Food for Thought Feed

Home for the Holidays ~ Planning ahead for Warm and Wonderful Holiday Gatherings!

 

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Hasn’t it been an incredibly beautiful autumn? Watching the leaves turn their magnificent shades of russet and gold puts me in the mood for fires, feasts and long evenings spent with my family, eating comforting foods and quietly enjoying each others companionship. Because the holiday season is soon to be upon us I’m already planning my menus and of course trying to decide how to set my tables, which is for me always the most fun of all!

I’ve been thinking for quite sometime now about family gatherings, and what they mean to us. As I was growing up, there were beautiful things that my mother always used on her table, seasonal items that made each celebration unique. When I was very young, she taught me to fill her traditional wicker cornucopia at Thanksgiving with an overflowing abundance of fruits, nuts and flowers, a centerpiece that I still create today.   This beautiful symbol of harvest abundance has long been associated with the turning of the wheel of the year towards autumn.

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 For many years, traditional woven cornucopias were difficult to find, but thankfully almost any craft store sells them year round.   It is also possible to create the same effect with a lovely basket, made from wicker or any other material. Don’t limit yourself to using the cornucopia for only Thanksgiving though. I’ve filled them with Christmas balls, candy canes, holly and ivy and lots of pine boughs for a festive  look on the sideboard.

 

Many of us have beautiful pieces of antique silver, gorgeous family pieces, stashed away and rarely used.  I encourage you to examine those long forgotten treasures for a suitable vessel to create your holiday centerpiece.

 

Many pieces of silver can be used as centerpieces, even if this was not their original purpose. I’ve even used a tea service as a beautiful seasonal arrangement by filling each piece with flowers and surrounding them with gourds, fruit and nuts.

 

Single salt cellars or antique cordial glasses each filled with a small bouquet can be used as individual centerpieces on your table, making each guest feel very special.  Once you’ve chosen the pieces to work with, the fun begins! Have fun arranging it so that all of the lusciousness and sensuality of the season spills out everywhere!

 

A simple trip to the grocery store will provide you with lots of inspiration! Mini pumpkins that you can paint and/or gild, bunches of grapes, French chestnuts, pears and apples, squashes and gourds, the choices are endless! Don’t forget some lovely mums, sunflowers or even roses to poke in and out of the abundance of fruit. If you use roses, don’t forget the florist’s tubes so that they stay fresh.

 

For Thanksgiving If you have children, don’t forget to add some lovely foil wrapped chocolate turkeys and pilgrims! Until my mother died, my son still looked for them as soon as we walked into her house Thanksgiving eve! After Thanksgiving, out came her Christmas Carolers and her collections of angels and bells. If you have young children, bundle them up and send them outside for acorns, rosehips, seed pods and beautiful leaves to bring a bit of wildness into your holiday arrangements.

 

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For many years while I was setting tables at my store the most commonly asked question was  “ My dishes always look the same, no matter what I do , so how can I make my table look festive and seasonal?”

 

Color and texture will make the difference between the same old thing and a look for your table that’s fresh and new!

 

Accents of strong color that you personally love will always do great things for your holiday spirits. For example, even a plain gold and white dinnerware pattern can be turned into an elegant holiday expression with the addition of a different salad ,soup or charger  plate.

 

For a smaller investment than an entirely new set of dishes, you can create a table that is uniquely yours. If your dinnerware is heavily patterned, why not use a lovely colored wine or water glass that matches your plate!

 

I love to play with fabrics this time of year, in jewel toned hues of flecked with lots of silver and  gold; anything that evokes the peace of the season and remember, Christmas does not have to be red and green! 

 

 A floral or toile tablecloth will completely change the look of any dinnerware that you own, dressing up a casual dish, or warming up a very formal setting. One of my favorite tables mixes velvet and tapestry, to create a look that is very rich and warm.

 

 A velvety tablecloth cloth in a deep shade of burgundy, with the top draped in tapestry changes the look of the simplest dish. Add an oversized napkin in a colorful crepe fabric and stuff it you’re your water glass, or tie it with a beautiful fabric ribbon and you have a table that everyone wants to linger at.

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 Lots of candlesticks, always in odd numbers will finish the setting.  Don’t be afraid to mix pewter, silver, brass and copper.  Anything goes as long as you love the way that it looks. Choose one color for the candles and enjoy the lovely glow!

 

I love serving soup in many different ways, but a beautiful soup tureen is always closest to my heart. I’ve often said that if I had a serving piece that I would refuse to part with; it would be my  Herend  soup tureen in the Poisson pattern. Covered with beautiful handpainted fish, and bordered in deep sage green and gold, it moves through all of the seasons effortlessly. If I’m not using it for soup, it turns into a grand centerpiece for my table with the addition of about three small pots of flowers and masses of fresh herbs and ivy! At Christmas I surround it with a beautiful wreath and mound pretty little gilded birds  and pine cones all around it.

A smaller soup tureen like the one shown above is portable, and you can use it in the living room with all of your demitasse cups for an elegant start to the evening. No one ever uses demitasse cups for their intended purpose ( coffee) and almost everyone that I know has inherited huge collections of them. Because they have handles, and a place to rest the spoon, soup is a fabulous way to use these often overlooked pieces!

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I've also served many different soups in a large hollowed out pumpkin that has been placed in a wreath of gilded greens and fruits, yet another easy and gorgeous centerpiece!

 

 A small glass of wine and a bit of cheese and /or pate served with the soup while you’re putting the finishing touches on the rest of the meal makes waiting for dinner a celebration in itself and a delightful way to begin the family evening.

 

 Those same demitasse cups could be filled with a creamy mousse for dessert (with chocolate shavings and whipped cream of course!)   alongside of all of the traditional  pies and cakes that my family loves to consume during the holidays.

 

For me, satisfying entertaining has everything to do with keeping the evening warm and personal, even if you’ve got a real crowd on your hands!

 

On Thanksgiving and Christmas, one of our favorite family traditions is to go around the table and have each person share what they are grateful for that year.

 

Another holiday tradition that I love is to have everyone who joins us bring something to share that they ate with their families, in a serving piece that is special to them.

Don’t leave the table without letting everyone sitting there know just how much they mean to you.

Take a pear, a gold or silver marker from the craft store and handwrite your guest’s names on each one for a quick and easy place card so they know just how much they belong! My mother always buys little tin pans from the grocery store, so that everyone takes home a bit of the meal for their lunch the next day. Why not share your family recipes, perhaps copied onto pretty paper or recipe cards so that you can give them out. (Don’t be modest; you know they’re going to ask!) This year, teach your children or grandchildren to cook with you, or let them help you set the table, and arrange the flowers so that they’ll always know what to do when they have families of their own. We can all discover new ways of connecting the old with the new, ways of creating traditions that are personal and related in a world that is quickly losing its sense of peace and security.

 

Those are a few of mine; I’d love to know some of yours!

 

Pumpkin soup tureen nor the colored glassware pictures are not mine but i have no idea who to attribute them to. 

 

 


Countdown to Halloween ~ Beignets and Broomsticks

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 It's Samhain. My favorite time of year when and if I had my way I would be in New Orleans completely naked , drinking chicory laced, milky Cafe au Lait out of a antique silver pot and eating beignets dressed with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar, having never moved even a toe from out of an enormous duvet covered bed. That bed would be canopied of course and the sheets would be silky Egyptian cotton and the duvet would be silky and as airy as marshmallows. The pillows would be embroidered and lavish and the curtains would be a deep bottle green velvet.  There would be pralines dripping with brown sugar and sass and there would be gardenias in bunches everywhere.  There would be a bewitchingly beautiful man with an equally devastating mask waiting for me to finish breakfast so that he could draw my bath, liberally laced with Frederic Malle's Carnal Flower.   I know that none of these thoughts will come as any sort of surprise to those who know me well, especially the lusty man that I was smart enough to marry. I cherish food, perfume, magic and passion equally with a fervor that some women reserve solely for diamonds, shoes and pearls.  Gift me with truffles, tarot or tuberose on any given day and I will be properly enslaved ! 

 The thing about New Orleans is that she's a completely sensual, captivatingly sexual creature who's literally dripping with the sweet fleshy smell of the morning after a marvelous night with the naughtiest man.  The carnal and sardonic vibe of the deep south spells trouble for me with a capital T, but you have to experience it for yourself. You'll never ignore her haunting sirens call although you might hate yourself in the morning for heeding them..remember that I said  "might". Those beignets and gardenias blended with a soupçon of bloodlust can produce some very powerful magic. New Orleans produced the incomparably beautiful and tortured Louis Ponte du Lac, Anne Rices first beloved vampire. New Orleans is also the home of some of the finest burlesque in the world. Where else can you take a walk late at night with a Sazerac  in your hands and discover  just as many beautiful antique stores , strip clubs and tarot readers open all on the same block?

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 I can never forget the all of the flowers, jasmine vines and dripping wet gardenias in the courtyard outside of Brennans Restaurant, where their pungent aroma mixed with the chicory and cinnamon coffee was about as heady a scent as a woman like me could ever ask for. I still revel in the memory of a sweet and sticky Banana’s Foster dripping with hot caramel and the flowering Jasmine climbing the wrought iron fences. I remember the candlelight and the hauntingly flirtatious laughter from women heard but never seen. The sticky Tuberose that grew everywhere was as stunning as a full moon and as narcotic as an opium den. Then there were all of the women, gorgeous hot house flowers with slickly coral lips , caramel skin and curvaceous bodies that were a promise of something that took me years to understand.


Southern women just astonish me with their ability to entice and enchant. I’ve never met a man who didn’t just love them, even if they love them only in secret , but I’ve met lots of women who absolutely hated them although I’ve never understood why. Not me…..I’ve always wanted to be one of them because they literally smell of orange blossoms, sex and white chocolate. They're the ones who really know how to wear stockings, gloves and hats...and they know how to take them off just as well. Their powers of seduction are legendary and who wouldn’t want some of that? Their magic is alive all year round....They love to have a cup of afternoon tea and I've never met one who couldn't read the tea leaves.  But truly? I think that the magic lies in the Beignets and Cafe au Lait! 

 

 

 Here's the best Beignet recipe that I've found yet from none other than Emeril Lagasse!

Beignets and Cafe au Lait

Ingredients
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 1/4 cups warm milk (110 degrees)
1 egg, beaten
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Oil for frying
Powdered sugar for dusting
5 cups of Chicory Coffee, hot
5 cups whole milk, hot
Directions
In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a dough hook, add the yeast, sugar, shortening, and milk, mix for 2 minutes. Add the egg. Mix well. Add 4 cups of the flour and salt. Beat at low speed until all of the flour is incorporated, about 1 minute. Then beat at medium speed until the mixture forms a ball, leaves the sides of the bowl, and climbs up the dough hook. Remove the dough from the bowl. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.

Preheat the vegetable oil a deep fat fryer to 360 degrees F.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Lightly dust the surface of the dough. Roll out the rectangle to 12 1/2 inches long by 10 inches wide and about 1/4-inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into twenty 2 1/2-inch square beignets. Fry the beignets, a couple at a time until golden brown and crispy on all sides, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and drain on a paper towels. Sprinkle the beignets with powdered sugar and serve. Fill each cup with 1/2 cup of coffee and 1/2 cup of the hot milk. Stir well.

Serve the coffee with the beignets.

In Bed. 


Food for Thought: Plant Healer Magazine

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I love it when I find magazines  that stay true to the roots of Traditional Herbalism. Plant Healer Magazine is one of the loveliest that I've seen to date with articles by pioneering Herbalists like Rosemary Gladstar, Susan Weed, Kiva Rose and Matthew Wood to name a few. The artwork is a feast for the eyes as wells, but truly this is some of the purist, loveliest herbal information and education that you'll find anywhere and I think that you'll really enjoy it!


Food for Thought : Why Herbal Medicine?

 

                 

This is a wonderful video by a fabulous little company called Urban Moonshine. They make the best bitters that I've ever tasted. Truthfully, most bitters are tinctures (I say most because there are many on the maket that aren't naturally flavored) of herbs, plants and spices in a base of alcohol that are deliciously pungent and exceptionally good for the digestion. They also make Immune tonics , Energy tonics and Joy tonics that I know from first hand experience are really effective in promoting good health and extraordinary well being. If you'd like to try to make some yourself it's really not that difficult and it's alot of fun. Theres a brand new book out called  "Bitters- A spirited history of a classic cure-all with cocktails, recipes and formulas" by a gentleman named Brad A. Parsons. It's really interesting, full of history and verve and the recipes are terrific. You can get it on your Ipad or Kindle as well. I've really been enjoying it and you will too!

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This is the art of Herbalism the way that I've always practiced it.  Of course I use many of the supplements available and I'm grateful that I live in a country where they ARE available, but when I can get my hands on them I'll always take my whole herbs over anything that I can buy.

I believe first and foremost that Herbalism is the peoples medicine and that this education should be made available to everyone, much like over a century ago every home had a stillroom, where the lady of the house crafted her homebrews and medicinal teas from recipes passed down to her by her mother and grandmother in a  living notebook  that continued to grow and be passed down through the generations.  

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I was taught the art of Herbalism by a very wise woman named LaWanna Rine whom I've worked with for decades. Her teaching was a vibrant blend of storytelling and science and she spent her days crafting  effective simple remedies. I'd walk into her kitchen to find glass pots of herbs simmering on her stoves and jewel-toned jars sitting on her sunny windowsill. I'd get there and she'd have baskets in her arms for us and we'd go run around her property collecting comfrey , poke and elderberry and then we'd turn it into tinctures. She and our mutual friend Haas taught me to make (read grow!) Kombucha tea over 24 years ago because she was a firm believer in the importance of eating fermented foods. She grew almost everything herself and she would feed me salads of just picked vegetables with herbal dressings that she'd make with homemade herbal vinegars and infused oils. It all had a purpose....She's 85 years old, really heathy and still practicing!

 This was "medicine" that I understood, because it was food and my body intuitively knew what it was. It was slow and gentle...not the one-two punch of a compounded pharmaceutical or an herbal supplement that is 6 degrees removed from it's original form. Her teas were effective because they were blended, balanced and alive..literally they'd been off of the stem no more than two hours by the time that you got to sit in the kitchen and enjoy them! 

If you'd like to know more about LaWanna Rine, the articles on this site entitled "Love letters from Lotus Lodge" were written by her...

To stay in touch with me please feel free to go to http://www.facebook.com/bethschreibmangehringholistichealthcoach where you will receive regular updates featuring recipes and information about my Natural Chef and Holistic Health consulting programs. My official website is www.bethschreibmangehring.com