Modern Monastery Food: Mystic Monk Coffee

As part of my year o’ monastery cooking, I decided it would be fun to buy some current monastery products to try out. My first stop was Mystic Monk Coffee, which I made the mistake of buying right before Christmas. Here’s what I got:

My mistake was forgetting that I ALWAYS tell people to buy me coffee for Christmas, because I love it. So here’s what I ended up with:

That’s…..going to take me a while to get through.

Anyway, the Mystic Monk Coffee comes from a group of Carmelite Monks in Wyoming. They are using the proceeds to support themselves and for their building project. They are putting a gothic cathedral and monastery in the middle of some land in Wyoming.

Carmelites follow the rule of St Albert, which has this to say about food:

17. You are to abstain from meat, except as a remedy for sickness or feebleness. But as, when you are on a journey, you more often than not have to beg your way; outside your own houses you may eat foodstuffs that have been cooked with meat, so as to avoid giving trouble to your hosts. At sea, however, meat may be eaten.

The coffee is excellent, will definitely buy again.
 

Soup Making: Round 2

Alright, round 2 of soup making is in the books! Before I get to that, some updates from Round 1. My refrigerator broke two days after I finished making the soups, which was unfortunate. Luckily it’s been refrigerator temperatures outside, so it wasn’t the worst time of year for this to happen. I imagine the July soups would not have been so forgiving.

I was glad the soups were able to keep, as I had to make a decent effort to get through all of them. Lesson 1: soup for breakfast is not  bad. I imagine that’s what people did (or something like it) when refrigeration was not an option. Make your soup and then use the leftovers early the next day.

On to this week! Since it was Epiphany this week I did a little research and found out that in some parts of Ireland, Epiphany is called “Women’s Christmas“. Apparently the women go out and the men stay home and do the chores. I floated the idea to my husband, and despite his Irish heritage he seemed oddly unenthused. Oh well, some people just don’t like tradition I suppose.

The Plan:
Three soups* are on deck this week:

  • Artichoke and Potato Soup
  • Cream of Pea Soup
  • Brussels Sprout Soup

The Drink:

For the Feast of the Epiphany, a Lambswool Wassail** sounded delightful and is apparently the traditional drink for this ending to the 12 days of Christmas. While the traditional recipe called for ale, I made it with Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Hard Cider. It was perfect for a cold day:

The most quoted recipe for lambswool wassail is actually a poem from 1642:

Next crown a bowl full
With gentle lamb’s wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too ;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Pretty much the recipe I followed, though there was some cinnamon in there as well.

Given that Epiphany is the celebration of the Magi visiting Jesus, I had considered drinking a “3 Wise Men” shot. However, the idea of mixing Jim Bean, Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniels hurt my liver just reading about it, so I nixed the idea. Glad I went with the wassail.

The Soups:

Soup making went a little smoother this week than last week (less to juggle, and the wassail wasn’t all that strong after simmering for a bit), but it was not without its mishaps. I’ll get to those in a second, but first…..the final product:

No soups for Saints this week, but these soups were good in their own right. Drawing on Brother Victor’s French cooking background, he was particularly partial to the Brussels Sprouts Soup. A mixture of Brussels Sprouts and leeks, I was pretty thankful for my food processor with this one. Slicing 2 lbs of Brussels Sprouts by hand would have been terrible, though probably more true to what the monasteries do. I ended up actually doubling this soup recipe, as our grocery store only sells brussels sprouts in 2 lb bags. Good thing I like brussels sprouts. They’re one of those vegetables that just make me feel virtuous.

The Cream of Pea Soup on the other hand, will be an excellent reminder of my failings. After carefully putting it together, I added the milk last as the directions specified. I only had soy milk on hand, so I added two cups of it and found that my soup suddenly tasted like….baked goods? Huh? Turns out it was vanilla soymilk, and I’d failed to notice before adding it. Not inedible, but I’m probably not sharing it with anyone either.

The Artichoke and Potato Soup was delightfully uneventful. I’d never put artichokes in a soup before, but coupled with 2 cups of white wine it was delightful. Definitely the one I’d be most likely to make again.

Total Cost for the Week: $38.78, including $10 for white wine that was nicer than what I should put in soup.
Total Soup: 40 cups, or 22 servings

*Page 10-12 of  12 Months of Monastery Soups
**Page 391 of Drinking With the Saints

St Basil’s Soup for St Basil’s Day

Well, it’s January 2nd, which means tonight I’ll be enjoying some of the St Basil’s Soup I made a few days ago to celebrate the occasion. Here’s Saint Basil:

Source

When I first made the Saint Basil’s soup this week, I was surprised to see that a soup honoring this Saint would contain no basil. Seemed like a bit of a miss.

However, when I read Brother Victor’s description, it turns out he had a pretty good reason. As he says:

This soup is a Western monastic version of a soup that has come down to us from an Orthodox monastery of the Middle East – hence it is named for the great father of Easter monasticism.

That’s a pretty good reason for the name.

St Basil was born in 330 AD, and is one of 10 children. Five became Saints, so those parents did something impressively right. He was not the first monk, but he wrote a set of rules for monastic life that essentially founded eastern monasticism, and influenced St Benedict in his founding of Western Monasticism.

If his name sounds especially familiar, it’s also because St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow is very recognizable:

Interestingly, for the Orthodox, St Basil’s Day is celebrated on January 1st. Catholicism moved it to January 2nd in the 1970s so it wouldn’t conflict with the Solemnity of Mary.

I’d love to figure out if St Basil’s Rules said anything about what the monks were supposed to eat, but apparently it’s 600 pages long and all the translations cost a decent amount of money. I may have to see if my local library has anything on this.

Soup Making: Round 1

Ah, the start of a new year. After 2 months of thinking about this whole idea, today I got to actually make my first soup that “counts”. I know it was a day early, but I had a 5 day weekend and those don’t come along all that often. Gotta take your kitchen time where you can get it. Here’s how the day broke down:

The Plan:

There are 15 recipes in the January section of the cookbook*, so I decided to start by making the first 4:

  • Saint Basil Soup (Feast Day: January 2nd)
  • Chickpea Soup a la Provencale
  • Mushroom Soup a la Marie-Louise
  • Caldo Verde (Portuguese Cabbage Soup)

The Drink:

Since I was already getting champagne for New Year’s, I decided to make a drink called the “Godly Prosperity” to sip on while I cooked**. It’s a champagne cocktail a little like a French 75, but with Goldschlager instead of gin and syrup. My sister called it a hangover in a glass, but it was actually quite good and not that strong. With Goldschlager, as with most things, the dose makes the poison. I was excited because I got to bust out my favorite martini glasses which were supposed to show off the gold flecks, but utterly didn’t. Ah well, it still looked okay:

This cocktail is for New Year’s Eve, which is also the Feast Day of Saint Sylvester, the 33rd Pope. He’s known for being the first pope to preside entirely over a time of peace for the church (the Edict of Milan which legalized Christianity occurred in 313, he became Pope in 314). The Council of Nicea happened under his watch, as did the construction of some of the most well know cathedrals, including the original St Peter’s Basilica and the mother church, the Archbasilica of St John Lateran. Good glory imagine having that as a legacy.

St Sylvester’s Day is celebrated in countries like Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Belgium, and Brazil. Switzerland even has a Silvesterklaus, or a bunch of guys dressed up in costumes made out of forest materials. This looks like my brothers after they’ve used the woodchipper.

Anyway, the drink was good, two thumbs up.

The Soups:

Okay, first things first. When I went to make the shopping list for this week, I realized that Brother Victor uses a lot of olive oil in his soups. Like half a cup in one recipe. For someone who’s used to diet food “you can just spritz the pan with cooking spray”, this seemed insane to me. However, it did occur to me that it would give a little extra weight to the soups, so I decided to go for it. To accomplish this, I decided to get one of those one gallon jugs of olive oil. I’m marking the occasion so I can figure out how long it lasts.

I put it in my picture of my finished product just to commemorate the event:

 It’s like a soup tasting flight.

While none of the techniques used were overly difficult, I did learn two key things about soup making:

  1. Salting the soup is an art, and should not be undertaken when one is distracted.
  2. If you are going to make a blended soup, for the love of all that is holy, remove the bay leaves first.

Oops.

Other than that, the soups turned out well! I supposed it’s good I feel that way, as I now have 45 cups of soup in my fridge, not including what I ate for lunch while cooking and used to take the photos. Guess what I’m eating with/for every meal this week!

I’ll talk more about the Saint Basil’s Soup on January 2nd, but I was surprised to find out that *spoiler alert* this contains no basil. Unfortunately, it’s also the one I oversalted a bit. I added some salt, got distracted by my dog, and failed to mix in the salt before I tasted again. It’s not horrible, but it’s a bit more than I like. Interestingly, it’s almost identical to the Mushroom Soup a la Marie-Louise. The only difference is that the Mushroom soup has more oil and less water, and has thyme and bay leaf as spices. Otherwise, identical.

The Chickpea Soup a la Provencale was probably my favorite (aside from the bay leaf incident) as I happen to love blended soups. With spinach and chickpeas, this is the kind of soup that just makes you feel healthy and virtuous just for eating it.

Finally, the Caldo Verde. This is a Portuguese soup so famous it has it’s own Wikipedia page and a record label named after it.  Literally known as “green soup”, I noticed that mine was not particularly green and that all the recipes I Googled informed me that I should have made it with collard greens or kale. I was wondering if Brother Victor got this wrong, when the Williams Sonoma recipe informed me that Portuguese cabbage is much darker green than our green cabbage, and also very hard to find. Ah.

Most versions of this soup online have sausage or other meat in it, but Brother Victor’s is vegetarian. Monastic orders based on the rules of St Benedict have a history of vegetarianism, since Chapter 39 in the rules contains guidance against eating most animals: “Let everyone, except the sick who are very weak, abstain entirely from eating the meat of four-footed animals”. The only meat found in this cookbook is fish.

I figured I’d wrap up with a general sense of the cost, while noting any special items. I had some potatoes, celery, bouillon and the herbs already in my kitchen, so the cost excludes those things. I’ll add the cost as I have to replace items.

Total cost: $40.43, $19.99 of which was for the one gallon of olive oil.
Total soup: 47 cups or so, 20-22 servings based on cookbook estimates

*Page 6-9 of  12 Months of Monastery Soups
**Page 381 of Drinking With the Saints

One Year, 12 Months of Monastery Soups

Well here we are, the end of 2018. The new year won’t start for 2 more days, but since I have a long weekend ahead of me I decided to get an early start on my New Years resolution.

This year, I am going to attempt to cook through every recipe in the 12 Months of Monastery Soups cookbook, by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila Latourrette.

I picked this cookbook up back in November, when I found myself with a glut of root vegetables from my local CSA. I had gotten busy at work and had minimal time for cooking, and when the stress subsided I realized I needed to figure out how to use a lot of vegetables rather quickly. Since fall is a good time for soup, I decided to see if I could find a seasonal, not terrifically complicated cookbook to help me use them up. Amazon suggested this one, and it looked right up my alley.

It was a good call.

The soups were delicious, and I got more and more intrigued by the whole concept of monastery cooking. The whole set up fascinated me: soups tied to seasonal produce and liturgical year, feasts for Saints, recipes handed down for generations, and an overall focus on frugality and simplicity. In a world where cookbook authors seem to be in a bit of an arms race trying to constantly one up each other, this was a cookbook made purposefully low cost and accessible. It was a breath of fresh air.

I learned that Benedictine monasteries like the one Brother Victor resides in (Our Lady of the Resurrection in New York) were supposed to be self sufficient, and therefore growing your own food and making good food was a necessity. I was fascinated that this kind of lifestyle and approach to food still existed today, and I wanted to know more. I decided I wanted to spend a year cooking through the cookbook and looking in to the traditions around cooking, feasting and food production in Brother Victor’s and others monastic traditions.

Hey, it’s better than yet another lose weight/eat more vegetables/go to the gym every day/give up by February type resolution. At least this way I’ll get some interest

Anyway, I figured this blog would be a good place to document the journey, and it would give me a reason to work on my (quite frankly non-existent) food photography skills.

Oh, and because I think no day of cooking is complete without a drink, I figured it was only fair to pair the cooking with some cocktails from Drinking with the Saints: A Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour.

Here’s to some good eating in 2019!