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Ghost of Christmas Past

 

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Facebook has a little feature where one can click on a link and your profile image is superimposed (or whatever they do) into a Christmas scene. Just for fun, I clicked, and this is what appeared. Can you find me?

I’m the ghost of Christmas past.ūüôā

It is really a photo of me, when I was a young lass – none other than the Angel of the Lord at my church’s Christmas pageant. You can find¬†my story of being a fallen angel here. In the photo¬†below, there¬†I am, in all my angelic glory, on the night of the Christmas Pageant, oh-so-many¬†years ago, and from whence the apparition appears – now rising from a couch!

Good tidings!

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Woodcuts and Coffee

rootstotheearth_final-275x363Wendell Berry’s words have shown up on several of my favorite blogs recently, and I have, on loan from our Katy, his novel, “Jayber Crow”. It is one of several books that I am currently halfway through.

Does this ever happen to you; this juggling act of two or more books at one time, born out of an insatiable appetite for the written word?

There I was, at the Indian Prairie Library, looking for “One¬†Souffle at a Time” by Anne Willan, when this Wendell¬†Berry gem, “Roots to the Earth”, appeared in the new books section. I was drawn first to Wesley Bates’ woodcarving on the cover, then¬†pleased to see more wood engravings¬†accompany several of Berry’s poems and a short story, The Branch Way of Doing.

From Wendell Berry’s poem, The Current – ‘

Having once put his hand into the ground,

seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,

a man has made a marriage with his place,

and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.

“Roots to the Earth” is such a lovely book. While it has the outward look and feel of a children’s book, it is a really a more mature book and¬†an homage to the earth and soil.

I read “Roots to the Earth” this afternoon, in the company of a few tasty gingerbread men and a steamy cup of coffee.

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Attendees to the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Christmas house walk, tea, and market, A Cup of Cheer, receive a cup and saucer to take home. Each year, for over 50 years, the cups and saucers have a new design. I think this year’s are particularly beautiful.
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pumpkin-pie-spice-cookbook. . . that’s what Thanksgivings are made of.

I tried a new recipe this Thanksgiving and thought you might be interested.

It comes from a charming little book that my dear friend Kathryn gave me. “The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook” by Stephanie Pedersen is a delicious morsel of a¬†book laden with recipes for¬†appetizers, soups, chili, gratin, crostini, sweets and more. The¬†common ingredient is the aromatic mixture known as pumpkin pie spice.

Cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and mace, each an exotic culinary treasure on its own, all blend together to become a welcome addition to our spice cabinets; pumpkin pie spice. Stephanie Pedersen’s words evoke this mixture’s essence¬†in her introduction by writing that¬†“these ingredients create a symphony of flavor and aroma so powerful, so deeply comforting, that the world smells like a special occasion.”.

Pumpkin pie spice is, of course, most commonly used in pumpkin pie, but these spices are often employed¬†on their own in gingerbread cookies, pumpkin bread, holiday lattes,¬†etc. Just opening a jar of any one of these spices awakens one’s taste buds and calls for baking to commence. Opening a jar of Pumpkin Pie Spice intensifies the sensory sensations. “The Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookbook” is a tasty¬†compilation of recipes using this “symphony of flavor”.sweetspicy-fruit-dip

So it was that while I was resting, with my foot elevated, I thumbed through Ms. Pedersen’s little book¬†in that way those who love all things culinary¬†entertain themselves by reading cookbooks. This treasure¬†had been languishing on a countertop easel amid pumpkins and gourds and a seasonal candle.

I did not thumb far. I was barely into the first chapter on appetizers when this recipe for Sweet Spicy Fruit Dip caught my fancy, and I decided to make it on Thanksgiving. The ingredients were procured, the KitchenAid employed, and in a mix and chill, this sweet and spicy fruit dip was done.

An orange colored dip is cause for a pause and a question. “Uh, Penny, what is this?”. There was¬†some hesitation over the pumpkin dip, but, that first bite is an¬†intriguing creaminess when first encountered, followed by a lingering after taste of the pumpkin pie spice. Pita chips, crackers, and pears took turns being dipped and I do think some of us in the spicy mix that our own family and friend are enjoyed it. You might as well.

I used canned pumpkin instead of pumpkin puree. This makes quite a bit of dip that holds up well for several days.

Other than in pumpkin pie, do you have a recipe using Pumpkin Pie Spice?

Are you employing any new recipes this year?

 

Ever-so-slowly

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Turkey Lurkey is roasting, ever-so-slowly, tantalizing aromas wafting through the rooms of this old homestead. Bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes all wait in refrigerated abeyance to be warmed when Mr. Lurkey comes out of the oven and rests after the long hours of roasting. Cranberry relish has been mellowing for several days. The plastic wrap looks to have been rearranged. Antler Man thinks he can fool me and that I won’t notice he’s been sneaking tastes. I’m onto him, though, especially now that I have ditched the walking boot and can maneuver around with more speed. Vegetables, fruit and cheese will whet our appetites before the meal, once family arrives and we¬†gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, chat, catch up on news, and enjoy the company of two young lads who are growing up fast, two of our grand-nephews.

Thanksgiving.

It is my favorite of holidays. The menu is pretty well set, with regional, cultural and ethnic and other additions. It is a uniquely American holiday, and one I think we need more than anything this year.

I think I’ve touched upon Thanksgiving often in all the years I’ve written, here on the Cutoff. I’ve shared memories of the cranberry relish that graces our table each Thanksgiving. It is a common recipe, but, it came to me from a dear woman, Mary, who sadly passed on a few years ago. I’ve written about family gatherings, my Greek grandmother’s chestnut and meat stuffing, and of the memorable car ride in which a frozen twenty pound turkey hurled toward me at 35 miles per hour and my split second interception at a local turkey bowl.

Thanksgiving.

It remains a favorite holiday of mine, even as I remain mindful of those who are hungry, cold, without hope, and those who are grieving,  lonely, disenfranchised, ill, far away from home . . .  I think of them and I pray for them, and for you on this Thanksgiving Day.

The buzzer went off. It is time to baste Turkey Lurkey, put the finishing touches on the table, and check for platters and serving pieces.

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today, I wish you a happy one. For all of you, please accept my gratitude for your friendship, good and kind words, and visiting me here on the Cutoff.

Extinction

img_1495On a recent November morning, members of the Elmhurst Garden Club gathered in one of the meeting rooms of the Elmhurst Public Library for a viewing of a cautionary tale; From Billions to None.

This is the story of the passenger pigeon, which once blanketed the skies from Canada to Florida, breeding, nesting, and passing through more than half of North America. These pigeons were revered by indigenous Americans for their beauty and an abundant source of food. Early settlers, ornithologists, keen observers, and notables documented the billions of passenger pigeons that swarmed the skies in such large numbers that they would block out the sun for two or three days. The fluttering of so many wings would cause drops in temperature. The tons of excrement left on the fields enriched the soil. Their iridescent feathers adorned hats and they became a seasonal commodity in markets throughout the continent.

Until September 1, 1914 – and then there were none!

From Billions to None is the story of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, with the documented death of Martha, the last of her species, who died on that sad September day at the Cincinnati Zoo. It is a fable about the passenger pigeon and what happens when greed, disrespect for nature, what we today might call over harvesting, and how, in the end, there is nothing left. It is the documentation and, hopefully, illumination, of what and how fast extermination of a species can happen. It brings to mind the near demise of the buffalo and the American eagle, and our over harvesting of fish and fowl, and the cause massive outcomes of deforestation.

Joel Greenburg, who is central to this film, went on to write “A Feathered River Across the Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”. The image at the top of this post is from Greenburg’s book, which goes further in the documentation of this event. The book can be found here.

We watched the film, at times with a collective, audible gasp at photos of enormous hills¬†of dead passenger pigeons, and how business manipulated political sentiment to continue the practices of killing thousands upon thousands of these birds. Some of you may have seen this documentary on your public television stations. I would like to encourage you to watch this short trailer, and consider asking your local library to purchase From Billion to None as well as¬† “A Feathered River Across the Sky: the Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”.

Peace

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The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W. B. Yeats

I awoke, long before dawn, and even before I opened my eyes,¬†Yeats’ words beckoned me, as they have before here on the Cutoff.¬†

I wish peace to each of you. 

Into the Wilds

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On my way out of Wilder Mansion, following a Garden Club meeting, Marilyn handed me a heavy tote bag. Showing concern, she told me to go home and put my foot up. She also encouraged me to spend some time enjoying her book which was weighing down the bag.

I have been missing my long walks with the seasonal shuffling through carpets of fallen leaves, as well as observing the many migratory birds stopping for sustenance and rest at local watering holes. Trips to the local forest preserves have all but abated, though I have been enjoying drive-by leaf peeping.

Marilyn’s book was a welcome diversion for me.

I have heard nature photographer extraordinaire, Mike MacDonald, speak and was aware of his inspirational book, “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders”. I had not yet journeyed into his¬†luminous creation. Since I cannot physically wander the wilds around me, I truly appreciated being¬†able to vicariously roam them by leafing ¬†through this glorious¬†book.

Mike MacDonald wears many hats, including humorist, poet, naturalist, speaker¬†– and photographer. His command of lyrical prose¬†and eye for natural beauty are hallmarks of his talent and are gifts to the reader of “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago”.

My own nature wanderings came¬†to mind through¬†Mike MacDonald’s¬†exquisite¬†images of prairies, savannas, and preserves. I instantly became an armchair traveler and felt a wee bit smug knowing that I have actually frequented¬†many of them. I was also humbled, curious, and anxious to journey to so many more that I either have not been to, or was not even aware of. Some are but a few miles from our home, others just over the Wisconsin or Indiana border or an hour or so away.

With his breathtaking photography , MacDonald takes readers to oak savannas and mystical fens, through the changing midwestern seasons amid the changing light of day and the dark of night when the prairies alight with winking and blinking movement. Bull snakes and egrets and dragonflies offer startling scenery and interesting photographic dilemnas. From Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, the McGinnis Slough in Palos Park, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area near the Illinois/Wisconsin border, such natural wonders abound in the greater Chicagoland area.

“My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago” is more that a coffee table book. It is a photographic¬†celebration of the diverse ecosystems and prairies of Illinois, filled with evocative prose and poetry, humor and facts, tips on photography and insight into wildlife – and more. Much, much more.

I am grateful to Marilyn for lending me this treasure. It has allowed me to travel to some of my favorite preserves,¬†to explore so many I did not know about, and to experience the sunrises and sunsets and seasons in Mike MacDonald’s “My Journey Into the Wilds of Chicago:¬†A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders”.

Juliet Batten

Author, artist, speaker, teacher and psychotherapist

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