Sarah Breisch doesn’t really draw what she wants. Not yet. Breisch, 40, is the mother of eight children, ranging in ages from 17 to 4, and she only recently started showing and selling her work. It’s been a long time getting to this point.
Her artwork — primarily watercolors and lively linocuts of birds and other animals — is vigorous and arresting and sometimes comical. A frazzled mother bird approaches a tangled feathery nest stuffed full of fat, ravenous chicks, in a posture that somehow conveys both love and exasperation. A fox slinks under the moon, casting a knowing, uneasy eye directly at the viewer. A thrush grips a branch between its thorns and sings his tiny heart out into the darkness. They are just animals, but they all seem like someone particular, familiar and very alive.
But Breisch would like to do more. A demanding critic of her own work, she considers her pieces to be mainly decorative, and calls them illustrations without stories. She would like to make art that tells stories, because she has a lot to say.
Breisch had very little in the way of formal art training. Homeschooled from fourth grade through high school, she was free to pursue her own interest in art and artists, and taught herself through museum trips, by leafing through numerous art books inherited from her grandmother, and by using the miscellaneous art supplies she found in her house.
“At that time, art was intensely personal,” Breisch said.
So personal, in fact, that she could hardly stand to show what she had made to other people. And so, although her father, a skilled carpenter with an artistic bent of his own, encouraged her to go to art school when she finished high school, she chose instead to pursue other academic interests and entered the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire.
Inspiration in the Church
It was in the college’s chapel that she first encountered the beauty of the Catholic Church: the beauty of its theology and also of its physical art.
“In the churches I grew up in, art had no place, beauty had little place. Sentimentality and kitsch, what [founder and then-president] Dr. [Peter] Sampo called ‘the banality of received ideas,’ had a huge place. I never set foot in a Catholic church until I went to college, and the moment I did, I was overcome with a sense that this was what I was looking for. And it specifically had to do with the architecture and the art,” she said.
She recalls that the chapel was “not even anything fabulous,” but what there was looked like it had meaning and belonged.
“I came home exploding with joy and inspiration,” she said.
Talents that glorify God
Breisch, whose mother is ethnically Jewish, said, “I knew more than your average kid did about tabernacles and the Holy of Holies and those sorts of things. So when I saw the baldacchino [the ornate bronze canopy-like structure built over the altar at St. Peter’s Basilica], I thought, ‘I know what that is.’”
She thought her father might be open to hearing what she had discovered. But he was not able to.
“He suffered from that sort of mental divide of Protestants [in that] he was artistic and creative, but also an iconoclast, and somehow it felt wrong of him to marry the two,” she said.
As for herself, Breisch had never felt that her faith and her artistic drive were at odds.
“I thought, ‘I glorify my creator through my God-given ability by trying to imitate what I see in nature, because I think it’s wonderful.’ Because it was so private, it was almost like a private meditation,” she said.
Finding time to make art
It was obvious to her that art and faith belonged together — less obvious that what resulted was something that should be shared with other people, even after she decided to join the Catholic Church.
And soon enough, the decision about how to approach her art was taken out of her hands. Shortly after college, Breisch went through RCIA, married and began having children. Over the course of the next several years, she was simply too busy to draw, and too overwhelmed, and didn’t have the money to spend on art supplies. She would make flashcards for her children, or make materials for curriculum when she worked as a teacher, but it was always something utilitarian….Read the rest of this article, the second in a monthly series for OSV featuring Catholic artists.
If you have a suggestion for a Catholic visual artist (including yourself!) you think should be featured, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “Catholic artist feature” in the subject line. I am interested in all styles of art.
The other day, I performed the solemn rite of white women in their late 40’s: I shared a photo of my lunch salad on social media.
The ritual goes like this: I post a photo of my lunch, and I complain about trying to lose weight, and then I humblebrag about my plate full of nutrient-dense leafy greens and lean proteins, and I say that between this and yoga, I’m going to live forever. Then my friends commiserate about how, if I keep it up, I’m not going to live forever; it’ll just feel that way. Then we all anoint ourselves in the digital stream three times, sprinkle ourselves with irony, and we are cleansed.
This ritual has worked for me for many years. I’ve always looked at health fanatics with something of a jaundiced eye, thinking, “If that’s what it takes to extend my life, I’d rather cut it short, thanks.”
Jokes like this were very much a part of my family culture, growing up. My father, in particular, believed that life was worth living as long as you were enjoying yourself, and if you weren’t, well, maybe your time was up. Or at least, part of him believed that. He especially liked to eat whatever he wanted, as much as he wanted, and he really relished heavy foods, sugary, fatty foods, noodles and greasy briskets and things filled with cream. (And so do I.) He wasn’t exactly a hedonist. He believed in constant conversion of heart and the resurrection of the body and things like that; he really did. But in practice, noodles and brisket often got the upper hand.
I want to tread carefully, because it’s easy to get carried away when you’re telling the life of someone who is dead. I don’t want to speak for him just because he can’t speak for himself anymore. So I will just tell you what I observed, as I remember it, and maybe the conclusions I drew were wrong. Nevertheless, this is what I saw:
My father’s health was poor for many, many years, partly because of his personal habits, and partly because of terrible genetics. I remember him going in for serious medical procedures throughout my childhood, starting at about the age I am now. He had a hard time staying motivated to take care of himself, although he did keep trying, for his family’s sake.
But eventually, he really lost enthusiasm. He had the choice to correct a problem with heart bypass surgery, and he didn’t want to do it. It just didn’t seem worth it to him. His family felt differently, and we urged him to consider it. We contacted a friend of his, who had had the same surgery done, and was very glad that it bought him some extra years of life; and that finally did it. My father agreed, and he got it done.
And he got better. He recovered well, even in his old age, and he started doing so well. He had a lot of health problems, still, but he accepted this; and my overall memories of him from this time are of him smiling. Smiling at my kids, smiling up at the sky, smiling at the brilliant clouds, at birds singing, at snow melting, at records playing. This was something new for him, or something he hadn’t felt in decades. He seemed to be enjoying himself in a way that I had never seen him do, ever.
But how strange it was, to see him looking small. I had to keep correcting the image I had of him in my head. I still thought of him as a powerful, deep-bellied, overbearing, heavily bearded man, taking up as much space as he wanted. Never bothering to whisper in quiet places, never bothering to follow signs that said “no admittance.” I still thought of him as doing what he wanted. And he wasn’t like that, anymore. His clothes hung loosely; the top of his head showed through his brittle hair. His voice was muffled, as if wrapped in cotton. He was so physically diminished, and he shuffled, and tipped over sometimes. But he smiled so much.
It was also during this time that some personal reconciliations happened, or started to happen. He knew he was at the end of his life. But that was the key: He knew it, and he was getting ready, rather than dolefully sliding along. He said that the Lord was taking more and more things away from him, and he was glad, because it was getting him ready for death. He smiled when he said this, too. He was grateful it was happening—the getting ready, not the dying.
So, then he died. It happened quite suddenly, and I’m not sure if it was COVID or not. He went to watch TV in his reclining chair, and when my brother went to check on him, he was on the floor. It was very hard when he died, and I won’t pretend he made his peace with every last person, or that he had righted every wrong, before he went. There were a lot of wrongs. But those last few years were undeniably, irreplaceably fruitful. For him, and for many of the rest of us. Fruitful enough that they are not yet over, even though he is dead.
If you are halfway imagining that people live the real bulk of their lives when they’re hale and hearty and doing as they please, and that they slowly dwindle into a less and less meaningful existence as the standard earthly pleasures drop away, well, possibly that’s true for some people. There are many ways for the course of a life to run, and not all of them are within our power. The end of my mother’s life looked very different from my father’s. But even that was not what you might think. Strangely enough, caring for her in her profoundly vulnerable and inert state was a huge part of what transformed my father’s final years, which makes me almost quake with fear when I think of my mysterious mother and her strange, quiet power to change people, for good and for ill. A power that continues to burn and insist, like the light from a star that is already dead.
As I said, I am reluctant to tell you what someone else’s life means. So I’m not going to tell you that the last two years of my father’s life were his most significant. I’m just telling you that there was a time when he thought he could have done without them, and he was wrong.
Take care of yourself. Take care of your poor, dumb, needy body. Your body’s time will run out eventually, because it isn’t meant to last forever; but it isn’t meant only for pleasures and satisfaction, either. Most people are joking when they say life isn’t really worth living if you’re just eating salad, but most people also halfway believe it. Don’t you believe it. Your time on earth is your time on earth. If you’re still here, it’s for a reason.
Once again I come to throw my feet at your mercy, and apologize for not having written anything (or, I did, but nothing that showed up directly here). The good news is, we finally got Damien’s car back from the shop, yay! The bad news is, it cost, like, all of our money. (Yhes, this is separate from the other unexpected car repair we had last week. That was my car, and Damien’s car repair was . . . sweatily doing math . . . five times more expensive.)
But more distractingly, I spent the whole week kind of in limbo, agonizing over some medical nonsense which is … not really cleared up, but probably not as bad as I thought? If only there were some way for doctors to communicate information to patients! Say, via phone, or email, or text, or mail, or on that stupid portal they’re always urging us to use. Sadly, this is not possible. Their hands are tied. So this week just plain sucked. I don’t know if you realize this about me, but I don’t like being frightened and in pain and not knowing what is going on. I’m different from other people! Not to mention the whole thing was set to a soundtrack of the world’s worst hold music. But, nobody dropped dead at any point; not at all; so *at least three cheers.*
HERE’S WHAT WE FREAKING ATE.
SATURDAY Brats, fries
We used to have brats all the time when we had a fresh diabetes diagnosis and we discovered brats are low carb, but we eventually ate too many brats and didn’t want any more brats (some of us). But now, enough time has passed and the brats are roaring back!
Let’s just sit back for a moment and enjoy that mental image, and maybe also the mental audio.
I forgot how delicious beer brats are. Nothing like coming into a house extremely hungry and hitting a humid aroma cloud of hot beer, onions, and meat.
Damien makes brats by boiling them for about twenty minutes in cheap beer with lots of sliced onions, plus chili powder, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and salt, and then grilling them. The brats are great, but I truly cannot get enough of those beer-boiled onions. Heavenly. I went back for thirds on onions. Six-year-old me would have been aghast.
SUNDAY Chicken caprese burgers, broccoli
Just frozen chicken burgers with sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and sliced cheese, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
I was doing a million yard work and gardening on Sunday while Damien worked most of the week on draining, repairing, and re-filling the pool after the freak dog accident last week, very exciting. He had the brilliant idea to fill it with creek water, reversing the sump pump to draw it up. We’re not in a drought or anything, and the water is quite clean (it’s an extremely rocky creek, which is a good natural filter, and the kids already play in it all the time and nobody gets exotic rashes or anything), and he is filtering and chemically treating the heck out of it, so I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner. (The alternative is filling it with the hose from our well, which would take all week and/or burn out our well pump, or buying water, which is SPENSIVE and would also take weeks.) Yay pool! We’ll be swimming soon, and that will be lovely.
I don’t seem to have a photo of my chicken sandwich, so please squeeze your own mind grapes and supply a nice one here.
Oh, that looks delicious. You even remembered to take the sticker off the tomato before slicing it! Nicely done.
We had some kind of red Twinkies for dessert, for Pentecost. We. Are. Trying.
MONDAY Burgers, potato salad, chips, watermelon, Oreo ice cream pie
Monday was Memorial Day. Our town didn’t have a parade this year, for some reason, and the next town did, but I slept too late to get to it, thereby ruining any chance of feeling self-righteous about the lazy people in my own town. The kids did have a little memorial service for Kyat, which parents were not invited to, which is okay because we didn’t want to get off the couch.
I did make dessert, though. Benny had seen an Oreo ice cream cake in the store that looked pretty inviting, but the dang thing was $12.99, and the box was big but the cake itself was about the size of a donut. SO I SAYS TO MYSELF, I SAYS, we can do better than that!
So we found a deep, round plastic dish. I made graham cracker crumbs in the food processor and mixed in some melted butter, pressed this mixture into the dish, and then microwaved it for several minutes until it was sorta solidified. (This would have been better in the oven, but I realized that too late, and had already chosen a plastic dish. It also would have been better with a bit of sugar, but I forgot.)
Then Benny mashed a bunch of ice cream with a potato masher until it was soft, and we spread this on top of the crust. She jammed a bunch of Oreos and Oreo ice cream cookies into it, piped some Kool Whip ornamentations on top of that,
and drizzled the whole thing with chocolate syrup, and put it in the freezer for several hours. Boom, giant ice cream cake/pie.
Ice cream pies are a GREAT way to use up little bits of leftover ice cream, nuts, candy, syrup, sprinkles, cake decorations, or whatever sweet stuff you have in the house that isn’t enough for a full dessert in itself, and it’s a fun project for kids that they truly cannot screw up. Just remember to do it in advance so it has time to re-freeze.
To my delight, both Dora and Moe came over, so I had all my little flock under one roof.
We had yummy burgers which Damien grilled, chips, watermelon, and potato salad (just a standard recipe with potatoes, celery, hard boiled eggs, and a dressing of mayo, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper), and big wedges of ice cream pie for dessert.
Just a nice ol’ summer meal.
Here I might mention that more than one family member is struggling right now, so if you could spare a prayer for my dear ones, I would appreciate it.
Tuesday I was supposed to drive out to the seacoast to do an interview, but ten minutes down the road, my check engine light came on. Normally I’d be all “dooby doo, nobody cares about a check engine light, YOLO”and so on, but the Fates have been showing me certain things lately, and I says to myself, I says, I am not going to drive out to the seacoast with the check engine light on. Not today.
And that was the right thing to do, even though after I cancelled, I plugged the car in to one of those computer things and it turned out to be just an oxygen sensor. And I didn’t even feel guilty, thinking, “oh, I made the wrong choice, I overreacted, this turned out to be nothing after all,” because SOMETIMES, my friends, you don’t have to do everything the hardest and most stressful way possible, even if the hard and stressful things won’t actually kill you. There aren’t any prizes for being brutal to yourself all the time, I promise. You’ll just wear your teeth down and give yourself ulcers. Be nicer to yourself than you would be to some random raccoon you meet in a parking lot, and see how that goes.
Anyway, on Tuesday this random raccoon made some pizzas for supper: One cheese, one pepperoni, and one really cute one with prosciutto and arugula. You make a little salad with the arugula, some olive oil, and fresh lemon juice, and salt and pepper. It’s also supposed to have thinly-sliced red onion, but I forgot.
Then you cook a regular pizza, but first throw lots of fresh garlic slices and chopped-up rosemary on it, and some olive oil and maybe salt and pepper. Then, when it comes out of the oven, top it with torn-up prosciutto, spread the arugula salad on top, and grate a little parmesan over the whole thing.
Then the raccoon can have a treat.
It’s pizza that makes you feel special because [wipes away single crystalline tear] you are special. You are one special random raccoon.
WEDNESDAY Jujeh kabab, cherry walnut salad, taboon bread, and rice
Spoiler, they were both denicious, as one of my kids used to say. Denicious! I will say that the spicy kebab marinade for the meat was way more exciting than the actual finished product, and although it was very good, I was a tiny bit disappointed, because the ingredients were so thrilling: orange zest, fresh lime juice, saffron, plus coriander and cumin, garlic and onion, and a few other things.
This is all in a yogurt marinade. Next time, for real, I’m going to make a double recipe and save half the marinade just to dip bread in, because it was so dazzlingly rich and piquant.
So I marinated chicken thighs for several hours, and then threaded them on skewers, and also skewered a bunch of cored Roma tomatoes, and Damien grilled them all over the coals.
I think I will make this recipe again, but maybe skip the saffron, which is expensive, and tragically you couldn’t really taste it. It was good, don’t get me wrong! I guess maybe I just expected it to be explosively good, and it was not that. I also probably should not have combined a tomato dish with a cherry dish. But I made a point of tasting the chicken by itself first, so I could see how it was on its own, and it was still a tiny bit meh.
The cherry salad, on the other hand, was tremendous. Just a few ingredients, and I really didn’t see how it could miss. Cherries, roasted Fresno chiles (it actually called for Holland chiles, which I could not find), lots of cilantro, toasted walnuts, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and POMEGRANATE MOLASSES.
Yeah, it was good. And I’m very excited to have something non-pie to do with cherries, which are just about in season. I can see this salad jazzing up lots of different meals, especially if they’re a little on the bland or earthy side. Or if you had a vegetarian meal, this is quite hearty, with the nuts.
I was a little worried about there not being enough food (which is what it will say on my gravestone), so I made a pot of rice and chopped up some fresh wild mint. I also made 12 little taboon breads.
This is the first time I’ve done this recipe with separate little breads, rather than one giant slab of bread.
Turned out fine, except I overbaked them by a few minutes and they were a little tough. Still nice to have hot, fresh bread with a very savory meal like this.
Not gonna lie, I was proud of myself for this whole meal. It was beautiful and exciting. I served the skewers with lime wedges and a little sumac for sprinkling.
And I need to find more recipes that call for pomegranate molasses, which is AMAZING INCREDIBLE STUFF. It tastes exactly like I imagine Lucy Pevensie’s healing cordial. Restorative, and juicy.
The carnitas also turned out a little bit meh, probably because I seasoned the meat with salt, pepper, and oregano, browned it, and then made the highly dubious choice of cooking it in Cherry Coke Zero. I did throw in some oranges and cinnamon sticks and a jalapeño that was floating around the fridge, but it just tasted kind of weird, oh well, and then I just left it stewing in the Instant Pot on warm and the liquid didn’t have a chance to cook off, so it was tender, but more stew-like. Oh well. Here’s the recipe, and if you actually follow it, it’s tasty.
I was pretty burnt out by Thursday and just squonched up the meat and threw it under the broiler to crisp up.
and served it on tortillas with sour cream, shredded cheese, and jarred salsa.
No frills, oh well. Damien had volunteered as a chaperone for Corrie’s second grade field trip to Squam Lake, which is two hours away, and I feel like he deserved more than meh carnitas after a long, screamy day like that, but sometimes life be that way.
Look at us, we made it to Friday. At some point during the week, two dump trucks arrived, because I told them to (?), and dumped sand and gravel, respectively, so now are two big heaps sitting in the driveway waiting for me to do something about them. And I will! I always do something about heaps, eventually. You know me.
Tell me about Turkish food. Tell me about pomegranate molasses.
Very easy recipe transforms pork into something heavenly. Carnitas are basically pulled pork tacos with the meat crisped up. Serve with whatever you like.
pork butt/shoulder, cut into chunks
salt and pepper
1canCoke or Mexican Coke
1cup or lessvegetable oil
Sprinkle the chunks of pork with salt, pepper, and oregano.
Put them in a heavy pot with the oil and Coke, oranges, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer.
Simmer, uncovered, for at least two hours. The oranges will start to get mushy and the liquid will begin to thicken.
When the meat is tender, remove the oranges, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks. Turn the heat up and continue cooking, stirring often, until the meat has a dark crust. Be careful not to let it burn.
Remove the meat and drain off any remaining liquid. Shred the meat. It it's not as crisp as you like, you can brown it under the oven broiler, or return it to the pot without the liquid and fry it up a bit.
You can make separate pieces, like pita bread, or you can make one giant slab of taboon. This makes enough to easily stretch over a 15x21" sheet pan.
Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer.
While it is running, add the olive oil. Then gradually add the water until the dough is soft and sticky. You may not need all of it. Let it run for a while to see if the dough will pull together before you need all the water. Knead or run with the dough hook for another few minutes.
Put the dough in a greased bowl, grease the top, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot for at least an hour until it has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 400. Put a greased pan or a baking stone in the oven to heat up.
If you are making separate pieces, divide it now and cover with a damp cloth. If you're making one big taboon, just handle it a bit, then put it back in the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Let rest ten minutes.
Using a little flour, roll out the dough into the shape or shapes you want. Poke it all over with your fingertips to give it the characterstic dimpled appearance.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until it's just slightly browned.
Hey, sorry about the radio silence. It’s been a rather purgatorial week. Both cars broke down unexpectedly and RATHER EXTHPENTHIVELY, the washing machine and pool repairs are ongoing, plus there’s some kind of mystery medical baloney shit going on, and this morning the cat died. We don’t exactly know what happened — likely he tangled with a bigger animal. Poor guy. He was terrible but beloved, and did not die alone. Here he is on Monday, doing what he loved best:
Rest in peace, Kyat. And may we all merit a day that is all chicken and scritches.
NEVERTHELESS, people still needed to eat every day, so we kept on chooglin’. Here’s what we had:
I don’t even know. Aldi pizza?
SUNDAY Vermonter sandwiches, raw broccoli
Vermonter sandwiches are ciabatta rolls or sourdough toast, thick slices of roast chicken or turkey, thick slices of sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, Granny smith apples, and honey mustard dressing.
I forgot to buy apples, though, and got cheap with the bacon, and the sandwiches were decidedly subpar. Very sad.
MONDAY Smoked chicken thighs, chips
Damien made these with his lovely spicey-sweet sugar rub.
and made a big pot of rice, and served it with cilantro, sautéed sweet peppers, shredded cheese, sour cream, corn chips, and some very fine black beans.
I was very happy with the beans. I still had quite a bit of kale leftover from something or other, so I chopped up several handfuls of that and added it into the pot when I was cooking up the onions, and, yes ma’am, I’ll be doing it this way from now on.
It just added a little extra layer of smoky flavor and texture and was not overpoweringly vegetablly at all. I’m turning into a kale enthusiast right before your eyes! Me and the ducks.
Here’s another picture, because I have two, and it was yummy enough to deserve two pictures.
And aren’t we all.
WEDNESDAY Spaghetti with Marcella Hazan’s sauce
Requested by the kids, made by Damien. Always quick and delicious, with a very few ingredients
and used most of the sauce for marinating, and set aside the extra half batch for brushing on while it was grilling. Damien made these on the grill outside, on his Interchangeable Cinderblock Meat Altar Situation.
Served with fresh pineapple and raw sugar snap peas and some hot pretzels that were cluttering up the freezer.
Slightly weird meal but it hit the spot. Sophia can now sound out enough Korean characters that she could read what it said on the side of the gochujang tub (it said “gochujang.”)
FRIDAY Tuna noodle casserole
Look at us, we made it to Friday! Hope you did, too.
Oh, here is the source for the gorilla sounds:
Sounds a little fishy to me, but it’s too good to look up.
Mix dry ingredients together. Rub all over chicken and let marinate until the sugar melts a bit.
Light the fire, and let it burn down to coals. Shove the coals over to one side and lay the chicken on the grill. Lower the lid and let the chicken smoke for an hour or two until they are fully cooked.
Pour over beef, sliced or unsliced, and marinate several hours. If the meat is sliced, pan fry. If not, cook in a 350 oven, uncovered, for about 40 minutes. I cook the meat in all the marinade and then use the excess as gravy.
Happy Friday! This week I seem to have broken away from recipes, and just free-wheeled a lot of stuff. I think everything turned out okay, but it’s possible I was just so busy that I was ravenous by supper time every day, and would have eaten anything.
Yea verily, I don’t remember Saturday. Somehow the week went by extremely quickly, and yet last Saturday was a million years ago. I remember people complaining that we just had nachos, and I said no, we just had tacos; this is different. It’s spelled different and everything.
My spice mix for tacos (or nachos, which is spelled different) is: Garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, chili powder, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt. It tastes about the same as any packets you can buy and it’s not really easier to open packets than it is to sprinkle from a bunch of jars, so I stopped buying the packets. I don’t really miss the violent orange color.
Speaking of spices, this week I did buy a bunch of empty spice jars in an effort to Do Something About My Spices, which previously looked like this:
(My kitchen island is not always this wrecked up, but, sometimes it is, so there you go.) Well, after filling and labelling several jars, I admitted to myself that I had bought the wrong size. Too small. So I cussed a little bit and then went out and bought some mason jars, and got most of the contents of the rest of the bags and packets jarred up. It’s still cluttered and chaotic, and my kitchen is still wrecked up because I have had QUITE A WEEK, and I probably just need to bite the bullet and put in a new shelf. If it ever looks like anything, I’ll take a picture and show you!
SUNDAY Italian sandwiches, grapes, strawberry rhubarb pie
Mother’s day! I spent the morning clamping my jaw through a migraine at Mass because I forgot my medication, so then I got home and took it and then took a nap for a while, and then I spent the rest of the day working on my patio, and only feeling slightly guilty that I wasn’t flying a kite or going on a hike, which is what the younger kids wanted to do. I will do those things! Just some other day.
Damien made tasty Italian sandwiches (I had prosciutto, a few kinds of salami, provolone, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil and vinegar)
and Clara made me some gorgeous strawberry rhubarb pies
and the kids showered me with flowers and plants and snacks and thoughtful gifts. It was a lovely day!
MONDAY Chicken berry salad
I roasted up some chicken breasts, sliced it, and served it over salad greens with strawberries and blueberries, toasted almonds, and crumbled feta cheese.
A fine spring salad. Diced red onion would have been good, but we were out. Don’t forget, you can easily toast nuts in the microwave, and you don’t risk burning them unless you try really hard. Two minutes should do it.
TUESDAY Meatball subs
I had five pounds of ground beef and dumped in a few grated onions, a ton of grated parmesan cheese, five eggs, two or three cups of panko breadcrumbs, and I don’t really remember what seasonings, but more than looked reasonable. Probably just salt, garlic powder, and oregano. The grated onion is a hassle but it really makes a difference in taste and texture.
I cooked the meatballs on a broiler pan in a hot oven for about 25 minutes and then moved them into the crock pot with some jarred sauce for the rest of the day. And that’s-a my meatball story.
WEDNESDAY Bibimbap, pineapple
This was my favorite meal all week. I had a big pork shoulder or something, which I sliced into bite-sized slices and marinated in the basic magic: soy sauce, brown sugar, maybe three inches of fresh ginger, minced, and several cloves of fresh garlic, minced. I let it marinate all day.
When it was almost time to eat, I sautéed the meat along with all the marinade, because I wanted lots of sauce to go with this dish.
While it was cooking, I made a big pot of rice, and I chopped up a bunch of sugar snap peas and shredded some red cabbage, and just before supper I fried up a bunch of eggs in hot oil. And I stuffed a little bit of spinach into the bowl to wilt under the hot rice. LOOK HOW PRETTY.
I drizzled mine with a little of that Polynesian hot sauce from last week’s poke bowls and ladled some of the sweet marinade over it. I like to fry the eggs so they’re crispy on the bottom but still a little runny in the yolk.
Hot damn, it was delicious. I also put out some crunchy Chinese noodles and some fresh pineapple chunks, and it was such a good meal.
THURSDAY Chicken nuggets, chips, cucumbers
All week was busy, but Thursday was an especially crazy-go-nuts day. I can’t even remember what-all happened, but I was just running around like a duck all day, until finally I did the final pick-up of the day after dinner, and I was so tired, I just pulled into the driveway, turned off the engine, and fell asleep in the car. BUT!!! The dog still had plenty of energy, and there was some kind of fluke accident where he got startled, and jerked on his lead so hard that it flew out of the wall of the shed, and the end of it hit the pool and split the seam, and water started gushing out. Sooooo it was time to wake up and have a little unscheduled dip, because the pool holds 9,000 gallons of water, and when there is a hole, you have to patch it from the inside as well as the outside.
We did have some Flex Tape in the house, but not enough, so Lena went to Walmart for more, and I got it more or less patched up. And you know what, we had a frost the other day, and it’s been in the 30’s at night, so that water was somewhat less than hospitable. The whole thing was so dumb, I couldn’t even bring myself to blame the dog for it. Very high levels of dumbness.
So what, it’s still spring. We have a Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal coming to our feeder (the dude stands on the fence and stares irately at the world while his wife has a snack) plus lots of purple finches and yellow finches, and I think I spotted a bluebird, so I hope there will be more, because they come in gangs. And hummingbirds! And my Karl Lagenfield peony that I planted a few years ago has some buds for the first time this year, and the lupines seeds I planted over a year ago finally decided it was safe to come up, which cheered up both me and my neighbor Millie, whose seeds they were.
I scavenged a bunch of felled aspen trees, and I’m going to use them as posts to hang strings of lights from, if I ever get my patio done. I’m so close to being done digging, and this weekend I’ll level it and order some gravel and sand, and then I can start laying brick! Very excited.
Do keep Millie in your prayers. She fell last weekend, and has been needing more help than she wants, so I’ve been driving her around a bit. I love spending time with her, but it’s frustrating for her. She just wants to be out raking and weeding, and instead she has to be at the doctor constantly. She is about 140 years old and starting to slow down a little.
FRIDAY Seafood lo mein, steamed dumplings
Today, my brother is coming over, and also Moe and his girlfriend! All people who are either okay with the house and yard being a complete wreck, or else they aren’t gonna say anything about it.
I’m going to make a big batch of seafood lo mein, and steam some dumplings I got at the Keene International Market. Maybe I will get some more sugar snap peas or something. Or just, yanno, not.
The first time we almost bought a duck was 25 years ago, when my oldest daughter was a toddler, and very duckling-like herself. The one bright spot in our awful neighborhood was an agricultural supply shop that occasionally had ducklings, and they were so charming and appealing, we almost got one. But even dumb as we were, we had to admit that people who live in a one bedroom apartment with no yard whatsoever should really not own livestock. So we forebore. For 25 years, we forebore.
But look at us now! We have no end of grass, and our ducks are thriving in the back yard. It is finally the right time. I’ll tell you a little bit about it, because I’m openly pressuring you to consider whether it might be the right time for you, too, to get a duck or four. They are quite low-maintenance, at least so far, and they are a delight.
We have four Pekin ducks that we ordered from our local Agway supply center. We ordered them in February for $12 each, and they arrived in the middle of April when they were about a week old. We took them home in a little cardboard box.
They were unreasonably adorable. They looked exactly like a plushie or a cartoon of a duckling.
They just ran around like maniacs going “PEEP-PEEP-PEEP-PEEP-PEEP-PEEP-PEEP” or “WEEB-WEEB-WEEB-WEEB-WEEB-WEEB-WEEB.” They liked being cuddled, and they would huddle up and fall asleep in your hand or on your lap, or sometimes scramble up your chest and crawl around behind your head.
They liked exploring,
but mostly they wanted to be together. If you ever separated one of them from the group, they would all set up a huge racket and keep it up until you reunited them; and then they would just huddle up together and go to sleep.
They are still kind of like that. They sleep together, and have a habit of piling themselves on top of each other, and resting their heads on each other.
As soon as we got them home, they started growing like crazy. I mean like crazy. They were visibly bigger day to day. First they were just round heads, round bodies, and little leggies and feet. Then their bodies started to get a little bigger and elongated. Then they got shoulders; they they got necks.
Then their legs and feet started to grow, and their heads changed shape. Their fuzzy yellow down started to turn whitish and real feathers started to grow in. There have been so many awkward stages in between. Sometimes the down-to-feather transition is very comical, and the new feathers look like place markers, like “tail goes here, insert tab B.”
Their feet grew faster than their bodies, just like on teenage boys.
Their feet still look a little big for their bodies, so I think they’re not quite full size yet.
Their wings are also hilarious. I feel guilty thinking so, but they look exactly like, well, you know, wings, like you could just snip them off and fry them up with hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. (I am not going to do this.)
They’re starting to get some longer wing feathers now, so the shape of them is less naked, but they’re clearly still pretty useless. Every once in a while, the ducks will rear up tall and vigorously stretcccccch and FLAP-FLAP-FLAP their wings, and then fold and tuck them back behind them exactly like a fussy little man tucking his thumbs into his vest or something. It’s so funny.
We chose Pekin ducks because they are hearty, friendly, and relatively smart about predators (meaning they will run away, rather than just stand there going “duh” when something wants to eat them). They make good pets and don’t get sick a lot, and they’re okay in cold weather; and they’re too fat to fly. When you think “duck,” it’s probably a Pekin duck you’re imagining.
Here is what they look like now, a little over a month later.
They have thighs and chests and everything!
Let’s see, what else might you want to know?
Other equipment we bought for the ducks: A big sack of protein crumbles (the same brand they’d been eating in the store, about $20 that lasts about ten days), a feeder, a watering tray, a heat lamp to keep them warm, especially at night or if they got wet; several giant packs of pine shavings, and a big plastic tub. That was enough for the first month or so.
When ducklings are with their mother, she grooms them with her oils and waterproofs them; but when they’re on their own, they’re not really ready to go swimming right away, so we resisted the urge to toss them in the bathtub when they were little. But we did give them a tupperware tub with some holes cut in it for water when they got to be a few weeks old, because they needed to be able to clean their nares (nostrils) out.
These ducks are the most disorderly creatures on the face of the earth. Utter agents of chaos. You put them in a box of clean, fresh pine shavings with a little tub of a food and a little drinky-drink of water, and within three minutes, the water is gone and the tub is upside down, half the food is sprayed all over the place, and two of the ducks are soaking wet and standing on their brother, and the fourth one is running around in circles meeping his head off, and there is a giant turd on his back. What happened? Nobody knows! MEEP MEEP MEEP MEEP MEEP MEEP MEEP!!!
Oh! Let’s talk about duck poop! My friends, if you are not okay with duck poop, I mean really, truly okay with duck poop, then do not get a duck, not even a little bit. They poop . . . . . . . . . . . so much. Like you have never seen any living creature poop this much, and you probably never imagined it was possible. And maybe you are thinking to yourself, “Oh, if they poop that often, it’s probably like a newborn baby, where it’s so fast and so constant and so pure, it probably doesn’t even small that bad.” NOPE. If you are indoors, it smells like Satan threw up in a microwave! It is so heinous! You (by which I mean your husband) will change the pine shavings twice a day, and it will still smell like someone has done something illegal to a corpse and then concealed it in a sauna for several months. It’s just the stenchiest, and I don’t think I would have been able to handle it if I had been pregnant.
They do slow down with the pooping as they get older, but I’m not kidding when they say that if you have these creatures indoors, you will KNOW IT. Outdoors, it’s fine. I honestly don’t even smell them when I sit by their pen in the open air. It’s just kind of comical how fluffy and angelic and etherial their down is, and they gaze at you with this blank, innocent expression, and all the time they’re producing this criminal stank.
The upside is, their poop is so liquidy, you can put it (or the shavings or hay or water it’s mixed into) directly onto your garden, and it’s supposed to be amazing for the soil. Most animal manure has to be composted or rotted for a while, because it’s too high in nitrogen or something, but not duck manure. I quickly got in over my head with composting information, but I did mix an awful lot of duck-smelling pine shavings into my raised beds this year, so we’ll see how that works out.
When we first got the ducks, you could hold one in each palm of your hand.
Now, just over a month later, it’s all you can do to catch one of them with both arms while they run away, squawking, and wrestle to stuff them into their duck house because they don’t WANT to go to bed and it’s not FAIR.
The kids are learning to wear long sleeves when they handle them, because the little claws tipping their webbed feet are no joke, and can really scratch you up. They like us and they know us, but they’re not especially placid creatures. I would classify them more as “hysterical morons.”
One of them, EJ, is quite a bit bigger than the others, and I suspect he is a male. EJ has a paler, pinker bill than the rest, who have orange beaks (that doesn’t seem to signify anything in particular; it’s just how we can tell he’s EJ). Coin, the other somewhat larger, feistier one, had a bald spot on the side of his head, which has transformed into a lighter feathered spot that is fading as he turns all white. The other two, Fay and Ray, are smaller and more docile, and are harder to tell apart.
They’re much more amenable to being picked up and snuggled.
It’s actually been a while since I’ve been able to tell them apart. Today I bought some colored plastic bands to put on their legs, so that should help.
We still don’t know if they’re male or female. The males have tail feathers the curl up and over fancily, but the female duck butts are more plain. Our ducks are still growing their adult feathers in, so it’s too soon to say.
I would be delighted if we got some eggs eventually. Pekins lay about 3-5 eggs a week starting at about 20 weeks of age (so around August, I guess). Duck eggs are large and rich and delicious. But honestly, we mainly got the ducks as pets, and also as a way to get used to having poultry. I figured once we had ducks for a while, it would be easier to transition to getting chickens, which really would be for the purpose of having eggs. I’m not especially interested in chickens, but fresh eggs are freaking fantastic.
Oh, another change they’ve been going through is learning how to quack! EJ started quacking first, and it was just exactly like when an adolescent boy’s voice starts to crack: Startling, unexpectedly deep, and pretty funny, and clearly not in his control. Some of the other ducks have started mutter-quacking more and more, and now they “peep” and “weep” about half the time and quack the other half. Hilarious. They quack a lot, but they’re not very loud. They do set each other off, and if one quacks, they all quack. Sometimes they quack at the wind.
When we’d had them for about a month, they were so big that they had begun to squabble with each other in their tub at night, and were panting because they were too hot indoors, but kept spilling their water so they had nothing to drink. So it was time to move them out! Damien built a lovely solid duck house.
A duck house just needs to be a big, secure box to protect them from weather and predators, that is off the ground so their feet don’t get too cold, and had some ventilation so their humid duck breath doesn’t make it moldy in there. It has a slanted roof so the snow will slide off it, and it has a giant door in front for opening up to clean it out, and smaller door inset in that, for the ducks to go in and out on a ramp (but we need to add some kind of grips to help them get up and down). The floor is covered with hay that needs to be changed once a week. It’s painted inside, and we still need to paint the outside.
Pekin ducks are quite cold tolerant. You mainly have to give them straw, and protect their feet from getting too cold (which is why the house is raised up on cinder blocks). When it gets below 20 degrees this winter, we’ll move them into a dog crate in the basement, which is unfinished but heated.
Their duck house is surrounded by an old upside-down trampoline frame with chicken wire zip-tied onto the legs. Ducks are not clever escape artists, so this is enough to keep them enclosed, and they’re very happy to eat grass, hunt bugs, and scrabble in the mud. They are in sight of the house during the day, so we can keep an eye on them, and we put them into their duck house at night, to protect them from predators (raccoons and skunks, and occasionally coyotes, foxes, bears, and anything else that might wander through. We have a highway on one side of the house, but conservation land on the other, so you never know what might be in the yard).
They also have a kiddie pool for drinking, splashing around, and washing themselves, and a tray for their protein crumbles. We have also been giving them more and more kitchen scraps, like peas, kale, lettuce cores, and strawberry tops. They go absolutely bananas when they eat. Like the Cookie Monster, but even more so. It’s like they’re blind and in a panic and the food is running away and there are sirens going off. And then they just suddenly lose interest and stroll away, with a streamer of kale dangling casually off their head. They’re so entertaining!
We don’t plan to give them meat, because it can make them a little mean, but they do love bugs and worms. Boy do they love worms.
They love to splash the water out of their pool and make mud. They are constantly making themselves filthy and then washing and fluffing themselves. It’s a full time job, which is good because I don’t think they can read or anything.
There is absolutely zero brain power in them. They’re so dumb, they’re not even dumb. Like, you wouldn’t call a bunch of dandelions or a sky full of clouds dumb, and a bunch of ducks exist in the world in the same way. They’re just a little force of nature, and they are what they are. For some reason, this makes them very soothing to watch in action. I like to just sit down on a rock and watch them duck around. Sometimes they give me a little duck side eye, which is hilarious.
The other animals adapted to the ducks very quickly. The cat took one look at them and just decided, yeah, this isn’t happening. This was smart, as the ducks work as a team and would have beaten the crap out of him, even when they were little. It’s hilarious, though. He won’t even look at them. He goes outside and literally looks anywhere besides in their direction.
The dog ADORES THEM. He thinks they are his AMAZING FOUR NEW BEST FRIENDS and they SMELL SO INCREDIBLE and they DEFINITELY WANT TO SEE THE COOL STICK HE FOUND and SOMETIMES THEY BITE HIS FACE HA HA GOOD ONE DUCKS and LET’S HAVE ANOTHER SMELL. He is constantly begging to go outside, and as soon as you open the door, he rushes right over to the ducks. Just can’t get enough of them. They either ignore him or jump at him and bite his face. They have never been scared of him. They don’t especially dislike him, but they’re not as impressed as he thinks they are.
The parakeet has started imitating their peeps when he wants attention. The lizard just keeps his own council. Never know what that guy is thinking.
And I think that’s it! Go ahead and ask me anything. I love these ducks. Not one second of regret so far.
When I was planning my wedding, I had a very small budget, and any time I could get away without paying for something, I did.
Borrowed music, homemade cake, amateur photos. I remember carelessly telling the florist that I wasn’t too worried about flowers for the church, because there always seemed to be flowers there already.
He tactfully explained to me that the reason for this was that other people had put them there—people, in fact, who had been married in that church the previous Saturday, and had purchased flowers and decorated the church with them for that purpose.
Oh! Duh. All my life, I had been going to Mass and seeing fresh flowers every week, and it never once occurred to me to wonder how they got there.
Without realizing I was thinking this way, I halfway believed that I was the main attraction at this church, and that it was just sitting there, flowers and all, waiting for me to show up and enjoy them.
So I bought some flowers. I didn’t spend very much, but I did purchase a few pots of flowers for the side altar, and a few stems for the front, and of course a nice bouquet for myself to carry.
This memory came back to me the other day, as I happened to be in church (although not the same one) for a rare daily Mass, and the reading was a letter from Paul.
Poor Paul, even at that late date, was still a little shocked that the Christians in his care were not … better.
They weren’t acting, in fact, any different from anyone around them. He comes right out and tells them he is trying to shame them for their behavior. He reminds them of their past life, and of the baptism that marked the beginning of their new life, and how awful they used to be. And now … they’re supposed to be different! Get it together, guys! Remember who you are.
I’ve been hearing several Catholics lately expressing how much they’re struggling with something they notice: They’ve been hearing all their lives that the graces they receive in the sacraments should transform them.
And yet they look around them, and their fellow Catholics are very clearly no better—no kinder, no more generous, no more willing to make personal sacrifices, no more gentle—than any random agnostic or atheist or pagan they might happen to meet. If the Gospel is true, then why isn’t it blindingly obvious when someone is a Christian?
There is a certain amount of comfort in realizing that this mismatch is a very old problem—one dating back to the absolute babyhood of the church, as the Pauline epistles demonstrates.
But that only takes you so far.
Here is where I have landed. I tell myself, Look. You spend your whole life going to church, and it always looks pretty, and you never really think about how it gets that way. Until one day you’re planning your own special day, and you realize the church is empty and bare. Catastrophe! What to do! Somebody do something!
So guess what? It turns out the very one who’s in charge of making the church beautiful is M-E. Just me. Nobody else.
Horrible. But what other answer could there possibly be?
I really do think of this, every time I go into a church. I see the flowers, and I think about who put them there. Some bride, some wedding planner, some gardener, someone. Someone who realized there was an empty vessel standing there, waiting to be filled, and decided it was up to them.
Sometimes it’s a matter of beauty that’s needed — literal flowers, or something liturgical, music or art or some wonderful new program that draws people in and attracts them to our faith. Sometimes it’s a matter of goodness; sometimes it’s a matter of truth. I’m definitely not just talking about programs and official groups. I’m talking about individual choices: How we comport ourselves, how we treat each other, how we respond to each other. How honest we are with ourselves about ourselves.
Sometime there is an emptiness in the church that I cannot fill, being who I am, or an injustice that I cannot fix. But I need to be there. I need to be in the church, and I need to be willing. The church isn’t a backdrop of decency and virtue, waiting for me to swan in and enjoy it as if I were the main attraction, and everyone else merely readymade spiritual scenery. I am the church. Just dumb old sorry old me, either choosing or not choosing to make it beautiful and good and true by bringing what I have, even if it’s just my presence. Even if it’s just my failure.
Grace is the kind of thing that only transforms people if they want it to, and if they’re willing to be transformed over and over again, with constant conversion of heart. And that means realizing that the work that needs to be done is personal.
It means reading phrases like “constant conversion of heart” and thinking, “How can I, myself, turn that cliché into something real before I go to bed tonight?” What is one little thing I can do? One little flower I can bring to the Lord?
It’s such hard work. But there really is no other answer. How could there be? If I think the church ought to be good, then I need to bring the flowers.
First, a word from Fay, Ray, EJ, and Coin: Peep! Peep-peep! Peep-peep-peepWONKpeep-peep-peep.” Yes, they have begun to quack. Just a bit, and it’s mostly Coin and EJ, and it’s more muttering than quacking, but it’s hilarious. They’re very good ducks, and I think you should get some. Or you can just check out my Facebook page which has been overrun with ducks.
And here’s what we ate this week!
SATURDAY Sushi, etc.
On Saturday, Lena graduated from college! We are SO proud of her.
Most of the kids had various frozen foods for dinner, and Damien and Lena and I went and checked out the newish Japanese restaurant in town, Kurama Omakase. I had a salmon skin salad and tried some of Lena’s takoyaki, which is some kind of breaded balls of I-don’t-know-what with bits of octopus inside, deep fried and topped with some other I-don’t-know-what. Terrible pictures (dark restaurant) but the takoyaki was STUPENDOUS.
I also ordered the “Trust the Chef Lite” sushi and sashimi assortment, and it was lllovely.
Very nice place. The only other customers was some kind of gathering of a dozen or more men who didn’t already know each other, but were in the same business. Maybe car salesmen? After their meal they took a picture of all of their watches. After they left, I heard the waitress tell the bartender, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” DO tip your waitress!
SUNDAY Maybe burgers?
Sunday was fun! After a week of rain, the weather finally cleared, so I worked on digging up the ground for my patio, and Damien worked on the duck house. I paid kids to shake soil out of the sods for my new raised gardens, and there were plenty of worms for everyone
The dog had the greatest day of his life, AGAIN.
Damien grilled burgers, if I remember correctly.
MONDAY Normal tacos
I didn’t shop on the weekend, because of the graduation, and did only a partial shop on Monday, because I didn’t feel like it, and came home with a wretched frozen log of beef that needed to be constantly scraped and flipped while it cooked.
I tried to tell myself it was sort of like when they have a leg of lamb on a spit and they’re shaving bits of meat off for shawarma, but no dice.
(I know there are various ways of defrosting meat, but honestly they’re only slightly less laborious than standing there scrabbling at the frozen wad as it fries, so you might as well suffer.)
TUESDAY Bacon, egg, and cheese bagel sandwiches; OJ
Tuesday I went shopping again, for real this time. Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me!
Maybe by the end of the summer, we’ll have duck eggs! Or not. We don’t even know if we have girl or boy ducks yet. We definitely have ducks. Boy do we have ducks.
WEDNESDAY Bo ssam, rice, pickled radishes
Pork shoulders were 99 cents a pound, and I had got a big, giant one, and started it with the salt and sugar rub on Tuesday night. I put it in the oven around 10:30 on Wednesday morning, and then right before dinner, I poured the extra little cider vinegar brown sugar sauce on:
and let it finish up. Truly a grisly yet magnificent beast basking proudly in the setting sun.
Everything the light touches belongs to you, bo ssam.
I also pickled some radishes and made a pot of rice, and cut up some romaine lettuce for wrapping. The meat shredded at the mere sight of a fork, the skin was intense and caramelized to the hilt, and it was a pretty good meal.
And only pretty good. This is the first time bo ssam hasn’t absolutely rocked my world, and I don’t know what happened. The pickled radishes were only so-so, too. Annnnd just now writing this, it occurred to me that I’m probably sick, and the food actually tasted fine, and it’s me. Crap. OH WELL.
THURSDAY Poke bowls
As is our habit, we were talking about other food while we were at the restaurant, and we got to talking about poke bowls, which Damien and I have never had before. It certainly sounded like something we’d be into. Aldi carries ahi tuna steaks that are frozen at sea, so I bought a few packages of those (I think six little steaks in total), and also a pouch of raw shrimp that happened to be on sale. They also had some kind of Polynesian sweet hot sauce that looked likely, plus some chili lime cashews. I also got five ripe mangoes and two packages of sugar snap peas at Aldi.
Then at the other supermarket (when you shop at Aldi, there’s always going to be a second supermarket, and you must just accept this), I got pea sprouts and rice (Aldi rice cooks weird).
So I just basically chopped everything up, cooked up a big pot of rice, and cut the fish into half-inch cubes. I sautéed the shrimp with some minced garlic in chili oil, and then squeezed a lime over it.
(The glass with the root in it isn’t some exotic tincture; I’m just trying to keep a rose cutting alive after the plow knocked one of my flower beds all out of whack, and I haven’t gotten around to replanting it yet.)
I was planning to make sushi-style rice, but I didn’t have any rice vinegar, so I left it plain. I put out a jar of mango chutney and some red pepper flakes.
Here was my bowl:
Wow, it was delicious. Sweet mild fish and greens and rice, syrupy mango, and then the hot jangly sauce and nuts. Very satisfying and entertaining, kind of like the dinner version of an ice cream sundae — not in taste, of course, but in the experience. I threw some shrimp in there, too, just because I’m not gonna say no to shrimp.
I was surprised at how many of the kids liked the raw tuna! Everyone found something they wanted, even if it was just rice and mango, and I’ll definitely be making this again. Yay, poke!
Now tell me about your poke bowls. I understand there are countless variations. What are your favorite combinations?
Today has turned into a stupidly complicated day because a bad light came on in my car, but the mechanic can’t look at it until next week, and lots of people still have to be in lots of places, and Lucy needs to be trained on her new insulin pump system at the doctor which is an hour away, and I bought tickets to Peter and the Wolf which is also an hour away, but you’ll have to take my word for it that it all just doesn’t quite work out. But I’m gonna try! But I’m gonna make those pizzas right meow.
Ugh, I didn’t put any recipe cards. Do you want recipe cards? Tell me if you want some and I’ll put them.
Nobody in their right mind would look to me for advice on how to have a strong, consistent prayer life. All my life, I have struggled with prayer, and I have mostly won. (Think about what that means for a moment. It’s not good!)
But if you could zoom out and look over my life, you could see one thing: The times when I am most at peace and seeking God’s will most often are the times when I was consistently making a morning offering.
This is not a straight “if x, then y” causal connection, of course. It is not magic to make a morning offering. It may even be the other way around: I am more likely to make a morning offering when I’m at a time in my life when I am already feeling connected to God or when I’m already remembering consistently to turn to him to help with hope and trust. One thing I know is that there are not any shortcuts.
Nevertheless, if anyone asked me what was the one thing they could do to start off on a better path spiritually, I would recommend resolving to make a morning offering. It hits that sweet spot: It’s fast and it’s easy, but it takes a small amount of discipline on your part, which signals to you that it is worthwhile. But it also puts the ball in the Holy Spirit’s court, which, well, I am starting to think is the whole entire point of life.
It is also something you can do no matter what your current relationship with God is like. If you’re feeling distant, you can offer up your day as a wistful act of hope, no harm done. If you’re angry, you can do it defiantly: Hey, You! See this sack of garbage you left me with? How about you carry it for a while? [Flings life down at foot of cross with horrible splatting noise.] If you’re feeling lazy, you can do it because it’s quick and easy and better than nothing. If you’re feeling very connected, it can be a beautiful and profound way to begin another day with the Lord. If you’re feeling trusting, you can thank him in advance for whatever is about to come.
All week long, the kids have been asking me why it is raining. I don’t know why they’re asking me. It’s not like they think I know anything. The truth is, I made it happen, partially because I like to suffer, and partly so I could make soup one more time before summer. But I didn’t tell them that; I just made the soup, so we could all suffer. (It was delicious soup!)
SATURDAY Fried chicken caprese sandwiches, Aldi Cheetos
I bought one of those enormous sacks of miscellaneous chicken breasts suspended in frozen wads of broth, with the intention of doling them out over three meals. It actually worked, to my surprise (I was expecting doom and disaster, as usual). This chicken is actually okay, as long as you’re using it as a sort of raw material, like tofu or polymer clay, rather than as a centerpiece.
Saturday we had chicken caprese sandwiches. If I have actual fresh chicken breasts, I will roast them with oil, salt, and pepper, but I thought these chicken wads needed more help than that. So I dredged them in eggs and milk and then seasoned panko crumbs, pan fried them, and then put them in the oven for a while to make sure they were done all the way through.
I served them on ciabatta rolls with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and of course mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. Not spectacular, but fine.
I haven’t really started my garden yet (we can’t plant anything but the heartiest things until May), but I’m already feeling the freedom of knowing I have decided not to grow tomatoes this summer. Homegrown tomatoes bring me nothing but grief, and hardly any tomatoes. I’m just going to excuse myself this time, and grow mostly flowers, plus a bunch of vegetables that don’t have all this weird cultural “oh yeahhhh, this here is the good life” baggage. I’m planning rhubarb and asparagus and strawberries and maybe some eggplant, probably various squashes and pumpkins, and I think some Brussels sprouts made it through the winter. And flowers!
SUNDAY Spicy pulled pork on tater tots with cheese
First I started some focaccia dough for Tuesday. I saw all those beautiful focaccia loaves people made over the pandemic, with little garden scenes picked out in vegetables, but I never got around to trying it. But Sip and Feast promised an easy, no-knead recipe that is best if you start it fermenting several days in advance, so that’s what I made.
So much olive oil, goodness! I made a double recipe.
So I put that away in the fridge, rested on my laurels for a minute, feeling domestic goddess-y and accomplished thinking about how Tuesday’s dinner was already halfway done, until I suddenly realized we also needed to eat something today. Boo.
But, pulled pork is easy. It was a bit of a strange combination in the slow cooker, but here is what I did: First I cut the pork into hunks, seasoned it heavily with salt and pepper, and browned it in oil. Then I put it in the Instant Pot with a can of Cherry Coke Zero, three clementines cut in half and squeezed, a few big dark reg, glossy guajillo peppers, a handful of little orange arbol peppers, a heaping tablespoon of cumin, and a bunch of oregano. I left all the seeds in the peppers, and just tore the tops off.
Then I pressed “meat,” which just makes me laugh. Do it! Go be meat! Away! and left it alone to think about life for the rest of the day.
When it was almost time to eat, I pulled out most of the clementine rinds and about half the peppers, and shredded the meat.
I drained the liquid, but ended up adding some back into keep the meat moist while it was heating back up while I cooked some tater tots and shredded some cheese and sliced some onions.
I had my pile of food in this order: Tater tots, then shredded cheddar cheese, then hot pork to melt the cheese; then cool onions and sauce on top of that.
It was really good. Not a delicate or sophisticated dinner, but REALLY GOOD. I did a bunch of digging and heavy yard work on Sunday, and this was a fine reward.
MONDAY Cobb salad
On Monday I drove an hour and a quarter to a super Newhampshirey-ish place to pick up a free load of bricks, and let me tell you, it was a lot of bricks! A! Lot!
I haven’t figured out exactly how many I will need for my patio, but if the answer turns out to be “quite a few,” I may have arrived. I did start digging, and I’m gonna do a lot more digging this weekend, when it stops raining.
For supper: Chicken wads, day 2! I broiled them with oil, salt, and pepper and served them in slices with salad greens, chopped bacon, hard boiled eggs, red onions, leftover croutons from last week, shredded cheese, and those crunchy fried onions that come in a pouch.
Nice little salad, much protein. I had mine with ranch dressing. This isn’t strictly speaking a Cobb salad, which is supposed to be laid out in cute little stripes and is supposed to have avocados, tomatoes, and I forget what else — I think chives, and probably some other kind of dressing. Get off my back, man! Cobb salad sounds better than “wadd salad!”
I was rushing a bit and hadn’t really made a plan for how to decorate it, so I just grabbed what I could find, which was grape tomatoes, radishes, scallions, some garlic scrapes, red onions, and kale.
I thought the design turned out pretty (well, one did. The other one was kind of lame), but I didn’t know how well it would hold up in the oven.
I actually baked it for slightly less time than it recommended, but one pan was still slightly burned, and the other was right on the verge.
Still pretty, though! The dough is very stable as it bakes, so the design stays where you put it. I call it a success.
Although the truth is, if you ever want me to do anything, anything at all, just offer me hot tomatoes baked into fresh bread. I will walk off a cliff with my eyes wide open, if I think there’s hot tomatoes baked into fresh bread at the bottom.
It had a thin crust and was quite chewy, and the inside had very large air holes
(which I imagine was the result of letting it ferment for three days). I’m not a big focaccia expert, but I think this is how it’s supposed to come out.
Guess what? Most of the kids wouldn’t even try it, because it had kale on it. Honest to goodness. Kale isn’t even that big of a deal. I feel like it’s like Sriracha sauce or Mondays or the word moist: NOT EVEN THAT BIG OF A DEAL. It’s just that people keep talking and talking about it, until everyone’s like, “oh my gosh, KALE, what is it even for, it’s garbage, only insane aliens would be in the same room with it!” Like, it’s a leafy green, it has a mildly sweet taste, and you can put it in salads or soups or whatever you want. It’s kind of dense, but who the fuck isn’t. People need to settle down about kale.
I grated some parmesan and set that out with the soup and the piping hot focaccia
and everyone stared at it and went to get some ramen or frosted flakes. I’m actually only pretending to be mad. I ate most of both loaves of focaccia myself. Can’t be mad. Too full of focaccia, here at the bottom of my cliff.
WEDNESDAY Chicken fried rice, steamed pork and mushroom dumplings
On Wednesday, Elijah made supper, hooray! He took a cooking class last year and has a few recipes he likes.
It was tasty if basic,with rice, onions and garlic, some frozen veg, chunks of chicken, scrambled eggs, and soy sauce.
But nothing can beat that wonderful flavor of someone else making dinner, let me tell you. And we also got a lot of mileage out of “you telling me ELIJAH fried this” etc etc.
I stopped at the Keene International Market and picked up some frozen pork and mushroom dumplings, which I steamed in my nice little bamboo steamer,
and I served them in one of the dozens of dishes Clara brought home from pottery class.
I’ll tell you, one minute you’re wiping bottoms, pouring juice all day long, and begging them to stop eating crayons, and then next minute you’re eating the dinner they cooked you off the pottery they made by hand. And looking the other way while they eat crayons, because you know everyone is on a journey.
But seriously, Clara brought home some amazing pottery.
Thursday I made what probably can’t really be called koftas, because they’re round instead of sausage-shaped, and broiled in the oven rather than grilled or roasted on a spit, and not on sticks. They were, however, juicy and delicious and to me they tasted middle eastern.
I mixed about five pounds of ground beef, five eggs, and then just started slamming in anything that smelled like it belonged in a hot tent: sumac, coriander, paprika, cinnamon, onion powder, garam masala, za’atar, and salt, and a big handful of fresh mint from the yard. Then I discovered I had used up all my breadcrumbs on the chicken on Sunday, so I made about six pieces of toast, and then microwaved them to really blitz the moisture out, and then ran them through the food processor.
When it was almost time to eat, I cooked the meatballs on pans on racks in a 450 oven for about 25 minutes.
I also made a bunch of yogurt sauce with fresh garlic and fresh lemon juice and kosher salt, and I made a nice Jerusalem salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh mint, fresh flat-leaf parsley, a little red onion, fresh lemon juice, and salt. And that was it! A simple but nicely balanced meal.
I briefly considered making pita or maybe making taboon bread, but we still had leftover focaccia, so I just stopped at the store and bought some pita.
I think we are having quesadillas. Truly, I hated this week. Everyone was fighty and bighty, especially me, and it rained a lot, and I forgot about a bunch of forms I was supposed to fill out, and even though the sack of chicken wads worked out, it made me mad all week. The more I think about it, the more it was clearly the chicken’s fault.
However, the ducks are growing nicely. EJ has started quacking, not just peeping, and Corrie has been great with them. They’re huge! Almost ready to live outside.
And I think the sun is going to come out this weekend. Literally, I mean, and also maybe figuratively; who can say? And I do have a lot of bricks. And ducks. Oh, and I fixed the What’s for supper volume numbering. Well, I didn’t fix it, but I got back on track. It went: 323, 324, 325, 236, 237, 238, 239, 240, 242, 242, 243, 244, 245, 11. But now we’re back on track. Quack!