Exploring Masada

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View of Dead Sea from Masada

Masada is a palace and fortress complex overlooking the Dead Sea. It was constructed on a plateau by King Herod; but is most famous as the site of a siege in 73/74 CE when Jewish Rebels made their stand against Rome following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.  The Romans eventually broke Masada’s defenses, but the mountain complex has become a symbol of Israeli defiance to invasion, and a reminder of “Never Again.”

We arrived on an August morning, well before noon and it was already in the 40s C.  The area is sun-bleached desert, and rather bleak.  It made the fortress above us seem even more imposing, and the entire place felt filled with history.  Some of the party wanted to take the winding path to the top, but most of us opted for the cable-car.

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Masada Gate from Upper Cable Car Station

The plateau fortress is huge, and is approximately 600 by 300 meters is size. The cliff walls are relatively sheer and drop between 100 and 450 meters to the desert floor below. The complex has barracks, palaces, defensive towers, and water cisterns making it a formidable defense.

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Model and Map of Complex

As in noted it was a hot dry day. This sun drenched place so high above the wilderness below had (and has) a massive need for water.  Herod had huge water cisterns built to take care of this need. Today, there are still water stations available to fill drink bottles for visitors.  Ironically (or at least sadly), I saw a lot of it wasted by visiting teenagers using it for water fights.

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Ancient Cistern

Herod had two palaces on the mound, his residential palace/villa on the north of the plateau, and the Western Palace which had his throne room, and elaborate features.  The western Palace was the largest building on the site.

The fortifications, with curtain walls, the sheer drop of the cliffs, and the many watch towers are impressive.  It becomes clear how the nearly 1000 rebels were able to hold out so long during the siege.

But after a long siege the might of Rome did prevail. The Romans using forced Jewish labour constructed a ramp up the cliff and breached the defenses.  It was not the victory they expected however, as when they arrived the 960 defenders had killed each other to defy capture.  The Law forbade suicide, so lots were drawn to determine who would kill his comrade rather than give Rome triumph.

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Roman Ramp

Our visit was over, and the temperatures continued to soar, so we left the fortress and headed to the oasis of En Gedi and the Dead Sea beyond.

Padre

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Blackberry Blitz

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Some very dear friends brought us a large container of blackberries today, and it was a perfect gift as I had been wanting to make this recipe for some time.  It blends the fruit, simple syrup, and fizzy water/drink to make a nice summer treat.  It is a little labour intensive but well worth the effort.

Ingredients:

  • Fresh Blackberries 2 cups
  • Simple syrup 100 ml or Stevia 1 Tbs
  • Fruit-flavoured Sparkling Water or Fizzy Lemonade 300 to 400 ml
  • Ice 1 to 2 cups

Method:

Place ice in a blender and crush thoroughly.  Divide out into glasses.  Place the berries, and 100 to 150 ml of fizzy drink into blender and blitz well. Add additional soda to the blender as needed to make a thick fruit liquid.  Place a wire strainer over a pitcher or jug and strain out the seeds from the berries.  When this process is finished stir in the syrup to the jug (if using Stevia stir in, but use more soda in next step) and pour over the ice.  Top up the glasses with additional fizzy drink.

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Pasta Salad 2

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Here is a pasta salad with a bit of a Mediterranean feel.   I am particularly fond of the pesto flavour that accompanies the richness of the sun dried tomatoes and olives. This is a great picnic side dish, or a nice lunch in its own right.

Ingredients:

  • Pasta 1 1/2 cups uncooked (I use gluten free)
  • Sun Dried Tomatoes 4 large
  • Spring Onions 3
  • Olives 10 pitted
  • Capers 1 tsp
  • Pesto 1 Tbs
  • Mayonnaise 1 to 1 1/2 Tbs according to desired consistency
  • Water as per pasta instructions
  • Salt to taste

Method:

Prepare the pasta according to the manufacturer’s instructions, but leaving it slightly firm. While it is cooking dice the onions, and tomatoes into small pieces and add to a large bowl (including any oil leaked from the tomatoes). Next cut the olives into rings and add to the bowl. Add the capers and stir. When pasta is ready rinse  in cold water and drain very well. Add the pasta to the bowl, and spoon in the pesto and mayo.  Stir very well until everything is evenly coated.  Add salt to taste (I didn’t need any). Cover and chill until ready to serve.

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Chilled Cocoa Horchata

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Here is a tasty chocolate treat.  It blends chilled cocoa drink and horchata to make a sweet summer drink.  The two components can be made and stored (briefly) and blended at the time of serving.  If made in advance, be sure to give a good stir to keep it from separating.

Horchata Component:

This bit is a minor variation on the Horchata recipe I have previously posted.

Ingredients:

  • Uncooked While Rice 1 cup
  • Almonds handful
  • Water 750 ml
  • Vanilla Essence 1 1/2 tsp
  • Ground Cinnamon 1/2 tsp 
  • Stevia 2 rounded Tbs (or to taste) or 1/3 cup sugar

Method:

Pour the rice, almonds, and water into a blender and blitz until rice just begins to break up. Let set at room temperature for about 3 hours. Strain out the nut pieces and rice solids, and mix the liquid with the cinnamon, sweetener, vanilla.  Place in a closed container and chill.

Cocoa Component:

Ingredients:

  • Milk 500 ml
  • Chocolate Bar 70%+ 100 g
  • Pure Cocoa Powder 1 tsp
  • Stevia 1 tsp or Sugar 1 heaped Tbs

Method:

In a small sauce pan put a large splash of milk, and then bring to medium heat. Break up the chocolate into small pieces and add to the pan.  As it begins to melt, add the milk slowly stirring constantly. When all of the milk is added, sprinkle in the cocoa and sweetener.  Continue to stir well, then allow to cool.

Cocoa Horchata

Ingredients:

  • Horchata Mixture (as above)
  • Cocoa Mixture (as above)
  • Ground Cinnamon to garnish
  • Ice

Method:

This part is easy.  Pour the horchata and cocoa together in to a large pitcher and stir well.  Fill glasses about 1/4 full with ice, and then top off with the mixture.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

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“Look What I Did!”

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I have written before about the prevalent attitude of entitlement.  Hand in hand with this is the obsession with fame, glory, and celebrity.  Society revels in the Kardashians, “reality” champions, and X Y Zs that “Got Talent.” If we are honest, “Look, they are winners!” and “Look what they achieved;” comments often belie the true desire to be so recognised ourselves.

People often see all gains in life as the result of human effort: “I earned a promotion,” and “Look what I did.” It is bad enough to hear my students say such things like “We won the match,” when not one of them was on the field, much less even on the team. But such flippant self-congratulations are more than just mis-speaking, they are a form of vanity. To be fair, I have done (and do) this as well.  But, are we giving credit where credit is due?

It is refreshing, and informative therefore that in Psalm 44 we find a reality check,

“We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them (verses 1-3).”

The Psalmist rightly notes two key facts.  The first, is that they listened to a true testimony (wow, they listened to their elders, teachers, and priests).  But more importantly, they acknowledged that blessing, and accomplishments were in the hands of God.

In Evan Almighty there is a scene when Evan prays, thanking God for what had been provided.  Good start.  He goes one to thank God for his home, but lapses into the “Kardashian” attitude of “but I picked it out.” Me, Myself, and I; not Thee, Thou, and Thine.

As we look at “what I have done,” let us keep some perspective. Yes, we have made effort.  Yes, we have accomplished tasks. But the blessing is from the Lord.  Even the very talents, skills, beauty, intelligence, etc. that enabled such accomplishments came from Him.  There is no such thing as a “self-made man (woman).”

Let us be hesitant to say “Look at what I did,” and be readily prepared to note “What He has done.”  Let’s give credit where credit is due.

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Strawberry Splash

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Here is a variation of the Strawberry Ginger Splash which is sweeter, and more berry flavoured. It uses raspberry flavoured/infused sparking water instead of ginger ale, and has a higher quantity of fruit as well. I made a double sized batch (2 times the recipe below) the other night when we had some friends around, and the jug sized version was well received, so the proportions in the recipe really work.

Ingredients:

  • Raspberry Water 1 litre
  • Fresh Strawberries 20
  • Stevia 1 Tbs
  • Ice 2 cups
  • Lemon Juice splash

Method:

Wash and prepare the strawberries into a blender and add 500 ml of the flavoured water and sweetener.  Blitz until fruit is evenly blended.  Add the ice and blitz until evenly mixed. Pour fruit mixture into a large glass 2/3 full, then top with additional raspberry water.

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Horchata

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Here is a Mexican treat which is similar to the cinnamon and cream recipe which I posted on Monday. It is blended with homemade rice milk, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla. It is sweet, and refreshing, and great in the summer weather.

Ingredients:

  • Uncooked While Rice 1 cup
  • Almonds handful
  • Water 750 ml
  • Milk 300 ml
  • Vanilla Essence 1 1/2 tsp
  • Ground Cinnamon 1/2 tsp plus garnish
  • Stevia 2 rounded Tbs (or to taste)
  • Ice

Method:

Pour the rice, almonds, and water into a blender and blitz until rice just begins to break up. Let set at room temperature for about 3 hours. Strain out the nut pieces and rice solids, and mix the liquid with the cinnamon, sweetener, vanilla, and milk.  Place in a closed container and chill.  Serve in glasses over ice, and sprinkle cinnamon on top.

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Cinnamon Apple Cooler

 

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Made with Cream

Here is another summer cooler with a bit of bite.  I like the spicy taste, and the chill of the crushed ice.

Ingredients:

  • Ground Cinnamon 1 tsp
  • Apple Juice 750 to 1000 ml
  • Lemon Juice 1 tsp
  • Ground Cloves large pinch
  • Stevia 1 Tbs
  • Ice 2 to 3 heaped cups
  • Double Cream or Whipped Cream to garnish

Method place the ice into a blender and blitz until broken into medium pieces (this may only take a coupe of pulses).  Add the lemon juice, sweetener, spices, and juice and blitz until frothy. Allow to settle and pour into glasses. Top with a dollop of whipped cream, or stir in a tablespoon of double cream.

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Macaroni and Cheese with Caramelised Onions (Stove-top Method for Summer)

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I am a great fan of oven cooked, thick creamy mac and cheese, but in the summer I can’t always face using the oven.  The remedy is a stove top recipe which is rich and creamy, and “cooler” to make.

Ingredients:

  • Macaroni 1 1/2 cups dry (I used gluten-free rice, maize and quinoa pasta)
  • Butter 3 Tbs
  • Gluten-free Flour 2 Tbs
  • Cheddar Cheese 100 g (mature is best)
  • Mature Goats Cheese 50 g
  • Parmesan 1 Tbs shredded
  • Milk 200 ml
  • Double Cream 3 Tbs
  • Red Onion 1 large
  • Spring Onions 3
  • Ground Mustard Powder 3/4 tsp
  • Ground Black Pepper 1/4 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Water as per pasta instructions

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Method:

Prepare the macaroni as per the manufacturer’s instructions. In a medium sauce pan melt the 2 tablespoons of butter, and then stir in the flour until lightly browned. Grate the cheddar cheese and slowly stir it in, adding splashes of milk until the cheese melts and the mixture becomes a thick sauce and remove from the heat.  In a frying pan, melt the remaining butter.  Dice the onions and add them to the hot butter.  Fry until lightly browned and then lightly salt to taste. Grate the goats cheese.  Drain the macaroni and return it to the pan. Stir in the onions, mustard, pepper, and grated cheese and Parmesan. Stir in well, then place pan on low heat add the cheese sauce and cream.  Mix well until the cheese is evenly melted and the pasta well coated. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

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Beyond The Comfort Zone

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Sister Cheryl brought us a challenging message this week on stepping beyond our comfort zones, and expanding our horizons in God’s service. For many of us the temptation is to stay with what is familiar to us, and to play it safe.  There are several scriptures that address this including the parable of the talents (Matthew 25). And while  the diligent servant in Luke 12:42-43, is rewarded for carrying out his master’s business,  there nonetheless remains a call for further growth.

Okay, growth sounds good.  But moving out of the comfort zone isn’t always easy.  We each have our own points of resistance.  It may be shyness.  It may be time constraints. It may be ego. But these require change to overcome.  Luke 22 gives an example of this,

“A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.  You are those who have stood by me in my trials.  And I confer on you a kingdom,just as my Father conferred one on me,  so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (vs 24-30).”

Here we see ego as a hindrance to growth.  Jesus quickly nips it in the bud by turning the idea of greatness of its head.  He says that if they are to be all they can be, they need to give up even the status they presently have.  They are to become like children, and humble themselves.

Jesus then turns the focus onto the process of change. He notes that it is like a threshing,  as He tells Peter what the future holds, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (vs 31-32).” This is a loaded statement.  It notes that Peter will fail (expanded on in verses 33-34), but that he will in turn, be returned, and in the process of sifting, become a strength to others.  Threshing and sifting (beating and being tossed about) are not pleasant propositions, but in prevailing through such tests and trials, growth is achieved.

As we grow, we find new comfort zones. Our horizons are expanded.  And do we rest then? No, we grow again! It may not be easy, but it is rewarding. Paul writes,

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us . . . . In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8: 18-30).

Our testings will lead to growth.  Growth in turn will lead to glory.  And what is the point we seek?  To be conformed to the image of Christ.  Now there is a comfort zone to rest in!

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