Like all of us, I have lots of skills and some gifts. But baking is definitely not one of them. The alchemy of mixing flour, fat, eggs and sugar, sticking it in the oven and creating a wonderful cake totally bamboozles me. But I found myself recently in the position of volunteering in a weak moment to provide some home-made cookies for a get-together. Why did I do that? I now had to find something suitable to make.
Many of you will know of the wonderful Nadiya Hussain, winner of last year’s Great British Bake Off. She had a recipe in the Times colour supplement for Chocolate Florentines. Here was my salvation.
For those of you that wouldn’t recognise a florentine if it sat next to you on the bus, they are a simple flat cookie, consisting solely of flaked almonds and cherries, glued together with a little boiled sugar, butter and cream, and then coated on the bottom with a thick layer of chocolate. Sorry, this isn’t a recipe; I’m just trying to give you a flavour for florentines.
In true Bake Off fashion, I set off in my endeavours to produce 36 (as prescribed in the recipe) identical biscuits. My portion sizes went a bit awry and I ended up with 29 cookies, all of different shapes and sizes. In other words it wasn’t quite going to plan. When these delicious-smelling morsels are cool, you turn them upside down and cover their bottoms with chocolate. However, there are holes in the texture of some of the florentines, (sorry, in my florentines) resulting in some of the chocolate seeping through to the top surface. Hmm, the photo of Nadiya’s didn’t show this seepage. Anyway, as I slogged tirelessly over cooling trays, mixing bowls, and melted chocolate, I began to realise that the florentines were a great metaphor for us as human beings.
The metaphor went something like this. Every one of my creations was a different shape and a different size. And some were a deeper colour than others, from pale to dark. There was some mortality here too, for only 29 of the 36 made it to maturity. And I realised the chocolate on the base was in fact the shadow side of us all, that part of us that we are ashamed of and hide away underneath from others. But in some instances it seeps through occasionally to the surface for the world to see. And then the metaphor of their similarity to humanity was complete when I realised some of them had oddly-shaped bottoms.
The moral here was that all of these creations were totally unique, just as we are all unique as human beings. And there is of course the realisation that we are so unique, that there are certain things in the world that only we can do, a complex and unique set of skills, circumstances, motivations and life experiences that mean in all of the world there is only myself that can do this. That may be something simple like befriending a needy relative or neighbour. Or it may be those special set of combinations that made Einstein sit down and fathom out a few basic truths about the nature of the Universe. The point is that they are things that only you can do, only you, because you have the heart for that needy neighbour, you live close by, you like them and have the time, energy and inclination to be there for them. Or you may just be really good at mental arithmetic and finally figure out that e-mc²
It’s an interesting thought. But as Psalm 139 tells us, God knit us together with a plan, so why are we surprised by the uniqueness of our journey and our calling? The more I thought about this, the more I realised exactly what my calling and vocations are in life and how I am a unique creation. And as far as my own calling goes, I am prepared to confide in you that it’s not baking.
So my meditation on the florentine has brought me new insights into life’s purpose. I recommend it to all. Sit down with a cup of tea and a florentine, real or imagined, feel it, taste it, look at it, and think about what unique thing you have to offer the world. You will realise that your calling has possibly been with you most of your life and that it is in operation at this very moment. But realising what it is will help you to focus on that calling and bring you an understanding of the unique offering that God has created in his kitchen and that you now have to offer the world on the sweet trolley that is life.