Simply from the Heart
Gifts & projects for the holidays from your kitchen & garden
Wow…the holidays are around the corner and I watch peoples’ hearts sink at the impending pressure and obligations. Sadly this is just the opposite of the old traditions surrounding celebrating the darkest part of the year and a brighter new year on the horizon. So let’s look at the ways we can lift those hearts, and ours, celebrating our myriad abilities, abundances and sharing the joy inherent in the “gift” of ourselves.
To find the “heart” of the holidays look at their simple beginnings…For the gardeners, it begins with the return of the light literally December 21st…Solstice. For years we held a big Solstice bonfire and potluck dinner on the farm. There is an inherent intimacy in flames in the darkness. One year we chose a ritual of floating candles in the pond with our new season’s wishes… (Oops~ we just melted the fountain poly pipe!) Another year we made paper origami “Phoenix” with a message inside to offer to the flames & any listening gods… (Use the simple “Flapping bird” folds) The celebration was always based on our shared gratitude of each other; the past seasons blessings and great food!
For years family and friends were gifted my latest Lavender or herb projects from the farm! Cooking herbs: Tea herbs, savoury Herbal vinegars: floral Bath vinegars, cooking Herbal salts: body Bath salts, Potpourris: Dream pillow mix, Lavender wreaths: Christmas wreaths: Bay Leaf wreaths. My garden bounty that year directed my projects. …Perhaps you have any fresh ideas for a basketful of dried Strawflowers, heads only?! And yes, I have done the Styrofoam cone Christmas tree glue gun project during another set of years being called on by the Elementary school for Kids Take-home projects!
Gardens can provide so much more than just lettuce and carrots…It is easy to forget what a special treat it is to have an everyday garden in your back yard when so many have no yards… Yet, the gardening passion is rising again and for every new gardener on your block…there could be lots of “Gifts from the Kitchen & Garden” this year! Here are some ideas~
Start with Mom ~ a Spa-at-home Martha Stewart moment with a gentle facial Sugar scrub or revitalizing Salt body scrubs using your flowers & herbs with a touch of grapeseed oil. Or blend a bottle of homemade classic Eau de Cologne…Four ounces of gin, one ounce distilled water plus 40 drops essential oil. Not for drinking!
For Auntie~ a pretty patio pot of surprise spring bulbs & jaunty violas. Or Lavender Berry jam using your frozen stash of Strawberries, Tayberries or Blackberries with 2 TBSP dried Lavender in the mix.
Sis~ a Julia Child moment with another round of Cooking or Tea blends for quick tasty dinners & relaxing evenings after a busy day at the office. These blends change every year depending on your harvest ingredients.
For Bro~ my not-so-secret-secret-Rhubarb wine recipe and 3 bottles of this years Raspberry-Rhubarb blend with NO Lavender I promise!
For pirate loving Son~ Homemade Chai spiced rum using an amber rum base. You only need to steep the spices a few days.
For fragrant loving Daughter~ homemade kitchen cosmetics like soothing muscle massage oil, after-bath rejuvenating lotion or healing Lip balm… One year we made all her school pals Chocolate lip balm but I think they just ate it!
For Granny~ build a box bed on wheels, about waist high, for her Chives & Spring greens. It can be tucked near the house for protection and moved out into the spring sun as Granny moves out into her yard with her cup of tea. *This idea is for you Catherine, no commuting to this garden plot and look for my 2013 article as you suggested” Seniors in the Garden”. (Senior gardeners: please contact me if you have great tips to add here.)
For Uncle~ Katie’s Rum balls…Some projects become timeless and treasured family seasonal favourites like my beloved neighbours Rum Balls. Everyone should have this recipe in their family heirloom goodie book so I am sharing it here with you! Plus my latest Lavender Pecan Shortbread recipe~ Lavender has to sneak in some where!
The cousins: a big batch of Mulling spices with a citrus twist using a 500gr tub of mixed citrus peel used traditionally in baking Christmas cakes with the normal Allspice, Cloves, Nutmeg and Cinnamon. (2 -3 TBSP of the mix is enough for a litre of red wine or 4 litres of apple juice)
Dad~ hmmm… Chutney for an Englishman’s bread and cheese: a great marriage of a bit of this and a bit of that especially at the end of Apple season. ..Or perhaps a jar of homemade hot buttered rum mix to keep in the fridge for making a hot toddy after shovelling S>N>O>W…
For Cousin George~ homemade aftershave with orange blossom water, a touch of vodka or gin and essential oil of sandalwood or lime... a trip to the tropics!
Any serious gardener on your list will laugh with a couch moment with Des Kennedy’s books. (Des always has a good tale of woe for what we all do in the garden, like whipping the kink out of the hose and beheading the delphiniums-whoops!) Des’s latest book is his memoires.
Girlfriends~ one girlfriend begs uncooked rolls of cookie dough to take to her family cabin at Sprout Lake to serve hot out of the oven! Otherwise, Basil seeds in a Christmas card…some years I just can’t grow enough Basil for you all. Think I’ll use Cinnamon Basil this year~ amazing in teas and savoury cooking blends.
Lastly…you can never go wrong with home saved seeds, they are great to share with any fellow gardener as they already have been a success for you! Inspire some new green fingers which in turn, inspire new gardens. Seeds for food, flowers, butterfly & bees…seeds are magical: look what happened here with my English mother-in-law sending me English Lavender seeds in my Christmas cards so many seasons ago!!!
Cozy up & let winter refresh you, inspire you and give you the gift of time for family & friends.
Happy Holidays Happy Winter Happy 2013
Herbally yours Lynda
PS:Here are three recipes to enjoy!
Dad’s Hot Buttered Rum Mix
¼ cup butter
¼ cup brown sugar
1 TBSP maple syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 pinch cloves
Keep in a glass jar in the fridge. Use 1 TBSP of your mix with 1 oz Rum in a mug, top with hot water. For a deluxe version add 2 TBSP vanilla ice cream in your mug & stir with a cinnamon stick!
Happy Valley Mulling Spices
100 grams whole Cloves
100 grams whole Nutmeg
100 grams whole Allspice
100 grams Cinnamon sticks
50grams Australian crystallized dried ginger
250 grams chopped mix peel like you use for Xmas cakes...OR 50 grams dried Orange peel
Roughly smash whole Nutmeg & Cinnamon sticks. I used a palm sized beach stone on a wooden board with a table cloth underneath to catch the bouncing bits…Kids love to help here! Finely chop the ginger. Drain any syrup on the mixed citrus peel by dripping peel in a sieve over a bowl overnight...Mix ingredients in a large bowl. This will smell great and make enough for your family plus friends! Use little muslin sachets & measure 3TBSP per sack OR simply tie a pouch using a circle of triple layered cheesecloth. Your batch will make approx 15 bundles: enough for family & friends! Keep extra spice mix in a glass jar, good for one year.
Each bundle flavours of 4 litres of apple juice or 2 litres of red wine.
Simmer, never boil, one bundle with the wine/juice for 15-20 mins. You can keep liquid at a simmer but remove spice bag to prevent over brewing or bitterness. Any spiced juice or wine not consumed can be kept in the fridge & reheated without re-spicing.
For a children’s mix : Substitute 50 grams dried Hibiscus tea flowers for the ginger. This will turn the apple juice rosy in colour…”Blushing” Mulling Spices!
Another version: Add 2 TBSP dried Lavender flowers and substitute dried cranberries for mixed peel.
Lastly: Try these spices & mull some alcoholic Cider...YUM!
Lynda Dowling’s 2012 Lavender-Pecan Shortbread
1 cup of butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup pecan halves
2 TBSP dried Sweet Lavender flowers
In a blender; cream butter, sugar, extracts & Lavender flowers. Add all other ingredients & blend until smooth & pecans medium fine. Make 2 logs of dough in wax paper. Chill dough one hour. Slice approx ½ inch thick & bake @ 325 F for 15-20 minutes; bottoms pale gold. Easy!
Originally published in the December 2012 edition of the Metchosin Muse