Friday, November 22, 2013

A feast day... and a fasting recipe!

First of all, a great big Happy Feast Day to Sr. Cecilia! Today is the feast of the virgin and martyr, St. Cecilia, who is the patron saint of musicians (it's fitting that Sr. Cecilia is our cantor!), but not for the reason you might think.  Here is how St. Thérèse of Lisieux reflected so beautifully on why St. Cecilia is the patroness of musicians:

"What a model! In the midst of the world, with every sort of danger ringing her round on the point of being married to a young pagan who dreamed only of earthly love, Cecilia might well have trembled and wept..., but no, 'Leaving the instruments sounding for her wedding, Cecilia was singing in her heart'...What total trust!...She was not afraid...she knew that Jesus was under obligation to guard and protect her virginity, and she knew the reward.

St. Cecilia is like the Bride in the canticles; I see her as a choir in an armed camp. Her life was one melodious song in the midst of terrible trials; which does not amaze me, because the holy gospel rested upon her heart and in her heart the Spouse of Virgins rested.

Now as you know, we are currently in a fasting period for Christmas - the Nativity or Philip's Fast (click here for more details if you don't!) - which you might think would make celebrating a feast day somewhat of a bummer!  And I suppose it might be if you based your happiness on whether you got eat meat or dairy on any particular day (placing your joy in things = always going to let you down).  Luckily though, we take our feasting as seriously as our fasting, so we try to find special ways to enjoy fasting food while we feast. (That was a lot of fasting/feasting combinations - and also a lot of parentheses.)

So on the menu for dessert for Sr. Cecilia's feast day was a new recipe I found on the blog oh she glows while searching for fast-friendly dessert recipes called Pumpkin Pie Brownie in a Crunchy Pecan Crust.  As soon as I read the title, I thought 'Challenge accepted!'  So here are some pictures of my journey to deliciousness.

Here are all the dry ingredients for the brownie layer.
Sift it.  Sift it real good.
My first foray with coconut oil - it proved a success!
Creamy. White. Goodness.
Up close and personal with the brownie layer.
Whipping the pumpkin goodness.
Pumpkin pie stuffs - Thanks, Mother Theodora for hand modeling!
Pecan layer of awesomeness.
Why yes that would be carpet that has the look of brick, but the feel of carpet.
Pecans all mixed up!
The finished product pre-baking.
Yummmm.  All cooked and overflowing with yumminess.
The final served product!

So there you have it - a pictorial journey through Sr. Cecilia's feast day dessert.  It was oh-so-delicious and a big hit!  

Check out the recipe below for the full scoop. 

Pumpkin Pie Brownie in a Crunchy Pecan Crust


Pumpkin Brownie Layer:
• 1 cup canned pumpkin
• 1/2 cup + 3 tbsp sugar
• 1/4 cup coconut oil, softened
• 3/4 cup white flour
• 1.5 tsp pure vanilla extract
• 1 tbsp cornstarch (or arrowroot/tapioca)
• 1/4 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
• 1/2 tsp sea salt
• 1/2 tsp baking soda

Pumpkin Pie Layer:
• 1 cup canned pumpkin
• 2 tbsp cornstarch (or arrowroot/tapioca)
• 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 3 tbsp almond milk
• 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp nutmeg)

Pecan Topping:
• 1/4 cup margarine
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 1/3 cup white flour
• 3/4 cups chopped pecans 

1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a pie pan (9in pan was not big enough!  Use bigger!).
2. For brownie layer: In a stand mixer or by hand, mix together the coconut oil, pumpkin, vanilla,
and sugar until blended well. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, baking, soda, sea salt
and mix until incorporated. Take the entire mixture and place in pie pan. Wet spatula and spread
around evenly so it is smooth.
3. For pumpkin layer: In a large bowl mix together the pumpkin, vanilla, and milk. In a small
bowl, mix together the cornstarch, sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. Slowly add the dry ingredients
to the wet and mix well until all clumps are gone. Now add on top of brownie mixture. 
4. For pecan topping: Mix all ingredients until well combined and sprinkle on top of the pie.
5. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350F. Remove from oven and cool for 20-30 minutes and then
move to the fridge to chill for 1.5 hours.
6. Serves approx 8-12 slices. Serve with vegan ice cream if desired. I made a coconut whipped cream that was more like a sweet white sauce - pretty delish!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A feast that is perfect for the fast

November 21st is the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple.  The tradition of the Church says that Joachim and Anna took Mary, at the age of three, to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate her to the service of God according to their promise.

This is a perfect feast to celebrate in the midst of the current fasting period which is preparing us for the Nativity of Christ.  Theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann often said that Mary is not the great exception, but the great example.  In this feast, we commemorate Mary's entrance into the Temple in order to be prepared to become the Temple.  This is exactly what we are called to do during this fast: to prepare ourselves to become the Temple of the Incarnate God!  Jesus said, "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (Jn 14:23)."  St. Paul also tell us, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)."

In his book, The Winter Pascha (which we recommend!), Fr. Thomas Hopko says, "Jesus Christ, the Son, Word, and Image of God, is physically and spiritually formed in the body of Mary so that He might be formed in us as well (see Gal 4:9)."

The liturgical prayers for the feast illustrate this for us:
"The holy and immaculate One is being led into the Holy of Holies by the Holy Spirit.  She is being nourished by angels, since she is the holy Temple of our holy God.  He has sanctified all creation because of her entrance, and He has deified our fallen human nature" (Stichera at Vespers). 
So what do we suggest for you on this feast?

  • Attend Divine Liturgy (or Mass) at your parish if you can
  • Reflect on one of the Scripture passages mentioned in this post
  • Pray at least one of the prayers/hymns from Vespers or Matins from the feast
  • Ask God to allow this Nativity Fast to prepare a place in you for Jesus!

This is also the second anniversary of Mother Theodora's tonsure as a stavrophore nun (her life profession).  Happy anniversary Mother!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

40 Days until Christmas!...Let's start fasting!

And so it begins again...that time of year in which most people begin feasting in honor of the "Holiday Season."  But we Christians are called to something very different...we are called to fast!  This might sound a little depressing...but actually, it should excite us!  The challenging discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving should awaken in us the desire to prepare a place in the darkness of our hearts for the coming of the Light of the World who alone can satisfy every desire that we have!

Today is the Feast of St. Philip the Apostle, and the fasting period which begins this evening after vespers is named after him.  The Philip's Fast, or Nativity Fast, is a fast of 40 days in preparation for the celebration of the great mystery of the Incarnation--of God taking on human flesh so that we might partake of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  We invite you to join us in this fast so that together we may prepare a place in our hearts and in our world for Jesus (two places that desperately need Him)!  The traditional fast prescribes abstinence from meat and dairy products, but if this is not practical for you, we invite you to pray about the way that God is calling you to pray, fast and give alms during this time.

Below is a beautiful prayer from the Emmanuel Moleban which you may want to use!:

O God and Father, the Almighty One, you created the human race in your image and likeness, and when we fell through disobedience, you promised to send a Savior. When the fullness of time had come, your favor rested on your only-begotten Son, and he was born of the Virgin Mary. Thus, what Isaiah the prophet foretold was fulfilled: "Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, which means 'God with us.'" His birth filled all creation with light; he gave us the baptism of repentance, and restored our ancient dignity. Now, most compassionate Lord, you bring us to these honored days of the Christmas Fast that we may do battle with the desires of the flesh and draw strength from the hope of resurrection. Receive us, then, as penitents and forgive our wrongdoing, those done knowingly and unknowingly, through malice and through weakness. And may our prayers, our fasting, and our works of mercy rise up before you as incense, as sweet spiritual fragrance, that in company with the Magi and the shepherds we too, with pure hearts, may be found worthy to bow down before the Nativity of Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. To him, together with you and your all-holy Spirit, belong glory, honor, and worship, now and ever and forever. Amen.

Know that we are praying for you!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

“Draw me in your footsteps, let us run": Our Discernment Retreat

“Draw me in your footsteps, let us run,” from the first chapter of the Song of Songs, was the theme for our fall discernment retreat, November 7-10.  Three young women from Ohio, Florida, and Louisiana spent the weekend at the monastery in order to quiet and open their hearts to God’s call for their lives and to spend time getting to know us and our life of prayer and hospitality.

The retreat consisted of talks, the regular monastic schedule of liturgical prayer, silence for personal prayer, recreation, meals enjoyed together, the Mystery of Holy Repentance (Confession) and Divine Liturgy.  Sr. Cecilia spoke about monasticism as a “martyrdom of love” and about the call of every Christian to follow Christ by dying with Him—in the particular way that He calls each of us.  Mother Theodora’s topic was “Draw me in your footsteps,” the first half of the retreat theme.  She drew on the wisdom of the Church Fathers, other saints and her own life experiences to illustrate the ways that God draws us to Himself.  Sr. Gabriella spoke on the second half of the theme: “Let us run.”  Looking at the Gospels, she reflected on the meaning of discipleship and the necessity of first being a disciple of Christ while discerning one’s vocation.  She pointed out the plural “us” in the verse, showing that our discipleship should draw others to Christ.

At the end of the retreat, the young women expressed the peace they had found in leaving all in God’s hands.  They especially loved the liturgical and personal prayer and joked with each other saying, “All this could be yours!”  Friendships were formed, and no one wanted to go home!

Click here to view more photos!

We are considering the possibility of repeating the retreat January 17-20, 2014, for young women who were not able to attend the November retreat.  If interested, please fill out the Vocation Inquiry Form (or contact us if you have already filled out the form).