Jim and I went on a “Holiday Tour of Homes” in our city over the weekend. We visited a dozen homes, all decked out for Christmas. It was something to see how hard people work to make their homes welcoming and beautiful at this festive time of year. Seeing all of those perfectly decorated Christmas trees made me think a bit about my own Christmas tree.
I know that for most people a “beautiful” Christmas tree has ornaments that match, probably a color scheme, and maybe even a theme of some sorts. I wouldn’t say that our Christmas tree looks much like that, but I think it’s pretty special anyway.
Our tree has nearly all handmade ornaments. A close family friend has made an ornament for each member of my family for many years. My mom makes ornaments for us each year. I’m also part of an ornament exchange with two people out on the west coast, who send along homemade ornaments every year now going back about ten years. I’ve also made a few of my own along the way. Each year one or two older ornaments fall apart or get crushed in the box, but there’s a constant supply of new handmade ornaments coming in!
I love our homespun tree. When I look at it I see the love that has gone into each of those ornaments, and the beauty of that love outshines anything I could ever find in any store. Each ornament represents the spirit of person who made it. I treasure those ornaments, and I treasure our Christmas tree.
This year, take a moment and make up a Christmas ornament or two for your loved ones. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just made with love. Your family and friends will cherish your ornaments, and have something to remember you by someday. What could be more keeping with the spirit of Christmas?
Is there any food that doesn’t benefit from a little pumpkin? Or better yet, a whole lot of pumpkin? A favorite in our house at this time of year is pumpkin waffles. They make a nice Sunday brunch entrée or a special treat to share with your family.
I bought a waffle maker at a garage sale about five years ago for $3, having long wanted one. Since then I’ve managed to use it nearly every weekend. It was certainly a good buy, although I suppose eating all of those waffles hasn’t helped my waistline very much! Waffles do have quite a few calories and are carb-heavy, but they are so delicious, how can you resist?
Here’s one of my go-to waffle recipes. Super easy to put together and has enough sweetness that you may not need syrup. The recipe happens to be vegan, too! I guarantee you will not miss the eggs. Enjoy!
Vegan Pumpkin Waffles
1-3/4 cups almond, coconut or soy milk
2 cups pumpkin puree (1 15-oz can)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup white sugar
2-1/2 cups flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Preheat waffle iron and spray baking surface with oil.
In medium bowl, mix together milk, pumpkin, oil, lemon juice and sugar. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Add to the batter and stir just enough to combine.
Cook waffles according to your waffle iron directions. Makes about 8 medium-sized waffles.
For Thanksgiving I couldn’t decide if I should make a pumpkin pie or an apple pie. There were only seven of us so I didn’t feel that making both would be a good idea, unless we wanted lots of extra pie left over. Not always a bad thing, I admit, but I want my pants to fit!
I compromised with this pumpkin/apple pie. It has a layer of apple pie and a layer of pumpkin pie. It’s very unique. It is a lot like eating an apple pie and a pumpkin pie at the same time. If you are tired of plain pumpkin or plain apple pie, give this recipe a try. It does take a while to make, but it’s worth the effort. I used pumpkin from our garden and apples we foraged from abandoned city trees.
Apple and Pumpkin Pie
1 pie pastry
1-1/2 cups thinly sliced apples
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons white flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice (you can use less if your apples are very tart)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup white flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cold butter
4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
Roll out pastry and place in 10-inch pie plate.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
In a large bowl mix apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice and cinnamon. Place apple mixture into prepared crust.
Beat together pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, salt and spices in another large bowl. Carefully pour over apples.
Bake 35 minutes.
While baking, mix topping ingredients in food processor or use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter. Remove pie and sprinkle topping on. Return to oven and bake another 35 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
Allow to cool before slicing. Enjoy!
Being from Upstate New York, I never really had the idea to grow collard greens in the garden. But my husband had tried them before and liked them, so we gave it a go. Turns out they are a great late-season vegetable and last well into the winter, so you can still be picking fresh greens even in December.
Collard greens taste far better after a hard frost. You can plant them in the spring, but you’re better off waiting. You can use the garden space in the spring and summer for other things — beans, peas, garlic, anything that will clear out of the garden by late summer.
Sow your seeds right in the ground about six or seven weeks before your first frost. The package will tell you 18-24 inches apart but I crowded mine closer to 12 inches apart and they are thriving. They germinate in about a week. You can plant them in a slightly shady area but they will do better in full sun.
Other than a little watering and weeding, collards don’t require much care. One advantage to a late summer planting is that you shouldn’t have a huge problem with weeds or even pests. We planted our crop at the community garden, where they have every pest under the sun, but the collards have been pretty much untouched. I imagine it’s just too cold at night now for most bugs.
You can start harvesting your collards after about six weeks, but if you wait until a hard frost you will be a lot happier with the taste. They lose their bitterness and get a whole lot sweeter after a frost.
The only drawback to collards is cooking time. They need at least two hours on the stove to soften up, but it’s well worth the wait, they are delicious!
With the 60 or so pounds of apples we picked from wild and abandoned trees this year, I have had to reach pretty far into my recipe box to use them up. A friend gave me her Aunt Fran’s apple cake recipe years ago. Her aunt would be over 100 if she was alive today, so I think the recipe dates back a ways. It’s delicious and easy to make. If you had a great apple crop this year (like most of us seemed to) maybe you would like to give it a try.
Aunt Fran’s Apple Cake
1-1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups white flour (can substitute up to 1/2 whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
4 cups peeled, chopped apples
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. In a large bowl, combine oil and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla and stir well. In a second bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the dry ingredients into the large bowl and stir just enough to combine. Your batter will be quite heavy. Add in chopped apples and walnuts and stir, but take care not to over-stir or your cake will be tough. Bake until a toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Baking time may vary depending on your oven. Cool for about ten minutes before trying to remove from the pan to a cooling rack. Enjoy!
This year marked our first Halloween at the new house. Our neighbors told us to expect anywhere from 85 to 200 trick-or-treaters. I didn’t want to give out candy or plastic nothings made in China, so I asked my mom for some help with alternatives. She suggested bats and spiders. They were easy to make and a big hit! Jim and I worked on them a little each evening for about a week before Halloween and we were done with time to spare. Here’s some easy instructions to get you started in case you decide to do something like this next year. You may want to buy sandwich bags to put them in when you give them out to provide a little cushioning so they don’t get so crushed in the candy bags.
Material needed: black felt, scissors, pattern (you can draw out your own), eyes, glue, pompoms or ball fringe.
To make: If using ball fringe, cut off the balls. Pin your pattern (it’s easy to hand draw one, I used one that was 3” wide and one about 2” wide) to the felt. Carefully cut out bats around your pattern. Glue pompoms or fringe balls to the center of the bat form. Allow to dry before gluing on the eyes.
Material needed: black pipe cleaners, eyes, glue, pompoms or ball fringe, needle nose pliers.
To make: If using ball fringe, cut off the balls. Cut your pipe cleaners to just over 1” in length. Bend the pipe cleaners about at the halfway point. Dip each pipe cleaner in glue and firmly stick three onto each side of your pompoms for the spider legs. Allow to dry and glue on the eyes.
I hope you decide to go candy-free next year for Halloween!
We had a very successful beet harvest this year. Maybe too successful, if you are like me and aren’t such a fan of beets. I’ve been casting about trying to figure out good ways to use some of them up when I came across a beet cake recipe. I’d printed it out a few years back but never made it. With a fridge drawer full of beets, last weekend seemed like a good time to try it out.
I modified the original recipe a bit and came up with this version. It came out great, and you couldn’t taste the beets at all. When I asked my husband what he thought the secret ingredient was, he answered, “Pumpkin?” Ha!
Beet Chocolate Cake
1 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cooked then grated beets
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 cups white flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar or frosting, if desired
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Combine oil and eggs. Beat in sugar and vanilla. Add cooked, grated beets and mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and salt. Add to wet ingredients and stir well.
Grease and flour a 13 x 9 baking pan. Pour mixture into prepared pan.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick, or when the cake bounces back when you press lightly on it with your finger.
I think it tasted great without any frosting, but if you wanted to you could use some powdered sugar or other frosting.
I’ll be curious to know if your family is able to identify the secret ingredient!