What’s for supper? Vol. 197: Latkes! Jelly donuts! Sushi! Oh the sushi! and Calzones.

Happy new year! If I had stayed on track back in October, I would have hit Vol. 200 of What’s For Supper right on Christmas. Instead, here we are, starting out the new year and new decade with . . . Vol. 197. The good news is, I won’t wake up at 3:45 a.m. feeling bad about this, because I’ll be too busy feeling terrible about not doing a podcast, not exercising, why is my fat head so fat, not inculcating my kids with a love of the saints and the arts, and the fact that one of them saw a bumper sticker that said “GOD BLESS JOHNNY CASH” and disagreed. Also, one of them heard Bob Dylan for the first time and said, “Who crawled into a hole and found this guy crouching there?” but I can’t really argue with that. 

Anyway, here’s what we had this week, spanning 2019 and 2020 or whatever it is:

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, chips, broccoli and dip

I had to spell “broccoli” three times before the red line went away. 

SUNDAY
Hamburgers, cheezy weezies, more broccoli

I ate broccoli with the fervor of someone who needs vegetables like fresh meat needs salt and vegetables. 

MONDAY
Beef barley soup, jelly donuts

Monday was the last night of Hanukkah– 

Wait, did I show you my lovely latkes? I guess that was during that weird in-between week after Christmas day, during Hanukkah, before New Year’s. Weird, man. Anyway, we have some lovely latkes, which I will now show to you:

It was a Friday and we finally decided that Friday within the octave of Christmas was a very nice day indeed, but not a solemnity, so it had to be meatless. I dunno, we get scrupey sometimes. But I really wanted latkes, so I went to the store and brought home the following side dishes: Frozen cheese blintzes, which I served with blackberry jam; frozen cheesy bread sticks, which I served with marinara sauce; crab cakes with lemon wedges; almond stollen; and crackers with sour cream, smoked salmon, and caviar. This is how we preserve Fridays as a day of penance and I don’t want to talk about it. 

Latke recipe card at the end. See my latkes! See my lovely latkes!

Gosh, they were so good. Crispy on the outside and soft and mealy inside, just right. 

Okay, so I was saying how Monday was my final chance to try making jelly donuts. (It’s traditional to eat foods cooked in oil, to commemorate the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days in the temple lamps.) I didn’t feel lucky about using yeast, so I found this King Arthur recipe for easy donut holes that just uses baking powder. It really was easy. (I did use a candy thermometer to make sure the oil was hot enough, and was very surprised at how long it took to come to 350. If I had been winging it, I would have started frying much too soon.)

You just mix up the batter (and if it seems too thin, let it sit for a bit, and it becomes more dough-like) and blop it into hot oil. It puffs into cute little balls,

which you then roll in sugar and fill with jelly. 

Actually the recipe says to put the jelly in first and then roll them in sugar, which makes no sense to me.

See, you get sugar on your jelly. It’s weird.

It also makes no sense to attempt to make jelly donuts when the most advanced jelly-squirting equipment you own is a sandwich bag, and yet that is what I did. 

They became somewhat less cute in the process, but the kids did like them, so I may make it a tradition. But I will make sure I have some kind of pastry bag or injecting tool, because yeesh, what a mess. 

Oh, the soup was good. Beef barley soup is always good. 

Jelly donuts were a strangely good match for the soup, I thought. Although I may have become deranged from breathing in hot oil. Honest to goodness, Hanukkah is going to kill me. Don’t tell my doctor. Tell him about the broccoli. 

TUESDAY
NYE Sushi party!

I took most of the kids to the vigil mass while Damien and Lena covered some political thing. Corrie was . . . she wasn’t even being bad. She was just being Ultra Corrie. Right at the elevation of the Host, she turned to me with a scratch pad picture clenched in her teeth, and, through clenched teeth, said, “This is a picture of you, dead.” Which it was. 

Then we came home and STARTED MAKING SUSHI. This is our New Year’s Eve tradition, and I like it. Normally we make DIY sushi cones (which just means you take a sheet of seaweed, slap some rice in one corner, poke whatever you want on top of the rice, and then roll or wad it up and stick it in your mouth; but this year, I attempted actual rolled sushi. It wasn’t that hard, with a bamboo rolling mat, but you can see, these are a little rough.

Oops, forgot the fishy eggs! Shprinkle, shrpinkle, fishy eggs. 

Next year I’ll watch some videos first, but we muddled through. I also bought a few kits of something called sushi candy, which turned out to be plastic trays with little packets of powder marked “tuna,” “seaweed,” “rice,” etc. , and you mixed the contents with water from a little dropper and used a tiny plastic paddle to make various kinds of gelatinous heaps of gel that actually resembled tuna, seaweed, rice, etc. Then you could shape them into sushi. It was simultaneously ingenious and very terrible, which has been my experience with every single kind of Asian candy. 

I made a batch of good rice (Nishiki brand. They look like mother of pearl) and mixed it gently with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt (I cooked eight cups of raw rice and used 1 cup of rice vinegar, half a cup of sugar, and 3 tablespoons of salt. You put the vinegar, salt, and sugar in a pot and heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved, then fold it gently into the cooked rice while someone stands there fanning it with a paper plate so it doesn’t make the rice mushy). The Instant Pot makes great, sticky rice for sushi. 

We had raw salmon and raw tuna, seared mahi mahi, sautéed calamari, black caviar (couldn’t find any of that neat red-orange roe), little cooked shrimpies, sticks of cucumbers, avocado, and mango; wasabi sauce, sriracha mayo, pickled ginger, and of course soy sauce. We needed more crunchy elements. Maybe next time I will do a shrimp tempura. Or even just toast up some panko flakes. You know, it takes a lot of sushi to make twelve people feel like they ate too much, but we managed. 

We did make a bunch of hot dogs just to make sure everyone had something to eat (and this accounts for the bottle of ketchup you may see in some photos! We may be uncultured swine, but we do not put ketchup on our sushi). Then, according to tradition, we watched a Marx Brothers movie. This time it was A Night At the Opera, one of the best. Boogie boogie boogie!

WEDNESDAY
Calzones, banana splits

Birthday! She was the first child born in that city on New Year’s Day. They sent a reporter and photographer to the hospital and tried to get me to say that it wasn’t a big deal because we already had a bunch of other babies. I remember saying that it was a big deal, though, so there. Sophia is still a big deal, and always will be. 

We went to see a Star War (and I am exactly the right level of Star Wars fan, which means that I had a vague idea of who most of the people were, and found the movie entertaining and nice, and then as soon as the lights came on, I forgot about everything I just saw) and then came home for calzones and banana splits. A few of them spilled their guts in the pan

But most of them retained their dignity.

Corrie helped me with the egg wash, which she called “polish.” 

THURSDAY
Nachos

The high school kids had to go back to school on Thursday, can you believe it? The other kids were still on vacation, and had an “argh, vacation is almost over and we didn’t have enough fun” sleepover. I went to visit my mom and somehow persuaded myself that I’d be back in town in time to take the little guys to the caterpillar lab thing, but I barely had time to buy extra meat and fry it up before dinner. You can see that I went all out with the exotic seasonings.

Today, caterpillar lab o morte

FRIDAY
Pahster.

And very find pahster it was. I decided I didn’t want to deal with caterpillars, and we went to the children’s museum instead. Here is a photo of Benny and Corrie, intergalactic heroes, running out of oxygen shortly before crashing into the sun.

(Ten years later, they returned triumphantly to earth with a dog they had rescued from space, so don’t worry!)

And here are your recipe cards! Smell you next week. 

Potato latkes

Serve with sour cream and/or apple sauce for Hanukkah or ANY TIME. Makes about 25+ latkes

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs potatoes, peeled
  • 6 eggs beaten
  • 6 Tbsp flour (substitute matzoh meal for Passover)
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Grate the potatoes. Let them sit in a colander for a while, if you can, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. 

  2. Mix together the eggs, salt and pepper, and flour. Stir into the potato mixture and mix well. 

  3. Turn the oven on to 350 and put a paper-lined pan in the oven to receive the latkes and keep them warm while you're frying. 

  4. Put 1/4 to 1/2 and inch of oil in your frying pan and heat it up until a drop of batter will bubble.  

  5. Take handfuls of potato mixture and squeeze out any excess moisture. Flatten mixture slightly and lay them in the pan, leaving room between latkes. Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Eat right away or keep warm in oven. 

  6. Serve with sour cream and/or applesauce or apple slices. 

 

Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  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. 

Calzones

This is the basic recipe for cheese calzones. You can add whatever you'd like, just like with pizza. Warm up some marinara sauce and serve it on the side for dipping. 

Servings 12 calzones

Ingredients

  • 3 balls pizza dough
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 3-4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 egg yolks for brushing on top
  • any extra fillings you like: pepperoni, olives, sausage, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. 

  2. Mix together filling ingredients. 

  3. Cut each ball of dough into fourths. Roll each piece into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. 

  4. Put a 1/2 cup or so of filling into the middle of each circle of dough circle. (You can add other things in at this point - pepperoni, olives, etc. - if you haven't already added them to the filling) Fold the dough circle in half and pinch the edges together tightly to make a wedge-shaped calzone. 

  5. Press lightly on the calzone to squeeze the cheese down to the ends. 

  6. Mix the egg yolks up with a little water and brush the egg wash over the top of the calzones. 

  7. Grease and flour a large pan (or use corn meal or bread crumbs instead of flour). Lay the calzones on the pan, leaving some room for them to expand a bit. 

  8. Bake about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.  

Teaching 7- and 8-year-olds about their faith

In 2019, I started volunteering as a faith formation teacher for Grade 2, which is preparation for first confession. I always had it in my head that I’d like to do it someday, and that I ought to. Then suddenly it occurred to me that now would work, so I signed up before I could change my mind.

I only have a little bit of experience teaching a group, but I do love kids this age (seven and eight). They are extremely sincere and funny, eager to please, and ravenous for information about how the world works, and most of them haven’t developed a fear of asking questions that might sound foolish. They are also very silly, very immature, and some of them are in constant need of redirection. My hat is off to full-time teachers who manage kids for many hours every day! I don’t think I could do it.

I think it’s going well so far. Here is what I have discovered about teaching kids this age:

They love body movement. When I want them to remember something, I try to come up with a bodily motion or gesture to help it stick in their heads, and they love getting up and doing something.

One especially popular one is when I shout, “Who made you?” and they shout, “God!” I shout, “Why did God make you?” And they shout, “To know him [stamp left foot], to love him [stamp right foot] and to serve him [stamp left foot] in this world [point to the ground dramatically like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever], and to be happy with him forever IN THE NEXT [point to the sky dramatically like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever].

We also learned the American Sign Language sign for Trinity when we did our first lesson on the Trinity: Three fingers of your dominant hand are showing behind your non-dominant hand, then the dominant hand goes under and comes up in front with one finger. Three persons, one God. We shall see if they remember next week. I bet some of them will.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Photo By: Cpl. Katherine M. Solano (detail) (Public Domain)

How Catholic parishes can help an under-served community: The jerks

Our pastor recently distributed pencils and slips of paper, and humbly asked us to write down what the parish could do to help bring us closer to God. He promised to read them all and pray over them, and do what he could.

I can only imagine that he got a wide range of answers, depending on who was responding. Parents of small children probably wanted crayons, changing tables, and an ally in the pulpit. College students almost certainly asked for a late Mass so they could sleep off whatever wretched thing they did on Saturday night. Singles probably wanted to feel like they weren’t forgotten; people with special needs surely asked for more accessibility. And these are all reasonable requests, and things the Church ought to be able to supply.

But you know which community is grievously under-served? You know which group of laymen is consistently overlooked, neglected, silenced, and marginalized?

The Jerk Community. Yeah, that’s right. We jerks are children of God, just like the rest of youse, and we have our needs. My jerk children stole all my slips of paper and I think they may have eaten the pencil, but if I had another chance, here is what I would tell my pastor that jerks like me really need . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image from The expression of the emotions in man and animals by Charles Darwin via Flickr (no known copyright restrictions)

What’s for supper? Vol. 196: CAKE OR PIE?

Merry Christmas! Merry merry Christmas! I hope you are still celebrating the season by finding stray candy canes in the couch cushions, and I hope some of them are the good rainbow kind.

I don’t seem to have done a food post last week, so before we get to Christmas ridiculousness, here are a few of the more notable things we had:

Harvest chicken salad, which I thought was delicious. 

It was greens with  . . . listen, I had kale for mine. I really like kale. I don’t know why people have to act like it’s going to refurbish your entire immune system, remove generational curses, and restore the childhood enamel to all your molars; but I also don’t know why people have to act like it’s some kind of undigestible, grotesque torture food. It’s just got a nice ribbony texture and a pleasant, slightly sweet flavor. It’s just a kind of salad guys, yeesh. Now if you want to talk about frisee lettuce, there is some nasty, bitter stuff that should not be ingested. Ptui. 

So over the kale, I had roasted chicken breast, bacon, chopped dates, chopped pecans, green apples, feta cheese, and a honey mustard dressing. Very tasty.

I like to fill the house with the heavenly aroma of frying bacon, and then chop it up for salad. It reminds the kids I have the power of life and death over them. 

I also made a meal that was sort of Thanksgiving But With Pork, with pork chops, stuffing, mashed butternut squash, and cranberry sauce. I always feel like Thanksgiving is so exhausting, I don’t fully appreciate the stuffing, so I wanted some more stuffing, with plenty of butter, mushrooms, onions, celery, and of course butter. Sidenote: Due to shoddy work ethics among textile workers, my pants are all tight. 

This was the day I launched into December’s rendition of that wonderful song “You People Don’t Appreciate What I Do For You,” which had enough choruses to last me right up until Christmas. I did shut up eventually, but I feel like I could start again at any moment. 

Oh, and Benny had a birthday party and I made her this Starfire cake, which pleased her:

For a snacktivity, I gave the party guests a bunch of fruits and veggies, soft cheeses, nutella, etc, and they made little bugs. These kids are 8 years old, which is apparently the perfect age for this activity. They had such a good time. 

As long as I’m dumping all the food pictures, at some point we had a snow day and seized the opportunity to make buckeyes:

We only had time to make the peanut butter balls and freeze them, to be dipped in melted chocolate later. We still have not dipped them in chocolate. They are still in the freezer. Many of my kids thought buckeyes are supposed to be eaten frozen, which will tell you how often we get to this stage and then stall out. 

Oh, I also made a ton of chocolate pretzel snacks for the kids’ school party. I have become completely resigned to the fact that I just don’t make good cookies, at all, so this is fine. You just put a Hershey’s Kiss on a pretzel, put it in the oven for a few minutes, and then press an M&M into it, then freeze it. 

I guess that’s really all we had that was interesting. There was some kind of stew I remember eating, but that was 400 years ago. Onward. Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Steak, chips

I misread the flyer and thought it was some kind of chuck roast on sale, so I planned sandwiches or whatever. To my delight, it turned out to be steak for $1.99 a pound! I bought so many pounds. Damien seasoned it heavily and broiled it in the oven. Corrie said, “The red part is the good part!” and I ogree. 

We all got to confession on Saturday, so that was a relief, although I must say that was the most misbegotten travesty of a confession line I’ve ever seen. Nobody knew where to go and everyone was being so terrible! In the confession line! Why can’t they just put a sign? 

SUNDAY
Ham, mashed potatoes, peas

This meal was half convenience, half wish fulfillment. Benny and Corrie consider this to be the ideal meal, and who can blame them? It was also very easy to set up ahead of time and eat when we got home late from the musical of A Christmas Carol, in which Moe was Bob Crachit. Moe did great. I’m not gonna lie, it was kind of a weird production. I did not expect the Ghost of Christmas Present to go into a razzle dazzle soft shoe number with a chorus line of sexy puddings, but, you know what, this paragraph is like a gift that you think is going to be a fun cool robot, but it’s actually a STEM kit that you have to put together yourself. Acting. Ham. You put it together, kid; Mama needs more coffee.

Sunday was also the first night of Hanukkah. We’ve been lighting the candles and saying the prayers, but have postponed latkes and other more elaborate fun until after Christmas. 

MONDAY
Pizza

So at some point in December, I promised two of my daughters that I’d take them out dress shopping. On Monday, I remembered about one of them. (I didn’t remember the other one until we were getting ready for Christmas Mass and she reminded me that I never did take her dress shopping. She also reminded me that she had reminded me several times throughout the month. I am sorry. I am sorry about many things.) So we went to . . . .seven stores. And found a dress! It was a nice dress. Damien made the pizzas, and they were good. 

I think it was Monday that we did a final gift reconciliation survey and discovered that we had screwed the pooch and given one kid something that was on her sister’s list. So Damien did the one thing he swore he wouldn’t do this year: He went to GameStop. Greater love hath etc. etc. It all worked out in the end.

Also on Tuesday we finally got the tree lights up. We started putting lights up before Thanksgiving, because it’s so freaking dark and nobody likes that. I’ve been gradually adding strands, and by Christmas eve, the general theme was “LOOKIT ALL THE LIGHTS.” 

TUESDAY
Deli sandwiches, fries, shrimp cocktail, White Russians

At some point during the day, I had decided it was Very Important to have new homemade decorations for the tree, so I sliced up a bunch of lemons and clementines and put them in a 170 oven to dry for several hours.

Promising, right? They smelled great, and I ran out to the store for miscellaneous whatnot and also the food items for the St. Vincent de Paul giving tree that I had completely forgotten about. I also lost the tags, so I grabbed a big bunch of stuff that I would have wanted when I was poor. I also for some reason promised Corrie a new dress, which we miraculously found at Walmart. It was a ridiculous Anna dress with a little tulle cape and she looked both regal and puffy, which she does every day. So of course I forgot the citrus slices were in the oven, and most of them burned, especially the lemons.

This is why you come to this site: So I can go, “Look at my burned lemons!” and you can go, “This is why I come to this site.” I did salvage a few of the orange slices and made some dubious items with embroidery thread, ribbons, beads, and star anise. 

Sometimes you finish stuff just so you can say you freaking finished something for once.

That evening, we decorated the tree. Actually Damien told me to go lie down, and the kids decorated the tree while singing “Monster Mash.” Works for me. We went to the 10 PM Mass (they don’t have midnight Mass in our area), and to be honest I spent most of it crying because apparently that’s what I do now. Here we are with our goons:

Yes, this is the best picture of the lot. No, Corrie was not sleepy. FAR FROM IT.

But we did pack them off to bed eventually and did all the final preparations

and then collapsed. 

WEDNESDAY
CHRISTMAS!

Our traditional Christmas breakfast is eight pounds of bacon, dozens and dozens of cinnamon buns, grapes and cherries, eggnog, and orange juice. 

I made Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon rolls earlier in the week and froze them, then defrosted them overnight in the fridge. I made so many rolls that I baked the second batch for lunch and made some more juice and we started all over again. 

For dinner . . . Well.  We have been ordering a pu pu platter for 15 from the restaurant down the road for something like 11 years. Never any problem. But hours after we placed this year’s order, shortly before we were supposed to pick it up, they called us and said there had been some miscommunication between the front desk and the kitchen and they couldn’t accommodate us! Hate speech!!!  They said that they could only take orders for pu pu platters for five. Damien asked if three of us could call and order pu pu platters for five, and the poor woman mumbled that it was “a gray area.” I have no idea what kind of big trouble was going on in that little Chinese restaurant, but we shook the dust from our feet and heroically called the other Chinese restaurant down the other street, and ordered a pu pu platter for 15. I think we squeaked in just under the wire. When we came in to pick up the food, half the staff was close to hysteria, and the other half was all in. A family came in after us and the waitress screamed, “NO! NO COME IN! NO ROOM!” and flapped a stack of styrofoam takeout trays at them until they ran away.

But we were the lucky ones, and we collected our fragrant bags and left. It turns out this particular restaurant doesn’t consider egg rolls to be part of a pu pu platter, but it was still good. This meal fills my heart with gratitude for a family that would really, truly rather have Chinese takeout than an elaborate homemade feast. 

Christmas day was just wonderful. Everyone was happy, everyone was nice, everyone got along. It was great. The worst thing that happened was that one kid got a Godzilla toy that he already had, but luckily his parents are so insane, they had a spare Godzilla present in their bedroom just in case, to save the day. Here is a bit of Christmas morning, in which we fulfilled the sacred ancient ritual of Cake or Pie? (You will want the sound on.)

I could explain it, but I don’t think you’d come away knowing any more than you do right now. It’s my favorite part of Christmas morning. 

THURSDAY
There were many, many leftovers from the day before, so I made a pot of rice and Damien picked up some egg rolls and sushi from the supermarket and we did it all again. 

FRIDAY

I honestly don’t know what we’re having for supper today. We do have some crackers and mascarpone, smoked salmon, and caviar that I somehow thought we’d have room for on Christmas day, but we did not. We’re still drowning in cinnamon buns, and I vastly overestimated how much eggnog twelve people could ingest.

It’s a good thing that, as Catholics, we understand that the main point of Christmas is eating. I think we nailed it. 

Ooh, maybe we’ll have latkes tonight. 

Light that builds

Several times a year, I hear about promising new treatments to halt or even reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s. I’m grateful when people send me links to these stories, knowing I have a personal stake in them; but to be honest, I rarely read them. It was too late for my grandmother and it’s too late for my mother. If this hellish disease comes for me, it won’t make any difference if I’m personally informed about the latest research or not. Either it will help or it won’t. 

For several years, as my mother’s excellent mind became more and more smothered by confusion, I was angry. At her, which makes no sense. She hated and feared what was happening to her, and did everything she could to fight it off, which was nothing. There really isn’t anything you can do. I knew very well that none of it was her fault, and I knew very well that my anger was a shield put up around my heart. Anger often is. 

Lately, the wall of anger is being pulled down to reveal what sits behind it, which is of course a bottomless sorrow and terror. From that well of grief comes up memories, and lamentations. The good conversations I had with my mother were so few and far between; the misunderstandings and missed connections were so many. I’m 45 years old — almost half a century! — and I’ve sorted through enough nonsense that I think my mother and I could finally really understand each other. I’m passing through from the years of childbearing to whatever it is that comes next, and I want to talk to someone who made it to the other side. I want to talk to my mother, and see what she knows. I want to stop evading her and reveal my heart to her in a way that I never did as a young woman.

But it’s too late. I missed her, and now the best I can do is drive an hour, sign in to her dim nursing home, and watch her slump in a wheelchair. Her arms are shielded so she won’t scratch herself to pieces. She tilts, and a crust forms in the corner of her mouth. A few words make their way out, and some of them seem to mean something. She doesn’t open her eyes. 

“I like your shirt,” I can say. “You look nice in pink.” And in honesty, that is something I never would have gotten around to saying when she was present and able to hear it; and if she had said something so simple to me, I probably would have taken it as a veiled criticism of some kind. We didn’t connect well. We didn’t understand each other, at all. Now I have no idea how much she understands of anything. Something, surely. When my father unloads his medical woes to her on his daily visits, she sometimes mumbles, “Oh, you poor thing.” The same thing my grandmother said when someone unpeeled a helpless banana in her sight. 

Poor thing, poor thing. 

One of the articles I did read was about some promising therapy for dementia patients. Guess what it is? Light. 

We think of light as the thing that reveals things for what they truly are. The thing that strips away pretense, that pierces through shields. And this is true, sometimes. The light of honesty is what we need, even when it’s painful. I remember one time I was so seized up with depression, it was as if I lived outside my body, observing. I saw myself talking to my mother about my children, and I watched with detached interest as my face unexpectedly and randomly curdled up into the grimace of a tragedy mask and I started to cry, because things were just so hard, too hard.

“What’s the matter? What’s wrong?” she flew to ask, because she is my mother.

“Nothing,” I said, and composed my face again, sealing off the tears. It felt too risky to show to her what a failure I was, and how much I was suffering when I shouldn’t, I thought, be suffering. Maybe if I had told her how wretched I was, and how guilty I felt to be sad when I was so very blessed, she might have helped.

Or she might not have known what to do. Sometimes there just isn’t anything you can do. I suppose I could go and tell her now. She is still my mother, even though she has passed through the years of childrearing and into . . . whatever it is that she’s in now. It feels like it would be cruel to go and cry to her now. Maybe she’d be just aware enough to sense my sorrow and her own helplessness one more time. That’s not what I want to share with her.

But, I suppose there are different kinds of light. Light that reveals, and strips away pretense, pierces protective shields, and leaves you naked and helpless, poor thing. And then there is the light that builds, stimulates. The light that gives, rather than taking away. 

The light therapy they are experimenting with boosts gamma oscillations in the brains of mice, and this apparently makes better connections between nerve cells. More connection is good, apparently. This light therapy “preserves against cell death in mouse models,” they say. 

I don’t know how to end this essay. I don’t know how this ends. I suppose I could make the drive to see my mother before the end of the year, and see if I can make a connection one more time. Either it will help or it won’t. 

Mary and Jesus our castle entire: Mary the fireplace, Jesus the fire. 

Merry Christmas, my dears! We’re headed off to Mass in a few hours and will pray for you all. 

Here’s a good poem which, as far as I can tell, is by Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ronald Tacelli. It’s from Handbook of Catholic Apologetics: Reasoned Answers to Questions of Faith. The image is Mary Panagia (“All-Holy”) icon from Cyprus via Needpix.

Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, thanks for laughing at my stupid jokes, thanks for getting mad when I say stupid things. I loves you all, but Jesus loves you more. 

****
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Body of Christ, from Mary’s body;
Blood of Christ, from Mary’s blood.

Jesus the bread, Mary the yeast;
Mary the kitchen, Jesus the feast.

Mary the Mother by whom we are fed;
Mary the oven, Jesus the bread.

Mary the soil, Jesus the vine;
Mary the wine maker, Jesus the wine.

Jesus the Tree of Life, Mary the sod;
Mary our God-bearer, Jesus our God.

Mary the silkworm, Jesus the silk;
Mary the nurse, Jesus the milk.

Mary the stem, Jesus the flower;
Mary the stairway, Jesus the tower.

Mary and Jesus, our castle entire;
Mary the fireplace, Jesus the fire.

Mary God’s ink, Jesus God’s name;
Mary the burning bush, Jesus the flame.

Mary the paper, Jesus the Word;
Mary the nest, Jesus the bird.

Mary the artery, Jesus the blood;
Mary the floodgate, Jesus the flood.

Mary and Jesus, our riches untold;
Mary the gold mine, Jesus the gold.

 

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Legion acknowledges four abusers, including two in Center Harbor, NH

By Damien Fisher and Simcha Fisher

The scandal-plagued Roman Catholic order the Legionaries of Christ has released a report acknowledging four sexual predators among its priests and brothers in all of North America. Two were from the now-closed Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, NH, according to the letter sent out on Saturday.

The Legionaries of Christ released the letter just days before Christmas, along with a report that acknowledges the decades of horrific abuse by their founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, a conman, incestuous sexual predator, and drug addict.

In the letter sent out to members of the Legionaries and its lay apostolates, Fr. John Connor, North American director for the order stated that a commission tasked with reviewing Legionaries’ abuse files found 175 minors were abused by 33 Legion priests worldwide. That figure includes 60 victims of Maciel alone, according to the report.

In New Hampshire, Francisco Cardona, now deceased, and Fernando Cutanda, now laicized, both abused students at the Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, according to the Legionary commission’s report.

“We abhor the actions of those priests who have misused their priestly authority for their own purposes,” Connor wrote in his letter.

According to the commission’s report, the vast majority of the victims were boys between the ages of 11 and 16, and of the 33 priests who committed abuse, 14 were themselves victims of abuse by Legionaries.

In the Legionaries’ minor seminaries, or high schools, 15 priests worldwide abused 65 victims, according to the report. Another 90 students were abused by 54 seminarians in formation. 46 of these seminarians did not reach the priesthood, the report states.

“It is worth noting that 111 of the victims were either victims of Father Maciel, or were victims of his victims or of a victim of one of his victims. This represents 63.43 percent of the 175 victims of priests in the Congregation. Today, none of these 11 priests involved in this chain of abuses publicly exercises priestly ministry in the Congregation. Three of them have passed away,” the report states.

The Legion report strives to distance its current character from the crimes of its founder; yet even after Maciel’s crimes were revealed, the Legion continued to celebrate Maciel’s birthday, hang photos of him in their centers, and refer to him as “Nuestro Padre” until they formally forbade these practices in December of 2010.  Steve Skojec, who lived in and worked with Legion communities for several years, describes the spiritual manipulation inherent in the Legion’s very structure, and notes that they continued to extol Maciel and his legacy as late as January of 2019.

“A total of 33 priests of the Congregation committed abuse as priests or deacons. This number represents 2.44 percent of the 1,353 ordained throughout the history of the Congregation,” the report states. “The last known case of sexual abuse in a minor seminary of the Congregation occurred seven years ago, in 2012.”

But the vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported, according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. RAINN cites FBI statistics noting that out of every 1,000 sexual assault, only 230 victims will come forward to report their abuse to police. These statistics suggest that the true number of victims of abuse by Legionaires is closer to 700 than 175.

The Legion has launched an accountability site called Zero Abuse through which victims can report their allegations of abuse to the Legion. On its homepage, the site says “the Legionaries of Christ seek to be transparent regarding the abuses committed by some of its members throughout its history.”

Abusive Legion clerics from NH not included in Diocesan list

Earlier this year, the Diocese of Manchester published its own list of known abusers, naming 73 priests accused of sexual abuse of a minor since 1950. The list includes names, ordination date, status, and assignments of accused priests, but it does not include details of the accusations.

The Manchester list also did not include any Legionary clerics, nor did it include monks or religious brothers who are not priests, even if they lived and worked in New Hampshire.

Thomas Bebbington, spokesman for the Manchester Diocese, said when the Manchester list was released that the bishop has no control over the Legionaries.

“The Legionaries of Christ is a religious order and its members are not incardinated in the Diocese of Manchester. The list only includes members of religious orders assigned to ministry by the bishop of the Diocese of Manchester,” Bebbington said. “A bishop does not have control over priests and religious who are not incardinated in his diocese. They report to the superiors in their own orders, rather than to the diocesan bishop.”

Bebbington also said that a bishop does not have control over who is assigned to institutions such as private high schools or colleges.

Lawsuit alleged Fr. Carroll knew of abuse at his school

Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor and the Legion of Christ, Inc., were named in a lawsuit in Connecticut in 2017. The plaintiff said that, when he was a student at ICAS in Center Harbor, Fernando Cutanda, or “Brother Fernando,” a “supervisor, mentor, and spiritual leader” employed by the Legion-run school, repeatedly raped him in several locations on the school property.

The lawsuit states that the alleged victim told a Legionaries of Christ priest, identified in the lawsuit as Fr. O’Carroll, what had been happening after feeling guilt and shame. O’Carroll, whom the legal documents describe as “in charge of ICAS at the time,” allegedly told the boy to say five rosaries “for his sins” and told him “God will take care of things.”

According to the lawsuit, “Brother Fernando” allegedly raped the boy again after Fr. O’Carroll allegedly heard of the abuse. The school was dismissed as a defendant in 2017, and the Legion settled with the victim in October of 2018. Although the school is in New Hampshire, the lawsuit was filed in Connecticut since the Legion of Christ, Inc., is headquartered there.

Envelopes of cash and cured Spanish hams

Marcial Maciel’s now notorious behavior reportedly included drug addiction, fathering several children with at least three different women, the sexual abuse of his own children and others. As outlined in Jason Berry’s reporting on the Legion, Maciel got away with his crimes thanks to the wide-spread corruption inside the Vatican.

“For years Maciel had Legion priests dole out envelopes with cash and donate gifts to officials in the curia. In the days leading up to Christmas, Legion seminarians spent hours packaging the baskets with expensive bottles of wine, rare brandy, and cured Spanish hams that alone cost upward of $1,000 each. Priests involved in the gifts and larger cash exchanges say that in hindsight they view Maciel’s strategy as akin to an insurance policy, to protect himself should he be exposed and to position the Legion as an elite presence in the workings of the Vatican,” Berry wrote.

The Vatican’s own assessment of Maciel, leveled in 2010, is devastating in its frankness describing Maciel’s true nature.

“The very grave and objectively immoral actions of Father Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies, in some cases constitute real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning. This life was unknown to the great majority of the Legionaries, above all because of the system of relationships constructed by Father Maciel, who was able skillfully to create alibis for himself, to obtain trust, confidence and silence from those around him, and to reinforce his personal role as a charismatic founder,” the Vatican statement reads. “Not infrequently a deplorable discrediting and distancing of those who entertained doubts as to the probity of his conduct, as well as a misguided concern to avoid damaging the good that the Legion was accomplishing, created around him a defense mechanism that for a long time rendered him unassailable, making it very difficult, as a result, to know the truth about his life.”

Legionaries will review the report on the Legionaries

According to Connor’s letter, the report will be reviewed by members of the Legionaries in Rome.

“This report will be reviewed by the Legionaries of Christ General Chapter delegates when they meet in mid-January, in Rome,” Connor wrote. “The delegates will also review several proposals for next steps in continuing our worldwide efforts for safer environments in all areas of our ministries.”

According to the commission’s report, Marcial Maciel had complete control over the order, from its 1949 founding until 2005, including control over how allegations of abuse were investigated and handled. He was considered “the superior general and the highest authority” within the organization.

“According to the Constitutions of the Congregation at that time, Father Maciel, as superior general, had direct responsibility for all important government decisions, including appointments, admissions to priesthood, investigations and sanctions, and the pastoral assignments of all members,” the report states.

Pope Benedict XVI barred Maciel from active ministry in 2006 after his history of pedophilia became incontrovertible.

Juggling, jargon, and the golden ball

Last week, I read Tomie dePaola’s wonderful story, The Clown of God, to my faith formation class. (If you don’t own the book, you can hear and see it read aloud in this video.)

Before I read the book, I prepped the class a bit. It happened to be my daughter’s birthday, as well as the last class before Christmas, so we talked about birthdays and presents. To my relief, they all knew that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.

And what present does Jesus want for his birthday? We established that he probably doesn’t want a Hot Wheels Ultimate Gator Car Wash play set, and he probably doesn’t want a Barbie Sparkle Lights Mermaid.  So what does he want?

Most of them were baffled. Then a few hands shot up.

“Love!”  said one kid. I smiled and nodded, and wrote that down on the white board.

“Community,” said another. “Respect, service, compassion.”

He laid the words out flatly, like a card dealer mechanically snapping cards out on a table. He had clearly heard them a thousand times before, and knew how to say the thing the teacher wants you to say: Jesus wants us to love one another. Jesus likes community. Jesus likes service. Some of these kids are barely in contact with anything religious, but others have been in Catholic school since they were tiny, and at the tender age of eight, they are full to the brim with jargon.

So I read them the book. The story goes like this . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 

 

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Image: Detail from illustration from Tomie dePaola’s The Clown of God

Simcha’s handy kitchen substitutes for 100% holiday success

Ah, the holidays, when everyone’s kitchen goes into overdrive, turning out goodies and sweets to keep the world’s Christmas tummies merry and bright. But sooner or later, every busy baker and clever cook is bound to hit a snag: The recipe calls for an ingredient you simply don’t have. You thought the bottle of vanilla was fresh, but it’s almost empty. You could have sworn the carton was full, but only one or two eggs remain. What to do?

You could send your husband to the convenience store to get gouged. Everyone enjoys that, especially Yogi, who is doing the gouging. (This is not racist. His name is Yogi and boy does he gouge.) Or, you could put on your thinking toque and rustle up a substitute. A substitute! Good kitchen sense means thinking on your feet, and substitutes are the backbone of baking, unless you are, in fact, cooking a backbone, and you are out of backbone. Then you’re out of luck. 

Here are some of my most-used kitchen substitutions:

Short on eggs? Substitute 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce for each egg you’re missing. Or you could swap in half a mashed banana. Just don’t think too hard about why it’s okay to use banana, which is absolutely bristling with sucrose, but the substitution guides always specify unsweetened applesauce. Baking is a science, okay? And science means you shut up. If you don’t have apples or bananas or eggs, you could always use arrowroot powder. I won’t tell you how much, because we all know you don’t have arrowroot powder. Dude, you don’t even have eggs. 

Recipe calls for buttermilk but you’re fresh out? The next best thing is a scant cup of regular milk with a tablespoon of vinegar stirred in. Let it sit for five minutes before stirring, to give the ghost of your grandmother a chance to sidle in and make that sucking noise she makes when you did something stupid; then continue cooking as normal. *kshhh*

Sour cream and yogurt are very often interchangeable, so feel free to swap them in and out. In and out! You could even use cottage cheese. In and out, up and down, side-side-side-side-side! You could even try mayonnaise, as long as there are enough other strong ingredients to mask the flavor. Few people know this, but mayonnaise is actually made of cheese. A dairy product, if you will. Yes it is. Why is it cheese-colored, then? 

Recipe calls for unsalted butter, but all you have is salted? Get over yourself. No one cares. What is this for, cookies? Your cookies are rubbery little wrinkled dough puddles with hair in them. Gray hair. People are buying them at the bake sale solely to remove them from public view. The salt ratio being marginally out of balance is not what’s going to make or break your project, bunky. 

Springform pan gone missing? Try taking a normal pan and lining it with tinfoil, then putting little pebbles from the stream all along the inside. Crimp the tinfoil along the top end and fashion little vents with a melon baller, then pour the batter over that with a wry little twisting motion of the wrist while looking in the other direction and pretending not to notice what is happening. It won’t do anything, but at least you could try. Try putting your husband’s car keys in there. Put Meow Mix, see if I care.

A little low on flour? Try this trick: Slowly tear the pages out of your most infuriating cookbook with all the precious details about a frugal but free-spirited childhood in Soho, and stuff them into the food processor. Add a little truffle oil, pulse two or three times, and boom. You’ll have an excuse to go to the Salvation Army and pick yourself out a new food processor. While you’re out, you can get some flour. 

Lost your will to live? Try eating, instead. 

Hope this helps, and happy baking! *kshhh*

Everyone loves shawarma: My interview with FemCatholic

I had tons of fun with this interview for FemCatholic, but most importantly, I could not be more delighted with the title they chose for it. Shawarma is so important! And so is FemCatholic, one of the very few organizations that consistently publishes articles that are faithful and honest and interesting. They consistently address topics that normal Catholic women actually care about. Really good stuff. The FemCatholic conference was hands down the best Catholic conference I’ve ever been to. 

The interview ranged all over the place, from teaching kids the faith, to education, to marriage, to what’s for supper. 

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FemCatholic: Your writing is nationally and internationally syndicated, you travel the country as a well-loved speaker, you’re a respected Catholic commentator and moderator, a published author, a regular podcast host, a wife, and a mom, raising 10 kids with your husband. Did I leave anything out?

Simcha Fisher: No, but when you put it that way, it sounds like a completely different person. Sometimes people ask me how I manage to do it all, and I’m kind of baffled. Then I realize, Oh, they think I’m doing everything well.” I’m not. My house is a wreck. I miss deadlines. Everything smells weird and I have a very poor relationship with the cat. My spiritual life is a circus act, and not in the fun way. But I do have a preternatural ability to pick myself up and start over ten billion times, and that has proved very useful.

Read the full interview here