When I’m feeling blue. . .or pink or purple or green. . .you get the picture

“When I’m feeling blue, all I have to do
Is take a look at you, then I’m not so blue”

Phil Collins – Groovy Kind Of Love Lyrics

I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.

e. e. cummings

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(a sea of purple at the home improvement store /Julie Cook / 2014)

Maybe it’s the weather.
Maybe it’s the time of year.
Maybe it’s the barometric pressure.
Maybe it’s the boat load of tomatoes staring me in the face, taunting me. . .”cook us, now!”
Maybe it’s my thyroid. . .always the thyroid. . .
Maybe it’s the news. . .most definitely the news . . .
Whatever it is, I found myself feeling a tad bit out of sorts this morning.

More blah maybe than blue really.
We had had quite the storm yesterday afternoon which ran long into the evening.
Which lead to us waking to a thick humid fog.
Grey, be it summer or winter, spring or fall, can cause any spirited individual’s needle to point towards the melancholy.
Churchill had his “black dog”, I have more like a “black puppy”

On those days which find me feeling blah, blue, dispirited, out of sorts, off kilter—even when a good vigorous walk, a soothing cup of tea, a jolting workout or good night’s sleep just can’t seem to work their magic and shake off the relentless hounding of spirit, I have found one solution—Color!
What?
Yep, you heard me— uh, read me, color.
And no it doesn’t have anything to do with my having been an art teacher.

Plus I bet you thought I was going to say cooking, didn’t you?
And whereas I do love a nice trip to a fabulous cooking store, which one might imagine to be a soothing balm to ease any case of the “eh’s and the “ugs” —I find that color is actually more the quick fix—as well as usually the cheapest!
Or so I thought it was. . .

I needed some ant poison–I know, I can hear you, I’m always needing ant poison–but such is life in the South. . .
So I decided I would have to drag myself out of the house, despite a prevailing heaviness which was pressing me to “stay, just stay”. . .
I drove over to our local home improvement center, opting to go to Lowes vs Home Depot as the selection of “color” tends to be typically bigger and better. And as luck would have it the fall colors had arrived.

I mindlessly grabbed a buggy, aka, to northerners..a shopping cart. . .and, yes, I know a can of ant poison does not necessitate a shopping buggy / cart but I felt things were now out of my control.
I found myself mysteriously making a bee line to a beautiful flat of lovely “coralesque” snapdragons
“Oooooooo. . .” (think Homer Simpson in front of a box of doughnuts)

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(snapdragons / Julie Cook / 2014)

Before I realize it, two trays are in the shopping buggy.
“Mums, must have mums. . .
Oh, and they must match the snapdragons. . .” a far away voice begins to dictate directions. . .

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(a pot of mums / Julie Cook / 2014)

Somewhere in my head I’m hearing. . .”there needs to be a corresponding color. We (we, really?) did the mauves and magentas last year, time to mix it up. . .” this as I grab two four gallon pots of the yellow things. . .

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(Yellow things — Olivia Hypericum / Julie Cook / 2014)

“Cow manure, must have manure. . .and of course a sack or two of fresh potting soil. . .” again these voices in my head. . .
This is where it is best my husband is nowhere in sight.
A. he doesn’t get the need to buy flowers which may or may not survive the winter or for any season really. . .
and
B. who in their right mind pays for sacks of cow $h!t manure!?

Lastly the small voice reminds me to run inside to get what I came for, the ant poison.

And before I depart with my cartload of flowers, soil, poop, and of course ant poison. . .
I secretly pull out my phone, lest anyone think me a subversive flower terrorist, in order to snap a few images of the beautiful abounding color throughout the garden center—

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As I finally made my way to the check out lane, I triumphantly handed the sales lady my ant poison.
“This is what I came for” I emphatically announce.
As she warily eyes the remaining items in the burgeoning cart, with wide eye bemusement, she offered a flat “I see” as she proceeded to scan the bulk of goods in the shopping cart.

“Medicinal purposes” I am heard to respond, “purely medicinal . . .”
Feeling better already. . .

Feast and fellowship or the memories made around food

“I propose a toast to mirth; be merry! Let us complete our course of law by folly and eating! Indigestion and the digest. let Justinian be the male, and Feasting, the female! Joy the depths! Live, O creation! The world is a great diamond. I am happy. The birds are astonishing. What a festival everywhere! The nightingale is a gratuitous Elleviou.
Summer, I salute thee!”

― Victor Hugo

“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”
― George Eliot

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(a remaining squash blossom perched upon one of Michael’s cutting boards / Julie Cook / 2014)

Behold the lowly squash blossom.
An unassuming little component to something seemingly so “other than.”
And yet, were it not for this fading blossom, once opened flower, would we not have the fruits of our labour and the prized pieces of the bountiful harvest we call summer?

And as I beheld this spent, shriveling and most beguiling little remnant, I was made most aware of something that was once most delectable, memorable and grand.
And so it is with so much of life.
One thing, even the spent remains, always seem to lead back to something that was and that is so much more.

This fading little blossom, which is now but an after thought of the actual squash or zucchini fruit, which is awaiting transformation in my kitchen, was once the highlight of one of the most memorable meals I ever had the pleasure of partaking. . .

I have a dear friend in Florence. Actually I have two dear friends. Cecilia Papini and her father Paolo. The family has a beautiful leather business there, just mere steps from the “Old Bridge” and the Arno. Their family business has been serving locals and tourists a like since 1896.

Several years ago, my aunt and I had traveled to Italy on a bit of a pilgrimage at it were. We had visited Padua for the feast day of San Antonio, June 13th. Wending our way south, via the train, we stopped in Florence for a few days in order to visit my cousin as well as Cecelia and Paolo.

It was Paolo who recommended that we dine at a small restaurant directly around the corner from their business. The name of this tiny establishment has long since faded from memory but the experience has remained clear as if it were yesterday. The lasting piece of the memory from that evening was based solely on the gastronomic delights we were served, which made this truly a most memorable experience—specifically it was the fried squash blossoms.

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Amazing how one spent little curled up flower can evoke such a powerful memory. One minute I’m picking up and looking at a discarded little blossom, as I was bent over in the garden on a very hot afternoon, cutting the ripe zucchini and squash, when next I’m suddenly transported someplace else–to a different time and place. A powerful potent for the recalling of a memory.

Good food, good friends–or perhaps just a good meal shared simply by just one other. . .
Either way, the importance of what I’ve always called “feasting and fellowshiping” is a key component to what forges lasting memories and bonds. As those moments of sharing together, in the company of friends and family coupled by good food and drink, in turn becoming precious memories, are all intricately woven together.

So many of the important moments of my life seem to evolve around food, as well as those who have joined me around said food.
Why that is, I am not certain.
The one thing I do know is that I do like to eat. . . don’t we all?
And I do like eating good food which is lovingly, skillfully, and at times, artfully prepared—be it simple fare or a Michelin Star experience—combine that with the union of others–be it family, friends or both—-that very mixing of the food and company makes for an intimate union of souls, the very impetus of memories.

Sometimes I try to replicate the moment by trying my hand at a particular meal or dish that I may have had on a special trip or outing, in turn hoping to share it with others—maybe it is my attempt at simply replicating the moment. Like the heavenly tomato flan with warm basil infused olive oil I had in Cortona, Italy.

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Last summer I attempted to duplicate this feast for the tastebuds of my husband using our garden’s tomatoes.

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And who ever says it has to be something fancy or decadent? A humble hot dog turned brazen in that windiest of cities, can be just as divine and just as memorable, –behold the Chicago Dog. . .

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Followed then by my own version I prepared for my most grateful husband who is a huge Chicago Dog fan:
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Yet some things are best savored at the initial sitting and the initial sitting alone, as a replication could and would only pale in comparison–as in, some moments are meant to be just that, a moment, a single and only once in a lifetime moment. . . case in point is my usual breakfast meal at The Donut Hole in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla—a delectable breakfast of their version of cheese blintzes. The slightly sweetened orange accented cheese filing, wrapped ever so lovingly in a thin crepe like, lightly fried, shell coupled by local fresh fruit of the season, real sour cream and brown sugar–to be consumed bleary eyed while donning shorts, t-shirt and baseball cap as the throngs of locals and tourist line up vying for one of the limited tables while the heavenly scent of freshly prepared doughnuts gently wafts in the air. . .one cannot replicate that.

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I’ve never tried my hand at blintzes nor many of the other marvelous wonders out there . . .never thinking I could come close to such tasty treats as those Parisain delectables the French Macarons, or Italy’s light and airy fried squash blossoms or even a hearty pot of Swiss fondue—some things are best left to the pros and some things just need to remain as that single special memory.

As I sit here remembering memorable meals and moments which have come and gone, I am poignantly reminded of a humble platter of store bought fried chicken.

I think I’ve shared this story with you before. . .it is worth sharing again.

September will mark 28 years since my mom passed away from a short bout with cancer. That heavy and sad Tuesday, following her funeral, everyone had gathered back at my childhood home for a Wake. Mother would have enjoyed the gathering. As Mom had been sick for a while, without any of us realizing why she had slowed down so much, the house and its upkeep fell woefully behind. I was not living in Atlanta and would drive over on Saturdays usually taking her out to lunch—as I would wonder why she was eating less and less or hardly eating anything at all.

When she went into the hospital, for what turned into her final 6 weeks, the poor house and its upkeep simply went to pot. The washing machine in the basement had been leaking, creating a small river and pond on the basement floor. Do you think Dad had even taken notice?!

When it came time for the Wake, friends and family all brought in a banquet of food. The time honored tradition of “the covered dish.” It’s what we do so well here in the South, a gathering, be it happy or sad is always surrounded by the best casseroles, dishes, cakes and pies—- but I suspect this ritual to be a global affair.

I would shuttle all the food up and down the precarious basement stairs to the extra refrigerator perched near the leaking washing machine in the dungeon like basement. One of my oldest and most dear life-long friends, who had loved mother dearly, had brought over a platter of fried chicken she had gotten at Kroger (or as we like to say in the South, “The Krogers”

As everyone began gathering for the Wake, my friend accompanied me down to the basement to assist me in transporting all the platters and casseroles back up to the kitchen. As my friend took hold of her platter of chicken, something caused the platter to shift, suddenly sending all the chicken crashing to the floor, landing in the stagnant pond of washing machine water. My friend immediately burst into tears. The surreal moment of our having lost mother who, at the time, was so young at 53, coupled by the sorrow of why were in that basement in the first place with a mountain of food, my friend’s pride in her contribution to mother and this most surreal moment all came crashing into one another as a platter of chicken now sat on a wet basement floor.

Always known as the one who is the rock and who keeps things together, I quickly told my friend “it’s okay, it’s all okay. . . and now we’re going to pick up that chicken and put it all back on the platter.” Of which we did. Drying it off, as well as her drying her face, we artfully rearranged each piece of chicken on the platter. We arrive back up the stairs, placing the platter of chicken on the kitchen table amidst the hams, casseroles, pots of beans, bowls of slaw, hot and cold dishes, rolls, cold cuts, etc.

As everyone was spending the afternoon mixing tears with laughter, I spy my cousin, out of the corner of my eye, making a bee line for the chicken. I nonchalantly but quickly make a quick pass by the table and hiss “don’t eat the chicken, put it back and eat the ham” before moving on to visit with the others.

That platter of store bought chicken, which fell in a pond of washing machine water, lovingly brought to my mother’s wake by a cherished life long friend, and a clueless cousin will always be a meal which makes me smile, as I brush away a tear.

Melanzana, aubergine, mad apple–it’s all eggplant to me

“How can people say they don’t eat eggplant when God loves the color and the French love the name? I don’t understand.”
Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet)

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First the flower, then the emerging fruit and finally the fully grown black beauty.
Eggplants making their way in the garden.

And yes, eggplant, as it is commonly referred to here in the US, is indeed a fruit and not a vegetable–matter of fact, it’s actually considered a berry.
Who knew?
Another little known fact is that eggplants contain nicotine, but the levels are so negligible that those smokers out there don’t need to get all excited.

Because I am Sophia Loren’s love child—oh you didn’t know that?
Don’t worry, Sophia Loren doesn’t know it either, but don’t tell my college roommates that.
They were convinced. Has to do with all that adoption business and a love of all things Italian but I digress as usual.
I thought at an early age I needed to add the eggplant to my palate.

And those giant purple things found in the grocery store can be a bit intimidating to the home cook. I mean really, what does one do with a giant purple globule of a veg. . . eh, fruit?!

Yes there is the standard quasi Italian eggplant parmesan, and the French melange of ratatouille, but I live in the South remember—we fry everything, including eggplant.

I wonder why that is.
I’ve never really stopped long enough to research why we southerners find it important to fry almost anything and everything. Didn’t I once read that Elvis’s favorite food was to fry a bacon, peanut-butter and banana sandwich? And now there’s tell of fried oreo cookies, and fried ice-cream and fried cheesecake—but the standard bearers are of course fried chicken, fired okra and fried green tomatoes. . .well, there’s just not much anything better than any of those nor anything much more Southern—except for maybe fried eggplant.

Here’s a couple of shots from a previous frying episode

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Here’s a quick tutorial to serving fried eggplant.

I always peel my eggplant—the skin can often taste bitter and does not break down well when fired, making for unpleasant eating. I find that store bought eggplant’s skin is more bitter and tough than my garden fresh variety, but it just makes for easier eating to peel it away.

Slice the eggplant into thin rounds.
The pictures here are of the large more global shaped eggplant verses the more sledder Japanese eggplant pictured earlier in the post–either one works splendidly.

There are even white eggplants–which seem to fit the whole name thing much better than the purple specimens.
I grew white ones once.
My husband likened them to looking more like dinosaur eggs than a delectable vegetable / fruit and was a bit put off—hence my now standard bearer purple variety.

First, I soak my eggplant in buttermilk.

Often folks will salt the rounds, layering them in a colander to drain for about 30 minutes, as this helps to remove the bitterness in the seeds (I wonder if that’s where the nicotine is hiding, hence the bitterness. . .)
I find that the soak in buttermilk is sufficient to render excess moisture and any lurking bitterness–soak about 30 minutes.

Prepare a plate or shallow pan with a mix of cornmeal, a little flour, salt, pepper, and any other spice addition that may float your boat–making for a nice dredging mixture.

Prepare a skillet with about a 1/2 inch of canola oil and heat over med heat until a pinch of flour dropped in sizzles or for the more exact among us—between 275 and 325 degrees.

Remove a round at a time out of its soaking liquid, allowing it to drip free of excess buttermilk— then dredge the eggplant round in the cornmeal mix, coating throughly on both sides.

Place coated rounds in the pan making certain not to overcrowd or overlap.

Fry on one side till a nice golden brown then flip to finish the other side.

Remove the cooked rounds to a wire rack to drain.

Fry remaining rounds then lightly salt, dust with grated parmesan cheese and serve immediately. You may serve with a dipping sauce of choice—a spicy remoulade, or fresh tomato salsa is nice, but my husband prefers a horseradish sauce for a little kick.

Enjoy!!
Mangia!

IT’S COMING !!!

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin

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“Hey ya’ll, it’s coming!
So says the deer to his fellow woodland creatures.
Has he spoken the the weather folks?
Does he know something that we humans do not?

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Despite the squirrels obviously wounded nose, he too heeds the deer’s ominous warning.
Dig, dig, dig to find the stashed nuts before the ground is too covered or too frozen to do so. . .

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“Make room” said the blue jay to the blackbird
“Move over” said the sparrow to the blue jay
“Don’t hog it all” says the blackbird to the robin
“I want some too” said the robin to the crow
“Get out of my way” said the deer to all the birds.
So goes the chatter of the amassed birds. All species and varieties vying for their share of the strewn corn, put out in anticipation of “The Coming”

And no I speak not of “the second coming” but of “THE COMING” —that which the news media (specifically the meteorologists) are all claiming to be a storm of “Epic”–“Historic” and “Catastrophic” proportion.

Oh how I really grow weary of the gloom and doom scenarios.
I am reminded, each time I switch on the television, of Henny Penny running about with her wings covering her head as if bombs were soon to be descending upon her head—“the sky is falling, the sky is falling”
The focus word spewing from the mouthes of the newscasters being “PREPARE”
Not so much for making way or repenting but rather in preparing, as in going out and boosting the economy by clearing off the shelves of the grocery stores.

One friend yesterday, who was out in the midst of the preparing chaos of stockpiling groceries, likened the inside of the grocery store to something out of the movie Apocalypse Now or a scene from Red Dawn. The “get out of my way, those are my eggs, Im taking no prisoners” mentality.

My poor husband. His is the local jewelry store—there’s just nothing like the chanting and drum beats of death and destruction to take the love right out of Valentine’s day. Folks are simply too distracted and too busy seeking those most prized disaster stables–bread, milk and eggs—rather than to think of the more genteel human emotions of love, amour, amore—this is survival we’re talking about, are you crazy man, nobody has time for that sentimental romance business?!

Our phones went off this morning in the wee hours, with that most ominous of sounds—- the one that, no doubt, will be sounded when the Russians decide to send the big one our way. . .“Alert, Your area is currently under a state of Emergency. Tune to local news media for details
Talk about a wake up call!

Schools were canceled today.
The Governor is telling everyone to stay off the roads.
It’s 38 degrees and raining.
Hummmm

Well before I fall too deeply into the well of cynicism, it must be noted that I do have my required storm crisis supplies of the gallon of milk (1/2 gallon in our two person house), my loaf (loaves) of bread, my carton of eggs. .despite the fact that my grocery store had sold out of eggs yesterday at noon, extra charcoal for the grill, filled gas canisters for the generator, candles, flashlights, charged up technologies, etc—all in anticipation of. . . The Coming.

So if you hear from me tomorrow, you will know we survived.
If, however, there is no word, don’t hesitate to send in the search and rescue teams. . .
Oh, and by the way, if I am indeed lost to the storm—a happy Valentine’s day to you all, come Friday!!!

I’ll fly away

“Every bird that flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw.”
Victor Hugo,

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(crows taking off from the field / Julie Cook / 2014)

Watching two crows waddle about on a cold January morning, on their never ending quest for something to eat, only to have them spooked by who knows what— I was reminded of a very old and very southern song—“I’ll Fly Away”

Having been raised in the Episcopal / Anglican Church, with it’s rich ancient sounds and music, songs such as I’ll Fly Away were never a part of my Church experience much less on my radar. . . However it is that part about being raised in the South which leads itself to my being very familiar with this “other” type of church music—music simply known as Gospel Music.

I am certainly no aficionado of music and truthfully I prefer, as well as love and adore, the more ancient hymns of an ancient church— but I would not be true to my southern raising if I totally eschewed the type of music which is rooted as deep as it can go into this very deep South I call home.

Music is as much a part of our lives here in the South as it is a part of our history—it is who we are as a people. So much so that it has transcended an entire Nation, offering the world a unique sound that is truly all our own.

Much of the Gospel music echoing out of this sun-baked ground, found only here in these Southern states, is steeped in the histories of a wide variety of people— all of whom made their way to this area very long ago by either choice or coercion.

Whether it is the traditional music of the “Negro Spirituals”, whose history is mingled with the blood, sweat and tears of the cotton fields of long gone plantations–songs of faith and strength created by those brought here against their own wishes in order to tend the land of others—– or be it those of the melodic tragic stories and tales as told by an accented clannish people who fled the famine of another country, traveling across a vast ocean, only to settle within the “highlands”, as it were, of Appalachia— culture and music are each wedded and woven just as intricately as the kudzu and red dirt which both run deep and wide here in the South.

The “hymn” I’ll Fly Away was written by Albert E. Brumley in 1929. Need we be reminded of what transpired in this Country in 1929? Our fate that year was sealed on Wall Street as it, along with almost everything around this Nation of ours, crashed. Who living at that time most likely didn’t wish to “fly away”–as things, as a whole, were tragically bad for this Nation. Lives were shattered and changed forever. Dreams vanished over night. Hope was a lost commodity on an entire generation of people—so perhaps it was the desire of flying away, leaving those burdens of a very heavy and weary life behind, which most likely appealed to the masses.

It is claimed that the song I’ll Fly Away is the most widely recorded Gospel song in history. It has been taken and amended by not only Gospel singers, but those who sing Country, Bluegrass, Rock-a-billy, Rock, Christian, Jazz, Pop and even Rap. Most interesting that one song has had the ability of transcending such a wide variety of genres. Perhaps that speaks to the staying power of the lyrics themselves. Depending on who is currently singing, some of the lyrics may be added, subtracted or amended, but over all it is the enduring freeing gist of the song which remains the same—that of leaving behind the trials of life. . .oh to be freed, free as the bird who has just been released from a cage, soaring heavenward, all to the waiting arms of a loving Father—oh by and by. . .by and by.

So on this new day to a new week, don’t be surprised if at some point you too may find yourself wishing to just leave it all behind—however, just remember, don’t fly too high.

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away (in the morning)
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly 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

Death be not Proud

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

John Donne

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“Oh my gosh, does she really have a picture of a giant dead mole on her day’s post?! This is Wednesday no doubt, as in wordless Wednesday… Not only is Julie never wordless, she’s posting an image of a dead mole!!” As the texting world would so aptly put it “OMG!!”

Not to fear, no need to panic… nor is there any need to put in a call to PETA. There is an explanation–there is always an explanation.

Yes, that is indeed a picture of a dead mole. Did I kill the mole? No. Am I gald the mole is dead? Somewhat. If you’ve ever had a yard or a garden plus a healthy addition of moles, you won’t have much of a yard or garden after the moles take up residence. We have had mole problems for the past couple of years. I am the humane one around this house and I forbid putting any sort of poison or traps into the ground or down the holes and tunnels.

One does run a risk, however, merely walking in our yard. The tunnels of the moles are so deep that you could easily twist an ankle when unknowingly you take a step only to have one foot sink a good half a foot down. Let’s not forget what happened this past Spring shall we when our little cookie here stepped into a drainage ditch no deeper than these mole holes. Our yard is simply crisscrossed with the burrowing holes. And on top of that, my purple cone flowers and lovely stargazer lilies have all mysteriously vanished. Yard havoc pretty much sums up living with moles.

Say what you will about moles merely burrowing and not nibbling on roots and I say balderdash!! I triumphantly planted lilies and the cone flowers in the yard. The next day, as I went outside to feast my eyes upon my handy work. I noticed the plants were all several inches shorter. Odd…. No, I was not hallucinating—I know shrinking plants when I see them! The following day after that I went back outside to check on the plants and this time they were totally gone. No leaf, no petals, no chewed up plant from say a wandering deer. Nope, just holes…..

My cat Peaches is a very docile cat as I’ve mentioned before. She has never killed a bird. She sits under the tree where all the feeders are located and birds will even alit on the ground by her to feed on spilt seed. She chases butterflies. That’s the extent of it. We won’t go into Percy whose outside world consists of the back deck. He is not an outdoor cat due to his traumatic injuries sustained as a tiny kitten, but we won’t discuss what happened to the hummingbirds—I just can’t talk about that yet.

So imagine my immense shock when I found this mole, feet skyward by the garage door. Peaches came ambling over, as I was investigating this most suspicious death, with a keen interest in the victim. I quickly put two and two together. I didn’t know whether I should scold her or congratulate her. The mole did not look to be victimized. No wounds to speak of. And such a lovely coat of fur it had—I almost wanted to pet it…but I refrained as I fetched a shovel instead in order to dispose of the body.

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It was a huge mole but of course I don’t know how big moles grow. Judging from the size of the burrowed trenches in my yard I suspect that they get as big as Peaches. I am sorry that something in the yard was killed. I’m not a fan of any animal ever being killed—I even have a soft spot for the local variety of road kill of possums and armadillos that seem to be indicative of the South. But I suppose I hope this may mean that my yard will flatten back out and that my plants won’t oddly disappear.

When my husband arrived home that evening I showed him the pictures of the deceased victim and explained my suspicions as to who had committed the crime. He turns and looks at Peaches as she makes her way into the house. “Way to go knot-head!!–that is the first thing you have ever done right!” I don’t know if Peaches understood his pleasure in the deed she had committed earlier but she does seem to understand that “knot-head” is his pet name for her….and I do use the word pet name a bit loosely.

The moral of the story? Well, I’m not sure. A cat will be a cat? A mole will eat your yard? A husband will tolerate the wife’s pet if it proves its worth? I don’t know if there is a moral. There was no joy in the loss of life but I do hope to be rid of a trenched yard.

Better to be a cat than mole I suppose………and what about those naked mole rats—ahhhh… that is another story for another day—until then,happy Wordless Wednesday…

An American Beauty-berry?

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.
George Eliot

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(Photograph: the purple variety of the American Beautyberry–Callicarpa Americana / Troup County, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013)

I know what you’re thinking…Julie, why do you have a picture of some purple berries when you obviously mean to be chatting about Fall? And what in the heck is an American beauty…berry of all things?

Ahhhh, not to fear, I have not lost my mind. These delightful little berries are indeed very much all about Fall. I know you were looking, no doubt, for beautiful images of leaves…those of the Autumnal foliage color variety gregariously showboating flames of oranges, red, and golden yellows….We must remember, however, that it’s still September and this is Georgia…we won’t have those sorts of displays for at least 3 more weeks to perhaps even a month longer. I’ve got to make do until then with what we do have available way down here in Dixie.

Look what I found while traipsing out in the woods last weekend. “How terribly pretty are those berries” I thought to my self…how beautiful the brilliant lavenderish purple played off the light yellow green leaves. Not ever claiming to be a botanist, I knew I’ve seen these bushes and berries out in the woods before but assumed that it must be a sort of sumac and no doubt deadly. I was wrong. I know that is quite a revelation for me to admit, my having been wrong, but just don’t let my husband know……remember he’s convinced the wild pears in the woods are poisonous, this news would rock his world….

Once home I conducted a little research looking up information on a southern bush with bright purple berries which appear in the Fall. The very first entry was indeed my plant. It is the American Beautyberry–and is not only relegated to the woods but people actually add these showy little beauties to their yards for landscaping.

They are native to the southern regions of our country and have been used for all sorts of purposes by Native Americans…and no, they are not poisonous—however I’m not about to dash out and consume any part of them as I tend to always be a little leery of bright pretties that grow in the wild. Seems they have been used medicinally for centuries and are also used to repel mosquitoes, flies and more importantly in my world…fire ants. Seems farmers and ranchers in Texas have smeared these pretty little berries on their horses and cattle in order to provide the livestock a little relief from all sort of biting and stinging creatures.

Have you ever flown into Atlanta’s Harstfield-Jackson International Airport and seen the sculptures of the fire ants lining the ceiling out near the baggage claim? Next time in town, look up and you will spy a larger version of my arch nemesis parading along the ceiling and walls. I’ve always thought that instead of the Falcons or the Braves, our sports teams should be the Fire Ants, as that is what seems to be holding the understructure of this state together—one giant red dirt fire ant mound…uggghhh. This should not be news to any of you if you’ve read any of my post regarding my time outside—-simply put, I despise fire ants….I often wonder if it just wasn’t proving to be a really bad day when God made the fire ant—maybe that was after the whole Garden of Eden incident….but I digress….

What a wonderful discovery my time in the woods provided last weekend. I now know a little more than I did before venturing out for my hike. Don’t be surprised if the next time you see me outside, either working in the yard or merely going for a nice walk, if I’m not smeared in a pretty bright purple goo. You’ll just know that I am sporting a little American Beauty…berry.
Take that fire ants!!!

Happy Anniversary Nany and Pop

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Ann and Paul were married June 4, 1921. Today is their 92nd wedding anniversary. This picture shows two very happy young people who had no idea that 92 years from the very moment their picture was taken, on a honeymoon that spoke of so much great expectations and promise, that a 53 year old grandchild would share their beginning moment with the world.

I recently discovered this picture, along with a wealth of long forgotten old photographs, in a box buried deep under years of “junk” in my dad’s basement. Never having seen so many of these old pictures before, I have realized that I am full of all sorts of questions—questions I fear that will sadly go unanswered. The questions I now find myself asking my dad, questions about his parents or questions about my mom’s parents, are met with the frustration of his ever fading memory–as that is what Alzheimer’s does, it robs one of those memories. These sorts of questions never seemed to have been asked years ago when I was younger and now sadly the people who had the answers are no longer with me, all but the one with the fading memory. The curiosity of “beginnings” seems to only emerge later in life—I suppose life is funny that way.

Young Paul came to Atlanta by way of New York. His father, a doctor, moved the family south at the turn of the new century. Why I do not know. He was a student at The Georgia Institute of Technology (aka GA Tech) when he met Ann. I found a picture of him at a desk in his dorm room. As well as a couple of pictures taken of what appears to be some sort of ROTC regiment of about 50 young men, all in uniform, taken in what is today Bobby Dodd Stadium. It was taken during the height of WWI, so I imagine all young men at the time were faced with the possibility of going overseas to fight in a war they didn’t understand. Such things never seem to change…

There are images of him in his cap and gown. Images of him in uniform from high School, Georgia Military Academy–two diplomas…GMA dated 1915 and GA TECH dated 1919…and then this image, 1921. I was only 7 when he passed away. At 7, to my young mind, my Pop was bigger than life–bigger than any super hero. It is because of his bigger than life persona that images such as these, found so many years later, seem only more precious—this is where life began for my super hero, and in essence for me as well.

She came to Atlanta upon graduating from a small west Georgia woman’s college. Her family’s home was in a tiny middle Georgia town. Her father was a decorated soldier in the Spanish American War, where, as a young man, barley 30 years old, the Lt. Colonel was mortally wounded. He was brought home to Georgia where he laid in state at the Capital Rotunda, the only non politician in the history of the state of Georgia having done so, all before the long train trip “home” to LaGrange, GA where he was buried with full military honors.

His suddenly widowed young wife was left to raise 4 very small children. She moved them back to her family’s home in middle Georgia. Only 3 of the 4 children survived to adulthood. Annie attended college, something woman, particularly in the early days of the 20th century, in the deep south, simply did not do. After graduating college, Ann moved to Atlanta looking for work—–something else young woman of her day were not doing.

There is the story of the college student Paul and his cousin hopping on a street car in Atlanta. Spying an attractive very petite young lady riding alone, Paul jumps over to her seat hoping to strike up a conversation. The problem was the plug of tobacco Paul had in his mouth. Annie politely told this brazen young man that she would not speak with anyone who had a wad of tobacco in his mouth as she coyly turned her head to look out the window.

Paul, fearing he would miss his only moment of opportunity, does something that calls for desperate measures and seemed to have made perfect sense at that particularly pivotal moment, he swallowed the wad of tobacco.

It is from that precise moment that I must go alone in my understanding of “my” history for you must remember that their history is indeed my history and Dad doesn’t seem to be able to sort out any of this history of ours as his mind and memory are both turning against him, against me, and against how we came to be at this current moment in time.

Life is funny in that we all feel the important internal pull to our very beginnings–what it is, who it is, how it is that we all got to be where it is and who we are today. Pieces of important puzzles being constantly pieced together. As an adopted person, beginnings seem doubly important to me (see the post “Who in the heck is Sylvia Kay and what have you done with her” to better understand this whole adoption issue of mine and the importance of understanding who I am and how I came to be….)

Paul and Ann go on to have a seemingly wonderful life. Paul becomes a very successful business owner in Atlanta that takes him all over the country. As a couple, they rise up through Atlanta’s high society. There are the tickets to the premiere of Gone With the Wind, where they met Margaret Mitchell, Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh. There are images of Paul with then governors of Georgia and leaders of growing industry, images with his two young sons on a road trip across the south where a young Mr. Mole (aka my dad) is downing a bottle of Coke on the steps of the Louisiana State Capital. There are images of a proud man, arms wrapped around his two boys with a loving wife looking on……little would she know of her own devastation when he was taken so suddenly from her when he was barely older than I am today.

However today is not a day for looking back on the ending of a happy story but it is rather a day for looking at the beginning of one……
….So on this day, this June 4, 2013 I say happy anniversary Nany and Pop. I miss you both.

O South, my South!


O magnet-South! O glistening perfumed South! my South! O quick mettle, rich blood, impulse and love! Good and evil! O all dear to me!”–Walt Whitman

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Finally the native azaleas are blooming!! These plants are native to our state (and the southeast)– they so different from the standard more squatty compact azalea we see planted everywhere (that being especially at the Masters in Augusta) and filling the shelves at Home Depot and Lowes. They have a woodsy quality and a flower that resembles a large honeysuckle on steroids.

I was afraid that the late cold weather had zapped all of the blooms and that the late last freeze took away all chances of the brilliant rusty orange flowers gracing my yard. I planted this particular plant several years ago and decided I wanted to find some more to add to the yard, as they are “native”—but believe it or not, they are not prevalent at local nurseries…but I’m still looking….