Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lenten Vows

We're co-opting Lent. We're not Catholic. In fact, we're not even really Christian. We believe in love and individual responsibility. Our cardinal rule is to live with integrity. So, what's up with the Lenten vows?

Two things

  1. Lent is an excuse to participate in a cultural ritual with beautiful results. Self-imposed austerity--doing without--has a cleansing effect. It helps reset life, refocus intentions. It has a holistic dimension: spirit, body and mind are affected.
  2. And, it's a convenient excuse to retool the way we think about some particular thing in life. What we give up for Lent, usually a vice or a bad habit, is symbolic. Forty days of doing without give us either a renewed appreciation for the thing itself, or help us move beyond it, let go of whatever it is that we needed before.

Reset: health

This year for Lent, we're changing the way we eat. We ordinarily eat fairly healthy foods, but in busy times (which seems like always, lately), restaurant meals and thrown-together dinners take precedence over thoughtful food. Easy pantry pasta. Roasted potatoes. Sandwiches. Two pizzas a week. Fish and rice. None of it is bad for you, but our consumption gets out of balance with our production. Meaning, we eat too much easy energy, without the chance to balance it out with care and investment of time and love. Literally meaning, we gain weight and we might be a little cranky.

The promise

Restore balance to our bodies: lose weight, build core strength, gain endurance

To do this, we decided to take a rather drastic measure for the duration of Lent: eliminate carbohydrates. After our fast is over, we'll go back to whole grains, albeit at a slower pace.

No pasta. No pizza. No beer, wine, whiskey or rum. No cereal. No sugar. Some are easy (like sugar... we consume very little of it.) Some are really hard (like pizza, which is a Friday night staple). It's a serious reduction in winter comfort food options. It challenges us to think about vegetables in more creative ways. And, it offers an interesting experiment: a byproduct of eliminating carbohydrates means we're gluten-free. I doubt we have a sensitivity to gluten, but I'll be paying attention just to see if it makes a difference.

The new menu

  • Saturday: Spring mix with roasted citrus, toasted pecans and Greek yogurt
  • Sunday: Vegetables à la barigoule (artichoke stew)
  • Monday: (Still practicing Meatless Monday) Cauliflower "steaks" with tapenade and fava bean puree
  • Tuesday: Poached fish and wilted greens
  • Wednesday: Roasted beet and fennel salad with leftover chicken
  • Thursday: Chick pea stew with squash
  • Friday: Roasted celery root with buttermilk sauce, red pepper soup and wilted salad
For the freezer: Potato leek soup (using up those spuds, so we can eat them after Lent)
For lunch: Hearty cabbage soup
For breakfasts: Still figuring out what to eat instead of cereal and fruit...


I have been completely inspired recently by the Bon Appétit "BA Kitchen" section. Most of the dishes on this week's menu will be direct pick-ups or ideas based on recipes from the March 2012 issue. Inspired by my friend Laurie Arboreal of Eater's Guild farm, I'll be making my own yogurt and cottage cheese. Cabbage soup from the The Best Soups & Stews cookbook from Christopher Kimball's crew at Cook's Illustrated/Cook's Country/America's Test Kitchen.

In reserve

Of course, as I dream over what to eat, and what to put on the grocery list, I run across ideas that I'm saving for after Lent.
  • French potato casserole (Cook's Illustrated, March 2012)
  • Potato and fish puttanesca (Bon Appétit, February 2012)
  • Shellfish and potatoes à la marinière (Bon Appétit, March 2012)

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