A Holiday Wish and More

May the wonder of the season bring

peace and joy

to you and your loved ones

this holiday season and throughout the new year!

If you have read my blog before you know I love to research different fruits and vegetables that I find at the Farmers’ Market. I love learning not only about how to eat or cook them but about where they originated and how they came to the US, so I guess it really isn’t a surprise that just as I was about to post this photo and holiday wish, I thought, I wonder why we associate the poinsettia with the Christmas holiday season. So to satisfy my curiosity I did a quick little search and here are the results.

The Christmas Poinsettia

Euphorbia pulcherrima, commonly known as poinsettia or noche buena, is a species of flowering plant indigenous to Mexico and Central America. The name “poinsettia” is after Joel Roberts Poinsett,  the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the US in 1828.

In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl (from cuitlatl=residue, and xochitl=flower) meaning “flower that grows in residues or soil.” The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as “Noche Buena”, meaning Christmas Eve. In Spain it is known as “Flor de Pascua”, meaning Easter Flower. In both Chile and Peru, the plant became known as “Crown of the Andes”.

The plant’s association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson “blossoms” sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.

More on this beautiful plant, including misconceptions about it’s toxicity, can be found at Wikipedia.com.

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Decadent Pecan Pie

It was stormy and raining pretty hard Sunday morning when I drove to the Farmers’ Market. As I drove through the rain I was thinking about the farmers and how hard it must be to forage into wet fields and harvest their crops. Without their tenacity I would not be able to enjoy fruits and vegetables, hand picked the day before or sometimes the very morning they are brought to market. I started thinking about how grateful I am for their labor.  So, as I made my rounds buying fruits and vegetables, I thanked each person I bought from for being there that morning. Many reciprocated, thanking me for braving the weather and coming out too, a mutual admiration society both of us understanding how much we appreciate and depend on each other.

That morning I bought small heads of cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Seckle pears, Fuji apples and pecans. The pecans were for Sunday’s dessert, something special that I would make that morning to take to a friend’s house for dinner.

The recipe was from David Lebovitz, an American living in Paris, who worked for about thirteen years at Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, in the pastry department with executive pastry chef Lindsey Shere, creating desserts and baking with an amazing team of people. I follow David’s blog and enjoy his stories, his recipes and his sense of humor.  The dessert I chose was a decadent sounding pecan pie infused with dark chocolate and spiked with a little bourbon. You can find the recipe for Chocolate Pecan Pie, on David’s blog, David Lebovitz, Living the sweet life in Paris.

The pie went together easily and looked and smelled heavenly. The test would be with my fellow critics after we had enjoyed a lovely dinner.

Dinner finished  we started clearing the table. The next act was mine. Would the pie live up to my expectations? I carefully cut the pie into eight pieces and topped each with a dallop of freshly whipped cream, sprinkled with semi-sweet dark chocolate shavings and served it. The response was immediate and unanimous, “it’s delicious”.

If you’re looking for a pie that is delicious and easy to make this is the pie to bake.

Sunday Afternoon Gift Baking

A few weeks ago I ran across a recipe for Cranberry Walnut Bread in an online San Francisco Chronicle article and thought it would be the perfect thing to bake for office gifts.  So today, after going to the Farmers’ Market for my weekly fruit and veggie shopping, including oranges and walnuts for the bread, I put on some classical music and started gathering up my ingredients; fresh cranberries, oranges, buttermilk, wheat and unbleached flours, sugar, walnuts and spices. I chopped, measured and mixed and soon I had six little pans ready for the oven.

Thirty-five minutes later I had six beautiful little loaves of bread.

The only modifications I made were to add the zest from one orange and to use Turbanado raw sugar with the spices and nuts for the topping. I like the crunchy texture of the Turbanado sugar. The only thing I would do next time is add more chopped nuts to the topping mixture. I think it would look better.  For those of you who are, or have folks who are, allergic to walnuts I think pecans would be a terrific substitute.

The recipe easily made six mini loaves.

One of the comments on the Chronicle article said this bread was really nice toasted and buttered. Humm, I might just have to try some for breakfast tomorrow since I have one loaf that isn’t marked as a gift.

Did you bake or make gifts this year? If so, what did you make?

Your Farmers’ Market is a great place to do holiday gift shopping!

These are just a couple of ideas I found while walking through my Farmers’ Market today.  Many markets have hand crafted items and some even feature live and fresh cut Christmas Trees during December.

Beautiful holiday wreaths.

Gift baskets of herbs and edible flowers.

Personal products with an herbal touch.

Almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios; natural, spiced, salted, unsalted, and candied.

Jams, jellies, special sauces, local honey, olive oil and dried herb mixes

Natural soaps and lotions.

What ideas for gift giving did you find at your Farmers’ Market?

Maybe they should be called “The Glory of Morning Oat Muffins”!

I was going through some recipes the other day looking for something new to try and I came across an oat muffin recipe I had copied off a blog I follow. I have one that I love and make all the time but wanted to try something new. This one looked intriguing; raisins, carrots, apple, coconut, applesauce and pecans. What’s not to like? The recipe is called Morning Glory Oat Muffins and comes from Honey & Jam, a visually beautiful site that has great recipes.  Anything that is beautiful and tastes good too is a winner in my eyes.

So last night I measured and grated, and grated and measured, then mixed and filled and baked; then I cleaned up. I really should have waited until daylight so I could take some decent photos but I didn’t. So if you want to see lovely photos of these luscious muffins look at Hanna’s her work is inspirational. Everything looks soooooooo good.

I have to tell you the smell of these baking was pretty hard to resist. But, resist I did. I didn’t eat any until this morning at breakfast and they were well worth the wait.  As Hanna said on her blog, “It’s basically cake for breakfast”. But even better than that, it’s healthy cake.

I have already thought of several ways I want to try these using different ingredients. I would like to try using oat or almond flour instead of the wheat; try different chopped dried fruit instead of the raisins and try walnuts or toasted almonds instead of the pecans. Sliced almonds sprinkled on top might be nice too. Definitely going to freeze what I have left over so I can enjoy then for the rest of the week.

Tonight I’m going to revisit the turnip gratin I posted last January. I got some beautiful turnips at the market this morning and have a couple of potatoes that need to be used. Some sautéed mushrooms and chard on the side and I’m going to be a happy camper. I may even open myself a bottle of wine to go with the feast. Have a great week everyone!