Late July: Summertime Musings

Summer. It’s a season we long for in the midst of winter, plan for in the blossoming of spring and fondly recall in the crisp autumn air.

It is here, but almost gone, forever coming and going like the rhythmic nature of the ocean’s tide and perpetuating a sense of longing most acutely felt in the remembrances of innocent days from our childhood past.

Summer is light and airy, colorful and calm. It is waves, rivers, streams and sand; mountains, hillsides, gardens and picnics. Summer is the intensely vivid ocean sunrises and the heavenly, soothing evening skies.

It is wild and invincible – a time to “Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air”, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote.

Hilton Head Island sunset

In our attempt to continue “living in the sunshine” as July fades and the hot, hazy days of August approach the horizon, we turn to a collection of summer-inspired poetry, A Dream of Summer: Poems for the Sensuous Season, that offer a treasure trove of reading, contemplations and sentiments on the “season of longing.”

famous summer poemsFeaturing works from the likes of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Frost, one of my favorites has always been Dylan Thomas’* Fern Hill, a poem of “intense lyricism and highly charged emotion” that laments the loss and innocence of youth in his remembrance of his summer days spent on his aunt’s farm in Wales.

It is our hope that reading these words help slow the lush, lavish, sensuous days of summer to an unhurried pace and enable you to embrace the magic of each summer moment as it comes.

Fern Hill
by Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honored among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

Dylan Thomas Fern Hill

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hill barked clear and cold,
And the Sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And the fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars

As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the night-jars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

Horse carriage ride Vermont
Pomfret, Vermont; Courtesy of The Harrington Family

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day,
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

HHI South Carolina beaches

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear time fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

*Dylan Thomas is probably best know for his poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, with the last memorable line: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Born on October 27, 1914 in Swansea, Wales, Dylan Thomas was the son of an English literature professor who would often recite Shakespeare to him. His love of nursery rhymes evolved into a lifelong fascination of language, an early interest in writing, and eventually a love for the rhythmic ballads of Gerard Manley Hopkins, W.B. Yeats and Edgar Allan Poe.

By the time he was twenty years old he published his first book, 18 Poems, which was received with great acclaim. He moved to London, married and had three children, eventually making his way to America in 1950 at the age of 35 where he became known for his “magnificent” and “flamboyantly theatrical reading tours which helped to “popularize poetry reading as a new medium.”

He spoke of his poetry as the “rhythmic, inevitably narrative, movement from an overclothed blindness to a naked vision that depends in its intensity on the strength of the labour put into the creation of the poetry.” He said: “My poetry is, or should be, useful to me for one reason: it is the record of my individual struggle from darkness towards some measure of light…”

It is written that his view of life “coincides with the Christian” for the “imagery of death-in-life and life-in-death.” His poems are so “radiantly aware of the sweetness of living, especially before the child learns an adult sense of time and death.”

Thomas became notorious and famous for his “roaring disputes in public” and for his public readings that were read with “tremendous depth of feeling and a singing Welsh lilt.” He became a legendary figure both for his work and the “boisterousness of his life.” His chronic alcoholism led him to an early death in November of 1953 in New York City.

Please note the above information on Dylan Thomas was taken from this site and the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (edited by Richard Ellmann and Robert O’Clair).

See also our summer reading list and reflection on Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From The Sea.

Happy National Cheesecake Day!

Happy National Cheesecake Day! While not many people we know care for cheesecake, a good cheesecake, such as the Cheesecake Factory’s Banana Cream Cheesecake and the Devil’s Food Cheesecake at Junior’s in New York City, is hard to resist.

Thought to have originated in ancient Greece on the Island of Samos over 4,000 years ago, cheesecake was considered a good source of energy – consisting of flour, wheat, honey and cheese – that was supposedly served to athletes during the first Olympic games in 776 BC (it was also the wedding cake of choice for Greek brides and grooms).

Later, after conquering Greece, Rome gave cheesecake its own unique spin by adding eggs and ricotta cheese (absolutely delicious!), which quickly spread throughout Europe and eventually made its way to America.

In 1872, a New York dairy farmer tried to replicate the French cheese “Neufchatel” and ended up with what became Philadelphia Cream Cheese in 1875. And Arnold Reuben, best known for his Reuben sandwiches, is credited with inventing the New York style cheesecake, which is always served plain, unaccompanied by fruit, chocolate or caramel that you might find with other cheesecakes (it is said to get its flavor from extra egg yolks).

Now, it’s time to enjoy some cheesecake! Try the recipe for blueberry cheesecake and raspberry cheesecake below.

Please note the above information was taken from this site, which you can also use to purchase cheesecakes.

Blueberry cheesecake recipe

Cheesecake With Fresh Blueberry Sauce (taken from Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Cookbook)

Ingredients for the crust:
1 & 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 tbsp. ground almonds or walnuts
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground lemon peel
1/2 cup melted butter

Ingredients for the filling:
1 & 1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon rind
4 eggs

Ingredients for the topping:
1 pint ice-cold sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine crumbs, nuts, sugar, lemon peel; stir in butter until thoroughly blended. Press mixture firmly against bottom of 9″ springform pan. Bake in 350 degree F oven for 10 minutes.

In large bowl, beat cheese until creamy. At medium speed add sugar gradually, then vanilla, lemon juice and rind and blend well. Add eggs one at a time, and beat at medium speed for 10 minutes, until fluffy. Pour into pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes. Turn off heat and cool for 30 minutes in oven with door open.

Combine sour cream, sugar and vanilla and whip for 10 minutes until foamy. Spoon over top of cake. Bake in 250 degree F oven for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Cool and then refrigerate for 2 hours or more before unmolding. Serve with fresh blueberry sauce or fresh sliced strawberries and whipped cream.

You can also try:

Barefoot Contessa’s Raspberry Cheesecake

She writes:
“For me, this is the quintessential cheesecake. It’s creamy but light with vanilla and lemon undertones. Amazingly, it doesn’t crack in the middle like every other cheesecake I’ve ever made, so it looks great if you serve it alone.”

Ingredients for the crust:
1 & 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, melted

Ingredients for the filling:
2 & 1/2 pounds cream cheese, room temp.
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
5 whole extra-large eggs, room temp.
2 extra-large egg yolks, room temp.
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1 & 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Ingredients for the topping (optional):
1 cup red jelly (not jam) as currant, raspberry, or strawberry
3 half-pints fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the crust, combine the graham crackers, sugar, and melted butter until moistened. Pour into a 9-inch springform pan. With your hands, press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and about 1 inch up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees.

To make the filling, cream the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed of mixer to medium and add the eggs and egg yolks, two at a time, mixing well. Add the sour cream, lemon zest and vanilla and mix on low. Mix thoroughly and pour into the cooled crust.

Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 225 degrees and bake for another 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and open the door wide. The cake will not be completely set in the center. Allow the cake to sit in the oven with the door open for 30 minutes. Take the cake out of oven and allow it to sit at room temperature for another 2-3 hours. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the cake from the springform pan by carefully running a hot knife around the outside of the cake. Leave the cake on the bottom of the spring-form pan for serving.

If you make the topping, melt the jelly in a small pan over low heat. In a bowl, toss the raspberries and the warm jelly gently until well iced. Arrange the berries on top of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The Charleston Tragedy: A Conversation On Faith & Forgiveness

Please note: this piece was also published in The Huffington Post.

Charleston shootingWe often hear about the power of forgiveness. Its ability to transform and heal, freeing us from the weight of bitterness and resentment that anchors itself all too comfortably in the depths of our soul.

The concept, in theory, is familiar: to forgive is to recognize the reality of human fallibility and our finite understanding of the cruelty and injustice we at times bear witness to in an imperfect world. In practice, however, forgiveness is more uncomfortable, challenging us to confront our pride and redirect our inherent desire for revenge and ill will with a purity and grace that seems more well-suited for a heavenly, divine people.

Perhaps this is why the nation stood in awe in the days following the June 17 shooting at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were killed during a Bible study session by a troubled, 21-year-old boy, Dylann Roof.

There were no protests or riots. There was no violence. There were no evil words. There was simply – standing in stark contrast to the emotionally charged reactions of Baltimore and Ferguson – a message of wholehearted forgiveness.

Even Rev. Joey McDonald, Pastor of the United Methodist Church in Bluffton, South Carolina was taken aback by the overwhelming message of forgiveness that the families of the nine victims offered to the accused murderer.

“When those people forgave, it touched something in me,” he said. “I’m a believer. I’m a Christian minister, and I’ll be honest with you: I really believe that, at the end of the day, I could have forgiven this guy.” But, he said, “It would have taken me a lot longer.”

Just two days after the shooting, the family members attended the bail hearing of Dylann Roof, where they were given the opportunity to share a statement with the young man who had so heartlessly stolen their loved one’s life.

“When the family members of these folks – whose lives were ripped apart by a violent, murderous, heinous crime – went and saw the guy who was accused of doing it, they didn’t take a vote, they didn’t have to think about it, they didn’t have to band together; they came in and said, ‘We forgive you’”, says Rev. McDonald.

“And not only did they say that,” he continues, “some of them started ministering to the man and said, ‘Look, if you’ll confess your sins and come to Jesus, you’ll be ok’…I mean, that is the most Christian thing I think I have ever heard about in my entire life.”

A Forgiving & Gentle People

Speaking with Rev. McDonald – a South Carolina native who has just started his 22nd year in ministry and sixth year at his rapidly expanding church in Bluffton – you get the sense that, as unexpected as the reaction in Charleston was to many across the country, those with a Southern heritage might not have expected anything less.

“I think there’s a lot of gentleness about being in the South that I have not discovered in other places,” he says. “Certainly not in everything we do, not by a long stretch – and we have our issues – but there’s a gentleness that I experienced growing up that I don’t experience when I go to other places in the world.”

In fact, Rev. McDonald attributes one of the reasons the families responded the way they did to the fact that it happened in the South. “If this tragedy in Charleston had not happened in the church, I still think it would not have turned out like it did in other places [i.e. Baltimore and Ferguson], because of that very gentleness.”

But, he says, “Since it did take place in a church, that guy [Dylann Roof], when he wanted to start a race war, the worst thing he could have done is go into an African American church.”

Inside the Bluffton United Methodist Church (undergoing an expansion)
Inside the Bluffton United Methodist Church (currently undergoing an expansion) where Rev. McDonald ministers

On a whole, African American churches tend to be much more forgiving than, for lack of a better term, ‘white’ churches – and it isn’t entirely difficult to understand why, Rev. McDonald says. “African Americans over the last couple of centuries have had to be more forgiving because they’ve had more atrocities [to overcome] – it’s been part of their history.”

Interestingly, however, he acknowledges the difference between how African Americans in Charleston responded compared to those in Ferguson and Baltimore who began rioting after Michael Brown and Freddie Gray were killed at the hands of white police officers. So, how can that be explained?

“Well, we’re getting to a finer point”, he says. “The thing that was first and foremost [in aiding their forgiveness] was because they were believers.”

Rev. McDonald points to the words of a woman preaching during Senator Clementa Pinckney’s funeral who, in an attempt to explain to people who were questioning why they didn’t take to the streets and riot, responded with: “They just don’t know who we hang out with. We hang out with Jesus.”

“And that’s the point right there,” says Rev. McDonald. “When people go through something like they went through in Charleston, I don’t know how you make it through something like that without faith, quite frankly.”

Several Sundays ago, Rev. McDonald preached on what happened in Charleston, noting how the shooter was listening to the wrong “voice” – a term he uses to describe the many influences we are surrounded by in life.

“These people in Charleston,” he says, “they listen to the voice of their Savior.” And their forgiveness “was an extension of who they are. It was like it was just part of them, as if they said ‘of course we’re going to do this, we can do nothing else.’”

The concept of forgiveness, in the face of such a heinous act, can be difficult to accept. Indeed, some people have questioned its merit, arguing that it is the “easy way out” and emboldens people to continue committing egregious crimes.

“That’s a worldly point of view,” Rev. McDonald says. “The world says, ‘If someone slaps me on one cheek, I’m gonna knock your lights out.’ That’s what the world says. My savior says, ‘If you slap me on one cheek, I turn to you the other.’”

He notes, however, that there are always people who will take advantage of that. But, he says, “there are other people who will be transformed by that forgiveness. I know, because I am one of them.”

The Confederate Flag

I happened to interview Rev. McDonald on the day the Confederate Flag came down from the South Carolina statehouse. He explained to me that he was not in favor of the flag, but wasn’t one to staunchly advocate for its removal since he has always been able to see the other side of the issue.

“While some people might say, ‘We’ve seen people use the flag in situations where they were racist,’ I’ve seen them in situations where they were not, so really you can argue that back and forth,” he says.

Witnessing the reaction of the people in Charleston on that fateful day, however, Rev. McDonald was a bit transformed himself: “If those folks in Charleston can respond like that, then the least the rest of us can do is to take the flag down and stick it in a museum.”

He called upon a scriptural reference to further exemplify his point. In the time of Jesus, it was considered sinful for believers to eat meat that pagans had scarified to idols. The Apostle Paul, however, reminded followers that, “In Christ, you have the freedom to eat” whichever meat you choose – with one caveat:

“If in exercising your freedom,” he paraphrased the words of Paul, “you offend the conscience of your brother or sister, then don’t do it.”

Given that we have freedom in our country, we should have the freedom to fly that flag, he says. “But, as a Christian, if this offends my brothers and sisters in Charleston, who can forgive like that, then just take it down.”

He adds: “It was because of the way those people in Charleston responded, more as Christians – I don’t care what color they are – that the flag came down today.”

Faith in Our World Today

While you would never know it by looking at the United Methodist Church in Bluffton where Rev. McDonald ministers – since he became pastor, the church has grown financially, in membership and now physically with an extensive addition currently under construction – Christianity is very much on the decline in America, as a Pew Research Center survey recently confirmed.

“In America, we’re kicking God out of everywhere we can possibly think to get him out of and shaking our fist in his face,” says Rev. McDonald. Part of the problem, he explains, is that we are an overly affluent society, noting one’s natural tendency to attribute their success to their own doing.

“The more affluent I am, the more I think I’m doing on my own. I don’t realize I am still a recipient of God’s grace,” he explains. “People say, ‘If I can do this all on my own, why do I need a God who places demands on me?’”

And God does place demands on us, Rev. McDonald stresses. “In fact, the more you get to know Christ, the more demands he places on your life. He says, ‘Pick up your cross and follow me.’ That’s not an easy thing to do. He says, ‘Deny yourself.’ He doesn’t say go and float around in your excess.”

It’s not that God doesn’t bless, he adds. “He certainly does. But, when we start focusing more on the blessing than the blesser, we start to have all kinds of problems.”

Bluffton United Methodist Church
The Bluffton United Methodist Church

One of the problems facing many Christians today is a society that is quick to dismiss and reprimand believers who, by the very nature of their religion, hold certain beliefs and opinions.

“It’s become harder and harder in this society to be a Christian without being persecuted,” he explains. “So often we think of persecution as prison or death, but there’s emotional persecution, too. And there are the ‘I think you’re an idiot’ or ‘how can you believe that’ comments. All that stuff hurts because, as a Christian, what we are called to do is, emotionally, we are called to open up and be vulnerable.”

He adds: “That’s what Jesus means, or part of what he means, when he says to turn the other cheek.” Sadly, however, “this world will tell you that if you’re vulnerable, you’ll get devoured in two seconds…which, you will.”

Growing in Faith After Charleston

We could all learn something from the people of Charleston and their reaction to the forces of injustice and evil that descended upon their city the night their family members were taken.

How easy it would have been for the community to break out in protests and riots like those we saw in Baltimore and Ferguson. Instead, thousands gathered peacefully and in unity on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge – just four days after the tragedy – with signs that read, “We Will Rise Above The Hate.”

The ability of the Charlestonians and the affected family members to so readily forgive their perpetrator is not an indication of an apathetic people, nor does it signal the ease with which one is able to forgive. Rather, it is a manifestation of how strong their faith really is – a term Rev. McDonald prefers to distinguish from the notion of “religion.”

Broad Creek Marina Hilton Head
South Carolina Lowcountry

“I like to say ‘people of faith,’” he explains. “I think of the Pharisees as religious people…they had a structure built over what they believe; they put God in a box.” But, when Jesus came along, from outside their neatly arranged box, they had no room for him – and so, they rejected him.

“Faith is much more pliable,” he says. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t absolutes and it doesn’t mean there aren’t anchors, but sometimes the Spirit will lead you in places you really don’t want to go. And if you follow the Spirit, there’s a whole matter of blessings. If you stay where you are, you begin to shrink. If you follow the Spirit, you begin to grow.”

He adds: “It’s a difficult thing to grow.”

It’s also a difficult thing to forgive. The people of the AME Church in Charleston, however, have blazed a path for the world, gracefully reminding us of what can happen when you flourish to the most heavenly heights in your journey of faith.

“Now, I don’t know them. I do not know them at all,” Rev. McDonald says. “But, I imagine their faith had grown to the point where you really couldn’t tell where their life ended and where their faith began.”

*  *  *

Much like forgiveness, we often hear about the power of faith. Its ability to transform and heal. While the concept is familiar, it is its practice that poses a greater, more demanding challenge. But, the people of Charleston are proof that it is not impossible to live it. And to live it is not to blindly surrender to acts of cruelty and injustice.

On the contrary, it is transformative. It is powerful. And it is a reminder to all of us that goodness can, indeed, rise above hate…rise above the forces of evil.

“Movin’ to the Country, Gonna Eat a lot of Peaches”

Georgia peaches seasonGeorgia peaches have been on my mind lately after enjoying a melt-in-your-mouth, warm peach cobbler dessert with homemade butter pecan ice cream at Hogs Head Restaurant in Bluffton, South Carolina.

With a little research, I learned that Georgia peaches – legendary for their flavor – were introduced to the state’s coast by Franciscan Monks around 1571 and that 90 percent of them come from the Fort Valley plateau. Searing hot nights, intense high humidity, mineral-rich red clay soil and consistent rainfall make the valley the ideal place for peaches to grow, producing ‘suGeorgiar’ (sweet Georgia sugar).

Peach prosecco recipeThe 2015 harvest is supposed to be particularly outstanding, due to the extra “beauty rest” the orchards have had from an extended chilly winter and the searing hot summer temperatures in the mid to high 90’s.

After five trips to the local farm stand in the past two weeks, specifically for Georgia peaches, I can attest to the fact the 2015 has, indeed, been an outstanding harvest.

I’ve made peach salad, peach cake, peach cobbler, peach muffins, peach French toast and have even added peaches to my evening prosecco. But, the most heavenly way to enjoy the perfect Georgia peach is simply sliced on a beautiful dish.

Eating perfect Georgia peaches is like eating a little summer sun: healthy* and heavenly!

*Peaches are high in fiber, vitamin A and C and potassium

So Good and So Easy French Toast with Peaches

1 loaf good ciabatta bread
2 large size fresh peaches
Maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp. butter
3 eggs
2-3 tbsp. milk

French toast recipe

Mix eggs, 2-3 tablespoons of milk and sprinkle of cinnamon in dipping-size bowl. Set aside.

Melt butter and brown sugar in pie plate in 350 degree F oven. Remove and add sliced peaches to cover bottom of pie plate. Set aside.

Heat skillet on medium heat, add 1-2 tablespoons of butter and dip sliced ciabatta bread in milk/egg mixture and grill in skillet. Place slices of grilled French toast on top of peaches in pie plate. Pour desired amount of maple syrup over entire dish being sure to coat the bread slices. Add a little dot of butter onto of each slice and return to oven for 2-3 minutes.

Remove and serve with fresh whipped cream.

Peach Mousse (taken from Charleston Receipts cookbook)

1 cup sugar
1 cup mashed peaches
½ tbsp.. gelatin
¼ cup water
2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp. lemon juice

Peach dessert recipes

Mash fruit and put through sieve. Soak gelatine 5 minutes in ¼ cup cold water. Dissolve thoroughly by placing it over a pan of boiing water. Add gelatin, lemon juice, and sugar to crushed fruit. Place in refrigerator. When mixture is thoroughly chilled and beginning to congeal, fold in cream, which has been whipped stiff. Pour into refrigerator tray and chill. Serves 6 to 8.

Peach Upside-Down Cake (taken from Charleston Receipts cookbook)

1/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, room temp.
2 tsp. baking powder
1 & 2/3 cups flour
1/8 tsp. salt

Peach upside down cake recipe

Cream butter and sugar. Add remaining ingredients and beat well. Pour over peach mixture.

Ingredients for peach mixture:
1/3 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 & 1/2 cups sliced peaches

Place butter and sugar in a glass sheet cake dish and place in 350 degree F oven to melt. Add sliced peaches and mix to thoroughly coat peaches with brown sugar/butter mixture. Pour cake batter over mixture and evenly spread. Bake in 350 oven for 30-45 min. Turn out peach side up. Serve with fresh whipped cream or Häagen-Dazs Butter Pecan ice cream, or both. Melt in your mouth delicious and so easy!

A Perfect Summer Day: Art and Architecture in Chicago

“The story of architecture,” writes Jonathan Glancey in his book The Story of Architecture, “is one of remarkable human endeavor…[a]t its best…it lifts our spirits and sends shivers down our spines…”*

Famous Chicago architectureChicago, world renowned for its architecture and considered the birthplace of the modern skyscraper, has its own unique story, which is delightfully told by professionally trained docents on the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise, a spirit and eye lifting adventure for the rich history lessons it offers.

The docents (certified tour guides) interpret more than fifty buildings along the Chicago River, revealing how the city grew from a small backcountry outpost into one of the world’s most important crossroads in less than 100 years.

On the tour one learns about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that destroyed 17,000 wooden structures, killed 300 people, and left over 100,000 people homeless. Although the true cause has never been determined (a cow kicking over a lantern in a barn is a myth), it was out of the ashes of the fire that the modern city and skyscraper emerged with iron and steel framed buildings replacing wood as the safer and stronger material of choice.

The Merchandise Mart Chicago
The Merchandise Mart

One also learns that there was the “First Chicago School” of architecture established in the 1880’s and led by William Le Baron Jenney**, known as the “Father of the American Skyscraper”, which became a training ground for leading architects, including Daniel Burnham (the featured architect in Erik Larson’s bestselling book, Devil in the White City). It would later give way to the “Second Chicago School” from 1940-1975, led by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (most people would know the Seagrams building in NYC as one of his designs).

Trump Tower ChicagoChicago’s Carbide and Carbon building (now known as the Hard Rock Hotel or champagne building; see here), designed by Burnham in the 1920s, remains one of my favorite buildings in the city, resembling a champagne bottle with a green tinted terra cotta façade and a 24 carat gold leaf top that speaks to the exuberance and the glamor of the gilded “roaring 20’s.”

Such a design is characteristic of the “Art Deco”, or “applied decoration”, time period (1925-1940), a style of architecture that represented scientific progress alongside the power and growth of capitalism. (Other well-known examples of “Art Deco” are in NYC, i.e. The Radio City Music Hall, Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, McGraw Hill Building, Rockefeller Center).

The Merchandise Mart – considered a Chicago icon from the 1920s – is another “Art Deco” building, characterized by vertical lines and geometric shapes. At the time, it was America’s largest building with four million square feet covering two square blocks. Developed by the Marshall Field & Co. of the famous Chicago department store Marshall & Fields for forty million dollars right before the depression, it ended up going into bankruptcy and was purchased by Joseph P. Kennedy in 1945 for a bargain of seventeen million which he eventually sold for more than four hundred million dollars(!)

333 Wacker Drive Chicago Architecture
333 Wacker Drive Building

Speaking of millions, The (“Donald for President”) Trump International Hotel & Tower located near the DuSable Bridge was another of my favorite buildings along the river, with its three-tiered reflective glass structure evoking “a ship of commerce steaming through the city.”

Representative of the architectural style “Contextualism”, which designs structures to fit into their cultural, architectural and environmental surroundings, The Trump Tower opened in 2008 and was designed by the world renowned architect Adrian Smith of the Chicago firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) (Note: Smith also designed “Burj Khalifa” in Dubai, the world’s tallest building that will soon be beat by his “Kingdom Tower” upon completion in 2018). As of 2014, the tower – which includes a five-star rated hotel, a Michelin rated restaurant, “Sixteen”, retail shops and luxury condominiums – is the sixteenth tallest building in the world.

Tribune tower architecture
Tribune Tower, a neo-gothic style designed by Howells & Hood and completed in 1925. The base contains 120- stones from significant locations all around the world: The Parthenon, in Greece, the Pyramids in Eygpt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Alamo in San Antonio and the Great Wall of China just to name a few!

The tour didn’t stop there. There was also the “post-modern” 333 Wacker Building, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox and ranked as one of Chicago’s favorite buildings for its reflective blue/green façade that mimics the color of the river and reflects other city buildings similar to Millennial Park’s “Cloud Gate”, curving with the river and changing colors as the sun and clouds shift throughout the day.

Far from last, and of no less significance, is the Aqua Tower (see here), completed in 2009 with a modern design by Jeanne Gang, founder of The Studio Gang firm. Her first ever attempt at skyscrapers, she was the first woman to receive an award for her design; she also holds the title for the highest skyscraper designed by a woman! Viewed from the river, the curvy wave-like forms of the balconies attached to the rectangular box-like structure creates an “undulating landscape of bending, flowing concrete as if the wind were blowing ripples across the surface of the building” (quote taken from The New Yorker, Feb. 2010).

The docent on our tour encouraged a different and more thrilling perspective of “Aqua” by standing street level and looking up.

And so…LOOK UP! The next time you visit a city, lift your eyes from the visual enticements of the street, skyward to the order and symmetry, design and decoration above, to the arches, balconies, buttresses, columns, cornices, cupolas, domes, facades, finials, gargoyles, friezes, moldings and reliefs that are, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote, “suspended like frozen music.”

How to make a sandcastle
The drip, drip, drip style by Tide A. Comin*

And to complete a perfect day in Chicago…

Keep your eyes lifted after the river cruise as you make your way to the Art Institute of Chicago. Take in a different perspective of some of the buildings you learned about as you walk along Michigan Avenue to the Institute’s Beaux-Arts style building, designed in 1879 by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston and which houses over 300,000 works of art.

Voted the number one museum in the world in 2014, it is known for its extensive Impressionist collection. It is a pleasure, once inside, to take in the beauty of the interior itself, which has had several expansions over the years, most recently the Modern Wing in 2009.

El Greco artwork
The Assumption of the Virgin, 1577-79 by El Greco (this is the Art Institute’s most important Old Master painting)

*Jonathan Glancey writes in his book: “It is significant that in monotheist religions (notably Christianity), God has been referred to as the great and original Architect…how important architecture has been to our lives and how distinct it is from building. Architecture has always been something of a religion and architects a kind of priesthood. At their best…they have been like shamans or magicians tricking stone, brick, and marble, iron, steel, titanium, and polycarbonates into sensational structures that raise our spirits above everyday concerns.”

**William Le Baron Jenney was born in 1832 Massachusetts and received his formal education at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA and later at the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard. After leaving Harvard, he traveled to Paris to attend the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, where he graduated a year after his fellow student Gustave Eiffel who went on to design the Eiffel Tower in 1889. Jenney returned to the United States in 1861 and joined the Union Army in the Civil War, where he served as an engineering officer designing fortifications for Generals Sherman and Grant.

How to build drip sand castle
*Close up of the drip, drip, drip style by Tide A. Comin
Drip sand castle
*Close up of the drip, drip, drip style by by Tide A. Comin

Rediscovering “Gift From The Sea”

Gift From The Sea QuotesI first read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s* Gift from the Sea in my late twenties, early thirties when I was a busy young mother of three with an innocent, idealistic view of the world and the life I had ahead of me.

I remember it as a neat little book that spoke to the duties and responsibilities of raising children, and the never-ending business of making and keeping a home. I remember thinking to myself how lucky she was, as a mother of five children, to be staying at a beach house by herself with enough time to compose such beautifully expressed sentiments, written in such a calm, lyrical and soothing manner.

I read her book with the eyes and mind of a young, inexperienced and naive woman, mother and wife who had little knowledge of the trials and tribulations that life’s journey would inevitably bring.

Now some 25 years later, with a greater understanding and clarity that only a lifetime of experience can provide, I have a faint remembrance of the “gifts” that Ms. Lindbergh’s musings offered. And so, when I spotted Gift from the Sea in an island gift shop neatly displayed on a seaside-themed table in a soft ocean blue jacket cover – with an introduction by her daughter Reeve Lindbergh for the book’s 50th anniversary edition – I was drawn into a second much-later-in-life reading.

Like any classic work of art, Gift from the Sea bestows upon its readers timeless wisdom and insights, capturing both the beauty and frailty of the human condition, making it just as pertinent today as when it was first published in 1955.

As is so often the case with such books, the experience of reading it as a young woman compared to rereading it in the later years of one’s life is vastly different. And therein lies the book’s greatest “gift”: the ability to speak to us at various stages along our own journey – with a light or heavy heart – reminding us of the “gift” of life itself.

Below is an excerpt that I found to be particularly relevant in today’s world:

To be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass: husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes.  

How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. How much we need, and how arduous of attainment is that steadiness preached in all rules for holy living. How desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist, or saint — the inner inviolable core, the single eye.

With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls — woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.  

The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.

What is the answer? There is no easy answer, no complete answer. I have only clues, shells from the sea. The bare beauty of the channelled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how? Total retirement is not possible, I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be.  

The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life. I can at least practice for these two weeks the simplification of outward life, as a beginning.

See our collection of “gifts from the sea” below:

Hilton Head Island Beach

Starfish facts

Hilton Head Dolphin Tour

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hilton Head

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hilton Head

Sand shark hilton head island

horseshoe crab hilton head island

Seashells hilton head island

Hilton Head Island Sunrise*About Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was an author, pilot and journalist who was born in New Jersey in 1906. Her father, Dwight Morrow was a partner in the banking house of J.P. Morgan & Co. and was a New Jersey Republican senator in the 1930’s while her mother, Elizabeth Reeve Morrow, a teacher and poet, served as acting president of Smith College 1939-1940. Anne Morrow married Charles Lindbergh in 1930, the most famous man in the world after he completed the first-ever nonstop solo transatlantic flight in 1927.

Ms. Lindbergh went on to become the first woman ever to obtain a glider pilot’s license and spent a lifetime flying around the world with her aviator husband, serving as his copilot on mission trips to conduct research for aviation companies. She wrote of their aerial adventures in her first book North to the Orient.

Many will remember Anne and Charles Lindbergh for the tragedy that happened in 1932 when their first-born child, just two years old was kidnapped from his crib. Known as the “Crime of the Century”, the family was eventually forced to move to England to escape the overwhelming fascination with their case and with threats against their second son.

In England they went on to have five more children and in 1955 she published Gift from the Sea, a “philosophical meditation on women’s lives” in the twentieth century. It was on the New York Times bestseller nonfiction list for eighty weeks and sold five million copies in hardcover and paperback during its first twenty years.

Red, White & Light Recipes for a Fourth of July Picnic

Time to get cooking! The Fourth of July is almost here which means it’s time to gather “Around the Table” to celebrate all things red, white and blue. Below you’ll find some “red, white and light” recipes for a family picnic or barbecue that are refreshing, cool and easy to make. Happy Fourth! 

See also our reflection on America and our pictures of the U.S. from “sea to shining sea.”

Tres Leches Cake Recipe

Tres Leches

Tres Leches (Three Milk Cake) is a cake that is popular in the Latin American countries, predominantly Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guatemala.

According to some sources, its origins come from the British Trifle, the Italian Tiramisu and the Jamaican Rum Cake and so can be thought of as a melding of European, Latin and South American influences.

The three milks used in the cake are generally evaporated, condensed and heavy cream, although my recent dining experience in a Latin American restaurant served the most delicious Tres Leches which used evaporated, condensed and goat milk with a layer of whipped goat cheese in between the cakes. It was topped with smoked salt and served with a side of rhubarb puree – absolutely delicious!

Interestingly, it was also mentioned that the recipe for Tres Leches was found on the back of evaporated and condensed milk cans that were marketed to the Latin and South American countries in the 1940s.

Whatever its origins, I think it is a perfect summer dessert for a perfect summer evening with all of the comfort qualities it offers. Light, moist, cool and soothing, it can be topped with fresh blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or cherries.

Tres Leches Cake (taken from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman)

1 cup All-purpose Flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
5 whole eggs
1 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
¼ cup heavy cream

Ingredients for the icing:
1 pint heavy cream, for whipping
3 tbsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan liberally until coated.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separate eggs.

Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until yolks are pale yellow. Stir in milk and vanilla. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined.

Beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, pour in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry.

Fold egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn cake out onto a rimmed platter and allow to cool.

Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a small pitcher. When cake is cool, pierce the surface with a fork several times. Slowly drizzle all but about 1 cup of the milk mixture—try to get as much around the edges of the cake as you can.

Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for 30 minutes. To ice the cake, whip 1 pint heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar until thick and spreadable.
Spread over the surface of the cake. Decorate cake with whole or chopped maraschino cherries (we substituted fresh blueberries, strawberries and raspberries). Cut into squares and serve.

Bruschetta with Mascarpone Cheese

Bruschetta recipeIngredients:
1 loaf of really good ciabatta bread
3 medium-sized preferably farm fresh tomatoes
1 container of good quality Mascarpone (Italian cream cheese); we used Vermont Creamery
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic
1-2 tbsp. (or as more as desired) fresh basil
Lemon juice
Drizzle of olive oil
Kosher salt

Slice bread and place on baking sheet in 350 degree F oven and lightly toast on both sides. Remove from oven and rub garlic cloves on top of bread and then brush a mixture of olive oil and melted butter on each slice; return to oven just for a minute or two. Remove and place on serving tray. Dice tomatoes and place in medium sized bowl and toss with a light squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste and approximately 1-2 tablespoons of chopped basil. Combine well and place on serving tray with bread. Remove mascarpone from container and place in serving dish with tomatoes. Enjoy!

Melon Salsa

1/2 watermelon
1/2 cantaloupe
1/2 honeydew
1-2 tbsp. fresh Mint
Dash of cayenne pepper or 1 tsp. of diced fresh jalapeño pepper

Melon salsa recipe

Dice all melons and place in serving bowl. Combine with 1-2 tablespoons of fresh mint and a dash of cayenne pepper (or jalapeño). Add more or less of mint and pepper as desired. Place in refrigerator to chill for several hours.

Note: It is the thorough chilling of this dish that makes it so refreshing on a hot day.

Very Easy Ham Barbecue Sandwiches

Ham bbq sandwichIngredients:
1 pound of Boar’s Head or Krakus Polish Ham
1 bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbecue Sauce
Hamburger or sandwich buns from quality bakery

Slice ham into uniform 1-inch squares. Brown the ham on medium to high heat in large skillet in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Do in small batches at a time so that some of the pieces brown up a bit around the edges. When all of the ham has been browned, place back in skillet and add approximately 1/2 bottle of sauce and approximately 1/4 cup of water and let simmer on low for 20-30 minutes. Add more sauce and water (if it seems too dry) as needed. Serve on oven toasted buttered buns.

La Vita È Bella – In America, That Is

Statue of LibertyIt can be surprisingly easy to neglect the history and symbolism of July 4th, otherwise known as Independence Day, when surrounded by family and friends, a picnic table full of delicious summer treats and an explosion of red, white and blue fireworks.

The rhythmic nature of our daily routines and habits does not lend itself to a full appreciation of the basic principles and values upon which our country was founded – including freedom, security and lawful order – particularly when we have never encountered an experience that denies us those very things.

It was an unexpected sequence of events in Italy several years ago that led me to this stark realization, where I not only gained a greater understanding of the cultural and societal norms of another country, but developed a newfound appreciation for “all things good” in America and was reminded of how much there is to be thankful for in this great “land of the free, home of the brave.”

When it comes to things like train and bus schedules, hotel chains and post offices, things in America are, generally, consistent, reliable and safe. You know what to expect and are fairly certain that your expectations will, indeed, be met.

It was a different story in Italy.

It began in Florence when my mother and I found ourselves in an escalating argument with a hotel housekeeper (and her partner in crime) while I was trying to explain (in Italian, no less) that we had returned to our room from a morning of sightseeing to find our door not only unlocked, but wide open:

“Siamo tornati e la nostra porta era aperta!”

Trying to convince us that she had just left the room to retrieve a light bulb (the light bulb was working when we left), something wasn’t adding up and after another unsettling feeling that someone had gone through our things, we checked into a new hotel.

While this was certainly the most disconcerting incident we had, daily and comical inconsistencies would contribute to one of our most memorable adventures and heighten our sense of relief – and gratitude – upon returning to the United States.

Take, for instance, something as simple as hotel maps. Having lost a local neighborhood map we had received upon checking into our hotel in Florence, we requested a new one only to find that it did not resemble – in no way, shape or form – the one we had been given the day before. It was not that they had run out of the earlier map, so much as it was that their stack consisted of maps of all different sizes, shapes and types – some of which were not even of the surrounding area.

Similarly, on one particularly hot afternoon, my mother and I stepped into a small convenience store to buy a bottle of water; nothing in the shop had a price tag on it. The next day, the same bottle cost an extra euro. As I would soon come to learn, such discrepancies are characteristic of the “Italian way” – that is, doing (or charging, for that matter) whatever they deem appropriate at that moment.

Even signed shop hours were open to interpretation. Similar to other European countries, Italy has a “riposo” (“rest”, or “siesta”) in the afternoon where shops close for an allotted amount of time. After learning that a TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) store would reopen at 3pm, I purposely came back at the appointed hour and waited until 3:30pm before giving up. I’d be inclined to say this was simply bad luck, but quickly learned that it was just another aspect of the “Italian way” that I would be reminded of on numerous occasions.

Perhaps my favorite example comes from a bus ride I took from the outskirts of Rome with the intention of ending up on Via del Corso – a mile-long shopping avenue in the historical center of Rome. Four stops into the journey, the bus driver stopped five stops short of where I needed to get off – and where that bus was scheduled to go – threw up his hands and announced that he was “finito” for the day and was not going any further. Laughing, I eventually made my way to the Italian metro station to wait for a train that would show up ten minutes behind schedule.

Anyone familiar with Italian culture likely wouldn’t be surprised by any of these stories. In fact, they are some of the very stereotypes that I learned about as an Italian minor at Holy Cross (this video says it all), and some of the very memories I fondly recall with a knowing smile.

While poking fun at such mishaps and cultural differences is easy to do for anyone traveling outside their homeland – I’m sure many Italians would describe us Americans as “irrispettoso, scortese e odioso” – there is also something to be said for Italy’s ancient history, architecture and art, along with its social, demonstrative, animated people, endless varieties of homemade pasta, scenic landscape and strong family unit; such things have led me to return time and again, keeping my long-held passion for “all things Italian” steadfast.

But, as the saying goes, there is no place like home. Despite my attempt to act, dress and speak like “una signorina italiana”, I left very much an American – one who will forever treasure my time in Italy, but one who has come to treasure even more the safety, security, reliability, order and freedom that define America.

This Fourth of July, I will be grateful for those very things. While we are far from a perfect nation, we have remained a leader in the world for a reason – and I truly am proud to be an American.

See also a collection of photos of the U.S. from “sea to shining sea” and our recipes for a Fourth of July picnic.

Happy Fourth of July!

In celebration of the Fourth of July, we share the lyrics of two of America’s greatest songs below, together with pictures from across the country — from sea to shining sea! 

See also our reflection on “all things good” in America and recipes for a July picnic.

Fourth of July celebrations

Times Square New York City

America, The Beautiful
Written by Katharine Lee Bates (1913)

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

Kauai Hawaii sunset
Kauai, Hawaii

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,

Whose stern impassion’d stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness!

America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law!

Statue of Liberty

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved,

And mercy more than life!

America! America!
May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,

And ev’ry gain divine!

America, The Beautiful
Catskills, New York

O Beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam,

Undimmed by human tears!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

Horse carriage ride Vermont
Pomfret, Vermont; Courtesy of The Harrington Family

My Country ‘Tis of Thee
Written by Samuel Francis Smith (1832)

My country tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!

Lake Winnipesaukee NH
Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

My native country, thee,

Land of the noble free,

Thy name I love.

I love thy rocks and rills,

Thy woods and templed hills;

My heart with rapture fills

Like that above.

Maine Botanical Gardens
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens; Boothbay, Maine
Kenai River, Alaska

Let music swell the breeze,

And ring from all the trees

Sweet freedom’s song.

Let mortal tongues awake;

Let all that breathe partake;

Let rocks their silence break,

The sound prolong.

St. Charles River Illinois
St. Charles, Illinois

Our father’s God to, Thee,

Author of liberty,

To Thee we sing.

Long may our land be bright

With freedom’s holy light;

Protect us by Thy might,

Great God, our King!

HHI South Carolina beaches
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina