Holidays, Recipes

Easy Cranberry Sauce Recipe and Thanksgiving Thoughts

Easy Cranberry Sauce Recipe and Thanksgiving ThoughtsWhether you’re having Thanksgiving at home or bringing something to share with family and friends, you’re probably wishing that you could find something just a little different – but easy to prepare – for this Thanksgiving. Most of us will have turkey on the menu, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, cranberry sauce and pies. Some of us will have that green bean casserole with the crispy onion rings on top. Aunt May might bring her marshmallow/fruit whip. (You can always say you’re just too full to eat another bite.)  A few of us, who have had enough of cooking, moiling and toiling on Thanksgiving, will opt to eat out, although we may wish we had some leftovers later that night when we’re craving a turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwich and a piece of pumpkin pie. Some of us with Native American ancestry may be reflecting on how to renew a meaningful dialogue about our past and look towards a more honest future as Russell M. Peters, from the Wampanoags of Mashpee, Massachusetts says.

Our Thanksgiving is going to be very quiet this year, because Son has moved out and he and his Sweetie will be eating with another branch of relatives. Geekdaddy hates turkey and Daughter and I hate doing dishes, so we may have pizza or just our favorite chicken and sweet potatoes with pie for dessert. Whatever we have, there WILL be cranberry sauce, homemade and really simple and way better than the jellied blob you get in the can. (No BPA either and ours are organic and come from right down the road.)

The recipe is so simple, that you don’t really need a recipe. Just get a 12 oz bag of cranberries. Wash them. Peel, core and chop a medium sized apple. Put a cup of water into a small pan, add a cup and a half of sugar (I like them tart, but you can add sugar later if it’s not sweet enough for you) and bring it to a boil. Carefully add the cranberries and chopped apple and keep boiling until the skins pop. Turn it off for syrupy cranberry sauce, or simmer longer for more “gelled” sauce. Cranberries have pectin, like apples do, so the longer you simmer, the more pectin comes out and the thicker the sauce gets. It will also “set up” more when you refrigerate it. If you like, add a little grated fresh ginger, some raisins or orange peel. I like to vary mine, so I sometimes serve it plain and sometimes serve it fancy.

As far as thoughts for Thanksgiving, this would be a good time to think about the holiday season, which is about to descend on us whether we like it or not. We’re not religious folk and and we’re not rampant consumers, so our family doesn’t celebrate Christmas or participate in Black Friday. We do observe the Solstice and if the weather cooperates will probably have another Solstice bonfire and get-together this year. (Especially if we can get Uncle Bill to bring his special Solstice rum cake.) However, I respect the fact that other families and people have traditions and beliefs that are very important and even sacred to them, so I try not to rain on their parades.

That said, I think with the economy the way it is and the environment in need of help from all of us if it’s going to sustain us through many more celebrations and holidays, it wouldn’t hurt a bit if we all took a long hard look at what’s really important this time of year. What if everyone of us stopped before we bought into (literally) the mindset that we have to spend a lot of money and time and run around the mall like rats in a maze, buying things, just because it’s the holiday season?

What if – maybe while we’re having Thanksgiving dinner with our family and friends – we looked around the table and realized what it really takes to make us happy. Friends, family, a few treats and they don’t have to be expensive or store-bought, a few decorations maybe that the kids make with a little help from us. And how much money, time and effort does it take to create this? Not much. Let’s face it, if you can’t make your family and friends happy without spending big bucks on Black Friday, maybe it’s time to sit down and have a good long conversation with them about their expectations and yours for your relationship.

Recipes

Is It Time To Spice Up Your Life A Little?

Even with global warming breathing its hot breath down our necks, it’s autumn in Maine and that means closing ourselves in for several months. The screens are in the garage, the windows are shut tightly, the doors are weatherstripped so tightly that the house bulges out when we close them – we’re almost hermetically sealed until next spring.

This is when I start realizing that having a Black Lab who sleeps on the furniture isn’t always a good thing. It’s the time of year when we have to let our cats have a cat box, which is another idea I’m not so crazy about. We cook fish and smell it for breakfast the next day and don’t even get me going about the dirty socks in the hamper and that funny smell coming from the basement.

Yes, folks, I’m one of those people who has a sensitive nose. I can’t help it. Smells are much more apparent to me – and to my daughter – than they are to the rest of the crew Chez Hawkins. So around about October, Daughter and I start spicing things up around here.

I usually start with a few drops of vanilla in small glass bowls full of water with a little white vinegar in it. I put several in strategic spots around the house, especially in the bathrooms and bedrooms. As the season progresses, we switch from vanilla to essential oils like lavendar, lemongrass and peppermint to jazz things up and keep us – and the air – from getting stale.

Of course, one of the best ways to spice the air is with a batch or two of cookies or a pan of gingerbread. My favorite is made with pears and the recipe follows this post. Sometimes, we make gel air fresheners out of jello – the only use for it I’ve ever found that didn’t revolt me, by the way. Sometimes, we burn incense, especially pine and eucalyptus to keep colds and germs at bay.

We bring spruce and balsam wreaths in for December and sometimes they last right through the rest of the winter. We plant bulbs in midwinter, so that we’ll have fragrant narcissi and hyacinths. We cut into oranges and lemons and simmer the peels with cloves and ginger and cinnamon and close our eyes, almost convincing ourselves that we can smell “spring in the citrus groves.”

If you live in the northern latitudes, you’ll know what I’m talking about and you’re probably already walking over to the spice cupboard and reaching for the cinnamon sticks to make a little arrangement with a couple of pine cones and a red bow. No matter where you live, here’s that gingerbread recipe to add a little spice to YOUR life.

Gingerbread with Pears on Top

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups white wheat flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. salt

Wet ingredients:

1 large egg

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup molasses

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup yogurt

1/4 cup light olive or canola oil

For bottom of pan:

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

3 pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush an 8-by-8-inch metal or glass baking

pan with the melted butter.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon,

baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg, sugar and molasses for 3

minutes with an electric mixer or beat well by hand. Add the

yogurt,applesauce and oil, and blend well. Add dry ingredients and

blend well.

With the back of a spoon, press the brown sugar evenly over the

bottom of the pan, into the melted butter. Sprinkle with the

walnuts. Arrange pear slices evenly over the walnuts. Pour the

batter over the pears.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center

comes out clean. Let it cool for five or ten minutes and then loosen the edges of the cake with a knife and

turn it out onto a platter. Serve it with whipped cream or just the way it is.

natural foods, Recipes

Simple, Scrumptious Sauteed Desserts

If, like me, you believe that desserts are one of the basic food groups, but have been avoiding them to lose weight, this post is for you. Usually, when we think of dessert, we think of baked goods like cakes, cupcakes and pies. Or we think of the gooey, chemical-laden sweet poison that restaurants have conned us into thinking are worth the astronomical prices they charge for them. It doesn’t have to be like that, trust me.

Forget all that, get your sautee or frying pan out and whip up a dessert that doesn’t even really take a recipe, although I’ll give you a couple anyway.  You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Sauteed FRUIT? What the heck kind of dessert is that?” Well, it’s a pretty darned good dessert and it’s also really easy to personalize to your own tastes. You can pick the fruit or fruits, pick the spices, the flavorings and the topping, if you want one. You can serve it plain or with whipped cream or ice cream. (A small spritz of canned whipped topping won’t blow your calorie budget for the day and it is possible to get brands that don’t have too many horrible things in them.)

Sauteed fruit goes well with a lot of things like plain-ish cookies – think tea biscuit type cookies – or even plain baking powder biscuits, the kind you use for strawberry shortcake. I make my biscuits with lowfat, organic baking mix and put a pinch of cinnamon in them if I’m going to serve them with fruit. So, you’re saying, when do we get to the “how-to” part of this whole thing? Well, you can just slice some fruit, put a couple of pats of butter in a pan (or use cooking oil spray if you’d rather), heat the pan to medium, throw the fruit in and stir it as it softens and the juices start to bubble. Turn it down and let it simmer, stirring almost constantly so that it doesn’t burn. Add a little sweetener, if you like – but you won’t need much for most fruits. Add some oats – toasted or not. Coconut – ditto. Nuts or whatever you have on hand that you think will enhance the flavor of the fruit you’re using.

Or, you can use this Recipe for Sauteed Organic Washington Peaches from the folks at the PCC Natural Markets in Seattle. I’m sure you could substitute other fruit for peaches in this recipe also. One of our favorite desserts is Sauteed Apples with wild blueberries and real maple syrup. Organic Apples and blueberries are available at our local farmer’s market, so we get them when they’re in season, eat some and freeze some. We’re lucky to have friends who produce maple syrup from trees that aren’t sprayed, so we have good maple syrup too.

Simple they may be, but I’d stack Sauteed Fruit Desserts up beside any of the fancy-shmancy desserts at the big chain restaurants. And then I’d eat them before someone else got wise to how good they are.

Green Living, Recipes

Fall is For the Birds

This beautiful blue jay joined us for breakfast this morning. We had pumpkin cranberry muffins (recipe follows). Blue Jay had our home made wild bird treat of suet studded with peanuts, cranberries, raisins and millet. We buy the suet very cheaply throughout the year. Then we mash the additions into it with a potato masher or a meat pounder. If you put several pieces of suet together and add the additions as you go, you can get them to stick in between the sections so that they’re all through the suet. Before we freeze it, we shape it to fit our wire suet cages and wrap it individually.

Besides blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, woodpeckers and even grackles visit our suet. We also put out sunflower seeds and mixed seed as soon as the first frost kills the vegetation under the feeders, where the cats hide. It just wouldn’t be fair to invite our feathered friends to a buffet where their worst enemy had a seat at the table. We also clear out an area around the feeders so that the seed that falls will be accessible to the groundfeeders. Mourning doves, sparrows, siskins and an occasional wild turkey appreciate this.

We live in a very rural area of Maine and there’s a swamp on our property, so it’s very good habitat for many species of birds. We hear owls calling at night, watch ospreys and eagles have aerial “dogfights” and, once in a while, have to rush out to chase a shrike away from the feeders or warn the songbirds that the peregrine falcon is sitting on the telephone pole, looking at the menu.

Here’s something you can put on your menu this fall. Make them while fresh cranberries and pumpkins are available, but if you can only get canned pumpkin, it’ll work just as well.

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Two cups flour (white whole wheat flour works well)

1/2 cup Sugar

1 Tbsp Baking Powder

1/2 Tsp Salt

1/2 to 1 Tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice

1/2 cup oil, melted butter or applesauce (I use half oil, half applesauce)

1 Egg

3/4 to 1 Cup Milk (Soymilk or water may be substituted)

1 cup pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin

1/2 cup chopped cranberries

Put dry ingredients into a medium sized bowl and mix well.

Put oil, egg, milk or water and pumpkin puree into smaller bowl. Mix thoroughly. Add, all at once, to dry ingredients and stir just until mixed. When almost mixed, add cranberries and fold in. Fill muffins cups 3/4 full and bake for about 20 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days, if they last that long.

Holidays, Recipes

Easy and Healthy Banana Cake Recipe from Ray Collins

I love Ray Collin’s “Good Life Letter“. His health information is spot on and he delivers it in a style that always makes me smile as I learn the latest way to live a healthier, happier life. He lives in England with his wife and 3 children and is the author of 3 books which should be on everyone’s bookshelf. His latest, The Spice Healer, is a fount of information that tells you how to add years to your life with simple cooking spices. It includes 30 recipes for everything from tea to pizza too.

I don’t know if this recipe is in The Spice Healer, but I know that it’s tasty and very easy to make. If you like, you can make it as 12 medium sized cupcakes instead, or even a loaf cake. Frost it with cream cheese frosting. Glaze it with a simple vanilla glaze, serve it with yogurt or just eat it by the slice. It’s all good.   In the newsletter with this recipe, he also managed to work in his grandmother’s knickers, marshmallows and a game called fox and hounds, but if you want to read about any of that, you’ll have to go to his site and read the newsletter. Here’s the recipe:

Banana Cake from Ray Collins

(Ray didn’t specify a cooking temperature, but I found that 350 worked just fine.)

Bananas are such a versatile and practical
ingredient, plus they are naturally sweet. Make a
banana cake by mixing 2 mashed bananas, 2
tablespoons of Manuka honey, 2 eggs, a few
chopped nuts (pecan, hazelnut or walnuts) and a
little melted butter. Then add it to 2 cups of flour
and a teaspoon of baking powder and the same of
baking soda. Bake for half an hour in a hot oven
and eat with natural yoghurt.

Green Living, Holidays, Recipes

5 Ways To De-Stress Your Holidays

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, at least here in Maine. Snow is falling on the pines. The chickadees are flocking to the suet and sunflower seeds. Shoppers are mobbing the mall, although I’m not sure where they’re getting the money to shop this year, which leads me to the subject of why this season can be stressful and what you can do about it.

  • First of all, take a few deep breaths and think about what YOU want this time of year to be like. Never mind what your family, your friends, you Facebook friends and your Twitter tweeps think Christmas and the holiday season should be. What do YOU want and expect this season? I think that one of the biggest sources of stress, this time of year, is when our wants and expectations don’t match up with the reality of the season. No matter how old we get, we’re still that three year old who really expects a pony under the tree on Christmas morning. And when we get a sweater instead, we’re seriously disappointed, even if Aunt Joyce DID knit it with her own two loving hands. It’s not a pony and we wanted a pony and not getting what we want just doesn’t cut it at Christmas, does it? And that applies to 3 year olds all the way up to 83 year olds and beyond.

 

  • The second source of stress is that we try to do too much at Christmas. We over-shop, over-bake, over-buy and wear ourselves to a frazzle, until we’re complaining about all we have to do and feeling pressured to do more. Don’t fall into this trap. Keep your holidays as simple as you can and leave plenty of time for unplanned changes, both good and bad. It’s the time of year when people get colds and flu, oftentimes right before a school concert or a family get-together. If you expect this and have an alternate plan for these kind of speed bumps, it will be a lot easier to cope with them, instead of making it up as you go along or taking a sick kid to a social gathering where he – and the people around him – will be uncomfortable every time he coughs. (Natural Care for Colds and Flu – a free guide can help with those nasty bugs too.)

 

  • Enjoy old traditions, but make new ones too. It’s wonderful to have family traditions and the holidays are a time when we unpack the old ornaments, catch up with old friends and bake our old favorite cookies. It helps families bond and it reassures us that – even though it seems as if everything changes – some things stay dependably the same. Just don’t forget to leave yourself open to starting a new tradition, which is how all the old traditions started, after all.

 

  • Make it easy on yourself by letting some things slide. Do you really have to clean your house completely because you’re having company? They’ll be focused on the friends, the food and the Christmas decorations, not the dust bunnies under the beds. Just organize the clutter a little and don’t apologize for disorder, because that just draws attention to it. Tell yourself that you’re just into relaxed housekeeping and leave it at that while you enjoy your guests and your family.

 

  • Balance the extra baking you’ll be doing with easy meals that can make themselves or make-ahead meals that can be frozen for future use. I’ve finally started to organize my recipes on Lill’s List and will be adding to them on a regular basis, so try one out in your crock pot and don’t forget the easy no-bake cookie recipe. The delicious, fruity little round cookies keep for up to two months in the freezer, so you’ll never be caught without goodies for drop-in company.

Most of all, remember to savor the season, slowly and comfortably, at your own pace. Instead of dashing through the snow, 24/7, take some time to sit by the fire and sip a cup of hot chocolate from time to time.

Recipes

Natural Scents for Shower or Bath

Some people love to take long, luxurious baths. Others can’t wake up without a shower in the morning. Whichever you prefer, hydrotherapy, in the form of a bath or shower, is something we all enjoy. There’s nothing better for waking us up in the morning than a nice, hot shower. And there’s nothing better for relaxing our bodies and soothing our minds into restful sleep than a bath before we go to bed.

Scented Bath Salts

When I want to relax, I take a bath with these bath salts. I’ve been making them since the 70′s when I sold them at craft fairs. Now I make them for my own enjoyment. They’re so simple to make and leave your skin soft and silky.

Ingredients:

2 Cups Sea Salt, Kosher Salt or Rock Salt

20 Drops Essential Oil

Add the essential oil to the salt. Spread it out on a cookie sheet covered with tin foil or parchment paper. (Don’t use paper towels, because they’ll absorb the scented oil.) When it’s dry, which may take as long as 24 hours or as little as 3, pour it into a pretty glass jar with a cover. If you like colored bath salts, use a couple of TBSPS of beet juice, or non-toxic food coloring to the salts with the essential oil. You can find non-toxic food coloring at Health Food Stores. To use, just scoop out about a half-cup and add to running water.

Remember, scent is a very personal thing. It’s wonderful to surround yourself with it in your own home. But it’s considerate to keep it very light or just not use it in public.

Scented Shower Gel

Ingredients:

1 Cup Water

1 ½ Cups Liquid Glycerine Soap, Scented (Dr. Bronner’s or any natural brand)

2 TBSP Finely Milled Sea Salt

Natural Food Coloring (optional)

Add liquid soap to water. Do not add water to liquid soap, because you’ll have a kitchen full of suds. Stir in salt and coloring, if you want it. If it separates, shake gently before using.

Variations: Use unscented liquid soap and add about 20 drops of essential oil to it. Or add a stick of cinnamon, a tsp of ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, coconut or chocolate extract. Store in a shampoo bottle.

Simple Soothing Milk and Honey Bath

Ingredients:

2 Cups of Dry Milk Powder (I use organic)

2 TBSP of Dried Honey Powder (I use HoneySweet Brand)

2 Cups of Finely Processed Oats (I use my food processor)

12-20 drops of essential oil (I use half lavender and half rose)

Mix milk and honey powder in large bowl. I use a whisk. Add essential oil, mix well and put in a plastic bag or tightly covered jar. Let the powder absorb the oil for at least 24 hours. Add ½ cup under the tap while you’re running your bath. This is a good bath powder for children, although I omit the essential oil in case it irritates them.