And green beer is for losers. Do not drink green beer. Beer is not green, begorrah. Beer is not green.
Isn’t it time that we, as a sensitive and responsive people, find some way to recalibrate our alcohol consumption so that nobody’s widdle feelings get hurt? Begorrah?
Here’s what I propose: don’t drink because it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Drink despite St. Patrick’s day. What, you don’t have any other reason to get a medium-sized load on, assuming you can find a glass that your lousy kids haven’t filled with sand and glue and left in the driveway?
1. Drink because it’s almost spring. Hooray, spring! Have a drink. What other reasons? Let’s see . . .
2. Even though you’re not Irish, your teeth are like that because of heredity, and you’re doomed to carry flossers around in your purse, to become intimately familiar with that faded oil painting of irises on the oral surgeon’s wall, and to occasionally experience the disquieting sensation of tiny shards of bone working their way through the wall of your gum. Yes, that would be pieces of your skull coming out of your mouth. That seems fine. Have a drink. It’s a kind of oral care.
3. You keep finding what looks like a really perfect college for your kids, and then it keeps turning out they’re yet another one of those “please let us know if your roommate isn’t following the underwear folding guidelines. You know, for her soul” colleges. Bottoms up.
4. 43 years old; still don’t know how to use eyeliner. Glug glug.
Maybe he’s making a statement? Or maybe he’s just a libertarian. O dinosaurs, do not delay.
8. Begorrah, I got up at 4 a.m. because my head was killing me, and then right before it was time to get up, I threw up for no reason. No, I’m not pregnant. I just thought about what kind of day it was going to be, and throwing up felt right. And now I need to start boiling the traditional repulsive slab of red fat strings, in honor of St. Patrick. First person to play Clancy Brothers at me is going to get a wedge of hot cabbage served up in the worst way.
9. You know what, the Clancy Brothers deserve their own number. Those sweaters. Gevalt.
10. I don’t mean to be a hideous racist or whatever, but having married into a supremely Irish family, it occurs to me that doing something just to spite someone else, whether it’s drinking or not drinking or taking a breath, is probably the most Irish thing you can possibly do. Unless maybe it’s doing something you do enjoy doing, but pretending you don’t enjoy it and that you’re doing it just to spite someone else, because that’s not crazy at all, you crazy Irish person.
So I’ll leave you to sort that one out. I’ll be over by the bar, by which I mean the driveway, digging glue out of my glass. These fragments I have shored against my ruins. Shantih, shantih, shantih and have I mentioned, begorrah.
The thing you need to understand about this week is that, for no good reason, I was up until 1, 2, or even 2:30 a.m. most nights, and got stupider and stupider as the week went on. We had multiple snow days, multiple storms, and my car was in the shop having all its brakes worked on. Then we ran out of sugar. I put it on the list, and then proceeded to visit no fewer then four stores that sold sugar, without buying any, and then two more stores the next day, also stores with sugar, also with me no getting any.
It was downhill from there.
Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, chips
You can picture this, surely. It looked like sandwiches.
Chicken and chickpeas with tzatziki; grapes; cheesecake with fudge sauce and strawberries
It was supposed to be bo ssam Sunday. Bo ssam Sunday! I’ve been led to believe that bo ssam is one of those miraculous recipes where you spend mere pocket change on ingredients and make some casual nodding gestures toward the kitchen while putting your feet up. Then, just a short time later, you pass around chopsticks and wasabi, and the local news is pounding at your door, wanting an exclusive interview with you, the greatest cook of the century.
But when I opened up the recipe in the early afternoon, it started out all “So, having marinated the meat overnight, you will then cook it for three days in a low, low oven” deals.
So fine, we can have bo ssam later. Instead, we had the chicken and chickpea thing, which is a very fine Sunday meal.
Make the marinade early in the day or the night before. Take half a large tub of full fat Greek yogurt and mix it with four tablespoons of lemon juice, four tablespoons of water, and two tablespoons of cumin, and mix this marinade up with chicken parts, thighs or wings. I had about eight pounds of chicken, and started marinating it about five hours before dinner.
About an hour before dinner, preheat the oven to 425.
Drain and rinse four or five 15-oz cans of chickpeas and mix them up with a few glugs of olive oil, a few more spoonfuls of cumin, salt and pepper, and two large red onions sliced thin.
Spread the seasoned chickpeas in a single layer on two large sheet pans, then make room among the chickpeas for the marinated chicken (shake or scrape the extra marinade off the chicken if it’s too gloppy). Then it goes in the oven for almost an hour. That’s it for the main part.
The chickpeas and the onions may start to blacken a bit, and this is a-ok. You want the chickpeas to be crunchy, and the skin of the chicken to be a deep golden brown, and crisp. The top pan was done first, and then I moved the other one up to finish browning as we started to eat. Sometimes when I make this, I put the chickpeas back in the oven after we start eating, so some of them get crunchy and nutty all the way through.
While the chicken is cooking, you prepare your three garnishes:
-Chop up some cilantro.
-Slice another two red onions nice and thin, and mix them in a dish with a few glugs of lemon juice and salt and pepper.
-Then take the rest of the tub of Greek yogurt and mix it up in another bowl with lemon juice, a generous amount of minced garlic, salt, and pepper.
I just set these three dishes out and let people use them as they liked.
I like serving this meal with pomegranates, but I guess the season is over, so we had red grapes, which was almost as good. I completely lose my mind over that chicken skin. It’s just stupidly good.
And now dessert! The child whose shopping turn it was decided she wanted cheese cake in a graham cracker crust with fresh strawberries and chocolate sauce. It being still the weekend and me being not dead yet, I agreed.
I bought readymade graham cracker pie crusts, and so should you. I used this recipe from My Cultured Palate, which is What’s For Supper? for the Upside Down. Good cheesecake, though, and not too sweet. I made a double recipe, which was enough to fill three pie shells plus some batter left over, which we certainly didn’t eat, as it is full of raw eggs. We certainly did not.
Nice simple recipe, and they came out pretty, but you do have to bake them, then leave them in the oven for an hour, and then refrigerate overnight. I must have made these Saturday night, come to think of it.
On Sunday, we sliced up about three pounds of strawberries and put them in a bowl with some sugar. I cautioned everyone to give that fruit some privacy, as it would be macerating. And that’s my cultured kitchen!
And that was the frickin’ last of the sugar, and I had already run out to the store sixty-three more times that day, each time returning triumphantly without sugar. Why? Because I am stupid! So I found a chocolate sauce recipe that’s just condensed milk, cocoa powder, and butter. Melt a stick of butter, stir in 6 Tbs cocoa powder, add a can of condensed milk, stir it up. It’s the consistency of hot fudge sauce, and if you let it harden in the fridge, you can soften it again by heating it up.
Ham, mashed potatoes
One of my ham lovers has been campaigning hard for ham and mashed potatoes. And let me tell you, this pig lived a life of leisure. The damn thing was 3/4 fat. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was fluffy. You don’t want your ham to be fluffy.
The mashed potatoes, though, were of sterner stock, and were trim and worthy specimens. I ran out and bought three potato peelers (I don’t want to talk about it) and we got the job done.
I thought for a moment that, since supper was so easy, I could start marinating bo ssam for tomorrow, until I discovered that the same sugar we were still out of that morning, when we wanted it for coffee? Is the same sugar we were out of for making bo ssam marinade. So.
Kinda mad about this. Beef stew is one of the things you should be able to make in the Instant Pot very easily, but I always screw it up.
Here’s how I did:
Cube the beef, sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, dust it heavily with flour.
Heat oil in the pot, add the floured beef, and brown it slightly.
Add a bunch of beef broth, some red wine, and some baby carrots, a few diced onions, several cubed potatoes, some sliced mushrooms, a can of tomato paste, and some thyme. I think it was thyme. I think I added some brown sugar and soy sauce. Look, I was following a recipe.
Then I closed the lid and set it for something or other, I forget. I was following several recipes by this point, to be honest.
So the damn thing cooks forever, and then it starts screaming that it’s burning, oh, mother, mother, it’s burning! I vent it, which takes forever, and open the lid. It’s nowhere near burning, and the carrots are still raw. There’s tons of liquid.
So I stir it a bit to placate it, then close the lid and reset it. Same thing happens. What burning? What? Vent forever, open the lid, and it’s cooked.
It tasted pretty good, but I was mad. You really take the edge off convenience when you don’t know what the hell is going on. I’ll show you burning!
We also had rolls. And I bought some sugar.
Chicken nuggets, fries, leftover stew, leftover ham
So remember how I gave up sleeping for Lent? We also got eleven feet of snow in twelve hours, and my husband had to be gone for three days and two overnights in a row and I’m not making that last part up. I really missed him. I wanted to be kept awake by him snoring,* instead of being kept awake by him not being there. Humph. Finally having sugar in the house just did not make up for that.
Pork carnitas, rice
So I had to face that enormous pork butt. In the fridge! I was still telling myself that, now that there was sugar in the house, I could easily whip up a sherry ginger sauce, and maybe a peanut lime slaw for sides, and bo ssam would happen. This is what I told myself, up until about 11 a.m. on Wednesday.
Then I interiorly took myself firmly by the shoulders, administered a few bracing shakes and maybe a remedial smeck or two, and said, “You are not making bo ssam this week. Nobody is making bo ssam this week!”
So sulked a little, then trimmed the fat, cut the pork into hunks, and put it in the slow cooker with a can of UFO beer, a tablespoon or more of adobe adobo powder [yes, that is the whitest typo I’ve ever made], and about 3/4 cup of pickled jalapeno slices with the juice. I let it cook for about six hours, took the meat out of the juice, and shredded it.
Then I spread it in a thin layer in a flat, greased pan and put it under a hot broiler until it was a little browned up.
I served the meat with some of the ten thousand tortillas I’ve diligently collected over the last few months, plus sour cream, chopped cilantro, salsa, and fresh limes. And rice.
It was no bo ssam, but it was good.
Sleepover! Make your own pizza!
I have tons of dough, cheese, sauce, and toppings, and disposable foil pans, and those boys can just make their own pizzas.
The boy is making his own chocolate birthday cake, which he would like to be frosted with chocolate frosting, and then covered with Oreos. I think I can manage this. Especially since we now have sugar in the house. And three potato peelers.
Like a dummy, I misplaced our copy of The King of the Shattered Glass (Marian Press, 2017; affiliate link), but I want to tell you about it now anyway. It would be a great book to read during Lent, and would make a nice Easter present, too.
It’s a picture book appropriate for ages six and up, written by Susan Joy Bellavance and illustrated by Sarah Tang. Basic story: An orphan girl named Marguerite works in the scullery of a medieval king’s castle, when glass is an astonishing novelty. It’s so valuable that the king insists that anyone who breaks his glass must gather up the pieces and bring them to him personally.
Marguerite, an orphan, is a pretty good kid, but on three occasions, she breaks the precious glass — as the blurb says, “through temper, the pride of a dare, and selfishness.” Each time, she has to gather her courage and own up to what she did. It’s not easy, because she’s ashamed, and because she’s afraid of punishment; and eventually, once she comes to actually know the king, and just feels bad that she broke his stuff.
Catholics, you can see where this is headed! The book is a thoughtful allegory for confession; but it works well as a satisfying little story, too.
Marguerite has some penance and growth to do, and eventually the king reveals that he is using all the glass she has shattered to make a gorgeous stained glass window showing himself putting a crown on Marguerite’s head. He then adopts her as his own daughter, and there is rejoicing.
The king, to my great relief, is truly appealing, gentle but strong, and the illustrations successfully suggest divinity (especially Christ as the source of Divine Mercy) without being too heavy-handed. Some of the pictures are more skillful than others, but all are lively and bright, some in black and white, some with deep, saturated colors.
1. Relationship with God as Father, King and Friend
2. Conscience, a gift to be developed
3. Penance, which brings healing to ourselves and others
4. Jesus, who carries our burdens
5. Adoption and family life; Baptism and Reconciliation.
The King of the Shattered Glass is not the most polished book you will ever encounter in your life, but it works very well, and it’s full of heart and theologically tight as a drum. Kids will find it memorable and appealing. Recommended!
Bellavance and Tang are collaborating on a second book, to be titled Will You Come to Mass?
1. Sometimes, when you open a package of pork, it stinks like rotten eggs. You will think at first that it’s gone bad, but just let it sit for several minutes while the gas dissipates, and then smell it again. If it smells fine, then you’ve just witnessed “off-gassing,” which you get when pork is vacuum packed. You can also rinse the pork off, and that should get rid of the smell so you can go ahead and cook your dinner.
Lesson: Sometimes, all it takes for a crisis to become manageable is a little time …
In honor of FINALLY GETTING AROUND TO RECORDING A PODCAST FOR ONCE, we’re making this one free to all comers. (Normally, podcasts are for closers, I mean patrons.) Sorry it’s been so long! Or, you’re welcome! You’re welcome!
This evening, we snickered our way around hybrid wolves, Vienna sausages, the town with no bootstraps, cellulite, egg salad, William Faulkner and his sauce, the difference between boys and girls, and of course a poem by Wislawa Szymborska.
The theme this week was “very basic ingredients.” The most exotic seasoning to pass through my hands all week was garlic powder. Part of the New Three Sisters: salt, pepper, and garlic powder. And you know what? We ate really well. We had some snow days, so I even baked!
Chuck roast was as cheap as it ever gets around here, so I got a five-pound hunk. Damien coated it with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and browned it in a heavy pot in oil until it was crisp on all sides, then put it in the oven at 350 for about an hour. We like it rare, as you see.
We had it on rolls with horseradish sauce and slices of provolone, and I put mine in the oven to melt dat cheese.
Man. Pork is great, chicken is swell, but there is nothing like a slice of rare beef. It’s just what meat is supposed to taste like.
Salmon burgers, asparagus, fries
I wrestled with my conscience for a while, then graciously conceded and bought a crap ton of salmon filets that were on sale because it’s “the Lenten holiday.”
Here’s the cooking technique: Dry the filets and salt them lightly. Heat up a pan like crazy, coat the bottom with oil, and lay the filets down, skin side down. Let them cook more than halfway up, then carefully turn them over, and cook for a few more minutes. Serve sizzling hot.
I served them on soft, sweet little brioche rolls, because they too were on sale. A good companion to the tender fish, with pesto mayonnaise (my recipe: put pesto in mayonnaise) and some lettuce.
Hot dogs, cheezy weezies, broccoli
I forget what happened Monday, but it wasn’t pretty.
Meatball subs, salad
Birthday! Like fresh meat needs salt, a fourteen-year-old boy needs meatball subs on his birthday. I took seven pounds of ground beef and added seven beaten eggs, about four cups of breadcrumbs, and tons garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano, and minced onion.
I bake them at 350 for about forty minutes or more on a pan with drainage. See how much fat gets drained away? So easy.
Then I layer them in a glass pan with sauce, cover, and keep them warm for several hours, so the sauce has a chance to soak in a bit. Pass the parmesan.
Roman egg drop soup, roast chicken, salad, challah
We had yet another storm, and for other complicated and boring reasons were homebound all day; so I decided to make challah. I am a terrible baker, but challah is easy, as long as you have lots of time and a warm spot in your house.
Here’s the recipe I used. I doubled it to make two giant loaves:
In a bowl, I mixed together:
6 cups bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
Then I added:
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
In a small bowl, I put
1-1/2 cups warm water
and dissolved into it one envelope of fast-acting yeast.
Then I mixed this into the other ingredients.
I tried kneading it in my Kitchen Aid with the dough hook, but it was just too much dough (remember, I made a double recipe. If you make a single, this method should work fine), so I had to knead it by hand. I hate kneading dough, and always give up too soon. The dough should be smooth, but very thick and not sticky at all. You may have to add more water or more flour. My dough was still kind of knotty when I got tired of kneading.
I put plastic wrap (you can also use a damp cloth) on the bowl of dough and put it in the oven to rise. (I have a cold kitchen, so to let dough rise, I turn the oven on for a few minutes, then turn it off, let it cool a bit with the door open, and then put the dough in.)
I let it rise for maybe an hour, then punched it down and formed the loaves. For each loaf, I divided the dough into four balls which we rolled into long snakes. We braided three of the snakes, pinching the ends together, and then divided the fourth one into three again, braiding those, and laying the smaller braid on top of the larger one.
Then I laid the loaves on a buttered, floured pan (I prefer corn meal to flour, but we were out), covered them again, and let them rise again for another hour or so.
Then I took the loaves out, preheated the oven to 350, and prepared an egg wash with a few egg yolks and a little water beaten up in a cup. We brushed that over the dough.
We were out of poppy seeds, or we would have sprinkled those over the top. And yes, I made Corrie put a shirt on just for the picture.
Then I baked the loaves in the middle of the oven for maybe half an hour, until the top was all golden.
Isn’t it lovely, hmmmm?
The insides were a little dense,
I suppose because I got lazy with kneading; but it was still soft and delicious. Sweet and eggy, and so fragrant. Coziest bread in the world.
The egg drop soup is a new recipe to me. Basically you take chicken broth, add some spinach, and then mix together raw egg and shredded cheese, and then whisk that briskly into the broth. It’s very cheap and simple, so I hoped it would become a miraculous new family favorite.
Instead, I got what looked remarkably like a warm pot o’ vomit.
The eggs are supposed to turn into delicate, wispy shreds when you whisk them into the broth. Mine clumped. Also, I used frozen spinach, which turned out to be in shreds. Then I overheated it, and the egg mixture kind of boiled up to the surface and got clotty.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer my soup non-clotty. Just one of my peculiarities.
It did look better in individual bowls.
The taste was actually pleasant, if not thrilling. It reminded me of quiche, or of my grandmother’s noodle kugel. If anyone has any tips on how to make them eggs shred, I may even make it again. It certainly is fast, easy, and cheap. JUST LIKE ME. Womp.
The chickens, I just slathered with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and, you’ll never guess, garlic powder. I cooked them in a 375 oven, breast down, for forty minutes, then flipped them over, seasoned the other side, and kept cooking them until they were done. You get more tasty skin this way.
I hate cooking whole chickens, and I don’t even know why. Oh shucks, the challah got into the picture again! That keeps happening. Hello, lovely! I see you!
Pork ribs, risotto, Brussels sprouts
Sometimes, it’s nice to just let pork be pork. You put the ribs on a pan with drainage, sprinkle them generously with salt and pepper (but not garlic powder. Let’s not be silly), and slide them under a hot broiler, turning once, until they are sizzling. So good.
The Brussels sprouts were just boiled from frozen, so not the greatest, but on the other hand, vegetable.
I’ve decided 2018 is officially a good year because I can now make Instant Pot risotto without checking the recipe. Here’s how (and this serves about 10. You can halve it):
Press the “sauté” button and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add a diced onions and a few teaspoons of minced garlic, plus a bunch of salt, pepper, and sage. Brown the onions.
Add four cups of raw rice, still on “sauté.” Keep stirring the rice with a wooden spoon until it’s all opaque, about five minutes. Then add eight cups of chicken broth, stir it up, put on the lid, close the valve, and set it to “pressure cook” on “high” for seven minutes.
When you suddenly notice it’s been done for a while while you were gooning around on Facebook, do a quick release, and then dump in as much parmesan cheese as your conscience will allow. I find it’s helpful to say to oneself, “This is the last time I will ever eat parmesan cheese. I wonder how much I should add?” and then see what happens.
Stir in the cheese carefully and serve immediately. Then, if your rotten, no-good son ever gets around to sending you the picture you took with his phone, you can post a picture of it.
EDIT: Oh, what a good boy.
About the risotto: Someone asked if I use regular rice instead of arborio. I do! Just plain old white rice. It doesn’t turn out as good as arborio rice, but it’s still very, very good. And food you actually make always tastes better than food you can’t afford to buy.
Today, on International Women’s Day, a conservative Catholic Twitter personality retweeted a story about a gubernatorial candidate who breastfed her baby in an election ad. He added this comment:
“Lady, cover that up. Breast feeding in public is fine but cover up. No one needs to have to avert their eyes uncomfortably.” (I’ve taken out his name because it’s not about him. His sentiment is very common among conservative Catholics.)
Curious, I looked up the ad in question to see how flagrant a bit of lactivism it was.
Now, a disclaimer: I’m rare among my friends in that I have some sympathy for men who find public breastfeeding distracting. Men like boobs, and I’m okay with that. I do believe women should be aware at the effect their exposed breasts can have on men.
Of course, it’s not always possible for women to be completely discreet, and lots of babies won’t tolerate covers, and of course there is often a flash of skin that shows while you position the hungry baby, and the most important thing is that a baby get fed when he’s hungry; but it does kind of bug me when moms go out of their way to turn breastfeeding into some kind of exhibitionist statement, hanging out at Starbucks with their entire titty on display like some kind of–
Watch the ad. Here’s the footage that made this Catholic conservative fellow’s eyeballs feel so uncomfortable.
Did you even see anything? I didn’t. Just a hungry baby getting fed.
This video is almost miraculous for how unboobful it is. Margaret Thatcher showed more skin on any given day than the woman in this commercial. She’s far more modest than I ever manage to be. (For the record, my own public nursing technique was to remove my glasses. Then everything got all blurry, and no one could see us.)
So . . . what’s the deal, here? Why does this Tweeter, and so many other men (and women, too), find even the idea of public breastfeeding so disconcerting? Because that’s all there was here: An idea. We saw a woman; we saw a baby; we knew what was going on, but we sure didn’t see anything. And yet merely knowing it happened caused the fellow discomfort.
Long have I pondered over this puzzle. I can easily understand how secular men can find breastfeeding off-putting. Many men are so warped by porn that they prefer videos to living women. Actual, real, in-the-room women are unappealing to them. They only want to see women who’ve been artfully separated into parts, like a cow at the hands of a butcher.
But how is it that conservative, Catholic men tremble with consternation if they must be in the same room with a woman using her breasts as if they are some kind of, ugh, mammary glands or something? They say they are concerned with modesty and decency, but how can that be so? They’re happy to partner with Fox News, which has a “cleavage” tag on its page, and whose female news anchors routinely show abundant skin. Conservative men don’t demand draconian modesty from their political idols, male or female. Only from nursing mothers.
Truly, I believe them when they say public breastfeeding causes them discomfort. But I don’t believe it has anything to do with the woman offending their sense of modesty, decency, or chastity.
The discomfort they feel is the discomfort of being excluded. The discomfort they feel is in seeing a woman’s body in a context that has nothing to with them. It makes them uncomfortable to see a woman in a context that even temporarily excludes them.
When a woman shows half her boobs in a skin-tight dress at a gala, men feel that this display is for them (and be honest, it probably is). They understand the situation, and they are in control of it. They feel themselves to be the central actor: I am a man with eyeballs and a penis, and look! Here comes a set of breasts for me.
But if those breasts are in use for feeding a baby, where does the man fit in? He’s excluded. He feels weird and itchy and unhappy. He feels he has to look away, but it’s breasts, so he doesn’t want to look away, but when he does look, he sees something that doesn’t have anything to do with him. And he doesn’t like that, at all.
As I said, I have sympathy for men who struggle with public breastfeeding. It’s not wrong or bad or disgusting of men to be sexually aroused by the sight of a breast.
But here’s the thing: We feel what we feel, but we’re in control of what we do next. Normal, healthy, decent men can be aroused by a breast, but then immediately tell themselves, “Okay, that’s enough, now” if they find themselves acting or thinking like a creep. Men must earn the title of “man” by training themselves to get used to the idea that breasts are not always there to turn them on.
And that is a man’s responsibility, not a woman’s.
It’s a man’s responsibility to always remember that women are whole people, and not just body parts. This is true whether a woman is breastfeeding discreetly or openly, whether she’s dressed like Daisy Duke or draped like a dowager, whether she’s starring in a National Geographic special or if she’s a woman clothed with the sun. She’s a whole person, and it’s a man’s job to remember that.
It’s his responsibility to remember she is a whole person if she’s topless because he’s currently having sex with her. She’s still a whole person, always a whole person. It is his job to train himself never to forget this, and to act accordingly, even on Twitter.
It’s his job to train himself never to forget this even if, when confronted by a woman feeding her child, he has to “avert his eyes uncomfortably.” The man who whines about having to avert his eyes? Barely a man. If shifting his eyeballs is the hardest thing he’s is ever required to do, this is a soft age indeed.
And so I’ve changed my mind, in recent years, about women’s responsibility to breastfeed discreetly. I used to think she should do everything she can to cover up as much as possible, out of charity for men who struggle with chastity. But now I see that behavior as potentially propping up a culture of pornography.
As I said above, I do believe women should be aware at the effect their exposed breasts can have on men. But I’ve come to understand that that effect may very well be to help restore our culture to sexual health. Public, uncovered breastfeeding reminds everyone that women are not isolated parts. They are whole. They have a context of their own, and that context sometimes has nothing at all to do with men’s desires.
My friend Kate Cousino said it well: “I firmly believe public breastfeeding is a blow against pornography culture. Context is precisely what porn omits. And the context of sex and breasts is real human beings with lives–and babies.”
And men say the same thing, when they rage and sneer at women who breastfeed in public. It’s especially scandalous for Catholic, conservative, family men to behave this way, making a huge show of huffily leaving the room if their daughter-in-law begins to nurse at a family gathering, or complaining bitterly to the pastor when women dare to feed their infants in the pew without a cover.
When men do these things, they’re saying, “It’s more important for you to protect me from passing hormonal inconvenience than it is for you, who haven’t slept in four months, to just sit down and feed your baby. My obligation to exercise self-control is too hard for me. All the obligation is on you, breast-haver. Because I’m a man, you must make my world easier by caring for me, too, as you care for your new baby.”
It’s International Women’s Day. A very good day to be a man by taking responsibility for your own eyes, your own brain, your own hormones. A very good day to start your training. Women are whole people. If you work at it, you can learn to see them that way, even if they’re feeding babies.
Maria Lactans image By Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The delightful Claire Swinarski graciously invited me to be on her podcast, The Catholic Feminist. My episode, #50, is up today. It was so refreshing to talk to a young Catholic woman who both loves the Faith and isn’t allergic to the word “feminist.”
Among other topics, we talked about “#metoo,” about why Damien and I covered the Christendom story, how virginity culture objectifies people, how to teach consent so it dovetails with a Catholic understanding of human dignity, and how to come back to Christ after the Church has failed you. You can hear the podcast on The Catholic Feminist Podcast site, or listen to it right here:
Imagine you’re a college campus minister, and you’re also the mom of two young kids, both with special needs, who each have “specialists up the wazoo.”
Imagine you live out in the country in New Hampshire, with only your chickens and your vegetable gardens for company as you boil sap for maple syrup and research the ins and outs of farming hops. Your husband is in the military, and you’re waiting to hear if you’ve been accepted to a Ph.D program at the University of Aberdeen. And you have your eye on some goats, and maybe beehives.
These are thoughtfully composed knitting kits designed as gifts “for anyone who needs something to keep their hands full while their heart is on the mend.”
Cheshire received a similar gift herself several years ago, after enduring the traumatic birth of her first child in Juneau, Alaska. The newborn was airlifted to another hospital, and Cheshire was too weak to join her for several days. Then followed a time in the NICU that she describes as “brutal, brutal.”
A friend gave her some knitting materials and instructions, with the note: “You need something to keep your hands full until you can hold your baby.”
That idea of full hands remained with her, and now she’s offering it to other people, hoping to share some healing while helping to build connections between people.
People don’t know what to say, so they say nothing
Since Cheshire works with college students, I asked if she thought it was mainly modern people who struggle to come up with appropriate words. She does believe modern people have trouble sharing “deep, authentic communication,” and that pervasive social media can make human interaction superficial; but she’s defensive of millennials. In the past, she said, there was no internet, but people were not necessarily warmer or more connected.
“I know some 65-year-olds who don’t know how to relate,” Cheshire said. “Very often, people don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything. The tragedy is, that happens when their friend really needs them to say something.”
A beautiful experience
Each element of the Busy Hands Boxes is chosen with care.
“Anyone can go to Michael’s and get cheap yarn,” Cheshire said. “I wanted it to be something that had heart at every level. Something sourced from a company that cares, something aesthetically pleasing, and beautiful to open. I wanted it to be a whole experience, to make you feel good even if you’re not knitting yet.”
The hand-painted knitting needles are made from New England maple and Russian birch.
Like the needles, the wool yarn Cheshire chose is locally sourced from Peace Fleece, a New England fiber company that “works to support pastoral communities that have been historically in conflict with the U.S.”
They are currently blending domestic wool and mohair with Navajo Rambouillet, which has been purchased at fair market prices from families living on the reservation.
Then there’s the slightly cheeky “empathy cards” from Emily McDowell , which bear messages like “I promise never to refer to your illness as a ‘journey’ unless someone takes you on a cruise” and “Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason.” One Full Hands box includes a foil card featuring a medal that simply reads, “KEPT GOING.”
Value in particularity
For Cheshire, a natural introvert who spends much of her day in pastoral work, knitting is often how she keeps going. “I need alone time, or I go crazy,” she said.
After a series of stressful meetings at work, she’ll often find a quiet corner and knit for five or ten minutes. “Knitting gives me something to do in that space, to clear my head.”
She also knitted her way through a batch of nervous energy while she waited for a response to her dissertation research proposal. The topic? Identity Formation in Pauline Communities.
Cheshire says she wants to use the baptismal formula used in Galatians, Colossians, and Corinthians “as a case study to see how those communities might have understood identity, on a community and on a corporate level.”
She says, “When we read there is ‘no slave, no male, no female,’ we mostly use it as a kind of whitewashing. It doesn’t matter, we’re all one in Jesus! Everyone’s one!”
But this kind of thinking, she said, can make it easy to ignore how identity categories are actually hurting people in the congregation.
“It just perpetuates power cycles,” she says. “People in charge continue to be in charge, and they don’t have to look at other people’s experiences. But everyone has value in their own particularity.”
What do you want to do with your time?
I asked Cheshire if focusing on that particularity isn’t something of a burden for her, an already extremely busy introvert whose mission it is to foster personal, intimate connections in her work on campus.
She thought for a while, then listed all the many responsibilities she juggles. She noted that when people ask her how she does it all, she tells them she’s not doing as good a job as they think she is.
But also, she said, “God has made this situation into something good. He’s forced me and my husband to figure out something about ourselves. What’s non-negotiable? What do you really want to be doing with your time? Because you don’t have that much of it.”
Although she and her husband have no background in farming, they’re slowly learning.
“It’s a little difficult to really engage in care for creation when you’re surrounded by concrete.” she said. She’d rather work the land than support industries that exploit workers and contaminate the soil.
Their first harvests have been small, but encouraging, and they’re hoping to add berry bushes and fruit trees in the future. Of their harvests, the Cheshires save some, sell some, and give some to the food pantry. Cheshire was recently overjoyed to hear that, after she donated fresh eggs, one client was able to make brownies for the first time in ages.
“In my career,” Cheshire said, “I’ve gotten very comfortable with the fact that I rarely see the harvest. My entire job is to plant seeds and let God grow them, and maybe a few years down the line I’ll get a text message or an email from a former student saying how much their time at Newman meant to them.”
But establishing a farm gives her “something very solid to hold onto.”
Spiritual health is a real thing
One professional project she’s chosen is to reignite an interest in the spiritual life among apathetic college students. Very few students feel any kind of religious affiliation, she said, and the ones who consider themselves Catholic aren’t much interested in community; so she’s working on reformulating her approach.
“You can’t convince people to enrich their Catholic identity if they don’t see the value of spirituality to begin with,” she said. She had been warned that the campus was an anti-religious place, but is proud of the connections she’s made. She collaborates often with other groups, and sponsors “crafternoons” where students can work off some nervous energy of their own, making and building together.
“We’re trying to encourage the campus community to tend to their spiritual health, to realize that’s a real thing, just like their physical and emotional health.”
Cheshire is currently working her way through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, which, she said, are about “finding the dignity of everything, finding God in everything.”
I asked whether even knitting was part of that.
She said, “I love watching the process of turning a pile of string into something beautiful. It’s something that’s real, and something that’s very elemental. It’s the absolute opposite of digital, and it connects you to all these generations of people who have done this before.”
Cheshire said knitting forces her to notice and intentionally relax the tension she holds in her hands. She was recently contemplating the hidden years of Christ, before He began His public ministry. The takeaway, she said, was Christ saying, “Remember, I was an artisan, too.”
Why the name, “Bethany Farm Knits?” Her shop, and her five-acre farm, are named after Bethlehem Farm in West Virginia. It’s a family of intentional Catholic communities, where Cheshire has led mission trips with the students from the Newman Center. The farms are named after Biblical towns, and the Cheshires chose “Bethany” for theirs.
She said ,”It’s where Jesus experienced friendship and hospitality” with His friends Mary and Martha — and also resurrection, when He raised their brother Lazarus from the dead.
“Those things are very much a theme in our family life,” Cheshire said: “Hospitality and resurrection.”