The cracks in the wall of the church

Have you been to one of those churches that is tidy and fine and in good repair, but the architectural style is . . . ongepotchket? A little of this and a little of that, and it all adds up to much too much.

Church buildings like this have clearly gone through countless renovations. Some parts are neoclassical, some are vaguely nautical. The light fixtures are from the 80s; the stations of the cross from the 50s, and the tabernacle is from who knows when. When was it okay to put those particular colors and textures together, and when was that shape ever anything but grotesque? And that’s where we keep Jesus.

It’s not just church buildings, but the Catholic Church itself that is this way. It has undergone more renovations that we can imagine. What we think of as Catholicism is not a coherent, uniform, elegant whole carefully curated by the Holy Spirit, but a sort of yard sale arrangement patched together out of whatever is made available to us in our era, in our region, in our budget, in our tradition.

That goes not only for architecture and decor, but also for styles of worship, for what we emphasize in how we incorporate our faith into our life, and for which virtues and which sins we emphasize, and for how we think about God.

The indispensable core of what unifies us as Catholics is smaller and more basic than we may realize, and so much of what feels normal and even central is actually just cultural, and may very well someday be renovated away.

Does this thought cause some discomfort? It should. The Church is not just about us or our times, and never was meant to be. Even the things that appeal to us and nourish us and give us comfort and support are not as central as we might imagine.

But wait, it gets worse! For some Catholics, living the faith is like coming into their old familiar ongepotchket, hodgepodge, yard sale church building, and one day they spot not only some aesthetic incoherence, but an actual crack in the wall.

And suddenly, they can’t shake the idea that the crack isn’t just a crack, but a portent. That everything they see around them, the things that appeal to them and the things that don’t, are an edifice built over a sinkhole. They feel they must tread carefully or the whole thing will cave in. That the cracks are structural; that there’s a yawning abyss under our feet.

Sometimes that emptiness seems like the only real thing, and every part of the church that has been built over it looks like it’s moments away from tumbling down into gehenna.

What’s for supper? Vol. 221: You can count on food

Gah, I missed another week! So first, here are the food highlights from last week:

Oooh, bibimbap!

I cooked some sliced pork in a gochujang sauce 

Jump to Recipe

and made a big pot of rice, and set out the pork, pea shoots, crunchy noodles, spinach, and whatnot, and everybody put together what they wanted and then reported to me for a fried egg. I like to put the spinach under a layer of something hot, so it wilts a bit. The egg seeps down and the meat sauce seeps up, and it’s pretty great.

I also sprinkled something called “balsamic crispy beets” on top of mine, along with hot sauce and sesame seeds. They were maybe a little too sweet and balsamic-y for this dish, but I liked the taste in general, and will probably get them again. They would be great on top of a salad with chicken. I always felt like I am destined to enjoy beets, but I never do, so this beet form is a little bonus.

Uhhhhh clams steamed in beer, chicken and pepper fajita deconstructobabs, bread, and more spinach

An incoherent but tasty meal 

I sautéed some onions in lots of butter, then added red pepper flakes and a few cans of beer and then the clams, and let them simmer for a bit until the shells opened, then squeezed some lemon over them. Yum yum yum. 

The plan was to make fajita chicken kebabs, but when it came down to it, I did not feel like threading anything on skewers, and Damien did not feel like grilling. So after I marinated the meat and peppers for a few hours, I just spread them on a pan and broiled them in the oven, and it was most definitely good enough.

The marinade was, I don’t know, oil and lime juice, chili powder, cumin, garlic, salt, etc. Just standard “weakly Mexican.” Served with salsa and sour cream to dip. 

Drumsticks, potato salad, and peach salad
Two salads, no greens! The kids were very impressed.  Or possibly they were mocking me. 

So, here we have an odd duck: a recipe that didn’t really need the prosciutto. It was sliced peaches, chopped fresh mint, crumbled feta cheese, and torn up prosciutto dressed with a honey lemon sauce, and it was super summery, fresh and full of vivid flavors.  

So vivid that the prosciutto didn’t really stand out, and therefore wasn’t necessary. What do you know about that.

I thought the potato salad was also nice, not too gloppy. Potatoes with the skin on, hard boiled eggs (which I cooked in the same pot as the potatoes, much to the amazement of one easily-amazed kid), and scallions, with a dressing of mayonnaise, cider vinegar, salt, and plenty of pepper. 

Dora was supposed to stop by for dinner, but she had car trouble and Damien had to rescue her, so she got here. She’s no longer in our bubble, and we needed to keep the visit outdoors, so to prolong the outdoorness of the evening, I made a fire and we toasted marshmallows, which I have apparently been buying every week for the last five weeks, intending to someday have a campfire. 

Here is Lena telling Corrie a ghost story. 

Just the right amount of funny and scary. This particular spooky story was about a green, hairless gorilla who lives in the sewer.

And Friday was pizza with fresh basil and slices of garlic, and ricotta, and red pepper flakes, WHICH. I. RECOMMEND. I want to make this same pizza except with also eggplant, or possibly even broccoli. 

And now for this week, here’s what we ate:

SATURDAY
Party!

Irene’s birthday was back in April, right when everything started closing down, so we finally had her party last weekend at the town pond before school starts and everything closes down again.

I did not cover myself in glory with birthday cakes this week. She wanted a Gravity Falls cake with Bill Cipher made of rice krispies. I got off to a bad start by referring to him as Cyber Bill, even though I am not 67 years old. Then his arms kept falling off, and then it was kind of downhill from there. Please don’t give me any advice on how to do it better. I know how to do all things well, and sometimes I just choose to do them poorly, for personal reasons.

But she liked it! And there were thunderstorms right up until an hour before the party, and then the sun came out. The party kids had deli sandwiches; I forget what the people back home had.

SUNDAY
Party!

Lucy’s birthday was back in July back when everything etc. etc. so we finally had her party while etc. She asked for a cake with All Might from My Hero Academia on it. This was pre-doomed to failure even before I discovered we don’t own any food coloring and I would have to color everything with sugar and leftover icing. All Might is a weird looking dude and this was a weird looking cake, so, there you go. 

But, she liked it, and there were thunderstorms that stopped before the party.  

And they got their parties in before everything gets locked down etc. etc. etc.  The party kids just had snacks; I forget what the people back home had.

MONDAY
Koftas with yogurt sauce, pita, Jerusalem salad

The first time I made koftas I thought they were SO tasty, but they kept falling off the sticks when Damien grilled them. So this time I just made a bunch of big meatballs and broiled them, with yogurt sauce to dip them in. Good stuff, with the added bonus of not looking so much like giant turds.

Oh, I also made a big bunch of Jerusalem salad while tomatoes are still king. Cucumber, tomato, red onion, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt. A cooling, easy side dish to lighten up a savory main dish.

If anyone makes koftas on the grill and knows how to keep them from falling apart off the stick, I’d be glad to know it.

TUESDAY
Chicken and salad, fruit

I got home soooo late from shopping. I just sprinkled the chicken with olive oil and Italian seasoning and broiled it, then served it in pieces over greens with Caesar salad dressing from a bottle. We had strawberries and blueberries, plus some pineapple that I forgot to serve last week. 

WEDNESDAY
Dino nuggets, chips, veg and dip for kids, restaurant for adults

Many months ago, maybe even a year ago, Damien was out of town and my car was in the shop and OF COURSE somehow Lucy ran out of insulin. So we had to call Dora and get her to leave work and go the pharmacy for us, and bring the insulin home, and then it was somehow the wrong insulin (“somehow” meaning CVS, which we briefly used because it has a 24-hour drive thru; but also does stuff like gives you the wrong insulin and then lies about it), so she had to leave work again and get the other insulin and bring it home and then go back to work, and she was very nice about it. So, we said we would take her out to dinner. 

And we did!

Like a year later.

I myself had an insane amount of food: Fried calamari, minestrone soup, and veal piccata, not to mention a bit of Dora’s bruschetta and a bit of Damien’s gondola bread; and some kind of cocktail with bitter orange. It’s actually getting nippy here at night (hence the soup), so they had these neat patio heaters among the tables with a giant flame enclosed in a glass pillar. I guess I’m a country mouse; I was impressed. I’m not saying I would follow it into the desert, but it was a very nice flame. 

THURSDAY
Philly cheesesteak

I don’t know what is going on with cows, but steak is still $2.99 a pound. One of the fringe benefits of my kitchen reno (which is still not done. I have to finish painting and then install the ceiling tiles, and then I will take pictures!) is I finally found the little column that holds up the disc cutter on my food processor, so I sliced a ton of peppers and onions and then the steak. 

IS there some way of shredding steak in a food processor without having to constantly stop the motor, take the top off, and drag out the meat that gets wrapped around the central pin thingy and caught between the blade and the cover? I did freeze the meat a bit first, but it was still very soggy going. It took a long time, but the results were good. Nice and shreddy, just like in Philly, as far as I can recall. 

Honest to goodness, I took pictures of my sandwich, but they look gross. You all know what a good cheesesteak looks like, so picture that. 

FRIDAY
Eggs migas with refried beans

Here is a picture of the migas I made last time. SO GOOD. 

Did I share a recipe for simple migas? I cut a bunch of corn tortillas into strips and fried them in oil until crisp, then scrambled a bunch of eggs into them, and served them with hot sauce and standard taco fixings. I love this meal. You know who would have loved it? My mother. Heck, maybe I can actually make it for her at some point, once the nursing home stops being locked down, etc. etc. 

And there it is. School starts on Monday. We’ll see how long it lasts, etc. 

Gochujang bulgoki (spicy Korean pork)


Ingredients

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

sauce:

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

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

Instructions

  1. Combine pork, onions, and carrots.

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

    Cover and let marinate for several hours or overnight.

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

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

 

koftas

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground beef
  • 3 onions
  • 1 head (head, not clove) garlic
  • 2 bunches parsley
  • 5 slices bread
  • salt and pepper
  • 1.5 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp zataar

Instructions

  1. Put the wooden skewers in water to soak for about thirty minutes before you plan to form the kebabs.

  2. Put the onions, garlic, and parsley in a food processor and chop it.

  3. Put the meat in a large bowl and add the chopped onion mixture to it.

  4. Toast the bread, then put it in a bowl with warm water to soften it. Squeeze the water out and add that to the bowl with the meat.

  5. Add in the seasonings and squish it up with your hands until all the ingredients are well combined.

  6. Using your hands, form logs of meat around the skewers. They should be about an inch and a half in diameter.

  7. Grill over coals if you can. If they fall apart too much, you can cook them on a hot oiled griddle, or broil them. Turn to brown all sides.

 

Yogurt sauce

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

 

Baptized, confirmed, and ordained in two weeks: My interview with Fr. Matt Hood

For a man who had just been baptized, confirmed, ordained and catapulted into the headlines in the space of two weeks, the Rev. Matt Hood of St. Lawrence Parish in Utica, Mich., sounded remarkably relaxed. I caught the 30-year-old priest on the phone while he and his father drove to Minnesota, where they were going to pick up a puppy named Sherman.

Father Hood’s story is no shaggy dog tale, though. It was only a few weeks ago that he discovered by chance that his baptism in 1990 was not valid, and therefore neither was his ordination in 2017 nor were many of the sacraments he presided over in the past three years, when he thought he was a priest but was not.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit issued a letter on Aug. 22 informing his flock that in light of a recent statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Father Hood’s baptism and ordination had been invalid because the presiding deacon at his baptism in infancy had said, “We baptize you” rather than “I baptize you.” Once that was discovered, the archbishop explained, Father Hood had been properly baptized, confirmed and then ordained as a deacon and a priest.

Father Hood’s situation has been remedied, but the revelation of his invalid baptism and speculation about what that means for all the people he interacted with as a priest, are still rippling outward. This record of our conversation, which continued over Facebook, has been shortened and lightly edited.

Read the rest of my interview with Fr. Matt Hood in America Magazine.

Returning to school? Don’t worry: It’s impossible

When I first started home schooling, my mother told me, “You know, the thing about home schooling is that it’s impossible.”

She was not only experienced but a pioneer, one of the first in the region to even attempt such a thing as home schooling. So she knew what she was talking about. But a ray of sunshine she was not.

It was the last thing I wanted to hear, that my new plan was impossible. Who could wake up each morning and willingly set out to do a thing that cannot be done? I knew I was born to home school my children. We would be courageous explorers on the sea of ideas, ravenous guests at a banquet of wisdom and culture. My children’s 12 years of school would be only the beginning of their education, and they would graduate with a lifelong thirst for learning.

Well, we did make a sundial one time. And a bean mosaic. All my kids can read and add and tell jokes, and no one has once suggested they would be better off learning how to make brooms. After six years of home schooling, we realized it was time for a change, and since then, we have tried private school, charter school, public school and this coming year, parochial school. We have at least dipped our toes into just about every form of educating children, and guess what we learned?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

What to do if your kids want a pet

So your kids want a pet, and you don’t?

I’m not saying you absolutely have to let your kids have pets. I’m just saying, sooner or later, your kids are going to despise you for not letting them get a pet.

Here’s where it’s handy to do your homework and have on hand a list of all the worst things that can happen when you welcome a cute little animal into your home. You can lean on me, the sucker to end all suckers. I have rarely said no to a pet, and I’ve spent the last 20+ years systematically learning how stupid I am.

Here is the short list:

Hermit crab. I mean, it’s basically a bug, so have fun with that, I guess.

Some fish are suicidal, but it takes them a really long time to die. They’re going along, going along in their crystal clear waters with the right amount of food, and healthy plants doing their part to increase the physical and psychological wellness of the environment, and the temperature and ph are well controlled, and they get just the right amount of indirect sunlight and just the right amount of everything, and for some fish, this is just TOO MUCH.

As soon as you go to bed, they will gather their strength and hurl themselves out of the water, up over the side of the tank, and then somehow fly sideways so they stick to the dishcloth you keep nearby to polish the outside of the tank to give it a pretty gleam.

Then, when you haven’t had your coffee yet, you will have to decide if you’re ready to admit you have the kind of life where you have to unstick a somehow still not dead fish from dishcloth before you’ve had your coffee yet.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

The wrong kind of random: My time with the U.S. Census

Did I ever tell you about the time I worked for the U.S. Census? 

This was back in 2010, and it didn’t last very long. We were pretty desperate for money, so, despite the fact that I once mistook the border between NH and VT on a map for a shortcut — and I once went to visit my sister and only realized how far off course I was when the road in front of me stopped because I had reached the ocean — and I experience the frequent, inexplicable, and irresistible urge to turn left even when I know I’m supposed to turn right — despite all of this, I say, I thought I could work for the census.

I thought maybe if it was literally my job not to get lost, I could keep it together. And I’ve met people who work for the government before, and I felt that I could easily slip into that crowd without being dominated too heavily by anyone’s intellect.  How hard could it be?

It really wasn’t that it was hard.  But it was the government, so it was dumb.

For instance, we were 26 hours into training before they would tell us what our job was going to be.  There were twelve of us being trained, and nobody knew what for. Our supervisor used a kind of radical version of the Socratic method:  rather than asking questions that guided us toward the truth, he would allow us to ask the questions.  He would then stare at us blankly with his mouth open, gaze down at his manual, gaze at us again, and then continue reading aloud as if nothing had happened. He did this so often, people eventually stopped asking him anything, so I guess it worked. 

I clearly remember the moment when we finally got to set aside the training materials and get our actual materials, and it turned out the things they’d been referring to as “binders” were . . . three-ring binders. I was amazed. Everything about the census so far had been so back-assward, I assumed they were calling them binders just because they weren’t. 

Then, actual binders in hand, we found we were going to be “Dependent Quality Control Enumerators,” which meant that we were to look at the maps drawn up by the first round of enumerators, compare them with the lists of addresses and their descriptions, and then compare that to what we actually see on the ground. If we discovered a too-high percentage of certain types of mistakes within a randomly-chosen sample of one area, then the whole area would have to be re-canvassed.

So this was how it worked out. I’m driving down the road, and I see a house.  It’s not on the map.  I add it to the map.  I assign it a map spot number, and add it to the “address add” page.  I transfer numbers from one book to another, I draw a line through certain things and erase others, according to protocol, and I give a questionnaire to the newly discovered residents. 

Except sometimes I couldn’t get to the house because of all the enraged dogs. Sometimes I got shouted at and threatened, and sometimes I got people who refused to even to look at me, as if even briefly lending one’s eye beams to a *ptui* government employee would dilute their purity of essence. 

And some of the people were friendly enough, but . . . .

Numbahs? No, there ain’t no numbahs out heah.
Hey, don’t let the cat owt, friggin coyotes comin’ around.
Census? No, we don’t want none.
We’re both learning disabled, hon.
I got a nail infection. 
Come on in, you kin sit on the love seat, watch the ashtray, don’t knock over my oxygen tank. 
Census, eh? You gonna check up on ME, heh heh heh heh heh? 
Numbahs? No . . . 

Nevertheless, I was a proper government employee. I was finishing my shift with a binder bristling with some kind of information that was surely useful to someone in some way, or if it was actually useless, at least it wasn’t my fault. I was doing it. I was really doing it!

But then we hit a snag.

Every so often, I was supposed go down a particular highway, go down a particular road, turn right, and choose a house at random, and then verify the information that is already on the books about this randomly-chosen house. This was supposed to add an extra layer of certitude that the information wasn’t being manipulated by rogue mapmakers who might send Dependent Quality Control Enumerators to the trailer parks they wanted to be counted, rather than the trailer parks they didn’t want to be counted, or something.

So I did what I was told. I went down the highway, I went down the road, I turned left, and I chose a nice house that looked especially random to me, and I marked everything down just like I was supposed to. Random house all accounted for. 

Then I went back to turn in my day’s work, and the supervisor reviewed it. He traced back through everything I had done, and then he said, “But why did you turn left?” 

As previously explained, I don’t know why I turned left. Sometimes I just turn left, okay? You’re just lucky we didn’t all end up in the ocean this time!

But I didn’t say that. I did say, “Well, it’s supposed to be a random house, and this was definitely random, so I guess it doesn’t really matter, ha ha.”

I swear, a quiver went through his body. He looked down at the binder as if he were gathering his strength, and he said quietly, “You were supposed to turn right.”

I said, “I know, but it’s random, so . . . ”

SO NOTHING. It was the U.S. Government, and it had to be the specific kind of random in the protocol, not the other kind of random! You can’t just randomly be random! You have to be the authorized kind of random, or else it ISN’T AUTHORIZED, AND YOU HAVE TO GO BACK.

So I had to go back, and this time I turned right. I randomly chose another house. I wrote everything down in all the books. And then I quit.

And that’s what happened what I worked for the census. 

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 220: Livin’ it up on top

Hola, amigos. What gives? I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but there’s been all sorts of craziness going on.  But enough about me. Here’s what we cooked this week:

SATURDAY
Pizza

Oh, well, we didn’t actually cook this, as it was Aldi pizza. I mean, we put it in the oven. Saturday was when we got home from our splendid ocean vacation.

Wait, I have a few last pic from last week! Friday was our last full day at the ocean, and after one final swim, the kids stayed at the house and had grilled cheese and candy, I believe, and Damien and I found a restaurant with a breezy terrace

and had llllllllobster. Note my expert technique.

You will find it much easier to crack open a lobster once you’ve had three cocktails made of lemonade, soda water, and blueberry vodka. It just makes you more dextrous overall. Oh, we also had fried calamari and seared tuna.

Dammit, I was okay with not being at the ocean, and now I want to go back. Ah well. I still can’t believe we got to go!

Four of the older kids didn’t come on vacation with us, and they had been implored and entreated and cajoled and importuned not to ignore bad food smells and not to let my flowers die and not to let the puppy become too egregious, and they listened! So it was a pretty easy re-entry. The pool had taken on a vibrant emerald hue, unfortunately, and Damien is still battling the algae. As of today, it’s only chartreuse, which is progress. 

SUNDAY
Burgers and hot dogs

I think? One of our kids was moving into her own apartment on Sunday, and there was some kind of secondary hullabaloo. It’s a duck blur (duck not included). Damien cooked supper.

MONDAY
Pesto chicken pasta

I finally actually cooked something, if not using an actual a recipe. I cooked the chicken breasts in the instant pot and cubed/shredded it and mixed it with farfalle. Then I added a sauce in I made in the food processor with lots of fresh basil, lots of fresh garlic, lots of olive oil, lots of grated parmesan, salt and pepper, and — here’s the secret ingredient — two jars of pesto. 

Not terribly photogenic, but pretty tasty!

While I’m on the subject, did you know you can make pesto out of all kinds of things? The most traditional kind is pine nuts, garlic, basil, parmean, salt, and olive oil, but you can use other herbs and other nuts. I once made a spinach walnut pesto that was fab.

Jump to Recipe

 

I need to revisit various pesti while we’re still livin’ it up on top. [sighs until dead]

Made it to the town pond around sunset for an hour or so.

We still have a few weeks left, right?

TUESDAY
Honey balsamic Brussels sprouts with bacon and eggs

A great one-pan meal which I think is suitable for any time of the day.

Jump to Recipe

It’s a simple recipe, and only a time consuming if you have to make vast quantities, mainly in trimming and halving all those Brussels sprouts, but it’s absolutely a crowd pleaser and takes no particular skill.

I wished I had had some crusty bread, but it was so good. 

I didn’t even follow the recipe for the sauce, just sloshed together a bunch of honey, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder because I was too lazy to crush garlic, and salt and pepper. Mix it up with the sprouts and some chopped bacon, cook it all until the bacon is done, then crack some eggs over it, cook a bit more, and top with parmesan and hot pepper flakes. And I guess a sprinkle of holy water, if that’s the kind of day you’re having:

WEDNESDAY
Tortas, grilled corn

A new dish for us! I had told Damien steak was on sale, and he said, “WAIT.” and sent me some recipes. I checked them out and it idea seems to be “Mexican things, but with bread!” Can do. 

Damien seasoned the steaks heavily with chili lime powder and grilled them rare, then cut them in slices. I found some soft rolls, and I set them out with the meat, refried beans, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, cilantro, pickled jalapeños, lime wedges, sour cream, mayonnaise, and queso fresco. I toasted my roll.

Damien also grilled some corn in the husks over the coals, and I had mine just with lime juice. At some point I guess you could assemble the sandwich and grill the whole thing, but you’d need some kind of containment system. This was a huge shambles of a sandwich. I ate mine outside because it was cooler and also so nobody could see me ravaging it. 

THURSDAY
Chicken caprese sandwiches

On Thursday I finally got around to excavating the jungle of my container garden, and was glad I had chosen to buy some extra basil just in case. The slugs are so bad this year. Next year I’ll . . . do better. Take care of stuff. Or whatever. Anyway, the sandwiches were good. I guess I forgot to take a picture, so here is a chicken caprese sandwich of ages past:

I heavy seasoned the chicken breasts with salt and “Italian seasoning” (I think it’s just basil and oregano) and olive oil and roasted and sliced them. We had plenty of tomatoes, basil, and leftover queso fresco, ciabatta rolls, olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. 

We were supposed to go to the drive in movies to see Inside Out and Monty Python Holy Grail, and possibly stay for The Big Lebowski, but I somehow misread the schedule, and they were showing It and Harry Potter and the Part Where It Starts Getting Crappy. So we went mini golfing instead. Corrie got the highest score, which means she won.

And now we are all set with mini golf for another eleven years.

Gosh, I hope drive in movies make a comeback because of the pandemic. Wouldn’t that be neat? The first drive in movie I remember seeing was Superman. I was wearing footie pajamas, and my father put the back seat down in the orange Subaru, and kept it down on the drive home so we could sleep. 

FRIDAY
Tuna boats, curly fries

And that’s it! Hey, I know this sounds stupid because I clearly have a very rich, full, and lucky life, with photographic evidence and everything, but I am actually massively depressed and have been for several weeks and I’m having a hard time climbing out of this hole. Please pray for me and I’ll pray for you, because I know I’m not the only one. Thanks. Duck blur over and out. 

 

5 from 2 votes
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Spinach walnut pesto

You can play with the proportions to get the consistency you like. This version is cheaper than using pine nuts and all basil. Makes 2-3 cups of pesto for adding to pasta or spreading on bruschetta.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cups fresh baby spinach (can include radicchio, etc.)
  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 3 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 8 oz grated parmesan
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Whir nuts in food processor until crumbed. 
    Add basil and greens, and whir until blended. 
    Slowly add olive oil and blend again.
    Add salt, garlic, and parmesan cheese and blend again until it's the consistency you like. 


5 from 2 votes
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Bacon, eggs, and brussels sprouts in honey garlic balsamic sauce

Adapted from Damn Delicious.  An easy and tasty one-pan meal that would work for any meal. Great with a hearty bread like challah. 

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 3 lbs uncooked bacon, cut into 1- or 2-inch pieces
  • 18 eggs
  • oil for greasing pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed

Garnish (optional):

  • parmesan cheese, grated
  • red pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Grease two large oven sheets. 


  2. Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Mix Brussels sprouts and bacon together, spread evenly in pans, and pour sauce all over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

  3. Cook until bacon is almost done (almost as crisp as you like it) and Brussels sprouts are very slightly browned, 18-20 minutes.

  4. Pull the pans out of the oven and carefully crack the eggs onto the Brussels sprouts and bacon, here and there.

  5. Return pan to the oven and cook a few minutes longer, just enough to set the eggs. The yolks will get a little film over the top, but don't let them cook all the way through, or you'll have something resembled hard boiled eggs, which isn't as good. You want the yolks to be liquid so you can dip forkfuls of fod into it.

  6. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes and serve. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 219: Your name on a grain of rice!

WE ARE ON VACATION! All this week we’ve been at the ocean, which we adore.

We rented this beach house back in January, but didn’t know until the very last minute if it would be safe to go. But it’s been fine! We don’t share living quarters with anyone, there has been a good, brisk wind all the time, and we like the boring end of the beach with tide pools and no cool people or entertainment anyway. We warned the kids we’d be skipping souvenir shops and playgrounds and indoor restaurants and arcades and just focus on being at the beach. And it’s been great!

But wait, I guess I didn’t do a food post last week? Here are a few of the more photogenic things we ate last week:

A very delicious pizza with cherry tomatoes and basil from the garden, thinly-sliced garlic, red onion, black olives, and parmesan. Very pretty

and did not disappoint. 

They had a nice sale on steak, so I picked up a few, which Corrie helped to season

and then I broiled them, sliced them, and served the meat on mixed greens with plenty of blueberries, blue cheese, and diced red onions, with red wine vinegar, watermelon on the side.

A wonderful summer meal. This is also great with pears or green apples, rather than blueberries.

We also had sausage subs with fried peppers and onions, and here is a photo of the lovely peppers and onions

Yum.

And then we had Vaguely Asian Meatballs,

Jump to Recipe

quick-pickled cucumbers,

Jump to Recipe

white rice and sugar snap peas. A very flavorful meal, savory and filling but not too heavy. 

***

Okay, on to this week! We keep meals very simple when we’re away from home, so this is more of a “yay, beach!” post, interspersed with a couple of food pictures. Of course there are tons of pics, but I’ll mostly link to my Facebook albums, sorry, lazy person. Four of the oldest kids stayed home for various reasons, so it was just the eight of us this year. And the parakeet, whom we brought for reasons.

(We did not bring the cat, the lizard, or, after much debate, the puppy.)

Corrie packed on Friday. She was very, very ready on Friday. Then she wanted to flip a coin to see if we should go on Saturday, or just go on Friday. She dibsed Friday. 

We did whittle her essential luggage down somewhat from here.

SATURDAY
Pizza

And then it was time to go! We got to the beach house around dinner and Damien went to find hunt up some pizza while we unpacked. We don’t have an ocean view from the beach house, but I am not complaining. This is the view from the grownups’ bedroom:

One of the pizzas was sausage and ricotta, which is definitely going into our rotation. Heavens.

SUNDAY
Deli sandwiches

We slept through the 9:15 Mass right down the street, but made it to a 10:45.  Masks and hand sanitizer and social distancing were all enforced, and the priest announced before communion that we should all remember to keep our masks on until right before we receive, and that if we want to receive on the tongue, we have the right to do so, but he asked that anyone who wants that should go to the end of the line so everyone receiving in the hand could go first. Then he stepped into the sacristy to wash his hands thoroughly and mask up. A good solution. 

Then I did grocery shopping. Then we finally got to the beach! It’s such a good beach. 

Here are a bunch more pics from Sunday.

MONDAY
Fried chicken

We packed a lunch and spent the late morning and afternoon at the beach.

More pics from Monday.

Then we went for fried dough, which is Corrie’s main reason for going to the ocean, but it was wayyyy too hot, so we had ice cream. Dinner was cold fried chicken from the supermarket and I think chips and peaches.

Damien and I popped out for drinks in the evening, but I got spooked by the crowds, so we just got some Heinekens and drank them on the beach under the full moon. 

NO COMPLAINTS. 

TUESDAY
Hot dogs, chips

We were expecting major storms, so we stuck close to the house on Tuesday. In the morning, we investigated the foggy, foggy salt marshes behind the house.

More pics from the marshes and the ocean before the storm.

We also made cookies and played games (I brought Bananagrams, some magnet maze games, Battleship, lots of markers and coloring pages, and cookie and cupcake mix) and read books and watched TV. It got pretty blustery, but we didn’t get hit that hard.

Then when the wind and rain stopped, we went to see how the beach was. Still very windy!

More pics from Tuesday evening.

WEDNESDAY
Steak, corn on the cob, chopped salad, bread, S’mores

Day after the storm and the ocean was still out of sorts. Lots of weird stuff on the sand, including this molted baby horseshoe crab shell,

absolute gobs and gobs of seaweed and a million rocks, and the water was murderously cold. This made for a challenging but exhilarating swimming day.

Guys, I cannot even begin to express how much easier it is to be at the beach when you don’t have toddlers or babies. No one wandered away or got lost. No one almost drowned. No one even tried to get drowned. Damien and I could go out and bob around past the breakers together while the younger kids played on the shore, and then sometimes we could lie on a blanket in the sun while the kids played in the water. No one got hysterical because they had sand in their mouth. No one got hysterical at all, or had some kind of diaper emergency. Everyone was reasonable and had a nice time. I never thought we’d get here, but here we are.

 I even had help pulling the wagon.

Bunch o’ more pics from Wednesday.

The steak that was on sale at home last week was now on sale at this supermarket, so I bought a bunch and Damien grilled them. He seasoned them with salt and pepper, lime juice and tequila, and they were very tasty! The corn was just boiled in salted water, and we had plenty of pull-apart bread to stop up the steak juice. 

We were all fairly exhausted and grumpy by afternoon, but I had been promising S’mores forever, and the coals were still hot after dinner, so S’mores time was upon us. I hate S’mores. They are so absurdly overrated, and the name might as well be “Goods” or “Highly Requested.” What the heck. Then we realized (a) we had no sticks to roast the marshmallows with (and not a tree in sight), and (b) the chocolate bars had already melted in their wrappers. One of the kids wanted to freeze them, but I couldn’t see taking melted chocolate and freezing it so as to re-melt it. So we laid a bunch of graham crackers on a pan, snipped the corners off the wrappers and basically extruded chocolate onto the graham crackers, doled marshmallows onto that, then balanced another layer of graham cracker on that. Then we put the pan over the coals until the graham crackers were burnt and the marshmallows were just barely heated. This is exactly the kind of treatment S’mores deserves, in my opinion. Stupid dessert anyway. S’m’less is more like it. 

THURSDAY
Boardwalk food!

We had a lazy morning and a good swim in the afternoon. There were some ducks or something bobbing around, and I told Lucy that, if she could catch one, she could bring it home. This didn’t work out well when I made the same offer about a frog, but so far we are duck-free. 

Here are several pics from Thursday.

At one point during the day, Corrie became The Head of Knowledge, and foretold that our youngest daughter would have rice and seaweed for dinner, but, failing that, that she would settle for a burger. 

 

She had a burger.

We stopped at home to de-sand and then went out again in search of dinner. It turns out the kids all wanted burgers and fries, so that simplified things. Damien and I had steak and cheese, which arrived without cheese or mayo or anything, but I wasn’t gonna start passing food trays back and forth across the counter. Then we got ice cream.

FRIDAY
Grilled cheese? 

I think Damien and I may pop out for an actual seafood dinner, which is something none of this particular group of kids wants or needs. But we may also answer a deeply adult call to lie around and watch TV. Damien has been working about half-time throughout the week (including virtually attending two hearings as a defendant in a free speech case) and I’ve been gloomily writing terrible things that will never see the light of day.

The great thing about this house is that it’s in quiet neighborhood, it’s a very easy walk from the beach, and there is this wonderful view from the bedroom. Two windows show the church steeple and the water tower, and the other window is the salt marsh, where white egrets swoop around and the brackish tide rises and falls throughout the day.

The ground is dense mud covered with waves and waves of cordgrass, and if you look close, there are periwinkles and little crabs all over the place.
Here are a bunch of pictures of our little trip to the marsh. 
The vegetation looks like coarse weeds at first, but up close, they look more like seaweed. Fascinating place. Some of the channels are natural, but some of them are man-made, and there are complicated sluice gates with floating balls to raise them and, I guess, keep the arcades and stuff from flooding. It’s not far from home, but so very different from home!

However, we did promise fried dough back on Monday, and we haven’t yet gotten any fried dough. The Head of Knowledge doesn’t forget these things. So I think we’re getting fried dough if it kills us. And maybe, if the crowds aren’t too bad, your name on a grain of rice.  

***

Okay, I guess my recipe cards this week are just for the Asian meatballs we had last week, and fried dough you can make at home.

Vaguely Asian meatballs with dipping sauce

Very simple meatballs with a vaguely Korean flavor. These are mild enough that kids will eat them happily, but if you want to kick up the Korean taste, you can serve them with dipping sauces and pickled vegetables. Serve with rice.

Servings 30 large meatballs

Ingredients

  • 2.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed finely
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup minced garlic
  • 2 bunches scallions, chopped (save out a bit for a garnish)
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp ground pepper

For dipping sauce:

  • mirin or rice vinegar
  • soy sauce

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425.

  2. Mix together the meat and all the meatball ingredients with your hands until they are well combined. Form large balls and lay them on a baking pan with a rim.

  3. Bake for about 15 minutes.

  4. Serve over rice with dipping sauce and a sprinkle of scallions.

 

quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sale, preferably kosher

Instructions

  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

 

Fried dough

Makes about 15 slabs of fried dough the size of a small plate

Ingredients

  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp (half a stick) cold butter
  • 1-1/2 cups lurkworm water
  • 2 cups oil for frying
  • confectioner's sugar for sprinkling
  • cinnamon for sprinkling (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  2. Cut the cold butter into bits and work it gently into the dough.

  3. Add the water and stir until the dough is all combined.

  4. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it rest for 15 minutes

  5. Separate the dough into pieces and flatten each piece into a thin disk with your fingers. If it's sticky, put a little confectioner's sugar on your work surface.

  6. Heat the oil in a pan. You can deep fry it or use less oil and fry it in a small amount of oil; your choice. The oil is ready when you put a wooden spoon in and little bubbles form around it.

  7. Carefully lay the disc of dough in the hot oil. Let it cook a few minutes, just barely getting brown, and then turn it and cook the other side.

  8. Remove the dough, let the excess oil drain off, and sprinkle it immediately with sugar and cinnamon if you like.

  9. You can keep these hot in the oven for a bit, but they're best when they're very hot.

The grotto behind the church

I told a priest I was so tired of the Catholic Church. I told him I wasn’t leaving, and I wasn’t apostatizing. (Where the hell else would I go?) But I was so tired.

Every encounter I had with Catholics lately seemed to have nothing to do with anything Jesus taught us. I was really rattled. It was murderously hot, and I was sweating and agitated, and full of righteous anger. Sick of the Church, and with good reason.

And he laughed at me. This old, old man with brown, placid eyes waved away a mosquito that floated by his face, and he laughed gently. Birds sang and tears leaked into my mask. We were sitting on benches outdoors, where a safely socially distanced confession could be heard, in front of a grotto for Mary. It was a place I had forgotten existed.

The grotto is a cool, dim spot behind the church, surrounded by trees. It smells of pine, and there are weathered benches grouped around, so you can sit and pray. It turns out they built it because a young boy insisted he saw Mary there. Did he? I have no idea. There is no record that I can find, other than a plaque mounted on the little stone shrine below the statue of Our Lady.

I had to admit, it was a place of unusual peace; a good place to calm down and recollect myself. I had forgotten it was there.

“You know, Jesus said the Church will last until the end of time. The gates of hell won’t prevail, you know,” Fr Bill said, smiling.

And do you know, I had forgotten this. I had fallen into thinking that Jesus was sort of trapped at the center of a clotted tangle of Catholicism, and that as long as I wanted Jesus, I would need to prove myself by fighting my way through that ugly, irrelevant tangle to be with him.

But that’s not really how it is. Jesus doesn’t just sort of put up with the Church, the way you or I put up with pointless rules and regulations before we can get our license or our permit or our degree. He’s not just with the Church because the Church is the hoops you have to jump through. The Church isn’t going anywhere, and its deep and ancient goodness, truth, and beauty are unchanged, changeless.

But sometimes we forget what we have, when we have the Church.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Shotgun Stories (2007) is downright Shakespearean

About ten minutes into Jeff Nichols’ 2007 movie Shotgun Stories, I asked my husband, “Am I crazy, or is this, like, Shakespeare?”

Check it out: In rural Arkansas in the heat of summer, a woman knocks on the door of a shabby house. Her son opens, and she announces, “Your father’s dead.” The three brothers inside respond to this news in various ways, according to their natures. They next turn up at the funeral held by the dead man’s newer wife and his four newer sons, who enjoyed comfort and security after their father gave up alcohol, took up religion, turned his life around — and abandoned his first family entirely. The oldest son interrupts the eulogy to tell the world “You think he was a good man. But he wasn’t,” and he spits on the coffin. The upgraded family doesn’t take kindly to affront, and they take their revenge — and the bitter feud inevitably unfolds from there.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdVw3_FclyY&feature=emb_title
 

“He made like we were never born,” says the oldest son; and then he spends the rest of the film showing the world that, now that the father is dead, the first son is here, and he will not retreat. It is as if he cannot. Later, when his estranged wife finds out that there was a fight at the funeral, she asks him, “You think that was wise?” and he answers, “Doesn’t matter.” All the men in the movie are caught up in a violent drama that rolls out inexorably, as if it’s beyond anyone’s control. It is very hard to fault them for any of the choices they make, even when they will clearly lead to suffering, because they are behaving as one must in their world. It is as if the death of their father abruptly demands a higher, more elemental way of responding to the world — acting, rather than just enduring. (At the same time, at least some of the sons want the next generation to have something different.)

The three sinned-against sons are drawn in a few deft strokes that make fully-realized characters: One ambitious but prideful, one passive but single-minded, and one meek but intensely loyal. They are, you gradually realize, named “Son,” “Boy,” and “Kid,” (even the family dog has a more human name), while the upgraded family of sons are named after the father and after apostles. There is even a “fool,” a meth cooker named “Shampoo,” who cruises in and out of scenes delivering news, badgering, and instigating more drama. We never even see the father, dead or alive, but we know him well, through the memories of the seven sons he left behind.

There may possibly be an Old Testament/New Testament story being played out between the two families, working through themes of fathers who abandon us and yet somehow ordain our every move. I need to watch it again, because I know I missed a lot the first time around. Here’s a trailer that gives a pretty fair overview, although it doesn’t include the other two brothers, which is a shame:

 

What’s extraordinary about Shotgun Stories, and what also blew me away in Mud, also directed by Jeff Nichols, is the sense of place. Rarely, rarely have I seen such a true and real and immediate world through the lens of a movie camera. When the three brothers slump dejectedly in the street of their cracked, tired old town, I feel like I’ve lived there all my life and I’m sick to death of it. When Son reaches down to clear out the drainage pipe in the fish farm where he works, I feel the mindless weariness of it my sore elbow and my damp shirt cuff. I see exactly which parts of the tract home were fixed up by Son’s fed-up but not heartless wife, and which parts have fallen under the fate-haunted influence of the three brothers. The movie is clearly filmed on a shoestring, but it doesn’t look cheap, just true. 

What I haven’t mentioned is how funny the movie is, in unexpected spurts. The third son, Boy (Douglas Ligon), a gentle, pudgy, part-time basketball coach who lives in a van down by the river, tries at one point to hook up a full size air conditioner to his van; and ever since his attempt, his radio will occasionally start blaring cheesy power ballads, and there’s nothing he can do about it. He endures this several times, at the worst possible moments, and it is only after the fourth time that he thinks to turn the volume down. But it is Boy who eventually becomes the center of the action after Son can’t protect his brothers anymore.

The casting is, as in Mud, impeccable, and the acting is flawless. Michael Shannon as Son is tremendous, infuriating and heartbreaking at once, his face conveying three layers of emotion for every word he tightly utters. Like the dead father, the shotgun of the title barely makes it on screen. Instead, you see scars of the past, and are waiting throughout the entire movie to see whether or not it will go off again, and what will come of it all. You will not be able to take your eyes away.

Shannon is also great in Boardwalk Empire (a flawed but fascinating show) and Knives Out. If you read his IMDB page, you’ll be amazed at how many and what varied things he’s been in.  

Rated PG 13. Some violence and fleeting foul language; very intense in mood; suitable for teenagers. Highly recommended!

Where to watch Shotgun Stories