What’s for supper? Vol. 83: It will loop around eventually

This week, we had one very fine meal to look forward to (pork banh mi). Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to make it. Here is what we had instead:

SATURDAY
Aldi pizzas

On Saturday, we woke up early to go run two miles, and then . . .
I’ll just wait here while you check whose blog you’re reading. Still me.
We ran, I say, then we drove into the city to buy my new vehicle which is not a rusty white van,

ate some gyros,

went to confession finally,

drove home, and then Benny lost a tooth,

and then I did the grocery shopping.

***

SUNDAY
Hamburgers and chips

Mr. Husband held down the fort all day while I drove to visit my parents. My mother is confused about many things, but still clear on the merits of ice cream.

We ate steak tips with mushrooms on egg noodles (the other half of an enormous recipe I made last month in the slow cooker. It fell apart a little when defrosted, but it was still tasty and tender).

***

MONDAY
Pork chops, baked potatoes, cole slaw

Salt, pepper, meat, and heat. We had so many places to be, it was a miracle we ate while it was still technically Monday.

***

TUESDAY
Greek salad and chicken

Tuesday was a good day for a make-ahead meal, as there was yet another evening concert. I liked the singing. Well, most of it. That one kid who always beatboxes is really begging for the hook, but otherwise, they sang well.

But my friends, there were seven songs, and then a nine-hour interlude for awards for “most improved alto in the women’s jazz ensemble . . . most improved alto in the presumably more elite women’s jazz ensemble . . . most outstanding alto appearing in the greatest number of jazz ensembles . . . ” and then everyone had to stagger across the stage in their ludicrous cork-heeled shoon and give the choir director another hug because they humorously forgot to give her a hug the first time, and as I sat there being proud and supportive, a tiny, agonized voice at the base of my skull kept whispering directly into the bruised void of my psyche, “It says here there are still eight more songs to go . . . ”

Well, my friends, the final song was “Imagine,” by John Lennon . . . with hand motions. A tear blinded my ee, and I may or may not have been the one softly calling, “Booo-urns” while I applauded. And I think that was pretty restrained, considering this ill deed done to me.

Oh crap, this is a food blog. Well, we had “Greek” salad. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, hard boiled eggs, black olives, and cold chicken.

I used the Instant Pot (affiliate link) to make hard boiled eggs. If you eat a lot of hard boiled eggs, the IP is super. It steams them, and the shells slide off very easily.

I make salad with cold chicken a lot in the summer. Normally I marinate the chicken and then throw it under the broiler, but this time I tried out the Instant Pot “poultry” button.

In the pot, I put about seven boneless chicken breasts, some white wine, a lot of lemon juice, a splash of water, a little olive oil, and kosher salt, pepper, olive oil, paprika, dried basil, and several cloves of minced garlic, and mixed it all up. The liquid came about halfway up the chicken.

Instant Pot recipes can be misleading, because they will say “cook on high pressure for six minutes,” but that’s just how long it’s actually cooking. The six minutes doesn’t include how long it takes for the IP to come up to pressure and how long it takes to release the pressure, but your life is certainly still ticking by during that time.

Kind of, she remarked bitterly, like those NFP booklets that promise, “Oh, you’ll only have to abstain for six days a month!” because they are using some kind of voodoo calculations based on the Aztec calendar, non-typical circadian rhythms, people who are only in the same bed together twice a year anyway, so everything more than that counts as bonus, right? And plus they are lying. See? It only takes six minutes!

Not wishing to be part of the problem, I put the chicken and liquid into the pot at 10:25 a.m. and pressed the poultry button, and it was completely ready to come out of the pot at 10:54 a.m. Less than half an hour start to finish. That includes adding an extra minute because sometimes being open to life means being careful your kitchen doesn’t kitchen asplode right now, and you think God feels the same way.

So, Instant Pot chicken is good. It comes out moist, and the flavor permeated the meat. I don’t think it’s faster than the oven broiler method; but the pot is easier to clean than a broiler pan. More importantly, the IP doesn’t heat up the kitchen, so it’s a good choice for summer cooking.

***

 

WEDNESDAY
Bagel, fried egg, cheese, and sausage sandwiches

We went running again on Wednesday. It was an evening run, and I’ve been harassing my husband for weeks to try a new route; so we started out on our same path, which is about 75% flat

but then took a right instead of looping around. He kept saying it would loop eventually, and I kept thinking, “When does the looping happen?”; but on the other hand, we were now running downhill, and I didn’t want to stop.

So we ended up . . . somewhere. I don’t know. We ran and ran and only stopped when some guy with a teardrop tattoo on his eye wanted to know where Mountain View Road was. I helpfully pointed out where the frigging mountain was, anyway. The reason I knew where the mountain was, was that we’d been running straight up it for a good twenty minutes.

After that, I found that I was unable to stop thinking about how old I am; so we walked. Then we ran for a while. Then we walked some more. Then we got to a muddy patch and figured as long as we were clearly going to break our ankles, we might as well cut through the woods and save time. Discussed bear avoidance strategies for a while. Swallowed a bug. Came across a sign that said “ARE YOU FRIENDS? FAMILY? DELIVERY? IF NOT THEN THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY SO DON’T.” Walked some more, a little faster.

Then, guess what? It looped around!

***

THURSDAY
Hot dogs, donuts, Doritos

I don’t even want to talk about it. There was a school play right before supper. It was raining. The baby sobbed every time her sister went off stage. There was a Holy Day of Obligation right after supper and only one adult, and you don’t want to know how hard I had to squeeze the bulletin to give up the information about when and where Mass would be. There was one point during all the to and fro where the kids were all starving, so I got donuts. Heard from the back of the car, “Can I have your donut?”

I said, “No, I already gave mine to the baby,” and then I looked in the rear view mirror and realized that she wasn’t talking to me. She was talking to her sister on the phone. Her sister who is currently in California. And then they sang, “Go Make a Difference!”

***

FRIDAY
Quesadillas; red beans and rice

Quesadillas with havarti, to be exact. It was on sale. If you know havarti doesn’t work for quesadillas, you need to keep it to yourself.

Gianforte is not an outlier. He’s the new normal.

Greg Gianforte, who is poised to become Montana’s next Republican congressman, was charged with misdemeanor assault this morning after he choked and body slammed a reporter to the ground yesterday, shouting, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! . . . Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here!”

The reporter, Ben Jacobs, made an audio recording of the assault, and eyewitnesses confirm that Gianforte assaulted Jacobs, broke his glasses, and began punching him when he was on the ground, after Jacobs repeatedly asked questions about the new report on the American Health Care Act.

Gianforte’s office claims that it was Jacobs who initiated the aggression. Eyewitnesses say this is not so. Here is the audio recording of the incident:

A little more about Gianforte. He’s the founder and CEO of the Gianforte Family Foundation, an organization which, among other things, bankrolled the donation of a T. rex and acrocanthosaurus exhibit to the Dinosaur and Fossil Museum in Glendive, MT in 2009. The Billings Gazette reported that the museum teaches that dinosaurs coexisted with humans.

The museum’s founder and director, Otis E. Kline, Jr., says of one of the exhibits in his museum:

“There’s two ways these fossils could get to Kansas, and one is the evolutionary way; the other is the biblical creation way,” Kline said.

“The evolutionary way says there was an inland sea that came from the Gulf of Mexico. But the biblical creation way says it was the flood of Noah’s day.”

The Gazette reports:

The funds [for the museum] were raised through a nonprofit Kline created, the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth.

Not, you notice, a foundation for advancing the truth about creation, but a foundation for advancing a certain story of creation, even though there is no evidence for that story and plenty of evidence against it (and even though serious Biblical scholars, including Josef Ratzinger and John Paul II, affirm that Genesis was never meant to be a scientific treatise!). Rather than looking hard at measurable evidence of how the world came into being, they’re creating a false, emotionally appealing dichotomy of faith vs. science, of us vs. them, rather than of true vs. untrue.

Why is this anecdote relevant? Because the GOP has steadily, aggressively working to earn a reputation as the party that not only doesn’t care what is true, but will bowl over anyone who tries to report what is true; because it’s not a matter of true vs. untrue, it’s a matter of us vs. them. Who do you want to win? Them?

Remember, Trump spent his campaign training his fans to bleat, “Fake news!” every time they heard something they didn’t like, even when it was manifestly not fake, just unfavorable to him.

Remember, during his campaign Trump called to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” and in March, as president, he tweeted “Change libel laws?” suggesting that New York Times reporters should be sued for reporting unfavorably on his policies.

Remember, Trump suggested to James Comey that he should jail reporters who published information that Trump himself saw fit to discuss with the Russian ambassador.

Remember, it was the Trump administration that introduced the nakedly Orwellian phrase “alternative facts.” To paraphrase Groucho Marx: These are the facts. If you don’t like them, well . . . we have others.”

That Trump and his admirers and wannabes lie when convenient is a given — and that’s certainly not confined to the GOP. All politicians, left and right, lie left and right, and they mostly get away with it. This is nothing new.

But what we are seeing is something more: an open campaign to keep those lies afloat by damming up the sources of unfavorable information — threatening them, encouraging legislation against them, or just plain knocking them to the ground and punching them because you’re tired of their questions.

This is a phenomenon to watch very carefully, in big government and in your local government, too. If you’re an American, remind yourself frequently that our founders spilled their own blood to escape from monarchy — to extricate themselves and us from being ruled by someone who was above question and above reproach, whose word was truth.

It’s well and good not to blindly trust the media, and it’s excellent to read, watch, and listen critically, asking yourself frequently, “How credible is this story on the news?”

But if “Don’t trust the media!” is your clarion call, ask yourself whom you do trust, instead. Where are you getting your information from? From the guy who’s trying to shut the media down, sue them into oblivion, break their glasses? Why would you do that? Who behaves that way, if not the guilty?

As Trump supporters have said in a different context: If they haven’t done anything wrong, they have nothing to fear. If it’s true for Mexican immigrants when ICE is in town, surely it’s true for our president when the microphones come out. If he’s done nothing wrong, why is he so afraid of the press?

Don’t let yourself say things like, “Well, that reporter was being very aggressive; he got what he deserved.” That’s his job. Don’t let yourself repeat, “This is what they get for writing all those negative stories.” That’s their job. Don’t allow yourself to say, “I never trusted the media anyway, so it’s no great loss if they’re not allowed inside the White House.” That is their job. Make them do their job. Insist that they be allowed to do their job.

I would have been thrilled if the New York Times et al had done their job better when Obama was president, and had held his feet to the fire the way they’re doing to Trump now. Now they’re doing their job. Better late than never. Better now, before it’s too late, and we lose our hunger for the truth altogether.

***

Image of First Amendment under scaffolding by tacomabibelot via Flickr: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

Open the church doors whenever you can

Folks like this knock on the side doors of the Church, by asking ignorant questions about the Faith, or by starting conversations that annoy or disturb us, or by arguing and criticising the Faith. They rattle and bang on the side door, even though the front door is open. What should we do?

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.
***

Photo: By Ncox CC BY-SA 3.0

My gift to you today

O you may hear them say
That there’s no post today.

No screed about homeschooling
Or how the kids are drooling.

I gave you zero rants
About gin, trads, or pants.

I didn’t rend your hearts
Or mention any farts.

Does this make me remiss
Because I flaked like this?

No, nothing of the kind.
In fact, I strained my mind

And spent the morning crafting
A post that I’m still drafting.

It ran a little long,
But I’ll spare you the song

And dance: It was on Trump.
I tossed it in the dump.

You’re welcome.

We are all (shudder) Willie Scott

On this day in 1984 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom first spilled its guts to the world. I was ten years old, and the movie stole my heart, as it were — and I can’t decide, to this day, if that’s a good thing or not.

It’s a tremendously ugly movie, and I say this as a more-or-less fan. The first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), was of course fraught with peril and casual cruelty, and it had its gross-out moments. But it’s relevant to the spirit of Raiders that, as the avenging spirits stream out of the ark and melt the bad guys’ faces off, Indy shouts, “Marion, don’t look at it. Shut your eyes, Marion. Don’t look at it, no matter what happens!”

There’s no such warning in Temple of Doom. The audience is caged face-down and lowered with fiendish leisure into a pit of grossness and visual torment, from bugs galore, to chilled monkey brains, eyeball soup, and snake surprise:

to the turbaned thug getting bloodily squashed between the belt and the crushing wheel, to, of course, the terrified victim screaming as his heart is torn from his chest before he’s slowly lowered, alive, spreadeagled, and face down in a cage to meet his death by lava.

Good grief, really dark stuff. The central plot revolves around child slavery (because that’s entertaining) and dwells extensively in a truly hellish underground nightmare world, where children toil and scream under the whips of the brutal guards in an endless midnight of sweat, fumes, and torchlight.

A Mentalfloss article from the movie’s 30th anniversary explains:

In retrospect, [Lucas] and Spielberg attributed the extremely dark themes in Temple of Doom to their respective marriages that had broken up . . .

What they had in mind was so dark, in fact, that Raiders of the Lost Ark screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan turned down their offer to pen the second film. “I just thought it was horrible. It’s so mean,” Kasdan said later. “There’s nothing pleasant about it. I think Temple of Doom represents a chaotic period in both their lives, and the movie is very ugly and mean-spirited.”

The movie is all the more painful because it offers no likeable characters — no breezy Marion, no heartily faithful Sallah, no endearing Dr. Jones Sr., and only the cringeworthy Short Round as a foil, giving Indy no supporting friendships to highlight his more human side. The minimally talented Kate Capshaw as Willie is the squeamish, sequined, shrieking heroine you love to hate, except they forgot to put in the part where you love her.

Which makes the movie all the more more painful when, as a kid, I pondered over and over what I would do if I were in Willie’s pointy-toed shoes. She’s so spectacularly unsympathetic; and yet, good grief, it would be hard to stick your hand into that crevice crawling with oversized, squirming bugs. That scene became a kind of touchstone for my developing conscience, and I constantly interrogated myself, “Could I do the right thing if I had to? Even if it was covered with bugs???

Not gonna lie: When she picks her way through the nameless slime and cobwebs of the tunnel and groans to herself, “Ooooooh, gawd, what is thissss?” — Willie c’est moi, even unto this day, like when I’m trying to figure out what is clogging up the car seat so the buckle won’t buckle. I also feel sorry for her, against my will, when Indy and Short Round are heartlessly playing cards and assume she’s just being hysterical, when she’s actually being haunted and tormented by all the terrors of the jungle. Running back and forth and shrieking like an idiot, and nobody will even turn around? I’ve been there. Boy, do I resent being made to sympathize with this flossy-haired nothing doll.

It was Spielberg who suggested the creation of the PG-13 rating specifically for this movie, because it was too rough and gross for kids, but it’s no adult film, either. It set the standard for a certain type of film which has threatened to overwhelm the movie industry ever since: Appealing to the vanity of young teenagers (I’m old enough to watch some really grown-up stuff! Like evisceration, and boobies!) while satisfying the basest instincts of that same crowd, larding the story with scenes that genuinely adult audiences have no use for.

Nevertheless. This supremely exploitative film that continually punishes its audience and which positively glitters with insults against Indians, the Chinese, women, and even elephants is entirely bought and paid for by one of the most glorious scenes of homecoming ever put to film. Feast your eyes as every last child comes home and is folded in his parents’ loving arms:

It’s not that, as a viewer, I really want to be reeled in with a whip like that. I’d rather be treated with a little more respect throughout, thanks, instead of being jerked around for an hour and half and then getting a giant smooch at the end.

Oh, well. I guess I sympathize with Willie after all. Dammit. I don’t know if Indy redeems himself, but the movie sure does; and at this point, I stop complaining.

5 cooking terms that no longer frighten me

There are only so many amusing anecdotes you can squeeze out of hot dogs, chicken burgers, tacos, and pizza; and if cooking the same things every week is tedious, then writing about cooking them is enough to make you want to hurl yourself into a cooking pot.

Thus, my weekly “What’s for Supper?” posts (see sidebar), which are hurtling toward Vol. 100 in a matter of months, have propelled me to learn more about cooking than I picked up in the first fifteen+ years of marriage.

To my delight, lots of cooking terminology that seemed so complicated and sophisticated is pretty basic stuff, and well within my grasp– as long as I look it up ahead of time, and don’t attempt to learn a new technique on the fly. Here are a few:

1. Braising

 I was under the impression that braising required leaping flames, arcane implements made out of brass or copper, and possibly some shouting. Turns out I have been braising all my life. It’s is a two-step process for cooking flavorful meat, where you use high, dry heat first (searing), then low, moist heat (stewing). For more details, see “Four Simple Rules for Braising Anything” from Bon Appetit.

2.  Deglazing

In my head, deglazing could only be accomplished by a subtle but masterful motion of the wrist and split-second timing. Actually, it just means you’re done cooking something up in a pan, and you don’t want to waste all those yummy little blackened scraps and flavorful gunk that’s stuck to the bottom. So you dump in a cup of broth or wine or whatever, and scrape it up, incorporating all the good stuff. That’s it. Adds tons of flavor and makes the pan easier to wash, too.

3. Caramelizing

  I always thought this involved some kind of sugar syrup, because, duh, “caramel.” I was half right. Caramelization is an irreversible chemical process wherein water is released and sugar is broken down, producing a characteristic flavor. Sometimes you do add sugar, as when you’re caramelizing carrots or nuts; but onions already have sugar in them. (Many vegetables have sugar in them, actually, but wonderful things happen when you call it forth from onions in particular.)

The only thing you need to know about caramelizing onions is that it takes forehhhhhhhver. I always figure on 40 minutes. If you see an article titled “How to caramelize onions quickly,” spit bitterly upon the floor and turn away, because it’s a dirty lie. More tips for caramelizing onions well from Bon Appetit. More grousing about the fog of deceit surrounding the issue from Slate.

4. Chiffonade

Not, it turns out, a term for those weird paper booties they put on the turkey in Amelia Bedelia. Nope, a chiffonade is just what you get when you take a bunch of edible leaves, roll them up, and then slice them into thin ribbons. Pretty important if you still have Instagram friends who won’t blacklist you on account of your wantonly frequent photos of soup. WANTON soup, get it?

But seriously, adding a garnish of greens on top of a dish isn’t just to make it pretty. Fresh herbs have a different taste from the ones cooked in, and they will give the finished dish lovely boost in flavor.

5. Pickling

This one doesn’t quite belong in this list, oh well. Everyone knows what pickling is (and I tried it once. Only once. Mold, salt, broken glass, crushed dreams, and a cabinet that will never smell the same. So now I buy my pickles), but did you know you can quick pickle stuff? Like, you can pickle in the morning and eat it for dinner?

Take some carrots, radishes, cucumbers, daikon, or whatever, and slice it thin, and chuck it in a jar with some vinegar (any kind) and a little water, and stir in some sugar or honey. By meal time, they will be exciting, and you can make a boring sandwich feisty and fun.

How about you? Have you gotten past some intimidating technical terms?
And how do we feel about that pig eating the wolf who ate his brothers, anyway? Can we assume that, since the three of them went their separate ways and had such widely divergent worldviews vis a vis homebuilding and security, maybe the third pig actually derived some brutal satisfaction from knowing what that wolf’s flesh was made of? Or did he just boil him EXECUTION SYTLE but not eat him? Or what?

***
Pig and wolf picture by Leonard Leslie Brooke (1862-1940) (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15661) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
F
ood images:
Caramelized onions: Stacy Spensley via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/notahipster/7376763436 (Creative Commons)
Chiffonade: Stacy Spensley via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/notahipster/7376763436 (Creative Commons)
Deglazing: Scott Feldstein via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottfeldstein/5635765929 (Creative Commons)
Braising: via Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-meat-dish-25273/
Pickled veg: ih via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/irisphotos/14680773562 (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 82: And two hard boiled eggs

You know, this isn’t the way I always imagined an ocean voyage. Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and provolone in pita pockets; spicy fries; raw broccoli

I do love grilled pita pockets. I grilled them in butter. They are so cozy and filling.

***

SUNDAY
Steak, salad, strawberry rhubarb pie with whipped cream

Irene’s First Holy Communion and Mother’s Day! We’ve had so many parties lately, we decided Sunday would be just us chickens. Irene had a very good morning.

We planned to spend the day gardening, but it was, SIGH SIGH SIGH, windy and raining and snowing. So we made some pie together

This is Irene’s Happy Pie face. The kid just loves pie. She gave everyone mini pies from Walmart for Christmas. I think it was her early exposure to Amelia Bedelia. She just loves pie! And so do I.

I made the lattice one. I wove it for a while, then got bored and just started slapping bits of dough on. Irene’s crust was made of hearts and ducks, much like her soul.

We used this recipe from the 1896 Fannie Farmer cookbook. It was new to me, and really did taste old fashioned, especially the crust, which had a pleasantly sharp, salty flavor. The crust turned out pretty light and flaky. It was a little hard to work with, but it added more to the overall taste of the dish than the typical bland crust. I did use the neat trick of freezing the butter and then grating it with a cheese grater, so it’s very easy to incorporate it into the flour without overhandling it.

Damien made everyone steaks. I like mine so rare, you can have a conversation with it while you eat.

 

Raise your hand if this picture makes you feel uncomfortable! Too bad! It was my mother’s day! And the steak was delicious. (And I had a lovely, lovely day, all day, thank you. Many wonderful gifts and thoughtful attentions.)

***

MONDAY
Pork ramen, coconut rice, peas

Delicious, but more of a hassle than expected, probably because I had to make so much of it. (It was simplified somewhat with the beloved Instant Pot, because I could cook the meat and vegetables, deglaze, and finish the broth all in one pot. Sometimes having even one fewer pot to wash is a big freaking deal.) I found a complicated recipe and simplified it, thus:

Sear some pork ribs in olive oil until browned on all sides. Take pork out, slice very thin, set aside. Add a coarsely chopped onion, about eight cloves of minced garlic, and a few scoops of ginger paste. Saute to brown. Add a cup of chicken broth to deglaze. Add seven more cups of broth, plus 8-10 oz. sliced mushrooms, and return pork to pot. Slow cook for several hours.

Just before dinner, have a kid cook a giant bunch of ramen noodles and some soft boiled eggs.

To serve, put ramen in individual bowls, ladle pork and broth over that, add a few halves of eggs, and throw something green on top. We happened to have some zombie scallions.

It was tasty and satisfying, and the pork was very tender after cooking all day. I adore thin slices of pork in soup.

For the coconut rice, I use this Instant Pot recipe from This Old Gal, who loves unnecessary complications. I have had about enough of This Old Gal. I did have coconut milk and coconut cream, but not toasted coconut or coconut sugar. I am skeptical there is actually something called coconut sugar.

The rice was pleasant, but not amazing. Who has a recipe that makes lovely, sticky coconut rice like in a Thai restaurant? Wanty.

***

TUESDAY
Chicken burgers, chips

I have no memory of Tuesday.

***

WEDNESDAY
Chicken blueberry salad

Salad meals are my favorite. This recipe comes from The Blueberry Council, which, surely:

I wish I had chopped up the greens smaller, to integrate them more with the other ingredients, rather than making a bed for them to lie on, but the combination of flavors and textures was excellent.

So: mixed greens, broiled chicken, blueberries, blue cheese, red onions, and toasted nuts (we had walnuts and almonds. There must have been a nut sale at some point. Again, I highly recommend taking the extra few minutes to toast the nuts); and a sweetish dressing made of olive oil, wine vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.

I served everything in separate bowls. To my delight, most of the kids chose to include blue cheese and onions in theirs. When I was that age, the harshly challenging flavor of something exotic, like yellow mustard, would have sent me into howling despair, but my kids are so much more adventurous. I never insist they eat anything, but I do keep serving things that I think are yummy, and I offer it to everyone every time. And here they are eating onions and blue cheese! I did a thing!

***

THURSDAY
Nachos

Not my finest hour. My plan was very basic: tortilla chips, ground meat and pre-made taco spice, jarred cheese substance, and salsa on the side.

I had to run out unexpectedly, so I directed the meat cooking and draining via cell phone, which turned out to be only slightly less nerve-wracking for both parties than when a passenger has to step up and land a damaged airplane with the help of a pilot on the ground.

Then I dashed home and dashingly forgot that the label said not to heat the cheese in the jar. Why? Because, we discovered, it balloons up like a ghastly yellow nightmare, then collapses into a rubbery hunk. Excuse me, rubbery hunk olé.

Then I set the chips on fire.

If you’re wondering why I never clean my oven: I do. I just immediately follow the cleaning with another spill. Then I set some chips on fire.

***

FRIDAY
Penne with jarred sauce

Assuming I can figure out how to open a jar.

It occurs to me that a few of my readers may not be familiar with the phrase “and two hard boiled eggs.” Let’s fix that right now:

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I thought Good Catholics didn’t need therapy. Then I went.

Sometimes, I have to take my therapist’s words with a grain of salt or filter them through a Catholic lens. More often, I discover that my lifelong spiritual failings are actually emotional wounds. And as they heal, it becomes easier to follow Christ.

Read the rest of my essay for America magazine.

The Year of Mercy logo stinks, and it’s okay to say so.

Since I cannot seem to write anything intelligible today, here’s something intelligible I wrote several years ago. Still useful today, as we discuss the World Youth Day logo and how much it stinks. The Year of Mercy has a logo, and it stinks!

See?

See?

When I saw the logo, I wondered if there were some obscure two-headed saint on skis that I had forgotten about. Some of my friends strongly disagreed, and said that it was clearly the Two Headed Monster muppet, or possibly Lucille Bluth. This elicited a very typical response among Catholics on social media: aw, let’s be nicer. What would the artist’s mom think if she saw these nasty comments? Why can’t we come up with something positive to say? We should be supporting each other, not tearing each other down. And so on.

So here are my thoughts (which I originally published in 2011, after the Kincade Kerfuffle) about what Christians can do, without sinning, when confronted with a public work of art:

***

The Christian critic may criticize someone’s work in the bluntest terms.  Once you put something out for public consumption, it is open for criticism, period.  Attacking the person, his motives, or his soul is another thing, which I avoid; but the idea that criticizing someone’s work is the same as judging his soul?  That’s just bananas.

The Christian critic may criticize the work of fellow Christians.  I often hear, “We Catholics should be standing together, not tearing each other down!”  But how does it build up the Body of Christ to pretend that second-rate stuff is good?  The world already thinks Christians are cultural morons, incompetent, uneducated, and hypocritical.  If we call something that’s mediocre a triumph simply because it doesn’t have any cussing in it, we’re just reinforcing the idea that Christianity is lame and worthless.  Hardly a service.

The Christian critic may criticize someone’s work when the work’s creator is going through a hard time. If I had a friend whose mother had just died, I wouldn’t choose that moment to rebuke him about his personal hygiene.  But if a professional puts out a piece of work that’s not very good, it would be gracious to mention any extenuating circumstances as part of my critique—but it’s not necessary, and may not be relevant.  I’m not your mom, and I’m not responsible for researching your personal life before addressing your work.

The Christian critic may criticize something even if the critic has a personal problem.  It’s like the old line, “Just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”  Just because I’m a neurotic, defensive sorehead, that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.  People who have weak spots or personal problems may actually be the most qualified to identify a true problem.  Anyway, what am I supposed to do, only write about things I don’t care about?

The Christian critic may point to a problem without discovering a solution.  It’s a blog post, not a wonder drug. I’d rather hear an honest, “I don’t know what can be done about this,” than a facile, “If only people would simply do X,Y, and Z, the world would be a paradise.”

The Christian critic may criticize something even if there exists a worse evil in the world.  When I discuss an overlooked aspect of human experience, I inevitably hear, “Oh, sure, let’s pick on Minor Problem B when there is Cataclysmic Problem X in the world!”  Well, do we really need more howling about, “Oh, how great is the sinfulness of sin!  Just LOOK at that sin!  Isn’t it sinful?” That’s just tedious.  And yes, I can truthfully say, “Boy, this sprained ankle hurts,” without implying that a triple amputation is a walk in the park.

The Christian critic may take a closer look at an issue that is usually presented as black-and-white.  Subtlety is not a sin.  For instance, I can say, “People who dress modestly aren’t necessarily virtuous,” and that’s not the same as saying, “Let’s all wear hot pants to Mass.”

The Christian critic may describe people in frank and colorful terms, if the goal is realism, not cruel mockery.  Painting a recognizable verbal picture is not a sin, it’s just descriptive.  Vagueness isn’t the same as charity.  It’s wrong to encourage people to mock and look down on each other.  But if my goal is to be clear and poignant when describing a scene, then specifics are fair play.

The Christian critic may use figurative language without warning, “The following is a metaphor, and not intended as a technical manual or a page from the catechism.”  Helpful readers often suggest that I add the words, “In my opinion” or, “I may be wrong, but it seems to me.”  This kind of verbal clutter helps out writing the same way a crocheted dolly helps out toilet paper.

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Nobody should write only critical pieces.  No matter how important or interesting the topic, constant criticism gets very tiresome very quickly.

But so does constant niceness.  I try not to hurt people; but offending them?  The more it happens, the more I’m convinced that it’s a service, not a sin.  At least it gives us something to talk about!

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Tom MacDonald says: “Beauty can’t save the world if the people responsible for Church design and expression have the artistic sensibility Norman Bridwell.”