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Embrace the mess and reap the rewards; deseeding a pomegranate by Suzanne

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The pomegranate, one of the world’s oldest fruits, revered and held sacred by many religions and cultures since ancient times, was never on my radar growing up in eastern Canada.

As this exotic fruit became more popular in the west and more widely available in grocery stores, my awareness grew. They are especially abundant in the stores from September to January when the ones grown in California are in season.

However, the pomegranate remained mysterious and unfamiliar; I knew nothing about its rich history and it would be years before I would finally taste one.

The pomegranate is believed to have originated in Persia as far back as 2000 B.C. It’s a fruit that’s inspired cultures around the world.

The pomegranate is represented in Greek and Roman mythology, biblical texts, ancient manuscripts, Chinese folktales, and the sacred writings of Islam, and it’s the fruit of choice on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish holiday. Some scholars debate whether the apple in the Garden of Eden was in fact a pomegranate!

It’s been portrayed in sculpture, architecture, stained glass, mosaics, ceramics, textiles, and often depicted in paintings, usually in the hands of the Virgin Mary, the infant Jesus or a Greek goddess. It also figures in texts such as The Canterbury Tales, The Odyssey, and Romeo and Juliet.

My introduction was pomegranate seeds in a festive cocktail someone served me. Tiny ruby-red, jewel-like capsules (called arils but mostly referred to as seeds) brightened the drink. When I bit into one it released an unforgettable sweet-sour juice in my mouth.

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The more I see whole and unseeded pomegranates in the shops, the more I note their sculptural appeal.

I like the odd shape. Sometimes the skin, a thick leathery peel in shades of red, pink, yellow, orange and purple, is bumpy and uneven and there’s that funny tiny crown at one end. Pick one up and feel its unexpected weight, evidence of hundreds of seeds inside.

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The seeds’ healing properties have been extolled since ancient times and, in the last several decades, scientific research has confirmed their remarkable nutritional benefits. 

Pomegranate seeds have higher than average levels of antioxidants, are rich in vitamin C, K, B-complex and minerals such as copper, calcium, and potassium. Lately, they outshine blueberries in terms of super-food status.

Pomegranate seeds are also very versatile. They add colour, flavour and texture to salad, cocktails, dessert, roasted vegetables and grain dishes. You can turn them into juice, eat them by the spoonful or sprinkle them on your morning oatmeal. You can even make pomegranate molasses.

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I bought my first pomegranates for ornamental reasons. When I finally broke one open I was entranced! Inside, hundreds of tiny red seeds, cushioned and hiding in a spongy white pith and separated into chambers by a waxy membrane.

Methods for deseeding a pomegranate abound. I read about a grandma who kept the children in her care nourished and busy by giving each a section of a pomegranate and a tooth pick to retrieve the seeds, one by one. I love that!

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Here’s my favourite method:

  1. You need a knife, a large bowl a wooden spoon, and be good at thwacking.

  2. Protect your clothing as if you were about to paint. Pomegranate juice stains!

  3. Roll the pomegranate around to loosen the seeds from the peel.

  4. Score the peel around the middle of the fruit, horizontally, with a sharp knife. Do not cut through into the seeds.

  5. Gently break open into two halves.

  6. Hold half of the pomegranate, with the seeds facing down, over a large bowl and thwack the skin with a wooden spoon or spatula.

  7. Gently squeeze to encourage the release of the seeds from the white membrane as you continue thwacking.

  8. Remove any remaining seeds with your fingers or a spoon.

  9. Do the same with the other half. 

  10. Remove any bits of pith from the bowl.

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Store seeds in a container in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for several months. To freeze, spread seeds in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the freezer, uncovered, for about two hours. Transfer seeds to an airtight container and return to freezer.

Whole pomegranates look beautiful in a bowl on a counter top and will keep like that for up to two weeks. They keep in the refrigerator for a few months.

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A spicy molasses cookie to nourish your soul by Suzanne

I recently read about an exercise and it had me intrigued: “Using any material on any surface, make or draw or render a four-foot-tall totem pole of your life. Include anything you want: words, letters, maps, photos, objects, signs. This should take no longer than a week. Now show it to someone who does not know you well. Tell them only, ‘This is a totem pole of my life till now.’ That’s all. It doesn’t matter if they like it. Ask them to tell you what it means about your life. No clues. Listen to what they tell you.” 

I thought about it for a bit and decided a molasses cookie was an apt emblem of my childhood.

When I bake molasses cookies I am transported; I’m a child on a chair at the kitchen counter helping my mother make a batch. I smell them baking and there I am walking through the back door of our home on Janice Street, the scent of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg all around me and she is pulling a sheet of molasses cookies out of the oven.

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In the early nineties I discovered a cookie recipe not unlike the one my mother used and it came from an unlikely source - a medieval nun named Hildegarde of Bingen. Like the cookies my mother baked hers were spiced with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.

Hildegarde recommends you eat her spice cookies at least once a day to help lift melancholia, open your heart and bring you a sense of cheerfulness and joy. In particular, she credits nutmeg for the cookies’ positive effects. She writes,

“Nutmeg has great heat and good moderation in its powers. If a person eats nutmeg, it will open up your heart, make your judgment free from obstruction and give you a good disposition. Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves, and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat flour and water. Eat them often. It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your heart and impaired senses, and make your mind cheerful. It purifies your senses and diminishes all harmful humors in you. It gives good liquid to your blood and makes you strong.”

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If I had one wish for all of you as we approach a New Year it would be this: take good care of yourself.

Accompanying that wish is a molasses cookie recipe - an updated version, inspired by my mother and a 12th century mystic.

May the warm spicy goodness of these cookies help banish any gloom and elevate your mood in the days and months ahead.

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Spicy Molasses Cookies

1/4 cup coconut oil or butter

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1/4 cup cane sugar

I egg, slightly beaten

1/4 cup black strap molasses

1 cup spelt flour or all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated OR 1 tsp dried ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, freshly ground if possible

extra sugar for rolling in (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cream the oil, coconut sugar and cane sugar until creamy. If using freshly grated ginger, add it here.

Add the beaten egg and molasses, and mix until combined well.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl.

Combine wet and dry.

Place the cookie dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until the dough is easy to handle.

Roll equal sized portions of the dough into 1-inch balls.

Roll each ball in sugar to coat.

Place on the cookie sheet and flatten each ball with your hand or the bottom of a glass.

Bake for 10 minutes, until cookies begin to crack on top.

Remove and let cool.

Store in an airtight container.

Notes:

I baked this batch a little on the long side so they have a nice crunch without being too crunchy. If you want more chew than crunch, consider removing them from the oven just before they are finished baking and let them rest on the hot sheet for a couple more minutes.

If you don’t have any coconut sugar you can substitute regular sugar.

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My favourite cracker recipe by Suzanne

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A cracker recipe is, hands down, my most popular blog post. Not the recipe for Raw Chocolate Chewy Squares or Pineapple Upside Down Cake but a wholesome flaxseed cracker recipe.

I wonder how much traffic this cracker recipe will get because I think it's even better.

I prefer the consistency of this cracker dough and I like rolling the dough between sheets of baking paper instead of trying to spread it evenly with the back of a spoon.

These crackers taste great and have the satisfying crunch of a crisp bread. The oatmeal and maple syrup lend them a subtle sweetness. They are high in nutrients and fibre, and gluten-free.

The other day, just as I was pulling the second sheet of crackers from the oven, a delivery man appeared at my doorstep with a parcel from France; a jar of marmalade made by a friend with hand-picked oranges from in her garden. Magical timing.

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This is a basic recipe but you can make your crackers even more flavourful by adding extra ingredients. It makes about two regular size cookie sheets of crackers. Find the original recipe and ideas for seasoning here.

Life Changing Crackers

1 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup flax seeds

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1 1/2 cup rolled oats

2 tbsp chia seeds

4 tbsp psyllium husks, 3 tbsp if you use powder

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 tbsp maple syrup

3 tbsp melted coconut oil

1 1/2 cups water

In a large bowl combine dry ingredients.

Whisk oil, maple syrup and water together. Add to dry ingredients and mix well. If the mixture is too dry add more water, a little at a time. The dough should be thick but manageable.

Gather into one ball or two. Dividing dough into two balls gives you nicer sizes to manage, plus you can flavour each differently if you like.

Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, firmly roll into a thin sheet. The thinner you can roll the dough without it ripping the better. Then you get a nice crisp cracker that's a pleasure to bite into.

Remove the top layer of parchment and set aside for later use.

Score the dough into the shapes and size you want. Let sit on the counter for two hours, all day or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grab the edge of the baking paper and slide onto a cookie sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove cookie sheet from oven. Place the extra piece of parchment (from earlier) on top and flip over. Slide back on cookie sheet and bake another 10 minutes until dry, crisp and golden.

Let cool completely before storing in a lidded container for up to three weeks.

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The ghosts of Cragfont Mansion by Suzanne

the gh

Does this ever happen to you?

You're touring an epic cathedral, driving across a well-designed bridge or watching the ballet and you feel conflicted. You're in awe of the grandeur, impressed by good design and beauty and yet, at the same time, your heart feels heavy because you're aware of a cost to the human body and spirit involved in the making.

It's no surprise I felt conflicted, strange really, when I recently toured a well-preserved tobacco plantation mansion from the early 1800s while visiting Tennessee.

Cragfont mansion, named because it was built on a rocky bluff, is about an hour from Nashville and only a little off the beaten path in a place called Castalian Springs. This two-story 19-room mansion was an administrative centre for a profitable tobacco plantation and a home to James and Susan Winchester and their 14 children.

The plantation's engine was the labour of more than 100 African-American slaves who lived in row quarters on the property.

After the Civil War and with and the emancipation of slaves, the family was forced to sell Cragfont in 1867. It changed hands several times until the State of Tennessee bought it in 1958.

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Today, the Cragfont mansion is restored and open as a museum to everyone. The grounds are also available as a venue for fund-raising picnics and weddings, and hundreds of music videos and scenes for movies are filmed there because of the beautiful landscape.

The slave quarters did not survive and were never reconstructed.

Our generous and welcoming tour guide, caretaker to the mansion for more than 32 years, offers us an extensive guided tour of the mansion. We're invited to wander the grounds, which include a lake, gazebo, carriage house, gardens and the family cemetery.

The experience got me thinking about plantation stories.

The story we hear of Cragfont is mostly about biography and greatness. The greatness of the plantation owners and the greatness of the mansion itself.

the ghosts of cragfont mansion
the ghosts of cragfont mansion

Winchester was an officer in the Revolutionary War, a Brigadier General in the War of 1812 credited with co-founding the city of Memphis. Cragfont, we are told, was the centre of Tennessee society and known as "The Grandeur on the Frontier." Andrew JacksonSam Houston, and John Overton all stayed as guests.

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We learn about the mansion's special architectural details. Most of the homes in Tennessee at the time were log cabins. This home is built of gray rough finished limestone, poplar, walnut, cherry and ash all cut from the surrounding forest. Its T-shaped design is a noted feature, as are the seven iron stars, anchor plates for iron rods extending from the front to rear to strengthen the structure.

the ghosts of cragfont mansion
the ghosts of cragfont mansion
the ghosts of cragfont mansion
the ghosts of cragfont mansion

The house features original stenciling on the parlor walls and is furnished with authentic American Federal antiques. Other original features include stippling on the stair risers and the oldest doll house in North America. The second floor of the mansion features a ballroom - the first in Tennessee.

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The story of slavery is given a back seat, except for a mention about the "slave wall" (a stone wall made of rocks dug by slaves in preparing the ground for planting) and some information about Dave, an enslaved potter who made urns.

I have to say none of the information got me thinking very deeply. In fact, I almost left the museum without thinking about slavery at all. Instead I felt lulled into an admiration for craftsmanship and design. Those gorgeous soapstone windowsills! That beautifully preserved wooden mantel! Those antiques!

There was no real invitation to consider the forced labour of more than 100 African-American slaves who kept the home running smoothly and the plantation making profit to provide wealth and grandeur to its owners.

Yet a plantation like Cragfont could be an enlightening ingredient for good civic discussions. For starters, why not change the plantation story from one of loss to one of gain. Don't focus on how a plantation suffered after the emancipation of its workforce. Instead, highlight how the end of the slavery-based plantation system meant the freedom of 4 million people.

What about the use of plantation sites as venues for events? Some ask why people are still having plantation weddings at plantations slaves built. Isn't that kind of insensitive and strange?

Others see plantation sites as more than a pretty backdrop but as sacred spaces where healing and connection could happen. I read about a woman, a descendant of slaves, who planned to hold a reunion with other descendants at a plantation site where ancestors had worked and lived.

Even stupid questions tourists ask at plantation museums can become tools to better understand race and history. The web series, Ask a Slave, was born of an actress's experience portraying an actual slave for nearly two years while she worked as a character actor at Mount Vernon, George Washington's plantation home. The video series reveals shocking layers of ignorance of slavery yet invites laughter and encourages discussion about plantations and their part in America's past.

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I wasn't surprised to learn Cragfont is haunted.

Caretakers through the years have reported objects moved, candles lit, full-bodied apparitions seen and beds found unmade in the morning after things have been tidied and closed-up for the night. Firsthand accounts abound.

Country music entertainer Conway Twitty is said to have experienced the ghosts of Cragfont. Twitty was known for his interest in ghosts and the paranormal and he asked to spend some time alone in the home. After a couple of hours he left, saying things were thrown at him and whatever was in the mansion didn't want him there.

Our tour guide told us he no longer wears his prescription glasses in the house because they've been damaged so often and it's too expensive to keep buying new ones.

Sure enough, before he started our tour of Cragfont he removed his glasses and left them on a table.