Cave Pictures is an intriguing new comic publisher with plenty on its mind

Like many parents, I have mixed feelings about comics and graphic novels, especially adaptations. I want my kids (and the rest of civilization) to be able to read through a block of text without pictures to help them along; and I want them to read “the real thing,” not a watered-down version of a classic. But more and more, I see that, while many comics are still lurid and vapid, many are not. We’re firmly in an age of comics with something on their mind. They’re not just colorful, easy-to-digest substitutions for books; they’re something different — or at least they can be. Ben Hatke‘s and Mike Mignola’s work spring to mind.

The other week, I stumbled across an ad for a serialized comic adaptation of The Light Princess. Although I adore the original illustrations by Maurice Sendak, I have always wished someone less wordy than George MacDonald had written his wonderful stories, especially for reading out loud. So I dug around to see what else the publisher, Cave Pictures Publishing, is up to.

It turns out they’re new, and The Light Princess is one of five comic titles debuting this year

— and holy cow, it’s a diverse line-up, to say the least. There’s also “Appalachian Apocalypse” by Billy Tucci (Shi), Ethan Nicolle (Axe Cop), and Ben Gilbert:

and “The Blessed Machine,” a dystopian sci fi series by Jesse Hamm (Batman ’66) and Mark Rodgers

Locked in a city deep within the earth, a courageous few struggle to reach the surface, fighting not only against the minds and flesh of men but against their man-made minders.

Other titles:

THE NO ONES by Jim Krueger with art by Well-Bee

A team of superheroes, blinded by their fame and self-promotion, are forced to reckon with their destructive choices when a twist of fate erases them from both history and present memory.

WYLDE by Daniel Bradford

When a mysterious masked lawman partners with a suspicious sheriff to save his frontier town from an invasion of the undead, the sheriff will learn ancient secrets of the lawman’s past and the power of self-sacrifice. In saving his town, he will save himself.

Okay, sure!

Cave Pictures (tagline: “Great comics for the spiritually inclined”) says it intends to deliver more than mindless, two-dimensional entertainment. They’re not religious, but they hope to engage readers who thirst after spiritual meaning.

My take? I’m intrigued. The artwork and storytelling is skillful and lively, and they do seem dedicated to presenting work that’s layered, but driven primarily by story and art, not message.

The first issue of The Light Princess (the only title I previewed) is a little unsettling. For reasons that are not yet clear, they’ve invented some odd backstory for the princess’ parents

but I’m suspending judgment until future issues. The artwork leans fairy-tale-ish, and so far lacks some of the weird, jarring edge inherent in the story; but this may change as the plot progresses (the first issue ends just as the baby first loses her gravity). The overall look is professional and effective, sometimes quite lovely. The lettering occasionally gets overly pictorial and almost too ornate to read in a few places, but not disastrously so;

and the story moves along briskly and keeps the reader’s attention. In short: Not perfect, but intriguing, and definitely a publisher to watch. I’ll be asking my librarian to look into carrying these titles, and I’m more curious now to look into the other stories, which are all original, not adaptations.

Here’s a page from their free comic that frames their mission, retelling Plato’s allegory of the cave:

Earlier this week, I chatted with the president, Mandi Hart, who “manages all the moving parts of Cave.” Hart has a background in filmmaking, but got a law degree to help her manage the legal and logistical aspects of running a creative business. She soon came to realize that investors would be willing to finance a company that published what their children and grandchildren loved, and that meant comics.

Here’s our conversation:
.
You quote David Foster Wallace saying “Everybody worships. The only chance we get is what to worship. ” What do you think people worship? 
.
It could be any number of things. In our culture today, there’s a lot of self-worship, influenced by entertainment media and also by advertising. It can be very toxic to make yourself the center of the universe. Across all of our titles, we’re trying to incorporate themes like: Is there more to life than yourself, than the material world?
.
.
The key theme in the The Blessed Machine is about whether there is more to the world than the characters inhabit, than what they can see — and more than what the machines they depend on for life are telling them exist.
.
Is it possible to live without faith in anything? We all have to exercise faith in something. It’s a question of where: Where are we going to invest that faith?
.
.
The Light Princess
is actually a little more overtly Christian than the even book itself is. Is there some particular faith background from which you’re approaching these titles?
.
Across all our titles, we’re not coming from any particular faith background. We like to think of our titles as “faith-acceptable” or “faith-aligned,” not promoting any particular perspective. We’re raising universal questions about meaning and moral responsibility.
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As a Catholic, I often come across creative people of faith who say they want to do just that, but they end up producing preachy, heavy-handed stuff. Does that worry you?
.
We definitely try to avoid using the art form a tool. We are really going for stories that have a lot of layers of meaning. One of the primary gatekeepers is the artists we work with. They all have extensive experience and a great reputation; they’ve won awards, and they have developed their own creative content. So that, for us, has been one of the primary mechanisms to use: That we’re hiring writers and illustrators who do really solid work and have been recognized in the industry.
.
For The Light Princess, it being an adaptation, George MacDonald already imbued it with so many layers of meaning, so that helped us avoid the least common denominator. For the other stories, on the whole, it’s wholly original content. The creators that came up with those titles originated the ideas, and came at their stories as storytellers, not with a message or an agenda.
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One of our illustrators was talking about his universal approach to his own art. He said it’s much more about raising questions than about providing answers. That’s emblematic of the work we do. We want to start conversations, not feed anyone a particular message.
.
The Light Princess is an adaptation, but the rest of the first round of titles are all original stories. Will you do other adaptations of books in the future?
.
I can’t disclose which one yet, but we will be doing another George MacDonald adaptation. George MacDonald is in the public domain, but we are open to exploring doing other copyrighted work.
.
Of all the titles coming out, which is your personal favorite? 
.
They’re all so different. I have a favorite aspect of each of the different titles. In our sci fi title, The Blessed Machine, it’s about a dystopian future, but it’s also a lot of fun. In Appalachian Apocalypse, certain moments in the dialogue and artwork are such a great laugh release, but at the same time, there’s a serious subject matter to be tackled. What are the implications of an army of undead attacking us? In The Light Princess, one of my favorite things is that the artwork is just stunning. It’s been such a pleasure to see how they’ve rendered this story. The use of color, light, and texture has been really beautiful. In the superhero series, what I love most is the setup. Without giving too much away, the six superheroes have been part of a team, but there’s a twist of fate, and they become pitted against each other. They all face a very stark moral choice, kind of a fork in the road, and half go one way, and half go the other. I love the way the author, Jim Krueger, has developed the story and characters for the quandary they find themselves in.
***
Each series is on a monthly release. The first issues of Appalachian Apocalypse will be out in late January, The Light Princess in February, and The Blessed Machine in March.

Hart welcomes questions from readers. You can follow Cave Pictures Publications on social media:

NH schismatics, Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, can no longer offer sacraments

The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an ultra-traditionalist, schismatic, antisemitic group based in Richmond, NH, has been placed under sanctions by Bishop Peter Libasci after rejecting repeated chances to come back into compliance with Church teaching.

Damien Fisher (who is my husband) reported in the Union Leader that the Slaves can no longer offer the sacraments at their compound and cannot describe themselves as Catholic. These sanctions “could be ratcheted up if the group does not comply with orders by church leaders, especially orders to stop preaching the doctrine that only Catholics go to heaven.”

The Vatican ordered them two years ago to stop teaching a strict, literalist interpretation of the idea that there is no salvation outside the Church.

According to the Union Leader story:

In recent years, Manchester Bishop Peter Libasci has allowed a priest in good standing from another diocese to minister to the Slaves and their congregation, celebrating Mass in the traditional Latin rite, and administering other Catholic sacraments. According to a statement released Monday by the Diocese, the Slaves have used that allowance to imply they were an approved Catholic organization.

They were offered several chances since 2016 to come into compliance to remain in the good graces of the Church, but they persisted in disobeying the diocese, in presenting themselves as an independent congregation, and in teaching false doctrine as Catholic.

The group has been in Richmond since the mid 80’s, and they operate the St. Benedict Center, a school, as well as publications, a radio show, and websites. They are an offshoot of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart in Still River, MA, which was founded by Fr. Leonard Feeney. Fr. Feeney was excommunicated in 1953 after he persisted in teaching that no one can be saved if they are not baptized Catholic; but he made a deathbed conversion and died in communion with the Church. Many of his followers do not acknowledge that he repented of his heretical beliefs, and the Richmond group is one of the most radical splinter groups to form from the original Fenneyites.

The St. Benedict Center in Still River is not affiliated with the Richmond group, and is in full communion with the Church.

In 1958, Feeney wrote that “the Jewish race constitutes a united anti-Christian bloc within Christian society, and is working for the overthrow of that society by every means at its disposal.” 

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the leader of the Richmond Group, Louis Villarrubia, who calls himself “Brother Andre Marie,” stated in 2004:

“If anti-Semitism means opposing the Jews on religious matters, opposing the Zionist state in Palestine (as St. Pius X did), or opposing the Jewish tendency to undermine public morals (widely acknowledged by Catholic writers before the present age of PC [political correctness]), then we could rightly be considered such.”

The SPLC has classified the Slaves as a hate group. It says that Richmond Selectman Doug Bersaw, also member of the Slaves, sometimes known as Brother Anthony Mary, is a Holocaust denier. The SPLC quotes Bersaw as saying:

“There’s a lot of controversy among people who study the so-called Holocaust. There’s a misperception that Hitler had a position to kill all the Jews. It’s all a fraud. Six million people… it didn’t occur.”

In 2009, the Slaves were sanctioned by the diocese of Manchester for their antisemitic teachings, and have since made those ideas less prominent.

According to the Union Leader story, the diocese of Manchester released a statement saying:

“Catholics are not permitted, under any circumstances, to receive the sacraments of the church at the Saint Benedict Center, and its associated locations, nor should they participate in any activity provided by this group or school.”

The diocese is eager to provide a spiritual home for the congregation left without sacraments because of their leaders’ rebelliousness. According to the UL:

[T]he diocese is instituting a sanctioned Latin Mass for people to attend at St. Stanislaus Parish in Winchester.

Photo: Damien Fisher

The womb of the world is a private place

Somehow at one and the same time, He is the flower of all creation, the open, shining blossom of the Father’s love, and also the tightly furled kernel of blessed humanity, ready to become anything we need Him to be.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Detail  of Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Happy new year! You’re going to die.

[This essay was originally published at the National Catholic Register in 2015.]

Happy new year! You’re going to die. And my five-year-old can’t wait.

It’s possible that this eagerness comes because I did a little bit too good of a job of helping her get over her fears about death, which were coming to haunt her every evening when she got tired. But when you’re dealing with a weeping kindergartener, the right choice is to err on the side of reassurance.

It’s a difficult balance to strike, when our kids worry about death. We want to comfort and reassure them (and stop the howling!), but at the same time, we don’t want to lie to them, and give the impression that there’s a guaranteed happy ending on everyone’s final page. Death may be a beginning, not an end — a doorway to eternity, not a trap door to oblivion — but it’s still an evil thing, something which was never meant to be in the world.

So to my daughter, I spoke mainly about the joy of the Second Coming; about the glory of our resurrected bodies; about the rejoicing as every wound will be healed, every sorrow erased, every loss restored. She and her sisters now hold enthusiastic conferences about how great it’s going to go be to see their grandfather again, to never get a sore throat again, to be able to stand on their hands as long as they want to. As long as no one’s going to go marching off to the crusades to hasten their entrance into heaven, I’m not too worried.

Soon enough, she will figure out soon enough that if death is a door, it’s still a fearful one. She will understand that yes, it really is possible for people to decide to irrevocably turn away from the good, to shut out forever God and all the good, true, and beautiful things that proceed from Him.

And she will figure out that, even if we don’t choose Hell, the end of our earthly life is often an ugly thing.Those commercials showing old men and old women ending their lives in a golden glow of comfort, security, and contentment? They are lying, trying to sell something. Almost nobody ends that way, and most of us die surrounded by pain and sorrow (if not our own, then our families’). Death is not the final word. But it is evil, all the same.

My daughter will realize this soon enough, in her own time. In the mean time, I’m telling her the brightest version of something that is true, and something that we all need to remember: that the best way to deal with death and the afterlife is to remember, always, that it’s our behavior right now that decides which path we’re on. It’s a good thing to spend some time thinking about death, not to terrify ourselves or to revel in dark things, but to shed some light on our present choices.

This is what the Pope was saying in his New Year’s homily, which he used

to stress life’s fleetingness.

The spiritual leader said, “How we like to be surrounded by so many fireworks, seemingly beautiful, but which in reality last only a few minutes.” …

New Year’s … is a time to reflect on our mortality, “the end of the path of life.”

A few secular folks will no doubt snicker over this dour, killjoy message that only a Catholic could love; but even most secular people should know better. What better time than New Year’s Day to remember that there’s really no point in making merry now — no point in making resolutions now — unless our future matters? And why would our future matter if our present life isn’t significant?

In other words, there is no gross, unfathomable divide between who we are now and what eternity holds for us. The very first thing we learn about ourselves from the Catechism is why we are here. I remember the sweet, profound formula: we are here to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. It’s all part of one continuous story.

Death is an evil chapter, but it is by no means the final one. And so it makes good sense, while we are alive, still thinking, still choosing, still setting our course, to write the story of our lives like a good author: with some plan in mind. The details and the characters need to work themselves out, but the major plot points ought to be settled ahead of time.

***

Image: AnonymousUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nearly useless reviews of some books I read part of in 2018

2018 was not my greatest reading year. This is the year that social media really devoured my evenings, not with lively conversation or even bitter squabbling, but just mindless scrolling scrolling scrolling. I’m fighting to win that time back, without implying a metaphor that involves reaching into the throat of social media and pulling out a wad of time. What is the matter with me.

Anyway, I recently moved my bed hoping to find my glasses, and I shoveled out a ton of books that had slid down there. Here is a random sampling of books I read at least part of at some point during the year. (I asked Facebook, and Facebook said it wanted to hear about it, so there.) The only thing these books have in common is I thought they were interesting, and you might, too.

I’m linking to Amazon for your convenience, but nobody wins anything if you click on it.

A Case of Conscience by James Blish

I say “Catholic sci fi,” you say “Space Trilogy by Lewis,” and that’s good, but this one really ought to be on the list. A Peruvian Jesuit biologist is part of a team wrapping up a routine mission to another planet, to judge its suitability for colonization and commerce. The planet Lithia is inhabited by elegant, intelligent, highly civilized lizards who appear to have a sin-free society. And that’s kind of a problem. Good reading for high school and up, very clever and thought-provoking, with a very appealing protagonist. It’s a little bit dated, as an interplanetary travel book from 1958 is bound to be, but the main themes hold up. Plenty of sci fi authors of that period (and this, even more so) leaned too heavily on their ideas and gave the actual writing craft short shrift, but not here.

I read this ages ago and haven’t re-read the ending yet, so I can’t guarantee that the end delivers what it should. I keep meaning to look up more books by Blish.

***

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Okay, I adored The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and I cackled and sobbed my way through The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but every other Chabon novel I’ve read has left me frustrated in one way or another. Summerland was a freaking mess, like someone pretending to have a fever dream. Gentlemen of the Road was self-consciously stuffy, and not in the fun way. Telegraph Avenue had some astonishing passages, but it didn’t hang together.

Wonder Boys is an earlier work which he apparently wrote in lieu of another book for which he was under contract and from which had already spent half of the advance on alimony, so you can imagine. I started to sympathize so much with the characters, it was like living in someone else’s skin, and again, not in the fun way; so I lost heart and set it down. I may pick it up again, because he’s such a good writer, you hate to let it go unread.

I have heard that Moonglow is a semi-autobiographical work (actually it’s described as “quasi-metafictional memoir,” whatever the hell that means) and I’m wondering what else he can possibly not already have told us about himself. What a fascinating writer, though. He’s like David Bowie, always trying something new, but also always circling around the same few ideas.

***

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert



I remember loathing this book in college, which is the last time I read it. I guess I just disapproved of Madame Bovary so much, I couldn’t deal with spending so much time with her; and I think we were supposed to be scrupulously tracking and cataloguing the symbols, or something, which certainly took all the fun out of it. Anyway, I completely missed how sharply mean and funny the writing is; and yes, the descriptions are exquisite. If you can just pick it up and read it like a novel, instead of like A Classic, then do! I am reading the Francis Steegmuller tranlsation.

***

 

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

The other day, I grabbed what I thought was this book and started reading, only to discover it was Kristen Lavransdatter, Book Two: The Wife. I cannot recommend this experience. Worse than a sip of OJ when you expected milk, let me tell you, but not as bad as thinking it’s a red cup of beer but it’s actually dip spit, like that girl Lodia did in high school, ha ha.

Anyway, I am never quite smart enough to know if David Sedaris actually knows what he is talking about and has an overarching theme for each essay, or if he’s just very, very good at putting everything into a bag and selling it as a lot, but it works, and you always end up thinking, “Oh, I see! Ohhh, man.” Tenderness and hope dressed up as cruelty, and despair desperately grabbing onto a joke to keep afloat. But in the fun way! Above all else, he’s wickedly, wickedly funny, and never stops working for the reader (except for the very last essay on living in Japan and giving up smoking, which I suspect some editor insisted he include before it was really finished).

 

What’s for Supper? Vol. 155: I didn’t get a fa la la out of that guy!

Fast away the old year passes! Fa la la la la, la la la la!
Glad it’s gone, you bet your asses! Fa la la la la, la la la la!

I skipped What’s For Supper? last week because we had a ton of convenience food, since everything else last week was so very far from convenient. You know how it is. There were a few standout meals, though, mainly on my birthday.

Damien made me a wonderful shrimp fettuccine, which includes cooking the pasta in water in which the shrimp shells have been boiled, so the whole meal has a bright oceanic feel to it. He uses the Deadspin recipe.  Love this meal so much.

Then we had cheesecake with cherry topping, which Corrie volunteered to deliver while singing “Happy Birthday.” I died.

The next day the man and I went to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton MA. If there’s any way you can go, I can’t recommend it enough. But, like, eat some protein first, and rest up, because it is intense. It’s small and well-organized, and offers a good amount of information without getting in the way of the icons. We had all day to be there, but we had to leave after about an hour and a quarter, because I was full up. Just absolutely full up.

Then we stopped at the Old Timer, which is everything a beloved little old creaky varnished wooden Irish tavern with cloudy windows ought to be. We had a couple of pints and then told the bartender we were ready to head out. Then he brought us another round. I guess he misheard us, but I wasn’t going to argue, because it was my birthday. We did leave eventually, strolled around in the nippy air, and decided that middle eastern food was calling us from a little place called Zaytoon. Not fancy, but oh man, that food. I had some kind of lamb thing

with rice and lentil soup and all sorts of yumminess

who can say what? (I mean obviously that is hummus and bean salad, but there were mysteries sprinkled throughout.) The guy running it was also immensely genial and hospitable. They had a lavish buffet, too, which I will definitely check out if we ever go back. All in all, it was a perfect day, and I don’t deserve to be this happy, but I just can’t help it!

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, chips

You guys know what grilled ham and cheese looks like! Like this, from some other Saturday. We have this sandwich on Saturdays a lot, it’s true.

SUNDAY
Roast beef sandwiches, fries

Chuck roast was super cheap, so I got two big ‘uns, and Damien crusted them with tons of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano, then browned them up in a heavy pot in olive oil, then put them in a 325 oven for about an hour and forty minutes. Then he let them rest a bit and sliced it up.

We had the meat on toasted rolls with horseradish sauce and provolone.

This, too, is actually a previous sandwich. It’s hard to believe, but I think I may have eaten this week’s roast beef sandwich without taking a picture first.

MONDAY
Creamy roast mushroom soup, deli sandwiches

I tried this nice recipe from Damn Delicious, knowing full well that two kids and I would enjoy it, and the rest of them would be complete jerks about it, even though we were also having sandwiches and I had no intention of forcing soup on anyone. Here’s a picture of one such sandwich, just to prove I did sustain them in their sorrow.

They were nice sandwiches, too, with ciabatta bread, olive oil and vinegar, smoked turkey, salami, and even some shredded prosciutto, because my daughter who works in a deli got her hands on a prosciutto end, duh-rool, duh-rool.

Look, look at the lovely roasted mushrooms! Lovely.

The soup was rich and gently savory, just what a creamy roasted mushroom soup ought to be. I took this pic before it finished cooking, so the finished product was an earthier shade.

Sometimes I rush through soups and just chuck everything in and let it sort itself out, but this time I did it step by step and let the flavor develop.

I . . . couldn’t tell the difference. I like soup. Good soup, bad soup, hurry-up soup, proper soup, whatever. The only time I absolutely refused to eat some soup was when I had thriftily turned a Thanksgiving turkey carcass into about four gallons of soup, slipped in a puddle, and spilled the entire pot under the refrigerator, and all the kids cheered. I forget what it was that was so horrible about that soup, but it was bad enough that I was relieved I only had to clean it up, and not eat it.

Damien also made Alton Brown’s eggnog, which is superb. It’s like dessert in a cup, and nicely boozy. He snickered at me (Damien, not Alton Brown) for licking out my cup to get all the boozy, nutmeggy, creamy foam, but whose fault was that?

TUESDAY
Christmas brunch, Chinese food

Christmas! Yes. We went to 10 PM Mass (no midnight Mass available this year, to my mixture of disappointment and relief) the night before. Corrie was Corrie.

and we are we.

and then we bundled them off to bed, finished up the stockings and such, and then in the morning we could just chilllllll out with our presents and our candy and our filthy eastern ways.

We had our traditional brunch of Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon rolls, a mountain of bacon, grapes and clementines. I made the dough for the cinnamon rolls the night before, and honestly, this year ends that tradition. It’s not hard, but they somehow turn out a little worse each year, and nobody really looks forward to them except out of habit. So I need to come up with some other kind of nice baked good for a Christmas morning tradition. I didn’t even take a picture this year. Here is some Christmas morning cinnamons rolls of yesteryear:

For supper, we always have Chinese take out. I didn’t even know this is a Jew thing to do; we just happen to have very good restaurant 1/10 of a mile down the road from us, and we all realized one year that Christmas is delicious enough, and we didn’t need to salt it with the tears of an exhausted cook. Behold the Pu Pu Platter for 16:

I did cook up a giant pot of rice, because I love my family. BUT NO VEGETABLE.

WEDNESDAY
Pu Pu leftovers, shrimp cocktail

The shrimp was actually supposed to be for Christmas eve, but we found ourselves unable to find even a shrimp-sized empty spot in our bellies. I made a concerted effort not to have too much food this year, but guess what? We had too much food.

THURSDAY
Spaghetti and meatballs

The children had begun to develop a bad attitude toward Chinese food, so we had the opposite, which is spaghetti and meatballs. You need to shut about about spaghetti being Chinese. Nobody wants to hear that. I’ll put my recipe card for basic meatballs at the end.

Maybe you noticed, we had a misunderstanding and one of the kids used the big holes to grate up the parmesan cheese, so we had parmesan shreds. You know? It was pretty good! Parmesan will melt when it’s not grated up with bits of fluffy wood pulp. Guys, we have so much nice cheese in the house, I have lost track of what cheeses we currently have.

FRIDAY
Pizza

And we’re off to learn everything we need to know about insulin pumps! Alas, our insurance doesn’t cover traditional pumps such as what you can buy from Home Depot, so we have a bit of a trip ahead of us.

Speaking of ahead of us, New Year’s Eve is coming right up, so if you hold out a little bit longer, you can make it the rest of the year without eating any more vegetables. Last year, we had a make-your-own sushi party, and it was so so so much fun, so we’re doing it again.

Last year’s shopping list: Nishiki rice and several packages of nori, soy sauce, rice vinegar, wasabi, pickled ginger, roe, tuna steaks, some seared and seasoned tuna, maybe some canned salmon for the sissies, fake crab legs, toasted sesame seeds, avocados, mangos, and carrots and cucumbers for pickling. We made cones, rather than rolls, and everyone found something to like.

Not sure what we will do for dessert. A few weeks ago, I snapped up some cannoli shells, which are hard to find around here, so we may have the cannoli we didn’t manage to make on Columbus Day. If crab rangoon goes with a Pu Pu platter, than cannoli go with sushi. Fa la la la la!

5 from 1 vote
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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. 

Evermore and evermore!

This is He whom Heaven-taught singers
Sang of old with one accord;
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the Long-expected;
Let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore!

My dear friends and readers, Merry Christmas to you! May the baby born on this night draw us always closer to Him, and may we always let Him.

With all best wishes, prayers, and gratitude for your support,
from the Fisher family, who aren’t necessarily 100% photogenic

 

Nativity icon Photo by Ted via Flickr (Creative Commons)

How to write an honest Christmas letter

Listen, deadbeat.  It’s too late to send out paper cards, which you’ve been “taking a year off” from doing since 1993.

In fact, failing to send out cards is the only Christmas tradition you’ve managed to keep faithfully, other than miraculously transforming, every Christmas Eve, from someone who owns six pairs of scissors and four rolls of tape into someone who is seriously considering using little dabs of strawberry jelly to stick together the shredded edges of wrapping paper, which you attempted to cut by scoring it with a Budweiser cap.  Jelly is sticky, isn’t it?  Isn’t it?

Settle down, twitchy.  You can buy tape later.  Right now you have to write a Christmas letter, because, although you have been assiduously updating your co-workers, gym mates, and entire eighth grade graduating class with Facebook pictures of your latest half-eaten lasagna, half-eaten frittata, and half-eaten farro salad, you have sort of forgotten to talk to your parents in eleven months.  They don’t know you’ve moved out of the country, changed your citizenship, become a communist, and given birth to twins.  They don’t even know you’ve forgiven them for making you take hand bell lessons in third grade.

In other words, you’ve been out of touch.

Well, a Christmas letter is a graceful way to get back in touch.  Because that’s what decent people do, that’s why.

And no, you can’t send out cards in early January and play the “liturgical accuracy” card.  Some people can pull that off, but not you.  Why?  Because the only stamps you own have jack-o’-lanterns or valentine hearts on them.   And besides, what would you use to address all those envelopes when you have no pens — no pens at all?  No, you can’t just write in strawberry jelly.  What is the matter with you?

You’re going to have to write a Christmas email, which you can just blast out to everyone on your contacts list.  Tacky, but acceptable.  People have good hearts.  People understand.

You really just have one more problem:  What to say.

“Just tell the truth?”  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.  Yes, why don’t you just explain what your family has been up to for the past year?  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Ohhh, man, that’s a good one.  As if you didn’t expend enough energy hiding the truth about your family from people you know to be mandatory reporters.  Now you’re supposed to put it in writing and broadcast it to the world, with a big fat “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Don’t You Judge Me?”

Okay, look, here’s the plan.  You actually can tell friends and family about your year.  You just have to be selective about how you phrase it.  For instance, you could say,

“We are so pleased that the kiddos got into this elite new school.  I don’t want to be a name-dropper, but they have been on the waiting list for a lo-o-o-ong time.  I think it was Junior’s essay that tipped the balance and got him in!”

And nobody has to know that the “new school” is actually the Pauly Shore Vocational Middle School for the Entertainingly Pathetic, and that his “essay” was his entry into the Mom of the Year contest in the local paper, wherein he described your recipe for fluffer-ramen sammiches, which you packed in his lunch every day since kindergarten, and which may or may not be responsible for his extensive neurological lag.

Or you could just casually mention,

“My personal trainer says I’ve made huge progress this year!”

And you don’t need to provide the trivial detail that your “personal trainer” means the guy who designs your prescription pants for super fat fatties, and boy, does he like a challenge.

Or you could say,

“We’re so proud of Robert!”

And just leave out the part about

“Robbie got fired from his dental hygienist job again, and they refuse to even consider a reapplication until he returns the gross of Doc McStuffins tattoos he stole from the kiddie prize drawer.  The good news is, the statute of limitations came into effect before they were able to prove conclusively that he was the one huffing all the nitrous oxide, so they won’t be pressing charges.  Go, Robbie!!!”

You see?  It’s all in how you phrase it.  Why, you could be thinking,

“What cruel twist of fate burdened me with a bunch of witless baboons like you?  If there were any justice in the world, I’d be putting my feet up, listening to Bach, and eating a nice toasted bagel with cream cheese, and you’d be the one furtively scraping dried Spaghetti-o’s off your toddler’s shirt as you try and make yourself as inconspicuous as possible in the orthodontist’s waiting room, knowing that all you have to come home to is a trashed living room, a mountain of dirty laundry, and a hunk of chop meat that will in no way defrost in time for dinner.”

and nobody but you needs to know that that’s what you mean when you say,

“Merry Christmas, my friends.”

***
A version of this post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2012.

What’s for supper? Vol. 154: Ragu! Sing it with me! Raguuuuuuu!

I think Corrie speaks for all of us when she says:

Here’s what we ate this week (with some links to Christmas baking and candy recipes at the end):

SATURDAY
Birthday! Stuffed shells, garlic bread, veg and dip, birthday cake

Sweet Benny wanted a rose-themed birthday. Easy enough. We made some giant paper flowers and hung them from the ceiling. Here it is, halfway decorated:

and the night before, Benny and I made some fruit roll roses.

She’s a wonderful kid to work with, and she never gets offended if you say, “Sweetheart, Mama’s ears are tired. Can you stop talking for a few minutes?” She just laughs and says, “Yeah, I like to talk.” Then she keeps talking.

I couldn’t find the Fruit by the Foot strips I was looking for, so we got regular fruit roll-ups, unrolled them, cut them into four strips, and pinched the ends together to make one long strip. Then we started rolling it up in a tight roll to make the center of the rose; then we rolled up the rest loosely, twisting and occasionally folding and smooshing the strip. I don’t know if I can describe it better than that. Some of the turned out more rose-like than others!

Then we stuck toothpicks in the bottoms and stuck them in the cake. I used a Wilton leaf tip to make the leaves, and added some dots for garlands on the sides. My first leaves, not too shabby!

She was delighted with her cake. When Damien put it in front of her, she just sat there, smiling and smiling.

She requested stuffed shells. I didn’t have my recipe in front of me, so I checked out the box. Let’s see . . . cottage cheese . . . zucchini . . . yeah, okay, this box is fired. I went and found my recipe. Recipe card at the end.

For a party activity, we made flower crowns. These were first graders, and they definitely needed some help from the moms, but I bet they could do it on their own the second time around. We made circlets out of wired pine garlands, then made standard tissue paper flowers with a little bell at the center, threaded through the pipe cleaner. (Yes, I still call them pipe cleaners instead of chenille stems. Take that!) We attached the flowers on with the pipe cleaners, then tied wisps of tulle to both sides of the flower just to add some poofiness, then tied ribbons to hang down the back. I didn’t get any good pics, but can probably do a tutorial if anyone is interested. Not a bad party activity, and the girls looked adorable, and ready for the Kentucky Derby.

SUNDAY
Roast beef sandwiches, chips

Damien roasted a couple of chuck roasts. He covered them in salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and seared them in very hot oil, about three minutes per side, then roasted them in a 325 oven for about 90 minutes. Then he let them rest for a bit, then sliced it up. We put it on rolls with horseradish sauce and provolone, and put them in the oven for a few minutes to toast up. I also had tomatoes in mine.

I had a jar of sliced pepperoncini, but they were a weird color, so I threw them out. Aren’t you glad I’m so tired I thought that was worth writing down?

MONDAY
Ham, mashed potatoes, peas, roast brussels sprouts

Me, sadly flipping through supermarket flyers: So . . . do you guys . . . maybe . . . want ham?
Benny: HAM. HAM. HAMANDMASHEDPOTATOESANDPEAS.
Me: Okay! But how about Brussels sprouts instead of peas, just to mix things up a little? Brussels sprouts are on sale right n-
Benny:

So that’s what we had. I also roasted some Brussels sprouts, because they were on sale and I like them.

Benny was irate.

TUESDAY
Sweet and sour chicken stir fry, rice

Clara had been asking for this meal, which I make very authentically by cutting chicken into pieces and cooking them, then adding steamed vegetables from a bag and sauce from a jar, and schlorping the whole thing over rice.

It was extra schlorpy, because I didn’t drain the vegetables sufficiently. I even found a few cans of water chestnuts in the cabinet. I took them out of the cans and everything.

Oh, I cooked the rice in the Instant Pot using the 1:1 method. Works every time. I like the IP for rice because it comes out nice and sticky, and you can make it ahead of time and just let it stay warm until you’re ready.

WEDNESDAY
Ragù on fettuccine, garlic bread

Damien started making his amazing ragù the night before, and this was the ragù that surpassed all previous ragùs. He uses this Deadspin recipe, and this time, he used a pound of pork, a pound of veal, and . . . hold onto your butts . . . a pound of pancetta, which he ground by hand.

He ran a bunch of onions, celery, and carrots through the food processor, and threw in a bunch of anchovies, wine, and olive oil, and a little tomato paste, and let it cook a good long time. I gained eleven pounds just smelling it.

It was fantastic.

I know it doesn’t look like much in this pic, but it’s one of those foods where the flavor just blooms inside your mouth. Can’t figure out if that’s a creepy thing to say or not, but it sure was exciting. Also, every time the kids asked what was for supper, I would sing out, “ra-GUUUUUUUUUU!” to the tune of Veggie Tales “Cebu,” and it really annoyed them. Ha ha!

THURSDAY
Pork ramen

Sometimes this gets pretty elaborate, but this time it was just cheapy ramen, some boneless pork ribs sautéed in olive oil with soy sauce and sliced, some sautéed mushrooms, chopped scallions, and soft boiled eggs. Oh, and crunchy noodles. Spicy sesame seeds and hot sauce.

I was starving, and this tasted like heaven. Salty, salty heaven.

FRIDAY
Tuna noodle for kids, possibly bouillabaisse for me.

I got some kind of frozen mixed seafood whatnot for like $4 a few weeks ago, and it’s calling to me.

Okay, that’s a wrap! Now, how about Christmas baking? Got anything good? I haven’t even thought about it yet, but I’ll probably make chocolate caramel nuts, which make good token presents. Here’s my post with a photo guide to the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. You really need a photo guide, because it goes through something like eleven alarming stages before things turn out fine at the end. This post includes links to other helpful basic December recipes, including fudge, nut brittle, buckeyes, and rum balls.

Hanukkah is over, but that’s no reason not to make rugelach, so here is my recipe and photo guide for that.

Finally, if you feel like you have to decorate cookies, here is a recipe for sugar cookie dough that you do not have to refrigerate. You can also use this dough recipe for beautiful stained glass cookies, which always impress. This post has some photos of the process.

 

Stuffed shells

Just a basic recipe. You can add meat to the sauce or spinach to the cheese, or anything that strikes your fancy. Serves about 10.

Ingredients

  • 2 12-oz boxes jumbo shells
  • 2 32-oz tubs ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 4-5 cups pasta sauce

Instructions

  1. Cook the shells in salted water, drain, and rinse in cool water. Mix them up with olive oil so they don't stick together.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350. Mix into the ricotta cheese all the seasoning, the parmesan, and 3 of the cups of mozzarella.

  3. Spread a little sauce in the bottom of an oven-proof pan or dish. Stuff each shell with about 1/2-1/3 cup of cheese filling and lay the stuffed shells close together.

  4. Top with the rest of the pasta sauce, and sprinkled the remaining mozzarella on top of that. Cover loosely with foil and cook for 45 minutes or longer, until it's bubbly. 

Inspired gifts handmade by working moms, 2018

Quick, before it’s too late! Here are five of my favorite shops selling handmade goods that would would make delightful presents. All the goods are handmade by busy moms (including three single moms and one military wife). In the comments, please feel free to leave a link to your own shop for handmade goods for sale.

***

This kills me: A mini censer for your car.
$24.95 from Door Number 9.

So much better than fuzzy dice! You can’t actually light it on fire, but you can open it up and put a drop of essential oil on the little lava rock “coal” inside, to keep your car smelling holy (or lavender-y or lemon grassy or whatever you like). Of course you can use it in your home, too, in your prayer corner or anywhere.

Also check out her delightful collection of unique religious jewelry, including a Joan of Arc replica ring, pins, bracelets, brilliant pendants, medals, and more.

Also hilarious: This bickering angel mug, $15.95. “It’s alleLUia, not alleluiA!” Shades of Hermione Granger’s “Wingardium Leviosa” pedantry.

More cool and funny mugs in the shop.

And for the Hamilton fan in your house, this amazing set of handsewn dueling fleece-and-faux fur stockings with brass buttons, embroidered “A. Ham” and “A. Burr.”

They come in a burlap gift bag with a brass star charm. A steal at $19.95 for the set.

For lovers of history and cosplay, Elisa has an impressive array of geeky T-shirts and splendid handmade costumes. And of course the “Hail Mary Full of grace, punch the devil in the face” onesie you didn’t know you needed.

I’ve seen this design all over the internet, but I witnessed Elisa come up with it herself, so now you know!

You definitely know someone who needs a “Heretical Nonsense: For Research Purposes Only” stamp.

Admit it, someone sprang to mind right away.

Hundreds more strange, beautiful, and original gifts in this store! Browse around and be inspired.

***

Something a little different: These sparkly, hand-pressed salt clay ornaments:

My sister just opened up this little shop, Magpie Street. Aren’t these pretty? And so reasonably priced. Here’s a lovely one pressed from an evergreen branch:

More designs in the shop. Give this fledgling business some love!

***

Next up: The shimmering chainmail wonderland that is Iron Lace Design. Here’s my current favorite from the genius of Kyra Matsui:

Thayet of Conte. Breathtaking. And what do you know, before I could publish this post, it sold! These are works of art and many are one-of-a-kind. Luckily, Kyra does take commissions.

A perennially popular item: One-decade fidget rosaries.

“Sturdy enough for children, deeply satisfying for people who fidget when they pray.” The semiprecious stone beads spin and the chain mail feels wonderful in the hands. I’ve never seen anything like these anywhere else.

These are customizable. She also sells lovely and sturdy customizable one-decade rosaries, full rosaries, and fidget bracelets.

What else? Spectacular, queenlike earrings!

Chokers. This one is milky, iridescent moonstone and stainless steel, so basically magic. I’m lucky enough to own a necklace in this design, and it’s one of the best things I own.

The chainmail solution to the problem of constantly losing your medals. Attractive and unusual and strong as heck. A variety of silver-plated medals available.

Browse around and be amazed, and follow Iron Lace Design on Facebook to get in on the ground floor when Kyra comes up with something new and breathtaking, like this

before it gets listed and snapped up.

And finally: Apple and Azalea has a wonderful array of elegant and stylish memory wire rosary bracelets. Here are just a few that are in stock. I have one of these Theresa’s rosary bracelets and it is wonderful.

Order by December 16 for Christmas delivery:

Ocean Jasper!

Ocean jasper and glass seed beads. So elegant.

This one is ocean blue ombre glass and copper.

Fresh and lovely.

And one more especially striking choice:

“Unakite is a beautiful natural stone that is mostly olive green with swirls of salmon pink, brick red, forest green and even a little gray. This amazing range of color has the over all effect of being both earthy and feminine. The five decade rosary bracelet begins with a jet black bead that has a gold crucifix stamped on it.”

Theresa also offers clever Morse code necklaces with a secret message spelled out in beads.

This blue and green glass “COURAGE” necklace could make a powerful and meaningful gift for someone who needs a tactile reminder of their own strength.

There are also dozens of simple, lightweight earrings like these honeycomb ones:

Perfect for a beekeeper or just someone sweet. Shop around!

***

Finally, these luxe and heartfelt learn-to-knit boxes with thoughtfully sourced components, instructions, and card , like this Deployment kit:

from Bethany Farm Knits. 

Many more lovely items in the store, including this lovely soft wool cowl

available in several colors, with or without wooden buttons

and this adorable octopus lovey blanket

soft and cute, perfect for your little white whale on the go.

***

Order soon! All five stores are run by extremely busy moms working hard to get all your orders to you as soon as possible, so do check delivery times if you’re hoping to get them by Christmas.

Other sellers of handmade goods, feel free to leave a link to your store in the comments. Handmade goods only, please; no essential oils or other multilevel marketing products. Thanks!