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!

Rustic Yule Dinner

By Catherine Winter

There have been many years in which I have cooked for an army during the holidays, whether it was a mountain of latkes, brisket and sufganiyot for Hanukkah, or turkey with stuffing and all the side dishes in the world for Christmas luncheon, but the past few years have been softer, quieter. Relatives do the majority of the cooking for massive Christmas get-togethers, while I just put together a Yule (solstice) dinner for two to four people.

latkes

This time of year is quiet and sacred for me, and is usually a time of reflection by the fireside while snow falls softly over the forest nearby. Ancestors are honoured, and so the foods I make for Yule dinner honour them, in my own way. Crispy potato pancakes for both my Slavic and Sephardic ancestry, topped with gravlax or roe for the Swedish and Dane bloodline. Pan-fried Brussels sprouts, pickled beets, and roasted chestnuts usually make an appearance, and since I’ve been living in Quebec for the past five years, my own version of tourtière is served as the main dish. The genii loci seem to nod their approval, at least, even if I skip the cloves and cinnamon in favour of summer savory and thyme.

sprouts

Not normally a dessert person, I tend to serve the roasted chestnuts an hour or two after the main meal has been eaten, accompanied by local cheese and whatever fruit I can get my hands on, out here in the wild. This year I’ll also bake a small lemon and poppyseed drizzle cake, both because I crave lemons in wintertime, and because MK was kind enough to give me a Meyer lemon and so help me I am going to use it for something special.

Unlike the formal dinners of my youth, this is a very human, gentle meal that’s eaten where all are most comfortable. Sometimes this has been at the dining table, other times it’s been like a picnic, sprawled by the fireside in a nest of blankets. When it’s -30C outside, hearthside is a rather glorious place to eat, believe me. There will be candles, a plate set aside to honour those not present, and appreciation for the fact that the light will soon return.

meat pie

Catherine’s Not-Quite-Tourtière

 

Pie Crust

I use Anna Olson’s gluten-free pie crust recipe and just omit the sugar:

2 cups brown rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chilled cream cheese
1 cup chilled unsalted butter
2 egg whites

pie shell

Preheat your oven to 375F.

In a large bowl, combine the rice flour, tapioca starch, and salt. Cut the cream cheese and butter into half-inch pieces, and use a pair of knives or forks to cut them into the dry ingredients until a crumbly texture starts to form. In another bowl, beat the eggwhites until they’re frothy, then add to the dough, mixing well until a softer, more homogenous dough forms. Split this into two balls, flatten them into discs, wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and freeze for 40 minutes or so.

Once chilled, take one disc out of the freezer, and roll out between a couple of sheets of parchment or waxed paper until it’s about 12 inches in diameter. Flip this onto a greased 10- or 11-inch pie plate, and remove any paper from it.
Fill it with pie crust weights or dry beans, and bake for 8-10 minutes to firm it up. Remove from the oven, pour out the beans or weights, and set aside to cool for another 10 minutes or so.

Root veg

Filling

This is a perfect opportunity to use some of the root vegetables that have been in storage since the last harvest.

2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium turnip, peeled and diced
1/2 rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
1 pound mixed organic ground meat (I use a combination of beef, chicken, and pork)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried summer savoury
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons flour (I use gluten-free)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat, then add half the onions. Stir frequently until they start to go translucent, then add all the root vegetables and chopped garlic. Sprinkle half the salt, pepper, garlic powder, and herbs over them, toss them well, and sautee the lot until the vegetables begin to brown and soften. Remove from heat.

In another pan, repeat the process with the remaining onion, and when it softens, add the ground meat mix and the remaining herbs and spices. Stir well, and continue to cook the meat until it’s almost cooked through. Drain the juices into a smaller saucepan, then combine the meat and vegetables in a large bowl. Add the peas and corn, and mix well.

Take the saucepan with the juices in it, add in the butter, and melt that on medium-low heat until the butter melts. Stir the flour in bit by bit, stirring it gently until it browns and cooks through, then whisk in the chicken stock. Keep whisking this thoroughly until it thickens into a wonderful gravy, making sure to get rid of all lumpy bits, then pour it over the meat and veg mixture in the large bowl, and stir it all together well.

slice

Transfer this mixture into the pre-baked pie crust bottom, and use a spatula to spread it around evenly. Then remove the other pie pastry from the freezer and repeat the rolling-out process. Once flattened nicely, cover the meaty mixture with it, pressing firmly around the edges to create a good seal. If this pastry is large enough, you can even fold it over the edges.
Then, use a knife to cut a few holes in the pastry top to allow steam to escape.

Brush the top of the pie with a bit of beaten egg or melted butter, pop it into the oven, and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the pastry is a lovely golden colour. Remove, and allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before serving.

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!

Books to Celebrate

by MK Martin

Have you ever read the Nutcracker? It’s a stunning book, illustrated by Toller Cranston who, if you’ve never been into figure skating, was a prominent athlete in the sport. Do yourself a favor and search for him on Youtube. Preferably in his canary suit.

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There’s also a lovely version illustrated by Maurice Sendak I love very much. But the reason I love these stories is the same: Godfather Drosselmeier. This resplendent, but somewhat homely be-caped uncle, shows up at an otherwise ordinary Georgian/Victorian Christmas (depending on the version) and brings with him the most fantastic mechanical inventions, of his own design.25358410_10155332707358737_3923440631684682061_o.jpg

There are children in this story, but this guy, this is who I wanted to be. He wowed the crowd without witticisms, he stunned the savvy without good tailoring. He was far more interesting than Santa, and he didn’t outsource. Though his creations were all wondrous, it was one in the back that over a young lady’s heart. A carved Nutcracker who, though his proportions were mishap and his grin a little wide, his purpose was clear and his mission unfailing. When night comes, and the dread Rat King comes to terrorize the world of magic, it is the Nutcracker who saves the day. The illustrations are beautiful, captivating, and somehow, Sendak manages to convey Marie’s expressions in just a few lines, and terrify with the enormous Sweet Tooth, who could represent any frightening authority figure of any era.25398240_10155332707408737_2490535478702731558_o.jpgBabar, Jean de Brunhof’s epic tale of his title character’s search for Father Christmas, comes up in our reading rotation even if it isn’t Christmas. Any story where the characters are all animals, walking around our human world in suits and silks, and ruling their own kingdoms is instantly a favorite. I love that Babar is a champion for his subjects, that he adopts orphaned members of his family, and others, and that his wife, Celeste is always the quiet (well, elephant quiet) voice of reason. One of his adopted kids, Zephyr, discovers Father Christmas brings toys to children all over the world, and he wonders if it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to write and see if he will come to Elephant Country too?

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Since it’s too long to wait for mail of any kind, Babar decides to go on a quest for his kids, to make sure their letter gets there alright. He’s lead a merry chase through interesting places, aided by some and thwarted as well. The ending is happy, and Father Christmas has a very cool airship.

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My very favorite holiday story, though, is The Secret Staircase, by Jill Barklem. The illustrations in her works are breathtaking journeys, a story to be told in each one. It was this story that first introduced me to Midwinter: the ‘pagan’ observance of the darkest day, the Death of the Year. It is a fleeting moment in the calendar, because, the next day is already longer than the last. It is like witnessing the Universe being born all over again; from the darkness, light, and then everything begins.25394764_10155332707413737_3003422095016284018_o.jpg

Ms. Barklem must also find this to be magical, because she takes us with her little mouse heroes up, up into the palace hewn and carved from a massive tree, to rooms and cupboards not seen in any remembered age.

Every turn shows them beauty, majesty and hidden secrets of a world since forgotten. If there’s a history buff lurking in your kid, this story will draw them out. The purpose of their search, is to find something a little bit more stunning for the Midwinter recital and log burning. A popular, but well worn poem has been chosen, and they are looking for a little glamour. Where else should you find those things, but in your great-great-great-great-great grandparents’ closet? The greatest illustration is of the denouement, and I read the poem out loud, with gusto every year.

When the days are the shortest, the nights are the coldest,
The frost is the sharpest, the year is the oldest,
The sun is the weakest, the wind is the hardest,
The snow is the deepest, the skies are the darkest,
Then polish your whiskers and tidy your nest,
And dress in your richest and finest and best ..

For winter has brought you the worst it can bring,
And now it will give you
The promise of SPRING!!25440301_10155332707378737_9020581678556255886_o.jpg

To me, it’s the kids’ books that are the classics, of any age. Grown up stories tend to drag along with them the social trappings of the age, while a child’s story is to the point. I hope you get a chance to read these, some day.

Have Fun and Get Weird with Your Holiday Present Wrapping

By Angelina Williams

We have a tradition in our house of not using conventional wrapping paper. It may have started during a particularly broke period in our lives but it’s persisted because it’s way more fun to come up with creative (often weird) ways of wrapping presents. It also uses things I have on hand so I don’t have to go buy holiday wrapping paper that I find boring or depressing. I’m going to be really up-front with you all, I happen to have a lot of crafty things on hand which is useful. But today I want to show you some of the wrapping ideas I came up with this week that don’t require particularly exotic or numerous supplies to make.

Basic materials I use here are: double sided tape, regular clear tape, staples, scissors, grocery store mailers, used bubble wrap, grocery bags, cracker boxes, magazine pages, and black felt pens. Slightly less basic materials: hot glue gun, glitter glue, kraft paper, dot pattern drafting paper, vintage magazine pages, buttons, and cut up old dictionary pages.

In previous years I’ve never used the bubble wrap I always save so I’ve used it in two different ways this year.

BubbleWrap1

In the above wrapping I made an exotic bubble wrap flower by cutting out petal shapes to alternate with long thin strips of plain kraft paper and stapling them together. Then I curled the strips of kraft paper with scissors and glued an old button to the center. I used a heavy duty double sided tape to adhere the decoration to the package.

Bubbles2

For this rolled up magazine package (you can apply this wrapping to a rolled up t-shirt, a paperboard tube, or a rolled up piece of artwork) I used the bubble wrap as the main wrapping and then created a little extra coverage by taping part of a page of a vintage magazine I have around the bubble wrap. My vintage magazine was already falling apart so no sacrilege to beautiful old printings was committed. Then I decorated using a simpler version of the bubble wrap flower I already showed you.
I have a large number of old buttons on hand and know I will never use them all for clothing or other craft projects so I wanted to use them for wrapping this year. Here’s what I came up with:

Buttons1

I started with a slightly different idea involving gold thread but it didn’t work very well. It doesn’t bother me when my ideas don’t work out as I planned because I always end up with something interesting in the process. I used a scrap of dot drafting paper for this package because I often have pieces of this left over from drafting clothing patterns that are too small to use for other drafting projects. I picked a selection of buttons I liked the look of together and without too much planning glued them all around the box in a band. I don’t like things to look over-wrought, I like a little bit of randomness when doing projects like this. When the gold thread idea failed I decided to use black felt marker to visually connect the buttons so they look more bold.

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If you like this idea but don’t have a ready stash of buttons like I do, see if you can find extra buttons on the inside of button-up shirts in your closet. Most button-ups come with some extra buttons in case you lose some. Or maybe a friend has more buttons than they can use and will share. I got a lot of my buttons in bag lots from thrift stores so you might try that. The point is that none of these were expensive to begin with and are fun to use for wrapping presents.

ScrapPaper1

This decoration I made is kind of weird. I admit it. From some angles it almost looks obscene. Even so, I’m sharing it because it was easy and fun to make and I’m pretty sure no one in my family, and probably yours too, has seen anything quite like it. I wrapped the book in grocery mailers, something I’ve been doing for many years. Then I constructed this odd decoration using strips of kraft paper and cut up strips of an old dictionary.

ScrapPaper

Before you go crying out against cutting dictionaries up, let me assure you I didn’t do it! My husband is an artist and he was collecting shredded up old dictionaries for a long time and finally decided to use one of the ones in really bad shape for a project. Later he gave the rest of the strip to me. I love dictionaries (to actually look things up in) but I have no problem cutting one up if its cover is in tatters and the spine is wrecked and you will have no trouble locating such a sad specimen in a thrift store or on a hoarder’s shelf just waiting to be loved in a new way.

The last idea I came up with this year is probably the cheapest and easiest to do:

BrownBag

I wrapped the box in a used paper grocery bag. Then I took apart a cracker box. I cut out several five-petaled flower shapes in two different sizes. I applied glitter glue to the edges and once dry I used double stick tape to attach the smaller flower shapes on top of the larger ones. You can leave it like that. It looked cool. But my husband wanted something more and I already had my buttons out so I hot glued buttons for the middles. If you don’t have buttons you could cut flower middles out of the grocery bag.

There was a time when wrapping presents was tedious to me but for the last decade I just let myself have fun and be weird with the wrapping and my family has come to look forward to seeing what strangeness I put under the tree every year. My husband loves to illustrate and so he’s taken to making drawings on the wrapping which we also love. And my mom, also an artist, has been applying her love of fiber arts to present wrapping doing interesting package ties with different kinds of yarns and knots.

If you don’t already have fun with your present wrapping, now’s a great time to start. It will take one more potentially tedious task and turn it into a fun activity to look forward to.

What To Give

by MK Martin

I’m going to mention the Grinch again, because it really is a story that laid the path for my life. I used to wish he would come and steal Christmas where I was, and everywhere, so we would all have to go outside and hold hands and sing. He never did, though I did go to a few midnight masses with my Mum.whos.jpg

Are there any holidays revolving around Midwinter, that do not involve gift exchange? I couldn’t find any. The hot Pagan dirt this year, is that there was a Mother Deer before a Father Christmas, but we still have to give her all our butter and hope she leaves us something in return. Because the days are dark, am I right?

Every year, after everything has been opened, after my shoulders come down from around my ears and my nails start growing again, gift giving anxiety sets in. The season means so many different things, to so many different people, and I know most of them. Many have all they could want, or need, some proclaim not to want or need anything! How can I work with these parameters?

Knowing as much as you can about your giftee is the key, of course. You could try reminding yourself that it doesn’t have to be the best gift ever, but that’s really the only reason I can think of to give such a thing. You want their experience to be a little thrill, sometimes.

With that in mind, here are my top gift ideas for three stereotypical receivers, that everyone thinks exist. We’ll call it: The Anxious Person’s Guide to Gifting.

Person: Unenthusiastic Receiver:

You could try to stun this person, but they are suffering from too much stuff. It’s all interesting, and beautiful, and designed well. What this person needs is a big hug, and maybe a box of their favorite chocolate. If you really want to up the ante, ask them how their day is going.

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Person: I Don’t Want Anything!
This person is me. They are too anxious about receiving presents, giving presents, being present and anything in general that has to do with anything. They do like to receive, but they couldn’t possibly figure out what right now. Consider a combination of small items with personal meaning, that equate to a quiet, still moment. Or, a pat on the back to remind them they’re not as close to exploding as they think they are.

Person: Itemized Color Coded List with Alternative Shopping Locations:
This person is either your kid, or they just really know their own mind. For either, the best idea is to pool money for one not too extravagant option and make sure you soak up the excellent reaction they will give you. Another great option is a little outing for lunch, or to an interesting shopping space they’ve never been.

Person: Partner
This person wants to be surprised by you, so do that. If it’s been a rough year, observe them carefully for a few days without being weird, and see if anything is obviously missing. If it’s been a good year, write them a note about it, thank them for being around with you. If it’s just another year in the stretch you agreed to walk together, thank them for that too. Nothing’s more surprising to people, sometimes, than the appearance of true gratitude. Sure, they’re still doing that thing that’s so annoying!! But not all the time.

It might be easy to see that the theme here is: you don’t necessarily have to buy something to give a gift. Like Eeyore’s friends, who included him in every activity and always remembered his birthday, even though he was sour as pits and rarely ever grateful, our only job as fellow humans is to be there for each other. Sometimes that looks like a pair of earrings, brand new socks to last the year, or toys and sometimes, it looks like a warm smile and watching the stars from the porch with nothing whatsoever to do. You are the gift that keeps on giving, and I guess maybe I am too. Happy Holidays, friends ❤calvin.jpg

Book Gifts for Plant Lovers

By Catherine Winter

The holidays are approaching quickly, and it’s more than likely that you have a few green-thumbed loved ones to buy for this year. Whether they’re into permaculture gardening techniques, foraging/wildcrafting, herbal medicine, or just the basics on how to keep a single tomato or basil plant alive, we’ve got you covered. Below is a list of favourite books, recommended by our contributors, friends, neighbours, family members, and community gardeners/farmers. Happy growing!

Backyard Farming, Permaculture, & Homesteading

As more people take to growing their own produce, backyards (and even front yards) are being transformed into lush food forests. Novices and seasoned gardeners alike love to learn new growing methods, and these gorgeous books are packed with knowledge that can help feed families for generations to come.

ParadiseLot

Paradise Lot, by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates (Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City)

BackyardHomestead

The Backyard Homestead, by Carleen Madigan

Permaculture by Bill Mollison

Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch

Grow Your Own Fruits

Grow Your Own Fruits and Vegetables, by Ian Cooke

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All About Raising Chickens and Ducks

Few things are as glorious as fresh eggs, especially when you gather them from your own coop. If the people you’re buying for are thinking about raising chickens and/or ducks, these books can help.

Chicken Whisperers

The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens, by Andy Schneider and Brigid McCrea

Fresh Eggs Daily

Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally, by Lisa Steele

Raising Ducks

Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks: Breeds, Care, and Health, by David Holderread

Herbal Medicine

Herbalism and Natural Healing

Herbal medicine has always been a mainstay of natural health and wellbeing, and as more people turn back towards more holistic healing methods, resources such as the books below are becoming mainstays in many homes. These are some of our favourite herbalism books: hopefully they’ll become yours as well.

Gladstar Medicinal Herbs

Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use

Earthwise Herbal

The Earthwise Herbal, volumes 1 (Old World Medicinal Plants) and 2 (New World Plants), by Matthew Wood

Plant Healer's Path

The Plant Healer’s Path: A Grassroots Guide For the Folk Herbal Tribe, by Jesse Wolf and Kiva Rose Hardin

Herbal-Medicine-maker

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual, by James Green

Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, by Jeff and Melanie Carpenter

Yoga of Herbs

The Yoga of Herbs by Dr David Frawley and Dr Vasant Lad (Ayurvedic)

Mushrooms

For Foragers and Lovers of Wild Edibles

When it comes to foraging and wildcrafting, it’s really best to get books for the recipient’s bioregion. Few things are as devastating as finding spectacular wild edible and medicinal plants in a beautiful book, and then discovering that they live on the opposite side of the country from where you are.

Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada by Lone Pine Publishing

Northeast-Foraging

Northeast Foraging, by Leda Meredith

Midwest-Foraging

Midwest Foraging by Lisa Rose

Deerholme

The Deerholme Foraging Book: Wild Foods and Recipes from the Pacific Northwest, by Bill Jones

Canning

Preserving the Harvest

Once a person has gone through all the work of growing their own food, it’s time to preserve all that glorious abundance for the colder months. Canning, pickling, fermenting, dehydrating, and freezing are just a few methods that can be used to put food by, and these techniques are both important to learn, and a lot of fun! Besides, who doesn’t love to open a can of summer-ripe peaches or tomatoes in February?

Ball Canning Book

The All New Ball Book Of Canning And Preserving: Over 350 of the Best Canned, Jammed, Pickled, and Preserved Recipes

Food in Jars

Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, by Marisa McClellan

Canning New Generation

Canning for a New Generation: Updated and Expanded Edition: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry, by Liana Krissoff

 

 

The Odds and Ends

by C.E. Young

I come from a family of makers, which isn’t surprising. I grew up poor. When you’re poor, making things is what you do. Year-round, if we couldn’t buy it we made it, but wintertime always had extra weight to it, likely because need is heightened.24740033_10211797343863729_1086014296_o.jpg

There were 6 kids in the family, all growing at different rates. New winter boots for one meant another might have to insulate with newspaper and plastic bags for a while. All of us had at least one turn at that. We didn’t like it but we did what needed to be done. Getting a new toy was a special occasion, so for all the other days a kid needed to feel special we made our own out of foil, papier mache, or bits of one old, broken toy added to another. The large head of a GI Joe crammed atop a small plastic army man was perfectly meant to form Big Head Man, a comical hero but a hero nonetheless. Big Head Man was great at camouflage because, hung in a Christmas tree—as he often was—his head became an instant ornament.

We weren’t always happy with what we made but we learned to have fun with it.

In early adulthood my sister had kids. Then a brother did. I never did. Never will. But I wound up partly raising my nieces and nephews. Neither my sister nor brother was especially good at making a stable world for their kids. Because I loved those little people, I made one.

Throughout the year there’d be field trips, constellation naming, library days, arcade days, wandering days, and movies galore. But when the weather turned chilly and thick socks on bare floors were paradise it was always Santa’s workshop time: each child and I bopped into my messy basement full of odd bits, scrap wood, and an assortment of tools from about 12 different tool sets. We would look at those odds and ends and we would ponder, What can this become?

It had to be holiday-related. If useful, even better. Most importantly, the idea had to be theirs. Uncle was there to guide and suggest but only as a servant to the possibilities they put forth.

My niece Jasmine made a Christmas stocking holder out of dowels. The idea was to make the dowels look like a spindly tree a la A Charlie Brown Christmas. I think she was 6 when we did this. The stocking tree was spectacularly pitiful. But it worked. None of us has ever had a fireplace, none of has ever had a mantle, but Jazz knew Christmas stockings needed special hanging places. We drilled, we wood-glued, we painted green and attached hooks. It was marvelous.

She’s 19 now.

I wish I’d taken a picture of it.

Nephew Justin was less inclined to make something physically as he was emotionally. He was the gift giver, the kid who wanted his uncle to help him (provide wallet for) pick out presents every year for everyone in the family at his grade school’s Gift Bazaar. He wanted the thought to count, and I wholeheartedly agreed.

I think the longest we spent at a bazaar was 90 minutes. His little legs, normally the first to tell their owner “I’m tired” during the first 5 minutes of walking that involved anything he didn’t find fascinating, zipped back and forth from table to table; in his mind he was making things; connections, magic, meanings: his dad might pay attention to him, his mom would spoil him that much more. Grandma would hoot in delight, and his aunts and uncles would remember that he cared for them very, very much.

And finally I would give him a few dollars and he would send me away with the bag of collected gifts so that he could buy something for me. I’d tell him he had free run, but of course I watched over him from the doorway of the auditorium-turned-holiday store. This normally shy kid walked as confidently as a philosopher, picked things up, put things down, questioned when necessary and purchased when satisfied. (There’s something particularly life-affirming about seeing a kid hold a wad of bills out to purchase a 75 cent bauble.)

Justin will be 21 this year. Every blue moon we’ll go shopping together. We’re usually goofy as hell. Nothing will ever top the time we did impromptu boy band moves in the middle of a department store aisle (“Girl, stop! No, come on.”)

Those Christmas bazaars though…

Anyone who’s followed me on Facebook knows there’s one particular nephew I’ve spoken of at length the past few years. Derek. Better known as Wee Nephew. Derek will be 9 in 2018. He’s fully a child of the Digital Age.

Wee Nephew, since the age of 4, has never missed a year asking me what we were going to make for Christmas. He may be fully immersed in digital wares but if you saw the light he puts out going through my ever-present knick knack bin of wood, or learning a new tool, you’d hug somebody on a daily basis.24818882_10211797341663674_738193389_o.jpg

One year we made a holiday card holder. Another year a rolling platform for a train and village scene. The last things we made were scabbards for our traditional Christmas wrapping paper tube sword fight (‘round yon virgin there can be only one).

That was last year. He hasn’t approached wondering when we’re going to do anything this year.

Next year, at 9, he’ll be the Digital Age equivalent of 19. At 10 I hope I’m not an anachronism.

I’m sure he’ll come around this year though. The making’s in his blood. He’s asked for Minecraft video games for Christmas but I noticed physical LEGOS made the list too. Making things fills a need that not a single one of us ought to deny: to experience creation much the same way a god would remember its many acts.

Making things during winter holiday time always seemed appropriate to me. The entire season is about transformation and wonder. When my siblings and I made our homestyle insulation we were amazed to find it actually worked. Mortified, certainly, but duly amazed. And, truth be told, proud of it.

Anybody can buy something. It only takes money. But how often does money not handed over by a small child in an eager fist manage to transcend itself and become a memory worthy of recalling 10 years later? How often do we get to create with those we love, and in creating create those we love? Even things we love?

Traditions come and traditions go. What I love is those kids who’ve become or will become adults will make things the length of their lives. When the wind gets cold and the hearth, be it an apartment, a dorm room, or an actual house complete with fireplace, engenders thoughts of hibernation, the urge to see what can be done with what’s on hand will grow until they feel little choice but to do something to bring joy to their world.

What a blessing that is.