Thursday 31 January 2013

Thoughts in Solitude

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

― Thomas Merton (31st January 1915 - 10th December 1968), Thoughts in Solitude

Tuesday 29 January 2013

At a word...

 I have missed a few very important people of late. Not only the important feasts of saints, but also the important feasts of those saints who are patrons of important people, people I care about. Mea culpa. I have been, as usual, snowed under, literally and figuratively.

So, in order:

January 17th - St Anthony, Abbot. I love this man. He is a man of his word. His parents, sadly, died when he was 18 years old. He was left with responsibility for a large wealth of land and the care of his younger sister. He went to Church to pray. Matthew 19: 21 was read: "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." Anthony went out and gave his fortune away, keeping only enough for the upbringing of his sister. Then he went to Church again. This time the Gospel was Matthew 6: 34: "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today". He went out and gave the rest of his inheritance away, and allowed his sister to be cared for by a local convent. He left public life in order to   pursue a life in which he lived out Jesus' teaching. That deserves respect.

I'll tell you why. I am unlikely, God willing, to walk out on the world of commerce, capitalism and living as we know it.But, God knows, I wouldn't want to be called to it. Anthony was called to it, and he had the courage to respond positively. I'd be more likely to turn "Jonah" - you'd have to drag me in the body of a whale.

The Feast of St. Anthony, Abbot, inspired and inspires me to to pray for those incredibly special people who have the courage to respond to God's call. Every single one of them, no matter what their calling, is a hero.

January 25th - After that came the Conversion of St Paul. Another hero without a doubt. I have my 'debates' with Paul. He and I are sparring partners. Honestly, we fight. But, I respect him. Mostly I respect him because he took God at his word. If I had fallen from a great height, heard a voice from heaven and been inspired to change the direction of my life so totally, I might have been humiliated. Pride might have got the better of me. But, here is Paul. He stands up, changes, and gets on with it. Doing so he finds strength and happiness - but no end to the struggle. I know that feeling. I have changed my course of life, found my home, and discovered happiness without end to the struggle. The struggle goes on.

January 28th - Lastly, for now, came Thomas Aquinas. He is my hero. I love him. I could love him for all he taught. I could love him for his great wisdom. I could love him for the Summa Theologia. For all of these things I respect him. For all of these things I believe him worth listening to and obeying.  But, I love him because, after all his work was done, he thought nothing of it. After a life devoted to the divine he was finally granted a mystical experience of His presence. Afterwards, he said: 'The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me." Thomas Aquinas never wrote another word. When later asked to return to writing, Thomas explained, "I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw." It takes courage to say such a thing. Courage and faith in the mercy of God. Humility to know our human knowledge of the divine is 'through a glass darkly': we do not know Him as he really is.  

I love all these people because they keep their word. They respect the fact that language reflects reality and experience. They understand that truth telling is about actions as well as words. They are never afraid to retreat upon a misunderstanding. Each of these saints understands the importance of the fact that we have two eyes, two ears and one mouth - they look, think and reason before they speak, and never assume that once they have spoken they are right. Each of them have the humility to listen to others and to God. May I, one day, be the same.

There should be dinner attached to this. I do not know what to cook for those who spoke and lived with integrity, for those who never allowed there to be a gap between their thoughts and their actions. It is a rare, rare quality. Perhaps, there should be a rare, rare food to match? Or, perhaps, what is called for is honesty and integrity. A dinner that inspires truth telling and openness. A dinner that does what 'it says on the tin'. Something simple, something straight forward. If that were the case, you know what? I'll not write a recipe, I'll suggest something: Ham, egg and chips.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Start as you mean to go on......

On New Year's eve my flatmate made  a most delicious meal of mulled lamb. It had featured on Nigel Slater's Twelve Tastes of Christmas. What Nigel had said about this dish was true. It does taste of Christmas! And it was the most scrummy start to 2013.

January 1st began slowly. I washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen to the music of 'Ave Maria' by Gounod, Schubert and Caccini. I love the fact that the first day of the year is devoted to the Mother of God. It is a reminder that salvation began its path on earth through the fiat of a young woman faithful enough to agree to God's plan for her life. 

My parents were joining us for lunch, and I was going to prepare another recipe by our dearest Nigel. This time it was his Pork Chops in a Mustard Sauce. I served them with fresh spinach and hassleback potatoes. Then we took a stroll down to Port Meadow and I petted the 'wild' horses down there and admired the floods. It was beautiful.

I am all into starting the year as you mean to go on. This year, among my many resolutions to drink less, take more exercise, spend more time at home and cook and eat frugally beautiful food, I also have a resolution to 'do good on impulse'. So often we get distracted by thoughts such as, 'it's not the right time', 'people will think that odd' or 'I'll do it tomorrow'. My patron for this year is Saint John of God - I'll write more about him later, but suffice to say, he never waited around to do good.

Elizabeth Ann Seton is the first of my friends' patrons to be remembered this year - her feast is on 4th January. She was a woman who knew her own mind, she was cultured, educated and a pioneer. She was married and the mother of five children, the first American - born person to be canonised. Elizabeth Ann was a pioneer of education, and she and two of her friends worked hard to establish the first free Catholic school in the United States. Elizabeth Ann is a reminder that anything is possible if you only agree to try, and so she is an appropriate beginning to a New Year, a year in which the answer will always be "Yes",  fiat.

PS:  You can still choose your patron! Click here.

Pork Chops in a Mustard Sauce: The Kitchen Diaries

Page: 51 – February 13th
[The recipe below is an exact copy from the book, no alterations have been made]
Pork spare rib or chump chops – 2 large, about 1cm thick
butter – 25g
olive oil – 1 tablespoon
garlic – 2 large unpeeled cloves, squashed flat
a glass of white wine
double or whipping cream – 150ml
grain mustard – 1 1/2 tablespoons
smooth Dijon mustard – 1 1/2 tablespoons
cornichons – 8, or half as many larger gherkins 

Rub the chops all over with salt and pepper. Put the butter and oil in a shallow pan set over a moderate to high heat and, when they start to froth a little, add the flattened garlic and the seasoned chops. Leave to brown, then turn and brown the other side. Lower the heat and continue cooking, turning once, until the chops are no longer pink when cut into.
Lift out the chops, transfer to a warm serving dish and keep warm. Pour off most of the oil from the pan, leaving the sediment behind, then turn up the heat and pour in the wine. Let it boil for a minute or so, scraping at the sticky sediment in the pan and letting it dissolve. Pour in the cream, swirl the pan about a bit, then leave it to bubble up a little before adding the mustards and the chopped cornichons.

Taste for seasoning; you may need a little salt and possibly black pepper. The sauce should be piquant and creamy. If you want, you can sharpen it up. Pour the sauce over the chops and serve. Enough for 2 with mashed or unbuttered new potatoes.