What’s wrong with hymns without quotation marks?

Last year, popular sacred music composer David Haas was accused of sexually and spiritually abusing and assaulting 44 women. A recent conversation about his music took an interesting turn, and I thought I’d share some of it here.

First of all, it’s a shame that it even has to be said, but the guy’s music should never be played in church again. He shouldn’t be making royalties off songs he wrote and used explicitly to groom and manipulate women, and nobody should have to hear the words of a predator sung inside the walls of their church.

I have my own thoughts about separating the artist from the art, but this is different: The guy explicitly and recently used his celebrity as a religious artist to prey on women. He should be out for good, period. Yes, even if that one song of his was very meaningful and moving to you at some point in your life. You can always play it in your own home if you like it that much. Music is expendable, but people are not. Even if it were the most sublime music in the history of the church, it doesn’t belong in the church because of what he did.

Everyone agreed on that point, and we moved to the second point, which was more contentious, and which was this: Perhaps Haas’ music wasn’t sublime. Far from it: It was pretty terrible, so there’s a second (less urgent) reason it shouldn’t be played in church. Yes, I firmly believe that some music is objectively inferior to other music. Music that’s trite, coy, and formless is inferior. You don’t have to be a trained musician to develop a sensitive ear, which makes hearing bad music at church the equivalent of sitting on sticky, splintery pews or breathing air that smells like rotten eggs. Christ is still present, but gosh, it’s distracting.

Then came the third objection to Haas’ songs: The lyrics…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Weeding codependency out of Christian love

It’s a strange and beautiful thing, becoming one flesh. When two people marry, they begin the lifelong process of intertwining their hearts, growing into each other’s lives, sharing joys, sharing sorrows, finding self-worth through assuming responsibility for each other’s emotions and behaviors…

Hold up. That last part doesn’t belong. That last part describes something we call “codependence,” and it has no place in a loving relationship. It’s very common to find it there, though, because it’s great at mimicking sacrificial love. 

What is codependence? In its basic form, it’s a habit of taking on responsibility for someone else’s actions, emotions, responses, thoughts, and obligations.  

It’s a maladaptive coping mechanism many people develop in response to trauma. If we’re told as children that it’s our fault dad drinks or mom is always yelling, or if our spouses blame us for their irresponsibility at work or their bad temper at home, we may internalize that blame – and then spend the rest of our lives scurrying around, doing and saying anything that seems like it will stave off more conflict. 

Codependence isn’t simply a habit of trying to be helpful; it’s a heartfelt belief that another person’s entire experience of life depends on our behavior – that the sins and failings other people freely choose are somehow our fault, because we haven’t worked hard enough to keep them from happening. 

In truth, an adult with free will is the only one who can control how much he drinks, how much she yells, how they behave at work or at home. But abusive people are all too willing to let someone else take on that blame, and then blame them again when they can’t do the impossible and make everything better. 

Codependent behavior often feels like love, especially like the radically self-sacrificial, noble love that Christians are enjoined to cultivate. Codependency can look and feel like the great love of giving one’s life over for a friend. It can look like a form of holy martyrdom, mild or violent: “Look how selfless I am! I take onto my own person the suffering I do not deserve, just like Jesus!”

But there are crucial differences.

In authentic love, we are willing to help and be generous, but we do not pretend to have control over other people’s thoughts, actions, or emotions. Sometimes this real love might even look selfish, but in fact it shows respect for the other person’s autonomy, because it gives them credit for having free will and a unique, personal relationship with God. 

Codependency, on the other hand, may look generous, but is actually limiting, because it presupposes that the other person isn’t truly in control of his own behavior. It believes that other people can be manipulated into acting, saying, or feeling the right things.

Another difference: authentic love is rooted in healthy love of self, which recognizes that we are made in the image of God. Only trees with deep roots can bear generous fruit, and only firmly-rooted self-love can bear the fruit of unselfish love for others. In authentic love, we firmly believe we have something good to offer, and we’re even willing to suffer through offering it; but we don’t believe our own worthiness comes from our success at changing someone else.

Codependent behavior, though, is rooted in insecurity, fear, guilt, and shame, and a desperate desire to prove that we’re worthy of love. The drive to solve other people’s problems often comes from a deep terror that we may not be useful or necessary.

Sacrificial love brings joy and peace; codependent behavior brings bitterness and resentment.

And codependent behavior is reactive. We respond in the way we feel we must. We believe we’re forced into our actions by the behavior of others.

But loving actions are radically free. They come from a place of acknowledging and deliberately using our free will to imitate Christ, even though we have the choice not to do so. 

Christ knew who he was, and that’s how he had the strength to make the unthinkable sacrifice he made of his own life, for our sakes. But first, in the desert, he resisted the devil’s temptation to make him believe he needed to prove his worth; and throughout his life, passion, and death, he acknowledged that not everyone would follow him. He did not set about to change people who did not want to change. He would willingly take on their suffering and the sorrow, but he would not try to supplant their free will.

That is our model of authentic love.

It takes practice to break the habits of codependency. In some marriages, it can be done with attention and a firm, calm resolution to stop participating in an unhealthy habit. In others, where the origins of codependency are old and deep, it may take help from a therapist or a marriage counsellor, and it may take a long time. 

In either case, the upheaval that comes with untangling codependence from love can be unsettling, even terrifying. But it is worth rooting out. Like an invasive weed, codependency is not content to live side by side with love, but tends to crowd it out, strangle it, rob the healthy vine of nourishment, and eventually take its place entirely. Freeing a loving relationship from codependence means freeing love to flourish and bear good fruit. 

 

 ***

A version of this essay was originally published in Parable Magazine in 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

Thanks to Anna O’Neill and Kate Cousino for their help with this essay. Further reading: “Boundaries, Blaming, and Enabling in Codependent Relationships”  by Sharon Martin, LCSW; “Codependency, Trauma and the Fawn Response” by Pete Walker, M.A., MFT; and “Learning to distinguish codependency from love” by Anna O’Neill 

 
Image by simonwhitebeard from Pixabay

What’s for supper? Vol. 265: U jelly bro?

It’s fall! This means grapes! It means squash! It means . . . Korean food, why not! Come along and see; we have some lovely recipes this week. 

SATURDAY
Hamburgers, chips, veg and dip, watermelon

There was a little resurgence of summer weather, so Benny’s pal came over and helped her pick some grapes, and we had a little cookout. I spent a few hours working on my never-ending project, this ultra deluxe raccoon-proof garbage enclosure, with Real Hinged Door that Opens and Closes. 

Eventually it will have a corrugated tin roof, and a locking latch, and it will be wrapped in welded wire fencing, and I really do believe I’ll finish it someday. Someday.  Maybe I can be buried in it. 

SUNDAY
Ragù on fettuccine, garlic bread

Damien made his scrumptous Deadspin ragù, which uses ground pork and veal, shredded carrots and celery, and is just heavenly. You could feast on the aroma alone.

We spent a good part of Sunday and Monday evenings making grape jelly. Sunday we picked grapes, pulled off the stems, and cleaned them,

[this is supposed to be two sets of photos embedded from Instagram, but I can’t tell if they’re showing up properly or not]

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Simcha Fisher (@simchafisher)

 

and Monday we did the actual jelly-making.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Simcha Fisher (@simchafisher)

We ended up with about twelve pounds of grapes, and I got to startle a few family members who weren’t aware we were making jelly.

I firmly told myself that the main goal was to have a nice time with Benny, and not necessarily to come out with some grade A jelly, and that was a good thing, because we achieved the former, but not the latter. We ended up with 4 jars of decent jelly,

and another ten jars of something more like syrup — in some cases, because I didn’t realize that, if you decrease the sugar, you need to buy special low-sugar pectin, and in some cases because I used the right amount of sugar but ran out of liquid pectin and used powdered, misread the directions, and just screwed it up generally. This is after I mouthed off about how my mother never used to read the directions and that’s why her jelly was always turned so weird. 

Oh, I just used the recipe on the pectin boxes. I used Ball RealFruit liquid pectin, which was simple and easy, and Sure Jell powdered pectin, which was a little more involved.

I did learn that Concord grapes are very high in histamines, and if you get impatient with the potato masher and decide to mash them by hand, your hands will light up like Christmas trees. I learned that grape flavored Laffy Taffy is the exact flavor of Concord Grape jelly foam, which is kind of startling. And that’s all I learned. Maybe next year, we’ll just make juice.  

MONDAY
Italian sandwiches

Ciabatta rolls with spicy salami, prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes, red pesto, olive oil and vinegar, and a little fresh pepper.

We’ve been having this sandwich about once a week and I’m nowhere near tired of it yet. I mean not this specific sandwich.

TUESDAY
Honey mustard chicken thighs with fall vegetables

A one-pan meal, nice and easy. Let’s launch the beginning of butternut squash season with a useful tip: To easily peel butternut squash, cut off the ends and pierce it several times with a fork, then microwave it for 3-4 minutes. You should be able to peel it with a vegetable peeler and cut it fairly easily after that. 

So for this dish, you cut up your squash and potato, drizzle it with oil and season it with salt and pepper, lay the chicken on top, and then stir up a simple sauce and brush the chicken with the sauce. Then you just roast it all together. 

Jump to Recipe

The sauce runs down into the pan, and vegetables pick it up, it all melds together, nice skin, everybody’s happy. 

I had some leftover broccoli and carrots in the fridge, so I added those in halfway through the cooking, and that worked nicely. 

This meal is subject to endless varieties of vegetables and seasonings, and you can make it all ahead of time. It all goes in one pan, but it’s easy for picky eaters to fish out the things they like.

Win win win. I don’t know why this picture looks like I took it through a butterscotch wrapper, but there it is.

WEDNESDAY
Regular tacos

Nothing to report. I do remember that I kept calling everyone for supper and they kept wandering off, so I got mad and left, and then two hours later Corrie tearfully claimed no one told her it was supper time, and I felt so bad, but then they told me she was on the couch reading Calvin and Hobbes and wouldn’t answer them, and they actually went over and shook her, but she refused to respond. I heated up a taco for her anyway, but by this point, I was confused about who I was supposed to be mad at, so I just sat on the couch and felt mad in general. Does it usually take this long to get used to getting back to school? I don’t remember, but I feel like I’m-a-gonna die. 

THURSDAY
Instant pot bo ssam with spicy walnut sauce, rice, pineapple

This recipe looks like more work than it really is. If you skip most of the extras, basically you just have to find the fattiest hunk of pork you can, slather it with big handfuls of salt and sugar, wrap it up, ignore it for many hours, unwrap and cook it for many more hours, slather some sauce on at the last minute and cook it a little more, then chunk it on the table to gasps or admiration.

Okay, so you have to make two sauces, but one only has three ingredients, and you can make the other one in the food processor. It contains your entire yearly recommended allowance for salt and sugar. This is one of those foods where people are just silent while eating it, and you think, “Maybe they don’t like it very much” but then they get up and RUN to the platter and get more. IT’S VERY GOOD. Especially the parts where the caramelized fat has basically turned into pork candy. Pork candy that makes you weep. 

It’s supposed to cook at least six hours in a 300-degree oven, and I put it in way too late, so after a few hours, I moved it to the Instant Pot and cooked it on high for 45 minutes on the rack with a cup of water, then put it back in the oven for ten minutes to finish the sauce crust. You guys, it was PERFECT. Here is when it came out of the IP:

And here is after ten minutes under the broiler (and yes, I could have moved the rack down a few notches):

When you broke through the shiny, charred exterior, the inside was beautifully shredded and incredibly moist and full of intense flavor. I’ll be using the IP for this recipe from now on. 

The pork itself is quite sweet and salty, not spicy, and most of the kids really liked it. The sauce that goes along with it is spicy and savory and strange. A little goes a long way, but you won’t want to miss it. 

Bo ssam is supposed to be wraps, and I forgot to buy any lettuce to wrap it in, but nobody minded — we just ate the shredded pork with rice. You definitely want rice or something else mild to give your mouth a rest from all that intense flavor. 

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese

I used up only about 20% of the vast stores of leftover cheese that are cluttering up the fridge. However, I only made three pounds of macaroni, which is close to what people will actually eat, so maybe I won’t have created vast stores of leftover macaroni and cheese to clutter up the fridge. Maybe.

And now the adoration chapel has finally opened up again, and we signed our vaccinated asses up for a weekly hour on Fridays. I’ll pray for youse!

One pan honey garlic chicken thighs with fall veg

Adapted from Damn Delicious 

Ingredients

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

sauce:

  • 1/3+ cup honey
  • 1/3+ tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp dijon or yellow mustard
  • 9 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • olive oil for drizzing

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Prepare the sauce. 

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

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

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

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

What I’m watching, reading, and listening to this week

 . . . before falling asleep on the couch with a shoulder full of drool. 

WATCHING:

Moone Boy

Hilarious, delightful, insane, a teensy bit blasphemous maybe. Martin is the youngest child of a slightly terrible Irish family in the 80’s, and he and his imaginary friend, played by Chris O’Dowd, get into various ridiculous scrapes. I like Chris O’Dowd, but the imaginary friend bit is actually the weakest part of the show, I think.

The show is very Irish, so they get more digs in against the Church than we’re used to seeing, and though it’s not mean-spirited, I think they cross the line sometimes (crucifix gags, Eucharist gags). Some of the less edgy religion jokes are so funny, though, and I just love how the family clearly all love each other but kind of can’t stand each other. It’s just a very sweet, silly show that goes in some unexpected directions. A real gem. 

Here’s a clip that includes the theme song, and one of my favorite bits, where all the dads form a social group to commiserate about how awful their kids are

“Connor and Jonner Bonner, get back here!” The kid who plays the main character is so good, and so is his weird friend. Looking forward to seeing him in other things. 

We have been watching it on Amazon Prime. I believe it’s also on Hulu.

***

Mr. Inbetween

Ehh. We gave it several episodes, and I just didn’t care for it. This Australian show follows a single dad who makes his living as a hitman while caring for his disabled brother. It was billed as a dark comedy, and maybe I just brought the wrong expectations to it, but it just wasn’t landing right with me. I can’t actually remember what I didn’t like about it, which makes this less of a review and more of a request: Should I keep watching? Does it get more appealing after the first 3-4 episodes, or are they a fair representation of what the show is like? 

Here’s the trailer:

***

Better Call Saul

We’re halfway through season 5 (I think), and while I’m still consistently impressed with this show, I’m not enjoying this season as much as previous seasons. I still think it’s one of the best-crafted shows on TV — best casting, best characters, best dialogue, smartest, funniest, saddest, most realistic relationships, you name it — but some of the past seasons were just delightful, and this season feels more workmanlike, like they have a list of things they need to accomplish before the end of the season, and it’s just not as much fun. Anyway, still a better show than Breaking Bad, and that is freaking saying something. 

Here’s the Season 5 trailer:

***

READING

I’m super bored with the books I’m reading on my own, but we have some good read-alouds going:

Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren (author of Pippi Longstocking). The book is not illustrated, by the cover design of the edition we got is by the wonderful Trina Schart Hyman, who apparently got Corrie to model for her.

Very funny, very exciting, and really makes you long for adventure in the natural world. Ronia is the only child of a robber chieftain, a strong, happy, wild person, born on the night of a terrible storm, when harpies swarmed through the air and a giant bolt of lightning cleft the ancient fortress in half. Ronia has just discovered that another child, the son of a rival robber chieftain, has moved into the other side, which is separated from their living quarters by a bottomless chasm — and that the two robbers were friends as children.

It’s a very smooth, natural translation. Here’s a sample of the text, so you can see how fluid it is for reading aloud:

I’ve noted before that Lindgren is one of the few authors who is able to pull of characters who are both interesting and kind; no easy feat. The chapters are relatively short and satisfying. Has some spooky magical peril that might be too much for very sensitive kids.

We watched part of the Studio Ghibli animated series but eventually lost interest, I think partially because it actually followed the book too carefully, which made the pacing odd for screen. 

***

Saints Around the World

We’ve been reading a chapter a night after family prayers.These are mostly saints we’ve never heard of, including lots of saints from relatively recent times, and from countries that we don’t know a lot about.

The stories can be read in just a few minutes, and Hunter-Kilmer does a good job of highlighting a single theme in a way that rings true but makes you want to learn more about that saint’s life.  The illustrations are bright and dignified, but are a little odd to my eyes — they make the saints all look sort of like children, but not quite — but they seem to appeal to my kids, and the illustrator has gone to a lot of trouble to include accurate details that add to your understanding of the history.

I wish we had had this book when the kids were searching around for saints to pick for confirmation names, but in any case, it’s a great daily reminder of the neverending variety there is in the universal call to holiness, and about the universality of the Church. Highly recommended.

The tone and reading level is aimed at maybe grade 3, but the material is more than interesting enough to capture the attention of all ages; and although it doesn’t go into gory detail, it doesn’t sugarcoat the facts of martyrdom or persecution. 

***

I also read the first big chunk of Tolkein’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to the kids

and stopped right after the knight’s head got chopped off, in hopes that they would be so captivated, they’d clamor for more. They did not. Oh well. 

Still haven’t seen the movie. I will admit that it’s been many years since I’ve read the book myself, and I feel like I remember the main points, but I wanted to be able to argue with smart people about it, so I wanted to brush up on it first. The upshot of this strategy is that I have neither re-read the book nor watched the movie, and now I’m too tired to do anything but fall asleep on the couch at night. Good one, Sim. 

***

LISTENING TO

Nothing. I don’t know. I need something new. I have discovered that there is one public radio show that I will absolutely not listen to no matter how desperate I am for diversion, and that show is On The Media. I’d rather be alone with my thoughts, if you can imagine such a thing. 

Baby teeth

My daughter finally lost her tooth. It was a relief, that it came out just before the first day of school.

The tooth was hanging on by the merest hinge, and as long as she was home, she delighted in flipping it back and forth gruesomely; but the prospect of losing it at school presented some problems. She’s a bit of a bleeder.

What if she wore her favorite mask with the parakeet on it for the first day of school, and she ended up bleeding on it? She could bring a second mask as a back-up, I suggested. But does blood come out of masks? I assured her that it does. Still, we were all relieved that the tooth fell out the night before. So much better to deal with these things at home.

So then of course she lost the tooth anyway — lost it after losing it, I mean. She had put it in a sandwich bag and set it by her plate while she ate dinner, and her older brother cleared the table and mistook this fragment of her for trash, and threw it out.

Understandable all around. A sympathetic hug, and she was mostly over it. She probably has another baby tooth in her head to lose, still, so I don’t think this was her last chance to slip a tooth under her pillow and hope someone, magical or otherwise, would come and collect it in the night.

It’s a strange thing to work around, the idea that part of our skeletal system might fall out during the day, and we have to decide what to do with it. It’s hard to shake the idea that the system of growing and losing teeth isn’t halfway magical — not in an airy, sparkly way, but in a murkier, more occult vein, where biology bleeds into grisly existentialism, and hidden things come to light only to be lost again, leaving a half-healed wound. Strange that we just live with this system, as if it’s normal.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 264: Banger? I barely mashed ‘er

With an audible wrenching sound, I have forced myself to start cooking real meals again, even though we are fully back in school and having to set alarms in the morning and everything. Well, with a few exceptions, like Damien cooking and us buying pizza. Well, I made a few things, anyway. Look, I found my potato masher, and now you have to look at my sausage pictures. 

SATURDAY
Athens pizza

I remember when I used to think that people who went to the Saturday vigil Mass were technically not sinning, but rrreeallly, I mean my goodness, maybe if they just tried a little bit harder, they could make it to actual Sunday morning Mass like a real Catholic. 

Ehh, sorry about that. Anyway, we decided to go to Saturday Mass for the sole purpose of being able to sleep in on Sunday, and then we decided to go out for pizza after Mass for the sole purpose of I don’t wanna cook. I forgot it was some kind of community art festival, and this band had set up across the street in front of a tire store. Lena went over and asked them to play Wonderwall, but they pretended not to hear, which was not very Freebird of them. 

SUNDAY
Chicken quesadillas

I was working on my pallet garbage enclosure all day, and Damien shopped for and cooked dinner, and installed the faucet in the bathroom sink and caulked the vanity into place. I know it sounds like I’m coming out way ahead here, but consider: My husband has allowed — nay, encouraged — all the children to pronounce it “kwassadillas.” They also say “gwack-a-mole.”

MONDAY
Burgers and brats, clams, chips, onions three ways

Labor day! I love Labor Day, because you get to go, “Workers are important; go, unions!” and then you’re all set to have a day off, and you don’t have to carefully arrange your attitude and make sure you’re celebrating properly or enjoying your hamburger in a fashion that’s appropriate to the season or something. Damien grilled up a bunch of burgers, brats, and clams. Oh man, the smells. The smells!

The brats, he boils in beer and onions and then grills. He also fries up a bunch of onions, and also chops up a bunch of raw onions. We just like onions, okay? There are also onions in the clams. 

Here’s the clam recipe, which works with all kinds of shellfish:

Jump to Recipe

TUESDAY
Honey garlic pork ribs, rice, tangy cucumber salad

The pork rib recipe was a real “ship of Theseus” situation. You’re supposed to brine the pork (which is supposed to be chops, not ribs) for 24 hours, then pepper it, then cook it in a low oven for an hour, then pan sear it with this lovely sauce. I ended up brining them, yes, but then broiling, then pouring the sauce over the meat and finishing cooking it covered it foil. It was tasty and juicy, but of course it lacked any kind of glaze. Also I uh ran out of honey and chucked in a bunch of orange marmalade, and used white wine instead of sake. Don’t own a probe thermometer. Sauce never did thicken up. Didn’t even consider garnishing with thyme. And it was kind of undercooked so I had to put it in the microwave. Whatever! You don’t know me! It had a nice sweet, garlicky flavor and just about everyone who likes pork liked it, and I made plenty of rice, which I only burned a little bit. 

I served it with a tangy cucumber salad, which turned out a little more vinegary than was strictly necessary, because as previously mentioned, I was pretty low on honey, and I also couldn’t find my sesame oil, so that made it considerably less flavorful than it might have been.

Jump to Recipe

It’s a nice simple salad, though, and tastes sophisticated and refreshing along with something savory. Just don’t skimp on the honey. 

WEDNESDAY
Bangers and mash with onion sauce, cheesy pretzel bites

The day started off damp and dark, with a shivery, chilly mist enveloping the world. Brr, I thought, how perfect would it be to welcome my family home at the end of the day to a huge platter of steamy, hearty sausages smothered in creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes topped with a rich, savory onion gravy. The only flaw in my plan was that, by the time dinner time rolled around, it was in the high 70’s, sunny, and humid. OH WELL, TOO BAD. EAT YOUR TATERS. 

I made ten pounds of mashed potatoes, intending to make garlic parmesan mashed potatoes,

Jump to Recipe

but unable to find the parmesan cheese. 

I more or less followed this recipe for onion gravy, except I used even more corn starch than it called for and it still didn’t thicken up properly. This is my cross to bear. My gravies don’t thicken. 

I also made several boxes of frozen pretzel bites stuffed with pepper jack cheese from Aldi, which were exactly as advertised — chewy and sour on the outside, melty and salty inside.

Pretty tasty hot, pretty un-tasty as soon as they cooled down. 

THURSDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, chips, broccoli and carrots

Around 6 PM, my kitchen was full of gigantic adult children shouting at each other about how disappointed they were about how the movie Candyman ended, which caused me to burn half the sandwiches. Not my fault. 

I, virtuous, skipped the chips and just ate vegetables (drowned in french onion dip).

The kids asked me why some of the sandwiches didn’t have ham in them, and I just stared at them, bug-eyed, and shrugged like I couldn’t even believe they would ask such a dumb question. It actually was a perfectly reasonable question, but on the other hand, let’s see how they like it! Ha ha! 

FRIDAY
Shrimp lo mein

It’s been a while since we’ve had lo mein. It’s been . . . lo these meiny months. I don’t know. Some of the kids said they didn’t really like it, and I said what should I make instead, and they said wah wah wah, so I’m making lo mein. (Actually they suggested tuna noodle casserole, which I just don’t like making, so there.)

I cut up some peppers and red onion and scallions, and cleaned the shrimp, and any minute now I’m going to get up off my bed of pain and make some sauce. Then all I have to do is boil up the noodles before supper and we’ll have a lovely little meal to throw together. I really love lo mein, and was delighted to discover what a simple recipe it is.

Jump to Recipe

You can put in whatever vegetables and proteins you like. Here’s one with shrimp and sugar snap peas: 

And that’s my story.

 

Grilled clams or mussels in wine sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 white or red onion
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • live clams or mussels
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 cups white wine
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Prepare sauce: Coarsely chop the onion and sautee it in the olive oil with the red pepper flakes. Add salt and pepper. 


  2. Add two sticks of butter and let them melt. Add the wine and lemon juice. 

  3. Light the fire and let it burn to coals. While it's burning down, sort and clean the shellfish, discarding any damaged or dead ones. (If they're open, tap them. If they don't close, they're dead. If they're closed, they're fine.)

  4. Lay shellfish on grill until they pop open. The hotter the fire, the shorter the time it will take - five minutes or more. 

  5. Add shellfish to sauce and stir to mix. 

spicy cucumber salad

A spicy, zippy side dish that you can make very quickly. 

Ingredients

  • 3-4 cucumbers, sliced thin (peeling not necessary)
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar or white vinegar
  • 1+ tsp honey
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Optional:

red pepper, diced

  • 1/2 red onion diced

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Serve immediately, or chill to serve later (but the longer you leave it, the softer the cukes will get)

 

Garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs potatoes
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 8 oz grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Peel the potatoes and put them in a pot. Cover the with water. Add a bit of salt and the smashed garlic cloves.

  2. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer with lid loosely on until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

  3. Drain the water out of the pot. Add the butter and milk and mash well.

  4. Add the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste and stir until combined.

 

basic lo mein

Ingredients

for the sauce

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 5 tsp sesame oil
  • 5 tsp sugar

for the rest

  • 32 oz uncooked noodles
  • sesame oil for cooking
  • add-ins (vegetables sliced thin or chopped small, shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • 2/3 cup 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.

Motherhood turns you into a fountain that flows and flows. Then it shows you that you will run out.

I put the baby down in her seat on the other side of the bathroom door, and she wailed and screamed, wailed and screamed. I remember thinking: What has happened to me. Too exhausted to even put a question mark at the end of that thought. I had just come home from the hospital after giving birth to my first child.

I stood in the shower, looked down and did not recognize my body. It was not just that it did not look like me; it didn’t look like any human person I had seen before. I could not make sense of the shape my body made. Milk ran down my belly and blood ran down my thighs, and through the door, the baby wailed and screamed because I had put her down. What had happened to me.

Now several of my 10 children are adults, and I still don’t know exactly what has happened to me.

Several years ago, fitness guru Jillian Michaels caused a minor spasm in mommy media by saying she would never get pregnant because she could not face ruining her body that way. It eventually emerged that she had not said that, exactly, and her thoughts about pregnancy and her body were more complex and personal than an inflammatory soundbite. But regardless of the details, she had expressed something more honestly than many women are willing to do: She knew that giving birth would disrupt something about herself irrevocably, and it was not a disruption she was willing to endure. Better to find this out about yourself before you get pregnant than after, I thought.

Here is what I have learned since then: Surrendering bodily vanity is only the beginning of what happens to you when you become a mother. First, motherhood turns you into a fountain that flows and flows. Then it shows you that you will run out.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image from Metropolitan Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons

What’s for supper? Vol. 263: Cardiologist’s delight

Let’s go! No tears! No tears! Where is your mask! Where are your shoes!!! Here’s what we ate this week, which was BACK-TO-SCHOOL WEEK: 

SATURDAY
Prosciutto sandwiches

Damien handled dinner while I took the kids shopping for school supplies on the absolute last possible day I could get away with it. I don’t remember if I actually ate some hemp gummies beforehand, or just planned to, but I’m here now, so I clearly survived somehow. 

My particular sandwich was a length of baguette with prosciutto, provolone, tomato, olive oil and vinegar, fresh pepper, and a schmear of red pesto. Yum yum. I wish I had one right now. 

Sometimes people ask us, “Simcha, Damien, your household seems to run so smoothly, and your children all seem so capable and well-rounded. What’s the secret to your success?” We always smile and gently explain that it’s simple: We invite our children to help us in the kitchen. This not only teaches them skills they’ll lean on for the rest of their lives, it keeps them invested in the immediate well-being of the family, and shows that their actions in the here and now truly are, in a very real way, who we are as a community. Here, for instance, is a tomato one of the children sliced up for dinner in a very real way:

Nice slicing, jerk. I’ll invest you in a very real way.

SUNDAY
Ape law

Clara and I were at the Green River Festival, as I mentioned.

Those are my migraine sunglasses. I know they look stupid but they’re the only frames that don’t squeeze my head. I had a falafel wrap for lunch from Ahli Baba’s Kabob Shop based in Burlington, VT (fresh and tasty, and the pita was top notch) and some kind of pork dumplings and coconut curry for dinner, but I paid cash so my bank statements aren’t reminding me who that vendor was. I also bought some peaches and cream ice pops from Crooked Stick Pops, and they tasted exactly like peaches and cream, so that was nice. 

I am not sure what the people at home had? Possibly grilled burgers and hot dogs. We call this “ape law,” which just means I’m not there and didn’t make any plans or buy any groceries, which just means Damien usually makes burgers and they watch SpongeBob or something. In order to get a really good Ape Law situation going, you have to be not exhausted, and we are all exhausted. 

MONDAY
BLTs

First day of school for college kids and Catholic high school. We had LEFTOVER BACON after supper, can you imagine? I truly just do not know how much food to buy anymore. 

Benny and Corrie made a back-to-school cake together, very cute.

They accidentally added three times too much water, then bulked it up with flour. They then gave this brand of cake mix low ratings because the texture is fine, but it’s kind of bland. And their mother officially has no opinion about that. 

TUESDAY
Vermonter sandwiches, broccoli, bacon-roasted corn on the cob

Orientation day for elementary and middle school charter school kids. This turned out to be a half day, but I somehow missed that detail, so what could have been a mere 3/4 of a day of driving around like an idiot turned into a full day of driving around like an idiot (because they were two different halves of the day and two different towns, but not the same town we live in). This is what people are referring to when they say some parents are just too lazy to homeschool their own children [skin falls off from sheer exhaustion].

Anyway, Vermonter sandwiches are: Roast chicken breast, bacon, sharp cheddar cheese, green apple, and honey mustard on sourdough or ciabatta. 

A good, hearty sandwich, and you can of course make everything ahead of time. If you rinse the apple slices in lemon or lime juice, they won’t go brown.

I also cut up a bunch of raw broccoli, and then forgot I had done so and thought we still needed a side, so I shucked a bunch of corn. I then got a brilliant if not precisely heart-healthy idea: I put the corn on a giant baking pan and poured a bunch of bacon grease and bits over it and rolled it around, and sprinkled it heavily with salt. I covered it loosely with tin foil and roasted it for several minutes until it was making a little noise. Then I uncovered it and let it brown up a bit, and turned it a bit and browned the other side. 

It was pretty fab! Not monstrously, earth-shatteringly wonderful, but it tasted special and crisp and savory, and it sure was easy. Definitely worth doing if you have bacon fat around, especially if you do not feel like heating up a giant pot of water, which I could go the whole rest of my life without feeling like. 

WEDNESDAY
Mexican beef bowls

First day of public high school and first full day of everyone in everything. I wanted to make a hearty and popular meal, but I bobbled it a little bit. I didn’t buy enough meat, and I cooked it too long, and I forgot to get corn chips or avocados, and I accidentally put basil-flavored tomatoes into the beans instead of chili tomatoes, and I burned the rice a bit. Come to think of it, everyone must have been absolutely starving, because I screwed that up pretty bad! Oh well. 

It’s a great marinade, though,

Jump to Recipe

and a good meal if you don’t screw it up. So we had rice, beef, corn, sweet peppers, cilantro, sour cream, beans and tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and limes. I didn’t get around to sautéing the peppers. I did use Taijin powder liberally, which always helps.

I cut the corn off the leftover corn on the cob and heated it up in a pan. Hey, I actually burned that, too. You know what, it was a very trying day, but everyone got fed. 

THURSDAY
Omelettes, sausages, cinnamon buns

I didn’t burn a single omelette, and even managed to do a fancy trifold on some of them, but the photos didn’t turn out great, so you’ll have to use your imagination. We just had your choice of cheddar cheese and ham, and the cinnamon buns were from a can. Everyone was happy. 

FRIDAY
Stuffed shells

Benny has been longing for this meal for weeks, but it’s been way too hot and steamy to even consider it, but I have to admit, today it’s chilly and foggy and perfectly fine for stuffed shells. I always think, “Just because school starts, that doesn’t mean we have to stop going to the beach and stuff! We can still have summer fun on weekends for a while!” but it seems like the temperature plummets the very moment the school year begins, and bam, it’s fall. Oh well. At least we have stuffed shells. I guess I have to heat up a big pot of water, though. 

My recipe isn’t spectacular, but it’s serviceable, and has nutmeg. Gonna shave up a ton of fresh parmesan, which makes a big difference, too. 

Stuffed shells

Just a basic recipe. You can add meat to the sauce or spinach to the cheese, or anything that strikes your fancy. Serves about 10.

Ingredients

  • 2 12-oz boxes jumbo shells
  • 2 32-oz tubs ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 4-5 cups pasta sauce

Instructions

  1. Cook the shells in salted water, drain, and rinse in cool water. Mix them up with olive oil so they don't stick together.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350. Mix into the ricotta cheese all the seasoning, the parmesan, and 3 of the cups of mozzarella.

  3. Spread a little sauce in the bottom of an oven-proof pan or dish. Stuff each shell with about 1/2-1/3 cup of cheese filling and lay the stuffed shells close together.

  4. Top with the rest of the pasta sauce, and sprinkled the remaining mozzarella on top of that. Cover loosely with foil and cook for 45 minutes or longer, until it's bubbly. 

 

Beef marinade for fajita bowls

enough for 6-7 lbs of beef

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lime juice
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 head garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tbsp cumin
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp hot pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together.

  2. 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.

What I saw (and of course heard) at the Green River Festival

On our absolute last day of summer vacation this Sunday, Clara and I went to the final day of Green River Festival in Greenfield, MA. The act she most wanted to catch was Bonny Light Horseman; my must-see was Son Little. 

I must warn you, I like a lot of what calls itself folk music, but I really despise the folk music scene, so this is a fairly cranky review. I did like a lot of the music. But I had forgotten how many people apparently attend shows like this to put on a show. There was so much “Can you guys even believe how ecstatic and unselfconscious I am right now?” stuff going on. 

The main stage show opened with Rachel Baiman, who has a nice enough voice, but delivered unremarkable lefty folk snark that didn’t hold my attention. Her new album is called Cycles (no, not Vagabonds, Martyrs, and Quilts) with a song called “Shame” and it’s all about how you shouldn’t shame women for having bodies. I know that’s what it’s about, because she told us so before she sang it (and she was right, that’s what it was about). Great works of art can always be summarized in a line or two, preferably a line that makes everyone go, “Wooooo!” I hope you’re writing this down so you, too, can be a artist. 

Bonny Light Horseman was next, and they are remarkable. They are a supergroup made up of Anaïs Mitchell (here’s my quick review of her astounding show Hadestown), Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats, and Josh Kaufman of various things I haven’t heard of (okay, I also haven’t heard of Fruit Bats). The first thing they did was turn the bass down, which I took as a work of mercy and professionalism. If you can’t reach your audience without blasting them to death, maybe you need to go back and craft your piece a bit more. 

Bonny Light Horseman does a lot reworked old English ballads mixed in with whatever other stuff they feel like, as far as I can tell.  All of it is interesting, and some of it is stunning — the material, the arrangements, the voices, the performances.

They performed a few new songs they’re still working on, which they described as “hot tub music.” I’m kicking myself for not writing down the lyrics of some of the new songs they performed, but they really got me. Here’s a clip of the actual show that someone posted on YouTube:

They were generous performers, too, and gave the impression that they like each other and liked being on stage. Crazy how many professionals just don’t do that. They put on a really soulful show that kept my attention the whole time. 

Anaïs Mitchell then introduced Ani DiFranco, and that’s when I started to wish we had set up our blanket on the other end of the field, upwind of the great wall of weed smoke. Weed has its uses, but it certainly does smell like poo. Yes, you can buy expensive weed, which then smells like expensive poo. 

Anyway, Ani DiFranco. She seems completely unchanged from twenty or thirty years ago, when she emerged as this tiny, intense ball of energy and angst and talent and rank immaturity. Whenever I hear her music, I think: “Wow, she’s so good! Why don’t I listen to her more?” and then a few songs in, I’m like, “Okay, that’s enough.”  She told the audience that they were her most enduring and reliable long-term relationship, and I know it was a joke, and I know that’s her schtick, but what a thing to say. 

And it’s not just that she’s too intense or too personal or something. Goodness knows I’ve made a buck or two off baring my soul to strangers. It’s that she can write very clever, wrenching, heartfelt lyrics . . . and a lot of the time, she doesn’t bother, because she knows she can get away with writing stuff like this, instead:

“You get to run the world
In your special way
You get much more
Much more than your say
Government, religion
It’s all just patriarchy
I must insist you leave
This one thing to me”

That’s just poorly written, and I’m not just saying that because I was sitting on a fleece Our Lady of Guadalupe blanket from Walmart and felt fairly uncomfortable in more ways that one at this point. (If you are wondering at what age one becomes officially too old to sit on the ground all day, it is 46) The song did extract a “WOOOOOO!” from the crowd at all the right moments, so I guess it did its job. Woo, woo, woo everybody. No shame! Tampons! I don’t know why I’m so unhappy but probably I shouldn’t change anything about my life! Wooo!

By the time we got up to “Swan Dive,” there were absolute phalanxes of stoned “this is what a feminist” dudes performatively shaking their potato-fed asses back and forth and jabbing their fingers defiantly in the air, and the sun was beating down through the clouds, and one braless lady in a crinkly broom skirt dragged a shrinking little chicken-winged girl up to the standing section, shoved a pride flag in her hand, and dragooned the child into a long, joyless dance in front of everyone, not that anyone was paying attention, because they were too caught up in their own grinning sweating triumphant vibe. Kid couldn’t have been older than 7 or 8 years old, and the music was frankly terrifying at this point –extremely intense and absolutely deafening, and designed to be emotionally overwhelming.

I wanted to arrest absolutely everyone there, on the grounds that you need to grow up.  It was the phoniness that got me. I don’t begrudge anybody to feel what they feel, but I can tell a faker when I see one, and there were a shitload of fakers in that crowd with their patched handkerchief skirts and their boho twine and copper bracelets and their floppy hats and their pedicures and their high priced poo. 

Well, then I got up and bought myself a falafel wrap and gobbled it up, and felt a little more cheerful. Chickpea products always cheer me up. I don’t make the rules. I also took a long walk around the field and got the heck away from the amps, which I should have done hours ago. 

It was late and we were tired but figured we had stayed that long, we might as well stick it out and wait for the one act I really wanted to see, which was Son Little. While we waited, we caught Sierra Ferrell on a side stage, and boy, was she fun. She has an old timey voice, clear as a bell, chewy as taffy, and she absolutely nails the aesthetic, but her songs sounded like originals. I can’t remember if she performed this one, but here’s a good example of how she sounds:

A real musician, a great performer. There was actual spontaneous dancing breaking out in front of this stage, and it was a pleasure to see. Apparently she and her band had some kind of calamitous time getting to the show, so Clara made a point of standing in line to buy one of her CDs and she said she was very nice in person. Definitely going to track down more of her work. Here’s another one she did:

Then finally, as the sun was setting, we saw Son Little.  I used to listen to him constantly, and poor tender-hearted Benny, who was a toddler, used to worry about him so much.

I still worry about him. He’s sort of unreliable. He sang “Loser Blues,” which didn’t sound like much when I heard it recorded, but hearing it live, I just about fell apart.

 

Anyway, after a long, hot afternoon of tampon music, it did not bother me one little bit to pick up my blanket, go sit in the shade, and listen to a young man sing about how he’s not sure why his girlfriend is mad, but what about if they just do it, huh? That’s what his songs are mostly about, and he has a point.

He tried to get the audience to sing along or at very least clap along, but by that time, we had all been fried by the sun for eight hours and, honestly, we may have just mostly been too white to begin with. I felt bad, but when people try and get me to clap along, I know it’s going to go badly eventually. So I just sat there and stared and then clapped politely at the end. I still think this was better than whatever that girl with the overalls and the hula hoop thought she was doing. 

I got myself a little paper cup of pork dumplings and coconut curry, and something that claimed to be Vietnamese ginger limeade and tasted an awful lot like Juicy Juice, but it had ice in it and it was fine. I also got a horrible sunburn, but that’s nobody’s fault but my own. 

And that’s my review. It was a well-run show, very orderly. Lots of great food vendors, plenty of bathrooms, everything was well-marked, and there was plenty of room to spread out so I wasn’t worried about covid.  I think everyone should smoke a little less weed and maybe give the patriarchy a second chance, like on alternate weekends, and then see if we can’t come up with some better music for the kids. Okay, thanks. 

 

The people you meet when you run

My husband and I go running together several times a week. We’re not fast and we’re not agile, but we do keep going. Over the years, we’ve come to recognize the various people you meet when you run. They’re not always the exact same people, but there are a few familiar types:

Don’t Worry, He’s Harmless

This is an earnest dog lover who has to shout above the sound of her slavering, snarling ragebeast who is expressing his harmlessness by opening his mouth so wide, you can see inside his tail. Don’t worry! Why would we worry! Why should you even consider putting such an animal on a leash, when really it’s the rest of the world that is being silly and mean by worrying! Coincidentally, on days when we meet Don’t Worry He’s Harmless, we always make the best time.

O to be young!

A deeply tanned, deeply wrinkled woman in baggy jeans and a sassy t-shirt who spends her mornings toddling through the dappled sunlight, beaming at trees. When she comes within hailing distance, she stops, throws her head back and her arms out, and croaks, “O to be young!” Then stands there with her mouth open and an expectant smile on her face. I have no idea what to say to this, so I usually say, “Oh ho ho, ha ha!” and keep running. One time she didn’t say it, and I felt so old…

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly