the bittersweet

“I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy
are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but
to mature and transfigure us.”

― Hermann Hesse

“Our sweetest songs are those of saddest thought.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley


(image of the bittersweet herb Rue as seen on an herbal supplement site)

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint,
rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.
You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

Luke 14:42

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, there are numerous references to
both plants and herbs.
With each, along with salt, having been seen as taxable commodities.

Since these were items that were sold, traded and bartered,
and whereas people were making money from the sales of such items,
officials naturally wanted to impose a tax.

And with such an early example of something so simple being taxed,
is it any wonder that something like tea, which would lead to a
rebellious bunch of colonists tossing crates of such leaves into a harbor, be of
any surprise…

And since both plants and herbs were playing such a pivotal role in early commerce
we began to divide them into categories…
with both sweet and bitter being the frontrunners in the categories of taste, use,
perception and enjoyment.

Enter the Passover seder with it’s mix of bitter herbs
And they shall eat flesh in that night, roast with fire,
and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

Exodus 12:8

Or the admonishment of self restraint and to approach things with moderation….
A sated man loathes honey,
But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet.

Proverbs 27:7

So all of this talk of herbs and bitter and sweet came flooding in yesterday…
not because of Seders, or cooking, or bartering, or taxes or planting or even quiet reflective Biblical readings..
It actually came about as I busied myself getting ready for of all things…
to take a baby shower on the road.

For you see this is the first big family event that is taking place
without well, family.

We’re having a big baby shower in Atlanta for my son and daughter-n-law this weekend
and I’m the one putting this little shindig together.
There will be about 60 friends and family, old and young, near and far who will
come help them, as well as the grandparents to be, celebrate…

It will be there at what was Dad’s house…with what was once my childhood room now becoming a nursery.

Usually when I do these sorts of events, my trusted helper is and always has been,
right by my side—that being Aunt Maaaatha (aka Martha).

She would have flown up earlier this week, coming with her sleeves rolled up,
ready to jump in with both feet as we’d cook, prepare, buy, shlep,
and haul things here, there and yon.

And whereas I’ve been busy making plans, making orders, purchasing,
cooking and packing everything up… getting ready to transport
things to the big city, I can’t help but feel that tinge of bittersweetness.

What has always been a team effort is now a solo event…
Each time I stop long enough to take a breath, I am a bit haunted by what’s missing.

My dad’s only remaining cousin, who at 92 is the oldest and last living member
of that clan, will be making the trip.
My aunt, my dad’s sister-n-law, who is also 92, will join us as well.
As the top tier of the family now prepare to welcome the newest forthcoming member.

Yet knowing who won’t be with us physically at this party has left me a bit wistful.
But whereas I know there will be those who will not be with us physically,
I do know they will there in spirit.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

we the people

“where there is a crime, there is an investigation…
where then is there an investigation hoping for a crime?”

Charles Krauthammer

I have been arguing for years that our society is becoming more intolerant,
not less and that in rejecting our Christian roots we will end up
rejecting our Christian fruits (including tolerance).

David Robertson

“Their common enemy is now an illiberal and feral anti-religious movement
which wants to criminalise faith.”

Kevin McKenna


(a tiny plucked fig rests on a bed of freshly picked herbs / Julie Cook / 2017)

Since today is Sunday, the Christian sabbath, I thought it timely, and perhaps
rather important, that I use today’s post to remind us, the Faithful,
that as we now rest and enjoy this holy day, that we should remember that there
are those who are waiting in the wings for our undoing….
and lest any of you think me daft or suffering from
the heat, all you need to do is look around your world….

The following excerpts are from an article written by journalist Kevin McKenna
which appeared in a recent column in The Guardian.
The Guardian being an odd place to find an article written by a journalist
who is alarmed by the brewing trouble he sees on the horizon for both
Christianity and our Western Civilization…
for The Guardian is known for its more left and liberal offerings.

The article is based on the current situation in Scotland but I believe we could
pull out the word Scotland inserting rather say Boston or Atlanta
or London…maybe New York, Berlin, San Francisco,Paris…or…well,
you get the idea….as it the sentiment is one of a global scale and not
merely localized to Scotland.

So maybe, just maybe, we see a bit of common sense actually filtering out of the
proverbial turnip….

Thus, if you sincerely believe that a human life in the womb is
deserving of as much protection as any other human life you are considered
an extremist and obviously (if you are male) a sexist who is guilty of
crimes against feminism. If you sincerely believe that the sacrament of
marriage is “a covenant by which a man and a woman establish between
themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by
its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education
of offspring” then there are people in Scotland who would wish to have you
jailed for homophobic hate crime.
And if you support the concept of faith schools then you are fuelling
sectarianism, despite there never having been a scintilla of evidence
to support such a specious claim.

It’s this insidious campaign of intolerance against Christians in Scotland
that Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia sought to address in a recent essay
for the US online publication Crux which is influential in Vatican circles.
The archbishop claimed too many Catholics had become “wishy-washy”
about their faith.
They were being challenged by robust secularism,
according to the archbishop,
which was hostile to believing “in anything supernatural;
in anything they can’t see or touch or experience;
or in anything beyond modelling and encouraging decent behaviour”.

The Reverend David Robertson,
former moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and perhaps the most influential
Christian thinker in Scotland today,
knows what the archbishop is talking about.
The Rev Robertson has been the victim of a sustained campaign of abuse for many
years now simply for re-emphasising Christian teaching on the
sanctity of life and the meaning of marriage.
One of the big lies that have been allowed to take shape in modern,
diverse Scotland where all are apparently welcome is that failure to sign up to
the mainstream view of society and what it means to be human is evidence of hate.

If you are anti-abortion you must hate women;
if you are against same-sex marriage then you must be homophobic.
It’s a falsehood and a pernicious one at that.
Hatred of gay, lesbian and trans-gender people and hate crimes against women
are serious and ugly issues.
But knowingly to manipulate ignorance around these issues to make false
accusations against people whose religion you resent is an equally serious and ugly matter.

Kevin McKenna

Please find the full article posted here on the link to The Wee Flea—
whose author just so happens to be one of the victims of today’s
ugly and hate filled anti-Chrisitan rhetoric….

Kevin McKenna – It is time to stand up to those who wish to criminalise faith – article in The Herald

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
If you were of the world, the world would love its own;
but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world,
therefore the world hates you.

John 15:18-19

Pomodoro or Let’s get cooking with Cookie

“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”
― Isabelle Eberhardt

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(a bowl of our soon to be Tomato pudding)

Ahhh, Isabelle, I feel your pain.
When I think of summer, I think of gardens,
When I think of gardens,I think of tomatoes,
When I think of tomatoes, I think of Italy.
When I think of Italy, I think I want to run away.
When I think of running away to Italy, I think of food.
When I think of food in Italy, I think of pasta,
When I think of pasta, I think tomato, as in Pomodoro. . .

Wait a minute, What?!

That’s right, tomatoes plus Italy–as in all jumbled up together.
As they go hand in hand. . . like that whole peas and carrots thing.
And of course I probably think of bacon. . .who doesn’t think of bacon?
As in a good ol BLT—but this is not about that nor bacon, this is about Pomodoro, the humble tomato. . .

Today’s post is all about the abundance of summer tomatoes and what in the heck to do with them! Trust me, I’m feeling your pain. When the time has come and there is simply no one remaining on the planet to give away your excess crop to, as it seems as if family and friends are actually turning in the other direction when they see you coming. . .and the thought of letting the bumper crop die on the vine as it were, is totally and simply unacceptable. . .
it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get creative!

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And no I’m not talking about canning.
I don’t “can.”
And yes, I should go take a class at the Extension Agency or study some YouTube video, but the thought of creating botulism in my kitchen, then gifting it to others or welcoming it to the table some cold January night as we consume a tomato bisque made from a jar of the past summer’s canned tomatoes that I did something not right to, simply scares me. I’m thinking bio-terrorism in my kitchen and I for one do not wish to be on the CDC’s watch list.

So instead of botulism, we’re going to do a little number for those of you scouring the cooking blogs for something new and exciting in order to bring to the table on those meatless Monday’s, or terrific Tuesdays, etc, or even a little something special to offer along as a side dish to a scrumptious beef tenderloin. . .

Behold, the Savory Tomato Pudding à la Cookie

Yes, for those of you who would like a sweet version of this sort of thing, it is possible–I however prefer to have my tomato dishes remain relatively savory as in main course and not dessert.

We will start with what seems to be a million tomatoes.
Perhaps 10 decent sized tomatoes or perhaps 12 to 15 smaller ones.
First we need to remove the skin and seed these puppies
Bring a large stock pot of water to a rolling boil
On the bottom of each tomato, cut an X
Put the tomatoes in the pot of boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes.

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Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes to a large bowl of ice water as this stops the cooking process. At the X, the skin should now be easy to pull off. Peel off the skin then cut the tomatoes in half and working with your hands, squeeze out or scrape out the seeds. I know this is a pain but the seeds are bitter and will negatively effect the palate.

Using a loaf of a tuscan boule, Italian loaf, brioche or challah bread–cut away the crust and cut the bread into small cubes–you can always tear it into small pieces if you need to release any aggression.
Place the bread in a large bowl.

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Spray a casserole pan with Pam.

Next, gather some nice fresh herbs–basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chives, etc—whatever floats your boat— but basil is essential.
Slice and dice the herbs.

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You may notice that I actually use scissors to cut the chives into small pieces.

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Take an onion and dice it.

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In a saucepan heat a little olive oil with a few hot pepper flakes and a nice grind or two of pepper.

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Once the oil is heated and ready to sizzle, add the onions.
Stir until translucent.
Toward the end of cooking the onions add one or two cloves of minced garlic. Garlic has a tendency to burn and does not need to cook nearly as long as the onions. Add the garlic toward the end to heat it thoroughly before it has a chance to brown. Brown garlic = bitter.

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Now it’s time for our tomatoes.
Add tomatoes cooking until the tomatoes begin to break down.
(This is the same process I use to make my tomato sauce but I would be using a dutch oven, and I
would have also satued some celery and bell pepper, add some red wine, a bay leaf or two and cook
on a low simmer for about two hours—stirring periodically until the sauce thickens. . .)
We’re hoping to cook down 4 cups worth for our tomato pudding.

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I like to cook the tomatoes for about 30 minutes or even longer which will help to thicken the sauce a tad.
Continue stirring.
As the tomatoes are gently simmering, add about 4 TBL of brown sugar or maybe 3 TBL and a splash or two of balsamic vinegar. I do not like my tomato pudding overtly sweet. Some receipes call for a full cup of sugar–the thought of such makes me a bit queazy —just enough to help heighten the natural sweetness of fresh tomatoes, you may also add a nice squeeze of a lemon as well as this will highlight the tomatoes nice acidity.

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Add the herbs toward the end of cooking because if you put them in too early and leave them in too long, they will become bitter–off setting the taste of our sauce.

As our tomatoes are cooking, take this time to break 4 large eggs in a large measuring cup with room enough to add 1 1/2 cups of half and half. Whisk until well blended.

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Now remove the tomato mixture from the heat and pour it over the bread crumbs. Stir to coat all the bread with the sauce. Let it sit for a while in order to allow the bread to absorb the juice of the tomato sauce.

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Next pour the egg and cream mixture into the bread and tomato mixture.
Add about a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

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Mix throughly and pour into your prepared casserole dish.
(you may certainly add more cheese into the body of the pudding and even get creative with the choice of cheese—I had debated on adding some fresh goat cheese but I refrained—my husband’s palate leans to the more simple whereas I dash toward the complex—naturally as it should be 😉 )
Sprinkle a mix of shredded cheddars or an Italian blend of cheese.

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Place in a preheated 350ᵒ oven for approximately an hour or until golden and puffy.
(I cooked mine for about 40 minutes in a convection oven)

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Oh so flavorful and satisfying!!!
The taste of the height of summer is on a plate!
Serve as a main as I did along with an accompaniment of wonderfully creamy rustic style grits (recipe to follow later) and for my husband who loves these, fried okra. You can forego the okra opting for a salad, or fresh green beans.

Molto Bene!
Mangiare!!

10 medium sized tomatoes—peeled and seeded
1 onion diced
2 cloves of minced garlic
a medium loaf of a rustic bread, crust removed and cut into small cubes
1 1/2 cups half and half
4 large eggs
4 TBL brown sugar
splash of a good grade balsamic vinegar
squeeze of a lemon
salt
pepper
sprinkle of red pepper flakes
mix of fresh herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, chives, parsley, rosemary)
Olive oil for sautéing onions (2 or 3 good sized tablespoons)
1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (more if you prefer)
1 to 2 cups of shredded cheeses—colby jack, mozzarella, italian blend, cheddar—your call and choice–this may go in the casserole as well as a good coating on top
rectangle pan works best sprayed with PAM
Oven at 350ᵒ

The deep moral of winter

The simplicity of winter has a deep moral. The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread.
John Burroughs, “The Snow-Walkers,” 1866

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(frost covered marjoram / Julie Cook / 2013)

AAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

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I suppose everyone heard my scream–my cry of panic and alarm this morning as I went outside to water my containers of herbs– as my gaze settled in on these voracious, uninvited, “guests”!!
“Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars”….I run inside the house screaming. My husband thinks I’m being attacked by killer bees as I tell him that my dill is about to be eaten to the bone.

“Just kill them” he tells me, none too concerned over the plight of my herbs “No, you don’t understand! You can’t kill butterflies to be!!”
I had this problem last year, as they decimated my dill and parsley overnight. I thought surly I wouldn’t have to worry about them coming back until late Summer, early Fall. OOOOHHHHH Me–oh woe is me. They will just have to finish my plants off, hopefully by then they will want to become full and fat cocoons. When they do their cocoon thing, I’ll just have to plant some more herbs–perhaps I need to look into how long a caterpillar stays a caterpillar.

Right now there are but two. Last year there were 12. Maybe may odds are increasing….but I think I failed to mention the mole holes I’ve found…..
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