Kitchen / Garden / Sanctuary - Urban Homesteading to Nourish Body + Spirit

Month: December 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

An Old-Fashioned Christmas

Old Fasioned Christmas, (c) The Herbangardener

Did you have a nice Christmas? I sure did. I love how Christmas doesn’t have to be about the money. Indeed, the best things about Christmas (to me) are free/priceless: baking, putting up decorations, sitting in front of the glowing Christmas tree, relaxing with a cup of tea and listening to Christmas music, watching the snow fall outside, hanging out with family, and visiting neighbors and friends.

Coincidentally, two of my main decorations this year happened to be free (and definitely priceless!). The were both dumpster-dived, in fact. The beautiful evergreen centerpiece in the photo above was on a table at work for about a week. I admired it each time I walked down the hall to the kitchen. One day, it was gone. When I got to the kitchen, I spotted it in the trash. Who would throw this away?! I plucked it right out and carted the little darling home. It’s certainly getting much more enjoyment at my house!

The other free decoration was the Christmas tree!! I went over to a tree lot a couple days before Christmas, only to find them closed up, having sold all their trees. I noticed a few branches sticking out of a dumpster in the far corner of the parking lot, though, so I walked over to have a look. There inside the dumpster was my lonely little tree, obviously waiting for me. 🙂

Isn’t it sweet? I just love it.

Old Fashioned Christmas, (c) The Herbangardener

And for another old-fashioned Christmas activity, my mom and I got together and made gingerbread houses. What a blast!

Gingerbread House, (c) The Herbangardener

Gingerbread House, (c) The Herbangardener

What are your favorite commercialism-free ways to enjoy the Christmas season?? I would love to know!!

Happy New Year!

Traditional Hot Mulled Apple Cider

Hot Mulled Apple Cider, (c) The Herbangardener

(clockwise from top) Cinnamon Sticks, Nutmeg, whole Cloves, dried Ginger, Cardamom seeds

Yesterday, I made a fragrant, steaming pot of hot mulled apple cider (or, wassail, as it’s traditionally called). Lovely! And so Christmas-y. Earlier that day, I had found a can of frozen apple juice concentrate stuffed into the back of our freezer. What perfect timing! And further, I was impressed that I actually connected the discovery of the apple juice with the idea to make hot mulled cider. Yay!

Mulled cider is so easy to make; in fact, all you really need is apple juice, cinnamon sticks, and whole cloves. Any other ingredients are sort of unnecessary, though feel free to experiment. I made my cider with all the ingredients listed below, but could just as easily have left out the ones marked “optional.” This is a wonderful, warming drink to serve at holiday get-togethers, and can easily be made in a crock pot and left to simmer all evening. And it sure makes the house smell good!

Hot Mulled Apple Cider

2 qts apple juice

1-2 cinnamon sticks

1 Tbsp whole cloves

1 Tbsp dried ginger (optional)

1 tsp cardamom seeds (optional)

pinch of nutmeg powder (optional)

Pour apple juice and all spices into a pot on the stove. Bring to a boil, and then let simmer at low heat (it doesn’t need to continue to boil), covered, for at least 15 minutes, or until you’re ready to serve. The cider can be kept covered at very low heat on the stove for as long as you want. Enjoy! It’s like drinking Christmas!

(Healthier) Pecan Snowball Cookies

Buttery Snowball Cookies, (c) The Herbangardener

Pecan Snowball cookies (a.k.a. Buttery Fingers, Butter Nut Cookies, or Butter Snowballs) are traditional at Christmastime — rich and delicious and not overly sweet. They’re yummy!

I decided to make them this year, but I have a really hard time following recipes word-for-word, especially when they call for nutrient-free white flour and white sugar! 😉

So I altered the recipe a bit so that it’s a little more nutritious, yet just as delicious — replacing the white flour with whole wheat (although you could do half-white-half-whole-wheat), and using rapadura/sucanat (evaporated cane juice sugar) in place of white sugar. I also replaced 4 tablespoons of butter with water, and they’re still plenty rich (almost a little too rich for me!).

Here’s my recipe. Turn on the Christmas music, and bake these with love!

Lindsey’s (Healthier) Pecan Snowball Cookies

Makes about 40 small cookies

1 cup small pecan pieces

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3/4 cup rapadura or sucanat (evaporated cane juice sugar)

12 Tbsp butter (1 1/2 sticks butter) (if you further reduce the butter, increase the water by an equal number of tablespoons)

4 Tbsp water

2 tsp vanilla extract

powdered sugar, about 1 cup (to roll cookies in)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together the pecans, flours, and sugar. Then melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Pour the butter into the flour mixture, and add the water and vanilla extract. Stir until well combined. Scoop up some of the dough and form it into a ball with your hands. The dough should form a ball that holds together easily. If the ball doesn’t hold together very well or seems a little dry, return the dough to the bowl and stir in a little more water.

Pecan Snowball Cookies, (c) The Herbangardener

The dough will look crumbly, but should hold together when formed into a ball.

Form the dough into small balls, and place them on a cookie sheet (no need to grease it). Since the cookies won’t expand, you can place them pretty close together. Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. I made mine fairly small, and baked them for 20 minutes. Since the whole wheat flour and sucanat tint these cookies a light brown, it’s a little hard to tell when they’re done. Don’t let them go too long (better to undercook these than overcook them), and the bottoms shouldn’t get any darker than the rest of the cookie.

Take them out of the oven, and without delay, roll them in powdered sugar.

Pecan Snowball Cookies, (c) The Herbangardener

Gifts…It’s Either Time or Money!

Gifts...Time or Money - (c) The Herbangardener

I have to say, I’ve been a little stressed the past week. I don’t like the pressure of too much to do and too little time! Hubby and I both work 40 hours a week, plus occasional overtime. We’re grateful to have jobs (!) and we’re happily saving up our money, but working that much really, really eats your life. I have calculated that after working, commuting, and sleeping, a mere 17% of each weekday is actually available for my own pursuits.

And come Christmastime, there’s lots of fun holiday stuff I like to do in my free time (getting a tree, decorating the house, baking cookies, making cards, making gifts, visiting with family & friends), but it seems like the days go even faster at this time of the year, and I don’t have the time to squeeze in all the things I’d like to do. I really love making Christmas cards, gifts, and cookies myself, because homemade stuff is more special and meaningful. BUT, they require time to make. You either take the time to make them, or spend the money to buy them. As with mostly everything, it comes down to time or money!

So if you don’t have much extra time, hand-making every single thing can feel like a burden instead of a joy. It’s time, then, to prioritize what you really want to make with your own hands…and then go ahead and just spend the money to buy some of the other, less-important things, so that you actually have time for your “priority” projects.

So this year, I am foregoing some of my plans to make things myself. Though I really enjoy taking the time to make Christmas-y stuff, feeling stressed and out of balance is no way to spend the holiday season. So when I start feeling this way, I know it’s time to back off and just buy a nice gift instead of struggling to make it! Instant stress relief. The Christmas season should be joyful and fun, so as I go along, I’m adjusting my plans and expectations in order to keep it that way! 🙂

Do you also have too little time to enjoy the holiday season? What’s your solution?

Jerusalem Artichoke Latkes for Hanukkah

Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) Latkes for Hanukkah

Today we’re making Latkes with a twist, just in time for Hanukkah (which begins this Friday night). I used my garden-grown Jerusalem Artichokes in place of the potatoes that would traditionally be used for latkes. I’m not Jewish, by the way, but I do like Jewish food, and I think it’s fun to get into the spirit of the holiday. 😉

Jerusalem Artichokes (a.k.a. Sunchokes) are actually the edible tubers of a sunflower that’s native to North America. They’re kind of a lost vegetable, having been more popular in days gone by. Sunchokes are usually used in place of potatoes, but have a more pronounced, earthy flavor…and although they can be eaten raw, I prefer them cooked.

This year, I grew them in a small pot in the garden (though they do grow wild in fields). I’ve heard that once you plant them, it’s hard to get rid of them…so I just bought a small tuber from the Whole Foods produce section, broke it into pieces, and planted it. The sunflower grew very tall, and a few weeks after the first frost I dumped out the pot and harvested quite a few jerusalem artichokes. So easy! Anyway, that’s a post for another day. Onward with the recipe:

Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) Latkes

Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) Latkes

(Makes about 6 latkes / Ingredient measurements don’t have to be exact)

1/4 cup finely diced or grated onion

1 cup grated or shredded Jerusalem Artichoke, raw

1 large egg (or two small ones)

4 Tbsp flour (possibly more), divided — I used whole wheat

1/2 to 1 tsp salt, to your liking

1/4 to 1/2 tsp pepper, to your liking

Oil, to fry in

If you remember, go ahead and squeeze any extra liquid out of your shredded Jerusalem Artichokes. I forgot to do this and my latkes turned out fine, but I’ll try to remember to do it next time because extra liquid does make the oil splatter when the latke is placed in the pan.

Beat the egg(s) in a bowl, and mix in the Jerusalem Artichokes, onions, salt, and pepper. Mix in about 2 Tbsp of flour. You want to have enough flour in there so that the batter holds together after you form it into a little patty.

Pour enough oil (olive oil is traditional) into a frying pan so that it covers the bottom of the pan. Set the burner to medium, or a bit higher. To test the oil, drop a bit of batter in and if it sizzles, the oil is hot enough.

If the batter sizzles, the oil is hot enough.

If the batter sizzles, the oil is hot enough.

Form some of the batter into a little patty, and flatten slightly, like this:

Making a latke

If the latke batter holds together, it's ready to be cooked in the oil.

If the patty just falls apart in your hand, put it back in the bowl and add more flour to the mixture.You’ll notice that as the batter sits around, it will get more watery, so you will likely have to mix in another couple tablespoons of flour.

Slide the patty into the hot oil in the pan. Cook about 4-6 minutes, or until the bottom is golden. When you see the edges begin to brown, it’s time to check if the bottom is golden.

Cooking a Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) Latke

When the edges begin to brown, check to see if the bottom is golden.

If the latke isn’t browning, turn the heat up a little. If it’s browning too quickly, turn the heat down a little.

Turn the latke over when the bottom is golden brown.

Turn the latke over when the bottom is golden brown.

When the latke is done, place it on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve right away, or make the latkes earlier in the day and then warm them in the oven before serving.

Serve plain, or with sour cream, applesauce, or any other favorite condiment.

Happy Hanukkah!

This post is part of today’s Pennywise Platter Carnival over at The Nourishing Gourmet.

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