Christmas Gifts From the Kitchen

from the kitchen of Engrid WinslowDecorated gingerbread cookies.

Whether you want to bring one of these along to gift a hostess or surprise a friend or neighbor, these are easy and fun Holiday Gifts. They will be welcomed by the recipient as they appreciate your thoughtfulness and good taste.

 

HOT COCOA

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 ounces semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until powdery. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

To use: Heat one cup of milk in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved. Pour into mug, top with mini-marshmallows or a dollop of whipped cream.

Variations: Mexican Hot Chocolate (with some chili powder, cayenne and cinnamon), Mint Hot Chocolate (with mint extract instead of vanilla), Mocha Hot Chocolate (with a couple tablespoons of espresso powder)

For gift giving: Package in a pretty jar and decorate as you wish along with mini marshmallows and a pretty mug or two.

 

SPICE & HERB BLEND

This is a great addition to soups, stews, meatloaf, sauces and ragouts. Yields 2/3 cup.

½ cup peppercorns                              4 tsp. ground ginger                            4 tsp grated nutmeg

1 tsp whole cloves                               2 cinnamon sticks, broken up              4 crumbled bay leaves

¾ tsp. ground mace                             ½ tsp. allspice

Combine ingredients and grind into a powder. Sift and pack tightly into an airtight container and store away from heat and light.

SUGARED AND SPICED NUTS

1 egg white                             1 TBL water                            1 lb. pecan or walnut halves

2/3 c superfine sugar               1 tsp salt                                  2 tsp ground cinnamon

¾ tsp ground ginger                ¾ tsp ground allspice              ½ tsp ground coriander

Preheat oven to 250 with one shelf in the upper third and the other in the lower third.

Whisk the egg whites and water until foamy, add the nuts and pour into a sieve to drain for 3 minutes.

Combine the spices and sugar and mix well in a large plastic bag.  Add the nuts and shake to coat. Spread on two baking sheets so that nuts do not touch each other.

Bake for 15 minutes, then stir and reduce heat to 225. Continue to bake, stirring occasionally until dried and crisp – this can take as long as 1.5 hours. Switch pans at the midpoint. Let the nuts cool completely and store in an airtight container.

 

7 Stocking Stuffers Under $25 for Gardeners

by Sam Doll

Here are 7 must-have tools to keep in mind if you are looking for great garden gifts for your favorite gardener.

–Nisaku Japanese Hori Hori Garden Knife for 24.95 on amazon.com

Photo of a garden knife and sheath to give as a garden gift.

photo courtesy of Nisaku

 

These compact garden tools feature serrated and straight edges that are perfect for a variety of garden needs, including cutting back weeds at the root. They also feature handy measuring marks, so you know the exact depth when planting and sowing. Get this handy little tool for the gardener who can appreciate a tool that can get the job done!

 

Photo of tan leather gardening gloves.

Photo courtesy of Home Depot

–Leather Gardening Gloves for $10.98 at homedepot.com

 

Upgrade your favorite gardener’s glove game with some stylish and comfortable leather gloves. The more your green thumb works in these, the better they’ll fit! These pigskin gloves from Home Depot will last for years.

 

 

 

–Wildflower Seed Mixes from $5.79 at bbbseed.com

The front of the Monarch Rescue seed mix.

Wildflower mixes can provide season-long color and important forage for bees and butterflies. BBB Seed has a variety of regional and specialty wildflower seed mixes that will make any gardener, novice or expert, smile all season long!

 

 

 

 

 

 

–Gardening Knee Pads for $8.49 at amazon.com

Photo of green strap-on gardeners knee pads.

Photo courtesy of Fiskar’s

 

Save your friends knees with these waterproof and forgiving knee pads. These knee pads are designed specifically for getting your hands dirty in the backyard.

 

 

 

–Garden-Themed Jewelry from Etsy

Silver watering can earrings.

Photo courtesy of Glitterartijewellry.

 

 

A little costume jewelry can show a personal touch for someone you care about! We love how many cute, garden themed charms, pendants and earrings you can find on Etsy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Snips from $11.99 at Fiskars

Photo of gardener's snips.

Photo Courtesy of Fiskar’s

You can always use new snips. Especially nice ones from Fiskars.

 

 

 

 

–A BBB Seed Gift Card

Gift Card from BBB Seed.

 

 

Still don’t know what to get someone? Don’t worry about it. Just get them a gift card to bbbseed.com and they can get whatever they want!

 

The History of the Jack-O-Lantern

A scary faced jack-o-lantern.

photo courtesy of pixabay

 

by Heather Stone

As the last days of October approach pumpkins carved in an array of faces and lit from within by candles dress porches, stoops, windows and walkways. The jack-o-lantern as we know it is a true American icon of Halloween, but where and how did this tradition begin?

There are several theories on the origin of the jack-o-lantern. In 17th century Britain, an unknown man or night watchman carrying a lantern was referred to as “Jack of the lantern.”

During the same century in Ireland the “lanterns of Jack” were one of many names to describe the strange phenomenon of lights seen flickering over the peat bogs. These lights are known by many names including the “will o’ the wisps.”

Scooping out the innards of a jack-o-lantern.

photo courtesy of pixabay

My favorite theory is based on an old Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack who tricked the Devil. The legend of “Stingy Jack” has many forms. Here is one.

Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin (the Devil being able to take one any form) that Jack could use to buy their drinks. After the Devil turned himself into a coin, Jack decided to keep the money placing it in his pocket. Inside his pocket lay a silver cross preventing the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack agreed to free the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years. Eventually, Jack died and legend has it that God would not allow him into heaven and the Devil angry from being tricked didn’t want Jack either. The Devil is said to have sent Jack off into the night with only a burning ember to guide his way. Jack but this ember into a carved out turnip and roams the earth to this day.

 

In Ireland, folks began carving faces into turnips to ward off Stingy Jack and evil spirits on All Hallow’s Eve. Beets were used in England. This tradition likely came to America with immigrants from these countries. The pumpkin being plentiful here and easy to carve became today’s jack-o-lantern.

Read more about the Queen of Halloween.

 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Graphic that says, "This Pumpkin Seed Recipe Is Scary Delicious."

by Sam Doll

There are so many reasons to enjoy the month of October, but one of the truly special traditions is carving spooky jack-o-lanterns for Halloween! While making funny faces and creative carvings can be a blast, I get most excited for turning the slimy guts of the pumpkins into crispy, salty, roasted pumpkin seeds.

If you are interested in other Halloween Crafts, check out these 9 great craft ideas!

Pick the Right Pumpkin

Pumpkin seeds are a delicious, healthy seasonal snack that can be as creatively flavored any way you want!  The first thing you need to do is pick a pumpkin!

Want to grow your own pumpkins? The Jack-O-Lantern Variety are perfect for eating and carving.

Wandering through a pumpkin patch, it might seem impossible to know which pumpkin would be good for carving and roasting seeds. Lucky for you, the easy part is figuring out which ones are chock full of seeds. Just pick it up! The heavier the pumpkin, the more likely it is to be full of seeds.

If you need help picking out a perfect pumpkin for carving, check out this guide.

Harvest the Seeds

This is the fun part! Once you cut the top of your jack-o-lantern off, it’s time to get your hands dirty.

Set up two bowls. Scoop out as much of the guts and seeds as you can with your hands. Separate as many of the seeds from the pulp as you can and put them in one bowl. It’s okay if they are still slimy and still have a little pulp on them, you’ll clean that off later.

As you get near the end, use a large metal spoon to scrape down the inside walls of the pumpkin to clean out any remaining strands and straggling seeds. Wash up and finish carving your pumpkins!

If you need ideas or templates for carving, here are all you could ask for!

Prepare the Seeds

Place the seeds in a colander and rinse the seeds under cold, running water. Use your hands to remove any pulp still attached. Once clean, remove them and set aside

Here are four other great pumpkin craft ideas.

Boil the Seeds

Depending on how many seeds you have, fill a sauce pan or pot with water and salt it until it tastes like the sea. Bring to a boil and add the cleaned seeds.

Boil for 5-8 minutes until the seeds begin to look translucent. Remove the seeds to a baking sheet and pat them dry.

The boiling gives the seeds a pleasant salty flavor throughout and ensures that they cook evenly and without burning in the oven.

Roast ‘Em

Pre-heat the oven to 400-425 (this isn’t an exact science) and add the seeds. Roast until golden, crispy and delicious (about 10-15 minutes).

Remove them from the oven and add them immediately to a clean mixing bowl for seasoning.

Check out these incredibly delicious pumpkin recipes while you’re at it!

Season ‘Em

This is the fun part. No matter what seasoning you go with, you’ll probably want to use 1 tbsp of high-quality olive oil and some course kosher salt as a base. The oil helps the seasoning stick to the seeds and the salt helps elevate the other flavors.

Now, you can keep them simple and enjoy these classic fall snacks! If you are feeling a little wild, here are some other delicious flavoring suggestions.

The amount of seasoning will depend on how many seeds and what size you have, so start with a little and keep adding until it is just perfect

  • Sugar and Cinnamon: I like a mixture of 4 to 1 white sugar to cinnamon (here is more information if you are curious). If you want it a little hotter, add more cinnamon to the mixture
  • Curry: Any pre-made curry powder will work here, but you can make your own if you are feeling ambitious. I like this Thai Curry Powder
  • South of the Border: Use a 1:1 cumin to red chili flake mix. If you like it really spicy, add some cayenne powder.
  • Spicy and Savory: Use a 2:2:1 garlic salt (omit the kosher salt above if using this or just use garlic powder), lemon pepper, and cayenne to create a savory and hot mix.
 

9 Great Halloween Crafts

Siloutte of Haloween figures.

photo courtesy of pixabay

by Heather Stone

It’s this time of year when the weather cools down and life begins to move back indoors I get the itch to get crafty. Halloween is the first holiday I really can’t wait to get started on. The crafting possibilities are almost endless when it comes to Halloween. You have pumpkins, bats, witches, ghosts, monsters, spiders, skeletons, mummies and so much more. Where to begin?

We’re only days away from the spookiest holiday of the year so it’s time to get started. Here is a list of some of my favorite Halloween crafts that we love to do year to year.

  1. Paper pumpkins- So simple but always fun. All you need is some orange paper and a pipe cleaner.
  2. Bats galore– A swarm of paper bats flying across the front door, up the stairs or across a wall is sure to send a chill up just about anyone’s spine. Hang them from the trees or the dining room chandelier too.

    Child holding an orange pumpkin with black paper cut-out eyes and grin.

    photo courtesy of pixabay

  3. Haunted Houses- This can be an easy two-dimensional drawing or an elaborate creation from recycled boxes. Let your imagination take the lead. Here’s a template for a fun and easy to create 2D haunted house or if you want to go 3D try making one from a recycled cereal box and place a light inside.
  4. Garlands- ghosts, cats, spiders or whatever spooks you this easy craft is fun for all ages.
  5. Halloween paper bag puppets– We make these every year in some form or fashion. Try making them from paper bags, toilet paper tubes or foam people shapes. They can be as simple or intricate as you like.
  6. Mummy or monster door- this is so easy to do and makes a great decoration indoors or out. Just cover your door in toilet paper or strips of white cloth, add a pair of eyes and your done.
  7. Halloween slime– green, purple filled with spiders, eyeballs, pumpkin guts, glow in the dark. The possibilities are endless.
  8. Pumpkin carving– Halloween wouldn’t be the same if there wasn’t the carving or decorating of jack-o-lanterns. There are an endless amount of ideas across the internet. Try something new this year!

Want more Halloween craft ideas? Check out our Pinterest page. It’s filled with fun ideas for all ages to get into the spirit of Halloween.

Skull, candle and jug of bat potion.

photo courtesy of pixabay

 

What Kind of Holiday Season Person are YOU?

by Sandy Swegel

Are you the kind who is frantically looking around for inexpensive gifts to bring to a party you’re going to tomorrow night?  Or perhaps you’re the kind of person who had your holiday shopping and decorating done by Thanksgiving evening and now you’re relaxing in your lovely cinnamon and pine scented home.  I’ve always wanted to be the latter person but I still resemble the frantic running late person too often.

So here’s what I’m doing today to meet the needs of the person I am today.

Last-minute gifts for gardening friends who love to cook:

Herb-infused olive oils: 1 bottle of organic olive oil. Fresh Mediterranean herbs: lots of rosemary including the sticks, moderate amounts of thyme, lesser amounts of oregano. Cute decorative bottles. A handwritten label with a note that it needs to age another two months before use. Curly Ribbons in beautiful colors. http://mountainroseblog.com/herbal-culinary-infusions/

Last-minute gifts for friends who like to drink: Limoncello! Same bottles, ribbons and labels as above. Limoncello can be ready in only 20 ish days. So label accordingly or give it as gifts on Christmas Day. Ingredients: Vodka, on holiday sale at the liquor store, organic lemons fresh from warmer places in the grocery.

Last-minute gifts for friends who don’t cook or drink: Calendars with exquisite pictures.  My favorite this year (2013) for gardeners/mystics is the Flower Spirits Calendar.

And Now the Gift for You and Me because We can plan ahead: Indoor pots full of young lettuce and spinach. In only three weeks you’re going to be making New Year’s Resolutions and eating healthy. Right now the thing to do is get your greens seeds and make some windowsill pots of young lettuces and spinaches and kales.  On January 1st you’ll have pots full of organic baby spinach mixed greens that you have to pay a fortune for in the grocery.

 

Ode to Lavender

by Sandy Swegel

I awoke this morning dreaming of lavender. I adore everything about lavender.

The Fragrance: exotic yet tender and sweet.
The Blossoms: intense purples and blues and even dusty whites and pinks.
The Herbal Essence: healing, calming, sedating yet inspiring.
The Foliage: lavender plants paired with sages and blue fescue grasses in a blue border.
The Smudge Stick: foliage, stems and blossoms mixed with white sage purify home and heart.
The Oil:  condenses all its attributes and essences in a single drop.
The Woody Stems: reminders of the Mediterranean climate it adores and fragrant thrown on a campfire.
The Seed: easy to germinate and though perennial can often produce flowers the first year.
The Plant: low maintenance, sturdy, tolerates even thrives in drought.

Lavender is a wonderful plant to think about in the fall.  It continues to bloom a bit, even after killing freezes. Stalks of lavender blossoms erupt through mats of fallen leaves offering food to the bees and encouragement to the gardener.  Lavender reminds us in the fall how many home-crafted gifts from the garden we still can make.

Friends who don’t wait till the last minute to make holiday gifts have been busy turning lavender into treasures to be shared with friends.  Julia makes the most exotic of lavender gifts:  white chocolate lavender popcorn.  She also infuses jams with lavender.  Sarah takes lavender essential oil and mixes it with the unscented all natural body lotion from Costco or mixes the oil with rose oil and bath salts.  I mix the oil with spring water in a mister for spraying the bed linens. Elise grabs leaves and stems and flowers that have dried on the plant and with adjacent white sage and a little twine created those smudge sticks that cost $10 at the health food store.  A bit of purple ribbon for wrapping all these simple creations turns Lavender into a thoughtful gift from the heart.

May your dreams be so sweetly scented.

Popcorn recipe:http://www.howsweeteats.com/2012/07/white-chocolate-lavender-vanilla-popcorn/