Christmas Cranachan (at New Year)

Christmas Cranachan in a bowl with with a Christmas candle
Christmas Cranachan

This New Year I’ve gone back to an old recipe from our early married years that contains the vital ingredient of my university years – malt whisky.

Cranachan is actually a traditional (I assume Scottish) harvest-time pudding, usually made with toasted oatmeal, cream, whisky, honey and soft fruits. What follows is an adaptation of a winter version that I found in the Sainsbury’s Magazine of December 1994. Please note, it’s not for the diet conscious!

This can be prepared 24 hours before you need it, but I’ve always done it on the day. For some reason there’s never been left overs when I’ve served it at a party!

  • 4oz whole rolled oats
  • 4oz chopped roasted hazelnuts – or as I did today mixed nuts broken up with the rolling pin mixed with some dried fruit and dried cranberries
  • 2oz soft, light brown sugar
  • 5oz deluxe dark chocolate, grated
  • 1 pint double cream and 5 fl oz single cream – or as I did today all double cream
  • 3(+) tablespoons whisky (or I believe brandy would work)

Prepare the nuts or nuts/fruit mixture which should be in a bowl with sugar, and grate the chocolate – a rather tedious exercise if all you have is an ordinary grater, but worth the hassle (and using chocolate kept in the freezer makes it easier).

  • Spread the rolled oats on a baking tray and toast under the grill – watching at all times and stirring repeatedly so they don’t actually burn
  • Pour the toasted oats into the mixture of sugar and nuts/fruit
  • Allow the mixture to cool!
  • You can whip the cream to slightly floppy peaks and mix in the whisky at this point ūüėČ

    Christmas Cranachan with Stem Ginger and Chocolate decoration
    Christmas Cranachan with Stem Ginger and Chocolate decoration
  • In a large glass dish spoon in a layer of the chocolate/nut/oat mixture (the amount will depend a bit on the shape of your bowl)
  • Layer on half the whisky cream, then repeat the chocolate layer and top with the last of the whisky cream
  • Cover and refrigerate
  • When you’re nearly ready to serve you can put curls of chocolate on top as decoration, and I’ve tended to also put stem ginger on top, to add a little zing.


The joy of… ordinand?! How being an ordinand is like being pregnant – Luke1:39-45

Nativity detail from altar window, All Saints Church, Cuddesdon
Nativity detail from altar window, All Saints Church, Cuddesdon

I mentioned yesterday that amid the grief (and other Christmas aggravations like the alternator going on the car) there have only been will-o’-the-wisp moments when I have connected with the Christ-child this Christmas.

As I prepare to write a 5000 word essay this week, and re-start my hospital placement (grotty cough permitting) I wanted to reflect briefly on what those glimpses have said been, and what I’ve allowed the Christ-child to give me. They are what I have been given to build-up my sense of Christ’s presence with me as I return to my¬†Benedictine studies.

I didn’t make church on 23rd December (Advent 4) because I was simply feeling too rough. Instead I sought out the sermons of clergy friends on Twitter, to feed what little brain I had. I lit upon¬†this sermon¬†from Reverend Ally. She reminds us of the questions Mary asked of Gabriel at the annunciation, which reflect quite closely those that many ordinands ask themselves, including “Why me!?”. ¬†She goes on to talk about what happens after Mary declares her obedience to God’s will, and specifically about the joy of Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45). “Mary realises that God has not just asked a great thing of her, he has also given her a great thing” and that part of this gift¬†is her common calling with Elizabeth, to which their miraculous pregnancies testify.

Being an ordinand isn’t so very different to being pregnant. You’re carrying something precious (your calling to serve Christ as a priest), can at times be very uncomfortable (there’s stuff asked of you that makes life painful), can feel incredibly lonely (not even a long-suffering spouse can really share the load, and they’re probably as worried as you), and you must be obedient to a detailed process you may not completely understand (portfolios require all sorts of detailed analysis that is almost beyond understanding, and then someone else arranges a curacy for you)!

For me this last term, it’s been a lonely journey. Cut off from parish life by the request that I focus on my studies, I’ve felt isolated at college by being the ‘odd one out’ (as the only one currently attempting a ‘mixed-mode MA’) and a strange unwillingness to take part in the regular and extra-curricular activities that would draw me into relationship with fellow ordinands. It’s like I’ve got too good at saying ‘no’ I’ve forgotten to say ‘yes’ occasionally, and the cost has been a painful isolation from those I’m journeying with.

Revd Ally goes on to say

One of the greatest gifts that God gives to us is each other. And it is so often the case that we can only truly find joy, or at least, fulfillment, in our responsibilities when we share those burdens that weigh heavily on us.

She’s right, I’ve been missing out on the joy of being an ordinand, focusing purely on ‘obeying the call’ and the sense I can’t possibly do the really scary bits of what is expected of me, and this is something I need to rectify in 2013. ¬†Just as Christ was incarnate through Mary’s pregnancy, so I need to hold Christ incarnate within me, ’embracing and enjoying’ with others what Jesus is doing within my life and obedience to his call, so that that it might live joyfully now (like a squirming foetus eager for the world), and be incarnate in my future ministry seeking to recognise Christ in others, and make him recognisable to others.

A Honey-coloured grief at Christmas

Honey Hartland 2005-2012
Honey Hartland 2005-2012

Those who know us well, or follow my ramblings on Twitter, will know that the last couple of weeks have been strained by the fact that we had our wonderfully chaotic, demanding, some-what¬†psycho, seven year old terrier dog ‘Honey’ put down on 14th December.

The logistics of life are easier. We don’t have to come home after five hours out, or make time to go for a cold, wet walk. Day trips to college and quiet days will be simplified. Friends won’t be pestered for ‘tiddling’ duties, and might be invited to dinner more frequently. Even dreams of a summer holiday are simplified. Replacing her isn’t an option to be entertained by any logical look at what the next few years is likely to bring (specifically any future curacy that isn’t in the community we live in).

But, I am finding it tough, very tough, to come home to an empty house; not to have a crazy hound barking herself daft every time we laugh at a joke, have a visitor, or turn the TV or computer off; not to have a warm, furry heap of Honey on my knee when I say Morning Prayer, or a digging maniac on the bed with my cuppa of a morning. There’s nothing jumping up to demand I throw a stick/stone/ball across the room/garden/fields. I’m not being dragged out into the winter rain and fog to catch glimpses of leaping Roe Deer or stealthy foxes. I can’t even cope with standing in the garden gazing at the stars with my husband last thing at night – not that there’s much chance of that with weather that seems to cry with me!

In recent months I’d actually prayed about the fact that I thought I should be able to empathise with people’s turmoil and grieving more, because looking back at past bereavements, even losing my Mother 17 years ago, though stressful and upsetting, didn’t ‘break me’ emotionally very much. I should know by now to be careful what I pray for, because losing Honey has left me hurting more than I ever imagined.

A wise friend said to me that this is because like a little child, a pet is totally dependent on us – for food, warmth,¬†exercise, affection etc. They are there in your life, heart and mind, 24/7; even if you leave them for a few hours, you must return, simply to meet their basic needs. I have yet to learn to live comfortably without that requirement to always be thinking about Honey’s next need.

And yet, despite the gaping hole, I have struggled to make room for that other child, also no stranger to mucky mayhem, to pain and grief. The have been three small snatches of connection with the Christ-child this Christmas, but they’ve been will-o’-the-wisp moments that I need to recapture as I struggle to pick up the threads of what I’m meant to be focusing my life upon. A vicious and lingering virus may not be helping, but what I know I need is to re-gain the zest for life that Honey had and make the most of every moment God gives me, just as she did, because she was just as much part of his creation, as I am.

Is there such a thing as a distinctive Benedictine spirituality?

Carving of St. Benedict in Alton Abbey
Carving of St. Benedict in Alton Abbey

Those who know of my regular visits to Alton Abbey won’t be overly surprised to discover my first portfolio, which has to be about prayer and ministerial formation, has a Benedictine focus.

The title of the main essay is:

How does Benedictine spirituality connect and contrast with my past practice, speak into my current prayer life, and inform my engagement in God’s mission?

In particular I’m going to be focusing on the ideas of community and hospitality expressed in the way the Rule of St Benedict can be applied, and also at the idea of obedience with is one of the vows that Benedictines make. If I was writing my dissertation I could have added more to the list, but I had to be selective… I ‘only’ have 5000 words to play with ūüėČ

I am very aware that I am just dipping my toe in the deep water that is the Benedictine tradition, and am realising more what I don’t know, rather than what I do. Among the many questions I’ve got buzzing round my head at present, not all of which are directly related to the essay, are the following. You may have thoughts and wisdom in response to these that will contribute to my current ‘mind soup’, and if you’re prepared to share them, that would be wonderful.

  1. Is there actually such a thing as a distinctively Benedictine spirituality?
    I am reading a little about Ignatian spirituality (largely in its conversation with positive psychology), and believe there is a distinctly Franciscan spirituality, but I have heard it said at college that there isn’t anything distinctive about Benedictine spirituality, possibly because of its pragmatism. However, reading Joan Chittister’s preface to Thomas Merton‘s commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict I’m not convinced, but wondered what others think? If you think there is, how would you describe it?
  2. In what ways is the hospitality of Benedictine communities distinctive from that of other monastic communities, like e.g. the Franciscans’? Geography has dictated my association with Alton Abbey, but I suspect God’s got a plan in that, and I don’t currently have the time and finances to tour the monasteries of England, so I’m interested in what others think, either from their studies or involvement with Benedictine communities, or from simply having visited contrasting monastic communities.
  3. Why, when the Rule of St. Benedict includes something known as the ‘Ladder of Humility’ which includes the idea that one shouldn’t be “given to ready laughter” (RB7.59-60), are the Benedictines I know some of the funniest people I ever meet? I rarely leave their company without having shared a laugh and always have a bigger smile on my face than the one I arrived with! (That goes for the cloistered brethren, not just the oblates I know.)

So that’s where I am, at least on the surface. Underneath in the warren of MA-land, it’s rather more complicated than that, but perhaps I’ll leave the lumpy bits in the ‘mind soup’ for another day.

Any ideas, thoughts or reflections, gratefully received. If I ever refer them in writing they will be suitably referenced I assure you!