Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reflections on a Mirror

{photo credit}
If your mum was anything like mine, you grew up with your stunning 5-year-old fashion sense
constantly being challenged. "Don't wear plaid with polka dots," "your socks need to match," "petticoats do not go on your head" (yeah, it was a phase...) - it seemed there were always rules about what did and did not constitute an outfit. Even in my attempts to comply, I was rather flummoxed in following the "Laws of Acceptable Fashion," soon learning that such a feat was harder than it seemed.

The most obvious way to be mom-approved (an incontestable requirement for 5-year-olds) was to run through the list of individual dos and don'ts. Was I wearing plaid with polka dots? Did my socks match? Were there petticoats on my head? Never mind that my socks were dirty, or that my plethora of colors clashed at every intersection - if I was within the Laws of Acceptable Fashion, the girl reflected in the mirror felt satisfied and savvy. Inevitably, when mum would catch a glimpse of the eyesore I called an outfit, she would be scandalized. "What are you wearing?!" And I, having felt confident in my compliance with the rules, would have no idea what she meant.

Clearly, simply focusing on the rules wasn't creating a classy style, so what was a girl to do? As I grew, I learned the key to a good outfit involved not merely evaluating individual pieces, but stepping back, outside of the "rules," to view my outfit as a whole. Does this shirt and skirt look good together? Do I match overall - from hair-bows to shoelaces? Carefully, I would head downstairs, keenly aware of my every accessory, and there await evaluation.

{photo credit}
"For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was..."

What causes men and women to look in the mirror, walk away, and immediately forget what their style is? What attitude or perspective determines that one's appearance is not worth a single thought throughout the day? Could it be that mere "hearers", like the 5-year-old-fashionista, are so sure their reflections are flawless, following every "rule," that they simply can't be bothered to consider them again? Of course, as it concerns actual mirrors and styles, I think this approach preferable; but as it concerns my spiritual attitude, I find it convicting.

Are we like the rich young ruler, who looked at the the Laws of Acceptable Behavior and didn't even know what he was missing? Interestingly, the word "law" used in this passage of James means "parceling" - a breaking up of our King's character into smaller pieces: pieces our finite minds can understand. However, when I look into the mirror of the law and consider only the individual dos and don'ts, will I notice if my spiritual socks are dirty with discontentment? Will I be aware that I've given imbalanced attention to the petticoats of works by wearing them on my head?

Will I see my great need to be adorned by His great grace?

"...But he who looks in to the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does."
{photo credit}
To be perfect is to be complete. When we look at our reflections in the law, not as individual dos and don'ts, but as pieces that describe a complete Character so entirely infinite that it dazzles the comprehension, will we feel "satisfied and savvy" with the  faces looking back at us? Will we walk away and "immediately forget" what kind of men and women we are? Or will it cause us to continue there, studying the perfect One, being changed into His likeness, seeking His adornment?

How do you look in the mirror?

Monday, August 10, 2015

As If


He works "all things together for good," so we hear.
As if blessings were really the sequel to tears!

As if evil surroundings of culture and man,
Could be turned into goodness, if left in His hand!

As if pain could be growth, as if hate garnered love-
As if all of this hurting is used by above!

As if blatant defiance, once seen and confessed,
Can deserve to be useful in showing His best.

As if turning our backs doesn't mean it's the end,
But instead is the proving of Who is our Friend.

As if when we, like Rahab, His law, careless, break,
And consider it right- a "white lie" for His sake -

As if such filthy rags, which our vanity airs,
Could be glorious tapestries, treasured with care.

As if scrawls on ripped paper were great works of art!
As if He, somehow - truly - sees only the heart,

And loves me in spite of the rest.


{photo credit}

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tasting the World Through Rose-Flavored Cupcakes

Hello, fellow cupcake lovers!

You may or may not have noticed (depending on your level of commitment to the cupcake cause), but May and June rolled by with nary a cupcake post, either here, or at the lovely Bright Corner. Alas, thus flies life. Amidst races, and recital preparation, and recital planning, and recital executing, and visits from our East Coast Cupcaker, a small reprieve was necessary. Happy July!

Last week, Lauren again began our delicious baking trend with Chocolate Lavender Cupcakes, and I'm here to follow suite with (drumroll, please):

Rose & White Chocolate Cupcakes



Shall we begin??

Last year, while up in Seattle for the day, I purchased a small vial of very strong rose flavoring from the Market Spice store. At first, my experiments with it in baking were border-line catastrophic, as I subbed in an entire teaspoon of the floral flavoring for a teaspoon of vanilla. The results were...barely edible, but I was determined to hit upon the sweet spot of flavoring. That perfect balance came together in the following cupcake recipe.

Sadly, pictures are a bit lacking for this post, as the cupcakes were snapped up and devoured - at least it's a testimony to tastiness!

Rose Cupcakes
2 c. gluten-free flour
{The first batch I made, I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Flour Mix. The second time, I used 1 cup of sorghum flour + 1 cup arrowroot. I like the flavor the sorghum flour adds, but it seemed to be a bit drier. If I try these again, I may try equal amounts of sorghum, arrowroot, and coconut}
1 c. sugar
{For paleo, substitute 1/2 c. honey + 1/4 tsp. baking soda. also, reduce milk amount by 1/4 c.}
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. xanthan gum
{If you're using a gf flour mix that already has xanthan gum, this is not necessary to add.}
1 c. almond milk
1 egg
{Chia seed substitute works well, too!}
3 TBSP coconut oil
1/8 tsp. rose flavoring
{Trust me - you want only this much!}


Whisk dry ingredients together before adding wet ingredients.

Don't over-mix! Batter will be wet, but just trust it. ;) Bake at 350 degrees for 18-22 minutes (until inserted toothpick comes out clean, but no longer!).



Let cool completely on wire rack, before frosting with:

White Chocolate Rose Frosting
6 oz white chocolate, melted & slightly cooled
{I used half a bag of good-quality white chocolate chips!}
1 c. room temperature butter
2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/8 tsp. rose flavoring
1/4 tsp. salt

Whip butter until fluffy. Add powdered sugar slowly until fully incorporated. Follow with the white chocolate, cream, rose flavoring, and salt. Voila! White chocolate rose frosting to top off the cupcakes!
Warning: this frosting is delicious, non-nutritious, and very rich. "Heavy on the frosting" not recommended! ;p

Review:
Basically, I loved these cupcakes - they're probably my favorite ones I've made so far!! I still like experimenting with different flours (I think that will forever be the part of the recipe I mess with the most), but both batches I made were delish. These are easily made paleo and vegan (as you can probably see from my excessive notes in the ingredients list), but I have yet to find a good, paleo, butter-cream-like frosting. If anyone discovers one, do pass it along!

Happy Cupcaking!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Would You Like that in a Teacup?


Tea ranks pretty high on my "Comforts" list - right up there with chocolate, cupcakes, books, and a good CD - so what better challenge ingredient for April's cupcakery? A few weeks ago, Lauren made some delectably unique Peach Green Tea Cupcakes (which I was able to sample and yeah. Yum.), and I decided to try my hand with one of my favorite teas: Lavender Earl Grey.


Cupcake Conversations:
This is probably a common thought, but I just realized recently that "cupcakes" probably got their name by, you know, being cakes baked in cups. And then I wondered in what kind of cups they were baked, and decided probably teacups, because I love teacups. And then I looked up the history of the cupcake, and found that it actually was thusly dubbed because all the measurements were by cups, as you can read here. Pretty sure we're still talking about teacups, though. So while cupcakes may not have originally been conveniently cup-sized when they emerged in the 1800s, there still is a very strong link to tea when baking these little beauties. 


Lavender Earl Grey Cupcakes (makes about 12)
1 c. coconut flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 tsp loose leaf lavender earl grey tea
8 eggs
1 c. honey
6 TBL almond milk
4 tsp vanilla

To begin, warm almond milk and 1/3 c honey until honey is liquid.
Then, add 5 tsp tea, and leave to steep.
Do you like my "1 Cup of Perfect Tea" scoop?
Meanwhile, mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add the eggs.
Add honey-tea mixture, the rest of the honey, and vanilla, and pour into prepared cupcake papers!
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on cooling rack!
I found the cupcakes to be deliciously moist, and while there was a distinct tea flavor, the lavender was reduced to only a teensy-tiny hint. Had I known this ahead of time, I would have bought some lavender flavoring from a specialty store and used that in the frosting. As I had not, however, I flavored my dairy-free frosting with almond (a yums addition to lavender earl grey). No recipe for the topping, because it was rather hap-hazard. I used coconut oil, coconut cream, and powdered sugar. With a dash of lavender food coloring. ;)
Review:
These cupcakes were ab-so-lute-ly perfect in texture, so the coconut-egg combo is a keeper! My siblings all raved about them, with Zachary saying he loved them more than the chocolate ones I'd made and they were the "best cupcakes I've ever tasted!" For improvements, I would be interested to see if I could bring out the tea's flavor any stronger, in addition to, as I mentioned, flavoring the frosting with lavender. Besides that, I would just be sure to ground the tea leaves a bit more, as some of the longer leaves were annoying me in the finished product. 

Have you ever made tea-flavored cupcakes?

Previous Cupcakery:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Do You Play?

Scattered Notes
{photo credit}
A wee Aspirer, clearing the door handle by mere centimeters, marches into my music room with an Alexander-the-Great measure of self-confidence and pride. Whipping her violin from its case, she announces that she has "already learned" an entire list of songs. Which, she graciously desires to know, would I have the pleasure of hearing first? As I frantically snatch the poor instrument away from imminent destruction in her whirling hands, laughter chokes me, and I am required to inform the maestro that, having never before taken a single music lesson, she does not, in fact, know how to play the violin.

"Let's start at the beginning, ok? First you have to be introduced! Do you know what this part of your violin is called?" Thus begins the first of many lessons - sometimes months of lessons - before Aspirer will scratch out even her beginning tunes. Yet, for all there is to learn, for all the lack of music her practice holds in these opening weeks, you could bet your bottom dollar that she announces, with child-like importance, that she "plays the violin!"

You have begun, my dear, but let us work hard in the months to come. Only then will you truly play.

As Aspirer twirls out to the car, Intermediate strolls into the room. Standing an inch or two above me - he has suddenly sprouted in these last months - he arranges his books upon the piano stand and maneuvers the bench to a precise distance from the instrument with a nonchalance that bespeaks several years' habit. Settled before the piano, he plays his assignments with a familiarity that often tempts him into carelessness, resulting in the occasional discordant fumble. Half his life he's played. He knows the instrument, the notes, the techniques, the challenges - in fact, he knows pretty much all there is to know about his instrument. He's here for accountability in applying his knowledge, but mistakes are insignificant when you know how to fix them, right? "Yeah, I play the piano," he will agree when asked, with a blasé shrug of the shoulders.

Oh Intermediate, you have learned so much. Can you not decide to diligently apply all you know to your music? Then you would really know what it means to play.

Piano
{photo credit}
Finally, Advanced enters the room. With a cheerful smile and few words of greeting, she lovingly lifts her violin from its case. As she turns to face me, she looks carefully about to be sure no quick movement will knock her strings out of tune or scratch her tenderly-polished wood. Yes, she is careful now, when her instrument is as familiar to her as the back of her own well-practiced hands. Before we've even begun, she has several questions from her week of study: "What should this tempo be?" "Do I use such-and-such technique for this passage?" "Have you heard Joshua Bell's performance of this piece?"

When she plays, her music dances like sunlight through the room. Her performance is as perfect as she knows how to make it, and my role has diminished to that of merely pointing out new ideas or interpretations of the music. "Do you play?" "Well, not very well - but I do take lessons," is her reply.

And yet, my dear Advanced, you are the one who knows - 
You know what it is to make music. 

When you play, it is not with the optimistic songs of Aspirer; she does not realize all she has to learn, and her music is unrecognizable to any who hear her. When you play, it is not with the confidence of knowledge held by Intermediate; to know is his intention, and to do is inconvenient. When you play, dear Advanced, your music touches others - because you sing to your fullest capacity, always striving for excellence, always mindful of all you have yet to learn. And that is how music is made.

Do you play?