Winter Almanac

Winter Almanac

By Ash Alder

Winter is here.

Deadhead the rose bush. Prune the wild muscadine. Move the front porch pumpkins to the compost pile. 

Outside, a pair of cardinals flits between the naked branches of the dogwood and the rim of the pedestal birdbath. You think of the piebald gypsy cat who used to visit, how he would balance on the ledge to take a drink. Months have passed since you have seen him, but you’re sure he’s napping in some cozy sunroom, waiting for the catkins and crocus, dreaming of the cheerily, cheer-up, cheer-up, cheerily return of the robin.

In the kitchen, the coffee is freshly ground, and you hold in your hands the first grapefruit from the bushel.

The warmth of your own smile stretches across your face, and in this moment, all is well. 

Year of the Pig

Twelfth Night (January 5), the eve of Epiphany, marks the end of the Christmas season. But the merriment continues.

Tuesday, February 5, marks the celebration of the Chinese New Year. Cue the paper lanterns for the Year of the Earth Pig, a year of wealth and good fortune. What is it that your heart desires? Now’s a good time to clean house and create space for your abundance to arrive.

National Cherry Pie Day is celebrated on Wednesday, February 20. Although the old chestnut about George Washington and the cherry tree is a myth, it’s true that cherries were one of the president’s favorite foods. Chill some to sweeten a romantic evening — or if you feel inspired to bake pie, make a date of it. 

Calling in your soul mate this New Year? A Japanese love spell suggests tying a single strand of hair to a blossoming cherry tree. No lie. 

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show. – Andrew Wyeth

Cures for the Winter Blues:

Slide in your socks across the cold kitchen floor to the warm crackle of vinyl.

Stop and smell the flowering camellia.

Peppermint tea and homemade cherry pie.

Sweet Garden Magic

While the soil is cool, plant spring bulbs and fruit trees, harvest edible weeds and winter greens, and when the work is done, create sacred space to enjoy this winter season. And beaucoup peppermint.

First cultivated in 1750 near London, as an experimental hybrid between water mint and spearmint, this perennial herb has long been used for its magical and medicinal qualities. According to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, however, the candy cane preceded its flavor. Sometime around 1670, a choirmaster in Cologne, Germany, asked a local confectioner to come up with a special candy stick to help pacify the young folks during the live Nativity on Christmas Eve. Shaped like a shepherd’s staff, this sugary creation surely kept them quiet (and buzzing) until the Magi arrived.

Want to grow your own? If you’re going for potency (read: high oil content), go with black peppermint, named for its dark purple-green leaves and stems. White peppermint has a milder flavor, but crush the leaves between your fingers and feel an instant calm throughout your entire being. Because this aromatic herb can quickly take over an entire garden, and because it craves rich soil and good drainage, container gardening is recommended. Full sun increases its medicinal qualities (and makes for stronger, spicier tea).

Peppermint Tea for Two

2 cups water

14 peppermint leaves

2 teaspoons honey

Bring water to boil

Place leaves in teacups; cover mint with hot water

Steep for 5 minutes

Remove leaves (or not)

Add honey

*Steep with fresh tarragon leaves and a quarter-inch section slice of vanilla bean to enter a new realm. Add lemon wedge to continue the journey.

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. –William Blake

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