Monsters in the walls

When I was little, a lion was living in the walls outside my room. I knew this couldn’t possibly be true, but I was also terrified any time I went into the hall because I could hear him growling.

Years later, I figured out what that sound really was. Our old Victoria-style house had a turbine vent on the roof, and when it got clogged with ice during the winter, it made a deep, ominous growling noise that seemed to be emerging from the walls.

I did not tell anybody, though, because there were actually two things I was afraid of: The lion and being told I was imagining the lion. So I quaked through many nights, terrified.

I am not mad at my parents. It was the ’70s, and parenting standards were different. I’ve done the same thing to my kids—shushing their fears, telling them not to be silly—before I knew better. 

This is one of my earliest memories, and it’s probably why I felt so deeply for the poor kid in North Carolina who turned out to have 60,000 bees living in her walls.

She, unlike me, persistently told her parents for eight months what she heard: monsters. Her parents eventually investigated and sure enough, there was a hive so gigantic that they had to tear into the walls to remove it all. Honey everywhere, dead bees everywhere. A true nightmare.

I first heard about this story because a friend pointed out that, when the bee experts removed all the bees from the toddler’s walls, the mother said to her child: “See? They’re taking the monsters away.” My friend said the mom clearly meant well, but it was a missed opportunity. Bees are not monsters! They are friends and essential to life on earth.

My friend pointed out that the kid will likely have a lifelong fear of bees since the mother affirmed for her that they are indeed monsters. And that would be a monstrous thing in itself, to live forever in fear of something you can’t escape and that is your great helper.

I think that if the child does have trauma, it will have stemmed from three possible causes: the bees themselves, of course, and perhaps the mother affirming that they are monsters. But also those eight months when no one believed her about the bee noise, even though she could hear it.

When you are consistently told, “The distressing thing is silly, and you shouldn’t be upset. You’re making it up. You can’t trust your own experience, and you should be ashamed of thinking you can”—this is a monstrous growl that reverberates well into adulthood, well into every adult relationship, well into your career, well into your understanding of faith and your sense of self. A message like that can be more life-limiting than any specific insect-phobia.

The real solution for the child, of course, would have been to strike a balance. To affirm her fear, to praise her for telling someone, and then eventually, when she was ready, to introduce her to the idea of how wonderful bees really (usually) are.

Why am I writing about this for a Catholic publication? Because I’m thinking, as I seemed doomed to be doing forever, of the sex abuse scandal.

I’m thinking about people who have been terrorized by someone representing the church, and who therefore fear or despise the Catholic Church and maybe even God himself. I’m thinking about how hard it is to respond to them with the right balance.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

What’s for supper? Vol. 379: Lilac jelly! It’s a thing!

Happy Friday! I hope May is as great where you are as it is here, because my May is going GREAT. It’s so pretty and it smells so good, and the air is soft and warm, and everything is growing like crazy. So many delicious smells to smell!

So many delicious bugs to eat!

Here’s what we non-ducks ate this week: 

SATURDAY
Potluck

Saturday I did part of the shopping, and then we went to a faith formation dinner. I signed up to bring fruit, and planned to make a fruit salad, but while at the store I felt a profound need not to make a fruit salad. Chopping! Who needs chopping? So I made a platter of grapes, bananas, and clementines, and it was fine. Even washed the grapes. And I even remembered to bring my platter home. 

That reminds me of the time my parents went to a potluck event, and brought a fruit salad. One of my siblings was going to a fancy, toney private school in the Old Money part of Massachusetts, and our family always felt massively out of place, real bumpkins. So when it was graduation and they were supposed to bring a dish to share, they decided that regular fruit salad was too pedestrian, and an exquisitely fragrant custard studded with summer delights would hit just the right note and impress everyone.

So they made it, and followed the recipe exactly. But as you know, custards can be finicky, and my parents weren’t exactly practiced chefs anyway. So what they ended up with was a bowl full of something that tasted fine, but looked exactly like someone had eaten a lot of fruit out of a bowl, and then been sick right back into that bowl. 

BUT FOR SOME REASON, they decided to bring it anyway. I feel like the two-hour trip in the early summer sun can’t possibly have helped the custard situation much, and neither could the extra couple of hours in the car while the graduation went on. You have to understand, my family wasn’t the kind of family that owned, like, ice packs or anything. Somehow. So when it was time to eat, they went ahead and set this bowl of pale yellow fruit puke on the table with an optimistic ladle, in among the canapés and finger sandwiches, and slunk away to mingle.

Nobody ate that fruit puke. Not even one scoop. It just sat there in vomitous shame, getting more and more thoroughly cooked in the sun. And when the ceremony and the luncheon were over and people were reclaiming their serving dishes, my parents couldn’t bring themselves to admit that she shame custard was theirs. So they just left. 

That’s it. That’s the whole story. I don’t know why this seems so funny to me. I just imagine the long tables are still set up in the charming English-style garden to this day, all the students long gone and grown, all the parents and teachers dead and half forgotten, the ragged tablecloths flapping in the wind in the tall grass, and at one end, alone in the moonlight, one Havisham fruit salad. It waits and waits, fruitlessly. Which is funny, because it’s a fruit salad. 

Anyway, people at the church ate my damn bananas.

Saturday evening, Corrie desperately wanted to get into the pool, even though it was like 51 degrees out. So she did (and turned bright red), and Benny and I kept an eye on her while plucking lilac petals.

WHY, you may ask? Because I found out (a) lilacs petals are edible and (b) you can make them into jelly! I started it Saturday evening and finished it Sunday. I’ll go ahead and go through the rest of the week first, and then we shall return to jelly. 

SUNDAY
Chicken caprese sandwiches, cheezy weezies

Sunday I had to finish the shopping. Normally, shopping takes me three hours, but when I break it up into two days, it takes 46 hours. I don’t know why this is so, but anyway we had sandwiches. 

It was still a tiny bit nippy outside, but I was committed to eating on the patio anyway. Love it. 

MONDAY
Pulled pork on fries with cheese and onions

Monday, it suddenly warmed up, but menu is menu, so I started some pulled pork, and then was so delighted to finally get to meet my friend and fake sister-in-law, Elizabeth! (She is my sister’s husband’s sister.) We had a wonderful morning and we are very simpatico. Got home, ran around doing errands, and finished up dinner. 

The pulled pork was this recipe, with apple cider vinegar, cumin, jalapeños, and cloves

Jump to Recipe

and it turned out okay, but kind of tough, I forget why, but it was my fault. (If you follow the recipe, it won’t turn out tough.) But I made a bunch of french fries, put out a bottle of BBQ sauce, sliced up some red onions, and heated up some of that disgusting cheese sauce that comes in a jar, and man, it was a tasty bowl of yum.

Good stuff. 

TUESDAY
Santa Fe Chicken Salad

Tuesday I had a bunch of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, and asked myself, “What would I do if I were on TikTok?” So I sprayed them with olive oil spray and sprinkled them heavily with Taijin chili lime seasoning, and roasted them in the oven. Then I cut them up and sprinkled the pieces with even more Taijin chili lime seasoning. 

Got out a tub of mixed greens and set it out with the chicken, along with those crunchy fried onions that come in a tub, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, shredded pepper jack cheese, and chipotle ranch dressing, or something along those lines. 

I also had some kind of weird Aldi corn chips that were “street corn” flavor or something. They really tasted like corn! And this marks the day when I suddenly realized that regular corn chips don’t actually taste like corn. 

Anyway, great meal, very Sante Fe (or whatever). 

WEDNESDAY
Beef teriyaki stir fry, rice, berry lassi

Wednesday, people had been agitating for a stir fry, so I got a hunk of beef for a treat, and sliced it as thinly as I could (it was half-frozen, which helped) and let it marinate in soy sauce and a little sugar and mirin. I also defrosted a couple of bags of frozen mixed vegetables (I guess broccoli, carrots, maybe some pea pods, and water chestnuts).

I looked at a bunch of teriyaki sauce recipes, and for some reason they all looked annoying, so I just made something up. 

I heated up some oil and sautéed about five cloves of garlic, minced. We were out of fresh ginger and also brown sugar, so I mixed it about a cup of white sugar and whisked that over the heat until it bubbled and turned dark. I threw in about 1/4 cup of mirin and whisked that for another minute. Then I made a little roux with a little soy sauce and quite a bit of corn starch, and whisked that in until it was smooth, along with a bunch of powdered ginger. Then I dumped in a ton of soy sauce and brought it to a light boil. It got nice and thick, which is what I was going for.

I started some rice cooking in the Instant Pot. When it was almost time to eat, I sautéed the meat until it was slightly underdone, added in the vegetables to heat it all up, and then stirred in the sauce. 

Perfect. 

When I was poking around in the fridge that morning, I found some fruit I had bought on the weekend and didn’t use, and it was about to go off. I had cherries, strawberries, and blueberries. So I sliced them all up and put them in the freezer in the morning. 

While supper was finishing up, I dumped them in the blender

and then added in a bunch of plain Greek yogurt, some lime juice, and I think sugar, and a few ice cubes. 

Is this a lassi, or just a smoothie? I’m not sure. But it was a very hot, humid day and the drink was not as thick as I was hoping, but still sweet, berryful, and very refreshing

if a slightly weird accompaniment for beef teriyaki stir fry.

Anyway, we liked it.

THURSDAY
Mussakhan and taboon

Thursday was still super hot and humid, but I only had one meal left on the menu, so I forged ahead and made this mussakhan (Palestinian roast chicken with sumac and onions) from Saveur. I started the chicken marinating in the morning, but discovered I was very low on sumac, which is sad. 

A couple of hours before dinner, I started some taboon dough. Last time, it turned out incredibly fluffy and lovely, but for some reason I had a bad feeling about this dough. But menu is menu, so I forged ahead. Gotta forge ahead. 

When it was about an hour before dinner, I started the chicken roasting in one big pan, and then about twenty minutes before dinner, I got the dough in the other big pan and put that in the oven.

I crowded the chicken a bit, so it wasn’t crispy golden, but still quite delicious. And the taboon was, as I feared, a tiny bit dense and tough. But lookit: Two pans of wonderful savory meat and fresh bread for all, coming out of the oven at the same time

Can’t beat that. I toasted up some pine nuts in oil and chopped up some parsley, and then I put the chicken on the bread and the pine nuts and parsley on the chicken, and the family started grabbing for it before I could even get a picture

So that’s a good sign! Especially since I had to drag everyone out of the pool to come eat. 

If you are thinking of getting a pool, which I heartily recommend, the thing you should know is that the kids will always mad at you for making them come out of the pool, but yet never happy with you for getting them a pool.

But like I said, the chicken and taboon helped a lot. 

Gotta get my hands on some more sumac, though. 

That reminds me, the sumac tree I cut down about five years ago (because it was overshadowing my rock garden) has come roaring back, and now I need to look up if some sumac is poisonous or what, and how to tell, and how hard it is to get sumac from a sumac tree, if it’s not poisonous. 

But gosh, those pine nuts are nice. Did you know they are actually from pine trees? For some reason I assumed they weren’t, but they are. I have no intention of harvesting my own pine nuts, though. I will continue to pay 30 cents a nut, or whatever it is, and then be late with the electric bill. Worth it. 

FRIDAY

I just realized I said I would get ravioli, but I forgot. I forgot a lot of stuff. On Thursday, we were talking over the logistics of Friday. It was one of those cat-fox-basket of corn situations, except the cat needs new tires and her husband has to be in Newport to talk to the county attorney or something, and the upshot was that I decided: School? School?? A sweet, warm Friday in May is no time to send kids to school. So we stayed home. Fight me. In lieu of bedtime Thursday night, I made a fire and the kids roasted marshmallows. No ragrets.

I do have to get some ravioli, though. 

So, now, here is how I made the lilac jelly!

I was following the recipe from Lord Byron’s Kitchen, but I fiddled with it a little bit, for no reason whatsoever. And in fact Lord Byron, if that is indeed his name, says you will need to add blueberries or blackberries to it if you want it to turn pink, but that turned out not to be the case — either because of the aforementioned fiddling, or maybe I just have pinker lilacs, I dunno. 

I picked enough bunches of blossoms to fill up my biggest stock pot, and then we plucked off the petals, trying to get as little of the green in there as possible. 

It took QUITE SOME TIME. But Benny is very pleasant to chat with.

We finally got them all done and we ended up with more than the eight cups the recipe called for. I rinsed them in a colander and then the next step is to steep them. I used the proportions of the rest of ingredients called for, even though I had extra petals. So I ended up with 11 cups of petals and eight cups of water, and I boiled that.

And I was like, ooh, he’s right, this is not gonna be pink or purple or anything nice, oh well.

It said to let it steep for four hours, but I put it in the fridge and went to bed. So it steeped for probably twenty hours. Next day I poured the liquid into a pot, straining it through a double layer of cheesecloth to keep the petals out. 

and it did not look terribly promising. I was pretty resigned to having tannish-yellowish-greenish jelly. 

Then I added eight cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. I think it was at this point that the color started to perk up. 

Then I brought it to a boil again. This is the point where you’re supposed to add the pectin. It calls for 114 grams of pectin. What I had in my cabinet (no, it would not have been possible to check this ahead of time, because I had to go outside and look at flowers) was some pouches of liquid pectin, which is measured in fluid ounces, not grams. They were six fluid ounces each. So I thought about it for a while, and asked my smart speaker, which was not exceedingly helpful. What to do?

Well, if my math is correct, and you want to convert fluid ounces to grams, and six times two is twelve, then that means two pouches is twelve fluid ounces, which is the equivalent of . . . some grams. So that’s what I did. Dumped those grams right in, both pouches of grams.

Then I started to bring it to a boil again.

I don’t even like jelly that much, but I sure do like watching pots of color swirl around. 

As it heated up, a sort of taffy-like foam started to collect on the top, and this is the first time I tasted it to see what was going on in there. 

You’re not gonna believe this, but it tasted like lilacs. I don’t know how else to describe it. Definitely sweet, and of course I could taste a tiny bit of lemon, but mostly it was just . . . floral. Not like rosewater, which I don’t really like, but like lilac. I guess maybe a bit like blueberry or possibly plum, but it was really a new taste for me. Amazing! 

So I boiled it and whisked it for another minute or so, and then let it cool down a bit before pouring it into jars. 

LOOK at this color. 

The recipe has you doing the whole canning water bath thing, but I’m not cut out for that, and I just planned to make refrigerator jelly. 

Lovely, lovely. 

It was the consistency of thick syrup when I poured it into the jars, but either this or another recipe said it could take up to a week to thicken up properly, so I wasn’t worried. 

I gave away a few jars and we have plenty left in the fridge. So far I’ve eaten it on leftover taboon and on Saltines, and I’m absolutely sold. Clara is talking about making shortbread thumbprint cookies (which have a little scoop of jelly on each one). It has thickened up, and is almost the consistency of jelly you’d find at the store, but just slightly looser. 

Oh, and here is the leftover lilac petals, after the liquid was drained off. Poor things! All used up. 

So that’s-a my lilac jelly story. We had SO many lilacs this year, and they seem to be sticking around for an unusually long time; or maybe it’s just that I have more leisure time this year than I usually have, and I’m taking more time to enjoy the lilacs. Or maybe I don’t have more time, and I’m just recklessly choosing to use what I have with messing around with flowers! Either way, I’m very grateful. And I have jelly! And it is pink!

Clovey pulled pork

Ingredients

  • fatty hunk of pork
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for browning
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2/3 cup apple juice
  • 3 jalapeños with tops removed, seeds and membranes intact
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp ground cloves

Instructions

  1. Cut pork into hunks. Season heavily with salt and pepper.

  2. Heat oil in heavy pot and brown pork on all sides.

  3. Move browned pork into Instant Pot or slow cooker or dutch oven. Add all the other ingredients. Cover and cook slowly for at least six hours.

  4. When pork is tender, shred.

What’s for Supper? Vol. 378: In which nobody goes to the emergency room

In haste! In haste! For today is a half day, and I have to go get my punkass kids. It is the final day of teacher appreciation week, and I love that they’re topping it off by making all the kids go away. Truly the gift from the heart. 

Speaking of gifts from the heart, this week having been mother’s day week, I decided to make all foods that I like this week. It was a very tasty week! But also very stupid, as you will see. 

SATURDAY
Hot dogs, chips

Well, I do like hot dogs, but this was more about convenience on a shopping day. But I do like hot dogs. And convenience!

SUNDAY
Italian sandwiches, fries, lemon meringue pie with strawberry compote

Damien shopped for and put together these excellent sandwiches (toasted baguettes with red pesto, olive oil, and vinegar, with provolone, prosciutto, capicola, sandwich pepperoni, tomatoes, and fresh basil), and made fries

and Clara made some wonderful pies, using my pie crust recipe

Jump to Recipe

and the filling and meringue from Sally’s Baking Addiction,

plus, as you can see, a layer of homemade strawberry compote between the lemon and meringue

Absolutely splendid. Perfect. I wish I had gotten pictures from the morning, when she made it, because by dessert time it had gone the way meringues tend to go, but it was still airy and wonderful. 

All the kids came over, and showered me with thoughtful and delightful presents. I spent most of the day following my heart, which meant working on my bog bridge. I worked on it off and on throughout the week, when I had 45 minutes to spare and it wasn’t raining, and it’s almost ready to put in place! I AM VERY EXCITED. In fact, at one point I got a little over-excited. As you will see. 

MONDAY
Fajita beef bowl, pineapple

London broil was on sale, so I got a bunch and sliced it up thin and marinated it most of the day in this yummy marinade

Jump to Recipe

I did all the prep work in the morning: Sauteed some sweet peppers, roasted some corn, chopped cilantro, cut up some limes, and found the shredded cheese, sour cream, and corn chips, and I prepped the rice in the Instant Pot. Sometimes we also have black beans with this dish, but we just had them last week and I just wasn’t bean ready yet. We also usually have chopped scallions, but I forgot. 

Before dinner, I cranked up the broiler and (to be honest, slightly over)cooked the meat

and I piled up my bowl with rice and meat and toppings and ate outside with the birdies. 

Oh, I also cut up the pineapple I meant to serve last week. Lovely meal, very popular. 

TUESDAY
Two pizzas, not three

On Tuesday, I was super busy all day with I don’t even remember what, so I as soon as I got home in the afternoon, I made three pizzas very fast. One olive, one half plain and half Hawaiian using the leftover pineapple from Monday, and one pepperoni using leftover pepperoni from the Italian sandwiches. We had a lot of pepperoni left, so I was pretty lavish with the toppings on this.

Feeling very brisk and accomplished, I preheated the oven, set the pizzas on the counter, and asked Elijah to put them in at 5:10. Then I went outside to work on my bridge. 

I was slapping wood stain on as fast as I could, and even though I was increasingly covered with wood stain and blackfly bites, feeling pretty great about life in general, when Elijah comes out and says, “You don’t have to come inside or anything, but how many pizzas are there?”

I say there are three. I’m the tiniest bit annoyed, because it’s not like it’s a big kitchen or something. Three extra large pizzas, pretty much front and center, can’t really miss them. Definitely three pizzas. 

He says, “Okay, I can only find two. And there is an empty pan.” 

So of course I go inside, and he is correct. Two pizzas which are now in the oven, and one pizza pan, still on the counter, with smears of grease and flour on it.

WHAT COULD HAVE POSSIBLY HAPPENED TO IT? 

What indeed.

Now, you know I’m sharing this story because the dog did not die. I will also confess that we did not take him to the vet. If we took that dog to the vet every time he ate something stupid, we’d be investigated by GoFundMe for an implausible number of emergencies. 

And to be honest, we weren’t 100% convinced it was the dog who made the pizza disappear. First we searched all over the house in case it somehow . . . left. Which sounds dumb, but it was very strange! The pan was there, the pizza was gone. We thought of the cat, who does steal whatever food he can carry and has no conscience at all. And we thought of, uh, other possibilities

And the dog seemed fine! He wasn’t bloated or uncomfortable or acting like his butt was any more haunted than usual.

But we couldn’t think of any other place the pizza might have gone, besides down his gullet. He does have very poor impulse control, even for a dog. 

The danger is that the dough would expand in his tummy and do terrible twisty things to his innards, or that it would produce alcohol and poison him from the inside out. Soooo Damien stayed up until 2 a.m. observing him. That makes nine full hours after the dog apparently ate the raw pizza. He did burp. And that was all. 

Friends, this is the almighty power of a boxer’s digestive system. You can judge us if you want for not taking him to the ER, but Sonny himself would give you some side eye for that. 

Well, maybe not a side eye, because his eye placement doesn’t really allow for that, but he would do his best. Sonny always does his best. As do we all. 

WEDNESDAY
Sweet spicy Korean meatballs, sweet pepper lo mein

New recipe! I came across this recipe for gochujang meatballs with apricot glaze and couldn’t look away. I followed the recipe exactly, except that I used fresh ginger instead of powdered. Super easy, and it was fab. Tasted like party food. You just mix up the meatball ingredients and bake them, and then roll them around in the heated glaze which is just three ingredients, and serve.

I had already served rice that week and I was planning to do it agin, so rather than making rice as a side, I made a vegetable lo mein, as you can see. I usually make lo mein with linguine or fettuccine, but this time I had some very thin Chinese noodles I had grabbed at the International Market. They boiled up in no time, like two minutes, which was fun. I did my easy lo mein sauce

Jump to Recipe

I sauteed up some minced ginger and garlic, then added the leftover sweet peppers, then a little mirin, then the noodles and sauce and heated it all up. Delicious. The whole meal came together, start to finish, in like 45 minutes (moving fast). 

Definitely making these meatballs again. They tasted like party food. They would also be good, maybe even better, with ground turkey.

THURSDAY
Chicken biryani, giant taboon

I’ve had biryani on my mind for a few weeks, so today was the day. This recipe calls for chicken thighs, and that really is the superior kind of chicken for it, but what was on sale was chicken ribs, so that’s what I used. 

I also used actual basmati rice, which I sometimes am too cheap for. I had forgotten this, but it cooks up much faster than short grain white rice; so if you struggle with getting the rice cooked all the way through with biryani, it definitely helps to have the right rice! Anyway I anticipated undercooked rice, so I made the biryani in the morning and put it in the slow cooker for the rest of the day, which generally takes care of any chompy rice by dinner time. 

Turned out great. This being Mother’s Choice week, I did not omit the golden raisins, which the kids don’t like. But they’re easy to pick out, so that’s what they did.

And maybe I went around after dinner and ate up all the little plump, savory, leftover golden raisins on their plates, who can say. Maybe I’m the one who ate the pizza!

(I did not.) So, the chicken breast was a little bit dry, as I expected. Still a wonderful dish. I keep thinking I might try a different biryani recipe, but everyone likes this one, so why. 

At the last minute, I decided to make a Giant Taboon. My naan is kind of hit or miss, mostly miss, and it was too late to start it anyway, but taboon is fast and easy and delightful. Five minutes to put the ingredients together, an hour to rise, ten minutes to rest the dough, and 10-15 minutes to bake. I called everyone down for supper, and then I pulled this lovely pneumatic lady out of the oven:

I made it with a big rolled lip out of force of habit, because I usually make tabboon to go along with mussakhan (Palestian chicken with sumac and red onions) and you serve the chicken right on top of the bread

and I like to make a little lip to keep the juices in. Aghh, I gotta make mussakhan again. It’s so good. 

Oh, I’m almost at the end of the week and I didn’t tell you about my leetle misadventure with wood. The short version is that I had already cut away the rotten wood, replaced it with sound wood, and attached cross pieces on, and stained the underside; and also retrieved the pieces I already laid into the swamp before I realized I really needed to stain them. So then I wanted to flip the two long pieces over so I could stain the other side; but I couldn’t do it the horizontal way, which is easier, because I didn’t want to snap the cross pieces off

So I did what any mother would do: I dragged the kids into it. Four of us hoisted up one short end and carefully walked our hands down until it was basically standing on its end. Then I was like, “Okay, now just me and Lena, and everyone else get out of the way, and Lena, you stand to the side, because it might leap out!” 

You know this is a dumb story. Dumber than the dog eating the whole raw pizza, because his excuse is that he is a dog, whereas I am a college graduate and this was a very dumb idea. 

So we gave it a big shove, and of course it did leap out, but not like I expected, and it thwacked both me and Lena so hard that we both fell down and its fwiggen lucky we didn’t both have multiple broken bones. Do you want to see my leg?? 

Well, I just spent kind of a long time trying to figure out how to insert some code for one of those “click to see image” things, but I’m too full of raw dough, I mean I can’t figure it out, but for some misbegotten reason I really want to show you my leg, which isn’t even that bad. Lena’s is much worse. I’ll put the image at the end of the recipes, and if you are really motivated, you can scroll all the way down and see my leg. I find bruises fascinating, and this one kind of looks like a leaping rabbit. Madeline would be proud.

Oh, so then the long piece was somehow suspended in the air like this

I slapped a bunch of stain on it and dragged a tarp over it just as it began to rain, because I may be an idiot, but I’m not really sure how this sentence is supposed to end.

Damien promised that, when I was ready to flip the second long piece over, I should call him and he he would come over and say, “No, not like that! You’ll get hurt!” (He also said he would help flip it over.) This is what you call traditional marriage roles, and I didn’t even have to become a football player to figure it out. 

P.S. The dog did go to the vet today for his shots, and they confirmed that he is fine, and just likes pizza. Who among us. 

FRIDAY
I don’t know. 
I was planning tuna boats, but Moe and Eliora are coming over, so maybe I will take it up a notch. Or maybe not! Maybe I will throw some wood at them and pretend I thought they ate the pizza. This is MY WEEK, and I can do what I want! Which always turns out well. 

 

Beef marinade for fajita bowls

enough for 6-7 lbs of beef

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together.

  2. Pour over beef, sliced or unsliced, and marinate several hours. If the meat is sliced, pan fry. If not, cook in a 350 oven, uncovered, for about 40 minutes. I cook the meat in all the marinade and then use the excess as gravy.

Basic pie crust

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  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.

 

basic lo mein

Ingredients

for the sauce

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 5 tsp sesame oil
  • 5 tsp sugar

for the rest

  • 32 oz uncooked noodles
  • sesame oil for cooking
  • add-ins (vegetables sliced thin or chopped small, shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • 2/3 cup rice vinegar (or mirin, which will make it sweeter)

Instructions

  1. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

  2. Boil the noodles until slightly underdone. Drain and set aside.

  3. Heat up a pan, add some sesame oil for cooking, and quickly cook your vegetables or whatever add-ins you have chosen.

  4. Add the mirin to the pan and deglaze it.

  5. Add the cooked noodles in, and stir to combine. Add the sauce and stir to combine.

taboon bread

You can make separate pieces, like pita bread, or you can make one giant slab of taboon. This makes enough to easily stretch over a 15x21" sheet pan.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups bread flour
  • 4 packets yeast
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer.

  2. While it is running, add the olive oil. Then gradually add the water until the dough is soft and sticky. You may not need all of it. Let it run for a while to see if the dough will pull together before you need all the water. Knead or run with the dough hook for another few minutes.

  3. Put the dough in a greased bowl, grease the top, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot for at least an hour until it has doubled in size.

  4. Preheat the oven to 400. Put a greased pan or a baking stone in the oven to heat up.

  5. If you are making separate pieces, divide it now and cover with a damp cloth. If you're making one big taboon, just handle it a bit, then put it back in the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Let rest ten minutes.

  6. Using a little flour, roll out the dough into the shape or shapes you want. Poke it all over with your fingertips to give it the characterstic dimpled appearance.

  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes until it's just slightly browned.

 

WATCH OUT, HERE COMES A PICTURE OF MY LEG 

Probably not as bad as you were expecting, with all that build-up. But doesn’t it look like a rabbit? 

What’s for supper? Vol. 377: In which we make it through the week in one piece

Happy Friday! I truly don’t know what I did this week. It felt dramatic and exhausting, and yet I don’t have very much to show for it. Unlike the natural world, which is putting on a completely spectacular show this spring. Every last little thing is absolutely laden with blossoms. We’re still not quite safe to plant most things outside, here, but I’ve been starting all the seeds I can get my hands on indoors. When I finally move everything into the garden, the house is going to feel huge and empty! 

Someone was asking me WHERE I put all these open pots of soil, and the answer is: On windowsills, on countertops, on chairs,

and on shelves that I’ve cleared off and stuffed all the former occupants in bags. Of. But the real answer is, I don’t have babies or toddlers. That turns out to be the solution to a lot of things! Simply have ten children, rest up for nine years, and then you can start some seeds.

The other answer is that I’ve been using the cold sowing technique indoors, as well as outdoors, meaning I use juice bottles and milk jugs and salad and  strawberry cartons, add drainage holes if necessary, cut the top 2/3 off but leaving a hinge, fill the bottom with soil and plant some seeds, water it, and then tape it shut. This not only makes it harder to spill if someone knocks it over (we do have an extremely naughty cat, who doesn’t mind walking on toothpicks), but if you’re bad at remembering to water seedlings, this is the method for you.

It’s basically a little terrarium, and you do need to water it occasionally when you notice no droplets condensing on the top, but none of this “keep soil evenly moist” nonsense. 

Anyway, this year I have started: Marigolds, sunflowers, zinnias, creeping veronica, cosmos, and morning glories; basil, garlic, pumpkins, butternut squash, and eggplants; and I just put some gladioli and clematis in the ground, plus a Sarah Bernhardt peony root.  I have sugar snap peas and glass gem corn that will probably do better if I sow it directly outside. May 30 is the magic day! But this weekend, I will take the straw covering off my strawberries and asparagus. And the rhubarb is visibly growing day to day. The Brussels sprouts survived the winter, but I think I’ll pull them out, because I’m a little tired of them. Definitely doing more collard greens this year. I am also going to direct sow more sunflowers, marigolds, and cosmos with the rest of the seeds I saved from last year. I know some people do ten times this much every year, but this is by far my most elaborate planting effort, and I’m pretty excited!

Anyway, five paragraphs in, let’s talk about food. Here is what we ate this week: 

SATURDAY
Chicken salad with blueberries and almonds

Saturday, shopping day. Nothing spectacular, but a pleasant salad of roast chicken breast on greens with almonds and blueberries. This salad is better with feta cheese or goat cheese, diced red onion, and some buttery croutons, but I made up for that by eating it outside, which is the butteriest crouton of them all

in a certain sense. 

I need to figure out what’s going into the St. Joseph garden once the tulips and daffodils pass by. It’s shaded about half the day by the peach tree, and I’d love some suggestions for a bright perennial or two I can plant on top of/alongside bulbs!

SUNDAY
Chicken shawarma, pita

Sunday was Cinco de Mayo, but I hadn’t planned anything spectacular, and Clara is home for the summer and Moe was over to learn how to change oil, so I changed it to Shawarma de Mayo.

Same old yummy shawarma recipe

Jump to Recipe

except maybe I bumped up the hot pepper flakes a little, because it did taste a little peppier than usual. No complaints! Boneless, skinless chicken thighs is the best kind of chicken for this dish.

I also decided to make pita, and I’m not really happy with the recipes I’ve tried in the past, so I tried a new one, because I was enthralled by the sheer puffiness of the photo in this recipe. This one had you fry the pita for thirty seconds on one side, then thirty seconds on the other, then brush it with oil and fry another five minutes, flipping it frequently. I thought six minutes sounded excessive, but I’m trying to swear off going straight from “why does my food never turn out like the picture” to “she’s crazy, I’m not doing that” to “why does my food never turn out etc etc,” so I did it by the timer. 
GUESS WHAT? The pita burned. 

This doesn’t look too burned, because I wised up about halfway through and decreased the time and temperature, but I’m telling you. I have some kind of middle eastern curse on me, and my pita just never turns out, no matter what I do. I mean everybody ate it and said nice things about it, but I was a little sad. 

Can’t be too sad when you’re eating shawarma with tomatoes and cucumbers and olives and feta cheese and parsley and garlicky yogurt sauce, though. 

Simply can’t! 

MONDAY
Shepherd’s pie

Speaking of Cinco de Mayo, the local supermarkets seem to have noticed that there’s some trickiness around an overwhelmingly white population suddenly making a lot of tacos and margaritas on May 5 because it’s the Fourth of July or something; so they hedge their bets by putting ground beef on sale and suggesting some chili recipes, but not saying why. 

It’s possible I’m overthinking this, but I do spend a lot of time looking at supermarket flyers, and I know I’m right. The upshot is that I bought quite a bit of ground beef, and for Cuatro de Mayo I made shepherd’s pie. 

I remembered that I had written a wonderful recipe for this

Jump to Recipe

so I checked it out, and discovered that you guys are very polite, and never mention how terrible my recipes are. I didn’t, for instance, feel the need to write down ANY MEASUREMENTS. The recipe is basically, “Hey, remember how good shepherd’s pie is? You should make that! With corn.”

Sorry about that. Anyway, I did make that.

But for some reason I can’t remember, I put tin foil on the top and then left the house. I texted one of the kids to remove the tinfoil toward the end, and when I got home, I turned on the broiler to brown it up. This gave the potato top a nice crisp top, but unfortunately the inside had kind of steamed inside the foil, so it was just so gloppy when I served it up. 

Or maybe I made the white sauce for the meat too thin because I hadn’t written down any proportions, who can say. It tasted great. Just kinda gloppy. 

Also on Monday, I suddenly faced a truth I had been avoiding: The wooden ramps I was planning to make into the bog bridge has some very rotten spots on it.

So I dragged out the reciprocating saw, which is a truly terrible tool. It seems designed, in a way that other power saws aren’t, to turn on you and carve you up. So I was talking out loud to myself, as you will not be surprised to learn that I do, and I said, “Oh, I hate this machine. I’m always afraid I’m going to hurt myself” and then immediately whacked myself in the eyeball with the end of the power cord. 

This minor injury apparently propitiated the power tool gods, and I didn’t lose any limbs or even digits. I did cut off a bunch of rotten wood, which was satisfying

and then got out the drill, which doesn’t scare me as much, and screwed on a long beam to replace the part I had removed. Got that on nice and tight.

Then I noticed that the new beam also had a rotten part.

Then I said some other things out loud to myself, and went inside. 

TUESDAY
Burgers, party mix, corn, birthday cake

Tuesday was Moe’s birthday, and he requested burgers. That’s a can do. 

He asked for a chocolate cake and to be surprised with the decoration, even knowing what . . . mixed . . . results this can sometimes yield. But I had a brain wave and remembered that he used to be absolutely crazy about One Piece. I remember some rides home from school where it was nothing but him shouting “AND THEN THE MONKEY WHO HAS BILLIARD BALLS FOR HANDS ATE THE MAGIC TOOTSI FRUITSI BEAN AND HE GOT THE POWER TO MAKE PEOPLE THINK HE WAS A POTTED PLANT EVEN THOUGH HE WASN’T ACTUALLY AND THAT’S HOW HE DEFEATED THE SEWING MACHINE CLAN THAT LIVES ON THE ISLAND OF PICKLE JUICE” while I just focused on not driving off a bridge. Apparently it’s actually a fairly tragic story, but that part eluded me, because of all the shouting. 

The thing I do know about One Piece is that is has a logo that is mostly made of circles. So I says to myself, I says, this is a job for fondant. I haven’t really used fondant before, and it turns out they are not kidding when they say you should wash your hands a lot. Which I did, but it was still one of my smudgier cakes. But he liked it!

I liked working with fondant. Gum paste is good for molding 3D figures, but the fondant was super easy to roll and cut flat shapes. I was rushing, so I didn’t make it as smooth or even as I might have, but I know how to if I have time next time!

And I, perhaps alone in the world, like the taste of fondant. So there. 

Oh, it was just a box cake, but for the chocolate frosting, I used this King Arthur recipe, which turned out well. 

WEDESDAY
Tacos and beans

For Seis de Mayo, we had tacos. (For those keeping track, this is ground beef incident #3 for the week.) I seasoned the meat with garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder. I also made a pot of black beans in the Instant Pot

Jump to Recipe

and they looked so good to me, I just had beans on tortilla chips. 

Thinking about those beans. 

Also on Wednesday, I faced the fact that I really truly need to put some kind of waterproof stain on the bog bridge, if I don’t want it to go right back to being rotten, or more rotten, or rotten fixed with things that also turn out to be rotten. Truth be told, I’m feeling a little bit down about stuff in general! Ah well. 

So I bought some stain and got the kids to move them into an upright position for me, and that is as far as that’s gotten. 

THURSDAY
Pizza

Nothing to report, except that I wanted to use up some sandwich pepperoni, so I cut that into fourths and put it on the pizza, and then filled in the gaps with normal small, round pepperoni. The result was something that struck me as slightly rad, somehow. 

Doesn’t this look like an early 90’s pizza? Like a Rugrats pizza or something? I don’t know. I’m disabled, I got attacked by a reciprocating saw and I’ve never been the same. 

FRIDAY

Mac and cheese, I suppose. We have to go see the endocrinologist so the doctor can say the kid’s numbers are good, and I can pretend that’s somehow due to my attentive maintenance, rather than sheer luck. And then there is a family dance party this evening that Corrie desperately wants to go to, and she is planning to wear her dress with the mushroom print and her green cloak. I love that she goes to a school where this is FINE. People will say “cool cloak!” and that is all. 

I think the last time I danced was . . . yes, at my own wedding. Maybe I’ll wear a cloak, too. 

Chicken shawarma

Ingredients

  • 8 lbs boned, skinned chicken thighs
  • 4-5 red onions
  • 1.5 cups lemon juice
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs, 2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbs, 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 entire head garlic, crushed

Instructions

  1. Mix marinade ingredients together, then add chicken. Put in ziplock bag and let marinate several hours or overnight.

  2. Preheat the oven to 425.

  3. Grease a shallow pan. Take the chicken out of the marinade and spread it in a single layer on the pan, and top with the onions (sliced or quartered). Cook for 45 minutes or more. 

  4. Chop up the chicken a bit, if you like, and finish cooking it so it crisps up a bit more.

  5. Serve chicken and onions with pita bread triangles, cucumbers, tomatoes, assorted olives, feta cheese, fresh parsley, pomegranates or grapes, fried eggplant, and yogurt sauce.

 

Yogurt sauce

Ingredients

  • 32 oz full fat Greek yogurt
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • fresh parsley or dill, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Use for spreading on grilled meats, dipping pita or vegetables, etc. 

 

Leftover lamb shepherd's pie

This recipe uses lots of shortcuts and it is delicious.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.

  2. Prepare the mashed potatoes and set aside.

  3. Heat and drain the corn. (I heated mine up in beef broth for extra flavor.)

  4. In a saucepan, melt the butter and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Stir in pepper.

  5. Add the flour gradually, stirring with a fork, until it becomes a thick paste. Add in the cream and continue stirring until it is blended. Add in the cooked meat and stir in the Worcestershire sauce.

  6. Add enough broth until the meat mixture is the consistency you want.

  7. Grease a casserole dish and spread the meat mixture on the bottom. Spread the corn over the meat. Top with the mashed potatoes and spread it out to cover the corn. Use a fork to add texture to mashed potatoes, so they brown nicely.

  8. Cook for about forty minutes, until the top is lightly browned and the meat mixture is bubbly. (Finish browning under broiler if necessary.)

Instant Pot black beans

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 16-oz cans black beans with liquid
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Put olive oil pot of Instant Pot. Press "saute" button. Add diced onion and minced garlic. Saute, stirring, for a few minutes until onion is soft. Press "cancel."

  2. Add beans with liquid. Add cumin, salt, and cilantro. Stir to combine. Close the lid, close the vent, and press "slow cook."

Eilieen Cunis: The art of whatever is asked for right now

Eileen Cunis, 67, makes banners for churches. Not those primitive and graceless felt-and-burlap banners that dominated liturgical decor through the ’60s or ’70s, but thoughtfully crafted, dignified works of art produced by a woman who just wants to walk through whatever door the Lord has opened for her.

One of Cunis’ pieces, a processional banner of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, was recently accepted for the National Eucharistic Revival Art Exhibit, and it will travel from Connecticut to Indiana. It is a shining, intricate, iconlike work with many layers of fabric and brocade carefully pressed, folded and sewn into position, the faces and hands of Mary and her baby delicately rendered in paint.

As delighted as Cunis is to have her fabric work honored, she’d really rather be painting. She prefers the freedom and flexibility of working exclusively with paint, and she’s starting to wade into the deep waters of iconography, with its profound theology of light.

“I would love for a priest to say, ‘I have this big wall and I want you to do a big mural, and it’s going to be in the church for 50 or 100 years,’” she said. But it all comes down to how the Lord is leading her right now.

Right now, she’s just finished a set of four tapestries for Sacred Heart Church in Bloomfield, Connecticut, a building that had some vast, empty spaces to fill. It’s a gymnasiumlike structure, and that’s not just a coincidence. The church was built in 1962, when Catholicism in the United States was still burgeoning. The congregation assumed their parish would continue to flourish and grow, so they built the church intending to eventually convert it into a gym for the Catholic school.

“It just didn’t happen,” Cunis said. “People were caught flat-footed, and the gymnasium church remained the church.”

The school closed in the ’80s, a nearby church also closed, and the large, simple structure of Sacred Heart became the main church building for the congregation. It had been decorated and made suitable for worship, but still had a rather bleak facade on the apse wall.

The pastor saw Cunis’ work in a local shop, and a lightbulb went on. The gray space has now been transformed by a small host of angels rendered in shining fabric.

Cunis’ first banner, though, wasn’t designed to enliven a large space, but just the opposite…

Read the rest of my latest artist profile at Our Sunday Visitor

What’s for supper? Vol. 376: Lassi, get help!

Hap the Friday! We had another super busy week, because late April and May are “quick get this in before school ends” time, and then rather than using my free time to get caught up on writing, I made the irrational but irresistible choice to get started on my bog bridge and some other stuff. I cannot tell you how good it is to be outside building again, with all the sounds and smells and busy creatures of spring. I may have shouted, “HELLO, BEAUTIFUL. YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL” at a wasp, who was not impressed. But have you seen the world?

My dear peach tree has more blossoms than I’ve ever seen on it, and the tulips all suddenly popped open yesterday.

Just delightful. I have a very beautiful life. 

Here’s what we ate!

SATURDAY
Italian deli sandwiches, chips

Saturday was shopping day, of course, and I opted for nice, easy sandwiches. Baguettes and various salamis and whatnot, plus tomatoes and red pesto, olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. 

The ideal Saturday meal, even if I did forget the basil. 

SUNDAY
Rigatoni alla disgraziata

Sunday I dug up some of the yard and put together a little raised bed next to the rhubarb. I’m very pleased with myself for spending zero doll hairs on this.

 

The border is partly wattle fence harvested from the woods, partly slabs of wood stolen from Damien’s woodpile, and partly rocks that I’m about 83% are not pet grave markers. I filled it with compost from my compost heap, which I’ve haven’t touched all winter. I didn’t do any of the things: Didn’t water it, didn’t turn it, didn’t layer it, whatever. I just dumped anything biodegradable there — soil from other yard projects, food waste, and used duck bedding. I was nervous about digging into it, not knowing if it would be horrible wads of banana peels and eggshells mixed in with sprouting weeds, or what. 

Behold, my gorgeous compost:

Isn’t that lovely? It is soooo rich and dark.

I’ll probably plant peas and eggplants in this bed. You can see the strawberries and asparagus are still covered with straw. We can’t really grow much outdoors until the end of May here. 

 

Speaking of eggplant, I had a few eggplants I bought and didn’t use last week, so I made rigatoni alla disgraziata,

Jump to Recipe

which is very tasty and filling. Once I added sausage to this dish, but it just felt like overkill, so this time I made it with just the regular ingredients: Toasted breadcrumbs, chunks of eggplant, pasta, a red sauce, and plenty of cheese (good mozzarella and freshly-grated parmesan on top)

I was actually rushing a bit and undercooked the eggplant slightly, so it wasn’t as soft and well-combined as it could have been, but it was still delicious. I also made a quick sauce to go with it:  Sautéed some garlic and onions in olive oil, then added a couple of cans of whole tomatoes, torn up, with the juice; a couple of little cans of tomato paste, some red wine and some water, and red pepper flakes. Savory and lovely. 

On Sunday I also discovered that Sonny has been roaming the whole neighborhood, and not just our property, as I foolishly believed. This is not great because the neighbors have a rescue dog who doesn’t think Sonny is charming at all, and in fact wants to kill him. So he’s been having supervised outdoor trips all week, which is exhausting for us and baffling for him; so, it looks like we’re going to spend the weekend making some kind of stupid ass fence out of the snow fence I picked off the side of the road a while back. I was planning to make an enlarged duck pen with the snow fence, but while it turns out the ducks also have been visiting the neighbors, they’re smarter than Sonny, and stay away from ferocious dogs.

in short, we are the problem. Can’t even smooth things over with free duck eggs, because everyone around here has ducks. Perhaps a dozen dog eggs– no no, that’ll never work. 

MONDAY
Pork chops, asparagus cheese tart

Monday I had some pork chops, which is not my favorite.  Hard to know what to do with them so they don’t dry out. I decided to make a quick sauce using this recipe from Recipe Tin Eats (which is a whole meal with potatoes, but I just made the sauce). I was extremely distracted and the sauce came out really thin, and I didn’t feel like basting the chops, so guess what? The pork chops were dry. 

I thought I’d make up for it with a sure-fire side dish, an asparagus tart. This is super easy: You just roll out some puff pastry dough, sprinkle it with shredded cheese (I had gruyère), lay the asparagus on top, and bake it until it’s puffy and lightly browned. 

I myself thought it was delicious, but the kids were not terribly impressed. I definitely ate cold, chewy asparagus tart for lunch for the rest of the week, though, so not a total loss. 

So this meal fell a little flat

But! I ate it outside under the peach tree with the sparrows and cardinals hollering happily from the bushes, so no real complaints. 

TUESDAY
Chicken burgers, vegetables and dip

Tuesday we had appointments in the morning and then an awards ceremony in the evening, so this was a problem only chicken burgers could solve. I did cut up a big tray of vegetables and serve it with dip. Did not take a picture of food; did manage to snap Sophia being recognized for her art.

and it’s a good thing she was recognized, because you wouldn’t be able to do that based on my photography! (She is holding a puppet of the head of her art teacher, who wasn’t able to be there in person.) 

WEDNESDAY
Frozen whatnot

Wednesday I swear I was writing some stuff, but then somehow I was out in the woods cutting down young aspens to clip and make into more wattle fence.

Sonny had some business of his own to attend to, but there’s nothing really terrible he can do in that direction, so I let him roam, and then we went back to work on the fence. 

This sometimes causes misunderstandings, because at other times, I like to play “No, that’s MY stick! You can’t have it! You give me that stick back!” with Sonny, and he thinks it’s hilarious. But when I’m working on the fence, I really mean it, and it’s very confusing for him. Poor guy. 

Anyway, does the fence look elegant and wonderful? Not really! But it’s surprisingly sturdy, and I immensely enjoy sitting on a plastic milk crate (which is the absolute best seat for outdoor work, if you get a real milk crate, not one of those flimsy college dorm storage things) and forcing whippy little branches in out of stakes. It’s like a little puzzle, choosing the right one to go next, and also figuring out if it should go in the front or the back of each stake. 

I am now quite sure there is something amiss with my brain, because I have a VERY very hard time with simple alternating patterns. Same thing happens with left/right movements in yoga. Sometimes I just can’t see it, and the harder I push, the more confused I get. Brains are weird. Luckily, this is completely made-up project that I’m doing just because I enjoy it, so I can just go, “Hey, brain-o, you tried” and get back to wattling. 

Wednesday we were supposed to go the youth group cookout, but the afternoon quickly devolved into WHY NOT SPEND HOURS DRIVING, INSTEAD? and the kids thought Aldi pizza would save the day. But Aldi, being Aldi, was out of pizza. Well, they had some cauliflower crust pizza, and some pizza with teriyaki chicken or something on it, which. Listen. 

So I got a bunch of frozen taquitos and found some pigs in a blanket in the freezer

and nobody was mad. I also bought them soda just because they asked for it. But I got store brand, because I’m still the boss.

THURSDAY
Green masala lamb curry, rice, minty yogurt sauce, mango lassi

Thursday, I got dinner started in the morning. I had bought one of those weird lamb breast plates on sale a while back, so I defrosted that and got it marinating in this green curry from Flavours Of My Kitchen. Not gonna lie, it has a lot of ingredients

and I think I used too much mint. The mint is the weird icy green cubes you see in the bowl, top right, with the jalapeños. I was using some mint I had frozen last fall, so it was hard to judge how much I was using, and I think it overpowered the cilantro a bit. (The other bowl is yogurt with turmeric and salt.) Plus I used black coriander instead of green, which I KNOW is not the same; and also jalapeños are not the right pepper. But I was having fun anyway, because Indian cooking is just a lot of fun.

So I made the curry paste and got the meat marinating, and then, again without making any conscious decisions, I just found myself outside working on the bog bridge. The area looked like this:

The dark part in back is the stream, which is a heavenly spot, but not very easy to get to.

So first I waded in (it’s VERY wet this year) and picked out the trash and pulled out those rotting pallets we laid down a few years ago when it was less wet. And let me tell you, I’m kind of a connoisseur of schlorping sounds, and the schlorp those pallets made when I dragged them out of their muddy home was top notch. Just exquisite. 

Well, when it’s done, I’ll probably write a whole other post about my ridiculous process, but the upshot is I DID make progress and I did NOT step on any nails and although I THREATENED to drill a hole in the dog’s head and let the sap run out, I did not follow through. 

And when I ran out of outdoor screws, I resisted the urge to use drywall screws, or little random bent nails, or hot glue. Maybe I have learned something after all. 

Anyway, I eventually went back inside and scraped a tremendous amount of smelly mud and swamp slime off my legs and got back to dinner. First I warmed up some spices in oil

in the Instant Pot. Then I moved it to a skillet for more space, fried up a bunch of red onions, and then seared the lamb in the onions. 

Then I moved it all back to the Instant Pot and pressure cooked it with a little water for 22 minutes on high. Then I moved it back to the skillet to keep warm while I cooked the rice. (This is why I don’t make cooking videos: Because it’s mostly me going, “oh, crap, I need to make rice. Argh” and the fishing a dirty pan out of the sink.)

While the rice was cooking, I decided the curry tasted a little bit harsh, because of my aforementioned ingredient substitutions; so I thought a cooling sauce would help, and added some mint and lemon juice and a little salt to yogurt. Then I thought, speaking of cooling, dang, I could make mango lassi.

Frozen mango chunks are really cheap at Walmart, and I keep them in the house for snacks. Can’t find the lassi recipe I used, but I just threw some frozen mango chunks in the food processor along with a bunch of plain Greek yogurt, some milk, and a little sugar, and blended it until it was smooth and pretty. I couldn’t find my ground cardamom, so I added cinnamon. I think a little lime juice would have been nice, but I didn’t think of it. (If you’re using mango that isn’t frozen, you’ll need to add ice.)

It was a good meal! I found a little jar of coriander chutney, which I adore, and it was just yummy all around. 

You can see the mango lassi was nice and thick, based on how alertly that straw is standing at attention. Definitely making lassi again. The kids were enthusiastic. 

I will probably take a break from lamb breast plate, though. It is SO fatty, and it’s impossible to eat without being an absolute caveman about it. What meat there was was super tender, though, and juicy like crazy. 

FRIDAY
Tuna noodle?

We are going to an awards ceremony for Moe this time, so I’m not sure who is eating what and where. The kids did say they’d make themselves tuna noodle if I got the ingredients. 

And that’s it! I’ll end this on a musical note. Corrie is going to her first dance (she’s in third grade, so I guess this is going to be a pretty wholesome event) and they asked kids to list their most-wished-for songs. Here is her list:

 

 

 

She is available to DJ your wedding. Must be fed mango lassis. 

Rigatoni alla disgraziata

A hearty, meatless pasta dish with eggplant, breadcrumbs, and mozzarella

Ingredients

  • 2 lg eggplants with ends cut off, cut into one-inch pieces (skin on)
  • salt
  • 3/4 cup olive oil, plus a little extra for frying bread crumbs
  • 3 cups bread crumbs
  • 3 lbs rigatoni
  • 6 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 lb mozzarella
  • grated parmesan for topping

Instructions

  1. In a very large skillet or pot, heat up a little olive oil and toast the bread crumbs until lightly browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

  2. Put the 3/4 cup of olive oil in the pan, heat it again, and add the cubed eggplant. Cook for several minutes, stirring often, until eggplant is soft and slightly golden. Salt to taste. Add in sauce and stir to combine and heat sauce through. Keep warm.

  3. In another pot, cook the rigatoni in salted water. Drain. Add the pasta to the eggplant and sauce mixture. Add in the toasted breadcrumbs and the shredded mozzarella. Stir to combine. Serve with grated parmesan on top.

I did and did not learn about Jesus at the eclipse

A week before the solar eclipse that passed over much of the nation, I wrote an essay about it. I had a whole thesis worked out about how the sun is like Jesus and the moon is like the sacraments. I said that the power and glory of Jesus is like the blinding blaze of the sun, and although we live every day in its presence, we can only look upon it when it’s covered. Jesus is like the life-giving, illuminating, warming, but unapproachably brilliant sun, and he covered himself in mortal flesh for thirty-three years so people could live and walk with him, and now he covers his divinity under the species of bread and wine so we can see him, and eat him, and not be burned up. Someday, I said, our spiritual eyes will be changed so that we don’t need protection, but can behold him directly for eternity in Heaven.

Then I thought, maybe I should see the eclipse first.

So we packed a gigantic lunch and our special sunglasses and piled into the car, and plowed through hours of traffic to the spot up north where we could see the eclipse.

Did you see it? Were you there?

I saw it. I was not prepared.

I know why a solar eclipse happens. I’m very familiar with the science, and I’ve seen the little animated models, and I’ve seen countless amateur and professional photographs of total solar eclipses, too. I’ve also seen a partial solar eclipse and many lunar eclipses. I saw Haley’s Comet, and I’ve seen the rings of Saturn, and I’ve seen meteors so big and bright they leave a green streak across the sky. I’ve seen things in the sky that filled me with wonder and left me gasping and grateful for the strange beauty of the universe.

This was different. And it was not Jesus.

Read the rest of my latest for Our Sunday Visitor

Image: Flammarion engraving (public domain)

What’s for supper? Vol. 375: Laurus! Eagle! Burger!

Happy Friday!

First order of business: I am asking your prayers for a dear person who should be just about out of cancer surgery right now. There is a very good prognosis, but still! Thank you!

And here is our week. 

I didn’t look up a single recipe this week. Most of the kids were on April Vacation and I had it planned out down to the half-day, according to everyone’s work schedule and my to-do list and the weather forecast in two states. My friends, I did every single thing I meant to do. I am very proud of myself, and I had a really nice week with the kids.

The downside is, when I stop using recipes, I relapse straight into “hot meat topped with hot cheese” territory. Which is not necessarily a bad thing! Just, you know, not very vegeteful.  

SATURDAY
Bagel, egg, cheese, and sausage sandwiches

Saturday of course I went shopping, then did a ton of yard clearing. I picked up SO much trash, including burnt-out fireworks from July 4th, and hacked away a bunch of wild blackberry canes (and I do mean wild. I’m still digging thorn tips out of my skin), and I cleared out a bunch of flower beds, mostly stuff that is just barely coming up and is still just green babies, but also some stuff I put in while utterly loopy with Covid

The tulips are done, but the daffodils will keep on multiplying for years to come. Sometimes when you’re out in the woods, you’ll see the remains of scattered stone walls, and you can guess that this was once pasture land, back when New Hampshire was wall-t0-wall sheep. Or sometimes you will even see the remnants of a root cellar or the foundations of the house, all smothered and overgrown with greenery, and you will think, “This grove of pines is standing right where someone used to have their kitchen.”

Or sometimes, there will be only a few stray rocks, and it’s hard to tell if they were set there on purpose by human hands, or just by the slow rearranging of the world by the push of water and crumbling earth. But then you see daffodils, evenly spaced, and that is all that is left of someone’s home. They’re not as easy to get rid of as something temporary like a homestead! So, this is why I plants lots and lots of daffodils every fall. 

I also put together an extremely chimpy little potting station

which might not look like much, but now I have a PLACE for things. I’m not saying I WILL put my trowel and my clippers and my zip ties away when I’m done with them, but now I CAN. 

And then I came in and sorted shoes, threw away many, many ragged, stinky pairs, and matched up 90% of the boots and put them away, started washing the winter jackets and snow pants, and bagged the hats and gloves. Whew! So then we had a quick, easy dinner.

The kids claim not to like duck eggs, but they eat them as long as I don’t tell them they’re duck eggs. As if you can’t tell! Look at that giant yolk. 

SUNDAY
Blackened chicken thigh sandwiches with peppers and cheese

Sunday I did a ton of writing and then we had spicy chicken thigh sandwiches with shishito peppers, melted cheese, red onion, and barbecue sauce, using this recipe from Sip and Feast.

I usually make this recipe when boneless, skinless chicken thighs are on sale, but this time I got plain thighs and skinned and de-boned them myself. I was surprised to find that they take much longer to cook this way, probably because . . . something something muscle fiber integrity and moisture retention, I don’t know. Just something to know for the future.

You just season them heavily (I used Tony Chachere’s) and fry them slowly in oil on both sides. When they were finally cooked, I shifted them into one pan and laid the cheese on to melt, while blistering up the peppers and toasting the buns.

Served them with BBQ sauce and raw red onion, yum yum.

I made a giant raw vegetable platter and we had that with dip. 

That evening, we had a long-promised fire and roasted marshmallows. I often struggle with building fires, so I was really happy to discover that I do fine with wood and kindling I have gathered myself. I just struggle with lighting fires from gross, waxy chunks of wood with a plastic handle stapled to it that I purchased at the supermarket. 

I HATE buying wood. I might build a little shelter and spend an afternoon gathering up a summer’s worth of dry wood, just for marshmallow purposes. But this was a fine fire. 

Then we doused it with water and stirred it with a stick. 

MONDAY
Pizza

Monday I did more writing and more flowerbed clearing and forgot to take the pizza dough out of the freezer in time, so I had to defrost it in the microwave, which produces less-than-satisfactory results. It wasn’t inedible, but definitely not the finest crust. 

I made one olive pizza, one pepperoni, and one misc refrigerator discoveries: Leftover shishito peppers, leftover red onion, some fresh garlic, and some ricotta cheese. 

Pretty tasty, even with the bum crust. 

TUESDAY
Hamburgers, chips

Tuesday, some of the kids and I set out to explore Otter Brook Dam. Damien and I have kayaked on the lake, and sometimes Damien and Moe go fishing there, but we’ve never tried out the hiking path. Excellent day. 

 

And we saw a bald eagle! When I was growing up, there were zero nesting pairs in NH, and I never thought I’d see an eagle in the wild. Now there are about 100 active nesting pairs, and they’re all over! Amazing. I love a good recovery story. 

I figured we’d be hungry after hiking, so we had hamburgers again. I make burgers in the oven under a hot broiler, using 70% lean beef. The fattier ground beef is much easier to handle and shape, and it’s cheaper, too; and then you cook them over something with drainage

and they turn out juicy but not greasy. 

Burgers and chips, yay!

I think this was the night we watched Men In Black. That movie is hilarious and really holds up. 

WEDNESDAY
Pan fried chicken, fries

Wednesday was rainy, and I girded my loins and we cleaned Corrie’s half of the room. No power under heaven could make me show you a “before” or even an “after” picture, but we cleaned that room. She agreed it was time to pass along the rocking horse known as “Toe Crusher” to some other lucky family, and I found one (1) bag of corn (previously frozen, now thawed and halfway to moonshine). And it turns out she DOES have pants. I told her she had pants. 

I had been planning to make chicken cooked in this yakitori sauce, plus rice and maybe fried eggplant, but I ran out of time, so I just seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and chili powder, and slowly fried it in hot oil. 

and I cooked a bunch of frozen fries. Not spectacular, but I was running so late, everyone was starving by supper time. For the amount of time it took, I could have made breaded and oven-fried chicken, which is a tasty recipe

Jump to Recipe

but the oven was full of fries. It was good enough!

THURSDAY

On Thursday we took advantage of the free kid’s ticket deal at Old Sturbridge Village, which is, in fact, like the 1830’s except without the racists, and I bet you five bucks Taylor Swift went to Old Sturbridge Village in fourth grade just like I did. I remembered exactly two things from that trip: The lady making cookies on a fire, and the gift shop. So I wasn’t actually sure how much fun it would be, but it was great! We met my friend Theresa

We strolled around for several hours. Bunch of pictures here:

 

Really good day, and everyone enjoyed it. We stopped at McDonald’s on the way home. I wanted to listen to the Trump trial on the way there, but on the way back, Lucy took charge and we were treated to her curated Box Social Playlist, which includes De La Soul, The Killers, The Beastie Boys, a little French Electroswing, and so on. My kids are all such interesting monsters. 

I stayed up super late because we went to bed around midnight and then I thought I would read for ten minutes or so to help me drift off to sleep, and the book I picked up was Laurus, and the part I was up to was the part where he meets Ustina . . .

So, if you have read this book, you will know that I did not drift off to sleep. I read for two hours with my eyes bugging out and other parts of me clenched, and when I finally forced myself to put the book down and go to sleep, I had some weird frickin dreams. NO SPOILERS PLEASE. I’m only on page 101!

FRIDAY
Ravioli

Ravioli is what they wanted, so ravioli they shall get. And maybe I will do something with that eggplant. 

We’ve had a certain amount of duck drama this week. Spring is an emotional time for ducks, especially drakes, and EJ and Coin had some interpersonal issues to work out; and then, in an unrelated incident, EJ hurt his leg, so he’s been spending his nights in the infirmary, which happens to be Damien’s office. But he’s doing much better and hobbling around and looking good (I mean EJ, not Damien. Damien always looks good, but he was not hobbling!), which is a relief, because if I was going to kill and eat anyone, I would really prefer it to be Coin.

And now Ducklings Annie and Bebe are outside for the first time in their lives, so get ready for a bunch of duckling content while we work on integrating them with the big ducks! Corrie just went to get some peas, and not one but two of my kids intercepted her to nab some frozen peas for themselves before the ducks got them. So, stay tuned for increased vegetable content this coming week, too, I guess. 

Oven-fried chicken

so much easier than pan frying, and you still get that crisp skin and juicy meat

Ingredients

  • chicken parts (wings, drumsticks, thighs)
  • milk (enough to cover the chicken at least halfway up)
  • eggs (two eggs per cup of milk)
  • flour
  • your choice of seasonings (I usually use salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, and chili powder)
  • oil and butter for cooking

Instructions

  1. At least three hours before you start to cook, make an egg and milk mixture and salt it heavily, using two eggs per cup of milk, so there's enough to soak the chicken at least halfway up. Beat the eggs, add the milk, stir in salt, and let the chicken soak in this. This helps to make the chicken moist and tender.

  2. About 40 minutes before dinner, turn the oven to 425, and put a pan with sides into the oven. I use a 15"x21" sheet pan and I put about a cup of oil and one or two sticks of butter. Let the pan and the butter and oil heat up.

  3. While it is heating up, put a lot of flour in a bowl and add all your seasonings. Use more than you think is reasonable! Take the chicken parts out of the milk mixture and roll them around in the flour until they are coated on all sides.

  4. Lay the floured chicken in the hot pan, skin side down. Let it cook for 25 minutes.

  5. Flip the chicken over and cook for another 20 minutes.

  6. Check for doneness and serve immediately. It's also great cold.

Two very different family-friendly games: Dixit and Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza

It’s vacation week here, and we’re playing some games! We have two new (to us) games in the house, and they’re both good family games (i.e., designed to be played by people of different ages together), and they’re both easy to learn. Very different in every other way, though. 

First game: 

First Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza

This is just a deck of cards that comes in a little box, and it costs about $10. You can play with two more more people, and it’s plenty of fun with just two. 

Each card has on it, as you might expect, a picture of either a taco, a cat, a goat, a piece of cheese, or a pizza, and also the word. You divide the deck evenly and then each players takes turns laying cards down for everyone to see; and as they do it, everyone chants, “Taco, cat, goat, cheese, pizza” in rhythm with the cards being laid down. The idea is to slap the card if the word everyone is saying matches up with the card that has been laid down.

If you say, for instance, “taco” and the card someone lays down is a taco, then you all try to slap it first.

The last one to slap it has to take all the cards. If you slap an incorrect card (for instance, you say “cheese,” but what you slapped was actually a goat),  you have to take all the cards. The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards.

But then there are a few other cards sprinkled in — gorilla, groundhog, and narwhal — and when those turn up, you have to do a special gesture (for instance, if a narwhal turns up, you make a horn on your head) and then slap it.

It is a fast-paced and silly game. It’s mostly about having good reflexes, but it’s surprisingly easy to get into a groove and have your mind play tricks on you while you try to sort out saying “cheese” while seeing a cat, of while you get used to not seeing the card and word match up, and then suddenly they do. I also find it difficult to do the gorilla gesture quickly but without whamming the hell out of my chest, for some reason.

A round takes about ten or fifteen minutes, and who’s winning can shift very quickly. 

It says it’s for ages 8 and up, but I think younger kids could play it together, and younger kids can definitely play with an older person who’s willing to hold back and bit and make it more equitable. Age (at least my age, which is 49) is not necessarily an advantage in this game, because you need focus and quick reflexes.

There is also an expansion pack, which can be played with the original game,  or as a standalone. We haven’t tried it yet, but it gets good reviews. 
It’s also available in Spanish, which would be a good way to learn how to say “taco,” “cat,” “goat,” “cheese,” and “pizza” in Spanish. 

If you like Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza you will probably also like Happy Salmon, which is also a fast paced, noisy, silly card game that you can learn in a matter of minutes. This one needs three or more players. 

A round of Happy Salmon can be very quick, like just a few minutes, and it would make a great party ice breaker, and can be played with younger kids (ages 6+). More detailed review here. You do have to get out of your seat for Happy Salmon, but you can stay sitting down for Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza.

The second game, Dixit, is played at a much different pace. It’s about $30.

The basic idea: Each player has an assortment of cards with dreamlike, evocative pictures on it. There is also a game board with little rabbit pawns, and each player gets a voting device.

Players take turns being the storyteller. The storyteller choses one card (keeping it secret), and announces a word or phrase that’s clue (or riddle, or story, or theme) about it — as specific or vague as they like. The rest of the players ponder this clue and then each turn in one of their cards that they think could serve as the solution to the clue (keeping it hidden from each other).

For instance, the storyteller might choose this card

and announce the clue as “calm.”

The other players look through their cards and decide which is best possible match for “calm.” They turn them into the storyteller, who shuffles them and then arranges them around the board, along with the original card. 

 

Everyone votes, (spinning their device to the number that corresponds to the number where the card has been laid down), and then the storyteller reveals which one was the original card.

You get three points if you guess the correct card (and the storyteller also gets three points), and you get one point if you’re not the storyteller and someone guessed your card. Your score is how many spots you can move ahead on the board. 

The interesting part of this game is that there’s not exactly one right, highest-scoring answer, because the scoring takes the psychology of it into account. If no one guesses your card, you get no points because you didn’t describe it well, and everyone else gets two points; but if everyone guesses, you get no points (and everyone else gets two points) because you made it too easy! So it’s sorrrrt of collaborative, because the real goal is to convey and understand something, but while still preserving the mysterious element. 

It’s fascinating how well the cards are designed to be interesting but ambiguous. 

That first card, described as “calm,”

could also have been something like “enormous” or “mismatch” or “wish come true” or “cat and mouse” or “gaze” or any number of things. 

This game is probably not the best for a small group of people who already irritate each other (ask me how I know), because personalities are very much at play in the choices all the players make. You can take into account what you know, or think you know, about the other person’s thinking patterns when guessing or while inventing clues, but it’s very possible to overthink or underthink it!

You can begin to play the game immediately even if you just learned it, but it’s easier to play with at least one person who’s already familiar with the scoring system, which is printed right on the board, but which I still found confusing. 

 

I did find myself wishing there were more cards in the deck, because it was a little taxing to the imagination when the same ones turned up several times, requiring a different take each time. They do have expansion packs, though; and I was told repeatedly that the game was more fun with lots of people, which I can easily imagine. I do think I prefer games where it’s more clear how to win! (I also don’t like Apples to Apples, which people say Dixit resembles.)

The kids all like this game, and I hope to try it again with a larger group and see if I like it more. 

***

That’s it! My other goals for this week, besides playing games (and working, boo) are: Spring yard clean-up (already mostly done), more planting (yay!), sort shoes and put away boots and winter jackets (done!), go on a hike (doing that today), going on a trip to a colonial recreation village (probably Thursday), and cleaning Corrie’s room (I’d rather eat an earwig, but it’s going to rain on Wednesday, so there it is). The kids’ goals are: Use every single pan in the kitchen, watch TV, and hang around in the kitchen and shout while I am trying to get work done. I really do like my kids, but dang, they are loud. 

And we’ll probably end up playing one of these ridiculous family games that need no equipment.

Speaking of games with confusing rules, this post has been my #1 most-read post almost every day for years and years. I think it got noticed by Reddit or something. Anyway, the kid in orange is now taller than my husband. Which is fine! Everything is fine. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 374: In which we all forge ahead

Happy Friday! Pretty straightforward meals this week, because everything else was complicated enough. Spring is undeniably here, finally, even though there are still a few sodden, grimy hills of snow lurking about here and there. Every tree has a little halo of high green or red, right on the verge of exploding into true green. I see my peonies wriggling their peculiar dark red stalks up out of the soil, and the first of the daffodils have bloomed, and most of the crocuses. The tulips are biding their time, and so are the day lilies, irises, and lilies of the valley. The lupines are back, and maybe they’ll even flower this year. Sedum is raring to go, cat mint is forging ahead, and I’m forcing myself to wait before I uncover the strawberries and asparagus, but I have high hopes. Lots of buds on the apple trees and the mock orange and the lilacs, and yes, on the peach tree! 

I made a little progress on my wattle fence, this time trying a bunch of aspen saplings. The first row was a variety of things, grapevine and misc., and those turned out to be too thin. I probably should have pulled that part out and started over, but I just compressed the first row and started weaving branches on top of it. The result would definitely get me kicked out of even the least discerning medieval guild, but it is SO MUCH FUN, and it is sturdy, so I think it will keep soil in, which is my goal.

My compost heap looks rich and lovely, and I have squash, pumpkin, eggplant, and pea seedlings ready to move once the danger of frost has passed (in about a month!), and I think I bought some gem glass corn seeds, and probably a bunch of other stuff I bought on whims. I have to go out and cut down a ton more wood for the fence, which is also extremely enjoyable. Tromping around on the old, dry sticks of last year and seeking out what’s new and useful for the spring, wow. Sonny comes along and frolics, which he believes to be helpful, which it kind of is. I bought some more grape vines and some blueberry bushes on clearance at Walmart (what a world), too. Go go go!

I also got some poppy roots, and I feel like this year is the year I will finally be able to grow poppies, unlike the other six times I attempted it. I’ve been using my most excellent hori hori garden knife to plant things

which was a birthday or Christmas present, I forget which. I love this thing so much. It bites right into the ground and you give it a little twist and excavate a precise little hole, exactly where you want it. As you can see, it’s marked with measurements so you can get to the right depth. Wonderful tool.

SATURDAY
Aldi pizza

Saturday I just went shopping and we had Aldi pizza for supper. Damien spent his weekend writing and working on various cars. We don’t have babies anymore; instead, we have ducks and cars. 

SUNDAY
Chicken enchiladas

I was toying with the idea of putting enchilada filling in empanadas, but the kids told me that when I take a meal that everyone likes and then MESS with it, it’s upsetting. So I just made enchiladas. My enchiladas are what they are. Every time I mention them, someone who grew up near the southern border expresses polite amazement that I am calling these “enchiladas,” so instead I will call then “my kids eat theses.” Which is what I was going for!

Anyway, I basically follow Pioneer Woman’s recipe, except I use flour tortillas and I don’t brown them. So it’s just seasoned chicken (I actually used thighs, not breasts) browned up

and then shredded (don’t forget you can use your mixer to shred meat)

and then a ton of onions,

which I cooked slowly in the chickeny pan (and yes, PW is one of those people who directs you to caramelize onions in 4-5 minutes. I will never do this to you. It took at least half an hour, and I hurried it).

Then I shredded a bunch of cheese, dipped the tortillas in enchilada sauce, and rolled up the chicken, onions, and cheese in the tortillas, and laid it in a saucy pan, and then poured more sauce on top, and then sprinkled more cheese and cumin and chili powder on top. 

I think you’re supposed to just roll up enchiladas, but I always forget this and tuck the ends in as I roll, like for a burrito. Whatever. I made a whole bunch of them, some red, some green, and served them with cilantro and sour cream, and they were yummy. 

It was a chilly, rainy day, and these Authentic Mexican Kid-eat-ums hit the spot.

MONDAY
Kielbasa, potato, and Brussels sprouts one-pan meal; adults went out

Monday I heard the cry of my people for kielbasa, and made this easy and popular one-pan meal 

Jump to Recipe

In the morning, just to signal to myself that I was serious, I put out the bag of red potatoes, the packages of Brussels sprouts, and the kielbasa, and the savage and carnivorous cat immediately pounced on . . . 

the Brussels sprouts. Beware, o thou cruciferous ones! There will be no peace for you with this mighty hunter prowling abroad. 

I made up the honey mustard garlic sauce, which you can add halfway through cooking, or reserve for dipping at the end. Or you can put half of it on halfway through cooking and use the rest for dipping. Be like the cat and follow your heart. 

I made two big pans. This is both pans combined; you will want them to have more space to cook when you’re making it. 

You can also make this dish with wedges of cabbage, which I prefer; but the kids like Brussels sprouts better. I didn’t get a vote because Damien and I went out to eat, which we haven’t done in a WHILE. We wanted to try this newish taco place in town, but it closed at 8, which, what do I know. Maybe that’s a reasonable time for a taco place to close. So we went to Mi Jalisco, which has decent Mexican food but sometimes incredibly slow service. I mean like a few times when we went, we honestly thought they forgot about us. Anyway this time it was slowish, but not terrible. Gosh, this is a boring story. 

Anyway, Damien got carne asada and I got some kind of shrimp and mushroom dish, which was tasty. 

I wasn’t quite sure how to pronounce the name of this dish, which I confessed to the waiter, and he said he didn’t either. Let us all take a moment and salute the intrepid white guy working at a Mexican restaurant, just sweating and doing his best and forging ahead. 

TUESDAY
Chicken on salad

Tuesday I felt the need to reintroduce the family to green vegetables, so we had roast chicken on salad, with feta cheese, toasted almonds, and dried cranberries. 

A decent meal that was elevated by IT BEING WARM ENOUGH OUTSIDE TO EAT OUTSIDE. 

There are lilies popping up in those planters, and I have a bunch of marigold and morning glory and zinnia seedlings waiting to be transplanted. ALMOST. ALMOST time. 

On Wednesday night, I prepped some pork for tomorrow’s meal, so it could brine itself overnight. I mixed together a cup of sugar and a cup of salt and rubbed that all over a hunk of fatty pork shoulder, wrapped it up, and put it in the fridge.

WEDNESDAY
Bo ssam, rice, pineapple

Around noon, I unwrapped the pork and put it, uncovered, in a pan in a 300 oven. I was so pleased with myself for planning this out, because I had an interview in the morning, and then the afternoon was …. well, it took many revisions, but the final form was:

Damien takes the kids to school, Elijah takes my car to class and on the way home, picks up Lucy who had early release because of PSATs; Lena takes Damien’s car to work; Damien takes my car and drops off me and Elijah at U-Haul; I drive the rented truck back and Elijah drops my car off for Damien; Lucy and Elijah and I go and get the free wood, and stop and get ice cream because I felt bad about ruining their day, because that wood was frickin heavy; Sophia walks to work; Corrie goes into aftercare and Benny goes to the library, and Lena drives herself home from work and then picks them both up; I stop home and dragoon Irene, who got home on the bus, into helping to unload the wood; then I return the truck and Elijah picks me up at U-Haul with my car, I text Lena to press the “rice” button on the Instant Pot, and we pick up Sophia from work and then we GO HOME. 

My car now has FOUR warning lights lit up, and one of them is flashing, but WE WILL GET TO IT. By which I mean Damien. My job is to wring my hands and fret, and then Damien fixes the car while I think about fun projects I can do.

Anyway, by the time we all got home, the rice was just about cooked, and the meat was ready for its final step, which is just a little extra sauce and then high heat for ten minutes. 

I lost my phone, so I don’t have a pic, but here’s a previous finished bo ssam:

Here’s the whole recipe, such as it is, in one spot: 

Mix together a cup of sugar and a cup of salt, and rub this all over a fatty pork shoulder.
Wrap it up in plastic and put it in the fridge overnight. 

Six hours before you want to eat, turn the oven to 300, line a pan with at least two layers of tin foil and put the pork in, fatty side up. (Don’t bother to transfer all the salt and sugar, except what’s clinging to the meat.)
Cook the meat, uncovered for six hours.
Ten minutes before you want to eat, mix together seven tablespoons of brown sugar, two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and a sprinkle of sea salt, and rub this paste all over the top of the meat and crank the oven up to 500.
Serve whole, and people can pull off bits and shreds of meat and wrap it in lettuce, with rice. 

If you want a more detailed recipe and you want to make a truly delicious sauce and sides to go with it, check out My Korean Kitchen’s recipe. This dish is VERY salty and sweet, so it’s good to have rice and something cooling to go with it, like mango. I had pineapple, which was decent (although I’m one of those “wow, I love pineapple, but it’s crazy how it’s such a popular fruit even though makes everyone’s mouth itchy and their lips swell up” people. Don’t care, love pineapple, forging ahead).

So, the WOOD I got used to be a small deck and a wheelchair ramp. So I now have three long, thin sections which will go a long way toward the bog bridge I keep talking about, to bridge this area, which is much wetter than it looks

and the rest of the wood is three or four square sections which I think will make a lovely pool deck. Right now, there are two ways to get into the pool: On a rickety ladder that is embarrassingly slightly narrower than my hips, or via a cannibalized wooden swing set I put together a few years ago. The swing set thing has worked well enough — mainly I wanted something I could sit on and act as lifeguard, without having to be in the pool myself — but it does have some structurally necessary pieces of wood that make it extremely awkward to enter and exit. SO, I’m going to add some legs to the square pieces and bolt them onto the lifeguard thing, and IN THEORY, we will have an actual deck. Or not. Probably yes, though! 

Anyway, it turns out I am old, and driving a gigantic scary truck for two hours and lugging extremely heavy wood around is my limit for the day, and I was chatting with Benny after dinner and apparently dozed off mid-sentence, and she turned off the light and tiptoed away, and I spent the next hour drooling all over my own face until the evening screaming and quacking brought me back to the land of the living. 

You know what, those ducklings are jusssssst about old enough to move outside. I really like them, but dang, they are loud, and smelly. 

Look how big they got! Annie is the one with the mostly white chest, and Bebe is the one with more spots.

Annie started to quack a few days ago, but Bebe is still meep-meep-meeping. The cat is okay with them (I encouraged them from day one to spend time together, because it seemed like less work than constantly being on alert to keep them from killing each other; and yes, they were all equally at risk), but I think he will be relieved when they move out. 

THURSDAY
Hamburgers and chips

Nothing to report. Actually I have to report that the Dollar Store version of Pringles are really, really terrible. 

And they’re not even a dollar! Everything is $1.25 now, except there is also an aisle where things are $3 or even $5. What a world (derogatory).

The burgers were fine, though. We ate really early because we had one final family faith formation parent meeting for the year. I was kind of scratching my head over why we didn’t manage to make it to more meetings, and then I realized we spent the year getting Corrie prepped for first confession and first communion and confirmation, which is not all supposed to be in one year! So we ended up missing a lot of the classes which were directed at families who were not prepping kids for sacraments.

This is our first year doing whole family faith formation, and I must grudgingly admit that it’s kind of brilliant. Gonna write that up in a bit. 

FRIDAY
Quesadillas, chips and salsa

Or maybe we will all just go outside and graze on free wood. I sure have a lot of free wood. This is the view from my bedroom window:

No ragrets! But I might treat myself to a cordless impact driver, which Ryan says I will want, and Ryan is usually right. 

I am HOPING to have one or both of these projects (bog bridge and pool deck) done by July 4th, but if I had to pick one, I would pick the bog bridge; but I think MAYBE I can do both. I did manage to get my brick patio done by July 4th last year, if you’ll recall. (Yes, I was laying bricks in the dark while weeping on the evening of July 3rd, but I did get it done!) I got this wood from a fellow who said he had been planning to make a koi pond in his back yard, but never got around to it, so I’m gonna forge ahead on his behalf. 

Okay, I think that’s it. I shall pray for all you cheesebags at adoration (right after I swing by the school and drop off the overnight bag I forgot to pack for the kid who’s going on a sleepover, oops). 

UPDATE: Corrie remembered on her own to pack bags! Three of them! Meep meep meep! All the ducklings growing up. Everybody forging ahead. 

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

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

Ingredients

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

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

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

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400. 

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

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

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

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

    Serve hot with dressing and parsley for a garnish.