Latent: of apple muffins and baby blankets


It is, my blogging software informs me, a great many months since I published anything here online. I have officially been quiet since October last year. Which is, coincidentally, almost as long ago as my last ‘summer break’ (a break that extends from April to September is one of the great perks of studying in the Northern Hemisphere – school from September through April does, however, have its low points!). As I emerge from the cocoon of books, scarves, boots and papers that has been my head (and body) space of the last few months, consciousness of things apart from the-very-next-thing-I-must-do has been returning and have found myself looking at a rather old list of ideas for blog posts. However, there is something right about them too. The apple muffins I made and re-made when the trees were heavy with fruit last September I have made again with some, still-frozen, left over fruit in the bottom of the deep freeze (see the recipe below). Apples for muffins ‘in season and out of season’.

It is not apple season now. After an unseasonably cold Vancouver winter, we have been waiting for the clouds of blossom that have finally burst onto our streets for a very long time. Our slow-coming spring has brought yellow daffodils, a rainbow of tulips and a new flock of babies too – I can count six new additions to families connected to our college and church community with at least one more to come along later in summer (not counting those back at home in Australia!). We watched bellies grow, wrote due dates in our calendar and made baby blankets. Now, we watch on as our friends fall in love with these wee ones who have come along to join their families. We too are in awe of the labouring that brought them forth, their tiny limbs, the hours of sleep their new parents are doing without. We try to make dinners for families feeling the way through the fog of odd sleeping routines and the huge responsibility of keeping a new human being alive.

This is the season we are in now. A privileged season of watching on as our friends become parents. A precious season of sunshine after many months of winter. A time to celebrate beginnings and the end of labours past (both physical and academic!).

And so below I am sharing the recipe for apple muffins, out of season but right in time for feeding some families with new arrivals (they make good school snacks too – whether or not your classes are done for the year yet!).

Ingredients:
2 cups of grated raw apple
¼ cup sugar (I used brown but I am pretty sure it would work with white, castor/berry or even coconut)
¼ cup applesauce
¼ cup milk (cows/almond/rice … you choose!)
¼ cup oil (I used avocado this time, something relatively neutral in flavour is ideal)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup wholemeal flour
½ cup quick oats
1 cup plain/all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon

(Approximate amounts of) Extras for topping:
½ cup oats
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp milk
2 tsp of cinnamon
1-2 tbsp of sugar

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200oC and grease the muffin pan well with butter or oil, a layer of flour over the grease also makes popping them out at the end easier.
2. Gently combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
3. Spread the muffin mixture evenly between the 12 pans, saving about ¼ cup in the bowl.
4. Mix the ‘extra for topping’ ingredients into the remaining mixture and then spread over the tops of the muffins.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or till golden and cooked through.
6. Enjoy!

This recipe is a modified version of one from Diana Linfoot’s Muffin Magic Book.

Erin’s Chocolate, Fig and Walnut cake

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Having moved southern hemisphere to northern hemisphere a few months ago, I understand the blessing of the ‘fall bounty’ more truly. Our local farmers market and grocery shops have been full of bright harvest for the last few months. Now, as both the birds and leaves migrate southwards, the abundance has begun to fade, now revolving, as it does late in the season, around squash and pumpkins. The fig trees around our new home fruited late too, we have been tripping over the fruit as it came thick and fast in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, I feel a little guilty admitting to it, but neither Asher or I love fresh figs terribly. On the other hand, I really do not like fruit going to waste and so I had been gathering it up ‘to cook’ at a later date. Perishable as tender fresh figs are, Asher began to get frustrated finding my bowls of slightly fermented figs which were good only for adding to the compost. Anyhow, with a little (negative!) encouragement from him, I started trying to cook them up. I made chilli fig jam – a very tasty accompaniment to buttered toast. Erin’s birthday seemed like a good excuse to have a go at incorporating the jam into some baking. I played around with a few recipes to come up with the one below – the almond meal makes the batter it more dense than an average butter cake. I might keep playing with the recipe – I will keep you updated with any break-throughs!

Base
½ cup butter, softened (115g)
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup yoghurt
¾ cup milk
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1 cup almond meal
½ cup coco powder
1 tsp cardamon
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
⅛ tsp salt

Crumblings
75g butter
2/3 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup walnuts (roasted)

1 cup fig jam

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 175oC.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy.
3. Add the vanilla and eggs, beat till combined.
4. Combine the milk and yoghurt, and all the dry ingredients in two separate containers.
5. Begin adding a little of the milk mixture and a little of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar and mixing till combined, continue the cycle of adding the liquid and dry ingredients and the mixing till combined till all the ingredients are added.
6. Set aside.
7. Beat the butter and sugar for the ‘crumblings’, add in the flour till the mixture clumps together when you squeeze it with your hands.
8. Grease a bundt tin (or whatever tin you have decided to use!) and begin adding the batter, the crumblings, jam and walnuts to the tin, jam works better in the batter not at the edge near the tin. Spreading all the different components around equally will mean a more uniform result!
9. Bake it for about 50-55 minutes – just keep an eye on the browning – if it looks like its getting toasty round the edges and you want to let it go a little longer for the sake of a cooked centre – I use foil to protect it from over-browning-that-is-really-burning.
10. Serve with ice-cream or a little whipped cream – perhaps dusted with icing sugar.

Gifts given

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“… What do you have that you did not receive? … ” (1 Corinthians 4:7b)

Not much really! I have been musing about the idea of sacrament, ceremony and celebration recently. Thinking about the way that God made a good world, full of good things that should remind us to turn our gaze to Him in gratitude. About formalising our thanks in ceremony. About expressing and sharing our thanks in celebration.

I have been thinking about creation and Eucharist, about feasting and joy, about thankfulness. About a good world, about bread. About cake and friends to share it with. About delight and welcome. These are the threads I am beginning to trace as I learn God’s word. I am beginning to see the story about a world made in love, about good gifts given. About a King and a feast, about coming home to dinner. About fullness of life, about joy, not fear. Oh, I want to be able to tell that story. I want to tell it with loaves of bread baked in precious new pots. I want to tell it with Funfetti cake topped with butter cream frosting and sprinkles.  I want to tell it slowly and carefully and with great joy.

The psalmist tells us that “He withholds no good thing …” Psalm 84:11 and I know it to be true. Sometimes the gifts are extra special though. This last week I was given a beautiful blue le Creuset pot, heavy with the hope of bread to break and dinners to share. Newly arrived in Vancouver, only few months ago, I had also been given an preloved Kitchenaid mixer and then, last week, the bowl finally arrived. Talk about stuff being sacred – my heart and my kitchen are full! So I baked in thanks. I baked basic-bread and a party-cake. The stuff of life and the stuff of celebration. I think we need both. We need the reminder that our earthy bodies are nourished both by the earth, and by the One who offers us Himself, the true Bread of Life. And once we have remembered, we need to gather and celebrate His Goodness and His abundant welcome.

Piece of cake, anyone?!

Going back and starting with Joy

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Some of my recent posts have been good to articulate (see Waiting, Walking and Working 1 & 2, and Ambivalent Consumer), but they took precedence over that which should have come before. They are desperate and true and difficult and so need tempering. Sometimes they end in a good place, but, perhaps, with a better beginning, the journey home may not be so hard. I want to return to a framework of joy so that I can work out the issues of embodiment, eating and clothing in a good place, in the right frame. In God’s story of good Creation and full Redemption. In Christ.

In his book, For the Life of the World, Schmemann insists that “from it’s very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of joy” (24). In the night, in our fragile, expectant state Luke calls out voicing a strong truth, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). It needs to be my theme verse! Maybe it needs to be yours too! At the other end of his biography of Jesus we see His disciples, beginning to grasp the meaning of that good news “worship[ing] Him and return[ing] to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52).

I think that Schmemann is right. It seems imperative we “recover the meaning of this great joy. We must if possible partake of it, before we discuss anything else – programs and missions, projects and techniques” (24-25). In other words, before we ‘do’ our praxis (or even try and figure out what our practical-lived-out-Christian life might be), we need to know, get, do joy. Maybe it will involve something like the Sons of Korah call us to in Psalm 46:10-11. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress”. The Lord is indeed with us, John affirms, He came and dwelt with us (1:14), loving us before we loved Him (1 John 4:10).

I suspect my natural tendency is always going to be to skip joy and get to the to-do list. I was so relieved to be told this morning reading Schmemann that I was getting it wrong, putting the cart before the horse, so to speak! The cart goes behind the horse because left in front it will not get anywhere and, by extension, will end up no good to anyone. I need the joy that comes from operating out of a right understanding of reality. That there is One who knows all, made all and loves all that He has made. That I am known and loved by Him, the One who brings real fullness of Life. That He is working good and His plans for cosmic wholeness will come to pass.

The list comes later. It is good and beautiful in its time, but only because these illuminating truths come first and inform it.

So, joy first. Even perhaps, little joys that remind me how to do Big Joy. Flowers that “unsettle the room” (thanks Kirk Patston) bringing grace and beauty. Making things. Talking to friends. All these things are deeply sacred, gifts from the Good Giver. Turning to thank Him for them a chance to be caught up into His Truth again, “the only possible joy on earth” (24), as Schmemann says.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:4-8)

Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963.

Ambivalent Consumer

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Sometimes I feel it when I am talking with a sensitive friend, sometimes when I am having a fragile moment myself. The uneasy recognition that each one of us, as complex physical, emotional and spiritual beings, exists in time and space. That by nature of our existence we use up time (as well as other resources) and take up space. In one of my favourite musicals, Sussical, the Who’s from Whoville sing out “We are here, we are here, we are here” to let the creatures in the large world know that they are real. For some of us the tension between this necessary cry of existence and deep reticence in acknowledging our very stuff-ness (and therefore stuff-dependance) can begin to break us.

There is a reconciliation I find myself fighting for on several fronts.

In moments of fear and mis-placed disgust, I long to be smaller, to take up less space, to find more room in my clothes. In corresponding moments of dogged self-talk I begin my schpeil; my body houses my bones, muscles and organs – growth and maintenance is heavily dependant on my genetic code. Isolated, no particular section of me is wildly photogenic or smooth or blemish free. But together, I am a human being, a creature, a body-and-soul matrix with real biological systems that process real organic molecules, animated by solar energy and the very breath of God. Discussions about fasting aside, regular food is necessary for my ongoing survival. Fats, carbohydrates and proteins – all necessary to keep me enlivened, alive. Sometimes I do wish that the whole could be smaller, that there was less of me, that I took up less room. I know that there is much that could be said on the topic. But, in truth, I do not want to be a small person or live a small life. All that remains is to live out of the body I’ve been given; thankful and ready to use it for joy.

Not only do I take up space myself (more than I would like when pressed for the uncomfortable truth), but my stuff does too. My very physicality (yours too) demands food (fairly regularly, ask my husband just how civilised I can be prior to dinner), water, air, clothes, some place safe to rest in, to live in, tools to do my work, toys to share in play. The list goes on. For most of us, where these things can be enhanced with beauty, they seem to answer our needs even more truly. The somewhat obvious and, at times disconcerting reality, is that providing for these very real and tangible cries requires considerable time and money.

In a weak moment we despair at the grocery bill, regret the rent, mourn the price of a new skirt – no matter how thoughtfully the shopping list was put together, how economically our decisions about where to live were made or how careful the purchase of an attractive, up-cycled charity-shop outfit for work was. In this frame of mind, justifying the occasional ‘this-is-beautiful-and-I-really-love-it-purchase’ can be even more difficult. Add to these daily reminders of your reliance on stuff, physical things, the double ups that come from moving to a new place – having left old things behind because moving ‘stuff’ costs. Packing stuff in and out of moving boxes and suitcases has become a recent but reoccurring theme of my life. While previously my stable geography meant that my collection of stuff moved only small distances and made itself less known, now no longer.  As the distances became longer and the cost higher, moving stuff became a more difficult issue for me. Deciding what to take and what to leave when moving away is difficult enough without adding the now-near-existential-regret-come-fear of mine – if I leave it behind I’ll need to buy a new one when I get there!

This summer ‘stuff’ weighed me down; an overseas move, study of Creation care and environmental brokeness followed with further international travel meant (a lot of) real luggage toting. It also meant grappling with my unwieldy emotional baggage. I do not in anyway find myself facing Fall all the ends tied up neat and tidy, but I have had to try and lay the issue down for a spell. It was getting too heavy for me.

We took this course together, Asher and I, in the summer. A course about ‘stuff’. Natural ‘stuff’ and human-made ‘stuff’. Creation in its outstanding diversity and the complex labyrinth of human production, technology and objects. We wondered how to negotiate the two realms, we read scripture and other wise writers. We worried about human failings in ecology. We rowed boats and explored marine environments. We sang and prayed together. We shared bread and wine and remembered the One who’s body was broken because of our destruction. And I think that is where the answers begin.

Our God made and loves this physical world. He made the ‘stuff’! The epitome of a good designer, He made the world both useful and beautiful. He made us as part of His creation to love and appreciate it, to use and work within it, and, as Schmeman would say, to offer it back to Him in praise and worship. God is not only just okay with a real, physical creation, He wanted it that way. He even sent His Son to become part of it. Incredible. God made flesh, bone, body. He knows what it feels to live in skin. His death and (bodily) resurrection answers so many questions, articulated and otherwise, but for my purposes here today, it at least says that our messy, uncomfortable, physical lives, our stuff, our home planet, all matter to Him deeply. He took on the great joy and incredible brokenness of life under the sun – and then some – because He loves His creation. His double affirmation of the ‘stuff’ of this world comes in the way He asks us to remember why He came, bread and wine are to be our mnemonics. We remember God dwelling among us as we eat a meal, a meal that speaks of sacrifice, life given for life and welcome.  Grapes, yeast, wheat, water. The very ‘stuff of life’ tells us the story of heaven meeting earth and welcoming her home, over and over, as often as we drink it.

This is not a full discussion of the spiritual importance of ‘stuff’, but for me, weary from the compromise of trying to do right within a broken system, arms heavy from carrying my ‘stuff’, I’m glad to sit down at the table. Eyes forced to the Head, praise and thankfulness the only right response to the Giver of all good gifts. Will you sit by me?

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:4-8

Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963.

Stitching soul to body

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So my quilt is finally finished. It is even on the bed (never mind that the water washable quilting maker hasn’t quite been washed out yet, that will come, one day, hopefully before the sun disappears with the imminent arrival of Fall!). These past few weeks have seen me hunting and gathering layers of textiles for our bed to make a new little nest here. The dappled crew is topped off with this pieced quilt, itself a mixed bag of carefully chosen scraps. I love them all. The layers. The meanings. The way they are precious because I put them together.

In one of my Food Studies readings last year I came across Meredith Abarca’s ‘Kitchen Talk’ chapter in Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women. I just loved the following passage;

“Speaking about Puerto Rico’s history, Levins Morales says, ‘Let’s get one thing straight. Puerto Rico was a woman’s country … we were never still, our hands were always busy. Making soup. Making candles. Holding children. Making bedding. Sewing clothing. Our stitches held sleeve to dress and soul to body. We stitched our families through the dead season of the cane, stitched them through lean times of bread and coffee. The seams we made kept us from freezing in the winters of New York and put beans on the table in the years of soup kitchens’. In Levins Morales’s description, women speak with their hands and a needle”  

These women are speaking to a time and a place but there is something universally true there. Something that I resonated with. I want to stitch souls to bodies, to speak with my hands and a needle just as powerfully as with my mouth.

Bibliography
Abarca, Meredith E. “Kitchen Talk,” in Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008, 109–34.Welcome to EditPad.org – your online plain text editor. Enter or paste your text here. To download and save it, click on the button below.

The Story and a beginning

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In honour of making it to the end of first week of Regent I thought I would share this song. Asher and I wrote it together at Compass Conference (now Venn Summer Conference) as a reflection on the week’s teaching – hopefully it will continue to be the first of many (see this other post) with him as composer and me as lyricist – it is a fun combination! Anyhow, he rewrote the lyrics of an older song as a demonstration of his evolving understanding of God’s story, told in the Bible. That unfolding Story is held in high esteem at Regent – one of the reasons why I am particularly thrilled to be here. Anyhow maybe you’ll enjoy it too!

Here is what he said about it;

This song is a re-write of a piece I wrote in ’09 (I think). My wife re-wrote the lyrics last year at Compass Summer Conference (www.venn.org.nz). We had been reflecting on the Creation, Fall, Redemption Story of the Bible and decided to try and put that into a form we could present at the creative presentation night. I felt like I had grown since I wrote the song and wanted to revise my thoughts about how God has not created me to endure this life and then get out of here but to try and be a part of building his kingdom and then looking forward to his coming when he will come and dwell with us:

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:1-4

Originally the song was called ‘Heaven is Home’ but Compass was the culmination of me realising that our deepest rest is in God himself and we look forward to his final ‘Mend of the World’. Heaven is when we will finally be with Christ and I look forward to that day.

– Asher

Heaven’s Coming Home

Good morning,
Creations waiting for a word
Skies and seas and rocks and birds
Beauty spoken seen and heard

My darlings,
Welcome to this world its time
To rule this place dear child of mine
Bless, tend, keep and be a sign

Oh, Creation is His throne,
Full of Love He’s shown,
Made to be our home
Made to be our home

Where are you?
Covered now we feel ashamed
Creation feels the weight of pain
What once was joyful now is strained

Lost
Wandering through this desert land,
Everything I taste is bland,
Dare we hope there is a plan?

Oh, we’re longing for a home,
A place to cease our roam,
Are we left alone?
Are we left alone?

He came,
Though He was not recognised,
To fix the broken, shame the wise,
Free the captives, open eyes.

Dying,
Heavens precious only Son,
For the broken, distant ones,
The sacrifice at last was done.

Oh, ascended to the Throne,
Our Father can be known
An invitation home,
An invitation home.

Don’t worry,
Restoration is to come,
Transformation will be done,
Blessing, wholeness, for gathered ones.

At last,
Redemptions story will be told,
Rest and peace as was foretold
Creation once more shot with gold.

Oh, Creation is His throne,
Never on our own,
Heavens coming home,
Heavens coming home