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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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.

Lily’s Apricot Blondies (or the Flour Chronicles : 4)

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The genius behind this suprisingly scrumptious rendition of Bakarella’s recipe is a pint-sized chef with fair skin and hair to match her creation. My baking partner on Monday, Lily, was keen to have a go at making ‘Blondies’ – the sweet but cocoa-less version of Brownies. With her brother ‘off chocolate’ for a year, we had the double challenge of removing both cocoa and chocolate pieces our baking. We decided that we would keep nuts in the recipe – but because, as Lily rightly pointed out, cashews go with everything, we thought we would use them instead of pecans. We figured that perhaps frozen berries might be a pretty change from chocolate chips but, on our way to the frozen section, the dried fruit caught our eyes. After some deliberation Lily made the call; apricots. And so we concocted this sweet, tangy and chewily moorish slice. It was, hands down, a winner. Everyone wanted another slice and, oh yum, another! We thought you might like to try it too! (PS. I also had a go at using up some of my interesting ‘flours’ from earlier in the year, the barley flour made an entrance here and seemed to work well!).

Ingredients:
1 cup barley flour
1 3/4 cup wholemeal flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
150g butter, softened
450g dark brown sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
200g dried apricots
1 1/4 cups chopped cashews

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 175oC.
2. Line a deepish rectangular cake tin (9 x 13 inches or 22 x 29 cm approx.).
3. Chop butter into small pieces and then cream with brown sugar. Once combined, add the eggs in too, one at a time. Beat well after each egg is added – a silky smooth batter should be the result.
4. Add in the vanilla essence and beat again to blend.
5. Sift in the flours, baking powder and salt. Mix gently till incorporated into the butter, sugar and egg.
6. Chop the apricots and cashews roughly and add to the mixture. Use the electric mixer to distribute them evenly through the batter.
7. Move batter to the cake tin, it is very thick so you may need to wet your fingers to smooth in into the corners of the tin so that it is evenly distributed.
8. Bake for 25-30 minutes or till golden and just done when tested with a skewer. It is a brownie style slice so it is best moist rather than overcooked.
9. Allow to cool and then slice into 5 x 6 squares.
10. Try not to eat them all at once!

Happy Birthday Jonno Round 2: or another cake

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an honest picture of all the trimming and extra ingredients

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Turning twenty one seems like a good enough reason to have two birthday cakes. After celebrating on the day with Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolate (but the vanilla version), Jonno’s 21st party seemed a good reason to pull out the faithful white chocolate mud cake recipe that we’ve used and adapted from the Women’s Weekly Wicked Desserts Recipe book for several 21st-and-special-occasion-cakes. We made the 8x recipe (yep, you heard right, 8x the original recipe!) and this did for a large rectangular cake and two trays of small cup cakes (plus off-cuts). Enough to feed to a smallish sort of party gathered in celebration. I say ‘we’ because in our family, birthday cake baking has long been considered a team sport. When we were tiny, it was our grandparents who would come and help mum and dad pull off amazing feats of icing and butter cake inspired by the infamous Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday cake books. While it is no longer “Minnie and Brown* and the eleventh hour [the night before the party]”, we still like to make something special to mark milestones and I have more or less stepped into the role of Birthday cake project manager. A project-manager-come-baker who ropes in all the helpful apprentices I can get; mum, Asher, dad, even my talented-baker-friend Kate if she’s around. I love cooking but I am definitely not a solo flyer in the kitchen – perhaps too many cooks do intensify the kitchen experience, but I think that mostly you get more done and stay more sane if you cook in community.

Family history and philosophy of kitchen comradery aside, with this particular cake, you cook it very long and slow with the cake tin wrapped up in newspaper to ensure it cooks as evenly as possible. It is so large that you really don’t want to start cooking this baby too late at night – you may well be waiting up till the wee small hours if you do (don’t worry, its been done!). Attempting a cake this large is less of a risk if you trust your oven. This particular cake was the first one to be cooked in the new oven at home and possibly one of the last – the oven proved itself rather unpredictable and, although we managed fine in the end, the larger cake could have safely been labelled a caramel mud cake while the smaller cup cakes turned out more successfully – tiny white mud cup-cakes as expected. In the end, it is really all about how you sell a thing isn’t it?! Once the cake had (finally) cooked, I then set to work stressing over the decorating. Jonno is a keen muso so we had decided to create an edible version of his Nord synthesiser. With some cutting, puzzle work, ganache spreading, a bit of nifty fondant icing work and some chocolate and lollies – I managed to pull it off with a tonne of support from Mum and Asher (in particular).

Ingredients:
2 kg butter
1.2kg white chocolate melts
3.52kg caster sugar
2 lts milk
2.4kg plain flour
8 tsp baking powder
8 tsp vanilla essence
16 eggs
8 tbsp malted milk extract (or powder)

Decorations:
red fondant icing
chocolates of various sizes and shapes (for keys and buttons)
white icing in a tube for the piano key divisions

Ganache Ratio:
1 cup white chocolate
1/3 cup cream
cocoa to taste (for the brown icing on the cup cakes)

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 160oC.
2. Grease and line the large rectangular cake pan with baking paper. Wrap the outside of the tin in a thick layer of news paper to protect the cake while it cooks. The cup cakes were baked in free standing cardboard cup cake wrappers which were laid out on a baking tray.
3. Heat the butter, white chocolate and sugar milk together in a very large saucepan  (or two medium sized ones) till the butter, sugar and chocolate melt into a shiny, slightly thickened liquid.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder and malted milk powder over the cooled butter mixture and mix to combine. Continue to mix till the flour has been distributed evenly throughout the mixture and any lumps have been smoothed out.
5. Beat the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl to combine, add these to the mixture, ensuring the residual heat from the melting is not high enough to ‘cook’ the eggs on contact with the mixture.
6. Pour mixture into the large cake tin and bake for several hours until done all the way through. The small cup cakes took much less time to cook – more like 20-30 minutes. The time taken for each will vary with the oven used.
7. Make the ganache by slowly melting the chocolate and cream together in a saucepan (if you have an induction stove top, if you have a regular one, try a glass bowl over the saucepan – French name ‘bain marie’ – so the chocolate doesn’t cook). Refrigerate till it reaches spreading consistency.
8. The large rectangular cake was then trimmed (the hard crust is removed) and the pieces cut to construct a longer thinner rectangle. This was then iced with white chocolate ganache and the red fondant icing, rolled out to resemble the red sections of the Nord.
9. The keys (KITKAT chocolate bars cut to size), buttons, dials and knobs were added using a variety of different chocolate pieces and icing as cement. Bought ‘white fudge icing’ in a tube was used to define the keys (a pre-prepared food compromise I was so willing to make at about 10am on the morning of Jonno’s 2pm-start-time-party!)
10. The crotchet cup cakes were iced with the remaining white chocolate ganache turned brown with cocoa. Peppermint sticks were used as the stem.
11. Finally we sang, celebrated and shared this symbol of Jonno, his musicality and his birthday.

*[pet names for my grandparents]

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A little party

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A little friend turned two. We celebrated with tea, tarts, cakes and cookies. A bunting lined room was mirrored in the cake decoration. The party design credits need to go to her lovely (and quite creative) mum – we helped with cooking and I made a little bag as a present. I thought I would share the recipe for the little tarts and some of the pictures from the day. The tarts were based on the Taste.com recipe linked here. I however, made a few changes recommended by other readers. The quantities made enough for 24 mini tartlets.

Ingredients
3 sheets of frozen, sweet short-crust pastry
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup caster sugar
4 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
4 tablespoons lemon juice
100g butter, chopped
finely grated lemon rind, to serve

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
2. Line the muffin cups with frozen short crust pastry. Use a cup/cutter to cut rounds of pastry that fit the tray you are using. Press the pastry rounds into the muffin holes and ‘dock’ (use a fork to make holes in the base of each tartlet).
3. Freeze for 15-20 minutes (till pastry is firm).
4. Make the lemon curd by whisking egg, egg yolk, sugar, lemon rind and juice in a small saucepan with a heavy base. Add butter and place saucepan over a medium heat. Keep whisking till butter is melted through. Keep string till mixture coats the back of a spoon (it can be easier to swap to a wooden spoon to check this after the butter has been mixed in!).
5. Pour into a small bowl allow to cool.
6. Fill the tartlets and sprinkle with some remaining lemon rind.

How to make a birthday

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When it’s for this particular muso there must be lots of instruments, lots of friends and family and lots of good food. We celebrated another year of Asher with pizza, playing and partying last week and it seemed to come off! People seemed happy and relaxed, enjoying all the different aspects of the night. The birthday boy was pretty wrapt … it may not be last birthday we celebrate like that! Special thanks to my dad for teaching me about all things yeast, including this particular recipe. I’ve even adapted his instructions here. If you would like to make some pizzas like his/ours (or really, like Donna Hays – see Issue 8, Autumn 2003 for the original recipe) read on …

Makes 3-4 thin based pizzas or 2-3 thicker based pizzas. For a family of 5 we often doubled it. 7 batches worked well for this party and there were 20-25 people.

Ingredients:
2 teasp active dry yeast
½ teasp sugar
1 cup warm water
2 ½ C Plain Flour (approx 360g) (doesn’t need to have very high Protein)
1 teasp Salt (6g)

Toppings:
Tomato pasta sauce (or a mixture of this, tinned tomatoes and tomato paste) + Bocconcini cheese + Basil leaves
Basil Pesto + pan fried chicken thighs + shaved parmesan + rosemary leaves
Dad also likes doing garlic + olive oil + rosemary leaves + parmesan and its a bit of a winner too!

Method:
1. Put yeast, sugar and water into a small in a small bowl, mix to combine. Let sit for a few minutes. Check for bubbles – if there are none, the yeast is dead and you need to find more yeast! Otherwise continue …
2. Put the salt and flour into a bigger bowl, pour in the water mixture and then mix till a dough forms. Knead this for 5-10 minutes. Divide the dough into 3-4 (2-3) balls.
3. Preheat oven to 2200C (2100C fan forced).
4. Let this rest for 30mins-2hours (if you are that patient, 30mins is fine though!). Dad says to cover with a damp cloth, I just covered mine with glad wrap. Either will be fine.
5. Roll out each one to desired shape – round or rectangular, on a floured surface if necessary. Dad says in his instructions to get them as thin as you can. I like mine a bit thicker I think, I let them stay about 1-1.5cm thick and they were great too. Depends on which result you want! Thin and crispy or thick and doughy! At this point Dad also makes a border round the edge, pressing with his fingers … its does work, I just didn’t do it this time and it was also fine. Follow your intuition!
6. Spread with desired toppings and cook for 12-15 minutes or till golden and crispy on top and toppings are looking and smelling very tasty!
7. Cut into several slices (we do rectangle pieces – a pizza cutter and or kitchen scissors work well) and share!

The birthday season continues …

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… and she’s the birthday girl!

In my family this is the ‘go-to’ cake. Need to cook something for visitors quick? Need to cook for the cake stall? Need to make a birthday special? Gwen Francis’ chocolate cake is the cake for the moment! A friend of my grandparents, she will enjoy immortality in our family for this tasty dessert. It is very simple (it’s a ‘melt and mix’ cake) making it very quick to throw together. You can dress it up (think cream and raspberries) or dress it down (think chocolate icing and smarties!) and it will still work. This one was for Ally for her birthday and was happily enjoyed by the whole family – even grandparents in another town a week later … with the help of freezer technology! Happy Birthday Ally!

80g butter
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
3 level tbspoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 cup milk
3 eggs

Optional decorations:
Strawberries
Strawberry Jam
Whipped Cream (with a little icing sugar and vanilla)
Chocolate glaze

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Melt the butter in the microwave (covered – for the sake of not cleaning the microwave afterwards).
3. Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl (preferably attached to an electric mixer), add sugar, milk, eggs and slightly cooled butter to the bowl and beat on high for three minutes (assuming the mixer). If you are doing this by hand, stir briskly till combined.
4. Grease your chosen tin (heart shaped is pretty, circles work – a lamington tin will as well, the time of cooking may vary slightly however) and pour the batter in.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes.
6. Decorate your cake with which ever ingredients suit your taste and the occasion! We halved the cake with a serrated knife, whipped some cream, sliced some strawberries and then layered the bottom half of the cake with jam, strawberries and cream before covering with the top half. Chocolate glaze was drizzled over the top. Best served with a little more cream or ice cream!