Quick and easy summer craft: Flower pounding

Here’s a little craft I’ve always wanted to try: Flower pounding. It combines two of our favorite things: Flowers, and hitting stuff. The results were not exactly spectacular, but it was so easy and fast, we want to keep experimenting. Corrie is away at theater camp, so Benny and I did this together. 

The materials:
-Light-colored cloth with a rough weave
-fresh flowers, leaves, and ferns
-parchment paper or wax paper
-a hammer

The procedure:
-Lay the cloth on a surface that can withstand hammering. 
-Arrange the flowers face down on the cloth. 
-Put a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper over them.
-Hammer the heck out of them. 
-Peel up the parchment paper and shake off whatever loose flower material didn’t get pounded into the cloth. You want just the color to be in the cloth.
-If you like, add decoration with markers, paint, embroidery thread, etc.. 

Here is Benny arranging some flowers. We chose ferns, rose petals, pansies, some wild yellow flowers with wide, flat petals (some kind of cinquefoil?), and cow vetch for our first round. We were looking for flowers with deep color and relatively flat blossoms.

And . . . bonk bonk bonk!

It was hard to know when to stop. We didn’t want the flowers to lose definition, but we wanted to make sure we were really driving the material into the weave of the cloth.

It did smell lovely as we pulverized those poor blossoms and ferns. 

Then we peeled the parchment paper up to see what we had . . .

And once we shook and brushed off the excess, the results were not too spectacular.

The ferns were nice, better in some spots than others

and the pansies came through well.

You can see the two different colors on the petals.

You could do a really pretty design, a wreath shape or something, with just ferns and pansies. But you can see the rose petals were faint and blurry.

The cow vetch gave a great, deep color (though much more blue than purple, interestingly!) but lost its shape completely, not surprisingly (the petals are small and fringe-like).

We decided the whole thing needed more color, so we added a day lily and a handful of geranium petals. This is the great thing about this project: You can just keep adding stuff.

and that brightened up the whole thing! The day lily released a surprising amount of dark red and purple when hammered, as well as orange and yellow. 

I did scrape off a bit more petal material after I took this picture, but the color that soaked into the fabric stayed very deep. The geranium petals were hard to separate from the cloth, but they certainly kept their shape and color. 

And there it is! Benny added a birthday message and we sent it off with some cookies. 

If we had more time, this would be a lovely project to combine with embroidery. I would love to experiment with making some symmetrical patterns and designs.

I will admit, I have no idea how well it keeps, but I’m pretty sure it will fade like any dried flower, although putting it behind glass would probably protect it somewhat. It would be smart to spray it with a fixative spray to preserve the colors. 

You could also do this on watercolor paper or canvas. We also wanted to try pounding daisies, white violets, and other light-colored flowers into dark fabric.  

Have you done this craft? Any tips? How long did it last? 

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 299: Love is something when you have a hole in the floor

In haste! In haste! For today we are diving into the big renovation project for the summer, which is putting a new floor in the laundry room so we can turn the toilet back on and have TWO TOILETS before July 4th.

We had this renovation (converting a 3/4 bathroom into a laundry room with a toilet) done several years ago by some folks I can only describe as a team of supergoons, and they put the toilet in wrong; it leaked massively; the floor was ruined; we despaired; and things went from there. We’ve had one working toilet for all, for years and years, all through norovirus and everything. But we’ve since learned (the very hard way) that we’re capable of putting a new floor and subfloor in, so that’s-a-what we’re gonna do. And this time, it just means no washing machine for a few days, rather than no toilet. A breeze, I tell you. 

And, but first, I’m really sorry I haven’t gotten anything up on the site this week. Really struggling with the whole “writing words down” thing lately. If anyone has something fun and neat I can write about it, seriously let me know, because I got nothin’ in my noggin. 

Here is what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Italian sandwiches, chips

Tasty as always. I had prosciutto and spicy capocollo, salami, tomato and basil, mozzarella, and red pesto, and balsamic vinegar on a length of baguette.

All from Aldi. The tomatoes are good this year. I have seven tomato plants going, myself, but they are all still green, except for a few yellow ones that are supposed to be yellow, which I just ate right off the vine while they were still warm from sunshine, without telling anyone. Except for you guys.

SUNDAY
Steak, chips, coleslaw; strawberry shortcake

Father’s day! Damien grilled some steaks, Lena made coleslaw, Clara made a pound cake and served it with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

A tasty treat for all. 

MONDAY
Garlicky chicken thighs with potatoes, zucchini, and summer squash

A new recipe, and it turned out great!  A pretty simple marinade with some cider vinegar and onion powder that gave it a little pleasantly acrid pop, along with the rough-cut garlic and fresh basil. 

I ended up cooking the potatoes in one large pan, and the chicken and vegetables in the other, and they were still a bit crowded.

This led to the zucchini and squash coming out a little, well, squashy. Next time I will cut them thicker and give them more space to cook; but I like the flavors a lot. The chicken turned out very juicy and full of flavor, and the whole meal was popular with almost everybody. 

Jump to Recipe

This is maybe the third time in my life I’ve cooked with zucchini. I don’t know why I even bought it, since I have it in my head that it’s just this wretched, slimy, flavorless monstrosity of a veg. It is a little slimy, but who isn’t these days.

I also found a cold Sicilian sweet and sour zucchini dish with onions that I’m dying to try next. Well, not dying, but I do have a recipe tab open on my laptop and my phone. 

TUESDAY
Tacos

Taco Tuesday! Taco Tuesday.

Feast your eyes on me valiantly skipping the sour cream and rapidly becoming the trimmest, lithest mother of ten in the entire tri-state area. 

WEDNESDAY
Rigatoni alla disgraziata with sausage

We’ve been having rainy, chilly days, so this heavy, fragrant pasta dish was very welcome. People kept coming in and asking what I was making, because it smells so wonderful, and I kept getting to take a deep breath, strike an obnoxious Warrior 2 pose, and intone, “Rrrrrrigatoni alla disgrrrrraziata!” 

Made it once, thought it was delicious, thought it would be even better with some meat, so I added sausage. And it was good, but honestly not necessarily improved. It’s an immensely hearty dish to begin with, with pasta, sauce, eggplant, toasted breadcrumbs, and mozzarella, with parmesan on top; so adding the sausage was fairly gratuitous, and it kind of fought with the breadcrumbs a bit. I think I’ll keep this as a meatless dish in the future.

Jump to Recipe

It’s fun to make. You toast the breadcrumbs in oil, then fry up the eggplant,

then add the sauce, then cook up the pasta, drain it, and mix it all together, then add back in the breadcrumbs, plus some mozzarella you’ve torn up. Then more freshly-grated parm on top just for fun. 

My goodness. I just had jarred sauce, because some overzealous person had tossed the leftover homemade tomato sauce I was planning to use; but it was still very fine. 

This is the Deadspin directions for the sauce my husband usually makes: 

[W]hip out a medium-sized saucepot and start a basic tomato sauce. Cook some chili flakes and chopped onions and garlic in oil for a few minutes; dump a big can of whole tomatoes (San Marzano if you can find ’em; um, not San Marzano if you cannot find San Marzano) on top of the aromatics, break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, chuck in some tomato paste and a few glugs of cheap red wine, and let this stuff simmer in the background while you cook everything else.

The eggplant dish definitely benefits from a sauce with chunky tomatoes in it. 

THURSDAY
Chicago hot dogs, fries

I guess you’re supposed to have a steamed poppy seed roll for this. As an Aldi shopper, I count myself lucky if they have hot dog buns at all. Or bread in general. So we had hot dogs on regular buns with tomatoes, pickle relish, mustard, raw onions, a dill pickle, and some pickled peppers, and celery salt. 

You would think the pickle relish plus the pickle would be too much total pickle, but they’re really very different things. Some of us were also pretty enthusiastic about the celery salt. It’s neat stuff! Like savory pixie dust. What else do you use it in? I need more. I guess it must be what makes Old Bay seasoning taste like that, along with paprika.

Moe prepped this meal while I started clearing out the laundry room. Here are some before pics:

 

You can’t see it, but there is indeed a hole in the floor and I did indeed fall into it while cleaning, even though I knew it was there because it was the whole reason I was in there, cleaning. But I broke my fall by grabbing the shelf, which indeed came down on my head, spilling out many year’s worth of outdated prescription drugs, first aid supplies, cleaning products, lightbulbs, and kind of a lot of Halloween makeup. So I have that going for me. 

Then we ate hot dogs, and then we went to Home Depot to get a bunch of lumber and screws, because guess what??? We’re replacing not only the laundry room floor, but the back stairs. Two home improvement projects; two!! I confessed to Damien that I had briefly entertained the idea of just replacing the back steps with a slide, so we could just, zoop, slide out the back, and he said it was okay, because he thought maybe we should just put one of those pirate climbing ropes in. You know, I remember leaving the hospital with our first baby, and both of us thinking, “They’re just going to let us go home with this whole baby? When we’re not even grown-ups?” That situation has not improved.

FRIDAY
I don’t know. Oh wait, pizza. 

Okay, that’s it! Gotta finish up work, gotta go to adoration, gotta go to a healing Mass they’re having at our parish and we’re definitely not going to miss, and then PIRATE SLIDE!!!! I mean new back stairs.

Oh, so when my big sisters were little, they went to camp and learned the song about “Love is something when you give it away, give it away, give it away, love is something when you give it away, you end up having more!” Except one of the kids went around singing, “Love is something when you have a hole in your pants, have a hole in your pants, have a hole in your pants…” I never did find out what the final line was. This is why you should never send your kids to a Jesuit college, I mean summer camp. 

And here are the recipe cards!

One-pan garlicky chicken with potatoes, summer squash, and zucchini

Ingredients

  • 12 chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • fresh basil, chopped
  • more salt, garlic powder, and onion powder for sprinkling
  • 4 lbs potatoes, scrubbed and sliced thickly
  • 6 assorted zucchini and summer squash, washed and sliced into discs with the skin on

Instructions

  1. Combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, garlic, garlic powder, onion, powder, salt, pepper, and fresh basil. Marinate the chicken thighs in this mixture for at least half an hour.

  2. Preheat the oven to 400.

  3. Grease two large baking sheets. Arrange the chicken, potatoes, and vegetables on the sheet with as little overlap as possible.

  4. Sprinkle additional salt, onion powder, and garlic powder on the potatoes and vegetables.

  5. Cook about 40 minutes or until chicken is completely done and potatoes are slightly brown on top.

5 from 1 vote
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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.

What’s for supper? Vol. 298: Pack of goons

It’s summer! Today is officially the first full day of summer vacation. The feeling I felt when I turned off the alarm before going to bed last night . . . well, it was a good feeling. 

We had a pretty hectic (although not as hectic as last week, which was HECCIN hectic) final week of school, with a field day, a birthday party invite, a trip to Six Flags, a graduation, and then a half day with a beach trip, so if you’re looking for elaborate recipes, turn back! We had a few decent warm-weather meals, though. Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Baseball!

Damien took the kids to a colleague summer league baseball game

where I believe they had burgers, fries, popcorn, and Crackerjacks (not to mention balloon animals, glitter tattoos, slime with little treasures in it, pencils, stickers, and so on!).  Everyone at home (including me) just scrounged for dinner. I think I had restaurant leftovers. And very good they are, restaurant leftovers.

SUNDAY
Pizza

I spent most of Sunday decolonizing the front yard. There are two or three rhododendrons that have slowly been getting swallowed up by invasive oriental bittersweet, and I worry about it every time I see it, which is 426 times a day. So I finally snipped and chopped and dug and tore it all up, and the paid the girls to carry it all away on tarps and dump it in a part of the property I don’t care about. Gonna have to do it all again in a month or so, but the rhododendrons are looking around blearily, blinking in the sunlight, straightening their backs, and even gingerly putting out some new leaves at this late date, so I feel pretty good. 

Damien made some gorgeous pizzas while I worked. One pepperoni, one olive, one sausage and mushroom

and one fennel, onion, feta, and anchovy

If I remember correctly. Magnificent.

MONDAY
Strawberry chicken salad

One of my favorites. I broiled the chicken with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then cut it in to chunks. Served over mixed greens with toasted almonds, feta cheese, diced red onion, and sliced strawberries. 

I bought a special strawberry poppyseed dressing, but nobody could open the bottle, so I just had wine vinegar. 

TUESDAY
Chicken “enchilada” “bowls”

Some people start out with a vague idea for a meal and then, under the wizardry of their expert, uh, spatula, it blossoms into something ingeniously delectable. (I deliberately said “blossoms” even though we’re talking about food because that’s just how magical these people are.)
I, on the other hand, groaningly open up the supermarket website, see that chicken is on sale, and say to myself, “So . . . I guess. . . chicken, um, um, um . . . .chicken enchiladuuuuuhhhhhhhh . . .. . uh, chicken enchilada BOWL!” And I write that down, because it sounds like a thing. 

Then actual dinner time comes around, and I have nooo idea. I ended up de-boning some chicken breast and pan frying it in olive oil with lots of chili powder, cumin, and salt, and then kind of squonching it with a wooden spoon. So far so good. Then I diced up a shit ton of onions and fried them in the chicken pan. Also fine.

Then I got involved in this project where I am attaching hardware cloth to the inside of a garbage enclosure I built out of pallets to keep the raccoons away, and I was getting all sweaty, and there were a lot of flies, and I ran out of nails, and some of that wood is really hard, and I was thinking about the price of heating oil, and how my metabolism is changing, and other cheerful thoughts, and next thing you know, it was after 5:00. So I zip-zip made a pot of rice, re-heated the chicken and onions, opened up a couple of cans of tomatoes, found some sour cream that wasn’t frozen, dug out some bags of shredded cheese, chopped up some cilantro, and hurled it all in the direction of the dining room table.

It was then that I realized I had never even taken the cans of enchilada sauce out of the cabinet, much less combined the sauce with the chicken in any way. Hence: “enchilada” “bowls.”

My husband complimented this meal so repeatedly and earnestly that I’m afraid it must have been pretty bad. I was hungry, though (see: garbage enclosure raccoon pallets hammering), so it was fine. Kinda salty, though. 

WEDNESDAY
8th grade graduation!

Kids at home had chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs, and Damien and Lucy and I went to her 8th grade graduation, and then to Local Burger

which is as advertised. They certainly give you plenty of fries. We ate outside and saw a pretty good dog show on the sidewalk.

We also had ice cream at a place I suggested, which I variously called Boondoggle’s, Hasenpfeffer’s,  Hammacher Schlemmer, and Hamantaschen before they acknowledged they knew I was talking about Humdinger’s. I guess Boondoggle’s was semantically the closest, but it wasn’t very close. I think all ice cream places should just be called “That Ice Cream Place, You Know, The One With the Wooden Horse” or “That Ice Cream Place Where We Hit That Crazy Lady’s Car.” Just for clarity. My brain is not getting any more elastic, here. 

And so now we have SEVEN children who are high school aged or higher. Good grief.  When Irene was five, she told me, “You know, you go into my kindergarten cwass and fink, ‘What a wovewy bunch of kids.’ But you get to know them better, and they’re just a big pack of goons.”

 
I think about that a lot. Just a big pack of goons, all the way down. 
 

THURSDAY
Burgers, chips, carrots

Damien took the pack of goons to the beach and then made supper.

I, on the other hand, couldn’t even figure out how to make the photo above into a gif without exceeding the upload size of this site. I honestly don’t even know what it is I do around here. Just look pretty, I guess. 

FRIDAY
Spaghetti?

Damien is making supper. I must go curl my eyelashes now. 

Oh, speaking of pretty, here’s one final photo from that awards dinner last week. Don’t we look nice? That’s because we are nice! For a couple of goons. 

Tell me about your home altar

I’ve been steeping in Catholic social media for more than 20 years, seeing into the lives and homes of people who identify very strongly as Catholics. And yet somehow all that time, I’ve been able to resist the idea of putting together a home altar. It always felt like something that other people do, people with tidier home and more orderly lives.

It’s not that I’ve kept some kind of aggressively secularized home, goodness knows. I’ve always hung sacred images on my walls, and our bookshelves have been as festooned as anyone else’s with little headless and handless Catholic statuary, and I don’t even want to think about how many year’s worth of dried out palm leaves are secreted in various cabinets, fruitlessly waiting to be burned. Growing up, it affected me very much to live surrounded with the faces of saints and angels and the eyes of icons.

But for some reason, I’ve always resisted gathering everything together into a dedicated spot that has no other purpose than to be a sacred space. Possibly I’m afraid that, if we have religious images everywhere, we can just live with them more or less passively, according to our abilities; but if there’s one spot that’s for nothing other than prayer, it will become very obvious when we’re falling down on the job. Even more obvious than it already is. 

But for whatever reason, I recently finally pulled the trigger. I cleared off the top of the little piano and laid out a cloth. I bought a standing crucifix, arranged some robust potted plants around it, hung some icons and holy images on the wall behind it in a way that is visually balanced and also makes a sort of narrative spiritual sense to me, and put together the books we refer to for spiritual reading, and I guess . . . there it is.

Now what?

I am well past the notion that any kind of physical thing you can buy and set up in your house is going to magically, automatically make a meaningful difference in your spiritual life on its own. It just doesn’t work that way, and I know it. Still, I’d like to use this home altar, now that we’ve got it. Who’s got ideas for me?

We’ve done fairly well so far keeping it reserved just for sacred things, and we’re not letting random junk pile up on it (other than burnt-out matches and some dead leaves, but I’ll get to that!); but I’d like to put it to good use. I’m not really worried about doing it wrong, because I know it’s entirely optional; but I like it, and I’d like to do more.

I have a candle in a glass cup (which I bought when a priest friend said Mass in our home!), and when we manage to say our prayers at night, we light the candle in front of the crucifix first. On the anniversary of my parents’ death, I lit their yahrzeit candles there, as well. We do have little girls in the house, and when they bring in violets and dandelions and pretty rocks, I’ll encourage them to bring them to the altar.

What else? I know we can decorate it liturgically, as the year goes on. I would definitely like to emphasize more to my family how the year is anchored liturgically, and live less according to the retail seasons. This should help.

Tell me your home altar stories. Has it actually enriched your family’s spiritual life? If you’ve had a home altar for a while, have you changed your idea of what it should look like or what it’s for? Do you have rules about what belongs there, or do you let family members contribute whatever seems appropriate to them? I want to know!

A version of this essay was first published at The Catholic Weekly on May 16, 2022.

 

The cross is meant to be co-opted

When Rod Dreher announced he and his wife were divorcing, the first thing I should have done was pray for them. Instead, I braced myself for the nasty comments that I knew would follow his announcement. And they did follow, as Dreher himself predicted they would.

Dreher has plenty of ill-wishers, and not undeservedly. Despite his large audience and capable mind, he’s not a careful man, and tends to bounce from panic to panic, often resting only in exasperating self-indulgence that’s frustrating even to people who agree with some of his views. And some of the things he believes are appalling.

Still, I guess my corner of the internet is somewhat sheltered, because I wasn’t prepared for the avalanche of delight that followed the news. This wasn’t a case of just desserts, like a bad boss getting fired himself, or a thief having his own possessions stolen. It was a man whose ideas people disagreed with announcing that he had been struggling for nine years to save his marriage, and had finally failed, and it was partially his fault. To respond to such news with glee is to pull hell down on your head. 

One comment in particular stood out, because it presented itself as correcting his christianity. A woman jeered at him for using an image from The Passion as the header image for the essay where he briefly describes his suffering. Dreher was, in fact, in Jerusalem as he wrote that column, and had been praying at Golgotha during Holy Week, so it would be almost unnatural if an image of the crucifixion hadn’t suggested itself to him as a natural illustration for intense personal pain. But this commenter excoriated him for comparing himself to Jesus. She said it was typical self-aggrandizement for him to co-opt the imagery of the cross for his own suffering.

But that is the point of the cross. 

That is why the execution of our savior was public. That is why it was done in the middle of the day, in front of crowd, on top of the hill: So everyone could see, and so everyone would know that Jesus wept and bled and lost the strength of his limbs just like us.  Just like anyone who had ever suffered until that day, and just like anyone who ever would suffer. That’s the point. The cross is meant to be co-opted. That’s what it’s for. 

I think that the woman who scoffed at Rod Dreher probably didn’t have a lot of theological thoughts in her head, and mainly just didn’t like Rod Dreher, and wouldn’t have sympathy for anything he did or said. It is, perhaps, fairly common to think of christianity mainly as a sort of overarching philosophy that describes social services that should be available to other people, and it doesn’t even occur to many that it’s ever meant to be personal to each of us.

In any case, it’s quite common for people who are more fair-minded, and who don’t reflexively kick people who are already down, to do a sort of defensive gate-keeping when it comes to suffering: To say that this or that isn’t real suffering, or that it isn’t authentic or worthy or profound enough to call itself actual suffering. That it’s something lesser, something we should be embarrassed to admit we struggle with.

Well, there is suffering, and there is suffering. I remember hearing how a friend of the family was sitting by the bedside of her dying husband. She had spent the last few months increasingly at his bedside in between her own jobs, wondering how she would care for their many children if he didn’t pull through. His roommate had the TV on, tuned to a televangelist channel, and the notorious Tammy Faye was on screen, weeping into the camera as usual, her gummy mascara bleeding into the neck of her expensive silk blouse as she begged for money for Jesus. A nurse came into the room and brushed past the widow-to-be, looked dolefully up at the TV, and asked the family plaintively, “Aww, why’s Tammy crying?” 

So there is suffering, and there is suffering. This is true. There is such a thing as taking an impartial look at another human’s life and saying, “No, it’s not that bad.” Not as bad as what happened to Jesus. 

And I remember some thoughtful, painful conversations around the painting “Mama,” which shows a Pieta where the dead Jesus closely resembles George Floyd. The artist, Kelly Latimore, told the NYT that he “always responds ‘yes’ when asked whether the painting depicts Jesus or Floyd.”

The artist goes on to say:

“It’s not an either-or scenario. Is it George Floyd? Yes. Is it Jesus? Yes. There’s sacredness in every person.”

I don’t know exactly what he meant by that. There is suffering, and there is suffering, and it’s worth having respectful conversations about just how firmly to draw the line between our suffering and Jesus’. It is one thing to say that he is like us, and another to say that we are like him. 

What I do know is that Jesus is like is in all things but sin, but for many of us, this never feels real until we suffer. That’s where we meet Jesus, and know him, and recognize him, and feel his aid: In suffering. Sometimes that’s the only place we meet him.

And so it’s a very serious thing when fellow Christians want to take that commonality away, on the grounds that we’re not worthy to count ourselves that close to Christ, or to feel that we have so much in common with him. 

Because that, too, is the point: We’re not worthy. That’s why he came for us. Our unworthiness to have anything in common with God is the very reason why we need a savior. 

There is suffering, and there is suffering, but there is only one man who suffered for the purpose of public consumption, as it were. No, not as it were: Literally. Catholics, at very least, should be used to this idea. 

Jesus’ suffering is universal; it is for everyone. And at the same time, it is personal. It is for each of us as individuals, and it means what it must in our specific lives. The cross is for us to use, to co-opt, to identify with, to look to, to cling to, to use however we can so we do not fall into the netherworld. That is what it’s for. As long as it is sincere, it is fair game. 

The suffering of other people, though — yes, even the suffering of pundits we don’t like — is not for us to judge, and certainly not for us to use, certainly not for our own amusement or for clout on Twitter. Be careful, friends. As much as the cross is there for us to use, other people’s suffering is very much not for us to use. Very much not. 

 

**
A version of this essay was first published at The Catholic Weekly on May 10, 2022.

Summer adventure movies! A nine-decade list

It’s so close to summer vacation! We’re going to hike! We’re going to swim! We’re going to finally fix the laundry room floor so we can have a second functioning toilet! And we’re going to watch a bunch of adventure movies. 

We’re not sure yet how mandatory it will be, but we want to have family movie night throughout the summer, and an “adventure” theme sounded like fun. I think we’ll keep this list strictly in the real world — i.e., no science fiction or supernatural or imaginary creatures. So there are plenty of great movies that I heartily recommend, like The Mummy, Into the Spiderverse, Attack the Block, Clash of the Titans (and a bunch of other classic Harryhausen), The Odyssey miniseries, Galaxy Quest, Tremors, Shaun of the Dead, Indiana Jones movies, Mad Max movies, Men In Black, etc. that just belong on a slightly different list.

Our kids are ages 7 and up. Most of these are not completely unsuitable for the youngest kids, but they may not appreciate them much. So please give me your suggestions for your adventure movies for the actual whole family!

Here’s our list so far, which not surprisingly is heavy on the theme of male friendship — or at least male interdependence. I accidentally chose one from each of the last nine decades, so I’ll organize them in that order, from oldest to newest:

Gunga Din (1939)
where to watch

IMDB summary: “In 19th century India, three British soldiers and a native waterbearer must stop a secret mass revival of the murderous Thuggee cult before it can rampage across the land.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this. Damien says it’s funny. I know nothing about it other than that it’s Rudyard Kipling, which is great, and Cary Grant, who I’m following a gradual forty-year plan to come around on. Looks like we will be doing some debriefing about blackface and imperialism with the kids; but we generally err on the side of “let’s look at this and see what we think” rather than running away screaming from anything that might be objectionable, and the kids are often capable of much more subtle thought than we expect. 

 

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
where to watch

IMDB summary: “Two down-on-their-luck Americans searching for work in 1920s Mexico convince an old prospector to help them mine for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains.”

I haven’t seen this in yeeeears. A real change of pace from the kind of movies the kids are used to watching. This is, by the way, where the “we don’t need no stinking badges” quote comes from, except the actual quote is: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges! We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!” so it’s one of those rare occasions when people’s faulty memories actually improved something. 

“Towering adventure hurled from the top of the world! Deep human conflict to enthrall the heart of the world! Humphrey Bogart surpassing every other triumph!” Heck yes. 

The African Queen (1951)
where to watch

IMDB summary: In WWI East Africa, a gin-swilling Canadian riverboat captain is persuaded by a strait-laced English missionary to undertake a trip up a treacherous river and use his boat to attack a German gunship.

We have actually seen this with the family a few times, but I’m always up for another viewing. The ideal movie, in many ways. I’ve written a little essay about this one, too. Oops, that’s two Humphrey Bogart movies, OH WELL. 

 

Sanjuro (1962) 
where to watch

IMDB Summary: A crafty samurai helps a young man and his fellow clansmen trying to save his uncle, who has been framed and imprisoned by a corrupt superintendent.

Also recommended is the first one, Yojimbo, which we saw recently. If any of your sons has a man bun and it’s bothering you, show him Sanjuro or Yojimbo, and he’ll probably realize he’s not pulling it off. Sidenote, you know who had a massive crush on Toshiro Mifune? My mother. Also my father, I think. 

Overwhelming fascination! A juggernaut of a film! Weird trailer. I cannot remember if the actual movie has that goofy music in it or not. If I were watching with a slightly different crowd, I’d propose a game where you drink every time he scratches himself. 

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
where to watch

IMDB summary: Two former British soldiers in 1880s India decide to set themselves up as Kings in Kafiristan, a land where no white man has set foot since Alexander the Great.

Again, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen this, and I remember it being a sort of fever dream of a movie, especially toward the end. Probably better for the older kids. I do recall that the white man does not come out looking as good as he does in Gunga Din. It will be interesting to compare the two movies. 

The Black Stallion (1979)
where to watch

IMDB summary: After being shipwrecked with a magnificent horse off the coast of Africa in the 1940s, a boy bonds with the stallion, and trains him to race after their rescue.

I cheated a little bit and this is going to have to count for the 80’s movie. Difficult to find an 80’s adventure movie that doesn’t have fantasy or supernatural elements, and/or isn’t completely sleazy. 

I haven’t seen this for many years. I remember it as being intensely beautiful and emotional, and the rare movie that’s suitable for kids but doesn’t have a lot of dialogue. It will be interesting to see how it holds up. Damien doesn’t like it, but I forget why. 

The Edge (1997)
where to watch

IMDB summary: An intellectual billionaire and two other men struggle to band together and survive after getting stranded in the Alaskan wilderness with a blood-thirsty Kodiak Bear hunting them down.

I actually wrote out a full review of this underrated movie several years ago. A tense, scary, intelligently written and acted wilderness adventure story that’s just as much about salvation as it is about survival — but not in a heavy-handed way. I always make this movie sound like a slog when I write about it, but it’s a kickass movie, very funny in parts, and it has a lot of bear in it, plus Alec Baldwin really acting, plus Anthony Hopkins, plus a bear.

Master and Commander: The Far Side Of the World (2003)
where to watch

IMDB summary: During the Napoleonic Wars, a brash British captain pushes his ship and crew to their limits in pursuit of a formidable French war vessel around South America.

Saw this for the first time last year, and it totally deserves its popularity. A thoroughly enjoyable, thrilling, fascinating, beautiful movie with engaging characters and relationships and gripping action and a well-crafted script. Really can’t wait to share this one with the kids. This trailer makes it look kind of cheesy, but it’s really not at all. I think we may watch this one first, because it’s long, but it leaves you wanting more adventure. 

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
where to watch

IMDB summary: A national manhunt is ordered for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush.

People keep recommending this, and it certainly looks like a change of pace from the rest of the list! Taika Waititi is never boring, anyway. 

Honorable mention, for movies that would be on the list except we’ve watched them too recently, or too many times:

Castaway

True Grit (2010) I may move this into this summer’s watch list, just to get more females onto the screen. 

Robin Hood with Erroll Flynn

Die Hard

National Treasure (I don’t want to talk about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but my kids will die on the hill of National Treasure being a Thanksgiving movie. You can come over and argue with them if you want, but you won’t get anywhere.)

Jaws. This is on the honorable mention list solely because we are spending a week in Cape Cod this year and some people are already sufficiently nervous. But it’s one of the best movies ever made, and maybe we can watch it in the fall, when we’re all dry. 

That’s it! Please add your suggestions in the comments, or let me know if I’m making a horrible mistake by exposing my kids to Alec Baldwin, or just say hello! It’s almost summer, and I’m just so ready to sit on the couch. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 296: Never mind 5G, we have 6S

Friday! I just wrote one of these food posts, and I don’t know about you, but I’m totally ready for another one, cementing my notion that it would be best if I just settled into writing about food and nothing but food all the time.

There are, of course, plenty of people who do exactly this. In fact, they do far less food writing than I do. They write maybe one recipe a week, and it’s usually something like “Best Ever Summer Vacation Spice-’em-Up Celebration Wowzer Cake” and it’s, like, Betty Crocker red velvet cake mix plus a teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning (Amazon Associates link included), with eleven photos taken directly up the cake’s nostrils.  But they also send out bi-weekly newsletters with optimized RPM plugins and native lazy loading, plus of course their static homepage has Gutenberg blocks that’s always running various tag managers in parallel to implementing UTM parameters; and because of this, they’re earning $600 a day with the wowzer cake alone.

I don’t begrudge them at all. Every six months or so, I think, how hard could it be? I’ll just look into it and do some very simple, basic SEO things just to streamline the site a bit and attract more viewers. Just simple stuff. So I open a tab, and oop! I’m fifteen years old and I’m back in Mr. Stockwell’s physics class and the board is full of strange markings that mean nothing to me. I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about, but I started getting confused back in October, and now it’s June and it’s far, far too late to do anything about it. 

Inertia. I do remember learning about inertia. I guess that’s what we’re dealing with here. Plus also crying. Anyway, here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
I truly do not remember. I don’t have any photos, and I know we went shopping on Saturday, so it probably wasn’t anything good. 

SUNDAY
Burgers, chips

Sunday we did a massive amount of yard work. Damien did all the glamorous parts, like scrubbing and vacuuming out the pool, fixing the back steps, and weed whacking the dog area so he could shovel poop so he could mow. Then he washed up and made supper. Such a prima donna, that man. Meanwhile I really carried the family by transplanting daisies and watering my strawberries and whatnot. Everybody works! 

MONDAY
Smoked chicken thighs, brats, chips, mac and cheese, watermelon, lemon meringue pie

Monday we finished up some projects and then I took the kids to the beach for the first time this year. Lovely little town pond. Less than lovely crowd, but maybe next time those particular folks will all have been sent into outer space by means of a richly-deserved fist. Memorial Day is often a little dicey.

For supper, Damien made his most excellent smoked chicken thighs with the spicy sugar rub. This rub is good on all kinds of meats, and you can adapt it however you want.

Jump to Recipe

The sugar caramelizes and gives the skin a terrific texture, and the sweet and spicy combo of the seasoning is so good with a cold beer.

He also made brats boiled in beer with onions and then grilled, served with chopped onions, and my friend Laina came over and brought some swanky, melty mac and cheese with gorgonzola, which I’ve been eating all week. 

We also had chips and watermelon, and Benny and I made a couple of lemon meringue pies.

This is a very simple recipe, with only a few ingredients. It’s not sophisticated, but it hits all the marks. 

Jump to Recipe

We decided to be fancy and pipe the meringue on, but we aren’t fancy enough to own a piping bag just now (sometimes we have one and sometimes we don’t. Nobody knows what causes this), so we used a plastic bag with a hole in it. Here was our inspiration:

And here were our results. They were a little. . . . cephalopodian. 

Also, I left both pies out in a warm kitchen and they got very weepy before dinner (a common problem around here). But they still tasted fine, and we had fun. Gonna eat outside as much as possible this summer! Gonna eat as much as possible this summer, in general. 

TUESDAY
Southwest chicken salad

Someone really needs to wrench the word “salad” away from me. There was a base of greens, but it was laboring under a very heavy load of many other things.

Delicious things! I drizzled olive oil on some chicken breasts and seasoned them heavily with something called “elote powder,” which I believe has powdered cheese, chili powder, cumin, salt, and some kind of very sharp citrus in it, and who knows what else. It’s very orange. Then roasted the chicken and cut it into chunks.

I also splurged on some of those little multicolored tomatoes, plus avocados cut into chunks, chopped bacon, corn, and corn chips, and some kind of creamy chipotle lime dressing, I forget what I got. There’s a salad dressing for every possible desire you could have.

I absolutely loved this meal. The bacon wasn’t absolutely necessary, but it certainly won me some friends. 

WEDNESDAY
Spiedies, french fries, sugar snap peas

Another great summer recipe I’m happy to be returning to. A little bit of effort in the morning, and you can tumble home half an hour before dinner and cook up a very tasty meal. 

The wild mint has come back, and Corrie was home from school with a momentary sniffle, so I sent her out to forage a giant handful, and we made the marinade together.

A wonderful marinade. Very sharp and summery and fresh. Olive oil, lemon juice, wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, a little sugar, a lot of fresh garlic, and a lot of fresh mint. 

Jump to Recipe

I had a nice fatty cut of pork and cut it into fairly big chunks, and let it marinate most of the day.

In the evening, pulled the meat out of the marinade, spread it on a pan, and added some large chunks of onion and bell pepper, and roasted it all.

I toasted some buns, spread them with mayo, and it was magnificent. The meat was incredibly tender, and had taken on tons of flavor.

You could add in cherry tomatoes and big chunks of mushroom, if you wanted. Spiedies are really supposed to be cooked on a skewer (the Italian word “spiedo” means “spit”), and that would be delicious, but this method turns out very well and saves a lot of time if you’re cooking for a crowd. 

We had french fries, which I heroically avoided in favor of sugar snap peas. And that definitely made up for the way I’ve been digging out handfuls of cold gorgonzola mac and cheese all week. That is how it works! 

THURSDAY
Omelettes

I do know how to cook omelettes. I just choose to make them like this, instead. 

Everybody had their choice of sausage, cheese, and mushroom, but nobody had the choice of whether or not I massacred their omelette. There were no survivors.

We also had orange juice from a can, and biscuits from a can. I took them out of the can and everything. 

FRIDAY

There’s fish in the freezer and a cabbage on the counter, and we do have limes and sour cream and salsa and tortillas, so I deduce I’m supposed to be making fish tacos. I guess I need to buy more avocados, though. That seems like a meal, right? Probably we have leftover corn chips.

Oh, I have one more picture in this week’s batch: A school lunch from earlier in the week, that really screams “June.” 

and here’s a picture of a recent school day breakfast 

Both total wins, because the breakfast has a protein (custard and meringue), fruit (lemon), milk (condensed), and grain (graham cracker crust), and is superior to last week’s breakfast, which was just popcorn, which is a whole grain, but also includes microwaving, which strips the nutrients of their healthful riboflavins, as I understand it from Mr. Stockwell’s physics class.

The lunch is even better, because it not only has a protein and is nut-free, it contains both salami (culturally enriching) and a secret message (“6S” spelled out in mustard, for “six salami”).

Well, goodbye. 

 

Smoked chicken thighs with sugar rub

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • .5 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp chili pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 20 chicken thighs

Instructions

  1. Mix dry ingredients together. Rub all over chicken and let marinate until the sugar melts a bit. 

  2. Light the fire, and let it burn down to coals. Shove the coals over to one side and lay the chicken on the grill. Lower the lid and let the chicken smoke for an hour or two until they are fully cooked. 

 

Cheater's lemon meringue pie

I like a pie shell made from several cups of animal cracker crumbs whirred into a sandy texture, mixed with a stick of melted butter and 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a dash of salt. Mix well and press into the pan.

Ingredients

  • 1 pie shell

For the lemon layer:

  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zested

For the meringue:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350

  2. Mix together the condensed milk, egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon zest until well combined. Pour the mixture into the pie shell.

  3. Bake 10-15 minutes until the mixture has a little skin.

  4. While it's baking, use an electric mixer with a whisk attachment to beat the egg whites until it has soft peaks. Then gradually add the sugar until it has stiff peaks.

  5. When the lemon layer comes out of the oven, spread the meringue over the top and make a little peaks all over it with a fork or spatula.

  6. Return the pie to the oven and bake for another ten minutes or so until the meringue is slightly browned.

 

pork spiedies (can use marinade for shish kebob)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup veg or olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup red or white wine vinegar
  • 4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4-5 lbs boneless pork, cubed
  • peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, cut into chunks

Instructions

  1. Mix together all marinade ingredients. 

    Mix up with cubed pork, cover, and marinate for several hours or overnight. 

    Best cooked over hot coals on the grill on skewers with vegetables. Can also spread in a shallow pan with veg and broil under a hot broiler.

    Serve in sandwiches or with rice. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 295: Skinny doesn’t taste as good as EMPANADAS EMPANADAS EMPANADAS

I never got a food post up last week, I forget why. I didn’t want last week’s menu to get lost, though. Why? Because EMPANADAS, THAT’S WHY.

Or, to put it another way:

Knock knock.
Who’s th–
INTERRUPTING EMPANADAS.

Or, to put it another way:

Whatever you’re doing right now is the interruption, when what you really ought to be doing is shopping for empanada ingredients, making empanadas, eating empanadas, or making plans for the next time you will do one of those things. 

We did eat a few other things this week, so here’s the food post:

SATURDAY
I have no idea. This was 400 years ago.

SUNDAY
Chicken caprese sandwiches

Boom.

I have also planted some tomato plants and some basil seeds as of Sunday, so I expect to have some wonderful home-grown basil to eat in about . . . never. I’m the world’s worst gardener and I have the lowest hopes ever for my garden. But I’ve had fun planting it.

I have tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, lots of various lettuce, one onion, one cucumber, mini pumpkins, lots of string beans, celery for some reason, oregano, basil, dill, catnip,and strawberries. A fence made of chicken wire and the frame of an old trampoline, and little cups of moth balls to deter the rabbits. The soil is a combination of old dried out sunflower stalks for drainage, old potting soil from last year, rich soil from the swamp, and some store-bought soil and compost. 

MONDAY
Gochujang pork chops, rice, sugar snap peas

I only had a little gochujang left, so I mixed it up with tons of honey and soy sauce and crushed up some garlic, and away we went. If you want a more precise recipe than that, here it is:

Jump to Recipe

I let the pork chops marinate all day and then broiled them in the oven.

This marinade is also wonderful if you cut the pork into strips and marinate it along with matchstick carrots and slices of onion, and then fry it all up on the stovetop. But it’s great on whole pork chops or ribs, too. Pot of rice, some raw sugar snap peas, and you have a great meal.

Someone should give the Koreans an award. 

TUESDAY
Empanadas, beans and rice, pineapple

Okay. Empanada day finally arrived. I had only ever had empanadas once in my life, but somehow got fixated on them, and my experience on Tuesday totally justified that fixation.

I will tell you in advance the four things I learned:

1. Goya sells empanada dough discs that are cheap and super easy to use, and they taste great. I tried the kinds with and without annatto and couldn’t taste much difference, but the ones with were a prettier color. 

2. You can deep fry them or bake them. Frying is not hard, as they hold together well, but baked is way easier. Baked tastes different from deep fried, but it’s honestly just as delicious. Hear me now: The harder way is not clearly superior. 

3. I realize I’m from New Hampshire, but it seems to me you can put whatever you want inside the dough and cook it and call it an empanada, and it will probably be delicious. 

4. If you have some spicy filling and some mild filling, and some plain dough and some dough with annatto, and you are going to bake some and fry some, and thus you have six, no, twelve different varieties of empanadas that you have to make in batches, and they look more or less the same from the outside, and even though it’s very hot and you’re standing over a pot of hot oil and you’re running late and you don’t know if anyone’s going to eat this food, but you think you can probably keep all the different varieties straight in your head if you pay attention . . . you know what, go ahead, you cockeyed optimist. 

Anyway, they were just delicious. I loved them so much.  Like at one point during the week, I got up out of bed to rummage around in the fridge and eat some cold empanadas, even though we’re going to an awards banquet and I’m trying to fit into this trashy dress I got from Shein. That’s how much I liked these empanadas. 

I followed this Argentinian Smitten Kitchen recipe (omitting the raisins). But when I tasted the finished product, it was astonishingly bland, even after I increased all the suggested spices. So I did half with the bland filling for the kids, and then I added a bunch of stuff to the rest: a bunch of chili powder, some red pepper flakes, salt, and quite a bit more cumin than I planned, because the top fell off the jar. 

It’s so easy. You grab a disk, you slap a spoonful of filling on,

flip it closed and crimp it with a fork,

give it a little egg wash, and bake it. I used a heaping tablespoon of filling for 5-inch wrappers. I kind of smooshed the scoop into an oblong, to make it more evenly distributed, but the wrapper holds up well and you could probably smoosh it after crimping, too.

I tried using a little dumpling press I have, but it was a bit too small and didn’t save any time. The dough was very easy to work with, though, and I made forty empanadas in a short time. As you can see, the dough discs are separated with squares of plastic film, so they separate easily. 

Here’s the inside. You can see that the baked ones, like this one, come out perfectly crisp and flaky.

The fried ones have a more blistered outside.

This would make great party food. I made the empanadas in the morning and baked and fried them before dinner.

I stacked the raw empanadas two deep until I was ready to use them, and they kept their shape very well (but I wouldn’t do that for longer than several hours, probably). I believe you can also freeze the raw or cooked empanadas. They held up in the refrigerator for several days very well.

Just an A+ all star food. I’m going to keep the wrappers on hand and use them when I’ve got leftover meat from tacos, carnitas, chili verde, pulled pork, or any number of things. I also want to try putting potatoes and/or cheese in there.

We also had fresh pineapple, and beans and rice. The beans and rice was delicious. I made it with rice, black beans, canned tomatoes with chili, fresh cilantro, chili powder, red pepper flakes, salt, and cumin. It wasn’t that great, so I dumped in some salsa from a jar and then it was delicious. Lots of compliments. 

WEDNESDAY
Chicken quesadillas

I vaguely remember this. 

THURSDAY
Meatball subs

Just my regular meatball recipe,

Jump to Recipe

except I threw in a jar of green pesto and half a jar of red pesto, and it was very tasty. I ended up having a couple of meatballs for lunch, and then Damien and I went to the church for dinner, where they were having a meal presentation for the capital campaign. It’s a great parish and of course we’re going to pledge what we can, but I’m looking forward to the personalized letter where they squint at us and make a suggestion about what they think we, specifically, can afford. People tend to think we are probably tottering on destitution. Which we kind of are (some punk stole my debit card at the beach and went on an Amazon shopping spree right at the end of the month, which didn’t help!), but only in pockets, because we have weird priorities. Like I can finally buy myself a box of Ziplock bags (well, Great Value zipping locking bags) without breaking into hives, and we are renting a house on Cape Cod for a week this summer, but also I couldn’t find my toothbrush the other day, and it turned out one of my children had thrown it out, because it didn’t seem possible to her that that could be someone’s current toothbrush. A perfectly good toothbrush, that I’d grown very attached to over the years! Anyway, we’ll see what the letter says. My mother’s friend Eileen once donated some canned goods to her church’s Christmas food drive and then, on Christmas day, she opened her door to find on her porch a cheery basket containing, yes, those same exact cans. Supplies! Anyway, the church dinner was delicious, although my caesar salad had way more chicken in it than Damien’s. And that’s my meatball recipe.

FRIDAY
Spaghetti or something

Okay, now we’re all caught up! Got some nice summery recipes coming up for this week, so y’all come back!

And I’m reading over this post and realizing I told the interrupting empanada joke wrong. It’s supposed to be: 

Knock knock. 
Who’s there?
Interrupting empanada. 
Interrupting empanad–

and then there would be the sound an interrupting empanada would make. But I don’t know what that would be, which is, I suppose, why I got the joke wrong. You know it’s been a long time since anyone has asked me for advice on how to become a writer. Coincidence, I suppose. 

Gochujang bulgoki (spicy Korean pork)


Ingredients

  • 1.5 pound boneless pork, sliced thin
  • 4 carrots in matchsticks or shreds
  • 1 onion sliced thin

sauce:

  • 5 generous Tbsp gochujang (fermented pepper paste)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 5 cloves minced garlic

Serve with white rice and nori (seaweed sheets) or lettuce leaves to wrap

Instructions

  1. Combine pork, onions, and carrots.

    Mix together all sauce ingredients and stir into pork and vegetables. 

    Cover and let marinate for several hours or overnight.

    Heat a pan with a little oil and sauté the pork mixture until pork is cooked through.

    Serve with rice and lettuce or nori. Eat by taking pieces of lettuce or nori, putting a scoop of meat and rice in, and making little bundles to eat. 

Meatballs for a crowd

Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs. 

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground meat (I like to use mostly beef with some ground chicken or turkey or pork)
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400.

  2. Mix all ingredients together with your hands until it's fully blended.

  3. Form meatballs and put them in a single layer on a pan with drainage. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more until they're cooked all the way through.

  4. Add meatballs to sauce and keep warm until you're ready to serve. 

We were made for hope

The morning news is rarely uplifting. Even less so, the morning news that includes an interview with the man who recently headed the government agency on biomedical and public health research.  But not too long ago I heard just such an interview, and quite unexpectedly, it gladdened my heart.

The man is Francis Collins, and until recently, he headed the National Institute of Health, one of the agencies tasked with combating COVID in the US. He is also, as the public radio host pointed out in her introduction, a Christian.

I guess I’ve been hiding under a rock for several years, because I haven’t been aware that an evangelical Christian who used to be an atheist has been head of this agency for the last 12 years. Now, this isn’t a tidy story. He has apparently been a thorn in the side of the “haven’t we outlawed this religion nonsense yet” crowd, but at the same time, under his leadership, the NIH has gone full steam ahead on some grossly unethical research

His personal faith is not really what this essay is about, though; although it was pleasant to hear a man so humbly describing his conversion story, and a public radio host listening so respectfully. If you haven’t heard it, here is how he told it to the host, Rachel Martin:

It was medical school. It was that third year of medical school, where you’re not in the classroom anymore. You’re on the hospital wards. You’re sitting at the bedside of good North Carolina people whose lives are coming to an end, sometimes with a great deal of pain and suffering. And you’re realizing your medical tools are inadequate to actually help them very much.

And I had a moment where a patient of mine, who I’d gotten kind of attached to – an elderly woman kind of like my grandmother – who shared her faith with me and then turned to me one afternoon and said, you know, Doctor, I’ve told you about my beliefs, and you haven’t said anything. What do you believe? What do you believe? Nobody ever quite asked me that question. And, Rachel, at that moment, I realized, I have no idea. I have settled on atheism because it was the answer I was most comfortable with, and it meant I didn’t really have to look into this. But I’m a scientist. I’m not supposed to make big decisions without looking at evidence. I’ve got to look into it.”


What he did next was to ask a pastor friend some challenging questions, and the man directed him toward the book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, which led him to understand that science is meant to answer one kind of question, and religion is meant to answer another. You don’t have to choose one or the other, despite what so many on both sides of our deeply divided society believe, or want to believe.

The host asked him about that divide, and about how he finds hope. He responded that he finds it in his faith. Then he said:

“I also have hope that human nature, despite all of its foibles, is basically put together in a way that over time we find a way to do the right thing, even after making a lot of mistakes along the way.”

This struck me as a message from Heaven. And this is the part I really want to focus on.

Here is a man who believes that God made us. And how did God make us? To be good. Maybe not all the time, and maybe not perfectly, and maybe not right away, but eventually, stumblingly, partially, or even just as a race: That’s what we do. That’s what the human race is: It is good. I guess I had forgotten that!

It’s become commonplace, in these dreadful, exhausting times, to look backward through history and to see plainly the fruitless cycles we seem doomed to walk through, over and over again. We struggle, we gain ground, we flourish, and then we come to ruin, over and over and over again. This is the story of mankind, on every continent, in every age, sooner or later, in big ways and in small. It seems like a story of constant, inescapable ruin. Fruitless, pointless.

But here is a man who saw this cycle as a story not of repeated failure, but of repeated hope. He is 71 years old, and he still thinks that people are basically put together in such a way that they are oriented toward the good, at least to try. This is a thing he’s saying in the beginning of the year 2022, after leading the fight he leaded, and after seeing what he’s seen.

I do believe, as we should all believe as Catholics, that there will eventually come an end to the world. There will not just be endless cycles to human life. Human history as we know it will someday cease, and a new age will begin, and we don’t know what that will look like. But I think that, right up until that time (which, Jesus insists, we do not know), it’s our job to keep turning and turning over the soil to find the next harvest.

It’s been a deeply discouraging few years, for countless, cascading reasons. We may have allowed ourselves to half believe that we’re just plain run out of goodness, as a human race.

But that’s not how we’re made.

What do you believe? What do you believe? I believe we were made by God to be good. We were made by God for constant conversion. There’s always the possibility of conversion, always the chance to try again to do good. If an atheist doctor can decide to ask hard questions about existence, then I, who already know about God, can decide to look for Him in my fellow fooling fumbling humans. We can ask God for help, and we can find that goodness, one more time. 

 

Photo by Kumaraguru via Pixahive 
A version of this essay was originally published on March 8, 2022 in The Catholic Weekly.

What’s for supper? Vol. 294: Ya burnt!

Another Friday! We have arrived. We really launched our warm weather cooking this week. We also had our first “oh yes, that skunk is definitely rabid” situation, so I guess spring is officially fully here. I made some berry pies and only partially roont them. 

Here’s what we cooked and ate this week: 

SATURDAY
Indian food!

The kids had an assortment of frozen foods, and Damien and I went back to Royal Spice, where we had the same vegetarian appetizers as last time, because they were so appetizing, and then I had goat biryani and Damien had goat vindaloo. Superb. So delicious, I forgot to take pictures.  I need to get back to some Indian cooking. Gotta break in the new mortar and pestle Lucy got me for mother’s day! 

SUNDAY
Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, grilled corn, blueberry-strawberry pie 

We had our elderly neighbor over. I’ve been meaning to have her over, ever since we moved in, uhh, sixteen years ago. Listen, we don’t like to be pushy in these parts. We did have a nice time, although she is fairly deaf and the conversation kept circling back to a reliable topic, i.e. her roasting me for buying vegetable plants for the garden instead of starting seeds.  The dog thought she was absolutely incredible, and she thought the kids were absolutely amazing for swimming in the pool even though it was a little chilly. She dug up some of her bleeding hearts for me, and I gave her some pie. A good visit.

Damien cooked burgers and hot dogs and corn on the grill, always tasty. He cooks the corn right inside the husks, which makes it super sweet and juicy. You just peel and eat. I will admit, at least 50% of the reason I like this method is because it looks so dramatic. 

I made a couple of pies for dessert, and let me tell you, I was worried the whole time that the filling would turn out too runny, and guess what? It did. Not that I took any steps to prevent that from happening; I just worried about it. I sprinkled a good amount of corn starch in with the fruit and sugar, and let it sit for a while before baking; and I let it sit for a while after baking and before cutting. But it was still runny. I guess I should add even more corn starch? Anyone? It tasted great, just sweet enough, and they were very pretty. Just runny. 

I just mixed together strawberries and blueberries, sugar, a little salt, what seemed like a good amount of corn starch, and some fresh lemon juice. 

Here’s the unbaked pies:

and baked, with an egg wash and a little sugar on top, sadly somewhat burnt:

but still pretty

Here’s my recipe for pie crust, which is reliable and easy to work with.

Jump to Recipe

The main secret is to freeze the butter and grate it into the dry ingredients, and then just barely handle it after that.

We made some fresh whipped cream to top it with. Then the kids cleared the table and put the whipped cream away in the fridge. In a ziplock bag. I know that this is technically better than the other way they were likely to put it away (in an open bowl, with some old meatloaf on top), but somehow it didn’t feel better. 

MONDAY
Chicken caesar salad, grapes

A decent meal (if one that I’ve been eating a little too often for my liking in one form or another these days, in an effort to shed my Covid Ennui weight). Chicken breast with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and olive oil, grilled and sliced, served on romaine lettuce with dressing from a bottle and freshly-grated parmesan cheese, and buttery homemade croutons. (FYI, the dressing and buttery croutons are not included in the Covid Ennui weight shedding plan, sadly.)

We did bat around the idea of getting ducks this year. Maybe next year. I do love duck eggs, and I would abase myself for homemade caesar salad dressing made with fresh duck egg yolks.

Jump to Recipe

Maybe next year! Quack.

TUESDAY
Honey mustard drumsticks, homemade tortilla chips, corn and bean salad

Sweet, colorful, mostly finger food. I thought this was going to be a super kid-pleaser meal. This despite that fact that I have met my kids.

Of course you can tell with an introduction like that that they mostly ate cereal. One proudly showed me the dusty can of chicken noodle soup she had discovered in the back of the cabinet. Oh well. I still thought it was a pleasant warm-weather meal.

I roasted about 24 drumsticks with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then rolled them around in a honey mustard sauce, made with probably a cup of honey, half a cup of mustard, and the juice of a large lemon. Then let them chill in the fridge for the rest of the day.

The corn salad was made with 3 ear’s worth of corn leftover from the cookout, a can of drained black beans, a can of diced tomatoes with chiles drained, the juice of one lime, half a red onion minced, a small bunch of chopped cilantro, and salt and pepper. I kept it bland so the kids would eat it, ho ho ho. 

The tortilla chips, I made by cutting flour tortillas into triangles, tossing them with oil, and sprinkling them heavily with Taijin powder a few times, then spreading them on a pan and baking them in a 350 oven for about half an hour, stirring them a few times so they wouldn’t stick. They don’t turn out completely crisp, but some of them are a little bit chewy.

Here is my helper, performing a crispness test:

You could probably avoid this by baking them longer at a lower temp, and giving them more space, but genuinely I like them a little chewy. I honestly have the palate of a sickly Victorian child. I want at least some of my foods to be milky and the consistency of tapioca. I also like more exciting foods, but my first love will always be the diet of an invalid. And now you know my secret.  

WEDNESDAY
Tacos, pineapple and papaya

I optimistically planned the menu this way, with tacos on Wednesday rather than Tuesday, thinking we’d have leftover corn salad and tortilla chips to go along with the tacos. Which we did, but (see previous day) nobody was happy about it. They were happy about the tacos, though, so there.

I sweetened the deal with some fresh pineapple and papaya. Boy, papaya sure is, it sure looks, boy. I feel like I ought to have someone else in the room when I cut it up, just so there’s no misunderstandings. 

THURSDAY
Pizza

Something weird happened with this pizza. Maybe a weird batch of dough, I don’t know. Maybe I used too much sauce. It just clung to the pan and didn’t act right. It was okay, just kind of heavy. I also forgot to buy olives.

I made one plain, one pepperoni, one garlic and onion, and one ham and pineapple.

Plenty of fresh parmesan on all of them, which was nice. 

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese

A couples Fridays ago was supposed to be mac and cheese, but I ran out of steam and just bought some Aldi pizzas. We have SO much stray cheese in the house, though, so I really want to use it up this time.

Oh, last Friday I did make the seafood lo mein

Jump to Recipe

with the mixed frozen seafood pouch from Aldi, and it turned out just great. It had all kinds of great stuff, mussels, scallops, a little octopus, wonderful. I threw a little fish sauce in there, plus some asparagus and some scallions, and it was a very tasty little meal. 

My wish now is to make empanadas. It just came into my head and I can’t think of a reason not to do it. I am thinking of buying the dough disks, if I can find them, so I can get the hang of it; and then if people like them, I can always try making my own dough next time. Any empanada advice? I think I have a press I bought to make dumplings, so I can probably use that. 

caesar salad dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about two large lemons' worth)
  • 1 Tbsp mustard
  • 4 raw egg yolks, beaten
  • 3/4 cup finely grated parmesan

Instructions

  1. Just mix it all together, you coward.

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.