What’s for supper? Vol. 322: Simply having a yaki onigiri time

We who are about to wrap 40 presents salute you! But first, here is what we ate this week:

Virginia baked ham, bread and cheese, cheesecake

One of Damien’s editor’s kindly sent over a lovely spiral ham and a cheesecake. I picked up some baguettes and various cheeses and we had an easy, snacky, tasty dinner. 

No, I’m not tired of the spotlight effect yet. I’ll get it out of my system eventually. Let me have my fun!

Burgers and chips

On Sunday I put the lights on the tree and on the rest of the house. We’ve settled into a pretty good routine: On the first week of Advent, I put up the nativity set and a few lights. The next week, I put up outdoor lights. The next week, we get a tree. The fourth week, we put lights on the tree and indoors. And then we decorate the tree on Christmas eve. We arrived at this tradition through necessity, because we used to be so busy and overwhelmed that I just didn’t have the energy to do more than a little bit at a time, but I like the gradual growing and gathering of light, and I like having the tree decorations still feeling fresh and exciting on Christmas day.

I’m not very good at decorating, mind you. I feel like I have triumphed if you can turn on all the indoor lights on with one switch, and all the outdoor lights have a timer, so they turn themselves off and on. I can’t remember if I shared this already, but I did manage to add to my Ludicrous Display this year

and I also built a sort of mid-century modern stable out of scrap wood and shims because our old stable collapsed.

I think I’m going to paint it at some point, but at least the little people have somewhere to stand for now. 

And other than that, it’s just “more is more.”

Works for me. Sunday was also the first evening of Hanukkah, so we had plenty to keep up with. 

Oh, and we had hamburgers. 

This particular burger is about to wow you with “O Holy Night” like you’ve never heard it before. 

Ham sandwiches, leftovers

Monday I think we were supposed to have soup or something, but there was so much ham left over, not to mention chicken from last week, we just went ahead and had that, and if anyone had complaints, they wisely kept it to themselves.

Hot dogs and hot pretzels

Tuesday was chock-a-block full of dentist appointments, various whatnot, and then a school concert. Corrie’s entire school career has been during covid time, so this is all new to her. It was an adorable concert, and they sang age-appropriate songs, which I really appreciated. Then we bought our cookies for the fundraiser to defray the cost of the thing we’re going to pay for anyway, and went home, and skipped candles, because enough is enough.

Mexican beef bowl

Sorry, this is supposed to be a food post! Wednesday we had a really tasty meal, finally. I’ll have to come back later and fill in the recipes, because my plugins are disabled at the moment while we try to figure out why the email subscription isn’t working. Anyway, chuck roast was $1.99 so I got a nice big hunk, sliced it up and marinated it in the morning

and got some beans going  

I don’t know if you have to be a bean-lover to appreciate that picture, but those were some damn fine beans. I sautéed some garlic and onions in olive oil, then just chucked in some beans with their canned liquid, a few drained canned tomatoes, and plus some fresh cilantro and a bunch of cumin and some salt and pepper, and then just let it simmer all day. Fine beans.

By dinner time, all I had to do was cook some rice, chop some scallions, slice up some limes, char up a little corn in olive oil, and set out corn chips and sour cream, and quickly pan-fry the marinated beef, and we had really tasty bowls. 

I just sprinkled the Swedish Fish around to be cute because the picture needed some more color. I may be from New Hampshire, but I do not put candy in my beans.  

Bo ssam and lettuce, fried rice balls, fresh pineapple

This is a recipe I have pared down and pared down until it’s hardly a recipe, but everyone still loves it. I mixed together a cup of salt and a cup of sugar (that’s what I said) and rubbed it all over the fattiest hunk of pork I could find, wrapped the meat in plastic, and put it in the fridge the night before. 

Then around noon, I put a few layers of tin foil on a roasting pan, put the meat on it fat side up, and started cooking it, uncovered, at 300. You just ignore it for about six hours. Then, about ten minutes before you want to eat, you mix together 7 tablespoons of brown sugar, a tablespoon of salt, and two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, turn the oven up to 500, rub the mixture on the top of the meat, and let it caramelize. Pull the whole thing out and just behold its shining, bubbling beauty

The outside develops a completely degenerate salt-sugar-meat-fat crust, and if you bash a hole in it, it’s absolute shreds inside

and you eat it rolled up in tender lettuce with rice. There are various sauces to go with it, such as the wonderful walnutty one at this site, but we generally just eat it as is. 

Since we just had rice the previous day, I got it into my head to make something different besides just rice, so I found this recipe for yaki onigiri (Japanese grilled rice balls). Also, the furnace conked out early in the morning and it was freezing cold in the house, and it took several hours for the guy to show up and fix it, and this may have fed into my sudden desire to get furiously busy around the stove, including handling hot rice.

Once again, I simplified the recipe pretty much beyond recognition. I just made rice in the the Instant Pot using 1:1 proportions and the “rice” button, which produces rather sticky rice. I let it cool a bit, and then formed sort of wedge-shaped triangles with wet hands, and kept them on a pan under a damp towel until dinner time.Then I heated up some oil and just fried them lightly on all sides, brushing on soy sauce as I fried.

And that was it. It was a splendid meal.

The rice balls actually mostly kept together, as long as I didn’t disturb them as they fried, and only turned them once. I thought they were delicious. The outside was a little crunchy and crusty with a pleasant flavor, and the inside was, well, warm rice. This is exactly the kind of thing I could eat all day.

I liked it much more than anyone else in the house did, so I probably won’t be making it for dinner again, but it was super easy to fry up, so if you have some leftover sticky rice, give it a whirl. Maybe warm it up first, so you don’t end up with cold rice in the middle. 

There are other sauces you can brush on the outside, and you can also fill the rice balls with things, like salmon or vegetables. That sounds good, too. Everything sounds good. It’s cold and all I want to do is eat.

While I was waiting for the furnace guy, I also made a few batches of no-chill no-fail sugar cookie dough and a few batches of buckeye dough, which I intend to force into cute shapes using the various silicone candy molds we have acquired over the years. When the furnace guy left, I dashed out to the store to finally buy some stocking stuffer candy, only to find to my complete astonishment and amazement that it was almost all sold out, and the shelves were stocked with Valentine’s candy and even some Mardi Gras merchandise. I say “astonishment and amazement” because that is how I respond to things that happen every single year, and there is no reason to think it will be otherwise this time. I yam what I yam. 

Anyway I scrounged around the clearance aisles and found some chorklet this and peppermint that, and also bought some more butter and sugar and flour and confectioner’s sugar and nuts and cream cheese, and maybe I will make rugelach, who can say.

Latkes and bagels and eggs

It’s still Hanukkah! We have managed to light the candles more than half the time, and this year we did not accidentally set the Advent wreath on fire with the shammes candle, which is what you call “an ecumenical matter.” Gonna fry up some potato latkes and serve them with sour cream, maybe some homemade applesauce. 

And oh dear, I have to make some cinnamon bun dough for Christmas morning. I’ll get it done. It always all gets done. Or else it doesn’t, and we survive anyway. 

And that’s a wrap! I hope you are all keeping safe and warm, and that any traveling you can’t avoid goes swiftly and smoothly. I love yez all, and if you were here, I would cook for you. 

Question for email subscribers only!

Hello, everybody – I am having some problems with the subscription service on this site. I think people who have signed up to receive an email every time I publish a post haven’t been getting them for a while. It may or may not have been fixed. If you are a subscriber — that is, if you have signed up through my site to receive emailsand you got an email of some kind for this post, can you please let me know, either in the combox or on social media?

Also, if you have gotten emails in the past but have stopped getting them, what is the date of the last one you got? 

Thank you so much for your help with this! Trying to get this cleared up asap! Please enjoy this picture of a strange mailman who is doing his best.

image by vectorportal.com (Creative Commons)

In which I get interviewed about sex and stuff again!

This was neat! InDepth NH has launched a new feature called The First Line, where author and speaker Bev Stoddard interviews NH authors. I was honored to be the subject of the inaugural interview, which you can watch here. Bev did a great job and I really enjoyed the conversation, which ranged far and wide.

I especially appreciated the opportunity to step outside my comfy bubble a little bit and talk to a secular audience about my book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning [affiliate link], and about natural family planning, and sexuality and marriage in general. I am finding that a Catholic point of view is making more and more sense to people who don’t have any particular theological beliefs, but are looking around at the cultural and biological wasteland of 2022 and not liking what they see.

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Speaking of my book, this is hard for me to believe, but it’s been almost nine years since it was published, and I’m still getting nice reviews! Here’s one someone just published on Amazon just a few weeks ago:

The book is available in paperback, as an ebook, and also as an audiobook read by yours truly. (And you know what, I insisted the paperback will always be priced less than $10, because I remember when that was the magic number of whether or not I could afford something.) If I were smart, I’d be publishing this after Christmas, when people have gift cards burning a hole in their pocket, but if I were smart, well, where’s the fun in that. 

Walking into church (and walking up to Christmas)

This post contains an affiliate link. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

We’re slowly working our way through (okay, we temporarily lost the book, but I’ll find it soon) The How-To Book of the MassEverything You Need to Know but No One Ever Taught You by Michael Dubruiel

And you know, he is absolutely right: No one ever taught me most of this stuff. It’s not just theology — what the Eucharist is, what the prayers mean, and so on. It’s very practical things like what to do when you’re distracted by other thoughts when you walk into the church. Which you probably are more often than not. What to do?

We may think, or even have been told, that it’s our job to sternly shunt these distracting thoughts away so we can focus on Jesus, who is the one we are there to see. But this is not the way, says Dubruiel.

He says:

“[t]here is a point in every Mass at which we can bring our desires to God. But because many of us do not see the connection, we miss it. There is also a time to hear what the Word of God has to say about our desires. It is not necessary to ignore these desire that weigh upon our hearts, but to bring them to God in the context of what God is saying to us during the Mass.”

He reminds us of the people in the Gospel who literally came face-to-face with Jesus, but wasted the opportunity, because they were focused on someone or something else.

It’s not a problem to have these concerns, Dubruiel says. The mistake is when we do not bring them to God, even though we are in the presence of God… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Road to Bethlehem; also known as The Difficult Journey (1890) by Fritz von Uhde via Wikipedia (Public Domain)

Update: KYRA WON.

My friends, I have wonderful news. Kyra paused the GoFundMe I shared last week, and she just made this announcement on social media:

So, big announcement, which is why I paused the fundraiser. Really big.
On Wednesday we had a pre trial conference, and during it, the judge told my ex and his lawyer that there was no claim to the house and it belongs solely to me. And with that removed, my ex offered to settle.
And we settled child support and back payment and other details. And it’s done. It’s done and signed and now we are waiting for the divorce. And I’m using the gofundme to pay for court costs and lawyer costs and previous law payments.
It’s over, guys. The house is safe. It’s safe.
Six years.
So many of you donated, shared, and prayed. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You did a good thing.
Kyra has strep and pneumonia and did the pre-trial conference via Zoom from bed, and she’s still extremely sick, and her kids are sick, as well. (Her ex has, of course, decided to skip his visitation because he is sick.) If you could keep her family in your prayers as we head into the final week of Advent, I would be so grateful. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 321: Fly me to taboon (and let me play among za’atar)

Busy busy! Aren’t we all! Here’s what we had this week, including two birthday cakes (and this is why we don’t really do St. Lucy’s day or St. Nicholas day or what have you. December is already full up): 

Benny’s birthday party! Pizza and cake

Benny had an ancient Egypt-themed birthday party. More guests than expected showed up, and it was a little bit bananas, and they were less interested in the activities we planned (making necklaces out of clay cartouches with their names in hieroglyphs; getting eye makeup and posing in the sarcophagus photo booth; and doing a toilet paper mummy wrapping contest) and more interested in running around screaming. But we powered through. We decorated with gold and blue plastic tablecloths tacked onto the walls, with details added with a Sharpie. 

and we did get a few sarcophagus shots

and the birthday girl was highly pleased with the cake.

I made two nine-inch square cakes and one deep loaf cake, and just kept carving them up and stacking the pieces on top of each other and sticking them together with icing, and by the time it looked like a pyramid, there was very little left over

I frosted it with tub frosting and pressed colored sugar into the sides, added lines with a toothpick, and then made some camels and trees with chocolate melting discs, and pressed those into the sides, with crushed graham crackers for sand. 

Uh, the reason it says “HAPY BIRTDAY” is because I showed her the cool golden letter candles I had bought, and asked if they were good for her cake, and she said, “Yes, as long as there are 11 of them.” Of course there are 13 letters in “happy birthday,” so I suggested “hapy birtday,” and that worked for her.

This is my #1 parenting rule: Discuss expectations ahead of time, and you will save everyone so much heartache. 

Chicken burgers, chips, broccoli 

Aldi had a clearance on their bottles of that garlic aioli mayo stuff, so I bought several bottles. I complain a lot when people clutter up my limited cabinet space with unnecessary bottles, but we’re talking about garlic aioli may stuff here. I’m not sharing a picture of my chicken sandwich because I put a disgusting amount of mayo on and it looks obscene. 

I also got crafty real quick on Sunday and did a fast project I’ve been saving the materials for for a while: This pretty pinecone zinnia wreath. 

Some pinecones, not all, really look like zinnias on their undersides, especially if you paint them. I clipped the tops off with garden shears, leaving the central “spine” mostly intact; hot glued them to a grapevine wreath from the thrift store, painted them with tempera, and then picked out a few of the vines of the wreath in two shades of green. I considered adding ribbon or berries, but it’s so bright and simple, I think I like it this way.  The wreath has a kind of wild grass look, which reminds me of Cape Cod, which is where I gathered the pine cones. 

Ham, peas, garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

Just in case they forgot who’s the best mother in the whole world: Ham, peas, and mashed potatoes, that’s who. 

Here’s my garlic parmesan mashed potato recipe, should you need it:

Jump to Recipe

Mussakhan and taboon, feta cheese, pomegranates, meghli and sahlab

This meal really got away from me, in the best way. I had spotted this recipe for mussakhan a while back. It’s apparently the national Palestinian dish, and it’s easy and delicious: Sumac chicken with onions. If you like middle eastern food, this hits all those best notes. It has not just sumac, but allspice, cumin, cinnamon, lemon, and garlic. You slash the chicken (I used drumsticks and thighs) across the grain and rub the marinade in, and let it marinate several hours with sliced red onions, and then you just roast it in the oven. 

What puts it over the top is, right at the end, you brown up some pine nuts in olive oil and sprinkle these over the top, along with some flat leaf parsley and a little extra sumac. 

What puts it into the stratosphere is you serve it oven taboon, which is a dimpled, chewy flatbread which is supposed to be made in a clay oven or at least on a pizza stone, but guess what? I made one big giant slab o’ taboon on a sheet pan in my regular oven and it was AMAZING. 

I had to run out and buy bread flour, so I almost decided to just pick up some store bought pita instead, but I’m so glad I went for the homemade taboon.

Here’s the recipe:

Jump to Recipe

IT’S SO EASY. You guys know I’m kind of a dunce with baking and with bread in particular, but this was an unqualified success. I just mixed up the ingredients in my standing mixer, let it rise for an hour or so, scronched it and let it rest for ten minutes, and then rolled it out and stretched it into the pan, and baked it while the chicken finished cooking.

So at dinner time, I put the piping hot taboon on the table and then I served the chicken right on top of the bread, and poured all the cooking juices over it, and sprinkled the sizzling pine nuts over that, and finished with the parsley and sumac. 

Everyone just grabbed some chicken and tore off whatever bread they wanted and, oh man, it was fantastic. 

I wish I had taken some pictures of the inside of the taboon, but it was just barely browned and crisp on the bottom; the top was a little bit chewy, and the inside was fluffy and pillowy. So nice. The little dimples sop up the juices. 

I also had some feta cheese because I bought too much for spanakopita for Thanksgiving; and I had a bunch of pomegranates I got for Benny’s Egypt party and forgot to serve. So that went perfectly. 

I also suddenly remembered that, this summer, I had bought two pudding mixes: meghli and sahlab.

I had no idea what either of these were; I just liked the names, and I love puddings of all kind. The sahlab required you to add four cups of milk and heat and stir until it thickens, and then you can either drink it as a hot beverage, or else chill and serve as a pudding; the meghli required four cups of cold water, heat and stir to boil, and then chill. 

I chilled them both and served them with dried coconut. (Sorry about the inelegant picture. I was absolutely stuffed with food and could not be bothered to get up and find a pretty ramekin at this point.)

The sahlab had a pleasant silky texture, but tasted very strongly of rosewater and not much else, and I’m not a big fan. Rosewater just tastes like perfume to me. The kids liked it, though. If you like rosewater, I definitely recommend this mix. It was very easy to make.

The meghli was weird but nice. I liked the flavor, which is apparently predominantly anise, caraway, and cinnamon. I didn’t really taste the anise, but really mainly the cinnamon. But the flavor wasn’t really strong enough, though, and it tasted watery, and that was a little off-putting. It was also kind of pulpy. It’s possible I made it wrong, although all I had to do was stir it, so I don’t know how I could have messed it up! I might try it again and see if it comes out different. 

But all in all, a fantastic meal, very popular. Four new foods! It was a little expensive just because of the pine nuts and sumac, but I’m going to shop around and see if I can find them for cheaper, because I want to make this whole meal again. 

Muffaletta sandwiches, fries 

It’s been a while. The olive salad turned out particularly nice, who knows why. I threw in two cans of black olives, one jar of green, and one jar of kalamata, a few pepproncini, some mild banana peppers, a bunch of red wine vinegar and olive oil, and a bunch of flat leaf parsley, and I think that’s it. I had some marinated red peppers, but they got shoved into the back of the fridge and froze. 

I served it on baguettes. For meats and cheese, I came up with leftover ham, genoa salami, hard salami, and some good provolone. None of this – not the olive salad, not the meats, not the bread, not the proportions of any of it – is authentic muffaletta, but it tasted good, and hardly anyone went and had cereal, so. 

I’m trying SO hard not to eat a meal’s worth of snacks while I wait for supper time, so instead I made a salami rose 

and that has made all the difference.

My birthday!

Now I am 48! So far, it’s better than being dead.

The day started out a little squalid, and I drove the kids to school while Damien drove some to the dentist, then I drove to the dentist, while he drove one of them home because we got confused about the work schedule, then I drove some of them from the dentist to school, then I did a little Christmas shopping, then home, then drove the kid to work and picked up a prescription, then went home and had a telehealth doctor visit where I was like “I’m not really fine” and she was like “yes you are” and I was like “oh ok”; and then we had to go to a meeting where they were like, how are you suckers going to pay for your kid to go to Rome, eh? And we were like, duh, I dunno, she managed to sell three pots of poinsettias and we thought that would cover it, but apparently not.

BUT THEN, that was all the things we had to do! and Damien offered to take me wherever I wanted to go, and I really wanted to go get pizza. I chose eggplant, artichoke, anchovy, and garlic, and it was frickin delicious. 

I also laughed my head off because, as I ate, I watched as the cashier tell this teenage boy that he had been noticed trying to walk out with one of the restaurant’s two-foot glittery reindeer decorations hidden under his shirt, and they weren’t going to make a big deal about it because it was Christmas, but he needed to give it back. Teenage boys are so dumb. Just, so dumb. How are they even alive. 

And then we went home and everyone showered me with lovely, thoughtful presents

and Clara had baked me a spectacular cake

It was a coconut cream cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction, to which she had added lime zest and crushed pineapple, both brilliant ideas. Oh, what a moist, wonderful cake. So it was a great birthday! I felt very cherished and cared-for. Also, earlier, I was supposed to pick up the kids from school, but instead Damien did it, and I just took a nap. And he came home with flowers. 


It is a snow day. A snow day that they told us about the day before, so we just turned off the alarms and slept in! I slept kind of late and now I’m scrambling to get caught up. Good thing we’re having pizza. 


Garlic parmesan mashed potatoes


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


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

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

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

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

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.


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


  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.

Great books for high school and older

Here’s a bunch of books I heartily recommend, and that I think would make good gifts. They’re all books that adults can enjoy, that high school kids ought be able to get something out of, and maybe that a smart younger teenager could appreciate. 

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

by Walker Percy

A satirical, prophetic novel written with great love for the weak man. If you haven’t met Walker Percy yet, this is his indispensable work. 

by Anne Tyler

A fearless and tender book about family doing terrible things for terribly understandable reasons. Anne Tyler is incredibly prolific and has written dozens of good novels, and about half a dozen really excellent novels, but I think this may be her best. 

by Susanna Clarke

An exquisitely strange, painfully beautiful fantastical novel that sets up a world you think the author can’t possibly support to its conclusion, and yet she does. A moving, hopeful, gorgeously written work. 

by Leif Enger

Part adventure and coming-of-age story, part sort of Biblical magical realism, with a thrilling conclusion. A powerful and restorative book with a great story and complex characters. 

by Isabel Allende

A funny, bizarre, sexy, tragic ambitious novel of three generations set in Chile. Reads like a beach book but it will really stay with you.

by Toni Morrison

Hold onto your butts. One of the finest novels of the century, but reading it is going to hurt. Absolutely transcendent writing, unforgettable. Has some graphic violent and sexual scenes, so not for younger readers.

by Giovanni Guareschi

A collection of stories about a large and rash priest in rural Italy who often does battle, spiritually and physically, with the equally large and rash communist mayor of the town. These are appealing, funny, sometimes poignant little vignettes of more or less decent people working out their salvation. 

by Andy Weir

This one, I have never read, but I asked my 18-year-old old son for a recommendation, and this is what he said. He said it is “Funny, harrowing adventure, great lead character, great for people who like space.”

by Leo Rosten

Possibly a bit of a niche pick, but this is a vastly entertaining book, packed with jokes, stories, bits of history, and all kinds of fascinating, rigorously researched details about the Yiddish language and its speakers. 

by Natalie Morrill

[An excerpt from a review I wrote:] A story about what it means to survive, and what it means to go home; what it is like to love, what it is like to be betrayed. It is about guilt and responsibility, about how to live with unspeakable burdens, and about how to survive when, as one character says, “everyone is excused, but no one is forgiven.” 

But this is not a dark novel, either. Or, rather, it’s dark like the earth is dark, sometimes crushingly heavy, but also fertile and alive — partly because of where the story brings us, and partly because the writing itself is so luminous.

M.R. Carey

The writing is a little bit primitive, but this is a blazingly original book, really gripping and frightening, and it does what many monster stories don’t bother to do: It works out what the world would actually be like, if The Thing That Happened happened. The movie is a worthy adaptation, but the book is better. 

by C.S. Lewis

The first two books of Lewis’ space trilogy are each have more than one scene that helped me understand something important about God. There is an awful lot of scenery, and Lewis is not as good at describing it as he thinks he is; but I can forgive the unnevenness of the prose because of those seminal passages. And anyway, some of the writing is pure Lewis lucidity and loveliness. Plus it’s just weird and cool and interesting, the product of an active, unfettered mind at play. 

That Hideous Strength is the third book in the series, and it’s worth reading. It’s a powerful story and immensely original; but I can’t bring myself to recommend it with the same fervor, because all of Lewis’ weirdness about women gets distilled into this one, and you can just skip it if you want to. 

by Katherine Patterson 

This one really is a YA book, and I probably should make a whole YA list, except that I don’t really believe in YA books. I think kids should read good children’s books until they are old enough to read adult books, and then they should continue reading children’s books while they read adult books. That being said, Katherine Paterson has written many, many well-researched historical novels aimed squarely at the teenaged reader. She understands their problems and their joys so well, and takes them seriously, and also has mastered the art of writing as an unreliable narrator. Jacob Have I Loved is one of my favorites of hers. Twin girls coming of age in a crabbing town in Maryland during World War II. One sister is (or believes she is) less favored, less gifted, less loved, and wrestles with this as she grows up. It’s so delicately done and so good. 

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

Crazy, man. A three-part post-apocalyptic epic that follows the rebuilding of civilization, including the stubbornly resilient Catholic Church. This book is hilarious and nutty and so smart and tough and strange. The last bit may include some light heresy, but it’s worth it.

by Betty Smith

Betty Smith wrote several novels, all of which absolutely wallow in pathos and sentimentality, with a few passages that ring true and hit home. This book, which is clearly semi-autobiographical, is the opposite: It frequently tiptoes up to sentimentality, but the bulk of it is just too raw and real and beautiful. A brother and sister grow up in Brooklyn in poverty in the 40’s with a drunken Irish father and a German mother who loves them all, but isn’t great at showing it. Smith shows and tells, and it’s pretty close to an American epic novel, that just takes place in a few blocks in Brooklyn. 

by James Herriot 

My comfort read. Immensely gratifying, funny, moving, fascinating, well-told stories of how a young man sets up his veterinary practice in the Yorkshire countryside. You can tell that he’s embroidering the truth to make everything a little more tidy, but he does it so well and the stories are so good, you don’t mind. I love this book and its sequels dearly, and want everyone to read them. 

by Joyce Cary 

Sure wish Joyce Cary were more well known.

From a mini review I wrote: The Moonlight deals with two generations of women living through social transformations of sexual mores, and the choices they make, the hardships they can’t escape, and what it does to their souls. That makes it sound tiresome, but it’s super dramatic, but also extraordinarily true to life, very tender and funny and sometimes shockingly, horribly familiar. 

Cary is one of those authors who understands human nature very deeply, and also loves his characters very deeply, even as they allow themselves to do stupid and monstrous things. The book would be a wonderful portrayal of the interior lives of women in any case, but the fact that the author is a man makes the book extraordinary. Love, suicide, pregnancy, art, sisterhood, beauty, sex, taxes, dead sheep: this novel has it all, and it’s so fluidly and engagingly written, and always with the element I admire most: clarity.

by Will Cuppy 

Just hilarious. Great read for anyone who knows a bit of history. Rigorously researched and then run through Will Cuppy’s quietly antic brain; copiously illustrated with very cheeky pictures. Just funny stuff. 

by Terry Pratchett

I included this as the one installation for the Discworld series, which has about 846 novels, because it’s the first one I read, and I loved it. I used to like Douglas Adams, because he is so clever and sardonic and so witty with his words, but I got really tired of the basic nihilistic worldview. Terry Pratchett is clever and sardonic and incredibly witty, but he clearly cannot shake the feeling that it all means something. He’s just not sure what. Anyway, the Discworld series is all it’s cracked up to be, and this would be a great place to jump in. 

by C.S. Lewis

Do I have to say things? You know these books, right? I feel like The Great Divorce doesn’t get enough attention, and everyone focuses on Screwtape, which definitely deserves it; but The Great Divorce has equally gripping and searing (and often consoling and heartening) insights about human nature. I think these two would make great reads for confirmation students, and should be part of any high school faith formation class. 

by C.S. Lewis

possibly my favorite book
This is really just a perfect book. Like it’s a miracle. I wouldn’t change a line. It helped me so much to synthesize all the weird contradictory emotions and ideas weltering around in my head about the gods and God and mythology and all kinds of things. I think it is Lewis’ best book, and puts together everything that is best about his storytelling prowess and his capacity for articulating theology. 

by Walter Ciszek, S.J.

The spiritual memoir of Fr. Walter Ciszek, who went to Russia to minister to the Godless Russians, kind of failed miserably, was arrested, unexpectedly met God, succeeded in a way he wasn’t expecting, and then was liberated against his will. He tells the story very plainly and humbly, but it really is, as the subtitle says, “an extraordinary testament.” He is a very kind man and I’m very glad to know him, and he has been a good friend to me ever since. I thought the book was going to be searing and convicting, and it . . . kind of was, but it was also strangely consoling and encouraging, considering the topic, which is rough stuff. 

by Robert Nye

I actually read this kind of a while ago, but I remember it being a wild ride, and enjoying it immensely. I read it out loud to the kids, who loved it. I have read strict translations of Beowulf, which this is not, and what this does is tell the story and put across the extreme Beowulfitude of the whole thing very successfully. The cover image is incredibly dumb, so don’t worry about that. 

And that’s it! If I think of more, I’ll add them. I meant to do more book lists before Christmas but I was overtaken by events. Is it too late? Would it be helpful to do other lists of recommended titles for other age groups? 

Image from https://freestocks.org/ (Public Domain)

What’s for supper? Vol. 320: Cat, dog, hen, only each of us is all three of them

Happy Friday! Because it was somehow actually cheaper than continuing to have my old phone, I got a new phone with a fancy new camera, I haven’t had much chance to play around with it yet. That’s not true; I’ve had lots of time. I’m just stupid and easily intimidated by technology. What I’m trying to tell you is some of the food photos turned out a little weird and overly dramatic this week. You’ve been warned!

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Here’s what we had:

Little brown meal

That is what my parents used to call it when they were super poor in the kibbutz in Israel and all they could afford was, I think, hard boiled eggs and eggplant? That doesn’t make sense, though, because those things aren’t brown. Anyway, my father refused to eat either of those foods for the rest of his life, so they must have had them a lot. “Little brown meal” for us is when you’re all about delivering nutrients and that’s really your only goal. 

On Saturday, that meant pizza rolls, two kinds of taquitos, and smile fries or whatever you call these misbegotten things formed from mashed potatoes in the very bowls of hell. (Don’t get me wrong; they’re delicious. But they’re not exactly food.) 

When I say the kids liked this meal, you can believe I am telling the truth. I truly shudder to think how often I would have to serve it before they would refuse to ever eat it again. 

Vermonter sandwiches

We just had these a few weeks ago, but the kids suggested it and I didn’t have any other bright ideas, and boneless skinless chicken breast was $1.49 a pound. If you missed it last time, this sandwich is sourdough bread or ciabatta rolls, roast chicken breast, bacon, slices of Granny smith apples, slices of sharp cheddar cheese, and honey mustard. 

And now for the world’s most dramatic Vermonter Sandwich photo:

Eh? Eh? It looks like it’s about to knock the casting director’s socks off with “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going.” 

Chicken quesadillas, guacamole and chips

These were fine. Boneless skinless chicken thighs were also $1.49 a pound, and normally I would do something tasty and middle eastern with them — in fact I have a number of tabs open, begging me to do just that, but [impulsively cuts Monday’s throat with my demon barber razor] I HAVEN’T THE TIME. So I roasted up the chicken with some oil and Taijin, sliced it up, and made a bunch of quesadillas and then burned most of them, oh well. 

The guacamole turned out pretty well, though. 

Jump to Recipe

I have gotten out of the habit of keeping limes in the house, though, because I cut out my evening cocktail, so I had to use bottled lime juice. I also tried one of those rocking garlic press things that everyone keeps telling me will change my life, and I can say definitively: Meh. (That is an affiliate link even though I’m not actually recommending it, because what if you don’t listen to me and I earn a commission anyway?) It left behind some sort of garlic sheets — like the outermost layer of the clove — that I couldn’t get it to crush no matter what, so I really didn’t end up saving myself time or effort in the end. Is there a trick to this? I just went back to my trusty old squasher press, which is slow, but it does work. 

Italian wedding soup, garlic knots

Tuesday was supposed to be taco day, but it just felt soupy. Italian wedding soupy!

Jump to Recipe

I had a large pitcher of turkey bone broth in the freezer from the Thanksgiving carcass, so I defrosted that (and it looked quite photogenic in the process, let me tell you. Check out that ring of schmaltz)

and I made a bunch of little baby meatballs with ground pork, lots of freshly-grated parmesan, fresh garlic, fresh parsley, even freshly ground salt and pepper, and of course some eggs and breadcrumbs; and I fried them in batches in a little olive oil.

I blooped the fried meatballs into the broth, added a bunch of torn-up kale, and let it simmer all day; then about half an hour before dinner, I added some ancini de pepe and cooked it until it was soft.

Little more pepper and that was it. A little parsley and parmesan on the top. 

Darn it, I underseasoned the meatballs. It really could have been a wonderful soup, but it was merely okay. The broth from the turkey was very nice, and the kale made the broth a lot greener than I was expecting. It doesn’t aways do that, so I don’t know what that was about. I mean like the color really got into the liquid. I dunno. 

I also made garlic knots using premade pizza dough. Usually I made the knots and top each one with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of garlic powder and salt, and then just bake them at 450 for (I have no idea, I don’t know how long anything bakes, sorry) but this time I baked them bare. Then I melted a stick of butter and mixed it with garlic powder and salt and poured that over the hot, baked knots and tossed them up, and holy cow, that was excellent. 

I believe it was Staša — you know Staša –who suggested this method.

I had baked the garlic knots a greased pan sprinkled with fine corn meal, and some of the corn meal got mixed up with the butter and added a little texture to the whole thing. Gonna do it this way every time. Some fresh parsley would not have been amiss, either. 

Tacos and corn chips

Just boring, nothing to report. 

Chicken cutlets with basil and provolone; homemade ice cream

Benny’s birthday! She asked for one of Damien’s specialties, the delicious Deadspin recipe for  breaded fried chicken cutlets smothered in provolone with a secret fresh basil leaf, topped with a scoop of wonderful homemade red sauce. 

I didn’t take a photo, but here is a previous one:

Full confession, I gobbled up my chicken and then went back and just got a bowl of sauce for seconds. I love that sauce so much. 

She’s going to have her party this weekend, which is going to be ancient Egypt-themed with a sphinx cake, so she asked for just ice cream on her actual birthday. She wanted M&M and then, knowing I can’t have chocolate, requested a batch of strawberry so I could have some. (I have kind of mixed feelings about how thoughtful it is to request that I go out and buy strawberries, process and macerate them, and make ice cream, because she wants me to be able to eat ice cream; but on the other hand, I ate it, and it was delicious).

I used the Ben and Jerry recipe for both batches.

Jump to Recipe

(For the M&M ice cream, I just made the sweet cream base, as described in the recipe, and didn’t do the strawberry part, but instead stirred in some M&M’s after the ice cream was done churning, before putting it in the freezer to solidify. I froze the M&M’s for a while before stirring them in, to keep them from blurring when I stirred them in.) 

Easy peasy, but I managed to splatter cream all over the whole kitchen somehow. I was thinking about how annoyed I would have been if someone else had made it and then claimed not to know how it happened, but honest to goodness, I have no idea. I did clean it up, though! I live my life as all the characters in the Little Red Hen, simultaneously. 

Yes, this is a Brideshead reference and a Shakespeare reference and a Little Red Hen reference all in one, FOR NO REASON. So far no one has discovered a use for my brain. I have been on Lexapro for over a month and it still does shit like this.


Uh I forgot to plan or buy anything. May possibly have been hoping the world would come to an end before supper. I don’t know, what are you having? Maybe we will have leftover ice cream. Maybe we will have eggplant and hard boiled eggs. Maybe the world will come to an end. 

If not, here’s my little reminder that I have that monster list of recommended gifts! I’m about 18% done with shopping, myself, if that makes you feel any better. 

White Lady From NH's Guacamole


  • 4 avocados
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 limes juiced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, diced


  1. Peel avocados. Mash two and dice two. 

  2. Mix together with rest of ingredients and add seasonings.

  3. Cover tightly, as it becomes discolored quickly. 

Italian Wedding Soup with pork meatballs

Lots of variations to this pleasant, nourishing soup with little meatballs.


For the meatballs:

  • 4-5 lbs ground pork (can mix in some ground beef or turkey)
  • 5 eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups bread crumbs
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbsp oregano
  • 1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped fine
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups freshly-shredded parmesan
  • 1/2 cup butter for frying

For the soup:

  • 3 lg carrots, diced
  • 1 lg onion, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups white wine
  • 3-4 cups raw kale, torn into pieces
  • 2 cups uncooked small pasta like ditalini
  • pepper
  • more parmesan and Italian parsley for garnish


To make the meatballs:

  1. Thoroughly combine all the ingredients (except the butter) with your hands. Form them into small meatballs. In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter and lightly brown the meatballs in batches. They do not need to be cooked all the way through, as they will continue cooking in the soup.

To make the soup:

  1. Remove the meatballs from the pot. Put the onions and carrots into the butter and cook until they're slightly soft. Add in the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant but not too browned.

  2. Add the meatballs back in. Add the broth and white wine, the kale, and the pepper to taste. Simmer for several hours.

  3. About half an hour before serving, add the uncooked pasta and turn up the heat to cook.

  4. Serve with shredded or grated parmesan and coarsely chopped Italian parsley for a garnish.


Ben and Jerry's Strawberry Ice Cream


For the strawberries

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

For the ice cream base

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy or whipping cream
  • 1 cup milk


  1. Hull and slice the strawberries. Mix them with the sugar and lemon juice, cover, and refrigerate for an hour.

Make the ice cream base:

  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs for two minutes until fluffy.

  2. Add in the sugar gradually and whisk another minute.

  3. Pour in the milk and cream and continue whisking to blend.

Put it together:

  1. Mash the strawberries well, or puree them in a food processor. Stir into the ice cream base.

  2. Add to your ice cream maker and follow the directions. (I use a Cuisinart ICE-20P1 and churn it for 30 minutes, then transfer the ice cream to a container, cover it, and put it in the freezer.)

Advent is for almsgiving, and I’ve got a doozy for you

This isn’t a new story; maybe you’ve heard it before. That’s kind of the problem. It’s been going on so long.

My dear friend Kyra Matsui, the brilliant and gifted creator of chain mail jewelry, rosaries, and other handmade goods at Iron Lace Design, is facing one big, definitive court battle in January of 2023. This is when she hopes to compel her soon-to-be-ex-husband to pay meaningful child support, the tens of thousands of back support he owes, and to contribute to the massive ongoing cost of medical, therapy, and educational expenses for their four kids, whom she cares for most of the time, who have complex special and medical needs. 

He has been paying a paltry amount and fighting every step of the way, and frequently dragging out the process, making her involve her lawyer in petty struggles like whether or not to give their children melatonin. If I described a typical day in Kyra’s life for you, you would crack in half with exhaustion just reading about it. She only sleeps a few hours most nights. Her children are wonderful and beloved, but they are massively challenging and exhausting, and there are four of them. It would be an overfull plate for a committed, functional married couple to manage, and she’s doing it alone, and has been for years, with constant sabotage.
But it doesn’t end there. Her ex also wants to take her house away. Some people have expressed doubt that such a thing could legally happen, so I am going to explain as well as I can.
This is the house her mother bought before she married Kyra’s dad, and where Kyra grew up, in a safe, beautiful neighborhood, and it’s the house where she and her four kids are now living, and which allows them to access the special schools and services Kyra has laboriously secured for them. 
When Kyra’s father died, he willed the house to Kyra, who was then a stay-at-home mom with no income. The house needed massive renovations before they could live there safely, so she briefly added her husband’s name to the deed to get a loan to fund the repairs.
Now this is the part of the story where I don’t want to get legally attacked, and lose my own house. So I want you to imagine what would be going on in a marriage, that would compel a gentle, loving, faithful stay-at-home mom of four young children to tell her husband that he must leave, even though she has no income and no car. I want you to imagine what could lead up to that, and what many things she might endure, and what many things she might attempt and beg for before it got to that point. I want you to imagine how a man in such a situation might possibly act, leaving behind a string of massive credit card debts, bar and dojo receipts, and alternative lifestyle proposals. Use your imagination. Don’t hold back. 
And now imagination time is over. In real life, this man now says that the house is his, and that the court should force Kyra to sell it and give him half the money, take the four children, and go live in a rental space. They live in Toronto, the most expensive city in Canada.
So this is the other thing the court trial is about. We are hoping the judge will hear Kyra’s story, see all the evidence, which is copious and horrifying, and rule that he must start supporting his children, and he must not make them homeless. 
Kyra has a good lawyer. Good lawyers are expensive. We don’t believe Kyra should be forced to sell her family house and give the proceeds to a man who has refused to accept his most basic responsibilities. Kyra is not naturally an aggressive, combative person; just the opposite. But this is the time to fight, and she needs an army behind her. 
Here is the GoFundMe to cover Kyra’s upcoming court fees. The goal is high, but if many people contribute a small amount and share it, we can get there, and help this dear woman find a little bit of security.
The trial is in January. Please consider giving a small amount if you can (or large! Large is good!) and please share. I vouch for her to the moon and back, and I wish I could legally share more information, because your hair would stand on end. Thank you. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 319: In which I rest on pie laurels

Hap the Friday! I didn’t do a What’s For Supper last week because of course it was the day after Thanksgiving, and I assumed you already knew what we were having for supper. We aren’t amazing turkey leftover wizards anyway, so the following week wasn’t too spectacular. How about if I just do the highlights of the last two weeks? Who will stop me?

Here’s some of what we had the last few weeks: 

Pulled pork, cole slaw, french fries, Hawaiian rolls

Damien made this yummy pulled pork using the Deadspin recipe. For me, pulled pork is what you make when you have lost all interest in life and yet there is this hunk of meat to deal with, so you conceal it inside some kind of pot as quickly as possible and then pull it out at dinner time when it’s too late for anyone to get away; but Damien took a lot more trouble over it, and it showed. 

The next day, Damien also made a gigantic lasagna or possibly two lasagnas, also from Deadspin

Somewhat less photogenic, but ravishingly delicious. This recipe requires you to make a ragù and a béchamel sauce and let me tell you, any time I have to use the ålternate keybœard twïce in a sêntence, you know it’s going to be tæsty. 

Beef barley soup and store bought croissants 

Yaas, beef barley soup. This one, I made, and it was a cold, drizzly day, just perfect for building up a hearty, heartening soup. Garlic, salt and pepper and olive oil, carrots and onions, beef broth and red wine, beef, barley, and then mushrooms. 

Jump to Recipe

That was the week before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving went great! I started baking on Tuesday. On Thursday, all my weird little chickens came home to roost, if temporarily

and my son’s gf also came over, and my brother and his bf, and we all had an excellent time, talking and laughing and shouting important opinions about obscure movies. Damien made the turkey injected and basted with white wine and lime juice and stuffed with sausage and oyster stuffing. I didn’t see or get a photo of it roasted, but here is the carving:

and he also made the gravy. He also made the mashed potatoes at the very last minute, because I put all the food on the table and told everyone dinner was served and then wandered around with a confused expression, and then he suddenly realized all I had done was boil a bunch of potatoes. So he mashed them and threw in a bunch of milk and butter, and mashed them, oops! Everything he made was scrumptious.

You can find the recipes for all my Thanksgiving foods here. 

I did fully made candied sweet potatoes using this recipe from My Forking Life, and they turned out great. This recipe includes a little fresh orange juice, which is nice. I think next time I may include actual slices of oranges. 

I had my annual internal query about what the difference is between yams and sweet potatoes. Sometimes I look it up and sometimes I don’t, but it doesn’t matter, because I never remember. So I thought about it for a while while I was cutting them up, and then I double-checked the bag, and it said “Mr. Yammy Sweet Potatoes.” So there you go. 

I also made parker house rolls using my own recipe, and they turned out nice and cute,

hard as a rock, and dry as a bone, and just about tasteless, so I need to find a new recipe.

I made cranberry orange bread which was fine, a little dry

spanakopita triangles to start us off, which were delightful

and we had a cranberry sauce vortex!!!

and three pumpkin pies, and a festive pecan pie that turned out rather pretty

I learned how to make pie crust roses from this website. Good to know! Very easy.

and I was inspired to make an apple pie that turned out quite lovely.

Refrigerating the pie for half an hour before baking helps all the decoration keep its shape). I gave it a little egg wash and sugar sprinkle and it was nice

Although the apples inside were a little chompy, to be honest. Can’t have everything.

I also made a few quarts of vanilla ice cream, and a quart of butternut squash ice cream with curry candied nuts, following a recipe from Blue Apron. (I ran out of pecans and they were like a dollar each this year, so I made it with 3/4 walnuts.) 

I really really liked the squash ice cream. It distinctly had all the flavors in the title — squash, curry, candied nuts — and it just worked. Really good autumnal flavor with just a little fiery edge from the curry. 

And finally, Dewey brought a lovely dense, moist gingerbread made using the Smitten Kitchen recipe,  plus a jar of heavy cream that the kids shook to whip up into whipped cream, so that was fun

Oh and I made a bunch of mulled cider with cinnamon stick and orange slices. 

And that was Thanksgiving, and it was great! 

Moving on!

Turkey ala king

When I was little, we had turkey ala king constantly, and I really loved it. I don’t know if it was the fun of having toast with dinner or what, but it felt like such a treat, and it was just so cozy and comforting, even with the mushy, muddy peas. So I was determined to recreate it, even though I knew in my heart that not many people would want it. I think my mother used to make it just by adding some cream of mushroom soup to leftover turkey, and throwing in some canned peas and heating it up; so I decided to elevate it by making a cream sauce with real cream, and adding fresh mushrooms, and using frozen peas (well, that’s not elevated very high, but it’s better than canned!). 

And it tasted . . . fine.

I think I was the only one who ate it, except for also one kid who came home super late and would have gladly eaten microwaved roadkill. So I guess I got that out of my system. I’ll probably forget and try it again in five years or so, and rediscover that this is just an intrinsically medium-okay dish and I can just move on with my life. 

Anyway, we used up the turkey. 

I also threw the picked-over carcass in the Instant Pot with water and some carrots and celery, onions, salt and pepper, and a little cider vinegar. I would have added herbs and whatnot, but we were fresh out.

I cooked it on high pressure for two hours, and I got about a gallon of good, golden bone broth, which I put in the freezer for future souping. 

Chicken broccoli stir fry and rice 

Boneless skinless chicken thighs were on sale, so I cut it in strips and fried it up with broccoli spears, sliced mushrooms, and two bottles of teriyaki sauce, and served it over rice.

Right after Thanksgiving, I always jump at the opportunity to buy bottles of sauce, because it’s one of the few weeks of the year I know I won’t give myself a hard time about it. It’s normal and fine to buy bottled sauce. It’s there for a reason, and people should never feel guilty about it. Except me. I’m different, and I should feel bad. 

And that’s it! Today I’m running away to go see the great and glorious Leticia Ochoa Adams speak, so I don’t really know what they’re having for supper at home! Spaghetti, I suppose. Maybe they can have nothing ala king. 

Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup


  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion or red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 lbs beef, cubed
  • 16 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
  • 6 cups beef bouillon
  • 1 cup merlot or other red wine
  • 29 oz canned diced tomatoes (fire roasted is nice) with juice
  • 1 cup uncooked barley
  • salt and pepper


  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot. If using Instant Pot, choose "saute." Add the minced garlic, diced onion, and diced carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and carrots are softened. 

  2. Add the cubes of beef and cook until slightly browned.

  3. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, the beef broth, and the merlot, plus 3 cups of water. Stir and add the mushrooms and barley. 

  4. If cooking on stovetop, cover loosely and let simmer for several hours. If using Instant Pot, close top, close valve, and set to high pressure for 30 minutes. 

  5. Before serving, add pepper to taste. Salt if necessary.