Garden Diary

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Feasting, pt. 2

The day started early; I rose at 5 a.m. to start the dough for hot cross buns (which we always have on Easter morn) and challah bread, which I frequently make for feast days. Then while the dough was rising, I chanted Mattins and then enjoyed my first cup of coffee since Mardi Gras, because I gave up coffee for Lent. Then on to baking the hot cross buns and challah bread, and making the deviled eggs which I wrote about last year.

We picked up my sister Cindy on the way to Mass and spent a little time after Mass visiting with friends there, before heading home to finish dinner preparations.

challah bread

We had three guests for dinner, my sister Cindy, my friend Fred, and a former co-worker Margaret. After enjoying the Easter deviled eggs and antipasto, we sat down to a dinner of baked ham, lasagna, baked-stuffed potatoes, asparagus, carrots & peas, and a new recipe for this year, Maple Bourbon Sweet Potatoe Casserole.

Mashed Maple Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

  • 6 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced (or orange, pace many commenters)
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon (or Irish Whiskey?)
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • Pecan Crumb Topping, optional


Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Place the sweet potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until very soft to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel them by hand and put the flesh in the bowl of a mixer. Using a paddle attachment, mix in the lemon zest and juice, maple syrup and brown sugar.

Place the bourbon in a small saucepan and place over high heat. Let it come just to the boil and then tilt the pan slightly towards you to set it aflame*. Add to the potatoes along with the butter. Mix well. Add salt and pepper and transfer to a 13 by 9-inch oven-safe casserole dish. (Recipe can be made to this point up to 2 days before, refrigerated.) Sprinkle topping over potatoes and bake for 20 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Alternatively, you may simply sprinkle the top of the casserole with a little bit of brown sugar and 1/2 cup chopped pecans.

*This method does not "burn off" the alcohol.

Pecan Crumb Topping:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • Pinch dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 5 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into bits

Mix the flour, brown sugar, salt, pepper, thyme and pecans together in a small bowl. Add the butter and work with your fingers until a crumbly mass forms.

maple bourbon sweet potato casserole

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lenten Fasting, Easter Feasting

It has been a long, thorough! Lent this year. Except for the solemnities of St. Joseph and Annunciation and Sundays, it's been no meat, eggs or cheese since Ash Wednesday.

I spent Holy Saturday splitting my time between church services and preparing for tomorrows dinner. An Altar Service at St. Athanasius in the morning, followed by preparing the chapel for tomorrow, was preceded and followed by preparing dishes for Easter dinner.

I went to the Easter Vigil at the chapel of the Sisters of Jesus Christ Crucified, near our home. I had a little extra time, since my friend told me the service would start at 5:00 p.m., and I got there at 4:15 p.m. to help set up and prepare to serve. But the time was 6:00 p.m., so I spent an extra hour in the chapel praying the rosary, singing Vespers and rehearsing the Exultet (which I didn't have to sing, as there was a cantor for that).

Tonight, after the Easter Vigil, Laurie and I dined on Indian food we prepared at home. Basmati rice, a chickpea-mushroom curry, potatoes and peas, and kashmiri kofta, a type of lamb meatball.

Kasmiri koftas
  • 2 lb. (900 g) ground lamb
  • A piece of fresh ginger, about 1 1/2 inches (4cm) long and 1 inch (2.5cm) thick, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/8 - 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 5 Tbsp. plain yoghurt
  • 7-8 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 2-inch (2.5cm) stick of cinnamon
  • 5-6 whole cardamom pods (take the seeds out of the husks)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5-6 whole cloves
  • 1 cup (225ml) warm water

Combine lamb with ground spices, salt and 3 Tbsp. yoghurt in a bowl. Mix well.
Wet your hands and form 24 long koftas - sausage shapes, about 2 1/2 - 3 inches long and about 1 inch thick.

Heat the oil in a large, preferably non-stick frying pan. When hot, put in the cinnamon stick, cardamon pods, bay leaves and whole cloves. Stir for a few seconds. Put in the koftas in a single layer and fry them on medium heat until they are lightly browned on all sides. Beat the remaining yoghurt into the 1 cup of warm water. Pour this over the koftas and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat and simmer for half an hour. To serve, lift the koftas out of the pan onto a serving plate, leaving the whole spices behind. From Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking.

Laurie and I have done a bit more preparation for tomorrow, including the antipasto plate below which I just finished assembling.

The cheeses are parmesan, cheddar, double gloucester, gorgonzola, and feta. There are two types of salami (one rolled in ground pepper), prosciutto, and cherry peppers stuffed with mozzarella wrapped with prosciutto. The vegetables are green olives, some stuffed with pimiento, others with sun dried tomatoes; kalamata olives; marinated mushrooms; and pepperocini.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI's Lenten message focuses on Fasting

At the beginning of Lent, which constitutes an itinerary of more intense spiritual training, the Liturgy sets before us again three penitential practices that are very dear to the biblical and Christian tradition – prayer, almsgiving, fasting – to prepare us to better celebrate Easter and thus experience God’s power that, as we shall hear in the Paschal Vigil, "dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride" (Paschal Praeconium). For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to focus my reflections especially on the value and meaning of fasting. Indeed, Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord’s fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry. We read in the Gospel: "Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry" (Mt 4,1-2). Like Moses, who fasted before receiving the tablets of the Law (cf. Ex 34,28) and Elijah’s fast before meeting the Lord on Mount Horeb (cf. 1 Kings 19,8), Jesus, too, through prayer and fasting, prepared Himself for the mission that lay before Him, marked at the start by a serious battle with the tempter.

We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting. In the very first pages of Sacred Scripture, the Lord commands man to abstain from partaking of the prohibited fruit: "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gn 2, 16-17). Commenting on the divine injunction, Saint Basil observes that "fasting was ordained in Paradise," and "the first commandment in this sense was delivered to Adam." He thus concludes: " ‘You shall not eat’ is a law of fasting and abstinence" (cf. Sermo de jejunio: PG 31, 163, 98)...

You can read the full message on the Vatican web site.

Interestingly, today while working on the blog I do for work, I came across an article on fasting in the Los Angeles Times. In the article "Running on empty: the pros and cons of fasting", the author, while mentioning the support for fasting in "various religious and cultural practices around the globe", dwells on the possible scientific evidence for fasting's physical benefits. Pope Benedict refers to this theme in his Lenten message, noting that, "in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body," fasting is looked at primarily for its physical value.

But for Christians, the primary focus must remain on the spiritual aspect of fasting. The fathers of the Church noted that almsgiving and fasting are the twin wings of prayer. Pope Benedict refers to Pope Paul VI's Constitution on Penance Paenitemini, in which the earlier Pope taught:
"in our time there are special reasons whereby, according to the demands of various localities, it is necessary to inculcate some special form of penitence in preference to others.(60) Therefore, where economic well-being is greater, so much more will the witness of asceticism have to be given in order that the sons of the Church may not be involved in the spirit of the "world,"(61) and at the same time the witness of charity will have to be given to the brethren who suffer poverty and hunger beyond any barrier of nation or continent."

Interestingly, of course, there is probably less fasting in the richer nations; yet that is precisely whom Pope Paul VI singled out to be first in such disciplines.