Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Christmas for Toddlers

We are busy. busy with preparations for Thanksgiving but I know many of you will want to start celebrating Christmas on Friday.  I try to wait as long as possible because it can all be so distracting for us... especially when teachers are still sending homework home.  But for those of you with smaller children here are a few thoughts.

1) Hide all advertisements and stop watching (or at least limit) TV.  Nothing spoils the giving mood more than greed, and nothing yells greed more than commercials and sale ads. 

2) Keep it simple.  Toddlers only need 2-3 presents to be happy.  Don't waste your money on toys that will only bore your kids in 2 hours.  Give them craft supplies and interesting paper.  One of our "successful" gifts included really cool graph paper and markers. 

3) Keep it kid friendly... Don't bring out the pretty manger scene and décor until you are sure the kids won't break them.  When our son started walking and reaching we were in a very small apartment on campus.  We were creative and we opted for a tabletop tree and a kid friendly (and welcoming) manger scene... Now that he's older, we bring out the ceramic manger. 

 4) Read more books.  Libraries usually offer a special section for Christmas books.   Ebay has great prices on slightly used books as well.  I pull ours down from the top shelf in December and have them in reach for him to read and look through.  Libraries also have CD's of Christmas music and carols.  I try to buy a new CD every year because I have learned that the radio will stop playing Christmas music on December 26th, but we celebrate till January 6th with Theophany.  We have a nice collection so far. 

That's it for now.  Thanksgiving preparations are still tugging for my attention and we have company coming.  I will add more as the season continues...   Till then, stay hydrated and prayerful. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pasta in Burnt Butter

Spaghetti in burnt butter is a great Greek dish.   A few years ago I learned to make it with scrambled egg for added protein.  It looked odd at first, but I've made it several times since... It's inexpensive but filling and flavorful. 
I have to admit that this recipe is almost too easy. 
But I am posting it so you can remember to add it to your menu planner.  

Boil a water in a large pot.
Add a ton of salt.  One of the cooks on The Chew says pasta is Italian and so the water should be like the ocean, salty.

Add a pound of spaghetti. 

As it wilts, stir so it doesn't stick.  Cook for 9 minutes.

Pour the cooked spaghetti in a colander to drain, dry out the pot with a paper towel and  melt 1/2 stick of butter in the pot.  You can also melt the butter in a smaller pot and pour over the plated spaghetti, but I don't like to dirty a pot unnecessarily.    

You can also add minced, crushed (or powdered) garlic for added flavor.

Let it cook, undisturbed, till it browns.

Remove from heat.  Add drained spaghetti to burnt butter and stir.

Pour 1/2c Parmesan cheese and stir.  You can add 1/4 c crumbled feta or Asiago to make it interesting.  


But you don't have to stop here.  You might want to add more protein.  You can sauté shrimp.  Or you can try an omelet. 


Scramble an egg and pour into a greased/buttered sauté pan.  Tilt the pan so the egg thins out and covers the bottom. Flip for even cooking.  Cook servings separately or in a large pan so the egg stays thin. 

Umm, use a nonstick pan so you don't make a mess.  

Add ketchup or  hot sauce and serve with sliced fruit.  Makes a quick, cheap, hot dinner.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Meal Plan Memories

It's another fasting period for the Orthodox Christians and another 40 days of preparation.  And although the fast is less strict than the fast for Great Lent, it's harder and more tempting because of the holiday baking and Christmas parties.  The church hierarchs have offered economia, leniency, on Thanksgiving day so that we can celebrate the national holiday of giving thanks according to the American traditions of turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes; but then better freeze the leftovers.  :)   It's just a one day pardon. 

I am a bit behind schedule... I haven't had time to post any new Lenten recipes.  I hope this meal plan from August can hold you over until I get my schedule in order.  


Good Strength!  And many blessings. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Today's JAR- You Are Loved

Today's JAR- As we prepare for Christmas, this first day of the Advent Fast, it's good to remember that when we start a sentence with "I deserve (blank)" then we've started in the wrong direction. Once we start making decisions because of what we perceive we deserve, because we love ourselves, we've invited suffering into our future.  I say this because these days that lead to Christmas are no longer about preparation, but of indulgence.  Commercials will be airing the next 40 days trying to convince us that we don't have enough and deserve more.  They will try to imply that we are not happy until... And they will plant seeds that we aren't really loved unless... . Let's be guarded from these distractions of the truth; these destructive lies.

This truth is...

Well, it's two-fold:  1) No one deserves to be loved.  2) We are loved anyway. 

Christmas is a confirmation of this... “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16. 

Let's keep this verse on the top of our thoughts as we enter into this holy time of preparation. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Remember the cigarette ads in the 70's for Virginia Slims?  It showed a 1900's woman in a corseted dress and tight pointy shoes sneaking away to smoke a cigarette or oppressed because of her gender. They illustrated that women are no longer lower class citizens but can boldly stand strong in public and take a long hard drag off a cigarette. I've seen enough of those ads that I can't even say "You've come a long way, Baby." without the imagery. 

But lately I've realized that I have come a long way...

If you were to ask me how long I've been blogging, I'd have told you that I've only been blogging recipes for a few months now.  That's what it seems like.  But when I looked back at my statistics I found that I've been posting recipes and tidbits since January 24, 2013 - ten months!  I've posted 153 times and have over 10,000 all time pageviews.  And yes, I AM a little proud of myself.  I kind of feel like a real blogger. 

Thank you for coming to my blog.  Please continue to let me know if you've tried a recipe and if it was as you expected.  And please leave a comment if you share a link. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who Do We Turn To?

This is the report I read on November 12, 2013:

Damascus (AFP) – Nine children were killed and 27 people wounded when mortar rounds hit a school and a  school bus in the Syrian capital Damascus on Monday, state television  reported.

“The toll in the  terrorist targeting of the St. John of Damascus school with mortar  rounds has risen to five dead, all of them children, and 27 injured,” a  news alert on Syrian state television said.

Another four students  were killed when a mortar hit the vehicle they were in, in the central  Bab Sharqi district of the capital, state news agency SANA said, adding  that the driver was also killed.

Six others inside the bus, including four more students, were wounded in the “terrorist attack,” SANA said.

Has the world gone mad?  And why aren't we?

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog, This is Nothing New, for the Sounding, an Orthodox blog that is part of Orthodox Christian Network, OCN  It wasn't harsh or angry.  It wasn't even challenging.  It was a nice way to say, "Hey, umm, people are suffering like they did in the earliest history of Christianity."  But you know what?  We have to wake up.  People are suffering because of their faith and this type of violent persecution (unlike the subtle persecution we face daily as we struggle against homosexuality, abortion, and pre-marital sex.) doesn't seem to be going away.  And it isn't just that people are being attacked, tortured and slaughtered because they are Christians, (as if that weren't bad enough)  but that it's happening in the most ancient Christian cities, where we have been present the longest.  What are we waiting for?  Another war threat on Syria? 

I'm not going to go into the politics of who America defends and who she ignores.  I'm talking about you, the person reading this post.  There has got to be a way we can raise our voices and be heard as we cry out "Someone has to protect the Christians!" 

But who would we be talking to?  Who is going to listen to us now that the elections are over?

We have to pray.  We have to stop and pray right now that the Virgin Mary, who protected the Christ Babe in her womb, will protect all of His children.  We have to cry out to her, daily, for help and protection.  Violence won't end violence. It can hold it at bay.  It can delay it.  But prayer and faith and mercy can change things for eternity. 

Let's commit ourselves to this prayer to the Virgin Mary from now until there is peace. 

Kondakion. Tone 2.
A protection of Christians unshamable,
Intercessor to our Holy Maker, unwavering,
Please reject not, the prayerful cries of those who are in sin.
Instead, come to us, for you are good; Your loving help bring unto us,
Who are crying in faith to you: Hasten to intercede and speed now to supplicate,
As a protection for all time,  Theotokos, for those who honor you.

And there are even more I want to share with you.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.
As You willed, O our Savior,
To dispense our salvation through Your economy inside the Virgin's womb;
You showed to all the people that she was our own guardian;
O the God of our fathers, blessed are You, our God.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.
 A shelter and protection and a wall unshaken,
Become, O Virgin., for those who flee to you,
A sheltered cover and refuge and a place of joy.

All those do you shelter, O Good One,
Those who in their faith flee unto you,
With your strong hand, you protect;
We who sin have no one else
Who intercedes for us
Before God, praying endlessly,
In ills and all dangers,
For us who are laiden with
Our many sins and mistakes;
Mother, of our God in the Highest
Therefore, we fall down to you, humbly;
From all the misfortunes, keep your servants safe.

For those
I n great sorrow you are joy,
And for the oppressed, a protection,
And for the hungry, their food,
Comfort unto those estranged;
You are a staff to the blind,
Visitation of all those sick,
And to those held by pain
Shelter and a comforting,
And to the orphaned, an aid;
Mother, of our God in the highest,
You who are the Spotless One, hasten,
Save your servants from their sin, we ask of you.

Plagal of the 4th Tone
Lady, do you receive,
From your servants, their many prayers;
And deliver all of us from all sadness and necessity.

Tone 2
My numerous hopes are placed before you, most holy One;
Mother of our God,guard me with care, within your sheltered arms.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Remember When it Used to Snow?

I am feeling a bit nostalgic for snow today after seeing so many facebook posts on this morning's flurries in the north eastern states.  I imagine it will be a long time before I see snow again.  At least I hope so.  I am no longer prepared for cold weather.  I no longer have a Colorado winter- worthy coat or a hat to keep my ears warm.  We no longer need those things now that we are in South Carolina. 
Which has lead my mind to wander a bit on the idea of living in the present.  If you are wondering how that happened... this will take longer to read than the process actually occurred... but here goes:  I love living in the South.  I can't believe that I am finally used to the idea that I probably won't see snow but a few more times for the rest of my life.  Why am I thinking of the rest of my life?  Live in today.  Orthodoxy is all about living in today with our mind focused on Paradise.  Kids live in today, as if that's all there is.  That's why they freak out all the time- because they can't imagine that in a few days their troubles will be resolved or disappear.  Adults live in tomorrow, making sure everything is taken care of so they don't have troubles and some times forget to live in the moment, missing wonderful opportunities.  I wonder if "living in the moment" is one of the many ways we are to be like children.  "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven"  Matthew 18:3 (I had to look up the exact verse.)  Yeah, that's it!  Become "like" children but be an adult about it... Live in the moment but remember that tomorrow is another day and you have responsibilities.  Stop distracting yourself with how much or little snow you will ever see again and get back to your blog post.  You have a pile of stuff waiting to finish and dinnertime is coming. 

Whew!  So yes, somehow I  turned the topic of snow into a theological monologue in my head about Matthew 18.

So, while you are out, muttering about the windshields that need to be cleaned before you leave.  I hope that you remember to stop for a moment and say, "Thank you, Lord.   I had almost forgotten to enjoy the moment I was in and I was about to miss it." 


Here are the pictures I was going to post, my first V's Cardbox photos from 2003. We no longer produce them but I go to them when I feel nostalgic for early snow. 



Monday, November 11, 2013

Help for the Philippines

If your heart has moved to offer aid for those suffering in the Philippines, please consider sending support to the IOCC, International Orthodox Christian Charities.


Saturday, November 09, 2013

They Ate with Giants! I Mean They Ate Giants! Giant Lima Bean Caserole.

Large Lima Bean Casserole

Prepare 1 lb. Large Lima Beans- I like to rapidly boil the beans in PLENTY of water for ten minutes and then cover and let stand for an hour.  I drain the water and rinse the beans well. 


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put beans in a large baking dish.

  • chopped onion (can also add celery)
  • 3 sliced carrots
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 can water or vegetable broth
  • oregano
  • ground pepper
  • 2 t salt
  • 1/2 t sugar

The oregano container had such little bitty holes!  I twisted the top of and seasoned like a Greek!  :)

Bake uncovered for 1 hour.  (I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish. Imagine the beans sitting the deep red sauce.). 

Friday, November 08, 2013

Fixin' to Get Ready for the Nativity of Our Lord.

We've lived in the land of fried foods and the revolution for five years now.  I have learned a lot about pound cakes, state's rights and the variety of hunting seasons that fill the year.  I know to ask how a person's Mama is doin' and I know that BBQ is pork smothered in sauce and chicken and steaks are grilled on an open flame.  I know that tea is always sweet and the humidity is always high.  And I know what it means to be "fixin' to get ready."  Every Orthodox Christian knows what  "fixin' to get ready" is, only we call it a fast. 

On November 15th we begin the Advent Fast, 40 days to prepare ourselves to appreciate the miracle that is Christmas.  I look forward to this season of a lighter fast (not as strict as Easter's Fast) because it keeps us looking at the prize, that Christmas is a religious holiday and not a day we can finally rest from all the shopping, parties and travelling that filled our days since Santa rode down 34th Street and walked into Macy's at the end of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.   

I actually enjoy the way the Church Calendar is set up with fasting and preparations leading up to Christmas and then celebration until the eve of Theophany, the real Twelve Days of Christmas.  But most people have it backwards.  They over stress, over eat, over drink and over spend during a time when they should be holding back, reflecting on the miracle that is the Virgin's childbirth.  Christmas is a wonderful time not because of the loot under the tree or the vacation time to be with family (all that is good), but because it is a time when we celebrate that the Son of God put on flesh and lived among His creation in a way that only pure and true love would allow.  This kind of truth, this type of deep, awesome act of love can't be properly reflected upon or appreciated in and out of festive parties and rich dinners; walking up and down mall aisles searching out for the perfect present.  This type of miracle deserves a quiet, sober mind and heart.   This type of miracle deserves our full attention, and so we fast.

And after the time of preparation has passed... after the fast is over and the time to celebrate has come, we are free to celebrate, not just for one day, not for 8 days like we do for Christ's Resurrection, but for twelve days!  The Church Calendar gives us twelve days to celebrate Christmas- until we come to Theophany, the baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River, when the dove appears and God declares, "This is My beloved Son."  Then Jesus begins His public ministry and the miracles, teachings and healing that reveal who He is really begins.  Then we are given the opportunity to respond to Christ's invitation to follow Him. 

So yes, on November 15th we will begin the time of preparation for Christmas.  We should try to fast from meat for the 40 days.  We should schedule time to take care of the poor and lonely.  We should reflect upon the wonderful gift that God gave us more that we stew over what we will be giving our friends and family.  And then when December 25th comes, we will celebrate!  Twelve Days worth! 

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Morning Blessing and Living the Faith

My childhood memories include regular home blessings. It was usually on a Saturday morning and my mom would walk around the house with a smoking censor as we played with our Barbies or watched TV.  It wasn't a big production and we usually just went about our business, pausing to make the sign of the cross when she was near, as she walked from room to room quietly repeating, "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us."
In the years I had forgotten about the gift that a home blessing gives a family.  I don't practice it as regularly as I'd like, but when I do, I am overwhelmed why it's such a good practice to keep for my family. 
  1. First, it reminds us that our home is a sacred place, a place we also want God to be and feel welcome.  God doesn't impose Himself upon us, He waits for us to invite Him in, and to help us remember that we have invited God to be with us, there are a few things we can do in our homes.  We hang icons on our walls, we have the priest come and bless our homes with holy water on a yearly basis (around the time of Theophany, January 6,) and we bless our homes and ourselves with incense. 
  2. Our Home is our Church away from Church.  It's where we pray, love, nurture, relate, encourage and learn.  I do not suggest you go out a build pews or install stained glass windows, but with the elements of Church and worship in our homes we will remember that the family unit is a sacred entity and that God is ever-present with us. 
  3. It reminds us that we are members of the church every day of the week and not just on Sundays; we are Christians everywhere we go and not just in church.
  4. It invites an environment of prayer and holiness through our senses of smell and sight, triggering our experiences in Liturgy or any time we were in church for a service. 
  5. And especially with children, having the sights and smells of worship in our homes makes worship services a little less foreign and stressful... It makes church/worship a familiar environment. 
How does one go about blessing a home?  You need four things: censor, mini self igniting charcoals, incense, and a match. 
Place the charcoal in the censor and light it with a match.  Some people like using a lighter, but I find my hand is too close to the flame and prefer a match. 
You may have to lightly blow on it to help it along.

Place one or two pieces of incense on the lit coal.  The incense will start to melt and smoke will rise.

Make the sign of the cross over the censor three times while saying, "In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit." 


Now you can walk throughout the house, stopping in front of the icons, making the sign of the cross as you go, repeating, "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us." 
When I walk by doors I like to stop and add a prayer, "Lord, bless those who enter and leave through this doorway."  And over beds I like to add "Lord bless us as we rest and sleep." 

A Perfect Treat Even When Fasting

I don't know how I forgot all about these but Rice Krispies are a wonderful treat when you need a dessert in a hurry.

3 T butter or margarine, 1 package of marshmallows, 6 c Rice Krispies.  

Melt the butter on low heat, melt in marshmallows.  Remove from heat and stir in 6 C Rice Krispies.  With a buttered spatula, spread out on a cookie sheet to cool. Use within the day.  
You can even use 5 c Rice Krispies and 1 c Cinnamon Toast Crunch. 

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Braids and Twists

I am working on a braided rug for a Christmas gift.  It's been a sweet project to work on and I love the way it is coming along.

I've found myself in a bit of turmoil over it though.  First of all, it looks very pretty. It's so nice I was tempted to keep it for myself. This blog post is a promise to actually gift the rug. 

Second, I wasn't so sure I liked the idea of people walking all over my pretty rug.  I know it's the purpose of a rug...  I could try to make a placemat or a trivet for her, but she really needs a rug for the shower.  I'm comforted knowing it'll be used for clean feet. 

Finally, I hope it doesn't fall apart.  I could have used the zig zag feature on the sewing machine to connect it all together, but I lose the shape of it when I do. The braid is too thick for the presser foot, even without tension, so I am hand stitching it. It's nice to control the pattern and shape, and it's a good thing my friend knows how to sew, in case it comes apart. 

I'm all out of old Tshirts, but I did see a variety of colors at the Salvation Army store for $1.50 each.   If I don't make it too pretty, if you don't step on it with dirty shoes and you know how to stitch it up if it unravels, I might be inclined to make you one too.  

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Community Pig Pickin'

Today our parish hosted a community Pig Pickin'.  It has been an annual event for 4 years now and it's always a blast.  Someone brings a smoked pig, shreds it up in the skin, and drenches it in sauce.   And then we take tongs and forks and pick pieces for our plates.  It's awesome!


Appropriate side dishes include, but are not limited to, sweet potato casserole, coleslaw, chicken bog*, red gravy (not sure what it is but it sure tastes good.) and a strawberry shortcake or apple cobbler.  It's the kind a meal that will make any Yankee talk a little sweeter and move a little slower. 

*I'll have to post on chicken bog another day because the recipe is worth sharing.  Basically it's chicken and rice with polish sausage pieces.  It's seasoned with bay leaf and black pepper. 

We ended with a bonfire (you might notice it in the picture above) to warm our Southern-ized blood (it was 50 degrees) and roasted marshmallows. 

What makes this evening wonderful is that it's a true community event.  It's not a fund raiser.  It's not hosted by a specific organization. It's just pure fun and fellowship.  Thanks to everyone who made it possible! 

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Turkey Says It All

So, I am thinking a lot about Thanksgiving even though it's 4 weeks away.  It isn't the pressure from the featured grocery aisles or the sappy commercials as much as the memory of getting sick the week before Thanksgiving that is lighting a fire under my skillet to think of the menu and outline

I am struggling to offer a "simple" meal of roasted Turkey, mushroom gravy, Theo Louie's stuffing (a Haros family recipe,) sweet potatoes drizzled with melted butter and brown sugar (no marshmallows please,) homemade cranberry sauce, broccoli salad, zucchini cornbread and spanakopita.  Whew!  If you were wondering, I cut out the mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and Greek style green beans. 

Why is Thanksgiving intertwined with iconic food?  I tried suggesting that we avoid the sweet potato to cut back on the carbs this year, and it didn't go over very well.  I hinted at a different stuffing recipe, a family recipe from my side of the family, and that got the kibosh as well.  What is it about thankfulness that inspires nasty looks when the menu is tampered with? 

I'm not really complaining.  I'm just reflecting.  I'm happy to serve everyone what they want for their Thanksgiving meal, so long as I get my 2 pieces of spanakopita.  (And not just any spanakopita, but the kind my mom makes.)

Look for recipe posts in the next few weeks.