Saturday, March 17, 2012

Recommended Reading (3/10–3/17)

Pictures taken a year after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

St. Vladimir’s seminarians take post-Abortion counseling training – Very admirable. I agree with Joseph: “What a wonderful opportunity and one I hope to have repeated at my seminary.”

A (qualified) Lament for the Britannica – On the end of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s print run. I will miss the Britannica’s professional style and expert opinions. Then again, I hardly read it.

Architectural Gems of Old Russia – Ties in well with my studies in Russian church architecture.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stinky Tofu Sauce (with postscript)

Kostya, one of the Chinese seminarians, came to lunch with a mysterious jar. As the rest of us stared at him spooning out some dark reddish stuff onto his food, he invited us to try some. I’ve been pretty adventurous in terms of trying new foods, so I gave it a shot.

The brand was called Wangzhihe (王致和), which, literally translated (using my knowledge of Japanese kanji) means “King Highest Harmony.” I opened the jar and took a sniff. It was somewhat pungent. I put some on my food. The dark sauce was mixed in with chunks of what I guessed was tofu. Looking at the label, my suspicions were confirmed. This was Chinese fermented tofu sauce! I took a taste of my seasoned potatoes. It was like a flavor explosion—an interesting mix of tastes. It was like a mix between miso and aged cheese, very heavy on the salty and umami side of things. There was also a strong wine taste.

At dinner, Kostya wanted us to finish up the sauce. I asked him if I could have the rest. He agreed with a wave of his hand, as if shooing the stinky tofu from his sight. I gladly took it, and was quite happy to have it. Misha, a regular visitor to Jordanville, remarked, “Gee John, you’re enamored. You’re looking at it like it’s a picture of your Matushka-to-be.”

King Highest Harmony.

After I took it back, I looked up the brand. Apparently Wangzhihe is named after someone named Wang Zhihe, a student in 18th century China. Apparently Wang took the grueling Imperial examinations in order to get into the civil service. He failed, so he had to go back to work with his family in the tofu business. He applied his intelligence to tofu preservation, and tried preserving the tofu in a mixture of salt and spices. The resulting concoction proved to be extremely popular, and it was even a daily snack in the Forbidden City. Which goes to show that if life stinks one should make stinky tofu.

Three centuries later, Wangzhihe is still a popular food brand, making an array of fermented tofu products, including the above rose wine tofu sauce. If you go to an Asian market, search out this brand. It will give a nice kick of savoriness to your meal, whether in a stir-fry, mixed in with spaghetti sauce, or even straight up. Just make sure to brush your teeth afterwards.

Postscript: Yesterday, I tried some actual stinky tofu after dinner. “How does it taste?” I asked Kostya. “I don’t know,” he answered. “Chinese tastes are different. You might not like it.” I tried some. It tasted like how it smelled, which was about 5x as stinky as the above-mentioned stinky tofu sauce. So, before you head to the Asian supermarket, make sure to get the sauce, and not the actual stinky tofu itself. Caveat emptor!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fr. Cyprian’s Kitchen

I stood in a dimly-lit basement wrestling with a sack of potatoes. It’s a quarter to seven, though my body tells me it’s an hour earlier due to the time change. I hoist the fifty-pound sack over the automatic potato peeler, hearing the dull thuds of lumpy tubers. I set the timer, turn on the water, and flip the switch. Whirr! goes the machine, and whizz! go the potatoes as they fly out the side. Whoops! I forgot to make sure the side hatch was secure. I start all over again, salvaging most of the potatoes.

This was my first kitchen assignment in a month. I wasn’t thrilled to see my name on the assignment sheet, since I had just come back from Hawaii and all the clocks were going to spring forward. Plus, the head cook was Fr Cyprian, who was known both for his good food and goodly number of hours to prepare it. Nevertheless, I steeled myself, set my alarm to six o’clock, and got some rest. The next morning, my body sprung up into action. It’s funny how my usual tardiness is interrupted by fits of punctuality. It was still dark when I got to the trapeza, where I found my workmate Dima already up getting the dishes ready. There was no sign of Father. Dima asked me to call him. So I did.

“Father, bless. We’re in the kitchen.”
“Wait, isn’t it 5:45?” Apparently his phone forgot to spring forward.

Fr Cyprian promptly arrived, and we were well under way. We were short a man so the work was steady. A pilgrim came before liturgy to help us out, though. After the aforementioned potato peeling came slicing and chopping. Our Greek hieromonk decided to make vegan moussaka, which involved cooking each ingredient separately and then combining them in one delicious casserole. Plus there was soup, cooked zucchini, and dolma—stuffed grape leaves. I busied myself with slicing potatoes and preparing the dolmata, then started some pre-emptive dishwashing. Dima handed me a scoop to wash which had the remnants of what looked like mashed potatoes attached to it. I surreptitiously tasted it before putting it in the sink.

“Was that mashed potatoes?” I asked.
Fr Cyprian answered. “No, it was soy milk plus margarine and flour and cornstarch.”
I blanched at the thought of having eaten raw flour, but said to myself in consolation: “Well, it’s no different from eating cookie dough…”

We continued preparing while listening to the liturgy over the intercom. The kitchen table was filled with freshly baked moussaka, so I had to use the old iron stove as a counter. As I filled plate after plate with uncanned dolmata, the stove’s door playfully teased my shins by falling on them from time to time. By the time we were finished plating the food, the liturgy was well past the anaphora; we had to hustle.

People came in. Fr Luke rang the bell, and we stopped our work to sing the Our Father. As Dima served the rest of the food to the incoming crowd, I fumbled with pots and tea bags. Thankfully, everything (for the most part) got served, and everyone happily ate the moussaka.

After lunch, Fr Luke asked everyone to help us, since we were shorthanded. Some generous pilgrims helped us bring in the food and clean the tables, and one of them, named Nicholas, washed the dishes and told stories. We were all done by two in the afternoon.

I dragged myself back to the dorm, my clothes reeking of kitchen—that strange mixture of food and sweat and old grease. Some of my friends were in the dorm lounge. I plopped down next to one of my classmates, who commented on the good food and my exhausted visage. After some computer time, I took a well deserved nap.

Round two began that evening, which meant that I missed the Sunday vespers. Dinnertime was easy because it mainly involved serving leftovers. I also started washing the crusty trays I left to soak from lunch, in the process spilling some greasy water on the kitchen floor. Following Murphy’s Law, Fr Cyprian came in with some Greek sweets for us and slipped and nearly fell! Thankfully, he caught himself in time, though powdered sugar flew everywhere. I spoke apologetically after he mopped the floor. “No, the whole floor’s like that—it’s like an ice rink,” he said. “We need to get a replacement floor.”

We continued. Nicholas came by in the evening as well and helped out. He entertained us with stories from his air force days, including the time he crashed his F-8: “For a second, the only thing I was aware of was that I was alive. Then I asked myself, ‘Where am I?’ and I answered, ‘In a plane, dummy.’” I finished washing my part and then Dima and I took out the trash.

We finished by eight, having in total worked nearly nine hours. Though the hours were long, they were productive and rewarding. One of the benefits of kitchen work is that the results are immediate. It also helps to work with good people. Thanks to Fr Cyprian and my workmates, I heartily enjoyed the product of my labors.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Philadelphia Story (Part 2)

The next morning we all sang liturgy in the parish. Since I was staying in the parish house, all I had to do was go downstairs. We sung in the back of the church, which acoustically made better sense; hardly any sound escaped from our original spot last night. Elias D. of Ottawa directed the choir.

I surprised him during a lull in the singing.

All that singing during the past couple of days (plus a sleep deficit) made me a little tired. I plopped down on a bench in the back of the church, next to Tina, one of the narrators in the concert (and a soloist). We talked about the great volume of singing involved this weekend.

“After the singing, there will be more singing,” she said.
“And in between the singing there will be singing,” I answered.
“And after all this singing, there will be much rejoicing.”
“In song!”

I’m the one in black.

We then took a group picture and had a lunch appropriate to Meatfare Sunday: blini. Well, at least one kind was filled with meat.

In between the singing and the singing, a few of us went on a walk through the city. We admired the charming brick architecture of the neighborhood, and we went up to that museum most famous for being in the movie “Rocky.”

Once we got back it was time for the concert. We went to St. Michael’s, the site of the concert, and practiced a little. Then it was time for the concert. The men and women processed into the nave, clad in black. Finally, Nicholas came in and introduced the concert. After the introductory reading, we began singing an arrangement of “Blessed is the Man,” by Trubachev. But words cannot adequately express how the concert went. You’ll have to see it for yourself:

The full recording of the concert, minus some of the readings.

We sang to a full house, who gave us some strong applause in the end. It felt really nice to be a part of such a group of talented people, and I’m not just saying that because most of them will be reading these words.

In the end, there was much rejoicing (in song), and we had something to eat. However, us seminarians had to go to class the next day* so we had to get going. I made my long Russian goodbyes to as many people as I could, and we hit the road, stopping at a Roy Rogers along the way to have our last chance at meat.

It was probably the worst burger I ever had.

I’m very grateful to our hosts at the parish house as well as Fr. Valeriy of the Joy of All Who Sorrow parish. Major thanks go to all my fellow singers in the Youth Choir, especially Alex Cooley and (long-time supporter of this blog) Dimitry Doohovskoy. Also props go to the St. Tikhon’s choir and the Princeton Byzantine chanters for joining us, Suzie for choreographing the choir, and of course Nicky Kotar for pulling it all together.

*I slept in, anyway.

Recommended Reading (3/3–3/9)

I decided to post weekly a selection of the blog posts and web articles I found most interesting over the past few days. The links are mostly from Orthodox sources; I’m striving for a “best-of” selection.

The Desert Struggle Fr. Stephen on the warfare of the human heart.

Fire Consumes Rectory, Priest Continues Liturgy This is a model to follow. Please pray for Fr. Adam.

Seven Sins of Cain according to St. John Chrysostom.

Capella Romana:  Ancient Light Their newest CD. I really liked their Byzantine Divine Liturgy album.

Real Break in Constantinople Some members of OCF (the Orthodox Christian Fellowship) from colleges across the country take some time out to travel to Constantinople, where they took care of long-forgotten graves. “We’re keeping their memory eternal.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The First Week of Lent in Jordanville

I was unfortunately unable to attend the services at the monastery during the first week of Great Lent, but I am posting the following news report and videos for the sake of my readers.

(Eastern American Diocese) On the first week of Great Lent, the full cycle of services was served at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts was served on Wednesday and Friday, celebrated by the abbot, Archimandrite Luke, co-served by the monastery clergy. Please see photos from the first week of Great Lent at Holy Trinity Monastery courtesy of the monastery website.


Monday, March 5, 2012

The Philadelphia Story (Part 1)

Lost in the LeHigh Valley

We were inching our way along a Pennsylvania country road, the way mostly illumined by the headlights and tail lights of hundreds of cars in front of us. Nicholas Chapman, publications head at Holy Trinity Monastery—my boss—sat in the driver’s seat. “Lost in the LeHigh Valley,” he said.

Nicholas Kotar, sitting in the passenger’s seat, turned to me. “John! Take notes!” And thus was born this post.

We were on our way to Philadelphia for a concert of epic proportions, combining the strengths of four different singing groups: The EA Diocese Youth Choir, the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Mission Choir, Byzantine chanters from Princeton, and the Holy Trinity Seminary Choir (our first concert since Boston). In all, there were going to be over forty singers from all around the Eastern seaboard. Nicky was going to be the conductor (natch).

We had left just after lunch on Friday, February 17th. Our way was for the most part free and easy, with nothing unexpected except for a flaming car on the side of the road. The GPS predicted our ETA to be 5:30pm. What the GPS didn’t anticipate was the massive roadwork which diverted all the traffic off the interstate. It added at least two hours to our travel time.

We finally got to Philadelphia a little after 7:30, and dropped off Mr. Chapman at the train station (he was going to stay in Princeton, then come to Philadelphia for the concert). Nicky also got off, because he wanted to hang out with some college friends. That left just Anthony and I to fend for ourselves and find the parish house where we were staying. We finally found it thanks to Dimitry Doohovskoy, local organizer of the event, fan of this blog, and all-around good guy. Mitya stayed up very late making sure that the people arriving to stay at the house were taken care of.

Most of the men were staying at the ROCOR parish of Our Lady, the Joy of All Who Sorrow. Anthony and I got to the parish house and we made sure to choose decent spots to sleep. The people in charge of the house explained to us various things. “Are we the first guys to arrive here?” I said. “No,” said Ivan, one of the residents, “there are two guys from Boston, John and Nick.”

John and Nick…Kasarda? Surely enough, the two Distinguished Gentlemen from Ipswitch were already there. I was happy to see them again, the first time since before Christmas.

“Nick looks like old and grizzled Tintin.” —John K.

The house was relatively empty (most of the other guys didn’t show up until late at night) so we were mostly by ourselves. We made friends with a cat, which I failed to attract by wiggling my fingers. “What are you doing, John? Are those spirit fingers?” said John Kasarda.

Later that night, more guys came to join us, including three from the Bulgarian parish in Boston, some folks from Albany, and a musical prodigy from Miami.

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast. I met and reunited with more people, and then we all assembled in the parish hall, where we were shunted off to St. Michael’s, another Orthodox church where the actual concert was supposed to take place. This wasn’t an actual rehearsal but more like stage blocking for the concert.

Nicky: “Move IN!”

Suzie, who was in charge of the blocking, worked with the readers for the concert, or rather she sort of held auditions.

“Give me your best Baptist preacher.”

Soon, we got back to the ROCOR parish. I had happy reunions with many people; it was like a who’s-who of ROCOR youth. After lunch came the rehearsal. Nicky took the conductor’s stand and explained the raison d’être behind the concert. Unlike many concerts of sacred music, this one was tied to a unified theme: a depiction of the hypothetical life of the Good Thief, told through readings and song. “We want to show the audience something beautiful, something Other…which is why the next four hours are going to be excruciating,” said Nicky.

Sure enough, rehearsal was very long, but nobody seemed to mind, and it felt pretty productive. Something was starting to gel. We had a break and split up for separate rehearsals. We got back together again just in time for Vigil. The Vigil service was split up between the youth choir and us Jordanvillians, who sang most of the Church Slavonic stuff. It went pretty well.

After vigil, we had a dinner of pizza and lasagna. The people at my table told me not to eat too much as we were going to Outback afterwards. Outback! I readily agreed, and despite a little confusion about who was riding with whom, a sizable number of us managed to get to Outback (which was in New Jersey, no less) before the kitchen closed. I had a ribeye steak, my last steak before Great Lent!

Censored by the Postnyi Police for being too tempting.

We got back late at night. I stayed up a little, anticipating an exciting Sunday.