Nuns and Evil Genies

March 13th 2018

By Vicki Reich

For the past 10 years, my friends and I have enjoyed a weekend retreat at the Monastery of St. Gertrude’s in Cottonwood, Idaho.  The Monastery is set on a hill overlooking the beautiful Camas Prairie and is home to about 50 Benedictine nuns. They are “committed to fostering Healing Hospitality, Grateful Simplicity and Creative Peacemaking in the world”. The nuns I have met are kind and seem genuinely happy to welcome us to their home, even if our retreat is not the least bit religious.

We spend the weekend across the street from the imposing main brick building in an old farmhouse that sleeps fifteen. This year there were thirteen of us. We are all handspinners and we all used to live in Moscow (two of us are no longer Moscow residents). We call ourselves The Hog Heaven Handspinners. The group that is still in Moscow meets once a week to spin, knit, chat, eat, and drink. Some iteration of the group has been doing that every week for the last twenty-five years.

The view from the farmhouse living room, and some of our small friends (who we like to knit clothing for) enjoying the view.

Ten years ago we decided that once a week was not quite enough time to get our fill of those activities, so once a year we head down to the monastery to spend a weekend together. We arrive with armloads of fiber, spinning wheels, snacks, booze, and knitting projects.

We each claim a spot in the big living room, with glorious views of the prairie and the mountain ranges beyond, and get down to the business of making stuff. While we create, we talk, eat, and drink. The kitchen counter is covered with tempting treats ranging from a healthy bowl of fresh fruit to a not so healthy bowl of candy. Part of the counter looks like a wine store and the refrigerator is packed with beer, cheese, veggies and other delicacies.

Time has little meaning; we graze all day and start drinking with a dash of homemade Irish Cream in our morning coffee. Some of us will join the nuns in their dining hall for a meal or two, which is always homey and satisfying (and with some of the best homemade pickles I’ve ever eaten), but most of the time we can’t be torn away from our work and our talk.

The nun’s of St. Gertrude with their catch.  One of the historic pictures on the wall in the living room.

There is no topic of conversation that hasn’t been touched on at one of our retreats. But besides fiber, the one topic we can always count on discussing is food. We discuss what we’ll snack on next, how delicious everything we made is, and how we really shouldn’t be eating so much of it, but oh well, it’s only for one weekend. I counted on this topic being brought up this year because I knew I’d have to come home from the retreat and write this article. I was hoping to get some good input from my friends.

As I drove down to Cottonwood, I came up with a few questions that might spur an idea for an article. What is your definition of good food? What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite comfort food? None of them seemed quite right so when I broke out my laptop and begged everyone to help me with my article I wasn’t really sure where I was going to lead them. I started with “What’s your favorite food?” I got a few immediate responses. Sarah S. said “toast” right away and Jane followed with “fish soup.” Everyone else just stared at their spinning wheels or knitting needles. Then Rochelle came to my rescue.

Now, before I tell you what she said, I have to explain something about Rochelle. She likes to think about stuff (a lot). She looks at her choices from every angle before she makes a decision. She contemplates every possible outcome, both the possible and the seemingly impossible. She frets about things I’ve never even thought about. And most importantly,  she reads lots of fairytales.

Spinning wheels, knitting and food abound.

So it was completely in keeping with her personality when, instead of answering my question, she said she had thought deeply about what she would choose if an evil genie told her she could only taste five flavors for the rest of her life. She had narrowed it down to “avocados, bacon, blackberries, milk chocolate, and garlic.”

I tried to come up with just 5 flavors that I could live with for the rest of my life and my list consisted of cheese, bread, beer, chocolate, and huckleberries. Then I started going around the room. Sarah S. said “toast, rice, apples, cheese and lettuce.” Jane said “chocolate, coconut, mango, blue cheese, and fish soup.” I paused in my typing. How could I have forgotten coconut from my list? It’s one of my favorites. I added it.

Nancie said “roasted almonds, dark chocolate, red wine, toast, and curry.” Andrea said “coffee, wine, chocolates, greens, and cheese.” Robin insisted on corn, chocolate, wine, olives, watercress. Oh corn, I thought, I love corn. I can’t live without that? It went on the list.

Nicole said “bagettes, brie, Sungold cherry tomatoes, and green beans.” Sarah W’s list was black beans, garlic, tomatoes, avocado, and corn. Ivy piped in with “arugula, peaches, bread, coffee, chocolate.” Arugula is one of my favorites; it had to be on my list, too.

Amy started off her list definitively with sourdough waffles then added cheese, oranges, crab, and Caprese salad (she said this knowing full well that Caprese salad was composed of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, but I gave it to her and admired the way she got those extra flavors into one item). Laura said she had to have salt, garlic, olives, bread, and coffee with cream and sugar (she could live without black coffee). Then finally Sandy came up with chocolate, coffee, eggs, pork, pasta. At the mention of eggs, Nancie wanted to add poached eggs to her list and then Laura started weighing whether it was bread or pasta that she wanted to keep on her list. Meanwhile I had added almonds to my list which was now well over five items long.

The conversation devolved into blissful descriptions of all the foods and flavors we love. Our lists got longer and we gloried in the fact that we could eat all of our favorite foods without fear. Then we finally came to the moral of our story: everyone should be happy that there are no evil genies.


Homemade Irish Cream

makes about 1 liter

I originally got this recipe from Robin (of corn, chocolate, wine, olive and watercress fame). I’ve brought it to retreat for the last 8 years. This year it was only thanks to Rochelle that I remembered. It’s great straight and it’s really wonderful in coffee on weekend mornings.

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 c. Irish whiskey

2 raw eggs (I always use fresh local eggs and haven’t died from it yet)

1 c. heavy cream

2 T. chocolate syrup

2 t. coconut extract

1 t. vanilla extract

Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until well combined. Pour into bottles and keep refrigerated. Keeps for at least a month.