On Saturday, we went to confession. Mine was a pretty standard operation: “Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It has been two months since my last confession. I did that thing I always do, and that other thing I always do. I also did that other thing I always do, except more so than usual. And I stopped doing that thing I usually do, but then I started again. And I was mean on the internet. For these and all my sins, I am truly sorry.”
And the priest said what this particular priest always says: “Thank you for that beautiful confession.” He says this when I have a long and sordid list, or a short and sordid list, or when he can barely understand me because my nose is running from the sordidness of it all. The point is, I am not aware of ever having made a confession that any normal human being would consider “beautiful.”
But the confessional is not a normal place. It’s the one place that no one would ever go for normal, worldly reasons. No penitent goes to confession to get ahead in life, or to make money, or to get a full belly, or to impress anyone; and no priest goes to confession to be amused or entertained. It’s where we go to unload our miseries, to show our wounds and our infections, to take off the disguises that make us appear palatable to each other.
So, not beautiful. No, not especially.
Or is it? If the ugliness, the squalor, the sordidness, and the running nose were all that happened inside a confessional, then it really would be an ugly place — just a latrine, a ditch, a sewer. But of course, the part where we lay out our sins is only the first part.
What happens afterward is more obviously beautiful. The priest reaches out and picks up the ugly little load you’ve laid in front of him. And right then and there, he pours the living water over it until the parts that are worth saving are healthy and whole again, and the parts that cannot be salvaged have been washed away entirely. What is useless is gone; what was dead is alive again.
This is beautiful!
And the beauty of absolution does one of those neat Catholic tricks where eternal things reach back in time and impart beauty wherever they want, regardless of chronology. The beauty of absolution makes the confession itself beautiful. Even though my sins are ugly, the very fact that I’m bringing them into the confessional has something beautiful in it: the beauty of trust that I will be forgiven; the beauty of believing that something real and life-changing will happen; the beauty of being willing to accept forgiveness even though I know that I don’t deserve it; and the beauty of knowing that, whoever’s turn it is to sit behind the screen, it is really Christ who is waiting to meet me.
Maybe you’re wondering what is the big deal about the Instant Pot. Is it really so great? Why does everyone go so cuckoo over it? Should I be worried that my spouse has bought a pair of spotless doves and is sharpening a knife?
And why does Simcha insist on making these embarrassingly chimpy images with very primitive software and a crying toddler on her lap?
I have the answer. To the first question, not the second.
It’s because of risotto.
Risotto, risotto, risotto. I love risotto with my whole heart, but it is a pain in the neck to make. Hovering over the pan, stirring, adding in a little broth, stirring, waiting, simmering, waiting, stirring, adding some more broth, stirring, waiting, and it smells divine, but your entire life is passing you by while you wait for it to be done.
In the Instant Pot, it’s easy. Truly easy, and fast. And it tastes just as good as the difficult kind. This, in itself, is a reason to own an Instant Pot. All the other stuff is bonus. Now you know!
I’m gonna come right out and tell you: we rely on Amazon for our car payments. My husband has a 1.3-hour commute, and absolutely needs a reliable car. So! Please use my links, so my husband doesn’t have to drive to work in the Instant Pot. It’s good, but it’s not that good.
And now, back to risotto.
Last Friday, we had tuna fish patties and butternut squash risotto. I used this butternut squash risotto recipe from Good Housekeeping. I used onions instead of shallots, ground sage instead of fresh, and regular old white rice instead of arborio. It was fabulous. Creamy but not mushy and packed with flavor. Amazing.
I spent a good half hour wandering around the house, taking people by the shoulders, holding them with my glittering eye and quothing at them, “Do you even realize the possibilities?” Risotto with fresh tomatoes. Risotto with bacon. Risotto with scallops or garlicky shrimp. Risotto with asparagus and gorgonzola. Risotto with lemon, mint, and peas. Risotto with hazelnuts. Risotto with saffron and fennel. I don’t even know what fennel is! But I will!
The other reason for having an Instant Pot is because venting the steam is fun. Some days, it is the most fun you will have all day.
SATURDAY Hamburgers, chips
Cousins over again. They responded very positively, with shrieking, to the idea of hamburgers and chips. So let it be written; so let it be done. I had planned sweet peppers and hummus, but there were just too many runny noses and double dippers in the population, so, in the interest of good health, we skipped the veg.
SUNDAY Chicken cutlets with basil; mushroom risotto; salad
Farewell to cousins and hello to my parents. Here is my niece with one of her favorite playthings: My father’s beard.
Damien made one of his absolute most magnificent dishes, the late lamented Deadspin’s chicken cutlets. You pound the chicken flat, bread it (Damien used panko crumbs), fry it (Damien used olive oil and butter), then top it with a fresh basil leaf and a slice of cheese (Damien used mozzarella, but provolone is great, too), and ladle some homemade tomato sauce over that.
This meal makes me go absolutely insane. It’s so good, you can’t imagine. As I ate it, I thought of starving people in the third world and then thought, “TOO BAD.” With these chicken cutlets, you could — dare I say it? Rule the world.
Also, I had some mushroom left over from last week, when I accidentally didn’t make soup. So I went with this mushroom risotto recipe from This Old Gal. This Old Gal discourages using plain old regular mushrooms, but I did it anyway, and it was good. I didn’t have fennel or parsley, so I went with sage again, and really peppered it up. Completely delicious.
MONDAY Leftovers with spaghetti
Damien had made 38 chicken cutlets, so we put the leftovers in a pan, spread the rest of the sauce over it, added a layer of sliced cheese, and warmed it up in the oven, then served it on spaghetti.
There was no leftover risotto because I devoured it for lunch.
I feel like there was salad.
TUESDAY Korean beef bowl; rice; steambed broccoli and cauliflower
I just noticed that I wrote “steambed” instead of “steamed,” but I think the “b” expresses how lightly I didn’t steam them.
It’s so easy, and it’s just spicy enough to be warming and comforting, without assailing your mouth. Wonderful use for ground beef. Also a wonderful use for immortal zombie scallions, if you happen to have any haunting your kitchen.
Oh, I thought of another advantage for the Instant Pot. InstantPot.com has plenty of useful, simple recipes, like the rice one above. It also has a slew of completely bonkers recipes that were apparently written by a malicious robot who flunked out of ESL. Here is one of my current favorites: Beer Potato Fish!
“The Beer Potato Fish would be a challenge for a non-professional cooker,” it muses, shaking its head in empathy for the old, dark days so tragically rife with amateurish attempts at beer potato fish, “But it is now a different story with Instant Pot Programmable Pressure Cooker.”
It calls for a pound of fish, some oyster flavored sauce, a cup of beer, and a tablespoon of rock candy. Doesn’t that sound tasty? It also instructs you to push the fish button, which does not exist. I suppose someone is making money off this in some way, and I kind of feel like they deserve it.
The Instant Pot had acquitted itself so well this week, I thought maybe I’d try one of the many, many pork rib recipes that are available. But then I remembered that I could also sit on the couch and tell my son how to some pork ribs in a 450 oven on a roasting rack with a little salt and pepper, and I knew they would be scrumptious. And so I did, and so they were.
If there’s a better way to prepare pork ribs, I just don’t care.
I also considered making Instant Pot mashed potatoes, but the recipes all looked more complicated than stovetop recipes. So I just went ahead and boiled them in a non-instant pot and mashed them. I left the skin on, which I almost never do. To me, this adds excitement and piquancy. To others, it’s like hanging around with that weirdo who keeps on harping on the idea that, in many regions, apple cores, corn cobs, and chicken bones are considered a delicacy.
The vegetables were that good old supermarket blend of frozen peas, carrots, corn, string beans, and lima beans. This makes me feel six years old, in a good way.
THURSDAY English muffin pizzas
Since our bishop has given us a St. Patrick’s Day dispensation to eat meat on Friday, we did our meatless meal on Thursday. Except I forgot, and had leftover Korean beef bowl for lunch. For my penance, I had massive heartburn all night, and dreamt I was endlessly editing and re-editing a blog post about best and worst dresses of the Oscars; only I had to do it on taped-together paper with sidewalk chalk and then take photos of it with a Kodak disc film camera.
So, I am all caught up on Lent.
FRIDAY Corned beef boiled dinner; Dublin coddle
So, St. Patrick is, like, the second-tier patron of our regional arch-diacistry, or something; and my husband is tremendously Irish, so we prayerfully discerned that have no choice but to eat three different kinds of meat today.
The kids love boiled dinner, so I’ll be cooking up some corned beef with red potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and adorable little onions, and serving it with gobs of mustard, as St. Patrick himself did. It’s how he drove the snakes away.
If God is so great, eternal and omnipotent and omniscient and all, why the heck does He care about a few ounces of processed animal protein? What difference could it possibly make? What kind of infinite deity even notices stuff like that? And how in the world can you say that God is love if He cares about hot dogs?
First, a reminder! If you subscribed more than a few weeks ago, I’m afraid your subscription no longer works! I’m so sorry. You’ll need to resubscribe using the form on the right sidebar.
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Okay, I think that’s all the blog business, except a reminder that the weekly podcast went out last night. It’s password protected for subscribers only. To subscribe, pledge $1 a more through Patreon. I know, I know, it’s kind of involved, but once you get it set up, it’s easy peasy. I do the podcast with my husband, and it’s fun and stupid and drinky, and often has sound effects, offensive jokes, and poetry, all for less than 25 cents a week. WHAT A DEAL.
Now for the food.
This week’s food post has no food photos. Holy reason: It’s Lent, and tempting images of food would not be in keeping with the spirit of the liturgical season. Real reason: Can’t find my iPad. Instead, please enjoy this photo of Dan Brown being allowed to be in front of a microphone that is turned on. That should be suitably penitential.
And we’re off!
SATURDAY Sliced ham, fried eggs, raw peppers
Because Jesus is coming, ham is on sale, so I bought a big ‘un. Here is my genius idea: You slice it up first, early in the day, and put it in a pan with a little water and cover it with tinfoil. Then you can throw it in the oven and heat it up quickly before dinner. I fried up a few dozen eggs and sliced up about a bushel of red, yellow, orange, and green peppers.
We still had my nephew and three nieces on Saturday, and this dinner was a big hit with all the kids. Very bright and pretty.
I rate this meal zero Dan Browns, because it was easy, cheap, and well-received. Not penitential at all.
SUNDAY Bò Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew), French bread and butter
The big disappointment of the week. On the penitential food scale, it rates a full three Dan Browns, which is not good.
This Instant Pot recipe from Nom Nom Paleo calls for all kinds of thrilling ingredients. Lemongrass! Curry powder! Fresh ginger! Star Anise! Fish sauce! I followed the directions pretty closely for once, and it smelled wonderful. But the taste was harsh and metallic, yet boring. I just didn’t like it at all. It was like regular old ‘Murkin beef stew, except angrier. What a waste of meat. I felt overwhelming Fleischenttäuschung.
Happily, we also celebrated Corrie’s birthday on Sunday. We had chocolate cake (box mix) and cream cheese frosting using this recipe, except I used about half the sugar they called for. I made a heart-shaped cake, frosted it yellow, and pushed fancy jelly beans into the frosting all around the edge. Then we remembered a pack of little candy hatchets with blood on the blades that I got on clearance after Halloween. They seemed about right for Mama’s widdle axe murderer, so we stuck those in, too.
Suddenly becoming the other kind of two-year-old, she ran away and hid in her crib when we brought the cake out. You guys. It is so hard being two.
MONDAY Hot dogs, baked beans
Nothing to report, nothing to regret. No Dan Browns, because we like hot dogs.
TUESDAY Carnitas with guacamole and chips; hot fudge and butterscotch ice cream sundaes
Taco Tuesday was, of course, Fat Tuesday or Carnevale, which literally means “farewell to meat,” so I thought carnitas make a good send-off. And they were good. I’ve made pork carnitas a few times, but it somehow escaped me until now that you are supposed to fry the meat after slow cooking it; and then you douse it with its own oniony gravy while you fry it. So carnal.
This meal gets half a Dan Brown, only because the salsa turned out to have fermented, and not in the good way.
Sorry you got the half with most of his chin in it.
Now I’m really suffering. I took such gorgeous pictures of that guacamole. There is no more attractive kitchen rubble than guacamole rubble, n’est pas? The shining avocado pits, the papery garlic skins, the feathery cilantro, the gleaming limes. OH WELL. I hope all the souls in purgatory appreciate what I’m going through.
ASH WEDNESDAY Spaghetti, bread and butter, salad
Spaghetti from a box with sauce from a jar with bread from a bag and salad from a pouch never tasted so good. No D.B. at all.
THURSDAY Broiled chicken breast, salad with croutons, pinkaroni salad
I made a marinade of olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and basil. Not terribly coherent, but it tasted okay. You let it marinate for a couple of hours and then slide it under the broiler, turning once. Slice it up and serve it over salad for a Meal of Great Virtue.
I used up the old hamburger buns for croutons. These are so good if you don’t burn them, which I did. Cube the bread, drizzle it with melted butter or olive oil, and then toss them with whatever seasonings you like. I just grabbed some adobo powder, which was fine, if a bit too salty. Then you put them in a shallow pan in a 300-degree oven for forty minutes or so, stirring them up occasionally, until they are toasted all the way through. You can make a ton at a time and store them in an airtight container for a long time. Or, you can just burn them and then eat them all up.
There wasn’t as much green salad as I thought, so I made some macaroni salad, more or less following this recipe. But instead of peppers, I used chopped beets, which turned the mayonnaise dressing pink, which delighted the kids. Two Dan Browns for the burnt croutons and some expired Thousand Island dressing.
Beep beep. I am here to tell you that, sometime after that seventh time (or maybe after the seventy-times-seventh time) a light bulb will click on in that dopey son’s head. After being rescued without comment one more time after time after time after time, that son is very likely to decide on his own that this is no way to live, and he’d rather face the jeers and yucks of his stupid friends than the quiet patience of his father one more time.
Not because he’s scared of his father, but because he’s not. Not because his father is mad at him, but because his father loves him, and it finally feels like it’s time to live up to that love.
What a shame that Ash Wednesday comes but once a year. For many of us, that’s the only opportunity we have to experience what many people consider the lyrical poet Thomas Conry’s masterwork. Let’s take a closer look.
The first lines are something of a ruse, are they not? Listen:
We rise again from ashes,
from the good we’ve failed to do.
We rise again from ashes,
to create ourselves anew.
If all our world is ashes,
then must our lives be true,
an offering of ashes, an offering to you.
We are lulled by the conventional rhyme scheme, ABABABB, into expecting that the theme will be conventional, as well. The speaker cannily completes the rhyme by using the same word, “ashes,” three times, as if to signal, “Nothing new here, no particular reason to pay attention.” Even the finial sounds of the words, “ashes,” “do,” “ashes,” “anew,” and once again “ashes,” followed by “true” and “you” — do you hear it? the “sh” followed by “oo” . . . it almost sounds like the soft, untroubled breath of a sleeper. “Shh . . .ooo.” Our narrator appears almost to be snoring, does he not? He is deliberately lulling us to sleep.
But a surprise awaits us in the second stanza.
We offer you our failures,
we offer you attempts,
the gifts not fully given,
the dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction,
give our visions wider view,
an offering of ashes, an offering to you.
Gone are the soft sibilants of the previous lines, and instead, we are confronted with deliberately jarring plosives (/b/ /p/ /t/ /d/) in “Gifts not fully given, / … dreams not fully dreamt.” Not fully, indeed. The very percussive violence of the sound is a statement: the speaker has awoken, and he is in distress, perhaps stuttering and spluttering like a confused patient who was supposed to be etherised upon a table, but they ran out of ether. “Give our stumblings direction,” he haltingly pleads – but then subsides again into the inarticulate vagueness, perhaps experiencing a swollen tongue: “give our visions wider view,” he mouths with a wagging jaw, in an achingly poignant parody of the semi-conscious man struggling to make sense of a world where significance seems always to be verging on the horizon.
Notice that in this second stanza, the rhyme scheme has subtly shifted from the pedestrian ABABABB to the chaotic and freewheeling ABCBDEE. This indicates that the speaker is confused.
The third stanza seems to find the speaker in a contemplative mood, lapsing again into what appears, at first, to be conventional, even clichéd imagery: rising from ashes, sunshine turning to rain, and so on:
Then rise again from ashes,
let healing come to pain,
though spring has turned to winter,
and sunshine turned to rain.
The rain we’ll use for growing,
and create the world anew
from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.
But what are we to make of those troublesome conjunctions “then” and “though”? They can’t merely be metric placeholders, can they, with no intrinsic significance? Don’t you believe it. Every syllable in this concise little jewel of a work is freighted with meaning. Some of the meaning is so subtle, it would wither under the strong light of scrutiny, much like a seedling which is brought to light in the springtime which, in an unprecedented meteorological event possible only in poetry, turns to winter, and then is sunny, and then rainy, and then becomes ashes, or possibly used to be ashes. Delicate seedlings just can’t take that kind of abuse; and so it is with conjunctions in the hands of the poet Conry. Exquisite.
And now the tour de force: the final stanza. Here we discover at last the full blown expression of the hints and murmuring suggestions sprinkled like so many ashes throughout the rest of the poem. The speaker proclaims in triumph:
Thanks be to the Father,
who made us like himself.
Thanks be to his Son,
who saved us by his death.
Thanks be to the Spirit
who creates the world anew
from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.
Do you see? Do you see? It was the ashes all along. Ashes!
This essay originally ran in the National Catholic Register at some point, I forget when
photo credit: mkorsakov Asche via photopin(license)
Thinking of veiling for Lent? A generous reader has offered to donate a completely gorgeous hand-made veil for free, just because she likes doing it.
Here is a photo of one veil that you could win (blocked out on foam so you can see the amazing detail):
Isn’t that lovely? So delicate and graceful. Here’s a view of the full veil:
OR, she says she is willing to make one to your specs, in a custom color, size, and even design!
If you win and you’d like a custom-made veil, I’ll put you in touch with the donor, and you can work out details. She says it will take less than a week to get one ready to ship, as long as the color thread you choose is readily available where she lives.
Usually, when I offer a donated prize, the sponsor has a business to highlight. In this case, the donor would like to remain anonymous, and would like to draw your attention to the Rosebud Program of Elizabeth Ministry.
Elizabeth Ministry International offers a wide variety of programs and support, including through parishes and online, “designed to offer hope and healing on issues related to childbearing, sexuality, and relationships.”
The Rosebud Program “helps a church identify, pray for, and support those who are pregnant, celebrating birth or adoption, grieving miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, infant or child death, or wanting to become pregnant or adopt.”
The donor would like to encourage those whose parishes don’t yet have a chapter to consider starting one, especially if there are members who can provide support for families experiencing miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant or child loss. A worthy cause, indeed. No one should suffer through these things alone. Sometimes people want to help, but don’t know how; and sometimes people need help, but don’t know how to ask.
To enter to win the veil, please use the Rafflecopter form, which you will find at the bottom of this post. Or maybe you’ll find a dumb-looking link that says “a Rafflecopter giveaway,” and you’ll just want to click on that.
There are several ways to enter the contest, but you must use the Rafflecopter form to be entered.
Note to subscribers: One of the options is “subscribe to this blog.” Unfortunately, when I changed hosts, I lost all my email subscribers! I’m so sorry. If you subscribed anytime before last week, you will need to re-subscribe (and you’ll also get an entry into the contest, if you choose that option in the Rafflecopter form!). If you want to re-subscribe without being entered into the contest, simply re-subscribe via the blog and don’t use the Rafflecopter form.
Good luck! And thanks again to our generous and talented donor. The contest ends Saturday the 25th at midnight, and I’ll announce the winner as soon as possible after that.
Keeping grudges is such an odd thing to do. No one wants to be angry, resentful, and unhappy, surely, any more than we’d jump at the opportunity to keep a sticky, stinky, snarling vermin in the house for a pet. And yet we do keep it and cherish grudges so ardently, sometimes for decades. Why?
This is not a paid endorsement; I’m just passing along something that’s working for me.
I spend way too much time on social media, especially Facebook. Some of my friends suggested tips like “Just uninstall it!” or “Try spending more time outside!” My problem is that I truly need to be on social media to promote my blog and podcast, to interact with readers, and to get a sense of what people are interested in. I also use social media as a way of keeping up with the news, with culture and entertainment, and with spiritual reading. And, most of all, I like social media, because it lets me to spend time with friends and family, and to admire their pretty babies and show off mine, and to see and hear any number of things that make my life richer and nicer. AND BABY HIPPO VIDEOS!
So if I just quit, or cut it down to fifteen minutes a day, my life would change drastically for the worse. And it’s not always obvious when my work ends and my goof-off time begins; and anyway, goof-off time isn’t always a bad thing. I needed something that would help me get control without cutting me off altogether.
After scoping out dozens of apps and extensions, I tried out StayFocusd, which is a free extension for Chrome. It has done everything I was hoping it would do. I set it to let me be on Facebook for a certain number of minutes every day. (You can set it to block any site, or parts of any site; but Facebook is my main problem.)
A tiny angry eyeball is now on the top of my browser. When the Facebook tab is open, the eyeball is red;
and if I click on the eyeball, it shows me a counter counting down how much time I have left.
When I have a different tab open, the eyeball turns a less-threatening blue, and the counter stops.
If the Facebook tab is open for a long time without any activity (as often happens, because I get pulled away from the computer by some kid emergency), it asks me if I’m still there, and pauses the counter until I answer it.
It gives you rather sassy messages designed to make you feel guilty if you try to access blocked sites after your time has run out:
If you have time left and set it to increase your allotted time, it tries to dissuade you:
and if you click “OK,” it tries again:
It also praises you for decreasing your allotted time:
It has a lot of features that I am not using, such as restricting which days and which hours of the day I can access sites; blocking sites altogether; requiring a difficult challenge before I can change any settings; and sensing up to five differently-timed warning messages when your time is close to running out. There is also “The Nuclear Option,” which “will block sites for the number of hours you indicate, independent of your Active Days or Active Hours. There is no way to cancel this once you activate it.”
Useful if you have a big deadline and can’t afford to goof off at all. You can also block just certain subsets of sites, like just logins or just images.
You can choose more than one site to time, but the timer keeps track of time spent on all timed sites (so you can’t give yourself, say, an hour on Twitter and an hour on Facebook; but you can set the timer for two hours and use it as you will). It says the guy is working on making an option for different timers for different sites.
StayFocusd doesn’t work on other browsers or on iPhones or iPads, but there is a paid app called Freedom that does. I haven’t tried it, so can’t review it; but if you use StayFocusd, you get a code for 40% off Freedom.
Now you know everything I know! It’s ideal combination of good technical design and a good understanding of human psychology. It’s easy to use, and has anticipated every way that people can cheat (as well as ways that people accidentally restrict themselves more than they meant to).
Every time I notice the little eyeball, I remember that I’m being timed, and I have to decide whether or not to keep using Facebook. It puts external controls on my behavior, but it also helps me remember to control myself, by doing things like deliberately leaving my devices behind when I move from room to room, not checking Facebook first thing when I get up or when I get home, and so on. Eventually, I’d like to establish such good habits of self-control that I won’t need an external controller, because it will have become so obvious that life is better without tons and tons of Facebook.
The first week, I gave myself more than enough time, and I aimed to change my behavior so that I had unused minutes at the end of the day. (Some days I succeeded, and some days I didn’t.) The second week, having gotten used to a few good habits, I decreased my allotted time, and I may do that again next week.
This could be a real boon for Lent.
Do you have a problem spending too much time online? Have you gotten control of your habit? What has helped you? I’m especially interested in hearing from folks whose work and leisure online activities overlap, as mine do.