Today was very cold – cold as in, when I went for a walk, the hair sticking out from my hat accumulated a nice layer of silvery frost by the time I got home. My breath came out in great plumes of smoke; inhaling was almost painful and the stairs on the porch creaked disconcertingly when I walked down them, as if they might snap in two.
I’m not complaining, though. I like the cold. Or maybe it isn’t so much that I like the cold, as I like being made aware of how nice it is to be warm. I like bundling in coats and scarves, hats and mittens; I like the sensation of cold against my warm cheek; I like holding cups filled with warm things in my hands; I like the ability to huddle next to something that warms me to the core. Warmth is so lovely. But it couldn’t be so without the cold. The cold is what makes it that way.
So as today is particularly cold, it’s brought to mind how much this time of year is really a celebration of that warmth. We take the light and the warmth missing from the winter’s chill darkness, and we recreate it within. We fill our homes with light, with cheer, with the warmth of fires and ovens and bodies gathered together. We eat warming spices; we bake and roast and stew and fill the house with delicious aromas and the sensations of pure comfort. Therein is where all the sacredness of these days before the Solstice lies, holding the energy of the sun in our homes until it begins its slow return again.
And of course, the oven is the center of all of this activity, the place where all the sensations of merriment and sacredness are born – the wafting aromas and comforting flavors that weave the spell of Christmas over everything. It feels almost like a sacrilege to not have something baking or roasting in the sweet warm depths of the oven in these days leading up to the holidays.
So I’ve been baking. I like to make baskets of homemade goodies to give out for Christmas (an idea that I congratulate myself and curse myself on in equal measure as the days tick away), and you will find me in my every spare moment this time of year stirring pots of jam, baking cookies, melting chocolate and looking all together disheveled and somewhat frantic. But those days are just as much the celebration to me as the opening of presents and the Christmas dinners.
Today I made this granola, which I adapted from a recipe I quite like from Lucid Food by Louisa Shafia, and I would make it again even if it weren’t so delicious just for the aromas it filled the house with. Laced with orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and mace; chocked full of figs, cranberries and currants and sweetened with honey and a generous measure of brandy – it is the flavors and aromas of Christmas all tied into one – like figgy pudding with an oaty crunch. A perfect way to honor the sun God hibernating your oven, and fill your home with cheer.
Winter Spice Granola
Packaged into pretty bags and tied up with ribbon, this granola makes a wonderful present, but do save a little for yourself to munch on as you frantically run around in these hectic pre-Christmas days.
- 4 cups rolled oats
- 2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 2 cups almonds or hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 1.5 teaspoons allspice
- 1 teaspoon mace
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- zest and juice of 1 orange
- 1 cup honey or maple syrup
- 1 cup unrefined sunflower oil
- 1/8 cup apple brandy
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup dried black mission figs, chopped
- 1 cup dried currants
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Combine the nuts, oats, spices, orange zest and salt in a large bowl and stir well. Add the sweetener, oil, orange juice, brandy and vanilla extract and combine well.
Spread the granola evenly onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir well, and return, rotating the pans. Bake for another 20 minutes, at which point he granola should be nearly dry. If it isn’t, return to the oven for 5 minute intervals until it is.
Add the dried fruit to the pans and stir to mix, and then return to the oven for an additional 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool completely for packaging into airtight containers.