Saturday, 31 March 2012

Appy Feet Experience

The moto of the shop, love it!
The weather has been so fabulous lately that we took the opportunity to use my husbands birthday gift certificate to "Appy Feet". This is one of those fishy pedicure places that are popping up all over, there are actually 2 in York. We thought about it all winter, but felt we would enjoy it more if we didn't have to worry about rolling up our trousers to keep them dry.

Here Fishy Fishy!

We had such a good time! As soon as you sit down, the fish start to get excited and swim towards the surface of their tank. By the time your toes touch the water they have achieved contact! The initial sensation was extremely ticklish and I had to quickly place the soles of my feet on the bottom of the tank but do it gently enough to not squish any fish.  At the end of your time, these little guys are so eager, they are jumping out of the water to get to you as you dry your feet over the tank.

 Notice my feet placed firmly on the bottom of the tank at this point.  Had to try very hard to keep from twitching and giggling too much!


The extreme sensation wears off and becomes very pleasant. I was able to lift my feet little by little and let the fish give my feet the complete overhaul they needed after months in boots!

I look forward to having this done again at the end of summer when my feet will need a nice treat after months in river sandals!

Oh yeah, my husband really enjoyed it too, it was his birthday present after all! We will both be back before the end of summer. 

video

Ladybirds gone Wild

Here is the video I promised earlier!  I hope they get back into warm cozy spots before the weather changes too much!

video

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

American Suburbanite Bakes: Irish Car-bomb Cupcakes

Before going to Cheltenham and St. Patrick's Day, inspired by all things Irish, I made Irish Car-Bomb Cupcakes. I had seen them posted on Pinterest (over and over again). When I couldn't resist the temptation any longer, my husband welcomed the request to buy some Guinness! From opening the can to baking and eating, my husband helped me make the cupcakes. He took charge of the whiskey ganache and was chief taste tester as we went along.

The recipe is based on the Brown Eyed Bakers blog.

http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2011/03/14/irish-car-bomb-cupcakes/

It was worth following her recipe, but I did tweak a few things as I went along. First, I cut the recipe in half because my husband and I could easily eat all 24 cupcakes if I made them. Not exactly the way to keep our healthy living/weight loss plans for the year! I have to say, the frosting was some of the best I have ever made and has created a bit of a Baileys habit. Glad I only made half the recipe or I would be eating it on everything!



Recipe for 12 cupcakes:

Cupcakes-
1/2 cup Guinness
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 + 1/8 cup cocoa powder (I used Bourneville)
1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/3 cup sour cream

For the whiskey ganache-
4 oz dark/ bittersweet chocolate **
1/3 cup heavy (double) cream
1 TBS butter (at room temperature)
1 tsp Irish Whiskey

For the Baileys Buttercream Frosting-
1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup powdered (icing) sugar
3 TBS Baileys Irish Cream

** We used an 80% cocoa chocolate bar. We found it was too much cocoa to combine and had to add powdered sugar until it came together.

CUPCAKES

-Preheat oven to 350 F
-Place cupcake liners in cupcake tin
-In saucepan, bring Guinness and butter to a simmer
-Remove mixture from heat and add cocoa powder, whisking until smooth
-Cool slightly

-In a large bowl, beat eggs and sour cream on medium speed until combined
-Add the cooled Guinness and chocolate mixture and beat until combined

-In another bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt
-Add dry ingredients into wet ingredients
-Beat briefly on low speed
-Combine completely with a rubber spatula
-Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full

Bake about 16 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

WHISKEY GANACHE

-Break up chocolate into small pieces and place in heatproof bowel
-In small pan, bring cream to a simmer
-Pour hot cream over chocolate
-Let sit for 1 minute
-With a rubber spatula, fold chocolate into cream until smooth
-Let cool, it should be the consistency of toothpaste, thick but still able to be piped

(after 20 minutes or so, this is where I added some powdered sugar as the 80% cocoa bar was too chocolatey to combine!)

FILL THE CUPCAKES

-Using your tool of choice, cut out a pocket in the centers of the cupcakes going about 2/3 down. (I used a small melon baller, the other recipes use a cookie cutter or the bottom of a large piping tip)
-Fill the wholes in the cupcakes with the ganache. I used a small spoon. You can pipe it in. If you don't have a piping bag, you can use a ziplock bag and snip off the corner.

BALEYS BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

-Mix the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, scraping the sides occasionally
-Reduce mixer speed to medium-low/low and gradually add icing sugar until it is combined thoroughly
-Add the Baileys and mix again on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy

FROST THE CUPCAKES

-Using you favorite technique frost the cupcakes and enjoy!





Sunday, 18 March 2012

Mothering Sunday

The link below refers to the origins of Mothering Sunday.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/holydays/motheringsunday_1.shtml

Whether you call it Mothering Sunday or refer to its modern name, Mothers Day, yesterday we celebrated Mums around the UK.

My in laws arrived around 10am. Our first stop was the Mercedes garage to pick up our new car. We walked into the showroom and saw our car waiting for us. Unfortunately, they were not able to print out the finance documents, so we had to leave the car there. Completely bummed, we drove off in the salesman's car with the hopes to get our car today.

The rest of the day was about my husband's Mum. She was looking forward to a day in Harrogate and was delighted with the spring blossoms as we strolled through The Valley Gardens. We were treated to a bright sunny day even if still chilly (not quite Florida weather). We even saw a plaque referring to the American soldiers who fought during WWII. Will have to look into my grandfather's war records to see where, besides Coventry, he was in England.

After our walk we headed to the General Tarleton. You may recall we stumbled upon this lovely restaurant and hotel when we had our little accident in the snow. We decided it would be the perfect place for Sunday dinner on Mothering Sunday. I am not sure how well I like the name sake though. He was a general in the English army during "the American war" as the war for Independence is referred to here. He was quite brutal by all accounts. You can read more about him here:

http://www.nps.gov/cowp/historyculture/lieutenant-colonel-banastre-tarleton.htm


No matter the namesake, once again we had a lovely experience at the General Tarleton. We were all hungry by our 2pm reservation and consumed our starters before I could think to take pictures. Local, seasonal, and fresh, the food was delicious. Moneybags (seafood in a crispy shell and a lobster sauce), scallops, and a Sheeps milk cheese soufflé made a brief appearance on our table.

A little food in our stomachs, the gentle buzz of conversation surrounding us, and the sun through the bay window in which we were seated made for a great atmosphere. Our main course soon arrived, the boys chose the pork and I splurged on the roast beef. My mother-in-law was sensible and got the sea bass. I did linger on the sea bass, but we don't eat beef often and thought I would indulge while we were out. My eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach as I couldn't finish my main, especially as I knew dessert was on its way!

For dessert I chose the trio of Yorkshire rhubarb (as did my mother-in-law). We were offered a panacota with a rhubarb jelly (jello) on top, vanilla ice cream with a rhubarb compote, and the sweetest little rhubarb crumble. My husband had the sticky toffee pudding (which is really a steamed cake in toffe sauce) and Pops had the Eaton Mess (strawberries and bits of meringue in whipped cream).

Needless to say, we all had more than our fill of delicious food and my Mother-in-law enjoyed her day. Hopefully, her congestion was only due to her forgetting her asthma inhaler and not her coming down with a cold.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Some amazing weather!

I know! I usually complain about the English weather, but the weekend has been glorious and there seems to be more of the same for the week!

I spent much of the weekend outside digging up one of the flower bed by our deck. We had some unruly shrubs that I am going to try to replant out front ion the cobbles in an effort to continue to claim a bit of space in front of our house. Really if we didn't have the barrels out there people would park right up to the front door I think. As it is people still walk their dogs and let them leave some unfriendly gifts at our doorstep. Hopefully the plants will take and I can create a bit of a hedge. Next year I am hoping for a bit of a cottage garden within the hedged area. Curb appeal to help it sell!

I spent a little time indoors yesterday to cook a lovely Sunday roast. It would have been nicer if my husband didn't have to work, but we had some quality time once he was home! I think the next time we have the G family over for a Sunday roast we may have s roast potato competition between my husband and myself. On Christmas, he claims turkey and potatoes as his jobs, but I think my potatoes are better, even if I am an American!

Today my husband had a conference and was meeting the carpool in the next town. I drove in with him and we window shopped until the carpool arrived. Once he was on his way, I hit the charity shops (thrift stores) and antique shops. My big finds of the day were a wooden bracelet and little hold all. I spent £1.38 on my treasures and could easily fit them in my hand bag...after I ate my banana.

Good thing they fit as I was cycling home. It is mostly flat and just under four miles. I was glad to have the ride one way as the bikes are in desperate need of a tune up. I still have mud caked on my bike from the last time I rode in the fall, I can't shift gears or I pop the chain off, and today I broke one of the reflectors as I tried to take it out of the TT. I may cycle into town on Thursday and meet my husband at the gym after work. If I can get into town early enough, I can leave the bike at the shop and for £20 it will get a tune up! I think it will be worth the piece of mind as I use it as my main source of transportation while my husband is at work.

Oh well, time to get a little more gardening in as I procrastinate from doing any indoor chores! At least one of them is fun, pack for a day at the Cheltenham Race Festival!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Oops, I missed Wild Wednesday!

And for good reason. My poor husband didn't get to put his feet up on his day off until about 6pm.

We were up before 8am to get ready for the vets. We schedule an early appointment because we have a better chance of getting Max, the wandering English black cat, at home. It rained steadily all night, so he spent the night at home. When my husband went downstairs to make his cuppa, he was curled in his cat bed next to the radiator. He put some food down and even gave him some of our leftover roast chicken.

He tucked in as my husband and I showered and got dressed. I figured I would put him in a carrier then release the Americans and get Isis (the tailless wonder) from the bathroom sink, her first stop when released from their bedroom. So all ready, I head downstairs with plan in mind and Max is MIA. The English cats are indoor/outdoor, and Max was currently out. We went out to the garden and called his name, but he did not return.

My husband continued calling for him while I got Isis ready. She came with no problems. So with only one cat we headed to the vets for a shot and a senior blood panel. She just turned 11 on Valentine's day and she has lost a little weight since moving to England (wish I could say the same). I am hoping we pick up hyperthyroid disease as that is quite easily controlled. If she is in the early stages of the disease process, she is a candidate for a food trial from Hills Science Diet Veterinary Foods. Fingers crossed we don't have a similar process that Mona went through. Isis was very brave at the vets, even if they had to shave both sides of her neck to get a little blood.

On our way home we stopped at the post office hoping to get my driving license application sorted. Easingwald post office can only renew a license, the can not process a foreign application. Well thats strike three on my application. Last week, both photo booths at Tesco were out of order. We went to Ripon post office because they were listed on the website as being able to process my application. When we got there, they could not. Good thing I am not really playing ball!

After returning home and dropping off Isis, we went to Morrisons for a late breakfast and a stop in a photo booth. Fortunately, their photo booth worked and a few minutes later I had some mugshots. I wish you could smile in a picture here!

Not wanting to miss anything on the application, we thought I needed to have my picture signed by someone who has known me for 2 years in the UK. So we drove to York where Mr. G agreed to sign it. Once we got there though, we realized it didn't need signed. So we put my passport, both applications, and a note explaining the second application was due to my inability to keep my signature within the white box in the envelope. We added some tape to keep it shut (the adhesive was worthless) and made it to the post office to send it "special delivery" which means it will be signed for and arrive within the next hour.

Home now we hung a curtain rod, changed some light bulbs, had a snack, then we were out of the house again. When I had my third bad cold of the winter, the doctor who saw me suspected asthma. Just now getting all things coordinated to have my spirometer testing. The appointment was scheduled for 40 minutes, so my husband picked up the double cream for a cupcake recipe I was toying with and the medicine cabinet I spied in the local antique shop. By the time I was done, I was correct, my lung capacity was normal. They could rule out chronic bronchitis, but not yet asthma. My husband was in the waiting room for me to give the good news to.

Finally home we vegged out in front if the tv last night watching multiple episodes of Criminal Minds with the Irish Car Bomb cupcakes as dessert!

Monday, 5 March 2012

A Charity Event for The Meningitis Trust

Just over three years ago, our friends were going through a nightmare. Mrs. C was very ill suffering from an intense headache that continued down her neck. It had not been going on for very long, but was acute and severe. Fortunately, Mr. C was extremely persistent and he convinced the GP to come to the house. Once the GP had examined her, he recognized the symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis and called an ambulance.

With no recollection of the next day and some time in the hospital, Mrs. C beat the meningitis and was released, however it took her about a year to feel 100% back to normal. She was very lucky as many suffer long term injuries/disabilities if they survive. She credits her husbands stubbornness and fast actions for her full recovery. Although they didn't know, meningitis can be fatal if not treated within FOUR hours of symptom onset.

The number of times I have had a severe headache are countless. If you are ever in doubt, please get medical attention immediately. With such a small window for effective treatment, everyone should know the signs and check the Meningitis Trust website. There is even an app for the symptom card. If you or your kids have a smart phone or tablet, download it!

www.meningitis-trust.org

After her recovery, Mrs. C has done several charity events benefiting the trust. This is the second (and supposedly her last) Champagne and Feathers Ball. It was an excellent event with champagne reception, great food,a variety of musical entertainment, tombolla, raffle, auction, and silent auction.

We had the opportunity to dress to the nines, have fun with some good friends, win a few items in the silent auction, and it all benefited a great cause.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Lambing Live

If you have not seen the annual BBC program where Kate Humbel heads to a few sheep farms and broadcasts live during the hight of lambing season, you should do. I learned quite a bit about the process last year.This year I had the opportunity to visit a friends small holding (small farm) in the midst of lambing season.

Mr. & Mrs. B only have 5 pregnant ewes, so my chances of seeing lambs being born was limited. There was no one in the house so I headed towards the field. As I approached, I saw lambs in the field. I was already excited, but knew that was 1 less ewe in the draw to lamb today. I found Mr. & Mrs. B in one of the out buildings.

Along with them were 3 more lambs and another ewe. These were born about 30 hours prior to my arrival. They were absolutely gorgeous. One was bleating much louder than the others. This little female was already rejected by the ewe. Although some will try to nurse all three, this mum knows she can only handle two. Sad as it may be, for the time being she is in sight if her brother and sister, but is kept separated for her safety. I had the opportunity to bottle feed her twice. She has quite a strong will and I hope it gets her through this toughest part of her little life. It was very difficult for me to not take her home and snuggle and cuddle her through her 12 weeks of bottle feeds. I look forward to checking up on her in a few weeks.

Well now, 2 ewes have lambed, the one due today was my mum with triplets. The next ewe was due the following day. Knowing the due dates are just estimates from the first time they were possibly mated, I was convinced I would not see any actual lambing. It was ok, I had plenty to keep me occupied with the lambs already born.

We checked on the other ewes and one had started to separate from the rest. This is a sign that she is getting ready to begin the birthing process, but could still be a day or so away.

I was shown around the rest of the property and introduced to the other sheep, including the big daddy ram. We headed inside for a cuppa (tea for everyone but me, I stuck with my typical water). The set up is ideal for a hobbyist farmer with a small flock of sheep. There is a field just off the house and the expectant mothers are kept here. The large glass doors leading to the patio from the lounge make the sofa an excellent spot to keep an eye on the activity outside. It is a type of shepherding I could get used to! Mr. B was up and down scanning his flock like an expectant father pacing in a hospital waiting room.

For about an hour we watched the geese fly by and the ewe on her own had moved spots a couple of times, but did not appear to progress. On the next glance out the window, however, it was different. She was now lying down and appeared to be pushing. We were all up in a flash getting our boots on and heading out.

We managed to get her into the barn where she continued to push. Also in the barn was the rejected triplet. While initially mum was getting on with the business of having her own lambs, the bleating orphan confused her into thinking her pushes were much more productive than they truly were. She stopped pushing and attempted to groom and bond with her. We quickly removed her from the main barn and put her into a different stall outside. Fortunately mother nature took over and mum started pushing again.

In less than 30 minutes her first lamb was born, a little male with little horns already protruding from his head. Cleaning her new little lamb, the pushing continued. In another 30 minutes, a little female was born.

I knew it was unlikely this mum would have a single birth or triplets, I was secretly hoping for either. The way she responded to the rejected lamb, if she only had one, there was a chance she could foster the little orphan. On the other hand, if she had triplets and also rejected one, the little orphan could have a constant companion. Both notions were a bit far fetched, but I am an idealist and can think of my fairy tale endings.

We watched the newborn lambs for about an hour. Mum cleaned and cleaned her little lambs. In this time both little lambs made it to their feet and took their first unsteady little steps.

Once on their feet, both lambs tenaciously looked for their first feed. Head-butting every part of the poor mum until they got it right. Knowing both were active and have fed well, we could leave mum in peace to bond with her lambs.

All in all it was a great day, I want to thank C for coordinating a day with her parents. A thank you to Mr. & Mrs. B for feeding and entertaining me all day. And a big thank you to mother nature for working with my schedule!