No Whey. Yes Whey!

I got a new toy last week. A yogurt maker! As I passed by the discount table it kept looking at me. First, I glanced at the pictures on the box, then I wandered around a bit more. I strolled by the table again, picked up the box and examined it for a price, trying not to look too obvious. No price. Hmmm. Now I was really curious, so I asked. The salesperson was very knowledgeable, and I thought to myself, “I do eat yogurt every day for lunch but probably would not make it without the help of this machine.” I walked away with a new appliance.

Since then I have experimented with different cultures, three kinds of milk, and various mix-ins such as blood orange simmered in honey, lemon, blueberries with orange zest, and Luxardo cherry (mmmm). I learned how to drain the whey to make Greek or Icelandic-style yogurt. After draining several batches I wondered what I could make with the leftover whey. It seems like such a waste to pour it out. I found a recipe for cinnamon whey biscuits, got up in the middle of the night to bake them, and they are delicious. I’m smelling them now fresh from the oven. What was old is new again! I wonder what other things in my life I toss aside waiting to be transformed.

Higglety, Pigglety, Pop!

Some days I can’t see which direction I’m going, where I’ve come from, or even where I am now. My life seems like a Mother Goose rhyme I cheerily chant with children in my Kindermusik class:

Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! The dog has eaten the mop. The pig’s in a hurry, the cat’s in a flurry, Higglety, Pigglety, Pop!

As the children and I recite it together, we roll our arms in circles as we lean forward, then roll the other way as we lean back. It’s a whole-body event! We always laugh afterwards. That’s what I look forward to…laughing. Some days the animals get mixed up and the pig’s in a flurry rather than the cat, but the dog always eats the mop. I too have times of hurry and flurry, but I know days will come when I can be present with great laughter and joy. And I know that God will always be God.

It’s more fun to laugh with others. So if you ever want someone to laugh with, come visit me and we can share Higglety, Pigglety, Pop together!

God is Everywhen

This week I used my new tunnbröd rolling pins. As I rolled out the discs of dough fragrant with anise, fennel and eight wholesome grains, I remembered my first experience baking this in a brick oven on a cold, cold day in Sweden. As I rolled it out I thought, “The dough must be flat enough by now.” My sister-in-law must have heard my thoughts as she patiently responded that it needed to be rolled out even more. I began to doubt the dough’s strength. When I thought it was certainly flat enough, she handed me a different rolling pin, one covered with spiky knobs, to create texture and indentations that would keep the dough from puffing up in the hot oven. In 30 seconds the heat transformed it into a beautifully risen flat bread with a deliciously chewy texture. We spread creamy butter on the hot, flame-tinged bread, and the next day added cheese and other tasty toppings, creating rolled sandwiches. I was amazed at how this thin, nearly transparent dough, had such great strength and resiliency.

Celtic Christianity refers to thin places as moments where God is present. My life at times seems distant from God, but I am content knowing that God is in every place and every thing, at every time. As I made tunnbröd and asked myself “Isn’t it rolled thinly enough?” I answered, “No.” At times I tore the dough a bit, but it merely had to be repatched. Its resilience spoke to me, reminding me to be patient, alert, and to listen at all times. For I never know when heaven and earth might touch.

While surrounded by the beauty of the snowy mountains and reindeer in Norway, the glistening lakes and moss-covered boulders in Sweden, or being present at the baptism of a child in Denmark, I felt glimpses of the divine. When I see or hear someone passionately sharing what brings them life, this can also be a thin place, and words cannot describe how transforming this experience can be. I usually stumble upon these sacred moments at unexpected times. When memory fades of these thin places, it returns when I’m alert to the divine in moments like the thin texture of the tunnbröd, the whiff of the air while baking it, and the taste of Sweden on my tongue. Memories such as these replenish my spirit with remembrances of God dwelling in my life and in my heart.

If God (however defined) is everywhere and “everywhen,” as the Australian aboriginals put it so wonderfully, then why are some places thin and others not? Why isn’t the whole world thin? Maybe it is but we’re too thick to recognize it. Maybe thin places offer glimpses not of heaven but of earth as it really is, unencumbered. Unmasked. ~Eric Weiner

Dammsugare

I was introduced to many unfamiliar baked goods while in Sweden. Dammsugare, an old Swedish classic, means “vacuum cleaner” and is made to resemble the cylinders of old vacuum cleaners. There is also a theory that they were created as a way to use the leftover cake crumbs at the end of the day (“vacuumed” up), since cake crumbs are used in the filling. I was reluctant to try this green colored confection, but I am so glad I did. The unexpected flavors combined to create a lasting tasteful memory. When I returned home I researched recipes and each one is a bit different. I learned that most Swedes purchase theirs, and after making these from scratch, I understand why. One must already have a batch of cookies or cake to provide the interior crumb base. The secret ingredient that exhilarated my taste buds is Swedish punsch (arrack or aniseed liqueur). While making the marzipan, I tried a batch with bitter almond extract from Sweden. Wow – so pleasingly potent! The surprise ingredient in the marzipan is rose water. It is subtle amidst all the almond flavor, but adds a floral depth. After making the filling and marzipan, I took all the pieces of leftover delicious chocolate bars from 2018 and melted them for the final dip. I don’t know how many pounds of chocolate I brought back from Scandinavia to give as gifts and to replace the stash I keep in my desk, but the customs officer did remark on how I must love chocolate. I brought back many pounds of something else, but that’s a story for another day…I’ll just say the extra bags were worth it!

We Shall Rise!

A few months ago I saw this construction sign on my way to help a friend: Repairs underway. Expect delays. It reminds me that I don’t always have or need the answer, but to patiently wait for God. Although a friend or loved one may be hurting, and my instinct is to fix their problems, this is usually not the best choice. The times of greatest growth and joy in my life have come from climbing out of the deepest pits; a truth I discovered years later. So when I offer help, and I don’t know what to pray for, I listen with all my heart and pray that God will take over.

When I started back to work a few days ago after the new year, I began my daily morning ritual of watering my fountain. The watering can had a bit of water, but not enough for the fountain to operate smoothly. It reacted by sputtering at me. I went to retrieve the extra stash of distilled water, but it must have been used up before the holidays, so my day didn’t begin well. Constantly hearing the fountain’s silence, the feeling sat with me all day long. But the emptiness was deeper than that. I have been allowing other things to get in the way of my time with God. Always when I take time to listen, God speaks to me through words, art, music, people, cleaning, baking…..even the fountain in my office. Today I needed a word from God, so I turned to today’s lectionary and the following Psalm spoke to me.

Morning Psalm 20 The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion. May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. May he grant your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans. May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the LORD fulfill all your petitions. Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand. Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God. They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright. Give victory to the king, O LORD; answer us when we call.

Lussebullar

While in Sweden I baked a traditional Swedish bread; Lussebullar (golden yellow saffron buns) as an early celebration of Santa Lucia Day (December 13th). Saint Lucy was a 3rd-century martyr who, according to legend, brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs. She wore a candle-lit wreath on her head to light the way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible. 

In Scandinavian countries, as carols are sung, girls dressed as Saint Lucy and boys in traditional hats carry cookies and vibrant yellow saffron buns in procession. This Santa Lucia feast offers light and hope during the darkest months of the year and points to the arrival of the Light of Christ on Christmas Day. 

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot he hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on his lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. -Matthew 5:14-16

Jämtland

My husband and I have been staying in northern Sweden with his sister and brother-in-law at their home near Frösön. Frösön is the largest island in the lake Storsjön, located just west of the city Östersund in Jämtland. Storsjön’s water seemed to move with a thickness as if it was cold like the air. My brother-in-law, who works on the water, explained that before lake water freezes, its consistency becomes syrupy. Several people were ice skating on huge expanses of newly frozen Åresjön, a lake closer to the mountains, with some areas still unfrozen or merely a few inches thick.

Our family graciously introduced us to Swedish culture and showed us places of history and beauty, such as Frösön’s runestone, which tells about Östman who Christianized Jämtland. 

We attended worship today (the first Sunday of Advent) in Åre gamla kyrka, a medieval stone church built in the late 1100s by farmers in Åre parish. The small choir in the balcony was passionately boisterous in their singing of traditional hymns of communion and Advent. As I attempted to sing along in Swedish, I thought of our own congregation possibly singing these same hymns seven hours later on this very day.

According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, “Östersund is widely appreciated for its gastronomic culture, based on local sustainable food inspired from longstanding culinary traditions.” One of my favorite experiences while staying with family this past week was mixing, rolling and fire-baking Tunnbröd (thin bread) in their century-old outdoor brick oven. Tunnbröd is full of wonderfully fragrant ingredients such as anise and fennel, and this version contains multiple grains including graham, oat and rye. They taught me how to use special rolling pins with grooves, and another one for pricking the thin dough disc until it was gently but quickly tossed from the long wooden paddle onto the extremely hot brick oven floor. In seconds the dough began to turn black. When we removed it, the Tunnbröd was beautifully tinged with burnt edges. We enjoyed it, hot and freshly blackened, with butter.

While the fire was hot, we made pizza (because we could)…so yummy.

I am bursting with cherished memories; with more yet to come. Thanks be to God for life in all fullness!