Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent Journey: On Hope

            

Christmas preparations have had a different dimension for me this year. There has been the usual shopping, decorating, wrapping kind of thing going on, but with only three of us at home this time, it's been much more low key than normal. Now, here I am, on Christmas Eve, with everything ready for a fairly relaxed day tomorrow.
Yet, I feel different about it all tonight. Yes it is lovely sitting here in the candle light, warmed by the fire, but the glow I am feeling is not from this. As I have walked this path, I have become more aware of who God is, and what he means in my life. I have really understood the power of the Nativity story as if for the first time. "And The Word became flesh and lived among us" is, in my opinion, the most thrilling verse ever written. When I think that Jesus was born into this world, for me. He ministered to me, and he suffered and died because of me. He became like me, so that I could become like Him. Words cannot express the awe that I feel thinking of this. This is what Christmas really means. So now, as I stand in the centre of that spiral path, I turn to face the Light, and I know that Jesus will always be with me and He will guide me on and on as we spiral back out again. The journey here will never be finished, and I am guessing I might have many more stops and starts as I go. But at this moment, as Christ approaches, I am filled with Hope, as I reach out for His Hand once more.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent Journey: On Looking Back


I am almost at the end of this journey now. I started it on the First Sunday, saying that I  wanted  "to reflect upon the meaning of Advent, and find the beauty, hope, joy and expectation that this season brings".
I have found all these things and so much more. Every day, when I sat down here to write my posts, I had no idea where the path would take me.  I daily put my trust in God that he would light the way - and He did. Through prayer, reading and trawling through old photographs, He guided me along - challenging me, supporting me and reminding me of my purpose. He is just the best company on a journey like this, and I have loved spending time with Him,  feeling myself drawing closer as the days passed. I've been to some deep places - some dark ones too, but that small steady point of Light has always been visible. 
I am glad that I shared this journey - it was an important part of it, and became more so, as I linked up with fellow pilgrims. Thank you for all your supportive words, kindness, and forbearance. I almost feel as if we have been on a little road trip together! 
There is still another day left before Advent ends and Christmas begins. Finally, after all these days, of waiting, Jesus comes. And yet, He has been here all the time, walking alongside us  - new every morning. How amazing is that?  The very thought makes me feel as excited as a child on Christmas Eve!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent Journey: On Darkness and Light


Dawn: mid December 09.10 am


            November                                   October                                     September



                                Noon                        





            November                                     October                                September





Sunset: 15.30hrs


                 November                             October                                     September


I thought that the shortest day was a good time to continue to look at the monthly progress of the sun along the horizon. I've had to move a good way from my original standpoint to capture the position of the sun, so it may not be obvious just how far round it has moved. There have been very few days where I have seen the sun this month, due to the stormy weather and lack of clear skies.

But now the world stands still in the darkness for a few days, before the sun turns its face Northwards again. There are a few days of this Advent journey left. I began this walk in the dark, searching for  tiny sparks - I think some have caught and are now burning, faintly but steadily. Soon the Light of The World will return and I will see just how far I have come.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Advent Journey: On the mend


I've not been feeling well today - tiredness from some weather disturbed nights and the threat of a strep throat have kept me resting in bed most of the day. It's been quite nice in a way - giving myself permission to drop all the balls I've been juggling madly. Five days until Christmas Day and there are a lot of things I haven't done, and probably won't now. They don't seem important somehow. I always thought i had a fairly restrained Christmas, focussing more on the atmosphere than the material aspects of the season. Yet, this month of searching has helped me see that even this is not as important as how I prepare myself to meet the Saviour. The tinsel, lights and sumptuous groaning tables are lovely and all, but their glamour hides the simple truth of what Christmas is about. God Himself has come to be among us and that is the most powerful and awe inspiring thing for me right now.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Advent Journey: On Song


Advent is a time for singing. We sing many special songs at this time - Christmas Carols, choirs, concerts. We hear old familiar tunes as we wander around the shops or listen to the radio and tv. Music is a big part of our Christmas, we dig out the albums and sing along; we wait to hear who will be the top of the Christmas charts, we might get up and sing our party piece at gatherings. We sing at church as we celebrate the coming of Jesus. 

When Mary accepted God's plan for her, she rejoiced by singing. The Angels announced the birth of Jesus by singing. The Bible is full of songs, and it tells us too, that God sings over us. I love that. 

One of my favourite pieces of prose is the chapter in The Magician's Nephew where Aslan sings Narnia into being. I imagine the creation of our world to be like that. A divine note, resonating over time and space - the intricate mathematical details we find in Nature emerging to their own melodic energy. God hovering over the chaos and composing the most exquisite music as he formed His creation. And now we near the time when we celebrate the earthly birth of the Singer. As I approach the stable, I am listening out for the new song.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent Journey: On Reflection


I have been thinking more about my post On Abundance - or rather, on poverty. I wasn't really happy with it. I am posting late in the evening just now and I guess I ran out steam at the end. I wanted to say more, but the words evaded me. Then this morning I noticed a comment in the spam folder. I go there every couple of weeks and quickly scroll through the usual suspects before deleting them, but I noticed one pertaining to my post. It was a courteous enough comment, although seemed to be full of anger. I don't know who posted it as it was left anonymously, but it questioned the existence of a God who would allow evil and suffering in His creation. Is God omnipotent? 
I have been thinking about this on and off throughout the day. It is one of these arguments that has been around for centuries. I am on my own personal journey here and do not have the theological knowledge to answer the problem of evil in the world. What I do know, is, that evil and hardship exist. But if there is no God, does that mean evil and hardship is ok? Is poverty more acceptable, then, in a secular world?  I don't know - I imagine without God and knowledge of the concepts of good and evil, then the world would be an even more horrendous place - if such a place existed. 
I think of times where bad things have happened to me and yet I have come through them and even found myself better off in some way I did not expect. I look back over my life and see all those twists and turns in the road that have led me to where I am right now "God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform", goes the hymn, and he does indeed. I think of the story of Joseph, who suffered from many evil deeds, and yet, all these events in his life resulted in him being in a position of power and able to help others. And, of course, there are many important consequences to that story!
 This Advent journey is for me to reflect on the thoughts and challenges I pick up on the way. I certainly don't have all the answers - or even some of them. I only know what God means to me. He came into the world in the person of Jesus, experiencing all of our human condition, was put to death by evil men, and yet rose from the tomb to walk among us. He is our Hope, and he loves us, despite everything.  Have faith - all is well. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Journey: On Warmth


It's blowing a gale outside, and that wind feels as if it is seeping in through the very walls of the house. We were out the school concert, but now we are back home. Let's stir up the fire and draw near the flames. Throw another couple of peats on and we'll soon be warm. Can you see the  flames rise higher? Do you feel the heat? For four thousand years, it has been forming - mosses, heathers, grasses, wild flowers, insects all lived and died and became that rich black peat that we cut in late Spring, and dry out for our Winter fuel.

 Four thousand Summers have come and gone! Think of what has happened in that time. Civilisations have risen and fallen, new lands have been occupied, so much has changed. If we look deeply into the flames we might see pictures - think of it being like a video recorder! What part of that history would you want to see? 

Imagine if the peat that is burning now is from 2,000 years ago. The growth of the Summers when Jesus walked the Earth are now throwing out their warmth on our hands and faces. Wow - imagine if we could see him - talk to him - ask him things! Wouldn't it be wonderful? 

But, the Good News is that we don't have to go back in time to do that. He is living still - and He will come and be with us if we ask Him to. He will be like a living flame burning in our hearts, keeping us warm when the wind's of the world blow cold.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Journey: On Trust


It makes me smile so much to look at this picture - taken in the Eoropie dunes one warm August afternoon. A last fling with Summer, before school went back. I remember how much he laughed and squealed with delight - running and leaping of the edge with sheer abandon - completely trusting that the deep sand would provide a soft landing. I recall too how he urged to me try it - to let go and jump. "It's just the best fun! You don't hurt yourself" he assured me. I knew that - I remembered that feeling from my own childhood. Oh - I tried, I gave it a go - I lumbered forward, self-consciously and pushed off the edge of the dune, but I held back just at the last second, and I only jumped a little way. Too scared? Too stiff? Too grounded? Yes - all these things I suppose, but that's what happens as you get older.

We have just over a week of Advent left now. The great day is drawing closer, and it's really getting quite exciting. This is the week when people will be busiest. Christmas parties, concerts, Carol singing, end of term treats, last days for posting. Time to really be getting organised now.

As I focus on my journey, I feel my anticipation growing. Christ is coming! The Nativity Story has never been so clear and relevant to me before. I am in awe at the thought of God coming to Earth as a helpless baby - born to a woman. That he lived among us, ordinary folk and experienced life with us! Later, in His ministry, He sought out and helped people on the margins of society. People on the edge, jumped into His arms with joy, while those with status and power stood back and plotted to stop Him.

The time is drawing near - I stand on the edge of that dune, and I know and trust with all my heart that when I jump, He will catch me. Ready? 1,2,3 - Go!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent Journey: On Vulnerablity


I've been thinking a lot about yesterday's post - especially since I received a few very supportive comments about it - here and in other places. Thank you - you have inspired me.

When I first thought of doing a series of posts for Advent - I imagined a kind of photo a day, perhaps with an accompanying sentence, or a single image. Something festive, maybe, something quick, something easy.  Haha - what did I know? Suddenly, here I am, sharing my spirituality and faith in a way I have never done before. It's not quite what I expected to happen. I have always been conscious that not everyone who reads this blog shares the same beliefs as I do, and for the last five years (oh yes), while I have tried to write authentically, I also hope I have never made anyone feel excluded. I am not in the habit of discussing politics, religion or airing my opinions on the topics of the day, in this space. So when I found myself actually talking openly about God, Jesus and Salvation, no one was more surprised than me.

As I hit the publish button, I was scared. I felt vulnerable, and still do. At first I was afraid of what everyone would think - that I would lose followers - that no-one would read it. The fear of rejection is very strong, especially for someone like me, who likes to fit in.  But along with this vulnerability, I somehow felt safe enough to step outside my comfort zone.

The original meaning of comfort is to strengthen - and I trusted that God would comfort me as I took this first step. Advent is looking forward to the Birth of Jesus, the Saviour. If anyone knows about being vulnerable it is Him. Born into this world as a tiny helpless baby, already with a murderous king trying to kill him, and knowing the temptations he would face, the abuse and the torture he had to endure, for us. But he kept on walking - right up that hill, and right out of that tomb. As long as He is with me, I am safe to continue my journey.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Advent Journey: On Growth


The garlic cloves I planted in September are now poking through the earth. It always gives me such a thrill to see this wondrous happening. Sow a tiny seed, or small bulb and it grows and becomes something completely different and amazing - and yet this is exactly what is is meant to do  I think of all that activity and change going on below the surface, roots emerge unseen, and when the time is right those tiny shoots begin to unfurl and stretch out towards the light, growing stronger every day. It really is a miracle. 
I am now just over halfway through my Advent Journey. I began, stumbling along in the dark, not sure where I would go with this. Sharing my faith so publicly is a very new and quite uncomfortable thing for me. Yet every day, I have found new thoughts and ideas to reflect upon - new aspects of the Nativity story that I have never realised before. I am beginning to feel some little shoots of growth stirring, as I read, pray and write - little blessings and insights that I now appreciate. Thank you for following along on my meanderings - your support and understanding comments mean so much. I hope to continue here, each day, walking deeper into Advent, clinging on to The Lord, and wondering what kind of seedling will emerge.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent Journey: On Abundance


In our Western society, we are surrounded by abundance and wealth. The shops are bursting at the seams with things to buy, cupboards and freezers are filled with delectable foods, the days are packed with activity, and the dark skies ablaze with fairy lights. Our homes are decorated and overflowing with good things as we try to bring some warmth and light into our lives during these dark, cold months.

Yet - in the midst of all this abundance, there is deep poverty.  In these times of austerity cutbacks, our children are hungry  - our elders are suffering from malnutrition - many people are having to rely on foodbanks. We can only do what we can - donate money or food, perhaps - lobby our politicians - be agents of change, and pray.

Mary and Joseph knew poverty, fear and hardship. They set off with nothing but faith in God's promises to them. They had no shelter at the end of their journey, had to beg to stay in a stable to give birth to the Baby; they were hunted and fled as refugees to a foreign country. They must have been so desperately worried - but - they trusted, and God delivered them. And through those actions, we too, have been delivered, through the Saving Grace of that Baby, who was the Christ.

Nothing is impossible for God, and everywhere in His word, are images of His abundant grace - inconceivable riches - beyond our understanding. We only must believe, be thankful and accept him into our hearts, and He will walk alongside us.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Advent Journey: On Difference


I love to hear about how other people celebrate the Christmas season.
When I was young, I imagined everybody did the same things our family did - and later, on learning of different traditions and ways of "doing Christmas" I was both fascinated and ever so slightly horrified - "You open your presents at midnight?!" " You don't open your presents until after dinner?!" "You go out to a restaurant for lunch?!" "You don't eat turkey?!" I went home to my "normal" family Christmas, safe and secure in its familiarity.

As I grew older and took on the Mrs Christmas role myself, I enjoyed keeping many of my childhood traditions, and passing them on to my own children, as well as instituting new ones.
This year is very different for us. There will only be three of us at home this Christmas. It will be strange - a quiet(ish) house - no mountains of torn wrapping paper, no-one hogging the tub as they try out their new bubblebath, no frantic basting of a huge turkey, no mad crescendo of getting everything to the table on time, no slightly tipsy game of trivial pursuit.  I don't quite know how I will feel on the day - more relaxed, probably! But it is more than  just one day - it is the gradual build up towards Christmas that I love - little things appearing here and there - decorations slowly being put in place, a growing pile of cards, exotic looking tins and packets appearing in the cupboard - bit by bit, Christmas creeps in - to our home and to our heart.

Nowadays, of course, I recognise that Christmas is held in many ways - all equally as valid as ours, and, of course many others celebrate different festivals at this time of year too. I notice, mind you that there seem to be a great many opinions out there, which are very disparaging of others' celebrations, while proclaiming their own to be perfect.  We are all here, in the dark, searching in our own way, for the Light. We can enjoy the fellowship, the feasting and the fun of as we honour our own traditions - and we should. But for me, the truth can be found on the road to that Bethlehem stable and in the empty tomb beyond.

Advent Journey: On Perseverance


It's been a long hard day, and now it's late. I had a lot of quite heavy work to do at both ends of the day, rushing around in between - fielding some unexpected demands. Emotionally it was hard too, as I spent time saying goodbye to my next- door neighbour who moved away today. I know we all have days like this, but we get there in the end. We persevere - we keep going forward in the face of difficulties.
If we look back over our lives and think about the various obstacles we have confronted and clambered over - it is amazing just how far we have come! 
I've been thinking about the journey of Mary and Joseph -  stepping out in Faith and persevering together throughout the many dangers and tribulations they were to face. They trusted in God, He helped them through, and The Saviour was born. 
As we move further into these short midwinter days, I find the extra demands of the season, as well as the everyday tasks I need to do, overwhelming at times. Taking time out to read, reflect and pray is hard to do - its a long twisty road, this Advent path.  Oh - but you know, when I think of where this journey is leading, and who is walking with me,  it's worth persevering. God will be with us soon.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent Journey: On Failure


I failed badly today. I was shouty, angry, and unhelpful. All the things I am trying to avoid being - despite all those things I spoke about last week - this is me today. I am truly sorry - but, I am thankful that, by God's Grace, I can get back on the path and pick up my steps again.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent Journey: Connecting



We probably connect more with other people at this time of year than any other.  We send Christmas cards to family and friends we haven't seen for a long time. "Let's meet up soon!" we scribble at the bottom - and we genuinely mean it. Then there are the round robin letters - updating everyone on the highlights of our year, the long distance phone calls, emails, photographs, texts. There are so many ways to connect. 
And - we have the parties, carol services, nights out, lunches, concerts, events - so many places to connect. 
Sometimes we have to connect with people we'd rather avoid. Family members that you don't see eye to eye with, perhaps, or others you would normally avoid.
As we journey through Advent, we make these connections - some superficial, others more meaningful. For some it might mean a special connection is made, for others, a connection may be severed. Wherever you are on your path, God wants to make a connection with you - he always does. He came to be with us - to share in our humanity - He came as a baby to bring us hope in a new life. As we go forward to celebrate His birth, let us open our hearts and  truly connect with Him.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Advent Journey: Stillness


The land is frozen today - the air is cold and crisp, and my footsteps crunch on the frost as I go about my various chores. The storms of the last few days have abated - the howling winds have calmed  down and  the silence is almost deafening. Everything seems suspended in the stillness.

It's easy to get stuck at this time of year. Overwhelmed by work, lists, tasks and expectations. It is hard to see how we can stop - even for a moment, but however much we try to move on - we can't. We keep finding ourselves back at the same point, time after time. Being stuck is not the same as being still - being stuck can be a noisy frantic place. 

In the midst of this tumult, then, pause just for a moment. Close out the jingle bells and flashing lights - and be still. Feel that calm after the storm - feel God's presence in your heart. He is where you are.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Advent Journey: On Remembering


Christmas is full of memories. At some point over the season, we will talk about how things used to be. Remember when....? With the current "retro" obsession we have right now, I am constantly being reminded of the Christmases of my childhood. I can scarcely open a magazine or read a blog without seeing something that I recognise from those days. I still have a few things myself - the original Christmas tree fairy from my parents' home, a fabulous black party dress from the 1980s, and this handsome chap in the picture. This is Bernie, one of my very first Christmas presents, and he's been with me ever since. We've done a lot together over the years, Bernie and I - he took the place of a pet dog as I was growing up - his kind face always seemed so understanding. I  remember trying to make my fortune with him, selling rides to the neighbourhood children - a penny to the nearest lamppost, tuppence to the end of the street. I loved him as if he was a real dog -  and to me he was.  When I grew up, my children played with him too - although I do remember Karen crashing into the doorstep and breaking a tooth! Now he is still here with us - a wee bit weather beaten, but always making me smile whenever I see him

Dental emergencies aside - I am lucky that my childhood  memories are happy ones. But, now that the years have moved on - particularly with my mother's passing, they have a bittersweet edge and I can feel homesick for a time and place that is no longer there. We bring all kinds of memories with us on this life journey:  happy, sad, poignant, long forgotten and half buried. We have been shaped and moulded by these past experiences, and in their assimilation we become who we are.

Advent is about memory. As we progress through the days towards Christmas, we remember why we are celebrating. The birth of the Saviour - the coming of Hope to a troubled world. We commemorate the Nativity by coming together to watch our children in those familiar plays and pageants, sing well-loved carols and celebrate with each other. But it is also a time to look forward to His coming - to remember God's loving promise - that He will always be with us.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Journey: On Knitting


You know that God is a knitter? Of course He is. We only have to look at the intricate patterns, colours and textures in Nature to see that. And if we read the amazing words of David in Psalm 139, we know that we too have been hand-knitted by God. That is quite an incredible thought. Each one of us is knitted to a wholly unique pattern by a Creator who knows every individual stitch within us. We come into the world perfectly complete, with our different yarns, colours, stripes and textures. Along the way, though, we pull threads, snag stitches, and wear holes in the fabric - we lose sight of the pattern. Oh - we might try and patch things up - and we might indeed make a reasonable job of it, but only God knows the original design - and - He can put us right again if we only ask.
Today, I am joining in with Ginny for Yarn Along, and  other knitters around the world - sharing what I am knitting and reading.
I am reading Sarah Bessey's inspirational book, Jesus Feminist, and the new edition of The Simple Things magazine arrived today. James and I have just finished reading The Mouse and his Child, by Russell Hoban - a wonderful story, leading up to Christmas, and very much in keeping with the theme of an Advent Journey. 
As Christmas approaches, I am busy knitting a few bits and pieces for presents - a pair of socks, face-cloths, a blue and white striped hat. I haven't knitted for a while, but I am enjoying it right now. The steady rhythm suits the way I am feeling these days - knit and reflect, knit and look forward, knit  - and let the stitches merge with all the knitting from the past and the future - and one day, I might look around and see the whole glorious pattern that we have worked to God's seamless and eternal design.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent Journey - On Endurance


At this time of year, in Waldorf homes, a Nativity table is set up, and is decorated over the weeks with symbols representing the Creation story. Accordingly, the first week of Advent celebrates the creation of the rocks and minerals, and so, stones, crystals and shells are placed on the table.  We dont follow that tradition, but It's a nice idea - especially for young children, as it encourages them to think more deeply about the season.

Here, we live on rock that is the oldest in the world - hard rock that has endured since the beginning of the world. Just up the hill is a stone circle that has stood for over 5,000 years - facing whatever the elements have thrown at it over all those millenia. On stormy nights, when the gales howl around the house - thoughts of this are very reassuring.

I've always loved the idea of God as a rock. The feeling that there is something so strong - so enduring at my back, is more than a comfort. One of my favourite hymns is Rock of Ages - one of those tub thumpers that we rarely seem to sing nowadays, and I guess that is where my image comes from.

Advent and Christmas can be difficult times when we are facing storms in our lives - missing loved ones perhaps,  difficult relationships, changed circumstances, or just buckling under the (self-imposed) pressure to make everyone happy. I know that, in the past, I have  often said that I would like to hide away until January. But - life keeps moving, and where I am this December is different from last year, and will be different again next year. The one thing that is always there is that big steadfast rock at my back. Knowing that helps me to keep going forward - sometimes quickly, sometimes one step at a time, and sometimes sheltering in that cleft until the worst of the winds die down.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent Journey - On Waiting


Our living room window looks out over the back of the house - down the croft and out to the village. We are quite high up and have a good view of the main road as it comes over from Stornoway or Harris and heads North past the school and on to the coast beyond.
From this window we watch and wait. James looks out for his Dad returning from town, and if we are expecting visitors, or a delivery, we can look out from here. We can see when the school bus is leaving the next village and know how long we have to put on coats and shoes and be out at the gate. From this window we have observed the animals, waited for lambs and calves to be born, and watched the weather change.

Yet - waiting is not something we do well - especially at this time of year. So much frantic rushing around - stores open all hours, internet ordering late in the night, shops bursting at the seams with must-have gadgets, piles and piles of food. Everything is just so accessible.  Children are completely accustomed to instant shopping - "Just google it, Mum!" my son informs me. We can't wait - and if we have to, we do it impatiently, feeling stressed if the delivery van doesn't arrive the next day. I know this feeling - having waited less than graciously on more than a few occasions.

But - Christmas isn't just about struggling through December and collapsing in a heap on the 25th. I remember one year, my sister and nephew came home from Canada for a surprise visit. I had no idea they were arriving until I saw them sitting on our parent's sofa. I was absolutely delighted to see them, of course, but also bewildered, confused and feeling I had missed something. It was the looking forward to their visit - the excitement at seeing them after a couple of years.  So, Advent, then.  is the joyful anticipation of a longed for arrival.
As we move inwards along the spiral, towards the Light, we can reflect on where we are in our own journey. How different are we this year? What has shaped us - what have we learned? It can be scary walking in our own shadow, but,  it is in the darkness that seeds begin to germinate. We can ponder these things - perhaps standing in the checkout queue, watching for the postman, sitting in a traffic jam - wherever we are - let us rejoice in our waiting.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent journey: On Stepping Out


This year, I have been thinking about these special days leading up to Christmas. It always feels such an exciting moment when the first door on the Advent calendar is opened and the countdown begins - but I want it to be more than just crossing off the days. December is such a hectic time - and I can quickly get lost in among all the busy-ness of the preparations. Shopping, cleaning, baking, cooking, visiting, crafting, driving - the to-do lists grow ever longer, as the time grows shorter.
Yet - Advent is a slow time - a time of stillness as we wait in the darkening days, for the birth of the Saviour; for the return of the light. I feel a need to honour this time - to slow down, reflect, contemplate and appreciate this time of Hope. As we move through these December days - busy though they will be, I want to reflect upon the meaning of Advent, and find the beauty, hope, joy and expectation that this season brings. Every day I will try to post a photograph, capturing a moment of our Advent journey this year. You are welcome to walk with me. xx

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Glasgow



Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those killed and injured in the Clutha Vaults tragedy. There are never any truly appropriate words for such an awful happening. We can only send love and light.
#Glasgow.xx

Thursday, November 28, 2013

My kitchen in November


I seem to be spending a lot of time in the kitchen these days, and by and large, it is a fine place to be. There's nothing like a warm kitchen, good smells from whatever is cooking, Radio 4 in the background, and a pot of tea on the go. Making the most of what there is, in the garden, storecupboard and 'fridge. I  have the very last of the tomatoes ripening on my windowsill. I'll give them another few days, then I will make more passata with the red ones and try some of Nigel Slater's ideas for the rest.


I am still picking beetroot from the garden, although the leaves are looking a bit wind-bedraggled now, and,  I found a forgotten row of rather large radishes in one of the fleece covered beds - so Beetroot, Radish and Apple chutney was born, and a great combination it is too. I used a standard chutney ratios - 2kg veg/fruit, 500g sugar and 1 pint white wine vinegar. I thought some Chinese flavours would work well here, so added a couple of star anise, a generous teaspoon of ginger and a cinnamon stick. Very nice. Oh - and I cooked the beetroot on its own first.


I needed some cream cheese to make frosting the other day, and remembered how easy it was to just make it. Ok - ricotta is not quite as tangy as a proper cream cheese - but it did the job.


I needed it for these delicious little snowball cakes. The school is having a cake sale today in aid of The Philippines. After raising money for Pudsey Bear a couple of weeks ago, the children felt they wanted to do something specific for this disaster, so cake it is. The recipe is at the end of the post.


I have quite a bit of meat coming back from the butchers in the next couple of weeks, so I have been rooting around in the freezers, using up what is lurking at the bottom. Most of the pork has gone, but there are a few bits - mostly small pieces of belly and hocks. In the past, I have tried various recipes for bacon, ham and pancetta, but never with great results. After scouring the internet though, I came across this method, which is a wet cure, using maple syrup. I followed the recipe completely, including the smoking technique.


 I love my stovetop smoker, I have to say (oh yes - I thought I might have mentioned it). So, anyway, after a couple of hours gentle smoking over crumbled peat, my hams emerged golden, glistening and delicious. Not too salty either, which was always the issue I had had in the past. I can't see these beauties lasting for long.
I have plans to do a corned beef tongue at the weekend too - yep - we know how to party here!


Snowball cakes.
4 oz butter
4 oz caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
5 oz self raising flour
1 oz shredded coconut

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add vanilla and eggs,fold in sifted flour and coconut.
Bake in 2 sandwich tins at 170 C (325F) until a toothpick comes out clean - about 15 - 20 minutes

Make cream cheese frosting with

8 oz cream cheese
60 g soft butter
2.5 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Then - put frosting and cake into a food processor and pulse until amalgamated.
(yes - you are going to turn your sponge cake into crumbs!)
Roll out the mixture into small balls, lay out on a sheet and freeze for a couple of hours.


Melt 2 or 3 bars of white chocolate over a pan of simmering water.
sprinkle coconut onto a tray - add edible glitter and muddle it through to mix.
roll each cake ball in the chocolate and then round the glittery coconut.
(this bit is fun - like rolling a real snowball along)
place on a wire rack to set.


I ran out of chocolate before the end, so I mixed up some glace icing and they tasted just as nice. And they do taste nice - very very nice - and they look so pretty there, in their frosty coats.


The possibilities for variation are endless here - chocolate cake - orange, lemon drizzle, chopped nuts - chocolate and peanut butter frosting!!!  I've just imagined a Christmas pudding one too - think I will do that for the Sunday school party.


I'll keep working on it...xx


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Seven Days















A snowy blustery start to the week gave way to mild, shining days, where the stillness was so thick you could touch it. I had a birthday - it was very happy - and there was cake (of course there was).
I started curing some ham, we visited one of our very favourite places (and people) to decorate gingerbread, found a hairy caterpillar. and walked in the golden light.
And off we go into another week - how fast they roll by! Wishing you a calm and sunny Seven Days ahead. xx

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