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 musings

“closed-hand” issues and confusing terms – a quibble with my pastor

In church on Sunday our pastor was distinguishing between what he called “closed-hand” issues (what C.S. Lewis might have termed Mere Christianity, the essential doctrines of the faith) and “open-hand” issues (points that aren’t clearly taught in Scripture and about which Christians are free to disagree, like the details of the end times or evolution). I was nodding along with him, as this is familiar territory for me, expecting him to take it in a truly ecumenical Lewisian fashion, when he suddenly burst out sola scriptura as a core, essential, inarguable tenet of the faith.

Excuse me?

I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that he simply meant to say that Scripture is inerrant and authoritative, the primary guide for our faith, because I don’t think any Christian group through the millennia of the Church would disagree. But what he actually said was that Scripture is the sole authority for the faith and for Christian living – and that is not Biblically taught and was not held by the Church for the majority of her existence. Logically, this makes sense. The Bible can interpreted in a million ways, some of them drastically different and leading towards widely varied ends, so as a sole authority it doesn’t seem to be very well-suited for keeping either orthodoxy or orthopraxy intact. There has to be some way to determine which interpretations are valid and which are heretical, and since Jesus is no longer living on earth to deliver those kind of judgments, it would make sense for the authorities within the Church, led by the Holy Spirit, to have that kind of authority.

If the Church isn’t led by the Holy Spirit, than to trust her authority and direction on the interpretation of Scripture would obviously be a dicey matter, no different than turning to any random person on the street and following their opinion. But we do see in the Bible Jesus promising to send the Holy Spirit to remind the apostles of everything He taught; we see the Spirit coming down with power and transforming the apostles and other believers; we see the early church following the decisions of the apostles as to which laws and traditions to live by. Was that just because they didn’t have a written Bible yet? Did all those councils and traditions and oral decisions become unnecessary once the Bible was assembled? Considering the number of heresies and divisions that have arisen in the 16 centuries since then, I don’t think so. We still need a person, or people, led by God, to clear up arguments and prevent error from creeping in to our understanding of the inerrant Word.

So please be more clear, pastor, about your terms and definitions. Please try not to exclude the vast majority of Christians throughout time and space from your tight definition of the “closed-hand” issues one must believe to be truly Christian by narrowing down the broad historically-accepted truth into your Protestant doctrine, which may or may not be true (I’d love to hear your arguments for it!) but which is most definitely not universally believed by even the great Christians of the past.

Posted in musings

suffering and the music of the church

I wonder if much “early” Christian music (well, it lasted long past the early years of the Church!) was some variation of chant because the Church was so aware of the brokenness of the world, and the chant allowed worshippers to lift up their voices in lament, in solidarity, in supplication, and, ultimately, in a hope devoid of false optimism. The tones of traditional chant are so haunting, so melancholy, and yet so natural to sing to – almost as natural as speaking – and I think those qualities reflect the way in which early Christians saw the world. They were close to its pain, suffering with it and for it and because of it, oppressed and persecuted, a misunderstood minority, laboring for the vulnerable and cast out, weeping with Christ for a world that they saw destroying itself. One cannot simultaneously be saving babies from abandonment to the elements and skipping around like nothing is wrong with the world; one cannot see friends and loved ones tortured and killed for their faith and still think that this life is a fountain of roses and rainbows.

So their music was born of the pain they saw (pain stemming from unredeemed sin in the world), the pain they felt (pain born of their own jarring disconnect with the culture around them), and the pain they remembered (pain that Jesus had endured on their behalf). It should be no surprise that it was a sorrowful and melancholy music, a music of prayer and supplication, of lament and mourning; we should expect that even their joy and hope would be colored by the sorrow they felt for a broken world and the pain they knew at their own persecution and suffering in that world. I wonder how we could re-introduce this spirit of worship (not necessarily the style) back into our Christian worship today, which (at least in the Evangelical circles I’m familiar with) tends to be buoyant, cheerful, excited, and positive. I don’t think those are bad things by any means – I think the church has much to be thankful for and much reason to give praise to God – but I do think that it tends to be the focus at bit too much of the time. Our constant obsession with the positive leaves us isolated when suffering comes, because we have never seen our community mourn together over the simple, everyday, sorrows and struggles of life in a fallen world. Instead, we see that the “Christian” thing to do is to give praise no matter what, to focus on the blessings no matter what, and to deny the pain and the brokenness.

There’s obviously a balance that’s needed, on a theological as well as a musical level. It is good to be reminded of the larger purpose and beauty of God’s plan when life is hard and things hurt; it’s not so good to feel like the worship service is a pep rally and our pain is out of place and unheard even by God. It is good to enter into the sufferings and laments of those who broken and hurting; it’s not so good to be left feeling that there is no cause for hope or joy or celebration in this life. But maybe if we learn from the Church throughout the ages, in all her many traditions, we might find a way to better balance the tendencies and weaknesses of our own age.

And now just for something incredibly beautiful and uplifting, even if you don’t think chant is your type of thing 🙂

(I’ve been learning a lot more about chant tones, notations, and how to chant prayers from David Clayton through his website The Way of Beauty and especially through his talk to the Institute of Catholic Culture, which, incidentally, I would highly recommend as a source of information about the history and theology of the Church from Biblical to modern times.)