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. :-)

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Recipe Index

Find food for fasts and feasts, or choose something you fancy from the recipes - Use the link in the sidebar to navigate

(Click on The World is My Cloister to return home)

Monday 27 August 2012

St.Monica and a sponge cake

St.Monica - John Nava
I made a victoria sponge cake for a family party at the home of my brother today. It was the dessert which followed a delicious dinner to celebrate his new family home. 

Rather fittingly, as it was the feast of St. Monica, I had to make the cake twice because the first time it went terribly wrong. This may have had something to do with the fact that when I tried it first (last night) I had been drinking wine! Nevertheless, determination is the virtue of the day, and one should not give up if you fail first time round.

St. Monica is mother to the particularly famous St. Augustine. Augustine did not always behave in a very saintly way. In fact, he had a rather wild and mis spent youth which included parties, some odd ideas about philosophy and religion, and a live-in concubine, by whom he had a son, Adeodatus. St Monica, a recovering alcoholic, prayed for her son's conversion every day. She followed her son around the place to ensure that he knew what she was up to. Eventually, after 16 years of his persistent mother's prayers, he was baptised in Rome 387AD, age 33. Within a few months Monica died in Ostia Antica, aged 56 - her mission complete. She was very far away from her home in Thagaste, North Africa (now Algeria), but she did not insist on being brought back: 'Bury this body anywhere. Don't concern yourselves about it. Nothing is far from God.'

Augustine, of course, went on to be ordained as a priest, and five years later became Bishop of Hippo. He thought a great deal, and wrote even more, and is remembered now as the founder of much of Western theological thought.

Now, that cake.

Victoria Sponge

8oz caster sugar
8oz butter and some for greasing the tins
4 free range eggs
8oz self raising flour
vanilla essence
icing sugar for dusting
raspberry or strawberry jam
fresh cream for whipping

Pre heat the oven to 180C. Using a nob of butter grease two sponge cake tins thoroughly. 

In a large mixing bowl cream together the sugar and butter until it is soft, light and creamy. This will take more than 10 minutes with an electric whisk. 

One at a time whisk in each of the eggs. Take your time, and mix in each egg really well. Try not to let the mixture curdle. Add a splash of vanilla essence.

Fold in the sieved flour carefully. Keep the air in the mixture and try not mix too much.

Spoon the mixture into the tins and level it. Place the tins into the oven and bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until golden brown and springy to the touch.

Allow the cakes to cool in the tin. Turn them out and cover one (the bottom) with your choice of jam. Whip up fresh cream and layer this on top of the jam. Place the other cake on top, and dust with sieved icing sugar. Yum.

Friday 24 August 2012

One Swallow does not a summer make

Today I saw some swallows nesting in the porch of the Church at Bladon. As it happens, Bladon is the church in which Winston Churchill is buried. However, it was the swallows that caught my attention. They were amazing. Ma and Da were flitting in and out feeding their young.

 I saw them on the approach to the Church, and on leaving the young were framed beautifully above a wooden beam and they welcomed a feed noisily. I didn't have a camera, so I took no pictures. 

These little wonders excited and amazed me because in just a few weeks they will fly to Africa, journeying over 200 miles a day to complete the journey in just 10 days. They migrate by day at low altitudes and find food on the way. Despite accumulating some fat reserves before crossing large areas such as the Sahara Desert, they are vulnerable to starvation during these crossings. Migration is a hazardous time and many birds die from starvation, exhaustion and in storms. 

Looking at them I thought of the mammoth task they had ahead. This might have been Mum and Dad's first brood of chicks, but more likely they would have had another this summer, which has already fledged and found their way in the world around the UK. They might have had two. This brood, however, will journey straight from the nest and face a battle for their lives with no time to test the strength in their wings. They will will have to trust and go. I loved them when I saw them and I wish them well.  :-)

Monday 20 August 2012

A walk round the hills and Bernard of Clairvaux

“What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures, I have learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters than the beeches and the oaks.” 

 I am in Clairvaux house at school, the Patron of which, unsurprisingly, is Bernard. This writing of his, among the pages of what else can be found or sought out, means the most to me. I am used to hearing 'Clairvaux! Clairvaux!' chanted on the sports field and in assembly, but perhaps I should try more often to hear it in the breeze.

I went for a great walk with my twin sister Gemma today. It is a walk I know and have been around often, but every time I see something new. Today there were skylarks, a muntjac deer, bees, bright purple thistles, pyramid orchids, a daunting field of calving cows, handsome horses, spiders, fields of corn and wheat, a man building his house, a couple reminiscing having been to the same spot years ago, a baby in a pram, excited and happy dogs running free, a biker escaping exhaust fumes - seeking a moment of peace, a grandmother and grand daughter having a picnic, the tombs of people who lived in the same spot more than 5000 years ago, the site of a castle and ancient battle ground: birth and death, life and marriage; all life exhibited for all to see.

Walking is a bit of a passion of mine. There is nothing better than getting up with the dawn and heading out for miles and miles until exhausted, taking in every breath, every sight, every sound of the hills, fields, woodlands, mountains, seas, lakes, rivers, trees, plants, animals - every sensory experience to be had - before retiring to the 'sleep of the just', a long deep dream brought about through a fine meal and some well deserved wine.

Like Bernard, I learn more from days like that than I do from other more 'scholarly' pursuits. That's why the Duke of Edinburgh award is so important to me.

It is the summer holidays. I love them. I love the time to cook and dream. On the Feast of St Bernard, Monday 20th August, the hottest day of the year, I was learning to make flatbreads with the help of my twin sister, Gemma.

I was in the kitchen, Gemma was in the front room watching television. I was measuring out the ingredients. Periodically I shout out questions and she shouts the answer:

250g plain flour
250g strong white flour
1 1/2 level teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon dried easy blend yeast
1 tablespoon rapeseed or olive oil, plus a little extra for oiling
325ml warm water 

"Do I just bung everything in together?"
*measures and pours two flours into the bowl"
"Don't put the yeast on top of the salt, you'll kill it"
*makes well and inserts salt*
*makes another well and inserts yeast*
*mixes up with spoon*
"Now what?"
"Warm water! Not too hot!"

*checks recipe* 

I add oil, and then 325ml of water and mix it up to form a rough dough. I flour my hands and tip the dough onto the work surface in an attempt to knead it rhythmically for 5 - 10 minutes. In seconds I am a sticky mess.

*Gemma pads into the kitchen, points and laughs*
*Gemma oils her hands with olive oil, takes the dough out of my hands, pulls it into shape and lifts it high before slamming it, folded onto the worktop. She repeats the process. Nothing sticks to her*
"How did you do that?'
"Ivan taught me to knead bread."
"Cool." *thankful prayers for Ivan*
"Lift, stretch, fold - get plenty of air in"
"My turn"

*I oil my hands, like a pro*
*sticky mess ensues*

"Let me show you again"

*lift, stretch, fold, lift, stretch, fold*

"You go."

*lift, stretch fold, lift stretch fold* x10mins

Gemma washed the mixing bowl for me and lined it with a little oil. I place the dough in there, and cover it with a cloth. On this, the hottest day of the year, 'a warm place' to proove the bread seemed ironic. We let it rest in the kitchen, the oven on to preheat.

After nearly 2 hours our dough has trebled. I knock it out and separate it into 8 even sections. I roll each section into flat rounds about 3mm thick. Some of them I stretch out as evenly as I can, to get a 'rustic' look, others I roll.

On a HOT dry pan we place each flat bread for about a minute each side. They rise up, puff, brown, are turned, puff and brown. We remove them from the heat and place them on a tea towel covered plate.

Yummy humble food. Make it for your friends.

“There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.” 
 Bernard of Clairvaux

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Posted by Unvirtuous Abbey today. Made me laugh.

Strength and courage

There are many tales in hagiography of courage and strength, but not all of them impress. The modern mind is resilient to signs and wonders. What is strength and courage if it is supernatural? Surely, it is divine signs and wonders that religious people look for in the saints.

Maybe so. 

However, the closer I look at the saints, the more human they become. They were angry, they shouted, they cried, they laughed, they loved. Any suggestion otherwise is to think them less than human. And saints, if they really are saints at all, are human through and through: man is a creature of flesh and spirit, and the spirit cannot function except in and through the flesh. Humanity is rooted in the earthly nature from which it was divinely formed, and the pretence that we could live as though already in heaven is a false one. 

For me, the modern saints, those canonised by the iconic John Paul II, are the ones who teach me most about the nature of earthly holiness. In part, this is because they live in a time which, although I may not be able to remember, is recent history, such that I can ask my elders, see films and research about the times in which they lived.

Today is the Feast of Maximillian Kolbe. He was born in 1894. Although his work as a Franciscan friar before the outbreak of World War II is admirable, it is his behaviour towards his fellow prisoners in Auschwitz which has brought him most attention. Kolbe provided shelter for refugees from Poland in his Friary in Niepokalanów. For this, he was arrested on 17th February 1941 by the German Gestapo, and imprisoned in Pawiak prison. On 28th May 1941 he was transferred to Auschwitz as Prisoner #16670. 

Towards the end of July 1941 three prisoners escaped from the camp, prompting the deputy camp leader, SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, to pick ten men at random to be starved to death in an underground bunker,  thereby deterring others from similar escape attempts. One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, "My wife! My children!", and, famously, Kolbe volunteered to take his place, saying he had no wife and children - he was the better choice.

In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day and sang hymns with the prisoners. He led the other condemned men in song and prayer and encouraged them by telling them they would soon be in heaven. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied and they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Some who were present at the injection say that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.

Franciszek Gajowniczek lived until March 13, 1995, and attended the beatification of Kolbe in 1971, and his canonization in 1982. He said,  that 'so long as he ... ha[d] breath in his lungs, he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe'.

Here's the thing. And, do not go accusing me of heresy. Maximillian Kolbe was an amazing man. He loved humanity. Really loved it. And because he loved so much, he gave his life. That is what makes him a saint. His love for humanity was the one thing he had in common with God. I have been to that cell, and seen the place where Kolbe died. Nothing there speaks of God, except for the fact that there one man, a saint, gave his life for love of his neighbour.

As it happens, Maximillian Kolbe is the Patron Saint of the year for one of my friends, and a reader of this blog. Therefore this post comes, of course, with prayers for him and his intentions, and a hope that he, alongside the rest of us, might learn to love humanity more and more in every moment God gives.

I thought carefully about what I could do about food for this saint. On the occasion I visited Auschwitz, after a long drive through the night and the early dawn, and following an emotional and poignant morning, I went with friends into Krakow. There, sitting outside a bar in the sunshine, my friends and I enjoyed one the best vegetarian meals I have ever tasted. Perhaps this was because we were hungry. Perhaps it was because we, for once in our privileged lives, appreciated what we had. I cannot offer a recipe for today. The story I have told, of Maximillian Kolbe, is too recent, too raw, to commemorate so cruel and tragic series of events, humanity acting upon humanity, with food. 

So, all I have to suggest is this: go out, walk and take in the air, walk for miles and miles until you are really hungry. Skip lunch, you will be okay. Get outside more in the afternoon, continue your walk, do the gardening, play football, swim, laugh, feel human. Finally, late in the evening, when you are completely starving, call up your local, family run, homemade, take - away. Eat with pleasure the food that is given to you. Afterwards, completely satiated, ring back your take away and say 'thank you'. Tell them how much you appreciate their hard work and dedication to the life sustaining beautiful thing that is the food which keeps humanity together. Thank God for them.

Friday 3 August 2012

I will wear purple - In memory of Lydia

August 3rd is the feast of Lydia. She rates as one of my all time favourite saints, although not much is known about her. Just a short passage from Acts of the Apostles in fact. St. Paul, travelling on his journey's came to Philippi, which is now in Greece. I guess St. Paul and his crew must have looked quite a sight and a state when they arrived in town, what with all that sandal wearing itinerant life style. I am not sure there were that many hot showers to be had. I bet they were an icky, sticky, stinky mess. Anyhow, here's Lydia's story - told, as usual, from the male perspective of the scripture authors.

On the sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to God's message. When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, 'Come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us. (Acts 16: 11-15)
Persuaded, did she? I am sure she had that team of preachers umming and ahhing for ages, (not). A woman who sold purple might have been quite wealthy. The colour was rare and associated with royalty. But, the passage does not say that she owned the cloth or the business. She might have been a common labourer, who dyed the material in her home. Either way, she offers hospitality to Paul and his companions. And, I bet they were a hungry, sweaty lot that needed a good bath and a big meal. Hospitality is THE virtue I think is most important. Just to have a knack of making people feel comfortable, predicting their needs and providing for them without fuss and nonsense. THIS is the essence of the Christian life for me. And I love that I can see this woman wearing purple. It reminds me of that well known and beautiful poem: Warning - When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple. 

Well, here's a warning for you guys. I already wear purple. And, for me, it is a symbol of the hospitality, goodness and service offered by Lydia to her guests. When I am old, I will still wear purple. And, I will definitely spend my money on brandy and satin candles, and say we have no cash for butter. I practise that sort of thing daily. My most sincere hope, however, is that I will still have the heart to offer every wanderer that comes my way that generous hospitality that feeds the heart and soul of both the host and the guest.

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin candles, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple

Jenny Joseph