Advent 2017: Day 21

We got to spend the day at the Aged Ps place today making lots of gingerbread – in time for tomorrow’s Christmas party! Also, we met a Noodle Ninja.

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

 

Advent 2017: Day 14

I had a decent rest last night so I’m much better but feeling extremely tired. J’s friends came round for a playdate so I fortified myself with mini-apple crumble tarts for breakfast and just carried on.

The kids are playing “Ravensburger Labyrinth (I talked about this in a previous post) and another game called Marrakech.

This is a really fun carpet-laying strategy game set in a busy market square. It’s easy to learn, very tactile and requires some keen thinking, and is a real hit with the kids including Thumper, who just likes putting out the moroccan blue carpets in a zigzag pattern. (Buyer’s note: We bought our set from My First Games, but you can also find it on Amazon.)

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Advent 2017: Day 12

We spent the day with the Aged P today – the kids have missed her so much!

 

By the way, the game that we are playing is called ‘Qwirkle‘. It’s a simple colour and shape matching game with a good measure of strategy thrown in, so it’s a good one to play across generations! (Buyer’s Note: We received this game as a Christmas gift from a relative who purchased it from My First Games, but you can also find this game on Amazon.)

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Advent 2017: Day 11

The Aged Ps have been away since the start of the Advent season, and they came back today! We helped them decorate their Christmas tree in advance of their arrival – which is always really fun for us as the Aged Ps have collected many beautiful ornaments from their travels around the world.

The poor Barn Owl is on call this evening. He’s been sick all day and has been resting quietly in the bedroom, but he’s heading to work later.

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

The Happy Family Plan

As you may know, I recently hosted Christmas Dinner for the Owls Well family at my house as a response to the baking challenge that A Becky C set me in the beginning of the year.

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Challenge completed!

The most difficult thing about hosting the Christmas ‘Everything Baked’ Dinner at the my place, was not actually the cooking, but that I had to get myself to a place where I felt like I could invite people (specifically family) round to my house without feeling too upset and stressed about it.

I actually started planning for the Christmas Dinner at my place WAY back in October. I called this my “Happy Family Plan“. The goal of my plan was to be able to have the Outlaws stay at my house and invite the Aged Ps round for dinner at the same time. This was a 4 stage plan, as follows:

 Stage 1:  Reorganise/declutter children’s toys and schedules. 

This was so that we could spend more time at home and that we would also enjoy spending more time at home as the living room area would be more presentable. I felt quite stressed about being at home sometimes as I found myself getting upset with the kids and very unhappy when their toys seemed to be everywhere, even after putting the toys away.

Result: I donated many bags of toys to families who would appreciate them more than we would. Spending more time at home was relaxing too.

Stage 2: Reorganise the cupboards 

Our dining table and counter tops were overflowing with things, as was my desk area. The cupboards had been stuffed willy-nilly to keep everything away from prying eyes but it was reaching the stage where I felt bad about how ugly the cupboards were on the inside and couldn’t even bear to open them to put more things away.

Result: I reorganised the children’s clothing cupboards, our craft cupboard and two of our miscellaneous cupboards, and gave away some of the clothes that I knew I would never wear again (i.e. all my maternity and nursing gear, and my pre-pregnancy work wear). I wasn’t able to go through all the cupboards as I didn’t have enough time, this being an emergency plan, but I did manage to find space to make sure the dining table was clear and that the countertops were not overly cluttered.

Stage 3: Reclaim my bedroom space and the spare room space.

The spare room was being used as a temporary holding area (i.e. storage room) and that needed to change if I was going to put the Outlaws up in there. My bedroom space was only being used as a place to sleep and not a place to relax and that needed to change.

Result: This involved getting rid of large furniture items in my bedroom which were being used as glorified clothes horses. I also moved Thumper out of our bedroom and into the children’s room. This led to both myself and the Barn Owl experiencing better sleep and less guilt for not using furniture as intended. I also felt less upset about the state of the spare bedroom (although still a little embarrassed about the cupboards in there!)

Stage 4: Host guests in the house

Obviously, I wanted to feel proud about where we lived, proud enough to show it off to other people. I didn’t want to worry about whether the Aged Ps would leave my house feeling sad at the state of it.

If you look to the top right of the picture above, you can see that I still had laundry hanging up in my dining room – it was raining so it couldn’t go outside – and whilst I was quite embarrassed that I didn’t have anywhere else to put it, at least I felt okay enough to have people come and visit the house.

And look how happy everyone is!

Happy Family Plan Completed!

Notes on the Happy Family Plan:

I set aside Thumper’s 2 hour morning nap time to devote to the decluttering and tidying portion Happy Family Plan, which was the most time-consuming part of this whole event. I would spend only one hour diligently working, then decompress for half an hour with crisps, a cold drink and Youtube. If I felt good enough, I’d do a little bit more during the afternoon, but not more than half an hour as I didn’t want to burn myself out.

I toyed with the idea of selling all my preloved things, even to the point of opening a Carousell account, but in the end I realised that it was more important for me to get the clutter out of sight quickly. Additionally, I decided that my family is fortunate enough to be in a position where we can afford to be charitable. So, I listed everything on various Freecycle sites as I decluttered, so that these things would go to people who wanted or needed them enough to come and collect them from me. Reducing World Suck whilst accomplishing the Happy Family Plan was a huge bonus, and some days I felt a little bit like Santa Claus!

For Stage 3 of the Happy Family Plan, I had to take into account the fact that there might possibly be a difficult transition period whilst J, Little E and Thumper adjust to the new sleeping arrangements, and I didn’t want this to affect J as he was preparing for his year end exams. So I waited until J had completed his last paper before moving Thumper out of our bedroom.

It was surprisingly easy – the 3 kids did take longer to get to sleep at first as they would play with Thumper after lights out, but there was a lot less fuss from Thumper than I’d envisioned. This was because Little E instantly took over the job of comforting Thumper if he woke her up at night and she managed it a lot better than I normally do! Her secret? “I just tell him to lie down and go to sleep”, says she. I must say I was very proud of all of them, especially Little E, who really had a chance to flex her big sister muscles!

Concluding thoughts:

I’m pleased to say that I am really proud of myself for managing to complete the Happy Family Plan within a short time frame and despite the fact that I only had an hour a day to spend on it! Yay for me!

Whilst completing the Happy Family Plan, I went on my personal social media site and asked for advice for how to declutter and organise my cupboards.

This eventually led to one of my family giving me a set of Marie Kondo‘s books for Christmas! I’ll let you know how I feel about it once I finish reading them.

Sisterly Challenge 2016 results – Baking Challenge: PASS

Okay for those of you who have been following the Owls Well sisterly challenges may remember that I gave A Becky C a knitting challenge, whilst she gave me a baking challenge that I was very nervous about.

Well, I would like to say that I completed 4 out of 5 of the baking challenges that A Becky C gave me, which I think warrants a PASS.

I made a traditional baked dessert that was also a pie. I also made something savoury that wasn’t a pie.

And this year, I hosted Christmas ‘Everything Baked’ Dinner for the Owls Well family at my house – and everything that was served (except drinks) had been oven-baked!

Evidence:

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Happy Christmas Dinner!

I made Baked Potato Mash, Roasted Broccoli, Roast Lamb with root vegetables! Yay!

So. How did your knitting challenge go?

All Natural National Day Red-and-white Velvet Cake

The Aged P threw a National Day party for our relatives yesterday, and she served up this delicious cake with a Singapore twist – so I asked her if she would share her recipe right here on Owls Well!

If you’re still looking for an Impressive Dessert for your National Day Party, here’s the Aged P’s special National Day Red-and-white Velvet Cake recipe.

Aged P’s Tip: This kid-friendly recipe uses natural food colouring as well as a reduced sugar frosting that holds up well in Singapore’s warm summery climate.

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National Day Red Velvet Cake

Recipe for Natural Beetroot Red Food Colouring

Ingredients
2 beetroots
Water

Method
1. Peel and cut two beetroots into cubes
2. Cook in a pot with enough water to cover the cubes, over low flame, for 1 hour.
3. Drain the liquid and set aside – this is the natural red food colouring

Red Velvet Cake Recipe

Ingredients
3 and 3/4 cup plain flour, sifted
175g unsalted butter
1 and 3/4 cup fine sugar
3 eggs
6 tablespoons Milo powder (or cocoa powder)
1/4 cup natural beetroot red food colouring
1 and 1/2tsp fine salt
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk with 2 and 1/2 tbsp of distilled vinegar (substitute for buttermilk)
2 and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 and 1/2 tbsp distilled white vinegar

Method
1. Heat oven to 170C.
2. Line two 11 inch X 4 inch loaf tins with greaseproof paper
3. In a small bowl mix Milo with natural beetroot cup red food colouring.  Set aside to cool.
4. Mix vanilla essence, salt and buttermilk together, set aside
5. Cream butter and 1-3/4C sugar until light and fluffy.
6. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
8. Add Milo and natural beetroot food colouring
9. Add sifted flour, alternating with addition of substitute buttermilk until batter is smooth
10. Mix bicarbonate of soda and vinegar in a small bowl then immediately add the mixture to the batter, folding in gently.
11. Pour batter into prepared loaf tins and bake in oven for 35 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean.
12. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

Aged P’s Tip: If you’re using regular commercial food colouring instead of the natural food colouring, use 2 tsp of food colouring and increase the milk by 1/4cup.

Recipe for Reduced Sugar Frosting

Ingredients
7 and 1/2 tbsp plain flour
1 and 1/2cup milk
1 and 1/4cup fine sugar
1 and 1/2cup butter, softened
1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Method
1. Whisk plain flour into the milk.
2. Cook over low flame, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened.  Set aside to cool.
3. Cream butter. sugar and vanilla until fluffy then add the cooled thickened flour mixture.
4. Beat the mixture until fluffy.

Baking Challenge: Mary-Full-Of-Grace Chicken

Well well well, I have now completed TWO of the baking challenges that ABC (A Becky C) has set for me this year!

This one satisfies the criteria ‘something savoury that isn’t a pie’, and it is a mix of two recipes introduced to me during my student days by two different women.

One of these women is a fine lady that I met as a student in London, who basically adopted every single person who didn’t have a home and family to escape to every weekend. Every Sunday afternoon, she would invite starving stragglers like myself to her home for lunch where she would serve us all a delicious meal of baked chicken parcels, piping hot from the oven, whilst her husband entertained us with snippets of The Goon Show. She never knew how many people would be gracing her home during Sunday afternoons, but somehow there was always more than enough to go round.

The other woman is a girl that I knew from school who was studying in Germany and also met a fine lady over there who also adopted all poor and starving International students and served them baked stuffed chicken for Sunday Lunch. My friend visited me in London one time and made the dish for me.

I’ve now come to associate baked chicken with hospitality and kindness, and I’ve taken the liberty of combining the two recipes together, which I think works pretty well! I have also included additional Thermomix instructions at the end of the recipe for those of you who own magic stirring pots. In honour of the two women who opened their homes and hearts to strangers on Sunday afternoons, I am calling this dish, “Mary-Full-Of-Grace Chicken”.

Mary-Full-Of-Grace Chicken Recipe

Ingredients:

  1. 6 Skinless chicken breast fillets
  2. 12-15 Bacon strips (I used back bacon, but streaky bacon probably works better)
  3. 150g-200g Cream cheese with herbs (I used one that had garlic and chives in it but you can use Boursin or make your own)
  4. 1 tbsp olive oil
  5. (Optional) Toothpicks

cream-cheese-bacon-wrapped-chicken

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C and use some olive oil to grease a baking pan or sheet
  2. Using a sharp knife, butterfly each chicken breast by slicing it carefully down the centre but not all the way through. Alternatively, you can use a rolling pin to flatten each chicken breast to a 1/2 inch thickness.
  3. Spread 2-3 tablespoons of cream cheese in the centre of the chicken breast.
  4. Roll the chicken breast up to completely cover the cream cheese
  5. Wrap the rolled up chicken breast with 2-3 strips of bacon
  6. (Optional) Use a toothpick to keep the bacon in place
  7. Place the chicken seam-side down onto the baking pan
  8. Drizzle over with olive oil
  9. Bake uncovered at 200°C for 30-40 minutes until juices run clear
  10. Broil under the grill for 5 minutes to make the bacon nice and crisp

(note: If you want to be indulgent, use butter instead of olive oil)

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Extra Thermomix instructions for cream cheese and herbs:

  1. Put 1 clove of peeled garlic and 1-2 chives or spring onion in the Thermomix, then blend for 5 seconds at speed 7
  2. Scrape down then add 200-250g of cream cheese and blend for 20 seconds on speed 4

 

Debs G Baking Challenge: Mr Fox’s Foolproof Blueberry Cobbler

HA HA! I have successfully completed one of the Challenges that A Becky C gave me earlier this year! And it is delicious. And everybody loved it!

Blueberry Cobbler is what I would consider an idiot proof dessert.

Why do I consider this idiot proof?

Because it was the dessert that my good friend Mr Fox1 made when he visited me during his Tour of Europe.

At the time, I was a medical student living in a rented ramshackle hut. The kitchen had a linoleum floor from the 1950s that was only partially in our plane of existence. We had no baking equipment except a malfunctioning oven which you had to light by turning on the gas and then sticking your head into the oven with a burning taper.

Dangerous? Yes!

Did that deter Mr Fox? No!

Mr Fox coolly bought some blueberries from the market, and then magically produced this amazing dessert which my starving housemates and I demolished in a matter of seconds. That guy is Fantastic.

I’ve tweaked his recipe a little bit to make it more child-friendly (and by that, I mean, it is a low sugar version), and I think it turned out pretty well! I’ve also added additional Thermomix instructions at the end of the recipe for those of you who own magic self-stirring pots.

Mr Fox’s Foolproof Blueberry Cobbler Recipe

Ingredients:

  1. 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  2. ½ cup sugar
  3. 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  4. ¾ cup whole milk
  5. ⅓ cup softened butter
  6. 2 cups blueberries
  7. 1 tsp vanilla extract

(note: You can increase the amount of blueberries if you like!)

blueberry-cobbler-recipe

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 170°C
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the vanilla extract and set aside.
  3. Add the rest of the sugar, floor, baking powder, milk and butter together and mix until smooth
  4. Pour batter into an ovenproof dish. I used an 8″ square casserole dish.
  5. Sprinkle the blueberries over the top
  6. Sprinkle the sugar and vanilla extract mixture over the top
  7. Bake at 170°C for 45minutes
  8. Enjoy on it’s own or with vanilla icecream (or custard!)

blueberry-cobbler-delicious-dessert

Extra Thermomix instructions for the batter:

  1. Soften butter at 50°C at Speed 2 for 3 minutes
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients as detailed in the method above and blend for 10 seconds on Speed 6

1. Mr Fox is so named because of his true name, his ruddy red locks and his ‘Auntie Killer’ personality. He is a multilingual lawyer who runs marathons, helps inner city youth on his days off and bakes delicious blueberry cobbler, so yeah, he is Fantastic. I’d introduce him to all you single ladies out there, but unfortunately, he has only recently married a very handsome veterinary doctor.

A Conversation about Bread

Debs G: A Becky Lee!  I need your blueberry cobbler recipe for the challenge!

A Becky Lee: I don’t know if I have it at the moment because I use Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook and it’s stashed away in a box somewhere… but from memory, it’s flour, milk, sugar, blueberries… and I’m not sure if we need eggs, but it does need a binding agent… let me check… Yes, yes it needs eggs.

Debs G: What else would I use other than eggs?!

A Becky Lee: Well, Iunno, blood?

Debs G:  WHAT?!

A Becky Lee: It’s a good binding agent!  It’s got albuluminimumuninm in it like eggs do!

Debs G:  You mean Albumin?

A Becky Lee: Yeah!  Apparently egg albumin and blood albumin is pretty much the same, and you can use blood for when people have egg allergies.  My friend Tatya, you know, the one who is super into Medieval cooking is all excited about this because some archaeologists unearthed an ancient bread that was made out of blood in some battlefield somewhere.  It was super high in protein and stuff.

Debs G: You mean, the soldier bled into the bread and it got preserved?

A Becky Lee: No, it was made with blood.

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BLOOD!

Debs G:  You mean, the soldier died and the bread was on the battlefield and soaked up all the blood like some kind of wheaty vampire.  Anyway, where is Tatya getting this blood from?

A Becky Lee: … a butcher…?

Debs G:  Oh, yeah.  She was probably using cow blood.  I guess you could that from a butcher.

A Becky Lee:  What else kind of blood did you think she was using?

Debs G:  Iunno.  Human?

A Becky Lee:  WHY WOULD SHE USE HUMAN BLOOD?!  That’s disgusting!  We don’t want to get Kuru!

Debs G:  You can’t get Kuru from eating blood!  You can only get it from eating raw human brains!

A Becky Lee:  Well, you can also get it from cornea transplants…

A Becky Lee: … from people who eat raw brains…

Debs G: Exactly.

Our family has some strange conversations sometimes.  Incidentally, for those of you interested in making the Viking Blood Bread, Tatya recommends the recipe from An Early Meal – A Viking Age Cookbook & Culinary Odyssey by Daniel Serra and Hanna Tunberg.


 

Tatya’s Addendum:  I couldn’t find a butcher to get me clean blood, so I got the blood from a friend when they had a sheep slaughtered.  The kitchen looked like vikings had marauded through it with one hapless Christian monk.  (Only one monk because there wasn’t that much blood)