Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's Cheer You Up Tuesday!

Dancing and singing praises in the kitchen!

Today I am participating in ' Cheer you up Tuesday' - actually I made that up but it was a Tuesday when I came across this video clip that I want to share with you today (it's Tuesday down under!) and it really did cheer me up! I want to introduce you to my new favourite band. (Scroll to bottom of my post for the clip). They are 'Rend Collective Experiment', a group of talented Irish musicians and singers who have recently toured with Chris Tomlin in the States. Their music is joyous with a folksy kind of feel and I am just loving playing songs from their album 'Organic Family Hymnal'. I love worship music that draws you into the presence of God that just makes you want to 'SHOUT JOYFULLY to the Lord, break forth in song and sing praises.' (Psalm 98.4) I especially like to play music in my home that continually reminds me of God's goodness, His grace and His mercy. It can change the atmosphere in the home, it can help relieve a tense and stressful household, bring sunshine on a rainy day and if you have housework to do you'll whip through it so much quicker - unless it's vacuuming of course. And be prepared to stop and have an impromptu family praise concert if need be. My children (especially the little guy and my twin girls) love this video and I hope you will too. If you want to hear more from Rend Collective Experiment go onto You Tube and find their official videos. My favourite track is 'Faithful' - if you love to hear all kinds of stringed instruments used in worship you will love these guys. The French Horn features on 'Faithful' and it sounds incredible. Hope they come to Australia soon!

Play these songs when you are doing something mundane like laundry - Tip: vintage metal laundry buckets make good drums if you don't have any loud or clashing cymbals lying around the house and you can't help but play along!!!

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy and may this music bring the sweet and joyful presence of the Lord into your home today.

With Love and Joy,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Second-Hand Hospitality

I recently watched the New Zealand movie 'Second-Hand Wedding' after a friend told me she was thinking of me when she watched it and knew I would love it. It is the delightful tale of a mother who is looking forward to the day when her daughter marries and she is particularly relishing the role she will play in organizing the reception. This mother is prepared, well and truly prepared, for she is a garage sale devotee and has spent most of her Saturday mornings trailing round the local garage sales with her friend, newspaper and valuation book in tow. She can spot a dealer at 5o paces and knows a bargain when she spots one and her home is furnished with all manner of furniture and home wares from 1960's sideboards to his and her microwaves! She has an ever growing stockpile of hospitality supplies - picnic tables and chairs, china, candelabras, even cute little gnome place card holders that she thinks will look adorable on Cheryl's reception tables at the wedding. Of course there is one detail that has been overlooked - Cheryl does not share her mother's appreciation of all things kitsch and definitely does not want a 'second-hand wedding.'

It was really as it promised, a delicious slice of kiwi life and culture. It's a wonderful story too, with themes of family, friendship and forgiveness threaded through and a lovely ending. Also refreshingly - a comedy without crudity. If you are not from New Zealand some of the characters and humour may be lost on you but if you love to go to garage sales you will find much to amuse you - they are spot on! I recognized myself in the mother and my daughter was looking worried - 'Don't get any ideas mum' she pleaded as we watched the movie! That mother was quite wise you know, in her planning for the future and her stock piling of hospitality supplies. The only problems were her lack of consideration for the tastes of others and knowing when enough was enough! As the husband in the movie joked 'Cheryl's wedding will be the first time that anyone in the family has ever given something away!'

I am not planning a wedding at the moment but I do have little stockpiles of my own for the purposes of hospitality. The home should be a centre for hospitality and I love to host most of our family celebrations in our home. We have lots of room and we give lots of thought when doing home improvements of how we can better cater for our guests. Right down to what we serve food on - I don't want to serve our guests dinner on paper plates with plastic forks or offer them coffee in Styrofoam cups. Once upon a time when we had more than a couple of families over I simply did not have sufficient tableware to cater but over the last year I have been purposely extending our hospitality supplies. And I would love to show you what I have found, what I am still looking out for and where I found it - yes, you guessed right. Most of my catering supplies are found at garage sales.

Plates and Bowls and Dinner sets
I have several sets but the table ware I use each day and on almost every occasion are basic white plates. Food always presents well when served on white plates - that's why restaurants opt for white plates. Mine are square and match in with my large square table. I'm guessing the trend for square plates is over because I have been coming across stacks of square white dinner plates at many a garage sale in recent months! Thus I have been adding to my collection and now have a cupboard full. $2 for a stack of plates - that's cheaper than disposables and of course you get to use them again and again. I know you have to do the dishes but rope in the family and on bigger occasions we always find friends who are willing to roll up their sleeves and help with the washing up. I call it 'tea towel fellowship.'

I see whole dinner sets still in their boxes at garage sales all the time. My requirement is a minimum of an 8 place setting. This rose patterned set - never used, cost me $12. It is probably suited to occasions when the ratio of female guests is higher but my twin girls are now setting the table for family dinners and like to use the 'pretty china' as they call it. Which brings me to a point to ponder....

Lovely for ladies but.....

Would you serve these guys tea in china cups?
I cooked dinner for this mob of about 18 - it was a lot of fun!

Give the Man a Mug!... I know we ladies love our rose patterned china and dainty tea cups and these are the images that grace the covers of books on hospitality but have you considered what you serve men food and drinks on? This is when you need to have a variety of cups and plates in your cupboards. I think most men prefer to have their tea or coffee in something more masculine - so choose mugs with neutral patterns or opt for plain colours. My dear mother would always serve tea to the minister on his pastoral visits using her very best china. He was quite a big man and the dainty little tea cup just didn't seem right to my father who once famously brought in a mug of steaming hot tea, whipped the rose embellished tea cup from under the Pastor's nose just as he was about to take a sip and handed him a Liverpool Football mug and declared in his very broad Scouse accent ( a name for the Liverpool accent - think of how the Beatles spoke!) 'Give the man a mug!' Needless to say, my mother was not impressed but it is one of my funniest memories and one of my favourite sayings is 'Give the man a mug!'

I have found these cups and saucers to be wonderful to serve both tea and coffee in to both men and women. They feature landmarks of London, Paris, New York and Sydney and all our guests comment on them. They are not secondhand but were on special in a local kitchen store - I just wish I had bought two sets.

When it comes to making coffee - you cannot go past a plunger or French Press as they are also known. I confess a number of glass plungers have met their doom on the tiles after being dropped and therefore a stainless steel plunger was added to the collection. I bought a glass insert for yet another dropped plunger and could not believe it when I went to a garage sale the very next day and saw a 12 cup capacity plunger for $5. I snapped it up. I use it whenever we have people round for coffee. An espresso machine would be nice one day but most people I know who own machines also have plungers or stove top coffee pots. They confess to using their plungers on most occasions - they are so convenient!

In winter I boil water for tea in this enamel kettle which sits on the Stanley stove top. I actually believe that tea tastes better when the water comes out of this kettle. Notice the tea light holders - an inexpensive finishing touch for your hospitality efforts and you will find a tonne to choose from at garage sales and in discount stores. I keep a big box of tea light candles in my drawer where I store table linen.

I also have a variety of tea pots - one for traditional teas and another Asian inspired tea set for green teas. I also serve chai tea in this pot which I boil up in a pan on the stove before transferring to the tea pot. The aroma of the spices fills my home - it is just heavenly!

I'm also adding to my collection of glassware from the garage sales. I love these vintage inspired plates - another of my $2 stacks. I want more of these green goblets - they are my absolute favourite!

Other home hospitality supplies I find at garage sales include cloth napkins, tray cloths and tablecloths. Look out for hand stitched ones. My pretty cream tablecloth with matching napkins was just $2! I reserve the white damask napkins, another garage sale find, for special occasions and have discovered that with small children, dark coloured tablecloths are the way to go!

For parties a punchbowl is perfect. Don' t go out and buy a new one. I have seen so many at garage sales which is where of course, I found mine complete with all its cups for $5. My favourite new idea for a non- alcoholic punch bowl drink comes from Janelle at 'Comfy in the Kitchen' where I guest posted a few weeks ago. Lemonade and frozen berries - so simple and so spectacular - forget ginger ale and bottles of fizzy yellow soda drinks full of additives which seem to be poured into punch bowls at functions! I'm planning this for my next girl's party!

Now a punch bowl is one of those items you use once in a while. The appliances I use everyday such as my electric jug and toaster were all bought at garage sales as were most of the small appliances in my home. I make sourdough bread by hand but my five dollar bread maker comes into its own for a quick batch of pizza dough. It has a 45 minute dough cycle which I use virtually every day - homemade pizzas are regular fare in this house. In New Zealand I had a wonderful gourmet pizza at the home of friends - Stilton cheese and pear. Definitely one to try out on our guests at our next party - so glad I bought that breadmaker. Best $5 I ever spent! I still dream of the Kitchen Aid but my $5 Breville processor has been whipping up batches of soup and pesto for the past year. If the motor goes I'll find a replacement at another garage sale!

Working through the list - and onto the serving dishes. Now I did not buy all my kitchenware at garage sales or I would miss out on another favourite pursuit called 'browsing kitchen shops' - which I can do online but it is even better for real. I've found great buys there too - often heavily discounted such as my Maxwell and Williams Olive design bowl and matching platters. Think big, think medium and think small. Big platters for all those slices of gourmet pizza. Big bowls which can be for hot pasta or double as a salad bowl. Medium for the smaller batch of mini quiches and small for the dips and sauces. Ramekins are perfect and so versatile - use them for your dipping sauces or make individual self saucing puddings. I also use them as individual serving dishes for desserts for our widowed neighbour. She cannot possibly finish a whole pie or dessert by herself so my daughter often sets aside a portion of one of her special desserts to take over the road. If we know she has company we take a couple more. I'm not in need of any more serving dishes at the moment but when I need some more or if there are any breakages I'll be checking out the garage sales first.

I am serious when I say I could cater a wedding and find everything I needed for the big day at garage sales which is why I so enjoyed the movie Second-Hand wedding and why my daughter is getting very worried! The day after we watched the movie we went to a garage sale. It was an estate sale and everything including the kitchen sink was for sale. There were gazebos, picnic tables, chairs, plates, platters, glassware, linen, candles, microwaves - everything except for the gnomes I quipped later to a friend. My husband thought it was hilarious when I asked him if the scene reminded him of anything. My daughter was 'No mum' when I held up a rather tacky bunch of silk roses. 'You don't think I'm seriously going to buy them do you?' I asked her as we left with my only purchase - a lamp with a huge and hideous 70's mustard yellow shade but a very shabby chic stand which I assured my daughter would be transformed with a new pleated cream shade from Target, which I hasten to add I noticed when watching the coverage of the Royal wedding that the Queen has inside Buckingham palace. Cream and pleated but probably not from Target!

Just time to show you one more item I find at garage sales that I use all the time for storage and cleaning up clutter in the home but especially for purposes of hospitality when my kitchen becomes a base of operations and I have to deliver food to people - whether it is a pot of soup for a potluck dinner or a meal for a new mother I cannot do without my basket - should make that plural - baskets. I'm going to share some more ideas for ministry in a basket in a future post.

What are your best garage and thrifting finds for purposes of hospitality? What was your best find? Do share!

With Love and Joy,

Monday, May 9, 2011

New Zealand's Favourite Chocolate Cake

As promised, I'm going to share the link to a website that features a recipe for a chocolate cake that is reportedly, one of the most frequently made recipes in New Zealand which is where it originated. I do admit to being biased but my favourite recipes are by New Zealanders and my favourite cooks Jo Seager and Annabel Langbein both have recipes for excellent chocolate cakes but they don't quite match this cake! It is 'Dana's chocolate cake' but I have no idea who Dana is! Perhaps someone can enlighten me. It was featured in Sophie Gray's first volume 'The Destitute Gourmet - Stunning Food from Small Change' a book I purchased when I lived in New Zealand over ten years ago. It is the most used recipe in this house, apart from my own fruit and nut sourdough loaf, and the proof is in the batter splattered page - surely a sign of a good recipe! This photograph was taken for nostalgic purposes some time ago but last week it finally disintegrated - that's okay, there are several handwritten copies to be found around my house - all written out for purposes of penmanship and first cooking lessons. My sixteen year old daughter has made it so many times she has now memorized it!

It is the chocolate cake that is made for all birthday cakes including the one for the homeschool graduate when he celebrated his eighteenth birthday last year. Actually, he was the recipient of a number of versions as we needed several cakes for all the guests to ensure that no one missed out! It just seems like yesterday he was offering chocolate cake to the man who came to review our home education programme. My son was nine years old and insisted on making a chocolate cake for the review officer. As the man was returning his papers to his briefcase, my son emerged from the kitchen proudly carrying the cake which was smothered in chocolate icing. 'Would you like a piece of Dana's chocolate cake?' he politely asked the man. 'No thank you, I'm watching my cholesterol' he replied. The look of disappointment on my son's face was evident but he wasn't giving up 'Did you know there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol?' The man smiled as my son, much to my mortification, started to outline the differences - perhaps in a vain attempt to convince him that this cake might contain good cholesterol and he would be convinced to try a slice! No, we had not been studying nutrition - it seems as I discovered later, that my son had absorbed quite a number of facts from a segment about cholesterol on a current affairs programme! I can remember thinking - this guy is going to be wondering who Dana is and does this amount to bribery? Well he missed out but most visitors to our home do not refuse chocolate cake and indeed, this is the recipe I am asked for time and time again.

My daughter also made and decorated this cake for her big brother. She has had plenty of practice - her little brother in the picture below (not my youngest but wow - the resemblance at the same age!) is now eleven years old and still likes to lick the bowl!

Which incidentally, was just yesterday as yet another Dana's chocolate cake came out of the oven, courtesy of my five year old twin daughters who made it for me on Mother's Day - the first recipe they have made with just verbal instructions and minimal supervision. They were very proud of their efforts and as it always does, it turned out perfectly. It is so easy to make - throw all the ingredients into the bowl or food processor and mix well. Pour into your prepared tin and bake.

I am now going to send you on a recipe hunt as I am sticking to my policy of not reproducing recipes at my blog unless they are my own. If you do a search for 'Dana's chocolate cake' I can guarantee you will find the recipe - at forums and on blogs (not all acknowledge the source either) but I am sending you to the site of the Destitute Gourmet. You will need to register to access recipes but it is worth it as you also receive a newsletter by email packed with lots of tips for saving money in the kitchen. I just wish they would feature a link to this recipe on the main page - I finally found it after several site searches, in the Spring newsletter for 2009 under 'Dana's chocolate cupcakes' - the recipe can also be used to make cupcakes. Perhaps if the recipe was made more accessible it would become the most baked chocolate cake in the world! Believe me it is worth searching for!

What is your most frequently made recipe - the one you make time and time again? I will not be surprised if it is a sweet recipe or to find that it features chocolate!

With Love and Joy,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rocky Road Chocolate Brownie

Rocky Road Chocolate Brownie has to be one of my family's favourite sweet treats. I have tried various brownie recipes but most were either too wet, too gooey, too sweet, too nutty, too fudgy or the opposite - too dry. I wanted to come up with a brownie that was cake-like in texture, moist without tasting undercooked with just enough chunks of chocolate and a scattering of nuts, dried fruit and chewy marshmallows. This version is super easy and super quick to make because you use a bar of Cadbury Rocky Road chocolate which takes just moments to chop up before being stirred into the mixture.

Here are the ingredients

One 2oo gram bar of Cadbury Rocky Road chocolate - you could use two for a 'rockier road version'! Of course you could use separate ingredients - chocolate chips, baking marshmallows, cherries, nuts etc but that's a lot of jars/packets to open - the chocolate bar version is a real time saver!

3/4 to 1 cup (approx) of softened unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 cup of all-purpose flour (I like to use unbleached organic flour)
1 cup raw sugar (or caster sugar if you prefer)
1/2 cup good quality baking cocoa
pinch of salt


1. Pre-heat oven to 180 c ( 350 F)

2. Line a square baking pan with baking paper (mine is 20cm by 20 cm - just under 8"x 8" with a depth of 5cm or 2" for my imperial friends!)

3.In a large bowl, beat your butter until smooth and stir in the eggs. I sometimes use the processor if my butter hasn't softened sufficiently and the mix appears lumpy.

4. Stir in the dry ingredients ensuring that all the flour is folded in well.

5. Roughly chop up the chocolate bar - I cut each square into quarters and mix in.

6.Spread the mixture out evenly in the prepared pan - a rubber spatula is helpful!

7.Bake for approximately 30 minutes - the edges should start to pull away from the sides of the pan indicating that it is ready.

8.Cool in the pan and cut into slices - I opt for 16 for a morning or afternoon tea treat but you could cut 12 to create more generous servings suitable for a dessert - serve still warm with ice cream.

My family prefer this brownie warm and fresh out of the oven. The chunks of chocolate are still gooey and melt in your mouth! It is meant to be an occasional treat as I prefer to use freshly milled wholewheat flour for most of my baking but it is not really suitable for this kind of recipe. Let it be said - I'm not against the occasional use of refined products for certain cakes and desserts. I'm sure my children are going to have fond memories of making Rocky Road Chocolate Brownie!

What is your favourite chocolate recipe? I'm very tempted to share the link to what I believe is the world's best chocolate cake. The cake I have been making for years that no other chocolate cake recipe has come even close to matching - interested?

With Love and Joy,


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