Sunday, December 14, 2014

Koliva: Food for the Dead

*Please note, this post deals with a subject within Orthodox Christianity. If this is offensive to you, kindly skip this post. And it deals with a type of food that I do not eat, so if that is going to upset you, please stop here.*
Koliva, for we teach ourselves and our children
 not to forget our loved ones when they die.
Today, we held the 40 day memorial for one of our church members, T. It was asked of me to make the koliva, a special food to honor and celebrate this phase of death. Koliva is, in its very basic form, boiled wheat (or rice). It is based off the scripture verse, John 12:24 where Jesus, predicting His own death, says, "Very truly I say unto you, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." And so, we gather wheat and prepare it and mix it with good things and we bring it to the church and pray for the soul of our friend who has been taken from us in this present life. We remember again that person so recently "fallen asleep". We mourn again their passing. And we celebrate that their memory is eternal, not just in our hearts and minds, but also in the heart and mind of God as well. That God holds them close and they are not forgotten.

It may seem strange to some, but it was, in very large part, the way Orthodox Christians handle death and dying that made me convert and embrace this expression of faith. Life is short. Eternity much longer. How we process our dead matters. How we treat their bodies matters. How we remember them matters. In Orthodoxy, we no longer have to fear death... God went there ahead of us and defeated the sting of it. We kiss our dead. We love and honor their bodies as a sacred part of their very essence and we pray, and sing; hold vigil, celebrate the liturgy with their body in our midst, bury them with more prayers and songs and then have a mercy meal to laugh and cry and remember them together. Forty days later, we pause in the midst of whatever may be going on and pray and remember them again. Then, on the anniversary of their death, we pray and remember them again. And time passes, and we do not forget.

My grandfather died two days before Thanksgiving. My extended family is not Orthodox. I was there beforehand to tell him "thank you" and how very much I loved him. When I heard the news that he had died, I was 30 miles away, but asked my mother to make sure that he wasn't taken away before I came to say goodbye one last time. When I arrived, I went in and kissed him and knelt beside him and prayed. My oldest son, Sailor, had arrived before me and done the same. I took BB in to pray and kiss his great grandfather's hand. Together, we wrapped a little bracelet BB had made as a gift for him around his wrist. We had tried to give it to him a few days earlier, but Grandpa Handsome, as we called him, we not well enough to have visitors when we had stopped by. So, we gave it to him now, simply as a token of affection. In the hours it took for the funeral home to arrive, I sat in vigil for my grandfather. He did not want a funeral, nor a memorial, no grave, no marker, nothing to be done in any way. Perhaps, he was being pragmatic. Or feeling like there was not really much to say about this man who had lived for 95 years. Some said what a gentleman he was to die before Thanksgiving. My heart ached at those words. He was beloved by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His nieces and nephews. Old friends, some much younger than him and one elderly 98 year old woman who had been his friend for over 50 years and lived in the same town.

We all will one day die. It is a part of the nature of this world. And so, let us honor and love our dead and make their memory to be eternal.

Ever yours,

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Spiralized Turnips and Zucchini: Hello, Lo-Mein!

Behold the lowly turnip and the amazing Spiralizer
Until yesterday, I can honestly say that I disliked turnips. Truly. And I'm Southern, so that's, like blasphemy around here. They are a bit on the bitter side, and tend to served only one way: boiled with their greens and some bacon grease. My Dad gave me about 20 pounds worth recently while I was on my latest Porchista trip for Front Porch Nation, and I really wanted to be able to enjoy them, but was dreading how to prepare them. And then, one of my sweet friends, Beth K, told me about and, for that little tip, I am super grateful.

Still, it took several weeks to get up the courage to prepare turnips. Courage, Girl, courage! I pulled down my trusty Paderno World Cuisine A4982799 Tri-Blade Plastic Spiral Vegetable Slicerthat I bought from Amazon, peeled my turnip and began. I added a small zucchini, which was starting, sadly, to go limp. It was the only thing I could think of to add, primarily to cut what I was anticipating as an overdose of bitterness. Carrot, yes, but carrots and I have become complicated, so I opted for the lonely zuke which had been languishing in my veggie drawer. Zucchini is also my standby low-carb noodle, especially for any "Italian" style dishes.
Paderno Spiralizer
One spiralized turnip, coming up!
Such a pretty veggie, this humble, easy to grow turnip is. I used the smalled "angel hair" blade and it made very nice strands. Then I tossed it into a skillet with some butter, ginger oil, and savory, spicy seasonings, covered with the bowl, so they could steam and soften and then I took the cover off to let them cook down a bit.
"Steaming" to soften. No, I did not have a recipe...
just winging it here.
Add some salt, stir around. I really didn't have a plan or recipe to go by. They had a smell that was starting to remind me of my favorite Asian Bistro, Ding How. I pulled the shrimp that I had set aside for my salad and decided they would be better added to these lo-mein style noodles instead. Excitement began to build, as what was for weeks a dreaded meal was now suddenly, surprisingly going to be, I knew, a real treat.
Shazaam! Winner! Winner!
And sure enough, I had created an amazing dish. And turnips, when prepared like this, have this wonderful peppery kick that begs for you to take just another bite, and another. Hot and warm and just delightful. UnSoutherned. Who knew? And as I stared down at my empty bowl, that I had just licked clean, I realized that if I had not had the courage to at least try to play with a veggie that I thought I hated, I would have never found this dish that I truly love. Dad's turnips are not going to go to waste after all. Not in this house!

As ever,

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Baked Cheese: one of my favorite things!

Cheese Crisps, the perfect low-carb solution


Need a crunchy, salty part of your meal that doesn't involve a grain? If you no longer eat crackers or chips, here is a lovely alternative. These easy-to-make "crisps" have been a true "game changer" in my mental attitude about how amazing my food is. I generally eat it in 1 oz portions. 
This recipe takes five minutes start to finish.

What you need:
  • Pyrex round baking/microwave safe dish
  • hard, sharp cheddar cheese (Kerrygold Dubliner Irish Cheddar is my personal favorite)
  • microwave (others use an oven, doesn't bubble, but still good)
  • spices, optional
  • scissors, optional

1. Cut roughly 1.5”- 2” cubes of cheese and line the rim with of the bottom of your round baking dish (you do not need to spray with cooking spray), making sure to leave the center of the dish empty. As it bakes/cooks in the oven, it will melt and head for the center. This allows for more even cooking time.

2. Bake/Microwave for 3 minutes on high. Check to see if firm all the way… it should not be runny or gooey. NOTE: YOUR PLATE IS HOT, USE CAUTION! Microwave in 30 second intervals till no longer gooey in the center.  As it microwaves, the cheese bubbles and sets (as pictured).

3. Immediately when done, use a fork or knife and lift up cheese and place a paper towel underneath. Failure to do this will result in your cheese “cementing” itself to your dish: what a waste of a fine tasty thing! This cheese cools completely within 3 minutes, so from start to finish, stay with this process to ensure best results.

Optional: Sprinkle with seasonings, if desired. Savory ones like smoked paprika, garlic or chili powder or, my favorite: Zulu Braai Dust from All Spice Emporium.

Optional: While still hot, using sharp scissors, cut cheese into shapes. Once the cheese cools, it is hard and will not cut, but you can break it just as easily.

Travels well. 
Can keep for several days unrefrigerated.
Freezes well.