Baking and blooms

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I have had a growing sense over the past few years that I needed to pay more attention to herbs and spices – particularly to the use of flowers – in cooking. I am always drawn to the variegated dunes of spices in the markets, find myself picking rosemary leaves from the bushes by the gate at my grandparents on my way to the door just to smell them and, this past summer, fell in love with culinary bouquets at the farmer’s markets (posies of edible flowers and herbs, yes please!). I think that it may have something to do with my romantic invocation of old English kitchen gardens, medieval spice caravans and poems about herbs for healing. Scents have stories it seems. Not that long ago I did find a little illustrated cookbook of recipes (the best kind) that revolved around incorporating the diverse flavours of ‘herbs de Provence’ into sweet and savoury dishes. I have also used rose petals to dress cakes a few times this last year – but I have had this sense that there was more than could be done. Even though school work takes up most of my creative energy, these ideas have been simmering away, so to speak, on the back burner in my brain.

All that to say, when my friend Lauren presented ‘Lavender’ as a plant and product in our community group a few weeks ago (presentation complete with lavender scones to sample!), I finally made my first move. After a Wholefoods excursion I was ready to start – I experimented with a butter cake recipe from the Vintage Cakes cookbook – a birthday present from my grandmother. The cake book is a delight and the cakes (one loaf and several-many cup cakes) turned out so well for a first try. I added 3 tablespoons to the classic birthday cake recipe and made vanilla butter cream as the frosting. It was very decadent – but such a treat. All in all, I feel my lavender explorations have only just begun – the cake called for ‘cake flour’ which incorporates some corn starch into the mix – something that I am quite unfamiliar with. I think it makes the grain of the cake quite fine – not necessarily my favourite texture. For now I will count this as an excellent first attempt and will keep exploring the exciting world of herbs, spices and flowers in food. I will keep you posted!

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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.

Cake, because …

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I believe in cake.

As someone who cares about food I do try to eat healthily, to make wise choices. I know that cake is rich in sugar and fats. I know that it is a treat, a ‘special occasion’ only food.

But it is for these reasons that I believe in it. It is rich, it is a treat and a moment marked with cake becomes a special occasion. If sharing bread makes us companions, then sharing cake allows companions to celebrate!

My lovely sister-in-law recently announced her engagement. I made her a cake. A sweet, rich, special cake because we wanted to recognise the sweetness of love and new beginnings, as well as the richness of love and commitment.

Last year I wrote an essay on cake*. After examining its British-European history I reflected on the nature of contemporary cake culture in Australia. I found the whole enterprise completely fascinating. As I reflected on the way cake is bought, baked and shared – I began to reflect on the deeper meanings of this unique social phenomenon.

We share cake at special occasions, employ it to make a little moment in our everyday sweeter, offer it to extend friendship and hospitality. The type of cake and the context within which it is served can invoke both cultural and gender identities. There is just so much that some sugar, butter, egg and flour can say, can invoke, can express.

This link will connect you to the recipe that I reinterpreted for this sweet little morsel. I used a smaller tin; three 9cm tins worked instead of two 15cm ones, I changed the chocolate cake to an almond and rosewater Torte and completely muffed the swiss meringue buttercream recipe! In the end this was reinterpreted into a more regular buttercream icing instead. My embellishment was much more understated (I didn’t have the time or the patience for the original!) – the cake was topped with almonds and rose petals. I think I’ll keep tweaking the recipe for now, maybe one day I’ll share my better-documented-and-repeat-trialed version.

Despite the changes, it was an absolute hit and my thanks goes to Linda Lomelino at Call me Cupcake for sharing. My mum is not a ‘cake person’, my husband and his father prefer savoury treats to sweet … and they all liked this cake!!! The actual recipient now wants it for her wedding cake, I think my family will be returning to this recipe for many future celebrations, big and small!

*Here is a pdf version, if you are interested! CakeResearchProjectMorrisona1641657

Settling the room …

Kirk Patston talks about ‘kindness’ in his talk on Ruth from Easter Convention last year. The talk is focused on Ruth and the way she was sacrificially kind in her love for Naomi.  It is a wonderful talk but I was reminded not of Ruth this last week but of another woman he refered to, a woman who enters a room and ‘unsettles’ or disturbs the room with the beauty and scent of a bunch of flowers.

My lovely landlady grew these gorgeous blooms and, while my parents were visiting, her husband gave us a bunch to enjoy. Luscious, full and fragrant they were everything a rose should be. They graced our little living room with their beauty for a time, and sitting observing them, I didn’t find myself unsettled, but rather settled. Surrounded by those who have loved and known me for a long time and those who have only just started loving me.

Kindness is a truly settling thing. It can bring beauty and peace that unsettles, and then perhaps, (later when we accept its somewhat unexpected beauty) settles us. Allowing us to know peace.

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Wisteria reminiscing

At my primary school there was an area thick with trees between playgrounds, the tree trunks split at the ground and were almost buttress in style but the most significant thing about this part of our school yard was that it was was almost over grown with wisteria. It was a bit of a wonderland in there during spring when they flowered … a beautiful purple bower. So when they come into bloom and I see them, I think of primary school and exploring a purple wonderland.

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