Stress-Free Seasonal Fun And Food

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Playing Through The Holidays

As the holiday season rolls along, I’m noticing friends getting worried and weary instead of cheery. Some of that is definitely due to our abusive political climate but some is caused by societal expectations. Sadly, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed in a whirlwind of extra activities just when the year is winding down and nature is sinking into slumber. To keep social events simple, choose menus that involve either working ahead or lots of extra hands. That sounds contradictory, yet most of us enjoy making and doing things together and it’s a great way to get a mixed group to bond.

As a society, we’ve lost a lot of the small connections that once bound neighbor to neighbor and built sturdy communities. When family and friends get together, it’s more often to chat over coffee at a cafe or a restaurant meal than to engage in a shared activity. For me at least, it’s way more fun to be given the opportunity to help out with making a meal that will be shared. I’m relearning some of that sense of fun from my grandkids, who at not-quite-two and four-and-a-half are decidedly interested in helping. Lately, we’ve been making gifts for their family and friends who help care for them. It’s often amazingly messy (and wrapping requires an astonishing amount of tape) but their delight in creating something they think others will like is delicious and the seriousness with which they guard their secrets from grownups is adorable.

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Last week, we made sachets of fragrant herbs (cedar and eucalyptus) to put in closets and sock drawers, then made bags of herbal tea as well. For the tea, we filled small, muslin drawstring bags with blends of dried lemon balm, rosebuds, peppermint and lavender that we dried this summer. We set their low table with bowls of ingredients and each kid got a larger bowl and a big mixing spoon. The toddler ended up mixing all the bowls up and stirring with measuring spoons while her brother did some extremely vigorous blending and mixing in one big bowl. They played with the herbs for over an hour before getting restless and although quite a lot of the mix ended up on the floor, there was plenty left over to fill our bags. Swaddled in tissue paper and miles of ribbon, they fill a big bag that rustles mysteriously when prodded by small hands.

Today, we’re making gingerbread cookies to decorate as presents, and next week, we’ll fill pinecones with suet and roll them in birdseed. As we do all this, I’m relearning the valuable parenting skill of leaving well enough alone; if they are happily engaged, it doesn’t matter if my goals are not met right away or even at all. The cookies we end up with might not look elegant but they’ll taste good and doting adults will find them enchanting. Because the baby can’t process dairy, our icing will be made with fresh orange juice and icing sugar and the gingerbread is lightly spiced with orange rind as well as ginger. I even found my rolling pin (after two moves in six months, that’s fairly amazing)!

Simply Festive Food

Enliven a holiday breakfast, brunch or tea party with fragrant, gilded Cherry Ginger Rolls. Let everybody take turns kneading, or use a food processor with a dough blade to do the mixing and kneading for you. The unbaked rolls can spend the day (or overnight) in the fridge if you prefer and be baked off at mealtime.

Hot Cherry Ginger Rolls

3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk or any milk
3 tablespoons honey
1 package (1/4 ounce) baking yeast
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons avocado or safflower oil
1/4 cup dried tart pie cherries
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger

Lightly butter a muffin tin, set aside. In a bowl, cream remaining butter with brown sugar, ginger, and nutmeg, set aside. Heat milk to 120-125 degrees F. Pour into a food processor with a dough blade or mixing bowl, stir in honey, then add yeast, flour, salt, and oil. Pulse to blend, then hand knead to a soft dough; set aside for 15 minutes. Roll dough into a 10 x 12 inch rectangle, spread top with butter mixture. Sprinkle on cherries and ginger, roll dough into a 12 inch long cylinder and cut into 12 equal slices. Place them cut side down into the pan, cover with a damp towel and let rise until doubled in bulk (about 30 minutes). Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown (about 20-25 minutes). Cool for 5 minutes before serving. Makes 12 rolls.

Hearty Seasonal Soups

I’ve learned that few adults really enjoy heavy evening meals, but tasty, fragrant hot soups are universally welcome. Vividly colorful, deliciously scented, and tasty to boot, Festive Winter Soup combines red cabbage, shredded carrots, and sweet red bell peppers in a savory melange that cooks up quickly. Many hands make the chopping and slicing go fast, and everybody has fun helping. Garnish with pomegranate seeds for a little extra sparkle!

Festive Winter Soup

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large red onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 cups shredded gold skinned potatoes
2 large carrots, shredded
4 cups shredded red cabbage
3 red bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

In a soup pan, heat oil and butter over medium high heat until butter melts. Add garlic, onion, celery and paprika and cook, stirring, until soft (3-5 minutes). Add potatoes and carrots and cook, covered, until tender (10-12 minutes). Add cabbage and red peppers and cook, covered, until barely tender (3-5 minutes). Add broth and heat through. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and serve. Serves 4.

Hot And Sour And Spunky

Lively and satisfying, Cranberry Chicken Soup balances tart cranberries and lemons with rich chicken broth and whisked eggs, making a creamy, spunky soup that hits the spot on a chilly night. There’s also a great vegetarian version for those who prefer meatless options. Both are perfect for chasing away (or treating) colds or flu.

Cranberry Chicken Soup

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
4 cups chopped, skinned and boned chicken thighs
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup raw cranberries
8 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup jasmine rice
4 cups finely chopped Napa cabbage
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro or flat Italian parsley

In a soup pan, heat oil, garlic, salt and lemon rind over medium heat and cook, stirring, until golden (2-3 minutes). Add chicken, cover and cook until barely opaque (3-5 minutes). Add onion, celery, and carrots and cook, covered, until soft (3-5 minutes). Add broth, bring to a boil over high heat, add salt and rice, return to the boil, then reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer until rice is tender (about 20 minutes). Stir in cranberries and Napa cabbage and bring to a simmer. Thoroughly beat eggs with lemon juice, then slowly stir in 2 cups hot broth, whisking constantly. Slowly pour lemon mixture into the soup, whisking constantly. Heat through (do not boil) and serve hot, garnished with cilantro or parsley. Serves 4-6.

Vegan Hot and Sour Cranberry Soup

1 tablespoon avocado oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup raw cranberries
1/4 cup stemmed flat Italian parsley
6 cups vegetable broth
1 cup cooked short grain brown rice
4 cups Napa cabbage, shredded
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro or flat Italian parsley

In a soup pan, heat oil, garlic, lemon rind, onion and salt over medium heat and cook, stirring, until golden (2-3 minutes). Add celery, carrots, cranberries and parsley and cook, stirring, until soft (3-5 minutes). Add broth, bring to a boil over high heat, add rice, return to the boil, stir in Napa cabbage and heat through (2-3 minutes). Add lemon juice to taste and serve hot, garnished with cilantro or parsley. Serves 4-6.

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2 Responses to Stress-Free Seasonal Fun And Food

  1. Tamara Mitchell says:

    Wow! These recipes sound awesome! I’ve got my version of whole wheat pannetone in the bread machine right now….with dried pineapple, dried papaya, dried apricots, and raisins instead of the usual candied fruits. And I just had soup I made with homegrown roasted pumpkin, Spitzenburg apples, and breakfast sausage. Sounds like you are having a lot of fun with the grandkids…and I share everything I make with my 100-year-old Dad. Sharing the season with the generations!

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Sharing makes holidays a lot more fun, I find. I’m missing my mom these days, remembering how I would make holidays special for her…

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