Monday, April 13, 2015

Claire's Southern Delight

Claire's Southern Delight
This recipe is a regular family feature. An easy-and-quick-to-fix tasty, nutritious & satisfying meal that's easy to whip up at the end of a long day. I love this recipe because I can put on rice to cook, and have an entire meal ready when the rice finishes.

I'm indebted to our dear family friend, Claire, for this recipe. Claire truly has the gift of hospitality. She's an excellent cook - the kind of person who can cook for 40 people for a "little" lunch at her house after Church without thinking twice, or turn out a feast for 200 at the Church with an amount of expertise that makes it look as easy as cooking for six. It is truly a rare occasion that she serves a sit down dinner to her family without having at least one guest - whether that person is a long-time family friend, a new acquaintance, or a person in need. I stand in awe of her talent & her kindness! But, far more importantly, she has been a wonderful & faithful family friend for many years.

This is her recipe.

Claire’s Southern Delight
In a saucepan, add
2 Cans Light Red Kidney Beans, drained (Dark Red are also okay - or a mix of Light & Dark)
1 (8 oz) Can Tomato Sauce

Add Ample
Celery Salt
Onion powder

Add a Touch

Then add
1 ½ Tablespoon Vegan Bacon Flavored Bits*
¼ cup water

Simmer 20 minutes
Serve over Rice

*I find that it is easier to find Vegan Bacon Flavored Bits if I just look for the Kosher Certification.
After all, there's no such thing as Kosher Bacon.

I like to serve this with Better than Coleslaw & maybe some Corn Muffins

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Whatever Happened to St. Lazarus?

St. Lazarus Church, Larnaca, Cyprus
Like most American Christian children, I grew up reading the Bible. I learned the stories well, and loved them. I knew the characters by name, and new each of their stories, the same way secular children can name and tell you all about their favorite movie characters, or their favorite sports characters.

That is, I thought I knew them well . . . .

Then, I became an Orthodox Christian, and began learning additional historical bits and pieces of the stories of well known Biblical persons.

Then, I went to Cyprus, and began to learn how very much I didn't know! The people of Cyprus seem to talk of St. Lazarus as if he was there just a few decades ago, and everyone's parents remember him. This is a level of intimacy with the Saints that seemed foreign to me.

Let me share with you what I learned about St. Lazarus in Cyprus:

If you know the Bible Story, you know that St. Lazarus had two sisters, Martha and Mary. You know they were from Bethany. You know Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. And, you know that, after Lazarus had been dead for four days, Jesus raised him from the dead!

An Icon telling the story of the life of St. Lazarus

Lazarus, Come Forth!

But, if you only know the Bible Story, you're missing some important details. Not details that would contradict or disprove the story you know - quite the contrary - details that would enrich and reinforce your relationship with the story & with the Saint - and, most importantly - with God.

You see, after St. Lazarus was raised from the dead, his story didn't stop. If someone is raised from the dead - they keep living! It is strange that before this visit to Cyprus, I had never even given a second thought to what  happened next

When Jesus raises a person from the dead, what does that person do next? How does he do honor to the great miracle he has experienced, and more importantly to the Great God who raised him?

In the case of St. Lazarus, he became one of the first Bishops of Cyprus. He took the Gospel he had experienced first hand, and shared it with those who didn't know it. He lived in and served the city-kingdom of Kition (now known as Larnaca), on the southeastern coast of the Island of Cyprus. He served as a Bishop there for 30 years. 

The Iconostasis at the Church of St. Lazarus

It is said that after he was raised from the dead, St. Lazarus never smiled or joked. He realized the very great importance of this life and of eternity and didn't deal with them lightly. Only one time did he break this practice: when he witnessed a thief stealing a piece of pottery, he made an ironic comment about (a person who, after all is descended from Adam who was made of) clay stealing clay.

Inside the Church of St. Lazarus

To this day, there is a Church dedicated to St. Lazarus in the City of Larnaca, where he served the people of Cyprus. It is built over his second tomb (imagine, having two tombs!). His relics were taken from the tomb at some point in history, but some of them were restored to the Church and can be venerated upstairs in the Nave. Despite its great historical and artistic treasures, this is not a museum, it is a Church in the middle of town, with parishioners and regular services.

The Reliquary of St. Lazarus. His bones are inside the box under glass.

The Bones of St. Lazarus

St. Lazarus' second tomb has one word carved on the side in Greek: Friend. What an awe inspiring title!

The Second Tomb of St. Lazarus

Here you can see the inscription more clearly - the word "friend" in Greek.

Here are some references if you'd like more information
Greek Orthodox Church information about the Saturday of Lazarus
Orthodoxwiki on St. Lazarus
Information for Tourists about St. Lazarus Church

The day before Palm Sunday is called "The Saturday of Lazarus." It is a special day to honor St. Lazarus, and the holy life he lived in service to God, and it is the beginning of Holy Week.

For us who are Orthodox Christians - the Saturday of Lazarus is today - April 4 - this year.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Learn about Jesus - in any Language

Icon of the Crucifixion from Kykkos Monastery, Cyprus
 Would you like to learn about Jesus, but have trouble with English?

Watch this movie about the life of Jesus - simply choose your language at the top of the screen:

The Jesus Film - in Any Language.

 Or perhaps you speak English well - but you have a neighbor or friend who has English as a second language, but is curious about Christianity this Easter season?

The film is also available in English at this same site (link above), for those who would like to learn or remember this story during Holy Week : )

Here's a trailer for the movie - in English

If you want to share this story with English speaking children, I found this GREAT video on Youtube

Whether you celebrate the Resurrection of Christ this Sunday or Next - and whether you call it Easter or Pascha, have a Blessed Feast of the Resurrection!

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Easy Veggie Spring Rolls (Vegan)

Veggie Spring Rolls (Easy, Freezer-Friendly)
I love Spring Rolls, but I have trouble finding any that  meet my requirements:
1) Reasonably priced,
2) Tasty,
3) Vegan, and
4) Not deep fried.

I love the convenience of the ones in the freezer section at the grocery, but unfortunately, although they're Vegan, they often don't meet ANY of my other requirements. The flavor of commercially produced Spring Rolls has really gone downhill in recent years (perhaps living in Asia spoiled me?) and I often find them a disappointment, and use the dip to cover up the flavor rather than enhance it!

I found a great recipe on Mom on a Mission, (I LOVE her blog!) but I tweaked it a little to meet my preferences. When I made the original recipe, I felt that the moisture in the veggies made the wrapper become soggy too quickly when serving, so I cooked the veggies before filling the wrappers to cook away the extra moisture. I also added mushrooms to give a nice savory flavor and chewier bite, and adjusted the seasonings a bit to my taste. But, I KEPT her great concept of quick and easy Spring Rolls that are Freezer-Friendly and can be made in bulk for when you need them : )

I found Vegan Spring Roll wrappers at more than one Asian or Specialty Grocery Store. This is the brand I used for this recipe:

For the filling, I shredded the carrots in a machine (yes, I actually HAVE a Salad Shooter - no Chia Pet yet, tho ; ). In contrast, I found that machine- slicing the cabbage made it too fine for my taste - I prefer the slightly coarser texture that comes from hand-chopping. I chopped the canned (tinned) mushrooms, and just added everything else into my huge skillet (actually a 14" Paella Pan) added the seasonings, and cooked it till the veggies were done and the moisture was gone.

Then, I rolled it up in the Spring Roll wrappers.

Wrap 'Em Up!

At that point, I baked some and froze the rest.  If you wish to use them later the same day, you can also keep them in the fridge at this point - before baking.

These are going in the Fridge. For the Freezer, I would put waxed paper between the layers.

This recipe makes about a dozen Spring Rolls. For efficiency sake, I recommend doubling it for your freezer, but you will probably have to cook the filling in two batches to fit in your pan - unless you have industrial-sized cookware to work with. I even made it in two batches with my extra large pan.

If you use frozen commercial wrappers, you will want to thaw them for 1/2 hour before using. Then, make sure that they're not drying out while you're wrapping up! Either keep them covered in plastic or in a damp towel. (or work really fast ; )

Here's the recipe

Veggie Spring Rolls
Cook in large non-stick pan till vegetables are done and liquid has all evaporated
1 cup Carrots, Shredded
1 small Head Cabbage (or 1/2 of a very large head) very coarsely shredded
1 Tablespoon Toasted (or "Dark") Sesame Oil
1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 teaspoon Ginger Powder
1/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
Allow filling to cool (so that you can easily handle it) then wrap it in Spring Roll wrappers as described on the package - burrito style. I use about 1/3 cup filling per wrapper.

At this point, they can be frozen, with layers of waxed paper between layers of Spring Rolls, or they can be baked.

To Bake, Place rolls on baking pan (preferably a pan that will crisp the bottoms*), Brush lightly with Oil, and Bake in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes.

I use a silicone pastry brush for brushing on oil. If you do not have such a brush, you can simply dip a little corner of paper towel in oil and rub the oil on the Spring Rolls.  If you do not use oil, these can be made with no oil at all - they don't brown quite as nicely, but they still turn out pretty tasty.

*I bake these on my perforated, non-stick Pizza pan so that they will not get soggy on the bottom.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Real Raspberry Frosting

Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Frosting
This Frosting is so easy to make, and so vividly colored, and delicious. It can be made thick enough to pipe through a pastry tube, if you want a nice swirl - or you can spread it with a knife.

Whether you want to use it for a Valentine's Day treat, or for a Birthday - it's delightful!

Vegan Raspberry Frosting
Mix with Electric mixer, adding Powdered Sugar Gradually until desired thickness is reached
1/4 Cup Frozen Red Raspberries, thawed and mashed with a fork
1/4 Cup Earth Balance or other Vegan Buttery Spread
About 3 Cups Powdered Sugar (Also known as Confectioner's Sugar or XXXX Sugar)

My experience is that when I think it is thick enough, I should continue adding sugar for a bit longer to really get a piping consistency.

Decorate Cupcakes (or cake). If you want sprinkles or other decorations, add them while Frosting is wet. Allow to set/dry.

This Frosting Freezes well - you can decorate Cupcakes and wrap them airtight to freeze (in such a way that the frosting isn't damaged)  Thaw at room temperature, without unwrapping.

A Note about Confectioner's Sugar Frostings - often the Frosting might seem to have a gritty texture when freshly made, before the Frosting sets. It is my experience that this is fine, and the texture turns out perfect when the Frosting has set.

Need a cupcake to put this lovely frosting on?
Chocolate & Vanilla Cupcakes - Vegan

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Why I (Finally) Bought a Canister Vacuum

Our new-to-us Canister Vac - with the thrift price still on - ready to work!
When I was a kid, Mom had two vacuums - a canister vacuum and an upright vacuum. She was a
very wise and sensible woman, which meant that chores like vacuuming generally belonged to us kids.

As a kid, I took a liking to the upright vacuum - it was an all-in-one contraption. It had a fancy headlight which made it even more kid-friendly. I didn't have to "drag that thing around the house" (which was how I perceived using the canister vacuum. It was an opinion that stayed with me for decades.)

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, when I decided to rethink my long-held opinion. I have a severe back problem, and carrying a "light" (only 15 pounds!) upright vacuum around the house, and propelling it across the room was quickly proving to be a formula for infirmity. I could pretty much guarantee that if I vacuumed one day, I'd be in pain with limited movement the next. The upright vacuum was awfully big to keep on our ground floor, but at the same time, was heavy to carry up and down stairs. It was going to be needing new bags soon, and none of the local stores carried them.

I decided I was in the market for a new vacuum.

Our little "stick" vacuum was a dream - light - easy to use - but didn't have the suction power of a full sized machine. It was good for touch ups, but not for deep cleaning.(It's an apparently discontinued Eureka Multi Vac 166A)

I looked for a full power upright with a similar weight and design to the stick vacuum, and started reading reviews. The reviews were beyond bad. I really don't need a vacuum that is going to catch on fire when I use it (and LOTS of purchasers were reporting this little glitch). I also don't need one that will need an expensive new belt every couple of months - another common problem.

Then, I looked at the more expensive "light" uprights. Most of them were the same weight as the one I already had! I might be able to get one that weighed only 10 pounds - if I was willing to pay several hundred dollars for it, and gamble on whether it would still hurt my back! (those who know me well know  how laughably unlikely that is!). Manufacturers warned that these were carpet-only vacuums that might malfunction on hardwood floors.

Or, I could get one of the fancy robot vacuums. There seemed to be two categories of those in the reviews: the $400. model that didn't work, and the $600. model that might work. For that amount of money, I could HIRE someone to vacuum my floors!

Then I started thinking: virtually every professional cleaning person I have ever seen at work had a canister vacuum! Why would they use such an ungainly apparatus? Had I missed something?

I started reading reviews, and found lots of promising information about the newer canister vacuums. They have little wheels now, so the canister follows you around the house like a puppy - and the part you lift and propel is exceptionally light! At the touch of a button, many models retract their own cords - unlike most upright vacs. They easily go under furniture. They go from hardwood to carpet with absolutely no effort. Many models are comparatively inexpensive, and quite light - and, most importantly - they're strong and effective!

So, I started mulling over whether I should buy a new canister vacuum to replace my upright. The deal clincher came when I was at my favorite thrift store, and spotted  one like this  on sale for $8.99!   I plugged it in, only to discover that it ran, but had no suction. Bummer. Then, I opened the bin - and discovered that apparently the previous owner hadn't known that there were TWO compartments to empty. I emptied it properly - and voila! -it suddenly worked great! (Now that I have it, I consider it well worth the retail price : ) However, I cannot endorse this brand without reservation, as it is VERY difficult to get replacement filters & other customer service from the manufacturer.)

After I got it home, I discovered that it had several advantages that made it even better than I had expected. I can empty the bin easily every time I use it - rather than waiting for a bag to fill up - there is no bag. I never did like the idea of storing my old dirt in the vacuum (not to mention the possibility of old dust getting blown into the air when the thing was turned on). Emptying it every time means that I can see how incredibly effective it is - this thing picks up a LOT of dirt. Perhaps best of all, it doesn't have a moving brush with a belt - this means that when my daughter's Rapunzel-length hair is picked up (and it picks up hair very well) , it doesn't get wrapped around a brush and break a belt or burn out a motor.

And, as I hoped, my back likes it a lot!  : )

If you're in the market for a new vacuum - I'd encourage you to check out a canister vac!

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Month of Lenten Menus with Links (17 GF Ideas)

The Icon of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Kykkos Monastery, Cyprus
The Biblical Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus tells the story of a rich man who fared sumptuously (which is to say, ate like most of us Americans eat!) every day while neglecting to share with the poor man, Lazarus, who was just outside his gate. During Lent, we are supposed to focus on prayer and alms giving, while reducing our self-indulgence - not any easy task for any of us.

For Orthodox Christians, during Lent we are encouraged to do our best to keep our food mostly Vegan. Here's a month of menus for this Lenten Season.

I prepared this month of menus with my 10 Minute Monthly Menu Planning System.

Scroll down for the entire month's calendar, or enjoy scrolling by a few pictures first : )

Note: Seveteen of these menus are naturally Gluten-free - the Gluten-free ones are fairly obvious - dishes served over rice or made from beans, for example. Nearly all of them CAN be made gluten-free if you make simple substitutions - a Gluten-Free Corn Tortilla for a Flour Tortilla, or a Gluten-Free pasta for traditional - and, don't forget to use all Gluten-Free ingredients- like Soy Sauce, for example. 

If you're interested in other Lenten Menu plans, check out these past posts:

Lenten Potluck Ideas
Menu for the First Week of Orthodox Christian Lent
Lenten Menu -A Meal for Every Day of Great Lent 
A Month of Gluten Free Vegan Meals with Recipe Links 

For other websites with great Lenten Plans (and many Greek Recipes) check out these - a few that are favorites of mine this time of year:

Kopiaste - Great Greek & Cypriot cooking blog, with many vegan recipes

Great Lent Gourmet

The Greek Vegan

Teriyaki Veggies over Rice
Greek Peas & Artichokes Yachni

Indian Lemon Rice with Peas

Pad Thai

Lentil Salad

Black Bean Soup

Tabouli & Lentil Salads, Dolmades
Red Beans & Rice, Slaw
(scroll down)
Veggie Burgers, Potatoes

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