Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Our Daily Bread: Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns date as far back as 1361 and have since been a traditional food item for Good Friday. This was our first year preparing them from a recipe found in A Continual Feast on page 190. They are surprisingly simple to make and the symbolism of the cross is a wonderful way to help children continue to get into a Holy Week mindset.

The world takes care of our anticipating the birth of Baby Jesus. Christmas songs can be heard on the radio, shops display Christmas themes, and cities are adorned with lights. We are surrounded by many visible signs that point us towards the miraculous and humble birth of Our Savior. The same is not true as we anticipate Easter.

We must make an effort to remain faithful during Lent. Ash Wednesday provides quite a dramatic outward sign on our foreheads, but the rest of Lent draws us inward as we reflect on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a beautiful opportunity for deepening our friendship with Christ. Inside the church during Holy Week, however, there are so many signs that remind us that Easter is near…but first we must enter the Passion.

My 3 year old was struck by the dramatic veiling of the crucifix and statues for Holy Week. He was happy to know that Jesus was still in the tabernacle, in his “house” as the boys call it. The red vestments also struck him. I asked him why the priest was wearing red, because of the blood of Jesus. Yes! We can’t lose sight of the passion of our Lord- but we can’t linger in that state of sadness, either. And so I always ask what happened three days after Jesus died on the cross? He rose from the dead. Yes! And why? So that we can go to heaven. And why are Jesus’ arms stretched out like that on the cross? Because he wants to hug us. Yes!

He was not pleased to hear, however, that there will not be mass on Friday or Saturday- and that Jesus won’t even be in his “house.” But Mommy, I will miss Jesus, because I need to see Jesus and be with Jesus. That we may all have the simple, beautiful faith of a child and feel that starved for Our Lord!

Even today as we left mass there was a grounds crew hard at work. My curious three year old wanted to know what they were doing. I explained that they were preparing the church for Easter. For Jesus? Exactly. My boys think that even the daffodils and tupils know that Easter is coming and so are blooming in anticipation. May our inner faith be that of a child this Holy Week.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Embracing the Season of Lent in Holy Week: Moving from Privation to Plenty

Today we hear the gospel story of Lazarus’ sister Mary bathing Jesus’ feet with costly perfumed oil. It has always been interesting for me that it is Judas who objects to the woman’s extravagant expenditure. And I imagine we can relate. I mean, really, why would you pour expensive perfume on someone’s feet? Especially if you consider that it’s a culture of sandal-wearers: people whose feet are constantly getting dirty (as we’re reminded in the Holy Thursday Liturgy where Jesus tells Peter that people who have bathed only need their feet washed). Feet are dirty all the time when they are exposed to the sandy streets of the Holy Land. The wastefulness of the woman’s action is obvious. Yet, it is the traitor who questions the woman’s action—no one else-- and Jesus responds by reminding him that He would not always be with them. It is a reminder, first, of the preciousness of every part of Jesus, down to his feet, which were probably calloused and none-too pretty (these were not the pedicured toes of contemporary metrosexuals!). His preciousness is mysterious and unexpected: his dirty feet are worthy of much more than the costly perfume with which they were anointed.

It is also a blessed reminder as we pass from Lent to Holy Week and Easter that there is a season for everything: for abstaining and indulging, for saving carefully and for giving freely. As I try to exercise wisdom and prudence with our family finances, I can sometimes get frustrated around holiday seasons. It seems like I can be so careful and save so much, but then all the savings goes out the window when I prepare for a great holiday. This aggravation is a sign that money, too, comes from Him: saving and spending are meaningful only in relation to Him. It is also a sign of the great gift of loved ones with whom we can celebrate Easter: we must rejoice with them, for He is Risen! Those loved ones will not be with us forever, as the sudden death of a good friend at the beginning of Lent reminded me last year. He—and they—are precious gifts; far more precious than anything we can give or make. So, too, after the abstinence from meat and other favorite foods that characterizes Lent, preparing for Easter dinner can be a bit disorienting. We can almost feel guilty as we set up planning, purchasing, and preparing the Easter meal. As we pass from a season of privation (Lent) to a season of plenty (Easter), it is good to be reminded that all seasons—like all things—come from the Lord, and we are called to feast no less than we are called to fast. As we prepare ourselves to do both this week, let us keep the mystery of His gift of self foremost in our minds.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

As we enter Holy Week: fasting--and suffering

We are entering Holy Week. As we make ready for a final round of fasting, abstinence, prayer and self-denial, in preparation for Easter, here is a thought for you on the importance and value of suffering. It comes from one of the great 20th c. masters of spirituality, Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP:

While the desire for pleasure is a great obstacle to our eternal salvation, the horror of suffering is a great impediment to sanctification. Many souls who halt along the way to perfection do so because they have not dominated their dread of suffering. Only those who have determined to combat this tendency with an unswerving energy will arrive at the height of sanctity. This, says St. Teresa, is an absolutely indispensable condition for reaching perfection. Those who do not have the spirit for this can renounce sanctity, because they will never reach it. St. John of the Cross gives to the love of suffering an exceptional importance in the process of our sanctification, both to make amends for sins and for the sanctification of the soul.

It is time for each of us to take up our cross and follow Him.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

March 25--The Feast of the Annunciation

March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel to Mary; it is also called the Feast of the Incarnation: this is the moment at which God came into the world as Man--He took flesh in the womb of the Virgin.

This is so major a feast that for a long time March 25, rather than January 1, was the first day of the new year.

Here are the words of the great prayer spoken in response to Gabriel by Mary:

My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations,
to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant,
being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed for ever. (Douay-Rheims translation)

There are many beautiful musical settings for this prayer, known as the Magnificat.

Along with a discussion of the history of the feast, A Continual Feast (pp. 248-9) has a delicious Swedish recipe for waffles, the traditional dish for this feast, going back hundreds of years.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Our Daily Bread: Jewel Muffins

Many of us struggle to wake up in the morning. There are the perpetual “Snoozers” who repeatedly hit the button on their alarms, the coffee drones who don’t function until their cup of caffeine and those who have even been known to walk into walls.Those early hours don’t agree with all of us.

No matter if you are a morning person or not, however, the first moment when you do wake up usually requires at least some perseverance. Especially in the winter. Who wants to leave the warmth of their bed for the chilly early morning? We find yet another ordinary moment in our daily life that calls for an act of heroism: waking up on time, and with the right disposition.

Perhaps more important that waking up on time is the idea of waking up with the right disposition. Are our first thoughts “5 more minutes” or “I hate mornings?” We can instead help to form the habit of sending our first thoughts to God. A friend was once commenting about how sweet young children are. The last people they see at night are their mother and father and their first words when they wake up are usually “Mommy” or “Daddy.” You can say their last thoughts at night and their first thoughts in the morning are for their parents. How much our Heavenly Father must love this same sentiment coming from us. We are after all, children of God. Do we say goodnight to Him before we get in bed- and do we start our morning thinking of him?

The idea of a morning offering, a simple prayer said at the start of each day that offers all the works of our day to God, has been in place since the early Christians. As soon as they wake up, before facing back into the hurly-burly of life, before making any plans or even thinking about their family duties, the Christians offer their thoughts and everything, to God. (Cassian, Conferences, 21- found in Conversations with God volume 2).

We can do the same, especially as we prepare ourselves for Holy Week, to turn our first thoughts each day in a simple prayer: Good morning, dear Jesus, this day is for you. Then we can put on the pot of coffee!

Here is a delicious morning muffin recipe taken from A Continual Feast. Jewel Muffins (found on page 53) are made from the cinnamon-nutmeg muffin recipe. You fill the baking cup ½ full then add a teaspoon of jam before topping them off with a remaining spoonful of batter. These treats take no more than 30 minutes to prepare from start to finish and so make a wonderful morning breakfast…and for those of us who need all the help we can get in the mornings: they can be prepared the night before!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Advice on fasting from St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Lent is not just about fasting and abstince from foods. Here is what St. Bernard had to say:

Let the eyes fast from curiosity.
Let the ears fast in not heeding vain words or anything unnecessary for the soul’s salvation.
Let the tongue fast from defamation and gossip, from vain and useless words.
Let the hand fast from idleness and unnecessary busyness.
Let the soul fast even more from all vices and sins, and from imposing its will and judgments.
For without such fasting, all other fasting is rejected by God.

(From a Lenten sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Cistercian abbot, 12th century)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pausing During the Season of Lent: Let's Embrace a Saint Both Steadfast and Fearless!

(A Sicilian Altar to Saint Joseph, Made of Breads Baked in Symbolic Shapes)

As my mother noted in her post yesterday, tomorrow (March 19) is the Feast of St. Joseph, a solemnity in the Church. In many places, it is celebrated as Father’s Day. The Church gives us three readings for the solemnity, which are striking and beautiful in light of the man we celebrate. The first is about David, the second is Saint Paul commenting on Abraham’s righteousness, and the gospel passage from Matthew tells of the angel who came to Joseph and encouraged him not to be afraid of taking Mary as his wife. Both Abraham and David were men promised much by the Lord who lived to see their descendents prosper. Not so Joseph. What we know about him from Scripture is remarkably lacking in promises, but his faithfulness is manifestly apparent. When we think of Saint Joseph, we generally remember him as a tireless worker as well as good and steadfast man. But I wonder how often we think of his courageousness? Considering the episode where the angel tells him to flee into Egypt made me consider the fearlessness of this simple man, confident in his Lord. To flee your homeland with a young bride and infant son without any of the usual warnings or plans must have been an act of great courage and self-abandonment. What a beautiful example to have as the model for Christian fatherhood—a man who is both steadfast and brave!

A friend recently referred me to a website that shows some amazing pictures of food made in Sicily in honor of Saint Joseph (the image provided is one example). Apparently, in addition to being the patron of fathers, families, carpenters, and tradesmen, Saint Joseph is honored for having saved Sicily from famine during the Middle Ages. *And* he is the patron of pastry chefs! This seems especially appropriate to Saint Joseph’s being an example of steadfastness, patience, and bravery. For baking requires an additional measure of patience (sifting, kneading, and waiting for baked goods take time); as well as an extra dose of courage (breads may not rise, cakes might not set…)--the precision and risk is greater for the pastry chef. How appropriate that many honor St. Joseph by making cream puffs! They are a dessert that requires both some patience and some bravery…But, like the sacrifices Joseph himself made—so worth it! Even someone with limited pastry skills like myself can be inspired by Joseph to be a little more patient and a little more courageous in the kitchen-- and in the rest of life.

(The picture at the top of the page is taken from the following web page:
http://marsalamia.wordpress.com/. Many thanks to Elisabetta Erickson who sent me the link!)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Joseph--March 19

St. Joseph, husband of Mary, foster father of Jesus, patron of the universal Church, patron of the interior life, patron of carpenters, patron of fathers, patron of unwed mothers—-a great saint! And one whose life is largely hidden from history. He simply served. He took care of Mary and Jesus. He is a great model for us all.

The great Theresa of Avila—who strongly promoted devotion to St. Joseph—said she always went to him when she needed light from heaven.

St. Joseph is today among the most beloved of saints.

A Continual Feast has several delicious Italian recipes for St. Joseph’s Day treats, on pp. 243-4: Sfinge (Creampuffs) and Frittelle (Rice Fritters) di San Giuseppe. Here is a picture of the Frittelle--they are so good!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Little House on the Prairie Spills the Beans on Bean Soup

I try to feed the children a warm lunch, especially in the fall and winter, and so I often offer them soups. Lent complicates this a bit since most of my soups involve chicken broth and/or meat. And so I have been offering them beans. “I’m not much of a bean man,” my nine-year old son informed me. Undaunted, I prepared a few lessons on beans in an attempt to cultivate their interest and appreciation for the mighty little bean. So, we dissected a bean. We soaked beans and placed the hilium (the bean’s “belly button” facing up, down, left and right so see which way the roots would grow (hint: everything must obey gravity!); and we examined the sprouts that grew from the tiny black seed. They all seemed impressed. And so we started on the soup. This hearty Italian Bean and Vegetable Soup (on page 172 of the Continual Feast) is chock full of vegetables and is so healthy! I made it with black beans instead of pinto and with brown rice, instead of pasta, and added a bit of balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes (julienne cut and soaked in olive oil) to add a little kick. I served it warm with shredded cheese and some monastery bread.

Now I do have to admit that my 5year old daughter, Lily, did weep when she saw the soup, but she is an extraordinarily picky eater. As my husband said, “Well, children, looks aren’t everything when it comes to food.” And I don’t even think it looks bad, but you be the judge!

For my son’s entertainment, after we ate the soup, I gave the children another lesson on, um, well, you know the song... For an explanation on this intestinal mystery, go to http://ilovebacteria.com/beans.htm

For links to the lessons, go to:




Sunday, March 14, 2010

Saint Patrick’s Day: The potato! (Skip the Corned Beef this year.)

I know that Corned Beef and Cabbage are practically de rigueur for the feast of St. Patrick. We are not doing that!—not this year.

I propose that we honor the great Patron Saint of Ireland this time around with the potato, that humble but precious import from the New World. Why? The potato is what kept the Irish alive for centuries, and the potato blight—-the Great Potato Famine—-is what brought our Irish ancestors to the US. Our Irish great grandfathers and -mothers were, most of them, “Potato Famine Irish.” Indeed that famine drove the Irish all around the world.

A few words about St. Patrick to start us off. Considering how legendary a figure he is, it is interesting that we actually have letters written by him that tell his story. Patrick was born in Christianized Roman England in the late 4th century. When he was 16 years old, he was captured by raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland (which was at the time still pagan). After 6 years, he escaped and returned home to England. He entered the Church as a priest—-and kept feeling called to go back to Ireland. He went there as a missionary bishop, and the rest is history—-aside from the legends, that is!

Now to the potato! A Continual Feast has several wonderful potato recipes on pp. 44-46, such as Scalloped potatoes! French fried potatoes! Stuffed baked potatoes! What’s not to love here?

Any of these potato dishes will, I guarantee, make Irish eyes smile. They will produce a similar effect on eyes that are only demi-Irish, or semi-Irish, or pseudo-Irish, or not the tiniest bit Irish.

And keep in mind that St. Patrick's just gives us one day off from Lenten fasting and abstinence--potatoes make a nice, solid, delicious, nutritious, inexpensive main dish.

So let’s hear it for the potato! Here is a quote I’ve always liked:

Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good,
But don’t forget the potatoes.
(From J.T. Pettee, Prayer and Potatoes)

Now let’s raise a glass (it does not have to be an alcoholic beverage!) to St. Patrick on his feast day.

Here is a grand poem—often sung as a hymn—which is attributed to St. Patrick: his “Breastplate” or Lorica. It us a great poem to learn by heart.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A new use for your kitchen timer--stay recollected

One problem that I have--and I imagine that others do too--is that I find it hard to stay recollected. It is difficult, in the press of daily life, to remember to keep lifting my mind and heart to God. I want to--but I just forget... I am busy! Here is where a kitchen timer comes in handy. You can keep setting it for any unit of time that is useful for you--and its ringing reminds you to say another quick prayer. These prayers may be very short ones indeed--maybe just "Help!" Or we may need to ask, over and over, for patience, or cheerfulness, or light, or the strength to carry some cross that God has given us. Or it may be a quick but heart-felt "Thank you, Lord!"

But whatever the prayers we need to say, it is good to be reminded to say them. Often.

And when you aren't hanging around the kitchen, and you need to leave your little black hen at home, try carrying a watch that beeps on the hour. That works well too. No one else notices--but you are reminded.

A further thought on all this (inspired by the useful comment of Anonymous, below). Monks and nuns have followed the Liturgical Hours for centuries: the Offices, from Matins (very early in the morning) through Compline (in the evening), punctuated their day, with fixed times for prayer. Generally, a bell called them to prayer. Many of us today are lucky to grab what we might call Liturgical Moments; they are short, to be sure, but they are still good! Even in the midst of a conversation, we can typically take off that milli-second to raise our thoughts to God. I just wish I could program my cellphone to (discretely) ring the Angelus...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Our Daily Bread: Sour Cream Pound Cake

The fourth Sunday in Lent, or Mid-Lent, has many different names. It’s liturgical name is “Laetate” or “Rejoice” Sunday, from the first words of the liturgy for that day: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem.”
The English name for this day is “Mothering Sunday.” This term arose from a custom connected with the ancient idea of the Church, “Jerusalem,” as our Mother. On this day, Christians have traditionally gone to the church in which they had been baptized and confirmed, to their Mother Church. And on this day it has also been a custom for people to visit their own mothers. You took your mother flowers and a cake, and asked for her maternal blessing. The cake was called a “Simnel,” from the fine-quality white flour (latin simila) with which it was made. This day was thus the original, the Christian, Mother’s Day!
(Text from A Continual Feast p. 184 which includes more information and a delicious recipe for Simnel Cake)

While a pound cake is in every way a cake and in no way a bread, it is still none the less baked in a loaf pan and too delicious not to include in one of our bread posts! It also happens to be a family favorite and it is the cake we traditionally bake to celebrate each person’s feast day. While the thought of my children presenting a delicious cake to me on Mothering Sunday is delightful, I also realistically know that it will be mother who bakes it! Perhaps this delight will be baked on Saturday night!

Sour Cream Pound Cake

½ cup butter
3 eggs
½ cup sour cream
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla

1. Allow butter, eggs, and sour cream to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease and lightly flour an 8x4x2 inch or 9x5x3 inch loaf pan and set aside. In a medium bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, beating about 10 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition and scraping bowl frequently. Alternately add flour mixture and sour cream to butter mixture, beating on low to medium speed after each addition just until combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

3. Bake in a 325° oven for 60-75 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool.

*This recipe is from the Better Homes and Gardens cook book.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What do “Magic Squares” and "Eucharistic Healing Processions" Have in Common?

At first blush, nothing. But leave it to the wonderfully imaginative and holy Sisters of Life to find some way to connect them! I was on a deeply moving and beautiful retreat at their retreat house in CT this past weekend where I experienced both the magic of Sister Mary Joseph’s “magic squares” and the miracle of Christ’s healing power in a eucharistic procession. Wow! Perhaps you have taken part in such a procession before, but I hadn't and it has changed me. It began with the sisters telling us that we were going to participate in a kind of reenactment of Mark 5:24-34 ("Daughter, your faith has made you well.") I thought it sounded like a great idea, but I wasn't as excited as the sisters. The procession started with the standard exposition hymn ("O Salutaris Hostia") and the benediction continued as it would normally, but then the priest read Mark 5:24-34 and exhorted us to pretend we were that faithful woman and to hold on to the humeral veil as if it were the cloak of Christ while he blessed us with the monstrance. As I processed up with the sisters and my fellow retreatants, my heart began to beat faster and I started to weep. I was afraid I was going to make a scene! As I knelt down and the priest raised the monstrance, I looked up and for the first time I understood that famous utterance of a certain peasant of Ars: "I look at Him and He looks at me." I was overwhelmed by what could only have been the piercing and purifying gaze of Christ. I was healed.

A special thanks to Mother Agnes who encouraged all of us to put aside our lenten observances for the weekend and partake of the many glorious treats prepared so lovingly by the Sisters of Life. Thank you!!

For more information on the Sisters of Life and the wonderful retreats they offer, go to http://sistersoflife.org

Magic Squares

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup roasted, salted pecans, peanuts or almonds coarsely chopped
1 cup shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease an 8×8-inch baking pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together graham cracker crumbs, oats and melted butter. Pour into prepar

ed pan and press into an even layer, using your fingertips,the back of a spoon or a spatula. Spread chocolate chips in a layer on the graham crackers. Spread pecans in a layer on the chocolate chips. Spread coconut in a layer on top. Pour sweetened condensed milk over everything.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until

coconut is golden brown.
Cool completely before slicing.
Bars can be served at room temperature or chilled. Sprinkle some confectioner’s sugar on top.

Makes 25 squares.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Saints Perpetua and Felicity, March 6th

I have read various martyrdom stories to my children but few have had the impact as the story of Saints Felicity and Perpetua. The girls were weeping (especially my seven-year old, Julia) by the time I got half way through the story and even my son had a hard time keeping his usual stoic expression. I imagine that there are several reasons for this: unlike many saints’ lives, we have Perpetua’s first person account of their imprisonment; the details of their martyrdom are vivid and horrific; and both women were young mothers (Felicity was about to give birth and Perpetua was still nursing). My daughters were so worried about the babies! Perpetua’s anxiety for her nursing child is palpable as she explains how her baby boy was brought to her in prison: “I was very unusually distressed by my anxiety for my infant ... I suckled my child, which was now enfeebled with hunger. In my anxiety for it, I addressed my mother and comforted my brother, and commended to their care my son. I was languishing because I had seen them languishing on my account. Such solicitude I suffered for many days, and I obtained for my infant to remain in the dungeon with me; and forthwith I grew strong and was relieved from distress and anxiety about my infant; and the dungeon became to me as it were a palace, so that I preferred being there to being elsewhere.” My daughters’ concern, and I daresay that of most women, is echoed by that of our Christian heroine. She is not just a Christian, but a Christian mother. To me, her desire, her deep need to hold and nurse her infant child--a need which greatly unsettled her--underscores her humanity. And I wonder at how, once her baby son is with her, her “dungeon” became a “palace”! Without love and tenderness, without gratitude, a mother’s life can feel like a dungeon, okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic...like a prison camp, where there is nothing but anxiety and work. But when she was handed her son, she was so happy, so grateful, that it was as if she were in heaven. She didn’t worry about the future, but was content. How many times have I become anxious about problems that were looming (and none of them as extreme as execution!), only to be reminded, “Sufficient unto the day (is the evil thereof).” Worrying about the future deprives us of the joys that the present moment offers us. Our freedom is here in the present, not in the future. Our children are here with us now to love and be loved. So maybe the next time you are feeling low or fearful, grab hold of one (or all) of your children and transform your prison into a palace!

Another quick thought regarding these glorious examples of mother martyrs: do not forsake your prayer life. It was through prayer that both Felicity and Perpetua received the peace they needed in order to march happily to their martyrdom. We may not be all called to give up our lives for the Lord, but we are all called to love Him, and how can can we love Him if we do not know Him and how can we know Him, if we do not talk to Him?

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity died in the year 203; they and their companions in martyrdom have been honored for many centuries, throughout the Christian world. The first part of their story--their arrest and their time in prison--was written by Perpetua herself; the final part--the account of their martyrdom--was written by an eye witness to their deaths who may well have been the great Tertullian. For the full text, which has been called one of the "great hagiological treasures," go to http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian24.html

Below is a dish that Felicity and Perpetua as North Africans from Carthage, which was then part of the Roman Empire and is today in Tunisia, might well have enjoyed:

Tagine chicken with apricots and almonds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup olive oil

1 (3-lb) chicken, cut into 6 pieces, wings and backbone discarded or 2-3lbs. of boneless chicken breasts

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 medium red onion, halved, then sliced 1/4 inch thick

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

5 fresh cilantro

5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 cups water

2 tablespoons mild honey

1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick

1/2 cup dried Turkish apricots, separated into halves

1/3 cup whole blanched almonds

Stir together ground cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat well.

Heat butter and 1 tablespoon oil in base of tagine (or in skillet), uncovered, over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then brown half of chicken, skin sides down, turning over once, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Brown remaining chicken in same manner, adding any spice mixture left in bowl.

Add onion and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to tagine and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Tie cilantro and parsley into a bundle with kitchen string and add to tagine along with 1/2 cup water, chicken, and any juices accumulated on plate. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. (If using boneless chicken breasts, reduce the time to about 20 minutes.)

While chicken cooks, bring honey, remaining cup water, cinnamon stick, and apricots to a boil in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until apricots are very tender (add more water if necessary). Once apricots are tender, simmer until liquid is reduced to a glaze, 10 to 15 minutes.

While apricots cook, heat remaining 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over moderate heat and cook almonds, stirring occasionally, until just golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

Ten minutes before chicken is done, add apricot mixture to tagine. Discard herbs and cinnamon stick, then serve chicken sprinkled with almonds on top.

Embracing the Season of Lent, Part II: Waste Not, Want Not

I’ve been thinking some about my sister’s references to the Ingalls family in her “Little House on the Prairie” series, especially some of her initial comments about seasons seeming much less real to us these days in regards to eating and food. This is unavoidably true; it’s part of the mixed blessing of our advances in transportation and communication: we can be in touch with so many more people in so many ways, but we also have less sense of place, particularly when it comes to the natural world. We can so easily lose sight of nature and its reality: a world which is fundamental for understanding the supernatural realm as well, as we see in Jesus’ parables, with their references to seeds and sparrows. But there are ways of re-integrating an awareness of the natural world into our daily lives. It is a great blessing in this regard that the liturgical season of Lent more or less coincides with the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It is, thus, both penitentially and practically, appropriate to make use of what we have, without wasting.
Traditionally, in cultures and climates where there wasn’t much to eat in the winter, people found ways of preserving what was plentiful in other seasons: canning, salting (per my mother’s reflections) and so forth. Lent, a time of food-deprivation, was also the time when you would be using up the end of the winter stores in preparation for the new crops and supplies of spring and summer.

I was reminded of this at the end of last week, when we had *another* significant snow storm, and my older daughters were home from school, and I was unable to go to the supermarket. What to make? Well, I had a lot of eggs! I also had some potatoes that were looking a little past their prime, and some onions (ah, the beauty of food that stores well!). Plus some stale bread I wanted to get rid of. We always have pasta and cheese and so I made macaroni and cheese and Spanish tortilla (like a kind of frittata; recipes follow). This led me to reflect, however, on the importance and relevance of small food deprivations during Lent; trying to base my food choices on what I have rather than what I feel like eating. There is a spiritual dimension to this as well; recognizing that I have already been given a great deal more than what I need. But sometimes I need extreme circumstances to make me see that.

Southern Mac and Cheese (adapted from Everyday Food)

Serves 4
• Coarse salt and ground pepper
• 1 tablespoon butter, melted, plus more for ramekins
• 1/2 pound elbow macaroni [I double this—I want a lot of food, and I think it’s still good with a full pound…but if you want it really saucy and rich, double everything else]
• 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar (8 ounces)
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup half-and-half
• 1 small garlic clove, minced [ I prefer using about 1 tsp of garlic salt and eliminating the other garlic and salt; the clove garlic seems too strong to me but the garlic kick adds flavor]
• 2 slices white sandwich bread, torn [this is fine without the breadcrumbs, too: any form will do, but I especially like it for using up otherwise-dead bread]
1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. Preheat oven to 350. Butter four 10-ounce ramekins [I almost always do this in a 9 x 13 inch pyrex—pretty much anything oblong will do—I have ramekins but they’re too fancy for my every-day taste, and too small for our appetites!].
2. Cook pasta 3 minutes short of al dente; drain.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups cheddar, eggs, half-and-half, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Add pasta, and stir to combine; divide among ramekins.
4. In a food processor, pulse bread and melted butter until coarse crumbs form; season with salt and pepper. Dividing evenly, top pasta mixture with 1/2 cup cheddar, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until mac and cheese is golden and bubbling, about 20 minutes. [Increase this to 25-30 minutes if making in larger pyrex] .Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

And here is a link to the Spanish Tortilla I made:

It’s not a perfect recipe (I don’t think you should have to change pans so much) AND I left out the red pepper, ham, and parsley (I like my tortilla simple and my family is iffy on parsley…and it WAS Friday!) but I was generally happy—the trick for me with Spanish tortilla is a) making sure the potatoes get cooked all the way through-so err on the side of slicing too thin rather than too thick and b) flipping it without making a mess. This recipe worked well on both those counts. I used a cast-iron skillet which I think is probably a good choice for most people…(just be a bit careful when it comes time to ‘flip’).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Our Daily Bread: Thin Crust Pizza Dough

Today’s gospel (Matthew 23:1-12) warns us not to be like the Scribes and the Pharisees who “all their works they do in order to be seen by men.” We are called instead to serve with simplicity and humility for “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Looking ahead in Lent, we will see Our Lord wrap a towel about his waist and wash the feet of his beloved apostles. I was moved just the other night when my 3 year old son took a baby wipe, got onto his knees, and started to wash his father’s feet as we got them ready for bed. He wanted to be helpful, as do all toddlers, and had no idea the divine example he was imitating!
Do we serve those closest to us, our spouse, our children, our relatives, our coworkers, our friends, with love and humility? Perhaps the most important tasks of love are those many daily acts of service that will go completely unnoticed, unless omitted: making an effort to be cheerful in the morning, preparing someone’s morning coffee, correcting our children with patience instead of irritabilty, emptying the garbage when we see it is full, refilling the ice trays when we see they are empty etc.
And perhaps the 5:00 hour, affectionately called the arsenic hour, can present the most challenges. Like morning sickness, that can in fact plague even nights, the arsenic hour can sometimes last all day. The moments while the children hungrily await the return of their hungry fathers from work call for heroic service in the form of cheerfulness. Extra smiles can help remind us that we still love our children, a quick application of lipstick can freshen our beauty for our husbands, and a simple recipe for dinner always helps to ease that difficult hour.

Thin Crust Pizza Dough
2 ¾- 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (120°F to 130°F)
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt

1. In a large mixing bowl combine 1 ¼ cups flour, the yeast, the salt; add warm water and oil. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl. Beat on high speed 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic. Divide dough in half. Cover; let rest 10 minutes.
3. Grease two baking sheets. If desired, sprinkle with cornmeal. On a lightly floured surface, roll each dough portion into rectangles large enough to fit your baking sheets. Transfer to pans, you may need to stretch the dough a bit to fit the pans, but he careful not to tear the dough. Bake 425° for 12 minutes, or until lightly brown. Remove from the oven, top with your favorite toppings and return for another 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Three Cheese White Pizza with Mushrooms
8 oz. Mushrooms
Grated parmesan cheese
9 oz. ricotta or cottage cheese
8 oz. grated asiago or mozzarella cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
2 thin crust pizza shells, baked (see above)

1. Drizzle olive oil over 1 pizza crust and spread with a basting brush. You may need to crack some bubbles that may have formed during the baking. Evenly sprinkle 1 of the minced garlic cloves over crust. Top with half the ricotta/cottage cheese and then half of the grated asiago/mozzarella cheese. Evenly distribute half of the mushrooms and top with parmesan cheese. Repeat for the second pizza shell. Bake at 425° for 10- 15 minutes.

This meatless dinner is great for a Friday in lent!

Monday, March 1, 2010

I love the Gospel reading for today (from Luke 6), about being compassionate. Here is how it ends:

"Give and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back."