Drawing closer to Jesus in the new year

At midnight Mass, our pastor described a family gathering, where someone had brought a new baby. He said the one thing about a baby is that everyone wants to go see it. A young baby will not physically go and get you; but they have this unmistakable appeal and draw that brings people in and makes them want to come close.

That is how the second person of the Trinity chose to come into the world: Not with muscle, not with cosmic compelling force, but with a simple, perennial appeal: Come see me. And then he sits and waits, and you can either accept the invitation, or not. Very much like a new baby.

Not exactly a new idea, but the older I get, the stranger it seems. But it really is that simple. He does not compel. He merely arrives and is beautiful, and then it’s your turn to draw closer and see what happens next.

Even though the liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of the secular calendar’s invitation of making a fresh start in January, and deciding to make this the year when we draw closer to the Holy Child every day. How? It is not a mystery how we can draw closer to God. He has given us the means….Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image via pixabay license

What’s for supper? Vol. 323: We are an Epiphany people are we are going to bed

Happy Epiphany! It’s Epiphany, right? I get all my liturgical information through social media, and generally through a lens of people arguing over whether it’s actually [whatever day] or not, and if not, which bishop is to blame for this outrage. The impression I have today is that Benedict XVI is in heaven going, “This Beatific Vision is prettty good, but BOY AM I MAD THAT SOME PEOPLE HAVE ALREADY THROWN OUT THEIR TREES.” This is what’s known as “being an Easter people.”  

What I know for sure is this is the time of year when we just have massive dump trucks of food crashing through the walls of the house and unloading food after food after food, and I am powerless to stop it. And I guess I didn’t do a WFS last week, because I didn’t know what day it was, not for liturgical reasons, but just because I am self-employed and my boss is kind of an idiot. So I’ll just do a highlights reel, and you must imagine crowds of cinnamon buns and leftover egg rolls and fudge and buckeyes and rapidly staling tree cookies pushing in from the wings, clamoring to be eaten.  

TUESDAY after Christmas
Chicken salad with pears, pecans, blue cheese

Absolutely desperate for some kind of vegetable two days after Christmas, I made a salad with mixed greens, grilled chicken, sliced pears, toasted pecans, and crumbled blue cheese, with something called “champagne dressing,” which turned out to taste sort of fruity and violently salty, and not in the fun way.

The rest of the salad was good, though. It really was good to have something green that wasn’t green icing. 

WEDNESAY 
Spaghetti carbonara 

I made it with plenty of butter, flat leaf parsley, and freshly-grated parmesan, and it was fab.

Spotlight on carbonara! I think the eggs cost more than the bacon, alas. Strange times.

I think my recipe plugin should be functional again, so here’s the card:
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THURSDAY
Chicken shawarma

Everybody was mad on Thursday and nobody said anything nice about my shawarma, so humph, I said it to myself. This shawarma was simply delicious.
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Boneless skinless chicken thighs were on sale, which is the easiest, tastiest thing to make oven chicken shawarma with.

Marinate in the morning, dump it in a pan with onions in the evening, and do a little chopping and stirring, and you have a top notch meal.We had all the usuals, olives, tomatoes, cukes, feta cheese, pita, and yogurt sauce.

Briefly considered making homemade pita or fried eggplant, but I’m toooooo tired. 

SATURDAY, New Year’s Eve
Lamb, sushi, pork dumplings

I bought a boneless leg of lamb back when it was $4.99 a pound a few months ago, and Damien slow roasted it all day until it was tender and lovely. We have tried more laborious recipes, but this very simple one always turns out the most toothsome.
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Turns out it’s scrumptious with a little dab of wasabi. Boo, I didn’t get any pictures. Too busy eating lamb. 

My contribution was something new this year: Pork dumplings. I followed this recipe for the filling. I had my doubts about a Chinese recipe by someone named Emma Christensen, but man, it was perfect. It only has a few ingredients — ground pork, Napa cabbage, kosher salt, soy sauce, scallions, cilantro, fresh ginger, sesame oil, and eggs — and it’s easy. You shred the cabbage, sprinkle it with salt, and then squeeze it to get the moisture out, and the mix it together with everything else. 

This was my first time using my dumpling press. You just put the wrapper on, plop a heaping tablespoon of filling on it, wet half the wrapper edge, and close the press firmly. 

Very quickly fifty dumplings took shape!

When it was time to eat, I set my bamboo steamer in a pan of gently boiling water and steamed 8-10 dumplings at a time for ten minutes.

It is a double-decker steamer, and you have to line the inside trays with something so the dumplings don’t stick to the bamboo. At first I tried coffee filters with steam holes poked in them, because they were the perfect size, but they still stuck, so I used parchment paper with steam holes, and that worked perfectly, and I used the same paper for all the batches. 

They were just scrumptious. The perfect blend of sharp and savory and gingery with a tiny bit of crunch from the cabbage.  I had some with some jarred sauce, but they were wonderful on their own. Just delighted to have this in my repertoire. 

I made a 2.5X batch of the filling, because that’s how much pork I had, and I ended up only using half of it before I ran out of wrappers; so I froze the left over, and we shall have dumplings again! You can also fry them or boil them. 

New Year’s Eve is also . . . .SHUSHI DAY. Clara had a friend over and Moe came over and we had a lovely time. I made a giant bowl of sweet, sticky sushi rice.

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I sprang for a couple sacks of really good short-grain rice

rinsed it a propitious number of times and cooked it in the Instant Pot, and then the next part takes three people: One to dump the rice into a bowl, one to slowly add the sauce and fold it into the rice without mushing it, and one to fan it vigorously so it dries. 

I have no idea if this really makes a difference for how the rice turns out, but it’s part of the tradition at this point.

Then we also had . . . 

raw tuna (frozen at sea and sliced thin)
cooked shrimp
fake crab legs
coconut shrimp
red roe 
pickled ginger
cucumber
avocado
mango
sesame seeds
furikake
and also 
duck sauce
hot mustard
wasabi
soy sauce
and then honestly just whatever asian-looking bottles I could find in the fridge

The kids gave me lots of little bowls and ramekins for Christmas, because that’s what I like, so had fun arranging things prettily. 

This is a really neat way to set up a party, because it encourages people to keep circulating and trying new combinations of things.

And we had fun! Everyone at plenty of food, and we had store-bought cheesecake and cream pies, and we watched Duck Soup and toasted the new year. Phew. 

SUNDAY
Calzones, tiramisu

Sunday was Sophia’s birthday, and she requested calzones and tiramisu, which meant an easy supper for me
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and a rather more time consuming dessert for Damien to make. Here is the recipe he uses. I never seem to get a good photo of tiramisu, but it is luscious and wonderful. 

MONDAY
Taco Bell

No bones day. We just got a bunch of tacos. 

TUESDAY
Italian meatloaf, french bread

New recipe! It was a chilly, drizzly, grey day and the recipe email from Jim at Sip and Feast featured this very cozy-looking meatloaf smothered in mushrooms and crushed tomatoes, and I knew what I had to do. It’s just a regular meatloaf, with a few elevated ingredients like plenty of freshly-grated parmesan, fresh parsley, and minced garlic, and you drench it in dry red wine and surround it with crushed tomatoes. Put it in the oven to cook and start frying up a generous bunch of mushrooms and onions in olive oil with a little salt, and then add those to the meatloaf, and let it finish cooking.

I mean, how could it. not be good. It was so good.  Hands down the best, happiest meatloaf I’ve ever had. (I used 5.5 pounds of meat and made two loaves, so it took closer to an hour and a half to cook.)

I had the opposite of the zoomies, and so Damien shopped for me and Clara picked up the kids for me, leaving me at home to putter around the kitchen with my meatloaf, and I thought how nice it would be to have some fresh bread to sop up all that lovely mushroom and tomato sauce.

So I used my trusty french bread recipe

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and turned out four pretty, golden loaves.

Every time I make french bread, I’m grateful and astonished that I happened to stumble upon some kind of success accidentally. But I have to admit that this happens every time I make bread, and if it were anyone else, I would conclude that this means this is, you know, a person who knows how to make french bread. Not me, though. I’m a moron who gets lucky every time. But who cares, as long as there’s squishy hot bread! Bread now, self-worth later. 

WEDNESDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, fruit salad

Wednesday I finally finally went shopping for the week, and let me tell you, it was again a no-bones day. We had some grilled ham and cheese and a fruit salad made of pineapple, grapes, blueberries, and kiwi, which is a special recipe made of only the most carefully selected elements that were on sale at Aldi.

Then I went to lie down for a minute and suddenly it was nine o’clock and someone had drooled on my face (me). So I got up and watched a little TV and then went back to bed, because I am an easter people and I am going to bed. 

THURSDAY
Chicken burgers, chips

Nothin to report. Well, except that I had an apple instead of chips [insert medal].

FRIDAY
Fish tacos

Yeah! It’s been a while. Got some batter fried fish fillets, tortillas, avocados, cabbage, limes, sour cream, and salsa. I also grabbed a bag of frozen shrimp I could sauté up with a little lime juice or whatever, but I may just pretend I forgot about it by the time dinner rolls around. 

I’m vaguely considering putting together some kind of king cake, but I usually palm that off on Clara and I don’t have any experience with it. Anyone have a very simple recipe? I have all the normal staples in the house. 

Spaghetti carbonara

An easy, delicious meal.

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs bacon
  • 3 lbs spaghetti
  • 1 to 1-1/2 sticks butter
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • lots of pepper
  • 6-8 oz grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Fry the bacon until it is crisp. Drain and break it into pieces.

  2. Boil the spaghetti in salted water until al dente. If you like, add some bacon grease to the boiling water.

  3. Drain the spaghetti and return it to the pot. Add the butter, pieces of bacon, parmesan cheese, and pepper and mix it up until the butter is melted.

  4. Add the raw beaten egg and mix it quickly until the spaghetti is coated. Serve immediately.

 

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
  • 1 entire head garlic, crushed

Instructions

  1. Mix marinade ingredients together, then add 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 out of the marinade and spread it in a single layer on the pan, and top with the onions (sliced or quartered). 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.

 

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.

 

Sushi rice

I use my Instant Pot to get well-cooked rice, and I enlist a second person to help me with the second part. If you have a small child with a fan, that's ideal.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups raw sushi rice
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp salt

Instructions

  1. Rinse the rice thoroughly and cook it.

  2. In a saucepan, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.

  3. Put the rice in a large bowl. Slowly pour the vinegar mixture over it while using a wooden spoon or paddle to fold or divide up the cooked rice to distribute the vinegar mixture throughout. You don't want the rice to get gummy or too sticky, so keep it moving, but be careful not to mash it. I enlist a child to stand there fanning it to dry it out as I incorporate the vinegar. Cover the rice until you're ready to use it.

Calzones

This is the basic recipe for cheese calzones. You can add whatever you'd like, just like with pizza. Warm up some marinara sauce and serve it on the side for dipping. 

Servings 12 calzones

Ingredients

  • 3 balls pizza dough
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 3-4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 egg yolks for brushing on top
  • any extra fillings you like: pepperoni, olives, sausage, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. 

  2. Mix together filling ingredients. 

  3. Cut each ball of dough into fourths. Roll each piece into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. 

  4. Put a 1/2 cup or so of filling into the middle of each circle of dough circle. (You can add other things in at this point - pepperoni, olives, etc. - if you haven't already added them to the filling) Fold the dough circle in half and pinch the edges together tightly to make a wedge-shaped calzone. 

  5. Press lightly on the calzone to squeeze the cheese down to the ends. 

  6. Mix the egg yolks up with a little water and brush the egg wash over the top of the calzones. 

  7. Grease and flour a large pan (or use corn meal or bread crumbs instead of flour). Lay the calzones on the pan, leaving some room for them to expand a bit. 

  8. Bake about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.  

 

French bread

Makes four long loaves. You can make the dough in one batch in a standard-sized standing mixer bowl if you are careful!

I have a hard time getting the water temperature right for yeast. One thing to know is if your water is too cool, the yeast will proof eventually; it will just take longer. So if you're nervous, err on the side of coolness.

Ingredients

  • 4-1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp active dry yeast
  • 5 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
  • 10-12 cups flour
  • butter for greasing the pan (can also use parchment paper) and for running over the hot bread (optional)
  • corn meal for sprinkling on pan (optional)

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, put the warm water, and mix in the sugar and yeast until dissolved. Let stand at least five minutes until it foams a bit. If the water is too cool, it's okay; it will just take longer.

  2. Fit on the dough hook and add the salt, oil, and six of the cups of flour. Add the flour gradually, so it doesn't spurt all over the place. Mix and low and then medium speed. Gradually add more flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is smooth and comes away from the side of the bowl as you mix. It should be tender but not sticky.

  3. Lightly grease a bowl and put the dough ball in it. Cover with a damp towel or lightly cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until it's about double in size.

  4. Flour a working surface. Divide the dough into four balls. Taking one at a time, roll, pat, and/or stretch it out until it's a rough rectangle about 9x13" (a little bigger than a piece of looseleaf paper).

  5. Roll the long side of the dough up into a long cylinder and pinch the seam shut, and pinch the ends, so it stays rolled up. It doesn't have to be super tight, but you don't want a ton of air trapped in it.

  6. Butter some large pans. Sprinkle them with cornmeal if you like. You can also line them with parchment paper. Lay the loaves on the pans.

  7. Cover them with damp cloths or plastic wrap again and set to rise in a warm place again, until they come close to double in size. Preheat the oven to 375.

  8. Give each loaf several deep, diagonal slashes with a sharp knife. This will allow the loaves to rise without exploding. Put the pans in the oven and throw some ice cubes in the bottom of the oven, or spray some water in with a mister, and close the oven quickly, to give the bread a nice crust.

  9. Bake 25 minutes or more until the crust is golden. One pan may need to bake a few minutes longer.

  10. Run some butter over the crust of the hot bread if you like, to make it shiny and even yummier.

 

No knives out after the death of Benedict

Last night, our family watched the 2019 movie “Knives Out.” It’s the second time I’ve seen this excellent, entertaining film, which I heartily recommend (I have not yet seen the sequel). This time, I watched it right after our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died, and I guess that’s why, even as I laughed and enjoyed the clever, inventive plot twists and dialogue, I was hit hard by the melancholy of it all. It’s a movie about many things, but partly about a man, and a family, that has failed.

Nearing the end of his life, the fabulously wealthy and successful murder mystery author Harlan Thrombey realizes that privilege has ruined his family, and he wants to set things right before it’s too late. The chaos and tumult that follow are all a result of his efforts to correct his mistakes, which have multiplied and compounded over the years.

I know it’s weird, but when we saw Thrombey sprawled in his cluttered study, his life blood pooling on the floor, the panic and dysfunction and lies and machinations swirling out around his choices, I couldn’t help thinking of the other old man, old Benedict, so clean and so still, in such repose in his chapel, waiting quietly for the grave. Benedict was so fragile when he died, his bone so close to the surface of his skin, as if even every inch of his flesh, as well as his energy, has been used up in the 95 years of service of the work he loved.

This isn’t just a silly, random contrast between a real man and a movie character. I really have been thinking about death, and how we live in preparation for it, and how that preparation affects everyone around us. I have been marveling with gratitude at how easy on the Church Benedict made his death, and how many years in the making this ease has been. I’m old enough to remember a tiny bit of the tumult when John Paul II was elected, and also when he died, and also when Pope Francis was elected. Benedict XVI’s unexpected renunciation of the papacy did throw the Church into confusion for a time, but then he lived exactly has he promised to do — quietly, in complete docility, showing nothing but support, love and respect for Pope Francis, until all but the most pop-eyed fanatics had to grudgingly believe he meant exactly what he said: that he was no longer pope, and Francis was, and the Holy Spirit was in charge, amen, the end, live with it.

And so, having made these preparations and having lived them out, he now seems to be passing into the waters of eternity with the smallest of ripples, having already accomplished most of the work of transition, like a kindly grandfather who has prepaid for a funeral, cleaned his house and carefully labeled his belongings for his heirs.

And what about those heirs? … Read the rest of my latest for OSV

Image: Pope Benedict XVI (2010) . By Mazur / thepapalvisit.org.uk /Catholic Church England and Wales. CC BY NC ND 2.0

What’s for supper? Vol. 322: Simply having a yaki onigiri time

We who are about to wrap 40 presents salute you! But first, here is what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Virginia baked ham, bread and cheese, cheesecake

One of Damien’s editor’s kindly sent over a lovely spiral ham and a cheesecake. I picked up some baguettes and various cheeses and we had an easy, snacky, tasty dinner. 

No, I’m not tired of the spotlight effect yet. I’ll get it out of my system eventually. Let me have my fun!

SUNDAY
Burgers and chips

On Sunday I put the lights on the tree and on the rest of the house. We’ve settled into a pretty good routine: On the first week of Advent, I put up the nativity set and a few lights. The next week, I put up outdoor lights. The next week, we get a tree. The fourth week, we put lights on the tree and indoors. And then we decorate the tree on Christmas eve. We arrived at this tradition through necessity, because we used to be so busy and overwhelmed that I just didn’t have the energy to do more than a little bit at a time, but I like the gradual growing and gathering of light, and I like having the tree decorations still feeling fresh and exciting on Christmas day.

I’m not very good at decorating, mind you. I feel like I have triumphed if you can turn on all the indoor lights on with one switch, and all the outdoor lights have a timer, so they turn themselves off and on. I can’t remember if I shared this already, but I did manage to add to my Ludicrous Display this year

and I also built a sort of mid-century modern stable out of scrap wood and shims because our old stable collapsed.

I think I’m going to paint it at some point, but at least the little people have somewhere to stand for now. 

And other than that, it’s just “more is more.”

Works for me. Sunday was also the first evening of Hanukkah, so we had plenty to keep up with. 

Oh, and we had hamburgers. 

This particular burger is about to wow you with “O Holy Night” like you’ve never heard it before. 
LET ME HAVE MY FUN, I SAY. 

MONDAY
Ham sandwiches, leftovers

Monday I think we were supposed to have soup or something, but there was so much ham left over, not to mention chicken from last week, we just went ahead and had that, and if anyone had complaints, they wisely kept it to themselves.

TUESDAY
Hot dogs and hot pretzels

Tuesday was chock-a-block full of dentist appointments, various whatnot, and then a school concert. Corrie’s entire school career has been during covid time, so this is all new to her. It was an adorable concert, and they sang age-appropriate songs, which I really appreciated. Then we bought our cookies for the fundraiser to defray the cost of the thing we’re going to pay for anyway, and went home, and skipped candles, because enough is enough.

WEDNESDAY
Mexican beef bowl

Sorry, this is supposed to be a food post! Wednesday we had a really tasty meal, finally. I’ll have to come back later and fill in the recipes, because my plugins are disabled at the moment while we try to figure out why the email subscription isn’t working. Anyway, chuck roast was $1.99 so I got a nice big hunk, sliced it up and marinated it in the morning

and got some beans going  

I don’t know if you have to be a bean-lover to appreciate that picture, but those were some damn fine beans. I sautéed some garlic and onions in olive oil, then just chucked in some beans with their canned liquid, a few drained canned tomatoes, and plus some fresh cilantro and a bunch of cumin and some salt and pepper, and then just let it simmer all day. Fine beans.

By dinner time, all I had to do was cook some rice, chop some scallions, slice up some limes, char up a little corn in olive oil, and set out corn chips and sour cream, and quickly pan-fry the marinated beef, and we had really tasty bowls. 

I just sprinkled the Swedish Fish around to be cute because the picture needed some more color. I may be from New Hampshire, but I do not put candy in my beans.  

THURSDAY
Bo ssam and lettuce, fried rice balls, fresh pineapple

This is a recipe I have pared down and pared down until it’s hardly a recipe, but everyone still loves it. I mixed together a cup of salt and a cup of sugar (that’s what I said) and rubbed it all over the fattiest hunk of pork I could find, wrapped the meat in plastic, and put it in the fridge the night before. 

Then around noon, I put a few layers of tin foil on a roasting pan, put the meat on it fat side up, and started cooking it, uncovered, at 300. You just ignore it for about six hours. Then, about ten minutes before you want to eat, you mix together 7 tablespoons of brown sugar, a tablespoon of salt, and two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, turn the oven up to 500, rub the mixture on the top of the meat, and let it caramelize. Pull the whole thing out and just behold its shining, bubbling beauty

The outside develops a completely degenerate salt-sugar-meat-fat crust, and if you bash a hole in it, it’s absolute shreds inside

and you eat it rolled up in tender lettuce with rice. There are various sauces to go with it, such as the wonderful walnutty one at this site, but we generally just eat it as is. 

Since we just had rice the previous day, I got it into my head to make something different besides just rice, so I found this recipe for yaki onigiri (Japanese grilled rice balls). Also, the furnace conked out early in the morning and it was freezing cold in the house, and it took several hours for the guy to show up and fix it, and this may have fed into my sudden desire to get furiously busy around the stove, including handling hot rice.

Once again, I simplified the recipe pretty much beyond recognition. I just made rice in the the Instant Pot using 1:1 proportions and the “rice” button, which produces rather sticky rice. I let it cool a bit, and then formed sort of wedge-shaped triangles with wet hands, and kept them on a pan under a damp towel until dinner time.Then I heated up some oil and just fried them lightly on all sides, brushing on soy sauce as I fried.

And that was it. It was a splendid meal.

The rice balls actually mostly kept together, as long as I didn’t disturb them as they fried, and only turned them once. I thought they were delicious. The outside was a little crunchy and crusty with a pleasant flavor, and the inside was, well, warm rice. This is exactly the kind of thing I could eat all day.

I liked it much more than anyone else in the house did, so I probably won’t be making it for dinner again, but it was super easy to fry up, so if you have some leftover sticky rice, give it a whirl. Maybe warm it up first, so you don’t end up with cold rice in the middle. 

There are other sauces you can brush on the outside, and you can also fill the rice balls with things, like salmon or vegetables. That sounds good, too. Everything sounds good. It’s cold and all I want to do is eat.

While I was waiting for the furnace guy, I also made a few batches of no-chill no-fail sugar cookie dough and a few batches of buckeye dough, which I intend to force into cute shapes using the various silicone candy molds we have acquired over the years. When the furnace guy left, I dashed out to the store to finally buy some stocking stuffer candy, only to find to my complete astonishment and amazement that it was almost all sold out, and the shelves were stocked with Valentine’s candy and even some Mardi Gras merchandise. I say “astonishment and amazement” because that is how I respond to things that happen every single year, and there is no reason to think it will be otherwise this time. I yam what I yam. 

Anyway I scrounged around the clearance aisles and found some chorklet this and peppermint that, and also bought some more butter and sugar and flour and confectioner’s sugar and nuts and cream cheese, and maybe I will make rugelach, who can say.

FRIDAY
Latkes and bagels and eggs

It’s still Hanukkah! We have managed to light the candles more than half the time, and this year we did not accidentally set the Advent wreath on fire with the shammes candle, which is what you call “an ecumenical matter.” Gonna fry up some potato latkes and serve them with sour cream, maybe some homemade applesauce. 

And oh dear, I have to make some cinnamon bun dough for Christmas morning. I’ll get it done. It always all gets done. Or else it doesn’t, and we survive anyway. 

And that’s a wrap! I hope you are all keeping safe and warm, and that any traveling you can’t avoid goes swiftly and smoothly. I love yez all, and if you were here, I would cook for you. 

Question for email subscribers only!

Hello, everybody – I am having some problems with the subscription service on this site. I think people who have signed up to receive an email every time I publish a post haven’t been getting them for a while. It may or may not have been fixed. If you are a subscriber — that is, if you have signed up through my site to receive emailsand you got an email of some kind for this post, can you please let me know, either in the combox or on social media?

Also, if you have gotten emails in the past but have stopped getting them, what is the date of the last one you got? 

Thank you so much for your help with this! Trying to get this cleared up asap! Please enjoy this picture of a strange mailman who is doing his best.

image by vectorportal.com (Creative Commons)

In which I get interviewed about sex and stuff again!

This was neat! InDepth NH has launched a new feature called The First Line, where author and speaker Bev Stoddard interviews NH authors. I was honored to be the subject of the inaugural interview, which you can watch here. Bev did a great job and I really enjoyed the conversation, which ranged far and wide.

I especially appreciated the opportunity to step outside my comfy bubble a little bit and talk to a secular audience about my book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning [affiliate link], and about natural family planning, and sexuality and marriage in general. I am finding that a Catholic point of view is making more and more sense to people who don’t have any particular theological beliefs, but are looking around at the cultural and biological wasteland of 2022 and not liking what they see.

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Speaking of my book, this is hard for me to believe, but it’s been almost nine years since it was published, and I’m still getting nice reviews! Here’s one someone just published on Amazon just a few weeks ago:

The book is available in paperback, as an ebook, and also as an audiobook read by yours truly. (And you know what, I insisted the paperback will always be priced less than $10, because I remember when that was the magic number of whether or not I could afford something.) If I were smart, I’d be publishing this after Christmas, when people have gift cards burning a hole in their pocket, but if I were smart, well, where’s the fun in that. 

The last thing on your to-do list before Christmas

I have a confession to make: I have not been to confession yet this Advent. Every year, I bug people to go sometime during the season, and I think most of my family has been. But I have not yet gone myself.

So the following pep talk is as much for myself as it is for anyone else who needs to hear it. I do believe to my core that there is really only one indispensable preparation you need to make before Christmas, and that is getting to confession.

Let me make my case.

Maybe, like me, you’ve been putting off hanging up lights. You need to make your house beautiful and bright to get ready for Christmas morning. Understandable, but it would be awful to overlook making Christmas personal, intimate. Inviting Jesus into the dark places is what the sacrament is all about. There have been times when I have gone to confession utterly hopeless. I just went because I could not think of anything else to do, but I had no hope that things would get better. And guess what? Day broke. Jesus, the sun, came up. The dark confessional is where you meet the light of Christ. It could happen to you.

Or maybe it is baking that is weighing on you…. Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine. 

Image by régine debatty via flickr (Creative Commons

Walking into church (and walking up to Christmas)

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We’re slowly working our way through (okay, we temporarily lost the book, but I’ll find it soon) The How-To Book of the MassEverything You Need to Know but No One Ever Taught You by Michael Dubruiel

And you know, he is absolutely right: No one ever taught me most of this stuff. It’s not just theology — what the Eucharist is, what the prayers mean, and so on. It’s very practical things like what to do when you’re distracted by other thoughts when you walk into the church. Which you probably are more often than not. What to do?

We may think, or even have been told, that it’s our job to sternly shunt these distracting thoughts away so we can focus on Jesus, who is the one we are there to see. But this is not the way, says Dubruiel.

He says:

“[t]here is a point in every Mass at which we can bring our desires to God. But because many of us do not see the connection, we miss it. There is also a time to hear what the Word of God has to say about our desires. It is not necessary to ignore these desire that weigh upon our hearts, but to bring them to God in the context of what God is saying to us during the Mass.”

He reminds us of the people in the Gospel who literally came face-to-face with Jesus, but wasted the opportunity, because they were focused on someone or something else.

It’s not a problem to have these concerns, Dubruiel says. The mistake is when we do not bring them to God, even though we are in the presence of God… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Road to Bethlehem; also known as The Difficult Journey (1890) by Fritz von Uhde via Wikipedia (Public Domain)

Update: KYRA WON.

My friends, I have wonderful news. Kyra paused the GoFundMe I shared last week, and she just made this announcement on social media:

So, big announcement, which is why I paused the fundraiser. Really big.
On Wednesday we had a pre trial conference, and during it, the judge told my ex and his lawyer that there was no claim to the house and it belongs solely to me. And with that removed, my ex offered to settle.
And we settled child support and back payment and other details. And it’s done. It’s done and signed and now we are waiting for the divorce. And I’m using the gofundme to pay for court costs and lawyer costs and previous law payments.
It’s over, guys. The house is safe. It’s safe.
Six years.
 
So many of you donated, shared, and prayed. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You did a good thing.
Kyra has strep and pneumonia and did the pre-trial conference via Zoom from bed, and she’s still extremely sick, and her kids are sick, as well. (Her ex has, of course, decided to skip his visitation because he is sick.) If you could keep her family in your prayers as we head into the final week of Advent, I would be so grateful. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 321: Fly me to taboon (and let me play among za’atar)

Busy busy! Aren’t we all! Here’s what we had this week, including two birthday cakes (and this is why we don’t really do St. Lucy’s day or St. Nicholas day or what have you. December is already full up): 

SATURDAY
Benny’s birthday party! Pizza and cake

Benny had an ancient Egypt-themed birthday party. More guests than expected showed up, and it was a little bit bananas, and they were less interested in the activities we planned (making necklaces out of clay cartouches with their names in hieroglyphs; getting eye makeup and posing in the sarcophagus photo booth; and doing a toilet paper mummy wrapping contest) and more interested in running around screaming. But we powered through. We decorated with gold and blue plastic tablecloths tacked onto the walls, with details added with a Sharpie. 

and we did get a few sarcophagus shots

and the birthday girl was highly pleased with the cake.

I made two nine-inch square cakes and one deep loaf cake, and just kept carving them up and stacking the pieces on top of each other and sticking them together with icing, and by the time it looked like a pyramid, there was very little left over

I frosted it with tub frosting and pressed colored sugar into the sides, added lines with a toothpick, and then made some camels and trees with chocolate melting discs, and pressed those into the sides, with crushed graham crackers for sand. 

Uh, the reason it says “HAPY BIRTDAY” is because I showed her the cool golden letter candles I had bought, and asked if they were good for her cake, and she said, “Yes, as long as there are 11 of them.” Of course there are 13 letters in “happy birthday,” so I suggested “hapy birtday,” and that worked for her.

This is my #1 parenting rule: Discuss expectations ahead of time, and you will save everyone so much heartache. 

SUNDAY
Chicken burgers, chips, broccoli 

Aldi had a clearance on their bottles of that garlic aioli mayo stuff, so I bought several bottles. I complain a lot when people clutter up my limited cabinet space with unnecessary bottles, but we’re talking about garlic aioli may stuff here. I’m not sharing a picture of my chicken sandwich because I put a disgusting amount of mayo on and it looks obscene. 

I also got crafty real quick on Sunday and did a fast project I’ve been saving the materials for for a while: This pretty pinecone zinnia wreath. 

Some pinecones, not all, really look like zinnias on their undersides, especially if you paint them. I clipped the tops off with garden shears, leaving the central “spine” mostly intact; hot glued them to a grapevine wreath from the thrift store, painted them with tempera, and then picked out a few of the vines of the wreath in two shades of green. I considered adding ribbon or berries, but it’s so bright and simple, I think I like it this way.  The wreath has a kind of wild grass look, which reminds me of Cape Cod, which is where I gathered the pine cones. 

MONDAY
Ham, peas, garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

Just in case they forgot who’s the best mother in the whole world: Ham, peas, and mashed potatoes, that’s who. 

Here’s my garlic parmesan mashed potato recipe, should you need it:

Jump to Recipe

TUESDAY
Mussakhan and taboon, feta cheese, pomegranates, meghli and sahlab

This meal really got away from me, in the best way. I had spotted this recipe for mussakhan a while back. It’s apparently the national Palestinian dish, and it’s easy and delicious: Sumac chicken with onions. If you like middle eastern food, this hits all those best notes. It has not just sumac, but allspice, cumin, cinnamon, lemon, and garlic. You slash the chicken (I used drumsticks and thighs) across the grain and rub the marinade in, and let it marinate several hours with sliced red onions, and then you just roast it in the oven. 

What puts it over the top is, right at the end, you brown up some pine nuts in olive oil and sprinkle these over the top, along with some flat leaf parsley and a little extra sumac. 

What puts it into the stratosphere is you serve it oven taboon, which is a dimpled, chewy flatbread which is supposed to be made in a clay oven or at least on a pizza stone, but guess what? I made one big giant slab o’ taboon on a sheet pan in my regular oven and it was AMAZING. 

I had to run out and buy bread flour, so I almost decided to just pick up some store bought pita instead, but I’m so glad I went for the homemade taboon.

Here’s the recipe:

Jump to Recipe

IT’S SO EASY. You guys know I’m kind of a dunce with baking and with bread in particular, but this was an unqualified success. I just mixed up the ingredients in my standing mixer, let it rise for an hour or so, scronched it and let it rest for ten minutes, and then rolled it out and stretched it into the pan, and baked it while the chicken finished cooking.

So at dinner time, I put the piping hot taboon on the table and then I served the chicken right on top of the bread, and poured all the cooking juices over it, and sprinkled the sizzling pine nuts over that, and finished with the parsley and sumac. 

Everyone just grabbed some chicken and tore off whatever bread they wanted and, oh man, it was fantastic. 

I wish I had taken some pictures of the inside of the taboon, but it was just barely browned and crisp on the bottom; the top was a little bit chewy, and the inside was fluffy and pillowy. So nice. The little dimples sop up the juices. 

I also had some feta cheese because I bought too much for spanakopita for Thanksgiving; and I had a bunch of pomegranates I got for Benny’s Egypt party and forgot to serve. So that went perfectly. 

I also suddenly remembered that, this summer, I had bought two pudding mixes: meghli and sahlab.

I had no idea what either of these were; I just liked the names, and I love puddings of all kind. The sahlab required you to add four cups of milk and heat and stir until it thickens, and then you can either drink it as a hot beverage, or else chill and serve as a pudding; the meghli required four cups of cold water, heat and stir to boil, and then chill. 

I chilled them both and served them with dried coconut. (Sorry about the inelegant picture. I was absolutely stuffed with food and could not be bothered to get up and find a pretty ramekin at this point.)

The sahlab had a pleasant silky texture, but tasted very strongly of rosewater and not much else, and I’m not a big fan. Rosewater just tastes like perfume to me. The kids liked it, though. If you like rosewater, I definitely recommend this mix. It was very easy to make.

The meghli was weird but nice. I liked the flavor, which is apparently predominantly anise, caraway, and cinnamon. I didn’t really taste the anise, but really mainly the cinnamon. But the flavor wasn’t really strong enough, though, and it tasted watery, and that was a little off-putting. It was also kind of pulpy. It’s possible I made it wrong, although all I had to do was stir it, so I don’t know how I could have messed it up! I might try it again and see if it comes out different. 

But all in all, a fantastic meal, very popular. Four new foods! It was a little expensive just because of the pine nuts and sumac, but I’m going to shop around and see if I can find them for cheaper, because I want to make this whole meal again. 

WEDNESDAY
Muffaletta sandwiches, fries 

It’s been a while. The olive salad turned out particularly nice, who knows why. I threw in two cans of black olives, one jar of green, and one jar of kalamata, a few pepproncini, some mild banana peppers, a bunch of red wine vinegar and olive oil, and a bunch of flat leaf parsley, and I think that’s it. I had some marinated red peppers, but they got shoved into the back of the fridge and froze. 

I served it on baguettes. For meats and cheese, I came up with leftover ham, genoa salami, hard salami, and some good provolone. None of this – not the olive salad, not the meats, not the bread, not the proportions of any of it – is authentic muffaletta, but it tasted good, and hardly anyone went and had cereal, so. 

I’m trying SO hard not to eat a meal’s worth of snacks while I wait for supper time, so instead I made a salami rose 

and that has made all the difference.

THURSDAY
My birthday!

Now I am 48! So far, it’s better than being dead.

The day started out a little squalid, and I drove the kids to school while Damien drove some to the dentist, then I drove to the dentist, while he drove one of them home because we got confused about the work schedule, then I drove some of them from the dentist to school, then I did a little Christmas shopping, then home, then drove the kid to work and picked up a prescription, then went home and had a telehealth doctor visit where I was like “I’m not really fine” and she was like “yes you are” and I was like “oh ok”; and then we had to go to a meeting where they were like, how are you suckers going to pay for your kid to go to Rome, eh? And we were like, duh, I dunno, she managed to sell three pots of poinsettias and we thought that would cover it, but apparently not.

BUT THEN, that was all the things we had to do! and Damien offered to take me wherever I wanted to go, and I really wanted to go get pizza. I chose eggplant, artichoke, anchovy, and garlic, and it was frickin delicious. 

I also laughed my head off because, as I ate, I watched as the cashier tell this teenage boy that he had been noticed trying to walk out with one of the restaurant’s two-foot glittery reindeer decorations hidden under his shirt, and they weren’t going to make a big deal about it because it was Christmas, but he needed to give it back. Teenage boys are so dumb. Just, so dumb. How are they even alive. 

And then we went home and everyone showered me with lovely, thoughtful presents

and Clara had baked me a spectacular cake

It was a coconut cream cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction, to which she had added lime zest and crushed pineapple, both brilliant ideas. Oh, what a moist, wonderful cake. So it was a great birthday! I felt very cherished and cared-for. Also, earlier, I was supposed to pick up the kids from school, but instead Damien did it, and I just took a nap. And he came home with flowers. 

FRIDAY
Pizza

It is a snow day. A snow day that they told us about the day before, so we just turned off the alarms and slept in! I slept kind of late and now I’m scrambling to get caught up. Good thing we’re having pizza. 

 

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.

taboon bread

You can make separate pieces, like pita bread, or you can make one giant slab of taboon. This makes enough to easily stretch over a 15x21" sheet pan.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups bread flour
  • 4 packets yeast
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp + 3 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer.

  2. While it is running, add the olive oil. Then gradually add the water until the dough is soft and sticky. You may not need all of it. Let it run for a while to see if the dough will pull together before you need all the water. Knead or run with the dough hook for another few minutes.

  3. Put the dough in a greased bowl, grease the top, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot for at least an hour until it has doubled in size.

  4. Preheat the oven to 400. Put a greased pan or a baking stone in the oven to heat up.

  5. If you are making separate pieces, divide it now and cover with a damp cloth. If you're making one big taboon, just handle it a bit, then put it back in the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Let rest ten minutes.

  6. Using a little flour, roll out the dough into the shape or shapes you want. Poke it all over with your fingertips to give it the characterstic dimpled appearance.

  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes until it's just slightly browned.