The beginnings of our new garden -- garlic and greens, planted in late October to overwinter. Some of the greens contributed to our Christmas dinner.
As I sit down to write this post, it is January 6th -- Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas. The Christmas tree still stands in the corner of the family room, the front porch remains festooned with Christmas lights, and all the nativity scenes (many of them homemade, from clay and Lego and Playmobil) are still artfully arranged on the console in the entryway. "We Three Kings" has been heard sporadically throughout the day. The twins woke up with sore throats; the baby is teething. The weather is gorgeous: cold, say the locals, and our kids laugh. I thought we might be able to start a light school schedule again this week -- math and maybe Latin -- but by today I've given up and rescheduled the school schedule for next week. Katydid got her math book out anyway, and we have all been talking about ducks... because I might have ordered 6 of them yesterday (along with 21 layers and 25 French meat chickens). January is like this, I guess.
Lately -- and by lately I mean in a focused sort of way, during Advent -- I have been contemplating this unschooling post by Leonie and her emphasis on living the liturgical year and on prayer as the basis of an unschooling life. (She just put up another post today that I am going to be thinking about a lot, Contemplation, a New Year's Resolution.) Coming out the other side of a tumultuous six months in which our habit of morning prayer gave us a foundation for shaky days, I can see how such a simple act -- praying along with the calendar, along with the emergencies and crises and other events of our lives -- really formed our life at home in this period. We made no special feast day recipes -- Katydid, in fact, made all the Christmas cookies this year; I planned no special feast day crafts -- head gear for the boys arose unbidden on St. Lucia's Day, using some foam stickers we picked up at a Hobby Lobby sale; but instead we prayed novenas, we asked St. Joseph and St. Therese to pray for Daddy and Grandpa and for the sale of our house; we prayed for the poor souls in November; we went to the Baltimore Catechism in Advent and talked about confession and the Act of Contrition; and now we have had Twelve Days of Christmas, because I can't make myself pick up a schedule again on January 3.
Be patient with me, because in my own rambling fashion I'm getting to the "eating from the pantry" part. In posting about my grocery project, I had hoped to start the year with a clean slate to some extent. I threw out all the grocery receipts that I had been collecting. (Which may or may not have been a good idea, since now I can't check prices.) I noticed a couple of "eat from the pantry" challenges in the blog world -- No Groceries Until February at Nourishing Days is the kind of thing Andy and I aspire to but haven't managed yet. (Maybe next year, if the chickens work out and the garden grows. I won't venture to conjecture about the ducks.) I thought I might like to take part in one, because the December grocery budget had derailed just a wee bit... and there might also have been an argument about coupons, made up for by the dozen roses that walked in the door the night the toilet flooded the bathroom, the hall, and the doorway to the boy's room.
I even took pictures. (Of my pantry. Not the toilet.)
I don't really have much of pantry. This is one of my food cabinets. You can see some of the "deals" I got in December: organic chocolate chips from Whole Foods, bought with coupons I "stacked"; organic pumpkin from Amazon on sale for $.85 a can... if you bought a case. (Did I need 6 packages of organic chocolate chips, though, when Ghiradelli chocolate chips are vanillin free?) The rest of this stuff is mostly from Costco: peaches, kidney beans, organic tomato sauce and paste (yes, I know - BPA in the cans), a stack of salmon cans, free range chicken broth and roasted red pepper and tomato soup in cartons on the top shelf.
My actual "pantry", in need of some reorganization. The bin that looks red is really bright pink. I used to put Katydid's school books in it. Now it holds bags of sugar and sea salt. The basket on the top shelf is for garlic and onions. The empty aqua basket is for potatoes and sweet potatoes. Ziploc bags, paper plates, and plastic silverware go on the very bottom, which is cut off in this picture.
But then I started making out a menu plan and I was brought up short. "Why does this feel like Lent and not Christmas?" I thought.
I goofed this year. Because we're close to family now, I didn't have to cook for Thanksgiving or Christmas -- which is not the goof, but plays a role. I didn't cook and I didn't bake and so there wasn't anything really special to eat after Christmas Day -- which is really Christmas. (Ok, so there was a little bit, but not too much) And then I started to jump into a "pantry challenge" with the limited offerings of my current pantry, which cannot compare to the freezer full of local, pastured meat and frozen green beans and salsa from my garden in New York.
It's no wonder I felt off. Here I was, wondering how to fast in a feasting season.
Now let me be clear. I am not saying that eating from the pantry is a bad thing. On the contrary. I would rather eat from my pantry than go to the grocery store any day. And I am not saying that you should go out and spend way too much money and put yourself in debt just because it's Christmas.
What I noticed in myself was an attitude that was misplaced in time. I should have been thinking more sacrificially in Advent, leaving Christmas for rejoicing... and perhaps eating out of a pantry that I had stocked intentionally with celebratory food. The bridegroom is here; it's not the time to fast.
The whole fasting/feasting cycle of the Church is interesting to me, and I'm just starting to really learn about it. For instance, last year I did a little digging into the way the Lenten fast has changed, and I started thinking about what it would really mean to give up all animal foods (as Catholics did in the past and the Orthodox still do) during late winter/early spring. Eggs are the food that highlight the spirit of Lent like no other, I think. We have a steady access to eggs in grocery stores year round. But if you raise chickens you know that they lay eggs according to a yearly cycle. As the light fades in the fall, their production dwindles and is at its lowest in the dark days of December and early January. Then, as the light returns, the number of eggs increases until it reaches its peak in June and the summer solstice. March is typically the first month that egg production really picks up. Suddenly you have more eggs than you know what to do with, and you think you will probably need to eat quiche every other meal.
And this is the season that the Church has said (in the past): "No eggs".
People today will try to say that the reason eggs are associated with Easter is because they are associated with rebirth -- resurrection. That may indeed be the case. But you try letting your hens lay and lay and lay for 40 days in the spring time and see what food you need to eat when the fast is over. And what powers of self-denial and self-sacrifice you would need to store all those eggs in the cool of your cellar, eating instead the wizened apples, the hairy carrots, the crocks of sauerkraut that mark that time when winter is over but nothing is ready for harvest in the garden yet.
Thinking about what it really means to eat from the pantry, to eat with the seasons, to eat with the liturgical year, I am struck by how much awareness I've lost as a modern-day American... but also I'll be more aware next year.
Next year I'd like to make my pantry challenge of dribs and drabs for Advent -- setting aside the cookies and special meats and desserts to eat in the Christmas season. I'd rather have December as the fast, January the feast.