Cooking for the Bishop: Part 4

Our priest and the Bishop went across the driveway to the church for the Confirmation Mass. We went over our options; either bring everything that required a stove back to our house or over to the church hall and use the kitchen there. Of course we chose the latter. My husband helped carry the hens and steak and vegetables and some of the other things. He was able to light the trusty gas oven and went back to the rectory to bring the rest over: across the driveway, up a flight of stairs, through the front door and up another stairs to the kitchen and then back again.  I prepared the vegetables and  finally put the hens in to bake. My accomplice kept returning to the rectory as I realized we had forgotten something else while I continued to work.

Everything would work out. I kept thinking: …do not lose your inner peace for anything… The excitement of preparing a perfect meal returned and I had no time to fret. The marinara sauce slowly heated on the stove top, the broccoli rabe ready, the hens basted several times and browning. Then I realized the Mass must have ended; it was after 6:00. Leaving my husband to watch the food cooking and put on a pot of water for the pasta, I rushed back to the rectory to set the first course on the table and cut the bread. When I went through the door the Bishop, another priest and our assistant priest were sitting quietly in the living room. I said a quick hello on my way to the kitchen, grabbed the mozzarella dish, and sliced the bread. Our priest came in the door and he took over from there.

The next course was pasta  and it was already boiling so I poured the marinade over the sirloin steak and began sautéing the mushrooms. The hens were not quite done yet. After draining the pasta we carried that and the hot sauce to the rectory.  The guest had devoured the first course and we dished out generous portions of the second, set out the salad and dressing, and returned to the church kitchen. I placed the julienne carrots in the oven. The pan fried steak recipe was new to me but sounded great and once finished looked picture perfect. Thank God things were going well.  I felt relieved as we arrived at the rectory with the steak. My husband went back to get the hens and again for the vegetables.

Father came over to me and said he was the only one having a Cornish hen; the others wanted the steak however the bishop wanted it well done almost blackened. I grimaced and he added the other two priests were fine with that. So as I commenced halving one hen, my helper brought the steak back to the oven. I would need to reheat the hen a bit in the microwave along with the vegetables. The steak arrived for the second time and I sliced it and finally served the last hot course. Whew! No time to rest before desert. Father offered to add plates to the table for us but we had much more to do with two kitchens to clean and boxes to pack up.  I put on the coffee and asked about desert, the procecco with berries and sherbert.  No one wanted that but a parishioner brought a delicious almond cake at some point which two  priests would have with coffee. My husband and I had a piece of the cake with coffee as we worked. Never tasted anything so good.

Stay tuned for the conclusion!

 

Cooking for the Bishop: Part 3

I began plotting my course for preparing for the dinner.  Father was helpful showing me around the new kitchen, offering any way he might help and answering my questions. The appliances were new and a bit larger than the regular size. Everything looked pristine including counters and floor. He had used the stovetop to prepare many plastic containers of food neatly arranged in the freezer. He had not even used the oven yet and I was concerned I might mess up the stove. I made a mental note to bring pots and pans and utensils.

Planning and timing were the key to success and I went over exactly what time each step would occur. I pictured the work in my mind and wrote the whole thing out on paper. After shopping my confidence grew; after all I had made dinners for my son, his wife and nine children often, including a similar number of dishes. I packed up boxes and boxes of everything I would need and prepared what I could ahead of time at home. When we arrived at the rectory, my husband helped unload and bring it all up two flights of stairs. He stowed away the boxes as I unpacked. Our priest greeted us and as he went about the last minute details for the Confirmation Mass at 5:00 pm. The Bishop was downstairs getting ready as well.

The weather was nice and all was moving along smoothly.  I had already worried about losing electricity which did happen here in an area with trees everywhere. I began preparing the vegetables, I had added baked carrots and sautéed broccoli rabe to the now extensive menu. No problem! However when I went to start warming the marinara sauce, I panicked (the first time). It was left behind at home. I called my husband. No answer. I left a harried sounding message and talked to myself. I had to keep my head and recited a quote from my patron Saint Francis de Sales …do not lose your inner peace for anything… 

I hoped my husband checked the messages. I prepared the first course and the salad. And gasped in relieve when he appeared with the pot of sauce. I hugged him and told him to stay around just in case. The oven reached 425 and ready for the half dozen Cornish hens. Then I turned on the burner for the sauce and continued my prep. Having my mate in the kitchen made me more relaxed. My planning was paying off:  hens baking, sauce heating, table set. The steak would come later.  That’s when I noticed the sauce wasn’t heating and the hens weren’t baking The stove was off…off. “Go tell Father I have no stove!” (That was the second time I panicked.)

The bishop was downstairs, dressed and ready and heard my husband say the stove was off. No one knew where the breaker box was located but the three of them finally traced the wires to the Chapel. The breaker had blown. It was time for the Mass.

Yes, there is more!

 

Cooking for the Bishop: part 2

Ever agree to do something and have the feeling you may have you have ‘bitten off more than you can chew’, as my grandmother would say? That saying kept coming into my mind for the next two weeks as I planned the dinner. The next time Father talked with me he said it would be a simple meal and because he had just eaten with the Bishop it should be healthy, salmon and vegetables with maybe some fruit for dessert. I had a great recipe for salmon well tested in my kitchen.

The main thing he told me was to keep it low key with no commotion, just me in the rectory’s beautiful brand new kitchen, a quiet time for about six people including priests and one quite famous guest who frequented our church for Mass. I talked myself into being fine with that but sometimes felt a bit unsure of my ability. Charred food had sometimes filled our kitchen with the aroma of blackened cuisine. Several capable  women from our parish offered to help but because our priest wanted a relaxed and quiet atmosphere, I turned them down.

A day or so later I talked with Father after Mass and he said the menu should be altered; it  needn’t be quite so healthy and the Bishop preferred steak over fish.  In addition he asked if we could offer a choice of perhaps steak or chicken. and also could I make a side dish of pasta; the Bishop was Italian. I switched gears and called my friend the source of many recipes in my repertoire.  She said just pan fry it. Use sirloin two inches thick– simple. I turned to my friend, Google, and found the best recipe with balsamic vinegar, merlot wine and mushrooms sautéed in butter. My favorite poultry was baked Cornish hen, crispy with Rosemary, lemon, white wine, ginger, etc. Marinara sauce was my specialty. The first course would be Campari tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella with vinaigrette dressing followed by salad and Italian bread. My friend and most trusted ally also mentioned a terrific desert: mango sherbet with fruit in a wine glass topped with sparkling prosecco wine; it’s also Italian–perfect and simple!

Much more to com. So much for adhering to the short blog!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking for the Bishop

When I became a Catholic in 1971 after being raised in the Evangelical Church, my idea of priests & bishops was one of admiration but also included a bit of fear as well. Now after being in the Church for over forty years, there still remains some trace of that anxiety in me. The realization of this became evident when one morning following a weekday Mass, our dear priest approached me with a smile and a request. Since he made a habit of not asking, but inspiring his parishioners to volunteer, he caught me off guard.

He needed someone to cook for the Bishop and other priests when they spent the day at our church for Confirmation. He said it would be a tiring day for the Bishop and Father said he wanted to have a relaxing dinner in the rectory before the Bishop and his assistant returned home.

The Bishop? Me cook? I listed our pastor’s other options to no avail. He told me he had eaten at my house and I was a good cook and just needed to believe it. He was right, I didn’t believe it. He told me to think it over and let him know soon because the time was short. I did think about it, for a day and also thought, what an opportunity. Truthfully my pride paid a role in accepting the offer–the honor of actually cooking for the Bishop. I had no idea what I and my husband who was pulled into service last minute, were in for.

To be continued…

Russian Christmas Eve: January Sixth

Growing up in a rural area of N -E Pennsylvania my family celebrated twice, once on Dec. 25th and a second on January 7th, the latter we called Russian Christmas the heritage from my father. My parents came from different backgrounds; Mom’s parents were German protestants born in the USA and Dad’s family immigrants from Russia and Orthodox Christians .

My fondest memories were of Russian Christmas Eve when we went to our grandparents for a traditional supper. A table was set for all the family with a cloth spread over hay making for a lumpy surface for our table settings. They placed a blessed candle in a jar of rice that served two purposes, the second came at the evenings departure. There was a small bowl of raw garlic which I sometimes tasted while others devoured several cloves and the aroma pervaded the room. We stood around the table and the head of the house prayed in Russian; many years later we learned the mysterious prayer was The Lord’s Prayer. No meat, fish, eggs, or dairy were present as the fasting lasted until after midnight.

Seven courses were served, one at a time with plenty of Grandma’s homemade bread baked on a large cabbage leaf. The meal included: 1) butter beans, 2)peas, and 3)mushrooms each cooked in a light sweet tomato sauce, 4) peirogies with onions in butter sauce, 5)mashed potatoes, 6)oatmeal gravy (not my favorite), and 7)fried cabbage. We walked around the table three times putting the silverware under the cloth. I never knew why except nothing was washed until after Christmas Day.

Entertainment included being together with our cousins and Uncle Paul would draw us pictures. Later the choir from the church came and stood around in a circle in the kitchen singing hymns and also some comical songs. Some of them were dressed in traditional Russian outfits and did tricks and acted silly. They had usually been imbibing of spirits in each home they visited. I can picture the group of twenty or more in Grandma’s kitchen.

After midnight with the fast over we all received candy. Presents were given to our aunts & uncles, just small practical gifts like nylon stockings & socks which my mother stopped to buy on the way there where clothing and shoes could be purchased in sizes from infant to adult. We lovingly called it the Jew store and another up the street for toys. That was the only time my mother ever drank an alcoholic beverage not wanting to insult the husband & wife by refusing a small glass of Manichevitz wine. The last thing was blowing out the candle held by the oldest person and we all lined up to see if the smoke went out the door or straight up or into the house which according to custom meant a family member would move out or stay.

The Russian Christmas Eve supper continued at my parents home after our grandmother passed on. The choir no longer came and it was just my siblings and a few close relatives  less hay under the tablecloth but otherwise the same and each of us blew out the candle.

Last year was the first year I made the supper for our family and tomorrow night we’ll continue the tradition. Dad and Mom have passed on but somehow they seem present and approve of our carrying on as usual. And we’ll all be blowing out the candle. 

 

 

 

 

Shekina Glory

Excerpt from Daybreak:

When we left the temple, great crowds of pilgrims stayed on the Mount waiting for the sunset and darkness before lighting their torches. My thoughts raced thinking of Judas Maccabeus and his men attacking on this very spot hundreds of years ago. They finally defeated the troops of Antiochus Epiphanes and tore down the statue of Zeus.

I thought of the miracle of the oil that kept burning for eight days while Judas, so-called the Hammer, led his troops in cleansing the Temple. The question for us now was would Israel experience another miracle. Could we defeat the Romans and reclaim our freedom? It seemed impossible but we were Jews and believed in miracles.

***

We began our short journey home on the road out of Jerusalem leading in the direction of Gaza, the last stop in Israel for those traveling to Egypt. We would arrive at our dwelling after only a few miles, just when the sky turned to a sea of darkness, illuminated by millions of heavenly lights like ships in the heavens above or souls on their way to meet the Lord of Lords. When I doubted my faith, I only had to look up on a clear night, and doubts vanished in the wonder of the heavens above.

Father was quiet as usual on the trip home. I saw him gaze up at the sky now and then. I thought he was waiting to see the first evening star. When we saw the lights of our home in the dstance, the heavenly bodies began to be visible. We both noticed one unusual star as we turned to look at the eastern sky. Its rays were extensive and seemed to reach the earth itself, an awesome sight. We stopped walking and looked at the vision above.

Finally, my father said, “Shekina Glory! This is the night of lights and the light of God’s presence is shining on us. The City of David lies to the east. It is written in Sacred Scripture the Messiah will come from Bethlehem, the City of David.”

“What are you saying, Father? I don’t understand.”

“It will be made known, my son. But now we have arrived at home and it is a joyous night.”

“You’re right, Father. I hear laughter. Our relatives must be here and the aroma of Mother’s cooking reminds me of how famished I am.”

A Christmas Story

  Some years ago on Christmas Eve, by chance, but I believe by design of Providence, I alone visited my dear uncle in the nursing home where he resided for a great number of years after my mother cared for him at least seven years and reluctantly had to place him there. My  husband and I offered to visit him on the way to our home in New Jersey after our traditional Russian Christmas Eve supper with most of my siblings and their families. It was a beautiful tradition and the one time we were always together in the house where we grew up.                                                                                  

My mom & dad went every evening and made sure he ate supper, but they were both exhausted that night. My husband had a cold and stayed in the car. I was his only visitor that day and he was still in bed with unopened presents under his small lighted tree. The holidays are often sad in nursing homes, especially Christmas.  But his face lit up when He saw me and with the help of an aid we had him sit up. I opened the presents for him and he was pleased with each one. I could have cried when he told me the same jokes I’d heard on every visit, but I laughed instead. Before leaving I asked if he would like to be wheeled down to the nurses’ station and he agreed. He said hello to some of those sitting there and the nurses all smiled at him. It was difficult leaving him.

The ride took about an hour and a half through the Poconos and into New Jersey. I shed some tears at first, then felt glad for the time I had with him. Shortly after returning home the phone rang past midnight and my mother told me he had passed on. She felt bad not seeing him that one night she missed visiting her brother. I must tell you at his funeral a few days later a great many tears were shed by those who cared for him over his years in the facility.

During the time of mourning someone said “to die on Christmas meant you would immediately go to heaven” and I believe he did. And God must be  listening to those old jokes forever. My uncle had a gift, a great gift, that no one ever saw him without smiling while he sat in his wheel chair and touched so many lives.

Christmas is the story of a child, the Son of God, being born into the world in a way that it was said not even the angels could have imagined beforehand. Now every Christmas I think of my Uncle Harry and smile for he and his gift are still alive.