Tuesday, June 7, 2011

St. Meriadoc's Day

Happy St. Meriadoc's Day!

St. Meriadoc is a little-known Welsh saint, but one who is very important to me and my family. It's an interesting story. Last year, my father was diagnosed with stage four metastatic melanoma. It was a very frightening time for our family. I spent almost all last summer with my parents while my dad was receiving intensive treatment that required him to be in the ICU every other week, driving my mother to and from each day (she was in no state to drive), preparing meals, sitting in on doctor's visits, and generally trying to be as useful and supportive as possible. At one point, a good friend of the family offered a class 2 relic of St. Damien, whom he is named after and feels a close connection to. My dad was unfamiliar with relics and their classes, so, my degrees being in religious studies and history, I gave a quick explanation. Intrigued, my mother jokingly said there probably wasn't a saint by mine and my dad's name (I am named after him). Challenge accepted!

Sure enough, within a few minutes I had discovered Saint Meriadoc (a version of his name is mine and my father's given name). Obscure as he may be, there he was. Quickly we discovered that not only did we share his name, but his heritage, as he was Welsh and part of our family hales from Wales. Reading further, we found that not only is he the patron saint of deafness, but is also considered a patron of incurable disease. Metastatic melanoma being one of the most difficult of all cancers to treat, we were all rather shocked at this discovery. But the most dumbfounding fact about Saint Meriadoc was that his feast day is June 7th, and that very day was June 7th. It shook me to my core that that day, of all days, was the one I went in search of him. I have said many times in my life that I do not believe in coincidence; to me, this was just another example of that fundamental truth.

Over the course of the last year, I have prayed almost daily to St. Meriadoc and woven him into my admittedly eclectic  and unique religious practices. I have felt his presence in my life over and over again. Shortly after becoming acquainted with him, a wave of new drugs to treat melanoma appeared on the scene, giving us greater and greater hope for successful treatment of my father. My father's condition is currently stable, which, in a cancer as fast-moving as this is, is a miracle in and of itself. I am so grateful for what I believe is his intercession on my father's behalf that I am at a loss for words. There is magic and grace all around us, if only we seek it out.

Needless to say, I had been very much looking forward to the first opportunity to celebrate Meriadoc's feast day! I spent personal time in prayer with a candle lit in his honor, thanking him for his benevolence. And, of course, I cooked! Because he was Welsh, I wanted to do some Welsh-inspired recipes. This is what I came up with (recipes below):

This is Bacon-Wrapped Cod with Leeks. From what I've read, bacon-wrapped fish is a rather traditional Welsh dish, and several recipes I found generally featured leeks, so combining the two seemed ideal. This is not a place to use fancy, heavily smoked, thick bacon, people - no, you want something thin, flexible and simple so you don't overwhelm that delicious fish. A little pepper and a pinch of herbs de provence, and into the oven it goes, easy-peasy. It was so good that I know it's going to be a new staple around the Gentle House!

To go with, I made Roasted Potatoes with Leeks. Simple and satisfying, but incredibly delicious. The leeks get crispy as they cook, taking this dish from daily dinner to divine experience.

A festive tipple seemed to be in order, so out came the mead! (Yes, I know it says Christmas - but hey, with mead, ANY day can feel like a holiday!) It was especially appropriate because I was lucky enough to have wonderful mead while visiting Wales in my teens. It seemed all to appropriate to bring it out in celebration today. If you have never had it, I encourage you to give it a try. It is a sweet, rich fermented honey wine, and it is a real taste of history - one of the oldest beverages in the world.

And for dessert? Simple, delicious macerated strawberries in cream. Macerating is simply the process of putting berries in sugar and letting it draw the juices out. This is one of the finest pleasures of summer, and is great either as a dessert or breakfast.

Having feasted in honor of my beloved patron saint, I feel more grateful than ever for so many things - his presence in my life, my wonderful family and the closeness that we share, the good health that we enjoy, and for the simple pleasures of life. Taking the time to remember and give thanks for those things enriches life and is a balm to the heart!

Bacon-Wrapped Cod with Leeks

Serves 2-3 (depending on your appetite!)

1 1/2 lb cod fillets (2 pieces)
1 leek, rinsed well, roots and leaves removed (leaving solid white/light green part of the vegetable)
4 slices bacon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch herbs de provence
Pepper to taste
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 400. Place cod fillets in shallow baking dish, tucking thinnest part of the fillet underneath so that it approximates the thickness of the rest of the piece of fish (about 1 inch). Sprinkle fillets with herbs de provence, pepper, and lemon juice.

Cut leek in half; set other half aside (this part can be used for the potatoes). Slice remaining half lengthwise, then into smaller slices, resulting in small ribbons. Sprinkle half of leek slices over fish.

Place two pieces of bacon side by side lengthwise to cover each fillet of fish, tucking ends underneath each fillet. Season lightly with pepper, and sprinkle with remaining leeks. Put water in the bottom of the pan (do not pour over top of fish) and place in the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, raise temperature to 450, bake ten additional minutes, then remove and serve.

Roasted Potatoes with Leeks

1 1/2 lbs mixed red and white potatoes, quartered
1/2 leek, rinsed well, roots and leaves removed (leaving solid white/light green part of the vegetable)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon rosemary
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. In shallow baking dish, place quartered potatoes cut side down. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste with rosemary, salt, and pepper. Slice the leek into thin rounds, then sprinkle over top of the potatoes. Place in oven for 1 hour. Serve.

* HINT: Make your potatoes first, then place the fish in alongside them for the last chunk of cooking time. The potatoes don't mind sitting through the ten minutes at 450, either, so make it easy on yourself and do it in stages!

Macerated Strawberries in Cream

I'm only going to share the method with you, because you can so easily change the quantities to suit your needs. Simply slice as many strawberries as you would like to use, and cover them with sugar (for a half-dozen medium sized strawberries, I would use between 1/4 and 1/3 of a cup of sugar - you'll learn to eyeball what you need). Stir, then place in the fridge for about an hour. It's helpful to stir it after about half an hour to ensure the strawberries are all adequately sugared. After an hour, you will see that the strawberries have softened and leached their juices, essentially creating a beautiful pink strawberry syrup. Simply add cream or milk and devour with a look of pure bliss on your face.