Today, as my eleventh challenge in My 30-day Challenge, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for several years but have never actually gotten around to doing. Or I guess I should say I never intentionally made time for it… because time is ours to manage and we are the ones who choose how to spend those 24 precious hours each day.
Today, I made (or began making) an Italian liqueur called limoncello.
With lemons from the tree in my own yard.
If you’ve read the About section of my blog, you know that before moving to Portugal back in 2007, Denny and I spent 22 years in Italy, where our three children were also born and largely raised. When we began our life together there, freshly married (I was just 21 years old), I had very little experience in the art of creating a home and preparing meals. And Italy was a wonderful place to learn.
Food and drink in Italy have an almost sacred quality about them and the order in which each moment at the table is enjoyed is religiously respected. One would never dream of pairing together certain ingredients in a dish or of consuming particular traditional libations at the wrong moment during the flow of a lunch or dinner.
The selection of Italian drinks is vast and each one boasts not only specific qualities and flavors, but also a precise purpose during the course of a meal. There are aperitifs, to be consumed before sitting down at the table, whose purpose is to prepare the palate for the meal that lies ahead. Then, as every course is served, there is wine, carefully paired with each particular dish, so as to exalt its qualities. Often a sweeter, more bubbly wine will accompany dessert. And finally, to help the satiated diner digest such quantities of deliciousness, a digestive, usually infused with herbs to soothe the stomach, is offered.
Italians appreciate a variety of digestives from bitters to grappa, but the one I most enjoy in summertime is limoncello. Made from four simple ingredients – fresh, home-grown lemons, sugar, water and alcohol – it is served cold (often in small, frozen, shot-size glasses) and is so refreshing!
I savored every step of the process as I began my limoncello’s preparation. First, I selected a number of ripe lemons from our tree. Picking them, I breathed in the aroma from the point at which they were detached from the tree: so incredibly fragrant! I brought them into the house, washed them carefully and began peeling them, dicing the zest from their golden skins delicately, so as to release its essence and infuse it in the alcohol. The mixture will sit for ten days to three weeks in a cool place away from sunlight, requiring only a little shake once a day, to encourage the active ingredients to continue their wonderful job.
A few weeks from now, I’ll make a simple syrup, boiling sugar in water and, once cooled, it will be added to the infusion and thus returned to its dark and cool resting place. When seven more days have passed, the liquid will be strained, bottled and stored in the fridge or freezer, ready to be savored throughout the summer season.
Almost as much as the flavor of each delicious dish or drink that I learned to prepare while living in Italy, I appreciate the process of making it: the ritual itself. I love how these traditional recipes have been preserved and, while some may opt for shortcuts in preparation, the true connoisseur (or any respectable Italian, for that matter) knows that all good things take time and should not be rushed. Each step in the process is so significant, and the time it requires a necessity in achieving the final product, and therefore worthwhile.
I can’t help but reflect on how true this is in our daily lives. How often do we attempt to rush the process, in order to quickly reach a goal, only to discover that in passing over important steps along the way, we’ve compromised our results?
While living in Southern Europe has its frustrations, as I’ve mentioned before, due to the laid back approach towards getting things done (particularly when it comes to bureaucracy), I have also learned much from the flip side of this coin. Life, and most certainly life in relationship with Jesus, is not just about reaching goals.
God desires to use every step in the journey, every period of waiting, to allow new lessons to be “infused” in our hearts. Sometimes we spend long seasons in what appears to be a dark and cool place, where we’re being shaken daily, but it is all for a purpose. It’s drawing out the very essence of who we were created to be.
And although we may lack understanding – may not see how each segment of life fits into the grand scheme of things – we can truly trust the One who does. The Rock upon whom we can rest our feet, the All-Seeing and All-Knowing God who has purposed our steps until now and will, as we allow Him to lead us, guide our feet forward with precision.
And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions,
because we know that affliction produces endurance,
endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.
This hope will not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.