It’s jam-making time again!

IMG_7381We had a good harvest of blackcurrants from our garden and, using them as the base, I have made three types of jam.

For all 3 recipes, to sterilise the jars, I washed and dried them, placed them on a baking tray and heated them in the oven (160 degrees) for 10 minutes. To test when the jam was ready, I turned off the heat and spooned a little hot jam onto a chilled saucer (from the freezer). Once cool, you push the jam with your finger. If it wrinkles a little, it’s ready and has reached setting point. If it is too runny to wrinkle, you return the pan to the heat and cook in 2-3 minute stages, removing the pan from the heat each time you do the saucer check, until the jam wrinkles. To seal the jam, I used the ‘upside down method’: you ladle the jam into the jars, filling them to the brim; then securely place the screw-top lids on top and turn upside down; leave to cool before turning the jars the right way up.

Here are the recipes (each makes about 4 jam jars of jam):

Blackcurrant and Strawberry Jam

(adapted from a recipe on https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/711653/summer-berry-jam)

  • 500g blackcurrants
  • 400g strawberries
  • 750g jam sugar (the one with added pectin)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • finger-tip size knob of butter ((optional)
  1. The night before you make your jam, layer the berries and sugar together in a very large bowl, then cover and set aside at room temperature. This helps the sugar to start dissolving so you don’t run the risk of over-cooking the fruit when you actually begin to make the jam. The next morning, give everything a quick stir, then set aside again until you are ready to start cooking.
  2. Before you start, put a small saucer in the freezer. Tip the berries, scraping out all juices and any undissolved sugar, into a preserving pan, or a large, wide-based pan (the wider and more open the pan, the faster the jam will be ready so a preserving pan is really ideal). Stir in the lemon juice.
  3. Start the berries over a low heat until all the sugar is completely dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer for 20 mins maximum.
  4. Skim off any excess scum, then stir in the knob of butter, if you want – this will help to dissolve any remaining scum. The jam will keep in a cool, dark place for at least 6 months. Refrigerate jars once opened.Blackcurrant and Apple Jam

(adapted from a recipe on http://www.blackcurrantfoundation.co.uk/recipes/apple-       blackcurrant-jam)

  • 500g blackcurrants
  • 500g bramley cooking apples
  • 2 tbsp Jo Hilditch cassis
  • 1 x 1kg pack preserving sugar
  1. Peel, core and chop the apples into small chunks and place the fruit in a large preserving pan (or a very large saucepan). Add the blackcurrants and cassis along with 2 tablespoons of water and cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until the apple and blackcurrants have reduced to a soft pulp – add a little more water if the fruit sticks to the base of the pan.
  2. Add the sugar and stir over a low heat until it is completely dissolved. Raise the heat and bring to the boil. Cook the jam at a rapid boil, stirring occasionally to prevent the jam burning on the bottom of the pan. The jam should take 5-7 minutes to reach setting point.

Blackcurrant and Apricot Jam

  • 1 kg. (stoned) fresh apricots
  • 300g blackcurrants
  • 1.1kg sugar
  1. Cut the apricots into quarters; remove and discard the stones.
  2. Add them to the blackcurrants and sugar and leave in a cool place for 12 hours.
  3. Cook for 20 minutes maximum, stirring from time to time and skimming frequently.

 

 

Stuffed mushroom starter

4 chestnut mushrooms                                   fullsizeoutput_b93.jpeg

3 tbsp breadcrumbs

1 tbsp finely chopped onion

1 tsp finely chopped garlic

1 tsp dried sage

Olive oil

Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Preheat oven to 200 degree C.

Remove mushroom stalks and finely chop them.

Fry onion and garlic in olive oil till soft. *

Add mushroom stalks and fry gently.

Remove from heat, add breadcrumbs and sage.

Top each stuffed mushroom with Parmesan, according to your taste.

Place on baking tray and cook for 10-15 minutes.

Serve with a side salad.

*Finely chopped lardons of bacon can be added to the onion and garlic, if desired.

Pesto Pasta Salad

500g fusilli pasta                                         pesto pasta salad

For the pesto:

1-1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup fresh, finely grated Parmesan cheese

3 tbsp red- or white-wine vinegar

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tsp finely chopped garlic

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

pinch salt

freshly ground black pepper

Salad ingredients:

Choose things like chopped cherry tomatoes, spinach leaves, feta, black olives, pine nuts.

  1. Cook the pasta according to instructions, drain and allow to cool.
  2. Put the pesto ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. When the pasta is cool, add your choice of salad ingredients.
  4. Pour pesto over the salad and toss the salad well.

Trusting in the waiting

Today was 9 May and I was sitting waiting for news – again.      
In a strange coincidence, exactly 20 years ago today, I was also sitting waiting for news. Alan had been unexpectedly diagnosed with major heart disease and he was having a triple bypass operation in the university hospital of Lausanne, Switzerland. I was sitting at home waiting for news. The outcome was, of course, very positive: Alan came through the surgery well and has been living in the good of it for the last 20 years. 

Today – exactly 20 years later – I was waiting again. This time Alan was undergoing a different kind of procedure: it was the viva of his doctoral thesis, when he had to defend what he had written before two examiners. It was the culmination of 6 years’ hard work and diligence. Alan did well in his viva and, with a few adjustments to his thesis, it will result in him receiving his doctorate.    
But for me the test was of a different kind. The question was this: how good am I at waiting? 

How do I feel when I am waiting?
Helpless. 

There is the sense that the circumstance is totally outside of my control. Whether heart surgery or a university examination, there is nothing I can do to change the outcome. 20 years ago, when Alan had been taken for an angiogram, the nurse came into the ward and started to remove Alan’s clothes from his wardrobe and pack them in his case. She knew he was going to have to go to another hospital for surgery. But I didn’t. I thought he must be dead. When she saw the look on my face, she quickly explained. 
Hopeful.

20 years ago, God was clearly at work in Alan’s diagnosis and subsequent provision of all that he needed for his heart surgery. One circumstance in our lives builds hope for the next. If God provided all I needed then, can I trust him to do the same now?

In times of waiting, times of need

When I know loss, when I am weak

I know His grace will renew these days

The Lord is my salvation.

My biggest challenge is this: did my waiting today look any different from my waiting 20 years ago? What am I like in the waiting?

Have I learned to trust God more in the intervening years? Am I less anxious?

Do I believe that God will ultimately do what is best for me and for my loved ones? Am I more confident? Can I trust Him?

I want to be growing in my faith, stretching my spiritual muscles.

Waiting is a test for all of us. I want to trust God in the waiting. 

You are not enough

As women, we are constantly bombarded with voices which tell us we are not enough. Voices come from within and from without. Voices come from our past and from our present. Voices come from ourselves and from our culture.

voices in our heads

These voices can lead us into several traps:

1. The temptation to compare 

As women we constantly compare ourselves to one another – we always have done. But today we live in full view, 24/7, of one another because of social media. And yet of course Facebook, Twitter and Instagram don’t give us a true picture of one another’s lives – they only give us the picture that others want us to see. Often that is a picture-perfect glimpse into others’ lives and so if our lives don’t shape up, we are left feeling woefully inadequate.

2. The trap of perfectionism

My house isn’t tidy enough, my kids aren’t smart enough, I am not pretty enough…the list goes on and on. I spend my days trying to reach the mark. And I never do. But in the attempt, I become anxious and fearful – anxious that I am not good enough and fearful of being found out. I’m striving to please, always striving to please. We call it people-pleasing; psychologists call it peer pressure; the bible calls it fear of man.

Ann Voskamp, in her book ‘The Broken Way’, says;

‘Perfectionism is a slow death by self. Perfectionism will kill your sense of safety, your self, your soul. Perfectionism isn’t a fruit of the Spirit – joy is. Patience is. Peace is.’

3. The lure of consumerism

I might try to bridge the gap between where I think others live and where I live by consumerism. If it means buying clothes and shoes and make up which I think will make me look more like others around me, then that’s what I will do. If it means choosing a holiday which I can’t afford in order to keep up with my friends, then somehow I will justify it. Consumerism drives us to possess more and more in order to impress. The trouble is that the promises it makes are empty – we may get an adrenalin rush as we make that longed-for purchase, but it won’t last and we will end up feeling less satisfied, always wanting more.

4. The attraction of status-seeking

Some of us acquire status rather than possessions, whether that is academic status or status in the workplace or even status in church. In a vain attempt to overcome our own inadequacies, we feel that ‘if only’ we can prove to ourselves and to others that we can reach the standard, we will be content. But we never are.

What effect does this have on us as Christians?

Superficial community

Nowhere is this striving to impress more ugly than in the church. We as Christians ought to be able to be ourselves with one another; we ought to be able to remove our masks when we come into church. Yet it can be one of the hardest places for people to be real. If I think you and your family have got it all together, then I’m not going to be able to admit that I haven’t. We don’t dare to share on a very deep level – because of what people might think. Also, we don’t want to burden others with our problems. When we are broken and struggling, it is easier to avoid community than to try to remain a part of it. So we withdraw until things are OK again.

Forgotten identity

We have forgotten our identity. Those voices that tell us we are not enough, those voices that tell us we are imposters, they are lies. But because they shout loudly in our heads, we listen to them – and they can drown out the still, small voice of God. Ann Voskamp talks about a school teacher who told her that she only made it into her class by the skin of her teeth and she should never forget that. Ann says this:

All of my life I’ve felt like a fraud with skin on….later on in some way, those words formed me. They’ve become like my own name engraved right into me. Fraud. Phony. Not Good Enough.’

What does God say about this?

Who does he say we are? In Matthew 3, when Jesus was baptised and came up of the water, the Father spoke from heaven and said ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased’. God has become our Father and he speaks the same words over us:

‘You are my beloved child; in you I am well pleased’.

What do you think, what do you feel when you hear those words? May I suggest that in the measure that you feel uncomfortable, in that measure you do not believe them. Allow God to speak them over you, meditate on them, soak your soul in them, until they sink in and you begin to believe them, until you begin to allow yourself to let go of the lies of our culture and of your past and of the evil one. Allow yourself to believe what God your Father speaks over you. You are beloved. That is your identity. Ann Voskamp says:

‘Belovedness is the centre of being, the only real identity, God’s only name for you, the only identity He gives you.’

A. When you think you are not enough, remember who you are

You are the beloved child of God.

Instead of the superficial fix of a Facebook or Instagram ‘like’ or comment, which says I am or I have done something good, I can choose to listen to God’s voice telling me there is nothing I can do which can make him love me more – and there is nothing I can do which can make him love me less. I am enough. I don’t need to compare myself with others. I don’t need to strive to be better and to do better. The Father loves me. I am His beloved.

Instead of the transient surge of pleasure which comes from a quick purchase, I can choose instead the deep security of hearing the Father remind me that he has bought me with the blood of his Son and I am precious to him.

I don’t need to seek status. I am enough. I don’t need to prove to myself or to anyone else what I can do or be. God – who knows me best – loves me most. I am accepted. I am secure in his love.

In the well-known story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, the Father leaves home twice: once to invite the younger son home and once to invite the elder son home. That is who our Father is. He desperately wants to welcome us home – to the place of security and peace, where our quest for acceptance and unconditional love is over.

Henri Nouwen, in his book ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’, says this:

‘I am the prodigal every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found’.

Our heavenly father invites us to come home – where we can rest in the knowledge that we are his beloved children.

B. When you think you haven’t enough, remember who God is

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? ….Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Matthew 6.

God as Creator looks after the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. How can you think, that as your heavenly Father, he would do any less for you? He knows what you need. And if he knows, he will take care of it. That’s it – because he is your heavenly Father.

We know this – we know who we are and who God is – but how do we remember it?

When I find myself chasing after affirmation from others, craving the praise of others, seeking to please others; or when I find myself overcome by voices which are telling me I am not enough; or when I am anxious that I don’t have enough, I need to remember who I am and who God is.
We start by recognising the lies which we are believing – and then we replace the lies with the truth of God’s Word.

Imagine you are stressed and anxious about money. That worry will lead to a certain kind of behaviour: you will either be striving to get money or you will be anxiously saving money and may become stingy. That leads to the belief that it’s all down to you – and that leads to a view of reality which says either that you can’t make it happen (so you will be angry) or that you can make it happen (so you will be proud).

Imagine instead that, with that same anxiety about money, you choose to live by the truth of God’s Word instead of your feelings. So you will perhaps go to these verses in Matthew 6 and remind yourself that your heavenly Father knows your need. Now that will lead to the belief that, if your Father knows your need, you can expect him to take care of it. And that will change your behaviour so that you are expecting God to provide, while you do what you can to increase your income or reduce your expenditure. The feelings that accompany that will be peace and confidence – so very different from the anxiety which you started out with.

Or when I am craving the praise of others, I can choose to remember that God calls me His beloved. I don’t need the affirmation of others. I am secure in his love. That restlessness which sends me to social media to check my popularity ratings is telling me that I am only as good as the number of people who like my status. I can choose to reject that lie and rest secure in the knowledge that my heavenly Father calls me his beloved.

C. If you know who you are and who God is, you are free to love others

I John 3 tells us this:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…..By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

As we learn to live out of our true identity as beloved children of God, then we are set free to love others. Our community as Christians becomes authentic. We are not hiding behind masks. We are free to be real. And as we are real with one another, we learn to trust each other with our brokenness. We don’t need to impress, we don’t need to please. We are free to be – to be the beloved children of God together, all equally loved, all equally accepted, all learning to live in that love. Ann Voskamp says,

‘All there ever is to see is Jesus. All there ever is to hear is “Beloved”.’

He is enough.

Waiting and wondering on Easter Saturday

Easter Saturday – or Holy Saturday – is that in-between time. The worst has happened. Jesus has been crucified. The hopes of many have been dasheIMG_6347d. The disciples are confused, disappointed and frightened. They retreat behind closed doors and withdraw into their fear, scared to look ahead, afraid to hope.

The two disciples who walked along the road to Emmaus were walking the long way home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking about all that had happened in Jerusalem on Good Friday. They were joined on the road by a Stranger, who wanted to know what they were talking about. Surprised that he didn’t know – wasn’t it the talk of the town? – they told him that Jesus had been crucified. They confessed, ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’.

The One they had put their trust in had disappointed them. They were confused and disappointed and were retreating – going back home. They didn’t understand what had happened. Things hadn’t turned out as they had hoped. Had they been wrong all along? Confusion and disappointment ate at their broken spirits and their hopes were dashed. They must have wondered what was going to happen next. Some of the women had said they had been to Jesus’ tomb but his body wasn’t there. They couldn’t work out what it all meant.

So the Stranger began to talk to them about the Scriptures. He explained their meaning as they walked that long way home. And – I love this part – when they reached their house, the Stranger ‘acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.”’ He wasn’t going to impose – He never does – but always  waits to be invited.

And so it was that, in the breaking and blessing of the bread, they recognised the Stranger. Was it his hands as he broke the bread? Was it his voice as he blessed it? And just as suddenly as he had appeared, he vanished.broken bread

But it was enough. They knew who he was. They knew what he had been talking about. Now it all began to make sense. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And immediately they set out to return to Jerusalem to share the good news.

We live between the ‘now’ and ‘what is yet to be’. We have put our faith in God but so much of what we read in the Bible belongs to the ‘what is yet to be’. Our lives are often filled with disappointment. Our hopes are dashed. Often we are confused; often we are frightened. Sometimes we don’t dare to look forward. Sometimes we are afraid to hope.

Some of us have hopes that have been dashed. Life hasn’t turned out the way we had hoped it would. We are struggling with broken health or broken relationships or some other loss. Some struggle with the loss of mental health. For them, just to get out of bed in the morning is a huge act of faith – a heroic thing. What they had hoped for hasn’t happened. Can they dare to hope?

Some of us have questions related to our faith that make us afraid to hope. It’s all too good to be true. What if it’s all a lie? Can we really base our lives on it? Does it really work? Does it make sense? Our faith is wavering. Can we dare to hope?

We all live in a broken world, a terribly frightening world. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. It doesn’t make sense. Can we dare to hope?

As we wait and as we wonder, let’s give the Stranger time to draw alongside us. He won’t impose but, if he’s invited, he will come. Things might begin to make some sense. And even if they don’t, the presence of the Stranger will bless us in our brokenness.

Do I know your face….?

If you are my friend, and I have walked past you without speaking, I was probably not ‘blanking’ you – I totally failed to recognise you. You need to know that I suffer from face blindness – or prosopagnosia. proso-pics

According to the NHS, ‘Face blindness often affects people from birth and is usually a problem a person has for most or all of their life. It can have a severe impact on everyday life. Many people with prosopagnosia aren’t able to recognise family members, partners or friends. They may cope by using alternative strategies to recognise people, such as remembering the way they walk, or their hairstyle, voice or clothing. But these types of compensation strategies don’t always work, particularly when a person with prosopagnosia meets someone out of context, at a place or time they’re not used to seeing that person.’

I am fortunate in that I have never (as far as I know) failed to recognise a family member or a close friend – but I have often failed to recognise people I have only met a few times. I still cringe when I remember this: my husband and I had dinner with another couple one evening; the husband subsequently turned up at my place of work – and I had not a clue who he was.

Prosopagnosia refers to a severe deficit in recognizing familiar people from their face. The condition can follow neurological damage (typically from stroke or head injury), but many more people (perhaps as many as 1 in 50) have what is commonly referred to as “developmental” or “congenital” prosopagnosia, and these people simply fail to develop normal face processing abilities despite normal intellectual and perceptual functions. People with developmental prosopagnosia seem to have had face recognition difficulties for most of their lives, and perhaps even since birth.

That seems to be the case with me. I have only recently realised that my struggle to recognise people is not because I am stupid and just need to try harder – which is what I have thought all my life. (Imagine the complications of being a pastor’s wife when you have this condition – I would love to be able to go back to all of the church members I have probably offended through the years by not recognising them!)

For me, there are often clusters of people among my acquaintances who look alike. I work in a bible college and I know there are students whom I cannot distinguish between – they probably do have similarities but someone else could tell them apart. I can’t because I can’t see the differences and I don’t know them well enough.

The other side of the coin is that people with prosopagnosia will often speak to people they don’t know because they think they do know them – and yes, I have done that as well.

It’s often funny – and I can usually laugh at myself – but it also explains why social anxiety is often linked with prosopagnosia.

And, if that isn’t enough, there are other aspects to prosopagnosia as well:

‘Prosopagnosia can affect a person’s ability to recognise objects, such as places or cars. Many people also have difficulty navigating. This can involve an inability to process angles or distance, or problems remembering places and landmarks.’ I have often thought that I could get lost in any of the towns we have lived in – now I know why. It’s not just that I have no sense of direction – it’s that I just can’t recognise places I have seen before.

‘Following the plot of films or television programmes can be almost impossible for someone with prosopagnosia because characters aren’t recognisable.’ Just ask my long-suffering husband about that one! If a film has a lot of characters in it, it’s just not worth the bother.

If you think you might have prosopagnosia and would like to do a test, you can go to Trouble with Faces and take the test online.

If you live within travelling distance of Bournemouth University, the Centre for Face Processing Disorders may be able to offer you a formal testing session and the opportunity to take part in their research programme.