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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Good-bye 2011 - Happy New Year 2012

Tonight another year comes to a close and a new one starts.  But it's more than just another night of Auld Lang Syne. Tonight we take another step away from a path that so many years ago promised so much, but for some delivered so little.

Over the years I  faced many crossroads - crossroads that gave me a choice of destination or just a different route. But what I didn't realise was that I could never retrace my steps and start again no matter which option I chose. The path of life is a perpetual journey forward where we wander along taking detours and crossing intersections and picking up the proverbial baggage along the way. Sadly, if we're not careful, we lose sight of where we started and who we met along the way.

Which  is why tonight my thoughts are of each and everyone I met on my way.  No matter who you are or how fleeting our meeting, you all have left an impression.  I know that I don't know where most of you are or how you have fared on your journey, but I want you to know that you meant something.

The reason I say this is that I took some of you for granted. Naively I thought you would be around for ever and you're not.  Your journey with me ended, some prematurely, some sooner than I had hoped.

So, as I toast a new beginning, I'd like to raise a glass to you all.  Each and every one of you have left me memories of who I was and who I have become.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart and until we meet again.  Hope everyone has a happy and most healthy New Year.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas Letter

Christmas 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

We knew last Christmas was going to be difficult as it was our first without George and Tiny. So we arranged to take our Christmas dinner up to share with Dad. However, as with 2009, it wasn’t meant to be. Dad called Christmas morning to tell us that he had to cancel as he was off to the hospital again.  We spent Christmas afternoon at the Whittington, where Dad, just as he had done the previous year, opened his gifts laying in a hospital bed. Only this time there was no George.

Boxing Day didn’t get any better. We awoke to see several missed calls on our cell phones from my niece. She had tried to reach us because my brother Dave was in hospital receiving the last rites. He had been rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties. Thankfully, by the time I called Denise back, he had seen off the worse and looked like he would be ok.

These two events would cast a dark shadow over 2011.  Dave spent the best part of six months to and fro the hospital, including several stays following relapses of his condition. But thankfully, despite the severity of his condition Christmas night, he has been fighting back and was able to enjoy a vacation on Cyprus for the first time in years.

In Dad’s case, we weren’t so fortunate.  His condition deteriorated considerably and on January 14th he passed away peacefully at Marie Curie’s Hampstead Hospice. Thankfully his granddaughter Hayley was able to visit with him the night before we lost him, and I was able to spend his last night by his side at home and was by his side when he left us to be with Mum the following morning.  As at George’s funeral, it meant so much that I was able to do the eulogy, as did my brother Phil.  And I’ll never forget the sound of You Were Always On My Mind as we followed Dad’s casket out of the small chapel at the cemetery to lay him to rest, before having a celebratory meal in his honour at his favourite haunt, The Gatehouse, with Phil and Jean, Denise and young David, Donnaghda and Hayley. 

Sadly Dad wouldn’t be the only loss the family would suffer this year – Rita and Jean both lost a brother each too.

The next few weeks the family focused on emptying Dad’s flat. Dad had lived there for 49 years, so clearing it out before handing back the flat to Islington Council proved to be extremely emotional and brought an end to the White family’s link to Holloway that went back over a hundred years.  Then I had to sort Dad’s estate.  As much as we would trade it for having him and George back healthy and happy, what they left behind would certainly make a difference in our lives.

With no Tiny or Dad, we decided to get away to Dublin at the end of March so we could spend some time with my brother Dave, his wife Rita, and niece Denise.  Unfortunately we missed out on seeing my nephew, as young David caught a plane to Australia minutes before we arrived to spend 12 months living Down Under.  We had a great time there visiting around O’Connell Street in town, and spending time with our family – the highlight being a magical mystery tour to Johnnie Fox’s in the mountains where we got lost, were given directions and re-directions from the strangest of locals, and ended up roaring with laughter with tears streaming down our cheeks.

By the time we headed back to Hertford, and following months of deliberation, we decided to become vegetarians, with both of us eating meat for the last time in Dublin before returning home. The result was better than we had expected – both of us now free of stomach problems. Better still was that I also lost over 30 pounds in the first six months.

On April 29th, the world watched William and Kate get married.  But my son Paul had bigger news of his own.  With Lisa, they became proud parents on April 30th of a baby boy they named Jamie. A week or so later, my daughter Hayley also had news of her own – she was moving out of the family home to live on her own.

May brought a memorable 14th wedding anniversary vacation in Cornwall where we ate fish for the last time.  In fact, I had fried fish and chips several times, with the last from Loggans Fish Bar in Hayle, the evening we celebrated my 50th birthday following a return light plane flight from Lands End to the Scilly Isles where we enjoyed a memorable day never to be forgotten.

One other major event this year is that incredibly Dawn swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II at Hatfied Town Hall on May 9th to become a British Citizen and now has a UK passport. By the way (in case you wondered), Dawn still has her little blue American passport. She never gave up her American citizenship; she has dual.

This summer also saw me re-ignite a friendship with Denis and Tracy after thirty years.  I had even been asked to be his best man at their wedding 30 years ago; however the 80s took our lives in different directions and we lost contact.  

On the work front, Dawn has continued her environmental efforts at City University, and thankfully didn’t have to stay away as much as in previous years. In my case, I continued my rear guard action where I worked. We lost the environmental certification I had worked so hard for us to get and following many redundancies, including my assistant, I have been left to do everything accounts related on my own. Oh yea, there was even a month when I was three weeks late in receiving my monthly pay.

This year we also became Apple fans.  Dawn received an iPad for Christmas last year and I picked up a new iPad2; then when our cell phone contracts ran out, we replaced our Blackberrys with a couple of iPhone 3GSs.  I also got more into baking and now bake all our own bread. 

In October we saw Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines in the London stage production of Driving Miss Daisy.  What a treat that was!

Best of all was a celebratory week in New York to celebrate the 15th anniversary of meeting at the top of the Empire State Building. We visited Ground Zero, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, The High Line, Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building again.  We got a recording of us doing the news and weather during an NBC studio tour and saw The Jersey Boys on stage.  And the vegetarian food we ate in New York was excellent. We ate at the famous vegan restaurant, Candle 79; Katz’s Deli (made famous by Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally); the Boathouse in Central Park (recommended to me by Jo Wheatley, this year’s winner of the Great British Bake Off); and The River Café, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, where we had a special anniversary meal while watching the sunset over Manhattan.

On returning from New York, we had the kitchen renovated and spent 4 weeks climbing over boxes, flat packs and appliances while it was transformed into beautiful new fitted kitchen. We’ve also had the patio doors in the living room ripped out to be replaced by a door and window.

So, as you can see, it’s been a pretty eventful year for us, one filled with laughter and tears.  We hope yours has been happy and healthy and we hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas.

Love, Paul & Dawn                                 

Monday, 19 December 2011

English Mum's Big Christmas Bakeoff

Over the last month or two I have been getting more and more into baking.  Admittedly, I was chomping at the bit for about six weeks of this time while we went to New York and had our kitchen renovated.  But since I got access to the oven, I have been baking at weekends.  A couple of weekends ago I made a Mississippi Mud Pie for the first time.  Didn't turn out to bad, even if I do say so myself.  But with Christmas around the corner, I couldn't resist to enter the above Bakeoff run by The English Mum.  As I'd planned to bake some goodies for my colleagues at work, I was able to save time by entering my gifts as my entry. It proved a total success, in my opinion, as everyone at work loved my baking.  As for the competition, just entering was enough for me.

Here is the entry I submitted.  The chocolate cup cakes were from a recipe from Holly Bell , the Christmas Fairy Cakes were from a recipe from The Baking Mad Kitchen , and the mince pies were from Edd Kimber.  The cheese biscuits at the front were a tweaked version of one of Dawn's family recipes. They are so simple.  In fact, I'll probably post the recipe later.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Decorating the Christmas Tree

This year Dawn and I will be celebrating our sixteenth Christmas together and our Christmas tree reminds us how far we have come and how much we have done since meeting that fateful day at the top of the Empire State Building in November 1996.  We also have some particularly important ornaments to commemorate those no longer with us, but who will be with us in spirit this Christmas, and for all future Christmases too. 
This ornament with a photo of Dad has adorned our tree for a couple of years now.  But this year it brought a little tear in the corner of my eye.  Last year we spent Christmas Day with him opening his presents at the Whittington Hospital.  We feared that it may be his last, but little did we expect that he would be gone three weeks later. Love you Dad.  You can enjoy Christmas this year up there with Mum and George.

We have many ornaments that remind us of Tiny.  Many have her name etched on with our names and a date, and some have a photo of her.  But this one of her in my arms is my favourite.  We took her with us on a trip to the Smoky Mountains and she just loved being in the car with us and, even more, racing around the hotel room and hiding in any cubby hole she could find.

As I mentioned, many of  our ornaments remind us of our time together.  This photo has captured a Scottish cushion we bought last year in Edinburgh, a wooden carving we picked up when we went to York to celebrate Dawn's 50th, an ornament with our three names on (the last we had with Tiny), and one we picked up this year when we were in New York - a cup with 'Dad' on it. 

This one doesn't do the tree justice.  The lights are a lot brighter than they appear and you can't see the countless ornaments around the back and on the inside branches.  However, I think it gives you an example of how our Christmas tree looks.  Each and every ornament has sentimental value, and each and every ornament reminds us how lucky have been and are to have each other.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Spinach and Ricotta Spaghetti

If you love pasta and spaghetti, you need to give this recipe a try.  It's quick, easy and good for you with the spinach and garlic.  The nuts and raisins give this dish a whole different dimension and the pesto adds a little kick.  The creamy ricotta cheese just pulls all the flavours together.  Best of all is that this meal doesn't make you feel bloated like spaghetti bolognese.

150g Wholemeal pasta
140g Fresh spinach
125g Ricotta cheese
2 cloves of garlic – thinly sliced
20g pine nuts
20g raisins
2 Tbs of Pesto from a jar (or home made)
1 Tbs Olive Oil
Tbs Butter

1. Boil the pasta according to the packet's recommendations
2. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat
3. Add the garlic and pine nuts and heat for a minute
4. Add the raisins to the garlic and nuts
5. Add the spinach and cook until it wilts (turning a few times in the pan)
6. Take the spinach mixture off the heat
7. Drain the pasta when al dente
8. Pour the pasta back into the saucepan
9. Add the butter and stir
10. Add the pesto and stir
11. Add the spinach mixture and stir
12. Pour the pasta and spinach mixture onto two plates
13. Crumble the ricotta over the pasta and spinach mixture.

Serves 2

Vegetable Tikka Masala

During the winter months, there is nothing better than a wholesome bowl of veggies in a rich sauce over some warm fluffy basmati rice.  I've already posted my chili recipe which (after years of tampering with) I am happy with.  At the weekend I found this recipe in  Christmas Vegetarian and gave it a go. I added the chilies to give it a little kick, but it didn't really add much spice.  You can replace the veggies here with alternative root veggies. And reduce the pasta and increase the water to change the consistency.  But give this recipe a go and take it from there.

1 Large potato - diced
1 Small Butternut Squash - peeled, de-seeded and diced
1 Aubergine – diced
2 Onions  - sliced
2 Red Peppers - sliced
2 Courgettes – diced
2 Red Chilies - chopped
1kg Tomato Passata (sieved tomatoes)
6 Tbs Tikka Masala Paste
3 Tbs Vegetable Oil (used rapeseed)
400g can of Coconut milk
100 ml of water

1. Heat oven to 200c degrees
2. Toss potato, squash and aubergine in a roasting tin
3. Add 2 Tbs of oil and 2 Tbs of curry paste, then stir veggies
4. Place the roasting tin in oven for and bake for 30 minutes (stirring occasionally)
5. Fry onions and chilies in a deep pot with the remaining oil until onions are golden brown
6. Add the remaining paste to the onions and chilies then stir together and cook for another 3 minutes
7. Add the tomato passata to the onions and stir together
7. Add the coconut milk to the onions and passata mixture and stir together
8. Add 100 ml of water to the onions, passata and coconut mixture and stir together
9. Simmer for 5 minutes
10. Once the veggies have been baking for 30 minutes, add them to the pot with the onion/passata mixture
11. Place lid on pan and simmer for 15 minutes.

Serve with a few sprigs of coriander over basmati rice or with some warm pita bread.

Makes 8-10 portions.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Dad's Christmas Fruitcake Cookies

I have been making these fruitcake cookies at Christmas for many years.  In fact Dawn's been eating these every Christmas for more years than she can remember.  I started with her mum's recipe and tweaked it a little, in particular changing the brandy to cherry brandy.  The reason these are called Dad's now is because two years ago Dad was in hospital at Christmas and we sneaked a few up to him while he was there.  He loved them. Especially the alcohol.  Sadly Dad was also in hospital last year too.  Our last with him.  Needless to say, when I bake these now I will always think of him.

60g “Stork” Margarine (softened)
225g Dark Brown Soft Sugar
300g Plain White Flour
300g Glazed Cherries
100g Glazed Dried Mixed Fruit
200g Raisins
200g Sultanas
300g Pecans nuts
30ml Crème Fraiche
75ml Cherry Brandy
1½ Tsp of Baking Soda
½ Tsp of Mixed Spices
½ Tsp of Ground Cloves
½ Tsp of Fresh grated nutmeg or grated ½ fresh nutmeg)
2 Medium Free Range Eggs
Makes approximately 60 cookies

1. Set oven to 150 degrees
2. Measure flour into small bowl
3. Add baking soda to the flour
4. Add mixed spices to flour
5. Add ground cloves to flour
6. Add nutmeg to the flour
7. Sieve the dry mixture into a large mixing bowl
8. Place the margarine into the small bowl
9. Add the sugar to the margarine
10. Blend the sugar and margarine together (this won’t cream)
11. Add the cherry brandy to the sugar mixture
12. Add the Crème Fraiche to the sugar mixture
12. Add the eggs to the sugar mixture
13. Blend the ingredients in the small bowl together
14. Pour the wet ingredients from the small bowl into the large mixing bowl
15. Fold all the ingredients together
16. Add the glazed cherries and fold into the batter
17. Add the mixed fruit and fold into the batter
18. Add the sultanas and fold into the batter
19. Add the raisins and fold into the batter
20. Add the chopped pecan nuts and fold into the batter
21. Keep folding the ingredients until well mixed
22. Lay a greaseproof sheet onto a large baking tray
23. Scoop dessert spoonfuls of the mixture and space evenly on the baking tray
24. Place the tray into the oven on the middle shelf
25. Remove the tray after 15 minutes or when the edges start turning brown
26. Slide the cookies on the greaseproof paper to the counter and allow the cookies to cool for 4/5 minutes and then carefully remove and place onto a wire rack to cool
27. Repeat steps 22 through 26 until all the mixture has been used up

Before taking out each subsequent batch, remove the batch of cookies from the wire rack to a plate to free up the wire rack for the next batch.