Category Archives: Holidays

Winter Solstice and Pfeffernüsse

The winter solstice is tomorrow I wrote this article for Images, the quarterly publication produced by Boulder County Parks and Open Space. Please read because it’s pretty interesting (in my very humble opinion). I thought about copying it here but I didn’t want to lower my google ranking for duplicate content. So yeah.

Anyway Monday is Pfeffernüsse Day in many European countries. No I did not just sneeze, pfeffernüsse (also known as pepernoten in Dutch, päpanät in Plautdietsch, or peppernuts in English) are traditional German cookies. Although they are more related to Christmas (Weihnachten) these days, they were often enjoyed during winter solstice celebrations.

When I took German in high school, we would celebrate Sankt Nikolaustag on December 6th. We would put our shoes in the hallway and our teacher, Frau Singer, would fill them with sweets. Afterward we would sing Christmas carols auf Deutsch and then we would head to the home economics classroom where we would make these spicy little cookies. Fond memories.

Today I would like to share the recipe with you. It makes about 5 millions small, round, thin cookies so you might want to half the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup healthy margarine such as smart balance or earth balance (butter works too)
  • 2 eggs (vegan option: 4 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 4 tablespoons water)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons anise extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Stir together the molasses, honey and margarine in a saucepan over medium heat; cook and stir until creamy. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in the eggs, anise extract, white sugar, and brown sugar. Combine the flour, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, pepper, and salt in a large bowl. Add the molasses mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Preheat oven to 325°F (165°C). Roll the dough into 3/4″-sized balls. Arrange on baking sheets, spacing at least 1 inch apart. Bake in preheated oven 10 to 15 minutes. Move to a rack to cool.

Molasses, honey and margarine in medium sauce pan.

While that cools to room temperature, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, spices baking soda and salt).

Then add the sugars, eggs and extract to the molasses pot.

Finally add the molasses mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined. It’s very sticky so be ready for your arm workout for the day. Switch arms to build muscles evenly.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, then roll into balls and place on cookie sheet. Bake at 325°F for 10 minutes.

Eat, drink and be merry!

Pictured from left to right: Sugar Cookie Cut-outs (and how to ice them), Vegan Cinnamon Sugar Cookies, Candy Cane Blossoms, and Pfeffernüsse

Upcycled Gift Bags

I inherited some small brown paper bags with handles at a volunteer project this summer. I thought to myself, “These would be perfect for gift bags, if only they didn’t say Xcel energy on them.” Fortunately, I am a very clever person and I have upgraded the ugly plain bags into cute gift bags for Christmas gifts.

It’s very simple to make some of these cute bags for your own use and for any occasion. Find some plain bags. Then check the scrapbooking section of your local craft store for decorations.

Gather some glue and scissors (it’s even easier if you just use stickers), and assemble. Be extra Earth-friendly and reuse your beautiful creations year after year.

Have fun with your creativity! Share a picture of your works of art on my Facebook page.

Vegan Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

This recipe comes from my College Vegetarian Cooking cookbook. The author describes these cookies as “giant Teddy Grahams” which is so accurate I couldn’t think of a better way to say it.

They are vegan and we all know the best thing about vegan baking is that you can eat the raw cookie dough (I guess I should add, “without worrying about getting sick,” because raw eggs have never stopped me from eating cookie dough). The other best thing about vegan baking is that you can take the cookies out early if you like soft cookies or leave them for the entire duration if you like them crunchier (for the same reason). So with all that said, here’s the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup softened margarine (I use smart balance)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Add margarine and sugars to a mixing bowl and combine vigorously until smooth and creamy. Add flour, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir until thoroughly incorporated. Roll dough into 1″-sized balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet, approximately 2″ apart. Bake for eight to 10 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges.
Dear my parent’s Ninja blender and food processor,
I’ll miss you when I move out. I have treasured our time together. We created delicious and nutritious smoothies in individual travel cups. You perfect the art of making cookie dough. If I wasn’t a poor unemployed post-graduate I would invest in your cloned family members. I will not forget you, let’s make the most of the time we have left together.
Love, Maggie
Dear my parent’s convection oven,

I’ll miss you when I move out. I have treasured our time together. You have made it so that I can cookie two trays of cookies at the same time for the same amount of time. Your light provides rays of light as if God is watching over the things that bake within you. If I wasn’t a poor unemployed post-graduate I would invest in your cloned family members. I will not forget you, let’s make the most of the time we have left together.
Love, Maggie

These cookies look so yummy…. mmmmm cinnamonny goodness. Did I ever tell you that cinnamon is my favorite food group? Well it is. 🙂
Cinnamon Sugar Cookies with Candy Cane Blossoms

Sugar Cookies and How to Ice Them

The sun is slowly setting behind the Flatirons. I am watching it through a window Espresso Roma on the Hill. Small snowflakes speed to the ground as if racing; they cover the dirty black asphalt in a pure white blanket of snow. My Bhakti chai steams in a chipped blue mug in front of me as I breathe in the crisp Boulder air, filling my lungs with it’s slightly marijuana-smelling freshness. The colors of autumn, which were incredibly lovely this year, have been erased and replaced with a new beauty. It reminds me why I love Colorado so very much: the beauty is spectacular for a few fleeting moments before it disappears and is replaced by some other magnificent sight. There’s no way to capture the moment to recall later so the best thing to do is enjoy it while it’s there.

With the fresh snow I am giving myself permission to feel festive, not that I haven’t tried. My personal rule is that Christmas doesn’t exist until Thanksgiving is over so now my Christmas playlist is on repeat and my Holiday movie count is at ten. I’ve also eaten an entire package of Hershey’s candy cane kisses and Christmas cookies are building up. To makes these sugar cookies that don’t spread and keep their shape see the recipe below.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on low to medium speed.  Mix thoroughly, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula and mix again. Do not over mix as this aerates the dough and causes the cookies to spread more during baking.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla extract to bowl, mix, scrape down the bowl with your spatula and mix again.
  3. In a separate bowl sift flour and salt together .
  4. Add all of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture bowl.  Mix on low speed. Do not over mix at this stage either, the glutens in the flour develop and the dough can become tough.
  5. Roll the dough out between 2 large pieces of parchment paper.  Place on a baking sheet and into the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour.
  6. Roll out the dough further if you need to, and cut out cookie shapes.  Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Re-roll scraps and repeat, refrigerate again if necessary.
  7. Put cookie dough shapes back into the fridge for 10 minutes to 1 hour to chill again.  They will then hold their shape better when baked.
  8. Preheat your oven to 350°F (176°C).
  9. Bake cookies for 8-12 minutes or until the edges become golden brown.  The baking time will depend on the size of your cookie.
  10. Let cookies cool to room temperature before decorating.

This was my first attempt using a glaze this way. Below is the icing recipe I used…

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup powder sugar (confectioners sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 drop lemon juice (can be fresh)

Directions:

  1. Mix all the ingredients together. These amounts are approximate: use more powdered sugar and less milk for the edges so it doesn’t run everywhere, use less powdered sugar and more milk for the insides so it spreads itself. It takes a little practice. The lemon juice isn’t for flavor, it just counteracts the sweet sugary flavor.
  2. Once mixed you can add food coloring however you’d like.
  3. Refrigerate the icing for 10 minute before using (and periodically during the process).
  4. If using an icing bag follow the instructions for using the attachments. Line a glasses with a plastic bag or an icing bag and pour the icing in.
  5. Cut a small corner off the bag for the icing to come out of. Start very small at first, you can always cut more but you cannot cut less. Add the icing attachments if you have them.
  6. Use the thicker icing to line the edge of the cookie and make shapes, the fill with the thinner icing.
  7. Add sprinkles and create a masterpiece. 🙂

Variation on a theme: Candy Cane Blossoms

I know today is Black Friday and it’s tempting to go out and get all the great deals that have been advertised. I just want to get on a soap box really fast and say how ridiculous I find it that we spend one day expressing how thankful we are for all the blessings we have in our lives and the very next day all that goes out the window. And for what? Cheap goods that no one really needs. I hope that everyone who reads this might take a step back and really evaluate what’s important. I also want to put a plug in for Small Business Saturday which is tomorrow. You may not get a toaster for $3, but chances are you already have a toaster. And by shopping small you will support your community in a very big way and you will find great gifts that are unique and meaningful. Use this map to find small businesses in your community. That’s all *takes step down off soap box*…

I do love this season. I love the music and the tingly feelings and the well-wishers. Oh… and the cookies. I LOVE cookies! The way cookie monster loves cookies. *nom nom nom* One of my favorite Christmas cookies is peanut-butter blossoms. They’re the ones with the kiss stuck on top. (Follow the link for the recipe).

So, when I saw a picture for the most adorable “Candy Cane Blossoms” on Pinterest, I was super excited. I mean, the spell Pinterest holds over me was broken: I didn’t even pin the recipe. I actually got off the couch and checked whether I had the ingredients. Keep scrolling down for the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 48 Hershey’s Candy Cane Mint Candy Kisses
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened (vegan option: smart balance or other healthy margarine for baking)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg (vegan option: 2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed into 2 tablespoons water)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk (vegan option: milk substitute of choice)
  • Red or green sugar crystals, and festive sprinkles

Directions

Heat oven to 350°F. Remove wrappers from candies. Beat butter, granulated sugar, egg and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt; add alternately with milk to butter mixture, beating until well blended. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in red sugar, green sugar or sprinkles. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and cookie is set. Remove from oven; cool 2 to 3 minutes. Press a candy piece into center of each cookie. Move from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

You can also make them birthday cookies like I did for the girl I used to nanny.

Happy late Thanksgiving everyone! Let me know what your favorite cookies are in the comments below.

Happy Bartolomé Day!

I didn’t write this but it’s better than what I could write so I’m just reposting. Here’s a link to the original on The Oatmeal.

Just to reiterate I didn’t write this or make it in any way. I just uploaded the pictures, which is super impressive, I know. You should seriously check out The Oatmeal though. He writes great comics, especially about cats. 🙂

Sustainable Holidays

There’s just one week until my Thanksgiving week long break and I can’t tell you how relieved I am to realize it’s just around the corner. In some ways this break is bittersweet because it is the last Thanksgiving I will see in my Undergraduate as this is my final semester at university (for now). On top of that Christmas and other winter holidays are waiting to burst forth with sparkling twinkle lights, soft frosted sugar cookies, striped peppermint canes, peace, love and good will toward man.

Wintertime brings forth thoughts of joy within my spirit, but with these holiday parties, gifts and excessive food we also see a lot of waste, which is not very Earth-friendly. I would never suggest that anyone should cut out the important traditions, or stop giving gifts or never throw a party. What is life, let alone Christmas without these things? However, winter sends our consumerism into overdrive and I am here to give some tips on how to reduce (not remove) some of these excessive purchases.

Invitations and Cards

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When we read we begin with ABC when we throw a party we begin with invitations. On this topic, I’m torn. It’s always quite lovely to receive a beautiful invitation to a wedding, holiday party, or shower. On the other hand, the paper industry is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the U.S.

  • Evites (like those from Punchbowl.com) are virtual invitations, which may provide the answer. 
  • Another idea is to use partly or 100% postconsumer recycled paper.
  • Non-wood pulp paper:
    • Cotton paper from Crane’s, which uses leftover waste from the textile industry.
    • Botanical Paperworks is a company which uses biodegradable materials to make cards with seeds in them. You plant the card and can enjoy a garden of beautiful wildflowers next spring.
    • Kenaf and hemp papers are a good choice, because kenaf and hemp are sustainable and easy to grow without pesticides.
    • Resource for recycled tree-free paper: Vickerey.
  • Avoid cards which are embedded with metallic sparklies or are coated in plastic. They are tough, if not impossible to recycle.

Gift Wrap

Gift wrap is often not recyclable due to the large amount of ink used in printing, nor is gift wrap generally made from recycled materials. So considering the gift wrap is rarely appreciated before it is torn off the gift and wadded into a ball to be used later in gift wrap basketball (is that just my family?) it’s a bad idea to use conventional wrapping paper. But good news everyone, there are alternatives:

  • You can find gift wrap and bags made from recycled paper and tree-free materials on Lucky Vitamin.
  • Wrap gifts unconventionally: Gifting your foodie friend kitchen utensils and a gift card to their favorite restaurant? wrap it in a pretty kitchen dish cloth. Wrap a gift inside a usable tote or purse; two gifts in one!
  • Make a cute origami gift box (see my tutorial here) or gift bag (see tutorial on How About Orange) from magazines or newspaper. Recycling is the best! Plus, magazines have beautiful glossy pages.
  • Save still pretty bows and ribbons from year to year (key words, still pretty; don’t be saving ratty old bits of useless material.)
Origami gift box from magazine pages.

Gifts

When it comes to gifts, people generally default to things. Change your mindset. Unless you know exactly what someone wants or needs, a thing might not be the answer to your gift giving questions. What to give instead? Gift certificates are a great place to start, not generic, impersonal ones but ones that really show you know who they are and what they like. Have a friend who loves yoga? Get them a a punch pass to a local yoga studio. Remember that foodie friend I mentioned earlier? Restaurant gift card! More ideas:

  • A donation to a charity in their name.
  • Tickets to their favorite concert, sports team, the ballet, the opera, the movies… etc.
  • Gift card to a salon or spa.
  • Mom and dad would love a framed picture of you and your siblings.
  • For your gal pals, a night out and an overnight stay in a luxury hotel.
  • For a sporty friend, sessions with a personal trainer.
  • For that recently married couple, a bottle of the wine served at their wedding or honeymoon.

See it’s not so hard. Homemade gifts are also very appreciated. They show you put time and energy into their gift. Here are a few links to homemade gifts (pinterest is the best pinterest)

That should keep you busy for a while.

Refreshments

No one can deny that food and booze can make or break a party. Food and booze also tend to be served in excess at parties, with good reason. No host or hostess wants to be caught without food to serve the seven who RSVPed “no” but decided to come anyway or the plus one your nephew forgot to mention he was bringing (*hint hint* this is also a commentary on party etiquette).

Thanksgiving: the holiday we give thanks for what we have (to waste)  

More than 25 percent of food produced for humans is thrown out (that comes out to about 50 million tons of food every year). This food ends up in landfills, which are major sources of human-produced methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty-three times more prolific than CO2. The moral of the story is to:

  • only serve the amount of food you’ll need,
  • store the leftovers for a meal tomorrow,
  • use local and organic ingredients,
  • recycle and compost waste, and
  • use cloth napkins and reusable dishes and utensils.

As for alcohol serve organic alcohol as often as possible. Why does it matter? Alcohol come from plants and it takes a lot of plants to make that much alcohol. This means a heck of a lot of pesticides; not good for you, or the planet. Organic alcohols:

Decorations

In my family decorating the house for Christmas is a Christmas tradition I love (in fact one year a cried… I don’t actually remember why but it had something to do with Christmas decorating and not doing it as a family… or something). I love changing the decor in my apartment (especially the door wreath) seasonally, but Christmas is when I really go all out with the decorations (this is probably true for most people).

Unfortunately some of the decorations on the market are not very Earth-friendly, namely twinkle lights. A string of 300 hundred of these lights can use 30 kilowatt-hours of energy (emitting 45 pounds of CO2) over the holiday season. And with those big fat lights, your looking at 450 kilowatt-hours (700 pounds of CO2). The solution? LED lights! Not only do they only use 3 kilowatt-hours during the holiday season, they don’t get hot so your fire risk goes WAY down.

Old town Fort Collins in winter. I wonder if they use LED lights…

Use decorations you can reuse from year to year (i.e. a paper garland is a no-no, also not chic. That goes for confetti too, which is ridiculously hard if not impossible to clean up). Look for decorations at antique stores, thrift shops and garage sales instead of buying them new.

Other than that, the only thing I can suggest is forgetting the Christmas tree all together. But I would never suggest that because I LOVE Christmas trees. Seriously.

This room is unquestionably gorgeous!

However, consider an artificial Christmas tree. No luxurious spruce smell, but also no messy needles. Or if you could never go without a real Christmas tree, buy one with roots attached that you can replant when Christmas is over.

Clean-Up

Don’t give up on being green just because you are over-whelmed with a mess after a party. Hopefully you’ve already reduced a lot (a major point of this post in case you missed that) and you are left with a relatively easy cleanup. Use green products like Seventh Generation and Simple Green (more on green cleaning products later). Replace your plastic trash bags with recycled trash bags or use biodegradable bags, such as BioBag. Avoid disposable dishes and utensils! Here’s a few tips if you need more dishes to cover your guests:

  • Check out vintage shops for unique (and cheap) dishes that send you good vibes, man.
  • If you buy new, get organic or renewable fabrics, recycled glass, sustainable woods, and ceramics colored with nontoxic dyes.

The end… Good luck to you with your holiday season. Leave a comment to tell me how you plan to utilize these tips or share your own.