I had the privilege to discover that Mother Melania of the Holy Assumption Monastery has two biblical picture books in verse for free today on Kindle. Moses and the Burning Bush and The Three Holy Youths in the Furnace feature the Bible stories and their meaning in church tradition in straightforward, clear verse.
Don’t let the idea of verse put you off reading these. There’s nothing cloying in the rhymes. They’re more like reading Shakespeare than the kids’ books that we all dread with forced meters.
Along with the simple and readable poem stories, the bright watercolors bring the feeling of the bright joy of God’s surprising love to the eyes.
I read these to myself and couldn’t help but read aloud, which drew a flock of children near to listen. They pointed to the photos and asked questions and said, “Oh, wow!” a few times.
I highly recommend these books to anyone curious about the ancient Christian tradition surrounding these pivotal stories, and especially for Orthodox and Catholic Christians and inquirers. They’re perfect Lenten reading for families or for adults who love beauty and want a quick read. They’ll stand many re-reads, with new meaning emerging each time.
To go with these soul-warming books, make this simple Lenten cocoa. This is an older way to drink chocolate, similar in taste to some of the drinking chocolates in Europe but with the consistency of coffee rather than kefir. Add a heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder to a cup along with a tablespoon (or two) of maple syrup. Stir in hot water from the kettle until you have a drink that looks like medium roast coffee. Enjoy hot. The flavor is bright and soothing.
I fell in love with Garden in the East after hearing Angela read an excerpt at a writer’s conference. I bought the book as soon as it came out, but I’m now reviewing it for one reason: This is the kind of book I like to savor.
There are certain books that mend the soul and soothe over the damage of self-criticism and the hostilities of the world: Jane Austen novels, Rilke’s poetry, and this book by Angela Doll Carlson. I keep it on my Kindle at the top of the queue, returning again and again to re-read passages.
Angela’s background as a personal trainer is evident in her deep awareness of the body. She uses her formidable skills as a poet to weave an engaging prose vision of the body’s graces: organic, dynamic, sacred.
This book brought me peace with my body and helped me understand the rich beauty of being created. I highly recommend it for anyone who struggles with their place in the world or who wants to grow deeper into a sense of their sacred selves.
A book like this deserves a custom tea blend that focuses on building up the body. I recommend that you make this blend by the pot.
Angela’s Tea Blend
You’ll need: rosehips, dried ginger, rooibos, and dried elder berries.
For one pot, blend:
2 Tablespoons rooibos
1 Tablespoon dried ginger
1 tablespoon rosehips
1 tablespoon elder berries
Steep in boiling water for 5 or more minutes. The mixture should not get bitter over time like traditional teas.
I’m revamping this blog to post allergy-friendly recipes and tea and book review pairings. Here’s the first pairing, based on a book I read at the beginning of this autumn’s reading binge.
I received a free review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Some books heal by skirting the edges of pain, but this book dives right into it, bringing us healing through facing the truth. When a Man Loves a Woman by Tumika Cain answers the question a lot of us have from the outside looking in on situations of domestic violence. Many of the reviewers have already provided insights, but I would like to offer the feeling it inspired for me in the form of a tea recipe.
This tea, and this book, taste like catharsis.
When a Man Loves a Woman Tea
*makes one pot*
3 heaping tablespoons Harney & Sons Decaffinated Earl Grey tea leaves (or 3 teabags)
1/2 teaspoon ground organic cardamom
Steep in boiling water for 5 minutes. Serve with brown sugar cubes and maybe a little half and half.
The bite of cardamom echoes the sophisticated characters, and it gives a bite to the beautiful life that Alicia lives despite the troubles she endures. The blend of the two reminds us like the book that change does not happen alone.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a fictional account that brings them to the heart of both pain and healing.
1 ½ cups gluten free flour mix (any variety with xanthan/guar gum already added)
½ cup red palm & coconut shortening (Such as Nutiva brand), melted
¾ cup brown sugar, lightly packed
½ cup coconut milk (not low fat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
Optional: up to 1 cup chopped dates, chocolate chips, or chopped nuts
Preheat oven to 350•F. Grease a bread pan with coconut oil or shortening and set aside.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir until well combined. Add in dates and nuts if desired, and stir to incorporate. Pour batter into the bread pan evenly. With wetted fingers, smooth the top of the batter slightly. Place pan in the oven and bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour. Bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out free of gooey banana bread batter. (If you used chocolate chips, the toothpick might have chocolate on it. If so, get a clean toothpick and try another spot or two until you can tell if the batter has baked. If it’s still sticking, uncooked, to the toothpick, add 5 minutes to the cooking time and check again.) Remove bread and pan from oven. Let the bread stand in the pan to cool for 10 minutes before cutting it or turning it out on a plate. Serve warm or room temperature.
My son and I both need gluten-free foods, so I adapted Sienna’s Southern Scone recipe from Tea & Crumplesfor the gluten-free crowd. I used Pamela’s Gluten-Free Artisan Flour Blend as the base flour, but you can try your favorite gluten-free flour blend. Make sure it already has added gums, or add your own.
2 cups all-purpose gluten free flour
3 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
½ -1 teaspoon sea salt
½ Cup unbleached sugar (or coconut sugar)
3/4 Cup heavy cream, plus extra for coating
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
optional: 1 cup nuts, chocolate chips, or dried fruit
Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a cast iron skillet with ghee or butter, and set it aside. Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugars. Cut butter into little pieces and press with hands into flour mixture until it is incorporated. It will resemble coarse bread crumbs. Add nuts/fruit/choc. chips if desired. Add eggs, vanilla, and heavy cream. Stir with fork just until dough forms. It will probably take less than ten turns. Dough might be a little sticky.
Press into well-seasoned, greased cast iron skillet. Form into a large, flat disk at least an inch thick. It’s okay if the dough touches the sides of the pan. Coat top with a little cream. (I add a tablespoon of creamto the measuring cup that held the egg and use that mixture for the tops of the scones, so it’s sort of like an egg wash). With a knife, score the unbaked dough into 8-12 triangles, but do not separate the dough. Bake for 15 minutes. Check and return to oven for additional time as needed, checking at 2 minute intervals. Done when light golden brown on top, or about 20 minutes cooking time. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from bake sheet.
Serve warm or room temperature with clotted cream and fruit preserves.
Variations: for cinnamon pecan scones, add a teaspoon or so of cinnamon to dry ingredients. For cashew scones, remove granulated sugar and use an entire cup of brown sugar instead. For strawberry scones, add a little cardamom.
Enjoy! This weekend, Tea & Crumples ebooks are on sale for only $2.99 on Kobo, Nook, iBooks, and Kindle. Make these scones, and enjoy with a good read!
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Shopping through the links does not change your cost, but I might receive a small amount of money for referrring you. Thank you!*
Every new year, Orthodox Christians, especially Greek Orthodox Christians, celebrate the feast of St. Basil the Great on January 1. The traditional cake that is shared that day and throughout the month of January is called a Vasilopita, or Basil Cake.
The recipes for wheat flour vary from a sweet yeast bread to a cakier texture.
I knew that I didn’t want to attempt a gluten free yeast bread, since the flours and gums for that sort of recipe would detract from the earthy warmth of a good Vasilopita. Instead, I heavily adapted a favorite gluten free cake recipe to make a nutty, rich cake that highlights the traditional mahlab and mastika spices.
Notes on the ingredients:
Because I have hazelnut flour on hand for holiday baking, this recipe calls for some, but a mixture of almond meal and coconut flour would also work. I’m allergic to cinnamon, of all things, so I have not included any here. I would not have added it anyhow, as I wanted the mahlab and mastika to stand out.
Before you get started, you’ll need to refrigerate the mastika, which comes in little pellets. It’s a tree resin, and preparation requires pounding it to a powder. It’s much easier to get the right consistency when the resin is cold. If you usually set your eggs out an hour before baking, go ahead and refrigerate the mastika at that time if you’ve forgotten.
Mahlab is made by grinding small seeds that come from a certain type of cherry. I have a special grinder set aside for grinding spices that has a removable, washable grinding chamber. I don’t recommend using a grinder that is also used for coffee, but do what you have to do. Vasilopita goes great with coffee, so it probably won’t hurt if you get coffee oil in your cake. I used more mahlab than you would in a wheat Vasilopita because of the nut flours. Adjust according to taste. It adds a sort of vanilla cherry flavor.
Gluten Free Traditional Vasilopita by Summer Kinard
1 1/3 Cups almond flour (blanched almond meal)
2/3 Cup hazelnut meal
1/3 Cup coconut flour
2/3 Cup lightly packed brown sugar or coconut sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Set out cream or milk and eggs to come to room temperature. Butter an 8 inch round pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Prepare the mahlab and mastika. Grind the mahlab seeds for around 45 seconds until they are semi fine. Place a couple of teaspoons of mastika pellets in a zipper plastic bag or waxed paper sandwich bag. On a sturdy surface (I used a porch rail), pound several times with the flat side of a meat mallet until the mastika is a fine powder.
In a mixing bowl, add dry ingredients and stir together well with a wooden spoon or a whisk. Set aside.
In a large measuring cup, melt the butter. Add the cream to the melted butter and stir well. Break eggs into the measuring cup and stir to combine.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and turn several times until well combined and evenly moist. Add the coin to the batter and stir well to conceal.
Pour or scoop the batter into the prepared pan, using the spoon to evenly distribute and slightly smooth the batter.
Bake in oven for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Top will be golden brown.
Cool in pan till cake pulls a little away from the sides, or at least ten minutes. Run a toothpick or thin knife around the edge, and turn the Vasilopita out onto a plate. Flip it again so that you may decorate the rounded top.
Using almond slivers, make a tiny Greek cross or two, along with the year. (A Greek cross has four equal sides.) If you would like to garnish with a simple icing, combine 2-3 tablespoons liquid (milk, maple syrup, honey water, fruit juice–I like freshly squeezed satsuma juice) with 1/2-1 cup powdered sugar. You may also sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.
This Vasilopita is quite rich and will serve 12 generously or up to 20 smaller pieces.
Cutting the Vasilopita
When you cut the Vasilopita, first make the sign of the Cross on the top while praying aloud, “In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the a Holy Spirit, Amen.”
The first slice goes to our Lord Jesus. (Many people save this slice in foil to dry in their iconostasis for the year. I recommend caution with this practice due to the high moisture level of this cake. If you wish to save it, set it aside on your stove or other well ventilated place for a few days so it can dry out before going in foil.)
The second slice goes to the Holy Theotokos.
The third, to St. Basil and the children.
Next comes the householder, followed by those present from oldest to youngest. If there is a special guest, you may honor them by bumping them in rank to anywhere after St. Basil.
The coin reminds us of a miracle. Once, the people in St. Basil’s area were beseiged by invaders. They each brought their riches to the church to pay a ransom to end the seige, but their generous giving so impressed their opponent that he left without collecting. (An alternative story is that the Emperor collected an exorbitant tax, which St. Basil persuaded him to give back in repentance.) Whatever the precedent, the miracle was the same: St. Basil prayed and was given insight as to how to return the riches to their proper owners. All of the treasures were baked into one giant pita. When it was sliced and distributed after church the next day, each person found that his or her own treasures were in their slice!
Usually the coin is seen as a sign of extra blessing in the new year. If the coin is in one of the pieces dedicated to Jesus, the Theotokos, or Basil, it should be given to the poor or put in the offering at church.
Don’t forget to pick up your copy of Tea & Crumples! (Click title for affiliate link.)
“This uplifting story will warm your heart and renew your faith.” – Texas TEA & TRAVEL magazine (click magazine title for full review).
“Any Christian who enjoys well-written stories about faith, friendship, hardship, and miracles will be drawn into the community created at the tea shop. Tea & Crumples would fit perfectly into any church library or bookstore and would make a beautiful book club book for a women’s group at church.”–The Orthodox Mama (<–Click for full review)