Monday 30 September 2013

Lead Kindly Light....feeling a little ‘October’

The lyrics of this are beautiful, and very ‘October’ to me. For the record I should say what little I know of it. It was written by Blessed John Henry Newman in 1833, or thereabouts, during a journey home from Italy. John Henry had been unwell and homesick, but rough seas added to his plight by making him sea sick. He wrote this poem, entitled 'The Pillar of Cloud', a reference to Moses' path from Egypt, during a becalmed period of travel between Marseille and the Straits of Bonifacio. Some say the last two lines are a loving reflection upon his relationship with his sister, Mary, who had passed away in 1828, aged 19. Newman had loved her very much.

"Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

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Sunday 22 September 2013

Not Forgotten

Some might say that I have forgotten the saints these days; that recently my blog has not linked the laughs I have, the food I cook, the life I lead with the lives of those that have gone before me.
I have not forgotten.
I started looking into the lives of the saints, and celebrating the lives they led through the food I prepare and eat when I was at a turning point in my own life. I did not know where to turn, what to do, or what work would come around the corner next. I was unemployed for 4 months, then took work as a seamstress, vegetable picker, domestic servant, sales assistant and office worker before my first temporary teaching post came along in January 2011, 7 months after I left my DPhil study and moved home.
By the grace of God, and the generous hospitality of the RSCJ Sisters in Oxford, I found myself back in the arms of an educational career, and for this reason I wrote the post about inspirational educators. After that temporary post had finished I left the hospitality of the sisters, although I kept them in my heart, and found a flat in the centre of Oxford and a new post in a non-Catholic Comprehensive school in Oxford. There were challenges there, too many to mention, but by the June I had secured my current teaching position in a place where the prayer of the Office seeped through the the seams, and the saints of the calendar lived in the corridors and on the walls. I started in September 2011.
Since then the lives of the saints have been part of my everyday. Who’s this? What did they do? I am sorry they don’t make more of an  appearance on the pages of my blog, with matching food to rejoice in their faith, but I am not sorry their prayers have brought me where I am. Unemployed I used the lives of the saints to occupy my mind, I read about them, thought about them, cooked for them, enjoyed their lives with friends and family through food, wine and time. Employed as a Head of RE I call upon their lives as inspiration for my classroom, anecdotes, examples, and yes, sometimes food. I still rely on their prayers. I have not forgotten the saints, I just have less time to cook for them. I am sure they do not mind. I hope you do not either.

A cure for cold filled pagans (reprise)

A cure for cold filled pagans (reprise)

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A little bit of what you fancy does you good

 A little bit of what you fancy does you good. That's what my Ma says. This phrase is used especially when you are feeling under the weather. I have been terribly under the weather this week. All I have had is the common cold, but it feels like a disaster. I get frightened of the return of the throat-chest infection that plagues me each winter, and even once this summer (cheeky bugger of a thing). 
Still, I know how to treat myself. My Ma taught me well. Mid week, after a long, cold filled, headachy day at school, I knew what I fancied: I wanted something sweet with custard. Only one problem, there was nothing sweet in the house. I had little energy and could not be tempted from the sofa without the thought that something could be achieved within minutes.
Enter the fruit flapjack, served warm with custard. I did not look for, and did not have a recipe, but it has all worked out very well. I used those American measuring cups and made things up as I went along. There was no exact science, so if you are making this, go with your instinct: if it looks right, it probably is.
4 cups Irish Porridge Oats (the Irish was important to me - a reminder of family, home, strength and vitality)
As many sultanas as you can find. I think I found almost 4 Cups!
2 Cups self raising flour

1 cup soft brown sugar (I admit to pouring this in with no regard for a measure)
Mix all the dry ingredients together. I added a little almond essence for fun. Then in a saucepan I melted:
250g (that’s a whole pack) Kerrygold butter (see the Irish Cure coming in again)
A massive squeeze of Honey (I have one of those squeezy bottles of honey, I must have put a little more than a quarter of it in the butter)
I added the melted butter and honey to the dry ingredients and mixed them up thoroughly. I then spread the mixture onto a buttered baking tray, evenly and thickly. I put the flapjack in the oven to back on 180 - 200 for 15 - 20 minutes, until golden brown.
When I took it out of the oven the flapjack was golden, soft and squishy. Whilst it cooled in the tray I made some Bird’s Custard up. Then I sliced the flapjack up and served myself some flapjack and custard. It was delicious. The rest of the flapjack I cut into neat little slices the next day, and popped them into the biscuit box for storage. They’ll last for ages in a air tight container, and as long as I’m ‘recovering’ I’m allowed steal a slice every time I fancy.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Zemmy ‘Brittle Pieces’ - Telegraph live session (by...

Zemmy ‘Brittle Pieces’ - Telegraph live session (by Zemmy Momoh)

Just played on Radio 4 and was beautiful. I loved her voice, the lyrics, simplicity.

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Monday 2 September 2013

A Grateful Grace

It has been the most beautiful summer. I am not sure that I can ever remember one as bright, light, warm, gentle and happy. From the outside I am sure that my summer has been fairly uneventful: I looked after my parents’ cat, I was ill, I moved house, my parent’s celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, I walked the Chiltern Hill’s, basked in the sunshine, baked cakes, cooked meals, revelled in the love and companionship of my friends and family. In reality everything happened this summer, and I began to see light shining on the future.

Last year I wrote a post about a formal grace that had been traveling around my head: The eyes of all people look to you. It was a grace that made me happy, it was a grace that made me laugh. I knew the words and had applied them to my life. It was all about rooting around the fields and hedgerows, butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers. The beautiful harvest brought home to make home.

This year I am grateful for an informal grace, a grace said by a friend. It was a prayer for blessing, for love and friendship, for happiness and health. I am always envious of people who have the courage to pray freely, the courage to leave the script and say what is real, true and ‘on the mind’. Such is the nature of real prayer. Such is the nature of truly living in faith. I aspire to have this courage.

The summer holidays are a time for carefully prepared meals with those we love, heartily consumed dinners that follow long walks in the open air, up hill and down dale. This year I have enjoyed cooking beautiful meals and snacks for beautiful people. To be sure, I messed a few up: mea culpa. But, for the most part, I did my best, often working with those with whom I would eat, cooking together our sustenance, food gratefully received following days of work and pleasure.The end of August and the beginning of September, despite the return to school, remains my favourite time of year. I keep my habit of lighting candles at meal times, offering a quite prayer for those who help to prepare food, the farmers, packagers, growers; and those loved ones with whom I share the meal.

The tree in the pictures above is rather special. It grows at Chenies Manor, Buckinghamshire, where King Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I, sat under it during their tumultuous reigns. They probably thought it a very fine tree, for it was 500 years old then. Elizabeth lost a jewel under it - it has never been found. That’s right, this tree is over 1000 years old. It predates 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. It is a Saxon Tree. How much that venerable Oak will have seen, how many conversations it will have heard, how many picnics it will have looked upon. History sometimes baffles me. I cannot imagine such expanses of time. It awes me. Time for us is always either too long, or too short. We are never content....except in those last weeks of the summer holidays, when the body and mind has relaxed and recovered enough to help one feel at ease with the present. That 'feeling at ease with the present' is a gift, and one I long to hold on to and treasure as the term speeds along. I am quite sure the tree at Chenies was always happy to be in the moment, and always longed to just be where it was and grow with time, never regretting the past, never wishing its time away. I would like to be the same.

This year, on a quiet day, I made the best of all finger food one night: chicken wings. There was plenty, and the leftovers made for a beautiful picnic on a long walk in the hills the following day. This little delicacy was a last taste of summer, a shared happiness. It was warm and sticky, salty and full of pepper and spice. No need for a knife and fork. I am, as usual, indebted to Nigel Slater.

Chicken Wings - 12 Large
a large juicy lemon
bay leaves - 5
Black peppercorns - I heaped tablespoon
olive oil
sea salt flakes

Set the oven at 200C. Put the wings into a roasting dish, halve the lemon and squeeze it over them, then cut up the lemon shells and tuck them, together with the bay leaves, between the chicken pieces.
Put the peppercorns in a mortar and bash them so that they crack into small pieces. Of course, I do not have a mortar, so I wrapped them in tinfoil and hit them with a rolling pin. They should be knubbly, like small pieces of grit, rather than finely ground.

Mix the peppercorns with the olive oil and toss them with the chicken pieces. Scatter with salt flakes. Roast for 40 - 45 minutes, turning once. The chicken should be golden and sticky, the edges blackened here are and there - they should be nearly stuck to the roasting tin.

PS: You might be wondering about the Red Kite and the Boar. They are just creatures I have met hereabouts recently and I liked them. xx