What’s for supper? Vol. 189: Suppli! Canolli! French onion soup! Jacques Pepin’s chicken thighs! Parmesan asparagus! and more

Come, come away with me, on a magical food journey withouten any potatoes in it! 

SATURDAY
Hamburgers, chips, broccoli and dip

I can’t even remember what we were doing on Saturday. Running around, no doubt. 

SUNDAY
Pork ribs, cole slaw, mashed squash

This is my new favorite way to make acorn squash. Cut in half, scoop out seeds, roast, scoop, mash with butter, brown sugar or maples syrup, kosher salt, and a little chili pepper. It’s easy enough that I don’t mind making it for the very few people who like it. As I was eating, I asked Damien if he remembered that wonderful squash we had in the hospital after Corrie was born, and he reminded me that he and I have very different experiences of that first post-delivery meal. (He did not remember the squash.) 

I sprinkled the pork with salt and pepper and put them in a roasting pan under the broiler, turning them once. 

The cole slaw was very simple, just shredded cabbage in a dressing of mayo, vinegar, a little sugar, salt, and pepper. 

MONDAY
WELL. LET ME TELL YOU. 

Monday is our annual “I don’t want to talk about it; we just really like Italian food and there aren’t any birthdays in October, so we have some free time” October 11th meal. We had a houseguest this week (my oldest kid’s friend from college), and my son’s girlfriend was here, and so was my father.

Excellent guests, all. I poured a little wine, and away we went!

For antipasto, we had two kinds of salami, fresh mozzarella, provolone, purple olives, giant green olives stuffed with garlic, fresh bread, toasted bread, artichoke hearts, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, breadsticks, pears wrapped in prosciutto.

And something called “pepper drops,” which turned out to be sweet, tender, marinated infant peppers. I didn’t get great pictures, but this is the basic idea, in the middle of my “everything happens here” kitchen:

While they were munching on that, I made the suppli.

Suppli are breaded, deep-fried balls of risotto with mozzarella in the center, and if that doesn’t sound good to you, I just don’t know what to say to you. You can add various things — mushrooms, pancetta, herbs, tomato sauce, etc. — but that is the basic form. 

It’s much easier to make suppli if the risotto is chilled, so I made it the night before. I love my Instant Pot for easy, weekday risotto, but nothing beats creamy, fragrant, labor intensive, stovetop risotto for suppli. I formed them in the morning

and fried them while people were eating the antipasto. I am extremely proud of my suppli, and they turned out so well this year! Next year, though, I’ll let them all warm in the oven for at least five minutes, to make sure all the cheese is melted. 

Then Damien served his course, which this year was pasta and homemade tomato sauce with sausages, and a mountain of garlic bread. Because I am frail, I skipped this course, and just ate some pomegranates. 

Totally worth extra time in the underworld. 

Finally, we had mini cannoli and Italian ices. I had to call around a bit and get a bakery to set aside some empty cannoli shells for me. I don’t really have a recipe for the filling — just ricotta cheese with powdered sugar and vanilla or almond extract. You can pipe it into the shells with a ziplock bag, and then sprinkle them with rainbow sprinkles or chocolate shavings, and pop a maraschino cherry in the end. 

And that, my friends, was a very good meal, and a very good day.

TUESDAY
Leftovers.

It was such a good meal, we had some of it twice.

WEDNESDAY
Jaques Pepin’s insanely crispy chicken thighs with mushroom sauce; parmesan asparagus

Someone posted this recipe after I asked for truly easy meal ideas last week. I was skeptical then, since it looked complicated and weird. 

WELL. This is definitely going in the rotation. It’s a weird cooking method, but it’s almost brainless, and comes out ridiculously tasty and oh ye gods and little fishes, that skin is remarkable. You may never in your life have had chicken thigh skin this good. Recipe from this site

Basically you take chicken thighs, turn them skin down, and slash the meat on both sides of the bone, then salt and pepper it heavily. You put the thighs skin down on a COLD SKILLET, turn it way up until it sizzles, then turn it to medium, cover it tightly, and walk away. Well, you can check it a few times to make sure it’s not burning, and loosen the meat up off the pan, but that’s the only thing you have to do for it.  

When it’s done cooking (about 25 minutes), you keep it warm in the oven while you sauté some mushrooms, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and white wine in the chicken fat, and then you have a lovely sauce to spoon over the chicken. Sprinkle some chopped chives over the top, and there it is.

You are thinking, “But what is a French recipe without butter? Surely this needs some butter to add richness and flavor and moisture.” Do me a favor and try this one time without butter, and see how it goes.

You will also think, “I’m only seasoning under the thighs? Surely the skin needs some flavor as well.” It turns out I was supposed to season them on both sides, but it didn’t matter! I don’t know how it works — I guess those slashes help the seasoning rise up into the whole thigh? — but the whole piece of chicken was flavorful. The thighs get sort of flattened, and the skin turns into . . . argh, how do I say this so it doesn’t sound gross. It sort of becomes a crisp cap or a rind to the meat. It’s just great. You really have to try it.

I will admit I made a huge mess with this, but that’s mainly because the skillets I used have almost no rim, and I slopped hot chicken fat everywhere. Next time I’ll just use some big frying pans, or maybe keep a baster on hand to keep the fat under control. I do recommend cast iron if you have it, but any stick-resistant pans should work. 

Oh, and if you have mushroom-haters in your family, you can easily serve the chicken plain, since the mushrooms get cooked separately. 

I didn’t get around to serving the asparagus with Monday’s feast, so I spread it in a pan, drizzled it with olive oil, shook on plenty of salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese, and roasted it.

Perfect, and so fast and easy.

THURSDAY
French onion soup, smoked turkey and Swiss sandwiches

‘Tis soup season. I follow a very simple, flexible recipe where you slowwwwwwwwwly cook a ton of onions in a ton of butter, maybe stir iin some sugar, then stir in some flour and pepper, then add chicken or beef broth and parmesan cheese, and let it simmer for as long as you can. Top with more parmesan. I don’t like having a thick layer of cheese on top. I hate it when you’re supposed to bust through a layer of something and all you have is a spoon. Life is hard enough. 

Infected with some madness, I picked up a gallon of glue so the kids could make slime (no school because a nor’easter left a lot of downed power lines and debris in the road) which I’ve somehow managed to resist all these years. We made the kind with glue, baking soda, and contact lens fluid.  It turned out well, but it needs a lot more contact lens fluid and mixing than they say! We also had a dentist appointment, and we needed to hit the flu clinic, so it wasn’t exactly the sleepy, cozy, rainy day at home I envisioned. I rushed the soup a bit, so it was a little on the light side, but it was still delicious, buttery, sweet, rich, comforting. No leftovers, which is rare in this house. 

I made a bunch of leftover hot dog and hamburger buns into big croutons. I drizzled them with olive oil and shook on plenty of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano, and toasted them slowly in a 300 oven. 

We had smoked turkey from the deli, Swiss cheese, and ciabatta rolls. I had mine with dijon mustard and pickles. We all went to a flu shot clinic at 5, so it was good to come home to hot soup and easy sandwiches. 

This was the swankiest flu clinic I’ve ever seen. They had apples and cider, and the kids got stickers, pencils, and candy, and then they were allowed to pick out a teddy bear and bring it to a nurse, who would then put a cast on it wherever you wanted.

The place was absolutely mobbed. I am very proud of NH. I know nobody was showing up with all their kids on a Thursday evening just to get a teddy bear. 

FRIDAY
Quesadillas

Just quesadillas, I believe. 

Okay, here’s the recipe card for the suppli and risotto. Will add more cards later as time allows! Get your flu shot! 

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. 

On meteors and managed expectations

Not long ago, our hemisphere passed through the Perseid meteor shower. When I was young, my family was heavily into astronomy. We owned more than one telescope, and we would sometimes all pile into the van after dark and drive out to the countryside, where there were no streetlights or house lights, but only the velvety darkness and the sound and smell of sleeping cows.

On this road, you could look up and see the Milky Way spread out across the top of the sky like a shining river. The planets gleamed like jewels, red and yellow and blue. More than once I actually heard a meteor sizzle past like a drop of water on hot soapstone.

Having had these almost mystical experiences throughout my childhood, I feel very strongly — perhaps too strongly — that astronomy ought to be part of every childhood. But in this, I have largely failed with my own kids. We’re just too busy. We’ve prioritized other things, and the thought of dragging ourselves outside in the dark for one last outing at the end of an exhausting day is unbearable.

So my kids know a few constellations. We’ve dabbled in homemade sundials, and they understand the seasons and eclipses and why astrology is nonsense. But a love of astronomy is not part of our family identity, the way it was for my family of origin.

I know this, and I know that knowing it sometimes cause me disproportionate distress. And this is why, when I prepared to take my kids out for the annual Perseid meter shower, I gave myself more than one stern lecture . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly here

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Not lost forever: On miscarriage, grief, and hope

In the movie Gladiator (2000), the victorious but homesick general Maximus carries with him tiny, crude statues of his beloved wife and son. They are a reminder of home, but he also prays to them and for them, tenderly cradling the figures in his hand as he endures the pain of separation.

The figures become even more precious to him when he discovers that his wife and son are dead — tortured and murdered as political revenge.

Some Romans believed that the spirits of the dead were literally embodied in the figures, making them so much more than keepsakes. After he dies, his friend buries the statuettes in the sand of the Colosseum. We see brief, otherworldly scenes of Maximus returning home, of the three of them rushing together again.

I thought of those little figures as I read ‘The Japanese Art of Grieving a Miscarriage’ in the New York Times. The author, Angela Elson, says:

According to Buddhist belief, a baby who is never born can’t go to heaven, having never had the opportunity to accumulate good karma. But Jizo, a sort of patron saint of foetal demise, can smuggle these half-baked souls to paradise in his pockets. He also delivers the toys and snacks we saw being left at his feet on Mount Koya. Jizo is the UPS guy of the afterlife.

Elson bought a Japanese Jizo figurine for herself when she had a miscarriage. She says:

A miscarriage at 10 weeks produces no body, so there would be no funeral. “What do we even do?” I asked the doctor. She wrote me a prescription for Percocet: “Go home and sleep.”

We went home. I didn’t sleep. I spent a week throwing myself around the house … I was itchy with sadness. I picked at my cuticles and tore out my hair. I had all this sorrow and no one to give it to, and Brady couldn’t take it off me because his hands were already full of his own mourning. We knew miscarriage was common. But why wasn’t there anything people did when it happened?

So they bought a Jizo. She carried him around for awhile, kissed him, spent time crocheting a hat and jacket for the figurine. “It was nice for us to have something to do, a project to finish in lieu of the baby I failed to complete,” she says.

Oh, Lord, how I understand.

When I lost our own very young baby a few years ago around this season, it was so terribly hard to have nothing to do. No birth, no ceremony, no body to wash, anoint, and clothe, no grave to dig. We could pray and cry and rest, but it was so hard. We want to have our hands on something. We want to know for sure that the world acknowledges: Yes, the child was here. Yes, the child was real.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my dear friend Kate had felted a beautiful little dog for me. Just a few weeks before the miscarriage, our puppy Shane got overexcited by the snow falling, and he went and ran in the road, and he was crushed by a speeding car that didn’t even slow down. My husband and son retrieved the dying dog and brought him to the vet, where they gently put him down, then burned his body and sealed the ashes in a carved box.

The felted dog that Kate made is perfect, a brilliant, lively bit of work. But before she could send it to me in remembrance, my baby died, too – and she knew how terrible it would be to acknowledge the loss of a pet, but not the loss of a child. And so Kate’s daughter made a felt baby for me, sweetly embroidered and cuddled in a little hand-sewn pouch. They sent them both along, the puppy and the baby, with sympathies and assurances of prayers.

It was so good to have. So good. Even when looking at it made me cry, it was so much better than the pain of looking for my lost baby and finding nothing.

After a year or so, I thought we might use my little felt baby as a Baby Jesus in our nativity scene. I took it out, but then hastily put the little one back again. It was still too raw; and besides, this baby wasn’t Jesus. This baby was someone else, with a name and a human soul, a mother and a father and siblings. Hell, for six weeks, the baby was even sort of the owner of a foolish puppy named Shane.

My little felt baby wasn’t just any generic baby figure, but a specific baby, my baby. So back into the pouch the little one went. Back to the work of simply quietly existing, eyes closed, so that I wasn’t empty-handed. This baby does this job very well.

I forget it is there, most times. I keep it on the windowsill in the kitchen, where it gathers dust along with other little keepsakes, statues, and trinkets people have given me. But I went to check in on it one day, and couldn’t find it, and the panic almost knocked me off my feet. (I had moved it to the other side of the windowsill last time I cleaned. Oops!)

Does it really matter what happens to my felt baby? Not really. Certainly not spiritually, eternally speaking. We are not ancient Romans, superstitiously locating dead spirits in wooden figurines; and we are not Buddhists, clinging to a heartbreakingly vague hope of our children sneaking into blissed-out extinction.

As Catholics, we know that all the bodies of the dead will be resurrected and transformed when Jesus comes back. We have reason to hope that even those little, innocent ones who never had eyes to see the light of day or the waters of baptism will be welcomed into heaven as well, not smuggled in the pockets of a low-ranking god, but recognized and called by name back home by their Father who made them.

Still, we are human. It is not wrong to look for physical reminders of abstract truths. Doctors and nurses, be gentle with women who have lost a child, even one too small to bury. Husbands, be patient, even if you don’t understand the depth of grief. Priests, take the time to acknowledge what happened, and do not be cavalier when answering spiritual questions or inquiries. Friends of a grieving mother, make it clear that you know the child she lost was a real child, irreplaceable, unlike any other.

Even as Catholics, we are one and the same with the fictional Maximus, because it gives us strength and hope to be able to touch and hold something connected to our dead. God made us with five senses, with hearts that reach out and seek comfort from earthly things, because these senses and these hearts can help remind us of what is true: That our lost children aren’t truly lost. They were really here, and they haven’t vanished forever. God willing, we will see them again.

***

Rebecca Jemison makes polymer clay baby loss memorials for free or donation. You can contact her at facebook.com/beccajemisoncreates.

This article was originally published in The Catholic Weekly in January of 2017
 
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

What’s for supper? Vol. 188: A week of truly fast, truly easy, mostly decent meals

Today’s post will be pretty bare bones, as I have cleverly arranged my schedule so that every time I say, “Whew, that big thing is done!” I suddenly remember I now have to do the other big thing. At least I was smart enough to plan quick and easy meals for this week. Everything on this list goes from cold kitchen to hot food on the table in about half an hour, if you don’t shilly shally (and that takes into account that I’m making massive amounts of food, which you are probably not).

Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Domino’s

This wasn’t actually the plan. The plan was to use the huge collection of french bread we forgot to make into garlic bread last week, and turn it into french bread pizza. But the “last week” part turned out to be important, and the bread was all moldy. So we got Domino’s.

SUNDAY
Beef stroganoff and caramel apples

Nice simple recipe, which I actually prefer to stroganoff made with good beef that you have to cut up and cook slowly. I cooked up a bunch of chopmeat in a heavy pot (does anyone else call ground beef “chopmeat?” Or is that just something my mother would say, like “dungarees?”), then took the meat out and drained out most of the fat, then sauteéd up some chopped onions and garlic (pre-minced garlic from a jar, thank you very much) in the fat. Then I put the meat back in, added some beef broth, wine, salt, and pepper, and sliced mushrooms, and let it cook down a bit, and got some egg noodles cooking.

Just before serving, I stirred in a bunch of sour cream to the meat, and served it over the noodles. Very tasty and filling, if not photogenic. 

The caramel apples were made with those caramel wrap sheets, and the kids handled it after I demonstrated one.

You just stretch the wraps over the apple, jam in a stick, and put them in a warm oven for a few minutes, and you become an Accomplished Autumn Homemaker, so you can check that off the list for the year.

MONDAY
Chicken burgers, roast brussels sprouts, grains and veg, chips

Cut them stems off the Brussels sprouts and cut them in half. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on plenty of salt and pepper. Roast in a hot oven until they are slightly charred. So good. I fleetingly considered mixing them with some dried cranberries I happened to have, but I didn’t want a mutiny on my hands. I still think it would have been good, though. 

As you can see, I bought some kind of frozen thing with various grains and vegetables mixed in, that just needed to be heated up in a pan. It wasn’t very good, but it made me feel better about serving chips. 

TUESDAY
Chicken stir fry on rice

I set a bunch of rice cooking in the Instant Pot using the 1:1 method, which makes it turn out sticky and good. 

I cut up a bunch of chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. I cut up a bunch of broccoli into bite-sized pieces. I cooked the chicken in sesame oil in a big pan, drained out the moisture that accumulated, then added the broccoli and cooked it just lightly. Then I dumped in a few bottles of sauce and heated it through. 

I used something called Citrus Ponzu Sauce, which claimed to be “Japanese inspired.” It was, as advertised, a blend of bright citrus, savory soy sauce, and red chili peppers. I also sprinkled some red pepper flakes on top of mine. 

WEDNESDAY
Giant pancake, bacon, eggs

You know about giant pancake. Even the NYT now knows about giant chocolate pancake, and they have the nerve to put it behind a paywall. (They also did a thing about how neat Funfetti is a few weeks ago, so I don’t know why I ever feel bad about anything I cook.) You preheat the oven to 350, take a whole box of “just add water” pancake mix, and add enough water that it looks like, you know, pancake batter. Then you can stir stuff in. I had a bag of chocolate chips on hand, so, boop. You butter a pan and throw it in the oven for about half an hour until it’s a little brown on top. Cut it into wedges and be adored. Your degenerate children will want to put syrup on it, and you will let them.

While it was baking, I fried up five pounds of bacon and scrambled a few dozen eggs. While I was cooking, Irene goes, “It’s funny, they call it ‘breakfast for dinner,’ but I never have bacon or eggs for breakfast.”
“Yeah,” I said; “If it were breakfast, we’d be having–”
“Cold Pizza,” she said. “Cold cake. Or nothing.”

So, I need to step up my breakfast game, then.

Or they can get out of bed when I tell them to get out of bed, how about that. 

THURSDAY
One-pan kielbasa, cabbage, and red potato

This one may have taken a little longer than half an hour, because you have to cut three things and also make a dressing, but it’s stupid easy. Recipe card at the bottom. It’s delicious. 

I did buy parsley and chop some up for the top, and it still qualifies as stupid easy. 

FRIDAY
Macaroni and cheese, my dudes. 

There may even be a vegetable of some sort in the fridge, who can say. 

***

 

One-pan kielbasa, cabbage, and red potato dinner with mustard sauce

This meal has all the fun and salt of a wiener cookout, but it's a tiny bit fancier, and you can legit eat it in the winter. 

Ingredients

  • 3-4 lbs kielbasa
  • 3-4 lbs red potatoes
  • 1-2 medium cabbages
  • (optional) parsley for garnish
  • salt and pepper and olive oil

mustard sauce (sorry, I make this different each time):

  • mustard
  • red wine if you like
  • honey
  • a little olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh garlic, crushed

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400. 

    Whisk together the mustard dressing ingredients and set aside. Chop parsley (optional).

    Cut the kielbasa into thick coins and the potatoes into thick coins or small wedges. Mix them up with olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread them in a shallow pan. 

    Cut the cabbage into "steaks." Push the kielbasa and potatoes aside to make room to lay the cabbage down. Brush the cabbage with more olive oil and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. It should be a single layer of food, and not too crowded, so it will brown well. 

    Roast for 20 minutes, then turn the food as well as you can and roast for another 15 minutes.  

    Serve hot with dressing and parsley for a garnish. 

 

10 things Catholics (and others) should know about therapy

For World Mental Health Day, I’ve updated a thing I wrote a few years ago. It’s all still true! And since then, other members of my family have started seeing therapists, too. We’re so dang mentally healthy around here, I don’t even recognize us.  

***

I’ve been seeing a therapist for several years now. I make a point of mentioning it because a lot of Catholics (and others!) are resistant to the idea of therapy. I understand much of that resistance, so I thought I’d share my experience. Here are some basic observations:

1. Therapy is not a replacement for confession or spiritual direction. You may end up addressing the same behaviors in both therapy and confession or spiritual direction, but you’ll learn different things about where they come from and how to deal with them. If you go to therapy, it doesn’t mean you think you’re not responsible for your actions. It means you’re serious about trying to change them.

2. At the same time, therapy is not incompatible with Catholicism – or it shouldn’t be. Ideally, they should dovetail. In my case, I’d made no progress trying to conquer certain behaviors through prayer and confession, so I turned to therapy to help me learn practical ways to do it.

3. It’s far better to see a good therapist who doesn’t know much about your Faith than it is to see a faithful Catholic who’s a second-rate therapist. I went in with the idea that I’d listen with an open mind to whatever my therapist could offer, and I’d do the job of filtering out whatever was incompatible with my faith, and I’d integrate whatever was compatible. Once I got to know and trust the fellow, I let him know that I felt defensive about my Faith, and that I was afraid that he’d see my religion as something to be cured – that he’d see my big family and my spiritual obligations as the things that were dragging me down.

He said that it’s true that some therapists see religion as an unhealthy thing, and they may or may not be aware that they have this prejudice; but he said that most of the good therapists he knows will want to treat the whole person, and that includes their spiritual life; so he encouraged me to be more open about matters touching on religion. I have done this, and it’s worked out well.

This makes sense, because I have made a deliberate effort to integrate my faith into every aspect of my life, so it’s not as if I can compartmentalize it anyway.

At the same time, occasionally bringing up matters of faith with someone who doesn’t share my religion has made me examine pretty closely what I really believe and why. It’s all been to the good, even if it was an uncomfortable and somewhat frightening experience. 

4. Therapy is not for losers. Knowing there’s a problem and not going for help is stupid. Knowing there’s a problem and going for help is what adults do, for their own sakes, and for the sakes of the people they live with. 

5. Of course it’s hard to get started. Important things usually are. It is hard to make the first phone call, especially if you have to make lots and lots of phone calls, and explain over and over again that you need help, until you find someone who is taking new patients and accepts your insurance. Just keep calling. Set a goal per day – say, six phone calls – and just keep plowing through. If possible, if you need it, ask someone to make the phone calls for you. Just get the ball rolling.

6. Don’t assume you can’t possibly afford it. Therapy might be covered by your insurance, or they might offer a sliding scale fee structure, so at least make some calls and find out. If you call an office that does not take your insurance, ask them if they can recommend someone who does. Also ask at your parish. There may possibly be some grant money available. 

7. You might not find the right therapist at first. Give it several sessions, and if things seem really off, it’s completely normal and useful to say so and try someone else. The whole point of this is to help you, and if it’s not helping, then what are you doing?

I was set to see a therapist for an introductory visit, and she didn’t return my phone calls, and then left a message saying she would call back, and then didn’t. So I fired her before I even met with her. If I want to get treated like crap, I can just hang out with my four-year-old at home for free.

8. Therapy isn’t magic. You have to actually do the things throughout the rest of the week. Just showing up for your appointments isn’t going to help anything.

9. Even when it’s working, it takes a while. Things often get harder before they get easier. It’s normal to have ups and downs, and it’s normal to regress at a certain point. You should be seeing some progress at some point, but don’t expect to be on a dazzling upward trajectory from day one.

10. Therapy is smarter than you think, smarty.  So give it a chance, even if your therapist uses words or ideas that sound goofy at first. If you have a decent therapist who seems intelligent, responsive, and respectful, then keep an open mind.

I had a hard time, for instance, getting over the word “mindfulness.” I was like, “But I do not balance crystals on my forehead when I get overwhelmed by yoga pants shopping, so get away from me with your mindfulness nonsense!” Well, it happens that I went in for help changing some behavior that I do out of habit, that I do without thinking, and that I do when I feel like I’m not in control of my responses. So guess what I’m working on? Mindfulness. La di dah.

***

If you’ve had a good (or a bad) experience with therapy, what would you add? What would you like your fellow Catholics to know?

Image via MaxPixel (Creative Commons)

The difficult balance between honesty and complacency

Look, it’s a model wearing size 24 jeans! And look, a shaving ad that doesn’t airbrush cellulite away, and a weight-loss ad that shows a woman smoothing her sweater over her stomach — a stomach that is clearly far smaller than it used to be, but is still striated with permanent stretch marks.

I absolutely love it. Welcome to the 21st century, when lumpy, imperfect people are starting to populate the media almost as much as they populate the actual country. As a fat person, I’m intensely grateful for ads that make it clear I can be both large and human, even both large and beautiful.

Representation is about so much more than just a happy jolt of recognition. It’s about feeling real, feeling fully a member of the human race. 

There’s a similar movement going on in what I’ll call, for want of a less cringey phrase, the spiritual media. Less than 10 years ago, I pitched some book proposals to Catholic publishers. I strove to paint a picture showing how it really feels to be a Catholic wife and mother, with all the actual joys and sorrows, and without any of the literary airbrushing that was de rigeur in books aimed at Catholic women.

To a one, the publishers responded that my work was unsuitable for Catholic readers. It was too dark, too negative, too harsh, not uplifting and joyful enough. In short, too honest.

Things have changed. In 2019, it’s commonplace to be both Catholic and honest in public. It’s no longer shocking or unacceptable, in most communities, for Catholics to speak openly about the messy, unresolved, unedifying aspects of their lives — depressionalcoholismporn addictionburnout, weirdness in general, or even sincerity itself — and for readers to respond with gratitude and recognition, rather than shock and condemnation.

But this new “warts and all” honesty is a double-edged sword. It’s undeniably healthy to be sincere, to courageously acknowledge the flaws we perceive as unusual and shameful. It can be immensely liberating and encouraging for others to see they’re not alone in their imperfections. We must correct the notion that, to deserve respect, we must be (or appear to be) flawless. We need to know that we’re not somehow less human just because we struggle.

But there’s such a short jump between “I am imperfect, but I still deserve respect” and “I am imperfect, and there’s no reason to change.”

I must reluctantly admit that, when I see fat models looking lovely, sometimes it’s good for me, and makes me feel more human; but sometimes it just gives me an excuse to skip exercising for two weeks and slap extra sour cream on my taco. It’s vital to know I deserve to be treated with dignity no matter what size I am. But it’s also vital that I keep my arteries from exploding. When my Facebook feed is populated by lush, queenly, opulent models even bigger than me, I could go either way. Sometimes honest representation is good for me; sometimes, not so much.

The same is true in our moral lives. When we surround ourselves with “warts and all” examples, we may feel encouraged and comforted, seeing clearly that it’s human to struggle, and not a cause for despair. If we look in the mirror and don’t like what we see, we may truly need a reminder that haven’t lost our right to dignity simply because we sin.

But there’s also a true risk of normalizing sin.  It’s one thing to know that it’s normal to struggle with chastity; it’s quite another when no one you know takes chastity seriously, or has any intention of changing their lives to pursue this virtue. It’s one thing to know that many decent people enjoy a cocktail on the regular; it’s quite another to accept that getting trashed every night is just how mommies cope.

It’s one thing to understand that everyone struggles; it’s quite another to conclude that struggle is therefore unnecessary . . . 

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Martin Taylor via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Pro-life spotlight: Who wants a discount code for the REHUMANIZE INTERNATIONAL conference?

I’ve been putting off featuring Rehumanize International for my pro-life spotlight, because I love them so much and wanted to do them justice. 
 
However, I just got my hot little hands on a discount code for their upcoming conference, so today’s the day!  The conference is at at Loyola in New Orleans, and it’s from Oct. 18-20. Details below.
If I were anywhere in the area, I would absolutely be there. You know I reject the whole “vote GOP or the baby gets it” mode of being pro-life, but I also get frustrated with “whole life” thinking that’s so open-ended, it doesn’t have time for cheesy stuff like protecting the unborn. Left and right, pro-lifers and pro-choicers both so often descend into dehumanizing someone, all for the sake of the cause.
 
REHUMANIZE INTERNATIONAL never does this. Rehumanize International is the antidote. All of their work is marked with a genuine concern for the life and dignity of all human persons. 
 
Lately, I’m especially impressed by Rehumanize International’s dedication to featuring the voices of pro-life people of color, including a former abortion clinic worker who’ll be speaking at the conference. (They also have kickass swag.) 
 
Use the code RUSH to get $20 off any ticket purchased. This code is only valid for this week. This is an amazing freaking deal, as you’ll see if you look at the tremendous line-up they’re offering. If you can’t make it, share the code! Here’s the details about the conference:
 
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The lineup of speakers is extraordinary, the wide-ranging depth of the presentations will enlighten and engage you, and the community of attendees will become fast friends. This year’s conference will include talks by abortion survivors and a death row survivor… as well as a session with a veteran for peace, a former abortion clinic worker who works for life, and a former state executioner who now works to end the death penalty. We feature the voices of grassroots advocates and experts on topics ranging from war and peacemaking to embryonic stem cell research and affirming life.

We at Rehumanize International embrace a philosophy called the Consistent Life Ethic, and we know that y’all would benefit immensely from the edifying talks that will engage and equip you for your work for human dignity.

You really don’t want to miss this phenomenal event!

Regular General Admission passes are so affordable: Adult tickets are $75, and Student tickets are only $50! 

You can register now: www.rehumanizeintl.org/conference

BUT WAIT!!! — The Rehumanize team doesn’t want finances to be an obstacle to attendance — if you and your friends and followers want to come, but the cost is just not doable right now, send us an email (aimee@rehumanizeintl.org) and we’ll work out a scholarship, discount, or fee waiver option for you! We don’t want finances to get in the way of folks hearing these vital messages of our inherent human worth.

Here’s a rundown of what this year’s conference will include:

Friday, October 18

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM — 40 Days for Life Vigil outside local abortion clinic

5:30 PM – 9:00 PM — Create | Encounter art show

Saturday, October 19

8:00 AM — Registration opens

9:15 – 10:00 AM — Keynote 1: On Dehumanizing Language

Herb Geraghty, Rehumanize International

10:15 – 11:45 AM — Workshop 1: ISO Secular Abortion Recovery Resources

Kelsey Hazzard, Secular Pro-Life

Michaelene Fredenburg, Abortion Changes You

10:15 – 11:00 AM — Breakout Session 1

A: Where Did I Leave My Shield? (on suicide prevention)

Kara Wiggins

B: A Post-Abortive Sibling’s Testimony

Krista Corbello, Rehumanize International

C: Literary Device as Defense for the Indigenous

Jennifer Reeser

FORUM: Alternatives to Violence

Lisa Stiller, Consistent Life Network

11:15 – 12:00 PM — Breakout Session 2

D: Building a Whole Life Culture in Louisiana

Rep. Katrina Jackson (D) – LA state representative

E: Grassroots Organizing 101

Greta Zarro, World Beyond War

F: Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Violence

Aimee Murphy, Rehumanize International

FORUM: Preventing Burnout: Self-Care for Activists

Alex Lucas, Wolf Pack for Life

12:00 – 1:00 PM — LUNCH & service project

Lunch Sponsor TBD

1:00 – 2:00 PM — Keynote 2: Leaving Violent Institutions

Thad Crouch, Veterans for Peace

Jerry Givens, former VA executioner

Toni Turner, former abortion clinic worker

2:15 – 3:10 PM — Workshop 2: Equipping the Church to Uphold Life

NOLA Embrace Grace

2:15 – 3:00 PM — Breakout Session 3

G: Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress, Moral Injury, and the CLE

Rachel MacNair, Consistent Life Network

H: The Secular Case Against Abortion

Kelsey Hazzard, Secular Pro-Life

I: Rehumanizing Immigrants & Refugees

Martin Gutierrez, Catholic Charities of New Orleans

FORUM: Voting & Politics

Alex Seghers, Louisiana Right to Life

3:15 – 4:15 PM — Keynote 3: I Survived Abortion

Claire Culwell, abortion survivor

Josiah Presley, abortion survivor

4:15 – 4:40 PM — Networking break

4:45 – 5:30 PM — Keynote 4: I Survived Death Row

Death Row Exoneree, Witness to Innocence

5:45 – 8:00 PM — Dinner on your own

8:30 – 9:00 PM — Vigil for Victims of Ableism (for Disability Rights)

Sunday, October 20

8:30 AM – Registration opens

9:30 -10:30 AM — Keynote 5: Countering Ableism in Medicine

Sarah Terzo, Consistent Life Network & PLAGAL

Sophie Trist, Wolf Pack for Life

Jamie Duplechine, Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana USA 2016-17

John “Frank” Stephens, Former global messenger with Special Olympics

10:45 – 11:45 AM — Workshop 3: Working w/ Incarcerated People for Justice Reform

Miea Walker, Forward Justice

Shareef Cousin, Witness to Innocence

10:45 – 11:30 AM — Breakout Session 4

J: Restorative Justice After Abortion

Catherine Glenn Foster, Americans United for Life

Aimee Murphy, Rehumanize International

K: Choosing Life After Rape

Jennifer Christie, Love Louder

L: Ending Violence Against LGBT People

Alice Lee, LGBT advocate

FORUM: Disability Inclusion

Sophie Trist, Wolfpack for Life

11:30 AM – 12:50 PM — LUNCH on your own

11:45 AM – 12:45 PM — Rehumanize Baton Rouge/NOLA Meetup

1:00 – 2:00 PM — Keynote 6: Restorative Justice After Slavery

Ismail Smith-Wade-El

2:15 – 3:45 PM — Workshop 4: Rehumanizing Art

Maria Oswalt, Rehumanize International

2:15 – 3:00 PM — Breakout Session 5

M: Overlooked: Women and Incarceration

Miea Walker, Forward Justice

N: The Revolution: 100 Years of Pro-Life Feminism

Deanna Wallace

O: Guantanamo & History of US Torture

Marie Meza, Witness Against Torture

FORUM:  Protests, Marches, and Nonviolent Actions

TJ Burgess, National Men for Life

3:15 – 4:00 PM — Breakout Session 6

P: Apocalypse Never: Why We Must Reject Nuclear Weapons

John Whitehead, Consistent Life Network

Q: Embryo Rights Beyond Abortion

Herb Geraghty, Rehumanize International

R: Assisted Suicide & Ableism

Diane Coleman, Not Dead Yet

FORUM: Women in the Movement

Madison Tuck & Sophie Trist, Wolf Pack for Life

We hope that you can see how valuable of an event this would be to you and your friends, and that y’all will join us in the Big Easy in a couple weeks — we promise that you will learn so much, you will be truly edified and strengthened in your activism to rehumanize the world! Please share this opportunity with your colleagues, volunteers, and anyone else who you think might be interested.

Use the code RUSH to get $20 off any ticket purchased. This code is only valid for this week.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Please take my other survey! Obstacles to using NFP/FAM besides cost

Thanks so much to everyone who filled out my previous survey(s)! Your answers are very helpful. 

Here is a follow-up, asking about other obstacles besides cost that might prevent people from learning, using, or sticking with NFP/FAM.

Of course most people don’t use or stick with NFP because of its inherent difficulty with charting and abstaining, and sometimes the stress that brings to a relationship with spouse or with God is a huge obstacle.

THIS SURVEY IS NOT ABOUT THOSE THINGS. This is about exterior, logistical obstacles that institutions and instructors can reasonably remove, to make it easier for people who are willing to use NFP, but encounter difficulties.

Please answer for yourself OR for someone you worked with directly (e.g., you are an instructor and you could not serve a client because of some obstacle)

You can follow that link, or use the embedded survey below. It should only take a few minutes to fill out, and I’d be very grateful for your help. It will ask for your email address so I can follow up with you. Your personal information won’t be displayed, and I will ask permission before quoting you in the article I’m working on. 

Thanks again, and please share if you’re in a group of people who have had experience with NFP. 

 

 

Survey Image by MoteOo from Pixabay

What’s for supper? Vol. 187: In which I make good choices and bad choices

I know I said I was ready to start cooking cold weather food, but this time, I mean it. Come for the honey chili acorn squash, homemade applesauce, and heavenly bacon tomato bisque, stay to feel better about the birthday cake you bought at Safeway. Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Beer brats with onions, chips

The kids unexpectedly begged for beer brats with onions, and that could be arranged. Damien boiled them in beer and onions and then browned them up in a pan. For me, however, he bought a surprise steak, since I was feeling low. 

It helped!

SUNDAY
Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, chocolate cake

This was a birthday meal for Moe. Moe’s birthday is in May. 

Now, you may think it’s pathetic that we wouldn’t get around to celebrating a May birthday until October, but you are mistaken. That’s not pathetic! THIS CAKE IS PATHETIC! 

You will have to take my word for it that the theme was not “mangled remains of a once-proud city after a nuclear holocaust.” It really wasn’t. He is very into theater, so the theme was “comedy and tragedy,” and I made a comedy and tragedy mask with ribbons, and a bunch of olive leaves.

See, last time we made little garnishes out of melted chocolate, they turned out great.

What’s for supper? Vol. 144: Chocolate garnicht

It was easy, even. I don’t know what the hell happened this time. I guess maybe possibly I was rushing a bit. And also, it’s possible my confidence was a little shaky after the cake I had made last week, for Clara’s birthday. 

Now Clara, if you will recall, already had a huge blowout birthday in August when we went to Hadestown

A quick review of Hadestown, which you should sell a kidney to see

So I’m not saying I didn’t try to make a good cake, but after a birthday like that, I did feel less pressure to absolutely nail the cake part.

That being said, this was one garbage cake.

I had meant so bake it the night before, but it turns out I bought cake mix that requires egg whites, and we were out of eggs, and the quik-e-mart was closed, and there’s really no substitute for egg whites. So I asked Damien to bake it the next day while I was shopping. I couldn’t find the right pans, so I ended up giving him two round pans and one flower-shaped pans. 

In my head, it would look something like this:

A sort of grim, underworld nod to a wedding cake, topped with a glowing red blossom and dripping with shiny, dark chocolate. EASY ENOUGH, RIGHT?

So I set about fashioning a glowing red blossom out of fruit rolls and toothpicks, as one does. That part was actually not terrible, except that I got tired of feeling sticky, and didn’t make enough petals.

The inspiration:

And the execution:

To be fair, this was halfway through. It did end up looking a little better. A little.

Then the cake cracked a bit when it baked. That’s fine, that happens. But then, I decided to put the layers together without leveling them off. Why? Who can say? Maybe I suffered a mental injury while trying to fashion a blossom out of toothpicks and fruit rolls. Of course the unleveled cake cracked even more, and continued to crack, in a way that was no longer fine. So I broke up some wooden skewers so they’d be nice and splintery, and jammed them in to keep the layers together. 

But wait, it gets worse! Let’s talk about the chocolate ganache, which was going to rescue the whole wobbly mess by gracing it with a rich, glossy chocolate coating that dripped decadently down the sides.

I have never once in my life been able to make a chocolate ganache. It’s just beyond my capability. Doesn’t matter what recipe I use, what ingredients I splurge on. It never comes out. I’ve wrecked it so many times, and so consistently and so thoroughly, that we’re way beyond the point that there’s anything remotely admirable about trying again. There is a section in the DSM about people who still try to make a chocolate ganache with my ganache history. So naturally, that is what I tried.

You’ll never guess. It didn’t turn out.

It was grainy and soupy and bad. I slopped it on the cake anyway, hoping that a last-minute birthday miracle would make it magically coalesce into something edible. That did not come about. It did not come about, even though I helped it along by dumping a lot of gold sugar into the crack in an effort to make it look symbolic!

So.  That was what I had in my arsenal of cake confidence while approaching this other cake. Yeah, remember the other cake?

I didn’t mean for it to look like a photo you show to a cricket when threatening him about what you could do to his family if he doesn’t spill what he knows. I didn’t mean for it to be straight out of the “this is why you never go to sleep with a cell phone charging under your pillow. Poor Madyson now has a plastic bag where her jaw once was, and she wants you to look at this picture and think hard about your choices” file. It just turned out that way, all by itself.  

The good news is, there are no birthdays in November. 

MONDAY
Buffalo chicken salad

This actually tasted far better than it looks.  And yes, that is a sheet in the background. I was eating salad in bed. 

I wanted to make something like the salad I had at Wendy’s. I love Wendy’s salads. They are fresh and delicious, and let’s face it, sometimes you get a little surprise, especially if Pilar is working that day. 

I bought two bags of breaded chicken strips, one regular and one buffalo. I cooked those and cut them up and served them along with mixed greens and shredded pepper jack cheese, with buffalo ranch dressing and some of those crunchy fried onion things people put on that gross Thanksgiving string bean casserole. I thought it was very good! And of course extremely easy. The cheese didn’t really hit the spot, and I did mean to get tomatoes. I think maybe blue cheese next time. But there will be a next time for this salad.

TUESDAY
Pork ribs with applesauce, mashed squash, mashed potatoes

It’s edible squash season, motherfuckers.

I had the kids pick all the terrible apples they could reach from our terrible apple tree, Marvin.  We don’t do anything at all to take care of this tree, and the apples aren’t great for eating, but most of them are just a little spotty and weird, so fine for cooking. 

Well, some of them are terrifying. 

Doesn’t it look like it wished it could scream? This one didn’t go into the pot.

We also had an awful lot of bruised, dinged, maltreated apples left over from apple picking. 

I cut out all the bad spots, quartered them, and chucked them, peels and cores and all, into a big pot with a few inches of water, and set it to simmer with a loose lid. A few hours later, the apples were mushy and collapsed, and the kitchen smelled heavenly, and I suddenly remembered I had gotten rid of my food mill. So I was reduced to shoving the cooked apples through a strainer to get the peels, cores, and seeds out. Bah.

 I still stand by leaving the peels on when you cook the apples, for color and flavor, but if you don’t have a food mill, be smart and core them before cooking. Bah. What a stupid week. Anyway, I put the strained applesauce back into the pot and added a hunk of butter, some cinnamon, and some honey and let it cook down a little bit more. SO GOOD. There is nothing like warm, homemade applesauce.

I had two acorn squashes. I cut them in half and scooped them out, then put them in a pan in a 400 oven for about an hour, until the flesh was soft. Look how October it is:

Then I scooped it out, mashed it a bit, and added butter, honey, a little salt, and chili powder. I figured I was the only one who would eat it anyway.

I thought it was delicious! And yes, I was the only one who ate it. 

The pork ribs, I just sprinkled generously with salt and pepper on all side and put them in a 450 oven for about 25 minutes, turning once. This is the best way to make pork ribs. Fight me. 

Behold, my Salute to October:

WEDNESDAY
Meatball pizza

Aw yisss, leftover meatballs! I did not take a picture. Too busy eating meatball pizza.  

THURSDAY
Bacon tomato bisque, grilled cheese

This really is the soup of all soups. It takes even less skill than some soups, but it tastes both delicious and fancy. It is absolutely packed with flavor. I tweaked it a bit after last time I shared the recipe card (below). Bacon, garlic, onion, rosemary, tomato, and so creamy and rich. 

I also sprinkled the top of mine with some of those crunchy onion things we had left, and that was an excellent choice. 

I made a bunch of grilled cheese sandwiches with sourdough bread and American cheese, because dammit, I like American cheese. It melts good. I cooked them in the pan that the bacon, onions, and garlic had been cooked in. 

FRIDAY
I don’t know. I think I wrote spaghetti. 

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4 from 1 vote
Print

Tomato bisque with bacon

Calories 6 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1/2 - 1 lb bacon (peppered bacon is good)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 35 oz can of whole tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 46 oz tomato juice
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • crispy fried onions (optional garnish)

Instructions

  1. Fry the bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, chop it up, and drain out all but a a few teaspoons of grease.

  2. Add the diced onion and minced garlic to the grease and sauté until soft.

  3. Add tomatoes (including juices), bay leaves, rosemary, and tomato juice, and simmer for 20 minutes. Save some rosemary for a garnish if you like.

  4. With a slotted spoon, fish out the bay leaf, the tomatoes, and most of the rosemary, leaving some rosemary leaves in. Discard most of the rosemary and bay leaf. Put the rest of the rosemary and the tomatoes in a food processor with the 8 oz of cream cheese until it's as smooth as you want it.

  5. Return pureed tomato mixture to pot. Salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Heat through. Add chopped bacon right before serving, and top with crispy fried onions if you like. Garnish with more rosemary if you're a fancy man. 

Why do you need a crucifix on your wall?

An exorcist cleansed a local house of oppressive spirits, some time ago. A friend of the priest who exorcised it told me that he had remarked that there were no crucifixes hung anywhere on the walls, even though the family was Catholic.

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly