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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Chocolate Valentino Cake



The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Since I had already made ice cream for last month's challenge, and we were given the option of using whipped cream, I used vanilla whipped cream on my Valentino instead of the vanilla ice cream. Also, since I knew Lent was right around the corner, I didn't want to have vanilla ice cream in our freezer getting more and more icy. I'll have to do it again with homemade vanilla ice cream.

I really wanted to make this with a chocolate that had chile in it. Though I thought that would be an interesting flavor combination, I knew that Rich only tolerated chiles in chocolate, and this was supposed to be for both of us. I ended up using all bittersweet chocolate, which I really liked with the sweetened cream and raspberries, but Rich thought it could have used a touch of semi-sweet for the sugar.

Initially I wanted to use candied rose petals to decorate our cakes, but was unable to find either unsprayed roses at this time of year or packaged candied rose petals. These are raspberries we froze last summer and they were a perfect foil to the cream and bittersweet chocolate.



Thank you Dharm and Wendy! This is the first challenge I've done that had no complications or difficulties. I make a flourless chocolate cake for my birthday about every other year, so I really have the method down on this. It was a slightly different recipe than what I use, but wasn't too dissimilar in technique. We already owned the heart cake pans, so I didn't even have to buy any equipment for this.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Finished Object Friday: No Report

I'm just getting this up so people can add to it if they wish. I will have to fill in my sad, little report later.

I'm back. My major finished project this week was my Daring Baker's Challenge. I finished a media fast on Wednesday, since I couldn't do the strict fast, which included newspapers, cds, cell phone, iPod, radio and internet. It was not as hard as I thought it would be, though I almost blew it on accident a couple times.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Menu Plan Monday: Ash Wednesday

This week is the first week (partial) of Lent. Each year at our home, we celebrate Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, by having a doughnut party. We make up a large batch of potato doughnuts, which are the best in the world, deep fry them and serve them hot for everyone who comes. This is the last day we are to eat sweets, extra fat, lots of meat. We move to eating meat free three days a week during Lent (we are slowly working up to a meat fast on each day except Sunday), this has the added benefit of reducing our food budget, which leaves more for giving. Lent is a time of sacrifice, in our diet, in our time and in our finances. These are material and temporal disciplines which are used as spiritual training. I have said it before, but will repeat it. A fast in the Christian Tradition is shorthand for fast, pray and give alms. We have a lot to be praying for in our family and with the economy as it is, there is much need for alms giving.

Ash Wednesday is a strict fast (an actual fast, not the eating a light meal and having snacks "fast"), but only Rich will be observing that this year. I pretty much only get to fast every two or three years now, because of pregnancy or nursing. The older boys will pick at least one meal to fast that day and I will eat lighter. Lent is always a time of growth, but we have a sense that this year will be particularly stretching for us. Please pray for us to have a holy Lent and for the fruit to be great.

This week's menu has a repeat, we ended up having an opportunity to go to an aviation fair on Sunday after church, so we used the children's pizza reward coupons to get them pizzas, and picked up a wood fired pizza from our local place (which was both tastier and cheaper than the fast food pizza) for us. We had the stuff for salads at home, so we were set.
I hope to post the recipe for the doughnuts before tomorrow. If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

Potato Doughnuts
I have used this baking powder raised version for the past four years at least, but I do like yeast risen doughnuts, so I will be experimenting with a potato dough yeast risen version the next time we do this and make some of each. This recipe is a take off from one I found in Endangered Recipes, which is a great book. I have fiddled with quantities and method and changed the fat used and we've had not a single person who didn't love these.

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups mashed potatoes
6 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup baking powder (this is a ton, I know - when I first used the recipe, I made a mistake and used tablespoons instead of teaspoons, but it made them huge and light and didn't affect the taste, so I've kept it that way)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Oil or fat to fry doughnuts

These are much easier to make with a stand mixer or small electric mixer than by hand, but they can be made by hand as well, you will just have to really work to beat the living daylights out of the potato mixture to make it smooth.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat eggs until they are a uniform yellow. Mix in sugar and milk and combine thoroughly. Add in butter and mashed potatoes and whisk until smooth.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in parts, mixing until flour disappears.

Chill dough, covered, at least an hour, until dough is stiff.

Roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of no more than 1/2 an inch. Cut doughnuts with a doughnut cutter, or in any shapes you like. Let stand to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Heat oil to somewhere between 340 and 350 F. We prefer to cook them a little longer at a slightly lower temperature than quicker at a higher temperature, so the crust doesn't get too brown and the middle is all the way cooked. You will have to turn the doughnuts 99% of the time, though a couple will turn themselves. I've heard that if you cut them in strips and twist them in the middle they will turn themselves, but I haven't done it yet. Drain on a rack and glaze or dust with sugar or cinnamon sugar or cover in ganache or whatever you like to do with your doughnuts.

I haven't tried this yet, but I think if you got rid of the nutmeg and replaced some of the flour with cocoa, you could make chocolate doughnuts with this recipe that would be pretty good.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Finished Object Friday: Normalcy

This week, I have finished making six dozen cranberry pumpkin muffins, six loaves of bread and two quarts of yogurt. We got some plants up out of the garden so Rich can turn over the rest of the soil and plants down there. We're back to schooling this week after our vacation. That's pretty much it here. How about you?

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Frugality (Part VIII): Storing Bulk Purchases

Now I'm back, to let you know you can really save some money.

This post is actually what began the whole series. We had people asking us how we handled buying in bulk, how we stored the things we bought so they didn't go bad (it's not a good deal if it goes bad), things like that. Well, ta-da! Here it is.

First, though, I am going to tell you about my great deal this week. Local asparagus is coming in, and our grocery store had it on sale for $0.98 a pound. On top of that, we got our rewards back this week, so really it was free! Our total for groceries this week, from two stores, because of our rewards rebates was: $10.34. If you include the month's feed for the chickens, it was $52.34. Not bad, eh? I never know if I should spread out the monthly costs over the month or just count them in my weekly cost, realizing that some weeks will be much lower than our budget and some will be much higher. Using our grocery store credit card for all our purchases is really coming in handy for us, when you add in the $0.15 a gallon discount on gas, it has been more than worth it for our family. If you can make sure that you pay off your entire balance each month, so you don't accrue any interest, and your grocery store of choice offers a card like this, I strongly recommend getting a credit card like this one. Again, it's not a great deal if you end up paying interest on your purchases, or worse, the minimum payment, which ends up costing you three times or more the cost of the original purchase. Be wise in your use of credit cards. Some people find they spend much more when they use theirs; we treat ours like our debit card, and have a maximum total we charge which is far under our credit card limit.

I am still trying to cut back on our purchases and cook more from our freezer and pantry (and a huge thank you to Cathy who inventoried our two basement freezers for us while we were gone! We will be tackling the pantry, spice cabinet and upstairs freezer over the next couple weeks). This week's menus are mostly from what we had here already, with the exception of things like the asparagus (of which we bought enough to freeze). I was encouraged by reading another blogger's (I can't remember specifically who, forgive me for not giving credit) post about how much they spent per person for food each day. It was something like $5 a day, which is really great, especially as they buy almost exclusively whole foods, organics and local products, and live in Canada where the costs are higher. So, I decided to work out our daily budget per person.

Guess what it was? Just guess. I'll wait.

$2.53 a day per person.

I include Yasmina in this calculation because she eats things like yogurt, soup, mashed banana, applesauce and broths and because the way we do our grocery budget things like diapers, wipes, baby powder, diaper rash cream, laundry detergent, etc. are all represented and she certainly makes use of all of those. This amount includes all our paper products, cleaning supplies, the chicken feed and the cat food, too. This average also takes into account our higher grocery costs in November and December. I feel pretty good about that. This is not meant to brag or make you feel bad, on the contrary, I want to encourage you to start thinking about how you can do this, too. We are still working toward reducing our grocery costs, since it is one of the few more changeable items in our budget. I haven't been doing too well in bringing our weekly spending to half of what we budget, but I have brought it down by about a quarter to a third, on average. You can do this, it really is just a shift in mind set.

Anyway, here is what I really wanted to share with you. Rubbermaid is your friend.


The two unmarked containers are evaporated cane juice (organic, non-chemically refined sugar) and brown sugar. If you can't tell them apart when you look at them or smell them, you are not allowed in my kitchen to cook. And, yes, that is a lot of organic powdered sugar. Trader Joe's only has it around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it is way cheaper there than at the grocery store, so we stock up. It is organic evaporated cane juice finely ground and mixed with non-GMO, organic cornstarch (cornstarch is in regular powdered sugar, too). I'm working on getting them into airtight plastic or glass.


These are not Rubbermaid. These are pet food storage containers, but they don't come pre-pet fooded and you don't break any federal laws by storing people food in them (yet). I forgot to mention that they have casters on them, so they are easy to move around also.



Rich first found these at our Ace Hardware, but they aren't always there, so basically, he buys them as he finds them. They cost about $20.00 each, but pay for themselves in under four months in our house, because of the price difference between buying our flours, beans, grains, rice, etc. in bulk and large quantities rather than in small packages or per pound in smaller amounts. I was going to wait for the larger containers to put our whole wheat flour in, and repurpose the whole wheat flour container for the powdered sugar (after washing it, of course), but we are getting into grinding our own grains now, so I will get something for the wheat berries and use medium sized bucket with a lid to store the flour we grind (because what is the point of grinding your own wheat if you are going to let it sit and get stale). Another thing to do, if you have the freezer space, is to store grains, nuts and flours in the freezer, if they are a larger quantity than you can use in a reasonable amount of time. This will keep them from going rancid.


These actually take longer to pay for themselves, but because we are able to buy natural sea salt with no additives for so much less than the store brand iodized salt, we picked them up anyway. These take about eight months to pay for themselves. We used to refill the salt containers from the store, because that was free, but those containers died after about two refills, so we splurged on these. They are entirely Chinese, though, so we run them through the dishwasher before we use them. And pray. And burn incense and sprinkle with holy water, perhaps anointing with holy oil. I'm just kidding about that, well, not the praying part. We also don't store things like vinegars or oils in them that could leech out whatever junk is in the container. You probably noticed the canisters and jars on the counter, also. These have coffee, vanilla sugar and other things that we use on a regular basis in them.


This is where we store our oatmeal, both steel cut and rolled. We need to move to a larger container for each of these, but for now, this is what we have. I repurpose these containers all the time as our needs change. We have tons of these, and some similar to what you saw in the baking drawer for beans that we buy in smaller quantities. My mother in law picked a bunch of these containers up for us at the dollar store. We get the rubbermaid when it is on sale.


See how I just taped the instructions from the package we first bought before we got them in bulk onto the tops.

I also reuse yogurt containers. Nancy's is great for that. Since we saved them anyway to send food home with people or to freeze soup or stock, before we used to make our own yogurt, and now we occasionally buy them when we let our yogurt cultures die or use it all up on accident without saving any for the next batch, they are sturdy and have little spots on them to write what is in them, they are really convenient for storage. Glass jars from products that you buy that cannot be reused for canning are also great containers for yeast, rice, beans, etc. These are especially good if you don't buy them in the large quantities that we do. We buy baking powder in pretty large containers, so, we reuse the containers and refill them. Since we have a few around here, we label the others after they are cleaned and use them to store other things. When I get my pantry even remotely organized, I'll show you those containers, also.

Notice how we clearly mark everything. Ask me why. Aside from the fact that sometimes the visual cues to what are in each container are only clear to me, and there are at least three other people who cook in this house, which could result in disaster, I am still traumatized by two incidents in my early childhood.

When I was a little girl, my mom was divorced and in graduate school. So, I learned to cook very young. I was able to do simple things like toast waffles and pancakes, make toast, cut and serve grapefruit, pour out cereal and milk and make scrambled eggs (yes, on the stove) by myself (I jumped up on the counter and sat next to the stove while I cooked - I cannot believe I did this at age four and I've never let my children do it by themselves that early). Well, my mom had two shakers, one for flouring the counter filled, astoundingly enough, with flour, and one with sugar which I used on cereal or grapefruit (this is such a hilarious error, that I'm not just deleting it - I have no idea what made me type this next part) or to season my eggs. They were identical. You can see where this is going. I put flour in my breakfast one morning. It was very bad. If that isn't terrible enough, my mom also had nearly identical silver pots that she used to put coffee and syrup in to keep them warm. I got the coffee one by mistake and had pancake mush for breakfast one day. I am still working through these two incidents.

So, mark your containers. That is the lesson to be had here internets.

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping
Waste Not, Want Not
Soup
The Celery Stalks at Midnight
Use What You Have
Combining Trips

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Works for Me Wednesday: Picking Good Asparagus



This is an asparagus themed day here at Arabian Knits. Come one, come all for your asparagus needs.

Now that the first of the season's asparagus is starting to arrive, I'm going to let you in on a secret. Those thin, pretty asparagus spears that are supposed to be the best ones? Unless you pick them from your own asparagus patch, or buy them fresh picked that morning, they are not what you want. Why? Asparagus dries out from the outside in, so if you are buying asparagus that was trucked in, and it is thick, the outer edges might be dry, but the tips and the inside will still be nice, the thin ones, already dry. Now, if you have asparagus in your garden or buy it from a local farmer, or your grocery store gets theirs fresh picked daily, then you are free to eat all the baby, thin asparagus you like, but be wary of the overpriced, spindly asparagus in the supermarket, especially in fall and winter (when it's out of season and automatically overpriced anyway).

Juicy and crisp asparagus for the family? Works for me!

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Hot Breakfast Challenge: Asparagus, Potato & Goat Cheese Frittata



Since I am a big fan of buying on sale and in season (and locally!), when the first of the local asparagus went on sale for $0.98 a pound, you know what I did. I bought six pounds of it. We used it in our stir fry on Monday, eat it for a snack and are making it into a lovely breakfast frittata. I told you we eat a lot of eggs here.

Asparagus, Potato & Goat Cheese Frittata

Butter, more than you think
1 pound asparagus, tough ends broken off and saved for cream of asparagus soup or, at the very least, the compost pile, and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and diced in no more than 1/2 inch cubes (peeled if you like, but I leave them on for color)
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
Salt, to taste
18 large eggs
1 cup milk
Fresh ground pepper
1/2 pound goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

I use our largest skillet for this, and it is large: 15 inches. You could do it in two smaller pans if you don't have one this large, or if you don't need to feed as many people, you could cut this in half, but the leftovers are great when you don't have anything for breakfast the next day, or with a salad for lunch. Assemble all your ingredients before you start.

Heat your skillet over medium high heat, until it is smoking hot. While it is heating, whisk up your eggs with the milk and some black pepper, enough that it looks right to your taste. When the pan is hot, add the butter to melt, you can cut it with oil if you are worried about it burning. This will ensure that nothing sticks in your pan. As soon as it melts, before it really starts to foam, toss in the potatoes to brown them and start them cooking. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the onions to soften, cook another 5 minutes or so. Add in the asparagus, the thyme, rubbing it between your fingers as you sprinkle it into the pan and salt to your liking. Stir this around until it is almost completely cooked, maybe another minute or two.

Pour in the egg and adjust the heat to medium or lower. Dot with the crumbled goat cheese. Slip your spatula or wooden spoon around the edges and kind of swirl the egg to cook a little more of it. You want the egg to start to set, but not to cook all the way. Do NOT cook too long on the stove, or you will have burned veggies or burned egg or both.

When the egg is starting to look set, turn off the heat and put under the broiler to finish cooking, maybe 5 minutes. The second it is cooked, pull out and sprinkle with the parmesan. Slice and serve with whole grain toast. We're big fans of the whole grain toast, too. Make sure you have your coffee or tea ready, some milk, and you are set. High protein, high flavor, warm breakfast in just about 20 minutes cooking time, probably half an hour from start to serve. Less, if you put your children to work prepping veggies and grating cheese for you.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Menu Plan Monday: February 16

We spent the week down in Oregon last week. The children had a great time visiting with their grandparents, we went to the zoo in the snow, ate lots of great food and Rich took me to a restaurant he's been wanting to take me to since we first started dating. As we traveled up and down I-5, we visited Rich's paternal grandparents, his maternal grandparents' graves and the grave of one of his cousins. We planted purple crocus at both grave sites and kind of introduced our children to his maternal grandparents. We did not fill our time with too much, as we really wanted a chance to rest a while. So, we had a great relaxing week, got to visit a little with Rich's brother and his daughter and saw my mom. This week we are back to a relatively normal schedule. Our local schools are off for "President's Day" week, so the children's other activities are canceled this week, which lets us ease back into things at home. Since Rich has President's day off (I don't think I've written yet about my ire with this fake holiday which has replaced two perfectly good holidays somehow, without ever being declared a holiday), we are doing some garden prep for our spring and summer garden as well as preparing a couple raised beds for our herbs and scallions.

If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Finished Object Friday: Blog News

Sorry this is late publishing. I had it in the drafts folder instead of scheduled.

We have finished packing all the children's things for a trip. We will be away for a little while and I will only be posting occasionally, if at all. No menu plan this next week and some scheduled posts are all I have planned, so far.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hot Breakfast Challenge: Creamed Eggs & Toast



Because February is National Hot Breakfast Month (I didn't know that either), The Happy Housewife is hosting a hot breakfast challenge each week. Since I've mentioned how we pretty much only eat hot breakfasts here (with rare exception, usually consisting of yogurt, granola and either fruit and jam or honey) and how important it was for me to have cooked breakfasts for us, both as a way of being frugal and, more importantly, providing quality nutrition to our family. We almost always fall back on oatmeal or eggs for obvious reasons. I use steel cut oats because they are heartier, more filling, have a better texture and we like the taste. Also, they cook while we do morning prayer, so breakfast is ready as soon as we say the final amen. The children would eat this every single day, it is I who gets a little bored with it. I use any leftover oatmeal in whole grain bread (use whole wheat flour or a blend of whole wheat and oat flour, I use honey in the dough) which we can use as toast for breakfasts like this.

Since our girls lay quite nicely for us, we almost always have an abundance of eggs, even in winter (though nowhere near the hundreds of eggs a week we have in the summer). This is a quick, tasty and pretty breakfast. If it is a meat day, we sometimes cook up bacon or sausage links while these are being made, though these provide plenty of protein on their own. We also often have fruit with our breakfasts.

This is also a great breakfast for children to help make, or to learn how to use an oven (as the tray provides a little more stability). Obviously, this can be halved, doubled, quintupled, whatever you need to do to make it work for your family size. For our family of seven breakfast eaters, I usually make about a dozen of these. Five extra eggs is usually adequate for those who want seconds. When Yasmina starts eating more solids, I'll readjust how much to make (as the older children will be eating more then, too). Add a glass of milk or hot cocoa (not a mix, please) and coffee or tea, and you have a delicious breakfast that fills up stomachs with long term fuel.

Creamed Eggs

Butter (real butter, unsalted)
8 large eggs
1/2 cup finely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 large bunch of chives (or parsley or any other fresh herb that you like), minced
1 cup heavy cream
salt & freshly ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 325 F. Lightly butter eight 1/2 cup ramekins or other oven proof bowls/dishes.

Break one egg into each ramekin, sprinkle with the cheese and the chives. Pour two tablespoons cream over each and season with salt and pepper. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and put in the oven.

Bake until the eggs are set and the cream is bubbling a little, between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on how done you like your yolk. Remove from oven and serve with hot, toasted, whole grain bread, sliced on the diagonal better to dip in the egg yolk.

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Works for Me Wednesday: Cleaning the Microwave



Perhaps everyone knows this already, but a really easy and quick way to keep your microwave clean is to put a glass measuring cup filled with hot water and baking soda (I usually do a third soda and two thirds water) and heat it for two to three minutes, then wipe down the walls, the door, the top and the base. If you do this every few days, or at least once a week, it should stay clean and free of most odors.

Lessening the workload in any way at all, works for me!

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Christmas Photos. Finally.

So, I meant to post these during the Christmas season. Now that we are just over three weeks from Lent, I'll finally get them out here.

These are mostly pictures of the gingerbread house construction and decorated cookies. Enjoy.


Here is Dominic's snowman in the back yard. Who is evidently facing the wind. I never got a shot of Alexander's snow rabbit in the front yard.


This is the children working on their little ski chalets.


Jerome with his house.


Jerome eating his house. He ate almost all the little cookie decorations that were supposed to go on it while they were putting them together, so Rich broke out the M & Ms.


All the children with their finished gingerbread houses.


These are just a few of the many cookies that Rich decorated. He is the artiste extraordinaire in our family.


Mr. & Mrs. Claus, up close.


Santa - all of the decorations are edible, even the black. We have food coloring pens to use when decorating cookies.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Menu Plan Monday: February 2

This is a short meal week for us. I only have to plan for five and a half days, as we have things planned for the weekend. This past weekend, the only thing I did relating to Super Bowl was to do some grocery shopping in the middle of it, when there was nobody at the stores. That was nice.

Today is the feast day of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also called the feast of the Presentation, both titles refer to the same event. It is the commemoration of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple after the days of Mosaic purification were over for the Blessed Mother. Both East and West celebrate together today. There is actually still a service for the Churching of Women after childbirth. It is expected by Mother Church that a woman would take time away from church to rest and recuperate before returning again to be welcomed back and prayed over. This service is also called Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, though it is more commonly known as the Churching. It happens for a different reason than the Purification, but still commemorates the welcoming back of a woman to communal worship. Anyway, because it is a feast day, our daily office readings are different from the normal readings.

There are actually two feasts today, though they are related. It is also Candlemas, because the Presentation of the Lord is a feast of the incarnation and a type of epiphany, so in church the service would begin with a processional of candles. Because of that, the church began blessing all candles to be used for the year on this day. We will light our Christ candle during dinner tonight and serve sweet, filled crepes for dessert (they sort of look like a swaddled baby).
If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

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