Monday, December 30, 2013

Yet farther on my road today.

My lights and bows are still up - and the tree.
The bright season of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord is only in its sixth day, but already we need to make room in our minds for thoughts of transition, closing out one calendar year and opening a new one.

Before I go there, I need to be done with all the Christmas cookies, at least on this blog. Last night we Glads were off to another party, and I took the tins out of the freezer again and loaded up a plate to take along, but that still didn't use them all up.

I made ten different kinds of cookies this year, including five new ones. Next year I may share some of those recipes, but for now, on to other things!

Like reporting on last week's doings: We had three different groupings of family celebrations in two different locations. Sunday before Christmas we went to church with Pippin and family; this is Ivy in the foyer. I took the photo from behind so I could show her pigtails.

And next to a lamp made of popsicle sticks, a bunch of uncles and nephews playing a game, something they always make time for when getting together after a few months.

One of the trees that had been cut on federal land in Trinity County had been decorated with antique spice tins. I thought you would like that.


Back at our place, Liam got a lesson in Christmas tree appreciation and gentleness. He was a good student.


I found this pretty piano ornament at Pottery Barn when they were having a special deal, and I gave one to each of several pretty pianists in the family.

Some of my own favorite presents were these books I'll be reading in the new year, given by four different people who scanned my Amazon list and surprised me with titles I had wished for and forgotten. Kind people.

I feel the Old Year rushing away, and the New coming fast at me, never mind that I'm not "ready." Sickness right before Christmas pushed some duties ahead to After Christmas, and what might have been a purely R&R&R (the last R for Rejoicing) Sixth Day of Christmas will be interrupted by the Computer Guy coming to help with our computer, a machine so rude as to take our attention off the holiness of the days we are in.

As I am in a liturgical church, the service yesterday gloriously confirmed the present-ness of the holy day that is so cosmologically momentous as to need at least twelve days to properly keep it. The carol-singing we did last night also kept me planted firmly in the Feast, so that for an hour or two I didn't have to think about the onrushing year of 2014. 

Some lines of poetry from Christina Rossetti helped me when I took a few minutes to think. The last lines were the most applicable to my heart's comfortable place, reiterating what I come back to again and again, the knowledge that whatever comes, today or in the coming year God means it for our salvation.
New Year met me somewhat sad:
Old Year leaves me tired,
Stripped of favourite things I had
Baulked of much desired:
Yet farther on my road to-day
God willing, farther on my way.

New Year coming on apace
What have you to give me?
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace,
Face me with an honest face;
You shall not deceive me:
Be it good or ill, be it what you will,
It needs shall help me on my road,
My rugged way to heaven, please God.
The rest of this poem can be found here. Whether or not you are the type of person who needs a lot of down time to process the meaning of the days of Christmas and the New Year, I pray you will find help to progress on your road to heaven. May God strengthen us all!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Huron Carol

My favorite "Poem A Day" blog that was written by Maria is not currently active, but its archives remain online, a treasure store of poetry and art. This Christmas post that I read in her collection is titled Jesus! Ahatonhia! It's a heartwarming telling of the Christmas story.

In that entry Maria shared "The Huron Carol," which was composed in 1643 by a Jesuit missionary who lived and worked with the Indians in what is now Ontario, Canada. He was French, and though he wrote the lyrics in the Huron language, he set them to a 16th-century French melody, "Une Jeunne Pucelle."

You can listen to the song on YouTube; the version I put here has singing in French and English as well as what I take to be Huron. The story is about an angel who appeared in the Northern Lights to tell the Indians about the Christ Child. A series of three stamps commemorating the carol were issued in Canada in 1977.

My favorite stanza:
The earliest moon of winter is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
And chiefs from far before Him knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt:
Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria!
Amen! And Merry Christmas to you all!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A cookie might be a little seedy bun cake.

By the time I came into my husband's family, Seedy Buns were only a memory in the minds of the older generations. My father-in-law said they were cookies featuring caraway seeds and a treat eaten at Christmas, but perhaps he got them mixed up with Seedy Biscuits? Because a bun is bread, we all know that, whereas a biscuit can be a cookie if it is in the British Isles. But what if you take a bun and sweeten and shorten it up? Might it be like a little cake?

I never thought of a cookie as being a little cake until I read The Little Book to my children very long ago. "A cookie is a little cake," it says right there. I know that type of cookie, and I don't really care for them. I like mine chewy or crispy, but not cake-y.

In my joyful Christmas cookie project, which is my art at this time of year, I had the idea to make a modern Seedy Bun that would hearken back to the ancestors who brought their Cornish traditions to California.

Once a cousin had taken a box of sugar cookie mix and thrown in a can of caraway seeds to create a simple reenactment, and I scoured the Internet to see what else might be out there as inspiration.


 A fascinating collection of recipes from newspapers dating 1891 to 1981 gave a hint as to the possibilities, and included two poems mentioning a grandma or an aunt making caraway cookies. Here's one of the recipes that even claims to make a crisp cookie:

It was published in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1919, and I think is interesting for its use of the word "butterine," which I'd never seen before.

Early American cooks also used seeds liberally in their cookies, often coriander or caraway, and I liked the looks of a glazed cookie based on one from the first American cookbook published in 1796.

Cooks are like folk-singers, changing and adapting their material freely, and it's not as though I am looking for The Original Seedy Bun recipe to cook myself, but it would be nice to know what those cookies were like, that my husband's grandma made.

In the meantime I decided to try this recipe for lemony cookies, calling for ground caraway seeds which I didn't have. I tried grinding some in the blender, but they only burned from the heat, so I used whole seeds.

Some of the baked cookies were a little skimpy on seeds, like the one I picture below. I'll have to see how everyone receives them before I decide whether to make these the same way another time. If I make a different Seedy Bun, I might bake these again as well, without the caraway, because I agree with their creator about their appealing "depth and intensity" from the lemon juice and zest.

After my Seedy Lemon Biscuits were put away in the freezer, I heard from an older grandchild of my husband's grandmother who, I was so happy to hear, had made a collection of Grandma's recipes, and the first cookie in the collection was indeed called Seedy Buns.

Grandma's Recipes


Seedie Buns - 5 doz. These are similar to sugar cookies.

Sift and set aside: 3 C flour, 1 t baking powder, 1/4 tsp t salt

Cream in bowl: 1 1/4 C butter

Beat in until fluffy: 1 1/4 C sugar

Add: 3 eggs one at a time, beat well after each.

Blend in: 1 t grated orange peel, 1 t vanilla, 2 T caraway seeds

Chill several hours.

To form cookies take about 1 T dough and roll into ball.

Place on lightly greased baking sheet

Flatten to 1/4" with bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.

Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 min., or until lightly browned.

If any of my readers have favorite seedy cookie recipes, I'd love to hear about them. It's not too early to start brainstorming for next year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

There He is!

Until I read the article below, I didn't know that anyone considered the Bethlehem star to be something other than a "dead astronomical body." I copied here a rich kind of Advent food, from our recent church bulletin, a meditation on light and stars.

One of the pictures I found was of a "variable star," which I had also not heard of before. That name got me thinking about how constant our Light of the World is by contrast, and never waning.

Though the stars we see in our skies are only dead shadows of the living realities, they too have their glory, which is only faintly conveyed by these pictures, though they do decorate this post nicely. We often hear that God is the True Light; this is not theoretical or a mere intellectual fact. Fr. Artemy exhorts us to know a taste of that Reality even in this life, in prayer.
The closer we come to the end of the [Nativity] fast, the brighter the wondrous Bethlehem star is enkindled above our heads, proclaiming to the Magi the time of the Infant's birth, and the place where He lay...The rays of this rational star (according to the holy fathers, this star was actually an angelic power, and not a dead astronomical body) illumine with their incorruptible, unfading light the twilight in the Cave -- the rib cage encasing each of our hearts...
variable star

The rays of this star bring the soul, which has but scarcely touched it, to inexplicable trembling and joy, the likes of which we shall not find here on this sinful world with its sensuous, quickly passing pleasures, disappearing like smoke.

 I am...the bright and morning star (Rev. 22:16), testifies the Lord. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give...the morning star. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches (Revelations 2:26, 28-29). 

Ye do well, repeats the Apostle Peter, that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19). The morning star is hidden prayer of the heart! It is made not with lips or fingers, but with the mind and heart; it turns all of man's existence to the Lord, and places the disciple before the most radiant face of his Teacher...

Illumined by the unwaning light of the Nativity star, let us pass...under the canopy of the very cave in Bethlehem...There He is, the Angel of Great Counsel, the King of the world, the Father of the age to come, as the "Old Testament Evangelist," the Holy Prophet Isaiah, exclaimed in prophetic, sober inebriation. There He is, the Yearning of the nations, the Expectation of all peoples, the Great Light that has come into the world to enlighten those sitting in darkness! Already celebrating the Forefeast of the Nativity night that is bright as day, let us sing...with the whole Church, "Christ is born, give ye glory...Christ is on earth, let us be exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the earth..." [Nativity hymn].

--Father Artemy Vladimirov

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It cheers my heart like spirit'l wine.

I have just discovered the 18th-century hymn "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree," on this G.K. Chesterton site., where you can read good meditations on its meaning. It is thought to have been written by a New Englander, and has been set to various tunes. The most common seems to be the one by Elizabeth Poston, of which this video records a nice rendition.

The hymn has become associated with Christmas, and I'd like to add it to our own family's collection of carols, at least by next Christmas. "Under the shadow I will be, Of Jesus Christ the apple tree. "

Sunday, December 15, 2013

not a single place dark or unhappy

We have been ill around our house, and could not get going on the Christmas tree project until this week. Now we managed to get it up and decorated.

I cut off our homemade wood-shaving angel in the picture so I'm showing a close-up in the next. Mr. Glad did nearly all the tree-trimming this time, after he went all by himself to get the tree, a Noble Fir grown in Oregon.

Anna wrote last week about various Advent and Christmas trees she has known, and it made me want to remember some trees of the past. Her post includes a photograph of a large and dramatic Christmas tree in Norway.

I don't have anything that old, but at right is a picture of me in a red sweater in front of a 1950's tree. And at the bottom of the page, a little tree that the sister in the photograph gave me more recently. I like best to have birds and fruit and pine cones on my tree, and I never did like tinsel.

The boy at left (our Soldier, now grown) is posing by a tree from a minimalist era, when a friend let us cut from his property a wild and untamed specimen, on which we don't appear to have strung lights. But how strange and exciting for young children to have a tree in the house for a while, even undecorated.

Below, this year's tree before trimming, to go with a sweet poem e.e. cummings wrote.

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Switch on a star.

This poem from Joseph Brodsky's Nativity Poems makes me feel the personhood of God as He has shown Himself in history and nature. I love the part about miracles gravitating toward the people who are waiting.

25. XII. 1993

For a miracle, take one shepherd’s sheepskin, throw
in a pinch of now, a grain of long ago,
and a handful of tomorrow. Add by eye
a little chunk of space, a piece of sky,

and it will happen. For miracles, gravitating
to earth, know just where people will be waiting,
and eagerly will find the right address
and tenant, even in a wilderness.

Or if you’re leaving home, switch on a new
four-pointed star, then, as you say adieu,
to light a vacant world with steady blaze
and follow you forever with its gaze.

~ Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996), Russian-born poet, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987

Friday, December 13, 2013

Nativity Cake

When our first two children were very little, I wanted to establish some God-honoring traditions for Christmastime. I didn't think that the traditions of our parents were focused enough on the Nativity of Christ.

As an example, no one in our Protestant circles, even we who believed in the reality of the Christmas story, went to church on Christmas Day, and we missed a big opportunity to teach our children, and to know God, by praxis. It's too bad, however it happened, that the tradition of not worshiping and communing on Christmas got started.

In any case, lacking a Christmas Day church tradition, we were on our own. I wanted the children to have more than a Christmas tree and presents, and one thing I contrived was a birthday cake for Jesus. It should be some special kind of cake that we would never eat any other time of year.

I found a recipe in Sunset Magazine for Dried Fruit Loaves, and as I scanned the ingredients list I reasoned, from my young-marrieds-on-a-shoestring perspective, that only Christmas extravagance would make me willing to invest in that amount of dried fruit and nuts.

So I've been adapting it and baking it without fail for about 38 years. Most years I made four times the original recipe and gave away various sizes of loaves. There is very little to it besides the fruit and nuts, and everyone still loves to slice a thin piece or two for a wholesome snack, all through the Twelve Days of Christmas or however long the bread lasts.

this week's loaves
We don't usually sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus anymore. All those children grew up and are teaching their own children about Christ's Incarnation, and I'm not often with them to light a candle on the cake. But some of us now have the joyous tradition of going to church on Christmas Day.

I was just remarking to my husband that I could even stop including the bread in my baking projects...but it's not difficult to make, so I don't know why I even consider that. I guess because it's more fun to try new things.

When I searched online for this recipe, I found something a bit different from Sunset under the name Western Dried Fruits Cake. It contains raisins, which I think too common for the occasion, and judging from the only picture I saw, and the recipe ingredients, mine is much better all around.

One of my friends makes this bread; she has eaten mine and told me hers is the same, and she calls it California Fruitcake. When I search with that term I come up with something much more like our favorite, also with credit given to Sunset: California Fruitcake.

The last two years I have decreased the amount of my recipe, for some reason to one-third of the quadruple-batch, but for your convenience I will post here something close to the original version. And how about a Christmasy name as well:

California Nativity Cake

2 cups flour (I've used part whole-wheat)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups lightly packed dried fruit. I like to use half dried apples, and the remainder dried apricots and dates, sometimes with some pears or figs in the mix. Cut the larger pieces of fruit into 1" pieces.
3 cups whole nuts. Usually our cake is heavy on the almonds, lately with some pecans as well.
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup water

Prepare six mini loaf pans or fewer larger pans by greasing and lining with waxed paper or parchment paper. Stir the dry ingredients together and mix about 1/2 cup of this mixture with the fruit and nuts. While mixing I make sure to stuff an almond into each date. Stir the eggs, vanilla, and water together and blend with the flour mixture, then add the fruit and nuts.

Spoon into the prepared pans, and if you want to minimize the rockiness of the terrain of the finished loaves' tops, use your spoon to push pointy edges of apple down into the sticky dough. Bake at 325 degrees for 50 to 75 minutes depending on the size of pan, or until well browned. I usually have to put some foil over the top of large loaves after an hour.
Let cool on a rack for about 10 minutes before turning out on to racks. Pull off the paper and let cool thoroughly. Wrap loaves airtight and refrigerate or freeze for at least a few days before serving. Aged loaves can be cut in thin slices.
our youngest celebrating at Grandma's house 20 years ago

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Clouds fall like feathers.

The whole nation has been colder than usual, I hear. I'm glad to live where it doesn't normally snow, as I feel too old to deal with the work it requires. Still, I have experienced some snowfalls from time to time in my life and I appreciate the imagery in this poem.


In winter
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
shoves and pushes
among the branches.
Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
but he's restless—
he has an idea,
and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
as long as he stays awake.
But his big, round music, after all,
is too breathy to last.

So, it's over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he's done all he can.

I don't know the name of this bird,
I only imagine his glittering beak
tucked in a white wing
while the clouds—

which he has summoned
from the north—
which he has taught
to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall
into the world below
like stars, or the feathers
of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent—
that has turned itself
into snow.

--Mary Oliver

Source: Poetry (October 2002), and the Poetry Foundation's collection of Winter Poems.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I lighten up.

My favorite-ever Christmas lights are the ones that form a star on Gumbo Lily's barn. The star shines in the spirit of Advent, I think, reminding us of the magi who journeyed, seeking the Christ child and following a star.

It's very bright and bold out there on the dark prairie...who knows who all sees it? All her blog-readers can, and once I saw its picture my imagination was captured, and the thoughts and images in my mind have included it for three Christmases now. It's perfectly simple and elegant, a bold yet humble announcement.

A week ago neither the Christmas spirit nor the Advent spirit could make a crack in my darkened mind. I had forgotten the inspiring prairie star, and the houses in my neighborhood that started lighting up before Thanksgiving accused me of being unchristian.

Last year was the first time we had ever put up lights outdoors, on a bush in the front yard. I was so happy! But since then we have cut down that bush, and until last week I never gave a thought to how it wouldn't be there to hang lights on again. We are lazy decorators outdoors as well as in, so coming up with a new plan for showing our faith with lights was likely to take another 20 years.

I was ashamed of the darkness of our house. So I went to a big store and bought a star to put in the window. It's much more humble than Gumbo Lily's star; as people drive past our house at night I wonder if they will even glance up to the second story and notice it. At any rate, I have made my statement, however minimalist.

Now my excuse for low spirits is the increasingly daily ban on wood-burning. We are heading into the fourth day in a row of the law standing against us and our wood stove, on the side of air quality and healthy lungs. How petty that I would be in a funk about this, but there it is. I dug around in my candle drawer and discovered this oddly tall and bent red taper that I must have snatched from some grab bag years ago. I thought it would be o.k. to "waste" it tonight to make a little fire on the table near my computer.

Now I'm noticing how it doesn't really coordinate with the orchid in the background....wait, did I say orchid? I did! I've been wanting to tell my orchid story for a couple of weeks but it never would make its own blog post so I'll stick it in here where it doesn't quite fit.

People have given me several orchids over the last couple of years, and when they stop blooming I try to put them in a darker place, if not exactly dark. Other than doing that, I forget what all I am supposed to do, to nurture them into blooming again.Three of these were sitting in the garage for several months, and when Spring came I took them outside so I could mostly ignore them on the patio all summer long. They don't need much water so they didn't die.

At the end of summer, though, along about October, I was sweeping leaves and generally cleaning up the back yard when I spied those three languishing orchids, and as I was in a ruthless mood, I decided to just throw them out. Whoever gave them to me would not want me to be burdened and annoyed by plants I don't know how to grow.

BUT -- as I grabbed the first one, I noticed a new leaf and a shiny green bud. The second one had a long shoot coming out horizontally, but it was obviously a flower stem with buds! And the third plant also had new growth. I was immediately convinced of their will to live, so I tidied them up and put all three on a plate that I can keep on a table somewhere in the house.

Quickly the one plant bloomed, and by this week it had three flowers. The other orchids are coming along nicely. I haven't yet got some Christmas color in the house of my usual berries-and-greenery sort, but when I remember to look their way, these flowers cheer me up. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The babe leaped for joy.

This 14th-century wall painting in Timios Stavros Church in Cyprus shows the Forerunner John bowing before Jesus while yet in the womb.

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
Luke 1:39-45

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fuyu and Spy Lessons

Northern Spy
Early in November Mr. Glad and I made a visit to our favorite apple farm. (This previous post introduced the topic and those orchards.) We were having company for dinner that week, and for the occasion I baked a pie with some Northern Spy apples, but didn't like it. The fruit was juicy enough, but seeming to lack some zip, so that my pie was actually overly sweet and blah.

When I heard the next morning that son Pathfinder was going to be in town long enough to have dessert with us, I immediately thought to make another pie with my favorite Pippins. It was a success in every way.
Pippin pie

We'd also included some Rome Beauty apples in the boxful we bought. I stewed chunks of all three of these varieties together and stashed them in the freezer. After Christmas I plan to eat them for dessert with a lemon custard sauce. As for the Spy apples still in the box, they make great eating out of hand.

Romes and Pippins
During Advent, ideally I would forgo projects like concocting the vegan desserts that fit with my church's Nativity fast, because one of the blessings of fasting is the extra time that is freed up if you are eating more simply and not fussing over recipes.

But this year we are hosting weekly church history classes at our house, and after the study session people like to stay to chat and nibble. When I brought the persimmons home from the monastery it was with the thought that perhaps I could make something with them to serve on these occasions.

O.K., I admit that it was also because I wanted to have some of that beautiful and cute fruit in my house. If you slice them crosswise you see that they are beautiful inside as well. Very Christian, this fruit.

I used a recipe for Vegan Peanut Butter Apple Bars, from Tasty Kitchen, the area of Pioneer Woman's blog that features reader-submitted recipes. I switched out the apples for persimmons, and because persimmons don't have the tart component that apples do, I decreased the amount of sugar in every layer. The crust is like a peanut butter cookie, which appealed to me.

They were tasty alright, and everyone liked them, but it seemed to me a case of the whole not being equal to the sum of its parts. I liked all the layers better before they went together.

The original recipe also called for a good amount of cinnamon, which I replaced with some cardamom, and that perhaps wasn't spicy enough to compensate for the blandness of the fruit. Maybe the Fuyu persimmons are best fresh, or dried into fruit leather. Or adored for their loveliness.

We long for the cool change. - poem

Many times in the last week, when Mr. Glad and I have put on our jackets and gone out the front door for a neighborhood walk, we have been confused by the pleasant springtime air, the sun shining down on us. Briefly pleased, then remembering that it all means drought. It's a year when I can appreciate this Christmas poem.
And there was already light:
A stainless steel glare breaking through the eucalypts;
The sky enamel, cobalt-washed, lapis lazuli blue.

The north wind blew in from the desert:
Drowning in the hot scent of mock orange and ripe mango
We longed for the cool change and the sea breeze.

It was already the longest day:
Why should I await the Light of the World
When I already have a surfeit?

Into the crowded starry midnight,
The neon and electric city festival,
Into the early dawn jangling with birdsong,

Into my summer:
Then came the Christ Child into the brightness
And he was more than the sun.

         -- Katherine Firth

Thanks to Anna of Peacocks and Sunflowers for this poem that can be read with notes on the author's site.