It’s that time of the year again. The time of red heavy coats outside and the overdose of cinnamon, candied fruit and chocolate (and a little booze) inside. As you might know by now, being raised in Iran, I haven’t grown up with Christmas. Traditionally it’s not celebrated by the majority of Iranians. During the eighties when we were children, we knew it was Christmas time because there would be Mickey’s Christmas Carol on TV and that alone was a legit reason to wait for Christmas every year.The first couple of years of living in Rome taught me a lot about Christmas, specially how it’s celebrated in Italy. It’s remains inside the family, the sacred family, your own family (first & second cousins included) and your in-laws family (first & second cousins included).
Years passed, and it grew on me like good habits you try to insert to your daily life do. Like waking up early and having breakfast can make their ways to your morning routines and stay, I have inserted Christmas to my yearly ritual, and it’s here to stay.
I don’t have childhood memories of Christmas; I have never wondered if Santa really exists or not. I have never waited by the fireplace hoping to find a long, colorful stocking full of presents. But I have learned how to cherish Christmas. I love that collective image of the wintery-snowy woods, with little animals (often chewing on nuts), tiny lights and tiny snow flakes motives, that deep emerald green and that velvet ruby red. I love smelling the burning wood and hearing its crackling sound and think it feels like Christmas.
I love cracking walnuts and almonds open. The warm smell of oranges, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and anise star sets my soul free and mulled wine filled with these essences is a drink from heaven to me.
The one thing about Christmas that I really don’t like is that crazy & avid rush towards the shopping malls, long lines, misusing a huge amount of money on Christmas Gift shopping. Most of the times they turn into soul-less, did-my-duty sort of gifts. The gift giver remains with stress and a headache from all that SHOP-SHOP mayhem and probably much less money, the receiver might be content but wouldn’t really feel warm at heart, and the only ones really happy would be the big people of the big companies who have made bigs sales in the holiday seasons.
In the years of learning to love Christmas, something that has really touched me is making your gifts with your own hands. Bless the ones who first thought of this. And since it’s the season to eat and drink and being merry, what would be a more delightfully generous gift than sharing, sparing and creating something to eat or drink? From scratch, with care, obsession and attention. Perfecting it time after time. This warms up my heart in the chill of this season and makes me smile from deep down my soul. It would be a mindful Christmas, in every level. Get your hands busy in crushing, stirring, brewing and whisking the tokens for your loved ones. Create your own edible Christmas gifts and meditate while you do so. Let this season bring you inner joy. Not just headache and stress from never-ending work to do. Sign your gift “Home-made with love” and rest assured it’ll be more than cherished.
This year I have (so far) created these three gifts. I have kinda thought about a menu; A cocktail to start with (pomegranate gin), a seasoning for the main dish (various types of flavored sea-salt) and a condiment for dessert (clementine curd). Cookies are also all-time favorites and you can pile them in pretty tin boxes. Last year I did a LOT of chocolate cookies/ornaments. You can make candies, chocolate truffles, and toffies. I have particularly liked these awesome quince paste bites by Juls’ Kitchen. This years I’m all about jars and bottles that I have collected during times. So my gifts are bottled.
And by this, I give you my early Christmas greetings. Have a great one everybody!
- 300g muscovado sugar
- 200ml natural pomegranate juice, unsweetened
- 4-5 cinnamon sticks, about 8cm long each
- 10 cardamom pods
- 3 anice stars
- 10 cloves
- seeds of 2 large pomegranate
- 1 clementine, zest and juice
- 1lt dry gin
- In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar in pomegranate juice. Add all of the spices. (Crush the cardamom pods a little).
- With a vegetable peeler, peel the clementine in one long ribbon and add to the juice mix.
- Bring to the boil and add the pomegranate seeds. Turn off the heat and let cool completely. (with the lid on)
- Fill half of each bottle with the gin. Pour the juice with the spices and pomegranate seeds in each bottle to fill it up completely.
- Seal each bottle very well and store in a dark dry place for a couple of months.
- Use hand-made tags and write about the product and how to store it. Use Christmassy tapes and ribbons to decorate the bottles and the tags (but don’t over do it!).
- Better made at least two weeks in advance.
- 3x300g sea salt (or kosher salt) for 3 different types
- fresh zest of 2 big lemons
- 5-6 sage leaves
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp dry chilly (or one whole dry chilly)
- fresh zest of 2 oranges
- 1 tsp of black pepper corns
- Heat the oven at 100°C. Place a baking parchment on a tray and place the orange zest, the lemon zest, the sage leaves and the fennel seeds on four angles of the tray, far from each other. Bake in the oven until sage leaves are dried out (about 10 minutes) and zests are completely dry. If needed, remove the dried sage leaves and let the rest bake for another 10 minutes.
- In a small food processor combine the first 100g of sea-salt, lemon zest and dried sage leaves. Pulse a couple of times until everything is well combined but don’t over pulse it. We don’t want to refine the salt too much, just as long as everything is well combined. Store in lidded jar.
- Clean the food processor and add the second 100g of salt, the fennel seeds and the chilly repeat the same process.
- For the third batch of salt first pulse the pepper corns and orange zest. When the pepper is a little refined add the salt and repeat the same process.
- Create a tris pack of these flavored salts and tie them with a ribbon, tag each one and sign.
- Keeps in a cool dry place for months.
- 2-3 clementines, zest and juice (depends on the size of the fruit)
- the juice of one lemon
- 4 large free range organic eggs
- 100g butter
- 200g sugar
- Whisk together the juice and zest from lemon and clementines, the eggs and the sugar in a heat-proof bowl or sauce pan. If you can, use bain-marie by either placing this bowl above another sauce pan with simmering water inside or using a double boiler. You can place it directly on the heat too but it’s a little tricky because the mixture can cook way too quickly and leave you with many lumps.
- Whisk constantly until the mixture has thickened.
- Turn off the heat and gradually add the cold butter chopped into pieces and stir well until it has melted.
- Let it cool down completely before canning and/or fridging.
- Leave a signed tag saying it should be conserved in the fridge (even if you have canned it, you’ll never know).
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.
Latest posts by Saghar Setareh (see all)
- The Visual Diary of Summer in Puglia, SAVEUR Blog Awards Nomination & A Salad with Watermelon, Tomatoes and Local Herbs - September 6, 2017
- Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace: a Persian Cucumber & “Sekanjebin” Summer Drink - June 19, 2017
- Workshop: The Puglia Encounter: Food, Lifestyle & Photography in Italy’s Deep South, 26 – 29 October - May 31, 2017