Late Winter brings it’s own melancholy, with a longing anticipation of Spring as the weary trudge over a landscape white as the eye can see.
Hi everybody! Welcome to my new home! Do you like what we’ve done with the place?
The remodeling didn’t go as I had expected, but what remodeling project is smooth from start to finish? The first plan fell stupendously flat, the second plan required hiring an illustrator to design, and that landed amidst major car issues and had to be placed on the back burner. For now, this simpler design will suffice. I’m working on making it feel comfortable, inviting and a bit nostalgic when you come by for a visit; I want you to feel like you’ve opened the pages of a favorite book, kicking off shoes to stay a while, sip a warm cup of tea, share a simple meal and maybe pet the cats. They love having friends stop by; they gladly share their fur with anyone.
My apologies for starting this post out using the word ‘Winter’ in the title. Those of us in the northern climes are still experiencing a gorgeous Fall- and the sunshine that we’ve had through the early part of November is dazzling. And so unexpected. November around here is equated with a dense gray expanse of sky that rarely seems to break. It’s a gloomy month, usually, and for the sun and blue sky to be greeting us each morning is a gift. A true weather gift. One that I am savoring with all my might.
But then I go and say ‘Winter’.
But bear with me friends, as you know I wouldn’t steer you wrong. Even with the still mild days of November to wrap around us, my mind is gearing up for cold. It’s inevitable, and I think people are taking bets around here on when the first real snowfall will drop from that leaden sky that we know so well. The first snow that sticks, snarls traffic, makes people grumble inside…. we know how it is around here. We may have resided here all our lives but there comes that first coating of white and it’s like folks have wiped any memory of it clear from their heads.
Like who could forget something like this?
Sorry, there I went and did it again.
But the thing is, it’s coming and when it does, and we wake on those chilly Winter mornings craving all forms of comfort food to fill our Minnesota bellies with warmth, what you should be making is this simple and delicious compote. It tops so many winter breakfast foods like it was meant to be, like the way Winter will eventually lead us to Spring. A spoonful in your Oatmeal is heavenly; a spread across your pancakes, waffles or french toast is worthy of your best food-lovin’ eye roll and exclamations of ‘Oh dear! This is good!’. It’s endlessly versatile and needs no special ingredients. And if you make it in your flannel jammies, with thick slippers on your feet while the furnace hums it’s way to warming your home, it might just make those Winter mornings a bit more pleasant.
And as Minnesota goes, in the wintertime, we need as much of that as we can get.
Winter Fruit Compote
1 medium tart apple, washed, cored and diced fine
1 c. chopped pecans
1/3 c. currants
1 T. butter
1/2 c. pure maple syrup
In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the apple. Saute for a few minutes until the apple is soft, then stir in the pecans and cook, stirring regularly, until the nuts are slightly toasted and fragrant. Pour in the maple syrup and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally until the maple syrup has been absorbed. Stir in the currants and heat through. Serve warm over pancakes or waffles. Will keep refrigerated for several days. If you can resist. Reheat in the microwave if desired. This tastes amazing if sprinkled with a light dusting of sea salt prior to serving. Something about that salty sweet crunch…..
Winter pears, like Anjou or Red or even the Bosc would make a good substitute for the apple in this. Change up the nuts, use raisins instead of currants, or add other dried fruit. Toss in some shredded coconut if it’s your thing. Or even chop up an orange, mix it with dried cranberries and chopped pistachios and a dash of cardamom for an exotic option. The possibilities are endless, people. Endless.
Cranberry and orange is a classic combination, and even the thought of it brings me swiftly back to Christmas as a child when my Mom would pull out her superbly old hand-cranked food grinder and clamp it to the counter edge to make a fresh cranberry-orange relish that filled our kitchen with the lively tang of oranges and the tart haze of cranberry. My sisters and I loved standing at the counter turning the crank of that grinder while Mom fed whole cranberries and oranges into the hopper, the pop and crunch of the fruit filling our ears while the mouth dripped it’s ruby mass into the bowl underneath. It was the scent of the holiday for us, more than a fresh ham baking in the oven, better than her scratch mincemeat or a simmering apple pie. I can zest an orange in the burning July sunshine, wearing shorts and a tank-top, and I will immediately be transported back to wintertime, as a kid again in Mom’s kitchen, fighting my sisters for a turn at the grinder. Back then, the tart cranberries were not to my liking, but I absolutely adored that smell.
The mix of cranberry and orange seems to be everywhere right now, and for good reason as fresh cranberries are in season. For some delicious winter baking, I grabbed it with both hands and enjoyed the promise of greatness found in this match.
There were scones first…..
I had to backtrack to find out exactly where this recipe came from, but thankfully came across it on LoveFeast Table so I can be sure to give proper credit. I’ve linked the recipe for you because I seriously suggest you make yourself a pan of these before too long. The flavors speak of winter, they require you to pour a steaming coffee to sip alongside, and will make you smile happily with delight. We all need that in the chilly months ahead. This past year has been a big one for me in terms of muffins and scones. I like being able to put together a batch if the moment seems right, and you really can’t lose with anything that has some semblance of chocolate in it. Even when the chocolate is white. And these scones are tender, moist and airy. You’ll never purchase a coffee shop hockey puck again.
Then, even while there were still a few scones left over, I forged into a Cranberry Date and Orange quick bread to bring to one of our Christmas gatherings. It was so hard for me to wrap these loaves and slip them in the freezer to await our celebration, because when I knocked them out of the pans to cool, the smell that rose from them reached into my nose and tickled it immensely. I had to walk out of the kitchen in order not to rip a chunk off one to sample. Thankfully, we ended up with plenty of leftovers.
CRANBERRY DATE ORANGE BREAD
2 c. all-purpose flour (I used half whole wheat)
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt (I started using sea salt in baking and I love the results!)
1/2 c. orange juice
Grated peel of 1 orange
2 T melted butter or margarine
2 T. hot water
1 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
1 c. chopped dates
1 c. coarsely chopped walnuts (or pecans- but either is optional)
Heat oven to 325°. Spray a standard 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, dates, water and butter. Heat to a low simmer, stirring occasionally and cook for about 5 minutes. Some of the berries should start popping but you want them to retain their shape as much as possible. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange juice and zest. Allow to cool until barely room temperature.
In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Beat egg separately. Add egg and cranberry mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in nuts, if using. Spoon into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.