Baking Christmas cookies

Baking Christmas cookies

Christmas is always a great time for baking and for get-togethers. So here are a few good recipes to get you into the mood.

Funky Christmas Cookies:

This is a very easy recipe and ideal for baking with children. First, make the dough and then get various cookie cutters and cut out the shapes you like. Finally decorate with tubes of edible writing gel, chocolate or other decorations. The more organic and well-sourced ingredients you can use, the better.

Ingredients: 120g butter, 120g plain flour, 60g semolina, 60g caster
sugar, 100g icing sugar.

1) Take a big bowl and put in the butter (leave outside for a few hours before use, so it is soft) and the flour. Then rub both together with your hands. If your hands get very messy and sticky, add some flour to your hands to make it less sticky.

2) Once the mixture resembles lots of little breadcrumbs, add the semolina and caster sugar. Then squash everything together until you have a firm ball of dough.

3) Set the oven to 150degrees/300F/or Gas Mark 2. Get out a baking tray to
place the cookies on.

4) Sprinkle some flour on a big wooden chopping board and then roll out the
dough with a rolling pin, make it quite thin, but not so thin that it breaks
easily.

5) Now use the cookie cutters to cut out various shapes and place them carefully on a baking tray. Once the tray is full put it in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Then take them out and leave them to cool. Whilst the first lot of cookies bakes, take the rest of the dough and repeat the step for another 4 to 5 times until there is no more dough left.

6) Add the icing sugar together with a tiny bit of water and mix together
until you have a gooey paste. Then add some natural colour and flavour (you can
find them in the baking section) and decorate your cookies.

Chewy Winter Chocolate Bites

These chocolate fudge pieces make a great Christmas present and you don’t
even have to bake them!

Ingredients: 200g/8oz plain chocolate, 50g/2oz butter, 1 tbsp cocoa
powder, 50ml double cream, 250g/9oz icing sugar, 8 glace cherries

1) Put the chocolate, butter and cocoa powder into a glass or ceramic bowl. Then take a saucepan and put some water in it and gently place a ceramic bowl over the saucepan, so that the water heats up the chocolate and melts it.

2) Stir everything together and pour the mixture into a plastic mixing bowl
and add the cream and beat in the icing sugar.

3) Chop the cherries into small pieces and fold them into the mixture.

4) Spoon the mixture into a shallow tin and smooth the top. Then chill the tin in the fridge until it is set. Once it is solid, cut it into small squares and put them into little muslin bags with ribbons. That makes a great Christmas gift.

Christmas Stollen

This is a German Christmas recipe and it is a sweet bread that contains
sultanas, nut, orange peel. This recipe makes roughly 30 portions.

Ingredients: 175g/6oz blanched almonds, 175g/6oz blanched sultanas,100g/4oz
currants, 100g/4oz finely dices glacee lemon peel, 100g/4oz finely dices glacee
orange peel, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla sugar, grated rind of 1 unwaxed lemon, 3 tbsp of
rum, 500g/1lb 2oz plain flour, 20g/3/4 of oz dried yeast, 90g/3oz sugar,
125ml/half pint of lukewarm milk, 1 pinch of salt, 250g/9oz butter/ flour to
roll out the dough, 150g/5oz of melted butter, 100g/4 oz icing sugar to dust.

1) Grind half of the almonds and roughly chop the other half. Then combine
with sultanas, currants, glacee peel, vanilla sugar, lemon rind and rum. Cover
the mixture with cling film and leave overnight.

2) The next day put the flour into a large mixing bowl, make a dent in the
middle and add the yeast. Sprinkle some sugar over the yeast and then add the
lukewarm milk and dissolve the yeast This will take a little while.

3) Once the dough has risen add the marinated fruit mixture.

4) Sprinkle some flour on a board and spread the mixture to form a rectangle of roughly 40x 30cm/16x12in.
Brush it with water and place the stollen carefully on an oven tray lined with baking paper. Cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rise for a further 20min.

5) Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/390 F/gas mark 6.  and bake the stollen in the center for around 40minutes.

6) Take the stollen out and check if it is well baked.Then brush it wih melted butter and dust it with icing sugar. Keep repeating this process until all the butter and icing sugar are gone. Wrap the stollen into an aluminum foil and leave at least for 3 weeks until it is ready for eating, because only then all the full flavours will develop.

Happy baking and eating!

Renewal pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs

Renewal pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs

The Waning Moon and New Moon in November/December is a good time for renewal pruning of any deciduous trees and shrubs. If the weather is too wet or cold, you can move this task to January or even February. But make sure you have pruned back your deciduous specimen by the beginning of March.

There are two ways to prune:

Method 1 – the slow pruning option:

Before you start to ‘butcher’ your plants, stand back and have a good look. Some may need a radical prune (see section below), but most plants just need to get ‘back into shape’ and a ‘soft prune’ will just do that.

Deciduous shrubs and trees respond particularly well to this method, but it can also be used for evergreens.

First cut out old branches and stems that are too crowded. You can prune them back right to the main stem. Following that prune the rest of the bush/tree into a reasonable shape. Depending how fast the plant grows, take off a quarter to a third of its length. This ‘modest’ pruning method will make sure that the bush rejuvenates over a few years. But whilst this rejuvenation happens, you will still look out on a decent plant in your garden. This way of pruning is also a sensible option for very slow growing specimens.

The other alternative is more radial.

Method 2 – radical pruning option

If you have inherited a totally overgrown or neglected garden, you may wish to prune all plants back to the ground and start from afresh. This method is advisable if a plant is fast growing (although be careful, the more you prune, the quicker the plant will grow back) and if a plant looks very old, tired or even ill. Sometimes a radical pruning session at New Moon is the best option to let a plant spring back into life again. I once had an old holly bush that, due to a burst pipe at a neighbour’s property it had been waterlogged for a while. As a consequence it had lost all its leaves and quite frankly looked dead. So I decided to give it a final go. At the next New Moon I pruned back all side shoots and also chopped a third off the top.

At first nothing happened. But as soon I decided to chop it down completely, a few light-green shoots appeared. Now it is back again to its full old glory and a real focal point in our garden.

Biodynamic gardening made easy

Biodynamic gardening made easy

What is the big difference between biodynamic gardening and traditional gardening? This is a question I have been asked a lot over the years.

What is the big difference between biodynamic gardening and traditional gardening? This is a question I have been asked a lot over the years.

This is a question I have been asked a lot over the years. The gardening techniques may seem similar, but what is radically different is the overriding principle. A non-biodynamic gardener wants, on the whole, to make her/his plants look the best with whatever is a quick and convenient way. ‘Weeds’ are controlled with pesticides and the soil is a means to grow flowers/plants, but no particular thought is given to it.
Snails, earthworms and most insects (with the exception of bees) are not welcomed and exterminated. This will give you a nice garden but often to the detriment of wildlife erosion and longer down the line the extinction of species.

The biodynamic approach is more wholesome. It all starts with the soil and great effort is made to keep the soil in good condition. The addition of soil tonics, organic sprays and earthworms play a big part. If a plant grows in the ‘wrong place’, it is not just called a weed and discarded. Instead, it is carefully hoed out and used to make compost (although they need to be rotted down) or used in other ways. Take for example the plant nettle. In the ‘biodynamic world’ a nettle is never seen as a weed, but as a useful byproduct of nature. You may not want to have it grown in your favourite flower bed and will probably hoe it out from there. But what you do is different. Normally you would just throw it away as weeds. But the biodynamic gardener finds a lot of uses for it. For example dried – it makes a great detox tea, used as nettle brew it is the best lawn fertiliser there is and the fresh leaves can even be added to salads as they are full of nutrients. Anything not useful does not go to waste, but gets put back on the compost heap to make wonderful soil to help the next generation of crops grow.

Where does the word ‘Biodynamics’ come from?
The phrase ‘Biodynamics’ was created by Rudolf Steiner and is made out of the Ancient Greek words ‘bio’ (life) and dunamis (power). A biodynamic garden is managed as if it was a single complex organism.

In essence, Steiner described Biodynamics as an ‘ecological and sustainable approach to agriculture/gardening that increased soil fertility without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides’.

So it follows that bees, earthworms and other insects are not harmed but welcomed and put to good use. However, that does not mean that there is no pest control at all. Of course there is. But it is done in a sustainable/organic way and not as a blanket-extermination-program.

To make it all more effective, people use biodynamic calendars to harness the ‘best natural times’. We made it easy here and have created symbols for the most important gardening tasks. Here are some of the symbols to look out for.

We have grouped them together in the category Happy House in the LWTM lifestyle calendar. Here is a link to the calendar.

Click here to read more about how Biodynamic Gardening works

Traditional versus Biodynamic Farming

In contrast to conventional farming which is largely linear – you put a plant in the earth, grow it, take it out and sell it. Any unwanted plants/insects or other animals that interfere with producing just ‘the one crop’ are destroyed. Then the fields are stripped and made ready for the next crop.

The biodynamic approach, in contrast, is circular. You prepare the earth with soil tonics/compost, mostly made from the unwanted plants from the previous year – now turned into compost. Planting is done with calendars harnessing the life-force and plants that cross-fertilise (grow well next to each other, also known as companion planting) are seeded/planted.

Yield is also important, but so is the state of the soil and the balance of wildlife. Not just one crops is grown, but multiple at the same time. At harvest or even during growing, any unwanted parts, like leaves, roots, etc are used for composting instead of extinguished by pest control. This compost is then added to the soil together with earth tonics at the beginning of the next growing cycle.

Traditional Farming:
-Uses the soil as a commodity
-Is interested in high yields
-Pests are kept away by spraying chemicals
-Rows of the same crop are grown and all other plants are killed with pesticides
-It is all about making as much money from the land as possible
– no connection to natural patterns and life forces
– relies heavily on intervention from chemicals from outside.

versus

Biodynamic Farming:
-Is interested in the land as a whole (preservation of animals, soil condition, recycling) as well as the yield.
-Pests are controlled in natural ways and the emphasis is concentrated on how/when planting is done.
– Much time is spent on producing healthy soil conditions that are able to sustain many future crops to come. Compost is seen a vital part of soil preparation.
– Many crops are grown together, in fact that is encouraged so plants can naturally ‘cross-fertilise’ each other.
-Organic soil tonics, preparation and planting calendars are used to improve yield and keep the plants and soil healthy.

– Biodynamic farms aim to become self-sufficient interlinking animals into the agricultural process (manure as fertiliser, composting, etc) and try to limit most outside interactions.

Start a biodynamic compost heap

Start a biodynamic compost heap

 The LWTM compost symbol

Compost is a great gardening tool and best of all it is free. Chemical fertilizers are expensive and damaging to wildlife. If you have not yet got a compost heap or bin, here are a few tips on how to get started:

Home-made compost is cheap and easy to make, but the downside is that it takes around 6 months to gestate. The speed depends on the position of your heap (sun or shade) and the climate.

The most productive location in your garden is in a hidden corner, away from direct sunlight in dabbled shade.  If you keep your bin/heap in full sun then the compost soil will dry out too quickly.   But positioning it completely in the shade will decrease the time good quality compost is produced.

Biodynamic Composting
The best time to start a compost heap is during  Waning Moon, the nearer to the New Moon the better, or whenever you see the compost heap symbol on the LWTM lifestyle calendar. Compost needs heat to develop, so the best time to start one is in early spring to early autumn. During the cold winter months, the compost soil will lay dormant and the process will restart when the weather gets warmer in spring.

 

What type of container shall I use?
There are many different varieties on the market. You can buy either a custom made container (usually made of wood) or you can buy one off the shelve (usually made of plastic).
I have also seen biodynamic compost heaps that are made out of four wooden posts and chicken wire. I would not recommend them as heat escapes too quickly and the process is not as efficient as it could be.

If you don’t want to opt for a container, then the best natural alternative is to dig a hole in the ground (roughly one square meter wide and one meter deep). That means the earth will act as insulation and all you need to do is cover it with a piece of wood or old carpet to protect the compost from the element

Once in place, sprinkle some earth on the ground, then add organic kitchen waste, grass clippings, leaves, eggshells, coffee and tea bags, hair, straw and wood ash. Avoid all kinds of weeds, metal, glass, plastic, cleaning agents, plants with diseases, dairy products and meat.

 

Make sure the waste is balanced

To achieve a good balance apply the four-element rule:

Fire         Make sure that compost is not too dry

Air           Make sure the compost gets enough air

Water     Make sure the compost is not too wet and slimy

Earth      Make sure the ingredients are balanced.

 Once the waste has reached about 30 cm (one foot), add a thin layer of earth and some compost tonic, then carry on with another layer and spread some earth on top until the compost heap is full. Finally, cover the full heap with some soil and leave to develop.

 How many compost heaps shall I have?

biodynamic compost heap

This depends on the size of your garden, but the minimum is two – one side to fill up and one to use. For a medium-size family garden, I would recommend three bins – one to fill up, one to develop and one to use. This system will ensure that you have good quality compost available all year round.

 

When shall I bring compost out? 


This is the symbol to look out for when turning the soil and to bring compost out. Earth Days are great for this.  

Spices of Life – nutmeg

Spices of Life – nutmeg

Nutmeg is the ground pip of the nutmeg fruit growing on the evergreen nutmeg tree. When you open the fruit you will find the dark brown seed and woven around a bright red material called mace. This is also used in baking and other dishes, as it is less spicy than the actual seed, which is gourn into the wellknown nutmeg powder.

The nutmeg fruit, mace and nutmeg seed

The ground nutmeg spice is predominantly used as kitchen spice and it is rich in magnesium, vitamin B6, calcium and iron.

Today nutmeg is grown in Indonesia, Malaysia, Grenada and India where it flavours a lot of their traditional dishes. Nutmeg came to Europe when the Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish started to travel the world and brought exotic spices back from far away land.
During Elizabeth’s I reign nutmeg was said to ward off the plague and the price skyrocketed.

Nutmeg should be used sparingly, as excess intake can cause allergic reactions.

Recipes:

  • Carluccio’s Spinach ball pasta  
  • You will need:
  • 500g/1lb 2oz spinach washed thoroughly, tough stalks removed
  • 2 free-range eggs, beaten
  • pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 garlic clove, blended to a purée with ½ tsp water
  • 110g/4oz fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 50g/2oz parmesan or similar vegetarian hard cheese, freshly grated
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil

For the courgette pasta sauce

  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 chili finely chopped
  • 2 courgettes, trimmed, finely grated
  • 60g/2¼oz parmesan or similar vegetarian hard cheese, freshly grated
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 400g/14oz rigatoni or similar pasta cooked according to packet instructions, drained (reserve a few spoonfuls of the cooking water)
  • How to cut your vegetables 

Method

  1. For the spinach balls, blanch the spinach leaves in a pan of salted, boiling water for 1-2 minutes, then drain well and refresh in cold water.
  2. Using your hands, squeeze out as much water from the blanched spinach leaves as possible, then finely chop the spinach.
  3. Transfer the blanched, drained spinach to a bowl, then stir in the beaten eggs, nutmeg, garlic purée, breadcrumbs and parmesan. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well until the mixture binds together, adding more breadcrumbs or more water, as necessary, to bind the mixture.
  4. Roll the spinach mixture into walnut-sized balls and place onto a baking tray.
  5. Cover the base of a frying pan in a thin film of olive oil. Heat gently over a low to medium heat.
  6. When the oil is hot, add the spinach balls, in batches if necessary, and fry for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until crisp and golden-brown all over. Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on kitchen paper. Keep warm. Repeat the process with the remaining spinach balls.
  7. Meanwhile, for the pasta sauce, heat the oil in a separate frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for 1-2 minutes, or until softened but not coloured.
  8. Add the courgettes and continue to fry for 3-4 minutes, or until the courgettes have started to soften.
  9. Add the parmesan and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix until well combined, then stir in the reserved cooking water from the pasta and the cooked, drained rigatoni.
  10. To serve, divide the pasta and sauce equally among four serving plates. Place the fried spinach balls on top.

Home-made skincare using nutmeg

  • Reduces pigmentation and dark spots
  • Lightens skin
  • Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, fights spots and acne
  • Stimulates hair growth

and these are just a few

Recipe to lighten your skin:
Combine 1/4 tsp of nutmeg powder with 1 tsp of fresh lemon juibe and 1 tbsp of yoghurt in a bowl. Apply this mask to your skin (avoid the eye area and mouth) and rinse off with lukewarm water. Then apply a good moisturiser. If you have sensitive skin I would recommend a patch test, where you put a small amount onto your arm to see if it provokes a reaction. Do this 24 hours before applying the mask. Once you know you are fine, use this mask consistently 3-4 times per week to notice a difference.

Nutmeg Spot Treatment:
Add a pinch of cinnemon powder and a pinch of nutmeg powder into a small bowl. Add a few drops of fresh lemon juice to it and add 1/2 tsp of honey. Put this mixture onto your spots and leave on them for about 20minutes before rinsing this mixture off.

Youthful nutmeg skin mask:
Mix 1 tsp of honey, 1/2 tsp of nutmeg powder, 1 tsp of Greek yogurt to form a paste. Apply to your face and leave for about 10 min( as always avoid the face and mouth and do a patch test 24 hours before applying for the first time). Wash it off with lukewarm water and make sure it does not get into your eyes as nutmeg does sting!

Nutmeg toner:  
Use 1 tbsp of coconut milk and a pinch of nutmeg. Stir well and put into a small bottle, then apply on a cotton ball on a clean face.

Spices of Life – Cayenne Pepper

Spices of Life – Cayenne Pepper

Spices of Life – Cayenne Pepper

By Jutta Russell

Founder of Living with the Moon

Cayenne Pepper is an ideal spice for weight loss and that is why I have chosen it for January. It is a medium hot chili pepper, mostly red in colour. Like most chili pepper it grows on a bush and the ripe fruit is then harvested, dried and ground to a cayenne powder, which is used to flavour dishes. It originates from South America and was brought to Europe by the Spanish in the 16th century. Here are the main benefits of cayenne pepper:

The capsaicin in cayenne peppers may help boost your metabolism. This can help people who suffer from a sluggish metabolism, but unfortunately, the body gets used to this effect. So this method is only to be used as a short-term boost rather than an everyday effect.

Cayenne Pepper/lemon and maple syrup cleanse: 

DAY1

I would say it is rather a cleanse than a diet. Start on the first morning (you need to start on an empty stomach) with the salt cleanse. 1 tablespoon of high-quality salt (like Himalayan salt) dissolved in a 1litre of warm water. Sip this and make sure you stay near a toilet for the next few hours, as you will have strong bowel movements.
Next-  prepare the Cleansing lemonade consisting of: 

  • 2 tbsp of organic lemon juice that must be freshly squeezed, no substitutes
  • 2 tbsp organic maple syrup, again strive for the best quality here
  • 1/10 tsp (so very small amount) of cayenne pepper (powdered)
  • 300ml (10 oz.) of filter water.

Drink as much you want over the course of the remaining day.

Just a word of warning: Choose a weekend or holiday for this, as many people are feeling headachy, light headed and you really want to stay in bed, relax, read and should not have a hectic day. Besides, you will need to visit the toilet on a fairly regular bases, so I advice you to call any social engagements off for the day.

DAY 2

If you still feel bloated repeat DAY 1 as above otherwise start with eating soups (home-made broth with vegetables) and drinking home-made smoothies or home-made fruit juices. Avoid anything commercially made as it invariably contains sugar and some form of preservatives.

DAY 3

Introduce solid food again. Today have some steamed green vegetables with a poached white fish or pieces of fruit.

Summary

Over these 3 days the only food intake allowed is 

DAY 1: The cleansing lemonade (drink as much as you want),

DAY 2: homemade soups and juices (broth with vegetables) – or just repeat Day 1.

DAY3: Steamed green vegetables and carrots, no potatoes and steamed white fish. No meat, dairies, sugar, anything preprepared, all juices and soups have to be home-made. If you opted for a 2 day cleanse, then start you liquid day on day 3 and go back to solids on DAY 4.

After you have finished the cleanse add some probiotic to you diet and start to eat as healthy as you can for as long as possible, but definitely stay off alcohol, tea, coffee, meat, dairies and anything process for at least a week to get optimum results.

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