Sunday, December 29, 2013

Craving Sausage Rolls!

There are three foods I associate with Christmas. Christmas Pudding, Mince Pies, and Sausage Rolls. Of these sausage rolls are not solely Christmas food as they are available all year. However they take on a special place on the Christmas buffet. A Sausage Roll hot out of the oven is glorious, and, if you add a dab of mustard it moves to the transcendent.

For all their apparent simplicity - they are merely sausage meat wrapped in pastry, a decent sausage roll in the U.S. has eluded me. It's not the pastry that is the problem, but the sausage meat. American sausage meat has different seasonings and a different Meat to Fat ratio. American sausage meat is delicious, but it is not the taste I am looking for in a sausage roll.

I had resigned myself to a Sausage Roll free existence, and most of the time I have been o.k. with that, but for some reason this Christmas has filled me with nostalgia and homesickness more than usual.

I made the Christmas Pudding and the Mince Pies, but I was unsure how to get Sausage Rolls. Now I can purchase them in town but they are expensive and not always available. A 4 pack of Sausage rolls costs $10. Also, due to import regulations they are actually made in Florida. The taste is similar, but not quite right.

This year I was determined to find another way. I knew the sausage meat would be the issue, and making it would be compounded by the fact that I don't own a meat grinder, but I was determined, and so, after much research I am proud to present to you my Sausage Roll Recipe!!!

Sausage Rolls (makes approximately 24)
2lbs Boneless Pork Shoulder Butt Country Style Ribs
1 box Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets - defrosted overnight.
2 3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground sage
1/8 tsp ground mace or fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp white (or black) pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko)
1/3 cup cold water.

(every butcher in the U.K. has his own seasoned sausage meat that he swears is the best, so feel free to vary the seasoning. Next time I make them I will probably increase the amount of sage. I may also mince some onion and saute it until soft and then add it to the sausage meat)

Cube the Pork into 1 to 2 inch cubes. If you see any larger tough sections of fat do not discard them, but cut them smaller.
Toss the meat in the salt, ginger, sage, nutmeg and pepper.
Place them on a baking sheet covered with foil so they do not touch and put the tray into the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

This partial freezing is the key to grinding the meat in a food processor. After 20 minutes place 1/5 of the meat into the food processor and pulse till finally ground. Transfer to a bowl and repeat 4 times.

The sausage meat needs to be ground enough so it is resembles a coarse mince. To much time in the processor will cause the meat to go slimy and gummy.

As you add the meat to the bowl of the food mixer be on the lookout for any extra large lumps. You can blitz them by themselves in the food processor to make sure they are ground well. Nobody likes lumps in their sausage. For some reason in my family a lump in a sausage was called an Elephant. I have absolutely no idea why!

Once it has all been processed transfer the meat into the bowl of a food mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the bread crumbs and the water and mix for about a minute.

(At this stage you can store the meat in the fridge for a couple of days.)

Take one of the packets of puff pastry and roll it out on a floured board until it is the size of a tea towel. Cut the pastry into 2 long rectangles and put 1/4 of the sausage meat down the middle of each rectangle.

Using egg wash or milk, brush one side of the rectangle and roll up lengthwise. I cut each long roll into 6 equal parts, but of course the size is really up to you.

Take the other packet of puff pastry and repeat with the rest of the sausage meat. Place the sausage rolls on a baking sheet - either well greased, or covered with parchment or silpat, and brush with egg wash or milk.

Bake in a 350F oven for approximately 25-30 mins. Rotating the trays top to bottom and front to back half way through. Do not make the sausage rolls to thick or the meat may not cook thoroughly. Check with a meat thermometer if you have any doubts. The sausage meat will still look slightly pink in the middle.

When they are a delicious brown, remove from the oven and carefully transfer to a wire rack.

These can be eaten hot or cold. Refrigerate any leftover rolls...though I doubt they will stick around that long.

Friday, December 27, 2013

On the first day of Christmas.........

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

I spent much of Advent anxiously tracking parcels via UPS and Fed Ex. The temptation to pay a little extra to get the goods faster is always stronger around the holidays. I can continue to be last minute in my planning if I can pay more to compensate for my lack of forethought. None of us like to wait, I routinely check the traffic on my phone before heading out to look for the quickest route. If the wait at the restaurant is over 20 minutes chances are I will leave and eat elsewhere. I want what I want when I want it. If Amazon ever manages to successfully do delivery by flying robot drones I predict a number of people who will pay for their packages to arrive within 30 minutes.

I had some friends who took a very different approach with how their children opened their Christmas gifts this year. Instead of a frenzy of wrapping paper before breakfast they took a more measured approach. They had a clock that played music on the hour. Every hour when the music sounded each child was allowed to open one gift. They then played with that gift for the hour before opening another one. It made the unwrapping last all day, and it also helped the child to appreciate each individual gift and the giver. It made Christmas more thoughtful, more contemplative. It reminded me of the way some Jews celebrate Hanukkah - each night for 8 nights they would light the Hanukkah lights and exchange gifts.

The Liturgical calendar is set up to make us wait. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve night. I must confess I was a bit of an Advent snob this year. I found myself saying on many occasions 'we can't sing that song yet, that is a Christmas song and we are still in Advent'.

There is a desire in all of us to rush to the celebration of Christmas without the waiting of Advent. We sing -

Yea, Lord we greet thee,
 born this happy morning,
Jesus to thee be all glory given.
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing.

on the second Sunday of Advent without caring about the disconnect to the Liturgical calendar. We want Christmas and we want it now.......and then we blink and it is over in a flurry of songs and wrapping paper. We are finished with Christmas and focused on New Years.

But Christmas isn't finished with us.

In the liturgical year the celebration of Christmas is not limited to one day. Christmas continues to Epiphany, Monday January 6th...the 12th day after Christmas and in some traditions continues until the first Sunday after Epiphany which is January 12th next year.

I imagine if we celebrated Christmas according to the Liturgical calendar all the way to the Sunday after Epiphany we would a) be content to not sing Christmas songs so early and b) be exhausted!

If we slowed Christmas down, opened our gifts more mindfully, spent time saying thank you, really enjoyed each gift we were given instead of rushing to the next, maybe Christmas would become a transformative experience instead of just a few days over indulgence.

In many Christmas sermons I heard in my youth, the preacher would rush Jesus from the manger to the Cross. 33 years covered in the breath of one sentence. Instead maybe we should let Jesus rest in the manger of our hearts a little longer, let him grow in strength and stature, let him speak to us, challenge us, love us, comfort us, heal us.

The Civil Rights Preacher Howard Thurman said:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky has withdrawn,
When the kings see their prophesy rightly fulfilled,
When the princes and shepherds have gone;
Then the true work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken hearts,
To feed the hungry,
To free the prisoner
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all brothers,
To make music in the heart.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
Then the true work of Christmas begins.

Think back over the past few days. Over the joys of gifts given and received, over those small moments of great delight, of generosity and abundance.  Offer them with thanksgiving back to God, and ask him to show you how you can say along with Ebenezer Scrooge 'I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.'

Monday, December 23, 2013

God, Chess, Candyland and Scrabble

In a meeting last week I was asked the question 'What is a sign of hope for you?'. Most people thought of images from the natural world. I thought of my wall of board games.

All board games fall on a spectrum. At one end are games like Chess and Go that have no luck element at all. You win by entirely by your own efforts, by your own grasp of strategy. If you lose (or when in my case) you have nobody to blame but yourself.

At the other end of the spectrum are games like Chutes and Ladders, Candyland or LCR. You are entirely at the mercy of the dice or the cards, at no point in the game do you ever make any decision. I tend to view this style of a game less as a game and more as a fun social activity.

I prefer games that fall somewhere towards the middle of the spectrum. Games such as Backgammon or Risk both have an element of chance, but it is the combination of luck together with the meaningful choices that you have to make to capitalize on your good fortune or mitigate your bad that appeals to me.

Why does this feel like a sign of hope? It is because when playing a game that is in the middle of the spectrum I know that even if I fall behind there is always the hope that good fortune will turn my way and I have a chance of victory. Last place never feels hopeless.

My relationship with God seems to fall on a very similar spectrum. There are times when it feels all on my shoulders. Life is like a game of Chess and it is all about the decisions I make. I am the master of my fate I am the captain of my soul.

This makes me very prone to ego.

At other times I feel that nothing I do matters. Like a game of Chutes and Ladders I am entirely at the mercy of the universe with God as Puppeteer manipulating my life for his own designs.

This makes me very prone to fatalism and depression.

I like to live in the middle ground between these two extremes. I try and do the best I can with what I have and I trust that God will somehow meet me in the gap and make what I offer so much more than just what I can do alone.

This makes me very prone to hopefulness....and why I find God in my collection of board games.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I've Got Rhythm

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)
Since my earliest days of music lessons I've thought a lot about rhythm. As a musician I"m taught to listen and match rhythm and tempo with other people. Playing violin in an orchestra meant that a good sense of beat and awareness of everyone around was vital. There is a certain level of embarrassment that comes from singing or playing in a group and unintentionally giving yourself a solo because you came in early, played to long, or were slightly slower than everyone else.

When I got to university I started messing around with cross rhythms, multiple time signatures and multiple simultaneous beats.....some people experimented with drugs, I experimented with Minimalism. Imagine counting 1,2,3, 1,2,3 and clapping on every 1 while someone else counts 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 and claps on 1 simultaneously to get a rough idea of what I"m talking about.

Life seems to move in rhythmic patterns. There is a pulse, a beat to different seasons of the year. It feels like the tempo of life is speeding up at the moment, making us move faster and faster until Christmas gets here. Along with the faster pace also comes an expectation of cheerfulness.

You'd better not pout, you'd better not cry, 
You'd better not shout I'm telling you why. 
Santa Claus is coming to town.

When I was 14 my grandmother passed away just before Christmas. While the rest of the world moved onward with lights, decorations and parties, my parents planned a funeral.

Good christian friends rejoice!
With heart and soul and voice.

While my friends joyfully wrapped presents, I was faced with the present I had purchased and wrapped for my Grandmother...and I didn't know what to do with it.

Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ the newborn king!

That was the last thing I wanted to do.

When the rhythm of my life feels out of step with everyone else around me it adds to my discomfort. The Christmas my Grandmother passed away my parents tried to make Christmas happen 'as usual'. It felt hollow and disingenuous, lake a game of let's pretend that lasted over the holiday season.

I've learned over the years to honor my internal sense of rhythm. Most years I cook a large full English Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings for friends. This year I've chosen not too. I can't point to a particular event that has prompted this change, I'm just aware that my internal rhythm is dictating something different.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I love the way the Message translation says it:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. There is a rhythm that comes from God that is unique to each one of us...because each one of us is unique. Sometimes my rhythm will match the tempo of the world around, and sometimes it won't.

There are rhythms that come naturally to us and others that make us feel like we are always a beat behind.
There are rhythms that fit naturally with the world around and others that feel misplaced.

There are burdens that get placed upon us and others that we choose to carry.
There are burdens we are afraid to pick up and others that we afraid to release.

Into the midst of all this weight and noise Jesus offers us rest. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Whatever is going on in your life right now is o.k.

Joyful celebration.
Quiet mourning.
Crowded parties.

The strong rhythm of Ravel's Bolero is beautiful....and so is the random sound of a wind chime.

Where ever you are right now, Jesus offers you his rest. He offers the unforced rhythms of grace and invites you to dance.

What is the rhythm of your life right now?
Does it compliment or conflict with the rhythm of your external world?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

If Church Signs Were Honest...

This meme has been going on for about 24 hours on twitter and has made me chuckle (and wince) so I thought I would post some of them here.

Welcome All. But if you are feeling depressed, come back when you are in a better mood.

Welcome to our worship. You hear us talk a lot about God here while we are really all obsessing about Doctor Who.

Come as you are! ......So you can hear sermons about how who you are is EVIL!

We aren't perfect and have doubts, but we expect you to be perfect and never question.

All Welcome - some restrictions apply; you know who you are.

Quaker Meeting. Refrain from talking about Jesus except as a metaphor or non-violent spiritual leader like MLK

Welcome! Service begins at 11:00. We take the offering at 11:40. Be prepared to be generous as we entertain you.

Welcome! Suck it up introverts!

All Welcome! It's an old historic church. We are not mandated or interested in making it handicap accessible.

Within these walls you will be expected to believe without question whatever you're told

You are welcome! Your sincere, thoughtful, complicated, and probing questions are not.

Open and Affirming Congregation. Just don't be too weird or political.

God's love welcomes all! But we are more picky.

Contemporary Worship at 10:00 a.m. Bet you can't sing as high as our Worship Leader!

Open and Affirming! Well to middle class, gender normative gays and lesbians who can decorate or do repairs.

All welcome. Be warned that we suck at community building. Many of us here feel lonely and isolated.

All welcome! O.k. that's our ideal. Honestly we can be selfish, privileged, frightened people. We want to change.

All are welcome here*
*Some exclusions apply. Please see Book of Discipline for details.

This is a house of worship. Please disregard all political in-fighting in our decision making process.

All are welcome. Now sit down, shut up, and listen.