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Monday, February 04, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: First Week of Lent

This week is the beginning of Lent. We are hosting our traditional doughnut feast for Shrove Tuesday, and a friend of ours is bringing the things to make crepes that night. Because of the baby, I won't be fasting on Ash Wednesday, but Rich will be and Alexander is going to try one meal that day. The Church, in her wisdom, has set this time of fasting (which, for the Church means fasting, praying and almsgiving), reflection and penitence so we can purposefully focus and train ourselves for holiness. It is an easy thing to ignore or treat superficially. The saints throughout the ages have described all sin as appetite that is indulged. So, although to some it seems arbitrary to have rules and direction on eating habits, it is a physical way to prepare oneself spiritually. Even what goes into one's mouth has to be considered and disciplined. I cannot remember which saint it was who said that once we can conquer our appetite for food, we can conquer our appetite for sin. It is true. Controlling what we eat, being deliberate about our meals is a difficult discipline. However, with God's help, it can be done, just like our nature can be conquered.

It is easy to think of this time as a time of deprivation, but Rich and I have come to look forward to it. It is preparing us for the spiritual realities we look forward to, both in this world and in the next. It is a time of remembrance and contemplation, and it is a work that fits us to do what our Lord has set for us to do. I don't know that joy is the right word to describe it, because it is still hard for us, but it is being joyful in trial, I guess. The children will be making a crown of thorns as part of their study and religious education, and we will be talking about ways that we add to Christ's suffering and ways we can ease it.

So, this week is our entrance into this holy season. Our meals will change, and be a constant reminder of the spiritual work we have to do. In the West, the rules for Lenten observance have been so loosened as to be almost comical, a mockery of the word fast, and in the East, they can be monastic and ascetic to the point of being too much for an individual to do. We are trying to be more strict in our observance, both as a church and as a family, without making it so hard that we can't remember what we can and can't eat. We will abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, including broths and stocks, fats from animals, as the East does (though they do it every day of Lent), however like the West, we will still be able to eat fish (the canons about this also include frogs, insects, and things like snails). We are interested in keeping the spirit as well as the letter of the law, so we won't be eating lobster and crab cakes on meatless days. This is supposed to be a sacrifice. Unlike the East, we will still be able to use oils, wine, eggs and dairy, though of course, we will cut down on our use of butter and cream, and the wine will be for cooking rather than drinking with the meals. You won't be seeing any desserts on our menus until Easter, and even Sundays we will be keeping more in line with the fast (thought Sundays are never completely fast days or abstinent days because they are the celebration of the resurrection), rather than getting a free day from our Lenten observance each week. Since our family has adopted the discipline of eating meatless on those days most of the year anyway, we are going to add Saturdays during Lent.

A couple years ago, I found several bloggers who posted their Lenten meals and recipes, and I hope to do the same. I am willing to post recipes on request, also, if people are interested. Something you may think about doing, if you wish to observe this 40 day fast, is to take the money you would have used on meals from the strict fast days (not just abstinent meals), such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and give that to the poor or make the meals, but deliver them to those who are more needy. Fasting in the church is always meant to be both introspective and external. We replace our meals with prayer and charity. Please consider doing that as well.

A couple of our meals this week are repeats from last week that either got moved, or changed. After Tuesday, our meals will be quite a bit simpler, and use less meat, even on the days when we will eat meat.

What is on your menu this week?

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Hi, this is quick, but really enjoyed your post. We too have a day of fast similar to this which is Yom Kippur, and it too is about introspection, and trying to fast not in joy, but to appreciate the time of introspection and the reflection of what we need to work on. The evening before is a big time to give charity as well. Your thoughts on coming into the fast are wonderful, I am still working up to appreciating the fast rather than dreading it. Also, the differences between east and west are intersting.

Not take away from the holiness of the topic, but the fact that you also have a donut eating holiday makes me laugh. We of course do too, but at Chanukah to commerate the miracle of 8 days of oil!

Sorry this is so long,

Lots of love, from Israel!
I'm glad to hear from you!

The funny thing about the doughnuts is the first time we did it was just because we had a new deep fryer and we thought it would be fun. Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday foods are fatty, and use up the foods you won't be able to use throughout Lent, so they can be a lot of different things. In England, the food is often pancakes, because they use up eggs, butter and milk.

Anyway, after making doughnuts for three years, we found out that at least at one point, that was the traditional Shrove Tuesday food in Germany. So, now we just consider it as honoring Rich's heritage.
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