He was probably looking forward to marrying her. No one knows if Mary was beautiful, but there must have been something special about her to be the son of God’s mother. How long had their wedding plans been in place before he found out she was pregnant? Did she tell him? Did her parents tell him? Or was it just town news?

Joseph’s story called out to me from Matthew 1; there is so little about him, but the little speaks of greatness. Taking a pregnant bride would have been a blow to his ego, his reputation and could not have been an easy way to begin a marriage. I’ve heard that Mary was in her mid-teens when she had Jesus. I’m not sure how a teenager copes with pregnancy hormones or how her new husband did it.

The first candle of the wreath is called the hope candle, and I can’t imagine how Joseph made it through those nine months and the years after without a solid hope in what is real. Hope that he really heard from God. Hope that his wife wasn’t pregnant with another man’s baby. Hope that they could afford the trip to Bethlehem. Hope that she wouldn’t go into labor on a mountainside.

Hope that the babe was the real Messiah.

I wanted to create a meal out of the emotions I felt for each week of Advent. For this first week, the meal is inspired by Joseph, his simple trust and humble beginnings. This is a lamb stew with hummus and a loaf of bread. I tried to imagine what a poor carpenter in Israel would eat, and this is far from it with my garam masala and can of tomatoes (would tomatoes have grown in Israel back then?). But the point is that it is simple using one or two key ingredients that would have been available at the time.

  • Joseph’s Stew chop lamb into cubes, sautee in some onion and garlic, add a small can of tomatoes and more water (so that it is covered), add some spices – I chose garam masala and some cumin. I also added a cube of beef bouillon. Let it simmer on low heat for a while until the sauce thickens slightly and the meat is tender.
  • Hummus drain a can of chickpeas and rinse. Blend in a food processor with garlic, olive oil, cumin, salt and lemon juice. I didn’t have tahini paste, but it still tasted great and was a good consistency.

I spent the first Sunday of Advent on a plane reading Matthew 1 and crying over the lineage of Jesus. Tardy in creating a wreath for our family this year, now I am thankful because on Monday I had a better idea.

Matthew 1 touched my heart – more posts about that – and I spent some time meditating on Mary and Joseph, their first year of marriage, pregnancy, the journey to Bethlehem and birthing a baby in a stable. Did she have the light of a candle? Who cut the umbilical cord? With what? Does delivering the son of God mean a painless delivery?

The western advent wreath with its evergreen branches, berries and acorns seemed out of place in my life this year as I long for the simplicity of the first Christmas where the only gift  available to a poor couple was The Gift, crying and bloodied with placenta and afterbirth. This is my small offering as I prepare my heart for him this year.

I’m calling it our Advent Table. Covered by a highly flammable wheat-coloured grass to symbolize the manger, rocks for the path they walked to Bethlehem, and candles – because they are pretty – arranged in the shape of a cross where the baby now man would be covered in blood once more so that we can have hope.

Monday nights can be a bit hectic as I need to cook and eat something before I rush out of the house for a few hours in the evening, husband comes home when I come home and it’s nice then to have dinner straight away. I had about 30 minutes to cook, a bit of chicken and nothing else very promising in the refrigerator. One day I will learn how to live by a meal plan.

In my head popped this idea – “Orange chicken.” Don’t know where it came from; I think it was God. I vaguely remember some orange chicken dishes in a Chinese buffet, but it’s not something I’ve eaten elsewhere. I quickly did a recipe search, and all the recipes would take too long and involved baking. So I improvised, and made my own. It was amazing, and I made it again for myself the next day (pictured).

  • Orange Chicken score your chicken breasts and start them frying in a tiny bit of oil. Make a mixture of orange juice, honey, Chinese 5 spice (or any spice that you like), crushed garlic and chili flakes. I don’t have quantities because I just made, tasted and adjusted the mixture – it was a bit like a marinade – as I went along. There should be a good amount of it though, enough to cover the chicken in the pan. Flip the chicken and pour the mixture over it, cover and let it bubble. When the sauce thickens and the chicken is finished, you are done.

Geneva is cold, rainy and grey these days, which has me contemplating tropical islands and sunshine. But the gloomy weather has its bright spots: it is perfect for soup making, and I love soup. During my long blog absence, which will be explained at some point, soups are one of the things I played around with the most in the kitchen. I made this one on Tuesday – I loved it, husband loved it and a friend who stopped by last night loved it as well.

The inspiration of this soup is a Sri Lankan curry, and several of the elements in it would be found in a basic rice and chicken curry meal (minus the rice). It has lentils, leeks and chicken in addition to all the spices and herbs. It was quick and easy to make with very little prep involved.

  • Curry soup chop a large onion, sautee with curry leaves in olive oil in a large soup pan, add lentils and keep sauteeing (more lentils means a thicker soup, less lentils a thiner one). Add water and chicken pieces (I used thigh/leg pieces) and salt. For spices I put cumin powder, garam masala and a Sri Lankan curry/chili powder. Add whatever kind of curry powder you like though as the different powders you add will create a unique curry flavour. Once it boils, reduce heat and simmer for as long as it takes to cook the chicken through and the lentils. At some point, I added chopped leeks as well. When it’s done, remove the chicken and shred it into the soup. Stir it all together and cook for a few more minutes. Top with chopped, fresh coriander leaves at the end.
  • A possible variation The soup was too spicy for me, so I added some milk, and it tasted great. I didn’t even think about this before, but I think either milk or coconut milk would be a very nice addition in the future.

Husband and I had a minor dispute last week. I made tacos, which means an Old Del Paso mix for the meat and for the guacamole. The mixes make it easy and quick for me, and to be honest, I love the flavour it gives the guacamole in particular and fantasize about it’s taste in my spare time. This probably makes me pathetic or an addict to MSG, which brings me to our disagreement. He said that there was MSG in it, and I said no way, that’s only in Chinese food.

Marriage advice for women everywhere: Listen to your husband.

I brought him the packet of guacamole mix, and he read the ingredients in German first (everything here is in French, German and Italian). Mononatriumglutamaat. That could be anything, I retorted. Then he went on to French. Glutamate monosodique. Or mono sodium glutamate in English. I don’t need a translator for that one.

No one needs to do research to find out that MSG is not good for our bodies, so I decided to find a way to do tacos – my Mexican preference because it’s so easy – sans mixes – after I finish the leftover guacamole seasoning, of course. Waste not, want not.

Last night I made my first tacos without taco seasoning for the meat. It didn’t taste the same, but both of us liked it, so that’s a good start.

  • Taco meat sautee a whole chopped onion in olive oil, add mince and brown. Once it’s quite well-cooked add cumin powder, garam masala and chili powder (I used a Sri Lankan curry/chili powder) and a bit of Worcester sauce. The last one is the one I’m iffy about – it didn’t alter the taste too much because I didn’t put a lot. Add salt to taste.
  • Guacamole (granted this was with the mix) two avocados roughly mashed, half a small onion chopped, two garlic cloves crushed, generous quantity of coriander chopped,  a few squeezes of lime, lots of salt. Mix together. If you want it spicy, chop a red chili into it.
  • Tomatoes making my own salsa is one of my culinary goals for the next little while, but I do like the basic chopped tomato pico de gallo thing. Chop two tomatoes, half an onion chopped, two garlic cloves crushed, chopped coriander, lime juice and salt.

Next week – homemade guacamole. Maybe.