Sunday, 30 December 2012

Choose a Patron

It is time to take the challenge of choosing a Patron Saint for 2013. Last Year I drew St. Ulric of Augsburg, which was rather confusing, as his areas of expertise included protection from birth complications, dizziness, faintness, fever, frenzy, and the infestation of mice and moles! He is also the patron of pregnant women, wanderers, weavers, winegrowers and a happy death. Around the time of his feast I took time to consider how any of that little lot could be relevant to me and concluded that: 'I would love to weave, would do anything to have the opportunity to make wine, and hope one day to have an 'easy birth' or two, or three, or four..... Eventually, with a tribe of family around me, I hope to die a good death, around the age of 99 or so...' Perhaps, this year I have set the foundations for some of that, who knows? I am currently crocheting a blanket...

Choosing a Patron Saint for the year used to be a custom amongst religious communities for New Year's Day, and perhaps, in places it still is.  Modernity has caught up with this ancient practise by means of a Patron Saint Generator by Jennifer Fulweiler. 

St Faustina, of Divine Mercy fame, shows that this custom was alive and well in the 1930's with an excerpt from her diary:

“There is a custom among us of drawing by lot, on New Year’s Day, special Patrons for ourselves for the whole year. In the morning, during meditation, there arose within me a secret desire that the Eucharistic Jesus be my special Patron for this year also, as in the past. But, hiding this desire from my Beloved, I spoke to Him about everything else but that. When we came to refectory for breakfast, we blessed ourselves and began drawing our patrons. When I approached the holy cards on which the names of the patrons were written, without hesitation I took one, but I didn’t read the name immediately as I wanted to mortify myself for a few minutes. Suddenly, I heard a voice in my soul: ‘I am your patron. Read.’ I looked at once at the inscription and read, ‘Patron for the Year 1935 – the Most Blessed Eucharist.’ My heart leapt with joy, and I slipped quietly away from the sisters and went for a short visit before the Blessed Sacrament,where I poured out my heart. But Jesus sweetly admonished me that I should be at that moment together with the sisters. I went immediately in obedience to the rule.”

Excerpt from “Divine Mercy in My Soul, the Diary of St. Faustina”

The ways of the future are unknown, but this year the patron chosen for me is St. John of God, whose feast falls on 8th March. His patronage is listed as follows: Against Alcoholism; Against Sickness; Alcoholics; Booksellers; Dying People; Firefighters; Heart Patients; Hospitals; Nurses; Publishers; Printers; Sick People.

I'll write more about him in time, and invoke his intercession throughout the year. 

Do you dare or care to find a Patron for 2013?  Just click here: Patron Saint Generator. :-) 

Let me know, via comments or via Facebook, who is chosen for you and their feast day, and I'll be sure to write a little something for you during the year. 


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Hold on

I am quite sure that 2013 will contain many adventures. I am very nervous of some of them, and some of them fill me with hope. I cannot see the road ahead any better than anyone else. But, hopefully, the grace of Christmas will light the way.

Any reader of this blog will know that I love to cook, and indeed, I spent much of Christmas Day cooking. However, Christmas Day is not my favourite day of Christmas, there are other quieter moments I treasure. When all the crowds have gone, I love to creep down the side aisle of my local Church to visit the beautiful crib scene. The figures there look real to me, I am child enough in my heart to make-believe them alive. The Christ-child reaches up a tiny hand, and I imagine that if I were to place my finger near he would grip it tightly, the way babies often do. I wonder what would happen if I did such a thing? What would happen if I had the courage to hold on? 

Then there are the other quiet moments of Christmastide. The night I get to stay up later than everyone else and look at the tree. The winter walk with a loved and treasured friend. Time to sit and crochet little granny squares for the blanket of my dreams. I adore those moments, when all the talking has been done, and there is time to settle down with loved ones and say nothing. Too much of my daily routine is spent amongst hustle, bustle and noise. I like to turn off the telly, the radio, and yes, even the internet.

And in the quiet, this:

260ml semi skimmed milk
1tsp English Honey
60g dark chocolate, grated

Place the milk in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the honey and bring it to a simmer. Whisk the grated chocolate into the hot milk until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Simmer for one minute more. Serve.

Add Brandy for a festive treat.

Tuck up into the sofa and relax.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The tender time of Advent

When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defence. It is not selfishness; it is not egotism. It is absorption into the life within, a folding of self, like a little tent around the child's frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish, and some day bring forth, the life. A closing upon it like petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in its heart. This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.
By his own will Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent: he was absolutely helpless; he could go nowhere but where she chose to take him; he could not speak; her breathing was his breath; his heart beat in the beating of her heart. Today Christ is dependent upon us.
This dependence of Christ lays a great trust upon us. During this tender time of Advent we must carry him in our hearts to wherever he wants to go, and there are many places to which he may never go unless we take him to them.
The Road of God - Caryll Houselander, 2006

I thought of this reading the moment a friend of mine posted a striking and completely absorbing image of the visitation on her Facebook page. It has taken me this long to dig it out. I love these words - I love their tenderness, and their femininity. I love the gentle grace of which they speak.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

All change

Last year when I wrote about Advent, I wrote about the 'Unexpected Expected'. I had been one term in a new post, and rushed off my feet to catch up, meet expectations, make the right impression and do the right thing. Advent, it seemed, followed on from summer. How different are my feelings this year. This year I am aching for the peace that comes with Christmas, and, of course, the Christmas holidays. Advent has been an age coming, and I know it will be an age in passing. After a mammoth term (8 weeks, then 7), we break late. Secular preparations are going to be rather crammed into the 22nd, 23rd and 24th December. Today, however, begins the New Year. All change.

The last few weeks of the school term will be busy - there is no doubt about it, but I am determined to take some time to just 'be'. Advent is a time to look at things and wonder. 

Life never stops changing, and change never seems to come more quickly than at the end of the year. Instead of letting things creep up, Advent is a time to stop and look at what might come. It is likely that I will move house soon - heading to somewhere nearer school. I do not want to leave Oxford, but the daily commute makes me too sleepy, and there is little time to 'live'. I am beginning to look for a new town to make my home. I cannot believe that I find within myself the longing to 'settle down'. Since I was 18 I have never stayed anywhere more than about 3 years. I have been in Oxford just over four. To go somewhere new will feel like I am uprooting, but perhaps from that will come new life.

As last year I feel the need to be with those I love most when the days get dark. I long to find time to cosy up, watch movies and eat delicious dinners. Today I went out running in the cold sunlight of a December Sunday, and soaked up the precious short lived rays of the winter sun. Port Meadow was flooded. It looked beautiful. I stopped to say 'Hallo' to the horses that live there. To be out was bliss. Fresh air makes the world of difference, and is the perfect way to begin a new year. 

My Advent resolution is to make time where I think I have none. I am planning on making my evenings time to prepare for Christmas. I will make those gifts for my loved ones I need to prepare; give time to marking to keep weekends clear; go out and sniff the winter air when jogging round the block; write cards, emails and letters to those I love and give some time to prayer in the mornings and the evenings to think about my path through the next few months. You cannot expect to see your way through it all at once. We are asked only to 'Light the Advent Candle One'.....

I have a recipe to share, but it is an experiment. I have dreamt about it, but I have yet to test it. I think it will be delicious, wintry and hearty.

Venison Bolognese

225g/8oz minced venison
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 beetroots (raw), grated (use rubber gloves to prevent dying your hands pink)
1 celery stick, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
125g/4oz smoked bacon lardons
1 tbsp mixed dried herbs
400g/14oz tinned tomatoes
150ml/5fl oz red wine
salt and pepper

Preparation method

Heat a non-stick frying pan and add half the mince. Cook over a high heat to colour the meat, breaking up any lumps with the back of a fork. Repeat with the rest of the mince and drain off any fat.

Heat the oil in another large pan and cook the onion, beetroot, celery and garlic until they start to soften.
Stir in the bacon lardons and the herbs and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and the wine and season well. Add the mince and simmer gently for 40-50 minutes until thick.

Serve with fresh spaghetti and grated parmesan.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

First Response

No sooner had Andrew found Jesus than he ran off and found his brother to tell him (John 1: 40 - 43). Andrew is the epitome of that first human response to news. Everyone else heard, they saw, they observed. Andrew gave the first response: tell someone else; tell everyone, follow him. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, has his feast at the very end of the year, or at the very beginning - depending on how the Advent falls. He ties up the ends, and begins the journey anew. Preaching. That's what he does. 

Sometimes I get asked why I bother with religion. It seems such a hassle sometimes. My answer is very simple. I bother with religion because I am interested in what is true about the world, and I am interested in talking to others about what I find, what they find, and what can be found. Andrew is the Patron of all that. He found someone True, and he followed, and he called others to follow. 

This year Andrew is the last of the Feasts of friends of mine who, way back at the beginning of the year, chose patrons from a random saint generator. For this reason, he has been among the saints whose intercession I have called upon to look after those I love.

Thinking about truth and those I love brings me to an odd juxtaposition of thoughts. Ernest Hemingway once said that to be happy as a writer: 'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.'  

My friend, who drew the Patron of Saint Andrew, I know best only through the quality of his preaching. I know he loves words and language because I have heard it, and listened. It is only fair and just then, that I share some things I have recognised as true in his voice when he speaks the Gospel. My prayer would be that he continues to preach as he always has, in the light of God's complete love for His creation, his love for people, and in his love for the Word.

Raimond Gaita, the Australian philosopher, argues that we only see someone as they really are when we see them in the light of those who love them. The same is true of all things, we only really appreciate their value when we see for ourselves the passion they can excite in others. Timothy Radcliffe OP associates truthfulness with language that helps people to flourish, develop and grow; falsehood with words that belittle, denigrate and undermine. Truthfulness is speaking in the light of love, desiring the good of another. That is right. True sentences give something of oneself, and they appreciate the goodness of another. Language is not an individual phenomenon, it belongs to the community, and not to the individual. Herbert McCabe OP said that. People are born into language, they have to learn to use it, and continue learning its nuances all their life.  The words we use depend upon our relationships with those to whom we speak. 

The truest sentence known would have to be spoken in the light of love. That is why I admire Andrew so much. He found the Truth, and he spoke it. He shared his news in the light of love. He built community from the truth he found. That is the task of all who follow in the footsteps of Andrew, in the footsteps of Christ.

I made Andrew a ginger cake once, and that was tasty. This time round though, I think that I will make him something new. I have a glut of lemons, following a round of Limoncello preparation for Christmas.

Lemon Drizzle Cake

6oz unsalted butter, plus extra to grease the tin
6oz caster sugar
4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
3 lemons
4oz self raising flour
2oz ground almonds
3oz sugar cubes

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and caster sugar until it is pale and fluffy - about 5 mins of electric whisking. Gradually beat in the eggs, followed by the finely grated zest of 2 lemons and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Fold the flour and ground almonds into the butter mixture, then spoon into the prepared mixture into the tin. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the tin comes out clean. Cool in the tin for ten minutes, then invert the cake onto a cooling rack, and leave it until warm to the touch. Meanwhile, put the juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons and the pared zest of 1 lemon into a bowl with the sugar cubes. Use the back of the spoon to roughly crush the mix. Spoon this over the warm cake and leave it to cool.

At the moment, I have a glut of lemons. So, yesterday, I made lemon curd. You could be adventurous and spoon lemon curd into the middle of the cake mixture, along the length of the loaf tin, when you are half way through pouring the mixture into the tin. This will mean you end up with a lemon drizzle cake with a gloopy lemon curd centre. It is yummy, but not for those who do not like to get sticky! First response? Pass a napkin!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Dream about an object

Gemma, my twin, would be proud of me. I had a dream about an object. Gemma loves objects - she works at a museum. Better still, the object I dreamt about belongs to her. I hope she still has it.

Around our childhood home, and more recently, in Gemma's untidy room there has been a precious, simple glass ball. It is crafted by hand: a thick blown glass ball. It is an Irish fisherman's float, used, before it became an object of aesthetic appreciation, to mark the place where Lobster Men let down their cages. They were traditionally bound by macrame knots to the woven basket cages into which unseen bounty from the depths would crawl, and later be consumed with great gusto! I do not know where our family found it, I seem to recall my Da talking about my Granddad coming across it years ago, on walk along a beach near Dublin. My Granddad died in 1966, so that would have been a long time before I was born. Today is the anniversary of his death.

Of course,  in the world of dreams nothing is quite like it is in reality. In this dream, which began on Sunday night and has persisted, the glass ball is, or contains, all that I am - my life source, my soul, everything I am meant to be. It shines and sparkles. Someone, unseen, protects me, and covers me over with a warm white blanket. I am treasured. 

Then comes a moment of choice. I can stay where I am, or go into the hands of someone else. The person who appears in the dream is a friend, perhaps in his late sixties, that I have not seen in a while, someone I trust completely and knew well in my teenage years. I go to him.  Acting in character, he takes this shining ball of light and throws it as high as he can into the air, and then waits to catch it. Again and again he repeats this process, and I laugh and am happy. Then, as is inevitable, he throws the ball too high, the sunlight catches his eye, and the fisherman's float falls to the floor and smashes into smithereens.

I disappear from the dream. My friend, the old wise and trusted sage, is devastated. He picks up the shards and places them on a tea tray. He carries them indoors, a familiar, homely building - a place where I grew. Then, with great dedication, and working through the night, he sets about gluing together, with superglue, the shards of the orb. The work is a work of sorrow, but also of hope. Eventually, he holds up the fruit of his labour. It is a clumsy object, surrounded by the fat, gloopy lines of white glue, delicate to touch, but hardening fast. Through the small window panels I can see a crouched diminished figure - me - sitting on the floor, hugging my knees, waiting.  My friend looks at me with compassionate pity, and he places his hands over the delicate, handmade orb. Tremendous heat comes from his hands, and through his love, the glass is heated, and the glue melts. The Fisherman's float transforms into a glistening bubble, and begins to float up, up, up.

My friend catches my attention, and calls me to reach out of the bubble. I do so without breaking the surface. I hold his hand and look back. He draws the orb towards me, and places it in my hands. I marvel at the shape, texture and weight of the ball - it is heavy, it should not float - and then, like my friend before me, I throw it into the air and laugh. I am happy. It floats. The first words of the dream happen now, my thoughts: I cannot hold you long enough, and so this is where I should be now - days and nights falling by me. I know of a dream I should be holding. This is where I should be now. Strange how my heart beats.

I do not know a lot about dreams, but I like this one, and I thought it worth recording. I have had it before, I think - when I was 19 years old. I wonder if it has meaning, and I wonder why it has returned to me now.

I should put a recipe here. If you have read this far, you have earned it. Perhaps you could really treat yourself and go and eat lobster. I think that was the first thing a niece of mine ever ate - it was just what the fishermen brought in on their boats. I am going to ask Gemma if she still has that Fisherman's float. I love that object. It sparks such strange dreams, even though it is years since I have seen it.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

House Pumpkins 2012

Two Saints for All Saints

This photograph was taken in 1889. It shows St Marianne Cope OSF praying, with one of her brethren, by the funeral bier of St Damien de Veuster SSCC. It is the earliest, and perhaps the only, photograph of two canonised saints in the same frame. New Advent published it earlier in the week.

Of course, friendship between the saints has lit the way for many centuries: Damien was a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, founded for men and women through the friendship of Pierre Coudrin and Henriette Aymer de Chevalerie. On Christmas Eve, 1800, amidst the turmoil of revolutionary France, Pierre recited his vows at 11.45pm: I Marie-Joseph take the vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as a Zealot of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, in whose service, I wish to live and die. Mother Henriette renewed her vows shortly thereafter. By the time of Coudrin's death in 1837 the SSCC had 276 brothers, 1125 sisters, working through the charism that pair shared together.

Marianne was a member of the Sisters of St Francis of Syracuse, New York. Who has not heard of the friendship between St. Francis and St. Clare? She left home at 18 to go and follow his example, his way of finding God, Christ, salvation.  Then, there's Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal - of their friendship Francis himself wrote in An Introduction to the Devout Life: It is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there. 

So, it is not the friendship between these two great saints that is surprising. The two worked in parallel to help those suffering with leprosy on the Hawaiian islands. Marianne took on the management of a hospital O'ahu in 1883, which cared for sufferers from all the islands. Damien came from the leper colony on Molokai to visit her for the dedication of the chapel. However, by 1888 he was very ill, having finally succumbed to leprosy. Marianne moved to nurse him. He died the following year, on the 15th April. Marianne shouldered his work, and continued living with the people on Molokai. She opened a girls' school, and named it after him. In 1895, at her suggestion, four brothers of the SSCC came to the island to care for the boys. The friendship of Marianne and Damien began on earth and endures in heaven.

No, their friendship is not the surprising thing about this photograph, nor their beautiful shared mission to love for love of others. What is surprising is the photograph itself. It is timeless. It is sharp, as if it were yesterday. Damien, dressed for burial in a fine chasuble, ready to offer Mass, looks restful - although his skin is marked from the leprosy that hastened his death. Marianne, mourning the loss of her friend, also seems at peace - she knows he will be cared for in the life to come and, she will continue his mission in this life. I sat next to a nun in church with a habit like that last Sunday.

Here they are then, two saints. Two modern saints. Looking, for all the world, as if they could be in the next room. What is remarkable about this photograph is that instead of time traveling through centuries, or peering into the distant medieval past, these two bring sainthood hurtling into the present. That's the power of a photograph.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Jesteś królem

Every now and then I dream in another language. Mostly this is Spanish, but last night it was Polish. This was odd. I do not speak Polish, but I have been on one wonderful, memorable pilgrimage there. I was with the SSCC in 1999. For any of you who read this blog, and were with me on that pilgrimage - here is a blast from the past - my charismatic days.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Home with Claret

The 24th October is the Feast of St. Anthony Mary Claret, founder of the Claretian Missionaries.

So, on the 24th August 1998 I left home for the first time. I packed all my possessions into a rucksac and moved into the religious community of the Claretian Missionaries at Buckden Towers. I was 17. I do not remember giving my parents much warning of this decision in my life - in my mind I just got up and went. Perhaps that has been indicative of the way I have made big decisions ever since.

Nevertheless, the Claretian community I lived with gently taught me many things about developing a relationship with God and about being more patient, they taught me about living in community, about people, their doubts and uncertainties, and about my faith. They helped me to understand a little about what it means to feel called to the religious life even though this has not been, and was never meant to be, my path.

My daily routine went from doing pretty much what I wanted, when I wanted, to being set out by the rhythm of prayer, mass and work. Each day began with Morning Prayer from the Divine Office, and closed with Evening Prayer. There would always be Mass. I worked as an assistant on retreats for children and young people, and helped the house keeper to keep retreat centre tidy and in fresh linen. I was guided in my work by Fr. Paul who led the work of the retreat centre, Fr. Chris who was superior of the house and Parish Priest, Br. Billy who had lived in that community for many many years, and knew the place inside out and backwards, and Denise, my fellow lay member of the house, who had recently left contemplative life with the Carmelites. I loved that house, and I loved living in that place. Often, there were days on end where I could walk in the country, or climb high onto the roof tops of the tower and look out over the Cambridgshire fens. Sometimes I was left to my own devices to polish the floors of The Tower - a job that took all day, and I was quite happy to hum little tunes to myself and keep busy. On Monday nights we had 'community night', and would meet together to play canasta and chat about the week.  I looked forward to that. I loved looking after the grounds and the sheep and lived for days when I could help light a big bonfire, or ride on the tractor.

I learnt many things during the year I spent with the Claretian Misisonaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Living with that community showed me the everyday realities of feeling called to religious life. I observed then something I have never been able to describe since - people working, truly and in the heart, for the love of God. The Claretian Missionaries were founded by St. Anthony Mary Claret, and they often spoke about the heart of the missionary being 'on fire' with zeal to spread the Gospel. This sounds confusing to those who do not often hear such language. The year I spent in Buckden Towers taught me that being 'on fire' with the love of God often equates to getting up every day with the determination to complete the tasks of the day with joy, grace and compassion. Sometimes it means getting on with something you might prefer to avoid, but doing it with good grace. Sometimes it means setting your mind to seeing goodness in the heart of those around you, even though they are in a foul temper. It always means doing everything within prayer. 

There were 'big' days in Buckden Towers, and I learnt all sorts of new skills. I still remember very clearly the week of the Claretian Chapter. All the Claretian Missionaries in England and Ireland came - I knew many as I had worked with different groups from their parishes in Gorseinon, Durham, Hayes and Leyton. I was tasked with cooking breakfast - as the cook did not arrive until later in the day. Rustling up a full English for 35 fellas for 7am was no mean feat - but I was trusted to do a good job of it, and enjoyed the challenge. There were also quiet days. In 1999, after I had been away to university for a year, I was called back to The Towers. Once again the brethren were having 'Chapter', but this time at another venue. I house sat the complex for a week! I opened the church each day, and locked up at night, answered the door and the phone, looked after the 'gentlemen of the road' that called looking for a place to stay, and tried to make friends with, rather than be terrified of, the many creeks and bumps in the night that go with a building in which Queen Katherine of Aragon spent time under 'house arrest' - sent by her husband Henry VIII.

At 17 I was very young. I am going to be 33 this year. Time has passed very quickly. I am still learning the lessons from my year in Buckden Towers. I know now what I did not know then. I am a teacher. That is my vocation. It is a lay vocation and I am delightfully happy in my job. 

I took the photo of the Chapel of St. Claret above. It was in that chapel I made many of the 'big' decisions in my life: to be confirmed, what subjects to take at A-Level, to join the lay community at The Towers, where to go to university, what to study. It was in that chapel that I decided to walk to Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrimage on which I decided to train to be a teacher. My brother, Stephen, was married in that chapel. I turned down the option to move straight on to a PhD at Liverpool there, and moved onto jobs in social services, time in Spain and working for Parish Communities. I chose to take up an MA whilst teaching there, and later made the choice to study a DPhil at Oxford. I returned to Buckden when my money to complete the DPhil fell short and things went awry, and I worked my way through resolving to begin again in that place. On my phone this picture is labelled 'home'. Next week, during my half term, it is my ambition to go to that chapel again. I am fiercely independent, and always have been. I blame it on my Ma, whose birthday it is today, 24th October, and who taught me everything I know. I tend to make big decisions quickly and with little consultation. Once again I am at a point in my life when big decisions must be made, and I know the only place I can make them securely is in that space of my 'home', my chapel. St. Claret, I ask your prayers.

In honour of St. Anthony Mary Claret, and in thanks for my formative year in the company of your brethren whom I pray for on this feast, there should be some delicious spanish food.

Basque Chicken Pie 


4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp flaked sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into 12 wedges
1 green pepper, halved, seeded and sliced
1 red pepper, halved, seeded and sliced
3–4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
150g/5½oz chorizo sausage, skinned and cut into thin slices
3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 large ripe tomatoes (each about 100g/4½oz), skinned and roughly chopped
2 tbsp flour


225g/8oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
75g/2¾oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1 medium egg yolk
4–5 tbsp cold water
1 egg, beaten, or full-fat milk, to glaze

Preparation method

Put the chicken pieces in a bowl and sprinkle over the paprika, salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Rub the seasoning into the meat and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onions and peppers with the thyme and bay leaves for 3 minutes, while stirring. Add the chicken and seasoning and cook for another 3 minutes, turning the chicken regularly until it is starting to colour. Add the chorizo and garlic and fry for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes or until they are softened and juicy, stirring regularly.

Tilt the pan so that the liquid runs to one side and sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, chicken and chorizo. Stir it in quickly, then set the pan level and stir the cooking liquor into the flour. Doing it this way should prevent little clumps of flour – but don’t worry if you do have a few, no-one will notice. Add more salt and pepper if necessary and continue to cook for 1 minute, stirring until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and tip everything into a roasting tin or ovenproof dish, measuring about 25cm x 30cm/10in x 12in and at least 4cm/1½in deep. Leave to cool.

For the pastry, pulse the flour, baking powder, salt, butter and egg yolk in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Slowly pour in the water with the motor running, blending until the mixture just comes together as a dough (you may not need to use all of the water). Form the dough into a ball.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Roll the pastry out into a rectangle about the same size as the tin. Place it over the pie filling and tuck the sides of the pastry down around the filling. Brush with beaten egg or milk to glaze.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling is hot.

H/T The Hairy Bikers!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Helpers fail and comfort flees

I didn't want to have to write this. Not yet. It is not fair.

On Monday, after a cold weekend under canvas, working for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, I changed my facebook profile picture. I changed from a horse to my Woodruff. He was all curled up, as a kitten, on his soft cat bed, holding onto his toy mouse, snoozing. I envied him. I wanted to be all curled up too. Woodruff taught me to treat myself gently sometimes, to take time to cuddle up with the sofa or my loved ones and to feel loved. Woodruff was good at accepting love. Woodruff was good at showing love.

My brother Stephen was the one who told me. He sent a message. History repeats itself. Woodruff was dead. He had been knocked down by a car.

I had been taking comfort from Woodruff's picture. Teaching myself to slow down, relax, take comfort. But, comfort had fled. He was gone. I had been planning a day on Sunday, curled up on the sofa with his soft fur and purr for company - a day of gentleness and peace - He was going to be my help. Now, no more.

Woodruff was only just a year old. He came to our house to sooth the grief of another lost loved pet, Juniper. Now he had met the same fate she did before him.

Woodruff loved life. He liked mice and birds and mischief. Once, when I cruelly refused to let him pounce all over my bed in the morning, he went into the bathroom and pulled all the loo roll onto the floor. He liked exploring. Every now and then he would climb up the chimney. He ate your toes and ran up your jeans. If you weren't looking he would have the food off your plate. He only drank fresh water from a dripping tap. He has been known to get in the bath. Amidst all this activity though, Woodruff always had time to snooze. And, when life was too hectic, and stress was starting to make me crack at the seems, Woodruff time would set me straight. Relax, he advised. Curl up and let the world go by. Let everyone rush about. Sit still. Listen to their hustle and bustle. Hold on. Cuddle your loved ones. Wrap up in a blanket. You are a human being. Stop doing. Be. Stay.

When all was calm and everything still, up he would hop. Woodruff time.

It will take me a long time to recover from the death of Woodruff. A long time. His death was too sudden, too unexpected, too shocking, too sad. He brought me comfort and with his loss I have felt comfort flee. Woodruff will make heaven a cosier place to be.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The night of wind and rain and fire

 The anniversary of the reception of Newman into the Church comes round so quickly. I cannot believe the passing of time. On the his first feast I thought marmalade cake was best; on his second, warm bread toasted over the open flames, covered with butter and lime marmalade fitted the bill. Now, here we are at the third anniversary of his beatification. Once again I am looking forward to a weekend out in the elements, under canvas, hoping we might have the warmth of a camp fire to ward off the cold and damp. I really am beginning to associate Blessed John Henry with wind, rain, cold and fire. (O bless the Lord). The Duke of Edinburgh has a lot to answer for.

I am tired to my bones. My throat is sore. I wish with all my heart that Newman had the power to get me a few days rest. What is it he says? 

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.
No getting out of my weekend of camping, my marking, lesson planning or teaching there then. Such is life. Unsurprising from a man so caught up by zeal that he made his confession and was received into the church a by a Passionist priest, Blessed Dominic Barbari, who was still dripping with rain from his journey: John Henry knelt before him as he dried himself by the fire. 

There is, of course, only one thing for it: a cure. Since I am a simple soul, and know my limits, I cannot suggest anything complicated for such an occasion - I am sure that Newman wouldn't like it. I still think of him as a granddad who would appreciate simple treats. Therefore, I propose: Jam Rolypoly and custard or, in the absence of time to make Jam Rolypoly, strawberry and vanilla swiss roll and custard! Bird's Eye Custard was made in Edgebaston, Birmingham after all - the place where the first Oratory of England was established (on the site of an old Gin factory).

Come wind, rain and fire - I am ready to do some definite service.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

A re-post: Bruno's Soup

As luck would have it there was spinach in the garden and potatoes in the basket, so I decided to jazz up the supper of the Carthusians in Into Great Silence. Similar budget here, I am unemployed after all. So, two handfuls of spinach, three potatoes about the size of your hand, three small onions, two cloves of garlic, vegetable stock and grated nutmeg. And some pepper for seasoning. No salt though, the stock is salty enough.

I sliced the onions and garlic finely, and gently fried them in a little oil. Then I grated a generous amount of nutmeg over the top. It smelled yummy. Then I roughly chopped the three potatoes, skins on and threw them into the pot. A few minutes later I sprinkled a teaspoon and a half of the vegetable stock powder over the top of the frying potatoes and boiled the kettle. When the water was hot I poured enough over to just cover the potatoes, put the lid on the pot and made a cup of coffee to drink in the garden. Once the potatoes were soft I added the spinach and put the lid on again for a few moments. Then I whizzed the whole lot gently with a hand held blender. My un-Carthusian touch was a splash of cream to serve. Eat with fresh crusty bread.

Ages ago I wrote a post about my favourite sounds of silence, and today, thinking about Carthusians has had me remember it. Silence is really very noisy, there are so many sounds to a very quiet place. I made this soup while the house was quiet, just taking the time to myself. I could hear the birds, the sounds of the kitchen, the passing of a car on the road outside. Here - listen! The sound of the making of Bruno's Soup. :)

A re-post: A bear called Bruno

I had a bear called Bruno when I was little, so I will always associate the name with him and with a frantic search to find him under the bed before I could possibly consider anything so restful as sleep. (Okay, I still have a bear called Bruno, but he just sits quietly on a cupboard now). Saint Bruno, whose feast it is today, was born in 1085. He was educated in Paris and ordained priest - he taught theology. However, wanting to lead a solitary life he founded a monastery called La Grand Chartreuse. He didn't get away with that peaceful existence for long though, he was called to be an advisor to Pope Urban II. He died in 1101.

The thing about Bruno, aside from the bear, is that he also reminds me of an adventure to see a film in Cambridge some years ago. My brother was home from one of his many travels. Into Great Silence (2005) was on at the Cambridge Arts Cinema and I really wanted to see it. But, having explained the plot (?) to a few people I couldn't get any takers. The film, directed by Phillip Groning, is an intimate portrayal of everyday life in the Grand Chartreuse. Groning proposed the film to the monks in 1985, and 16 years later they contacted him to say they had agreed to his project. Everything takes time. Groning then went, by himself, to live with the monks in the monastery where visitors are not normally allowed. He stayed 4 and a half months from March in 2002. The sounds in the film were recorded by Groning alone. No artificial light was used to create the remarkable images. My brother said he would come. So, we booked tickets and drove the 30 or so miles to Cambridge, parked the car and went in. For me, it was one of the most amazing films I have ever seen. I loved it. Dan said afterwards it wasn't so much a film as a meditation, and I guess that is right. There is no commentary, just the sights and sounds, the rhythm of monastic life. I bought it on DVD afterwards and used it in the classroom. Then I lent it to someone and never saw it again.

I guess there is a theme here. Bruno - the bear - has to be found for peace to reign, but Bruno -the Saint - shows that silence can never last forever, there are jobs to be done. The film was just a moment to be caught and appreciated like the precious silences that come our way, every now and then.

Those of you who saw the film might remember this still image of dinner. Okay, so it is spinach and potatoes - very simple - but you have got to be able to do more with it than that. Simplicity is no excuse! With that in mind, two books that might help can be found here and here. Cook with them quietly! If I grab a moment today I am going to make spinach and potato soup, and maybe a loaf of bread.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Archangels: Two can play at that game

Last year I was new in post at my school, and I was delighted to discover that the school feast day was Guardian Angels. As I was instructed I watched and observed all the proceedings around the feast, and I found in my new school a home. I had never felt so at home in a community before that day last year. I have always felt 'called' to be a teacher. For the non-religious among you this may sound strange, but ultimately it means that I cannot not teach. At my new school I found my home. I know this because last summer a very attractive offer, just one step away from my house, essentially teaching the same material to the same age group, for the same pay, came my way. I didn't even blink before explaining I was, regrettably, committed elsewhere. This, despite the 98 mile round trip daily. If I look back over the last year, it was Guardian Angels that set the precedent - it was Guardian Angels that gave me the reasons I need to travel the long distance I do.

Guardian Angels was not to be compromised. OFSTED announced they were coming. So what? The Guardian Angels were coming too. Nothing would stop our celebration of the school feast. As it said on all the walls: THE ANGELS ARE COMING! Get ready. So we did, and we carried on, and in the end it worked out well, and our judges judged us the best we can be. Amen. A school that does not jump to sing a secular tune the moment a government minister calls is my kind of school. I loved that we welcomed in our inspectors and let them see us, just as we are. Catholic Schools have nothing to hide, but sometimes they are too quick to 'fit in' to the race, and hide their faith less someone disapproves. I was happy that my school did not do that, they just asked their judges in and made them welcome - with a full on lunch made by the sixth form, if I recall.

This year I have been excited about Guardian Angels for weeks. Then, as the anticipation mounted I saw it. There was a notice: IT IS COMING. It? It? Which it? It was time for the Head of RE to step in. The Guardian Angels were coming: They were coming.

I had a little think on my way to school, and finally decided. I would play a game. Traditionally, Year 13 organise everything. And, they advertise our celebration of Guardian Angels. Year 13 provide breakfast for the staff, play the staff at netball and football, put on a play, give a present of a Mars bar to every student, present the staff with gifts, lead and supervise the day. Year 13 do everything. They are wonderful.

This year I decided to interfere in ONE thing. I poster bombed the poster campaign. Secretly. I put posters of the Guardian Angel Prayer next to every Guardian Angels poster I could find. The Head Teacher, as is traditional, ended his  Monday assembly with this prayer, asking every student to mean the words he spoke over them. Then, after that,  I counted down, Monday to Thursday, and posted posters of the Archangels Ariel, Raphael, Gabriel and Michael -with scriptural references. Sometimes my posters were taken down before they were up for long - no one knew if they were 'official material'. Sometimes they were left where they were. Many students have been asking me about the Archangels all week. That makes my secret game worth playing. I get to do a little theological education of the reason for the feast.

See Michaelmas for delicious cake!
Angel of God,
my Guardian dear
to whom God's love commits me here
ever this day be at my side
to light and guard
to rule and guide

The Angels are coming and we are going to celebrate - now we know what we a celebrating. First up - breakfast. Our Year 13 students make the staff breakfast to celebrate the Guardian Angels that look after them - visible and invisible. They celebrate with us the work we do together to set everyone in our community on the right path.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A salad for the day that is in it

Plants have symbolic meanings. These sometimes vary from place to place. They come from the oral tradition, narratives from holy scriptures, appearance, healing properties and history. Figs are a symbol of abundance and initiation. This seems appropriate and excellent for today, the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


Figs, Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil

Gently tear apart 6 juicy ripe figs and place them prettily on your serving dish. Do the same with some high quality wibbly wobbly buffalo mozzarella, and arrange it around your figs. Tear purple and green basil leaves over the  top of both, and dress with an olive oil that has the taste of apples. You can add, if you choose, strips of prosciutto ham, salt and pepper.

This is a delicious starter. 6 figs will serve about 3 people, but it is easy to increase or decrease the ingredients, as everything is measured by the eye.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Parade's End - Two worlds collide.

War has broken out. Tiegens chooses to go to war and explains his decision, first to his wife, and then to Miss Wallop, an unrequited affection -  a feminist, pacifist, libertarian writer. He is forced to think aloud about his decision, and defines Toryism in such a way that it comes to be a form of Feudalism: a love of key values, honour and absolutism. Notions of 'right' and 'left' show themselves up to be the sham that they are.

T: Miss Wannop, come to the fire and tell me why you won't talk to me.
    What is that smell, do you know?

V: Chinese incense sicks.

T: Oh.

So those were the geniuses..... Well who am I to judge? That man over there isn't a genius. His name's Ruggles. Something to do with handing out honours at the palace. McMaster has got his ear.
Only perfectly proper. Only clean way. British way....... Well, I came over to tell McMaster I'm joining the army........ I hoped we respected each other...... At least I tremendously respect you, and I hoped you'd respect me too...... You don't respect me?

Well I would've like you to have said it.

V: Oh! What difference does it make? When there is all this pain, this torture? I haven't slept all night since.... I believe pain and fear must be worse than I'd....

T: dear...So queer. My wife used almost exactly the words you used not an hour ago. She too said she that she couldn't respect me.

V: We have to do everything we can not to lose our men, don't you see? Besides you know that you are more useful here.

T: They'll never have me back. The sentimentalist must be stoned to death. He makes everyone uncomfortable.

V: You shouldn't be proud of despising your country.

T: Don't believe that. I love every field and hedgerow! The land is England, and once it was the foundation of order, before money took over and handed the country over to the swindlers and schemers. Toryism for the pigs trough.

V: Then what is your Toryism?

T: Duty. Duty and service to above and below. Frugality. Keeping your word. Honouring the past. Looking after your people. And beggaring yourself if need be before letting duty go hang. If we'd have stayed out of it I'd have gone to France to fight for France. For agriculture against industrialism. For the 18th Century against the 20th, if you like. I hoped you'd understand?!

V: Oh,  I understand you, you're as innocent about yourself as a child! You would have thought all the same things in the 18th Century!

T: Of course I would, and I would've been right! *laughs*

But you do make one collect one's thoughts. Do you remember our ride in the mist, what you said about me three years ago? Well,  I am not that man now.

V: What? I can't remember.

T: I'm not an English country gentleman who'd let the country go to hell and never stir himself except to say, 'I told you so'.

V: Yes, I said that.  I said you ought to be in a museum. I think I wanted to provoke you into bursting out of your glass cabinet......................

Friday, 31 August 2012

The eyes of all creatures look to you O Lord

...and you give them their food in due time.

That is the opening lines of a formal grace before meals. It has been whirring round my head recently, sometimes inspiring me and sometimes making me giggle. I giggle when I look at the pleading face of Woodruff the cat, or the Kune Kune pigs I recently saw at their supper time. I am inspired when I am out and about picking my own sweetcorn, broad beans, rhubarb, apples, beetroots, and all sorts at the local farms hereabouts; when I am shopping in the butchers, greengrocers, bakeries, and markets; and, when I am scrummaging around the hedgerows for blackberries and other goodies.

Late August and September, despite the return to school, is my favourite time of year. I love harvest. I am truly grateful for it every year. And, this little line from Psalm 145 reminds me of how much more grateful I should be. I live a life of luxury. Sure, I have no money, and have to choose carefully the things I buy. But, the no money I have is nothing in comparison to the no money others suffer. 

There is a habit I have at meal times. I light a candle on the table, just before the meal begins. In my head I ask for a blessing on the food, those who brought it to the table and those who will share it - a quiet moment of thanks. I rarely say grace out loud. Partly this is because I am shy. Partly it is because I often eat with people who do not share my faith, and I might make them feel awkward. However, I am always happy when someone does have the courage I lack, and speaks the grace that is on my mind.

There is, of course, a dream that goes with this post. I woke up thinking of that line from that Psalm, and I woke up laughing. I cannot remember exactly what was going on - I was walking along a long and dusty road, and complaining, complaining, complaining about everything. I had a pain in my knee, my back, my toe and, I was hungry - really hungry. I was complaining about that too. I get very grumpy when I am hungry. My companion was clearly fed up, it was dark, and as we approached a bend in the road, looked heavenward in exasperation exclaiming: 'The eyes of all creatures look to you, O Lord'. We turned the bend and a brightly lit, homely and open bar could be seen. I chimed in, 'and you give them their food in due time.' I laughed with my companion, and woke up still giggling.

Today is the feast of St. Aidan of Lindisfarne and his companions. When, way back in the mists of time, I walked to Lindisfarne across the tides, it was cold. I got too cold and hungry and fainted. Hot food, whiskey and blankets made me feel human again. I was very grateful for that too.

The other day I made hamburgers. They were yummy served with fresh corn on the cob and homemade smoked garlic mayo.

A hamburger feast.

2lb fresh lean mince
5 shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp mixed herbs
an egg yolk
burger buns (you can make your own, I didn't)
gherkins, sliced in half
A tomato thinly sliced
Jarlsberg cheese, thinly sliced

Mix your finely chopped shallots with the lean mince and mixed herbs, salt and pepper. Add an egg yolk and give a good mix with your hands to help bind. Form this mixture into good sized burgers (I made 8), by forming balls in your hands and then flattening them out. Leave to one side. Make your mayo.

Smoked Mayonnaise

3 egg yolks
4 crushed smoked garlic cloves
200 - 300ml olive oil

Crush your garlic into a bowl. Add the three egg yolks and mix well, season with salt and pepper. Very, very, very slowly add your olive oil and whisk. Keep whisking and adding the oil as it thickens up. Don't get carried away and add too much oil at once, it will not thicken. Just be patient. Soon you will have a bright yellow, wibbly, wobbly, bowl of deliciousness to go with your meal.

Back to the burgers....

Heat a grill to the maximum temperature and place the burgers on the grill pan. Allow them between 8 and 12 minutes depending on how well you like them cooked.

At the same time, boil the sweetcorn in salted water for about 8-12 minutes or until bright yellow. My flatmate made some special butter by deseeding and finely chopping fresh chilli and mixing it with fresh butter. We slathered our sweetcorn with that when they were cooked. Yum.

I finely sliced some tomatoes, cheese and gherkins and placed them in small bowls on the table. Slice the bread rolls in half and placed them unbuttered on the plates, with a burger, and then brought everything to the table to allow an 'assemble your own' affair. It was delicious.

The eyes of all creatures look to you O Lord, and you give them their food in due time. You give it them, they gather it up. You open your hand, they have their fill.

 I was starving. :-)