Do you keep Lent?
I recently had someone tell me, somewhat smartly, that he “doesn’t keep Lent.” Okee dokee. Funny that he thought he had to make that clear…
But why not keep Lent?
I think that we naturally want order in our days and in our years, and I don’t mean the switching out of decorations prescribed by the “powers that be” in the mall. Problem is, if you don’t want to play along, you can be left with a strange bereft feeling…
We need something. The Church has been gently guiding with that something for a couple of millenia now…
A penitential season is a little different from what you get from Hallmark: there are no decorations for it — nothing to buy, nothing to sell, nothing to send a card about.
But it’s real. Don’t you feel it? Is the urge to clean starting to grow in your bosom? Don’t you feel a little sick of yourself eating cookies? (I still have Christmas candy. And Valentine’s candy, which was a big bag of jellybeans I forgot to put out for Christmas. I haven’t eaten it all yet! That’s how much there was.)
We haven’t felt much in the way of spring breezes hereabouts, but every once in a while in February there’s a whiff of something far off, longing to be reborn…but it requires something from us, doesn’t it?
Lent in the family is an amazing time to watch one’s children rise to the occasion. More is asked and more is given, without any grumbling, which hardly seems possible, because in the deep winter everyone can be awful grumblers, complainers, and snackers. And slackers. Me too.
Ash Wednesday is this week. It’s time, now, to start asking ourselves and the kids, “What should we give up?” “What should we give?” “How will we pray?” When our kids were little, we’d do this on Mardi Gras, which you might think is a bit of a downer :)
But they can astonish us with their response, and maybe prick our conscience a little, too. We can do better.
“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself.” —
Saint Peter Chrysologus
So let’s talk turkey about cooking for Lent. (Later we’ll talk about spring cleaning.)
We are shameless about loving ice cream in this family — a bowl every night before bed, mmmm…..
But I find that a little something milky does help settle the stomach and provide calcium for those who don’t drink much milk. So, one of the few packaged foods I buy, instant pudding (the label shows it really isn’t too bad, additive-wise), will make an appearance in these thrift-store custard cups.
Also some thickened yogurt with a little honey goes down well as a bed-time snack.
I have been trying to stockpile Lenten supper ideas — the tried-and-true and the new. We always have mujadara on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The one I grew up with uses cracked wheat as often as rice (soak the cracked wheat for a couple of hours before cooking), needs some allspice and cumin, and is always served with plain yogurt on the side.
Hot cross buns are a must for a day of fasting.
One thing that observing the liturgical year does is build wonderful memories that are self-activating — in other words, the season spurs them, rather than the burden being on you to remember on your own to bring them up.
So if year after year you do more or less the same things on the same holidays or, in this case, fast days, the memories build, until one day even the least attentive of your children will say, with joy, “We always do this on this day!” And you will realize that it’s true!
But it takes a long time, so hang in there!
We’ll do a lot of pasta tossed with bits of fish, like sardines, and olives and sundried tomatoes. Clam chowder. And if I can get some pastry rounds in the freezer, quiche should be a breeze. With a side of sweet potatoes, salad, and good bread, it’ll make up for those meaty dishes we’ll cut down on a bit. Remember to make your weekly menus, as always.
For sugar fanatics like me (never mind the kids!), gingerbread, scones, and these date cookies called ma’amoul are a must. I’ve been dreaming about them for years, and I think I’ll get to them at last. The only sugar in them is from the dates themselves. True, they have a lot of butter, but you gotta have something…