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

The proper study of chickadees

…is chickadees, apparently.

image is from the web site of the Cornell Ornithology Lab.

St Symeon the New Theologian on Fasting

Let each one of us keep in mind the benefit of fasting… For this healer of our souls is effective, in the case of one to quieten the fevers and impulses of the flesh, in another to assuage bad temper, in yet another to drive away sleep, in another to stir up zeal, and in yet another to restore purity of mind and to set him free from evil thoughts. In one it will control his unbridled tongue and, as it were by a bit, restrain it by the fear of God and prevent it from uttering idle and corrupt words. In another it will invisibly guard his eyes and fix them on high instead of allowing them to roam hither and thither, and thus cause him to look on himself and teach him to be mindful of his own faults and shortcomings.

Fasting gradually disperses and drives away spiritual darkness and the veil of sin that lies on the soul, just as the sun dispels the mist. Fasting enables us spiritually to see that spiritual air in which Christ, the Sun who knows no setting, does not rise, but shines without ceasing. Fasting, aided by vigil, penetrates and softens hardness of heart. where once were the vapors of drunkenness it causes fountains of compunction to spring forth.

I beseech you, brethren, let each of us strive that this may happen in us! Once this happens we shall readily, with God’s help, cleave through the whole sea of passions and pass through the waves of the temptations inflicted by the cruel tyrant, and so come to anchor in the port of impassibility.

My brethren, it is not possible for these things to come about in one day or one week! They will take much time, labor, and pain, in accordance with each man’s attitude and willingness, according to the measure of faith and one’s contempt for the objects of sight and thought. In addition, it is also in accordance with the fervor of his ceaseless penitence and its constant working in the secret chamber of his heart that this is accomplished more quickly or more slowly by the gift and grace of God. But without fasting no one was ever able to achieve any of these virtues or any others, for fasting is the beginning and foundation of every spiritual activity.

— Symeon the New Theologian: the Discourses, pub. Paulist Press. pp. 168-169.

On Veggies

Fasting days and seasons ought to be good times to implement some of our good intentions to eat more vegetables. Too often, we just end up having another dinner of spaghetti and canned sauce.

Faith Durand’s very good The Kitchn blog has a nice post entitled 10 Easy Ways to Eat More Vegetables Every Day.  While it’s not aimed at the Lenten Demographic, it’s useful. Two items I thought were especially helpful:

  • Bulk prep. Set aside time once or twice a week to prepare a lot of vegetables: Chop, blanch, pre-cook, etc. Store them in containers in the fridge. They’ll be ready to season and reheat, or to use as ingredients in other meals.
  • Remember frozen vegetables! Some people claim that eating a lot of fresh vegetables is too expensive. They should check out the frozen vegetables: they’re substantially cheaper than their counterparts in the produce department, and because they’re flash-frozen shortly after picking, they’re usually nutritionally fresher than the “fresh” stuff, which may have endured a long, hot cross-country ride in a truck before you buy it. As a bonus, frozen vegetables are usually pre-chopped and ready to cook straight from the bag.

A Mess of Pottage

Here’s a simple dish that I think of as the primal Middle Eastern meal. I bet more than one family in the Middle East is eating this right now.

  • 3 onions, sliced into thin half-moons
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 1/2 cups water

Cook the onions gently in a skillet in oil until they’ve caramelized — that is, turned golden brown without burning. [If you’re not using oil, you can skip this step and continue with raw onion; it will taste different but will still be good. Or maybe you could try roasting the sliced onions in the oven to brown them?]

Put the onions and all the remaining ingredients in a pot. Stir well. Bring to a boil, cover, turn to low heat, and simmer for about 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Let sit for 10 minutes or so before serving.

Obviously, you can vary the seasonings to suit your own taste.

• • •

This is adapted from the “Lentils and Rice” recipe in Arthur Schwartz’s excellent What to Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House to Eat. He says that this may be the “mess of pottage” for which Esau sold his birthright. I can see how the famished Esau would have been tempted: it’s tasty.

I like What to Cook because the recipes tend toward the simple and basic — and because Schwartz doesn’t mind describing a dish as “filling” — a very basic desideratum for affordable eating, but not a word you see very often in cookbooks.