Nothing looks pretty when it’s still becoming

What is our final project? Ah, that’s the tricky part. If I’m making a lobster costume or a vampire costume, I have a general idea of how it needs to look when it’s done. But when it’s our own selves we’re working on, there is less clarity, less certainty. We’re not in the process of making a costume or a disguise; we’re in the process of becoming who we are meant to be. If we have a clear picture in our heads of who we’re meant to be — or, even worse, if we think we’ve already become it — we’re probably wrong. Sorry!

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image of unfinished Godzilla costume courtesy of John Herreid

What’s for supper? Vol. 147: Kimchwho?

When I sat down to plan my weekly menu, I looked through all my recipe emails, supermarket flyers, my bank account, and my calendar.

They all said in chorus: You will be eating a lot of chips and frozen food this week. And so it came to pass.

SATURDAY
Hamburgers and chips

That is what we had. Not even the pretense of a vegetable.

Oh, I forgot, though, I have a pretty cake to show you! This was Friday, and I was pooped. I had finished two essays, sent off invoices, did an interview, prepped dinner and did not strangle the toddler, even she was super asking for it.  Time to go! As I grabbed up my keys to launch into afternoon errands before I could go home and collapse, I suddenly realized . . .

I had to do another interview and make a birthday cake.

The sound that escaped the gates of my teeth was not a happy sound.

But I made my excuses for the interview, filled my pockets with fruit snacks, dragged the toddler where she needed to be dragged, and made all my stops, including buying cake stuff. (Just a box cake and a tub of icing. I am not a masochist.) Got that thing baked, cooled, frosted, and decided it was going to be an autumn tree cake. Not well-thought-out, but look! It’s bright!

The leaves are hard candy that was smashed, melted into thin sheets, cooled, and re-smashed.

I put waxed paper on a pan and sprayed it with cooking spray. Then I put butterscotch and cinnamon hard candies in bags (double bags, because the seams break) and smashed them with a can, because I couldn’t find a hammer. Then I spread the pulverized candy in the pan and put it in a 250 oven for . . . sorry, I don’t know how long. Maybe 20 minutes, until it was melted. I let it cool, then snapped it into jagged little bits for leaves. It would have been better if I had had more colors and had let them mix more. I also sprinkled little red balls and gold sugar over it to give it more texture. This actually works better with Jolly Ranchers, but they weren’t in the colors I wanted.

I have used this technique for a campfire cake

I think I may have shared these cake pictures before, actually. Oh well. I have also made some cakes with sugar glass, which I made from scratch, but now I’m wondering if I could just use those terrible clear minty hard candies and save a lot of work. Anyway, kids are always impressed. Here is a Frozen cake, with sugar “ice”:

and a “broken glass” cake, with food coloring blood:

We also use crushed and melted hard candy for stained glass cookies, very pretty.

and — ooh, this is an old picture! That baby is Benny — for  a”make your own lollipop” party activity.

 

SUNDAY
Sausage subs with onion and pepper, onion rings, ghost pops

Sunday is usually the day I’ll make a more complicated meal, but we went apple picking after Mass. You think I’m going to have a ton of apple recipes now, but no. The apples were kinda spotty and weird. But there was a horse!!!!!!!!!!

Knowing we’d be home late, I opted for an easy and crowd-pleasing dinner. Lot of sweet Italian sausages browned up and cut lengthwise, lots of onions and green peppers sauteéd in olive oil, served on rolls with pasta sauce and parmesan. Frozen onion rings.

I had the older kids supervise the younger kids to make rice krispie ghost pops.

This picture kills me. Look at Benny’s face. Look at Corrie’s ghost’s face.

Hee hee.

It was a kit that came with ghost-shaped molds, icing, and sticks, but it would be pretty easy to make these without a kit, she said while lying on the couch and telling other people what to do. Pretty easy indeed.

MONDAY
Hot dogs and fries

I don’t remember Monday. I never remember Mondays. I think there was a cross country meet. I think it rained and froze and the morning glories died. I think I cleaned out a closet and found what was making that dead mouse smell (a dead mouse).

TUESDAY
Chicken burgers and chips

There was a concert on Tuesday. I liked it, and no one was beatboxing, so I didn’t have to say “boo-urns” under my breath while I clapped.

WEDNESDAY
Greek chicken salad with toasted pita

Wednesday was a bit less busy, so I bestirred myself a bit for supper. I coated some chicken breasts with olive oil, and put on plenty of salt and pepper, garlic powder, and dried basil and oregano so they were really crusty with seasonings, then roasted and sliced them, and served that over salad with various olives, feta cheese, cukes, grape tomatoes, diced red onions, and hummus.

I also made up a batch of yogurt sauce with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, minced garlic, and salt, and I cut pita bread into triangles and toasted it in the oven with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt.

Toasted, salty, garlicky pita bread triangles, with crunchy tips and warm, chewy insides are way more delicious than they have any right to be.

Although if you put olive oil, salt, and garlic powder on dead leaves and toasted them, I’d probably eat that, too.

THURSDAY
Korean beef tacos with kimchi and Sriracha mayo, and rice

Bit of a chance here. I tried a new recipe from Damn Delicious. Much of the family likes the Korean Beef Bowl recipe, and this beef is basically that, but not quite as sweet. I cooked it in the morning and then put it in the crock pot for the rest of the day.

Okay, so, kimchi. I’ve never had kimchi before, but have long enjoyed a sort of low-simmering curiosity about it. I didn’t think most of the family would like it, so it didn’t seem worth making myself; so I bought a jar. I was a little alarmed at the warning on the cap:

Hm, bulge. My mother had always regaled us with horrible stories of people whose cans of lima beans were bulging, but they ate them anyway, and then they had to have their legs amputated or something. If you even smell it, it could kill you! Your eyeballs would go bursting out of your skull with a sickening pop! Or something. I wasn’t really listening, because I didn’t like lima beans at the time. Anyway, this jar was definitely bulging. Sure, it said it was supposed to be, but what if it was intentionally bulging and botulism bulging? How would I know?

I figured I would taste a little bit, and if I died, well, at least I would die knowing what kimchi tastes like. So I leaned carefully over the sink, draped a napkin over the lid as suggested, and twisted as hard as I could . . .

even harder . . .

sheesh, hard lid to get off . . .

. . . GRRRRRRRRR . . . . .

. . . RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

–and then KABLAMMO! The cabbage came surging out like a living thing! Like the violent urgency of life itself! I’m telling you, this kimchi needed a Rite of Spring soundtrack!

It also got on my shirt, bleh.

So I sauteéd it up with some sugar in a pan, and we had tortillas with beef, caramelized (okay, it didn’t really caramelize. It never really caramelizes) kimchi, mayonnaise with Sriracha stirred in, and a bunch of cilantro and fresh limes. It was . . . a little challenging. It was sort of like when an Afro-Cuban bembé comes on the radio and you’re like, “Oh, this is neat! This is so — wait — it’s — what? — help!” because you really want to dance to it, but you’re just too damn white. What I’m trying to say is, I liked it, but I also only ate one.

Actually, I made a bunch of rice, and I had extra rice with lime juice and kimchi. I’m like Area Grandmother. Very familiar with rice, thanks.

FRIDAY
Tuna boats

So I went to my new spiritual director and he asked how I was, and I said I was pretty good, and he said, “Oh, we won’t be needing these today!” and he jokingly took the tissues away, but then I cried anyway. And that’s what kind of food blog this is. Natural bubbling and pressure. Just lay a napkin over the top, it’s fine.

Now my husband works from home. And now he knows.

People simply do not take your work seriously if you’re not wearing a uniform or sitting in an office. They can see you there, flagrantly sitting at home like an enormous slug. Even though they intellectually know that you are earning a living, they just can’t get past the notion that, since you are at home, your entire reason for existing is to serve them; and when you have performed the required service, you probably back into a storage closet and power down like an off-duty robot until someone needs you to fix the Wii or find their math book or explain the Vietnam war or unclog the toilet. Or make some food.  Not this food! Food we like better! Cut into triangles!

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

How can we get beyond the battle of the sexes?

Why don’t we take a moment to catch our breath on this frantic sprint to dehumanize half the human race? This is not some lame attempt at both siderism. I’m simply asking everyone who’s angry to ask sincerely, “How likely is it that I’ll win this war using the tactics I’m using?”

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Church is someone, not something

The internet will teach you how to turn a “no” into a “yes.” The phrase  appears in tutorials designed for salespeople, but also in more sinister contexts.  In militant men’s rights groups, there are forums and even study guides that teach men how to manipulate women and extract the sexual goodies they want from them.

They understand that, in these whacky times, women may pursue legal prosecution for rape or assault if you don’t listen to their “no;” so men who consider sex a right coach each other on how to pressure, manipulate, disorient, confuse, and guilt women into yielding a reluctant but legally watertight “yes.” Rather than being ashamed of this gross display of inhumanity, these men preen themselves on their skills. They know that, if they are challenged for their behavior, they can point to their victim’s coerced consent, and then she will be blamed for what happened to her.

Healthy men would vomit at the very idea of approaching a woman this way. No man enjoys rejection, but they do understand that women are human, and shouldn’t be treated like an object whose body and will can be forced into whatever position you like. No means no. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it.

I’ve heard this approach before, in an entirely different context. I’ve heard this refrain of “I hear your ‘no,’ but I refuse to accept it, and I even feel proud of my persistence. So I’m going to keep chipping away at you with everything I’ve got in hopes that you’ll give in and let me have what I think I’m entitled to.”

Here’s what I hear:

“All the other churches go along with this stuff, so why won’t you? What’s wrong with you? Why are you so uptight?”

“Of course I love you, Catholicism! That’s why I want to see you change.”

“No one can possibly love you, you Catholic Church, if you keep on acting this way. I’m the only one who could put up with you, and you better give in, or I’ll leave, too.”

It’s the language of Catholic dissenters — including myself, at times, to my shame. It’s the language of people who have heard her say “no” very clearly — “no” to contraception, “no” to women priests, “no” to gay sex. But they love her, they say, so they just keep chipping away, threatening, negging, pressuring and wheedling, priding themselves on their persistence in trying to wear her defenses down, to turn her “no” into a “yes.”

When we hear pressure and threats from a would-be rapist who clearly despises women as much as he craves their companionship, it’s easy to see these tactics for what they are: Abuse. An abuser allows himself to speak this way because he doesn’t really recognize the humanity of his victim. He sees her primarily as something that could potentially deliver what he wants, if only she would know her place and cooperate with his demands. He sees her primarily as a thing, and not as a person.

I am here to tell you that the Catholic Church is a person. It is the Body of Christ. And the Body of Christ has a right to her bodily autonomy. She is not here to assume whatever position will satisfy our current appetites, whether they’re intellectual or spiritual or psychological or social. The Church is Someone, not something, and she has the right to say “no.”

Now let me make some disclaimers, because I know I’ve said something tough to hear.

When I talk about people pressuring the Church to change, I’m not talking about people who are sincerely struggling, even angrily struggling, bitterly struggling, fearfully struggling with some of the hard teachings of the faith. Healthy relationships have struggles. I struggle, sometimes angrily or bitterly or fearfully, with some fundamental teachings of the Church, just as my own beloved husband almost certainly struggles with some of the things that make me fundamentally me. It’s not always easy being in love. So I’m not saying that struggling with doctrine is abuse. Struggle is normal, and struggling with the Church does not make us abusers.

And more importantly, I’m not saying that the Church is not in need of change. God knows it is badly in need. Sometimes there are things about your beloved that ought to change, and insisting on that change sometimes truly is an act of love. Many loving spouses will eventually find occasion to hold their beloved to account for intolerable behaviors which must be changed if the marriage can survive; and so it it is with faithful Catholics and the Church. Wanting to reform what is wrong in the Church does not make us abusers.

Does the Church need reform? Oh literally sweet Jesus, yes. The hierarchy and much of its pastoral authority is deformed almost beyond recognition. They don’t even seem to realize that they have lost our trust and need to work to regain it. There are abusers in power. There are structures in place that make it impossible to hold abusers and their enablers to account. There are too many ways to keep horrible secrets; too many places for abusers to hide. God’s word is used to shout down victims and their defenders and to amplify hypocrites, opportunists, and predators. This is the state of the Church today. These are the things that must, please God, change.

But these grotesqueries, these deformations, are not who the Church herself is. They are like parasites living off the Body of Christ. They fight like mad to preserve their host, not because they love her, but because they need their daily feeds. They must be scoured away so that the body of Christ can be pure again. I don’t know how, but I see it must be done.

But there is change, and there is change. If we want to preserve our loving relationship with the Body of Christ and not unwittingly fall into patterns of abuse against her, we must learn to make the distinction between who the Church is, and what her members and her representatives do — what they have done, in fact, to her. The latter must often be changed; the former is inviolable.

We can learn who the Church is by what she teaches, what she says. And sometimes, what she says is “no.” This is inviolable. She is inviolable.

Lately, we have perhaps become used to thinking of the Church as the abuser. So many people have been maligned, mistreated, guilted, shamed, or literally raped by those who call themselves the Church. But we must see clearly. Those who abuse and enable abuse in the name of Christ are not the Church; they are to the Church as a pimp is to a sex slave. They will defend her, not because they love her, but because she brings them power and money. They are the ones who must repent and reform, not her. She is the victim. She is not the one who needs to change. The Church is a person, and she has the right to say “no,” both to those who abuse her outright, and to those who want to blame her for being abused.

We will not purify the Body of Christ by attacking what and who she is, and that includes what she says. No means no. Like anyone whose demands have been rejected, we don’t have to like it, but we do have to accept it, especially if we say you love the Church. She is someone, not something. When she says “no,” she means “no.”

 

Image: detail of photo by Stefano Merli via Flickr (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 146: Tutto il Formaggio

What did we eat this week? Oh, wait till I tell you.

Recipe cards at the end.

SATURDAY

On Friday and Saturday, l’uomo and I went away! We did! It’s our anniversary this month. Twenty-one years, my friends, and it gets better and better. We had three days and two nights at the beach — longer than we’ve ever been kidless together since the day we got married — and enjoyed ourselves immensely. But I’m only gonna tell you about the food.

First night, he had the surf and turf

and I had about a bathtub’s worth of lobster formaggio.

Sharp, creamy, and wonderful. We also had lobster-stuffed mushrooms and lobster rangoon. We, um, we like lobster. I only ate half and then of course accidentally left my leftover package in the restaurant, rather than bringing it to the hotel and then accidentally leaving it in the mini fridge.

We staggered back to our room, with its sweet little ocean view balcony and there were champagne and strawberries waiting for us, plus a lovely little plate of cheeses and fruits

I’m finding it hard to believe that we ate this that same night, to be honest, after all that lobster. Maybe we ate it the next day? I do recall having a hearty breakfast the next day, and then we spent a lot of time clambering around on rocks gawking at tide pools and snickering over the people waiting in line to get into the Social Distortion concert. Someone had written BRIANNA I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU on one of the shuttered souvenir shops. And then there was this:

This has been my approach, as well, and it’s worked well for me. Hey, it’s the off season. And then more tide pools! Tide pools are the best. Look at all those little baby mussels!

We weren’t ready for dinner, as such, but a little light snack sounded all right, so we had some cocktails with a dozen oysters with plenty of horseradish, and a charcuterie board. I didn’t know what that was, but food that comes on boards has never yet disappointed me. This one was exceptionally good, with various dried meats, roast beef, pickled vegetables, sharp and tender cheeses, hot crusty bread, honey, fig paste, and the most amazing mustard.

It seems silly, but I can’t say enough about this mustard. It just transformed everything. Tell me about fancy mustards that you know about! I don’t even know what to search for, but I have a food processor and I want to be a part of this.

I think maybe it was now that we brought the strawberries out? And the other cheeses? What I’m trying to say is, salt air really gives you an appetite. We didn’t drink the champagne, because we never drink the champagne. We now have three bottles of champagne in the refrigerator, left over from last Valentine’s Day and also our 20th anniversary. I honestly don’t know why we keep buying it. If you want it, you can come over and get it. The mustard is all gone, though, so don’t get your hopes up.

Anyway, we had a nice time. Such a nice time. I love that man.

SUNDAY
Vermonter sandwiches

Back to life! Back to sandwiches without even a little bit of lobster in them. These particular sandwiches are a favorite around here. Slices of roast chicken or turkey, slices of tart green apples, bacon, thick cheddar cheese, and honey mustard on ciabatta rolls.

You can toast the whole thing for a few minutes if you like. Yum yum.

MONDAY
Various antipasti; suppli; linguine with ragu; lemon ices; pizzelle cannoli

So, on some random Monday in early October, we have a day off school for no reason and eat Italian food. Fine, it was for Columbus Day. Fight me.

We start with suppli, also sometimes called arancini. These are breaded, deep-fried balls of risotto with a core of melted mozzarella. YEAH, SORRY ABOUT COLUMBUS DAY. I’m so glad you don’t celebrate Columbus Day, because then you don’t have to eat suppli. They’re really not very good. They aren’t the food of the gods or anything. You wouldn’t wet yourself because of how meltingly fabulous they are. Don’t be silly.

When they’re frying, you don’t have to physically restrain yourself from reaching into the hot oil to grab a wonderful golden ball of glory

They don’t rest on the plate, fragrant and smiling, inviting you to break through the tender, crisp shell into the creamy risotto within

and when you break it open you won’t whimper with delight as the mozzarella meltingly swoons across your plate

It’s just food. It can’t possibly be that good, my stars. Get ahold of yourself.

We also had an assortment of antipasti, into which I put very little effort, because making suppli is exhausting, man. I cut several Bosc pears into wedges and wrapped them with paper-thin prosciutto, and that was nice. We also had various olives and marinated vegetables, cheeses, salamis, breadsticks, artichoke hearts, pesto, sun dried tomato bruschetta, and whatnot. Very pretty.

I knew I shouldn’t eat another suppli, but I did it anyway.

The night before, Damien had made his magnificent ragu, which is a tomato-less meat sauce with ground pork and beef, celery and carrots, garlic, lots of red pepper flakes, and tons of anchovies that just sort of melt. We briefly considered grinding up some pancetta, but life suddenly seemed short, so we went with a mere two meats. I haven’t written up a recipe card yet, so I’ll just link to the Deadspin recipe for now. You must try this. It’s so simple and so amazingly good.

Does it look like much? No, it does not.

But it smells and tastes like if pasta went to heaven, and this is who it gets to spend eternity with: ragu. I don’t know where me eating it fits into this cosmology, but there you are.

I had made a desultory supermarket search for cannoli shells, but quickly gave up and bought those snowflake-shaped pizzelle cookies

(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

and topped them with a scoop of simple cheese filling (ricotta with confectioner’s sugar and a little almond extract), shaved dark chocolate, and a few maraschino cherries. Nobody complained! But I forgot to take a picture.

And! I just found out this minute that you can actually make cannoli shells using pizzelle cookies. You put them in the microwave on high for 30-40 seconds and quickly roll them around something round, like a broom handle. They harden right up, and then you can fill them. What do you know! Next year in Jerusalem or what have you.

TUESDAY
More ragu on spaghetti and garlic bread

We had so much leftover food, I didn’t even need to cook more pasta. I just boiled some water and dunked the cooked leftover linguine in for a minute, swished it around, and then drained it. Good enough for the likes of us. We even had leftover garlic bread, which is unheard of in these parts.

WEDNESDAY
Pork ramen and roasted Brussels sprouts

I’ve never had “real” ramen, but it’s on my list, and in the meantime, this is a happy little meal. In the morning, I sliced up a bunch of carrots on the wide blade of the cheese grater and put them in a bowl covered with vinegar and sugar. Then I soft boiled a dozen eggs, and then cooked up some boneless pork chops in olive oil until they were almost done, then sliced them thin and finished cooking them with soy sauce.

When it was dinner time, I re-heated the pork in the microwave and cooked up a big pot of ramen, and served it with the pork, the carrots, the eggs, plus some hot sauce (where did my sriracha sauce go? I don’t know) and sesame seeds and crunchy noodles. Good stuff. So many nice variations for Fancy Ramen Nite.

The Brussels sprouts were actually supposed to be part of the Italian meal, but the very idea of green vegetables had been forced vehemently out of my head by vengeful and jealous risotto god. I trimmed them and cut them in half, then mixed them up with plenty of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted them in a shallow pan. Oh gosh, the crisp little charred leaves on the outside. Magnificent.

Roasting is by far my favorite way to prepare Brussels sprouts. You could add bacon or balsamic vinegar or honey, but it doesn’t really need it.

THURSDAY
Beef barley soup and pumpkin date muffins

It suddenly got chilly and rainy after a weirdly hot and humid week, so I was glad I had put off making soup until Thursday. I do a nice, basic recipe: garlic, red onion, carrot, and beef, then beef broth, red wine, and diced tomatoes with the juice, then mushrooms and barley toward the end. You can make the whole thing in the Instant Pot pretty quickly, if you can’t leave it simmering on the stovetop.

 

I also made pumpkin muffins, the first of the season. These are so fast and reliable, with a cozy, spicy flavor, and you can add all kinds of friendly toppings — oats, almonds, wheat germ, or turbinado sugar. This time, I stirred some chopped dates that were lurking about in the cabinet for some reason.

These muffins always turn out wonderfully tender and moist. I got the original recipe from Allrecipes, but I use half the sugar it calls for, and they’re still quite sweet. We usually have these as a quick bread along with soups, or to put in lunches so I feel like a good mother, but you could increase the sugar (or not) and add cream cheese frosting for a pleasant dessert.

Of course you can use this recipe to make loaves, as well. We do muffins because it’s easier to keep track of carbs that way. Speaking of which: T1D kid has over six months under her belt and we haven’t killed her yet! High fives all around! She’s even running cross country now, the maniac.

FRIDAY
Pizza

We have a birthday! I have made some vague promises of a cake. We shall see.

5 from 1 vote
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Suppli (or Arancini)

Breaded, deep fried balls of risotto with a center of melted mozzarella. 
Make the risotto first and leave time to refrigerate the suppli before deep frying. 

Ingredients

  • 12 cups chicken stock
  • 8 + 8 Tbs butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 4 cups raw rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese

To make suppli out of the risotto:

  • risotto
  • 1 beaten egg FOR EACH CUP OF RISOTTO
  • bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs
  • plenty of oil for frying
  • mozzarella in one-inch cubes (I use about a pound of cheese per 24 suppli)

Instructions

  1. Makes enough risotto for 24+ suppli the size of goose eggs.


    Set chicken stock to simmer in a pot.

    In a large pan, melt 8 Tbs. of the butter, and cook onions slowly until soft but not brown.

    Stir in raw rice and cook 7-8 minutes or more, stirring, until the grains glisten and are opaque.

    Pour in the wine and boil until wine is absorbed.

    Add 4 cups of simmering stock and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the liquid is almost absorbed.

    Add 4 more cups of stock and cook until absorbed.

    If the rice is not tender by this point, keep adding cups of stock until it is tender. You really want the rice to expand and become creamy.

    When rice is done, gently stir in the other 8 Tbs of butter and the grated cheese with a fork.

  2. This risotto is wonderful to eat on its own, but if you want to make suppli out of it, read on!

  3. TO MAKE THE SUPPLI:

    Beat the eggs and gently mix them into the risotto.


    Scoop up about 1/4 cup risotto mixture. Press a cube of mozzarella. Top with another 1/4 cup scoop of risotto. Roll and form an egg shape with your hands.


    Roll and coat each risotto ball in bread crumbs and lay in pan to refrigerate. 


    Chill for at least an hour to make the balls hold together when you fry them.


    Put enough oil in pan to submerge the suppli. Heat slowly until it's bubbling nicely, but not so hot that it's smoking. It's the right temperature when little bubbles form on a wooden spoon submerged in the oil. 


    Preheat the oven if you are making a large batch, and put a paper-lined pan in the oven.


    Carefully lower suppli into the oil. Don't crowd them! Just do a few at a time. Let them fry for a few minutes and gently dislodge them from the bottom. Turn once if necessary. They should be golden brown all over. 


    Carefully remove the suppli from the oil with a slotted spoon and eat immediately, or keep them warm in the oven. 

5 from 1 vote
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Vermonter sandwiches

Ingredients

  • ciabatta rolls
  • grilled chicken or turkey, sliced
  • crisp bacon
  • Granny smith apples, cored and sliced
  • cheddar cheese, sliced thickly
  • honey mustard sauce

Instructions

  1. Layer all sandwich elements on roll. If you like, toast the sandwich before adding the apple slices and honey mustard. 

5 from 1 vote
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Cannoli filling

Use to fill cannoli shells, or put a scoop on top of pizzelle cookies. Top with shaved chocolate, rainbow sprinkles, maraschino cherries, etc. 

Ingredients

  • 32 oz ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp almond extract or vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients together and refrigerate until you're ready to use it.

5 from 1 vote
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Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion or red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 lbs beef, cubed
  • 16 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
  • 6 cups beef bouillon
  • 1 cup merlot or other red wine
  • 29 oz canned diced tomatoes (fire roasted is nice) with juice
  • 1 cup uncooked barley
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot. If using Instant Pot, choose "saute." Add the minced garlic, diced onion, and diced carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and carrots are softened. 


  2. Add the cubes of beef and cook until slightly browned.

  3. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, the beef broth, and the merlot, plus 3 cups of water. Stir and add the mushrooms and barley. 

  4. If cooking on stovetop, cover loosely and let simmer for several hours. If using Instant Pot, close top, close valve, and set to high pressure for 30 minutes. 

  5. Before serving, add pepper to taste. Salt if necessary. 

5 from 1 vote
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Pumpkin quick bread or muffins

Makes 2 loaves or 18+ muffins

Ingredients

  • 15 oz canned pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup veg or canola oil
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • oats, wheat germ, turbinado sugar, chopped dates, almonds, raisins, etc. optional

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter two loaf pans or butter or line 18 muffin tins.

  2. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients.

  3. In a separate bowl, mix together wet ingredients. Stir wet mixture into dry mixture and mix just to blend. 

  4. Optional: add toppings or stir-ins of your choice. 

  5. Spoon batter into pans or tins. Bake about 25 minutes for muffins, about 40 minutes for loaves. 

Parenting strategies I’ve changed … because I’ve changed

My children range in age from 20 to three – almost a big enough span to comprise two generations. Naturally, the older kids think the younger ones get away with murder. The love to talk about how strict I used to be, how inflexible, how unreasonable.

And they’re right. It’s not just that I had more energy to hold the reins tightly when I was a young mom; it’s that I had a very different idea of how kids should be treated. I was wrong about a lot of things, and much of that wrongness stemmed from wrong ideas I had about myself – about my self-worth, about my value, about my capabilities.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

How to Choose the Right Godparent: Baptisms can bring fallen away Catholics back to the faith

Ms. Nelson often has the unpleasant task of telling parents they cannot honor friends with the godparent role because they are not Catholic or because they are in an invalid marriage.

“No one gets involved in church ministry because they want to make people unhappy,” Ms. Nelson said. “It’s very difficult. If this person is taking tentative steps [toward the church] and is hit with obstacles, he’s going to say, ‘Why did I bother?’ and give up. And then I’ll think it’s my fault he’s turned away from Jesus.”

She tries to present the church’s teaching on godparents as a positive opportunity rather than a list of rules. “But sometimes the rules bring people back,” Ms. Nelson said.

Read the rest of my latest for America magazine.

Photo “Double Baptism” by Maria Eklind via Flickr (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 145: If you give a mouse prosciutto

Lots of variety this week! Rich tapestry of life and so on. Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Hamburgers and chips

Saturday seems like so long ago. I think Damien bought and cooked the burgers while I . . . did something? You guys, he has this new job where he gets to do the work he likes, he gets paid more, and he’s home. He’s home for supper, home for track meets, home for bedtime. It’s fantastic. It’s the best thing that’s happened to our family in years and years, and I’m very happy!

SUNDAY
A CONFUSING FEAST

My daughter works at a deli. One afternoon, we had this exchange:

And that was all I knew. A present? Better than cheese? The suspense! It turns out that what she had was a pound of top quality prosciutto! But it was unsliced, as it was an end piece. $4 a pound for meat that goes for $14.99 a pound. Grocery bargains are my love language.

Prosciutto happens to be my other love language (I’m a bit of a polyglot, to be honest. Will also accept love via pork belly, steak, just about any variety of cheese, shrimp, pie, more cheese, crusty breads, soft breads, herbed butter, most fruits, all types of puddings, custards, and flans, creamy soups, clear soups, middle eastern food, Columbian food, Thai food, Greek food, anything with basil, anything with garlic, hot pretzels, fried pickles, cheese cake, smoked meats, raw oysters, sun dried tomatoes . . .

I’m sorry, I’ve lost my focus. We were talking about the prosciutto. I solicited recipes online, but eventually decided that just plain bruschetta would be best.

Bizarrely, two stores were out of baguettes, so I bought ready-made crostini with olive oil and flaky salt, and I sharpened my best knife and sliced the prosciutto as thin as I could, which was not very thin.

I had collected some creamy fresh mozzarella, and also some gouda, and huge clusters of juicy, dusky grapes. And we also needed fig paste. I had originally been planning to save this treat as an adults-only evening snack, but I had to admit that I had bought kind of a lot of food for two people, so I started planning a family meal around it.

It . . . kind of got out of control.

Oven roasts were still on sale, and as I previously mentioned, I scoff at rigid categories of cuts of meat. Someone had mentioned chimichurri, which I can’t believe I didn’t already know about. It turns out to be really easy to make. You just stuff the things in the food processor, run in a bunch of olive oil, and there it is.

So I sliced the meat into wide strips and threaded them accordion-style onto skewers for Damien to grill outside with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, to be dredged through the chimichurri.

And also a batch of pickled red onions in vinegar, sugar, and cilantro. There were also some lovely tender peas in pods looking for a home, so I set those out in a bowl just as they were. And some salami, and some herbed, braided mozzarella that I forgot I got. And a little bowl of just plain olive oil. And some wild grapes we found while we were gardening. And some more cheese that I forgot I got.

It may be the best meal I ever served. Technically this was a Mediterrani0-Argentinean Travesty with Cheddar and Peas, but it worked, my friends. It worked so well. The cheap meat with simple seasonings sizzling on their skewers with the lively, verdant chimichurri. The salty prosciutto with the creamy mozzarella on a bit of salty bread and a dab of dark fig paste. Cleanse the palate with a few fresh pea pods and grapes, then back for more meat, this time with pickled onions and cheddar. Oh, it was so good. Damien and I ate outside and shouted for the kids to bring us beer and napkins.

The only thing I have to add to this happy food story is that, when I type “chimichurri,” my phone thinks maybe I mean “chili horrible,” which I do not.

I also did a bit of gardening on Sunday, and we got sixty daffodil bulbs, forty irises, and a dozen fancy tulips into the ground. I always think gardening with children is going to be sweet and lovely and wholesome, and it always ends up being . . . not. There’s a lot of bitey ants and moldy mulch and falling on rakes and shouting. But we did get those bulbs in the ground, because I’m always willing to believe that spring will come again. Here is a pictorial version of how gardening starts and ends:

I also gave a kid a driving lesson, and we did not fall off the side of the mountain

and I bleached and kid’s hair and dyed it blue.

Child has SO MUCH HAIR. What a day!

MONDAY
Bagel sandwiches with fried eggs, pepper jack cheese, and ham.

I had in my arsenal two new cast iron skillets they had as a special at Aldi. Cooking in shifts to feed everyone is the bane of my existence, so I was pretty hyped at the idea of making everyone’s eggs all in one go.

Well, it turns out I’ve been spoiled by nonstick pans. I’ve completely lost the knack of cooking on cast iron. I’ll get it back! But these particular eggs were not top notch. Not top notch at all. I didn’t burn the bagels, anyway.

TUESDAY
Carnitas, beans and rice, tortilla chips, guacamole

My husband, who is from Los Angeles, raaaaved about this meal, which made me feel great! In the morning, I took a pork shoulder and put it in the slow cooker with a can of beer and let it go all day on low. At dinner time, I shredded it and sprinkled it liberally with cumin, chili powder, and salt, then spread it in a shallow pan and put it under the broiler.

My carnitas have always been bland in the past, and overly dependent on toppings, no matter what I cook the meat with. I like this method of deliberately cooking it bland and then seasoning it afterward. Works great.

For the beans and rice, I made rice in the Instant Pot, then added black beans, diced canned tomatoes and some juice, minced red onion, minced garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper, chili powder, and cumin, then reheated it. I meant to add some diced jalapenos, but I forgot. I wish I had written down the proportions, because it turned out so tasty and lively, which is not always the case.

For the guacamole: Four avocados, fresh tomato, diced fresh jalapeno, minced garlic, diced red onion, cilantro, salt and pepper, chili powder, and the juice of two limes. I usually mash half the avocados and chop the other half, but they were a little hard, so I sliced them very thin. Yum.

So then we had flour tortillas with sour cream, the seasoned meat, beans and rice, and guac all together. It was fantastic.

I’m very sad for my past self and my lackluster carnitas. Onward and upward.

WEDNESDAY
Salad with chicken, cranberries, cheese, and nuts

Not a thrilling meal, but decent. I cooked the chicken breasts in the Instant Pot on high pressure for eight minutes in just plain lemon juice. When it was cool, I sliced them and served them over salad greens, along with sliced almonds, dried cranberries, and crumbled feta cheese. I bought a bottle of “black garlic pepper vinaigrette,” whatever that is, but I forgot to try it. I also meant to add sliced Granny Smith apples, but didn’t even realize till this minute that I forgot that, too.

I seem to have forgotten to take a picture, as well. What was I doing all week? Not taking food pictures, I guess. Here’s an old pic of a similar meal:

My family will not eat salad greens as a side dish, but they eat tons of it if it’s part of a main course loaded salad. Works for me!

THURSDAY
English muffin pizzas, pepperoni and black olive

I again forgot to take a picture, but this is what sets me apart from other food bloggers, right? Other food bloggers would torture you with eleven photos of hand-pitted black olives and hand-cured pepperoni that they procured at the pepperoni ranch down the road, laid out artfully on a wooden trencher with lavender and quince hanging around for some reason, interspersed through seven paragraphs about how, on a jaunt to Iceland, they popped into out of the driving rain into an adorable little English muffin shop where the grandmother sat on a two-legged stool in the back, absolutely grinding the flour with her authentic gums while the patrons patiently hung around holding sacks under her jaw, and that’s why Icelandic kids don’t have ADHD.

Not me! I just wrote “pizza” and called it food blogging. In my defense, I did install a thingy so now you can pin images, if you’re into that. Flailing toward solvency, that’s my game.

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese

Easy, cheesy, glutenful: Mac and cheese. I use an Instant Pot recipe. If I’m feeling fancy and I feel like everyone’s blood glucose can take it, I transfer it to a buttered pan and put buttered breadcrumbs on top.

And now it’s almost 12:30 and I haven’t had breakfast yet. I’m loading up all these food pictures and absolutely dying. Gonna go grab some lunch and then get back to you with the recipe cards!

Guess who’s sitting on the couch next to me? My husband. He’s working from home today. You guys.

Chimichurri

Dipping sauce, marinade, you name it

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

Beef skewers

We used a cheap cut of oven roast and it turned out just great (but I'm sure steak would be good, too!). Serve with chimichurri and pickled onions for a wonderful treat. 

Ingredients

  • beef
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Soak wooden skewers in water for at least half an hour before skewering meat. 

  2. Slice beef across the grain into wide strips, trimming off fat if necessary. Thread them, accordion style, onto the skewers.

  3. Build the fire and let it die down to coals. 
    Just before cooking, drizzle the skewers with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then lay the skewers over the grill, turning occasionally, until they are sizzling. 

  4. Serve with chimichurri and pickled red onions. 

 

Pickled red onions

A nice side dish for beef skewers with chimichurri

Ingredients

  • 2 red onions, sliced thin
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup red wine or cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • water

Instructions

  1. Dissolve sugar into vinegar. Add onions and cilantro. Add water if necessary to cover onions. Cover and let sit for several hours before serving. 

 

Slow cooker carnitas

Serve on tortillas with sour cream, guacamole, beans and rice, salsa, cilantro, or whatever you like.

Ingredients

  • 1 pork shoulder
  • 1 can beer (or soda)
  • cumin
  • chili powder
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Put pork shoulder in slow cooker with beer. Cook on low for five hours or more, until pork falls apart when poked. 

  2. Preheat broiler. 

  3. Shred meat, mix together with spices, and spread in a thin layer on a shallow pan. Broil for a few minutes until meat is slightly crisped.  

  4. Serve on tortillas with whatever additions you like. 

 

Beans and rice

A good side dish, a main course for meatless meals, or to serve inside carnitas, etc.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups uncooked white rice
  • 1 15-oz cans red or black beans, drained
  • 1 20-oz can diced tomatoes with some of the juice
  • 1 diced jalapeno
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Cook rice. Add rest of ingredients, adjusting spices to taste. If it's too dry, add more tomato juice. 

 

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. 

 

Instant Pot macaroni and cheese

Adapted from a CopyKat recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds raw macaroni
  • 2 tsp hot sauce
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp yellow mustard
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2-3 pounds cheese of your choice
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1-2 cups buttered bread crumbs for topping (optional)

Instructions

  1. Put macaroni in Instant Pot with enough water to barely cover. Put hot sauce, and mustard on top and mix it well. Mixing may be superstitious; not sure. 

  2. Set IP to high pressure for six minutes. Do quick release. 

  3. Drain any excess water. Add milk, butter, and cheese, and mix until macaroni is coated. 

  4. Serve as is; or butter a pan and pour the macaroni into it, top with buttered bread crumbs, and heat in oven until breadcrumbs are toasted. 

Perfect means complete

And now let’s put things right.

That seems to be my daughter’s goal with every game she plays. Everything needs to end up right where it belongs: baby cheetah with mama cheetah, dragon husband with dragon wife, all back in bed together where they belong. Barbie needs Ken, and Ken must have his mate, that no four-year-old can deny.

We drove past the ravished corn fields with their crowds of Canada geese, busily taking what they needed from between the rows. I half-turned my head to the back seat, where my little girl was gazing out the window, and I said, “Those are geese. See all their long, black necks? They are eating the corn that is left on the ground, and then they will fly up together and go somewhere warmer to live for the winter.” It was as it should be. The geese knew where to go. She nodded her little corn-golden head, taking the information in and filing it away where it needed to go.

What an immense delight to pour out knowledge into the ear a willing child. It’s one of the few times you can think, “This is exactly what I need to be doing. I did it right. She wanted to know, and I told her.” Key in lock. Fill up the glass. A purely satisfying moment.

It’s not childishness that makes us delight in putting things to rights, in bringing them home where they belong. Even in the midst of turmoil, we find a primal if fleeting satisfaction in finishing a task, turning chaos into order, making a jumble come out even. The most “adult” of activities is terribly, terribly basic in this regard. It’s stunningly simple: This is made to go inside that. Ever ask yourself, “But why does it somehow seem good, true, or beautiful to fit one thing inside another? What does that even mean?”

It means that, for once, things are where they belong. And that’s not nothing. It’s actually everything. It’s what we’re made to long for. It’s what we were made to do.

For many years, I was hung up on the idea that Heaven would be boring. The only interesting things I’d ever encountered were wobbly, wounded, fascinatingly warped. It was hard enough to conceive of any state of being for eternity, but maddening to imagine that it would be a dull state of being. I thought, with my untidy brain, that perfection meant utter tidiness.

It’s the old Ned Flanders heresy: that the Lord God of Hosts took on flesh in a blaze of glory, shook Jerusalem to its foundations with his words, was torn apart by whips and nails and bled dry; that he harrowed the deadlands and then in the morning came shooting out of the grave like a geyser of light, upending the armies of Hell with a flick of His resurrected finger, striding forth to establish the Church and then to ascend with unspeakable joy to the right hand of his Father, and now He calls upon us, His children, saying “BE YE . . .

. . . tidy.” With a tucked-in shirt and a clean part in our hair. You know, perfect.

No. That can’t be it. He wants us to be perfect, but perfect means complete. Perfect means that everything is where it is supposed to be — not with mere tidiness, like a paperclip in a paperclip holder, but back where it was created to belong, like a lost child coming home, like the fulfillment of a lifelong promise, like the flesh of two made one. That kind of completion.

If that sounds boring to you, then you’re doing it wrong.

What we catch now, in rare moments of respite, is a reminder of who we are and for what we were made. A reminder, as we drive by the ravished fields, that we can glean what’s left between the rows of corn, but it’s only a stop along the way. We were made to go home. Find out what you were made to do, and go home.

***

A version of this post originally ran in 2016.