Saturday, 3 March 2012

Day 14: Some great links on Great Lent and Lenten Food

One week into Great Lent, and we have been searching and reading and comparing everything we can about the Orthodox way of Lent.  We have looked at a lot of information about the weeks of Great Lent, including tomorrow which is the Sunday of Orhtodoxy.  That is always the first Sunday of Lent, and has a procession of people carrying icons aoround the Church to show the vicotry of Orthodoxy over the ruling that icons were no longer allowed in the Church.  Anyway, as we are reading, we are learning, and that is part of the goal of this blog -- learning and sharing knowledge (and opinions).

In addition to our blog, we would love to share with you some other blogs and websites with interesting, informative takes on Orthodoxy.  Some of them are simply written, which makes it easy to understand, whereas others are more theology-based and offer the full religious history to various topics.  Our humble blog, as you may have discovered by now, focuses on making fasting during Great Lent a rewarding experience , and not an unachievable process that many believe it is.

There are many steps in acknowledging, preparing, and observing Great Lent in an Orthodox home.  Through our journeys to get closer to God, we should always continue to learn.  Today, we have decided to share some of our learning with all of you.  We hope, in turn, that you will share with us your knowledge, experience, strategies, recipes and ideas.  So, as unusual as this may be that we would want you to read other  people's work, we are offering a list of the more interesting reading we have found.  Have a look for yourselves, and then come back to us and let us know what you think.  Here is a partial list, in no particular order:

1.  Orthodixie - Southern, Orthodox, Convert, Etc.
     A southern man who converted to Orthodoxy and then became a priest, who writes his well stated,
     simplified explanations from a Priest's perspective.

Listen to the Orthodixie Podcast on Ancient Faith Radio

2.  Adventures of an Orthodox Mom
      A writer who works, raises children, and practises Orthodoxy shares her way of helping children
      practice and understand the faith.                                        

3.  Holy Nativity Orthodox Church
     An Antiochian Orthodox Church in British Columbia that shares a well-written description of
     Orthodoxy, history, and faith -- all in layman's terms.          

4.  St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
     Located in Greenville, South Carolina, this church website is abundant with rescources for
     Great Lent and for other Orthodox topics.                       


     Although this is more about Greek food than religion, it is always an interesting read with many
     personal stories and quips, as well as beautiful photos. The extensive Lenten recipe collection that
     the Toronto, Ontario webmaster, Peter Minakis, has on his website always looks delicious

So, have a look at the other sites.  Then, come back and tell us what you learned or what you found.  We would love to have some discussion about these sites.

By the way, don't forget, tonight you break off the first leg from Kyra Sarakosti!  Six legs to go...

Be at peace with your soul and heaven and earth will be at peace with you.
St. Issak the Syrian

Friday, 2 March 2012

Day 13: Food Labels and Ingredients

 Today, we were out in the grocery store and realized how closely one has to read a label in order to buy anything.  There are so many words that we must read, some of which we cannot pronounce, others that we just do not know.  But, what are we looking for exactly?

Some food labels will clearly state, "Contains wheat, milk, soy, and nuts" or, "May contain wheat, milk, eggs."  And that is because eggs and dairy products are among the most common food allergens.  Along with wheat, soy, tree nuts, crustaceans and fish.  So, many times, the dairy and egg will be identified in a separate line.  But, what if there is a small amount?  And, what about the rest of the list?

Today, we want to point out a few of the catch words on a food label -- ones that we have encountered that you may, too, and that we all need to avoid while fasting.  We found a chart that explains what many of these ingredients are, what they are for, examples of use, and the various names used for these foods.  Hopefully, all of this will help you understand the labels, too!

1)  First, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), copied from the website found at, they have posted a chart of the categories of food ingredients.  Not only does it list the category of food, the chart shows why to use it, where to find it, and what it may be called on a label.  This is helpful if you are looking to memorize a short list for a category or two.

 Types of Food Ingredients

The following summary lists the types of common food ingredients, why they are used,
and some examples of the names that can be found on product labels. Some additives are
used for more than one purpose.
Types of IngredientsWhat They DoExamples
of Uses
Names Found
on Product Labels
PreservativesPrevent food spoilage from bacteria, molds, fungi, or yeast (antimicrobials); slow or prevent changes in color, flavor, or texture and delay rancidity (antioxidants); maintain freshnessFruit sauces and jellies, beverages, baked goods, cured meats, oils and margarines, cereals, dressings, snack foods, fruits and vegetablesAscorbic acid, citric acid, sodium benzoate, calcium propionate, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite, calcium sorbate, potassium sorbate, BHA, BHT, EDTA, tocopherols (Vitamin E)
SweetenersAdd sweetness with or without the extra caloriesBeverages, baked goods, confections, table-top sugar, substitutes, many processed foodsSucrose (sugar), glucose, fructose, sorbitol, mannitol, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K), neotame
Color AdditivesOffset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; provide color to colorless and "fun" foodsMany processed foods, (candies, snack foods margarine, cheese, soft drinks, jams/jellies, gelatins, pudding and pie fillings)FD&C Blue Nos. 1 and 2, FD&C Green No. 3, FD&C Red Nos. 3 and 40, FD&C Yellow Nos. 5 and 6, Orange B, Citrus Red No. 2, annatto extract, beta-carotene, grape skin extract, cochineal extract or carmine, paprika oleoresin, caramel color, fruit and vegetable juices, saffron (Note: Exempt color additives are not required to be declared by name on labels but may be declared simply as colorings or color added)
Flavors and SpicesAdd specific flavors (natural and synthetic)Pudding and pie fillings, gelatin dessert mixes, cake mixes, salad dressings, candies, soft drinks, ice cream, BBQ sauceNatural flavoring, artificial flavor, and spices
Flavor EnhancersEnhance flavors already present in foods (without providing their own separate flavor)Many processed foodsMonosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium guanylate or inosinate
Fat Replacers (and components of formulations used to replace fats)Provide expected texture and a creamy "mouth-feel" in reduced-fat foodsBaked goods, dressings, frozen desserts, confections, cake and dessert mixes, dairy productsOlestra, cellulose gel, carrageenan, polydextrose, modified food starch, microparticulated egg white protein, guar gum, xanthan gum, whey protein concentrate
NutrientsReplace vitamins and minerals lost in processing (enrichment), add nutrients that may be lacking in the diet (fortification)Flour, breads, cereals, rice, macaroni, margarine, salt, milk, fruit beverages, energy bars, instant breakfast drinksThiamine hydrochloride, riboflavin (Vitamin B2), niacin, niacinamide, folate or folic acid, beta carotene, potassium iodide, iron or ferrous sulfate, alpha tocopherols, ascorbic acid, Vitamin D, amino acids (L-tryptophan, L-lysine, L-leucine, L-methionine)
Allow smooth mixing of ingredients, prevent separation
Keep emulsified products stable, reduce stickiness, control crystallization, keep ingredients dispersed, and to help products dissolve more easily
Salad dressings, peanut butter, chocolate, margarine, frozen dessertsSoy lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, egg yolks, polysorbates, sorbitan monostearate
Stabilizers and Thickeners, Binders, TexturizersProduce uniform texture, improve "mouth-feel"Frozen desserts, dairy products, cakes, pudding and gelatin mixes, dressings, jams and jellies, saucesGelatin, pectin, guar gum, carrageenan, xanthan gum, whey
pH Control Agents and acidulantsControl acidity and alkalinity, prevent spoilageBeverages, frozen desserts, chocolate, low acid canned foods, baking powderLactic acid, citric acid, ammonium hydroxide, sodium carbonate
Leavening AgentsPromote rising of baked goodsBreads and other baked goodsBaking soda, monocalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate
Anti-caking agentsKeep powdered foods free-flowing, prevent moisture absorptionSalt, baking powder, confectioner's sugarCalcium silicate, iron ammonium citrate, silicon dioxide
HumectantsRetain moistureShredded coconut, marshmallows, soft candies, confectionsGlycerin, sorbitol
Yeast NutrientsPromote growth of yeastBreads and other baked goodsCalcium sulfate, ammonium phosphate
Dough Strengtheners and ConditionersProduce more stable doughBreads and other baked goodsAmmonium sulfate, azodicarbonamide, L-cysteine
Firming AgentsMaintain crispness and firmnessProcessed fruits and vegetablesCalcium chloride, calcium lactate
Enzyme PreparationsModify proteins, polysaccharides and fatsCheese, dairy products, meatEnzymes, lactase, papain, rennet, chymosin
GasesServe as propellant, aerate, or create carbonationOil cooking spray, whipped cream, carbonated beveragesCarbon dioxide, nitrous oxide

(source: )

2)  Next, we found this lovely picture of How food alergans must be declared on food labels to comply with FDA labelling rules.  Here is the FDA's posting:


From Canada:  

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) provides a more specific list of suggested foods and names.  In Canada, the labelling laws are a bit different, whereby the manufacturer must list ingredients by the common name.  Now, this fully comes into  into effect in August, 2012, but the transition is happening now with many companies.  

Until the full transition is made, it is helpful to know what other names exist for some foods, and what products likely contain those foods.

Other names for eggs
  • Albumin, albumen
  • Conalbumin
  • Egg substitutes, for example, Egg Beaters
  • Globulin
  • Livetin
  • Lysozyme
  • Ovo (means egg), for example, ovalbumin, ovomucin, ovotransferrin
  • Silico-albuminate
  • Vitellin

Other names for milk

  • Beta-lactoglobulin
  • Casein, rennet casein
  • Caseinate (ammonium caseinate, calcium caseinate, magnesium caseinate, potassium caseinate, and sodium caseinate)
  • Delactosed or demineralized whey
  • Dry milk, milk solids
  • Hydrolyzed casein and hydrolyzed milk protein
  • Lactalbumin and lactalbumin phosphate
  • Lactose
  • Lactoferrin, lactoglobulin
  • Milk derivative, fat and protein
  • Modified milk ingredients
  • Whey and whey protein concentrate

Food and products that contain or often contain eggs

  • Baked goods (including some type of breads) and baking mixes
  • Battered and fried foods
  • Cream-filled desserts, for example, custards, meringues, puddings and ice creams
  • Egg and fat substitutes
  • Fat replacers, for example, Simplesse
  • Lecithin
  • Mayonnaise
  • Meat products with fillers, for example, meatballs and meatloaf
  • Nougats, marzipan candy
  • Pasta (fresh pasta, some types of dry pasta for example, egg noodles)
  • Quiche, soufflé
  • Salad dressings, creamy dressings
  • Sauces, for example, Béarnaise, hollandaise, Newburg, tartar

Food and products that contain or often contain milk

  • Artificial butter, butter flavour or butter oil
  • Dark chocolate
  • Baked goods (including some type of breads) and baking mixes
  • Battered and fried foods
  • Broth and bouillons
  • Caramel colouring or flavouring
  • Casseroles, frozen prepared foods
  • Cereals, cookies and crackers
  • Chocolate bars
  • Desserts, for example, custards, frozen yogourts, ice creams and puddings
  • Dips and salad dressings
  • Egg and fat substitutes
  • Fat replacers, for example, Opta and Simplesse
  • Glazes
  • Gravies and sauces
  • High-protein flour
  • Malt-drink mixes
  • Margarine
  • Pâtés and sausages
  • Pizza
  • Potatoes (instant, mashed and scalloped potatoes)
  • Seasonings
  • Soups and soup mixes, cream soups
  • Soy cheese

Food and products that contain or often contain seafood

  • Ethnic foods, for example, fried rice, paella and spring rolls
  • Garnishes, for example, antipasto, caponata (Sicilian relish)
  • Gelatin, marshmallows
  • Pizza toppings
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces, for example, marinara, Nuoc Mâm, steak and Worcestershire
  • Seafood soups and broths
  • Spreads, for example, taramasalata
  • Sushi (California rolls)
Other possible sources of seafood
  • Deli meats, hot dogs (from gelatin)
  • Dips, spreads
  • Fried foods (from contaminated frying oil)
Non-food sources of seafood
  • Compost or fertilizers
  • Fish food
  • Lip balm, lip gloss
  • Pet food

Some of the items on this list came as a surprise to us.  We imagine that happened to some of you, too.  Although some of this is quite obvious, it is better to read the labels, look for the ingredients you want to avoid -- by common and/or scientific name, and make the best decision you can.  Perhaps you will think it is easier to just avoid buying any food in a package, or you will stick to ones from a health food store that carries all vegetarian items.  But, you don't know for sure until you read!  Let us know what you have encountered -- especially if you can help someone else get it right!

Even if we have thousands of acts of great virtue to our credit, our confidence in being heard must be based on God's mercy and His love for men. Even if we stand at the very summit of virtue, it is by mercy that we shall be saved.
—St. John Chrysostom

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Day 12: Thursday Throwdown - Taramosalata

Each Thursday during the 2012 Great Lent, we we are going to have a comparison within a product category of  two or more different recipes or two or more different brands; we plan to even compare two or more variations of well-known recipes.  So, let's begin our first "Thursday Throwdown."

Today we are starting with tarama and taramosalata. First of all, let's clarify what tarama is; according to Wikipedia, it is "...the salted and cured roe of the cod or the carp...".  Taramosalata is a meze dip which is usually made by mixing tarama with a starchy base such as bread or potato, olive oil and an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice.  It is common in recent years for companies to make the tarama look reddish or pink by also adding food colouring.  Sometimes the colouring agent is so intense that it is almost distracting to the eye.  Also, in our experience, some brands of highly coloured tarama have a strong, chemical flavour.

Here are two popular brands of tarama, Krinos and Niki (product of Greece). Krinos lists carp roe, salt, 100% canola oil and color as its ingredients, whereas Niki's listed ingredients are carp roe and salt. Given the bright red colour of the latter, perhaps there are other non-listed ingredients in this product?

Niki brand taramas

Krinos brand taramas

Then, we will follow the recipes of different authors and compare the final product.  We will show you what the results look like and provide you our personal opinions about our likes and dislikes.

Please note that we had a difficult time choosing a taramosalata recipe.  Many of them contain too many ingredients and quite a few of the dozen recipes we examined used potatoes and bread together.  For simplicity's sake, we used a recipe which allows for the tarama to stand on its own. 

Ingredients shown: olive oil, jar of tarama, small onion, Meyer lemon, sliced white bread

Taramosalata with Bread (source of recipe: The Lenten Collection, page 6, a Cookbook, 1996, Morris Press)
Recipe makes about 1 cup

4 slices (1 inch thick) stale Italian bread, crusts removed
3 Tbsp. tarama caviar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil

Soak bread in some water for about 10 minutes to soften.  Squeeze well to remove the excess water.  In a blender or small food processor, place the bread, tarama, lemon juice, onion, and 1/4 cup of the oil.  Process until the mixture is smooth.  Add the remaining oil and process until it is creamy.  Pour into a small serving bowl and garnish with sliced lemon.  Serve with bread or crackers.

Final product: Taramosalata with bread (made with Krinos taramas on the left and Niki taramas on the right)

Our three adult testers came up with the following results
i) (Comments about the recipe made with the Niki brand of tarama, with bread): "I think it's very thin, almost liquidy. I don't know if it's because of the soft roe or because the recipe has too much lemon juice"; "The flavour is quite nice; it is pleasantly fishy because taramosalata should taste like this"; "It tastes good, even though it is a bit runny."

ii) (Comments about the recipe made with the Krinos brand of tarama, with bread): "It's a bit sweet"; "It has  a nice texture, more pleasant than the other one, in my opinion"; "I like the way it looks. It looks attractive. It has a more solid texture for a meze plate, whereas the other brand (Niki) would just pool on my plate."

WINNER: Tie!  The flavour of the Niki brand was enjoyed equally well between our three testers, although the Krinos brand was also enjoyed for its flavour and its better mouth-feel and overall texture.

Ingredients shown: water, olive oil, small onion, Meyer lemon, Yukon Gold potatoes

Taramosalata with Potatoes (source of recipe:  The Lenten Collection, page 7, a Cookbook, 1996, Morris Press)
Recipe makes about 2 cups

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed (we used Yukon Gold (or yellow-fleshed potatoes))
5 Tbsp. tarama caviar
juice from 1 lemon (we used a Meyer lemon for our recipe)
1/2 small onion, quartered
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 cup water or clam juice

Boil the potatoes until tender and drain.  While still warm, place the potatoes and other ingredients, NOT the water or clam juice, in a food processor and process until creamy and smooth.  If the mixture is too thick, then add the water or clam juice and process until just blended.  Adjust the amount of lemon juice to your own liking.  Serve with bread or crackers.

Our three adult testers came up with the following results:
i) (Comments about the recipe made with the Niki brand of tarama, with potatoes): "I can't get over that mashed potato texture"; "Texture was gummy"; "Flavour of the onion overpowers the tarama flavour"; "There's a lingering aftertaste that stays with you"; "I don't get the tarama flavour coming through"; "If someone had served this to me, I would eat it, still enjoy it because it's still tasty, but if I were to choose between this brand and the other one (Krinos) I would not choose this one as my first preference."

ii) (Comments about the recipe made with the Krinos brand of tarama with potatoes): "I kind of like this taramosalata because it has almost a buttery flavour and texture"; "I thought it was a light, fishy, mashed-potato dip but it's filling and it tastes fresh"; "I prefer this one to the other brand (Niki) because this one is flavourful and not overpowering".

WINNER: Krinos brand.  The overall flavour and rich texture of the Krinos brand was the consistent favourite of all three testers.  The pronounced aftertaste and gummy texture of the Niki tarama-based taramosalata were the two most noticeable complaints about this brand. 

In conclusion, after trying these combinations, all three of the testers clearly prefer the bread-based taramosalata made with Krinos taramas.  Your opinion may differ-- and that's O.K.  We'd like to hear your thoughts based on your experience with these brands or other ones not mentioned here.

Fasts and vigils, the study of Scripture, renouncing possessions and everything worldly are not in themselves perfection, as we have said; they are its tools.  For perfection is not to be found in them; it is acquired through them. It is useless, therefore, to boast of our fasting, vigils, poverty, and reading of Scripture when we have not achieved the love of God and our fellow men.  Whoever has achieved love has God within himself and his intellect is always with God.
—St. John Cassian

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Day 11: A Few Cookbooks for Lent

Yesterday, we talked about a cookbook we like, titled "The Lenten Collection."  Today, we want to point out that we have several cookbooks that are geared or contain recipes that can be used by a family practising Orthodox fasting.  The Lenten Collection (1996, Morris Press) was one of the finds at a used bookstore.  Many churches throughout the U.S. and Canada publish cookbooks as fundraisers, and we have found that some of those are absolute treasures.  This is because the recipes are submitted by the parishioners -- all of whom hail from different parts of Greece, Cyprus, the U.S. or Canada, so each one brings his or her own style to a dish.  We may see ten recipes for taramasalata, and each one is different.  So, we try each of the ten over the course of the year (or less), and learn which one we may like the best, and which one is most like what we already know.  As many people do, we often are geared toward the familiar.

There are other books available that offer reasonable recipes for fasting foods.  Another one of our favourites is the cookbook that we picked up on one of the trips to the Monastery.  Who better to talk about fasting-appropriate foods than a monk?  Since monks don't eat meat any time, it is a great way to start in fasting.  Many of the recipes in this book are easy to follow, geared toward organic cooking, and use natural, fresh ingredients.  It is very clean food.  For some of the recipes, we find that we have to add a little more spices and seasonings, since often the seasoning is very light.  But, that's a personal preference. For many, I am sure, the Monastery's seasoning is just right.

We also like the Greek Monastery Cookery for Great Lent because the recipes are noted as 'strict fast' or not.  If it is not noted, then it is acceptable for any fasting period, but if the notation is there in the book, we know that we are fine for a strict fast.  This makes it easier for the layman to follow the guidelines without too much stress or worries.  We like it when we don't have to worry too much!

The size of a book can matter to some.  Often, we get burdened by such large cookbooks that are not too portable from the shelf to our kitchen counter.  So, we do pay attention to the size of a book.  When looking at cookbooks, we often look to see if there are any "new" recipes, in that, are there some combinations of food that sound absolutely delicious?  We check to see if there are pictures -- in colour, each recipe, or in a section?  We look at a cookbook to see how old it is -- sometimes, the newer ones try too hard to be "healthy" or "light" or "modern" that the recipes lose the essence of the original food.  For example, you cannot make a traditional avgolemono sauce without the eggs just so you cut some calories.  That doesn't work for us. An avgolemono without eggs is not really an avgolemono!  So, we try to avoid books that are "extreme" like that.

Lastly, when it comes to a cookbook, we like to know if it is one that features stories -- whether of the author, the village, or the recipe itself.  Michael Psilakis' How to Roast a Lamb - new greek classic cooking is one of the books with many such interesting stories.  Psilakis tells about his childhood, his first experience with a dish, and some of his family tales around certain foods.  It makes us feel like we know the Chef more, and gives us a personal connection to him and, therefore, to some of his recipes.

When finding the right cookbook for yourself, it has to be one that has at least one recipe that you will use.  Since we all look for different things in a cookbook, each collector establishes a unique  cookbook collection based on their own criteria.  A cookbook must speak to you about the food and methods, and be a book that you will open and understand.  If it is overwhelming to read the recipes, then that is not the right book for you.

We have many cookbooks.  Our collection is eclectic and interesting, but is also a work in progress.  As time passes and our tastes change, so do our books.  We have many classic, traditional-style food books, as well as several from the famous chefs of today.  We have ones handed down from our parents, and ones that we have received as gifts.  All of them are treasures, all of them are interesting.  We are blessed to have so many choices, and so many good resources to help us experience food and culture from so many different perspectives.  We are also very blessed to have all of you who are reading this to share your take on any cookbooks that you have, so we can all continue to learn together.

"It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deut. 8:3). 

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Day 10: Fakes (φακές) (Greek Green Lentil Soup)

Well, since yesterday was such a big day, today, for many, may be a let down, or it may be a day to start the routine.  There are a few folks who will come up with seven or eight dishes that are appropriate for Lent, and then just repeat the menu every week.  We have planned our menu for this week, and typically, we like to have a simple meal of fakes (φακές) after any kind of a feast day, so that is today. 

Fakes (φακές) -- Lentil Soup is a staple food in most Greek households.  It is a simple, warming dish that can be eaten any night of the week -- especially the busy ones.  Lentils, in general, don't take too long to cook.  Since this soup is made with a few vegetables, lentils, and some tomato product, which are ingredients we have on hand every day, we can make this as soon as we come home from work, and enjoy dinner within the hour.

This dish is one that people make differently all over Greece.  We have a few cookbooks that show different methods, different ingredients, and some different consistencies.  You can add couscous, brown rice, tomatoes, other veggies, or keep it simple.  You may want to serve it with vinegar, like the traditional, or with some hot sauce (Frank's RedHot is always a favourite choice in our home!)  I like my fakes (φακές) thick, like stew, whereas husband likes them thin, like soup.  We often end up with something in between, but appreciate that these are good either way.  And, because we do compromise often, we serve Fakes with both vinegar, hot sauce and olives on the side!

Based on the recipe from the cookbook The Lenten Collection, which was put to print by the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Boston in 1996 (published by Morris Press, Kearney, NE 68848), here is how you make the most basic Fakes (Φακές):

This recipe serves 6 as an entree
You will need:
1 pound (454 g) Lentils                   2 medium Carrots, diced small
1 medium Onion, diced                   1 Potato, cut to small cubes
2 Tbsp. Tomato paste                     1-2 Bay Leaf
Salt, Pepper                                   enough Water to cover the lentils
Vinegar (for serving)

Rinse the lentils.  Sort out the bad ones and put the good, rinsed lentils in a pot.  Add the chopped onion, carrot and potato.  Mix in the tomato paste, salt, pepper, and bay leaves.  Pour enough water in the pot to cover the ingredients by 1/2 inch on top.  Cook on medium-high heat until boiling.  Cover and simmer for 45 minutes until the lentils are cooked to your liking (mostly soft).  Serve hot with the vinegar, hot sauce, or oil on the side for each individual to choose.

Note:  This recipe works great in a slow cooker/crock pot.  set it on low for 8 hours, and the soup will cook while you are at work!   

Clean food.  Simple Food.  Clean hearts.  Simple fast.  All with God's love.

Homily Seven - Another On Fasting
by Saint Gregory Palamas

In this time of fasting and prayer, brethren, let us with all our hearts forgive anything real or imaginary we have against anyone. May we all devote ourselves to love, and let us consider one another as an incentive to love and good works, speaking in defense of one another, having good thoughts and dispositions within us before God and men. In this way our fasting will be laudable and blameless, and our requests to God while we fast will be readily received. We shall rightly call upon Him as our Father by grace and we can boldly say to Him, "Father, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12)

Monday, 27 February 2012

Day 9: Clean Monday: Καθαρά Δευτέρα

Clean Monday.   It is a day for itself.  There are so many special things about this very first day of the Great Lent.  It is called this because this is the day that Christians are called upon to begin the holy season with Clean hearts and good intentions; clean their spiritual houses, and come to terms with their lives, rededicating themselves to God.  We spend the Sunday night asking for forgiveness of everyone, and then, Monday, we start anew.  

It is traditionally the day that we try to get out and fly kites, spend the time with family, and oddly enough, have shellfish.  We introduce to our family the Kyra Sarakosti cookies that we made.  She is representative of the Lenten period.  She has seven legs -- one to represent each week of fasting.  As the fast continues, we break off a leg each week, therefore keeping a calendar of how many weeks of Great Lent, in a sense.  

So, we are planning the Clean Monday meal -- Koulouma.  There is no oil consumption today, no meat, no dairy, no animal products.  One thing that is on the table for every year, CleanMonday is Halva.  It is a sesame treat that can satiate a sweet tooth, and eaten during  fasting times.  We usually buy the Krinos Halva because it is tasty, easy to find, and quite reasonably priced.  It's available in different flavours, too (traditional, marble, with pistachios, with almonds).  We buy the different flavours to satisfy everyone in the family and the guests we have invited.  

It's unusual to start with dessert, but sometimes you just have to!  For the rest of the meal, we like to stay traditional in our menu and our choices.  So, we have the lagana.  This is the flat bread that is only eaten for Clean Monday.  In the past, we have made our own, but this year, time flew past that we did not have a chance.  So, we'll stop at one of the bakeries and buy a loaf or two.  If you wanted to make your own, today or next year, there are several nice recipes for lagana available on the internet.  Here are a couple of easy to follow, good tasting links: Lagana 1, Lagana 2

Roasted and pickled red peppers -- in a brine, topped with oregano

Pickled Artichoke hearts (from a jar)

Steamed shrimp tossed with pepper, lemon juice, and salt.

Lupina -- nice snack food, easy, and out of the can.

Boiled new potatoes

Hummus, no oil, made with red peppers (pictured above).  Use the red pepper juice instead of oil.

Meyer Lemons to squeeze on everything!

Taromasalata -- traditional and yummy.

Olives stuffed with garlic, with hot peppers.

Lightly steamed cauliflower and broccoli.

Some black olives, washed, and tossed with ground oregano and vinegar.

Revithosoupa -- chick pea soup with onions and garlic.

The meal. 
Fasting foods that fill you up enjoyed with family.

We also had a nice variety of toursi -- pickled vegetables in vinegar; some boiled shrimp, boiled potatoes, steamed veggies, and one of the easiest tastiest soups -- revithosoupa (chick pea soup).  We think it is easy because it is just a few ingredients.  Some will prefer the Tahini soup, which is tahini (sesame paste) with water and a squeeze of lemon at the end.  But, with the Revithosoupa, there is some more texture, some heartiness to it.  We think that is an important factor for today's meal, since it is the only one all day. 

When making revithosoupa, it is easy to omit the oil for today.  Otherwise, use oil when sautéing the onions.  

We wish you all a Good Lent , Καλή Σαρακοστή.  May God be with you today and every day through your journey.

Taken from Wikipedia:

The theme of Clean Monday is set by the Old Testament reading appointed to be read at the Sixth Hour on this day (Isaiah 1:1-20), which says, in part:

Wash yourselves and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool (vv. 16–8).

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Day 8: Forgiveness Sunday

Sunday of Forgiveness.  Cheesefare Sunday.  It is the day that we ask for forgiveness for all we have done and all we have said.  We ask this of everyone we know.  We ask our family, friends, and acquaintances, but we also have to ask God.  How can we do that?   Well, one way is through the fasting we are taking on right now, and for the next seven weeks.

Today is the last day that we will eat any dairy products (cheese, milk, butter...).  By our giving up so many things, we can focus on God and prayer and ask for forgiveness.  When we do this with our friends, family, or loved ones, this can be very emotional experience.

It is a way to take on a new beginning with people, with God, and with out spiritual lives.  It's humbling, I tell you,  and we humble our souls by doing this so we are ready to accept Christ at His Resurrection.  This takes us right into Clean Monday, when we are forgiven, our hearts are clean, and we approach Pascha with clean hearts and clean minds.

If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses (Matthew 6:14).

Day 7 - Kyra Sarakosti

Today is a great day for a togetherness project.  We have so much to do, and sometimes it is nice to have company to do it all.  Today is the day for Kyra Sarakosti.  Have you met her?  She is a wonderful tool to use to keep track of the Lenten period -- sort of a calendar for Great Lent.  There are many variations in different parts of Greece of how they use such a tool, but here is the one that we know.  We know that the large, baked, unedible cookie hangs in the house, reminding us of several important facts about our religion  We discuss the details at the bottom of this page.

So, we make a cookie, similar to a baked homemade play dough.  Some people make Kyra Sarakosti out of paper, some make her out of fabric, like a pillow, some may use a boiled potato with seven (7) feathers.  But, for a togetherness project, whether with friends or family, the cookie is actually quite nice.  We make several and share with friends and close family, so we can all track Great Lent together.  Here is the recipe:

2-2 1/2 cups flour                                          1/2 cup salt
2-2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon                                   water (as much as needed)
Please do not eat this cookie.  It is not edible.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the wonderful webmasters of and for the source of the Kyra Sarakosti's printable templates and recipe (from that is shown below. Click here to go to the templates we have used. Template 1; Template 2; Template 3 (please note that these links were verified in March, 2013).

Combine the dry ingredients in  a large mixing bowl.  Mix while slowly adding the water until a firm dough is formed.  It should feel like bread dough -- not too wet, but not super-dry.

Each one of us got a ball of dough, and we each chose our own template to make.

Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to the desired thickness (about 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick), and use a knife to cut out the figure.

See if the dough has been rolled out big enough for the template that you have.

We cut out the actual picture, along the lines, so that we could just trace the picture with a knife.

Cut around the edges of your template.

Pull away the extra dough, but do not discard it -- you may need it to make the arms and face.

It is tricky to cut in between the feet, be patient.

Use the knife or use dough to form Kyra Sarakosti's closed eyes, nose, arms, and details.  If you want to, add pleats to the skirt.

Here is an easy way to cut out the feet -- cut the leg line, then, cut the skirt line.  All you have to do is connect the two with a triangle shape to make the feet.

Use the knife to add the details.

Roll out the dough into small pieces to make the details that you want to add.

 Some people will gently wipe the cut figure with a damp cloth before baking to get a shiny cookie.  Bake at about 350 degrees F for 15-25 minutes, until the "cookies" are golden in colour.

Please do not eat this cookie.  It is not edible.

If you notice, Kyra Sarakosti is drawn in the image of a nun.  She does not have a mouth.  This is to represent the idea that we are fasting, and the mouth is unneeded.  Some people will put a small mouth to represent the fasting.  She has closed eyes or very innocent eyes.  This is because she is in prayer.  Her hands are folded together to, also, show the prayer.  And, Kyra Sarakosti has 7 (seven) feet or legs.  This is to represent the seven weeks of Great Lent.  Each week, one leg is broken off, and the ones that remain count the weeks of fasting that remain. 

As we continue to fast, we continue to pray, and they go together in a much more focused way through Great Lent.  Kyra Sarakosti reminds us, as does the prayer of St. Ephraim (copied directly from

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk; but give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother,  for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.

(The Prayer or St. Ephraim)