“I shouldn’t have to earn my welcome.” Being Black in the American Catholic Church

What’s it like to be a Black Catholic in America today? In June, four Black Catholics joined me to talk about what they’ve experienced, to explain what makes them feel like they belong, and what makes them feel like they don’t, and what needs to change. 

Alessandra Harris, Marcia Lane-McGee, Andrea Espinoza, and Eric Phillips began the conversation by using history and statistics to dismantle Abby Johnson’s racist argument in her video about her biracial son, and it’s well worth listening to.

But that was only half of our conversation. Today I’d like to feature the sections where they talk about their personal experiences in the Church and with the pro-life movement. White Catholics, in particular, I hope you will read it carefully and take to heart.

 The full video response and transcript are here.  The transcript here has been edited for length and reading clarity.

Do you think the pro-life movement has a racism problem? 

Marcia: Yes, absolutely it does … I feel the pro-life movement only insists racism exist in the womb. They want to talk about Planned Parenthood’s only being in predominantly Black neighborhoods, and they’re like, “That’s awful,” but they’re not thinking about how their mindsets, and policies that they vote into place, and the way that they continue to villainize Black fathers and Black culture, affect our lives out of the womb.

…[T]here were pro-life protesters outside of a Planned Parenthood right after the George Floyd was murdered, and … their sign literally said “More George Floyds will die here today than on the Street.” … She’s like, “That’s the real problem, that’s what you should be upset about.” It’s that whataboutism we get when we want to say Black lives matter, but they go, “What about Planned Parenthood?”

They are trying to deflect, and because they don’t want to deal… They don’t want to deal with the whole person after they are born. I firmly believe once a Black child is born, that is when we need the pro-life movement even more. We need you to vote in polices that help mothers, policies that are able to abolish those laws like the “man in the house” laws, because that still exists. Right now it still makes more fiscal sense to not be married to the father of your children if you are struggling in the Black community; it makes sense. Because you’re more likely to struggle when you’re married, because your government benefits will be cut; it’s less food stamps, less everything. And that is frustrating. So pro-lifers aren’t there for that, and I absolutely believe it’s because racism exists. They already have an idea about us in the mind.

Someone said to me once, a friend of mine — she’s Black, and she said, “I don’t understand why you’re pro-life,” and I was like because “you know, everyone needs to live and everyone needs to get what they need.” She goes, “Issue is that it seems like pro-lifers only want us; they don’t want to kill us in Planned Parenthood because to want to be able to kill us in the street, whether it’s a death slowly death by starvation, or if it’s death by cops.”

[J]ust like this country, the pro-life movement was not built for me right now as I am.

America wasn’t built for Black people; it was built by Black people, let’s be real. But the pro-life movement wasn’t built for Marcia at 40 years old, right? Me in the womb, my 17-year-old mom, absolutely. But now. as I am, they don’t care about my spirit or my wellbeing. And you know what, here I am still fighting for life because I know it’s the right thing to do. 

Does the Catholic church in general have a racism problem? 

Andrea: It’s like the house is on fire, and there are people in the house that’s on fire, and people outside the house are trying to say, “Hey, your house is on fire,” but the people in the house are like, “No, it’s not.”

We would be kidding ourselves if we said the American sector of the Catholic Church didn’t have a racism problem, and I’ll tell you why. Because the same people that … believed that Black people were 3/5 of a person, they were the same people that built the Catholic church; they brought in those prejudices with them.

They were the same people who forced native Americans to give up their culture, change their names, attend these Indian boarding schools to rehabilitate them and make them more European. These were the same people that refused to ordain Black priests so that the Venerable Tolton had to go to Italy to seminary. These are the same people that denied Black nuns the opportunity to become novices in their orders, so they had to create their separate orders.

The thing that makes it worse is that a lot of Catholics do not know this information, because we teach the faith, but we don’t teach the history, and because we don’t teach the history, it perpetuates on and on and on. So, the same stereotypes perpetuate on and on.

I bet you a lot of Catholics in America do not know that the reason why there are so many Black parishes in certain dioceses is because, when Black families moved to the area through historical periods like the Great Migration … the neighborhood parishes said, “We don’t want any n-words in our parish.” So, they would send them to parishes in the Black part of town that were underfunded and ill prepared …There’s a reason why Malcolm X said the most segregated hour in America is 11:00 on a Sunday morning. And we still have that.

Then, nowadays, we have a specific religious movement that worships in a specific form of the Mass, which is a beautiful form of the Mass, but it is built on the idea that if you are not this, if you don’t meet this condition, this condition, this condition, you’re not Catholic enough. For a lot of us, I can’t relate to that. I grew up in the Caribbean. We didn’t have organs. Have you ever seen what happens to an organ at 95-degree weather with 100% humidity? It warps! So, we had to create our own traditions, but it doesn’t make it any less Catholic.

The key problem with the racism in the American Catholic church is that it’s predicated upon the idea of whiteness, and it will always have that problem unless we do something, because guess what? The majority of the world’s Catholics, they’re not white. 

If this is your experience of the Catholic Church, what is it that keeps you coming back? 

Eric: Thank you for the question. Simply put, what keeps me coming back? Primarily the Eucharist.

But let me say this first. I think a lot of African Americans, and the enslaved in the slave times, saw this same story in the Exodus and Moses; how the Hebrews 400 years being enslaved, God came to their salvation. As a Catholic it’s hard; life here in this nation’s hard; and as a Black Catholic, it’s even harder … but if you look at the story of Christ, it was not an easy life. He had 12 apostles; 11 of his apostles were martyred.

[T]he Jews living in the Roman Empire, they were looked down upon because of their culture. I find myself in the same situation today, but that doesn’t mean I have a right to turn my back on the Church that Christ founded. I have to accept this fight. I think we’re all born here for a reason, not by happenstance. God willed us into existence for times like this, to fight the good fight. And fighting the good fight means suffering, but because you suffer, you don’t abandon the fight. You stand for the Cross; you stand by the Cross of Christ. That’s how I approach it.

So, what can we say, what keeps me coming back, there’s nowhere else for me to go. This is the truth. [Amen]

Also, how do we make progress? The thing Alessandra said in her video, is prayer and fasting, that’s always worth prayer and fasting, and after that comes action.

So, before the quarantine, what I would do is go to different churches in the city, some on the Southside, because I was primarily going to churches on the Southside, and then I would go to predominantly white churches because I just wanted to see how they did things differently. I just wanted to get a feel for the community… We have to find ways to build camaraderie with one another, to the point where we start asking each other over to each other’s houses. I’m telling my people with different ethnicities and cultures: I think white parishioners should visit a Black parish, try to build some relationships, try to get involved in some of those ministries, and vice versa, to the point where you can start inviting people over to dialogue.

Because just like there’s a Theology of the Body, there’s also a theology of food, and I think that really helps break down ignorance, because a lot of people, I would call racist– not because I think they hate me, although there are people who hate me because of the color of my skin. I think some are racist because they’re just racially ignorant, and so I think eating with one another, doing things with one another, helps break down that ignorance and helps us understand one another better, so that one side does not think the other side is just trying to be the victim all the time. 

Can you think of a time when you really did feel a fully seen member of the Catholic Church?

Eric: I’m with another organization called the Camino Project, long story short we send young Catholics on pilgrimages. So, the first time I was there [at St. Josephat on the north side of Chicago], I was talking to the priest. I was trying to see if they could help us out with a certain fundraiser. It fell through, but one day it came to me, you know what, that church looks very interesting; let me attend at the Mass.

So, I went to the Mass there, and the time came for the homily, and the priest there was a white priest. He started to talk about something that Andrea alluded to, how he used to work in the Black community. It was actually half Black and half white, and the priest went on to say how the Black people would go to mass but would be treated like second citizens of the mass, had to sit in certain spots, had to be the last to receive the Eucharist. Then he went on to say that one of the Black parishioners approached the head priest about it, and the priest rebuked her, said she was being selfish and things like that.

So, one day that lady just stopped going to Mass. And he went onto explain that this is what a lot of times racism does. When you treat a fellow person like that, Catholic or not, you kind of help them lose their faith. He … said we need to check ourselves as people, find out where our faults are at, repent of our faults, and do what we can to do better, because no person, especially at a Catholic at Mass, should be treated like that, regardless of color of that person’s skin.

And so, I was happy I came that day. It was just a random day and it was not Black history month; it was on his heart. It was one of his experiences. His experience was hearing this woman’s story of her experience. And eventually she started going back to Mass again and receiving the Eucharist.

I felt appreciated by it because I didn’t think the homily was said because it was expected … [During] Black history month, I expect to see people honoring Black history, but this was just totally out of the blue. And I felt appreciated because from that time on I knew that experience was in his heart and mind, and it changed him, and I know that wherever he’s at now, he’s preaching that same homily somewhere else… But I felt appreciated that day. 

What should white Catholics know about the experience of being a Black Catholic?

Alessandra: [T]here’s Black Catholics spanning the continents, there’s Black Catholics all over the place, and we all worship differently and have different traditions, but we all have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and we believe in the Eucharist, and we believe in the Church.

So even though we all have different experiences and different traditions and different ways we worship and different parishes, we all want to be seen as the body of Christ, and we all want to be recognized as being made in the image and likeness of God.

But with that being said … people want to have white Catholics see their Blackness.

And as a writer, in fiction, the default is white, so unless you say “this character has brown skin,” you’re going to assume that character is white. So too, if you say, “I don’t see color,” you’re defaulting to the white experience. So, when we say we’re Black Catholics, it doesn’t take away our Catholicism at all, but it acknowledges our culture and our traditions and our skin color and everything that encompasses. 

Is there anything you would like from white Catholics in particular. Is there something that you would request or that you would hope for?

Marcia: [J]ust say “welcome” when we walk into your parish. Don’t make me earn my spot there.

I sing at church, I’m a cantor at the masses here at church, and I have a very pretty singing voice. Like that’s a fact, it’s not like “oh, I’m so great.” But I know that if I want to feel welcome in a church, all I have to do is sit next to an old white lady and sing out of the hymnal, and then someone will talk with me at the sign of peace, and then if I don’t, it’s awkward. I feel that not making me earn my spot in the church is a huge way to actually welcome me in the church, because guess what? I’ve been a member of this church for 20 years. I’m here, whether you welcome me into this building or not, and I think just saying “hey welcome”—don’t tokenize me.

It’s funny how—Eric you mentioned St. Josephat. I used to live in Lincoln Park, I lived in Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago for about 5 years, and St Josephat was where I went to mass on Sunday nights. I really enjoyed the mass there. I enjoyed is so much there because I was welcome right away all the time. And I didn’t realize that was it was until I started going to masses other places where I would walk in, they would say “welcome,” I would get this, “Do you want to bring up the gifts?” I would say, “Absolutely,” and then one day, I don’t know if it was the usher or someone heard me sing, and he’s like, “Oh my gosh, I have been trying to figure out how to get you to come back here more times, and now you just need you to join the choir, that’s how we get you to come back here!” And I just thought it was that they were already, they like wanted me there, I always felt like I was wanted there.

Like seriously, just saying, “Welcome.” I know that sounds crazy because you’re just like, “Welcome, we’re Catholic; we welcome everyone.’ That is not true. I feel like an exhibit when I come to mass; people always kind of watch to make sure I know what to do.

I had someone in Mass tell me, “Now honey, this is where we stand,” and I’m like, “I’m a legit catechist; I’m a youth minister. I know what I’m supposed to do.” But the people with the small Catholic microaggressions, like, “Wow, you knew everything?” I’m like, “I am Catholic. I grew up in Chicago, where if you want a good education, you’re more likely to go to Catholic school. So, I knew this before I became Catholic.”

So just treat us like any other Catholic, but also acknowledging our Blackness in that moment, knowing that … our skin comes with baggage, but we’re here to share the faith with you.

[Y]ou know there’s that song “We are one body, one body in Christ,” that we do not stand alone? I feel sometimes as a Black Catholic, I know that we are one body in Christ, but often I feel that I am standing alone when I enter a predominantly white Catholic space.

I was a youth minister in a moderately sized town in Indiana for about 3 years, and the first weekend that I was in church there, I did not feel welcomed. … [T]hey were one Eucharistic minister short because I was going to introduce myself at all of the masses, and I was like “I can do it, it’s fine, just tell me where to stand. I can give them the Cup.” Where there was an older couple, and they looked at me like they were suspect, like, the man just looked at me like, “Who are you with this Cup?” Right? They didn’t have to know anyone at this mass, because it’s the Catholic church; you don’t know everyone who goes there, but they saw me and the wife went to go up to get the cup, and I was ready. And he yanked her back and just gave me this look, and then they went back to their pew.

And I was just like, “I’m so glad I’m here to minister to all the racist kids!” No … really, it turned out to be a fantastic experience, but I will never forget that day. I will never forget that Saturday night mass when, even though he didn’t know anybody else as a Eucharistic minister … I don’t know what they thought I did to the church wine. 

That’s what it was, I don’t feel welcome until I earn my spot, and I shouldn’t have to earn my welcome in the Catholic church. It’s a Catholic church.

 

Image by M W from Pixabay

Netflix’s ‘Bridgerton’ is a feminist disaster. But it (almost) redeems itself.

If this review is a mess, I blame “Bridgerton,” the raunchy, Regency(ish)-era soap opera produced by Shonda Rhimes for Netflix. I believe I have sustained a “Bridgerton”-related brain injury while trying to mentally accommodate a world where soft porn meets Lisa Frank meets… not Jane Austen, but someone who has definitely heard of Jane Austen. Someone who doesn’t realize that Austen was already skewering the shallowness of society and has decided to skewer Austen by pointing out that society is mean to women. But with very wacky hair and clothes!

It is not just that “Bridgerton” is full of deliberate anachronisms. Anachronisms can work if the show understands the rules and knows how and why to break them, or else if the show is just so much fun you will forgive anything. But “Bridgerton” knows nothing, understands nothing and provides zero fun. It somehow turns graphic sex scenes into a slog. Its putative, clever outrageousness is just a multicolored explosion of clichés. Whether or not it’s faithful to the series of romance novels on which it’s based, I do not know; but the show we got is a mess and nothing else. At least at first. 

In the first few minutes of the show, Prudence Featherington (the daughter of one of two prominent families vying to make brilliant marriages while a mysterious, omniscient voyeur distributes brochures gossiping about high society) is mercilessly laced into a tight corset while her mother looks on approvingly.

This is the beginning of a nearly nonstop jeremiad on the callous mistreatment of women during this era. Every episode has at least one woman delivering lamentations on the subject of How Society Is Unfair To Women. I thought often of the scene in “Blazing Saddles” where several vicious cowboys beat up an old woman. In between punches to the gut, she looks straight into the camera and cries, “Have you ever seen such cruelty?” The feminism of “Bridgerton” is that subtle. 

And they are not wrong. It’s a hard world out there in “Bridgerton.” Lots of sexism, plenty of objectification. The problem is, much of that sexism and objectification comes from the writing itself. Two of the sisters complain that, in this society, artists see women purely as decorative objects, mere “human vases” to gawk at. Within minutes, we transition to their older brother, who is also trying to liberate himself from this same artificially constrictive society. He achieves his liberation by visiting an artist’s studio, where he is delighted to find not only a casual orgy, but naked models standing around in candlelight, for you to gawk at. Why the first scene is sexist and the second one is awesome, don’t ask me. 

There are too many examples of this double standard to list. The show self-righteously excoriates society for its shallow focus on outward appearances, but in the same breath indicates to the audience that certain characters are evil or foolish by making them fat, or slightly buck-toothed, or by giving them puffy hair. Ugly dudes are evil when they attack girls, but sexy dudes are just impetuous, and true love means trying to save them. 

Remember the first scene, with the tight corset? Once the girl is crushed into a tiny hourglass shape, she steps into an empire-waisted dress, which is gathered under the bust and then flows freely past the waist. And there it is. “Bridgerton” puts a merciless squeeze on the audience in all the wrong places, for no reason at all. Have you ever seen such cruelty?

The viewer shall also endure the laziest, most moronic attempt at fancy, old-timey speech you shall ever hear, shalln’t you? I barely made it through the first four episodes. I only continued because I wanted to be fair and thorough.

And darn it, that’s when the show turned a corner.

Read the rest of my review for America Magazine.

Image is a still from the trailer below:

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 237: Follow me for more potatoes with butts

Hey, the world didn’t end! Per se! And I didn’t even pack up to go live at the P.O., although I was tempted. Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
One pan chicken thighs with squash and potatoes

Old reliable. This is even better when you have a big variety of vegetables, but just potatoes and squash is good, and it’s stupid easy to make, and nice, honey garlic, mmm. In conclusion, you may think it’s easy to be a food writer, but it’s actually hard, with words, booo. 

Jump to Recipe

Speaking of stupid, it was only some technical difficulties that prevented me from starting a Twitter account called @potatoeswithbutts.

I uhhhh have a collection. This poor fellow appears to have a pilonidal cyst, which is unusual in potatoes, and you can see by his posture that it’s really getting him down. Yes, I have work to do, what do you mean?

SUNDAY
Chinese roast pork and vegetable lo mein

Here was something new I tried, because I’m bored to death of all my pork recipes. You marinate the meat in chunks in a simple sauce, then roast it over a pan of water, then cut it up. 

I had mine with some excellent pepper jelly we got for Christmas, and it was a great match. It would also be good with that super strong Chinese mustard, or any number of sauces. 

This is most certainly an Americanized Cantonese recipe, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially if you don’t like five spice because, try as you might, you just can’t get used to *ptui* anise.  I’ll go ahead and write up a recipe card

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but I expect to change it a bit. Next time I will buy fattier meat and cook it in bigger chunks before slicing it. It was a tiny bit dry. If I make those changes, I’ll be able to cook it longer and work up a little crust on the outside. The boiling water made it tender and taste was good, though, if slightly bland. It would also be great cut up and added to stir fries or lo mein. 

SPEAKING OF LO MEIN, this continues to be a popular dish around here. I had bought some flat rice noodles intending to try some kind of Vietnamese noodle bowl (which is what I bought the pork for), but for once in my life I listened to the “nobody’s going to eat that” alarm going off in my head, and made lo mein instead. The only vegetable in the house was green pepper, so I added that, plus some red onion and . . . and this was a most excellent choice . . . some fresh minced ginger, which I’ve started keeping in the house routinely. 

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I was careful not to overcook the vegetables, so they were still crunchy. Man, what a high-yield dish for flavor, with very minimal effort. Sometimes I will add a little fish sauce or oyster sauce, but it’s honestly fine without. 

MONDAY
Tacos, tortilla chips

I do not remember making or eating tacos. I do remember people saying, “You should have made this on Tuesday for taco Tuesday!” and me going “bahhhhhh” in a growly voice. 

TUESDAY
Chicken caprese sandwiches, grapes

Tuesday was grocery shopping day this week, so I needed something very easy. Aldi had big cartons of frozen breaded chicken cutlets, so there was my answer. 

We had basil from the Vietnamese noodle bowls I never made, and no end of cheese from various cheese adventures. I was planning to make a shortcut version of the lovely chicken cutlets Damien makes for special occasions, but while shopping, I became confused, and bought a large amount of tomatoes, so we had caprese chicken sandwiches, which I usually make with grilled chicken, but it turned out nobody cares about the arbitrary chicken rules in my head, especially when it’s very late and everyone’s hongry.

WEDNESDAY
Meatball subs, raw broccoli and hummus

Again, nothing special, but always a popular meal. 

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This was my third day of watching Bridgerton for a review, and let me tell you, if you have to lock yourself in your bedroom and watch four episodes of Bridgerton in a row, getting up and making eighty meatballs is a good antidote. 

THURSDAY
Beef barley soup and pumpkin muffins

A couple of the kids have been begging for this meal. Benny and Corrie were done with their school work early, so they made the muffins with just a little supervision. This is a good recipe, very reliable.

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This is a light, tender pumpkin bread, not some kind of challenging artisinal loaf-log. It has a hearty flavor but is pretty fine-grained. We made a double recipe which gave us 18 muffins plus a small loaf. 

You can add all kinds of things to these muffins (or bread) — oats, nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate chips if you’re a monster, sunflower seeds, chunky sugar, etc. You can add more sugar to make them more dessert-y, but as is, they make a fine dish dish.

The soup was good, too.

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Although, as you can see, I couldn’t find the barley, so I used pasta rings instead, because I happen to have a lot of different kinds of pasta in my cabinets. Which immediately led the kids to assume I had WASHED OFF SPAGHETTIO-S AND PUT THEM IN THE SOUP. I told them I had not and would not, but they just stared at me. And that’s why, if I lived at the P.O., why. 

The other reason I might live at the P.O. is that, before Christmas, I bought about nine boxes of different kinds of pasta in various shapes, because I made myself believe we were going to make Christmas tree ornaments out of pasta, hot glue, and gold spray paint, and now here we are in January and I can’t find the barley because my cabinets are crammed with pasta. Shut up, it’s a good craft. We just didn’t do it, that’s all. Hey, have you seen my potato butt? And my food writing? It’s very good. 

FRIDAY
Tuna noodle casserole and Brussels sprouts

That’s a little weird, but that’s what the blackboard says. I feel like the Brussels sprouts were expensive, too, so I better actually make them. And you know what, maybe tuna noodle can be made with pasta rather than egg noodles. Because I have–

Aw, skip it. Here’s the recipe cards: 

One pan honey garlic chicken thighs with fall veg

Adapted from Damn Delicious 

Ingredients

  • 18 chicken thighs
  • 2 lbs broccoli in spears
  • 4-5 lbs potatoes in wedges, skin on if you like
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

sauce:

  • 6 tbsp honey
  • 6 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp dijon or yellow mustard
  • 3 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • olive oil for drizzing

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Prepare the sauce. 

  2. In a large, greased sheet pan, spread the potatoes and squash. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 

  3. Lay the chicken thighs on top of the potatoes and squash. Brush the sauce over the chicken skins. 

  4. Roast the chicken for thirty minutes or more until they are almost cooked.

  5. Add the broccoli, arranging it on top of the potatoes and in between the chicken. Return the pan to the oven and let it finish cooking another 10 -20 minutes so you don't die. The skins should be golden and the broccoli should be a little charred. 

Chinese Roast Pork

This is a recipe in progress, but it's easy and reasonably tasty as is. Serve with any number of sauces.

Ingredients

  • 6-8 lbs boneless pork
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 Tbsp bean paste
  • 2 tsp salt
  • RED FOOD COLORING, DO IT

Instructions

  1. Cut the pork into long chunks

  2. Mix together all the sauce ingredients and marinate the meat for several hours or overnight.

  3. Preheat the oven to 375

  4. Boil some water (I used a tea kettle)

  5. Line a large roasting pan with tin foil and put cake racks over it. Lay the meat on the racks, put it in the oven, and then carefully add the boiling water to the pan.

  6. Roast for an hour or more, adding water if it cooks away. Turn meat once during cooking. The outside of the meat should be dark and glossy.

  7. Slice and serve hot or cold.

basic lo mein

Ingredients

for the sauce

  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sugar

for the rest

  • 6 oz uncooked noodles
  • sesame oil for cooking
  • add-ins (vegetables sliced thin or chopped small, shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • 2 Tbsp mirin

Instructions

  1. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

  2. Boil the noodles until slightly underdone. Drain and set aside.

  3. Heat up a pan, add some sesame oil for cooking, and quickly cook your vegetables or whatever add-ins you have chosen.

  4. Add the mirin to the pan and deglaze it.

  5. Add the cooked noodles in, and stir to combine. Add the sauce and stir to combine.

 

Meatballs for a crowd

Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs. 

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground meat (I like to use mostly beef with some ground chicken or turkey or pork)
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400.

  2. Mix all ingredients together with your hands until it's fully blended.

  3. Form meatballs and put them in a single layer on a pan with drainage. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more until they're cooked all the way through.

  4. Add meatballs to sauce and keep warm until you're ready to serve. 

 

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. 

 

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. 

 

 

Undeserving, unremarkable, unreliable, beloved

My social media feed is well-stocked with babies. I have my favorites: That one little girl with the amazing dark eyes and bounteous curly hair; that extra squashy toddler whose face is so ridiculously expressive; and of course my own children, who are sweeter, cuter, and more delicious to look upon then all the rest of humankind put together and then tripled.

What I really enjoy, though, is boring pictures of boring kids. I like seeing that one kid (or forty-six kids, for all I know. I can’t tell them apart, because there’s nothing remarkable about them) with the light brown hair and the kind of dull expression, doing things like sitting at a table with a plastic plate of eggs, propped up in a swing his eyes half-closed, or maybe holding a toy truck in one hand and another toy truck in the other hand.

“Little man really loves his eggs!” the proud mom will gush, adding a couple of smiling emoticons with hearts instead of eyeballs. “Connor is crazy about playing trucks! Love him so much [heart heart heart heart heart].”

These really are some of my favorite posts, because it makes me happy to remember that there are so many ordinary, unremarkable children in the world who are cherished, doted on, lavished with affection just because they exist. They are not adored because they learned to speak at an early age or because they smell better than most children. They haven’t earned their parents’ love because they are especially clever or easy to care for, or because they show early promise for a lucrative career in show business. They are beloved simply because they are children; and, when all is well, parents love their own children better than they love anyone else. They are beloved simply because they exist.

In an increasingly utilitarian society, where we are told to value people who are useful and kill people who are not, it is refreshing down to my very soul to see so much love lavished on such ordinary children.

I thought of this during the Mass of the Epiphany, as our pastor reminded us that the magi prostrated themselves before the infant Jesus. The typical nativity scene shows the wise men visiting the Holy Family in the stable where Jesus was born. More likely, Joseph had found more comfortable housing by the time the magi turned up; but either way, whether it was the foul, smelly hay of the stable or the undoubtedly rough and rustic floor of the house of a poor carpenter, those stately, high-born international guests, who had been welcomed by Herod himself, prostrated themselves on it – abased themselves – lay themselves down in utter, abandoned adoration before the child who was anything but ordinary.

“And then,” our pastor reminded us, “Jesus did the same for us.” First by making Himself an infinitesimal one-celled human in one of Mary’s fallopian tubes; by being born into that dark, smelly stable (and the dark, smelly, finite, fallen world of humans in general); by allowing Himself to be publicly executed like a criminal; by allowing Himself to be present in that flat, white, unremarkable consecrated host.

Odd for the magi to know enough to prostrate themselves, in their jewels and flowing robes, before the seemingly unremarkable but truly extraordinary son of Mary; odder still, odd times a billion, for that Son to prostrate Himself for us, who are truly unremarkable.

Why? Why would He do this?

Because, to Him, every last one of us is that child who is unlike any other child. Each one of us is cherished like the “little man” who is adorable just because he enjoys eating eggs, or sweet beyond compare just because he has learned to blow kisses, like billions of other babies. To Christ, each of us is that special one, that cherished child, that singularly beloved one who makes his parent’s heart swell with affection.

He dotes on us just because we exist.  We are not beloved of God because we learn quickly or because we perform better than, for instance, the angels. We haven’t earned our Father’s love because we are especially clever or easy to care for, or because we can ever possibly do anything for God.

We are beloved simply because we are His children; and God loves each of His children as if they were His only child. He would have gone to these mind-bogglingly extraordinary lengths for any single one of us, even if we were the only person in the universe.

If you don’t believe me, then ask yourself this: Does the alternative make any more sense? Does it seem more true to say, “God would have been willing to undergo the immense weirdness of the Incarnation, and the profound suffering and agony of the crucifixion, but only if it was for a whole lot of people. He would only do it for billions of people. Not millions. Or maybe he would do it for millions, but not thousands, or hundreds. Well, maybe he would do it for a hundred people, but never for just one.

“Never just for me.”

Oh, really? Let me tell you, it doesn’t make any sense for Him to do it in the first place, not even for quadrillions or quintillions of unremarkable human souls. There would be no reason for God to go that trouble, no matter how many souls there were. So long as we’re willing to believe He’s going to behave so strangely, and subsume His infinite glory into some “itty bitty living space” for a world full of souls, then why not go whole hog and make no sense at all? Why not go ahead and do that for one, single, stinking person, like me?

It doesn’t make sense. It’s not efficient. It’s not rational. The only reason you’d do it is for love; and love only means anything if it’s between two people.

And who are those two people? Him and me. And Him and you, and you, and you, and every single last stinking, undeserving, inadequate, unreliable, unremarkable one of us, one by one, with His whole heart. I am ordinary, and so are you. I am unremarkable, and so are you. We like scrambled eggs, and we enjoy playing with our trucks. There is nothing special about us – nothing, except that we are beloved of God, individually, distinctly, intentionally, profoundly.

***
This essay was first published in The Catholic Weekly in 2017

Learn to tolerate other people’s discomfort (like Christ did)

I’m a member of numerous women’s groups, and one question comes up time and time again: Someone I care about (my mother, my adult child, my husband, my brother) behaves such-and-such a way. What can I do differently to change it?

The best answer is: Nothing. You can’t change how other adults act. You can influence it, but how people behave is their decision, not yours. How they feel is their responsibility, not yours.

Really, truly. Not yours. Even if they tell you that they do what they do because of you. Even if, your whole life, they’ve expected you to take responsibility for their behavior and their emotions. It’s just not your job; it’s theirs.

But in our culture, it is so deeply ingrained in women, especially, to take on this responsibility that we don’t even realize we’re doing it, and we actually mistake other people’s emotions for our own. We think that feeling what other people feel is just part of love, part of caring for others.

Some of it does properly go along with love, and is normal and healthy. We are made to be connected to others, to care for them and to take their suffering seriously. But this sense of connection becomes an unhealthy entanglement when we can’t tell the difference between what someone else is feeling and what we’re feeling ourselves, and when we therefore assume that someone else’s anger or unhappiness is always a sign that we’ve done something wrong.

The truth is, if someone is unhappy or angry, maybe we’re doing something wrong, and maybe we’re not; but it’s very unhealthy when someone else’s sadness, anger, disgust, or distress automatically prompts us to rush around, searching for what we can change in ourselves, so their emotions and behavior will improve or at least make sense.

The problem comes when we set up our lives in such a way that other people are never left to deal with their own emotions and their own behavior, but automatically look to us to take responsibility. This is unfair to everyone concerned. It crushes the one who takes responsibility, and it stunts the one who refuses to take responsibility.

One of the great skills I’m learning in my mid 40’s is the skill of sorting out whose emotion is whose. It’s liberating, but it’s difficult, and a little bit frightening — partly because it’s new and unfamiliar, and partly because it feels a little bit forbidden or impious. When Catholics learn to become more psychologically healthy, we sometimes have the haunting feeling we’re turning our backs on our faith, or that we have to choose between emotional health and holiness…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 
Image by Prettysleepy from Pixabay

What’s for supper? Vol. 236: You will not even believe how much food

Hi! Hi. 

I haven’t done a food post since … Dec. 18? Is that possible? Since then, we had the rest of Advent and then Christmas, then Damien got appendicitis, then it was New Year’s and a birthday, then school started up again, and now there’s another birthday. Specifically, Damien’s birthday, and for his present, he got to keep his appendix. Did you know they could do that? They caught it early, and are treating it with antibiotics, no surgery. But if it acts up again . . . CHHHHHTTTT!! [that’s a throat-slitting noise, to indicate that someone is a goner. Corrie has been practicing it during Mass, so that’s how that’s going]

Also like this:

I guess I’ll do this week’s food round-up, then pick up some highlights from past weeks.

SATURDAY
Calzones, cheesecake with strawberries

Saturday (New Year’s Day) was Sophia’s birthday. The kids spent the day playing Dungeons and Dragons with the fanciest snacks Aldi had to offer. I didn’t get any good pictures because we hung up some atmospheric dungeon decorations (plastic tablecloths), and it was pretty dark in there. 

I made a cheesecake the night before, using a recipe from my friend Elizabeth. It was a tremendously delicious cheesecake, about a foot high, fluffy and creamy, no cracks.

I would share the recipe with you, but I’m pretty sure Elizabeth would CHHHHHTTTT!! me. But it turned out so well.

I over-baked it a little bit because we were watching A Day at the Races and I forgot to check it, but that just gave the top a kind of caramelized taste which was actually very nice (and now the kids know the “Thank you” — “Thank YO” bit, so it was worth it). I dipped a bunch of strawberries in chocolate, and then used the leftover chocolate to add a little drippy garnish.

I think the chocolate dip recipe is 12 oz of chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons of shortening, melted together. The shortening is so it hardens when it cools. Note: Aldi chocolate chips do not melt well, so spring for name brand, but not Nestle, because they’re evil. It was partially a selfish choice to do this rather than make a glaze, because if you are someone who gets migraines from chocolate, you can easily pick this stuff off. 

The cheesecake recipe a bit of an ordeal (the ingredients all have to be at room temperature, and there’s lots of scraping and dropping the bowl, and it’s baked in a water bath, and you have to let it cool in the oven for many hours, and you have lost the bottom to your springform pan so you have to buy a new one) totally worth it. I made the crust with graham cracker crumbs, butter, and a bunch of ground walnuts I had leftover from when we made rum balls or something. We served it with additional strawberry glaze topping from a can, which I had bought when I thought January strawberries would be worse than they were. Whether Sophia liked it or not, I have no idea, as she is 15, and fifteen-year-olds tell no tales.

The calzones were well-received, though. 

Jump to Recipe

We didn’t notice until dinner time that the theme of the day was cheese: Cheese plates, calzones, and cheesecake. Not a thing wrong with that, either. 

SUNDAY
Pork spiedies, sweet potato fries

This is usually a tasty meal, especially if you let the meat marinate for a long time, but it turned out super bland.

I dunno what happened. I’ve used this recipe many times, and it’s usually pretty zippy. Oh well!

Jump to Recipe

MONDAY
Normal tacos, chips

Normaltacos. 

TUESDAY
Old Bay chicken wings and drumsticks, baked potatoes, carrots and dip

Not exactly a recipe. I sprinkled the chicken heavily with Old Bay seasoning and cooked it, then drenched them with melted butter and more Old Bay, and cooked some more to crisp up the skin.

For some reason, possibly because I was very hungry and because I couldn’t find the Old Bay seasoning and almost resorted to making a homemade approximation, I thought this chicken was going to be AMAZINGAMAZING chicken. And it was just good and nice.  

WEDNESDAY
Vermonter sandwiches, salad, king cake

Very popular sandwiches. Toasted sourdough bread, a thick slice of grilled chicken breast, a few pieces of bacon, a thick slice of sharp cheddar, some slices of tart Granny Smith apple, and plenty of honey mustard. Some people use deli meat and add turkey, and some people use maple mustard. Just follow your heart. This is a bad picture, but a wonderful sandwich. 

We got confused with fake Sunday epiphany and actual epiphany, but Clara leaped into the breech and made a wonderful, pneumatic king cake, stuffed with sweet cream cheese filling and glazed with some kind of lemony thing,

with colored icing and sprinkles, and a lucky . . . uh, baby. 

You’ve heard of the Infant of Prague?

Infant jesus of prague – Das Prager Jesuskind- El niño jesus de Praga. Prague

Now get ready for the INFANT FROG. 

I don’t know. Somebody turn this into a real joke and get back to me. 

THURSDAY
Gochujang pork ribs, rice, nori, pomegranates and kiwis

Now this was a very fine meal. I made a double batch of this excellent gochujang sauce

Jump to Recipe

which was enough to marinate about 15 pork ribs. Then I broiled them to a little char, and they were so spicy and good.

If you have boneless pork, you can cut it into little strips and marinate it along with sliced onions and matchstick carrots and sautée it all up together, and this is gochujang bulgoki, which is also a wonderful meal, but more time consuming. 

We had good rice leftover from New Year’s Eve, which I decided to cook rather than save for a special occasion, because maybe the world will end soon. We also had leftover nori, and some pomegranates I had forgotten about, and some kiwis that were sitting around neglected

and it was just a lovely meal. High flavor, low skill, just my speed. 

FRIDAY
Today is Damien’s birthday! He has requested bacon cheeseburgers, name brand Doritos, guacamole, and strawberry and chocolate ice cream, which I believe can be accomplished. He’s feeling much better, thank God. 

Okay! Now let’s pick up some loose ends. 

The last thing I wrote about was making noodle kugel for the last day of Chanukah, which turned out to be the day after the last day of Chanukah, oops. Well, we were out of eggs, oops, so I sent my son out to buy some, and then I baked it, but forgot to add the eggs. Oops. The one thing you can say about Jewish cooking is that it sure has a lot of eggs in this, so this kugel was . . . well, it smelled nice. I ate it, but it really wasn’t what it should have been. Gonna try again sometime, because the blonde rum raisins and apple bits were good.

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The latkes were very good, though.

Jump to Recipe

I had mine with a little sour cream and caviar because no one stopped me.

This seems like a good time to remind you that you can make latkes at any time of the year, and cheap caviar is still caviar.

Word on the street is you can just rinse the shredded potato in cold water, and that will be enough to keep it from getting discolored. You apparently don’t have to keep it actually in water. We learned this tip too late, but will definitely try it next time.

As I look through my photos, gosh, we did a lot of baking and sweets-making. I made rugelach, rum balls, and buckeyes; Clara made gingerbread cookies and Benny made chocolate chip cookies; and we strung popcorn and cranberries. Ugh, I have so many lovely Christmas photos languishing on my phone. Je suis overwhelmèd. Just tell me if you want any of these recipe I didn’t include, and I’ll add them in.

I also tried making beef bourguignon for the first time, using this recipe adapted from Julia Child. It was a lot of work. SO much work. It took all day.

We had it on noodles.

Doesn’t it look sooooo, so good? Well, it tasted  . . . fine. I would honestly just as soon have a cheesesteak, or beef stew I can throw together in 20 minutes. Just not worth the hassle. 

Now if you’re looking for something that is NOT a hassle, may I suggest baked brie, which we had on Christmas eve while decorating the tree?

It was just a little lump of cheap brie with some honey and pecans on the top, heated up in a little pan until the insides were gooey, served with crackers. My goodness, it was delicious. 

I also have this photo on my phone, and I can’t even remember what this means or why it was so funny

but we laughed pretty hard.

Christmas morning we had cinnamon buns FROM A CAN AND IT WAS FINE, orange juice and eggnog, and crazy grapes the size of plums, and for dinner we had a pupu platter take-out as usual. The next day, Damien made his fantastic Chinese chicken wings 

These chicken wings are like a three-course meal in themselves, with the crackling skin, the juicy meat, and then the whole skin-and-meat-together phenomenon. I’m not explaining this right, but they’re so good. 

I made the lo mein with ramen-style noodles, but it turns out I definitely prefer something wider. Still an easy, tasty recipe.

Jump to Recipe

Looks like we also had muffaletta sandwiches, which everybody likes. I made an olive salad in the food processor with manzanilla, black, and kalamata olives, marinated red peppers, and I think maybe some banana peppers.

Olive salad for muffaletta sandwiches is supposed to have a very particular balance of flavors, but I just throw in whatever we have in little bottles. I guess some olive oil and pepper and fresh garlic. 

We cut up some baguettes for the bread (I think real muffaletta sandwiches use a sweet, soft bread) and an assortment of meats, ham, smoked salami, capicola, and a little prosciutto, and I think maybe provolone? It feels like so long ago. This was the night Damien got appendicitis. I am not sure if he ever did get his sandwich. 

We had tons of leftover rice from Christmas and tons of leftover eggnog, which I always forget nobody really wants more than a sip of, so I made Instant Pot eggnog rice pudding. Nice and easy with a pleasant taste, but the eggnog flavor was very faint. Anyway, I used up the eggnog.

On New Year’s Eve, we had DIY sushi, plus lamb on crostini. I had been stashing away boneless legs of lamb for months whenever it was on sale. I used Tom Nichols’ grandmother’s easy recipe,

Jump to Recipe

and it was tender and tasty. Kind of weird combination of foods, and could have used a bit of cheese or horseradish sauce, but looking back, it’s a miracle we were all still upright at this point, much less making a coherent menu.

For the sushi, we had more than one setback, but ended up with . . . let’s see. Sushi rice, some raw tuna, cooked shrimp, and I guess cucumbers, pineapple, mangoes, and I guess caviar and ginger and whatnot. I feel like there was more, but I dunno what. I also tried something new, a Hawaiian dish of spam musubi, which is thin slices of spam simmered in a sauce and then cooked until crisp and caramelized

then served on a scoop of sushi rice with a strip of seaweed wrapped around it.

The spam by itself was more salty and harsh than anything, but together with the rice and nori, it was surprisingly delicious. One of those magical food equations where it adds up to more than the sum of its parts. 

There was a lot of leftover olive salad, so I ate it for days along with leftover lamb, and this gladdened my heart. It’s been a RATHER DIFFICULT couple of weeks, to be honest, but we did have good food! So much of it. I haven’t worked up the nerve to get on a scale yet, and Damien just brought pizza home, so. 

Calzones

This is the basic recipe for cheese calzones. You can add whatever you'd like, just like with pizza. Warm up some marinara sauce and serve it on the side for dipping. 

Servings 12 calzones

Ingredients

  • 3 balls pizza dough
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 3-4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 egg yolks for brushing on top
  • any extra fillings you like: pepperoni, olives, sausage, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. 

  2. Mix together filling ingredients. 

  3. Cut each ball of dough into fourths. Roll each piece into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. 

  4. Put a 1/2 cup or so of filling into the middle of each circle of dough circle. (You can add other things in at this point - pepperoni, olives, etc. - if you haven't already added them to the filling) Fold the dough circle in half and pinch the edges together tightly to make a wedge-shaped calzone. 

  5. Press lightly on the calzone to squeeze the cheese down to the ends. 

  6. Mix the egg yolks up with a little water and brush the egg wash over the top of the calzones. 

  7. Grease and flour a large pan (or use corn meal or bread crumbs instead of flour). Lay the calzones on the pan, leaving some room for them to expand a bit. 

  8. Bake about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.  

 

 

Noodle kugel with apple and rum raisins

A cozy baked noodle custard. Some people make savory kugels, but this one is decidedly sweet.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups raisins, regular or blonde
  • 1 cup spiced rum
  • 1 lb egg noodles
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 2 lbs cottage cheese
  • 4 cups sour cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 apples peeled, cored, and cut into bits

Instructions

  1. Put the raisins and rum in a dish and let them soak for at least half an hour.

  2. Preheat the oven to 375.

  3. While the raisins are soaking, boil and strain the noodles.

  4. Strain the raisins. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and stir in the raisins, then stir in the drained noodles.

  5. Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes or more, until the custard is set and the top is golden brown.

 

pork spiedies (can use marinade for shish kebob)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup veg or olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp dried mint
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4-5 lbs boneless pork, cubed
  • peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, cut into chunks

Instructions

  1. Mix together all marinade ingredients. 

    Mix up with cubed pork, cover, and marinate for several hours or overnight. 

    Best cooked over hot coals on the grill on skewers with vegetables. Can also spread in a shallow pan with veg and broil under a hot broiler.

    Serve in sandwiches or with rice. 

Tom Nichols' Grandmother's Leg of Lamb

Ingredients

  • boneless leg of lamb
  • olive oil
  • garlic powder
  • garlic salt
  • oregano

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325.

  2. Slash the meat several times, about an inch deep.

  3. Fill the cuts with plenty of garlic powder.

  4. Slather olive oil all over the meat.

  5. Crust it with garlic salt. Sprinkle with all the oregano you own.

  6. Cover meat loosely with tinfoil and cook three hours. Uncover and cook for another 30 minutes.

 

Noodle kugel with apple and rum raisins

A cozy baked noodle custard. Some people make savory kugels, but this one is decidedly sweet.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups raisins, regular or blonde
  • 1 cup spiced rum
  • 1 lb egg noodles
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 2 lbs cottage cheese
  • 4 cups sour cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 apples peeled, cored, and cut into bits

Instructions

  1. Put the raisins and rum in a dish and let them soak for at least half an hour.

  2. Preheat the oven to 375.

  3. While the raisins are soaking, boil and strain the noodles.

  4. Strain the raisins. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and stir in the raisins, then stir in the drained noodles.

  5. Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes or more, until the custard is set and the top is golden brown.

 

Potato latkes

Serve with sour cream and/or apple sauce for Hanukkah or ANY TIME. Makes about 25+ latkes

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs potatoes, peeled
  • 6 eggs beaten
  • 6 Tbsp flour (substitute matzoh meal for Passover)
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Grate the potatoes. Let them sit in a colander for a while, if you can, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. 

  2. Mix together the eggs, salt and pepper, and flour. Stir into the potato mixture and mix well. 

  3. Turn the oven on to 350 and put a paper-lined pan in the oven to receive the latkes and keep them warm while you're frying. 

  4. Put 1/4 to 1/2 and inch of oil in your frying pan and heat it up until a drop of batter will bubble.  

  5. Take a handful of the potato mixture, flatten it slightly, and lay it in the pan, leaving room between latkes. Repeat with the rest of the mixture, making several batches to leave room in between latkes. Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Eat right away or keep warm in oven, but not too long. 

  6. Serve with sour cream and/or applesauce or apple slices. 

Gochujang bulgoki (spicy Korean pork)


Ingredients

  • 1.5 pound boneless pork, sliced thin
  • 4 carrots in matchsticks or shreds
  • 1 onion sliced thin

sauce:

  • 5 generous Tbsp gochujang (fermented pepper paste)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 5 cloves minced garlic

Serve with white rice and nori (seaweed sheets) or lettuce leaves to wrap

Instructions

  1. Combine pork, onions, and carrots.

    Mix together all sauce ingredients and stir into pork and vegetables. 

    Cover and let marinate for several hours or overnight.

    Heat a pan with a little oil and sauté the pork mixture until pork is cooked through.

    Serve with rice and lettuce or nori. Eat by taking pieces of lettuce or nori, putting a scoop of meat and rice in, and making little bundles to eat. 

basic lo mein

Ingredients

for the sauce

  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sugar

for the rest

  • 6 oz uncooked noodles
  • sesame oil for cooking
  • add-ins (vegetables sliced thin or chopped small, shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • 2 Tbsp mirin

Instructions

  1. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

  2. Boil the noodles until slightly underdone. Drain and set aside.

  3. Heat up a pan, add some sesame oil for cooking, and quickly cook your vegetables or whatever add-ins you have chosen.

  4. Add the mirin to the pan and deglaze it.

  5. Add the cooked noodles in, and stir to combine. Add the sauce and stir to combine.

The fairy tale of America

This has been a discouraging year. And yes, I mean 2021.

There was a short spell toward the end of 2020 where I kept thinking how wonderful it was that, despite the president’s years of open incitement, there was no violence during the election.

Trump’s true believers were still with us, but there hadn’t been election day riots, and it did seem like there would be a peaceful transfer of power. We’d just have to deal with a lot of crazy and dishonest people on a societal level; but at least the political system was intact. It felt like the country had passed an important test. The constitution had held.

Then came Wednesday. It felt something like the early hours of 9/11, when I stood in the kitchen prepping dinner, slowly realizing that what I was hearing on the radio was not normal political chatter, and that the news was not normal news, but that something new and dreadful was in progress. A violent mob was swarming the capitol building. Shots were fired. Congress cowered in fear.

The president’s fans tore down the American flag and hoisted a Trump flag in its place. There was blood on the floor of the senate. And when his arm was twisted to try to bring peace, the president recorded a message telling the men and women waving a flag of sedition, “You are very special. We love you.”

Four people are dead.

The president is still in office.

Can you understand the horror, the dread, the boundless disgust of this day? I don’t know if citizens of other countries feel about their governmental system the way many Americans feel about theirs.

But when I slowly realized that a MAGA mob was in the capitol building, smashing windows, scaling walls, clowning, capering, screaming, peeing on the carpets, rifling through private papers, and secreting pipe bombs while our representatives scurried into lockdown, it was — well, it was like going to bed feeling grateful that your beloved mother was doing so well staying sober, and then waking up to find that she discovered cocaine and is currently standing in your children’s bedroom with a pistol and a flamethrower, screaming that no one loves the family as much as she does.

And I thought, That’s it. It’s over. The foundation did not hold. They broke the constitution.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

A short primer on women’s health for hags

Welcome to your late 40’s! This is the season of life that brings wisdom, confidence, interior strength, and silver wings in your hair, but it can also bring some less welcome changes. Mood swings, weight gain, decreased libido, heavy or irregular menses, spotting, migraines, skin changes, hair changes, and a special hamper just for poo poo undies can all be normal if unwelcome developments. 

Luckily, there are remedies available. But first, it’s vital to pinpoint your specific symptoms so a treatment plan can be tailored just for you.

Heavy menses: This may be a sign of low progesterone.

Spotting: This may be a sign of low progesterone.

Very light menses: This may be a sign of low progesterone.

Irregular menses: This may be a sign of low progesterone. 

Any kind of mensy menses: [screechy monkey voice, accompanied by trombone] This may be a sign of lowdy-low-low progesterony-wony.

Mood swings: Go fuck yourself. 

If you opt to treat your symptoms with progesterone supplements, there are many forms to choose from. One of the most popular is a bioidentical progesterone cream, which is made from wild yams. This nature’s way of reminding you that, biologically, you’re very close to a bloody sweet potato and you’re lucky we even let you into a real doctor’s office with your whiny little bitch problems, you stupid whiny bitch. It may also help with mood swings. 

Timing is very important. A woman’s body is like a sacred clock, and, like any timepiece, it must occasionally be adjusted; but precision is a must. So if you’re using progesterone supplements to help regulate your cycle, it’s vital to use it after you ovulate and not before, and not too late, but not too soon, or else either it will make everything worse, or it won’t do anything and you’ll just be standing there rubbing yam cream into your elbow like a weirdo. It’s simple to calculate the proper time, because all women always ovulate exactly two weeks before their period. To calculate ovulation, simply count two weeks back from your period and then make sure you have already used progesterone cream starting two weeks ago. It’s simple. It’s yam simple.

There are also progesterone suppositories, because of course there are. 

Progesterone isn’t the only remedy, of course. Some women who are experiencing unexplained weight gain, loss of libido, migraines, mood swings, and irregular bleeding opt for the mini pill, which alleviates these problems. Just be aware that the mini pill causes weight gain, loss of libido, migraines, mood swings, and irregular bleeding of the yam. This is the only treatment your insurance will cover. 

Have you tried exercising? Low energy and mood swings can often be corrected by something as simple as getting moving.  Just pour your ponderous cottage cheese thighs into some shiny leggings, why don’t you, and go hit a treadmill with a mirror in front of it. This will make you feel better. Whoa, your knees look like cinnamon buns. Cinnamon buns that hurt. 

You can also achieve remarkable effects by simple dietary adjustments. Make an effort to avoid sugar, alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, salt, gluten, nitrates, tannins, HFCS, MSG, soy, dairy, wheat, nightshades, endives, carrageenan, joie de vivre, and marshmallows for six months, and see if that doesn’t help. Many women have also experienced profound relief through seed cycling, a practice that’s starting to get the attention of mainstream medical professionals who are clearly just buying time by sending women home to eat flax for a few months, and then sneaking them off their patient records and saying it was an insurance glitch. Some women have also achieved promising results in balancing estrogen by avoiding testosterone-dominant foods such as bananas, zucchini, very turgid cucumbers, and red hot wieners of all kinds. No wieners for you, ya’am. 

If all else fails, some women opt for a subalvectomy, which involves removing everything below the waist. Just get rid of it. Chop chop, problem solved. This is usually day surgery, because you have to get home in time to fix dinner.

Above all, remember this is just a season, and like the seasons, it will pass, and eventually you will die. And no one tells the dead to eat more yams. 

 

Image by jung2 from Pixabay

Humility in parenting can help heal the past

My brother is a therapist, and he says his clients don’t talk much about being hurt by their parents.

Okay, that’s not true. Let me back up.

When I first started seeing a therapist, I had a lot to say about the things my parents had done wrong. I was doing so many things differently, and better than my parents had. I also had a lot to say about the things I had done wrong AS a parent, and how afraid I was that my kids would be justifiably angry at me for all the ways I had screwed up.

It’s a strange place to be in: Simultaneously recognizing just how wrong your parents were, and being honest about how much it hurt you, and recognizing just how wrong you often are yourself, and being honest about how much it hurts your kids. How do you even live that way? How do you move forward?

In my less fraught moments, I had to admit that, for all the stupid and awful things they did, my parents had certainly done better than their parents — and it was also likely that my grandparents had done better than their parents. I floated the idea that, if things kept up on this trajectory, and every generation improved on the previous one, then within a few decades, we’d be a race of gods. I’ll have to get back to you about how that works out.

The pattern is a real one, though — up to a point. We see what our parents have done wrong, and we don’t make that mistake. No, instead we invent brand new mistakes to make instead. We would hate for our kids to miss out on all the delicious angst and resentment that should come along with childhood, so we make sure we come up with something for them to correct when they have kids of their own.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and there is a real answer to the question “How do you live that way?” — that is, there is a way to live with yourself when you’re simultaneously aware of how much your parents did wrong, and how much you’re doing wrong yourself.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

A hymn for the end of the w̶o̶r̶l̶d̶ year

Someone on Twitter asked, “What is your favorite line from a hymn—one line that is so rich, you think on it over and over again?”

How strange and wonderful to read the responses. I was familiar with some of the verses that people carried with them, and had never heard of others. Some seemed like things that any human would take comfort from, and others pointed to the fact that there certainly are all sorts of people in the world with all kinds of taste; there certainly are.

My own choice? “He is Alpha and Omega; He the source, the ending, He.” This is from “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” the most musically and textually perfect hymn I know, and it has come back to me, over and over again, since the day I first heard it. Listen:

It is a doctrinal hymn, which explains why it gives you so much to think about (not that more emotional, lyrical ideas can’t grip your mind and stay with you!)

Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the Source, the Ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore!

I’ll add the rest of the verses at the end. This hymn is a flawless marriage between sound and sense. This recording begins with what I consider the ideal arrangement: A single male voice with no accompaniment but some medieval bells and chimes. This puts it into that otherworldly space of quiet brilliance on blackness, as if you’re witnessing something outside of time, which is what the song is about.

The first two lines, “Of the Father’s love begotten/ere the worlds began to be” climb up and then slightly down the scale somewhat tentatively, like an explorer coming upon something that compels him but fills him with awe; but “ere the worlds began to be” ends on a long note, searching for a clear view of what we’re talking about. And then we see it: In  “He is Alpha and Omega,/He the source, the ending he,” the voice rises and then returns back down, digs down and then climbs back up, with the tune following the sense of the words: Wherever you go, Christ is there. Then finally, with the last three lines, I hear a little portrait of human life: “Of the things that are” gets a quick mention, and then “that ha-a-a-a-ave been” gets a more lingering treatment, because my gosh, we have been through a lot. And then “and that future years shall see” is almost muttered in a lower voice, because it is still shrouded in the future; but then: Evermore and evermore! Ah, back to Jesus. It’s always Him. All is cared for, in him. Nothing is unaccounted for. 

You guys, I got so lost this year. I can’t explain it here, but I became angry and hurt and confused, and I turned my back on Jesus until I couldn’t even remember what the big deal was anymore. You get used to being cold and you don’t feel cold anymore, and you forget what it’s like to be warm. But it is coming back to me.

I hear all the jokes about how 2021 is just going to be another miserable year, and how foolish it is to hope for something better. But I can’t help it! It’s not about the things that ha-a-a-a-ave been and that future years shall see. It’s about Jesus. I know everything’s a big mess. But nothing is unaccounted for; no one will be lost or forgotten.  He is so bright and so good, evermore and evermore.

Everyone who reads this, I pray for comfort and solace, answers and illumination, and rest in Jesus. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2 O that birth forever blessed,
when the Virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bore the Savior of our race;
and the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

3 This is he whom heav’n-taught singers
sang of old with one accord,
whom the Scriptures of the prophets
promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long expected;
let creation praise its Lord, 
evermore and evermore!

4 O ye heights of heav’n, adore him;
angel hosts, his praises sing:
all dominions, bow before him
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
ev’ry voice in concert ring, 
evermore and evermore!

5 Christ, to thee, with God the Father,
and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and unwearied praises be,
honor, glory, and dominion
and eternal victory,
evermore and evermore.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Image: Christ Anapenos (Eyes never-closed) Icon – By the hands of Christian Tombiling, of Indonesian Eastern Catholic Community CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons . The description reads: Christ is sitting on His bed with arms supporting His head, watching over us. He is inside the cave, eventhough the cave is too small to bear Him. Background is sky of star. The inscription is written, taken from the Psalm 120: “Behold he shall neither slumber nor sleep, that keepeth Israel”