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Celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees

The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which occurs in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere (sundown, January 24th, 2016) is known as the New Year of the Trees and, in some circles, as the Jewish Earth Day. Its date coincides with the earliest blooming trees in Israel and it is celebrated by planting trees and plants and by eating the fruits and nuts of trees.

For our family, celebrating Tu B’Shevat represents a way to honor the turning of the year, welcome the promise of spring and new life, and recommit to caring for the land and the planet.

Here are some easy, fun and meaningful ways to celebrate Tu B’Shevat.

Plant a Tree

Planting a tree is a simple and powerful act of faith and stewardship. Even a small yard or balcony can often accommodate a dwarf or potted tree. Alternately, there may be a neighborhood or public space available for the planting. This is a great project for a school, scout or youth group, as well as a family. Some people plant trees in the same place each year and watch them grow over the years.

See Blessings and Poems for Trees below.

Plant Vegetable or Flower Seeds

No space for a tree? No problem! Plant seeds outdoors or indoors that will come up in spring. You may want to plant parsley for Passover or Easter, peas for Earth Day, cosmos for May Day, or pansies for Mother’s Day. Of course, anything that grows will be celebrated anytime.

Try these easy-to-plant seeds, which can be planted in cool weather, are large enough for little fingers to handle, and sprout and grow relatively quickly: beans, gourds, morning glory, nasturtiums and peas.

Take a Photography or Poetry Walk

Sometimes the act of recording your observations with a camera or journal causes you to look around in a different way and notice things and make connections that you might not have made otherwise. Photography and poetry can help us quiet ourselves and focus our time in nature.

Be Kind to Nature

Choose an area near your home to care for for a few hours, in the form of weeding or picking up trash. These simple activities can really deepen our connections to the nature, as well as the people, around us. This can be especially true if we plant and revisit the same tree, or repeatedly care for the same piece of “nearby nature” over the years.

Make an Orange Bird Feeder

Did you know that orange halves make great bird feeders? They’re simple to make, visually appealing and even biodegradable. Best, your orange bird feeder will help you help the birds, at precisely the time when much of their food supply has diminished.

Have a Tu B’Shevat Seder

For those familiar with a Passover seder, a Tu B’Shevat seder is simpler. There are few rules. Hosts and participants decide on the customs that suit the event. Some plant seeds and tell stories that involve trees and tree planting. Others eat plenty of fruit and perhaps only fruit. You may want to choose from or eat all of these seven species which are abundant in Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

Make a Fun Fruit Recipe

Why not try a new recipe? The following look very inviting:

Make a Root Viewer

For many, the roots of a plant can be just as fascinating as the parts we see above ground. This simple root viewer lets budding botanists view the magical processes that happen below the surface of growing things.

You’ll need:

  • Clear plastic cups, bottles or jars
  • Seeds and dirt

Fill the containers most of the way with dirt.
Plant the seeds close to one side, one or two per cup.
Put them in the sun and water gently.
Watch as roots form and plants sprout.

Blessings and Poems for Trees

At tree-planting time, you may want to recite a blessing or poem to encourage a long life for the tree. If you’d like, pass a chalice of water and have each person who receives it share a wish, thought or memory. Once the chalice has gone around, the water can be used to nourish the tree.

Simple Blessing for the Planting of a Tree

We plant this tree to honor ______ (name of person or occasion). May this tree’s roots go deep, its trunk grow strong, its branches spread wide, and its leaves and fruit provide nourishment, beauty and shade. May it always remind us of this special moment.

Growth of a Tree

I’m a little maple, oh so small,
In years ahead, I’ll grow so tall!
With a lot of water, sun, and air,
I will soon be way up there!

Deep inside the soil my roots are found,
Drinking the water underground.
Water from the roots my trunk receives,
Then my trunk starts making leaves.

As I start to climb in altitude,
Leaves on my branches will make food.
Soon my trunk and branches will grow wide,
And I’ll grow more bark outside!

I will be a maple very tall,
Losing my leaves when it is fall.
But when it is spring, new leaves will show.
How do trees grow? Now you know!

— Meish Goldish

Slow Snippet: In old Jewish homes, a cedar tree was planted for each baby boy, and a cypress tree for each girl. When two people married, branches from their trees were used to create their “chuppah”, or wedding canopy.

Hope you have joyous Tu B’Shevat!
Many of these activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun.

Personalize Your Baking with Fun Cookie Cutters

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I love anything that let’s you customize your projects, so when I saw these special cookie cutters from Chicago Metallic, I immediately bought the set. They are so much fun to use!

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There are three generous cookie shapes with grooves to fit the letters, which follow the same principle of old printing presses – letters get placed into the grooves backward, in order to print the messages in the right direction.

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There was more than enough of every letter. In addition, the set comes with some ready-made strips of common phrases, like Happy, Birthday, Congrats, Holiday, Welcome, From and Love You.

I had been wanting to send my college-age daughter a last care package for the year, so I celebrated the end of the school year and the beginning of summer in cookies. I used the recipe that came with the cutters, and it  made a simple, thick, buttery sugar cookie that stood up to shipping. I’m sure I’ll experiment with other recipes and sayings, because this was so much fun – and most appreciated. I think they’d make terrific cookies for holidays or any occasion. For children’s birthday parties, you could surprise guests with personalized cookies, as a simple party favor (that will surely be appreciated). For an older group, cookies could serve as placeholders.

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Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees

The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which occurs in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere (sundown, January 24th, 2016) is known as the New Year of the Trees and, in some circles, as the Jewish Earth Day. Its date coincides with the earliest blooming trees in Israel and it is celebrated by planting trees and plants and by eating the fruits and nuts of trees.

For our family, celebrating Tu B’Shevat represents a way to honor the turning of the year, welcome the promise of spring and new life, and recommit to caring for the land and the planet.

Here are some easy, fun and meaningful ways to celebrate Tu B’Shevat.

Plant a Tree

Planting a tree is a simple and powerful act of faith and stewardship. Even a small yard or balcony can often accommodate a dwarf or potted tree. Alternately, there may be a neighborhood or public space available for the planting. This is a great project for a school, scout or youth group, as well as a family. Some people plant trees in the same place each year and watch them grow over the years.

See Blessings and Poems for Trees below.

Plant Vegetable or Flower Seeds

No space for a tree? No problem! Plant seeds outdoors or indoors that will come up in spring. You may want to plant parsley for Passover or Easter, peas for Earth Day, cosmos for May Day, or pansies for Mother’s Day. Of course, anything that grows will be celebrated anytime.

Try these easy-to-plant seeds, which can be planted in cool weather, are large enough for little fingers to handle, and sprout and grow relatively quickly: beans, gourds, morning glory, nasturtiums and peas.

Take a Photography or Poetry Walk

Sometimes the act of recording your observations with a camera or journal causes you to look around in a different way and notice things and make connections that you might not have made otherwise. Photography and poetry can help us quiet ourselves and focus our time in nature.

Be Kind to Nature

Choose an area near your home to care for for a few hours, in the form of weeding or picking up trash. These simple activities can really deepen our connections to the nature, as well as the people, around us. This can be especially true if we plant and revisit the same tree, or repeatedly care for the same piece of “nearby nature” over the years.

Make an Orange Bird Feeder

Did you know that orange halves make great bird feeders? They’re simple to make, visually appealing and even biodegradable. Best, your orange bird feeder will help you help the birds, at precisely the time when much of their food supply has diminished.

Have a Tu B’Shevat Seder

For those familiar with a Passover seder, a Tu B’Shevat seder is simpler. There are few rules. Hosts and participants decide on the customs that suit the event. Some plant seeds and tell stories that involve trees and tree planting. Others eat plenty of fruit and perhaps only fruit. You may want to choose from or eat all of these seven species which are abundant in Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

Make a Fun Fruit Recipe

Why not try a new recipe? The following look very inviting:

Make a Root Viewer

For many, the roots of a plant can be just as fascinating as the parts we see above ground. This simple root viewer lets budding botanists view the magical processes that happen below the surface of growing things.

You’ll need:

  • Clear plastic cups, bottles or jars
  • Seeds and dirt

Fill the containers most of the way with dirt.
Plant the seeds close to one side, one or two per cup.
Put them in the sun and water gently.
Watch as roots form and plants sprout.

Blessings and Poems for Trees

At tree-planting time, you may want to recite a blessing or poem to encourage a long life for the tree. If you’d like, pass a chalice of water and have each person who receives it share a wish, thought or memory. Once the chalice has gone around, the water can be used to nourish the tree.

Simple Blessing for the Planting of a Tree

We plant this tree to honor ______  (name of person or occasion). May this tree’s roots go deep, its trunk grow strong, its branches spread wide, and its leaves and fruit provide nourishment, beauty and shade. May it always remind us of this special moment.

Growth of a Tree

I’m a little maple, oh so small,
In years ahead, I’ll grow so tall!
With a lot of water, sun, and air,
I will soon be way up there!

Deep inside the soil my roots are found,
Drinking the water underground.
Water from the roots my trunk receives,
Then my trunk starts making leaves.

As I start to climb in altitude,
Leaves on my branches will make food.
Soon my trunk and branches will grow wide,
And I’ll grow more bark outside!

I will be a maple very tall,
Losing my leaves when it is fall.
But when it is spring, new leaves will show.
How do trees grow? Now you know!

— Meish Goldish

Slow Snippet: In old Jewish homes, a cedar tree was planted for each baby boy, and a cypress tree for each girl. When two people married, branches from their trees were used to create their “chuppah”, or wedding canopy.

Hope you have joyous Tu B’Shevat!
Many of these activities are adapted from  Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun.

Holiday and Everyday Cranberry Pear Jam

Cranberries and pears are both such delicious and evocative fall and winter fruits that I was thrilled to find a jam recipe that combined them as wonderfully as this one. It’s sweet, with a little bite, and with its wonderful color, makes a fabulous spread or gift at holiday time or anytime. Making jam is one of my favorite family kitchen projects. It combines science, tradition, and the supreme satisfaction of the entire canning process, which lets you transform fruit into jam, before pleasingly pouring it into glass jars. My simple and delicious recipe for cranberry pear jam requires only four ingredients. It comes from Food in Jars, which is a great source for all things canning. Make it before the cranberries disappear for the season.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Other posts by Suz you might like:

Stir up Some Triple Berry Jam

Stir up (or cook down) some Colonial Apple Butter

The Bond of Blueberry Jam, Motherlode blog

My Favorite Orange Cookie with Sweet Orange Glaze

orange cookies

frosted orange cookie

These are my new hands-down favorite cookies to bake (and eat) – Orange cookies with sweet orange glaze from Brown Eyed Baker. I brought these cookies to barbecues over the summer and I believe they will be just as popular during holiday gatherings in winter. They’re delicious and sweet, with a texture that offers both softness and crunch and a vibrant citrus taste, even without the frosting. The frosting, which I first successfully added, complete with sprinkles, at the suggestion of my daughter Anna, gives them even more of a yummy, sweet orange taste.

best orange cookie

orange cookie recipe

glazed orange cookie

Enjoy with milk, coffee or your drink of choice!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

The Blessings of an Early Morning (with Biscuit Recipe)

I’m an early riser by nature, but lately I’ve been getting up especially early. I’m not sure why this is, though changing rhythms of self and season certainly play a part. It really feels like Fall now when the sun doesn’t rise until close to 7 am, and the mornings are fog-bathed, chilly and cozy. Though I relish bustling family time (and I sometimes wish I didn’t begin to yawn extravagantly by 10 pm or even earlier), there is something about being awake and alone in the quiet early morning hours that is extremely special, calm and naturally slow. The knowledge that the whole day is ahead, and one can be present for its entirety, lends a feeling of gratitude and fullness to the early-morning moments, a feeling that can too easily slip away as the day contracts and fills with busy-ness and chores.

I recently used an early morning to luxuriously pick up a sewing project – mending a pair of overalls for Anna – and bake biscuits, both of which I knew would surprise the family when they awoke. Like much handwork, running thread through a garment can be an especially calm and purposeful task. Filling the house with the smells of fresh coffee and biscuits tends to make early risers of others, too.

When Anna woke up and saw the biscuits, and especially her overalls, I got the biggest hug.

The biscuit recipe is adapted from Marcia Adams’ wonderful cookbook, Heartland, The Best of the Old and the New From Midwest Kitchens:

You’ll need:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400. In a food processor (or with a pastry cutter) combine flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Drop in the butter and process until coarse crumbs form. Pour in the cream and process until just combined – do not overmix.

Transfer bowl to floured board and knead 6 turns. Pat or roll dough into a circle about 3/4 inch thick. Using a standard or other cutter, cut out biscuits. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet and back for 10-12 minutes or until golden.

Yield: Approximately 16 biscuits.

Enjoy your morning!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Giving Thanks: Express Gratitude with Crafts, Foods, Fun and Contemplation

Thanksgiving is upon us in the U.S. Even those who routinely feel and express gratitude have a sanctioned reason to pause and do so more profoundly than usual. Gratitude can transform one’s entire experience and outlook. It imbues relationships, observations and activities with awe and fullness and the realization that “this moment” — and our own unique collection of moments — is the best there is.

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The Thanksgiving holiday makes space for us to allow gratitude into our (often busy) lives in new ways and to pass that feeling on to our children. I’m very grateful for many things, including my wonderful and creative blogger friends who have taken the time to contribute their own ideas for gratitude and celebration.

While I love the smells of turkey cooking — in addition to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on T.V. — I also enjoy getting out in nature on Thanksgiving Day. Frugal Mama shares four make-ahead traditional Thanksgiving recipes that allow you to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, with all the trimmings, as well as some time away from the kitchen.

Pumpkin pie is a classic Thanksgiving and Fall food and, while you can make it from scratch, this recipe using canned pumpkin, is extremely easy and makes a very tasty pie.

You can bake your own crust or use one of the pre-made ones, some of which are getting better and better tasting. Epicurious taste-tested pre-made pie crusts. Among their favorites is one of  mine, Whole Foods 365 Organic Pie Shells. Good Housekeeping also weighs in with their pre-made pie crust taste test.

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From Rhythm of the Home and Vintage Chica comes a beautiful Thankfulness Journal project.  Of course, this well-made felt-covered book would be a wonderful project to make, use and enjoy any time of year.

The same could be said of this equally inspiring and beautiful gratitude banner from Future Craft Collective. It’s fun and lovely in itself and wonderful in the way it allows family members to contemplate and formalize their gratitude.

 

Shoveling snow? Why not turn it into a fun and magical outdoor activity for you and your kids? That’s what Mel at Traveling Mel did. Her photos are delightful and inspiring, as always.

Bethe, the Grass Stain Guru, shares her own wonderful list of 10 things to be thankful for in nature.

I just had the good fortune to learn about the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, CA, which explores the science behind happiness and gratitude and the ways that we can nurture those brain pathways that promote them. According the the folks at Greater Good, happiness and gratitude can be learned and practiced traits.

Want more information about cultivating an attitude of gratitude? Gratitude Twenty Four Seven is just that – a very inspiring site from Jarl Forsman and Steve Sekhon full of daily tips and affirmations to help you be more grateful and fulfilled every day.

Arvind Devalia gives us some ideas about embracing what we already have.

My own gratitude list includes:
A family that laughs a lot
Good friends
The smell of clean laundry
The air after it rains
Strawberries
Tulips
Clouds
Vintage anything
Old cities
Trains
Tomatoes
Beaches
Hats and gloves
Hopeful new immigrants
Energy
Creativity
Good health
A warm house
Meaningful work
Books and book stores
Holidays
Amusement Parks
County Fairs
Swing music
Colors
Babies
Curlicues
Road trips
A smile from a stranger
Daffodils
Snow-capped mountains
Starry nights
Wonder

..to name a few things

What’s yours?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Photos: Farm Security Administration, Rick Audet, Bernadette Noll, Susan Sachs Lipman

Blueberry Thursday: Blueberry Corn Muffins

In the spirit of keeping those summer fruit recipes coming, here’s a recipe that combines two wonderful high-summer favorites, blueberries and corn. These muffins are inspired by both the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook and the Williams Sonoma Muffins cookbook and bears a bit of each.

Preheat oven to 400. Line muffin tins with paper.

You’ll need:

1 C. flour
1 C. cornmeal
1/3 C. sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

1 C. buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 C. mild cooking oil, like canola

1 2/3 C. blueberries

Sift first 5 dry ingredients together.

In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk, egg and oil.

Combine the wet into the dry ingredients, being careful not to mix too much. (This last is important for a pleasing texture.)

Fold in blueberries, just to combine.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full.

Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in a muffin’s center emerges clean.

Let cool and enjoy these tasty, hearty muffins!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Fourth of July or Groovy Colorful Cookies

Looking for a fun, easy 4th of July, summer or anytime colorful cookie? When we are, we often find ourselves turning to this recipe for “Beautiful Colorful Cookies” in the book, Williams-Sonoma Kids Cookies. It makes a tasty shortbread-like cookie, with a great crunchy texture.

But, of course, the real star is the unexpected, high-impact colors. We use professional paste frosting colors for wonderful results. You can get a box of 8 small color jars from ChefMaster, available at specialty baking stores, for around $8.

You’ll need:

1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. flour
Food coloring

(This will make about 22 cookies. We suggest doubling the recipe.)

Adjust oven to 350.
Put butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla in large bowl and beat, on medium-high speed, until creamy.
Add flour and beat at low speed to form smooth dough.
Divide dough in equal parts, one for each color you’ve chosen, and add food coloring until you get the colors you want.

You can then either employ the “log” method of designing your cookies …

… Or the “blob” method.

Here, logs are placed together ..

… and then gently twisted.

The process is very much like working with fimo clay.

This is the blob version, in which the log is created by putting rolled balls of dough together and gently rolling to combine.

The trick to both is twisting or rolling gently, so the colors don’t mix too much and each remains distinct. You can cut a slice to see if you’re happy with your pattern.

Cut slices about 1/4″ thick. If the dough is too soft, refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place slices on ungreased cookie sheets about 1″ apart and bake for approx. 10 minutes or until set.

Cool and enjoy!

Here’s how the cookies can look with subtler colors. Happy 4th!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Saluting Silver Palate’s Sheila Lukins

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The hoopla surrounding the book and movie, Julie and Julia, has been wonderful, of course — for amateur cooks, for foodies, for bloggers. Anything that gets people back into the kitchen after seasons of take-out (if, indeed, that’s where they head post-movie) and certainly anything that makes us stop and truly appreciate the pioneering Julia Child, with her trilling voice, kind demeanor and no-nonsense insistence that any of us, too, could pull off chicken Cordon Bleu, is inherently good. For my mother’s generation, Julia Child and her Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the guide that perhaps their own parents — in a harder era during which, for many, cooking was an artless enterprise, synonymous with “getting food on the table” — were not.

My own cooking was informed by a different set of guides. So it was with dismay that I learned that Sheila Lukins, co-creator with Julie Rosso of the Silver Palate cookbooks and empire, had died, at just 66, of brain cancer.

When I moved to New York, after college, in 1982, I quickly experienced the personal revelation that was fettuccine Alfredo. “Pasta, Etc.” stores were springing up around Manhattan, with their ready-made sauces and varieties of pasta. Growing up, pasta meant spaghetti, and usually at a restaurant. Home meals tended to revolve around chicken, meat or fish, and were dishes without a lot of variation, week to week, that my working mom could easily prepare and get on the table. (Kitchen leisure was reserved for baking projects and Thanksgiving Day.)

Then I discovered the Silver Palate stores, with their amazing chicken salads and chutneys and raspberry and walnut vinaigrettes. I snapped up the Silver Palate Cookbook and learned to make such staples on my own. The book was such an obvious labor of love — as had been the Moosewood Cookbook before it, which I belatedly found — with its hand-drawings, personal notes, and unique recipes that I could easily replicate. It had clearly been created by people who adored food and combining ingredients in interesting, tasty ways. Their recipes were (to me) informed by global cuisines, which became especially apparent when the pair split forces and Lukins traveled the world to research and create her astonishing Around the World Cookbook, which, along with the Silver Palate Cookbook and the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, I am continually inspired by.

Barely a week goes by when I don’t cook from, or at least reference, one of these books (along with the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook.) Into my repertoire have gone their Chicken Marbella (which is so popular among my generation of home cooks, especially for dinner parties, that it is mentioned in Lukins’ New York Times obituary.) Four Seasons Pasta, Pasta Putanesca, Game Hens in Raspberry, Seven Vegetable Couscous, Salmon Mousse, and June’s Apple Crisp are just a few of the recipes that I turn to time and again. Just this weekend, my daughter and I made Three-Ginger Cookies from the Good Times cookbook, which, as its name implies, is a fun compendium of recipes and occasions to enjoy them with others.

Sheila, you gave me a lot.

While racking up influences from my early ’80s burgeoning cooking and entertaining life, I would be remiss in not mentioning Martha Stewart’s own first book, Entertaining. It’s hard to remember that, prior to the Martha Stewart many of us know now, this extremely talented, energetic, and comparatively anonymous caterer put together a gorgeous collection of recipes for parties that one could just happen upon in a bookstore. Not a rumaki was to be found within its pages. Like Silver Palate, Entertaining was a revelation as far as food and style — verve, really — and is another book I’ve referred to repeatedly over the years.

I wonder which books will be the touchstones for the cooks who are coming of age now.

gingermix

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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