What’s for supper? Vol. 148: Meat and other good ideas

Pretty meat-heavy week. When my imaginative powers run low, the default is just meat. I did end up altering a few recipes for the better, though (and utterly ruining a very familiar recipe for no reason at all). Here’s what we had (recipe cards at the end):

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, cheezy weezies

Nothing to report. Damien and Dora were on a road trip to Maryland, Moe and Clara were helping their cousin with a theater fundraising auction (and come home with the revelation that rich people really, really care about two things: trees, and alcohol), and Elijah was volunteering at a haunted hay ride. And of course Lena is at college. Which meant that I was home with five children for a very long time.

Guess what? It turns out I haven’t become more patient or calm over the years; not at all. I have just gotten used to having another adult and five teenagers around to help me. Take them away, and it’s just all yelling all the time! Oh well. That’s an abnormal state anyway, to be the only adult caring for five kids. It’s a skill no one should have to develop.

SUNDAY
Pork ribs, risotto, string beans

Oven roasted pork ribs still give the biggest return for the least amount of work. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper on a pan with drainage, put under a hot broiler, and turn once, and eat them with BBQ sauce while they’re sizzling hot. So good. We are fans of Carolina style BBQ sauce lately, which is lighter and tangier than the dark brown, thicker kind we usually get.

With the memory of arancini fresh in my head, I wanted risotto again. I made Instant Pot risotto, but changed the recipe a bit, and it came out great. Maybe not quite as good as stove-cooked risotto, but creamy and flavorful. Recipe card at the end.

The string beans, I just trimmed and steamed and served bare. I suppose I could have put butter or pepper on them, but hey, vegetable.

MONDAY
Ham, mashed potatoes, and peas

Benny has been begging for this, her ideal meal, for weeks now. We got home super late for some reason, but I had bought a pre-cooked ham, and I finally realized you can slice it first, then heat it up, and it gets hot much faster than the other way around.

Then I started peeling potatoes and chucking them in the Instant Pot for some quick mashed potatoes. But I somehow underestimated the time, and when I opened the lid, a few of the bigger potatoes were still half raw. This was so upsetting that I looked up whether you can cook milk in an Instant Pot, and I learned that you cannot, because it foams and spurts and curdles and burns. This was even more upsetting, so I put milk in, closed the lid, and set it to cook for a few more minutes. Then I got the “burn” message!  This was very upsetting! So I opened the lid, put in some butter, and tried crushing the still-half-raw potatoes sitting in burned milk, which works even less well than you’d think.

Happily, it was extremely late by this time, and everyone was starving. So they ate the salvageable part of the potatoes, the overcooked peas, and the ham, which was really quite hot by this time, without complaint. Excelsior! I’d do it again, too.

TUESDAY
French toast and sausages

Nothing to report. I bought frozen OJ, but forgot to make it.

WEDNESDAY
Pork nachos

Pork was on sale, but I’m awfully tired of the same old pork things. So this time, I put a pork shoulder in the slow cooker with salt, pepper, minced garlic, and beer in the morning and let it cook all day. It was super tender and shreddy by evening. I spread the shredded pork in a shallow pan with lots of cumin and chili lime seasoning and browned it under the broiler.

Then — this is the part that was different — I spread tortilla chips in a pan, spread the meat over than, and topped it with shredded cheese, and put it back in the warm oven to melt. I forgot sour cream, but we had a nice lime salsa, fresh cilantro, and more chili lime powder, and I thought it was fantastic. So much interesting than my regular nachos, with just ground beef, but barely any extra work.

Maybe the meat was a little overcooked, so next time I’ll either brown it while it’s on the chips, or brown it less before returning it to the oven to melt the cheese. But I would seriously accept these as fancy party snacks, if they were dished up separately as hors d’oeuvres.

I’m very grateful that I like cilantro, and I’m not one of those unfortunate souls who think it tastes soapy. How often can you spend $1 and ten seconds chopping, and turn a meal from fine to wonderful?

THURSDAY
Cheesy chicken and red potatoes

All week, I was planning to make this slow cooker garlic parmesan chicken and potato dish. But this is the last full week before Halloween, and that means we don’t live at home anymore; we live at the Salvation Army and Walmart, and we come home feeling sad and panicked and most of all angry at your mother, who now gets to get dinner started at 5 pm. Not really the time to try out a new slow cooker recipe.

So I made up something, and I thought it was swell. I put the chicken and red potato wedges in a pan, drizzled them with olive oil and seasoned them, and then suddenly remembered I have a canister of fried shallots from Kyra’s magical bag of weird Canadian food. So I added a healthy layer of those, and then slud it into a hot oven for about an hour. When it was all browned, I suddenly remembered we had a wedge of sharp provolone, so we shredded that and sprinkled it on, then added a thick layer of grated parmesan

and put it back in the oven to melt. Then I suddenly remembered I had bought a little jar of fancy whole grain mustard, and plus I had some fresh parsley, I don’t even know why.

All together, it was wonderful. Again, it was extremely late by this time, so maybe it wasn’t as good as I thought; but the crunchy shallots, the sharp, snappy cheese, the mellow mustard, and the fresh parsley really played nicely together.

The skin was wonderfully crisp and the chicken was moist. If you have dried minced onions, that would be almost as good as the shallots.

Furthermore, I went to lie down for a while afterwards, and Corrie came in with a bowl of parsley and insisted on feeding me “eating flowers.” It was very cute, and I felt very privileged, but on the other hand, it’s easier than you might think to eat too much parsley.

So, this mustard. I grabbed up this little jar of whole grain mustard at Aldi a few weeks ago. It’s so good! More mild than I was expecting, and the texture is more like relish.

This will dress up sandwiches and cold meats nicely, and I can see serving it with kielbasa or even roast beef.

FRIDAY
I believe we’ll just have rigatoni or something.

Yesterday was our actual anniversary (which we celebrated in style a few weeks ago) and after a week of school conferences, doctor appointments, unexpected car repairs, mysterious furnace issues, and miscellaneous adult bullshit, we were too wiped out to make a fuss, but we did force ourselves to drink at least some of our massive champagne stockpile. Resolved: We really just don’t like champagne. Some people take twenty-one years to figure this out, that’s all. The marriage, however, has been a good idea from the beginning.

Speaking of the best man of all men, I don’t think I mentioned the nice little snack Damien rustled up the other day. You have a little slice of crusty bread, then a slice of smoked salmon, then a dab of creme fraiche, and then, um, some caviar on top. If you have any lying around. Or you could use sour cream, and maybe a little sprig of dill. I know it’s hard to believe, but this tastes really, really good, and, um, we keep buying it. We feel that buying caviar and pouring champagne down the sink pairs well with a lifestyle that also includes massively overcooked ham, and I stand by that.

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. 

Cheesy one-pan chicken thighs and red potatoes

An easy and tasty dish. Serve with whole grain mustard and fresh parsley. 

Ingredients

  • chicken thighs
  • red potatoes, cut into wedges
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper, oregano
  • fried shallots or minced, dried onions
  • parmesan cheese
  • shredded sharp cheese

Serve with whole grain mustard and chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450

  2. Lay chicken thighs in pan, and add the potato wedges in between the chicken. Drizzle both with olive oil and season generously. Sprinkle on fried shallots (or dried onion)


  3. Cook for 40 minutes or more until chicken is done and potatoes and chicken skins are crisp.

  4. Sprinkle cheeses on chicken and potatoes and return to oven for a few minutes to melt cheese. 

    Serve with whole grain mustard and fresh parsley. 

Anti-vaccine talk cancelled at Catholic Church

A Catholic New Hampshire parish announced plans to sponsor an anti-vaccine speech, then abruptly cancelled it after protest from parish staff and other laymen.

Ste. Marie in Manchester, NH announced last week they’d be hosting a talk called “Vaccine Inflation” by Jenna Pedone, who describes herself as “a Registered Pharmacist for 20+ years with experience in retail pharmacy and pharmaceutical sales [who] has for over two years vigorously studied and reviewed vaccine science and ingredients as a concerned parent and healthcare professional.”

Pedone said she “studied under Dr. Sherry [sic] Tenpenny in her Mastering Vaccine Info course in 2018.”

Dr. Sherri Tenpenny is an osteopath who believes vaccines cause autism, food allergies, and speech impediments. She advocates a total refusal of vaccines and antibiotics. Tenpenny rejects germ theory and has no specialized training in infectious diseases, immunology or microbiology. When Gabrielle Giffords was shot, Tenpenny blamed vaccines.

The “Mastering Vaccine” course she offers, which consists of a series of online “modules,” explicitly promises to train participants to influence others in their churches to reject vaccines.

As a Catholic, I was alarmed to see the church sponsoring what was clearly going to be an anti-vaccine presentation marketed as information for “prolife Catholics.” The graphic Pedone provided for her speech shows pills marked with five-dollar bills.

Although vaccines are not administered in pill form, the image suggests that vaccines are promoted for financial reasons. I contacted Pedone for more information on the content of her speech. She told me:

I want to empower Catholics young and old to do their OWN research, trust their gut, believe in the immune system God have them. I was initially struck by something my pastor said about no boys being ordained this year in our diocese. It prompted me to email him sharing what I have researched about how vaccines are destroying our boys brains and how at the rate we are vaccinating, 1 in 2 boys will be autistic by 2030 so who will run our churches? Who will father our children and grandchildren? I want people to leave the talk feeling empowered that they don’t need a medical degree to learn about vaccines and health for their family and grandparents.

Pedone is apparently referring to a 2014 claim by a “senior research scientist at MIT” that half of all children will be autistic by 2025.

The scientist in question, Stephanie Seneff, is trained in computer science and has no training in epidemiology. She made her startling claims about autism based the assumption that correlation is causation, and that trends will always continue at the same rate.

But the rate of autism spectrum disorder diagnoses is not increasing. It has stabilized in recent years in the US, and most researchers believe that the apparent increase in autism in the past decade was due to improvements in diagnoses, and not to an increase in actual cases. In other words, it’s likely that more children do not have autism these days; we have simply become better at understanding what autism is and at recognizing it.

No study has ever established a causal connection between vaccines and autism. Countless studies have looked for and found no causal connection.

Moreover, boys with autism can and do grow up to father children and become priests.

Pedone said when she proposed making her speech at Ste. Marie, she did not speak to the pastor directly, but she had spoken to his secretary. Pedone said the secretary “was open to people seeing the information of which vaccines contain fetal DNA. People can learn and then make their own determination.”

No vaccines contain fetal DNA. Some vaccines are produced using cell lines derived from fetal tissue. Researchers have debunked reports suggesting that vaccines produced from fetal cell lines are “tainted.”

But even if these vaccines are safe, are they ethical, since they are derived from cell lines obtained through abortion? Pedone said that her speech would include “what to know as a prolife Catholic if you are going to follow the CDC recommended vaccine schedule.”

The Church has issued a statement about what pro-life Catholics need to know before they vaccinate:

The Church has asked us to protest against the practice of producing vaccines using cell lines derived from fetal tissue, to demand ethical vaccine production, and to ask for ethical alternatives if they are available; but the Pontifical Academy for Life has said it is ethical to use these vaccines. It says that doctors and parents who use vaccines produced unethically participate only in “a form of very remote mediate material cooperation” with the evil of abortion. Another example of remote mediate material cooperation is paying taxes as a citizen of a large country which may use some miniscule portion of that money to fund some unethical activity.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center says:

One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.

[…]

There would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious disease, for example, rubella, especially in light of the concern that we should all have for the health of our children, public health, and the common good.

After I talked to Pedone, I contacted Ste. Marie to ask for more information about the speech. On Wednesday, Fr. Moe Larochelle called me to say that the talk had been cancelled, and that the cancellation would be announced in the bulletin and at Mass.

He said that he did authorize the speech, but at the time, he was not aware of how much controversy surrounds vaccines.

“Jenna [Pedone] presented it as if she were just giving information, so people could decide for themselves,” he said.

Once he became aware that the topic was much more controversial than he realized, he decided to simply cancel the speech, since there wasn’t enough time to organize a speaker who could present an opposing point of view. He said the parish did not want to create the impression that they were promoting any particular point of view.

He said that, in the future, if someone proposes giving a presentation on the topic, especially since it involves bioethics, the parish will handle it as they would handle a political presentation. “Now that I know, before I do anything, I’ll call the diocese,” he said.

Tom Bebbington, Director of Communication for the Diocese of Manchester, said that the diocese does not routinely give pastors or parishes guidelines about what kind of talks or presentations can be sponsored by the parish.

Bebbington said “there is no process for those invited by pastors/parish staff to speak in parishes. The concern is that it would too much for us to handle, especially for seasonal missions in parishes (e.g., Lent).”

The number of unvaccinated children in the US has quadrupled since 2001, and recent outbreaks of chickenpox, pertussis, measles, Hib, and pneumococcal disease have been traced back to vaccine refusal. Non-medical exemptions for vaccines, including religious exemptions, are on the rise in many states.

Our pastors are responsible for keeping abreast of innumerable kinds of information, and they may need our help in understanding how fraught the topic of vaccines is, and how much dangerously flawed information, both medical and ethical, is being circulated about the topic.

The “Vaccine Inflation” talk at Ste. Marie’s was cancelled because staff at the church and a number of concerned parishioners understood how problematic the upcoming speech would be, and they were able to dissuade him from allowing it to appear that the Church sanctions the ideas the talk contained. All educated Catholics who understand the importance of vaccines, for individual health and for the safety of the community, should ready to do the same.

Just as Catholics have an obligation to push for the production of more ethical vaccines and the obligation to protect the vulnerable from preventable diseases, we have an obligation to be vigilant, guarding our local parishes from even the appearance of condoning pseudo-science and pseudo-ethics. We must be well informed about our medical and ethical responsibility surrounding vaccines, and we must be prepared to speak up when dangerously erroneous information makes its way into our communities, especially under the guise of pro-life concerns.

Nothing looks pretty when it’s still becoming

What is our final project? Ah, that’s the tricky part. If I’m making a lobster costume or a vampire costume, I have a general idea of how it needs to look when it’s done. But when it’s our own selves we’re working on, there is less clarity, less certainty. We’re not in the process of making a costume or a disguise; we’re in the process of becoming who we are meant to be. If we have a clear picture in our heads of who we’re meant to be — or, even worse, if we think we’ve already become it — we’re probably wrong. Sorry!

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image of unfinished Godzilla costume courtesy of John Herreid

What’s for supper? Vol. 147: Kimchwho?

When I sat down to plan my weekly menu, I looked through all my recipe emails, supermarket flyers, my bank account, and my calendar.

They all said in chorus: You will be eating a lot of chips and frozen food this week. And so it came to pass.

SATURDAY
Hamburgers and chips

That is what we had. Not even the pretense of a vegetable.

Oh, I forgot, though, I have a pretty cake to show you! This was Friday, and I was pooped. I had finished two essays, sent off invoices, did an interview, prepped dinner and did not strangle the toddler, even she was super asking for it.  Time to go! As I grabbed up my keys to launch into afternoon errands before I could go home and collapse, I suddenly realized . . .

I had to do another interview and make a birthday cake.

The sound that escaped the gates of my teeth was not a happy sound.

But I made my excuses for the interview, filled my pockets with fruit snacks, dragged the toddler where she needed to be dragged, and made all my stops, including buying cake stuff. (Just a box cake and a tub of icing. I am not a masochist.) Got that thing baked, cooled, frosted, and decided it was going to be an autumn tree cake. Not well-thought-out, but look! It’s bright!

The leaves are hard candy that was smashed, melted into thin sheets, cooled, and re-smashed.

I put waxed paper on a pan and sprayed it with cooking spray. Then I put butterscotch and cinnamon hard candies in bags (double bags, because the seams break) and smashed them with a can, because I couldn’t find a hammer. Then I spread the pulverized candy in the pan and put it in a 250 oven for . . . sorry, I don’t know how long. Maybe 20 minutes, until it was melted. I let it cool, then snapped it into jagged little bits for leaves. It would have been better if I had had more colors and had let them mix more. I also sprinkled little red balls and gold sugar over it to give it more texture. This actually works better with Jolly Ranchers, but they weren’t in the colors I wanted.

I have used this technique for a campfire cake

I think I may have shared these cake pictures before, actually. Oh well. I have also made some cakes with sugar glass, which I made from scratch, but now I’m wondering if I could just use those terrible clear minty hard candies and save a lot of work. Anyway, kids are always impressed. Here is a Frozen cake, with sugar “ice”:

and a “broken glass” cake, with food coloring blood:

We also use crushed and melted hard candy for stained glass cookies, very pretty.

and — ooh, this is an old picture! That baby is Benny — for  a”make your own lollipop” party activity.

 

SUNDAY
Sausage subs with onion and pepper, onion rings, ghost pops

Sunday is usually the day I’ll make a more complicated meal, but we went apple picking after Mass. You think I’m going to have a ton of apple recipes now, but no. The apples were kinda spotty and weird. But there was a horse!!!!!!!!!!

Knowing we’d be home late, I opted for an easy and crowd-pleasing dinner. Lot of sweet Italian sausages browned up and cut lengthwise, lots of onions and green peppers sauteéd in olive oil, served on rolls with pasta sauce and parmesan. Frozen onion rings.

I had the older kids supervise the younger kids to make rice krispie ghost pops.

This picture kills me. Look at Benny’s face. Look at Corrie’s ghost’s face.

Hee hee.

It was a kit that came with ghost-shaped molds, icing, and sticks, but it would be pretty easy to make these without a kit, she said while lying on the couch and telling other people what to do. Pretty easy indeed.

MONDAY
Hot dogs and fries

I don’t remember Monday. I never remember Mondays. I think there was a cross country meet. I think it rained and froze and the morning glories died. I think I cleaned out a closet and found what was making that dead mouse smell (a dead mouse).

TUESDAY
Chicken burgers and chips

There was a concert on Tuesday. I liked it, and no one was beatboxing, so I didn’t have to say “boo-urns” under my breath while I clapped.

WEDNESDAY
Greek chicken salad with toasted pita

Wednesday was a bit less busy, so I bestirred myself a bit for supper. I coated some chicken breasts with olive oil, and put on plenty of salt and pepper, garlic powder, and dried basil and oregano so they were really crusty with seasonings, then roasted and sliced them, and served that over salad with various olives, feta cheese, cukes, grape tomatoes, diced red onions, and hummus.

I also made up a batch of yogurt sauce with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, minced garlic, and salt, and I cut pita bread into triangles and toasted it in the oven with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt.

Toasted, salty, garlicky pita bread triangles, with crunchy tips and warm, chewy insides are way more delicious than they have any right to be.

Although if you put olive oil, salt, and garlic powder on dead leaves and toasted them, I’d probably eat that, too.

THURSDAY
Korean beef tacos with kimchi and Sriracha mayo, and rice

Bit of a chance here. I tried a new recipe from Damn Delicious. Much of the family likes the Korean Beef Bowl recipe, and this beef is basically that, but not quite as sweet. I cooked it in the morning and then put it in the crock pot for the rest of the day.

Okay, so, kimchi. I’ve never had kimchi before, but have long enjoyed a sort of low-simmering curiosity about it. I didn’t think most of the family would like it, so it didn’t seem worth making myself; so I bought a jar. I was a little alarmed at the warning on the cap:

Hm, bulge. My mother had always regaled us with horrible stories of people whose cans of lima beans were bulging, but they ate them anyway, and then they had to have their legs amputated or something. If you even smell it, it could kill you! Your eyeballs would go bursting out of your skull with a sickening pop! Or something. I wasn’t really listening, because I didn’t like lima beans at the time. Anyway, this jar was definitely bulging. Sure, it said it was supposed to be, but what if it was intentionally bulging and botulism bulging? How would I know?

I figured I would taste a little bit, and if I died, well, at least I would die knowing what kimchi tastes like. So I leaned carefully over the sink, draped a napkin over the lid as suggested, and twisted as hard as I could . . .

even harder . . .

sheesh, hard lid to get off . . .

. . . GRRRRRRRRR . . . . .

. . . RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

–and then KABLAMMO! The cabbage came surging out like a living thing! Like the violent urgency of life itself! I’m telling you, this kimchi needed a Rite of Spring soundtrack!

It also got on my shirt, bleh.

So I sauteéd it up with some sugar in a pan, and we had tortillas with beef, caramelized (okay, it didn’t really caramelize. It never really caramelizes) kimchi, mayonnaise with Sriracha stirred in, and a bunch of cilantro and fresh limes. It was . . . a little challenging. It was sort of like when an Afro-Cuban bembé comes on the radio and you’re like, “Oh, this is neat! This is so — wait — it’s — what? — help!” because you really want to dance to it, but you’re just too damn white. What I’m trying to say is, I liked it, but I also only ate one.

Actually, I made a bunch of rice, and I had extra rice with lime juice and kimchi. I’m like Area Grandmother. Very familiar with rice, thanks.

FRIDAY
Tuna boats

So I went to my new spiritual director and he asked how I was, and I said I was pretty good, and he said, “Oh, we won’t be needing these today!” and he jokingly took the tissues away, but then I cried anyway. And that’s what kind of food blog this is. Natural bubbling and pressure. Just lay a napkin over the top, it’s fine.

Now my husband works from home. And now he knows.

People simply do not take your work seriously if you’re not wearing a uniform or sitting in an office. They can see you there, flagrantly sitting at home like an enormous slug. Even though they intellectually know that you are earning a living, they just can’t get past the notion that, since you are at home, your entire reason for existing is to serve them; and when you have performed the required service, you probably back into a storage closet and power down like an off-duty robot until someone needs you to fix the Wii or find their math book or explain the Vietnam war or unclog the toilet. Or make some food.  Not this food! Food we like better! Cut into triangles!

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

How can we get beyond the battle of the sexes?

Why don’t we take a moment to catch our breath on this frantic sprint to dehumanize half the human race? This is not some lame attempt at both siderism. I’m simply asking everyone who’s angry to ask sincerely, “How likely is it that I’ll win this war using the tactics I’m using?”

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Church is someone, not something

The internet will teach you how to turn a “no” into a “yes.” The phrase  appears in tutorials designed for salespeople, but also in more sinister contexts.  In militant men’s rights groups, there are forums and even study guides that teach men how to manipulate women and extract the sexual goodies they want from them.

They understand that, in these whacky times, women may pursue legal prosecution for rape or assault if you don’t listen to their “no;” so men who consider sex a right coach each other on how to pressure, manipulate, disorient, confuse, and guilt women into yielding a reluctant but legally watertight “yes.” Rather than being ashamed of this gross display of inhumanity, these men preen themselves on their skills. They know that, if they are challenged for their behavior, they can point to their victim’s coerced consent, and then she will be blamed for what happened to her.

Healthy men would vomit at the very idea of approaching a woman this way. No man enjoys rejection, but they do understand that women are human, and shouldn’t be treated like an object whose body and will can be forced into whatever position you like. No means no. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it.

I’ve heard this approach before, in an entirely different context. I’ve heard this refrain of “I hear your ‘no,’ but I refuse to accept it, and I even feel proud of my persistence. So I’m going to keep chipping away at you with everything I’ve got in hopes that you’ll give in and let me have what I think I’m entitled to.”

Here’s what I hear:

“All the other churches go along with this stuff, so why won’t you? What’s wrong with you? Why are you so uptight?”

“Of course I love you, Catholicism! That’s why I want to see you change.”

“No one can possibly love you, you Catholic Church, if you keep on acting this way. I’m the only one who could put up with you, and you better give in, or I’ll leave, too.”

It’s the language of Catholic dissenters — including myself, at times, to my shame. It’s the language of people who have heard her say “no” very clearly — “no” to contraception, “no” to women priests, “no” to gay sex. But they love her, they say, so they just keep chipping away, threatening, negging, pressuring and wheedling, priding themselves on their persistence in trying to wear her defenses down, to turn her “no” into a “yes.”

When we hear pressure and threats from a would-be rapist who clearly despises women as much as he craves their companionship, it’s easy to see these tactics for what they are: Abuse. An abuser allows himself to speak this way because he doesn’t really recognize the humanity of his victim. He sees her primarily as something that could potentially deliver what he wants, if only she would know her place and cooperate with his demands. He sees her primarily as a thing, and not as a person.

I am here to tell you that the Catholic Church is a person. It is the Body of Christ. And the Body of Christ has a right to her bodily autonomy. She is not here to assume whatever position will satisfy our current appetites, whether they’re intellectual or spiritual or psychological or social. The Church is Someone, not something, and she has the right to say “no.”

Now let me make some disclaimers, because I know I’ve said something tough to hear.

When I talk about people pressuring the Church to change, I’m not talking about people who are sincerely struggling, even angrily struggling, bitterly struggling, fearfully struggling with some of the hard teachings of the faith. Healthy relationships have struggles. I struggle, sometimes angrily or bitterly or fearfully, with some fundamental teachings of the Church, just as my own beloved husband almost certainly struggles with some of the things that make me fundamentally me. It’s not always easy being in love. So I’m not saying that struggling with doctrine is abuse. Struggle is normal, and struggling with the Church does not make us abusers.

And more importantly, I’m not saying that the Church is not in need of change. God knows it is badly in need. Sometimes there are things about your beloved that ought to change, and insisting on that change sometimes truly is an act of love. Many loving spouses will eventually find occasion to hold their beloved to account for intolerable behaviors which must be changed if the marriage can survive; and so it it is with faithful Catholics and the Church. Wanting to reform what is wrong in the Church does not make us abusers.

Does the Church need reform? Oh literally sweet Jesus, yes. The hierarchy and much of its pastoral authority is deformed almost beyond recognition. They don’t even seem to realize that they have lost our trust and need to work to regain it. There are abusers in power. There are structures in place that make it impossible to hold abusers and their enablers to account. There are too many ways to keep horrible secrets; too many places for abusers to hide. God’s word is used to shout down victims and their defenders and to amplify hypocrites, opportunists, and predators. This is the state of the Church today. These are the things that must, please God, change.

But these grotesqueries, these deformations, are not who the Church herself is. They are like parasites living off the Body of Christ. They fight like mad to preserve their host, not because they love her, but because they need their daily feeds. They must be scoured away so that the body of Christ can be pure again. I don’t know how, but I see it must be done.

But there is change, and there is change. If we want to preserve our loving relationship with the Body of Christ and not unwittingly fall into patterns of abuse against her, we must learn to make the distinction between who the Church is, and what her members and her representatives do — what they have done, in fact, to her. The latter must often be changed; the former is inviolable.

We can learn who the Church is by what she teaches, what she says. And sometimes, what she says is “no.” This is inviolable. She is inviolable.

Lately, we have perhaps become used to thinking of the Church as the abuser. So many people have been maligned, mistreated, guilted, shamed, or literally raped by those who call themselves the Church. But we must see clearly. Those who abuse and enable abuse in the name of Christ are not the Church; they are to the Church as a pimp is to a sex slave. They will defend her, not because they love her, but because she brings them power and money. They are the ones who must repent and reform, not her. She is the victim. She is not the one who needs to change. The Church is a person, and she has the right to say “no,” both to those who abuse her outright, and to those who want to blame her for being abused.

We will not purify the Body of Christ by attacking what and who she is, and that includes what she says. No means no. Like anyone whose demands have been rejected, we don’t have to like it, but we do have to accept it, especially if we say you love the Church. She is someone, not something. When she says “no,” she means “no.”

 

Image: detail of photo by Stefano Merli via Flickr (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 146: Tutto il Formaggio

What did we eat this week? Oh, wait till I tell you.

Recipe cards at the end.

SATURDAY

On Friday and Saturday, l’uomo and I went away! We did! It’s our anniversary this month. Twenty-one years, my friends, and it gets better and better. We had three days and two nights at the beach — longer than we’ve ever been kidless together since the day we got married — and enjoyed ourselves immensely. But I’m only gonna tell you about the food.

First night, he had the surf and turf

and I had about a bathtub’s worth of lobster formaggio.

Sharp, creamy, and wonderful. We also had lobster-stuffed mushrooms and lobster rangoon. We, um, we like lobster. I only ate half and then of course accidentally left my leftover package in the restaurant, rather than bringing it to the hotel and then accidentally leaving it in the mini fridge.

We staggered back to our room, with its sweet little ocean view balcony and there were champagne and strawberries waiting for us, plus a lovely little plate of cheeses and fruits

I’m finding it hard to believe that we ate this that same night, to be honest, after all that lobster. Maybe we ate it the next day? I do recall having a hearty breakfast the next day, and then we spent a lot of time clambering around on rocks gawking at tide pools and snickering over the people waiting in line to get into the Social Distortion concert. Someone had written BRIANNA I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU on one of the shuttered souvenir shops. And then there was this:

This has been my approach, as well, and it’s worked well for me. Hey, it’s the off season. And then more tide pools! Tide pools are the best. Look at all those little baby mussels!

We weren’t ready for dinner, as such, but a little light snack sounded all right, so we had some cocktails with a dozen oysters with plenty of horseradish, and a charcuterie board. I didn’t know what that was, but food that comes on boards has never yet disappointed me. This one was exceptionally good, with various dried meats, roast beef, pickled vegetables, sharp and tender cheeses, hot crusty bread, honey, fig paste, and the most amazing mustard.

It seems silly, but I can’t say enough about this mustard. It just transformed everything. Tell me about fancy mustards that you know about! I don’t even know what to search for, but I have a food processor and I want to be a part of this.

I think maybe it was now that we brought the strawberries out? And the other cheeses? What I’m trying to say is, salt air really gives you an appetite. We didn’t drink the champagne, because we never drink the champagne. We now have three bottles of champagne in the refrigerator, left over from last Valentine’s Day and also our 20th anniversary. I honestly don’t know why we keep buying it. If you want it, you can come over and get it. The mustard is all gone, though, so don’t get your hopes up.

Anyway, we had a nice time. Such a nice time. I love that man.

SUNDAY
Vermonter sandwiches

Back to life! Back to sandwiches without even a little bit of lobster in them. These particular sandwiches are a favorite around here. Slices of roast chicken or turkey, slices of tart green apples, bacon, thick cheddar cheese, and honey mustard on ciabatta rolls.

You can toast the whole thing for a few minutes if you like. Yum yum.

MONDAY
Various antipasti; suppli; linguine with ragu; lemon ices; pizzelle cannoli

So, on some random Monday in early October, we have a day off school for no reason and eat Italian food. Fine, it was for Columbus Day. Fight me.

We start with suppli, also sometimes called arancini. These are breaded, deep-fried balls of risotto with a core of melted mozzarella. YEAH, SORRY ABOUT COLUMBUS DAY. I’m so glad you don’t celebrate Columbus Day, because then you don’t have to eat suppli. They’re really not very good. They aren’t the food of the gods or anything. You wouldn’t wet yourself because of how meltingly fabulous they are. Don’t be silly.

When they’re frying, you don’t have to physically restrain yourself from reaching into the hot oil to grab a wonderful golden ball of glory

They don’t rest on the plate, fragrant and smiling, inviting you to break through the tender, crisp shell into the creamy risotto within

and when you break it open you won’t whimper with delight as the mozzarella meltingly swoons across your plate

It’s just food. It can’t possibly be that good, my stars. Get ahold of yourself.

We also had an assortment of antipasti, into which I put very little effort, because making suppli is exhausting, man. I cut several Bosc pears into wedges and wrapped them with paper-thin prosciutto, and that was nice. We also had various olives and marinated vegetables, cheeses, salamis, breadsticks, artichoke hearts, pesto, sun dried tomato bruschetta, and whatnot. Very pretty.

I knew I shouldn’t eat another suppli, but I did it anyway.

The night before, Damien had made his magnificent ragu, which is a tomato-less meat sauce with ground pork and beef, celery and carrots, garlic, lots of red pepper flakes, and tons of anchovies that just sort of melt. We briefly considered grinding up some pancetta, but life suddenly seemed short, so we went with a mere two meats. I haven’t written up a recipe card yet, so I’ll just link to the Deadspin recipe for now. You must try this. It’s so simple and so amazingly good.

Does it look like much? No, it does not.

But it smells and tastes like if pasta went to heaven, and this is who it gets to spend eternity with: ragu. I don’t know where me eating it fits into this cosmology, but there you are.

I had made a desultory supermarket search for cannoli shells, but quickly gave up and bought those snowflake-shaped pizzelle cookies

(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

and topped them with a scoop of simple cheese filling (ricotta with confectioner’s sugar and a little almond extract), shaved dark chocolate, and a few maraschino cherries. Nobody complained! But I forgot to take a picture.

And! I just found out this minute that you can actually make cannoli shells using pizzelle cookies. You put them in the microwave on high for 30-40 seconds and quickly roll them around something round, like a broom handle. They harden right up, and then you can fill them. What do you know! Next year in Jerusalem or what have you.

TUESDAY
More ragu on spaghetti and garlic bread

We had so much leftover food, I didn’t even need to cook more pasta. I just boiled some water and dunked the cooked leftover linguine in for a minute, swished it around, and then drained it. Good enough for the likes of us. We even had leftover garlic bread, which is unheard of in these parts.

WEDNESDAY
Pork ramen and roasted Brussels sprouts

I’ve never had “real” ramen, but it’s on my list, and in the meantime, this is a happy little meal. In the morning, I sliced up a bunch of carrots on the wide blade of the cheese grater and put them in a bowl covered with vinegar and sugar. Then I soft boiled a dozen eggs, and then cooked up some boneless pork chops in olive oil until they were almost done, then sliced them thin and finished cooking them with soy sauce.

When it was dinner time, I re-heated the pork in the microwave and cooked up a big pot of ramen, and served it with the pork, the carrots, the eggs, plus some hot sauce (where did my sriracha sauce go? I don’t know) and sesame seeds and crunchy noodles. Good stuff. So many nice variations for Fancy Ramen Nite.

The Brussels sprouts were actually supposed to be part of the Italian meal, but the very idea of green vegetables had been forced vehemently out of my head by vengeful and jealous risotto god. I trimmed them and cut them in half, then mixed them up with plenty of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted them in a shallow pan. Oh gosh, the crisp little charred leaves on the outside. Magnificent.

Roasting is by far my favorite way to prepare Brussels sprouts. You could add bacon or balsamic vinegar or honey, but it doesn’t really need it.

THURSDAY
Beef barley soup and pumpkin date muffins

It suddenly got chilly and rainy after a weirdly hot and humid week, so I was glad I had put off making soup until Thursday. I do a nice, basic recipe: garlic, red onion, carrot, and beef, then beef broth, red wine, and diced tomatoes with the juice, then mushrooms and barley toward the end. You can make the whole thing in the Instant Pot pretty quickly, if you can’t leave it simmering on the stovetop.

 

I also made pumpkin muffins, the first of the season. These are so fast and reliable, with a cozy, spicy flavor, and you can add all kinds of friendly toppings — oats, almonds, wheat germ, or turbinado sugar. This time, I stirred some chopped dates that were lurking about in the cabinet for some reason.

These muffins always turn out wonderfully tender and moist. I got the original recipe from Allrecipes, but I use half the sugar it calls for, and they’re still quite sweet. We usually have these as a quick bread along with soups, or to put in lunches so I feel like a good mother, but you could increase the sugar (or not) and add cream cheese frosting for a pleasant dessert.

Of course you can use this recipe to make loaves, as well. We do muffins because it’s easier to keep track of carbs that way. Speaking of which: T1D kid has over six months under her belt and we haven’t killed her yet! High fives all around! She’s even running cross country now, the maniac.

FRIDAY
Pizza

We have a birthday! I have made some vague promises of a cake. We shall see.

5 from 1 vote
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Suppli (or Arancini)

Breaded, deep fried balls of risotto with a center of melted mozzarella. 
Make the risotto first and leave time to refrigerate the suppli before deep frying. 

Ingredients

  • 12 cups chicken stock
  • 8 + 8 Tbs butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 4 cups raw rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese

To make suppli out of the risotto:

  • risotto
  • 1 beaten egg FOR EACH CUP OF RISOTTO
  • bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs
  • plenty of oil for frying
  • mozzarella in one-inch cubes (I use about a pound of cheese per 24 suppli)

Instructions

  1. Makes enough risotto for 24+ suppli the size of goose eggs.


    Set chicken stock to simmer in a pot.

    In a large pan, melt 8 Tbs. of the butter, and cook onions slowly until soft but not brown.

    Stir in raw rice and cook 7-8 minutes or more, stirring, until the grains glisten and are opaque.

    Pour in the wine and boil until wine is absorbed.

    Add 4 cups of simmering stock and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the liquid is almost absorbed.

    Add 4 more cups of stock and cook until absorbed.

    If the rice is not tender by this point, keep adding cups of stock until it is tender. You really want the rice to expand and become creamy.

    When rice is done, gently stir in the other 8 Tbs of butter and the grated cheese with a fork.

  2. This risotto is wonderful to eat on its own, but if you want to make suppli out of it, read on!

  3. TO MAKE THE SUPPLI:

    Beat the eggs and gently mix them into the risotto.


    Scoop up about 1/4 cup risotto mixture. Press a cube of mozzarella. Top with another 1/4 cup scoop of risotto. Roll and form an egg shape with your hands.


    Roll and coat each risotto ball in bread crumbs and lay in pan to refrigerate. 


    Chill for at least an hour to make the balls hold together when you fry them.


    Put enough oil in pan to submerge the suppli. Heat slowly until it's bubbling nicely, but not so hot that it's smoking. It's the right temperature when little bubbles form on a wooden spoon submerged in the oil. 


    Preheat the oven if you are making a large batch, and put a paper-lined pan in the oven.


    Carefully lower suppli into the oil. Don't crowd them! Just do a few at a time. Let them fry for a few minutes and gently dislodge them from the bottom. Turn once if necessary. They should be golden brown all over. 


    Carefully remove the suppli from the oil with a slotted spoon and eat immediately, or keep them warm in the oven. 

5 from 1 vote
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Vermonter sandwiches

Ingredients

  • ciabatta rolls
  • grilled chicken or turkey, sliced
  • crisp bacon
  • Granny smith apples, cored and sliced
  • cheddar cheese, sliced thickly
  • honey mustard sauce

Instructions

  1. Layer all sandwich elements on roll. If you like, toast the sandwich before adding the apple slices and honey mustard. 

5 from 1 vote
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Cannoli filling

Use to fill cannoli shells, or put a scoop on top of pizzelle cookies. Top with shaved chocolate, rainbow sprinkles, maraschino cherries, etc. 

Ingredients

  • 32 oz ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp almond extract or vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients together and refrigerate until you're ready to use it.

5 from 1 vote
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Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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


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

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

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

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

5 from 1 vote
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Pumpkin quick bread or muffins

Makes 2 loaves or 18+ muffins

Ingredients

  • 15 oz canned pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup veg or canola oil
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • oats, wheat germ, turbinado sugar, chopped dates, almonds, raisins, etc. optional

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter two loaf pans or butter or line 18 muffin tins.

  2. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients.

  3. In a separate bowl, mix together wet ingredients. Stir wet mixture into dry mixture and mix just to blend. 

  4. Optional: add toppings or stir-ins of your choice. 

  5. Spoon batter into pans or tins. Bake about 25 minutes for muffins, about 40 minutes for loaves. 

Parenting strategies I’ve changed … because I’ve changed

My children range in age from 20 to three – almost a big enough span to comprise two generations. Naturally, the older kids think the younger ones get away with murder. The love to talk about how strict I used to be, how inflexible, how unreasonable.

And they’re right. It’s not just that I had more energy to hold the reins tightly when I was a young mom; it’s that I had a very different idea of how kids should be treated. I was wrong about a lot of things, and much of that wrongness stemmed from wrong ideas I had about myself – about my self-worth, about my value, about my capabilities.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

How to Choose the Right Godparent: Baptisms can bring fallen away Catholics back to the faith

Ms. Nelson often has the unpleasant task of telling parents they cannot honor friends with the godparent role because they are not Catholic or because they are in an invalid marriage.

“No one gets involved in church ministry because they want to make people unhappy,” Ms. Nelson said. “It’s very difficult. If this person is taking tentative steps [toward the church] and is hit with obstacles, he’s going to say, ‘Why did I bother?’ and give up. And then I’ll think it’s my fault he’s turned away from Jesus.”

She tries to present the church’s teaching on godparents as a positive opportunity rather than a list of rules. “But sometimes the rules bring people back,” Ms. Nelson said.

Read the rest of my latest for America magazine.

Photo “Double Baptism” by Maria Eklind via Flickr (Creative Commons)