Posts Tagged ‘Lent’


When the tag line of your blog is “What Life is Really Like Behind the Hall Door“, you have to take stock of what’s happening in your life, from time to time, and reflect on whether or not you’re being honest with your readers.

And, well, I took stock of my life last week and it wasn’t pretty. To start with {and that’s all I’m going to write about today}, my entire family have been Lenten Slackers this year.

Tis true.

For the first time ever, we have not participated in the season of Lent: a period of 40 days (beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter Sunday) when members of the Catholic faith follow the three traditional pillars of Lenten observance: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

When I suddenly realised we had basically forgotten: 1) to give up something; 2) were only occasionally refraining from eating meat on Friday {a total accident, btw}; and 3) weren’t giving alms/putting money in our Lenten collection box…I was shocked.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not amazingly fabulous Catholics…not by any stretch of the imagination…but we have always tried our best to follow the tenets of our religion. And Lent has never been a problem for us before…ever.

So, why did we fall away from the fold this year?

I chalk it up to two things:

  1. We haven’t been great about going to church on Sunday lately.
  2. I was horrendously sick for six weeks, which coincided with the first few weeks of Lent.

The first problem (not going to church) is the “real” problem. If we’d been going to church, or if the family had gone without me when I was sick, we would have been reminded from the altar to stay the course of Lent.

So why have we stopped going to church? I can chalk it up to two things:

  1. We haven’t been inspired by our parish priest for a long time.
  2. Our lives have gotten so busy that we’ve stopped setting aside time for faith.

If I’m honest, this crisis of faith is long in coming. I remember two years ago visiting with the Sisters of our local Carmelite Monastery and asking for guidance. I could feel my family slipping away from attending Sunday service even back then and I went for good counsel. I was told, “Don’t give in to the temptation…consider it your gift to Jesus for giving up his life for you …for all of us.”

I held on to that thought for a long while…even going to church without the rest of my family many times. Then I stopped going when I got sick and didn’t go back when I felt better. It wasn’t until I was looking at blog posts from previous years {mostly the Lenten Challenge posts} that I realised what we were doing…or what we were not doing.

Thankfully, Lent is not over yet. There’s still time for me to get my family back on track. In fact, this week, Holy Week, is the most important week in the Catholic religion….which means, if there was ever a time to hit our reset button now is the perfect time.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are known as the Sacred Triduum in the Catholic Church. It is a time when we consider and celebrate the mysteries of salvation accomplished by Jesus in the last few days of his life on earth.

Holy Thursday is when we commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus and his twelve apostles. It is at the Last Supper that the sacrament of Holy Communion was established.

Good Friday is the day we commemorate the Passion and death of Jesus. It is a somber day. The sale of alcohol is illegal in accordance with The Intoxicating Liquor Act, which was introduced in Ireland in 1927. And Catholics between the ages of 21-60 are meant to fast, eating just one meal in the day and no meat is to be eaten at all.

Holy Saturday is all about quiet, contemplative, anticipation. Outside our Churches a new fire is blessed, signifying our coming out of the dark and entering into the light. New water will be blessed too and sprinkled over us at church as a reminder of the waters of our baptism.

Easter Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church. It is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It marks the end of Holy Week, the end of Lent, and the beginning of the new liturgical year. In Ireland, Easter morning is a time for going to mass and the rest of the day is spent enjoying a family meal, usually spring lamb or baked ham, and chocolate eggs.

And there you have it Dear Readers…In an Irish Home: What Life is Really Like Behind the Hall Door…warts and all. From us to you, stay strong. There’s only one more fasting day to go. And this time, I am all over it! We’ll be enjoying a spinach salad with dried cranberries. What about you?

Spinach Salad with Dried Cranberries

Serves 4 


1.5oz/1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

8 oz baby spinach leaves

1/2 thinly sliced red pepper (and/or 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion)

3oz/1/2 cup dried cranberries

5 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette

salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 180°C /350°F. Spread the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until puffed and brown. Approximately 8-10 minutes.

2. To a large mixing bowl add your favourite balsamic vinaigrette, the red pepper (and/or red onion) slices, cranberries, and spinach leaves. Toss to combine well.

3. Top the salad with the pumpkin seeds and serve immediately.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Catholic Bishops of Ireland Holy Week and Easter schedule for 2016.

** For a quick and easy explanation of Lent visit here.

*** A delicious and foolproof recipe for Hot Cross Buns may be found here.

**** It’s not particular to Lent or Holy Week, but if you want to know more about the Catholic Rosary visit here.

***** Here’s quite an interesting article about Ireland and Holy Week for the past 50 years.


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There’s a book I own that sits on the nightstand near my bed…one my mother gave to me when I was a child. The binding is tattered and the corners are torn, but I never mind that…the book means the world to me.

Hot Cross Buns Image 1

Behind the faded cover is a collection of poems known as Mother Goose Rhymes and one of my favourites is called Hot Cross Buns. Of course you know the poem:

Hot cross buns, hot cross buns.

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.

If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.

In my youth and innocence, I had no idea what a hot cross bun was: I’d never seen one, let alone tasted one. Looking back, I’m not even sure I knew what a “bun” was. In America a bun is an updo-hairstyle worn by a ballerina.

What I knew for sure was the woman in the illustration looked happy and the image of the village and the pretty children was very romantic and that appealed to my young heart. It wasn’t until many years later when I was living in Ireland that I finally saw and ate my first hot cross bun.


Soft, light, sweet and delicious when served warm from the oven with a pad of butter, they are perfect with a cup of tea. In the weeks between St. Patrick’s Day and Good Friday, hot cross buns are readily available. Some are better than others however, so buyer beware. To make them from scratch is easy enough…it’s just the rising time that makes them a bit of a bother.

Hot Cross Buns are very much a part of the Irish Easter tradition: specifically Good Friday, when they were once served to commemorate Christ’s suffering on the cross (hence the cross marking on the bun). Today they are common place and most young ones wouldn’t know anything about the religious or secular traditions they are steeped in.

One of those traditions, from my mother-in-law’s day, is that you would break a Good Friday Black Fast (drinking only water or tea during the day) with a hot cross bun. Two others I know are: if you hung a bun from the kitchen ceiling you could ward off evil spirits; and gratings from a preserved bun, mixed with water, would cure a common cold. Oh, if only it were only that easy!

In our Irish home, hot cross buns are a Good Friday treat. We’re enjoying them today just as much as we’re enjoying the lovely sunshine that we’ve been blessed with. We’re off to do the Stations of the Cross Passion in a few hours time and then finishing the day with a bowl of velvety leek and potato soup and some homemade brown bread. In some ways you could say we’re a bit old-fashioned but then that’s just the way it is for us. I wonder what it’s like for you?

Lent is coming to an end, finally. I hope you’ve enjoyed the recipes I’ve been posting these past six weeks and, likewise, I hope you’ve made it through your Lenten promise without having to hit the reset button too often. I slipped up a few times myself, but overall am quite pleased with my staying power!

I wish you and yours a very happy Easter and, if by chance you’re partaking in a hot cross bun today, I offer you the following poem of friendship: “half for you and half for me…between us two…good luck shall be!”

All the best.


Odlum’s Hot Cross Buns

Makes One Full Baking Tray

Ingredients for the Buns

625g/ 1lb 4 oz Odlums Strong White Flour (plus extra for dusting)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp ground mixed spice

50g/2oz butter, cut into cubes, plus extra for greasing

75g/3oz sugar

Rind of 1 lemon

1 sachet fast-action yeast (7g)

1 egg

275ml/10fl oz tepid milk

125g/4oz Shamrock Fruit Mix (or raisins)

Ingredients for the Topping

2 tbsp Odlums Cream Plain Flour

Vegetable Oil (for greasing)

1 tbsp golden syrup, gently heated, for glazing


For the buns, sieve the flour, salt and ground mixed spice into a large mixing bowl, then rub in the butter using your fingertips. Make a well in the centre of the mixture then add the sugar and lemon zest and yeast.

Beat the egg and add to the flour with the tepid milk. Mix together to a form a soft, pliable dough.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Carefully work the mixed dried fruit into the dough until well combined. Knead lightly for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.

Grease a large, warm mixing bowl with butter. Shape the dough into a ball and place it into the prepared bowl, then cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for one hour to prove.

Turn out the proved dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knock back the dough. Shape it into a ball again and return it to the bowl, then cover again with the tea towel and set aside for a further 30 minutes to rise.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten slightly into a bun shape using the palms of your hands. Cover the buns again with the tea towel and set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Grease a baking tray with butter and transfer the buns to the tray. Wrap the tray with the buns on it loosely in greaseproof paper, then place inside a large polythene bag. Tie the end of the bag tightly so that no air can get in and set aside in a warm place for a further 40 minutes to rise.

Preheat the oven to 240C/475F/Gas 8.

Meanwhile, for the topping, mix the plain flour to a smooth paste with 2 tablespoons of cold water.

When the buns have risen, remove the polythene bag and the greaseproof paper. Spoon the flour mixture into a piping bag and pipe a cross on each bun.

Transfer the buns to the oven and bake for 8-12 minutes, or until pale golden-brown. As soon as you remove the buns from the oven, brush them with the hot golden syrup, then set aside to cool on a wire rack.


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Sea Bass with Sea Salt, Pepper and TurmericGoodness, it’s been a busy week in our Irish home. The Easter break is upon us and there’s been much to do. On nights like tonight, I am thankful for simple dishes…ones that take very little effort but taste like you’ve been working hard in the kitchen all day.

Tonight I made one of my family’s favourites: Sea Bass with Sea Salt, Pepper and Turmeric. This dish is really simple to make, especially when it’s served up with a side of green beans, a few roast potatoes, and a salad of sliced tomatoes. Yummm!

Ireland is an island blessed with an abundance of gorgeous seafood. I had no idea how lovely fresh fish could be until I moved here. Plaice, salmon, haddock, cod, sea bass…not to mention prawns, muscles, oysters, clams…it’s all here for the baking, grilling, roasting, pan frying…you name it!

My favourite place to buy seafood in Ireland is in Cavistons in Glasthule. The vegetable selection and bakery is wonderful too! Here’s a video from Cavistons sure to entice you:

There’s only one more meat-free Friday to go in Lent 2014. Next week we’ll be focusing on Easter decorations, dying eggs, making hot cross buns from scratch, and lots of other Easter-related activities in our Irish home. Hope you’re gearing up for a festive celebration too!

All the best!

Sea Bass with Sea Salt, Pepper and Turmeric

Serves 4


4 x 150g/1 ¼ lb of Sea Bass

½ lemon

olive oil

sea salt



* You’ll note there are no specific amounts given for most of the ingredients in this recipe. That’s because I just eye-ball and guess-tamate with this dish.


1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F/200°C.

2. Line a baking dish with aluminium and a sheet of oven-proof paper.

3. Wash fish and blot dry with kitchen roll (paper towel).

4. Squeeze lemon juice liberally over fish. Let sit for a few minutes.

5. Pour enough olive oil over fish to coat lightly.

6. Lightly sprinkle sea salt over fish.

7. Grind fresh pepper over fish.

8. Lightly sprinkle turmeric over fish.

9. Place fish in centre of oven and bake until cooked through (about 20-25 minutes).

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When you think about the useless gadgets you have in your kitchen, what comes to mind: Garlic Peeler, Corn Cob Butter Spreader, Egg Cooker, Onion Chopper, Electric Cheese Grater, Pineapple Slicer?

Useless Kitchen Gadgets

In our Irish home, it’s the Pizza Stone. We’ve had one lurking in our cupboards for at least twelve years. Do you know how many times I’ve used it? Once!

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 7.54.10 AM


Pathetic, I know. The sad truth is…every time I go to toss it in the bin, I just can’t do it. “What If…?” always wins out over common sense. You know how it goes…“What if I need it to make the world’s best pizza for my friends?” Admit it…you know what I’m talking about because you’ve got your own version of “What if?” for the useless gadgets in your kitchen.

But now, at long last, it’s time to kiss our pizza stone goodbye once and for all. Last May I bought a book called Pizza on the Grill and its made me rethink pizza making at home.

Authors Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer start off their slim cookbook with this introduction: “Welcome to the church of grilled pizza. If you think that’s a joke, we aren’t’ kidding. Once you start making grilled pizza, it’ll be like “getting religion”. You’ll want to preach the word to everyone.” Well, just call me Sister Kim cause I’m here to tell you this pizza-on-the-grill-thing works.

We’ve been making homemade pizza {on the grill} every couple of weeks since last summer. This pizza making technique is so easy that we now make them for lunch and dinner, and we make them weekdays and weekends. Recently the kids and I made vegetarian pizzas, perfect for Lent’s meat-free Friday meals, which made me think to share the idea with all of you. Here are two photos of our asparagus, roasted tomato, pesto pizza.

Pizza on the Grill

Pizza is the perfect blank canvas to showcase the freshest vegetables of the season {whatever season you are in} or for the ingredients you regularly stock in your refrigerator. Some combinations I’ve been thinking about lately include: fingerling potato, baby kale with chèvre, spinach and artichoke with white bean sauce, beets with feta and micro greens, and shaved asparagus with Roquefort cheese, egg and pecorino. Mmmmh…just so good. And my cheat: when I don’t feel like making homemade pizza dough, I buy it pre-made {when I can find it} and I buy the roasted vegetables and grated cheese at the shops (supermarket)! If you have time to make your own dough, however, American celebrity chef Rachel Ray‘s recipe (below) is delicious.

There is just over two weeks left to Lent 2014. To keep you laughing and going meat-free-Friday all the way to Easter, here are two cute videos sent to me by one of my nieces ~ Meat Police – Episode 1 and Meat Police – Episode 2. Enjoy!

Pizza on the Grill

Serves 4-6

Dough Ingredients

8oz/250ml/1 cup warm water

1 teaspoon honey

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

12oz/338g/3 cups (or more) all-purpose or bread flour

1 3/4 teaspoons coarse salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling bowl


1. Mix the warm water and honey in a liquid measuring cup until the honey dissolves. Sprinkle with the yeast and let the mixture stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, using a food processor, pulse the flour and salt to mix.

2. Pour the yeast mixture and 2 tbsp. olive oil over the flour mixture. Process until the dough comes together in a sticky ball, about 20 to 30 seconds.

3. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead, using the heel of your hand, until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

4. Lightly oil a large bowl; add the dough, turning to coat. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough stand in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

5. Punch the dough down, then turn onto a cutting board. Using a knife, quarter the dough.

6. Shape 1 dough wedge roughly into a ball. Place the dough ball on the work surface and cup your hand lightly over it. Rotate your hand counterclockwise, letting the dough roll on the work surface. Continue until the surface of the dough is smooth. Repeat with the remaining dough wedges.

7. Place each dough ball in a large resealable plastic bag or plastic container with a lid. Refrigerate for 10 to 48 hours (the dough will continue to rise). Let the dough sit at room temperature for 1 hour before shaping, or freeze for up to 2 weeks. Let the frozen dough sit at room temperature for 2 hours before shaping.

8. Turn out 1 ball of dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Press it out on the work surface into a 9-inch round, a long rectangle or an oval. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. To make 3- to 4-inch minipizzas, cut each dough ball into 4 pieces, then press or stretch into shape.

Pizza on the Grill

1. Preheat your grill by setting all the burners on high. After lighting, close the lid and leave on high for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat of all the burners to medium.

2. Meanwhile, sprinkle your work surface with grits, polenta or flour.  Place the dough in the middle of the surface and roll out with a rolling pin or stretch it out with your hands to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, depending on whether you want a thick-crust or thin-crust pizza.

3. Drizzle or brush one side with olive oil.

4. Pick up the dough and, in one motion, lay it down flat on the cooking grate of the grill from back to front. Close the lid and grill for 3 minutes (less if you don’t want grill marks). No peeking! Then, check the crust and, if necessary, continue grilling a few minutes more until the bottom is nicely browned.

5. Using tongs, lift the crust to a cutting board and add sauce and toppings as desired.

6. Turn off the center burners on your grill. Then place the pizza back on the cooking grate and grill with the lid down until the bottom is well browned and the cheese is melted, about 5-8 minutes or longer if necessary.







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We are now in our fourth week of Lent. How are you folks out there doing? Other than the recent slip-up I had with two ice cream cones, I’ve stuck to my promise to abstain from sweets and sugar and it hasn’t been too bad.

Recently my inbox has been inundated with Lent-related emails: some of them are from people who say, “Giving up sugar and sweets for Lent is lame.” Supposedly, it’s not deep enough or serious enough.

“Harumph!” Give me just a minute to climb up on my soap box. Ready?

Are you people serious? Giving up sugar and sweets for Lent is NOT lame…it is important. And, when I say important, what I really mean is…it’s IMPORTANT! Why? Well, let me tell you…

Sugar is everywhere.

I’m not talking about the sugar that’s found naturally in foods…as nature intended…typically combined with a fibre, as in fruit and some vegetables.

I’m talking about the sinister kind of sugar that food manufacturers have snuck into our refrigerators and cupboards without us even knowing it. Sugar is in our bread, tomato ketchup, breakfast cereal, crackers, yogurt, baked beans, juices, pasta sauce, tinned vegetables, cereal bars…and that’s just the start of it.

We eat and or drink it morning, noon, and night. It’s disguised as brown rice syrup, cane sugar, caramel, corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane sugar, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, maltose, sorghum, and syrup. And it often shows up in multiple forms in just one food item.

Let me ask you, “What is the maximum amount of added sugar one should eat in a day?” In 2003, the World Health Organization indicated in their guidelines that sugar should account for only about 10% of our daily calories, which is roughly eight teaspoons/37 grams.

Now, guess how much sugar is in a 12oz can of soda? The answer varies, but typically it’s 10-12 teaspoons/40-48 grams!

Are you surprised? I was when I started to learn about it. And here’s the fact that really threw me over the edge: if we continue the path we’re on, our children will be the first generation to not outlive their parents?!

And there you have it…the reason why my family is giving up sugar and sweets for Lent. It’s not lame…this is the perfect time to teach my children that their wee little bodies are their temples (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

“You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within – the Spirit you have received from God. You are not your own. You have been purchased and at a price! So glorify God in your body.”

Wshew! I needed to get that off my chest. I’m really not a holy roller, but I won’t stand for those who imply that I’m not doing enough this Lent. Caring for others is what we’re here for…and starting in an Irish home is, in my opinion, an excellent place to begin.

Can I get an Amen?


Italian Vegetable Stew

Serves 6-8


1 loaf Italian bread, torn into bite-sized pieces

1 bunch kale, centre rib and stems removed, chopped

1/4 cup/1 oz olive oil

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 celery stocks, finely chopped

1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

28oz/794g crushed peeled tomatoes, drained

8 cups/64oz vegetable broth

45oz/1,275g cannellini beans, rinsed

1 teaspoon Italian herbs

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper to taste

grated Parmesan


1. Let bread stand at room temperature for a few hours to dry out.

2. Cook the kale in boiling water until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Drain, squeeze out excess water. Set aside until needed.

3. Heat ¼ cup/1oz olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, and leek. Stir often until softened, 8-10 minutes.

4. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.

5. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently until most of the liquid is evaporated.

6. Add broth, beans, Italian herbs, bay leaf and reserved kale. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the soup thickens slightly, about 30-45 minutes.

7. Remove bay leaf, season with salt and pepper as desired.

8. To serve, add bread to the soup. Divide among blows, top with Parmesan.

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I have a confession to make…last week, while we were on a quickie holiday, I broke my Lenten promise to abstain from sugar! Because we were on vacation, I had ice cream…not once but twice. The children had ice cream too. Waaaahhh!

To make amends, I did not eat the Guinness Gingerbread I made for St. Patrick’s Day. Hmphhh! And, on Mothering Sunday (Mother’s Day), which is coming up at the end of the month, I will refrain from whatever treats and sweets my family try to ply me with. One of my brother-in-laws is a Catholic priest…I guess I will consult with him as to whether I have to go to confession too! Uggghhh!

While I may have slipped in one area of our Lenten promise, I have not in the other: we have stuck with our meat-free Friday meals. Yeaahhh! Truth be told, it’s not all that difficult given the many wonderful recipes available today.

This evening I am serving my family a vegetarian chili that’s been in my recipe box for years. The recipe comes from Elizabeth Buxton and Terence Stamp’s cookbook, The Stamp Collection Cookbook. I started making this chili {donkey’s} years ago, when I was on a wheat-free and dairy-free diet and I always found it easy to whip up {about 20 minutes} and consistently good.


Unfortunately, my photography skills are not finely honed yet and the photo above may not entice you enough to try this recipe. For sure, you’ll have to trust me…this chili is good. Perhaps a few of you brave ones will give it a go. If so, let me know how you get on.

Happy cooking and happy Lent!

Vegetarian Chili

Serves 6-8


1/2 white onion, finely chopped

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)

1/4 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

6 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

175g/1 cup canned red kidney beans, drained and rinsed under running cold water

175/1 cup canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed under running cold water

200g/1 cup cooked puy lentils

250g/1 cup canned tomatoes with their juice

1 tablespoon tomato purée/paste

55g/1 cup fresh chopped flat parsley (optional)

grated pecorino cheese


1. Soften the onions, jalapeño pepper and red pepper in 4 tablespoons of the oil for 4 minutes.

2. Add the chili flakes, cinnamon, cumin and thyme and cook over high heat for 1 minute.

3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, beans and lentils. Stir into the mixture and cook for a couple of minutes.

4. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée/paste and remaining olive oil, cover and simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes.

5. Taste, season with salt and pepper, and more tomato purée/paste, if needed. {I also sometimes find I need to add a bit more water too.)

6. Add the parsley just before serving (optional) and sprinkle with pecorino, as desired.

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Some see Lent as an opportunity to give something up. Others see Lent as an opportunity to take something on: something that is “good”. I see Lent as an opportunity to do both. Which is why, in our Irish home, each of us is giving something up for Lent and, Saturday to Thursday, I am taking on the task of finding delicious meat-free meals for my family {and for you and yours) to enjoy each Friday during this holy season.

Last week, the first Friday in Lent 2014, we had Irish Black Bean, Kale and Quinoa Salad: a very tasty meal indeed. This week, we’re trying a recipe from Rachel Allen, an Irish chef whose bubbly personality and common sense approach to cooking have made her a household name in these parts.

Rachel Allen Photo Credit: Kerrygold USA

Rachel Allen
Photo Credit: Kerrygold USA

If you do a Google search on Rachel Allen, you will discover that she was originally from Dublin and left home at eighteen to study at the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland. You will also learn that Rachel is now a busy TV chef, author, journalist and mother of three, who still teaches at Ballymaloe. She is the author of six bestselling cookbooks, and has sold in excess of one million books worldwide. Her popular television series for RTE (Ireland’s national television station) and the BBC have been broadcast internationally in 33 different countries and she frequently appears on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen. Attracting two million viewers on the BBC, her TV series is also the highest ever rated show on The Good Food Channel in the UK. Rachel is also a main presenter of the BBC’s Good Food Channel flagship program, Market Kitchen.

That’s some C.V. (resume)!

While I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Rachel, I do remember her from a time when she was a trainee at Ballymaloe Cookery School and I was a student. I was in a hands-on cooking class, being taught by Darina Allen (now Rachel’s mother-in-law), when a young Rachel scurried past the back of the demo table and out the patio door. Someone in the class inquired about the very pretty blonde that had just slipped by and Darina replied, “Oh, her…she’s my son’s girlfriend”. I remember the looks passing between the student chefs…ones that said, “Lucky him!”. Fast forward some fourteen years later and the “girlfriend” is now the “wife” and a part of the Allen “magic” that began with Myrtle Allen, grew with Darina, and has now been passed to Rachel.

Rachel, Myrtle and Darina Allen: Photo Credit: Ballymaloe Cookery School

Rachel, Myrtle and Darina Allen
Photo Credit: Ballymaloe Cookery School

By all accounts Rachel is a lovely woman, which makes it all the nicer to follow her recipes. Tomorrow {Friday}, I’ll be making her Broccoli Soup with Parmesan Toast. It’s one of those thick and hearty Irish soups, that’s easy to make and looks positively delicious.

If you prefer a fish dish, you may want to try Rachel’s Roast Haddock with Lemon Basil Potato Salad…which looks really fresh and spring-like.

If, however, you want something a wee bit heavier but oh so “more-ish”, you may want to have a go at making Rachel’s Kale and Purple Sprouting Broccoli Bake. Click on the link to the left to watch the video.

Photo Credit: rachelallen.com

Photo Credit: rachelallen.com

Oh, goodness, with so many fabulous Rachel Allen recipes to choose from, we’re spoilt rotten! I’d love to know which recipe you try tomorrow or any day during Lent. I’ll be sure to let you know whether my little family enjoyed the soup. All the best to you in the kitchen…cheers!

Related Articles:

Discovering the Fresh Face of New Irish Cooking at http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-calcook-discovering-the-fresh-face-of-new-irish-cooking-20140306,0,1148730.story#axzz2vnuCnHj2

March 10, 2014 article in the Irish Examiner about Myrtle Allen turning 90 at http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/matriarch-of-ballymaloe-celebrates-her-90th-birthday-261396.html

Refreshing look at Rachel Allen’s Kitchen at thekitchn.com

Rachel Allen website here

Darina Allen website here

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During the season of Lent many Christians give up meat on Friday. Our little family is no exception. Today’s meat-free meal is a quinoa and kale salad. The inspiration for this delicious salad comes from my new friend Perry, who lives in Utah and runs a blog called Ski Boots in the Kitchen. I met Perry not long ago and love visiting her blog about living high in the snow cap mountains of Park City {home of the Sundance Film Festival}.


Perry’s Black Bean, Kale and Quinoa Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette got me to thinking what an Irish version of the same salad would look like. Carrots and cabbage seemed an obvious addition so they went into the mix first. Perry’s recipe calls for pomegranate. but given we’re not big fans of pomegranate, I substituted that ingredient with cranberries and raisins, instead.

Quinoa and Kale Salad


The result was a healthy, tasty, easy-to-make meal perfect for a meat-free Friday…or any other day of the year! I dare say my Irish version is as good as Perry’s Utah version…but I’ll let you be the judge. Try them both and let us know what you think.

Best wishes for your continued Lenten resolve!

Irish Quinoa and Kale Salad

Serves 10

Salad Ingredients

5oz/1 large bunch of kale, finely chopped with ribs and stems removed

5oz cherry tomatoes, cut in half

3 carrots, shredded

5oz shredded cabbage

1 can/425g black beans, cooked, drained and rinsed

2 cups/13oz cooked quinoa, cooled

½ cup/2oz dried cranberries

½ cup/2oz raisins

½ red onion, finely chopped

1 avocado, sliced

Vinaigrette Ingredients

5 tablespoons red wine vinegar

15-20 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and fresh-ground pepper


1. Cook the quinoa according to the directions on the package or box it came in. Allow to cool completely. This step can be done a day ahead and the quinoa may be kept in the fridge, if desired.

2. Chop the kale and put in a large bowl along with the cherry tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, onion, black beans, quinoa, cranberries, raisins and red onion. Toss well.

3. In a separate bowl pour in the red wine vinegar and slowly whisk in the 15 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and taste. Continue to whisk more olive oil until the balance between the olive oil and red wine vinegar seems right. Season with more salt and pepper as desired.

4. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss everything together, making sure to coat all ingredients with the dressing.

5. If put in an air-tight container, this salad will keep very well for up to three days.

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Good morning and good Lent! Have you ever wondered why Ash Wednesday is important to Christians? If so, this entertaining 2-minute video, which is perfect for kids {and adults with short attention spans!} may be of help:


As the video states, Ash Wednesday is a day when many Christians focus their attention on three practices:

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 2.09.43 PM


With regard to prayers, these two are meaningful to our family.

1. Dear Lord, please be with us today as we enter into this holy season of Lent. Help us to be faithful to the promises we are making to you, ourselves, and each other for the next forty days. Guide us gently back to you if, and when, we stray. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.  

2. Dear Heavenly Father, help us as we struggle to be true to our Lenten promises to you. Make this season holy by our self-denial.
 Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
 who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Finally, if you’re looking for some Lenten inspiration, the following three interactive websites may be helpful. We’ll certainly be using them in our Irish home.

Busted Halo 2014 Lenten Calendar

Busted Halo 2014 Lenten Calendar

Sacred Space Retreat for Lent 2014

Sacred Space Retreat for Lent 2014

12 Ways to Pray During Lent from Beliefnet.com

12 Ways to Pray During Lent from Beliefnet.com



Busted Halo 2014 Lenten Calendar at http://bustedhalo.com/features/fast-pray-give-2014

Irish Jesuits’ Sacred Space Retreat for Lent 2014 at http://retreats.sacredspace.ie

12 Ways to Pray During Lent from Beliefnet.com at http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2008/09/12-Ways-to-Pray-During-Lent.aspx

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I can hardly believe Valentine’s Day is behind us and we are barreling full-speed towards Lent, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter.

DSC01314Lent, as you probably know, is just four days away and in our house there is a lot of talk about what each of us is giving up for the next forty days. My husband is going with the Irish “usual”: he is giving up drink. The kids and I have agreed on sugar. By that I mean to say we are giving up minerals (soft drinks), chocolate, ice cream, and all sweets. Furthermore, from Ash Wednesday (5th March) to Good Friday (18th April), I promise to not make any puddings (deserts), biscuits (cookies), cupcakes, cakes or other tasty treats that have sugar…white or brown…as an added ingredient. The exception for all of us, of course, is Saint Patrick’s Day, which is when we Irish get a chance to break the fast of Lent for one day.

There is another form of abstinence that our little family will participate in during Lent and that is giving up meat on Fridays.  According to Catholic Canon Law, a person between the ages of 14 and 59 should abstain from eating meat on Fridays {every Friday throughout the year} in honour of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. While most Catholics ignore this rule, many take it up during the season of Lent. In keeping with strict Catholic tradition, we will also not eat meat on Ash Wednesday. To keep us on track, I am putting together a collection of meat-free recipes and will post them as Lenten Challenges: Meat-Free Friday posts for you to enjoy.

Speaking of Ash Wednesday…it’s the 5th of March, which is this Wednesday. It’s the day you see Catholics everywhere walking around with the sign of the cross, made from ashes, on their foreheads. The ashes have had different meanings at different times throughout history. Today is symbolises our baptismal promise to reject sin and profess our faith.

Ash Wednesday is preceded by Shrove Tuesday, which is on the 4th of March this year. “Shrove” comes from the word “shrive”, which means to confess and receive absolution. Shrove Tuesday is, therefore, a day that many Catholics will go to confession at their local church to ask forgiveness for and be absolved of their sins. According to the Dublin Diocese’s education website, “This tradition is very old. Over 1,000 years ago a monk wrote in the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes: In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him. ~ Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes”. 

Shrove Tuesday is also known in Ireland as Pancake Tuesday. The significance of the “pancake” is tied up in the religious custom of abstaining from meat, butter, eggs, and dairy during Lent. So that no food would be wasted, Irish families would feast on Shrove Tuesday and use up all the foods that would not keep for forty days. Pancakes use up many of the items Catholics were not allowed to eat during Lent in past times, hence its association with Shrove Tuesday and the start of Lent. Last year, I posted a traditional Irish pancake recipe on this blog: you will find it here.

Trocaire 2014 Lenten Box

Trocaire 2014 Lenten Box

There are so many traditions surrounding Lent, as you can see from above, one of the more modern ones you may not know about if you live outside of Ireland is the Trócaire box. If you don’t know it, the Trócaire box is a small cardboard box used for collecting change. It is given to school age children across the country, who then take it home and fill it over Lent. The money raised goes directly to Trócaire, the official overseas development agency set up by the Catholic Church in Ireland that aids some of the world’s poorest people. The competition amongst school children to have the heaviest box is fierce. Up until recently, we always had to have two boxes in our house to keep the peace. This year’s campaign focuses on the global water crisis and explores water as a social justice issue.

Another modern custom, this one involving technology, is the Irish Jesuit’s online spiritual Retreat for Lent. It is part of the Irish Jesuit’s hugely popular website called Sacred Space. Sacred Space serves five million people annually, from all around the world, by guiding them through ten-minute segments of daily prayer via the computer. While it might seem odd to pray in front of a computer or mobile device, it makes prayer on “the go” or prayer for busy people {isn’t that all of us?} possible.  The theme of this year’s “Retreat for Lent” program is Called to be Saints. It draws inspiration from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans. There is a pocket-size book, Sacred Space for Lent 2014, to compliment the website. If you are interested, it is available from Amazon and all good bookstores around the world.

DSC_0387And, finally, to round out today’s post on Lenten traditions, there’s one more custom we keep in our home during Lent and that is the baking and eating of Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday. Why they are associated with Good Friday, specifically, is really unknown but some say an Anglican monk placed the sign of the cross on the buns to honour Christ’s suffering on the cross on Good Friday. Nearly everyone is familiar with the old nursery rhyme, “One a penny, two a penny hot cross buns…if you have no daughter’s give them to your sons…One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns”…but there is also a sweet rhyme for friendship that goes, “Half for you and half for me, between us two good luck shall be”.

I will post my favourite hot cross bun another day for you to try. In the meantime, good luck to you as you begin your season of Lent. God bless.

Related Articles:

Pope Francis’ Message for Lent 2014 at http://www.catholicbishops.ie/2014/02/04/pope-francis-message-lent-2014/

Reflecting on the Lent Season from Loyola Press at: http://www.loyolapress.com/reflecting-on-the-lent-season.htm

Baileys Irish Cream Pancakes with Whiskey Maple Syrup at http://www.college-cooking.com/2013/03/10/baileys-irish-cream-crepes-and-baileys-irish-cream-pancakes-with-whisky-maple-syrup/

Chocolate Stout Crepes with Irish Cream Whip at http://www.countrycleaver.com/2012/03/chocolate-stout-crepes-and-irish-cream-whip.html

Hot Apple and Apricot Crepe recipe from The Wineport  Restaurant in Glasson, Co. Westmeath at http://www.irishheart.ie/iopen24/apple-apricot-crepe-t-7_22_91_186.html

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