Living Lent Simply

By Sarah McDonald

With a house full of children, we try very hard to find simple joys in life. One thing, however, we do not do simply is eat. My husband and I LOVE to cook, trying new recipes or changing up favorite ones to make them our own.

I consider some of my proudest moments to be when I can have no idea what we are having for dinner as I pick the kids up around 5 p.m. and still have dinner on the table by 6:30 – thanks to our well-stocked pantry and refrigerator (thanks to my amazing husband for teaching me the importance of that soon after we got married).

Thankfully, we have passed on that love of cooking to our children. All of them (yes, the baby included as she now stands on a stool, happily able to see over the counter) love to help in the kitchen.

During Lent, meal prep takes on new significance. Obviously, living in New Orleans, we are blessed with an abundance of seafood and creative inspirations on how to prepare it year-round. For Lent, we try to approach Friday dinners with a bit more simplicity. In this simplicity, we have found some of the greatest joys.

It all started on Ash Wednesday a few years ago when I tried out a recipe for tomato soup. It was good. My oldest son loved it. I enjoyed dipping my grilled cheese into the homemade soup as well. So, it became tradition on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday to make what the kids call “Mommy’s Tomato Sauce Soup.”

Over the past few years, I have tweaked the recipe a bit, but each time, with the involvement of my children. The greatest stroke of good taste was when we traded out the leeks (which the kids didn’t think they liked) for sweet baby bell peppers – Genius.

Now on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (and a few other Fridays in between when parish fish fries, sports and other activities don’t conflict with dinner), you can find me and my children happily chopping baby bell peppers and garlic, stirring in the tomatoes and seasoning and prepping the halved ciabatta rolls for grilled cheese. My 5-year-old loves to make it rain shredded cheese on the bread, and he’ll even clean up the counter and floor afterward!

The kids love being in the kitchen with me, and it makes me smile that in this simple Lenten meal we have found joy and a true appreciation for family life.

Recipe for “Mommy’s Tomato Sauce Soup”


3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

6 sweet baby bell peppers chopped

2 large or 3 normal garlic cloves minced

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (or to taste, because I just shake it in until it looks right)

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste because I never measure salt)

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or again, to taste, because I don’t measure it)

1 #10 can of San Marzano tomatoes (can be substituted for a 32-ounce can of low-sodium tomato sauce, if necessary)

½ cup dry marsala wine – this is KEY

1 cup heavy cream


Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan until hot. Add the chopped baby bell peppers and saute until softened. Add the minced garlic and saute until aromatic. Add salt, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Add tomatoes (or tomato sauce) and bring to a boil.

Add the Marsala wine, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes or keep on low as long as necessary. About 10 minutes before serving, add the heavy cream and stir in completely. If using the San Marzano tomatoes, use an immersion blender until smooth.

Once the soup has come together, taste for salt. Depending on the acidity of the tomatoes, it could need more. We love to serve it with grilled cheese broiled in the oven on ciabatta rolls, and one of my boys will even add sour cream!

I also have a non-Lenten version where I replace olive oil with bacon grease and then top the soup with the bacon – maybe that will be food for thought another day. Enjoy!

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