Saturday, 25 February 2012

Day 6: The Meaning of the Great Fast

We have been debating whether or not to write a new recipe here, or talk more about some of the pantry items that we have stocked.  Both of us believe that we do not want to inundate you with recipes, nor with pantry goods, so we thought it was best to leave today as just this:

Taken from The Lenten Triodion (pp.13-37)

"The primary aim of fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God. If practiced seriously, the Lenten abstinence from food - particularly in the opening days - involves a considerable measure of real hunger, and also a feeling of tiredness and physical exhaustion. The purpose of this is to lead us in turn to a sense of inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us, that is, to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ's statement, 'Without Me you can do nothing' (John IS: S). If we always take our fill of food and drink, we easily grow over-confident in our own abilities, acquiring a false sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency. The observance of a physical fast undermines this sinful complacency. Stripping from us the specious assurance of the Pharisee - who fasted, it is true, but not in the right spirit - Lenten abstinence gives us the saving self dissatisfaction of the Publican (Luke I 8: 10-1 3). Such is the function of the hunger and the tiredness: to make us 'poor in spirit', aware of our helplessness and of our dependence on God's aid."

God bless, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Day 5: Tzatziki and Greek Lettuce and Dill Salad

Since this is  Cheesefare week, we thought we would have a little more dairy product while we are allowed.  Today, I made some tzatziki - the real kind with actual yogurt and garlic -- unlike many varieties that you buy in the store.  There are a few places that we go that have nice, homemade tzatziki, but the fact is, the homemade one from home is always the best.  So, through the day, as this process took place, I was taking some photographs so you can see the steps.  This is easy for anyone to make, but to do it right does take a little time.

First, gather your ingredients.  You need a cucumber, a large container of yogurt, some dill, and some garlic.  You will decide how much garlic suits your tastes.  We use fresh Ontario garlic.  Eventually, we will grow our own and have it all year round!  

Mince the garlic next.  You can chop this in a food processor or mince it by hand.  Put that in a large mixing bowl.  Chop some dill.  Make sure to take the fronds off the stems because the stems get to be tough and add a weird texture to the tzatziki.  Rinse the chopped dill well, until the water runs clear.  If you skip this step, expect that your final product will be green in color.

Now, empty the yogurt into a mixing bowl.  Add the garlic and dill.  Mix well, and then add the drained,  grated cucumber.  Mix well.  Adjust the flavour with a little salt if you want, or add a shot of lemon juice.

Next, get your colander ready -- use cheesecloth or a lint-free towel (one that is smooth, no bumps, and no fuzzies).  Cover the entire inside of the colander with the towel.  Now, pour the yogurt mixture into that towel inside the colander.  This will allow the yogurt to drain off some liquid to make a nice, thick tzatziki.  Let that stand in the fridge for a couple of hours until it is the thickness that you want.  It should be thick like pancake batter.  When we make a large quantity, we let it stand in the fridge overnight to get nice and thick. 

We decided to serve the tzatziki with pickled beets and some garlic bread.  There are always vegetables at each meal!  Ha! -- For the next 7 weeks, meals will be primarily vegetables.  Anyway ...  it seems a little odd to have just dip, bread, and beets.  So, since three (3) is often the right number for so many things, we are also having a salad made of iceberg lettuce and dill.  With a light vinaigrette on top, this refreshing crunch will bring a flare to an otherwise plain meal of bread and dip.

To make this salad, you need just a few ingredients: iceberg lettuce, dill, red onion (optional), salt and pepper, oil, vinegar.  It is a basic salad, but very refreshing.  There are a variety of optional ingredients you can use including, but not limited to the following:
feta cheese, olives, daikon radish, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, red radishes, shredded carrots, pine nuts, or anything that you like with dill.

First, cut up the lettuce, chop the dill (without stems), and slice the onion (if you are using one).  Put it all together in a mixing bowl.  Add a sprinkle of salt and a double sprinkle of pepper.  Then, pour some vinegar and some oil -- to taste.  Some people may like more vinegar, or more pepper.  The vinaigrette is up to you.  But, the main thing is that you have enough dill to make the salad look like the salad is one-third dill and two-thirds lettuce.  Serve in whatever plate or bowl you like, and enjoy.

Today, simplicity is the key word.  A little dip, a little salad, a little conversation, and a lot  photos to come!   Good luck when making these -- I am sure they will be delicious!

Saint Basil the Great, (330–379)
Beware of limiting the good of fasting to mere abstinence from meats. Real fasting is alienation from evil. “Loose the bands of wickedness.” Forgive your neighbor the mischief he has done you. Forgive him his trespasses against you. Do not “fast for strife and debate.” You do not devour flesh, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but you indulge in outrages. You wait for evening before you take food, but you spend the day in the law courts. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Day 4: Menu Planning: Part 1

It's Wednesday.  On a regular Wednesday, we would have pasta with tomato sauce, shrimp, or tuna fish sandwiches.  Planning the rest of the fast will make that decision easier.  You know, we have to plan the menu for practicality, convenience, shopping, but mostly, we should plan our menu so that we can clear our minds and focus on the things that are most important - God and family.  And, we want to remember to keep our meals simple, so they won't be elaborate feasts during this time of fasts.  

How do you figure out planning the menu for such a long period of time?  We have a few different approaches. You know that we have made our pantry ready with many dried beans, legumes, and grains.  We have started to collect the right combination of canned and jarred foods and condiments.  And, we have sat down to discuss what some of our personal favourites are.  For example, husband always likes to have either gigantes, arakas, fakes, or a pita on hand -- one dish in the fridge all the time.  That's easy, since these are dishes you can make in a family size quantity that keep well in the refrigerator.  I, personally, would like to eat stir fried veggies, vegetarian gemista, or domaldes, and salad every day. So, we agree that two times a week we will have one of husband's choices, and two times a week we will have one of wife's choices.  

But, that leaves us three days?!?!  We did agree that once a week we should have some shrimp.  It's a good protein with so many options of how to prepare it.  We'll fit that in one day a week.  If not shrimp, then some other crustacean or mollusk.  These, as many people forget, are completely permitted through any fast.  Although, we will be having more vegan dishes than ones with seafood.  

So, that leaves us with just a couple of days to worry about.  We know that Sunday, we go to Church without eating in the morning (there is no eating before Church because we take Communion each week).  And, then, we have Coffee Hour and visit and socialize at Church.  Usually, when we get home, neither of us is particularly hungry, and we just have one meal on Sundays.  In many families, Sunday is the day for family dinner.  It is the day that we "commune" with each other -- the day of rest.  But, it is also the day when we get a lot of the prep work for the week, too.  Each week, I spend some time to cut up onions for whatever dishes are being made that week, peel carrots, clean celery, wash produce for the week, and organize the refrigerator.  So, then we know exactly what is in the fridge and what we need and what is ready for our weekly menu.  Now that I am writing this, it seems that we should make Sundays to be "Leftovers Day"; that is unless we have the family gathering.  

Planning now, writing up the menu choices (even if it is for only one week at a time) and being organized will help.  We cannot spend all of our time on cooking and cleaning.  Unlike our mothers who did not usually have jobs outside of the home, our time is limited and we need to be practical about when to cook and clean.  If there were more hours in the day, we could have our full-time jobs, kids, and a perfectly clean home with homemade food made fresh every day.  But, we need some time every day for peace and calm.  We need some time for the important things in life -- God and family.  So, we plan well in advance and try to do the best we can.  And, we want the best for our families, therefore, for the time that we are cooking, we want the best -- that's what we are doing in this blog.  We hope you agree, and tell us what you think. 

Matthew 6:17-18

New International Version (NIV)
17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Day 3: Stocking the Pantry

So, here we are at Day 3 of the preparatory weeks before Great Lent.  We have already accomplished a few of our goals.  Granted,  there are more preparations to come, but one by one we will be ready for filling our souls, our hearts, and then, our stomachs.  Today was productive.  As you can see in the pictures, we have our dry beans almost ready to go.  We try to use glass Mason jars*, which fit nicely in the kitchen cabinets, and we can see through them to see how much supply we have and the type of bean or legume inside (*we also prefer glass jars out of concern that some plastic containers may also impart unwanted flavours). Some of these we buy in the larger bags, knowing that we are going to use them over time.  Our main choice for dried beans and legumes is Goudas Foods' "Mr. Goudas" label, a Canadian brand which dominates the domestic rice, dried and canned bean market with a wide variety of excellent dry legumes and rices. We also like to support Goudas Foods because the owner of the company, Mr. Peter Goudas has been a generous supporter of many Greek and non-Greek community groups for several decades.  This brand's products are generally very affordable; for example, a 2 kg (about 4.5 lbs) bag of Giant Lima Beans (γίγαντες) sells for about $7 (Canadian).  At our home we cook γίγαντες throughout the year.  They are good to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack.  They are low in fat, high in protein and fiber, are healthy for you, plus, they keep well in the fridge for about a week (if they last that long!).  In a few days, we'll have step by step directions for making your own γίγαντες dish, with some variations that can make it a different dish every time!

From left to right: Black Beans, Dried Green Peas, Marrowfat Peas, Red Kidney Beans

From left to right: Converted Rice, Brown Rice, White Basmati Rice, North American Wild Rice, Rice and Grain Blend, Medium Couscous, Orzo (Μανέστρα) 
From left to right:  Giant Lima Beans (Γίγαντες), Green Lentils, Chickpeas (Ρεβίθια), Black-Eyed Peas, Black Beans, 9-Bean Soup Blend

Back to the pantry... Our beans and legumes collection include green lentils which are a staple food in any good Greek kitchen; chick peas (garbanzo beans and ρεβίθια in Greek) which we can use for Greek and Indian foods, dips and soups; black-eyed peas which make excellent soups, stews and salads; black beans which are good for salads, soups, Mexican dishes and rice dishes; kidney beans which can be made into a simple vegetarian chili any cool evening; 9-bean blend which we use for salads and soups; and then the various grains -- including converted rice, basmati rice, North American wild rice, quinoa, orzo (μανέστρα) and couscous (orzo and couscous are actually members of the pasta family but due to their resemblance to grains, we'll refer to them as such for now).  We recently bought brown rice, but are not too keen on it really, so that has not made a permanent home in the pantry just yet.  If someone could tell us how to make brown rice where it would taste good, we would be happy to include your recipe(s) and knowledge here and give you credit where credit is due.  You must realize that we are very interested in learning from all of you, in addition to us sharing our tips and tricks.

OK, with the dry goods in place, we now have to assemble our canned goods, spices and  tomato products.  There are many parts of Greece that use tomatoes when cooking just about everything!  We enjoy the classic tomato with oil (λαδερά) dishes like arakas (αρακάς, peas with dill) and any food yiachni (γιαχνί) -- especially cuttlefish or cauliflower!  But, for these, you need the right tomato products -- paste, puree, or even pre-made sauce.  If you have the luxury of time, perhaps you will make your own, or you already made your own and stored it for the winter.  Either way, the right tomato sauce matters.  We'll organize those for you this week, and will specify which one to use when cooking.

Just a note, though - any of the products that are mentioned or noted by brand is done simply because we enjoy using them for ourselves, our family and our friends. Your own brand preferences may differ, and we welcome other opinions in the comment sections.

Well, that is it for tonight.  Tomorrow we'll finish our pantry (spices and canned items).  We are opening our hearts and our minds to try a few new things and hope you are, too!

Writings Of Saint Nectarios Of Aegina Selected Passages From The Writings Of Orthodox Saints, Compiled by Father Demetrios Serfes
Fasting is an ordinance of the Church, obliging the Christian to observe it on sepecific days. Concerning fasting, our Savior teaches: "When thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father Who is in secret: and thy Father, Who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly." From what the Savior teaches we learn (a) that fasting is pleasing to God, and (b) that he who fasts for the uplifting of his mind and heart towards God shall be rewarded by God, Who is a most liberal bestower of Divine gifts, for his devotion. In the New Testament fasting is recommended as a means of preparing the mind and the heart for divine worship, for long prayer, for rising from the earthly, and for spiritualization.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Day 2: Preparation for Great Lent

So, today was Family Day in Ontario.  That means that we spent the day with family.  We spent the day out and about; and, since it is a holiday, and many stores are close here and around Toronto, we took a drive.  We spoke about all the directions that we would like to see this blog go -- including what kinds of food we will have during Great Lent, what types of information we will share, what items we need to have in our pantry to make the "40" days a little easier, and what menus are we going to plan in advance.  So, it was a lot of talking, and a lot of planning.

What is most important about all of this is the planning.  Getting ready for Lent is a process.  This is a similar process to giving up meat one week, and dairy the next before the Great Fast.  Setting up our pantry is the same kind of process.  This week, we are shopping with the list list to include the varieties of beans and legumes that we would like to have.  We are counting how many cans of tomato paste and tomato puree we need, which spices need to be replenished, and what produce we should have on hand at all times.  It's part of the process.  We are also removing the meats and cheese products from the freezer and sending them to a friend's house so we remove the temptations.  It is one step at a time, in preparation.

Every thing that we do is in preparation for something, so why would this be any different?  For us, it is not different.  We are ready for Great Lent, and look forward to sharing our preparations with all of you!

Proverbs 6:6-8
Go to the ant, O sluggard; and see, and emulate his ways, and become wiser than he. For whereas he has no husbandry, nor any one to compel him, and is under no master, he prepares food for himself in the summer, and lays by abundant store in harvest. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Day 1 of the 2012 Great Lent: The Genesis of Great Lent 2012

This is the beginning of Great Lent (Μεγάλη Σαρακοστή).  Although the official start is on Clean Monday (Καθαρά Δευτέρα), we prepare for it starting with the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.  That was last week.  Since there was no fasting for that week, we really start to think about Great Lent when we reach today -- Meatfare Sunday.

As of today, we no longer eat meat or fish until Pascha.  (Yes, there are two days that we will be allowed to have fish, but only those two days!)  We are still able to eat dairy products and cheese, but only for this week.  It's comforting knowing that we remove one things at a time -- sort of a slow transition. That makes the transition easier for us mentally, and maybe even physically, too.  What many people may not realize is that the Orthodox Fasting calendar and schedule are good for our health -- physical and spiritual.  This is the time that we should focus more on our spiritual health by limiting what we give our bodies for physical health.  

So, from now until April 15 -- no meat.  That's not that big of a deal for some people, but if you are a "meat and potatoes" person, then the whole concept of fasting seems like such a challenge.  But, that is why we are here.  To help the M&P folks find their own meatless gourmet within.  And, we know that in today's world, there is more choice for those who are going meatless for other reasons (not religious).

OK, so what is "gourmet" for Lent?  Well, even though we are trying to follow the most strict fast, which limits which foods we eat, as well as the amount of food we eat, there is room for us to make and enjoy beautiful, healthy, filling, economical foods that you would be proud to serve to company now or any time of year.  

This blog is a work in progress.  Stay with us for the "40" days of fasting (more about the "40" days on a later post, as the fasting period is actually longer) as we focus on the Orthodox traditions that carry us every year to Easter.  We will explore foods that you can eat and enjoy in today's world through Great Lent (and any other fasting period), including foods made at home, at restaurants, take-out, and fast foods, using basic, easy-to-find ingredients.  We will include information about our Greek Orthodox faith, since that is what guides us each day.  Lastly, we will share some recipes and photos so you, too, can find your inner gourmet during this period.  We welcome your comments, feedback, and recipes to let us know how you are doing with a temporarily Vegan lifestyle with our lenten foods (νηστίσιμα φαγητά). We look forward to this this test of faith, and we look forward to sharing it with you.  

For specific outlines of what is permitted or not permitted, please see this clear explanation:

From St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 8:8-13; 9:1-2

Brethren, food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table in an idol's temple, might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother's falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall.