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A taste of this and a taste of that

Hors d’œuvre or appetizers are food items served before the main courses of a meal, but the Greek meze table can also be a place of lingering. Here we mezethes of mozzarella cheese sprinkled with basilic flowers, black Greek olives, sun-dried tomatoes, Italian salami, and Spanish Serrano jamon. In the family in my novel What’s Left, Cassia may have had food like this. Photo by Bdieu via Wikimedia Commons.

 

‘Vegan Before 6’ for Great Lent

As Quakers, we’re not confined to a liturgical calendar or its requirements. Even so, through much of our history, members of the Society of Friends lived within the limitations of strict discipline, which included plain dress like the Amish and plain speech of the “thee” and “thou” sort.

These have greatly loosened up over the past century, which is not to say we don’t live out a distinct set of values – we’re just more flexible or forgiving. Non-violence and pacifism, equality, simplicity, social justice, and truthfulness remain forefront in our daily lives. Few Friends I know smoke, and in our circles, I suspect the majority now drive Priuses as a consequence of faith. Many, but by no means all, participate in vigils or social witness demonstrations.

But being Quaker doesn’t preclude us from what Douglas Steere coined “mutual irradiation,” acknowledging that we can learn from others’ religious practices and experiences and encourage them in their own. It’s not the same as a lowest-common-denominator ecumenism, but rather a willingness to be inspired and enlightened by our differences. It’s something I’ve been enjoying among the Greek-Orthodox where I live, and found with Mennonites and Brethren earlier. It’s also a principal reason I participate in the Dover Area Religious Leaders’ Association and our joint services.

Of course, remarrying has changed some of my perspectives. With children, especially, there was no way of downplaying Christmas, not in contemporary American society. (Historically, Friends were among those who considered it a pagan import.) I’ve previously posted about the revolutionary ways observing Advent has helped me cope with the commercial assault of that holiday.

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Eliminating a liturgical calendar also meant we also didn’t observe Easter. (Every day was to be holy.) And without Christmas or Easter, there would be no Advent or Lent.

Leap ahead.

There’s no way to totally ignore these, not when no longer live in close communities of our own and are often the only Quaker in our workplace. On top of that, many of us come from other faith traditions and carry within us many of those teachings and traditions, one way or another.

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All of this leads up to to a desire in our household to use Advent and Lent as times of renewal and rededication. We try to do a special reading together, at the least, and usually give up alcohol.

For the record, by the late 19th century, most Quakers had banned alcohol altogether – it’s not uncommon to meet Friends who have never had a drink in their life. On the other hand, when I admitted to enjoying a glass of beer or wine, one old Friend replied, “Jnana, in thy occupation, we’d be surprised if thee didn’t.” Remember, I was a newspaper editor.

So, here we are in what the Eastern Orthodox call Great Lent, and I’m surviving without my daily martini or a glass of wine with dinner. Abstaining reminds me of just how habitual these things become. Besides, I believe saying “no” for a season can be strengthen one’s willpower for other decisions, too.

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One year, my wife and I went largely vegan for Advent. She had reviewed all of the Eastern Orthodox dietary rules for that observance and concluded they were essentially vegan with the additional elimination of olive oil and alcohol. Oh, and when she concluded that since olive oil would have been the only oil in the eastern Mediterrean, she extended the ban to all cooking oils.

It was a tough period, as I posted at the time. She did come up with some marvelous dishes all the same, but rather than being freed from considerations of food, she was spending more time trying to find ways to manage.

This year, for the period of Great Lent, we’re taking a slightly different approach. Remember, we’re not confined to the ancient regulations, we’re doing this voluntarily. (And, as I’ve learned, the Orthodox rules are only suggested, not required, of the faithful.) What we’re doing is inspired by food guru Mark Bittman’s book Eat Vegan Before 6:00. In short, we have more options when it comes to the evening meal – especially, as we’re applying this, on the weekends.

Since I’m already trying to observe a Healthy Heart diet, I’m not seeing a lot of change. The biggest challenge has involved my morning coffee, which is already down to a single cup a day, thanks to another medical restriction.

No, alas, there are no wonder substitutes for dairy.

Homemade almond milk comes closest – we find much of the commercial variety to be vile. But almonds are comparatively expensive, and soaking the nuts and grinding and straining take time.

Oat milk, made from oatmeal, starts cooking in hot liquid, leaving an unpleasant layer of sludge in the bottom of the mug.

Coconut milk tastes like coconut, which I find disconcerting.

Black coffee seems harsh on an empty stomach – a sliver of lemon helps a little, somehow.

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So I’m counting the days till Easter – the Orthodox version, which comes at the end of Passover, a full week later than the Western celebration.

Who could portray Barney?

In the still speculative movie version of my new novel, What’s Left, who would you have portray her uncle Barney?

From my perspective, so much would have to depend on the eyes. Something soulful, at the start.

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A plate of popular summer Greek food: gemista or yemista (Γεμιστά), tomatoes, peppers (and sometimes eggplant and zucchini) stuffed with rice. Photo and cooking by Badseed via Wikimedia Commons.

In the family, Cassia may have had food like this.

Welcome spring!

It’s not yet warm enough for New Englanders to return to the outdoors quite like this, but we’re feeling the stirrings. Many of the Boston Revels’ performances celebrate the changing seasons, and the annual Spring Sing concert just took place in the United Methodist church in Watertown, Massachusetts. This scene with Mother Goose preparing to float toward the stage is from last fall’s equinox RiverSing in the Herter Park amphitheater along the Charles River in Allston.
The kids in the procession were lots of fun. We had two excellent children’s choirs participating.

Mixmaster? Just look at ‘Pit-a-Pat High Jinks’

Sunbeam’s Mixmaster quickly became a staple of 20th century American kitchens. Didn’t we all grow up with one? The line about radio interference, by the way, refers to the way the machine could disrupt the AM radio signal you were trying to listen to, often elsewhere in the house.

What, me as a Mixmaster?

Just look at the topics percolating in my novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

Here are ten:

  1. The early ’70s. The counterculture movement has changed. It’s no longer centered in a handful of big cities or a few isolated communes but is now found across the country, often revolving around college campuses.
  2. Back to the earth. For those who move out into the countryside, the new digs could be perplexing. Most of the hippies came from the city or suburbs, and few knew much about gardening or raising chickens or general household maintenance or even cooking. It could be a steep learning curve.
  3. Intentional households. Settling in with a group living together presents unique problems, even when it’s not a full-fledged commune. Just what are the advantages and disadvantages, anyway?
  4. Friends and housemates. Kenzie arrives in a place where he knows only one person but quickly encounters a host of friendly new faces. And through them, his adventures really take off. Where would he be without them?
  5. Each one is different.
  6. That first full-time job. Learning to cope can be a challenge.
  7. For Kenzie, this arises as Tibetan Buddhism and its daily practice.
  8. Couch surfing. The term hadn’t been coined yet, but here he is, spending many nights in friends’ apartments rather than back at the farm.
  9. His best friend’s collection of drums provides a counterpoint to the narrative. Just listen to how expressive this can be.
  10. Personal healing and growth. Kenzie undergoes a transformation through this time of seeming retreat. He emerges stronger, more caring, and happier, especially.

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