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

Let my prayer arise

incense-and-iconWe may liken fasting to a burning coal and prayer to frankincense.
Neither has value without the other,
but together, the sweet savor of their incense fills the air.

— Abba Matta El-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor) in Orthodox Prayer Life

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Spicy Potatoes and Peas

Recently we found ourselves with a lot of potatoes in the house, so let’s enjoy them, shall we?
This is a generalization of an Arthur Schwartz recipe, from his What to Cook: When You Think There’s Nothing in the House to Eat, which I’ve praised before and am happy to praise again.

The general idea is this:
• In a pot, make a spicy tomato sauce;
• Cook some sliced potatoes in the sauce;
• Add some frozen peas at the end, cook them just enough.

Here are the details for this very simple, tasty meal:

In a decent-sized saucepan, heat several tablespoons of oil. Add:
• 1 Tablespoon chopped ginger;
• 1 onion, finely chopped;
• 2 Tablespoons curry powder;
• 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or a generous squirt of Sriracha sauce;
• A couple of cloves of garlic, finely chopped.

If you’re in a really big hurry, the onion and garlic could be skipped.

Let this sizzle at medium heat until the onion is transparent. Or, turn the heat down and cook it very gently unti the onion is nice and brown.

Make a tomato sauce, in one of several ways:
• Add a couple of Tablespoons of tomato paste and maybe 1 1/2 cups of water, mix well; OR
• Add a large can of tomatoes and simmer until it’s broken down into a sauce-like consistency; OR
• Add about 1 1/2 cups of bottled spaghetti sauce.

Let the sauce simmer gently.
While it’s simmering, cut up about 4 medium-sized potatoes into sticks, about the shape of fat french fries.

Throw the potatoes into the sauce, put a lid on the pot, and simmer gently for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

Add about 2 cups of frozen peas, or one whole 10-ounce package. Cover and return to a simmer. Cook just until the peas are tender, no more than a minute.

Serve! If you have it, you can top with fresh chopped parsley or mint. If you’ve done this right, it won’t be one big pot of (tasty!) mush, but a pretty bowl of potato sticks and bright green peas in a red tomato sauce. Mmmmmm…

Are potatoes evil? Some “experts” say that potatoes, along with white rice and white flour, are harmful because they have a high glycemic index. (They can’t say that potatoes are highly processed, can they?) I’m not so sure about this glycemic index business. The people of southeast Asia subsist on white rice (bad, supposedly) with various toppings, and you’d have to travel far to find a fat or diabetic person in some Burmese village. So, for now, we follow the age-old advice to eat sparingly or inexpensive, close-to-the-earth foods — such as potatoes.

Little-known fact: Celery is a vegetable

We tend to think of celery as little more than a source of crunchiness in salads, but it is in fact a vegetable.

Today I was looking through the refrigerator and found that, like many refrigerators, it had a half-used, wilted bunch of celery lurking in the bottom of the crisper.

Since something had to be done with it, I chopped the celery up along with an onion, put the mixture in a skillet along with a few spoonfuls of canned tomato, added some soy sauce and pepper. I kept the skillet hot until the onions were transparent and everything was sizzling nicely, then turned the heat to low, covered the skillet and went away for about 20 minutes. When I came back the mixture was nicely cooked. The vegetables had given off quite a lot of juice, so I turned the heat up again and stirred them, uncovered, until the liquid had mostly cooked away. Then I served the mixture over rice. Very tasty!

And there, in narrative form, is a recipe for Hot Celery Lunch.

Another Lent

I notice that there haven’t been any posts here since near the end of last year’s Great Fast. But here we are again, so it’s time to post again.

During Lent, my family and I aim for meals that are austere without being unappealing, so many of the “recipes” posted here are hardly recipes at all — just thoughts about combining ingredients into simple and (I hope) fairly tasty meals. Simplicity is important not only because it’s an expression of the Lenten spirit, but because the many church services often leave us with less time to cook.

I’ve tried to make this blog look a bit austere too, almost the antithesis of a Food Blog: no statements that recipes are To Die For, and especially none of the food photography that some people call “food porn.” Many modern cookbooks are essentially photo albums with some recipes around the edges, and I try not to follow their example.

May we all have a blessed and fruitful 2013 Lenten Season.

A fruitful Lent to all

Prayer Rope
If a man takes refuge from the tempest in this harbor,
will he not be saved?
If in his agony he kneels before this house of healing,
will he not be cured?
O Maker of all and Physician of the sick,
before I perish utterly,
save me, O Lord.

— Penitential sticheron for Lenten Sunday Vespers, Tone 4

A Lenten Challenge

prodigalson
This was first written with my own parish in mind, but I post it here with the thought that it might apply more widely.


A Lenten Challenge
During the Great Fast, the Church invites us to struggle harder and to pray more fervently for our salvation and spiritual growth. As part of its invitation, the Church offers us a wealth of services every week of the Fast to help us draw closer to our Lord. As anyone who attends these services can tell you, not all of us take advantage of them: attendance is often quite poor.
May I offer a challenge for this Lenten season? Come to at least one Lenten service every week of the Great Fast. (The Sunday Divine Liturgy isn’t really a Lenten service and doesn’t count!). Many, but not nearly all, of our faithful already do more than this. God will surely bless them for their faithfulness.
Anyone who can get to church has the ability to meet this very modest challenge. Do we tell ourselves that we’re “too busy” to fit in even one weekday service? Perhaps we have filled our lives with other activities, but in doing so we have said about each activity: “This is more important than church.” This is a delusion.
Here is a bonus challenge: Read the rest of this entry »

“The right to be unlimited”

Chagall Icarus
A recent commercial for Sprint’s digital data services is remarkable in a few ways — it includes the line “I need to upload all of me” — but I thought one line stood out as a kind of manifesto for the techno-humanist spirit of our age:

I need, no, I have the right to be unlimited.


The image is Marc Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus.