Monday, 13 October 2008

Books and Food

I really must get the books physically organized, as well as catalogued on LibraryThing. It is all very well having a hugely erudite collection, but it is annoying when attempting to cook dinner to search on the cookery bookshelf for Marvellous Meals with Mince and find only Hymns of St Ephrem the Syrian and the like.

The mince recipe (a cross between shepherd's pie and moussaka with a layer of sliced beetroot which rather failed to harmonize) received a rather mixed reception. However, it gave rise to a more inspired follow-up: Crimson Venison Casserole (TM). Having boiled the beetroot, I was left with almost half a litre of bright purple cooking liquid, and it seemed a pity not to do something with it. The diced venison in the freezer needed using, and the recipe on the back of the box required dried cranberries, of which we did have an ancient packet in the cupboard. No fresh mushrooms, no shallots: no matter. Substituting beetroot for beef stock, I adapted the recipe so heavily as to make it unrecognizable. The result was really rather delicious. For those who would like to try it, here is the procedure:

Crimson Venison Casserole
by Myopic Bookworm

(Optional: beforehand, soak a small sample of dried oyster mushrooms or similar in boiling water.) In a flameproof casserole, brown handfuls of diced venison in some hot olive oil, removing once brown to a handy plate. Chop a medium onion fairly small, mince some garlic, and fry both in the remaining oil for a couple of minutes. Chuck in a tablespoon of wholemeal flour and keep cooking for another minute. Throw in a decent portion of roughly chopped carrot, a handful at a time, stirring into the flour mix. Add around 40-50g dried cranberries, 500ml beetroot stock and 100ml red wine, a pinch of dark brown sugar, and a good sprinkling of dried thyme, and stir again (adding the soaked and drained oyster mushrooms if you've got some). Lay the venison on top, screw on some fresh black pepper, and put in a preheated moderate oven (can't remember temperature; must have been about 180C in our fan oven) for 75 to 90 minutes. Serve with potato (boiled new potatoes or mashed) and a green vegetable (we had purple sprouting broccoli).

The combination of orange carrot and crimson beetroot juice is just stunning.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Autumn III

Idyllic is the word that comes to mind to describe my brief experience yesterday afternoon. I found myself driving across the Oxfordshire countryside in the slanting sun, through the winding lanes west of Worminghall, with the infant slumbering peacefully in the back seat. As I reached Islip and headed out towards Bletchingdon and Long Hanborough*, the BBC began to play Butterworth's "By Banks of Green Willow". And on cue, I passed a willow tree.

By the time I reached the borders of Gloucestershire, the fields were hazy with dust and mist, the sun was westering, and if you could have distilled the air, it would have tasted of honey spread on fresh-baked crusty bread.

* The village elders seem to have decided that the signs on the main roads should bear the name "Bletchington", and the lorries from the local stone quarry have the same spelling. But I prefer "Bletchingdon", as the older road-signs have it. Aside from the proximity of Abingdon, it feels more distinctive and interesting. There is a similar variance at Long Hanborough, where the railway station is called "Handborough", I know not why.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Existence is Suffering

Sitting in the Chapel of Our Lady by the Martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral yesterday morning, I was wondering about my present difficulty. Then, looking at the carved crucifix which hangs behind the altar, and wondering what it might mean, I had a thought. Existence is suffering, say the Buddhists. It is no use an atheist protesting at the suffering in the universe: the atheist simply has to accept the world as it is, having no God to protest to. But it is no use a theist protesting either. The world is as it is, whether or not the word "God" has any objective meaning. Just because there is a God, that doesn't mean that the world could have been made in a different way. A universe is a complex thing, and to assert that it could have been done better is a ridiculous pretention. If existence is suffering, then how much more is creation suffering? Even if you attempt to ditch all Paul's theology of atonement, the death of Jesus still stands as a central feature of Jesus's ministry, his most dramatic acted parable. And a parable must have a meaning: the Lamb slain at the foundation of the world. God knows that the world suffers, and in some sense he suffers with it, and in his death Christ shows us that he suffers with it.

Maybe my next heavy book (if I can face any heavy book soon) must be Paul Fiddes's The Creative Suffering of God. For the moment, I shall work my way through Rowan Williams's Tokens of Trust, which I picked up at the Cathedral bookshop. The first chapter is promising: he manages to discuss belief in such a way that the 'existence' of God become almost a non-issue.