Holy chicken soup with matzoh balls

Today I am making chicken soup with matzoh balls. One of my kids requested it as a birthday meal, and even though we usually reserve this soup for Passover, I couldn’t say no. I’m also making two giant challahs, because it’s not Passover and we can have yeast! My goal was to have the house smelling wonderful by the time the birthday girl woke up, and I achieved that goal. 
 
Let me tell you about this soup. When I was little, my mother would cook and bake for a full week before Passover, one or two dishes a day, slowly filling the freezer with tinfoil-wrapped packages. We kids would help with simple tasks like washing the sprigs of parsley or chopping the nuts for charoset, but my mother still did the actual cooking and baking: tzimmes and pot roast, charoset, spinach pie, latkes, garlic-studded lamb, chocolate sponge cake and lemon sponge cake, and of course a vast pot of chicken soup with matzoh balls. By noon on the day of the feast, the air would be shimmering with schmaltz, the kitchen windows steamed up against the cold spring air outside. This golden soup was the first course, and it was glorious. 
 
 
Shortly after my father died this past spring, I was hunting through my email archives for something, and I came across an old letter my mother sent to my sister Sarah and me, in which she describes how to make soup. It may have been the first year we split up the cooking and baking duties.  Maybe she wasn’t feeling strong enough to turn out an entire feast by herself;. or maybe we had done it before, but she still thought of us as little girls with yarn bows in our hair (notice the part where she thinks we may not own a whisk). 
 

Anyway, here is her recipe (and I’ll put my challah recipe at the end). Who couldn’t use a big pot of wonderful soup on a random Tuesday in this difficult, comfortless year? It’s easy and rewarding, and if you haven’t met my mother, this is a good way. 

***
 

Oh, I didn’t mean you should do the sponge cakes and ALSO the soup and matzo balls! I will be eternally grateful if you can find the time & energy to make the soup and matzo balls. The cakes and the rest I’m so used to doing every year that it’s really no trouble at all. I was mainly hoping you would do the soup & matzo balls. If somebody is taking care of that, nothing seems difficult to me!

Here is how I make chicken soup:

You start early. You fill up two big pots with water and start heating it up. You wash and cut up the chicken, one very big one or two small ones, complete with fat and skin but take out the raw livers and put them aside to saute for Reggie or Abba or whoever likes it, and you heat up the water and put everything into it–I can bring you big pots–along with cut-up onions, a big bunch of carrots, peeled & sliced, a few sticks of celery, salt and pepper, and if possible fresh dill and parsley–it’s a good idea to get those early, especially the dill, because not all stores have it. (Fresh dill is what makes the soup taste so home-made, and also it’s pretty. You rinse the parsley and dill, shake it out, and put it in closed jars or plastic bags or a big container till you need it.)
 
You put everything in the big pots and bring it to a boil, and let it simmer and after a while there will be all this yucky stuff at the top, which you carefully skim off with a big, flat spoon, till most of it is gone. Then cover the pot and let it simmer for a long time, enough to cook everything and get all the flavor into the broth. You cook it for a few hours, leaving the top on the pots most of the time so it won’t get boiled down very much, and check it every once in a while–it should be at a nice simmer or a quiet boil.
 
When it’s all done you put the soup through one big or two regular colanders (I should have gotten you a bigger one!) and the soup back in the pots, and let all the vegetables and chicken and everything cool down so you don’t burn your fingers. Then you separate out the carrots, the chicken, and the other vegetables and as much of the dill and parsley as you can find and cut up a bit. Put the carrots (sliced), the dill, and the parsley back into the soup, cut up in pieces, and maybe a few pieces of chicken too (watch for little bones!).
 

You can save the cooked chicken and vegetables but they will be pretty much tasteless and if you serve them in a recipe it will need spicing up. The soup, meanwhile, you can refrigerate and the next day the fat will have risen to the top and hardened and you can take some of it off easily, but leave enough in to give it a good taste and to have those nice shiny circles of fat floating in the soup. Save the extra fat, because you’ll need some of it for the knaidlach (matzo balls).

The soup together with the matzo balls in it freezes very nicely, and it can be thawed and heated under a low heat on Passover day (that’s Holy Saturday for us).

If you know an easier way of making chicken soup, you should use it, because any kind of home-made chicken soup is yummy and holy and special. I hope I explained it right.

Matzo Balls (k’naidlach)

After the soup, this will be easy. How many to make I can’t tell you, only The More the Better. They will be delicious even if they turn out rubbery. This recipe says it makes 8:

You will need: eggs, matzoh meal (kosher for Pesach), chicken fat (melted) from the soup, and some salt.

First heat up a big pot or two of water and get it simmering, covered. Beat up 2 eggs (with an egg whisk if you have one) with 2 tablespoons of chicken fat from the soup and maybe some salt but not too much. (If for some reason you don’t have enough fat you can use vegetable oil). Add half a cup matzo meal and mix with a fork. Chill in refrig for about 15 minutes. Wet your hands and make 8 matzo balls (about one inch in diameter each) for each recipe, and put them into the boiling water.

Cover tightly, reduce heat, and simmer till done–about 20 minutes, maybe a little more. Sometimes they stick on the bottom a little bit and have to be gently dislodged with a spoon. Usually they just sink and then float up by themselves. They should be fluffy but if they’re not they’ll still be loved by one and all.

You can cook more than 8 at a time. The big pots can hold many matzo balls at a time.

I have reason to believe that some recipes call for 2 Tbs. of soup broth along with the eggs, fat, and matzo meal. I’m not sure which recipe we’ve been using all these years, or if there really are two recipes. I always just took the recipe off the matzo meal box and never noticed if there were two versions. You might want to call Simmy and see what she uses.

Do you still want to do all this cooking?? Now that I write it all down I remember why I’ve been trying to get out of doing it every year, mostly by foisting it off on Simmy.

Love,

Ima

***
 
5 from 1 vote
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Challah (breaded bread)

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 6-8 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp yeast
  • 2 egg yolks for egg wash
  • poppy seeds or "everything bagel" topping (optional)
  • corn meal (or flour) for pan, to keep loaf from sticking

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve a bit of the sugar into the water, and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir gently, and let sit for five minutes or more, until it foams.

  2. In the bowl of standing mixer, put the flour (starting with six cups), salt, remaining sugar, oil, and eggs, mix slightly, then add the yeast liquid. Mix with dough hook until the dough doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl, adding flour as needed. It's good if it has a slightly scaly appearance on the outside.

  3. (If you're kneading by hand, knead until it feels soft and giving. It will take quite a lot of kneading!)

  4. Put the dough in a greased bowl and lightly cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place for at least an hour, until it's double in size.

  5. Grease a large baking sheet and sprinkle it with flour or corn meal. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll three into "snakes" and make a large braid, pinching the ends to keep them together. Divide the fourth piece into three and make a smaller braid, and lay this over the larger braid. Lay the braided loaf on the pan.

  6. Cover again and let rise again for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 350.

  7. Before baking, make an egg wash out of egg yolks and a little water. Brush the egg wash all over the loaf, and sprinkle with poppy seeds or "everything" topping.

  8. Bake 25 minutes or more until the loaf is a deep golden color.

So you feel like a prophet

Recently at Mass, we heard the opening words of the first reading, “You duped me, o Lord, and I let myself be duped.” I thought to myself,  “Oh, hold onto your butts!” Because I knew what was coming next. Here’s the full reading:

“You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

“Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

“I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

Eh? Eh? Who doesn’t go around feeling like “I must cry out; violence and outrage is my message” these days? Like the bumper sticker says, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Even more, you get to feeling like if you’re not shouting about what you’re outraged about, you’re part of the problem. There is so much to be upset about, and there are so many people hell bent on pretending everything is fine, or else pretending that the real problem is something else entirely. They believe and insist on facts that are sheer lies; they defend and applaud things that are sheer evil. Sometimes you feel that you have no choice: You really must speak up, so at least one person is telling the truth.

And unless you’ve entirely sealed yourself off into a bubble, you’re probably also very familiar with that feeling of being mocked, derided, attacked, just for telling the truth. Some people have been ostracized by their families for standing their moral ground. Some people have been made miserable at their jobs.

Some people have had to endure an endless string of nastiness from strangers on social media, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when it’s happening to you, and it goes on and on and on, it really can be a big deal. All you were doing was telling the truth, and now you’re suffering for it.

Little wonder the Old Testament passage hit so hard this time around. So many of us feel like prophets, begging people to listen, crying out against foolishness and lies, and reeling under the blows and buffets of a mob that doesn’t want to hear the very thing they need to know.

Now here is what I am going to ask…

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Study for Jeremiah (detail) by Henri Fuseli via Wikimedia

If you’re still taking this seriously, you’re not alone

Tonight I am making a huge amount of manicotti with fresh herbs, garlic bread and salad, and a fancy cake decorated with melted candies meant to look like flames. Three of my daughters have new dresses and shoes, and there are wrapped presents waiting for them. What’s the occasion? Oh, nothing.

Really, nothing. Three of our kids were supposed to be confirmed tonight, but one of them has a cold. Probably. Or maybe it’s COVID. The protocol for school is to stay home if you have fever, congestion, cough, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, or basically any other symptom, and then either get a negative COVID test, or else stay home for ten days after onset of symptoms, as long as no other symptoms develop. Come to think of it, Damien and I both have colds, too. A confirmation Mass is definitely long enough for us to pass along whatever it is we have to someone else. Even if it is not COVID and it’s just a cold, we might give it to someone who then feels the need to stay home from work for ten days or fourteen days until they find out if it is COVID, and maybe that would be a huge burden for them. So we’re staying home, and no Fisher kids will be confirmed this year.

But I’ve been confirmed, and so has my husband. The gifts of the Holy Spirit we received are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, and we’re calling on at least three or four of those to make this decision. We don’t really think we have COVID, but if everyone made decisions based on letting themselves wiggle out of protocols, then we’d  . . . uhhh . . . we’d have a pandemic on our hands. Yeah. 

I’m not trying to persuade anyone to take the virus seriously. I see people in town claiming no one’s really sick, that touchless thermometers are frying your pineal gland, that masks are part of a satanic ritual, etc. etc. You can’t talk to people who believe this stuff, and I’m not even going to try.

Instead, I’m talking to people who do take the virus seriously, and are starting to feel insane, because they feel all alone. The sourdough togetherness fest is all over. No more evening balcony concerts; no more friendly baskets of sanitized books and treats for the housebound. People are wearing masks when they’re absolutely forced to, and they’re not COVID deniers, but they sure aren’t acting like anything much has changed. They’re going to parties, sneezing on produce, having sleepovers, hugging friends. I see it every day.  That waitress who sent our son into quarantine for over a week was spotted hanging out in crowded bars while she waited for her test results to come back. Maybe she heard that people her age are just hard wired to be sociable, and it’s just not reasonable to expect people in their 20’s to modify their behavior for the sake of others. And anyway, she eventually got a negative, so what’s the big deal?

You see and hear enough stuff like this, and you can really start to doubt yourself. Is it really necessary to miss out on so much? Are we being a little bit paranoid?  Are all these efforts even doing anything worthwhile?

Hello. I see you, as they say. You are not alone. You are doing the right thing. I don’t even have any great words of encouragement for you, because I’m feeling pretty beaten down, myself. But I’m here. We’re making these assessments every single day, and we’re missing out on all kinds of stuff, because we think it’s the right thing to do, and we’ll keep on doggedly doing it as long as we think it’s necessary.

So if you’re making these wretched, unpopular choices and feeling completely alone, you’re not. There’s always the friggin’ Fishers doing it, too, feeling stupid and paranoid and discouraged, but still doing it. So there’s that. I’d make you some garlic bread if I could. 

And that’s all I got. Come, Holy Spirit. Come get some garlic bread, because I made plenty.

Child molesters groom the whole community (and they don’t need Troll dolls)

Here in the US, conspiracy theory-minded folks recently convinced themselves that a new doll was deliberately designed to groom kids for sexual abuse.

When you push a button on the doll’s bottom, it makes happy noises. One mother posted a video saying that she thought the noises were sexual, and her message quickly went viral.

The company said that any sexual connotations were unintentional, and they’re happy to replace the doll, and are “in the process of removing the item for purchase.”

Is it possible that someone in toy design deliberately made a toy for the purpose of teaching kids to associate their private parts with pleasure? Anything is possible (although most kids figure that out easily enough on their own).

There is certainly a lot of blurring of lines between sexiness and cuteness in toys, and it’s gross. It’s worth while, for any number of reasons, to limit your kids’ exposure to dolls and toys and books and shows that constantly show them sexual things.

But this woman’s concern was based on a misunderstanding of what active, targeted grooming often looks like. The whole point of grooming is that it doesn’t start with private parts and sexy noises.

Grooming of children and other victims starts with things that are objectively innocuous and non-sexual: Offering rides, being friendly and helpful, giving little gifts, accustoming them to non-sexual physical touch. So when we get the impression that grooming of children looks like sex plus children, we’re setting ourselves up to miss actual red flags, and that means missing actual sexual abusers.

And there’s another important idea: When someone wants to sexually abuse a child, he doesn’t just groom the child. He very often grooms everyone around the child.

He grooms character witnesses. He grooms an entire community, so that nobody thinks twice about letting him spend time alone with the child, and so that, if the child does speak up and say something is weird, no one will believe the child or the whistleblower, because everyone knows and loves Awesome Coach Steve or Holy Fr. George or Helpful Uncle Andy or Venerable Grandpa Henry, and it would never cross their mind that the guy everyone likes would do such a thing.

Having everyone on your side is vital, and abusers know this. They work to make everyone around the child will be unwittingly complicit in the child’s abuse.

This reality hit home when I was undergoing training to teach catechism class for my diocese… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

 

Image: minanfotos via Pixabay

What’s for supper? Vol. 223: But what does democracy smell like?

This is our second week of school and I decided that was enough excitement and/or agony, and I didn’t need to try any new or tricky recipes. Here is what we had:

SATURDAY
Burgers, I think? I don’t seem to have photographic or written evidence.

SUNDAY
Ham, peas, mashed potatoes; stone fruit cobbler

Corrie’s platonic ideal of dinner. 

I made twelve pounds of mashed potatoes, and it was too much mashed potatoes! Didn’t know there was such a thing. 

The ham was pre-cooked, which is great, but do you know what’s even better? Slice it up when it’s cold, then put it in a dish with some water or Coke, cover with tinfoil, and then heat it up when it’s dinner time. So much faster than heating and then slicing.

We had tons of peaches, plums, and nectarines that were getting a little gooshy, so I got it into my head to make a cobbler.

I can’t find the recipe for the life of me. I’ll keep looking if people want it, though! As you can see, I diverged from it pretty severely anyway. 

The recipe called for corn starch for cooking the fruit before putting the cobbler topping on. Isn’t it lovely? The fruity jewels of late summer. 

I knew we had corn starch, but I couldn’t find it. So I crankily swooped over to the convenience store and bought a small canister for $423.99, and then promptly lost that, too. I had already put water, brown sugar, and butter in the pan, so I added a can of sweetened condensed milk, on the theory that I would like the fruit to be more . . . condensed. I don’t know. I just didn’t want to go back to the store. 

I simmered it for a while until the fruit was soft, and the sauce/syrup/whatever got kind of clotty, but not too clotty.

Then I drained most of the liquid off and put it in the pan, and covered it with the cobbler batter. The top turned out lovely, with a good crisp, slighty crumby crust and a tender, cakey inside. Not especially cobbled, but it tasted nice.

The fruit inside tasted fine. You could discern that faint vanilla custard taste from the condensed milk, but it wasn’t too sweet. It didn’t exactly hold together, but nothing I make holds together. It wasn’t soupy, anyway. And I didn’t have to go back to the store! 

Would have been nice with some vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream. But I sure wasn’t going to the store to get some. 

MONDAY
Hot dogs of a limited number of nations, onion rings

We haven’t had Hot Dogs of Many Nations for a while. Hot Dogs of Many Nations is when we set out a dizzying array of toppings, so people can have a Chicago dog. or a buffalo dog, or a chili dog, or a dog of any nation!!!! 

This was a pretty lackluster display. It was about as international as when the Girl Scouts have a cultural fair but nobody’s keeping track of who’s dibsing which country, so Kayla and Kylie and Cayley and Kaeleigh all just end up doing Canada. 

I had one of those nice natural casing hot dogs with chili, cheddar cheese, and scallions. It was okay. And we had onion rings.  

TUESDAY
Chicken burgers and chips; pizza for election reporters

Damien sometimes makes some extra cash gathering election results for various news outlets, which means he has to drive around like a crazy person going from school gym to community church to other school gym, trying to persuade Pierre, the town manager who is up too late, that this is all public record and he can SO take a picture of it. Anyway he had one town too many, so I covered one. There certainly was a lot of sitting around. People think democracy looks like either marching with torches and shooting, or else dancing to Bruce Springsteen with balloons falling out of the ceiling; but actually it looks like sitting around.

Anyway the kids made supper and Damien and I got home late and got Domino’s. Democracy also looks like Domino’s.

WEDNESDAY
Spaghetti and meatballs

Nothing to report. Ground beef was $1.99 a pound, so that was fairly exciting. 

My basic meatball recipe is here.

Jump to Recipe

I added diced onions and crushed garlic and a lot more oregano than I usually add, and they came out perfectly fine, like they always do. 

THURSDAY
Turkey bacon wraps, raw veg with hummus

An unexpectedly popular meal. I got some sliced buffalo turkey and Swiss cheese, and Damien fried up a few pounds of bacon. We had spinach and sun dried tomato wraps and an assortment of sauces and toppings. I had mine with chicken, bacon, spinach, salami, and spicy sweet mustard, and it was pretty swell.

Look, here’s another picture.

I love wraps. We also had sweet pepper and snap peas with hummus. 

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese

As I was making the cheese sauce, I remembered a twinge of guilt I had felt the other day when a teacher remarked to another mom what healthy snacks she always packed. My own child, while clearly very healthy and robust in general, toddles off to school with a lunch box full of pre-packaged Sparkleberry Melon Tango Yogurt Tubes, X-Treme Salt Kracker Snackers, and to drink, a foil pouch of Purple Madness Corn Syrup Punch Sploosher. And an apple. So I tweeted out:

It got some pretty good response, and I smiled to myself as I stirred the cheese sauce. “I am helping,” I thought. “I am making the world better.”

Then I thought, “Hey, what is that?” For there was a dark patch in my cheese sauce. I poked around with the wooden spoon and then fished out not one, but two entire pieces of American cheese, still in their wrappers. 

I am helping. I am making the world better. Sometimes democracy looks like American cheese?

Even after this, someone asked for my mac and cheese recipe! I’ll go ahead and write it out here, even though it’s very vague and never turns out the same way twice. The only thing special about it is you put in tons of pepper and hot sauce. This doesn’t make the cheese sauce spicy, but it gives it some depth of flavor, and makes the whole thing more interesting. I also top the casserole with shamefully buttery panko bread crumbs.

Oh! I also have a video of Corrie explaining how to make garlic toast. It’s adorable (she watches a lot of food videos, and she has the patter down), but way too long, and I’m too dumb to figure out how to edit it. I’ll keep trying, though. 

Well, goodbye! 

***

Baked macaroni and cheese

This is a vague recipe. You can change the proportions of the ingredients to make it thicker or thinner, more or less cheesy. I don't care!

Servings 12

Meatballs for a crowd

Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs. 

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400.

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

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

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

 

 

 

Mental health according to Mel Brooks

You know the phrase “It’s never your successful friends posting the inspirational quotes?” This is a pretty elastic concept. I would posit that it’s never your sane friends who are constantly posting insights about mental health.

Let’s take it even a step further. You know who knows the most about good mental health? That’s right: Mel Brooks. Specifically, Mel Brooks at the absolute apex of his powers, when he made Blazing Saddles. You might think of the film as a one hour and thirty-five minute spoof of westerns that skewers racism and includes more than the average number of fart and uh schnitzengruben jokes, but it’s actually also rich treasure trove of good role models for mental hygiene. Shut up, it is. I’ll tell you all about it.

Then, because my friend Nora asked me to, I’ll include which drinks pair well with each concept. Nora is a nurse, and you have to do whatever nurses want.

Read the rest of my latest for the Catholic Weekly.

Why do we pray for healing from saints who were not healed?

Every once in a while, you’ll come across someone who giggles at the Catholic practice of honoring a saint on the day of his death, rather than on the day of his birth. They assume this means that Catholics are creepy and morbid (which, okay, is kind of true) or that Catholics are metal and hardcore (which is also sometimes true). Or that Catholics are just kind of weird (which is definitely true).

Of course the real reason we venerate a saint on the day of his death is that it is his birth day: The day of his birth into eternal life.

I was thinking of this when someone posted a prayer request for a friend battling cancer. She mentioned the name of the patron saint of cancer patients, and it suddenly occurred to me how strange that is:  The patron saint died of cancer, and that’s how she became the one we pray to when we want someone to survive cancer. Kind of weird!

There is not, as far as I can tell, any official system for how a saint acquires patronage, but it’s common for them to become the patron saint of the thing that killed them (or of people dealing with the thing that killed them). They’re often portrayed with the thing that killed them — a wheel, a sword — perhaps giving the impression that that thing is what they set out to make their life about. “Hey, it’s-a me, the axe in the head guy!” they seem to say.

But of course it’s the Catholics left behind after their death who decided that that would be Their Main Thing. This is clearly related to the idea that their feast day is the day they died. If it was cancer that killed them, then cancer is the thing that freed them from mortality and let them enter into eternal life. If it was leprosy that killed them, then leprosy was their ticket to heaven. And so on.

Or is that it? I think this view misses the mark and makes Catholics into the morbid, death-loving ghouls we’re sometimes accused of being. If Catholics were 100 per cent on board with the idea that the thing that kills you is the best thing that ever happened to you, then why would we, for instance, ask the patron saint of cancer patients to intercede for the healing of cancer patient?

Because that is what we do: We don’t pray, “O dear Saint Mervintrude, patron of wheelbarrows, my friend is in the hospital after having been run over by a rogue wheelbarrow. Please let him die soon.” Instead, we pray, “Please restore him to life and health.”

So which is it? Do Catholics yearn for a holy death in the company of saints who also died that way, or do Catholics look for escape from death through the intercession of saints who didn’t escape?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image of Peter of Verona, the axe-in-head guy via Wikimedia Commons  license

What’s for supper? Vol. 222: Back to Zuul

Sorry, there will be no follow-up Ghostbusters reference in this What’s For Supper. I just ran out of title ideas. We did go back to school, though. 

If you look closely, you’ll notice that all the food photos this week were taken either outside, or in my bedroom. This is because I’m spending half my time pining for the kids because they’re at school, and the other half hiding from them because they’re home.

Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Pork ribs, mashed potatoes, corn

Damien made his lovely sugar rub for the pork ribs, and cooked them on the grill. Scrumptious as always. Great little char, great caramelization, a little sweet, a little hot, nice and juicy inside.

You could make a big batch of this sugar rub and have it on hand in a baggie for just about any kind of meat, and it really makes it special. 

Jump to Recipe

I made seven pounds of mashed potatoes, and it wasn’t enough. Next time, a full ten. I also remembered too late about garlic parmesan mashed potatoes, where you boil the garlic cloves right along with the potatoes and then mash them in, then embarrass yourself with how much cheese you add.

 

Jump to Recipe

Next time! 

SUNDAY
Spaghetti carbonara

Always popular.

Damien made dinner while I languished or something. Oh, wait, I was doing school supply shopping! Really down to the wire this year. I remember the first year I did school shopping, when we were SO broke and having SO much culture shock after years of home schooling. I remember being so heartbroken and outraged that I was expected to buy a thumb drive for my innocent sixth grader. It seemed like they were trying to turn her into a faceless drone, enslaved to technology and commercialism. So, this year, Corrie got a P.J. Masks backpack and Frozen II water bottle and a shiny gold Wonder Woman dress and Lion King socks and whatever the hell else she wanted. And all Crayola, no Rose Art at all. You can judge for yourself if that’s progress or not. Anyway, Damien made dinner.

 

Jump to Recipe

MONDAY
Aldi pizza

For the first day of school, a nice, easy meal was in order, especially since I had somehow made myself believe school was still a full week away, so we had zero acclimatization to the new bed times. 

School is . . . okay. The kids are okay with masks. The school has set up tents for outdoor classes and lunch, and the kids sit on yoga mats, and no one spends more than 45 minutes in a room with other people, and they have fans going all the time. They do temperature checks every morning. They ask my five-year-old if she’s been out of the country (and I always listen closely for her answer, because you never know). It is okay. I have no idea if they’re learning anything. Corrie has learned a dinosaur song and a fishie song and has a friend named Greta. She has a classmate named Oliver who is silly. We have no idea how long this all will last, but for now, it’s okay. 

Mirabile dictu, no one in the school has life-threatening allergies this year, so we can pack whatever we want for lunch, so there’s that. In a few weeks, we’ll add in hybrid public high school and Catholic high school, and eventually the college kids will go back to college. Moe is in quarantine. It’s been several days since anyone called Clara “Hitler” for enforcing mask rules in the store.  Walmart is selling unscented hand sanitizer again, so you don’t have to go around smelling like fermented cranberry fart. It’s okay. How are you?

TUESDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, carrots and hummus, broccoli salad

I cleaned out the cabinet and discovered I’ve been diligently stocking up on sunflower seeds and dried cranberries, for some reason. So I poked around and found a recipe that uses both of them, along with broccoli and a basic dressing (mayo, white vinegar, sugar, pepper). 

Everyone liked it well enough, and it was a nice change from coleslaw. Vaguely autumnal. Some people also add bacon, but I was trying to pretend it was a vegetable. You could also put minced red onion.  Maybe a little blue cheese. But it was nice in its simple form. 

WEDNESDAY
Steak teriyaki stir fry, white rice

Feeling unambitious, I bought two bottles of ginger teriyaki sauce. I’m often unhappy with my stir fries because they are watery and the vegetables are overcooked, because I crowd the pan and overcook some ingredients while others are catching up. So this time, I cooked the food in batches and in stages. I heated up some sesame oil and cooked the strips of beef in batches until just barely not pink, then took the meat out of the pan. Then I cooked the broccoli in the meaty pan until just barely done, and then I added the red peppers and cooked them just a little. Then I put the meat back in and added the sauce and just stirred everything up quickly so it was heated through, and served it over rice.

Good results! The vegetables were crunchy, the meat wasn’t chewy, and the sauce did not get watery. I made a bunch of rice in the Instant Pot, and it was a tasty, pretty meal. 

Steak continues to be cheap, and I’m running out of ideas! We’ve had steak and cheese, steak salad, steak steak, and tortas. What else do you make with steak? Never thought I’d have this problem

THURSDAY
Carnitas with guacamole, corn on the cob

Not the very fine carnitas from J.R.’s Art Place that you cook in a pot until the meat’s all lacquered and lovely, but still not bad. I put a giant bone-in pork picnic in the Instant Pot with a can of Coke, some cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, orange quarters, salt, pepper, and oregano, and cooked it for 35 minutes on high. It wasn’t really tender, so I gave it another 35 minutes. It still wasn’t as tender as I wanted, but I was out of time, so I pulled the meat out and shredded what I could, and cut the rest off. Then I spread it in a pan and sprinkled it heavily with chili powder and salt, and crisped it up under the broiler.

I flirted with the notion of beans and rice, but it seemed hard, so we just had the meat with guacamole, and cheese, sour cream, salsa, lime wedges, and cilantro. 

I made some rather tomato-heavy guacamole with the few avocados that didn’t turn out to be all sad and grey inside. What the heck is wrong with avocados lately? They’re not overripe, they’re just blighted or something. What do you expect: These are Joe Biden’s avocados. Ask yourself if you’re really prepared for four more years of Joe Biden’s avocados.

FRIDAY
Tuna burgers, cheesy tomato soup

This may just be a fantasy. Most likely, people will request plain tuna with mayo. But I will offer the option of tuna burgers.

 

Jump to Recipe

And I will offer tomato soup from a can, and they can put cheese in it. Or they can act like it’s not even exciting that it’s finally almost soup season. But it is exciting! It is. 

 

Smoked chicken thighs with sugar rub

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • .5 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp chili pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 20 chicken thighs

Instructions

  1. Mix dry ingredients together. Rub all over chicken and let marinate until the sugar melts a bit. 

  2. 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. 

 

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.

 

Spaghetti carbonara

An easy, delicious meal.

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs bacon
  • 3 lbs spaghetti
  • 1 to 1-1/2 sticks butter
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • lots of pepper
  • 6-8 oz grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Fry the bacon until it is crisp. Drain and break it into pieces.

  2. Boil the spaghetti in salted water until al dente. If you like, add some bacon grease to the boiling water.

  3. Drain the spaghetti and return it to the pot. Add the butter, pieces of bacon, parmesan cheese, and pepper and mix it up until the butter is melted.

  4. Add the raw beaten egg and mix it quickly until the spaghetti is coated. Serve immediately.

White Lady From NH's Guacamole

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. Peel avocados. Mash two and dice two. 

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

  3. Cover tightly, as it becomes discolored quickly. 

 

Tuna burgers

Ingredients

  • 1 can tuna
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • seasonings, minced onion, etc.
  • oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Drain the tuna.

  2. Mix tuna thoroughly with egg, bread crumbs, and whatever seasonings you like. Form into two patties. 

  3. Heat oil in pan. Fry tuna patties on both sides until golden brown. 

How to act when you’re downstream

Guess how I spent my morning? Making phone calls, and worrying.

Well, first I got up, got dressed, made coffee, fed the cat, woke up the kids, crammed breakfast into them, and accounted for everyone’s backpacks and lunches and shoes and masks and reminded the kids at home that they had a dentist appointment later. Then we piled in the car, I dropped off one kid at work, and I dropped off one kid at one school. Then we drove to the other school with the other kid, and then . . . I had doubts. 

Last night, my son said a co-worker at his restaurant casually mentioned she had had COVID symptoms for four days, and she had also been exposed to someone who had tested positive. And she kept on coming to work! So my son told his manager and then went straight into isolation at home until we get more information. 

It’s a fairly distant level of exposure, and there may not even be a virus. No one in our family has symptoms. So I read a few guidelines and I thought it was okay to bring the kids to school? But then I started tracing a hypothetical in my head: Server takes her mask off to vape, and breathes a virus cloud at my son; son comes home and grabs some crackers from the family box; other kids also eat crackers, then go to school and accidentally drool on a class ruler or something;  classmates use the ruler, then go home and kiss their parents; parents need toothpaste and go to Walmart, where they paw through the $2.88 DVD bin without wearing a mask because last they heard, they woke up in a free country . . . yeah, that’s what a pandemic looks like. Even with hand washing and sanitizer and masks and temperature checks. Some people are responsible and some are not. Some get away with it and some don’t. 

So, holding my masked kindergartner’s hand, I stood on the playground six feet away from the school’s director and described the situation, to get her verdict. Then I called the dentist; then I called the pediatrician, where we are supposed to be headed for check-ups with three kids tomorrow; then I texted another mom, whose house one kid was supposed to be going to after school for an outdoor, socially distanced birthday party this afternoon.

I can’t even tell how worried I’m supposed to feel right now! I can’t tell if I overreacted or under reacted. At least I work from home and don’t have to deal with daycare or complicated commutes, so it could be much worse. We just have to wait and see whether the gal at work actually has COVID or not.

But it’s almost noon and I haven’t gotten a damn thing done today, except make a bunch of phone calls for what may or may not be a problem, just because some waitress I’ve never even met apparently just opted out of taking a pandemic seriously. She wasn’t even going to tell anyone she had symptoms! She happened to mention it to my kid, and he’s the one who had to tell the manager. She was completely irresponsible, and that means that all the rest of us have to go into responsibility overdrive. I guess I still have to call the health department and make a report. I can feel myself returning again and again to a well of annoyance at her, and at everyone like her who isn’t taking this stuff seriously. That’s what a pandemic looks like: People who are PROBABLY NOT EVEN BAD PEOPLE are also PROBABLY RESPONSIBLE FOR PEOPLE DYING. And I can’t even tell how worried I’m supposed to feel.

So. What we have here is one of those “two job” situations. The first job we have is to be as responsible and sensible as possible, according to our abilities and circumstances. Make all the phone calls, change all the appointments, disclose all the situations, wash all the hands, etc. This is going to be everyone’s lives for the foreseeable future: Doing the best we can after someone else didn’t.

The other job is to guard our hearts. This is the hard part. This is always the hard part. 

We can keep ourselves and everyone we meet as safe as possible, but still allow our hearts to be completely overcome with resentment, rage, and disgust for the people who put us in this position. And it’s reasonable to do so! And it’s so easy! But it’s the part that can really hurt us. This is the part that will linger with us forever, making us weak and compromised long past this virus season. 

I can’t control anyone else’s behavior. I can’t make people take something seriously if they don’t want to take it seriously. All I can do is control my own behavior to try to mitigate the spread caused by careless and selfish and foolish people. In a pandemic, all I have is my own little portion of the river that runs through my property, as it were. I can’t control what kind of risk and contagion come to me and my family from upstream, but I can control what goes downstream from us.

And while I do it, I can control what I allow to happen in my heart. I have a choice to be as safe as possible while being angry, or to be as safe as possible while . . . being like Jesus, a little bit.

That’s really what it comes down to, you guys. This whole original sin thing? And all the actual sin that happens every minute of the day and night? Not His fault. Not His deal at all. All the muck and disease and pollution and contagion that came to Him from upstream was from other people. None of it was His. It was all from careless and selfish and foolish people like you and me. He was absolutely safe in Heaven from contagion. But He deliberately parked himself mid stream and let himself be exposed. Then, being Immaculate, He not only purified what came out of Him, He looked with pity and kindness on the people upstream, the ones who screwed everything up and hurt Him. That’s what He did. That’s who He is. 

THIS IS THE HARD PART. And . . . this is what we’re supposed to do. 

Can we do this? I am trying. I fail every day, even while the stakes are relatively low, and we’re mostly just dealing with hassle and anxiety, not ventilators and organ failure and financial ruin. I still get so mad. But I am trying. When I start to ruminate on other people’s lousy attitudes, I can take a breath, let it out slowly, and come up with something else to think about, because other topics besides COVID are still important. When the news is making me dig my nails into my palms with frustration, I can turn it off and put on Schubert, instead, because Schubert is real, too. When I realize some rando on Twitter is not interested in having an honest conversation, I can step away and mute him while there’s still some whiff of civility in the air. And I can pray, not only for health, but for peace. And I can make an act of faith that prayer is efficacious even when I don’t see it. 

This is the hard part. Trying to be like Jesus is always the hard part. But when you consider the alternative, what else can we possibly do? We can’t step out of the stream, but we can stand with Him.

 

 

Duty and salvation

When my oldest kid was about four, she happened to wake up around midnight to go to the bathroom. She stumbled through the living room, where my husband and I were sitting.

On this particular night – which was not a typical night! – we happened to be watching Daffy Duck cartoons and eating candy. She didn’t say a word, but just nodded to herself and kept walking. She was clearly thinking, “I KNEW it!”

It was, as I say, not a typical night. A typical night would be more likely to find us filling out insurance paperwork, trying to get stains out of someone’s favourite overalls, or simply trying to muster up the strength to get up, brush our teeth, struggle our way under the covers, and get a few hours of sleep before the baby woke up for her first feeding, so we could catch another few hours of sleep before it was time to get up and do it all over again, take care of everybody and everything all over again.

But what she saw was burned into her brain, and she thought she had found the real secret of adulthood: As soon as the kids’ bedroom door closes, you can do WHATEVER YOU WANT.

She wasn’t really wrong. Adults CAN do whatever they want. The catch is, if they DECIDE to do whatever they want, they’ll almost certainly ruin their lives and the lives of everyone around them, and go to hell when they die. It’s kind of a big catch.

What I tell my kids is that, when you’re a child, people make you do things you don’t want to do. But when you’re an adult, you have to make yourself do the things you don’t want to do. You have to be the unwilling worker and the strict taskmaster, both!

It occurs to me that we, even as adults, often fall into thinking of God as the strict taskmaster: the one who descends from on high, telling us what we can and cannot do. Every time we feel the urge to do WHATEVER WE WANT — uh oh, here comes God, saying “no, no, no.” Get up, take care of the thing, don’t do the thing you want to do, do the thing you don’t want to do instead. Then, tomorrow, do it all over again, even though you’re tired.

Following the ten commandments can feel very much like this, some days, or some years. And then we go to confession and admit, “I didn’t do the thing you told me to do. I failed.” And God forgives us, which is nice.

I’ve been teaching my faith formation class, over and over again, that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep. We are the silly ones who need to be saved, and He is the saviour. We are the wandering ones, and He is the one who finds us. We are the ones who fall into the hole, and He is the one who pulls us out again.

So I was making up my lesson plans and I realised that, with all this talk about sheep, I had not yet introduced the kids to the idea that Jesus is the paschal lamb. And boy, the strangeness of it hit me right between the eyes. God is not only the shepherd, but also the lamb.

I know you know this. You’re a Catholic, so you’ve heard it all before. But have you ever thought about how strange it is?

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