Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Spirit and The Visitation

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to go on retreat (the annual “Spiritual Exercises” for the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation). On Pentecost Sunday, the homilist (Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete) spoke of what it means to pray to the Holy Spirit. He recalled a Mexican woman he knew who explained (when he asked her how she prayed to the Spirit) that she found it “difficult to pray to a pigeon.” In her difficulty, she turned to Our Lady of Guadalupe, reasoning that it was the Holy Spirit who had made her pregnant, and she understood how to pray to Our Lady. Imaging the Holy Spirit can be difficult, as the dove is not as relatable as God the Father or Jesus. We can, however, understand the *fruits* of that Spirit, which provide us with an easier way of directing our prayer.

The original and most obvious fruit of that spirit is the fruit of the Virgin’s womb: Jesus Himself. In this week between Pentecost and the Visitation, there is a natural connection both in my mind and in our calendar between the two events. The Visitation has long been one of my favorite feast days. One of the fascinating and compelling things about the life of the Virgin is the sheer lack of information we have about her, coupled with her supreme importance in Catholic theology. The Visitation is one of the few episodes about which we know rather a lot. I find it very moving that the angel unites Mary with her cousin in the Annunciation itself: when Mary says yes to Our Lord, she is immediately provided with a companion in what would otherwise have been a very lonely moment. And the first thing Mary does is to seek out that companion “in haste.” Elizabeth is given to Mary—and Mary to Elizabeth--in a profound and beautiful way; they remind each other from the start of the miraculous way in which God entered their lives. Mary, in her purity and perfection, has no objections: this newly pregnant woman takes off on her 150 km journey right away. There are many problems she could have come up with—“It’s too far,” “I’m feeling so tired..” “I have to go alone…” None of those seem to occur to our Lady. We know the beautiful moment of their encounter, and the witness that Mary is to Elizabeth and to her unborn son.

But we do not know much of what happens during the time after that initial and miraculous greeting. I wonder about those months they spent together before John the Baptist’s birth. What did they talk about? What did they do while they were together? Was Mary the one to care for Elizabeth most of the time—or did Elizabeth (as the older cousin), instruct and guide Mary? How I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in that household!

Tradition tells us that Mary, unstained as she was by original sin, did not suffer during childbirth as other women do. I can’t help but wonder if that applies to her pregnancy as well: did she suffer from morning sickness? If so, what did she eat or cook? I have some friends and relatives who find it very difficult to eat normal food (let alone cook it) and so their first trimesters are challenging times for both themselves and their families. Ginger root is often recommended for helping ease nausea. Below is one of my favorite “gingery” recipes. This soup can be eaten hot or cold and all of my family loves it… I’d like to think that Mary and Elizabeth would have enjoyed it too, morning sickness or not! You might want to pay your own visit to a pregnant woman you know. We often bring food to new mothers, but newly-pregnant women sometimes need some extra help as well!

Carrot and Ginger Soup

Serves/Makes: 6
1/4 cup butter
1 large chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped; (or grated) fresh ginger
3 cloves minced garlic
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups carrots; (peeled & sliced into 1/2 inch slices)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
pinch curry powder

Melt butter in large pot and cook onions, ginger & garlic for 15 - 20 minutes, until onion is very soft and translucent. Add stock, wine & carrots & heat to boiling, then simmer on low for 45 minutes, or until carrots are very soft. Puree soup & season with salt, pepper, curry powder & lemon juice. Serve hot or chilled.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pentecost - decorating a memorable cake

This Sunday, May the 23, is Pentecost--the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the greatest feasts of the Christian year, along with Easter and Christmas. It essentially marks the birth of the Church as a teaching, preaching, baptizing Body: from this day on, the Apostles went forth to evangelize the whole world.

I talk about the history and meaning Pentecost a good deal in A Continual Feast, and provide a number of delicious and appropriate recipes (pp. 210-215). But let me just focus here on the Pentecost cake--very memorable to me. It was when I was trying to explain the meaning of Pentecost to my young children some years ago that my eyes were opened to the usefulness of food in teaching religious ideas! I was talking away to them--and their eyes were glazing over (mothers and fathers well know that sort of glassiness). But when I suggest that we make a cake and decorate it with tongues of flame, and fruits, and rays of light, they brightened right up! We made a pretty amazing-looking cake that time--and many other times after that. Give it a try! Here are a few ideas:

Any kind of cake and icing that you and your family like will do.

Here are some Pentecost symbols, taken from Christian art. You can use as many of them as will fit onto your cake, and as you and your children want. (The decision-making process itself can be interesting and memorable.)

- Red flames--they hovered over the Apostles, as in the image above (and see Acts 2:1-4)
- A White Dove to represent the Holy Spirit
- Rays of yellow (gold) around the Dove, to suggest divinity
- Seven of some shape (doves? rays of light?) to suggest the Sevenfold Gifts of the Holy Spirit (taken from Isaiah 11:2): wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord
- Twelve strawberries or other fruits, to suggest the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (from Galatians 5): charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity

When they are through decorating this cake, your children will know what Pentecost means--and what is more, they will remember!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Little House: May Crowning of Our Lady of Fatima (May 13th) and Rose Madeleines

The other day the children and I, along with their Aunt Ann and cousins Simon and Isaac, made a crown of roses for our parish's statue of Our Lady of Fatima. We were not allowed to place the crown on her head at the time (our pastor did so later), but we all knelt before her and prayed the rosary. It was recess for the parish school and we all enjoyed listening to the joyous cries of children as we prayed together; it was as if their happy chorus joined ours! We then went home and made some rose-scented madeleines. My mother has the best recipe for these scallop-shaped cookies on page 258 of the Continual Feast. I substituted 1 tablespoon of rose water for the vanilla extract; it makes for a very fragrant cookie!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lovely May Days: 'Tis the Season for Most Holy Communions...

Early May is a particularly beautiful time of the year in the Northeast of the U.S., and in many other places as well. May has always been my favorite month, and I half-jokingly refer to the days from the 4th to the 6th of May as my "personal triduum" (with no theological claims). The 4th is my half-birthday (my husband sweetly surprised me with flowers yesterday!); the 5th is the anniversary of my Confirmation, and the 6th marks the day I received Holy Communion. While these are my own special dates-- and Confirmations are pretty much all over the calendar these days-- First Communions are generally still celebrated in this first week or two of May. It seems especially fitting that the month of Mary should be the time when most children receive Jesus into their own bodies for the first time. Just as Our Lady is esteemed especially for welcoming Our Lord into her heart and her womb, so too we have this opportunity to take Him into ourselves, whether it's for the first time or the thousandth.

First Communions also mean parties! And, for many parents, hectic moments of trying to get children ready for this momentous occasion. The following are a couple of recipes that may be helpful for a First Communion Day. The "Easy Doughnut" recipe is from Real Simple magazine, and is a great recipe for making a special breakfast that is also quick and easy (and, actually, not too high in fat or sugar!) First Communions are generally early in the day, and so the food often needs to be lighter than at many other gatherings. . The Asparagus and Leek Frittata (from Men's Health, originally) is great for a brunch, and makes use of two vegetables in season right now. It is a healthy--and quite foolproof--recipe.

May the Lord pour abundant blessings on all this week--especially those receiving their First Holy Communion!

Easy Doughnuts

Serves 8
Hands-on Time: 15m
Total Time: 15m
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 8-count package large refrigerated biscuits (such as Pillsbury Grands)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Heat ½ cup of the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat.

2. Place the biscuits on a cutting board. Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter or shot glass, cut a hole in the center of each biscuit, reserving the extra dough for "holes."

3. Test the heat of the oil by dipping the edge of a doughnut in the pan. When the oil is hot enough, the edge will bubble. Place 4 of the doughnuts and holes in the skillet and cook until golden brown, 1 to 1½ minutes per side. Transfer to a wire rack or paper towel–lined plate to drain. Add the remaining oil to the skillet, reheat, and cook the remaining doughnuts and holes.

4. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Gently toss the warm doughnuts in the mixture a few at a time. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This recipe makes 8 doughnuts, plus holes.

Asparagus and Leek Frittata

6 people

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium leek, white and some green parts halved lengthwise, rinsed, and thinly sliced
3/4 pound thin asparagus, tips left whole and stems sliced 1/4 " thick
2 tablespoons chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
6 eggs
2 egg whites,
3 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat the broiler.

Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet with an ovenproof handle over medium-high heat. Add the leek and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes, or until soft.

Add the asparagus, broth, 1/8 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper, parsley, and chives. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender-crisp and the broth has evaporated. Spread the asparagus mixture evenly in the bottom of the skillet.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg whites, cheese, and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Pour into the skillet with the asparagus. Shake the skillet to evenly distribute the egg mixture. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, without stirring, for 3 minutes, or until the eggs begin to set at the edges.

With a spatula, lift up an edge of the frittata and tilt the skillet to allow the uncooked mixture to flow to the bottom of the pan.

Place under the broiler. Broil for 1 to 3 minutes, or until the eggs are set on the top and the frittata is lightly puffed.

Cut into wedges to serve.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Our Daily Bread: Easy Drop Biscuits

Today’s gospel reading focused on peace. The peace that Our Lord gives is not of this world: it is a supernatural peace that enables us to maintain our optimism despite the many trials and tribulations we face here on earth. Because we are children of God, we can be confidant that our heavenly Father remains with us always…and this simple and glorious fact is the root of our peace.

This whole notion of peace presented itself quite beautifully today. While preparing dinner, our two boys were a bit rambunctious and enjoying pushing each other’s temper buttons as only brothers can! Just when I thought that they had reached their limit, we heard footsteps on the front porch followed by the glorious sight of my husband walking through the front door. Immediately the boys were gleefully singing: “Daddy is home.” Joy flooded the home and peace was restored! We must remember to welcome God Our Father in just this same way, for he is always there willing to restore peace!

Along with the idea of peace, here is a family favorite comfort food:

Easy Drop Biscuits

2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar (I have often substituted baking soda)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup melted butter (1/2 a stick)
1 cup milk

Mix the wet ingredients. Add the dry and stir until just combined.
Bake at 450° for 8-12 minutes on a greased baking sheet.