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. 

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

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)

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. 

***

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. 

Um, could you RE-take my “cost of NFP” survey?

Guys, I messed up with my “cost of NFP” survey. I was delighted to see I got almost 1500 responses, but I didn’t realize that Survey Monkey charges me to see more than 100 results. I would just pay it, but I also made the mistake of making the survey anonymous. My plan was to read all the written responses and contact people I’d like to follow up with. But I can’t because, dun dun dunnn, I made it anonymous. And I can’t use anonymous quotes in my article. 

So, as a friend once said to our literature professor in college, I’ve come to throw my feet at your mercy. Won’t you please, pretty please take my survey again? This time it’s in Google Forms. Follow the link, or take the quiz embedded below. It will ask for your email address, and I may contact you for more information; but no one will see your name or contact information on the survey. I will not share your email address with anyone, and I will not quote you without getting your permission first. 

I’ve made a few tweaks to clarify my questions, but it’s basically the same survey. It should take under three minutes to complete.

Thank you so much for helping me with this. Sorry. I’m an idiot. Thanks. 

 

Image: Alex E. Proimos [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Have you heard the Maasai Creed?

The truth is, no matter how much we believe what we recite at Mass, it’s rare that the old, familiar words stand out as fresh and powerful.

It’s all too easy to let habit and familiarity take over, and to stop hearing what they have to say. We don’t even realize we’ve stopped listening; our brains just say, “Oh, this old thing again” and check out.

Sometimes the best way to deal with this is to deliberately, firmly take your attention in hand and direct it toward the old, familiar thing.

Whatever else you can say about Catholics, you can’t accuse us of despising something just because it’s old! The words of the Mass are very rich, and if we’re open to it, we can often perceive something brand new, or newly exciting, springing up from that ancient soil.

But it’s also legitimate to strive to hear that same old, ancient thing in a slightly new way, to remind you how confounding it really is. This is what happened to me the other day, when I stumbled across the Maasai Creed.

As the name suggests, it was written by and for the African Maasai people, with a group known as the Congregation of the Holy Spirit in 1960. It is essentially the same as the one that we recite every week . . . and yet just different enough that it knocked me flat.

I believe I’m going to print it out and hang it in my house, so the kids can see it, too, because even in their tender youth, they’re probably already allowing repetition to dull their ears when we say the creed.

Our relationship with God shouldn’t require constant thrills and novelties. He values fidelity through the dull valleys of our faith.

But when He does put something fresh and interesting in our paths, it behooves us to stop and enjoy it!

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 
Image by Nicola Stockton from Pixabay

The financial cost of NFP and FAM. Please take my survey!

Everyone knows that barely any Catholics use NFP, because it’s hard and it’s counter-cultural. But even among those who are ready and willing, there can be obstacles. One of those obstacles is money. I’ve put together a survey to get an idea of how much of a problem money is for people who use or want to use NFP. The survey is anonymous, and I will use the information in an article I’m writing. 

It’s not a scientific survey, but I’m hoping to get enough responses to give me an idea of what is common around the country and the world. You don’t need to be Catholic to take the survey! It has seven questions, is anonymous, and should take about two minutes to complete. I’d be very grateful if you could take the survey and share it on social media or with anyone who might be interested. Here’s the link, or you can use the embedded widget below.

Follow-up question: What other obstacles might prevent you from using or trying NFP, besides money? Distance? Opportunity? Childcare? Cultural attitudes? What else? 

 

 
Create your own user feedback survey

Image Love for money (Free photobank torange.biz) / ©torange.biz Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

My body safety class for grade 2 faith formation

This year, I took the plunge and volunteered to teach faith formation at my parish. I got grade 2, which is preparation for first confession. I took a short online course about child safety and had a background check done, and I assume I was approved by the pastor, who knows me. I was given materials for the class (Alive in Christ from OSV and Rooted from  Ruah Woods), but what I cover is more or less up to me; but I am required to do one class about safety. 

A few people asked me to share my lesson outline, so here it is. I thought it went pretty well, but who the heck knows? I hope to continue teaching this class next year, so I’d be grateful to know what you think and what improvements you would suggest. I try to have a lot of variety, to get them to answer and offer ideas, to read a memorable, engaging book, to get the kids to engage their bodies when possible, to do visual things whenever possible. Kids this age are very eager to absorb rules and facts, but I also want to make sure I’m conveying how beautiful and welcoming Jesus is. I’m just trying to remember that I’m showing up for the Holy Spirit to use. 

This is the only class completely dedicated to bodily safety. I’ll be returning to the topic later in the context of other lessons (for instance, the idea that the seal of confession is for the priest to keep, and a child has no obligation to keep things that happen in confession secret). The class is one hour long and includes kids who are well-catechized and kids who know very little about their faith. I’m well aware that this one class isn’t adequate to keep kids safe, but at least they will have heard an adult talk about it, and they will know it’s okay to talk or think about. 

PRAYER. We began with a prayer, remembering to make the sign of the cross carefully and respectfully. Prayer: “Jesus, we are here to learn about you. Please help us to hear good things so we can come closer to you. Amen.”

REVIEW. Sign of the cross. The cross is everywhere, not just in church but all over the world, in buildings, in nature, etc., even in our own bodies. (Recall places we have seen crosses, which they were supposed to hunt for during the week.) If we stand up and stretch out our arms, our own bodies make a cross. God puts the cross everywhere to remind us that Jesus is always with us.

REVIEW: The Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix. (We read this last week, and the kids were enthralled.) Remember how the paralyzed man’s friends opened up the roof and lowered their friend down, because they knew that, if they brought him to Jesus, Jesus would help him. We can’t open up the roof, but we can always bring our friends to Jesus and ask Jesus to help them. [Name friends and relatives we want to bring to Jesus and ask Jesus to help. Kids agreed that they would like this to be a recurring feature of the class. Ended up naming mostly pets.]

READ ALOUD. Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann.  [This is a book about physical safety and having a partner who helps you. It was provided by the parish, so I went with it. It’s not a perfect match, but it’s a cute and funny book that the kids like, and it was a good intro to talking about keeping your body safe with the help of other people.]

DISCUSS: Who made our bodies? God made our bodies for us. God even came down from Heaven and got a body, too, so we know that bodies are very important. They are a good gift for us, and it’s our job to try to take care of them. God wants our bodies to stay safe. Here are four things you need to know about keeping your body safe:

HUGGING AND KISSING. Sometimes someone asks us for a hug or a kiss, and we don’t want to do it.  This is okay! We don’t have to hug or kiss if we don’t want to. What are some things we can do instead of hug or kiss? Get suggestions from kids, then fill in: Shake hands, blow a kiss, fist bump, high five. I picked kids to stand up and we practiced acting it out: “How about a kiss?” – “No thanks! How about a high five?” 

SECRETS. Sometimes people tell us something that makes us feel bad or uncomfortable or creepy or weird, or they ask us to do something that makes us feel bad or uncomfortable or creepy or weird, and they tell us we have to keep it a secret. Do you think you should keep it a secret? No! What if it’s an adult who tells us to keep it a secret? Still no!  You’re just kids, and it’s not your job to keep secrets that make you feel bad or weird or creepy or uncomfortable. Kids don’t have to keep bad secrets. If someone wants me to keep a secret that makes me feel bad, I should tell an adult in my safety network right away. 

[Here I meant to make a distinction between keeping something a secret, and not giving away a surprise, but I forgot.]

SAFETY NETWORK. What is a safety network? It’s an adult who will listen to you and who will help you. Everyone gets a piece of paper and traces their hand, then writes the names of five adults in their safety network. They can bring it home and hang it up so they will remember who their safety network is. They can finish it at home if they can’t think of five names right now. 

PRIVATE PARTS. At this point the kids got pretty antsy, so I had them all stand up and stretch. We stretched our arms way up high, way in front of us, way down, and way in back of us. Then I talked about how all the places we stretched to is places we should feel safe. 

Imagine going swimming, and think about how we’re covered by our swim suits. The parts of our bodies that are covered by swim suits are private parts. Sometimes we need adults like our parents or doctors to help us with our bodies, like if we are sick or hurt, but we need to know that most of the time, no one gets to touch our private parts. If a doctor is doing it, we should have someone from their safety network, like a parent, with us. If anyone does anything with our private parts that makes us feel weird, we should tell an adult in our safety network right away. 

I also meant to say, but I forgot: No one can make a kid touch their private parts. No one should show a kid pictures of private parts. If any of these things happen, I should tell an adult from my safety network right away.

A few times, the kids started to veer into territory that I thought wasn’t appropriate for me to discuss in a class, so I gently told them that would be something they should talk to their parents about. 

SING. I wanted to change the mood a bit, so we learned “Jesus loves me.” 

Lyrics:

Jesus loves me! This I know, 
For the Bible tells me so. 
Little ones to Him belong; 
We are weak, but He is strong. 
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so. 

A few of the kids already knew it, and I accidentally stumbled on the brilliant pedagogical method of repeatedly mixing up the words, so they had to correct me, which they enjoyed. We sang it a few times and then I handed out coloring pages and crayons. All I had was a Celtic cross, so I asked them what else they would like me to bring in next time. (Here are some links to free coloring pages you can print, many courtesy of my friend Cindy Coleman, a very experienced catechist):

Orthodox Icons

Ukranian Icons

Drawn2BeCreative-saints
http://www.drawn2bcreative.com/free-printables/

Paper Dali http://paperdali.blogspot.com/p/freebies.html
Catholic Saints, Liturgical Year and Catholic Going-Ons

Waltzing Matilda
http://www.waltzingm.com/p/coloring-pages-month.html

Saint John the Baptist Church Religious Education http://www.sjtb.org/releducolor.html
Mysteries of the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, the Creed, Saints

Catholic Playground
http://www.catholicplayground.com/
Saints, Marian, Biblical, Stations of the Cross

Sermons4Kids
http://sermons4kids.com/colorpg.htm

St Anne’s Helper
http://www.saintanneshelper.com/coloring-pages-to-print.html

The Catholic Kid
http://www.thecatholickid.com/

Life, Love & Sacred Art
https://life-love-sacred-art.blogspot.com/…/coloring…

We did some more singing while they colored and waited for their parents to show up. We were supposed to end with a prayer, but I forgot. 

I sent out a email to the parents, outlining what we would discuss in class. They had the option to opt out if they didn’t want their kids in this class, and I let them know I’d be telling the kids to ask them if they had questions I didn’t think were appropriate for class. 

***

Image: detail from an illustration from The Miracle Man

Snickering through museums: How we managed to enjoy Renoir: The Body, The Senses

While hunting around for some images from the Renoir: The Body, The senses exhibit, I came across this review in The New Yorker, which begins, “Who doesn’t have a problem with Pierre-Auguste Renoir?”

Um.

I skimmed, I skimmed. The upshot seems to be that Renoir was a misogynist because boobs, but we should halfway forgive him, because art. And that’s why I live at the P.O.

We did make the drive to the Clark Art Institute to catch the exhibit in person before it left town. Here’s how we managed to have a wonderful time, despite how problematic everything is:

We do actually have some issues to overcome when we spend exclusive time with art. Damien calls it “museum anxiety:” that terrible fear that you’re missing out on something exquisite and important; that you’re not “getting it.” In the past, I have recommended bringing kids along with you — not just for their own sakes, but because we can follow their lead and skip right over the pretensions and anxieties so many adults labor under.

Even if you don’t have kids with you, you can imitate their approach, and it will dissipate that stifling museum fog. I did this when I had the rare opportunity to spend 45 minutes alone in the Princeton Art Museum. I went for the ancient art gallery, and decided I would let myself laugh out loud at anything that struck me as funny — and there was a lot of it.

After about the fourth room at the Renoir exhibit, I got softened up, and recalled I had no obligation to try to impress the other grave, whispering museum-goers with their complicated necklaces and flowy linen pants. I actually went a little overboard, and when I saw yet another elderly gentleman soberly studying a set of rosy, glowing ass cheeks, I had to stifle the urge to sneak up behind him and emit a falsetto, “Niiiiiice!” like Peter Venkman. But seriously, Renoir: quite the ass man. And why not? They pretty. 

Letting myself snicker a bit breaks down my head garbage and leaves me much more open to stuff that’s not funny at all, but just plain beautiful. This one hit me right between the eyes and made me cry, and I can’t even remember why. 

I think I was just glad to be alive, with eyeballs.

They had some thought-provoking pairings at this exhibit, which included not only Renoir but Degas and Cezanne and other contemporaries, as well as later artists influenced by Renoir. One interesting set was a Renoir “Woman Combing Her Hair” (which really doesn’t narrow it down much) and a Degas also showing a half-nude woman combing her hair (which I can’t seem to find anywhere).

Here’s where I have to admit that I know what the guy was talking about in the New Yorker. The two paintings were of similar subject, but Renoir had buttered his gal up to a light-filled sheen, and the entire world faded into a hazy chorus rejoicing in the loveliness of women’s backs. But Degas approached the woman from above, and you got the impression she had a book propped awkwardly on her thighs to while away the time while she was painted. You felt the strain in her muscles; whereas Renoir’s gal would probably be content to stay there forever, endlessly brushing in the golden sun. This is no knock on the Renoir. It was just different, that’s all. Both women were real flesh, really real flesh (and Renoir apparently got dinged by critics by showing too much fat and including too many colors); but I got the impression Degas was more aware that they were human, too.  

It’s strange how you see something better once you have something to compare it to. Like Richard Wilbur says:

I said the trees are mines in air, I said
See how the sparrow burrows in the sky!
And then I wondered why this mad instead
Perverts our praise to uncreation, why
Such savour’s in this wrenching things awry.
Does sense so stale that it must needs derange
The world to know it? 
 
I take Wilbur’s answer to the question “why this mad instead?” to be “it just do.” If it works, it works. My senses do stale, and I’m just glad there’s a remedy, whether it’s juxtaposing art, or just snickering.
 

I actually enjoyed the rest of the museum more than the special exhibit. It’s a world-class collection, well worth the trip on its own, but small enough that you can see everything without dashing around like a maniac. The Clark does a good job with its labels, providing little bits of information you might not pick out on your own, but without dictating too narrowly what you’re supposed to think of a particular piece. 

Among some Degas studies was a quote about how an artist should practice a composition over and over again, hundreds or thousands of times, so that nothing must appear to be by chance. I could see that was how he did it — there were the many, many studies, right before my eyes — but the end result was that it did appear to be by chance. Even when you know it’s a grindingly hard-won skill honed over thousands of hours, it does feel like the artist just happened to casually snag some familiar arc of the arm or angle of the elbow or weight of a thigh. Pff, Degas, what does he know about art. 

There are a number of Renoirs in the permanent collection, including this one, which struck me for the first time as something of an inside joke for artists: Here is this gal, dressed to the nines to sit in her garden and embroider. 

She’s surrounded by lush, boisterous foliage and blossoms, and what is she making so intently?

A little handkerchief with a little, delicate, stylized floral pattern on it.

I don’t know, I just thought it was funny. Flowers vs. floral. Art! What are we even doing? I don’t know, but we can’t seem to stop. 

Many Renoirs showed women with their fingers working closely together, with something lovely flowing out from between them like a waterfall. 

Women are like that, I guess.

Damien and I both adored all the John Singer Sargents. The Clark has the slightly silly but entirely successful Fumée d’Ambre Gris, which you should be required to study before you can buy white paint. 

and several others. The Portrait of Carolus Duran really grabbed us.

You want to use words like “deft” and “confident” with John Singer Sargent, but that’s so inadequate. Check out these hands and cuffs:

Look at those shadows! Look at that ring! And you know these are just little phone pictures. You really need to see it.

Same thing with the portrait of Mme. Paul Escudier.

You could almost get a paper cut on the edge of that ribbon plopped on top of her head, but then you get really close and what do you know? It’s just paint. I don’t know how he did it, except that he believed in himself! Ha.

We kept coming back to A Venetian Interior.

This is where I want to find and murder the guy who recently suggested that museums are obsolete, since we now have digital photos of all art and can just go look at it whenever we want. You have to see it in person. We both felt very strongly that that one streak of yellow wasn’t actually paint, but was actual light, and it’s probably why he decided to paint this scene.

They also have several Winslow Homers, which is always a treat. Wear a jacket, because some of them are brisk. 

Speaking of brisk, I think some people sneer a little over Frederick Remington, because it’s American White House horsey art. Maybe I’m making that up. Anyway, check out this shadow of a horse on the snow in the moonlight, and then get back to me:

This is from “Friends or Foe?”

A few other random things that caught my eye:

This fond, doting Mary from the Netherlands:

This is from Virgin and Child with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist. Quinten Massys, 1520. 

And these terrible children with a cat who has just about had enough:

And that’s why this cat lives at the P.O.

One final note: They had another special exhibit downstairs: Ida O’Keeffe, the lesser-known sister of Georgia O’Keeffe. Apparently there were three artistic O’Keeffe sisters, and when the other two started showing some inclination toward art, Georgia swatted them down pretty savagely, because you can only have one Artist per family. One sister meekly abandoned her ambitions, but Ida struggled to make her own name; so Gerogia cut her off. Sheesh!

So before we went into the gallery, I mentioned to Damien that Ida wanted some way to set herself apart from the more famous Georgia and her famous . . . flowers. He says, “Well, that’s easy. All she had to do was paint penises, instead.” I snickered, but you know what? We walked into the room, and this is what Ida did:

Talk about a “mad instead.” (She also painted some banana plants.)

Anyway, go see a art! Cut yourself some slack, let your mouth hang open like a yokel, and just see what there is to see. Don’t forget to laugh at the funny ones.

You can probably skip the museum cafe, though. That really is there just to impress you and make you feel like you can’t complain when it’s terrible; but nobody in the world needs to pay $16 for a microwaved grilled cheese, even if it is called “croque monsieur.”