What’s for supper? Vol. 360: A secret soup that Simcha made and pleased the group

I lied. I lied for the sake of a title. It only pleased about half the group. But it was a wonderful soup! Read on. 

SATURDAY
Domino’s pizza, birthday cake

Saturday was Benny’s birthday party, finally. She asked for a Gravity Falls-themed party, but she is old enough that her friends basically entertained each other, so I just did decorations and a cake and then let them go. So, just a bunch of red, yellow, and gold balloons, and a Bill Cipher zodiac tablecloth

plus a levitating, rather wrinkly Bill Cipher, who was still dripping glue when the guests came

and then outside, I set up a nice propane fire with a hot chocolate station and a s’mores station.

and that was that. Nobody’s been happy about the so-far-almost-snowless winer, but it does make it easier to throw a party!

The cake was well-received.

Just a chocolate box mix cake with frosting from a tub, decorated with details made of gum paste and colored with edible gold spray. 

Gum paste stiffens when it’s exposed to air, much more so than fondant, and you can roll it very thin, so it’s a good choice for small or flat decorations. Some day, I’m gonna make gum paste roses. If my kids ever stop asking for weird cakes (challenge: impossible).

Then Damien picked up Domino’s pizzas and the guests jumped on the trampoline in the dark and screamed a lot, and it was a good party! I ran out to clean everything up off the patio afterward, because I knew there was a storm coming, and I managed to knock a glass bowl full of mini marshmallows onto the bricks. Smash! Marshmallows! Candy canes! Shards of glass in the darkness! Really wished I had made friends with the ants and the sparrows, but you always think of these things too late. Did not go to the ball. Instead dozed off on the couch while drinking seltzer and watching NYPD Blue, which was just as good. 

SUNDAY
Corn dogs, chips

Sunday it snowed alllll day, and it had been snowing all night, so we were prepared. Damien went to the vigil Mass on Saturday and then got up early to clear the driveway, and the rest of us went to the late Mass on Sunday, which was Epiphany. We were prepared for the strident guitars and the off-pitch, hairy-sounding violin and the whitest tambourine in the western hemisphere. We were not prepared for A RETELLING OF THE ENTIRE CHRISTMAS STORY SET TO LEONARD COHEN’S HALLELUJAH. 

Epiphany indeed. Usually I sternly tell my kids not to criticize the Mass because it’s the Mass, but I am not made of stone. I did shut it down when they started proposing new liturgically-appropriate lyrics for “Blood On the Tracks.” 

Anyway, we had corn dogs. 

But you don’t really care for mustard, do ya?

MONDAY
Bacon cheeseburgers, Doritos

I still hadn’t gone shopping, because of the snow and I am a delicate flower, so Damien shopped for and made bacon cheeseburgers.

And very good they were, bacon cheeseburgers.

TUESDAY
Oven roasted pork ribs, mashed potatoes, peas

I planned a simple make-ahead meal for Tuesday, because three kids had dentist appointments. One got sick the night before, so we cancelled her appointment, one got sick that morning, so we cancelled hers and then then dentist said they didn’t super duper want to get in the mouth of the remaining kid with two sick siblings. Fair. It was still nice to have an easy meal. I made the mashed potatoes in the morning and then put them in the slow cooker to stay warm, and made the pork ribs heavily salted and peppered and roasted until sizzling under the broiler. 

I had mine with mango chutney, yum yum. 

WEDNESDAY
Oven fried chicken, chips, veg and dip

Wings were 1.99 a pound, so I got a bunch of wings and drumsticks and made oven fried chicken. Finally got around to making a card for this recipe, which is so easy and honestly comes out better than when I try to pan fry chicken. 

Jump to Recipe

I know this because I ran out of room in the sheet pan in the oven, and I didn’t want to make a second pan dirty, so instead I pan fried a few pieces (because it’s okay to make a second pan dirty as long as it’s on the stove? I don’t know) and I burnt the hell out of them, like I always do.

The oven ones turned out perfect, though. 

This is a terrible picture. I’m just including it to show that it actually was just cooked in the oven, easily peasily. The chicken was actually amazing, and SO gratifying because I knew how hands-off it was. 

Yes, I served chips for the third time this week. And also vegetables! With dip. 

But do try oven fried chicken. It makes everybody happy, and you don’t end up with grease spattered everywhere.

THURSDAY
Persian chicken and barley soup, pita

Thursday I knew dinner time was going to be crazy, because the kids had to be at the gallery to set up their life-sized Barbie house at 5 PM, and then the show actually opened at 6, so it was a great reason to try this soup I’ve had my eye on: Persian chicken barley soup. I followed the recipe exactly as written, except that it called for two chicken breasts and I was doubling it, and I only used about 2/3 of the chicken, and it was still the most chickenful soup I’ve ever encountered. I’m just saying, the chickens who contributed these breasts were on track to dominate at Sharky’s wet t-shirt contest at Hampton. So I ended up throwing a bag of shredded chicken in the freezer, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing about it again. 

I also lost my phone and didn’t take any process photos, but it was an enjoyable soup to make. You fry up onions and then add garlic and shredded carrots (holding some back to add in later). I didn’t soak the barley, as suggested, because I knew I’d be simmering the soup all day. 

Oh, I also turned out not to have any celery. You know, I don’t think I really followed the recipe all that closely. But usually when I make a soup, I just saute some stuff and then dump everything else in and just walk away, and this was a tiny bit more involved than that! Anyway I did pull some of the soup out and whir it up in the food processor and then add it back in, as suggested. I stirred in Greek yogurt, and used fresh cilantro and freshly-squeezed lemon juice. 

I moved it to the Instant Pot and used the “keep warm” feature, and it thickened up even more, as I expected, with all that barley. 

I threw some more cilantro on top, ground some pepper over it and squeezed on a little more lemon juice when I served up a bowl, and I put out some store-bought pita and rolls. 

Heavens to betsy. What a charming soup. It’s just as nourishing and comforting as any chicken soup ought to be, but it had just the merest thread of complexity because of the cilantro and lemon. It was thick but not gluey or pasty or even heavy. Just . . . nice. A nice soup, through and through. Will absolutely make again. The recipe makes a lot, too.

Speaking of a lot, here are the girls in front of the Barbie house!

You can see some more pics of the interior here:

 

This was for their 3D art class, and the assignment was to make something using materials you find lying around. They acknowledged that the original task kind of got lost in the pink fever dream, but it was extremely impressive. So much work, and very nicely designed. 

Oh, but speaking of soup, I meant to remind you that you can use your standing mixer (or a hand-held mixer, I suppose!) to quickly and evenly shred cooked chicken. For some reason I hate shredding meat, even when it’s nicely cooked and comes apart easily. The standing mixer takes care of it in a very short time. Hallelujah. 

FRIDAY
Poke bowls

I recalled when we made sushi a few weeks ago that ahi tuna is actually not prohibitively expensive, at least not in a world where everything is prohibitively expensive. And when everything is prohibitive, nothing is prohibited. So I bought a bunch of frozen ahi tuna from Walmart, and today we’re having poke bowls, which is just diced raw fish along with whatever you want, as far as I can tell.

I am, in fact, still in bed (I basically work from bed in the winter, so sue me) and haven’t even taken the fish out of the freezer yet, but this is a super easy meal to throw together. Look!

I got some mangos that should be ripe by now, and we still have some nice short-grain rice left over from New Year’s Even, and I bought a pouch of those yummy chili lime cashews from Aldi, plus pea shoots and sugar snap peas, and people can just add whatever they want from the various bottles and jars of red and yellow and brown sauces rolling around in the fridge. 

I think I also got some frozen shrimp, so I’ll probably just sauté that up in sesame oil or chili oil with a little salt and lime juice.

And even if it all goes wrongI’ll stand right here like a big ding dongWith nothing, nothing on my tongue but What’s for supper?

What’s for supper? What’s for supper?
What’s for supper? 
What’s for suuuuuuu

perrrrrrrrr

rrrrrrrrrr.

Leonard Cohen is a novelty act, there I said it. 

Oven-fried chicken

so much easier than pan frying, and you still get that crisp skin and juicy meat

Ingredients

  • chicken parts (wings, drumsticks, thighs)
  • milk (enough to cover the chicken at least halfway up)
  • eggs (two eggs per cup of milk)
  • flour
  • your choice of seasonings (I usually use salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, and chili powder)
  • oil and butter for cooking

Instructions

  1. At least three hours before you start to cook, make an egg and milk mixture and salt it heavily, using two eggs per cup of milk, so there's enough to soak the chicken at least halfway up. Beat the eggs, add the milk, stir in salt, and let the chicken soak in this. This helps to make the chicken moist and tender.

  2. About 40 minutes before dinner, turn the oven to 425, and put a pan with sides into the oven. I use a 15"x21" sheet pan and I put about a cup of oil and one or two sticks of butter. Let the pan and the butter and oil heat up.

  3. While it is heating up, put a lot of flour in a bowl and add all your seasonings. Use more than you think is reasonable! Take the chicken parts out of the milk mixture and roll them around in the flour until they are coated on all sides.

  4. Lay the floured chicken in the hot pan, skin side down. Let it cook for 25 minutes.

  5. Flip the chicken over and cook for another 20 minutes.

  6. Check for doneness and serve immediately. It's also great cold.

What’s for supper? Vol. 277: Lamb

Yesterday, Epiphany, we went to Mass.

IN OUR DINING ROOM.

I still can’t even believe it happened, and I will never ever forget it. This is why I’ve been pushing so hard to finish the dining room renovations! I got it all more or less done in time (and I will write a whole other thing about that with copious before and after photos). Meantime, here’s our What’s for Supper for the week, including Epiphany, when WE HAD MASS IN OUR DINING ROOM.

ON OUR DINING ROOM TABLE. I still can’t even believe it. 

SATURDAY
New Year’s

Oh wait, first, we did have homemade sushi for New Year’s Eve, as planned. My sushi rolls turned out okay, not amazing. But the sushi party was fun, and there was lots of tasty food.

Everybody found something they liked, including the cat.

We watched a Marx Brothers movie (the one where they go to college. A college widow is a woman who dates college students and then still lives in town after they graduate, thereby making her a “widow” of sorts every year when they leave. We have to look it up every few years) and then an MST3K episode (Reptilicus). Corrie could have stayed up all night, I believe. 

And now I also have to tell you about one of the most boneheaded things I have done in the kitchen in ages. Earlier in the week, I had scouted around town and found a large and beautiful lamb shank, probably six pounds. I intended to roast it on New Year’s Eve and serve it with pita bread for a nice little treat. So on Saturday afternoon, I got all the other ingredients and all the stuff for sushi, and got home just in time to season the lamb and get it in the oven before we need to get the sushi rice going. 

And . . . I couldn’t find it. I could not find this rather large piece of lamb, which, as I mentioned, is at least six pounds. How do you lose a hunk of lamb? True, we have two refrigerators, but we ended up taking everything out of both of them, and I simply could not find that lamb. I knew I had put it in there! I felt like I was losing my mind! The only thing I could find was this piece of pork, and where did that even come from? Didn’t I already cook the pork a few days ago for those kind of mediocre . . . nachos . . . 

Oh no. 

Yes, friends, I had made a terrible mistake. Somehow, I was so busy and stressed out and dopey that I had tossed a giant $7-a-pound lamb shank into the crock pot and boiled the hell out of it, shredded it, and served it on top of store brand tortilla chips with wads of melted cheese. LAMB NACHOS. We had lamb nachos, and we didn’t even know it. 

Here’s a picture of the lamb nachos that I thought were pork nachos.

I am eating them on a box of shoes and miscellaneous crap because I was in the middle of putting in a new dining room floor and was *sob* just gulping down my food, not even really tasting it. 

So . . . we just had sushi for New Year’s Eve, no lamb, and Damien fried up some frozen dumplings and heated up some egg rolls and dumplings, and it was plenty.

You know, when I was working on the floor, at one point there was a big gaping hole leading directly to the basement, the the dog of course came along and instantly lost his Christmas ball down the hole. And he could not figure out what had happened. Ball . . .no ball! No ball. No ball! Where ball go? There was ball, now ball no here! No ball! Was ball . . . but now . . . no ball! Even after we got it for him, you could see that there was still this cold pocket of confusion in his brain, and I still think that even to this day, he hasn’t completely gotten over it. 

Well, that’s what I was like with this friggin’ lamb. I knew I had cooked it and eaten it and it was gone, and it wasn’t coming back. But I still spent the next few hours opening boxes and lifting cushions and peeking under tables, like it was going to be there waiting for me. Which would be weird! But I couldn’t help myself.  

A fitting way to end the year. 

ANYWAY. 
SUNDAY
NEW YEAR’S DAY
BIRTHDAY!

Baby New Year requested her traditional birthday meal, calzones and tiramisu. The calzones are my job, and I have a reliable but unspectacular method with pre-made pizza dough and sauce. Everyone likes it well enough, so I don’t mess with it.

Damien made the tiramisu using this recipe, and it was light and creamy and delicious as always. 

She elected to go visit an art museum with some of her friends in lieu of a party. 

MONDAY
Sheet pan lemon chicken on potatoes, garlic knots

I had a bunch of chicken thighs and no clear plan, so I tried out this NYT recipe, more or less. I skimmed, I skimmed. Basically you lay down a bunch of scallions, then a bunch of sliced potatoes, then some chicken thighs. You’re supposed to save out half the potatoes and arrange them around the chicken, so they probably would have come out more crisp than mine did if I had done that. You drizzle olive oil and sprinkle on plenty of salt and pepper on each layer. Then you cook it, allegedly for 35 minutes. For whatever reason, it took more like an hour and 15 minutes. Some chicken be like that. 

Then you remove the food from the pan, deglaze it, throw in some lemon juice and capers, and I also added some white wine, and make a little sauce to spoon over the chicken.

Serve with more lemon. And you can see the little girls also made up a bunch of garlic knots for us out of pizza dough. 

It was fine. It definitely would have been better if I had distributed the food over two pans to crisp it up more. But it was super easy to make, and I can imagine all kinds of combinations of things instead of the scallions and the potatoes. So there you go. I do love lemons and capers.

TUESDAY
Banh mi

Some of the family is tired of banh mi, but some of them still love it, and I happen to be a member of the latter group, so guess what’s staying in the rotation. 

Yes, I used the pork that was supposed to be nachos. A fitting way to bring closure to my lamb grief. My Lammkummer. 

WEDNESDAY
Burgers

Nothing to report. This seems like eleven years ago. 

THURSDAY
Shawarma, stuffed grape leaves, king cakes

So Thursday was Epiphany, the big day I had been pushing to get ready for all week. I, addition to putting in a new floor and trim, I bought a breakfast nook off Craigslist. I have been thinking of a breakfast nook ever since we moved into this house, and the perfect one finally turned up at the perfect time. 

The only thing wrong with it was that it smells like cigarette smoke. But this turns out to be not a catastrophe when it’s wood. (It was a catastrophe when I bought a giant curved leather couch that turned out to smell like cigarette smoke. I solved that by not sitting on the couch for several years, and then throwing the couch away.) I scrubbed it down with vinegar and then just let it air out, and the smell is almost gone. 

It came with a square table which has a Patriot’s logo stained and woodburned into it. I may eventually start using that as our main table. But that was not the table I was going to use when we had Mass at our house. Instead, Lena scoured and scrubbed and bleached the heck out of the old wood and tile one we’ve been using for almost 25 years, and I covered it with a fresh white cloth, and . . . guys, we had Mass on our dining room table.

I supplied our friend Fr. Matthew with some candles and a bowl to wash his hands, and he brought his Mass kit and a little bag with hosts for everyone in the family, and we set up chairs facing the table, and we had Mass.

I didn’t take any pictures during Mass, because I wanted to be as present as possible. But if you are picturing an intensely reverent atmosphere, that ain’t it. We were running a little behind schedule and made the tactical error of just throwing the dog into his crate, rather than giving him time to figure out that Fr. Matthew is an okay guy. So the entire Mass was set to the horrible music of a frantic boxer expressing profound self-pity and woe, woe, woe, woe, woooooooe. Then, right after the Sanctus, the kitchen timer went off for the shawarma, and then of course the smoke alarm went off. In other words, there is no way it could have been any other way, and Jesus came to us, and it was beautiful and ridiculous and holy. And the Benadryl we gave the dog eventually kicked in, sort of. 

I did take some photos of the rest of the evening! Pardon me while I do a bit of a photo dump. We did the Epiphany house blessing, with the blessed chalk on the door way 

and holy water in the four corners of the main rooms. 

and the kids did some of the readings for the blessing. 

Then we had chicken shawarma and stuffed grape leaves and fruit. We had the chicken with pita, yogurt sauce, cucumbers and tomatoes, various olives, feta, and hummus; and grapes and pomegranates. The stuffed grape leaves were a mish mash of various recipes, but they were filled with rice seasoned mainly with mint and dill. 

They were pretty good, if not very tidy. I definitely prefer fresh grape leaves. These were from a jar. 

Then we at the two Rouse’s king cakes Fr. Matthew carried on a plane from Louisiana, because that’s the kind of priest he is

and then we had some piano time,

some guitar and ukulele and kalimba time,

and some more animal time. 

Corrie sang all the verses of “Mississippi,” her favorite murder ballad, and some of us discovered we can sing in harmony when pressed. And then we all got a blessing and then it was time to go! I have never had a more wonderful Epiphany day. 

I will tell you, when Fr. Matthew suggested having Mass at our house, I almost turned him down, because it seemed overwhelming, and we’re not the kind of people who etc. etc. But if you ever have the opportunity, please do it. It was a joy. 

And good grief, you guys. I just realized. The last thing I did in 2021 was lose the lamb that was supposed to go on our table.

The first thing we did in 2022 was . . . this. 

Well. 

And now this seems like a terrible anti-climax, but this is still a food blog, so. . .

FRIDAY
Quesadillas

Having quesadillas today! And then I am going to drop dead, because I am exhausted. 

 

Calzones

This is the basic recipe for cheese calzones. You can add whatever you'd like, just like with pizza. Warm up some marinara sauce and serve it on the side for dipping. 

Servings 12 calzones

Ingredients

  • 3 balls pizza dough
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 3-4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 egg yolks for brushing on top
  • any extra fillings you like: pepperoni, olives, sausage, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. 

  2. Mix together filling ingredients. 

  3. Cut each ball of dough into fourths. Roll each piece into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. 

  4. Put a 1/2 cup or so of filling into the middle of each circle of dough circle. (You can add other things in at this point - pepperoni, olives, etc. - if you haven't already added them to the filling) Fold the dough circle in half and pinch the edges together tightly to make a wedge-shaped calzone. 

  5. Press lightly on the calzone to squeeze the cheese down to the ends. 

  6. Mix the egg yolks up with a little water and brush the egg wash over the top of the calzones. 

  7. Grease and flour a large pan (or use corn meal or bread crumbs instead of flour). Lay the calzones on the pan, leaving some room for them to expand a bit. 

  8. Bake about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.  

 

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. 

 

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.

Chicken shawarma

Ingredients

  • 8 lbs boned, skinned chicken thighs
  • 4-5 red onions
  • 1.5 cups lemon juice
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs, 2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbs, 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 entire head garlic, crushed

Instructions

  1. Mix marinade ingredients together, then add chicken. Put in ziplock bag and let marinate several hours or overnight.

  2. Preheat the oven to 425.

  3. Grease a shallow pan. Take the chicken out of the marinade and spread it in a single layer on the pan, and top with the onions (sliced or quartered). Cook for 45 minutes or more. 

  4. Chop up the chicken a bit, if you like, and finish cooking it so it crisps up a bit more.

  5. Serve chicken and onions with pita bread triangles, cucumbers, tomatoes, assorted olives, feta cheese, fresh parsley, pomegranates or grapes, fried eggplant, and yogurt sauce.

 

Yogurt sauce

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

 

Undeserving, unremarkable, unreliable, beloved

My social media feed is well-stocked with babies. I have my favorites: That one little girl with the amazing dark eyes and bounteous curly hair; that extra squashy toddler whose face is so ridiculously expressive; and of course my own children, who are sweeter, cuter, and more delicious to look upon then all the rest of humankind put together and then tripled.

What I really enjoy, though, is boring pictures of boring kids. I like seeing that one kid (or forty-six kids, for all I know. I can’t tell them apart, because there’s nothing remarkable about them) with the light brown hair and the kind of dull expression, doing things like sitting at a table with a plastic plate of eggs, propped up in a swing his eyes half-closed, or maybe holding a toy truck in one hand and another toy truck in the other hand.

“Little man really loves his eggs!” the proud mom will gush, adding a couple of smiling emoticons with hearts instead of eyeballs. “Connor is crazy about playing trucks! Love him so much [heart heart heart heart heart].”

These really are some of my favorite posts, because it makes me happy to remember that there are so many ordinary, unremarkable children in the world who are cherished, doted on, lavished with affection just because they exist. They are not adored because they learned to speak at an early age or because they smell better than most children. They haven’t earned their parents’ love because they are especially clever or easy to care for, or because they show early promise for a lucrative career in show business. They are beloved simply because they are children; and, when all is well, parents love their own children better than they love anyone else. They are beloved simply because they exist.

In an increasingly utilitarian society, where we are told to value people who are useful and kill people who are not, it is refreshing down to my very soul to see so much love lavished on such ordinary children.

I thought of this during the Mass of the Epiphany, as our pastor reminded us that the magi prostrated themselves before the infant Jesus. The typical nativity scene shows the wise men visiting the Holy Family in the stable where Jesus was born. More likely, Joseph had found more comfortable housing by the time the magi turned up; but either way, whether it was the foul, smelly hay of the stable or the undoubtedly rough and rustic floor of the house of a poor carpenter, those stately, high-born international guests, who had been welcomed by Herod himself, prostrated themselves on it – abased themselves – lay themselves down in utter, abandoned adoration before the child who was anything but ordinary.

“And then,” our pastor reminded us, “Jesus did the same for us.” First by making Himself an infinitesimal one-celled human in one of Mary’s fallopian tubes; by being born into that dark, smelly stable (and the dark, smelly, finite, fallen world of humans in general); by allowing Himself to be publicly executed like a criminal; by allowing Himself to be present in that flat, white, unremarkable consecrated host.

Odd for the magi to know enough to prostrate themselves, in their jewels and flowing robes, before the seemingly unremarkable but truly extraordinary son of Mary; odder still, odd times a billion, for that Son to prostrate Himself for us, who are truly unremarkable.

Why? Why would He do this?

Because, to Him, every last one of us is that child who is unlike any other child. Each one of us is cherished like the “little man” who is adorable just because he enjoys eating eggs, or sweet beyond compare just because he has learned to blow kisses, like billions of other babies. To Christ, each of us is that special one, that cherished child, that singularly beloved one who makes his parent’s heart swell with affection.

He dotes on us just because we exist.  We are not beloved of God because we learn quickly or because we perform better than, for instance, the angels. We haven’t earned our Father’s love because we are especially clever or easy to care for, or because we can ever possibly do anything for God.

We are beloved simply because we are His children; and God loves each of His children as if they were His only child. He would have gone to these mind-bogglingly extraordinary lengths for any single one of us, even if we were the only person in the universe.

If you don’t believe me, then ask yourself this: Does the alternative make any more sense? Does it seem more true to say, “God would have been willing to undergo the immense weirdness of the Incarnation, and the profound suffering and agony of the crucifixion, but only if it was for a whole lot of people. He would only do it for billions of people. Not millions. Or maybe he would do it for millions, but not thousands, or hundreds. Well, maybe he would do it for a hundred people, but never for just one.

“Never just for me.”

Oh, really? Let me tell you, it doesn’t make any sense for Him to do it in the first place, not even for quadrillions or quintillions of unremarkable human souls. There would be no reason for God to go that trouble, no matter how many souls there were. So long as we’re willing to believe He’s going to behave so strangely, and subsume His infinite glory into some “itty bitty living space” for a world full of souls, then why not go whole hog and make no sense at all? Why not go ahead and do that for one, single, stinking person, like me?

It doesn’t make sense. It’s not efficient. It’s not rational. The only reason you’d do it is for love; and love only means anything if it’s between two people.

And who are those two people? Him and me. And Him and you, and you, and you, and every single last stinking, undeserving, inadequate, unreliable, unremarkable one of us, one by one, with His whole heart. I am ordinary, and so are you. I am unremarkable, and so are you. We like scrambled eggs, and we enjoy playing with our trucks. There is nothing special about us – nothing, except that we are beloved of God, individually, distinctly, intentionally, profoundly.

***
This essay was first published in The Catholic Weekly in 2017

Can we endure the light?

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There was a man who could read people’s souls, and he would sometimes deliver messages from God.

It sounds fishy, but if you saw his face, especially his eyes, you’d believe it. For some reason, he visited my house when I was a teenager. When I came in the room, his dark eyes pooled with pity, and he asked, “Is there anything you would like to ask?” There wasn’t. I was on an ugly, dire path, and I knew it, but I wasn’t ready to turn around yet. So I walked out of the room. Fled, really. I could see that he was very close to God, and I couldn’t stand being that close to him.

It is not enough, you see, to recognize the presence of God. You can identify holiness, but it won’t do you any good if you’ve been living in a way that doesn’t prepare you to endure it.

Herod, for instance, recognized the Christ. Or at least he was well-versed enough in scripture to know that something big was coming, something that could change the world. But when he found Him, his whole thought was to extinguish that light, because it was a threat. Not to be endured.

Herod was a brilliant, powerful, and exceptionally brutal tyrant, who protected his throne by killing everyone who might someday threaten it, including his wife, two of his sons, his wife’s grandfather, her brother, and her mother. You cannot live that way and then suddenly rejoice when your savior comes. You don’t want a savior, when you live that way. It’s not that you don’t recognize salvation; it’s that you hate it.

The magi, on the other hand, also found and identified the Child Jesus, and had (what an understatement!) a different response. Before they ever appeared in the Gospel, they had spent years studying scripture and anticipating the arrival of the Savior. But their studies clearly brought them beyond some academic knowledge of the coming king. Isaiah spoke of glory and brilliance, a “Hero God” — and yet when the magi found Him in Bethlehem, just another poor baby Jew, they still knew who He was — and they rejoiced, and adored, and gloried in His light.

It’s not enough to identify God when you find Him. It won’t do you any good unless you’ve been living in a way that makes you ready to want salvation.

Several years ago, I had a little glimpse of Jesus. He was in the form of another man, someone who served God with every moment of his life. When I walked into the room, he was on his knees on the floor, binding the ankle of a boy who had hurt his foot. The boy was not grateful, not at all. He sulked and pitied himself, but the man radiated love. His posture was a living expression of love. The room shone.

This time, when I saw holiness, I didn’t run away. I stayed and watched, because the light of charity that shone in that room had something to say to me: “Be like this.”

In the first reading at the Mass of the Epiphany, Isaiah says:

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.

Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.

This is a light that may reveal all kinds of things. It’s not enough for those “nations” (and we are the nations) to recognize and identify God. It’s not enough to be able to realize what holiness is when we see it.

How are we preparing, before that light appears? The magi knew it was coming, and they prepared themselves to welcome and adore it. Herod knew it was coming, and he made plans to extinguish it. Herod acted like exactly like Herod when His savior appeared, and so will we act exactly like ourselves when we meet God.

Just being in His light will not be enough. If we live like Herod, we will respond to Him like Herod, with fear, with loathing. We will see the light, and we will want to put it out.

When the glory of the Lord comes to shine upon you, what will that light reveal?

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Image: “Epiphany” by Gallardoblend via Deviantart
This essay was originally published on Aleteia in January of 2016.

Epiphany, you’re on your own.

“Keep that tree up until Epiphany!” they keep saying. “It’s still Christmas, you know! Don’t take down that tree yet!” they keep saying. They are imagining something like this:

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(Photo Credit Anthea Sieveking , Wellcome Images)

O, Holy Night!

Whereas what hulks in our living room is more along these lines:

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Oh, holy crap.

Epiphany, you’re on your own.