Tag: the food adventuress

Wassail, wassail all over the town! {Foodie Friday}

“Our bread it is white and our ale it is brown…” Ok, I’ll stop. In case you’re wondering, those are the words from the traditional English Gloucestershire Wassail song. Come on, indulge me, you’ve got a minute to explore that link and the background on wassail!

Gloucestershire Wassail (on Youtube)

Apparently, my high school years of performing in a Madrigal dinner had quite an effect, and now those around me must also endure it. If you don’t feel like delving in, here’s the gist of it: today’s definition of a madrigal dinner is a multi-course, Medieval-style meal served by costumed performers singing traditional (old English) Christmas carols. (“The boar’s head, in hand bear I…” Ok, sorry – I’ll really stop this time.)

So, why does this matter on foodie Friday? Because wassail (literally “waes hael” or “be you healthy”)  is a foodie tradition you should most definitely explore! Before we go further, though, I need to offer my standard disclaimer from The Food Adventuress: I’m quite horrible at precisely following directions and tend to just do whatever I want in the kitchen and wait to see how it turns out. So, if you’d like a real recipe for wassail, you’d best go elsewhere. Just do a quick search on the Interweb and you’re sure to turn up lots of lovely options. Now, don’t tell my Mom, but here’s what I do:

  1. Grab crock pot a little too late in the day for 6 p.m. wassail readiness.
  2. Have a glass of wine or your relaxing beverage of choice.
  3. Recollect that you were going to make wassail and get back to it.
  4. Fill said crock pot about 2/3 full of apple cider.
  5. Top it off with generous pours* of orange juice (I like pulpey for this!) and pineapple juice.
  6. Add a good amount** of lemon juice and honey.
  7. Start adding spices to your taste. I choose cinnamon (lots!***), ground cloves, freshly grated nutmeg and sometimes ginger and allspice depending on my mood/desire to exert myself.
  8. Decorate your wassail. I typically add a cloved orange (sliced or not, per your own desire to exert yourself) and some apple slices from near the core along with a cinnamon stick or two.
  9. Let simmer for several hours and return to your aforementioned beverage.
  10. Serve to standing ovation (or at least a few compliments).

* In this case, generous pours mean probably a cup or two each, but let’s not get too precise.

** Under duress, I would probably estimate that a good amount means half a cup?

*** I’m pretty sure my favorite measurement is “to taste.” That’s what you do here – you won’t mess up!

A couple of notes that will increase your cool factor: first, everybody has a scratchy throat around the holidays. Wassail is the guaranteed fix-it and soother – offer it to everyone who enters your home. Of course, your home smells completely fabulous because you made wassail! Also, I recommend not adding alcohol. Shocking, I know. Wassail is enjoyable by all… the kids and those who abstain should enjoy it as much as everyone else, and anyone who wishes to doctor (ahem) their drink may do so with ease once in the mug.

Finally (insider tip!) just store the wassail outside between servings, assuming it is even mildly chilly at night in your neck of the woods of Arkansas (and beyond). Just slowly warm it up starting a little earlier on subsequent serving days. The wassail gets a little thicker as the spices mull, so just add some more of the juices prior to simmering and the original batch should get you through several servings.

Again, this is all highly unscientific but fairly popular Chez Stephens, and it’s standard fare throughout the month of December from tree-decorating through New Year’s. I hope you’ll try it, and maybe add a few of the old English carols to spice up your holiday tunes as well! Give some background to your family and your kids may be the smartest ones on the block. Mine is definitely the one who knows about wassail, which either makes her incredibly cool or highly nerdy. I’m ok with both.

Happy Wassailing to you!

Beth is the marketing maven and one of the four founding members of Arkansas Women Bloggers, but her real job is as executive director of the Ozark Natural Science Center – a nonprofit field science, environmental education, camp and conference facility in northwest Arkansas. She blogs over at The Little Magpie and The Food Adventuress and finds herself eating far more of her mother’s rum cake around the holidays than she would care to admit.

Please note: all images and links are public domain from the web, and used only to illustrate topics for your personal use.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree? {Handmade Holiday}

We are a family of traditions – almost obsessively so (as I’ve mentioned over at The Food Adventuress). Still, I’m always looking for new additions to the list of things we love to do together.

Don’t misunderstand – this doesn’t mean I have my act together. Today, for example, I finally removed the remaining pumpkins from our front porch in recognition of the fact that a) it is mid-December and b) they looked kind of goofy along with our Christmas lights. I stand by my reasoning that they work right through Thanksgiving, but then my arguments get a little fuzzy. I promise, though, that pumpkins are (eventually) relevant to this post.

Starting a few years ago, my now eight year old daughter and I began concocting a “bird tree” as part of our holiday traditions. As much as I enjoy things that we can all do as a family (here’s a fantastic, free and easy idea you could still incorporate with your family this year!), I also yearn for those special things I can do to connect with just one child at a time or one on one with my husband.

Our bird tree has evolved from a single branch to trimmings from our real Christmas tree to the point that this year, we’re using a potted tree that will grow slowly and can be reused for many years moving forward. We set it somewhere very visible in the front yard – both for ease of bird-viewing and to incite questions from neighbors and hopefully inspire similar actions from other families. In fact, last year we used the same idea as a holiday staff activity at my workplace, the Ozark Natural Science Center (read Slowing Down with a Cranberry Garland).

The bird tree is meant to be a slowing-down activity, and a gift to nature at a time when many of us are incredibly focused on doing and rushing and buying. We start with a bowl of freshly popped popcorn (on the stove, without all the extras birds do not need) and a bowl of fresh cranberries. We sit together – talking, working slowly, getting sticky, pricking our fingers – and string them into garlands using needles and thread.

When our garlands are complete we set out to hang them on the tree along with quartered oranges, little reusable baskets of birdseed, pinecones with peanut butter and seeds, sunflower heads and anything else we think our feathered friends would safely enjoy. This year, we found some millet sprays to use, and sometimes we add twig or straw stars or other decorations. And, there is some good to those pumpkins left so long and forlornly on the front porch: I cut them into little pieces and found the weather had preserved them. They are full of good meat and seed that will help visiting birds this winter, so some good came of my inability to get things done!

This is such a great activity for anyone, and especially when you can include your own (or some stray neighborhood? With permission, of course!) kids. As an aside, we often start putting birdseed and treats out well before the weather turns very cold in order to start “coaching” the birds that we are the dining establishment to visit all winter long. We also took a little time several years ago to make our yard a certified wildlife habitat through a fantastic program from the National Wildlife Federation – this is another outstanding, free, educational, fun and ongoing family activity!

As you look for meaningful activities this holiday season, think outside the box when you consider handmade holidays. “Crafts” do not have to mean hours of baking and decorating cookies, purchasing pricey supplies or spending hours at a daunting task that may or may not turn out the way you intended. Creating a bird tree feels good, looks good, has a tangible outcome and is one of those tiny steps toward making the world a better place. Happy handmade holiday!


Beth is the marketing maven and one of four founding members of Arkansas Women Bloggers, but her real job is as executive director of the Ozark Natural Science Center – a nonprofit field science, environmental education, camp and conference facility in northwest Arkansas. She blogs over at The Little Magpie and The Food Adventuress and finds herself eating far more of her mother’s rum cake around the holidays than she would care to admit.