Get Ready for Pizza Week 2016

Vegan Chili Cheese Pizza
It’s hard to believe, but Lent is almost here, and that means Pizza Week (aka Cheesefare Week) is about to begin! Mark your calendars and get ready to celebrate from Monday, March 7, through Sunday, March 13. Cheesefare Week is traditionally the time Orthodox Christians use up the remainder of their egg & dairy products before we begin the Great Fast. In my kitchen, I’ll be using up the last open carton of VeganEgg, and all my delicious vegan cheese.
After sneaking our last piece of cheezy pizza sometime after Forgiveness Vespers…the party’s over for nearly 50 days. Great Lent begins Monday, March 14.

I’ve been inviting you all to celebrate Pizza Week with me for the past few years, but this year I have something extra special to share with you – a review of a product that’s not yet available here in the United States. I was SO lucky to get my hands on a few samples!!! And I can’t wait to tell you about my experience so you can be prepared for this product when it finally arrives on our side of the ocean.

So Pizza Week. If you are sadly unfamiliar with Pizza Week, this wonderful concept was thought up by my brother-in-law Christopher. Here are the rules:

1. You must eat pizza at least 1 time every day. It does not have to constitute a whole meal, but it can.
2. You must eat a standard size piece of pizza at least.
3. You can eat any type of pizza you want – thin, pan, Chicago style, etc.
4. You may eat pizza multiple times in one day.
5. You can put anything on the pizza you want (though meat is technically not allowed that week, please consult your priest or spiritual father to discuss your personal fasting rule).
6. You don’t have to be Orthodox or be giving up pizza for Lent to participate in Pizza Week (though that’s generally the point).
7. It is highly recommended that the next time you eat pizza after March 13 at 11:59 pm is after the Anastasi Divine Liturgy on Pascha (generally about 1-3am on Sunday, May 1.)

For us vegans celebrating Cheesefare Week, this is most beneficial if you plan to abstain from vegan cheese/pizza during Great Lent.

Get creative! You don’t have to go out and shop for Pizza Week. Go through your cupboards and fridge and see what you can throw together. It will be good practice for whipping up cheap Lenten meals for the next 6 weeks. Will you have a Reuben pizza? A chili cheez pizza?? Whatcha got planned?!?

Top 3 Posts in 2015

Happy New Year, everyone! Looking over my stats from 2015, I thought I’d share my top three posts. I could have guessed two of them, but one was a little surprising!

Orthodox Bread of Holy Oblation
#3 Bread of Holy Oblation
In the number three spot is a recipe that’s been going strong for about 3 1/2 years now. This is a step-by-step guide to making the bread used for Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church. Not only does it have the recipe and steps for baking the bread, there’s a little background given on the symbols in the seal. I bet this will be up there in the top recipes forever since we always need this bread in the Church.

Vegan Allergen Menu Fridays
#2 Vegan at Fridays
I love that this is right up there in the top three because it’s basically me sticking it to Fridays for their lack of vegan options and ridiculous allergen menu. I can’t believe how popular it’s been. If you google “vegan at Fridays”, there I am in the number 1 spot! Take that, Fridays!

How To Make Vegan Coconut Milk Cheese
#1 Make Vegan Coconut Milk Cheese
The number one recipe of 2015 is actually from 2014. But apparently it has staying power, it is definitely a recipe I’ve continued to use regularly. It’s a fun one because you can play around with the flavor and easily make it your own, and add it to so many dishes or just eat it by itself.

Have you referenced any of these posts yourself? If you have, thanks for bumping their stats in 2015! I’m working on recipes for this new year, and I can’t wait to share them with you and read your comments throughout 2016. If there’s something you’d like to see (veganized recipe, or maybe a product review) just let me know!

All Saints Day, and the Beginning of the Apostles' Fast 2015

My apologies for not keeping up with the major feast days. Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost. One week after Pentecost we celebrate the Sunday of All Saints, and the following day the Apostles’ Fast begins – that’s today! I have once again added a page in the top menu with the fasting guidelines for this fast, for anyone that may be interested.

So, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the feast of All Saints, but it is a beautiful tradition. I’m stealing these few paragraphs about it straight from the GOARCH website, and below that some info on the fast:

The first Sunday after the Feast of Holy Pentecost is observed by the Orthodox Church as the Sunday of All Saints. This day has been designated as a commemoration of all of the Saints, all the Righteous, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teachers, and Holy Monastics, both men and women alike, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives.

Honoring the friends of God with much reverence, the Prophet-King David says, “But to me, exceedingly honorable are Thy friends, O Lord” (Ps. 138:16). And the Apostle Paul, recounting the achievements of the Saints, and setting forth their memorial as an example that we might turn away from earthly things and from sin, and emulate their patience and courage in the struggles for virtue, says, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every burden, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

This commemoration began as the Sunday (Synaxis) of All Martyrs; to them were added all the ranks of Saints who bore witness (the meaning of “Martyr” in Greek) to Christ in manifold ways, even if occasion did not require the shedding of their blood.

All Saints
Therefore, guided by the teaching of the Divine Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition, we honor all the Saints, the friends of God, for they are keepers of God’s commandments, shining examples of virtue, and benefactors of mankind. Of course, we honor the known Saints especially on their own day of the year, as is evident in the Menologion. But since many Saints are unknown, and their number has increased with time, and will continue to increase until the end of time, the Church has appointed that once a year a common commemoration be made of all the Saints.”

About the Apostles’ Fast
Having rejoiced for fifty days following Pascha (Easter), the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Apostles began to prepare for their departure from Jerusalem to spread Christ’s message. According to Sacred Tradition, as part of their preparation, they began a fast with prayer to ask God to strengthen their resolve and to be with them in their missionary undertakings.

The scriptural foundation for the Fast is found in the Synoptic Gospels, when the Pharisees criticized the apostles for not fasting, Jesus said to them, “Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” In the immediate sense, Christ was referring to his being taken to be crucified; but in the wider sense it is understood in terms of his Ascension into heaven, and his commission to preach the Gospel, which can only be accomplished with prayer and fasting.

The tradition of the Fast has existed at least since Pope Leo I (461 AD), as is evidenced by his homilies, though it has subsequently been forgotten in the West. The Fast is thought to have been instituted out of thanksgiving to God for the witness of the apostles of Christ. With this Fast, believers express their thanks for the apostles’ endurance of persecution during their mission.

The Apostles’ Fast is what’s called an ascetic fast. Ascetic fasting is done by a set monastic rules. These rules exist not as a Pharisaic “burden too hard to bear” (Luke 11:46), but as an ideal to strive for. Ascetic fast rules are not an end in themselves, but are means to spiritual perfection crowned in love, and aided by prayer. The rules mainly consists of total abstinence from certain foods and a substantial dietary reduction.
(above info from Wikipedia)

Your fasting rule may vary according to your ability.

Blessed fast to all!

Bright Thursday at Grand Rapids Natural Health Event & Curry Kitchen

So last night Amanda and I went to a fundraiser at Grand Rapids Natural Health. When I saw they’d be serving raw food, I was imagining something fancy like cucumber hollowed out and filled with tapenade, so at first I was bummed when we walked in and saw platters of fresh fruit and raw veggies. That did not seem very exciting. However…

The fruit was served with a delicious coconut cream that tasted like Cool Whip! And for the veggies there was a cashew “cheese” dip, and red pepper hummus. Later I discovered a bruschetta made with garlic grown in the garden of one of the girls working the event. There was also a really wonderful dark chocolate. And wine! And I have to say, Amanda is a good drinker 🙂

We could’ve also gotten massages and henna tattoos, but we were too busy standing in the corner shoveling in the food and refilling our little biodegradable plastic cups with red wine while we caught up on all that has been happening in each other’s lives since before Holy Week.
All of this was just $10, to benefit Ele’s Place, “a nonprofit, community based organization dedicated to creating awareness of and support for grieving children and their families.”

Afterwards we were this close to going to Founders, but…

we were distracted by the call of fried Indian foods. Sorry this picture is so horrible, I have no idea what I was doing – probably hurrying so I could eat more! We had the vegetable pakora and onion bhaji, plus I got a bowl of lentil soup. I decided the soup worked better for dipping than the sauces.

And this crispy chickpea flour thing, whatever it is. So addicting.
Zohr joined us and had rice pudding, not pictured.

After I dropped off Amanda, Z and I headed over to the church to help set up for a big sale we’re having this weekend. We hand curated a collection of Hipster goods. It was a late night, but we had fun.

Tonight I am hoping to treat myself to decadent tacos…or something.

2015 Pascha Basket: Part 2

It’s hard to post during Holy Week! I’ve started to work on all the homemade stuff for my Pascha basket, I’ve got two things down and many more to go. So far…

One ingredient coconut butter: start with plain shredded coconut. Blend, blend, blend. It smells heavenly, and I can’t wait to taste it.

And one batch of raw macadamia nut cheese. It’s not pretty yet – I’m putting it in this glass dish to chill, then hopefully moving it to a more appealing mold. This picture, though, shows how nicely the macadamia cream firmed up after about 36 hours hanging in a nut milk bag.

I have a tiny 1/2 C of pine nuts fermenting right now for a second cheese, and I’m about to start a batch of cashews. Then I’ll need something to eat them with.

Will you have any homemade specialties in your basket?

The Utter Destruction of Death

Stichera from the Presanctified Liturgy of the Sixth Wednesday of Great Lent:

Plagal of the First Mode
Verse 8. Out of the depths have I cried to Thee, O Lord, Lord hear my voice.
With boundless love in your hands, O holy martyrs, ye did not forsake Christ; enduring the various wounds of sufferings, ye laid low the torturers’ impudence. Preserving unbending and unshakeable faith, ye wert translated into heaven. Since ye received boldness before Him, entreat Him to grant peace to the world, and for our souls Great Mercy.

Verse 7. Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
Jesus told those who were with Him when He walked in the flesh by the River Jordan: My friend Lazarus is already dead, given over for burial. But I rejoice for your sake, O friends, for by his death ye shall learn that I know all, for I am God, even though I have appeared as man. Let us go and bring Him to life, so that death may really feel its utter destruction, and the victory I shall win, granting the world Great Mercy.

Verse 6. If Thou, O Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? For with Thee there is forgiveness.
Imitating Mary and Martha, O faithful, let us offer divine works to the Lord as they did, that He might come and raise our minds, which now lie dead in the tomb of carelessness, feeling no fear of God, and deprived of any living action. Behold, O Lord, Who of old didst raise Thy friend Lazarus by Thy coming. Give life to us also, O bountiful One, granting us Great Mercy.

Feast of Annunciation

1Annunciation Icon
On March 25 in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Annunciation to the Theotokos.

According to the Gospel of Luke 1:26-38, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce to her that she would conceive and bear a son, even though she “knew no man.”

This date was selected by the Church Fathers to be exactly nine months ahead of the Nativity of Our Lord (or vice-versa?), indicating that Christ was conceived in perfection at that time “of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,” as stated in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.”

The fast is relaxed today, so for me that means olive oil and wine in my potluck dishes tonight. Recipes coming tomorrow.

4th Sunday of Great Lent: Cookies of Divine Ascent

I hope my friend Carolyn doesn’t mind, but I have to share some pictures of the cookies she and her granddaughter made for our Lenten bake sale today, on the 4th Sunday of Lent when the Orthodox Church commemorates St. John of the Ladder.

St. John wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent sometime around 600 AD.

It describes the means by which the highest degree of religious perfection may be attained.

There are 30 rungs in the ladder, listed below – and shown here in cookies!

I bought this one for myself 🙂 and picked out a few other favorites for my family.

Jesus Christ’s teaching is overwhelming in its simplicity. Rather than give us burdens, He tells us to take up only one thing: our cross. Instead of demanding many sacrifices, He desires from us only one thing: our lives. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it.” (Mk 8: 34-36)

Because such words are overwhelming in their directness, Jesus Christ ordained Apostles and teachers to help guide us in living this simple God-centered life; much of the Epistles in the Bible are given over to this subject. Jesus Christ did not stop appointing such people to lead us after the death of the Apostle John, and so in addition to the Holy Scriptures there are many other treatises intended to humbly guide us through the snares and pitfalls of this world and toward Salvation. One of the best known and well-loved is The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Gr: Κλίμαξ), written by St. John Climacus c.a. 600 A.D.

Read more at A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons

St. John Climacus – The Rungs of His Ladder of Divine Ascent
Step 1. On renunciation of the world
Step 2. On detachment
Step 3. On exile or pilgrimage
Step 4. On blessed and ever-memorable obedience
Step 5. On painstaking and true repentance
Step 6. On remembrance of death
Step 7. On joy-making mourning
Step 8. On freedom from anger and on meekness
Step 9. On remembrance of wrongs
Step 10. On slander or calumny
Step 11. On talkativeness and silence
Step 12. On lying
Step 13. On despondency
Step 14. On that clamorous mistress, the stomach
Step 15. On incorruptible purity and chastity
Step 16. On love of money, or avarice
Step 17. On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards)
Step 18. On insensibility
Step 19. On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood
Step 20. On bodily vigil and how to use it to obtain spiritual vigil.
Step 21. On unmanly and puerile cowardice
Step 22. On the many forms of vainglory
Step 23. On mad pride and unclean blasphemous thoughts
Step 24. On meekness, simplicity and guilelessness
Step 25. On the destroyer of passions, most sublime humility
Step 26. On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues
Step 27. On holy stillness of body and soul
Step 28. On holy and blessed prayer
Step 29. Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection
Step 30. Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues

Carolyn used my old standby Sugar Cookie recipe.

Fr. Thomas Hopko: 55 Maxims of the Christian Life

As probably half of you reading this already know, Fr. Thomas Hopko fell asleep in the Lord this past Wednesday, March 18. Since we’re in the middle of Lent, it seemed like a good time to share this.

55 Maxims of the Christian Life, by Fr. Thomas Hopko

A few years ago, I was asked: “Father Thomas, if you summarized, in the shortest form, what a practical life of a believing Christian, of a human being who believes in God and believes in Christ, what would it be like? What kind of maxims or rules would that include?”

And in response to that request, I made up a list of what I called “55 Maxims,” 55 things that a believer, very simply, would do if they were really a believer and were really obedient to God and wanted to live the way God would have us live. And I will just now, read these maxims to you.

1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
3. Have a keepable rule of prayer done by discipline.
4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times each day.
5. Repeat a short prayer when your mind is not occupied.
6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
7. Eat good foods in moderation and fast on fasting days.
8. Practice silence, inner and outer.
9. Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day.
10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
11. Go to liturgical services regularly.
12. Go to confession and holy communion regularly.
13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings.
14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings to a trusted person regularly.
15. Read the scriptures regularly.
16. Read good books, a little at a time.
17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
18. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
19. Be polite with everyone, first of all family members.
20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
22. Exercise regularly.
23. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
24. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.
25. Be faithful in little things.
26. Do your work, then forget it.
27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
28. Face reality.
29. Be grateful.
30. Be cheerful.
31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
32. Never bring attention to yourself.
33. Listen when people talk to you.
34. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
37. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out.
38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
39. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
40. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
41. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
42. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
45. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
46. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
47. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
48. Do nothing for people that they can and should do for themselves.
49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
50. Be merciful with yourself and others.
51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
52. Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.
53. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
55. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.

You can also hear Fr. Thomas discuss his list here, on his Speaking the Truth in Love podcast: Lent – The Tithe of the Year.

Here you can find the schedule of services
Services and vigil livestreaming here

Second Sunday of Great Lent: Saint Gregory Palamas


Light of Orthodoxy,
pillar and teacher of the Church,
adornment of monastics,
invincible champion of theologians,
O Gregory, thou wonder-worker,
boast of Thessaloniki,
herald of grace:
ever pray that our souls be saved.

On the second Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate St. Gregory Palamas and the vindication of his teachings on hesychastic prayer by the Church which is considered “a second triumph of Orthodoxy” (having celebrated Orthodoxy Sunday the first Sunday of Lent). From OrthodoxWiki:

“He maintained the Orthodox doctrine that it remains impossible to know God in his essence (God in himself), but possible to know God in his energies (to know what God does, and who he is in relation to the creation and to man), as God reveals himself to humanity. In doing so, he made reference to the Cappadocian Fathers and other early Christian writers.

Gregory further asserted that when the Apostles Peter, James and John witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor, that they were in fact seeing the uncreated light of God; and that it is possible for others to be granted to see that same uncreated light of God with the help of repentance, spiritual discipline and contemplative prayer, although not in any automatic or mechanistic fashion.

He continually stressed the Biblical vision of the human person as a united whole, both body and soul. Thus, he argued that the physical side of hesychastic prayer was an integral part of the contemplative monastic way, and that the claim by some of the monks of seeing the uncreated light was indeed legitimate.”

The Hesychastic Prayer
“In practice, the Hesychastic prayer bears some superficial resemblance to mystical prayer or meditation in Eastern religions (e.g., Buddhism and Hinduism, especially Yoga), although this similarity is often overly emphasized in popular accounts.

For example, it may involve specific body postures and be accompanied by very deliberate breathing patterns. It involves acquiring an inner stillness, ignoring the physical senses. The hesychasts interpreted Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to “go into your closet to pray” to mean that they should ignore sensory input and withdraw inwards to pray. It often includes many repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me[, a sinner].”. While some might compare it with a mantra, to use the Jesus Prayer in such a fashion is to violate its purpose. One is never to treat it as a string of syllables for which the “surface” meaning is secondary. Likewise, hollow repetition is considered to be worthless (or even spiritually damaging) in the hesychast tradition.”

St. John Climacus from Step 6: On Remembrance of Death in The Ladder of Divine Ascent
“And I cannot be silent about the story of Hesychius the Horebite. He passed his life in complete negligence, without paying the least attention to his soul. Then he became extremely ill, and for an hour he expired. And when he came to himself, he begged us all to leave him immediately. And he built up the door of his cell, and he stayed in it for twelve years without ever uttering a word to anyone, and without eating anything but bread and water. And, always remaining motionless, he was so rapt in spirit at what he had seen in his ecstasy, that he never changed this manner of life but was always as if out of his mind, and silently shed hot tears. But when he was about to die, we broke open the door and went in, and after many questions, this alone was all we heard from him: “Forgive me! No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin.” We were amazed to see that one who had before been so negligent was so suddenly transfigured by this blessed change and transformation. We reverently buried him in the cemetery near the fort, and after some days we looked for his holy relics, but did not find them. So by Hesychius’s true and praiseworthy repentance, the Lord showed us that He accepts those who desire to amend, even after long negligence.”