Posted in family life

the feast of the transfiguration

One of my goals this year is to stay more in tune with the liturgical calendar of the church, and I’ve tried to pick 1-3 feast days or saints each month to celebrate and explore more deeply. A large amount of this was shaped by what books I was able to find, especially for the saints, but I also tried to choose feasts commemorating important Biblical events as well. So we began August (the 6th, to be precise) with the Feast of the Transfiguration.

We read the story from Archbishop Tutu’s children’s Bible, The Children of God Storybook Bible, and then walked through the story again while making meringue cookies.

First we separated three egg whites into a bowl, symbolizing the three disciples, and added 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, symbolizing Jesus, and then we whipped with the beater until they rose into peaks in the bowl like the four men climbed up the mountain. It was a long walk, just like we had to stand and beat the egg whites for a long time! But at the top of the mountain, Elijah and Moses appeared before them (1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla and a dash of salt), and the glory of God shone around them (2/3 cup sugar, added gradually). At this point I let the kids taste the meringue batter, if they wanted (Aubade loved it). This is good, we realized, and if we weren’t paying attention to our recipe, we might want to stop right here just like Peter wanted to stay up on the mountain with Jesus and Moses and Elijah. But just like Jesus and the disciples came back down the mountain to share their experience and knowledge of God’s love and purpose with the rest of humanity, so too our meringues have to bake (at 250 for 45 minutes, with at least an hour in the oven cooling after turning it off) so that we can share their delicious goodness with others. It would have been best for the story to give some away, at this point, but we ended up eating them all ourselves since I didn’t really know who would want them…

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The kids seemed to take away a feeling that good things often require time and effort – the journey up the mountain for the disciples, the time beating and baking for the meringues. The part that stood out most to me this year, that I hadn’t thought much of before, was one of the reasons for coming back down the mountain, a reason for any special experience or understanding of God: not just to draw closer to God ourselves, but also to be able to pour back into God’s people, to give back to the world that He loves and is redeeming. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “God comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Posted in family life, recipes

St. Nicholas Day (and a recipe for cookies!)

Due to St. Nicholas Day creeping up on me unawares in the middle of the week, I did not remind my boys to set out their shoes; due to the boys being only 3 and 4, they fortunately did not remember that small mysterious gifts should have appeared overnight. I had aspirations of making small St. Nicholas dolls (inspired by Waldorf pocket dolls) and placing candy canes in their hands like staffs… maybe they could tow along some chocolate coins as well…

However, I did introduce them to the story of St. Nicholas (no books, just me – again, I was woefully unprepared), and we baked speculaas cookies to celebrate!

I found a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website that didn’t call for too many obscure ingredients, stopped to buy sugar on my way home from work, and began mixing up the dough with the kids. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my almonds anywhere to make almond meal… so we improvised by cracking 1/2 cup worth of fresh hazelnuts we had lingering around aimlessly, and grinding them up in the food processor with a couple tablespoons of flour to absorb any oils. We also doubled all the spices because more is better, for spices at any rate, in my opinion.

Apparently it is also true in the boys’ opinion, as I couldn’t get them to stop eating the cookie dough, and I can’t get them to stop eating the cookies now!

But really, they had so much fun mixing, tasting, rolling, tasting, cutting, tasting, and so on 🙂 And the cookies turned out quite well! Crunchy, spicy, sweet, and addictive, with nubbly texture from the larger hazelnut crumbs – I’ll be adding this tradition to our annual list, and hopefully adding to it in years to come (in addition to books and gifts, I’d love to celebrate the day by being like St. Nicholas and anonymously blessing a family in need – I’m sure there is a good way to coordinate the timing of that with the holiday, and I know there are many opportunities to do so).

And now for the recipe itself!


St. Nicholas Day Speculaas Cookies

Slightly altered from King Arthur Flour’s Spiced Star Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts (more traditionally, ground almonds or almond flour)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk

Directions

  1. If using whole nuts, grind them in a food processor with 2-4 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour
  2. Cream together the sugar, butter, vanilla, and spices
  3. Mix in the ground nuts, the remaining flour, and the baking powder; the dough will be very crumbly at this point
  4. Stir in enough milk for the dough to hold together
  5. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill (in the fridge for 2 hours or in the freezer for 30 minutes)
  6. Preheat oven to 325° F
  7. Roll to 1/8 inch thickness, cut into desired shapes, and bake on parchment paper for 15 minutes (King Arthur suggests 15-20, but my cookies were ready between 12-15 minutes)
  8. Enjoy!
Posted in family life

on the first day of Advent…

Thanksgiving pictures will be up a little late because I forgot my camera at my in-laws’ house and will have to wait a few days for it to be returned (my FIL fortunately works fairly close to our house, despite living rather far away – I don’t envy his daily commute).

However, life in our house has moved on from Thanksgiving to Advent with what feels like incredible speed. The downtown area where we live is fully decked out for Christmas, with a whole street blocked off for a three-story Christmas tree, photo ops, and continuously-playing holiday music. Even our church this morning (to my disappointment) was fully decorated and singing Christmas carols all service long, and I honestly felt overwhelmed by it all. I love Christmas – don’t get me wrong! – but I love Advent even more, and the abrupt switch from ordinary time to Christmas, without the slow build-up and growing anticipation of Advent in between, made me feel like Christmas was just being dumped on me at the expense of the specialness and wonder of it all. I can’t remember feeling like this in the past; for some reason I am just not ready for Christmas this year, and I’m hardly even ready for Advent. I need time to live the lamentation and longing of Advent, to prepare my heart for the unbelievable joy and promise of Christmas… maybe I just need to spend time alone in the daily readings for these next few weeks, immersing myself in the pattern and calling of the Church.

For now, though, I did bring out a few decorations and the Advent wreath (and discovered that I only had two whole candles, one purple and one rose, along with five or six candle stumps… ah well, our Advent may be interrupted by the baby anyway!). I had hoped to do the Jesse Tree this year with the boys, but I didn’t find/make a set of ornaments I liked in time, so we’ll just be reading the stories without the visible accompaniment. I did find a great children’s Bible with beautiful, well-written stories that are still short enough to easily add to dinner and the Advent candles, so we’ll be using that for our Advent readings as a family and keeping the Jesus Storybook Bible in regular circulation with our picture books – Rondel has been choosing it for his bedtime story for a few weeks now, and I don’t want that to stop! Anyway, this is our new one:

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The illustrations are done by different artists from around the world, and represent different artistic styles as well as different ethnicities and cultures – and they are all absolutely beautiful. I’ve read quite a few of the short (two to three page) stories on my own, and read the first one tonight at dinner; I’m looking forward to the rest! I’m especially excited that Ruth and Esther are both included here, as they are not in the Jesus Storybook Bible.

One thing that gave me hope for the season in the face of my own lackluster feelings so far was Rondel’s reaction to helping me pull out some preliminary Christmas decorations, and finding our nativity set amongst them. My plan was to introduce the characters slowly throughout Advent, like I did last year… but Rondel spent the whole afternoon playing with the people (pretending they were random Bible characters like King Darius and Daniel because we haven’t read the Christmas story for a while!) and chose the baby Jesus for his bedtime snuggle toy tonight. So that was significantly sweeter than my well-laid plans would have likely been, and a gift for me to see his delight in the season even if it isn’t rolling out perfectly and liturgically correctly. My goal is to meet him in that joy, and make the most of the Advent time we have before our baby comes, instead of morphing into my inner curmudgeon…

I hope your Thanksgiving went well and that you are entering Advent with a more Christ-centered and joyful heart than I have had so far!