That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Knowledge and faith

Isaac_of_SyriaKnowledge enjoins all those who journey in its path to investigate, according to its laws, the end of anything before making a beginning, and thus to commence; lest the end of the thing prove unachievable by the limit of human ability, and labor be spent in vain, and lest the thing prove difficult and impossible to realize.
But what says faith? ‘All things are possible to him that believeth,’ for to God nothing is impossible. O unspeakable wealth, O ocean rich in its billows and its marvellous treasures and mighty floods of the power of faith! How filled with boldness, how replete with sweetness and hope is the journey accompanied by faith! How light are faith’s burdens, how sweet its labors!

St Isaac of Syria, Homily 52

A little housekeeping

Good_housekeeping_1908

Fast(ing) Food Department: For a while I maintained a separate blog called Fast(ing) Food. As part of my housekeeping in getting this blog active again, I’ve deleted Fast(ing) Food and moved all of its posts over here.
 If you browse through older posts here and see one about Lenten cooking, chances are that it’s been imported from the old Fast(ing) Food blog.
 Thanks.

Desert Spirituality, but with toppings…

peperonata

Peperonata (Stock photo, not mine)

Fast(ing) Food department: During the Fast, it’s good not only to keep the letter but to simplify and reduce our diet a bit.
 A typical meal for the Desert Fathers might be a bowl of lentils, with salt if they had some. I’m not ready for that, but it’s true that a simple bowl of rice and/or legumes makes a fine Lenten meal once we’ve bowed to our carnal nature and added some flavor.
 I’ve been making a habit of keeping some of this peperonata around. it’s really tasty and can be used as a topping on rice, beans or pasta.


  • Heat up some oil in a big skillet.
  • Add 1 onion, chopped, and 3 bell peppers, chopped. Add salt, maybe 1 teaspoon. You can use green peppers, but the whole thing is much nicer to look at if you use red and yellow peppers. If you want to make it spicier, add black pepper, a big pinch of red pepper flakes, and/or a squirt of Sriracha sauce. Simmer over medium heat, stirring often, until the onion and peppers are softened.
  • Add 1 (14.5 ounce) can of diced tomatoes. Throw in some of your favorite herbs, whatever they are.  Simmer, stirring from time to time, until a lot of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick. Toward the end of cooking, stir in 2 or 3 chopped garlic cloves. (Garlic keeps its flavor much better if you don’t cook it for long.)

This is simplified from Martha Rose Shulman’s The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking.

Do not call God just

Isaac_of_SyriaDo not hate the sinner, for we are all laden with guilt. If for the sake of God you are moved to oppose him, weep over him. Why do you hate him? Hate his sins and pray for him, that you may imitate Christ Who was not wroth with sinners, but interceded for them. Do you not see how He wept over Jerusalem? …
 Why, O man, do you hate the sinner? Could it be because he is not so righteous as you? But where is your righteousness when you have no love?…
 Be a herald of God’s goodness, for God rules over you, unworthy though you are. Although your debt to Him is so very great, He is not seen exacting payment from you; and from the small works you do, He bestows great rewards on you.
 Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you.

– Saint Isaac of Syria, Ascetical Homily #51

An anniversary

Today is the 15th anniversary of the end of NATO’s bombing of Serbia/Yugoslavia in 1999. (It was also the end of NATO’s status as an organization dedicated to the defense of its member nations, none of whom were threatened.) The bombing continued around the clock for 78 days beginning March 24.

I won’t go into the military, political or humanitarian arguments for this campaign, but wanted to note one thing.

In spite of the combined appeals of virtually every Orthodox hierarch in the world, NATO refused to suspend its bombing of Serbia for one day on Pascha of that year, so that the Orthodox people of Serbia might have one day to worship Christ’s holy Resurrection in peace.

God notices these things, though they may not seem significant by the world’s measures. When we look at political events, we don’t often think of God’s blessing nations, or of His withdrawing His blessing from them.

But if you think that things have not been going well for our country in the years since 1999, this might be something to remember.

Stir-Fry 101

I’ve been enjoying Every Grain of Rice, Fuchsia Dunlop’s book on everyday Chinese cooking, and as a result we’ve been eating more stir-fried meals. It’s very easy to whip up a stir-fry that tastes authentically Chinese, but you have to know a few things. Here’s a very general outline.

You’ll need a decent-sized skillet. A wok is perfect if you have one, but a regular western-style skillet works fine if you don’t overfill it.

Before you start frying, cut up your vegetables (and tofu if you’re using it) into bite-sized pieces. Some hard vegetables like broccoli won’t cook adequately in the few minutes they spend in the skillet, so it’s good to pre-cook them quickly. If you’re using broccoli pieces, for example, put them in a pot of boiling salted water for a few minutes; remove them while they’re still bright green.

Pour a generous amount of cooking oil — a couple of Tablespoons or more — in the skillet and turn the heat under the skillet to medium-high or hotter. (Note: if you avoid oil during the fast, Chinese cooking is probably not for you; it makes generous use of oil.). Peanut oil is traditional in Chinese cooking, and has a distinctive, if very mild, flavor. But any standard cooking oil will do.

Finely chop a couple of cloves of garlic and a comparable amount of fresh ginger. Work fast so the oil doesn’t start to smoke. If you don’t think you can work that fast, cut up the garlic and ginger before you turn on the burner.

When the oil is hot (a small piece of food sizzles when you drop it in the oil), toss in the garlic and ginger and stir them into the oil. If you like spicy food, throw in a big pinch of red pepper flakes too (or use some hot pepper as one of your vegetables). Let them cook briefly, just until you can smell their aroma. Watch the garlic like a hawk: it will brown very quickly in the hot oil, and burnt garlic has a very unpleasant taste. Next, toss in the rest of your vegetables. Stir them constantly for the few minutes that it will take for them to cook. Taste little pieces as you go to decide when the vegetables are cooked; you’ll quickly get a feel for how long it takes.

Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in soy sauce to taste, and you’re done. You can also stir in a small amount, maybe a teaspoon, of sesame oil. Don’t use sesame oil as your cooking oil: it’s expensive and the flavor will in my opinion be too strong. I think it works best in small amounts as a flavoring.

Serve over rice or noodles. Eat with chopsticks if you know how.

On rice and noodles: Rice is more popular in southern China, noodles in the north. If your supermarket has an “ethnic foods” section you can probably find several kinds of authentic Chinese noodles there. Wheat-based noodles are a popular variety, and for the life of me I can’t see how they’re different from spaghetti, so spaghetti is what I use, pre-tossed with a dash of sesame oil.

On green onions/scallions: These are a mainstay of Chinese cookery. If you use them in your stir-fry, cut them up and reserve them till near the end of cooking. When the rest of the vegetables are partly cooked, toss in the onions, stir them in and let them cook just until they’re not completely raw.

Kolyva

The Lenten season includes several “Soul Saturdays,” marked by special services for the departed. It’s customary to bring a platter of Kolyva, made from boiled whole wheat kernels, which the priest blesses and which is then shared out among those present. The grains of wheat bring to mind Christ’s words “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” [Jn 12:24, ESV].

This year I decided to try my hand at Kolyva, and it came out pretty well, so I share the recipe here. There’s a wide range of national and family variants of the basic concept, ranging from stark piles of boiled wheat to elaborate cake-like confections. I hope this is a middle-of-the-road version.

Whole wheat kernels aren’t usually sold in grocery stores. I ordered a five-pound bag of Palouse Brand wheat through Amazon, and was happy with it.

This is smaller than many recipes: it nicely filled a 1 1/2 – quart oval casserole.

Kolyva
Boiling the wheat is the only cooking in the recipe; the rest is just assembly.

Put 2 cups whole wheat kernels in a saucepan with 4–6 cups of water and about 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until some of the kernels begin to split open; then simmer a while longer, until the kernels are soft, not chewy. This will probably take more than an hour. I’m told you can speed up the process by soaking the wheat overnight before cooking it.

Drain the wheat. Put it in a large mixing bowl and stir in:

  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 6 oz. finely-chopped nuts (I used cashews & pecans)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup honey

In other recipes, I’ve seen cocoa powder, star anise, etc. listed as ingredients; suit yourself.

Arrange the mixture in a casserole or cake pan, or mound it neatly on a platter.

Sprinkle the kolyva with enough powdered sugar that it looks white. Decorate with raisins and nuts. It’s customary to include a Cross design in the decoration. Though I’ve seen things like chocolate chips (dairy-free?) and Jordan almonds on Kolyva, I had hoped to avoid using any candy. In one photo of a large, beautiful Greek kolyva I saw a red cross made out of some small red fruit, maybe red currants. I was determined to have a red cross too, but couldn’t find any small red fruits that would work, so I ended up using the bright red cinnamon candies often sold as “Red Hots.” The result looked very nice, but my plan to avoid candy was defeated. Maybe you can do better.

In our church, a lit candle is put in the center of the Kolyva during the memorial service, so you may want to leave a space for a candle in your design.

Serving: Kolyva doesn’t hold together well; it’s usually spooned out into small dishes or cups and eaten with a spoon.

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