Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lovin' the Lemon Balm

It is time to harvest the lemon balm and dry it for "meadow tea". It has grown prolifically this year. It seems that it loves receiving daily watering and is getting just the right amount of sun and shade. The lemon balm was planted about five years ago, and the established root structure appears to really be paying off. Lemon balm is a member of the mint family and has a lovely lemon scent. The heart-shaped leaves of this plant are shiny and wrinkled with scalloped edges. It's easy to grow, preferring a shady spot, although it will grow in full sun. This herb has tiny flowers of light blue or white during the late spring through midsummer. These blossoms are well loved by bees who seem to send out the word that this fragrant herb is in full bloom and there's enough fragrant nectar for all! I'll be laying the leaves of this herb on a paper-towel lined tray. Once dried, the leaves will crumble easily and will be useful for tea or potpourris. If drying a quantity of this herb, bundling and hanging is another useful method of dehydration. According to herbalists, lemon balm is a medicinal herb that has a variety of properties. It has mild sedative properties and is known to relieve gas, reduce fever, ad increase perspiration. Extracts of the lemon balm leaves have also been shown to have strong antibacterial and antiviral qualities. And, it is always excellent as an ingredient in herbal teas!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Spicy Chai Tea for Autumn

Somehow, autumn creates a desire for things more "spiced" than what I prefer in the spring or summer. Spices "warm" and become very much a part of the "comfort" of the colder months. Spiced pumpkin pie, spiced molasses cookies, and spiced tea! One such tea is chai, which comes in many forms. Commercially boxed, in large paper cups from a local coffee shop, or homemade from a home kitchen --- chai is sure to warm the heart and hands.  Here's a recipe for homemade chai that I think you'll enjoy.

Spicy Chai Tea for Autumn

2 cups boiling water
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
3 peppercorns (optional)
8 cardamom pods
4 cloves
optional-- shaved orange or lemon rind, fennel or licorice
1/2 cup almond or soy milk
125 ml nutmeg powder
honey or stevia to taste

Pour boiling water over spices in a saucepan, simmer 5-10 minutes. Add milk, simmer another 10 minutes. Pour through a strainer into cups. Sweeten with honey or stevia and sprinkle on a little nutmeg, to taste.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 tsp. EnerG Egg Replacer*
4 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. pure vanilla
1 1/2 cups gluten-flour blend**
1 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips***

Cream together coconut oil and sugars. Add vanilla, egg substitute and mix well. Add dry ingredients, continuing to blend with mixer. If ingredients are too dry, add a little more water. Gently stir in chocolate chips. Scoop cookies onto a baking stone or cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 - 12 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool on baking stone and remove when cooled.

Variations: add cinnamon, raisins, walnuts, or extra vanilla or almond extract.

*3 tsp. egg replacer is equal to three eggs. You may use eggs if desired.

**I used Montina flour and coconut flour in equal portions. For those who can use gluten products, an equal amount of whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour can be used. You can even use all-purpose wheat flour if you prefer.

***Carob chips can replace chocolate chips, although a vegan AND gluten-free version of carob chips is yet to be found.

Serve with your favorite autumn tea and enjoy!

Brimming with Hospitality

I hope you have a day that is brimming with hospitality! Since autumn is in the air, it's time to bring on the pumpkin spice, apples, and cranberries. Here's a recipe for an autumn tea that I think you'll enjoy:

Spicy Apple Cranberry Tea

3 tea bags
3 cups boiling water
3 cups unsweetened apple juice
1 1/3 cups cranberry juice
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Place tea bags in a teapot, add boiling water, cover, and steep for 4 minutes. Remove tea bags and discard. Pour tea into large pitcher. Add remaining ingredients. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Pour a serving portion into a saucepan and heat to a simmer. Serve hot. Or may be served chilled over ice if desired.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

When the Frost is on the Punkin

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover over-head!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’ ’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! ...
I don’t know how to tell it—but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me—
I’d want to ’commodate ’em—all the whole-indurin’ flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

[by James Whitcomb Riley]

Happy Autumn

It's time for some hot apple cider tea...or a cuppa chai!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Entertaining with Nature

September is a wonderful month for picnics, projects and activities.  The weather is conducive to exploration and plants and trees are mature and starting to seed. The weather is still warm enough for an outdoor campfire and picnic.  A nature guessing game can provide entertainment that includes the outdoors and is fun for all ages. 

Give each person a grocery bag.  Label each one with a different number on the outside.  Be sure the grocery bag is not opaque, because you don't want people to be able to see shapes or shadows of what's inside.  Have everyone go outside for a walk in the woods, a park, or the back yard.  Each person is to find and gather five different items that they find.  Make sure they don't collect live things, but other nature objects instead. Things to look for could be pine cones, leaves, rocks, seeds, seed pods, an acorn, a feather, a stick, fallen pine needles, and more. Set a timer for 15 minutes and then have everyone return to a central location.

When everyone has returned, have them sit in a large circle.  Give each person a pencil and paper. Have each person pass their bag to the person on their right.  Allow them one minute to feel what's inside the bag, guess what it is, and write the names of the items in the bag on their paper. Make sure they write the bag number on the paper along with the names of the objects. 

Then, continue with the next person's bag and so on, with individuals writing the names of objects guessed on their paper.

After all the bags have been explored, have each person show the items in their bag and tell about it.  As they do this, everyone should check their papers to see how correct they were. 

Although this game is very simple, it is fun, entertaining, and educational for all ages! What a great way for all ages to enjoy a nature activity together.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sweet Potato Salad

4 small sweet potatoes
1/4 cup Vegannaise
1 Tbsp. mustard
4 stalks celery, chopped into 1/4" pieces
1 small red pepper, 1/4" dice
1 cup fresh pineapple, diced
2 green onions, chopped
sea salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Wrap each sweet potato in foil and bake for 1 hour.  Remove from heat, unwrap, and allow to cool.  Then peel and cut into 3/4" pieces.

Using a large bowl, mix together Veganaise and mustard.  Add cooled sweet potatoes, celery, red pepper, pineapple, and green onions.  Season to taste with sea salt.  

Cover and refrigerate for one hour.  Then fold in pecans, sprinkle with chives, and serve.

Delicious as a salad served for an afternoon tea!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Falafels are a type of fritter, croquette, or bean patty. You can call it whichever you like. They are a savory ball of bean goodness made from garbanzos or fava beans that's usually deep-fat fried. As usual, I'm usually on a mission to make things healthier, so have come up with a baked version instead. It might be missing some of the deep-fried flavor that generally appeals to those who like french fries, onion rings, or tater tots, but be brave and give these a try. Without the flavor of deep-fry a desirable freshness and nuttiness is evident. Placed in a whole grain pita pocked and stuffed with a fresh, green salad and ranch sauce or tahini dressing, it is a one-dish meal that you can hold in the palm of your hand! Filling, easy to pack for a picnic, and delicious --- I think you'll love it!


2 cups soaked garbanzos (cooked)
1/2 cup cold water
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp. parsley
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 cup savory crumbs OR 1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs OR gluten-free bread crumbs
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp. oil
2 drops butter flavoring

Measure 1 1/3 cup chopped garbanzos and place in bowl. Measure 2/3cup garbanzos, add water, and put with chopped garbanzos. Chop garlic. Add seasoning and mix. Mix bread crumbs, yeast, oil, and butter flavoring in small bowl. Form patties and roll in bread mix. Place patties on baking pan and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degreesfor 30 minutes. Serve in pita bread (or gluten free alternative).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Comfort Food Mac and Cheese

Autumn is near. It's time for comfort food! It's creamy, starchy, rich, delicious! And can be good for you too. It's part of the American tradition and good eating. Starchy macaroni and cheddar cheese are two foods that are not traditionally on the "good for you" list of foods. But alternatives are available. Wheat-free, gluten-free, and dairy free alternatives work together to create just that: creamy, starchy, rich, delicious AND healthy comfort food! The formula is simple:

1 package of Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta

1 recipe melty cheese

Gluten- free bread, cracker, or biscuit crumbs

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain and sprinkle with olive oil. Place back into kettle. Pour 1 recipe (or double for a creamier dish) melty cheese and mix well. Place into small baking dishes. Sprinkle with crumbled gluten-free crumbs. Bake at 350 degree oven for 40 - 45 minutes until well-baked and a crunchy crust forms.Delicious served with some fresh salsa. Yummy!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Nutty Honey Loves

Honey Loves are a little cookie made in a muffin tin. They are sweet, tender, and gluten-free. These were a huge hit with my family! I used the greased muffin pan option, but next time I'll use mini-muffin papers, as these were hard to remove from the pan. I think cashews would work well as a substitution for the walnuts if you prefer that flavor. The delicate flavor of these cookies make them a delicious accompaniment for a cup of hot tea.

Grease well mini muffin tins. These recipe makes 24 mini muffins, but can be doubled, tripled, etc.

1/2 cup butter*
2/3 cup mild honey
1/2 cup coconut
1 1/2 cups finely ground walnuts
1/2 cup coarsely ground walnuts
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Preheat oven to 350. Thoroughly grease mini muffin tins or use mini cupcake papers. Set aside. Melt butter in a heavy pot. When melted, but not browned, add honey and cook just to the boiling pt to combine. Shut off heat. Add remaining ingredients, saving almond extract for last, combining thoroughly. Using a small ice cream scoop, divide batter almond mini muffin tins.

Bake at 350 for fifteen minutes. This is a critical part. The cookies should be medium golden brown. Watch carefully or they will burn. Remove from oven and let them cool and rest on cookie sheet for ten minutes. Then, place on rack to cool completely. Store in airtight containers.

*May substitute vegan margarine or oil.

Photo: The real honey loves! Grown-up and nearly grown-up kids of friends sharing a happy time.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Turkish Nut Bowls and Summer Days

The end of summer nears. The neighbor's cherry orchard is changing to reflect the season with leaves on the trees turning a beautiful golden color. Although the sun is going down more than an hour earlier than it did during mid-summer, the days are enjoyable and pleasant. Cooler weather in the 80's is giving the rose bushes a second wind and they are bursting forth in beautiful, colorful blossoms. It's like one last fling before autumn finally arrives. It's the time of year to pack in as many things as you can before the weather turns cold. Perhaps it's time to take a picnic lunch to the park. Or to drive to the mountains on a wildlife scouting trip. It is harvest season. Have you picked enough boxes of peaches and apples to satisfy your sweet tooth? And what about tomato sandwiches? Have you enjoyed enough of them to appreciate their yummy goodness? Take on the days and enjoy the last fleeting days of summer sun! What's on your schedule for this week-end?

Photo: Alma's neighbor shared a set of six beautiful Turkish nut bowls and they now grace my kitchen cupboard. I think they are very cute! Neighbor is a delightful English woman who knows the value of a perfectly made cup of tea. She's married to a Turkish gentleman whose family visits from Turkey each year. Together they are a hospitable team. I appreciate the gracious hospitality they have extended to me.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Apron Strings

"A good mother
gives her
daughter an apron

-Virginia Helweg

What kind of apron strings did your mother give to you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sunflower Cheer

I love sunflowers! They bring such cheer to any day! From large ones growing in the garden, to the small, compact bouquets that grace a farmer's market, sunflowers always seem to smile from their golden-fringed faces. A bag of sunflower seeds with shells is a fun snack to take along when going on a hike, and sunflowers ground into tahini butter make the addition of nutty goodness to a batch of hummus. And birds, oh the birds! They love sunflower seeds and it's enjoyable to see what comes to dried sunflower stocks in the garden during the winter months.  A versatile plant, sunflowers bring both nourishment and joy. 

Sometimes it is fun to try something completely new and different.  Have you ever made or eaten a sunflower seed loaf? Sunflower seeds are used frequently in vegetarian cuisine, although most generally think of them as an addition to veggie burger patties, I'm sharing a recipe for Sunflower Loaf, a dish that slices up nicely in the manner of "meat loaf". Serve with potatoes and veggies, or rice and gravy. And the next day, the cold left-overs make a delicious sandwich filling! Just cut off the crusts, add a cup of tea, and you're all set for tea-time solitude in the garden --- sipping and eating under the shade of a tall stand of sunflowers!

Sunflower Loaf

1/2 cup ground sunflower seeds
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 cup ground walnuts
3/4 cup grated raw potato
1 tsp. salt
1 cup milk, soy or nut
1 Tbsp. nutritional food yeast
3 Tbsp. grated onion

Mix ingredients. Let stand covered for 1/2 hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Serves: 6

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Teacup Art Congratulations!

Posts for the past week have featured pictures from the book Teacup Art...and Reflections by Joyce Wilkens.  Readers were asked to share their teacup story and how it relates to their life. Names were entered into a drawing and one fortunate individual's name was to be drawn to receive a copy of this book. 

Thank you to those who commented! Your names were placed on identically folded slips of paper and put into a copper bowl. I asked my husband to draw one name which he gladly did. The winner of the book is Marilyn from Delights of the Heart. She wrote:

This morning I am sipping tea from a Royal Staffordshire teacup of a Rural Scene in browns. The first morning that I am definitely feeling a chill in the air as we head toward Autumn. Along side the teacup is a green tea flavored macaron. Dreaming of a new season in my life as my new grandson will soon be here to have tea with his grammie. Dreaming and believing in passion today. [Marilyn]

Congratulations, Marilyn!

Friday, September 07, 2012

Teacup Art

Today is the last day to leave a comment for your name to be entered into the drawing for the book Teacup Art...and Reflections by Joyce Wilkens. This week I've been sharing a sample of photos from her book. It was difficult to select just the right ones to share with you. There are so many and they are all so beautiful.

Joyce's teacup collection is unique. She has a wide variety of unusual teacups in her collection, and each tells a story...of a journey, or individual, or experience that she treasures.

Thank you, Joyce, for giving Gracious Hospitality readers the chance to view examples of your beautiful photography and teacup collection. It has been our pleasure to see the world through your eyes. Your appreciation for the unique qualities of individual teacups has not been lost on those who've viewed the pages shared.

If you haven't entered the drawing yet, please consider taking a moment to add your name in the comments section here.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Friendly Village Teacup and a Slavic Sunday Morning

If you've been keeping up with Gracious Hospitality, you know that there's a give-away going on. The book Teacup Art....and Reflections by Joyce Wilkens is being given away to the one who's name is drawn. If you'd like to enter, click here and leave a comment. Joyce's book is filled with many unique teacups from her collection. It was difficult to choose just one for today's post. After leafing through the books pages, I finally chose a page that she's titled after the teacup shown which is "The Friendly Village" collection. It reminds me of a portion of an email that Aunt Marcella sent to me just a few days ago. Although she doesn't speak of teacups in her email, I really enjoyed her description of a village that could very well look like the one illustrated on this page. Please pour yourself a cup of tea and read along with me. Savor the words Aunt Marcella wrote forty-three years ago about a trip she and Uncle Mike took to the quaint village of Gradiska in then-communist Yugoslavia. She wrote about her visit to the village market and countryside after an anxiety-filled night in a dusty old room in a noisy hotel without locks on the doors.

Gradiska, Yugoslavia - 1969
by Aunt Marcella 

It seemed the roar of Saturday night's revelry (noisy, drunken brawlers in the streets that expanded into our quaint hotel) only barely exceeded the roar of Sunday morning's market carts, and the latter took up just about where the former left off.  Those rubber-tire-less wagons came wheeling into town loaded with produce and people, with a rumbling calculated to wake the dead, hurrying to nab a prime spot on the market place on which to sell their home grown goods. Peeking out the grimy window, we nervously accessed the risks in this new invasion.  Wearily, we gave ourselves up to it, got dressed and hit the street with the marketers about 6 am, or just in time for a good frost bite. Enter here a gnarled little old lady-hen, who took me under her kindly wing and together we clucked about the booths, watching the market grow from an early dawn trickle to a rushing river by 9 a.m.  She introduced me to her sister-in-law, who was presiding over her large basin of juicy, homemade sauerkraut.  I also met lots of other farmer ladies dressed in long skirts, aprons, and head scarves.  Clothes seemed to come in two colors; dark and darker, and life in 2 speeds; slow, and as the English say, dead slow.  We finally found a man who was willing to take our picture together near the sauerkraut.  No easy task, since the men here knew nothing about cameras and simply backed off in panic when approached.  Mike, who exercises every day, come riots or wagons, even when traveling, left the market to me, and started south on a 20 mile jogging workout, headed for Sarajevo.This was to take him about 2 and a half hours, and after settling on route, time, and meeting place, I had spare time enough to kick up some excitement among the wagons.  Good grief, hadn't I had enough of that all through the long night? No trouble this time, actually, just lots of fun, as I helped myself to liberal servings of that local market.  Mike gobbled the unique cultural scene with his eyes, while jogging slowly south to the rendezvous spot.  Later as I started down the Sarajevo road to catch that runner, I also wolfed large and nearly indigestible portions of that same 19th century scenery.  My excitement had reached a fever pitch by the time I caught him and I think his had too.  "Sheep, oxen, wells, mosques, geese, drying  red paprika's, Turks, thatched roofs..........."  It all came tumbling out at once.  What a country, such villages, what farmyards, what rustic landscapes with old ladies minding the geese by a pond with staff in hand.  Having less than two years in these heady foreign climes, we were pop-eyed, excited and excitable "babes in toy land", or perhaps children in Mother Goose land. We couldn't have known it then, but much was yet to come.  In succeeding revisits, Yugoslavia unfolded its magnificent entirety to us, converting that early scepticism into a robust pro Yugoslavian friendship. She quietly wove her lovely silken web around us with snow-capped mountains, superb Adriatic coastline, green fields, blue lakes, Renaissance bell towers, fields of storks, forgotten mountain valleys sauntering along in the 17th century, and a warm and lovely people. Yep, we're captured and this Slavic Sunday was a startling, and implausible opening to a very long lasting love affair.

Don't forget to enter the drawing! Click here for instructions to enter!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Teacup Story of India

If you've been keeping up with Gracious Hospitality, you know that there's a give-away going on. The book Teacup Art....and Reflections by Joyce Wilkens is being given away to the one who's name is drawn. If you'd like to enter, click here and leave a comment.

I've been enjoying Joyce's beautiful book! It's one that has been a part of my tea library for awhile now (the winner will be receiving my second copy). Each teacup story that she shares through her photography and prose is beautiful and unique. I've been sharing just a few of the pages with you here on Gracious Hospitality this week. I hope you've been enjoying them.

Today's page shows a beautiful wood carving of the word TEA. Above it is a beautiful teacup from Joyce's collection. It was made in India. I would suspect that there are not too many teacups made in India. At least I haven't seen many. My sister, Judy, has visited India three times. She's spent nearly a month each time, traveling by car and train. The stories of her adventures are amazing and always interesting. When she left for her last trip there, I asked her if she would look for a teacup for me in India. She was happy to do so, but things were busy and she forgot until the very end of her trip. She and her family were staying with an Indian pastor and his family. A day or two before their return home she remembered about my teacup. She asked her hosts where she could purchase a teacup for me. They suggested a large department store nearby, but then realized that anything found there would probably be somewhat generic and imported from China. But, not to worry! The pastor said "You can take her something from our cupboard". He promptly went to the kitchen and pulled out three beautiful Indian teacups. I'm not sure if his wife had much say or not. They are a beautiful set of three yellow teacups painted with a beautiful Indian motif in chocolate brown. How I treasure them! I must say, though, that I do feel a bit guilty about having them. Although my sister says they were lovingly sent from their hearts, I cannot help but feel a bit badly for the pastor's wife. I wonder, did she really mind that he gave away her teacups? Because of her, I cherish them all the more.

Do you have a teacup that tells a story?

Don't forget to enter the drawing! Click here for instructions to enter!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

September Teacup

"The breezes taste

Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze."

by John Updike

Photo by Joyce Wilkens
From her book, Teacup Art...and Reflections

To enter a drawing for this book, please scroll down or click here.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

A Teacup's Story

Teacup Art...and Reflections is a beautiful book filled with photos and stories of teacups. They were gathered by the author and photographer, Joyce Wilkens, from places around the world. Each teacup is steeped in a story. And each teacup holds a meaningful place in Joyce's heart. Many of her pictures and stories are sure to bring forth a similar response as you recall specific objects and events in your own life. Wherever you sip and tell your stories, connections are made when you raise your cup.

What story does your teacup tell? 

Please share your story here. Leave a comment at the end of this post. Describe your teacup and then tell the story of your teacup and how it relates to your life. Your teacup story and how it relates to your life will bless other Gracious Hospitality readers.

All comments which meet the criteria above will be placed into a basket and one will be randomly drawn. The person whose name is drawn will receive a copy of this delightful book! Entries will be received until midnight on Friday, September 7, 2012. 

Please share your teacup story and how it relates to YOUR life!