What’s for supper? Vol. 290: The secret ingredient is Manischewitz

WELL WE HAVE COVID. Pretty mad about it. Feels like the flu. Not pleasant, but nobody’s going to the hospital. Two of the other kids had it last week and another one has it now, plus me. Feeling very lucky we were able to cancel a bunch of stuff and lay low so we can just collapse like bunches of broccoli and ride this out. And feeling very glad for the vaccines, without which this would have certainly been a lot worse.

We did have some good meals this past week. Read on!

SATURDAY
Passover!

We had a great Passover. We had three guests and everyone worked together to put together a pretty seder table

and the food was great.
Gefilte fish, chopped liver

Jump to Recipe

chicken soup with matzoh balls

plenty of charoset

spinach pie bites

and I didn’t get pics, but cinnamon garlic chicken and roast lamb 

Jump to Recipe

–both very easy and tasty. 

And then we washed up real quick and went to the Easter Vigil! Did not get many pictures. Benny and Corrie wore matching yellow dresses with frilly shoulders, and Clara put their hair up in crown braids, and I put yellow flowers in their hair. I sure wish I had gotten pictures. 

Here’s my Facebook status from when we got home:

Before Mass, we ran to the basement to go to the bathroom and saw the pastor, wearing his vestment with the gold thread and the big red gems, coming out of a utility closet with an armload of toilet paper for the women’s bathroom. Mass was 2.5 hours. Lots of adult catechumens. Beautiful chant of the exultet. Candles. The creation story. Ludicrous music from the guitar choir, complete with bongo drums. Babies squalling. Baptism, bells, incense. That one couple that clings to each other the whole time like they’re on a lifeboat from the Titanic. And at the end, the pastor announced that that nice guy from youth group is entering the seminary. More bells. My feet are killing me. The Church is such a mess, but from here, it looks to be thriving.

SUNDAY
Easter!

Easter dinner is wonderful because we can get another crack at all the delicious Passover food, but I’m not stressed out and exhausted with the seder and Easter Vigil plans. A lovely plate, as you can see, with plenty of horseradish. 

MONDAY
Pizza

Monday I went shopping, and started packing up all the special Passover plates and fiddly little wine glasses and whatnot. Aldi pizza was called for. I took a chance on a bacon chicken ranch pizza, and it was fine.

TUESDAY
Taco Tuesday! 

Damien made tacos and they were delicious. 

WEDNESDAY
Leftover lamb, horseradish, maztoh, fresh mozzarella, chopped liver, string beans, roast beef, chimichurri

Seemed like the last day I could reasonably try to set out any Passover food, so I made a this-and-that dinner with plenty of roast beef and a big bowl of chimichurri. 

Chimichurri is fantastic. Spring in a bowl. I made it with Italian parsley and regular parsley, basil, dried oregano because I couldn’t find fresh, plenty of garlic, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and olive oil and wine vinegar. 

The roast beef turned out great, nice and rare and tender. Damien made it, and I asked him not to season it too heavily, because the chimichurri was pretty intense.

We also had fresh mozzarella, raw string beans, horseradish with beets (which just tastes like regular horseradish, but it’s a startling disco color), and matzoh. I briefly considered making bread, but just thinking about it made me tired, so I skipped it. (In retrospect, I was starting to get sick on Wednesday, but assumed I was just a bad person who fails to make bread for her family.)

And it was perfect. 

Perfect!

Before I went to bed, I marinated the big fatty pork picnic I bought so we could have Chinese pork roast the next day, and that was a good idea. 

THURSDAY
Char siu, rice, raw broccoli

So, so the marinade for char siu is very easy. You can add garlic or ginger if you want, but you can keep it super simple and just use these liquid ingredients and have it done in no time. 

Jump to Recipe

I looked up my recipe, and it just said “wine,” which is not helpful. Red wine, white wine, sweet, dry, rice wine, what?? Then it occurred to me that we had half a bottle of Manischewitz lurking on the counter, and I certainly wasn’t going to drink it. It’s heavy, sweet, and sticky purple, and I realized it would be perfect for this pork roast, which wants a nice glossy, glazy, dark red exterior. 

So the meat marinated about 14 hours, ant then I put it the oven at 11:30 — actually, I asked Damien to do it, because I was suddenly feeling an irresistible urge to go lie down. I had a nice argument with myself about whether I was just pretending to be sick and refusing to work because I’m terrible, but eventually I fell asleep, so that settled that. The meat cooked for five hours, and then for the last hour, you add the marinade back into the pan and baste it every ten minutes. It’s a pain in the neck but SO WORTH IT.

Look at my beautiful grisly glossy char siu with the Manischewitz marinade!

Look!

Look.

And it was so moist inside, and so tender it just absolutely collapsed. 

We used the basting marinade as additional sauce for the meat and rice. Just so good.  

Just about the whole family enjoyed this dish, which was very gratifying. 

Then I started getting unmistakably sick, and I retreated into the bedroom and that’s where I’ve been ever since, except for going out to get a COVID test.  So I guess I need to isolate until Monday. Damien’s been bringing me tea and vitamin C drops and taking care of everything. Please pray no one else gets sick! We now have four people isolating in our little house, and that really is the maximum amount of isolation we can physically manage before it becomes meaningless. 

FRIDAY
Hamburgers, fries

‘Tis meat Friday, because it’s within the octave of Easter. We did eat a lot of large hunks of meat this week, so we’ve got that going for us. 

Next week is vacation, which is kind of good because we can all safely be sick and not miss school, but kind of a bummer because there goes our vacation. OH WELL. Somehow we’ll manage. 

 

Chopped liver (chicken liver pâté)

A very rich, pungent, velvety pâté made with cheap and humble ingredients. Spread it on crackers with a little horseradish, or add it to your banh mi. It freezes very well (but takes a while to defrost, as it is dense).

Ingredients

  • 2 to 2-1/2 lbs chicken livers, rinsed and trimmed
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 onions
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • oil for frying the onion
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Put the livers, the raw eggs in their shells, and one onion into a pot with the chicken broth.

  2. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for an hour. (This part looks very weird, but don't lose heart.) Drain off the broth and set aside the livers, onion, and eggs. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, peel them.

  3. Chop the other two onions. Set one aside and fry the other one in oil until crisp.

  4. Using a meat grinder or a food processor, grind up the livers, the boiled eggs, the boiled onion, the fried onion, and the raw onion.

  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and chill. It should be moist and spreadable. If it's too dry and crumbly, add a small amount of oil.

 

Tom Nichols' Grandmother's Leg of Lamb

Ingredients

  • boneless leg of lamb
  • olive oil
  • garlic powder
  • garlic salt
  • oregano

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325.

  2. Slash the meat several times, about an inch deep.

  3. Fill the cuts with plenty of garlic powder.

  4. Slather olive oil all over the meat.

  5. Crust it with garlic salt. Sprinkle with all the oregano you own.

  6. Cover meat loosely with tinfoil and cook three hours. Uncover and cook for another 30 minutes.

 

Chimichurri

Dipping sauce, marinade, you name it

Ingredients

  • 2 cups curly parsley
  • 1 cup Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup dried oregano (or fresh if you have it)
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Put all ingredients except olive oil in food processor. Whir until it's blended but a little chunky. 

  2. Slowly pour olive oil in while continuing to blend. 

 

Chinese pork roast

Marinate the meat overnight, and leave six hours for cooking. Serve over rice

Ingredients

  • 10 lbs pork
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup sweet red wine
  • 1 Tbsp Chinese five spice

Instructions

  1. Mix the marinade ingredients together and marinate the meat overnight.

  2. Drain the marinade and put the meat on a pan with a lip. Cook at 300 for five hours. Cover with tinfoil if the meat is cooking too quickly.

  3. After five hours of cooking, pour the reserved marinade over the meat. Every ten minutes for an additional hour, baste the meat.

  4. Let the roast rest for ten minutes before carving.

 

 

Sing, muse, of the anger of our children

One of the great things about having a big family is that somebody is always mad at you. When I say “great,” I mean that somebody is always mad at you anyway, no matter what you do, so you might as well enjoy it.

It’s hard to explain. I never would have anticipated it, but there is a special kind of exquisite glee that comes with knowing that you’ve revolted your children down to their very souls.  I suppose it’s a small act of defiance, like a conquered people crouching in their cell blocks, grinning at their oppressors as they sing forbidden songs and eat forbidden . . . mouse sandwiches . . . I forget what we were talking about.

Anyway, the point is, I was nearly forty years old before I finally said certain things to my mother about the mistakes she had made in raising me, and it felt very psychologically important to me at the time, and I guess I’m glad I said it; but when I think of her being nearly seventy years old and having to still hear about things she did wrong thirty years ago, I’m kind of amazed she didn’t just smack me. My mother was a good woman, and didn’t do a lot of the smacking she was entitled to.

But this isn’t a heavy essay. I don’t want to talk about all the horrible mistakes one can make with one’s children, the wrong responses, the coldness when there should have been warmth, the weariness when there should have been attention, the sarcasm when there should have been sympathy, the times we forgot to pick them up, the times we got them the wrong present, the times we called them the wrong name, the times we did the wrong thing, and weren’t even sorry, and instead wrote stupid essays about it for clout on the internet.

Instead, I want to tell you about the worst thing my husband and I ever did to our children. They were all unanimously, instantly disgusted with us at the time, and as the years have passed, their revulsion has only deepened.

It has to do with a couch.

Someday, it may come to pass that the Fishers will buy a brand new couch. We’re not there yet, but in the last few years, we have started buying our couches at respectable used furniture stores, and this is quite a step up. We started out our family life acquiring couches by skulking into better neighborhoods at night and seeing what they had dragged out to the curb, that might fit in our minivan, and that seemed fine.

But on this particular day a few years ago, we were still halfway through our evolution from garbage pickers to respectable used furniture buyers, and we had made arrangements to buy a couch from someone online, someone who turned out to be . . . less than respectable.

I seem to have blotted the details out of my memory, but this couch we were going to buy must have been pretty horrible, because we came home without it. But we knew the kids were all waiting in an empty living room, champing at the bit to see the splendid new couch we had found for them. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s disappointing kids. So, I did what any normal mother would do in these circumstances: I said to my husband, “Let’s pretend we got an invisible couch.”

Now, one of my husband’s main jobs in life is to listen to my ideas and say, “No, that’s dumb.” But for some reason, he didn’t do his job on this day. Instead, the two of us parked the rented truck in the driveway, opened the back, and went into an elaborate pantomime of carefully, laboriously unloading first the cushions and then the body of a heavy, unwieldy, slightly wobbly, completely invisible couch.

We shooed the kids out of the way, had some imaginary trouble figuring out how to wedge it through the door and had to back out a few times, scuffed our way through the dining room, slid some furniture out of the way, and set the nothing down, panting, and then asked the kids what they thought.

Well, they thought we were a couple of idiots. And they still do.

I, on the other hand, fall off my actual real couch laughing every time I think about this story. It may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done for no reason at all. Those kids were so profoundly disgusted with us, and for once, we totally deserved it. Somehow, that feels like a some kind of score was evened up.

Let me sing you the song of my people! We’re morons, my husband and I, and there’s nothing our kids can do about it.

***
A version of this essay was originally published on February 22, 2022 in The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by artistmac via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Final quick Lent Film Party Movie Reviews! THE SECRET OF KELLS, I PREFER HEAVEN, and THE MIRACLE MAKER

Man, I really dropped the ball with movie reviews this year. Sorry about that! We did end up watching a few more movies, but not as many as I hoped. Here’s some quick reviews:

The Secret of Kells

It was such a beautiful, such an interesting movie, just visually ravishing.

but I came away unsatisfied. The kids didn’t start the movie knowing that the actual Book of Kells is the Gospels, and they didn’t know it by the end, either. Which is weird! It’s weird to have a whole movie about a powerful book, but never mention what the book is about. It’s okay for a movie not to teach religious things, but the whole lynchpin of the story is that the book, and what preserving it represents, is what chases out evil and darkness. They explicitly say so. And yet they never tell you what kind of book it is. That is a major flaw in the story. There’s also some suggestion that art itself, or the creative process itself, or possibly just uncurtailed creativity, is what conquers evil. But they simply don’t develop this idea. 

I wanted to like the movie, and the images in it were very powerful. But I don’t know what it was about; and for a film that’s absolutely drenched in portent, that’s a problem. Normally I’m not a fan of voice overs, but in this case, I would be in favor of someone recording a simple explainer to tie together all the themes that someone apparently thought were speaking for themselves.  Anyway, I’d like to watch it again, because I’m sure I’m not catching everything, but I was disappointed in how glib it was. 

Audience suitability: Kids ages 7 and up watched it at our house. It’s not gory or anything, but it’s fairly intense, with lots of scenes of violence and war, as well as scary, threatening magical creatures. So not suitable for sensitive kids. (I found the portrayal of war upsetting, myself.) It does portray supernatural powers and creatures as factual, but that’s part of the plot: It’s the struggle between the old pagan world and the new Christian order. So we talked to the kids about how that actually happened (if not exactly as portrayed); and we also talked about how, exactly, Christianity brought light into the darkness. I just wish this movie had demanded a little more of itself.

***

St. Philip Neri: I Prefer Heaven

It’s a long ‘un, and we have only watched the first part, right up until some prostitutes show up and one of our kids asked what a prostitute was and my husband said he would tell her tomorrow, and then he claimed that he said “we” meaning the royal we, meaning me. And then some of the kids went on a class trip to DC, and left their fanny pack of insulin in the Botanical Gardens, and everybody’s alive, but somehow and we haven’t gotten around to watching the rest of the movie yet.

That being said, this is one of the most winsome, appealing, entertaining portrayals of a saint I have ever seen. Also some of the best child actors I have seen in a long time. 

There aren’t many clips available online. Here’s the end of the scene where he has to get the kids together to try to impress the pope, so he’ll be allowed to have his oratorio. 

This is one of the hokier scenes of the movie, but in context, it was also deeply sweet and moving, and they pulled it off, slow motion and all. The way he so humbly and strenuously appeals to the crucifix on his wall, clearly fully expecting to get some response, was really striking. I don’t know anything else about Philip Neri, so I don’t know how accurate the movie is, but the character is a wonderful portrayal of holiness, which is saying something. The actor did a great job of portraying a man with a specific personality, including flaws and bad habits, but also a holy self-forgetfulness, single-mindedness, and joy that really rang true. He also had the most blindingly white chompers I’ve seen in ages. 

It is in Italian with English subtitles. They are pretty easy to read, and the dialogue is not terribly complicated, so everyone got into the swing of it pretty quickly. The story moves along briskly and it has lots of funny parts and plenty of bathos. It’s not a sophisticated movie, but it avoids gooey sentimentality by letting the characters act like real people, even if the situations they are in are painted in pretty broad strokes. 

I also enjoyed seeing the costumes and hairstyles and food of Renaissance Italy (a real breath of fresh air while folks are learning history through, augh, Bridgerton). The whole family enjoyed it, which almost never happens. We streamed it through the Formed app. 

***

The Miracle Maker

A stop motion animation movie from 1999. Kind of a strange movie. 

I don’t disagree with anything Steve Greydanus wrote in his review of this movie, which he recommends every year. They did several tricky scenes extremely well; they used various kinds of animation to great effect; they were very clever in how they framed the whole thing, making Jairus’ daughter a full character who actually knew Jesus and spent time with him. And they more or less pulled off showing Jesus as someone with supernatural power and also as a magnetic man you would want to be friends with. That’s a lot!

But I’ve seen this movie three or four times, and I always find it mildly off-putting. Part of it is that Ralph Fiennes sounds so unlike Jesus to me. It’s partly just the timbre of his voice; but it’s also his delivery. Anyone would have a hard time figuring out how to deliver the mega-familiar lines from the Gospel, but he largely decides to go full Charlton Heston, all sweat and megaphone. Yes, the material is dramatic, but the constant sturm und drang approach just washed over me and didn’t leave a mark. As someone who’s heard those words a thousand times, a more subtle and thoughtful reading might have caught my attention. 

But at the same time, if I were completely unfamiliar with the life of Jesus and the basic tenets of Christianity, and someone showed me this movie as an introduction, I would come away thinking it was an incoherent mess. It’s very episodic (which, admittedly, the Gospels also are; but if I were making a 90-minute movie, I’d keep the themes and structure very tight, and they did not), and Jesus doesn’t appear to be following any discernible plan, but just sort of chasing his moods. He comes across as a little bit nuts, honestly. The writers lean too much on the viewer to connect the dots and make sense of who Jesus is and what he’s trying to achieve. It should have been six hours long, or else they should have been much stricter about what belonged in the movie. It’s hard to say why they chose specific scenes and left others out. 

I also struggled with the faces of many of the characters who were supposed to be appealing. Jesus himself was mostly good to look at, so that was a relief; but the child Tamar and several others were goblin-like and unpleasant to watch. 

But, the rest of the family liked it. I did like many scenes, and the crucifixion sequence was very affecting. My favorite scene is the miraculous catch of fish, which shows Jesus laughing as they struggle to drag all the fish into the boat, which I guess he would have done! 

I think it’s a good thing to see lots and lots of different portrayals of Christ, so that the ones that ring true for you get lodged in your head, rather than just the one someone happened to show you that one time you saw a Jesus movie. So this is a more than decent choice for one among many. 

***

And I guess that’s all we’re going to manage this year! We want to finish I Prefer Heaven, definitely.

Here are my previous Lent movie reviews from this year:

The Jeweler’s Shop

Fiddler on the Roof and The Scarlet and the Black

Ready or not, here comes Easter!

 

Small ways to make your Triduum more holy (even if you’re busy)

Nobody told me it was Holy Week this week! And so I didn’t know.

I totally did it to myself. I usually feel so terrible about spending Holy Week frantically doing last-minute shopping for frilly dresses and tights and chocolate and candy for the kids, when I ought to be pondering my own mortality. This year, vowing to keep my priorities straight, I did all the shopping and fussing far ahead of time, and filled up my bedroom with bags and parcels of Easter goodies all packed away, ready to be brought out when the season was right.

The upshot was that, when Holy Week actually arrived, I had no clue. I had deprived myself of the usual cues of furtive guilt and desperation, and there was nothing to replace it. Now it’s almost Good Friday, everything’s ready, and I’m completely disoriented.

Jokes aside, I have been thinking about how to keep Holy Week holy — beyond, of course, the traditional fasting, praying, and giving alms, which I assume you already know about! Very few of us can simply drop out of our everyday routine and focus entirely on spiritual things to prepare for Easter. We have to live our everyday lives while still somehow preparing ourselves for the most holy and solemn and meaningful three days of the entire year. How do we pull that off?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Loïc LLH, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Confessions from the confession line

So many people are being received into the Church this Easter! Congratulations, my new brothers and sisters. I’m so glad you’re here. Your new faith is wonderful, and soon you’ll see how liberating it is, how illuminating, and above all, how much sense it makes!

That is, unless you’re going to confession.

Oh, not the sacrament itself. The sacrament of confession is the greatest thing in the world, next to Cadbury eggs. Um, and the Eucharist. There is nothing better than going into a dark box all laden, dirty, and bruised with sin, and coming out lighthearted, clean and healed. Magnificent!

But the confession line.

Oh, the confession line.

I love my parish. But oh law, I hate going to confession there. It’s hard enough to snag whatever surly teenager I can find, examine my conscience in a way that even resembles thoroughly, and, when I arrive at the quiet church, to control the ragged panting of a fat old mother who can never remember that confession is at 2 and not—NOT!!!—2:30.

It’s hard enough, I tell you. But what makes it almost unbearable is what happens while we’re waiting in line. Here’s a typical scene: It’s a few minutes before 2:00. I open the door and scan the dim church for anything resembling a line. What do I see? An amoeba-like blob of penitents in the pews. Their formation is line-like here, but unintelligible there. Who is first? Who is last? Are some of them just praying, or what?

The old ladies twitter among themselves; the few solitary college guys are sitting with patient endurance, just itching to be gallant and wholesome at a moment’s notice. Mantilla-and-Denim-Skirt Lady is whispering furiously at her floppy sons, who are flopping around the pews; and the old men lean on their canes, openly glaring at the world.

“Well,” I think, “I don’t know what the order is here, but I’m clearly last.” So I tiptoe over to a fellow with a bristly beard and a posture of equal parts humble piety and pure rage. He sits far from the rest of the gathering, so I whisper, “Excuse me, are you at the end of the line?”

And he bellows back, in the voice of the reformer, “I am at the FRONT of the line. Confession will be HERE, starting today.” And he gestures at a brand new confessional, which I honestly had no idea was even there.

Everyone’s head pops up. Beard Man is first? This confessional? Starting today? Line??? Nobody knows what’s going on. The muttering begins. A few people slide uncertainly around on the pews, trying to assert their places. No one wants to lose their spot; but on the other hand, this is hardly the time to be pushy. No one wants to have to say, “Bless me father, for I have sinned. I knifed an old lady for cutting in line.”

Cheerful Practical Mom Type takes over, though, and somehow, through pure common sense and good will and a little bit of pushiness, she sets things aright. It looks like she’s got everyone straightened out, and no one is even mad—

but then the worst happens: Slowly, painfully the door swings open again, and a dark silhouette heaves into view.

It’s the Oldest Old Lady of Them All.

She has a walker AND an oxygen tank. All eyes are glued to her as she shuffles and groans on her wretched pilgrimage down the center aisle. Maybe she’s headed to the Sacred Heart altar for a quick prayer? Is she? Oh no. She’s headed for the confessional—straight for what most of us have now agreed is the beginning of the line.

One medium-old lady hisses to another, “She doesn’t know where to go. WE’LL tell her.” My blood runs cold. I’m going to have to prepare a statement for when the police arrive, and it’s not going to be pretty.

But before any old lady violence can break out, God be praised, the priest appears. Walking more briskly than a man with his workload has any reason to walk, he zips down the length of the darkened church, snaps on a few lights, and a sunny smile cracks his face as he faces the crowd of penitents.

“Good afternoon, everyone!” he says. “Thank you for coming. Now, about the seating.”

OH, HALLELUJAH! a nearly audible mental chorus responds. For we are broken. We are a shattered people. We came to be healed, but here was only more darkness, more confusion, more tangled webs of resentment, malice, uncertainty and despair. About the seating! This glorious man, this prince among priests, HE will show us the way. He will tell us where to sit, and then we will know if we are first or we are last. He has come to save us.

“The seating,” he continues. “Here’s what I’d like you to do, is just … just move back a bit. We don’t want to sit too close, because then we can hear each other. So, don’t worry, you can keep your places—just move back a bit. All right? All right.”

And he disappears into his box.

Ah, to be a priest. Ah, to have nothing but the petty cares of a thousand souls, a dozen antiquated buildings, an order of nuns, a bishop, a soup kitchen, and a million ministries and classes and organizations and charities and fundraisers and whatnot.

Is he overworked? Is he under-appreciated? Is he living the life of a martyr? Pish tush. A priest knows nothing about true suffering, and this is why: At least he always knows where he’s supposed to sit.

 

Image source

What’s for supper? Vol. 289: Human monster

Can it possibly already be time for another What’s For Supper? I suppose so! And we’re creeping up on Vol. 300, goodness. When I hit 200 food posts, I did it all in rhyme. What’s your vote? Another poetry one for #300, or some other way to commemorate the momentous occasion? As always, I’m open to all ideas and will probably accept none of them. 

Here’s what we et this week:

SATURDAY
BLTs for home kids, and birthday cake; Jamaican food for adults

Irene’s birthday! She requested BLTs and admitted that, although it sounds bad and neglectful for your parents to go out to eat without you on your birthday, actually it’s an awesome opportunity to eat bacon and candy and play Monopoly and watch terrible brain-rot TV without interference. Or at least I think she meant it. Anyway, we threw a present at her, Damien fried up a whole mess of bacon, and then we left.

We tried a Jamaican restaurant. Feeling somewhat enfeebled, we both ordered jerk chicken, coconut beans and rice, and coleslaw, and Damien had fried plantains, and I had a beef empanada. It was good, not amazing, although it did make me want to learn how to make empanadas. We may go back some other day with our adventure pants on and order some goat or oxtail or something. I will say that the table near ours had the prettiest, joyfullest baby I have seen in years, and that went a long way. Solid B+ to Yahso.

When we got home, we had this spectacular Sasquatch cake by Clara:

And a very cryptid birthday it was. Party with friends at some future date. 

She and Lucy left later in the week for a five-day trip to Washington, DC with their class, and sending a flaky diabetic teen out of state for five days has filled me with only the most calm and rational thoughts and feelings, believe me. Corrie helped me prepare some daily snack bags, and who knows, maybe everyone will make it home alive. 

(Of course they will. Their teachers and chaperones are awesome and amazing.)

SUNDAY
Burgers, fries

Damien cooked the burgers outside! Truly it is spring. We got some tender purple crocuses, too, and I spent a happy hour or two finally clawing and clearing the old scraggly last-year’s growth away from the flower beds in front of the house so this year’s youngsters have plenty of room to come up.

Truly, truly, truly it is spring. Still damp and chilly and gritty and a little shuddery and hesitant, but most definitely spring, and not a moment too soon.

MONDAY
Chicken caprese sandwiches, pasta salad

Actually it turns out I forgot the chicken, which is a fairly vital ingredient for this recipe, so I had to run to the store. It’s tips like these that keep people coming back to this food blog.

I drizzled the chicken in olive oil and shook on plenty of oregano, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and broiled it nicely on both sides, and set out ciabatta rolls, tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, salt and pepper, olive oil and vinegar, and don’t forget the chicken.

Isn’t this pretty?

So pretty. 

As I waited for the chicken to cook, happily arranging the cheese on the plate and tucking in basil leaves here and there, I thought of my mother. I love arranging pretty plates of food. My mother very much did not. She loved slapping things in the oven and then slapping them on a plate and gobbling them up while you read about wormholes. She once read an essay in a Catholic magazine urging mothers to make meals more tempting for their families by arranging the food in “wheels and spirals of color.” This particular phrase so incensed her that she wrote a long rebuttal in defense of, I don’t know, the Catholic mother who never asked for this shit, which was published in some loony magazine or other, and won her a steady stream of hate mail for years. My mother was crazy, have I mentioned? But my father was crazier, and it was mainly his fault that she had such a bad attitude about food. Or really, it was his mother’s fault. Oh yes. No time to go into that now. I’ll tell you some day. I’ll tell all!

Thanks to folks to gave me advice for the pasta salad and how to make it more flavorful! You were right, I was undersalting my pasta water. This time I salted it very generously, and I also added quite a lot of the brine that came along with the marinated vegetables I added, and it was pretty punchy.

It had cherry peppers, parmesan cheese, red onions, and . . . misc. I don’t know, I just dumped things. I thought we had better pasta in the house, but I ended up using macaroni, looks like ditalini, and some spinach tortellini, which needed various lengths of cooking time. Not my finest effort, to be honest, but it was okay. 

TUESDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, fancy baked potatoes

Look how fancy.

I just had a potato for supper because I couldn’t stop eating sourdough bread while I was frying sandwiches, and then I didn’t want a sandwich anymore.

This is really too much heavy, salty, starchy, salty food for one meal, but I am so very tired of serving chips with everything. The sad truth is, the family will happily accept raw vegetables and dip as a side dish, but I’m fully capable of serving raw carrots and then getting mad at people for crunching them. I should have been a pair of ragged claws

WEDNESDAY
Chicken tortilla soup, quesadillas, pineapple, birthday cake

I used this Two Sleevers recipe, and will continue to do so, as it’s easy (you blend a bunch of veg and stuff, cook it up, yum,

dump in your chicken and water and tortilla strips, pressure cook, shred the chicken, and you’re done) but I think next time I do, I’ll use less water. It’s very tasty, just could be a little more condensed. I also upped how much chipotle sauce and jalapeño I included, and do you know, by the end of supper, nobody had a cold anymore. 

As you can see, I cut up some pineapple and made some just-plain-cheese quesadillas for the crybabies who don’t like soup, even though there was sour cream, cilantro, scallions, and avocados for the top. 

Damn fine soup. 

Clara made this cute Chun Li cake for Lena’s birthday

and we’ll be going out to celebrate more swankily later on! Oh, birthday season is really in full swing now. One in February, one in March, two in April, one in May, one in June, and one in July. Get ready for cake. 

THURSDAY
Pork bibimbap

Our pediatrician once said she had a theory that, the more children there were in a family, the more likely they were to have extremely complicated nicknames. Then she asked Benny, our ninth child, if she had any nicknames, and Benny said, well, sometimes people call her “Bem Bem Bop, the Human Monster.” So there you are. 

One of the less monstrous things Bem has done is to ask repeatedly for bibimbap, which you can make in a number of ways. The way I opted for this week was to put it off until Thursday, and then, when Damien asked what was for supper, to look so sad and haggard that he offered to do something with the meat if I took care of the rest.

He made some kind of paste with lots of brown sugar, lots of garlic powder, powdered ginger, a little chili powder, a little white pepper, kosher salt, soy sauce, and rub it all over the meat and cook it at 350 on a rack for about an hour, I believe, until it was cooked but not dried out. It was too salty, so he poured some mirin over the top and that cut it quite a bit. Then I sliced it thinly, added a little water to loosen up the pan drippings, and mixed it all up so it all got involved with the sauce. Friends, you can wake up early and make a marinade, or you can just do it like this in like an hour, and maybe it’s cheating, but you end up with meat that tastes like yummy sauce, so you tell me. 

If you ask me what cut of pork I got, I will not know. I’m sorry. I just buy whatever’s on sale. It was the kind from Aldi that looks like a sandworm.

I set out the sliced meat with a big pot of rice, and here is where my mother would have been proud, because I felt zero desire to wheel or spiral anything. I just chunked out a bag of baby spinach, a bag of crunchy noodles, and a carton of microgreens, and whatever bottles in the fridge door that looked vaguely Asian. Then I fried up a bunch of eggs in hot oil and it was off to the races. 

What a beautiful, action-packed, savory, chaotic meal this is. 

Man. I splashed a little shoyu sauce over the top, but didn’t really need it. 

People have different ideas about what constitutes bibimbap. I’ve only ever had what I’ve made myself, and this is what I like: Plenty of piping hot rice, some kind of meat with a strong flavor, preferably two vegetables, some with a crunch, some without; and a crisply-fried egg with a runny yolk. Cold sprouts and crunchy noodles are great. Do what you like!

 

I often make quick pickled vegetables for bibimbap

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Sometimes I sauté the spinach, but this time I just jammed it into the hot rice and let it halfway wilt on the spot, and that was pretty great. 

Here’s a sauce you can use for bibimbap or anything else, really.

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Of course I really mean “anything.” Use it on hot dogs. Use it on gelato. Drizzle it over your daughter-in-law’s belly to divine whether she’s having twins, and see where that gets you. Do what you like!

FRIDAY
Fish burgers, chips, ??

I got some frozen fish and rolls, and a bunch of fresh dill and some lemons and pickles, and that seems promising. Probably we should eat a vegetable.  I make no promises. 

Spicy sauce for bibimbap, etc.

Drizzle this over any meat or dish that needs a bump in flavor. A little goes a long way! Adapted from the New York Times cooking section

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 inches fresh ginger, grated or minced
  • 1/3 cup gochujang
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp mirin (can substitute sweet red wine)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil and lightly sauté the garlic and ginger.

  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir to blend, and continue cooking at medium heat for several minutes until they are thickened.

 

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 kosher salt

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.

A good way to use the adoration chapel

When I was in college, my roommate and I used to hang out in the chapel on campus sometimes. She liked to do her homework there, because it was so quiet and peaceful. Sometimes, if she had the place to herself, she would sing, because the acoustics were so good. I thought both practices were a little weird, and not really the right way to use the chapel, which ought to be used for prayer.

My best friend and I would sometimes hurtle into the chapel and land on our knees to rattle off a few desperate decades of the rosary, begging Mary to help us pass some test we hadn’t studied for, because we had spent the night drinking beer in the woods, instead. I knew some of the upperclassmen (including our big sisters) thought this was a pretty shoddy practice, because the chapel was a spot for quiet, contemplative prayer, not vending machine-style intercessions.

Then there were some tormented evenings throughout my early adulthood when I would turn up in any unlocked church I could find just because it was open and I didn’t know where else to go, and all I could do was sit there and feel terrible because I didn’t know how else to feel. It seemed like at very least it couldn’t possibly hurt to feel that way inside the walls of a chapel.

Then for a long time, after I started my family, I was too busy to go to the chapel. There were years and years where I was barely even physically at Mass on Sundays, because I was always wrestling with a toddler in the foyer, or dragging a screaming baby out of the building, or trotting back and forth to the bathroom with a kindergartener. I looked back on those previous years when the chapel just stood there waiting for me, and I could pop in any time I wanted, and I couldn’t believe how poorly I used that precious time.

There was a good long spell a few years ago when I made wonderful use of the chapel. I had a whole program of prayer worked out, and I made sure I followed through on all of it every time. I prayed every kind of prayer I knew how to do, and I brought a list of people to pray for. I was so busy and so thorough, and did so well. I kept this up for as long as I could, until I got too busy again.

And I’m still busy, sometimes miserably busy, but I decided to sign up anyway. Or I guess because of how busy I am, I decided to sign up. I have started to figure out that the busy-ness doesn’t go away; it just shifts and takes on a different character.

Now when I go to the chapel, I don’t use my time well. I don’t use my time at all. I just sit there. These are strange days, and it seems like there is less and less I am sure of, fewer and fewer things I feel comfortable putting into words, even silently, even in prayer. So mostly I just sit. The time passes slowly.

Sometimes I feel like a rock at the bottom of the ocean, much too heavy to be stirred much by waves moving overhead. Sometimes I fall asleep, and that doesn’t seem so bad.

That’s the good thing about not having an agenda: Even if you can’t manage to stay conscious, you’re not missing anything. All you’re trying to do is be there, and you can do that when you’re asleep. Just be there.

Somebody said that the way to encounter God is to empty oneself, because God cannot bear emptiness, and will fill you with Himself. I can’t say that I have noticed that happening. I have noticed that I have some pity on my past self, though. I no longer look back and think, “Oh, what a fool I was to use the chapel so poorly. I should have known better; I should have done differently.”

Instead, I think, “At least I was there. I was sitting there with the only one in the world who is always glad to see me.” And that’s a good way to use the chapel. Whatever I had at the time, whatever I was, I brought with me, and that’s what I’m doing now, even though it looks a lot like nothing at all. All I do is sit. At least I’m there. I believe it’s a good way to use the chapel.

A version of this essay was first published at The Catholic Weekly on February 16, 2022.

 

Things I learned while DIYing

Lately, I have discovered I have a knack for minor home renovations, and by “minor” I mean “the entire household gets turned upside down for 72 hours,” and by “knack” I mean “nobody stops me.”

It started when I painted the kitchen and put in a new floor and trim and backsplash and ceiling, and then we put in a new bathroom floor (although that was because we had to, due to Sudden Catastrophic Bathroom Collapse; not recommended), and also several new walls and new tiles; and then suddenly the living room ceiling felt intolerable as it was, and so did the dining room ceiling, and then I was like, YOU KNOW WHAT THIS DINING ROOM NEEDS? And because it was afraid of me, it quavered out, “Please give me yellow and white paint and a new black and white floor with stars on it, and install a breakfast nook!” and so I did.

As a chronic over-sharer, I generally document my progress on social media, and people kindly say things like. “You have so much energy!” and this is true. It’s not a virtue. I was just born that way, and I choose to channel it into home renovation instead of world domination, because I don’t know what I did with my passport. They also say ,”You are learning how to do so many things!” And this is also true. In a certain sense.

Here is what I have learned about home renovation projects:

If you’re attempting a project you’ve never done before, always start with the most visible part of the room. This way, by the time you’ve actually acquired some technical skill, you’ll have worked your way around to the part that’s behind the box of mismatched roller skates, and no one will ever see the fruits of your great proficiency; but the section that looks like it was done by a baboon with a meth problem will be front and center for you and your guests to behold every day of your life.

Relatedly: If it’s something you already know how to do, always start the project, when you have plenty of energy and enthusiasm, with the big, easy parts, and leave the fiddly, exhausting, trying bits for the end when you are seeing double, the back of your neck is on fire, and your confidence and self-esteem are at rock bottom.

The reasons for these two rules are unclear, but I follow them every single time, no matter what the project, so they must be vital.

Also important to remember: Many of today’s problems have solutions the seeds for which were planted in your brain many years ago. In today’s project, for instance, I accidentally glued the front door shut. I’m not especially eager to have guests anyway, but my husband was on his way home with hamburgers, so it was looking pretty tragic for a minute.

But then I remembered a little something I had learned many years ago in physics class, a little something about inclined planes, and thinking about it made me remember how stupid I used to feel in physics class, because I never knew what was going on, because I never did the homework; and feeling stupid makes me feel mad, and I got so mad that I kicked the door really hard, and it popped open! And then my husband came home with the hamburgers. So you see, physics really works.

It’s not just you: They really have started printing directions smaller and lighter. What helps me is to fetch my reading glasses, turn on my phone’s flashlight, sometimes take a photo with my phone, enlarge it, and THEN ignore it completely and do it however I feel like, and then become baffled and enraged when it turns out horrible, the glue doesn’t stick, the pieces don’t join, the screws strip, the bits fall out, the center does not hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, and also some stray macaroni gets painted right into the windowsill. It’s not just you. It’s a conspiracy.

It’s very easy to lose track of time when you’re immersed in a long project, but you do want to pace yourself. If you’re not sure what time it is and you can’t see a clock, just look at the bit of work in front of you and imagine hitting it with a hammer. If the very notion makes your brain go red with hot, hot desire, the hour is probably Late, and you should probably take a little break. Stand up for a while, stretch your legs, and go lurk by the kitchen sink and eat fistfuls of stale cake and questionable deli meat. This will clear your head until you can admit to yourself that you already hit the thing with the hammer, probably more than once, and you know perfectly well that’s not what “wabi sabi” means.

You can probably cover the smash marks with caulk, though. But you still may want to stop for the day, because the doctor has asked you to try to avoid the redbrain thing if possible.

Finally, don’t forget your yoga. Many of the stretches and poses will come in handy to help you sustain your peace of mind throughout the project. For instance, suddenly climb down from your ladder and assume corpse pose. This not only relieves tension in your whole body, it terrifies the children, and they stop asking stupid questions and run away.

I hope these tips help you in any projects you may undertake. Remember, if you have any questions at all, do not hesitate to reach out and ask, and I’ll be happy to help if I can. My door is always open. Unless I’ve glued it shut again.

 

A version of this essay was originally published in The Catholic Weekly on February 20, 2022.

What’s for supper? Vol. 288: Paneer, and yet so far

I do believe I’ve picked up some new readers! Welcome. Also welcome to a few people who are fasting and praying for my conversion, what the heck. To everyone who’s here for whatever reason, I usually do a Friday food round-up, with photos and recipes of the meals we cooked for our large family for the week. Except I didn’t get around to it yesterday, or last Friday. So here’s a little catching up:

Oh, but first, there was the Friday before that! I was threatening to make those San Francisco Vietnamese garlic noodles from the NYT. A few friends warned me they were rather bland, despite the garlic — kind of a lot of garlic, if you’re tripling the recipe —

 oyster sauce, and fish sauce, so I decreased the amount of pasta and increased the sauce ingredients, and I thought it was tasty. (I also used asiago rather than parmesan, because they are both triangles and I can’t read.) A nice combination of savory and creamy with a tiny bite, not overpowering, but a little off the beaten path.

It didn’t knock my socks off, but I’ll probably make it again, as I usually have these ingredients in my house. And sometime when it’s not Lent, I’ll add caviar as suggested, or maybe scallops.

We also had our Italian feast for St. Joseph’s day with a nice antipasto of whatever wasn’t too expensive at Aldi, and whatever hadn’t expired in the back of my cabinet:

Looks like some fresh mozzarella, some various salamis and other cured meats, pickled vegetables, and tomatoes. I think there were some pickled hot peppers with some kind of cheese filling. And cantaloupe. If you ever had a job prepping breakfast in a hotel while you were pregnant, and the smell of rotten cantaloupe was the most miserable thing you ever inhaled, and you were wondering how many years it would take you to get over it and enjoy cantaloupe again, the answer seems to be [feverish calculations] twenty-five. 

So Damien made spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread, Lucy made suppli, or arancini (breaded fried risotto balls with melted mozzarella in the center)

Jump to Recipe

and Clara made zeppole. Must hunt down her recipe, because they were fab.

And I just sat there and ate. Buona Festa, San Giuseppe!

Looks like that week we also had a pretty chicken salad with toasted almonds, strawberries, and croutons that I did NOT BURN FOR ONCE

That would be mixed greens, grilled chicken breast, fresh strawberries, feta cheese, diced red onion, and toasted almonds, and croutons made of stale hot dog buns, with red wine vinegar.

(And here’s my periodic reminder that the easiest way to toast nuts, to make them crunchy and bring out their flavor, but not to burn them, is to spread them on a plate and microwave them for a few minutes. You can do it in the oven, but there’s no real advantage, and they’re very easy to burn.)

. . . and it looks like I finally got around to putting fennel on a pizza, like I’ve been threatening to do for some time. This one had fennel, fresh garlic, anchovies, feta, fresh parmesan, and artichoke hearts.

What a stupendous pizza. I sliced the fennel in rings, which I feel isn’t quite right, but it tasted great. No ragrets.

Ooh, then on Friday, it was the Annunciation, which is a meat Friday in Lent, so we had roast beef sandwiches with provolone and horseradish sauce on toasted buns,

and a side of caprese salad, which is always nice. 

The roast beef, Damien made by crusting it with I think salt and pepper and garlic powder and searing it in olive oil with lots of garlic cloves, and then roasting it at 350 for about 45 minutes, and then he starts checking it. He lets it rest for a while before slicing it. 

The caprese salad is just fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, freshly ground salt and pepper. I didn’t bother reducing anything.

Okay! Caught up. Now for the week we just finished:

SUNDAY
Chicken quesadillas

Nothing to report. Chicken, cheddar cheese, jalapeños in the quesadillas, salsa and sour cream on the side. 

I do remember that I went shopping and had made up my mind that I was finally going to buy one of those giant smoked turkeys they had at Aldi, that I had been thinking about for several weeks, and that I had planned at least two meals around it. Got there and . . . they were just regular frozen turkeys. Note even a good price. I tried to persuade myself that I wanted to do  Thanksgiving in the middle of the week in March, but it turns out I very much did not. So I wung it. 

MONDAY
Ham, garlic parmesan mashed potatoes, salad, rolls

Meal number 1 that I wung: A “join us for dinner in the church basement”-style dinner. Nothing wrong with that! I did not make an ambrosia salad, however, because that’s an abomination. 

My only tip is that, if you’re not planning to glaze the ham or stick pineapples to it or anything, you can slice it ahead of time and then heat it up, and it makes an easy meal even easier. 

Oh, here’s my recipe for garlic parmesan mashed potatoes. I made five pounds and warned everyone not to go nuts, because there were only five pounds, and they acted like it was death camp rations. That is nearly half a pound of potato per person, not counting the butter, milk, and parmesan! I guess we burn all those extra calories by making an ungodly fuss about everything all the time. 

Jump to Recipe

TUESDAY
Gochujang pork chops, sesame broccoli, rice

Now this was a tasty meal with minimal effort. I started the pork chops marinating in the morning with this sauce

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made of gochujang, honey, sugar, garlic, and soy sauce. I heated up the broiler nice and hot and shoved the chops right under it, and turned them once. They were on the thin side, so I was careful not to overcook them. 

I also love using this marinade on pork ribs and giving them to Damien to cook outside, but the chops turned out great. (It’s also wonderful for gochujang bulgoki, when you include matchstick carrots, sliced onions, and slice the pork before marinating, and you serve it with nori. It’s really just a fine, fine marinade.)

I made a big batch of basmati rice in the Instant Pot, and a big tray of toothsome sesame broccoli

which there is a recipe for

Jump to Recipe

but it’s easy as can be. You just drizzle the broccoli spears with sesame oil and soy sauce, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds, and send them for a short ride under a hot broiler to turn bright green with a tiny bit of char. 

Delicious meal, very easy, minimal cook time. 

WEDNESDAY
Bagels sandwiches with egg and cheese, choice of ham or sausage; OJ

Nothing to report. Well, I employed the very healthful method of frying the eggs in a truly ludicrous amount of butter, and not flipping them over, but cooking the tops by spooning melted butter repeatedly over the yolk, which causes the white to bubble up around the yolk and sort of support it, so you get a little film over the top of the yolk, but it’s still runny on the inside. 

THURSDAY
Nachos

This was the second meal (wait, third?) I planned on the fly, and Damien offered to make it while I was doing . . . something or other. Probably crying. It was an insane week with about 60% more meetings and driving and assignments and complications and drama than necessary. I cooked some ground beef with garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin, and he made one tray with just that, and one tray with that and also jalapeños, and leftover roast beef, and leftover chicken, and of course cheese. 

Maybe it was just the “somebody else made dinner” talking, but I thought it was delicious. 

FRIDAY
Saag paneer, naan

Well, this was a semi-tragic finale to an exhausting week. All week, I had been looking forward to trying this Instant Pot recipe (it also has stovetop instructions). I love Indian food, I love spinach, I love creamy things. I figured the kids wouldn’t like it, but they can go to hell, I mean make themselves toast. I did have an extremely busy schedule, but I got up and finished up some editing and sent off some articles and wrote some interview questions, then briskly set to work prepping all my saag paneer ingredients and making the dough for naan. 

Or, well, I was going to, but we were out of yogurt, and so was the only convenience store in town. So I zipped into the next town because I needed paneer, anyway. I was still sort of unclear about what paneer was, exactly. I made some inquiries, and learned that it is cottage cheese, sort of, but not really. And it has been a kind of trying week, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask social media a cheese question. I just wasn’t feeling up to it. So I went to the international market, and they had one kind of paneer, so that settled that. Bought two blocks and zipped home.  

I cooked the first part of the saag paneer with all the vegetables, and of course it smelled great

— and here I had a little larf to myself, because I experienced Spinach Panic, where you follow the directions for cooking a pound of spinach but it still seems like THIS CAN’T POSSIBLY BE RIGHT

but it is right, it’s just cooking with fresh spinach. Two minutes later, it was fine:

Did a little more work, went to adoration, went to pick up the kids from school, and then got back to finish up this meal, with the house already smelling most excellently. 

I open the Instant Pot top, and it’s going along great, and then I get up to the part where you add the little blocks of paneer. Which I did. And I waited for them to melt, and they did not. I stirred, I adjusted the heat, I pressed on them, I stirred some more, I did everything I could think of. They remained intact. 

Okay, if you’ve ever cooked with paneer, you know what the problem is: The problem is, I’m an idiot. Paneer is not supposed to melt. Because it’s . . . cottage cheese, sort of. And I would have known this, if I had asked social media, or . . . READ THE RECIPE. Which clearly states, “Add Paneer cubes and Garam Masala to it. And cook it further on saute mode for about 5 minutes. Your Palak Paneer is ready.”

Why did I think the paneer would melt? I have no idea. The recipe also included a photo of the finished dish, clearly showing the green puree with the white paneer cubes bobbing merrily around on top. This made no impression on me whatsoever. I was still angrily prodding the paneer with a wooden spoon, trying to force it to melt, because it is cheese!  So I finally poured the whole thing into the food processor and whirred it until it was all blended, and I put some more salt and garam masala and chili powder and lemon juice in, heated it up again, and that is what I served. 

It was actually really good. Very hearty, lots of flavor. Just . . . not really saag paneer.

The good(?) news is, I have a whole other block of paneer, and lots of leftover saag paneer with paneer blended up in it, so if I wanted to, I could make ultra paneer saag paneer! If I wanted to. Or I could just draw a veil over this whole episode and have my husband take me out for Chinese. 

Hey, the naan turned out great. It was tender and pleasant to eat. I made 32 pieces, which is kind of a miracle, considering I was frying it one piece at a time at the end of the day at the end of the week while having a mental breakdown over the fucking paneer. 

So, for the naan, I used this King Arthur recipe, which is nice and simple. It takes about an hour to rise, and then you just cut it up, let it rest, roll the pieces out, and fry them in a hot pan. I used the standing mixer to knead the dough and it turned out a little stickier than it was supposed to, so I used lots of flour when rolling the pieces out. I found it was helpful to keep a wet dishtowel by the stove to wipe out the burnt flour the accumulated in the the pan, in between frying. I tried both an iron frying pan, as the recipe called for, and a T-Fal double wall stainless steel frying pan, and didn’t notice any difference. 

This is a picture of last time I made naan. I have a new picture of the new naan, but I lost my phone. I can hear it dinging somewhere in my bed, but I can’t find it. 

And now we are all caught up. If you have any tips about cooking, please keep them to yourself, as my brain has completely smoothened over and is not accepting new information at this time, thank you. 

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. 

 

Garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs potatoes
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 8 oz grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Peel the potatoes and put them in a pot. Cover the with water. Add a bit of salt and the smashed garlic cloves.

  2. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer with lid loosely on until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

  3. Drain the water out of the pot. Add the butter and milk and mash well.

  4. Add the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste and stir until combined.

 

Gochujang bulgoki (spicy Korean pork)


Ingredients

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

sauce:

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

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

Instructions

  1. Combine pork, onions, and carrots.

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

    Cover and let marinate for several hours or overnight.

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

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

 

Sesame broccoli

Ingredients

  • broccoli spears
  • sesame seeds
  • sesame oil
  • soy sauce

Instructions

  1. Preheat broiler to high.

    Toss broccoli spears with sesame oil. 

    Spread in shallow pan. Drizzle with soy sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds

    Broil for six minutes or longer, until broccoli is slightly charred. 

Texas Right to Life in disarray following Graham-Beckman scandal

By Damien and Simcha Fisher

The fallout continues after the affair between Texas Right to Life’s Jim Graham and Veritatis Splendor’s Kari Beckman, now threatening the existence of the Lone Star State’s most influential pro-life organization.

“The viability of Texas Right to Life is at risk,” claims a lawsuit filed this week by Elizabeth Graham, Jim Graham’s wife.

The lawsuit claims that Texas Right to Life, which was the major force behind the controversial “Texas Heartbeat Act” (SB8), has been in tatters and is rife with infighting after Graham’s husband was forced to resign in October. Elizabeth Graham claims board member Rich DeOtte is using her husband’s disgrace to seize control of the organization, humiliate her, and force her out.

“The purpose of these efforts is to, quite obviously, elevate himself as ‘saviour’ of the organization, take over its helm, and lead its operations,” Elizabeth Graham’s attorney, Brock Akers, wrote in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

DeOtte did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Walter Pate, a Texas Right to Life board member and another named defendant, declined to comment when reached.

“There is a suit that’s been filed and I cannot speak about it. I don’t trust the press. I don’t trust the press,” Pate said.

The lawsuit includes 50 named plaintiffs: Elizabeth Graham and various stakeholders of the group. That list includes Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in his personal capacity. Miller did not respond to a request for comment.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry was also listed as a plaintiff in the original complaint, but was removed in the amended complaint filed this week. 

When Jim Graham was forced to resign as president of Texas Right to Life in October after his affair with Beckman was revealed, Graham’s wife Elizabeth, who was then serving as vice president, took his place. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the organization from ousting her as president. 

The lawsuit claims that DeOtte started maneuvering to get Elizabeth Graham removed as soon as she became president. He declared himself chairman of the board, a position that previously did not exist, and he put Teresa Doyle into an interim executive director’s position, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that Elizabeth Graham, as president, pushed for severance payments for her husband after his affair threatened both her marriage and the organization. The narrative in the lawsuit is somewhat unclear, but seems to imply that DeOtte used those severance negotiations as leverage to cement his new position as chairman. 

Throughout these weeks of strife with the board, Elizabeth Graham was also dealing with the emotional devastation wrought by her husband’s affair, according to the lawsuit. Those close to her urged her to take time off.

“Plaintiff Elizabeth Graham was feeling the need and interest in taking such time off, but was nervous about the continued machinations of the Board members, much of which was going on behind her back,” the lawsuit states.

She was finally assured by Doyle and by another named defendant, human resources consultant and board member Jeff Lowery, that she could safely take time off and return to her job with Texas Right to Life, according to the lawsuit. She was directed by the board’s outside attorney, David Gibbs, not to spend any Texas Right to Life money while she was away.

Elizabeth Graham went on sabbatical from Dec. 14 through March 14. Within weeks of her departure, Lowery raised Doyle’s salary by $35,000, and also raised the salary of nearly all Texas Right to Life employees. Texas Right to Life is a non profit and is, according to the lawsuit, dependent entirely on donations. 

“Without an official Board meeting, the raise for new Executive Director Teresa Doyle was put in place along with raises for all other members of the TxRTL staff. Everyone, that is, except Plaintiff Elizabeth Graham,” the lawsuit states. Graham, in fact, was demoted while she was gone. 

Elizabeth Graham returned from her sabbatical and found that not only had she alone not gotten a raise, and must now report to Doyle. 

“Plaintiff was dumbfounded, hurt, and left wondering how the events which came to light in October, of which she was frankly a victim not a participant, could have resulted in this turn of events,” the lawsuit states.

Before she returned to work in March, Gibbs told Elizabeth Graham that she could not go to the office until she met with Doyle and Lowery to discuss her newly demoted role. Graham was also told the annual board meeting, set for this week, would now take place offsite from the Texas Right to Life offices in Houston, which she took as an affront. 

Elizabeth Graham responded by getting her own lawyer, and on March 22, Gibbs sent Graham a letter terminating her employment. The lawsuit accuses DeOtte and others of violating Texas Right to Life’s bylaws by firing her without following the correct procedures. She is seeking an injunction against Texas Right to Life over her termination. A hearing on the injunction is set for April 12 in the 165th District Court in Houston.

The struggle for control of Texas Right to Life echoes a similar upheaval at the organization headed by Kari Beckman, Jim Graham’s partner in the illicit affair that led to his own ouster. 

Graham inherited control of Texas Right to Life from his father, Joseph Graham, who co-founded the organization in 1973; and Jim Graham continued as president and executive director until the revelation of a scandalous affair with Beckman in October. Beckman was at that time spearheading  Veritatis Splendor, a utopian megadevelopment for Catholic families in rural Winona, TX. After the affair between Graham and Beckman was revealed, Graham resigned from Texas Right to Life, and Beckman, after pressure from her own board, eventually resigned from Veritatis Splendor and also from another organization she founded, a Catholic homeschool hybrid called Regina Caeli.

Beckman was also accused of various forms of financial misconduct, using funds from Regina Caeli to pad Veritatis Splendor’s accounts, and for her own personal use. After Beckman was pushed out, Regina Caeli eventually restructured and reconstituted its board of directors to divest itself of any potential influence by Beckman.

Texas Right to Life has not responded to any request for comment.

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