Feasting Our Way Through the Church Year

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Do you like to cook?

Do you like to eat?

Are you looking for ideas on how to celebrate the liturgical year with your family?  

Are you looking for ideas on how to celebrate the liturgical year with your family, but the idea of making popsicle-stick saint puppets makes you quake with fear?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you are in luck.  Popular mom blogger Haley Stewart (Carrots for Michaelmas) and her husband Daniel recently released their new book, Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year.

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In Feast, Daniel and Haley show us how to eat our way around the liturgical calendar, cooking traditional and seasonal dishes with whole foods.

Followers of Carrots for Michaelmas will understand me when I say that Haley and Daniel are cool. Cool clothes, cool website, cool tattoos and beard (in Daniel’s—not Haley’s!—case), and cool chickens running around their cool urban homestead of a front yard.

The Stewarts’ particular brand of cool appeals to the native Oregonian hippie/hipster/environmentalist/pioneering farm girl in me.  (Or, at least, the part of me that wishes I could be all those things.  I never did like chickens.)

Their discovery of and love for the liturgical year eventually led Haley and Daniel to the Catholic Church in 2010.  Feast is a fruit of that journey.  But I’ll let Haley tell you more about it.

Rhonda Ortiz: Haley, you’re a Catholic convert, a literature geek, a homeschooling mama, an urban homesteader, a writer, and you have awesome hair.  How do you keep up with it all? What does your day-to-day life look like?

Haley Stewart: That makes it sound like I do more than I really do! I read a chapter from a good book when I’m in the bathtub, my husband Daniel does almost all the garden-tending and chicken-raising, I get up early to write or crank out a post during the kids’ naptime, and the short haircut was chosen because if I spend more than 20 seconds on my hair, the baby will find LEGOs to eat and the toddler will smear chapstick into her hair.

I don’t spend nearly enough time keeping my house organized, so that frees up a bit of time, although I do mop every so often just for good measure. I use my slow cooker every week and Daniel enjoys cooking and cooks often. He also minds the children while I escape once a week for a couple of hours to write without distractions. I try to fit in emails and comments and social media during the day when the kids are napping or playing and temporarily don’t need anything—haha! Yeah, right!—and I jot down post ideas all the live long day so that I don’t forget. But I really can’t write unless I have at least a 30-60 minute block of time. We don’t watch much TV—we just have Netflix—and we keep the margins of our days very open.

Rhonda:  I’m not sure I’m understanding this bathtub business. You mean, you take time for yourself?

Haley: I’m an extrovert, for sure. But caring for many small children all day really wipes me out. If I try to do housework during naptime instead of resting/reading/writing, I will not be a nice mother for the rest of the afternoon. If I don’t get a couple hours away every week—last night I went to a coffee place as soon as I nursed the baby to sleep at 7 p.m. and stayed for a couple of hours to write and think—I start to feel disconnected and irritable with the kids and just generally flustered. I think that the more I get the hang of this mothering thing, I am able to tell when I really need some me time.  But occasionally, I ignore my instinct and then have a giant meltdown….still learning! I guess I’m a strong supporter of the “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” mantra.

Rhonda:  Tell us a little bit about your book.  How did the idea for it come about?

Haley: Daniel and I worked together to create a real food cookbook for the liturgical year that also serves as an introduction to each liturgical season and celebrating the saints. When we first started to learn about the Christian Year, we wanted to learn how to observe the different seasons and feasts and fasts. However, we had a difficult time finding resources for families that want to eat seasonally, rediscover liturgical food traditions from around the world, and enjoy simple, real food ingredients to nourish their families.

So, we started planning to observe Michaelmas, the feast of the Archangels, as our first feast. We researched traditional foods, looked up recipes, invited friends over, and wrote it all down so we wouldn’t forget. After three years, we’d created enough recipes to put together a book: the book we wish we could have read when we were starting out.

Rhonda: What makes your book different from the other books about celebrating the liturgy out there?

Haley: Most of the books we’ve bought and borrowed about the liturgical year, and the web sites we’ve found, are either explanations of the seasons without practical suggestions, recipes that are difficult or contain ingredients that are hard to find, or primarily children’s crafts and desserts like brownies, cookies, and cakes decorated with icing to honor a certain saint. None of those are bad things, by any means, but we wanted to do something a little different.  First of all, I am terrible at crafts, so tissue paper, glitter glue, and popsicle sticks are my worst nightmare. And, if we ate processed sugar and flour for every saints day, our kids would be jumping off the walls and break out in eczema with asthma attacks (gluten-allergies!).

So, it made more sense to make good, nourishing meals inspired by traditional dishes for certain seasons or feasts, seasonal ingredients for the time of year of a certain feast, or food from the part of the world the saint we were celebrating was born, lived, or ministered. We wanted feasting to mean making something intentionally special and slowing down enough to thoughtfully celebrate and enjoy good food that honors God, the bounty of creation, and our bodies. And we wanted it to be simple and accessible, so that when you read the book, you feel like we’re having you over for dinner.

Rhonda:  Reading through the book, I notice that it isn’t strictly a cookbook, overflowing with a thousand recipes.  Could you explain the structure of each “chapter”?  What lesson or inspiration do you hope a reader find in your book?

Haley:  It’s not just a compilation of recipes, it’s a more holistic approach to the Christian Year. We share a little bit of our story, reflect on the benefits of a liturgical rhythm, and introduce the various seasons with explanations of what they represent, some spiritual reflections on the season, and some practical ideas for observing those times. Then for each of the special feast days we introduce the feast or saint being celebrated, explain why we chose the recipe we’re sharing, and then offer an ingredient list and step-by-step recipe directions with pictures we took in our kitchen.

We hope that the reader is inspired to make the liturgical year something tangible in his or her home so that the most mundane tasks, such as preparing dinner, can be sacred and connect us to our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world and through the ages. We wanted to offer the resources to make observing the Christian Year easy, not overwhelming, with food that’s in season with simple and delicious ingredients.

We were also excited about learning about some less familiar saints and sharing them with our readers, especially saints from parts of the world in which Christians are being persecuted even today so that we can remember to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters there.

Rhonda:   What are some other ways your family celebrates the Church Year?

Haley: We try to make it part of our yearly rhythm, both for our benefit and to help our kids have a Gospel they can touch, see, smell, and taste. We put up visual symbols of the Church Year: Advent wreath and Nativity scene, purple over the crucifixes during Lent, etc. And we try to talk about the saints at the dinner table and learn prayers together as a family.

Life gets crazy for us just like it does for everybody, so a whole month might go by before we sit down and plan a thoughtful feast. At other times, we might celebrate a saint or holy day every week. By cooking a special brunch on Sundays, our little Easter, we can, at the very least keep that weekly rhythm in place. One of the reasons we had so much fun creating our book was because it forced us to plan ahead and learn more about the liturgical seasons and the saints, so we’re planning another book soon!

Rhonda:  “Urban homesteading” is a movement garnering a lot of attention these days. What does urban homesteading mean for the Stewart family?  Why is growing your own food so important to you?

Haley: For us, it means growing some of our own produce and herbs, and raising our own chickens for meat and eggs. Sometimes, almost all of the produce we eat comes from the raised beds in our front yard. But sometimes in between seasons, just cutting a sprig of rosemary or some green onions from the garden is all that we can manage. We just finished off the last of the sweet potatoes and winter greens and we’re waiting for the tomato seedlings to be ready to plant, so there’s not a whole lot happening at the moment.

Growing some of our own food keeps us in tune with the seasons. Tomatoes taste better in June, especially if you’ve been waiting since September to eat one!  There is a seasonal rhythm that is so easy for us to lose touch with when everything is available at the grocery store.  Or we could be ignorant of it altogether, like I was before Daniel started his first garden. It’s also exciting to be in control of your food source. I know that our chickens and eggs don’t contain antibiotics and were raised and harvested humanely and I know that our veggies weren’t genetically modified or sprayed with pesticides.

Rhonda: I’m a mom who’s already cut out the cable and other extra amenities in order to stay home with my children—in other words, we’re not rolling in the dough at Casa Ortiz.  What would you say to someone like me who wants to feed her family with sustainably-grown food but can’t stretch the food budget much further?  We already eat a lot of beans!

Haley: Great question. We eat a lot of beans, too. I think it’s helpful to figure out what your top priorities are. For example, organic dairy, meat, and eggs are our top priority healthwise. That means we eat far less meat than most families because we’d rather stretch out a whole organic chicken (or one we raised) for several meals (in curry, shredded for chicken salad, boiling it for stock, etc) as our only meat for the week rather than eating meat every night when we don’t know where it came from.

So I think part of it is just being intentional about what you buy and going without sometimes. We often use a small amount of sausage to flavor primarily vegetable and grain dishes and save all our bacon grease to make life worth living. We also eat lots of steel cut oats, grits, etc for breakfast and rice or quinoa with meals to stretch things out. We usually eat leftovers for lunch instead of sandwiches—because gluten-free bread is expensive!—and offer the kids cheap snacks like bananas between meals. But having a small garden—even just herbs!—can certainly help.

Rhonda:  As someone with a child who has food allergies and who has food allergies herself, I appreciate the gluten-free adaptations you’ve provided for your recipes.  How has having allergies in your family changed the way you think about food?  How do you plan your meals differently now?  And how do you keep the cost of allergen-free food down?

Haley: Having kids that react to gluten, which is in almost all processed foods, means that we rarely eat out as a family. Maybe once a month, we’ll order gluten-free pizza, but it’s tricky to go out and avoid gluten. So we cook at home almost every night. We also make almost everything from scratch.

Thankfully, we weren’t using very many processed ingredients when we found out about our oldest child’s gluten allergy, so it wasn’t too horrible of a transition. At first, we had the unhelpful mindset of trying to recreate what we were previously eating, but in a gluten-free version. It’s just too expensive and usually tastes so inferior that it’s disappointing!

After a few months we started focusing on naturally gluten-free foods: rice, cornmeal, quinoa and eating lots of soups, egg-based dishes, and fruits instead of baked goods. Now that we’re in a gluten-free groove and have done lots of baking experiments, we throw in gluten-free waffles, chocolate cake and other baked goods occasionally.

To keep costs down—gluten-free flour and processed foods are SO expensive—we still focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free. Instead of sandwiches with gluten-free bread, we might have quesadillas with corn tortillas, for example. Instead of buying expensive gluten-free crackers, we’ll dip carrot sticks in hummus. Instead of a pie crust made with gluten-free flour, we’ll make a berry crisp with rolled oats and a little almond flour.

Rhonda: That crisp sound delish.  Haley, thanks for taking the time to chat with me.

Haley: Thank you! Come over for strawberry crisp anytime!

Daniel and Haley Stewart’s Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year is available for purchase here.

Be sure to check out our Book Notes archive.

Copyright 2014, Rhonda Ortiz

4 Comments
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  3. Mary B.
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