Thursday, February 25, 2010

the bridal chronicles: chapter 3, crowned unto...

I'm back with more of the bridal chronicles... Things are coming along nicely. We began our premarital counseling with our priest this past weekend. I'm so grateful for all of this, and love what we've been learning!

The crowning service of the Orthodox wedding is one of my very favorite parts. It is so very rich with symbolism. Since I first came to The Church, I was intrigued by wedding crowns.

Shortly after coming to our church, almost three years ago, a couple got married. (They're now our very dear friends, and soon-to-be first time parents, Jeremy and Amy.) We were told that we should attend the wedding, as it was open to all the members of the parish. This was so odd for me, since I was not in the habit of attending strangers' weddings! Trust me, we didn't go to the reception. I felt rude enough already! But, as I've gotten to understand the way things are done in the Orthodox Church, I know that Holy Matrimony is a Sacrament. And, any of the Holy Sacraments are open for all to attend, as with any service of the church.

So, moving past the extreme faux pas of attending a stranger's wedding. We went mostly out of curiosity. Plus, I was so intrigued and infatuated with the church, that I wanted to attend any and all services possible! I was in love with the Orthodox wedding. Nothing was done that didn't have deep meaning and that wasn't ancient in origin. It was breathtaking.

I already knew at this point that I wanted to be Orthodox. (I also knew that I really wanted to marry Brandon, although, we didn't talk about it quite yet.) So, I knew I would be having an Orthodox wedding. I immediately started dreaming about all the details, and the crowns were one such detail.

I found out about a couple of years back, and have drooled over her offerings. Many people's wedding crowns looks like these. Although, they are nice, they really aren't me. Ann Clough has some really great styles to offer on her site. I have looked at a certain set, the Dimitrie crowns, over and over and over again. When we got engaged, I remembered how much I loved those crowns.

The Dimitrie crowns are metal and have the words the priest says during the crowning engraved on them. (For our wedding, we have opted, like many Orthodox couples, to be called by our Christian names, John, for St. John Maximovitch, and Catherine, for St. Catherine of Alexandria.)

The priest says, three times, placing the crowns over the heads of the bride and groom:

The servant of God, John, is crowned unto the handmaid of God, Catherine, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of The Holy Spirit. Amen.
The handmaid of God, Catherine, is crowned unto the Servant of God, John, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of The Holy Spirit. Amen.

I am not adequate to describe the service, but Ann gives a nice description on her website. The crowns symbolize many things; the husband and wife being crowned as the king and queen of a new kingdom. Their home. They also symbolize martyrdom, since the martyrs wear crowns. This symbolizes the selfless martyrdom required of marriage.

Our sweet friends Gary and Cindy found out that we wanted to get ours from Orthodox Wedding Crowns and gave us the incredibly sweet present of purchasing them for us. We are so grateful for our friendship with these two. They are so precious to us. I can't get over how sweet and wonderful this gift it is. I'm so happy to know that for years when I look at our crowns, I won't only think of our wedding day. I'll also be reminded of our sweet friends who have taught us so much about what it means to be married.

Cindy came over one Tuesday and we set out to order the crowns. After speaking with Ann, I placed my order. She sent me photos yesterday and today. I'm obsessed with them! I think they're the most beautiful crowns ever made. They actually made my cry a little. I'm so excited to "meet" them soon. Enough talk, on to the photos...

Aren't they beautiful?

Monday, February 22, 2010


I'm always on the search for an ultimate, quintessential recipe. For starters my future Mother in Law Debbie's famous Chocolate Chip Cookies definitely come in first place. Followed by the Barefoot Contessa's "Outrageous Brownies," and last but not least Martha Stewart's Mac and Cheese. I love finding a great go-to recipe.

A few weeks ago, I went on a search for a great vegetarian chili recipe. I love my black bean chili recipe that goes over sweet potatoes. [By the way, I failed to give proper credit. Claire gave me the idea for that incredible combo. I just made up my own recipe. :~) ] I wanted a great all purpose vegetarian chili recipe. I've now made this recipe 3 times. I made it for Wednesday night dinner at church. I accidentally bought the wrong sized tomato cans. I compensated by adding water (because the chili looked really dry) BAD IDEA. I made a great "chili soup." It tasted great, but the consistency was off. I made it again a few weeks ago for girls' night, and it was a hit. I made it again last night, and it was as good as ever.

We had some friends over for a hockey watch party. The USA v Canada game did not disappoint! We had such a fun time. I'm not a huge sports fan. But I adore the fun atmosphere of cheering on the home team.

I wish I had photos, but my camera is still not working. I bought red white and blue paper plates. (As much as I don't love using paper, I always remark how amazingly easy clean-up is!) I found some plastic medals at Target, and some stickers for the kids. I even made cupcakes (the coke cake recipe) with red frosting and white dragees and some with white frosting and blue sparkle sugar. I went all out!

I served the chili with crumbled tortilla chips (thanks for bringing those Jamie and Marjo!) And Jamie made some black bean dip. Gigi brought some great fasting friendly double chocolate chip cookies. Brandon even made the trek to the Ghost River brewery to pick up a few growlers of the Winter Warmer and Pale Ale.

I commented to Brandon that this was the least amount of food I've ever made for a party. I usually go WAY overboard! I don't think anyone left hungry, and I was a lot less stressed out. It even gave me some extra money to buy a great new floor lamp for my dining room. (I have overhead lighting issues, and need lamps, lots of lamps. Good thing, because I love a good lamp!)

Without further ado, here's the recipe for the chili. I'm loving the website. Thanks Claire for telling me about about how great Cooking Light is. Sometimes I forget that most of their recipes are low in calories and fat. I got a $5 subscription recently, and it has proven to be a great investment. Plus, their recipes all include nutrition information. For instance this recipe is only 257 calories. And, it's incredibly filling because of the protein and 14, yes FOURTEEN (!) grams of fiber! (Many of you already know, I'm a big fan of fiber. Most people don't get enough. And it's so healthy!)

Chunky Vegetarian Chili (From Cooking Light)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 (16-ounce) cans stewed tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell peppers, and garlic; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add sugar and remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.

PS- Attention all Hockey Fans: If Team USA makes it to the gold medal game next Sunday, you're all invited over again! USA! USA!

Friday, February 19, 2010

it wouldn't be Lent...

...without lentil soup.

It's easy, it's full of protein, fiber, and it's super cheap! A friend introduced us to Byzantine style lentil soup a while back. It's a little different than most lentil soups. It's made with dried apricots.

Hear me out, I'm not crazy. It's not going to taste like trail mix. It's really good. The apricots soften and impart their delicate flavor throughout the soup. Although lentil soup can be pretty boring at times, this one is just a bit more exciting. We're hoping to enjoy a warm bowl of this soup along with some pita and humous or babaganooj tonight. (Babaganooj, roasted eggplant dip, has already proven to be my Lenten obsession!)

Last night we had another Compline service with the Cannon. I love the kontakion sung after the sixth ode of the Cannon. As a musician, it reminds me of the "bridge" of a song. You know, you've heard the verse+chorus sequence multiple times then there comes a break. It's like the bridge wakes the listener up.

This kontakion is sung near the end of the service. If you're like me, your shoulders begin to slump at this point in the service. I start shifting my weight back and forth. I'm sleepy and starting to get distracted by anything and everything. My prostrations and metanias aren't nearly as neat as they were earlier in the night. I just get antsy. When the reader begins to sing the hymn, it gets to me every time.

"My soul, O my soul, rise up! Why art thou sleeping? The end draws near and soon thou shalt be troubled. Watch, then, that Christ thy God may spare thee, for He is everywhere present and fillest all things.

Whenever I hear this sung, I'm brought back to the purpose of the service.

Another tradition (small "t" tradition) is to clean one's home during Clean Week. I began yesterday on my porch. The weather was lovely, so I was happy to be outside. I swept the mounds of leaves that had collected on my porch. Then, I washed my front door window. I then moved into my entry staircase and cleaned the many smudges from the walls and banisters. I even got inspired to hang some things on the walls. Today should bring the remainder of the house. My biggest projects are to clean out the fridge and my bedroom closet.
Although my Clean Week got off to a very rough start, I'm here now.

Tonight we're going to pray the Akathist to the Mother of God, it's like a reward for making it through Clean Week!

On to the recipe:

Byzantine Style Lentil Soup

2 meduim-large onions, diced
2 stalks celery, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 cups (1 lb. bag) dry lentils, washed and sorted
10-12 cups water or vegetable stock (I used half water, and half vegetable stock. if you have all veggie stock it would be delicious.)
1 6 oz package of dried apricots, sliced
3 carrots, diced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
minced parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Sautee onions with celery in oil until the onions are lightly golden. Add garlic and sautee for one minute. Add the liquid and lentils along with the apricots, carrots. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium heat. Cook covered, stirring often, for 45 minutes to an hour. The soup should be thick, add more water if the consistency doesn't look right. Add lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

a lenten meal...

Tonight was our first Wednesday night Liturgy of the Presancified Gifts. Orthodox Christians abstain from food for several hours before partaking of the Holy Gifts. So, by the end of the liturgy everyone is especially hungry!

I made black bean chili with roasted sweet potatoes. I was a bit unhappy with how some of the meal turned out. Our church ovens don't get quite as hot as they should be. So, I improvised and crisped up some of the potatoes on the stovetop in a skillet.

This is one of Brandon's favorite fasting meals. This recipe is really simple, and it's always a crowd pleaser. I posted it almost a year ago. Here it is again:

Black Bean Chili over Roasted Sweet Potatoes:

Black Bean Chili:
  • 1 medium red onion- diced
  • canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions: Dice and sautee onion in oil for a few minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and sautee for one minute. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, maple syrup, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring often.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes:
  • as may sweet potatoes as you like, diced (and do yourself a favor, leave the skins ON.)
  • oil (also, whatever you like... but warning. Olive oil is NOT supposed to be used when cooking at really high temperatures, I prefer to use canola oil.)
  • a few pinches of chipotle chili powder
  • salt
  • pepper
Throw the potatoes around with the oil salt, pepper, and chili powder. Bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes (depending on how small the potatoes were diced) turning halfway through.

Serve chili on a bed of roasted potatoes. Enjoy!

NOTE: I toned down the spices quite a bit for tonight, since I was serving it to lots of people of different ages and spice tolerances.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

to be perfectly honest...

Lent began yesterday.

I was out of town this weekend with my mother and sister. My mom and dear Aunt Susan sewed my wedding gown. Yes, in a weekend, they almost made an entire wedding gown. I was able to spend some great time with my dear cousin (and bridesmaid) Liz. I hadn't seen her in several months, it was a wonderful time.

We made it back to Memphis exactly ten minutes before Forgiveness Vespers began. I am so glad I was able to make it, it's one of my most favorite services. (Most especially because we sing a few songs from Pascha, even though the time of "bright sadness" begins, we're given a glimpse of what we're preparing for: Christ's Resurrection!)

Please forgive me a sinner.

The only problem was that I wasn't completely there for the service. Of course I asked forgiveness sincerely and forgave sincerely, but I didn't have the time to prepare myself for such a serious service. And for Great Lent in general.

I just wasn't ready. Blame it on the fact that Lent is really early this year, or blame it on planning a wedding, or blame it on me. (I'm going to say it has most to do with me and my own sin.)

I was so unprepared. Clean Monday is supposed to be one of the strictest days in all of Lent. Many people don't eat hardly anything during all of Clean Week. I am not able to fast that well. I usually try not to eat on Clean Monday, and then eat simply the rest of the week.

I try.

But, this year, I was unsuccessful. After sleeping for less than 4 hours on Sunday night I was too weak to fast properly and continue to work. I lasted until noon.

Every year it's hard to enter into The Great Fast. But, this year seems especially difficult. I was reminded that this time of the year is not meant to be easy. I think this year though, I'll need to work at it a bit harder.

I have made a few "Lenten resolutions," some things I'm going to limit during this time and some goals to achieve. I have set out to read Fr. Alexander Schmemann's book Great Lent again. (I've been unsuccessful in the past.)

Last night we prayed Compline with the Cannon of St. Andrew. If you aren't ready for Lent when you enter that service, you certainly are when you leave. It's emotionally draining and physically difficult. There are several prostrations and metanias along with the acknowledgement that we have sinned. But, by the time I left, I was more aware of the purpose of the fast.

We have services every night this week. It's an exhausting week, but I'm finally happy to enter into it.

I received an e-mail yesterday that began with the salutation "Fruitful Lent." I'm sure I've heard it before, but it made sense to me this time. Many Orthodox Christians will say "Happy Lent" or "Good Lent" to one another. Although the sentiment is the same for each greeting, I think I prefer the words of my friend. It caused me to realize that I shouldn't pray for an easy Lent, but rather for a fruitful one full of repentance and preparation for Christ's Holy Resurrection.

Fruitful Lent!