DIY Holiday Gift Series: Maple Popcorn


WARNING: the next few weeks will be possible SPOILERS for family and friends

Don’t you just love all these healthy treats I have been sharing in this series? I just love sharing all these goodies with you! I am amazed at how good, “good for you” treats can really taste. I gotta say, it makes me feel really good about giving them to my loved ones (and sampling them to make sure they are good enough to send!)

This past weekend I experimented with a batch of Maple Popcorn. I have an Uncle who got addicted to it when he and my Auntie came to visit us a year or so ago. I have to be honest, like delivery pizza I never liked popcorn. It was always stale tasting or covered in that nasty fake butter. But when I had it once, made on the stove top using real butter, I discovered how much I liked it! Since then, it has been a sometimes snack in our household and I really did enjoy the maple popcorn that my Uncle got hooked on.

So, I thought maple popcorn would be a great gift to send for the holidays – nothing says Vermont like maple and popcorn is so lightweight and easy to ship! When I saw a recipe for Healthy Caramel Corn on Cheeseslave’s blog, I thought it would be a good base for a maple version and was it ever! I nailed it on the first batch, just by modifying her recipe to include maple. It was so good and incredibly fast and easy to prepare!

I’ll share a little secret with you though…this is made even better by grating some parmesan cheese on top…I admit to having that weird taste bud that loves sweet and salty or sour together rather than one or the other alone. Recently I found out it could be genetic (which explains why so many people think it is weird) thanks to another blogger who also solved a genealogical mystery for me.

ANYWAY, before I go way off on a crazy genealogy tangent now (I probably will at a later date), let me share with you how I packed the maple popcorn. I decided it would be cute to package them in white paper bags, decorated with holiday stamps!

I found this adorable snowflake stamp set, but when I got the stamps, I was disappointed to find that the stamp pads did not work on white paper! So I had to rush order some colors that would work!

Don’t they look cute and festive?

So go on and enjoy a bowl this weekend! It is a really tasty treat that everyone can feel good about eating!


Maple Popcorn (based on Healthy Caramel Corn from Cheeseslave)


1 cup un-popped organic popcorn
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup 100% pure maple syrup
¼ cup really good butter
Salt to taste


Put the popcorn and coconut oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven and turn the heat up to high, put the lid on.

After a few minutes, you will hear the popcorn start to pop. I like to shake the pot around a few times to make sure the un-popped kernels go to the bottom to pop. After a few minutes, the popcorn will stop popping. Listen closely and when the pops slow down, remove the pot from the heat. Act quickly and pour the popped popcorn into a large bowl (you might need two bowls). If you leave it in the stockpot, the popcorn at the bottom will get burned.

Put the stockpot on low heat and add the maple and butter. Stir until blended and completely melted. Pour the butter/maple blend on the popped popcorn. Toss in a few pinches of sea salt and mix it all together until everything is well-incorporated. If you are crazy like me, grate some parm on top. If you have trouble getting it mixed together in the bowls, you can put it back into the stockpot to mix it. Makes about 6 cups of popcorn per batch.

DIY Holiday Gift Series: Chai Tea Spice Mix


WARNING: the next few weeks will be possible SPOILERS for family and friends.

In my last post I talked about why we have decided to go the DIY route when it comes to holiday gift giving. I also shared the edible gifts we made last year, mostly cookies. As promised, here is the first in this year’s series of DIY Holiday Food Gifts!

In creating gift items, I really wanted to focus on warming qualities this time of year, things that say “comfort & indulgence” but are still healthy. There is nothing more comforting that a nice steaming glass of spicy, flavorful chai tea and most people enjoy chai. The very smell of it warms you up. So when I came across a recipe for Chai Tea Spice Mix, I immediately put it on my list of potential gifts.

With dried citrus and crushed whole spices the mix looks as good as it smells, and so it was easy to make the decision to make it, although I did modify it. This recipe makes 36 servings, each serving is 2 TBS of the mix which would make an entire pot of Chai Tea, or can be divided in half to make two 2 cup servings. I packed the chai spice mix in 100% cotton muslin bags, so the bags can be used to make the tea and I made sure to include a recipe card for making a delicious pot of Chai Tea and also included a list of ingredients:

Happy Holidays!

This bag contains 2 tablespoons of Chai Tea Spice Blend. To make Chai Tea you will need:
3/4 cup(s) water
1 1/2 tablespoon(s) black tea (or one tea bag)
1 tablespoon chai spice blend (contains: Darjeeling tea, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, allspice berries and dried clementine)
1 1/4 cup(s) milk or milk substitute
1 TBS of honey

To Make Chai Tea:
Boil ¾ cup of water and steep one bag of black tea or 1 TBS of black loose leaf tea with the spice mix (if you are using a regular tea bag, you will need something like a tea ball to steep the chai mix in at the same time). Then add 1 ¼ cup of milk and 1 TBS of sweetener, serves two 8 oz. cups of chai tea. Or you can add the entire contents of the bag (keep it in the bag for easy use) and steep with your favorite pot of black tea for a special holiday treat!

To Make Spice Mix:


5 clementines, sliced thin
1/2 cup cardamom pods, crushed with a mortar and pestle
12 cinnamon sticks, crushed with a mortar and pestle
2 TBS whole cloves
2 TBS black peppercorns with a mortar and pestle
2 TBS allspice berries with a mortar and pestle
1TBS coriander seeds with a mortar and pestle
1/4 cup whole star anise
1/2 cup loose Darjeeling tea


Dry the orange: Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the orange into 1/8-inch-thick rounds and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake, turning occasionally, until dry — 2 to 3 hours.
Make spice mix: Combine the dried orange and the rest of the ingredients except the tea in a large bowl and toss to combine. Store the spice blend in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

*note: We have about 20 families or couples on our holiday list this year and all packages need to be shipped. So I tried to avoid anything in glass jars anything liquid, etc. I also tried to keep in mind things that would be lightweight and easy to ship. The cost for all of the food gifts including ingredients, decorating and packaging runs about $8-10 per package, which isn’t bad at all, especially when you see the quality and diversity of the packages. Some packages are even less, as for smaller families and couples, we are sending only a few of the items, instead of all.
* Be sure to click on the DIY Holiday Gift Series tag to see all the posts in this series!

DIY Holiday Gift Series: Why I DIY.


WARNING: the next few weeks will be possible SPOILERS for family and friends.

(Venetian Biscotti: see recipe link at end of post)

This is going to be one of those posts. I decided a few years ago that I was literally done with the stress of holiday shopping. DONE. There were some things in my personal life going on at the time that lead me to re-evaluate the whole idea of gift-giving and the true meaning of the holidays- who I spend time with, or effort on and why. Do I spread myself thin and my wallet on people I am obligated to or do I give, truly give something meaningful to those who matter most?

Maybe that sounds trite because I am sure in the frenzy of the holiday season people often evaluate why they are throwing themselves in the fray, literally putting themselves in harm’s way (have you seen the youtube videos of Black Friday stampedes???) and for what, to get some piece of plastic, electronic or otherwise, usually made in another country (taking away jobs from the USA, or your own country, wherever you may live) to give to someone many times under feelings of obligation and with a lot of stress – financial or otherwise because we feel like we have to in order to make someone happy? This was not the road to holiday happiness for me.

(Pfeffernusse Shortbread: see recipe link at end of post)

OK, now I am starting to get all ba-hum-buggy, which is so far from my intent. I am full of the holiday spirit! But really this kind of gift-giving, which inevitably includes hours wandering around shops and shopping malls searching for inspiration, for a gift to give someone I love to show them how important they are to me, was always a fruitless act. These kinds of gifts have no soul. I don’t know where they were made, or by whom, or under what conditions. I don’t know if they are full of materials that might end up harming the person, even on a small level. Is this how I show my love?

This is not to say I don’t have electronics in my house or I don’t enjoy modern conveniences because I do, but the question is, is this the right kind of gift to give someone in this instance? The season of giving is about that – to give of yourself, to show appreciation, love and compassion for your fellow human, not to get caught up in the materialism that really ends up in a pile forgotten with all the other “toys” of previous years. Is all that stress worth it? Roberto and I even stopped giving gifts to each other, and decided instead to spend the time and money just being together, taking a small trip to Quebec (we are lucky enough to be able to drive there!) to enjoy the beautiful scenery, snowshoe and eat really good food together. It is also my birthday in December, so we do 2 for 1! What more could we ask for than a few quiet days together to connect before the hubbub of the holidays?

(Rosemary Herbal Honey and my official taste tester! : see recipe link at end of post)

In that same vein I decided a few years ago, that I was going to either buy gifts locally or handmade from artisans that I could meet, or at least get to know online, talk to them about their products, etc. and I was also going the route of handmade gifts. Treats which are good for my recipients that will hopefully bring them some cheer, a little bit of comfort and joy during the holiday season. Something to nourish the soul, the spirit, something I could make with my own hands, putting my intention into it, intentions of love, gratitude and peace, because really this is the gift I want for my loved ones, near and far.

I decided to opt out of the craziness and share the fruits of my labor and my joy of creating food for people and enjoying every minute of it!

I also had to be realistic about who would be the recipients as well. It couldn’t be a ton of people, or everyone that I know and care about, so as not to overwhelm myself or my wallet because again, this is not what holidays are for. This is the hard part. I have to remind myself constantly of this, that I am only human, that there is only so much time in the day, etc. because I often catch myself wanting to fall back into old patterns of “getting a little something” for someone to show my appreciation. But that is not realistic.

So, I am also a huge fan of the holiday card exchange! Honestly getting a card in the mail from a friend far away is like getting a big hug and is better than any $5 or less trinket they could buy me and I believe my friends don’t deserve another little piece of non-descript holiday trinket they then feel bad about throwing away. In fact some of my favorite gifts of times past have been from relatives or friends that are items of theirs that I have always loved and they gift it to me (what an honor, what love!). Or just time spent with loved ones- good food, laughter and fun times together. That to me is THE BEST gift in the world.

So for this reason, I want to share with you some really wonderful and economical DIY Gift ideas over the next few weeks. Gifts, treats that are truly from you, something you put fore-thought, time, effort and love into. I would be surprised if your loved ones don’t love and appreciate these gifts all the more, even if they are unconventional, and I would bet they will look forward to them each year, something truly special and from the heart.

(Fruit and Nut Drops: : see recipe link at end of post)

To get you started are some ideas from last year! A whole series of cookies!

*Note: not all of my DIY food gifts are gluten-free, since my recipients are not gluten-free. Another thing about gift giving is give what you think your recipients will enjoy, not necessarily what your dietary restrictions are. That said, all recipes are using whole food ingredients.

Pfeffernusse Shortbread (Gluten, Sugar and Egg Free)

Venetian Polenta & Sesame Biscotti (Gluten Free)

No Bake Fruit and Nut Drop Cookies ( Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Egg-free)

Assorted Biscotti

Lavender Limoncello La Befana Stars

Herbal Honey

* Be sure to click on the DIY Holiday Gift Series tag to see all the posts in this series!

Drying Apples for Winter Storage and Holiday Gifts!

Fall is certainly apple season. One of the ways I like to celebrate my favorite season, autumn is by picking apples and pumpkins. I know here in Northern Vermont, apple picking season is pretty much over, but for all of you in slightly warmer climates, you probably have abundance all around you right now.

I must admit, as I have before on this blog, that I have never been a huge fan of apples. I am not sure why. But I think maybe they are just too sugary sweet for my taste buds. Over the past few years, I have learned to really enjoy whole, fresh apples in savory applications like this Apple Chard Cheddar Tart, which we love making at this time of year, when all the ingredients are still in season, or how about a new take on pulled pork with an Apple Barbeque Sauce? I have another fresh apple recipe I will be sharing with you soon.

I also have come to really love dried apples. In fact, this is my favorite way to enjoy apples. I first made Roasted Pork Chops and Cherry Sauce with Wine Kraut and Red Cabbage last year for our Yule celebration, and this combination of roasted pork, cabbage and slices of dried apple have become a favorite meal of ours this fall season.

Generally, I just sear the chops in coconut oil, butter or bacon fat, and then put them in my tagine. Then I dump shredded cabbage, maybe some homemade sauerkraut, sliced onion and minced garlic and some strips of dried apple. I season this all with salt and pepper, some coriander and raw apple cider vinegar. I put it in the oven at 350 F, for about 2 hours. If you don’t have a tagine, you could use a Dutch oven. It is simple, yet super delicious and flavorful.

So as you can see, there are a lot of savory applications for apples. Since we use them now, I thought about drying some for use over the winter. Drying apples at home for winter storage is really easy. You don’t need any special equipment and all it takes is time. This is a great homemade gift to send to anyone on your holiday list as well!

We harvested about 12 lbs. of apples. I saved about a dozen for eating, and used the rest to make dried apples. I cut the apples in thin, round slices. Then I laid them out on cookie trays, being sure to give them space. When you oven dry fruit or veggies it is important they don’t touch. This helps them to dry better and more evenly.

The first batch I did at 200 F for about 2-3 hours. They didn’t really feel dry enough, so I put them in mason jars and stored them in the fridge for later use. For the second batch, I did about 3 hours. I wasn’t sure they were dry enough either, so I put them on a plate on my kitchen counter and covered them with a kitchen towel. I mixed them with my hands every day, and then put the towel back over them until they felt really dry – about a week. Use your own judgment here. If you have eaten dried apples before, you know what they are supposed to feel like, leathery and a bit sticky from the caramelized sugar.

I made about 4 trays of dried apples, which equates to about 6-7 pints.

We are really hoping to revitalize the apple trees we have here on the homestead, and maybe add a few more trees next year. I am really excited at trying my hand at hard cider and making my own raw apple cider vinegar. Dried apples also make a great DIY handmade holiday gift for the foodies in your life. In fact some of my loved ones may receive some in one form or another this year. That is, if I don’t eat them all myself, first!

Sometimes if I have a craving for something sweet, I reach for a slice of dried apple. Its concentrated sweetness kicks the craving, and all I need is one!


Equipment for Drying Apples at home:

*An oven set at 200 F
*Cookie sheets covered with parchment paper (makes it easier to remove the apples, the sugar tends to caramelize and stick to a naked tray)
*Plate and kitchen towel for extra air drying time
*Mason jars for storage

Grow Your Own MUSHROOMS Giveaway!

CONGRATS to the winner SUSAN B.!


Yes, that is right, you heard correct – you can now grow your own mushrooms at home, and one of my lucky readers will get a kit to do just that!
Recently I was contacted by a wonderful company – Back to the Roots asking if I would be interested in sampling their product, for free and if I liked it, doing a giveaway on my blog. I was definitely into this – we love mushrooms in this house, but not only that, I really liked what I learned about the company and its founders.

From their website: “Back to the Roots was founded by Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora during their last semester at UC Berkeley in 2009. Two months away from graduation, and heading into the corporate world of investment banking & consulting, they came across the idea during a class lecture of being able to potentially grow gourmet mushrooms entirely on recycled coffee grounds. Inspired by the idea of turning waste into wages & fresh, local food, … from what was an urban waste stream, Back to the Roots has since grown to create the Grow-Your-Own Mushroom Garden which lets anyone, across the country, grow their own gourmet mushrooms at home as well!”

This is the kind of company, people and efforts I can easily support. I just love the ingenuity of Alejandro and Nikhil to come up with such a creative way to use waste products to produce food – and GOURMET MUSHROOMS at that! Who doesn’t love that?

Not only that, but they are using their success to help others! They have a facebook campaign going on where if you post a picture of the grown product on our wall, they will send a sustainability curriculum and donate a kit to an elementary school of your choice.

Features of the Grow Kit:

• Grow up to 1 1/2 lbs of tasty pearl oyster mushrooms
• Multiple crops (at least 2, though some have got up to 4!)
• Grow your first crop in as little as 10 days!
• Just 3 Easy Steps – Open, Mist, and Harvest (spray mister included).
• All indoors – just set on a kitchen window sill and mist twice a day (mister included)
• The soil inside is 100% recycled coffee grounds – safe & sustainable
• 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed


You can learn more about their community efforts on their blog or follow them on Twitter for more updates! – these are two guys you definitely want to keep up with!

So, onto the “review” part of this post. I really love this product – it is fun and easy to use! We got our first harvest in about a week, and I am currently working on the second. Everyone that came over to our house and saw the kit was really intrigued by it, and even more so when they found out it was made from recycled coffee grounds. Who wouldn’t be? That is just awesome!

We decided to use our first harvest to make some delicious GF (gluten free) mini pizzas. I have found a wonderful millet, flax and brown rice flat bread (kinda like a tortilla) and we make mini pizzas once or twice a week. For this version, we used the mushrooms from the kit as well fresh bufala mozzarella and some prosciutto and fresh basil from the garden. They were delicious!


I think this would be a great gift to send to someone for their birthday (if they are a foodie) or maybe for the holidays – any family that has kids will love this!

So who wants to win a kit of their own???

How to Enter The Back to the Roots Mushroom Grow Kit Giveaway:

Anyone is welcome to enter, provided doing so does not violate any local laws of your place of residency. US entries only for this one, due to shipping restrictions, and all participants must be over the age of 18.

Please remember that for your entry to count, you must leave a separate comment for every entry you make and make sure to include your email address in the spot provided when you fill out the comment form.

1) DO THIS FIRST (REQUIRED): Tell me what you would like for me to make with my second harvest – if you have a link to a recipe, even better! I will make the winner’s recipe, and link to your blog, if you have one (provided that it is gluten free!)

Optional ways to get more entries:

2) Blog about this giveaway describing why you want to win the kit, and link your post to this giveaway. (1 extra entry)
3) Subscribe to The Leftover Queen RSS feed. (1 extra entry)
4) Enter your email address to Subscribe to Email Updates. (1 extra entry)
5) Subscribe to my newsletter (see box on top right of my blog). (1 extra entry)
6) Tweet and tell your friends to sign up for @leftoverqueen Daily Emails or RSS feeds. (1 extra entry)
7) Fan The Leftover Queen on Facebook. (1 extra entry)
8) Follow The Leftover Queen on Twitter and tweet @leftoverqueen with a link to the giveaway. (1 extra entry)

If you are already a fan of The Leftover Queen and have done all or some of the above, and wish to enter the contest just write that you already subscribe to the newsletter, facebook page or RSS feed, by email, etc. Make sure to leave a separate comment for every entry.

Why Enter?

1) Because it is free
2) You can grow your own mushrooms at home!!!
3) Because mushrooms rule!

The winner will be announced on this post Friday, July 29, 2011. The winner will be drawn at random and contacted on July 29th. The winner has until Monday, August 1 2011, by 10 AM, EST to respond before another winner is chosen.

PS – if you are a Foodie Blogroll member, you also have a chance to win a kit! Check out the details here

Posted to Simple Lives Thursday

Curing Olives at Home

I intend most of my Thursday, Let’s Get Cultured posts, to be about cultured dairy products. However, from time to time I might feature non-dairy cultured items on Thursdays. Today I am going to talk about curing olives at home.

I learned about home curing olives from Jenny’s blog, Nourished Kitchen. She has an awesome and easy to follow step-by-step guide on how to crack, cure and season olives. She also has one of the best blogs out there, so I suggest once you are over there, to check out her fabulous recipes. I am not re-inventing the wheel on olive curing, so I will refer you to her fantastic blog where you too can see the process for olive curing at home. I do however, have some notes, and then I would like to share with you the various flavors I added to my olives.

But first I will share with you my source for the olives. Chaffin Family Orchards is a diversified farm in the Sacramento Valley of California. Their farm has been in the hands of the Chaffin family for 5 generations. Most of their olive trees are over 100 years old. The farm has been harvesting and producing olives and olive oil for over 75 years. Their olives are farmed without using chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. They use cover crops and rotations of cattle, goats, sheep and chickens to control vegetation and fertilize the orchards. The goats are also used to prune the trees!

Most of the research I did on olive curing suggests that you should soak your olives in water (changing twice daily) for 2-4 weeks. This is the process whereby the raw olives lose their bitterness. If you have ever tried eating a raw olive, you will see why this step is of utmost importance.

Olive Curing Notes:

I found that even 4 weeks was not enough time – I think we soaked our olives for close to two months, and they were still a bit bitter after all that time. I am not sure if it is because I cured them during winter, and it was just too cold in the house, or what. So after about 2 months, we decided to decant the olives, and flavor them but we added about ¼ cup of raw apple cider vinegar to the individually flavored jars. This seemed to take care of most of the rest of the bitterness – but it is not consistent from olive to olive. Some olives still are bitter. We have only started eating one jar, so we will see how the other jars are as we get to them. Maybe they just need a little more time.

Curing olives is really quite easy and straightforward. It is a fun project, especially if you have children and would make great presents to give to family and friends! It is a great traditional skill to add to any homesteader’s repertoire.

My Flavors:

*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Saffron
*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Herbs de Provence
*Lemon, Bay Leaf and De Arbol Chili
*Juniper, Mustard, Lemon and Black Pepper
*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Habanero Pepper
*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Coriander Seed, Cumin Seed, Sumac, Ras el Hanout

Rosemary Infused Honey and Other Remedies to Lessen Your Chance of Getting Sick This Winter

My kitchen-helper, Mini P, helping me do the dishes after decanting the herbal honey

Many folks who know me, know that I worked as an assistant to an amazing holistic doctor for 5 years. It was the best job I ever had working for someone else. I got to spend the day watching a genius at work, helping people with all sorts of health related issues, who often times, after decades of trying conventional, Western medicine and having no luck were seeking out alternative therapies and getting results for the first time. I saw the dangers and effects of artificial sweeteners, drastic diet plans and prescription drug complications first hand. And I saw that simple remedies, food choices and plants could be life changing healing agents for many.

I learned so much invaluable information that I have continued to apply to my life, health and well-being.

My interest in alternative remedies has a long history. Even in high school I was reading books about traditional herbal remedies, aromatherapy and homeopathics. I am not a health care provider, trained herbalist, nor homeopath. I am just a person who has been looking into these integrated therapies for close to 20 years and using them on me and my family with amazing results.

Friends and family often ask me for advice about eating, supplements and herbs. I tend to have a good instinct about what might be causing problems for people, and I always recommend getting to the root of a health issue, rather than just treating the symptoms. I point people in directions, and give them some tools to help them come to a health plan that really works for them, encouraging them to do their own research and work with their doctor.

This winter I wanted to share with family and friends a delicious and simple herbal honey. Something that they could spoon into hot tea on a day when they weren’t feeling so great to soothe them from the inside out. I chose Rosemary as the herb (see recipe below). Rosemary contains volatile oils like camphor, cineole, and borneol which have known antibacterial properties. Preliminary studies on rats have also been done to show that rosemary might have anti-carcinogenic properties (Teuscher E (2005). Medicinal Spices (1 ed.). Stuttgart: Medpharm). In any case, I often put a few drops of rosemary essential oil in a spray bottle with water to spray in the house when someone is sick. Which in this house is not very often.

Roberto and I both got sick this winter. We were on a train for several hours sitting across the aisle from a guy who was sneezing and hacking his brains out the whole time. I really, for the life of me, can’t understand why people travel in these conditions. It was the first time either of us had been sick in at least 3 years. I can’t recall the last time either of us took antibiotics or even had to go to the doctor for anything other than a yearly check –up.

So here are some of the foods we eat, and supplements we take during the winter that keep our immune systems up and ready to fight off a cold!

To Make Herbal Honey
1. Use 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs, or half a teaspoon of dried herbs for every 2 cups of raw honey.
2. If the herbs are fresh, grind them well to aid in the infusion.
3. Tie the herbs in cheesecloth.
4. In a pot, warm the raw honey and herbs. It is important not to heat the honey too much or the enzymes will be destroyed. Simply warm the honey to a temperature well below 115 degrees.
5. Put the honey and the herbs into a large canning jar with a tight fitting lid.
6. Let the honey sit in at room temperature in a dark place for at least one week.
7. Heat the honey just to warm and press the liquid out of the herbs.
Read more at Suite101: Herbal Honey Recipes: How to Make Herb Infused Honey

Kefir is our daily elixir, it is a delicious probiotic, a cultured milk drink that has over 2,000 years of history. We have been making and drinking kefir every day for about a year. During that time we have noticed some remarkable changes since using it regularly – everything from clearing up chronic skin problems, to easier digestion and better immunity. What sets kefir apart from other cultured dairy, is the number of various organisms, both bacteria and yeast, present as opposed to just one microorganism like most other cultured dairy products. Kefir is an immune booster, and contains a high amount of calcium, amino acids, B-vitamins, Vitamin K and folic acid. Due to all of the chemical reactions that occur when it is cultured, it is easy to digest allowing the body to adsorb all of the nutrients. Kefir is an amazing probiotic, as it helps to regulate and balance intestinal flora, controlling the overgrowth of yeast. All of these friendly cultures also make kefir an excellent remedy for digestive issues of all kinds, and a great elixir for people overcoming serious illness, especially if they have been treated with antibiotics.

I make bone broths about twice a month. Whenever I cook any meat of any kind, I always keep the bones and store them in the freezer, until I am ready to make the broth. I place the bones, some spices and filtered water in my crock pot and let it simmer away anywhere from 24-48 hours. The result is a deeply colored broth, which I use to cook with. Chicken soup, prepared in this way, really is good for colds!

Anyone that is a facebook friend of mine knows that I am big on oregano oil. Oregano oil is anti-viral and anti-bacterial. It comes in small gelcaps or as a liquid. Any time at all that I am feeling rundown, my throat starts feeling weird, or if I have to travel or spend a lot of time in enclosed spaces with lots of other people, you can bet that I am popping oregano oil pills! When I use the oregano oil, I am able to stave off colds and viruses from flourishing.

The combination of rosemary, oregano and garlic is not just for the kitchen anymore. It is also a trio of cold-fighting herbs! Allicin is organosulfur compound obtained from garlic. It has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Wild Cherry bark syrup is great to have on hand for any throat and lung issues. This can be helpful with whooping cough, soothing after pneumonia and great for any kind of coughing. It sooths the throat and lungs. I always have a bottle of Honey Gardens Wild Cherry Bark Syrup on hand.  It is made here in Vermont and combines wild cherry bark, raw honey and several other immune boosting herbs.

Oxylent is the new Emergen-C. It comes in convenient one use packets, that you dump in a glass of water and drink up! Roberto doesn’t like to swallow pills, so he loves these packets, and we always take them with us if we have to travel.

Vitamin D is so important for overall health, and especially in the winter when we have less daylight and are spending more time indoors. It is an easy and very affordable supplement that we should all be taking everyday.

Remedies like herbs, homeopathics and supplements have become topics of extremely heated debate, in recent years. But I stand by them. I have used them on myself, my family, friends, seen them work in a professional environment on thousands of patients. I have used homeopathics on my own pets, and recommended them to others with pets – and again, amazing results.

Oh, and just for the record, animals can’t experience the placebo effect. Just ask Mini P.

Holiday Baking Series: La Befana Stars: Limoncello-Lavender Stars

These are the last of my holiday cookies, however I waited to post them until today, because yesterday was the day that La Befana or “the witch”, traveled around Italy giving gifts to all good children and coal to those not on such a good path. Before Santa or Babbo Natale appeared on the scene in Italy, La Befana was already there.

La Befana is nowadays associated with the Feast of the Epiphany in Italy, celebrated on January 6. The Christian story tells us that she was visited by the Three Magi (Wiseman) on their search for the baby Jesus. She was too busy doing her chores to go with them, and afterwards regretted it. So now every year, gives gifts to all small children in Italy hoping to inadvertently finally give her gift to baby Jesus.
However, the story of La Befana is pre-Christian in nature, and much like Christmas itself, a celebration which was converted from native Pagan beliefs to the new religion. In pre-Christian times, La Befana begins with Winter Solstice and takes origin from the bonfires burned in the squares to celebrate the end of the year, a symbol of time cycles always ending and beginning again.
The witch is the ancient priestess of nature. The “coal” that she would leave to the nasty children was actually also a symbol of fertility connected to the sacred bonfires and the Ceppo – the Italian version of the Yule Log. To learn more about the origins of La Befana, both Pagan and Christian, please visit this informative website.

Regardless of religion or ethnicity, please make these delicious cookies!

Limoncello-Lavender Stars

Adapted from Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma
3 ¼ cups organic spelt or AP flour
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
1 ½ cups softened, unsalted butter
1 ¼ cup organic cane sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBS limoncello
Freshly grated zest of one lemon
1 tsp dried lavender

Soak the lavender in the limoncello so the lavender can “bloom”. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt – then set aside. Cream butter and sugar using an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in the egg and egg yolks one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract, lavender infused limoncello and lemon zest.
Beat in the dry ingredients, creating a stiff batter. Remove dough from the bowl, flatten into a disk and refrigerate for about an hour, or until firm enough to handle easily.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time, and keep the other pieces refrigerated. On a floured surface, roll the dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Using a floured, 2-inch star cookie cutter, cut dough into stars. Place cookies ½ inch apart on the prepared trays. Gather the scraps of dough and repeat the cutting out process. Continue with all three pieces of dough.
You can brush cookies with an egg wash, or bake them as is. Bake cookies until they are lightly golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Rotate the sheets 180 degrees halfway through cooking to ensure even baking.
Allow cookies to cool slightly on the sheets, then remove with a spatula to a wire rack to cool. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container, layered between parchment paper for about 4 days. Makes 4 dozen.