What’s for supper? Vol. 255: I’m in the zarn

I was kind of blah about writing this post today, but as I went through my photos, and gosh, we had some pretty good food this week. We had several meals where leftovers were successfully rolled into the next meal, which is always gratifying. Is it weird that I’m enjoying this food all over again by writing about it? That’s okay.  

SATURDAY
Burgers and chips

Nothing to report, but tasty.

Cooked outside, eaten outside, and you can see I haven’t killed my mother’s day flowers yet. 

SUNDAY
Pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw

I don’t remember what I put in the slow cooker with the pork. I think some ginger ale and misc spices. I was planning to serve it with bottled sauce, so it really just needed to shred, not taste like anything in particular. I had mine with Carolina-style sauce, red onions, and jalapeños, and it hit the spot. The sweet, citrus-y sauce was great with the sharp onion and spicy jalapeño.

Cole slaw was real simple, just cabbage and carrots with a dressing of mayo, cider vinegar, a little sugar, and pepper. I use half a cabbage and just throw the rest away, which feels terrible, but it’s just bowing to the inevitable. Yes, I know I can compost it. I won’t, though.

MONDAY
Chicken caesar salad with fresh duck egg dressing

I mentioned how much I like duck eggs last week. Well, my friend Roberta brought over some more, and I made some VERY POWERFUL caesar salad dressing with them. Duck egg yolks, fresh garlic, kosher salt, fresh lemon juice, a little mustard, and tons of freshly-grated parmesan, anchovies, and vegetable oil. 

I accidentally bought anchovies wrapped up around capers, but it didn’t seem like the time to be cowardly, so I threw them all in there, along with the fish oil. You are supposed to mix together most of the dressing ingredients and then slowly drip the egg yolk in one drop at a time, but life is short. I just put everything in the food processor. 

Jump to Recipe

I swear, if you put a fuse in this thing, you could blow up a city block.

I roasted up the chicken breasts with some basic seasonings and served it with Romaine lettuce, the dressing, some more shredded parmesan, and something called parmesan crisps, which I guess is fried cheese? They’re pretty good, but they put, like, eight in a bag. I know I’m giving my kids food issues when I say “okay, everybody gets four,” but that’s how it worked out. 

Anyway, the salad was delicious.

Big hit. There was way too much dressing, and I ended up throwing away the extra, because I’m brave enough to eat raw duck egg yolk, but not for more than 48 hours. 

TUESDAY
Roast beef, chimichurri, garlic knots, raw veg, etc.

Now this was a lovely meal. I suddenly remembered about chimichurri, which made me think of roast beef, which made me think of garlic knots, and then it just went from there. 

We ended up with those three elements, plus raw broccoli, raw sugar snap peas, some lovely cheddar left over from Opera Nite, and some crackers, and some feta, and some beautiful dry salami, and of course some last-chance duck egg caesar salad dressing. Everyone loved this meal. I have no idea who ended up with what, but there was something for everyone. 

I made the roast beef by giving it a heavy coating of kosher salt, pepper, and onion powder, and sloshing some red wine over it and cooking it uncovered for maybe 40 minutes in a 375 oven. It came out lovely and rare and juicy. 

The garlic knots were from frozen pizza dough. Chop into 12 pieces, roll into snakes, knot and pinch, and top with butter and garlic salt, and bake at 350 for 11 minutes or so. You can also bake these first and then roll them in melted butter, and maybe some parmesan, but I prefer this less-greasy type.

Oh, the other thing is that my food processor broke. The little tab that activates the motor snapped off, and there is no workaround that didn’t sound like an electric shock to me. So I tried making chimichurri in the blender, which only reminded me that I hate all blenders and think they should be illegal. In my madness, I then tried making chimichurri in the standing mixer with the whisk attachment. I knew it was stupid, but I just had to try. (Do not try this.) So finally I just put it in a bowl and chopped away for a very long time like a peasant. Of course it worked fine. Chopping works.

(I did have some regrets about being the kind of person who doesn’t bother to cut the stems off parsley, though. You can get away with that if you use a food processor! Anyway, my friend Tina is very graciously sending me her extra Cuisinart, and I’m SUPER EXCITED. Oh, the things I will process!

Anyway, if you don’t have chimichurri in your circulation, you really should. It goes on all kinds of foods and makes them taste like a summer day.

Jump to Recipe

The recipe is very adaptable to what kind of herbs you have and how spicy you like it. 

WEDNESDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, pasta salad, leftover broccoli

Damien made the sandwiches. He not only puts mayo outside the sandwiches before frying them in butter, he puts mayo on the inside of the bread, for purposes of having more mayo. Did I mention he’s lost 65 pounds this year? He should write a book.

The pasta salad was nice. I used farfalle, and just threw in the rest of the chimichurri, plus some leftover salami and red onions and feta, and some sun dried tomatoes, and some sea salt. 

It really could have used a little brightening up with wine vinegar, but I was too lazy to open a bottle. 

THURSDAY
Chicken drumsticks, risotto, salad

Bit of a crazy day. I was super distracted, and I have no idea what I did, but the Instant Pot kept beeping and burning and not cooperating, and I kept accidentally eating leftover pasta salad even though it was almost supper time.  The risotto ended up quite creamy and delicious, but I had no idea what I would find when I finally opened the lid. (It’s a good recipe, I was just in another zarn.*)

Jump to Recipe

The drumsticks were uninspired, just salt and pepper and olive oil, roasted on a tray with drainage until they were done. Hey, hot food!

This picture makes me laugh. I couldn’t figure out how to position a lone drumstick so it didn’t look like it was pointing at something. 

FRIDAY
Tuna noodle

At the kids’ request. (For those not in the know, this is a casserole of canned tuna mixed with cream of mushroom soup and egg noodles, topped with crushed corn flakes and potato chips, served with a dressing of ketchup and mayonnaise. If you know, you know.)

I forgot this is the feast day, though: Sacred Heart. I feel like it would be contrary to the spirit of the day by serving meat that happened to be all the meat we have leftover in the fridge, but on the other hand, meat. It’s a struggle. What are you all having? 

*This is a family joke I just remembered. There was some song that went, “It’s so hard to love you / when you’re in another’s arms” and some kid misheard it as “in another zarn,” which they took to mean “not here.” So whenever we saw someone spacing out or mentally absent, that became “in another zarn.” But I think I can truthfully say I was mostly in the zarn this week!

caesar salad dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about two large lemons' worth)
  • 1 Tbsp mustard
  • 4 raw egg yolks, beaten
  • 3/4 cup finely grated parmesan

Instructions

  1. Just mix it all together, you coward.

Chimichurri

Dipping sauce, marinade, you name it

Ingredients

  • 2 cups curly parsley
  • 1 cup Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup dried oregano (or fresh if you have it)
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Put all ingredients except olive oil in food processor. Whir until it's blended but a little chunky. 

  2. Slowly pour olive oil in while continuing to blend. 

 

Instant Pot Risotto

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

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

  4. Close the top, close valve, set to high pressure for 9 minutes.

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

My interview in Cross Roads for the Diocese of Lexington

This was fun! I had a short interview with Don Clemmer for Cross Roads, a publication of the Diocese of Lexington. An excerpt:

Cross Roads: What have you learned about the Church over the course of your journey?

Simcha Fisher: That it was founded by God, but it is most certainly made up of human beings. That the gates of hell will not prevail against it, but prevailing feels scary a lot of the time. That you can talk all day long about the Church, the Church, the Church and never once think about Jesus, or talk to him, or look at him. …

If you want to find Jesus, look at a cross. He’s not on the right or on the left. He’s in the center, bleeding. Being Catholic means admitting how we hurt the Body of Christ, and choosing to suffer with him.

Read the whole interview here.

The last things my parents read

As I slowly make progress-that-doesn’t-feel-like-progress in selling my parents’ house, one of my tasks last weekend was to take copious photos of my father’s book store inventory, which, for complicated legal reasons, we are required to at least make an effort to sell. When he was alive, it was so impressive that he kept the entire catalogue — thousands upon thousands of books — entirely in his head, and could instantly go and pluck them off the shelf when someone ordered one. This is less impressive now that he is dead, and a book dealer wants to know if there is a catalogue of titles anywhere. Well, yes and no. Well, no.

Anyway, my parents did leave behind not only all the books my dad was selling, but all the books they just had, which was a lot. “How I love them! How I need them! I only wish that I could eat them!” my father used to say. 

Feeling like a mega-creep, I stretched myself across my parents’ bed and fished out all the books that had fallen down on either side, and gathered them up, and stacked them along with the books stacked on their bedside tables. These are not for sale. I just wanted to know what were the last things they read before they died. My mother was on the left, by the window. My father was on the right, by the door. His glasses were still sitting on the little table. 

My mother, of course, had stopped reading several years previously, as Alzheimer’s took more and more of her cognitive ability. But when she had that ability, dang. Here are her bedside books:

The Catholic Living Bible; In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat by John Gribbin; a Holt Physics textbook, Gúenonian Esoterism & Christian Mytery by Jean Borella, The Iliad, The Aneid, The Genesis Flood by John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, an Olive Sacks anthology, and The Story of Quantum Mechanics by Victor Guillemin. Also: 

Genesis: The Story We Haven’t Heard by Paul Borgman; Three Histories by Herodotus; The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor; and The New Testament translated by Ronald Knox, who, she was always ready to explain, did all his translations at the kitchen table while people were running around making noise; and All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren.

More books:

The Quantum Enigma by Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner; The Best of the Best by Judith Merril (a science fiction anthology. My mother read TONS of science fiction); Introduction to the Philosophy of Being by George Peter Klubertanz; The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning by me (she was very proud); The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman; and two copies of Billy Budd by Herman Melville, for some reason. And something large and red and very dusty. The last book on the right is Classic Fairy Tales. 

My father lived at that house for several years after my mother moved into the nursing home, and some of those books on her side are definitely his. I think he must have strayed onto her side of the bed after she was moved out, and read some of her books, and left some of his. It makes sense that my dad had The Odyssey (the Fagles translation, which he requested I bring to the hospital after his final heart surgery. Very good for your heart, Fagles), but I don’t really see my mother reading the Iliad, or Melville, or Virgil for pleasure. I could be wrong. Definitely no Robert Penn Warren. That’s a very good book, but also right on the verge of bullshit, and my mother could not tolerate bullshit. Science fiction, yes. Fairy tales, definitely. She didn’t consume fiction in a neurotypical way. She was always recommending books that were good, just not well-written, and she couldn’t understand why that was such a barrier to everybody.

Anyway, here are my father’s books.

The Tablernacle of Moses by Kevin Connor; an issue of The Human Life Review; Freddy and the Ignormus by Walter R. Brooks; All Aunt Hagar’s Children by Edward P. Jones; The Death of Evolution by Wallace Johnson; Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks; Introduction to the Metaphysics of Aquinas; Freddy Goes to Florida; Moby-Dick; The Possessed by Dostoevsky; The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman; Homeric Moments by Eva Brann; an Omnibus of Science Fiction ed. by Conklin;

1781: The Grand Convention by Clinton Rossiter; Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy (this was definitely both my parents. They actually travelled to Lost Cove, Tennessee); Theistic Evolution by Wolfgang Smith (with whom my mother carried on some kind of passionate intellectual exchange by mail for years until he abruptly got offended about something and cut off contact, wounding her horribly); The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins; Christian Gnosis by Wolfgang Smith; and an RSV Bible; and finally

Science & Myth by Wolfgang Smith; Dante’s Inferno translated by Anthony Esolen; Another Fagles Odyssey; another copy of Science & Myth, the Knox translation of the Bible; and something else, not sure what. It’s too thin to be more Freddy the Pig.

I don’t know why I’m writing all this down, what for. So there will be a memory. So there will be a record. You can see, anyway, that they were both very interested in how the world came to be, and why. I imagine they’re still gathering information on that. 

My father used to say that, after so many decades of marriage, he could almost always predict what my mother was going to do, but he still had no idea why. She was a strange person, and I think only a few people knew her well. Not me. I did find, when prowling about the house, a scrap of paper in my mother’s handwriting. It was a moderately cute kid story, wherein Simmy (that’s me) asked for one of those fuzzy rabbits for a birthday present, and then promised to try to forget it, so it would be a surprise. My mother thought that was worth writing down to remember, and it survived for forty years or more, and now we’re cleaning everything out, deciding what to save and what to let go. 

She was always trying to get me to print out my entire website, all my archives, thousands and thousands of pages, just in case, so it wouldn’t be lost.  There are so many things she took the trouble to write down, and now look. Just all floating around in a dusty house, waiting for the auction. I have decided to hire someone to clean out the rest of the house. There are a lot of things in there I would just as soon forget, and never be surprised by again. And maybe I will read some Freddy the Pig. Poor stupid daughter of my crazy, brilliant parents. It’s hard to know what to save and what to let go. 

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 254: Egg cream, duck egg, opera nite

Happy Friday! Today is the first day all week I’ve known what day it is.

Before we go any further, it has come to my attention that not everybody knows what an egg cream is. I made one for Corrie the other day, and she pronounced it weird but good, which it is. 

You put a few inches of milk in a glass and add tons of chocolate syrup, and mix it well. Then you carefully pour seltzer in to fill up the glass, leaving plenty of room for the foam. The foam is deliciously strange, surprisingly dry, with a faint chocolate skin, and then the drink itself is refreshing like no other. More of a treat on a hot day than soda, but not heavy like ice cream or a shake. 

If you’re wondering about the name: No, it didn’t originally have either eggs or cream. It’s a drink invented by Brooklyn Jews, and one theory is that it was an “echte cream,” real cream. I don’t know. Anyway, try it! 

Here’s what we apparently cooked and ate this week:

SATURDAY

Kids had dino-shaped chicken nuggets, adults went to Señor Tadpole’s and had the sampler plate with some margaritas. It was very good, but I’m now mature and secure enough to admit that, when I go to a Mexican restaurant, I’m really in it for the beans. Oh, I’ll eat the rest, but gosh, those beans.

SUNDAY
Chicken quesadillas, chips

Nothing to report, except that Damien cooked it, and there is no better food than the food someone else cooks for you. Chicken coated with Tajin seasoning, roasted, and sliced, made into quesadillas with sharp cheddar cheese and jalapeño slices. 

also OPERA NITE
Since the kids had the day off on Monday, we stayed up late for OPERA NITE, which involves, yes, opera, but more importantly, fancy snacks, including chili mango goat cheese and the all-important mini chocolate eclairs

and exotic soda in dollar store champagne flutes

Even the dog noticed how classy this was (he showed up in his tuxedo, ha ha).

Our first Opera Nite, Don Giovanni, was a howling success, but the next two times we attempted it (The Barber of Seville and Carmen), we lost steam at intermission, planned to watch the second half another night, ran out of snacks, and never got around to it. So this time, we withheld snacks until intermission, and then forged through to the end. I think it worked better (we did watch the whole thing!) but the whining about not being able to eat snacks yet kind of put a damper on the first two acts. 

Anyway, we chose Le Nozze di Figaro with Bryn Terfel, Cecilia Bartoli, and Renée Fleming, and it was fab. We rented it through Met Opera on Demand.

In the past, we’ve made Opera Nite mandatory, but we have so many adult kids now, we let it be optional. We started out with six or seven kids in attendance and ended up with four by the end. Three of them spent the first two acts drawing in their sketchbooks, which annoyed me, but at least they were in the same room with the music. Then the natural drawing light faded and one kid left, but the other two started paying attention to the subtitles and were hooked. We read a plot synopsis for the first half, just to get our foot in the door, but we let the second half be a surprise, and it was very entertaining and funny. The plot moves right along, and it has some good twists but isn’t so convoluted you can’t follow it. The music is glorious, of course. A few arias are just heartbreaking. Wonderful production, sumptuous scenery and costumes, excellent casting. Kids can definitely follow the action (especially if they can read), but it does hinge on seduction and adultery and the threat of droit du seigneur, so viewer beware. I think our next opera will have more vengeance and stabbing. 

MONDAY
Hot dogs of many nations, tater tots

Life has gotten very, very drivey lately (kids going to job interviews, kids needing to be driven to their new jobs, kids needing practice driving so they can eventually drive themselves to their new jobs, etc.) so Damien has been cooking a lot, and on Monday he made a lavish hot dog display. I just had mustard and about a cubic foot of sauerkraut on mine, which is obviously the best way to have a hot dog, but there was also chili, cheese, various vegetables, and a good selection of whatnot. 

TUESDAY
Carnitas, guacamole, fruit salad

This is the best-smelling dinner in the universe, and if you start early in the day, you get tons of flavor with very little effort. You simmer the seasoned pork in Coke and oil with cinnamon sticks, orange wedges, and bay leaves for two hours, then continue cooking the meat until it becomes dark and wonderful.

Even darker than that!

Drain, shred, and serve the meat on tortillas with sour cream and cilantro, or pico de gallo, or whatever you like. Here’s my guacamole recipe:

Jump to Recipe

And here’s the carnitas recipe from J.R.’s Art Place

This meat is also wonderful with beans and rice, but after making guacamole and a big fruit salad, I ran out of steam. 

You know, sometimes people are all, oh, Simcha, you cook such heavy, unhealthy food all the time, and I’m like, oh, no, you’re right, I’m terrible, but then I remember that when I was growing up, I don’t think we ever ever had a vegetable that didn’t have cheese on it, and that included salad. And if it was fruit salad, we put sugar on it.  

WEDNESDAY
Sugar rub pork ribs, roasted corn on the cob

Damien made his most excellent sugar rub, and grilled the ribs outside. I bought a bottle of sauce to go with pork ribs, but I didn’t even bother putting it on the table, because I didn’t want to mess with that flavor or that beautiful caramelized crust.

Jump to Recipe

 

If you can get white pepper, you get this extra kind of peppery effervescence you don’t get with black pepper. 

The corn, sometimes you just don’t feel like boiling a giant pot of water for corn, so oven broiling works fine. I poured melted butter on the shucked ears and roasted them in a very hot oven for about ten minutes, turning them once. I had them wrapped in tin foil to keep the butter and steam in, but opened it up toward the end. I meant to get a little char on them, but I was too hungry to let them keep cooking.

THURSDAY
Pizza

Yay, pizza! Two pepperoni, one cheese, one olive, and one olive, feta, onion, fresh basil, artichoke heart, and fresh parmesan. No photo, alas. I had missed the last several days of running because I hurt my foot, and the only time we had to go on Thursday was in the evening, so I made the pizzas, went running, and came back and had cold pizza, and that’s how I choose to live my life. 

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese and mac and cheese and mac and cheese

I’m just planning to make a lot of it! Can’t help myself! My mac and cheese recipe is just to make a big pot of white sauce, throw in whatever cheeses are in the house, and then either a little mustard, or a little hot sauce, or both, to save it from blandness. Mix the cheese sauce with boiled macaroni, pour into a buttered casserole dish, top with buttered panko crumbs, and bake until golden brown. 

Oh, wanna see my beautiful lo mein from last Friday? Shrimp, fresh ginger, and sugar snap peas. I usually use mirin to deglaze the pan before adding the noodles, but I was out, so I used rice vinegar instead. SO MUCH BETTER. I’m doing it that way from now on.

Jump to Recipe

 

I didn’t realize how sweet mirin is!

I wish I had some lo mein right now. But mac and cheese is good, too, I guess.

One final culinary note: Damien and I go running on a very rural road, and a house there has started selling duck eggs. We bought a dozen and holy wow, they are good. And huge!

They taste like chicken eggs except the yolk is incredibly rich; and the white fluffs up nicely when you fry it, and doesn’t stick to the pan. Magic. We are uh thinking of getting some ducks. Probably just female ducks. I’ve been reading up on male ducks and we do not need any kind of #timesup situation in our back yard. 

White Lady From NH's Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 4 avocados
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 limes juiced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, diced

Instructions

  1. Peel avocados. Mash two and dice two. 

  2. Mix together with rest of ingredients and add seasonings.

  3. Cover tightly, as it becomes discolored quickly. 

 

 

sugar smoked ribs

the proportions are flexible here. You can adjust the sugar rub to make it more or less spicy or sweet. Just pile tons of everything on and give it puh-lenty of time to smoke.

Ingredients

  • rack pork ribs
  • yellow mustard
  • Coke
  • extra brown sugar

For the sugar rub:

  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp white pepper

Instructions

  1. Coat the ribs in yellow mustard and cover them with sugar rub mixture

  2. Smoke at 225 for 3 hours

  3. Take ribs out, make a sort of envelope of tin foil and pour Coke and brown sugar over them. close up the envelope.

  4. Return ribs to smoker and cook another 2 hours.

  5. Remove tinfoil and smoke another 45-min.

  6. Finish on grill to give it a char.

 

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 rice vinegar (or mirin, which will make it sweeter)

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.

10 gifts you ought to give your teenagers

As our kids get older, we find it harder and harder to choose gifts for them, now that we can no longer just scan the toy aisle and pick out something neat and colorful. We ask for wish lists, and on them are items that, not only do I not understand why someone would want them, I don’t even completely know what they are.

But I do know how to give older kids the intangible things they need on the 363 days of the year, when it’s not their birthday or Christmas (and not a single one of them needs a charging cable). These are things that may or may not delight them when they receive them, but may stay with them and help them for the rest of their lives.

  1. Being needed. Let them feel the feeling of being important to another human being. This can happen automatically in large families, but even there, some kids are good at escaping responsibility. But understanding that we are responsible for other people is a fundamental part of being human, and kids should learn it early. Some families overdo this, and turn kids, especially girls, into mini parents. This is unjust, and will lead to resentment and burnout. But if your child tends to feel that the world is here to serve him, that needs correcting. All kids should be in charge of something important, even if it’s small.2. The gift of being listened to, even if it’s something you don’t personally care about, because you care about your kid. Let them know more than you about something, and be really interested to hear all about it. Teenagers can come across as arrogant know-it-alls, but this, like so many unpleasant teen traits, often stems from insecurity. They desperately want to prove they’re smart and well-informed and interesting and worthy of attention. So sometimes step back and let them show their stuff, and compliment them on how well they know their topic. They may act like they don’t care, but they probably care very much, and will be very pleased to know they’ve impressed you. More importantly, if you are in the habit of listening to them chatter about inconsequential stuff, they are more likely to come to you with stuff that does matter.
  2. The gift of earning stuff they want. It can be tempting to give teenagers everything they think they need to make them happy, because you want them to be happy and you want them to be happy with you. But you’ll be giving them a much more long-lasting gift if you help them figure out how to do some work to earn some money to get the thing. This will also help them become more discerning about just how badly they want or need some item.
  3. The gift of getting away with things. Sometimes, let stuff ride. Just don’t notice it. It will be easier on all of you if you just pretend you don’t hear that tone of voice, didn’t notice that mess, aren’t aware of that screw-up, don’t care about that bad habit. It’s okay to have personal limits about what you’ll put up with, but make sure you’re not constantly correcting every last little thing. Prioritize, and save your correcting energy for things that really need it.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 

Image by Luisella Planeta Leoni from Pixabay

Yes, you should have a crucifix on your wall

A friend told me that a friend of her, a priest who was an exorcist, had cleansed a house of demons not long ago. The priest noticed and remarked that there were no crucifixes hung anywhere on the walls, even though the family was Catholic.

No crosses, no icons, no devotional pictures, no holy cards, no tin Sacred Hearts, no dried-up palm branches stuffed behind a family photo. No Bible, decorative or otherwise. But especially, no crucifix.

I only heard his comment second-hand, so I’m not sure if there was any follow-up, or how much importance he attached to it. Still, he thought it was worth remarking on, and so it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Why should we hang crucifixes in our house, if not to ward off demons?

Well, warding off demons isn’t actually a bad motivation. The cross, and specifically the crucifix, does have a certain amount of power just because of what it is, and (just purely speculating as a layman), I can imagine an unclean spirit at very least feeling uncomfortable around it, and less willing to settle in.

But of course, the crucifix isn’t a magic charm or a lucky horseshoe. What I can more easily imagine is an unclean spirit feeling uncomfortable in the kind of house where a crucifix is not only hung, but noticed and revered.

But let’s say you hung up a crucifix, and that was the end of it. You did it because you always had one growing up, or because you wanted to make your grandmother happy, or because it just looks pretty. You don’t especially revere it or even notice it after a while. Is it still worthwhile?

I think so. Simply hanging a crucifix on the wall where everyone can see it will likely feel like an act of courage and loyalty in this aggressively secular, post-Christian time. It’s not easy to buck the culture.

But if your house has no crucifix or other holy images on display, and especially if you’re resistant to the idea of making that happen, you could ask yourself why. If your reason is purely aesthetic, that’s an easy problem to solve.

No matter how carefully curated the decor of your house, there is a crucifix for your tastes. In the course of two thousand years old, Christianity has reached every culture and continent, and that means there are crucifixes rendered in every conceivable style. That’s kind of a feature of the cross: It’s never going to be irrelevant, anywhere or at any time.

But that’s just aesthetics. Maybe your antipathy goes a little deeper, and you’re afraid people will think you’re some kind of fanatic — or worse, they’ll see you as some kind of pervert or enabler. Maybe you don’t hang a crucifix because you don’t want to be associated with the ugliness that is so often the face of the Catholic Church today.

 
Well, that is actually the point of the cross. It is ugly. It is shameful. It is painfully public.
 

It shows innocence betrayed, and it shows someone suffering for crimes he did not commit. It shows humanity’s darkest hour. It is therefore especially appropriate to display when the corporate Church has let its flock down so horribly.

I’ll just say it: Refusing to hang a crucifix because you don’t want to be associated with thing like that is dangerously close to rejecting Jesus. 

If you can’t be publicly Catholic when being Catholic looks bad, then what’s the point? The way Jesus found himself on the cross in the first place is because he decided to hang around with the likes of us. He chose to associate himself with a whole race of perverts, enablers, cowards, narcissists, predators, liars, cheats, and thugs, and this is where it got him.
 

This is where it got us: A few breaths away from the Beatific Vision, by way of the cross.

And that’s really the main issue. Putting a crucifix on the wall of your home is not primarily for the benefit of any visitors who might see it. It’s for yourself. It’s so you can look at it in peace and prosperity and remember how ephemeral worldly peace and prosperity are.

And it’s so you can look at it in terrible, painful times and see that pain is never empty and meaningless because is full of the company of Christ. And it’s so you can remember that the cross, that instrument of torture, is occupied — not by you, but by the one who took your place for no good reason at all except that he loves you.

The crucifix isn’t a lucky charm that chases away bogeymen. It’s something much stranger: It’s the disrupter of every fakery, and the answer that makes a mockery out of every foolish question. But it hangs so quietly, willing to be ignored.

Let’s not.

 

 

 

***
A version of this essay was first published in the Catholic Weekly in 2019.

Trinity Sunday: I have much more to tell you

So, how was Heresy Sunday at your parish? Maybe you know it better as “Trinity Sunday,” but, well, you know. One minute, you’re standing there sweating behind the pulpit, trying to give your flock something solid to chew on, and then next minute, you’re a modalist. Or an arian, or a partialist. (If you’ve somehow never watched St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies, take a few minutes! It’s funny and good.)
 
On the other hand, you also have people complaining on Twitter that they’re pretty tired of hearing from their pastors that they’re just too dumb to understand the trinity, so he won’t even try. 
 
On the other hand . . . wait, that’s three hands now, and we’re about to veer into heresy again. What I’m trying to say is that the theology of the Trinity is pretty intense, and I have a lot of sympathy for homilists who are trying to steer a way in between teaching something false, and just performing some vague hand-waving about the mysterious mystery of it all.
 
However, the theology of the trinity is a lot more knowable than I was led to believe as a child. I had the impression that it was simply so far beyond our human experience, it would break my brain if I even tried to figure it out. This is false. If you want to know more about the Trinity — and you should! It’s VERY COOL — I most ardently recommend Frank Sheed’s Theology for Beginners. I intend to read it again this summer with my teenagers. It’s very lucid and exciting, and, surprise surprise, it leads to a better understanding of, well, everything. Because it’s about who and what God is.
 
However however, it would be hard to get into it in a single sermon. Some of the best sermons I’ve heard are less about defining doctrine and more about helping us understand why it’s important, and what it has to do with us. As Chris Damian says in another context
 
We tend to think of arriving at belief as a straightforward process. We think of belief as something that exists on the level of syllogism, where my rational assent is always the result of a clear logic unfolding from the circuitry of my mind. But coming into deep belief does not involve a mere continuation of syllogistic progression. Rather, it involves the mysterious integration of a complex constellation of experience, context, affection, habit, longing, rationale, and choice. Often the assertion of belief is a last step, the articulation of something which already exists within the person but which has taken time to develop into words.
So a few years ago, on Trinity Sunday, we heard a sermon with less doctrine but plenty of the rest of that complex constellation, and I appreciated it. The pastor at this church tended to deliver shaggy dog sermons, and sometimes you never do arrive at the punchline. But when you do, it’s always about the immensity of God’s love, and how personal it all is. Which is why we kept going back to this church, even though it’s forty minutes away! Here’s how I remember it:

He described how his grandmother and grandfather met at a town dance in 1922. They spotted each other across the room, and she thought he looked like a troublemaker and he thought she looked stuck up. But somehow they got together anyway, fell in love, got married, and came to know each other as they learned how to love each other. They had children, and those children had children, including the pastor himself; and by the time they had been married for several decades, they could complete each other’s thoughts. Gradually, over the years, they revealed themselves to each other more and more.
 
We sometimes think God has changed since the Old Testament. It seems like God used to be so harsh and angry, always smiting and getting vengeance; but then Jesus came, and taught us about love, even loving your enemy — and this seemed like something so new and different. But that year, we heard in the first reading how God has always been:
 
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth. . . 
There are some intimations of the Trinity here, of a God who isn’t lonely and solitary, but is in a fruitful relationship. And it was a relationship not only of love between the persons of the Trinity, but between God and us:
 
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race.
 
The pastor reminded us that God was perfectly content in himself, perfectly complete. He didn’t need anything, certainly not human beings. But because of his overflowing love, he did want something . . . and so he made us. The responsorial psalm that year said:
 
What is man that you should be mindful of him,
or the son of man that you should care for him?
R. O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
 
God made us to love us — and, as you do when you are in love, to reveal himself to us.  That that is what you do when you love someone: You open yourself, you reveal yourself to them, just as the priest’s grandparents did with each other over the course of many, many years of fruitful marriage. And that is what God has done for us (although of course we are the ones, not He, who had to learn and change and grow).  He is fruitful, and he reveals himself because He loves us. 
 
The Gospel reading from John that year was very short, and quite Greek:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.”
 

To me, this speaks of the hope we can have of coming to know God more and more, as we become more and more confident in his love for us. And we can also hear a certain longing and eagerness by Jesus to reveal himself to his beloved, to us.  It’s a real relationship — or at least, he wants it to be. 

Knowing God better is . . . well, it’s not always a delight. Sometimes it’s terrible, for a while, just like marriage can be, as you come to know each other better and better. But unlike in a human marriage, we can know  with complete certainty that there is always delight on the other side, if we keep pushing through. Or at least we can hope, until we know.

So we should not be afraid of trying to understand mysteries. God wants to reveal himself to us. But we have to start by consenting to be in a relationship with him — and sometimes, just as in any relationship, that means taking a leap, and giving the assent of your will to something that you don’t yet fully comprehend. True for the mystery of the Trinity, true for the mystery of love. 
 
***
 
Image: Creation of Man, by Ceschiatti, 1945; photo by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 253: Salad days

Hi! It’s Friday! Here’s what we cooked and ate this week: 

SATURDAY
Bacon cheeseburgers, chips

Damien cooked ’em outside.  

They were delicious, of course. Try pickled jalapeños on your burger instead of regular pickles. It’s just nice. 

SUNDAY
Turkey bacon wraps, cheese balls

These wraps were based around what was in the freezer and what was on sale. We ended up with honey turkey, sriracha turkey, thinly sliced corned beef, baby Swiss, and smoked gouda. I fried up some bacon, and it looks like I put some lettuce and maybe honey mustard in there. 

I like wraps because they present as a sort of efficient nutrition delivery system, but then there’s bacon and smoked gouda inside. I guess I’m easily amused. 

MONDAY
Pork ribs, baked potatoes, peas

Damien cooked again. I remember this being tasty, but not many details, and I don’t seem to have taken a photo. I think he put olive oil, salt, and pepper on the outside of the potatoes before baking them, and that was a very good idea. 

TUESDAY
Bagel egg cheese sausage sandwiches

Busy day calls for bagel sandwiches. Fried eggs, American cheese, frozen sausage patties. 

And orange juice. This bagel sandwich appears to be leering at me.

WEDNESDAY
Jerusalem mixed grill with tomato cucumber salad

I was pretty excited about this meal, because I remember being absolutely smitten by it last time. This time it was good, but not great. I forgot to sear the meat first, and I left the liver in pieces that were too big. So it was a hearty and pleasant meal, and the flavors were good, but the texture was not excellent, and I left a lot of meat on my plate. 

I still recommend the recipe, which is nice and easy.

Jump to Recipe

You have boneless, skinless chicken thighs, and livers (and hearts if you have them, which I did not. Ask anyone) tossed with your spices (which include cinnamon and nutmeg). You caramelize a ton of red onions, then sear the meats, then finish cooking them with the onions. 

Next time, I’ll sear the meat first, and also cut the liver into smaller pieces, and possibly even use two pans so as not to crowd the pans (ha ha, I am not going to do that. I would rather die than not crowd the pan). You serve the meat with a lemon wedge so you can give it a little squeeze before you eat it. Then we’ll see who leers at whom. 

Lena made a bunch of yogurt sauce

Jump to Recipe

and I made an Israeli salad, and we had sharp little pickles and your choice of pita or marbled rye bread. I’m not complaining!

I guess I’m complaining a little bit. It’s like everything else lately: You’ve been waiting and looking forward to it for such a long time, and then you get it, and it’s . . . fine. 

The Israeli salad was definitely the most popular part of the meal. This particular iteration was Roma tomatoes, little baby cucumbers with the peel on, fresh lemon juice, lots of fresh parsley, a little olive oil, and some kosher salt. I would have put some diced red onions in there, but I caramelized them all. 

This is a wonderful salad, with the lemon juice and parsley really adding interest and making it refreshing. A good accompaniment to lots of different meals. 

Half the kids were actually at McDonald’s having a BTS chicken meal, which they pronounced “fine.” It did not come in a pretty purple box as advertised. Now you know as much as I do. 

THURSDAY
Steak salad with pears and feta

A tasty meal with a few elements that work so well together. Mixed greens, sliced pears, feta, and roast beef cooked in red wine. 

I accidentally ended up with a kind of weird cooking method for the meat, but it worked out well. I seasoned a big hunk of beef with pepper and garlic salt and put it in a 350 oven in a pan with some red wine sloshed on. I cooked it for maybe 40 minutes until it was quite rare, then sliced it up, added some more wine, covered it, and finished cooking. I don’t think this is a technique so much as a demonstration of why I haven’t gotten around to writing that cookbook yet, but the meat was tasty and tender. 

I had my salad with red wine vinegar and it was delightful, very summery and sophisticated, but filling. I feel deep within me that red meat may be bad for your heart, but it’s good for mine. 

FRIDAY
Shrimp lo mein for those who want it, canned tuna for those who don’t

Gonna use my trusty basic lo mein recipe

Jump to Recipe

and throw some shrimp in. Here’s a lo mein of ages past. 

I may have some sugar snap peas, fresh ginger, and scallions lurking about. This is a great end-of-week meal, last chance to use up those vegetables. 

And that’s my story. Pretty happy to be fully into cooking summer food now. How about you? Anything nice on your table? 

Jerusalem mixed grill

May not be the most authentic spice mix, but it sure tastes good. Serve with pita bread, hummus, yogurt sauce, dill pickles, and Israeli salad 

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs trimmed and cut into pieces
  • 8 oz chicken livers
  • 6-7 red onions, sliced thin
  • olive oil for cooking
  • 4 lemons

spices:

  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 4 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp salt

Instructions

  1. First caramelize the onions. You know this will take at least an hour. Set the onions aside. 

  2. Toss the chicken thigh pieces, hearts, and spices together. 

  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet. When it's very hot, add the meats and sear on all sides. Then turn the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the meat is cooked all the way through. Note that livers cook faster than thighs, so make sure the thighs are done all the way. 

  4. Serve with pita and yogurt sauce. Squeeze the fresh lemon over the meat. 

 

Yogurt sauce

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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 rice vinegar (or mirin, which will make it sweeter)

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.

On lace, and loss

So there I was, scrolling through Amazon to find a dress suitable for my daughter to receive the body and blood of Christ in.

Because of The Thing We Are All Tired of Talking About, her First Communion was delayed a year, and I suddenly realised the lovely, very suitable dress all her older sisters had worn won’t fit her. With little time to spare, we started online shopping.

“Let’s see if we can find something a little bit old fashioned, you know what I mean?” I suggested gently.

I have seen some of the monstrosities out there: First communion dresses that look like slinky club wear; first communion dresses that look like not even wedding dresses, but wedding cakes, bristling with ruffles and petticoats and little sprays and fountains of fabric.

I wanted my child to wear something pretty and special, but also tasteful and maybe even demure. Something that would signal to her that it was a significant occasion, but not something that would make her the center of attention, because that honor ought to belong to Jesus.

Forty minutes later, I said, “LOOK, THIS ONE HAS A DETACHABLE CAPE WITH RHINESTONES AND BUTTERFLIES ON IT AND IT’S IN YOUR SIZE, OKAY?!”

We didn’t buy that one. We did buy one with butterflies and sequins on it, though. It’s not demure or tasteful, but she loves it to death, and as long as the Chinese factory doesn’t screw up the order, it should arrive on time. And that’s that.

This is what happens, more and more. I still have standards, but I give them up so easily. I let go of the things that once seemed to matter so much, and it barely makes a ripple in my conscience.

It’s not just the strain of trying to shop with one particular kid; it’s the cumulative strain, the decades-long piling-up of aggravation and compromise and defeat and loss that wears you down, until suddenly you realize that the things you were super hung up on are only as important as so many rhinestone butterflies fluttering on the cape on a nine-year-old’s shoulders, and the only thing you should truly be pursuing is the sweet, sweet relief of being done with a task so you can get back to the things that really matter, such as going to bed.

Is this wisdom, or is it giving up? I truly do not know. If you wanted to illustrate my mid-40’s, you’d just have to draw a fist letting go, over and over and over again.

So many things being let go, if not forcibly removed from my grasp: Trivial things, and heavy things, silly things, precious things. Things that felt vital and irreplaceable for decades, only to reveal themselves as disposable, and not worth replacing.

I hope I’m not the first one to break this to you, but life is very fleeting and full of loss, and if you deal with its fleetness by grabbing on and trying to hold it back, you’ll just end up hurting yourself. Better to relax into the speed.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image by liyinglace via Flickr (Creative Commons)

What I got wrong about Fr. Altman and disobedience

Yesterday, I got heated and wrote an essay about Fr. James Altman’s public response to his bishop. I classified it as disobedience, and called it satanic.

This was dumb of me, because it has to do with canon law, and I know almost nothing about canon law. I apologize for adding heat without light. I’m sure the bishop doesn’t appreciate any more muddying of the waters.

Let me be clear: I don’t think I’m wrong about Fr. Altman’s general attitude. If you have the stomach to wade through his many recorded words, you will hear an overwhelming and unvaried tone of arrogance and defiance, and a desire to put his own judgment over anyone else’s; and I believe he is causing scandal by encouraging his followers to adopt the same attitude of defiance. I haven’t heard or read anything by him that shows Christlike humility. However, I said he was currently disobeying his bishop, and I now believe I was wrong. Here’s some better information:

According to Canon Law Made Easy, the church tries to ensure a certain amount of stability when a bishop appoints a pastor to a parish. It’s common for a pastor to be appointed for an indefinite (and usually long) amount of time, and they can’t be removed from an indefinite appointment without grave cause.

But even if there is grave cause, the bishop can’t just say “go” and the pastor has to instantly go. The bishop has to follow a procedure which includes requesting the resignation. The pastor does not have to respond to this request, and he has the right to contest the removal. The priest can argue for staying, and two other pastors examine arguments from both sides. If the bishop still thinks the pastor has to go, the pastor can appeal to Rome. While this is going on, the pastor remains a pastor, but can’t function as one; and the bishop can’t replace him; he can only appoint a parochial administrator to do his job. 

So I was wrong to say that, in hiring a canon lawyer, Fr. Altman is demonstrating “utterly scrambled incoherent nonsense.” However distasteful it may appear for him to accept gobs and gobs of money while claiming he’s being persecuted, he is apparently pursuing his rights under canon law, which he is entitled to do. And this means that, while it’s hard to imagine his followers docilely accepting the bishop’s ultimate judgment on the matter, he’s not disobeying his bishop by not accepting his removal. I was just wrong about that, and I apologize. (I would, however, like to be a fly on the wall if Fr. Altman eventually makes his case in Rome. I have my quibbles with Pope Francis, but . . . well, I’d like to be a fly on the wall.)

The question is, what counts as a grave cause to remove him as pastor? Here is what Canon Law Made Easy says:
Canon 1741 gives us a list of the principle reasons why a pastor can lawfully be removed from office. It’s important to note right away that “principle reasons” are not the only reasons, so this list is meant to be illustrative but not exhaustive. They include:

-behavior which causes grave harm to ecclesiastical communion;

-ineptitude or permanent illness which renders the priest unequal to the task of running the parish;
the loss of the priest’s good name among parishioners, or their aversion to him;

-grave neglect or violation of his duties, even after a warning; and 

-bad administration of the parish’s temporal goods, causing grave harm to the Church, if no other way to eliminate this harm can be found.

 
 
Here, I will attempt to learn my lesson and not speculate on whether Altman’s behavior constitutes grave cause. The bishop seems to think it does (and has evidently been trying to resolve the conflict without making a big public stink). Here is the statement from the diocese:
 

“Fr. James Altman has recently made public the request from Bishop William Patrick Callahan that he resign his office of pastor of Saint James the Less Parish in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, as well as his intent to decline the request. As a result, the Diocese of La Crosse will respond in accordance to the canonical process as needed for the removal of a priest from his office as pastor.

“During the past year, concerns have been expressed related to the ministry of Fr. James Altman, a priest in the Diocese of La Crosse. Bishop Callahan of the Diocese of La Crosse, and canonical representatives have worked to fraternally and privately address those concerns. The process has been pastoral and administrative with a desire toward a just resolution among all parties.

“The ministry of pastor was instituted in the Church not for the benefit of the one to whom it is entrusted, but for the pastoral and sacramental care of those for whom it is conferred. The salvation of souls takes precedence over the stability of the pastor in office when these two values come into direct conflict. Although attempts were made to allow Fr. Altman the opportunity to respond to fraternal correction, a resolution of this situation has been unsuccessful.

“It is important to note that this is not a penal remedy but a pastoral remedy. Bishop Callahan asks for your prayers for Fr. Altman, for the congregation of St. James, and the faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse and beyond. While any change made to the ministry of a pastor is difficult, it is done with the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the Body of Christ for a positive outcome.
“The Diocese of La Crosse asks for the consideration of respect, safety and prayers at this time for all involved.”

One thing I got right in yesterday’s essay was calling for prayers for Fr. Altman, and I will include the bishop, and the entire parish, as the bishop requested. And I am grateful to readers who pointed out my error, and to those who offered prayers for me. 
 

While I’m apologizing, I also wanted to credit the folks who dug up and started circulating some of the quotes and videos I referenced, which I should have done sooner. Mike Lewis of Where Peter Is has once more done yeoman’s work, and I believe he is the one who first publicized Fr. Altman’s Pentecost sermon. @VagrantCatholic on Twitter transcribed and shared an excerpt from the discussion in which he blames Warsaw Jews for the holocaust; and Melinda Ribnek found and shared the video clip wherein he shares his views on the intellect of women