This past week, we invited artists to step away for a few days of retreat as they enjoyed renewing their vision and sharing together, in an atmosphere of Benedictine hospitality on the shores of beautiful Cape Cod Bay. Each day was punctuated by two lectures given by renowned art historian, Msgr. Timothy Verdon. He shared his passionate love of art, with beautiful images—both familiar and unknown—in a series of seven post-Easter lectures. Art lovers had the opportunity to fellowship together, while Msgr. Verdon discussed what it means to see with artistic understanding. It was a treat for our entire community and a privilege to be behind the scenes creating meals for them to enjoy. (Read more about the retreat here!)
Oscar Wilde said, “The artist is the creator of beautiful things.” Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, I believe that you are. Every one of us wishes to create beautiful things out of nothing. Take this Lemon-Almond Butter Cake for example…
- For the curd, combine zest, juice, sugar, salt and eggs in a heatproof bowl, and beat well.
- Add butter, and place over a saucepan full of simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until mixture thickens into curd, about 5 minutes.
- Strain into a bowl, and press plastic wrap onto surface to keep skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool, at least 1 1/2 hours.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9-inch spring-form pan with 1 tablespoon butter, and dust with 1 tablespoon flour, shaking out excess.
- With an electric mixer, cream the remaining butter and 1 cup sugar together until light and fluffy. Sift together the remaining flour, baking powder and salt, and stir in.
- In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until they start to foam. Do not overbeat or the cake will be tough. Add eggs and ground almonds to batter, and mix well.
- Scrape batter into the prepared pan. Drop 8 individual tablespoons lemon curd around perimeter of batter, leaving a 1-inch border, and taking care to space drops evenly.
- Drop 3 to 4 tablespoons curd into center of batter. Refrigerate remaining curd for another use. Sprinkle cake with toasted almonds and 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, depending on taste.
- Bake until cake is toasty brown on top and a toothpick inserted into cake (not curd) comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
- Let cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove sides of pan, and cool completely.
- Whip cream with almond liqueur. Present cake at table, and offer whipped cream on the side.
(Recipe adapted from the New York Times)
Our monastery houses a dairy with two lovely Guernsey cows. We often have a surplus of milk, so one great thing we’ve learned how to do (with relatively little work or energy) is to make “crock pot yogurt.” I read about it, but didn’t really believe it would work until I actually tried it. It’s fabulous, easy, inexpensive to make, and tastes better than store-bought yogurt! We also make our own granola — you can purchase that through our gift shop, Priory Books and Gifts, or make your own. I’m not allowed to divulge our secret granola recipe, but will share one that I like equally as well. This breakfast dish is one we serve regularly to our guests at Bethany or those who come on retreat. Since we make our own yogurt, granola and jam, it really is a signature “home grown” go-to breakfast. You can easily make it yourself for a quick and healthy breakfast that’s full of protein.
Granola, Yogurt and Berry Parfaits
- In a glass or parfait dish, layer in the following order:
1/4 cup granola,
1/3 cup yogurt,
1/4 cup of mixed berries,
2 Tbsp warmed jam
- Repeat Layers
In the coming months, you will from time to time be treated to new recipes from “guest bloggers”. These are old and new friends — dedicated chefs and passionate voices who share our love of cooking. After all, we are Recipes from a Monastery Kitchen, and these kitchens extend far and wide, all over the world. Tables that welcome the “Stranger as Christ”, kitchens that “practice the presence of God” as Brother Lawrence taught, and communities that are built by hospitality, love and prayer. Our lives are enlarged as we welcome them and listen to their unique voices, share in their story and try our hand at their creativity.
This week’s guest blog post comes from Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, a Benedictine monk who lives at Our Lady of the Resurrection monastery in Lagrangeville, New York. He is also an internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of several cookbooks. He is also the author of a new book from Paraclete Press, Christ the Merciful.
The son of man came eating and drinking . . .
– Matthew 11:19
The quote above was one of Dorothy Day’s favorites from the Gospels. It reminds us that Christ, in the fullness of His humanity, partook of food and drink and gave us Himself under the auspices of bread and wine.
These thoughts are on our mind as we prepare a simple dessert for the anniversary of the death of Saint Benedict on March 21. Known as the Transitus of Saint Benedict, this is the day that monks and nuns celebrate his birthday in heaven. During evening vespers we hear the story of how he prepared himself for the passage into the next life by receiving communion. Then, with the assistance of some of his monks, he positioned himself in the form of the cross to die like his savior. He insisted on remaining in an upright position with his arms extended in prayer until his final breath.
Saint Benedict is considered the founder of Western monasticism. In this humble dish we celebrate his life while maintaining his Rule of simplicity and moderation in all things.
Oranges for St. Benedict’s Day
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- Cut the oranges evenly in half and, using a spoon, carefully remove the pulp from the inside, keeping the shells intact. Remove the seeds and cut the pulp into tiny pieces. Place in a deep bowl.
- Add the candied fruit kirsch, and sugar to the orange pulp. Mix well and fill the orange shells with this mixture.
- Bake for 25–30 minutes. Serve warm.
I’ve heard it said that the sense of smell is the earliest and strongest to develop in humans. I remember once at a restaurant there was a special on oysters that came from the town where I grew up. I splurged and ordered them just for fun. When they arrived and the fresh, salty smell wafted up to me, tears came to my eyes along with so many wonderful memories of my childhood there on the water.
I think it’s the same for many of us at Christmas. There are certain scents that transport you directly into this season of celebration and joy. Take ginger for instance! I love baking days here at the Community — as you cross the common, in addition to the beautiful lights and wreaths and garland, the smells drifting from the kitchen put smiles on everyone’s faces. It actually seems like another way to spread the good news: Christmas is coming! Jesus is on his way, and we’re getting ready — with Ginger Cake!
Upside Down Pear Ginger Cake
- Start with your ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9" springform pan or a cake pan that's at least 2½ inches deep.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar; mix well and pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Tilt the pan a little from side to side to help the mixture spread all the way to the edge.
- Arrange the sliced pears side-by-side over this brown sugar mixture, making sure that they cover the entire bottom of the pan. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well with a whisk until airy and fully combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, beat the the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs and beat again until pale and airy.
- Incorporate the apple sauce and molasses, mix until well combined, and then add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just incorporated, no more.
- Pour over the pears and spread all the way to the edge.
- Place a piece of aluminium foil under or around your pan to catch any eventual leakage and bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let the cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes or until it's cool enough to be handled safely then flip it onto a rimmed cake plate.
- Serve warm, garnished with vanilla ice cream, chopped nuts and a drizzle of honey or caramel sauce, if desired.
One of the beautiful things that I am learning about Italian cooking is that each ingredient is to be savored. So many times, we take wonderful ingredients and throw them all together and miss appreciating them as they were meant to be.
As I walk along the streets of Barga with the dogs in the morning or on my way to the Pannificio to get our bread for the day, I often take photographs of the menus hanging on the restaurant windows. When I return to the Villa and have a moment, I try to find a recipe and recreate them.
A featured item on the menu in the Garfagnana district, and much of Tuscany, is Pecorino pere e miele – Pecorino with pears and honey. Pecorino is a cheese made from sheep’s milk and each district or town here is very proud of their own version of the cheese. The taste of the cheese changes depending on what type of grass the sheep are fed and how the cheese is aged. Most popular and well known are those produced in Sardinia. A good Pecorino Stagionato is often the finish of a meal, served with pears and walnuts and drizzled with a strong chestnut honey or one of the lighter acacia honeys farmed locally. Their food is simple, but in this simplicity can be found tremendous beauty and taste. Savor the moment.
- 1 pears
- 4-5 oz. pecorino fresco, semi-stagionato or stagionato (fresco is a mild and soft form, semi-stationato is also soft but sharper and stagionato is the hardest and sharpest form)
- 1/4 cup honey
- walnuts either in the shell or toasted halves - as many as you prefer
- Slice the pear in quarters from top to bottom and remove the core carefully with a pairing knife. Then slice each quarter into three or four thin slices, depending on the thickness you prefer.
- Slice the cheese into small thin wedges.
- Fan the pears on the cutting board or serving plate with the cheese slices in between the pear.
- Set a dish of honey in the center of the board and place your walnuts around.
- Enjoy sharing this with your friends and family. Andiamo mangiare!
This week at Villa Via Sacra (Mount Tabor Centre for Art and Spirituality), we’ve been hosting Gabriel V Brass Ensemble as they participate in a-two week musical exchange with the world renowned Gomalan Brass Quintet. It’s always a great privilege and joy to “be in the background” serving these groups as they work hard to perfect their art, learning and discussing the music and seeking to bring it alive through both their personal and corporate vision. Music is a wonderful communicator — even though these groups speak two totally different languages, communicating has not been a problem at all. If you are in Tuscany, following the week of study with Gomalan Gabriel V will present a free concert at the Duomo di San Cristoforo in Barga, Italy on Oct. 6 at 21,00. We hope to see you there!
Benedictine hospitality is at the heart of our mission, and we enjoy “spoiling” the artists with great food as they work tirelessly at their art day after day. Pears are in abundance now in Italy, so I made this wonderful cake for lunch yesterday. It’s quick and easy to throw together, and the moistness of the pears doubled with the homemade caramel just begs to be eaten with a big dollop of whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg.
Caramelized Pear Upside-Down Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter the sides of a 9-inch round pan with removable sides (like a cheesecake pan).
- Combine the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small saucepan and heat to boiling, then remove from heat. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Arrange the pears over the butter mixture and press down.
- Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until very smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Sprinkle in the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, and beat 10 seconds. Pour in the milk and beat just until the batter is evenly moistened, about 1 minute. Pour the batter over the pears, then carefully lift the pan and bang back down on the counter once or twice to release any air bubbles.
- Bake approximately 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Run a knife along the outer edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Place a plate over the cake, then flip it over to invert the cake onto the pan. Let the cake cool completely before serving.
- Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg.
Thank you to "Living Well Spending Less" for this wonderful recipe!