On meteors and managed expectations

Not long ago, our hemisphere passed through the Perseid meteor shower. When I was young, my family was heavily into astronomy. We owned more than one telescope, and we would sometimes all pile into the van after dark and drive out to the countryside, where there were no streetlights or house lights, but only the velvety darkness and the sound and smell of sleeping cows.

On this road, you could look up and see the Milky Way spread out across the top of the sky like a shining river. The planets gleamed like jewels, red and yellow and blue. More than once I actually heard a meteor sizzle past like a drop of water on hot soapstone.

Having had these almost mystical experiences throughout my childhood, I feel very strongly — perhaps too strongly — that astronomy ought to be part of every childhood. But in this, I have largely failed with my own kids. We’re just too busy. We’ve prioritized other things, and the thought of dragging ourselves outside in the dark for one last outing at the end of an exhausting day is unbearable.

So my kids know a few constellations. We’ve dabbled in homemade sundials, and they understand the seasons and eclipses and why astrology is nonsense. But a love of astronomy is not part of our family identity, the way it was for my family of origin.

I know this, and I know that knowing it sometimes cause me disproportionate distress. And this is why, when I prepared to take my kids out for the annual Perseid meter shower, I gave myself more than one stern lecture . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly here

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

What’s for supper? Vol. 76: You say potato, I say tomato

What’s new in my kitchen? WELL, halfway through a week positively bristling with extra activities, I was seized with a terrible compulsion to completely rearrange the room. And I did a good job!

I now have a dedicated potato shelf. Didn’t realize how much I wanted that. And a special bowl just for cabbage and power cords. And you no longer have to take the toaster off the shelf and put it on the stove and plug it in when you need toast forty-six times a day. And the cooking utensils are now next to the stove, in case you want to, like, have them when you’re cooking. And I pulled the sharp, rusty, fluorescent light fixture down, so now instead of getting your scalp sliced open, you’re only in danger of being electrocuted in the head.

My gin collection is no longer constantly tumbling into the sink. The window isn’t blocked with a Basket Full O’ Misc. The most-used pots are sitting on a shelf, instead of endlessly tumbling backward through that black hole where the corner cabinets, which block 85% of the heating vent, were installed to maximize space wastage.

I threw out the giant Sony radio/CD player/cassette player and two enormous speakers that we won in a raffle in 1998 and which hasn’t worked since 2013. Best of all, I kicked the Rubbermaid sock and underwear dresser out of the room. (Yes, I literally kicked it.) It’s my kitchen, dammit.

So, three walls are much, much improved, with future improvement feeling manageable. There is still one Wall of Shame, where I keep three overflowing laundry baskets, several belts, aprons, and fly swatters, two tote bags of tights, dozens of reusable shopping bags, a felt First Communion banner or two, four broken lunch boxes, wrapping paper, eleven cowboy hats, some glow sticks, flags, Christmas decorations, 750 ml of homemade vanilla extract, and misc. And that one movable cabinet is now over the other 15% of the heating vent. And you can’t plug in the microwave anywhere.

As my therapist would say, “Let’s talk about that next time.”

Oh, right, food blog. Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Hamburgers, chips, hummus and carrots, root beer floats

NTR.

***

SUNDAY
One-pan “chicken bruschetta” with parmesan potatoes; garlic bread; salad; rice krispie treats

I love these one-pan meals. Sometimes they come together as astonishing revelations, like the bacon, brussels sprouts, and fried eggs with balsamic, honey, and hot pepper one.

Other times, like with the chicken bruschetta meal, they don’t really meld, and they feel a tiny bit gimmicky, but still: Here is a panful of different kinds of hot food that is yummy. What’s to complain?

(Hey, did you see that map that shows the boundary line between Potato Europe (top) and Tomato Europe (bottom)? (There are other maps, too, but this one went right to my heart.)

Them tomatoes were good, though. I would have been happy with actual bruschetta, skip the chicken.

Oh, dessert. A few weeks ago, I bought a couple of pan for making miniature shaped cakes on clearance, similar to these, but way cheaper. In my head, I had visions of elbowing a startled Nigella Lawson aside in my haste to sift a fine shower of cocoa powder over the tops of these elegantly turned-out confections, or possibly concocting a shimmering lemon-and-rosewater glaze using only my left pinkie.

Well, we made rice krispie treats. They turned out fine, if not completely commensurate with the picture in my head.

And thus the god of low expectations was appeased for another week.

***

MONDAY
Chicken burgers, fruit plate

I do love chicken burgers, especially with a little horseradish sauce. The fruit was cantaloupe, grapes, and strawberries.

Purty. It may be #&*^$*# snowing outside, but strawberries are on sale.

***

TUESDAY
Spaghetti and meat sauce, salad

I fried up a couple of pounds of loose sausage and a couple of pounds of sliced mushrooms, then added them to some jarred sauce. Good enough for a rainy day.

***

WEDNESDAY
Tacos, tortilla chips

Wednesday was the day I went berserk with the kitchen layout, so I have no memory of actual dinner. Just a bunch of running around in little circles, clasping my hands, and mooing throatily, “It just feels like there’s more space! It really does!”

Someone started a rumor that there were avocados, but there weren’t.

***

THURSDAY
Honey mustard lemon chicken, cole slaw, frozen corn

This is a fine, easy recipe, good for potlucks or picnics. Coat some chicken drumsticks or wings in oil with salt and pepper, and roast them until the skin is crisp.
Make a sauce out of honey, mustard, and lemon juice, in whatever proportions seem nice to you, and mix the chicken up with the sauce while it’s still hot. Refrigerate several hours or overnight, and eat it cold. Very tasty, if messy.

I actually made the chicken on Wednesday, hoping to persuade myself that I had value as a human being because I can cook chicken ahead of time. On Thursday, I woke up and went running before I had my coffee, and felt terrible about myself all day, but good about my kitchen. Which just goes to show that you think you know a person, but you don’t. Even if that person is you. Then I got a haircut.

***

FRIDAY
Tuna boats with cheese, maybe risotto, green peppers?

I suppose I will put tuna in hot dog buns, drape them with American cheese, and put them in the oven? Is that how you do that?