It’s traditional in many parts of this vast world to climb a hill on Ascension Thursday in commemorating Christ’s ascension to heaven from the Mount of Olives on this day.
In our quadrant of the diocese — Ocean County — where the land is mostly flat, there are limited opportunties to put this charming custom into practice. Neighboring Monmouth County, on the other hand, offers a number of landscapes with promontories — most notably in Highlands and nearby Atlantic Highlands, home to some of the highest outcroppings of rock formations in the northeast.
Familiar with that terrain since childhood visits on Ascension Day and other times during the years, my brother and I decided this would be our destination again this year. Bringing good friend Betty Klein, another shore native along, we honed in on Highlands with its magnificent Twin Lights lighthouse.
Located 246 feet above sea level on what is known as the Navesink Formation, the light house, with its distinctively different twin towers, is one of the loveliest sights in the diocese. As we slowly and carefully climbed its precipitous 64 steps to the top, there was more than enough time to reflect on the meaning of the day.
When we reached the top and walked out on the turret, a brisk wind buffeted the platform and I, for one, clung to the sturdy railing while surveying the breathtaking vista which overlooks Sandy Hook, Manhattan and the shipping lanes so alive with activity.
It was a moment to recognize and revel in the glory of God’s creation and so we did.
The coming down, I might add, was easier but for us “maturing adults”, getting to the top was a really great feeling!
That night, at home, Pete and I – sans Betty who had family to visit herself – enjoyed another Ascension Day custom as we prepared and ate Chicken Veronique. It’s traditional in two of our ancestral homelands – Italy and Austria – to eat birds that fly in combination with the first fruits and vegetables of the season on this day.
Pete and I had to modify that with our choice of non-flying fowl. We never followed in our relatives hunter gatherer footsteps and wouldn’t think of shooting a pigeon or a dove. The recipe does, however, call for a lovely mix of ingredients of the first fruit sort.
This recipe is an old chestnut best remembered from mom’s kitchen. We think it stands the test of time.
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons flour; 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt; 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper; 2 tablespoons local honey; 1 broiler-fryer, 3 to 4 pounds, cut into serving pieces; 1/4 cup canola oil; 1/2 cup dry white wine; 1/3 cup orange juice; 1 tablespoon snipped parsley; 2 tablespoons slivered orange peel; 1 cup seedless white grapes halved.
Directions: combine the flour, salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Lightly dust the chicken pieces. In a large skillet, brown the chicken in oil. Add the wine, juice, honey, parsley and remaining pepper. Simmer over low heat covered for 30 minutes, turning the chicken pieces occasionally. Add the orange peel and continue cooking until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken to a serving platter. Add the grapes to the pan juices. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or so. Pour over the chicken and garnish with parsley and whole grapes.