Sunday, March 22, 2015

It's an honest question

The Pater Familias (down there in the ages of ages,
was a traditionalist, so it is told;
first, meting out with Lawful precision
and grudging exactitude
a holocaust to the local Baal,
appeasing some ancient superstition;
and after
he went out and built his cities
and though some turned to ruin and dust
or were flooded out of existence
he laid in the foundation 
for us 
with hard work and toil.
Building up city after city in a new country,
in another age,
with comely temples
and practical dwellings,
right up until, 
until his house fell in on his head.

Fifty-five generations hence,
went out and 
into harlots,
toiling upon an unforgiving Earth. 
Raising up the requisite altars 
with even more miserable results.
Each generation having raised up a would-be hero
(a real nutter by any realist’s estimation),
who cried us out of one country into the promise of rest.
Still and all,
Our People knew the score-
we bore the mark right on our bones.
We built the booths,
raised the altars,
turned up the earth
and wept bitter tears back in.

So when this young upstart 
gave up the ghost,
called my bluff,
wept on Your breast,
received in Your embrace-
How could I not turn it back on You?
Listen! You’ve done it all wrong!
I was first and I gave You Your due.
and what hell did it get me, anyway?
Not so much as one single roast kid for my pleasure.
I can’t give up now.
I can’t be fooled.
I’ll take my certain toil over this mytho-mystical rest.

You keep your peace; take it with You when You go.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Marshmallows are easy and fun to make and require just a few ingredients that can hang around your cabinets more or less indefinitely. I first made these confections in 2003, when I hosted my very first Christmas party.  We had an ornament exchange.  I made brie en croute, a rustic pate from chicken livers, cream and cognac, real eggnog, and Modjeskas.

What is a modjeska?  It is a wonderful caramel wrapped marshmallow named for the Polish Shakespearean actress, Helena Modjeska.  She was so captivating that Willa Cather, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Susan Sontag all wrote about her.  Helena's goddaughter Ethel Barrymore is Drew Barrymore's great aunt.

At one point during the party, an old mentor pulled me aside to express how dull it must be to be a homemaker.  Having nothing else to say, I unwrapped the candies as he spoke in increasing bewilderment and alarm regarding the state of affairs of my life (wed to a gainfully employed, doting husband with two children and one on the way).  When he paused to take a breath I popped the candy into his mouth.  I don't remember much about what passed next, but I do remember this guest ate every single candy in the cut glass bowl on the buffet table after his first taste.

This is a fun recipe to do with children.  It's science and a craft project rolled into one.  To celebrate a decade of my making these treats, I wanted to give you my recipe for Modjeskas.

Modjeskas take two recipes, requiring about 30 minutes apiece.  The marshmallows need time to cure so we will start with those first.

The Marshmallows

In the bowl of a stand mixer (fitted with a balloon whisk):

1/2 cup of cold water + 3 tablespoons of gelatin 
Do not mix. Allow the gelatin to bloom.

In a large sauce pan:
3/4 cups of light corn syrup + 2 cups sugar + 1/2 cup of water
Put together in a large sauce pan. Do not stir. Turn on medium high heat and cook until 238℉-240℉ on a candy thermometer.  
With your mixer running on low, carefully pour in the sugar syrup. Let it run for a minute and then gradually raise the speed of the mixer until it is on high. 
1 tablespoon of your best vanilla 
Beat the marshmallow until the bowl is barely warm to the touchand the marshmallow is shiny.  Pour into a oiled Pyrex dish.  Let stand for at least 3 hours.  Cut into squares and dust with confectioner's sugar.  Store in an airtight container.  They will keep for about 3 days.
The Caramel

In a large heavy bottom pot place:
2 cups of sugar + 1 cup of light corn syrup 
Without stirring, boil the sugar and syrup until it reaches 254℉ on a candy thermometer.  
2 sticks of unsalted sweet butter
Keep the syrup boiling as you stir in the butter until it is completely melted.
Add a little bit at a time:
2 cups + 2 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream
Keep the syrup at a rolling boil and just keep stirring. 
a pinch of baking soda + 1 tablespoon of good vanilla
The syrup will foam mightily at the point.  Keep the syrup boiling until it reaches 237℉ on a candy thermometer.  Pour into a buttered pan without scraping the sides of the pot.
Allow to cool until you can handle it.  Cut it into 1 inch squares and wrap around marshmallows.  Wrap the individual candies in parchment or wax paper.

These are a crowd pleaser.  Your family will love them and they make wonderful lagniappes and gifts for anyone who happens by.  Please enjoy!


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bright Week Chocolate Filled Brioche

Christ IS Risen!  Indeed, He is Risen!

I made these chocolate filled brioche rolls.  We always put up a typical Russyn Pascha Basket and this year, I made sure to put in plenty of butter for our Bright Week use.  It's my favorite thing, a little reminder that we're celebrating Jesus's Resurrection after three days in the tomb.  So for example that's not just buttered toast, now it's the Toast of the Feast of the Resurrection!

There is a slightly more complicated way and an easy way to make these rolls, I will leave it up to you to decide how you want to proceed.  I like to go slow when I bake.  So the steps take five minutes or so at a time across a couple or three days.  If you make kefir, this is a great way to use it, especially if it over-ferments.  If you don't make kefir use buttermilk, sour milk, yogurt (not low fat), whey, or even the store bought kefir.  Use what you have and don't worry about it.  If you don't have sourdough starter banging around on your counter, the simplest thing to for this recipe would be to fake it with some yeast, flour, and water (¼ tsp. yeast, ⅔ cup flour, ⅓ cup water) and to leave on the counter overnight or all day before you mix the dough.

Another think I like is accuracy, so I use my scale a lot when I bake, but you don't have to.  I have included volumetric measurements for your convenience.  Last tip:  bread raising is best when you can keep it loosely covered.  Shower caps are awesome for that.

buns in the oven

For the Sponge:

7 ounces (1 cup) active (i.e. revived and ready) sourdough starter 
(or fake it with ¼ tsp. yeast, ⅔ cup flour, ⅓ cup water left overnight or 8 hours)
8 ounces (1 cup) kefir or sour milk, room temperature
4.5 ounces (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour

(if you fake it add a ½ teaspoon instant yeast)
For the Dough

13.5 ounces (3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 large eggs, room temperature
6 ounces (3/4 cup) soft butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the Filling:

7 ounces good dark chocolate, chopped

For the Shining Crust:

One egg blended with 
2 tablespoons of water

Mix the sponge and set it aside for 2-4 hours until doubled.

To the sponge add the remainder of the ingredients for the dough and mix on low in the bowl of your mixer. once all the ingredients are incorporated let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes on medium speed (or mix by hand and knead the dough for 15 minutes).  The dough should be soft, a little sticky, but should all stay together.  Roll into a large ball and put in a clean bowl.  Cover and put in the fridge overnight.

The next day:  take the dough out of the fridge and let it stand on the counter for 2 hours or so (not more than 4 hours).  Roll out ½ inch thick in a rectangle.  leaving a 1 inch margin all the way around, sprinkle the rectangle with the chocolate.  From the long side roll the dough into a long log. 

For buns:  Butter a  regular muffin pan every other hole (so six per pan).  Take 1 inch slices of rolled dough and put them in the muffin pan.  Cover loosely and let rise 1 hour or until doubled.  Using a pastry brush, brush egg yolk all over the tops of the dough.  Bake at 375ºF for 25-30 minutes.  Check with an instant read thermometer to make sure they are done (with an internal temperature of 200ºF).  Mine were done after 25 minutes.

intant read thermometers are your friend when you bake.

For a loaf:  This recipe will make 2 loaves.  Butter a loaf pan. Place the roll in the pan and cover.  Let rise for 2 hours or until doubled.  Brush with the egg wash.  Bake at 350ºF for 35-45 minutes.  Check with an instant read thermometer to make sure they are done (with an internal temperature of 200ºF).  Mine was done after 42 minutes.

Remove to a cooling rack.  Share. Eat. Enjoy.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

So we found some frog eggs in a big puddle that some ducks splash in.  Ducks are good foragers and scavengers and will eat just about anything they find.  Frogs, tadpoles, and most certainly frog caviar are on the most choice of duck menus.   So the next day we returned with a container and a net to scoop them up and we brought them home.

We have been monitoring their growth daily and surprisingly they have been very easy to raise.  They hatched after just a couple of day, slipping free of their slimy bonds, looking like dormant little black rectangles.  Day-by-day they have grown, their various stages and structures surprisingly evident to the naked eye.  We transferred them to an aquarium and as of today they have a distinct head, external gill, and tail.  They hold onto vegetation with a sucker.

Training the little children to keep their fingers and other objects out of the tank is a slight challenge, but they are handling it well so far.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Clucky Business

I wish I had taken my camera out to take pictures of our growing little menagerie.  The chickens are a constant source of entertainment.  I have stood and watched them without another thought in mind except to observe their constant comings and goings.  For me, they are a joy.  

We live in a place where fences are considered rude and suspicious (it's a weird little place this town).  And for most of the last eight seasons we have managed without one.  With regard to Las Gallinas is that their coop is out in the open for all to see.  This has led to some wonderful and less than wonderful events.  First the wonderful:  I speak with some neighbor or two every day now.  Before the ladies arrived in their stylish coop, I cannot remember the last time I spoke with my neighbors in passing.  This has as much to do with me as it does with them.  I admit it.  I was hiding out.  Now that I am the only person amongst 800 souls rearing hens, it will take some schmoozing to unruffle those neighborhood feathers.

We actually have a regular Lenten act of kindness.  Okay, it isn't perfect because it is a little self-serving, but we started.  We like it doing it and we will continue.  What is it?  Well, I take some children and a full basket of eggs door-to-door and we share our bounty of cackleberries.  I am able to discuss the legal aspects of chicken keeping along with meeting new people and hearing their stories.  Sometimes I will have a 5 minute exchange, sometimes it is 30 minutes.  It is wonderful to hear who raised birds of their own growing up and who was chased by their rooster.  One neighbor told me a story about how when she and her husband lived in a Pittsburgh apartment they ordered 10 geese for Easter from a hatchery.  She would raise them until they feathered out and then donate them to a local man who raised the birds for meat and eggs (that's a pretty sweet deal for him).  Anyway, that year the hatchery first sent out 24 straight run day old chicks, which they wouldn't allow her to return.  They followed this with 10 ducklings and 10 goslings.  She said their were birds in the bathtub, on the balcony, and in the living room.  And then at 4 weeks, it turned out her straight run chicks were actually all ROOSTERS and they all started to crow.  I can't even imagine.  Eventually, she donated everyone to a local petting zoo.  And not surprisingly, she has not ordered any birds since.

The not so wonderful thing is that we have one neighbor who has resorted to calling anyone and everyone about the chickens.  Her complaining has been fairly frustrating and shrill, but what are you going to do?  Not everyone loves you all the time.

Pictures next time and more news.  More stories if I get them.  I know this was boring.  Thanks for hanging in there.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Catching Up

In two years a lot can change. It did and did not.

We are still here at the Little House on the Hill.  Johnstown is still culturally a challenging place to live.  Friends have described it as, 'the grey valley' (it is), and also as 'a valley full of Eeyore's' (stunningly accurate observation, Scot).

Anyway, it occurs to me that this prospective vocation of Mr. Flavius will see plenty of grey valleys and too many Eeyores worth counting. Working for the church isn't all incense and rose windows.  If I am not prepared to accept that then I would be quite naive.  Johnstown has a had several hard and challenging lessons, but the area has some silver linings.

The ACROD got a new bishop.  Bishop Gregory is a warm man with a heart for the church and her people.  New to the CR bunch is more rigorous fasting.  Don't ask me why I am excited about asceticism and bland diets, but it gets me all choked up to see fasting ratatouille recipes in the Cathedral bulletin.

I was pregnant in December and January.  We don't know why, but the baby died.  We did not know that he had died, but I had had some clues that all was not well with this pregnancy.  I wasn't tired particularly.  I had no morning sickness.  These are pretty bad signs as far as pregnancies go. For some reason, new life cannot come into this world absent a state of near narcolepsy and near hyperemesis gravidarum.  I need to quit discussing potential medical events with my father.  Last time I joked about breaking my leg, I did.  A day or two before the miscarriage began, I told him I wasn't entirely certain this pregnancy was going to "stick."  Though, at the time it wasn't a sad thought, just a possibility on a list of possibilities that never really seemed plausible despite at my utterance.

It took about a a day and a half.  And the first half, I would have fleeting thoughts that I was in labor, but that didn't seem real, so I dismissed it until I saw the blood.  And then it wasn't one or two, but three trips to the Emergency Room before I was admitted, but I was in shock having lost too much blood, and in a dangerous way.  "You need emergency surgery," they said. And then the priest came and anointed me with oil from the vigil lamp of St. John Maxomovitch.  And the doctor came back and said, "Your hemorrhage has stopped. You can go."  Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be well from your suffering.  

For forty days, I drowned in grief and depression.  Then repentance and the memorial and relief.  The pall passed, I did not die with my son, I did not drown utterly in my depression, I was not abandoned though maybe at times I wanted to be.  There are still tears, but there is also joy.  The memorial was a bitter-sweet celebration.  And we did celebrate.  In prayer and with feasting.  And I was able to say, Christ is risen and have JOY.  Nothing could have been more shocking or more natural.  Funny, how these things happen.  God is great.

In other news, we have added a few creatures to Little House on the Hill Homestead.  A couple of American Blue Rabbit does have joined the family and as of yesterday a small flock five of Rhode Island Red hens.  The plan is to breed the rabbits in May.  American Blue Rabbits are the rarest of the American breeds and included in the American Livestock Breed Conservancy program. They were recently upgraded to Threatened which is good.  They are primarily a meat and fur breed, but have very sweet dispositions and are very good mothers.  They are a large breed rabbit, which for our tumble bumble family is a good thing.  I am loving having the girls.  I am having rabbit dinner dreams.

 The hens, of course, just do their chicken thing.  I am super happy to say they are doing great, laying an egg each a day (which is really something).  I bought started pullets (for an unbelievable $5 apiece.  Thank you, Lord) and as luck would have it they just started laying this week.  Of course, I just checked on them and the birdbrains are all roosted under the coop like a bunch of idiots.  It is, of course, snowing.  At some point they will figure out it is warm and dry IN the coop.

We've had a bunch of birthdays.  We've made some friends.  We have had heartache and doubt.  We have cursed this place, each other, the discernment process.  I am pretty homesick these days.  I miss our parish and our family and all our friends.  But, most importantly, we are still here, Dammit.  Virtuti Moena Cedant.  The family motto isn't wasted on this bunch.  Just taking things one day at a time.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ramblings and Nopalitos

I'm back.  Sort of.  We'll see.

Let's talk about the eating part of Lent.  Lent is not actually about food, but for all practical purposes it may sometimes seem like it is about food.  I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, but if you are an Orthodox Christian you will understand what I mean.

Now if we were fasting perfectly, we would be eating (or not eating in some instances) small simple meals of essentially nutmeats and dried fruits or raw fruits or vegetables and bread and praying and acting in love towards our neighbors.  Evagrius said that one of the Fathers used to say, “Eat a little without irregularity; if charity is joined to this, it leads the monk rapidly to the threshold of apatheia [apatheia is defined as “the state of being unmoved by passion; this involves control of the passions rather than their destruction.”] (#6, p. 64) See?  Not about food.

The problem is I am not a desert mother.  And neither are my kids.  Worse, I am not even shooting for desert parenthood status.  I'm just trying to make it to bedtime.

Without crowing about it, we try to keep the fast, even with the kids.  I do keep milk in the fridge, but we keep the meals fast-worthy.  

When we lived in Texas, my favorite lenten addition was cactus or nopales.  Of course, Johnstown, Pennsylvania has little in the way of Latin American immigrants and therefore no cactus leaves.  Or so I thought.  

You see, one day I visited our local Big Bird Supermarket and used the self-checkout.  All I needed was some celery, but alas it lacked the appropriate UPC code (94070).  So I scrolled through the directory and lo! there they were.  Opuntia ficus-indica..  Now, the rule at the local Big Bird is:  if it is on their list, they can get it.  And that is true, but first you have to convince some one that you actually want it, that you are willing to buy the entire box.  Second, that you really want it and that you are willing to pay for the whole, entire box.  Annnnnnd finally that you really want it and you are willing to buy the whole, entire, 10+ pound box.  At retail.  THE WHOLE THING.  JUST GIMME THE BOX!!  JUST ORDER IT AND I WILL BUY IT! AAAAAAARRRRRRRRGH!!!!

Excuse me.  Sorry.  It was an ordeal, but I never really understood why.

Anyway, I've been chatting up these South of the Border treats quite a bit on The Social Network and it occurred to me that unless you have some sort of Latino connection, preparing this suckers might be a thorny situation. Heh.

How to Pick 'Em
So if you have seen these babies hanging around your local fruit-stand this is what to look for:  young pads, the size of your hand or smaller.  They should look green (like lettuce), firm, crisp, and succulent (since Optunia are after all succulents).  The fewer the spines the better.  And believe it or not, there are spineless varieties.   Rejoice if you find them.  Cactus leaves will keep in the fridge about a week.

How to Prepare Them
Obviously you do not want a mouth full of spines.  Or a hand full of spines for that matter.  It hurts like the dickens, for starters, and it takes days to get those near invisible red spines out of your fingers.  I use a razor sharp paring knife and a quart size freezer bag as my glove.  This way I can quickly clean and cut each pad down to size.  It helps if they are cold.  So 'glove' your holding hand with the baggie taking the knife trim the edges of all their spines.  Then holding the pad flat to the cutting board, scrape or slice off those spines with your super sharp paring knife.  Trim the stem end.  Rinse and repeat with the rest of the leaves.  When you have completed your task slice the leaves into ½" squares (nopalitos) or you can leave them whole as your recipe requires.  

How to Cook Them
Depending on the recipe you choose there are several options:  parboil, sauté, roast, or grill.  For Lenten, oil free preparations, parboiling is best.  Slice a little onion, crush a garlic clove, add the nopalitos, cover with water and boil for about 3 or 4 minutes.  DO NOT OVERCOOK IT.  It will be a slimy mess.  My favorite preparation with parboiled napoles is Nopales Salad.  Nothing could be more simple.  Dice some tomatoes, a little onion and garlic, either some jalepeño or dried red chile flakes, and some cilantro.  What can you put this on?  What can't you put it on?  Today I sautéed boiled potatoes and beans with some of this delightful ensalada and served these as tacos.  Over some steamed squash (particularly this guy).  Garnish soups with it or some vegan enchiladas.  

¡Buen provecho!

Still not convinced?  They taste like zippy-tangy green beans.
 Live a little, amigo!  Try it; you'll like it.