Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cheesecake for the Pancreatically Challenged

Sometimes I get tired of having to tiptoe around my pancreas, trying to keep it asleep and not squirting much insulin. As long as I stick to a type one diabetes form of eating, I feel mostly okay. All right, I feel less pain and mental fog than if I eat like the normals out there.

Here’s a recipe for cheesecake. It’s small since most of us with wacked-out pancreases live with the normoes. It has the advantage of cooking quickly this way, so I use my toaster oven. It has a convection setting.

Ingredients for crust (if you must have one)

About a 1/3 cup of shredded fresh (or frozen) coconut.
A couple of tablespoons of butter
Whatever artificial sweetner you use ( I send off to Canada for sucaryl since it has no aftertaste)
Using a smallish pie plate (8 inches or so) — or even an oven proof pasta bowl, put the ingredients in bottom and place in oven until the butter melts. Pat the mixture onto the bottom of the pie plate and broil for a few minutes. Stand with it or you’ll have burned coconut. Remove from oven and set aside.

Turn convection toaster oven to 325.

Ingredients for the filling

2 packages of cream cheese, room temp
2 eggs, large, also room temp
(you can microwave the cream cheese in a bowl to speed things up and put the eggs in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. The pie crust needs to cool a bit anyway.)

Use a wire whip to cream the cheese well. Don’t whip a lot of air into it, just make it very smooth. Add eggs one at a time and stir until very well blended.

Flavorings: I use vanillin (there’s a trace of sugar in real vanilla) and a little bit of powdered lemon flavored drink mix.
If you use the unsweetened, you’ll have to sweeten to taste. If you use the pre-sweetened, go easy since it could overwhelm the cheese — that stuff is strong. You can add a bit of shredded lemon peel, too. Maybe a quarter teaspoon.

Put a metal half cup measuring cup filled with hot water in bottom of toaster oven. It will keep the cream cheese moister than would otherwise be the case. If you forget — it’s still quite edible.

Pour cream cheese mixture into pie plate, smooth the top, and put in oven. Mine takes about twenty minutes to cook. Yours may vary. I cook it until it swells (rather unevenly) and begins to crack. It shouldn’t crack, but sometimes it does.

Remove immediately and leave to cool. When it’s cool, or barely warm, put in freezer for a few minutes if you plan to have a slice soon. Otherwise, cover and place in refrigerator.

This is good with strawberries sliced and tossed with a little artificial sugar. Or a squirt of sugar free whipped cream.

Eat your heart out, because your pancreas will sleep right through it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday, 2006. Lectionary Year II

Today, for millions of Christians world-wide, the season of Lent begins. Yesterday was Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) because it was the eve of Ash Wednesday, the day which marked the beginning of Lent. Back when the old and more rigorous rules still held, one fasted and abstained during the Lenten period. The limited fasting meant that you had one full meal a day and two smaller (meatless) ones, which were not to equal your usual full meal. Abstention involved refraining from eating meat. Every year, about halfway through Lent my mother would grumble, “if I eat one more egg, I’ll turn into a chicken.” Lent does get old. Since it comes on the ebb of Winter, it can also seem much, much longer than it really is.

Fat Tuesday is followed by Ash Wednesday. “Thou art dust” is the gentle reminder that life is brief…Ashes have been part of religious ceremonies for untold millennia. The ashes used in Christian churches are made from the palm fronds left over from the previous year’s Palm Sunday commemoration of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem to begin His final week on earth.

The observance of Lent, lasting the forty days from Ash Wednesday to noon on Holy Saturday, the penultimate day of this part of the liturgical season. Easter, the following day, is the beginning of a new season, and the shedding of Lenten sorrow. It is joyful not only because of what occurs again, but for its opposition to the gloom and sad suspense of the Passion Week which preceded it.

Lent is but a small part of the full liturgical year. Like the rest of the calendar, it is devoted to sacred time, to that part of the human soul that is timeless and yet, while here, anchored to time and to the recurring observation/celebration of Christ’s life on earth. Carefully observed, it becomes part of the warp and woof of one’s own tapestry of life.

As a child in a Catholic orphanage, my days were imbued with an almost medieval sense of time. Looking back, I can see now the overarching meaning that the Liturgical Year provided in the lives of little girls without the buffer of parents against the slings and arrows of childhood. It gave us a higher, deeper, and wider sense of the sacredness of the quotidian: those feast days and the changing rubrics of color and music and prayer belonged to the ages. By understanding that, and being given the meaning behind the flow of each year, we remained rooted to a sense of belonging to something far greater than ourselves.

When people make fun of the Muslims for their daily routine of prayer, they miss the point of that kind of belonging. Yes, you can live in the modern world and pray five times a day. In Saint Mary’s we certainly prayed more often than that.

Here it is Ash Wednesday and I haven’t decided what to do for Lent. This season, for me, is the most intensely directed. Easter and Pentecost are the lodestones of Christian faith. Celebrating Christmas could disappear tomorrow and it wouldn’t mean much. But from here to Pentecost are the crucial moments. From the 40th day before Easter right through to the Day of Pentecost lies the fulcrum upon which the rest depends.

Before I go to church to have the ashes placed on my forehead and am reminded by this of my mortality, I’ll decide what it I’m supposed to do. Discernment is not my strong suit, and I have been distracted by our friend’s death in these last days leading up to today. I have an idea what my Lenten practice will be, but until I feel more sure, I’ll let it be.

For reading this week, I’ll be returning to A Search for God in Time and Memory by John Dunne. Mine is the 1967 edition and shows its age. Remember when paperbacks were $1.95?

You can still get the 1977 edition here, at Notre Dame Press. It’s $15.00, but you get about ten pages more for your money. No doubt a new introduction with Father Dunne’s thoughts about what changed for him in those ten years.

May you experience the depth of Lent's adventure into the unknown.