Saturday, April 27, 2013

Last crockpot of beans? Not zany.

Are you so tired of trying to find interesting bean soups? This one will not capture your imagination at all. But it is the easiest soup you'll ever make. You don't even have to finish chopping the onion. And it will knock you over, without a single wacky spice pairing.

When Matt was in Greece, he ate an amazing bowl of chickpeas in some old couple's basement "restaurant," where they only sold this soup. Here is how the old woman said that you make it.

Chickpeas (some)
Water (to cover)
Onion (an)
Olive oil (lots, good)
Black pepper and salt (to taste)

Chop off the ends of the onion and peel it. Do not chop it any further. The old yia-yia said that the magic is in the whole onion. Put the chickpeas and the almost whole onion in a pot. Cover them with the water. Add some salt. Simmer at a non-lively medium heat until the chickpeas are tender and the middle parts are coming out of the onion in a fascinating yet slightly horrifying way. The olive oil and pepper go in at the end.

It is so simple and so tasty. You can't eff it up unless you leave it on the stove too long (but scrape it out of the ruined pan, and the savor of burnt chickpeas isn't too bad for the broth. Neither are the tears.) We haven't had it yet this Lent, but we'll make a crockpot full of it tonight for church tomorrow.

You might be tempted to add kale, or parsley, or basil, or something. Well, that would probably be good, but Don't. Have a salad with it and make that the crazy thing that showcases your creativity that you got from Trader Joe's (making fun of myself here, not anybody else!) Or have bread with a stimulating dip. But the soup abides. Really, olive oil abides.

That's all I have for you today.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I am getting creeped out by the (very low) double-digit hits I am getting from weird websites. I can't figure out what that's about, but it makes me want to scrub this thing clean of any thing that identifies it as ME. That was (one of the) whole point(s) of leaving FB. I felt like the constraints of publicity were whittling away at anything meaningful I could possibly say. Anonymity is boring.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

vegan gluten free black bean brownies

Everybody's talking about black bean brownies so I thought I'd try some.

Because I can never follow a recipe exactly (unless it's by Julia Child or Sally Fallon,) I substituted maple syrup for the sugar. Also, I have a tiny food processor, so I was choosy about what went in there. The beans and cold coconut oil needed to be liquefied, so they were added to the flax-egg. Everything else was mixed in the bowl. The batter was bowl-lickin' good and did not taste like beans whatsoever, but I'll probably add more cocoa or chocolate bits next time. Walnuts went on top like the recipe says, but since I didn't mix in the food processor there was really no reason not to mix them into the batter in the bowl.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

they looked to him and were radiant

This week we politely applauded at our second Courtesy Attendance of Joseph and the Amazingly Godless Technicolor Dreamcoat within one year. It felt like a last straw.

We are really quite intentional (one might even say stingy) about our popular "entertainment." We do not have a TV; we do not listen to the radio; we indulge in very little popular music, and that is usually jazz or blues, actually; we do not read fluffy books because we do not enjoy them; we got rid of Facebook; our Netflix queue is all serene Japanese movies and Shakespeare; the movie theatre tickets that some cool parents from our school have given us for Christmas two years in a row are starting to pile up because we just find it overwhelming.

It might sound grim or snobby, but we just don't have time for that crap because we're too busy (a.) teaching, (b.) going to church a lot and (c.) studying and reading books we like. All of those activities require a certain prepared mindfulness that often dissipates at the touch of the banal. (Every time I use that word I feel like Stewie from Family Guy.)

I understand the need to turn off the brain and just enjoy yourself. I just don't find that enjoyable for very long. We do, however, watch the Simpsons and some British comedy. And heaven knows that we like to drink. So I was confused for a couple days about why I am such a party-pooper when other people are raving about ... well, the things that most people rave about. And the best answer that I can come up with is that as I said above, we generally indulge in "entertainment" much less than most people, and it sucks when you have to spend four hours of your time watching a musical that is only still in production because of baby boomer nostalgia. I think that's really it. We are just over lowbrow indulgent references to our parents' youths. I would probably indulge a lot more in popular culture if I felt like it was my popular culture. But after this damn education I just don't think I can enjoy the lower things unless they're a self-conscious relaxation of higher standards. I will probably always enjoy Monty Python for that reason. And I have to confess that I would of course spend less time reading philosophy if I were around lots of people my age who were doing things that I thought were more fun. (See my GPA to substantiate this claim.)

Until then, I'm just going to keep going to church (where we are really happy) and blogging myself into a very small corner.


So that you don't think I'm as misanthropic as I probably sound (which I can't deny when I use the word "banal,") I have to say that Communion was truly a taste of heaven at Pre-Sanctified Liturgy last night.  I know they turn the lights up slowly for a certain effect, but honestly it seemed like everyone's faces were glowing from the inside. I love Psalm 34, which is chanted alternately with the communion hymn,  

Taste and see how good the Lord is!

There's always some single verse which really hooks me, and this time it was  

They looked to him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed. 

 A couple of days ago I wrote about how I could not see my way out of my shame, but as I looked around and saw all of these dear, good people clothed in wedding garments, holding their lamps, waiting hopefully for the Bridegroom, I longed for my soul to burn as bright and clear as the lamps which hung before the saints. And I felt that that longing lifted me above the poison and squalor in which I've been drowning for so long, and I know that it's partly because I was longing alongside all these lovers.

It just feels so different. I mean after simply remembering that gladsome light, I already feel a huge difference from a half an hour ago, when I was googling "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat sucks" to see if anyone agreed with me (I couldn't find anyone who did.) Even if I had found someone who agreed with me, I still would have been alone, non?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

If thou, O Lord, should take note of our sins, O Lord, who could stand?

But with thee there is plenteous forgiveness.

Sometimes it is just hard to believe.

We watched this movie about Margaret Thatcher last night, and Meryl Streep did a very good job at going crazy and regretting things and ending the Cold War. I was just about crying the whole time because movies about old people regretting things really send me over the edge.

I stayed up too late, thinking about what I would regret when I got older. How am I blind today? I thought about how I have been rude or weird to everyone I know. Blush after blush. Countless blushes. And I'll blush again tomorrow.

Some translations of this Psalm say "O Lord, who could survive?" I'm not sure whether or not I like that better than "stand." "Survive" sounds so desperate, but "stand" is vividly physical. Like I'm literally falling down with shame about things that I did when I was thirteen.

I know the first part of that Psalm inside and out. As for the second, it seems utterly unthinkable that the Lord doesn't take note of my sins, which boisterously parade around my head at night.  I mean, they are so loud and so ugly. It's like being asked to believe that someone doesn't see a huge deformity on my face.

Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

thank GOD for olive oil!!!

A Warm Veggie Salad which ended up being a Soggy Bread Salad
 Lenten, with Olive Oil

1/2 head cauliflower, broken into florets
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 red onion, sliced thinly into half rings
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can artichoke hearts, quartered
equivalent to 1 bag (?) of greens (I used Trader Joe's "Power Greens" with baby chard, kale and spinach.)
freshly ground pepper
red pepper flakes

Saute garlic in lots of olive oil. Add the other vegetables and cook until the cauliflower isn't too crunchy. I added the juice from my can of artichokes and some water to help it soften. Salt helps too. Alternatively, you could roast the vegetables or brown them separately in the skillet. Add the artichoke hearts and greens to the warm veggies. Cover to soften greens.

1/2-3/4 cup tahini
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
just... a bunch of cilantro

Mix in a food processor, or by hand (in which case you should mince the cilantro, which I hate doing.)

Toss the salad and the dressing together.

We started eating this with some good bread on the side, but realized how much time we were wasting when we could have been shoving more bread in our faces. So we tore up pieces of bread and tossed them in the salad. It was good for lunch, and it was better for a just-got-home-from-the-museum snack after a few hours.

I don't mean for this to be a recipe blog. (It's more of a "suggestion" blog if anything.) I wonder if it's not right to post so much about food during Lent. On the other hand, you do have to eat, and maybe some new ideas will help you make it through without going crazy. I always love going to the meals after Pre-Sanctified Liturgies and just eating other people's beans.

I end up posting about food so often because everything else just feels too private. I'm not into sharing intimate details about my marriage or family life; posting pictures of my artsy homemaking ways feels like gloating; writing about the struggles of teaching in a very small Orthodox school would just be inappropriate; confessing my sins ain't happening; and I don't really have any wisdom to share with others. So what am I even doing?

I will say that today we went to the art museum. We like their espresso drinks and the vaulted ceilings. We didn't look at paintings today, but I did visit the gift shop. I wanted to buy some beautiful note cards. I found some by Georgia O'Keefe and this is the dopiest thing, but they made me cry. And it's sort of too private for me to explain why.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I know this poem from the back of the Euclid book is a cliche among Johnnies, and perhaps it's a bit melodramatic (and even awkward in the middle?) but I still like it.

Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Crazy salad happening tomorrow for church

Box of crummy out-of-season strawberries
Balsamic vinegar to cover
Generous olive oil
Tablespoon maple syrup
Some salt

Macerate. There will be a lot of liquid.

One bulb fennel and some fronds, sliced thinly
Several small mandarin/clementine oranges, halved and sectioned
Splashes of orange juice
Some salt

Macerate. There won't be too much liquid.

A bunch of quinoa
A bunch of arugula
A bunch of spinach

Layer greens, quinoa, and macerated mixtures. Toss. Take to church and hope that this avoids every possible allergy.

Blue Moon With Agave Nectar...

tastes like and probably is Budweiser.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Weird cookies for Lent


I've got some modified Maple Nut Cookies in the oven. They are vegan, gluten free, and refined-sugar-free. I don't think I have any gluten sensitivities but so many people do that you might as well learn how to deal with it. My mods are in italics.

Wet Ingredients:
4 Tbs Maple Syrup
1/2 Coconut Oil (melt to mix)
1/2 C Coconut or Almond Milk
2 Tsp Vanilla Extract (Mine has cardamom pods soaking in it just to be weird)

Dry Ingredients:
1 C Spelt
1/2 C "Gram Flour" (Chickpea flour, available at Indian and international groceries)
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
A dash of cinnamon
1 Tbs flax meal

Sieve together dry ingredients. Whisk together wet ingredients separately. Combine wet with dry, stir until clumped. Adjust for spoonability with extra flour or water. Fold in almonds. Grease a pan with coconut oil. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. They will pretty much retain their shape.

I am interested to see how they turn out. The recipe was originally gluten free, so I don't think subbing spelt for quinoa flour should change things too much. I have made two things with gram flour recently. One was an Indian recipe which ended up tasting like peanut butter cookies, somehow. They were approved by the kids at school. The other was besan ki roti which was NOT approved by my husband. The chickpea flour has a really, really weird, bitter taste to it which somehow disappeared in the besan cookies and did not disappear in the roti. My theory is that the roti didn't get hot enough to transform the taste. Maybe you will have better results with Manjula's recipe.

The cookies are out now and they look fairly normal. I am not going to show you a picture because I am a bad photographer and I'm sure the cookies would look like rocks or poop.

Okay, now I've tasted them and they are not my favorite, but appropriately weird for Lent.

Here is a thought. I have noticed that people do find their way to my blog through Google, looking for information about Orthodoxy. (I'm sure they're promptly disappointed.) I think I will put up some of plans that my husband and I have developed for an Orthodox K-12 somewhat-classical-more-like-Great-Books curriculum, slap some Googleable keywords on there and see if anyone shows up. I don't know if this plan will ever come to fruition in the school where we currently work, but I don't see why it couldn't work somewhere, with God's help. Perhaps it will at least inspire the one or two people out there who may someday Google "Orthodox K-12 somewhat-classical-more-like-Great-Books curriculum."

In the meantime, if you are interested in talking about Orthodox education, I'm all ears, and a few helpful thoughts.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

By this all men shall know that ye are my disciples

One more thing. Clearly getting home early from school leaves me with too much time on my hands.

Two big conversations have happened recently in our small, hometown OCA parish.

The first conversation was an evening of discussion about a book called Kisses from Katie, wherein a privileged, WASP (with a capital P, )19 year old girl decides to spend a year serving in Africa before going to college. One thing leads to another, as it often does for people who are willing to obey God, and she is now the adoptive mother of 20 African children. In Africa. By herself. She's my age. I didn't finish the book because I couldn't really handle her style, and DANG I gotta lot of books to read. I did get the gist of it, though, enough that I said Amen when our parish's wry and dry Minnesotan said, "It's a pretty easy book to read--- wait, what am I saying? It'll wreck your life!" Well, it seems to have wrecked everybody's life in our parish. I didn't get to go to the conversation about the book, but the minutes were sent out and the bottom line is that everybody in our small parish is on fire about listening for God's whispers and responding in love to anyone God sends our way.

The second, seemingly unrelated conversation happened over email, and it hasn't really been explored too much. One of our families converted from the Episcopal church, and in fact the matriarch of the family is English. Her daughter sent out an email about the Western Rite, and offered it as fodder for the ongoing conversation about how to grow an Orthodox Church that is truly American, or at least Western. Most people sounded interested in talking about it, but we tabled it until after Lent.

Then, something happened. Somebody called our priest and said "We just moved here for a job that fell through. We have nothing. Can you help us?"

And we did. We collected money. We helped them stay in a motel until they could get into an apartment. Flurries of emails have been passed around, offering to furnish their new home. They have been coming to church regularly, even during the week, and enjoying the worship and fellowship. Everyone is ALL ABOUT helping them. It's exactly what we wanted.

Somehow I suspect that these people have never been in an Orthodox Church in their life. Why did they call our priest? What possessed them to look up an Orthodox Church? It's not the first one in the phone book, and I'm sure many of the nice Protestant churches around here would have responded to their pleas just as promptly if they had been called first. Why did they come back after they saw how weird our church was? I don't know everything that's going on. But I can't believe that it's a coincidence that these people called just when all our parishioners agreed that they were hungry to help someone.

What's the connection to the Western Rite email? Well, I think this is an answer to the question, "How do we worship as Orthodox Americans?" Rather than looking at our community or culture and trying to make our church reflect what we see there, we can look at our church and ask "What can we share with our town out of the abundance of what God has poured into our church? How can we pour this beauty and love out into our town?" I think we will find that this is how we sanctify the world around us, and reveal this small Midwestern town of farms and factories to be the Kingdom of Heaven.

Then we won't have to ask "What if a stranger walks in here and thinks we're weird?" There will be no such thing as a stranger. He'll walk through the door and see the same friendly faces who fed him, gave him water, visited him in prison, defended him against injustice, and comforted him when he was sick. There will be a complete continuity between the love we show him on the sidewalk and the love we sing about in church. I think the language, the icons, the music, the cassocks, and the head coverings will all make sense to the stranger if he recognizes the love.

Maybe our debates about Byzantine vs. Western aesthetics won't resolve themselves. But we'll be much better prepared to decide what is appropriate for Americans, and what is worthwhile in our culture, when we have sought and loved the good in America itself. 

Nourishing Traditions vs. Lent

Something else I've been thinking about concerning food:

When I was first Orthodox, in college, I didn't worry too much about my health when I was fasting. First of all, I did all sorts of terrible things to my body and was not really balanced enough to think clearly about the effects of fasting vs. feasting. Second, fasting was pretty simple: I just went to the vegan line in the cafeteria. Third, from high school to my baptism as a college sophomore, I was a vegetarian who thought "I really should be a raw vegan" so I was already convinced that xerophagy was an ideal way to eat anyway. (I quit vegetarianism because it just seemed to undercut the whole idea of fasting... I don't think I knew that monks are vegetarians.)

But now I do think about the healthfulness of food, quite a lot. Recently I have been inspired and convinced to follow Sally Fallon's guidelines in Nourishing Traditions. Here are her basic principles:

  • Eat local, grassfed meat, especially organs. Make everything with (local, grassfed) bone broth when you can't afford local meat.
  • Eat as much raw, cultured grass-fed dairy as you can get your hands on. BUTTER, cheese, yogurt, creme fraiche, kefir, piima cream, buttermilk, drown yourself in it.
  • Fish is great too, as well as other seafood, especially when you cook it in BUTTER.
  • When you're not cooking everything in BUTTER, cook it in olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, or sesame oil. Never use cheapo new-fangled oils like canola.
  • Eggs too, of course.
  • Nuts, soaked and dried.
  • Gobs of lacto-fermented vegetables (pickled with whey from cultured dairy.)
  • Soak all your grains and flours, preferably in cultured dairy, but at least make sourdough.
  • Eat lots of vegetables, cooked in butter.
  • NO REFINED OR FAKE SUGAR. Honey etc. is okay.
Now here are the rules for Orthodox fasting, with things we can eat in bold:
  • No meat.
  • No dairy.
  • Fish on two days of Lent. Spineless seafood is acceptable. Whew.
  • Definitely no olive oil except on specially prescribed days. Some say no oil whatsoever, which would cut out the coconut, palm and sesame oil.
  • No eggs.
  • Nuts are fine.
  • Pickles would be fine, but should we fudge with whey?
  • Grain soaking we can do. Just not in cultured dairy. Sourdough I slop into everything.
  • Vegetables we can do. Just not in butter. Or olive oil.
  • There's no explicit rule about sugar, but generally eating dessert doesn't really seem appropriate during Lent, so this works.
So there you have it. Shrimp and clams, sauerkraut and kimchi and pickles, soaked grain products, soaked nuts, and vegetables. Raw or steamed.

Even though Orthodox fasting requires me to give up all these nourishing foods, in a way I don't think I would have seen the value of Nourishing Traditions so clearly if I hadn't spent five years fasting from most of the suggested foods. I've come to love meat and dairy so much more than ever before by giving it to God.

There might be more to say here, but Matt is making upma, and it needs some besan ki roti. I used sourdough starter instead of yogurt, and added flax meal to the dough for added Omega whatevers.

That garden I talked about starting?

Not happening.

But a young family from our church is starting a CSA this year. So we will buy into that and have the benefit of fresh, seasonal, local, probably mostly organic vegetables, while supporting local agriculture. Those are two of the four reasons I would want to have a garden for myself anyway. The other two are because

  •  It seems like fun
  •  I want my yard to look more... nourishing. 

The other good reasons for going with the CSA instead of a garden are:

  • I don't have to do shit to grow the veggies unless I WANT to go get sweaty out in the country.
  • I have no idea how to garden and they do.
  • Our yard is probably full of toxins. 
  • Our landlord probably doesn't want me to dig up the lawn only to abandon the project whenever we move.
  • I was a little nervous about putting a lot of work into a yard that doesn't have a fence, and that all the people and dogs around here apparently think is public property.
  • It takes a couple years to get a garden going strong enough that you seriously don't have to buy any vegetables.
  • The CSA's success will help more people than my garden.
  • We can go on vacations. It will be easier to persuade my parents to help us eat all the produce from the CSA than to come over to water and weed our garden.
So the CSA wins.

I actually do like the idea of going out to the farm to help them work, and trying to make my thumb a little greener for next year's imaginary garden. And I will still do some herbs in the kitchen window, and try to plant some flowers in the yard. But I don't have to grow all my food myself THIS YEAR. Geez.

Now, if Wendell Berry were here, he'd tell me to barter with my CSA friends instead of giving them money. But I don't have any barterable skills except teaching, and their kids are too young to start Latin and Greek. So I'll give 'em cash.

The other thing that didn't end up happening in Lent (so far) is giving up coffee. Now, as I said, that was a prediction, not a resolution. My theory was that I love cream so much that I just didn't even want coffee without it. But I adapted pretty quickly. I'm definitely drinking less, though.

And the shrimp broth worked out pretty well. I'm sad that it tastes so fishy. Sally Fallon recommended cooking the shrimp for a long time in oil to avoid the fishy flavor, so clearly my problem is patience.