Christmas gifts our ten kids loved, the 2020 list

Okay, you asked for it! Every year I’ve been posting lists of the most popular presents we gave our ten kids. I regret to inform you that our kids are getting older and we just don’t get all that many toys anymore, and also, last year we leaned heavily on the shock and awe of enormous stuffed animals purchased in a panic at Walmart. I don’t know what I’m apologizing for. You wanted a list, so here is a list! 

  1. BTS Dolls This one is Rap Monster. 
    I am mostly okay with my girls being so into BTS. They are quite wholesome. I wish the music was, you know, good, but you can’t have everything. Anyway, a growing set of these little dudes are sitting primly on a shelf upstairs and I guess they do the trick. 

2. The Comfy
Much-desired, in service all winter long. I may ask for one of these myself. 

3. Mythology notecard set (from Bullmoose)
20 bright and striking notecards in a box 

4. Sakura Pigma Micron colored pen set
Nice smooth pens and deep color. My artsy kids all like these pens for writing and inking.

5. Skulk game
Full disclosure, I have no idea if this game is any good. We got it because it looks cool. The description says age 10 and up. It says “social bluffing combined with light strategy.” And it looks cool!

6. Kill Dr. Lucky game
Only a few rules, but the experience changes with every game and is always a lot of fun. Some strategy involved. 

7. Mini waffle maker 
A surprisingly popular gift. Always makin’ mini waffles. Some kids really like having their own personal appliances. Comes in several colors and patterns.


8. Snap circuits Illumination 3D
Snap Circuits are coooooool. Give a set to the right kid and she will be fascinated for hours and hours and hours, building and building and building. We’ve had a few different sets now. This one has walls, not just a base (hence the 3D)

9. Comfy Clothes Barbies
Kind of neat. Familiar princess characters wearing normal clothes, no spike heels or strapless cocktail dresses. (Not that there’s anything wrong with dressing up dolls in impractical clothes! But it’s fun to think of the characters living their everyday lives.) We got a bunch of these for a kid who already has a million Barbies but always wants more. 

10. Lite Brite

11. Mother and babies mermaid bath toy
We’ve had some of these sets of frogs and ducks and such, but look how cute this is! Three chubby little mermaid sisters and their happy mama. They float separately or together.

12. Rubber unicorn hand puppet and rubber dinosaur hand puppets
These are silly puppets in a very satisfying kind of rubber to have on your hand. It’s kind of flabby, but in a good way. All the kids got one of these in their stockings last year. Schylling is a pretty reliable brand in general.
13. Canvas messenger bag
She’s had this for about six months and it’s held up great. Comfortable and decent quality for adults, a great canvas for pins and patches for those who like pins and patches.
14. Steampunk/pirate boots.
Girl child wanted steampunk/pirate boots. Do you know how hard it is to find steampunk/pirate boots in young women’s sizes that aren’t either costumes, you know, hooker boots? These have held up surprisingly well for the price, and she says they are comfortable. They come in a few different colors.

15. BTS gift set with Stickers, Bracelets, Drawstring Bag, Mask, Lomo Cards, Lanyard, Phone Ring, Button Pin, Keychain. It is “Map of the Soul Persona,” and you know what that means. (I do not know what that means.)
*sniff* Our very first BTS gift. This set includes a mask which she wears regularly. 

16. Rainbow galaxy paint hoodie
This is a polyester hoodie, not waterproof but fairly thick. Lots of different designs. 

17. Metal stamping jewelry supplies.
Okay, full confession, she did not like this present. It just wasn’t the right thing for her. But I still think it was a good present for someone! I got the components separately:
Letter and number stamps for imprinting metal, wood, leather, etc.

30 blank steel pendants


18. Camp Half Blood Hoodie
I guess this is a Percy Jackson thing. I never did read those books. This hoodie comes in a few different colors. 

19. Resin pouring set. Here’s another set that I thought would be sure-fire, but the kid didn’t like it! Maybe your kid will. 

Resin, hardener, cups, stirrers, and instructions

18 colors of resin dye


20. And now for something completely different! It is a Scooby Doo Viking Ship that shoots little tacos. This is a stupid toy, but it hit the spot for a certain someone who loves Scooby Doo with all her heart. It is a land toy, not a bath toy (it rolls with a wavy motion). You can put it in the bath, but it tips over. 

21. While you’re at it, a Scooby Doo costume, why not? This has nice plushy fur and it makes certain people very happy. This is a costume, not pajamas or something, but it seems pretty comfortable for all-day wearing.

22. Lace-up ankle Boots You can fold the cuffs up or down. Good quality for the price, reasonably warm and waterproof. 

23. Lucy Locket Woodland Animals Kids Tin Tea Set & Carry Case
Just adorable. Tin tea sets do not break! They do rust if you don’t dry them off after a tea party. But they don’t break! This one comes in a little lunchbox-style carrying case. 

24. Heart Shaped Rose Gold Plated Locket
Okay, I did a LOT of research on this before I bought it. I wanted a locket that kid with separation anxiety could use to bring Mama and Daddy photos to school with her, and I did NOT want it to break, because augh. There were much more expensive lockets to be had, but someone recommended this one for sturdiness, and they were right. It’s gotten tons of use and it’s still in one piece. It’s a little tacky, but a little kid wants tacky sometimes. It’s also pretty big, which makes it easier to find a photo that fits. (We used a Polaroid photo trimmed down.)


25. Melissa & Doug Magician’s Pop-Up Hat with Tricks 
Nice little magic set for little kids (ages 4-6). The hat collapses and pops up, and they can learn to do some simple magic tricks. 


26. Cupcake Spinner Board Game for Kids
Oh, I love eeBoo games. They are charming and sturdy and actually fun to play. I honestly don’t mind playing these games with preschool kids, and I hate games. The play is simple and quick and it’s just pleasant. The spinner works smoothly and even the storage box is unusually sturdy. Spin the spinner and collect the various components you need to make specific cupcake recipes. 

27. Sandalwood carved hair sticks
Smooth wooden hair sticks for buns, chignons, etc. 

28. Klutz Kids Cooking Activity Book
Klutz books are generally good, but this one was a huge hit. The directions are nice and clear, and the recipes are things people actually want to eat. Comes with a cute rainbow whisk. My just-turned-eight-year-old started using it right away with only a little help, and it’s really helped her get comfortable with basic cooking and baking. 
I actually bought these to keep little guys busy at Mass. They get hands a little smudgy, but they are good fun. Would make a decent stocking stuffer. They are about the size of post-it notes and come in little boxes. A big supply so kids don’t stress out about using them up. 


30. Lightweight, waterproof sleeping bag

Honestly, we have so many sleeping bags. They all seem fine. This one is fine. It’s fluffy and good. We don’t actually camp, so I have no idea if it’s good for rugged people. It says it’s good for down to 32F. Lots of colors.



31. Mickey Mouse RC car
The older I get, the more I appreciate Mickey Mouse. That guy is always smiling, and I appreciate that. Here he is, tooling around in his little red convertible. Okay, his head fell off, but that did not slow him down. Easy for little guys to control. 

32. Lava Lamp
Just a lava lamp. I have no idea if there are good lava lamps and bad lava lamps, but this one does what it’s supposed to do. Here’s a replacement bulb.

Reliable, decent sound. They plug in and can be used with Bluetooth. The stars light up and pulse with the rhythm of the music. Foldable. They have held up well for a year so far.

33a.We also bought cat ear headphones, at the request of two other kids.
I can’t exactly recommend these, as they break and need to be replaced repeatedly; but the kids love them ardently, so we keep replacing them repeatedly. One good thing about them is that, when your kid is plugged in, you can tell immediately, because they will be wearing light-up cat ears that change color, so you won’t have to scream their name ten times before realizing they’re plugged in. (According to my order history, we haven’t had to replace these since mid-September, and here it is November, so maybe we finally found a decent brand.)

34. Columbia Streamliner men’s bike
This is a comfortable, well-made bike for tooling around town, not climbing mountains or speeding down the highway. 7 speeds, a nice retro look without being too precious. 

This one amplifies your voice, plays siren sounds, and also can be used as a speaker for music, etc. A real megaphone, not a toy. Why did we buy this for our child? Because we trusted her not to abuse it. And for some reason, it worked. The worst thing she did with it was take it to Walmart and tell people to put their masks on, and that is not too bad. 

36. Handmade Irish wool cloak
My land, this is a nice piece of work. It’s very soft and drapes wonderfully. I don’t know how warm it is, but it’s awfully pretty, and looks well with dressy or casual clothes. Hood is a good size. Handmade. Ships very quickly from Ireland. Many more beautiful goods at the site. 

37. Linoleum prints from St. Luke’s Attic by artist Matt Clark
Okay, I bought some prints for myself, as a little present for finishing a difficult job. They are so good. The ones I got are printed on lovely thick textured paper. Browse around, support an artist, make the world better! 

And finally: 

38. The Little Dress Up Shop

These are by far the nicest costumes we have ever bought. They are so well-made and comfortable, they can be worn as clothing. Everything we’ve bought has been machine washable, and it doesn’t come out all strangled and mangled. The ones with sparkly parts stay sparkly, and do not shed glitter everywhere, and the ones with tulle don’t tear. Remarkable. They are fancy and extravagant enough to please kids, but the style remains sweet and child-like. Here’s one of my favorites: the Mulan dress

Free shipping, and  excellent, humane customer service. 

I’m just tossing in a few books we ordered this year — all for little kids, except the last, and mostly things that all kids should have in their libraries.
A Bargain for Frances Nobody understands childhood better than Russell and Lillian Hoban.This is the one where Francis is painfully duped, learns to dupe, and then decides she wants something better for everybody. Just delightful.

The Clown of God by Tome dePaola Exists mainly to make adults cry. One of dePaola’s absolute masterpieces.

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge This was my favorite book as a kid, and it’s a lot of fun to read aloud as an adult. Okay, sometimes I tear up when I get to the part where maybe nobody wants him anymore. Wonderful pictures, wonderfully written, very satisfying ending.

The 500 Hats Of Bartholomew Cubbins One of the longer Dr. Seuss books, so you’re in for the long haul if you read this one, but it’s less preachy than some, and kids are fascinated by the increasingly ornate hats. This one doesn’t rhyme.


The Saving Name of God the Son. A little change of pace. This is a board book using fine art to illustrate some basic truths and words about the Trinity. I don’t know if the kids like it, but I do! It’s very bright and attractive, nicely done. 

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag Another all-time favorite. Large families will appreciate how each cat took one mouthful of grass and the whole hillside was bare, and young philosophers will enjoy thinking about how all the cats ate each other up until there was nothing left. Another completely satisfying book, so much fun to read aloud. 

The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica by Tomie dePaola One of dePaola’s many saint books. Lots of information packed in there, and wonderful illustrations as always. 

It Happened in Pinsk by Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski. A weird book about a guy who isn’t satisfied with his life and wakes up one day to discover his head is gone. He has to go find it, and he does, and then he feels better about his life. I love Yorinks and Egielski. Most of their books are about guys who feel dissatisfied with their lives and end up with some kind of improvement, but some of them are much weirder.

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber A weird little fairy tale, somewhat creepy (I was scared of the Todal when I was little) but fascinating and funny, with great characters. Extremely mannered language, verging on obnoxious, but kids like it.

Fables by Arnold Lobel Lobel really knows human nature (and knows how to work it out in animal stories). These are separate little stories, each with an alleged moral, some very funny, a few melancholy, and all very familiar. The illustrations are unforgettable. 

The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody This one is not for kids, but for teenagers on up. Will Cuppy was a painfully scrupulous researcher and also a giant weirdo. His books are so funny. This one has short chapters on famous people, and would be great for anyone who likes history. Or you could just leave it in the bathroom for people to pick up and sorta kinda learn something. Hilarious line drawings to illustrate.


And that’s it! We have to start shopping ourselves. Here are my lists from previous years:

The 2019 list (25 presents)

The 2018 list (50 presents)
The 2017 list (50 presents)
The 2016 list (50 presents)
The 2015 list (25 presents under $50)
The 2014 list (50 presents)



Can’t visit family? Interview them instead.

After my father died, my sister called up our oldest surviving relative, my great aunt Bebe who lives in Florida, and they ended up having several conversations. The things she told us about our family have been delightful (and occasionally insane).

We knew, for instance, that my mother was pregnant when my parents got married, but here’s a part of the story we never heard:

When my father was 19, he needed an emergency appendectomy, but his mother was away on vacation. They wouldn’t operate on him without a relative signing for permission, or possibly to pay for it.
So my great aunt Bebe goes to the hospital and there is my mother, age 18, in the waiting room all upset, because, since she’s not a relative, they won’t let her up to see him. Bebe had never met her before.
Bebe signs the papers and goes up to see my father, and he says, “I want to see my girlfriend.” And Bebe explains that she can’t come up because she’s not a relative. So my father says, “She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my wife!” and passes out.

Later he explains that she is pregnant and they had gotten married by a justice of the peace. But when my mother’s parents found out, they put together a fancy wedding with a caterer and a rabbi; so they kept the justice of the peace a secret.

We are not actually sure if this story is true! We talked it over and the details don’t quite make sense. But my Aunt Bebe loves a good story, and this is a pretty good story. 

This Thanksgiving, we’re regretfully foregoing a family gathering because, as much as we love our relatives, we don’t want to host a superspreader event — and spending time indoors, with masks off, with people you don’t already live with, seems to be ideal conditions for spreading the virus, sometimes with deadly consequences for people who weren’t even there

If you’re in the same boat and you can’t spend time with family in person, why not take the opportunity to interview them by phone or video? Yes, even the people you think you already know well. They probably have some stories you’ve never heard before.

I’ve written about this before — how I did some interviews with my father, but not as much as I would have liked, and how I missed my chance to interview my mother. We spent countless hours together, but there are some things I never thought to ask until it was too late.

With a planned interview, you may have a deeper conversation than if everyone were sitting in the same room, but just eating pie and chatting; and the time and attention could be a real boon to older relatives who’ve been especially isolated. Taking time to listen intently to someone’s memories is a wonderful way to show love, and it may very well end up being fascinating for you.

Consider recording the conversation so you can save it for posterity (with the person’s permission, of course!). Here’s how to record a Zoom conversation; an iPhone conversation; an Android conversation;  a Facebook video chat

Here are some questions you can ask, to get things started. And it’s okay if they wander and answer questions you didn’t ask! 

What’s the earliest memory you have? 

When you were little, what was your favorite place to go or thing to do? What was your favorite food? What was your least favorite food?

Who were your friend when you were growing up? What did you do together?

What do you remember about your parents from your childhood? What did they do for work? Did you get along with them? What did they do in their spare time? 

What was your first job? What did you do with the money you earned? 

Who was your favorite teacher? Who was your least favorite? 

Who did you admire when you were growing up? Did that change? 

What (or who) were you afraid of when you were growing up? Did that change?

What’s the first movie you remember seeing? 

How did you meet your first girlfriend/boyfriend? How did you meet the person you eventually married? 

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did things work out as you expected? 

Do you think kids today have things better or worse than you did?

If you have kids, ask them for question ideas, too. They will probably be curious about things that didn’t occur to you. 

The virus is taking so much away from us, but this could be a chance to gain something really precious. If you do it, tell me how it goes! 

Tomie dePaola winner (and still time to use the discount!)

I’m delighted to announce the randomly chosen winner for the Tomie dePaola book giveaway from Ignatius:

Kate Cousino

Kate, I’ll be emailing you with details about how to claim your prize!
Thanks so much for entering, everyone, and many thanks to Ignatius for providing the books.

You can still order any or all of these books at a 25% discount until midnight Saturday.

Queen Esther
Brother Francis of Assisi
Noah and the Ark
Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Use the coupon code STOMIE25 when you order. 


What we’re watching, reading, listening to: Exploring Music, Lady Gaga, The Repair Shop, Unstable Felicity, etc.

I’ve been doing a lot more watching and listening than reading, these days. Working on it!

What are we watching?

The Repair Shop This is a BBC show, five seasons, now streaming on Netflix. A crew of British restoration experts team up to repair and restore cherished items people bring to them. You see the owners come in and give a short explanation about why the accordion or piano bench or whatever means so much to them, and then you see highlights of the various experts disassembling, problem-solving, hunting for materials, and carefully restoring the items, and then the owner comes back to the shop and sees the item made new again. 

We’ve only seen a few episodes of this, and I gather some of the episodes have spectacular discoveries and surprises; but many of them are just straight forward repair jobs.

There are two elements that make this show so gratifying. One is watching people doing what they were meant to do in life, which is something I always enjoy. The restorers clearly get so much true joy out of practicing their craft. I enjoy this aspect of it, seeing people following their vocation, even more than seeing the actual work they do; although it’s also fascinating and emotionally restorative to see shabby, broken, neglected things put to rights again. 

The second element is the “reunion” at the end, when the owner has something precious restored to them. In one episode, a woman brought in a clock made by her father, who had lost his vision. She remembered that the clock used to chime, but she couldn’t quite remember the tune. The restorers made the clock work again, and somehow reconstructed the music it played, so the woman heard the tune again for the first time in decades. These are British people, so they are not extremely effusive and sentimental about it, and you don’t get that “eeek, I’m not sure I should be watching this intense personal moment” feeling. They keep it pretty understated.

But it’s a restorative show in more ways than one, and it’s especially gratifying in late 2020 to watch  skilled people doing worthwhile things for the purpose of making other people happy. 

We’re also devouring The Mandalorian with the whole family, and The Crown for just me and Damien. Both excellent with great use of music; more on those in some other post. Oh, and. GILLIAN ANDERSON AS MARGARET THATCHER. Hot damn. If you ever wondered to yourself, “Is X Files actually a good TV show or not?” just think about what they did to Gillian Anderson for so many years, and you will have your answer. 

What am I reading?

Unstable Felicity

Like I said, I’m a terrible person and hardly read anymore. I know I can make my phone stop giving me weekly reports about how much my screen time has increased over the last week, but I feel like I deserve it. It’s never good news.

I have started Cat Hodge’s (yes, Cat Hodge of Darwin Catholic) new novella, and I love it so far. Very easy to read, light but literate, engaging, and promising, and the only reason I put it down is because I’m terrible and, as mentioned, don’t read anything. The premise is: If you described the protagonist’s life, it would sound exactly like one of those cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies. But when you’re actually living through it, it’s neither tidy nor adorable, but actually kind of Shakespearean, in a King Lear way.

Here’s the official blurb: 

Jill O’Leary’s December has all the hallmarks of a feel-good holiday special. She’s a successful Los Angeles career woman summoned home to small town Ohio to save the family business. There, she’ll have to navigate a White Elephant gift exchange, decorate the tree, and meet not one but two tall dark handsome strangers.
But it will take a miracle to make this Christmas merry and bright. Jill’s baggage is waiting for her at home: Regina, the demanding mother she hasn’t talked to since her father’s funeral four months ago; Reagan and Del, her sisters with their own agendas; Garrett French, a local real-estate mogul trying to snap up her family’s inn; and Heath Albany, the married ex-boyfriend who’s suspiciously eager to reconcile with her. 
Jill is determined to get in, fix the family finances by herself, and get back to the big city as soon as possible. But keeping her mother from turning Christmas into a tragedy proves more drama than she can handle on her own. It’s going to take her conniving sisters, the division of an empire, sudden blindness, a journey through a pitiless storm, and an unlikely hero to give this tragicomic tale a happy ending. 
When you cross a conventional Christmas plot with Shakespeare’s King Lear, you get Unstable Felicity.
Available in Kindle or paperback, with a cover by the talented John Herreid, of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning With a Chainsaw fame. 

What are we listening to?

I recently discovered I can use iHeart Radio on our TV, which means when we go screen free from 7:00 – 9:00 (which we do only sporadically), I can play Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin. So I guess that’s my first recommendation. 

McGlaughlin is a composer and conductor with a public radio show that gently and engagingly helps the listener listen better. Each hour-long show has a theme, and he sits at his piano and picks out little bits of whatever recording he’s about to play for you. 

Here’s a representative excerpt from an episode on Schubert. The graphics are pretty cheesy, as it’s meant to be audio only. 

His delight in the music is very evident, and it’s contagious. If you’re looking for a painless way to get your family more connected with classical music, this is a great way. His voice is very pleasant and cozy, too. 

The other thing I’m listening to is, uh, “Sinner’s Prayer” by Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is so annoying. She has such a wonderful voice and such terrible taste. But this song is pure stupid fun. My kid told me she had made a country album (Joanne), and it turned out to be not really that at all, but it’s . . . something. This particular song is sort of a spaghetti western love song, I guess? Anyway it’s stuck in my head.

Now it can be stuck in yours, too.

Okay, that’s it! What are you watching, reading, and listening to that you can recommend? 

I’m giving away FOUR books by Tomie dePaola!

Tomie dePaola is a beloved author and illustrator for good reason, and in addition to his dozens of charming and lovely books about Strega Nona and Big Anthony, he published many Catholic books, including books on the saints, Bible stories, and other religious works. Ignatius Press with Magnificat has recently been reprinting some of these in hardcover. I got to review four of them, and they’ve given me four to give away to you! The titles:

Queen Esther
Brother Francis of Assisi
Noah and the Ark
Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Enter by using the form at the end of the post. 

If you don’t win, or if you just want to order some or all of the books, I also have a 25% off code for these four books.

Use the coupon code STOMIE25 when you order any of these four books from Ignatius and get a 25% discount starting today and ending Saturday, Nov. 21 at midnight. 

And now for the books! 

Queen Esther (first published 1986) A simple and dignified telling of the story of Esther, the Jewish woman who was chosen for her beauty by the Persian king, and who risked her own life to protect her people.

Esther is rendered in blues and grays, very elegant but rather severe and sad, which seems right to me. She didn’t ask to be put in that position, but she did what had to be done once she was there. 

A good true “princess” story about a girl chosen for her beauty, who musters up courage and strength for her people. 

The story is somewhat simplified, good for young kids, and is nicely dramatic

The final page notes that her story is commemorated on the Jewish feast Purim. “On Purim, Jews give gifts to the poor and one another. This spring holiday often falls during Lent, when Catholics recall the courageous faith of Queen Esther.” I didn’t realize this was so, but he’s right! The Mass readings during Lent tell her story, paired with an exhortation to ask God for what we want and trust he will give it to us. 


Brother Francis of Assisi (first published 1982) 
I had this one when it was first published, and as a result, I’ve always been a little afraid of St. Francis, as is appropriate. He is most certainly not the fuzzy wuzzy pal to our furry friends that pop culture has turned him into, but was an intense, passionate, singleminded man.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a scary or graphic book, but it doesn’t shy away from how hard Francis was on himself.

I had a hard time getting through the Pope’s dream where Francis holds up the crumbling walls of the Church. Oh boy. Give yourself time to compose yourself if you’re reading this one aloud.

It does include favorite stories, like Francis preaching to the birds, and dealing with the wolf of Gubbio,

and also has some lesser known stories, like Francis allowing himself to indulge in some honey almond cakes made for him by a patroness,

and a story about Francis recreating a manger scene and being visited by a real holy child who smiles at Francis and strokes his beard.

And here — get ready — here is Francis receiving the stigmata

This is one of de Paola’s longer books at 47 pages, and it includes the Canticle of the Sun and a timeline of Francis’ life, including his and Clare’s feast days. Good stories about Clare and her sisters, as well. The illustrations were painstakingly researched on site, and you get a real sense of place, as well as a sense of who Francis really was. Excellent. 


Noah and the Ark (first published 1983) I struggle with children’s books about Noah’s ark! I know it has animals and a rainbow, but it’s not really a children’s story, and it bothers me when it’s portrayed as cutesy or rollicking. DePaola’s version avoids this, and is told very simply and has a sort of mythical air to it, which works well.

God is shown as a powerful, bright hand emerging mystically from the heavens, and the animals are animals, not cartoonish sidekicks

DePaola’s mastery of color is on full display here. There are two pages with no text, just the flood waters:

and then the next page pulls back a bit and shows the ark still being tossed on the waves, but with the threatening clouds receding. 

A solid rendition, bright and dignified. 32 pages, for children ages 5 and up. 


And now for the crown jewel of these new editions!

Mary, the Mother of Jesus (first published 1995) 33 pages, and there is a LOT in here. An astonishing book, luminous, illuminating. If you’re looking for a religious book to give a child for Christmas, this is the one.

It covers the whole life of Mary, from before her conception to her assumption and coronation, and it draws on scripture and also on pious legend, including things like the child Mary climbing the steps to the temple by herself,

and the staff of Joseph miraculously flowering. It also, to my surprise, describes Mary as gently dying and being laid in a tomb, with Thomas meeting an angel who has him roll the stone away and find her winding sheets left behind. My kids were a little dismayed, having been taught (by me!) that Mary didn’t die, but was assumed into heaven body and soul without dying first. It turns out there’s no actual dogma definitively saying whether she died or not. In any case, the illustration of her assumption got me right in the kishkes:

Reading the whole thing from start to finish helped me remember what a straight up good story it is, and how many angels came to this family. 

All the illustrations are striking, and the expressions on the (clearly middle eastern) faces are subtle and thought-provoking.  Here is Mary proud but protective as the wise men appear to visit her little son

Here are the parents angry, dismayed, and confused to find Jesus in the temple:

Here is Mary calmly and knowingly, with a glimmer of a smile, telling the stewards at Cana to do whatever Jesus tells them

and look at this angel, busting through into the room of this young girl with her long braid

Extraordinary. It says ages 7 and up, and honestly I would give this book to an adult convert to introduce him to Mary. It’s so lovely and heartfelt. Each section is introduced with a short excerpt from the liturgy of the hours. So good. 

That’s it! Good luck! You have until Friday the 20th to enter. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you can’t see the Rafflecopter form, click this link and it will take you there. 


P.S., Did I ever tell you my Tomie dePaola story? It’s not a very good story, but it’s what I’ve got. In second grade, I won a Young Author’s contest (The Day It Rained Piano Keys, by Simmy Prever. No copies extant) and dePaola presented the awards, and each winner got a kiss on the cheek. I’d been reading his books steadily my whole life, and almost forty years later, I finally got up my nerve to ask him for an interview, because he lived in NH. I wanted to know what his favorite book was, and what his relationship was with the Church, and how hard it was to paint the face of Jesus. And if he knew someone like Bambalona. So I put in my request and I waited with bated breath for his response, and then two weeks later, he died.

That’s my story. I don’t think I actually killed him, but if you want to talk to someone, my advice is to do it now, not later. SIGH. 

All the Fisher Thanksgiving dinner recipes!

Thanksgiving is in ten days, guys. 

The first thing you need to know about Thanksgiving food is: the frozen is just as good as the real! Believe me! So let’s all do what makes sense this year. 

For us, cooking days are happy days, so we’re planning a big feast as usual. If the weather cooperates, we’ll eat outdoors and have a guest or two, but if not, we’ll just have to eat it all ourselves. 

Here are all our tried and true Fisher family Thanksgiving dishes. We don’t make everything every year, but this is what’s included in this post:




(I also make a pan of normal stuffing with onions, celery, and mushrooms, per the directions on the package.)

PIE CITY (apple, pecan, pumpkin) with ice cream or whipped cream

I didn’t include a recipe for cranberry sauce because there is no way to improve on opening a can, sliding a butter knife around in there, and letting it schlorpp out onto a plate. 


MULLED CIDER, with or without wine

I always start Thanksgiving day by starting the cider, to give it plenty of time to mull and to get the house smelling great asap. It’s very handy to have a slow cooker or two, so you can keep the stove top free. When we have lots of guests, I set up the slow cookers (one with wine, one without) in the dining room or living room for convenience.

Slow cooker mulled cider

You can easily make this on the stovetop. Bring the ingredients to a boil and then turn it down to simmer for half an hour; then keep it warm for several hours.

You can also add whole cloves and star anise, but you will want to contain them in a knot of cheesecloth or a tea ball.


  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 hunk fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 cup red wine


  1. Put all ingredients into slow cooker. Cook on low for at least four hours before serving.



You can make these the night before and pop them in the oven ten minutes before guests arrive to have them warm and ready to serve.

Spanakopita triangles


  • 1 lbs spinach
  • 1 stick butter, plus 1 Tbsp for sautéing spinach
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups crumbled feta
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 roll phyllo dough, thawed


To make the filling:

  1. In a big pan, melt the 1 Tbsp butter and sauté the spinach until it's soft. It will be a giant heap of greens at first, but it cooks way down and will fit in the pan when you're done!

  2. Let the spinach cool and then squeeze out as much water as you can.

  3. In a bowl, mix together the cooked spinach with the salt, pepper and nutmeg, and stir in the feta until it's combined. Set aside.

  4. Preheat the oven to 375

  5. Melt the stick of butter and set it aside. You'll need it handy for assembling the triangles.

  6. Unroll the phyllo dough and cover it with a slightly damp cloth to keep it from getting brittle. Take what you need and keep the rest of the stack covered.

To assemble the triangles:

  1. Carefully lay a phyllo dough square on your workspace, long side horizontal. Brush it with melted butter. Lay another sheet on top of it and brush that with butter.

  2. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into three strips.

  3. Put a scoop of spinach mixture at the bottom of each strip. Then fold that section of dough up diagonally, enclosing the spinach, so it forms a triangle. Continue folding up to make triangles, like you'd fold a flag, until you reach the top of the dough. If you're having trouble figuring out how to fold it, here is a helpful video:

  4. If there's a bit of leftover dough on the triangle, fold it under. Lay the finished triangle on a baking sheet, seam side down. Brush with butter again.

  5. Continue until the phyllo dough is gone. I made 18 pockets, two sheets thick, with one roll of phyllo dough, but you can change the proportions and make lots of smaller triangles if you like.

  6. Bake about 25 minutes until golden brown. Let them sit in the pan for a moment before removing. Serve hot or cold.


So cheery and tasty. Also fine to make ahead and then throw in the oven just before the guests arrive. 

Cranberry brie tarts

This recipe looks complicated, but you can simplify or alter it however you like. Basically you want some kind of pastry, brie, cranberries with sugar, and honey, and an herb on top. A delicious and beautiful little appetizer, great for Thanksgiving or Christmas parties.


  • 1/2 roll phyllo dough
  • 6-8 oz brie
  • small bunch fresh sage or thyme, coarsely chopped


  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • dash salt
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter for cranberries

honey mixture:

  • 2 Tbsp butter for honey mixture
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 425

  2. In a little pot, combine the honey, the butter, and the extract. Heat through and set aside.

  3. In a bowl, mix the cranberries with melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a dash of salt. Set aside.

  4. Cut brie into 24 equal pieces and set aside.

  5. Prepare a 24-hole mini cupcake pan with butter or spray. You can also use a full-size cupcake pan, but the tarts will be a little unwieldy and won't hold together as well.

  6. Unroll the phyllo dough and cut it into twelve equal stacks. Cover the dough with a damp cloth while you're working so the dough doesn't get brittle.

  7. Pull out one stack of phyllo dough squares and use half the squares to line a cupcake tin, fanning them out to make a little cup. Make sure the bottom of the tin has several layers of dough, so it won't fall apart when you take it out of the pan.

  8. When you have arranged all the pastry cups, drizzle them with half the honey-butter mixture.

  9. Lay a piece of brie in the bottom of each cup, then put a scoop of sugared cranberries on top of that. Drizzle with the rest of the honey-butter mixture.

  10. Bake for 15 minutes or so until the pastry is just golden brown.

  11. Top each cup with a bit of chopped herbs.

  12. Let the tarts sit in the pan for five minutes before serving. Serve hot.


Don’t tell anyone I said this, but you can bake the potatoes ahead of time, and then slice them open, mash in the toppings, and reheat them in the microwave before dinner. This is a fancy dish that requires very little skill, and can be prepped ahead of time. Terrible picture, tasty taters. 

Sweet potatoes with nuts and cheese


  • medium sweet potato
  • soft, pungent cheese such as gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • chopped walnuts or pecans
  • chopped dates (optional)
  • parsley


  1. Preheat the oven to 400. Poke each sweet potato with a fork several times.

  2. Bake the potatoes until soft, about 45 minutes.

  3. Mix together your cheese, nuts, and dates if you're using them.

  4. Let the potatoes cool for several minutes, then slice each one open, not quite to the ends. Add a scoop of nut and cheese mixture to each one and lightly mash in into the potato.

  5. Top with a sprinkle of cheese and garnish with parsley.


Mashed potatoes elevated. 

Garlic parmesan mashed potatoes


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


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

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

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

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


I will get the recipe up soon! I must confer with our resident hobbit. 


This is the first 100% reliable biscuit recipe I have ever found. 

moron biscuits

Because I've been trying all my life to make nice biscuits and I was too much of a moron, until I discovered this recipe. It has egg and cream of tartar, which is weird, but they come out great every time. Flaky little crust, lovely, lofty insides, rich, buttery taste.


  • 6 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, chilled
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups milk


  1. Preheat oven to 450.

  2. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cream of tartar.

  3. Grate the chilled butter with a box grater into the dry ingredients.

  4. Stir in the milk and egg and mix until just combined. Don't overwork it. It's fine to see little bits of butter.

  5. On a floured surface, knead the dough 10-15 times. If it's very sticky, add a little flour.

  6. With your hands, press the dough out until it's about an inch thick. Cut biscuits. Depending on the size, you can probably get 20 medium-sized biscuits with this recipe.

  7. Grease a pan and bake for 10-15 minutes or until tops are golden brown.


Parker House rolls are actually supposed to be made by folding a wedge over on itself and baking it that way, but I like these cute little mushroom rolls made in muffin tins. Sorry about the terrible picture. They’re light and airy and a little sweet. 

Fannie Farmer's Parkerhouse Rolls

Good old Fannie Farmer. You can form the dough in many different ways. My favorite is to butter a muffin tin and drop three golf ball-sized dough balls into each hole. This makes cheery, pull-apart rolls.

Remember, with yeast, it's better to err on the side of water that's too cold, rather than too hot. It will take longer to proof, but you won't kill the yeast.


  • 1 envelope yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 3-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • sea salt for sprinkling (optional)


  1. Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve and let stand five minutes or longer, until it's slightly foamy.

  2. In a small saucepan, heat milk until just warm.

  3. In a large bowl, combine the shortening, sugar, and salt. Add warm milk to the mix and whisk to blend until shortening is in small pieces.

  4. Whisk in the yeast mixture and the egg.

  5. Add flour and stir until dough forms.

  6. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead 4-5 minutes until smooth.

  7. Oil a bowl and put the dough in it. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and let stand in a warm spot for about 1-1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk.

  8. Preheat oven to 350.

  9. Punch down the dough and cut it into 36 pieces. Roll them into balls. Butter a muffin tin and drop three balls into each hole. Brush dough with melted butter.

  10. Loosely cover with plastic wrap again and chill for 30 minutes. You may chill them up to six hours.

  11. Bake 25 minutes or so, until they are puffed and golden brown.

  12. Brush with butter again and sprinkle with sea salt if you like.


You do not strictly need to add bacon to this dish! But you should. Use any combination of vegetables you like.

Honey Balsamic Roast Vegetables (With Bacon)

You can skip the bacon and still have a very flavorful and colorful side dish that's so easy, and can be prepped ahead of time. Use whatever combination of vegetables you like.


  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 2 lbs brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 3 lbs red potatoes, skin on, cut into cubes
  • 1 lb baby cut carrots or carrots cut into thick discs
  • (you can also include broccoli, but add it 20 minutes before cooking is done, as it cooks faster than the other veg)
  • 2 lbs bacon, cut into one-inch pieces

the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 head garlic, crushed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: chili powder or red pepper flakes


  1. Preheat oven to 400. Grease two large oven sheets. 

  2. Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

  3. Mix vegetables and bacon together, spread evenly in pans, and pour sauce all over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with hot pepper flakes or chili powder if you like.

  4. Cook, stirring up once or twice, until bacon is cooked through and vegetables are slightly charred, about 20 minutes. Finish with broiler if necessary.

Note: To cut a butternut squash into cubes, cut the ends off, poke it with a fork several times, and microwave it for three minutes. When it’s cool enough to handle, it should be soft enough to peel, scoop, and cut without killing yourself. 


We have tried ever so many methods for cooking turkeys. We mainly want moist, flavorful meat, a crisp skin, and a turkey that is still turkey-shaped, so we can stuff it. We have not found that the hassle of brining a turkey pays off in any discernible way, and this method works and is fairly brainless. If we have a big crowd, we will make two medium-sized turkeys rather than one huge one.

Easy tequila roast turkey


  • 1 big old turkey
  • tequila
  • salted butter
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic powder


  1. Preheat the oven to 350. In a pot on the stove, melt the butter and add the tequila. You will need at least a pound of butter and a cup and a half of tequila, and you can add to it as needed.

  2. Remember to take out any giblets or whatnot inside! Rinse the bird and pat it dry. Stuff it.

  3. Season it heavily with salt, pepper, and garlic powder all over. Put it on a rack in a pan, breast up.

  4. Put the turkey in the oven. Baste it every 30 minutes with the melted butter and tequila. Plan to cook it 20 minutes per pound, and plan to let it rest at least 20 minutes before carving.


This is probably my favorite part of Thanksgiving. I could skip the turkey and just have the stuffing. It’s stupidly rich and has enough sodium to fell a strong man.

Sausage oyster stuffing for turkey


  • 1 lb mild sausage, loose or squeezed out of casings
  • 1 lb hot sausage, as above
  • 16 oz unseasoned stuffing, preferably crumb-style
  • 16 oz whole canned oysters, drained (save the liquid)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup melted butter


  1. If you're cooking the stuffing separately, preheat the oven to 325 and butter a casserole dish.

  2. In a pan, brown the sausage, breaking it into small pieces, until fully cooked. Drain the sausage and put it in a large bowl.

  3. Add the stuffing, drained oysters, celery, beaten eggs, and onion, and mix until thoroughly combined. Mix in the croutons, oysters, celery, eggs, and onion until thoroughly combined.

  4. In a bowl, mix together the reserved oyster liquid, chicken broth, and melted butter to make about two cups.

  5. If you're stuffing a bird, carefully spoon the stuffing into the cavity and proceed with cooking the bird. If you're cooking the stuffing separately, dump it into a buttered dish and cook for about 25 minutes until brown on top.


A hassle indeed, but very festive and flavorful. A little spicy, nice with cranberry sauce. If you hate basting, skip this one. You can make it ahead of time and then heat it up with the meal. 

Glazed hasselback butternut squash

A bit of a pain in the neck, but very pretty, and impressive enough for a main dish if you're hosting a vegetarian. You can cook it early in the day and keep it at room temperature, and reheat when you're ready to serve it.


  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • kosher salt, pepper
  • 1 fresno chili or a few jalapeños, seeded and sliced in thin rings
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 8 bay leaves, dry or fresh


  1. Preheat the oven to 425.

  2. Prepare the squash. To make it easier to cut and peel, pierce all over with a fork and then microwave for three minutes. Let it cool a bit and the cut it in half lengthwise, peel it with a paring knife or vegetable peeler and scoop the seeds out.

  3. Rub the squash all over with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast it in a baking dish until it's slightly soft, about 15 minutes.

  4. While it is cooking, make the glaze: simmer the maple syrup, butter, vinegar, and chili or jalapeno in a small pot until it's slightly thickened, about ten minutes. Turn the heat down and keep it warm.

  5. ove the squash to a cutting board, flip it over (scooped side down) and let it cool a bit. Score it side to side, cutting as deep as you can without breaking through. Carefully put it back into the baking dish and tuck bay leaves into the cuts, and season with salt and pepper.

  6. Cook it again, basting with the glaze very ten minutes until it has a dark, shiny coat, about an hour.

  7. Top with the peppers from the glaze and serve hot.


Nuttin’ fancy, just a reliable, rich gravy, made without milk or cream. I made the giblet broth first thing in the morning and keep it simmering until I’m ready to make the gravy. 

Turkey giblet gravy

You can make this ahead of time, but be prepared to thin it with broth when you're ready to serve it.


  • neck and other giblets from inside the turkey; keep liver separate
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 stalk of celery in large pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut in large pieces
  • butter
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • pan drippings and scrapings from roast turkey


  1. Fill a large pot with a few quarts of water and set the neck and other giblets (not liver), the halved onion, celery, and carrot to simmering. Let it simmer several hours to make broth. I start this in the morning, before the turkey goes in the oven.

  2. Fry up the diced onion and turkey liver in a little oil or butter. Chop it into little bits. It should be crisp. Set aside.

  3. When you're ready to make the gravy, in a heavy pot, melt plenty of butter, and add flour a little at a time, stirring to make a medium-thick paste. Add salt and pepper. Add the giblet broth a little at a time, stirring constantly over a low heat, until it's as thin as you like it. Keep this at a very low heat until it's time to carve the turkey.

  4. Add in the liver and onion bits, and after the turkey is removed from the pan, scrape the bottom of the pan for the wonderful savory gristle, rich little burned bits, and some of the turkey fat. Stir briskly to combine.

  5. Add more broth if it's too thick.


Old reliable. A nice knobbly surface and a moist, rich interior. You can make loaves or muffins. If you have bananas getting too brown, put them in the freezer whole, and when they are thawed, they will be nice and soft and ready to mash. 

Banana muffins (or bread)

Makes two loaves or 24 muffins. Quick, easy, and pleasant. 


  • 6-7 medium ripe bananas
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1.5 cups chopped nuts (optional)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter loaf pans or muffin tins, or use cupcake papers.

  2. Mash the bananas in a bowl. Beat the eggs and blend the into the bananas. 

  3. In another bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. Add the dry mixture to the banana mixture and stir just until blended. Stir in nuts if desired. 

  4. Pour batter into pans or tins. Bake about 28 minutes for muffins, about 1 hour for loaves. 


Cheery and pleasanty sweet and tangy. Make loaves or muffins. 


Cranberry muffins or bread

A pretty, sweet loaf or 12 muffins.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter, chilled and grated into shreds
  • zest of one orange
  • juice of two oranges
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup cranberries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare muffin tins; butter and flour loaf pan.

  2. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients and lightly incorporate the shredded butter.

  3. In another bowl, mix together the egg, orange juice, and orange zest.

  4. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir just until dry ingredients are incorporated. Lightly mix in the cranberries and walnuts. Pour batter into tins or loaf pan.

  5. Bake muffins for about half an hour, loaf for an hour or more.



I’m not a huge pecan pie fan. It’s too sweet for me. This recipe is a little toned down, and is more creamy, less screamy. 

Salted bourbon pecan pie filling

This pecan pie is somewhat more mellow and less screamingly sweet than some. A one-crust pie, but it's nice if you have some extra pie dough to make leaf or other shapes to arrange over the top.


  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp bourbon
  • 1-2 cups raw pecans (whole)
  • sea salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350.

  2. In a standing mixer, cream together the sugar and butter until well combined.

  3. Add eggs one at a time until well combined. Then add the maple syrup, salt, vanilla, and bourbon. Continue mixing until well combined.

  4. Add half of the pecans and stir in with a fork. Pour the filling into an unbaked pie shell.

  5. Carefully arrange the rest of the pecans over the top of the filling.

  6. Bake pie for 45-55 minutes. Center will still be slightly jiggly when it comes out of the oven, but it will firm up.

  7. Cool completely. Sprinkle with sea salt before serving.


I don’t really have a recipe for apple pie, except I recommend using a combination of various kinds of apples, and then coating them with sugar, flour, cinnamon, and a little nutmeg before pouring in into the bottom crust, and then dotting it with blobs of butter before you put the top crust on.


This is the crust I use for every pie except pumpkin pie. For pumpkin pie, I use store bought graham cracker crust because it tastes exactly the same as homemade. I use canned pumpkin, too. You can process your own pureed pumpkin with whole pumpkins, but it’s a lot of work and smells like ass, so don’t do that. 

It honestly took me about 25 years before I was able to make a reliable pie crust, so if pies make you cry, just buy store bought crust. It’s just pie; it’s fine. 

You can also brush the top crust with egg white and sprinkle it with sugar to make shiny and pretty. Use less sugar for the filling if you’re going to add sugar to the crust.

A pie crust tip: If your pie crust is too crumbly, it may be too cold, rather than too dry. Rather than adding more water, let it sit for a half an hour and then try handling it again. 

Basic pie crust


  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 sticks butter, FROZEN
  • 1/4 cup water, with an ice cube


  1. Freeze the butter for at least 20 minutes, then shred it on a box grater. Set aside.

  2. Put the water in a cup and throw an ice cube in it. Set aside.

  3. In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Then add the shredded butter and combine with a butter knife or your fingers until there are no piles of loose, dry flour. Try not to work it too hard. It's fine if there are still visible nuggets of butter.

  4. Sprinkle the dough ball with a little iced water at a time until the dough starts to become pliable but not sticky. Use the water to incorporate any remaining dry flour.

  5. If you're ready to roll out the dough, flour a surface, place the dough in the middle, flour a rolling pin, and roll it out from the center.

  6. If you're going to use it later, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. You can keep it in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months, if you wrap it with enough layers. Let it return to room temperature before attempting to roll it out!

  7. If the crust is too crumbly, you can add extra water, but make sure it's at room temp. Sometimes perfect dough is crumbly just because it's too cold, so give it time to warm up.

  8. You can easily patch cracked dough by rolling out a patch and attaching it to the cracked part with a little water. Pinch it together.

And that’s it! I think that’s it! Did I forget anything? Tell me if I forgot anything. 


Can you help this single mom with moving expenses?

Okay, good people! I know it’s Friday afternoon but I need some quick help for a friend.

My friend Jody needs help with moving expenses. She is a single mom with four kids who’s working two jobs (68 hours a week, last I heard) to support her family despite major health problems, including recent major surgery. This family has endured a horrific struggle with their landlord, who wouldn’t do basic repairs and then wouldn’t renew their lease. Jody miraculously found a new place to stay on a very tight deadline, but has no money to move and can’t even take a day off work to pack.

Can we pitch in and make this one thing easier for her? Any amount would be gratefully accepted! She’s a wonderful, loving mom and her kids (some of whom are my kids’ classmates) are awesome. I personally vouch for her honesty and integrity, and I know anything you donate will be spent well.

Jody’s CashApp name is: jojo5steele and her PayPal address is: I didn’t sent up a GoFundMe because I wanted to be able to get any donations to her asap.
Thank you so much. Please share if you can! 


Image: jackmac34 /

What’s for supper? Vol. 231: Beef fajita bowls! Harvest chicken salad! Improved Instant Pot risotto! and endless pizza

How much pizza did we consume this week? All de pizza! Starting with Aldi pizza, ho ho ho.

Aldi pizza

Like I said. 

Pork chops, risotto

I was still feeling pretty punk on Sunday (health report: I do not have covid or pneumonia. I have Nonspecific Virus That Takes Forever to Recover From, plus massive reflux causing shortness of breath and chest pain, plus fluid in my ears), so I spent nine and a half hours trying to order food from Instacart. First they delivered it to the wrong house, but never texted me, so the food sat there for hours before I realized what had happened. Then they told me they could simply reorder the food, and I’d have it in two hours. Three hours later, they said: Oops, actually we don’t have any shoppers, but we can totally get it to you sometime tomorrow.

So I cancelled the second order, and they handsomely promised to refund my money within five days. BOO. This is my first bad Instacart experience. So I got to spend all day on Sunday shopping but not getting food, and then also go shopping on Monday. 

Luckily, we had pork chops and rice in the house (because when I say I don’t feel up to shopping, I mean I only feel up to going to two stores, not three), so I made this rather lackluster meal of broiled pork chops and Instant Pot risotto with Random Cucumbers. I think the dirty countertop really sells it. 

The yellow is duck sauce, which helped a bit. The fancy plate is because all the other plates were dirty.

The risotto actually turned out great, pretty darn close to laborious stovetop risotto. I increased the cook time by a minute, and it came wonderfully creamy. I also sautéed the rice in olive oil and then added extra butter along with the broth and wine, and that did not hurt one bit. 

Jump to Recipe


Harvest chicken salad

Monday we had a sort of Thanksgiving Lite Preview: Salad topped with pieces of roast chicken, dried cranberries, green apples, toasted pecans, blue cheese, and a balsamic fig dressing. It was so tasty and harvest-y. Bringing in the sheaves and whatnot.

Then I was struck with sudden pangs of guilt because I was serving my family “just salad” (even though you can barely see any green struggling away under the load of toppings). I happened to have a dozen graham cracker pie shells I bought on a whim a few weeks ago, and a can of pumpkin puree with a recipe on the label, and some heavy cream, so I made these cute little pies to serve along with dinner.

The kids were delighted. Yes, I will buy their love with pie. 

Hot dogs, chips

Not even the good kind of hot dog! *shakes fist at Instacart*

Fajita beef bowls

I hereby announce, proclaim, declare, set forth, and otherwise shriek that I know “fajita” originally referred to a certain cut of steak, and then began to mean grilled strips of meat served on a tortilla. So you will see that, because there is neither skirt steak nor tortillas in this dish, it doesn’t really makes sense to call these “fajita bowls.” But I don’t know what else to call them. Texmexibowls. Spicy bois. You see my problem. So let’s just pull together in these troubled times and not be pedantic, all right? It was good food, so there.

They had these hunks of beef, maybe like a chuck roast or something, on sale. I cut them up into strips, marinated it for several hours, and then pan fried it. Here’s the marinade, with lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, fresh garlic, cumin, salt and pepper, paprika, chili powder, and fresh cilantro:

Jump to Recipe

Then I made a big pot of Instant Pot rice, and set it out with the meat and a bunch of toppings: Corn I sautéed in oil to give it a little char, fried onions, black beans with tomatoes and diced chili peppers; fresh cilantro, sour cream, limes, and corn chips. 

It was a hit! It definitely would have been nice to have some avocados or guacamole, pico de gallo, or fried peppers, but everyone liked at least some part of this meal. Some of the kids had rice and corn chips for supper, and I don’t care.

Very happy to have another option for when beef is cheap, but not so cheap we can all have steak. If there is a nicer cut of beef to be had, I may marinate it whole and then grill it, and slice it afterward; but the slice-marinate-panfry method was not a bad option. 


I did ask the kids if it was going to be okay to have pizza on the menu twice, especially since most of them get pizza for lunch on Fridays. They all said it was okay. 

They didn’t have pepperoni in either store, for some reason, so I made one cheese, two black olive, one sausage, one red onion, basil, garlic, and ricotta, and one black olive, basil, sausage, garlic, and ricotta. I top them all with oregano and garlic powder. I sometimes put parmesan on top of that, but I forgot. 

I am liking the results of using no more than about a tablespoon of ricotta in dollops all over the pizza, with red pepper flakes baked in. 

So nice. 

Ginger scallion noodles

I don’t even have a recipe for this yet, but I plucked the idea off the internet airwaves, so I’m sure I’ll find something good. I definitely have some linguine and fresh ginger in the house, and so many little cups of sprouting scallions on the windowsills, so that sounds like a recipe, right? 

And the kids are eating pizza for lunch as we speak. It’s okay with me. 

5 from 1 vote

Instant Pot Risotto

Almost as good as stovetop risotto, and ten billion times easier. Makes about eight cups. 


  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground sage
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups rice, raw
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • pepper
  • 1.5 cups grated parmesan cheese


  1. Turn IP on sautee, add oil, and sautee the onion, garlic, salt, and sage until onions are soft.

  2. Add rice and butter and cook for five minutes or more, stirring constantly, until rice is mostly opaque and butter is melted.

  3. Press "cancel," add the broth and wine, and stir.

  4. Close the top, close valve, set to high pressure for 9 minutes.

  5. Release the pressure and carefully stir in the parmesan cheese and pepper. Add salt if necessary. 


5 from 1 vote

Beef marinade for fajita bowls

enough for 6-7 lbs of beef


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


  1. Mix all ingredients together.

  2. Pour over beef, sliced or unsliced, and marinate several hours before discarding excess marinade and cooking.

Doesn’t anyone vote against their self-interest anymore?

Today the Supreme Court will begin to hear a constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act. I don’t know how to talk about this without coming across as unbearably self-righteous, but mainly I just want to know that someone else knows what I’m talking about! Here’s the situation.

The ACA is what is making my family’s life tolerable right now. My husband and I are both self-employed, and even when one or the other of us worked for some company that offered employer-sponsored insurance, we couldn’t afford it. So, except for me when I was pregnant, we both went for nearly two decades without health insurance, and therefore with very little health care. This meant we always had the choice between risking bodily or financial ruin. We got away with it, more or less, because we were young. Now we are both 45, and the ACA, and the expanded Medicaid it funded in our state, came along just in time to save our bacon as we begin the long downhill slide into decrepitude. 

So I am following these hearings with fatalistic interest — interest because the decrepitude is speeding up, and fatalistic because there is nothing I can do about what the court decides. If the ACA is found unconstitutional and repealed, all I can do is petition my state reps to work out something else. That’s not nothing, but it’s not much. 

Here’s the part I’m having trouble conveying without sounding crazy. Several of my more liberal friends openly insisted that I oppose the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court specifically because they believed she would certainly favor ACA repeal. They made it clear that I was doing something bad to vulnerable people by not taking a stand against Barrett. And never mind that there was literally nothing I could do to change the course of events — and that events were by no means set in stone. The question of whether or not the ACA is constitutional was deemed irrelevant on the grounds that it’s very hard to be poor; and the fact that I know what it’s like to be poor just made my point of view more offensive in their eyes. I offended them just by not being personally angry at Amy.

I have a confession to make: I think the ACA is unconstitutional. Or it may be. I don’t really know, because I am a housewife who knows how to type, and those are my qualifications to speak on the topic of constitutional law. I very much hope our legislators find a way, with or without Barrett, to keep the ACA in place. I hope the courts decide it is constitutional, or that they can preserve the constitutional part that is useful to poor people. But I also hope that Supreme Court justices see it as their job to figure out whether something is constitutional or not! I’m really attached to this idea! 

There is no power on earth or under heaven that will keep you from instructing me, in the comments, about why I’m wrong about constitutional law, so go ‘head. But that’s not really my point. My first point is that I would never vote for a president based solely on the likelihood that he will appoint a judge who is likely to make a decision that I think will benefit me. This is partly because there are too many variables in play, and I’d much rather vote based on things that are indisputable, rather than things that are hypothetical.

But my primary point is that that every adult should vote against his self interest from time to time, and I will never stop being dumbfounded at how many people can’t accept this as normal, everyday virtuous American behavior. When I say, “I think so-and-so will happen, and that will likely hurt me, but thus-and-such is indisputably true, so I’m going to proceed based on that,” people look at me like I’m some kind of moron, and the want to argue with me that so-and-so will be BAD for me, BAD, you see. But I don’t make all my decisions on whether they will be bad for me or not, because I am not a psychopath. 

Don’t think I’m saying it’s only liberals who make these arguments. Conservatives do the exact same thing, just for different issues, and they’re just as baffled that I would ever vote for someone who has promised to do something that might hurt me. 

Am I missing something? Didn’t it used to be a quintessentially American thing that we cared about what was right, even if it wasn’t personally good for us? Didn’t there used to be such a thing as ideals that are separate from self-interest? Or am I laboring under some kind of penumbra of American Catholic masochism, wherein things that are hard and unpleasant automatically seem more virtuous? Or what?

I already know that I’m some kind of impossibly starry-eyed idealist because I still care about the separation of powers. Whatever. All I know is people I used to respect are straight up making arguments like “This vote is necessary to protect my stocks” or “I heavily depend on the coal industry, so I’m proud to give him my vote.” 

Don’t misunderstand. I get making compromises. I can’t remember the last time I went through a day without making compromises, political and otherwise. But I don’t get being okay with it. I don’t get pretending like it’s not a compromise. Making compromises should make you unhappy, either because it hurts your conscience or it hurts your bottom line. Voting should make you unhappy! Why aren’t more of you people unhappy? That’s what gets me. 

Maybe we really should be restricting who gets to vote — not based on land ownership or bank accounts or education, but based on your ability to even consider voting against your own self interest. Maybe voter registration should be designed like one of those wretched social experiments they perform on kids: You can eat this piece of candy now, or you can give two pieces of candy to your mommy. Except your mommy is the constitution, and the candy is your self-respect.

Listen, whatever party you belong to is going to screw you over eventually, because that is what parties do. If you think your party is going to always help you out all the time, that’s a sign you’ve become an absolute amoeba, and have simply learned how to brainwash your own self into believing good is bad. Voting against your self-interest is like swallowing something prickly because you’ve been gorging on pudding so long, you’re in danger of forgetting how to chew. Snap out of it! Especially if you make a big deal about honoring the founding fathers. It’s as if people think the point of democracy is so everyone gets their chance to be their very own King George III.  

Voting against your self-interest reminds you that no system will save you. The constitution won’t save you, either. But at least it’s something outside of yourself. You do remember there’s something outside yourself, right? 

Remember the scene in The Silver Chair, when Puddleglum stamped on the witch’s fire, and the children woke right up? He broke the spell partly because the magic fire was out, but also partly because the room now smelled like burnt Puddleglum. That’s what democracy should smell like: A nice, pungent stink of self-sacrificial burning flesh, that breaks the trance and reminds us we’re not in paradise here and never will be. More Puddleglum, please. 

Image via Pxhere. (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper, Vol. 230: In which I mise all over the place

Ho hum, what a dull week. At least we have food to talk about. Here’s what we had this week:

Cheeseburgers and candy

Halloween! We had some kind of complicated plan with multiple cars and pick ups and drop offs before trick or treating, so Damien bought a sack of Wendy’s burgers and distributed them to anyone who would slow down long enough to eat one, and/or could bend their arms enough to reach their mouths with their costumes on. 

We had a really good costume year. Clara taught herself how to sew and made a dress and a cloak, and went as an autumn warrior elf or something. 

Elijah spent about 900 hours cutting, shaping, sanding, gluing, and painting bits of foam, and came out with this incredible Mandalorian costume

Lucy and Sophia had store-bought costumes and wigs, Tsuyu and Ochako, which they bought with money they earned by working, and Lucy made her boots out of foam

Irene was Grunkle Stan (I made the fez and she made the 8 ball cane)

Benny was a fairy princess dragon

and Corrie was Jim from Troll Hunters

And that was that! Only about half as many people as usual were giving out treats, but they made up for numbers with enthusiasm, ingenious candy delivery devices, and of course candy. 

Pulled chicken sandwiches, coleslaw, french fries

Wanted to try something easy but different. This didn’t knock anyone’s socks off, but it was fine. I served it with red onions and little dill pickles.

I used this recipe that calls for grated onion, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and bottled BBQ sauce, and it came out tasting exactly like I had just used bottled BBQ sauce. Next time I’ll either skip the extra ingredients and just do that, or else I’ll find a recipe that delivers more for the effort. It’s nice to have something else to do with chicken, anyway. 

Beef barley soup, pumpkin muffins (and soul cakes)

A snowy, blustery day, great for soup and muffins. Beef barley soup is popular with more than half the family, which is pretty good. My version has onions, carrots, mushrooms, tender beef, tomatoes, barley, and a rich beef broth with red wine, and plenty of pepper. 

Jump to Recipe

I made it in the Instant Pot, but this recipe easily adapts for stovetop. 

Poor Benny made her first batch of pumpkin muffins all by herself last week, and just as she was ready to pop them in the oven, the pan tipped over and it all flopped out on the floor. So she was especially glad to see these. 

Jump to Recipe

I think my baking soda may be a bit feeble, or maybe I just didn’t fill the tins high enough; but they turned out well enough, if not lofty and huge. 

I made a double recipe, which gave me enough for 24 muffins and a large loaf. For the loaf, I added dried cranberries and sunflower seeds. 

I had to leave the house while it was still baking, so it stayed in the oven a little too long and got too dry; but it was still pleasant and hearty. I’ll use this combination again, or maybe walnuts instead of sunflower seeds.

And it being All Souls Day, Clara made these lovely soul cakes, as I mentioned

Good smell day at the Fisher house. 

Asian meatballs and rice

Election day. I wanted something I could prep ahead of time and serve without a lot of fuss, because Damien and I were both out after dinner covering election results. So I went with Asian meatballs, which is a foolproof recipe. 

Jump to Recipe


My fellow Americans, these meatballs were horrendous.  I don’t know what happened. I was in such a rush and ended up eyeballing the spices, and, well, I guess I know what happened. They were so horribly salty and harsh and awful! Oh well. It’s a good recipe if you follow it. 

That’s hot sauce, not ketchup. And no, putting hot sauce on your painfully salty meatballs doesn’t make them better. After I took this picture, I tried adding duck sauce, which also, you’ll never guess, didn’t help. I don’t even know what is wrong with me. 

Chicken burgers, chips, quinoa and kale

I made a big speech about how I bought a bag of steamable quinoa and kale because I happen to like it, and they are welcome to have some if they want, but no one has to eat it, and they can just eat their fake Pringles, and they just aren’t allowed to give me a hard time about my quinoa and kale. 

They did give me a hard time, though, the little creeps.

I happen to like quinoa and kale!  Leave me alone with my mountain of quinoa and kale! Love is love. In this house we believe you should leave your mother alone. 

Banh mi

A long-promised meal. This really is the queen of all sandwiches. 

Jump to Recipe

I guess this was the only meal that really turned out this week. I didn’t want to mention it before, but the mushrooms in the beef barley soup were a little past their prime, and I tried to pretend it was fine, but the soup was really not that great. And to be honest, I should have cooked this banh mi pork right in the pan, rather than on a rack, because it was a little dry. 

But I did toast-and-not-burn the baguettes, and I pickled ever so many carrots,

Jump to Recipe

and there were cucumbers, plenty of cilantro, pickled jalapeños, and sriracha mayo, and it’s a dem fine sandwich. A dem fine sandwich. Worth the effort. 

It’s killing me that today is meatless Friday. We may even have some leftover rice, and I could be having a leftover banh mi bowl right now. I was talking it over with Lena and we agreed, we need more bowls of things in our life. Vote for me; I’ll get you a bowl of something. 

Eggs migas with refried beans

I don’t even have to look; I can feel that we have 346 bags of tortillas in the house. The eggs are probably all frozen, but what the hell. We even have some refried beans, and that has made all the difference.

I guess I haven’t written up a migas recipe yet. Don’t tell anyone I said that, but it’s basically matzoh brei for Mexicans. You slice some tortillas thin and fry them until crisp, then add in some beaten eggs and scramble it together. You can add in other stuff while it cooks, but I like to cook it simply and then serve the extras as toppings and sides. 

And there it is. I’m projecting a win for everyone at dinnertime today.

Here’s the recipe cards for the week. Enjoy!



  • 1 head cabbage, shredded
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 5 radishes, grated or sliced thin (optional)


  • 1 cup mayo
  • 1 cup cider or white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pepper to taste


  1. Mix together shredded vegetables. 
    Mix dressing ingredients together and stir into cabbage mix. 

Soul cakes

Servings 18 flat cakes the size of large biscuits


  • 1 cup butter, chilled
  • 3-3/4 cup sifted flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp allspice (can sub cloves)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp cider vinegar (can sub white vinegar)
  • 4-6 Tbsp milk
  • powdered sugar to sprinkle on top


  • raisins, currants, nuts, candied citrus peels, etc.


  1. Preheat the oven to 350

  2. Put the flour in a large bowl. Grate the chilled butter on a vegetable grater and incorporate it lightly into the flour.

  3. Stir in the sugar and spices until evenly distributed.

  4. In a smaller bowl, beat together the eggs, vinegar and milk. Stir this into the flour mixture until it forms a stiff dough.

  5. Knead for several minutes until smooth and roll out to 1/4 thick.

  6. Grease a baking pan. Cut the dough into rounds (or other shapes if you like) and lay them on the pan, leaving a bit of room in between (they puff up a bit, but not a lot). If you're adding raisins or other toppings, poke them into the top of the cakes, in a cross shape if you like. Prick cakes with fork.

  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until very lightly browned on top.

  8. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while they are warm

Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup


  • 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


  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. 


Pumpkin quick bread or muffins

Makes 2 loaves or 18+ muffins


  • 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


  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. 


Vaguely Asian meatballs with dipping sauce

Very simple meatballs with a vaguely Korean flavor. These are mild enough that kids will eat them happily, but if you want to kick up the Korean taste, you can serve them with dipping sauces and pickled vegetables. Serve with rice.

Servings 30 large meatballs


  • 2.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed finely
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup minced garlic
  • 2 bunches scallions, chopped (save out a bit for a garnish)
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp ground pepper

For dipping sauce:

  • mirin or rice vinegar
  • soy sauce


  1. Preheat the oven to 425.

  2. Mix together the meat and all the meatball ingredients with your hands until they are well combined. Form large balls and lay them on a baking pan with a rim.

  3. Bake for about 15 minutes.

  4. Serve over rice with dipping sauce and a sprinkle of scallions.


Pork banh mi


  • 5-6 lbs Pork loin
  • 1 cup fish sauce
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1.5 tsp pepper

Veggies and dressing

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • Sriracha sauce


  1. Slice the raw pork as thinly as you can. 

  2. Mix together the fish sauce ingredients and add the meat slices. Seal in a ziplock bag to marinate, as it is horrendously stinky. Marinate several hours or overnight. 

  3. Grill the meat over coals or on a pan under a hot broiler. 

  4. Toast a sliced baguette or other crusty bread. 


quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 


  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt


  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.