What’s for supper? Vol. 293: I’ll tell YOU what’s yakitori

Happy Friday! I am headed to adoration in a bit, and shall yell at Jesus about your intentions. 

Quick covid report: Everybody in the house eventually got it, except for one kid, who is either supernatural, or somehow got false negatives on a LOT of tests. The other kids only got a little bit sick, happily, and some didn’t get sick at all. They are all completely better. I’m definitely on the mend. I don’t think I even took a nap yesterday! And my splendid covid rash actually retreated a bit yesterday, rather than spreading, for the first time since it made its debut. Damien has started running again, and I have slowly, carefully started up yoga. I’m wheezy, but not horribly wheezy. Today I’m exactly three weeks out from the day I tested positive, so I guess that’s pretty normal. In conclusion, covid is stupid but not nearly as stupid as it could have been, so, Deo gratias. 

Spring has sprung for real. 

The ticks are ticking, the dog is romping, Damien is battling the pool water, and away we go. Outdoor cooking season is fully underway, happily, as you will see.

Here’s what we ate this week: 

SATURDAY
Smoked pork ribs, cole slaw, chips

Damien made three luscious racks of ribs in the smoker with a sugar rub and mustard. 

Jump to Recipe

It doesn’t really taste mustardy; it just has a savory tang with a little muted fireworks aftertaste, and they are incredibly juicy and flavorful. I can never tell if these “cutting up meat” pictures look amazing to other people, or just kind of grisly, but they look amazing to me.

I took a picture of a demure plate with two ribs, but I was just getting warmed up. 

Great meal. 

I also had the great fun of briefly meeting an old friend who was selling her wonderful prints at a local craft fair. Do check out Rabbit Dog Fine Arts on Etsy for some really striking, lively work, very very reasonably priced. I, uh, bought four prints because I couldn’t help myself.

SUNDAY
Italian sandwiches, french fries; lemon cake

Sunday was Mother’s Day, and I’m happy to report that, in a few short decades, I’ve successfully made the transition from having a painful, bitter day when I feel unappreciated and neglected, to getting showered with gifts and attention and feeling a little guilty about it. But not too guilty! 

I requested Italian sandwiches and a lemon-based dessert, both very delicious.

I do love lemon desserts. We recently saw the Great British Baking Show with the Sussex Pond Pudding, which is a pastry with a lard crust that contains butter, sugar, and an entire cooked lemon. I think I would eat that? Yeah, I’m pretty sure I would eat that. I would eat that.

I also went to Home Depot to finally get started on some gardening, finally. I am at a point in my life where, yes yes, I live in New Hampshire, but I just don’t want to dig up any more rocks, at all, ever. So that means container gardening. But I don’t just want buckets of dirt all over the place, either. But I don’t want to pay for lumber. So I wandered around in the yard with a measuring tape making vague diagrams, got to Home Depot, made a wild guess about how many cinder blocks we might need (um, 60?), loaded up as many as we could pull on a single cart, and, full of anxious foreboding about the expensive, cell-like, somehow-still-inadequate structure I was going to build, and how bad it was going to be on the car to bring it home, I went off to find a second cart, and on the way, discovered that for about the same price I could buy . . . look at this . . . four galvanized steel window wells, that are food safe because they are galvanized steel, and are already designed to be jammed into the ground.

But they turned out to be $20 each, not $10 as I originally thought, so I put the back, and felt sad about it, and looked at the cinder blocks again, but then I thought about how rotten I would feel if I came home with nothing, and I decided that not feeling that way was worth at least $30, and I would just eat the extra $10, because it was Mother’s Day. So I abandoned the cinder blocks and bought four metal thingies instead. This is how I do math. This is how I live. It’s better than digging up rocks, I guess.

The plan is make two long ovals, with a few cinder blocks stacked up between the pieces to form the long ends. I think maybe we have a few cinder blocks in our yard somewhere, left over from my last boneheaded project. Those are free, because it was last year.

Anyway, I finally got started, and that’s the main thing. And we stopped at the local nursery and bought several varieties of lettuce, some Brussels sprouts, and some celery, which are all plants I can leave outside even if it gets cold again, which it will. We’re not doing seeds this year. We’re just not.

MONDAY
Cuban sandwiches, chips, carrots and dip; birthday cake

Monday we celebrated Moe’s birthday. He requested Cuban sandwiches on ciabatta rolls. I started the pork a bit late, and ended up just roasting it in the oven covered with tinfoil and with lots of salt and pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and cumin, and doused with cider vinegar, and it was fine, if a tiny bit bland.

So, bread, mustard, pickles, Swiss cheese, pork, ham, more cheese,

and fried in an alarming amount of butter.

I pressed the heck out of the sandwiches with in iron frying pan as they fried,

and then put them in a warm oven to seal the deal, by which I mean the cheese.

This picture makes me laugh. This sandwich looks like it has its mouth full. Happy murfmay, Mofef! That is what the sandwich says.

He requested a whale shark cake,

and maybe if I had had more time time to prepare, it would have come out better, but maybe not. 

TUESDAY
Meatloaf, baked potatoes, salad

The secret of my meatloaf is I don’t make it very often, so the kids think it’s a treat. And it’s really pretty good; it’s just that there’s only a certain amount of good that meatloaf can be. My meatloaf has red wine, Worcestershire sauce, and fried onions in it. I always think I should make a gravy to go along with it, but it’s really fine as is. It’s meatloaf.  

Jump to Recipe

Certainly looked portentous coming out of the oven. I’m pretty happy the sun is up for dinner again. 

We had baked potatoes and salad. Did I already say that? I think I already said that. Well, here’s proof. 

WEDNESDAY
Yakitori chicken, rice, sesame string beans

Now this was a tasty meal. I made the sauce and Damien cooked the chicken on the grill. He used half the sauce to baste the chicken as he cooked it,

and then we served the other half for dipping. The meat comes out sweet, tangy, and gingery, and wonderfully glossy. 

You don’t have to marinate this meat; it gets plenty of flavor from basting. I made a triple recipe of this sauce, but I massively increased the amount of fresh garlic and ginger, and I cooked it considerably longer than she said. I cooked it through the entire third movement of Mendellsohn’s “Reformation” symphony before it thickened up. 

We used skinless, boneless chicken thighs but did not bother cutting them and putting them on skewers, but just sort of unfurled them and grilled them whole. They were wonderful that way, but technically they are not yakitori, which really is supposed to be on skewers. Although [snort, snort] technically “yaki” means “roast” and “tori” means “bird,” so I guess it depends if you want to be pedantic, or just, you know, eat the yummy chicken. 

Everyone was very enthusiastic about this meal. Served with sesame seeds and chopped scallions and more sauce, as you can see, which had a sharper, brighter flavor as a dipping sauce than it did when basted onto the chicken. Gosh, it was so good. I wish I had some right now, but it’s Friday, so I’m having some fwiggin yogurt and hummus and carrots. 

THURSDAY
Chicken burgers, cheezy weezies

Everyone was also very enthusiastic about this meal, served with mayonnaise. And buns from Aldi. 

FRIDAY
Seafood lo mein

We haven’t had lo mein for a while. I just bought some linguine or fettuccine, I forget which, for the noodles. Basically you just need something flat and slurpy that will pick up the tasty sauce and make a happy home for whatever you want to add in. 

Jump to Recipe

I often put in sugar snap peas, asparagus, or shrimp.

This time, I bought a little bag of mixed seafood from Aldi, which seems to have shrimp, scallops, some kind of shellfish, and misc. I’m a little concerned about the various cooking times it will need, but only a little concerned. 

Okay, that’s it! Here’s some recipe cards for yez. Do try the yakitori (or whatever) sauce. 

Smoked pork ribs with mustard rub

Ingredients

  • 2 racks pork ribs

Pork rub

  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp cumin
  • 2 Tbsp paprika
  • Yellow mustard
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. The night before or several hours before dinner, mix together the rub spices. 



  2. Spread yellow mustard all over the rack of ribs and apply the rub. Cover and refrigerate. Let it come back to room temp before cooking.

  3. Light the fire and let it die down. Put the meat on the grill off to the side, where it will get indirect heat. Put the cover down and let it cook at least four hours. 

  4. Add salt and pepper, then separate the ribs and enjoy. 

Meatloaf (actually two giant meatloaves)

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground beef
  • 2 lbs ground turkey
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 cups breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup milk OR red wine
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

plenty of salt, pepper, garlic powder or fresh garlic, onion powder, fresh parsley, etc.

  • ketchup for the top
  • 2 onions diced and fried (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450

  2. Mix all meat, eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, and seasonings together with your hands until well blended.

  3. Form meat into two oblong loaves on pan with drainage

  4. Squirt ketchup all over the outside of the loaves and spread to cover with spatula. Don't pretend you're too good for this. It's delicious. 

  5. Bake for an hour or so, until meat is cooked all the way through. Slice and serve. 

basic lo mein

Ingredients

for the sauce

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 5 tsp sesame oil
  • 5 tsp sugar

for the rest

  • 32 oz uncooked noodles
  • sesame oil for cooking
  • add-ins (vegetables sliced thin or chopped small, shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • 2/3 cup rice vinegar (or mirin, which will make it sweeter)

Instructions

  1. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

  2. Boil the noodles until slightly underdone. Drain and set aside.

  3. Heat up a pan, add some sesame oil for cooking, and quickly cook your vegetables or whatever add-ins you have chosen.

  4. Add the mirin to the pan and deglaze it.

  5. Add the cooked noodles in, and stir to combine. Add the sauce and stir to combine.

 

The Seed Who Was Afraid To Be Planted: A terrifying and potentially dangerous book for kids

A new children’s book, The Seed Who Was Afraid To Be Planted (Sophia Institute Press, 2019), is getting rave reviews from moms, Catholic media, and conservative celebrities.

On the surface, it’s a simple, inspiring story about courage and change; but for many kids — and for many adults who have suffered abuse — the pictures, text, and message will be terrifying and even dangerous. At best, this children’s book delegitimizes normal emotions. At worst, it could facilitate abuse.

The rhymed verses by Anthony DeStefano, lavishly illustrated by Erwin Madrid, tell the story of a little seed who’s plucked from his familiar drawer

and planted in the earth. He’s frightened and confused, but soon realizes that change means growth, and as he’s transformed into a beautiful, fruitful tree, he becomes thankful to the farmer who planted him, is grateful and happy, and forgets his fears forever.

While religion isn’t explicitly mentioned until after the page that says “the end,” the influence of scripture is obvious (the seed packets are labelled things like “mustard,” “sycamore,” “olive,” “grape,” and “fig,” and it makes references to “mansions” and “vineyards”). The seed is everyman (or everychild), and the farmer is God the Father, and/or authority figures like parents and teachers.  

It sounds helpful and wholesome, but let’s take a closer look.

Margaret Realy, author, artist, and speaker (The Catholic Gardener) reviewed the book, anticipating a pleasant read, but was alarmed and disturbed. She wrote a review on Amazon that pinpoints the specifics. Realy said:

This story places childhood abuse and neglect in the center of its theme. A small defenseless being is repeatedly traumatized by seeing loved ones ‘disappeared’ “…and no one would see that seed anymore.” Then the following stanzas speak of anticipatory trauma that he too will be taken away.

The fearful day comes, he can’t escape, and the man’s hand clasped around him. No matter how the seed cried and yelled, he was taken from a secure and loving environment to one of “horror”, “pain”, and “agony.”

The man that took him away was silent and unresponsive to the pleading seed, buried him alive, and left him abandoned.

That’s a lot for a young child to process, and nearly impossible for one—of any age—that is abused.

The pictures are dramatic and gripping, and the dark subject matter contrasts weirdly with the cartoonish faces and font:

Here is the seed, weeping after being abruptly buried alive:

The seed does, of course, come out well in the end, and it becomes a home for birds and animals; children play around it, and it bears much (confusingly diverse) fruit while overlooking a prosperous paradisal landscape with “millions of mansions.”

But this happy ending doesn’t do the job it imagines it does. Realy points out that, while the story attempts to show that the seed’s fears were unfounded and it would be better if he had trusted the farmer, it doesn’t show any of that in progress. Realy said:

Unfortunately I find the story’s transitioning through fear of the unknown into transformation by Grace, weak. The ‘seed’ began to change without any indication of the Creator’s hand, and his terrified soul was not comforted or encouraged by human or Holy.

Instead, it simply shows him transforming “all at once, in the blink of an eye”

This might have been a good place to point out that a seed grows when it’s nourished by a farmer, and to illustrate what appropriate care and concern  actually look like. The Old and New Testament are absolutely loaded with references to God’s tenderness, kindness, mercy, love, care, pity, and even affection; but this book includes none of that, and instead skips seamlessly from terror and abandonment to prosperous new life.

It explicitly portrays God (or his nearest representative in a child’s life) as huge, terrifying, silent, and insensible and unresponsive to terror and agony — and also inexplicably worthy of unquestioning trust.

Realy points out: 

Research indicates that up to 25% of children in the United States are abused, and of that 80% of those children are five and under (Childhelp: Child Abuse Statistics Facts. Accessed December 2019). This is based on only reported cases.

That’s a lot of kids.

Imagine a child who has been taken from a place of comfort, happiness, and companionship and is thrust into darkness and isolation by a looming, all-powerful figure who silently ignores their terror and buries them alive.

Now imagine what this book tells that child to think about himself, and what it tells him to think about God. Imagine how useful this book would be to someone who wants to continue to abuse, and who wants his victim to believe that what is happening to him is normal and healthy and will bear fruit. 

It is ghastly.

But what about kids who aren’t being abused? The statistics, while horrifying, do show that most children aren’t being abused. Can’t we have books designed for these typical children? 

It is true that some kids are inappropriately afraid of change and growth, and need to be reminded that the unknown isn’t always bad. Imagery is useful for kids (and for adults), and I can imagine an anxious child who’s afraid of going to second grade being comforted with a reminder: Remember the little seed? He was scared, too, but the new things turned out to be good and fun!

But even for these children who aren’t experiencing massive trauma or abuse, and who truly are being cared for by people who want good for them, the narrative minimizes and delegitimizes normal childhood emotions. It’s clear that the seed is wrong to be afraid, even though his situation is objectively terrifying. Teaching kids to ignore and minimize their powerful emotions does not facilitate growth or maturity; it encourages emotional maladaptations that bear bad fruit in adult life. Ask me how I know. 

The flaws in the book are especially egregious when they make the message explicitly spiritual. The final page says “From the Bible” and quotes four passages from scripture. Two are unobjectionable, but two are breathtakingly inappropriate for kids: One quotes John’s passage about a grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying; and one describes Jesus falling to the ground at Gethsemane and praying that the Father might take the cup away, but saying “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

These are not verses for children! They are certainly not for children of an age to appreciate the colorful, cartoonish illustrations and simplistic rhyming stanzas in the book. These are verses for adults to grapple with, and goodness knows adults have a hard enough time accepting and living them. 

Including them in a book for young kids reminds me chillingly of the approach the notorious Ezzos, who, in Preparation for Parenting, urges parents to ignore the cries of their infants, saying, “Praise God that the Father did not intervene when his Son cried out on the cross.” I also recall (but can’t find) reading how the Ezzos or a similar couple tell parents to stick a draconian feeding schedule for very young babies, comparing a baby’s hungry cries to Jesus on the cross saying, “I thirst.”    

On a less urgent note, it’s also sloppy and careless with basic botany. Realy, an avid garner, points out its “backwards horticulture” which has the tree growing “nuts and fruits that hang down,” but then later “the tree sprouted flowers/and blossoms and blooms.” It also shows a single tree producing berries, fruits, nuts, and grapes, refers to how “woodpeckers pecked/at his bark full of sap.” Woodpeckers do not eat sap, and sap is not in the bark of a tree. Realy and I both also abhor the lazy half-rhymes that turn up, pairing “afraid” with “day” and “saw” and “shore.” 

But worse than these errors is the final page, which shows a beaming, full-grown tree, along with a textbook minimization of trauma:

“The tree understood
that he had been freed.
He barely remembered
when he was a seed.

He barely remembered
his life in the drawer.
his fears disappeared
and returned . . . nevermore.”

Again, if we’re talking about a kid who was nervous about moving to a new classroom, then yes, the fears might turn out to be easily forgotten. But that’s not what the book describes. When the seed is being carried away from its familiar home, it says, “I’m in so much pain and such agony!” and “He felt so abandoned, forsaken, alone” as he’s buried alive by a giant, faceless man who offers no explanation, comfort, or even warning. In short, it describes true trauma, and trauma doesn’t just “disappear and return nevermore.” It’s cruel to teach kids or even adults to expect the effects of trauma to vanish without a trace.

As Realy said: “PTSD never goes away, even with God. We learn to carry the cross well.” 

Let’s be clear: Children don’t need everything to be fluffy and cheery and bright. Some kids, even very young kids, relish dark and gruesome stories, and I’m not arguing for shielding children from anything that might possibly trouble or challenge their imaginations. We recently read Robert Nye’s Beowulf, for instance. We read mythology; we read scripture.

But when we set out to explicitly teach a lesson — especially a lesson that purports to speak on behalf of God! — it’s vital to get the context exactly right. This book is so very sloppy and careless with children’s tender hearts, that even if there isn’t some dark intention behind it, it’s very easy to imagine a predatory abuser using it as a tool.

 A Catholic publisher like Sophia Institute Press ought to know better.

The Woman Who Took Everything Personally: Garden Edition

(Reprinted upon request. I am now two years older and have given up on tomatoes. Other than that, everything is the same.)

People sometimes ask me* how I manage to keep up with gardening. With all my many responsibilities, how do I manage to maintain my flower beds in their customary splendor?

Here’s how you do it. First, you decide to live in a place where the soil is 78% soccer ball-sized rocks with paltry little swaths of dirt in between. Then you crank the climate way down to supidsville, so it may be Memorial Day, but you’re still squinting wrathfully at the sky and thinking, “Yep, that’s definitely a snow cloud.” You consider burning the dog for fuel. Nothing personal; it just really, really hurts to pay for heating oil in May.

This in itself should make gardening miserable enough. But if you really want to reap sorrow and lamentations as you bring forth flowers into the world, then I cannot recommend highly enough the following technique.

Take it personally. All of it!

Above is a little diagram of one of my little flower beds, which also doubles neatly as a functional map of my psyche. Every single thing that grows tells you something about me, and all of it is stupid.

That lilac tree is a sehnsucht-laden bearer of my youthful memories of this other lilac tree we used to have, alas. I wait in agony for the blossoms to open so I can smell them, thinking all the time about how quickly they will fade, alas alas.

The day lilies come up on their own, and spread like crazy, and I have to rip them out to make way for other flowers, because life is like that. Not even flowers will be allowed to flourish where they will. Death will always have his portion, and I will be his agent. Sheesh, Death.

The purple bushy stuff and the white bushy stuff, I bought on clearance, where the heartless Home Depot generation stopped bothering to water it just because it had already bloomed for the season. Can you believe that? A nice, decent flower, with so much growth left in it, just shoved aside before it’s even fully passed. Just because a flower is forty-one years old and maybe has a double chin and big arms and can’t stay awake through movies, they stop watering it, and nobody even cards it at the liquor store anymore, but this is not right! It’s not right! It’s . . . it’s just not right.

The poppies, I bought out of rage. The only thing that would have made me happier is if they had cost five times as much, because that would be just like them. Freaking poppies. I have been trying to grow poppies all my life, because they are so lovely, and I’ve never gotten so much as a single glossy petal or even an inch or two of hairy, snakelike stem. So here I go, freaking buying freaking poppies, and I HOPE THEY ALL DIE. Freaking poppies. *sob*

The daisies, I dug up from another part of the yard and chunked into my garden because the cruel mower was headed for their sweet heads. If that isn’t just like a man, humph. You stick with me, daisies. We’ll start a book club together, you and me, and you can chip in for the rent once your candle business gets off the ground. I understand.

The roses, I picked up last year at Aldi because they were on sale. I don’t even like roses, but what could I do? They were on sale. And wouldn’t you know it, they survived the winter and they’re doing fine. Thanks a lot, Aldi. By the way, your three bean salad stinks. I rate it two beans at best.

The various plants marked “??” are things that I don’t dare to weed because I can never remember if they are anything or not, because I’m an idiot.

And then there’s this beauty:

Oh, yeah, this is going to be great, I can tell already. Huge masses of fragrant, glowing blossoms will definitely ignite the senses in the fall, kindling hope anew in hearts that were beginning to falter. Totally. Yeah, I have super high hopes that we’ll see a real turnaround with this particular item.

And one more thing: did you notice that none of this was grown from seed? That’s because I stink! I stink! I didn’t even smell the lilacs today, because I stink!

In conclusion: at least Google knows what I’m talking about.

*No one has ever asked me