What’s for supper? Vol. 184: Treasures of the sea and other travesties

And just like that, it was fall. Crisp weather, slanted light, ripening apples and towering corn, ragged mists rising slowly over the fields of goldenrod, people dealing inappropriately with the stress of transition. It’s glorious. 

Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Burgers, chips

I was gloomily making my shopping list, thinking about the rising tide of autumnal stews and squashes and other cold weather foods, and then I saw that lobsters were on sale. And a very good sale it was! Seized with a sudden urge to possess something carefree and summery, I boldly decided we would end our week with fresh steamed lobsters, and who could blame us?

But when I got to the store, they were all gone. So I ordered some for Sunday and arranged to pick them up before dinner, which felt somewhat less impetuous and madcap, but still. Lobster. 

We had hamburgers and chips on Saturday. 

SUNDAY
Lobster, risotto, corn, strawberries, chicken nuggets

Finally lobster time! But when I got to the store on Sunday, they wanted to charge me Sunday’s price, which was most assuredly not on sale. I was disappointed, and was about to go away sad, but then I said to myself, “I’m a grown woman. It’s not unreasonable for them to accommodate a loyal customer and give me the price I was expecting to pay. At very least, it couldn’t hurt to ask.” So I spoke up, using the kindly brontosaurus technique, and the fish man talked to his manager, and it worked! I got four 1.5-pound Sunday lobsters for a Saturday price.

They offered to steam them for me, but again, I didn’t want to settle for second best and let them get all rubbery on the ride home, so I took them alive. I felt very alive. Lobsters!

You know, when you get to be in your mid-forties, you find out you can do all kinds of things that used to seem scary. You can very often just take a deep breath, push your way through, and do the thing, and it turns out it doesn’t kill you after all. It’s very liberating to find out how strong and capable you actually are. 

Still, I was a little nervous about those lobsters, so I gave myself plenty of time. I set a big pot of salted water to heat up, melted a bunch of butter, and cut up some lemon wedges. I made the risotto in the Instant Pot, and I shucked the corn. The bag of lobsters sat quietly on the counter. I set out plates on the table and counted forks. 

Then lobster water began to boil. It was time. I peeked into the bag and those lobsters seemed really docile and resigned, and were only waving their antlers around a little bit. They were clearly alive, but not, you know, like, alive. I knew I could handle this, and I really do love steamed lobster. I gathered up all my womyncourage and dumped the bag out into a bowl so I could see what I was up against. 

Well, those horrible little fuckers started flopping around and scrabbling and trying to organize a mutiny in my kitchen. So I did the only thing I could do for an accomplished adult in my station in life: I screamed and ran away and stood in a corner and refused to talk to anyone. Then I sent one of my sons in to deal with the horror, one of my giant hulking sons who towers over my head, and he tried with some tongs, but then he also screamed and ran away.

So Damien had to do it. I was so proud of all of us. 

The lobster was delicious. I don’t know what else to say. It’s kind of liberating to eat lobster? Because it tastes good? I was glad I only bought four, because most of the kids were horrified and traumatized by the whole thing, not sure why. They had chicken nuggets. 

Oh hey, I’ll put my risotto recipe at the end. Because I’m a grown woman and I’m not afraid to use a pressure cooker. 

MONDAY
Chicken thighs with squash and Brussels sprouts

Normally a well-liked one-pan dish for cool weather. I don’t know where I went wrong, but it just wasn’t that great. I skipped potatoes, for one thing. That was wrong. Never skip the potatoes. 

Anyway, I’ll put my recipe at the end, and probably you’ll do it better. It’s just big pieces of hearty vegetables in a simple balsamic sauce with roast chicken thighs on top. It’s usually good, I promise! Maybe it’s supposed to have honey in it? I don’t know. 

TUESDAY
Chili and corny corn bread

Damien made chili. I’ll get his recipe when he gets home. I like chili, but I gave up making it many years ago, because nobody else liked it; but Damien’s cooking style is so different from mine, I thought there was a shot they would like his. I felt guilty about not cooking on a weekday, so I decided to make cornbread. Also nobody likes cornbread, but I figured it would be a fun and easy baking project for me and the little girls. 

Well, they wanted to play Just Dance instead. So I made the cornbread by myself. I had the bright idea to add some fresh corn from the leftover corn from Sunday, and then I threw in some chili powder. How did it turn out? Bad, that’s how. Flabby and weird, just like the rest of us. Hooray!

Damien and I liked the chili. Nobody else did. Hooray!

WEDNESDAY
Pizza

Everybody likes pizza. Here’s a picture of pizza. 

THURSDAY
Carnitas and rice

I took a half pork loin and put it in the slow cooker with a can of beer and a can of peppers in adobo sauce. By evening, it was falling apart. I fished the meat out, shredded it, and spread it in a pan and broiled it so it was slightly crisp. 

I had been planning beans and rice, but I realized the meat was quite spicy, and the kids would be sad if they didn’t have anything bland and white to eat. So I just served white rice.  Then for some reason I decided to put leftover chili on the tortilla along with the pork. I also had sour cream and cilantro, but the whole thing was just confusing.

I mean, I ate it, but I was confused. 

FRIDAY
Pizza?

My aunt and uncle are coming for a visit and they did say they would bring pizza.

In conclusion: Yes, I know I said “lobster antlers.” Fight me. 

***

 

Instant Pot Risotto

Almost as good as stovetop risotto, and ten billion times easier. Makes about eight cups. 

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground sage
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups rice, raw
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • pepper
  • 1.5 cups grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Turn IP on sautee, add oil, and sautee the onion, garlic, salt, and sage until onions are soft.

  2. Add rice and cook for five minutes or more, stirring constantly, until rice is mostly opaque.

  3. Press "cancel," open the lid, and add the broth and wine, and stir.


  4. Close the top, close valve, set to high pressure for 8 minutes.

  5. Release the pressure and carefully stir in the parmesan cheese and pepper. Add salt if necessary. 

One-pan balsamic chicken thighs and vegetables

A true one-pan dish that works well with lots of variations of seasonings and vegetables

Ingredients

  • 18 chicken thighs with skin and bone
  • 1 butternut squash in cubes
  • 3 lbs red potatoes in cubes
  • 1 lb baby carrots
  • 2 lbs brussels sprouts, halved
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • salt (preferably kosher)
  • pepper
  • oregano
  • basil

Instructions

  1. Grease a large, shallow pan. Preheat the oven to 400.

  2. Mix together the olive oil and vinegar with a tablespoon of salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in the pan, pour the mixture over them, and stir them up to coat, then spread them out again. 

  3. Lay the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle more salt and pepper, basil and oregano over the whole pan. 

  4. Cook for 30 minutes or more, until vegetables and chicken are cooked through and chicken skins are golden and crisp. 

  5. If necessary, broil for a few minutes to add a little char. 

 

Healing vanity and self-loathing through selfies

On Monday, I wrote about the pressure women feel to be aesthetically pleasing. It’s one thing to recognize it for what it is, and to reject it as unjust; it’s another to stop feeling that pressure. I can’t change what people expect of me, but I can change what I expect of myself.

I know this guy who used to be a gay porn star. Now he’s not, and he is trying very hard to lead a life that’s completely different from his old life. He constantly posts photos of himself on social media — so many that someone finally asked him why. He explained that there are countless photos of himself from his porn days, and that’s what people see if they search his name. He can’t get them taken down, but he can outnumber them out with these new photos that show him as he is now. He wants people to see him as he is now — which is more like who he wants to be, who he thinks he was made to be.

I realized I do something similar — not for the sake of other people, but for my own. It’s not vanity, exactly, and it’s definitely not confidence. Just the opposite: It’s because I’ve spent so many years terrified of looking bad, and I’m tired of it. 

Sometimes I look in the mirror and I see . . . nothing. I see nonsense, like a scrambled photo I can’t make heads or tails of. I literally can’t tell what I’m looking at, when I look at myself. Am I shapeless and obese? Am I shapely and strong? Do I look professional and tidy, or do I look like a rat that got into his mother’s makeup? I simply can’t tell. My self-image is too garbled. One time, I had been beating myself up for the ten pounds I had gained in the last few weeks because of my slovenly ways. Then I actually got on a scale, and it turned out I was actually down half a pound.

And immediately, the mirror obediently showed me someone who looked about half a pound prettier. 

This is how I know mirrors are garbage. There is no such thing as “half a pound prettier.” Yet that is what I saw. And I know this happens to other people, not just people who’ve been through the pregnancy olympics. 

In truth, mirrors can only tell you very specific, limited things, like, “Am I wearing pants right now?” or “Do I have jelly on my face or not?” They can’t tell you, “Do I look nice or terrible?” and they certainly can’t tell you, “Am I acceptable as a human being or not?” Just as it’s really your brain, and not your eyeballs, that see the world, it’s your idea of yourself, and not the mirror, that tells you what you look like.

Now, what we look like is not the most important thing about us. I protested mightily against the idea that a pleasing appearance should be the thing that earns us respect and a place of dignity in the world; and scripture is clear: The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.  

But unless we’re babies or very elderly or in some other unusual circumstances, it’s not possible or even admirable to give no thought whatsoever to how we look. It’s okay to want to look nice! You want to be able to present yourself appropriately, so you can feel reasonably confident and secure, and can then go on to focus your time and attention on other things. 

So how do you learn that sense of proportion? How do you learn to care for yourself without being overcome with anxiety about yourself?

I’m fairly skeptical about advice to simply bellow, “I AM BEAUTIFUL! ALL WOMEN ARE BEAUTIFUL!” Maybe it works for some people, but for me, it just fosters hypocrisy. I don’t need to feel that I am stunning and gazelle-like and desirable to all mankind. I just need to have my self-imaged healed so it stops howling like a wounded dog. I need to have it retreat to normal proportions, rather than swelling up and throbbing grossly at unexpected times. I need, in short, to know more or less how I look, and to be more or less okay with it, so I can forget it and think about something more interesting. 

That, by the way, is the aesthetic aspect of what Christians mean by humility. It doesn’t mean thinking you’re a useless, worthless worm. It means knowing who you are, accepting it, and getting on with what’s important. 

I don’t have gay porn photos of myself that need outnumbering, but I do have weird fears and fantasies about how I look and who I am; and it doesn’t help when internet trolls gleefully join in to point out my undeniable physical flaws.

That’s where the selfies come in. I show myself how I look. I plaster my Facebook wall with photos of myself that I will come across when I’m not expecting it, when I’m not preparing myself to see myself. I share flattering photos, but also less-flattering ones, with my stomach bulging or my teeth sticking out. Do you know what happens then?

I do not die.

The more photos I share, the easier it gets to see them, and the less I worry about how I look in real life. It used to be that someone could ruin my day or even my week by posting a bad photo of me. The week I got my wedding photos back was hellish. I felt like my handsome husband had made his vows to a walking double chin and overbite. It sounds funny, but it was crushingly painful. I was that vulnerable; and it only got worse over the years.

But now I’ve seen overwhelming evidence that sometimes I look bad and sometimes I look nice; and now the stakes simply aren’t that high. Even if I see that I look crummy in real life some day, if my skin is broken out and my hair is weird and I remembered too late why I never wear this shirt in public, it’s … like … not the end of the world. Not because I can look at pretty photos and reassure myself that those are more accurate, but because I have a more comprehensive understanding of what I look like overall, and of who I am. Bad days are just bad days, and no longer feel like a revelation of what I truly am inside.

When I see photo after photo of myself all with my unavoidable flaws, I don’t zero in on those flaws, but I see myself as just another person. I’m not a supermodel, and that’s okay. Most people aren’t. I have a pleasant smile. I dress okay. I don’t demand that everyone else be flawless before I consider them worth my time, and I’m learning to stop demanding it of myself (and to stop being crushed when I can’t deliver).

So many women, and men, too, have a self-image that’s been skewed and distorted literally past recognition. So many live in genuine fear of finding out what they look like — and that fear shows that it’s about more than aesthetics, but it’s about self-worth. We need many kinds of healing from this kind of wound, but healing of our physical self-image is not an insignificant one. No one should feel fear at the idea of showing their face.

Selfie culture can be poisonous, and can foster narcissism, envy, and crippling anxiety. But if you use it intentionally, it can help you heal from self-loathing and the anxious vanity that goes along with it.

Why are women so angry?

The other day I heard about a man who beat the hell out of his pregnant girlfriend. When she escaped out into the street, he chased her with his car, slammed into a light pole, found a piece of bent metal, and started beating her with that. She somehow survived, but the child in her belly died from the trauma.

They did arrest the man. Later, in court, she gave her testimony. She hadn’t yet birthed her dead baby. Then it was time for her boyfriend’s lawyer to make his case. He asked for leniency, for his client to be released on personal recognizance rather than held in jail. “Your honor,” he argued, “My client is a young man with a bright future ahead of him. He has a fiancee, and the young lady is expecting their first child. . . ”

Happily, the judge wasn’t buying it. But imagine that lawyer’s thought process as he prepared his argument: Hey, maybe that bitch can come in handy one last time. 

My husband calls our society “Titanic in reverse.” Women and children are sacrificed first, tossed into the waves as men scramble to warmth and safety. He has been a reporter for decade and a half, and he’s been at crime scenes, seen evidence, interviewed victims and victims’ families, heard court testimony, and seen the sentencing process, and this is what he knows: Women and children are expendable. Their suffering, their torture, their rape, their murder is acceptable to society. 

I asked him if he thought it had ever been any other way, and he said no. 

We’ll convulse with horror when a man throws a dog out of a window. Precious little pupper! People who hurt animals should be executed in public! But if in that same night he also throws his wife down a flight of stairs, guess which victim makes the headlines?

Well, domestic disturbances are private things. Two sides to every story. 

Sometimes it’s not a matter of turning our heads when women are abused. Sometimes we’re right behind her, shoving her toward danger. Remember last time the country was so very tired of hearing about priests molesting kids? The thinking public came up with an easy solution to the problem: Just throw women at it. Just let priests marry, and never again will we deal with widespread clerical abuse.

It sounded so simple and obvious: Single men are doing pervy things, so let’s make them not be single anymore. Of course the mechanism of it was a little uglier. It meant that we know there are countless men willing to subjugate, humiliate, and abuse people who are weaker then they are. We hate it when they do this to children. So instead, let’s let them do it to women. Because that’s what women are for. 

Don’t let yourself believe that this is a Catholic problem, that only Catholics see women as the universal solution to male complaint. Last time an incel shot up a crowd, the progressive edgelords of social media instantly put up a cry for publicly-funded prostitutes. That’s all these dudes need! When they don’t get enough sexytime, they get mad and they kill people! So let’s make sure they can do it to women; and then real people won’t get hurt. 

Women are the corks for every leak, the excess ballast to be chucked off every sinking ship, the red meat to distract every wild dog, the kindling to brighten up every smoldering fire, the universal salve to spread on any festering wound. You have a problem, any problem at all? Try using women. You can always use women. That’s what women are for

We see this sense of entitlement everywhere, and not only in obvious examples like abduction and rape, murder and abuse. It’s more pervasive and more accepted than you may realize. Most men would never say, “Women only exist for my consumption.” They would never even think it in so many words. And yet when they walk down the street and see an unattractive women, their response is not simply a lack of interest, but irritation, even anger. Anger, as if the woman who doesn’t appeal to him has personally wounded him, or refused to give him something he deserves. 

Why should this be? Why should they feel, in any part of themselves, that they can expect to be pleased by women?

I don’t know why. I do know the one recorded statement we have from Adam is Adam using Eve as an excuse to get out of trouble with God. And ever since then, many, many men have assumed that, since a woman is there, she’s there for him to use.

Most men don’t act out when they feel this way. Only a noisy minority of men would allow themselves to shout something nasty at a passing fat jogger, or take the trouble tell some random lesbian he doesn’t approve of her haircut. Only a noisy minority sends hate mail to an actress who goes out in public with a dreaded “fupa” after giving birth. 

But when you’re a lone women being jeered at by a handful of strange men, or even by one man, it doesn’t feel like minority. It feels heavy and scary and big. It feels dangerous, and it is dangerous. It’s easier, in many ways, to simply agree: Yes, I am here for men to use. I must try as hard as I can to be pleasing to as many of them as possible, so I will be valued and safe. This is what many women do, without even realizing it. Mousy trad women do it by submitting and obeying and never making their own needs known, and raunchy progressive feminists do it by thrusting themselves headlong into porn culture.

And women in the middle of these two extremes do it by constantly accusing themselves, gently or harshly, of being unworthy. We tell ourselves we are unworthy to take up space, to put on weight, to get old, to slow down, to be tired, to be ugly, to be unavailable, to be loud, to be unproductive, to be charmless, to be sick, to be alone. To be angry. We feel that we are endlessly on trial, that our lives are one long audition, and we’re constantly in danger of being rejected and replaced by someone who knows how to do her job better. So many women have spent their whole lives floundering in a bottomless pool of fear that, if we aren’t pleasing men, we’re nothing.

I used to think that all that feminist talk about “the male gaze” was liberal garbage, and women simply didn’t understand how pleasant it could be to be desired by men. But now I am older and I can see that all my life, I have lived with this terrible fear of not being pleasing enough. Even women who know better know this fear. And that’s why there’s so much anger out there: Because it’s not right that we should live that way. 

I said as much on Facebook yesterday.

Yes, I was angry. I have eight daughters, and I see them growing up in this world that still hasn’t changed. And so I cursed at men who feel entitled to an aesthetically pleasing experience from every woman they meet. I felt the weight of that entitlement, and I was angry. 

And what do you think happened? My post was reported and removed. Men told me I was being strident and offensive, and that maybe they would listen if I watched my language and spoke more gently. Maybe if I changed myself just a little bit, so I was more to their liking, then they would listen to what I had to say. 

And there it is. Maybe I just need to be more pleasing to men, and then I’ll be allowed to talk. 

I don’t want to be angry all the time. I certainly don’t want to respond in kind, and become permanently enraged at a whole populace just because of the sins of some. But every once in a while, I feel the whole weight of that crushing, grinding, everlasting entitlement to be pleased, and I feel it even more heavily when I realize how I’ve been complicit in it.

I am asking men to be better. I am asking women not to be complicit. And I am asking men to hold each other accountable when they behave as if they are entitled to be pleased by women. I am tired of feeling inadequate, so instead I am angry. I have a right to be angry. 

 

***
Image: Bathsheba with King David’s Letter, by Rembrandt. Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 183: Sandwiches, sandwiches, barely even human

Dramatization of me making the menu for the week:

Me: Okay, now, concentrate! What’s for supper all week long? Let’s make a list! Good! Fun!
Me: Can’t.
Me: Yes, you can! 
Me: Can’t.
Me: Yes you can. This is your job, and it’s easy. Just think of what people like to eat. What do people like to eat?
Me: I mean . . . I guess . . . food?
Me: Yes, good! And what kind of food? Can you think of some?
Me: Like . . . like . . . the kind you put in your . . . mouth?
Me: Good! You’re doing so well! And what kind of food do we put in our mouth?
Me: Like . . .
. . . .
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . sandwiches?

Me: YES.

[feebly writes down “sandwiches” several times, lets pen loll out of fingers. Late August housefly coasts in and lands on my shopping list. It marches across the page with arrogance and disdain. A single tear of weariness leaks out of my eyeball and trickles down my cheek and onto the paper, zig-zagging across the crumpled page until it seems to spell out b-a-c-k-t-o-s-c-h-o-o-l.]

SATURDAY
Pizza

Saturday, Damien had a hunting safety course all day and I had a planning session for faith formation (I’m going to teach second grade, hoop de doo!); and then I drove Lena back to college. We both got home quite late, and Damien got pizza of some kind, either Domino’s or Aldi. 

I tried bubble tea for the first time. I had sesame matcha. I will tell you, if the very idea of bubble tea repels you, then bubble tea itself will definitely repel you; but if you’re thinking to yourself, “I could go for some gummy black blobs in my beverage right about meow,” then you will love it. I loved it.

Sending your kids off to college is bullshit, though. SIGH SIGH SIGH.

SUNDAY
Hamburgers, chips, cannoli

Sunday Damien had more training and I had to do the shopping I didn’t do Saturday. I had a hunch we’d be pretty wiped out and I was not wrong, so I bought pre-made burger patties, because such are the blessings of capitalism, and who am I to turn them down? 

It was Elijah’s shopping turn, and as fall approaches, a young man’s fancy turns to cannoli. We didn’t see cannoli shells, so we got some pizzelle. I made very simple cream filling with ricotta cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla, and we had a scoop of cheese on the cookie topped with shaved chocolate and maraschino cherries. I know I have almond extract somewhere, but it was hiding. 

MONDAY
Sandwiches, chips, watermelon, candy

Monday was the very last day of summer vacation, and it’s become our tradition to spend “all day” at the beach. In practice, this meant running around like a maniac doing errands all morning while the kids focused on being disgruntled, and then heading out to the town pond around 2:00. We did spent about four hours there, which is definitely long enough to get that “no one tells me what to do” feeling. We had the place to ourselves, except for a few silent, stringy old people and many, many dragonfly engaged in l’amour

Sometimes I think my kids are getting spoiled and worldly, and then I realize at least half of them still think it’s a huge treat to get the really big jar of pickles and to be allowed to just stick their hands in their and wipe them off on the grass. So we are doing okay. 

I took many pictures, but this one sums up the tone of the meal pretty well:

I texted Damien that we were on our way home, so he started a fire in the firepit, and we gathered around and told moderately spooky stories in the sorta-getting-dark. I did this knowing full well that it was exactly the kind of thing that would immediately become a Very Important Tradition That We Always Do. 

TUESDAY
Pork ramen

So Tuesday school finally happened. We have two in college, one taking a gap year and working on a big illustrating job, two in high school, and the rest are in 8th, 6th, 5th, and 2nd, and Corrie is home. I actually expect this year to be somewhat easier than last year. When I ask myself why, I’m not sure, but even thinking so is a pretty good sign. According to my therapist. What does he know, the giant weirdo. 

I keep forgetting it’s a food blog today. Let’s see, I cut up some boneless pork chops and sautéed them in oil, then sliced them and dashed in some soy sauce and finished cooking them. I chopped up some scallions and sugar snap peas, and I soft boiled a bunch of eggs. I sliced some mushrooms and sautéed them in the pan with the porky oil. We had crunchy noodles, sesame seeds, and hot sauce for toppings.

Everyone came home hungry and they were happy with a big pot of ramen and pork.

WEDNESDAY
Banh mi

Oh look, sandwiches! But to be fair, these are the greatest sandwiches known to mankind. I made the marinade and sliced a boneless pork loin in the late morning and let it marinate the rest of the day. I quick pickled a bunch of carrots, but decided to let the cucumbers just be plain, so there was a cool taste with all the bitey tastes. I chopped up a bunch of cilantro, and made some spicy mayo (I couldn’t find sriracha, so I just used hot sauce. Not as good). And I had a jar of jalapenos. 

I did toast the bread, which I hate doing, for some reason, but it makes a big difference for these sandwiches. Gosh, I love this meal. I prepped everything in the morning, and then before supper I just had to fish the meat out of the marinade, spread it on a pan, and broil it.

If you haven’t made these sandwiches before, they’re delicious way out of proportion to how hard they are to make. However, when you’re cooking the meat, it smells horrendous way out of proportion to . . . anything. Really, nothing this side of hell should smell like that. But it’s worth it! Recipe card at the end.

Wednesday was also the day this happened:

We had to leave to pick up the kids, but Corrie didn’t want to get out of the bath. I did everything I could think of to get her out, and she ended up on the floor, screaming and writhing. She’s amazingly heavy and strong, and when she’s wet, she’s just about impossible to pick up and hold, much less dry off and get dressed. I was getting madder and madder, so I stepped away to collect myself, and when I came back and opened the door, the stool and wastebasket were knocked over, the towels were all dragged onto the floor, and I could hear violent splashing.

I thought, “Oh great, she’s back in the tub and I’ll have to start all over again.” But when I pulled back the curtain, she wasn’t in the tub.

And that’s when I realized she was so mad, she had jumped right into the toilet.

THURSDAY
Grilled pizza sandwiches

We used to have these a lot, but haven’t for a while, so the kids were pretty excited. I was honestly not at my best as a chef by Thursday. We’re still staying up stupidly late, but now waking up stupidly early. I like to spice things up in the middle of the night by stupidly worrying about stupid things for a while, too. Put it all together, and you get someone who is not going to do a great job flipping heavy sandwiches stuffed with shredded cheese. 

Even the sandwiches look skeptical.

This particular one actually looks kinda like Attorney General William Barr, shown here with Lamar Alexander, who is also full of cheap cheese:

Office of Senator Lamar Alexander [Public domain]
Office of Senator Lamar Alexander [Public domain]
I feel like I haven’t sufficiently made my case here. Look at this:

Maybe? 

I know you want to know how to make these wondrous grilled Wiliam Barr sandwiches, so here is how: Sourdough bread spread with sauce, then cheese, then pepperoni, then topped with another piece of bread spread with sauce. Then the outsides are brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with garlic powder and oregano, then fried in a pan with more butter. It’s actually better to spread them with softened butter with garlic powder and oregano mixed in, but I accidentally melted it.

It would also be a heck of a lot easier to manage if it had slices of mozzarella, rather than wads of shreds, but did I think of that when I was shopping? Nopey.

I grill them and then slide them in the oven for a few minutes to make sure the cheese is melted and can prosecute on behalf of our Lord, the King. This is a attorney general joke and it’s the best I can do right meow.

FRIDAY
Quesadillas, chips and salsa

Not technically a sandwich! And we made it through the first week. There were no guarantees.

***

Pork banh mi


Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs Pork loin
  • 1 cup fish sauce
  • 12 Tbs sugar
  • 1 minced onion
  • 4 Tbs minced garlic
  • 1.5 tsp pepper

Veggies and dressing

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • Sriracha sauce

Instructions

  1. Slice the raw pork as thinly as you can. 

  2. Mix together the fish sauce ingredients and add the meat slices. Seal in a ziplock bag to marinate, as it is horrendously stinky. Marinate several hours or overnight. 

  3. Grill the meat over coals or on a pan under a hot broiler. 

  4. Toast a sliced baguette or other crusty bread. 

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.

We don’t stop for nobody: Some memories of childhood

Our kids started school again this week. One of the teachers wants the kids to bring their morning snack in a container labelled “snack.” It’s annoying to have one more thing to remember, but I see the sense in it. A kid who turns up with a miscellaneous bag of food for the day is likely to snarf down the whole thing at snack time, and then have nothing left when it’s actually lunch time. 

I was trying to remember how we handled snack time when I was seven. I don’t think we actually had one. Kids had the option to buy milk for ten cents, or chocolate milk for fifteen. This was delivered by a milk monitor, who was chosen by the teacher as an honor. Once she chose me, and I had no idea what to do, so I stood out in the dim hallway and cried. This was my go-to strategy throughout my school career and beyond.

Schools are gentler on children now, in some ways, and harder on them in others.  In general, I don’t trust people who think everything new is bad, any more than I trust people who think anything old is bad. I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to ponder anything heavy right now, anything about society or culture or civilization. But I have been thinking about how different some little things used to be. I was in first grade around 1980, for reference. 

When I was little, snow days were reserved for real blizzards, when the roads were mayhem and the snow piled up past our waists. They definitely never cancelled school for just plain low temperatures, as they do now; and they never cancelled it until the morning. We woke up early after staying up late, staring out the window and hoping. My mother would tune the radio to a station on the foreign end of the dial: M106, the local rock and roll station. The DJ would reel of lists of school closures every six minutes or so, in between sets of songs. My poor mother, cursing and muttering as she suffered through “Like a Virgin.”

There were school buses, but only if you lived a significant distance away. My sister, in fourth grade, used to walk me, in first grade, to school over a mile away. There was a crossing guard who looked exactly like the Queen of Hearts, glaring at the cars to stop, then glaring at us kids to go. 

If it was cold, my terrible mother would make us wear full-body snowsuits from Maresn’s Army Navy Department Store. We certainly never had indoor recess on account of cold weather, like my kids do now. I do remember students standing in a huddled circle on the playground, taking turns at being the one who got to stand inside in the relative warmth for a few minutes. It was all very Siberian. 

We sledded down the big hill all winter, where the sun hit the slope and polished it to glaring ice. When it warmed up, of course we played tag and hide and seek, jump rope, hopscotch, four square, red rover, cat’s cradle, and some dimly-remembered stair-hopping game called “Witchy-Poo,” and my kids play many of these same games. I remember hanging upside down on the jungle gym languorously wailing, “We Are the World.”

Playgrounds really were paved, and every playground had a real see-saw that swung up and down freely with a musical groan. Sometimes some malicious girl on the low end would suddenly leap off her seat, leaving you to plummet to the ground, jarring your tailbone and clashing your jaws together. Now most playgrounds are padded, and the parts that move have a limited, baffled range of motion. Sometimes the railings are so high, you can’t even tell you’re off the ground even when you’ve climbed to the top; so kids are safe but they also don’t figure out what’s safe and what will get their heads bashed in. 

I clearly remember the heady thrill of linking arms with a friend or two and roaming belligerently around the playground chanting, “WE-DON’T-STOP-FOR-NO-BOD-Y. WE-DON’T-STOP-FOR-NO-BOD-Y.” If anyone got in our way, we would, as advertised, not stop. There was also the chant that went, “We are drunk! We are drunk! A bottle of beer, a BOOT in the rear; we are drunk!” and at “BOOT!” you would kick your leg up, can-can style. It would be hard to overstate how much fun it was. Way more fun than actually being drunk, as I later found.

We had heard that in West Street School, the mysterious school on other side of town, the strange children there called their teachers by their first names. This was scandalous and unsettling.  Teachers were always Mr. or Mrs. or Miss. In fifth grade, we had our first teacher who was a Ms., which inspired much eye-rolling. She had a perm, too, if you can imagine, and glasses with some kind of tricky scallop built into the frames. Probably from Massachusetts. 

When kids were bad, they had to fold their arms on the desk and put their heads down. The really mean teachers would yell, “I wanna see noses touching the desk!” This was intensely mortifying. You didn’t know if everyone else was doing something cool or something boring or maybe just staring at your stupid, exposed, beet-red neck. It only happened to me once or twice, usually when the whole class was being punished en masse. But a few times a year, the real reprobates would be put “in castle,” and the custodian would be summoned to erect a cardboard box around the bad kid, to segregate and humiliate him; and that’s how he would stay all day. I suppose it was a refrigerator box, but it might as well have been an iron maiden. Brutal.  

Their was one kid named Keith who got in trouble a lot. Like all the rest of the class, I was mean to him, all the time. When I made his valentine in third grade, I put a pig sticker on it. When the music teacher paired us up to folk dance, I grabbed my hand away as fast as I could and wiped it on my pants. I saw him many years later when I was taking some test, an SAT make-up or something. He softly offered me a Chiclet, and I said no, and acted like I didn’t know him. I have always felt bad about that — even worse than I feel for everything else I did. Man, I am sorry. 

I don’t really know what typical discipline is like now. I guess it varies widely from school to school. They are allowed to use “fidgets” in school, to keep their hands busy while their minds are concentrating; and there is an assortment of futuristic chairs to suit every possible sitting style. In the hallway of my kids’ school, there is a list of activities they can do — crab walk, hop on one foot — to get the wiggles out if they can’t behave in class. Sometimes I discipline kids that way myself. Sometimes I am more old school. 

We had a teacher with a mania for tidiness in fourth grade. He was a tall, broad-shouldered Irishman with thick glasses and a bristling red mustache. He would inspect our desks, striding up and down the rows of the room like General Patton, and if one desk were found to be especially sloppy, he would hoist it up in his mighty arms and dump it out onto the floor and then stride away, leaving the sniveling child to crawl around in the wreckage and put his belongings back together. Strangely, I remember him mostly as a kind man, in between his sudden furies. He never dumped my desk, I guess. 

Anyway, that school had polished hardwood floors and enormously high and gracious windows, so now it is condominiums.

It is strange that, when my kids show up with some new evidence they’re being treated with care and concern, and being protected from something harsh in the world, I’m impatient and annoyed. I don’t actually want them to be cold and hungry. I don’t want them to break their elbows and be crushed in spirit. I want them to be understood.

Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids have as much fun as we had when we chanted, ” WE-DON’T-STOP-FOR-NO-BOD-Y.” 

 

***
Image: free images

 

Do what in memory of me? On slavery or sacrifice

To participate in the sacrifice of the Mass, we must be free of mortal sin. So let us say we have put ourselves into the cell of sin, over and over again. What then? We must put ourselves into the confessional box, over and over again. Then we can receive Christ; and then we can, in turn, freely put ourselves into the cup of sacrifice, to be poured out for each other. That is how it works. Jesus told us so. This is what he told us to do.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

***

Image source: Saint John the Baptist Church Melnik Jesus Christ Icon, 19th Century via Wikipedia

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 182: It’s still summer, dammit

Here’s what we ate this week!

SATURDAY
Caprese chicken sandwiches

We are awfully tired of grilled ham and cheese for dinner on Saturdays, but I get home from shopping so late, and then it takes eleven hours to put away all the food, so Saturday has to be something quick and easy. This was quickish and easy.

The chicken was just broiled with olive oil, salt, and pepper. We had ciabatta rolls with tomatoes and fresh basil, mozzarella, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. It’s still summer, dammit!

This sandwich posed a bit of a challenge when assembled, but I just unhooked my lower jaw and dominated it.

Here is another sandwich picture, since I have it:

As you can see, I like plenty of balsamic vinegar. I like to put the dressings and salt and pepper on several layers of this sandwich, and use freshly-ground pepper and salt if I can get it. Mmmmm.

SUNDAY
Hamburgers, potato salad, broccoli and dip, blueberry pie with whipped cream

Damien’s mom came over, so Dora and I decided we would celebrate with potato salad. I said, “I’m so excited you’re making potato salad!” And she said, “Oh. I was so excited you’re making potato salad.” So I made the potato salad, and guess what? It wasn’t very good. It was just kind of bland, and also I forgot I was cooking potatoes, so they cooked into mush. Oh well.

I realized I’d gone all summer without making any fruit pies, and that aggression will not stand, man. The pie had some structural problems when we cut it, but look how pretty!

When I served it up, what people got was less a slice of pie and more of a . . . pie area. Everyone got a pie area with whipped cream. It tasted good, anyway. I don’t use a ton of sugar either in the pie or in the whipped cream. I didn’t have enough dough for a lattice crust, so I rolled little balls of dough and stuck them around the edge, then flattened them with a fork. If I had remembered to do a sugared egg wash, it would have been like little cookies.

My pie crust trick is that you freeze the butter, then shred it on a vegetable grater. Then it’s easy to incorporate into the flour without overworking it. I use Fannie Farmer’s basic pie crust recipe, and I honestly don’t remember what I used for the filling. Blueberries, flour, sugar, lemon juice, salt, butter, I guess. Probably I should have used corn starch instead of flour. 

MONDAY
Chicken berry salad

I actually don’t remember eating this meal. It’s possible I skipped it and just ate leftover pie for supper. It’s still summer, dammit. 

Here’s an old picture of this meal: Roast chicken breast sliced up, mixed greens, diced red onion, feta cheese, toasted almonds, and a vinaigrette dressing. 

The trick is to serve salads with chicken just a little too often, and then people are really raring for some squash and Brussels sprouts and stews by the end of summer. 

TUESDAY
Taco Tuesday

Hweat! Tuesday Clara and I abandoned our family and drove away to New York City to see Hadestown on Broadway for her birthday, as I mentioned. I’m immensely proud and still slightly baffled that I drove to New York City, found our hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, found a place to park, found the theater, didn’t have any problems with the hotel reservations or tickets, didn’t get lost, didn’t get into any accidents, had zero combat with rats, roaches, or bedbugs, didn’t create any international incidents with furriners, didn’t get mugged, didn’t throw up, didn’t cry except during the show, and kept us fed and on schedule, and even tipped the parking lot attendant appropriately. Not bad for a country mouse

Clara was not terribly interested in exploring any restaurants that smelled of curry or sumac, so we went for good old American food. She had a burger and fries and I had a Reuben. This is a place called Jax BBQ on 9th avenue. I guess we were supposed to order barbecue, but we do what we like. 

We were pretty wiped out, so we went back to the hotel room (we stayed at the Casamia 36 hotel, where I got a pretty good price through AirBNB. It was small and very much no frills, but very clean and pleasant enough) where Clara worked on her Hadestown drawing

At home, they had tacos. 

WEDNESDAY
Spaghetti with Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce and sausages, garlic bread

Wednesday morning, we set out for make sure we knew where the Walter Kerr theater was, about a mile away. It was nice traveling with someone who has almost the exact same anxieties as me. We had a lot of conversations that went, “Okay, I know this is crazy, but can we just…” — “Oh, sure, sure, I completely understand!” So we found the theater, then decided that we could check out Times Square without getting too lost. It was . . . well, it was different from home. 

Despite my best efforts, we did see the apparently famous Naked Cowboy. We saw a lot of people who had persuaded themselves it made sense to buy national brands of clothing and jewelry in Times Square, even though you could easily find the exact products online or in, you know, Biwabik, Minnesota. It was very hot and muggy smelled like different kinds of garbage, and sounded like Hell. I know New York City has innumerable nicer things to offer than Times Square, but we really didn’t want to get lost, so we lurked about for a while with our eyes bugging out, and then had lunch at a deli. Look, here is my sandwich:

Damn fine pickle. Then it was time to head over to the theater! And that’s when things really got great! I was expecting something extraordinary, and it was even better than I expected. 

After the show and after Clara got a few autographs on her drawing, it started pouring rain, so we schlopped the mile back to the parking garage. Okay, we got a little bit lost, but that’s because my phone sometimes insists on showing me upside down maps. We did pop into a little Greek grocery and bought some olive oil soap and some kind of honey apple pastries to bring home. There was a nice orange cat and some Greek men who thought it was pretty cute how wet we were. And then we retrieved our car, I recovered quickly at the shock of how much it costs to park your car for 24 hours in New York City (SO MUCH. OH MY FRIENDS. SO MUCH.) and away we went! We stopped in Connecticut to put dry clothes on.

It was a pleasure to travel with an art student as we zipped over and under all those spectacular stone bridges on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut. They are all different, and some of them even have two different sides! Normally I don’t care for art deco, but when it’s mitigated by creeping vines and those lovely trees on the median of the highway, it’s great. (They are not all art deco, of course, but that’s the easiest style to identify when you’re driving under it.) Here’s someone who did a 60 MPH drawing challenge. When I was little and we would drive to NY or NJ to visit family, we would always look forward to the one with wings

Back home, they had Marcella Hazan’s miraculously simple and confoundingly delicious tomato sauce, with sausages and spaghetti and garlic bread. Recipe card at the end. 

THURSDAY
Pork spiedies, fries, pineapple

On Thursday, I made some spiedie marinade (recipe card at the end) in the morning, but half the pork had gone bad. So I set what I had to marinate, and then threw raw meat-tainted oily marinade all over the inside of the refrigerator for no reason at all! Then I went out for more pork and had some pharmacy adventures (not in the fun way), set the rest of the meat to marinate, and took the kids to the beach, because holy crap, it may still be summer, but not for long. 

Got home, shoved the pork under the broiler, and we had the meat on toasted rolls with mayo, plus pineapple and fries.

This is a good marinade. You can adjust it as you like, and it really tenderizes the meat.

You can see that I had leftover broccoli instead of fries. This may seem virtuous, but you have to remember that I had consumed about a cubic yard of meat in the last 48 hours. Also, the kids ate all the fries while I was toasting my bun. 

FRIDAY
Tuna?

It says “tuna.” I may want to run to the store. Actually we are going out to shop for school supplies today. This is actually the last possible day to do it, because we start on Tuesday and we’re going to the beach one last time on Monday. It’s still summer, dammit. 

***

 

Chicken Caprese Sandwiches

Keyword basil, chicken, mozzarella, prosciutto, provolone, sandwiches, tomatoes

Ingredients

  • Ciabatta rolls, Italian bread, or any nice bread
  • Sliced grilled, seasoned chicken
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Sliced prosciutto
  • Sliced mozzarella or provolone
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • Optional: Pesto mayonnaise

Instructions

  1. Preheat broiler. Drizzle chicken breasts with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, whatever. Put chicken on shallow pan with drainage, and shove under broiler, turning once, until chicken is browned on both sides. Let cool and slice thickly, you animal. 

  2. Toast bread if you like. Spread pesto mayo on roll if you like. Slice tomatoes. 

  3. Pile chicken, tomatoes, basil, cheese, and a slice or two of prosciutto, sprinkling with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper a few times as you layer. 

Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce

We made a quadruple recipe of this for twelve people. 

Keyword Marcella Hazan, pasta, spaghetti, tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes, broken up
  • 1 onion peeled and cut in half
  • salt to taste
  • 5 Tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Put all ingredients in a heavy pot.

  2. Simmer at least 90 minutes. 

  3. Take out the onions.

  4. I'm freaking serious, that's it!

 

pork spiedies (can use marinade for shish kebob)

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. Mix together all marinade ingredients. 

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

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

    Serve in sandwiches or with rice. 

A quick review of Hadestown, which you should sell a kidney to see

Yesterday, Clara and I saw the Broadway production of Hadestown for her birthday. It was the best thing I have ever seen on stage.

Hadestown is written, words and music, by Anaïs Mitchell, who originally made a musical, then recorded it as a concept album with Ani DeFranco, then re-worked it as a new musical that premiered in 2012. If you still think of Mitchell as a somewhat pretentious, precious, indie folk cutie, you need to get caught up! This is a mature and stunning work that’s hard to classify. WordPress is having fits over me trying to insert audio right now, but you can hear the Broadway cast recording here

It’s based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Hades and Persephone, and it’s set in a Depression-like era perhaps near the end of the world, complete with squalid barroom and post-apocalyptic New Orleans folk jazz, I guess? Normally I could do without old stories cleverly transposed into unconventional settings — this Onion article springs to mind — but that’s not really what Hadestown is. Part of the conceit is that we’re all always telling these same stories over and over again, and that we must. And in spirit, it’s truer to to Greek tragedy than any Greek tragedy I’ve seen performed straight, complete with an omniscient narrator in the person of a dazzling urbanite Hermes (André De Shields):

Image from this Theater Mania video

a chorus of the three pitiless, inexorable fates (Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad), who are on no one’s side;

screen shot from this Theater Mania clip

and so much catharsis, the ushers had to go around with a spatula, scraping the melted puddles of the audience out of their seats after the final curtain. 

I’ll do a more thorough review at some point, but in the meantime you can read Leah Libresco Sargent’s take here

The lyrics are real poetry, but also clear and clever, studded with allusions you can take or leave. Each song, lyrically and musically, was worthwhile in itself, and didn’t exist merely to move the plot along or to give equal time to every performer. Clara and I agreed that Orpheus’ song — the one that has so much power in the story– really did have that much power. You didn’t have to tell yourself, “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure this feels very magical if you’re part of that word.” The hairs standing up on your arm spoke for themselves. 

The stage set was so well-conceived, they could build worlds with lighting and shadows and the three concentric circles of the stage floor, which rotated independently and could be raised or lowered. Without complicated special effects, they placed us indoors and outdoors, in Hell, and in uncanny in-between places.

(These photos are before the show began, obviously.)

All the musicians were part of the action or otherwise integrated into the set, and many of the actors played instruments as well. It was mind-boggling how much talent was on display. 

Orpheus (Reeve Carney)’s voice was powerful and disturbing and he sometimes lost control of his falsetto, which was affecting, rather than otherwise.

He had the air of a floppy theater kid ingénue.

Image from Theater Mania videoo

At first I thought his acting skill wasn’t quite on par with the rest of the cast, but I believe this radical immaturity was part of his tragic flaw. Hermes introduces him this way:

Now Orpheus was the son of a Muse
And you know how those Muses are
Sometimes they abandon you
And this poor boy, he wore his heart out on his sleeve
You might say he was naïve to the ways of the world
But he had a way with words
And the rhythm and the rhyme
And he sang just like a bird up on a line
And it ain’t because I’m kind
But his Mama was a friend of mine
And I liked to hear him sing
And his way of seeing things
So I took him underneath my wing
And that is where he stayed
Until one day…

Well, one day the gods get involved. Toward the end of the show, Persephone takes up the bird theme again, singing:

Hades, my husband, Hades, my light
Hades, my darkness
If you had heard how he sang tonight
You’d pity poor Orpheus!
All of his sorrow won’t fit in his chest
It just burns like a fire in the pit of his chest
And his heart is a bird on a spit in his chest
How long, how long, how long?

Hades (Patrick Page), from his gleaming hair to his gilded shoes, was downright terrifying, in voice and presence. You felt that presence every second he was on stage.

I thought at first his basso profundo was something of a party trick, but he knew how to deploy it, and he seemed more than a man. Which made it all the more gripping when, as a god, he is faced with a terrible choice of his own. 

Persephone (Amber Gray) in this work is not an abducted maiden in mourning, but an aged and aggrieved queen and wife who’s prowled back and forth between summer and the underworld countless times, and who knows full well that “a lot can happen behind closed doors.” She’s developed some coping strategies, and they are not ideal. With her gravelly powerhouse voice and desperate green velvet and shimmies, she is alarming, pathetic, malevolent, and ultimately completely winning, as well as miraculously light-footed in her spike-heeled boots. 

Image from Theater Mania video

The only quibble I had was the casting of Eurydice (Eva Noblezada). She did a good job, but I didn’t lose my heart to her, as I did to every other character. It wasn’t a stumbling block, though; and at one point, Hermes directly chides the audience for holding Eurydice to too high a standard. I was content to award the real heart of the story to Persephone and Hades. Eurydice and Orpheus are, after all, still very young in this iteration. It did hurt to see how she held him at arm’s length even as she was falling in love.

While Hadestown is raucous, funny, stylish, and vastly entertaining, it is also profoundly in earnest, and doesn’t try to dazzle or deceive the audience about what’s the show really means. It has elements of politics, of social commentary, of lessons about the environment and worker’s rights and industrialization; but what it’s really about is . . . well, art, love, and death.  

In elementary school, some student would always complain, “Why do we have to read Greek myths?” The anemic answer came: “They teach us about our own lives.” This makes no sense when you’re fourteen years old and reading a fleshless synopsis of a tale about people in togas making inexplicable choices and being randomly smitten by the gods. But in Hadestown, which keeps most of the myth’s major plot points intact, the very overt point is: What you’re seeing right now will happen to you. Rather than asking you to suspend your disbelief for the show, they insist you resist forgetting, and that you acknowledge how personal it is. As Hermes tells Orpheus: “It’s not a trick. It’s a test.” 

As the action moved inexorably toward the final shattering blow, I was in agony, not only suffering with the characters, but wondering whether the show would have the guts to end with naked tragedy.

And they did. They did not flinch, but let the terrible thing happen. But the way it was framed, what they showed us was tragedy, not nihilism. Real tragedy, which tells you something true about life. Real tragedy which gives you something, rather than taking everything away.

What a contrast there is between the circular reasoning in “Why We Build the Wall” and mystical cycle of hope that Hermes reveals at the end. The whole show is marked by a pattern of openly asking and answering questions, and leaving it up to the audience to decide whether the answers satisfy or not. My friends, I was satisfied. 

***

Clara drew a picture of the show the night before, and several of the cast members signed it.



One more note: The Walter Kerr Theater was wonderful. It’s a small theater, and although our balcony seats were unexpectedly high up, they were still good seats. The sound was great, the theater is gorgeous, and the courteous, placid staff managed the tight crowd exceedingly well, directing streams of antsy New Yorkers in a serpentine line for lady’s room with aplomb. Overall a near-flawless experience.  If there’s any way at all you can get to see this show, I beg you to try! 

The show says it’s recommended for people age 12 and up. That seems about right to me. There isn’t any sex or violence or cussing that I can recall, but it sure is sad. 

Ready for school? Take this quiz and see.

The department stores have been ready since the middle of May. The clothing catalogues have been ready since early June. The teachers have been ready for close to 72 hours now.  How about you, mom? Are you ready for BACK-TO-SCHOOL?

Here’s a quick quiz to find out how much gin to buy:

***

Clothing! Are you ready?

(a) Your school doesn’t require uniforms, but you do. Your children’s outfits for the next three months are chosen, monogrammed, pressed, and shrink-wrapped (with alternates for unexpected nippy weather) in a special digitized wardrobe that automatically yanks garments out of rotation if anyone in (ugh) public school is seen wearing them.

(b) Each kid owns enough clothes to go all week without wearing anything with holes, obvious stains, or beer slogans.

(c) You really need to stop stalling and get the winter clothes sorted and put away.

Lunches! Are you ready?

(a) You spent the summer perfecting the spreadsheets that tell you when to place bulk orders at Whole Foods so that the everyday staple pantry items (quinoa, bulgur, kefir, quingur, bulfir, and kefoa, which is pronounced “feh”) dovetail with the seasonal produce you expect to harvest from your garden, which you water using barrels that collect your hot yoga sweat, which, not to brag, is quite organic.

(b) You have a general idea of what your kids like to eat, and you try to pack it for lunch. If they don’t gobble up every bit of their packed lunch, they can always fill up on PBJ when they get home.

(c) You give yourself a gold star every time the school doesn’t send home a note saying, “Braedonica only had a pickled cocktail onion and a baggie of dog food in her lunch again. Please remember nutrition matters for young brains, sadface!”
By gold star, you mean “martini.”

Transportation! Are you ready?

(a) Yes, there is a bus that will pick up your child and bring her home, but, chérie, yellow is just not her color. So you’ve hired a dedicated Lyft driver for the morning and afternoon commute. He only drives an Audi, though, and that’s how it’s going to stay until a certain little offspring nudges that GPA up above 3.8.

(b) You’re going to be the mom waiting at the bus stop in a robe, or occasionally that mom driving frantically to school in a robe. So you’re not morning people, so big deal.

(c) You are seriously considering buying an RV and just living behind the school’s swing set until next June, because you’re really, really, really not morning people.

Homework! Are you ready?

(a) Per the training your child has received since he was at four months’ gestation, he doesn’t even want to play, snack, rest, or goof off until homework is completed, double-checked, initialed by both parents, autoclaved, and stowed away safely in the lightweight titanium binder etched with “For Your Consideration, Magister.”

(b) Your kids know they are expected to keep up with their work. They also know that Mom will forget to ask if they have homework half the time, and they only really have to do it when Daddy comes home before bedtime, because Daddy Always Remembers. Doing a little over half their homework earns them a solid C-, which is their version of the American dream.

(c) You know what we do for homework around here? We endure. That’s what we do for homework. Initial that, pal.

Extracurricular activities! Are you ready?

(a) It’s so hard, isn’t it? You beg and plead for the children to just relax and be kids, or at least choose an after-school club that is just plain fun, but every year it’s the same thing: “Motherrr, we simply can’t turn our backs on our commitment to fostering functional STEM literacy among the unwed pregnant cat population. Be the change you wish to see, Motherrr!” they say.
You worry, but you’re also proud. So proud.

(b) Each kid gets to do one thing, and that’s it. There’s only so much extra driving and extra check-writing you can stand.

(c) Extracurricular? As in besides school? They want us to do a whole other thing? Does weeping quietly in a corner count as extracurricular? Because we can do that.

Traditional Beginning-of-the-year Teacher Gift Ideas! Are you ready?

(a) Wait, what?
(b) Come on.
(c) Kill me.

***

ANSWER KEY:

If you answered mostly (a), you are so ready, it’s already next year, so why not stay home and read back issues of GOOP by the light of your own intense awesomeness?
If you answered mostly (b), you are like 90% of the population, so relax.
If you answered mostly (c), you can hang around with my awful kids, and we’ll all feel better.

***
Image by ThoseGuys119 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A version of this post ran in 2016. So sue me. 

Book review: The Ghost Keeper by Natalie Morrill

Very few, it turns out, can be trusted, and nothing will be the way it was.

But despite the contemporary resonances, this is not a political novel. It’s a story about what it means to survive, and what it means to go home; what it is like to love, what it is like to be betrayed. It is about guilt and responsibility, about how to live with unspeakable burdens, and about how to survive when, as one character says, “everyone is excused, but no one is forgiven.”

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

Read the rest of my review of The Ghost Keeper in Dappled Things

The Ghost Keeper