Restored order of sacraments works best with whole family faith formation

My youngest child, who is nine, was recently confirmed, and then she received her First Holy Communion at the same Mass. She is the first kid in our family who has participated both in the “restored order of sacraments,” and in whole-family faith formation.

Most of my children received their sacraments in the same order as I did: First baptism as babies, then first confession and first Communion at age eight or nine, and then confirmation at about age 15. And my kids have been through possibly every style and program of catechesis available. The best combination I have seen is restored order of sacraments in conjunction with whole-family catechesis.

I understand why there is often resistance to the restored order of sacraments. One of the reasons parishes began to push confirmation back, uncoupled from First Communion and baptism, and made it into a sort of coming-of-age sacrament for teens, is because families would show up when there was a big ceremony, and then disappear again, and never set foot inside a church again until it was time to get married with a pretty backdrop.

And so confirmation turned into a second chance to give some catechesis to kids before they turned 18. It was an opportunity to teach them something beyond a young child’s level of catechesis.

What predictably happened was that some kids would show up for their First Communion, and then disappear for eight years and expect to be confirmed, even though they had been AWOL the whole time. Some parishes began piling on requirements before a person could be confirmed: They had to attend a certain number of classes or years of classes, write letters to the bishop, write essays or design projects, log community service hours, go on overnight retreats, and so on.

The intention was to get the kids actually involved and educated, rather than just going through the motions; it created the impression that confirmation is something that one can earn, like a bonus for working overtime.

All sacraments are free gifts of the Holy Spirit, and not only should we not require people to earn them, there is no way we can earn them. Still, it didn’t seem right to confirm young adults who could barely tell you how many persons of the Trinity there are. A dilemma!

The restored order of sacraments… doesn’t solve this dilemma. But it provides an opportunity for parents to solve it, for their kids and sometimes for themselves…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

What’s for supper? Vol. 373: Little lamb, who ate thee?

Happy Friday! This week at our house was A DOOZY. Possibly multiple doozies. Luckily, most of it was scheduled dooze, except for both cars having issues (my sliding door stopped closing, and one of Damien’s tires blew out spectacularly, and also his alternator lost its will to alternate) and also Damien has been working on Dora’s car, so, you remember how Damien once added “and cheese” to every item on my shopping list? It was like that, except every day had “and everybody needs a ride” added to it. 

BUT IT IS SPRING. And that counts for so much! We had a big snowstorm last week, but it slowly warmed up over the weekend, and it’s been raining for a few days, so the snow is now mostly gone. 

I tried THREE new recipes this week and a new decorating technique, and Corrie had TWO sacraments, and NO ducks died, although some of them tried to kill each other. I think there is a dead mouse somewhere in the WALLS. And we are having SPAGHETTI for supper. We are all pretty TIRED. But it is spring, for real! 

SATURDAY
Pizza? 

Saturday I did a monstrous shopping because I skipped shopping last week. I feel like there was something else big going on, but I don’t remember what. We had just regular pizza. 

SUNDAY
Banh mi, german chocolate cake 

Sunday we celebrated Lena’s birthday! They had pork belly on sale at Aldi, so I poked around for recipes and decided to try the Crispy Pork Belly Banh Mi from Recipe Tin Eats, because Nagi has never failed to delight, and also because, despite our best efforts, we still had chopped liver in the house.

Before I forget, here is my chopped liver recipe. Chicken livers are cheap and this is an easy recipe. Why not make up a bunch, separate it into servings, and keep some in the freezer in case of banh mi? I think you should. 

So, pork belly is the cut of meat that’s made into bacon. If fat upsets you, you will not like this recipe! But if you are someone who has fond and lavish imaginings of what could possibly be meant by “crispy pork belly,” then I urge you to give this a shot. It was magnificent. And easy! But it did take some planning. 

You have to let the meat dry out in the fridge overnight, or at least several hours. Then you rub the flesh side with oil, kosher salt, white pepper, and Chinese five spice, and make a sort of foil packet to enclose the sides and bottom, so none of the juice will escape while it’s cooking. Then you cook it in a low oven for two hours.

You’re supposed to check it halfway through and tighten up the foil, because it shrinks as it cooks, but I forgot. The pork will have changed shape at this stage, so you level it off by putting balls of tinfoil under the lower side. 

Then you turn the oven way up to 465 and let it brown up for about half an hour, rotating it halfway through and using foil to protect any spots that are browning too fast. You salt it at some point, but I forget when. 

Sooo, here is how it came out:

ooooh. 

Probably could have let it get a little browner, but I really have no regrets.

This particular dish is meant to be cut into chunks, rather than shredded, so I cut it up

and served it on toasted baguettes with mayo, cilantro, pickled carrots, cucumbers, jalapeños, chopped liver (paté) and the wonderful, velvety sauce suggested in the recipe (hoisin sauce, coconut milk, and a little soy sauce), and also some crunchy fried onions from a can. 

Amazing. Pretty different from the banh mi I usually make, which has fish sauce and is a different texture. 

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This was sweeter and less bitey but also richer and more complex. An excellent, excellent sandwich, and the sauce was so good. I did make the pickled carrots using her recipe, and I think I prefer mine, which are less sweet,

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but it was a negligible difference. 

The pork belly chunks were sublime. The fat layer on top was salty and crackly, and the flesh inside was so juicy and succulent, and it had layers of fat inside that were meltingly tender. No chewiness in any part, and each individual piece of meat was, I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but almost like a layered sandwich in itself. So it was like a sandwich full of little baby sandwiches. Not, uhhhhh, an everyday food, for a variety of reasons. But I enjoyed it so much. 

And I made a cake! I decided to use the Tastes Better From Scratch recipe for German Chocolate Cake. I actually made the two frostings on Saturday, to save time, but then left them sitting on the stove all night by mistake. One has egg in it, and I wasn’t crazy about the texture anyway, so I decided to remake it. Because I was being smart. 

I then proceeded to be very dumb and decided that, when I got to the part of the cake recipe where you add a cup of boiling water to the batter, I would use a metal measuring cup without a handle.

Do you know, boiling water is hot? I didn’t realize this. So I basically tipped a little water in and then shrieked and flung the measuring cup into the moving mixer, with predictable results

So I wiped down every single surface of every single thing that was in the kitchen and then I remade the coconut pecan frosting. I made a double recipe of the cake, and it came out, like so many of us these days, a little too fragile. Also the chocolate frosting was so thick, you couldn’t really spread it, but you could squish it, so that is what I did. So the resulting cake looks a little like someone held it at shoulder level and then dropped it

but everyone assured me it was delicious! You have to agree, this is definitely a lot of cake. I have finally started on Emgality, so who knows, maybe some day I will have chocolate again, and find out for myself. 

MONDAY
Eclipse! 

Monday, if you recall, was the eclipse! We were in the 95% range, and we’ve seen a partial eclipse before; so I decided to excuse the kids from school and hop in the car to see totality. Our goal was St. Johnbury, VT, which is normally about two hours away. It took about 3.5 hours, so I deployed the car DVD player, which is reserved for the longest trips, and we watched Ice Age, which holds up, at least if you’re only listening to it. 

We were thrilled to see clear skies, and it was one of the warmest days of the year so far, so we felt very lucky. Staked out a spot, ate our sandwiches, checked out the craft tables and information booths, and then the moon started to steal across the sun, and then . . . 

I don’t know if you guys realize this, but the sun is what is making us alive, and when it gets covered up, things change DRAMATICALLY and IMMEDIATELY. We went from sweating in the sun to shivering, and the light was . . . not twilight, like when the sun is going down. It also wasn’t “there’s a storm brewin'” light. It was light I have never seen before in my life, and there above me were immense heavenly bodies silently moving themselves in a completely new way. Everybody stood up. People shouted and cried out. I wept. It was quiet and cold. I don’t know what to say.

I did take a few pictures

but of course they aren’t anything like what it was like. Neither, I may say, are the dramatic, high resolution pictures that people have been sharing. If you haven’t seen a total eclipse, it is simply not like anything else

We did bring a colander and use it as a pinhole projector to make the little crescent shapes before totality.

Strange, strange stuff. The whole thing was just so strange. And it was just the sun, and the moon! The sun and the moon, that we already know about and have lived with all these years. If this is how strange the physical world can get, it makes you wonder what other surprises may be in store. Phew. Phew. Quite a day. 

Lots of people turned right around and zipped off to their cars the very second totality was over, but we hung out and kind of caught our breaths, and then headed over to the Fairbanks Museum, which is a strange little natural history museum full of taxidermy and cultural oddities from all over the world. I enjoyed every bit of it, including the document hand written by Robert Louis Stevenson deeding his birthday over to a little local girl who had the misfortune of having been born on Christmas. Sweet man. 

 

Oh, I forgot to mention that just before totality, we saw strange ruby-red gems of light on the bottom edge of the sun. These turned out to be something called Bailey’s Beads, and it is the sunlight leaking out between the crags of the moon just before the moon moves totally over the sun. 

So after the museum, we plunged back into traffic and spent another 3.5 hours getting home. We watched Help on the way back, and Corrie lost a tooth, and we sampled Wendy’s Orange Dreamsicle Frosties (exactly what you’d expect), and then we came home and collapsed. 

TUESDAY
Chicken burgers, chips

Tuesday I was like, wow, I’m not even that tired. I got the kids to school, took one kid to a rather fraught doctor appointment, cleaned out the car for the first time in months because Corrie lost her tooth and then lost it again, and was pretty distraught about it; and then I decided that it was time to do something about the duck house, which was in a truly shocking state. And then I thought I would sit down for a minute, and of course I fell asleep. SO asleep. So ASLEEP. It was such a deep nap, I feel like I’m still waking up several days later. Man. 

So yes, chicken burgers and chips for supper. It was finally warm enough to eat outside, so that is what I did!

WEDNESDAY
Hot dogs, fries

Wednesday was the rehearsal for Corrie’s First Communion and confirmation right around supper time, so I got Elijah to manage supper and we got it done! Wednesday was supposed to be nachos for supper, but I had so many other things to do, we didn’t even have time for that, so hot dogs. 

After dinner, I made a cake for the next day – just a box mix, which are really quite good these days. I made some kind of white cake that uses just egg whites.

THURSDAY
Qeema and rice with minty sour cream and coriander chutney; white cake 

Thursday I just . . . didn’t want to make nachos. I don’t know why. So I went back to Recipe Tin Eats begging for a ground beef recipe, and dear Nagi said I could make qeema. 

I’m telling you, that lady does not miss. I minced up a bunch of garlic and ginger, cooked that a bit, added finely diced onion, cooked it some more, and then added the ground beef along with kosher salt, cayenne pepper, garam masala, cumin, coriander, and turmeric, and browned up the meat. Then you just add some water and simmer it until most of the water evaporates.

And that’s it! I set up some rice in the Instant Pot for Damien to start while I got the kids, and I wanted to make some yogurt sauce, but since I had been planning nachos, I had bought sour cream, and we didnt’t have yogurt. So I defrosted a couple of the mint cubes I had put away last fall

and stirred that in with the sour cream (I froze them with a little olive oil. I also found a bottle of coriander chutney in the cabinet and chopped up some cilantro, and IT WAS ALL DELICIOUS.

Definitely making this meal again. I told the kids it was like Korean Beef Bowl

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except Indian, which is sort of true, but also kind of a silly thing to say. It was not spicy, but was absolutely bristling with garlic and ginger, which I love. Just a wonderful, warm, homey taste, and the sauce from the meat soaked right into the rice and made the whole thing savory and good, and so nice with the cool chutney and minty sour cream. Great meal, and really quick (or a great make-ahead meal). 

I also realized that I’m very tired of not really knowing how much meat I actually have (the ground beef was in a ziplock bag from last week, after I divided a giant package and used the first part on areyes. So I got a cheap kitchen scale, and I’m looking forward to seeing if this improves my baking, too, if I can measure dry ingredients by weight rather than volume. Probably not! I think I’m just a mediocre baker, and I’m mostly okay with that. But who knows, maybe this will change everything. Anyway, I’ll know how much meat I have. 

We ate really early and then headed off for Corrie’s confirmation and First Holy Communion! 

Bunch of pictures here. 

It was lovely. Just lovely. Clara was her sponsor, and she chose the name Casilda, who is a saint she learned about from Meg Hunter-Kilmer’s excellent book Saints Around the World. It didn’t ring a bell at the time, but Saint Casilda of Toledo is the subject of this famous painting by Francisco de Zurbaran

which was the reference for a painting by Roméo Mivekannin which we saw in person a few months ago at the Currier Museum in Manchester.

 We do get around. 

For the cake, I often make a stained glass cake for sacrament parties. You cover the cake in royal icing to make a stable surface, let it dry, pipe lines in black, and the carefully fill them in with various jellies whipped up with a little water. This isn’t the greatest example, but it gives the general idea:

I wanted to try something different, so I frosted the cake and then melted some white candy melts and just kind of dabbed them onto parchment paper

When they were dry, I peeled them off and arranged them into a flower. 

I thought it was pretty, if a little rough; but it didn’t really say “Catholic” to me. First I attempted to make crosses out of candy melt. They looked pretty terrible when I cut them out with a knife; and when I tried to use a cookie cutter, they kept breaking when I tried to release them. So I found some gum paste and

behold, it’s THE LITTLE LAMBY OF GOD. 

This is the cutest religious cake I have ever made. Corrie loved it, and I’m happy to have a new way to decorate cakes. I see many possibilities. 

I’ve been on a poem-printing kick lately. I follow several poets and poetry lovers on social media, and the printer has been amazingly obliging lately (= it prints things???), so any time something strikes my fancy, I print it out and stick it to the wall. Here’s The Lamb by William Blake, if you’d like to do the same. When we were at the Fairbanks and I pointed out the Robert Louis Stevenson document to the kids, I reminded them that he was the one who wrote At the Sea-Side (“When I was down beside the sea/A wooden spade they gave to me…”) which is the poem that’s been hanging in the bathroom for several years, and my favorite poem of all time; and one of my kids said, “Oh, I have it memorized. I stare at it every time I take a dump!” So I guess you could say [looks smugly at fingernails] I really know my stuff, parent-wise. 

And now, my friends, all ten of my children have been baptized and confirmed and they’ve all been to confession and received Communion. And they’ve memorized at least one poem. I’m not saying my work is done, but it sure feels like a milestone. 

FRIDAY
Spaghetti? 

I believe we’re having spaghetti. I gotta clean up the kitchen from yesterday (it was Benny’s turn, but we got home so late), and the ducklings are meep-meep-meeping and the dog is whining and I’m still in my pajamas and there are things overdue and there simply isn’t time for it all, but I am so glad for my life. What a life! 

And look at my flowers, which did NOT DIE.

The greens are daffodils and possibly red tulips, I don’t remember. Some of my winter sowing jugs are finally poking out of the dirt. And the buds on my peach tree look fine! We had a freeze and I was rushing around in the dark, draping sheets over things and weeping, as one does, but it looks like everything survived. 

Happy Friday! I’ll pray for yez all at adoration this afternoon. 

 

5 from 1 vote
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Korean Beef Bowl

A very quick and satisfying meal with lots of flavor and only a few ingredients. Serve over rice, with sesame seeds and chopped scallions on the top if you like. You can use garlic powder and powdered ginger, but fresh is better. The proportions are flexible, and you can easily add more of any sauce ingredient at the end of cooking to adjust to your taste.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown sugar (or less if you're not crazy about sweetness)
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 3-4 inches fresh ginger, minced
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 lb2 ground beef
  • scallions, chopped, for garnish
  • sesame seeds for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, cook ground beef, breaking it into bits, until the meat is nearly browned. Drain most of the fat and add the fresh ginger and garlic. Continue cooking until the meat is all cooked.

  2. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes the ground beef and stir to combine. Cook a little longer until everything is hot and saucy.

  3. Serve over rice and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. 

5 from 1 vote
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Pork banh mi

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs Pork loin
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 tsp pepper

Veggies and dressing

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • Sriracha sauce

Instructions

  1. Slice the raw pork as thinly as you can. 

  2. Mix together the fish sauce ingredients and add the meat slices. Seal in a ziplock bag to marinate, as it is horrendously stinky. Marinate several hours or overnight. 

  3. Grill the meat over coals or on a pan under a hot broiler. 

  4. Toast a sliced baguette or other crusty bread. 

5 from 1 vote
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quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

What’s for supper? Vol. 224: Gentle woman, serviceable dove

Oh dear, I skipped another week! We’ll do a highlights reel of last week before moving on to this week.

Cumin chicken thighs and chickpeas  with yogurt sauce and lemony onions

An easy meal, pleasant and tasty, even though I forgot to buy pita bread.

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There were a few leftover wraps in the house, so that was fine. 

I sure do like roasted chickpeas. So nice and salty and savory, with a little crisp ridge outside and a chewy inside. Mmm.

Pizza

Nothing much to report except that my favorite meatless topping combo is now fresh basil, fresh garlic slices, thin red onions, ricotta cheese, and red pepper flakes baked right into the ricotta cheese. Yuhm. We’ve had several frosts, but I brought all six basil plants inside and found homes for everybody, so we should be set for a while. Also plenty of geraniums to get us through the winter. Mmm, geraniums.

Lemon garlic chicken, oven roasted potatoes, mashed acorn squash

It was SUPPOSED to be beef barley soup day.

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Some of the kids have been begging for beef barley soup, and it was finally cold enough. I really gave it my all. First I burned the onions, then I burned my hand on steam, and then I went ahead and burned the entire pot of soup, probably six quarts of it. I was distraught, let me tell you. But Damien drained off the liquid and portioned it out, and the dog has been feasting on cold burned beef barley soup for breakfast all week, and he couldn’t be happier.

Luckily, we had some chickens thawed, so he made this wonderful lemon garlic roast chicken from Ina Garten, which calls for stuffing the bird cavity with halves of lemon and entire heads of garlic cloven (har har) in half, with onions on the outside.

Oh my friends, it was so juicy and flavorful. I can’t imagine going back to normal roast chicken. Here’s the inside, so you can see I’m not kidding about the garlic.

Oh yes, I helped myself to some of that garlic.

I made two giant trays of oven roasted potatoes (skin-on potato wedges, olive oil, and misc seasonings, roasted until slightly crisp) and cooked a couple of acorn squashes in the Instant Pot, and Damien mashed the squash and added I think butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar. A lovely early autumn meal. 

 

Manicotti and garlic bread, Holy Spirit cake or whatever

The original plan was to get three of the kids confirmed, but, covid. So we stayed home and I decided to go ahead with the meal plans, which were for stuffed shells (one of the more festive meatless meals I can manage on a weekday). Well, I don’t know if Chrissy Tiegen made something with stuffed shells and caused a panic or what, but there was exactly one box of pasta shells in the store (which is definitely not enough for our family). So I got manicotti, and man, there is a reason I don’t usually make manicotti. I boiled the pasta tubes in water with oil, rinsed them, and carefully laid them in layers between parchment paper to keep them from sticking together. Guess what, they stuck together. And none of the stuffing systems I rigged up (pastry bag, fake pastry bag, soda bottle extruder) worked. So I ended up carefully spooning cheese filling into 40 stuck-together pasta tubes that kept tearing, and I did not enjoy that. 

It tasted good, though. I just followed the recipe on the box, plus I added a little nutmeg to the cheese mixture.

And there was tons of garlic bread. Which I burned half of, because why not.

I also made a cake, to signify the way in which the Holy Spirit will someday allegedly descend with seven gifts for the kids. It was supposed to be just a giant fire cake, with flames made of hard candies melted on parchment paper in a low oven, cooled, and shattered into flame shapes for a dramatic three-dimensional stained glass effect. This does work! I’ve done it before! I won an award from the Boy Scouts for my flame cake! But somehow none of the stores I went to had the right kind of candy. So I ended up with cinnamon discs and butterscotch discs, which melted very sluggishly and stayed thick and cloudy. I bashed them up anyway and made a kind of ember effect around the outside of the cake,

and piped in a serviceable dove on top, and spooned on a bunch of yellow sugar.

I love that song, don’t you? Gentle woman . . . serviceable dove . . . teach us wisdom . . . here’s a cake. Anyway, we had cake and people were kind of jerks about it, to be honest. I guess we’re all tired.

SATURDAY
Korean beef bowl, rice, sesame roast broccoli

Korean beef bowl:
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Sesame broccoli:
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My lovely assistant helped with the broccoli,

which was made with sesame oil, soy sauce, a little salt, and some sesame seeds, and then roasted slightly crisp

Always a popular meal, and very easy.

SUNDAY
Chinese pork roast, rice, pineapple, string beans; lemon meringue pie

Here’s a recipe suggested by John Herreid.

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It was very easy and very popular, but you have to have a big chunk of time to cook it. I marinated the roast for a full 24 hours and then cooked it for a total of six hours, basting every ten minutes for the last hour. It looked a little less grisly in person

and next time I will cover it while it’s cooking at least part of the time, so the crust isn’t quite as crusty. But oh man, it was tasty. The outside was so savory and rich, and once you bashed through to the inside, it was tender as heck. I could have cut it with a wooden popsicle stick.

I made a ton of rice and cut up some pineapples. I just plain ran out of steam by the time it was time to think about string beans, so we just had them raw. I do like raw vegetables to balance out a really rich meat anyway. 

THEN, those of us who have been reading Amelia Bedelia had a sudden yen for lemon meringue pie, but I didn’t have a yen for all that work, so I found a cheaty recipe, which I modified a bit.

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I made the crust by whirring up our vast animal cracker reserves, and then mixing the crumbs with a ludicrous amount of melted butter and a little brown sugar. It made a good crust, maybe a bit too thick, but with a pleasant taste, and sturdy.

I guess it’s just me, but I really value sturdiness in desserts. I’m always so embarrassed when my desserts slump and slosh and wallow around in the pan, which they almost always do. But this was one stand up pie! The lemon part was more opaque and custard-like, less glisten-y than you normally see in lemon meringue pie, and the meringue did relax a bit, because I left it on the hot stove for a few hours, duh; but overall, LOOKIT THIS DAMN PIECE OF PIE, IN THE SHAPE OF A PIECE OF PIE.

Totally hit the spot, and it was way, way less work than a more authentic lemon meringue pie.

MONDAY
Chicken quesadillas, corn chips

Kinda lackluster. I just threw some frozen chicken into the Instant Pot with a cup of water and, when it was shreddable, I shredded it and sprinkled on some chili lime powder. Hey, it was hot. I burned one, but we happen to have one kid who likes burned food, so there. 

TUESDAY
Chicken soup with matzoh balls, challah; birthday cake

Tuesday was Clara’s birthday, and she requested chicken soup with matzoh balls, which I normally only make on Passover, but why not? And I made two pneumatic challahs, very pretty, if slightly bland.

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I eyeballed the salt and I think I under salted it, so go ahead and measure the salt.

I started the soup in the morning and cooked it all day, and made the matzoh balls right before supper. Everyone was pleased, and the house smelled so happy.

She couldn’t decide what kind of cake she wanted, so I went with an Over the Garden Wall theme.

It was a box cake mix, but I made a royal icing to decorate it, and it hardened up nicely. I forgot how easy it is to make (it’s just egg whites and sugar and a little lemon juice).

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You can make it thinner if you want to pour it over cookies or petits fours or something, or thicker if you want to spread it or pipe it, which I did. It would have come out smoother if I had added less sugar. Next time! You can also run over it with a hot hairdryer if you really want a smooth surface, but it’s a little perilous. 

WEDNESDAY
Aldi pizza

Heck yes. 

THURSDAY
Beef barley soup for real this time

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I tried again, and I didn’t burn it! Nice and chonky. I also had some hot pretzels in the freezer, but I forgot all about them.

FRIDAY
I believe the kids are having their choice of tuna noodle or boxaroni, and Damien and I are running away from home (and then coming right back again after we eat). 

Hokay! That’s a lot of food. Here are the recipe cards. 

5 from 1 vote
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Cumin chicken thighs with chickpeas in yogurt sauce

A one-pan dish, but you won't want to skip the sides. Make with red onions and cilantro in lemon juice, pita bread and yogurt sauce, and pomegranates, grapes, or maybe fried eggplant. 

Ingredients

  • 18 chicken thighs
  • 32 oz full fat yogurt, preferably Greek
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp cumin, divided
  • 4-6 cans chickpeas
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 red onions, sliced thinly

For garnishes:

  • 2 red onions sliced thinly
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • a bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 32 oz Greek yogurt for dipping sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

Instructions

  1. Make the marinade early in the day or the night before. Mix full fat Greek yogurt and with lemon juice, four tablespoons of water, and two tablespoons of cumin, and mix this marinade up with chicken parts, thighs or wings. Marinate several hours. 

    About an hour before dinner, preheat the oven to 425.

    Drain and rinse four or five 15-oz cans of chickpeas and mix them up with a few glugs of olive oil, the remaining tablespoon of cumin, salt and pepper, and two large red onions sliced thin.

    Spread the seasoned chickpeas in a single layer on two large sheet pans, then make room among the chickpeas for the marinated chicken (shake or scrape the extra marinade off the chicken if it’s too gloppy). Then it goes in the oven for almost an hour. That’s it for the main part.

    The chickpeas and the onions may start to blacken a bit, and this is a-ok. You want the chickpeas to be crunchy, and the skin of the chicken to be a deep golden brown, and crisp. The top pan was done first, and then I moved the other one up to finish browning as we started to eat. Sometimes when I make this, I put the chickpeas back in the oven after we start eating, so some of them get crunchy and nutty all the way through.

Garnishes:

  1. While the chicken is cooking, you prepare your three garnishes:

     -Chop up some cilantro for sprinkling if people like.

     -Slice another two red onions nice and thin, and mix them in a dish with a few glugs of lemon juice and salt and pepper and more cilantro. 

     -Then take the rest of the tub of Greek yogurt and mix it up in another bowl with lemon juice, a generous amount of minced garlic, salt, and pepper. 

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. 

5 from 1 vote
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Korean Beef Bowl

A very quick and satisfying meal with lots of flavor and only a few ingredients. Serve over rice, with sesame seeds and chopped scallions on the top if you like. You can use garlic powder and powdered ginger, but fresh is better. The proportions are flexible, and you can easily add more of any sauce ingredient at the end of cooking to adjust to your taste.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown sugar (or less if you're not crazy about sweetness)
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 3-4 inches fresh ginger, minced
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 lb2 ground beef
  • scallions, chopped, for garnish
  • sesame seeds for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, cook ground beef, breaking it into bits, until the meat is nearly browned. Drain most of the fat and add the fresh ginger and garlic. Continue cooking until the meat is all cooked.

  2. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes the ground beef and stir to combine. Cook a little longer until everything is hot and saucy.

  3. Serve over rice and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. 

 

Sesame broccoli

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. Preheat broiler to high.

    Toss broccoli spears with sesame oil. 

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

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

Chinese pork roast

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

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

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

Cheater's lemon meringue pie

I like a pie shell made from several cups of animal cracker crumbs whirred into a sandy texture, mixed with a stick of melted butter and 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a dash of salt. Mix well and press into the pan.

Ingredients

  • 1 pie shell

For the lemon layer:

  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zested

For the meringue:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350

  2. Mix together the condensed milk, egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon zest until well combined. Pour the mixture into the pie shell.

  3. Bake 10-15 minutes until the mixture has a little skin.

  4. While it's baking, use an electric mixer with a whisk attachment to beat the egg whites until it has soft peaks. Then gradually add the sugar until it has stiff peaks.

  5. When the lemon layer comes out of the oven, spread the meringue over the top and make a little peaks all over it with a fork or spatula.

  6. Return the pie to the oven and bake for another ten minutes or so until the meringue is slightly browned.

Challah (braided bread)

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup oil (preferably olive oil)
  • 2 eggs
  • 6-8 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp yeast
  • 2 egg yolks for egg wash
  • poppy seeds or "everything bagel" topping (optional)
  • corn meal (or flour) for pan, to keep loaf from sticking

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve a bit of the sugar into the water, and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir gently, and let sit for five minutes or more, until it foams.

  2. In the bowl of standing mixer, put the flour (starting with six cups), salt, remaining sugar, oil, and eggs, mix slightly, then add the yeast liquid. Mix with dough hook until the dough doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl, adding flour as needed. It's good if it has a slightly scaly appearance on the outside.

  3. (If you're kneading by hand, knead until it feels soft and giving. It will take quite a lot of kneading!)

  4. Put the dough in a greased bowl and lightly cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place for at least an hour, until it's double in size.

  5. Grease a large baking sheet and sprinkle it with flour or corn meal. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll three into "snakes" and make a large braid, pinching the ends to keep them together. Divide the fourth piece into three and make a smaller braid, and lay this over the larger braid. Lay the braided loaf on the pan.

  6. Cover again and let rise again for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 350.

  7. Before baking, make an egg wash out of egg yolks and a little water. Brush the egg wash all over the loaf, and sprinkle with poppy seeds or "everything" topping.

  8. Bake 25 minutes or more until the loaf is a deep golden color.

Royal icing

An icing that dries hard, so you can use it to glue pieces together, or use as a flat surface to decorate. Add less sugar to make it thinner and pour over cookies or petits fours; add more sugar to make it more thick for spreading or piping. It will be stiff enough to decorate over within about half an hour, and it will be like cement in four hours.

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites
  • 6 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Instructions

  1. In an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on high until they are opaque and foamy.

  2. Add the sugar a little scoop at a time, continuing to whisk on high. Add the lemon juice.

  3. Keep whisking on high until the icing is as thick as you want it. Adjust how much sugar you add to make it as thick as you want.

  4. Keep the icing covered tightly, with plastic wrap touching the icing, until you're ready to use it because it starts drying out immediately.

 
 

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. 

If you’re still taking this seriously, you’re not alone

Tonight I am making a huge amount of manicotti with fresh herbs, garlic bread and salad, and a fancy cake decorated with melted candies meant to look like flames. Three of my daughters have new dresses and shoes, and there are wrapped presents waiting for them. What’s the occasion? Oh, nothing.

Really, nothing. Three of our kids were supposed to be confirmed tonight, but one of them has a cold. Probably. Or maybe it’s COVID. The protocol for school is to stay home if you have fever, congestion, cough, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, or basically any other symptom, and then either get a negative COVID test, or else stay home for ten days after onset of symptoms, as long as no other symptoms develop. Come to think of it, Damien and I both have colds, too. A confirmation Mass is definitely long enough for us to pass along whatever it is we have to someone else. Even if it is not COVID and it’s just a cold, we might give it to someone who then feels the need to stay home from work for ten days or fourteen days until they find out if it is COVID, and maybe that would be a huge burden for them. So we’re staying home, and no Fisher kids will be confirmed this year.

But I’ve been confirmed, and so has my husband. The gifts of the Holy Spirit we received are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, and we’re calling on at least three or four of those to make this decision. We don’t really think we have COVID, but if everyone made decisions based on letting themselves wiggle out of protocols, then we’d  . . . uhhh . . . we’d have a pandemic on our hands. Yeah. 

I’m not trying to persuade anyone to take the virus seriously. I see people in town claiming no one’s really sick, that touchless thermometers are frying your pineal gland, that masks are part of a satanic ritual, etc. etc. You can’t talk to people who believe this stuff, and I’m not even going to try.

Instead, I’m talking to people who do take the virus seriously, and are starting to feel insane, because they feel all alone. The sourdough togetherness fest is all over. No more evening balcony concerts; no more friendly baskets of sanitized books and treats for the housebound. People are wearing masks when they’re absolutely forced to, and they’re not COVID deniers, but they sure aren’t acting like anything much has changed. They’re going to parties, sneezing on produce, having sleepovers, hugging friends. I see it every day.  That waitress who sent our son into quarantine for over a week was spotted hanging out in crowded bars while she waited for her test results to come back. Maybe she heard that people her age are just hard wired to be sociable, and it’s just not reasonable to expect people in their 20’s to modify their behavior for the sake of others. And anyway, she eventually got a negative, so what’s the big deal?

You see and hear enough stuff like this, and you can really start to doubt yourself. Is it really necessary to miss out on so much? Are we being a little bit paranoid?  Are all these efforts even doing anything worthwhile?

Hello. I see you, as they say. You are not alone. You are doing the right thing. I don’t even have any great words of encouragement for you, because I’m feeling pretty beaten down, myself. But I’m here. We’re making these assessments every single day, and we’re missing out on all kinds of stuff, because we think it’s the right thing to do, and we’ll keep on doggedly doing it as long as we think it’s necessary.

So if you’re making these wretched, unpopular choices and feeling completely alone, you’re not. There’s always the friggin’ Fishers doing it, too, feeling stupid and paranoid and discouraged, but still doing it. So there’s that. I’d make you some garlic bread if I could. 

And that’s all I got. Come, Holy Spirit. Come get some garlic bread, because I made plenty.

A reading list for Catholic teens and young adults

A frequent question: What books are good for Catholic teenagers and young adults looking to deepen their faith? I have some suggestions!

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Confirmation candidates need Eucharistic Adoration

There is no one for whom Adoration is a bad fit. Shy? You don’t have to even make eye contact with anyone. Love ritual and tradition? Bring a rosary or say the Liturgy of the Hours. Prefer to free-form it? Go for it. Not sure what your relationship with God is or is supposed to be? Just be there. Not in a state of grace? Be with the Lord so you can hear Him calling you home. Have a hard time sitting still? Make it a short visit. Like doing things in community with others? There is perpetual adoration going on all over the world all the time. Like private, individual worship? It’s just you and Him.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by Jeffrey Bruno via Flickr (Creative Commons)

St. Elizabeth the Unspecified, pray for us

One of my regrets (and man, I have a million) is that I’m not doing a great job introducing my kids to the saints. We have made a few stabs and this and that, but I’m not hugely devoted to any particular saint myself, so it just doesn’t come naturally.

We had a few saint biography collections when I was growing up, and I did read them repeatedly; but I think they ended up doing more harm than good, and I ended up with a bunch of ideas that were hard to shed. Namely: (a) saints were born that way (“before she even learned to talk, tiny Wiffletrude used to weep at her mother’s breast because it made her think of how Jesus thirsted on the cross.” That kind of thing) and (b) if I did become a saint, it was only a matter of time before the demonic attacks would begin, with bed shaking and foot clawing and stuff, and that did not sound great.

I also worried a lot about how poorly I would do when the Romans gave me one more chance to renounce Christ before cutting my skin off. I did figure that, if, because of my great beauty, I became unwilling but gentle queen of the land, I would definitely be the one who distributed bread to the peasants, like, 24/7.

I ended up with two patron saints: Unspecified Elizabeth and Michael the Archangel. And also a guardian angel. Do I remember that I have these holy ones watching over me? No, I do not. I’m just a lonely loner on a lonely road. Alone.

Terrible religious art also had a lot to answer for. Only very weird kids think, “Oh yeah, I can picture myself holding a palm branch with three fingers, with my eyeballs rolled up and a bunch of wispy roses framing my person at all times. Yep, that’s me. ” The state of religious art is definitely improving, and it’s also immensely helpful to learn about saints who are recent enough to appear in photos. Hagiographies have also gotten much better in recent years. Saints come across much more like actual, specific people, rather than goopy spirituality dolls.

Anyway, this gap in our family’s spirituality always comes into focus when one of my kids is preparing for confirmation. (In our area, they’re transitioning to restored order of sacraments, so confirmation happens when a kid is in his early teens.) They have to choose a confirmation patron saint and write a short essay. IS CATASTROPHE. I make some feeble suggestions which are met with floppiness. I point them toward some books which promptly slither into the couch crack. Wishing to appear hip and cyber, I suggest Jen Fulwiler’s Saint Name Generator; then I get distracted by Facebook and forget about the whole thing until the emails from the DRE get really insistent. And that’s what they mean when they say parents are a child’s primary educators.

However! They always end up choosing a bona fide saint with an actual biography attached to them, and no one has chosen a patron who clearly just got called up for the cool name. Not a St. Désirée or St. Gaspar de Bufalo or St. Lawdog in the bunch. Whether any of my kids have formed any kind of meaningful devotion to their patrons, I do not know.

But it occurs to me that, even if they never learned a single real fact about their saint, or said a single prayer to them, much less formed some kind of genuine spiritual friendship or devotion, the patron saint is still devoted to the confirmandi. And the same would be true even if some kid chose a saint purely to annoy their parents or solely so their new initials would spell out F.U.N.K or something. Right? You choose a patron, and they’re in, and that means they’re praying for you for the rest of your life, whether you think about it or not.

I don’t think it’s necessary to believe that you have been somehow spiritually nudged without your knowledge in the direction of the saint that’s just right for you. It’s possible, and I’ve heard plenty of stories where someone chooses something randomly, and it ends up being devastatingly relevant. But in either case, a spiritual friendship is a real thing, even if it comes about by chance and only goes one way; and a saint is, among other things, someone who’s always willing to try to bring someone closer to God.

That’s all I got. Like so many other things in Catholicism, it’s far less about our own efforts and merits than we realize, and it works out to be a pretty good deal for us. Salut! I mean, ora pro nobis.

What’s for supper? Vol, 77: Fish tacos are real, man.

In which we have an awful lot of cake for the home stretch of Lent.

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and pepper jack cheese sandwiches, roast asparagus with butter and lemon

I’m trying to wean the family off expecting some kind of potato-based side dish with every meal. That’s one Saturday under our belts. No one has died of chip deficiency, yet.

***

SUNDAY
Just pretty much all the food in the world

Sunday, we had two confirmations

and a birthday

The confirmandi requested red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and tiramisu, respectively, and the birthday girl asked for ice cream sodas for her special dessert.
I like this picture because you can see everyone spring into action when I put the food out:


Damien made the tiramisu with this excellent recipe the night before, and added chocolate shavings right before serving. This time, I bought him ladyfingers fresh from the bakery, and guess what? They sop up a lot more rum than stale, pre-packaged ladyfingers. The party got pretty hot for a while there.

The red velvet cake was from a box. Actually, because I don’t know my colors yet, it turned out to be one box of red velvet cake and one box of yellow cake; so I swirled them together and attempted to pass it off as a flame pattern for the descent of the Holy Spirit or something.

I used this basic recipe for cream cheese frosting.

So we had cake and fruit salad and fruit punch and cookies and cheese and crackers at the reception after the confirmation, then went home and had pizzas, veggies and hummus, cake with strawberries and cream cheese frosting and tiramisu for lunch, and then for dinner, cheeseburgers and chips, and ice cream sodas for dessert.

***

MONDAY
Fish tacos, corn chips

For reasons I don’t fully understand, several of the children felt unwell on Monday and stayed home from school. Something about their stomachs not feeling great.

They recovered in time for dinner.

I’ve heard a lot of grousing about how there is no such thing as fish tacos, or fish tacos aren’t a thing. But (a) they are delicious and (b) here is a picture, so I guess we’ll keep eating them.

Just regular old cheapo fish sticks, with nice, crunchy shredded cabbage, sliced avocados, salsa, cilantro, sour cream, and a personal lime on a tortilla. Best imaginary meal ever.

***

TUESDAY
Gochujang bulgoki, white rice, nori

Normally, I prep this dish the night before, so it can marinate overnight. But I forgot, and made it in the morning, and it was still great by evening. I also grated the carrots, since I didn’t feel like cutting matchsticks, and that was great, too. I sliced a hunk of pork thin and mixed it up with the carrots and a couple of sliced onions, along with a triple recipe of this sauce:

5 Tbs gochujang
2 Tbs honey
2 tsp sugar
2 Tbs soy sauce
5 cloves minced garlic

So then you let it marinate as long as you can, and then fry it up in a little oil while the rice is cooking.
It’s a wonderful meal, very warming and peppy. You can, no, you must use the nori (or Romaine lettuce) to scoop up little bundles of meat and rice for gobbling purposes.

(This is an old picture. We ate zero string beans.)

That reminds me, time to order some more gochujang. It’s very handy to have around. Try it with tuna instead of mayo. Ha cha cha!

***

WEDNESDAY
Quesadillas, raw veggies

I think this was the day we suddenly remembered we hadn’t brought in a school treat for the aforementioned birthday kid. Her teacher requests treats of fruit or veggies, and that’s fine, that’s fine, it’s not communist or anything. We subverted it by making these alarming little disembodied apple grins with peanut butter and mini marshmallows.

They were well-received.

***

THURSDAY
Pepperoncini beef sandwiches, potato puffs, salad, German chocolate cake

Another birthday! My oldest requested this wonderfully easy meal:  Throw a chuck roast in a slow cooker with a jar of pepperoncini with the tops cut off and the juice, and off you go.

At 11 a.m., I suddenly remembered to pull the meat out of the freezer. So this situation, along with the risotto situation, is where the Instant Pot really shines: In less than two hours, a rock-hard roast was cooked all the way through. It actually finished cooking too soon, so I kept it on “keep warm” for several hours, and ended up overcooking it. Oops. Still yummy.

We sliced it up and served it on rolls with pepper jack cheese and horseradish sauce.

I’m counting on your Friday meat deprivation to make this horrible cell phone picture look good.

Birthday girl also had her heart set on a German chocolate cake. Know why it’s called that? Because the guy who invented it was named “German.” Now you know something! This cake is a tremendous pain in the neck, but so good. We went with this recipe from food.com. The cake was good, but I had to fight the urge to just sort of swim around in that coconut pecan frosting.

Here’s the birthday girl getting some help with her birthday candles:

Sigh, oldest and youngest, 19 and 2. SIGH SIGH SIGH. I’m fine. We’re all fine.

***

FRIDAY
French toast casserole, mangoes

This is where I get back at the kids for leaving the bread bags open all week, so the bread gets all stale and crushed. It’s not really very good revenge, because it’s delicious.

***
OKAY, we have our seder on Holy Saturday, so all next week is when the schmaltz hits the road. Stay tuned. . .  if you dare. 

At the Register: An Army that Intends to Win

The Bishop reminded the confirmandi that it wasn’t that long ago that they received a cross of ashes on their foreheads, signifying to them that this day is fleeting, this life is fleeting. We will all someday die. Then he reminded them to take note of the new cross that was on their foreheads as he spoke. This was cross made of sweet, spicy chrism, a shining cross which has something new to say: You were not made for death.

Oh, I had forgotten! Just because that is where we are headed, that doesn’t mean it was the original plan. And it doesn’t mean it’s the final word. Being confirmed means you are part of an army that intends to fight, an army that is ready to die if necessary — but you are part an army that intends to win.

Read the rest at the Register.

I can’t resist adding a picture of my lovely daughter with Bishop Libasci and my mother-in-law, who looks a lot more like my daughter’s mother than I do!