The winter solstice time is no longer celebrated as it once was, with the understanding that this is a period of descent and rest, of going within our homes, within ourselves and taking in all that we have been through, all that has passed in this full year which is coming to a close. Like nature and the animal kingdom around us, this time of hibernation is so necessary for our tired limbs and our burdened minds. Our modern culture teaches avoidance at a max at this time; alcohol, lights, shopping, overworking, over spending, comfort food and consumerism… and yet the natural tug to go inwards as nearly all creatures are doing is strong and the weather so bitter that people are left feeling that winter is hard, because for those of us without burning fires and big festive families, it can be lonely and isolating. Whereas in actual fact winter is kind, she points us in her quiet soft way towards our inner self, towards this annual time of peace and reflection, embracing the darkness and forgiving, accepting and loving embracing goodbye the past year. “Winter takes away the distractions, the buzz, and presents us with the perfect time to rest and withdraw into a womb like love, bringing fire & light to our hearth…” and then, just around the corner the new year will begin again, and like a seed planted deep in the earth, we will all rise with renewed energy once again to dance in the sunlight. Life is a gift. A Happy winter to you all. – beautiful words by Brigit Anna McNeill
Each year, I welcome winter a little more openly. Once our Christmas decorations are tucked away in the loft, I naturally want spring to arrive. I’m making it my ambition to find beauty in those quiet places that we often forget to look. To cozy up by the fire, reflect, and rest instead of rushing to the next season. It might be cold outside, but inside can be warm and cheerful. Below are our favorite winter activities for cultivating a happy heart during the barebones of winter.
Dried orange garland
Pre-heat your oven to 250 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. While the oven is warming, use a sharp knife to thinly slice the oranges cross-wise. Each slice should be no larger than 1/4-inch thick.
Pat the slices dry with a paper towel and lay flat on the baking sheet. Bake for about 3 hours, or until oranges are dehydrated but not burnt. Flip the oranges over halfway through the baking process.
Use a small nail or needle tied to twine to thread oranges to create a garland. Add cranberries and popcorn for a more festive look! We love to decorate our Christmas tree, mantle, and windows with our dried orange garland.
Earl of orange cocktail
aka our wedding cocktail! I made this cocktail for my family three Thanksgivings ago, and it has been a hit ever since! Even if you aren’t into bourbon, this cocktail is autumn in a cup. The ingredients take a little extra work, but it’s totally worth not taking shortcuts!
To prep for the cocktail makin’, I brew a pot of Earl Grey tea and let it chill in the refrigerator. Then I make my spiced orange syrup, pour into a mason jar, and chill in the refrigerator as well. Lastly, I squeeze a few fresh oranges into another mason jar. Use high quality bourbon, and a couple of Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries takes this drink to the next level.
For the cocktail
+ 2 dashes bitters
+ 2 oz bourbon
+ 1.25 oz spiced orange syrup
+ 1 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
+ 1 oz chilled Earl Grey Tea
+ dried orange slice, cinnamon stick, & sprig of rosemary for garnish
Spiced orange syrup
+ 1 whole star anise
+ 2 cinnamon sticks
+ 1 cup water
+ 1 cup sugar
+ peels of 1 orange
+ 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
+ 6-8 whole cloves
For the Spiced Orange Syrup
Place sugar, water, and orange juice into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
While mixture is heating, zest an orange into the saucepan.
Add spices into the mixture.
Once it’s boiling, remove from heat and allow mixture to cool for 5 minutes.
Remove the orange peels, but leave the spices for 10 more minutes.
Once cool, strain the syrup into an airtight glass jar and store in the fridge.
For the Cocktail
Add all ingredients into the cocktail shaker.
Fill shaker with ice.
Shake and strain into a rocks glass over ice.
Garnish with dried orange slice, cinnamon stick, & sprig of rosemary.
Rolled beeswax candles
Emma and I love to sit around our table and roll beeswax candles together. The honey smell on our fingers and the warmth that these candles bring to our space is so cozy. (I’m seriously trying not to use the word cozy in every sentence. Ha!) Tie a dried orange and a cinnamon stick around your candles using twine, and they make the perfect gift. I like to use vintage candlestick holders or glass jars to display mine.
We love these sheets from Amazon. Our next adventure is homemade candles!
Chai pumpkin pie
I love any kind of pie in the fall and winter, but pumpkin pie is my absolute favorite. The fall spices, rich color, and texture win me over every time. I always use the same pie dough recipe, and it never fails. We like to use leaf cut outs and bake those separately to decorate our pie after it’s finished.
Perfect pie dough
+ 2 1/4 cups flour
+ 1 tbsp sugar
+ 1 tsp salt
+ 12 tbsp unsalted butter (cubed and chilled)
+ 6 tbsp ice-cold water
Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Using your fingers, cut butter into flour mixture, forming pea-size crumbles. Add water, and work dough until smooth but with visible flecks of butter. Add a little more water if necessary. Divide dough in half and flatten into disks. Wrap disks in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before using.
For the pie
+ Perfect pie dough
+ 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
+ 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
+ 3 eggs
+ 1/3 cup real maple syrup
+ 2 tbs dark brown sugar
+ 2 tsp vanilla extract
+ 1 tsp ground cinnamon
+ 3/4 tsp ground ginger
+ 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
+ 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
+ 1/4 tsp ground cloves
+ 1/2 tsp salt
+ 1/8 tsp pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch pie plate with butter.
Fit the pie crust into the prepared pie plate. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights, beans or rice. Transfer to the oven and bake until crust is set, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove pie weights and continue to bake until the crust is golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Reduce the oven temp 325.
To make the pumpkin filling, mix together the pumpkin, heavy cream, eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl until combined. Pour the mixture into the baked crust.
Transfer the pie to the oven and bake for 50-55 minutes or until the center no longer jiggles. Remove from the oven and let cool, and then place in the fridge to cool completely.
Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Inspired by Half Baked Harvest
Letters to loved ones
When Emma was two years old, I realized how fleeting our time was together. I wanted to bottle up the sweet moments and memories more than a photograph can. I bought a leather journal and started making entries. On good days and hard days. On holidays, birthdays, and those quiet, in between days. I wrote letters for her to read when she is older. Now that I have filled up that journal, I have started a second one. I write in it a few times a month. Of all of the things that my grandpa left me after he passed, the most meaningful were his handwritten letters. I feel like there is no better gift to leave for our children and loved ones than a heartfelt letter. Now that I am married, I have started a new journal for my husband. When I am feeling inspired and relaxed, I retreat to the loft or front porch with a cup of tea and write letters.
What I write in my journals
+ Entries about recent life
+ My gratitude
+ Our favorite recipes
+ Song lyrics and quotes that remind me of them
+ Seasonal bucket lists
+ Dreams of the future
+ Documenting the days that fill my soul with sunshine
+ Letters for them to read in the future
I plan on giving Emma her journals on her 18th birthday, and I plan on giving Alejandro his letters on special anniversaries.
“You would think the year was resting too, its work done. And I whispered to myself that I too would begin to rest.”
— C.S. Lewis