I love sipping a steaming drink when it’s chilly outside, especially if I can do it while siting beside a twinkling Christmas tree. As a matter of fact, I’m sipping a delicious beverage as I write this post. It’s so mellow and satisfying and so easy to make, it would be selfish of me not to share the recipe with you. The base of the beverage is apple cider, which is simmered briefly with fresh orange slices, cinnamon sticks, star anise and whole cloves. The whole process takes approximately 15 minutes, resulting in a spiffed-up cider that will tickle your tongue and warm your soul.
Hot Spiced Apple Cider
1 quart fresh apple cider (4 cups)
1 orange, thinly sliced
2 star anise
6 whole cloves
5 cinnamon sticks
In a medium saucepan, combine the apple cider, orange slices, star anise, whole cloves and one cinnamon stick, broken into 2 in. pieces.
Heat the mixture over medium high heat until just beginning to boil.
Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Remove and discard the spices and orange slices.
Pour the cider into four mugs. Add a long cinnamon stick to each mug.
Serve piping hot.
1. This recipe is easily adaptable to big batches. If you want a gallon of spiced cider, quadruple all ingredients.
2. I have a small sieve that I place over my mug. Then, I ladle from the pot to my mug without removing any of the goodies. This allows all the spices to continue to steep if I’m not serving the whole batch at once.
3. Leftover spiced cider can be stored in the fridge for later. Rewarm on the stove or in the microwave when you are in the mood for more warm appley sweetness.
4. The star anise is pretty but not necessary. If you don’t have any on hand, don’t sweat it. I’ve made this cider many times without star anise and it’s still delish.
At the back of our yard is an unruly patch of wilderness we loosely refer to as “our garden”. We never seem to have the time to plant and tend anything worthwhile so the patch is overrun with leggy raspberry canes and prickly thistles. As bad as it sounds, it’s not a total bust. In one small corner of the patch, four little blueberry bushes are thriving and have produced a gorgeous crop of spicy, midnight-colored gems.
This surprising bounty is due wholly to Jay’s efforts. He is the blueberry whisperer and an all-around green thumb. He grows and tends to all the things and I take that raw potential and create art with it in my kitchen. This recent blueberry windfall is the perfect example. As soon as Jay brought the berries in from “our garden” I put butter on the counter to soften and then grabbed my camera to capture the dark beauty of the tiny fruit. After about a hundred shots of blueberries from every angle and degree of magnification, I got busy making the real magic – turning these berries and a few other humble ingredients into one of the finest coffee cakes in the history of the world.
Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake (Adapted from a recipe submitted to Taste of Home by Lori Snedden several years ago.)
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 375°.
Grease a 9×9 inch baking pan.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add egg, milk and butter. Beat well.
Fold in blueberries and pecans.
Spread batter into pan.
In another bowl, combine the sugar and flour.
Cut in the butter until crumbly.
Sprinkle over batter.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean.
I can’t really tell you what it is about this cake that makes it so good. The delicate crumb topping? The abundance of blueberries? The pecan chunks in every mouthful? Who knows. Maybe it really is magic. All I can say is that I’ve eaten four pieces of this cake in the last two days and I’m about to have another and my mouth is watering just thinking about it. Do yourself or those you love a favor, friend, and make this cake.
My brother-in-law, John, works as a project architect and construction administrator for RLPS, an architectural firm based in Lancaster. For many, many years his firm has created a unique Christmas-themed display which is then opened to the public. After our family Christmas gathering on Saturday, John gave us a private viewing of this year’s village and of the gorgeous office space he gets to work in every day.
The theme this year is the Adirondack Mountains and all buildings are required to reflect this turn of the century (circa. 1900-1930) architectural style. Several rules accompanied the design and creation of this year’s theme: all models are at a scale of 3/8″ – 1’0″ (making people about 2 inches tall), all visible material other than windows, roof structure and lights are edible, and 75% – 100% of the exterior walls are made of pretzels. I was blown away by the precision of construction and the attention to detail – even the interiors had glowing fireplaces, Christmas trees and an occasional grand piano. With moving parts, a multitude of twinkling lights and a heavy dose of whimsy and humor, Adiron-Deck the Halls was an unexpected delight for me. I’m thankful for my connection to an insider so I could take my time investigating it.
> 30 unique pretzel shapes used
40 gallons of Royal icing
120 12″ x 12″ sheets of gingerbread
15 pounds of salt
16 pounds of aluminum wire
> 50 pounds of candy
20 pounds of rock candy
> 2400 lights
This is what happens when designers, draftsmen, and architects play with their food:
Adiron-Deck the Halls
So much fun…thanks, John!
UPDATE: John sent me the link to a time-lapse photography video on Youtube showing all the prep that was involved in putting this little display together.