Larks

Today is the halfway point of Orthodox Lent, and is the feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. These were soldiers serving under Agricola who chose to suffer death by standing in freezing water rather than give up their faith. The Romans ordered heated baths to be built to entice the Christians to relent and accept the pagan faith, and one of the men who would be martyrs stepped out of the water to become warm, betraying his faith in Christ. One of the soldiers guarding the martyrs saw forty crowns of martyrdom descending from Heaven, and stripped, ran into the water, and joined the Christians in order to claim the rejected crown. The martydom served as his baptism.

This is the time that the larks return in Russia, and so to commemorate the saints, and to rejoice in the Spring, Russians make a vegan treat called “Zhavoronki,” or “Larks.”

My recipe follows.

The feast of the forty martyrs was the first time I ever went to Orthodox vespers, and my goddaughter Emerald is named for one of the martyrs, Saint Smaragdus, whose name means “Emerald.” I love this feast because of the bravery of the martyrs, their contagious love for Christ and each other which spread to their pagan guard, and I also love the ideas of the birds returning. My favorite Shakespearean sonnet is number 29, in which, when the speaker remembers his loved one, his heart “like to the lark at break of day arising/from sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate.”

The poem continues, “For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings/ that then I scorn to change my state with kings.” I like making the larks, then, for my husband, whose love makes everything better. When I grate the orange peel that goes into the dough, I remember that the next orange peel I grate will be for my cheese pascha that I will make for Easter. For today, the whole kitchen fills with a yeasty, wonderful smell. Winter is on the run. Lent is halfway over. The crowns of victory are near. Whether the buns come out beautifully, like my friend’s zhavoronki above, or more like Mothra, like mine, below, from 2011, the making, baking, and sharing of zhavoronki brings us closer to light, Spring, and the Resurrection.

Photo credit: Ann McLellan Lardas

Here’s the recipe. Be uplifted!

Zhavoronki – Lark Buns
Serves 40
• 6 cups flour
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 sticks margarine
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 2 cups warm water
• 1 package dry yeast
• orange zest, to taste
• raisins, for eyes
________________________________________
Mix the warm water, yeast, sugar, and enough of the flour so that you have a batter about as thick as sour cream. Let the batter sit until it has risen slightly and is bubbly.
Add the rest of the flour, the margarine and the orange zest (if using). Knead well (about ten minutes). Place in a greased bowl and let rise until doubled in size.
Using a knife or pastry cutter, divide the dough into 40 pieces. Roll each piece into a long hot dog shape. Tie each piece into a knot. Make one end into the shape of a head for the bird by pinching a beak. The other end will be the tail feathers … with a knife create that look. Put a raisin on each bird for the eye.
Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes at 325 degrees.

Guy Soup

Looking for something different to make for dinner? This is a recipe created to humor and feed my children. It’s vegan and not very complicated. I don’t like the title that the Christian Science Monitor gave the article, but I love that they published it.

I needed to figure out the soup recipe to make dinner for our family of Orthodox Christians on one of our many “fast days” when we eat vegan. I like the levels of creativity involved in this article. I had to figure out, first, what kind of soup I could make that my children would eat. Then, I had to figure out who would be interested in the story. And I had to figure out how to tell the story in a way that would appeal to “The Christian Science Monitor” readers when I am not a Christian Scientist.

Just as I needed to figure out that my kids would eat green beans but not lima beans, I had to figure out that “The Christian Science Monitor” has readers who want vegetarian and even vegan recipes without an explanation of the Orthodox rules for fasting.

Sometimes an article is the coming together of many different exercises in winnowing, editing, and choosing.

That Lenten Chocolate Cake

That Lenten Chocolate Cake

Purists mix this in the pan, but I use a mixing bowl, to keep the floor clean.

Stir together the dry ingredients:
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (friends use more)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Add the moist ingredients:
2 teaspoons vinegar
2 tablespoons vanilla (friends use way more)
2 cups warm water
¾ cup vegetable oi

Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt into mixing bowl. Make three holes; in one put vanilla, in one put vinegar, and in the last hole put
oil. Over this pour warm water and mix back and forth until all is mixed. Do not beat.

Pour into:
one nine by thirteen baking pan, or
two 8″ or 9″ round or square pans (eight inches will be taller, nine inches thinner) or
one bundt pan, or
make a dozen cupcakes.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Top with frosting or sprinkle with powdered sugar.
(To do this, put some powdered sugar in a small strainer and shake it gently over the cake.)

Variations on the Theme

Mint Chocolate Cake:
Frost with mint frosting.

Chocolate Chip Cake:
Omit cocoa and add up to one cup chocolate chips.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip cake:
Add up to one cup of chocolate chips.

Chocolate Cherry Cake:
In place of water, use all the juice from a jar of maraschino cherries plus enough water to make two cups. Chop the cherries (or don’t) and add them at the last minute.

Apple Sauce Cake:
Omit the coco powder.
Use applesauce instead of water.
Add 2 teaspoons (okay, tablespoons) cinnamon.

Photo credit: serenejournal via Foter.com / CC BY

Farmer’s Cheese

This year, Orthodox Easter, or Pascha, will fall on May 1. One of the dishes we traditionally make is called syrnaja pascha, “pascha cheese.” It is a cheese-cake like food that we mold into a pyramid and eat slathered onto a sweet bread called kulich.

One of the ingredients for pascha cheese is farmer’s cheese. Apparently there are two kinds of farmer’s cheese. One is a hard product that you can chop up and put in salad. It’s closely akin to paneer and does not lend itself well to blending or molding. The other is the kind that they sell in Russian stores. We could not find it in the part of Houston where we lived for eleven years, so the ladies at church taught me how to make my own.

Farmer’s Cheese

Scald one gallon milk.

Remove from burner and add one quart buttermilk (from the nuns, I learned to pour things in the sign of the Cross. Since you’re not supposed to stir this, it makes even more sense here.)

Cover with a towel and place out of breezes for a day and a night and a day.

At the end of the second night, place it in the oven on “warm.”

In the morning you will see a mountain of curds in a sea of whey (unless it doesn’t work. Some years it doesn’t work, and California milk needs to be treated differently for reasons I do not understand).

Strain the curds into a very clean pillow case or tee shirt — cheese cloth has too wide a weave for this.

Refrigerate in a closed container until you are ready to use.

One gallon of milk plus one quart of buttermilk makes approximately two and a half pounds of Farmer’s Cheese.

Does it save money? Yes! Locally, in Fairfield County, Connecticut, Farmer’s cheese runs from $3.99 to $7.99 per pound. I can make ten pounds of cheese for about ten dollars.

Photo: Curds sans whey