The Lenten Cookbook: the Joy of Cooking and Fasting
The Lenten season is close upon us, with Ash Wednesday beginning on the second day of March. George Weigel says “the pilgrimage of Lent is to follow an itinerary of conversion. Lent affords every baptized Christian the opportunity to reenter the catechumenate, to undergo a ‘second baptism,’ and thus to meet once again the mysteries of God’s mercy and love.” Returning to our baptism helps remind us that we need to break from bad habits and sins that block our love of Christ. The liturgical season is a gift of time set aside that is “focused on the heart of the Christian vocation and mission conversion to Jesus Christ and the deepening of our friendship with him” (George Weigel, Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches).
Lent will be a time to reinforce my 2022 resolution of working on truly loving Christ without fear, without blocks, and this really falls into the “itinerary of conversion” that Weigel mentions. To deepen my relationship with Christ, one of my first “departments” is in my married vocation. How do I relate to my family at home? Lent is a particularly good season for me to look at how I express my love to my family. Has it become all automatic? Is my cooking in a rut? Do I just “do my duty” without presenting in love and joy? Yes, these are areas that need a shakedown and changeover.
Which is why the newly released The Lenten Cookbook by David Geisser with essays by Scott Hahn immediately appealed to me. With a husband and two teenage sons, I know cooking is one area in which I need to concentrate so that I not just go through the motions. For Lent I want to set into place some habits of meal planning and present more variety in the meals I cook. Lent does not mean that my preparation and presentation of meals needs to be purely penitential. If I’m putting love and joy into my preparation, my meals will reflect this (or should, because I know the unexpected happens, such as an oven motherboard going on the fritz and the food being broiled instead of baked). This cookbook is perfect for this area of inspiration.
The recipes are by David Geisser, a chef and former member of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. I’m already a fan of David Geisser’s work, as I previously reviewed The Vatican Cookbook and The Vatican Christmas Cookbook. The Lenten Cookbook follows in the same path of quality and beauty—hardcover with full-color detailed photographs and an inspiring quote from different saints for each recipe. The categories are quite varied: Breakfast, Soup, Salad, Collations (Small Meals), Main Dishes (with a subsection of 6 different curries) and Breads.
The cookbook is themed to provide simple and beautiful meals (even) while fasting. All the offerings fit the bill for abstaining from meat; they are all meat free, with some recipes that include fish, dairy and egg proteins. At the beginning of the recipe section there is an explanation of the traditional “Black Fast” and then suggestions on how to substitute different foods to follow more traditional fasting guidelines (no flesh meat, eggs, dairy or wine). And marked with a special symbol, there are twenty recipes throughout the cookbook that follow this traditional fasting guideline.
I know there is something here for almost everyone’s tastes. What caught my interest is the five different interpretations for Hot Cross Buns—sweet to savory. I really want to try each version for comparison.
Dr. Scott Hahn’s essays for the first 50 pages of the book allow this book to straddle both the cookbook and spiritual reading categories. Dr. Hahn had me in his Introduction when he mentioned Joy of Cooking, as this was the cookbook my mother and grandmother used, and it echoed my resolutions to bring more intentional joy to my cooking. I didn’t realize that the first edition cover had an image of St. Martha—one of the patronesses of cooks!
His essays touch on the joy of fasting, modern practices of fasting, the Lenten season and fasting through the year. We live in a time where “brother ass” (as St. Francis would call the body) is rarely denied. Being able to compare previous strict regulations to our modern ones should inspire us to want to do more in joy for the love of God. We are given more freedom to not fast merely because “we are obligated” but invited to make this choice (outside of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday). Implementing our free will sometimes is harder without the motivation of fear! But again, “there is no fear in love” and Dr. Hahn provides this wonderful invitation to embrace a higher call of fasting.
With joy you can serve variety (and beauty) in your Lenten family meals, while really understanding and embracing Lenten fasting and abstinence also in joy. Because, as Dr. Hahn says, “fasting should be joyful. When we deny ourselves world satisfaction for a higher, heavenly good, we make the reality of the Trinity manifest in our lives.” He concludes with praying that “this book, by providing inspiration for simple and beautiful meals for times of fasting, will inspire us to make fasting a regular part of our spiritual lives.” This essay and cookbook combination contains something for everyone to use for their personal Lenten plan.
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