Last year HRH and I decided to try the Orthodox Lenten fast.
This is what I wrote ten days in:
HRH (my “Horrible Russian Husband”) and I are on Day 10 of Orthodox Lent, and before you scratch your head and ask me why only ten days, when Easter is just hours away, I’ll remind you that this is the Eastern Orthodox Christian calendar, which calculates Easter differently, and this year there is more than a month separating the holidays. Eastern Orthodox Easter falls on May 6th. We have a ways to go yet.
We are not planning to undergo these rigors this year. I’ve just published my first book:Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow and HRH is massively busy at his pressure cooker job. I’m also on the verge of cracking the perfect Irish stew recipe, so this is no time to be eliminating meat from anyone’s diet. I’m not feeling guilty about it either. Really. I’m not.
I’ve written before about the origins and traditions of the Lenten Season in Russia, which is sort of the opposite of the Dukan Diet. HRH surprised me by saying he wanted to go on the fast last year, more as a physical cleanse than for religious reasons, he explained. Unlike Catholic Lent, where you commit to giving up one thing you love more than any other, in Orthodox Christianity, you are asked to give up basically everything that makes life worth living: alcohol, meat, fish with backbones (seriously), eggs, olive oil and dairy products. You can have shellfish, and if I’m up and about at the moment, it is only because I lunch on raw shrimp.
“Okay,” I said, “I’m game, but you realize that are going to seriously re-think your menu.”
“I know, I know,” he said, with all the confidence of one who has at least two weeks before the start of the ascetic journey. “No meat and no beer – I can cope.”
“Or dairy,” I reminded him, “and oil, fish and eggs.”
“Really?” asked HRH.
“Really.” I said.
HRH is not always clear on which ingredients go into what food, which is the main reason I thought I would go on the fast with him, figuring he would innocently scarf down something like crème caramel without realizing that it is made completely of egg yolks and cream. HRH is still a bit confused by the restrictions, particularly when he goes outside the protected circle of my kitchen and his VIP Stolovaya at work, where, like many Moscow restaurants, they have a Lenten Menu.
“I’m going to have the chocolate mousse,” he announced as we dined with his parents at a local restaurant Saturday.
“I don’t think that’s what Jesus wants,” I said, shaking my head. “Chocolate mousse has butter and eggs in it.”
“What’s Jesus got to do with it – Jesus isn’t Lent?”
“Isn’t he?” I asked, delighted, as I always am, to catch HRH out on scriptural and doctrinal matters. Like most Russians today, he talks the good Orthodox talk, but he’s fuzzy on things like the exact definition of Immaculate Conception or the guest list at the Wedding at Cana. Our conversation about transubstantiation remains my favorite clash, but the forty days in the wilderness was almost as good.
HRH looked in wild confusion at his mother, who purports to be deeply religious. She, too, looked confused, but deftly shunted the conversation into another topical siding: “It’s not about the foo-hoooood…” she wailed up and down the musical scale.
“It’s not?” I wondered, regretting all those hours scouring Anne Somerville’s Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes From The Celebrated Greens Restaurant
and Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More
“Nooooo,” she wailed, moving into the particularly annoying minor keys of the musical scale, “it’s a spiritual journey. It’s about cleansing your soul.”
The Disturbing Results of Lenten Fasting:
As I feared, the spiritual diet, consisting primarily of freshly squeezed juice, avocado smoothies and buckwheat, made us feel wonderful. HRH and are both slept like tanks, our skin glowed, the dial of the scale is moving in the right direction, and I’m even contemplated leaving dairy off them menu permanently – except of course for triple crème cheese, which I consider to be a separate food group. Don’t get me wrong, I could murder a rib-eye steak and a gin & tonic most evenings, but the essentially vegan diet was actually manageable. Who knew?
The thing that makes forty days of Lenten Fasting bearable, however, is that you do get some days off from the regimen.
Most weekends and on number of saints days during Great Lent, both wine and oil are permitted, and, really, what more do you need? A friend and I considered pushing out the boat with a meal of McDonald’s French Fries and a bottle of mediocre chardonnay. Because we could. These important reprieves, however, seem to be the cause of great confusion, particularly amongst my expat friends who follow the Lenten regime.
“Well, look on the bright side,” I Facebooked one chum dealing with the Cyrprus bank thingy, “you can have wine on Saturday.”
“Don’t tempt me!” he messaged right back.
I’m not tempting him; I’m doing what good culinary columnists do; I’m gently pointing him towards the spiritual loopholes. Because, clearly, that’s what Jesus wants.
Here is your 2014 Lenten calendar, complete with all the time off for good behavior:
Many of the Moscovore recipes are suitable for the Lenten Season. If you are observing the fast strictly, substitute sunflower oil for olive oil and vegetable broth for chicken broth.
Are you following the Lenten Fast? What has been your hardest moment and your best discovery? Are you shedding kilos? Are you fed up with mushrooms! Hit the comment button below to join the conversation!