Your Favorite Posts of 2011

 

I really want to take a moment to thank all of my readers and blogging friends for your support this year, both on this blog, as well as through Facebook and Twitter! As social media grows, it seems more of our interactions together take place on other websites, for example my Facebook page and Twitter account has amassed so many followers, I am just astounded and overwhelmed. I have really enjoyed getting to know many of you this way! Thank you!

It is hard to believe another year of blogging has gone by! Getting these posts together every year is always a great look back on all the wonderful food we have enjoyed. I hope all of you reading this also had a great 2011 and are all looking forward to 2012! Here are the top 10 posts from this year. If you enjoy something that I post, please click the “like” button at the top, to “like” it on facebook, also feel free to tweet about it or leave me a comment. This is very helpful to me to know what kinds of posts you all want to see!

Please leave a comment and let me know what kinds of posts you would like to see on this blog in 2012! Happy New Year!

 

NUMBER 10: Breakfast of Champions and my First YouTube!


 

Number 9: The BEST Gluten-Free Pancakes EVER

 

Number 8: Drying Apples For Winter Storage

 

Number 7: Raw Avocado Chocolate Pudding

 

Number 6: Coconut Milk Panna Cotta Parfaits

 

Number 5: Musings on Homesteading

 

Number 4: How to Make Kefir at Home…and Why You Should!

 

Number 3: DIY Holiday Gift Series: Dairy-Free Decadent Chocolate Truffles

 

Number 2: Making Yogurt at Home: Filmjölk

 

And your favorite post of 2011: Number 1: Got Raw Milk? Food Freedom Fighters!


DIY Holiday Gift Series: Maple Popcorn

 

WARNING: the next few weeks will be possible SPOILERS for family and friends


Don’t you just love all these healthy treats I have been sharing in this series? I just love sharing all these goodies with you! I am amazed at how good, “good for you” treats can really taste. I gotta say, it makes me feel really good about giving them to my loved ones (and sampling them to make sure they are good enough to send!)

This past weekend I experimented with a batch of Maple Popcorn. I have an Uncle who got addicted to it when he and my Auntie came to visit us a year or so ago. I have to be honest, like delivery pizza I never liked popcorn. It was always stale tasting or covered in that nasty fake butter. But when I had it once, made on the stove top using real butter, I discovered how much I liked it! Since then, it has been a sometimes snack in our household and I really did enjoy the maple popcorn that my Uncle got hooked on.

So, I thought maple popcorn would be a great gift to send for the holidays – nothing says Vermont like maple and popcorn is so lightweight and easy to ship! When I saw a recipe for Healthy Caramel Corn on Cheeseslave’s blog, I thought it would be a good base for a maple version and was it ever! I nailed it on the first batch, just by modifying her recipe to include maple. It was so good and incredibly fast and easy to prepare!

I’ll share a little secret with you though…this is made even better by grating some parmesan cheese on top…I admit to having that weird taste bud that loves sweet and salty or sour together rather than one or the other alone. Recently I found out it could be genetic (which explains why so many people think it is weird) thanks to another blogger who also solved a genealogical mystery for me.

ANYWAY, before I go way off on a crazy genealogy tangent now (I probably will at a later date), let me share with you how I packed the maple popcorn. I decided it would be cute to package them in white paper bags, decorated with holiday stamps!

I found this adorable snowflake stamp set, but when I got the stamps, I was disappointed to find that the stamp pads did not work on white paper! So I had to rush order some colors that would work!

Don’t they look cute and festive?

So go on and enjoy a bowl this weekend! It is a really tasty treat that everyone can feel good about eating!

 

Maple Popcorn (based on Healthy Caramel Corn from Cheeseslave)

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup un-popped organic popcorn
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup 100% pure maple syrup
¼ cup really good butter
Salt to taste

METHOD:

Put the popcorn and coconut oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven and turn the heat up to high, put the lid on.

After a few minutes, you will hear the popcorn start to pop. I like to shake the pot around a few times to make sure the un-popped kernels go to the bottom to pop. After a few minutes, the popcorn will stop popping. Listen closely and when the pops slow down, remove the pot from the heat. Act quickly and pour the popped popcorn into a large bowl (you might need two bowls). If you leave it in the stockpot, the popcorn at the bottom will get burned.

Put the stockpot on low heat and add the maple and butter. Stir until blended and completely melted. Pour the butter/maple blend on the popped popcorn. Toss in a few pinches of sea salt and mix it all together until everything is well-incorporated. If you are crazy like me, grate some parm on top. If you have trouble getting it mixed together in the bowls, you can put it back into the stockpot to mix it. Makes about 6 cups of popcorn per batch.

DIY Holiday Gift Series: Decadent Chocolate Truffles

 

WARNING: the next few weeks will be possible SPOILERS for family and friends

Scandinavian Snowball Truffles

Truffles are so good, so decadent, and so seductive. For someone like me who doesn’t usually get all the fuss about chocolate, I can easily get behind truffles. Deliciously creamy bites of dark chocolate bliss are a sure winner for everyone and this is certainly the time of year to indulge.

But what if truffles were made with good, wholesome ingredients, so even as an indulgence you are getting a lot of good things your body needs along with it – like healthy and beneficial fat such as coconut milk, coconut oil, fair trade dark cocoa powder and allergen friendly chocolate?

Years ago, when I had a Trader Joe’s near me, I would get boxes of their truffles to give as gifts to people. So I knew one DIY holiday gift I wanted to make this year was truffles. I was inspired by Nourished Kitchen’s recipe (the post is worth a read – it tells her sweet and lovely wedding story) and in fact my Solstice Spice truffles are almost exactly like Jenny’s Mayan Chocolate Truffles. But I wanted to branch out a bit from her recipe and make a flavor with all the spices that remind me of Yuletide kitchens in Norway – cardamom and anise with coconut, and this is how Scandinavian Snowball truffles were born.

As I indicated last holiday season, when I “came out” on the blog as a Pagan, I talked about the Winter Solstice and how we celebrate this time of year. I follow the spiritual pathways of my Northern European ancestors who call this celebration time Yule. For Pagans of various denominations, this time of year is also about a birth, the birth of the Sun. Just like other religious celebrations during this time of year, we celebrate a festival of lights and honor the warming sun which on the Winter Solstice ends the darkest time of the year, giving birth to longer days. So this time of year I like to honor the sun and remember with fondness the time I spent in Norway, by incorporating the flavors and food culture into my celebrations. This celebration was the inspiration for the flavor of these truffles – warming and spicy.

To make it easy for my recipients, I made each flavor in a different shape. One I cut into “rustic” (to borrow Jenny’s language) triangular shapes, and the other, I used my hands to roll into a traditional ball shape. Each truffle is about a rough teaspoon in size. Each recipe makes about 100 truffles. As always, I included a card with the package that contains the ingredients. I made the package from a square of natural, unbleached parchment paper and tied with raffia.

INGREDIENTS: Solstice Spice:

20 ounces chocolate with high cocoa content, chopped coarsely (or chips) – I used Enjoy Life: Dairy, Soy and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chips
4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper powder
2 vanilla beans, opened and scraped
pinch unrefined sea salt
4 cups full-fat coconut milk
4 TBS coconut oil
cocoa powder ( @¼ cup) and a few dashes cinnamon mixed, for dredging truffles

INGREDIENTS: Scandinavian Snowballs:

20 ounces chocolate with high cocoa content, chopped coarsely (or chips) – I used Enjoy Life: Dairy, Soy and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chips
1 tsp cardamom, ground
½ tsp star anise, ground
1 vanilla bean, opened and scraped
pinch unrefined sea salt
4 cups full-fat coconut milk
4 TBS coconut oil
cocoa powder and desiccated coconut mixed (@ ¼ cup each), for dredging truffles

METHOD:

1. Toss chopped chocolate into a mixing bowl with the spices, scraped vanilla bean and a dash unrefined sea salt.
2. Bring coconut milk and coconut oil to a slow simmer in a saucepan over a moderate flame.
3. Pour coconut milk and oil over the chopped chocolate and seasonings then stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is thoroughly melted and the mixture, or ganache, becomes thick, uniform and glossy.
4. Transfer the mixture into a loaf pan or glass baking dish with sides lined with parchment paper, and allow it to harden in the refrigerator for eight to twelve hours, or overnight.
5. After the chocolate has hardened in the refrigerator for eight to twelve hours, remove it, unmold it from the parchment paper and carve it into irregular bite-sized chunks or for balls, use a one tsp measuring spoon
6. Toss the chunks with cocoa powder mixture and serve. Makes about 100 tsp sized balls and/or rustic chunks per recipe.
NOTES: Unless you live in a very hot climate, these truffles should keep at room temperature indefinitely.

* Be sure to click on the DIY Holiday Gift Series tag to see all the posts in this series!

DIY Holiday Gift Series: Chai Tea Spice Mix

 

WARNING: the next few weeks will be possible SPOILERS for family and friends.

In my last post I talked about why we have decided to go the DIY route when it comes to holiday gift giving. I also shared the edible gifts we made last year, mostly cookies. As promised, here is the first in this year’s series of DIY Holiday Food Gifts!

In creating gift items, I really wanted to focus on warming qualities this time of year, things that say “comfort & indulgence” but are still healthy. There is nothing more comforting that a nice steaming glass of spicy, flavorful chai tea and most people enjoy chai. The very smell of it warms you up. So when I came across a recipe for Chai Tea Spice Mix, I immediately put it on my list of potential gifts.

With dried citrus and crushed whole spices the mix looks as good as it smells, and so it was easy to make the decision to make it, although I did modify it. This recipe makes 36 servings, each serving is 2 TBS of the mix which would make an entire pot of Chai Tea, or can be divided in half to make two 2 cup servings. I packed the chai spice mix in 100% cotton muslin bags, so the bags can be used to make the tea and I made sure to include a recipe card for making a delicious pot of Chai Tea and also included a list of ingredients:

Happy Holidays!

This bag contains 2 tablespoons of Chai Tea Spice Blend. To make Chai Tea you will need:
3/4 cup(s) water
1 1/2 tablespoon(s) black tea (or one tea bag)
1 tablespoon chai spice blend (contains: Darjeeling tea, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, allspice berries and dried clementine)
1 1/4 cup(s) milk or milk substitute
1 TBS of honey

To Make Chai Tea:
Boil ¾ cup of water and steep one bag of black tea or 1 TBS of black loose leaf tea with the spice mix (if you are using a regular tea bag, you will need something like a tea ball to steep the chai mix in at the same time). Then add 1 ¼ cup of milk and 1 TBS of sweetener, serves two 8 oz. cups of chai tea. Or you can add the entire contents of the bag (keep it in the bag for easy use) and steep with your favorite pot of black tea for a special holiday treat!

To Make Spice Mix:

INGREDIENTS:

5 clementines, sliced thin
1/2 cup cardamom pods, crushed with a mortar and pestle
12 cinnamon sticks, crushed with a mortar and pestle
2 TBS whole cloves
2 TBS black peppercorns with a mortar and pestle
2 TBS allspice berries with a mortar and pestle
1TBS coriander seeds with a mortar and pestle
1/4 cup whole star anise
1/2 cup loose Darjeeling tea

METHOD:

Dry the orange: Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the orange into 1/8-inch-thick rounds and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake, turning occasionally, until dry — 2 to 3 hours.
Make spice mix: Combine the dried orange and the rest of the ingredients except the tea in a large bowl and toss to combine. Store the spice blend in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

*note: We have about 20 families or couples on our holiday list this year and all packages need to be shipped. So I tried to avoid anything in glass jars anything liquid, etc. I also tried to keep in mind things that would be lightweight and easy to ship. The cost for all of the food gifts including ingredients, decorating and packaging runs about $8-10 per package, which isn’t bad at all, especially when you see the quality and diversity of the packages. Some packages are even less, as for smaller families and couples, we are sending only a few of the items, instead of all.
* Be sure to click on the DIY Holiday Gift Series tag to see all the posts in this series!

DIY Holiday Gift Series: Why I DIY.

 

WARNING: the next few weeks will be possible SPOILERS for family and friends.

(Venetian Biscotti: see recipe link at end of post)

This is going to be one of those posts. I decided a few years ago that I was literally done with the stress of holiday shopping. DONE. There were some things in my personal life going on at the time that lead me to re-evaluate the whole idea of gift-giving and the true meaning of the holidays- who I spend time with, or effort on and why. Do I spread myself thin and my wallet on people I am obligated to or do I give, truly give something meaningful to those who matter most?

Maybe that sounds trite because I am sure in the frenzy of the holiday season people often evaluate why they are throwing themselves in the fray, literally putting themselves in harm’s way (have you seen the youtube videos of Black Friday stampedes???) and for what, to get some piece of plastic, electronic or otherwise, usually made in another country (taking away jobs from the USA, or your own country, wherever you may live) to give to someone many times under feelings of obligation and with a lot of stress – financial or otherwise because we feel like we have to in order to make someone happy? This was not the road to holiday happiness for me.

(Pfeffernusse Shortbread: see recipe link at end of post)

OK, now I am starting to get all ba-hum-buggy, which is so far from my intent. I am full of the holiday spirit! But really this kind of gift-giving, which inevitably includes hours wandering around shops and shopping malls searching for inspiration, for a gift to give someone I love to show them how important they are to me, was always a fruitless act. These kinds of gifts have no soul. I don’t know where they were made, or by whom, or under what conditions. I don’t know if they are full of materials that might end up harming the person, even on a small level. Is this how I show my love?

This is not to say I don’t have electronics in my house or I don’t enjoy modern conveniences because I do, but the question is, is this the right kind of gift to give someone in this instance? The season of giving is about that – to give of yourself, to show appreciation, love and compassion for your fellow human, not to get caught up in the materialism that really ends up in a pile forgotten with all the other “toys” of previous years. Is all that stress worth it? Roberto and I even stopped giving gifts to each other, and decided instead to spend the time and money just being together, taking a small trip to Quebec (we are lucky enough to be able to drive there!) to enjoy the beautiful scenery, snowshoe and eat really good food together. It is also my birthday in December, so we do 2 for 1! What more could we ask for than a few quiet days together to connect before the hubbub of the holidays?

(Rosemary Herbal Honey and my official taste tester! : see recipe link at end of post)

In that same vein I decided a few years ago, that I was going to either buy gifts locally or handmade from artisans that I could meet, or at least get to know online, talk to them about their products, etc. and I was also going the route of handmade gifts. Treats which are good for my recipients that will hopefully bring them some cheer, a little bit of comfort and joy during the holiday season. Something to nourish the soul, the spirit, something I could make with my own hands, putting my intention into it, intentions of love, gratitude and peace, because really this is the gift I want for my loved ones, near and far.

I decided to opt out of the craziness and share the fruits of my labor and my joy of creating food for people and enjoying every minute of it!

I also had to be realistic about who would be the recipients as well. It couldn’t be a ton of people, or everyone that I know and care about, so as not to overwhelm myself or my wallet because again, this is not what holidays are for. This is the hard part. I have to remind myself constantly of this, that I am only human, that there is only so much time in the day, etc. because I often catch myself wanting to fall back into old patterns of “getting a little something” for someone to show my appreciation. But that is not realistic.

So, I am also a huge fan of the holiday card exchange! Honestly getting a card in the mail from a friend far away is like getting a big hug and is better than any $5 or less trinket they could buy me and I believe my friends don’t deserve another little piece of non-descript holiday trinket they then feel bad about throwing away. In fact some of my favorite gifts of times past have been from relatives or friends that are items of theirs that I have always loved and they gift it to me (what an honor, what love!). Or just time spent with loved ones- good food, laughter and fun times together. That to me is THE BEST gift in the world.

So for this reason, I want to share with you some really wonderful and economical DIY Gift ideas over the next few weeks. Gifts, treats that are truly from you, something you put fore-thought, time, effort and love into. I would be surprised if your loved ones don’t love and appreciate these gifts all the more, even if they are unconventional, and I would bet they will look forward to them each year, something truly special and from the heart.

(Fruit and Nut Drops: : see recipe link at end of post)

To get you started are some ideas from last year! A whole series of cookies!

*Note: not all of my DIY food gifts are gluten-free, since my recipients are not gluten-free. Another thing about gift giving is give what you think your recipients will enjoy, not necessarily what your dietary restrictions are. That said, all recipes are using whole food ingredients.

Pfeffernusse Shortbread (Gluten, Sugar and Egg Free)

Venetian Polenta & Sesame Biscotti (Gluten Free)

No Bake Fruit and Nut Drop Cookies ( Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Egg-free)

Assorted Biscotti

Lavender Limoncello La Befana Stars

Herbal Honey

* Be sure to click on the DIY Holiday Gift Series tag to see all the posts in this series!