Newton’s First Law of Motion

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion…

I’ve never been good at staying in one place.  My parents always told me that the world keeps on moving even if you try to stay still, so you’ll never be in the same place for long.  I can honestly say that I’ve never been fully unpacked in any place I have lived since I was ten years old.  Home isn’t where your stuff is; it’s where you can relax and spend time with the people (and even things) you love.

In this house, it is also where my kitchen is.

new kitchen photo

Remember how lovely it is?

I have documented the process of creating my dream kitchen. I may have said it was finished in January, but I meant it was *finished (as long as you don’t look up or down or over there)*.  The ceiling was only just painted — four times — over the past fortnight (thanks, Mum!), and Dad and I just got the door frame in place last week.  It needs a few pieces of quarter-round around the bases of the cabinets, and we’ll be in business.

I get to put into action all those fancy words of wisdom.  We’re moving on, selling up, shipping out — and soon.  We need to be at-least-a-little settled in our new locale by 1 September.

Why are we going?  Well, mostly because we can.  With all the work we’ve done in this house, we should be able to sell it fairly quickly.  We don’t have any other financial obligations in Belfast.  We don’t have children who we have to pull out of school.  We’ll only be a couple of hours’ travel away from our friends and family here.  I know CB worries about taking me away from the home we’ve created here — it’d be much easier to stay — but I’m not worried.  I first moved here almost six years ago with nothing but a suitcase; I didn’t know a single person in Northern Ireland when I arrived, and I’ve built a life here.  I have a family here.  Family doesn’t just stop being family because you don’t live in the same town.

Plymouth

Ho hum.

Where are we going?  CB got a job at Plymouth University in Plymouth, England.  It’s more secure than his current job, and it will open more opportunities for funding and research.  From all appearances, it’s a lovely place.  When CB was interviewing there, he sent me pictures of him having pizza on a boardwalk and riding the train up a cliff-filled coastline.  They seem to have a bit of a gluten-free community, and there’s even a River Cottage restaurant to try to spy my husband’s TV chef/farming doppelgänger.  They grow apples by the tonne there, so maybe I’ll get inspired and give this guy a permanent spot in my new kitchen [note: I just saw that post mentions how I’ll never stop moving!].  It’s much further south, so we won’t have any of this freezing rain in June mess we’re experiencing right now, and our little sunbathing queen will have more cause for celebration.

Zoe in sunshine

I call her Squints McGhee.

So … know anyone that wants to buy a house?

4th of July

Happy 4th of July to my American friends! It’s a bit odd celebrating here, but I do it anyway. Tonight, we’re going to have a mini-BBQ on my father-in-law’s new grill — and it looks like we have been given a tiny dose of sunshine for the occasion!

Apple confetti cake with caramel buttercream frosting

As American as apple pie — Apple confetti cake with salted caramel buttercream frosting

Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it!)
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup double cream
115g unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups icing sugar

Hardware
Medium saucepan
Stand mixer
Wooden spoon
Various measuring cups and spoons
Stove

Directions
Stir together the sugar and water in the saucepan.  Have the vanilla extract and cream ready beside the stove.  Place on medium-high heat and don’t touch it! (If you stir it, it’ll be harder to see when it turns dark, and it’ll burn if you miss it.)  Keep your eyes on it, and remove from heat as soon as it turns a dark amber colour.  Very slowly (exercise your patience), add in the cream and vanilla extract, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon.  Continue stirring until you have a smooth consistency and even colour.

You now have caramel!  Let it stand for 20-25 minutes until it is cool to the touch.  Avoid eating it by spoon.

Cream the butter in the stand mixer (paddle attachment) on medium-high with the sea salt.  It should take a few minutes and might require stopping to scrap the sides.  When smooth, lower the speed and add the icing sugar a bit at a time.  Once it is completely incorporated, pour in the caramel.  Mix until light and fluffy — at least 2-3 minutes.

This frosting is best if you let it stand at room temperature for a few hours before using.

How are you celebrating?

Apple Affair

After time apart, I have been reunited with an old flame. The last time I saw him, I knew something wasn’t right, but I just didn’t know how to fix it. I spent a long time staring at him from across the room, too nervous to approach. I finally got up my courage this week, walked right up to him, and said “I need you.”

And I did.

With three pounds of apples to peel, core, and slice, I really did need him.

My poor apple peeler. When we moved out of our old house, I had to break it apart in order to fit into the original box. (Yes, I keep original boxes because I am convinced I will never stop moving.) Somewhere along the way, the springs came undone, and, when I went to reassemble it, I couldn’t get them back on. I tried to force them into place, but I was afraid of breaking it. I left him, looking lonely, in his cubby on my gadget shelf.

I got it into my head this week that I needed to make apple butter. I hadn’t had apple butter in years, and the idea of it made me a little nostalgic for autumn in Georgia. If you haven’t been to the Georgia Apple Festival and you like apples, maybe, you know, you should. It’s gorgeous at that time of year, and, if it’s possible to make something out of apples, you’ll find it there.

I looked up a bunch of pictures of similar apple peelers online and reconstructed it.  It wasn’t hard, but it took a few deep breaths (and maybe a bit of muttering under them).  Eventually, he was good as new.

Apple butter in a slow cooker is super easy. Your house will smell delicious for the entire day, too. My father-in-law came over and immediately asked what I was cooking because it smelled “like Christmas”. That’s never a bad thing.

Spread this on anything.

Spread this on anything.

Apple Butter

Ingredients:
3 pounds of apples (I used Gala; it was about 9 medium apples)
1/2 cup vanilla sugar (use plain white sugar if you don’t have vanilla sugar ready)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Hardware:
Apple peeler – or patience and a knife and vegetable peeler
Various measuring cups and spoons
Immersion blender
Slow cooker
Bit kitchen spoon

Directions:
Dump all your ingredients into the slow cooker. Stir well, cover, and cook on low for 10 hours, stirring occasionally.

Use the immersion blender to puree the mixture. Make as lumpy or smooth as you like. I like mine very smooth and glossy. Be very careful — I rarely say this, but consider eye protection for this step — if it splashes up, it is thick enough already that it will retain heat and sit and burn you. You might be guessing that I’m speaking from experience here. Ow.

Turn heat up to high and cook uncovered for 1 hour to thicken. Remove immediately to a heat-proof jar or container. Store in the fridge once cooled.

I think you could wrap a ribbon around it, give it away, and have a friend forever.

I think you could wrap a ribbon around it, give it away, and have a friend forever.

Slowly Simmered Dreams

I have finally achieved one of my goals in life: I have a slow cooker. I know. I know. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a really huge development for me as a person.

Isn't she pretty?

Isn’t she pretty?

There are some things you just can’t make without a slow cooker. You can live without those things, but your life would be devoid of joy. You may think you are happy now, but there is happiness you can’t even imagine on the other side. CB asked me last night if our slow cooker has been off since we got it, and I was able to answer ‘yes’ only because I haven’t done any overnight experiments yet.

I’m convinced that my slow cooker can time travel (it is parked next to the TARDIS) or, at least, look into the future. When I first set it on the counter on Monday, I stared for a moment, contemplating what I should first make. It reached out to me, explaining that chicken noodle soup was truly the only option. I even had leftover roasted chicken from Sunday’s dinner! How did it know that, the very next day, I would feel bad and need something comforting and wholesome to eat? It’s magic!

One of the most appealing things about a slow cooker (and the real selling point for CB) is that I can make dinner at any time during the day. I sat down to write this post at 10:30am, and tonight’s dinner is already done. It is, honestly, a matter of practicality. In my ever-growing quest to understand my body, I had to realise that I don’t always have the energy to make dinner at dinner time. When it gets to be about 5pm and I’m not sure I can roll myself off the couch to cook, it makes the option for unhealthy take-away that much more enticing. If I’m brimming with energy at about noon, why not make dinner at noon? A slow cooker gives me the flexibility to create a healthy meal without undue strain on my body. I also already have three slow cooker meals in the freezer, ready to be thawed whenever we want them. I made almost an entire week’s worth of dinners in one day. One busy afternoon — without too much pressure because they didn’t have to be on the table at any particular time — and I had one dinner for that night, one for the fridge, and three to be frozen. I was inordinately proud of myself and intend to integrate it into a weekly ordeal.

Last night, I also made this apple pie risotto from our gfree life.  I added two tablespoons of flax meal to the recipe (I just can’t help myself).  It was amazing — sweet without being too sugary, dessert-y without being heavy, and filling enough that CB had some for breakfast instead of his usual porridge.

CB kept calling it "crumble" because that's what it smells like.

CB kept calling it “crumble” because that’s what it smells like.

Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients:

1 lb boneless chicken, pre-cooked and shredded or uncooked (It will cook along the way)*
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
dash of cayenne powder
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 big handful kale, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups broccoli, in small pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon dried cilantro/coriander OR 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro/coriander, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried basil OR 1/2 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
Choice of noodles/pasta — I used 2 cups of brown rice shells; eyeball how much you need and remember they will expand when cooked

*You can use bone-in chicken if you take the weight into consideration and understand that you may get loose bones in your soup. It does add a certain richness in flavour, but I don’t like taking the chance.

Hardware:
Slow cooker
Measuring cups and spoons
Cutting board and 2 forks, if uncooked chicken is used

Directions:
Dump all ingredients EXCEPT noodles/pasta into the slow cooker. Stir together and cook on low for 6 hours.

Choose your own adventure:

A. If using precooked chicken, stir in your noodles/pasta and cook on high for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

B. If using uncooked chicken, remove it from the slow cooker at this time. Place it on the cutting board and carefully use the forks to shred the meat. Return to slow cooker with noodles/pasta and cook on high for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

I was so excited for this soup.

I was so excited for this soup.

Bakers’ Apples

Bakers’ apples are one of my favourite, fairly simple desserts that aren’t quite as terrible for you as they taste. A couple of months ago, my friend Jessica and I had a baking night in her kitchen. It was a success; I produced four lovely apples, and she made a couple dozen chocolate chunk cookies. I feel as though, despite baking being a worldwide hobby, our little night had more to do to a link back home to the southern US than simply a desire for a sugar coma. All forms of baked apples — sweet glazed apple wedges, apple pie, apple strudel, and bakers’ apples — make me think of my childhood, and all are made infinitely better by the addition of a rich vanilla ice cream. This recipe is not an exception.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup oats
3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed (light, fine demerara can be substituted if necessary)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
4 Braeburn apples (my favourite. Fuji will also work well)
4 teaspoons honey
1 pinch of kosher salt

Hardware:
medium bowl for mixing
paring knife
baking sheet or pie dish
refrigerator
small spoon
wooden spoon for mixing (if you don’t like getting your hands dirty)
melon baller (or a teaspoon)
oven

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.

Combine all the dry ingredients and the butter cubes in the mixing bowl. I recommend combining with your hands because it produces a better texture, but a wooden spoon can be used if you’re squeamish. Rub the ingredients together between your fingertips until you have small clumps in a loose sandy mixture. Place bowl in the refrigerator while you prepare the apples.

Using the paring knife, cut a small bit from the bottom of the apples to create a stable, level surface. Cut into the top of the apples as if you were beginning to carve a pumpkin. It’s easiest to cut a cylindrical cone shape to start. Scoop the rest of the core and seeds out with the melon baller (if you have one) or a small spoon. Be extra careful not to push through the bottom of the apples.

Place the apples on the baking sheet or pie dish and retrieve your earlier mixture from the refrigerator. Pour a teaspoon of honey into each of the apples, trying to coat the inside walls as much as possible. Spoon (or use your hands) the mixture into the apples. Pack firmly until the mixture is heaped on top (and overflowing onto the sides if you’re like me).

Place in oven on top or middle rack for about 40 minutes. Check on them after 30 minutes. You’re looking for the top of the filling to be a lovely golden brown and the apple tender enough for your paring knife to poke through the skins without much resistance. If you can manage, let them cool for 10 minutes before diving in.