Tag Archives: cooking

6 March, Proverbs 11.1: a just weight is his delight.

Just and true measurements

Let us continue raising our consciousness this Lent! Our Proverb takes up an idea from yesterday’s prayer from Eastern Vespers.

A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” Proverbs 11.1.

This Nineteenth Century kitchen balance was an heirloom from our next-door neighbour, Kay; it would have been interesting to hear the story of how she came to have it! It came with an incomplete set of iron wights, each one marked underneath with a crown and ‘VR’ to tell that they were trustworthy because they had been tested by officials representing Queen Victoria. Grandson Abel and I use them quite often. Abel takes delight in these just weights, because we get good results when we follow a recipe to cook using them –  and I take delight in his delight. A false balance is an abomination to society for obvious reasons. You can read here how Channel Island farmers used big stones chipped down to useful weights to measure produce for sale.

Their old French quintal weights would be no use to Abel and me, and nor would the few pounds and ounces that came with the scales, since he will think in grams and kilos – though his mother and auntie speak about their children’s weights in stones!

Just weights are a form of speaking the truth; the different British, Jersey-French and Metric systems may differ, but by carefully comparing them and using them consistently, we can always get delightful results.

And where Bible texts differ, as in the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer,* we can enjoy carefully and prayerfully puzzling out the differences and so take delight in them.

  • Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Lent

12 February, Review: The Lenten Cookbook

The Lenten Cookbook book cover

The Lenten Cookbook, Recipes by David Geisser, with Essays by Scott Hahn

Manchester, New Hampshire, Sophia Institute, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-64413-469-6 

Here is a book of two halves: a series of essays by Scott Hahn on the practice of fasting, especially during Lent, followed by a collection of chef David Geisser’s recipes, mostly meat free but none the worse for that.

Hahn’s essays provide a clear justification for fasting and abstinence: ‘Fasting, and prayerful self-restraint in food choices generally, doesn’t have to be either monastic or a few-times-a-year imposition, but part of the everyday arsenal for spiritual growth (and warfare) available to every Christian.’  (p2) Setting limits on what we eat and drink can help us discern our real bodily needs and improve our physical health, but Hahn sees it primarily as sacrificial: giving up the comfort of abundant good food. Such comfort can delude us into self-sufficiency, leaving little room for our Creator. It needs to be challenged.

Modern life does not lend itself so readily to communal fasting as did mediaeval Christian society, with its shared rhythm of fasts and feasts. I regret that Hahn did not acknowledge how we might learn from our Muslim brothers and sisters observe Ramadan, even when it falls in midwinter or high summer. A young neighbour told me she was going to ‘do the whole thing’ though she was too young to be obliged to do so. She succeeded!

The Western Church has eased its fasting laws since the time of Pius XII, partly in response to present day pressures, partly to address the legalism that had crept in and the dispensations that were often claimed. 2022 may be the time to revisit fasting but we must beware of causing more harm than good, a danger especially of self-designed and self-imposed regimes: one’s own health may suffer and dear ones feel the edge of the penitent’s grumpiness! (p13-15) 

Hahn cites a prayer from the Byzantine rite of Vespers which sums up Lenten fasting:

 While fasting with the body, brothers and sisters, 

let us also fast in spirit. 

Let us loosen every bond of iniquity; 

let us undo the knots of every contact made by violence; 

let us tear up all unjust agreements;

let us give bread to the hungry

 and welcome to our house the poor who have no roof to cover them, 

that we may receive mercy from Christ our God. (P33)

Hahn commends Lenten “frugality for almsgiving, repentance, preparation [for Easter] and imitation of Christ” (p8) but could have developed further his reflection that frugality should be our attitude when choosing food, even a snack or a drink. (p41) Eating less meat is in itself an act of repentance, of turning away from using too many scarce gifts of Creation. 

And so to David Geisser’s recipes. He begins with a list of dishes fulfilling traditional fasting norms, some free from meat, dairy and alcohol, others with recommended substitutes for them; some of the alternatives are fuss-free and inexpensive, but is it frugal to replace butter with puréed avocado when the fruit is flown from abroad? Is out of season asparagus in any way penitential?

There are dishes we can enjoy with a clear conscience. The baked muesli could be cooking while the oven is on for one of the excellent breads. The ingredients for the potato bread in my review copy do not include potatoes, which is disappointing, I would certainly have tried this! The flatbreads and spice bread would reconcile any carnivore to a bread and soup lunch. Hot cross buns in England, at least, start to appear in the supermarkets around January 1st, and are still on sale well after Easter. They originated as a Good Friday celebratory collation; a spiced, fruited bun with a cross on the top, more recently made of flour paste or marzipan and glazed on turning out of the oven. Geisser’s Swiss versions are quite different and include  one with Rosemary. Rosemary is for remembrance, appropriate for Good Friday, but this particular bun could be served at any time of year.

Carrot  soup with orange is a fine variation; I would reserve a tablespoonful of carrot batons to garnish each bowl. Pink peppercorns are a condiment that would forever hide away at the back of our kitchen cupboard. Coarsely ground black pepper will do. The other soups are worth trying, especially the cream of corn, while the cold tomato soup is one for summertime.

Tomatoes evoke salads and there are tasty salads here but exotic ingredients would have to be replaced. The bread salad with plenty of tomatoes will be tried in this household.

From the collations, or light meals, I will surely be trying the potato pancakes, perhaps using cornmeal instead of semolina; also the bread pudding Carthusian style. The baked vegetables recipe is like one of my wife’s tasty standards, so it is recommended. More of her specialities are mirrored among the main meals: Lentil and Eggplant Moussaka and Eggplant au Gratin. My own favourites include leek quiche – though I have not used saffron – and spinach quiche, which gladly accepts bacon strips out of the Lenten season. Best of the curries I feel would be the butternut squash variety.

I am glad to have seen this book. It is informative and well presented, with colour reproductions of old master paintings and the prepared dishes. Quantities are given in metric units as well as US cups and spoonfuls, so no need to flick back to a conversion chart. I hope readers find inspiration joyfully to fast from Hahn’s essays and to cook frugally but joyfully from Geisser’s recipes.



Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Laudato si', Lent, Reviews

26 January – the year is under way again!

My friend Thomas sent an email to say, ‘We are not failures’ if our New Year Resolutions have not borne the fruit we’d hoped for. So be good to yourself: ‘if only for a moment, let yourself be at home with yourself’.’

One place I am at home with myself is the kitchen. The school Thomas and I attended expected us to master basic cooking, but many of the lads can do better than basic. My January therapeutic special activity is making marmalade. Not much foraging to this one but come Autumn we can make October marmalade using citrus peel, sugar and windfall or crab apples to supply the pectin that helps the preserve to set.

In January the set depends on long boiling and added pectin, using most of the stored jars from under the stairs. That’s our label up above. Friends and relations look out!

Leave a comment

Filed under Autumn, Daily Reflections, PLaces, winter

Eco tips XXVI, XXVII: grow your own!

Apologies that tip 26 went unpublished yesterday; I was unable to download it then, but it came quietly this evening. I was looking at herb seeds just yesterday, but ran out of time to sow them.

Daily Eco Tip 27

Grow your own little garden on your window sill with some herb seeds. They are easy to manage and when the time is right you can pluck them fresh and throw them into your meals. 

Daily Eco Tip 26

Hair products as well as face ones are now available in bars. Rubbing the bar produces the same result as their liquid counterpart and can sometimes even last longer.

Leave a comment

Filed under Justice and Peace, Laudato si', Lent, Mission

Daily eco tips XXIII, XXIV: fasting from fast food

I think we’ve caught up with ourselves again.

Daily Eco Tip 24

Invest in mouthwash tablets and store them in a plastic-free container. You can also purchase refill packs that come in compostable packaging. Just dissolve the tablets in some water and gargle.

Daily Eco Tip 23

Reducing the amount of takeaways you have monthly will not only help your diet but also reduce the amount of plastic waste. If you want some alternatives you can look for new tasty recipes you haven’t tried before. Or try some recipes that taste exactly like your local takeaway spot.


Leave a comment

Filed under Laudato si', Lent, Mission

January 7: Body and Soul at Table

shared meal


This post is an extract from the article in the Hedgehog Review, Fall 2019, by Wilfred M. McClay and an invitation to follow the link and read the whole thing! As he suggests, food is a strong proof of our animality; it is equally strong evidence of how we transcend it. Did you know that Babette’s Feast is a favourite film of Pope Francis?

We are animals too, with animal needs and animal limitations just like those of our dogs and cats and squirrels and horses and all the rest, creatures great and small. For us, as for all of them—all of organic life, for that matter—the perpetuation of life requires at every moment a steady flow of nutrition, which we derive from our taking into ourselves the lives of plants and animals and metabolizing them, then eliminating what is left over from that process. Not to put too fine a point on it, we kill and appropriate and eliminate. We are guilty from the start, in a sense, of valuing our own life more highly than the lives of other living things. That is, in a sense, the original sin of all living beings, the sin entailed in merely existing at all—a thought that would never occur to us, were we nothing but animals.

But food is not only a strong proof of our animality; it is equally strong evidence of the ways we transcend our animality. Just as we are not souls without bodies, so we are not bodies without souls. The two are distinguishable but inseparable. Unlike the other animals, we are not content to take our food as it comes to us. We don’t do a lot of desperate bone-gnawing. Instead, we do a lot of work on our food, and it gains value from the infusion of all our loving labour.

Post-Christmas is a good time to reflect on our eating and our food preparation, the love that stirs the spoon, the shared table and the love that flows from it; the Shared Table of the Eucharist which transcends all meals. Do go and read it.

A family feast of fisn and chips after a morning’s walking in the hills.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

Signs of Summer


Please excuse my interrupting Austin’s flow of thought with this appreciation of some of the joys of summer. A version of this post has appeared in the Will Turnstone blog.

As I walked along Canterbury’s  Saint Peter’s Street on Saturday I saw a sure sign of Summer. Not the gaggles of French and Dutch teenagers squeezing into the pound shops, nor the obedient American and Japanese tourists following their guides’ uplifted, unopened, umbrellas.

No, It was the cherry lady from Faversham, but selling gooseberries this time. She promised ‘cherries next week’.

I bought gooseberries.


That afternoon as I was cycling home from visiting friends,  I sought out the elder flowers needed to make the best gooseberry fool and gooseberry jam. Along the Crab and Winkle cycle path they were as unpolluted as anywhere.

Mrs T made the fool, and froze some puree to make more when summer is mere memory. The fool all went. We took some to the L’Arche gardening club on Sunday, where our Polish friends could not get enough of it, nor could I. Maybe the spare puree won’t make it till Christmas!

And I made the jam. A few Happy Christmasses there!

But yesterday there were cherries in town.

Summertime can begin! Laudato Si!


Leave a comment

Filed under Interruptions, L'Arche, Laudato si', Summer

September 21: Up the Apricot Tree: II


Back in July, I wrote about the bumper harvest on the apricot tree. over the next four weeks I was up that tree a few times, harvesting and pruning. We made more than 100 jars of jam. That’s not really a boast, just a measure of the bounty from our tree this year.

Some of those jars have found their way to other people’s breakfast tables. We’ve had appreciation from family and neighbours, ‘best ever’, ‘lovely jam’ and so on. Those of us who have undergone the after-effects of surgery will empathise with the friend of Mrs T, recovering from her op who really enjoyed the jam with her breakfast toast. So good to receive the sense of taste again! What a gift it is, and how healing.

Where else can we spread a little apricot-flavoured happiness, I wonder?

Are there any people out there who might treasure a small gift from you, far more than perhaps you’d expect on first thoughts?


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

25 June: Shared Table VII, Lunch with Pope Benedict.


Pope Emeritus Benedict has contrasted his style with that of Pope Francis,suggesting that he should have got among the people more. Yet Benedict did something radical in this direction when he came out of the Vatican and shared a Christmas meal with homeless people at the Sant’Egidio Community. (Amazingly, protocol demanded that the Pope should not be seen eating!)

He told the gathering:

It is a moving experience for me to be with you, to be with Jesus’ friends, because Jesus especially loves people who are suffering, people in difficulty, and wants them to become his brothers and sisters. Thank you for this possibility! I am very glad and I thank all those who prepared the meal, lovingly and competently I was truly aware of the good cooking, congratulations! and I also thank those who served the food.

At lunch I heard of sorrowful events full of humanity and also stories of love rediscovered here at Sant’Egidio: the experiences of elderly, homeless or disabled people, emigrants, gypsies, individuals with financial problems or other difficulties who are all, in one way or another, sorely tried by life. I am here with you to tell you that I am close to you and love you, and that you and your affairs are not far from my thoughts but rather at the centre and in the heart of the Community of believers, hence also in my heart.

With the words of St John Chrysostom I would like to remind each one: “Consider you have become a priest of Christ, giving with your own hand not flesh but bread, and not Blood, but a cup of water” (Homily on the Gospel of Matthew, 42,3). What riches are offered to life by God’s love expressed in real service to our brothers and sisters who are in need! Like St Lawrence, a Deacon of the Church of Rome, when the Roman magistrates of the time sought to intimidate him, to make him handover the Church’s treasure, he pointed to the poor of Rome as the true treasure of the Church. We can make St Lawrence’s gesture our own and say that you poor people really are the Church’s treasure.

Click to access hf_ben-xvi_spe_20091227_pranzo-poveri.pdf

Pope Benedict XVI visits the Community of Sant’Egidio.

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

3 June: E is for East End of London

commerical road

‘You turn by this big Catholic Church’, my son told his mother who was to pick him up from the flat he’d been living in over the summer. ‘That’s where I was baptised’, I said. ‘Limehouse’ is on my birth certificate, and you can’t get more East End than that. More East End than Walford, and on a quiet night, you can hear Bow Bells. Is there ever a quiet night?

Mother, aged 18, had joined Dad at Saint Mary and Saint Michael’s parish where he was running the Boys’ Club, and a whole new world was opening before her eyes. Across the street was the Mosque with whom they were on friendly terms;  there were many synagogues within walking distance. It was by no means just Jewish people who had landed in this dockland parish from across Europe and around the world.

A Frenchwoman took her under her wing to negotiate the local markets and learn to cook exotic dishes such as Spaghetti Bolognese; yes, this was 1948-50! She experienced great solidarity from the Jewish and Italian traders who understood about beginning a new life in unfamiliar surroundings. Somehow the portions she received from Mrs Guazzelli in  her café were that little more generous than the ration books might require. She learned from her friend how to buy wisely on the street market.

Another friend, my Godmother, kept in touch with me and my parents till her death. She was East End English Catholic all the way through.

My parents had to leave Stepney while I was still a toddler, happily watching the largely horse-drawn traffic on Commercial Road. I remember nothing of my time there, but living in the East End opened my parents’ eyes to other, quite  different ways of life that good people were following in good faith. Some of their openness has rubbed off onto their children. May we continue to spread it.


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces