Celebrating the Winter Solstice

 

Photo of a snowy winter sunset.

photo courtesy of Pixabay – AlainAudet

by Heather Stone

Midwinter is approaching. If you live in the north the days have been getting shorter, the nights longer, the temperatures colder and the landscape perhaps covered in snow. The winter solstice- (‘solstice’ means ‘standing still of the sun’) also known as Midwinter or Yule, marks the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. This year the solstice falls on Friday, December 21st at 3:23 pm Mountain time.

 

For people throughout the ages midwinter has been an important time of ritual, reflection, and renewal; something I’m sure many of us could use more of in our lives. As our everyday living has moved more indoors we have lost touch with many of nature’s cycles. So why not take some time this solstice to rest, reflect and celebrate nature and the return of the light.

Photo of a burning tealight candle.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay – pexels

Here’s a list of a few ways that you can mark this day:

  1. Visit a place outdoors that’s special to you. Maybe that’s your regular hiking trail, a spot in your garden or your favorite place to watch the sunset.
  2. Light a candle to welcome back the sun. Or take it one step further and spend the evening lit only by candlelight.
  3. Watch the sunrise or sunset.
  4. Share food with friends and family to celebrate the return of the sun.
  5. Create an altar with objects gathered on a walk through nature.
  6. Take time to be silent.
  7. Burn a Yule log (traditionally this log is oak). Burn your Yule log and keep a piece to kindle the Yule log the following year.
  8. If you’re feeling creative, write a poem, paint of picture or sing a song to celebrate winter and/or the return of the sun.

 

 

 

“Again we come”

Again we come
to the resurrection
of bloodroot from the dark,

a hand that reaches up
out of the ground,
holding a lamp.

–Wendell Berry

 

A TRIO OF WINTER SOUPS

Image of a cauldron of bubbling soup over a fire.

photo courtesy of Pixabay

From the Kitchen of Engrid Winslow

Maybe you have figured out by now that I have a long-standing love affair with all things Italian? No, well then, here I am giving you a trio of Italian soups. The first one hails from Emelia Romagna and the next is from Umbria followed by a traditional Tuscan bean soup. By the way, a great source for traditional Italian foods of all types, including beans, check out www.Gustiamo.com. If you prefer to stay in the USA, www.ranchogordo.com is also a wonderful source for heirloom beans and grains. Both websites have wonderful recipes as well. All of the recipes serve 4-6 people with some leftovers.

 

Sausage and Lentil Soup

  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 3 Tbsp of Tomato Paste
  • 1/3 Cup Chicken stock or water
  • 850 grams (1 large can) whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 cups lentils (the tiny Italian ones, called Lenticchini, are preferred)
  • 1 lb. sweet Italian Sausage
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Cooking the Lentils:

Wash the lentils in a strainer. In a large pot (big enough to hold cooked lentils, sausage and sauce), cover the lentils with 1.5 inches or 2 fingers worth of water. Cook the lentils over medium-high heat until the water boils and then decrease flame to low and cover the lentils. Stir occasionally and add more water as needed until the lentils are soft ((about 45 min).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

Make the “Soffritto”:

Grate the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Add olive oil to a deep frying pan (big enough to hold the vegetables and sausage) and place over medium-low heat. Add the grated vegetables to the frying pan and let reduce, occasionally stirring until soft (10-15 min).

 

Combine the Ingredients:

While the soffritto is developing, remove the casing from the sausage and mash flat using the back of a spoon or your hands. Once the vegetables have turned a golden hue and the onions are translucent, add the mashed sausage. Once the sausage has browned add the tomato paste, 1/3 cup of water or stock and stir. Puree the whole peeled tomatoes and, after the sausage mixture has cooked for ten minutes, pour in the tomatoes and stir. Allow it to simmer for 25 min, covered on medium-low heat. Add the lentils and season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

 

Umbrian Farro Soup

 

  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery, medium chop
  • 3/4 cup chopped carrot
  • 2 minced cloves garlic2 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 21/2 cups tomato sauce (canned or homemade)
  • 3 cups cooked farro, cooked al dente
  • 1 quart beef stock (use vegetable stock if desired for vegetarian version

Directions

  1. Sauté the onions, celery, and carrots until translucent.
  2. Heat 1 cup of the beef stock and add the porcini to reconstitute.
  3. Use an immersion blender or food processor to blend about 3/4 of the vegetables, the garlic, 1 cup of the cooked farro, and all of the porcini and liquid until smooth.
  4. Add back to the pot and add the remaining farro, vegetables and stock. Add 2 1/2 cups of tomato sauce. Season and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
  5. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and parmegiano reggiano (optional)

 

Tuscan Bean Soup with Squash and Kale

 (Zuppa Frantoiana)

 

 

  • 1 finely chopped carrot
  • 1 stick finely chopped celery
  • 1 small finely chopped onion
  • 1 14 ounce can (400 grams) of cooked Borlotti (cranberry) beans (you can also use cannellini beans or chickpeas)
  • 1 cup of pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 small bunch of cavolo nero (Also known as Dinosaur or Tuscan) kale (you could use Swiss chard, beet greens, collards or spinach instead)
  • 4 cups of water or vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Gently cook the carrot, celery and onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil and a good pinch of salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on low heat. Let the vegetables sweat, not color, for about 10 minutes or until softened. Add the borlotti beans with about a cup of water (enough to cover) and bring to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes. Blend about half of the mixture to a smooth paste and return to the pot.

In the meantime, prepare the cavolo nero kale by slicing out the long, central stalk of the leaves and discarding and chop just the leaves roughly.

Add the pumpkin, potatoes and cavolo nero (if using silverbeet or spinach hold onto it until a few minutes towards the end of cooking) and top with enough water or stock to cover (up to 4 cups or 1 liter) and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered, over an active simmer so that the liquid reduces slightly and the vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning.

Serve with a good grinding of black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

 

 

Elderberry Syrup in 7 Easy Steps 

by Heather Stone  

Photo courtesy of Pixabay – RitaE

Cold and flu season is upon us and there are a host of great herbs that can help prevent us from catching a nasty bug or can help ease the symptoms if we do fall ill. Elderberries are one of them. Elderberries are an immune stimulant. They have long been used in the early stages of colds, coughs and flu. In this post, I will take you through the 7 easy steps to make elderberry syrup.

 

You can use dried, fresh or frozen elderberries to make your syrup. I sometimes like to add a few other herbs to enhance flavor and function, such as orange peel, cinnamon, or ginger. Elderberry syrup can be rather pricey in the store so making your own can save you money. I like to use elderberry syrup as a preventative measure. In my family, we begin taking our daily dose of syrup at the beginning of cold and flu season around mid-November and continue through the winter months.

Here’s what you will need-

1 cup fresh or frozen elderberries or ½ cup dried elderberries

3 cups water

1 cup honey

1 cinnamon stick (optional)

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (optional)

 

Let’s get started!

 

  1. Place your berries & herbs in cold water in a pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Bring to a boil and then allow to gently simmer for about 30-40 minutes.
  3. Mash the berries and let the mixture cool slightly.
  4. Strain your herb/berry mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Make sure to squeeze

out all the juice.

  1. Add your honey to the mixture and gently warm (do not boil) stirring to incorporate the

honey.

  1. Let your mixture cool.
  2. Once cool, place your syrup in sterilized bottles and keep them in the fridge.
 
Photo of a Blue Tit Bird eating from a suet ball.

MAKE YOUR OWN SUET BALLS FOR BIRDS

By Engrid Winslow

During the long cold winter months, fat is extremely important for many birds to survive. The species that especially love suet are woodpeckers and flickers, chickadees, wrens, goldfinches, juncos, cardinals, robins, jays, blackbirds and starlings. Be aware that raccoons, squirrels and mice are also attracted to suet so be prepared to use baffles or place mesh over the balls to deter them.

Suet is raw fat and has also been used to make candles and Christmas pudding. You can get it from your butcher and ask him to grind it for you. Then it needs to be melted and strained to remove any solids. If you want to avoid the “ick” factor, you can substitute l cup lard or shortening. The birds will eat it plain but many recipes call for adding seeds, dried fruit or even insects to the mix. Many pet food and birding stores sell pre-made suet cakes but it is so much more fun to make your own in various shapes and hang them outside. If you are getting only starlings, hang the balls with a mesh around all sides but the bottoms. This will make it possible for all of the woodpeckers to hang upside down and eat while the starlings are baffled and confused. Place them near where you already have feeders with plain birdseed and watch the fluttery show!

Here are some methods and recipes for making the suet cakes or balls:

_____________________________________________

    1 cup crunchy peanut butter

    1 cup lard

    2 cups quick cook oats

    2 cups cornmeal

    1 cup flour

  1/3 cup sugar

Melt the peanut butter and lard and add remaining ingredients and cool.

_____________________________________________
    1 cup crunchy peanut butter 
    1 cup shortening
    1 cup flour
    3 cups cornmeal
    1 cup cracked corn
    1 cup black oil sunflower seeds and/or mixed seed

Melt the peanut butter and shortening, add remaining ingredients and cool.

 
_____________________________________________

4 1/2 cups ground fresh suet

  3/4 cup dried and finely ground bakery goods such as Whole-wheat or cracked-wheat bread or crackers

  1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds

  1/4 cup millet

  1/4 cup dried and chopped fruit such as cranberries, currants, raisins, or other berries

  1. Melt suet in a saucepan over low heat.
  2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Allow the suet to cool until slightly thickened, then strain and stir into the mixture in the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour or pack into forms or suet feeders or pack into pine cones.

_____________________________________________

  1/2 lb. fresh ground suet

  1/3 cup sunflower seed

  2/3 cup wild bird seed mix

  1/8 cup chopped peanuts

  1/4 cup raisins

  1. Melt suet in a saucepan over low heat. Allow it to cool thoroughly, then reheat it.
  2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Allow the suet to cool until slightly thickened, then stir it into the mixture in the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour into pie pan or form, or pack into suet feeders.

Optional or substitute ingredients: millet (or other bird seed), cornmeal, cooked noodles, chopped berries, dried fruit.

 

19 Uses for Summer Jam

Photo of a line of different jams on a shelf.

photo courtesy of pixabay marmaluk

by Engrid Winslow

  1. Swirl your favorite fruit jam into a bowl of yogurt and granola. In the bowl above, I blitzed some of the cranberry sauce with an immersion blender and swirled it into vanilla bean yogurt. Then I topped it off with some of the whole cranberries from the sauce and my favorite homemade granola.
  2. Use your jam for filling in homemade pop tarts.
  3. Top pancakes, waffles, or French toast with a big spoon of warmed jam. And a dollop of sweetened whipped cream!
  4. Or make a simple maple fruit syrup by heating some jam with pure maple syrup in a saucepan on the stovetop. Then spoon it over your favorite breakfast pancakes, waffles, or French toast.
  5. Stir jam into a bowl of steaming oatmeal or steel-cut oats, or into overnight oats.
  6. Make fruit butter for your favorite muffins or breakfast breads by beating together butter, a dollop of jam, fresh orange zest, and a touch of almond extract.
  7. Top a toasted bagel or English muffin with cream cheese or ricotta and a spoonful of jam.
  8. This smoothie couldn’t be easier to make. In a blender, combine 1 cup fresh-pressed apple cider, 1cup jam, 2 frozen bananas, 1 cup yogurt, and a dash of cinnamon. Blend until combined. Makes 2 large servings.
  9. Add a spoon of jam to a tall glass with ice and pour in cold and bubbly club soda. Muddle and stir to combine, for a refreshing homemade soda.
  10. Swirl a spoon of jam into a vodka or gin cocktail with tonic water over ice. Or stir a bit of it into your favorite margarita!
  11. One of my very favorite uses for jam involves meatballs. In a large skillet, heat 1 cup jam, 12 ounces chili sauce, 1 teaspoon cumin, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Fold in a 22-ounce bag of your favorite frozen cooked homestyle meatballs, thawed. Stir every now and then, until heated through. Top with chopped fresh parsley, if you like a little touch of fancy. Serve as a main entree with mashed potatoes or as an appetizer with party picks. This simple recipe delivers BIG flavor.
  12. Construct a delicious grilled cheese sandwich with layers of leftover turkey and a tart jam such as sour cherry, plus sharp cheddar. Or try apricot jam with brie and sliced ham.
  13. Make a glaze for roasted or grilled meat such as chicken, pork, beef kabobs or turkey by thinning jam with a bit of white wine, apple cider vinegar, stock or water.
  14. If you like to make your own salad dressings, try incorporating a bit of jam into your favorite balsamic or red wine vinaigrette.
  15. Here’s a super simple one: just add some jam to your favorite BBQ sauce.
  16. You won’t believe how wonderful a spoon of jam is over a slice of cheesecake or you can use it as a sauce on a simple chocolate cake instead of frosting
  17. Slices of angel food cake or pound cake are irresistible when topped with jam and whipped cream.
  18. Make thumbprint cookies, filled with a dollop of jam after they cool.
  19. And it doesn’t get much easier than this: Warm the jam and spoon over scoops of vanilla bean ice cream.
 

BBB Seed’s Wildflowers to Attract Butterflies and Birds

by Heather Stone

Photo of two birds on a birdbath.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

It brings great pleasure to see more birds and butterflies about the garden and we as gardeners can do a lot to attract and protect the birds and butterflies that visit our garden. These critters simply need a safe place to live and healthy food to eat.

Wildflowers to attract butterfly and birds seed packet.

Butterflies

For butterflies, providing food (host plants) for caterpillars, nectar sources for adult butterflies and a safe place to overwinter can all be accomplished in a small area. Caterpillars of some species of butterflies have very specific larval host plants, while some will eat a wide range of species. Nectar is the primary food source for most adult butterflies. Planting nectar-rich plants in the garden is sure to attract more butterflies. Depending on the species, butterflies overwinter in all stages of life from egg to adult. Some places they overwinter include leaf litter, the bases of bunch grasses, rock piles, brush or wood piles, behind loose tree bark and near their host plants.

 

Birds

Just like butterflies birds need healthy food to eat and shelter. Start by planting native plants in your garden that provide seeds, berries, nuts and nectar. Shrubs and trees, especially evergreen species, provide excellent shelter and nesting sites for birds. Birds also need a year-round water source such as a bird bath. Providing nesting boxes and offering food in feeders will attract even more birds.

Photo of an orange and yellow butterfly on a marigold bloom.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Try planting our Birds and Butterflies mix to attract more birds and butterflies to your landscape. The mixture of annuals, perennials, introduced and native wildflowers is designed to attract butterflies over a long season of bloom from spring until fall and a variety of birds to the seeds come autumn.

 

Sources:  Gardening for Butterflies, The Xerces Society

https://www.nwf.org/sitecore/content/Home/Garden-for-Wildlife/Wildlife/Attracting-Birds