ISSUE 17 // December 2022
There is a song by Sufjan Stevens from his album Illinois. It's called "Chicago" and the opening melody is joyful and uplifting; it has a way of making you smile - of transporting you somewhere else. It's the kind of song I can imagine playing loudly in the car with the windows rolled down and the wind rippling my hair on the open road.
Sufjan is a masterful composer and storyteller, and this song beautifully showcases his ability to combine gentle, unassuming vocals with layers of complexity; a myriad of instruments - guitars, strings, trumpet, choir with raw and revealing lyrics. It's a song about place, of youthful optimism and the lessons of growing up. But it's also about the life-long journey of letting go. Of trusting that God is behind and before us; working all things together for good. Yes, in our tumble of mistakes and mess and beautiful humanity, we are constantly changing and growing. The chorus sings:
"You came to take usAll things go, all things go To recreate us All things grow, all things grow
We had our mindsetAll things know, all things know You had to find it All things go, all things go"
When I listen to this song I feel a sense of relief wash over me. All things go. And so it is for seasons - they come and go. I believe God came to earth as a vulnerable, newborn baby not to trick us, or to impress and overpower us, but to experience life as we do. To grow and love and learn and suffer alongside us. To help us experience a gracious love and offer of restoration that begins from the inside out. He became human, so that we might experience his divinity in the most intimate and infinite of ways.
"I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10
Christmas is eleven days away. I'm frequently asked: "Are you ready for Christmas?" or "Is everything sorted for Christmas"? I answer in some vague and non-committal way, as much as is possible at a supermarket checkout. But I ponder the sentiment. Am I ready? Is readiness all about my physical plans for food and social gatherings and church services and family activities and gifts? Or is it about my inner state of mind - my willingness to let go of the fuss and frantic doing and surrender to the hope, peace, joy and love I have already been given. Am I really ready to share myself, imperfect and vulnerable, and be spontaneous with my love? Ready to receive joy and be joy to others?
My body has a way of getting me into bed at this time of year, and however much I fight the call to stop and rest, I know I need it. That it is an act of love to rest ourselves.
I am recovering from my first bout of coronavirus and feeling very slow and achey. From my bed, I can hear the birds outside and the wind rattling the old sash windows. It's the middle of December but as cold as early spring. Once again I am challenged to let go of tightly held plans. To care less about the trimmings and doings of Christmas, and more about the anchor that holds me steady. My source of true rest and deep peace. My heart's wellspring - Jesus. Light of the world!
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Friends, this will be my last newsletter. I am thankful for the opportunity to share musings about the seasons with you for the past two years. It's hard for me to put into words just how clarifying and encouraging it has been to write to you. And I so appreciate every one of your responses!
I wish you every blessing for the days and weeks and months ahead. I pray that 2023 is a year in which you feel held and loved just as you are. May growth be steady and sweet.
Listen to "Chicago" by Sufjan Stevens. You might close to your eyes and see where the sounds and lyrics take you.
Explore the wild, natural world around you. Take a walk around your backyard, along the path of a nearby park or the track of a bush reserve. What do you see, smell, hear, feel and taste there? Notice the changing season. Let the slow patterns of nature nurture and refresh your senses.
Contemplate Isaiah 9:6:
"For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.."
Consider these musings of poet Luci Shaw:
“Anticipation lifts the heart. Desire is created to be fulfilled - perhaps not all at once, more likely in slow stages. Isaiah uttered his prophetic words about the renewal of the natural Creation into a wilderness of spiritual barrenness and thirst. For him, and for many other Old Testament seers, the vacuum of dry indifference into which he spoke was not yet a place of fulfillment.
Yet the promise of God through this human mouthpiece (and the word "promise" always holds a kind of certainty) was verdant with hope, a kind of greenness and glory. A softening of hard-heartedness, a lively expectation, would herald the coming of Messiah. And once again, in this season of Advent, the same promise for the same Anointed One is coming closer.”
(GF, DF, NF)
It’s no secret that I love gingerbread. I share this recipe for your gluten free gingerbread needs. The psyllium husks are an unusual addition I know, but it really helps bring a little elasticity to the dough without drying it out. For added zing stir in a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger into the dough.
You will need:
3/4 cup of honey or golden syrup
2 cups of GF plain flour (or 1/2 cup rice flour, 1/2 cup buckwheat flour + 1 cup tapioca starch)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground cloves + ground cardamon spice
1 teaspoon of cocoa powder
1 tablespoon psyllium husks
1 small egg
Melt butter over low heat in medium sized saucepan, add honey or golden syrup and bring to a gentle boil, remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes. Add sifted dry ingredients, psyllium husks, spices and a small egg, stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Cover pot and stand at room temperature for 1 hour. It will thicken considerably and become more “dough” like.
Turn mixture on to surface which has been dusted with extra flour. Knead lightly, working in only enough flour until mixture loses its stickiness. I find rolling and cutting the dough on a piece of baking parchment/paper helps reduce stickiness. Roll dough to about 1/2 inch thickness and cut out shapes as desired.
Decorate with dried fruit such as cherries, currants and citrus peel. Bake in moderate oven (180’c) for 8-10 minutes or until golden. They will harden as they cool.
Recipe can be doubled.
Little Pudding Cookies
These are adapted from Ottolenghi's Spice Cookies recipe - all credit to him for this wonderful, festive combination. I use cocoa power instead of chocolate and change the topping up depending on what I have on hand - melted chocolate and chopped pistachios or white chocolate and dried cranberries or lemon glaze and peel as per the original. All make excellent toppings for these moist and fragrant treats.
You will need:
3/4 cup currants
1/4 cup candied citrus peel
2 tbsp brandy
2 cups plain GF flours (or 1 cup each rice flours and tapioca starch)
1/2 cup dutch cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking power
1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice.
1/2 cup soft butter (room temp)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean essence
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tablespoons of egg white (the white of a small egg)
1 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons roughly chopped pistachios
Soak currants, candied peel and brandy together for 1/2 hr or better still overnight.
Whisk dry ingredients together in a bowl: flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and cocoa powder. In a separate bowl (or mixer) beat butter, sugar, vanilla and citrus zest together. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients and mix until it all comes together.
Make tablespoon sized balls of dough and arrange 2cm apart on trays lined with baking paper. Rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 190'c. Bake cookies for 15 minutes and cool. While cookies are cooling whisk lemon juice and egg white in a small jug. Slowly mix in icing sugar until combined. Drizzle icing over the cookies and scatter with chopped pistachios.
Cookies for keep for 1-2 weeks in an air tight container.
“Brunsli” Swiss Style Chocolate Spice Cookies
The favourite. Hands down the best Christmas cookie! I like using ground hazelnuts instead of almonds (or a combination of both) in my Brunsli. Nice dark chocolate and that hint of cinnamon and cloves makes them so special.
You will need:
3/4 cups white sugar
1 pinch of salt
250g ground hazelnuts (you can also use almonds or a mix of both)
1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons of ground cloves
2 tablespoons flour (I use rice flour)
2 fresh egg whites (70g), lightly beaten until frothy
100g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa
1/2 cup white sugar for rolling/dusting
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl beat egg whites with a fork until frothy but not stiff (you can also just shake them up in a jar with a lid until frothy) Add egg whites to dry ingredients and mix. Next melt dark chocolate and pour over other ingredients and mix well. Using clean hands knead dough into a ball.
On a lightly “sugared” (more white sugar) surface roll out dough to 1cm thickness and cut into desired shapes – if your cookie cutter gets too sticky, rinse in warm water - I keep a bowl next to me for this purpose. You will also need to re-sugar the work surface.
Arrange cookies on trays lined with baking paper and sprinkle with a little more sugar. Bake in a moderate oven (180’c) for 10 minutes (they will harden as they cool down). Once cool, store cookies in an airtight container – they will last 3 weeks if stored like this.
**I find rolling out the dough on a piece of baking paper prevents sticky dough clean up, and you can use it for baking the final batch of shapes on**
Two years ago I created a guide for exploring the season of Advent - the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. This PDF is free to download and includes reflections, scriptures, poems, recipes, coloring pages and ideas to help you slow down and savour the hope, peace, joy and love of Jesus this Advent.
a summer blessing
a blessing from the bare feet
dandelion heads and golden grass
cool breeze about your legs
a blessing from the fruit bowl
cherries for your ears
ripe mango in your hands
a blessing from the hot sun
tomatoes ripening on the vine
trees to shade your face
a blessing from the long day
ample room to ponder and dream
books open on your lap
a blessing from the rain
enough where it's needed most
gentle pattering on the roof
a blessing from the moon
creatures lit by silver beams
deep sleep to enfold you
a blessing from the birds
warbling, twittering, squawking songs
look up and out and all around
a blessing from the bright light
doors opening and closing
unfurling of your heart