03 December 2013

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

 

With seasonal colds taking over my family, I crave hearty soups for their warm comfort and vitamin packed meals. Soup is the perfect winter dish as it can be made in advance, frozen, and reheated for quick family meals.

I adore squash and pumpkin for their buttery flavours and their versatile use. A favourite soup of mine is butternut squash which is the star ingredient in this amazing recipe.

There are several steps involved but keep in mind: 1) some prep can be done days in advance and 2) if you make a big enough batch you can enjoy 2-3 meals for all your efforts.

Yields 4-6 servings.




STEP 1: 
  • Roasting the Butternut Squash
(may be roasted 1-3 days in advance of making soup)

INGREDIENTS:
2 large butternut squash
1 medium yellow onion
4-6 peeled garlic cloves
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons curry powder
1 Tablespoon Turmeric
2 Tablespoons liquid honey
1/2 cup of water
Sprigs of fresh herbs (Rosemary, Thyme and Bay Leaves)
METHOD:
  1. Preheat oven to 350F (180C).
  2. Cut butternut squash in half and remove seeds. Place squash halves flesh side up in Pyrex baking dish
  3. Peel and roughly chop onion. Add to baking dish.
  4. Peel garlic and add whole cloves to baking dish.
  5. Drizzle squash halves with olive oil.
  6. Sprinkle dried seasonings and drizzle honey over squash halves.
  7. Place fresh herbs directly onto squash. 
  8. Pour 1/2 cup of water into base of Pyrex.
  9. Roast squash for 1.5 hours or until cooked through and tender. If edges of the squash begin to burn, cover the dish with foil and finishing baking.  
  10. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough for handling.
STEP 2: 
  • Preparing the Butternut Squash Soup
INGREDIENTS:
Roasted squash, garlic cloves and onion
2 Cups vegetable stock
1/2 Cup whole milk or cream
3-4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 Cup natural yogurt
1/4 Cup apple juice *
1/4 Cup orange juice*
Salt and Pepper to taste
* May use all apple or all orange juice if preferred.

For the soup's garnish:
Finely chopped green (salad) onions
Natural Yogurt
Granola
Walnut Oil

METHOD:
  1. Scoop out flesh from squash. 
  2. Puree roasted squash, garlic, onions, vegetable stock, whole milk (or cream) and 2 tablespoons of butter until well blended.
  3. Bring puree to a low boil and add in remaining butter, juice and yogurt. Allow soup to simmer on low boil for 15 minutes, whisking regularly.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  5. Serve hot with suggested garnishes.
TIPS:
  1. The squash may be roasted a day or two in advance. If you prefer to buy fresh cut squash, cooking time will vary.
  2. The squash may be boiled in vegetable stock with fresh herbs. Additional seasoning would then be added once squash is pureed. I personally prefer roasting the vegetable as it infuses the flavours of spices and seasonings in the squash.
  3. The consistency of the soup should be smooth and not too thick. If soup seems too thick, add another tablespoon of butter and 1/4 tsp of yogurt.
  4. Soup may be kept refrigerated for up to one week. 



29 November 2013

Feed the Birds: Orange Cup Bird Feeders


Come feed the little birds, show them you care
And you'll be glad if you do.
Their young ones are hungry,
Their nests are so bare.

- Lyrics from "Feed the Birds", by Mary Poppins

This Thanksgiving, as Ouisie is almost three years old, I talked to my daughter about being thankful and the importance of helping those in need. In my parenting book, being grateful and giving back are two priceless life lessons for a child to live by.

With the winter days growing shorter and colder, I explained how many animals have to work harder to forage their food. I then explained that we could help feed the birds and squirrels that come to our garden. We discussed what foods the birds and squirrels would enjoy eating and rummaged through the kitchen cabinets looking for food supplies.


I found her enthusiasm the most endearing part of the lesson. As I prepared the craft, I enjoyed listening to her create stories about a mommy bird taking some of the feed to the hungry baby bird. The mommy bird was so happy for our help.

Around Pinterest there are some really great ideas for homemade bird feeders. The inspiration for these orange cup bird feeders came from blogger Jackie of Happy Hooligans. Her blog is a great resource for pre-school arts n' crafts.

juicing oranges cut in half and cleaned of pulp
dried fruit, nuts, granola, seeds (anything bird friendly you find in your cabinets)
peanut butter
cooking grease or butter
baking sheet
twigs



1. Clean oranges (1-2 halves of an orange per child).

2. Cut small 'x' through the base of each orange (for securing by twig in garden). 

3. Arrange orange halves on the cooking sheet and set aside. 

4. Divide up feed ingredients into small bowls and allow the child to pour into a shallow dish and mix with hands or spoons.

5. Heat 3 Tablespoons of peanut butter with 2 Tablespoons of cooking grease (or butter) on low heat. Heat until peanut butter and grease are liquid, stirring regularly. 

6. Fill the base of each orange cup with peanut butter mixture.

7. Ask the child to fill the orange cup with bird feed.


8. Dollop extra peanut butter mixture on top of each feeder to help bird feed stick in place.

9. Secure to tree branches or sturdy twigs in garden. Keep an eye on the feeders for your 1st grateful diner! 


1. Make the hole in the orange before filling with bird feed. I did not-- and had sticky bird feed spilling all over us while trying to mount feeders on twigs in the garden!

2. Ensure oranges are secure to sustain winter winds and out of reach of curious dogs, too.
Now isn't that just bird-iful? You should tweet about it! 















27 November 2013

My Muddled Marshmallow


Jet lag could be at fault.
Although a one hour time change between France and England is hardly an excuse. 
Perhaps the various 'to do'  list scribbled on chalk boards,  tablets, and notebooks are to blame. 
Why is there never the same pen and paper at your fingertips to jot down an ever growing laundry list of chores? 
Maybe the coffee was a tad too strong that morning.
Note to self: Switch to decaf  lesser strength coffee.
I had planned the day's agenda with assignments for Chef and me to complete before taking Ouisie at 11am to the Pirate and Princess birthday party.


Everything was going better than planned. The only toy store on the High Street had age appropriate gifts for both the 2-year old Pirate and the 4-year old Princess, thus avoiding frantic last minute shopping. 

I felt smug having found themed gifts and birthday cards. My head grew even bigger remembering pirate and princess gift wrapping supplies at the cottage. Cha-ching! 

Almost 45-minutes past our scheduled departure time, we loaded Ouisie, the princess dress, the birthday gifts, and a bag of Chef's homemade marshmallows into the car.

There was no need for the sat-navigation as I knew where we were going and assuredly co-piloted Chef. Ouisie rehearsed the Happy Birthday song for the Pirate and the Princess as we zipped down the country roads.

On arrival, the parking lot was near capacity. The community centre was heaving with activities. We squeezed into a tiny bay and unloaded Ouisie, the princess dress, the birthday gifts, and the bag of homemade marshmallows from the car.

"I hope there's a bouncy castle and balloons," wished Ouisie.

I spotted the "Happy Birthday" banner across the door. "We're here! We're here!," squealed Ouisie. I opened the door with my arms draped in the themed gifts and Ouisie burst past shouting:
 Happy Birthday everybody! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!
It took a few seconds to scan the room and identify the birthday girl. She was not dressed as a princess and there was not a pirate to be found either. In the room though was Ouisie's requested bouncy castle and balloons. The adults turned at the sound of our thunderous entrance.

I knowingly asked, "Is this not the Pirate and Princess party?" I then hooked Ouisie by the hood of her coat and made a quick exit before she beelined it to the bouncy castle.

In the adjoining hall, a guide dog training session was taking place. For obvious reasons we did not bother enquiring if it was the Pirate and Princess party.

Only children's football matches were taking place outside and, anyway, who would even consider hosting an outdoor birthday party in late November?

I started to panic. Did I miss a text with a new location? I called the host's mobile-- three times. On the fourth attempt I left a voice message and sent a text.

The family's home was nearby so we drove to see if anyone was at home. As both cars were in the drive, I rang the doorbell. No answer.

At a loss, and with a puzzled toddler and husband, I read back through the text correspondences.
Glad you all can make it! Party is November 24th from 11-1. Pirate and Princess theme. 
My charred brain processed the text and then it all began to stick.

I asked Chef to confirm the date.
November 23rd. Why?
I began to laugh hysterically. My puzzled toddler and Chef just stared. In between wheezes and snorts I managed to admit fault. Yes, I had officially lost the plot.

My phone rang. It was the host.  She had seen the three missed calls and received my messages. I let her know we had completed our trial birthday run and were well rehearsed for the actual curtain call.

I was embarrassed arriving to the party the next day. Not for showing up on the wrong day, but for being tardy (again) for the actual one.

Before I opened the door Ouisie asked if this was the right one. With my confirmation, and perfectly on cue, she ran in shouting:
 Happy Birthday everybody! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!
I handed the host the bag of Chef's homemade marshmallows to help sweeten my brain blip. We all had a laugh and then watched the princesses twirl in their dresses and fend off the pirates attacking the decorations.

Perhaps I will add a 2014 calendar to my wish list this Christmas.














26 November 2013

Thanksgiving Craft: Toilet Paper Roll Turkeys


This Thursday is Thanksgiving in America. Here in England it is just another normal work week. There are no queues of  shoppers waiting to collect their turkeys, and shelves are not stocked with Libby's pumpkin pie filling.

I have fond memories of my mother waking at the crack of dawn to get the turkey in the oven for its slow roast. I love a good stuffing, cranberry dressing, corn casserole and mashed potatoes.  And you can be assured each year there is a reserved space in the corner of my belly for the heavenly pies. mmmm!

As it is just the three of us (and our dog, Carib, who would love a turkey leg) we will forgo preparing a traditional feast at the cottage. But as I cannot entirely pass on the holiday's culinary delights, pumpkin and butternut squash soup will be served--- and perhaps a pecan pie, too.

Though I am okay with not having a big feast, I am bummed Ouisie and I will not be watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and The National Dog Show in our pajamas. Wanting to share my love of  turkey day with Ouisie, I decided we would celebrate with the help of paint, toilet paper rolls, feathers and glue.

Our Thanksgiving craft day happened to coincide with Chef plucking and cleaning Frederick, the roadkill pheasant. Yes, there is a story behind the bird to be told, perhaps, in a future post.

Pheasants, like turkeys, have stunning feathers. It seemed only appropriate then to have Frederick Pheasant be a part of our Tom Turkeys.

And so, his freshly plucked feathers were glued to our toilet roll turkeys. Admittedly, they do make our cardboard birds appear more authentic.


My toddler really enjoyed making her turkey. As the birds are assembled in several steps, with feathers best applied using a hot glue gun, this craft requires full adult supervision. While I glued feathers onto the birds, Ouisie enjoyed cutting construction paper. It is fair to say, some steps are for older children only.

Turkey Toilet Paper Roll Craft is best suited for children 3+ years.

(paper free) toilet paper rolls
scissors
brown water based paint
paint brush
google eyes
craft glue
hot glue and glue gun
orange construction paper
blue construction paper
feathers (your choice: real or fake)
  1. Trim toilet roll to desired height. We made a family of turkeys-- so Ouisie's turkey is only about 3" tall.
  2. Paint toilet rolls with brown paint and leave to dry.
  3. Cut small squares from orange construction paper and fold in half diagonally to make triangle for beak.
  4. Design your own bird's feet with blue construction paper. Three toes, four toes. Round toes, pointed toes. Long feet, short feet. Be creative!
  5. Use craft glue to apply google eyes and beak. Leave to dry.
  6. Apply feet with craft glue (or hot glue) and leave to dry.
  7. Apply feathers to back of turkey ensuring they stand up high enough to be seen from the front. Leave to dry. 
  1. Ensure everything is dry before going to the next step to prevent any mess ups. 
  2. Hot glue is recommended over craft glue for applying feathers and feet. 
  3. If you do not have craft feathers on hand, create from construction paper by cutting out heart shapes in a variety of colours. Fan hearts along back of turkey and glue in place. 
  4. The craft project can extend over a few days or over one cold winter's day at home. 
 Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!








15 November 2013

Our Waltz Across (some of) Texas


Ouisie and I are back from our five week visit to the Lone Star State. We cowgirls can confirm things are (still) bigger in Texas to include: churches, highways, food portions, shopping malls, trucks and parking bays.

For the first three weeks, the Texas humidity showed no mercy. I was grateful for frozen margaritas which helped (temporarily) restore hydration and relieve the relentless temperatures. Ouisie beat the heat with pooltime and plenty of ice cream cones.



We spent time in both Houston and Dallas and also enjoyed day trips to the countryside. For the record, the traffic in Houston and Dallas is dreadful on a good day. Travel by car is the norm as public transportation is sparse. You therefore must schedule your errands between morning and evening rush hour as both guarantee bumper to bumper traffic.

Even driving during off-peak hours, I felt intimidated by Interstate 10 (Katy Freeway) and its 26 lanes of traffic. We do not have gigantic motorways in England, and it had been a year since our last visit to the States. It was all I could do to weave across multiple lanes of traffic while trying to look for the desired exit.

And while Ouisie squealed "Weeeee!" from the backseat as we zoomed over large overpasses, I tightened my grip on the wheel to prevent using my hands as a shield for my eyes.

It was great fun showing Ouisie around my home State. Being a native Texan, you would naturally think I had seen all the sights and tried all the BBQ, but you and I would both be wrong.

We invite y'all to  Discover, Eat and Drink by clicking on the below linked images for our best finds deep in the heart of Texas.

Further posts on Texas Trails:
          

Discover (some of) Texas




Brenham, TX 
(72 miles from Houston, 90 miles from Austin)

Tours available Monday-Friday. Please refer to the website for further information.

Blue Bell Ice Cream is widely considered the State ice cream of Texas. I toured the creamery as a child and loved returning on our recent Texas tour with my little ice cream connoisseur, Ouisie.

After touring the creamery, guests are invited into the ice cream parlor for a complimentary scoop of the favourite flavour. Did I mention the food portion sizes are bigger in Texas? I can confirm the same applies with the free ice cream scoop.


(50 miles south of downtown Houston)

The beach is not Destin, Florida and the waters are not Caribbean blue-- but Galveston offered a fun day trip to the seaside for Ouisie.

Just an hour from Houston kids can be on the beach, roaring down roller coasters on the Historic Pleasure Pier or touring the aquarium at Moody Gardens. I enjoyed walking The Strand and admiring the century old homes in the historic district.

We finished off our island adventure with sweet treats at La King's Confectionery located on The Strand. The ice cream parlour and candy displays remain the same as when I visited some thirty years ago. A step back in time where the signature salt water taffy is still unresistable!


Houston, TX

The Children's Museum is a treasure trove of gadgets and switches, make believe play, outdoor water play, and pristine toddler area for the under 3s. I cannot sing enough praises about this place for parents with children between ages birth- 12 years.

Houston, TX

I have always loved the theatre and now enjoy sharing my love of the stage with our daughter. We have attended a few children performances in London and were delighted when my mother bought tickets to see "The Cat in the Hat" at Main Street Theatre. 

Main Street Theatre's u-shaped seating allowed young audience members good views from any seat. The cast used various stage doors to enter and exit which kept the energy up and the children engaged. And for those children wishing to meet the familiar cast of characters, autographs and photographs were offered following the performance. 

Their Youth Theatre programme runs throughout the calendar year with reasonable ticket prices. Programme calendar and pricing available on their website.

A girl's lunch and matinee show was a memorable way for three generations to spend a Saturday afternoon. Ouisie shouted, "Encore!" for days after the show. For that, I tip my hat to the Cat and the cast! 

Dallas, TX

What a treasure trove! Our visit coincided with Autumn at the Arboretum which included the amazing Pumpkin Village (open until 27th November 2013). The 20,000+ pumpkins and gourds displayed around the Arboretum offered the perfect backdrop for family holiday cards and obligatory pumpkin patch photos of the kids. 

In its inaugural year the Rory Meyers Children's Adventure Gardens has a packed calendar of ongoing special events for its younger gardeners. The adventure gardens allow kids the chance to monkey around a giant tree house, crawl over large insects and tower above the gardens on a suspension bridge. A haven for all things kids love.

What the kids will love: Messy play is allowed and encouraged.


Dallas, TX

This museum is any anthropologist, chemist, geologist, physicist or wannabe scientist's dream museum. Architects will applaud the building's modern facade that turns commuters' heads along I-35.

Musical stairs, interactive displays and literature throughout the five floors can keep one entertained and learning for days. The lower ground floor has a small but very well planned toddler indoor and outdoor zone.

We left smarter and could not stop talking about all we had experienced in this museum marvel. 

To find where this Texan likes to Eat and Drink click on below image:



Eat and Drink Across (some of) Texas



You should not come to Texas to lose weight for two reasons: Tex-Mex and Bar-B-Q.

Locals habitually dine at their favourite Tex-Mex and BBQ spots, and consider it unfaithful to try out the competitors.

While I left Texas some ten years ago, I still remain loyal to my Tex-Mex and BBQ joints. This devotion (and craving) got me thinking about how a diner gets hooked in the first place?

Here is a look at how my brain analysed the subject matter:



¡OlĂ©! Now that we have digested that intricate topic, here is my gold list, to include my new BBQ nod.
Houston, TX

Drink: The Ninfarita
Eat: Tamales and Fajitas
Salsa: Red and green. Spicy and smokey.
Don't miss: Homemade tortillas
Houston, TX

Drink: Frozen Margaritas
Eat: Hidalgo and Puebla Enchiladas
Salsa: Spicy
Don't miss: Happy hour!

Houston, TX

Drink:  Texas Beer
Eat: Barbecue Brisket
BBQ Sauce: Smokey and Spicy
Sides: Baked Beans
Don't miss: Barbecue Sausage

Dallas, TX
NEW Favourite!

Drink: Texas Beer
Eat: All meats are great-- ribs are particularly special though.
BBQ Sauce: Smokey with a kick
Sides: Habanero Mac n' Cheese. Baked Beans. Homemade pickles.
Don't miss:  Shopping in Bishop Street Market area.

EATING NOTES: 
  1. Cowgirl boots and cowgirl hat not required but do make the meal even more authentic. 
  2. Eat very little before committing yourself to a Tex-Mex or BBQ meal. 
  3. Double dipping your chip into salsa may not be sanitary, but it is compulsory. 
  4. Wash hands before eating BBQ as you will want, and should, lick barbecue sauce off your fingertips.
  5. Do not count calories. When you choose to eat Tex-Mex or BBQ, figure you are going to consume the majority (if not all) of your daily allotment. 
  6. Be salty. Order a Margarita with salt on the rim. It goes perfectly with tequila.  
  7. Squeeze lime in Mexican beer. 
  8. Shower after the meal as you will leave smelling like you have been in a smokehouse for 24-hours.
Happy Overeating!

To DISCOVER more about our favourite places in Texas, click on image below:





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