What’s for supper? Vol. 156: New youd, new food!

Hey! If your New Year’s resolution was to cook more, you probably won’t regret it. Over two years ago, I was utterly sick and tired of making the same old things over and over again. So I decided to try one new recipe (almost) every week, and to serve nothing else more than twice a month. That gives me plenty of room to serve frozen chicken nuggets or hot dogs, if that’s what the day calls for; but I don’t want to die of boredom when I look at the menu, either. The planning sucks, but it makes the rest of the week so much easier. So every Friday, I share our weekly menu, with photos and recipe cards or links for meals that aren’t self-explanatory.

If some meal doesn’t work out or someone’s unhappy with what I’m serving, it’s fine, because next week will probably work out better. The kids’ palates have expanded a lot (my basic approach to kids and food here), and I don’t feel that constant dread and misery around dinner, like I used to.

Someday, oh someday, I will organize these Friday food posts into an ebook or at least a format that’s easier to search. I know there are at least a couple of readers who follow my Friday food posts and just make whatever we make, which tickles me pink! I will give you a lot of variety, and I’m always thrilled to hear other people’s weekly menus, too. I care more about food than a lot of people, so I put a lot of effort into it. But just go ahead and try some new foods. Food is nice.

Here’s what we had this week.

I managed to get through the most bakiest time of the year baking hardly anything at all (the kids produced cookies nonstop, though). I did throw together a longed-for coffee cake on Sunday, because I felt bad we didn’t go ice skating. It turned out fine, and this recipe was very easy, with a pleasant creamy vanilla taste. Next time I will put a layer of streusel topping halfway up the batter, though, instead of just on top.

 

We also spent our Christmas money from my father at the local book store, according to tradition. It wasn’t cute or anything when Corrie wanted to pay for hers all by herself, with her own money.

She got a Ruby and Max book and a Frances book.

SATURDAY
Hamburgers and chips

I can’t even bring myself to sift through the calendar and figure out if Saturday was after Christmas or somehow during Christmas or three years ago or maybe Halloween or what. We definitely had hamburgers, which Damien made.

SUNDAY
Roast beef sandwiches, steak fries

The price of chuck went even further down, somehow, so I picked out another couple of likely-looking meaty slabs and Damien cooked them up. He crusts them heavily with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano, then browns them up in a heavy pot in olive oil, then puts them in a 325 oven for about an hour and forty minutes. Then he lets them rest a bit and slices them up. And brings me little bits of roast beef crust to taste while I sit on the couch.

We served the meat with provolone and horseradish sauce on rolls which I refer to as “long boys” to irritate my teenagers. Why did no one tell me of the wine-like pleasure of deliberately using outdated slang to irritate your teenagers? It’s grrrrrreat!

MONDAY
New Year’s Eve Sushi Party!

And also various fancy cheeses and crackers and chocolates and stollen and such from Aldi.

Okay, let’s see: for the DIY sushi, I made some expensive rice, and we also had sliced mango and cucumber and avocado, fresh tuna, seaweed salad, roe, spicy sesame seeds, shrimp, and wasabi sauce, soy sauce, pickled ginger, and some kind of lime sauce, I don’t know what it was, and plenty of nori for rolling, and everyone just did their thing.

I didn’t really put my heart into it this year, but it was still nice. I used this recipe for the sushi rice, and we just sort of made sushi handfuls.

Nobody’s technique really exceeded Corrie levels, but it was fun!

I had also grabbed some cleaned calamari for the sushi, but when it came down to it, I had zero desire to batter fry anything, and you really don’t want raw calamari in your sushi. So Damien cut it into rings and sautéed it in garlic, olive oil, and lemon, and we just ate it. Yum.

Oh, and we had cannoli, which Lena gamely took over, with some alert uniformed attendants to help.

 

Cannoli shells were impossible to find on C*l*mb*s D*y, but they were selling them now, so we took our chance. I forgot to get cherries or chocolate for them, but we had no end of sprinkles in the house. She mixed the ricotta cheese with confectioner’s sugar and a little almond extract. Perfect.

 

Oh, and we had some crostini with sour cream, smoked salmon, and caviar. Because it was a hard year, dammit.

 

Oh dammit, we had raw oysters, too!

I’m going through my photos and starting to doubt our sanity. That was a lot of food. Well, it was a hard year. Salut!

Since this is a food blog, here is a short video of Corrie saying “yellow umbrella.”

corrie yellow umbrella

We watched Horsefeathers. Benny doesn’t remember the Marx Brothers from last New Year’s Eve, and she could not believe how rude they were.

TUESDAY
Chicken shawarma

Birthday! And now there were five teenagers in the Fisher household once more. She requested root beer floats for dessert (she’ll have a party with friends and cake later).

I just noticed someone is about to flick her head while she blows out her birthday candle. This is not a Fisher birthday tradition; my kids are just jerks.

For the shawarma, I bought boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which is by far the best and easiest kind of chicken for this dish. I’ll put the recipe card at the end. This time, I spread the chicken and onions in two pans, so one would brown up faster than the other, and when the hotter pan got a little charred, I mix it all together in one pan and chopped it into morsels, then slid it back in the oven for another five minutes.

We had it with copious olives, tomatoes, cukes, pita bread, feta cheese, parsley, and plenty of yogurt sauce (Greek full fat yogurt with lemon juice and minced garlic). So good. SO GOOD.

WEDNESDAY
Beef barley soup, pumpkin muffins

Back to school already! Several of the kids have been begging for this meal, and I like it, too. Damien’s car has been in the shop forever, so he’s been using my car and, more often than not, doing all my afternoon driving. It was very difficult to stay at home in my pajamas and make soup and muffins with Corrie and listen to Cuban music while it rained outside, but I was brave.

I once again forgot to buy mushrooms, but it’s still a very hearty and tasty soup, with beef, carrots, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and barley, with a rich, peppery broth made of beef stock and red wine.

 

Recipe card at the end. I made it in the Instant Pot, but it’s just as easy to do on the stovetop, as long as you leave at least forty minutes for the barley to cook all the way.

The muffins (recipe card at end) once again turned out tender and pleasant. I had a bunch of walnuts left over from not baking anything, so I sprinkled them on the tops of the muffins.

THURSDAY
Vaguely Vietnamese tacos with ginger pear slaw

This is a Sam Sifton recipe, and I followed it pretty closely, so I won’t bother re-writing it as a new recipe. You make up a simple sauce and then just throw it in a slow cooker with a hunk of pork, cook all day, then shred the pork, pitch it back in the sauce, and serve it on tortillas with an asian slaw and fresh cilantro. Remarkably unfussy for a Sifton recipe. The sauce is sesame oil, diced onion, minced garlic, minced ginger, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, and sriracha sauce. It absolutely smelled like feet, you betcha. Totally worth it.

 

The only changes I made were that I couldn’t find my sesame oil, so I used canola; and I couldn’t find pork shoulder, so I used a pork butt. I let it cook for five hours. Next time I will start sooner and let it cook longer, so it gets even shreddier. I had to wrestle with it a bit; but the taste was definitely there, verrrrrrry savory and pungent and gingery.

 

Oh, and I ran out of cucumbers, so I made the slaw with just carrots, cabbage, and Asian pear, with a simple dressing of rice vinegar, oil, sriracha sauce, and fresh ginger.

The Asian pear was SPENSIVE, my gosh. I don’t know if it wasn’t properly ripe, but I was not wowed by the taste. Cross between a Bartlett pear and a water chestnut, I guess.

Damien LOVED this dish. I thought it was pretty good. The individual elements were not amazing, but together, they did do something special.

I warmed up the tortillas, which I don’t usually bother doing, and that made a difference, too. About 20 minutes in the oven in tin foil.

Oh, so to process fresh ginger, you peel it with the edge of a spoon before dicing or grating. Just in case you don’t know that tip.

FRIDAY
Here is my menu blackboard:

 

So that’s great. Maybe I was counting on the world coming to and end before I had to make supper on Friday.

Okay, now the recipe cards!

Chicken shawarma

Ingredients

  • 8 lbs boned, skinned chicken thighs
  • 4-5 red onions
  • 1.5 cups lemon juice
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs, 2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbs, 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic

Instructions

  1. Mix marinade ingredients together, then add sliced or quartered onions and chicken. Put in ziplock bag and let marinate several hours or overnight.



  2. Preheat the oven to 425.

  3. Grease a shallow pan. Take the chicken and onions out of the marinade and spread it in a single layer on the pan. Cook for 45 minutes or more. 

  4. Chop up the chicken a bit, if you like, and finish cooking it so it crisps up a bit more.

  5. Serve chicken and onions with pita bread triangles, cucumbers, tomatoes, assorted olives, feta cheese, fresh parsley, pomegranates or grapes, fried eggplant, and yogurt sauce.

 

Yogurt sauce (tzatziki)

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

 

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. 

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. 

Must we seek out suffering to please God?

Fairly often, Catholics will shove the suffering soul down the path of more pain, urging her to offer it up, be strong, seek holiness. They subtly chide her for even looking for rest and healing, as if holiness can’t be reached through simple obedience, but must be sought out through self-immolation — the more wretched, the better.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

The womb of the world is a private place

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

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

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

Happy new year! You’re going to die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to stress life’s fleetingness.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

A Case of Conscience by James Blish

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

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

***

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

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

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

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

***

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert



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

***

 

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with rice and lentil soup and all sorts of yumminess

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

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, chips

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

SUNDAY
Roast beef sandwiches, fries

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

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

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

MONDAY
Creamy roast mushroom soup, deli sandwiches

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

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

Look, look at the lovely roasted mushrooms! Lovely.

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY
Christmas brunch, Chinese food

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

and we are we.

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

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY
Pu Pu leftovers, shrimp cocktail

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

THURSDAY
Spaghetti and meatballs

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

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

FRIDAY
Pizza

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

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

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

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

Meatballs for a crowd

Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs. 

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground meat (I like to use mostly beef with some ground chicken or turkey or pork)
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400.

  2. Mix all ingredients together with your hands until it's fully blended.

  3. Form meatballs and put them in a single layer on a pan with drainage. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more until they're cooked all the way through.

  4. Add meatballs to sauce and keep warm until you're ready to serve. 

Evermore and evermore!

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

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

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

 

Nativity icon Photo by Ted via Flickr (Creative Commons)

How to write an honest Christmas letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or you could just casually mention,

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

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

Or you could say,

“We’re so proud of Robert!”

And just leave out the part about

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

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

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

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

“Merry Christmas, my friends.”

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

When anxiety comes disguised as love

Anxiety is like a strangling vine. Rooting it out feels perilous, because you’re afraid that all the wholesome, fruitful shoots will be uprooted along with it. If I stop fretting, will I stop caring? If I stop freaking out, will I stop making an effort? If I’m not suffering, is it really love?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

photo credit: L____ photo_0014 via photopin (license)

Advent is time for silence, but don’t get too comfortable

I have not lived an especially tragic or dramatic life. But like everyone, I have suffered losses and privations, and I have also had burdens lifted and obstacles removed. Strangely enough, the latter—the lifting of burdens and the removal of obstacles—was often more violent and painful and less welcome than the overt trials. Why? For so much of my life, oh how badly I have simply wanted to be left alone, undisturbed. I have wanted to live out my days among the familiar highs and lows of my familiar life, suffering comfortably, crumbling slowly, resisting disruption, wincing at the very thought of change. Slowly eating little chocolates as I count down my days.

But to meet Christ is to be disrupted.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image: The Last Angel by Nicholas Roerich