Christmas Project

October 13, 2010 at 14:13 | Posted in Christmas Project, Family, Homemaking | Leave a comment

It’s only a little over two months until my favourite holiday season: Christmas!

Every year, I celebrate Christ’s birth with my family and feel so very blessed to do so.

Every year, I try to give meaningful and useful presents and this year will make no exception. However, there is an important twist to my traditional Christmas shopping in 2010.

I have decided to “make” the presents instead of “buying” the presents.
First of all, one of my goals in 2010 was to be more thrifty, and secondly I believe that the best presents you can get are those made with hands, love, and prayer.

I have done a lot of thinking and praying to seek guidance to find a project that would be purposeful and compatible with my full-time work schedule.
And the end result was… Christmas cookies!

(photo courtesy of Google Images)

In the next few weeks, I am going to look at various cookies recipes, try them, and then shortlist the ones that turn out best. Then, I am going to browse through various shops and my grandma’s cellar (the best place to find hidden treasures!) looking for medium-sized cookie jars or simple, plain glass jars to put the cookies in.

At first, I thought about making just one kind of cookies for every jar, but then I realized I wanted to add the feeling of “something special” that you can find only at Christmas time, and decided it would be better (and more appreciated, too!) to have each jar filled with a selection of cookies. I am planning on baking 4 to 5 different kinds of cookies, making them slightly on the smaller side, so that I will be able to bake more out of one cookie dough recipe. And smaller cookies will also fit better in the jar.

Each jar will ideally be finished off with a piece of fabric on top of the lid, tied up with a nice ribbon and a Christmas tag with the names of the cookies and the ingredients.

Since I have quite a large extended family, and my time is limited to say the least, I have opted for giving one jar to each family unit, therefore making it a lot easier while being still a fun and rewarding experience.

I hope to start posting news about my “cookie trials” very soon!

In Him,

Alice

Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates“, Proverbs 31:31.

A trip to London

October 9, 2010 at 12:20 | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I was able to get 2 wonderful and much-needed weeks off work in late September, including my 27th birthday on September 30th!

One of my closest friends, who lives in London with her husband, invited me to spend 6 days with them: she has been recently diagnosed with Lymphoma on some of her neck’s lymph nodes and was about to start therapy, so I was extremely eager to offer my support! Hopefully, she will be able to put all of this behind her in a couple of months.

Even if the circumstances were a bit on the sad side, I felt very encouraged to try and do some “ministry” to my friend: she and her husband have not been saved yet and were not embracing the ways and teachings of the Lord.
When I started telling them how much encouragement and wisdom they could benefit from listening to the Word of God, at first I thought my prayers would be met with criticism and lack of faith, but after reading together a few passages from the Bible the mood quickly changed to openness, joy, relief, hope and much more!

It still amazes me how strong and purposeful the teachings of the Lord are! And it is so very true when Luke says “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (15:7).  It felt so good to be able to share my experiences and my views with two young hearts who needed nothing more than a guiding light!

Aside from a truly wonderful fellowship time, I have also enjoyed the many sights and museums that London has to offer! It was my fifth time in the UK’s capital, and I always seem to find something new to do, see ore visit.

Let me share some pictures with you. The weather was not always nice, but I managed to walk for miles around the city anyways!

This is the entrance to one of my favourite museums, the Victoria & Albert.
London is a really great place for art and antiques, as most of the large museums have free admissions!

London’s most famous store, Harrods. I like to go in and browse through all the fancy and strange items… this time they even had edible chocolate-coated tarantulas and worms for sale!

St. Paul’s Cathedral: it has the second-largest cupola in the world, right after the one of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I have climbed all the way to the small dome on top of the cupola a few years back.

The Big Ben! Its structure is very impressive, too bad it is not open to the public.

The London Eye, the biggest panoramic wheel in the world, on the Thames River. I was able to go on the London Eye twice: it is a very nice experience and it takes about 30 minutes to complete the ride. If the weather is nice, you have a 40km view from the top of the wheel.

The Houses of Parliament on the Thames River.

Tower Bridge on the Thames River: I have visited the bridge once and is quite neat to see all the machinery they have to lift it when necessary.

The Tower of London, where the crown jewels are stored. It is amazing to see this impressive bout of history right in the heart of a very modern city.

Buckingham Palace: I was able to visit 19 state rooms inside the Palace, which are open to the public for just 2 months every year. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed inside the Palace.

This is the Palace’s back view, just outside the state rooms. The Queen has a wonderful collection of paintings, statues and the rooms are beautifully decorated. I was in total awe after the visit!

This is the Palace’s main gate.

Hope you enjoy my pictures, and I hope to be able to post some old ones soon!

Many blessings,
Alice

Two days with the “Frecce Tricolori”

September 19, 2010 at 13:13 | Posted in Alice | Leave a comment

This is truly a long-overdue post, and I hope you all will forgive me!

I have had the most intense and nerve-wracking two weeks ever! The firm I’m working for was asked by the Italian Air Force to organize and supervise two huge parking lots for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Italian “Frecce Tricolori”, the Italian Air Force aerobatics team, which is stationed in a small town near the one where I live.

The Frecce Tricolori, whose name translated in English would be “Tricolour Flags” (tricolour from the three colors of the Italian flag: red, white and green), are perhaps the most well-known and loved symbol of our country and are famous worldwide for their amazing aerobatic skills and stunning performances.

Having them here, close to home, means that from time to time you can look up to the sky and watch them practice, which is a really wonderful thing!

Once a year, they do a celebration for the Team’s anniversary, opening the base to visitors and inviting fellow aerobatic teams from other countries. This year, they celebrated the 50th Anniversary, and organized a huge two-day event which we were asked to help with.

My responsibility was to keep track of the parking tickets sold and the subsequent cash from a parking lot that could have housed up to 15.000 cars and caravans. I had to supervise over a group of 12 people who were handling the ticket sales: they had small bags with the tickets and the change, which needed to be replaced quite often, depending on the amount of cars that were coming in.
I had to be at the parking lot at 5.30am both mornings, and had to get up at 3.45am to be ready to leave at 4.15am. Needless to say, I had very little sleep! Thankfully, I had two wonderful ladies helping me to sort out and count the money: since the ticket’s price was 3,00 euros, we had A LOT of coins…

On Monday, after two very exhausting days in a caravan counting and tracking coins, my colleagues and I finished the calculations, packed everything and brought the heavy and enormous amount of pocket change to the bank.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to see much of the show, as the parking lot was some 15km from the Air Base, but I know people were absolutely thrilled with it and I had prayed a lot for the safety of the pilots and of the people attending.

I didn’t bring my camera, but here are a few pictures of what the Frecce Tricolori look like:

Here is the team in their most popular stunt: a huge Italian flag! There are 9 planes plus 1 soloist plane, which make them the largest aerobatics team in the world!

In this picture you can spot the soloist plane, too! The team’s captain is actually from a town close to mine.

This is a close-up of one of the planes. They are called Aermacchi MB-339–A/PAN, for those who know “aircraft language”. We call the planes “ponies”, and number 10 is the soloist pony.

Many blessings,

Alice

Gifts from Canada!

August 29, 2010 at 20:37 | Posted in Family | 1 Comment

In one of my previous posts, I have mentioned that my family had the privilege of meeting and spend three days with our relatives from Canada.
They are my dad’s cousins, born to my paternal grandfather’s sister, who emigrated to Canada like many Italians did in the 1940’s. She is now 86 years old and wasn’t feeling like coming along with her children, as the trip would have been too long. Even though we would have loved to have her here (especially my grandma, as she was her maid of honor), we are constantly keeping dear Aunt Maria in our prayers.

It was their very fisrt time here in Italy, and we were all absolutely thrilled to meet them for the very first time. Even though we had only three days together, it feels wonderful to know that we have family in Canada and it was also very neat to finally put a “person” to the faces we got to see only in pictures! Not to mention that we cannot wait for the Lord to select a perfect time for a trip to Canada…

There were 8 of them total, and I got to be the official family “translator”! We took them to various places in our area, and they were all so intrigued to see everything from ancient Roman ruins to vineyards, farms, beaches, mountains, and so on. My uncle took hundreds of pictures and I hope to be able to post some very soon!

They were so amazing and even brought small all-Canadian gifts for us… below is a picture:

They treated us with a pancake mix, maple coffee, maple tea, maple fudge, maple candies, maple lip balm and a moose mug!
Not shown in the picture are two pais of beautifully crafted earrings from a genuine Inuit store, a maple leaf necklace, maple soap and tea towels.

Oh, how I sorely miss them! Thankfully, modern means of communication make it very easy to keep in touch!

Thank you soooo much, Johnny and Dina: you are such a blessing to our family and it truly was an honour getting to meet you!

Proverbs, 17:8 “A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.”

Plum Cake!

August 14, 2010 at 11:42 | Posted in Homemaking, Recipes | Leave a comment

A few days ago, I was asked to make a plum cake to take over to another aunt’s house.

So I thought I should re-vamp a recipe that I found in one of my mom’s old cookery books, which works wonders! My aunt doesn’t like desserts that are overly-sweet, raisins or chocolate, that is why I have opted to keep the recipe plain. And I have also been using this recipe to make the base for cakes that I wanted to fill with cream/custard and ice.

The picture is slightly out of focus… apologies for that!

The ingredients needed are:

150 gr. of all-purpose flour
130 gr. sugar
100 gr. melted butter (cooled at room temperature)
3 eggs
2 tablespoons baking powder
100 gr. raisins (optional)
2 tablespoons vanilla essence 

First, beat the eggs and the sugar well in a bowl, until pale white. Then, add the melted butter (it has to be cooled down at room temperature) and the flour, mixing everything well. Pour in the vanilla essence and the raisins (if you are using them). Lastly, combine the baking powder.
Pour the batter in a greased and floured plum cake tin, and bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the plum cake comes out clean.
You may serve it with fresh fruits and cream on the side.
Enjoy!

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On a very happy note, congratulations to Nathan and Melanie Maxwell for the birth of their second daughter, Bethany Faith! May the Lord bless your little one!

Romans 8: 16-17 “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

Fruit tartlets

August 8, 2010 at 12:39 | Posted in Homemaking, Recipes | Leave a comment

I had one of my aunt’s birthday party last week and she asked me if, aside the tiramisu’ she was preparing, I could make a fruit dessert for the party.

A couple of months ago, I have purchased 8 nice tartlet pans and never had the chance to use them so far. So I thought it would be so nice if everyone had their own little fruit tart, as opposed to a slice of the big one! In this way, every person is able to get the same amount of fruit, crust and custard!

I have started off by making a basic pie crust, combining 220 grams of all-purpose flour with 100 gr. of soft butter (diced), 3 egg yolks and a pinch of salt. I worked the dough rather quickly, as it was quite hot and the butter does not have to melt in your hands. Then, I wrapped the dough in film and put it into the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

After letting the dough chill, I started taking small amounts of it, while keeping the rest in the fridge: I found that it is actually easier to cut and roll each small crust individually, rather than rolling out the whole dough and cutting it afterwards.
I filled all 8 pans with the dough, made little holes in them with a fork so that they won’t rise much, and put them in a pre-heated oven at 160 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes.

I prepared a lemon and vanilla custard beforehand, and started filling the tartlets as soon as they came out of the oven. Then, I cut some strawberries and decorated each tartlet, along with some blueberries.
To finish them, I poured some clear tart jelly over them.

They were delicious!!!

God Bless,

Alice

Of Jelly, Pen-Friends and Homestead Blessings

July 31, 2010 at 14:16 | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I have been waiting to write this post for a long time, but unfortunately my work committments along with a much-awaited visit from Canadian relatives helped in delaying the process.

My latest culinary/homemaking endeavour was Rose Jelly.
The inspiration for this project came from Mia at Aspiring Homemaker, who posted about her Honeysuckle Rose Jelly. I didn’t have any honeysuckle blossoms available, but in my grandmother’s garden I had plenty of rose bushes in full bloom, and I was granted permission to use some of the most-scented ones to try and make my own “version” of Rose Jelly.

After doing some basic research on which products are available here in Italy to make jelly, I found a nice flavourless jelly powder, which asks for 900 gr. worth of liquidand only 350 gr. of sugar. It worked wonders for me, as I was looking for enhancing the rose taste rather than having an overly-sweet product.

So, I ended up putting about 3 cups of rose petals in a bowl with 900 gr. of boiling water (about 1.2 litres) and letting it infuse overnight. The next morning, I discovered that the beautiful rose petals released all of their flavour, smell and color to the water! I then drained the petals and put the rosy liquid in a heavy-bottomed saucepan along with the jelly powder and the sugar. I let it come to a boil and made it simmer for about 5 minutes, before pouring the jelly into 3 small jars.

I turned the jars upside-down for 5 minutes to seal them, and then put them in our small cellar for 1 week before opening them.

“And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians, 4:11)

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The other day, I was reflecting on how the fast-paced modern world has changed the way we communicate in a radical way.
I have relatives in Canada, South Africa and Australia. When my grandfather’s sister emigrated to Canada, there were no telephones available in our area and the only way she was able to let her family in Italy that she was ok was writing letters. It took months for these letters to arrive, but they were much loved and appreciated by the whole family. 

Nowadays, whenever we think about “writing”, it is usually an e-mail or a text on our mobile phone. So instant and efficient, and yet so utterly ordinary and impersonal.
Where is the lovely feeling of opening the real mailbox and find a real envelope, with a real letter waiting to be read? Or the feeling of getting to know a person and her/his feelings, emotions, bits and pieces of life by her/his handwriting? 

I have re-embraced the joys of letter-writing a couple of years ago when, after graduating from university, I went to South Africa for one year. Some of my closest friends and I were keeping in touch by “snail-mail”, and what a blessing it has been! The anticipation piling up when the mailman approached the house, the amazement at holding an envelope which traveled across one of the largest continents, the joys of reading and feeling the excitement in the words written by the hands of your dearest friends and family!

I have also strived to find new lady pen-friends from all over the world with whom to share the wonders that the Lord provides in my daily life. And it seems to be quite the challenge! 
Of course, modern-era ways of staying in touch bring along the reassuring feeling of anonimity: online we may become whomever we want and we do not necessarily need to be truthful or sincere. We do not need to disclose our real home address and thus we can feel a little more on the “safe” side.
Recently, I have found that Emily of A Beautiful Life  has started a Home Making Pen Friends Blog and today I’m going to try and join it! I cannot wait!

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On a lighter note, surfing the net I have found a range of wonderful DVDs that I would like to recommend to you all.
They are the Homestead Blessings DVDs, starring the West Ladies: a mother and her three daughters teaching practical homemaking skills and tips. I have just ordered the 10-pack DVD set! You can check all of their DVDs on the Franklin Springs Family Media website.

That’s all for now!

In Him,

Alice

 

New blog design!

June 20, 2010 at 17:13 | Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Hi everybody!

I would love to introduce you to my wonderful new blog design!

The person “responsible” for all this is the wonderful Katie of Flibby Pie Design. She was so amazing with taking a bunch of ideas that were scattered in my mind and putting them together to create something so beautiful and so “ME”…

I feel so truly blessed for the Lord to have directed me to her website!

Thank you, Katie!!!

Blessings,

Alice

What’s in an ingredient?

October 22, 2009 at 21:47 | Posted in Ingredients | Leave a comment

To have or to make from scratch… that is the question… at least today!

Here in Italy, we are wonderful food-lovers with dedicated food shops and amazing food aisles in supermarkets filled from the bottom to the very top with all sorts of gourmet stuff that will simply tickle your palate.

However, we do lack certain things that very often do appear on foreign-style recipes.
One of such things is sour cream. Can you believe it? Plain and simple sour cream. Of course, you may go to the big Italian cities where in super-accessorized supermarkets you will be able to find it, but in the Italy of the little towns and villages you certainly don’t.

So, exactly, what’s in this ingredient?

Sour Cream

Well, according to “The Food Lovers Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst, commercial sour cream contains 18 to 20% fat, and has been treated with a lactic acid culture to add its characteristic tang. It is a traditional topping for baked potatoes and may be used as the base for creamy salad dressings and in baking.
Since not being able to make all the wonderful recipes which included sour cream was a really miserable experience, I have decided to try and make my own. Here’s the recipe:
1/2 litre whipping cream
1 small jar of yogurt
the juice of 1/2 a lemon
Combine cream, yogurt and lemon juice in a glass container. Stir well and let stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours. Refrigerate up to 4 days.

Another great substitute for sour cream is a thicker French version called crème fraîche. “The Food Lovers Companion” describes it as a matured, thickened cream with a slightly tangy, nutty flavour and velvety rich texture. An ideal addition for sauces or soups because it can be boiled without curdling.

Creme Fraiche
Even though I have never tried it, you can even make your crème fraîche at home. You will need to combine 1 cup of whipping cream with 2 tablespoons of buttermilk in a glass container. Cover and let stand from 8 to 24 hours, oruntil very thick. Stir well before covering and refrigerate up to 10 days.

 

 

A tribute to summer’s end

October 20, 2009 at 20:46 | Posted in Recipes | Leave a comment

Here in Italy, we have had quite a warm beginning of the Fall season: temperatures were still quite high from the beginning of September all the way through mid-October. That is when, all of a sudden, the freezing cold weather came down to us, prompting heavy coats and warm clothes. Razor blade chilling winds sweeping around leaving you with a terrible cold and a runny nose.

That is when I have fun remembering all things Summer!

I am pretty much the only “serious” baker in the family, and I happily perform my duties whenever a birthday or a celebration comes up. Of course, I also bake just for the fun of it, but doing it for a special occasion definitely adds to the flavor!

Cakes Galore Cover

For my mom’s birthday (in late June), this year I have decided to do something fruity and light: my choice went to the Strawberry Shortcake from “Cakes Galore“, a wonderful book by Valerie Barrett.
It was my very first time doing a Shortcake, and wasn’t quite sure how it would turn out.
Thankfully, it turned out pretty well, and was well received by all the guests at the birthday party!

 

Here is a nice shot of the cake…

Strawberry Shortcake 1

The only thing I would do differently next time, is that I would try and shape top and bottom layer a bit better, so that the filling would spread more evenly. I have also noticed that after it is baked, the dough does tend to become a bit dry: what I did was soak both layers with the juice released by the cooked strawberries to make everything softer!

The RecipeStrawberry Shortcake from Cakes Galore by Valerie Barrett

Ingredients:
2 + 2/3 cups self-rising flour
1 + 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Generous 3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 cup buttermilk, plus extra for brushing
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling (I used brown sugar)
FILLING
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, halved

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour a baking sheet (Since my oven isn’t that big, I had to prepare 2). Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2. Combine 5 tablespoons of the superfine sugar and the buttermilk in a bowl, then add this to the flour mixture. Mix to form a smooth dough, but do not overwork at this stage. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Roll out each ball of dough to form a round about 1 inch thick.
3. Place the dough rounds on the prepared baking sheet. Brush off any excess flour. Brush the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with granulated sugar (I used brown sugar – love that caramel flavour it gives the cake!). Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
4. For the filling, whip the cream in a bowl until soft peaks for, then whisk in the powdered sugar and vanilla extract, mixing well. Set aside.
5. Put the strawberries in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water and the remaining 3 tablespoons of caster sugar and heat gently for 2-3 minutes to soften the fruit. Remove the pan from the heat.
6. Spoon the whipped cream onto the larger of the cooled shortcake rounds and spoon over the warm strawberries and juice. Top with the second shortcake round and serve immediately.
I topped the cake with a few sliced fresh strawberries – thought it looked really nice!

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