Archives for posts with tag: Christmas and holiday season

Fresh from the oven. They're delicious piping hot, too...

I have been living away from “home” now for four Christmases-worth. Happily, each year I have managed to spend the holiday season with good friends, enjoyed many wonderful meals and parties, and witnessed others’ traditions. There’s no place like home for the Holidays in many things, though… and for me, a big part of what makes up “home” (besides the loved ones surrounding me, of course) are certain treats that I enjoyed pretty much every year of my life thus far.

I have mentioned Mom’s Peanut Butter Balls here, before, and how I changed the recipe to be a little more healthy. Another recipe that I gleaned off Mom via telephone this year was Scuffles.

Scuffles are, for my family, one of the highlights of Christmastime. Despite the fact that they are made with common ingredients (I am on a tight budget at the moment, yet I have all the ingredients on hand…) and take very little effort, for us they are a Christmastime-Only tradition. Perhaps this is due to their fattening-aspects. Hmm. Well, in any event, it turns out that many of Scuffles’ ingredients can be altered to be a touch more “healthy”.

Mom’s Traditional Scuffles

Combine 1 package yeast + 1/4 Cup lukewarm water. Let stand a few minutes.

-Mix: 3 Cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 3 Tbsp sugar, 1 Cup butter.

-Add: 1/2 Cup milk, 2 eggs, and the yeast mixture.

-Knead ’til soft. Leave, covered, overnight in fridge.

-Divide into four parts. Roll each part out on a layer of about 1/4 Cup sugar and cinnamon.

-Cut into approx. 1.5″ wide wedges (triangles) and roll up from wide end.

-Bake 15 minutes in 350F oven.

The dough can be frozen, the scuffles can be frozen, all sorts of things can be done to prevent you from eating the entire batch right away. I recommend having friends around when you make them, so that you cannot eat them all yourself.

UPDATING THE RECIPE:

Now, Mom’s recipe calls for some pretty traditional baking ingredients. I have changed this recipe a couple of times, with good results. My tentative changes have been:

-Brown sugar in place of “Sugar”: This caused a marvelous caramelization.

-More cinnamon in place of sugar on the outside: This was good, too. I love cinnamon, more than I love sugar.

-Half Kamut Flour instead of all Regular Unbleached Flour: I didn’t notice any difference, it was still really wonderful in both texture and taste.

-Using organic sugar, infused with cinnamon and vanilla (see previous recipe, thanks Tammy!) on the outside when rolling out dough: Wonderful, and even more delicious than ever.

Indeed, I thankfully have a packet of yeast, some flour and butter, a bit of sugar, two eggs and plentiful amounts of cinnamon. I know what’s for breakfast tomorrow…

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

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Canadian Santa Claus drawing from 1875

Santa seems to be reminding us that sharing is one of the most important things to do during Christmas

When the heat of the season is upon us, there are a few ways we stay cool.

Break it down into little tasks. Decide to do a couple things every day and stick to that.

Be realistic as to what you can accomplish in a particular time-frame. It might be lovely to have a home bedecked with every imaginable DIY project out there, but if it is a total stress to accomplish, is it really worth it in the end?  A few branches and a couple candles are great seasonal décor items that require minimal effort to put together.  One plate of freshly homemade cookies (or choco-almo date balls) is always impressive.

Take time to relax. Take a bath, listen to relaxing music, watch your favourite seasonal movies or go out to dance.

Make more time for yourself and drop some things off “the to-do list”. Do I really need to make THAT many types of cookies? Do my guests care if my bathtub is sparkling or not?

Cook simply, for example soups and wraps.  Even if I am making the full traditional Christmas lunch, I try to prepare some things ahead of time so that I am not overwhelmed on the day when everyone is together in my home.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Working together can be part of the celebration.

Keep your regular routines in place, but spice it up here and there whenever it will be fun to do so! For example, if you really want to make reindeer-shaped pancakes, then do it! However if “everyone expects” you to make reindeer-shaped pancakes and you’re not feeling up to it, then do something from your “Christmas Fun List” when you do feel so inspired.  These activities and projects can be enjoyable, enlivening processes that help us find joy in the dark of winter.  If it is not, don’t do it.

Know that it’s not all going to be ruined if everything is not in place. It will be ruined if you have a nervous breakdown.

Stick to a budget. It is obvious that dealing with outrageous credit card bills in January, while trudging through the dark of winter, will not be pretty.  Everyone will still love you even if they don’t receive gifts that are completely beyond your budget.

Order things online. For example, we can order things online through Etsy and send them to loved ones.  Easy-peasy stress free gift giving.

If you are feeling emotionally frazzled, take a break from sugar, alcohol, grains containing gluten and dairy. Buy a big bunch of kale, some brown rice and the protein of your choice.  I know that this is the last thing we want to hear right now, but sitting down to simple meals helps to create peace.

We take time to chat with friends. Calling up a therapist can also be a good idea.

Take it outside. Take a walk after meals, go skating, go skiing.  Get a good dose of fresh air and take the time to exercise every day.

If you can, Don’t Drive. Notice how coo-coo it is out there right now? Avoid being outside during rush hours.

Try some fun things that could become new traditions… an example: three of my family members would go to Mass on Christmas eve. Two of us would not. My brother and I would make healthy pizzas while everyone else was away, play Beatles music very loudly and sing along, do our own thing. Then when everyone else came back, the music would change to soft carols, and we’d all share a nice supper together. My brother and I were assigned a task: “Make Supper” but it was made to be fun.

The last entry reminds me of that Dar Williams song, The Christians and the Pagans.  Taking on others and their religious expression, choice of profession, lifestyle, political leanings, etc., during the holiday creates a great deal of stress.  While being gracious towards others tends to be perceived as near-miraculous, often it can help a great deal in reducing stress.

Write a letter to Santa.

Two words: Take Out.

One word: Yoga.

Natasha Henderson and Tammy Schmidt, keeping the stress to a minimum in Montreal.

my little bottle of bitters decorated with a Santa sticker

I made this bottle of bitters so that folks in my family would have a “just in case” digestive boost to carve through the season of excess otherwise known as Christmas.  The small bottle of bitters in the middle of the above photo illustrates the type of approach I like to take for labeling things for myself.  On this little sticker, Santa seems to have a little digestive upset.  His position seems to indicate that he recently may have had a good deal of rich food.  Santa needs some bitters.

I got to thinking about bitters and better labeling after seeing a cute little kit of on the market. I love this little kit because it is downright adorable! It is so cute it might work as a gateway to herbalism. Who knows? However, these bitters are primarily intended for enjoyment.  It kind of irks me that all of the ingredients do not appear on the label. Knowledge of the ingredients and their constituents is essential for the wise deployment of any herbal concoction. Perhaps this is normal in the beverage world. One of the world’s the most popular drinks (sometimes promoted by Santa) does not label all of the specific ingredients on the bottles either.*

Taken before a meal, bitters increase digestive secretions. Thus they promote an appetite and gear-up the system for optimal digestion. Bitters taken after a meal will help with digestive disturbances and decrease flatulence. Although generally distasteful, bitters can counter balance other flavours such as sweet. Think of bitter leaves in a salad, coffee, beer and Angostura bitters.

Bitters range from mild – like dandelion root and leaves, chamomile and yarrow – to strong – such as horehound, gentian, goldenseal. A more extensive knowledge of herbalism includes how certain bitters have affinities with particular systems of the human body.

Bitters stimulate actions in the body as they enter the mouth and are received by bitter taste receptors at the back of the tongue. They have a broad range of actions in digestive system including: stimulating an appetite; regulating blood sugar, insulin and glucagon hormone production; stimulating self repair of the gut wall; aiding the liver in it’s work of detoxification and increasing the flow of bile; encouraging the release of digestive juice. All of these actions depend upon the ingredients and their constituents.

Further study of herbalism shows how subjecting the digestive system to bitters can illicit actions upon other systems in the body: relaxing bitters can ease digestion therefore take pressure off the cardiovascular system, including the heart; certain bitters help with expectoration of mucous from the respiratory system; some bitters bring on late menstruation; bitters help with the assimilation of food, leading to less metabolic waste in the musculoskeletal system; herbalists often use bitters in depression and nervous system debility; and bitters can help to clear up skin conditions.**

Care needs to be taken with certain herbs, since the effects of plant constituents are often powerful! For example, strong bitters are contraindicated in pregnancy, kidney stones, gallbladder disease, menstrual cramps, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hiatus hernia, gastritis and peptic ulcers.  In these cases, bitters stimulate actions that are either unnecessary for the body or beyond its systems’ capacities to cope with.

How I make my DIY bitters

Here are some suggestions for bitters. I consider the actions I want and go for the plants that have these actions.  I macerate these plants by completely covering them in a strong alcohol like vodka or brandy for 2 weeks, shaking the bottle daily.  Then I strain this, putting the menstruum in an amber bottle and the herbs in the compost.  I label the bottle of tincture.  If it is for others, I am sure to label all of the ingredients, the date it was made, who made it and suggested use.  When working on herbal formulas, it is recommended that one researches each herb using three different academic books on herbalism.  If I do not have access to this, then I stick to the herbs I know.

If a plant is noted as a strong bitter, please consider consulting an herbalist about this bitter. Always use organic herbs in formulas. Other than that, make a small amount, keep great notes on what you do and see how it turns out.

Possibilities that come to mind:

Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis) is mildly bitter and mildly stimulating for the digestive system.  Around 20% of the formula can be comprised of dandelion root.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) tastes great and will be a welcome carminative *** to the formula  Use around 15%.

Anise (Pimpinella anisum) is also a great tasting carminative.  Use around 15%.

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) is an anti-inflammatory carminative that acts as a bit of a catalyst for other herbs in the formula.  15% of the formula can be fresh, use a much smaller amount if you are using dried, like 1 – 5%.

Gentian (Gentiana lutea) is extremely bitter.  Generally, not more than 5 – 10% of the formula is gentian.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp) is a tasty gastrointestinal tonic, a stimulant and carminative.  Do not use more than 5% in a formula because it tends to thicken the tincture.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is also a tasty carminative, use up to 5% of crushed seeds.

organic Orange Peel is a lovely aromatic carminative.

Celery Seed (Apium graveolens)  is an important carminative digestive tonic that assists in the removal of uric acid.

If there is a need to relax:

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a nice carminative that is also relaxing for restless individuals

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is calming and antispasmodic in the digestive system

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a really fine carminative with nervine and sedative properties that is suitable for all ages when taken as a tea.  Can also be added to the formula.

Generally, I take a small amount, like a 1/4 teaspoon of this bitter blend in a small amount of water, either before or after a meal.  If I forget to make bitters, I take an after dinner tea instead.  Bon appétit!

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

* Coca-Cola

** Hoffmann, David Medical Herbalism; The science and practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

*** A carminative action generally involves volatile oil plant components which encourage the expelling of gas from the stomach and intestines.  Carminatives are often anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic.

Fair Trade
Something tells me that I might want to do a little shopping in the next few weeks. In my world, gift giving is fairly important and my peeps love giving gifts at Christmas.  I like to give consumables, such as special foods or the DIY gift ideas I am sharing with everyone this month. These are always a huge hit!  It feels better giving to others in a way that does not overload their lives with stuff that ends up in landfills.

I can get into quite a state thinking about how gift-giving may be hyper-consumeristic and sometimes supports not-so-shining industries.  I try to use this season as an opportunity to tweak gift-giving. I like to do it right under the Christmas tree and in the kitchen too.  It is important for me to buy an organic, free range turkey because I feel sick preparing an industrially-produced one.  I buy organic and fair trade sugar and chocolate. It disturbs me to think that we are eating and celebrating with chocolate that might have been picked by a child (see Carol Off’s Bitter Chocolate).

If I am not going to make things for others, I try to consider my options as to who can do it for me.  This is where gift shopping comes into play. There are many ways of approaching this tradition that do not necessarily cure consumerism, but will make a small difference. Some of these gifts are fair trade, some of them involve making donations to good organizations. Hannah Sung of the Globe and Mail calls into question the scope of such strategies in Philanthropic shopping: to give and to get. Do we really need to get and give so very much? Maybe not.  Can we actually redeem consumerism by tweaking it a bit? Yes, I believe so.

Some DIFY Ideas.

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal.

*In the coming days, we will post some Green Christmas Tips from a few of our friends: Brooke McCartney Langdon, Julie Webb and Jodi Hildebrand!

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