Category: cloves

Gingerbread cake with marshmallow snow & paper trees.

For some reason, as I was writing the title of this post, I thought of the lyrics from Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. Odd.

Anyway, gingerbread is one of my favorite holiday treats. I love the cookies, I love it in a spicier form like pfeffernusse and I love gingerbread cake. I don’t make it nearly enough, though, even around the holidays. I have a favorite gingerbread cookie recipe & a favorite Guinness ginger cake recipe, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy trying others. So I thought that this year, I’d make a plain gingerbread cake- no Guinness, no chocolate- and top it with some fluffy white snow.

And trees. Gotta have trees.

Gingerbread cake with a marshmallow "snow" and paper cupcake liner trees. And elves!

For the trees, I got the how-to from The Cake Blog. Pretty self-explanatory, but still. It’s a fun & easy way to make cupcake or cake toppers.

It’s so retro-looking, isn’t it?

Cupcake liner Christmas trees!

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Quick little sweet pickles.

Vintage Home Pickling book.

Ahhh, pickles. You come into my life every summer at the demand of the pickle-obsessed people in my family, you sit pretty on shelves or in the refrigerator for a while and then you’re gobbled up and before I know it, I’m making more of you. Good thing I’m not a pickle fan myself. In the words of the infamous notorious Biggie Smalls: “Never get high off your own supply.” Yes, he was talking about crack, but the principle is the same.

If I actually ate pickles, then I’d never have any to give away (or sell… *ahem*), and then people would annoy me more than they already do to make more. I’m not sure how many folks out there could somehow relate the “Ten Crack Commandments” to pickles, but what can I say?

Quick sweet pickles made with cinnamon, clove & red onion.

Did you know that “pickle” is derived from the Dutch word pekel, meaning brine? Betcha didn’t. But now you do!

Any who, I found this beautiful pickle recipe at Honey & Jam. The photos were so lovely, I knew I’d have to replicate it myself. My mother is a fan of sweet pickles; give her a jar of sweet gherkins & she’ll eat the whole thing. So I thought she’d appreciate these, lovely little quick pickles made with sugar, a stick of cinnamon & some cloves. The fact that they’re quick pickles, or refrigerator pickles, makes life easier. I love canning but on a super hot day it’s nice to just slap things in the fridge & not worry about processing.

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Chai concentrating.

Pinterest has taken over everyone’s life lately. It seems as if everyone is either making something they found on Pinterest or talking about something they found on Pinterest. And I’m no different. My Pinterest page is filled with amazing things; some of which I’ve made, some of which I’ll never make, and most of which I just gush about. I even wrote about it at textdrivebys.com twice…

This chai concentrate from Tasty Yummies is one of the ones I’ve actually both pinned and made.

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November is doing it’s best to get fully settled in. It’s been very, very cold, and as a matter of fact in addition to hurricane Sandy hammering us last week, tomorrow we’re getting a Nor’easter! Gusty winds, heavy rains and even snow in some places. So it’s time for warm drinks & spicy flavors. Hot cider, hot chocolate, hot tea. One chilly Sunday I was browsing Pinterest, looking at things I had been pinning for something interesting to create, and I noticed this chai concentrate that I had pinned way back in August. As soon as I saw the stunning photo of it in a Mason jar (how could I turn away!?) I pinned it. I’m not a massive chai person, but I do enjoy it every now & then. And it’s worth it to me to try a homemade version because I really never buy it when I’m out. I usually prefer a coffee. So when I do have chai, it’s at home. And I love some pre-made brands, and some tea companies versions of it. But sometimes it’s just not the same.

The history of chai is quite a rich one, despite most people only knowing it from it’s existence in lattes at Starbucks.

Masala chai (literally “mixed-spice tea”) is a beverage from India made by brewing tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs.

Plain chai

By itself, chai or cha is merely the generic word for “tea” in many European and Asian languages. The widespread form chai comes from Persian چای chay. Street vendors called “chai wallahs” (sometimes spelled “chaiwalas”) are a common sight, although coffee is a more popular beverage in some southern parts of India. Chai is also a popular item in restaurants known as Irani cafés or the genre of South Asian restaurants known as Chai Khanas or Ghahve Khane.

Spiced tea

For many English speakers, the term “chai” is synonymous with masala chai, as further described below. The redundant chai tea is sometimes used to indicate spiced milk tea as distinct from other types of tea. Numerous coffee houses use the term chai latte for their version to indicate that the steamed milk of a normal latte is being flavored with a spiced tea concentrate instead of with espresso, without necessarily implying the addition of coffee. Some coffeehouses and brand names refer to their product as chai tea latte.

The beverage is locally known as Chai karak in the Middle East.

And might I add… DELICIOUS. And this homemade concentrate is also easy. Cheap, too. But at the same time it’s quick- it takes no time at all, and it makes your house smell absolutely amazing. The smell alone is worth it! Just like the homemade pumpkin spice latte mix I posted about last month, if you’re a chai lover who buys a lot of chai lattes, this could totally save you some money.

HOMEMADE CHAI CONCENTRATE (adapted minimally from Tasty Yummies)

Yields: 1 batch of concentrate, approximately 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 8 bags black tea – I used PG tips
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 1/3 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

  1. Add the water and sugar to a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and put in the tea bags, cheesecloth pouch and cinnamon sticks. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat strain the concentrate through a sieve, separating the large pieces (tea begs/cinnamon sticks/cardamom pods/anise/cloves/etc) from the mix. At this point, add your vanilla extract & honey. Stir to combine.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into an airtight jar or container. This amount fits perfectly into a 1-quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

To use it, mix one part concentrate with one part milk or milk-like product of your choice. Heat the concentrate for a hot version, pour over ice for a cold version.

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I used ground cardamom & ground ginger, I had fresh ginger but it was frozen & I didn’t feel like defrosting it so I could cut it (it’s a pretty large hunk, and yes I freeze my extra ginger). I didn’t have any cardamom pods but I had a large jar of it ground, so I opted to substitute that. Also, the original recipe called for a whole vanilla bean, coconut sugar & raw honey- I only had regular sugar, brown sugar, a small amount of German rock sugar (for my tea) & sugar cubes myself, so I made an executive decision. If you want to use another kind of sugar, go right ahead, but you might want to read what she says her results were first. My honey wasn’t raw either, but I don’t think that makes much of a difference taste-wise. All of my vanilla beans were being made into homemade vanilla extract at the time, so I had to use some vanilla extract instead. If you like a spicier chai, add more peppercorns. If you like a sweeter chai, add more sugar. Likewise… if you prefer a less sweet chai then just use less sugar/honey. What you use in it is totally up to you. And as a matter of fact, this mix makes a nice hostess gift, too. Tie some raffia around the top with some cinnamon sticks & handwritten instructions, and you’re good to go. And if you know someone who was in the path of Hurricane Sandy who has no power but still has a gas stove to heat it up with, maybe bring them some, along with some food.

As for me? I’ll be drinking some later tonight watching the 2012 Presidential election returns. Make sure you registered U.S. voters get out there today & do your duty! It’s a privilege to be able to push that little lever or fill in that circle on paper, so get your lazy, apathetic asses out there. And to everyone who already voted; good for you. It’s not even 8 a.m. & you’ve already made more of a difference than most people will all day. And if you’re one of those people affected by Sandy, you can still vote. Download a mail-in ballot or call your local elected officials to find out where to go to vote in New Jersey, or if you’re in NY you can click here & find out where to go (and in turn pass it on!). I know you’re all dealing with so many other things, but voting is going to continue; no matter what election day will not be suspended. And it’s so important to get your vote in. So please, try and get as many folks as you can to the polls today.

And if you remain unaffected, if you’re safe, warm & dry today, and you know where you’ll be voting & that you’ll be coming home afterwards… then especially be thankful for that.

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Cold & flu season be damned.

Yup. It’s that time of year again. FLU SEASON.

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Confession time: I have never gotten a flu shot. Ever. Not when my mother was on chemo, not when my grandmother was over 90 years old and I was taking care of her, not when I took the train into Manhattan every day during the winter with sweaty, stinky people coughing & sneezing all over me. Not even when I was still in college & they “highly recommended it.” I never once got the flu, and in turn never once gave anyone else the flu. And don’t lecture me- I don’t plan on ever getting a flu shot, unless I’m in a compromising situation health-wise. First of all, I recently read a study that said that green tea supplements actually worked better to prevent the flu than vaccinations. And also, another study that said due to the aluminum content in the shots, adults who received 5 or more flu shots were 10% more likely to get Alzheimer’s than those who had 2 or fewer. And that was substantiated by an article I had read last year. True or not true, substantiated or not, outdated or not, it brings up a lot of questions. And it doesn’t seem like a risk I’d like to take. I realize health is not something to play around with. I’m not anti-vaccinations (quite the opposite actually), I especially think they’re important for children, and I would never tell anyone else what to do. I’m just not over-dramatic when it comes to my own health. I realize the flu can be serious… but I’m not in a high-risk group. I’m healthy. I’m not pregnant. I don’t have asthma or diabetes. And I much prefer to take my chances and avoid the doctor as much as possible. If I can’t cure it with NyQuil, orange juice, Tylenol and brandy/whiskey, then and only then do I consider a trip to the professionals. I haven’t taken antibiotics in over 4 years.

Why am I telling you this? Because this post is about something you can make and can up that just might help ease some of the misery you might be put through later on in the season, whether you get a flu shot or not.

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It’s spiced honey! Very simple to make, very cheap to make, and it has a lot of health benefits.

Honey historically as been used by humans to treat a variety of ailments, from gastric disturbances to ulcers, wounds and burns, through ingestion or topical application, but only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey been chemically explained. Different honeys have different properties, which was known since ancient times. Much scientific research has been done, with emphasis of late on fighting infections in wounds. The antibacterial mechanisms known to date are H2O2, methylglyoxal(MGO), bee defensin-1, the osmotic effect and the pH.

In Ayurveda, a 4000-year-old medicine originating from India, honey is considered to positively affect all three primitive material imbalances of the body. “Vaatalam guru sheetam cha raktapittakaphapaham| Sandhatru cchedanam ruksham kashayam madhuram madhu|| “It has sweetness with added astringent as end taste. It is heavy, dry and cold. Its effect on doshas (imbalances) is that it aggravates vata (air / moving forces), scrapes kapha (mucus / holding forces) and normalizes pitta (catabolic fire) and rakta (blood). It promotes the healing process.” Some wound gels which contain antibacterial raw honey and have regulatory approval are now available to help treat drug-resistant strains of bacteria (MRSA). One New Zealand researcher says a particular type of honey (manuka honey) may be useful in treating MRSA infections.) As an antimicrobial agent honey is useful in treating a variety of ailments. Antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, chelation of free Iron, its slow release of hydrogen peroxide,[74] high acidity,[75] and the antibacterial activity of methylglyoxal.

Honey also appears to be effective in killing drug-resistant biofilms which are implicated in chronic rhinosinusitis.

Lemon contains Vitamin C, which helps repel toxins. The low pH of juice makes it antibacterial.

Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes”. A study conducted in 2007 and published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry suggests that specific plant terpenoids contained within cinnamon have potent antiviral properties.

Pharmacological experiments suggest that the cinnamon-derived dietary factor cinnamic aldehyde (cinnamaldehyde) activates the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response in human epithelial colon cells and may therefore represent an experimental chemopreventive dietary factor targeting colorectal carcinogenesis.[34] Recent research documents anti-melanoma activity of cinnamic aldehyde observed in cell culture and a mouse model of human melanoma.Cinnamon bark, a component of the traditional Japanese medicine Mao-to, has been shown in a 2008 study published in the Journal of General Virology to have an antiviral therapeutic effect. A 2011 study isolated a substance (CEppt) in the cinnamon plant that inhibits development of Alzheimer’s in mice. CEppt, an extract of cinnamon bark, seems to treat a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.

Cloves (and clove oil) have long been shown in Western studies to assist in aiding with dental pain.However, studies to determine its effectiveness for fever reduction, as a mosquito repellent and to prevent premature ejaculation have been inconclusive. Clove may reduce blood sugar levels.

Tellimagrandin II is an ellagitannin found in S. aromaticum with anti-herpes virus properties. The clove buds have anti-oxidant properties.

But more than any of that- honey is just soothing, especially when ingested in a warm cup of something. So it stands to reason that some honey with lemon, cinnamon and cloves is something you’d want to make and have on hand for those miserable winter days when you wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck, barely able to swallow. But really, it’s equally delicious in a cup of hot black tea (or even better for your health: green tea) right before bed on a cold fall or winter night. You don’t have to be sick to appreciate it. Stir some of this into some hot apple cider. Hell, you can have a little in a glass of Jack Daniels too. They make that honey stuff, don’t they? Why not a spiced honey Jack cocktail?


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SPICED HONEY

Makes three 8-ounce (half-pint) jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 organic lemon, washed thoroughly, end pieces removed and cut into 6 even slices
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (4 inches long)
  • 2 2/3 cups liquid honey

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jars, put your lids in hot water and prepare your water bath canner.
  2. Stud the peel of each lemon slice with two cloves. In a stainless steel saucepan, combine lemon slices, cinnamon sticks and honey. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil gently for 2 minutes.
  3. Using tongs, remove lemon slices from honey mixture and place two in each (still hot) jar. Add 1 cinnamon stick to each jar. Ladle the hot honey into the jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Place lids and bands, turning to fingertip tight, and place jars in canner.
  4. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Cool, check seal, then store.

Add it to your tea or even drizzle it on your toast. You don’t even have to be sick to enjoy it! It only makes 3 8-oz. jars, and takes no time to pull together. I think you should try making some… in a few months, you might just be glad you did. Especially since the peak of flu season is in February. That’s a long way off, dudes.

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Instead of making 3- 8 oz. jars, I made 2 jars: one 16 oz. and one 8 oz. Not for anything, but a jar of this tied up with a pretty bow and a cute honey dipper would be a great gift to give someone. Not just for a get well gift (although that’s a great idea!), but even for the holidays. Or to bring as a hostess gift on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Just tie a note on it telling them it’s not just for when you’re sick… and they should try it in some hot brandy punch.

I also used two different kinds of honey mixed together, one was a bit lighter in color than the other. Strangely enough, the larger jar I made came out with a deeper color than the smaller jar. Not sure why. It could have been that one honey was a thicker or heavier consistency than the other, and the order in which I poured it into the jars factored in. If you use a flowery honey or Golden Blossom Honey, you’ll get a different flavor. Not a bad flavor at all, it’ll just have more complex notes than the lemon/clove/cinnamon. Also… honey does not expire. A sealed jar of honey can last forever (literally… ). And you don’t have to refrigerate the jars once you open them, since honey is stable at room temperature; the sugar content is too high and the moisture content too low for fungus to grow once it’s opened. According to the National Honey Board:

Honey stored in sealed containers can remain stable for decades and even centuries! However, honey is susceptible to physical and chemical changes during storage; it tends to darken and lose its aroma and flavor or crystallize. These are temperature-dependent processes, making the shelf life of honey difficult to define. For practical purposes, a shelf life of two years is often stated. Properly processed, packaged and stored honey retains its quality for a long time.

If in doubt, throw it out, and purchase a new jar of honey!

So you can open a jar in November and keep that same jar on your counter until spring with no bad consequences. Stay healthy, my fair readers.

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Sources & credits: American Limoges/Sebring Pottery china in “Royal Fortune” pattern; vintage (belonged to my grandmother), 16-oz. & 8-oz. Ball® jars can be purchased at freshpreserving.com.

A new spin on pumpkin muffins.

A bunch of stuff has been going on lately, and I’m kind of all over the place (not to mention still fighting off this disgusting cold that just won’t die… it’s like a bad zombie movie: Night of the Living Mucus). I wanted to thank everyone who purchased from Yoyo‘s webstore on November 1st. Thanks to you all she was able to raise a whopping $351 dollars for Delaney’s Dream! Amazing. That’s her highest amount yet. Everyone should be so lucky to know someone as generous and spectacular as Miss Yoyo. She doesn’t have to do this, but she has such a big heart. Who else do you know takes time out of their life to sew all these awesome handmade creations, then uses 100% of the profits of one entire day (every month) of sales and contributes it to a different charity? Probably not many people. Most people are flaming douchebags. Yeah, I said it. Anywho… then a night or two ago, some crazy shit went down with the Cupcake Rehab MySQL database and all my posts and pages magically disappeared. Yeah, three years worth of blog posts GONE. Poof. Just like that. So after a brief freak out and after talking to the folks at GoDaddy (who were very nice, and ran all sorts of checks, but weren’t very helpful in terms of fixing it), I just did a Google on it, found some directions on repairing the problem and just fixed it myself. Lesson here: back up your databases if you’re running PHP-based websites, especially blogs, on a regular basis, and always know what you’re doing when you own/run a site so you don’t need to rely on the people at Tech Support to save your ass. Seriously. Buy some books for dummies and get on that shit. Right now. Otherwise you may find yourself in a sticky situation. If I had no idea what I was doing and didn’t know what the shit a MySQL database was or how to find it, I might have just scrapped everything, or maybe if I did know what it was but didn’t know how to get in there and fix it, I might have created a new database and reinstalled a new WordPress because I didn’t know any better; or maybe just cried and deleted the entire site, or paid some other asshole an arm & a leg to fix something that took me literally 2 minutes to do. So that’s basically whats been going on over here. Let’s talk about pumpkin muffinage, shall we?

So every fall, Starbucks & Dunkin’ Donuts have their pumpkin-flavored coffees & lattes, and some fall treats too. D+D (what Dunkin’ Donuts is referred to around here, for all you West-coasters or international visitors) has pumpkin muffins as well as pumpkin donuts. Now I myself have never had one of either item, but I see the muffins all the time & I think “I could make those.” They’re a pumpkin muffin topped with a streusel-y topping and then drizzled with a cream cheese icing. Are you drooling yet? No? Then look at this:

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Yes, I managed to tear myself away from Boardwalk Empire and thinking about how delicious Jimmy Darmody is for 5 minutes to make some pumpkin muffins in the style of those infamous ones from that popular donut chain. What can I tell you? I guess I’ve got a thing for guys with guns. And a thing for muffins.

I’ve made pumpkin muffins before, but not with an icing. I did make ones with rum recently, though. These, however were completely different. Rich, comforting, with great spices and the streusel with rolled oats was amazing. Talk about the perfect Thanksgiving morning breakfast treat. If you make these along with some cream cheese cinnamon rolls on Thanksgiving morning, your family will love you forever. Because they don’t really have to love you forever now, you know. You’ve gotta earn that. It’s true, I swear. Even I, who isn’t such a huge pumpkin fan, enjoyed these immensely.

(No clever name for these. What you see is what you get, here. Besides, I’ve seen a few blogs lately where the bloggers clearly desperately try to be funny with the titles, and my feeling is, if it’s overly cheesy or obvious you’re trying too hard, then it’s not funny. Not that I’m saying that I’ve never used a cheesy title- but there’s a thin line between outright cheesy and funny cheesy. Are you taking notes? Anyway speaking of cheese… let’s get on with the show…)

PUMPKIN STREUSEL MUFFINS WITH CREAM CHEESE ICING (adapted from Taste Of Home)

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup canned pumpkin
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg (I use whole and grate it myself)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Streusel:
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • 2 tablespoons rolled oats (optional)
Cream cheese icing:
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • about 1 – 1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
  • ¼ – ½ cup heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Cream together butter and sugars until creamy. Beat in pumpkin, buttermilk, eggs, and molasses. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl and mix into the batter. Stir just until combined. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin tins 2/3 full of batter.
  2. For topping: combine the flour and brown sugar and oats (if using)  in a small bowl. Cut in butter until the mixture is crumbly. Spoon streusel topping over the muffins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from pans very gently using a large spoon & butter knife, being careful not to burn yourself. Place on wire rack.
  3. For icing: beat cream cheese and heavy cream together until smooth. Add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time until desired consistency is reached. Add extra heavy cream if needed (consistency should be similar to a frosting, somewhat thick but not too thick). Drizzle over still-hot, right out of the oven cupcakes. It will melt and drip accordingly.

So are you drooling now? You should be. Again, while I haven’t had the Dunkin’ Donuts muffins, I can pretty much bet that these are just as awesome, if not better, than they are. I have it on good authority from people who have indeed had those D+D muffins that these are way better. And that icing is like melty cheesecake. I was feeling lazy and used a sandwich bag with the corner cut off to drizzle the icing, but a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip or a disposable pastry bag with the tip cut off would work just as well.

These are best when eaten fairly warm, but just as good room temperature. I’m sure you could pop ‘em in the microwave for a few seconds to heat them up though, if that’s how you prefer them. Just be careful- you don’t want the icing to get too melty in there… So make these, shove ‘em in your face while watching your local Thanksgiving parade or as fuel before you start your Christmas shopping. I know there are some of you crazy people out there who already have gifts hidden in your house. You animals. Save some for the rest of us who shop on December 21st!