November is one of my favorite months. Yes, most of the brightly colored autumn leaves have fallen to the ground leaving the trees bare and it can get cold and gray; but there is a certain quiet, intangible beauty in those bare trees against the gray sky that I can't help but admire. I feel that it kind of goes along with the Catholic Church remembering the dead this month. Of course November 2nd is All Souls Day, but the whole month is dedicated to remembering those who have died and praying for the souls in purgatory. On the surface it can seem morbid or sad, and of course feeling sorrow over those we have lost is natural, but by praying for the dead not only are we are helping them to reach the glory that is heaven, but it also serves to remind us that we believe that there is life after death, that Christ has given us victory over the grave; and that my friends is a beautiful thing.
We made a special All Souls meal this year in remembrance of some family and close friends who have passed away in a nod to the Mexican Dio de los Muertos tradition of placing a loved one's favorite food on their grave or on an altar. We are blessed to have some of the culinary traditions of those loved ones written down, which helped make this special meal possible. Food can do so much to connect us; not only to the people around us when we are enjoying the meal, but to those we can't be with and to our past. If you have a favorite family recipe that isn't written down or you don't know how to make, don't let it get lost! Find whoever cooks it now and have them write it down or teach you how to make it!
The main dish was french fried shrimp, cited in my trusty family cookbook as the birthday favorite of my Uncle Matt who was killed in Iraq in 2009. For dessert we had a delicious chocolate pie made from the recipe of a dear family friend named Beverly who was a home economics teacher. A cookbook of her favorite recipes was made after she passed away from ovarian cancer in 2008. I have featured a couple of other recipes from her before; broccoli salad and pineapple boats. The plan was to enjoy the food with a glass of red wine as a priest friend of ours, Fr. Will, who passed away after a battle with cancer this September, was known to enjoy one glass of red wine with a meal every day. However with my husband on some medications from a recent medical procedure and me nursing the new baby, we decided that alcohol was not the best idea at the moment. Another time!
Using food and other traditions to remember loved ones is a wonderful thing, however as I was thinking about writing this post I felt compelled to mention that this is not what we are doing when we celebrate the Eucharist at mass. We are not just eating some bread and drinking some wine while we think about what Jesus did for us a long time ago. The Eucharist truly is Jesus; body, blood, soul, and divinity, and in the mass we are truly present at his sacrifice. By participating in this, the Church and her people in heaven and earth are in communion, connected with each other in the most special of ways. Fr. Will was my pastor at the Catholic church on campus when I was in college; the type of place where people are always coming and going. He liked to remind us that no matter where we are, we are all connected in the Eucharist. A beautiful thing to think about whether someone we love has moved away, or has left this earth before us. As Fr. Will would say, "See you in the Eucharist!"
Uncle Matt's French Fried Shrimp
2 lbs (or more) large raw shrimp, shelled and de-veined, but leave the tails on. (I bought raw shrimp that were already shelled, de-veined, and had the tails off. No tails means no handy handle for dipping, but you also don't have to be as careful when breading. Of course if you buy raw shrimp with the shells on they will cost less, but then you have to do the dirty work yourself.)
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups dry bread crumbs ( I used panko as that it what I had in the cupboard)
Oil for frying - peanut oil is best ( I used canola since that's what I had)
Stir together the flour, salt, and pepper.
Heat oil to 375 in a deep-fat fryer or kettle.
Coat shrimp with the flour mixture (do not coat the tails), then dip in the beaten eggs, then coat the shrimp with bread crumbs (do not coat the tails).
Fry in the deep fat fryer or kettle until golden brown (about 2-3 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp).
Serve with cocktail sauce ( or try what my husband did and serve with buffalo sauce!)
Beverly's Chocolate Layered Pudding Dessert
8 oz Oreo cookies, crushed (I like to put them in plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin, a food processor would work too)
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 stick melted butter
4 oz softened cream cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar
8 oz whipped topping
1 small pkg instant chocolate pudding prepared with 1 1/2 cups milk
Reserve 3 cookies for topping.
Combine butter, crushed cookies and sugar. Pat into 9 inch pie pan.
Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, and half the whipped topping. Mix until smooth. Spread over cookie crumbs.
Pour pudding over the cream cheese layer. Top with remaining whipped topping and reserved crushed cookies. Chill for at least three hours.
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