What’s for supper? Vol. 279: We don’t talk about shiitake mushrooms

What a short week, and how unproductive! And how stupidly cold. And stupid in general. We did have a few good meals, though. Here’s what we ate this week: 

SATURDAY
Buffalo chicken salad

Those pesky shupply change issues came for the frozen buffalo chicken, and I couldn’t find any, so I bought some regular chicken. So we had greens with chicken, grape tomatoes, shredded pepper jack cheese, crunchy fried onions (the kind that come in a canister), blue cheese dressing, and then some buffalo sauce on that. 

Tasted great. I think buffalo chicken is too hot anyway. 

SUNDAY
Museum 

Sunday, I took Sophia and some of her friends to the Worcester Art Museum for her birthday. We masked all the way there in the car, and then stopped to grab some lunch, and I looked in the rear view mirror, and they were sharing an ice tea. Two honor students, one straw. ANYWAY, the museum was great. You can check out some of the photos I took here. (They’re not really a representative sample of their excellent collection! I’ve been there many times and didn’t snap pics of their more famous works. If you’re in the area at all, you should go. It’s small enough that you can see absolutely everything in under three hours, but there’s plenty worth seeing, and the descriptive cards are top notch, very informative.)

Afterward, I offered to take them to a restaurant of her choice, and she chose Chili’s. I support this. Chili’s offers reliably B- food with reliably B+ service, and the floors are usually not gritty. I swear I would have taken her somewhere fancier, but it had been a long day and I totally understand her choice. (I had shrimp tacos and they were kind of weird, to be honest. I guess I didn’t read the description and wasn’t expecting them to be absolutely baggy with coleslaw, but that’s what you get.) 

I believe they had some kind of pasta with red sauce, peppers, and sausage at home. 

MONDAY
Pork ribs, garlic mashed potatoes, honey balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts with walnuts

This was a low-skill, popular meal. The pork ribs were just plenty of salt and pepper, roasted on both sides under the broiler. The mashed potatoes were made with an entire peeled head of garlic boiled and mashed in with the potatoes. And the Brussels sprouts, I trimmed and halved, drizzled with olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, lots of honey, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and a large handful of chopped walnuts, and roasted under the broiler. 

I LOVE roast vegetables with nuts. This is how kings eat their vegetables. Real kings, not stupid kings. 

I wish I had let everything cook a tiny bit longer, but we were all so hungry. It’s been so cold, and all I want to do is eat. 

TUESDAY
Bugogi dubap (garlic soy beef on rice) 

A much-anticipated meal. Strips of garlicky, gingery beef, with onions, scallions, and mushrooms served over rice. Somewhat sweeter than many similar recipes I’ve tried. Not like a sweet and sour dish, but just a little fruity. 

I slightly adapted the recipe from Cook Korean! by Robin Ha. It turned out very well, although next time I will put less of the marinade in with the meat when I cook it. It was just too pulpy, and I would have liked a little more of a sear on the meat.

The marinade includes kiwi, which is what provides the acid to tenderize the meat, and wow, it works well. It was . . . there isn’t really a synonym for “tender” that works well for meat, so I guess we’ll stick with that. (When my little brother was about 5, he couldn’t remember the word for “chicken tender,” so he told the waitress he wanted “chicken softies.” So you see what I mean.) 

It’s served, as I said, over rice with scallions and sesame seeds. Tons of flavor, nice and bright, with loads of garlic and fresh ginger. 

Next time I will not bother paying for shiitake mushrooms. I’m sure some people can taste the difference, but I sure can’t. I can taste the difference when they’re raw, but not when they’re cooked! (Not to mention that the first batch of mushrooms I bought got moldy, so I had to run out and buy more, and I was late picking the kids up from Dungeons and Dragons, so I decided to go to the co-op for my replacement shiitake mushrooms, rather than the supermarket, and . . . you know what, we’ll just let a shiver pass through our system one last time and then quietly turn the page in the ledger and not think about that part of the food budget anymore.)

The recipe in the book calls for soju, a dry Korean rice liquor, but it doesn’t mention what to do with it. Presumably you throw it into the marinade, but possibly you’re supposed to deglaze the pan with it. In any case, I didn’t have any. I was planning to substitute vodka, but I forgot. So now you know as much as I do. Possibly it would have cut the sweetness slightly. 

Verdict: Definitely making this recipe again, with cheaper mushrooms, less marinade and more room and heat in the pan. Loved the garlic and ginger and kiwi, loved how simple it was, adored how tender it made the beef.  A very good way to treat a cheap cut of beef. 

WEDNESDAY
Hamburgers, chips

Nothing to report, other than that the burgers turned out long, for some reason. This is what passes for entertainment around here.

THURSDAY
Muffaletta sandwiches, tater tots

Not true muffaletta sandwiches, no doubt. You’re supposed to have a specific kind of bread, specific meats and cheeses, and a particular blend of olives. We had all the deli meats I felt like paying for (some ham, a few kinds of salami, a little bit of capicola and a little bit of prosciutto) and a delightful salad made of things that fell out of my cupboard into my food processor.

I think I used three cans of black olives, two skinny jars of green olives, maybe six little pepproncini, half a jar of capers, some olive oil, and a little wine vinegar. I would have put some giardiniera salad in there, but I couldn’t find it. Our refrigerator is a travesty. Parsley would have been good, but we had none. 

This picture makes me laugh because the sandwich appears to be eating itself. Monch monch.

We ate very early because Sophia had an art show. They made it fancy, with a little jazz band, and the whiter the kids were, the harder the adults in the audience bopped their heads, as if they could will rhythm into existence with their necks. The good will in a room full of parents listening to their teenagers playing jazz solos will save the world. 

I thought Sophia’s self portrait was pretty good!

Although as you can see, in real life she doesn’t actually have a mouth or nose, so she had to use her imagination. Strange times. 

While we were gone, Clara whipped up a Bruno and Rat cake, as one does. 

I still haven’t seen Encanto, but this seems like a good cake to me. 

Best rat cookies I’ve seen in quite some time. 

I’m not sure what these are for.

Some kind of interactive element? I guess we will find out when the kids come home from school today. 

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese

I didn’t even buy any cheese. I can feel how much cheese there is in this house. By the end of the day, God willing, there will be less. 

In conclusion, I just noticed I have tagged this post both “olive salad” and “olives salid,” and I guess that’s fine. 

Bulgogi dupap (soy garlic beef)

A Korean dish of tender strips of sweet and savory garlicky beef, served over rice. Adapted from Cook Korean! by Robin Ha

Ingredients

  • 4-5 lbs beef chuck, sliced as thinly as you can
  • 3 onions (divided)
  • 1-1/2 heads garlic (20 cloves or more)
  • 3 inches fresh ginger
  • 2 kiwis
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup sesame oil (divided)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 bunch scallions, divided
  • 12 oz mushrooms

cooked rice

sesame seeds for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine 1.5 of the onions, the garlic, the ginger, the kiwis, the soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of the sesame oil, and the sugar and pepper. Combine until blended. Marinate the sliced beef in this for at least three hours.

  2. Cut the mushrooms and the remaining 1.5 onions into thin slices. Cut most of the scallion (green parts) into three-inch pieces. Save out a few and slice thinly for a garnish.

  3. Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet and sauté the beef until it's just slightly browned, then add the onions, scallions, and mushrooms and continue cooking until the meat is fully cooked. You may have to cook in batches to avoid crowding the pan.

  4. Serve meat and vegetables over cooked rice. Top with scallion garnish and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Failing harder, drawing better

Over spring vacation, we did a family screen detox. We all just spend too much time staring at screens, sometimes more than one screen at once, ugh, and we all needed to back way the heck off and re-learn how to do other things with our time and minds and attention. The kids astutely pointed out that actual detox in real life doesn’t even work, to which we astutely responded, “Too bad; we’re doing it anyway.”

So we did, and it was good. We spent a lot of time together, we read and crafted more, and I absolutely did not miss the bleak numbness that comes with constant, obsessive doom scrolling. One kid, who formerly spent most of his free time drawing and animating on his tablet, pulled out his old sketch pads and started drawing with pencils and ink again. He’s quite good, and I love seeing him draw either way, but I was excited to see the return of the paper and pencil. I asked him how that went.

He said that it was hard, but good. He described what a different sensation it is to feel the texture of the paper under the tool, rather than to work directly with your fingertip on a screen. He said he’d like to develop both skills, because they’re each useful and valuable in their own ways.

Then he said something I hadn’t thought of: That drawing on paper was scarier, because you can’t just disappear your mistakes. When you make a mistake on a tablet, you can just tap it twice (or whatever; I forget exactly what the gesture is) and you revert back to the previous version. But on paper, you can either try to erase a mistake, or you can try to work with it, but you can’t just make it like it never happened.

Here’s the part that got my attention … Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly. 

Photo by Andrey Novik on Unsplash

In which we obtain culture

Gather ’round, friends, and I’ll tell you the story of the day the Fishers went out to get some culture, for a treat.

This is the week we decided we were pulling the plug on the internet. Not entirely, of course. Some of us need it to work, and some of us need it for school, and some of us need it to manage diabetes, and some of us . . . well, we just need it okay? But we all use it too much. So we spent this past week, vacation week, with hardly any internet at all, and we parents tried our best to fill up all that reclaimed time with something worthwhile.

Well, we tried. We went to the dump a lot, and I paid a kid to clean another kid’s room. I’m pretty sure we went to Walmart, and one time I went to see what the kids were all doing, and they were sitting on the floor, looking at the cat. Also it’s tick season, and that’s always exciting in itself. This becomes important later.

The week was wrapping up, and most honest people would probably describe it as a real smorgasbord of thrilling activities and beguiling recreation of all kinds (did I mention we went to the dump?); but I was really looking forward to this day: A trip to the art museum.

Maybe your kids don’t like art museums, but mine do. Or at least, some of them do. Or at least, they go when I make them go. This particular museum is an hour and a half away, but very kid-friendly (scavenger hunts and so on), and it’s full of cool armour and weapons, and last time we went there, the kids found any number of statues with their butts showing. Basically a dream come true for any child. And we sweetened the deal by promising dinner on the way home in an actual restaurant (one with a giant tent for outdoor seating, since most of us still aren’t vaccinated).

The first thing we needed to do was get our vaccines. Yes, in my wisdom, I bought tickets for the museum on the same day that we were getting our second covid vaccines, banking on the promise that any side effects wouldn’t kick in until we had driven to the city, scooped up some culture, and were safely back home again.

My husband and I sat in our car in the parking lot, waiting for the medic to make her way to our spot with her little tray of needles. It was overcast with a random sprinkle or two, which only served to made the buds and flowers stand out more prettily against the grey sky. “Nice weather for driving,” I said to my husband, who responded, as I recall, “Mmmphh.” The old bear, he just doesn’t see the bright side of anything.

So we got our shots, grinned in relief, and zipped home to collect the kids and pile them into the car, for art was waiting! No time to lose! Well, first I had to go on Facebook for a little bit and take care of a couple of things that struck me as vital at the time, but soon and very soon, a mere half hour behind schedule, we were ready to go. My husband would take the middle school girls in his car, and I’d get the big ones and the little ones in my SUV.

The sprinkle had turned to real rain at this point, but that wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was the third row seat in my car was stuck in a “down” position, whence we had put it yesterday in order to haul a year’s worth of junk to the dump. I struggled with the seat, and then I called my husband and he wrestled with it, we kicked it, we lubricated it, we jiggled it, we implored it, but that seat did not want to sit up, so there weren’t enough seats.

And, my husband reported, the back of the car was crawling with ticks from the junk we hauled to the dump. I decided not to know that right now, and did some quick calculations. Right: We could still do this. The trip could still go on, as long as one person stayed home.
My teenage son heroically volunteered. They say young people just aren’t virtuous anymore, and yet there it is.Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 

The O Antiphons reimagined: My interview with Sr. Ansgar Holmberg

Ansgar Holmberg, C.S.J., 86, didn’t paint her O Antiphon series to edify or instruct anyone. They were meant only for herself.

Ansgar (she likes to be called by her first name) has been with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet for 67 years, and although she has spent time teaching children and offering spiritual direction, she created these seven paintings over the course of three years as a personal way to contemplate Scripture.

“I had read what other people had said, but I decided to paint them for myself, for me to understand them better. That’s one of the ways I learn,” Ansgar said.

Now the seven paintings, done in brilliant gouache (a kind of opaque watercolor), are gathered in a small book, Praying the Advent Names of God, paired with poems composed by another sister in the community, Joan Mitchell, C.S.J.

The O Antiphons are a series of seven verses dating from the sixth century and prayed during vespers during the last week of Advent. Each antiphon is a name of Jesus taken from Scripture, and they are the basis for the popular Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Ansgar’s images are saturated with color and inhabit a strange space between iconography and myth. Ansgar said she did not set out to express a theological idea with her works; she simply followed her intuition.

“I didn’t have any rules or laws or requests put upon me, but it was my own expression of where I was at that time as I worked with these,” she said. “I put my own spin on it, and it went a bit more cosmic.”

Wisdom, for instance, is frequently portrayed in Western art with symbols like a lamp, a book or a female form enthroned; but in Ansgar’s conception, Wisdom is a figure descending fluidly from the heavens, grasping the sun in one hand, breathing out waters and engraving the bed of a riverbank with the other hand. Wisdom, Ansgar said, is proceeding from the womb of God.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image: “O Wisdom” from Praying the Advent Names of God by Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ, and Joan Mitchell, CSJ, used with permission 

 

withDraw2020, round 2: As you were, but gently

Did you join in my daily art challenge, #withDraw2020? It was fun! Now we’re starting round 2. We’ll begin on Monday, April 20. 

The rules are simple:

Using the daily prompt, make a work of art.
Share it on social media and tag it #withDraw2020.
Use any medium, as long as it’s your own work. Most people are drawing or painting, but some are taking photographs or writing poems.

You don’t have to be a skilled artist, just a willing one. It’s a way to be creative every day, and to share an experience with other people, even as we continue to isolate ourselves physically. Withdraw, draw with, get it? To take a look at some of the entries from the first round, search Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the hashtag #withDraw2020. 

I made a few changes for this round. This time, the prompts are not related to COVID-19; the graphic includes the date for each prompt, so it’s easier to keep track; and we are taking the weekends off. I like the idea of making something every single day, but realistically, it’s helpful to have some catch-up days. Just don’t give up!

Graphic by my daughter, Clara Fisher, whose Instagram is here. She tried to talk me out of the first prompt, but I like it.

Here is the official list of prompts:

April 20: perpendicular

April 21: bud

April 22: bundle

April 23: spill

April 24: launch

 

April 27: chain

April 28: trail

April 29: grind

April 30: lift

May 1: tender

 

May 4: turn

May 5: sink

May 6: cover

May 7: stalk

May 8: breath

 

May 11: scale

May 12: ring

May 13: spot

May 14: miss

May 15: break

 

Introducing WITHDRAW2020: A daily art challenge for COVID-19

Welp, looks like we’re sticking close to home for two weeks at least. We’re not quarantined, but we feel a strong obligation to help flatten the curve, so we’re doing school at home (including the college kids), making a spiritual communion rather than going to Mass, and cancelling all the appointments, social events, and trips we possibly can. 

Seems like a great time to get back to daily drawing. Let’s draw something every day and share it with each other. Introducing #withdraw2020! Withdraw, but draw with, get it? Take that, social distancing! Thanks to the brilliant Rebecca Sachiko Burton for the title pun.

Here are the WITHDRAW2020 rules:

1. Draw something every day.
2. Use the daily prompts (literally or as inspiration), or just draw whatever you want. 
3. Any medium is fine, as long as it’s your own work.
4. Share it on social media and tag it #withdraw2020.

That’s it! As you shall see when you see my stuff, you don’t have to be an accomplished artist. If you miss a day, just pick up the next day. 

Here are the daily prompts. They are COVID19-themed, but I tried to choose words that are open-ended, so you can go in whatever direction you like. Or of course draw anything else that strikes your fancy.

This is four week’s worth of prompts, just in case. 

  1. home
  2. wash
  3. mask
  4. distance
  5. patient
  6. curve
  7. beans
  8. hoard
  9. sing
  10. calm
  11. fever
  12. spread
  13. soap
  14. gouge
  15. neighbor
  16. toilet paper
  17. retreat
  18. alcohol
  19. bored
  20. separate
  21. catching
  22. test
  23. clean
  24. flatten
  25. breathe
  26. swab
  27. hands
  28. share

I’ll share mine on Instagram and on my Facebook pages:
facebook.com/simcha.fisher
facebook.com/SimchaJFisher/
https://www.instagram.com/simchafisher/

and my kids, who are far better artists than me, are
instagram.com/clarascuro/ (who made the graphic)
instagram.com/bubblegumscout/

I’m also sorta on Tumblr but I always forget I am: simchafisher.tumblr.com/
and I’ll probably post a few reminders on this site. 

Feel free to share your instagram or Facebook handles in the comments so we can follow each other! I know that’s not how social media works, but I don’t care. JOIN US!!!!

Just for nice: What’s on your walls?

I’m always fascinated to see what people have on the walls of their home. Things end up there for so many reasons: because you like it, sure, but also because you want to impress someone, because you want to show someone you care about them, because it was the right size, because it covers up the hole you made when you were trying to figure out where that smell was coming from, because it already had a frame, because it was on sale, and so on. 

Anyone want to see what we have on our walls these days? Or maybe you’d rather talk about politics, hmmmmmmmm? 

So, here’s what we have on our walls these days. 

In the kitchen, a lovely Matthew Alderman print, plus a little Audubon guide to clouds next to the window

These photos are in alphabetical order according to file name, rather than in an order that makes any kind of sense. Since no one asked for this post anyway, I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Here’s the hallway/computer alcove. This is an area in flux, as the shelf I installed, with wall anchors, even, fell down and took a bunch of stuff with it, and it never really recovered. This St. Michael icon has been floating around from room to room for years, which seems appropriate. Going his rounds, I guess. You can also see one of my few attempts at linoleum prints from a long time ago. I think it was a copy of a Picasso painting. 

There are several of these woven stars here and there around the house. The kids had a teacher who was on a weaving kick for a while. This one’s in the bedroom above the window.

Here is the last remaining decorative mirror of a set of three that I bought on a “why can’t we have normal decorative things like normal people” kick. It is cracked. 

Important:

A very large original woodcut I found at a yard sale for a few bucks. I have always meant to give it a better frame, or at least a better matte than cardboard, but at least it’s up. 

Over the kitchen sink. This is What’s For Supper central, as you can see, plus something from William Blake’s Book of Urizen. I have never read it, and I’m afraid to, because I like the picture so much. You never know what you’re getting into when you start with Blake.

This is right near the stove, as you can see by the tomato sauce splats. Here is little Clara at the beach. How she loved to eat sand. 

Many things in the dining room. At left we have an Immaculate Heart of Mary by Margaret Rose Realy, and a portrait of my three oldest kids as little ones, my Christmas present from Clara. The glass bowl has half a dozen Jesse tree ornaments we didn’t get around to hanging, guarded by a lion. Which lion it is, specifically, escapes me at the moment, but it was a wedding present from Paul Connell. 

The other side of this shelf has a wonderful Sacred Heart by Margaret Realy, and here is my beloved icon showing Christ rescuing Adam and Eve from the netherworld. That’s a good one. 

Of course there’s a certain amount of this. Someday I’ll clean the wall, but right now it seems like a poor investment of time. 

More kitchen shelf. Here is merry little baby Dora, and some of the pretty cast iron shelf brackets I put in. I guess the star is a Texas thing? It’s just a star. And somebody’s pottery project.

Here’s something that I keep . . . on the treadmill. For now. I grabbed it at this weird little music and poster shop in Hanover, NH, and I was planning to frame it . . . 

but then I flipped it over and it has a whole other picture printed on the other side. So now I don’t know what to do. 

I think I like the whirlpool scene better, but those are some pretty good fish. 

A flamingo! This is in our bedroom. Dora was doing a project on ancient Rome or something in middle school, and made a mosaic out of paper. She didn’t have the strength to fill in all the little bits in the background, and I don’t blame her.

In the bathroom. I ordered this colored Flammarion Engraving print in the middle of the night because it seemed urgent at the time.

This is the other thing on the wall in the bathroom. I like Goya a lot, and he deserves better than to be a potty joke. (I also hasten to add that that frame is rusty, that’s all.)

Yo, Fra Angelico! This is over the piano. I just about had to stab the lady at the thrift store to get her to sell it to me, but eventually I got my hands on it. I also bought a wonderful frame, also at the thrift store, but when I got it home, I realize it had what seems to be an original drawing from the 1800’s. It’s some kind of miscellaneous Americana scene, and I don’t like it at all, but I’m now suffering from Antiques Road Show Paralysis, so I just keep taking it out, scowling at it, and putting it back again. Anyway, here’s Fra Angelico.

Here’s my favorite Frost poem, illuminated by Dora back in elementary school for a present. You can also see a bit of a pumpkin by Heather Schieder, whose style has evolved a lot in the last few years!

Here’s another trap I set for myself. I bought this print of irises for the frame, but every time I go to take it apart, I think, “But do I like those irises?” And I kind of do. But they also kind of look like they belong in mammography waiting room. So I just stuck it up on this shelf, who cares. 

JIM JANKNEGT SIGHTING! This one is right over the couch, and it lights up the whole room. John the Evangelist. Dude. 

A Daniel Mitsui, one of my favorites: The Flight Into Egypt. This one is in our bedroom. Need more Mitsui. 

Back to the dining room! Here you can see another one of my spectacular framing jobs. I love this photo of our little starter family. Not crazy about how it’s just sort of loosely associated with the frame. Also NOT CRAZY about how the kids somehow knocked a hole in this glorious cloud canvas by Margaret Realy. I love Margaret’s clouds so much.

In the living room: This wonderful madonna watercolor by my daughter Lena Fisher. I never get tired of looking at it. 

In the bedroom, me and my little girls as mermaids – a quick one by my daughter Clara Fisher. Notice how, even underwater, Benny is still talking. 

MOAR JANKNEGT. This is the view from the treadmill. It’s . . . energizing.

And additional Daniel Mitsui! This is in the kitchen, so a bit splatty. Ugh, you can’t see the detail at all. So good. 

The dining room, by the door. This is one of those areas that needs major help. Someone gave us this moon mirror as a housewarming present and I don’t care for the look on his face at all, but I absolutely need a mirror there to prevent me from leaving the house with a paper bag on my head by mistake. There is also some kind of loch ness monster? Ugh, this area needs help. This is the exact spot where I lost steam when I was repainting. 

Bottom of the stairs, Mother Teresa, BOOM. I think OSV was giving these posters away at some point. 

Hampton Beach. 

My magpie nest. Some very old prints by Lena. Her technical skill has increased dramatically since then, but I love the mood, especially the windshield wiper one. Also a mini landscape by Clara and one of my favorite photos of Irene, mud and daisies. 

Another greasy kitchen picture. This is from the Pumpkin Festival. Someone had lost their balloon and the kids were VERY EXCITED ABOUT SEEING IT FLY AWAY. 

By the piano. Dürer. Wabbit. I’d rather have The Great Clod, but I also like the Wabbit.

This is . . . miscellaneous dining room. I bought that round inlaid wooden plaque thing from a thrift store many years ago, when $4 was KIND OF A BIG PURCHASE. Love it. 
The other thing, I don’t know what to say.

By the dining room table, we have Rublev’s Trinity. The white frame is so wrong, but I guess I’ll just wait another 23 years and then find another one. That seems fine. Under it is the Masai Creed, plus Dover Beach. I forget why it seemed important to print out Dover Beach.

Here’s an old favorite: Dora helping Clara with her shoelaces, a photo by Sadie Centola. People come into my rooms and take pushpins right off my wall. Honest to goodness. 

Over the dining room window. This is my “even their virtues were being burned away” painted tin thingy. You can actually get this on Amazon (which I did with my birthday money).

Next up: The opposite of that. Three cozy little pumpkins by Benny for my kitchen.

Now, here we have a situation. I got this wonderful tin triptych mirror many years ago at a junk shop. It originally had mirrors inside, but we used them for a homeschool science experiment and then lost them, so I put in a nice drawing of some birds Lena made when she was six. We once had a priest over, and he opened up the little door to see what was inside, and he was so delighted to see those birds. I guess he thought it was going to be saints? I still don’t know what to make of that. I don’t know what ever happened to him. Anyway, today, as you can see, the whole thing has gone to hell, and it’s on this hanger for some reason, along with a random holy card, and what may be a sock. I don’t know what to tell you. 

More kid art, plus miscellaneous Marys and Buddhas. This is one of those windows that has several layers and can’t be opened, so it’s slowly filling with spiderwebs and dead bugs. It’s nice. 

Back to the bedroom. Here is a Vermeer, The Astronomer.  I could look at this one forever. See how many times he repeats the shape of a V, open about 45 degrees northwest. It’s a picture about . . . things opening up. 

Back to the hallway. A wedding photo, an icon, and another piece by Margaret Realy! Margaret, WHY U NO HAVE WEBSITE?

Dining room again. Here we see one of my thwarted efforts to decorate like a ladyperson. I really like these wood curl wreaths, and this one was on clearance at Aldi. The children believe that I want them to throw things at it, and pull the leaves out. I do not. 
There are also a couple of extremely tasteful plastic icon suncatchers, complete with sparkly beard on Jesus. They belong on the window, of course, but that would require people thinking to themselves, “I guess I won’t steal the suction cup hooks.” 
Also a wonderful ceramic peacock light switch faceplate, a gift from the great Kate Essenberg. 

Ah, Winslow Homer! This is in the living room, and is the first art print I ever spent (what felt like) a considerable amount of money on. I think it was $15, which was pretty lavish for me at the time. I have never yet regretted spending money on a work of art. 

And last but not least . . . Wonderwoman at a party. I think this was a Christmas gift from Lena. You watch yourself. 

Okay, that’s about it for the bottom floor! I have no idea what’s upstairs. I don’t go up there.

In conclusion: Buy art. It’s good for you, good for anyone who goes in your house, and good for the artist. 

Snickering through museums: How we managed to enjoy Renoir: The Body, The Senses

While hunting around for some images from the Renoir: The Body, The senses exhibit, I came across this review in The New Yorker, which begins, “Who doesn’t have a problem with Pierre-Auguste Renoir?”

Um.

I skimmed, I skimmed. The upshot seems to be that Renoir was a misogynist because boobs, but we should halfway forgive him, because art. And that’s why I live at the P.O.

We did make the drive to the Clark Art Institute to catch the exhibit in person before it left town. Here’s how we managed to have a wonderful time, despite how problematic everything is:

We do actually have some issues to overcome when we spend exclusive time with art. Damien calls it “museum anxiety:” that terrible fear that you’re missing out on something exquisite and important; that you’re not “getting it.” In the past, I have recommended bringing kids along with you — not just for their own sakes, but because we can follow their lead and skip right over the pretensions and anxieties so many adults labor under.

Even if you don’t have kids with you, you can imitate their approach, and it will dissipate that stifling museum fog. I did this when I had the rare opportunity to spend 45 minutes alone in the Princeton Art Museum. I went for the ancient art gallery, and decided I would let myself laugh out loud at anything that struck me as funny — and there was a lot of it.

After about the fourth room at the Renoir exhibit, I got softened up, and recalled I had no obligation to try to impress the other grave, whispering museum-goers with their complicated necklaces and flowy linen pants. I actually went a little overboard, and when I saw yet another elderly gentleman soberly studying a set of rosy, glowing ass cheeks, I had to stifle the urge to sneak up behind him and emit a falsetto, “Niiiiiice!” like Peter Venkman. But seriously, Renoir: quite the ass man. And why not? They pretty. 

Letting myself snicker a bit breaks down my head garbage and leaves me much more open to stuff that’s not funny at all, but just plain beautiful. This one hit me right between the eyes and made me cry, and I can’t even remember why. 

I think I was just glad to be alive, with eyeballs.

They had some thought-provoking pairings at this exhibit, which included not only Renoir but Degas and Cezanne and other contemporaries, as well as later artists influenced by Renoir. One interesting set was a Renoir “Woman Combing Her Hair” (which really doesn’t narrow it down much) and a Degas also showing a half-nude woman combing her hair (which I can’t seem to find anywhere).

Here’s where I have to admit that I know what the guy was talking about in the New Yorker. The two paintings were of similar subject, but Renoir had buttered his gal up to a light-filled sheen, and the entire world faded into a hazy chorus rejoicing in the loveliness of women’s backs. But Degas approached the woman from above, and you got the impression she had a book propped awkwardly on her thighs to while away the time while she was painted. You felt the strain in her muscles; whereas Renoir’s gal would probably be content to stay there forever, endlessly brushing in the golden sun. This is no knock on the Renoir. It was just different, that’s all. Both women were real flesh, really real flesh (and Renoir apparently got dinged by critics by showing too much fat and including too many colors); but I got the impression Degas was more aware that they were human, too.  

It’s strange how you see something better once you have something to compare it to. Like Richard Wilbur says:

I said the trees are mines in air, I said
See how the sparrow burrows in the sky!
And then I wondered why this mad instead
Perverts our praise to uncreation, why
Such savour’s in this wrenching things awry.
Does sense so stale that it must needs derange
The world to know it? 
 
I take Wilbur’s answer to the question “why this mad instead?” to be “it just do.” If it works, it works. My senses do stale, and I’m just glad there’s a remedy, whether it’s juxtaposing art, or just snickering.
 

I actually enjoyed the rest of the museum more than the special exhibit. It’s a world-class collection, well worth the trip on its own, but small enough that you can see everything without dashing around like a maniac. The Clark does a good job with its labels, providing little bits of information you might not pick out on your own, but without dictating too narrowly what you’re supposed to think of a particular piece. 

Among some Degas studies was a quote about how an artist should practice a composition over and over again, hundreds or thousands of times, so that nothing must appear to be by chance. I could see that was how he did it — there were the many, many studies, right before my eyes — but the end result was that it did appear to be by chance. Even when you know it’s a grindingly hard-won skill honed over thousands of hours, it does feel like the artist just happened to casually snag some familiar arc of the arm or angle of the elbow or weight of a thigh. Pff, Degas, what does he know about art. 

There are a number of Renoirs in the permanent collection, including this one, which struck me for the first time as something of an inside joke for artists: Here is this gal, dressed to the nines to sit in her garden and embroider. 

She’s surrounded by lush, boisterous foliage and blossoms, and what is she making so intently?

A little handkerchief with a little, delicate, stylized floral pattern on it.

I don’t know, I just thought it was funny. Flowers vs. floral. Art! What are we even doing? I don’t know, but we can’t seem to stop. 

Many Renoirs showed women with their fingers working closely together, with something lovely flowing out from between them like a waterfall. 

Women are like that, I guess.

Damien and I both adored all the John Singer Sargents. The Clark has the slightly silly but entirely successful Fumée d’Ambre Gris, which you should be required to study before you can buy white paint. 

and several others. The Portrait of Carolus Duran really grabbed us.

You want to use words like “deft” and “confident” with John Singer Sargent, but that’s so inadequate. Check out these hands and cuffs:

Look at those shadows! Look at that ring! And you know these are just little phone pictures. You really need to see it.

Same thing with the portrait of Mme. Paul Escudier.

You could almost get a paper cut on the edge of that ribbon plopped on top of her head, but then you get really close and what do you know? It’s just paint. I don’t know how he did it, except that he believed in himself! Ha.

We kept coming back to A Venetian Interior.

This is where I want to find and murder the guy who recently suggested that museums are obsolete, since we now have digital photos of all art and can just go look at it whenever we want. You have to see it in person. We both felt very strongly that that one streak of yellow wasn’t actually paint, but was actual light, and it’s probably why he decided to paint this scene.

They also have several Winslow Homers, which is always a treat. Wear a jacket, because some of them are brisk. 

Speaking of brisk, I think some people sneer a little over Frederick Remington, because it’s American White House horsey art. Maybe I’m making that up. Anyway, check out this shadow of a horse on the snow in the moonlight, and then get back to me:

This is from “Friends or Foe?”

A few other random things that caught my eye:

This fond, doting Mary from the Netherlands:

This is from Virgin and Child with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist. Quinten Massys, 1520. 

And these terrible children with a cat who has just about had enough:

And that’s why this cat lives at the P.O.

One final note: They had another special exhibit downstairs: Ida O’Keeffe, the lesser-known sister of Georgia O’Keeffe. Apparently there were three artistic O’Keeffe sisters, and when the other two started showing some inclination toward art, Georgia swatted them down pretty savagely, because you can only have one Artist per family. One sister meekly abandoned her ambitions, but Ida struggled to make her own name; so Gerogia cut her off. Sheesh!

So before we went into the gallery, I mentioned to Damien that Ida wanted some way to set herself apart from the more famous Georgia and her famous . . . flowers. He says, “Well, that’s easy. All she had to do was paint penises, instead.” I snickered, but you know what? We walked into the room, and this is what Ida did:

Talk about a “mad instead.” (She also painted some banana plants.)

Anyway, go see a art! Cut yourself some slack, let your mouth hang open like a yokel, and just see what there is to see. Don’t forget to laugh at the funny ones.

You can probably skip the museum cafe, though. That really is there just to impress you and make you feel like you can’t complain when it’s terrible; but nobody in the world needs to pay $16 for a microwaved grilled cheese, even if it is called “croque monsieur.” 

The prime directive: Make something beautiful. An interview with Jim Janknegt

One of my favorite living artists is James Janknegt. In 2017, he kindly gave me an interview for Aleteia about his life and work. Janknegt, 66, who lives in Texas, is currently working on a commission for five paintings for a book on the meaning of baptism. You can find more of James Janknegt’s art and purchase his book on Lenten Meditations at bcartfarm.com.

Jim Janknegt via Facebook

Here’s our interview:

You converted to Catholicism in 2005. What led up to that?

James Janknegt: When I was a teenager back in the 70s, there was a nationwide charismatic movement. I was Presbyterian at the time. There was a transdenominational coffee house at University of Texas, with the typical youth band playing Jesus songs. There was a frat house we had taken over. We had 20 people sleeping on the floor; it was crazy. A super intense time.

What kind of art education did you have?

I went to public high school, and they didn’t teach much about art history. I would look at books at book stores, and that was my exposure to art. We had a rinky-dink art museum at University of Texas, not much to speak of. After I had this deepening of my faith as a teenager, and really wanted to follow Jesus 100 percent, I was really questioning whether it was legit to become an artist. I didn’t know any artist who were Christians, or Christians who were artists.

Thumbing through the bookstore, I found Salvador Dali. The book was cracked open at “Christ of St. John of the Cross.”

Wikipedia/fair use

That still, small voice that’s not audible, but you know it’s authentically God speaking to you — it felt affirmed. Yes, go forward to be an artist and be a Christian. Those are not incompatible.

Crucifixion at Barton Creek Mall – James Janknegt

Your pieces move from dark and lonely to radiant after your remarriage and conversion to Catholicism — that shift that you define as going from “diagnostic to celebratory.” But even in the “celebratory” stage, there is drama, even agony, along with ecstasy in your pieces.

Foxes Have Holes/James Janknegt

When I was involved in that youth group, they were very super-spiritual, filled with the Holy Spirit, thinking, “Now we can do everything!”

Summer Still Life/James Janknegt

But we never looked internally to see if there are psychological problems alongside your spiritual life. My dad was bipolar and manic depressive, in and out of mental institutions and jail. I met a woman at that Jesus freak outfit, and we got married. I carried a lot of baggage into my first marriage, that I hadn’t dealt with at all. I went to grad school and my marriage fell apart.

Breakdown/James Janknegt

Getting divorced ripped the lid off. All this stuff I had repressed was all bubbling up and coming to the fore. Questioning not my faith, but my ability to be faithful. Can I hear Him and be obedient to Him and do His will? It was a very dark time.

Jet Station/James Janknegt

When we look at your paintings chronologically, it very obviously mirrors different stages in your life. Is it strange to have your whole life on display?

You take that on when you become an artist. It’s very self-revelatory. It’s part of the deal, if you’re gonna be an artist, to be as honest as you can. I think that’s the downfall of a lot of bad religious art: It’s not technically bad, but it’s just not honest. We live in a fallen world. Bad things happen.

Sudden and Tragic Death/James Janknegt

That’s part of life, and that has to be in your painting. You can’t paint sanitized, Sunday school art.

But you do seem to create art that has very specific meanings in mind. Do you worry about limiting what the viewer can get out of a piece?

There’s a painting I did of Easter morning zinnias. They look like firecrackers; Jonah’s on the vase; in the corner, there’s an airplane.

Easter Morning/James Janknegt

I just needed something in the corner to make your eye move into that corner! People were trying to figure out what it meant, but sometimes an airplane is just an airplane.

To me, the role of art is to make something beautiful. Very simple, that’s the prime directive: Make something beautiful.

James Janknegt – supplied
Bug Tools and Beyond/James Janknegt

It doesn’t have to be figurative or narrative or decorative. But my feeling is: The history of our salvation, starting with Genesis to Revelation, is indeed the greatest story ever told. What’s better? As an artist, why wouldn’t I want to tell that?

James Janknegt – supplied
Nativity Christmas Card/James Janknegt

How does the secular world respond to your works? They are full of parables and Bible stories, but also unfamiliar imagery.

A painting is different from a sentence or a paragraph. Paintings deal with visual symbols. I’m trying to take something that was conceptualized 2,000 years ago in a different culture, keeping the content, in a different context.

James Janknegt – supplied
Two Sons/James Janknegt

It’s almost like translating a language, but with visual symbols.

I have a definite idea of what I’m trying to get across. But you [the viewer] bring with yourself a completely different set of assumptions and experiences, and I have no control over that. I don’t want to.

 

James Janknegt – supplied
Holy Family/James Janknegt

When I look at a painting, it’s a conversation. I’m talking into the painting, and the painting is talking to you.

James Janknegt – supplied
Grain and Weeds/James Janknegt

Part of the problem today is that we do not have the same visual symbolic language. In the Renaissance or the Middle Ages, the culture was homogeneous, and symbols were used for hundreds and hundreds of years. If I put a pelican pecking its breast, no one [today] knows what that means. We’ve lost the language. So it’s challenging.

Are you inventing your own modern symbolic language? I see birds, dogs…

You kind of have to. It’s a balancing act. In art school, they say, “Just express yourself! You’re painting for yourself; it doesn’t matter what everyone else gets out of it.” I’m not doing that. I’m trying to communicate with people.

 

The Wise Bridesmaids/Janknegt – supplied
The Wise Bridesmaids/James Janknegt

Tell me about the state of religious art right now.

People complain about how there’s no good religious art.  But there’s a lot of good art out there; you just have to search for it. I feel like I’m hidden away, in this weird place between two cultures, but they are out there.

Saint John the Evangelist/James Janknegt
Saint John the Evangelist/James Janknegt

In our time, people who collect art aren’t religious, and people who are religious don’t collect art. And for an artist, in the Venn diagram, you’re in the place where it says “no money.”

If you could just find an artist you really like and ask them if you could buy a piece for your home shrine.

The Visitation/James Janknegt-supplied
The Visitation/James Janknegt

If every Catholic could buy a piece of art from a living artist, think how that would impact your life, and the life of the artist. You could give them a living.

James Janknegt-supplied
Divine Mercy/James Janknegt

Your farm is called “Brilliant Corners Art Farm.” Is that name a reference to Thelonious Monk?

It is! But it also has a hidden spiritual meaning. Honesty is the light. If you’ve got brilliant corners, then the whole room is lit up.

I Will Make All Things New/James Janknegt-supplied
I Will Make All Things New/James Janknegt

You can find more of James Janknegt’s art and purchase his Lenten Meditations book of 40 paintings based on the parables of Jesus Lenten Meditations at bcartfarm.com.

When receiving art, be Penelope, not Argos

A pox on anyone who tries to extract a message from The Odyssey. It’s not that The Odyssey doesn’t mean anything. Quite the opposite. It’s just that a work of art isn’t like a fortune cookie which can be cracked open, its message to be plucked out and read aloud over dessert. Instead, a work of art is like a deep, active pond into which you can cast your line and draw up any number of things, depending on the season, the time of day, your skill as a fisherman, and your willingness to wait.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: “Penelope” by TheoJunior via Flickr (Creative Commons)