More of a photo montage – but I got it all in chronological order. Enjoy!
(adapted from the recipe found in More with Less Cookbook)
Makes 12 Muffins
Bake at 400 F
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Set aside. In separate bowl, cream together:
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable shortening (I use Spectrum Palm Shortening – no hydrogenation!)
Add: 1.5 tablespoons ground flaxeed, mixed into 1/4 cup water.
Stir that together well. Then add 1.25 cup crushed pineapple with juice.
Mix in dry ingredient until it all comes together. I use silicon muffin liners. Spoon into muffin tins and bake until tops turn a golden brown.
Anna’s Spinach Feta Pie
For Cheesefare week:
For the pastry:
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup shortening (I use palm shortening – no hydrogenation to worry over!)
1 cup cold water
1 beaten egg
tiny splash apple cider vinegar
Method: Mix salt and flour, cut in shortening well. Mix water, egg, and vinegar in a separate cup. Combine wet with dry ingredients slowly, while stirring. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Roll out bottom crust and place into pie plate. Cut decorative shapes for the top and reserve.
1 pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and warmed up to room temp.
1/4 pound feta. I used local goat feta which had the texture of a young mozzarella, but still crumbled when handled.
1 onion, diced.
generous pinch nutmeg
1 tsp oregano – or – Bragg’s Organic Sprinkle.
Minced garlic, to taste.
Fry the onion in a little butter along with the herbs, add garlic for the last minute. Stir into spinach. Add the remainder of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour into pie shell and top with pastry cut-outs and a grating of parmesan, if desired. Bake 30-40 minutes at 350 F.
A few days ago, our priest sent out an announcement email regarding our baptism and wedding this Sunday, March 3rd. Included in the announcements were also service schedules for the Vigil and Liturgy for Saturday of the Dead. I would normally only attend Vigil as a catechumen and not Liturgy because the former is more educational. Then it dawned on me that ‘Vigil’ now means confession after which communion will follow for ME. If I go, I confess. I have to think ahead of what I will confess. I have ISSUES to confess.
In the modern parlance, “Stuff just got real, girlfriend.”
I read a comment on a Youtube video recently regarding those who enter the Eastern Orthodox Church from other Christian backgrounds, whether if it were right to call them ‘converts’. The author delineated “conversion” as the process one goes through to enter an entirely new religion. To call a person who was a Christian in the West a convert to being a Christian in the East would then degrade or negate the term “Christian” in the Western practice. You weren’t really a Christian before becoming an Orthodox Christian, as I understood their argument.
In my comfy, let’s-get-along, moments, I would really want to agree with this person. I would like to say that I still have Christ or that I had Him before my head and heart turned East. I knew of Him, yes. I knew what I could know with only the Protestant Bible and rumors of a deeper history beyond my feelings of last week. It is like knowing there was an author you admire is in the next room and you can hear his voice, but that is how close you could get. There was this wall in the way…
Entering the Orthodox church is a life-altering experience. If I wanted to change from Methodist to Non-denominational Charismatic, I would only have to walk across the street. There is almost nothing I would have to change in my Christian existence. Joining the Roman Catholic Church would involve a little more, a slight change of rhythm, but again, I could almost carry on as is.
There is no “keep calm and carry on” as I had before. I am joining a small parish. Everyone notices when I am not there. They ask why I wasn’t at services that weekend. I have to have a pretty good excuse or else I need to confess I was at home eating ice cream in front of a movie. This Christianity is the most intimate form imaginable. That famed and much-sought-after ‘accountability’ Protestants think they can achieve with a twice monthly Bible Study, is a fable in modern living. You have to have regular contact with other souls in a myriad of situations called daily life and be accountable to a larger authority structure than a chummy coffee kaffeeklatsch for this to engage the rough edges of human sinfulness.
Every week, I have to sit down with my shopping list and menu plan, not because I am some sort of super organized housewife, but because my Christianity has a regular pattern of telling its adherents what to eat. I surrender my will in matters culinary to battle against, you guessed it, sinfulness. We already have too many choices as supermarket and buffet dwellers and that is a topic for another post. Before I leave the house for a Church service, I put on a long skirt and a headscarf. Our priest prefers women to dress modestly. I prefer to be ready to greet a monastic on any given Sunday and not offend them. I prefer to have the angels glorify God around us and not hinder their ministering on our behalf.
This new way of living is nothing arbitrary – our tradition is garnered from thousands of men and women who struggled before us with the same temptations and whose lives we know as those who lived in God. Our faith is experiential. The Confucian maxim, “Do and understand” is quite true. What we are doing is markedly different than what we did before and that will get us nearer to the Person and Place.
We are riding in a swift boat across the Bosphorus towards a world that is NOT about what our petty desires tell us is Christianity. This is an entirely new house we are building, with God’s great mercy, founded upon the hard work of humility. Our living patterns are held up to the bright window of holiness to reveal the flaws, the egocentricity of doing whatever the heck we want to do whenever we want to do it behind closed doors. This is conversion.
While the bread dough rises, I wanted to start a new category on the blog: Our relationship with the Created World – or as the rest of the world says, the Environment. You may have heard this quote from Patriarch Bartholomew before, but I think it bears repeating:
You may also listen to the entire speech here.
If His All-Holiness calls a set of behaviors a sin – we must take this seriously.
I know there are as many arguments as there are Orthodox Christians as to how this is to be interpreted. It is an overwhelming topic – how is even one to begin to tackle an all-encompassing, “structure of sin” as this? Unless you live in a bush tribe in Africa, you are fairly trapped in the industrial system of taking, making, and disposing on a global scale. One feels defeated before you even raise an arm to try. At least, I hope you do – because the first step is to see the sin, any kind of sin, before you can repent and do better.
As with everything else in our Faith, the way out of sin begins in mundane ways, in very small acts of daily existence. His All-Holiness is in a position of broad influence – where he may gather the brightest minds to share the Big Ideas as how to change this trajectory of destruction. I value his leadership and that sort of work – but I think there is much more room down here for working out the daily habits and means of repentance. I don’t know if that will come to us confessing at vigil that we used a disposable plastic water bottle without recycling it. We must figure out a way to “stop sinning.”
Perhaps you can find one thing in your daily living that “bothers you”. Our town is a hub for a railroad. I have to sit in my car, nearly every day, at the track crossing, watching a coal train zip by, to and from the electrical generation plant.. That coal came from mountain top removal in neighboring West Virginia. Mountains are moved so I can blog! I use that minute waiting at the train tracks to pray the Jesus prayer. Such action might sound ‘useless’ to an outsider – prayer never is, of course – I pray to change the inside as well as the outside.
Nearly every Saturday morning, year-round, I visit our town farmer’s market. A few hardy souls will come out during the “off-season” from post-Christmas to March to sell meat, eggs, and baked goods. My beef and egg farmer is the kindest, no-nonsense southern woman. Miss Judy is always ready with a hug and a sincere, “how ya doing?” I was her first customer in Salem a couple years ago, on Holy Saturday. We were Lent-starved and they had convenient family packs of the best grass-fed meat I’ve ever had the joy to set taste-buds on!
In November, she put up a new item on her sale list – tongue! Our friends had raved about how tender and flavorful beef tongue is – they swore it was just like melt-in-your-mouth roast (ha!). Miss Judy brought out the frozen item and we both broke out in giggles. She had never cooked it before. I was willing to take a gamble and the tongue came home with me. I tucked it away in the freezer for after Nativity.
The dear Hobbit was, let’s say, a little squeemish about the idea of a cow’s tongue on his dinner plate. He made me promise to “surprise” him with it at dinner. Last Thursday seemed optimal for meaty dinner surprises. I followed the directions here for boiling. Here is what the tongue looks like in the pot:
After three hours of simmering in the oven, the tongue is ready to be peeled. Yes, I said peeled. The cow has a prickly, tough layer in order to grab grass yummies, much like a cat’s tongue on a grander scale:
I trimmed off the gristly bits underneath and sliced it in rounds. The broth made an excellent gravy. That evening I also tried another new recipe, Pumpkin Risotto. Risky, that, trying two new things at once. Glory to God, both new things were a success!
The Hobbit Husband liked the tongue! He was clued into what was coming because I left out the peelings on the platter. It really does taste like a tender roast. We might have to revisit tongue again in the future.
The Elder Nektary of Optina said, ‘Gerasimos was a great elder, and he had a great lion; but we’re small so we have a cat.’
What Orthodox home would be complete without a cat in residence? This is Oreo, our thoroughly Orthodox cat. She chose us as her family a little over a year ago. I didn’t think I wanted another cat after my last childhood pet had died a slow, lingering death before my eyes. That week before Contessa, our late kitty, passed over the rainbow bridge, I visited the local pet funeral home to see about arrangements. They like to adopt sociable, already fixed & declawed cats from the city pound to serve as “greeters” to clients. Oreo was perched on the back of the couch, facing the large bay window as I walked in. I sat down and began talking to her and petting her. She warmed up to me right away, purring and asking to be pet. I went back into the consultation room and Oreo followed, wanting to be all over the table & room. Oreo followed me to the door and wanted to leave with me! Later I learned that Oreo “didn’t like women” and I was the first female visitor they had that she really liked. Herman thought we should visit Oreo together, to see if she got along with both of us. Of course she did! I hemmed and hawed – and one of the few times in our marriage – my husband told me what to do – “Get the cat!” So we did, just a couple days before Christmas, 2011.
Oreo has been the happiest cat of my knowledge. I can’t ever recall her having a grumpy moment. She complains about being shoved into a carrier to visit the vet, not so much because of the impending doom of the treatment, but because she wants out of the cage to explore! I can’t even say that she “forgives” us for going out of town or smearing flea medication on her neck – she greets us the same with a little chirp and purrs loudly. Oreo also comes when she is called, for the most part. Herman thinks this is an amazing occurrence.
She and I have a morning prayers together. I open the bedroom window where she perches while I stand at the prayer corner. Cats thank God for the birdies and all the blessed Creation. She also thanks the Lord for balls of yarn, pattern tissue paper, and fuzzy blankets. We may not have children – but we have one fantastic cat!
As we began looking into Orthodoxy, the issue of fasting loomed large on my radar. It still hangs over my head like a dark cloud. No matter how “prepared” I think I am, I still get caught in the rain storm without an umbrella.
I did have a little bit of pride in knowing how to cook and enjoy doing it. We ate lentil soup on a regular basis! My husband ate tofu curry and declared it good! Surely that was more righteous than the beggarly Standard American Diet, right? There is a wide gulf in between Know-How and Do-How. Fasting takes planning and preparing, looking at calendars daily, and keeping a dichotomous pantry. We live in a multi-generational household with my Papa Elf, who is not Orthodox. He likes to have Purina American Male Chow [meat, starch, token veg] for dinners. I am grateful he is congenial to our conversion but the food situation adds a layer of complexity.
Orthodox Fasting is not like keeping kosher – there doesn’t have to be a cleansing ritual if my canned tuna touches the Cheez-its. Sure, it makes it easier to heat up the grill to clean out the freezer on Meatfare week. Remove the temptation and make it more difficult to reach. The difficult hurdle for my situation is laziness.
My recent joy is to teach a young lady from church, who will be married after Pascha, cooking & baking lessons. That night in the photograph, we made lentil soup (fast friendly), slow-cooker short ribs (not!) and baked bread. She had never made yeast bread before – that was a learning experience for the both of us. It is one thing to know the feel of the dough after a thorough kneading and another describe it to a person who has their hands on it. Teaching is a great way to learn compassion. I was once a newlywed figuring out how to cook without Campbell’s cream-of-whatever soup recipes. I hope this translates into compassion towards myself as I try to learn a new pattern of cooking.