Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bethlehem Supper

Our favorite family Christmas tradition is our Bethlehem Supper on Christmas Eve.  Santa waits in the wings while Jesus Christ takes center stage, where he belongs. 

We remove the glitz and glitter from the room and decorate it simply.  Usually we set a piece of plywood on the floor and cover it with a plain cloth, then line the center of the "table" with candles.  Soft simple carols of the harp, flute or guitar play softly in the background.  Each family member dons a scarf or towel, and we make our way down to the basement to Bethlehem.  Seated on cushions and lit only by candlelight, our brood is unnaturally quiet and pensive. 

Dinner is always simple.  We use an amazing cookbook, A Biblical Feast, by Kitty Morse for authentic foods from the place and time of Christ. 

We love the simple flavors of everything we've tried.  Over the past, menus have included:
  • grapes/ grape juice
  • dilled cucumbers
  • pomegranates
  • fish
  • honey
  • pita bread
  • hummus
  • olives (kalamata or black for the little ones)
  • flat bread
  • chicken and garbanzo stew
  • feta
  • goat cheese
  • stuffed dates
  • lamb
  • leeks
We eat, discussing our food, what could have been eaten that night in Bethlehem, and discussing what might have happened or how it might have felt to have been there. 

At the end of our meal, we begin our candle ceremony.  I, the mother, start.  I hold the candle and tell the children what the light represents, the light of Christ, that lights our souls, our world, and everything.  I mention the hope, faith, and joy we've discovered earlier in the month during advent.   I then share my gratitude for this special birthday, my private feelings, and my love for my family.  I pass the candle and the sharing goes on till it finally reaches the patriarch of our gathering, which this year was my sweetie.

This meal ends on such a sweet and tender note for all of us.  Then, while the Bethlehem Magic is still on us, we watch Luke II, the best, most authentic nativity we've ever seen, and all under 5 minutes.   

I'd love to share our favorite "authentic" dish from Kitty Morse  with you.

Chicken, Leek, and Garbanzo Bean Stew 

(Though it may not look appealing, usually guests ask for seconds.  It is savory, tender, and simple)
Serves 4-6
"Domesticated hens were one of the "clean" or acceptable birds for Hebrew to eat, as mandated by Mosaic law.  They were introduced from their native India around the time of Christ.  Many farmers in the Holy Land raised poultry, either in the "free range" manner or in enclosed areas.  This stew is best served with warm leavened griddle bread or over cooked millet." pp 52

2 large leeks
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups garbanzo bean cooking liquid, water, or chicken broth
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (I use 1 can)
1/4 tsp salt
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (I use a little more to taste)

Trim the leeks, discarding the tough, outer leaves.  Rinse thoroughly under running water.  Cut the leeks crosswise into thin slices.

In a heavy pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the leeks and chicken, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken turns golden brown, 8-10 minutes.  Add the liquid.  Cover and cook until the chicken is tender, 30-35 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a bowl, and set aside.  Decrease the heat to low, and add the garbanzo beans.  Simmer uncovered, and reduce by one-third, 15-20 minutes.  Season with salt and vinegar to taste.  Return the chicken to the pan and heat through.  Serve immediately. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nutcracker Celebration

Tonight was Nutcracker Night. Everyone raided the costume closet and dressed in their finest ballet attire, complete with a dusting of sparkle powder to help feel beautiful. Sunshine wore a cape and a sword so she could be the nutcracker. Briz refused to wear tights and figured he was scary enough as is to be the Mouse King. Little Mother chose to be Clara, and Ladybug the Sugar Plum fairy.

As we watch the ballet unfold, it takes place in 2 dimensions on our screen and in our family room right in front of our eyes.

Little Mother pirouettes, Sunshine spins then stabs Briz as he gets too close to Clara.

At intermission, we decorate the Sugar Plum Tree with candy wrapped in plastic wrap.

Then we begin our nutcracker feast. In honor of its Russian origins and the Russian Trepak, we ate Solyanka (Russian Beef Soup)

Arabian Pita Bread (for the Arabian dance)

and Barbecued Chinese Lettuce Wraps (for the Chinese Dance).

Solianka tastes like pickle soup. Briz liked it. I thought it was very different and enjoyed the experience of trying something so totally different from what I am used to. The kids ate it but not enthusiastically. The Lettuce Wraps and Pitas were a hit. Are these like Chinese sandwiches? Ladybug asked.

The dancing continued until Clara went back to sleep, then so did my little ones. 

If anyone wants the Solianka Soup Recipe, just ask, but I will probably not make it again.  It was a great cultural experience, just not one I want to repeat.  

Arabian Pita Bread

1 T instant yeast
1 1/2 cups water
2 tsp sugar
3 cups flour (I usually use 2 cups wheat, 1 cup white)

1 T dry milk powder
1/2 tsp. salt
6 T oil
1 T toasted cumin

Mix yeast, water, and sugar.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, combine flour, dried milk and salt.  Pour in the oil and yeast/ water mixture and stir well.  You might need to add more flour or water depending on the absorbency of the flour.  Knead dough briefly, divide into 18 egg sized balls.  Place on a floured surface, cover and let rest for 15-20 minutes.  Roll one ball out and press cumin seeds on the top with the rolling pin.  Cook in a skillet until large "bubbles" form.  Flip pita over and cook the other side for a few more minutes.  Flatten with a spatula.  Keep bread warm (wrap in a towel or place in a ziploc bag) while cooking the rest of the bread.  Can freeze the dough or the cooked product.  

Sometimes I will brush the top with butter or olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of garlic and sea salt.