The Teacup Chronicles

Category: Cinnamon

Winter Spice Granola

Today was very cold – cold as in, when I went for a walk, the hair sticking out from my hat accumulated a nice layer of silvery frost by the time I got home.  My breath came out in great plumes of smoke; inhaling was almost painful and the stairs on the porch creaked disconcertingly when I walked down them, as if they might snap in two.

I’m not complaining, though. I like the cold. Or maybe it isn’t so much that I like the cold, as I like being made aware of how nice it is to be warm. I like bundling in coats and scarves, hats and mittens;  I like the sensation of cold against my warm cheek; I like holding cups filled with warm things in my hands; I like the ability to huddle next to something that warms me to the core.  Warmth is so lovely.  But it couldn’t be so without the cold. The cold is what makes it that way.

So as today is particularly cold, it’s brought to mind how much this time of year is really a celebration of that warmth. We take the light and the warmth missing from the winter’s chill darkness, and we recreate it within. We fill our homes with light, with cheer, with the warmth of fires and ovens and bodies gathered together. We eat warming spices; we bake and roast and stew and fill the house with delicious aromas and the sensations of pure comfort. Therein is where all the sacredness of these days before the Solstice lies, holding the energy of the sun in our homes until it begins its slow return again.

And of course, the oven is the center of all of this activity, the place where all the sensations of merriment and sacredness are born – the wafting aromas and comforting flavors that weave the spell of Christmas over everything. It feels almost like a sacrilege to not have something baking or roasting in the sweet warm depths of the oven in these days leading up to the holidays.

So I’ve been baking. I like to make baskets of homemade goodies to give out for Christmas (an idea that I congratulate myself and curse myself on in equal measure as the days tick away), and you will find me in my every spare moment this time of year stirring pots of jam, baking cookies, melting chocolate and looking all together disheveled and somewhat frantic. But those days are just as much the celebration to me as the opening of presents and the Christmas dinners.

Today I made this granola, which I adapted from a recipe I quite like from Lucid Food by Louisa Shafia, and I would make it again even if it weren’t so delicious just for the aromas it filled the house with. Laced with orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and mace; chocked full of figs, cranberries and currants and sweetened with honey and a generous measure of brandy – it is the flavors and aromas of Christmas all tied into one – like figgy pudding with an oaty crunch. A perfect way to honor the sun God hibernating your oven, and fill your home with cheer.

Winter Spice Granola

Packaged into pretty bags and tied up with ribbon, this granola makes a wonderful present, but do save a little for yourself to munch on as you frantically run around in these hectic pre-Christmas days.  

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups almonds or hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1.5 teaspoons allspice
  • 1 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • salt
  • 1 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1 cup unrefined sunflower oil
  • 1/8 cup apple brandy
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup dried black mission figs, chopped
  • 1 cup dried currants

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Combine the nuts, oats, spices, orange zest and salt in a large bowl and stir well. Add the sweetener, oil, orange juice, brandy and vanilla extract and combine well.

Spread the granola evenly onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir well, and return, rotating the pans. Bake for another 20 minutes, at which point he granola should be nearly dry. If it isn’t, return to the oven for 5 minute intervals until it is.

Add the dried fruit to the pans and stir to mix, and then return to the oven for an additional 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool completely for packaging into airtight containers.

Mulled Cider

When the leaves begin to turn and the air turns chill, when the fields are full of pumpkins and browning cornstalks, then it is time for cider. It should be the official drink of autumn, if you ask me. When I see it arrive on the shelves at the store, then I know, beyond any conceivable doubt, that summer days are now behind me.

Last night we had our first frost warning, and the air turned brisk with the hint of winter on its breath. The wood-stove was lit for the first time, and to celebrate we put a pan of cider filled with spice on top to bubble away and fill the house with its comforting sweetness and warmth. I must say, the scent of wood smoke, the feel of a warm blazing fire, and the scent of apple marrying with cloves and cinnamon is one of the real pleasures of life. It almost (and I say almost) makes one excited about the cold.

While plain ol’ cider is wonderful, mulled cider is a thing perfectly suited in all ways for a chilly day. To hold the warm mug in your hands, inhale steam laced with notes of apple and orange peel, taste sweetness and feel the spice in your belly – is warming in a deeply comforting way. We make it often on those brisk autumn evenings, sipping it huddled next the stove and listening the crackling of wood and wind howling down the chimney.  It is a yearly tradition, a ritual.

Aside from the usual warming spices, I like to throw in a handful of some rooty goodness as well: a little astragalus and Siberian ginseng, two roots that bolster the immune system and help the body adapt to the stress of seasonal changes. Both taste slightly sweet and mostly bland, so they lend little in flavor, but lots in goodness. Paired with all those blood moving, digestive fire kindling and antioxidant packed spices, mulled cider is not only delicious but a health-tonic as well!

A variety of spices can go into mulled cider, and it’s really up to personal preference (or for me, fishing around the spice cabinet and seeing what calls) what you will put in.  While the ingredients vary from night to night in our house, they most often include the following: a few thin slices of fresh ginger;  the zest of an orange; a few cinnamon sticks; a few cloves and star-anise pods; a bit of mace; a few juniper and allspice berries; a vanilla pod and a handful of astragalus and Siberian ginseng roots.  I’ve also been known to throw in some hawthorn berries, a few cardamom pods or even a bay leaf when the mood takes me.

All the ingredients are put into a pan with a half-gallon of cider, and left to simmer on very low heat (or perched atop the wood-stove) for a good 20-30 minutes with a cover on.  Once it’s mulled to your liking, strain it into mugs and top off with a bit of rum if it’s an extra cold night.

Cheers to the beginning of autumn!

A few Valentine’s treats

Today is a day for celebrating the love in your life, and what better way to do so than with a few deliciously herby treats! Below are a few of my favorite “love potions”:  beverages and treats infused with herbal aphrodisiacs. An aphrodisiac is somewhat of a loaded word these days – but to me  is anything (herb, food or otherwise) that helps us to connect with our senses and delight in our bodies. Whether that happens through relaxing, stimulating, strengthening or intoxicating is somewhat different for us all. My love potions have a little something for everyone – herbs to enhance vitality and strengthen the sexual organs; herbs to enhance blood flow; herbs to relax the mind, and of course, a little something to open the senses. Hope you enjoy!

Kava Bliss Chocolates

An intoxicating combination of kava with chocolate, nuts and spice. Topped with coconut and rose powder, they are sure to please!  Kava is a Polynesian herb traditionally used in welcoming ceremonies to ease social tension and bring down social barriers. It reduces anxiety with its calming, relaxing effects and has a somewhat euphoric impact on the mind.  If you are unfamiliar with this herb, start with a smaller amount to see how you react.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup organic dark chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons nut butter (almond, peanut, cashew, etc)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup toasted nuts, chopped (hazelnut, almond, cashew, pecan)
  • 1/2 – 2 teaspoon kava powder (depending on desired strength)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1/4 cup coconut, toasted
  • Rose powder, for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water. When mostly melted, remove from heat and stir until the chocolate is fully melted.
  2. Stir in the nut butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract.  Add the nuts, kava and spices and mix well.
  3. Line a tray with waxed paper. Drop tablespoon sized portions of the chocolate mixture  onto the tray.
  4. Immediately sprinkle the chocolates with the toasted coconut and rose powder. Let cool until firm, then store in an airtight container in a cool dark cupboard until using.

Based off of a recipe in Eat:Taste:Heal by Thomas Yarema, Daniel Rhoda and Johnny Brannigan.

Love Bites

Libido is a product of vitality, and as such, nourishing and strengthening the body is as important to romance (indeed far more important) than roses, red wine and chocolate. Eat a few of these each day to nourish your body, strengthen your sexual organs and enhance your vitality: a little offering to the Aphrodite within us all.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz cocoa powder
  • 1 oz maca powder
  • 1 oz shatavari powder
  • 1 oz ashwagandha powder
  • 1 oz muiri pauma powder
  • 1 tablespoon spice (cinnamon, cardamom, etc)
  • 1 teaspoon rose powder
  • 1/2 cup ground nuts
  • 1/2 – 1 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • coconut for rolling

Directions:

  1. Combine the herbal powders together and mix until well combined.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients (except the coconut) and mix well. You may have to knead the mixture to incorporate all the powder. You should have a thick dough like consistency that is not overly sticky.  Add more honey if you find the mix is too dry.
  3. Pinch the dough into small balls and roll in dried coconut. Store in a sealed container.
  4. Eat 2-3 balls per day.

Based off a recipe by Larken Bunce, RH: a teacher, friend and colleague.

Damiana Mulled Wine

Damiana is a Central American herb  used in matters of love for so long that it was given the Latin name of Damiana aphrodisiaca for a period!  It opens the senses, relaxes the mind, enhances blood flow and uplifts the spirits – the perfect ingredient for a lovely spiced wine to share with someone special.

  • 1 bottle of your favorite red wine
  • 1 oz damiana leaves
  • 1/2 oz rose petals
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 vanilla pod, sliced lengthwise

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients except the damiana and rose petals into a saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Turn off the heat, and add the damiana and rose. Cover, and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Before serving, gently heat until steam begins to rise from the wine. Pour through a strainer and serve in mugs.