Meals at the Convent are planned and prepared by the Convent kitchen staff for each day of the week—except Sundays, when rotating groups take turns making dinner. This gives Sisters who don’t normally cook an opportunity to do so, and to select a favorite dish they particularly enjoy. Often these meals turn out to be “fun” or ethnic in nature, such as last night when an abundance of chopping, chatter and laughter resulted in a tasty, colorful Thai meal enjoyed by all.
Crunchy Tofu Noodle Salad
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Cut tofu into chunks about 1” square or ½” strips. Marinate in soy sauce and fry in oil in a sautee pan until slightly brown and semi firm or line sheet pan with aluminum foil, coat with a layer of oil and cook tofu at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until brown and semi firm.
- Meanwhile, bring another large pot of salted water to a boil, add the sugar snap peas, return to a boil, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp tender. Lift the sugar snap peas from the water with a slotted spoon and immerse them in a bowl of ice water. Drain.
- For the dressing, whisk together the vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds and peanut butter in a medium bowl.
- Combine the spaghetti, sugar snap peas, peppers, scallions, fried tofu in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the spaghetti mixture. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and the parsley and toss together.
One of my strongest childhood memories was watching my grandmothers in the kitchen preparing meals for our large family gatherings on Sunday afternoons. Both my grandmother and my great-grandmother were influential figures in my life and instilled a quiet passion in me for bringing your heart and soul to the table. They would create memorable and delicious dishes that would cause us to want to sit at the dinner table for hours, not just minutes, and share together. They were wonderful and patient teachers and, like a sponge, I would absorb their body language, their knife skills, and their innate sense of creating something out of nothing as I worked alongside them. They were frugal, but they would never let us know it, as we sat down to a meal fit for kings.
When my great grandmother died, I inherited a few of her cookbooks. They have her notes in them from World War I, when she was a cook for the soldiers. They hold a place of honor on my bookshelf. It helps me to remember what an important role food has to play both in life and in death. I thumb through the fragile pages from time to time, half expecting to hear grandma’s voice whisper a secret direction to me.
This is among one of my grandmother’s signature recipes–a relish made with green tomatoes. We put our gardens to bed this past weekend and pulled up our tomatoes–now it’s time to take a stroll down memory lane.
My Grandmother's Green Tomato Mustard Relish
- Grind and drain for 1 hr. the first 4 ingredients (green tomatoes, green and red peppers and onions).
- Mix the remaining ingredients together and add the vegetables.
- Cook until it boils and thickens, stirring constantly.
- Pack in sterilized hot jars.
- Store in a cool, dry place.
It’s not too early to start preparing for Christmas! By day, I am a sales rep. to our bookstores for our publishing house, Paraclete Press. For a couple months now, we have had our focus on offering our Advent and Christmas products to start stocking for the holidays. It always feels a bit odd, as the leaves are just beginning to turn, to talk about a season that feels so far off – but then again, it is almost October!
This is the perfect time to start thinking about making homemade gifts for your loved ones. The gardens are still yielding, and the season just begs us to do some canning. Since the Farmer’s Almanac predicts a long winter ahead, you might want to consider taking some time to get a jump start. Homemade gifts are a thoughtful touch, especially when you have put your own heart and time into preparing them. Cut down on the frenzy of shopping, and maybe you’d have a little more time to spend with Jesus!
This recipe was inspired by jalapeno peppers given to me from my parent’s garden. Gift wrapped with a box of Ritz Crackers and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, this is the ultimate homemade Christmas gift!
Cape Cod Cranberry Jalapeno Pepper Jelly
- Bring boiling-water canner, half-full with water, to a simmer.
- Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling the jars with jam. Keep jars warm and dry in a low oven.
- Make the Jam: add prepared fruit, peppers, salt and vinegar to a 6 or 8 quart pot
- Begin heating on medium high and stir in the sugar
- Once the mixture comes to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred), add the pectin.
- Return to a full rolling boil and continue boiling for exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
- Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within an 1/8th of an inch of the top. Wipe rim with a clean, damp cloth, put lid on followed by the band, and screw tightly.
- Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into the canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 min. Remove jars and with a mitt, make sure band is tight, and invert the jar. After 10 min, place the jar upright on towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)
On Tuesday mornings, at the break of dawn, all of the Sisters, Novices and Postulants divide and conquer the larger vegetable gardens in our community. That’s about 30 of us in each garden, with a small team of older sisters staying behind to make breakfast. In one hour, we are astounded at how much gets done – hauling off wheel barrows full of weeds to the compost pile and bringing in tubs of fresh veggies for the week ahead. The older Sisters teach the younger ones about suckering tomatoes and the younger ones have the strong backs to dig and till. Stories are told about the early days, and new ones are made – it’s Sisterhood life at its best.
This week, we got a bumper crop of Japanese cucumbers in – thin, long and crunchy –a welcome sight after a long winter of frozen vegetables! With the volume of cukes coming in, we opted to make our favorite sweet pickles. For many years, we have been making this special recipe and giving them as gifts at Christmastime. Now we are about to let you in on a big secret recipe that has stayed within the walls of our Convent for over 30 years. Enjoy and Happy Gardening!
“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” – Rabbi Abraham Heschel
The Convent’s Famous Bread and Butter Pickles
- Thinly slice the onions and cucumbers. Chop the peppers (if adding).
- Combine cucumbers, onions, peppers and salt in a large bowl and cover with cracked ice. Mix thoroughly and allow to sit at room temperature for 3 hrs. or until the ice melts. Drain thoroughly but do not rinse.
- Combine the remaining ingredients in a large pot and heat just until boiling.
- Add the Cucumber and onion mixture and cook just a bit.
- Sterilize 5 quart size jars in boiling water.
- Add the pickles to the jar, followed by the juice. You may not need all the juice you have.
- Seal jars and process in a water bath.
I have been exploring “superfoods” for a while now, wanting to incorporate some healthier eating habits into our Convent diet. We live a very active life-style within our Benedictine motto: Ora et Labora (Pray and Work). My task is to make sure we are all eating well and taking care of our bodies (since we are called to be temples of the Holy Spirit).
In my research, I learned about the wonderful nutty grain-like seed quinoa. Quinoa is native to Bolivia and a relative of swiss chard, spinach and beets. We usually think of quinoa as a grain, but it is actually the seed of a plant. It’s also a complete protein, which means it provides all nine essential amino acids necessary for good health, hence the name “essential.” Your body can’t produce these nutrients itself, so you have to get them frequently through food. Quinoa’s slow-releasing carbohydrates help to maintain blood sugar levels. It can be eaten on its own as a side dish, with a bit of butter or oil, salt and pepper, or other seasonings. Quinoa also makes a great breakfast dish mixed with dried fruit, cinnamon, milk, and maple syrup or honey. A healthy substitute for rice, it also makes a tasty pilaf.
I found and adapted this flavorful and surprising salad side dish recipe for the Sisters and everyone loved it. Last weekend we served it to our Oblates who were here on retreat, and promised that we’d share it with all of you. Enjoy!
Quinoa Salad with Pears, Bacon and Baby Spinach
- Prepare the quinoa according to the package directions. 1 cup dry quinoa should yield over 4 cups of cooked quinoa. Cool quinoa.
- In a large bowl add the cooled quinoa, diced pears, green onions, spinach and bell pepper. Reserve the crumbled bacon and toasted almonds for later.
- For the dressing: Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and pour over quinoa mixture. Toss gently. You might not want to use all of the dressing depending on how wet you want your salad so add a little at a time. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving so that the flavors can meld.
- Mix the crumbled bacon and toasted almonds into the salad just before serving, reserving a bit to garnish the top as well.
Note: To toast almonds, brown them for a couple of minutes in a skillet over medium high heat. To roast them, bake them in the oven for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees. When you smell them, they are done!
This is definitely the season for soups and we are adding them to our menus at the convent every week. There are so many kinds to choose from, they are so much fun to make, and so satisfying to eat. One of the suppers which sisters most love is a big hearty soup served right out of the skillet in which it has been prepared and then simmered a good part of the afternoon. Each person goes by and dips out a bowlful just to their liking to take back to their table where home baked bread and salad is waiting for them. This simple experience almost always puts everyone in a jovial mood that makes for a good time at the table with a warm “homey” atmosphere filling the refectory. One of our most popular choices is this goulash soup with a light Hungarian accent.
- Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the meat, onion, garlic, and carrots and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until lightly colored. Add the cabbage and bell pepper and cook stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes.
- Sprinkle in the flour and paprika and cook, stirring continuously, for 1 minute. Gradually stir in the vegetable stock, a little at a time. Increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring continuously. Season to taste with salt, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the potatoes and bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat, re-cover the pan, and simmer for another 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are soft but not falling apart.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed. Stir in the sugar, if necessary. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls, swirl a little sour cream or shredded cheese on top of each, and serve immediately.