some carbohydrate a little fat, 2 portions of vegetables and some fruit.

After a conversation about how mushrooms are full of toxins, or flour is made with ash people usually shrug and say we should just eat a little of everything, not too much of anything and variety is the spice of life.

On the first day of the year in Italy the traditional menu makes you glad it only comes round once a year.
 It was a great surprise to me in the land of lasagne and spaghetti, but you see it is all about what is good for you and what will bring you luck.

You shouldn't eat chicken because they scratch in such a way that they disperse everything, instead pigs are favoured because they keep things close to them, and lentils, lots and lots of lentils.

Lentils in Italy on the first of January are eaten to bring good luck.

I was asked to take lentils to a New Year's day party.

So I bought a packet of lentils and soaked them overnight.

Next day finely chop a carrot and an onion and cook gently in a small amount of olive oil

Add the drained lentils and stir. Continue cooking over a low heat and then add a small glass of white wine, salt and pepper. Stir again and the add hot water and simmer gently for about 2 hours until they are nice and soft, adding more water if necessary.

My lentils were happily received at the party and used to accompany the cotechino which is a sort of pork sausage, and brings luck. It does not seem to be eaten at any other time of year.

I had made so many lentils that my hostess suggested that I pureed the rest to make a nice creamy soup, which I did, but it looked rather unappealing and so I added olive oil, black pepper and croutons.

Lentils are nutritious and full of iron and potassium and soluble fibre, but tomorrow I think I might make lasagne.
Start the new year with lentils

Lentils are traditionally in Italy to accompany cotechino, along with sauerkraut

Simmer gently for two hours

Remember to soak the lentils if necessary