Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday Part B - and valentine's suspence

Usually I don't start Lent until I've gone to the Lenten Service in my town every year, and that's at 7pm on Ash Wednesday. I think it's a good way to kind of open up your mind and let some guidance in, and I usually get some inspiration on what to do for lent while i'm there. This year, as mentioned in my previous post, I'm expecting to struggle until the last minute.

This year I have to go alone, which is especially difficult for me, as I am NOT a "show up by myself" kind of girl.
Especially because I *KINDOF* know these people, which is worse than not knowing them. If they were strangers then I could ignore them and they could ignore me, and I could be there and then leave and there would be no follow up. In, Out, Done. left with my own thoughts, just like I like it.

Also - this service is not at "our" church. it's a town-wide service usually held at a different church with different ways of doing things that i'm just not as familiar with. It's a step out of the box for me, and I find myself struggling to keep up with what's happening sometimes. I don't dislike it, I'm just not used to it and have to pay extra attention.
Anyway - Hubby gets home from work a little after midnight, and i'm supposed to report back to him, and i'm a little overwhelmed by my assignment. Maybe I can find some way of videotaping the whole thing..

Also, Valentine's day is tomorrow. It's Hubby's turn to plan our night, and the only clue I've gotten is that I don't need to dress up. Very mysterious. I can't wait :)

Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday part A: the background info

Mardi Gras, translated from french means, Fat Tuesday. Referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.
In brader terms, Mardi Gras is a celebration of the excesses of our lives. A lot of people take it as something bad or even evil. An excersize in over indulgence and general no-good-ery. A time of great temptation and losing one's inhibitions. Yes.. that happens. but that's not the point.
It has practical roots too.
Lenten season typically bridges the gap between winter and spring. Normally this is a time when crop yields are low. Rewind several hundred years, and you'll see the root vegetables from the fall stock are having to be rationed out, and the spring vegetables are not yet in season, and slaughtering animals is kept to a minimum to account for those that might not make it through winter. Fasting during this season makes perfect sense.
Further, anyone who's ever been on one of those crash cleansing diets is familiar with a "load day" wherein you pack in as many calories, especially fatty foods, as you can. I would imagine many people don't know why that's the first step to a diet, when the point is to get such things OUT of your system. But basically, it's to keep you from starving to death.
Your body needs certain fats to survive, to process certain other nutrients (like vitamin D and calcium) By loading up on them for a day or two before fasting or cleansing, you make sure that you get ample amounts of those fats so that your body can process as much of the other nutrients in your diet as possible for the fasting days. And if you're fasting for a long time, you're going to need those nutrients pretty badly.

However, these days lent is less about fatty foods and more about making a sacrifice of your choice. I don't eat a whole lot of fatty foods anyway, so it wouldn't be hard for me to give up fatty foods for lent, and the meaning would be somewhat lost. The point is to exchange your indulgences for reflection or prayer, in an effort to gain or renew or strengthen a relatioship with God. This is essentially based on the 40 days Jesus spent fasting according to the bible. According to the stories, afterwards he was tempted by the devil and essentially, with God's help, was able to overcome temptations. Extrapolate to yourself and whatever indulgence you allow yourself can be overcome with the help of God.

I'm still not sure what my sacrifice is this year. Last year I took on a house project every day. and that went well, but I was also home every day. This year it would be much more difficult to spend the time to do that.
THAT is where my delimma is. Do I avoid that because it's going to be harder this year? Or is that all the more reason TO do that for lent.. it's supposed to be hard. it's supposed to be something I cannot accomplish on my own without prayer and that would definitely be impossible. But at what point does taking on a sacrifice do more harm than good?
And if i want to do something different for lent, is that just because i want to do something different? or am i just deflecting so i don't have to do what I should be doing. I'm stumped.

Last night we had some friends over for our own little mini version of Mardi Gras. I try to do something Mardi-Gras-esque every year. This year I made jambalaya and red beans and rice. I think it turned out pretty good. We didn't go overboard and it wasn't a super fatty meal as tradition calls for, but it was a way of remembering the day, and that's what mattered to me.

Today is ash wednesday, which marks the beginning of the 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting. (yes, it's actually 46 days until easter, but sundays aren't counted because they are "feast" days.)
Ash wednesday is called that because of the practice of putting ashes on the forehead as a reminder and celebration of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance for our sins, as signified by the excesses of the day before.. although in theory the Mardi Gras celebration should only show as a symbol of the temptation, not as an excuse to participate in them without regard.

Anyway - to put it bluntly, ash wednesday is a day of guilt, a day of sorrow, a day of wearing your misdeeds on your face for all to see. This is a time to recognise and face the reality of our failings, and an excersize in humility by showing those failings, symbolically, to those around us.
For Hubby and I, ash Wednesday always seems to come when we need it. From others, I fully expect to get questions like
1)why would you possibly NEED to share your failures with the world?
or 2)why would you want to be publicly humiliated
and most painfully,
3) what kind of God does that to people?
1) Because we're selfish. We have been very blessed in our lives. We have food on the table, nice clothes, a beautiful home, and more stuff than we know what to do with. We work hard to maintain those things, but sometimes we feel bogged down by the outside world, bombarded with stress and bad news. It's easy to get lost in our own world and forget that there are those in the world who have so much less. Lately, we've experienced a series of crappy events, and it's easy to get stuck in the "why me" mentality, when the reality is that everyone has their difficulties in life, and many people have much more difficult difficulties.

2) We want it because it brings us back to reality. It hurts us, and it is hard, but wearing our failures on our face, in the form of those ashes, means that all day we are reminded of them. Every time we look in the mirror we are re-humbled.. Every time someone asks us about them, we are charged with those deeds. We don't have the opportunity to escape or ignore them like we might do on every other day of the year. Every time we see it on each other's faces we are reminded of our own.

3) He doesn't, we do it to ourselves. He wants us to stop it. As with many Christian holidays, Ash Wednesday does not stand on it's own. It is part of a season and means nothing without the other holidays around it. As we move through the Lenten season, we reflect on our failures and sins, and we are brought through other events to Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross to save us from the burden of the sins we have carried and anguished over, then Easter, when he rose again and ascended to heaven.
There you find the point.
We have failed, we continue to fail, and we cannot escape it. We deserve karma, instead we will get grace.

As I said earlier, I'm still struggling with finding the right thing to do for Lent. I want it to be something that is difficult, a true sacrifice, but I want it to make a difference in the long run as well. I want it to be something that inspires a long-term change in my life, for the better.
I could give up coffee, but I don't want to. does that mean I should?
I could give up facebook, but I like facebook. does that mean I should?
I want to be healthier, I could take on eating better, or excersizing more.
But are those wants another instance of me being selfish? Maybe.That's why it's so hard. I have to avoid the temptation of choosing something I want for selfish reasons and figure out the right thing to do, but I don't know how much my judgement is clouded by that selfishness.

Anyway - good luck to you and yours during this lenten season.  This was just to share some background info for the main blog post, which i'm working on to follow this one.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Charleston Anniversary re-hash and Christmas Dinner

**NOTE: My phone turned to crap right before I posted this entry. ALL of my beautiful photos of ALL of the many things i discuss in this entry are GONE with my phone. I'm furious, but please don't let that keep you from reading, hopefully you can just use your imagination, or just cook the food, and you'll know how good it is!**

My dear sweet hubby took me on a weekend trip to the beautiful Charleston SC for our anniversary this year. If you've never been to Charleston, you should go now, because it's one of the most perfect places in the south.
The weather was beautiful and perfect for ruffly sun dresses, which I participated in wholeheartedly.

Charleston is famous for an abundance of ghost stories, including, but not limited to, the saluting ghost of Fort Sumpter, and the Whistling Ghost of Church Street.
We did take a day to go visit Fort Sumpter - which, btw, was not the most exciting thing in the world, but would be good to do if you were in Charleston for an extended period of time and needed a good way to waste an afternoon. - but we did not witness any saluting ghosts.

Afterwards, we meandered the streets of Charleston, which is really the best thing to do in Charleston. We happened across multiple shop varieties, french bakeries, girly boutiques, and most importantly, ghost shops! One in particular had everything ghastly you could imagine, and as many of you know, I'm usually already planning for halloween well before our September anniversary, so we had to stop in. We found lots of great things to look at, but our greatest find was this doormat, which I'm pretty sure was made specifically for my psychologist hubby. Unfortunately, they were sold out except for the display model. So we bought it.
In addition to the ghosts and the shoppes, Charleston also has an open market on Market Street (so cleverly named, don't you think?) So we did quite a bit of meandering there, as well.

But the most important thing we discovered in Charleston, was shrimp and grits.
I was skeptical, but i'd heard rave reviews. I had had some versions of "shrimp and grits" in other places that i was not impressed by, and I had seen some tv personalities put "their own spin on the classic" but I wanted to start with the classic.
So the first night we were there, we found a place and I explained my uncertainties to our server, who assured me that if you're going to try shrimp and grits, you came to the right place.
WOW was she right. You know that first time you ever had a taste of creme brulee? How it just punched you in the face with it's magical flavors? it was THAT good.
This was quite possibly the best thing I'd ever put in my mouth, and I've tasted some delicious things.
First, if you don't like grits, you're wrong. You don't like grits for the following reasons 1) you ate them as a main dish, and they are not. 2) you ate instant grits, which are a lot like eating buckshot.. only with less flavor. 3) your "chef" prepared them with water. so you take a flavorless pile of sand and add even less flavor to it and you get a perfectly unappetizing pile of gelatinous bleh.
Stop that.

Second, if you don't like shrimp, then I can't help you, you're clearly a crazy person, and my expertise can only go so far.

Third, if you're skeptical of this recipe i'm about to give you, well join the club, and try it anyway.

Here's the deal: That dish was absolutely PERFECT. Start with HUGE perfectly cooked shrimp, add sliced andouille and fresh portabella sauteed and then dredge it all in a made-from-scratch brown gravy. Then pour that over a pillow of creamy and decadent grits. Then die because you have reached enlightenment.

It's that good.

But it's also insanely simple! So I came home and started trying out the recipe. Thanks to Harris Teeter's occasional "Buy 2 Get 3 Free" sale on EZ Peel shrimp, I had plenty to test with. But I nailed it right from the start. That's right IIIIIIIIIIIII, of all people, got something basically right on the first try.

Cook the NOT INSTANT grits low and slow, and I recommend using milk instead of water, or at least half milk half water. Also put in lots of REAL butter, salt and pepper. If you use all milk, be sure to stir it fairly often to keep the milk from scalding on the bottom. Also, use a WAY bigger pot than you think you should, this stuff expands and you need stirring room. Some people like to add cheese too, but I don't think it needs it, and the original that I ate didn't have cheese, so I didn't. I bet some parmesan would be good though, if you really want to try.

I broiled the shrimp, because a few months prior I learned to broil shrimp from this pin I found on Pinterest, and decided that there's no reason to cook shrimp any other way. Although that recipe calls for seasoning and broiling in the shell, I shelled them first and broiled them plain. The process otherwise is the same, though. Lay the shrimp out in a pan, broil for 3ish minutes, then stir and spread out again, repeat until the shrimp is pink on all sides. Easy!

Then slice some Andouille sausace into little medallions (I used about 12 ounces, but use more or less depending on how much you like it) and sautee. you might want to add in half a diced onion here, I did and it was tasty.
Once the sausage is heated through, add in the sliced mushrooms. I used button mushrooms because that's what I had on hand.

Last, but certainly not least, add prepared brown gravy to the sausage and mushrooms, then add the shrimp, give it a quick stir, then serve a pile of grits and the shrimpygravy on top! Hubby likes to mix his all up, but I like to keep it layered as served.

We liked this so much, we made another HUGE batch for our family for Christmas. We had over 20 people at our house the day after Christmas, and while normally I would love to make a very intricate menu, I was in the middle of a major proposal at work, and just did not have the brainspace.
So when I started trying to figure out something that I could make with little to no fuss in a few large pots and have everybody serve themselves, and eat off of disposable places so I didn't have to to dishes, this was the perfect option!  I had a huge roasting pan filled with 10 lbs of shrimp, which the broil and stir method worked perfectly for, and then a stock pot full of grits and a stockpot for gravy (unfortunately it wasn't big enough for all the shrimp, so we had a 3rd stockpot to keep them in when they were done broiling)

I hightly recommend giving this a try, It is SUPER filling though, so judge your shrimp purchace accordingly. We estimated 1/2lb of shrimp per person and went from there because I was concerned about not having enough for everyone, but it was WAY too much. Aim for more like 1/4lb of shrimp per person, and half the standard "serving size" of grits, and you'll probably be in good shape.