It's December in the Santa Cruz mountains. Rain boots and mud puddles and black-tailed deer; the only snowflakes are painted on windows, or printed on cards that bear the scrawl of far-flung family. We're not complaining; oh far, far from it. Look out the window; conifers and grey clouds pierced by shafts of winter sun, red berries on toyon and madrone. The winter birds hop and flit. There's a crackle of fire in the woodstove, thin blue smoke from the chimney. The kitchens smell of tradition and ritual. 'Tis the season, on the central coast.
Cold weather outside calls for warming spices in the foods we eat. A fire to be kindled in the belly. From ginger to cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, the spices associated with traditional winter foods tend to be warming, stimulating ones.
The hot cider we serve in the store to our customers contains spices like these. The apple juice and spices simmer all day long, filling the air with their fragrance, which seems to warm and comfort even before the first sip is swallowed. Wrap your hands around a cup and breathe it in before you drink.
There's stories in that steam.
These spices have come from far away, across continents and centuries, to grace our cupboards and our cups. Though most of them are commonplace now, they were once exotic novelties to peoples from cooler, northern climes. Each leaf, seed, nut, and root was once a precious commodity, to be used sparingly, or with ceremony.
Even salt, that most basic of seasonings, was something that did not always come easy to people who dwelt far from the ocean. Through trade and exploration, barter and gift, over years and empires and shifting alliances, these spices have become a part of the cuisine of many cultures, far from where they were originally grown or gathered. Each culture they passed through has borrowed from, and contributed to, the continuous evolution of their use.
Here's a recipe that goes way back, though doubtless it has shifted and evolved over the years. Perfect as a dried blend, for giving as a gift, or simmered down to a liquid concentrate that can be stored in the fridge, this versatile Chai tea recipe can be made with or without caffeine, blended with dairy or non-dairy milks, and sweetened to taste with a range of sweeteners.
It's a season of traditions, for the telling of old stories, reaching back through food and tales and family gatherings, to feel the links of our shared history. These links are everywhere, unheralded all around us, a part of the world no less substantial than our own selves. As you sip from your shared cups this season, take a moment to consider how far we all have come. And how far we might yet go.
Here’s another tradition that has deep roots. Wreaths have been used far back in history, to symbolize everything from strength to eternity to victory, and many other meanings as well. As with so many traditions, their meaning has shifted over the years. No matter what they signify to individual people, they are easy and rewarding to make from found materials, especially in an area so rich in conifers and red berries! Here’s a brief tutorial on how to make your own holiday wreaths.
Pumpkin spice is all the rage these days. It's in everything from teas to lattes to candles to muffins to... sauerkraut?!
You're seeing it here. Pumpkin Cranberry Kraut, for what might be the first time. Before you knock it, think about it. Ginger, coriander, black and white peppercorns. Cinnamon and nutmeg and tart whole cranberries. Golden chunks of pumpkin, slivers of turmeric and tiny mustard seeds... it's one more step in the evolution of spices and sauerkraut, another piece of cultural and culinary exploration. Someday, it may even become tradition. It sure went nice with turkey on Thanksgiving!
From the weird and wonderful, to the tried and true. Salt is perhaps the most basic seasoning, essential to many methods of food preparation and preservation. It plays an outsize role in fermenting vegetables and curing meats, to say nothing of adding flavor to mild foods.
Salt has been used as currency in ancient times: good workers were considered "worth their salt." Whether mined from the earth, or evaporated from the sea, salt has been regarded in most cultures as being something of a necessity, a basic commodity. On a cellular level, it is; the human body needs salt in some form to function.
It can also be much more than that.
Salt comes in a dazzling array of crystal sizes and colors, and can be stained with geological 'impurities' that give it a particular taste or quality. Iron stains a salt red, for example, and gives a subtle flavor. Celtic sea salt contains many trace minerals, and is a great way to boost the nutrition of the seasoned food.
Salt can also be blended with various herbs and spices to produce seasonings that are more than the sum of their parts. What better gift for the chef or the foodie in your life, than a few jars of homemade salt blends? Easy and rewarding to make and use, these are a few of our favorites.
Everyone likes to give and receive, even or perhaps especially children. The salt spice blends featured above are easy to involve children in, as the process is short and simple. The scent of fresh herbs, and the feel of salt rough between the fingers, is a delight to kids and adults alike.
We'll be hosting our yearly holiday fling for customers and friends here on December 12th, where there will be more opportunity for kids to get creative with gifts. RSVP for the event on Facebook here.
Renee will be leading a seed-packet gift-making station, helping children to create a one-of-a-kind gift for their loved ones. Kids will decorate their own small envelope with stamps and ink, and fill it with sunflower seeds. A multi-purpose gift, incorporating both art and the promise of new growth, the sunflowers are a great choice for children to plant and grow early next summer. Tall and tough and lovely, with cheerful yellow flowers, to feed both birds and bees alike, the sunflowers kindle dreams of yellow sunshine, even in the gray of winter.
From 1-2pm, the Banana Slug String Band will be playing, singing their songs of celebration and stewardship. We'll leave room to dance, among the trees! Mission Hill Creamery will be there as well, providing their special treats for all to enjoy, free of charge. Santa will be there, of course, from 2-4pm, posing for pictures with kids and dogs alike, and taking requests from the North Pole. Bring your camera if you want to capture the magic!
Of course, our famous complimentary cider will be flowing freely, to keep you warm from the inside out. We'll have a green and fragrant selection of Christmas trees to choose from as well, both live and cut, so make it a day and come on down to the Feed and Farm! We’ve been hard at work, collecting a wide selection of gifts and practical items to fill heart and stocking alike. Get set to find or create the perfect gift, and enjoy a day of community, music, and celebration.
Winter begins officially on the Solstice, which falls this year on December 22nd. We've felt it building for a long time, though, like clouds that drift and gather in the sky before rainfall. We're ready for the rain on dry earth, ready for the creeks to brim full with water again. We're ready for celebration and ceremony, too, in all the myriad forms they take.
The lighted tree, the candle in the window, the sacred giving and the receiving, both. The laying aside of differences. The coming together, the joining of hands, the dreams for a better world that must be spoken, for the good of all. We're ready, too, for the hard and real work of bringing those dreams home to the here and now, to our one vast and tiny pearl of a planet, spinning slowly out in space. 'Tis the season, friends. Ring it in.
As this year draws to a close, and another waits like a seed in the ground, we we thank you for spending this time with us, and for being a part of our community, no matter how far-flung. We wish you and yours, as always, the very best of the season. We'll see you in the new year!
Envisioned as the perfect gift, one that educates and empowers, our next series of classes is one rooted in the idea of giving. This series of 5 classes are designed to be given as a gift; offering a complete overview of 5 methods of food preservation. Give one or all 5 classes to a friend or loved one complete with a beautiful gift card.
We leave you this month with a collection of our favorite products for gift making and giving, so you can make the most meaning with your holiday gifting this year. Enjoy...
It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you make delicious, sustainable, homemade food more often. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.