to want and to knead | cardamom-cranberry spelt wreath

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

There is a strange familiarity about the whole ritual. It usually involves climbing into some loft or burrowing through the shed to some degree to find the Christmas tree, that we swear to replace every year. The decorations are like meeting characters from an old book you haven't read for a long time - you remember all their quirks, where you were when you first noticed them. Someone plays Christmas music, the dogs sniff in the boxes and bash the shaky tree with their tails.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

A couple of years ago my dad passed the light-stringing-up altar to me. Nothing official about it, but he was travelling for longer and longer during the holidays and I was, perhaps inappropriately, deemed the most competent in this field. The lights still shine and twinkle in the evening, but I've never managed to curl them evenly round the tree like dad has, the lights themselves are so old that a few have gone out, but no one's really had the heart to buy a new set. We've been using the same decorations for as long as I can remember, the little round baubles and the intricate figurines my dad used as a kid. We are not so much of a family for tradition. We travel too much, the family as a whole is too spread out. And when I asked my parents, when I was young and these things mattered to me, they asked me what Christmas was really about. Did it have to be gifts around a tree, a big dinner, celebrated on the 25th? Or was it about the principle - the gathering with people you love, sharing food that you've made with love, giving, more than just material gifts?

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

It makes me wonder. This season of craziness... the crazy is everywhere. The pressure on mothers to cook a perfect turkey, to choose the best gifts for their children. The pressure on dads to put up the best outdoor lights, to earn the money to finance it all in the first place. Pressure on kids to stay cool throughout the affair, to get the best most expensive presents. Pressure on the dog to not steal the turkey from the table, dammit, and not to bark when an army of strangers rings the doorbell. Pressure on everyone to keep a good face, to laugh with family members you don't really know.

I go back to bread. We have no great expectations of the holiday, nothing to go back on, I doubt I'll make this wreath next year as a Christmas tradition. I started making my own bread some time ago, but that was after a long break from the habit. Somehow my hands remembered it, the smell of the yeast was familiar, my hands could fold and knead the dough without a second thought. It gave me something, some quiet zen, two minutes to think amid my crazy; travel prep and essays. I think about the puppies who'll be abandoned because the kids couldn't handle the well meant gift. About the wives who'll fall out with their mother in law because the turkey didn't work out. About the dads who'll feel like crap because they didn't get that promotion in time to get that shiny new phone.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

It's not that I don't have warm memories of Christmas, or that I have a problem with traditional holidays, I think it's great to have something to look back on, to warm you somewhere inside. Childhood Christmas for me was lots of light, more laughs, some fun gifts that I'd play with the whole year. This year will be similar. We'll celebrate after the India trip, on January 10th, when the people who've fought with their mother in law and chucked their puppies have moved onto the most depressing month of the year and salad diets. I just spare a thought for those people who believe that they're making it Christmas, and I go back to my bread. My thoughts on the puppies and the grains, on the holiday from which so many of us took the spirit when we first put up the lights.

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

I understand that lots of people are scared of working with yeast but I promise that, like the aforementioned holiday, it's also overcomplicated by most people! Just make sure it's really puffy after proofing time, otherwise the yeast is dead and it will also kill the recipe. Also, the temperature of the water is important - I found a sneaky method to do this, see the recipe notes if that will help you. As for the swirly wreath pattern - I tried to get photos, but they weren't great so I will direct you to this site I trawled the internet for, which quite clearly shows how to get that pretty pattern going.The bread is gently sweet, a nice contrast to the sharp berries and fragrant cardamom - it's more the kind of bread for eating chunks plain, rather than slicing and slathering with jam. The best kind of bread, I'd say. It's kind of cozy but light, which is how Christmas should be. Whether it's the traditional kind on the 25th, or something a bit unconventional like ours, wishing you the brightest, warmest holidays with people + pets you love. xx

nutmeg and pear | healthy spelt bread wreath w/ cardamom & cranberry (naturally sweetened & dairy free)

[kindred-recipe id="1918" title="cardamom-cranberry spelt wreath"]

I am away on holiday (India!!!) right now, so it may be a bit quiet on my end. If you are looking for more baking inspiration, I will direct you to this baked oatmeal to serve holiday guests for breakfast, this granola for edible gifting and these scones because why not. and (coconut oil) gingerbread cookies. And again, I thank you for visiting this little corner of the internet, have a wonderful Christmas. I'll be back with a few photos in a bit.

nothing in return | orange & cranberry (holiday) granola

nutmeg and pear | healthy refined sugar free orange & cranberry granola w/ ginger

I wasn't particularly planning on writing to you, you were just rolling along being yourself, I'd just written to your sister and I didn't want to bore everyone. But then you hurt your claw (that was partly my fault for not trimming the damn thing. For that, I'm sorry. Promise.) and I changed my mind, but that's not the only reason why. I've been thinking about you since we put up the Christmas tree .

You came, little tail wagging. Sticking that velvety muzzle into all the boxes, sneezing in the glitter and pine needles. You look at life through fresh eyes, don't you? You're not like your sister, not like Prune who is the cynic, she knows what she wants. You're like that little amber bauble in the box of decorations. There are lots of similar ones, many are bigger, maybe more shiny, maybe a perfect sphere. You'd be slightly dusty, maybe chipped, slightly forgotten. But then I'd pull you out and dust you off and you shine. There's no face that I want to grab and cuddle more than yours. It may not be an elegant face, your paws may be too big for your body, you may bark too much but the real problem is that you have too much to give. You expect nothing from anyone, you're surprised when we talk to you, when we call Suzi over just for a cuddle. You want to give it all to us- joy, love, whatever, expecting nothing in return.

nutmeg and pear | healthy refined sugar free orange & cranberry granola w/ ginger
nutmeg and pear | healthy refined sugar free orange & cranberry granola w/ ginger
nutmeg and pear | healthy refined sugar free orange & cranberry granola w/ ginger
nutmeg and pear | healthy refined sugar free orange & cranberry granola w/ ginger

In some ways I think I see myself in you, Prune too, but sometimes with you it's so obvious I have to laugh. There was that day we went to the vet's, we'd lined up on the ramp, the receptionist came to open up. And there's Prune, all tail wags, friendly licks, instantly loved, lots of hugs, a roomful of new friends. And you? You stand in the background, alone, and you even bark. It takes a long time for people to realise how sweet you are - I'm nowhere near as sweet as you, but I'd be the one waiting at the back (I don't bark yet, but people don't ever take to me straight away, so I might as well). It takes you a long time to trust people, you'll do with your own company, but when you do start to trust, you'd do anything for them, you show them in your own suzi-like ways. You have so much love to give. The way you always bark at strange men, the way you climb onto my bed sometimes, how you curl your whole body around our legs and sleep like a little bean.

nutmeg and pear | healthy refined sugar free orange & cranberry granola w/ ginger

And before this season of giving, you've taught me so much about true generosity, patience. How do you manage, even if you're worried and scared, even though you've been hurt, to make us all smile and love us so much? I've learnt to give you time to warm to us, time to calm down when you're nervous, and it's been worth it, for the tic tac of your paws running to meet me when I'm up in the morning, for your snuggles and how you rest your whole face on my lap. So to you, the little forgotten bauble, just know for me you're the shiniest of the bunch. You can be the angel on the highest branch. Thank you, suzi, for teaching me that in our own way, we all know how to give. And thanks for giving me something every day, all year. You could teach Santa a thing or two.

nutmeg and pear | healthy refined sugar free orange & cranberry granola w/ ginger
nutmeg and pear | healthy refined sugar free orange & cranberry granola w/ ginger

I think I mentioned giving in my last post? To me the nicest things to gift are homemade, and I this granola would fit the role perfectly. It's pretty adaptable and looks cute + rustic in a glass jar with a little pine sprig, and granola keeps forever too - so make the whole batch and gift some. In case you were wondering what this had to do with Suzi, the answer is not much, but she simply doesn't ask for anything or expect anything - and that's just so rare. I expect and ask for my Christmas granola to be really tasty, warmly spiced and distinctly festive, and this recipe ticks all those boxes. The orange juice & zest in the syrup with a hint of molasses and ginger puts a Christmas candle in your breakfast (or snack)(I've never eaten a candle before though) + cranberries & oranges are made for each other. At other times of year, I switch the molasses for honey and tone down the ginger, which makes for a really bright and refreshing taste, so this recipe is a keeper for the whole year. In the notes under the recipe I give some switches for making the granola gluten-free and pantry friendly, so I really hope you try this one out. Try to make some time in the craziness for homemade gifts and cherishing the less-shiny baubles, whatever form they come in. The cheer is upon us. Happy holidays xo

nutmeg and pear | healthy refined sugar free orange & cranberry granola w/ ginger

ORANGE & CRANBERRY (HOLIDAY) GRANOLA

//gluten free option + vegan // makes about 8 cups/ 2l

1 1/3 cup (320ml) unsweetened orange juice, freshly squeezed or pure fresh bottled juice
1 tablespoon (15ml) unsulphured molasses*
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (40ml) extra virgin coconut oil (room temperature)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
finely grated zest of one orange, optional

2 cups (200g) rolled oats
2 cups (200g) rolled rye/rye flakes**
2/3 cup (94g) pumpkin seeds
2/3cup (86g) sunflower seeds
1/2 cup (50g) walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (75g) almonds, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons  (20g) flax seeds

2/3 cup (100g) unsweetened dried cranberries


preheat the oven to 180’C or 350’F. line a large, rimmed baking tray with parchment paper.

start by making the ‘syrup’. in a medium saucepan over high heat, add the orange juice and molasses. you’re essentially making a reduction, so let the mix boil, uncovered, till reduced by about half: you want about 2/3 cup (160ml) liquid. after about 10 minutes of scarily rapid boiling, steam etc, carefully (this is real hot stuff) pour into a measure and check. if there’s too much liquid, boil longer and check, if there is too little, don’t panic. you can top it up with extra juice.
while the liquid is still hot, pour it back into the pan, stir in the coconut oil till it melts through; add the spices and vanilla and set aside to cool/infuse.

while the oj mix is cooling, find a very large bowl. add all the dry ingredients to the bowl and stir them to combine (I use my hands, less messy)
retrieve the cooled wet mix. drizzle it over the oat-nut mix and stir well, so the grains are just moistened without being wet. toss it well so that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t stay dry.

dump the bowl out onto the prepared baking tray – there will be a lot, use a wooden spoon/spatula to spread it evenly over the tray. put the tray in the oven for 10 minutes.
after 10 minutes, open the oven and stir the granola around on the tray, bringing the granola from the edges into the middle and the middle towards the edges – this is important or the edges will burn/brown much faster. rotate the tray.
bake for around 40 minutes, stirring/moving edges and rotating every 10-15 minutes. This granola is best with the grains nice and separate, not the clumpy kind; the frequent stirring ensures this.
40 minutes leaves the grains and nuts deeply toasted, which I love, but if this is not your thing, you can check on it after about 35 minutes.

Allow the granola to cool in the pan, then toss through the cranberries. Once fully cooled, use the parchment paper as a funnel (do this over a baking tray, it helps) to pour the ‘nola into a sealable glass jar, where it will keep a month or so. You can of course also put into small jars, paper bags etc. for gifting.

notes

*health foodies actually swear by blackstrap molasses, but it’s very sharp/spicy – I just used a natural variety that adds huge depth without the sharpness or being overly sweet, but remember, this and the juice are the only real sweeteners here. Your call. Also, if you’re in Belgium or Holland, I think appelstroop (apple syrup – can you find it elsewhere?) would work really well.
** to make this gluten free, switch the rolled rye for more gf certified rolled oats. I use it here because I like the contrast in color and shape to the very pale rolled oats, so you could try another gf rolled grain like rolled millet or quinoa. It adds nice variety

As a general note, you can keep things in the same volume and use what you have – 1 cup (around 150-160g) total of nuts, for example. And as I said, for something less in-your-face holiday, I switch molasses for honey and sometimes the cranberries for unsulphured dried apricots, blueberries or raisins. Granola just lives to make your breakfasts easy.

 

ps. This blog has been in existence almost 2 months now... I just want to say a huge thank you to the small handful of loyal readers who visit my little corner of the net often. Every comment, email, just you reading means the world to me. As a heads up, I might be changing the URL of the blog because after 'settling in' to the blog, I'm not sure how fitting it is. I will send an email to my subscribers when a change happens and I'll try to set up some kind of redirect. Thanks for all your support, if I could bake you all a cookie, I would.

suzi-smile

suzi, the littlest one


more holiday breakfasts