Lenten Food

I couldn’t help thinking of my late friend, Jeff, this morning as I ate my breakfast. It was delicious: half a whole wheat bagel generously spread with home-made hummus, topped with thinly sliced cucumber and grape tomato halves, and sprinkled with home-made zesty Italian dressing. So flavorful and healthy! Sometimes I chop up a few kalamata olives, too, especially if I’m just splashing it with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkling it with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper . It’s one of my favorite breakfast/brunch/lunch items but I tend to forget about it as the year wears on in favor of heavier, pancakey, eggy-bacony breakfasts.

Years ago when Jeff and I worked together in telecommunications at a company Carly Fiorina destroyed, some Fridays during Lent we’d go out to a Chinese place where he’d order scallops Hunan and I the eggplant in garlic sauce, or the local Japaneses place for sushi, and we’d assure each other, with a wink and a nudge, we were being sacrificial.

While fingering off the last smear of hummus from my plate I found myself wondering why we think of Lent as a time of sacrifice or deprivation? My delicious breakfast tasted nothing like sacrificial. Maybe it’s just me but I find Lent is so often a time of creativity and replenishment.

I’m abstaining from meat on Fridays and Paul gamely goes along, so last week I prepared Ina Garten’s Easy Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons. Fabulous! Hearty! And plenty left over for warm, wonderful lunches. I’m eating more mindfully in general, which means more salads for lunch – romaine, tomatoes, kalamata olives, cucumbers, and sweet salad shrimp tossed in my zesty Italian dressing. When I’m peckish in the afternoon, a cup of instant miso soup is the perfect thing to savor in a mug, serving the dual purpose of staving off starvation while warming my cold hands.

And prayer life, too,  feels much more rewarding than it should. If one is a bit lazy about one’s prayer life, as I sometimes tend to be, the discipline of daily observance and contemplation cleanses my mind while simultaneously giving it healthy fodder to chew on. Empty mental calories of gossip, petty grievances, and irrational irritations are nudged out of place by fresh observances, metaphorical steppings into other shoes, and honest reflection. The contemplative version of salads and meatless Fridays I suppose and, like my bagel and hummus, it leaves me feeling satisfied but not bloated, refreshed and recharged.

Jeff was the most Christian soul I have ever had the privilege of knowing, and I can almost hear him saying, “Now you’re beginning to understand” and also, “I don’t suppose you saved any of that tomato soup for me?” This year will mark five years he’s been gone and I still tear up when I talk about him, but it has become easier and more often it’s the fun things I recall, like those Lenten lunches, rather than the loss. Time and perspective are bringing peace and acceptance, for which I am grateful.

This Lent I’m paying attention to how the discipline and practice are rewards in themselves, something Jeff understood well, and praying for resolve to keep a blessed Lent all year long.

Now, what would be good this Friday? The Tuscan white bean soup with rosemary and a splash of olive oil? Spinach lasagna roll ups? Seared salmon on baby greens?


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