What’s for supper? Vol. 315: When in doubt, add butter

Another week! Nobody told me that Halloween was Monday, so now I’m scurrying around like a DIY rat, scouring the local stores for yellow duct tape and a green knit hat and other things that ought to be easy to find but aren’t. And it just now occurred to me I could spray paint a hat the right color, couldn’t I? And so I shall. Anyway, despite the scurrying, we had some pretty spectacular food this week, and that has made all the difference. Read on!

SATURDAY
Hot dogs, chips

Saturday we went to the local pumpkin festival, which they had carefully renamed “Gathering of the Gourds.” The festival has been a Whole Thing, because for several years they tried to beat the world record for greatest number of illuminated pumpkins. It was fun, but also very overwhelming and expensive for the town, as tons of people poured into town to see the giant towers of jack-o’-lanterns.

Then came October of 2014, and I think I was in . . . Georgia? I forget where, but definitely away from home giving a speech, and I came down to the hotel lobby to get my free continental breakfast and blearily became aware that the TV was saying there had been riot with tear gas and rubber bullets, fires in the street, and a car tipped over, and I recognized the street. Called home and established that, while Damien and the kids had indeed been at the festival, they had not personally torn a parking meter out of the ground or thrown a beer bottle at anyone’s head. So that was okay.

Anyway, the pumpkin festival has been pretty hit or miss since then, and Covid was really the kiss of death. This year it was basically some stores giving out candy, a pile of pumpkins you could carve if you wanted to, and a bunch of vendors in a parking lot — including Clara and Elijah, so that was cool.

So we did that, and Benny had a party to attend, and I think we worked on Halloween costumes and baked Alaska, and days like this is why they make hot dogs. We also had a Wolf Man movie to watch. We started with Frankenstein, then Bride of Frankenstein, then Son of Frankenstein, and then we had to watch The Wolf Man so we could watch Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The kids keep saying, “Well, that has to be the last one, now, because he clearly died at the end” and then we explain once again the concept of a movie studio backing up a truckload of cash to one’s house. I think next is a movie that has Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and Dracula. And a truckload of cash. (I recommend all of these movies, by the way, especially the Frankenstein ones. They are gorgeous, they move right along, and their entire agenda is to be creepy and scare you with spookiness, which is very refreshing.)

SUNDAY
Bastardized jambalaya

Last week I heard myself say I didn’t really know what to do with kielbasa except make a sheet pan meal with potatoes, but then I immediately remembered: hark! you can make jambalaya. I told my husband that I was probably going to make some kind of bastardized version, but he said that was okay, because he was kind of a bastard himself. Who among us.

Jambalaya is one of those things people get a little huffy about, but I myself feel that you should cook what tastes good to you, and as long as you’re not running up to first generation immigrants and saying “try it like this, stupid! It’s so much better my way!” then THERE IS NO PROBLEM. It’s food, food is for eating, boom. 

So here is my quickie whatever jambalaya, made with kielbasa and shrimp.

Jump to Recipe

I was planning to throw some leftover chicken in there, but I did ask the kids to clean out the fridge really thoroughly, and I forgot to specify to save the chicken. Well, it was completely delicious, really filling, and it was done in about 45 minutes, start to finish. Obviously you can adjust the spices as you see fit. 

MONDAY
Chicken cutlet sandwiches, fries

Monday was supposed to be chicken burger day, but I can only find frozen chicken burgers half the time these days. I blame Hunter Biden, for some reason. So I had a sudden memory of the delicious chicken cutlets my mother used to make, and that became the plan. 

I don’t even really have a recipe. I sliced chicken breasts lengthwise, dunked them in beaten egg with a little milk and salt and pepper, then dredged them in panko crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Then I pan fried them in canola oil and melted butter. 

Much faster and tidier than whole pieces of fried chicken, like thighs or drumsticks. I easily could have served them as is, maybe with a lemon wedge, but I was already on a sandwich track, so I put out sliced cheese, sliced onions, and sliced tomatoes. I couldn’t find the aioli mayonnaise, so I just had regular, and it was scrumptious. 

I love things fried in panko crumbs. If you fried a socket wrench in panko crumbs, I would be like, “Ohh, it’s so fluffy and nice” and I would have seconds. The chicken stayed juicy, and it was just a tasty treat all around. I also bought some malt vinegar for the fries, and that was a hit. 

TUESDAY
Korean fried chicken, roast broccoli, rice, baked Alaska

This was our anniversary meal!  The baked Alaska, I already wrote about in excruciating detail yesterday Now we must talk about the meal we had, that Damien made. It was magnificent. 

He took a chance with a new recipe, and I think it was the best chicken I’ve ever had. It was one of those twice-fried recipes, with a sauce that dances around in your taste buds in three distinct phases. It has a crackly, crunchy skin and is coated in a sticky, sweet, gingery sauce that is just TRANSPORTATIVE. I can confidently say that it was totally worth all the time and energy Damien put into it.

Didn’t hurt my feelings at all that he spent the afternoon cooking and wearing the kilt I got him, either. Ahem.

The chicken recipe is from delish.com, and it also has a recommended side dish of large pieces of grilled broccoli in a hot garlicky sauce with parmesan, which Damien also made, and which was also fantastic.

I made a big pot of plain rice in the Instant Pot and man, what a feast.

It was really hard to stop eating. 

WEDNESDAY
Zuppa Toscana, french bread

Wednesday was supposed to be nacho day, but it was rainy and chilly and just begging for soup, so I complied. I made a big pot of Zuppa Toscana, which only has nine or ten ingredients (which is not a lot for soup) and is absolutely the soul of comfort and coziness. Mild sausage, red potatoes, cream, and kale.

Jump to Recipe

I had heavy cream left over from all the ice cream making, so I used that along with the half and half, and wow, it was rich. 

I was in a rush, so you can see I ended up putting the soup out before the kale was completely soft. It was cooked all the way, but it wasn’t noodle-soft. It wasn’t bad, just different! 

I also made four loaves of French bread. I was literally running around trying to get stuff done, and was trying to sell emergency raffle tickets that it suddenly turned out we had to unload twenty of before tomorrow, and we had to get to a soccer game, and I kept forgetting I was making bread, so it’s a miracle it turned out at all. This should be a testament to how easy this recipe is!

Jump to Recipe

The loaves were not terribly photogenic, and I suspect someone squonched one of them before I put it in the oven, and if I were on the Great British Baking Show and they really wanted me to produce four completely identical loaves, I would not have gotten a handshake

but man they tasted good! Piping hot from the oven, so perfect with the rich, creamy soup. 

I did run a little butter over the tops when they came out of the oven. The purpose of this is to make them more buttery. Look, I’m working on building up my neck fold. For winter. 

I also did the trick of throwing a few ice cubes into the oven along with the unbaked loaves, which is supposed to produce a cloud of steam, giving the bread a thin, fragile crust. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This time it worked great. The inside was pillowy soft, and the crust absolutely shattered when I cut it.

Couldn’t be more pleased.

THURSDAY
Pork nachos

Didn’t have a super solid plan for this. I had a big bone-in pork shoulder, and put it in a shallow pan with a bunch of cider vinegar, then rubbed it with mustard and rubbed in a bunch of salt, garlic powder, a little chili powder, and lots of cumin, covered it loosely with tinfoil, and cooked it at 325 for several hours. 

Usually I will shred the meat and distribute it over the chips and melt cheese over it for nachos, but this time I made the chips and cheese separately (one pan with jalapeños, one without), and let people make their own choices about pork, which they appreciated. 

The best thing about this picture is that I labelled it “nacho table” and my phone was like, uh, no, ‘scuse me, that a macho navel.

FRIDAY
Kids are making tuna noodle, Damien and I are scooting away for a little day trip to round out anniversary week. Smell ya later! 

Oh, here’s some recipe cards for the week: 

bastardized jambalaya

completely inauthentic, just things that seem tasty to me

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 rope jambalaya, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 5 stalks celery, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp oregano
  • 2 tbsp cajun seasoning
  • raw shrimp
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 5 cups raw brown or long grain rice
  • 10-oz can diced tomatoes with chilies

Instructions

  1. In a heavy pot, heat up the oil. Brown up the kielbasa. Add in the onions, celery, and green pepper and continue stirring and cooking over medium heat until the vegetables are somewhat soft.

  2. Add in the garlic and spices and cook a few minutes more. Add in the raw shrimp and stir.

  3. Pour in the chicken broth, rice, and tomatoes with any juice. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until rice is cooked.

Zuppa Toscana

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. sweet Italian sausages
  • 1-2 red onion(s), diced
  • 4 medium red potatoes, sliced thin with skin on
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 3 cups kale, chopped
  • 4 cups half and half
  • 9 cups chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • olive oil for cooking
  • pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour

Instructions

  1. Squeeze the sausage out of the casings. Saute it up in a little olive oil, breaking it into pieces as it cooks. When it's almost done, add the minced garlic, diced onion, and sliced potatoes. Drain off excess olive oil.

  2. When onions and potatoes are soft, add flour, stir to coat, and cook for another five minutes. 

  3. Add chicken broth and half and half. Let soup simmer all day, or keep warm in slow cooker or Instant Pot. 

  4. Before serving, add chopped kale (and sliced mushrooms, optional) and cook for another ten minutes (or set Instant Pot for three minutes) until kale and mushrooms are soft. Add pepper. Add salt if necessary, but the sausage and broth contribute salt already. 

  5. This makes a creamy soup. If you want it thicker, you can add a flour or cornstarch roux at the end and cook a little longer. 

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.

Twenty-five years calls for baked Alaska!

On Tuesday, Damien and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

We did it in the way we know best: With a lot of food. Damien made a spectacular meal of Korean fried chicken, roast broccoli, and rice (more about that tomorrow!), and I was in charge of dessert. 

Twenty five years ago, I baked our wedding cake at the last minute, because my mother got sick, or accidentally cut off her own hand, or otherwise made sure she didn’t have to make the wedding cake. Which, understandable. I don’t remember what recipe I used; I just remember just baking more and more and more cake until it finally seemed wedding-sized, and I was very tired, so I stopped. And that’s how you do it!

We didn’t have a little bride and groom or even a floral topper. This is because I forgot. It was just cake. At the reception, my friend Kate noticed it was just bare white, and gathered up loose flowers and ferns from the bridesmaid’s bouquets and strewed them over the cake, and last I heard, this does not invalidate a marriage.

Nevertheless, someone told us it was traditional to save the top layer of cake and eat it on your first anniversary, so someone wrapped it up and we dutifully put it into the freezer. 

And then we moved, and moved the cake to the freezer of the new house. And then we were pretty busy, so we forgot about it, and then we moved again, and then we moved several times, and had ten kids and probably half a dozen refrigerators, and after a certain point, I got a little weird about the cake and wouldn’t let people throw it away even though it was taking up valuable space and there was no possible way it was edible. 

Anyway, maybe I had the sort of semi-disastrous wedding cake in my head as I hatched the idea to make a baked Alaska for our 25th anniversary. And let me apologize for the lack of photos in the first part of this. It does get less wordy and more pretty as it goes!

This was my first attempt at making baked Alaska, which is a cake topped with ice cream surrounded with meringue which is then toasted and/or set on fire. You can toast it with a torch, as I did, or you can bake it in the oven, and you can eat it that way, or you can toast it and then douse it with 80-proof liquor and flambé it. Either way, the novelty is that the ice cream stays frozen while the outside is briefly very hot indeed.

No part of it was difficult, but it did take some planning, because I wanted to make the ice cream and other components from scratch, and you have to freeze the ice cream bowls for 12 hours before making ice cream, and I was making three kinds. You can make it with store-bought ice cream, though, and you don’t need any special equipment to make the baked Alaska. You can use a kitchen torch, but you don’t have to. I will include a condensed version of the recipe at the end. 

As I mentioned, the meal was Korean or Korean-adjascent. With that in mind, this is what I ended up with for dessert, from the bottom up: 

Pound cake (which I made from a mix, because my baking is unreliable)
Raspberry-blackberry jam and pecan pralines
Mango ice cream
Pecan pralines
Coconut ice cream
Raspberry-blackberry jam
Strawberry ice cream
Meringue, toasted with a torch and then flambéd with spiced rum

Here’s the timeline, with recipes for each component

SATURDAY
I made a double recipe of Ben and Jerry’s Strawberry ice cream. Damien loves strawberry ice cream, and he said this is the best he ever had. 

Ben and Jerry's Strawberry Ice Cream

Ingredients

For the strawberries

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

For the ice cream base

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy or whipping cream
  • 1 cup milk

Instructions

  1. Hull and slice the strawberries. Mix them with the sugar and lemon juice, cover, and refrigerate for an hour.

Make the ice cream base:

  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs for two minutes until fluffy.

  2. Add in the sugar gradually and whisk another minute.

  3. Pour in the milk and cream and continue whisking to blend.

Put it together:

  1. Mash the strawberries well, or puree them in a food processor. Stir into the ice cream base.

  2. Add to your ice cream maker and follow the directions. (I use a Cuisinart ICE-20P1 and churn it for 30 minutes, then transfer the ice cream to a container, cover it, and put it in the freezer.)

It comes out a lovely petal pink and is full of strawberries. What more could you want?

SUNDAY

On Sunday I made coconut ice cream. I used the Ben and Jerry’s recipe for this as well, and it was very easy: Just a sweet cream base with a can of coconut cream stirred in. Here’s that recipe:

Ben and Jerry's coconut ice cream

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups whipping cream or heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 15 oz coconut cream

Instructions

  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs for two minutes until fluffy.

  2. Add in the sugar gradually and whisk another minute.

  3. Pour in the milk and cream and coconut cream (discarding the waxy disk thing) and continue whisking to blend.

  4. Add to your ice cream maker and follow the directions. (I use a Cuisinart ICE-20P1 and churn it for 30 minutes, then transfer the ice cream to a container, cover it, and put it in the freezer.)

This ice cream would be an excellent base for all kinds of lovely add-ins, nuts and chocolate chips and things. It was very rich and pleasant just plain, though. 

MONDAY

Monday I made mango ice cream, cake, and pralines. 

First the mango ice cream. I fiddled with various recipes, and here is what I ended up with:

Mango ice cream

Ingredients

  • 30 oz (about 3 cups) mango pulp
  • 2 cups heavy or whipping cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 mango, chopped into bits

Instructions

  1. In a bowl, whisk the milk, sugar, and salt until blended.

  2. Add in the mango pulp and cream and stir with a spoon until blended.

  3. Cover and refrigerate two hours.

  4. Stir and transfer to ice cream maker. Follow instructions to make ice cream. (I use a Cuisinart ICE-20P1 and churn it for 30 minutes.)

  5. After ice cream is churned, stir in fresh mango bits, then transfer to a freezer-safe container, cover, and freeze for several hours.

My goodness, this was fantastic. If you like mangos, this is your ice cream. Lovely golden color, too. 

While it was churning, I made two boxes of Betty Crocker pound cake mix. I made two nine-inch rounds, plus an extra heart-shaped pan. I knew I was going to have to cut up the cake and reassemble it into a larger circle, so I wanted to have lots of curved pieces to choose from. 

I also made a batch of pecan pralines.

My computer has weirdly evaporated any trace of this recipe, so I’ll have to come back later and fill it in when I find it. It was just a basic recipe with butter, sugar, cinnamon, and egg white, as I recall, and a low oven with the timer going off every fifteen minutes to stir the dang things. They came out nicely light and crunchy, very hard to stop snacking on them. 

TUESDAY

Tuesday was our actual anniversary. The first thing I did was clear out a space in the freezer, so there would be plenty of room to freeze the dang thing. Then I decided at the last minute to make some fresh jam to go in between the baked Alaska layers. This was a good idea, but I wish I had made more, because it was a little dry in between the cake and the first ice cream layers, but I only had a few cups of berries (half blackberry, half raspberry). 

It’s super easy. You combine three parts very ripe berries to one part sugar, and a li’l spoon of fresh lemon juice, bring it to a gentle boil in a pot, turn it down to simmer, and keep it simmering, stirring it frequently, until it thickens up. The recipes say it takes twenty minutes, but nothing takes twenty minutes. It took probably forty minutes to turn into anything I could honestly call “jam.” But it was a chilly, drizzly day and I did not mind hanging around sniffing the gentle clouds of berry steam. 

And then I was ready! Ready to make a baked Alaska! I had watched a few videos and read a few recipes, and chose out the most reasonable-sounding instructions. Here is what I did. 

My goal was to have the whole thing assembled at least four hours before dessert time, so it would have plenty of time to freeze. I took the three tubs of ice cream out of the freezer to let them soften up.

Note: The coconut ice cream softens up faster than the others, and eventually separates, so if you’re using it, maybe leave it in the freezer longer. 

I was planning an enormous baked Alaska. It probably could have served 15 people. I sprayed a plastic salad bowl 12″ in diameter with neutral cooking spray. Then I lined it with two ribbons in a cross shape, to make a handle to lift the frozen ice cream out at the end.

Then I lined the whole thing with plastic wrap, leaving some hanging over the edges. 

I really did not want that ice cream to get stuck!

I also made a diagram of what I wanted my finished baked Alaska to look like, because I knew I was going to get confused. Remember, you’re making it upside down, so the first thing you put in is going to be on top of the finished product.

I mushed up the strawberry ice cream a bit to make it the consistency of soft serve, and spread it in the bowl, making a smooth surface with a spatula.

Then I put it back in the freezer for 25 minutes or so. The jam was still pretty hot from being cooked, so I popped that in the freezer, too. When the ice cream had solidified a bit, I spooned some of the jam over the top and spread it out. Then I took the coconut ice cream, mushed it, and spread it out, and sprinkled pralines over the top, and put it in the freezer to harden a bit. Then I repeated the process with the mango ice cream, making the third layer. I spread the rest of the jam and the rest of the pralines over this. 

(I wanted this baked Alaska to be in layers, but you can also make it with random scoops or blobs of different kinds of ice cream, and this is easier and faster, because you don’t have to let it freeze in between, and you don’t have to try to smooth it down. But you don’t get stripes, and where’s the fun in that?)

Then I folded the flaps of plastic wrap over the ice cream to compress it all and make it as smooth as possible. 

Then it was time to cut up the pound cakes! I had two nine-inch rounds and a heart-shaped caked. First I leveled them, then I cut one of the rounds in half and laid them along both edges of the bowl. I cut a long rod out the center of the second round and used it to fill up the center. Then I cut rounded wedges from the heart to fill in the remaining gaps. I was pretty proud of how well it all fit together. 

You can see that I put the crust edge down, touching the ice cream, and the trimmed edge up. I wish I had done it the other way, so the more tender cake would be in contact with the jam and ice cream. Next time!

Many people use brownies for the base. Any baked good is fine, as long as it’s dense and can hold up to the weight of a lot of ice cream. When all the gaps were filled in, I folded the extra plastic wrap flaps over the cake again, and added a little extra, to keep it dry in the freezer, and that part was all done. I got it in the freezer by noon. 

I also did some prep for the meringue early in the day. I separated eight eggs gave the yolks to the dog, and set the whites aside so they would be room temperature when it was time to make the meringue. Then I made some superfine sugar: I put two cups of regular granulated sugar into the food processor and whirred it for a couple of minutes, and then set that aside as well. 

The meringue turned out to be the only part that gave me trouble. After dinner, I started whipping the egg whites in the standing mixer with the whisk attachment along with 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar. I whisked it until it was frothy, and then started adding the superfine sugar, one little scoop at a time, with the whisk going on high. And it went and it went and it went and it went, but it the peaks just never got stiff. Every time I tested it to see if they would stand up straight, they would flop over. I know it takes a long time with a lot of eggs, but it really got to be ridiculous after a while, and I was afraid I was going to break the eggs, so I decided to just go ahead and work with what I had. 

With great trepidation, I put a pan under the ice cream bowl, flipped it over, gave it a tap, and . . . it came right out, no problem whatsoever. I didn’t need the handle or anything. The plastic wrap peeled off easily. Here’s how it looked at this point:

At this point, you don’t have a lot of time. You have to spread the meringue all over the whole thing, including down to the bottom of the cake base, before the ice cream melts. The meringue insulates the ice cream and keeps it from getting melted by whatever kind of heat you apply. I frantically meringued it with a spatula and then added scallops (I mean designs, not the shellfish) with a fork, then I toasted the whole thing with a kitchen torch. That was fun! It brought out the design like magic, like those books you get when you’re little, that you brush with water and a hidden picture appears. 

Next step: Flambé! I had bought a nip of Kraken spiced rum and just sort of splattered it all over the baked Alaska, and then turned the torch on it, and up it went.

It just made a small flame, so I threw some more rum on and torched it again, and that was a little more impressive.

 

 

There is supposed to be a video above! Please tell me there is a video above. 

Some of the instructions I read said you were supposed to
warm the rum, which I forgot to do, and some said you were supposed to pour it into an eggshell (?) and set it on fire and then pour it onto the baked Alaska, which sounded like a wonderful way to set your arm on fire. My method worked fine, and it burned itself out fairly quickly, without blackening the dessert too much. 

And then it was time to cut! I thought it would be an absolute menace to hack through, but it was actually quite easy, and the knife slid right through. The ice cream held together in distinct layers, yet the cake wasn’t hard and frozen. I was so pleased.

The meringue even held in place and didn’t really start to slide until I was almost done cutting slices for everyone. All in all, a complete success, way beyond what I was hoping for. 

You guys, it tasted so good. I guess I was halfway expecting it to be some kind of novelty monstrosity dessert that would impress the kids because it was on fire, but instead it turned out to be truly delicious. 

I was entirely happy with the combination of creamy, tropical fruity flavors, and the jam and nuts added a lot of interest so it wasn’t just sugar and sweetness.

I do wish I had made more jam, but the jam itself was a great idea. Cold jam made from fresh fruit is an absolute delight. The meringue itself had more depth of flavor than I was expecting. The light torching had caramelized it slightly, and it had a wonderful cozy, toasty taste that added a real layer of appeal. 

I will absolutely be making this again. Absolutely! Not for a while, though! 

Ah, but what about the top tier of the wedding cake, the one we saved for a quarter of a century, brought with us through several moves and held onto throughout countless power outages? WHAT OF IT? 
 
Well, I happen to have this video of Damien finally unwrapping it, and I think you’re just perverse enough to be curious. Enjoy! Enjoy! 
 

Well. Anyway, you can make a baked Alaska in a day. You can see I did this the slightly insane way, but you can get a readymade cake, get a quart or two of ice cream from the store, and make a meringue, and set it on fire! Do it! 

Here are the assembly instructions for baked Alaska, without all the recipes and chit-chat. This is for a somewhat smaller one than the one I made, but you can fiddle with the proportions.

Spray or grease a bowl.
Lay a cross of ribbons inside it to make a handle, to help you lift out the frozen ice cream dome. 
Line this with plastic wrap, leaving some hanging over the edges. 
Add small scoops of various flavors of softened ice cream. Or add softened ice cream in layers, smoothing it down and letting it freeze in between. 
Continue filling the bowl, and leave a space on top. Fold the plastic wrap over the top and smush it down, to compress it and make the top smooth. 

Get a pound cake, slab of brownies, or other dense cake, and cut it into slices about half an inch thick. Fit these over the top of the ice cream like a puzzle, filling up all the gaps. 
Fold the plastic wrap over the top of the cake and freeze the bowl for at least four hours until the ice cream is rock hard. 

Make the meringue: Make a cup of superfine sugar by whirring it in the food processor for a minute. 
Separate four egg whites and add in 1/4 tsp cream of tartar. Whisk with an electric mixer until frothy.
Spoonful by spoonful, add in one cup of superfine sugar until the meringue  is smooth, not grainy, and the peaks are stiff. (Test by pulling out the whisk and turning it upside down. If the meringue stands up straight and does not flop over, they are stiff.)Take the ice cream bowl out of the freezer and flip it upside down on a flat pan. If it doesn’t pop out, use the ribbon handles to pull it out. Peel off the plastic wrap.
Spread the meringue all over the ice cream and cake, all the way down to the bottom, and make it into decorative swirls, using a fork to add details if you like. 

Lightly torch the meringue to toast it.
(If you don’t have a torch, you can toast it in the oven, but you will need to re-freeze the whole thing for a few hours first, before popping it into a 500 oven for 4 minutes.)
 
To flambé the meringue, pour a few tablespoons of 80-proof liquor like rum or brandy over the top of the meringue and touch a flame to it. It will burn itself out in a minute or so. 
 
Cut with a sharp knife. If it’s too hard to cut, dip the knife in hot water. 
 
 

Ask a couple who’ve been married 24 years today

Who has four thumbs, has been married for almost a quarter of a century, and absolutely adores haunted houses?

I have no idea. Definitely not me and my husband. We have the thumb part covered, and it will be our 24th anniversary in a few weeks, but we’re ambivalent at best about haunted houses.

You may wonder then, why we’re currently packing our bags to spend a long anniversary weekend at something called “Screeemfest,” which takes place inside an amusement park, which we also don’t especially care for, and which features no fewer than five on-premises haunted houses. Yes, that’s Screeemfest with three “e’s,” just like in Eastern equine encephalitis. Eee!

The thinking, see, is that our expectations will be so incredibly low, there’s nowhere to go but up. We do like each other, and we definitely like getting away from our kids, I mean the workaday responsibilities of everyday life, I mean our kids; so, I don’t know, this is what we’re doing. Chances are good we’ll have a good time one way or another, and after 24 years, we’re just leaning into the fact that we got married in late October, that’s all.

This strikes me as a much safer strategy than what we’ve done for our anniversary in the past, which was to try and sneak away for a super ultra romantic absolutely perfect dream getaway — a perilous endeavor which included getting lost on the highway, and then the fireplace not lighting properly, being embarrassed because I didn’t know how to pronounce the name of the fancy cheese I wanted to order, being too tired for champagne, etc. etc. The heck with all of that. A romantic weekend is where you find it. Happy anniversary, BOO! Eee!

As a little present to myself, I asked my social media friends for help writing this post. I solicited questions for a couple who’ve been married more or less happily for almost a quarter of a century. Here’s what we came up with:

What’s the preferred term: “The marital act” or “The Obligations”?

Like so many things in a strong marriage, it’s mainly about making other people feel uncomfortable. But what long-married couples don’t want you to know is that their secret word for “sex” is actually inaudible. They’re probably saying it right now, and you don’t even know it. Boo!

Did you ever switch sides of the bed?

Several people asked some form of this apparently burning question, and one person volunteered the information that she once did switch sides, and her husband got up in the middle of the night in his sleep and peed in the closet. Just if you were wondering whether there are less romantic things than going to a haunted house for your anniversary. In our case, it doesn’t matter which side of the bed I’m on, because I never sleep. I used to be up with the baby all the time. Now I don’t have a baby, and all I do is put on my pajamas and spend all night getting up and getting some ibuprofen, all night long. It’s called aging gracefully, look it up.

What’s the stupidest, funniest thing you’ve seriously argued about in those 24 years?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Pxfuel 

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 200! Let me not be misconstrued: All I really know is food.

“What’s for supper” was this thing
I started on a whim.
I thought it would be nice to take
A weekly break from grim
And ghastly stories all about
The Church and sex and stuff,
And write, instead, about meat loaf
And peanut butter fluff. 

Well . . . 

Let the happy news be thundered:
“What’s for supper” turns two hunderd.

SATURDAY
BURGERS AND CHIPS

“Burgers and chips,” the blackboard says.
So I guess that’s what we had.
Burgers and chips are always good.
They really can’t be bad.

I didn’t take a picture, though.
You know what burgers look like, bro. 

SUNDAY
PEPPERONCINI BEEF SANDWICHES, MEYER LEMON MERINGUE PIE

Pepperoncini beef is great
Chunk it in the crock pot, then you wait. 

Shred the meat and serve on rolls,
Dish some nice jus up in bowls,

Top with cheese and mayonnaise,
Then enjoy the songs of praise.

Finish up with lemon pie!
Sweet meringue piled nice and high.

Two cheerful pies for gloomy weather.
They took six years to put together.

MONDAY
FISH TACOS

♩ ♪ ♫ ♬♩ ♪ ♫ ♬♩ ♪ ♫ ♬♩ ♪ ♫ ♬
Fish tacos is the meal for me!
Fresh cabbage shredded cheerfully!
Lime wedges waiting plump and green!
Keep the salsa, just gimme that sour cream.

Fish tacos is an easy dish!
Fish tacos are all made with fish!
Aldi has avocados cheap!
Darling, I love you, but, oh, that cabbage heap. 
♩ ♪ ♫ ♬♩ ♪ ♫ ♬♩ ♪ ♫ ♬♩ ♪ ♫ ♬

TUESDAY
SHAWARMA, FRIED EGGPLANT

Sometimes life is very dark.
Joys are feeble, pains are stark.

Wherefore all this shuck and jive?
What’s the reason we’re alive?

It’s shawarma

Cease your weeping, wipe your eyes.
Marinate those chicken thighs

In garlic, cumin, cinnamon.
Filthy eastern ways are fun

With shawarma.

Slice some eggplant, salt it well
Dredge in batter, what the hell. 

Fry ’til crisp and serve it hot
With yogurt sauce. Yes, please, a lot.

And shawarma.

WEDNESDAY
PIZZA

Somewhere in my kitchen, 
Is a missing ball of dough. 
I had it Wednesday morning
But by noon it had to go. 
I made four pizzas with the rest
And looked both high and low
But dough ball number five skipped town
Like Barry Manilow.*

*I don’t know, what do you want from me

THURSDAY
ONION SOUP, BEER BREAD, BRATS

It’s only melted butter,
Melted butter in a pot
Cuddled up with onions
And some beef broth, not a lot. 
Salt and pepper and flour
And a drift of parmesan.
But it smells like heart’s desire
And it tastes like supper’s on.

 

FRIDAY
MAC AND CHEESE

You know what, you write a poem about mac and cheese. 

***

5 from 1 vote
Print

Beef pepperoncini sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 1 hunk beef
  • 1 jar pepperoncini
  • several glugs Worcestershire sauce
  • rolls
  • sliced provolone

Instructions

  1. Put the beef in a slow cooker with a jar of pepperoncini and the juice. If you like, cut the stems off the pepperoncini. If there isn't enough juice, add some beer. 

  2. Cover, set to low, and let it cook for several hours until the meat falls apart when poked with a fork. 

  3. Shred the meat. If you like, chop up a few of the pepperoncini. 

  4. Serve meat on rolls with mayo if you like. Lay sliced provolone over the meat and slide it under the broiler to toast the bread and melt the cheese. Serve the juice on the side for dipping. 

 

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.

 

Yogurt sauce

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

 

Fried eggplant

You can salt the eggplant slices many hours ahead of time, even overnight, to dry them before frying.

Ingredients

  • 3 medium eggplants
  • salt for drying out the eggplant

veg oil for frying

3 cups flour

  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3+ cups water
  • 1 Tbsp veg oil
  • optional: kosher salt for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. Cut the ends off the eggplant and slice it into one-inch slices.
    Salt them thoroughly on both sides and lay on paper towels on a tray (layering if necessary). Let sit for half an hour (or as long as overnight) to draw out some of the moisture. 

  2. Mix flour and seasonings in a bowl, add the water and teaspoon of oil, and beat into a batter. Preheat oven for warming. 

  3. Put oil in heavy pan and heat until it's hot but not smoking. Prepare a tray with paper towels.

  4. Dredge the eggplant slices through the batter on both sides, scraping off excess if necessary, and carefully lay them in the hot oil, and fry until crisp, turning once. Fry in batches, giving them plenty of room to fry.

  5. Remove eggplant slices to tray with paper towels and sprinkle with kosher salt if you like. You can keep them warm in the oven for a short time.  

  6. Serve with yogurt sauce or marinara sauce.

Beer bread

A rich, buttery quick bread that tastes more bready and less cake-y than many quick breads. It's so easy (just one bowl!) but you really do want to sift the flour.

This recipe makes two large loaf pan loaves.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups flour, sifted
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 12-oz cans beer, preferably something dark
  • 1 stick butter

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375

  2. Butter two large loaf pans. Melt the stick of butter.

  3. I'm sorry, but you really do want to sift the flour.

  4. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients, and stir in beer until it's all combined and nice and thick.

  5. Pour the batter into the loaf pans and pour the melted butter over the top.

  6. Bake for about 50 minutes until it's crusty and knobbly on top.

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. 

 

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 105: I may have overdone things

Lordy, what a busy week! Between running around, huge cleaning projects, cars being unreliable, prepping for parties and outings, going on field trips, making Halloween costumes, parent-teacher conferences, painting the cat green (okay, Corrie helped with that), and various alarms in the night, it was, lordy, a busy week. Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Aldi pizza

The kids had pizza at home while Damien and I went to our college reunion!

Great food, great company. Check out the centerpiece on our table:

Kyra, there was a chapter all about you.

For those who were with us at TMC, here is a somewhat blurry pic of the guests of honor:

Ms. Enos was there, too, but she will murder me if I post the truly amazing photo I got of her talking about being the token WASP.

***

SUNDAY
Chicken thighs with fall vegetables, ice cream sundaes

A very, very fine fall dish from Damn Delicious, and a true one-pan dish (not “cook eleven things separately using every pot and pan you own and then put it all together in one pan, ta-dah!”).

I guiltily brought out the jar of “Italian Seasoning” I bought for a dollar. It has all the stuff I was planning to put on the chicken anyway. It’s like one of those packets with the matching birthday candles, streamers, balloons, plates, cups, and forks all in one. It makes you a bad person! I don’t know why.

Anyway, you cut up all the veg, drag ’em around in a simple sauce, lay them chicken thighs on top, sprinkle a little Bad Person Spice on the skins, and cook it up all together. It’s delicious and beautiful, and it’s easy for people to pick out the veg they don’t like.

I made too much, and we had tons of leftovers.

***

MONDAY
Pulled pork on onion rolls, chips

I tried using apple cider for the pulled pork in the Crock Pot, plus a quartered onion, some minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Not impressed. It tasted fine, just bland. Damien put pickled peppers on his, which was a good idea.

On Monday, we went to an apple orchard with the Girl Scouts, where we learned that, during Prohibition, FBI agents burned countless orchards to prevent the making of hard cider, and the country lost more than a thousand varieties of apples! Just gone! I know they were not apples for eating, but still! The bastards. Anyway, I was very impressed by how many heirloom varieties they had at this place. Some of them tasted more like pear or banana, some were kind of bready, some were like nectar. Apples are amazing.

I made too much pork, and we had tons of leftovers.

***

TUESDAY
Spaghetti with turkey pesto meatballs

Ground turkey was on sale, so I got 6.5 pounds of it, to which I added:
7 eggs
3.5 cups breadcrumbs
1/3 c minced garlic
3 Tbs Italian seasoning
1 Tbs salt
1 c parmesan
and a little jar of pesto sauce I found, probably 6-7 ounces. I cooked them in a 400 oven for half an hour or so

then put them in a pot with jarred tomato sauce. Is there anything finer than spaghetti with meatballs?

Actually, yes. The meatballs could have been beef and pork. Turkey just isn’t my favorite. It never feels like it’s completely cooked, and it needs so much help to taste like anything. They are lighter, though, so you don’t feel so bogged down afterward. Next time I try this, I’ll buy more pesto.

I made too much, and we had tons of leftovers.

***

WEDNESDAY
Oven roasted pork ribs, lazy pierogies on noodles

Tried out a new side dish suggested by my friend Anne. I cut cabbage into ribbons and fried it up with a ton of butter, plus chopped onions and sliced crimini mushrooms. (This is how it looked after just a bit of cooking.)

I let it cook for a long time, maybe longer than 40 minutes, until it was tender, then added salt and pepper and some paprika.

We ate this over buttered egg noodles.

I liked it better than anyone else did. I don’t think it quite deserves the name “pierogies,” even qualified with “lazy” but it was flavorful, and vegetablish. I had a premonition and only used half a head of cabbage, and sure enough, there were still leftovers. Which I ate cold for breakfast. I cant help it; I have a cabbage deficiency.

I made too much pork, and we had tons of leftovers.

***

THURSDAY
Pizza, taquitos, roast chicken with fall vegetables, pork ribs, meatballs, and noodles

It was supposed to be sausage and mushroom omelettes, but things got away from me, and suddenly it was almost seven o’clock. Luckily, we had tons of leftovers, so I heated everything up and then added some silly food from the freezer.

The roasted fall vegetables really benefitted from sitting in the fridge all week and thinking about accepting balsamic vinegar as their lord and savior.

***

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese for the kiddos, I think, and I also bought 160 pieces of candy and a cubic yard of potato chips for a Stranger Things party.

D and I, however, are going out for our anniversary (20th! We did a podcast on the actual day, which was Wednesday. You can hear it here for free). I checked out the menu ahead of time, and one of the appetizers includes wild boar sausages. I mean, I’m not made out of stone.

***
Terra Cotta army photo: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=672042

Anniversary Podcast!

And here it is! Our 20th anniversary podcast, which we’re making free to all comers. OF COURSE we had some equipment trouble and ended up having to share a microphone. Made me a little uncomfortable sitting so close to this virtual stranger, but we muddled through.

We answered, sorta, the following questions generously provided by Facebook friends:

How did you meet?
What is one thing that you didn’t know/realize about each other when you got married, but now it’s your favorite thing?
What is the name of the podcast?
What’s the funniest thing that went wrong at your wedding?
Are you going to be doing anything special for your anniversary?
What had been your biggest “why did no one tell us this!?” revelation about marriage?
When did we realize you don’t know nearly as much about marriage as you thought you did?
What were some of our hardest times?
Why it is OK to have a big family and not a seven-figure income?
How do you keep that spark sparkling when children and work take all your time and energy?
And I read a poem by Adam Zagajewski.

Thanks for all the happy anniversary wishes! I’m so grateful for the support of my patrons and all my readers. Cheers!

Anniversary Podcast!
/

Marriage advice from two who know

YES, it’s our twentieth anniversary! We’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Here are none of them:

People think marriage is expensive, but there are so many costs you can halve when you become one flesh. Hello, one toothbrush. Hello savings! And thriftiness can be sexy, too. Take turns with it and watch each other brush. Up and down, up and down, side-side-side-side-side! This is hot.

Communication is at the heart of unity, and many people are most comfortable communicating constant expressions of disappointment. Start there, then work your way up to berating each other in the Wendy’s drive thru because why the hell would a grown man truly need that much ketchup, until you’re known far and wide as They’re At It Again. Eventually, the police dispatcher will have a special code just for you two. Embroider it on a pillow.

If you would like to broadcast your love to the world, pose often with your hands touching each other in claw-like fashion, or I guess it’s a heart shape. Grr! Love! Grrrr! I’ll scratch your eyes out!

Compromise, compromise, compromise. Try only being an irrational son of a bitch half the time.

Frequently tell your beloved that you cherish every tiny bit of them, from head to toe. Then, on a milestone anniversary, prove it by presenting them with a romantic pillow stuffed with years of carefully gathered toenail clippings, belly button lint, and drain hair. Pinterest has some good ideas for how to make this project happen. Tip: Don’t spend too much time on Pinterest. It’s not healthy.

When you take a picture of the two of you, hold up an empty frame in front of you. People are doing this. There must be a reason. It can’t be meaningless, can it?

Try to find hobbies you can do together. Accrue debt in both your names. Develop contagious skin conditions you can share. Work your way through vast quantities of cheese and meet in the middle. Grow identical beards.

Cultivate pet names for each other. Consider “sweet cheeks,” “sugar lips,” “xylitol assy cheeks,” or “partially-hydrogenated-palm-oil-me-lad.”

Keep a sense of mystery alive in your marriage. One woman was mad at her husband for forty-three years and refused to say why! And he kept up his end, too. She had no idea what was going on in that basement bathroom the whole time, with the rolled-up towel stuffed under the door and the scuffling noises.

Mason jars aren’t just de rigeur for the wedding reception; they must be carefully featured and maintained throughout your entire marriage. Commute to work in a mason jar if you have to. Tout pour l’amour! Tout, I say!

Romantic: Getting matching tattoos.
Even more romantic: Surprising each other with the tattoos you give your spouse while he or she is unconscious.
Even more romantic: Discovering what kind of tattoos you thought it was a good idea to surprise each other with while you were unconscious. How is it even physically possible for the Tasmanian Devil to accomplish . . . that . . . with a dolphin? Only your id knows.

Never underestimate the power of “pillow talk.” Try, “Mphhh grphhh umph bhh.” Also very evocative: Pillow screaming.

***

Happy anniversary, man. You know I don’t mean it. But I meant it when I said “I do.”

***
Image by Stephan Nakatani via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Up from Unity Candles

My marriage is now an adult! It’s eighteen years old as of yesterday.

wedding pic

Oct. 25, 1997 and Oct. 25, 2015

Here’s a piece I wrote back in 2011, wherein I recount some of the ridiculous things that happened during our wedding ceremony, and how little they mattered.

***

Here is a nice little explanation of what a Catholic wedding looks like, compared to what you might see on TV. No one “gives the bride away,” for instance, because a valid marriage requires that the bride and groom freely give themselves. Likewise, the priest does not pronounce the couple man and wife, because his function is as a witness: The ministers of the sacrament are the man and woman themselves. (For another perspective on what the typical Catholic wedding actually looks like, you might check out this post by Reverend Know-it-all.)

My own wedding, a bunch of years ago, was somewhere in between the one described in the first article and the circuses in the second. Everyone had the best intentions, but it was perhaps not the most meticulously-planned ceremony known to Christendom. The priest, for instance, referred to me as “Simminy” throughout the ceremony. (To my husband: I checked, and it’s still all valid. So put that suitcase down.)

For another thing, I had to give my little brother strict instructions not to squeeze the ring-bearer’s pillow too hard as he carried it up the aisle. This is because I had forgotten until the night before that we’d be needing a ring-bearer’s pillow, and although the one I hastily made looked lovely, it was held together with packing tape. Crackle crackle!

During the sermon, the priest wanted me to list the priorities of a married woman. At one point I nervously blurted “Parents?” Which was silly enough, but everyone thought I said “pets.” Seriously, who quizzes the bride? Sheesh.

But the low point of the ceremony was the Unity Candle. I know, I know—you’re not supposed to have a Unity Candle. It’s tacky and newfangled, a superfluous gesture in a sacrament that already expresses unity quite nicely. We didn’t so much plan the ceremony as get swept along by it, though—so I was as surprised as anyone else to find myself next to my new husband (who is a good foot taller than I) with a taper in my hand, trying to light the stupid thing.

The idea was that we each had a little flame, and were supposed to reach up and join our little flames together in one big flame, and then that would be Unity, like marriage is unity, plus love. Or something.

What actually happened was that my husband reached up and lit his part of the candle, no problem. I, on the other hand, was too short even in heels to even see where the wick was. So I fiddled around for a bit, then pulled my taper down to see if I had done it.

It had gone out.

So I tried to relight it from the Unity Candle, but it wouldn’t go. I whispered to my husband, “My candle went out!” At this point in the ceremony, we had been standing up there for a suspiciously long time, and people were beginning to cough and stir in their seats a bit, maybe thinking about all that delicious deli meat and pasta salad waiting uneaten in the church basement below. And so my resourceful husband whispered back to me, “JUST FAKE IT!”

And that is what I did. Giggling spastically and making the most unbridelike snorting noises through my nose, I twitched my candle around over my head until I figured it might as well be lit. And we slunk back to our seats.

As it turned out, that little gaffe was actually the best possible symbol for our marriage, inauspicious and embarrassing though it was: If it’s not working out the way you hoped, JUST FAKE IT. Every little detail isn’t important. There are plenty of other candles, so just keep the show moving. The guests were cheerful and hungry, the music played, we had some cake and then zipped away for our little honeymoon.

The next morning, we attended Sunday Mass in a little church we’d never been to before. Nobody knew our names, or that we had been husband and wife for less than 24 hours. I don’t know why, but the priest went straight over to us and asked if we’d like to bring up the gifts.

And this second sacrament in that quiet, sunny church was the simple, grace-filled moment that we had missed at our actual wedding. We brought up the bread and wine together and went back to our seats, full of joy, ready to begin our strange and wonderful journey toward unity.

New couples, listen to me: If your candle goes out, all is not lost. Unity is a long, long lesson that takes practice, patience, and most of all TIME. It doesn’t happen in a moment. Sometimes, it’s okay to fake it. A moment’s symbolism is nothing compared to what’s in your heart. You are the ministers of the sacrament—not just at the wedding, but every day of your married life.

 

#Patheos5Yrs (In which I use both hands to celebrate Patheos’ fifth anniversary)

Wellity wellity wellity, look who is five years old! No, not that Puerto Rican tire fire. No, not sixty gazillion Isabellas and Sophies, Aidens, Jaydens, and Bradens. No, not even that weird protuberance on the side of my foot that doesn’t hurt or anything, so I’m just going to officially not know about it anymore.

NO, CRAZY, IT’S PATHEOS!

Like the gracious host it be, Patheos central is inviting us bloggers to share our favorite posts.

I’ve  been blogging for about seven years — my first blog being a Blogspot joint, which I set to “private,” and now I can’t remember how to invite myself back in.  This seems like some kind of metaphor for blogging. Something about not being able to find your own blog with both hands and a flashlight. Anyway, I’ve only been with Patheos since June of 2013, so I’m going to share posts from that month on. (If you have a hankering to browse through other posts, remember I have archives dating back to 2010. You can find them in my sidebar without even a flashlight.)

Without further butt jokes, here are a few of my favorite posts from the past yearish:

 what do we know about human beings? They sin. They sin, and they sin, and they sin. Sometimes they enter into a valid marriage and then they cheat. Sometimes they understand fully what they are supposed to do, and they just don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes calamity strikes, and they crumple under the blow.  Sometimes they let their own sorrows and weaknesses and selfishness overcome the love that is offered to them. Sometimes — no, my friends, always — they are a tangled ball of good intentions and bad habits, unhealed wounds and unfounded desires.
You know what’s scandalous? It’s scandalous to tell suffering people, “Don’t you speak.” It’s scandalous to tell them that their sorrows are making other people sad.  Good heavens. There are worse things than being sad. One of them is being happy and telling other people that, if only they were stronger, they’d be happy too.

PIC bearded stoner

  • On an entirely different note:  the day they took me where I did not want to go:  A long holy Saturday

Those are the worst nightmares:  the wave comes, the darkness falls, the crowd sweeps by, and your child is gone.  Where did he go?  Why didn’t I hold on tighter?  My husband would have gone and dug up the frozen ground to bury the body, but there is nothing to bury.  He has been washed away, and I don’t even know when.  Maybe he died weeks ago, when he was too little to be seen.  Maybe I was happily patting someone who was already gone.

It wouldn’t change anything if I could have buried him. But I wish I could have done it.

I encourage my kids to listen mostly to the [Beatles’] earlier stuff, where their technical brilliance can be enjoyed unimpeded with the navel gazing muzziness that came later.  We have discussed how people in Hell are probably holding hands and singing “Imagine” right now; and I have taught them to identify the sitar, when played by a white man, as the sound of bullshit.

But . . . oh, I don’t even know what to say.  I’ve said it so many times, and I don’t know if there’s any way to persuade people who don’t already see it so clearly.  We’re Catholic. Our main job isn’t to apply “censor” bar across everything that doesn’t come straight from the Baltimore Catechism.  We take what is good. We’re supposed to beexperts at identifying what is good.  We’re not supposed to be screaming meemies who bite our lips and blush every time someone dips into a minor key.  We’re supposed to use sifters, not dump trucks, when sorting through culture.

[Abortionists] liked it when the gory pictures were out there.  It made their job easier.  Women literally ran toward abortion.
  • A finally, few reasons being fat might be the right choice for you . . . today!!!: Seven Fat Takes

 #4. You get to discover that your husband is really, really in love with you, or else he’s a fantastic and indefatigable actor.  Just think, if I were still the proportions I was when he met me (36-24-38, just two inches away from being zoned as a brick house!), I would always wonder if he was sticking around all these years because of me, or my measurements.  Now that I’ve added the equivalent of a six-year-old child to my frame, I know it must be true love.

AND, I figured out how to use the video camera on my thing, except I held it sideways. I realize now that I achieved that “won’t you rescue this poor puppydog who fell into a well” camera angle, but that’s only because I didn’t want you to see how many chins I have. But seriously, this was my favorite Patheos moment, and I mean it:

Well, happy birthday Patheos! And thank you, my dear, dear readers, for sticking with me. Patheos will be hosting and featuring videos from bloggers on all channels, as well as “best of” posts, so keep your eyes peeled, as my mother used to horribly say. So much talent on Patheos, you definitely don’t need a flashlight to find it.