Love one another

“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart;
it is a simple look turned toward heaven,
it is a cry of recognition and of love,
embracing both trial and joy.”

St. Therese of Lisieux


(spent magnolia / Rosemary Beach/ Julie Cook / 2020)

“Prayer is greatly aided by fasting and watching and every kind of bodily chastisement.
In this regard each of you must do what you can.
Thus, the weaker will not hold back the stronger, and the stronger will not press the weaker.
You owe your conscience to God. But to no one else do you owe anything more
except that you love one another.”

St. Augustine, p. 143
An Excerpt From
Augustine Day by Day

One man’s torment is another man’s gift

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength,
and whosoever loves much performs much,
and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”

Vincent Van Gogh


(a box of absente or absinthe / Julie Cook / 2020)

Let’s talk about art and food and drinks…
let’s talk about torment and gifts…

And so I must share a small revelation.

One that I have discovered during this time of lockdown****.

(**** a lockdown being a state of never-ending sheltering in place—
A state of being, of which, we have all been living now for nearly two solid months…
a state that started back on St. Patrick’s Day…but I digress)

I have learned that throughout this virus imposed social exile…
well, probably there are multiple things that I have learned but for today,
we shall leave it at one thing…
I have learned that we each possess a seemingly innate desire for some sort of
creative outlet!

The desire to find creativity within the mundane has oddly become a most
dire consequence of being ‘confined”.

The choice is either we go bonkers from madness—
or instead, we release the pent up weariness and channel it into something grand.

Yet perhaps that is simply my delirium talking.

Cooking, cleaning and caring for family who are now all living together
under one roof, while some are working from home, leaves one drained
both physically and mentally.
Throw in a 1 and a 2-year-old who are in constant motion, plus who are in constant need,
from sunrise to sunset…thus, the desire for some sort of diversion, any diversion,
becomes critical…critical for all who reside under the same said roof.

For if one blows, they all blow!

Enter the colorful picture of the box shown above.

The portrait should be familiar.
It is a picture of Vincent van Gogh but not exactly a portrait we are familiar seeing.
It is on the packaging for a bottle of absinthe.
A bottle I recently purchased.

Now before you say anything, let me explain.

During this lockdown, I have been cooking three big meals a day.

Those who know me, know that I have always loved to cook.
It was oddly this art teacher’s outlet into the creative.
I was always happier cooking than I was painting.
Go figure.

It was a joy, as well as a foray, into the world of taste, texture, and visual imagination.

But now let’s throw in a pandemic…
of which means cooking has suddenly become both a necessity and a chore.

Gone are the days of excitement and the desire of what might be—gone is the frill and flair…
as that is now replaced by the need for speed, fulfillment, and satiation.

Only to wash the dishes and get ready to do it again.

Enter the l’heure de l’apéritif or the aperitif hour…
aka— the happy hour.

There is an American ex-pat who lives in Paris—he is a cook, author,
as well as food/travel blogger.
His name is David Lebovitz and just before the pandemic hit, he had just released
his latest recipe book for classic Belle Époque French cocktails.

Drinks that harken back to a time of sophistication and elegance

So guess what…
L’heure de l’apéritif has become my new creative outlet.
The moment of the day, other than the bed, that I look most forward to.

For each afternoon, I am offering the adults in this lockdown of mine,
a sample of days gone by…as I concoct libations found in David’s book.

Libations that have me pulling out and dusting off my grandmother’s finest crystal glasses.
Coupes, flutes, sherries, and highballs.

Libations that have sent me to the curbside liquor store in search of liquors and liqueurs
some of which, I can hardly pronounce.

Enter Absinthe.

According to Wikipedia:
Absinthe (/ˈæbsɪnθ, -sæ̃θ/, French: [apsɛ̃t] is historically described as a distilled,
highly alcoholic beverage (45–74% ABV / 90–148 U.S. proof).
It is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from botanicals, including the flowers
and leaves of Artemisia absinthium (“grand wormwood”), together with green anise,
sweet fennel, and other medicinal and culinary herbs.

Absinthe traditionally has a natural green color but may also be colorless.
It is commonly referred to in historical literature as la fée verte (“the green fairy”).
It is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a liqueur,
but it is not traditionally bottled with added sugar and is,
therefore, classified as a spirit.[6] Absinthe is traditionally bottled at a
high level of alcohol by volume, but it is normally diluted with water before being consumed.

Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland in the late 18th century.
It rose to great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th-
and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers.
The consumption of absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists,
partly due to its association with bohemian culture.
From Europe and the Americas, notable absinthe drinkers included Ernest Hemingway,
James Joyce, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,
Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust,
Aleister Crowley, Erik Satie, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron, and Alfred Jarry.

Absinthe has often been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug
and hallucinogen.
The chemical compound thujone, which is present in the spirit in trace amounts,
was blamed for its alleged harmful effects.
By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in much of Europe,
including France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria–Hungary,
yet it has not been demonstrated to be any more dangerous than ordinary spirits.
Recent studies have shown that absinthe’s psychoactive properties
have been exaggerated, apart from that of the alcohol.

A revival of absinthe began in the 1990s,
following the adoption of modern European Union food and beverage laws that removed
long-standing barriers to its production and sale. By the early 21st century,
nearly 200 brands of absinthe were being produced in a dozen countries,
most notably in France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Spain,
and the Czech Republic.

In fact, the 1875 painting below, by Edgar Degas, of a lonely stupified woman is rather reflective
of the effects of what imbibing too much in absinthe could lead to.


(L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas 1875 / Musée d’Orsay)

And thus I have always been leary of absinthe.
It was cloaked in intrigue as well as the forbidden.

That is until I needed a bottle of it for one of my new recipes.

So off I trotted…driving myself to the local curbside liquor store where
I handed the masked and gloved young man, on the curb, my list of needs–
I asked for a mid-range priced bottle of absinthe…
and he returned with the same box you see above in the picture.
Complete with an absinthe spoon.
Ooooo.

I felt a slight thrill and rush as I placed a single toe into the world of the forbidden
as I marched my new bottle into the house.

And so this is the spot where the gist of my post comes into play…
that of both torment and gift.

As an art /art history teacher, I have always had a soft tender spot in my heart for
Vincent van Gogh…the ever tormented, isolated Dutch Impressionism painter…

Vincent never sold a single painting during his short lifetime—except to his loving
brother Theo.

It is true he cut off his ear.

It is true he loved a prostitute.

It is true he originally wanted to enter the priesthood.

It is true that he was sickly much of his life and in turn, ate very poorly.

It is true he lived with and fought physically and vehemently with his friend and fellow
artist Paul Gauguin.

It is true he was mentally troubled…most likely what we today might call bi-polar
or even schizophrenic.
And thus, he spent time in and out of mental hospitals.

It is true he was broke and financially destitute throughout his life.
His brother Theo provided financial assistance throughout most of Van Gogh’s life.

It is also true that he drank—and drank heavily.
Depression has a way of leading the depressed to that which might dull the unending ache.
And for van Gogh, much of the drinking was of absinthe.

Was it the wormwood?
Was it the hallucinations that lead to his vision of beauty, of colors, of texture?

At the age of 37, Van Gogh committed suicide by shooting himself in a cornfield.

It is debated as to what exactly lead to van Gogh’s mental instability.

Was it genetics?

Or was it the effects of a poor diet, artistic frustration, romantic rejection, or
was it just the alcohol?
Or perhaps…it was merely a combination of it all.

There is no doubt that Van Gogh was both troubled and tormented—this much we know.
But we must also know that it was in his death that we, the world, was actually given the
true gift of his talents..that being his art.

His brother Theo made certain, after van Gogh’s death, that the world would
finally, see his brother’s art.

In 1990, one of Van Gogh’s paintings, the portrait of Dr.Paul Gachet,
was sold at auction for $75 million dollars— making it, at the time,
the most expensive painting to have ever been sold.

A tormented soul who would be loved by a different time and a different generation of people—
He would finally be embraced by a world that would fall in love with him and his art.
Yet it is a relationship sadly too late for Van Gogh to have ever known and enjoyed.

And thus, in this vein of thought, I was struck by the notion of both torment and gifts.

A ying and yang of life.
A conundrum.
An anomaly.

My thoughts turned to a different man.
A different time.

A man who was not haunted by personal demons but rather a man who came to quell the demons.
To quell the demons in man.

A man who was loved by some yet hated by others.
A man who is still deeply loved as well as deeply hated.

A man whose gifts healed the souls of those he touched.
A man who was willingly tormented and was, in turn, killed by his tormentors…
killed in order to give others the gift of life.

So yes—it seems that there can be beauty found in torment.
As therein can lie the gift of life.

For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Captain’s log…aid and comfort

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
James Baldwin

Captain’s log:
800 days 8 days and counting and still no sign of
the ship home…or is there…???

Ok, so I am in no way, shape or form a Trekkie however I did grow up watching the original
Star Trek whether I cared for it or not–all because my little brother liked it…
it was to watch either that or the fake and phony WWE Saturday night smackdowns with
“Mr. Bionic Elbow, Tapdance on your Tonsils himself, Dusty Rhodes”

And yet oddly I could always relate to that one opening line from each Star Trek episode…
Captain’s Log
as I was an avid keeper of a diary and marker of time.

And so since I have been stranded on/ in this barren planet house of
our son’s with a mending Sherrif, I thought I should attempt a transmission from this great beyond,
attempting to connect with the outside blogosphere…
maybe even getting beamed up—or is that beamed home?

The Sherrif has been mending quite nicely…that is until recently.


(a typical male out shopping/ Julie Cook/ 2019)

And no that is not a picture of him at the local jail but rather in the shopping cart
of the local Target (pronounced Tarjay)

And here he is even attempting to take after his sister, the Mayor,
by showing an odd affinity for his toes…


(evening bath time and toes/ Julie Cook/ 2019)

Meanwhile, the Mayor has been her busy self with all sorts of mayorial business.


(a Mayor who loves her flowers/ Julie Cook/ 2019)

Here we see her actually working in her yard—the Mayor has not quite yet grasped the concept of
deadheading spent blooms, preferring rather to remove all blooms…

She fancies herself as a natural-born landscaper as we see her assisting her “Da” in
gathering up pine straw…

She has also been busy in the decorating process as she had installed her very own new
additions to the main bathroom…voila


(the Mayor very own toilet / Julie Cook / 2019)

Yet unfortunately, during what was supposed to be a week of productive healing,
I must report that the Sherrif has gotten an upper respiratory infection
along with a throat infection…we’ve been to the Pediatric Urgent Care earlier in the week.

And thus, in like kind, the Sheriff has graciously now passed along this malady
to his day nurse and chief woobooville aid.

Since the Sheriff is still very puny, we are scheduled to go see his pediatrician this afternoon.

A six-month-old who cannot blow his nose and who is constantly coughing, as well as
drowning in a sea of mucus as his throat is sore and hoarse…
squeaking and croaking rather than cooing and babbling, is well, troubling.

So hopefully, this now ailing nurse will then be able to depart, late this evening,
after nearly 9 days of constant care, beaming homeward—
we hope… while the Sherriff begins to finally dry up!

Prayers said that the Mayor and the remaining staff will stay as healthy as possible!!


(the Mayor comfoting the Sheriff / Julie Cook/ 2019)

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you;
he will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged.”

Deuteronomy 31:8

drumroll….

“Cooking is at once child’s play and adult joy.
And cooking done with care is an act of love.”

Craig Claiborne

Well, the clarified milk punch is all filtered out and ready to go live in the basement–
And yes, it will live in the fridge as I tend to be a little leery about anything made today
that dates back nearly 300 years.

It will remain indefinitely at the ready only to be happily pulled out,
poured and sipped as the occasion dictates.
As long as the pitcher load holds out, the glasses will be lifted.

So just to re-cap.
Remember we went from this on Monday…

To these shots on Tuesday…

To these shots on Thrusday…

To the finished product…

It is a smooth sipper.
Refreshingly cool (as it is kept in the fridge)
With welcoming warm notes of spice–
And oddly, it is reminiscent of Apple cider with nary an apple in sight.

I actually like it–a lot.

As I researched all kinds of clarified milk punches—some called for various teas, and/or
pineapple or blood oranges instead of the lemons—
As well as anything from vodka to brandy to a variety of rums.

Being a bit of a purist, I wanted to try a recipe that was more historically correct
to what would be used by someone who was in the throes of the milk punch heyday.

Enter Benjamin Franklin.

My few changes to Mr. Franklin’s original recipe was to use 3 cups of cognac and
3 cups of dark spiced rum to make up for the 6 cups of brandy he called for–
So that is most likely as to why mine still has a tinge of brown vs yellow.

I also added 1 1/4 cups of sugar rather than just 3/4 cup—3/4 white 1/2 demerara
as the amount varied from one recipe to the next.
I think 1 cup of sugar would suffice.
It’s just that my lemons seemed to be bitter so I wanted to offset any added bitterness.

I added 6 fresh cardamon pods which adds a heady perfumey vibe.
1 whole anise star
A hardy dose of sprinkled cinnamon as well as the stick.
and 4 cups of the boiling milk rather than 3.

Some recipes recommend letting the concoction sit for weeks at a time…
other recipes said to store it in an oak barrel for a smoky aged edge…

I actually have two small home kitchen aging barrels I bought
a few years back for some small scale aging of spirits…but if I wanted a smokey taste…
I’d have simply opened a bottle of burnt peat, I mean scotch.

If I had opted to continue filtering over the next several days, the liquid would continue to lighten up
and clear up even more…but since the filtering through the coffee filters has taken
literally all day…I’m fine with some remaining cloudiness.

There were some recipes makers who opted to leave some of the milk solids in as they thought
it offered a bit of creaminess to a “creamless” drink—which might be more of a hybrid between
a typical milk punch and a clarified milk punch.

However, with all of that said…this is a lighter type of drink as well as very inviting…
If you like notes of warm fall spice, you’ll enjoy a small glass full.
I do fear however that if you don’t watch out, it might just lull your senses—
because if you get a little too comfortable you might just imbibe in one too many drams 🙂

Here’s a link to Ben’s recipe-
I think Ben would be proud…

Benjamin Franklin: Milk Punch Aficionado. Here’s His Recipe.

Again, Cheers!

Next, as the days grow darker and a bit colder, a more New Orleans style milk punch
just might be in order…stay tuned.

Hummmm…..

Yesterday’s infusion becomes today’s coagulation, which in turn,
becomes tomorrow’s clarified nectar…or so I’m hoping.

cookie

Now let’s retrace our steps.

Yesterday we peeled 11 lemons and added the peels (minus the white pith) to 3 cups
cognac and 3 cups brandy…and let it steep for 24 hours.

And thus we’ve gone from this on Monday…

To this on Tuesday…

A curdled heady aromatic pot of who knows what.

Waiting for about 2 hours, I next poured the coagulated mess through some cheesecloth
and a fine-mesh strainer.

After staining, the remaining liquid will be moved to the fridge where it will sit for
another 24 hours, allowing any remaining “curds” to settle.
After sitting and settling, I’ll strain the liquid through a coffee filter.

Benjamin Franklin used a jelly bag…or so said the recipe he’d
handwritten and shared with a friend.
Aren’t handwritten recipes great?
They just keep getting passed around…albeit it spotted, yellowed and torn.

I don’t know what a jelly bag is and thus, doubt I own one…
hence the coffee filter and cheesecloth.

I did previously add to this putrid looking mess some cardamon pods, a single star anise,
a broken cinnamon stick, a fully grated nutmeg along with 2 cups of lemon juice,
1 1/2 cups of sugar, 4 cups of water and 4 cups of boiling milk…

All resulting in the curdled mess now staring up at us from the pot.

I dared to taste it, stealing a small spoonful this morning.

It’s pretty boozy as well as heavy on the lemon.
Maybe too lemony—

I was hit with a taste of bitterness but of course,
that was before I added the sugar, water, and milk.

I’m beginning to think that 11 lemon peels and 2 cups of juice may have been all of
a bit of an overkill.

But Ben said to do it and so I did.
How can I argue with the man who wrote Poor Richard’s Almanac?!

The sampling I had tasted down at the beach had been made with pineapple.
Since I’m not a huge pina colada, tropical drink kind of fan, I stuck to Ben’s original recipe
and opted not to introduce any pineapple.

I did deviate slightly however and threw in a few cardamon pods.
I like cardamon as it reminds me of a warm Fall cozy evening.
I also sprinkled in some cinnamon along with the broken stick as I like a heavy dose of
cinnamon in my Fall goodies.

I’m now wondering if adding a vanilla pod might have been a nice touch.

As you can see in the picture below, the curds were caught in the cheesecloth…

The strained liquid, which is still rather cloudy and reminds me of apple cider, will sit
for a day or so before it goes through more filtration.

The taste is spicy, warm, and again, very boozy…but in a soft sort of way.

We’re off to see the Mayor and Sheriff tomorrow so the final presentation will have to wait
a day or so longer— but trust me…
we’ve come this far and by gosh, we will have an official presentation if it kills me…

And let’s hope that drinking this stuff won’t…kill me!

I’ll also pass on Mr. Franklin’s recipe.

And I suppose that there might be some of you wondering why in the heck I would go
to such trouble just to make a simple drink…or more aptly, a most complicated drink?!

Maybe it’s because the mountain was there and I wanted to climb it…
Maybe it’s because I’ve been missing that creative spark in my life.

Or maybe it’s in part because it’s something that harkens back to a
different day and time.

It takes us back to a time when taking one’s time was appreciated.
It was a time when taking the time to do something that was somewhat painstaking
and was in turn, shared with others,
was equally appreciated as both a product and a preparation.
There is a deep sense of satisfaction in that.

It harkens to a time when we didn’t take everything for granted…
knowing that we could simply run out to a store and buy what our tastes might
be yearning for…
As in there were no grub hubs or uber eats back then.
The work from our hands filled our needs and wants and thus that was where our satisfaction
was found.

It was a time when things like lemons and spices were not readily available.
So when you could find them, afford them, they were savored and relished.

And thus savoring and relishing while feeling a sense of accomplishment and gratitude
is certainly reason enough…or at least it is for me.
And since it is indeed Fall…there’s no better time for slowing down,
savoring and reflecting upon some past simple pleasures.

Cheers!

deviating with a touch of alchemy and a creative past…

“Whisky is liquid sunshine.”
George Bernard Shaw


(step 1 to clarified milk punch / Julie Cook / 2019)

I must beg to differ with Mr. Shaw’s quote…
Clarified milk punch is liquid sunshine, not the amber hue of whisky.
But more about that in a minute.

Ok, so I’m straying a bit from our normally well-worn Spiritual path…
And it is with good reason.

I’ve decided that sharing a bit of the creative will be a wonderful way for us to
clear our heads a tad.

Life has been so heavy as of late has it not?

Be it in our own small personal little corners of the world,
or be it in the greater world at large…life has indeed been heavy.

And just to be honest…I’m tired of all this constant state of heaviness.

Today is Oct. 22nd.

That day falls on the calendar of what would be the season of Fall, aka Autumn…
you choose.
It is the time of a waning sun, cooler temps and those oh so pretty leaves…
or so one would think.

Two weeks ago our car registered 102 degrees.
Two weeks ago it was still October.

We were not driving in some heat-ridden place like southern Arizona or southern Hell,
rather we were in what is considered “north Georgia.”

As in, we have been living in a perpetual state of drought-ridden, heat relentless misery
since May.

Fall leaves are falling…they are simply falling off after having first turned brown.

“They” tell us that if the rains, which have thankfully begun,
continue and if the temperatures start to become more seasonal,
we have hope of salvaging “Fall”…meaning we might have some
crisp cool color after all.

And so despite living in this perpetual state of the neverending heat of Hades…
aka Summer,
my thoughts are turning to Fall.

As in pulling out those moth-eaten sweaters, gathering colorful pots of mums and
stacking up those beautiful heirloom pumpkins.

Praying for a chill in the air so we can have a skip to our step!

My thoughts are also turning to warm and spicey.

So you’ve got to know that a retired art teacher, who has also been a consummate
hobby cook for most of her life would need to find something creative and
challenging for this time of year.

Enter the clarified milk punch.


(Gastro Obscura)

A couple of weeks back my husband and I had headed down to the beach for a
few days for some much needed R&R.
It was a late anniversary celebration.

One mid-afternoon we found ourselves sitting at the hotel’s Cuban inspired bar looking
for a bite to eat and perhaps a bit of added libation.

The bartender went over the drink menu with us and told us that one of the drinks
on the menu was no longer available…they were out.
It was called something like ‘Wheyt a minute’.
A play on the word whey…as in curds and whey…
the clear liquid that comes when the curds of the milk (the milkfat)
are separated and removed.

My cooking and concocting curiosity was suddenly piqued.

I was told that the bartender, who was the creative genius behind the drink,
would be working that night.

And so later that night, after we’d returned from dinner out,
I found myself wandering back into the bar in search of this mysterious mixologist.

The bar was busy and humming with a crowd of fun-filled folks—
many of whom had arrived in town for various beach backdropped weddings.

I squeezed myself in, way up to the beautiful wood-paneled bar flanked by shelves of
colorful bottles all filled with glistening hued liquids…
squeezing past the myriad of merrymakers and asking for the bartender by name who
I knew had a quiet yet unique creative flair.

I asked about his drink that was no longer available.

Over the rising crescendo of noise cast from the pretty merrymakers gathered
in and around the packed bar, the bartender who was obviously pleased that someone
actually was curious about his handiwork, explained that he makes a clarified milk punch
for each season.
The batch for summer was now spent and he was in the process of brewing the
winter’s warmer spicer batch.

He offered a brief rundown of how it comes about.
There was fruit, liquor, spices, milk…there was steeping, cooking, filtering,
separating…and there was waiting.

As in all good things…right?

He explained that the new batch wasn’t ready yet…it still needed to steep.
He’d be putting it on the menu the following week.
I sadly explained that we were heading home the following day.

Alas.

He told me to hang tight and he’d slip to the back and bring me a taste as soon as
he had a lull at the busy bar.

I patiently waited…as it turned out that the wait was well worth my time.

He made good on his word…

My new friend presented me with about 2 ounces of a cold, slightly cloudy,
yellow-tinged liquid that had been poured into a pretty crystal glass.

I took a sip…there was a hint of pineapple, warm spices like nutmeg,
a cream-like flavor albeit a clear liquid. It was chilled and satisfying,
smooth and easy. Inviting and cheerful.
Nothing I had ever tasted before.

My curiosity was now ramped up even more.
I told him I was going home to make my own.
He smiled.

(a thank you to my friend Sair at the Havana Beach Bar and Grill)

And so in turn, I have researched.

History takes the drink back to the early 1700 hundreds with one story dating back to the
1600 hundreds in England.

Those who frequent New Orleans are familiar with milk punches that look,
well, like milk.
We think of things like egg nog—rich, thick and creamy.

But it was this clarified version that held my curiosity.
Milk and clear seemed like an oxymoron.

Some are made with pineapple, others are made with lemons or oranges…
with both peels and juice.
Hence the curdling agent.

There are riffs with add-ins such as black or green tea, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, and anise.
There is rum, or cognac, or brandy, or port, or a little of each.
There is some sugar and there is boiled milk.

But using milk as just milk would be too easy…however making milk clear, well,
that would require some skill.

A clarified milk does not run the risk of going bad.
It doesn’t spoil.
The fat is removed.
It has no special needs such as refrigeration in order to keep it cool and good…
it doesn’t need to be quickly consumed before going bad.
It allows one to linger…like a cozy sweater-wearing, fire crackling evening…
delightfully lingering.

The story goes that when Charles Dickens died he had bottles of clarified
milk punch stored in his cellar.
100 years following his death, the bottled punch was still quite palatable.

After all of my “researching,” I’ve opted to go with a recipe that was the personal favorite
recipe of none other than Benjamin Franklin.


(NY Times)

The man who gave us the lightning rod, the postal service, libraries, bifocals,
not to mention helping to craft our democracy, has also offered us his recipe
for a clarified milk punch.

Step one, as pictured above, is simply a mix of 3 cups each of rum and cognac along with
the peels of, count them, 11 lemons!
That will steep until tomorrow…steeping until I remove the peels and then begin
the real magic.

I’ll offer more tomorrow or as time allows.
But just know…that amber-hued, lemon studded, liquid will eventually be soft and clear.

My batch will be small…about a gallon or so.
My bartender friend has to make a much larger batch but hence when it’s gone, it’s gone.

No matter the amount, it will keep in the refrigerator for whenever I want a nice
small glass or should I have need for a punch bowl.

Stay tuned…

The letter

“The act of writing itself is like an act of love.
There is contact.
There is exchange too.
We no longer know whether the words come out of the ink onto the page,
or whether they emerge from the page itself where they were sleeping,
the ink merely giving them colour.”

Georges Rodenbach


(image the web)

In yesterday’s oh so long and convoluted post, I told you that I would share
the letter I had written to my birth mother, had the agency found her
and found her willing to be contacted, she would have received the letter.

However, as we know, they did find her but she made it clear, through an attorney’s
office, that there is to be no contact whatsoever.
And therefore, no shared letter.

She is 83 as I am soon to turn 60.
Yet there is no room for contact.
Odd given our ages.

I thought I’d simply post the letter here because maybe, one day,
it might make its way to her…or maybe even better, it might
make its way to someone else who may need to read it.

You may ask why would I even bother, especially when my birth mother is so emphatic
as to not wanting to have anything to do with me or that part of her past.

There is currently an odd phenomenon sweeping our nation.

State after state is voting on and passing right to life bills or heartbeat bills.
Bills that “infringe” upon open abortions.

Something I am finding hope in.

Hollywood is going nuts over all of it—clamoring to boycott Georgia
if our state’s bill stands.

What is it about the making of movies that has anything to do with abortions or not
to have abortions???
This knowledge simply eludes me
Yet the Hollywood scene seems to think it very much does affect movie making…who knew?!

It seems there is a real fear among many progressive liberals and members
or this culture of death, that has its grasp around our nation’s neck,
that the legal manifestation of abortions, Roe v Wade, will be overturned.

That, in the minds of many with a henny penny doomsday verbiage, will send us all stepping
back into the dark ages of coat hangers and hidden alleys should such a thing actually happen.

And yet state after state is voting, Governors are signing and change is in the air.

And so I was intrigued when I read of the tit for tat between two our Supreme Court
Justices…Justices Ginsberg and Thomas.

Thomas has made it clear that it is time that we as a nation and court revisit Roe v Wade,
while Ginsberg is openly opposed.

With Thomas being the conservative while Ginsberg is the liberal, their positions
are not surprising.

The fact that the late Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsberg were on polar opposite
positions on many court proceedings, but were still dear friends, was oddly a comfort.

People who couldn’t agree politically or legally yet who could still be civil and enjoy
one another’s company was a sign that we could still hold onto human decency, discourse
and civility despite our feelings or views.

We had hope in that alone for our humanity.

Yet sadly now…opposition rarely, if ever, will be civil or cordial, let alone sit at
the same table and commune with opposing human beings.
It is part and parcel of their manifesto…and yes, it is a manifesto.

Thomas and Ginsberg are currently in a bit of a war of words…
and it has to do with the use of a single word– “mother”

When Thomas stated in a lengthy response regarding states and the
rise in these “right to life” bills while using wording that “a pregnant woman or mother” etc…
Ginsberg bristled back not over the point being made but rather over the single word…
that a pregnant woman is NOT a “mother”.

I find that lone word to be a crucial concern and the pivotal lynchpin in all of this
current hysteria.

The concern that many people can view a woman as pregnant…as in yes, a mother to be…
compared to those in opposition who want to divorce the idea of mothering from pregnancy.

For years, we have heard that just because a man could help make a baby did not
necessarily make him a “father”—as in, impregnating didn’t go hand in hand with parenting…

We see that, do we not, in the hundred’s of thousands of single women households.
The lack of male role models in the lives of so many children.

And so now we’re looking at pregnancy as a condition of burden and inconvenience
rather than one of hope and anticipation.

And it is in this vein of motherhood, that I am reminded that pregnancy
is about mothers and fathers and children…end of sentence…
no matter how we try to redefine it…

And so I wrote a letter to a woman who was once a mother…and chances are
was a mother later on in life…
A letter from a child to a mother
A letter from a woman to another woman…

Maybe my non-delivered letter will provide a little comfort to someone else who
is finding themselves at a perplexing crossroad…because God can see
the bigger picture that I cannot see…and so I yield to the Holy Spirit and share…

More on this Roe v Wade and heartbeat bills later…

Hi, My name is Julie Cook—-but you most likely know me as Sylvia Kay—-
as that is the name that I learned was on my original birth certificate.

I have been told by the Family First Adoption Reunion Registry that I must first include a letter
written to “my birth mother” prior to any formal contact made by the agency.

The form asks me to include 10 questions that I am most interested in having answered….

When I initially thought to begin this search,
I felt more of a disconnect from such questions and very generic in my approach…
but throughout the past several weeks that I have known that the agency has been searching for you,
I have found my thoughts and feelings shifting to some degree.

Firstly and foremost, I do want you to know that I “turned’ out ok—-
I am happy, healthy and well adjusted.
As I will be turning 60 in November, I can look back and say, yes, this has
been a very good life.

I taught for 31 years at Carrollton High School.
I was the Visual Arts Instructor as well as the Dept. Chair of Fine Arts.
It was a very fulfilling career —-one that I “retired” from in 2012 in order to begin
more focused care for Dad who had been diagnosed with dementia and was beginning to really struggle.

When I moved to Carrollton from Atlanta following my graduation from the University of Georgia,
I met my husband on a blind date.
We married in 1983.

We have one son, your grandson, who is now 30 and a father himself.
He has a 13-month-old daughter and their son James is to arrive around the end of April/
the first of May.
Of which makes you a great grandmother—but of which you may already be.

I have always considered my adoptive parents as my parents.
My mother died at age 53 from lung cancer…I was 26.
Dad basically fell apart at that point and I found myself in the role of parent.

He eventually re-married 10 years later following mother’s death,
but that was not an ideal union.
Dad passed away in 2017 from cancer.

I had always told myself that I would not “search” for my birth parents until
Dad had passed away as I never wanted to hurt his feelings…
I never wanted him to feel that he could possibly lose me.
And of course he wouldn’t——but it was just something I had always told myself——
that if following his death, there remained a possibility, I would then, and only then,
peruse such a quest.

Always being a part of a loving and accepting family never,
however, made me forget that I had another family somewhere “out there.”

I was a history major before I ventured into education.

History has always been very important to me.
And the funny thing was/is that I never truly knew my own history.

Once I became a grandmother, I knew that I wanted my grandchildren to know their
true genealogy.
Where they came from?
Where were their true roots?
As well as what was their real medical history?

That is also something I’ve also wanted for my son.

Doctors have always asked me about my health history and yet I could never
definitively answer,

I am a deeply committed Christian and I have a very strong faith.
So I want you to know that I have no regrets or animosity regarding your decision of
having put me up for adoption.
Questions, yes, but regrets, no.

There is, of course, the natural curiosity and those ‘whys’ can be nagging.

I’ve always told myself that I have been a good person and was the type of child
that anyone would love to have had…I’m just sorry you missed that.

And yet I also know that God’s hand has always been leading my life, leading me,
even when I never truly realized it.

I don’t know if you will ever agree to open your heart or life to me, and that’s ok.
That will be your decision.
And I will honor that decision.

I am certainly not looking for some sort of fairytale Oprah type of moment.

I would, however, love to meet you—the person who carried me for nine months and made a very
selfless decision to offer me my life…with the best possible way you knew.

I have pictures I would love to share with you—-pictures of me as a baby, shortly after
leaving you, then pictures throughout the years as well as pictures of your grandson
and now great-granddaughter.

I look forward to possibly meeting you.

With love—-Julie (Sylvia Kay)

Before and after…the question

The south facade of Notre Dame before the fire…


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

Now the upper portion of the same facade, after the fire…


(Associated Press)

Despite the brilliant blue sky, the delightfully warm late afternoon sun,
a heaviness continued to linger…

I dumped a portion of the hardwood chunks of charcoal into the grill then used the
lighter to ignite the charcoal.

When the soft yellow-orange glow began, I closed the lid, cracking open the vents while I
proceeded to wait.

Soon enough, I opened the lid as the flames rose while the burning wood chips popped
and crackled.

I stared down into the grill, filled with those yellow-orange licking flames,
while I purposely and intently listened to the sounds of both fire and wood.

My thoughts seemed to have gotten stuck on an unseen replay button…
replaying the scenes from yesterday’s images of both Notre Dame and of the fire.

I thought of each trip, over the past decades of my life,
that I have walked into that cavernous and overwhelmingly
historic and spiritual “house” of worship.

The sounds of my own footsteps echoing off the soaring stone walls and massive pillars
as my steps reverberated against the barrel vault high above my head.

Awe stopped me in my tracks as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting
while the hints of pungent incense lingered in my nostrils.

I grappled with the magnitude of the historical and the physical while my mind
wrapped around the Spiritual impetus for this seemingly gargantuan whale that
had suddenly swallowed me whole.

The rising flames in the grill jerked me back to the present and my need
to get about my grilling supper…

I would say that this historic and catastrophic fire is proving devastating
on a great many levels.

The world is painfully mourning an iconic cultural loss.
Paris is mourning a devastating loss of an iconic piece of her home’s heart.
As we the world mourn both an artistic and architectural loss.

The proverbial bucket list destination for tourists and one of the spiritual
pilgrimage destinations on the lists of the faithful is now forever changed…
just as much of humankind is now changed.

But what I think is even more important, the fire has shaken loose a deeply hidden
sense of loss found in most of Western Civilization…it is a loss on a subconscious level
that we’ve never been able to put our finger on…
a loss that has long existed…one we have subconsciously known
was there but yet we didn’t know.

It is the loss of our Christian Spirituality…
our Spirituality that we have allowed to slip from, not merely our
hands, but from our very psyches and souls.

Yesterday I offered a response to a friend’s comment on my day’s post regarding
the fire and that comment has now lingered in my thoughts…

“someone I was listening to last night posed the question—– and I’ll paraphrase-
‘With so much of Europe becoming so secularized—–we’re seeing these massive ancient bastions
of Christian faith becoming more and more like museums rather than houses of worship.
With everyone now clamoring to rebuild…
the question we must be asking ourselves is what are we rebuilding?

Are we rebuilding a museum that lost so much art, etc…art that can never be replaced…
or are we rebuilding a church, a house of worship?…

I find that to be the very key question for our very postmodern Christian selves”

It is not lost on me that we are in the midst of the most Holiest of weeks within
all of Christendom while in the midsts of an ever-shrinking Christian faith
in our culture.

This fire is yet another visceral image of our own human tragedy and the fall of man.

It shakes loose our hidden sense of grief and loss over our flailing and fragile faith.

Christ descended into the depths of a raging fire of our very sin…
and on the third day, He rose from those ashes…

May we now use this sense of loss and grief, allowing our faith to be rekindled as we too rise
upward out of the ashes of what has become such a sinful loss…

Loss no more..but only gain…as the spire rises again…

“So you’re giving up?
That’s it?
Okay, okay. We’ll leave you alone, Quasimodo.
We just thought, maybe you’re made up of something much stronger.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Adding to the pile

“In times like these, it is helpful to remember
that there have always been times like these.”

Paul Harvey
Radio Broadcaster

Our friends at The Catholic Company
have a new interesting book that they’d like to share—
BAD SHEPHERDS
The Dark Years in Which the Faithful Thrived While Bishops Did the Devil’s Work

Given these days and times of scandal, mistrust, misdeeds shrouded by pure evil,
this is a rather timely read that I’ve now added to the ever-burgeoning pile of books
calling for my attention.

The Catholic Chruch, with the clergy leading the way, has become a pariah in the minds of many.
And with this deepening distrust and disgust, the global Christian Chruch is finding herself in the
crosshairs of being guilty by association.

Here is their enticing introduction of the book…

Sexual scandals and improper behavior
among religious leaders are nothing new.

“…the smoke of Satan has entered the
temple of God,”

said Pope Paul VI.

Believe it or not, St. Peter Damian wrote about the problem of active homosexuality
among the clergy over 900 years ago.

He warned that it was
“creeping through the clerical order…like a cruel beast within the sheepfold of Christ.”

Ever since Judas betrayed his Lord, there has been sin and scandal in the Church.

But this is not the time to despair.

In his astonishing, highly revealing and sometimes amusing book,
Church historian Rod Bennett offers some much-needed perspective to give us hope.

“My research, curiously enough, soon revealed a major key running under the minor;
and this was the striking fact that the Catholic laity…
often shone brightest just when their bad shepherds were at their worst.
God, in other words, had not left Himself without a witness.”
—Author Rod Bennett

These eye-opening pages introduce a number
of bad shepherds, showing us that corrupt church
leaders have existed since Christ established
the Church—and have not prevailed.

Instead, goodness has ultimately triumphed.

You’ll read about:
Pope Stephen VII, who so hated his late predecessor that he had him dug up,
put on trial, and flung into the Tiber.

Benedict IX, who bought and sold the papacy—twice!

Pope John XII, whose debauchery rivaled that of the corrupt emperor Caligula.

And here’s the powerful thing Rob Bennet will show you:

While these leaders were doing these evil deeds,
good Catholics not only survived—–they thrived.

They transcended their bad shepherds,
preserved the traditions, and served as the
foundation for a vigorous renewal of the Faith.

By bringing to light what’s happened in the past, this enlightening book shows that
restoration and renewal can happen again!

The notion of the governing Chruch going array while the faithful remain steadfast,
reminds me of a time in the middle of the 20th century when the
German Lutheran Chruch became the state Chruch of Nazi Germany.
And in essence became a pawn of Adolf Hitler…a vocal tool condoning evil propaganda.

Hitler knew that if he really wanted to plant his corrupted seeds within the hearts of the
German people, if he had the Church’s clergy acting as cheerleaders, the German people would be
more apt to listen and agree.

Yet there were committed Lutherans (Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, with a wealth of fellow clergy,
left the state puppet church creating the defiant Confessing Chruch) along with equally defiant Catholic
clergy mounted a counter voice of Truth.

The righteous know the Truth and hold steadfast despite the blanket of evil.

And so our friend the Wee Flea is also reviewing, as well as recommending, a new book—
a book about faith and God in our current troubling times.

God is Good for You—A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times
by Greg Sheridan
A political journalist looks at the impact of Christianity in the West.

David pulls out a few quotable gems to wet our whistle.

“In Charles Murray’s seminal study of the white underclass in the US, Coming Apart,
he reports that the last thing that holds working class and impoverished communities together
is the local churches.
When they collapse, the communities collapse.

(Page 27).

Does atheism explain the universe, life, including human life, consciousness and conscience?
Hyper- rational atheism gave us Nazism and doctrinaire Soviet communism.
Ultra-rationalism does not deliver you any moral compass.

(Kevin Rudd- Page 216).

If we abandon God, and the ethical imperatives that proceed from that,
we are in danger of ending up in an amoral morass,
where the sort of technocratic debates about whether certain human beings should be regarded
as sharing a common humanity, like the Soviet purges of “enemies of the people”
or the Nazi’s belief in the expendability of certain races, most particularly Jews, become possible.
You then land in an amoral jungle, animated only by some mud- begotten social Darwinianism.
This is because there was no longer a guiding moral authority.
These regimes could “reason” their way to any conclusion.”

(Kevin Rudd – page 217).

The only truly acceptable contemporary Christianity for Western political culture now seems
to be a Christianity which doesn’t mention God and which subscribes to conventional
elite wisdom on policy issues

(page 226).

The rule of law came out of a Christian mindset and defined the West.
The enemies of the West still define the West that way. Human rights have degenerated into
identity politics.
We are living now in a post-Christian society but still living on the legacy of Christianity
and that legacy is running down.
This could end in chaos.
For society to work you’ve got to have agreement about basic rules.
You want your rights but you have your responsibilities too.
If we don’t have consensus on the basic rules are we will find it hard to live in a society with each other…
That is a matter of great concern to me. I’m very concerned about where this experiment of being
a post-Christian society will end. It’s an experiment.
We haven’t been there before.

(Peter Costello – page 229).

Christianity doesn’t seek conflict for its own sake, but if it’s to be effective it must
know that conflict is the inevitable consequence of proclaiming its message.
It is also important to have always in mind that Jesus’s two greatest commands,
which he reiterates again and again, are to love God and to love your neighbour.
This does not, however rule out ethical conflict.

(Page 319).

https://theweeflea.com/2019/01/07/god-is-good-for-you-a-defence-of-christianity-in-troubled-times-greg-sheridan/

And so we hold fast to the knowledge that, as we have seen in ages past, when the going gets tough,
we of the Faith hold to our toughness and get going…

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love,
endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence
of many witnesses.
In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus,
who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,
I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
which God will bring about in his own time—-
God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light,
whom no one has seen or can see.
To him be honor and might forever.

Amen.
1 Timothy 6:11-16

throw it out and start all over

Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.
Meister Eckhart


(harvest time, in the dead of winter, go figure / Julie Cook / 2018)

Here in northwest Georgia, we are currently in the midst of our typical dreary Georgia winters…
grey, damp, misty, rainy and utterly foggy…
all of which gives way to just a sunless chilly dampness that gives way a heavy case
of the “meh’s”…
Not depressed but not joyful.
Not sad but not perky.

Yet despite this damp dreariness, believe it or not, all the citrus trees, that have been
moved to the basement for the season, are now bearing a plethora of fruit…
go figure!

So when life gives you an abundance of lemons in the dead of winter…
I suppose one gets busy making
something lemony.

Of which I did…today (yesterday by the time you’re reading this today)

I was going to look up lemon recipes that require a good bit of juice but I was
in the process of “migrating” again my old computer to the new computer.
It seems that the 5 hours required the other day was not enough,
I needed to add two more hours today in order to complete the “migration”…
I don’t think it takes geese that long to migrate!

Computer migration meant I wouldn’t be looking for all things lemony on the computer anytime soon
so I would be doing so with my phone instead. Sigh.

Searching, reading and squinting, I found a recipe for a lemony loaf cake that needs 1/2 cup
of fresh juice.

Perfect.

I headed to the basement in order to pluck what lemons were ripe…6 for now.
3 limes and 2 tiny calamondins.

I zested three lemons and juiced them while the butter softened.

My phone screen kept closing so I kept having to find a clean finger in order to touch the screen
and click back on the recipe.

I read over what I needed, what the oven needed to be set on and scanned over the step by steps–
in between the on and off screen…

I creamed the butter with the sugar, I added the eggs, I shifted the flour,
I measured the baking soda, baking powder, salt…
WAIT
was that 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder or
was it 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon baking powder???????

It was too late, I had gone with the first thought…
that being the full teaspoon of the baking soda and
the 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.

When I clicked my phone from black back to the recipe, I read I had reversed the two…
I tasted the batter…yuck…definitely too much soda.
The lemon juice seemed to make it start growing in the bowl.
Now I’m no chemistry major, but there was certainly a reaction beginning to react…

But what the heck, what’s 1/2 teaspoon too much??

I poured my “growing” batter into the pan…oddly it was now right at the rim and seemed
to still be growing…
I fretted what would happen when it hit the heat????

I shoved a sheet of foil underneath in case it opted to spill over.

I set the timer and quickly grabbed my phone now with two dirty hands yet full attention.

I quickly googled what happens if one adds more soda than what is called for.

All of the listed articles might as well as have had a nuclear warning sign as a header
as each one read of disaster.

The batter will taste bitter and soapy. Check
The batter will expand beyond capacity especially if an acidic base is added. Check
The batter will flow out of the pan once it’s placed in the over. Double check,

Solution…

Throw it all out and start over.

One article did advise that you could possibly double the flour, butter, eggs, sugar
and make a double batch but I wasn’t going there.

I yanked open the oven door and grabbed the now overflowing pan and headed straight to the trashcan.

I started over.

This time being careful to get my soda and powder measurement right.

I threw out 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of lemon juice, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 stick of butter,
1 Tbl of lemon zest…a huge waste but the only salvageable option.

And so as I started over from scratch on this now seemingly costly cake of mine,
I was reminded that we are currently perched on the tossing out of one year
as we prepare to start fresh on a new year.

I can honestly say that I am happy, for many reasons, to be tossing out this past year.

It’s like my batter with the too much soda, it just needs to be thrown out and started anew…
despite the seemingly lost cost.

On a personal level, this past year was a blessing in that we had great joy with the birth of this
first grandchild of ours…and the news of another one soon on his way…
As well as with the successful retiring of a 50-year business.

Yet I can’t help but think about this country of ours and of our global community.
The uncertainty.
The hatefulness.
The sinfulness.
The anger.
The turning away from our Judeo / Christian heritage.

I can only pray that God, in His Mercy, will continue to afford us His Grace…
And that He will indeed remain gracious and merciful to his wayward children.

I pray that we can hold onto a continued sense of hopefulness while we look forward to a
fresh beginning…because Lord knows, it’s time we get a brand new fresh start!
Just like my cake…that finally turned out a great success.

Here’s to a hope-filled successful new year for us all!!!

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,
that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16