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


30 Days of Christmas Cheer ~ Holiday Coffee Mix-ins!

I love the pre-made holiday coffee creamers that you can find in the store this time of year, but unfortunately they come with so many added ingredients, even the natural ones. After discovering more than a few added into my favorite blends, I decided to just make my own. It so easy, fun and you can create so many different flavors. Until this morning I was using maple syrup and pumpkin pie spice to flavor mine but it must officially have become the start of the Yule season because this morning I woke up with a taste for chocolate and peppermint! I've even made cherry chocolate using some juice from the cocktail cherries and some really good cocoa or salted chocolate and caramel. really the skies the limit!  The only common denominators are heat and heavy cream. You can even use half and half, but I like the thickness of the heated cream. You don't have to use maple syrup..you can easily substitute stevia or honey. If you're a sugar lover go right ahead and use it, actually brown sugar is pretty great and lends a holiday richness...We don't use a lot of sugar, so these alternatives work just fine for me. 

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This is so simple to make. I begin with a cup of heavy whipping cream, or you could use an alternative milk if you like, it just wont get as thick as the whipping cream. I put it on a saucepan on the stove and begin to slowly bring it to a simmer. Then I add about 2 tablespoons of sweetener, more if you want and whisk it in. 

 

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Lastly I add the flavorings. If it's just spices or extracts, whisk them in , if you use cocoa powder it will take longer because it will need to melt. I like to use chocolate chips or a few squares of my favorite chocolate because it melts more easily. For this I used my favorite Icelandic Chocolate that is already flavored with mint! 

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Keep whisking until it is heated all the way through and thickening just a bit (if you've used whipping cream) and then pour it into the bottom of a mug. Top with hot coffee and stir and then sip. I promise you'll love this more than anything you buy from a coffee house... keep some fresh whipped cream around and top your coffee with whipped cream, peppermint chip, chocolate shavings, sprinkles....you name it, you can use it. Have fun and let me know what you create!

 


Heres a little bit of Polar Express Hot Chocolate Holiday Cheer for you!

 

 


30 Days of Christmas Cheer- Planning your holiday table

 

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Christmas is one of my truly favorite holidays because it’s so abundant, elegant and lush. It can also be contemporary, primitive country, hunting lodge rustic or childlike because it is a holiday that  can be expressed in a million wonderful and unique ways. It’s a fabulous opportunity to bring  fresh creativity to your table and have quite a lot of fun in the process. Just go on a shopping trip through your cupboards!  Many people have dishes, glasses and silver serving pieces that have been left to them; why don’t you bring them out and use them? It doesn’t matter if some of them are broken and the glasses don’t match. Spread everything that you could use out onto the table and take a look. Find a couple of unifying colors, in other words colors that can work with all of the bits and pieces that you’ve got and then choose a tablecloth, napkins and charger plates in those colors. A charger plate is what used to be called a service plate and it adds a bit of color underneath of the dinner plate .  It’s so easy these days to find charger plates in many solid colors and they’re very inexpensive. Choose a metallic color such as copper or gold if you want to dress up your tablesetting yet keep it feeling warm. Choose them in red and green if you want your table to be traditionally festive and remember; it’s a bit like layering an outfit one piece at a time all the way to the necklace and scarf.  

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Don’t worry if you have glasses that don’t match. You can go to any store these days and find wine and water goblets in lovely jewel tone colors.  Why not set your table with every other goblet being a colored one. Alternate colored napkins and have a great time playing with color and texture on your holiday table.  Whatever you do, when someone mentions how beautiful everything looks, don’t ever say, “ Oh, thank you but it would have looked so much better if I hadn’t broken my wine glasses and had to replace them this way”. Remember that this is your style and you like it this way because matching everything is simply not as unique or as personal as you want your tables to be. 

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You can be very creative with napkin rings. Some of the best are the little hard plastic or glass ones that you can put a bit of water into and a little arrangement. Go outside or to the local market and pick whatever is left of the fall herbs and flowers to arrange in them or go all out with some holly and ivy! Then pull the napkins through  the rings and set them onto your table. This is a beautiful way to bring some greenery to your place setting. You can also use elegant antique silver ones or you can get some pretty fabulous napkin rings adorned with Swarovski crystal. If you're  really creative you can go to the craft store and make your own out of ribbon, bits of crystal or pre made tassels. 

 

If you like a bit of sparkle, this is the place to use it on your table; napkins generally being very flat colors, can take a bit of glitter. Don’t forget candlesticks as they really add so much ambiance, especially when you mix the shapes and sizes.  Why don’t you dress those same candlesticks with herbs, flowers, fresh greenery or pretty silk ribbons? When it comes to candlesticks you should always use an odd number because it looks so much more balanced. Candles that are metallic are often used this time of year but I'm going to go on record as saying that I don't like them. They're rarely drip free and they  do tend to make a nasty mess. They also don't look nearly as pretty once they start to burn. Choose candles in complimentary tones and save the lovely  metallic colors  for chargers, placemats and candlesticks.

 

Although the cornucopia is traditionally a symbol of the Thanksgiving celebration,  I love to use them well into the December holidays because they make creating an abundant and gorgeous arrangement absolutely effortless. 

 

You can use a cornucopia at Christmas time in many ways. The traditional Thanksgiving use is to fill it with fruit, vegetables and flowers, but I like to use a cornucopia on my sideboard as the centerpiece for a wonderful cheese and fresh bread display. This is easy to do. Fill the cornucopia with kale leaves, slices of French bread and an assortment of crackers so that they are spilling out of the mouth of the horn. Then arrange several wheels of cheese very close to the bread along with several cheese knives. Add apples, pomegranates, pears and several pitchers of varying sizes filled with Christmas flowers and votive candles to the display and it will look sensational. You can do the same thing with freshly sliced vegetables, pate's and dips. 

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I love to use tableware pieces in many different ways. Do you have an old fashioned three tiered tea tray that's just gathering dust in your cupboard? Pretend that you're in Williamsburg for the holidays and display it with  crystal glasses of differing sizes filled with holiday flowers and little bowls with holiday candy.  Why don't you take your grandmothers old teacups or demitasse cups and filled them with potted ivy, holly berries and festoon them with ribbons and little ornaments? This way everyone has a pretty little individual arrangement  of their own and the larger centerpiece can be low enough for everyone to converse across the table. Do you have dozens of mismatched silver teaspoons? Why don't you use them to serve a luscious bit of crab or lobster salad. Remember, there are no rules to be broken here, only a meal to be enjoyed together with family and friends.  


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This year I hope that you’ll have fun with your holiday tables by looking at them with fresh eyes and allowing your inspirations to flourish! Do something just a little bit different and I promise that you’ll have just as much fun as your guests. Relax and enjoy being the star of your own party. When it comes to your creativity, the sky’s the limit! 

 

I hope that your holidays are filled with  peace, laughter & oh so much love!

 

 

 


Does anyone want to join me for an old fashioned 30 Days of Christmas Cheer Blog Party?


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I'll never forget when in May of 2004, after closing my business, in a fit of loneliness and desire I started my first blog called Stirring the Senses. I loved writing on it...I shared recipes and stories and made so many new friends. In 2009 this blog, The Windesphere Witch was conceived, as an attempt  to enjoy the Halloween season all month long. Back then, there were lovely events called blog parties and every day many of us posted something that inspired us about the season. It was so much fun! Sadly with the advent of smaller bytes of social media like Instagram , Facebook and Twitter, blogging has taken a back seat for many of us. 

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However,  forward to now,  this crazy year of 2020 where an unknown virus has completely changed our lives in less than a year. We're at home now..our lives are slower.  Non of us have been untouched by this strange and dangerous contagion. As a result our holidays have changed. I found myself longing for the warmth of my blog, the slower and more intimate world that I created with it. I long to share my holidays with my friends and family near and far...recipes for everything from marmalades and fancy jams, mincemeat, gingerbread,  egg nog, to mulled wine  and bourbon milk punch....It's time to share some old fashioned blogging fun and fellowship!

 

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Winter Solstice rituals and wreath making....silly and sappy Hallmark Christmas movies....present wrapping and silver polishing. Building the perfect holiday playlist...Creating an intimate and festive Zoom holiday...All of the things that can make our lives magical at this time of year.

Guess what? We can still have them! 

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Please join me everyday from Thanksgiving until Christmas Day as we have an old fashioned Countdown to Christmas Cheer                                                on the Windesphere Witch Blog! Each day I'm going to write about something I'm doing...some aspect of the holidays that I love. This will be the story of my love for winter, for the Solstice, for the Yule log, the figgy pudding and the mistletoe. I'll probably have a couple of door prizes too...If you've got a blog or an instagram and you want to play along with me, just let me know and I'll share your links on this page! I'll be using the hashtag #30daysofChristmasCheer and #countdownofchristmascheer on Instagram and Facebook if you want to share there  as well.

Wishing you a Holiday Season filled with Blessings and Magic...

 

Beth  


Blackberries and the Passage of Time.....

This was originally shared by John Forti, The Heirloom Gardener, but it really touched me, as several weeks ago I looked at my hands, and for the first moment saw the passage of time. Some of my favorite memories are of blackberries and blackberry picking...first with my Aunt Ida  and then with my " Big Sister" Riet who was from Holland , both long gone. My sister and I have picked blackberries in the fields behind my parents home and when we bought our farm, you can imagine my delight when I saw the wild blackberries climbing the pasture fences. It was there that my son first discovered them and much to my delight he would bring me handful upon handful. 

When we first moved into our home in Cleveland Heights, we had no blackberries so of course I defied my husbands orders and planted one small bush which has now taken over at least thirty feet along the fence. Every year, Alex still waits for them to ripen. When they're not with us I make him jam, but this year he and his wife were home because of Covid 19. 

One morning this summer I looked out my window and saw this and my heart was full....

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"Blackberries"~ By Margaret Atwood (on this, the week of her 80th birthday)

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In the early morning, an old woman is picking blackberries in the shade.

It will be too hot later, but right now there's dew.

Some berries fall. Those are for squirrels. Some are unripe, reserved for bears. Some go into the metal bowl.

Those are for you so you may taste them just for a moment.

That's good times - one little sweetness after another, then quickly gone.

Once, this old woman I'm conjuring up for you would have been my grandmother.

Today, it's me.

Years from now, it might be you if you're quite lucky.

The hands reaching in among the leaves and spines were once my mother's.

I've passed them on.

Decades ahead, you'll study your own temporary hands, and you'll remember.

Don't cry. This is what happens.

Look; the steel bowl is almost full, enough for all of us.

The blackberries gleam like glass, like the glass ornaments

we hang on trees in December to remind ourselves to be

grateful for a snow.

Some berries occur in sun, but they are smaller.

It's as I always told you. The best ones grow in shadow."

 


Come Little leaves... an ode to Autumn

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Come little leaves, by George Cooper


“Come, little leaves,” said the wind one day,

“Come o'er the meadows with me and play;
Put on your dresses of red and gold,
For summer is gone and the days grow cold.”

Soon as the leaves heard the wind’s loud call,
Down they came fluttering, one and all;
Over the brown fields they danced and flew,
singing the glad little songs they knew.

“Cricket, goodbye, we’ve been friends so long;
Little brook, sing us your farewell song;
Say you are sorry to see us go;
Ah, you will miss us, right well we know.

"Dear little lambs in your fleecy fold,
Mother will keep you from harm and cold;
fondly we watched you in vale and glade;
Say, will you dream of our loving shade?”

Dancing and whirling, the little leaves went;
Winter had called them, and they were content;
soon, fast asleep in their earthy beds,
The snow laid a coverlid over their heads.


Applesauce with Cinnamon, Maple syrup and Bas Armagnac!

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Tonights meal is real French comfort food...Jacque Pepins Maman's Cheese Souffle and a wonderful salad of simple green with a mustardy, garlicky vinaigrette. To start we're having a velvety sweet potato, cream and chestnut soup, which is more like a bisque actually and some delicious smoked scallops with a black truffle aioli. With all of that richness, I thought something sweet/tart was in order, so I took a cue from my sister Ellen who'd made the same souffle yesterday and served it with homemade applesauce. 

This may just be the fastest yet the best applesauce I've ever made! You can make this in a slow cooker, but I'm having a real love affair with my Instapot right now for things like this. Personally? I like the results a lot, but truthfully you can't ever go wrong adding a 1997 Armagnac to anything! 

This recipe will make about 6 small servings

You'll need:  

8 mixed apples, sliced and cubed ( I leave the peels on)

3 tablespoons of butter

1 cup of apple juice or cider

1/2 a cup of Armagnac, Calvados or brandy

1 tablespoon of Chinese 5 spice or pumpkin pie spice..your call

1/2 cup of real maple syrup

2 tablespoons of organic honey

This is so easy! Into the Instapot it goes and then you cook it on high pressure for about 28 minutes. When it's done, vent off the steam and open the lid. Then turn on the saute feature and let it simmer for another 15 minutes to reduce some of the juices. Serve with just about anything that requires a wonderful hit of autumn apple goodness. One thing to note is that you can strain the applesauce and save the juices to turn into cocktail syrup. Just pour the strained juices into a pan and add some more honey. Simmer for about 15 minutes and chill. You can use this syrup in your tea, on your pancakes, over ice cream and shaken into a wonderfully aromatic Manhattan. If you have any left over, this will freeze well! ( But you won't!)

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Home for the Holidays

It’s beginning to look like the holidays here at Windesphere.... #snowglobes #christmas #yule #solstice #holidays #safeathome #hygge #hyggehome #kitchenwitch #witch #magic #magical #blessed #gratitude #lifestyle #visualstoryteller #holidayentertaining  #interiordesign #tablescapes #tablesetting

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