Chocolate Gravy Girls

Chocolate gravy and fresh Yule Love It raspberries

She was shy of nine-years old when my younger sister Libby walked home and said; “Debbie’s mom made us chocolate gravy and toast for breakfast.”
I forgot my envy until Libby’s second sleepover with Debbie. “We had chocolate gravy again.”
So, what’s the big deal? I thought, and rode my bike up the block to Debbie’s house on the corner. Perhaps her mother would appear and invite me in for leftovers.
Not a trace of Mrs. Heron’s red hair or whiff of chocolate from her kitchen window. See, thanks to Mom’s chocolate pies and cakes, I’ve known the scent of hot cocoa from toddlerhood. The idea of chocolate gravy left me undone.
Gravy is a staple in the southerner’s culinary inheritance. We took it north with us during our Appalachian diaspora. But Mom wasn’t inclined to abandon sausage gravy. She loved her pork. So did Granny, my maternal grandmother, who stayed put in Kentucky.
She served us fried apples on buttered biscuits for our breakfast dessert. Her cast iron skillet never simmered down bubbling chocolate to a thick sauce. 
From childhood to my ripe age of sixty-eight, I’ve never seen a bowl of chocolate gravy on a relative’s table. Some mountain folk would claim that’s near criminal. Many a resourceful housewife cooked delicious food from their milk cow and a can of Hershey’s cocoa from the company store.
It’s all about family history, how we choose to use our biscuits. Some prefer blackberry preserves or whipped butter mashed into molasses. Or both. But no one who loves chocolate could refuse to sop it up with hot buttery biscuits, anytime a day.
For instance, that time my friend Joan demonstrated how to make her mother’s Tennessee recipe. My jaw dropped when she unwrapped a stick of butter and spooned it into bubbling milk, sugar, and cocoa.
At last, I knew what Libby was bragging about. Devoted to biscuits, I’ve since wondered how Mrs. Heron could waste precious ingredients and stir time on toasted Wonder Bread.
Libby didn’t know any better and remains starry-eyed with Mrs. Heron’s biscuit substitute. For her memory is truly about the surprise of chocolate gravy for breakfast.
Personally, like Mom and Granny, I prefer a healthy breakfast of eggs or oatmeal. Yet, I promise not to refrain from pouring chocolate gravy over my homemade breakfast granola for an after dinner dessert.
Like Libby, the official chocaholic of the five O’Brien girls, I’ve sampled every form of food processed from the cocoa bean. Except chocolate and bacon. Some folk use a bacon grease roux for their chocolate gravy.
Perhaps that’s the next step in my cocoa succession. It’s sensible now that we’re harvesting raspberries and consuming summer BLTs.
Dear Reader, can you taste it now—a bowl of raspberries smothered with bacon flavored chocolate gravy? Hmm…what about crumbled shortbread for biscuits?
I think my mother and Granny would approve. They’d have their pork and chocolate too—and their beloved wild black raspberries. For an after dinner dessert, of course.

Simple Medicine, Merciful Friends

Seven Ponds Friends of Herbs gather to celebrate summertime and good food.
Poison ivy is no laughing matter. Let my guard down in a fit of compulsive pruning and weeding with bare hands and arms, and I’ll regret it.
                  When those unruly wisteria vines caught my eye, for instance. Should’ve put on my garden armor before I attacked the suckers. No, I went wild yanking them from the Sweet Woodruff, a perfect cover for sinister, creeping, oily plants like Toxicodendron radiacans.
                  Since I’m no pro at identifying its ubiquitous three leaves, I scrubbed my hands, arms, and face with cool, soapy water the moment I walked into the house—then tossed my clothes into the washing machine.
                  In a succession of seven days, that unmistakable itch blossomed into my most widespread case of dermatitis since puberty, the left side of my face and neck blistered red. All the while I applied plantain poultices to draw out the poison and lavender oil to soothe and heal my skin.
                  At the peak of this unsightly irritation, I hosted my Seven Ponds Friends of Herbs group. It poured rain, so we canceled lavender harvesting and put Plan B into motion. We gathered indoors for another delicious, nutritious potluck lunch.
                  Afterward, we formed our circle in the living room and talked herbs and future meetings. Ever supportive, some of the folk offered their poison ivy history.
                  “My husband uses jewelweed,” Joyce said.
                  “Hmm, I’ve not seen it along the roads for years,” I replied.
                  Later that night, Joyce left a voicemail message. “My husband would like to talk with you.”
                  Next morning, Art relayed this story.
                  “I was a boy, covered with ulcers, dehydrating. My mother changed my bed linens every two hours. The doctor said there was nothing else he could do. I had no flesh on my joints. I thought I was going to die.”
                  “Your mother didn’t know about jewelweed?” I asked.
                  “No. It was a priest I’d heard my buddies talk about, but had never met. A friend stopped by the house with the news that the Father was in town. He really liked the guy and said, “You’ve gotta meet him.”
                  Art recalled the visit. “The priest walked into the room, took one look at me and said, ‘Come with me!’ I pulled on some clothes and followed him to a roadside where he uprooted tall plants. He split open a stem with a fingernail and said, “Here, rub the juice on your arms. Don’t you know God planted the poison and the cure together?’”
                  Two days later, Art and Joyce made a house call with a handful of wilting plants with knobby joints I recognized. He repeated the story to my husband as I applied jewelweed juice to my rash.
                  Art concluded his story. “In thirty-six hours I was on the ball field with my buddies.”
                  Dear Reader, the itch and blisters are gone. Yes, perhaps healing came by the combination of treatments.
                  Nevertheless, I was in a lavender field the next day, harvesting lavender with my husband.

Ode to Fireflies & Summertime

We laid our work and burdens down to observe a lightning bug. That meant letting go the shovel and dishtowel. The prodigal. Naysayer.
We lifted our heads at dusk to glimpse summer’s first golden wink—the winged beetle’s signal of survival. After several weeks of drought, the first sight of their bioluminescence surprised us.
Although countless generations of children have trapped them in canning jars and smeared their tails on their skin for amusement, glowworms have thrived to mate nonetheless.
Here, there. Everywhere, the language of blinking lights.
They flew in like family to celebrate the longest day of the year, to allure us with their laser show. They called us to sit and rest—to witness Nature’s faithfulness and handiwork.
The air was calm without mosquitoes. We lingered upon the hilltop where the sweep of land and sky grew darker and the twinkling light brighter. I wished every living thing on our dear planet could sense this sublime passage of time and season.
For God designed all creatures great and small with a portion of the firefly’s “glow” element: adenosine triphosphate, the chemical that converts energy within cells for metabolism.  
What a marvelous thought as nightfall enveloped this Summer Solstice: we’re all born to shine.
It is a matter of heat and humidity for the firefly. Forests, fields, rivers, ponds, and streams provide the ideal habitat to trigger the insect’s ATP.
According to, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Allegheny National Park attract a species of firefly that lights in synchronization. Their performance ranges from mid-May to mid-June for smart folk who purchase tickets in advance and shuttle into the forest for the sold-out show.
Sounds like the perfect vacation to me.
And in Southeast Asia, another genus of firefly glows in mangrove forests year round. Imagine that.
Some species illuminate during all four stages of its life cycle. I’ll have to find naturalist Terry Lynch, a firefly specialist, and ask if that species has a higher ATP level than the common lightning bug. And I’d like more information on treating human diseases with doses of ATP.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty standing water down our road and tall grasses behind our property for firefly eggs and larvae to propagate. I am concerned, though, about development’s light and noise pollution creeping up from south of us.
Mr. Lynch recommends planting pine trees to provide a canopy of shade and sound barrier that fireflies need to find a mate. Furthermore, in the future I’ll refrain from raking needles from our white pine cove because firefly larvae feed on earthworms and other small animals that feed in pine litter.
For this Appalachian Michigander and her mate, the calm, summertime twilight is reserved for watching fireflies, the glow of a resilient bug that speaks of the simple pleasures of childhood.

Dear Reader, in their short lifespan, their love language reminds me to lay disappointment down and let my light shine.

Poetry Contest Winners: The Love of Food

Our harvest dries for sweet and savory recipes.
Dear Reader, we’re drying lavender bundles for my culinary fancy. This means it’s time to announce the first, second, and third place winners of the Second Annual Yule Love It Lavender Farm & Letters Poetry Contest.
My thanks to all who took the leap of faith and submitted poetry about “The Love of Food.” And my gratitude to Linda Nemec Foster of Grand Rapids for judging the entries.
I think it remarkable how she chose three poems that speak the love language of food—the inseparable bond between our nourishment, family, and friends. Please, enjoy the feast!

Fist Place:

La Mia Fame – my hunger

the wine tastes of sweet oak, a flock of starlings
their sudden rush of wings in my mouth lifting
me weightless like notes from a bamboo flute—

and the bouquet, boysenberry, spiced plum,
the first swallow a rich mouthfeel, currants
and dark chocolate doing a tango on my tongue
making me want to gulp not sip—

the insalada’s wild greens peppered with garbanzos
from the other side of the world where
my grandmother once crushed them into falafel
and humus dreaming of America—

there is a language to this meal, chicken Piccata
garnished with capers and artichokes, awash
In white wine brodo, the candle flame reflecting

on my water goblet the way it did that Bermuda night
when we ate Carpaccio and lobster on the patio,
wind ruffling my hair, cooling our sun burnt skin—

now, the sunset melts down our window
like icing, and something floats inside me
carrying a fullness there is no word for.

By Carol Was, Plymouth, MI

Second Place:

Six O’clock
What you show me in the kitchen
is magic.

Fed from wooden spoons,
every meal made

from your great-grandmother’s cast iron,
imbued with years

of secrets
whispered down generations

along with seeds passed
from palm to palm.

Listen, she said, to the snap of peas,
the hush of basil,

the singing of rosemary.
What others can’t combine,

and see only individuals,
you make whole,

create something
other –

a bite puckers cheeks,
licks lips, and spices no longer

need names.
Because what needs a name

when it gives back memories?
If tastes could be spoken, it would sound

like a sigh,
and that sigh would be

every dish
you made me.

By Ashley Huntley, Washington, MI

Third Place:

Dried Lemons

“In a net,” she says. But they’re loose for 69 cents.
Four bags ride home, stuff our crisper bins.

We stir buckets of lemonade, pucker,
add granular sugar. Tongues play with pulp sacs,
firm as grapes. She mixes in raspberries, ginger ale.

She paints. Lemon halves, stars showing, dried,
she stamps, purple, pink, yellow, patterns ringed
by thick circles, like embryo nebulas. Raucous
forms cavort on a celestial canvas.

Cinnamon hair glistens by daybreak sun.
Fingers dappled with color, she cresses
a stained china mug, sips blackberry tea.
Her dimples lively, she taps my hand.

The phone rings, Kagen arrives from Ireland
on the one-fifteen. She bites her thin lip, as she does,
says, “It’s not about you,” sprints away,
first love eclipsing weathered bond.

Weeks later, her key lays on the counter
like spare change. Space, disarray in the left-over house.

Lemon hulls, crusted in paint, wither by the window.
In the crisper, brown spots on puckered yellow skins
join like the freckle glaze adorning her nose.

At her unfinished canvas, under hazy daylight,
I dip newly dried fruit in mauve, fog, ash, charcoal.
Chisel radishes and stamp them with white.
Arms ache, fingers search, lost in ethereal dreams.

The art hovers outside my bedroom door. I pass
our creation, follow her eyes, ablaze behind the stars.

By Christian Belz, Berkley, MI