What’s for supper? Vol. 164: Nailed it!

Hey, great, it’s snowing. It’s okay. It’s fine. Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Pizza and birthday cake
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Poor Elijah. He keeps having his birthday during Lent. Some people put dry peas in their shoes, some subsist on nothing but dewdrops collected off the tombstone of St. Nicholas of Myra. Elijah gets terrible birthday cakes, and he’s a really good sport about it. He asked for Dragonball Z balls.

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I thought, “Ah, those gourmet lollipops would be perfect!” And they would have, but I couldn’t find any. So instead he got this:

They are made of rice krispie treats dipped in candy melt, and a lot of them fell apart when I dipped them, and the candy melt solidified faster than I expected. The kids helped by shrieking “NAILED IT!!!!”  Anyway, a cake was had, along with a multitude of pizzas, and the dragonblobs did have the right number of starblobs on them.
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SUNDAY
Boiled dinner
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Every year, I pretend I hate this meal, but I really love it. Well, this year, I changed things up by pretending to hate it, and then actually hating it. I blame the Irish.
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In other years, we’ve tried making other, more authentically Irish meals, and somehow we always return to boiling carrots.
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MONDAY
Egg, cheese, sausage bagel sandwiches
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I have no memory of Monday. Oh wait, yes I do! We had dozens and dozens of eggs in the house for weeks and weeks, so I didn’t buy eggs. Then Monday came along, and we had four eggs left. So Damien ran out to the gas station, and they had these lovely ones from a nearby farm:

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Fresh eggs are wonderful. Look at that yolk!
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Not gonna start keeping chickens, though. I’ve seen what happens.
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TUESDAY
Grilled chicken parmesan sandwiches, risotto, zeppolle
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Benny was in a play. She was an owl.

An owl who remembered all her lines! She discovered she likes talking into a microphone. That’s my girl.

Damien made a nice simple tomato sauce, and I roasted up a bunch of chicken breasts, which I sliced and served on rolls with fresh basil, provolone, and a good scoop of sauce.
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I also made some risotto, and man, it did not turn out great. I don’t even want to say why, but it was my fault and it was pretty stupid.
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HOWEVER, in the morning we made zeppole for the first time, for St. Joseph’s feast day, using this reasonably simply recipe. It’s important to dress correctly for this project.
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We’re pretty big St. Joseph fans around here. We started out piping the dough with a star tip, until it fell out.
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Then we just squirted it out of a bag; then we just went with spoonfuls. The last method actually turned out best. I had a feeling I’d be pushing my luck to make the cream custard filling from scratch, so I just got a bunch of instant vanilla pudding and piped that into the zeppole, then dusted it with powdered sugar.
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It was fun. We had fun. I ate a lot of zeppole. Yay St. Joseph!
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WEDNESDAY
Deli meat sandwich bake, asparagus
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Corrie and I worked together to roll out and stretch the dough over the pan for the bottom crust.


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We had a few friendly disputes over how to distribute the ham, but the cheeses and the salami and whatnot went fairly well. Then it came time to put the top crust on. She wanted to do it herself. As an awesome mom, I was willing to let her try, but I did want to start it off in the right spot. No go. She went immediately to “I NEVER WANT YOU TO BE MY MUDDER ANYMORE” and “THIS DOUGH IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ME.”  I made a few repair attempts, suggesting cooperation and taking turns and not being an insanely ridiculous person for once, but I just got more screeching and gurgling and drama. So I stepped away, thinking I’d just let her burn herself out.
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Which she did! I did some work on my computer, and before long she climbed down off the stool and trotted away to the next room, where I soon heard her singing Moana songs to herself– something about her wish to be the puhfect daughter. Well pleased, I turned back to the pan to finish spreading out the dough.
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And . . . it was gone. She was sitting at the table with the entire ball of dough in her hand, just eating it.
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So the dough was not in great shape. But I tucked some leftover basil leaves in with the meat
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and I thought it was pretty, pretty good. You brush some beaten egg over the top and then sprinkle on poppy seeds or onion or whatever you have on hand (in my case, nothing), then bake covered, then uncovered, for about 35 minutes.
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You slice it into strips or squares, and it makes a nice yummy brunchy thing. We also had the first asparagus of the season, which I just sautéed in a little olive oil.
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THURSDAY
I dunno

Thursday, I took #1 son to the orgal surgeon. I actually meant “oral surgeon,” of course, but there is a certain poetry to that typo. The orgal surgeon is a strange, strange man, as they always are. He has a southern accent which I can’t quite shake the feeling is fake, and he makes the exact same jokes every time (we have a lot of teeth out). I don’t blame him for that, but they are pretty strange jokes to begin with. Anyway, I had gotten four hours of sleep, and then I was hanging out at the orgal surgeon, and I suddenly realized I was supposed to turn in a book review for a book that I . . . look, I was almost done reading it. I’m not on trial here! So what I’m trying to say is that, no matter what the menu board says, this was no time to whip up a new kind of marinade with hoisin sauce and shred stuff and make lettuce wraps with rice noodles. So Damien just broiled the chicken breasts, cooked up some fries, and washed off a bunch of snap peas. I heated up the leftover deli sandwich bakey thingy, and it was a perfectly good supper for the likes of us.
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FRIDAY
I guess pasta?
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Umph, just two recipe cards this week! Whatcha gonna do. I am feeling pretty okay because, as of this minute, I have nothing due. No articles, no blog posts, no reviews, no interviews, no speeches I’m supposed to be working on. Just the regular old existential dread, but that’s a long term project. Oh, and we haven’t done a podcast in such a long time. There it is, I guess. Also, it is snowing.

 

5 from 1 vote
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Instant Pot Risotto

Almost as good as stovetop risotto, and ten billion times easier. Makes about eight cups. 

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground sage
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups rice, raw
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • pepper
  • 1.5 cups grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Turn IP on sautee, add oil, and sautee the onion, garlic, salt, and sage until onions are soft.

  2. Add rice and cook for five minutes or more, stirring constantly, until rice is mostly opaque.

  3. Press "cancel," open the lid, and add the broth and wine, and stir.


  4. Close the top, close valve, set to high pressure for 8 minutes.

  5. Release the pressure and carefully stir in the parmesan cheese and pepper. Add salt if necessary. 

5 from 1 vote
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Deli brunch sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 6 8-oz. tubes crescent rolls
  • 3/4 lb sliced ham
  • 1/2 lb sliced Genoa salami
  • 3 oz Serrano (dry cured) ham
  • 33 slices Swiss cheese
  • any other meats and cheese that seem yummy
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 2 tsp garlic powder, minced onions, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.

Unroll 3 of the tubes of crescent rolls without separating the triangles, and fit the dough to cover an 11 x 25-inch pan.

  1. Layer the meat and cheese, making it go all the way to the edges of the pan. This part is subject to any kind of variation you like. 

  2. Unroll the remaining 3 tubes of crescent rolls and spread the dough to cover the meat and cheese. It's okay if you have to stretch and piece it together. 

Beat 2-3 eggs and brush it over the top of the dough, and sprinkle with garlic powder, onions, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc.

  1. Cover pan loosely and bake for 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until dough is slightly browned and egg is completely cooked. 

For parents on the fence about vaccines

This essay is for parents who are torn. They want to protect their kids from disease, but are extremely worried about the possible bad side effects of vaccines, and they are not sure whether or not to take those risks.

That was me, when my oldest kids were young. I was torn. I trusted my doctor about some things, but not others; and I knew the diseases in question were dangerous, but the possible side effects also seemed very dangerous.

Every time we went to the doctor, I had to make the choice over whether or not to vaccinate; and every time we went, I was overwhelmed by all the bad things that might happen if we did.

So we got some of the vaccines, but not all. Sometimes I would cry almost as much as the kids, when they got their shots. If I was especially torn, I would take the safer, neutral route and just decline. I couldn’t get myself to choose things that might turn out to be dangerous, so I just opted out of choosing. The choice was too awful, so I decided not to make it. It just seemed safer that way.

Now we all get all the recommended vaccines. I am still aware of the possible risks of some vaccines, and I’m not happy about them; but I’m no longer torn.

What changed? I sure wish I could remember. All I recall is that, one day, it became crystal clear to me that, no matter what I did, I was making a choice. When I said “no” to certain vaccines, I was making a choice. When I told the doctor I’d rather opt out, I was making a choice.

There was no safe, neutral middle ground in opting out. When I decided to opt out of vaccines, I wasn’t perching safely on a fence, avoiding possible dangers and perils and ruin on both sides. When I decided to opt out, I was choosing a side with very real possible dangers and perils and ruin. Opting out didn’t feel like a choice, because I wasn’t doing anything. But it was a choice all the same, because disease is real. It was a choice, and my choice had consequences for my children and for the community.

It wasn’t like piercing ears, where I could decide the risks were too great, and simply leave those ears alone. It wasn’t like going on a roller coaster, where I could decide the risks were too great, and simply step out of line and go about my day. It was more like being aware that people are occasionally injured by seat belts, and choosing to opt out of strapping my kids in when I drove. This is not a neutral act, even though I’m not doing anything. Deciding not to vaccinate meant that I was making a choice to expose my kids to serious diseases that could maim or kill them.

And I was making that choice for other people, too. My kids are, for the most part, strong and healthy, and have a very low risk of adverse reactions to vaccines. We’re not immunocompromised, we’re not getting chemo, and we don’t have allergies. We are in a group medically fragile depend on (and one of my children is now medically fragile, too). When I told myself I was taking the safe, neutral route by opting out of vaccines, I was really making a choice about the health and safety of other people — friends, family, strangers, kids at the playground, old women at Mass, the fragile child at the supermarket. Children like my child.

Now, if my doctor introduces a new vaccine, I read as much about it as I can from reputable sources, before I decide which choice to make. I talk to people whose judgment I have good reason to trust. And this includes the Pontifical Academy for Life.  CNS’ Cindy Wooden reports the academy said in 2017 there is a “moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others.”

Now when I take my kids to the doctor, I consider the possible consequences of getting each vaccine, and I also consider the possible consequences of not getting it — the consequences for my kids, for my family, and for the community, especially the vulnerable — and I ask myself if I’m willing to take responsibility for making that choice.

There really isn’t any such thing as opting out from this choice.  It’s our duty to take responsibility for the choice we make, to see clearly what we are choosing. If we choose not to vaccinate, we’re freely choosing to expose our kids and the wider community to diseases that can maim or kill. There isn’t such a thing as remaining neutral.

***

Image: CDC/ Amanda Mills acquired from Public Health Image Library (Website) (public domain)

Pro-life spotlight #5: We Dignify mentors pro-life students to lead with charity and humility

Abortion is part of a quick-fix culture, said Morgan Korth of We Dignify. A woman finds herself with a scary pregnancy, and the pro-choice world tells her she can solve all her problems by simply getting an abortion.

But the pro-life world sometimes looks for a quick fix of its own, explained Korth and her guest Zac Davis of America Magazine, in a recent podcast. There’s the temptation to try to swoop in and intellectually clobber our pro-choice opponents with a single conversation or a devastating scientific fact.

But this approach is not only futile, it doesn’t take into account the perspective, life experience, and dignity of pro-choicers or of women in difficult pregnancies. We Dignify is an organization that seeks to train and mentor young people “how to not only be pro-life, but live pro-life.”

The mission of We Dignify is to “mentor college students into skilled, virtuous, pro-life leaders, so they can build and nurture a culture of life on campus and in their future communities.”

Based in Illinois and founded in a dorm room in 2006, they want to transform college campuses into “centers for a culture of life where people treat life with love, new life is welcomed with joy, and people suffering from abortion are led to healing hope.”

They connect pregnant or post-abortive students with resources they need, and train students in practical skills like how to advertise pro-life events and how to lead pro-life groups that may be made up of students with various degrees of conviction.

And they train students how to engage in “dialogue with dignity.” It’s about more than giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, but also “the benefit of their life experience,” said Davis, who interned with We Dignify when he was a college student at Loyola in Chicago. They encourage you not to let yourself see others as a project, or to approach the conversation as a challenge to win.

In an age of hot takes and snarky memes, they challenge you always to consider how what you’re saying is going to be received, and to give the best possible interpretation to what the other person is saying; to avoid being defensive, in person and on social media; and to discern whether to be bold or to be content with helping pro-choicers realize that pro-lifers aren’t thoughtless, heartless caricatures.

In the recent podcast, Davis said that pro-lifers sometimes have a “savior complex;” but they need to be willing to accept that they are here in large part to be witnesses of love, life, and joy, and that much of what they do is to plant seeds.

At the core of it all, said Korth, is “charity and humility.”

They laughed somewhat ruefully over how everyone exclaims happily, every year at the March for Life, at how young the pro-life movement is. But when the march is over, where do young people go? Often, they disengage. WeDignify seeks to train students not only how to help and witness effectively on campus, but how to bring the skills and virtues they acquire forward into their future lives.

Davis said that he’s learned it’s normal for pro-lifers’ fervor to wax and wane, and so he knows what it’s like to become disengaged with the movement. He encourages pro-lifers to have the courage and humility to reengage, and to challenge their peers to do the same.

He said the pro-life movement does include a lot of people who are well-meaning, but crazy. It’s best not to seek these folks out, but instead to seek out those who are good at heart and also good at what they do.

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Contact: info@weDignify.org
217.255.6675

We Dignify podcasts

WeDignify on Facebook

WeDignify on Twitter

WeDignify on Instagram

***

Previous volumes of the Pro-life Spotlight:

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

Is Christmas alive in your heart today?

If you think of the liturgical year as a lifetime, the Christmas season is a very brief babyhood, just a bright little sliver on the pie chart, and the dark wedge of Lent hits right around the teen or early adult years.

Doesn’t that explain a thing or two?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

What’s for supper? Vol. 163: Living beefly our new lives

I’m warning you now: Roast beef was $1.99 a pound. You know what that means.

SATURDAY
Roast beef sandwiches, snap peas, chips

Damien crusted the meat with tons of seasonings, seared a crust onto it in some hot oil in a pot, then roasted it in the oven. My phone with most of the photos on it has gone missing, so here is some roast beef of ages past:

Hahaha! Are you suffering now, you poor suckers? This is what Fridays in Lent are all about. Go on, crawl off to McDonald’s and order your fish filet with all the souls in purgatory rolling their eyes at you. Go on!

And now I found my phone, so here is additional beef:

SUNDAY
Lasagna with meat sauce, garlic bread, salad, root beer floats

This was Elijah’s birthday dinner. His actual birthday was Ash Wednesday, so. And then he had four wisdom teeth pulled the next day. AND THUS ‘TWAS THE MOST DOLOROUS OF BIRTHDAY WEEKS.

But the lasagna was out of this world, and he is having a party this weekend. Damien spent several hours making this heavenly lasagna following this Burneko Deadspin recipe. The ragù was quite good, but the creamy cheese sauce was to die for. When I made lasagna, I usually just use cheese(s) and some seasonings, or sometimes cheese with egg. In this recipe, you make béchamel sauce, then stir in the ricotta and a little nutmeg. Wow.

A lasagna to remember.

MONDAY
Lemon pepper beef on pita squares with yogurt sauce; fried eggplant

Beef again! Damien saw a food video on Instagram or something, and we couldn’t track down a recipe, so I improvised. The night before, I made a lemon pepper marinade and set it to sit overnight with some kind of cheap roast cut into strips. I also made two big tubs of yogurt sauce.

That day, I cut pita bread into squares and sautéed it in olive oil, then sprinkled a little salt on it. You put some hot pita on your plate, the yogurt sauce gets spooned over that, then the meat on top. Pretty good! I want to look around for a different kind of marinade, though, and chicken might have been better than beef. Lamb would have been great, of course. I ended up having to broil the meat in the oven, rather than sautéeing it as planned, because the pita and eggplant were hogging the stove. Need more planning next time.

It was a nice meal, though. We also had olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta cheese.

The sautéed pita bread squares were really pleasant.  I wish I had used a bigger pan or done it in batches, but the parts that that did get enough heat and oil were part chewy but crisp on the edges, and made a nice base for the dish.

I also batter fried some eggplant. It’s not hard at all; the batter is simple and the slices fry up quickly. It’s just time consuming if you’re making a lot of it, which of course I am.

One triumph was that my son accidentally called it eggplant, rather than deliberately calling it zucchini to annoy me.  We dipped the eggplant in the yogurt sauce. I really need to find some kind of spicy tomato sauce recipe for Greek/Middle Eastern foods.

TUESDAY
Hot dogs and ??

Tuesday we went to that Samantha Crain concert, so the kids fended for themselves.

WEDNESDAY
Beef barley soup, pumpkin muffins

And the final beef. One more soup and muffin meal before the snow melts. At this point, we have this meal mainly because Corrie so enjoys helping me make it. It’s still good, though.

Benny made a little occasion out of it, as Benny will, and put the muffins in a cupcake tower.

Corrie got the one on top, as Corrie will.

THURSDAY
Blueberry chicken salad

We had tons of stale hamburger buns, for some reason, so I made a bunch of croutons. I didn’t buy cheese, and I forgot to dice any red onions, but the blueberries were big and sweet, and I did not burn the croutons!

We had mixed greens, roast chicken breast, toasted almonds, and big, buttery croutons. I had mine with balsamic vinegar. I toasted the almonds in the microwave on a plate: one minute, stir them up, one more minute.

FRIDAY
Tuna boats, maybe seafood chowder

I bought some kind of frozen mixed seafood package at Aldi a while back, and it’s been haunting my freezer. I think today’s the day. Maybe.

I urge you to share this post copiously in order to sanctify your brothers and sisters who seek to discipline their wills by looking at meat.

Here’s a few recipe cards:

Yogurt sauce (tzatziki)

Ingredients

  • 32 oz full fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • fresh parsley or dill, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Use for spreading on grilled meats, dipping pita or vegetables, etc. 

Fried eggplant

You can salt the eggplant slices many hours ahead of time, even overnight, to dry them before frying.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • salt for drying out the eggplant

1/2 cup veg oil for frying

2 cups flour

  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp veg oil
  • optional: kosher salt for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. Cut the ends off the eggplant and slice it into one-inch slices.
    Salt them thoroughly on both sides and lay on paper towels on a tray (layering if necessary). Let sit for half an hour (or as long as overnight) to draw out some of the moisture. 

  2. Mix flour and seasonings in a bowl, add the water and teaspoon of oil, and beat into a batter. Preheat oven for warming. 

  3. Put oil in heavy pan and heat until it's hot but not smoking. Prepare a tray with paper towels.

  4. Dredge the eggplant slices through the batter on both sides, and carefully lay them in the hot oil, and fry until crisp, turning once. Fry in batches, giving them plenty of room to fry.

  5. Remove eggplant slices to tray with paper towels and sprinkle with kosher salt if you like.. You can keep them warm in the oven for a short time.  

  6. Serve with yogurt sauce or marinara sauce.

Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion or red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 lbs beef, cubed
  • 16 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
  • 6 cups beef bouillon
  • 1 cup merlot or other red wine
  • 29 oz canned diced tomatoes (fire roasted is nice) with juice
  • 1 cup uncooked barley
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot. If using Instant Pot, choose "saute." Add the minced garlic, diced onion, and diced carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and carrots are softened. 


  2. Add the cubes of beef and cook until slightly browned.

  3. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, the beef broth, and the merlot, plus 3 cups of water. Stir and add the mushrooms and barley. 

  4. If cooking on stovetop, cover loosely and let simmer for several hours. If using Instant Pot, close top, close valve, and set to high pressure for 30 minutes. 

  5. Before serving, add pepper to taste. Salt if necessary. 

 

Pumpkin quick bread or muffins

Makes 2 loaves or 18+ muffins

Ingredients

  • 15 oz canned pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup veg or canola oil
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • oats, wheat germ, turbinado sugar, chopped dates, almonds, raisins, etc. optional

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter two loaf pans or butter or line 18 muffin tins.

  2. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients.

  3. In a separate bowl, mix together wet ingredients. Stir wet mixture into dry mixture and mix just to blend. 

  4. Optional: add toppings or stir-ins of your choice. 

  5. Spoon batter into pans or tins. Bake about 25 minutes for muffins, about 40 minutes for loaves. 

An awesomely awkward living room show with Samantha Crain

The other day, two goons stepped way out of their comfort zone and went to a Samantha Crain living room concert on a Tuesday evening in Boston. Best idea we’ve had in a long time!

I’ve written a bit about Crain, who has one of the most extraordinary voices I’ve ever heard. She’s a Choctaw-American Okie who sings, plays the guitar, and writes songs that pass right through your chest like a steel girder that loves you very much. Wonderful to discover she’s even better live.

After the show, I told her about the first time I heard her voice on the radio, and I was late picking up my kid from work because I had to pull over a cry for a little bit. She sang that song the other night. Here is “Elk City:”

She’s relaxed, chatty, and self-deprecating in between songs, and her frank face and demeanor put you at ease; but once she gets to singing, she has a trick of bowing her head right in behind her guitar, as if she’s climbing right inside the song. I was very impressed at how she committed to each piece, even though this show was the last in a long series, and the audience was maybe fifteen rather stiff, unresponsive folks. She tuned her guitar incessantly between songs, and absolutely filled the room with her voice, which, as I said, makes me think of a cold brook running in and out of sun and shade.

Her newest album, You Had Me At Goodbye, has less of a folk feel (although “folk” isn’t quite the right word) and more unconventional instrumentation and structure than her previous albums, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Listen to the deeply old-fashioned soulful wail of “When the Roses Bloom Again”

You never heard anything else like it, anyway, right? I wish Johnny Cash had recorded a song or two with her.

She performed the slyly funny “Antiseptic Greeting,” which she described as a song about the experience of having resting bitch face.

Here’s “Red Sky Blue Mountain” in the Chahta language, which she didn’t sing in this concert, but I’m including it to show how she sounds live:

So intense. Her guitar playing is also very deft and sets a complete mood. Some of her songs are . . . shattering. Many of her songs start out with some familiar sentiment, and you think, “Ah, this is going to be such-and-such type of song, for ladies,” and then the lyric veers away a bit, putting you off balance; and then comes the hook, which just flattens you. “When You Come Back” was one of those.

I do wish you could have heard this live in a small room. Her voice was so raw and direct. She also sang something I think was called “Tough For You” which I may never recover from. Damien almost fell out of his chair, too. I think she said she had just recorded it for her next album, so that explains why I can’t find it anywhere. Keep an ear out, but hold onto your butt.

Her lyrics are always well worth listening to, and you get the impression that she’s read a lot of things and listened quietly to a lot of people, and inside her head, it all weaves itself into something a little bit frightening but dreadfully familiar. There was another one, I guess also a fairly new one, where she can’t talk to the guy because she’s just an echo, and after a while even an echo fades away, and he melts like a pat of butter but she evaporates like water in a pan. Well, you’d have to hear it.

She said she rarely sings old songs she wrote a long time ago, because it’s like eating the same food over and over and over again, and it just tastes bad after a while. She called “Sante Fe” the pizza of her songs, because she still always enjoys it, and so do I:

She also did a rare cover song, “Slip Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon, because I wasn’t already steadily leaking tears, and my nose needed to start leaking, too. Good grief, I just sat there and cried for an hour like a giant weirdo. But it was fine. Afterwards, a woman came up and excitedly told her that the Dolores in the song was actually about her mother Dolores, and Crain said that lots of people have told her the same thing about their mothers, Dolores! Ha.

About living room concerts: This one was actually in a small home furnishings store called A Curated World, but most are in actual living rooms, and the tickets are very cheap.  Crain explained that concert promoters lose interest in you if you don’t put out an album every year, and she wanted to devote more time to her next album; so living room concert series are an increasingly popular way to bridge that gap. There are few to no middle men, so the performer gets most of the profit; and the audience gets the incredible benefit of spending an intimate hour with the artist. They had invited us to bring beer or wine. We brought a nice bottle of red wine, and it turned out we were the only ones who had. Too bad!

Anyway, if Samantha Crain ever comes anywhere near you, it’s well worth a drive to go see her. It was an unforgettable hour with a top notch performer.

 

Shout your damnation

Marriage as an institution may be public, but the love between husband and wife is, by definition, private. You inside me. It does not get any more private than that. And yet this reality show is part of a push to turn marriage inside out—to publicly share and spotlight that most intimate of betrayals, infidelity.

And that is what makes my blood run cold: how public Mr. Gasby and his mistress have made their deeds. Why have they done this? Because they know the power of the word “destigmatize.”

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

***

Image: modified detail of U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Otero

On eggs and God’s mercy: An interview with Alice Sharp of Hart’s Log Hand Made

Alice Sharp is a medieval scholar whose life changed drastically when her second child, Hannah, was born with complex special needs. Hannah’s now two, and much of Sharp’s time is spent at various medical appointments or doing therapeutic care at home.
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“But life is pretty good, here, really, except for lack of sleep,” Sharp says.
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Sharp, who now lives in Toronto, is working to integrate her life as a scholar and caretaker with her formidable artistic skills. She’s recently opened an Etsy shop for her batik dye eggs, which range from traditional to fanciful. Hart’s Log Hand Made offers handmade eggs, including personalized eggs and special commissions.
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Here’s our conversation:

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First things first. How do you pronounce “pysanky?”
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Most people say “pih-SANK-uh.” But last year, I went to a Toronto-based conference and was horrified to discover it’s “PIS-ank-ee.” I’m thirty four, and it’s hard to retrain myself.
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What is the psyanky community like?
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It’s very much a strong community, mostly online, as most things are these days. It’s quite international, of course with people from the Ukraine and Russia and central Europe, doing both traditional eggs, with abstract designs and limited color palettes, and also more diasporate patterns, with more natural depictions of insects or animals, and more detail and a much wider variety of color, as well as new geometric patterns.
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I enjoy playing with traditional patterns, but I do a lot of natural motifs, and meditations on scriptural motifs.
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Why did you begin making eggs? 
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It was partially because I never really thought of myself as a visual artist. My mother ran an alternative art space, with a theater and a poetry reading program and a gallery, when I was young. I hung out with artists, but I was more of a theater geek and a writer. I wrote plays in high school.
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I had a real interest in small things, miniatures. I had a dollhouse, and I would build tiny little Fimo models of things. I was drawn to what we would call “folk art.” I liked the idea of embroidery, but I actually hate to embroider. My mother taught me how to knit. I didn’t think of myself as very good at any of that kind of thing. So that’s one reason: Because the eggs were not something more talented artists were doing. it was something I could have as my own, as my own visual art space.
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Also, they’re pretty cheap, if you’re a pre-teen whose mother doesn’t want to buy a lot of yarn! A dozen eggs, dyes, wax — it’s not really the most expensive outlay.
It’s also very pleasurable to all the senses. The smell of melting the beeswax, the feel of the shell in your hand, the warmth as you melt it off. I wouldn’t recommend tasting it. But I love the tactile nature of the egg and the smell of it.
It sounds somewhat similar to the process of making icons.
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There is a certain meditative culture around it. It was something women would do at the end of the day, when they took a rest and had some quiet time. Sometimes they would sit down and work on in silence.
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For me personally, I’m often trying to think through something that’s been read at Mass, or a [scripture] passage that’s been on my mind. For me, it’s a very prayerful experience. But I would hate to see what an icon would look like if I tried to write one.
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How did you begin to make the connection between eggs and the spiritual life?
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I’m a convert. I was baptized when I was nineteen, in my campus chapel. I really was not raised with a clear idea of much Christian theology. We had a family friend who gave me a “Precious Moments” bible.
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I was in sixth grade and decided I was going to be get really good at making Ukrainian eggs and win this contest. But being the kind of person I am, I never actually submitted the egg. But I did really start looking at what the patterns mean, how they’re built, the geometric divisions, how much white is used. I had a booklet of symbols. It was my first introduction to the resurrection.
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I remember sitting on my parents’ kitchen floor and reading eggs that said, “Christ is risen,” and understanding for the first time why Easter is celebrated. It wasn’t just bunnies and chocolate and giant hams. If anyone had told me Christianity preached the resurrection before, it hadn’t really settled. The eggs are rooted in pagan practices, but for, me they were a real messenger of the Gospel.
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How long does it take you to make an egg, start to finish?
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It’s a multi-day process. It wouldn’t have to be, if you were uninterrupted, but when are we uninterrupted?
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For an egg that is just one or two colors, with a fairly simple pattern, it will take maybe three to four hours. Not all of that is hands-on waxing or dyeing. There’s a need to stop, to let the eggshell rest and dry. One thing I’ve learned is how important it is to respect the shell. I never really know what it’s going to look like, because every shell is different. Every hen is different. The shell could take dye or vinegar differently from another one. Some are pale, some are dark, some are spotty.
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Then, when you get more complex, the hours keep adding up. The basic mechanics is you move from pale colors to dark colors. Anywhere you want that color to stay, you put wax over it. You can get more complicated, and wash dyes off with vinegar or soap or a combination, and that adds time, because you need to let it rest. You don’t want the shell to get too saturated, because then liquid will start coming back up out through the pores.
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You posted pictures of an egg that turned out much paler than you were expecting. What else can go wrong, in all those steps?
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Well, there’s the basic breaking. At the workshop I was in last year, I was washing a color off, and I dropped it in the sink. There was my day, all gone in the sink.
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Then there’s cracks, particularly around the hole. And if it gets too wet, or moisture gets inside, it will come back out again.
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What happened with the egg [in the photos I posted], I think the shell got too cold, and the wax didn’t really adhere firmly. It was a brown eggshell I was etching in vinegar. You put the shell in vinegar, and any part that doesn’t have wax on it will dissolve a bit. One step is scrubbing it with a child’s toothbrush to get the layers off. But the wax started to peel off. So I used a tiny paintbrush, which I use for spot dyes, and I ended up just painting it.
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I do it all on an Ikea desk in a 825-square-foot apartment.
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Do you have a clear picture in your mind of how you want an egg to look, or does it change as you go?
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I do change it as I go. If I’m going to make a new design, like the sunflower egg, I start with an experiment. I’ll start noodling around with the wax and see what happens. Through the process, I’ll start noticing, “This part runs into the other part of the pattern,” or “that part is too complex; that part needs more balance.” Then I do a second or even a third egg, to really master what it should look like.
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Being a medieval scholar, do you feel any conflict when you invent new designs, rather then preserving traditions?
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I probably should, but I don’t really worry about traditions being lost. There’s people very passionate about preserving folkloric and talismanic traditions, keeping records, photographing everything for books. There’s a real wealth of information on the internet.
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Very rarely, someone who’s not familiar with it will say, “These don’t look like the eggs my grandmother made.” And they’re right. That’s why I say I do batik dye eggs, rather than saying I made pysanka. What I’m doing is inspired by Ukrainian folk art, but it’s not necessarily what someone is expecting.
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Does the process relate to your scholarly work at all?
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I did my dissertation on a twelfth-century commentary on Genesis. As I was working with this medieval text and looking at manuscripts, there were two stages of the text. Someone had taken it apart and inserted more commentary. It was sort of a gloss on the text, sort of like Talmudic commentary.
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Having struggled with trying to fix things into a limited space, I had this very visceral sense of what it would be like to be a scribe trying to figure out what kind of space you would need. I found myself gesturing with my hands, trying to figure out how to divide up the page, because each manuscript is going to be copied. Just like each egg is going to be different, the parchment size is different, each scribe will be different. Just like with eggs, where you have to think about the shape and the shell.
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The starburst egg, that I’ve made a ton of, is sort of rooted in when I was doing my oral exams. I was thinking about angels and light, those angelic wings going every which way, looking like fire. I didn’t put on dozens and dozens of eyes, though.
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You wrote about how you used to keep a hobby blog, but that fell away as your professional life got more busy. Then your life changed radically, and now you once again return to making things. What kind of balance are you looking for?
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I would like to get back to writing more about the Middle Ages for a broader audience someday. My life is not in a space right now where I have that kind of mental space. I need something I can pick up for fifteen minutes while Hannah’s in her stander, and then put down and move back to the next appointment, or answer a question about the teeth of whale sharks.
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I never really feel like I wasted the time I spent studying or making connections, because I’ve been in such a supportive community. My advisor would like me to get back to writing a critical gloss.
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The tagline for your blog is “making the best of the unexpected.” It sounds like what you do with your eggs. Is it also about how your life has changed?

It’s a large part of who I am. It’s such a hard balance. Like any child, I learn from being her mother. But she is her own unique, wonderful person, and she doesn’t just exist to teach me things. I don’t want to objectify her. Being her mother is full of agonizing grief, sometimes full of excitement. Sometimes it’s really boring:  For the next few hours, we’re going to work on eating this solid food.
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We were in Rome for my in laws’ wedding, during the Year of Mercy. Before we went through the door, I read a letter by Pope Francis that said, “Let God surprise you in this year of mercy.” I thought, “I guess I’m getting pregnant this year.” And I did. Hannah has been surprising in so many ways. Many of them have actually taught me about God’s mercy.
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 Is your psyanky time something you want to eventually teach to your son, or is it something you need to keep as non-kid time?
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For me, it is non-kid time. I’m working with Isaac now on baking and cooking. I do have a picture of Isaac as a two-year-old, sitting on my lap and helping me make an egg with an electric stylus (so there’s no candle involved).
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I’m hoping we can have a chance to give it a first try. I was a little older than he was when I learned. And I’m not as patient as my mother was when she taught me. But my children do not exist for my growth experience.
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You figured that out quickly, after only two kids!
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I’m on the crash course plan.
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You posted that you had to declare the weight of the goods you were shipping, and it was  .007 kilos. As a creative person and a scholar, do you have problems with the logistics of running a business?

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The hardest part is the imposter complex, which is an old friend, since I have a PhD. I think, “People will get these [eggs] and hate them. They’ll see there’s a flaw.” That’s my biggest challenge. I’m pretty good with boring paperwork, doing tax forms. What I struggle with is the advertising, making sure I’m tagging things properly, writing the search engine optimized descriptions. That’s where I wish I could outsource.

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If people want eggs before Easter, when should they order – in the US and in Canada?
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I have three tiers.
The eggs I made will be updated until the fourth Sunday of Lent; then I can’t expect them to get there [to customers] in time. If people want to see those eggs, they can “like” the Facebook page, or “like” the Etsy shop.
I do made-to-order eggs that I’ve done the design work for, but I can change the color or text, and those will be done ASAP.
Then there are commissions. I design an egg for you, then it goes through a series of several sketches, and I talk to you about it, do one or two practice eggs, and then the final egg. Those are sold out for Easter. I am running a waiting list for after Easter, for Mother’s Day, or weddings.
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Mary who stays

My daughter is drawing at church. She handily sketches in a crucifix: Top, bottom, one arm, then the other. She’s drawn it many times, over and over. Lately, she’s adding more detail, and at first I didn’t know what it was– some kind of ghost, a formless lump.

Then I saw it was Mary, swathed with robes and veils. Jesus on the cross is sharp and angular, and he turns his face up to the heavens in his agony; but Mary’s head is down, almost crushed into the ground as she bows under the great grief of his innocent suffering. She is utterly helpless. She can’t rescue the child she brought into the world.

In her grief, she is almost unrecognizable, and why not? Why should she be her same self, since the crucifixion is so outrageous? It never should have happened. How could it possibly have happened? This is God we’re talking about; actual God, that than which nothing greater can be thought, and here he hangs, bleeding dry.  Ripped into shreds. Extinguished. Thwarted by some thugs wielding a hammer.

Never mind the veil in the temple, it should have been the entire planet, the whole fabric of the universe that was ripped in two when he died. I don’t know how the world was held together through the crucifixion. How did everything not come apart?

I do know. It was held together through Mary, who stayed.

Under the intolerable weight of the suffering of her son, she was helpless, almost crushed. But she didn’t leave. There was nothing she could do, but she stood by and let it happen to her with him. Sometimes this is the only action of love: To stand by and not leave.

The suffering of innocents is what tears people away from the Church, away from God: When we have to stand by and watch the innocent suffer, and no one will rescue them. It tears us apart. This is why the abuse crisis has been the breaking point for so many people: The Church was supposed to be where children were safe, but instead it was where there they were ripped into shreds. Extinguished. Thwarted by thugs wielding a crosier.

It is not tolerable.

But it is nothing new.

The split, the rift, the gap, the unravelling: This has been the story of man since we left Eden. God the Father made His children for wholeness and delight, and what did they do but leave, tear themselves away from him; tear each other apart. Even when there is no ill will, this is the duality of the human experience of love since the Fall: We always live through love and loss at the same time. Never love without loss. From the moment we give birth, we prepare our children to leave us. From the moment we marry, we take on the burden of preparing our spouses for death. This is nothing new.

But Mary is something new. She holds in her heart the making and the unmaking of her beloved, and she does not come apart. She is strong enough to make the son of God and strong enough to stand by and watch him unmade, and still she does not leave. She is steadfast like no other.

Our sorrows are the first part of the story. The long story, the whole story, is that the world is all knit back together again in the womb of Mary. If Penelope wove and then unravelled a shroud, over and over again while she waited for the king to return home, then Mary weaves . . . what should we call it? The swaddling clothes that somehow bind up eternal life itself. And every day, death tries to unravel it, and every night she knits life back up again, day after day, over and over again. She does not leave her island. She is waiting for the king to return.

There are times when we all flee from the foot of the cross. It is too crushing. It hurts too much to be so helpless. We are perhaps willing to suffer, ourselves. But how willing are we to stand by and watch the ones we love suffer? That is the thing that feels intolerable.

But leaving the foot of the cross leaves the world unravelled. Running away from injustice, and staying away, leaves injustice as the final word. If we want to meet Jesus, we must meet him in suffering, in injustice, on this island world at the foot of the intolerable. That’s where he is right now. That is where love is. There is nowhere else, no other place but this temporal island called suffering. We will not be here forever, but we need to be here ready to meet him. To try to escape is to leave the world unravelled.

I can hear that I sound like I’m saying, “Don’t leave the Church, or you will betray the world and betray God.” I am not. I know I have said things that sound like that, and I am sorry. I don’t know what I would do if it had been one of my children abused. I don’t know what I would do if I were a reporter or a district attorney who talked to hundreds and hundreds of victims. When I do write about how the Church has betrayed the innocent, there always comes a time when I close my computer and put my head down and cry. But this is not my life’s work. If it were, I don’t know what I would do.

I am only thinking of Mary, and how glad I am that she didn’t leave.

Jesus was crucified for our sins, and Mary stayed at the foot of the cross for our sorrows. She stayed there for us, waiting on that island called suffering and death. She stays with us still. With her son she will make the world whole again; and then there will be love without loss.

 

The Virgin In Sorrow by Simon Marmion. Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons

 

Dreamlike reviews: Hadesdown, The Ghost Keeper, and The Sopranos (again)

You know what the real thing is about being in your mid-40’s? You can do everything you used to do in your 30’s, but you cannot bounce back.

I was in Chicago at the FemCatholic Conference last weekend, and it was completely wonderful. Met Mikayla Dalton, Corita Ten Eyck, Theresa Scott, Leticia Adams, Donna Provencher, Jenne O’Neill, Aimee Murphy, and so many others in real life for the first time, and I spent lots of time with my wonderful friend Elisa Low.  And Nora Calhoun, and Hope Peregrina and Ben Zelmer, and Samantha Povlock! And Shannon Wendt and Meg Hunter-Kilmer and ARGH the woman at the Femm Health table whose name is escaping me at the moment. And so many other brilliant, interesting, driven women I admire so much. I felt so out of my league.

Anyway, now I’m lurching around like a reanimated but still desiccated mummy, dizzy and incoherent, picking ridiculous fights with people I care about, and complaining about how bad my head feels and always feels, and I just can’t seem to snap out of it. I blame feminism. And airplanes. And train madness! (I did not take a train.)

Oh, if you want to hear my talk and all the talks at the conference, you can stream and download the whole thing for $49. My speech was called “When Women Say Yes: Consent and Control In Sex and Love.” It was about . . . a lot of things.

Also, I’m sorry we haven’t put out a podcast since the middle of February. Soon, I promise! I’m sorry! You could listen to that one again if you wanted to. Sorry.

Anyway anyway, I don’t want the algorithms to forget me completely, so here are some quickie reviews of things I’m enjoying while busily burning through all my social capital:

Listening to Hadestown

My daughter Clara turned me onto this musical. Originally a New Orleans jazz-style folk opera concept album about Orpheus and Eurydice by Anaïs Mitchell (I know. Stay with me), it’s now a musical that’s premiering on Broadway this month. You guys, it’s so good. Entirely successful world building. I am a sucker for anything based on Greek mythology, but become irrationally enraged with anything that doesn’t do it justice. This one is just weird enough to work.

From The Theater Times:

[Mitchell’s] version isn’t totally pin-downable about where and when it’s set–it’s mythic, after all–but there’s a Depression-era vibe to above-ground scenes, where penniless poet Orpheus and his lover Eurydice struggle to survive. It is hunger that allows the wealthy Hades to tempt her down to the underworld–to an economically secure but soulless industrial town, where men may be guaranteed work, but forgo contact with the natural world. Naturally, it is Hades who gets rich from their labor.

You will not believe “Why We Build the Wall” was written in 2010.

But this isn’t about politics; it’s about mankind. “Wait For Me” just about killed me.

All in all, just a fascinating, captivating, completely original work. Perfect lyrics, songs that stay with you. Such good stuff.

What I’m reading:

The Ghost Keeper by Natalie Morrill

It is not a chick book, despite what the cover might suggest if you are one of my jerk sons. I keep plucking people by the shirt sleeve and shakily asking if they’ve read this book yet. I don’t know why I haven’t heard more about it. It did win the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction, which is a good start. I’m working on a review for the Catholic literary mag Dappled Things, where Morrill is fiction editor.

This is seriously brilliant lyrical writing, on a level with the best of Michael Chabon or . . . I don’t know, I don’t want to be crazy, but I keep thinking, “Edith Wharton, no, E.M. Forster, no, Faulkner . . . ”

It follows a Jewish Austrian boy with a very particular vocation that keeps pulling him back. He grows up and starts a little family, and they are so happy, until the Anschluss.

The book follows them before, during, and after the war, and I’ve just gotten up to the chapter that describes another, related love story, but an infernally inverted one. And then they all need to figure out: What is love? What is loyalty? What is forgiveness? GOSH. I haven’t finished it yet, but even if it totally mucks up the ending (which I don’t anticipate!) I’ll forgive it, for all the moments of gorgeous tragedy and piercing joy. Do not read on airplanes unless you don’t care if you get stared at for gasping audibly while you read. Wear a sweater; you’ll get chills.

And we’re watching:

Well, we’re still watching The Sopranos. This is the second time around for me, and it’s even better than I remembered. It’s so much funnier than I remembered. It’s a little scary how much more sympathy I have for Tony this time.

I also think they should have won some particular prize for the depiction of dreams.

I guess the common thread in all these things is a sort of lyrical dreamlike quality, realer than real life.

That reminds me, what movie or TV show has the best, most accurate portrayal of dreams? It’s so easy to get it wrong and overplay your hand.