Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Raise high the standard of spring!
Hold up the budded boughs,
As you stride through greening woods,
Your skirts lifted from a gold leaf floor.

See, dancing birds follow in your train,
While others circle overhead.
Hear grateful brooks herald your coming
And frogs sing a chorus of praise.

As you pass,
Bare branches still too proud to bow
Know that spring’s sap will soon
Force them, clothed, to their knees.

So, lift high the standard!
Winter, lay down your frosted arms,
And earth, yield again with joy,
That all might see and

Rachael Barham,
Friday 1st May 2009,
Chickadee Lodge, St John River, New Brunswick.

Monday, 23 April 2012

A lot can change in 48 hours... (and cooking with milk kefir)

A lot can change in 48 hours. For example, all the wonderful people that have made your working year so rich and such fun can suddenly all leave. :-(  And your work can all at once be over - completely over! - for the next four months! You can go from having time for not much else except the necessary tasks of life, to having extra time and energy to do things like... hang out with friends and cook new things!
So, all this being true, I plan to be posting some of my new creations on here  as the spring and summer progress.

Another thing that can change in 48 short hours or less is that ordinary milk (and by that - for me - I mean local, organic, raw, unpasteurised, unhomogenized milk, since that is milk in its ordinary, natural form!) can be transformed, by sitting in contact with 'kefir grains' (actually a 'symbiotic colony of yeasts and bacteria') at room temperature, into kefir. This particular transformation is thanks to the gift of kefir grains from (the real) Julia Roberts, one of those amazing people who have just exited my life, stellar thesis and all!  And I have been really loving how easy the kefir is to make.  Just add milk to the 'grains' in a loosely covered mason jar and then strain 24-48 hours later!

But what is this stuff?! Well, think drinking yoghurt meets sour buttermilk. And, as for the 'grains', think cottage cheese meets blobs of gristle!  Yeah, not that attractive! :-)

But this stuff is a superfood for the gut and digestive system (read more about it here) and so well worth making or buying, and either drinking or adding to recipes. I don't like the taste enough to drink kefir on its own, so we use it mostly in the 'berry green smoothies' that I made for breakfast this morning (scroll down on this page to find my recipe) and sometimes in dishes like Soaked Oatmeal Pancakes and, for today's lunch, a new experiement... a ranch-style dressing.

I was inspired to try this by the house salad served at our local Bistro with their homemade ranch dressing, and which I sometimes ask them to add smoked salmon and capers to for a yummy, healthy, good-carb meal. Today, with all this time and creative headspace on my hands, I made my own salad with locally farm-grown spinach, sliced courgette (zucchini), capers, wild sockeye smoked salmon, hard-boiled local free range egg and with my new dressing drizzled over it all.  It was delicious!  And I put an extra dollop on my plate to dip raw cauliflower, broccoli and orange pepper slices in - still feeding those mitochondria!

So why not give this great dressing - or just plain old kefir! - a go? And, if you are already a kefir fan, tell  me what you do with it...

Homemade Ranch-style Dressing with Kefir
An easy-peasy dressing that is brilliant with a spinach salad or to dip raw veggies in, uses up my homemade kefir and is good for me!

½ cup raw milk kefir (or buttermilk)
¼ cup raw milk Greek yoghurt (or sour cream) – more if you want a thicker dip
2 tbsp EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
¼ tsp Herbamare (or sea salt)
A small clove of garlic, crushed
¼ tsp onion powder
½ tsp dried dill
¼ tsp dried thyme
A generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
A few drops of liquid stevia (or some maple syrup)

Options: a different blend of herbs, fresh or dried, would also be yummy.

Put all ingredients in a mason jar and shake to blend.  Hey presto!  Store in the fridge or just eat!

Friday, 13 April 2012

You can't contain a child

You can't contain a child
Let one loose in a field
And she will run, fly

Too much life in the limbs to walk
Always the full charge

All this waiting life calls for dash and tear
Tearing to open this moment’s present
To be present to it all

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Saying the words I hate to say

We are sitting opposite each other in the diner waiting for our breakfast to arrive, her pale little face elflike below the new khaki beret. The mad rush to get here in time, her infuriating slowness and indecision, my sickening nagging and unnecessary criticism – these fall away like water below a dammed up stream. Above the dam created by this break in our routine, by a time painfully carved out, the water settles and stills. It’s as if I’ve been caught in a torrent of frustration and needless stress, and I’ve wounded with my thrashing limbs and thrashing words. Why do I do this?

The table between us, the sitting and waiting, is distance and time enough to stop my thrashing and look around me and come into my right mind, right heart, again. I look across at her and see the precious, fragile thing she is and I take her elfin face in my hands and look her in the eyes, hoping my shamed and loving gaze reaches deep into her soul, and I say the words that still come hard, get stuck in my throat:

“I’m sorry.”

I tell her it’s not her at all (her eyes show me she needed to hear this); that’s it me and I hate it and I’m sorry; that she is the dearest, most lovely thing to me (eyes open, soften and brighten as love and delight begin to heal what should never have been), and that I hate the words that come out of my mouth – so small and mean – even as I hear myself saying them; that I know these small, mean words are flowing more often, more freely, these recent days (she nods shyly in assent) and I don’t know why or how to stop but I see it and will try, and I’m sorry, again.

“I’m sorry.”

Oh how I hate these words as well: Hate that I have to say them; hate what has come before them and made them necessary. I hate them because they are so small, too, and never seem enough. They can’t roll back the waters of time as I wish they could; they can’t affect a miracle of absolute healing and oblivion; they can’t guarantee that this same devastating flood will not ravage our world again next week, even tomorrow. I hate them because they wound my ego and lay me bare to the reality of my power and my misuse of it, of my desires and their constant disappointment, and of my apparent helplessness at times to be anywhere close to the human, woman, wife, friend, daughter, mother (oh yes, especially mother) that I long to be.

If I hated these words less, maybe I would hate my hard, critical, harsh, unkind, careless, uncontrolled, hurtful words more? Enough to hold them in and hold them back? Enough to stop the torrent and step back from the edge of that crashing, hurtling, shattering precipice?

But though I hate the sorry words, still I love them and need them, as much as a drowning man needs the rock that agonizingly stops his freeflow freefall down the raging river. Though they are hard words, yet they soften – the hard places in me and the hurt places in her. Their very hardness is solid ground for me if I will cling to them, and a foothold for the long climb back up if I can stand on them and move beyond.

Moving beyond means accepting the forgiveness that I see mercifully, graciously leap up in her riverblue eyes from who knows what deep, clear inner spring. It means accepting the truth that I am, today, not mountain-climber, rockface-scaler, summit-reacher; but simply one who ackowledges the need to start again, again, at the foot of the towering cliff, thankful to be on dry ground and be given the chance to try again.

It is a humbling, praiseless task, this trying again; but a timeless one too. Even those who have dedicated their lives in monk’s cell to the pursuit of God and holiness and right-relatedness (I remember this with growing courage) embraced this task as worthy life’s work and spiritual discipline. I would expect more from them (from me) but this is the age-old truth and tale:

A curious outsider asked the burning question, hoping for spiritual enlightenment: “What do you do in your cell all day, Father?” The old man replied: “We fall down and then we get up again.”

So I get up again.

And I open the story book we had forgotten and had had to go back home to get, wasting ‘precious minutes’ and provoking one of my frustrated tirades and her hot tears now dried. She moves around the table to sit next to me and be able to read along and see the pictures, and we are together again – warm limbs and happy imaginations, healing hearts and hungry tummies.

We find the place where we left the story last time, and we begin again.

“Always we begin again.”

(attributed to St Benedict of Nursia)

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Risen Life Everyday

What an incredible time of year this is! The beginnings of new life are everywhere around us as we celebrate the Life-out-of-Death that Jesus walked and was and opened to us all.

Since there is too much 'real life' going on for me at the moment, with end of term tasks and tiredness, to put flesh on all the bare-bone thoughts growing inside me about this astounding Life, please allow me to repost something I wrote almost two years ago about life and bread and resurrection and everyday miracles. I don't have sourdough bread on the go right now, but the red clover sprouts on my windowsill and the milk kefir growing in a mason jar in my basement are screaming LIFE to me every day! What is screaming LIFE at you?!


I’m talking here about my sourdough bread, of which I just made another delicious batch yesterday, this time with half unbleached white and half wholewheat flour. Making sourdough bread is a beautifully simple process, but as there is undoubtedly some science to it too, I have taken to recording how I feed the starter and make the bread each time, and what the results are, so as to learn and be able to bake the best bread possible. And each time, documented in my special new food journal, there is exultation (It has risen!) when I come to check the dough after a night of the natural yeasts working their wonders, and find that it has turned from a solid lump to an evidently living mass: a being that has grown to almost twice its original size, that sighs and moves when you touch it, and exudes a sweet, yeasty and slightly aromatic odour.

As I once again write my jubilant testimony to this miraculous transformation, I realize that it has a distinct resonance with the Paschal greeting – “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!” – hence the title of this blog post. But while such rejoicing is fitting for Easter Sunday morning resurrection, is it really appropriate for Monday morning bread-making? Is my title, or my sense of triumph, somehow sacrilegious?

Well let me say first of all that when I go downstairs in the morning, open the corner cupboard, take out the big blue bowl, lift the plate covering my dough and find that it is changed, it always feels like an everyday miracle. I almost gasp each time, never ceasing to be surprised and delighted, particularly because all I have done is mix a little salt, five cups of flour and two cups of water into a cup measure of starter, stirred it and left it alone. No kneading needed! With next to no effort and very little time on my part, a living food has been created that will nourish the bodies and souls of my family. This is not of my doing. I may be an agent but I am not the source. This bread is testament to the life we are surrounded by: the life (and natural yeast!) that flows in the air we breathe and the water we drink, that resides in the warmth of the sun and the goodness of the earth. The bread is testament to the fact that this life, when acknowledged, respected and wisely harnessed, can yield revitalizing miracles day after day.
So my sourdough bread is a miracle to me: maybe not on the scale of the Resurrected Christ, but nevertheless part of the same Life that comes to me as pure gift and deserves to be celebrated. My Easter-like rejoicing over bread is, in fact, absolutely appropriate, because it reflects the ongoing incarnational nature of the life of God as I perceive it. Ronald Rolheiser describes it like this:
The God who has become incarnate in human flesh is found, first and foremost, not in meditation and monasteries, although God is found there, but in our homes. As Nikos Kazantzakis puts it: “Wherever you find husband and wife, that’s where you find God; wherever children and petty cares and cooking and arguments and reconciliation are, that is where God is too.” The God of the incarnation is more domestic than monastic.

Rolheiser also discusses the fact that, in Christian theology, ‘the body of Christ’ refers all at once to the human Jesus, the bread of the Eucharist, and the community of faith. God has become flesh and bone, and bread and wine, and blood and tears. I love this, all the more because it has taken me so long to grasp it, as the false divisions – between spiritual and material, sacred and profane, human and divine – finally begin to crumble. The wonderful Rolheiser again:
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink becomes a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him.*
But often I don’t see, so I am grateful for the moments when my eyes are opened: when the lifting of the plate covering the waiting dough feels like the rolling away of the stone from a tomb; when the risen bread resonates with the surprise of new life; when the five cups of flour and the two of water are as miraculous to me as the five loaves and two fish; and when I am happy to sit as a family around a loaf of warm, fresh bread and delight together in sharing both its earthy goodness and our imperfect, sacred love.
So when I look on each new loaf with its crispy crust and marvelously moist yet airy interior, I will continue to exclaim: “It is risen! Alleluia!”

*All Ronald Rolheiser quotes are taken from one of my all-time favourite books Seeking Spirituality, published in North America as The Holy Longing. He quotes from Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ.