Yes You Can Celebrate Valentines and Lent!

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299924_10150270713745728_2939497_nMany Americans celebrate this hubris holiday, as do many across the world. Why hubris, you may ask? Well because we don’t know much about the Saint who started it all, and this historic day of hearts and poems really endulges the act of receiving gifts and splurging on flowers and candies (albeit for thyself as much for the one you love).

Let’s go back a bit further shall we to what may have started it all……

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Realizing the injustice of then Emperor Claudius, he defied the Emperor. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl.

No matter the history or reason, Valentine’s Day has become a big money maker for retailers of the self indulgent holiday (just a little light humor). However, this year there is another holiday and so a season that embarks around the same time–Lent.

For those who celebrate Christianity in any way, shape or form, today (Ash Wednesday) marks the beginning of the fasting season. According to a published paper by Nicholas Russo of the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University:

“Closer examination of the ancient sources, reveals a more gradual historical development. While fasting before Easter seems to have been ancient and widespread, the length of that fast varied significantly from place to place and across generations. In the latter half of the second century, for instance, Irenaeus of Lyons (in Gaul) and Tertullian (in North Africa) tell us that the preparatory fast lasted one or two days, or forty hours—commemorating what was believed to be the exact duration of Christ’s time in the tomb. By the mid-third century, Dionysius of Alexandria speaks of a fast of up to six days practiced by the devout in his see; and the Byzantine historian Socrates relates that the Christians of Rome at some point kept a fast of three weeks. Only following the Council of Nicea in 325 a.d. did the length of Lent become fixed at forty days, and then only nominally. Accordingly, it was assumed that the forty-day Lent that we encounter almost everywhere by the mid-fourth century must have been the result of a gradual lengthening of the pre-Easter fast by adding days and weeks to the original one- or two-day observance.”

So this idea of fasting for 40 days, was not a very ancient thought, but one that developed over time to honor the meaning of the actual day of Easter. In society today, we mark this “fasting” by not eating meat on Fridays from now until Easter, culminating in a large feast the day of.

“NO MEAT!!!!”

Yes, that’s what I said. For many of us that means Friday Fish Frys. For others it means a less greasy, yet hearty non-meat dish. With Valentine’s Day being Sunday this year, many will be out and celebrating Friday and Saturday nights. So, how do you get a great Valentine meal without betraying your Lentin devotion (or just wanting to eat healthy)–make it meatless!

Nothing says I love you more than Fennel and Shrimp Fra Diavolo. If you’re not a fan of heat (typical of this dish), adjust the amount of crushed red pepper to taste. Serve with a green salad with a red-wine vinaigrette or sautéed green vegetables.

Ingredients:

4 ounces whole-wheat penne (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 small onion, sliced

1/2 medium fennel bulb, cored and sliced (reserve the rest of the fennel)

2 large cloves garlic, grated or minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

8 ounces raw shrimp (21-25 count), peeled and deveined

How to:

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add penne and cook according to package directions. Drain, return to the pot and cover to keep warm. Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and fennel and cook, stirring, until starting to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and cook 1 minute more. Add tomatoes and their juice; bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add shrimp and cook, stirring, until they are just cooked through, about 4 minutes.

Stir about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce into the pasta to lightly coat it. Divide between 2 pasta bowls and top with the remaining shrimp and sauce. Garnish with the leafy end of the Fennel (if desired).

Chocolate Fondue is also a great way to treat yourself and your significant other. It’s healthy yet decadent. And if your celebrating this Friday, (I say this because many restaurants book fast for Valentine’s Day weekend, leaving the wandering few to figure out alternative methods of sweeping their lover off their feet), you get the sweet without the guilt of Lent. Chocolate Fondue is also a gluten friendly treat.

Fondue recipes are versatile and you can swap out any of the items with those you enjoy more.

Ingredients:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons heavy cream (or use low fat cream or Lactaid for healthier options)

1 tablespoon brewed espresso (this is easy. Just buy a small jar instant espresso and brew in a pot according to directions).

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1 banana, peeled and cut into 8 pieces

8 1-inch chunks fresh pineapple
4 strawberries
How to:
Place chocolate, cream, espresso, vanilla and salt in a medium microwave-safe bowl; microwave on medium, stirring every 20 seconds, until melted, 1 to 2 minutes.  Or put all ingredients into a pan on the stove, stirring gently and consistantly with a spatula for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the chocolate mixture into a serving bowl and start dipping!choc.fondue
No matter how you celebrate this season or which holiday you will be focusing on–there are always great healthy ways to put a spin on some of your favorite holiday meals.
**I will be writing a separate article on where to dine out for Friday Fish Frys! Until then, to all my Cupid’s out there–enjoy your day!

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