Monastery of Christ in the Dessert - Abiquiu, New Mexico
There are times I feel ill suited for my community. Somehow I always seem to be doing things a little off from the norm. This year when people asked me about our family’s spring break plan, I enthusiastically answered, "The kids going to be with their doting grandmother and that I am off to a Monastery in New Mexico." The reaction, a blank stare and then...
“Oh! That is interesting, are you going on a yoga retreat?”
“No yoga, no retreat, I am just going to visit the brothers.”
My answer was clearly a conversation stopper. Apparently not many people go to a Monastery for a “visit”, especially not a Muslim Afghan woman. Monastery of Christ In the Dessert is tucked away in a canyon in northern New Mexico, about 13 miles on a dirt road, off a remote highway.
Chapel at sunrise, the best time of the day
Even though the Monastery is cut off from the world; no cell access or Internet but the modern amenities of warm showers, cozy rooms and great food are still there. No roughing it for this gal.
Twenty-one years ago my eldest brother who used the pseudonym Fred Believer, became estranged from our family and took refuge among the brothers who accepted him unconditionally and made him part of their community. My brother became the grounds keeper of the Monastery and lived as a layman in the community until he joined his maker on February 25th, 2013. Despite the fact we were devastated and hurt without him for all those years, we are grateful that he lived with the love of the brothers.
Chama river runs through the canyon, a great hike got me here
Last spring on my third visit to the Monastery after my brother’s death, I made an Afghan feast for the community. I must admit prior to that meal the most I had cooked for was around 20 people. I was very nervous cooking for such a large group, nearing 45, but thankfully the dinner was a hit. Naturally I wrote a blog post about it. I was honored to be welcomed back as a visitor this year and my offer to make an Afghan meal again was accepted.
We had a talking meal in celebration of the feast
This year my capable assistants were Br. Benedict, Br. Caedman and my brother’s sweet heart Rosy. We chopped large bunches of cilantro, tons of tomatoes, green onions and yellow onions. We assembled 50 bolanis, marinated 40lbs of chicken, cooked 10 eggplants and made five pounds of rice pudding.
Br. Benedict offering a rice pudding taste to Prior James
Cooking for the community is not only an honor but also a wonderful opportunity to go behind the scenes and into the world of the monks. I understand outsiders are rarely allowed to cook for the community. During the hours I spent in the kitchen I got to talk, laugh and even dance to the Beatles with the brothers as they went about their day of work and prayer.
Although the brothers and guests move about their days in silence they seem to make exceptions when I am around. Everyone overlooks the fact that I don’t know the right rituals at the Chapel or that I tease the brothers when I should be formal with them or that I chat up a storm during moments of silence. After eight hours of cooking, I was energized by the love, acceptance and kindness of the brothers who made me feel right at home and part of their community, just like they did with my brother.
Social hour after Sunday mass
Last year I made a formal meal of Qabili Palau, Kadoo, slow cooked spinach the coveted Afghan Sabzi dish. Most Afghan dishes taste best when served hot, right out of the pot. Since the brothers have formalities and prayers before the Sunday meal, I decided to make dishes that can sit for a while and still taste delicious.
The menu consisted of what I call Afghan street food. Dishes that are; easy to prepare, do well at room temperature and they are fun to eat. The brothers don’t eat lamb or beef so the meat I featured was a Chicken Kebab. For the vegetarians we had potato Bolani, Afghan eggplant dish, Borani and a big fresh Afghan Salad. At the last minute I decided to make Dough, the Afghan salted yogurt drink which people either love or hate. In this case it was love. Rosy's favorite, the creamy rice pudding with almond slivers and cardamom was a big hit with the Indian brothers who were reminded of their home. I hope that one day you all will have a chance to visit this magical place, The Monastery of Christ In the Dessert.
Gorgeous fresh ingredients
Delicious salad lovingly made by Br. Benedict
Sweet and creamy rice pudding
This Afghan feast was dedicated to my brother, Fred
Believer who loved this monastery
and all the brothers with all his heart.
April 2011, my daughters Sofia and Aria and their uncle, Fred Believer
Sunday April 28, 2013
Afghan flat bread stuffed with potatoes, leeks & cilantro
Marinated in a yogurt cumin sauce
Flavorful eggplant slowly baked in a tangy tomato sauce served with a garlicky yogurt sauce
Freshly tossed salad with lemon dressing
Slow cooked rice putting with almonds, cardamom and pistachios
Afghan yogurt drink with salt, cucumber and dried mint
Rosy and Mother Juliane, my favorite ladies at the Monastery
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