Our Daily Bread


I tried to make bread today. Yeah, I know…bread right?

I have only ever made it in a bread making machine before, but my friend Hils has recently begun to make her own bread and I was inspired to have a go myself after she shared a loaf of focaccia bread with me last week. Hers was delicious. Packed full of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, rosemary, garlic and red onions… I had to try it for myself!

So today I tried.

D’ya wanna see how I got on?

Well let me tell you, finding a recipe for a “standard” focaccia bread is nearly impossible. So many to choose from! With water/without water; with lots of oil/with only a drizzle of oil; with sea salt/with rock salt; with/without toppings and fillings… The list was seemingly endless.

Once I had weeded out the ones I could understand the measurements for, (note to my American friends: how on earth do you manage with cups of stuff??) I settled on what seemed to be a fairly easy one to a) measure out the ingredients, b) understandable terms like “fold” and “knead” and c) wasn’t going to take up the whole afternoon to make.

It turns out the one I chose was by Paul Hollywood and if you know your bread and your bread masters, then you will know that if it has Paul Hollywood’s name on it then it was going to be a cracker. I remember seeing him make this on GBBO a couple of seasons ago and there were certain tips gleaned from there that I remembered as I went along. “Oil your work surface” being the most important – or so I thought.

This is how the first mix went:

Not pretty is it?

I turned it out because no matter how much I “folded” it in the bowl, it was still the consistency of porridge and was sticking to my hands and fingers so badly that I was starting to look like I had webbed feet instead of human mitts.

Pretty soon though, I had a lovely smooth (if very sticky) dough.

Now, if only it had stayed at that consistency I would have been so pleased! But it seemed that Paul Hollywood’s tip of oiling the workbench just made the dough stickier and more slippery in my hands and soon returned to a horrid gloopy mess. I can’t share a picture with you because I was so traumatised and Kevin was laughing so much, between us we couldn’t operate the camera.

Anyway. I managed to get it into a lump/mass/blob of goo and get it back into the bowl after about 15 minutes of wrestling – sorry “kneading” – it on the worktop.

This is what it looked like (please ignore the bottle of gin at this point. It was purely medicinal):

The recipe said to leave it for “between 1 and 2 hours in a warm place, or until it had doubled in size”. Well, to the master Paul Hollywood, he might remember what his goo looks like and be able to calculate what “double in size” actually is, but I’m not a master nor am I Paul Hollywood!

I had to recover, so I took my medicine with me to the living room and caught up with last night’s X-Factor for a couple of hours and when I returned, THIS is what greeted me:

Alleluia!!! It has risen!

I turned it out onto the worktop again (floured this time because my friend Hils said it might be in need of a bit of “dry”) and managed to get it kneaded for about 20 seconds before it returned to its original gloopy/porridgy mess. Now, Mr Hollywood’s instructions said that I would have a “lovely soft dough” at this stage.

Wrong!!

I had the Quatermass experiment going on in my kitchen and I was not winning the fight by any stretch. Not even a gluten-filled one.

Next was to “cut the dough into two equal portions”. Well let me ask you, dear reader, have you ever tried to cut a bowl of porridge in half? With a knife? If you have, you will know that any incisions made are quickly swallowed up, and there is no such thing as a “cut”. Same with my dough.

A little tip for PH when he rewrites his recipe, I would suggest that this stage is reworded to “separate the lumpy, sticky fluid into two blobs as best you can and if you manage to get them equal sizes then well done you!”.

I then pressed the two bits of “dough” (I’ve run out of synonyms for “sticky porridge”) roughly onto two baking sheets and covered them up with two damp tea-towels. I was reminded of what they do at the scene of a sudden or unexplained death. Can’t think why…

Quickly put out of their misery, I left them to it for about 15 minutes (a moment of self-preservation more than anything) and then finished them off with oil, rosemary and sea salt.

They didn’t look too bad going into the oven.

And so there they lay for 30 minutes or so to bake, as per Mr Hollywood’s instructions. More “medicine” for me…

We have an electric oven and the temperature is fairly even throughout it. So how on Earth did THIS happen??

Looks like I got Ebony and Ivory focaccia bread there!

To be honest, after the massive fight I had with that dough at the various stages of mixing, kneading, rising, kneading, shaping and finishing, I’m mighty pleased with the results, even though they are two-tone in shade.

We ate the darker one (tasted really good and the texture inside was lovely, springy and had a beautiful crust – Paul Hollywood would have been proud!) and I have put the lighter one in the freezer for later in the week when I can summon the energy to wrestle with more ingredients to make some soup or something. I might even give it to my friend Hils as a thank you for introducing me to this new fascination of mine.

I can’t see me making bread every day, but after the fight I had on my hands today, I’ll certainly be giving thanks for those who do provide us with our daily bread.

 

 

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Daybook Entry


Daybook EntryFor Today… 11th September 2017

Outside my window… the weather is having a party today. It’s sunny for now, but in another couple of minutes it will be stormy and throwing it down again. It’s been like this since yesterday morning and it is showing no signs of changing any time soon. I can only think that it if it so horrible here with high winds and heavy rain, it must be a million times worse for those in the Caribbean or in Florida.

I am thinking… that I’m glad things are back to “normal” after the summer break. I have always loved September, and I have always loved the sense of normality that comes with it. I love the summer holidays too, but September is always a special time of year and I love that sense of routine and normality that it brings.

I am thankful… for the new duvet my mum and dad have given us. It is lovely and cozy and just perfect for this horrible weather.

I am praying for… everyone who has been affected by natural disasters recently.

I am wearing… a clean t-shirt and my pyjama bottoms. I got soaked to the skin earlier so wanted to get my comfies on.

I am creating…  a piece of writing on the American Civil War. I want to turn it into a screenplay and so I’m blocking it out and making copious notes as I go through research and reading for it.

I am going… to meet with the new DDO (Diocese Director of Ordinands) tomorrow. He will be guiding me through the exploration stages of my vocation in the coming months and this will be our first meeting.

I am wondering… whether I can squeeze a nap in before I have to go and cook the tea tonight.

I am reading… “The Seagull” by Anne Cleeves. It is the eighth book in the Vera Stanhope series.

I am watching… “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix. Not my usual kind of thing (too much swearing and sex in it for me) but it’s fascinating to see how relationships ebb and flow in a confined space such as a prison, and I find it interesting to see how the script is written and how the programme is put together.

I am hoping… to get my hair cut soon. It has gone through the “cute and curly” stage to the “frizzy and uncontrollable” stage really quickly.

I am learning… that small changes in my morning routine are having a big affect on my productivity.

In my garden… things are starting to die back now as Autumn is starting to creep in.

In my kitchen… we are getting inventive with our food choices for mealtimes. Tonight will be something simple, like pasta with prawns and pesto. Might throw some peas in too, purely for alliterative purposes.

A favourite quote for today…

day quote

A peek into one of my days…

We spent a couple of days in Portsmouth last week to see my daughter’s passing out parade, and we spent a little time at the docks. This is a selection of photos from that time – the Spinnaker Tower (views are AMAZING!!), the Historic Dockyard showing HMS Queen Elizabeth (the UK’s newest aircraft carrier), HMS Victory (Nelson’s flagship, most famously used in the Battle of Waterloo in 1805) and the building in which the Mary Rose is housed, Henry VIII’s most expensive warship which sank in 1545.

One of my favourite things… is drinking Ovaltine at bedtimes when it is raining hard against the windows.

In other news: I said earlier that I liked September because it feels like a new start, and this year is no exception. I am going to be studying towards my Masters degree this year in Creative Writing, again with the Open University. I will be learning more about the process of writing as well as writing lots of stuff myself, and I will be learning about critiquing other students’ work which will be something new for me. I will hopefully be able to share some of my jottings and things on here in the coming months, but only once I’ve decided that they won’t be forming the basis of any of my work which will be marked by the OU. The last thing I need is to be done for plagiarism – even it it is of myself!

Things are progressing with my vocation exploration, and I will be going for my selection panel at the end of November (not next week as originally planned). I am preaching this Sunday at my home church, which I am looking forward to immensely. I might publish my text early next week if it goes down well enough on Sunday.

Blessings to you all.

 

 

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Catching Up


It’s been a whole month since I last updated you with what’s what, so here’s where we are up to on the Mushy Cloud.

As you might know, I have just finished a four-week placement at another church prior to my BAP (Bishop’s Advisory Panel – selection panel to be a candidate for ordination training) and I am back at my own church this week. The placement itself was a fantastic experience and I met lots of lovely people, as well as learning more about my vocation and what God is calling me to do. I also had a very different experience of how to “do” church and that’s something that I will be reflecting on between now and my BAP.

I was straight back into my own parish ministry on Monday morning at our annual Teddy Bear’s Picnic with the little ones at Stay and Play. We said goodbye to 8 children as they move on up to “big school” in September and we are looking forward to seeing some new families in September when we get back.

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Last Thursday (a slight overlap with my placement and today’s ministry) I met a lovely family who were preparing for the funeral of their beloved Gran and Mum, Jean. We talked a lot about what family meant to her and I was moved to hear their stories of her life and how she treated people with love. It was Jean’s funeral today and I contributed the prayers during the service, as well as accompanying the vicar at the graveside. I had one of those lovely moments where my online life met my “real” life, and I met one of my blog friends at the funeral. He introduced himself at the end of the service, and it was absolutely fantastic to meet him in person – hello Andy!!

We are heading off in the wobbly box next week for a few days away in the Lake District. It has been a long twelve months since we were last on holiday and we can’t quite manage the full two weeks this year, but the few days we are going to be away are going to be a very welcome tonic after the hectic (and sometimes frantic) things we have been working through as a family recently. No doubt there will be photographs and updates while we are there, including – I hope – a series of sunset and sunrise shots from the top of Hardknott Pass. Please pray for good weather for that overnight expedition for us. I’m not bothered about having good weather for the rest of it – tea tastes as good under canvas as it does in the open air when it is drunk out of a tin mug – but for the night we decide to do the photography on top of the world it would be nice to have some clear skies so we can see the sun come up properly.

A couple of weeks ago I received a delightful postcard from my blog friend Mary in the USA. It showed a photograph of Niagara Falls and it reminded me of the trip I went on with North Music Centre in September 1987 to the same place. We played an afternoon concert on a bandstand in the park at the top of the falls and I remember the spray from the water managed to wet our music even from that distance away. We also had a trip on the Maid of the Mist boat to the foot of the Horseshoe Falls, which is also depicted on Mary’s postcard. Thank you for the card Mary and thank you for the fabulous reminder of what a wonderful, natural world we live in.

In other news, I am trying to write a computer program that will help with crochet design so am on a crash course of learning coding (my head hurts) and how to apply maths and logarithms to what is essentially a textile art form. Not easy and anyone with any experience who can do this thing for me I will gladly talk to and get help from. I have also been trying to hone my writing discipline because since my degree I have gotten out of the habit of writing every day. I have started to keep “morning pages” and even in the short while I have been doing it I have seen an improvement in my word-craft.

That’s about it for now as I can hear my crochet hook calling me. Here is a picture of a bee I have designed. He doesn’t have a face yet as I’m not sure I like him to have a black or a yellow face. What do you think? The wings are still in the prototype stages too and so haven’t been attached yet. Sigh. A work in progress indeed.

My faceless bees – which is better? The one with the black end or the yellow end? The wings are still a bit dodgy too…

That’s all for now. Until next time, cheerio.

 

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On Placement – Part One


It has been a while since I updated you all about what’s happening with my spiritual journey so I thought today was a good day to share with you where I am up to.

You may know that I am currently in the stage of discerning God’s call and what it means for me and my life, and having gone through several stages of inspection and indeed introspection, I am now moving on to another stage of my journey.

I have been given a date to attend a Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP for short) in September, where I will go through a three-day “interview” process where I may – or may not – be recommended to go for further training in the church. As part of the process so far I have seen two vocational advisors and an examining chaplain as well as having several conversations with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) about what God’s call sounds like to me. During that process, it has been highlighted that I have little experience of church outside my own circle, and so I have arranged to do a short placement with a neighbouring parish to see how they do things there.

I started my placement today at St Michael’s in Alkrington, and I am going to be there for the next three Sundays with a view to learning as much as I can from a different priest-in-charge and from the congregation there.

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It has been a long day – my first service was at 8am this morning – but I have met lots of new people and seen three different styles of worship with three different congregations. First was a said Eucharist, which means that we shared holy communion but there were no hymns and all of the prayers and responses were spoken not sung. Next was a service at 9.30am which was a sung Eucharist, which you can probably work out is where we share communion but sing hymns and responses. Both services were very different from that which I am used to, but it helped me focus on the reasons why we “do” worship in church, and how we relate to each other as fellow worshippers.

I had a cup of tea after the service with some of the congregation members and I think I have found a new set of friends in the needlework group who meet on a Monday afternoon! The ladies there promised me a noisy afternoon of knitting and nattering so I’m going to take my crochet hooks with me and head off tomorrow for some fun and chats with them. I also spoke to a gentleman who at the grand age of 93 still plays euphonium in the church brass band, and with whom I have a “date” on Thursday evening at band practice.

Later on, I went to a Family Service which was a totally different service in terms of style for families who are looking to have their children in faith schools. There was over 70 children there and wow, what an experience!

I was introduced to all three congregations and prayers were offered for me and my vocational call. I was touched and humbled by the response of the church today because I don’t remember ever being the focus of attention quite so much before, and to know that there are about 200 people who prayed for me today was an amazing feeling.

I have learned a lot of things today – not least that 93 year old gentlemen can use a smartphone better than some children can! – and I am looking forward to spending the next couple of weeks with this group of lovely people and sharing ministry and mission with them for a short while.

So. My pre-BAP placement has begun and so too has the next stage of my discernment journey. I hope to keep you up to date with how things progress, and I’ll perhaps blog about what is involved with BAP too as things progress there.

 

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Manchester 


In the wake of the atrocious attack in Manchester last night, I feel have to say something. But like so many people today there are simply not enough words to express just how sad,  shocked, upset, fearful, determined, defiant and united we feel as a city.

Mancunians are renowned for our understated attitude to getting on with things and coming together as a community to stand in the face of adversity. This isn’t the first time Manchester has experienced violence like this and I don’t suppose it will be the last. While that saddens and angers me, I am reassured by the resilience of my fellow Mancs in that we will carry on.

For those who are pointing the finger and trying to divide us, my message is that we are all children of the same God and we would do well to remember that. Darkness will never overcome darkness, only light can do that. Hatred can never overcome hatred, only love can do that.

For the people of Manchester my message is, stay strong our kid.

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Daybook Entry 22nd May 2017


For Today… 22nd May 2017

Outside my window… the evening is cooling down a little. Some clouds in the sky but some bright sunshine too. A great metaphor for life!

I am thinking… about a painting I’m working on for a friend

I am thankful… for the space to think today

I am praying for… the country’s young people as they are in the midst of exams

I am wearing… my hair up and my smile down

I am creating… I am between crochet projects at the moment, having finished this last night.

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I am going… to be involved with two hospital funerals tomorrow, where people have died with no next of kin. The first person has some friends and extended family who will be in attendance, but the second has nobody but us laity and clergy to pray for her.

I am wondering… whether we can afford to go on holiday this summer. The car is not fit to tow the caravan and we don’t have the money to fix it, and we won’t have the money for site fees and food while we’re away so it’s unlikely we’ll be able to go. I’m wondering if something will turn up really.

I am reading… “Monk’s Hood” by Ellis Peters. It’s the third book in the Cadfael series and was a free download from Amazon.

I am hoping… to have my poorly ankle manipulated this evening.

I am learning… to be patient.

In my garden… the grass needs cutting but the lawn mower is broken. This post is starting to feel a bit like a moan-fest now!

In my kitchen… we are having a surprise for tea. Emma is here with her best friend and they are cooking something for us all. It smells nice and they have a great track record, so I’m quite looking forward to it.

A favourite quote for today…

A peek into one of my days…

This is my daughter, and I am very proud of her. She is extremely fit and healthy, and she loves running and doing all sorts of physical challenges. This weekend she ran “Tough Mudder” in Grantham, and volunteered to be a marshal for the other racers on Saturday. She has completed four now and has already got the next two planned. Go Em!!

One of my favourite things… is seeing my children flourish and thrive.

 

 

 

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Funeral Ministry


I experienced two contrasting funerals today, and they have made me think about the things that unite us as well as the things that divide us.

You might know already that I am a lay minister in my church and I am in the process of discernment as to whether I am a suitable candidate to be trained further, with a view to being ordained in the future. My ministry takes in lots of different things, including children’s work, leading worship and prayers, leading study groups and so on, and recently I have been increasingly involved with the funeral ministry that the church offers. I started off by shadowing the priest who conducted funerals, visiting the family and offering some pastoral support at the event itself. That quickly evolved into me saying prayers at funerals while the priest led the rest of the service, and then I began to deliver the eulogy and address too. More recently I have had the privilege to conduct the service from the beginning right up to the point of the committal, which for Church of England funerals can only be conducted by a priest. I have found funeral ministry fulfilling as well as challenging, and I am gaining experience every time I do one.

Funeral ministry might sound morbid and depressing but it is such a rewarding experience for me because not only do we get to share good news with people at a time when they are at their lowest, but when there are no words with which to frame that good news, we can stand alongside people and show them that they are not alone.

Which is why I wanted to talk to you about today’s funerals and the way that they are sitting with me and in my prayers today.

The first funeral was of a 41 year old man and the second was of a premature baby who died after living for an hour and 16 minutes. There are further contrasts between the two funerals, in that the first was filled with extended family and friends, with six pall bearers drawn from that circle, and the second was just the two parents who had come to mourn their loss, carrying a tiny white coffin themselves.

I visited the man’s family (I’ll refer to him as A for ease now) the day before yesterday with the priest who was to conduct the service (“E”) and was struck by just how close the brothers were, especially after hearing how the family had worked together to earn money and how they had informally adopted a lifelong friend into their midst when he found himself in difficulties. The visit was a noisy one, with everyone talking over each other to tell A’s story, and their memories came tumbling out with very little prompting from either E or myself. They were all keen to share their grief as well as some of the happier times they had shared with A before he died. Visits like this one are easier for me to deal with emotionally, because their keenness to talk and to share shows me signs that they are processing the death of their loved one and are prepared for the difficult time at the funeral ahead. It also means that the conversation flows easily and there is little prompting or nudging needed for them to tell their story.

E and I also visited the baby’s parents yesterday, and for me, that is where the deeper contrasts began to show themselves.

Baby C was the third child to this couple, and the visit took place with one of their other children in the room with us. It was very quiet, despite a toddler being there, and conversation was not quite as forthcoming as it was for the big family the day before. But how could it have been otherwise? Baby C didn’t have a story to tell, no escapades at school, no achievements or disappointments with exams or boyfriends and girlfriends and so on. But the parents were just as upset over their loss as A’s family were the day before.

The purpose of a funeral (for me) is a three-fold thing: it is to give thanks for the life of the deceased, for the bereaved to comfort each other, and to commit our brother or sister to the eternal care of God, and because we do those things at every funeral, they serve to unite us despite our differences and contrasts.

So how do we give thanks for the life of a baby whose heartbeat only lasted an hour and 16 minutes? How do we offer comfort to the parents who are grieving not only the physical loss of their child but also the loss of a life not even lived? How do we comfort a family whose brother has found life so difficult that he could only find solace and strength in alcohol? What can we say to ease the pain and disappointment, the anger and distress at the loss of a loved one no matter what their age is, or how many heartbeats they have had.

It is so, so hard, but for me, the answer to those questions lies in the one thing that united the two funerals today, and that is the promise of new life when we go from here. It is the promise that was made real by Jesus Christ, and it is what we celebrate every Easter when we remember his death and resurrection.

I can’t imagine that the bubble of grief in which the two parents have existed after the birth of their baby was ready to be punctured by the gospel message today, but I do hope and pray that the ministry they received from E and I this morning will stay with them and that they could draw some comfort from the prayers we offered. I doubt that many words will have been heard today, but I hope and pray that our being there, standing alongside both families in their grief made some difference to them.

There was a time at A’s funeral, when one of his brothers was overcome with grief, that the only thing to do was to stand and hold his hand and simply be there for him while he clutched at the coffin and cried out in anguish. It was a privilege to hold Baby C’s mother’s hand as the end of the service came, at the moment when she had to say her final goodbyes. I could feel the pain rolling off her, and there were simply no words I could have said to have eased it but to just hold her hand seemed to have made a difference to her.

So, yes, lots of contrasts in the two funerals, but lots of similarities too. Most important is the unifying message that this life is not the end, and God has his hands and eyes and ears all over us, from the moment we are knitted together in our mother’s wombs right through to the moment we see him face to face and beyond.

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