Tuesday 30 November 2010

Advent Calendar

sorry about the poor lighting - not easy to take good pictures in the evening...

Several years ago I made Our Boy an advent calendar and although he is now a teenager it was clear that he was still expecting a calendar this year.

So, last night I wrapped the last little surprise and the little "Nisse" is yet again laden with treats to be opened every day till Christmas Eve. Come to think of it - I think this is the first year I have all the little parcels on the calendar ready before 1 December...!

The little hearts are made using a puncher from Martha Stewart which I first saw on Mannes Hverdag and just had to have!

Monday 29 November 2010

The Right Tools

We have now no excuse not to have a dust free house...!

On the weekend I went out and bought a new bagless "Bosch Power Pet and Carpet Cylinder Vacuum Cleaner". I must have worn out 3 or 4 vacuum cleaners these 11 years in the UK. Not because I am too particular and over clean (far from it) but probably because we have a 3 storey house with very little storage space. The problem has been to find a vacuum cleaner small and light enough to carry between each floor and which won't take too much space, but still good enough to handle a variety of wood floors, tiled floors, laminate floors, and a couple of carpeted floors (these will soon be a thing of the past, I am glad to report!)  as well as gentle enough to handle rugs. However, although this is not particularly light nor small, experience shows that just doesn't work for us. But it seems sturdy, solid, has adjustable suction and all the extra tools are built it (I just misplace them if they are stored outside the machine)

So far, I am pleased with our new "toy" and would recommend it.
As the name says, it is especially good for households with pets and has lifetime filters (still a bit sceptical to that ) as well as a 6-litre fully-sealed dust container. Come to think of it, THAT is a lot of dust! I would be seriously worried if we filled that up in one go...

So, we can now look forward to a clean and dust free advent.
Ah, yes, there is that little thing - somebody still has to walk around with the device... I just didn't have the heart to buy one of those automatic ones that roll around on their own - I think The Cat would have had a heart attack if he had seen that!
Even after 5 years he still freaks out when he hears the vacuum cleaner...!

Sunday 28 November 2010

Christmas Gift Suggestion

To your enemy, forgiveness
To an opponent, tolerance
To a friend, your heart
To a customer, service
To all, charity
To every child, a good example

To yourself, respect

(Oren Arnold)

Happy First Sunday in Advent to all!

Saturday 27 November 2010


I can report that here in the south east of England we now have the first snow on the ground! Apparently, this is the first time in close to 20 years that snow has fallen this early around here... To be honest, it isn't much, just a light dusting on the ground and I am sure it will all be gone by lunchtime. But it sure fits with the seasonal spirit.
Strange to think about The Professor who is on his way to the sunny climate in Brazil for work...!

Time to bring out the advent candles.
This year I had foresight enough to order purple candles on the Internet. I have never been able to find the 'right' advent candles in the shops here and in my opinion they should be purple or white.

Also time to finalise the advent calendar for Our Boy. 
Even if he is a teenager he still expects to get a calendar, although it is getting harder for each year to come up with something else but chocolate...
However, I am pleased that I have thought of some other small things he will enjoy.
More joy!

But the snow puts a damper on other plans for the weekend. We had hoped to take our Norwegian friend to Stamford, a cute and traditional English village, not too far from here, but I have doubts about venturing out on the roads knowing how unaccustomed people are to driving on snow here...
Think a walk to town might be on the agenda instead...

Friday 26 November 2010

Tried and Tested: Dreamcake - Monthly Challenge Entry

We have a visitor from Norway again - and this time on Thanksgiving!
An "old" colleague of mine - we go back about 18 years (!) - is visiting My Norwegian Friend and me.
Lots of catching up, talking, laughing and reminiscing.
I just love these dark evenings with friends, good food, a warm house and lots of candles!

They came over for dinner last night and for dessert I made a twist on the cake I made last week.
This is also my entry to the monthly challenge from Sota Saker where "Colors" is the theme for November.


Whisk stiff: 4 eggwhites and 2 small coffee cups of sugar

Add two small coffee cups of desiccated coconut and
1/2 bar of chopped cooking chocolate

Bake in the oven on 160 degrees for 1 hour

Whip 3 dl whipping cream and pour over the cooled cake.

Fill the cooled cake with loads of fresh or frozen berries (I used frozen)

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Christmas Craft Idea - Christmas Hearts

Ok, I admit it.
I give in.
I HAVE started with some Christmas preparations even if it is against my principles... There is just so much pressure a girl can take and there is just tooooo much inspiration all around to hold back any longer. Besides it is the first Sunday in Advent this coming weekend, so I should be ok...?

Every year I make traditional Scandinavian Christmas hearts (pockets) to hang on the tree. 
I actually taught them to Our Boy's class many years ago as well. 

picture borrowed from Hendes Verden

This year I came across some more unusual patterns in the free online version of the Danish magazine Hendes Verden and they are as easy to make as the traditional ones.

I made these two using some leftover paper to test the pattern and it works! I need to get some more paper with more appropriate colors
(although the paper isn't quite as pink as it somehow came out in the pictures...)

You can find the patterns here. Tip: Use a copymachine to enlarge the templates as you wish.

Monday 22 November 2010

Culturally Balanced Weekend - Epic Kings of Persia and Harry Potter!

picture borrowed from http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/whatson/exhibitions/shahnameh/

I had a lovely birthday weekend which ended with a culturally mix events on Sunday. The Fitzwilliam Museum has a current exhibition of the artistic legacy of one of the world’s greatest literary epics: the 1000 year-old Persian 'Book of Kings', or Shahnameh.
Shahnameh is a vast narrative poem which was completed by the poet Ferdowsi in 1010 AD. It is the 'Iranian version' of the history of the world and is an icon of Persian culture, inspiring some of the world’s most exquisite manuscripts. To mark this passing of a millennium since its completion, the exhibition brings together nearly a hundred paintings from these lavishly illustrated manuscripts spanning 800 years, in the most comprehensive exhibition of Shahnameh art yet mounted in the UK.
The manuscript and illustrations represents a captivating literary and artistic tradition that for many in the West has remained hidden.
picture borrowed from buzzytimes.com
So to balance this highly culturally enriching experience we went to see the latest Harry Potter film in the evening.
I was perhaps slightly disappointed with the film, but come to think of it, it was true enough to the book. It is just that the story is getting so much darker and there isn't really any new enchanting and charming bits in it like in the earlier books. 
I missed Hogwarts, I missed being amazed of the magic.
Still, I look forward to the last film next summer.
In the meantime, I might have a HP-marathon and revisit the earlier films over the Christmas break.

PS: Thanks for all the birthday congratulations!

Sunday 21 November 2010

Travel Gadget

picture borrowed from mydigitalhome.com

A while ago a friend of mine lent me a pair of noise cancelling headphones when I was flying to the USA. I didn't really believe they would be any good, but the experience was amazing and really made a difference to how I felt after the flight.

I had spoken vividly about this many times since and as The Professor travels a lot for work he rewarded himself with an early Christmas present and bought a pair of noise cancelling headphones from Bose (QuietComfort 15). The headphones are excellent for plane- and train noise and he is absolutely thrilled with them. They really reduce the noise and also gives a great listening experience if you choose to hook them up to your MP3 or phone. 


Saturday 20 November 2010

Woman on the Edge...

It has been quiet here for a couple of days as we are in the middle of my birthday weekend ;-) The Professor has come home (after 6 weeks!) and after receiving breakfast in bed by Our Boy I spent most of yesterday receiving visitors and eating cake!
I made this cake I found on the blog Hverdagsthing
The cake was extremely(!) nice and the celebrations have been really great.

Here is the recipe in English:
Whip stiff 4 eggwhites and 2 small coffee cups of sugar
Add two small coffe cups of desiccated coconut and 1/2 bar of chopped cooking chocolate
Bake in the oven on 160 degrees for 1 hour
Whip 3 dl whipping cream and pour the whipped cream over the cooled cake.
Grate the other half of the cooking chocolate bar and sprinkle on top
The blogging has invigorated my interest in photography and The Professor very kindly wants to give me a new camera as part of my birthday present (might be the Christmas gift, too...!).
To avoid "getting into trouble" he wanted to let me choose it myself. So we all went off to the shops this morning.
That is when it all started to go wrong...

I knew exactly which camera I wanted (Canon EOS 550D), and had seen it at a reduced price on the shop's website. To avoid having to wait for it being delivered, I wanted to see if the shop in town would match the online shop. I know this was a long shot, but sometimes they do.

The shop was full of pre-Christmas shoppers, but a salesman quickly attended to us (funny how a middle aged couple with a teenager in tow just "smells" like money to them...). Let me correct myself - he attended to THE PROFESSOR and OUR BOY. I was just overlooked...
Big mistake.
I quickly very politely took over the conversation and pointed out that I knew exactly which camera I wanted and he changed his tone and started interrogating me!
Did I really have any experience with such a high power piece of equipment? I was rather surprised at this tone, but still very friendly and explained that I had looked into this for a long time and I wanted this particular camera. Well, he had more than 20 years experience and would NEVER recommend that camera to a beginner!
I was still calm and replied that I appreciated that, but I was OK with it, I had done my "homework" and I was set on this camera. Again, he kept saying that "this or that" camera would be much better suited to somebody with no experience (not that he bothered to find out how much "experience" I have).
 He proceeded to ask me all sorts of technical questions as if I had to pass a test to be allowed to buy the camera!
I now interrupted rather icily this charade and asked if he would match the price as found online or not?

To cut a long story short, I turned around to my men and we proceeded to another part of the shop. They had watched in silent horror and were shocked witnesses to the scene more or less holding their breath to see if I would explode or not (that has been known to happen before when men have made a similar mistake). I was completely livid and felt extremely offended, but instead of making a scene I chose to walk away from this imbecile.

 My consolation is that he lost his commission.
I will wait till it is delivered from the online shop instead.

I assure you I am calm again and I am now off to have some Chocolate cake!

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Advent Calendar Blog, GCSE and Yoga!

If you are starting to get into the Christmas spirit (which I have to admit I find hard to avoid), the very charming blog
is sharing tips, inspiration and recipes and general Christmas joy every day from 1 December - just like an advent calendar!
(The blog is in Norwegian, but with lots of inspirational pictures - I will suggest she add Google Translator to her blog)

Over to something else:
Last night was parent-teacher evening at Our Boy's school. The event is arranged so that you get 5 mins with each of your child's teacher. Each teacher has their base with a table and chair in the school hall and the parents move around. A bit like what I believe speed-dating is like (Not that I have tried that! That concept didn't exist 25 years ago when I was "on the market").
The meetings take place together with the students so it is really a dialogue between teacher/parent/student.
Very useful, constructive and makes the kids feel involved, I think.

Our Boy has started the preparations for the GCSE-exams which for most subjects will take place end of next school year, except for maths which he will do this year. The next big exam will be in 4 years time with the A-levels which will determine University entry. Although they still look at the GCSE grades as well. University entries are so competitive over here, so there is no room for slacking!

The meeting meant I missed my yoga session, but I went to a new yoga place at lunch time on Tuesday which was great! Also, my Tuesday teacher offered me a place in her Wednesday class tonight, so JOY! I get two classes this week!

Just love it.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Recommended Reading: The House at Riverton

It has gotten cold here. Yesterday and today it was only 2 degrees and I had to scrape the car for the first time. 2 degrees doesn't sound too bad considering I am used to far lower temperatures from our years in Norway, but I tell you 2 HUMID degrees is surprisingly VERY cold.

So, what is better than curling up with a good book at the end of the day? I normally don't have time to read except before going to bed, but I have to admit I sneak in a little extra reading time when I can after being recommended this book - The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton - from a fellow blogger (sorry, forgot who mentioned it!)

It very much reminds me of the TV period drama I have mentioned before - Downton Abbey which has now ended for the season... ;-(  but it is still different. The book is set in the 20's and told through the eyes of Grace, a ladies maid at Riverton House. The description of the times and the people are so real and I almost feel I am there. The story jumps between Grace now, at the age of 99 and Grace at the age of 14 as a maid. The story is beautifully reminiscent without being too sentimental.

It is such a treat when you find a book you love!

Sunday 14 November 2010

Sweet Things

On my clicking through Bloglandia I came across the lovely Swedish blog "Söta saker" written by journalist and art critic Therésia Erneborg. 

Her blog is mainly about baking and she uses her own recipes or those handed down from her mother and grandmother.
She has also published a book with the recipes
- note to self: remember to look for it next time I am home!

Every Saturday she posts a useful summary of other blogs interesting recipes from the week that went for some weekend inspiration.

She also runs a monthly baking challenge where you can bake and submit according to a theme.
At the end of the challenge all the entries are collected and you get a lovely overview over a theme (chocolate/autumn/childhood memories/American/love/etc etc)!

 This month's challenge is called "colors".

PS: Yes, the blog is in Swedish

Friday 12 November 2010

Tried and Tested: Apple and Plum Crumble

I had to hurry to take a picture - it is going fast!

I was watching Nigella on TV last night and got inspired to make my own Apple and Plum Crumble as a Friday evening treat but with much less butter and sugar than she did. In my opinion it really isn't necessary to "drown" the crumble in that much butter or sugar! I prefer to taste the fruit - even if it might be a bit tart - and not just the juices mixed with butter and sugar.
This is real comfort food when it is cold and rainy outside.

 I peeled, cored and cut up and put in an ovenproof dish
which had been sprayed with FryLight (or use some oil)
3 apples
3-4 plums
a handful of raisins
a handful of chopped up almonds
and gave it a good dusting of cinnamon

I then made the crumble and mixed by hand (literally):
50 grams cold butter
80 grams flour
50 grams oatmeal
30 grams demerara sugar (or Splenda)

and spread this lightly over the fruit.

Bake in the oven on 180 degrees for about 25 mins.

I served it warm with a good dollop of vanilla and chocolate fatfree yoghurt (Mullers Light) which worked really well.
If you don't mind the extra calories it would go well with some good quality vanilla icecream/custard/whipped cream.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Tried and tested: Risotto with Pesto

I am off again to yet another November gathering to celebrate a friends birthday. But Our Boy needs to be fed, of course, so I made Risotto for him - a very tasty, comfort food on a cold day which can be varied in many ways and also satisfies a growing boy's bottomless hunger... at least for a while


I had never cooked risotto before until a few years ago when I was given Jamie Oliver's book "Jamie's Italy".
I have a lot of time for his no-nonsense tasty cooking. And it also helps that he is very charming
Anyway, I now often cook this risotto, so it is truly "Tried and Tested":

Heat about 1 l stock (chicken, fish or vegetable)
(I used ready stock which I mixed with boiling water)

Clean, chop and fry slowly (don't burn it) in some olive oil
1 large onion or 4 spring onions
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 head of celery

Increase the heat and add 400 grams of risotto rice and stir till translucent for about 1 min.
Add 2 wineglasses of dry white vermouth/Martini or white wine
Keep stirring. The alcohol will evaporate but will give the risotto a lovely flavour.

Once this has cooked in add the stock, ladle by ladle. Let each ladle be absorbed before adding the next and keep stirring to massage out the rich, creamy starch. 
This takes about 15 mins and is really worth the effort.

Check seasoning (salt, perhaps) and
add 70 grams of butter and
50-100 grams of grated Parmesan cheese.

I like to add some chopped up parsley or basil to it before serving.

If you like -  a good dollop of Pesto along with some toasted pine nuts is also very tasty.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

I love November!

I simply love November.

Not just because it is 'my' month, but because people are not too busy with Christmas preparations and 'endless' end-of-term- productions to attend.
It is kind of the advent-before-the-advent... if you see what I mean. It is getting dark in the afternoon/evenings here, too. And it is getting really cold. What is then better than gathering inside with good friends, some nice food and something nice to drink.

Last night I had 4 friends over for dinner. I so enjoy inviting people who don't know eachother and mixing up my friends with eachother.
It was simple fare - the main aim was to get together.
So after some Prosecco we enjoyed a rather tasty fish soup, if I may say so myself (recipe some other time) with warm foccaccia bread (I had made the dough ready in the morning and it had all day to rise).

Dessert was a low calorie cheese cake - yes, that is actually possible - but that was no success in my opinion. It was the first time I tried this recipe (which I won't bother sharing) and I did not like it.
Sorry, it seems you need to add the calories to get the "real" thing... But not all was lost as others had brought goodies as well and a couple of the guests actually said they liked the cheesecake.
They might just have been polite...?

Sunday 7 November 2010


Our Boy and I had a really full day yesterday. 
In the morning we went off to London to browse around the shops before meeting up with an "old" friend of mine from Norway who was in London for the weekend shopping with her mother. We have known eachother since we were about 12, so it was great fun catching up and we had a lovely lunch in Covent Garden.
It was actually warm enough to sit outside, although the place was buzzing with people!

We always feel a bit gobsmacked and like "country bumpkins" when we go to London. There is so much to see and soooo many people...! We stumbled across an exhibition on Regent Street (off Piccadilly Circus) of old veteran cars. The street had been closed off to normal traffic and some had put in great efforts and dressed up to suit their cars. Great fun!

The Christmas lights are in place in Regent Street the the enormous Christmas decorations were also on display in Covent Garden. We also took in the very cute and endearing window displays in Hamleys (7 floors jampacked with toys) 
- every child's dream and every parent's nightmare...

We also managed to pack in a visit to the Apple Store and Abercrombie and Fitch (only looking - Our Boy is frantically dropping hints for Christmas). I don't get the concept at Abercrombie and Fitch - the store was soooo dark you could hardly see the merchandise, but people were literally queueing out the door, so I guess they saw something in there I didn't...

The evening was rounded off with dinner in our local Indian restaurant back in our own town with our Norwegian friend and two friends of her's visiting from abroad.

Excellent Saturday! 

Friday 5 November 2010

Searching and Finding

A few months ago the Professor and I came across a lamp we both really loved in a charity shop in Edinburgh. The shade was like an old map of the world while the base were a couple of old leatherbound books and the stem was like the spine of a book.

It would have been perfect for the flat which is getting some elements of an "English-Gentleman's Library-feel", if you know what I mean. It wasn't the style I had in mind, but hey! He is the one that spends most of his time there, so I guess it should be more to what he likes.
But to our bitter disappointment the lamp was not for sale!

A bit fuzzy picture taken with the Professor's IPhone on a grey morning

Yesterday he called and triumphantly announced he had found the lamp manufacturer and ordered the lamp which had arrived yesterday!
The manufacturer Original Books makes all sorts of things and furniture in this style. They are not cheap, but as their products are all hand crafted, it explains ...


Thursday 4 November 2010

It is All in the Planning

For me - a lot of the Christmas preparations are a matter of planning.

To aid me in the preparations I got this "Seasonal Planner" a couple of years ago from Lakeland (I think) and it has proven to be a great tool.

It is a 5 year planner where I keep a list of Christmas cards we receive and send (along with the addresses) as well as a nifty overview of Christmas gifts given and received. This way I won't be giving the same gifts to the same people two years in a row. I also jot down throughout the year if I think of something suitable for somebody or if I have already bought it.

The planner is also full of various helpful tips and hints (as well as a whole section to write down your own planning notes and parties). Traditional English Christmas preparations goes on for months when you take into account making the Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake starts 3 months before the BIG day...
I am glad we celebrate it Norwegian style!

I tell you, my mind is at times like the proverbial sieve, so unless it is written down, it won't be remembered...


Tuesday 2 November 2010

Hasty eBay Mistake

picture is borrowed from http://www.touches-interiors.co.uk

Our medicine cabinet and first aid box has till now consisted of an old, tatty, and sad plastic box stored away on the top shelf in the kitchen...
Neither particularly safe, nor pretty.

Let me hasten to assure you any medicins (actually mainly headache pills, cough medicine and band aids) have really been kept safely away from little hands, so no harm has been done!

I wanted something different from the usual "white-enamel-with-a-red-cross-medicin-cabinet" to keep these useful remedies
so eBay seemed the obvious answer. I was therefore delighted when I came across this slightly retro wooden box.

The box arrived today, just as pristine as the picture.
Except, in my haste I didn't look at the measurements. Typical... 
It is no bigger than a small jewellery box (and I mean SMALL) and won't even fit a cough medicine bottle!
I have to admit it is not the first time I make a mistake like this...

 So, we have a rather cute box for band aids and head ache pills.

The search continues...
which is actually half the fun!


Monday 1 November 2010

Tried & Tested: Persian Chicken with Saffron and Barberries (Zereshk Polo)

Small picture top: barberries, small left: saffron

My mother-in-law has over the years taught me most of what I know about Persian cooking and I am so lucky when she comes to stay because she just "takes over the kitchen" and magics all sorts of lovely dishes.

I love home cooked Persian food! It is not hot and spicy like Indian food - it has much more in common with Turkish food with use of lots of herbs and vegetables. Most Iranians believe their cuisine is the best in the world!
The only problem is that many of the traditional dishes take a long time to prepare and in a busy life there just isn't time to spend hours in the kitchen.

Our Boy's favourite dish is a rather simple and not so time consuming dish which I served my friends on Thursday:

For 4 people with very large appetities:

8 chicken breasts
3 chopped up onions
2 finely chopped up gloves of garlic
1/2-1 l chicken- or vegetable stock

A knob of butter
Dried barberry berries (norsk: berberis)

- can normally be found in ethnic shops
a little sugar
a pinch of salt 

A good pinch of saffron
Hot water

Cut the chicken breasts in three and
sautee them with the chopped onions and garlic.
When the chicken has been browned add it to a deeper pan and pour the stock over - just so it almost covers the chicken
(no need to drown it - it is not a soup!).

Rinse and soak the barberry berries and drain.
In a separate pan, melt some butter (not too high heat) and
add the rinsed berries with the sugar and salt.
Let it sautee gently for a minute or so.

Put some hot water in a glass and add the saffron to let it color the water - you get more flavour this way out of the precious strands. Let it sit for some minutes.

I prefer to add most of the sauteed berries to the chicken along with the saffron with its water and let it all simmer for at least 30 mins. I think most Iranians would however, pour the sauteed berries over the rice.

Serve with rice
(preferably decorated with some more saffron diluted in hot water
and some barberries saved after sauteeing).
I always use Basmati rice cooked light and fluffy
- not sticky and clumpy like Chinese style rice.

I would normally serve a salad with this, but as you see from the picture, broccoli was used this time