Art of living

First Published:
Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I love celebrations – of any kind, on any occasion. There should just be enough colours, food and laughter. And I love December too. For obvious reasons December is the month of festivities and celebrations. And I celebrate December especially for Christmas. To add to my love list, I love to cook and bake. I could all day, if I was given the chance. Thus I bake whenever I can. This year I think I have improved my baking skills; hence Christmas has got to be more fun.

By Aziza Ahmed

I intend to invite my friends over for a Christmas Eve celebration and a sleep over movie night. I want to keep it very traditional. So, the conventional Christmas fruit cake is on my must list. Along with that, of course sugar cookies with red and green royal icing and whipped cream with fruits.
For savoury items I will opt for easy things, like a beef steak and spinach mushroom quiche. And for the kid-friendly drink I will make some cranberry-orange punch. The Christmas fruit cake will be covered in whipped cream snow and decorated with topping that I saved from last year’s store brought ginger bread. I couldn’t thank myself enough for the non-edible toppings I smartly saved for a year.
There is nothing more fun than having a home-made celebration. Everything you do has your special touch and most of all the final sprinkle of love you add to it. All these recipes have been adapted from original sources and modified to my own preference and availability of ingredients.

The Christmas fruit cake
200g butter, softened to room temperature, (I used homemade)
200g sugar (mix dark brown sugar and hard molasses, or “akher gur”; half and half)
200g plain flour
4 eggs, beaten
50g ground almonds
50ml vanilla essence (I didn’t have sherry so I substituted it with vanilla essence and apple cider, 20ml apple cider with 30ml vanilla essence is my version of home made sherry)
85g fresh orange peel (don’t bother if you don’t have it, your cake will still taste good)
85g cherries, roughly chopped
250g raisins
250g currants/sultanas
100g nuts, broken into big pieces (I used almonds — half broken and walnuts)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1½ tsp mixed spice (cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg)
½ tsp baking powder
Heat oven to 160C/fan. Line the base and sides of an 8 inch round cake pan, spring form is the best.
Beat the butter and sugar until absolutely creamy and pale. Stir in 1/3 of the flour, and then stir in 1/3 of the beaten egg and the rest of the flour and the eggs alternately, until well combined. Stir in the ground almonds.
Mix in the vanilla and apple cider (don’t worry if you don’t have apple cider, just use the vanilla or if you are lucky to have the sherry use 100ml of it), then add the orange peel, cherries, raisins, currants, nuts, lemon zest and spice. Beat well to mix and then stir in the baking powder. Here I candidly added a little bit of almond essence (1/2 tea spoon) but you can comfortably skip that.
Spoon mixture into the tin and smooth the top, it will be very dense and heavy. Bake for 30-40 minutes, then lower temperature to 150 degree C and bake a further 1-2 hrs, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Don’t forget to check frequently, while baking cake, always make sure the bottom heat is on only, don’t heat it from the top. Leave to cool in the tin. I like to keep it in fridge overnight. Next morning when completely cold, decorate. I used simple whipped cream and some toppings.

Sugar cookies
Ingredients: For roughly 30 cookies
140g icing sugar, sieved
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
250g butter, cut into small cubes
375g plain flour, sieved
Royal Icing –
1 egg white
200g sifted icing sugar
Food colour
Painting brush (thin ones)
Put the icing sugar, vanilla extract, egg yolk and butter into a mixing bowl, then stir together until well combined, get messy and use your hands feel the texture as it changes or use an electric beater.
Add the flour and mix to one firm dough. Roll the dough between cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour or so. Meanwhile heat oven to 200C/fan and line a baking tray with baking paper. Heat from both sides top and bottom. Bring out the dough, get it out from the cling film wrap and roll it on a lightly floured surface to a big circle about the thickness of two 5 taka coins. Cut out Christmassy shapes (use a cutter as I did and save energy) and place on the baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Lift the biscuits onto a wire rack to cool.
Meanwhile, beat 1 egg white until forms semi stiff peaks (stiffer than soft peaks and before stiff speaks) mix 200g icing sugar slowly (250g sugar for the borders) and add red and green food colour. I suggest after making the icing separate some for borders and thicken it with more sugar to your preference. And for flooding separate it to half in two bowls and add in the colours. I use the Foster Clarks liquid colouring and painting brush to spread and icing pipe for the borders. Spread it over the cooled biscuits; decorate with edible balls and sprinklers and toppings. I used sugar balls, stars, snow flakes and sugar crystals.

Whipped cream in fresh fruits:
Ingredients: For 1 person
80g whipped cream
2 tbsp pomegranate
2 tbsp cherries
4 tsp strawberry syrup
A wine glass to serve
For each person take a wine glass, put pomegranate seeds and chopped cherries, top with 40g of whipped cream and two tea spoon of strawberry syrup and repeat. Serve chilled.
Use any fruit, specially the ones that belong to the tangy, citrus family like orange, grapefruit or just grapes, kiwi, passion fruit, mango. Change the syrup according to the fruit. Use maple syrup or honey if you are using mango, kiwi or oranges.

Rosemary beef steak
Ingredients: For 1 person
250–300g of beef chunk about ½ inch thick and 5-6 inch long and 2-3 inch broad.
Salt and sugar 1 tsp each
1 tsp dry rosemary
1 tsp molasses
1 tea spoon Dijon mustard or freshly grounded white mustard.
Aluminum foil paper
Don’t wash the beef, take a hard fork and pierce the beef very well so that the spices can get into it. Rub the salt, sugar and rosemary and fridge it overnight. Again do the piercing, and bring it to room temperature in the morning. Or you can brine it with rosemary infused water. People say beef don’t get brined well, but I beg to disagree with them. If you do the piercing well and let it brine for 24 hours, the salt and sugar gets deep inside the meat, leaving it tender and juicy.
To brine, boil 1 litre of water with 3 table spoon of sugar, 1 tea spoon of salt and 1 tea spoon of dry rosemary and shrink it down to 750ml. Allow to cool and bring it to room temperature and drown the meat so that it gets under water. You fridge it overnight. In the morning just throw the water and pat dry the meat with kitchen tissue.
Rub the molasses and mustard and marinade for 15 – 20 minutes. Then fry the meat until it turns deep brown on both sides with little butter in a non-stick pan on low heat for 40 minutes.
In the meanwhile pre-heat oven to 150C for 20 minutes and put the meat in the baking tray and very loosely cover with aluminum foil and roast for 90 minutes for well done beef steak. Serve hot with boiled vegetables. The molasses and mustard will turn into thick sauce, cut horizontally and devour.

Mushroom spinach mini quiche
Ingredients: Makes 6 cup cakes
10 big button mushrooms
300g of fresh baby spinach
3 egg yolks
1 cup grated cheese (cheddar or mozzarella)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
A pinch of ground nutmeg to cut down the egg smell
Cut the mushroom length wise, slice each into 4 pieces. Wash and pat dry the spinach and beat the eggs.
Pre-heat the oven in 180C. In a non-stick pan fry the mushrooms until golden in olive oil. Boil water in shallow pan and wilt the spinaches for 2/3 minutes and get them out of water using a tong and roughly dry them by putting them on a sieve.
Take a big bowl and mix all the ingredients but don’t over mix. Take your muffin tin, grease or put baking paper and divide into 6 equal parts, bake for 10-15 minutes or until done. I served it with béchamel sauce widely known as white sauce.
Serve it warm with salad, béchamel, thousand island sauces, Dijon mustard paste or just as it is. However for heaven’s sake don’t have it with tomato sauce.

Cranberry orange punch
Ingredients: Makes 6 glasses
2½ glasses of Cranberry juice
2½ glasses of Orange / grapefruit juice
4 tsp lemon juice
1 glass of soda water (if you are using)
Put all the ingredients into a shakers or blender shake well and serve immediately with ice.


I love hibernating. To me every single human being should hibernate minimun for once in a year. For 7 days at a stretch no outside air, no big blue sky and no moon. Its always better if it can be done alone. It is the time oneself need to rediscover ownself. To know if the person is still at the same level or has developed other conflicting interests.

Human emotions change. They change for better or for worse but they change. Very often we dont realize ourselves that we did. We take up a thing we like, then go on with it as a habit. Not realizing that there has been something missing. The zeal for it may be.

What do we actually do while we hibernate? We just sleep? May be thats true for many. But I try to stay awake as much as I can to enjoy the prolonged date with myself. I want to smell good, look good, eat good only to please myself and no one else. Listening to music, reading books, cleaning up houses are great hibernate activities.

There should also be a goal for this. Like, what do we want to find out after 7 days of staying with self. It can be just simple relax. However, no matter what we want to achieve we should stick to it. The most important of all is to create a balance between the mind and body, needs and wants.

I am currently high on health, beauty and fashion issues. My secret wish to have a spa or an aromatherapy centre is on my mind all the time. Hence I have decided to write 2/3 posts on health, beauty and fashion for summer. Though I hardly do any of the following but I can assure you this particular post will benefit your overall health, beauty and skin. I am no beautician or health specialist. However over the years I have been attached to leading magazines and news papers of Bangladesh and have gone through so many articles, books and spoke to lots of specialists. This is an extract of all my findings for the last 10 to 15 years.

I am not in favor of any strict diet regime. As this is difficult, stressful and consumes money and energy. Therefore I suggest you to eat 3 good meals a day with other healthy snacks items. To kick start the day in the early morning when you wake up take a glass full of warm water. Before going to the morning walk take the water and few almonds or a toast.

For us Bengali having 2 brown chapatti, with vegetable and a boiled egg is more than enough in breakfast. Make sure that the vegetable do not lose the food value in the process. Skimmed milk, corn flakes or dry fruit muesli, boiled egg and a glass of wood apple juice can give you a healthy meal for the morning.  Lots of other options like rolled oats with milk, yogurt, and fruits are good. Try to avoid Paratha, butter and cheese spreads. You can also make a smoothie with skimmed milk, honey, strawberries and take it at one go and you are ready for the day.

When you go out always pack your food with you. This is the best way you can safe guard your health. We get to eat out more if we don’t have our home cooked food with us or else we starve. Either way it is very unhealthy. We stop at our favorite bakery or food court and end up buying mushroom chicken patties, or a burger. For me I eat chicken corn soup and wonton for lunch, whenever I don’t get my lunch from home.  So pack 2 fruits for mid morning and after lunch and get a good lunch for yourself. A small helping of rice, vegetable and a portion of protein (fish, meat or chicken).  I suggest always alternate the protein so that you don’t get bored of your lunch.  Make it easy to eat. Don’t complicate with lots of ntity gritty.

In the afternoon take a cup of green tea, lemon tea and a fruit or nuts of your choice. Not bowl of nuts but only a few.   An apple is a great idea too.  It is rightly said “an apple a day keeps doctor away”. Apple is rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B6. Helps in keeping teeth bright and strengthening gum, it also promotes healthy digestive system. Plus if you have an apple before your lunch in mid morning you will eat less for lunch.  Apart from apple, Bananas mainly consist fiber and is rich source of energy (natural sugar) and Iron. It also contains calcium which helps in anemia promotes healthy bones and kidney.  Raw or cooked cabbage inhibits the conversion of sugar and other carbohydrates into fat. Hence, it is of great value in fat reduction. Take several times a day at regular intervals. Mix it with other salad items like Tomatoes, bean sprouts, yogurt etc.

Papaya, oranges, strawberries are also great source of vitamin C, E and A. These fruits help digestion and also detoxify impurities and cleanse your body system. Drinking green tea, mint tea or cardamom tea is also very good for digestion.

For dinner stick to basics. Chapati / brown bread, vegetable is absolutely fine. Eat moderate, not over dosing your stomach.  Or you can take a bowl of vegetable soup and brown bread etc.You can also drink a warm glass of milk at bed time for those good night dreams. Remember always stop eating when you eat for soul than filling your stomach.

With all these it is important to skip sugar, rice and oil if you are looking for fast weight lost. Drink minimum of 15 glasses of normal temperature water every day. This is in fact the best medication. Walking, swimming, yoga, Pilates, cycling or gym whatever is convenient for you just start working out right away.

It is always suggested to have quite moments with own self for having control on your mind and body.

My love for greens started early. Our big fat old home in Purana Paltan had beautiful garden. It was surrounded by fruit trees like mango, guava, coconut, jackfruit etc. I remember climbing up the branches of guava tree in the afternoon when everyone was busy taking their afternoon nap. Cutting my elbows or legs from falling down from trees was very common for me. I always used to have a cut on my body, as a trade mark feature. My father loved to grow flowers. However since we left Purana Paltan home we have been living in apartments and never had a place to grow some greens. And I was too busy with life and never thought about it though always liked it. After i got married we moved to a beautiful Banglow in Green Road. The house had wonderful lawn to do gardening. I tried for 5 years, due to lack of sunlight plants didnt grow as expected. Especially the vegetable. This year we moved to our old apartment. And my balcony had sunlight and enough air. I decided to grow vegetable and other plants I already had. I am growing lettuce, chili, mint, lemon, lemon grass, curry leaves, egg plants, coriander and basil. My balcony looks a little piece of heaven. Every morning first thing I do is go to the balcony and look at my plants. It gives me enormous pride and satisfaction. It also helps me to dream. Dream of a country house with a farm. I want to be an organic farmer when I grow up ;). I surely do. I want to grow all those beautiful vegetable, flowers and fruits. But till I can make it, lets be happy with urban farming and balcony harvesting.

Here’s a list of natural remedies for acne that are gentle on your skin and address underlying causes – without all the toxic side effects:

Eat a whole foods diet.
Drink plenty of water to help flush out toxins.
Take a supplement high in gamma-linoleic-acid (GLA).
Giving the skin lots of time in the fresh air without any cosmetics on will help keep the skin clear.
Use natural cosmetics as this is gentler on the face.
Use an oil based cleanser – this will actually gently cleanse the skin and then remove any excess oil when rinsed off.
Use a natural tonic astringent, such as an herbal vinegar.
8. Using an herb that supports the liver, such as milk thistle, helps to eliminate excess hormones from the system. Milk thistle also eases the effects of poor eating habits and allergies. These are some of the major causes of teenage acne.

9. Anti inflammatory herbs and astringent herbs such as lavender, chamomile, rosepetals and calendula work great in a facial steam. These will cleanse, soothe, and repair the DRY skin.

10. For OILY skin use calendula, rosemary, sage and witch hazel in a facial steam.

11. Fruits such as

contain alpha hydroxy acids which are wonderful for exfoliating the skin and cleansing. Mash the fruit of your choice and add a bit of cosmetic clay or cornstarch to help the mashed fruit stick to face. Wash off after a few minutes.

12. A hot chamomile tea bag used as a compress draws out much dirt and debris. Apply directly to blemish. Use only as hot as skin will allow.

13. Tea tree oil diluted half and half with apple cider vinegar. Mix a bit of this in with some kaolin clay or cornstarch and apply the paste to the blemish. Leave on overnight. This will dry out the pimple.

14. Essential oils such as Young Living’s Purification essential oil blend applied directly to the blemish.

By master herbalist Diane Van Doesburg.

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