Thursday, 30 June 2011

Two feasts of love

On the Friday after Corpus Christi the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated, and the day after that the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I always remember that these days come together, because I was brought up in a Parish run by the SS.CC congregation. I spent my teens running about the UK and Europe with a group of people for whom these two days were a feast of all the love in the universe, and all the love that ever inspired them to the life they lived. For that reason alone, this double feast is special to me.

I think I have said elsewhere that some of the pictures that go with celebrations and devotions to the Sacred Heart freak me out a little, so please excuse their absence here. I tend towards thinking about these feasts as the essence of love: love as self sacrificial, love as affirmation (fiat), love as bitter-sweet and glorious.

I would love to be able to say something more lengthy and profound, but I cannot. I have never been a great one for attempting to explain the inexplicable. I once tried this in a post, but the words would not say everything I felt or wanted to express. I was knocked off my feet that day. I am sure though, that I wanted to commemorate both these days together. It is important to me somehow.

I have chosen a bitter - sweet dessert; it is a River Cafe Book Green number. I hope that it will be an aide-memoire for this feast and all it entails. Enjoy it with those you love.

Red Wine Sorbet with Crushed Strawberries
(For 6)

500g Strawberries, hulled.
4 tablespoons Caster Sugar


1 Litre Valpolicella (Red Wine)
100g Caster Sugar
10 Whole White Peppercorns
6 Cloves
grated zest of 2 washed Oranges, discarding any pith.

Put the wine, sugar, white pepper, cloves and orange zest into a saucepan and boil to reduce by half. Leave to cool, then strain carefully. Discard the bits and pieces. Place mixture into a suitable container to freeze. After 20 mins, stir gently. Repeat this after another 10 minutes, and then again after a further 10. Leave until sorbet begins to harden.

Roughly chop strawberries and mix with the caster sugar. Place into individual bowls and cover with sorbet. Serve immediately.

(add cream if you must - I know a few people who really feel it is a necessity!)

I was tipped off about finding a recipe containing strawberries for this weekend. Over at All this life and heaven too,  a certain religious sister will probably been cooking up something with strawberries too. I guess they must be the most appropriate ingredient for a feasts about love: they are heart shaped, after all.  It is certain that strawberries are most associated with hot summer months, particularly June, which hosts not only the commemoration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but also....Wimbledon. There are few things I have to say about this ingredient though: strawberries are worth waiting for, the forced sort that comes out early are really tasteless, eugh! Wild strawberries have a smaller, softer fruit, and have a beautiful delicate flavour, they are great and easy to encourage in your garden. It is best to avoid washing strawberries, but if absolutely necessary, do so before you hull them. Do not put strawberries in the refrigerator; it ruins the flavour! Now, all that said, enjoy the feasts. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Our Holy iPad

Pope Benedict XVI tweeted on Twitter for the first time today.
Apple will be pleased he did it on an iPad.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

What shall I read?

I love reading novels, but I don't often give myself the time and space. Now it seems I will have a little help in choosing what to read, even if I struggle to find the time to get to it. I came across this little blog about fiction written by Catholic authors. I played my little game of 'read it', 'want to read it', 'wouldn't read it' and came out with a score that will cost me money on Amazon. Have a look? It is quite cool, if you like that kind of thing :-)

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Deep Thinker

I have stolen this from the blog of one of my very best friends. We have known each other since forever so she will not mind. I love it and I think it is true. My only comment to add would be: Do not be afraid.

Monday, 13 June 2011

On Audioguides

Cloister got caught on camera learning stuff at a Museum. A blogpost resulted, containing the thoughts of my excellent twin sister on interactive devices that take you away from what is real. Find the post here.

Enjoy :-)

Remembering being lost

It is the feast of St Anthony of Padua today. I would love to create an extra special post for him, but sadly, in a few moments I will have to head to work. Looking back through Cloister though, I can see I have relied on St Anthony before. So, from 2008, here is a repost. For the record, I still have those keys.

'Tony, Tony, look around! Something is lost that must be found!

I am not sure that organized people can understand what it means to have a devotion to St. Anthony of Padua. You see, I lose things. Lots of things. Many times a day.

Today, on the way home from my sisters house I lost the key to my bicycle. I even heard it drop and can place the exact place on the road where it fell. Many people might not consider this particular key lost. But I did not stop, and cycled on merrily thinking I had run over a bottle top, or some other innocent item of tinkling litter. I got home under cover of darkness at around 11pm, and discovering the key missing realized my mistake. Now, at first light I will have to set off to recover the fallen key.

Many people might suggest that this is a mission with a lost cause, and finding such a thing is an impossibility. But, such faithlessness is not my path. I retain my hope with three factors. a.) St. Anthony is my friend. b.) my keyring has Blessed Damien de Veuster on it, and although his speciality is contagious skin diseases, he inspired my conversion back to Catholicism and wouldn't see me walking around desperate. c.) I have remarkable luck and practice with such things.

As you can see in this photo by Brother Lawrence Lew OP, St. Anthony is, at the best of times, overworked. Many many people rely upon him as their most blessed saint. He joined the Order of St Francis becoming their first theologian 'proper', and later leading the Order as their Minister General. He died in 1263. You might think he is out of date, but let me re-assure you that he is still very much in vogue, and can work miracles on the subject of lost keys.

St. Anthony of Padua is a favourite of mine because he files like me, finds things for me and prays for me.

Amen to that.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Slow start to Pentecost

I was out celebrating the birthday of a very good friend of mine last night. I was at home in Bedford, and the range of excellent home made alcoholic beverages was impressive. There was really very tasty ale and excellent elderflower champagne. Unsurprisingly, this morning got off to a very slow start. I may not have forgotten it was Pentecost, but the thought was very deeply buried. There were more immediate concerns of water, aspirin and breakfast. When I finally resurrected myself I left my good friends and hosts, who had struggled valiantly down the stairs, making themselves cosy in the sofabed they had kindly made up for me the night before. It looked like it was going to be a very sleepy day indeed.

On the drive back to Oxford I listened to Palestrina's Missa Brevis. I figured I had better get my holy classical music fix before reaching home, as I would be attending an evening Mass with no music later. I love this setting, and I could let the simple harmonies float around my thoughts, encouraging them to higher things. Just four voices: truly amazing. There is nothing, in my opinion, that can help you move from 'fuzzy head' to 'clear reflection' more quickly. Listen here to the Kyrie

Pentecost is another one of those feasts which offer an opportunity to start again, to renew, to reinvigorate. I needed a bit of this today. I figure that my friends back on the sofa did too. You know, it is a sign of complete love and devotion to dedicate a 'delicate' morning to cooking up a storm in the kitchen for the 'incapacitated'. And this feast is all about love too. My one confession is that this morning, I didn't get up and do this for my friends. I left them on the sofa, and another kind and loving soul resurrected them with hash browns and copious cups of tea. Mea Culpa

So, with love and a promise for next time: Breakfast Burritos for Four

3 Red Peppers
4 soft corn tortillas
6 eggs
6tbsp milk
freshly ground salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter
6 pepperdew peppers (these are a little hot, they come in jars from places like WAITROSE :-) )
2 tsbp cooked baby spinach
100g grated cheddar cheese
hot Jamaican Sauce to serve

Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the red peppers in  a roasting tin, brush with a little oil and roast for about 15 minutes until softened. Place the peppers in a plastic bag and leave to sweat until they are cool enough to handle. Remove the peppers from the bag and peel off the skins, cut in half and remove the seeds. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C

Stack the tortillas and wrap them in foil. Place them in the oven and worm them for 10 minutes, or according to the packet instructions.

Beat the eggs with the milk and seasoning. Melt the butter in a large non stick frying pan and, as it begins to foam, pour in the egg mixture. Do not touch the eggs until they begin to set, then, once they do, move them gently towards the centre of the pan with a spatula. Continue to cook until they are set, flip over using the spatula and remove them from the heat.

Roughly chop both types of peppers along with the cooked spinach.

Assemble the burrito, place a quarter of the cheese on one side of the tortilla, then top with a quarter of the spinach and pepper mixture, then a quarter of the eggs. Roll up tightly and eat immediately served with the super hot Jamaican sauce.

Soon you will be ready to set the world on fire again.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Dominican Friars - Vocations Video

They have done a fine job of showing who they live to be. Stay happy brothers! :-)

The Patron Saints of Throw Away, Give Away and Put Away

Every now and then, I go and look at what the statistics say about who comes and reads the posts on this blog. Often I see that people come and see me from other blogs. Then, I, in turn get curious. I go and see their blog, and then the blogs they have chosen to link alongside mine.

Yesterday evening, on one of these little explorations around the blogosphere, I came across this post, at Ask Sister Mary Martha. It made me laugh!

Offering advice to a reader who struggles to keep tidy, Mary Martha recommends three saints, the Patron Saint of Throw Away: St Lawrence, the Patron Saint of Give Away: St Theresa the little flower, and the Patron Saint of Put Away: St Charles Borromeo.

I loved the creative thinking behind her decisions to choose these three. And, having moved house too many times to count in the last three years, I thought her advice was excellent! Have a read, you are sure to enjoy it. I love the fact that the author is called Mary Martha too, nothing like the best of both worlds :-)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Excellent Post

This post is ace. I wish I could do something like this. It is a bit about food and fasting, and a lot about freedom and choices. I am particularly fond of the idea of a technology sabbath. :-)

Underneath the Stars

The lyrics of a Kate Rusby song have been bouncing round my head all week. It is a beautiful song, which reminds me of many things, not all of them connected. Sometimes I think songs can remind me of many different things because I am classically 'scatty'; not concentrating, my mind naturally wanders from topic to topic making unique connections of its own devising, and not always letting me in on them. However, with this song, I think it reminds me of so many things because it can be read in different ways. Have a listen:

Songs are intensely personal, and related to experiences in life and connections to people and places. Everyone hears them differently.  This song reminded me of a friend who, on visiting my parents house for the first time, commented: 'You have such beautiful stars! You are lucky!' I laughed because the stars do not belong to anyone - they come and go as they please. My friend was, at the time, having a bit of a roller coaster journey in life, and I remember watching him drive off and silently praying for him: 'Go gently'. Since then, I often sign off messages and notes to those I love with those words. To go gently through life, treating self and others with that quality of care which recognises their vulnerability, is a virtue I greatly admire and long for.

For half term I was sleeping under the stars in the back garden of my parents. My brother is visiting us, with his wife and family, from their home in Taiwan. It has been a great celebration. I miss my brother very much when he is away, and it has been almost a year since I saw him last. We have had much fun together - going on little adventures or just chilling out at home. Each night, heading out to my little tent, I have seen the stars and they are beautiful and remind me of St. Teresa of Lisieux writing: 'When was the last time you looked at the stars? Truly, we are surrounded with Love. Simple happiness is all around us.' 

Then, there was that night on the camino de Santiago. It always comes back to me. In June 2003, I walked from St. Jean Pied la Port to Santiago de Compostela alone, and almost without mishap. One day though,  after an early start,  feeling very very tired after a long flat 30kms (yes, it was a big stretch), I got turned away by a Franciscan Monastery. They had no room at the inn. It was the middle of the day, and the heat was overpowering. All the restaurants and bars had closed (it must have been after lunch). I had no choice but to move on. It was another 12kms to the next village. I asked the Friar who had answered the door to ring ahead to the next refugio, and let them know I was coming, I hoped he would. The road was hot and dusty, and very quiet. There was a line of thick trees on my right hand side. They were tall and dark. I was scared and tired and hungry. I remember thinking I would never get to the next place. I must have been walking very slowly, because it was 7pm when I finally made it. There was no room at the refugio there either. I could not go on, that much was clear. I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I did not know what I was going to do. The parish priest called his sister. Around 8pm, two more exhausted looking pilgrims arrived. The parish priest rang his sister again. Soon after, the sister arrived, well into her 80's, in a pick up truck with three spare mattresses on the back. They were placed on the floor in the portico of the village church, and we, the pilgrims, were told to get into the back of the truck. We were taken away to the sister's home, given clean towels and pointed in the direction of a hot shower, fed soup and mountains of bread. I don't remember much chat, we were tired and communicating in different languages was hard. After supper we were were trucked back to the church, and reunited with the mattresses. The last thing I remember before drifting off into a deep deep sleep, is looking up and seeing the clearest, most beautiful stars and a thin crescent moon - my refuge for the night. I woke the next day to the sound of Mass being said in the Church. It was 7am. There was only one door into the Church, and my two fellow pilgrims and I were sleeping in front of it. The parishioners must have crept around us to get in! I have never been more grateful for such simple hospitality. I will never forget that place or those people, and I will never forget those stars.

And a last unconnected thought about stars. 'You come and go of your own free will - go gently'. Those words remind me of today because it is the feast of the Ascension. I would love to be eloquent enough to be able to explain that, but sadly words fail me. Except to say that, looking at stars, I can truly feel present to and in the presence of those I love. Stars are so far away,  so far above me, and far beyond my understanding, but they remind me of how close I hold people in my heart. Sometimes people feel the Ascension is a feast about 'going away', but, as I was reminded today, it is really a feast about Christ's arrival at the heart of humanity.

Anyhow, enough from me.
Go gently.