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.