Saturday, 31 October 2009

Happy Halloween!

The air is crisp and there is a smell of pumpkins and candle wax in the air tonight.
I love Halloween!
In America, it is a night to go haunting your neighbourhood and visit neighbours you do not get to see every day.
As you walk with your little ones, who run haphazardly up sidewalks in order to be first to the door, you recall the times when you were young and the excitement you had doing the very same things your children are now experiencing. Ah, the memories!
As an older adult, we now see our grandchildren reliving those days as our grown-up children walk with them. And so it goes.

I can recall one Halloween night I was out alone with my younger brother. We were very young - maybe 9 and 11 years old, or younger. But in those days, parents allowed kids to go out alone - it was not unsafe. Some older kids grabbed my brother's treat bag and ran off with it. He stood there in shock not being able to say a word and then when he did, he simply let out a yowl and cried.
I insisted he remain right there and ran after the kids who took it. You know what they say about adrenalin in times of need? I cannot believe how fast I ran. It was like I had the wind behind my back. I caught up with the kids, and tore the sack from their hands and ran back to my brother who was still in the exact spot I had left him.
I marvel at how I had the courage to do that. The kids were older than us and much bigger. I think I surprised them, too, and they were caught off-guard and so hadn't the reaction time to do anything about it.
Tim and I headed back home after that. We had had enough excitement for one evening.

My first year in Birmingham, we had dozens of children come calling at our door and I was thrilled to see them. I had been led to expect not-too-much in the way of ghosts and goblins, being told this tradition was not as big in the UK as it is in America.
But last year and this year, we had only a handful of children calling out, "Trick or Treat" and I am wondering if the kids who were here the 1st year are now to old to come round, or if they have moved, or if parents are too afraid to allow them out with so much bad out there these days.
I do hope the tradition continues to live on. It is so much fun for the kids and so much fun for the adults, too.

Katie carved our pumpkin for us today and we made up treat pouches just like my mom made when we were little. I didn't have the same candies in them, but the meaning is the same; traditions carried on from mother to daughter, generation to generation.
Make your traditions memorable and all the best to you, too.


Thursday, 22 October 2009

It's Alll About Me!

Welcome to Natasha's Party! She reminds us that it is important to take time out for ourselves, and I will write more about this theme another time as I would like to elaborate upon it, but for now, a huge "THANK YOU" to Natasha for inspiring us to do a little something for ourselves.

Well, maybe it is only partly about me! I can't get used to the idea of bragging on myself, so-to-speak.
Oh the plans were in the works after reading Natasha Burns idea to host a party featuring the things we said we would do by today.
Well, for me, that meant wait until the last minute because naturally other things came first.

Because I had said I would join the party, I was in a panic yesterday.
No, the stairs were not refinished as I had thought they would be. The day I had set aside to work on the stairs was taken by an emergency and then never got replaced. But the chair - oh that darned chair - it was staring at me throughout all of the six weeks we had been given to complete our projects and still went untouched.
So yesterday I began my work in earnest.

This is the chair that needs attention . . .
In this picture it is all clean and ready to go.

I scrubbed the chair and set it to dry in front of the fire.
I plodded through mounds of fabric to determine which I would select for the cushion.
I chose a vintage cotton chintz that would look nice with the paint colour.

Then looked at the paint I had on hand.
Then today, bright and early, I set about some light sanding and some final cleaning before I began the process of painting the chair.

Farrow and Ball Traditional Paint

The chair has been painted, and the sewing has commenced, but alas, I have failed the challenge as my chair is not yet complete.
I will continue working on it later tonight and add photographs of the progress.
Then I will visit your little websites and have a look at what all of you have managed to complete. I can't wait! It is so exciting!
More to come . . .

Addendum: Well, the best plans are well . . . stopped! LOL!
Oh the mistakes I have made on the chair's cushion!
You can see from the image above that I had cut out shaped, fitted cushion covers. My intention was to make a proper fitted cushion cover complete with piping.
But since this is a rather low sitting chair, I wanted to try to raise it up a bit. So I figured that padding the springs first would be a good idea, and then, topping that with my lovely cushion.

Umm, well, that didn't work out visually, although it did make the chair oh so comfortable to sit upon! With the added height, the cushion looked awkward and too high on the seat, so I have decided to scrap that idea and just wrap the cover instead.
I haven't done it yet, well not to any sort of professional-looking product, anyway, but I have taken a photo to show you how it will look, (even if a bit frumpy right now) when it is completed.
At least this way you can see the paint, too!
I am off now to have a look at your lovely creations and to be inspired!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

German Potato Salad - Warm Comfort Food for Autumn

There's a chill in the air and some mornings reveal a icy coating of frost on the grass these days.
It can only mean one thing: Autumn is here and with it, comes the warm comfort food we love.

Today I discovered some bacon near its sell-by date and decided it was time to make some German Potato Salad. If you have never had it, but if you like the sweet and sour sauces, you will love this simple, delicious dish.
There are only three main ingredients: potatoes, bacon, & onions, so you will probably have them in your larder right now.
You will also need some corn starch (corn flour), cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.

It is a simple recipe but with many steps so it does take some time to complete.
If you don't have a lot of time, all in one go, then simply cook your bacon today and finish the rest tomorrow. But make sure to save the frying pan in which you cooked the bacon - including the bits - don't wash it!
Also, this dish is perfect to make ahead one day to give the flavours time to all blend together, so it works well for company. Simply reheat it on very low heat or place it in a slow cooker.
I will place the recipe at the bottom of this post and show you how it's made beginning here.
Mine came out superbly today - I do hope yours will, too!

Chop the onions and set aside.
Mix about 2 tablespoons of cornflour with some water to make a thin paste and set aside.

Select some new potatoes or salad potatoes to use. Waxy ones work best.
Scrub and remove eyes and imperfections. (I leave the skin on but you can remove it all if you wish)
Boil until just barely done - 'al dente' so-to-speak - they continue cooking even after the heat is off so it is best to remove them from the water and the heat once they have finished cooking.
The reason for keeping them as firm as can be is so that later they don't break apart in the sauce. It is really difficult to get it right so if they are over done, don't worry about it, they will still taste fine.
Place the potatoes to cool in a colander and rinse out the pan they cooked in.

Once cool, you can either slice the potatoes or cut them into quarters to have ready to mix in the sauce in the last step.

While the potatoes are boiling, cook your bacon. Place the pieces to drain on paper towels.
Cool your pan when finished cooking the bacon and pour away most of the fat from the pan, being careful to keep the bottom coated with a little bit of it.

Place the bacon pan back on the stove and warm it up again. Put the chopped onions into it and simmer until they are translucent.
Break up the cooked bacon and add the bits to the sauteed onions. Stir well.

Now pour the vinegar into the pan with the onions and bacon and bring to a boil, stirring all the time and cleaning the wee bits off the bottom of the pan with the vinegar/sugar mixture.

Pour the contents into the larger pan in which you cooked the potatoes.

Add the water and bring to a boil.

Add some cornflour paste you made earlier, a little bit at a time, until the mixture thickens.
Once it reaches a sauce-like consistency, and is boiling again, stir constantly for at least one minute before reducing the heat to a slow simmer. It is important to do this stirring/boiling for a minimum of one minute to eliminate the starchy taste from the cornflour.

This is another tricky bit: how do you know when the sauce is too thick or too thin?
It is impossible to get it perfect every time, but what I find that helps is to watch the side of your pan. If the sauce you are stirring seems to coat the side of your pan, it will also coat the potatoes, too. You can see this in the picture, below.

Add the quartered/sliced potatoes to the sauce. Stir and heat through being careful not to have the stove heat on too high and burn the mixture. It is finished! Yeah!

Some comments:
  • I never use as many onions as the recipe calls for although it will not hurt if you do as they cook down and look so much less once cooked than they do when you are chopping them!
  • I use less bacon - here in the UK I use two packs or 16 slices. I have made it with the full 2 lbs in the past though and it is really nice!
  • I have been trying to cut back on sugar so I reduce the sugar in the recipe to 1 1/2 cups and it seems to not affect the outcome in the slightest.
  • I always use cider vinegar as that is what I was taught to use. Experimenting with other vinegars might be good or bad - not really sure!

And now for the recipe:
Betty's German Potato Salad (from my sister, Elizabeth Schmidt)

2 lbs of bacon, cut up and fried

4 pounds of potatoes (approximate)

2-4 tablespoons cornstarch (approximate)

Some water to mix with the cornstarch to make a paste

3-4 baseball sized onions, minced/chopped

1 cup cider vinegar

2 cups sugar

1 cup water


Fry bacon, set aside to drain on paper towels

Toss out the bacon fat, reserving about 1 tablespoon of bacon grease (fat) in the same pan it was cooked in

Mix cornstarch and water to form a thick syrup in the mug; not too thick, not too thin

Boil peeled potatoes until just done – not so done that they fall apart and not so undone that they are still hard – sort of al dente potatoes!

Drain immediately and set aside to cool


Fry minced onions in the bacon pan with grease until soft and translucent

Keep temp up on the pan so it is really hot and add the vinegar, stirring until it cleans off all of the lovely bacon bits from around the pan

Add sugar

Add water

Stir all of it together until it is boiling

Add cornstarch mixture, a little at a time, stirring all the time until it thickens

(it will continue to thicken as it cools so not too thick at this stage)

Once the mixture returns to a full boil, stir for a minimum of one full minute and remove from heat

Set aside

Combine it all together:

Slice potatoes or cube them – whichever you prefer

Place in large pot and cover with the sauce mixture

Stir well and enjoy!