Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sharing food for the holidays

With my commitment to giving handmade gifts, this holiday season I decided to give gifts of food. Flavored, roasted nuts are a tasty and healthy treat! The main inspiration for this idea comes from Elana’s Pantry. I also picked up a flyer at Whole Foods Market with a recipe, and got hints from reading the ingredients on some commercially produced roasted nuts.

Our holiday plan is to spend Christmas day with David’s (grown-up) kids, their spouses, and the grandkids. A total of 8 people. I sure have been having fun concocting different flavor combinations so that each person’s jar of nuts will be different. As usual with food experiments David and I are the research team. We also get to (or have to) eat both the successes and the rejects!

These flavored roasted nuts are easy to make, even in my miniature oven! And they’re Gluten-Free, too.

Start with:
2 cups nuts of your choice (cashews, pecans, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, etc)

2 tablespoons liquid (Tamari, honey, maple syrup, agave, vanilla extract, or any combination)

Mix until the nuts are all coated.

Mix together spices, if desired, about 2-3 teaspoons. A bit of salt can boost the flavor of sweet mixes. For extra sweet flavor, brown sugar or maple sugar are good.

Sprinkle powder over wet nuts and mix up together until all the nuts are coated with the powder.

Spread a relatively thin layer of coated nuts in a buttered baking pan (I use a pyrex or ceramic pan). Adding extra butter (like about 1/2 tablespoon) to the baking pan adds a nice flavor, too!

Bake at 300ºF for about 15 – 20 minutes. It’s easy to over cook these! They won’t necessarily “look done” until they are over done. I go by smell (if the nuts smell roasted, they are done), or by taste testing. Getting to know your oven/pan characteristics will make this easier.

As for flavor and nut combinations, the sky’s the limit! I’ve still got several ideas that I’m planning to try.

Here’s a list of some that I’ve tried:

Pecans and/or almonds with maple syrup or honey

Cashews with tamari and curry powder

Almonds with tamari and a spice mix of garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and turmeric

Pecans and/or almonds with tamari and honey and a spice mix of chili powder and cumin

Almonds with honey and cinnamon

Walnuts with maple syrup and maple sugar

A handmade gift comes from the heart

My grandmother used to say “when you make a gift for someone, you give them a gift from your heart”.

In our family, we made a lot of our gifts to each other. Especially for grandparents, of course. That is a tradition that I’ve kept with me throughout my life. I don’t go into mass-gift-production and make things for everyone I know. Usually just a few significant people, different ones each year, receive handmade gifts. These gifts are expressions of how those people had touched my life at the time.

When I became a self-employed artist, most of the products that I started selling were things that I had originally made as a gift for someone. I still very much enjoy having somebody buy my piece to give as a meaningful gift to someone special. That, I believe, is why I have never had any problem letting go of my creations, even after I have put so much of my energy into them. It still feels, for me, like making gifts for special, significant people. Sharing my work with people who care is what makes my “job” worthwhile!

David’s grandkids know that I don’t want any bought gifts. If the kids (now aged 10 – 14) want to make me something, I’ll be thrilled. But not random “stuff” just so I can “have something to open” when the family gets together at Christmas.

One year recently, they all 4 made me frogs (I have a special fondness for frogs….) out of polymer clay. Wow! How perfect! Those frogs still sit watching me as I type on the computer.

Handmade gifts that are bought from the maker have a special significance. I see that so clearly now that I make my living making gifts that other folks give to each other. When I make something, it is an expression that comes from my heart. And then the buyer, having made a careful and thoughtful selection (my work is not inexpensive, after all), gives a gift from their heart to someone who is special to them. It’s wonderful! Now the gift comes from my heart, and from yours, to someone who is meaningful to you!

What could be more expressive of the holiday spirit??

Ok, on to the point of this post!

There are lots of ways to give your loved ones a handmade gift that comes from the heart. I’m not saying that everyone should buy one of my pieces to give as a gift (though I wouldn’t object!). There are so many ways that we can express that true giving and Christmas spirit!

Here’s a list of ideas: is an online marketplace for handmade work of all kinds, in every price range. Here’s my etsy shop:

There are craft shows and art shows at all levels in almost every town. Look around in your area, and you’ll find them.

Schools and churches also usually have holiday sales. Museums and Arts Centers, too. In our area the Arvada Center for the Arts has a sale that goes through this weekend:

Craft shops and art stores, often artists cooperatives, are

places to find handmade work by people from your local area.

Here’s the best one: Make your own gifts!!! You’re not an artist? I don’t believe it! You don’t have time? It’s not necessary to make something for everyone you know!

Just for a few significant people.

Try these ideas (and add some of your own):

If you’re a Woodturner, make ornaments, pens, oil candles, tea lights, vases, art pieces, bottlestoppers, Your skills will improve, and your family will love it! Start a tradition of making a new ornament design every year for everyone in the family!

Create a handmade card. Cutting, glueing, painting, scrapbooking, writing…. Remember, it comes from your heart!

Print out pictures that have meaning, and share them. My mother used to put together a photo collage of us kids for the grandparents every Christmas. David’s daughter puts together a calendar with pictures of the grandkids, and everyone’s birthdays.

Bake cookies, or make a pie, or jam, or whatever your culinary specialty is.

In my next post, I’ll share my gift recipes for this year.

Give a “coupon” redeemable for some kind of service that you provide. As kids, we used to do this a lot. Mowing the lawn, weeding, putting up Christmas decorations, taking someone out to dinner….. use your imagination (and your heart).

Share the love! Family and relationships are life’s true treasures!

Happy holidays to all of my friends and family!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Signature Pumpkin Pie Recipe

This Thanksgiving, I didn’t cook a turkey. I never do. Our 2009 holiday celebration meal consisted of sautéed Kale with cranberries and roasted chestnuts (find the recipe at Elana's Pantry), and for the main course: Pumpkin pie!

Pumpkin pie is my one culinary “specialty”. I didn’t learn how to make a traditional pumpkin pie from my mother, I have pursued and developed my own signature style of pumpkin pie making. In my 20s and 30s, I would buy pumpkins in the fall, cook them up, and go into pie production. Sometimes I gave pies away or brought them to holiday pot-lucks, but mostly Ion (my spouse at the time) and I just ate them. We would cut a pie into quarters and each have a quarter-pie for breakfast. After work (yes, I did used to have a “job”) we’d each have another quarter, finishing off the pie. That’s one pie per day. Now you see the need for pie production! I’d mix up filling for 4 pies at a time and buy frozen crusts (making pie crust always seemed like a poor expenditure of my time). I had a full size oven in those days. But I didn’t believe in “kitchen appliances”, so the pumpkin didn’t get pureed, just kind of mashed up. The texture of “real” pumpkin is quite good, and gave the pies a very interesting “signature style”.

My pumpkin pie’s signature style has evolved over the years, as any artist’s work will. Now, I have a stick blender that makes the mixing go much faster, and my pies have a smoother texture. My current kitchen is very tiny, and the oven is a miniature convection oven with barely enough room inside for a pie pan. Fortunately, over the years I have also lost the desire to have a quarter of a pumpkin pie for breakfast, so the oven’s size is not too much of a limitation. I do still usually refuse to spend my time making pie crust. The store-bought ones (organic ingredients, real butter) come in packages of 2, so my recipe makes 2 pies. My sister, Sue, periodically inspires me to try making pie crust. She makes an awesome, great tasting crust! Her secrets? Three things: King Arthur flour, real butter, and room temperature ingredients.

Pumpkin pie is healthy food. Vegetables are good for us, and my pies are heavy on the squash. I always use fresh organically grown pumpkin, acorn, butternut, or any other kind of squash. Any squash will do. I’ve even made good pies with carrots when our garden produced an abundant harvest. Eggs are from local farms where the chickens really do run free and eat bugs. Extra eggs make this pie “low carb”, and a good source of protein. Yogurt is home-made (by me) from fresh, raw, local goat milk. Local honey is supposed to be healthy, in moderation, and I do prefer a less-sweet pie.

There is nothing quite as good as a warm piece of pumpkin pie with melting vanilla ice cream! So much for the “moderation”….. Life is short – eat dessert first!

CD’s Signature Pumpkin Pie

Makes 2 pies

4c pumpkin or other squash
8t spice* (mix below)
6 eggs
1t salt
2c yogurt or 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk (full fat, low fat, goat, cow, etc)
1 – 1 1/2c honey, agave, maple syrup, barley malt syrup, etc**
1/4c molasses
2 unbaked pie crusts of choice

mix spices with pumpkin, then mix in everything but the milk or yogurt. Add milk or yogurt last. Mixing can be with fork (for lots of pumpkin texture), egg beater, or an electric mixer (for smoothest texture).
Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake at 350ºF for 40 – 50 minutes (until pie is solid when jiggled). In my oven, I need to cover the edges of the crust with foil (not the filling of the pie, just the exposed edges of crust) to keep the crust from burning. Baking time and crust burning tendencies seem to vary widely according to the oven in question. I hear that some folks need to start the baking with the oven at 375º for 15 minutes to brown the crust. I seem to have the opposite problem.

Keep in mind that I am used to baking at 5300’MSL. Lower altitudes might have different results (let me know if you find this to be true….).

*spice mix:

1 part Nutmeg
2 parts Cloves
8 parts Cinnamon
8 parts Ginger (powdered)

**The amount of sweetener is a matter of personal taste. Some like a sweeter pie, some don’t. I like it less sweet, planning to add sweetened whipped cream, yogurt, or ice cream. I currently use 1 cup of honey for the sweetener in this recipe.

Barley malt is less sweet, so more is needed. With maple syrup, it is a good idea to eliminate the molasses so it doesn’t overpower the maple.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!