Whenever I plan gatherings, I choose to invest more time in one (or at least I *try* to invest in only one) menu item. This winter, I had been craving the flavors and simple beauty of Whole Grain Linzer Cookies, or Helle Linzer Plaetzchen if you fancy the German title. Named for the Austrian Linzer Torte, a latticed pastry with jam filling, these buttery shortbread cookies and peeks of jam feel like little ornaments. In the vein of European traditions, I chose a Swedish lingonberry jam for a burst of red filling (and because I dream of participating in a St. Lucia celebration someday!).
The Danish word Hygge seems to be resurging with the voracity of a seasonal flu. Perhaps it’s because our weather has finally dipped into real winter temperatures or perhaps because my peer group is reaching the nesting age, the word has been hashtagged and hashtagged again. Despite my knee-jerk reaction to the word’s overuse, I can’t argue the intention: let’s all find better ways to stay home and be cozy without completely cutting ourselves off from society. Shall we?
Winter is one of my favorite times to entertain. Extra bodies in our home means extra warmth without having to crank up the heat- win win. Aside from diminishing my guests to mere heaters, I do enjoy the coziness and comfort of having friends come to my home. I love when friends come to play a round of Clue, or warm up with the antics of charades and sip something toasty- all while I’m in my slippers!
I recently started mapping out my goals for the year, trying to distill them to months and days, and I realized one missing link from the past year: I didn’t host friends as often as I would have liked. I could chalk it up to an unruly schedule, a work overload, a lack of planning, etc, but the more important takeaway is to let the invites flow and start penciling in that calendar!
I recently invited some of the Urban Farmer’s family, who I now am very fortunate to consider my family, for drinks and snacks. In the winter, I love a crock pot full of mulled wine. The scent of simmering spices hits guests before they hit the door, and then warms their hands as they sip. Red wine tends to get all the attention on the mulling front, so I switched to a white wine with hints of citrus, honey and anise.
I tend to go overboard when planning for guests. In order to push this winter cozy idea more, I’m constantly looking for that teetering balance of manageable and special. Homemade crackers ride that fine line. They’re easy to whip up, customize and make a spread feel more homemade.
The major holidays may be over, but the winter merriment should continue. There’s no reason to pack up the oven-dried citrus or the wintry greens. They can brighten the grayest of winter days.
Call it hibernation, call it hygge, or call it some mispronounced version of that word, but don’t call off the entertaining just because the holidays are over. Heat up the crock pot, whip up some crackers, arrange some fruits, and you have yourself a winter gathering to remember!
Mulled White Wine & Homemade Cracker Recipes for Winter Entertaining
This post is a twofer! Using a crock pot to make the mulled wine means it’s easier to devote attention to the cracker making and final preparations.
People ask me if I am from Pittsburgh? No, I moved here. Then I left. Then I returned. It was cheap, and my stuff was here, and it was no fairy tale. I returned to Pittsburgh for two major life tracks that both fell through. They fell hard, like coins falling through ripped jeans and clanking on the pavement.
It was a sour moment. Yet, I don’t think I shed a single tear (I’m all about regrouping). Turns out, those plans clanked to the sidewalk for a reason. The universe had something way sweeter in store for me (mainly, the Urban Farmer and a lil’ lass with punkin’ seeds for eyebrows). Sweet, sour, beautiful on the surface, then sticky, sludgy and messy, and yet, so damn good! That’s life, and that’s lemon bars!
So when life hands you life, make lemon bars!
Gluten Free Lemon Bars
yield: 24 bars & a sticky mess
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” -Jim Rohn
The Urban Farmer’s brother shared this quote with a vast room full of people. His goal was for them to reclaim their lives through health and nutrition. His motives were personal, his words eloquent, and his intentions honest. He used the quote to encourage his audience to align with others on the same nutrition track- a safety in numbers/accountability approach. I sat in the audience, considering some significant ties I had recently cut, and that quote resonated with me deeply. As it turns out, there’s a scientific/psychological truth to this idea of changing in response to our sphere of influence.
I discovered this link while listening to an episode of Invisibilia entitled Entanglement (lately, I am a voracious podcast listener, and I highly recommend the series). The story starts by describing an episode of Candid Camera. A man enters an elevator alone. Two people join him and face the wrong direction. The original man looks puzzled, but continues to face the door. Then a third person joins the elevator and also rotates away from the door. This is the final straw that causes the original man to follow suit. This is called Conformity, and it’s when your mother might interject, “if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”
However, as the hosts of Invisibilia described, “whether you want to or not, all day long, you are engaged in a kind of synchronized dance with the people with whom you come in contact.” Psychologists call this intense and rapid mimicry Contagion. We subconsciously imitate activities like breathing patterns, blinking rates, tones, fidgeting, etc. Animals do this as well. We are wired this way, primitively, but what’s really intriguing is how we take on each other’s emotions too. Psychologists call this Emotional Contagion. Our faces leak our emotions- fear, grief, shame, joy, etc- all transferred through tiny micro expressions. My mind returned to the Jim Rohn quote, and the Emotional Contagion theory added a whole new level to surrounding oneself with truly positive, uplifting people.
I’m fortunate. The Urban Farmer and his people are good people. They love and support each other. They’re warm and welcoming. They care deeply for those around them. They’re the type of people you want to count amongst your five, to surround you, to influence you. Thus, when it came time for the Urban Farmer’s mama to celebrate another year of life, I wanted her celebration to be sweet, rosy and wholesome. This cake was for her.
Here’s to the Positive Influences!
Roasted Beet Layer Cake with Coconut Beet Frosting & Red Currants
About This Recipe: My main goal for this cake was to create a dessert with a very low sugar content and to use coconut flour effectively (I had a major coconut flour FAIL recently). The combination of almond flour, coconut flour and arrowroot (crucial for a gluten-free recipe) yields a very light and spongey cake. The roasted beet adds a light sweetness. The whipped topping is naturally pink from a roasted beet puree making this cake a beautifully wholesome dessert!
April 2013 One of the perks of working at a forward-thinking, venture-backed startup is a stocked kitchen where breakfast choices abound! One of the perks of leaving said forward-thinking, venture-backed…