Friday, February 26, 2010

Little House on the Prairie “celebrates” Lent

That there is school in Lent and that, unlike Advent, there is no real decorating involved, quelled a good deal of the children’s natural enthusiasm regarding a new liturgical season. And of course, there’s the fasting business. That’s just not any fun either. No treats?! No pepperoni for Friday’s pizza night?! Mass during the week?! Is there anything fun in Lent? It’s kind of hard to get excited over lentil soup. So, how does one “sell” Lent to kids? The answer? Family rituals, and lots of them! Children love ritual: they love movie night and game night and, in our family, they LOVE our Lenten Friday Night Fish Fry! And, of course, they love it even more if we have friends or family over to “abstain” with us!

Eating fish on Fridays is a great occasion to discuss the idea of abstinence with your children. Why not eat meat? How does abstaining from chicken or pork or beef unite us to Christ in His suffering? The children get the idea of solidarity, after all, they have come to expect it of each other: “Mom, since I gave up sweets this Lent, shouldn’t everyone give up sweets?! It hardly seems fair that I should have to do this alone!” moans my nine-year-old son. It’s not hard to understand why we should not eat meat when Jesus ate nothing at all! I explain that fasting is a kind of physical form of prayer. When we pray, we pray with our hearts and minds and souls and our bodies participate some, especially if we are kneeling. However, we allow our bodies to participate more fully when we fast or when we give up something we love to eat

Fish Fry Fridays are also a perfect time to tell stories about early Christians and the symbolism of the fish. The idea that early Christians used to identify each other by drawing a fish in the sand is fascinating. Kids love the accounts of the early martyrs, the catacombs, and the evil Roman emperors. Disney, eat your heart out!

Fish Fry

2 lbs. tilapia or some other flaky white fish

4 eggs

2 cups of flour

3 cups of panko



1 cup vegetable oil or olive oil

Prepare three bowls: one, with the flour, salt and pepper; another with the eggs, whipped together; and the last, with the panko. Cut the fish into about three inch long pieces. Dredge them in the flour, salt, and pepper. Place the floured fish into the eggs, and then cover them with the panko. Put onto a clean plate. Meanwhile, pour the oil into a frying pan. Make sure that the oil fully coats the bottom of the pan and is about 2 cm. deep . When hot, place the first pieces of panko fish in the pan and turn down the fire under the skillet. Do not overcrowd. When they are browned on both sides, take out and do the next batch. Be careful that the pan does not become overhot or the fish will burn and make sure that there is always about a 2 cm. layer of oil. Continue until all pieces are cooked.

For the children, I often just give them some fish with ketchup and jasmine rice. For the grown-ups, however, I usually toast some tortillas and serve the fish with some shredded cabbage and spicy thai sauce (good one at Trader Joe’s) or with a salsa like the one listed below:

Spicy Sauce:

fresh lime juice

½ cup yogurt

½ mayonnaise

1 habenero chili (use a milder one if you wish)

½ teaspoon - crushed oregano

½ teaspoon - ground cumin

½ teaspoon - dried, crushed dill

½ teaspoon - cayenne chile

ground white pepper to taste


  1. I think you are spot-on about the power and appeal of ritual to children.

  2. A little joke: as I looked at the Greek letters on the fish in the picture above, I was reminded of a riddle I was asked as a child. How is the word "ghoti" pronounced? The answer was, Not the way it sounds, but rather, "fish"! You take the "gh" from "enough"; the "o" from "women"; and the "ti" from "nation." It adds up to "fish." This is of course one reason why English is such a hard language to speak!

  3. what a delicious way to abstain from meat!