Monday, November 30, 2009

Hymns of Thanksgiving

(I know it's a bit late to still be talking about Thanksgiving, but I couldn't get a good Internet connection until now!)

"We plow the fields, and scatter
The good seed on the land...."

Those lines on Semicolon's blog immediately brought the tune of the hymn to my mind, and reminded me to bring out the hymn booklets I made a few years ago as a way to bring the family together before the Lord later on Thanksgiving Day, after we have eaten the bounty for which we gave thanks.

Another hymn in that small collection is "We Gather Together," which always reminds me of the children's book Cranberry Thanksgiving. I read that so many times I got sick of it and gave it away, with regrets following. The story tells of love generated among hostile neighbors over turkey dinner and singing of that hymn together.

A recipe for cranberry bread is a focus of the tale, and I'm sure it made for some vicarious experience for our children, who didn't eat cranberry bread, or any bread for that matter, at Thanksgiving. In our house it was pies, pies, and pies, with the cranberries found in a big bowl of homemade sauce.

This year was my first Thanksgiving celebration not in California, as we are at Eldest Daughter's house on the East Coast. But thanks to a blogging friend's reminder, I brought those hymn booklets with me for a taste of home. We sang with at least as much cheer and gusto as the fictional characters!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Putting Books on Shelves, Taking Them Off...

Earlier in the month I told how I got worked up when parts of my book order began to arrive in the mail. I admit, I do feel a bit sheepish, buying more books and telling about them, when there are plenty of good ones already on my shelves. But that's me, a glutton.

These are mostly used, almost all from different sellers, and the shipping totalled way more than the books themselves. Most of the titles have been on my wish list for months or years, and I know that some of the books, now that they are in my possession, will sit on the shelf for at least months, more likely years, before I get to them. But they have a better chance of being read now.

Not to mention, they are now available for me to remove from the bookcase briefly, to open and lovingly turn a few pages--even when there isn't time to give my full attention to the contents. Winston Churchill gave an admonition to book-lovers to do just that. I read the saying in a London museum, and it appears I'll have to return there if I am ever going to find it verbatim.

In some cases it is a mystery how I heard about the book or why I wanted it. The Golden Book of Writing looks valuable, and I can always use help in that department, but it will have to remain uncredited as far as who recommended it. Maybe it was my friend at who always says, "We have recommendations for you!"

John McWhorter has been interviewed a couple of times on Mars Hill Audio, so I've been familiar with him and wanting to read more from his mind. Linguistics is a subject that grabs me ever since I was privileged to take a tutorial in the subject as a freshman in college. Perusing the titles of McWhorter's bibliography feeds my book greed.

Dana Gioia is another author whose acquaintance I first made through MHA, and I mentioned that meeting here already. I only owned one book of his poems before--now I have two, and two collections of essays. Disappearing Ink is a collection of essays subtitled Poetry at the End of Print Culture.

Kristin Lavransdatter I loved so much that I snatched up sets whenever I'd see them, in the old translation that so many people despise--I didn't. But now I want to read it in Tiina Nunnally's rendition.

Because I dearly love my friend, whom I will call Bird, I bought The Lady's Not for Burning, a play by Christopher Fry. Bird is 98 years old, and this play is one of her favorite pieces of writing, I think partly because it was something she enjoyed with her late husband. Bird is terribly hard of hearing, but she can hear me when I sit nearby and we talk about how thankful we are to God for many things. She is a little worried that her eyes will fail her and she won't be able see the print on the pages of her books; I told her I will come and read to her then.

I think she would really like Kristin Lavransdatter.

Friday, November 20, 2009

That Temple You Are

We have begun the celebration of the Feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, focusing on an event that is not mentioned in the Bible, but is a story with important meaning.

As Fr. Thomas Hopko explains in The Winter Pascha, "Its purpose is not so much to commemorate an historical happening as to celebrate a dogmatic mystery of the Christian faith, namely, that every human being is made to be a living temple of God.

"The festal event is that the three-year-old Mary, in fulfillment of a promise made at her conception by her parents, Joachim and Anna, is offered by them to God in the temple at Jerusalem."

And in the next chapter, "In the Orthodox Church the Virgin Mary is the image of those who are being saved....she shows how all people must be when they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit as servants of God and imitators of Christ."

Lord, may we by your grace imitate your Mother in her glad obedience, and also by your grace live as becomes temples of your Holy Spirit.

"For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are."  I Corinthians 3:17

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Psalter and Soup

This Advent season I'm participating with other women, organized by Sylvia, in reading the Psalter every day for the 40 days. Our Psalter is divided into 20 groupings each of which is called a kathisma, and every woman will read one per day.

There are more than 40 of us participating so that the whole book of Psalms will be read twice a day. Everyone who perseveres will end up having read the Psalter through twice before Christmas, as well! What a joy it has already been.

I'm also trying to read The Winter Pascha by Fr Thomas Hopko, which has 40 readings about this period in the church year that has similarities to Lent and Pascha. I read two days' entries and now can't find the book, so we'll see how that goes....

We just got a good rain and everything is washed clean, the sky is blue, and the snowball bush is showing its glory.

It's the season for soup! It's easy to make a lenten meal in the soup kettle, and today I am putting in three kinds of beans and some winter vegetables.

I don't often buy parsnips or turnips. When I used to read Down, Down the Mountain by Ellis Credle to my children, the vegetables the characters are so fond of must have seemed as exotic as boys and girls riding barefoot for lack of shoes to wear.

In the story, the mountain children carry a bagful of turnips down to the town, turnips they themselves planted and tended lovingly, in hopes of selling them for enough money to buy shoes. But everyone they meet along the way is hungering and thirsting for just such a delicacy, and when they arrive in town they discover that only one turnip is left in the bag.

 I'm afraid that after my first 15 years of family cooking, with its centerpieces of lentil soup and bread, I might have inadvertently started cultivating a taste in my family for fancier food. Fast periods are a good opportunity to repent and reform.

 But this plain food tastes pretty fancy after all.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Poem for the beginning of a fast

(We Orthodox begin our Nativity or Advent Fast today.)

Matthew VI, 28 FF.

Rabbi, we Gadarenes
Are not ascetics; we are fond of wealth and possessions.
Love, as you call it, we obviate by means
Of the planned release of aggressions.

We have deep faith in prosperity.
Soon, it is hoped, we will reach our full potential.
In the light of our gross product, the practice of charity
Is palpably inessential.

It is true that we go insane;
That for no good reason we are possessed by devils;
That we suffer, despite the amenities which obtain
At all but the lowest levels.

We shall not, however, resign
Our trust in the high-heaped table and the full trough.
If you cannot cure us without destroying our swine,
We had rather you shoved off.

--Richard Wilbur


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pear Pie of the Year?

"Pie of the Week" is the inspiring category of postings at Gigi's Firefly Cottage blog, and her latest pie is Fudge; a list of many pies by Gigi and links to their recipes is on the sidebar of the page.

I wish I could bake a pie once a week. I also wish I could have a day of prayer and contemplation every week, and a day of gardening, and a loaf of bread baked every seven days or so. But at the rate I'm going, I should set my sights lower-- perhaps one pie every six months or so? (If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, and eat more pie.)

My latest pie is Pear. It's the first pear pie I've ever eaten or baked. The thought of eating this subtle fruit any way besides fresh or dried never appealed, until I read a recipe on one of my favorite blogs recently, a recipe that made me think pear pie would be worth a try. I was prepared in mind, then, for the display of pale green Bartletts at a fruit stand where I stopped for a snack on Monday.

The price was right, but you had to buy a big bag of them, more than B. and I could possibly eat. I thought, "This is my chance to bake a pear pie," and I brought them home, and there was my deadline in front of me: within two days they would be pale yellow, and the pie would have to be baked.

Here is my new white pie dish waiting for its pears. The hearts on the cloth that is under the clear vinyl were my solution to shoe polish stains about 15 year ago.

But where was the recipe? Nowhere to be found. Had I imagined it, or just lost it? The pie had to be baked, so I researched ideas on for quite a while, settling on a this recipe that featured lemon, maple, and ginger to add complexity.

 I made a couple of changes: doubled the ginger and forgot to put in the sugar. I'm so glad about that last omission, because the maple syrup made the pie just sweet enough for my taste. All the various flavors blended nicely and nothing overpowered the pears. I found it to be quite lovely. It was hard to know just what the added flavors were.

This pie was thickened with instant tapioca granules. I discovered I didn't have instant, so I ground some small pearls in the blender and then sifted out the bigger pieces. The finished product was a bit soupy, maybe only because it was still warm.


But B. often doesn't like new taste sensations, especially the first time. After having a slice of this one, he said it had nothing that made him want to keep eating it. I should have that feeling; after eating more than necessary, I quickly wrapped the rest of the pie, dish and all, in heavy foil and stuck it in the freezer.

Maybe my pear pie will be the Pie of the Century!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Poem That Makes Me Love the Earth

Today I want to share with you a blessed poem I found, by Cindy Marsch at Wrasselings. There is no photo I could post that would provide a worthy accompanying image, and it hardly needs help in conveying the metaphor.


In Spring the Earth bends and melts toward the South,
Gathering the orb of sunrise in her left hand,
Then passing it along her breast, warming herself,
Until she lays it gently among the bare trees at dusk
And basks in the rosy glow chilled blue at the edge.

The days warm as she lifts her orb-passing hands higher and higher,
'Til over her head she brandishes fire,
Stretched to utmost peak,
Dazzling the fat green grown full all about her.

Her midsummer glory she cannot sustain,
But slowly limits the extent of her reach.
Day by dog day,
The sun's heat parches,
The dusty summer wearies.

Then, arms outstretched, she relinquishes her hold:
Drawn down toward heavy harvest,
The sun's blazes graze the trees.

Spent with the year, she lets go her hands,
And the dawn orb and dusk roll down to her feet.

Still, she waits, spent, chill,
Almost dead with the year.
But a freshet stirs, and calls her to listen.
And again she bends down, melting toward the South.

--Cindy Marsch

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Indian Rice Pudding

With the temperature in the 30's there in the North Country, it wasn't surprising that we desired comfort food. Rice pudding came to one daughter's mind, and passed from there to mine, where the idea germinated into a Google search, and from there sprouted plans to use ingredients on hand.

Judging from the variety of methods and ingredients, I think you could have success with many different combinations. I didn't write down what I came up with, but I think I can remember...

While the 1/2 cup of jasmine rice was soaking in warm water, I chopped 1/3 cup almonds.

One recipe called for "dried fruit" and suggested almonds, pistachios, and raisins. I found some currants to go with the almonds. The cardamom was for later on.

The yellow stuff is ghee, which I had brought along on the previous trip and forgotten to take home.

Lucky me, because I wanted it to for sautéeing the almonds and about 1/3 cup currants. If there is any better smell in the culinary world than this, I haven't met it. I cooked the almonds and currants until the almonds were toasty brown.

In the meantime the rice had soaked for half an hour and after draining I added it to a quart of milk. (Some recipes used half coconut milk, and I have made many puddings without dairy, using primarily coconut milk, during church fasts.)

This pot needed frequent stirring over medium-low heat so that the pudding wouldn't stick and burn. After perhaps 15 minutes it had thickened a bit and the rice was tender. That was the signal to add 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom, along with the ghee mixture.  

After a few more minutes of cooking, the pudding was even thicker, and ready to eat. But we waited a while until it had cooled to warm.

It had a good flavor, but we had been looking forward to a more runny pudding. If I make this sort of thing again I think I'll try using 50% more milk.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Flowers, Daughters, and Books

"When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food."  --Desiderius Erasmus       

That seems to be my attitude this fall. I got a little money, and then when I got a little time, I did order used books online, and the packages started coming. This stack was one day's delivery, and when I saw them overflowing the mailbox my heart went all a-flutter Christmas-like. What was inside all the wrapping will take another blog post to reveal.       

 Before I could even get those out of the packages, I took some hardcovers I wasn't currently reading and stacked them in such a way as to hide an electrical outlet. B. said it didn't look as stylish as the arrangement pictured in the Pottery Barn catalog. 

I just got back from the North Country where Seventh Grandson lives. In the two weeks since I'd been there, cold weather and dwindling light had taken their toll, and the trees weren't as colorful. These berries were an exception.
As soon as the trees and shrubs go dormant, they are due for a good pruning, having been neglected for a couple of years after the former owners departed.

Gifts I received this week: a Ukrainian matroyshka doll from M., and some horse chestnuts, a.k.a. buckeye pods, from a granddaughter whom I got to see one day. There are as many nuts there as children in her family, so I told her it would remind me to pray for them all.


I enjoyed time with my daughters for a few days. We walked in the meadow, talked, cooked, and played with Baby C.  

One day when I didn't have time to stop the car, I saw herds of black cattle grazing quietly while making a scene on golden meadows like this one.

Back at home, snapdragons are enjoying Indian summer, and the pumpkin hasn't even turned soft yet!

   When I drove up to the house I was greeting by a glowing rose.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November and All

Today I burned a candle on the dining table at dinner, for the first time since Winter brightened into Spring many moons ago. Now our world is dimming once more, and a little extra light strengthens the heart, reminding us of Him Who is The Light of the World.

I wore my new wool tweed jacket for the first half of dance class, the hall was so chilly. And tomorrow I drive north again, where it's even colder, at nearly 4,000 ft elevation, too.

Baby Daughter is with us for a few days, which is why we are journeying there, so she can greet Seventh Grandson, her Seventh Nephew. For the drive, we'll take our umbrellas for forays out of the car, and poetry for hope and vision of the warm home awaiting us up the road.

The Mist and All

by Dixie Wilson

I like the fall,
The mist and all.
I like the night owl's
Lonely call--
And wailing sound
Of wind around.

I like the gray
November day,
And bare, dead boughs
That coldly sway
Against my pane.
I like the rain.

I like to sit
And laugh at it--
And tend my cozy fire a bit.
I like the fall--
The mist and all.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

(Young) Mutton Pie

Mutton is the meat I love.
On the dresser, see it lie;
Oh, the charming white and red;
Finer meat ne'er met the eye.

Roasting lamb is one of those aromas that reminds me of my grandmother. Combine it with Moroccan spices, and it makes for one of my favorite dishes:

Moroccan Lamb and Sweet Potato Pie

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

4 tsp. ground cumin

3 tsp. ground coriander

2 T. freshly grated ginger

1 T. all-purpose flour (or arrowroot)

1 ½ tsp. salt, plus more to taste

¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste

2 # lean leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes

3 T. olive oil

4 T. unsalted butter

2 large onions, thinly sliced

1 T. sugar

3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced (about 1 ½ T.)

3 c. beef stock

1 28-oz. can whole Italian plum tomatoes

2 pieces star anise

2 cinnamon sticks, about 3 inches long

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch rounds

2 # sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

12 oz. fresh spinach (optional) washed

½ c. dried tart cherries

½ c. dried pitted prunes, cut in half

freshly grated nutmeg, for sprinkling

1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ground cinnamon, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. coriander, flour, ½ tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. pepper. Toss the lamb pieces with the spice mixture to coat.

2. In a Dutch oven or a large saucepan, heat 2 T. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the lamb in two to three batches, in a single layer, and sear until dark brown on all sides, about six minutes per batch. Add the remaining T. olive oil during searing if pan becomes dry. Remove the lamb pieces and set aside.

3. Reduce heat to medium; add I T. butter. Add onions and sugar; cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently, scraping up brown bits on bottom of pan while stirring the onion.

4. Reduce heat to medium low, add the minced garlic, and cook until brown and well caramelized, about 15 minutes.

5. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, star anise, cinnamon sticks, carrots, remaining 2 tsp. cumin, 2 tsp. coriander, the fresh ginger, remaining 1 tsp. salt, and reserved lamb. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, uncovered, for about 1 hour, until lamb is tender and sauce is thick.

6. Meanwhile, place sweet potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until very tender when pierced with a fork. Drain potatoes, and return to saucepan. Dry potatoes, over medium heat, for 1 minutes. Pass potatoes through a food mill into a medium bowl. Stir in remaining 3 T. butter; add salt to taste. Set aside, loosely covered.

7. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. If using spinach, place in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover, and cook until wilted, about 1 ½ minutes. Drain, and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

8. Remove the star anise and cinnamon sticks from the stew. Stir in the cherries and prunes. Transfer mixture to a deep 2-qt. Casserole, and place a layer of spinach, if using, over the stew. Spoon the sweet potato mixture onto the stew. Place on a baking sheet, and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg.

Notes: I have always used a whole leg of lamb for this recipe, which usually is about 5#, not 2#, so I end up with more than 2 times the quantity. You can see  I have two pots of the stew simmering.

This gives me plenty to put in the freezer for another day, which brings me to the question of how to prepare the yams. If I purée all the yams, they end up getting  mushed up into the stew by the time I have reheated it, especially if it spends time in the freezer.

The stew tastes especially nice if the flavors have blended overnight, so I try to cook it a day ahead. Also this time I baked ahead of time the sort of monster yams, not very sweet, that are in the discount supermarket around Thanksgiving, not knowing yet how I would arrange everything the next day. Sometimes I have baked smaller sweet potatoes and served them to the side of the stew...

...but on this occasion, I ended up slicing them on top, brushed with butter and sprinkled with parsley and cinnamon, to take to a potluck. Sorry, the photo shows the dish before it had its final heating in the oven, and the butter is still solidifying on the cold yams. That evening the yam slices were gone before the stew itself.