just make mine vanilla

Love ice cream.
I let myself have that about once a week.
Vanilla.

Tim Tebow


(three old shots from back in 2013 when I was first making my vanilia extract–the longer it sits,
the better it gets…just add a new bean or two over time and top off with the sprit of choice)

I like to cook.
This much we know to be true.

I use to post a good bit about my cooking exploits but over time I’ve obviously shifted my
focus and attention to issues I find more pressing…
issues like those concerning Christianity
and the practicing of our faith in a post-modern, post-Christian era.

However, I will still raise the battle cry over other issues I think pertinent to this good fight
we call life…

Take today for instance…(or yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday)

I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
I needed some cat food and Grapeseed oil so while I was over in the cooking oil aisle,
I decided I needed to check out the spices.
I needed to peruse the spice area as there seemed to be a mental list somewhere nagging
in my brain, begging me to remember something from this particular section that I needed…

I grabbed some Adobo chili powder.
I’ve never used it before but I’d seen a recipe for slow-simmered chicken…a recipe for chicken tacos…remember, I’m trying to reduce the iron content while looking for foods that will avert the absorption—spicey things supposedly help.

While still perusing, my eyes stopped on a bottle of Vanilla beans.

Ahhh, the mental alarm clock sounded.

Yep, I needed some more beans as I’d used the last two I had in the recently poached pear recipe.
(also a tasty recipe I once posted)

I grabbed the bottle.
There were two measly beans in the bottle.
Vanilla beans are a precious commodity.
But why companies are so chintzy I’ve never figured it out.

I looked at the price—they are usually costly as I’ve paid almost 10 bucks a bottle before,
but I was wondering just how high they might be now.
I do prefer ordering my beans in bulk as it’s cheaper but I needed to have at least two on hand.
One never knows when an unctuous creme brulee is calling…

What to my wandering eyes did appear but a 2 and a 5 joined together…as in
25 dollars for the bottle!!!!!!

WHAT?????

Is this a misprint??? my panicky brain wonders.
I march myself, with the bottle in hand, over to a gal at a register.
“Is this price correct” I practically screamed at the unsuspecting cashier.
She scanned the bottle.
“Oh my gosh” she practically screams back.
“25 dollars for Vanilia beans???? she nervously screams again.

“That’s what I thought” I reply almost exhausted from our heightened sense of distraughment.

I use vanilla beans a lot.

I’ve actually made my own vanilla and bourbon vanilla extracts, a recipe in which
I’ve shared in prior posts from back in 2013.
A homemade vanilla extract is the best of the best!! And it lasts forever.

Making the extract required my having to buy a bunch of beans…
beans I had actually ordered from Amazon–
I used Tahitian and Madagascar beans as each offers a different floral warm scent and taste.

Once home from the store, I decided to go check out the Amazon site,
just to see what they were currently selling my bulk bag of beans for as I was going to order
a new batch just to store for when I needed them—

Immediately I see that 5 beans, just 5 little beans, were going for a whopping 27 bucks.
Which did, however, beat the grocery store’s two beans for 25 bucks.
My regular ordered batch of shrink-wrapped beans was going for…
sit down before I tell you…
1/4 of a pound of beans at $115.00 while a full pound of beans listed for $400!!!!!!!!

For a batch of homemade vanilla extract, you need a good 15 to 20 beans…
of which maturate in a bottle that is large enough to contain them with enough vodka or
bourbon poured over to cover…as they are left to steep until a deep rich brown color
appears and the heady spicy aroma of delicious warmth wafts from the uncorked bottle.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON????? I practically wail.

I immediately race to the trusty all-knowing Google to type in ‘vanilla bean prices’
and sure enough, I found many articles and news stories regarding the exponentially
skyrocketing prices

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vanilla-bean-shortage-madagascar-drives-up-us-prices/

A precarious commodity that is a fragile commodity.
A product that is prone to drought, fickled growing seasons, poaching, farmers who don’t
allow the pods to fully mature in a race to get the pods to a demanding market and finally
it is simply a matter of time…for it takes three long years for a plant to produce a pod.

According to Wikipedia, vanilla is the second most expensive spice coming in right
behind saffron.
And gathering a ready pod is extremely labor intensive because these pods of
this particular species of the orchid family are each hand pollinated…pod per pod.

Vanilla, just plain old vanilla.

Consider its humble base taste…it is often the brunt of those who refer to things as
just being average..as in vanilla, as in plain jane, as in generic, as in nothing special,
as in the bottom of the list.

Yet vanilla is a great building base—a needed and important humble building block.
Imagine Chocolate chip cookies without that added splash of vanilla.
Think vanilla bean ice-cream, sour cream pound cake, pannacotta, rice pudding,
milkshakes, protein shakes, puddings, eclairs, cookies, candy, yogurt, chewing gum,
cosmetics, perfumes, aromatherapies…the list is nearly endless….
all without their needed vanilla.

There are four main types of vanilla beans used in our consumption: Tahitian, Indonesian,
Mexican and Madagascar

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/4-kinds-vanilla-beans-know

There are however those purists out there who do indeed favor the unadulterated flavor
of that simple, smokey, sweet, floral flavor of just plain old fashioned vanilla.
No swirls of caramel, no colorful sprinkles, not bits of cookie or peppermint or toffee,
or chocolate syrup or diced fruit…just simple, plain old vanilla.

So I suppose I might just have a little problem…a little expensive problem…
As we might all just have a largely flavorless problem…

Here’s to hoping the current growing crop thrives…
hopefully in time for this summer’s long-awaited and even yearned for home-churned ice cream…
because it just won’t be summer without a bowl of fresh homemade vanilla ice cream!!!

There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are
a precious jewel.

Proverbs 20:15

a time of signs

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him
to show them a sign from heaven.

Matthew 16:1

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death,
and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations,
and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:9-14

signposts

Today I found myself once again on the interstate, a place that I am more times then not…
As the sun was headed toward the west, I was finally heading home form Dad’s…
who by the way is hanging on and still in the game….but just barely….
Merging onto the interstate, it suddenly dawns on me that the ratio of big rigs to cars
was not in the favor of the cars.

Some days are like that as I suppose as there are certain days that are considered
more or less “travel days” for those transporters of all things commerce.

Those “travel days” tend to make me a bit more nervous as I don’t especially enjoy
barreling down the interstate sandwiched in-between 5 lanes of tractor trailer
trucks and little ol me….

Focusing on keeping up with the flow while my mind drifts back and forth over to Dad
and to the things I need to be taking care of for them, my eyes and mind begin to focus
on the truck in front of me…
“The World’s most award winning Tequila”

Hummmm…I think I’ve had it in a margarita once….

Changing lanes, as I was working my way over to merge onto the next interstate, I
found myself behind another truck boasting the “2013 Award Winning Whiskey Bourbon, Roses”

Hummmm…I’d never heard of it before…yet found myself wondering if it hails
from Kentucky or Tennessee as only Kentucky whiskeys may be labeled bourbon…

As I exit onto the entrance ramp to the next interstate, I’m precariously passed by
a massive Little Debbie’s truck….

Hummmmm…Now I begin wondering if someone isn’t trying to tell me something…
as in…am I suppose to be heading to the nearest bar or to grab some
not so healthy snack cakes….???

Signs were all over the place it seems…
vying for me to remember, to consider, to seek, to find…????

So as I was finally on the home stretch of highway, eventually taking me home,
the whole notion of signs and their meaning flooded my mind,
shadowed by the significant and current visit taking place in Washington of Israel’s
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu….

I ruminated over the importance of the renewed support offered by our
new administration to Israel…
and to what that now may means for a nation who returns her support to the chosen
of God….

As some would flippantly quip that it means nothing,
while others would bemoan it just means more trouble,
while still others see great significance being found in this renewed support.

I have always believed in the importance of the United State and her relationship with
the Jewish state…

Yesterday we heard in his greeting to President Trump,
along with those gathered in the East Room,
Prime Minister Netanyahu offering an explanation as to why Jews are called Jews.

“Well, the Chinese are called Chinese because they come from China.
The Japanese are called Japanese because they come from Japan.
Well, Jews are called Jews because they come from Judea.
This is our ancestral homeland.
Jews are not foreign colonialists in Judea.”

The age long quest for the acknowledgement of existence.

Yet that acknowledgement continues being met with resistance…

The Middle East is a vast and formidable land..
It has always been shrouded in mystery, hostility, and suspicion.
With the seeming epicenter to be found in the obscure city of Jerusalem…

A city that is the knot in the bow tying and binding the three
greatest monotheistic religions together…
whether they like it or not…bound they are.
Yet it is a city that has been fractured and divided since its very formation…

The hostilities between Jews and Muslims is age old, dating back most notably to
the time of Abraham.
The Christians are really the upstarts in the mix, having entered the fray 2000
years ago.

So say what you will…
be it coincidence, myth, lore, legend, history, the Divine…or a combination of
each component…
The land of Judea is for the chosen of God…and peace will come…but…..

The prophet Zechariah reminds us with his words:
“Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples,
when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem.
And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all
peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces,
though all nations of the earth are gathered against it” (Zechariah 12:2-3)

It seems that conflict will always be found in this epicenter…
only until such time comes that there is a final
collision between both Light and Darkness….

In Psalm 37 we hear David proclaiming that “the meek shall inherit the earth,
and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace”
(Psalm 37:11).
And in Leviticus we are told, “I will give peace in the land, and you shall
lie down, and none will make you afraid”
(Leviticus 26:6)

We are reminded, told, and shown that there will indeed be a day of peace in
this land that has only known dispute, war, hatred and suspicion.

So until that day of peace and reconciliation is upon us…
It may behoove each of us to consider the signs we are offered as we
look, wonder and wait…..

With Christ—“the Prince of Peace”—ruling the earth,
“there will be no end” to the peace that will envelop our planet (Isaiah 9:6-7).
As Isaiah hopefully noted,
“LORD, You will establish peace for us” (Isaiah 26:12).
And as each individual obeys God, he or she will enjoy peace.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You” (verse 3).

(Life Hope & Truth)

tenacity

“Courage is not having the strength to go on;
it is going on when you don’t have the strength.”

Theodore Roosevelt

gwtwset4
(Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, wearing her mother’s curtains)

Think Scarlet O’Hara, Julia Sugarbaker and Steel Magnolias all rolled into one.
Who else would think to turn their mother’s prized curtains into
a matter of getting what they need…but a Southerner.

That’s because we in the South understand the significance of
desperate times requiring drastic measures…

For we are a resourceful lot when we need be,
especially during the thick of battle..
We are kudzu and honey all rolled into one..
Barbed wire and sugar spun together…

Because that’s just what we are down here in the South,
tenacious as a bulldog when needed,
soft as a cotton ball when called for….

We are also sweet and charming.
We are cordial.
We are warm.
We are hospitable.
We are not dumb, deplorable or rednecks…contrary to what some would have you believe.
We are educated.
Well educated.
We have great schools, colleges and universities.
People like our weather, well, maybe not in August…
I don’t like our weather in August, or even now, but I digress…

People like our food..think fired this or that, as in chicken and okra.
People like our drinks…think bourbon.
We are mannerly…for if we are not, our grandmothers are obviously not watching.
We believe in morality, decorum and being polite.

But none of that should never lead you to believe that we are
pushovers,
ignorant,
easy,
or lazy.

We are a strong kind people.

And I keep finding that I have to continually remind myself of such…

I have seen more of my poor father than any daughter should ever see of her father
and it is enough to last me a life time.
Bless him.
He can’t help it.
And sadly I can’t avoid it.

We got the water balloon dad unclogged today.
Mr nonchalant doctor was his typical rude, arrogant and non southern self during our visit…
He didn’t want to initially believe, let alone admit,
that there was any scar tissue from August’s surgery…
Well guess what…
there was.

No wonder poor dad was becoming a human water balloon,
a toxic human water balloon.
But mr nonchalant doctor assumed it was the tumor growing; the one we had opted not,
against his suggestion, to spend 8 weeks radiating on a daily basis.

“Has he looked at dad in that wheelchair of his” I wonder…

Quickly and without fanfare or even words, Mr nonchalant doctor performs a little procedure
then quickly leaves the room with us eventually leaving
with now a new sort of water balloon,
a catheter.
And thankfully free-flowing once again!!
No spreading cancer as dad was fearing…
just a little scar tissue fouling up the works…

Dad was having to get up literally 18 times a day and 9 times throughout the night living
like a human water balloon…filling up, but not flowing out.

The doctor walked out with nary a word….
No words of kindness, no words of encouragement,
no words of care nor words of what we might need to do…

Kind of like a wham bam thank you mam sort of moment.

Leaving me with the young nurse to attach everything…
getting everything in, on, up and poor dad back into his chair.

Where I come from a gentleman assesses the situation and lends a hand where
he sees the need.
We call that being a man…patient, kind, gallant and thoughtful.

When we finally walked out, me walking, dad rolling…
Mr nonchalant doctor was sitting at his computer in his office, directly across from us,
as we exited the exam room.

I was sincere and gracious in my thanks and gratitude for helping dad.
As I was always taught to offer thanks for a service rendered and I was genuinely
grateful that dad would now be functioning and flowing.
Plus there I was wheeling my cancer ridden, feeble, 88 year old father
who has just bared everything to everyone…did he not deserve a word?

There was a very long pause of silence before acknowledging that I had spoken…
without glancing from the computer came an “ah huh”…
and with that, dad and I were on our way.

At the elevator dad leans his head back in my direction as I push the button for down…
“he doesn’t have much personality does he?”
“I think he’s a jerk dad.”
“I just think he doesn’t have a beside manner” dad counters…

And that my friends is the response of a gentleman.

A man who just bore his feeble sickly body for violation and he merely chalks up
being ignored to a lack of personality.
Where I see a sorry SOB…

Had I not been wheeling dad, who was now hurting and asked for something for pain,
as mr nonchalant non caring doctor quips over his shoulder, “take some tylenol'”…
I think I would have marched in that office of his, slaping my hands down on his desk,
asking or rather telling him to do the polite thing by
looking me in the face when I’m speaking
and to acknowledge my father as an elder as well as a hurting human being….

Because that’s what we do here in the South, we acknowledge our fellow human beings as
what they are, fellow human beings….

And don’t forget, we also came up with iced tea…..
thank you very much…

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Luke 6:27-28

Burn, Burning, Burned. . .out!

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
Jack London

RSCN8779
(one of the culprits on the strands of light / Julie Cook / 2014)

DSCN8782
(the burned out strands in the trash / Julie Cook / 2014)

The presents are wrapped, finally, and the stockings are hung—meaning— what you see is it. . .as in the decorations you see are as far as it goes–So just tell me it looks nice and lets move on. . .
The store is still busy as both time and people seem to keep coming as I’m running on fumes.
So imagine my chagrin when I came home one evening from working the holiday madness, aka retail, plugged in the tree and. . . nothing.
As in no lights.
As in a dark tree.

WHAT?

Too tired to scream, I could be heard mumbling to myself, “it figures”
Yet the girl scout in me knew there had to be some sort of remedy I could rig.
Grabbing two extension cords I began digging ever so gently through a well decorated 10 foot tree in search of the ends of the light cords I had pushed back in the branches to hide their unsightliness during the decoration ritual.
Finding the ends I began unplugging and replugging in an effort to see which cord would light and which would not.

As miracles would have it, I didn’t have to climb around all over the tree, discovering which cord was the culprit with very little wasted time or effort. . . ahhhh.
All I needed to do was to thread one extension cord up through the tree in order to plug in the good cords and run the other extension cords up to the other working cords.

Voila, a mostly lit tree with a dark mid-section—but at this point, I’ll take what I can get.

Getting home late again Thursday evening I scrambled out of the car to a darkened front porch in order to plug the lights in. . .the very ones I labored putting up around the front of the house on that blasted day known as “black friday”. As it was dark and cold, I was hurrying to get the show on the road so I could hurry up and make supper, I plugged in all the extension cords when I suddenly noticed an entire chunk of lights had burned out on the right side of the porch railing.
UGH!!!!
Great.
Now the house looks lopsided.
Clamoring around in the dark, I could be heard telling the dark of night, the lights that worked, the dead lights and anything else that was perhaps wandering around in the dark that “by God, I decorate this freaking house once a year, and I am bound and determined, as God is my witness, to light things up, and light I shall. . .”
Very Scarlet O’Hara you know—It’s a southern thing.

Fast forward to this morning.
As my oh so tired and exhausted husband headed out the door, making his way to the store to put in another solid day of making holiday cheer, aka our work in retail, I made my way to Home Depot. I had told him that I was going to go pick up some more lights before heading to the store to help (sell, wrap, greet, smile, and make merry, and curse my aching feet).
“Why in the world would you go buy new lights with only a few days left in Christmas?” he mumbled heading out the door.
“Because by gosh, as God is my witness, I decorated this house and I won’t have it half lit up as in half a&$. . .
He could be seen rolling his eyes as he got in his truck because at this point, he is so over Christmas. Plus I think he finds my Scarlet O’Hara impersonation a bit melodramatic.

Arriving at Home Depot, the place that saw my credit information stollen in the data breach they suffered earlier this year. . .as my bank account was accosted by some thieves in south Georgia, Illinois and Indiana that was luckily caught early enough before any real damage occured, I was ready to do business again, risking my bank account and identity all in the name of holiday lights.

Do you know how sad the shelves holding the holiday decor look right about now at a massive home improvement center? Kind of like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. . .empty and sparse with a few remaining boxes which look as if they’d been opened, pilfered through, stuffed back shut and left for any poor sucker who happened to come by at the 11th hour in need—such as myself.

There were twinkling warm mini lights, snowflakes, giant icicles, round colored balls, and the very retro looking giant colored lights. . .those monstrosity lights of my childhood—-the ones I hated—so tacky and garish.

I grabbed a couple of remaining boxes that had obviously been opened and hoped for the best.
Kind of the same mindset I felt when I handed the cashier my debit card–thinking here goes nothing, again, or maybe here goes everything I own again, sort of feeling.

Back home, I open up the boxes, yanking out a waded up tangled mess of lights. Just as I figured—someone either returned these puppies or either pulled them out taking a gander before stuffing them back in the box deciding they weren’t for them. Smoothing and pulling as best I could, I stretched the cord along the railing. I proceeded with 3 more boxes. As they all seemed to work, I felt a sense of relief—until the one strand filling in the area of my original area of contention began blinking.

WHAT?

The strand was also white, my other strands are green.
AGGGGHHHH!!!
Making the sound Homer Simpson makes, I see that I have all constant green wire shining lights except for a lone white wire strand that now “twinkles”—-
“REALLY?!” I am now heard shouting to all birds and any passing cars.
“Well, too bad!!!” I’m heard to exclaim to the squirrels.
I have lights, who but the raccoons and possums will notice the twinkling—any passing cars will be driving too fast but to merely briefly “ooooo” at the sight of lights as they move like a bat out of hell down the road past the house as no one drives up and down our road paying any attention to posted speed limits, yellow lines or much else for that matter, so who cares if one batch is now twinkling??!!

“By God”, I exclaim, I have lights and lights I shall!!
Makes no never mind anyway as the lights will just be coming down in less than a week.
“This is Christmas by George and we will make merry!!!”

The moral of the story you ask. . .besides being wary of using debit cards now a days anywhere or buying obviously previously opened boxes. . .
We need to be mindful that everyone gets a bit burned out this time of year, even the kids–from the constant going here, there and yon, to the constant shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, working, caroling– to the high expectations, the hopes, the dreams, the let downs and disappointments. . .

At first it’s just the burned out holiday lights, then the next thing you know you’re shooting the neighbors giant inflatable Frosty the snowman with a BB gun. . .
It won’t do any of us, or those around us, any good letting ourselves get all worked up in a tizzy. . .it’s best to simply let go and go on— moving forward and making “Merry” the best way we know how. . .

Now where in the h*!l is that pitcher of eggnog—you know the one. . .was that one cup of rum and one cup of bourbon per one quart of eggnog or was it two quarts of nog. . .I think I like the odds with one quart and equal ratios!!

Merry Christmas!!!

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A very tenacious, sensuous and most southern vine–or–the final page to the story

“…how sweetly smells the honeysuckle in the hush’d night…”
-Tennyson
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(wild honeysuckle on an old fence post / Julie Cook / 2014)

The humidity was so heavy and the air so thick, no one dared moved for fear of suffocating.
The beads of sweat, growing larger across her brow eventually grew too heavy–giving way as if a dam had burst, trickling rapidly down past her rounded cheek, even more quickly down her supple neck and sensuously disappearing down her silky blouse.

“What on earth is that oh so heavenly scent?
The question directed at no one in particular as the now shadowed figure stepped out onto the ancient front porch through that same torn screen porch door her daddy had always sworn he’d get around to fixing.
“Oh that’s mama’s honeysuckle vine on the trellis over by the side fence” she replied in a slow drawn-out honey coated drawl that he could suddenly not place.
Was it Savannah? Maybe Charleston? Better yet, maybe Natchez.

She could smell something other than the honeysuckle. “Nothing like a freshly showered man” she silently mused.
A mix of soap and saving cream hung heavily between them.
Despite the recent shower, the stiffly starched clean white oxford cloth shirt stuck to his back.
He handed her a glass.

The glass was one of her daddy’s Waterford crystal old fashioned glasses, the one from the makeshift bar in the front room he had christened his office away from the office. More like a big boy’s secret club house– as mama use to flippantly tell the kids about daddy’s time in “the office.”

The cold heavy glass, feeling instantly familiar and refreshing to the touch, was also full of her daddy’s favorite bourbon. When she was a little girl, asking for a sip of her daddy’s drinks, he’d simply whisper he was having a drink of a secret medicine. With the ice rapidly melting, she thankfully raised the sharp edged glass to her thin dry lips. One sip and she immediately felt the warm brown liquid erasing any remaining tension from the weight of the worries of the day. A silent “thank you Daddy for the medicine” wove itself into her thoughts.

As the cicadas gently hummed throughout the moonless night, he pulled over one of the other rockers asking if he could join her.
“Whenever did you have to ask to sit down” she quizzically quipped.
He couldn’t tell if she was playing or was actually annoyed.
It had been a dreadfully long day and he knew how heavy her heart had to be.

“Ever since you decided to spend the evening in the dark on this front porch” came his reply, attempting to sound more matter of fact rather than accusatory.

Suddenly he felt a warm hand reaching through the thick air landing gingerly upon his knee.
“It’s been a long day and a long life” she exhaled as she spoke in that breathless way she did when she fought from crying.
The years suddenly draining from her body as he placed his much cooler hand over hers.

Maybe it was the bourbon, maybe it was sitting on the terribly familiar porch, maybe it was the deeply southern humid evening–but whatever it was. . .she had finally sensed that she was going to be ok—-maybe it was because she had finally understood that she was just as stubborn, just as sensuous and just as tenacious as that damned ol honeysuckle vine her mama had planted 45 years ago, the one her daddy cussed every summer as he’d get stung by the visiting bees when she’d make him go prune the blasted thing.

Déjà vu, mint?

“Deja Vu All Over Again”
Yogi Berra

“Open the whisky, Tom,’ she ordered, ‘and I’ll make you a mint julep. Then you won’t seem so stupid to yourself… Look at the mint!”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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Ok, so it seems as if it was just last year that I was posting some rubbish about summer mint (Mentha × piperita), mint juleps, the Kentucky Derby and life in this quintessential South of mine.
Well bless my soul. . .the Derby ran Saturday (hooray for the underdogs!! California Chrome, what a wonderful story! If I were a betting woman, my money for a triple crown would be on this little young man—oh but we are digressing), and my yard is smack-dab full of mint. . .so it just seems more than appropriate to post something about mint and juleps and derbies all over again.
The same, yet different and yet new.

We’ve been having a bit of a rough go as of late. Our son has been having some health issues and the next couple of weeks call for tests with possible surgery. Did I mention there is a wedding June 7th?! Do you hear any panic in my voice? Good. I’m trying to keep that stiff upper lip you know. And also–we would all greatly appreciate any and all prayers!! Yet sadly, as is my child’s lot in life. . .when it rains it definitely pours. . . so I thought a nice little diversion was in order. . .as in a drink. Oh, not for me silly it’s still too early—but rather for you—as in I suppose the old song is right, it must be 5:00 PM somewhere on the planet?!

I had this little beauty Saturday as they were calling the jockeys to the Post. . .

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What is that you ask? Why it’s a world famous Julie Julep!!
And since I think I hear you saying you sure wish you had one right about now, I’m going to do the next best thing— I’m going to tell you how to make one.

First you’ll need a pretty glass—you can use a typical silver julep cup, or in my case, the best and prettiest crystal type glass you own.
–Gather a handful of mint (peppermint only)
— You’ll need an ounce or two (depends on your constitution) of good ol Kentucky Bourbon (that is if you’re a purist)–you may wander outside of the Kentucky state lines, drifting over to Tennessee or Virginia if you prefer, but it must be a Southern Bourbon of some sorts!
–either make some quick simple syrup (1/2 cup sugar + 1/2 cup water, boil ’til sugar dissolves) which you can also add mint leaves to in order to boost the mint flavor, or use agave nectar–works just as well–plus you don’t need as much nectar as you would simple syrup as agave nectar is sweeter than sugar—purists, however, stick to simple syrup.
–crushed ice
–here’s what makes it a Julie Julep–Limeade juice—as in Simply Limeade (this makes it most quaffable–meaning it’s smooth, refreshing and calls for more than one)
–a garnish of a mint sprig and a slice of lime.
MIX:
—In your glass, throw in a handful of mint. Some call for the addition of a little Demerara sugar thrown in which I did try and I kind of liked it. The coarse sugar helps break up the mint as you muddle it (pound and grind the life out of it). I must confess that I do not own a muddler. I use the end of a wooden spoon. Pound that mint with the spoon releasing those delightfully aromatic essential oils.
—add crushed ice
—add bourbon (1 oz to 2 oz it’s your call–I’m thinking 2– maybe even 3, but hey, we want more than one drink right?)
—add about 1 to 2 TBL of simple syrup or agave nectar (if you like it sweet, add more)
—fill the remainder of the glass with limeade.
—give that puppy a good stir, with a silver sipping straw of course, garnish with a nice pretty sprig of mint and a slice of lime.
NOW—settle back in one of the rocking chairs out on the front porch, prop up your feet if you’d like, as you enjoy the sun dipping low in the sky— begin singing to yourself “My old Kentucky Home” for a real sense of true Southern Living. . .

“My Old Kentucky Home”
by Stephen Foster

Contemporary Lyrics (1986):

The sun shines bright in My Old Kentucky Home,
‘Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn-top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom
While the birds make music all the day.

The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy and bright;
By ‘n’ by hard times comes a knocking at the door,
Then My Old Kentucky Home, good night!

Chorus:

Weep no more my lady
Oh weep no more today;
We will sing one song
For My Old Kentucky Home
For My Old Kentucky Home, far away

Simply simple

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
Confucius

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“Oh dear, she’s at it again”—and yes, I can hear you.
No this is not another batch of Cookie’s vanilla extract, but I must say that it has come to full maturation and I have been incorporating it into my baking—you may not realize it, but you are sorry you never made your own.

Today however we are looking at something so simple and yet so important that it’s almost frightening. And no, you are not beholding jars of moonshine. I know what you’re thinking, “She’s in the deep South isn’t she, don’t they all have a still or two out back?”

Lord no honey, the Revenue man came years ago and smashed that thing to bits.
You can trust me, I don’t know anything about moonshine which reminds me of Prissy in the movie Gone With The Wind when she lamented to Captain Butler “I don’t know nothing bout birthing no babies”. The rumor was, when I was a little girl, moonshine would make a person go blind because it was often distilled through an old car’s radiator. Who makes things that people consume from old rusty dirty car parts?? Those on a slippery slope I suppose. I did, however, once partake of a sip back in my college days.

Seems some stupid fraternity boy I was dating at the time thought it would be something to have a bottle of genuine Georgia Mountain mash. I have no idea how he came by this particular jar as moonshine was illegal to make and / or possess. It was indeed in a mason jar and it was clear and he seemed quite clandestine about the whole thing.

He screwed off the top and handed me the jar. It had a strange sterile aroma of rubbing alcohol and cherries. Now I have always been known to be adventurous when it has come to trying new things. I do draw the line however at the eating of scorpions on a stick or noshing on a handful grubs, or any other sort of insect… thank you very much Bear Grylls. Nor am I up for trying what my dad tells me his mother use to serve him as a young boy…eggs and brains. I suppose it is true what they say about eating all the parts of a pig, but I do have my limits and I am digressing.

I gingerly brought the jar to my lips, barely allowing the liquid to come into contact with my mouth or my very worried tastebuds. It was very stout I recall, as in very heavy on the alcohol end of things. I think it would probably have been a better antiseptic than a sipping cocktail. All I can say is that I tried it.

I found it not very different from the 190 proof bottles of golden grain alcohol the college boys would buy enmass, pouring into giant plastic trash cans, topping off with can after can of HI-C Hawaiian fruit punch…..dubbing the brew “hunch punch”—it was served at every fraternity’s “social”–aka, party. One’s date would go with cups in hand and dip cup after cup into the giant liquid filled trash cans. I now look back on those days with dismay and wonder how in the world I survived and give thanks that I am not blind, deaf or dead. What were we thinking!!?? Obviously we were not……

And at least moonshine is not bathtub gin—but then that sounds very similar to hunch punch…..oh the perilous concoctions Prohibition must have created…..

But my jars here are not mixtures of home-brewed spirits but rather a mix of mere water, sugar and, on this occasion, cinnamon sticks.

Behold, the simple syrup!

Simple syrup is just that, simple. But why bother to write about and / or share a recipe for something seemingly so simple you ask…..because it is a blank canvas waiting for you to get creative.

Over the weekend I was privileged to host a bit of a retirement shindig for one of my dearest friends. As this is the Fall of the year, it just seemed fitting to offer some sort of Fall inspired libation. What comes to mind when you think of Fall? Apples that’s what!! Of course…Apples. I made a pitcher of what I christened Cookie’s Apple Heart Warmer and boy were they good. A lovely smooth amalgamation of Apple cider, cinnamon, Amaretto, Bourbon, lemon and cherries. One of my friends took one sip and sweetly cooed “oooo, this tastes just like Fall!!”

My concoction required that I fist make a simple syrup. The easiest ratio for this is to use one cup water and one cup sugar—or in my case I used 2 cups water and 2 cups sugar. Put water and sugar in a pot or deep sauce pan and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir as it comes to a boil, making certain all the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar dissolves, remove the pot from the stove. Here is were I added my cinnamon sticks. You could add a vanilla pod, star anise, whole cloves, sliced ginger, a couple of chili peppers, thyme sprigs, basil leaves, rosemary sprigs, cardamon pods (not all together mind you)—whatever your heart desires depending on the flavor you’re going for and what you want to mix it with later.

As I was making an apple concoction, I wanted a cinnamon flavor, hence the brown sticks you see above. Once the liquid is cool you may transfer it to a glass jar or bottle. You must keep it in the refrigerator. It will last a couple of weeks. If it should start to turn cloudy, it’s time to throw it out.

Simple syrup may be added to ice tea. I made a large pitcher of tea, added sliced lemons, oranges and a handful of fresh mint and enough cinnamon simple syrup to taste. I’m not one to measure, just pour and taste until the ratio seems just right. I also tend to not like my drinks overtly sweet so I tend to be a bit conservative with my pouring. Perfect for a warm summer evening out on the veranda—as everyone thinks all southerners all have verandas.

The apple beverage consisted of 20 oz of apple cider (Simply Apple from the grocery store’s juice section is perfect) 16 oz bourbon (Bulleit or Makers Mark is nice), 4 oz of Amaretto (you could just use 20 oz of bourbon if you prefer but I think the Amaretto helped to produce that oh so smooth taste), 4 oz of fresh lemon juice (I used the bottled Key West All Natural Lemon juice which is pretty stout but if using real lemons, you may need to adjust the amount), 4 oz cinnamon simple syrup, and an entire bottle of all natural, no dye, Maraschino cherries with the juice, plus a handful of cinnamon sticks. Here is were you need to taste and adjust. If it’s not sweet enough, more simple syrup–I also threw in some more Amaretto and a little more cider.

I served it in sugared rimmed flutes. To sugar the rims pour a little lemon juice in a shallow saucer and then a mix of sugar and cinnamon in another saucer. Carefully turning your glass upside down, dip the rim of the glass in the lemon juice, let the drips fall back into the saucer, then dip into the cinnamon sugar, allow to dry. Garnish with dried apples chips. I did dry my own apples but you can easily buy a bag of dried apple chips at the store.

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I think this beverage would be even better heated as a heart warming hot toddy savored by a crackling fire. I just hope you enjoy—my little gathering of friends surly enjoyed as they polished off 3 pitchers…hummm, must have been the cherries. And speaking of, one of my friends even carried home the cherries that had been at the bottom of the pitcher…hummmm