Sunday 29 December 2013

What Makes A Perfect Christmas?

It takes beautiful decorations. ~

With last minute decorating client calls to do their homes, mine was nowhere near done.  No blog posts could be written to show the clever ideas I had all worked out in my head.

A white Christmas is wonderful unless storm after storm makes the roads treacherous and shopping for gifts difficult. ~

I didn't see the beauty, just the difficulties that it presented.

A trip to the market to pick up the fresh, organic turkey I ordered brought the news that my order was the only one lost.  Ekes!  I could be mean and give them a hard time about it, but they were obviously terrified to tell me.  I shrugged and asked what alternative they suggested. They offered to give me all the parts of a fresh turkey, unassembled, but that was a bit too Frankenstein for me. Instead, they gave me a frozen, organic turkey for less than the cost of a grocery store bird.  Yay!

Surely, that is the last of the snags and all I have to do is finish sewing a Juliet costume for one granddaughter, clean the house and decorate it. ~

And then, the ice storm hit Ontario! ~

Trees toppled under the weight of the ice and hydro lines came down.  Thousands of homes were without power. ~

My power stayed on, but would the kids be able to make it home for Christmas?  It seemed to be problems and more problems! ~

Then, I realised the problem was me! I couldn't see the beauty of the ice and snow because I was too busy looking for cobwebs and dust.  I didn't have faith that the roads would clear and the travelling would be fine. I was putting all the emphasis on a picture perfect, Hallmark card home and not on the scent wafting from the kitchen and the anticipation of spending the special day with those I loved.

The house began to fill with people.  My nephew and his family were without power for five days and couldn't stay in their frigid house anymore.  They didn't care what decorations hung from the chandelier, just that the house was warm and a turkey was roasting in the oven. ~

Grandkids came through the door with all the excitement of Christmas Eve on their faces.  For Clara Jane, ten kids in the house, throwing toys for her to fetch, was the best part of the day. 

When she needed a nap to recover her energy, two little girls made sure she was petted. ~

Artificial snow from the village was sprinkled all over the floor from kittens and kiddies alike. ~

Everyone was happy! ~

No one seemed to notice what was left undone.  They talked and laughed while the little ones fetched the basket of toys to play and dangled garland beads for kittens to bat.  No one cared that the turkey had been frozen as long as it came golden brown from the oven. Seventeen sat down to a bountiful dinner.

My granddaughter, Serena, said to me, "Grandma, you can never leave this house because IT IS JUST PERFECT!"

I looked around and agreed because it had the best decoration any home could have.~

It was filled, from top to bottom with Joy!

I hope each and every one of you had a perfect Christmas!


Friday 13 December 2013

Cooks Around The World With

I was making lemon tarts to take to friend's house after his mother passed away and thinking that food is such a universal way of giving comfort and showing we care for someone.

With that thought in my head, I picked up a  message from a food website asking if I would contribute to a series they were running as a special event for the month of December. ~

Slurrpy .com has put together twelve bloggers, from five continents, to celebrate the common ingredient in cooking.  That ingredient is love.  All twelve bloggers are as different from each other as you could imagine and yet, we all care about the food we make; where it comes from and how it is prepared.  We are much more alike that it seems at first glance.  We step over walls of politics, faith and culture to become global friends, with food as our common ground.

I'd say that embodies the spirit of Christmas for me.

Each week we are given two ingredients to use in a recipe of our choice. We are asked to use recipes that anyone can make, with no special equipment and minimal preparation.  These are dishes that are made by people living busy lives, not trained chefs with a fully staffed kitchen.  I do admit to having quite a bit of cat help in the kitchen but I certainly don't have a sous chef!

This week our ingredients were cinnamon and pear.

My contribution is a Canadian take on a classic French dessert, Clafoutis. ~

The Canadian spin is replacing the powdered sugar, usually sprinkled on top, with a drizzle of pure maple syrup. Pears baked in custard just went from dessert to a delicious and elegant special occasion breakfast! ~

I can't give you the full recipe here because I wrote it for so you'll have to head over there to see all this weeks pear and cinnamon creations.  Click here to head on over.

I took the clafoutis over to my sister and brother in law and it passed the taste test with flying colours!

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Seeing Red At Christmas

Just in case you were wondering if I was doing any Christmas decorating, I am. I'm doing it again and again. As fast as I put it up, the kittens (commonly known around here as 'The Barbarians'), are pulling it down.  The tree has gone over twice!  If I want any Christmas touches in this house at all, I'm going to have to rethink my strategy.  The only way is to take it all down and go with things that they can't eat or use as toys.

They declared open war on me while I worked on the buffet in the family room.  Making no pretence at helping, they ganged up on me, scooting in and grabbing things to run away with.  I was actually seeing red in more ways than decor by the time I was done!

The colour scheme started when I bought this pair of coal oil lantern sconces at auction.  They had been electrified and were missing the hurricane shades.  The shades were easily replaced for $6 each. Ask me what I paid for the sconces.  You know you want to.  $9 for the pair! ~

A couple of poinsettias that were on sale for $5 each got a bit of dressing up with some red and white snowflake patterned fabric I had in my stash. ~

Clara Jane did have a go at eating the plants but she seems to be leaving them alone now.  Don't worry about her eating them.  The head of the Canadian Poinsettia Growers Association assures us it is a myth that they are poisonous to cats and they would have to eat a whole forest of them to get sick.

Let's pretend we are joining Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle for Christmas.  I figure I'm safe to use old books, snow globes and a hand carved, wooden Santa. ~

The holly berry garland was a $4 thrift store find.  It's lost a few of it's berries to The Barbarians I'm afraid, but still looks okay.  The partridge in the feather nest is an experiment to see if I can add a few more birds without dooming them to a horrible end. ~

A trinket box in Balmoral plaid holds a string of gold beads and a couple of reproduction Pottery Barn glass balls that were a gift from my daughter. ~

A print from 1900 reminisces about at even earlier time. ~

Before the rail line came through, draft horses pulled barges up the river that runs behind my house. I've found two horse shoes buried in the bank and this print is a favourite of mine.  It gets a bit of vine and some mistletoe to dress it up.

Some Christmas cheer is in a decanter that dates back to William, Queen Victoria's uncle, who reigned before her.  So does the sideboard itself. A star shaped candle is safely tucked away in a hurricane holder.  The girls are drawn to flame and I have to be careful with candles. ~

It's a simpler look than I would normally do and yet I'm happy with it.  ~

Best of all, it has stayed intact for 24 hrs.!

Monday 2 December 2013

Special Interest Books As Gifts

I always feel the giver shows an extra level of thought when they gift me with a book that is about things they know I am experiencing and care about.  On the most difficult Christmas of my life, I was given a copy of Simple Abundance.  It is written as a chapter for each day of the year and I used that book as an anchor as I found my way in a new and sometimes frightening life.  Other books have been invaluable learning tools and sources of enlightenment.  I've loved gardening books, cookbooks and magazine subscriptions.

These are a few suggestions for the people on your gift list who have special interests.

For the person interested in healthy eating, sustainable food production methods and the state of agriculture in the world today, I recommend Real Dirt. ~

A sixth generation farmer, having taken over the family industrial pig farm and with a masters in business and agriculture, Harry Stoddart made the transition to a more environmentally friendly and sustainable means of producing food.  It's a common sense look at how our food is grown and relies on scientific fact, not sentimentality, to argue for change in the agricultural sector.  He says he has enough material in the book to make everyone mad at him, from vegetarians to organic proponents to industrial farm corporations. I'd agree with him there, but found it a great book to sort through all the rhetoric and develop my own stance on what forms of agriculture I will support with my dollars.  You can order the book through Amazon here.

For the person looking to reconcile religion, metaphysics and science, this book has it all. ~ 

Bruce Lipton takes us on his fascinating journey from successful biologist, to believer in the power of the mind and our environment to affect our health, well being and success in life.  Even though this book is scientifically based, it's written for the layman.  This is one of my top 10 books for 2013!  You can order the book here.

If someone on your list is considering or has adopted older children ~

The Promise is a truthful, raw and inspiring memoir of the struggles of one family to heal their four adopted children and create an atmosphere where everyone can thrive and grow together as a true family.  Written by the mother of the children (and incidentally my daughter) and the Child and Youth Counselor, who helped them develop strategies for success, it has proved so valuable to adoptive parents that it is endorsed by many adoptive agencies and the authors are enlisted to speak at Adoption Council functions. You can buy the book here.

The next one is a book review that several people have asked me to write and I've avoided for personal reasons.  I guess that all goes out the window now!

If you have anyone on your list who is trying to come to terms with the sudden and unexpected abandonment by a long term love, Runaway Husbands is the book for them. ~

When you've been in a long term relationship, often more than 25 years, and your mate blindsides you by walking out, many are left with no explanation and certainly no closure.  Someone you thought you knew well is behaving in completely different ways.  A life that was so intertwined with another is suddenly floating without ballast.  Absolutely everything in life gets called into question and no one is providing any answers. That is, until psychotherapist and family counsellor Vikki Stark had it happen to her.  Her study of the phenomenon led her to write the book that has been a tremendous tool for helping abandoned women understand what happened, regain their feeling of self worth and rebuild their lives.  The book was an enormous help to me and whenever I felt someone was having a tough time coming out of their shell shocked state, I've given it to them.  Every single one has thanked me for it and passed it on to the next person in need.  You can buy the book here.

Now that I've reviewed all the intellectual books, how about a little bit of Christmas fun for you?  You've earned a sweet, little read that transports you to Nantucket and and the magic that only a Christmas story by Nancy Thayer can bring.  It has new love, an adorable kid and an abandoned puppy looking for a forever home, all set in the historic beauty of a Massachusetts island paradise.

You can't help but feel happy when you read A Nantucket Christmas. ~

You can buy the book here.

Ready for the disclaimer?  Here it is.  I'm an idiot!  I have not signed up as an Amazon or affiliate and I will not receive a penny for promoting these books. I just put the links in to make shopping easier. My daughter, however, may say, "Thanks, Mom".  Therefore, all opinions are my own.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Hearty Beef Stew

Yesterday was the grayest of gray days. ~

It will take some serious comfort food to chase away the gloom.  What could be hardier than an old fashioned root vegetable beef stew?

All it takes is some stewing beef from grass fed cows, a little organic, whole wheat flour, some sea salt and fresh ground pepper to get started.  Dredge the stewing beef in the the flour and spices and brown in some oil.  I've used coconut oil and a bit of butter to brown mine. ~

Toss in some onions ~

and a good splash of red wine. ~

Start adding whatever root veggies you have on hand.  I've used potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and squash.  Turnip or squash are essential to give this meal it's earthy flavour!  Some parsley, a bay leaf (remove before serving) and some rosemary crank it up another notch.~

A combination of beef stock and water is added to barely cover the vegetables.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and let it all simmer for a couple of hours. ~

Grab an old fashioned fork and ironstone bowl, with a hot from the oven biscuit, and dig in! ~

The snow began to fall and by morning we have the Christmas spirit in the yard! ~

I'm sharing this with:  Feathered Nest FridayCreate It Thursday

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Raising Feral Kittens

Do you remember those cute kittens I brought home to foster in the summer?  One was adopted out and I kept the two girls.  I love cats but it's sure been a wild ride with these two!

Michaela has lovely, silky fur. ~

Clara Jane is a champion purrer, full of fun and wants to do whatever I'm doing. ~

They are adorable and they are very, very wild!  Their mother was a true feral cat.  If you consider adopting the offspring of a feral mother, make sure you know the difference between feral and stray cats.  Stray cats have had significant contact with humans and, even if they are skittish and frightened, can be re tamed and become great house pets.  Feral cats and their offspring have lived without human contact and are not comfortable interacting with people. 

I already had Maeve, offspring of a city feral and knew it would be tough to get these girls behaving in a civilised manner.  ~

I hope you are paying close attention to these pics because there will be a test at the end and you'll have to be able to tell these black cats apart.  Just kidding!  I can't tell them apart most of the time and never know which name to yell when they are into something they shouldn't be.

When I took the girls in to be spayed, I was talking to the vet about how different city ferals are to barn ferals.  I never have had problems taking in barn kittens no matter how wild the mother was.  He joked that barn cats are so inbred they aren't all that bright and that may be why the city cats are more difficult.

All three city girls are certainly clever.  Maeve mimics whatever she sees me do. She can pop down the toaster, wipes her paw over the dishes in the dishwater and works very hard at turning on taps.  Thank heavens she hasn't quite mastered that one yet!  She made my life hell for the first year.  There was nothing she didn't get into and lose or break.

With the new girls, for every sweet moment like this, ~

There's the roughhousing moment that sends the Internet receiver crashing to the floor.  Yes, a Rogers hub can be dropped repeatedly and still work! ~

It seems Clara Jane and Michaela were born hungry and they can't seem to get enough to eat.  They'll steal from each other, the other cats and any human food they can possibly get into!  They'll take it off your plate if you don't keep your eye on them.  For the first few months I had to lock them in another room just to eat a meal in peace!

They've broken more glass and china than you could imagine.  That favourite jam jar I showed you in the spring is just a distant memory. ~

They didn't seem to think the buttons should be on my burlap lamp shade.  No problem!  Just throw yourselves at it until you have the whole thing in tatters girls. ~

Clara Jane is a devotee of Buddha, it appears, and keeps those Tibetan bells ringing non stop. ~

Any marks on wall paint must be removed, in their minds.  I have no idea why they were pulling the drywall off where that arrow is pointing. ~

In the bathroom I assume they were trying to unearth that drywall screw. ~

I don't want you to think that I haven't made any progress with them.  They've learned, NO, QUIT IT, YOU'RE GONNA GET IT and LEAVE IT.  They've also learned to run like hell when they see me coming and not go back at whatever it is until I leave the room again. sigh

All three tried, but it was Clara Jane that managed to claw a big enough hole in that screen to squeeze out and chase the chickens around the yard. I'm sure she holds that as 'the most fun ever' in her mind! ~

Cat toys are a big help.  Nothing beats bringing a 12' ladder in the house for good times! ~

While I'm painting the family room white, they are wearing quite a bit of paint.  It's on their tails, paws and noses. They don't mind as long as they get to join in the fun.

I will try very hard to forgive them for knocking a solid lead, 100 yr. old cow statue, that I paid an absolute fortune for because it had it's original paint, into the can of white paint. ~

I'll forgive them because they trust me and curl up on my lap to sleep.  I'll forgive them because they come tearing to the door to greet me when I come home. I'll forgive them because the vet cautioned me that Michaela isn't very healthy and maybe I shouldn't put money into spaying her.  He knows all my pets are rescues and I have to keep veterinary costs down as much as possible, or I can't take them in. I couldn't adopt her out when I knew her adult teeth had never come in at the back and she may have feline herpes. So we've worked away at it and she gets healthier every day.

If you haven't had a lot of experience with cats, don't have at least a couple of hours a day to work with them or are terribly attached to your crockery and walls, think twice before you take in a feral kitten, especially if it wasn't captured in the first 6 - 12 weeks of life.  All of mine were about twelve weeks old when I got them and that is pushing it, in my opinion.  A better option for you may be an SPCA kitten from a socialised mother.  There are endless numbers of those waiting for a loving home.

It's worth all of this trouble to me when I think of the life they would have had on the streets and see moments like this. ~

If only Clara Jane would learn to sit like a lady! ~

I'll keep working on that one!