Marking and Measuring Time : in grace and gratitude

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This summer I attended a course at college called The Meaning of the Sacraments – which I really enjoyed. Mostly we talked about what baptism and communion mean – the two common sacraments the church celebrates all over the world. However, one of the texts we read was For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann – who is an orthodox priest. His theology has a whole-of-the-cosmos-focus and he works hard to challenge the modern separation of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ realms of human life. After reading his chapter ‘The Time of Mission’, I felt invited to conduct my own reflections on the sacramental nature of time.

What followed was my major paper*. I followed the line that rather than seeing time as a wearisome burden, perhaps we are invited to understand the times and seasons given to us by God as gift. If so, perhaps there are ways we can ‘mark’ time regularly and cyclically – using repeated rhythms and rituals as well as moments of special attention and celebration.

These photos are of homemade lavender cake – a late birthday gift for a lovely (and patient!) friend. I know I have written about cake so many times but I after researching my paper a few years ago they seem so important as a way of marking a special day with special food. We put the best of our ingredients together to make something beyond basic fare because the people we have been given to walk with are gifts to us, we want to mark their milestones, to party with them, to be thankful for them.

Writing this paper was such a gift to me – I had always had a hunch that there was more to birthdays than what met the eye – the cake, the presents, the balloons – these matter because they are a way of delighting in God’s gifts to us – in particular, the person we love and are celebrating.

If you too would like a theological reason for partying – or if you have always felt called by the mountains on your horizon to look to God for help – this paper may also interest you.

*A pdf of my paper is below:
tomarknotmeasuretimeasagiftofgrace

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On Apple Tea Cake, art making and embodiment

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I made this pretty cake a week or so ago for the lovely couple who couriered my electric scales from Sydney to Vancouver. It is an old recipe from a church community cookbook that my mum has had in our family collection since I was tiny. Simple but pretty with the cinnamon crusted apple slice topping, it has graced many an Election Day school cake stall. I doubled it – the original recipe fits one of those tiny 50s style cake tins you may recall from older Home Economics classrooms – and added the alternative apple stripe pattern. I also swapped milk for milk powder – otherwise it remains true to the version Margaret Lack shared with the St Mattew’s Anglican church community in my childhood. I was glad mum could find the recipe for me and imagine that it will be making a few more appearances in the next little while.

One of my classes at the moment is called ‘Christian Imagination’ – it is the first of the Arts courses at Regent. We have been reflecting on the Ash Wednesday call to ‘Remember that you are dust’ – considering the nature of our dusty-‘flesh’-clothed humanity. We are makers of art, collectors of ideas, broadcasters of beauty, fixers and joiners of ‘stuff’ – because first and foremost we ourselves are ‘stuff’. Embodied, we ‘do life’ in this world, interacting and engaging with other bodies, other things, other stuff. Food is just one aspect of our everyday-walking-around-lives, and this recipe is just one example of gratuitous* human creation … but I hope that you’ll try it and that it will bring you (and those you share it with!) nourishment and delight in all senses of the words! .

Ingredients:
2 cups plain or all-purpose flour (300g)
4 tsp baking powder
1 cup castor or fine granulated sugar (240g)
4 tablespoons of milk (80ml)
50g butter
2/3 cup water (170ml)
2 eggs
1 green apple (granny smith)
1 red apple (try and choose a variety similar in size to the green)

For Finishing:
20g butter
1 1/2 tbs castor or fine granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbs cinnamon

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180oC (350F).
2. Combine the flour, baking powder and sugar.
3. Melt the butter, and once cooled slightly, combine with milk, water and egg. Whisk to combine.
4. Gently mix the wet ingredients though the dry.
5. Grease (and line if that is your preference) a 23cm (9 inch) round cake tin. Pour the batter in.
6. Slice the apple very thinly (I quartered mine then sliced the quarters so they were still fine wedges but each slice was of a similar width). Arrange the slices on top of the cake alternating red and green slices.
7. Bake for 50-60 minutes or till golden and ‘done’ when tested.
8. Melt extra butter and paint over the surface of the cooked cake while it is still warm.
9. Combine the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the cake.

*things that are non-necessary, we do them ‘just because’

 

What if it is all gift?

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I love gifts. I love giving them and I love receiving them. ‘Gifts’ are one of my top ‘love languages’. Unnecessary, they are given in love to bring delight, to show favour. They are usually above and beyond what we need or deserve, given ‘just because’.

Just recently I have been thinking about the idea that God chose to create, not because He had to, but because He wanted to. He made a beautiful world, affirming its goodness over and over again. Then He made us, and gave it to us to live in, to enjoy with Him. While I do not want to overlook the pain and brokenness that entered our human existence through our collective turning from God, I think that, this side of the cross, we are perhaps even in a better position to understand our lives as gift.

The story began as gift and ends as gift, John tells us that “Out of His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given” (John 1:16). God chose to create, He chose to call Abraham, He chose rescue Israel, He chose to send Jesus. And He chooses to work in us, inviting us into fullness of life (John 10:10). What if we lived into this? What if our lives were a place where we received “Every good and perfect gift [as] from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17 ‘is’ to ‘as’ – my editorial change)?

Sometimes there will be a painful tension here, I realise that. The brokenness of life ‘under the sun’ (a la Ecclesiastes) is real, so real in fact that God dealt with it fully and finally in Jesus. He knows and deeply feels our hurts, showing us by giving us Himself.

The problem of pain aside (while still wanting to acknowledge its weight), receiving a gift well actually forces our focus to shift. It involves humility, gratitude and it usually results in joy. Hands out, we open ourselves to the giver. Thanks on our lips, we slow down, stilling ourself to appreciate the moment. Delight bubbles up, not just in the gift, lovely as it maybe, but in the way it points us to the one who has given it. In recognition of their kindness toward us, their care for us.

If we received our times and our days like this, if I received my times and my days like this, I think, perhaps I might be on the right track. Because He is my Father and He does indeed give good gifts (Matthew 7:11). I think that there is a lightness to be found here, a joy God is calling us into. Grace upon grace, gift upon gift. Like a child eager for Christmas morning or their birthday, I want to try and live in anticipation of His readiness to gift – I do love presents, after all! What if our everyday-walking-around-lives were shaped by the joy of Love demonstrated in gifts given and received?

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?!

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

The romance of cold pork pies

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Sometimes it takes a long time to learn something. I am a baker. You could woo me with the pretty pastels of a patisserie window any day. My husband is a savoury person. He will try anything I made (especially warm out of the oven) and loves a good chocolate chip cookie – but in his heart of hearts, it is the cheese and olives, crackers and dips that win him over every time. I may be a slow learner but I am getting there. This year, his birthday treat was my attempt at recreating Donna Hay’s cold pork pies from her Autumn Issue 8 magazine. With the help of a kind and knowledgable butcher, they worked! Here is a little taste!

The Flour Chronicles : 1

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There is a delightful scene in the movie Stranger than Fiction where Will Ferrell’s character, Harold Crick, woos the lovely cook Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) by bringing her flowers, flours that is. Flowers, flour, baking, sharing, giving – love in brown paper packages. This my friends, is the way to a baker’s heart, or perhaps at least this hopelessly romantic baker’s heart! Asher took the cue, my gushing over this particular moment in the movie, and gave me basket of flours this year on the 14th of February. Now it appears imperative that I run a series of baking experiments to try out all the different flours! The flour kitty includes;
– besan (chickpea)
– rye
– gluten
– coconut
– barley and
– millet flour.

To start with I thought I would use the rye flour to resume my long neglected attempts at making sourdough. About a year ago Asher and I visited a very out of the way second-hand bookshop with a surprisingly extensive cookbook range. I found and bought Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef particularly for its bread recipes. The sourdough recipe looked straightforward enough and I was keen to graduate from yeasted breads. In the end, after baking a loaf that could have substituted for a doorstop and throwing away the rest of the mouldy starter, I gave up and returned to the Basic Bread Recipe a few pages earlier. Simple and more predictable than sourdough, I baked nearly all our toast-and-sandwich-bread for the rest of the year with this recipe as my guide. The consistent warmth that had upset the finely tuned balance of sourdough starter microorganisms made proving the yeasted dough a dream. It seemed our hot little shed in Geraldton was just not the place to raise a sourdough starter. Now we are living somewhere cooler and more effectively insulated I thought I would try again!

Yesterday was Monday and so, following Jamie’s Sourdough Bread recipe (p256), I began my week long experiment by mixing 500g of rye flour with enough water to make a soft dough. You then let it sit outside for about an hour – presumably to pick up some interesting yeast spores – before coving it with cling wrap and bringing it back inside.

So far, so good. Stay tuned; maybe this time we’ll be lucky!