A season of texture and tones

The true worth of a man is not to be found in man himself, but in the colours and textures that come alive in others.”
Albert Schweitzer

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(Pinecones from Dad’s yard, along with a fungus covered dead branch, Julie Cook 2013)

With the rapidly approaching official arrival of winter we are, no doubt, beginning to feel as if we are spiraling into a type of color withdrawal. Gone are the beautiful scarlets, golds and burnt oranges of Autumn; gone are the golden swaying wheat fields and the intoxicatingly beautiful jasmine and honeysuckle of Summer; gone are the vibrant explosives reds, blues, greens and lavenders, of Spring. For in this deep slumbering shadow of the calendar, we are left with an empty void of nothingness, or for some, a giant blanket of white encasing every living and non-living thing as far as the eye can see.

Yet in this perceived void of lacking and emptiness, there remains a very important component to our field of vision, for suddenly open for the entire world to view, the earth lies naked before both creature and man— exposed, unprotected and vulnerable. Gone are the colorful coverings of flowers and leaves which act as accessorizing baubles and wrappings. Gone are the tall grasses and heavy ladened branches bearing fruit and flower. What remains is an intricately woven skeletal system, the undercarriage of our natural world.

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Cautiously, and a bit weary, we peer out upon this barren landscape, sad and forlorn, fearing that we are doomed to grey gloomy skies, long dark nights and a lack of visual stimulation. But thankfully a slow hesitant joy begins to claim our mood, for upon closer inspection we realize that we are not the helpless victims of Loss and Void, but rather we discover that we have been granted a tiny treasured lagniappe, a treat for all of our senses, for spread out majestically before us is a different type of visual splendor—one which appears more delicate and almost fragile than what had departed–for here, in what we now find at our grasp, is beauty in its most basic simplicity.

Branches, limbs, sticks, stones, straw, bark, cones and moss—these are the bare essentials which Nature generously offers to our visually weary senses. Wonderfully we rejoice for we now know that we have not been flung out helplessly to fester in a world of monotones and dull eyed death. Here in this seemingly cold and barren world– beauty is to be had, to be seen and to be touched. The visual wonders still abound.

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These visual treasures are not the garish over the top harlots of those previous seasons, but rather these beauties remain understated, subtle and quiet. They speak of structure, shape, texture and tone offering us a tactile reminder that our visual needs have not been forgotten. Old man Winter may be hard and harsh, but he is not unkind. As you fight the deep calling to venture outside to a world of cold wind, freezing rain and gloomy grays, do not be discouraged—Nature knows your need and she has provided.

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Beauty in the details

“The beauty of the natural world lies in the details.”
— Natalie Angier

Once the vibrant colorful leaves of Autumn give way to the dismal browns and grays of winter’s decay. . .as the leaves gently fall, or are more aptly blown away, from the trees and bushes by the great winds of the north— Mother Nature begins to reveal a few of her little secrets.

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Just when we begin settling into thinking the visual wonders and colorful overloads of the previous seasons have come and gone, leaving us visually empty and hungry as we prepare to live in a world of muted tones, we are kindly offered a tasty little morsel or two of her visual surprises.

It may be when we dash outside in order to gather a couple of sticks of wood for the fire that we delightfully discover who, or better yet what, has lived within the cover of the leaves– tucked deep within and protected behind the multiple layers of branches surprisingly under our very noses without so much as the first inkling of existence—be it a bird, a fox, a rabbit. . .

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There is a thorny mound of a bush just off to the side of the driveway. Originally the mound started out as three little crimson leaved barberry bushes. Given the very nature of a barberry bush, the concept of pruning and maintaining becomes quite a tricky sticky business—-which in turn makes a barberry an ideal “home” for an adept little creature—in this case, a small wren.

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Whenever I have to tend to or with the barberry “bush”, I always fondly recall the children’s classic story by the southern author Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Remus. Say what you wish about the book, the stories, the author— I have always found the book a classic tale intertwined to and with a time long ago as it possesses a delightful innocence of folklore and imagination—a post Civil War Aesop’s fable of the American South…nothing more, nothing less.

Brer Rabbit, finding himself in the company of his nemesis Brer Fox, avoids an untimely demise, once again, by begging not to be flung into the briar patch–“do anything but throw me into the briar patch” Brer Rabbit begs—upon which Brer Fox flings Brer Rabbit into the briars. It wasn’t until I was an adult, tangling with my own “briar patch” that I understood the sage logic of Brer Rabbit.

And it appears that the wrens, as well as the mockingbirds and the blue jays also understand the logic of Brer Rabbit. . .

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(images of a wren’s nest in the barberry bush in Julie’s yard / 2013)

Day-o, day-o, daylight come and me wan’ go home… or…Cooking with Cookie, again

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Day-o, day-o
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Day, me say day, me say day, me say day
Me say day, me say day-o
Daylight come and me wan’ go home

Work all night on a drink a rum
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Stack banana till the mornin’ come
Daylight come and me wan’ go home

Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Daylight come and me wan’ go home

Lift six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch
Daylight come and me wan’ go home

Day, me say day-o
Daylight come and me wan’ go home

Day, me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day
(Daylight come and me wan’ go home)

A beautiful bunch, a ripe banana
(Daylight come and me wan’ go home)
Highly the deadly, black tarantula
(Daylight come and me wan’ go home)

Lift six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch
Daylight come and me wan’ go home

Day, me say day-o
Daylight come and me wan’ go home

Day, me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day
(Daylight come and me wan’ go home)

Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Daylight come and me wan’ go home
Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Daylight come and me wan’ go home

Day-o, day-o,
Daylight come and me wan’ go home,

Day, me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day, me say day-o

Daylight come and me wan’ go home

Every time I hear Mr. Harry Belafonte belting out that most classic Jamaican ballad, I can’t help but think of one my favorite weird movies of all time…that most bizarre 1980’s Tim Burton classic flick, Beetlejuice. Maybe it was just so quirky. Maybe it was right up Salvador Dali’s ally. Maybe I can’t look at a banana any longer without hearing that tune echoing through my head…..

And so it was yesterday morning when I noticed the three remaining bananas sitting in the bowl of fruit looking forlorn and forgotten…and mostly spotted……Day-o, day-o…

You must know that I am not a banana fan. Yes I realize that the banana has been in the running for Mother Nature’s best food—-it’s compact, travels relatively well, that is if you don’t mind the bruising, it’s healthy and very good for you—why do you think that muscle cramping athletes are force fed bananas…

If I eat bananas it must be when they are just barely ripe with a bit of a green tinge still remaining at the stem. If there is a single dark spot, out it goes. I do not like overtly ripe bananas as they are simply too mushy with both taste and smell exceedingly, well, bananaish.

So imagine my shigrin when I read about a recent study conducted on bananas by a Japanese University regarding the cancer fighting properties of overtly ripe bananas.
According to the latest Japanese Scientific Research, a full ripe banana with dark patches on the yellow skin produces a substance catted TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor) which has the ability to combat abnormal cells. The more darker patches on a banana’s skin, the higher its immunity enhancement quality– Hence, the riper the banana the better the anti-cancer quality. A yellow skin banana, with dark spots on it, is 8x more effective in enhancing the property of white blood cells than a green skin version.

Now if we are prone to believe everything we see out there on the internet then I suppose this banana business has some merit. And yet this supposed study may be just a bit fishy…did Chiquita fund that little study, ehh? Either way, I do realize that there are indeed health benefits to eating not only bananas but a variety of fruits and vegetables.

So when I find that my barely ripe bananas have waited on me a day or two too long and have suddenly turned against me with their dark brown spots, overtly yellow soft skin and overpowering banana fragrance that’s when it’s time to make banana bread. But I’m not talking just any run of the mill banana bread—this recipe is special. It calls for dark brown sugar, oats, spices such a cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg—this is some good stuff.

Cookie’s Spiced Banana Bread
You will need:
2-3 ripe bananas (those of the spotted variety)
1 cup uncooked oats (good ol Quaker)
1/2 milk (guess what, I use coconut milk–cup for cup it is the same)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup butter (the real deal stuff–softened to room temp)
splash of vanilla (Cookie’s homemade vanilla— for the more exact minded–1 teaspoon–or more if you like that sort of thing)
2 eggs (room temp)
2 cups all purpose flour (I use King Arthur unbleached)
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon salt (I just shake once)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (I like to fresh grate my nutmeg)
1/2 teaspoon cardamon (optional)
1/2 teaspoon allspice (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger powder (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350ᵒ
–Spray a 9 x 3 loaf pan (or two smaller sized pans) with Bakers Joy
–In a small bowl mash the bananas
–In a med bowl mix the 2 cups of flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices together.
–In a small bowl mix the oats with the 1/2 milk (remember the coconut milk, think healthy)
–In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar and eggs with vanilla till smooth
–Beat bananas and remaining ingredients into the creamy mixture (I alternate between the oats and flour, ending with flour mixture)
–Pour into the pan
I then sprinkle the top with a bit more brown sugar and dried oats
–Pop into the preheated oven and bake for 1 hour.
test it at the hour’s end with a toothpick to see if it comes out clean–if not, allow 5 to 7 additional minutes.
allow to cool in pan for about 5 minutes and then carefully invert on a cooling rack.
I like to slice a piece while it’s still warm and spread with a little butter.

This is a healthy banana! Day-o, Day-o, day light come and me wan’ go home…..

Here we are, fresh out of the oven….
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Now slice and add a touch of butter (you can use cream cheese but why would you?)
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Whoa, wait a minute, who took a bite?!
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