Friday, June 26, 2009

Fast Food Friday

If you are an Orthodox Christian, you know that we are currently observing the Apostles' Fast, so I thought this would be a good time to begin a series of posts on meals for fasting. I especially want to focus on meals that are quick and/or very easy to make, and I thought it would be appropriate to post these on Fridays. Since I had been a vegetarian for years before I was Orthodox, I think the discipline of fasting was an easier thing for me to incorporate into my life than it is for many converts. Having an array of vegan foods already in my cooking repertoire made it fairly easy to settle on meals for these days, and I thought I'd share some of our favorites.

Since I'm a vegetarian, I don't eat fish or shellfish whether during a fast or not. During fasting periods, basically I eat a vegan diet. If you're not Orthodox, fasting typically refers to refraining from all meat, dairy, eggs, and usually fish, wine and olive oil (some consider these to mean all alcohol and oils). Shellfish is permitted. Actual observance is personal, depends on one's one spiritual journey, and should be undertaken with consultation from one's priest. Fasting is accompanied with prayer, almsgiving and confession. I freely admit that the spiritual aspects of fasting pose a greater challenge for me than the physical discipline, but if I'm slack on the physical discipline, of course that makes the spiritual discipline that much harder. Being unprepared, busy, tired, sick, etc., can be a obstacle to observing the fast, so having some easy fall-back recipes is really useful. If you are a recent convert, you may not have built a list of reliable stand-bys, and if you're not, it can be nice to add new ones to the rotation.

I've noticed that popcorn for dinner is a popular concept around blog land. Some serve it with cocoa, some serve it with wine. At our house, it's popcorn and smoothies. Sorry about the blurry picture. We were in a hurry to move on to some Harry Potter and Scrabble. Popcorn and smoothies is one of our go-to meals when the meal plan falls through, we don't feel like cooking, we run short of time, we've gotten back from evening church services during Lent, or we just want something kind of easy and fun.

For most of my life my mom made popcorn at 9 pm as a bedtime snack. I grew up eating popcorn made on the stove top, so I don't really like the microwave kind, and in fact, we don't currently have a microwave. Stove top popcorn is very easy to do. I pour enough canola oil into a sauce pan to give the bottom a good coat, then I cover the bottom of the pan with a single layer of popcorn kernels. I put the lid on the pan, leave it vented, and turn the heat to medium high. After a few minutes the popcorn will start to pop. When the rapid fire popping dies down, I pour it into bowls. We salt it, and I like to add nutritional yeast. Mom never buttered the 9 o'clock popcorn, so to me there isn't anything missing, but of course you could add margarine (hopefully a non-hydrogenated one) if you really wanted. Or you could go the other direction and make this a totally oil-free meal with an air-popper.

We don't really have a smoothie recipe. Basically we toss whatever frozen fruit we're in the mood for into the blender, add enough juice to cover the fruit, and blend. This time I think we had mango, pineapple and strawberries. We meant to blend that with orange juice, but we didn't realize we had run out, so we used grape. Not our favorite smoothie ever, but still tasty. This simple meal is surprisingly satisfying, and it's very easy to always keep the ingredients on hand. I have a feeling it would go over well with kids, too. Watch for actual recipes on upcoming Fast Food Fridays.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Frugal Frippery

I went to a family wedding over Memorial Day weekend, and I really felt like it demanded a cotton sundress. I have owned and loved many a cotton sundress over my lifetime, but it just so happened my wardrobe had a bit of a gap in the cotton sundress department. And new dresses really weren't in the budget, especially since I had plenty of other things I could wear to said wedding. But something in the back of my mind was whispering "cotton sundress" pretty insistently.

So on the Thursday afternoon preceding Memorial Day, I stopped off at Goodwill on my way home from work. There happen to be four (yes, 4!) thrift stores that don't really take me out of my way between home and work, but I only had time to stop at one. I pegged this one as the best sundress candidate. I told myself if I didn't find one, it wasn't meant to be, and I'd just have to wear something else. So I went in, and my eyes were immediately drawn to a particular dress on the dress rack. (Naturally, a certain shade of green was involved.) Remarkably, it looked to be my size, and I nabbed it. I pulled about four more dresses off the rack and went to try them all on. The eye-catcher dress fit! But it was strapless, which I wasn't too keen on. I stood in the dressing room and hemmed and hawed. None of the other dresses worked at all. Then I realized the dress had a wide fabric belt. Inspiration struck. I bought the dress and went out of Goodwill four dollars poorer.

On my way home from work on Friday I stopped at a craft store and bought a spool of ribbon for $2.50. I could have bought the amount I needed by the yard for about .75 less, but the spool was on sale and actually cheaper by the yard. I thought the ribbon was something it would be handy to have on hand, especially in that particular green.

Then the work began. I wish I could say it was a snap, and I whipped it up in no time at all. But first I had to reacquaint myself with the sewing machine, which had been packed up since we moved to Indiana. Then there was lots of pinning and basting, sewing, judicious use of the seam ripper, readjusting and sewing again. I'm sure someone with more sewing experience, or even with my experience who wasn't totally out of practice could have done it much more quickly, but it was well worth the effort. I used the original fabric belt to make straps, and a replaced the belt with a length of ribbon. I'm quite pleased with the result; I got a cute new cotton sundress for under seven dollars. I think Katie would be proud. Plus, if anyone invites me to a luau, I'm ready.