Friday 27 May 2011

Sanctuary Dip

This is a link to one of the tastiest things ever. The name give you a clue to the emotions it evokes. Yes, food is emotional, even if you might think you are are not into that type of hippy nonsense.

I give you, via the Post Punk Kitchen: Sanctuary Dip.

Use at as you will, I suggest you give the next friends that come your way sanctuary. That is what being a friend is all about.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Joyful things for joyful people

I was a little busier than I thought today - that often happens. But, I had a lot of fun. As I went about the day,  I was thinking up recipes for my holy trio of 'heavenly stars', but no sooner had I decided on something I would change my mind. The thing about Oxford is that we are spoiled for choice. I do not buy 'fresh' vegetables that have thousands of airmiles attached to them, but even so, in mid-May, the variety of delicious GB produce on offer astounds me. Everything is beautiful. In the end I was so excited about all the joyful things in front of my eyes I bought very little, but I did have a lot of fun. I kind of wonder what St. Dominic, St. Madeleine Sophie and St. Philip would have made of it all. 

I am sure they wouldn't mind me starting with something that makes me smile about this time every single year. 

 I normally make a bee line for the first sign I see. This year, I have seen it, but I haven't had time to get there yet. Asparagus - pick your own - just up at the farm next to The Perch. You can get there through Botley, or take your bike across Port Meadow. Last year I went, and finished my foraging with a half pint of cider in the sunshine. It was bliss. This year, I cheated: I bought two bundles of fresh green spears, from Oxfordshire, from the man in the Covered market.  They are super fresh. When I got home I  unwrapped them from their brown paper, boiled them in deep salted water until they would bend and their green shade had changed from vibrant to muted. I had a loaf of fresh brown bread, which I sliced as thin as I dared, and buttered as if I was plastering a wall. It was heaven. And, I have to confess to a sneaky glass of chilled white wine. It is the sort of thing I would be happy to cook up outside my tent and eat in a hedgerow, so I am guessing friar types should approve. I am not going camping till next week though, so this was just a practise run :-)

Since I am on my own for this evening, I am not about to start cooking up the rest of the feast for my merry band. The asparagus was my tea, and it brought such a smile. But, later in the week I might just get around to these two little treats: Lamb Fillet with Anchovies, Garlic and Rosemary (goes very well with Burgundy and Chianti, I'll have you know). For those that come looking for cake, Apricot, Lemon and Almond Tart might make and appearance rather soon too. It is with these little plates of happiness I will celebrate this week, sharing them with friends and family as they pass through. 

I saw a lot of other exciting and joyful things today: fresh cherries, for example - and I thought about cherry focaccia - who couldn't smile at that? And, fresh mint to make lovely tea, or to put with strawberries and cream.  Basically, I shouldn't be allowed into the Covered Market. There is always a danger I will never make it out, especially when there are feasts to celebrate. :-)

Lamb Fillet with Anchovies, Garlic and Rosemary
This is a dinner in seconds. To feed two or three people, it goes like this:

Enough Lamb Fillet to feed your number
2 - 3 anchovy fillets
a large clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
a few finely chopped Rosemary leaves
1 glass of yummy, deep and fruity red wine (far be it from me to dictate what that should be :-) )

On a clean chopping board, bash out your lamb fillet with a rolling pin. Each piece should make a small oval shaped escalope. Heat a heavy pan, and melt a large knob of butter in the pan until it is frothing. Cook the lamb, I like it rare, but to your taste. Put the escalopes somewhere warm - in a low oven covered by a plate. Tip away most of the butter from the pan, and stir in two or three finely chopped anchovy fillets, a large clove of garlic, peeled and crushed, and those few finely chopped rosemary leaves. Let them froth in the butter for a minute or two (smells divine), then pour in a glass of red wine. Once that has reached a fast bubble for a while, stir in a knob of butter and pour the sauce over the lamb to serve.

I recommend vegetables that you can use to soak up the yummy sauce. New potatoes, definitely. And perhaps, spinach or sprouting broccoli. Not carrots. St Madeleine thought they were boring, apparently. :-)

Apricot, Lemon and Almond Tart
(For 6 - who ever makes dessert for three? Tsk.)

350g Plain Flour
225g Unsalted Butter
100g Caster Sugar
a pinch of salt
3 Large Eggs

450g fresh, ripe Apricots
300g Unsalted Butter
300g Caster Sugar
300g Finely Ground Almonds
Juice and grated peel of 1 Lemon
3 Large Eggs

Crumble the flour and butter together in a bowl, using your fingers, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. My Ma can do this in minutes. It takes me hours. Add the sugar and salt. Add the eggs yolks and whisk fast with a metal spoon, until the mixture with happily leave the side of the bowl. Form into a ball, wrap in cling film, and place into the fridge for at least an hour.

Grease a 30cm, loose bottom tin. The next bit is tricksy. Take the pastry out of the fridge, and using the largest side of a cheese grater, grate it into the bottom of the tin. Working quickly to keep the pastry cold, press it evenly into the sides of the tin. Return the pastry to the fridge for 1/2 an hour.

Pre heat the oven at 180C. Blind bake the pastry for 20 minutes, let cool completely

(I'll mention at this moment, that you can BUY sweet pastry in the supermarkets - just saying, just because I take great joy in this kind of thing, doesn't mean you have to)

For the filling, cut the apricots in half and remove the stones. Place them cut side down in the tart case. In your mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and light. Add the almonds, and whisk to combine. Slowly add the grated lemon and lemon juice, whisking as you go. Stir in the eggs one by one. Pour the filling over the apricots and smooth over just to surround the fruit. Bake for 40 minutes. Leave to cool.


Oh look! Near my old house!
PS: I bought SUNFLOWERS! The first of the year! They make me very very happy indeed, and they make me laugh. I LOVE them very much :-) These days they remind of a sequence in a very cheesy film:

Alex: I hope you like sunflowers Mara: I love sunflowers. You know that. Alex: Why? Why do you love sunflowers? Mara: Because I always thought that when God was making beautiful things, He messed up with sunflowers. Alex: How? Mara: Well, 'cause they look like - I don't know. They look like crooked teeth around a mouth that's too big, kind of. Alex: Yeah. Mara: But... just when He was about to start over, He realized that's what made them beautiful. They were a brilliant mistake. 
Alex: Like you and me.

Friday 20 May 2011

Have a heart of laughter: I want you to be happy

Next week contains not one, not two, but three important feast days. In order: Tuesday 24th May is the Translation of St Dominic - this has nothing to do with languages. Dominic, before he died in 1221, expressed a desire to be buried 'at the feet of his brothers', and so he was buried at the entrance of the Church of St. Nicholas, Bologna. However, when the community expanded and a new Church was needed to house the brethren and the faithful, Dominic's tomb was left exposed to the weather. His tomb began to be worn down by the elements, and so, on this day in 1223, the Friars made the decision to 'translate' the remains of Dominic to a tomb inside their new Church. 

Wednesday 25th May is the Feast day of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart, the RSCJ sisters. In the midst of the French Revolution, Madeleine Sophie Barat founded a community based on the profound love of God. 

Thursday 26th May is the Feast day of St. Philip Neri, founder of the Oratorians. St Philip is perhaps most famous for his cheerful nature and his most generous heart. I have stolen the title of this post from the readings for his feast: I want you to be happy (Phil 4: 4 - 9)

Now, Cloister is a bit nervous about breaking her recent silence with a post about this holy trio. You see, I live in Oxford, about 5 minutes from The Oratory, 6 minutes from the home of the RSCJ sisters and a whole 7 minutes from the Dominican Priory. I am surrounded. Not only that, it is reasonably likely that a representative of each of these groups will, at some point, read this post. All in all, I had better keep it short and talk about the food soon.

'Nobody', Blaise Pascal once wrote, 'is as happy as a real Christian'.  I think, taken to together, the message of these three is the pure joy contained within a life of grace. 

'Happiness' is the first word you think of when you watch the Dominicans work together for any length of time. Dominic's successor, St. Jordan of Saxony is famous for his exuberance and wit. There is the story, I do not know where it is recorded, of St. Jordan bringing a group of novices into night prayer. One of the group got a fit of the giggles, you know how it is, and all the rest joined in. An older friar scolded them, and signalled for them to stop, but they just laughed harder. After the prayer was over, Jordan turned to the older friar and asked, 'who made you their Master?' Then, speaking to the young friars he said, 'laugh to your heart's content. It is only right that you should laugh after breaking the devil's thraldom...Laugh on, then, and be as merry as you please.'

In the midst of 17th Century France, as St. Madeleine was doing her work, Jansenism had become profoundly rooted in the French Church. This was a heretical theology which emphasised human depravity and predestination. They were a miserable bunch, to be honest, and taught that only a few were destined to be saved, denying the role of free will in the moral life. This, as far as I can see it, turned the human race into lemming-like doomed robots incapable of ever pleasing a distant and cold hearted God. St. Madeleine rebelled hard against such bleak images of humanity and the divine. She took as her inspiration the heart of Jesus, and saw there a heart on fire with love for the world. Such love was not a cause for downheartedness, but of great rejoicing. God had a human heart, like ours: warm, full of energy, gentle, generous and vulnerable. And, further, it came to us as gift.

St Philip (1515-1595), is remembered often for his humour and vivacity: 'A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one'. I love St. Philip because he was excellent at laughing at himself. There is a danger, particularly as a teacher of religion, of taking yourself too seriously. St. Philip lived a life that shows me how to avoid that :-) Also, sometimes, when times were tough, St. Philip's disciples would come to him with their doubts and complaints, but he would tell them, 'don't worry', be confident and trust in God. This was the source of the happiness and joy he is so famous for, and I hope it is the source of my happiness and joy too. Sometimes, when I walk through the door of The Oratory, particularly during Adoration, those words, 'don't worry', are the first I hear.

Three saints whose lives have deeply touched and formed the lives of my good friends hereabouts. Three saints who laughed. Three saints who made me laugh. Three saints who made my friends laugh. Laughing with joy changes lives, I know a few people who would testify to that. In the words of GK Chesteron, 'Solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy, hard to be light. Satan fell by force of gravity'. Go ahead, laugh, I double dare you.

Right, as is tradition, I am off to think up a little something to celebrate these three. I haven't thought of it yet, but I have a bit of time this weekend to get creative in the kitchen. I'll update this with a link to a recipe very soon. In the meantime, why not check out following: Godzdogz, All this life and heaven too and The Oratory

Ok - the food is here - hope you like it. You know, if not, just go and find your favourite thing and share it with a friend. :-) Joyful things for joyful people.

Friday 6 May 2011

Have I told you I have dragons?

This one lives outside my window. And he has two friends. I am thinking of naming them, but they should have suitable names.

Because they live outside my window, they have to be good dragons, protectors and keepers of the peace.

I miss my cat Juniper very much, and I think these dragons could become my new pets. I wonder what they eat.

Please give them some names. There are three I can see, two face East and one West.