An Apple a Day (is not enough!)

Autumn. There are many things to love about this most anticipated of seasons (yes, even more anticipated than Christmas, ‘cos winter’s after that). Everyone will say it’s the sweaters, the layers, the changing colours and the casting off of sweaty, sand scoured mosquito bites that they love most; but for me, it’s always about The Food. This planet’s abundance will never cease to amaze me, and capturing those moments in flavors to share is what life is all about.

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The apple is a fruit found in every kind of history and myth, folk tale and recipe book. It is one of the first fruits cultivated, so its sweet and savory capacities can sometimes seem limitless. I have a cook book, though, by the Rose Bakery in France, which cannot stress enough that simplicity in food is always your best bet. The fewest and freshest ingredients will always yield the best results. Right now, in Ontario, the early apples are a bit tart, very crisp and have a heady perfume that comes from lingering hot sun. These apples are great with sharp cheeses, but my favorite way to use them is in apple butter. A bushel of apples, little apple cider vinegar, a few spices and some local honey go a long way in a slow cooker.

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Ingredients:

Two 3L boxes fresh early apples, or other tart apples

1/2 cup local honey (local to you!)

1 tsp sea salt

2 TBSP cinnamon

1/2 TBSP nutmeg

Tools:

Slow cooker (there will be different rules for an Instant Pot, so read the instructions!)

sharp knife

peeler

Optional:

black pepper for heat

turmeric for health

maple syrup for sweetness

no sweetener for savories

flower petals for beauty

Method:

Plug in your slow cooker and set it to high.

Wash your apples well, and core them. Peel them if you want a smoother butter, leave them in for health. Cut the apples coarsely (or real fine, if you like a labor of love) and put them in the slow cooker with everything else. Cook on high for about 8 hrs, then cook on low to finish another 8 hrs or overnight. For a very smooth butter, use a hand blender or tabletop blender. If you don’t mind texture, you can just whip it all up by hand. I tend to make it smooth for gifts, and just eat it as is at home. If you like canning, follow a pressure canning recipe after filling your sterilized jars at this stage. Otherwise, grab a spoon and toast the season! butter.jpg

saving seeds, holding seeds, preserving seeds

How to Save Your Seeds

By Catherine Winter

As desperately as we try to cling to summer, especially since it’s so fleeting here in Quebec’s zone 4, the signs of autumn’s arrival are all around us. Trees are losing their leaves, and the temperature has dropped down to near freezing at night, so we’ve had fires blazing in the woodstove almost every evening. Summer is indeed coming to a close, which is prompting me to get off my arse to collect seeds for next year’s garden.

If you’ve grown some varieties that you really love, be sure to save a bunch of their seeds, both to grow again next year, and to trade with your friends/family. One cannot have too much biodiversity in one’s own vegetable garden, and it’s always wonderful to discover new varieties that those close to you have grown and love.

tomato seeds, heirloom seeds, heirloom tomato seeds, saving tomato seeds

Tomato Seeds

To save seeds from both cherry and full-size tomatoes, scraped the seeds out and place them in a very fine sieve. Rub gently to remove as much pulp as you can, and alternate between that and running them under water to rinse the pulp away. After you’ve done that, put the seeds in a clean jar filled with about half a cup of room-temperature water, and seal with the lid. Place that in a cool, dark cupboard and shake gently a couple of times a day. In about a week, you should see bubbles forming, and most of the seeds will have sunk to the bottom: those are the viable ones. Any of the floaters will be infertile, so toss those into the compost bin.

Rinse the viable seeds in your sieve again, then place them on a piece of paper to let them dry. After a day or so, you can either remove them from the paper and store them in a paper or glassine envelope, or store that entire piece of paper in a larger kraft paper envelope: come springtime, just tear or cut the paper into pieces with the seeds left in place, and plant the seeded paper directly into your soil.

saving beans, saving peas, saving dried beans, dry beans, dried beans

Beans and Peas

If you’ve discovered some fabulous varieties of beans or peas and would like to grow them again next year, that’s awesome: they’re incredibly easy to save. Just let some pods mature fully and dry in the sun as much as possible. Once the skins have started to shrivel up a bit, pick them and put them in a basket or paper bag for a week or so to dry out a bit more.
Then pop the beans/peas out of the dried casings and store them in paper envelopes or glass jars until next planting season. If they’re climbing varieties, you can even grow them indoors over the winter on strings or mesh hung over a sunny window.

Related: Create a Community Seed Bank

pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, saving pumpkin seeds, saving seeds

Pumpkin and Squash Seeds

You know those slippery, gooey innards that squash and pumpkins have? Pick as many seeds as possible out of that mess, and then place them in a colander or other strainer. Rinse them as clean as possible, then spread them on a screen (like an old, clean window screen) to dry in a warm place for a week or so. Place in a paper bag and store in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to plant them again.

(Be sure to save extra if you’d like to roast them as snacks, because who doesn’t love those, really?)

melon seeds, saving melon seeds, how to save melon seeds, cucumber seeds, saving cucumber seeds

Melon and Cucumber Seeds

Use the same technique as for the pumpkin and squash seeds, but try to harvest them from a plant that you’ve allowed to mature for as long as possible out in the garden. Seriously, wait until the thing is close to rotting before you harvest them. Why? Because the seeds within actually get more fertile and viable the longer leave the fruits attached to their stems. If you elevate the fruits on rocks or bricks (or even suspended via some fetching old stockings), the air circulation will delay their decomposition. Once the skin hardens, you’ll know the seeds are at their best and are ready to harvest.

dill seeds, fennel seeds, saving dill seeds, saving fennel seeds, herb seeds, saving herb seeds

Herb Seeds

Since herbs—whether medicinal or culinary—tend to have tiny little seeds, the best way to collect them is the brown paper bag technique.

Let a couple of plants mature and go to seed, and once the seed heads are drying nicely in the sun, pop paper bags over them and tie them securely in place with some twine. Use scissors or a knife to sever the stem a handspan or so beneath the twine, then hang the bag upside-down in a dry place. As the plant dries within the bag, the seed casings will shrink, releasing the seeds into the bottom of the bag.

 

After a couple of weeks, shake the bag well to release as many seeds as possible, then cut the bag open and pour the seeds into envelopes.

Keep your seeds in a cool, dry place away from direct light and any form of moisture, and you’ll have a plethora of plants to play with next spring!

 

Photos via Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons

compost, compost tea, brewing compost tea, how to make compost tea

Compost Tea: How to Brew It and Use It in Your Garden

By Catherine Winter

“Compost tea” sounds rather disgusting, doesn’t it? When we think of compost, very few of us would associate a well-loved beverage with the squidgy brown soil that’s made from broken-down vegetable matter. You can rest assured that this nutrient-dense drink isn’t for human consumption. It’s a rich fertilizer that’s ideal for nourishing your plants, and we’re going to teach you how to make it and use it.

compost, compost tea, compost soil, compost tea ingredients

What You’ll Need

  • 1 five-gallon bucket
  • Chlorine-free water (rainwater or river water is ideal)
  • A couple of handfuls of high-quality organic compost (let’s say 2 cups)
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Large strainer or colander
  • A large stick for stirring

Directions:

  • Pour about 2 cups’ worth of good, rich compost into your bucket.
  • Add the water, and use that big old stick to stir everything around until the water looks murky.
  • Then, if desired, add in about a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses, stirring well as you dribble it in.

Some people get high tech and use a fish tank aerator for their compost tea, but I just use my stick to slosh everything around for about an hour until it’s properly frothy.
If you have children, this is a great way to keep them occupied for a while AND make plant food in the process. Just make sure they know not to drink any of it, because ew.

compost tea, compost, aerated compost tea, how to make compost tea

*Note: If you’d rather keep things a bit tidier, you can also cram the compost into the leg of an old pair of nylons, and use it like a giant teabag in the water bucket instead. This technique does work best with an aerator, because you don’t have to stand (or sit) there dipping that manky bag in and out of the water, so there’s another option for you.

You can let the mixture rest for a couple of hours (12 at the most), and just prod at it a little bit here and there to keep the oxygen active. When you’re ready to use it, pour some of the tea through a strainer or colander into a large watering can, and then add more water to dilute it.

You’ll want to dilute this with a 10:1 ratio of water:tea for mature plants, or 20:1 water:tea ratio for seedlings and potted plants.

compost tea, fertilizing tree, fertilising plants, compost tea fertiliser

A Couple of Notes:

The reason why you need to use chlorine-free water here is because the chlorine that’s added to standard water systems will actually kill the very microbes you’re trying to cultivate in this extract. You WANT the good bacteria in here, and chlorine’s antibacterial properties will destroy all of that.

Also, when you fertilise your plants, trees, water, etc., try to water close to the base rather than on the leaves, unless you see evidence of insect infestation or any kind of infection or blight on the leaves themselves. In those cases, you can pour some of the compost tea into a spray bottle and spritz the leaves and stems, which can often help alleviate the issue.

Related Post: DIY Trash Can Composter Tutorial

compost tea, compost, fertiliser, greenhouse, greenhouse plants, greenhouse tomatoes, compost on greenhouse plants

What Good Will it Do?

All KINDS of awesome, really. Feeding your plants with compost tea doesn’t just increase their nutrient density, but can improve their flavour as well.
Effects that can result from using compost tea include:

  • Greener, more flavourful leaves in leafy greens like chard, collards, kale, spinach, and lettuces
  • Larger blooms on flowers
  • Better-tasting vegetables
  • Higher yields
  • Enhanced root system growth, which allows the plants to better draw nutrients from the soil, as well as providing greater stability

Think of compost tea as a tasty probiotic drink for your plants. In the same way that humans thrive when they add beneficial microbes to their gut microbiome (kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee, yoghurt, etc.), plants also need those happy microbes to help them reach their highest potential.

Compost tea helps to build a more nutrient-rich soil, which in turn feeds your plants, which then turn around and nourish you.
Added benefit: since you’re not pouring any harmful chemicals into the soil, you’re also helping to nourish the local ecosystem as a whole.
And that is fabulous.

IMPORTANT:

Compost tea must be used within 36 hours of being brewed, which is why it’s best to create it in small batches. Compost tea has to be utilised while it’s aerobic: while there are plenty of oxygen molecules booping around inside it. As soon as it goes anaerobic, it can begin to ferment, and that can cause a lot more harm to your plants than good.

Pickles!

By Catherine Winter

Since autumn is settling into the southern hemisphere, and friends in Australia and NZ are harvesting merrily, we thought it might be a good idea to focus on them today and offer a little post on preservation techniques.
Namely pickling.

If you don’t love pickles, don’t bother reading this one. Seriously, it’s all about beloved pickled vegetables, from gherkins and bread-and-butter pickle slices to spicy pickled beets, cauliflower, and sauerkraut. There’s a bit of history here and a few splendid recipes to try, and an overall pickle-licious paradise. If you love ’em as much as we do, feast your eyes on the smorgasbord of pickle-dom ahead.

Pickle

The History of Pickling

I had assumed that pickles came about sometime during the Medieval era, when Brother Osbert the Drunken accidentally dropped a cucumber into a vat of vinegar and decided to eat it anyway when he fished it out a couple of days later, but I was wrong. Apparently pickles of various forms have existed for thousands of years, and although the earliest recorded picklings happened in India around 2030 BCE, I’m assuming that much like longbows, arrows, and wheels, they must have sprung up in various parts of the world around the same time.

Pickling is a cheap, effective, and delicious way to preserve the harvest, as all you need (in addition to jars and lids) are vinegar, salt, and sugar. Herbs and spices too, depending on what it is you feel like making.

Fermented and pickled foods are great for your health, as they replenish your gut with good bacteria and help keep the acidity in your stomach balanced. Just be careful not to eat too many pickles if you have issues with acid reflux or ulcers.

Jars Pantry

Recipes

Now, because these are pickled (and as such, are acidic), you only need to use a water bath to process the jars once they’ve been filled. Some people only use boiling vinegar poured over the vegetables and then let the jars auto-seal, but I’m going to suggest erring on the side of caution and processing your jars according to your elevation above sea level.

In fact, if you plan on doing any canning in order to preserve food longterm, I’d recommend reading up on safe canning procedures so you don’t end up with botulism, or with several jars of spoilt food. The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is an excellent resource, as is Putting Food By, but there are countless canning DIY books that you can find on Amazon at your local bookstore. I’ll recommend getting yourself an actual printed book, rather than relying on web resources: in case of power failure, you can still read a book for information, right?

fridge pickles, quick pickles, refrigerator pickles, easy pickled cucumbers

Fridge Pickles

This is probably the quickest and easiest recipe you can possibly use, and is great for beginners because you don’t have to can your jars in a water bath: you’ll just be keeping the jar in the fridge for a few days, and likely devouring its contents before they have a chance to go manky.

Bread-and-Butter Pickles (Cucumbers)

5 1/2 cups thinly sliced (about ¼-inch) cucumbers
1 1/2 tablespoons salt (kosher is best)
1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion (like Vidalia)
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons pickling herb mix

Toss the cucumbers and salt in a large bowl, then chill in the fridge for a couple of hours, then rinse in a strainer and drain it well. Toss those back into the bowl and add the onion, mixing everything very thoroughly. Pack these veggies into a few glass jars of your choosing.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, and pickling mix, bring up to a boil, and then reduce to a low simmer, stirring constantly until all the sugar has dissolved. Pour this mixture into each jar, covering the veggies completely. Allow the jars to cool a bit, and refrigerate. Wait about 48 hours until eating them so the flavours have been allowed to develop. These will keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

carrots, pickled carrots, pickled carrot recipe, canning recipes

Dill Pickled Carrots

When using dill for pickling, take note of the fact that fresh dill sprigs will make the pickling liquid cloudy and murky over time. Crushing the dried seeds slightly and using those will add dill flavour as well, but they won’t cloud the liquid. When you pickle carrots, it’s important to peel them as well as halving or quartering them so that the liquid can seep into the flesh properly. The following recipe is from Serious Eats.

  • 1 and 1/2 pounds carrots: peeled, quartered, and trim to fit into your jars
  • 1 cup plain white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon pickling salt
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic

Prepare one pint and a half jar, or two 12oz jelly jars. Place lid(s) in a small pot of water and bring to the barest bubble to soften sealing compound.
Combine vinegar, water and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
Place spices and garlic cloves into the bottom of the jar or jars.
Pack carrots sticks upright in jar(s).
Pour the boiling brine over the carrots, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
Tap jar(s) gently to remove any air bubbles.
Wipe the rims clean and apply the lids and rings.
Process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath, then remove the jar(s) from the canner and allow to cool.
Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Refrigerator pickles should be placed in the fridge as soon as the jars are cool.

Salsa

Salsa

This one is adapted from the Ball Blue canning book. As with all recipes, adjust to suit your own personal tastes!

  • 5 cups chopped cored peeled tomatoes (about 12 medium)
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped seeded green bell peppers (about 2 large)
  • 2 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped, seeded hot peppers, such as hot banana, Hungarian wax, serrano or jalapeño
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro (optional: leave out if you hate it)
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, optional

Prepare your boiling water canner, and heat 6 Ball (8 oz) half pint glass preserving jars in simmering water until you’re ready to use them. Wash the lids and bands in warm, soapy water, and set aside on a clean towel.

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently for 8-10 minutes. Remove the jars from the simmering water, drain, then ladle the hot salsa into the warm jars, leaving 1/2 an inch of headspace. Use a spoon handle or similar tool to remove any air bubbles, then wipe the rims, place the lids on your jars, and apply the bands fairly tightly.

Process the jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, then remove the jars and allow to cool at room temperature. You’ll hear satisfying “pops” as the lids seal, but check them after 24 hours to make sure they’ve been drawn downwards: this will prove that the seal is secure.

pickled beets, beets, preserved beets

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Beets

  • 4 pounds of red or golden beets
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed (or use all granulated sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon pickling salt
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water

Sterilize your jars, lids, and bands, and keep them in simmering water in your water bath canner until you’re ready to use them.

Boil the beets in a large pot for about 20 minutes, then drain, rinse under cold water, trim, peel, and chop them into 1″ pieces. Place the cinnamon pieces, cloves, and chili flakes in a muslin or linen spice bag and tie up tightly.

In a large saucepan, combine the sugars, salt, vinegar, and water. Add the spice bag. Bring all of this to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often. In between stirrings, pack your beets into the hot, sterilized jars.

Remove the spice bag from the vinegar mixture, and compost the contents. Use a canning funnel to pour the hot liquid into each jar, leaving 1/2 an inch of headspace. Use a spoon handle to remove any air bubbles, then wipe the lip of the jar with a clean, tamp towel, and use a funnel to pour the hot liquid into each jar, over the beets. Make sure that the liquid still allows for 1/2 an inch of headspace. Place the lids on, tighten with the bands, and process the jars in a boiling water bath canner for 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 24 hours, then test to make sure they’re sealed.

These are just a few simple recipes: there are thousands of amazing combinations you can try, from pickled eggs to corn relish. If there’s a recipe you’d like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section below! Or, join us in our Facebook group—Farm the World: The Community.

Happy Pickling!

Regrow These Vegetables in Your Kitchen

By Catherine Winter

Chances are you’ve noticed that food is getting more expensive, especially during the winter months. Here in rural Quebec, a head of broccoli or cauliflower can run $7 in January or February, and don’t even get me started on how much lettuce or avocados can cost. I was spoiled while living in Toronto, having access to all manner of cheap vegetables year-round, but when you’re eking out an existence in a cabin in the woods, and there’s only one grocery store within 30km to fall back on, a bit of frugal ingenuity is in order.

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, but it’s also incentive to do some research about which vegetables can be re-grown on a countertop. It’s really quite startling to see just how much can be grown from leftover scraps: all you need is water, and a sunny spot to place the plants, and within a week or two you’ll have a fresh batch of edibles to enjoy.

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Root Vegetable Greens

Do you like fresh greens? If you do, you’ll be happy to know that it’s incredibly easy to re-grow all manner of root vegetable greens from scraps.
When you’re trimming turnips, rutabagas, radishes, or even kohlrabi for roasting (or however other way you’ll be using them), make sure you leave about half an inch of flesh beneath the upper knob where the greens used to be.

You’ll then place these in a shallow container, add a little bit of water, and place in a sunny spot. Within a week, you’ll see noticeable green growth! Just make sure to refresh the water often so it doesn’t get slimy and manky.

Cabbage

Cabbage, Lettuce, and Fennel

You can use the same technique as that used above, but you’ll be placing a good couple of inches’ worth of rootstock into a glass or small cup of water. Pour an inch or so of water into the container (again, change it out daily), and make sure to put it in a spot where it’ll get direct sunlight.

Green Onions

Spring Onions (Scallions) and Leeks

Their roots are really cute, aren’t they? Like mini Cthulu tendrils.
When you use these onions, chop off the green parts but leave at least an inch of white bulb above the frilly roots. Place these in a clear drinking glass and add water (change it often, yes) and watch it grow.

These—and leeks—can re-grow several times over, as long as you’re diligent about keeping the water refreshed. Also, the reason why you’ll put them in a clear glass is so light can get right to the roots.

In addition to helping your grocery budget, re-growing these vegetables can go a fair way towards satiating your need to garden while there’s still snow on the ground outside. Most of us champ at the bit to get out there and GROW STUFF and find it difficult to wait for the big thaw to happen, so this can keep us occupied in the interim.
Growing cucumbers and sweet potatoes in your bathroom also helps.
…I’ll write about that next week.


Catherine

Around the Table, Around the World

By Siv Volden, Anita Rubino, John Martin, Pamela Capriotti Martin

One of the greatest benefits of Facebook to our family has been connecting with family members, particularly overseas. Daughter Maille connected easily with her cousin Siv in Vinstra, Norway and her cousin, Anita in Naples, Italy about their family traditions in their homes and countries. When I read their accounts, I immediately recognized some of the traditions from my childhood through Siv (we are related through my grandmother, Hildred) and some from Anita (Johns mother Giulia and Anitas father, Guglielmo are sister and brother). John has added his memories of how his Italian mother and Irish father brought their family celebrations together during the Christmas holidays.

Anita:

One of the two main Christmas traditions in our family and in Naples can be found in the nativity or ‘presepi’. At midnight the 24th of December we sing a song and in procession take the little Jesus Christ to the main scene of the nativity. Usually it is the youngest member of the family who has this honor of carrying the Christ child.24956869_10213029430922792_1783634754_o.jpg

On Christmas Eve we eat fish. We begin with a salad with shrimp followed by spaghetti with sea fruits, bass cooked in the oven, fried shrimp and there is a special salad which is named insalata di rinforzo (backup or reinforcement salad) ironically because the dinner doesn’t need any backup! The salad is cauliflower with olives, pickled peppers and many other things.Image-1 (1).jpg

The rule for the end of the meal is fresh fruit and eating almonds and other nuts.

The other tradition every year are lighting fires in every home, out on the balcony or on the terrace of the building: at midnight of 31st of December. It’s a gesture of invitation to the Virgin Mary, who can warm newborn Jesus next to the warm flames. Afterwards, according to tradition, families would use the ashes as charms to protect the house from damage.

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Siv:

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Advent is very important in the Norwegian tradition. It starts Dec1. Most children get a Christmas calendar with one little gift a day until Dec. 24. Norwegian television has calendars with Christmas stories and lots of people are having Christmas parties with neighbors and family.

Building up to the Christmas holiday we will make homebrewed beer, bake lefse, clean the house and make seven different cookies. Years ago, Norway was a very poor country which is why so many families emigrated to the United States, including Pamela’s great-grandparents Mathea and Thron Thronson. (Siv and Pamela are related through Mathea). So long ago the custom was to bake the seven kinds of cookies to show neighbors that we were wealthy enough to bake so many cookies.24209224_1483484111698650_1112224394_o.jpg

In Norway, Christmas Eve is when Santa Claus arrives with gifts. The holiday starts Dec 24 at 5 pm. Dec 25 and Dec 26 are also holy days. Santa Claus has a Norwegian relative: fjøsnissen, who live in the barn and are taking care of animals and people at the farm IF people treat them nice. So we’re making porridge and putting it in the barn on Christmas Eve so fjøsnissen will keep on helping us at the farm.

Typical Christmas dinner is: pork ribs, lamb ribs, lutefisk and lefse.24321780_1483482095032185_956396611_o.jpg

John’s Christmas traditions include Italian traditions like the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve and Irish traditions on Christmas Day.

John:

We always had pasta with different fish including smelt, shrimp, and some sort of white fish. On Christmas Day there would be a roast, usually beef with roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts and for dessert a Christmas pudding with stirred custard.

Pamela:

My family had Christmas Eve with my mom’s parents and Christmas Day with my dad’s family where we usually had turkey with all the trimmings including pies for dessert. My Norwegian grandmother always thought Christmas Eve was more important than Christmas Day and was always the first to open her gifts. The house smelled of cookies and lutefisk but she always made a pork crown roast with lingonberries for dinner.

The melding of John and Pam’s heritage began with honoring our Italian and Norwegian roots on Christmas Eve. While I did not grow up with any Italian Christmas traditions despite my last name, John did. On occasion we would prepare several fish dishes and pasta, but mostly we would order a crown pork roast stuffed with sausage, my grandmother Hildred’s Norwegian tradition. There would be cranberry compote (too hard to find lingonberries) mashed potatoes, and root vegetables. For dessert? That’s always been pretty open to whatever the girls wanted to make or wanted to eat but there would be lefse and sandbakkels. This year we are making pasta. Christmas Day we now are fully committed to prime rib, roasted English potatoes, brussels sprouts and for dessert – well John gets his mince pies, Christmas pudding and a puddle of custard. For the rest of us – an apple pie with the same perfect custard robe.

Happy Christmas to all.IMG_0694.JPG

Yalda: Midwinter in Iran

by MK Martin

There are one or two mentions of Pagan solstice festivals in the facebook feed these days. Midwinter is a ‘trend’, and did you know that Santa was really tripping on mushrooms? But one I’ve never heard of, until I went looking, is Yalda. I’ll only give some brief details, as it’s worth reading about yourself. *

Of Iranian and Persian descent, this 5000 year old, four day Fire Festival, beginning on the 21st, marks the Birth of the Iranian sun god Mithra, and the symbolic triumph of light over darkness. Dating back possibly as far as 3rd or 4th millennium BCE, Zayeshmehr, Shab-e Cheleh, or Yalda marks the beginning of the solar year. Fires burn all night, to ensure Ahriman (Satan!) will get a clue and keep away from the feast. At the party, forgiveness, god worship and acts of charity are custom, and in the morning, it is believed Creator, Ahura Mazda (Lord of Wisdom and affordable cars), would grant wishes.MithraONE.png

Much like certain European festivals, this was a time for servants and lords to trade places, with the king ‘hiding’ among commoners. The strict standards of living were relaxed. These traditions merged with the Roman traditions, which included decorating with greenery, throwing massive parties (though, that was a Roman theme for anything), and letting bygones be bygones. Wars were suspended, businesses closed and grudges forgiven.

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But now for the important bit: the food. Preserving summer foods for Shab-e Cheleh is important, as the mixing of summer with winter food is the feature, and there are no specific recipes. Watermelon, pomegranate, feta cheese and nuts served alongside herbs like mint and tarragon are devoured with lavash bread and ground Angelica. As long as the food is contrasting in seasons, it’s welcome at the table.

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I found a great recipe for a Baghlava cake. There are photo steps, as well as written, and it looks not -too- difficult to pull off. From persianmama.com:

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Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 F center rack
yield: Twenty 2 x 2 inch pastries

Author: Homa
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Persian

INGREDIENTS:
FOR THE DOUGH
8 ounces sweet butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp vanilla powder or 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
4 ½ – 5 cups all-purpose flour
FOR THE FILLING
2 tsp cardamom powder
2 tsp cinnamon powder
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped walnuts, split-pea sized
2 egg whites, beaten until foamy (save the yolks)
2 egg yolks mixed with 1 tsp cold water for the egg wash
FOR THE SYRUP:
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ TBSP honey
1 TBSP plus 1 tsp rose water
GARNISH:
Chopped Pistachios

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F, center rack
2. Grease a 9 x13 x1 inch nonstick baking pan with butter flavored Crisco and lightly dust with flour. Tap the pan over the sink to shake off the excess flour.
3. In a small bowl mix 2 tsp cardamom, 2 tsp cinnamon, ¾ cup powdered sugar and 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped walnuts. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, whisk all the dough ingredients except the flour, until smooth.
5. Add the flour gradually and mix well with a wooden spoon after each addition. Add enough flour until the dough stops sticking to the fingers; you may have some leftover flour. On a lightly floured surface pat the dough into a fat rectangle, then divide it into two equal pieces.
6. Use a rolling pin to roll out one of the dough pieces into a 9 x 13 inch rectangle.
7. Gently lift the rolled dough and lay it on the prepared baking pan, use your finger tips to gently stretch the dough to fit the bottom of the pan perfectly.
8. Brush some of the foamy egg white on the dough.
9. Sprinkle all of the walnut filling mixture over the dough in the pan.
10. Drizzle the rest of the beaten egg white on the mixture.
11. On the floured surface roll out the other piece of dough into another 9 x 13 inch rectangle for the top. Carefully cover the nut and spice mixture with the rolled out dough and stretch it with your fingertips to completely cover the top of the pastry. Press the dough onto the filling.
12. Use a sharp plastic knife to mark the dough into 20 equal rectangles. Cut through the thickness of the pastry on the marks you have made. Brush the egg wash over the entire surface of the pastry.
13. Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the top of the pastry is a rich golden brown.
14. After 15 minutes into baking start making the syrup: In a 2-Qt saucepan add 1 ½ cups water, 1 ½ cups sugar, and 1 ½ TBSP honey. Bring it to a boil over medium heat. Let it boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add 1 TBSP plus 1 tsp rose water. Set aside until ready to use.
15. By the time the pastry is ready, the syrup should reach a lukewarm temperature.
16. Remove the pastry from the oven. Place the pan in a larger baking pan to catch any possible syrup dripping.
17. Use your plastic knife once again to cut through the baked pastry between the squares. Drizzle all of the lukewarm syrup evenly all over the hot pastry, don’t forget the borders. It might look like all the syrup will not fit in the pan, but it does and all of it will get soaked up to make this cake amazingly moist and delicious. Sprinkle the pastry with chopped pistachio. Allow to cool completely in the pan over a cooling rack before transferring the pastries to a serving platter in a single layer.
18. This pastry is best when served at room temperature
NOTES
Freeze any extra pastries by arranging them in a single layer in an airtight freezer container, cover the top of the pastries loosely with a sheet of parchment paper, then cover the container with the lid tightly.

*These details are truncated. If anyone sees an incorrect one, let me know!

Have a Holly, Jolly Meatball

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

We’ve been blessed to have friends who love to cook as much as we do. Sally, Luke, and Sophie are great friends and Sally is a marvelous, creative cook and baker. And the cooks in our house, and the cooks in their house have a tendency to talk smack about whose dish is better. For John, Sally, and three of my daughters – the big smack one year was meatballs. When the Meatball Shoppe opened in NYC and issued a cookbook, the talk got louder and louder. While some of us thought all their meatballs were fabulous, some people wanted affirmation.

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And so the Great Christmas Meatball Off was born. I organized the rules and the teams were formed. Team One: Sally vs Team Two: John and Manda vs Team Three: Morgan and Maddy. I decided to remain neutral and organize the judges: Andrew, Todd, Jeff, and Luke – all a bit “cooking” challenged but big lovers of meatballs.

The plates were the same, the ballots were created and the meatballs fashioned, simmered, and served.

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Over the years we have enjoyed having celebrations to share with our friends and neighbors and the Holiday Season is a perfect time to open your home for a soup party (everyone bring a pot) an appetizer and cocktail party (bring your favorite signature cocktail mix and a fun appetizer, and one year a New Year’s Day Dessert Levee – everyone brought cookies, cakes, pies and we sugared our way through New Year’s Day. Make it simple, make it delicious, make it fun and invite everyone to play a part.

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I shall keep the meatball winner(s) of this particular Meatball Off a secret but here are some winning meatballs.

Winning Meatballs

INGREDIENTS

For the tomato sauce:
5 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
700g passata
75ml dry red wine
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried red chili flakes
1 mozzarella balls, sliced
Salt & pepper
For the meatballs:
250g good quality minced beef
250g good quality minced pork
100g pancetta, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
60ml buttermilk
50g breadcrumbs
1 tbsp dried oregano, chopped
A small handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
50g grated Parmesan cheese,
Salt & pepper

DIRECTIONS
Cook onions and pancetta until translucent. Let cool. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the meatballs. Season with salt and pepper and mix until completely and evenly combined. Using a tablespoon form large golf ball sized meatballs by rolling them in your hands. Transfer to a large baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining mixture, cover and leave in the fridge to become firm for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Place a large frying pan over a medium high heat and add a good glug of olive oil. If all the meatballs don’t fit in the pan at once, fry half the meatballs until browned on all sides, this will take 8-10 minutes and then transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper. If doing two batches, wipe out the pan with kitchen paper, add another glug of oil and fry the remaining batch. Preheat the oven to 300F.

Drain any excess oil from the pan and place back on a low heat, add the garlic and allow slowly simmer until just golden but not browned. Pour in the passata and red wine a stir through. Season with dried oregano, chili flakes, salt & pepper. Bring to a steady simmer and allow to cook for 5-6 minutes before adding the meatballs to the pan and gently turning to coat them in the sauce with a tablespoon. Cover the pan with a lid and transfer to the oven.

Cook gently for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, turn up the oven to 425F and dot the meatballs with mozzarella and the remaining Parmesan and return to the oven.
Serve the baked meatballs with spaghetti cooked in a pot of well seasoned boiling water until al dente and sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan cheese.

Glögg.

By Catherine Winter

As I write this, it’s -23C outside. The sun set shortly after 4pm, and I’ve been huddled beneath blankets half the day, wearing fingerless gloves as I typed. It’s very obvious that the solstice is just a few days away, and these few days and nights leading up to Yule are cold, and dark, and long. It’s on evenings such as this one that I appreciate a warm drink to wrap my hands around and sip, as it feels cold enough outside that the stars themselves may crack and shatter.

Glögg is a gorgeous mulled wine that’s easy to put together, wonderful to drink (and share with others), and since it’s packed with anti-oxidants that can help you fight off winter colds and flus, it’s also good for you!

Cinnamon

Ingredients and Supplies:

A small linen or muslin bag for your spices
2 x 750 ml bottles of decent red wine
2 cups of brandy
A small organic orange (like a clementine), sliced thinly horizontally
1/2 cup brown sugar, or 1/3 cup honey, or 1/3 cup maple syrup
2-3 cinnamon sticks, broken into large pieces
8 cloves (whole)

Optional Garnishes:

Whole blanched almonds
Sweetened dried cherries or currants

MulledWine
Directions:

Place the cinnamon sticks and cloves in your spice bag and tie tightly.

In a large soup pot on medium heat, combine the wine and brandy, then stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Toss in the spice bag and orange slices, then turn the heat down low and heat it for 30-40 min so the spices really have a chance to steep. Don’t let it boil or it’ll taste burnt.

Once warmed, place a scant few almonds and cherries (or currants) in mugs and then ladle the hot liquid over them. If you like, place one of the orange slices in there as well. Make spoons available so people can scoop out and eat the boozy nuts and berries as they sip this glorious, warming drink.

Skål!

Have Yourself a Hygge Little Christmas

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

Simple pleasures. Family, friends, graciousness; sharing and caring for others. The Danish word “hygge” has become part of our vocabulary recently, and this year, it was pretty much the guide I used as I bought my Christmas gifts.

It isn’t about the expense. It isn’t about technology or hype. It’s about bringing the actual ‘comfort and joy’ in the old song, ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.IMG_0677.JPG

As a writer, we are meant to give texture to our writing with more than just dialogue and plot points, bringing together the ‘life’ details around our characters. It’s really the same for the Christmas season for me. Living in the South there are some missing elements: the scent of the pine trees, the feeling of snowflakes on your eyelashes. The scent of a first snow before it begins. The warmth of hot chocolate in your mittened hands. And so, Hygge is about honoring the five senses for me this Christmas. The sounds. The sights. The tastes. The touch. The smells. The simplicity that brings joy.IMG_0694.JPG

I’ve created a Christmas playlist on my phone. Random Christmas songs don’t bring me joy. I love the sounds of Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and perhaps a few artists who are still with us, Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney and even a little Madonna.

My top ten songs for Christmas:

White Christmas by Bing Crosby
Santa Baby by Madonna
Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney
The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole
I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Michael Buble
Count Your Blessings by Rosemary Clooney
Holy Night by John McDermott
Sleigh Ride by Harry Connick Jr.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Dean Martin (childhood favorite)
Silent Night by Frank Sinatra (1957)
The scents of Christmas support the feelings of warmth. I’m a candle person. My diffuser is always out of whatever is meant to bring scent to a room, but my candles this season bring warm spices of cinnamon and cloves, the fruitiness of cranberries, the piney woods, and even the sweet smell of cookies baking in the oven. (Although, there are plenty of cookies baking.)

Taste. There are so many tastes that evoke the season. The tartness of dried cranberries in granola, biscotti, and oatmeal cookies. Who needs raisins? The warmth of cider with spices and a beautiful velvety chocolaty hot chocolate. I’ve included recipes for both. My husband is Irish and Italian and so it’s not Christmas without a Christmas pudding, a large pot of spaghetti on Christmas Eve and mince pies.

While my grandmother scented the house with Norwegian Christmas traditions of lefse, warm rommegrot (a Norwegian pudding) topped with cinnamon and sugar and the not so welcome Lutekfisk, my grandfather, who was German brought out the pickled herring and sauerkraut. The best though were her homemade cookies, the sandbakkels which signaled Christmas to me. They’re baked in little tart tins and some were terribly stubborn and didn’t come out of the tin perfectly. And that meant they were to be eaten because they wouldn’t make the cookie tray. Shucks.

Warm flannel nightgowns made by my mother were part of our Christmas tradition. I remember particularly one that was a pale blue print with hearts, so soft and warm for those cold Minnesota winters. My daughters have received Christmas pajamas for most of their years, not always flannel pj pants but some in soft cotton or silky fabric that feels delightful on the skin. There have been cashmere socks or hats and scarves, mittens, and other things that envelope us in warmth. Not to mention handwarmers from LLBean in the ski boots and ski mittens.

The sights of Christmas are married with the sounds.

Films and Books I recommend:

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg – A beautifully illustrated children’s book

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci – Strangers on a train bound for Los Angeles at Christmas

Letters from Father Christmas J.R.R. Tolkien – Letters written and illustrated by Tolkien between 1920 and 1942 from Father Christmas to his children

Madeline’s Christmas Ludwig Bemelmens – My favorite childhood heroine

The Greatest Gift is a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943 that became the basis for It’s a Wonderful Life

A Christmas Wish by Lori Evert (Author),‎ Per Breiehagen (Illustrator) – A beautiful book. Anja wants to be one of Santa’s elves. When she skis off in her quest to find Santa, a bird, horse, musk ox, polar bear, and reindeer show her the way.

Christmas Films:

Holiday Inn – Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Every single number but the 4th of July dance with the firecrackers is my favorite.

Come to the Stable – Loretta Young and Celeste Holm. I loved the tennis-playing nun the best.

Miracle on 34th Street – Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn. I wanted to be Susan. And I wanted her house.

Christmas in Connecticut – Barbara Stanwyk. Just a sweet retro pic.

The Santa Claus – Tim Allen. I don’t love Tim Allen but I do love the whole silly premise but mostly the relationship between Charlie and his dad. And the souped up sleigh.

Love Actually – Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and more.

And perhaps one of my very favorites, no matter the season, Desk Set with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy – made me want to do research and learn to make floating islands. I did. If you like this one – get every single one of the Hepburn/Tracy films. They’re dynamite.IMG_0681.JPG

One of the best parts of the season are the activities that bring you together as a family. Wrapping presents together. Creating your own festive wraps by decorating plain brown wrapping paper with a stamp with silver or gold, or writing Merry Christmas or other holiday words in script with a colored marker. Putting red or green ribbons around each package and making tags from old cards or brown cardstock and tying a bit of evergreen to the bow. Making ornaments.

Playing a game. In years past we broke into teams to play Trivial Pursuit. Mapomimoes (Europe) is a new favorite geography game. Apples to Apples or Candyland (another childhood favorite) with the younger crowd. Doing a Christmas puzzle together on the floor. Baking cookies or making gifts for teachers together. Making sure you allow the young ones to add their own creative and unique suggestions ensuring the perfection in the adult in you doesn’t overpower their vision.

For the time in Vermont this year, I’m packing the games, the pajamas, the hot chocolate mix I’ve made, the books, the songs, and I’ll decorate a little tree in Vermont. We will have ourselves a Merry Hygge Christmas. I hope there’s snow. (I’m sure there is snow)!IMG_0695.JPG

Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder, any kind you like
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a tiny segment of fresh vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until powdery. Don’t have a food processor? Chop or grate the chocolate until it is as fine as you can get it, and stir it into the remaining ingredients. Mixture keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

To use: Heat one cup of milk (coconut, almond or others would work here too) in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved.

Homemade Mulling Spice

large orange, zested, peel and pith, minced

1 ounce jar cinnamon sticks, chipped

.75 ounce whole allspice

.75 ounce whole cloves

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, and put a piece of parchment paper down.

Scatter the zest, peel and pith over the parchment paper and bake for about an hour until dry. Meanwhile, place the cinnamon sticks in a Ziploc and wrap it in a towel. Smash. I use a wooden meat hammer but a rolling pin would work.

Mix everything gently together and store in an airtight container.

Add 1 tablespoon to each eight ounces of cider. Warm and strain into a mug.IMG_0689.JPG