Monthly Archives: December 2010


Winter warmers

I remember when I was young, a friend asked me if I’d rather live somewhere that was too  hot, or too cold. I thought about it long and hard, and finally decided “Too cold.” “Why,” she asked me (we lived in Scotland– nobody in their right mind would choose cold over hot). “Because you can always add more clothes, but you can’t take off your skin without extreme pain.”

I kinda had a point; I still feel the same way over 20 years later.

I don’t like being cold. My joints stiffen up, my body starts shivering uncontrollably, and I just don’t really want to move very much. I’d give a small toe in exchange for a fireplace in the winter. And I live in Southern California. Luckily, there are things that can help keep the body warm even if you think your bones are going to freeze and shatter.

Ginger: ginger is fantastic. It warms the stomach, calms digestion, and really gets the digestive fire going. It also stimulates circulation, and helps to keep you warm in the winter. Use it in teas, in food, or make a herbal oil with it, and massage it into frozen limbs in front of the fireplace. If you have one. Chop ginger into your bath water, along with a few cloves. Add powdered ginger to your pumpkin spiced chai. There are many things that you can do with this wonderful medicinal herb to benefit from it during the cold months.

Cayenne: circulatory stimulant galore. Put some cayenne in a tub of water and soak your feet. Your feet will absorb the cayenne, and your body will be warm within minutes. It relieves pain, moves energy and stimulates your body to start heating from the inside. Put cayenne in your food, or in your hot drinks. Make your own tincture, or make a herbal oil to rub into your feet. Keep in mind that a little goes a long way! I accidentally put too much cayenne tincture in a friend’s formula, and I think her tongue just about exploded (lucky it was a friend!).

Cardamom: cardamom is such a wonderful tummy warmer and digestive aid. It is also fantastic at removing dampness from the body. Dampness manifests as bogginess– heavy limbs, cloudy thoughts, low energy, feeling kinda blah. Look at your tongue– is it swollen and greasy looking? Is it cold and wet outside? Add cardamom to your morning coffee– the combined effects of the coffee (which drains damp) and cardamom (which drains damp) really help to move that bogginess.

Clove: a wonderful carminative herb that also helps with dampness and digestion. Throw some in your bath, or a pinch of clove in your tea. Have some spiced wine after dinner.

Cinnamon: is it a coincidence that cinnamon is used in so many winter desserts? I think not! Cinnamon is a fantastic nourisher. It warms the digestive centre, nourishes the fluids in the body, and helps to drain dampness.

Garlic: Garlic is considered to be a hot herb. We have it on hand at all times, just because we love the taste of it so much, but during flu season, and during the winter, it’s even more valuable because it is so lovely and hot! When we are starting to come down with something, we often have a dinner of chicken broth with raw garlic on toast. Of course, nobody will come near you for days, but it’s worth it to be cold-free!

Chicken soup: Though not technically a ‘herb’, chicken soup is one of my favourite warming remedies. One of the reasons that it works so well for colds and flus is that it’s diaphoretic– it heats the body from the centre, which causes you to sweat.

Orange peel: Moves stagnant energy, gently heating, drains damp.

Interested in how to incorporate some of these herbs into foods? Butter, at Hunger and Thirst, has written about a delicious warming broth.

This post is shared at Fight back Friday


Christmas pudding

Christmas time makes me miss the UK.

Where it got dark around 4pm, and the shops would stay open late, and you’d have to bundle up in your winter coat with a hat and scarf. Where you’d go Christmas present shopping after school and the wind would bite your nose, and the smell of roasted chestnuts would fill the air. In Glasgow, George Square would light up. When I moved back home to go to university, I’d go wandering around the center of town in the wee hours of the morning, and sit on a bench in George Square just looking up at the lights and the architecture. For some reason, that combination of modern lighting, and the old, soot-covered architecture did something strange to my insides; it made me feel timeless, and I loved it.

The year before my dad died, I went to visit him over Christmas. He picked me up from the airport, very tired. We went back to his house and hung out, reading, eating chocolate, drinking soup. I spent 2 weeks with him curled up on the couch eating and reading. We went through his entire stash of Dairy Milk, and had to make a Sainsbury’s run to get more. And on Christmas, we had a chicken stir fry, with mashed potatoes, and then a christmas pudding. We ate the whole pud, dad and me, just the two of us. It was one of my favourite days that I’ve ever spent with him. When I left his house to go to the airport, and he stood in his doorway waving at me, I got this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. A feeling that made me want to stop the taxi and run back and look after him for  a bit. A feeling that I’d never see him again; I was right.

It always strikes me as funny how foods can weave together memories. Happy memories and sad memories, that create such pain, and such joy all at once. It’s like our history as people is so intimately connected to the foods that we eat that sometimes there is no separating them.

A couple of years ago, Jam’s friend came back from a trip to london with a pud for us from Harrods. Harrods do a special pud every year that costs a ridiculous amount of money and comes in a special pudding bowl that says “Harrods” on it. Well, we ended up with one. And we ceremoniously cooked it, and shared it with a few worthy friends*. It was the most glorious thing that I’d ever tasted. And after that day I resolved to make one just as good.

Luckily there are people like Delia Smith in the world. Delia Smith is the fairy godmother of English cooking. And of course she had a pudding recipe. She also has a trifle, and a Christmas cake, and all kinds of other goodies, but I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. And so it was with the archetypical pud in mind (Which I had been lucky enough to taste! What wonders!) that I set forth with a twenty-something ingredient list and a few days of painful preparation.

Delia does not disappoint. Not ever. This year is my first year with a Christmas tree (sorry mum) and after our decorating party, we sat down and had the first of many Christmas puddings. I think that Harrods uses Delia’s recipe.

There’s not much time left, but if you still have a day to spare, I’d give it a go.


4oz suet (I used buffalo kidney fat)

2oz flour, sifted

1tsp baking powder

4oz breadcrumbs

1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

8oz soft brown sugar

8oz raisins

10 oz currants

1 oz candied orange peel

1 oz skinned, chopped almonds

1 1/2 granny smith apples, peeled and chopped quite finely

zest of 1 orange

zest of 1 lemon

3 tb rum

3 tb barley wine

3 tb stout

(If you can’t find barley wine then use all stout, and if you can’t find either then use a dark beer like Guinness).

2 large eggs

In a big mixing bowl, place the suet (or whatever fat you use), flour, baking powder, breadcrumbs, spice and sugar. Mix thoroughly.

Add the rest of the ingredients (mix thoroughly again).

In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the beer, wine and rum (note: if you are using 151 like I did, don’t add that to the eggs first or they will cook and you will have scrambled boozy eggs= not fun).

Pour this over the rest of the ingredients, and mix well until it is a big sloppy mess. If it doesn’t feel sloppy enough, then add more beer.

Leave it out, covered with a dish cloth, overnight.

In the morning, pack the mixture into a pudding bowl (NOTE: I couldn’t find a pudding bowl. I used a well made ceramic mixing bowl, and then when I decided to make more, I went to Sur La Table and got more little bowls that looked a good shape, and asked if they could stand the heat of a hot water bath.) leaving about half an inch space at the top.

Cut baking parchment to the size of the top of the bowl, and pack tightly on top of the wet pudding.

Cover with aluminium foil.

Tie with a string, and lower into a hot water bath (boiling).

Cover and cook for 8 hours.

After 8 hours of cooking, remove from the bath, re-cover just like you did to cook it, and put it somewhere cool, dark and safe until Christmas day– the longer it ages, the better it tastes… or do what I did and make 2, put one away until Christmas and have a pudding party with the other.

On Christmas day, serve for dessert with fresh cream, or custard.

* For the record, when you bite into the most delicious pud that has ever set down on a table, and the heavens open, and you hear angels start singing, and then you look up and see that a person has accepted a bowl, and just been pushing it around on their plate because they don’t like it or don’t want the calories, you might just want to punch them. I speak from experience.



Winter lips

I got a call from Lucie the other day. She’d be filming a show up on top of some skyscrapers that were being built in New York City (ah, the glamorous life of a TV producer) and between the wind and the cold, her already Jolie-esque lips looked like she’d had one collagen injection too many. Which, although not such an abnormal thing in Los Angeles, was painful and dry, and on the verge of bleeding. She wasn’t happy.

Luckily I had some comfrey oil on the stove (actually on the yogurt machine, but stove sounds better), so by the time she got to my house, her new lip balm was solidifying in the fridge.

Winter lips hurt. Luckily, relief is available, if not in your garden then from ingredients found at any health food store. It’s so unbelievably easy to make herbal oils and salves, and they are great to have on hand in case you are shooting a TV show up on top of a skyscraper. Or in my case, going skiing in a week ;).

Winter lip stick

To make herbal oils:

Take equal parts plant matter (in my case comfrey leaf and calendula flower) and add to equal parts carrier oil. I use coconut oil most of the time, but lard, and tallow are amazing, and plenty of people use olive oil. So take equal parts (volume) plant matter and oil, and set over a very very low heat for at least 4 hours. If you have a crock pot or a yogurt maker, you can put the whole lot in a mason jar and leave it in that for a while. I leave mine for up to 5 days. When it’s ready, strain out the plant matter, and put in an airtight container. You now have an oil that is infused with the medicinal properties of whatever it was you were using.

A few examples of some commonly found plants that make great herbal oils to have around:

Goldenrod: eases muscle pains and cramps, helps to heal injuries, soothes sore tired feet

Comfrey: Good for anything broken. Really lovely and soothing. Key component of my broken bone salve, great for any kind of cut or wound, as long as it’s not infected– it’ll heal it over so fast that infections can get stuck under the skin.

Calendula: Great for cuts where there’s raised, red skin like a cat-scratch. Soothing, nourishing, great for almost all skin complaints.

Yarrow: Stops bleeding.

Plantain: For bug bites, almost instant relief. For spider bites, sites where it’s never quite healed. For skin irritations, rashes, itches, wounds, you name it.

Creosote: Bug bites, infections, fungus.

Horsetail: Joint issues, cartilage issues, goes in my busted knee salve every time.

To make the lip balm:

makes 1 jar, or 3 sticks

1 tsp comfrey oil

1 tsp calendula oil

1 tsp plantain oil

1 tsp beeswax

3 drops geranium essential oil

3 drops camphor essential oil

You can use any container– I used to save little jars from things like eye cream or old lip balm sticks (you can soak them in hot water to melt out the lip balm, then wash them, and replace with your own!). Or you can buy packaging (and herbs) from places like Mountain Rose Herbs. And you can use any combination of herbal oils. No comfrey? Use plantain and calendula. Experiment!

Over low heat, melt all the ingredients together. Don’t let it boil. Remove from the heat, and add the essential oils. Pour immediately into the container, and allow to solidify.

This post is shared at the Hearth and Soul Blog hop! and at Pennywise platter thursday