Some great TV and books we’re enjoying lately

Lots of variety here! 

Here’s what we’re reading: 

Our current read-aloud book for the little kids (ages 6 and 10) is Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

I haven’t ever seen the movie, but have heard that the movie and book are both good, but quite different. I’m enjoying the book a lot. It’s weird and entertaining, and reads aloud very well. It’s easy to get the tone of voice right in dialogue without having to read ahead, and there is plenty of variety in the sentence structure, which I always appreciate when reading aloud. It gives some clues to the characters’ interior lives, without overexplaining; and the storytelling is so deft, it helps you accept some really outlandish situations without blinking.  My only quibble is that the chapters are different lengths, which can be frustrating when we only have a certain amount of time allotted to read. 

Also reading Christopher West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners to the middle kids (ages 12, 14, 16, and 17).

I wouldn’t say they’re enjoying it, exactly, but I chose it so at least we would have some kind of common vocabulary, and then if they want to disagree with me (or if I want to disagree with West, which I’m not ruling out), at least we could have somewhere to start. I don’t know. The world has gotten very strange very quickly and I have no idea what to do about it. I know there are issues with Christopher West, but it’s pretty solid so far, and the kids have moved from snarky to reluctantly interested. I just don’t want them to grow up thinking that the Church’s main teaching is “Adam and Eve, sex bad, be careful, marriage, the end.” 

This is what we are doing, by the way, rather than the parish whole-family religious education program. (We also send them to Dead Theologian’s Society, but we’ve been skipping because it includes a meal, and it omicron time.) Between covid and who knows what else, our parish stopped doing individual religious education classes and started this thing where I guess the whole family goes in together, and then you have to go home and teach your own kids anyway? Which sounds like the worst of both worlds. So we’re just doing this, and also:

Damien is reading St. Patrick’s Summer by Marigold Hunt to the younger kids (Benny did her first confession, first communion, and confirmation last year, but Corrie hasn’t done any of that yet).

I read this to the older kids when they were younger and remember liking it a lot — it’s a catechism told through a story, where a couple of 20th century kids meet St. Patrick and some other spiritual figures — but Damien says the content is good, but he’s finding the style hard to read. I think we were homeschooling when we read it, and probably just had a wider tolerance for weird books. Anyway, I recommend it for people who are looking for a solid catechism but maybe don’t want to go the Baltimore Catechism route for whatever reason. It has really good stuff about doctrine, like the trinity, etc., that many adults probably missed learning. I remember it as being fairly winsome in tone, definitely not preachy, but surprisingly natural in the way it conveyed doctrine through dialogue. 

On my own, I’m reading Piranesi by Susanna Clark, which I got for Christmas, and I’m enjoying immensely.

It’s wonderful to read a book that’s been written so deliberately. I’m constantly astonished at how carelessly so many popular books are written. Like, the story is interesting and the characters are fine, but the author doesn’t seem to have gone to any trouble over the writing itself? Even though they are an author?? I don’t think we should put up with this. 

Anyway, Piranesi is wonderfully engaging and fascinating and I have no idea whatsoever what is going to happen, and I can’t wait to find out. 

Also reading Midnight Is a Place by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken is always worth reading. Never writes down to kids, but knows what kinds of things are important to kids. This is not actually one of my favorites — there are too many characters, and I’m finding the action a tiny bit confusing — but it’s got lots of adventure, appealing characters, pathos, comedy, an excellent sense of place, and a bit of social conscience, all of which are Aiken trademarks. 

This one is about a young lonely teenage boy growing up lonely in a decrepit mansion as the ward of a titan of industry. He longs for a friend and is dismayed to find himself instead put in charge of a little French girl. The two of them get swept up in an intrigue in the streets of the Industrial Revolution slums of the hellish city of Blastburn. The book includes a lot of peril and the death of children, so may not be appropriate for sensitive young readers. 

Lately we’ve been watching:

The Book of Boba Fett on Disney+

I’ve been hearing a lot of belly-aching about this show, and the arguments against never strike me as critiques of the actual work, but more that the show didn’t fulfill the particular desires that happened to reside in that particular viewer’s psyche. It’s possible I just have the right combination of fondness for Star Wars and ignorance of the lore minutiae, but I’m finding it to be the most entertaining thing I’ve watched in ages. I do think it stands up on its own as a cinematic spectacle and on its own narrative integrity. It’s not groundbreaking, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s well-known that the original Star Wars trilogy was a space western. The Mandalorian and now Boba Fett really bring that out of the realm of suggestion and right up to the surface. It may as well be a John Ford movie, just transplanted. I just about lost my mind when the train showed up in episode 2. So beautifully shot, and thrilling! People said it was boring, and I just don’t understand what they were watching. It’s exciting! It’s beautiful! It has monsters! And trains! And a good-bad man that you come to understand more and more as the show goes on. I’ll watch that story again, why not. It doesn’t hurt that my kids keep shrieking with joy as little obscure references and inside jokes keep turning up (and going over my head).

One essay complained about the exploitation of the story of the Tusken Raiders. It said that, while previous Star Wars movies were clearly written by the victors, portraying the tribe as witless savages, Boba Fett gives them the space to be revealed as a true culture with a backstory and a grievance which explains why they’re so aggressive — but then it obliterates them offscreen once they perform the service of giving Boba Fett some character development. And that’s true! But I’m not sure why it’s a problem! This is the kind of thing that happens all the time in a John Ford western, and I think people just need to watch more of them. Start with The Searchers and relax your ass.  

We’re also watching I, Claudius again. The 1976 BBC series based on the historical novels by Robert Graves.

I did read the book a long time ago, but I really don’t remember it, so I can’t say how faithful the series is, but it has won numerous awards. It’s rather dated and very British in some ways, but once you get going, it’s gripping. I mean how could it not be! It’s told from the point of view of the emperor Claudius at the end of his life, putting together his autobiography and his horrible family history. Lots of poisoning, orgies, and intrigue, betrayal, heartbreak, oracles, and people deciding just how many compromises they can stand to make. I’m not great at following all the ins and outs of the politics, but it doesn’t really matter. You just have to understand which people will do anything for power, and see everyone else eventually get squished. Lots of great acting, spectacular costumes, so sad and funny and terrifying. (Tony Soprano’s mother Livia is clearly a nod to the uber-ambitious wife of emperor Augustus.) I recall it has some very grim and gory stuff further on with Caligula, so viewer beware.

We’re watching this series on disc, but you can stream it in a few places (nowhere free currently, unfortunately).

And, for something totally different, we’re watching The Great British Baking Show, season 9, on Netflix.

We’re only about three or four episodes in, so please don’t tell me who wins! We finished up the previous season, and it was just delightful. Stressful! Always surprisingly stressful. But overall a lovely show, structured very differently from any American reality show. 

It starts out with 12 amateur (but extremely good) bakers who have to produce a series of pastries and other baked goods. Sometimes they have a chance to practice and develop their recipe ahead of time; sometimes the assignment is a complete surprise, they’ve never heard of it, and the recipes are vague and unhelpful. Sometimes they have to make a dozen, identical pieces of some relatively simple sweet; sometimes they’re expected to produce outlandish, elaborate edible projects like chandeliers or childhood toys that you can really play with. One baker is eliminated each week, so you really get to know them over the course of the show, and they each bring in their own traditions, ethnic backgrounds, aesthetic preferences, and neurosis. They do a great job of choosing a variety of contestants with different strengths and weaknesses and different kinds of appeal. They encourage and sometimes even help each other, and although the judges are sometimes stern and the pressure is intense, this isn’t a cruel show. We save it for Sundays, because it’s so pleasant and I don’t want to wear it out. 

They include short bits where the judges horse around with each other and do stupid little gimmicky jokes, and these are lame, but not too intrusive, and they focus mainly on the bakers and the baking. It’s all done outdoors under a giant tent, and the setting is breathtakingly lovely. (And yes, one of the hosts is the guy who plays Richmond on The IT Crowd.)

Listening to:

I’m not listening to anything! I have nothing. I’m listening to the dog making glorping noises with his stupid loose face and I’m going to lose my mind. What are you listening to? 

What’s for supper? Vol. 272: Floppo de gallo

In haste! In haste! Oh, what a hurry I am in. Here is what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Duck buns!

We were in Boston, as I said. We were running very late and were starving, and really needed just anything to gobble down before the show, and we thought we had found a restaurant, but it turned out to be a nail spa, and I was just about to suggest stopping into a CVS to get some Combos and turkey jerky, when we found ourselves in the outskirts of Chinatown. The Dumpling Cafe was the first restaurant that was open, and there were lots of Asian families eating there, which seemed promising. The menu was long and overwhelming and the clock was ticking, so I chose duck buns at random. An excellent choice.

This is heart’s desire food: Piping hot, sweet and glossy outside, pillowy soft and tender inside, with a rich, savory heart of duck meat, and a tangy, gingery sauce for dipping. Amazing. Moe ordered some kind of seafood thingy and gave me all the bits with visible tentacles. Damien had some kind of pork and crab dumplings that came in a lovely little wooden steamer basket

and were incredibly juicy inside. Clara had some kind of vegetable thing, and Lena had some other kind of dumplings. So nice. So nice. Next time we’re in Boston, we’re definitely going back.

SUNDAY
Pasta with Marcella Hazan’s sauce, garlic bread, salad, fruit, Italian ices

Sunday I had signed us up to make a dinner in honor of St. Clare for the Dead Theologian’s Society youth group, and I guess it takes 24 years of practice, but we did manage to go to Mass, run errands, shop, deliver the food, cook, and get a hot dinner on the table for a crowd of youth by 5:15. By which I mean I made a little fuss about how this was my project and I was in charge, and then Damien did most of the work.

I did rinse off some fruit, and it turned out pretty:

Of course there was way way too much food, but we wrapped it up and someone showed us where to leave it to donate it to the homeless shelter, so that worked out well. 

Here is where I once again pester you to try Marcella Hazan’s miraculous three-ingredient red sauce that tastes so savory, you’ll think someone is playing a trick on you. 

Jump to Recipe

The other thing to know is to salt your water heavily when you’re cooking pasta, and then scoop out a big bunch of the water before you drain your cooked pasta and keep it handy. Then, after you drain it, you can add some of the hot pasta water back in to keep it from sticking together. Tricks!

We opted for garlic bread made with garlic powder, since this was for the youth group and we didn’t want to terrify anyone with real garlic. (Here’s my confession: I prefer it with garlic powder myself. Or garlic salt. It just tastes good.)

MONDAY
Chicken caesar salad, pomegranates

Grilled chicken on romaine lettuce, freshly-shredded parmesan, caesar dressing from a bottle, cucumbers, and plenty of garlicky, buttery homemade croutons curated from our extensive collection of leftover hot dog buns. 

Plenty of pomegranates left over from the Italian dinner. One of my children told me that, when you crack open a bit of pomegranate and unexpectedly find another little row of juicy seeds, he feels like a monkey who’s broken open a rotten log and found a little trove of termites; but in a good way. We’re all poets around here. 

TUESDAY
Gochujang pork ribs, sesame Brussels sprouts, rice

Haven’t broken out the old gochujang for a while. Used up the old tub and ordered a new one. I made a little sauce with gochujang, honey, sugar, soy sauce, and garlic and let the ribs marinate for several hours. 

Jump to Recipe

One of these days, I’ll make full-on gochujang bulgoki, with the thinly sliced pork and carrots and onions wrapped up in little bundles with rice and seaweed. Boy is that tasty. But pork ribs marinated in the sauce and then broiled to a little char is also pretty good for a Tuesday.

I made the Brussels sprouts by trimming and halving them, drizzling them with sesame oil and sprinkling them with brown sugar, kosher salt, and sesame seeds, and broiling them in a shallow pan. (I broiled the Brussels sprouts most of the way first, then moved them down to a low rack and broiled the pork on the top rack.) They were pretty good. These were small and tender sprouts, and I liked having the sweet vegetables to go along with the spicy meat. 

WEDNESDAY
Bagel, sausage, egg, cheese sandwiches

On Wednesday, I succumbed to a sudden, fierce urge to clean out the refrigerator, which was . . . gloppy. You couldn’t pay me enough to show “before” pictures, but here is the “after.”

The entire middle shelf of the refrigerator is cheese. Cheese sticks, cheese balls, cheese slices, cheese blocks, cheese hunks, shredded cheese, and misc. I made only a very small dent in the cheese with the bagel sandwiches. There were also five open jars of pickles that I absolutely refused to put back. 

You can also see that we’re slowly replacing original parts with Rubbermaid. Actually Rubbermaid is too rich for our blood; it’s pure Sterilite in there, baby.  One of these days, I’m going to take a hot nail and make a hole in the side of the freezer door and string a bungee cord from side to side, and then we’ll have freezer door storage again, too. 

We do have a second fridge, but it never helps, somehow. I don’t want to talk about it. 

THURSDAY
Vermonter sandwiches, chips

A very fine sandwich. A thick slice of grilled chicken, a thick slice of sharp cheddar, a thick slice of tart green apple, some bacon, some honey mustard, and toasted sourdough. Everybody likes meals that start out with this kind of table:

The only trick was, we couldn’t find my amazing apple peeler-corer-slicer machine anywhere. It’s not a very big kitchen, and I crawled all the heck over it, over and over again, and I have no idea where it went. Oh well. It’ll turn up. We survived. 

 

FRIDAY
Tuna noodle

Promised but not delivered last week. Last week, we had fish tacos with pico de gallo, which ended up as a rather pretty plate. Here’s a photo that didn’t make it into last week’s post:

Sour cream, shredded cabbage, fish, cilantro, lime, avocado, hot sauce, pico de gallo.

And my pico de gallo recipe:

Jump to Recipe

which I didn’t follow because I had thrown out the jalapeños in a snit of some kind or other, and then didn’t feel like chopping tomatoes, so I tried to make it in the food processor, which either I don’t know how to do, or else you can’t do that. So it turned out a little . . . floppy. Floppo de gallo. But it was still better that store-bought salsa, I thought, so there you go.

Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce

We made a quadruple recipe of this for twelve people. 

Keyword Marcella Hazan, pasta, spaghetti, tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes, broken up
  • 1 onion peeled and cut in half
  • salt to taste
  • 5 Tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Put all ingredients in a heavy pot.

  2. Simmer at least 90 minutes. 

  3. Take out the onions.

  4. I'm freaking serious, that's it!

 

5 from 2 votes
Print

Gochujang bulgoki (spicy Korean pork)


Ingredients

  • 1.5 pound boneless pork, sliced thin
  • 4 carrots in matchsticks or shreds
  • 1 onion sliced thin

sauce:

  • 5 generous Tbsp gochujang (fermented pepper paste)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 5 cloves minced garlic

Serve with white rice and nori (seaweed sheets) or lettuce leaves to wrap

Instructions

  1. Combine pork, onions, and carrots.

    Mix together all sauce ingredients and stir into pork and vegetables. 

    Cover and let marinate for several hours or overnight.

    Heat a pan with a little oil and sauté the pork mixture until pork is cooked through.

    Serve with rice and lettuce or nori. Eat by taking pieces of lettuce or nori, putting a scoop of meat and rice in, and making little bundles to eat. 

 

Pico De Gallo

quick and easy fresh dip or topping for tacos, etc.

Ingredients

  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced OR 1/2 serrano pepper
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/8 cup lime juice
  • dash kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix ingredients together and serve with your favorite Mexican food

What’s for supper? Vol. 193: Baklava! Shawarma! Rice pilaf! Banh mi! Italian wedding soup! Pumpkin bread! AND MORE!

Hello! You may remember me from that time you used to get an email from me every time I posted. But then, several weeks ago, WordPress stopped sending emails; but I didn’t realize until recently. I’ve been plugging along, wondering where 40% of my readers went. My brother fixed it for me last night. Sorry about that! I think it happened when we updated WordPress.  I believe some people got an email called “test,” and also some people got one with lots of links (I have no idea why that one random post was chosen to be sent out).

Would it be helpful to have a round-up post with links to all the posts you may have missed for the last several weeks? Or should we just move along? 

Anyway, here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Nachos

Damien made three platters of nachos, including one with lots of jalapeños and queso. I hardly ever buy a jar of queso, because I am completely shameless. I could be actively dying of a heart attack and I would bat away the defibrillator so I could run my finger around the inside of the queso jar one more time. But it’s okay, because I went to the Y a couple weeks ago.

SUNDAY
Shawarma! Rice pilaf! Baklava!

So, I’m not pregnant, we have no babies or even really toddlers, Damien’s home for dinner most nights, we’re not drowning in poverty, nobody’s having a health crisis, and we can finally relax a bit. So what do we do? We sign up for All The Things. This week, it was the themed dinner for the Dead Theologians Society youth group. If you have this in your parish, you should totally sign up! Really neat program, especially for kids who are allergic to LifeTeen stuff. The kids have a social time, then they learn about a saint, then they have prayer time, and then they eat a meal related to the saint. This week it was Mary Magdalene, who apparently comes from a region of Israel renowned for its pickled fish. 

Coward that I am, I settled on shawarma. (And now I’m imagining swooping in and settling, bat-like, on a pan of shawarma to devour it noisily, which is, in fact, what happened.) I thought there would be about 25 people, so I prepared 20 pounds of chicken. Terrified it wouldn’t be enough food, I made about a barrel full of rice pilaf and loaded up the church kitchen counter with pita, tomatoes, cucumbers, stirred up a bunch of yogurt sauce, dished out so many black and red olives and so much feta cheese and parsley, and chopped up some pomegranates, and then I made baklava for dessert. I did buy store-bought hummus.

Yeah, so, it was enough food. This is about half of what I made. 

I surveyed a bunch of rice pilaf recipes, and ended up just winging it. It was fine, if a bit bland. I cooked up a bunch of basmati rice, then stirred in blonde raisins, pepitos, parsley, curry powder, cumin, cinnamon, pepper, and whatnot. I didn’t get a great pic, but it was kind of meh anyway. It smelled fantastic, though. 

Pepitos, it turns out, are pumpkin seeds without the outer shell. I thought they were squash seeds! Now I know something. 

I got the baklava recipe from Pioneer Woman, and I followed it slavishly, so I won’t make my own recipe card. I did use almond extract along with the vanilla, and that was nice. I also used less of the syrup than it called for, since I always find baklava way too sweet and sticky. It was still very sweet, but not monstrously so.

You can definitely make baklava! It’s a little time-consuming, but not difficult, and it would make good Christmas treats. Basically you brush a ton of sheets of phyllo dough with butter and spread a few layers of chopped walnuts and cinnamon in between some, then bake it and cut it, then pour a hot syrup of honey, butter, sugar, and extracts over that (and the sizzling is a lot of fun), and let it sit. 

I started pouring the honey over the butter and then though, “Ooh, other people are gonna want to see this.” I’ve never had so much honey in one place before. 

 

 

If you listen carefully, you can hear me breathing heavily, and if you listen really carefully, you can hear my heart saying, “Really? After our little talk about all that queso, really?”

Once it was thoroughly soaked, I put the pieces in cupcake papers. I ended up with about 50 large pieces of baklava from a double recipe.

It was pretty popular!

Next time, I will experiment with adding different things to the walnuts. Maybe some bits of candied citrus, hmmmmm. 

I didn’t get any pics of the shawarma itself, but I’d call the meal a success. I’ll put the shawarma and yogurt sauce recipe cards at the end 

*****Note! The recipe cards are on a second page! You will need to click on the little 2 in a box to get to the next page and see the recipe cards! Unless the Jump to Recipe thing is magically working today*****

and harass you one last time to make some shawarma. It’s so easy — just make a simple marinade for chicken and onions, and you slide it into a pan, cook, and then chop it up — and the flavor is out of this world. Dish up a bunch of cheerful little toppings so picky people can pick what they like, and you get one happy evening. 

MONDAY
Chicken sandwiches with basil, tomato, and mozzarella; chips

This is what I was planning for Sunday, somehow not realizing we’d have a mountain of shawarma leftovers. Damien picked up some frozen herb and parmesan-crusted chicken breasts, and we had those on ciabatta rolls with tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella. 

I make mine with plenty of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and freshly-ground salt and pepper, as you can see. So good, even though November tomatoes are rather weary. 

Also, check out my pretty new drinking glasses! A great score at the Salvation Army. I’m slowly replacing our plastic ware with ceramic, glass, and steel before we all grow phthalate tails out of our faces.

TUESDAY
Banh mi

Another dish that used to seem intimidating and now is routine but delicious. You slice up the pork and get it marinating in the morning and quick pickle some carrots, and by evening all you have to do is throw the meat in a pan and broil it, and you have an amazing sandwich just exploding with flavor.

Jump to Recipe

It helps if you have a little bear to help you with the carrots. 

I shared this on Facebook and several people pointed out that it’s not necessary to peel carrots, if you give them a quick scrub. Never occurred to me! I wonder how many of my kitchen habits are outmoded. It seems to me carrot peels used to be tougher and dirtier, but I really don’t know. I’m thinking of the woman whose husband asked her why she always cuts the ends off roast beef before she cooks it, and she said she learned it from her mother. So they asked her mother, and she said she learned it from her mother. So they go visit old granny at the rest home, and she says, “Oh, it’s because the only pan I had was too small to fit a whole roast.” 

Anyway, it kept Corrie busy for a good ten minutes, so that’s a good enough reason for me. I also had some luck with a bag of dried beans and a cupcake pan. This bought me over half an hour!

What was I talking about? Oh, banh mi. I like my sandwich on toasted bread, with plain cucumbers, a bunch of cilantro, and some mayo with sriracha sauce stirred in. 

The kids don’t even complain about the smell of fish sauce anymore! Or maybe they all just have colds. Anyway, I’m drinking more. 

WEDNESDAY
Italian wedding soup, pumpkin muffins

I didn’t really have a recipe for this. I just surveyed a bunch of recipes and figured I had the basic idea. I’ll add my recipe card at the end (Jump to Recipe), but you can definitely put your own spin on this. 

I made about 70 meatballs with ground turkey, parmesan, and fresh parsley. You could also use pork or a combination of ground meats. I boiled them in chicken broth, but I may bake them in the oven next time before adding to the soup, as they got a little blurry. 

So it’s just chicken broth with bunch of tasty little meatballs, and then I threw in a few handfuls of ance di pepe (that is pasta in little nubbins; other small pastas would work fine) and a ton of torn-up spinach, and let it simmer. You can top it with more parmesan and some fresh pepper. I thought it was great, and so easy. 

We had pumpkin bread (Jump to Recipe) because I promised Benny, but I would rather have had a more bready bread with this dish. Still, a cozy, hearty meal for a sniffly, drizzly day. 

THURSDAY
Pizza

I flexed my pizza muscles a bit and made one cheese pizza, two pepperoni, one olive, and one *ahem* olive, garlic, feta, tomato, spinach, and parmesan.

Veddy good.

FRIDAY
Spaghetti

And that’s that. I’m going to put the recipe cards on page 2! If you wish to see the recipe cards, then you must click on the little box with a “2” in it! Here is a screen shot of what will be at the bottom of the page. Please click on the 2!

Oh, and one more thing: I have sooo much phyllo dough left over from the baklava. Might as well use it for Thanksgiving. What’s your favorite phyllo dough recipe that isn’t baklava? Could be dessert or a side dish, like an asparagus tart or whatever.

Also, what’s the verdict on a “here’s what you missed” post, for people who weren’t getting my emails? Yes or no?