Garden Diary

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Continual Feast

One of the cookbooks I often look at when approaching a holiday is A Continual Feast by Evelyn Birge Vitz. We got our copy as a gift from my youngest child's godmother, who knew the author. This cookbook looks at the place of food in Christian life; it takes into account the liturgical cycle, traditional foods from Christian cultures, and has short essays on fasting, feasting, family meals, etc.

From the Table of Contents:


    Sunday; Church picnics; Namedays; Birthdays; Baptism; First communion and confirmation; Marriage; More food for thought on occasions of feasting


    Thoughts and recipes for family meals


    Emergency recipes for entertaining (possibly) angelic visitors; Other suggestions for a warm welcome; Taking food to others; Soup kitchen


    Tips on fasting; Days of abstinence; Friday; Ember days of Advent

  5. Advent

    Baking with children; The Feast of St. Nicholas; Advent--and Chanukah; St. Lucy's Day; The Paradise Tree; Christmas gift giving; Christmas Eve


    The reveillon meal; Christmas dinner; Carol-singing party; St. Stephen's Day; The Feast of St. John; The Feast of the Holy Innocents; St. Sylvester's Day; New Year's Day; St. Basil the Great; Epiphany/Twelfth Night

  7. LENT

    A Lenten sampler; A biblical dinner; Mid-Lent Sunday: Mothering Sunday; Holy Week




  11. WINTER

    The Feast of St. Anthony of the Desert; St. Bridgid of Ireland; St. Valentine's Day; Carnival and Mardi Gras; St. David; St. Patrick; Forty Martyrs of Sebaste; St. Joseph, Foster Father of Christ

  12. SPRING

    St. Benedict of Nursia; The Annunciation; St. Benedict the Black; St. Honoratus of Amiens

  13. SUMMER

    St. Peter the Apostle; St. James the Greater; St. Anne; St. Laurence; The Assumption (or Dormition) of the Virgin Mary; St. Euphrosynus the Cook; The Exaltation of the Holy Cross; St. Ninian

  14. FALL

    St. Michael; Devil's--and Deviled--Food; St. Francis of Assisi; St. Teresa of Avila; All Saints Day; All Souls Day; St. Martin of Tours; St. Catherine of Alexandria

I recommend this book highly. It is a wonderful first addition to your shelf of Christian cookbooks, although I'm sure that anyone who enjoys your hospitality will enjoy the dishes from this book.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Yesterday we had guests for lunch; my neighbor Theresa M. and her guest Fr. Rayappa K. from India, both of whom I expected, and Fr. Paul R., a last minute addition, who was saying Mass at the parish church on his day off, when he comes to Brockton to visit family. We had one of those unfortunately rare meals that starts in the parlor with appetizers and conversation then moves into the dining room to continue for well over an hour, with at least equal amounts of talk and food, finishing off with sweets and coffee and wondering when the next chance for such a visit will come about. It’s events like this that make me grateful for my training in restaurant kitchens; it’s much easier to cook for a group and prepare several courses after you learn to handle 180 lunch orders in the course of 2-1/2 hours.

Hospitality, whether to friends or strangers, has always been considered a vital part of the apostolate of the married. In the postcommunion prayer for the anniversary of a marriage we hear the words:

Bless their home
that all who come to it in need
may find in it an example of goodness
and a source of comfort.

In this prayer the Church both teaches that hospitality is one of the principal duties of the Christian family, and prays that the married couple will have the grace to carry out this duty that flows from their vows. As the Second Vatican Council taught:

The mission of being the primary vital cell of society has been given to the family by God himself. This mission will be accomplished if the family by the mutual affection of its members and by family prayer, offers itself as a domestic sanctuary of the Church; if the whole family takes its part in the Church’s liturgical worship; if, finally, it offers active hospitality and practices justice and other good works for the benefit of its brothers suffering from want.

Apostolicam Actuositatem section 11

Of course, Scripture has many examples of hospitality, chief of which is Abraham’s visitation by the God and two attendant angels prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The two attendants then move on to Sodom where they are hosted by Lot, while Abraham bargains for the rescue of the cities that have fallen under God’s doom.

It is not uncommon to see modern interpretations of the destruction of these two cities as being related to their lack of hospitality to these angels, who visit Lot in Sodom. Over against traditional interpretations that it is the perverted sexual crimes of the cities that have brought them under judgment (e.g., ”Homosexual acts, which threaten proper family relationships and boundaries (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rom. 1:26-27), run counter to the divine command to procreate (Gen. 1:28; 9:1, 7), a command that is part of the order of creation.” Harper’s Bible Commentary, p. 98, copyright 1988.), it is the violation of hospitality that is identified as the sin crying to heaven for vengeance.

However, it is not necessary to adhere to an either/or reading of this passage; one of the sins of Sodom certainly was the inhospitable attitude toward strangers; but it flowed from the disordered moral life of the community. (“All the men of the town, young and old, seek to abuse sexually the two guests of Lot. There is indeed a basis for the outcry that had come up to God (18:21)! The inhabitants’ crime is twofold: violation of hospitality and forbidden sexual behavior (Lev 18:22). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 23; copyright 1990.) The hospitality of Abraham and Sarah flowed naturally from their life together. The essence of the marriage covenant is that it should fulfill the primordial commandment of the Lord “Be fruitful and multiply.” Marriage is inherently hospitable, because it is ordered to the welcoming of children and their nurture.

And so, in this society where families are often resident in far-flung communities, Christmastide becomes a season of visiting and of hospitality with relatives, and often enough, a time to invite strangers or those who live alone to share meals and festivities. Growing up we often had visits on Thanksgiving from someone who would otherwise spend the day alone. This year, we were blessed to have found out that one of my acquaintances would be on his own, and he visited with us on Thanksgiving. Of course, it is out of such shared meals that acquaintances bloom into friendships, which is another important reason to extend hospitality. It promotes that friendship that is vital not only to a well-ordered society but which should be a hallmark of the relationship between Christians. It was within the course of that most famous of meals that Christ, having commanded his disciples to love one another, pronounced the comforting words: “No longer do I call you servants...but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Maple Butter Twists

This is an old family recipe from my wife's family. We have this for breakfast every year on Christmas morning, and my wife Laurie makes several to give away as gifts to neighbors.

This recipe yields two maple butter twists. May be quadrupled to make 8. After people taste it, you’ll need to make 8. Believe me.

For the dough
Soften 1 packet of dry yeast (or 1 Tbs. dry yeast) in 1/4 cup warm water

Combine 1/4 cup butter
3 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup hot scaled milk

in a large bowl and mix thoroughly

add 2 unbeaten eggs and softened yeast and stir.

add 3-1/4 to 3-1/2 cups all purpose flour to form a stiff dough. Beat well after each additional cup. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until light, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. You may also make the dough the night before, and let rise overnight in the refrigerator. If you do this, remove from the refrigerator at least two hours before working with it in the morning.

For the filling
Cream 1/4 cup butter

Add 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbs. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. maple flavoring
1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

And cream the above well with the butter.

Punch down dough.

Toss with some flour and coat thoroughly. Divide in half. Roll out one portion to make a 14 inches by 8 inches rectangle. Spread half the filling on the dough. Roll up along the 14 inch side.

Cut the roll in half lenthwise. Twist the strips together, with the cut sides facing up. Shape in a ring in a well-greased pie plate or round pan (8- or 9-inch). Repeat with the second portion of dough. Let rise for 45 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. Cool, in pan, on a wire rack. When cool, drizzle with white icing.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Orange Humus

This is a great recipe for days of abstinence. You do need to plan ahead by a day to get the chickpeas ready. Humus (aka, houmus, hummus, et al.) is a Middle Eastern dish, similar to Israeli falafel, only humus usually is used as a spread with pita bread or crackers.

1-1/2 cups raw chick peas (soak overnight, discard water, refill till well covered, then bring to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer for about 2 hours. Drain and let the chickpeas cool before assembling the humus.)

1/4 tsp. each: ground cumin, ground coriander, ground ginger, mustard powder, turmeric, paprika
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup tahini
1-1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. cider vinegar
3 medium garlic cloves, crushed (or 2 Tbs. crushed garlic if you buy the crushed, bottled kind)
1-2 tsp. tamari sauce (a specially brewed Japanese soy of the lot)
3 scallions, finely minced (whites and greens)

The easiest way to make this is to put the chickpeas in your food processor with the cutting blade, then add all of the above ingredients (except the scallions). Turn it on to whir for a minute or two. Turn into a bowl, add the scallions and mix. Ready to serve, or put in fridge. This will keep for several days in the refrigerator (not that it ever lasts long at my house; one of my daughter likes this for breakfast, so it goes fast.)

If you don't have the food processor, you can use a potato masher or just the back of a large spoon. Or some carefully washed hands can squish it all up together.

Serve with pita bread, sliced bell pepper strips and/or carrot sticks.

From The Enchanted Broccoli Garden by Mollie Katzen. Copyright 1982. Published by Ten Speed Press.
The Advent Fast

So here we are in the final days of Advent, and preparing for the Nativity of Christ has me doing two rather incongrous activities.

On the one hand, our kitchen is a flurry of activity. I took a vacation day on Tuesday to bake cookies, and my wife has been cooking each night as well. (Today she'll help host a party for the patrons at the library where she works, for which the many homeless who patronize the library each day are especially happy.) And tonight, we'll be in full gear, baking pies, making dough for the Maple Butter Twists, and generally making a huge mess with flour, sugar, butter galore.

And on the other hand, it's my 21st day of fasting and abstinence. And yes, it can be hard fasting while cooking for everyone else.

A basic rhythym of Christian life has, since Apostolic times, to fast in preparation for feast days. Eventually, this was codified in the two Great Fasts that were shared by both East and West, Advent and Lent. In addition to these, the West added the fasts of the 4 sets of Ember Days and the East added the fasts of the Apostles and the fast of the Dormition. And of course, the weekly fasts of Wednesday and Friday.

In the West, the Fasts were gradually reduced, until only Lent and the Ember Days and Friday abstinence were left. And in the Catholic Church, only the Lenten abstinence on Fridays and the Fast Days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are left as required days. (See here and here.)

(Well, yes, there is still a requirement in canon law for absitinence on all Fridays, Solemnities excuded, but in the U.S., this is mitigated by the option to perform some other penitential work. The canon is then mitigated, de facto if not de jure, by the almost universal absence of its existence in preaching and teaching by the clergy.)

However, the Eastern Church continues the weekly fast days of Wednesday and Friday, and a much more rigorous fast during the four periods of fasting mentioned above. I've always thought that fasting was an important element in Christian life, so for the past few years I've decided to adopt as much as possible the Eastern fasting customs, while keeping to the Western calendar. As the canons of the Eastern Church see fasting as an important part of Christian life, yet impose these practices without pain of sin, it seemed perfectly appropriate to adopt these.

So during Advent, on Monday through Saturday, I've been limiting myself to one meal, observing abstinence from meat, dairy, eggs and fish. The canons also call for abstinence from wine, but as I drink so infrequently, I've substituted coffee as the proscribed drink. On Sundays there is neither fasting (except for the communion fast) nor abstinence. I did make a small exception on St. Andrew's Day, and we had seemed wholly appropriate. And of course, we didn't abstain on the Solemnity of Mary's Immaculate Conception. Feast days need to be adorned with feasting! As it is written in the book of Nehemiah "Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh 8:10)

And, bowing to the necessary social formalities, I didn't abstain during our office Christmas party yesterday afternoon.

But for the rest of the season, my diet has been mostly evening meals of soups, bread, hoummus, and fruit.

One friend commented to me (in a phrase I've heard many times over the years): Advent is not supposed to be penetential like Lent, it's supposed to be a season of preparation and expectation. Well, yes, but honestly, how is one to prepare themselves for the Festival? Prayer and increased attendance at the Liturgy of the Church is important, but as fasting and almsgiving are the wings of prayer, do we really want to clip our prayer's wings by insisting on a fairly recent (to my mind) distinction between penance and preparation? I don't think so, and it seems that the Tradition of the Church is where I've derived this sensibility.

It's good to remember that Christmas Eve was, up until very recently, a serious day of abstinence in the Western Church, even where the Advent fast had fallen into abeyance. That's why an important part of one of my coworker's Christmas Eve dinner will be bacalao (cod fritters), a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dish, and why the Polish Vigilia is a meatless feast.

Wishing you all a happy conclusion to Advent!
Why another blog?

Having really enjoyed several blogs over the past couple of years, I have often been tempted to create one of my own. However, I didn't really feel that the St. Blog's community needed to be burdened with my possibly not very interesting comments that would be variations on the many thoughtful posts of folks like Amy Welborn, Mark Shea, Phil Blosser or Fr. Neuhaus.

So what could I contribute? Well, as it turns out, when I finish reading theology, philosophy or history, my favorite books are cookbooks. I have worked as a cook at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. (which is still standing--the fact that I didn't burn it down should prove that I passed that minimal test for kitchen competence), ran a small breakfast nook at the Dorchester Yacht Club, and I also worked as a cook in a New Hampshire hospital. Most of my cooking, however, has been for my family and for church potlucks and fundraisers

Hoping that certifies my bona fides, what will I be writing here?

Well, recipes, for one, but also, I hope, some thoughtful posts on the place of food in the everyday life of a Christian, and as a part of our celebration of God's mighty works in history. There are many great cookbooks that explore the place of food in Christian culture, and there are even more less known works, including the many church published fundraiser cookbooks.