Since the 1970’s, we have prepared hundreds (if not thousands!) of meals here at the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod, and at our mission house, Villa Via Sacra, in Barga, Italy. We believe that food nourishes body, soul, and spirit, and that even the simplest meal, prepared with love, can change your life. At the heart of our call to kitchen and table lie the words of Saint Benedict: “Welcome all as Christ.” This premise has led us on many culinary adventures, which we now gladly share with you!
All the convent sisters continue to work on preparations for Spirit of America Band’s participation in the Dubai workshops at the end of this month. Whether or not they play an instrument or are even going on the trip themselves every sister is very involved and supportive of the endeavor in whatever way they are able to contribute.
Last week the emphasis was on sewing. All who could helped with the job of fitting, altering and adjusting each uniform. This week when the participants from all over the country come together for rehearsal, we will be feeding about 200 people for the entire weekend; so much help will be needed in Paraclete House Kitchen. One of the meals that has hit the spot with most of the group and received a lot of praise is this hearty beef stew that not only provides them with needed energy but also satisfies their taste buds in a special way.
As we enjoy these cool crisp days, my taste buds long for a creamy soup to warm my body. This soup is a treasure. The smell of it is a potpourri to scent your entire house! It has become our favorite soup for the season. Recently, we served this as the first course to the luncheon we hosted pre-performance for Elements Theater Company’s performance of “All My Sons”. We received so many recipe requests, we thought we should share it. We are filled with gratitude for each of you. Happy Thanksgiving and a blessed Advent!
Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat until soft and translucent.
Add the butternut squash, sweet potatoes, chicken broth, salt and pepper to pot. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes or more.
Turn off the heat. Add the diced apple and purée the soup with a handheld immersion blender until very smooth and creamy. Pour the blended soup into a clean pot.
Add the honey, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and heavy cream and stir. Bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. If you like a sweeter soup, add more honey.
Note: This soup thickens as it cools. If necessary, add a bit of cream to thin it back to desired consistency.
With thanks to Once Upon a Chef for inspiration of this recipe!
One of our Sisters has been living with the Benedictine sisters at the Beguinage in Bruges, Belgium where she has been learning the art of lace making, an old and ancient monastery craft. Recently she came home for a visit, and before returning she wanted to make a treat for all of us, something she often did from time to time while at home.
We were all looking forward to it, anticipating it to be a pastry of some sort which is what she usually did. Instead she surprised us with a traditional Belgium dessert called Pannekoeken. This is a very popular tearoom item for late afternoon or dinner dessert. It can be served in many ways from fresh fruit and whipped cream to ice cream with chocolate sauce or the original way sprinkled with a coarse natural brown sugar. The Pannekoeken is sprinkled with the sugar, folded in half and sprinkled again, and folded in quarters before wrapping it in waxed paper so that it can be held in the hand and eaten while still walking along the streets. What a perfect ending this was to a very meaningful visit.
This past weekend, I was a joy-filled member of the cooking team for our remarkable and award-winning marching band, Spirit of America. The band is embarking on a very exciting groundbreaking opportunity to travel to Dubai this January (2017) to assist in starting the first marching field band in the United Arab Emirates!
Over the past few months, they’ve had 4 rehearsals together to pull off this enormous project — creating a field show with 150 people from all over the United States! One thing we knew for sure, they needed to be fed well! My job was to cook for those with special diets. It was fun to spoil them and experiment with recipes that were gluten free, lactose free and vegan! When the weekend was over, it got me to thinking about creating more healthy recipes that we could add to our diet. This soup is high in fiber and packed with flavor, especially if you like the tastes of curry and coconut.
Our Convent bakers are always thinking ahead and experimenting — their thoughts and ideas are often very innovative! This week they were totally into Thanksgiving and enjoying it thoroughly. They assured me that I would be pleased with the final outcome of their efforts and how right they were! I had heard pumpkin being mentioned so I was expecting a pumpkin dessert of some sort. Instead they produced the tastiest dinner rolls which could not have pleased me more — whimsical little pumpkin-shaped creations, each complete with its own stem. I can’t wait to see the smiles on every person as they gather around the table this year.
In a bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Sprinkle with sugar; let stand for 5 minutes. Add milk, brown sugar, pumpkin, butter, salt, spices and 2 cups flour; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 24 evenly-sized pieces. Working a few at a time, roll each piece of dough into a 12-inch rope on an un-floured surface. Before shaping, lightly dust ropes with flour, and then, with floured hands, turn each one into a pumpkin.
Create a small loop in the rope with a long tail on one side and a short tail on the other. Wrap the long tail around the edge of the loop 2-to-3 times. Hold the remaining end of the long tail on the bottom-side of the loop with a finger to keep it from unraveling as you continue to work. Wrap the other tail around the edge of the loop, tucking it through the center of the loop.
Pinch both of the ends together where they meet on the bottom side of the loop. If you’re not happy with the look of any of the rolls, simply set them aside for about 10 to 15 minutes and reshape. Place finished rolls on parchment lined baking sheets. Cover rolls loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for about 10 minutes.
Just before baking, brush rolls with an egg wash for a shiny look or butter for a matte finish. Insert a sliced pecan into the center of each roll, pressing so the pecan touches the pan. In an oven preheated to 400° F, bake rolls for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating halfway through baking time. Rolls should be golden brown and gently firm to the touch. If not serving right away, shorten the baking time by several minutes and finish baking right before eating.
Waking up on these cold, crisp fall mornings with frost on the ground, my alarm clock begs to be put on snooze for those last 5 minutes of shut-eye. But in Convent life, that’s not what we’re called to; instead, a quick prayer of thanks to God, and our feet hit the cool ground as we dress for Lauds. I sometimes imagine God smiling at our groans, the creaks in our bones, and the selfish moments we want to steal for ourselves before spending time with Him. I’ve recently experienced the transparent love that God has for me and I think these waking moments are no different! After Lauds, we have a silent breakfast together in our refectory. Silence is essential to our spiritual life because it allows us time to listen to God’s voice preparing us for the day, and not our own. I have to admit that I battle doing my own mental checklist during this time; fragile as we are, God smiles!
The change of season also brings its own collection of recipes, both old and new. Warm custards and puddings, soups and stews, root vegetables, apples and pears. I particularly love rice pudding, and this old fashioned recipe (so similar to the one that my grandmother used to make) is lovely to enjoy warm for breakfast or with whipped cream for a cold evening’s dessert.
Preheat the oven to 300 F and grease a 9x13" glass pyrex pan or 8 cup ovenproof dish with butter.
Rinse the rice under cold water and place in the dish.
Place the cream, milk, sugar, and a generous grating (or 1 tsp) of nutmeg in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds of the vanilla beans into the milk mixture (if using) or add the vanilla.
Heat gently until almost simmering, then remove from the heat and pour over the rice, stirring well.
Dot the butter over the top and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hrs, stirring after the first 30 min. At this stage, you can add an extra grating of nutmeg if you like.
If the pudding still seems very runny, return to the oven, checking every 10 min., until it is loosely creamy but not runny (the rice should be cooked, but the liquid will continue to be absorbed once you take it out of the oven).
When the pudding is golden brown on top and has a soft,creamy texture, remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 min. before serving.