As a writer and poet I am daily looking for inspiration. Sometimes, inspiration comes in those unexpected moments of seeing a perfectly rounded drop of dew making a prism on a flower petal. You may only catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye as you are rushing out the door to a high pressure meeting. It is the Creator’s way of saying slow down, savor the moment, I am here, I am with you. You are loved beyond measure. You walk in my favor.
At other times, inspiration comes tethered to a tiny fragment of conversation overheard in the corner of your favorite coffee shop as you are hovering over a frothy pumpkin latte. At such a time, you frantically search your pockets for any scrap of paper to scribble down and capture the perfection of the phasing before it escapes you and disappears as quickly as the steam suspended over your latte.
Finally, inspiration arrives like a freight train, that knocks you down and takes your breath away merely by the percussion of it. Like the drenched hiker who took the inspiring photo I posted, while he was plodding up a trail. He rounded a corner at the pristine moment in time when a rainbow was once again proclaiming its covenant, relentlessly brilliant against the backdrop of granite crags.
Everyone at one time is inspired by some inexplicable desire to move forward. It may be to a new location or a new life choice. The destination that is calling you is uncertain and the outcome is unknown. You only have a piece of the puzzle. Or as James Alexander Thom, author of Follow the River and Red Heart once stated: “We only know our part of the river [in life], we can’t see the larger continuum.” There may be many distractions along the way, but to reach the destination we were created for we must have courage to follow the inner promptings of the Spirit, our Heart Song.
A gray gander flying point,
eyes the yellow Harvest Moon,
suspicious even of,
of the sparkling water below,
night’s reflection on a black pond.
Reassured instead by the
true North Star,
and a call of its own heart song,
that sings —
of the distant South.
(Note: This poem appeared on Shari Wagner's Poet Laureate Website. Reposted upon reader request.)
While searching for inspiration for Thanksgiving dinner I came across the book An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving written by Louisa May Alcott, the author of the classic novel, Little Women. Reportedly, Ms. Alcott liked a certain dessert so much that she named her house after it, The Apple Slump House. The apple slump was at one time one of the most popular desserts in America and certainly deserves a second look! According to legend, slump got its name because of the way the apples and dough slumped down in the pan as they baked together. Perhaps if it had a better name we would still have it as a staple around Thanksgiving tables today. The name of this dessert depended on where it was baked. Cooks in Massachusetts called it a “slump”, while those further north knew it as the equally unappetizing name “grunt”.
Louisa May Alcott’s Apple Slump
4-6 tart apples (3 cups sliced)
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups flour (can substitute gluten-free baking flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cups sugar
1 egg, well beaten
½ cup milk
½ cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel, core and slice apples. Lightly grease the inside of a 1 ½ quart baking dish (I used an 8 inch by 8 inch baking dish) with butter. Put the sliced apples into the dish. In a small bowl mix the brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples and stir to mix. Bake the apples uncovered until they are soft, about 20 minutes.
While the apples are baking, stir together into a bowl the flour, baking powder, salt and white sugar. Mix into this mixture the egg, milk, and melted butter. Stir gently. Spread this mixture over the apples and continue baking until the top is light brown and crusty (about 20 to 30 minutes). Ms. Alcott served whipped cream over her slump, but I also liked it warm with milk or cream. Enjoy!
It’s difficult to be inspired if you feel lethargic. When the energy drink and coffee combo weren’t working for me, I had the good fortune to discover a family farm in the bottom lands of meandering Sugar Creek that was my solution. My vegetables go directly from garden to table. Every week I buy a box of produce so fresh that although, they have passed through a sprinkling of the garden hose, there is still a trace of rich black dirt clinging to roots and crevices. It’s seasonal, I am assured a variety of six vegetable, but, I’m still learning the ways of the garden so I can only vaguely anticipate which ones. Each time I heave the wax-coated box onto my kitchen counter and pop the lid it’s like a mysterious surprise!
The following is the result of my latest culinary adventure. I used the taste-and-toss into the stockpot method here, so I will give you the ingredient list as a guide. Quantities vary. ( Palette spoiler alert! Apparently, you have to have a specific gene to enjoy the taste of cilantro. If it tastes like something akin to soap, you don’t have that gene. So feel free to omit.)
Roasted Chicken Tortilla Soup: Roasted chicken, cage-free chicken broth, shredded kale, celery or Napa cabbage and black beans. Top with pickled jalapeno peppers, sliced avocado, fresh chopped cilantro, corn chips, and a dollop of sour cream. Enjoy!
If there was ever a need for assurance that a power higher than ourselves, Our loving Heavenly Father, has everything under control it is the year 2020. This concept was the inspiration for my artist friend, Mark Money’s latest pumpkin creation. *
At one time, I lived in a downtown apartment in a large city. It was truly a concrete jungle. The buildings were so close together that they shadowed each other. The only way to see what kind of day it was outside was to stand on the sidewalk outside my building and to peer straight up. Surrounded by a sea of gray concrete, my eyes became hungry for color. I had to walk several city blocks even to see a patch of green.
A few years later, when I had moved out of the city, I came across an intriguing article in a psychology magazine about “greening”. It told about a simple treatment for depression, prescribed by psychiatrists for certain psychiatric patients. The treatment was having remarkable results. The patient was required to go outside on sunny days for about twenty minutes. It was important that the area the patient visited not just have grass, but also trees and plants with lush green foliage. After this “greening” experience each person showed greater vitality, with less tension and confusion. The scientific basis for this improvement may have been increased levels of vitamin D (take off your sun glasses if you dare, vitamin D is taken in through the eyes) or the increased oxygen level (plants give off oxygen).
I tried “greening” myself and discovered that not only was my mood elevated, but it seemed to increase my level of creativity and focus as well.
Carve a piece of time out of your day to relax in the sun. Quiet your spirit, seek out the green, and listen intently for the bird’s song.
Here is the most delicious, lemon tea cake that I have ever tasted. When I unearthed it this week, I wondered if it would really taste as good as it had in my memory of those early days when I was first learning the ways of hospitality. It is a dense cake that is the perfect medium to soak up all the lemony goodness of glistening syrup drizzled unto each warm loaf. It is a great accompaniment to tea or coffee to enjoy with friends!
Lemon Drizzle Tea Cake
In a large mixing bowl: 2/3 cup butter, melted 2 ½ cups sugar 4 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla
In a separate bowl:
3 cups of flour (gluten-free baking flour is substituted, double milk) 2 teaspoons baking powder
Add alternately into large mixing bowl: 1 cup milk 2 Tablespoons lemon peel
Method: 1. Blend butter and sugar. 2. Beat in eggs, one at a time. 3. Add vanilla extract 4. Add flour and baking powder alternating with milk. 5. Fold in lemon peels (and nuts). 6. Pour into 2 greased, wax paper lined 5×7 loaf pans. 7. Bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Lemon Drizzle syrup: Combine 1/3 cup of fresh lemon juice and ¼ cup of sugar in a small bowl until sugar granules are dissolved. Spoon over hot loaves while still in pans. Cool on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely.
This is a retro-recipe I got from the lady who lived upstairs when I moved into one of my first apartments. She had been baking a lot longer than I had at the time. I was delighted that these bars were so simple and lemony.
1 cup flour (gluten-free baking flour can be substituted)
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 stick butter (½ cup), melted
Press crust mixture into an 8×8 square pan.
Bake in a 350° preheated oven until lightly brown. (About 20 minutes.)
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons of flour (use gluten free flour if desired)
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 beaten eggs
3 Tablespoons of lemon juice
bake at 350° for 25 minutes
Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar
I am always inspired to see where great works of literature and art took place. A friend of mine, who plays baseball in Cuba at appointed times, sent me a picture of Hemingway’s inner sanctum. Cuba played such an important role in Hemingway’s life that he wrote seven books there including: The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream.
Creativity is a delicate balance between a gift held by gossamer threads somewhere in the miraculous to a nearly sterile product of sheer grinding discipline. Hemingway compared the writing process to “bleeding”. He carried amulets in his pockets for luck and lived in constant fear of writer’s block. He surrounded himself with items that inspired him that ranged from the macabre, a lizard suspended in formaldehyde, to a priceless bowl crafted by Picasso. In his ladder years, Hemingway became so tortured that he died by his own hand.
I wonder how many books he left unwritten? I wonder what the future might have held for Hemingway if he would have perceived his writing as a solace, a gift that he was created to do, rather than a bloodletting?
The word “Eureka” literally means “I have found [it]!”
A “eureka moment” is a moment when you become aware of something that is quite obvious, yet for some reason, it has eluded you for a long time. It is hidden in plain sight, so to speak. The intricacy of nature never ceases to amaze me. Recently, my friend, Lisa who is a master-gardener, sent me a photo from her garden. I had a “eureka moment” when I found the humming bird moth. Do you see it? The humming bird moth gathers nectar from blossoms that have tubular flower petals preferred by humming birds, it has a long, straw-like proboscis for “nectaring” that is accompanied by an audible humming sound. Special sensory cells found in its antennae enable the moth to hover in feeding position like a hummingbird. Hummingbirds do not have antennae so how do they hover so skillfully? But, then that’s a question for another day!