For the love of wood

No better way is there to learn to love Nature than to understand Art. It dignifies every flower of the field. And, the boy who sees the thing of beauty which a bird on the wing becomes when transferred to wood or canvas will probably not throw the customary stone.
Oscar Wilde

DSC02024
(fresh strawberries on a walnut trivet / Julie Cook / 2015)

DSC02020
(a walnut trivet topped with a couple of fried squash / Julie Cook / 2015)

When I first started this little blog of mine, or as my husband lovingly (cough cough) references as that “blob”, I was truly wet behind the ears not having a clue as to what I was doing.
I’d never “blogged” before nor was I any sort of computer guru, “thecie” or wizened journalist.
I was just a newly retired teacher who still had some “teach” left in me.

I started posting some pictures I’d taken, some words I’d written, some recipes I’d cooked and little by little I had some folks stopping in for a “visit”— eventually some of the visitors decided they liked what they saw, or read, or both, and wanted to hang around a while. . .

One of those early visitors happened to be a man named Michael.
Michael, who is also retired, lives in the neighboring state of South Carolina. Michael loves to cook, garden and enjoys living on “the mountain” as he lovingly refers to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It seems that Michael has channeled those retired energies into his wood shop—as in he makes things.
All sorts of beautiful wooden things.

As a former art teacher, I greatly appreciate the gift of talent when I see it.
Michael has the gift—the gift of “eye” and talent in that he can see in a piece of lumber something beautiful.

His creations are not sculptures or decorative pieces of art but rather functional and utilitarian natural pieces of wonder.

Perusing his blog, where he shares his talent, I was amazed by what I saw. And lucky for me, for us, he sells these pieces of functional beauty.

https://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com

A couple of Christmases back, I wrote a post about Michael’s work–espousing the difference between what makes art art verses the functionality of utilitarian objects—as well as how we may have the rare opportunity of finding both in one object.

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/functional-or-decorative-or-both/

Over the past couple of years, I have been blessed to call Michael my friend.
I am also fortunate in that I have several of Michael’s cutting boards gracing my kitchen, a beautiful hand turned step stool, an ice-cream paddle and a handful of hand cut honey wands—I have given Michael’s pieces as both Christmas and wedding gifts.

There is just something very special about the tactile quality, coupled by the visual beauty, of a piece of wood that through both the vision and talent of a human being can take on a life of its own.
Michael is that gifted.

I want to share a few shots of an absolutely beautiful piece of burl wood that Michael has cut, sanded, finished and crafted into a cutting board like no other. Sadly a computer image cannot do justice to the tactile relationship we have with wood. To feel its weight, the smooth sanded core coupled by the rough bark exterior. . .to see the rich warm colors brought out by the lightly oiled surface is certainly best experienced in person. . . however these few pictures will simply have to do—not unless you too decide to wander on over to Michael’s blog where you might want to just try this all out first hand with your own board, birdhouse, honey wand, ice cream paddle or chopping block. . .

Thank you Michael!

DSC02005
(16 x 10 at widest burl cutting board / Julie Cook / 2015)

DSC02007

DSC02006

DSC02014

DSC02016

Along with the cutting board, I received yesterday two walnut trivets / coasters which will match my soon to be table chargers—of which I can’t wait for them to arrive as they will accent my kitchen so beautifully

DSC02025

DSC02011

DSC02013

DSC02018

Yummy in the tummy with both Julia and Julie!

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”
Julia Child

“With enough butter, anything is good.”
Julia Child

JuliaWithMallet

Who doesn’t love a woman wearing a grin from ear to ear, while raising a mallet high over head, ready to smash some unsuspecting something to bits?
“How ’bout dinner in half a minute?”
What a marvelous concept!
Only Julia could give us a complete satisfying meal in under a minute or an elaborate labor intensive 3 day arduous Beef Bourguignon.

Pity being this is not the day to extoll the virtues of Julia, although we probably should, yet fear not for I have done so on numerous occasions in numerous posts prior. . . and most likely will do so again. . .
Today however is a day to hail the often maligned omelet. An amalgamation of egg, a touch of water, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, a dab of butter, a bit of heat and you suddenly have a mix of warm, soft, light, airy, nourishing, wonderment. . .the epitome of the blank canvas.

There are those days when you just want, gotta have, something warm and soothing. . .something that envelopes you from tastebud to tummy. Be it a comforting, yet quick, breakfast or a light little brunch, an elegant lunch, a quick supper on the fly or even a lucious late night snack– an egg transformed can provide all of that and then some.

On a trip to my mecca, aka William Sonoma, a couple of years ago, I saw the most intriguing little pan.
A rolled omelet pan.
Ooooooo. . .
A sucker for any little boost in the kitchen, I made the purchase.

Which brings us today. . .
I’d like to share with you how this fun little pan, coupled with a few simple ingredients, can create a satisfying delight which can be happily turned out in less then a minute. And remember that an omelet is a “vessel” for all sorts of goodies, be it chopped ham, chopped bacon, chopped peppers, onions, spinach, tiny shrimp, crab—the sky’s the limit

For all practical teaching purposes, we’ll keep things simple and make a humble soul satisfying cheese omelet. . .

I highly recommend this particular pan but you may certainly use a round small sauté pan, however you just won’t have the fun little rolled variety of omelet but rather the folded variety which for some odd reason is just not nearly as fun or easy to make, nor will it be as tasty. . .

You’ll need:
2 eggs
a touch of butter or PAM
a sprinkle of salt and pepper
a few slices of a nice cheddar cheese
a touch of water.

Place the pan on the eye of your stove over medium heat. Despite being a rectangle pan on a round eye, trust me, magic will happen. Put in a dollop of butter ( 1/2 tablespoon) and heat until sizzling.

DSCN8353

Meanwhile in a bowl (a fun little bowl I made years ago when I was in the classroom) crack two eggs, add a splash of water ( 1 Tbl) and whip up until light and frothy–notice the honey wand I’m using to mix the eggs. . .made by our own little Michael over on http://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com

DSCN8354

Next pour the egg into one of the wells of the pan.

DSCN8355

Continue heating, slightly tilting the pan, allowing some of the egg mixture to pour into the other well. . .

DSCN8356

Continue tilting back and forth as the egg begins to “set up”
At this point lay your slices of cheese on top of the egg, on either side of the well.
I’m using a lovely double decker cheese, a two tone of Red Leicester and creamy Double Gloucester.

DoubleDecker-InteriorImage
(image taken from the Londoner Dairy cheese site–I found the cheese at my local Publix)

DSCN8357

Now take the nice little spatula that was included with the pan, gently pulling and pushing one end of the omelet, rolling it toward the other end.

DSCN8358

and Voila—the whole process takes maybe 4 minutes, from prep to plate

DSCN8359

DSCN8360

DSCN8362

I’ve included a YouTube link to the omelet episode for the TV series of The French Chef

Bon Appétit

A necessary evil, of loss–or–my broken heart

“Herein lies the supreme wisdom, human and divine; and the task of philosophy consists in teaching men to submit joyously to Necessity which hears nothing and is indifferent to all.”
Lev Shestov

“Doctoring her seemed to her as absurd as putting together the pieces of a broken vase. Her heart was broken. Why would they try to cure her with pills and powders?”

Leo Tolstoy

It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground. But they never seem so to me. I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!
John Muir, July 1890

DSCN8061
(our son in 1999 standing beside the posted construction permit allowing us to begin construction on our home, with one of the oaks situated behind him)

In the grand scheme of life, on Life’s Richter scale, this crisis of mine is not up there with the usual calamities which are catastrophic to life and limb.
Yet to my heart, well, it feels as if someone has reached into my chest and just pulled it on out.

I’ve made mention in the past about the two oak trees out in front of our house. The two trees which were actually situated in a perfect setting for the construction of the house as we would be able to showcase the trees just as the trees showcased our house. Our house was nestled perfectly in-between and under their growing arms. These two trees are what offset our house and made it what it is in the vast realm of my concept of landscaping.

DSCN1993

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a city during the height of post war urban sprawl.
Maybe it’s because all we had were a couple of tall toothpick like pines dotting our yard.
Maybe it’s because I always wanted a tree house but as I just stated— all we had were tall toothpick pines— not suitable for the building of a fort or treehouse.
Maybe it’s because somehow God anointed my heart to have a deep seeded love of and for trees, woods, forests. . .

As we’ve now been in our house going on 14 years, that little oak in the first picture with our son has since grown into a mighty majestic oak. This tree sported 4 bird feeders and 4 wooden bird houses–until today. Planted at its base were azaleas and day lilies. I had several adirondack chairs sitting beneath the tree’s gracious canopy of shade as this was a favorite place for me to sit seeking relief from a relentless summer’s sun when I was out doing yard work or merely seeking solitude enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon reading.
Perhaps it was my grownup version of a perfect location for a “tree” house / fort.

A few years ago a tornado tore through our county, coming very close to our home. The winds were frightening as we sought shelter in our basement. Once the storm passed, we gave thanks to see that our home and yard had been spared. The only thing askew was one of the two oaks–the one at the far end of the house. It was obvious that the tree was “pushed” but not toppled by the destructive winds.

Also a few years ago, we began noticing an odd phenomenon with both oaks. Just as soon as April arrived each Spring, and the trees began sporting their new Springtime wardrobe of tender brightly colored green leaves, the leaves would begin falling. The leaves would turn a brownish yellowish greenish with brown spots. The leaves would proceed to drop falling off until Winter, leaving our yard looking as if we were stuck in some sort of perpetual Autumn-time mode. Which in turn keeps my husband nonplused by the constant barrage of dead leaves all over the lawn, the front walk, the shrubbery, etc, of which keeps our yard carpeted with dead leaves from April until the following April. . . when it begins all over again.

As our county does not currently have an Aborist, one to call upon when there are tree issues, I did my best to figure out what was afflicting our trees. Then on top of disease, both trees had now grown exponentially in size threatening both corners of the house should we be dealt a bad hand by Mother Nature.

I deduced both trees were suffering from Oak Blight or also known as Oak Wilt. Trees can live for several years until the disease run its course, killing the tree.
There is no cure.
In addition to the blight, the one tree that had taken the lick in the Tornado, over the past two years, has developed shelf fungus—which indicates that the heart of the tree is dying if not already dead.

DSCN8045

Here is an image of the house a couple of Summers ago when the trees were still healthy and full.

DSCN1998

There is a tremendous difference in the fullness and health of the tree as noted in this photo from last month.

DSCN7757
(the leaves have all fallen off the lower half of the tree well before Fall)

My heart was / is also dying alongside my trees.

I know some of you reading this do not understand my sorrow over the loss of two trees that sound as if it was just a matter of time before they would go anyway. I know those of you who have had trees to cause devastation in your lives and to your homes are telling me “good riddance”—-
yet something in my heart is now so very sad and empty.

Maybe the trees offered me a false sense of protection and safety as I ( and my home) was situated behind their massive bodies diverting and separating the barrage of the endless traffic up on the road from my little world.
Maybe I now feel exposed–no longer hidden and embraced.
Maybe I thought that they were like those majestic oaks of old, offsetting my piece of the deep South in grand splendor.
Maybe it’s because the trees offer(ed) me such an intimate view, allowing me to quietly and secretly observe the birds and squirrels who call my yard home.
Maybe it’s because I could mark the milestones and developments of our little family’s lives by these trees. . .like the time they were the back drop to a Prom dinner hosted here for our son’s junior year.. .or as in the very first picture to this post, it marked the new beginnings to a new home. . .

Maybe it’s because in some weird way I feel these trees, any trees, are inextricably connected to God and to all of His creation–in turn offering me a tangible link to Him as my Creator.

Sadly when Jose (of Rodriquez Tree Service) called last night, letting me know that he was coming this morning with his crew, I felt a sudden sickening sense of loss that I immediately realized was happening whether I liked it or not and that there was not one damn thing I could do to stop it. Helpless and sad all rolled into one.
Yes, all over a tree–well, actually two.

I confess I was (am) mad at my husband.
This due to his infinite wisdom of putting his foot down with his “enough is enough”—that the time to cut the trees is now. . .fussing that it must be done before they dislodge the front walk with their ever spreading roots, before they turn the entire house black and green from the mildew along with their continued damaging of gutters and roof— all from living in the dampness of their shade and sloughing off of their debris. . . “And remember Julie, the trees are sick, how much longer will they be able to stand before they die and fall on the house?!”

And yes, he is right.
. . . but that doesn’t mean I have to like it or even agree with him as living in the denial of the inevitable has seemed a much better option. But as my husband, I know he wouldn’t do something to hurt my heart, as much as this current crisis seems to be, unless he saw no other alternative or option. . . and as my husband, I know I must trust him. I live in that very old fashioned world (as so deemed by society) that as a married couple in the sight of God—God has set the standard that my husband is indeed head of this household and I, in turn, trust that my husband does what he believes to be just and right as he tries to listen to God—-whether or not he hears God as clearly as I think he should is an entirely different matter for an entirely different post, but as usual, I digress.

DSCN8058

DSCN8059

DSCN8055

DSCN8060

DSCN8054

I did however have one small thought. . .
I asked Jose to cut me some rounds from the trees that I would dry, eventually turning them into cutting boards, chargers and even a small little table or two. That is if they don’t crack all to pieces while drying out, which is more than likely to happen with my luck.
I even contacted Michael, our very own blogging wood craftsman over on http://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com
seeking his advice as how best to preserve a small memento from my trees.

Despite this latest crisis of mine, in my small corner of this world–the one thing I’ve always clung to in life, especially when things look most dire, dismal and gloomy, is. . . Hope. . .

DSCN8087 2

You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor.
Job 11:18-19

Gifts of wood

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.”
Erma Bombeck

“Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it.”

St John Paul II the Great

“The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

DSCN5656
(Percy checking out Michael’s stool or perhaps he’s looking at the peaches. . .)

I’m wondering if you were listening, or more aptly reading, back around Thanksgiving when I was extolling the talents, gifts and craftsmanship of a certain little woodworker hailing from South Carolina?
Did you fail to catch that post?

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/functional-or-decorative-or-both/

or the post at Christmas-time highlighting a few of my favorite things–as in gift giving??

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/raindrops-on-roses-er-well-not-exactly/

Did you not take notice of the beautifully crafted cutting boards that Michael, over on Michael’s Woodcraft & Blog, has been cranking out for the discerning and not so discerning kitchen aficionado??
Because if you never had an opportunity to do so, now is indeed the right time!

http://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com

I simply must share a new wonderment created by the skillful hands of our friend Michael!!
A few months back Michael shared with his blog friends a project he had taken on for his wife. He had just procured some beautiful planks of gorgeous walnut which he was going to turn into a step stool for his lovely wife Debbie.

Michael carried us through the play by play of choosing just the right boards, planing the boards, creating a pattern for the stool, cutting the wood, painstakingly assembling his pieces, sanding, staining and finally lacquering the new creation. He was curious as to the hours it would take him to make such a piece so he kept a running time journal, complete with photographs of his progress and timeline.

The end result was stunning.
Not only was it functional, as in serving a purpose, it was decorative, warm and a beautiful accent to their home.

I immediately inquired if Debbie would permit him to make perhaps another stool–one I could purchase.

As luck would have it, both Michael and Debbie were more than happy to share.
That’s when my aunt got on board.
When she was up visiting during THE wedding hoopla, I had showed her Michael’s blog with the stool. I had given her one of his cutting boards at Christmas so she knew immediately how great his work was and being a lover of fine wood products, she too wanted a stool.

Here are a few shots of the stool I recently received from Michael and his workbench.
As it is absolutely beautiful I don’t know where I want to place it as it’s truly a work of art and craftsmanship.

DSCN5652

DSCN5651

DSCN5649

DSCN5662

And as Michael is also quite the little chef, most recently posting a recipe for homemade ice-cream, I’m thinking I may just need not only to copy the ice cream recipe, but I just may need to put in an order for one of his hand turned ice-cream scoops. . .

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the cat and peaches are not included 🙂