Wednesday, April 28, 2010

St. Catherine of Siena--April 29

Catherine of Siena: one of those remarkable women--and there have been quite a few of them!--who have commanded respect since their lifetime, and increasingly so over the centuries. St. Catherine is counted among the official Doctors (or Teachers) of the Church. Her written works--her deeply mystical Dialogue and her over-400 Letters to a wide range of people--still find many admiring readers today. (The image shows Catherine dictating her Dialogue to a monk, under divine inspiration.)

She was born in Siena, Italy, in 1347 on the Feast of the Annunciation, one of a large family of 25 children born to a dyer and his wife. At the age of six, Catherine had a mystical experience that changed her life: she saw Christ in glory with Saints Peter, Paul and John. In her vision, Jesus smiled at her and stretched out his hand to bless her. From then on, Catherine considered herself his. Her parents wanted her to marry, and pressured her considerably to do so, but she refused, eventually cutting off her beautiful long hair to discourage their efforts. God, she later said, encouraged her to build a little cell or refuge in her heart where nothing could disturb her. In another vision, she saw herself as in a mystical marriage to Christ. She became a Dominican Tertiary (a Third Order member), living at home and, despite ill health, doing housework for the family—-but also, increasingly, conversing with, and guiding by her wise advice, an ever-expanding circle of friends. She nursed those sick of the plague, and did many other good works.

Since she was widely respected, she also became drawn into important issues of the Church at the time. Among her letters are those to Pope Gregory XI, then in Avignon: she urged him to bring the Papacy back from Avignon (where it had been largely under the control of the French) to Rome. Her letters to the Pope make for very interesting reading--they are quite blunt and forceful, but she often addresses him as “"Babbo" (Daddy); she then went to Avignon and met with the Pope in person, in part trying to make peace in Italy. (He returned to Rome.)

She died in 1380, at the age of 33, offering herself for the Church, which was by that time suffering from a new affliction--the Great Schism.

Catherine was clearly a remarkable person--a powerful and also a charming woman, and a great saint. She is patron to many places and groups, among them firefighters (she once fell into the fire while in ecstasy but was not burned); the sick and nurses (for her own ill health and her work with plague-victims), and temptations of all kind (she suffered greatly from them herself).

So, you may be waiting: What shall we eat in St. Catherine's honor? I was casting about for Italian treats--I am sure the Sienese must have something scrumptious for her feast day! But Catherine herself spent important periods of her life fasting, and indeed consuming nothing but the Eucharistic host. As she said in one of her dialogues, speaking to the Eternal Trinity: "The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love… In our hunger you are a satisfying food, for you are sweetness and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God." I think that, if possible, the most appropriate food for us to eat in St. Catherine’s honor is the Eucharist--the bread of heaven.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Our Daily Bread: Chocolate Pretzels

Every day my children ask me if it is still Easter while we drive to mass- and I am always happy to respond with an enthusiastic YES! This is usually met with a chorus of Alleluia and the eager question : What are we going to have for dessert?

In this joyful season of Easter let us revisit our penitential pretzels in a sweeter way!

Chocolate Pretzels
3/4 C. butter softened
3/4 C. sugar
1 large egg
1 t. vanilla extract
2 C. all-purpose flour
1/3 C. unsweetened cocoa
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat butter with sugar until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla. At low speed, beat in flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt just until blended, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

Shape 1 tablespoon dough with hands into a 9-inch-long rope. Shape rope into a loop-shape pretzel; press ends lightly to seal. Place pretzels about 1/2 inch apart, on ungreased large cookie sheet.

Bake for 12 minutes. Transfer pretzels to wire rack, sprinkle with powdered sugar (optional) and cool completely.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

St. George, patron of England—April 23

St. George is among those many saints whose story has largely been taken over by legends—-but he did exist: he was martyred in the 3rd or 4th century; from an early period there is devotion to him as a soldier saint in the region of Palestine. At the time of the Crusades, European Christians fighting in the Holy Land became aware of the strong veneration in which George was held there. Knights fighting at the siege of Antioch saw a vision of St. George helping them—-and great devotion to him arose throughout Europe.

St. George is the patron of England, and in the 17th and 18th centuries his feast day was a holy day of obligation for English Catholics. He is also the patron of soldiers and the boy scouts—-and of many churches throughout the world.

However legendary some parts of his story may be, we do well to honor the memory of this martyr; and to honor as well the ideals of chivalry--of courageous and virtuous manhood--that he came to represent. And we all need saintly help with dragons, of one kind or another...

In England, St. George is often honored with mushroom dishes: the new mushrooms arrive in the market around his feast-day.

Here is a tasty dish, slightly modified from Ernst Schuegraf’s beautiful and useful book, Cooking with the Saints (Ignatius Press).

Creamed St. George’s Day Mushrooms
2 lbs. St. George’s Day [=little, new] mushrooms, if possible. If St. George’s Day mushrooms are not available, other mushrooms can be substituted.
4 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup whipping [heavy] cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 Tablespoons dry cider
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Optional: 1-2 Tablespoons capers


Wash and clean mushrooms. Pat dry and slice if half if mushrooms are large.
Melt butter and sauté mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and half the cream. Simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.
Remove mushrooms from pan. Mix cornstarch with cider and remaining cream. On full heat add this mixture to the pan and heat thoroughly, adding the optional capers. Season with salt and pepper; taste for seasoning. Pour sauce over mushrooms, sprinkle with fresh parsley, and serve.
Suitable as a side dish or a light lunch. Creamed mushrooms are delicious on toast.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Our Daily Bread: Raisin Bran Muffins

Keeping to the “breakfast theme,” this is another delicious morning muffin recipe. One simple thing I like about this recipe is that is uses pantry items. We had recently purchased some raisin bran cereal and I was looking for a different way to serve it other than only in the bowl. I came across the recipe below while searching online.

Making use of what we have can sometimes be a challenge, and other times a treat! Either way, it is a wonderful opportunity to teach children a simple yet valuable lesson in the spirit of poverty. We may never experience third world hunger, but it is still never the less important to use up what we have! We can’t be wasteful simply because we have an abundance.

Raisin Bran Muffins
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups Raisin Bran
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil or shortening
1. Stir together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Set aside.

2. Measure KELLOGG'S Raisin Bran and milk into mixing bowl. Stir to combine. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes or until cereal softens. Add egg and vegetable oil. Beat well.

3. Add flour mixture to cereal mixture, stirring only until combined. Portion batter evenly into twelve 2 1/2-inch muffin pan cups coated with cooking spray.

4. Bake at 400° F for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fishes and Fishermen: Divine Mercy at Breakfast

Like my mother, I particularly love the readings from the gospels and Acts that we get this week. Hearing stories from Acts--especially with Holy Week still a recent memory--stuns me with the awareness of the apostles’ transformation after Christ’s resurrection. It is exciting watching them; men who cowered while Jesus was being put to death, suddenly intrepid in the face of all the powers that be. It is immediately apparent that the Lord is with them—and in them. When I read about the apostles and Peter standing up to the Sanhedrin, it’s hard not to feel like I’m watching a movie where the good guys have finally gained the upper hand. St. Peter is front and center in many of these passages, and it is beautiful to see the maturation of his personality in his relationship with Christ. Here is this impetuous, hot-headed guy, with the limitations of his temperament, but he sincerely loves his Lord. He loves Him so much that when the Lord first appears to him on the shore of Tiberias, he doesn’t let his shame get in the way. The last time he saw Jesus was before His Passion, and only shortly before that, he had denied Him and wept. But when he realizes it is Jesus on the shore, he leaps up and rushes to his side, totally undaunted by his own failure and limitation. This is the greatness of Peter! His own weakness does not prevent him from knowing the truth and running after it. The Lord takes him, knowing all his imperfections, and yet loving him in all of them; making him the rock of His Church. It is such a reminder to me, especially in the light of the Divine Mercy we just celebrated, and in anticipation of the Ascension and Pentecost.

It is also wonderful being reminded that these ordinary men were fisherman: we have had readings about fish and fishing all week, and we’ll come back to the gospel reading my mother referenced this Sunday (John 21: 1-19). We see this in an obvious way at the beginning of John 21. We can imagine the strangeness that Christ’s rising must have engendered: it is an exciting time, but also an uncertain one. The apostles are all waiting around, not knowing what to do with themselves; hoping they will see Him again, but not knowing if. So: what does a good fisherman do in a time like this? He does what he’s used to doing—he goes fishing! And some of the guys go with him. The rest is history. It’s beautiful seeing the tenderness of Christ in this episode, the way He shows up where they are, in all its “regular life” capacity, making their fishing experience wholly new. Like at the very beginning of their history with Him, He grants them a miraculous catch. But not only does he make them catch the fish, he cooks it for them. Before His death He washed their feet, and now He prepares their meals.

The “foodie” in me can’t help but think about the breakfast they have with Jesus. Fish? For breakfast? I know it is common in some places, but it is a bit much for my taste. I remember being surprised, in fact, while in the Holy Land, that our breakfast included strong tasting- foods like olives. If you’re not quite ready for the real, grilled, thing, here is a recipe for gravlax that may ease the transition…(you can also have it at other times of day!)

GRAVLAX (Scandinavian pickled salmon)
2 lb fresh salmon w/skin on, cut into 2 fillets from the central (thickest) part of the fish
½ cup sugar
¼ cup salt
1 TB spoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 TB spoon white peppercorns, crushed
1 bunch fresh dill, coarsely chopped
¼ cup vodka

Mix salt, sugar and crushed spices.
Place a large piece of plastic wrap in a rectangular glass baking dish.
Place one fillet on center of plastic wrap and cover with spice mix, rubbing gently. Put spice mix also on second fillet.
Cover first fillet with chopped dill, pour vodka on top, and cover with second fillet.
Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
Put a small dish or small cutting board over the fish and place a heavy weight on top.
Refrigerate for 3 days, turning the wrapped fish over every 12 hours, and putting back the weight on top.
On forth day scrape off gently the spices and dill from fillets and slice very thinly.
It can be served on crackers, or toasted bread (great if you cream a ripe avocado with some lime juice and spread it on the toasted bread putting a slice of fish on top). Any un-sliced leftover fish keeps for a few days in the refrigerator.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Come and have breakfast": breakfast with Jesus by the Sea of Tiberias

A few days ago we had one of my favorite Gospel readings, from John 21 (we will read it again soon): the disciples are out fishing, catching nothing. The risen Jesus is standing on the shore: they see him but don't recognize him. He calls out to them to cast their nets to starboard, and they make an astounding catch--so many fish that they can't even haul them all in. At that point, John and Peter realize that it is Jesus--and Peter hops into the water to get to shore as fast as he can.

When they reach shore, there is Jesus on the beach with a charcoal fire, grilling fish for them. He says "Come and have breakfast."

This is one of those beautiful passages where we see Jesus taking care of the most fundamental needs: he is cooking breakfast for his friends. (And we are reminded yet again of the importance of the theme of fishing in the Gospels!)

We will soon begin a series of posts on grilling, by my son Peter, inspired by this great passage. We are looking forward, Pete!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Our Daily Bread: Monkey Bread

This delicious recipe found its way into my family’s home when my sister met the man she would marry. It is just one of the many ways that our in-laws enrich our familial life! Simple to make, quick to bake, and a definite crowd pleaser! I hope this becomes a new addition to your holiday celebrations.

I did manage to make a mistake this most recent time I prepared the scrumptious treat. I over stuffed the bundt pan, and refrigereated the dough overnight before baking. Both led to tripling the baking time and the need to transfer it from the bundt plan to a baking sheet to finish cooking through.

This is what Monkey Bread should look like:

This is what our Easter Sunday bread turned out to be:

Not skipping a beat we relied on a sense of humor to redeem the visual disaster. We found a deeply symbolic meaning behind this artistic presentation: just as the curtain of the temple was torn in two, so was our Monkey Bread. Fortunately, the rift did not affect the taste.

Luckily we have until Pentecost to celebrate with many more intact Monkey Breads!

Monkey Bread

1. Open 3-4 cans refrigerator biscuits, cut into quarters, and roll in a mixture of cinnamon and granulated sugar (you can also add nutmeg.) Add to a greased bundt pan.

2. Melt 1 ½ sticks butter. Add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 cup of brown sugar. Mix well. Pour over the biscuits in the bundt pan. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes. Cool at least 10 minutes before turning over on a plate.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter week! We are beginning the longest party in the Church!

We are now fully launched into the Easter season--that grand party that will last for many weeks; it has been called the longest party in the Church. We keep rejoicing at the Resurrection of Christ, at his victory over sin and the grave--and at what that means for all of us!

So don't just serve leftovers! (When you must, disguise and renew them by the addition of new touches: a new vegetable? a new flavoring? a delicious new sauce?)

And if you didn't get around to it for Easter, perhaps make a Kulich--a Russian Easter Bread--now! It is really glorious looking, and delicious.

Here is the recipe for Kulich, slightly modified from A Continual Feast.

1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 100-110F)
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
4 Tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons brandy or rum
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1/4 cup blanched almost, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins, plumed in hot water, drained
Optional: 1/4 cup orange and/or lemon peel, and/or candied fruits

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 Tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Regular white icing (of any kind) for the letters on top of the bread

You will need a 2-pound coffee can. Or you can make two loaves, using two 1-pound tins—but you get much more visual effect with a single, large can!
Sprinkle the yeast I the warm water, stirring to dissolve.
In a large bowl, combine the milk and the melted butter. Stir in the sugar, salt, lemon rind, vanilla extract and brandy. Stir in the yeast. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the flour, a little at a time, adding only enough to make a soft, non-sticky dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic. Place it in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover and place in a warm, draft-free spot for 1 to 1½ hours, or until doubled in bulk.
Punch the dough down and turn it out onto the floured surface again. Press the dough flat and work into it the almonds and raisins, and the candied peels and fruits (if used).
Form the dough into a large ball and press it, seam down, into the greased coffee can(s). It should only fill half of the can.
Cover the can lightly and let the dough rise for about 30 to 45 minutes, or until it just reaches the top of the can—no higher!
Bake the Kulich at 375 F for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown, and until a toothpick stuck into the center of the top comes out clean.
Frost with confectioners’ sugar icing. Mix the confectioners’ sugar with the milk and vanilla. Let the icing drip down the sides of the cake.
With regular (that is, solid) white icing, pipe the letters XB on the top of the cake—these Russian letters stand for “Christ is Risen.”

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Harrowing hell" at the "Little House"

I love Holy Saturday. I love that Easter is almost here. I love preparing the children's baskets. I (mostly) love dyeing eggs. And I love thinking about Jesus freeing Adam and Eve and all the great heroes of the Old Testament. So this year, the children and I put on a very, very short reenactment of the harrowing of hell. For once, I felt like I didn't have NEARLY enough children. (Next year I'll do some recruiting of neighborhood kids.) Casting was a little difficult but we muddled through: James was Adam; Julia, Eve; Lily, Sarah; Luke, Samson (he's obsessed with super heroes, and Samson was as close as I could get); Agnes, Moses; and Natalie was Jesus. You might find it a bit curious, maybe even heretical, to have my very girly one-year old baby play Jesus, but since EVERYONE wanted to be Jesus and Natalie was the only one who had NOT sinned that morning, I picked her. Anyway, we all went down to "hell" (the basement schoolroom: I wonder, should I be offended?) whereupon the children all moaned and cried for Jesus to save them. Natalie (on my shoulders) comes triumphantly down the stairs, crashes down the "imaginary" door and greets those worthy prisoners of hell with a toothy grin and a kiss. "Jesus" then punches out the devils and leads her brothers and sister up into paradise--the kitchen, of course!--where they each receive a little treat. Who would have thought that something "harrowing" could be so much fun?!

Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday

Holy Saturday: Christians throughout the world are in mourning for the death of Christ.

And according to ancient tradition, on this day Jesus went down into hell to rescue the patriarchs and prophets and all the virtuous men and women of the Old Testament, and to take them with him to heaven. This rescue is called the "Harrowing of Hell": Christ robbed or pillaged Hell of the faithful souls in it.

But we cooks really do have to look ahead, to live in anticipation of what is to come next--and that is Easter joy and the Easter feast: the breaking of our Lenten fast in a grand, glorious way.

Easter is the fundamental, the original, the most important feast in Christianity. Christ has (or soon will be!) risen from the dead. It is on this extraordinary fact that the Christian religion is based; Christ triumphed over sin and death. And we are invited to share in his triumph.

So you will forgive us cooks if we talk about and plan for Easter now, while we are still in penitential, mourning, fasting mode. ("To everything there is a season"--so true! But cooks are always, of necessity, just a bit ahead of the season!)

The dishes associated with Easter are among the most symbolically marked of all Christian foods, primarily because they are rooted in the Jewish passover traditions and they also reflect the meaning of Jesus as the Lamb of Sacrifice: thus, lamb and bakery items in the shape of lamb are favorites. Also, of course dishes featuring the egg--a symbol of immortality: new life emerges from the death of the tomb-like shell. Some dishes accentuate the breaking of fast and abstinence--the reintroduction into a great feast of foodstuffs that had been given up for Lent: loads of butter, eggs, cream (many people have renounced these delicious foods during Lent). Easter dishes based on ham and pork may also point to the Christian break with Jewish dietary law--but it is also true that many people, over the centuries, have just plain loved pork!

A Continual Feast
offers recipes for many traditional dishes for Easter. One of our family favorites is the Lamb Cake, which is great fun to decorate with children. In my family, some are coconut lovers, some are not (well, actually, they hate coconut). Our solution to this difficult dilemma?--a tiny contribution to peace in the world: the lamb is richly coconutified on one side, with plain (but delicious) white icing on the other.

A blessed Easter to all of you from all of us!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Clean hands--and FEET--for Maundy Thursday Supper at the"Little House on the Prairie"

I find Holy Week to be a somewhat difficult time for home schooling. The children have begun their count down to Easter and I struggle to keep their enthusiasm from erupting into irreverence. "Yes, yes, Lent IS almost over, but not yet! Remember, this is the HOLIEST, most solemn week of the year! Keep your hearts on Jesus and on His Passion, not on treats. No, No, no egg dying until Holy Saturday!" Lent is a little bit like taking a long, dusty hike with your children to a beautiful lake, and just when you can see the cool, clear waters, a steep hill looms ahead.

Here is where Holy Thursday (aka "Maundy Thursday" or "Shire Thursday") comes in! It is a little oasis for the children, both literally and figuratively. First, there is the practice of visiting the Blessed Sacrament in seven churches. Admittedly, we will only have made it to two today: our own parish, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and that of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Cross (which we visited with Aunt Ann, Uncle Pete and cousins Simon and Isaac). Then, there is the washing of feet. I remind the children that we are always trying to imitate Christ: we are called to love as He did; to forgive as He did; to live as He did. And so today, we are to wash each others' feet as He washed those of His disciples before the Last Supper. We decide who will wash whose feet: Daddy does Lily's; Mommy does Daddy's; James does Julia's, and so on. We all watch as each person's feet are cleaned and dried. A little perfume is poured into each person's tub. There is NO grimacing allowed. It does take a little while, but everyone enjoys the water's sweet coolness and the soft touch on their feet. (Because of their enthusiasm, the littlest children assist during each person's foot bath.) We talk about Jesus washing his followers' feet and why it was so unusual: the master kneeling before the servant! We talk about Lazarus's sister washing the feet of Jesus and how we should pretend that we are washing His feet as we wash each others'. Christ lives in me! He lives in you!

Children are so easily distracted. I am so easily distracted! This act of service reminds us that Lent is NOT over and that we are preparing now, together, for Our Lord's final
trials. And so we sit down together for our Last Supper meal, which admittedly is not a meat-lovers repast. In Germany, "Holy Thursday" is called "Mourning Thursday" or "Green Thursday" and so they typically eat various different types of green vegetables, especially spinach. Go to The Continual Feast, pp.187-188 to try the delicious seven-herb Vichyssoise. Tonight, however, I am making a large spinach salad with a balsamic vinegrette (vinegar to remember the vinegar wine offered to Christ on the cross) and rosemary buns (CF, p. 188). Everyone will get a little bit of wine. And if there is too much grumbling, I might allow a few children to eat some leftovers or carrot soup. But maybe, just maybe, they can hold off for some hot-cross buns in the morning!

Water: Living Water

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about water—-and about thirst. There are so many Scripture readings, especially in Lent, about water and our deep need for it—like the beautiful passage about the Samaritan woman at the well, to whom Jesus promised that he could give her living water: "water springing up to eternal life." To take just one other quotation, this one from the Beatitudes: "Blessed are they who thirst after righteousness." Water is also an element that bathes and purifies—and Easter is also the special season for Baptisms and for the washing away of sins.

Thinking at a lower, culinary level-—so many foods that we prepare depend on water. They are, if you will, reanimated and revivified by water: pasta, rice, beans, flour, and many other foodstuffs. Like us, they too are dried up, desiccated, perhaps freeze-dried. We need generous additions of water—-both at the literal level, and spiritually.

Let’s remember to give thanks for water.
And for our thirst for the Living Water.
And for the amazing--the truly astonishing--gift of God's thirst for us.