it all started with the oranges.

It turned hot this weekend. And humid. The kind of weather that makes us strip down to as little clothing as possible and fight over the direction of the fan. Certainly not the kind of weather that inspires baking, but that's where I was Saturday: standing in front of the oven, fan blasting directly on me, rocking out to Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan and Patty Griffin.

It all started with the marmalade, really. And I guess before that were the oranges. See, we bought one of those orange trees this year for Chinese New Year, and it wasn't long before we started hearing plops during our meals, and seeing Finn kick around a few extra orange balls.

I decided there had to be something we could do with those pieces of sun, and quickly decided on marmalade. Just as quickly I decided against boiling jars and proper sealing, which meant that all this marmalade would be going in the fridge, to be eaten quickly.

So there I was with a few cups of marmalade, friends coming over for coffee in the am, and an as-yet-unplanned promised dessert for friends in the pm. I did the only sensible thing, really, and baked scones in the morning, to serve with said marmalade and super-rich yogurt, and then did the dessert version for the evening, substituting vanilla cake for the scones and whipped cream for the yogurt.

It was sweet, as it always is, to be in the kitchen baking for friends. And it was delicious, every bite,  ... nothing gourmet or sophisticated about these treats, just simple, clean flavors. The marmalade is just sweet enough, right on the edge of sour, but without any bitterness. I modified a recipe from Martha Stewart that originally called for tangerines and lemons, and it was far easier than I expected.

Scones from KAF, and cake from orangette (minus the glazed oranges.) Oh, and the funky shapes? I have only one round pan, 6" diameter, so I also called into service one of those metal lunch tins, oval in this case. The metal is a little thin, but works just fine. 

Whether your days are hot or cold, slushy or muggy, I wish you sunshine and sweetness, a little music and a meal with friends.


Night Prayer

This is a post more for me than you. I know it is not night for most of you, but it is here, and it is indeed night after a long day. It was a day of saying goodbye to Matt's father, headed back to the US, and a day of greeting, holding a friend's long-awaited baby. A day with blessed glimpses of sun after a week of cold and gray. A day of sorting, settling, sweeping, returning to routine. A day of tears, both mine and Finn's, and of hugs and laughter and quiet conversation. All day, this prayer has been in my heart. And so I share it with you, as we enter a Lenten season, with prayers that this Lent will be a time of stillness, of quiet, and of expectancy. May it be so for us.

it is night.
The night is for stillness.
   Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
   What has been done has been done;
   what has not been done has not been done;
   let it be.
The night is dark.
   Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
   rest in you.
The night is quiet.
   Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
   all dear to us,
   and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
   Let us look expectantly to a new day,
   new joys,
   new possibilities.
In your name we pray,

(from the New Zealand Book of Prayer)


HK Alphabet :: K

K :: Kung hei fat choi! (Congratulations and Prosperity!)

How fortuitous that K just happened to be next up ... this has to be an auspicious sign, yes?

Chinese New Year is a holiday I am so glad to have gained. It's a gift from Hong Kong that I know will be part of our making-it-through-winter-until-spring rituals for years to come. We may have to youtube a lion dance rather than be woken from our naps, windows rattling from the drums, but buying fresh flowers and eating oranges, hanging lanterns and making pinwheels will all be easy and fun to do, no matter where we live.

Last year someone explained to us that traditionally Chinese families don't celebrate individual birthdays. Instead, everyone becomes a year older together, at the New Year. And I've held that lovely idea in mind this year, trying to understand the clearly monumental importance of these days.   We may not fully get it, but the joy and festivity is infectious--people laden with flowers and cookie tins, children in bright new clothes, red and gold decorations everywhere. So happy year of the tiger, everyone!

(See also last year's post about CNY for more detail about the traditions and celebrations.)


Making our way ...

Did you come here for justice, or just to make your way? 

--Al Swearengen, in the final episode of season one of Deadwood, HBO's historically-inspired show of a mining camp on the South Dakota frontier. 

When I heard the line quoted above last night, it was actually the second time I'd been asked the question. Just hours earlier, a yellow-robed Hindu nun had stood before me, trying to explain her understanding of divinity, reincarnation, suffering and the world of relativity. Her peacefulness and intentionality stand in stark contrast to Swearengen's brash approach to life, and yet both essentially ask the same question.

Not in so many words, of course. But in her gentle insistence that everything is temporary--everything, including justice, suffering and joy, heaven and hell--and even more, that nothing is real except for God, she pointed us down the same road as Swearengen. In the face of our protests (we were a group of Christian seminarians in a world religions class) that evil was just as real as joy--and we thus had a responsibility to act--she didn't deny that responsibility, but also persisted in saying that evil is only relative and temporary.

I'm not really trying to make any sort of comparison between Al Swearengen and this nun, who "makes her way" by seeking out divinity and living in the love and joy of that presence. It's about as different a purpose as possible from Al, who makes his way though profit and does all kinds of evil in that pursuit, though his complexity and humanity are compelling nonetheless.

But you can't watch Deadwood without being struck by how closely these characters lived to death--how much it was part of their furniture, so to speak--and how casual--even cavalier--were their attitudes towards death.

And likewise, you couldn't help but be struck by the fact that it was Nishita, the nun, casually saying "For the Hindu, death is really no big deal. It's temporary. Only God is real," while the Christians in the room--myself included--were obsessed with questions about death, evil, sin, salvation and justice. Of course the casual approach to death taken by both Nishita and the Deadwood residents bears out in remarkably different approaches to life. For Nishita, death is temporary and then you are reincarnated, so it matters how you live. For Deadwood folks, life itself is temporary and death is the end, so it doesn't matter how you live, just that you stay alive.

But back to Al's question--did you come here for justice, or just to make your way? This strikes me as the question for Deadwood--a town of people willing to give up both the security and restrictions of law by coming to the frontier, wanting only to make their way. The town may be lawless, and the people coarse and violent, but they aren't without a code, and indeed the show's most poignant moments come when that morality is evidenced. Even so, there is precious little justice in Deadwood, just as it often seems that there is precious little in the world today.

Nishita would say that both justice and injustice are temporary. And while I see wisdom in many of her beliefs, I live in, love, and sometimes mourn this material world. I believe God created it, is still active in it, and is saving it. I've looked on the face of my own newly born son and known real joy, and we've all seen grieving Haitian mothers on TV and witnessed real suffering. So I choose to make my way by fighting injustice where I can, fighting evil within myself and around me, praying and working for the kingdom of God, and relying on my sure faith that just as the Chinese New Year brings flowers and firecrackers, Easter will come and resurrection still happens.


You know it's almost Chinese New Year when ...

1. Shoe prices go down
2. Haircut prices go up
3. Police are everywhere.

Seriously. As if the red and gold decorations and orange trees everywhere didn't give it away ... and oh yeah, did I forget the busloads of people invading our park? Sigh. This is the downside of living so close to such an amazing park, close enough to consider it ours. Turns out other people know about that awesome New Year's fair and flower market ...

Pictures forthcoming, as well as the recipe for that surprisingly-easy pasta. And maybe for Valentine's Day my special chocolate Hong Kong cake ... (only needs one bowl, one whisk and can be baked in a toaster oven!)


What's a gal to do ...

... when she goes to the store to shop for a special Friday night pasta dinner, buys the wine and the garlic and the olive oil, but forgets to buy the pasta? Why, she makes it herself! And she thanks her lucky stars that Finn had a big lunch and a late nap, and that Uncle Tuan is coming over, all of which means that there will be ball-kicking and guitar-playing aplenty, with little impatience for a late dinner.

Really, it wasn't as bad as I expected. (The time, I mean. The pasta itself wasn't bad at all.) Just two hours, start to finish, from turning on the computer to look up a recipe to calling everyone to the table. The work was fun, actually, and I think Finn would love helping to cut the pasta, especially if I got a pizza wheel or a ravioli cutter. (This would make it a full afternoon project, of course.)

And the pasta itself? Pronounced delish by all three boys at the table, and by the cook. Certainly it was rustic, and thicker than the commercial variety. But we had a hearty sauce and a hearty wine and it felt just right for a cold-ish February night.

Hope you are eating well too, wherever you are ...  


HK Alphabet :: I, J

i :: islands

One of our salvations this past year and a half in Hong Kong has been the quick and total escape of a day at an island. These islands are a different Hong Kong--the pace is slower, buildings are low, bikes are everywhere. There are wide sidewalks, seafood restaurants lining the harbors, and narrow lanes to explore. And sometimes, you even find a scene like this--a couple taking their own wedding photos.

(I loved loved loved coming across this couple, combining the very typical Hong Kong camera culture with a very non-typical DIY mentality. It was a long empty stretch of beach and we watched for awhile from the road, behind some trees. It wasn't until after we had hiked on that I realized we should have offered to take a picture of the two together, but somehow it didn't feel right to intrude ... )

j :: junks

The "junk trip" is a time-honored way to celebrate an event in Hong Kong. Technically a "junk" is a traditional Chinese sailing vessel, but now it simply means any large boat that people hire, fill with beer and food, and take to the sea. The traditional ones are beautiful, certainly, with square, red sails, but they are all fun and offer that much-needed chance to breathe. No matter where one is in the world, I do believe, whether on the Ompompanoosuc or the Georgian Bay, the Muscongus Sound or the South China sea, a boat offers freedom.

"There is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
--Water Rat to Mole in Kenneth Graeme's Wind in the WIllows


Guitar Shirt #5

Introducing guitar shirt #5.

Yes, #5. It started out with a onesie when he was 3 months old, which was actually part of Matt's first Father's Day, as a way to encourage him (Matt, that is) to keep playing that guitar. And now, we've grown out of three. I made a short-sleeved one, hoping his current one would last until spring, but I finally decided that it was too small, and he couldn't wait for his "tar shirt". So, #5 it is.

I don't understand why I don't see more of this kind of applique on craft and parenting blogs. For the time and money spent, this is the thing I make which offers the most satisfaction. I spent two evenings sewing last week and came up with 6 new shirts for the little guy (only two were guitars). Oh, and did I mention how perfect it is for covering up a stain that just won't come out or freshening up a hand-me-down?

And why, you might ask, would I keep making guitars when the world is full of inspiration and cute shapes like ducks or birds? Well, behold the following future album covers.

Rock on, son. Rock on.