Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy feasting

Feasts mean food. This week is no different. It's Passover for the Jewish people, the Easter Triduum for Christians. It's a time for bitter herbs and unleavened bread, for fasting and abstinence. But it's also a time for joy, celebration, and thanksgiving to a bounteous God for a plenitude of grace.

Check out the National Post's Food Quarterly (link at right) for Easter and Passover recipes, and for an interesting commentary on the menagerie of chocolate animals that seem to have displaced the Easter bunny.

Also, below is the recipe for my Good Friday dish: Steamed Salmon and Tofu with Garlic. I got it from a newspaper clipping which I've since lost. God bless the chef who shared it! Have a blessed Holy Week!


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Join our girls' club, see the world

In the movie, The Prize-Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Julianne Moore plays a mother who supports her family of ten by entering all the contests she can find. In one contest, she wins a shopping spree at the local supermarket. Amazingly, instead of stocking up on practical things like chicken legs and canned tuna, she goes for more exotic items like olives and caviar. Even more amazingly, upon arriving home with the loot, she seats the entire family around the kitchen table and proceeds to open every single can, bottle, and jar. She encourages them to try everything, and tells them about the country where each item comes from. Not only does she treat her children to a feast, she widens their horizons, and teaches them to dream, to aspire for a better life.

It was a brilliant move by this wise and courageous mother; one I am now trying to emulate by making "World Travels" this year's theme for my girls' club. Every month since last fall, we've been travelling to a different country. We learn about its geography, history, and culture, and make a native dish or handicraft. Whenever possible, I try to ask someone from that country to come and take us there.

Fabrics from Peru
Edith from Mexico brought her lovely swirly skirts and taught us how to dance. Our Japanese friends Kiyomi and Naoko demonstrated how to wear a kimono and make sushi. Anna, who does volunteer work with Ka'ren refugees from Myanmar, showed us photos of the camps where displaced Ka'ren have to live until they are relocated to other countries. With Vanessa we went to Macchu Picchu and made jewellery from Peruvian beads. This month, we went on a whirlwind tour of ancient Rome, the Renaissance, and modern Italy. Then we made pizza. And we realized that there is something universally appealing about mixing, kneading, and rolling out dough - and getting flour on your nose.

Before setting off on each trip, we spread out a world map to locate the country to which we are travelling. Today, one of the girls brought a globe to replace the map, which was getting crumpled and torn. When you plug the globe in, it lights up. I think it's particularly apt for our club to have a globe that lights up. Hopefully, travelling and learning together will shine a light that never goes out.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Are you feeling tired, stressed and run-down?

Here's a piece of good advice someone once gave me: get rid of the little stressors. We all have them - little things that we simply put up with because they seem so small and silly, they're not worth the trouble. Or maybe we think we just don't have the time to deal with them. And yet, once we take a few minutes to actually make that tiny change, what a huge difference it makes!

A friend of mine replaced a coin purse that kept popping open and spilling her change. Another friend changed her office chair. I myself stopped wearing contact lenses - they irritated my eyes, especially at the end of the day, and caused frequent headaches. Got myself a trendy pair of glasses. And I've been headache-free for weeks. (That's just literally speaking, of course.)

Look around you. Maybe you just need to find a more comfortable pair of shoes. (Honestly, sometimes I look at some women's faces, then down at their feet, and I think, "Well, no wonder she's so grumpy.") Maybe you need to move a piece of furniture you keep banging your hip against. Maybe you need to sharpen your kitchen knives so food prep will be easier. Maybe you should spend those last (or first) few minutes in bed praying or meditating instead of worrying. Maybe you and your spouse need to get your own separate tubes of toothpaste that each of you can squeeze wherever you want. It really could be that simple and that easy.

I'm not saying that the secret to happiness is a stress-free life. But I think it makes sound sense to fix the things we can fix, so we can clear our heads and save our time and energy for life's bigger challenges. 


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Easiest Weekend Brunch Ever!

I love it when I can put something delicious together so effortlessly, using ingredients readily on hand. In celebration of the first weekend of spring, here's a nice, fresh, light, easy breakfast or brunch.

1 piece of bread, preferably brioche
Cream cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 sprig of green onion or chive, scissored into bits
Smoked or barbecued salmon, flaked
Little bit of butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Toast the bread and spread with cream cheese.
Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the green onion and cook until just soft.
Add the salmon and egg, salt and pepper, mix and let set, then flip over to cook the other side.
Slide out of the pan and onto the prepared toast.
Serve with fruit and coffee.

Adjust proportions according to number of people. 


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

In honour of one of the world's most beloved saints, here is a recipe from County Mayo, Ireland. Although calcannon is more of a traditional Halloween dish, I like to make it for St. Paddy's Day, in order to have something green without resorting to food colouring. (No, I am not a fan of green beer.) Also, look under links for some more Irish recipes from Nigella Lawson.


1 medium-sized cabbage (about as big as a baby's head)
3-4 medium potatoes (about as big as your fist)
2 leeks, both green and white parts, chopped
1 cup milk or cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 cup butter

In a large saucepan, boil cabbage until tender; remove and chop or blend well. Set aside and keep warm. Boil potatoes until tender. Remove from heat and drain. Simmer the leeks in the milk or cream until they are soft.

Season and mash potatoes well. Stir in cooked leeks and milk. Blend in the cabbage and heat until the mixture is pale green and nicely fluffy. Make a well in the center and pour in the melted butter. Mix well.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

A miracle for Anya

The world is full of courageous moms and dads trying to give their children the best life they can. It's a tough enough job when the kids are normal and healthy...imagine how much harder it is when a child is born with challenges like Baby Anya's.

Click on the link (at right) to learn more about this darling girl and how you can help her and her family. Thanks in advance for helping to spread the word! 


Saturday, March 13, 2010

A good book is a good friend

When there are no humans around, a good book makes an excellent substitute companion. It accompanies you in your solitude, tells you stories, makes you laugh and cry, gives you good ideas, advice, and inspiration, and surprises you with little gifts. The following is one such surprise I received. It's a little prayer I found - in a cookbook! - which sums up pretty neatly what I'm trying to do here at Maria's Dinner Table.

An Ancient Country Prayer
(found in the kitchen of Glastonbury Abbey)

Give me a good digestion, Lord,
and also something to digest.
Give me a healthy body, Lord,
with sense to keep it at its best.
Give me a healthy mind, O Lord,
to keep the good and pure in sight,
which seeing wrong is not appalled
but finds a way to set it right.

Give me a mind that is not bored,
that does not whimper, whine, or sigh.
Don't let me worry over-much
about that fussy thing called "I".
Give me a sense of humour, Lord,
give me the grace to see a joke,
to get some happiness from life
and pass it on to other folk.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

What Sam said

If there could be an Academy award for Most Inspiring Movie Scene of All Time, I would give it to that one at the climax of The Return of the King, when Frodo collapses in utter exhaustion, saying he can't possibly go on carrying the terrible burden of the Ring. To which his faithful companion Sam says emphatically, "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you." And then Sam hoists his failing friend onto his back and carries him the last few steps so that Frodo can complete his mission.

Frodo and Sam may be fictional characters, living in a fantasy world, belonging to a race that doesn't even exist. But their example of true friendship is one that we human beings can and should emulate and actualize in our own lives.

Certainly, Sam's words to Frodo are words that each one of us has had many opportunities to repeat to our own loved ones. "I can't carry your burden for you. I can't feel the pain that your physical disease, emotional anguish, or spiritual sickness is causing you. I can't suffer for you. But I can suffer with you."

If you haven't had your chance to say this to anyone yet, just wait for it - it will come.

And then you'll discover, to your great surprise, that burdens borne with love become blessings. Maybe they feel no lighter, but you find yourself carrying the weight of them gladly. And what a difference gladness makes - to ourselves, and to the people we are helping. 


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Tribute to a quiet hero

A few weeks ago, on January 11, a woman in the Netherlands died as quietly as she had lived.

If you have ever read Anne Frank's Diary, perhaps the name Miep Gies will ring a bell. She was one of the group of trusted employees who helped Otto Frank, his family and some friends hide in the attic of their office building during the Nazi occupation of Holland. For two years, Miep acted as their lifeline to the outside world, bringing food, clothing, news, and other important necessities of life, such as friendship, laughter, and hope.

When the hiding place was discovered and its occupants arrested in August 1944, Miep rescued the pages of Anne's diary from the floor of the attic where they had been scattered, and bundled them away into a drawer, not knowing if they would ever again see the light of day.

A year later, after receiving the news that Anne and her sister Margot had died at Bergen Belsen, Miep placed the rescued pages into Otto Frank's hands.

The rest, as they say, is history.

A lesser known work is Anne Frank Remembered, Miep's own account of the "Secret Annex," published decades later, in 1987. I remember reading it with admiration and respect. What Miep, her husband Jan, and the others did to help the Franks took unimaginable courage on a daily basis, and yet to her it was simply what had to be done.

"My story," she wrote in the prologue, "is a story of very ordinary people during extraordinarily terrible times. Times the like of which I hope with all my heart will never, never come again. It is for all of us ordinary people all over the world to see to it that they do not."

In the midst of all the glory-grabbing, inanity and pettiness that seem to prevail these days, Miep's story is a shining example of what it means to be a quiet hero. 


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Flower power

It's easier to believe in the phenomenon of the small, daily miracle in the spring time. These crocuses have burst into bloom - a whole month early - thanks to the warm weather we've been having. Jacqueline Heriteau writes this about the unique power flowers have to lift the heart and the spirit:

"It was flowers that got me through bleak times. At the age of twelve, I would sneak out to the park after Mama fell asleep to steal lilacs and roses for her. I knew exactly what I was doing; I was foraging for one of life's essentials. This was in the late 1930's, the Depression years. We were alone in Canada and broke. Keeping up Mama's joie de vivre was as crucial to survival as having air to breathe. Holding flowers, so mysterious in their indomitable unfolding, their fragility and freshness, revived her. Arranging them in a vase saved from happier days in Paris lifted the world for Mama and brought out the sun.

"I've come to believe that flowers are a covenant, closer to hand and more tangible than rainbows. Along with family and food, flowers are true substance, the smile of the hidden force that governs all life. Beauty feeds a basic hunger. Joy makes us whole. Everything else is icing on the cake - what you go through to get to the heart of being." 

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