Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Spices for Christmas

My French instructor, who was from Normandy, once said 
 she didn't understand why Americans 
put cinnamon in everything from coffee to cookies to pastries,
and sprinkled it on everything from squash to salmon. 
She felt our love affair with cinnamon ruined many dishes.

I was more than a little surprised to hear her thoughts.
My mother always made delicious homemade cinnamon rolls and cinnamon toast, 
and her family celebrated Easter every year with a special cinnamon coffee cake.
I figured everybody liked cinnamon as much as we did.

Cinnamon is one of those spices that says holiday to me.
So I'm including three ways that cinnamon can spice up the season.
The first is the simplest: sprinkle one quarter teaspoon of cinnamon
on top of the coffee in a coffeemaker or French press.
The cinnamon adds a lovely flavor
and makes that first cup of coffee on Christmas morning something special.

photo courtesy of

The second way to add a little spice
 is with my favorite mulling spice mix.
I found this recipe called "Barclay House Mulling Spices"
in Southern Living magazine in the early 1980s.
I've made it several times through the years 
although I have never added the oils.
Even without them, the fragrance lasts an incredibly long time.
I had made some for my mother-in-law in the 1980s,
and after she passed away in 2003, we discovered it in its original tin.
I still have it and it still smells delicious.

 Mulling Spices recipe:

8 oranges & 8 lemons
8 ounces of stick cinnamon
8 ounces whole cloves
8 ounces whole allspice
2 tablespoons whole coriander
2 tablespoons orange oil
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon oil

Peel the rind from oranges and lemons, cut them into 1/4 inch wide strips 
and dry for at least 24 hours. I break them into smaller pieces after they are dry.
I also break up the cinnamon sticks into smaller pieces.
Place all ingredients together in an air tight container.
Store at least 7 days, stirring occasionally.

A couple of teaspoons of this in a tea ball 
will flavor a cup of hot cranberry juice or tea.
For mulled wine, 
place 1/2 cup of the mix in a 9-inch square of cheesecloth 
and steep in a simmered mixture of 1/2 gallon of red wine, 
 2 cups pineapple juice and 1/2 cup sugar. 

The third idea for cinnamon is a cute and easy project to do with kids: 
cinnamon-apple teddy bears.
It comes from Redbook magazine, December 1989.

Cinnamon Teddy Bear Recipe:

3 and 3/4 ounces of ground cinnamon 
23 ounces of applesauce
white glue
trim or ribbon for decorating the bear

Pour the cinnamon in a bowl and spoon in applesauce
until a stiff dough forms. Mix dough by hand,
then roll into a ball about 1 and 1/4 inches in diameter to form the body.
Roll a smaller ball to form the head.
Make 4 smaller balls and roll them into logs for the arms and legs.
Make 4 more even smaller balls for the feet and ears.
Join all together to fashion the teddy bear.
Be sure to pinch edges together and then smooth them out with fingers.
Poke holes for eyes and nose using a pencil or skewer.
Allow bears to dry thoroughly. Use white glue to join parts if needed.
Glue the trim or ribbon to the bear.

This same recipe can be used to make small pomander balls.
Just place the dried pomanders 
inside a small square of fabric and tie with a ribbon. 
I made these once and thought the fragrance 
could have used a boost from a little cinnamon oil.

So there they are. Three delicious and creative uses for cinnamon.
Even if the French don't care for canela,
there's nothing better for creating happy memories.

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