50 poems to print and hang on the wall

Every so often, I get a bee in my bonnet about poetry. When we homeschooled, we read and sometimes memorized poems. We’ve since moved on to other kinds of schooling, and it’s been a good choice, overall. But to my everlasting chagrin, so many teachers teach my kids that poetry is a kind of catch basin for emotion.

Prose, they learn, is for when you have orderly thoughts to express with precision; but poetry is the place to open the floodgates and wallow, and nobody can possibly say you’re doing it wrong, because there are no rules.

And this is true, as long as the poetry is utter garbage. 

This utter garbage approach to poetry accounts for why so many young people love to write but hate to read poetry. Wallowing feels great when you’re in the middle of it (when you’re in the mood), but no healthy person likes to watch someone else flail around aimlessly in the muck.

A good poem works in the opposite way: The writer does all the work, and the reader — well, the reader has to do some work, too, but if he’s willing, he’ll be rewarded with something of great and lasting value. Have you seen an uncut, unpolished diamond? It doesn’t look like much. Most of its beauty is in its potential, and it’s not until it’s carefully, skillfully cut and polished that it sparkles and reflects the light.

The same is true with the ideas and passions that animate poetry. In a formless stream-of-consciousness poem that’s allowed to spill itself thoughtlessly onto the page, the ideas and passions that animate it may be present, but they won’t do much for the reader until they’re brought out by skillful, time-consuming wordsmithing and ruthless editing.

Of course, you can make perhaps the opposite mistake, and approach a well-crafted poem the way a dealer approaches a precious jewel, and think only of what it can deliver. This is what Billy Collins protested against in his poem, Introduction to Poetry. He pleads with his students to listen to, to live with a poem; to encounter it on its own terms, to experience it. To hear the sounds it makes and be open to the various things they might suggest.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope 
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose 
to find out what it really means.

People who teach poetry this way should be sent to work in the salt mines. They can meet up with the wallowers once a week and think about what they’ve done wrong.

Anyway, as I mentioned, every once in a while I get a bee in my bonnet and start printing out poetry and tacking it up on the walls of my house. I pin up a new batch every year or so, and once they become tattered enough, I tell myself they’ve probably been read by somebody. I’m far too tired and busy to lead any seminars, but at least it’s something.

The theory is that it’s possible to ruin a wonderful poem by torturing a message or moral out of it, and it’s possible to miss out on the power and import of a good poem by skimming over the surface of it and not stopping to consider why it’s made the way it is; but at least with the second error, you’ve had a moment of pleasure. And if the thing is hanging around long enough and the poem is good enough, you’re bound to let it inside your head, where it may colonize.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

photo credit: emileechristine Bejeweled via photopin (license)

The battles you can actually win

Fr. Jacob Boddicker, SJ wrote this on Facebook yesterday. I kept reading it over and over. I’m sharing here with his permission. 

I know a lot of my brothers and sisters are worried and frustrated at things that are happening in the Church recently. But I wanted to tell you that just within the limited realm of my influence:

Two people who had not been to confession in many, many years finally came to our Lord’s mercy this weekend.

Six young people–five from my parish and one from out of town–will be confirmed by me this coming weekend.

I know a young woman who is recovering from surgery who cried when the Eucharist was brought to her today (she could not attend Mass because of said recovery).

Around twenty youth from different religious backgrounds came to my parish hall to learn a little about Jesus tonight. No one made them; they came because they wanted to. It is a cooperative event put together by myself and three pastors from other denominations, and I was able to show a video I made about young saints. They were struck by St .Joan of Arc especially, and St. Jose Sanchez del Rio.

These are little flowers I cultivated in my garden today; little victories granted here on my small patch of the Lord’s campaign against Hell. Is what goes on in Rome and elsewhere important? Yes. But brothers and sisters we are just infantrymen in a vast battle against Satan; if we run to the hilltops to try and take in the vastness of the war in order to determine what way it is going, we will not only inevitably be frustrated and discouraged, but the battles placed immediately before us will go unfought and potentially be lost. You will look abroad and see chaos because you cannot hear the commands of the generals or know their strategies, and likewise it is far easier to see a column of smoke or flame from afar than it is to see a flag of victory. Yet if you mind what the Lord puts immediately before you, things are far more clear and far more hopeful.

Look to your patch of the battlefield and fight the battles the Lord puts before you: the battles you can actually fight and, through fidelity, perseverance, and holiness, you can actually win.

These little victories the Lord granted me today are so small in the grand scheme of things, but consider the fact that an avalanche can destroy an entire town and is made of snowflakes, or that a tsunami can devastate vast regions and is made of drops of water. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” (John 15:16).

What good is it to despair about wooden idols in Rome when there are souls slipping closer to Hell all around you: souls you might actually help? Pray, certainly, but do not despair. Do not waste your ammunition trying to fire long-range when you could use your ammo–your prayers and your every holy effort–to far greater effect at short range! “Pray, hope, and don’t worry,” St. Padre Pio says. Yes, pray for the Lord’s success in those far-away campaigns we read about in blogs and articles, and hear of in podcasts and videos. But do not neglect the battle raging on before you, the very skirmishes entrusted directly to you!

Will our victories be great? No, likely not. But even a small victory over Satan is absolutely crushing to one so proud; the smallest holy victory, the smallest berry of holy fruit and news of it drops like an atomic bomb of humiliation on Hell. It seems to me that if all of Heaven rejoices at the repentance of a single sinner (Luke 15:7, 10), the whole triumph of God over Satan and his cronies Sin and Death will not ultimately be the result of a massive battle that decides everything all at once, but rather the climax of a million small battles that overwhelm the enemy from all sides until, at last, he is absolutely cornered and Our Lord has him right where He wants him.

Image: Detail of Caravaggio’s Madonna and Child With St. Anne via wikipedia (public domain)

What’s for supper? Vol. 190: Beef barley soup! Pumpkin cranberry walnut muffins! And more!

We have hurtled through another week! I did a few site updates, so let’s see if the new “jump to recipe” thing works:

Jump to Recipe

Works? I think it works. Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Nachos, pineapple

Easy peasy. Damien cooked the ground beef and added some sort of proprietary blend of seasonings, and I dumped it over some chips and shredded a bunch of cheese over it and slid it in the oven. We had salsa and sour cream and cilantro. 

If you squint, it looks sort of like salad. 

SUNDAY
Roast beef sandwiches, onion rings, veg and dip, strawberry shortcake

I had worked up a wonderful migraine overnight, which turned me into a blob of glup, so I stayed in bed for most of the day while someone covered my faith formation class and Damien took the kids to Mass and made dinner. He seasoned the roasts and sauteéd them in a pan, then put them in the oven to roast slowly. We had the sliced meat on rolls with provolone and horseradish sauce and tomatoes.

I put mine in the oven to toast up. If I were running away from the Visigoths and had a sandwich with me and someone said, “Would you like that toasted?” I would take the extra time to toast it.

My MIL came over with strawberry shortcake. It looked very promising, but my head was just starting to recover by evening, and I didn’t want to jinx it with anything sugary. 

MONDAY
Beef orzo soup, pumpkin cranberry walnut muffins

A much-loved cold weather meal in this house. Jump to Recipe

This was supposed to be beef barley soup, but I forgot to get barley, so I subbed orzo, which was a little disappointing in the texture department. Beef, carrots, onions, tomato, garlic, wine, beef broth, salt and pepper, mushrooms, some kind of grain, and that’s it. Bay leaf if you’re fancy. Always a hit.

I had it for lunch as the week went on, and the orzo got bigger and bigger.

When it becomes one single mighty grain of orzo having within it all soupiness, then it’s time to rinse out the pot and start over. 

The kids have also been clamoring for pumpkin muffins. Jump to RecipeI made 12 regular:

and 12 with dried cranberries and chopped walnuts. I may have gotten a little carried away with the stir-ins.

They turned out more like cranberries and walnuts trifles with a light coating of muffin.

TUESDAY
Pizza

One cheese, one pepperoni, one pepperoni with leftover provolone, one olive, and one mushroom, onion, olive, and provolone. Corrie has been very, very busy in the kitchen this week, and cut up a bunch of mushrooms of her own initiative. Come to think of it, that explains why I discovered an entire garlic clove, still in its wrapper, baked right into the cheese. (Yes, I ate it.)

WEDNESDAY
Cheesy chicken chili with bacon, corn bread

This is one of those recipes that has “crack” in the title, and yet doesn’t contain any cocaine at all. I think they mean “bacon, cheese, and ranch flavoring” and I will acknowledge that that is a fine combination, but that is as far as it went. 

Chicken, tomato with chilis, corn, black beans, pieces of bacon, cream cheese, ranch dressing powder, and some seasonings. Dump it all, cook, shred the chicken, and put shredded cheddar on top. I wasn’t expecting it to taste sophisticated, but it definitely looked easy and flavorful. The most labor intensive part was cooking and chopping the bacon. 

This is a crock pot recipe, but it was almost 5:00 before I got started, so I used the Instant Pot. Which would have been fine, except I chose 15 minutes, and that wasn’t quite long enough. So I put it in for another 8. The thing about the Instant Pot is that if you cook something for 8 minutes, that means waiting about 10 minutes for it to come to pressure, then cooking it 8 minutes, then releasing the pressure for another 5 minutes. This is fine, as long as it’s what you’re expecting. It’s less fine if you are winging the recipe and have to go through the process twice so you don’t die of salmonella. 

Of course there was little chance of that happening since not one of the kids even tasted it, even though it had bacon in it. I thought it tasted pretty good. It definitely had that “everyone at the potluck wants my recipe, tee hee hee!” flavor to it. 

I also made corn muffins, for reasons unclear. It used to be that only I was the one who liked corn muffins, but my taste for them has decreased over the years, possibly soured by loneliness and crumbs. It also doesn’t help that every time I say “corn muffins” someone says “OH HONEY YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE SAYING” and I get a long treatise on  pre-industrial revolution corn and how sugar factored in to perceptions of class, and how people who don’t use cast iron corn-shaped molds can just go straight to hell, bless. Just let me make my bad muffins and then throw them away, okay? 

Here are my muffins: 

I like to run a little butter over the top while they’re still hot, so they will be shinier in the garbage. 

THURSDAY
Hot dogs, smiley fries, pomegranates

We had parent teacher conferences, and then I spent the rest of the day driving around like a silly person and then finally getting going on Halloween costumes. This year we have Scooby Doo and Daphne, Star from Star Vs. the Forces of Evil, Naruto and Kakashi or something, and some Dragonball whathaveyou. And I think an Autumn Fairy. I leaned on the kid whose costume was giving me the most trouble, and she made dinner. I also taught one kid how to use the sewing machine! I foresee a whole new generation of lopsided cloaks, puckered curtains, and pillowcases that are a tiny bit too small.

FRIDAY
Boxaroni for the kids. 

We’re going out, because it’s our anniversary! 22 years. A few months ago, I needed some nighttime reading and grabbed Turgenev off the shelf, and this photo was tucked in the pages.

 

1997. (Yes, it looks like we had just had a roll in the hay, but the photo surface is just scratched up. My goodness, you people.) 

A friend remarked that we looked so joyful and innocent, and didn’t I want to kind of warn the people in the picture that life is coming for them?

I responded, “Do you know, I think I was more cynical then. I didn’t know how hard things could be, for sure, but I also had no idea how good things could be.” We have had some really hard and awful times. Some of them were not that long ago. But still, it feels like the joy and innocence we have together are building, not waning. I don’t know if it was dumb luck or if we can take any credit at all for finding and choosing each other, but it was the best thing we ever did.

Well! Here are the recipe cards:

Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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


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

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

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

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

Pumpkin quick bread or muffins

Makes 2 loaves or 18+ muffins

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Hot links!

Super super busy with other writing projects lately, but I don’t want to let the site languish. Here are a bunch of things that caught my eye lately, but that I haven’t had the time to write about:

Fr. Barron’s reflections on our beloved John Paul II.  He really was a hero.

A gently searing reflection on being useful and being sick. Lots to think about. Oh, lots. 

And old but lovely story about a group who helps dying people achieve their last wishes. The woman in the top photo wanted to see Rembrandt one more time. 

Hoop de doo, a Catholic school that is no longer going to let parents claim they can’t vaccinate because they’re Catholic! Because it’s just not Christian to give immunocompromised people the measles for no good reason. 

Something about sex work that I am reading because I need to understand things I don’t understand, and I won’t if I only read things I know I’ll like. It’s long, and I’m not done reading it yet.

A couple of dumbass laws by us, God’s dumbass people: Let’s have no pointy knives, because roast beef is a social construct; and also now how would it be if you can go to jail for calling someone a bitch, even if they totally are a bitch? Because goodness knows we can count on government to only take away a little bit of your free speech, and also the only way to discourage bad behavior is through the legal system YOU DUMB BITCHES.

A printable coloring page of the Trinity, just in case you needs one. 

Bernadette Carstensen is the one who painted that lovely picture of toddler Jesus putting a crown on a doting Mary’s head. I love how she’s at his feet and looking up to him, but also has her arm around his little bum, holding him steady. Raise your hand if you think I need to get in touch with Cerstensen and get my Catholic artist interview series going again.

And then I need to get in touch with this gal at Akathist Art. Eh? Eh?

And finally, back to John Paul II. This stupid video resurfaces every couple of years and I always cry like a dumb bitch when I see it. “Perhaps I love you more!” 

The only thing I will write about the Amazon Synod

Today, some thieves broke into a church, stole some statues, and threw them into the river. Perhaps the perpetrators consider themselves a pack of modern St. Bonifaces, tackling pagan idols head on, plus a little bit of Jesus with a whip, cleansing the temple. 

There are a few problems with this approach. One is that stealing and vandalism are sins, full stop. If your goal is to defend the Church, then you really need to start with defending the ten commandments. 

The second problem is it is by no means clear that the statues they stole and threw away are actually idols. Maybe they were fertility symbols, maybe they were Mary and Elizabeth at the Visitation, maybe they just sorta “represented life.” Maybe they were something in between, and if so, maybe that’s how inculturation is supposed to work; or maybe it’s syncretism, which is definitely not how it’s supposed to work. If the statues were idols, then they don’t belong in the church. If they weren’t, then people who threw them into the river were at very least stealing and destroying property, possibly being racist, and possibly committing some light blasphemy. 

Myself, I err like responsible hunters err: If the light is dim, and that moving object might be a deer or it might be your buddy, don’t shoot. Same with a statue: If it might depict my mother, I’m not going to cheer when someone chucks it into a river of filth.

I don’t especially like what I’ve seen about the Synod. But I try to resist basing my opinions on hinky-looking snippets. As with so many other current events, I assume almost everyone who reports on the Synod (especially people who weren’t there) is either lying or being lied to (and yes, I’m “both sidesing.” Sometimes it’s appropriate.)  A lot of the people who hate it are pretty frankly racist, and simply reject any expression of Christianity that doesn’t look European. A lot of the people who love it are pretty frankly heterodox, and are already fully on board with women priests, contraception for all, etc. Some of the people defending the Synod are coming across as fairly racist and paternalistic. And always, as we know, just because you’re an asshole doesn’t mean you’re wrong

I’m on the record as no blind fan of Pope Francis, especially in his mishandling of the ongoing abuse crisis.  I think he is a sloppy man who tends to speak out of personal animosity, without fully realizing or caring what effect his words have on the whole Church (and on individual people, especially priests). But I have also noticed that, when other people present him with heterodox ideas, he tends to shut them down right away, instinctively. When the synod opened with what sure looked like a pagan ritual, for instance, he discarded his prepared remarks and instead led the crowd in the Our Father

And this is why I have hope that, when (which seems more likely than “if”) the synodal committee (or whatever it is) presents him with some kind of garbagey conclusions, he will reject them, as other popes have done in the past. Recall that John XXIII’s Pontifical Commission presented him with the recommendation that the Church accept and bless contraception; and the pope read it and responded: “No. When a bunch of theologians get together and talk about their druthers, of course it’s going to be a bunch of stupid stuff that shouldn’t and couldn’t happen. What’s most likely to happen is that the Vatican, in its lumbering bureaucratic wisdom, will take all the findings and send them to committee, and appoint a blue ribbon commission, and nothing will change. That really is the most likely thing. Or maybe the Pope will issue another amorphous encyclical and people will go blind trying to beat either wisdom or heresy out of it. 

Or maybe we’ll end up with female deacons and some married priests, and I’m really not convinced that would be the end of the world, either. 

But isn’t it possible that we’re really going off the rails this time, and the pope will let Unequivocally Bad Things Happen? Sure. All kinds of things are possible. The world has to end sometime, and maybe it’s starting now. 

But here we arrive at the third problem with cosplaying St. Boniface, posting it to YouTube, and calling it living our faith: No matter what is actually happening at the Synod, and no matter how the Pope will respond, the most useful thing, possibly the only useful thing we can do 

is

to

pray. 

Oh, I’m sorry, did you roll your eyes? Did you really just sigh impatiently at the idea that our response to trials and uncertainty should be to pray? Then that’s your problem right there. That’s a bigger problem for you, personally, than anything that can possibly happen in Rome. If you let yourself think that anything you can do online — signing petitions, sniping on Twitter, gathering screenshots and sharing them on your site — is more important than praying, then you are on a bad road and you need to stop and turn around before you get to the end.

You think Cardinal Kaspar is bad! Wait till you meet the worm who dieth not. 

Everyone wants to imitate Jesus in the one time He showed some temper with the whip in the temple. Dude, you are not Jesus. It’s a much safer bet to imitate Him in the other 99% of the Gospels, like when He preached the good news, when He fed His sheep, when he gave over His body, and when He fixed His eyes firmly on the Father and then told us to do the same

Oops, that’s what the Pope did, too. When in doubt, pray an Our Father. 

It’s really easy to imitate outward actions. A saint did this, so I will, too! But let me tell you: The real work that every Christian is compelled to do is interior work. And it’s hard. And it doesn’t get a lot of views on YouTube. But it is what will save your soul. 

We have an obligation to know, love, and serve God, and to teach our children to know, love, and serve God. I can do these things without following everything tagged #amazonsynod. In fact, I can do these things far better without following anything tagged #amazon synod. 

Maybe you’re different from me. Maybe following the news is helping you to grow closer to Christ. I’m not telling you what your own soul is like. But if you do feel that it’s your obligation to publicly take a stand on the news and educate yourself thoroughly about all possible ins and outs, it’s probably a good idea to ask yourself:

How is my response to the news affecting my spiritual life?
Do I find it easier or harder to be good to other people since I started getting involved?
The more time I spend thinking and talking about it, do I find I am growing in faith, hope, and love?
When I follow the news more closely, and get into more conversations about it, am I increasing in personal virtue? If so, which virtues? 

That really is our central responsibility: Our own souls, our own spiritual state. We neglect that responsibility at our eternal peril. If news of the synod is causing you to sin, then pluck it out. 

***
Image is a screenshot from this video

What’s for supper? Vol. 189: Suppli! Canolli! French onion soup! Jacques Pepin’s chicken thighs! Parmesan asparagus! and more

Come, come away with me, on a magical food journey withouten any potatoes in it! 

SATURDAY
Hamburgers, chips, broccoli and dip

I can’t even remember what we were doing on Saturday. Running around, no doubt. 

SUNDAY
Pork ribs, cole slaw, mashed squash

This is my new favorite way to make acorn squash. Cut in half, scoop out seeds, roast, scoop, mash with butter, brown sugar or maples syrup, kosher salt, and a little chili pepper. It’s easy enough that I don’t mind making it for the very few people who like it. As I was eating, I asked Damien if he remembered that wonderful squash we had in the hospital after Corrie was born, and he reminded me that he and I have very different experiences of that first post-delivery meal. (He did not remember the squash.) 

I sprinkled the pork with salt and pepper and put them in a roasting pan under the broiler, turning them once. 

The cole slaw was very simple, just shredded cabbage in a dressing of mayo, vinegar, a little sugar, salt, and pepper. 

MONDAY
WELL. LET ME TELL YOU. 

Monday is our annual “I don’t want to talk about it; we just really like Italian food and there aren’t any birthdays in October, so we have some free time” October 11th meal. We had a houseguest this week (my oldest kid’s friend from college), and my son’s girlfriend was here, and so was my father.

Excellent guests, all. I poured a little wine, and away we went!

For antipasto, we had two kinds of salami, fresh mozzarella, provolone, purple olives, giant green olives stuffed with garlic, fresh bread, toasted bread, artichoke hearts, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, breadsticks, pears wrapped in prosciutto.

And something called “pepper drops,” which turned out to be sweet, tender, marinated infant peppers. I didn’t get great pictures, but this is the basic idea, in the middle of my “everything happens here” kitchen:

While they were munching on that, I made the suppli.

Suppli are breaded, deep-fried balls of risotto with mozzarella in the center, and if that doesn’t sound good to you, I just don’t know what to say to you. You can add various things — mushrooms, pancetta, herbs, tomato sauce, etc. — but that is the basic form. 

It’s much easier to make suppli if the risotto is chilled, so I made it the night before. I love my Instant Pot for easy, weekday risotto, but nothing beats creamy, fragrant, labor intensive, stovetop risotto for suppli. I formed them in the morning

and fried them while people were eating the antipasto. I am extremely proud of my suppli, and they turned out so well this year! Next year, though, I’ll let them all warm in the oven for at least five minutes, to make sure all the cheese is melted. 

Then Damien served his course, which this year was pasta and homemade tomato sauce with sausages, and a mountain of garlic bread. Because I am frail, I skipped this course, and just ate some pomegranates. 

Totally worth extra time in the underworld. 

Finally, we had mini cannoli and Italian ices. I had to call around a bit and get a bakery to set aside some empty cannoli shells for me. I don’t really have a recipe for the filling — just ricotta cheese with powdered sugar and vanilla or almond extract. You can pipe it into the shells with a ziplock bag, and then sprinkle them with rainbow sprinkles or chocolate shavings, and pop a maraschino cherry in the end. 

And that, my friends, was a very good meal, and a very good day.

TUESDAY
Leftovers.

It was such a good meal, we had some of it twice.

WEDNESDAY
Jaques Pepin’s insanely crispy chicken thighs with mushroom sauce; parmesan asparagus

Someone posted this recipe after I asked for truly easy meal ideas last week. I was skeptical then, since it looked complicated and weird. 

WELL. This is definitely going in the rotation. It’s a weird cooking method, but it’s almost brainless, and comes out ridiculously tasty and oh ye gods and little fishes, that skin is remarkable. You may never in your life have had chicken thigh skin this good. Recipe from this site

Basically you take chicken thighs, turn them skin down, and slash the meat on both sides of the bone, then salt and pepper it heavily. You put the thighs skin down on a COLD SKILLET, turn it way up until it sizzles, then turn it to medium, cover it tightly, and walk away. Well, you can check it a few times to make sure it’s not burning, and loosen the meat up off the pan, but that’s the only thing you have to do for it.  

When it’s done cooking (about 25 minutes), you keep it warm in the oven while you sauté some mushrooms, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and white wine in the chicken fat, and then you have a lovely sauce to spoon over the chicken. Sprinkle some chopped chives over the top, and there it is.

You are thinking, “But what is a French recipe without butter? Surely this needs some butter to add richness and flavor and moisture.” Do me a favor and try this one time without butter, and see how it goes.

You will also think, “I’m only seasoning under the thighs? Surely the skin needs some flavor as well.” It turns out I was supposed to season them on both sides, but it didn’t matter! I don’t know how it works — I guess those slashes help the seasoning rise up into the whole thigh? — but the whole piece of chicken was flavorful. The thighs get sort of flattened, and the skin turns into . . . argh, how do I say this so it doesn’t sound gross. It sort of becomes a crisp cap or a rind to the meat. It’s just great. You really have to try it.

I will admit I made a huge mess with this, but that’s mainly because the skillets I used have almost no rim, and I slopped hot chicken fat everywhere. Next time I’ll just use some big frying pans, or maybe keep a baster on hand to keep the fat under control. I do recommend cast iron if you have it, but any stick-resistant pans should work. 

Oh, and if you have mushroom-haters in your family, you can easily serve the chicken plain, since the mushrooms get cooked separately. 

I didn’t get around to serving the asparagus with Monday’s feast, so I spread it in a pan, drizzled it with olive oil, shook on plenty of salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese, and roasted it.

Perfect, and so fast and easy.

THURSDAY
French onion soup, smoked turkey and Swiss sandwiches

‘Tis soup season. I follow a very simple, flexible recipe where you slowwwwwwwwwly cook a ton of onions in a ton of butter, maybe stir iin some sugar, then stir in some flour and pepper, then add chicken or beef broth and parmesan cheese, and let it simmer for as long as you can. Top with more parmesan. I don’t like having a thick layer of cheese on top. I hate it when you’re supposed to bust through a layer of something and all you have is a spoon. Life is hard enough. 

Infected with some madness, I picked up a gallon of glue so the kids could make slime (no school because a nor’easter left a lot of downed power lines and debris in the road) which I’ve somehow managed to resist all these years. We made the kind with glue, baking soda, and contact lens fluid.  It turned out well, but it needs a lot more contact lens fluid and mixing than they say! We also had a dentist appointment, and we needed to hit the flu clinic, so it wasn’t exactly the sleepy, cozy, rainy day at home I envisioned. I rushed the soup a bit, so it was a little on the light side, but it was still delicious, buttery, sweet, rich, comforting. No leftovers, which is rare in this house. 

I made a bunch of leftover hot dog and hamburger buns into big croutons. I drizzled them with olive oil and shook on plenty of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano, and toasted them slowly in a 300 oven. 

We had smoked turkey from the deli, Swiss cheese, and ciabatta rolls. I had mine with dijon mustard and pickles. We all went to a flu shot clinic at 5, so it was good to come home to hot soup and easy sandwiches. 

This was the swankiest flu clinic I’ve ever seen. They had apples and cider, and the kids got stickers, pencils, and candy, and then they were allowed to pick out a teddy bear and bring it to a nurse, who would then put a cast on it wherever you wanted.

The place was absolutely mobbed. I am very proud of NH. I know nobody was showing up with all their kids on a Thursday evening just to get a teddy bear. 

FRIDAY
Quesadillas

Just quesadillas, I believe. 

Okay, here’s the recipe card for the suppli and risotto. Will add more cards later as time allows! Get your flu shot! 

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. 

On meteors and managed expectations

Not long ago, our hemisphere passed through the Perseid meteor shower. When I was young, my family was heavily into astronomy. We owned more than one telescope, and we would sometimes all pile into the van after dark and drive out to the countryside, where there were no streetlights or house lights, but only the velvety darkness and the sound and smell of sleeping cows.

On this road, you could look up and see the Milky Way spread out across the top of the sky like a shining river. The planets gleamed like jewels, red and yellow and blue. More than once I actually heard a meteor sizzle past like a drop of water on hot soapstone.

Having had these almost mystical experiences throughout my childhood, I feel very strongly — perhaps too strongly — that astronomy ought to be part of every childhood. But in this, I have largely failed with my own kids. We’re just too busy. We’ve prioritized other things, and the thought of dragging ourselves outside in the dark for one last outing at the end of an exhausting day is unbearable.

So my kids know a few constellations. We’ve dabbled in homemade sundials, and they understand the seasons and eclipses and why astrology is nonsense. But a love of astronomy is not part of our family identity, the way it was for my family of origin.

I know this, and I know that knowing it sometimes cause me disproportionate distress. And this is why, when I prepared to take my kids out for the annual Perseid meter shower, I gave myself more than one stern lecture . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly here

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Not lost forever: On miscarriage, grief, and hope

In the movie Gladiator (2000), the victorious but homesick general Maximus carries with him tiny, crude statues of his beloved wife and son. They are a reminder of home, but he also prays to them and for them, tenderly cradling the figures in his hand as he endures the pain of separation.

The figures become even more precious to him when he discovers that his wife and son are dead — tortured and murdered as political revenge.

Some Romans believed that the spirits of the dead were literally embodied in the figures, making them so much more than keepsakes. After he dies, his friend buries the statuettes in the sand of the Colosseum. We see brief, otherworldly scenes of Maximus returning home, of the three of them rushing together again.

I thought of those little figures as I read ‘The Japanese Art of Grieving a Miscarriage’ in the New York Times. The author, Angela Elson, says:

According to Buddhist belief, a baby who is never born can’t go to heaven, having never had the opportunity to accumulate good karma. But Jizo, a sort of patron saint of foetal demise, can smuggle these half-baked souls to paradise in his pockets. He also delivers the toys and snacks we saw being left at his feet on Mount Koya. Jizo is the UPS guy of the afterlife.

Elson bought a Japanese Jizo figurine for herself when she had a miscarriage. She says:

A miscarriage at 10 weeks produces no body, so there would be no funeral. “What do we even do?” I asked the doctor. She wrote me a prescription for Percocet: “Go home and sleep.”

We went home. I didn’t sleep. I spent a week throwing myself around the house … I was itchy with sadness. I picked at my cuticles and tore out my hair. I had all this sorrow and no one to give it to, and Brady couldn’t take it off me because his hands were already full of his own mourning. We knew miscarriage was common. But why wasn’t there anything people did when it happened?

So they bought a Jizo. She carried him around for awhile, kissed him, spent time crocheting a hat and jacket for the figurine. “It was nice for us to have something to do, a project to finish in lieu of the baby I failed to complete,” she says.

Oh, Lord, how I understand.

When I lost our own very young baby a few years ago around this season, it was so terribly hard to have nothing to do. No birth, no ceremony, no body to wash, anoint, and clothe, no grave to dig. We could pray and cry and rest, but it was so hard. We want to have our hands on something. We want to know for sure that the world acknowledges: Yes, the child was here. Yes, the child was real.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my dear friend Kate had felted a beautiful little dog for me. Just a few weeks before the miscarriage, our puppy Shane got overexcited by the snow falling, and he went and ran in the road, and he was crushed by a speeding car that didn’t even slow down. My husband and son retrieved the dying dog and brought him to the vet, where they gently put him down, then burned his body and sealed the ashes in a carved box.

The felted dog that Kate made is perfect, a brilliant, lively bit of work. But before she could send it to me in remembrance, my baby died, too – and she knew how terrible it would be to acknowledge the loss of a pet, but not the loss of a child. And so Kate’s daughter made a felt baby for me, sweetly embroidered and cuddled in a little hand-sewn pouch. They sent them both along, the puppy and the baby, with sympathies and assurances of prayers.

It was so good to have. So good. Even when looking at it made me cry, it was so much better than the pain of looking for my lost baby and finding nothing.

After a year or so, I thought we might use my little felt baby as a Baby Jesus in our nativity scene. I took it out, but then hastily put the little one back again. It was still too raw; and besides, this baby wasn’t Jesus. This baby was someone else, with a name and a human soul, a mother and a father and siblings. Hell, for six weeks, the baby was even sort of the owner of a foolish puppy named Shane.

My little felt baby wasn’t just any generic baby figure, but a specific baby, my baby. So back into the pouch the little one went. Back to the work of simply quietly existing, eyes closed, so that I wasn’t empty-handed. This baby does this job very well.

I forget it is there, most times. I keep it on the windowsill in the kitchen, where it gathers dust along with other little keepsakes, statues, and trinkets people have given me. But I went to check in on it one day, and couldn’t find it, and the panic almost knocked me off my feet. (I had moved it to the other side of the windowsill last time I cleaned. Oops!)

Does it really matter what happens to my felt baby? Not really. Certainly not spiritually, eternally speaking. We are not ancient Romans, superstitiously locating dead spirits in wooden figurines; and we are not Buddhists, clinging to a heartbreakingly vague hope of our children sneaking into blissed-out extinction.

As Catholics, we know that all the bodies of the dead will be resurrected and transformed when Jesus comes back. We have reason to hope that even those little, innocent ones who never had eyes to see the light of day or the waters of baptism will be welcomed into heaven as well, not smuggled in the pockets of a low-ranking god, but recognized and called by name back home by their Father who made them.

Still, we are human. It is not wrong to look for physical reminders of abstract truths. Doctors and nurses, be gentle with women who have lost a child, even one too small to bury. Husbands, be patient, even if you don’t understand the depth of grief. Priests, take the time to acknowledge what happened, and do not be cavalier when answering spiritual questions or inquiries. Friends of a grieving mother, make it clear that you know the child she lost was a real child, irreplaceable, unlike any other.

Even as Catholics, we are one and the same with the fictional Maximus, because it gives us strength and hope to be able to touch and hold something connected to our dead. God made us with five senses, with hearts that reach out and seek comfort from earthly things, because these senses and these hearts can help remind us of what is true: That our lost children aren’t truly lost. They were really here, and they haven’t vanished forever. God willing, we will see them again.

***

Rebecca Jemison makes polymer clay baby loss memorials for free or donation. You can contact her at facebook.com/beccajemisoncreates.

This article was originally published in The Catholic Weekly in January of 2017
 
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

What’s for supper? Vol. 188: A week of truly fast, truly easy, mostly decent meals

Today’s post will be pretty bare bones, as I have cleverly arranged my schedule so that every time I say, “Whew, that big thing is done!” I suddenly remember I now have to do the other big thing. At least I was smart enough to plan quick and easy meals for this week. Everything on this list goes from cold kitchen to hot food on the table in about half an hour, if you don’t shilly shally (and that takes into account that I’m making massive amounts of food, which you are probably not).

Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Domino’s

This wasn’t actually the plan. The plan was to use the huge collection of french bread we forgot to make into garlic bread last week, and turn it into french bread pizza. But the “last week” part turned out to be important, and the bread was all moldy. So we got Domino’s.

SUNDAY
Beef stroganoff and caramel apples

Nice simple recipe, which I actually prefer to stroganoff made with good beef that you have to cut up and cook slowly. I cooked up a bunch of chopmeat in a heavy pot (does anyone else call ground beef “chopmeat?” Or is that just something my mother would say, like “dungarees?”), then took the meat out and drained out most of the fat, then sauteéd up some chopped onions and garlic (pre-minced garlic from a jar, thank you very much) in the fat. Then I put the meat back in, added some beef broth, wine, salt, and pepper, and sliced mushrooms, and let it cook down a bit, and got some egg noodles cooking.

Just before serving, I stirred in a bunch of sour cream to the meat, and served it over the noodles. Very tasty and filling, if not photogenic. 

The caramel apples were made with those caramel wrap sheets, and the kids handled it after I demonstrated one.

You just stretch the wraps over the apple, jam in a stick, and put them in a warm oven for a few minutes, and you become an Accomplished Autumn Homemaker, so you can check that off the list for the year.

MONDAY
Chicken burgers, roast brussels sprouts, grains and veg, chips

Cut them stems off the Brussels sprouts and cut them in half. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on plenty of salt and pepper. Roast in a hot oven until they are slightly charred. So good. I fleetingly considered mixing them with some dried cranberries I happened to have, but I didn’t want a mutiny on my hands. I still think it would have been good, though. 

As you can see, I bought some kind of frozen thing with various grains and vegetables mixed in, that just needed to be heated up in a pan. It wasn’t very good, but it made me feel better about serving chips. 

TUESDAY
Chicken stir fry on rice

I set a bunch of rice cooking in the Instant Pot using the 1:1 method, which makes it turn out sticky and good. 

I cut up a bunch of chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. I cut up a bunch of broccoli into bite-sized pieces. I cooked the chicken in sesame oil in a big pan, drained out the moisture that accumulated, then added the broccoli and cooked it just lightly. Then I dumped in a few bottles of sauce and heated it through. 

I used something called Citrus Ponzu Sauce, which claimed to be “Japanese inspired.” It was, as advertised, a blend of bright citrus, savory soy sauce, and red chili peppers. I also sprinkled some red pepper flakes on top of mine. 

WEDNESDAY
Giant pancake, bacon, eggs

You know about giant pancake. Even the NYT now knows about giant chocolate pancake, and they have the nerve to put it behind a paywall. (They also did a thing about how neat Funfetti is a few weeks ago, so I don’t know why I ever feel bad about anything I cook.) You preheat the oven to 350, take a whole box of “just add water” pancake mix, and add enough water that it looks like, you know, pancake batter. Then you can stir stuff in. I had a bag of chocolate chips on hand, so, boop. You butter a pan and throw it in the oven for about half an hour until it’s a little brown on top. Cut it into wedges and be adored. Your degenerate children will want to put syrup on it, and you will let them.

While it was baking, I fried up five pounds of bacon and scrambled a few dozen eggs. While I was cooking, Irene goes, “It’s funny, they call it ‘breakfast for dinner,’ but I never have bacon or eggs for breakfast.”
“Yeah,” I said; “If it were breakfast, we’d be having–”
“Cold Pizza,” she said. “Cold cake. Or nothing.”

So, I need to step up my breakfast game, then.

Or they can get out of bed when I tell them to get out of bed, how about that. 

THURSDAY
One-pan kielbasa, cabbage, and red potato

This one may have taken a little longer than half an hour, because you have to cut three things and also make a dressing, but it’s stupid easy. Recipe card at the bottom. It’s delicious. 

I did buy parsley and chop some up for the top, and it still qualifies as stupid easy. 

FRIDAY
Macaroni and cheese, my dudes. 

There may even be a vegetable of some sort in the fridge, who can say. 

***

 

One-pan kielbasa, cabbage, and red potato dinner with mustard sauce

This meal has all the fun and salt of a wiener cookout, but it's a tiny bit fancier, and you can legit eat it in the winter. 

Ingredients

  • 3-4 lbs kielbasa
  • 3-4 lbs red potatoes
  • 1-2 medium cabbages
  • (optional) parsley for garnish
  • salt and pepper and olive oil

mustard sauce (sorry, I make this different each time):

  • mustard
  • red wine if you like
  • honey
  • a little olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh garlic, crushed

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400. 

    Whisk together the mustard dressing ingredients and set aside. Chop parsley (optional).

    Cut the kielbasa into thick coins and the potatoes into thick coins or small wedges. Mix them up with olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread them in a shallow pan. 

    Cut the cabbage into "steaks." Push the kielbasa and potatoes aside to make room to lay the cabbage down. Brush the cabbage with more olive oil and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. It should be a single layer of food, and not too crowded, so it will brown well. 

    Roast for 20 minutes, then turn the food as well as you can and roast for another 15 minutes.  

    Serve hot with dressing and parsley for a garnish. 

 

10 things Catholics (and others) should know about therapy

For World Mental Health Day, I’ve updated a thing I wrote a few years ago. It’s all still true! And since then, other members of my family have started seeing therapists, too. We’re so dang mentally healthy around here, I don’t even recognize us.  

***

I’ve been seeing a therapist for several years now. I make a point of mentioning it because a lot of Catholics (and others!) are resistant to the idea of therapy. I understand much of that resistance, so I thought I’d share my experience. Here are some basic observations:

1. Therapy is not a replacement for confession or spiritual direction. You may end up addressing the same behaviors in both therapy and confession or spiritual direction, but you’ll learn different things about where they come from and how to deal with them. If you go to therapy, it doesn’t mean you think you’re not responsible for your actions. It means you’re serious about trying to change them.

2. At the same time, therapy is not incompatible with Catholicism – or it shouldn’t be. Ideally, they should dovetail. In my case, I’d made no progress trying to conquer certain behaviors through prayer and confession, so I turned to therapy to help me learn practical ways to do it.

3. It’s far better to see a good therapist who doesn’t know much about your Faith than it is to see a faithful Catholic who’s a second-rate therapist. I went in with the idea that I’d listen with an open mind to whatever my therapist could offer, and I’d do the job of filtering out whatever was incompatible with my faith, and I’d integrate whatever was compatible. Once I got to know and trust the fellow, I let him know that I felt defensive about my Faith, and that I was afraid that he’d see my religion as something to be cured – that he’d see my big family and my spiritual obligations as the things that were dragging me down.

He said that it’s true that some therapists see religion as an unhealthy thing, and they may or may not be aware that they have this prejudice; but he said that most of the good therapists he knows will want to treat the whole person, and that includes their spiritual life; so he encouraged me to be more open about matters touching on religion. I have done this, and it’s worked out well.

This makes sense, because I have made a deliberate effort to integrate my faith into every aspect of my life, so it’s not as if I can compartmentalize it anyway.

At the same time, occasionally bringing up matters of faith with someone who doesn’t share my religion has made me examine pretty closely what I really believe and why. It’s all been to the good, even if it was an uncomfortable and somewhat frightening experience. 

4. Therapy is not for losers. Knowing there’s a problem and not going for help is stupid. Knowing there’s a problem and going for help is what adults do, for their own sakes, and for the sakes of the people they live with. 

5. Of course it’s hard to get started. Important things usually are. It is hard to make the first phone call, especially if you have to make lots and lots of phone calls, and explain over and over again that you need help, until you find someone who is taking new patients and accepts your insurance. Just keep calling. Set a goal per day – say, six phone calls – and just keep plowing through. If possible, if you need it, ask someone to make the phone calls for you. Just get the ball rolling.

6. Don’t assume you can’t possibly afford it. Therapy might be covered by your insurance, or they might offer a sliding scale fee structure, so at least make some calls and find out. If you call an office that does not take your insurance, ask them if they can recommend someone who does. Also ask at your parish. There may possibly be some grant money available. 

7. You might not find the right therapist at first. Give it several sessions, and if things seem really off, it’s completely normal and useful to say so and try someone else. The whole point of this is to help you, and if it’s not helping, then what are you doing?

I was set to see a therapist for an introductory visit, and she didn’t return my phone calls, and then left a message saying she would call back, and then didn’t. So I fired her before I even met with her. If I want to get treated like crap, I can just hang out with my four-year-old at home for free.

8. Therapy isn’t magic. You have to actually do the things throughout the rest of the week. Just showing up for your appointments isn’t going to help anything.

9. Even when it’s working, it takes a while. Things often get harder before they get easier. It’s normal to have ups and downs, and it’s normal to regress at a certain point. You should be seeing some progress at some point, but don’t expect to be on a dazzling upward trajectory from day one.

10. Therapy is smarter than you think, smarty.  So give it a chance, even if your therapist uses words or ideas that sound goofy at first. If you have a decent therapist who seems intelligent, responsive, and respectful, then keep an open mind.

I had a hard time, for instance, getting over the word “mindfulness.” I was like, “But I do not balance crystals on my forehead when I get overwhelmed by yoga pants shopping, so get away from me with your mindfulness nonsense!” Well, it happens that I went in for help changing some behavior that I do out of habit, that I do without thinking, and that I do when I feel like I’m not in control of my responses. So guess what I’m working on? Mindfulness. La di dah.

***

If you’ve had a good (or a bad) experience with therapy, what would you add? What would you like your fellow Catholics to know?

Image via MaxPixel (Creative Commons)