Friday, 10 January 2014

Sponsoring with Antares.

I don't think I have ever introduced these three sponsor children to you. I know that I certainly meant to as they are just so sweet! 

Antares is a sponsor charity that works with children in some orphanages in Kazakhstan. It is wonderful! I sponsor 3 children with them and, even as a newish sponsor, you wouldn't believe how many photographs I have received of them so far. Antares has a mission and that is to make a difference in the lives of the children in the orphanages. Their priority is the children and sponsors have to commit to writing to any children that they sponsor. This is key! These children need to know that there is someone out there who cares about them, who is interested in them, and who is proud of them. The children don't have to reply and write letters but you get a photograph of your child with every letter you send. So if you write once a month you get 12 photographs a year. That is amazing! Especially when you consider that some organisations only send a new photograph every 2 years. It really helps you to feel close to the children! 

Aleksandr is such a sweetheart and writes lovely letters! He is in his last year at the orphanage and hopes to go to college. 

Almagul is a lovely girl who likes maths and chess so she is very bright! She likes crafts and is learning English. 

Katya is cute and sporty! She loves books and school and drawing. Her letters are so enthusiastic and her character really comes across!  

Sponsorship with Antares is $10 a month ....... for all three children! I still find it amazing but it isn't a charity that is out to make money. They want as many children sponsored as possible so that they can receive encouragement and support through the letters that their sponsor sends to them. There are also a few opportunities through the year to send the children on trips. So far there has been a trip to a book store and also a holiday shopping trip. The holiday shopping trip was a fab idea! Postage to Kazakhstan is expensive so it makes a lot more sense to send the money direct plus the children then get to pick what they want! 

Overall I can't recommend Antares enough! The volunteers are amazing and always willing to answer questions. Even though I have A LOT of questions! The turn around time on letters and photographs is pretty wonderful too. 



Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Random Little Things.

Just a few random updates that don't warrant their very own post! 

I really enjoyed cooking the beef stew and dumplings and am excited to try more recipes. It is super fun to look through the cookery books (especially my new ones!) to figure out what to make next! I have convinced my parents to dig out their slow cooker as it has been at the back of a cupboard for quite some time. Maybe something with chicken next or perhaps Quorn so my mum could have some too! 

I also ordered a new casserole dish .... it is red, made of cast iron, and can be used on the hob and in the oven. How handy! I can't wait for it to arrive! 

Is anyone else a little bit in love with Pinterest? Hopefully it isn't just me! I think it is pretty wonderful and it is a much tidier update to a folder filled with magazine clippings! My Pinterest is here and it is about as random as this blog! 

I watched Kirstie Allsopp's television programme called Kirstie's Crafty Christmas and loved it! I even watched it on repeat .... a few times! She made various things including mince pie popcorn, glitter baubles, and cheesecake. Most exciting though was discovering that pom pom makers exist! No more faffing around with cardboard circles! After watching the programme I decided that my life would not be complete without a few of my own. They are such pretty colours too! 

I noticed recently that I wasn't seeing updates from pages that I had liked. It turns out that you have to select "get notifications" under the "liked" button otherwise the updates never appear in the main news feed! I had thought it strange that I wasn't seeing the new posts from blogs that I follow on there. The main reason I liked the pages in the first place was that I wanted a bit more positivity on my news feed. Glad to have them back now! 

A friend bought me this adorable squirrel just because. I think technically it is a Christmas decoration but this one is staying out all year! I love fluffy little creatures! 

I have been looking at seed catalogues. Helpfully they appear by magic through the post! I don't need many seeds or plants this year as I have quite the seed collection built up as so many magazines had free packets on them. I would quite like a new fruit tree as one of mine died last year. Luckily it was one of the teeny tiny ones! More organisation is needed in the garden this year. Maybe a nice and cohesive list and perhaps a little calendar so I know exactly when I have planted things and when they need to be picked. I really need to get the hang of successive planting too as I planted too much at once last year and we were over run with courgettes and runner beans! 



Saturday, 4 January 2014

Cooking Update - Beef Stew and Cheesy Herb Dumplings.

I said I would post updates on my New Year's Resolutions so here is the first one! 

I made beef stew today and decided to add cheesy herb dumplings to it. I had never tried either recipe but it turned out pretty well! It is quite tricky to figure out what to cook at home as, although my dad will eat most things, my mum is a vegetarian, and my brother can't eat due to his condition. My mum is being really supportive of this goal so made Quorn stew and had some of the dumplings I made. She is also being very patient! 

I didn't stick to the recipes I read ..... I never do! I always faff and make little adjustments and alterations even when it is the first time using a recipe. Probably not the best decision! 

The Stew. 
2tbsp sunflower oil
400g braising steak cut into cubes
1 carrot peeled and chopped
1 potato peeled and cubed
1 onion diced
2 level tbsp plain flour
150ml beef or vegetable stock
1tbsp redcurrant jelly (I used cranberry sauce as we had some left from Christmas!)
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3. Put the casserole dish on the hob (check if your dish is suitable!) and heat up the oil. Add the beef and brown all over then remove from the dish and put to one side. Add the vegetables to the dish and stir in the flour until it is evenly mixed. Cook the vegetables for around 5 minutes. Add the beef, stock, redcurrant jelly, salt, and pepper and bring to the boil. Cover with the lid and cook in the oven for 2 hours. 

The Dumplings. 
175g self-raising flour
75g suet (I used vegetarian suet)
50g grated Cheddar cheese
2tbsp chopped fresh herbs (as this was last minute I used a smaller amount of dry herbs)
4 to 5tbsp milk

Place the flour in a bowl and stir in the suet, cheese, and herbs. Mix in enough milk to make a soft dough. Divide into 8 equal pieces and roll into balls. Remove the lid of the casserole dish and place the 8 balls on top of the stew. With the dish uncovered, return to the oven and cook for 30 more minutes. 

Serve and enjoy! 

The dumplings were nice but fell apart quite a bit so perhaps the mixture was a little too dry. Also I cut up the potatoes into pieces that were far too small and they had practically disappeared!