Monday, 22 September 2014

The Bigger Picture: Don't Disqualify Yourself




Last night I went to a church meeting where all the churches in our region gathered together. The speaker Maurice was talking about things that had been spoken over the churches 10 years ago, and looking at the bigger picture.

What challenged me the most, and what my mind has been mulling over all morning is how we view the things God has planned for us, specifically how much faith we have in God's plan for us. Maurice talked about how easy it is for us (and others) to disqualify ourselves from God's plan - "I can't do that, I don't know how", "I don't know where I'd find the time" or "That's not really my area, someone else is better at that than me". How often do we talk ourselves out of something before we've really considered it and heard what God has to say on the matter?! I am guilty of this too, I can promise you!

The only qualifications that we need is that God has called us to a mission far bigger than we can imagine. God has chosen us, despite our weaknesses and past failures, because He knows that if we have faith in Him we can achieve anything he sets out for us. What got me most was when Maurice said "God can only take you as far as your faith" - that worried me! If we don't have faith in God, how many chances will we miss out on because we have not been willing to focus on Him rather than our own potential inadequacies.

Maurice also talked about how we can look at the situation and think it impossible because we can't see how we can get through it, and especially when looking at what God is calling you to do. If you look at something and think "Yes, I think I can do this, I can see how I'd be able to achieve it" then you're probably not close to what God wants for you. If you look at something and doubt whether you will be able to do it, maybe even be confident that you think it would be impossible for you, then you are much closer to what God wants!! How challenging is that!! Maurice continued to say that the what God has called you to do, is to be done in faith, and what He has called you to will require doing it with God's help - if you can do it in your own strength what's the point!? Have faith for the bigger things, the bigger picture, the bigger challenge, and get ready to reap a bigger harvest for God.

I sit here this morning, with a couple of things in mind that I feel God has called me to, and a few desires that he has put in my heart and quite frankly I have no idea how they are going to come to fruition. I don't know if I have the capacity. I don't know if I have the skills, natural or spiritual. I don't know where I will find the time. I don't know if it will be a success or a complete failure. And part of me, if I'm honest, wonders if it's really God giving me these callings and desires because they seem quite far fetched considering my starting point. But last night made me look at it from a different angle - if I have faith that God can do anything, if he can set things in motion and lay the way for my next steps, then actually that's all I need, and those are quite amazing things to know!

If all I need to have is faith and trust in God, then maybe I should stop focussing on "how" and start focussing on accepting and identifying the next step. God has already qualified us, that is more than enough!

Have a think about what you feel God has called you to, have you already disqualified yourself before even asking God to help you do it? Have you perhaps lost sight of the bigger picture because you have been focussed on the "I can't" of you current situation. The learning journey along the way is just as important as the end goal. What challenge will you take up today?




Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Coffee Break: Hair loss in pregnancy


Well, after the cookie disaster earlier, I decided I'll have a go tomorrow after a little more research into a better recipe. Instead, I have spent the last hour dying and cutting my hair!

Nothing drastic, but my last home colour was a little more orangey than I had bargained for and as it's approaching autumn I decided it was time (as I usually do this time of year) to go darker!

Other mummy's will know about this - but no one ever tells you pre children about the ridiculous hair loss!! After having Erin I genuinely thought I was losing it due to stress or something and remember having a conversation with my mum about all this hair I was losing. Turns out it's natural as you lose less when pregnant, and therefore it all falls out after pregnancy when your hormones level out - what I didn't know at the time was that your hair recedes slightly and then grows back (or is that just me!?) to leave you with ridiculous looking tufts like you've had a mishap cutting yourself a fringe. Or in the case of myself and a close friend - Monica Geller type "sea hair" with a miniature afro of regrowth all over.

So, I am now third time around experiencing this post pregnancy hair loss - for the last few years, just as the regrowth has got to a length that I can blend into the rest of my hair, I have become pregnant again and the process has started over. So, this evening, in order to disguise (I realise that everyone will now know!lol!) my lengthening regrowth after having Caleb (my third and final!) I have cut myself a fringe.

Thankfully, when I had Erin, there were a number of us at the church we were going to who were pregnant at the same time, and the sigh of relief when we realised we were all experiencing it!lol!!

Anyway, thanks to Asda's current offers, my new hair has cost me a fraction of the price it would in the hairdressers! Living on a budget doesn't have to be so bad!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Kindness Elves Part 1: Elf on the Shelf Alternative




I think I've mentioned about Kindness Elves before? Last year my friend Jess over at Catch A Single Thought wrote about Kindness Elves, an Elf on the Shelf Alternative that had been created by Anna at The Imagination Tree. I thought it was a fantastic idea and knew that it was a tradition that would be fun to do for the children, but looking at the prices of elves (home made, shop-bought and other alternatives) we simply couldn't afford it last year.

It was my intention to look for elves during the summer months when demand of elf products might be slightly less, but I have to confess I had completely forgotten about it until I'd spotted a little book with a fabric elf for sale in Sainsbury's for a mere £5! Result!! So I sent Mr Strong in tout-suite to get us a couple. The books with them were lovely despite only buying them for the elves so I am going to save those for next year as it's a little book to fill in all about your elf!


"This Little Elf of Mine" by Annette Rusling


After much deliberation, we decided we would call our Kindness Elves "Cedar" and "Spruce", something simple that toddlers could say easily but with a little thought behind it. They will arrive at some point in December (yet to be decided) along with a letter from Santa explaining they'll be staying with us until Christmas Eve. Obviously being Christians, there will be an element to it linking in that we are being kind to people and each other (nothing more complicated than that this year as they will be ages, 1, 2 and 3!) - that we are celebrating Jesus' birthday at Christmas, and being kind to others is something Jesus likes us to do.

The letter is almost finished, and the tasks that they will leave for the children to do are decided on so they just need to be designed onto cards (I will provide printables once they are done if you fancy having a go yourselves!). One thing, knowing my children very well, is that they hoard things! My only thought was that it's all very well having these exciting elves but I need to be able to find them once the children are in bed to get ready for the morning!lol!

I had an idea! If the elves came with their own little beds, then the girls could put them to bed somewhere I could find and make life a little easier! So last night, I made them some little sleeping bags out of some tea towels I'd got in my fabric box. I then thought that if they could come in a little bag (like they were coming for a sleepover) that would be quite cute but a little trickier to make. I decided if I could put little handles on for the elves arms, they could wear the sleeping bags as backpacks when they arrive - a stroke on genius even if I do say so myself!lol! The finished sleeping bags were the most exciting thing I think I've made! (I realise I probably shouldn't admit that out loud!)


Just a couple of little touches to complete yet, somewhere they'll have their initial on so we know which elf is which.

If you're not sure what activities to do with your elves, come and take a look at Kindness Elves Part 2!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Coffee Break: Hope




Sorry it's been a bit quiet on the blog - I have been suffering with bird flu (as opposed to man flu!) and having a little pity party for myself! Mr Strong came home from work on Monday saying everyone in his office was sounding a little worse for wear, and they had gradually got worse as the day went on. Well, needless to say, Tuesday morning Mr Strong had it, and I wasn't feeling too bright myself.

Yesterday I felt terrible, the kind of head cold that spans your forehead and eyes so that nothing really seems right, but you keep telling yourself it's just a cold! I could barely put two thoughts together (more than my normal mummy brain I have developed over the last almost 4 years!) and quite frankly couldn't care less whether the house looked like a bomb site or whether I had got anything out for dinner.

Today was the day that Mr Strong HAD to go back to work, so I dosed up and strapped on my battle armour! I would much rather be really ill, than feel completely incapable as a result of what is quite a minor ailment. You feel dreadful but if anyone asks what's wrong how many of us say "oh, it's just a cold" when deep down we feel like we've been hit by a truck.

But it got me thinking - we have just started leading in our youth team at church, and it was also the first week back for our Growth Group (cell group, home group, church in the home etc) but guaranteed it has been the week we have both felt physically rubbish. You can always count on something knocking you down when you have the potential to have a really good week. That sounds really pessimistic I know, and I'm not a negative person (most of the time!lol!) but I really do believe that we can be open to spiritual attack in the smallest ways, that snowball into having a potentially huge affect on how God can use us and our attitude.

Mr Strong and I recently joked, through one of the toughest times we've known, that the "good news factory" wasn't just out of stock of good news, not only was it closed, but it had gone into administration!lol! That's how it has felt at times! And as they say, it never rains, it pours! But the best thing is seeing the impossible come together by having just a little faith - even when things seems like they are just going from bad to worse, it's so important to choose to have hope, to have faith that somehow God will turn the situation around... because He can! A situation is never as bleak as it may sometimes seem, but the key is not shifting your focus away from God, but making sure more than ever that your eyes are firmly planted on Him. Easier said than done, been there, done that, but it's true!

I don't know what you are going through at the moment, I don't know what you have come out of the other side with, but I believe there's a silver lining in almost all situations. Sometimes it might not be obvious, or even visible from the viewpoint you currently have, but don't let your situation take away the hope in your heart. What is even better, is that where there isn't even a glimmer of hope, God can still break into the situation.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Jingle Elf Boot Christmas Stocking Tutorial


 Constant Craft


For those of you who know me well, I LOVE Christmas, in fact that is probably understatement of the century!! When all the shops start stocking the festive products, and everyone else is groaning that it's too soon, my blood pressure is sky rocketing with excitement. No exaggeration!

So, about two months ago, I made these lovely stockings - having bought a few, and being quite OCD, I like things matching, but also found a great pattern to use. I like a challenge, especially one that means I can escape into a project which in theory I should be able to do!

What I didn't realise is that the pattern I bought was made for felt, and so were the instructions... what I wanted was a lined fabric stocking - can't be too difficult to adjust surely!? Well, I spend a couple of evenings trying to get it right, but got there in the end, and I'm SO pleased with them.


I have taken pictures of each stage so that if you would like to have a go at making some, you can print off a tutorial. I reckon if you are just doing them in evenings, you could make one stocking over two evenings. If I was making these all day, I reckon I could have done all five over a whole weekend - it did take me longer as I was trying to work out the best way of doing that but I have done that hard work for you!

They are perfect size for not holding a lot if you are a larger family like ours. They would hold a few small things but wouldn't be wide enough to hold a DVD - if I was making them again I would probably make them double the size if I wanted them purely as large stockings but they are perfect size to hang on a fire place. We only plan to put a small gift in, socks, chocolate and that sort of thing - perfect size for us as everyone gets main presents in their Christmas Sacks.

I had the help of Shani over at The Crafty Giraffe make me the wooden stars to go on each stocking.

You will need McCalls MC299 Christmas Stockings Pattern, enough fabric for your project (it gives details on the back of the pattern - remember to double this if you want to line it like I did), medium weight iron on interfacing (enough for one layer of each side of the boot per stocking), sewing machine ideally, 6 x 20mm bells per stocking, and some toy stuffing filling fibre (the toes of the boots are stuffed so they hold their shape whilst empty). Add some thread, fabric scissors, and iron and an ironing board, creativity and a little patience and voilĂ , you are ready to get started.

The pattern is for a single layer felt stocking - if you want to make a simple one and add bells then that would be just as nice and save you a lot of effort :-) I also plan on making some mini ones using the pattern for Christmas tree decorations but that can wait for another year!



Thursday, 4 September 2014

Pinterest!




Just wanted to share something exciting whilst I'm having a quick break!

You can now follow Constant Heart on Pinterest - Click Here to visit our page!

You'll find all the recipes are pinned there, along with the crafts and any other projects.

COMING SOON... I am currently working on the Jingle Elf Boot Stocking Tutorial which should be up in the next couple of days - plenty of time to have a go before Christmas if you fancy a challenge or are feeling creative!

Here's a sneak peak! Looking forward to sharing it with you :-)


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Smokey Homemade Burgers (or meatballs!)


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul

This is my most recent recipe, and Mr Strong has insisted I put it up because he enjoyed them so much!!

Smokey Homemade Burgers (or meatballs!)

Makes 4 Burgers (or about 12 meatballs!)

Ingredients:

500g Extra Lean Beef Mince (now labelled as Lean in some shops - less than 5% fat)
1 Tbsp Oregano
3 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
1 Tsp Mild Chilli Powder
2 Tbsp Garlic Granules or Powder
1 White Onion (finely chopped)
Black pepper to taste

To Serve: Burger Rolls (cobs as I call them!), salad and home made chips - or whatever you fancy!

Method:
  1. Mix all together in a bowl and make sure you squash all the mince so that it is fairly smooth.
  2. Form into 4 burger shapes* and ideally leave in the fridge for an hour, or until you need them.
  3. Cook until the juices run clear. I tend to cook these in the oven on 180°C (Fan, increase to 200°C if not using a fan oven) on a baking tray in the oven for about 25-30 mins. You could grill or fry them if you prefer.
  4. Serve and enjoy!!
* I have a great burger maker from the Betterware catalogue which I can highly recommend. It is a plastic mould which presses the burgers into the right shape and size!

Note: They are low fat by using extra lean (now labelled as lean in most shops - less than 5% fat mince) and therefore if you are on Slimming World like me then they are syn free. I would recommend not using extra lean mince unless you really want to as I think they would be better with the next mince up (lean - or now labelled reduced fat in some shops - less than 10% fat mince).

Tip: You can also make these into meatballs, which are delicious! These can be made ahead of time, and provided the mince hasn't already been frozen and defrosted, you could make up a batch raw and then freeze, ready to be cooked from frozen on another day. I would suggest that if you cook from frozen you reduce the temperature of the oven to 160°C and cook for another 15 mins or so longer.


Caramelised Cranberry Relish


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


As is my tradition, I bought the Christmas Edition of the Good Food Magazine last year, and found a number of recipes that I can't wait to try! One caught my eye, and I decided to have a go the other weekend.

I was so impressed with how nice it tasted even though it was really quick and easy. Below is the recipe I made, slightly adapted as I couldn't buy the exact amount the original recipe required. Working on the basis that most people only have a heaped dessert spoonful of cranberry sauce I think it would stretch to 10-12 people. I split the quantity in two, one for 4 adults on Christmas Day and one for 5 Adults on Boxing Day. I have put it in the freezer ready for Christmas - one home made thing completed ahead of time that will make a tasty difference on the day.

Caramelised Cranberry Relish

Ingredients:

1 x Large Orange
1 x Small piece of fresh ginger (I used a Thumbnail size piece after guidance from my mum!)
120g Golden Caster Sugar
600g Fresh Cranberries (I would have used frozen if I could find them - they'd probably cost less!)

Method:
  1. Zest the orange and finely shred the ginger, putting to one side.
  2. Juice the orange and tip into a saucepan.
  3. Add the sugar and stir well.
  4. Boil gently until you achieve an amber-orange caramel.
  5. Add the orange zest and the ginger, leaving to cook for a minute or so.
  6. Add the whole, washed cranberries and cook on a high heat.
  7. After about 5 minutes the cranberries should be starting to split but still have their texture.
  8. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes or so until you have a soft but textured sauce.
  9. The sauce will thicken slightly as it cools. Once you have roughly the consistency you want, take it off the heat and allow it to cool.
  10. Once cool either put in the fridge until you need it (the original recipe suggests it will keep for a couple of weeks) or freeze it.
Tip: The original recipe suggests a splash of Port if you fancy it, this is added together with the cranberries.

Homemade Lamb Doner Kebab


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


This is an ABSOLUTE favourite in our house, and since discovering this recipe and tweaking it to make sure it is perfect, we have enjoyed delicious kebabs at home for a fraction of the cost.

Homemade Lamb Doner Kebab

Serves 2 Adults (2 medium sized kebabs)

Ingredients:

425g Fresh (not frozen) Lamb Mince (400 - 500g of mince is fine depending on the packet size you buy)
1 Tsp Dried Oregano
Half Tsp Dried Italian Herbs (Mixed Herbs or Herbs D'Province are fine)
1 Tsp Garlic Powder or Granules
Quarter Tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 Tsp Salt (Leaving salt out isn't nice - I tried it!)
Half Tsp Ground Black Pepper

To serve: Pitta Bread, Salad and Chips

Method:

  1. Mix all thoroughly by hand in a bowl and shape into a loaf. The more you mix it, and the smoother it is, the more it will taste authentic!
  2. Put into slow cooker for 2 hours on High, no need for oil or anything in the slow cooker.
  3. When it is done the juices will run clear and the outside will be browned slightly. Don't overcook as it will be dry.
  4. Slice thinly, and serve warm.
  5. Enjoy!
Tip: If I have 400g of meat in my slow cooker it takes about 1 hour 45 mins, and it takes a little longer in one of my other slow cooker so they do vary - keep an eye on it and if you have a meat thermometer then this is perfect for checking if it's done. You can also double the quantity as if you are feeding a family this won't go very far. Remember, you do not need to adjust the cooking time if doubling the quantity. I haven't tried it multiplying it any more than double but I'm sure it could be done with a little extra time cooking.

Chicken, Bacon & Leek Casserole (Slow Cooker)


Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


This is really tasty recipe, and is great for a simple and no hassle dinner for guests as well as an everyday family meal.

Chicken, Bacon & Leek Casserole (Slow Cooker)

Serves 3-4 people

Ingredients:
3-4 Skinless Chicken Breasts
25g Butter
Olive Oil
3 Shallots (I used 2 White Onions)
1 Large Leek
2 Cloves of Garlic (Thin sliced)
4 Rashers of Smoked Streaky Bacon (I used Value bacon and it tastes great!)
2 Sprigs of thyme, leaved removed (I just used dried to my taste)
1 Bay Leaf
Salt & Pepper
400ml White Wine
200ml Chicken Stock
Optional: 1 Tablespoon of Cornflour (Thickener)

Method:

  1. Fry the bacon in the oil until it starts going crispy, then add the chicken until it is browned.
  2. Put chicken and bacon into the slow cooker.
  3. In the same frying pan, fry the butter, garlic and onions / shallots until golden.
  4. Mix the onions / shallots, garlic and leek with the chicken and bacon in the slow cooker.
  5. Add the wine, stock, thyme and bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover with the lid and cook on High for 5-6 Hours or Low for 8-10 Hours.
  7. I like to add some cornflour to thicken the sauce and make it creamier. Mix 1 Tablespoon of Cornflour with a little bit of water in a mug to form a thin paste. Add this into the slowcooker and leave to cook with the lid off for a further 10 mins whilst you get the rest of your meal ready. This is optional and is purely preference.
  8. Serve and enjoy!

Note: I have tried this on High and on Low, with and without the cornflour and it tastes just a delicious every time so it is down to you which you choose depending on how much time you have (and if you are like me, what window your toddlers will allow!).

Tip: If you don't have any white wine (I tend to use left overs if we have any!) you can add more stock instead. Either Vegetable or Chicken Stock are absolutely fine. Alternatively you could try white wine vinegar but reduce the amount.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


We have a large Tagine which we get out for special occasions, but I'm sure this could be cooked in a casserole dish or even a slow cooker!

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Serves 4-6 Adult Portions

Ingredients:

1kg Lamb Shoulder (Cubed)
3 Crushed Garlic Cloves
2 Tsp Ras-el-hanout
1 Tsp Ground Ginger
1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Tsp Ground Coriander
1 Tsp Runny Honey
15 Dried Apricots
1 Tsp Dried Mint
1 Tsp Cumin
1 Tsp Paprika
1 Red Pepper
1 Yellow Pepper
2 Onions
440g Chick Peas
1/2 Large Butternut Squash or 1 Small one
400g Couscous
500-800ml Vegetable Stock
Fresh Coriander
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

Method:
  1. Mix all herbs together (except the fresh coriander) in a large bowl including the honey, add some oil to make a paste, and then add the cubed meat.
  2. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes - 1 hour (or overnight if you want to get ahead of the game!).
  3. Cut the peppers and butternut squash into large chunks (make sure you peel and deseed the butternut squash first!) and chop the onions. Cut each apricot into 4, and preheat the oven to 160⁰C (Fan Oven - increase to 180⁰C if you don't have a fan oven).
  4. Put a little water in your tagine and put it in the oven to heat up.
  5. Brown meat in a frying pan, add onions and drained chick peas.
  6. Add meat to tagine and cover with vegetable stock. Cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  7. After 1 hour and 30 minutes, give it a stir and add the remaining veg and some fresh coriander. Cook for a further 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  8. Serve with couscous (mixed with chopped fresh coriander) and top the tagine with fresh coriander to serve.
  9. Enjoy!
Tip: If you want to do this in a normal casserole dish that will also work. If you want to do it in the slow cooker I would suggest doing it for 9-10 hours on LOW or 4-5 hours on HIGH.

Breakfast Casserole (Sausage Casserole)


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


A friend made this for us a while ago, and it was so yummy it has become a firm family favourite with a few tweaks of my own! She calls it Sausage Casserole but I like to think of it as Breakfast Casserole because of it's delicious ingredients. Served with mash and veg, and possibly a Yorkshire pudding or two, or jacket potatoes, or even pasta, it's a feast for Kings!

Breakfast Casserole (Sausage Casserole)

Serves 6 (Large Adult Portions) or for a family of 4/5 (two adults and children) this will do two meals.

Ingredients:

16 x Sausages
10-12 x Rashers of Bacon (I used smoked)
3 x 415g tins of Baked Beans
2 x 400g tin Chopped Tomatoes
1 x Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
25g Dark Brown Sugar (Granulated or Sweetener is also fine)
2 Large or 4 Small Chopped White Onions
2 Tsp Garlic Granules or Powder (alternatively 2-3 cloves of garlic chopped would be fine)
Black Pepper to taste

Method:
  1. Cut sausage into small pieces and brown off in frying pan.
  2. Tip into a saucepan.
  3. Repeat with bacon and onions.
  4. Tip into the saucepan and add everything else.
  5. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 mins.
  6. Serve and enjoy!
Tip: If you are stretching this meal you can easily half the amount of bacon but I just like lots of bacon in it! If you are a family of 4 or 5 (two adults and children) then follow the amounts as above, and you will have enough for a meal and half left to freeze for another day. Will happily keep in the freezer for a couple of months.

Slow Cooker Alternative: This can be done in the slow cooker really easily, if you have time to brown everything off do so, if not and your happy with the sausages and bacon being soft, just throw it all in raw and leave it to cook! On Low this takes about 6 hours plus 30 mins - 1 hour on High with the lid off at the end so it can reduce, and on High for about 3 hours plus 1 hour with the lid off again so it can reduce.

Cheesy Beans


 Constant Comfort - Food for the Soul


I'm having a hungry day today! It's nearing payday and therefore the cupboards are starting to look a little bare. I suddenly remembered I hadn't had cheesy beans on toast for ages, something my mum used to do as a quick meal.

This is great for using up left overs, especially for when you've tried to buy a cheaper brand of beans on offer and they taste awful!lol! It is very quick, cheap, uses leftovers and very filling!

Cheesy Beans

Ingredients:

1 x 400g Tin of Baked Beans
1 Teaspoon of Basil
1 Teaspoon of Oregano
Grated Cheese (as much or as little as you like!)

If you don't have basil or oregano, 2 Teaspoons of Mixed Herbs is fine.

Method: (Seems a bit ridiculous really!)
  1. Mix all together in a saucepan and cook over a low heat until all the cheese has melted!
  2. Serve on top of a jacket potato, toast or whatever you fancy!
Tip: Experiment with other herbs - I sometimes add a little garlic and pepper to give it a boost!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Christmas is in the air!




I have been busy with lots of Christmas preparations (I know it's only just September!) but I have a few things to share with you over the next few weeks so stay posted. You have been warned!lol!