Creating a Sanctuary called Home ~ A Recipe for a lovely pot of Tea and a fragrant Herbal Bath...

 

 

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“ I am inclined to think bathing one of the necessaries of life.”

Henry David Thoreau

I come from a family that thinks every problem in life can be solved in a warm bath. That may be a little broad perhaps, but I do know that for myself almost anything is a little less daunting after I’ve had a good soak. My mother swore by a hot bath with her Shalimar bath oil first thing in the morning before she went off to work. I loved her Shalimar, I've written about it so many times. My father swore that it smelled like chocolate mousse, and of course he loved that, but to me it was simply warm, sweet, rich and elegant. She'd start with the bath oil and would then layer it with lotion and perfume. All I need is one breath of that scent to cross my path and it I begin to smile.  Mom never showered, because she came from the generation that got their hair done at the beauty parlor every week, so god forbid any warm water ever touched it between visits! 

I inherited my love for a steamy hot bath from her and in the depths of midwinter almost nothing is as soothing to me as a long soak in the tub. I love to light candles and relax in the scented water with a steaming cup of cinnamon, rose petal and cream tea that I make myself by simply tossing handfuls of organic rose petals, Tulsi and cracked cinnamon chips into my teapot and adding boiled water, a pat of butter, several tablespoons of honey, a ½ a cup of madeira and some light cream. This delicious tea will quickly turn a warm bath a simple and easy luxury!

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Although I do still love the scent of Shalimar, these days I opt for an herbal bath that I make myself, that may surprise you because it starts as a herbal tincture. This is a wonderful alternative to bath salts which I cannot use because they dry out my skin.  This can be added to your bath in any proportion and the scent is just lovely. To a quart of spring water, add generous handfuls of dried rose petals, lavender, chamomile, calendula, mint and bay. You can even add a vanilla bean or some organic vanilla extract. Let it simmer over a low heat for about 15 minutes and then let the whole thing cool. Strain it and add about 15 drops of essential oil of rose, 15 drops of essential oil of Ylang Ylang and a cup of regular or blackberry brandy which will help preserve the scent. You can add a bit of food grade coloring for fun if you like, just to make it pretty.  Put it into a glass bottle and store it in a cool dark  place.  The scent will hold for close to a year although you’ll use it up long before that! To use, simply draw your bath and then add a cup or two of the tincture along with a tablespoon of sweet almond oil. Climb into the bath with a cup of tea, the soundtrack of your choice, and just relax.


30 days of Christmas Cheer ~ Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

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I am trying like hell to channel my rage into action. It isn't easy when I have dear friends who are losing three out of four parents as I type this. 

This isn't about not trusting your friends and  family members...this is about an enemy we cannot see. If your family members think that you don't love them because you insist upon wearing a mask in their presence? Ask them what their definition of love is? Does it include dying for them?

Remember please. Stay Home. Stay physically distant. Wash your hands. Wear a mask and a face shield when you have to be inside, in a car together and in public. 

I remember the first time I heard this song. There was no snow in Africa...the country was in deep famine. People were starving. This year, listening to it again took on new meaning. If you are reading this, you’re probably not starving, homeless or in a food line. You may be jobless but you have a safety net to hold you until you can work again or a family that is helping you until this is over.

Covid and the senseless way it was handled has destroyed much for all of us. 

All over this country, children are starving. 

All over this country, people are sick.

All along our borders, children are locked in cages separated sometimes forever from their parents. 

All over this country people are losing their homes.

All over this country people are dying. 

All over this country, our fellow Americans are waking up to the realization that there are empty chairs at their tables, vacated forever and completely senselessly because of a virus that has been mishandled at the very top of our Government and dismissed by our President.  

Damn it. If you're reading this you can do something. Just do it. 

 

You can start here. Feeding America.  

Please. 

 


30 days of Christmas Cheer ~ Lovely , Luscious and Easy Eggnog!

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“The house was bright that night, with candles lit in the windows, and bunches of holly and ivy fixed to the staircase and the doorposts. There were not so many pipers in the Highlands as there had been before Culloden, but one had been found, and a fiddler as well, and music floated up the stairwell, mixed with the heady scent of rum punch, plum cake, almond squirts, and Savoy biscuits.
Jamie had come down late and hesitant. Many people here he had not seen in nearly ten years, and he was not eager to see them now, feeling changed and distant as he did. But Jenny had made him a new shirt, brushed and mended his coat, and combed his hair smooth and plaited it for him before going downstairs to see to the cooking. He had no excuse to linger, and at last had come down, into the noise and swirl of the gathering.


Excerpt From: Diana Gabaldon. “Voyager.”  
 
Fast forward into this century , my brother in law Peter is a quiet, very laid back research scientist. 362 days of the year he is a semi strict vegetarian, who hardly ever touches alcohol, let alone massive amounts of eggs and cream! However on Solstice Eve,  Christmas day and New Years eve, he has been known to ask me for this eggnog and being the terrific guy that he is, I never refuse to make it for him! It's simply known in our family as Peter's eggnog and it's delicious! It's so easy to make and it's even better when served in a punchbowl surrounded by spicy yuletide greenery! 
 
 This recipe is no less magical and absolutely decadent! It's so easy to make and it's even better when served in a punchbowl surrounded by spicy yuletide greenery! You can make the recipe from scratch if you desire and if I have the time,  I will using whole organic eggs, milk, sugar and cream, but frankly when the good organic eggnogs are so plentiful why bother and you have the added bonus of not having to worry about raw eggs! Also, if you have anyone in your family who is allergic to milk or eggs, don't forget about so many of the luscious dairy free eggnogs. This year we've become addicted to Trader Joes Almond Nog and Whole Foods Almond Nog is excellent as well! 
 
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Actually all of the dairy free milk companies are creating wonderful "eggnogs" that you can use as the base for this recipe. They're absolutely delicious  and you will be able to serve a delicious and festive holiday beverage that leaves no one feeling left out! 
 
The good news for those going dairy free this year is that you don't even have to omit the whipped cream because there's plenty of fabulous dairy free whipped cream available in cans and ready to use like just like Redi Whip. You should be able to find any of them easily at your local grocers.
 
At any rate every year, people beg me for this recipe and I'm always so embarrassed to tell them just how easy it is...with this one it's all in the presentation (and the rum!) At last years Winter Solstice party I think that we went through about 3 punch bowls of it and lots of the RSVP's for every Solstice party start with "Ill see you around the eggnog bowl!" 
 
All you will need is :
 
3 quarts of organic eggnog or dairy free nog ( Please splurge on the organic if you're serving eggnog, you won't be sorry!)
 
About 2 cups of really good rum! I personally love the Captain Morgan's special reserve spiced rum for this recipe. It's already infused with so many spices and vanilla, that it's practically perfume! ( And I have been known to use it as such!)
 
About 6 cups of dried raisins that you've soaked for about 6 hours in a lovely single malt scotch ,reserving the scotch for the eggnog as well! 
 
Lots of whipped cream that has been infused with vanilla extract, brown sugar and some rum flavoring. For this I like to beat my whipped cream by hand in a copper bowl with a whisk. It takes a little longer but the cream is a wonderful silken consistency. Don't worry if you don't have a copper bowl and just do it the traditional way. It will be just as yummy!
 
Then add a liberal sprinkling of:
 
Nutmeg for joy and good luck, Cinnamon for love and prosperity and Allspice for continuous good health throughout the year!
 
The recipe itself is quite easy, simply put the eggnog into a punch bowl and whisk in the rum and brandy. Make sure that everyone in the kitchen gets to stir the eggnog once or twice and make a wish! Ladle the whipped cream onto the eggnog so that it looks like fluffy clouds of cream, sprinkle with the spices listed above and serve. Put some of the raisins into each serving. 
 
You will need to add more whipped cream on top as the evening unfolds because the cream continuously  gets folded into the eggnog, making it AMAZING! Serve in a lovely punch glass or a pretty tea cup with a kiss and a wish for a marvelous New Year! 
 
I'm leaving you with a merry and  magical Solstice round to put you in the mood for the holidays...
 


30 Days of Christmas Cheer ~ The Grande Dessert Table, a sweet twist on a Holiday Cocktail Party!

 

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A cocktail party can easily be transformed into the best holiday gathering (in my mind) of all, a grand dessert buffet that usually starts at around 10:00 pm. I love to meet my guests at the door with a champagne cocktail and I always serve just a few canapés, like a cheese puff or mushroom toast just in case that my guests haven’t had much dinner.

The fun of a party like this is in the dramatic way that you present it! Have all of the candles lit in the room, but keep your guests as far away from the table as possible so that they can see the flickering flames of the candles but not the food. I'd pick a fabulous piece of music to be playing (Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy or something wonderful like that!) and at about 11:00 I'd throw open the doors and invite everyone to gather at the dessert table.

 

 



There are very few things as delightful to the child in all of us, as a heavily laden table just groaning under the weight of an abundance of gorgeous desserts! What follows here is just a
partial list of things that I love, because I am sure that all of you have several specialties that would be just perfect for such an evening!
Make sure that you have a bowl of fresh fruit and lots of whipped cream or zabaglione to go with it!

I always like to have one yummy jam trifle, or maybe two! Trifles are the dessert versions of a layered salad! They look simply beautiful in a cut glass bowl, or better yet, if you’re lucky enough to own a trifle bowl, use it. There’s nothing prettier than layers of ladyfingers and glistening jams, and a trifle in spite of its fancy name is among the easiest of all desserts to create.

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For a wonderful gathering such as this, a Bouche de' Noel is a very traditional, delicious chocolate and chestnut and praline dessert. It is a fantastic creation, shaped like a Yule log and fancifully decorated with mushrooms and greens made from marzipan and meringue!

Displayed on your grandmother’s tea service tray and surrounded by holly and fresh greens, this is one of the most beautiful desserts of the season! There are lots of easy recipes for a Bouche de’ Noel, and I think that they are so much fun to make, but if time is short, you can usually purchase a very good one from a specialty baker!

Next, pile those wonderful little cream puffs that you can buy frozen onto any gorgeous platter and have them drizzled with chocolate syrup, raspberry or caramel, and garnished with some sugared mint leaves. You can also simply serve them dusted with
confectioners’ sugar for a snowy effect and serve the sauces on the side in a gravy boat!

 

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You’ll need a rich chocolate mousse, which is guaranteed to disappear immediately as well as the platter of chocolate covered strawberries served alongside of it and if you can find them, the jewel tones of glaceed fruit are so pretty on a holiday table.
The exquisitely buttery French apple tart known as the Tarte Tatin is a fine addition to your buffet and of course, you’ll need one really grand chafing dish dessert like a Bananas Foster served with a simple vanilla bean ice cream!


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I would also mound some chocolate truffles into lovely compote, a piece which is traditionally used to serve a spiced fruit or chutney. I might even consider filling those champagne glasses that I spoke of before with a creamy rice pudding, fragrantly dusted with cinnamon, and placed for effect on my silver pedestal cake plate! In fact, make use of all of the things that you own that have pedestals or feet. Along with a liberal use of candlesticks in all materials, shapes and sizes, as well as sparkling pieces of cut and smooth crystal, these pieces will provide height and interest to your table!
The last thing that you’ll need to round out the dessert offering is a cheese platter, with wedges of Brie, Camembert, and some really good cheddar! A Stilton cheese is very traditional cheese to serve right now, and comes directly from England, cloaked in wonderful drama and ritual. I always feature my cheeses on the sideboard with several different bottles of port and Madeira wine.

I have many cordial and small wine glasses that were my grandmothers, and this is what I use them for. Just some assorted good bread, crackers, cheese and fruit and you're all set to shine!

For beverages, a coffee bar provides a very festive end to the evening, with an assortment of liqueurs, as well as the traditional offerings of cream and sugar. You could even provide more champagne but with several wonderful choices of liqueur. Don’t forget a nice assortment of non-alcoholic sparklers, or you might want to serve a special non-alcoholic cocktail! My absolute favorite is called “A Partridge in a Pear Tree” and it’s made from sparkling water, pear nectar, a splash of lime juice and then poured into a martini glass filled with crushed ice, then garnished with a piece of candied ginger and a sprinkling of edible gold leaf if you can find it!

 

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The last thing that I would create for the table is a wassail bowl, a gorgeous arrangement all by itself! For this I usually use my silver punch bowl, although a old cast iron cauldron or copper kettle is so pleasing to look at and historically appropriate. If you use copper, please make sure that it has a tin or steel lining so that the flavours don’t react with the metal to cause a bitter taste. I own a large copper soup kettle, and when my punch bowl is filled with eggnog, I use it for the wassail.

My wassail recipe is pretty simple, blending cinnamon stick, clove, allspice, cranberry juice, apple cider, sugar syrup, Calvados and brandy, mixed together and heated through, then served with a slice of sugared apple!

A bowl of steaming wassail is a wonderful aromatic welcome into your home, and if you’ve got a wonderful foyer, put the bowl there surrounded by masses of fresh greenery and berries “to drive the cold winter away” as the front door opens!
You may be wondering what to serve all of this on, and I’ll bet that we can find some holiday china right now in your cupboards!

You're wondering how?

 

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Many of us have inherited stacks of Royal Copenhagen or Bing and Grondahl collectible Christmas plates. However, because traditionally they are hanging on the wall, no one ever knows what else to do with them, so they sit year after year gathering dust, when really they are the best holiday appetizer/ salad/dessert plates ever made! They are just the right size, and they can go into the dishwasher without any problem at all. I see stacks of them all of the time at my neighborhood Goodwill stores if you don't have any and they're always really affordable. 

Handcrafted in such lovely wintry shades of cobalt blue and soft white, they are just begging to be given the honour that they deserve! I know of no better way to make them happy then to heap them full of delicious food.
Just an aside here, one of the most commonly asked questions about fine china is “Can I put my formal dishes in the dishwasher?” The answer is a resounding yes, and as a matter of fact, almost any plate made within the last 25 years is dishwasher safe.

It’s not the dishwasher that ruins your good dishes; believe it or not it’s the soap! Use about half of the amount of soap
recommended, and make sure that you let everything, especially the gold trim cool down, before you remove your dishes. That’s all that’s needed, and what this means is that there’s no excuse to not use the lovely things that you own. Beautiful food presentation is a feast for your eyes and uplifting to your spirit, and it’s so easy to make anything look wonderful when you put it on a silver tray or a beautiful service plate.

I’ve always gotten such pleasure from bringing out lovely old things, and inventing new uses for them. Old silver with monograms, glasses with initials, linens with fancy embroidery... all of these things make up your shared personal history. Old silver that has a beautiful hand engraved monogram is a treasure. I practically cried every time someone would bring a set of it into the store to have the engraving removed. You can’t get monograms like that anymore; very rarely do you find an engraver with that skill.

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Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good, and bringing this bit of history into the party atmosphere connects the past with the yet unknown future, and lets your guests feel like they’ve been welcomed into a home that’s emotionally rich and very special!
Having said all of this, I realize that I’ve left out the three most magical ingredients that I know of to create a wonderful holiday party.
First, make sure that you have a gingerbread house, lots of undecorated cookies and bowls of frosting, candy and plenty of children around to decorate and eat them!

 A gift for each woman and child is a lovely reminder of your friendship and a continuation of such a special evening, how about several narcissus bulbs for fragrant midwinter blooms or a votive candle to light the New Year?


And last but not least, my personal favorite, LOTS OF MISTLETOE FOR KISSING UNDER!"

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30 days of Christmas Cheer ~ Cheesy, Gooey Melty Gougere..bite sized bits of Comfort & Joy!

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Gougere are sexy hot little puffs of Pate' Choux , filled with gouda cheese and incredible flavor. The best part, is that they're really easy to make and are a perfect quick appetizer to be served with an impromptu glass of champagne! They're also my favorite comfort food, to be served piping hot with a bowl of tomato bisque that's been liberally laced with a tablespoon or two of fine Madeira! You can also split them open and stuff them with hot chicken or salmon salad or goat cheese. They're basically wee little magically cheesy cream puffs!

This is Mirielle Guilliano's recipe from the "French Women don't get Fat" website and it's really a good one. Sometimes I change the cheeses, using a traditional gruyere and smoked gouda mixture. Mostly, I just leave the recipe as is because why mess with perfection?  It's such a quick and easy recipe, once you make them, you'll always have the ingredients on hand. You could add minced pancetta if you wished, or chives. One note, don't be tempted to substitute garlic or onion for the shallots. This is important as the shallots lend a sweet and creamy note that's not too strong. Also ? There is no substitute for cumin here. It's an absolutely beautiful flavor and fragrance blended with all of this cheese. 

Try these the next time you get caught with surprise guests or make them for your next holiday cocktail party. Once you get the hang of making the dough it's really simple and your friends will appreciate such an exquisite treat. They don't need to know that it took you less than an hour! 

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour
5 eggs
2 ounces Gouda (or half
Gouda, half Comté or Gruyere), diced
1⁄2 teaspoon cumin seeds

Yield: 8 servings

RECIPE

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Warm the oil in a frying pan. Add the shallots, and cook over low heat until golden. Let cool.

Warm 2⁄3 cup water in a saucepan, and add the butter and salt. At the boiling point, add the flour all at once, and whisk it with the liquid until a compact, homogenous ball forms. Remove from the heat, and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the dough is sticky and supple.

Add the cooled shallots to dough. Gently incorporate the cheese and cumin seeds.

Make small balls of dough with a heaping teaspoon, and place them 1 inch apart on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the puffs are well puffed and golden. Serve lukewarm.

 


30 Days of Christmas Cheer ~ Just in time for the Winter Solstice...Bourbon Milk Punch!

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I love milk punch! This relatively old recipe is one that never seems to lose its intrigue and in my mind is a too often overlooked staple of the holiday season. I'd had it many times, but had forgotten about it over the course of many years as delicious organic eggnog became so readily available in the stores. However my good friend Justin teased me one day with the promise of a homemade milk punch that would swear me off of eggnog forever. I waited and waited and then one day he waltzed into my Solstice party with two bottles of a wonderfully creamy and decadent  wintry white drink! 
 
He intrigued me with tales of it's creation, how it had been carefully mixed, re-poured and allowed to mellow for three days in a deep chilly snow bank. I opened the bottle and poured a small glass. It was incomparable, a divine taste of nostalgia and yet so completely modern...one of the sexiest flavors that I'd ever sipped! At first taste there was ice cold cream and vanilla but seconds later I was captivated by the flavor of a  really great Bourbon laced with a liberal sprinkling of sugar and nutmeg...irresistible!
 
I was astonished, how could any one thing taste so good? There is a whole lots of magic going on here....that can be the only excuse. 
 
 I have begged him for the recipe which he will not divulge. So, I have played with the recipe myself and I must admit that I think that I've done the memory of that first sip justice. Milk Punch is an ancient drink that has been reinvented many times over the centuries. Some recipes call for lemon juice but I don't like those. I prefer the experience of pure cream on snow with a bit of lemon zest for sunshine, bourbon for frolicking and lots of freshly grated nutmeg for warmth. 
 
This recipe makes a wonderful gift to bring with you to winter gatherings. My friend delivers his in old  fashioned glass milk bottles with a request to save them for next year and promising refills! He walked into my Winter Solstice gathering last year with two of those bottles and at first sip I was smitten again! Treat yourself and use organic milk , half and half and cream. You'll get the great glass bottles that way and a much richer flavor and the benefit will be that you can start your own holiday tradition but be warned , once you make this you'll never be allowed to stop, it's that good!
 
For about 18 cups of heaven you will need:
 
4 quarts of organic whole milk
3 cups of organic half and half
2 pints of organic whipping cream
4 cups of really good Bourbon ( I splurge and use Blantons in this one)
2 heaping cups of confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons of organic vanilla extract
3 heaping tablespoons of freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon of black pepper
Lots (and I really do mean lots!) of freshly grated nutmeg to taste
 
Simply pour the milk, half and half and cream into a bowl and blend for a few seconds. Add the Bourbon , sugar and vanilla, blend for a minute until frothy. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. If you were bottling this and you have lovely winters snow on your hands I'd tell you to place the full bottles outside in the drifts as this will make the finished product thick and slushy! (You'll need one extra bottle to accommodate the overflow!) Sans snow, simply place the bottles in the refrigerator and allow to chill! You can even put a bottle in the freezer for about an hour before serving and it makes the finished product wonderfully creamy! 
 
Allow enough time for the finished punch to mellow for about two days before serving or the Bourbon will taste too raw. To serve, just pour the milk punch into a julep cup or a punch glass and enjoy! If it's cold enough, no ice will be needed! If you're making it for a party, put it into a punch bowl that is sitting on top of an ice ring or in a larger bowl of ice to keep it cold but not diluted. Place some lovely wintry greens around the base of the bowl and you'll have a wonderful cocktail for a buffet that's delightfully reminiscent of a really old fashioned holiday!
 
Now for fun watch this great video. He makes his with Brandy which is equally as good although I do prefer bourbon myself. He also uses simple syrup while I definitely prefer the confectioners sugar because I think that it makes it thicker. His is a great recipe for one cocktail at a time. Enjoy!
 
 
 
Photograph from Jim Beam

30 Days of Christmas Cheer ~ Oh Christmas Tree....

 

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I love Christmas trees...Well actually I love everything about Christmas and the holiday season as a rule. When I was a kid growing up, until I was about 6, we didn't have a tree. We really didn't celebrate much of anything because my parents were very reformed Jews, so I never grew up having much connection to Hanukkah either. We lived in Pepper Pike, Ohio, and we were one of only a few Jewish families living there at the time. I still remember the day my older brother and sister came home and told my parents that it was time to get a Christmas Tree..."for Beth so she didn't feel like she didn't belong", but I still remember their smiles as we strung the popcorn, oranges and cranberries to decorate it.

I think that it was easy for my mother to embrace because she grew up in Champaign Urbana, Illinois, and everyone celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah there for the sake of celebrating, which in my mind is simply the most extraordinary reason to do any of this. Mom became as my sister put it, "The Auntie Mame of Celebrations!" From that moment on, Christmas became something to really look forward to in our house because from that moment on, she celebrated it with abandon. She brought back her own mothers Christmas pudding recipe and made it on occasion (it takes a month!) and one year she taught me to make fruitcake when I was too broke to buy Christmas presents. Her first cousin began sending beautiful marzipan fruits and vegetables and exquisite bourbon balls from the her old family recipes. Christmas was wonderful in my mothers house. 

The year she decided I was too old for one of her Christmas stockings, I wept. Even though we are spread all over the country we all still eat her Christmas breakfast...a perfect mix of chicken ala king, stewed fruit, perfectly scrambled eggs, cinnamon rolls and Champagne. I light bayberry candles for love and luck. I keep the table set as she would have...I even have a red dining room...hers was Christmas green. 

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For my dad  Christmas wasn't always quite so easy. His father was a first generation Russian Jewish man and Orthodox traditions back then were the same as they are now...for the most part dogmatic and unyielding so my father became about as agnostic as you could get without being an atheist. I found out after my fathers death that I should have been named Elizabeth, but they just made it Beth Ann because Elizabeth would have been far too gentile. My mothers family does have some Catholic blood going WAY WAY back in her ancestry, but she refused to speak of it. I stumbled upon it accidentally one day when I found a rosary that had been in her family dated from 1887 and when I asked her about it you would have thought that I'd opened the darkest can of worms ever. All she said was that the rosary was older than that and we never shared another word about it although I did go digging way into the background of her fathers family and discovered hymn writers and alchemists from the 1600's although she wouldn't talk about them either, except to acknowledge that she'd known that they existed.  I realized sadly much later after her death that it was probably because my grandfather would have tried to force my father to end to their relationship. It was an interesting way to grow up...Never quite Jewish enough for the Jews and not really any sort of Christian. Fortunately due to my extremely emotionally liberal upbringing (thanks Mom!) I didn't really care and if I'm being honest, I still don't. It's probably why I most closely identify with being Wiccan...We are generally accepting of all....Harm none is our creed. 

Luckily, what saved Christmas for all of us was that Christmas day was also our parents anniversary. Married during the war, Christmas Day was the only day that a Rabbi could be found, so from the moment we got that first tree,  Christmas was intertwined with the joy of their marriage. Double cause for celebrating so my father begrudgingly allowed Christmas to happen!  

So, growing up I had somewhat of a conflicted relationship with Christmas or rather, much of my fathers family had a conflicted relationship with my  mothers and my relationship with Christmas.  I adored it and grew up with a store full of the most glorious Christmas merchandise ever. Carolers, bells and Christmas ornaments...every year the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas would magically appear at Schreibman Jewelers. We'd have presents everywhere, gorgeous wrappings and ribbons and mulled cider and hot cocoa for our customers.  Everyday I'd play Christmas carols and find my father trying to turn them off. He'd always grouse, but we always prevailed!  We'd have cookie decorating parties every weekend for the children with Mrs. Claus. We had holiday teas. I spent years chairing Christmas Tree festivals all over the city which delighted me to no end. Being in retail gave me the chance to have the kind of Christmas I'd always wanted, colorful and joyful, full of magic and the sheer pleasure of making everyones holiday dreams come true including my employees. Every year I'd find out what was their hearts desire, I'd get reports starting in September....we had so many beautiful things in our store that it was easy to give each of them a truly beautiful gift that they wanted. I think that those were the gifts that I enjoyed wrapping and giving most of all.  Every season we'd close early a couple of nights before Christmas and have an amazing holiday party, full of wonderful food, laughter and champagne.  We had the very best staff, I can't even call them that because they were more like family and we loved thanking them that way.  

When I married Jim, he was a "recovering Catholic" with fond memories of his own fathers Christmas Tree farm and ice skating on the lake at his grandpas farms. Jim loves Christmas like an 8 year old, and that was all I needed to really go for it. Every year we decorate our home together and we have outdoor lights and wreaths everywhere. We decorate our home with carolers and hang stockings.  We listen to carols from Thanksgiving through Epiphany and eggnog and bourbon milk punch literally flow through the faucets...(not really but you get my point!) We also celebrate the Winter Solstice every year which is, I like to say, what happens when Jew-Witchy girls long to celebrate Christmas without angst! We decorate EVERYTHING and throw a huge party in my sister and brother in laws lovely cabin, complete with a fire, Yule log and plenty of delicious food and libation. 

 

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As for my father? He eventually learned to love Christmas in his later years, for the togetherness of it. He stopped pretending that anything mattered to him but love. The year that my mother had a very dangerous bypass surgery it was coincidentally the day before Christmas..their anniversary. To him, I think that it was a miracle that she survived it and he really never groused about the holidays after that. Every Thanksgiving in our home we have a ritual...we gather around the table and say what we are thankful for. For my father, every year it was the same..." I am thankful for my family". That is who he was.  After my mother was gone, he spent about three years in a nursing home in Cleveland that was primarily Jewish and we brought him home those first years for all of our holiday parties.  One year he lamented to me that because he had no money, that he couldn't buy any of us presents. Daddy had been a painter, and a very fine one at that, so I went to Michael's  craft store and bought about 6 unfinished nutcrackers. I took them to his nursing home with paints and a cd player and we spent several wonderful afternoons listening to Tchaikovsky and painting them in bright colors.  I have many of my fathers paintings, but I love these nutcrackers most of all , painted after his stroke.  They are imperfect, messy and colorful like he was. On Christmas morning he gave them proudly to all of us and we listened to the Nutcracker Suite as we had so many times before. 

So the truth is,  like my mother I celebrate simply for the pure and unadulterated joy of it. It doesn't matter to me which holiday it is. I should probably be more religious, but I simply can't... I can belt out Rock of Ages from memory as beautifully as I can sing every stanza of the Hallelujah Chorus. I go to Mass with my daughter in law every Christmas Eve and sing all of the carols and watch my son laugh at me. I make Latkes and Mashed potatoes, Roast Goose and Brisket. I learned over the years that I am a sum of all of my parts...but that to be just one thing will never work for me. To me, we are all one tribe and my religion is love.

For me these celebrations are the glue and the glitter. 

For me, my family is my house of worship and that will have to be good enough and if you come knocking on my door at  anytime, there will always be a place for you at my table. 

 


 

I leave you with the simplest of holiday wishes from Tiny Tim..."God Bless us, Every One. "  and a bit of the Nutcracker Suite....

 


30 Days of Christmas Cheer ~ Caron's Nuit de Noel!

I adore the Christmas season and for so many reasons it is so magical to me. There are always several constants like the annual reading of Clement C. Moore’s “The Night before Christmas”, white truffles, lots of chocolate, roasted chestnuts, smoked salmon, New York City and gallons of bourbon milk punch and Champagne.  Of course my perfume of choice is Caron’s lovely Nuit de Noel, a fragrance that is completely saturated with the soul and scent of the holiday season. 

 

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For the last 8 years, on Christmas Eve I make a beautiful candlelit dinner and then we go to church with our son and daughter in law and sing carols until our hearts just burst.  Often we drive into the country to see the lights and sometimes we get home well past midnight.  That's when we light the bayberry candles for love and abundance, crack a bottle of champagne, wrap ourselves in each others arms, gorge on cookies, exchange our presents, hang the stockings and watch our daughter in laws favorite Christmas movie, The Muppet Christmas Carol .  

 

 

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If you’ve never experienced Nuit de Noel, trust me and if you can find some (sadly it seems to have been discontinued) try it right away   because it is truly gorgeous, a voluptuous and elegant chypre perfume filled with rose, jasmine and ylang ylang and a delicious saxon moss that’s as primitive and warm as the embers of a smoldering Yule log on Solstice eve. Ernest Daltroff created it for his lover who was completely enchanted by the sounds and scents of Christmas.  

 

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Nuit de Noel is the fragrance that I’ve tucked into my engraved medieval style  pomanders, a beautiful ornaments of sterling that I can wear as  necklaces. These I fill with cinnamon and cloves and sugared rose petals that I’ve scented with a bit of perfume soaked leather and I love to wear them hanging low between my breasts. These pomanders are my favorite pieces of jewelry art and when I’m not wearing one of them, you’ll find them hanging in their places of honor on my Christmas tree.

 

Because Christmas comes but once a year I keep my precious bottle of Nuit de Noel tucked away for the rest of the time in an embroidered Christmas pouch. 

 

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Getting back to Christmas evening though, the most magical moment always comes on the drive home from the country. Nestled at the bottom of the River Road in a small town called Hunting Valley there sits a beautiful old fir tree that is practically a hundred years old. We love to visit her early Christmas morning after midnight when the world is silent except for the beautiful carols ever present on the radio. 

 

This tree is magnificent, at least 75 feet tall and covered from head to toe with beautiful colored lights. 

 

I visit her late at night on the evenings from Thanksgiving to New Years Day because she is usually surrounded by families of deer and I love to park my car across the street to sit quietly for awhile with a steaming mug of cocoa and the Nutcracker Suite for company. She has an alluring fragrance all her own, of freshly falling snow and sweet pine, smoky wood resins, windfall apples and moonlight. When the snow is falling softly all around I promise you have never seen such a beautiful tree. 

 

She is forever the true essence of the season for me as she casts her warm glow on the cold December nights. I have always wanted to wear her scent and the first time that I experienced Caron’s Nuit de Noel I realized that I had found it, all of the Christmas magic that I would ever need in perfumed form, a divine gift from the angels of Yule.

Speaking of angels....

 

I only wear Nuit de Noel  from Thanksgiving until New Years Day because I love to keep it special and putting it away isn’t the end of my Christmas dreams, only the beginning.  But I hope that you’ll remember that Christmas Eve is a great time to be making wishes and I hope that this is the year that all of yours will come true whether they be truly simple or ever so bold. 

 

You already know that I wish you all gallons of the perfumes you love, all of the truffles (chocolate or otherwise!) that you’d care to eat and all of the passion that you can possibly stand. Last but not least   may there finally be peace on earth, abundance for all and true and lasting goodwill for everyone.

 

Sending you all of my love and lots of fabulous scents during this most magical of seasons. Please know that in this season of blessings that I count all of you among my biggest. 

 

Thank you always for your readership, love and support. 

 

From my home to yours...Happiest of Holidays!

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Beth (aka The Windesphere Witch)


30 Days of Christmas Cheer ~ A simple Chocolat Chaud!

 

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I've always said that if I weren't living in Cleveland and I had my choice of cities to live in, that besides New York,  Montreal would be at the top of my list. It's close enough to the border and I could get home to see all my loves easily, but at the same time live someplace where English wasn't the first language. I'm personally of the opinion that every American needs a crash course in living internationally, because nothing expands your worldview like travel and that's a good thing. Right now with the borders closed, I have to dream of the day that I can get back to Montreal and simply recreate the flavors and fragrances here at home. It's not that difficult, because the entire city smells of four of the most delicious things in life...Chocolate, freshly baked bread, garlic and white wine. 

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With Montreal in mind, and dreaming of the chocolate I drank one wintry afternoon at the  Suite 88 Chocolatier,  this morning I created a chocolat chaud with heavy cream, port , vanilla, French cocoa, honey and cinnamon ...so delicious and warming, both for the tummy and the soul.

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So incredibly easy to do...Just set a cup of heavy whipping cream on the stove to simmer and whisk in a tablespoon of fine cocoa, a sprinkle of cinnamon, two tablespoons of honey, a dash of vanilla and about three tablespoons of port. You'll need to whisk it consistently until it thickens, but it basically turns into a ganache that you can drink. Pour it into a demitasse cup and add some whipped cream. I added it to my morning coffee which was quite delicious and made me feel just a touch spoiled..I don't usually drink Port in the morning! Try this..it's really very easy to do. If you change it around, let me know what you did...I'm already thinking about white chocolate and lavender or dark chocolate with chili and triple sec....Just make sure that the chocolate you use is of good quality, because it's true flavor will shine through and so will any additives and it goes without saying that you can of course do this with non dairy milks...I'd recommend full fat coconut.

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#30daysofholidaycheer #30daysofchristmascheer #thechristmaschronicles #chocolate #chocolatchaud #coffee #coffeecreamer #kitchenwitch #kitchenwitchery #kitchenwitching #kitchenwitchesofinstagram Roro Mangino,  you could make these for your fam... just ask your dad to show you how to whisk ingredients into simmering cream so it thickens😘🎅🏼


30 Days of Christmas Cheer ~ Waes Hael (Wassail)

 

"Here's a toast to the roast that good fellowship lends,
with the sparkle of beer and wine;
May its sentiment always be deeper, my friends, than the foam at the top of the stein.
Then here's to the heartening wassail, wherever good fellows are found;
Be its master instead of its vassal, and order the glasses around."
Ogden Nash
 

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It is once again hot boozy drink season and Wassail is one of my favorites hot mulled punches of the Yule Season. Often drunk from a wassailing bowl, the earliest versions of Wassail were made from warmed mead, ale or hard cider. One of my favorite versions of this punch hails from the time of Shakespeare and  is aptly named Lambswool, because roasted crab apples were dropped into the bubbling cider where they heated and burst open to create a delightfully foamy drink that resembled very fuzzy lamb.  Later, the drink evolved to become a mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, and then topped with slices of toast. It was then drunk from a large communal bowl which is why you see so many antique wassail bowls with handles.

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Modern recipes begin with a base of wine, fruit juice or mulled ale, sometimes with brandy or sherry added. Apples or oranges are often added to the mix, and some recipes also call for beaten eggs to be tempered into the drink. I always add butter because I like the softness of flavor it adds. 

The traditional Apple Orchard Wassailing is held on the old Twelfth Night (17 January) as a ritual to ask the good spirits for an abundant apple harvest. The villagers would form a circle around the largest apple tree, hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the 'good spirits' of the tree. I love to drink Wassail all season long, but Solstice eve is generally when I Waes Hael my apple trees. I use toasted pieces of cinnamon raisin bread for a bit ofextra fine magic! 

Before you begin...This wonderful version of the Gloucestershire Wassail will put you in just the right mood!

You will need:

A large pot

1 gallon of fresh apple cider

1 large bottle of red wine, beer, sherry or several cups of brandy

Small lady apples that you have studded with cloves

A sliced orange

A muslin bag or large tea ball filled with the spices of your choice- I like Rosemary, Coriander, Cloves, star anise, allspice berries and orange peel.

½ a stick of salted butter

1 cup of maple syrup or brown sugar

Several cinnamon sticks

The rest is easy. Heat the cider and put in the apples, butter, sugar and spices. Let it simmer for about 45 minutes. Then add the wine, sherry or brandy. Let it simmer for another 20 minutes and serve! If you have grandchildren they will love watching the apples burst! It makes the punch sort a fuzzy gray color but it's absolutely delicious and such a fun part of history!

 

 

Pictures from Williamsburg Yorktown Daily and The Museum of Wales