Tag Archive: Winter

  1. Homemade Caramel Apple & Pear Fig Honey Butter Recipes

    apple butter on wood background. toning. selective focus

    Caramel apple butter is a delicious holiday treat!

    Tart, spicy, fragrant fruit butters are great winter treats that can be canned and shared as holiday gifts. Apples and winter pears are in season, so there are no better fruits for making dessert-quality spreads perfect for spreading on buttery toast, dipping with salty pretzels, or dolloping onto spice cookies. If you have your own apple and pear trees, even better! [Click here to learn how to grow your own winter pears!}

    These butters are simple to make but require some patience. The key to their deliciousness is perfect caramelization and thickness, so be sure they are perfectly cooked before canning! As pre-preparation, be sure to have sterile canning jars on hand. Well-cooked spreads such as these are perfect for those just learning to can at home (canning instructions are below). Place a pretty label on the jar, top it with a bow, and bring a few jars to your next holiday party!

    Caramel Apple Butter

    Tart apples are rounded by the milky sweetness of caramel. Sweet/tart sauce apples like ‘Gravenstein’, ‘Jonathan’, ‘Cortland’ and ‘McIntosh’ make excellent butter. A touch of salt is crucial for flavor. Can this yummy spread for holiday gift giving or personal enjoyment. It’s decadent stuff!

    Ingredients

    • 3 lbs. apples (about 9 medium apples) – peeled, cored and roughly chopped
    • ½ cup water
    • ¾ cups light brown sugar
    • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
    • ½ teaspoon allspice
    • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 15 caramels

    Directions

    1. Add the apples and ½ cup of water to a large, sturdy sauce pan. Cover and simmer until the apples are soft but intact (15–20 minutes).
    2. Allow the apples to cool, and then strain them in a colander to remove any excess liquid.
    3. Transfer the apples into a food processor and puree them until smooth.
    4. Place the apple puree back in the pot and set the stove to medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to low if it starts to bubble.
    5. Add the sugar, caramels, and salt, then simmer, stirring occasionally.
    6. After 3–4 hours the butter should be thick and caramel-colored.
    7. Use the dab test to check if the butter is ready. Dab a bit onto a plate; if no residual liquid oozes from the edge, and the butter remains mounded, it’s ready.
    8. Add the spices  and stir. Keep the butter on low heat until you’re ready to can it.

    This recipe makes around four 4-oz. jars of butter that can be canned or stored in airtight containers for freezing or refrigeration.

    Apple Butter Sm

    Caramel Apple Butter Ingredients

     

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    Start by peeling and roughly chopping the apples

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    Cook the apples are soft but intact (15–20 minutes).

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    Puree the softened apples and then return them to the pot.

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    Add the caramels, brown sugar, and salt, and cook the butter down on low heat for 2-3 hours.

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    Do the dab test. The butter on the right is fully caramelized and ready. The butter on the left is still watery and underdone.

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    Can and label your finished butter using the instructions below.

    Pear Fig Honey Butter

    This decadent fruit butter tastes great on morning toast or dolloped between crisp butter cookies.

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    Honey, Fig, Pear Butter ingredients

    Ingredients

    • 9 soft Bosc or Comice pears – peeled, cored and chopped
    • 1/2 cup raw, wildflower honey
    • 1 cup chopped dried figs
    • the juice of one lemon
    • Pinch of salt to taste

    Directions

    1. Puree pears and figs in a food processor until smooth.
    2. Place the puree in a sturdy, large pot and set the stove to medium-low heat. (Reduce to low if it starts to bubble).
    3. Add the honey and salt, and mix until blended.
    4. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the butter becomes reduced by half. This should take around 2-3 hours (sometimes more).
    5. The finished butter should be fully caramelized, thickened and ready to can.

    This recipe makes around four 4-oz. jars of butter. Enjoy!

    Canning Instructions

    Materials:

    Canning Pot with Jar Rack
    Four 4-oz or two 8-oz jars for canning
    Canning Jar Lifter
    Canning Lids and Screw Bands (new)
    Labels and Permanent Marker
    Ladle
    Wide-mouthed Jar Funnel

    Steps:

    1. Wash your hands and work space before starting.
    1. Sterilize jars by filling a large pot with water to a depth that will cover them. Submerge the jars, screw bands, and lids into the hot water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the hot jars with clean tongs while gently pouring the hot water out before removal. Place the jars upside down on a clean towel. Only touch the jar exteriors (Keep the canning pot with hot lids simmering.)
    1. Using a clean ladle and wide-mouthed funnel, fill the jars with hot, prepared fruit butter. Fill until there is an inch of head space at the top of the jar. Wipe messy jar rims with a clean cloth.
    1. Remove the sterilized lids and screw bands from the hot water and place them on the jars–being sure not to touch the inner lids. Make sure the lids are firmly down and screw bands lightly tightened. Manufacturer’s instructions may vary so follow those on the box.
    1. Place the jars on the jar rack and lower them into the pot of hot canning water, if you have no rack lower the jars in with a canning jar lifter being sure to keep jars from touching. Cover the canning pot and keep at a low boil for 10 minutes.
    1. Remove the jars from the pot and place them on towels to cool. Fully tighten the screw bands. Once cool, dry the outsides thoroughly and apply labels. Include the butter type and date.
    1. After jars have set for 12 hours, check for success.  If the lids are tight, air free and cannot be pressed down, they’re fine. If they pop down, they are improperly sealed, but don’t throw them away. You can either put them in the refrigerator for immediate use or try to re-cap them using steps 4 through 6. As a general rule, canned food is best used in the first year. Store your butters in a cool dry place.

     

  2. Houseplant Reboot

    Begonia 'Irene Nuss' (Superba Group)

    Some houseplants, such as this Begonia ‘Irene Nuss’, will continue to bloom through winter with good care.

    Images by Jessie Keith

    If your houseplants could talk, they would tell you that they like natural daylight—the kind you get outdoors—better than artificial light of any kind.  They might also say that the winter-time humidity level in your house is too low.  They hope that the compensatory misting you give them does something good for you, because it doesn’t help them very much.  Neither does the overwatering that they get from time to time.  In the midst of saying those things, some of them might yawn, as winter is a time when many houseplants’ growth cycle slows.

    What do your plants want in the winter?  The following will help keep them in good shape until spring sets in and growth cycles start anew.

    Tidying Up

    Anthurium 'A4' (PACORA™) PP11728

    Wipe down the leaves of large-leaved plants, such as this Anthurium, if they become dingy or dusty.

    Your plants, especially those that have summered outside, probably could use a little TLC.  Prune out weak stems, and cut back those that are too gangly.  If the plant has glossy leaves, like a gardenia, gently wipe the foliage with a damp cloth to eliminate pore-clogging dust.  Check stems, leaves, root ball for pests.  Many can be dislodged with a stream of water or application of insecticidal soap. If the plant is pot bound, repot with fresh media, like Fafard® Professional Potting Mix, in a clean container that is about one third larger than its predecessor.  Winter will not bring much growth, but it won’t bring strangulation either.

    Light

    Clivia

    Clivia are midwinter bloomers that need bright indirect light for good flowering.

    If you are blessed with a lighted greenhouse, all you have to do is find appropriate spaces for houseplants that prefer a bit of shade.  But if you, like many gardeners, have to rely on windowsills, try to put most of your plants in south-facing ones.  This may be too much for some popular indoor varieties, like African violets or fancy-leaf begonias.  Save areas with bright indirect light, like north-facing windows for them. Be sure to rotate your houseplants regularly to even out light exposure and avoid lopsided growth.

    Fertilizer

    In general, fertilize plants when they are in active growth.  For most plants this means little or no feeding in late fall and winter.  The caveat is that you should know your plant.  If it is a winter bloomer, it may need fertilizer during the colder months.  A little research on individual species will ensure that you fertilize properly for winter blooms.

    Humidity

    Calathea lancifolia

    Low humidity caused the leaf edges of this Calathea lancifolia to turn brown and dry.

    Houseplants like higher humidity—generally 40-50 percent— than the average indoor environment provides in winter.  If all your plants are in a single room, think about investing in a humidifier.  The added moisture in the air will be good for you, the plants and any wooden furniture in the immediate area.  If a humidifier is not an option, fill deep plant saucers with pebbles and water and stand the plants on them, making sure that the bottoms of the pots are not standing in water.  Replenish the water around the pebbles every few days or as needed.  If plants are grouped together and each stands on a bed of pebbles and water, the humidity level around them will be comfortably high.

    Watering

    Agave victoriae-reginae 'Variegata'

    Succulents, such as this variegated Agave, need very little water in the winter months.

    Overwatering is the most frequent cause of houseplant death.  Fortunately, it is also the most preventable.  Before you water, take a look at the plant.  Is the top inch of the soil dry to the touch?  If you pick up the container, does it feel relatively heavy or light?  If the specimen in question is a succulent, it is best to water them very sparingly in winter. If your plant appears to be too dry, gently feel a leaf or two.  Thirsty succulents tend to have slightly flaccid leaves.

    If the plant is dry, water thoroughly, until water flows out of the holes in the bottom.  Deep watering once or twice a week in the winter is much better for overall health than adding a little water every day. Some houseplants, such as African violets and Streptocarpus, need to be watered from the bottom to keep their leaves from getting wet; moisture on the leaves causes spotting and damage.

    Temperature

    Pilea cadierei JaKMPM

    Tropical plants like this Pilea need warm temperatures to grow well indoors.

    The majority of popular houseplants like the same indoor temperatures as the majority of humans. Like us, they also prefer to avoid extremes.  An ambient temperature around 70 degrees F are generally good. If you house your plants on windowsills, don’t let leaves touch the cold glass panes.  Avoid positioning them over radiators too.  Intermittent cold drafts from doors, windows or vents can also be harmful.

    Languishing

    Kalanchoe blossfeldiana JaKMPM

    Flowering potted plants may languish when you first bring them indoors for winter. Give them good care and they should revive.

    In late fall or early winter, houseplants that have spent the summer and early fall outdoors often languish while adjusting to lower light, less humidity and fewer daylight hours.  If the plant is in the right light situation and receiving adequate water, it will adapt and recover after a few weeks.  That does not mean that your plumbago or oleander or prize geranium will behave like the blooming fool that it was in the summer.  It means that it will live to dazzle you again when warm weather returns.  The same may hold true with houseplants that you purchase from a nursery, garden center or other retailer.  Many have been raised under near-ideal conditions and will need adjustment time as they get used to your particular indoor environment.

    1760FF Pro Potting Mix 2cu RESILIENCE FrontHouseplant care follows the same rules as care of any other kind of plant.  If you are observant, the plant will generally tell you what it needs.  Watch for signals and respond accordingly.  If the soil is too wet, cut back on watering.  If leaves appear burned around the edges, move the plant to a place with less light.  About the time you are feeling droopy due to winter blues, your plants may be similarly afflicted.  If you have given them good care, both you and the plants will recover as the hours of daylight increase.

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    Streptocarpus are houseplants that should be watered from the bottom and kept just moist in winter, never wet.

  3. Ornamental Seed Heads for Winter Garden Interest

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    The seedheads of Rudbeckia fulgida stay looking pretty into winter and will even hold the snow. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Winter is the garden’s quiet time, when its subtler charms hold sway.  It’s the season of the three B’s – eye-catching bark, colorful berries, and architectural branching – and of evergreen foliage.  And it’s also the time to appreciate the marvelous and often beautiful diversity of seed heads.

    Miscanthus sinensis ssp. condensatus 'Cabaret' JaKMPM

    Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cabaret’ (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    No plants better exemplify this beauty than grasses.  Many produce large, elaborate flower heads that reach their full glory in fall and winter as the seeds ripen and scatter.  Doubtless the best known of the bunch (at least in eastern North American gardens) is Chinese maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis.  This variable East Asian native produces huge, plumy, silvery flower heads in late summer on 5- to 8-foot talks that erupt from fountain-like clumps of arching leaves.  The ripening blooms gleam in the slanting fall and winter light, glowing most brightly when backlit by the sun.  Among the many outstanding varieties of Chinese maiden grass are the longtime favorite ‘Gracillimus’ and its descendants, all of which feature narrow leaves with silvery midribs.  Broad, yellow, widely spaced bands mark the leaves of ‘Zebrinus’, which is floppier in habit than the similar ‘Strictus’.  The broad-bladed, variegated Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cabaret’, has cream-striped leaves and reddish plumes that dry to silvery tan in fall.  Compact cultivars such as the 40-inch-tall ‘Adagio’ make a good choice for tighter spaces.  This (and other) grass species may self-sow, particularly in warmer parts of its USDA Zones 5 to 9 hardiness range.

    Other notable grasses of winter interest (and of similar hardiness range) include:

    The North American native Panicum virgatum (commonly known as switch grass), which produces hazy clouds of dainty pale flowers that darken as they ripen in fall.  Most varieties grow to 4 feet or more.

    Cortaderia selloana 'Silver Comet'

    Cortaderia selloana ‘Silver Comet’

    Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), instantly recognizable by its large foxtail-like flower heads on 3-to 4-foot stems above finely textured mounds of narrow leaves.  Several dwarf cultivars (including ‘Little Bunny’) are available.

    The upright, tassel-flowered Calamagrostis acutiflorus (feather reed grass), with bronzy blooms that mature to beige tones as they mature in late summer and fall.

    Cortaderia selloana (pampas grass) is an imposing tender grass surviving in USDA hardiness zones 8-10. The tall plumes reach 8-12 feet and appear late in the season. It can seed freely, so be cautious where you plant it.

    Panicum virgatum 'Prairie Sky' JaKMPM

    Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’ in winter (Image by Jessie Keith)

    These and most other ornamental grasses flourish in relatively fertile, not overly dry soil and full sun.  A good nitrogen-rich soil amendment (such as Fafard Garden Manure Blend) will help bring heavy or sandy soils up to snuff.

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    Purple coneflower seedheads eventually shatter as their seeds are eaten by birds, but they do offer pleasing winter interest. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Like grasses, many broadleaf perennials have attractive seed heads that make a pleasing sight in winter (particularly when displayed against a blanket of snow).  Among the best perennials for winter interest are species in the aster family that bear persistent conical heads of dark seeds.  The near-black central cones of perennial garden favorite Rudbeckia fulgida remain long after the last golden-yellow petals of its summer-to-fall ray-flowers have dropped.  Usually sold under the name ‘Goldsturm’, it’s one of a tribe of similar ‘black-eyed Susans” from the central and eastern United States.  All are easy-care sun-lovers, are hardy from zones 4 to 10, and have a penchant for self-sowing.  Rudbeckia nitida, by contrast, has greenish cones (with yellow petals) on stately, 4- to 6-foot stems, and is a less enthusiastic self-sower.

    Also hailing from prairies and meadows of central and eastern North America are several species of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea and others).  The large brown “cones” protrude pleasingly from the snow on 2- to 4-foot stems, and also look nice in summer when fringed with purple-pink ray-flowers.  Hybrids and selections of purple coneflower come in a host of flower colors, from white to red to yellow.

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    Tall sedums continue to look attractive in the garden well into winter. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The North American prairies are home to several other perennials that make great winter garden ornaments.  The silver-white, spherical flower heads of rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) ripen into spiky globes that resemble some sort of miniature medieval weaponry.  They cluster atop 3-foot stems that arise from rosettes of fleshy, spiny, yucca-like leaves.  False indigo (Baptisia australis) and its kin are big bushy legumes that produce blue, white, or yellow pea-flowers in late spring and early summer, followed by peapods that become leathery and brown-black as the seeds mature in fall.  All make wonderful low-maintenance perennials with spring-to-winter interest.

    Attractive seedpods are also a feature of the many butterfly weeds (Asclepias spp.) that dot the prairies and fields of eastern and central North America.  The pods split in fall to release seeds that float away on tufts of white down.  Orange-flowered Asclepias tuberosa is one of the best, as is Asclepias purpurascens, which has rose to purple blooms. Tall Sedums (Sedum spp.) of all types also grace the winter with seedheads that can remain attractive through winter.

    Garden Manure BlendSweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) is one of numerous Clematis species (including many shrubby and vining perennials native to central and eastern North America) that bear seeds with plumy, silver-white appendages that continue to draw onlookers long after their flowers have fallen.   Heavy-blooming plants appear to be enveloped with a feathery froth as the seeds (and their plumes) mature.  As with all of the above (as well as the scores of other perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees with ornamental seeds), they’re essential elements of the winter garden, and splendid accents for fall and winter flower arrangements.

  4. Growing Happy Hellebores

    Helleborus x hybridus 'Pine Knot Select' JaKMPM

    The hybrid Christmas rose ‘Pine Knot Select’ is a distinctive selection with speckled flowers. (image by Jessie Keith)

    Garden writers in cold winter climates often warm themselves in January and February by rhapsodizing about topics like good garden “bones”, shrubs with bright berries, and the enduring appeal of evergreens. That is all well and good, but many of us are just dying to see a flower—any flower—in the garden.And that is precisely why hellebores are so wonderful.

    What could be better in the gray weeks after the Winter Solstice than to wade into the garden and see the large, buttercup-like flowers of the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) shining out like spring beacons? Just as the white blooms of Christmas rose begin their transition to buff pink, Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) unfolds its petals. If hellebores have been on your radar in the last few years, you know that those substantial Lenten rose petals may appear in an array of colors from palest green through a range of yellows, pinks and reds to near-black. Not only that, but they may be single or double, with rounded or pointed edges. Bi-colored varieties are common, as are those marked with alluring freckles. Hellebore leaves are medium to dark green, depending on species and deeply dissected. Sometimes, the foliage is even enhanced with attractive marbling or contrasting veins.

    Hellebores--hybridus

    Rosy pink Lenten roses brighten the winter landscape.

    Native to various parts of Europe, western Asia and China, hellebore species, especially Christmas rose, have been on the horticultural and medicinal radar screen since ancient times. Large-scale garden use of hellebores has taken off in the last two decades, with the plants’ popularity increasing exponentially. Part of this has to do with modern propagation methods. Traditionally hellebores were grown from seed—a slow process—or increased by dividing established clumps. Modern tissue culture (cloning) has made it much easier to produce large numbers of identical plants. Breeding efforts in the United States, Europe and Asia have also resulted in many new, seed-grown strains that have been painstakingly bred for specific traits, especially unusual coloration and double flowers.

    Hellebores have become catnip to gardeners who love their easy-going nature, long season of bloom and unattractiveness to deer and other hungry garden browsers. Planted in lightly shaded spots with good drainage, most thrive with little care. Though they are reasonably drought tolerant, the plants appreciate supplemental water during dry periods. When planting, enrich the soil with organic material like Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost, to give young plants a good start. Happy Lenten roses will often mature into large clumps and can be used very effectively as ground covers. Some species, like the unfortunately nicknamed “stinking hellebore” (Helleborus foetidus) also self-sow with enthusiasm.

    Helleborus cyclophyllus JaKMPM

    The Corsican hellebore is well adapted to direct sun. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Christmas and Lenten roses are the most frequently planted hellebores, but not the only ones available. If you are blessed with a spot that is too sunny for orientalis types or Christmas roses, try Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius), which grows about two feet tall and wide and features large, pale green flowers and lightly marbled, leathery leaves. Mature plants can produce twenty to thirty flowers apiece. Cloned varieties of the hybrid Helleborus x ericsmithii are worth growing for their foliage alone, which is adorned with silvery veining. The reddish stems of many ericsmithii varieties support flowers with outward-facing white flowers that age to pink, a testament to their Christmas rose parentage.

    For maximum early season floral impact and sequence of bloom, plant several species of hellebore in shadier garden areas. Christmas rose and its hybrids, like ericsmithii and Helleborus x nigercors, bloom first, often followed by bear’s foot or stinking hellebore and the silvery green-leafed Helleborus argutifolius. The orientalis hybrids make a splash afterwards. To get the best floral show, especially with low-growing stemless types like Christmas and Lenten rose, clip off old, ragged-looking leaves to allow blossoms and new growth to shine forth.

    Hellebores--4

    Helleborus are so tough that they can withstand significant cold and snow.

    Since happy hellebores form good size clumps and are evergreen or partially evergreen, they make effective groundcovers. Those leaves can also provide good cover for the fading foliage of spring bloomers like daffodils and tulips.

    Hellebores also perform well in containers. Remember to allow enough room for plants that will reach two feet in diameter at maturity and surround the roots with a good container medium like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix With Extended Feed With RESILIENCE™.

    Water containers regularly during summer dry spells. If space is tight, grow hellebores in plastic liner pots that can be dropped into slightly larger containers during the bloom season and then removed later to make way for other flowering plants.

    Berries and interesting tree bark are lovely, but hellebores make a mid-winter garden party.

  5. Holiday Spices: Origins and Use

     

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    Ginger root offers one of the most classic holiday flavors. (image by Anna Frodesiak)

    Chilly winter holidays call for warm spices, especially spice rack all-stars like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. Over the centuries these kitchen staples have inspired their share of drama–sparking wars, financial speculation and great journeys of exploration. That’s a lot to contemplate as you stir up a batch of holiday gingerbread.

    Mostly though, holiday spices conjure memories of delicious tastes and aromas. A few of us get our holiday spices from specialty vendors, but the majority of us buy them in jars from the grocery store. Those spice jars may be small, but when you open them, the aromas and tastes will transport you to kitchens in every era and all parts of the world.

    Scrumptious Cinnamon

    Baton_de_cannelle

    Most don’t know that cinnamon stick is the inner bark of a tree. (image by Bertrand Thiry)

    Sweet, richly flavored cinnamon comes from the inner bark of several trees in the Cinnamomum genus. Arguably, the best cinnamon is Cinnamomum verum, native to Sri Lanka, and sometimes labeled as “Ceylon” cinnamon. Supermarket cinnamon is derived from the more assertively flavored bark of the related cassia cinnamon tree.

    Prized from ancient times, cinnamon is sold either in sticks (called “quills”) or ground form. It is an integral part of the spice mixtures sold as “apple pie spice” and “pumpkin pie spice”. Cinnamon loves company, especially fruits of many kinds, not to mention chocolate and coffee. It has been used in just about every kind of pastry, sweet bread and dessert—from comforting cinnamon rolls to rice pudding—as well as in savory dishes like tagines and biryanis.

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    Gingerbread tastes like the holidays. (image by Jessie Keith)

    Ginger’s Bite

    Ginger or ginger root, with its sweet/sharp flavor, comes from the rhizome of a tropical plant, Zingiber officinale, native to Southeast Asia. It can be used in many forms—fresh, dried, candied and crystallized. Everyone is familiar with its holiday star turn in gingersnaps and gingerbread, but it is also integral to German pfeffernüsse cookies. Crystalized ginger makes a great after-dinner sweet after heavy holiday meals. With its heat and sparkle, ginger works well with apples, pears, plums and pumpkin.

    If you live in a frost-free climate or have warm indoor space, you might want to try growing ginger at home. Start with a plump, fresh grocery store ginger root. If you grow your ginger in a container, fill it with a rich, high quality potting mix like Fafard® Professional Potting Mix with Resilience™. Soak the rhizome for a few hours, then plant, barely covering it with potting mix. Place in a sunny spot indoors or light shade outdoors, water regularly, and the ginger will eventually develop long, strap-like leaves. In about eight months you can harvest bits of the root, but it will take a year or two for the plant to sprout tall spikes of colorful flowers. In cold weather climates, bring ginger plants indoors before the first frosts and mist regularly to compensate for dry winter air.

    Holiday Plate

    Eggnog, gingerbread, and other holiday treats get their great flavor from holiday spices.

    Comforting Nutmeg

    The word “nutmeg” inspires visions of eggnog, custards and fruit pies, but its range is actually much wider. Familiar in whole and ground form, aromatic nutmeg is the seed of a tree, Myristica fragrans, native to the Banda Islands of present-day Indonesia. Nutmeg is inextricably linked to another spice, mace, which is made from the lacy red covering of the nutmeg seed. Dairy products get along famously with nutmeg in sweet or savory dishes. Cooking guru Julia Child used it liberally in her classic recipe for spinach quiche and also added a grating of fresh nutmeg to traditional béchamel sauce. On the sweet side, nutmeg is lovely in fruitcakes, bread pudding, quick breads and just about anything made with pumpkin, squash or sweet potatoes.

    Pomanders make great natural gifts. (image by Wendy Piersall)

    Pomanders make great natural gifts. (image by Wendy Piersall)

    Piquant Cloves

    Like nutmeg, cloves are produced by a tree native to the Indonesian island group once known as the “Spice Islands”. The cloves that we make into pomanders or insert in the rind of baked ham are actually dried, unopened flower buds harvested from an evergreen tree, Syzygium aromaticum. Cloves share membership in the myrtle family with allspice, a frequent traveling companion in holiday recipes. Like ginger, cloves have a sharpness and piquancy that is a particularly good complement to rich, unctuous flavors, like beef or pork. They are also a stock ingredient in spice blends for mulling cider or wine. Pear and plum dishes benefit from a hint of clove, while spice and fruit cakes would lack depth without them. Use cloves—whole or ground–carefully, the little buds pack a flavor wallop.

    Fresh spices taste best when ground or grated just before use. Store them in sealed containers away from direct sunlight. Ground spices lose flavor fairly rapidly, so use them up, lest they remain to haunt the cupboard like the ghosts of holidays past.

  6. Trees with Beautiful Winter Bark

    Acer rufinerve bark

    The cheerful green bank of Acer rufinerve is a real winter standout.

    A number of hardy tree species possess bark that is eye-catchingly handsome, particularly in winter, when most everything else in the garden is dressed in frostbitten drab. Such trees are essential for bringing defining structure and color and texture to the winter landscape.

    The maples have given us a number of trees that possess arresting bark, including the iconic paperbark maple (Acer griseum). In its best forms, this highly variable Chinese native slowly matures into a 25- to 35-foot, round-headed specimen with polished, flaking, cinnamon-brown bark that is especially striking when frosted with snow. The three-parted leaves assume sunset tones rather late in fall. Paperbark maple interbreeds with another trifoliate East Asian maple, Acer nikoense, to produce hybrids with finely shredded bark of a somewhat paler cinnamon-brown. A third species in the three-leaved maple tribe, Acer triflorum, has shaggily flaking, silvery- to creamy-gray bark. It, too, is a small to medium tree, perfectly sized for most residential gardens in USDA Cold Hardiness Zones 5b to 8. Sunny or lightly shaded sites work best.

    Prunus maackii bark

    Prunus maackii bark is distinctive among cherry trees.

    Snake-bark maples constitute another group well worth growing for their colorful stems. Arguably the most beautiful is red-vein maple, Acer rufinerve. Some selections of this fast-growing, medium-sized tree have luminous lime-green bark marked with paler longitudinal fissures. Abundant, colorfully winged fruits dangle from the branches late summer and early fall. This Japanese native is closely related to our native moosewood (Acer pensylvanicum), which is sometimes represented in gardens by the red-stemmed cultivar ‘Erythrocladum’. Both do well in sun or partial shade.

    A Stewartia sinensis

    The mottled bark of Stewartia sinensis is one of many great features of this small tree.

    Like the maples, the genus Stewartia is centered in temperate East Asia and eastern North America, and contains several species with beautiful bark. The best known, Stewartia pseudocamellia, bears white, camellia-like flowers in early summer, and oval leaves that go fiery in fall. Its most notable feature, however, is its multicolored bark, which exfoliates into mottled patches of gray and bronze and pinkish-tan. Other, far lesser known stewartias (including Stewartia rostrata and S. sinensis) are also beautifully mottled. Also noteworthy is Stewartia monadelpha, a relatively slight species whose bark resembles that of paperbark maple. All these stewartias are small, rather spreading trees that make good choices for sunny to partly shaded niches in modest-sized gardens. Most are hardy to USDA Zone 5b.

    A Stewartia monadelpha

    Stewartia monadelpha is flaking brownish red bark with a greenish gray under layer.

    A diverse species that occurs over a wide range of Asia in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia) has given rise to numerous cultivars, including some dwarf selections that make ideal bonsai subjects. For the garden, forms with exfoliating bark are undoubtedly the most desirable, their trunks maturing into a stewartia-like patchwork. All forms flourish in full sun, and most will weather USDA Zone 5b conditions.

    Also notable for its showy patchwork bark (and also hardy into USDA Zone 5b) is a medium-sized tree from the witch-hazel family, Parrotia persica. Typically multi-stemmed and wide-spreading, it bears leaves that resemble common witch-hazel, and produces curious little early spring flowers composed of clusters of purple stamens. Fall color is often a spectacular blaze of orange, red, and smoky purple, with brightest coloration occurring in full sun.

    One of the best ornamental trees for sunny niches in especially chilly regions (USDA zones 3 to 6), Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii) grows rapidly into a medium-sized tree with lustrous, shredding, tawny-orange bark that fairly glows in the winter landscape. Rounded clusters of white flowers open in spring, and are followed by small black fruits. Although relatively short-lived and prone to damage from heavy wet snow and ice, it is still unsurpassed as a four-season tree for cold-climate gardens.

    A. nikoense x A. griseum bark

    The bark of the hybrid A. nikoense x A. griseum bark is uniquely attractive.

    Peking tree lilac (Syringa pekinensis) resembles Amur chokecherry both in its exceptional cold-hardiness (USDA zones 3 to 7) and in the exfoliating, coppery bark of its finest forms (such as ‘Copper Curls’). But this variable Manchurian native offers greater longevity and clay-soil tolerance, as well as a bevy of fleecy, fragrant early-summer flowers. Typically multi-stemmed, it grows at a moderate rate to 20 to 30 feet tall, prospering in most soils in full sun.

    Copper-tinged bark and USDA Zone 3 hardiness are also among the virtues of another small tree from the harsh climes of Manchuria, Maackia amurensis. Amur maackia’s bark is remarkable not only for its rust-brown coloration, but also for the diamond-shaped exfoliations that decorate its surface, inviting closer inspection. Upright candelabras of dull white flowers deck its branches in early summer. The pinnately compound foliage of this single-stemmed, round-crowned, leguminous tree is an attractive dark green in summer, but offers little in the way of fall color. Growth is slow, even in ideal conditions (full sun and fertile, well-drained soil).

    Natural and OrganicPlant one of these trees with beautiful winter bark next spring, and it will bring much-needed color and presence to the garden next winter (and for years to come). To get it off to a good start, give it a planting hole that’s about the same depth as the root ball, and three times as wide. Amend the backfilled soil with a bit of balanced fertilizer, as well as a humus-rich amendment such as Fafard Natural & Organic Compost if the soil is excessively sandy or heavy.

  7. Fast-to-Force Flowering Branches for Indoor Arrangements

    Early-flowering Cornus mas has great branches for forcing.

    Early-flowering Cornus mas has great branches for forcing.

    So many beautiful spring-flowering trees and shrubs have branches that can be forced early for a little indoor spring in late winter. The process is simple but forcing times vary from plant to plant. Fast-to-force branches are the most satisfying, and the color they bring to the table never disappoints. All you need are some shears, water, flower food, and a little patience.

    The earliest flowering shrubs of the spring are often the best to choose. They typically only require short forcing times. Many of the early bloomers are fragrant as well as colorful, which helps them make an even more pronounced statement for table arrangements.

    Pussy willow branches force and root quickly for pretty cut flowers and new shrub starts to share with friends.

    Pussy willow branches force and root quickly for pretty cut flowers and new shrub starts to share with friends.

    Some of the better common quick-blooming branches for forcing are golden Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia), fothergilla (Fothergilla spp.), pussy willows (Salix caprea), curly willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa), honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), and bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia), all of which will force in around two weeks. The branches of many popular flowers shrubs that bloom a little later, like Rhododendron, dogwood, cherry, and lilac, typically take more time to force, often between four and five weeks.

    How and When to Harvest Branches

    Branches only force well in late-winter when they have been outside and dormant for long enough through winter.  Late January to February is the perfect window for harvest time.

    When pruning branches, be sure to selectively remove those that should be pruned off anyway. That way, you will be killing two birds with one stone. Crossing, old, or out-of-place branches are the best to prune off and bring inside.

    IMG_1098

    The best homemade floral preservative contains warm water, lemon-lime soda, and a little bleach.

    Cut branches with sharp, bypass pruners as opposed to anvil types that crush branch tissue.  (I like Felco 2 classic pruners.) Clean cuts will enable branches to take up water and food more efficiently, which will result in prettier, more successful flowering. Make branch cuts ¼ inch above a bud and select branches between 1 to 3 feet long, depending on the size and impact of the display you want for the final arrangement. Cut branches should be placed in a container of water immediately, so have a bucket or jar on hand at cutting time.

    Forcing Branches

    Bring the branches indoors, and using a floral knife, cut the bases of the branches at 45 degree angles. Then immediately place them back in the water. This maximizes their ability to take in nutrients and water. Cold water is best, especially if outdoor temperatures are below the freezing point. Branches should always be held upright in the container, and the water should only cover the first inch of the branch bases.

    After a day or so, replace the container water with slightly warm water, and add a homemade flower preservative made from the following: 2 cups lemon-lime soda, 2 cups warm water, and ½ teaspoon bleach (recipe care of Purdue Extension). At this point, the branches need to be stored in a cool place with moderate light, and the container’s water level needs to be maintained at its original depth. After a week or so, the buds should start to plump up and show some color.

    IMG_1099

    Forsythia branches are some of the easiest to force!

    Once the signs of bud break appear, place your branches in a warmer, brighter spot with indirect sunlight, and arrange them in a vase with added flower food. In a matter of days, they should be blooming and beautiful!

    After flowering, the bases of some of your branches may root. This is most common with pussy willow and curly willow. If this happens, be sure to pot up your cuttings.

    Plant the rooted cuttings in 1-gallon pots filled with Fafard Professional Potting Mix, and keep the pots moist in a cool, well-lit location until the threat of frost has passed. Once the weather has warmed up, the cuttings should have rooted well enough to be planted in the ground. You might even want to share some with friends, so they can force their own winter branches in the future and keep the cycle of sharing going.

  8. Forcing Bulbs for Winter Cheer

    Narcissus 'Sir Winston Churchill' JaKMPM

    So many beautiful Narcissus can be easily forced indoors. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Daffodils, hyacinths and tulips in winter? For many of us this would seem the stuff of fantasy, absent a visit to the florist. Yet, with only a modest investment of money, time, and effort, even a beginning gardener can know the joy of bringing these and other spring bulbs into bloom during the coldest and darkest days of the year. Forcing bulbs is that easy.

    Flower bulbs are little marvels. Those that grow in cold climates usually leaf and flower in spring, retreating from summer through winter to a tiny condensed underground storage organ known as a true bulb, corm, tuber or rhizome (we’ll just call them all bulbs here). Give them a warm summer followed by 2 or 3 months of chilly temperatures and moist soil, and they’re primed to grow and flower as soon as temperatures turn milder. By providing these cues, along with a nice pot, we can have them up and blooming indoors weeks (even months) before their outdoor kin make their appearances.

    These Narcissus bulbs are being forced in stones and water. (photo by Terrin)

    So what does it take to stage this little miracle? Aside from the bulbs themselves (which we’ll get to in a minute), you’ll need a container, some potting soil and a chilly place for the bulbs to cool their heels. Containers of various sorts and sizes will do fine, but wide shallow pots (sometimes known as “bulb pans”) are ideal. Look for something in the 6- to 8-inch-wide and 4- to 5-inch-deep range. Clay pots look especially nice and have the added advantage of not tipping as easily as plastic ones.

    I recommend a light, well-drained, quality potting mix such as Fafard African Violet Potting Mix, which is also perfect for bulbs and contains less added fertilizer. A fertilizer-enriched mix is not necessary, unless you’re planning to relocate the bulbs to the garden after they’ve bloomed.

    Now for the stars of your planting projects: your plants!

    Many bulbs “force” well. Perhaps the most rewarding are those that smell as nice as they look. Among these are numerous daffodils, including Narcissus tazetta hybrids like ‘Geranium’ and ‘Cragford’, the delightfully double-flowered ‘Cheerfulness’ and ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ and ‘Sundial’ and other hybrids of N. jonquilla. Netted irises (Iris reticulata and hybrids) also offer beautiful flowers and a heady scent, as do many grape hyacinths and some tulips and crocuses. And of course there’s the bulb that practically defines floral fragrance – the hyacinth. Other bulbs worth trying include Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda), Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) and fumewort (Corydalis solida).

    Grape hyacinths -- including the ethereal Muscari pallens -- are among the best bulbs for forcing.

    Grape hyacinths — including the ethereal Muscari pallens — are among the best bulbs for forcing.

    Assemble all your materials in early to late fall (either on a potting table or just a kitchen counter festooned with newspaper) and you’re ready to go!

    Start by filling your container with enough slightly moistened potting mix so that the tips of the bulbs will be an inch or so below the container’s rim when set on the soil’s surface (large bulbs such as hybrid daffodils can be planted with their noses above rim level). Then place your bulbs on the soil, spaced closely but not touching. Fill the container to just below the rim with more potting mix, water until the drainage holes begin to drip, then move the container to a dark location where temperatures will remain above freezing but well below the comfort range of shirt-sleeved humans (40 degrees F is just right). An attic or attached garage may be suitable, but keep in mind that bulb-loving critters might be afoot. If no other place is available, the refrigerator will do nicely, as long as the bulbs don’t have overripe fruit as fridge-mates. Refrigerated containers are best kept in paper bags, to retard drying. Water the containers lightly if the top layer of soil dries.

    Some tulips are also fair game for forcing. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    And now you wait.

    At about 7 or 8 weeks, start checking for signs of root development. When roots are evident at drainage holes, or if bulbs offer significant resistance if gently twisted or tugged, your bulbs are ready to party. (The appearance topside of leaves or fat buds is a further sign that flowers are in the offing.)

    So let the show begin: Bring your container into a cool, shady room for a few days, to acclimate the prepped bulbs to “spring.” Then move it to a sunny – but not too warm – niche, and watch the miracle happen. Most bulbs will flower 2-4 weeks after coming into the light. Water when the soil surface dries.

    After they bloom, either discard them or plant them in the garden once the soil becomes workable. (If you replant them in your outdoor beds, just be patient: Your transplanted bulbs will likely be bloomless for a year or two in the garden before they flower again.)

    What better antidote for winter than a windowsill brimming with brightly blooming bulbs? You might even find yourself in the market for a spare refrigerator.

  9. Variegated Evergreens for Winter Landscaping

    Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ has spectacular winter color! (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Daylight starts its annual return with the Winter Solstice, but cold gray days continue well into the New Year. Gardens, shorn of flowers and deciduous leaves, are stark. In winter, evergreens make all the difference. And variegated varieties, their leaves edged, striped or splashed in contrasting tones, add zest and color to the landscape. With choice specimens available in many sizes and shapes, the only constant is variety.

    2014-08-29_13_46_38_Variegated_English_Holly_at_the_Pinelands_Preservation_Alliance_headquarters_in_Southampton_Township,_New_Jersey

    English holly Argenteomarginata’ has bright white edges. (photo by FaMartin)

    Holly: English holly (Ilex aquifolia), brightens landscapes and winter arrangements with glossy green leaves and vibrant red berries on female plants. Variegated varieties include ‘Argenteomarginata’, with white leaf edges and ‘Aureomarginata’, featuring yellow borders. Both can be grown as large shrubs or small trees, reaching up to 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide, with a pyramidal habit. Variegated English holly thrives in full sun to light shade. Nearby male varieties provide necessary pollination for female plants.

    ‘Golden King’ is one such male. An English holly hybrid (Ilex x altaclerensis), it features slightly more rounded leaves than its parent and golden variegation on the leaf edges. Developed at England’s Highclere Castle, home to TV’s “Downton Abbey”, it grows up to 24 feet tall and 12 feet wide.

    Winter Daphne: Winter or fragrant daphne (Daphne odora) is aptly named. The fragrant flowers appear very early—in late winter or early spring. With leathery leaves and a mounding habit, shade-tolerant winter daphne makes a good hedging or specimen plant, especially in alkaline soil. Tempting variegated varieties include: ‘Aureomarginata’,with yellow leaf margins, ‘Rubra Variegata’, featuring rosy pink flowers and white-edged foliage and ‘Variegata’, with soft pink blooms and bright yellow leaf margins.

    False Holly: It’s easy to mistake false holly or holly olive (Osmanthus heterophyllus), for the real thing. The dense, spiny leaves resemble those of English holly, though false holly does not produce its namesake’s bright red fruits. Osmanthus is a densely-leafed, upright shrub that grows into an oval shape and usually tops out at 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. It can also be clipped into standard form. Variegated false hollies abound, including ‘Aureomarginata’, with yellow leaf edges; the eye-catching ‘Goshiki’, bearing foliage marked with flecks of gold, cream and green; ‘Kembu’, featuring white leaf margins and flecks and ‘Variegatus’, with white-edged leaves.

    Variegated

    Variegated wintercreeper is one of the easiest evergreens to grow.

    Euonymus: The large euonymus genus contains many variegated evergreens. Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) is one of them. Some of the best known varieties are low-growers, less than 12 inches tall, with small, dark green or blue-green leaves. With its spreading habit and adaptability to varying light situations, wintercreeper works as a groundcover, rock garden subject, or erosion controller. Among the many variegated varieties are: ‘Emerald ‘n Gold’, with yellow leaf margins on leaves that turn pinkish in winter; the taller ‘Gold Splash’, which grows to 3 feet tall and wide; ‘Moonshadow’, with green-edged yellow leaves; ‘Silver Queen’, featuring yellow margins that age to white and ‘Sunshine,’ bearing gray-green centers and gold edges. Use wintercreeper carefully. It has been reported as invasive in some areas. One way to keep it in check is to grow it in large pots and trim as necessary. Give containerized wintercreeper a good start by using a quality potting mixture like Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Mix.

    Japanese Euonymus (Euonymus japonicus) is a shrubby plant, topping out at 10 to 15 feet tall and half as wide. Like most euonymus, the species bears shiny green, ovoid leaves that are opposed on the stems. Variegated varieties of this rather formal hedging plant include ‘Albomarginatus’ and ‘Aureomarginatus’, bearing white and gold leaf edges respectively. ‘Latifolius Albomarginatus’ also features white margins, but has broader leaves than ‘Albomarginatus’ and gray-green leaf centers.

    Spotted Laurel: Shade-loving spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica) is easy to spot. The hardy plants, often used for hedging, grow up to 10 feet tall, with a nearly equal spread. Spotted laurel leaves are somewhat leathery and up to 8 inches long. Purple spring flowers are an added bonus, giving way to red fall fruits on female plants. ‘Mr. Goldstrike’, a male plant that can serve as a pollinator for female spotted laurels, is dramatic and generously dappled with golden speckles. ‘Variegata’ is a gold-flecked female variety, originally introduced in 1783 and known as the “gold dust plant.” Another notable spotted laurel is ‘Goldieana’, featuring a solid splotch of gold on each long, green leaf.
    Evergreens provide the horticultural music in quiet winter gardens. Variegation makes that music swing.

  10. Holiday Cooking with Fresh Ginger

    IMG_5465

    Fresh ginger makes gingerbread cookies taste even better!

    Whether you cook something sweet or savory, fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has a traditional place at the holiday table. Its bright, spicy flavor adds something special to cookies, cakes, and festive starters that will encourage family and friends to keep coming back for more. The key is choosing the freshest roots from the store or (even better) your own potted ginger plant.

    Ginger is wonderfully easy to grow as a potted houseplant, if kept in a sunny window. Just provide it with a well-drained pot of fertile Fafard Professional Potting Mix, water moderately, feed monthly with an all-purpose water soluble fertilizer and you’ll be set. If planting ginger root for the first time, be sure to plant it with its horn-like buds facing upwards and sink it 1-2” below the soil’s surface. Store-bought roots will work very well or you can purchase plants from retail greenhouses like Logee’s. One choice cultivated variety is the Javanese ‘Sunthi’, which has smaller, more pungent roots, but it is hard to find in commerce.

    Starting with the good stuff always makes recipes taste better, so be sure to go for the firmest, nicest ginger roots for your holiday cooking. Here are several fresh ginger recipes that will make the best use of them:

    IMG_1044

    Tart lemon glaze makes this moist, seasonal cake taste extra good.

    Fresh Ginger Cake with Lemon Glaze                

    This oil-based cake is very flavorful and moist. The addition of tart lemon glaze makes it even more decadent. Begin by buttering and flouring a bread pan and heating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. All wet ingredients should be at room temperature.

    Wet Ingredients
    2 large eggs (room temperature)
    ¾ cup vegetable oil
    ¾ cup hot water
    ¾ cup granulated sugar

    Dry Ingredients
    2 cups cake flour
    ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    ½ teaspoon ground cloves
    ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
    1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
    ½ cup packed, macerated fresh ginger
    1 tablespoon lemon zest

    Glaze
    ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
    1 teaspoon lemon zest
    ½ cup powdered sugar

    Directions

    Combine all of the dry ingredients (except the sugar) in a sieve over a large mixing bowl and sift the ingredients. Next, add all the wet ingredients, except the ginger, lemon zest, and eggs, to another large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth and light.

    Combine the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and fold in the ginger and eggs, using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, until fully combined. Then transfer the batter to the baking pan. The cake should be baked for around 45 minutes.

    Test the cake with a bamboo skewer and make sure it comes up clean before removing the cake. Before the cake cools, whisk the glaze ingredients together, skewer holes across the top of the cake and pour the glaze over the top—allowing it to sink into the cake and harden. Once cool, take a knife along the cake edges and remove the cake from the pan.

    Gingerbread with Fresh Orange Zest

    This fresh gingerbread tastes extra good with the addition of orange zest.

    Crisp gingerbread ready for decorating!

    For years I sought out the best gingerbread recipe and finally settled on a conglomerate of recipes gathered from a variety of places.

    Wet Ingredients
    ¾ cup salted butter
    ¾ cup sugar
    ¾ cup dark molasses (not black strap!)
    ¼ cup warm water
    1 tablespoon fresh crushed ginger
    1 tablespoon fresh orange zest

    Dry Ingredients
    ½ teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
    ¼ teaspoon cloves
    ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
    A healthy pinch of salt
    3 ¼ cups sifted flour

    Directions
    Cream butter and sugar until fluffy then mix in the molasses and water. Sift the dry ingredients then add them to the wet until fully combined (be sure not to over mix).

    Flour your hands and pull the dough together into a flattened ball and chill for at least 12 hours. Before you roll the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Flour up a board and pin and cut your dough in two. Roll out the dough to around 1/4 inch thickness. Be sure to keep the board and pin floured to stop the dough from sticking.

    Cut out your shapes and reroll any excess dough, though try not to overwork it as this results in tough cookies. Place the rolled cookies onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for eight to ten minutes, depending on how large or thick your cookies are. The less baked, the chewier the cookie. Allow the cookies to cool before decorating. Royal icing is the best for decorating and gel food coloring provides the deepest colors.

    Roasted Eggplant Dip with Ginger

    This yummy fresh eggplant dip is a little smoky and a little spicy.This creamy, nutty, gingery eggplant dip tastes great with pita, crackers, and fresh vegetable crudités.

    Ingredients

    1 large, fresh Italian eggplant
    3 tablespoons almond butter
    1 tablespoon full fat Greek yogurt
    4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons macerated ginger
    1 clove finely minced garlic
    1 teaspoon ground coriander
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
    1 teaspoon paprika
    1 tablespoon flatleaf Italian parsley
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Directions

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the top of the eggplant, cut it in half and place it flat side down on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Roast it until it is completely soft. This should take around 45 minutes. Once cooked, allow the eggplant to cool. Scoop out the soft eggplant and add it to a food processor. Briefly heat the coriander, cumin, and fennel seed in a heated pan with two teaspoons of olive oil—a minute or two should be enough. Add all of the ingredients to the food processor and pulse the dip until smooth—adding salt and pepper to taste.

    This dip tastes best if the flavors are allowed to marry for sein the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before serving.