Superstitious practices tell God what he can and cannot do (and it’s not just for trads)

Last week we celebrated the feast of St. Joseph, and I found myself thinking about all the little resin St. Josephs scattered across this country. The poor guys are just hanging around upside down with a faceful of dirt, saying hello to passing worms, waiting to be remembered and dug up.

They are part of “home selling kits” that consist of a crudely crafted St. Joseph statue and a card with a specific prayer. Burying the statue upside down, some Catholics believe, will help them buy or sell their house.

This practice is a superstition, and superstition is explicitly named as a sin by the Catholic Church. Yes, even if you do it gently and don’t scowl and shake a fist at the statue before you bury him, and even if you pray to God to get you a good deal on your home. You can pray to God through the intercession of St. Joseph for a speedy sale; just keep his statue on the mantel.

Superstitious practices are prohibited, in part, because they “attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The church today is rife with superstitious thinking. I didn’t grow up with the St. Joseph statue tradition, but I certainly read stories about great sinners who wore a brown scapular because they believed it would save them from hell no matter what they did.

I was at a baptism last Sunday. I heard only bits and pieces of the rite of baptism, but I was still suddenly gripped by a tremendous thrill, realizing I was present to witness a real, powerful, ineradicable change taking place in the soul of the little one whose tiny bald head I could barely see. I wanted to get up and cheer, but instead, I thanked God for doing what he does.

Then some sullen shadow passed a wing over my thoughts, and I recalled how many times I’ve heard the complaint that the “novus ordo” baptism just doesn’t have the same oomph as the extraordinary form. The older form has more references to exorcising the devil and sometimes involves blessed salt, and it is therefore allegedly more powerful.

How could it be more powerful than what just happened, I wondered? This little baby just went from death to life, from dark to light, from drowning to rescue, from burial to resurrection. I believe this. This is our faith. What more could there possibly be?

I want to return to that question, but not before I say two things.

One is that superstition is something more than overtly pagan practices like putting your faith in a lucky rabbit’s foot or doing some quasi-religious ceremony like burying a statue. And it’s more than treating a scapular like a magic charm. Superstition can happen even in outwardly liturgically sound sacramental practices like baptism. Asserting that one rite of baptism is more powerful than another is claiming that we can lure or manipulate God into doing things he wouldn’t otherwise do…Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image: Detail of St. Joseph statue via Wikimedia commons

What’s for supper? Vol. 371: St. Joseph’s Pizza!

Happy Friday! I’m going through my food photos and noticing that we are not doing great with the part of Lent where you don’t eat a lot. But really, there are two whole other important pillars of Lent. To wit: Praying, and giving alms. And those are going very, you know what, mind your own business.

Here’s what we had this week: 

Chicken burgers, chips

Saturday I went shopping, of course, so we just had chicken burgers and chips for supper. I did make a second batch of maple syrup, even smaller than the last one, though.

Annnd I may have overcooked it a skosh. 

I was planning an Irish breakfast for Sunday, which was St. Patrick’s day. But I couldn’t find sourdough bread at either supermarket, so I decided to try making my own. In my usual thorough researchly fashion, I Googled “sourdough bread without a starter” and clicked on the first recipe that popped up. Started the dough and set it to rise in a warm spot (in the box of socks in the laundry room, which is over a heating vent) overnight. 

I also, feeling very pleased with myself for all the things I was getting done, put both ice cream bowls in the freezer for the next day.

I also rented a pickup truck for the next day, so I could pick up an amazing offer from Facebook marketplace: Two docks, one 8×8 feet, one 16×4 feet, and the long skinny one had a handrail!!! Free!!!! And only about half an hour away. 

The reason I wanted these was because I’m planning to build a bog bridge over the swampy area of the yard so we can get to the stream more easily. I had thrilling plans of using the long dock as a sturdy entrance point to the bridge, and the square one as a sort of floating deck halfway there, and I was thinking of adding birdhouses and solar-powered lights and geraniums in terra cotta pots, and a couple of tasteful deck chairs, and it would be such a lovely little project that would really transform that part of the property, and I was feeling incredibly lucky to have been the first one to jump on the offer, and they were really well-made, solid docks with no rotten wood, and it was all coming together!

You can probably tell, based on how excited I am about this, that it all went to hell. It really, really did. Read on! 

Irish breakfast, maple walnut ice cream

Sunday we went to Mass, I started some maple walnut ice cream going, using the syrup I had made yesterday, which I warmed up in a pot of water until it was soft enough to stir. (Here’s a similar ice cream recipe, and just ignore the part about coconut cream, and instead add 1/4 cup maple syrup, and then stir in some chopped walnuts after you churn it)

Jump to Recipe

I also made a batch of chocolate chip ice cream (same base, but add chocolate chips). Jammed those in the freezer and headed out to get my wonderful docks. 

Okay. So. I really can’t stand to revisit every last horrible detail, but it included a woman screaming “STOP!” and a man shouting, “What are you DOING??” and then when we got past that part and found the right field instead of the Very Wrong Field, there was a long spell where Damien and I were standing in the rain in that field, coming up with every last possible scenario we could that might possibly end up with us loading up these docks and bringing them home.

When we got to the part where I suggested going back home, getting our mini chainsaw and as many teenagers as we could find, and then using all our might to load the hacked-up pieces of dock into the truck and making maybe five or six trips to get it home, and then returning the pickup truck to U-Haul on time, we just kind of looked at each other and said, ” . . . Yeah, no.”

It was sad. It was tragic. But the fact is, we really needed a winch and a flatbed for this job. I did call a flatbed company and had a short argument with the dispatcher, but when they finally called back, I missed the call, and that was the final chapter in a long and stupid story called “It Was Just Not Meant To Be.”

So I went home and cried a little bit, to be honest with you, because I really wanted those docks, and also I felt like I was the dumbest person in the world because nothing every works out, boo hoo hoo, and the maple syrup was all my fault, and I had forgotten to buy potatoes for the Irish breakfast, and then I fetched the dough for the alleged soda bread that had been rising for 20 hours, and it was . . . in keeping with the rest of my efforts that day.


HOWEVER, I baked what I had, and they turned out somewhat reminiscent of bread.

Damien made the bacon, and we actually had a really tasty meal. I roasted some mushrooms with — I don’t remember, probably garlic, salt, pepper, butter, oil, and then some lemon juice at the end, and I roasted some tomato halves with olive oil, salt, and pepper. 

 I cut the bread into thick little wedges

and I heated up some baked beans, and then I fried a bunch of duck eggs in bacon grease, and yes, all together it was delicious. 

Even without potatoes. 

But! The ice cream didn’t freeze! I don’t know why! Maybe my freezer is overstuffed and the bowls are not getting sufficiently chilled. What can one say. Begorrah. We definitely ate it anyway, but it was more like a thin milkshake than ice cream. 

Mussel lo mein

Monday I was pretty ready to have everything go better, and it did. Aldi was selling pouches of cooked mussel meat for $3 a pound a while back, so I pulled those out of the freezer and let them defrost while I did yoga. My sprained (or whatever) ankle was finally feeling well enough to do a full class again, so that was nice; and the cat stole one of the bags of mussels but did not manage to open it, so that was also nice!

At dinner time, I boiled three pounds of linguine, and started the lo mein with minced garlic and ginger, then added diced red onion and sugar snap peas, and then the mussels,

and then I put in 2/3 of the pasta and the sauce, and it was a lovely lo mein.

I served the rest of the pasta plain, for people who prefer that. 

The lo mein was so good. I adore this recipe. It’s so fast and easy, and just delicious, and you can put whatever you want in it. 

Pizza, cannoli 

Tuesday I had to face the fact that, even though I love St. Joseph very much, I had just plain forgotten that it was his feast day. Most years, we do a big Italian feast, but we were pretty zonked this week, so I just made pizza. 

I did make a pretty deluxe pizza for the wild card one (I generally make one pepperoni, one plane, and one wild card pizza): Fresh garlic, roast tomatoes (left over from the Irish meal), spinach, anchovies, artichoke hearts, and black olives. 

I can see a new horizonUnderneath the blazin’ sky.I’ll be where the sauce is flyin’(Not Srebenica!)

Gonna be your mom in motionAll I need’s this bag of cheese.Take me where my future’s lyin’St. Joseph’s pizza! 

Look, the original song doesn’t make any sense, either. 

We also happened to have cannoli shells in the house, which Damien grabbed months ago because they aren’t always in stores, so you get them while you can. I made a basic filling (ricotta cheese, vanilla, cinnamon, and powdered sugar) and piped it into the shells, then decorated them with rainbow sprinkles. 

Not actually very swanky (I didn’t have time to let the filling drain, so it was kinda wet), but heyyy. St. Joseph. Not Srebenica. 

Butter chicken, rice, dal

Wednesday was duckling day! We ordered them a while back, thinking they would arrive after Easter when things had “”””””calmed down a little,”””””” but in fact they came on Wednesday. Here they are, noisily waiting in the post office to be picked up

The last batch of ducks we got were named after some of Damien’s great uncles, E.J., Coin, Fay, and Ray; so these ones are named after my paternal grandmother, Annie, and her sisters Mickey and Bebe.

They’re a little confused

but quite winsome

Here’s a couple of videos from the first and second day, meeting the rest of the animals. 

They are Black Swedish ducks, and their personalities are somewhat different from the last little flock we got, which are pekin ducks. They are less sleepy and more jumpy, and they already look more duck-shaped than the pekins did at this age. (The pekins were just fuzzy blobs for about a week, but these guys have discernible necks already.) 

Last time, we got a straight run, meaning nobody had figured out yet what sex they are. We ended up with two boys and two girls, which is not ideal (there are some power struggles). So this time we paid extra to get them sexed, and these are all girls. They’re supposed to be friendly and cold-hearty and good foragers, and the shells of their eggs will be a darker, bluish shade. This is what they will look like as adults

One of my upcoming projects is to make a better fence, because our current flock finds it very easy to escape, and they’ve been roaming all over the property and also off the property, and we’re not really sure if everyone else finds them as charming as we do. They do get plenty of exercise this way, and nobody has eaten them yet. 

Anyway! Still had to make supper, and the menu said butter chicken and dal. I’ve never had or even seen, much less made dal before. I followed the recipe in Julie Sahni’s cookbook, except I think I had the wrong kind of lentils. It said yellow or pink, and I had ones that were kind of orangey and are called “football lentils.” 

Anyway it was a super easy recipe. You just simmer the lentils in water with turmeric until they’re tender,

whisk them until they’re blended (that was fun), and then at the end, add some oil that you’ve browned a bunch of sliced garlic in.

I think it came out much thicker than it’s supposed to be — more of a paste than anything you could conceivably sip — but it was DELICIOUS. 

The butter chicken is also so easy. You just have to start early (or the night before) so it can marinate, but then I followed this recipe from RecipeTinEats, except I accidentally bought vanilla yogurt instead of plain, so I used sour cream instead. Worked great. You just cook up the chicken, then put in your tomato, cream, salt, and sugar, and let it simmer a bit longer.

I ended up with a lot more sauce than we needed for the chicken (possibly it was thinner because it was sour cream instead of yogurt? I don’t know), but better too much than too little. 

I sure wish I had some naan or some other kind of bread, but I was — well, to be honest, I was tired because I was so excited about the ducks. So I just made a big pot of rice to go with it. Set out some more cilantro and there it was. 

Such a nice, lovely meal. I ate so much.  Just about everybody likes butter chicken. The dal was not a huge hit, but I myself loved it, so I’m probably going to try again on a day when I can also make naan, and maybe I can talk them into it that way. 

Banh mi, Doritos

Thusday we had banh mi, which we haven’t had for quite some time, because the smell is a bit of a trial for some people who live in this house. 

I made a very slight tweak in the marinade

Jump to Recipe

(running the cilantro through the food processor, rather than just chopping it up coarsely) and I liked it, so I’ll do it that way from now on.

I quick-pickled some carrots 

Jump to Recipe

and did the ol’ glass-skull-full-of-pickled-carrots maneuver 

I just cut up the cucumbers and left them unpickled, because there are so many sharp, attention-getting flavors in this sandwich already. 

The meat turned out extremely tender.

I had my sandwich with pickled carrots and fresh cilantro and some sriracha mayo, but I forgot to add cucumbers and jalapeños. I did toast the rolls, though, which I don’t always bother to do. 

Magnificent. This is truly one of the great lights in the universe of sandwiches. My only regret was the pickled carrots were too sweet, but (so) the kids liked them a lot. We also had Doritos, which were a surprisingly good accompaniment to this sandwich. Or maybe I just like Doritos. 

Late Thursday night, we lost one of the ducklings. I mean it died, we didn’t lose track of it. They were only a few days old and I don’t really know what happened. It just happens sometimes. The other two seem pretty hale and hearty, and now . . . I have to figure out which name I should assign to the one who didn’t make it, which is an unforeseen pitfall of naming brand-new ducklings after real people!

Ah well. 

Bagel, egg, cheese sandwiches

Friday was Benny’s school conference (Corrie’s was Thursday afternoon), and we made a stop afterwards at a favorite thrift store, where Benny found an absolutely lovely, brand new dress that fits her like a dream, and I found eighteen matching tiny wine glasses for $4. Perfect for Passover, which we will be celebrating on Holy Saturday as usual. Which is . . . .coming right up, isn’t it. There isn’t much in the way of Passover food to be found in the supermarkets, because actual Passover isn’t for more than another month, but I’ll figure it out. 

Deep down, I’m glad I’m not frantically trying to figure out what to do about the two docks that are in my driveway right now. It just took a couple of days to realize I felt that way. 

It is snowing.

Ben and Jerry's coconut ice cream


  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups whipping cream or heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 15 oz coconut cream


  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs for two minutes until fluffy.

  2. Add in the sugar gradually and whisk another minute.

  3. Pour in the milk and cream and coconut cream (discarding the waxy disk thing) and continue whisking to blend.

  4. Add to your ice cream maker and follow the directions. (I use a Cuisinart ICE-20P1 and churn it for 30 minutes, then transfer the ice cream to a container, cover it, and put it in the freezer.)

basic lo mein


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)


  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.

5 from 1 vote

Pork banh mi


  • 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


  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. 


5 from 1 vote

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. 


  • 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


  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.

How I made a brick patio in just three terrible months!

We just had our annual Independence Day family party, and it was lovely, despite the almost continuous rain. It’s a cookout party, and our house isn’t really big enough to host a crowd indoors, so we assembled our chairs and folding tables under two canopies and a tarp, and my sister brought a giant tarp which my two brothers-in-law turned into a serviceable tent.

AND, we had a patio! A brick patio that I’ve been working on since the beginning of April, hoping to get it done in time for the party. I finished the day before.

Here is what the yard looked like when I first started out.

I used to have some raised garden beds there, but moved them across the yard, and dumped the old tomato plants out of their buckets, and placed them to give me a general idea of where the patio would be.  

I took lots of pictures at every step because I didn’t want to be unpleasantly surprised with how it looked when it was finally done. Every time I made a decision about the design, I took pictures from every angle and stood in different spots in the yard and stared menacingly at it. I really wanted it to fit in the space in was in, and to look complete from every perspective.

That’s the part I did right.

The part I did wrong was . . . every other part. Now I’ll tell you about that! (Guys, this is LONG. Only keep reading if you like DIY stories with lots of pictures.) 

Building a brick patio in your yard is pretty straightforward. You have to dig down several inches all across the area you want to pave, and line the perimeter with some kind of durable edging to keep everything in place. Make the exposed earth level, compact it, lay down a weed barrier, lay down a layer of gravel and then a layer of sand, and then you can put down your bricks, keeping them level. Then you add more sand on top, sweep it in firmly (or maybe compact it again with a machine), and there it is. There are many websites and videos online that give you step-by-step details, but that’s the basic idea.

So back in April, I started collecting bricks. Bricks at Home Depot are about 74 cents each, and they’re made of concrete, which just doesn’t have a lot of character. 

They’re just big, red, friable biscuits in brick shape. The reason people like to reclaim used bricks is because the old ones are made of clay, and they look like they have seen some stuff.

And they feel good. Sometimes they’re almost silky smooth, and they hold warmth or coolness beautifully. They turn an incredible variety of colors — not only red, but pink and purple, orange, tan, white, green, yellow, blue, and black. Some of them are like little islands where you can imagine whole secret histories have taken place. Nothing like real brick. 

So Benny and I drove out to Templeton and bought a load from a guy who was remodeling his house for his in-laws to move in. I paid about 50 cents apiece for them, plus a lot of broken ones, which I thought I would need for design reasons. Loaded them up

brought them home, and trucked them into the backyard with a dolly.

But what would the patio look like? Pinterest, of course, has lots of ideas about patio shapes and brick patterns. I knew I didn’t want just a plain rectangle, because boooo, boring; but the space I wanted to cover was too irregular for a half-circle. So I tried this and that, and came up with some complex and incoherent designs.

I remember my father tiling the bathroom floor and coming up with a design which was very cool, but didn’t quite land in such a small space. It didn’t have enough room for you to see how the pattern actually worked. So I really wanted to get the proportions right. 

Eventually it dawned on me that the St. Joseph garden I was thinking of as a focal point could be re-oriented, and that could become a side garden, and I could put St. Joseph under the peach tree, and the patio could radiate out from that. Then it all fell into place, and I settled on a basic shape and orientation.

At this point, I took a little side trip and started collecting flat rocks from the stream which we are lucky enough to have in our back yard.

I wasn’t really sure if they would be all or part of the design, or if I was gonna have funky rock flowers in there, or if the whole perimeter would be rock, or what. But we sure do have a lot of rocks.

I collected a bunch and then paid a kid to bring them all into the yard for me, because I was starting to get pretty wheezy.

Then, surrounded by boxes of bricks, I finally started to dig. 

The ground slopes somewhat, and I thought I wouldn’t mind if the patio sloped a bit, too, as long as it did so at a constant rate. But you know, as I continued digging, and dumping the clods of earth into the broken wheelbarrow, and trucking them across the yard, and crumbling the soil away from the grassroots because I needed the dirt for my new garden and I freaking hate paying for dirt, I started to lose focus, somewhat, in this notion of how deeply I was supposed to dig, and where. I just kind of kept digging whenever I had time, and life kept chugging along, and it took a really long time and I changed my mind a few times about the shape of the thing, but I just kept digging. But was it level? Newp. 

I realized a little island of green would look nice around the peach tree, and would be very pretty inside a curve of brick, so I fenced off that area with dollar store fencing, and this helped me visualize the whole project. 

The next load of bricks I found was free. These were from a guy on Swiggey Brook Road who couldn’t stand NH winters anymore, and even though his backyard had one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous New England views I’ve ever seen, he said the only thing he would miss was the stately pink magnolia tree that sprawled all over his yard.

I had no idea how many bricks there would be, and there were SO MANY. These ones turned out to have holes in them, and are thicker than standard bricks. But SO MANY. I was by myself this time, and loaded and loaded and loaded bricks until either I or the Suburban was going to collapse like a bunch of broccoli

so I had to leave a hundred or so behind. Drove home, fishtailing like crazy, and Damien and I got those bricks unloaded into the driveway, praying I hadn’t wrecked the car’s suspension.

I can see by my camera roll that, at this stage, I was still taking screenshots from Pinterest and trying to figure out exactly what shape the patio would be. It finally clicked: A sort of . . . irregular half-octagon, with a long end and a curved chunk taken out of the middle side, and also another curve. You know, one of those! 

It had all the elements I wanted: Straight sides, so it would look orderly and wouldn’t be a nightmare to block out; but also not symmetrical, so it would work in the irregular space that it needed to fit in, and would have an organic feel; and with an interior design (rays coming out of a central spot) that was easy to grasp visually, and that would work no matter what size the patio actually turned out to be. (I am thinking of adding a path from the house to the patio in some future year, so I want to make sure it’s expandable.) I got some sticks and some string and mapped out the perimeter.

 I also wanted lights around the patio. I have always loved string lights, and had seen several pretty patios with wooden or metal uprights anchored in flower planters. Those half whiskey barrels are unreasonably expensive, and I didn’t want some cheap plastic thing that would fall apart, so I thought maybe I would knock together some simple wooden planters and build a wooden upright directly into the planter. (I always think I can just quickly knock something together, even though I truly cannot.) Or failing that, I could just buy some plastic buckets with lids, fill them with rocks, cut a hole in the lids, and jam some t-posts in there.

But then I realized a late spring storm had felled several young aspen trees

which would make very pretty uprights, and they were FREE. So I finished detaching them from their stumps and clipped off all but a few branches (Sonny helped with this part, to his immense delight), and set them aside to figure out later. 

And back to digging! I kept it up, a little here and a little there until finally I got the whole thing dug out. 

I used some of the sod to cover the spot where we had a bonfire a few years ago, and nothing has grown since; and it took root very well, and now that’s all green again.

I dug up a bunch of marbles, some kind of strange metal thing,

plus a toy car, an old chain with a fancy hook on the end, and a little white ceramic pig, which has since disappeared again. 

At this point, I had filled the buckets with soil and used duck bedding and planted them with seeds and some lily bulbs that were on clearance. Some of the seeds were marigold seeds I had saved from last year’s garden! First time I’ve ever managed to do that. 

I also decided that I definitely wanted a “ray” or “pie slice” kind of pattern radiating out from the statue, so I tied some strings to the peach tree and segmented the dirt up into wedges.

Then I started calling around for sand and gravel prices, and let me tell you, if you want a woman to buy your sand and gravel, the main thing to do is to not act like she is an idiot who is making you angry by calling you. I’m not kidding, the first guy who didn’t treat me like an absolute pustular moron was a winner. We discussed exactly what project I was doing, and what other people had ordered, and I ordered five tons of 3/8 inch crushed gravel and about the same amount of sand, both of which arrived right away.

Or, what arrived was . . . a bunch of dirt with rocks in it, which was apparently the gravel, and a bunch of dirty sand with smaller rocks in it, which was apparently the sand.

But it was already May 31, and there were now two large heaps in my driveway (and we have a LOT of cars needing spots), and I was still riding on the high of not being yelled at by a stranger on the phone, so I decided it was fine. It was cheap, I have to admit! 

So by this point, I had been dealing with some kind of mystery medical problem for several weeks, and had spent a considerable time at various doctor’s offices, or worrying about my next appointment, and the project had really stalled out, mostly because I was not sure if I was going to drop dead unexpectedly. My hope was to do this project more or less entirely on my own, but after the piles sat there for a while, I just went to the kids and totally played the Wheezing Mother Guilt Card, and got them to bring the gravel down to the back yard for me. 

Then it was really time to settle on material for a perimeter. I didn’t have enough stream stones to go around the edge, and the kids were already mad at me, so I decided pressurized wood was the way to go. We have a lot of scraps of it left over from various I-don’t-even-know-what, old swing sets and horseshoe pits and who knows what. So I pieced together enough to go all the way around the perimeter, everywhere where there wasn’t already rock.

I made an attempt to hold it in place with plastic anchoring stakes, with mixed success. 

So, this is where the integrity of the project really started to slip.

I can’t quite remember the sequence of events, but I think I rented a plate compactor from Home Depot (they didn’t have a Jumping Jack tool, and the other local rental place didn’t even pick up the phone) and compacted the soil, and then I had the kids spill the gravel (or “gravel”) onto the soil, and I made a long screed out of scrap wood 

This struck me as highly amusing, because the number of times I’ve seen “FISCHER PRODUCES ANOTHER LOATHSOME SCREED” is higher than you might think! So there I was, with another screed. Ho ho ho. 

Anyway, I spread the gravel out as evenly as I could, and then I compacted it again. It’s very hazy in my mind now. That machine was super fun to use, though. 

I’m not being sarcastic; it was very satisfying! 

BUT HEAVY. Good lord. Getting it back into the car to return it to Home Depot may be one of the least enjoyable things I have done this decade. 

Then I had all my nonsense in the emergency room and lost a bunch of time, and the dog ran over my lovely compacted soil repeatedly, and  sometimes it just be that way.

But eventually! Eventually I was able to get moving again, and this time I decided I would leave everyone alone and bring the sand down to the backyard myself. The wheelbarrow was now busted beyond repair, and I had to use plastic tubs and a dolly. This completely sucked and I totally understand why I made the kids do it last time. 

But you know I would rather die than admit something is too hard for me twice, so I got that effing sand. 

I came up with many idiotic and inefficient systems for getting the sand dumped evenly over the patio without rolling the dolly wheels over the compacted gravel and ruining the surface. All were in vain. All I can tell you is it sucked, and the ducks heard all about it. 

I kept thinking about how all the articles said you could make a patio in a weekend. I think you really could. If you have a normal person’s yard, and if you don’t have to do anything else at all, and if you can just buy exactly what you need, and if people will deliver your materials right to your work area, and nobody gets sick, and nobody’s mad at you, and people aren’t constantly graduating and having birthday parties and going to the hospital and climbing mountains and having concerts and planting gardens and raising ducklings and so on. But where’s the fun in that? Where’s the romance? Where’s the ha-cha-cha?

So I got the sand on the patio, and again employed my loathsome screed, and there we were. Ready to think about bricks again.

Actually, first I sorted my stones and made a little ring around the statue. 

Here you can see the segmenting strings in this photo. Guess how many times I tripped over them. Guess!

No, more than that! I hurt myself so many times in such comical ways these past few months. I stepped on a rake like an absolute cartoon character. I hit my same thumb with two different kinds of hammer. I accidentally dumped dirt on my own head numerous times. My toenails are purple and my fingertips look like a crime scene. I got sunburned and road rashed, bitten by ants and frightened by toads. BUT, I did not drop dead unexpectedly! Or even expectedly. 

And then it was time to make some design decisions. I was pretty sure I didn’t have enough bricks to do the whole thing yet, but I didn’t think I would be getting any more bricks with holes in them, so I figured I could get that part of it settled. I discovered I had enough hole bricks to make lines between the ray segments, and also all the way around the perimeter. 

Here is where I started to run into my first real design difficulty. I had measured it carefully and staked the strings out so they came out evenly spaced and the wedges were the same size. But when I put the bricks down, it didn’t look right. I don’t know why — probably because the yard is not all flat and right angles and so on — but when it was measured right, it looked wrong. So I moved the bricks around until it looked balanced from all angles, and just had to tell myself to forget that it was in the “wrong” spot. But we’ll return to this later. Oh, we will return. 

Then I started to fill in the bricks. My technique here, as I am just starting out, is what we in the field call “chimpy,” and I hadn’t really figured out how important it is to try to knock the bricks closely together.

I also found, to my intense dismay, that the hole bricks are CONSIDERABLY thicker than the standard bricks. So if I wanted to lay them together and end up with anything like a level surface, I was going to have to either dig a channel for the hole bricks, or else build up an extra layer of sand under the standard bricks. 

Patio how-to sites will tell you to stretch a string tautly along the top of your work area so you can line up the top of the bricks against it and ensure that they are all on a level; but light had already dawned on blockhead, and I realized that I would be lucky if I didn’t somehow hit myself in the face with a hammer or get a brick lodged in my ear or something. So I didn’t stretch any more strings, but just sort of grimly surrendered to the fate of scrabbling out trenches for the holey bricks to sit in.

It was worse than I thought it was going to be. It took SO long and it hurt me knees SO much and there was so much crouching and dragging and lurching and lugging, and I kept putting tools down just out of my own reach so I had to get up and get them over and over again, and it was really hot and I smelled bad. I cannot overstate how hard I made this on myself, for no reason at all.

Luckily, I enjoy this kind of thing. 

I really do. Despite all my complaining and the deep frustration that I fell into again and again, this was a joyful project. I have been waiting for 25 years for the time when I can devote hours and hours, week after week, to a project that’s all mine, just because I want to. I love being outside, I love working with my hands and using my muscles, and I love designing things. It had been a truly punishing winter, and the hours that I spent sitting in the fresh air with the song of the birds and the smell of the wild mint and the rush of the stream, putting a foundation together piece by piece by piece — this was a pure gift. Pure gift. It did not escape me that I spent many hours on my knees, and I prayed many strange prayers. Silent St. Joseph heard all about it. He is a good listener, and there is a reason I put him at the center.

And I just kept filling in bricks and filling in bricks, and I got pretty okay at it. You lay the bricks pretty closely, and then tap them closer together, and closer to the previous row, with a rubber mallet, and then tap them more snugly into the ground. I never did figure out if I should be doing it in the reverse order, so I alternated. Follow me for more useless nonsense.

So then I ran into some more design problems, and realized too late that I was going to have to figure out how to make up the difference between the curved rows of bricks and the straight rows of bricks. Most people would have figured this part out already, but again

My great talent is the ability to sit in the dirt and hit things with a hammer even though I’m really hot. I can do it all day! And that is what I did. 

But then I ran out of bricks, and I thought maybe I could fill in the gap with stones from the stream. I gave it a shot, and it looked okay, but I wasn’t sure.

I was sure that I needed more bricks, though. I bought the next batch from a nice young couple who were renovating their house in Brookline. It had a paved walkway that ran alongside the house. Alongside, but not quite parallel, and it was driving them crazy, so I got a good price on the bricks. These ones were not clay bricks, but they had been in the ground for a while, so they had a decent aged look.

The dude was also very helpful in helping me pack the bricks in a more sensible way, with straps and pallets and stuff, so the ride home was much less exciting this time. 

Unloaded those mofos right into the backyard this time, because last time I unloaded bricks into the driveway, they stayed there for a month. 

I also tried putting a discarded playground slide over the gravel and sliding the bricks over it to myself,

allegedly to save time and energy, and this of course did not work, and was stupid. The only way to get a job like this done is (a) do a tremendous amount of tedious lugging or (b) make someone else do a tremendous amount of tedious lugging. 

Now, several people have asked me, “Didn’t anyone help you with this patio?” And the answer is, of course. Any time I asked someone to help me, they did. Sometimes they were nice about it; sometimes they were jerks about it. Sometimes I paid them and they were still jerks about it. And sometimes I asked Benny and Corrie, and they helped for a little bit, but THEN THERE WAS A FROG

The other problem I was encountering was that the bricks with holes in them were not actually bricks; they were ant condos. About half the holes were completely stuffed with soil that was studded with ant eggs and, more to the point, with their furious ant caretakers. So I had to spend a certain amount of time jabbing the holes with a stick to get the ant dirt out and reminding myself repeatedly that the bricks were free and the patio was my idea and ant bites don’t hurt that much.

But look, progress!

The thing that was taking the most time was removing sand, and sometimes gravel (not to mention convincing myself that there was a meaningful difference between the two, since I had paid a different price for the two materials). In some spots, I had to dig up a LOT of the sand and some of the gravel I had applied so carefully, to make room for not only the big holed bricks, but for the standard sized ones.

Why? I have no idea. I had made some kind of digging or filling mistake, and there was much too much sand on about half the area, so after all that lugging and spreading and compacting and so on, I just had to dig it up and schlep it away again.

I kept my spirits up by thinking about how, when I was done, without proper underlayment, the bricks would very likely just sink into the muck and disappear forever the first time it rained hard, and maybe I would do the same. 

One thing I could think of to cheer myself up was to get more bricks. This batch was free, the remnants of someone’s dismantled chimney in Keene, and they were beautiful, very dark and hardened, clouded with smoke stains. I guess I didn’t take a picture, though.

We picked them up on the way home from PorcFest, the annual Libertarian festival, where we had gone to cover RFK Jr.’s speech, because you never know how life is going to turn out, do you. 

At this point, I had to come to terms with the fact that I had made a grievous mistake with the design somewhere along the line, and when you’re doing a pattern made of lots of little bits, a little mistake turns into a bigger and bigger mistake as you go along. So I fixed it by adding another element to the design; but of course it wouldn’t look right unless I added that same element to the opposite side, also, because the design isn’t symmetrical, but it’s not completely chaotic, either.

Anyway, I kept slapping bricks down and digging gravel and sand out and smoothing it with my board and whacking it with my mallet, and when there was a weird gap, I had plenty of broken bricks to fit in there and whack into place. 

This in itself made the whole project worthwhile. There’s a gap, but not big enough for a whole brick, so you tap-tap-tap one side and get them all a little snugger, and tap-tap-tap on the other and get them in a little closer, and nope, it’s still not big enough, so you find a brick that doesn’t fit but one side almost does, and you wedge in the side that will stay still, and then you SLAM the other side with the mallet, and look at that! That little fucker fits after all.

Hit it a couple more times. Hit it till it’s level. And now it’s not going anywhere. 

But guess what happened? I ran out of bricks.

I found one more lady, also in Keene, who had some bricks. She was cleaning out the damp, weedy space on the side of her garage and felt that I was doing her a favor by taking them away. These bricks were lovely, too — cool, soft, and mossy and many-colored. There were some large white pavers mixed in, and a few half-crumbled bricks with “PRAY” stamped on them, which. 

Some of them were curved!

And now I was really down to the wire. I had toyed with the idea of taking the stream rocks out and planting some creeping thyme or other walkable ground cover in that tricky wedge-shaped spot, but I was just about out of time, and also would have needed to add more pressurized wood or something to hold the bricks in place.

So I just decided to keep smashing bricks in and filling up gaps, trying to keep some kind of coherent pattern but not wigging out about it, and trying to take a lesson from the old bricks I had collected: Enough time goes by, and they look how they’re gonna look, now matter how they started out. Right? 

So then, I, ran out of bricks again, and the time had come to go crawling to Home Depot. Hoooooome Depot. Home Deeeeeeeepot. Dammit.

I lugged over one of those terrible platform carts and loaded it up with 150 bricks, ignored how rude the embryo Home Depot lads were being about my need for bricks, loaded them into the car, unloaded them, lugged them down to the yard, and then, wow, did I really start bricking again that same day? I think I did. Anybody want to arm wrestle? I will win. 

It was pouring rain, so I got a kid to set up the canopy for me and I just kept slapping bricks down and getting them in there. The new bricks looked pretty dumb next to the old weathered ones. If I had had all my materials at the beginning, like some kind of DIY video person, I would have shuffled them all together before putting anything on the ground, and it would have been a normal-looking patchwork effect. Instead, it’s a little bit skin-graft-ish.

But that wasn’t the worst of my problems! The worst was that I FREAKING RAN OUT OF BRICKS AGAIN. Actually, the even worse thing was that I knew this was going to happen. I knew 150 bricks wasn’t enough. But I just wanted to get the hell out of there, so I stopped at 150.

I just did not, did not want to go back to Home Depot, not so soon. So I changed the design again. I inveigled some of my more public-spirited kids into moving a gigantic rock across the yard. It took all three of us almost having a simultaneous three-way heart attack, but we got it onto the dolly, and then I dashed back and forth putting one sheet of particle board and then the other in front of the dolly wheels, so they would have a smoother path across the yard. EXACTLY LIKE GROMMT.


 It landed in a reasonable spot, looking reasonably butt-friendly, and I decided it was the perfect place for a little permanent seating. 

And then I went around the yard finding all the biggest rocks I could lug by myself, and I fitted them in where I could, to take up as much brick-replacement space as I could without it looking too unnatural. Then I slammed in the rest of the bricks to fill up the spaces, and I walked around whacking it here and there and scowling at it, and realizing that there wasn’t even a single unused whole brick anywhere left on the entire property.

And then . . . . it was done. 

I mean kind of.

The brick part was done, but then you still have to get sand in and on and over it, which helps stabilize the whole thing, and bind it together, and keeps the bricks from grinding up against each other and damaging each other, or floating away, or any number of undesirable things.

You can get polymeric sand, which you brush on and then sprinkle with water, and it becomes a kind of glue, and really seals the bricks together. You can do this if you are a MILLIONAIRE. Polymeric sand is like 2 cents a GRAIN. If you are me, you will slink back to Home Depot and buy 12 bags of paver sand, and dump it over the bricks. I knew 12 bags wasn’t enough, but it was all I could stand to buy at the time. 

But first, you will take a little break and have fun doing some AESTHETICALLY PLEASING parts. Just to keep the old enthusiasm up.

First I gathered up all the potted plants I could find, and potted some more plants (I kept rescuing almost-dead, one-dollar petunias from Home Depot, for instance), and arranged them around the patio along with some more rocks, bird feeders, and so on, and also some dumb little picket fence sections I got on a whim. 

And then it was time to follow through with my plans for the lights! The young trees I had set aside were about 3″ in diameter, so I bought a length of PVC pipe that is 4″ in diameter and used a reciprocating saw to hack off four sections, cut flat on one end and diagonal on the other.

Then I put it point-down into the ground, laid a wooden board across the top, and whacked it with a mallet until it was sunk halfway into the ground. I reached into the pipe and gouged out as much of the earth as I could, and then fit the tree into it, and jammed some rocks inside to make it more secure.

And they looked ABSOLUTELY CRAZY. 

But in a way that I thought was fixable. I kept telling myself, This all just used to be grass, and you had a vision! You still have a vision! So I kept going, even though the whole thing looked like someone was having a nervous breakdown in brick form. 

Then, back to sand town. I ripped open the bags and Benny and Corrie helped me work it in between the cracks

We carefully avoided getting sand in the bricks with holes, partially to ration the sand, and partially because I thought it would help with drainage. I knew the whole thing was off kilter, and I didn’t want water to pool anywhere, so I figured it would just run out through the holes.

This part took a long time, because I couldn’t find the handle for the push broom. 

But a friend clued me in that sand is your friend, and if I didn’t fill the holes with sand, they’d fill themselves with water, and then freeze, and then go sproinging off in all directions, and in the spring, I wouldn’t have a patio at all, but only heartbreak. (That’s a paraphrase, but she was right.)

So . . . the next day, the day before the party, I sent Damien to Home Depot, and HE got more sand. And I put the sand in the hole bricks. And also in the cracks between the regular bricks, that I had already filled, but which were now empty cracks again because the sand had filtered down overnight. He also found a push broom handle for me, so I could sweep like a human being instead of a monkey version of Cinderella. 

At this point, you can get the plate compactor again and get it vibrating really good to shake that sand deep down into the cracks. But I had uhhh run out of money kind of a while ago, so I just kept sweeping. My plan is to buy more sand later in the summer and apply more as it gets shaken down. I was just focused on getting the patio functional for the party, which was the very next day. 

I clipped the tops off the trees so they weren’t insanely tall, and put the light strings on. (I had purposely left little crotched branches near the top so I could hook the lights on.)

Corrie filled the St. Joseph statue with sand so it wouldn’t keep tipping over.

I clipped and weeded the surrounding vegetation, and found more flowers 

and plant hangers

and put bird seed and nectar in the feeders

I bought eight little solar stake lights and put five around St. Joseph

and three at the base of the tree lights. I used the cheap sand to fortify the perimeter, and the little collar of rocks in the center.

And finally, I got Elijah to set up a purchase I splurged on months ago: A little propane fire pit.

I love a campfire, but I am 48 years old and sometimes I just don’t want to go tromping around collecting firewood. Sometimes I want to turn a dial and poof, there is fire. 

And here it is! Here’s the finished project:

I completely forgot to put weed cloth down. So, oops. 

Overall, the pattern is a bit of a mess. It’s also incredibly uneven and will just get more uneven as time goes on. And the mismatched bricks are very visible right now

but should start to blend better with time. 

I do think it’s pretty secure within its bounds, so whatever shifting the bricks do, I don’t think they’re going to straight up leave. Right now, when you walk across it, it just feels like walking on a floor: It doesn’t shift or wobble, and you don’t hear that horrible scraping loose tooth sound. So the sand I’ve got there now is doing its job.

And I’m very happy with the overall shape of it. It fits well into its environment, there are lots of spots for me to plant more perennials (and none of the seven buckets of flowers have even bloomed yet, but they will in a few weeks!), and it’s big enough for more than one group of people to sit around and chat on, which feels pretty luxurious. 

Everyone had a good seat for the fireworks at the party.

I love the tree lights! The pipe keeps them anchored and also may protect the wood from rotting; we will see. It has a pleasant, rustic look, and will be very easy to take down in the fall.

I may add some more rocks on the outside so the white PVC doesn’t show as much, but it doesn’t bother me a lot as is. I will probably add some more bird houses to the extra limbs, or maybe a quiet wind chime or something.


Success. Yeah. I did it. I did it!

Thanks, St. Joseph. 

On the femininity of St. Joseph (a short talk)

Happy Solemnity of St. Joseph! We’re celebrating by throwing together a little Italian feast similar to this one, and finishing up our 33 day consecration to St. Joseph. Well, more or less 33 days, off and on. We tried.

I also thought you might like the talk I presented last week for the Diocese of Trenton Young Adult Ministry’s virtual retreat, “Not Your Average Joe.” My talk is about 25 minutes, and I discuss St. Joseph in terms that might be unfamiliar to some Catholics: his consent, his fiat, and his femininity in relation to God. But no funny business! I got a letter of suitability from my bishop and everything. 

Have a listen and tell me what you think! Suitable for high school age and up. 

You can watch the other talks from this retreat here

What’s for supper? Vol. 205: We put the “us” in virus

Just kidding, we’re not actually sick. Damien and I are used to working from home. We’re used to having ten kids crawling all over each other in a small space. I’m even kinda sorta used to teaching kids how to do basic math (a three digit number is like a big meal, like a Passover seder. You can’t eat it all at once; you have to have it in separate courses, in order. The first course is chicken soup with matzoh balls. But you can only fit nine matzoh balls in a bowl, so you have to carry . . . ). We’re fine. This is fine. How are you?

Here’s what we had to eat this week, with a menu somewhat based on what was left on the shelves after the locusts passed through:

Buffalo chicken on salad

I know I often say on Friday that Saturday seems far away, but this time it feels like about forty-three years. Good heavens. I was actually thinking about what was going to be the defining “Look how innocent we were back then, just before the big bad thing happened” moment. I think it has to be this, from March 11, 2020:

So anyway, if you were wondering what America did to deserve COVID-19, wonder no more.

SO ANYWAY, on Saturday we had mixed greens with sliced buffalo chicken (from frozen) with blue cheese, crunchy fried onions from a can, and blue cheese dressing.

It’s as close as you can get to fast food while still being a salad. I know that sentence didn’t work out and I don’t care. 

English muffin pizzas

Benny asked for this dinner. Benny was happy. 

Hamburgers, chips

The Fishers begin to feel the privations of the pandemic. They didn’t have regular ground beef, only “chubs” packed up in opaque three-pound tubes with a photo of meat printed on the wrapper. We planned hamburgers, so I thought it would be easiest to slice the meat into burgers while it was still in chub form.

It worked, but I deemed it unnecessarily squalid. Next time I’ll take the wrapper off first. 

Boiled Dinner, cookies

Speaking of squalid, it’s our annual boiled dinner for St. Patrick’s whatever. I’ve tried various, more authentic Irish food over the years, and, you know, there’s a reason the phrase “Irish cuisine” sounds so off. So we just had our same oil Irish American boiled dinner: Corned beef, cabbage, red potatoes, and carrots, with plenty of mustard. 

We also made cookies, I forget why. I guess because we were nervous. I couldn’t find the chocolate chips, mostly because somebody ate them, but we did inexplicably have butterscotch and white chocolate chips in the house. We also ran out of brown sugar, so I used mostly white. The combination of these three things made for some blindingly sweet cookies. I could have mitigated the screamingness of the sugar by adding some walnuts, but I thought to myself, “If they wanted walnuts, they should have left the chocolate chips alone!” This is virus thinking and I know it; but nevertheless, I didn’t put any nuts in.

Also, I forgot to combine the dry ingredients before I added the flour, so I put the rest in the mixer and mixed the hell out of it so it would be well blended. Of course this meant the dough was quite warm when it went into the oven, resulting in these unfortunate puddleform cookies:

But I just bulked up the rest of the dough with more flour and put it in the fridge for a bit before baking, and the rest of the cookies improved considerably

People have also advised me that using half shortening and half butter, rather than all butter, will result in puffier cookies. Noted!

I just used a standard chocolate chip cookie recipe you can find anywhere, so I won’t bother making up a card.


We had tons of corned beef left over, so I sliced it as thin as I could.

I forgot you are supposed to grill Reubens, though. I toasted my bread and then laid the meat and cheese on and slid it in the oven, then added sauerkraut and dressing. They were fine, not amazing. There’s still quite a pile of meat, much to the kids’ chagrin, so I may throw it in the freezer and take it out again next week if they make me angry. WHO’S EATING WALNUTS NOW, EH, KIDS????


I mean, I made tacos in the sense that there was meat in the house, and Damien went to the convirus store, I mean convenience store, for tortillas and cheese. Listen. I taught four kids math, and it was STRANGE DIFFERENT math, too. I don’t know what a module is. I don’t know what a place value disk is. All I know is matzoh balls. 

We also had fried dough


Jump to Recipe


because it was St. Joseph’s day, but I zero percent felt like making puff pastries. Which aren’t even really that hard; I just didn’t want to. I had been promising the kids I’d recreate the fried dough we had at the ocean last August, though, so it was finally the day for that. Super easy recipe, just flour, salt, baking powder, butter, and water, let it rest, flatten and fry, then dust with powdered sugar.

Some of them got exciting bubbles in them when they fried. 

My mother used to make fried dough, long before I ever ate it at a fair or on a boardwalk. She called it “rubber bread” and we loved it. Today I found out she called it that because if you don’t roll it out thin enough, and you don’t let the oil heat up enough before cooking, it sure does taste like rubber. I love my mother very much, but she only had about two dishes that weren’t completely terrible. This was because she didn’t care what she ate. She liked good food, but she also liked terrible food. For lunch, she would take literally any leftover dinner food, heat it up in a double boiler, and douse with with salsa from one of those comically huge salsa jugs. I mean, at least it’s an ethos. And she never had to share her lunch.

Pasta with Marcella Hazan’s sauce

There wasn’t much sauce left in the stores last time I shopped, but there were plenty of canned tomatoes. I bought . . .many canned tomatoes. This sauce is stupid easy, and it tastes miraculously savory.


Jump to Recipe


Just three ingredients! Tomatoes, onions, butter! Maybe a little salt! I know everyone is always calling recipes “amazing,” but this will truly fully ignite all your buttons of amazement! 

And that’s about it. I guess we have to watch Bill Nye now or something. 

Oh, don’t forget about the withDraw2020 daily art challenge! We’re getting more and more people joining in every day. Very simple rules here, with the daily prompts. Today’s prompt is “patient.” Be sure to tag your work #withDraw2020 when you share it.

Some people are using the prompts to write poetry or take photos, too, and some people are doing whatever they want each day. I love it. It’s just something to keep us creative and in touch with each other. 


Fried dough

Makes about 15 slabs of fried dough the size of a small plate


  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp (half a stick) cold butter
  • 1-1/2 cups lurkworm water
  • 2 cups oil for frying
  • confectioner's sugar for sprinkling
  • cinnamon for sprinkling (optional)


  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  2. Cut the cold butter into bits and work it gently into the dough.

  3. Add the water and stir until the dough is all combined.

  4. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it rest for 15 minutes

  5. Separate the dough into pieces and flatten each piece into a thin disk with your fingers. If it's sticky, put a little confectioner's sugar on your work surface.

  6. Heat the oil in a pan. You can deep fry it or use less oil and fry it in a small amount of oil; your choice. The oil is ready when you put a wooden spoon in and little bubbles form around it.

  7. Carefully lay the disc of dough in the hot oil. Let it cook a few minutes, just barely getting brown, and then turn it and cook the other side.

  8. Remove the dough, let the excess oil drain off, and sprinkle it immediately with sugar and cinnamon if you like.

  9. You can keep these hot in the oven for a bit, but they're best when they're very hot.

Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce

We made a quadruple recipe of this for twelve people. 

Keyword Marcella Hazan, pasta, spaghetti, tomatoes


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


  1. Put all ingredients in a heavy pot.

  2. Simmer at least 90 minutes. 

  3. Take out the onions.

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

What’s for supper? Vol. 164: Nailed it!

Hey, great, it’s snowing. It’s okay. It’s fine. Here’s what we had this week:

Pizza and birthday cake

Poor Elijah. He keeps having his birthday during Lent. Some people put dry peas in their shoes, some subsist on nothing but dewdrops collected off the tombstone of St. Nicholas of Myra. Elijah gets terrible birthday cakes, and he’s a really good sport about it. He asked for Dragonball Z balls.

I thought, “Ah, those gourmet lollipops would be perfect!” And they would have, but I couldn’t find any. So instead he got this:

They are made of rice krispie treats dipped in candy melt, and a lot of them fell apart when I dipped them, and the candy melt solidified faster than I expected. The kids helped by shrieking “NAILED IT!!!!”  Anyway, a cake was had, along with a multitude of pizzas, and the dragonblobs did have the right number of starblobs on them.


Boiled dinner

Every year, I pretend I hate this meal, but I really love it. Well, this year, I changed things up by pretending to hate it, and then actually hating it. I blame the Irish.

In other years, we’ve tried making other, more authentically Irish meals, and somehow we always return to boiling carrots.

Egg, cheese, sausage bagel sandwiches

I have no memory of Monday. Oh wait, yes I do! We had dozens and dozens of eggs in the house for weeks and weeks, so I didn’t buy eggs. Then Monday came along, and we had four eggs left. So Damien ran out to the gas station, and they had these lovely ones from a nearby farm:

Fresh eggs are wonderful. Look at that yolk!

Not gonna start keeping chickens, though. I’ve seen what happens.

Grilled chicken parmesan sandwiches, risotto, zeppolle

Benny was in a play. She was an owl.

An owl who remembered all her lines! She discovered she likes talking into a microphone. That’s my girl.

Damien made a nice simple tomato sauce, and I roasted up a bunch of chicken breasts, which I sliced and served on rolls with fresh basil, provolone, and a good scoop of sauce.

I also made some risotto, and man, it did not turn out great. I don’t even want to say why, but it was my fault and it was pretty stupid.

HOWEVER, in the morning we made zeppole for the first time, for St. Joseph’s feast day, using this reasonably simply recipe. It’s important to dress correctly for this project.

We’re pretty big St. Joseph fans around here. We started out piping the dough with a star tip, until it fell out.

Then we just squirted it out of a bag; then we just went with spoonfuls. The last method actually turned out best. I had a feeling I’d be pushing my luck to make the cream custard filling from scratch, so I just got a bunch of instant vanilla pudding and piped that into the zeppole, then dusted it with powdered sugar.

It was fun. We had fun. I ate a lot of zeppole. Yay St. Joseph!

Deli meat sandwich bake, asparagus

Corrie and I worked together to roll out and stretch the dough over the pan for the bottom crust.


We had a few friendly disputes over how to distribute the ham, but the cheeses and the salami and whatnot went fairly well. Then it came time to put the top crust on. She wanted to do it herself. As an awesome mom, I was willing to let her try, but I did want to start it off in the right spot. No go. She went immediately to “I NEVER WANT YOU TO BE MY MUDDER ANYMORE” and “THIS DOUGH IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ME.”  I made a few repair attempts, suggesting cooperation and taking turns and not being an insanely ridiculous person for once, but I just got more screeching and gurgling and drama. So I stepped away, thinking I’d just let her burn herself out.

Which she did! I did some work on my computer, and before long she climbed down off the stool and trotted away to the next room, where I soon heard her singing Moana songs to herself– something about her wish to be the puhfect daughter. Well pleased, I turned back to the pan to finish spreading out the dough.

And . . . it was gone. She was sitting at the table with the entire ball of dough in her hand, just eating it.

So the dough was not in great shape. But I tucked some leftover basil leaves in with the meat

and I thought it was pretty, pretty good. You brush some beaten egg over the top and then sprinkle on poppy seeds or onion or whatever you have on hand (in my case, nothing), then bake covered, then uncovered, for about 35 minutes.

You slice it into strips or squares, and it makes a nice yummy brunchy thing. We also had the first asparagus of the season, which I just sautéed in a little olive oil.


I dunno

Thursday, I took #1 son to the orgal surgeon. I actually meant “oral surgeon,” of course, but there is a certain poetry to that typo. The orgal surgeon is a strange, strange man, as they always are. He has a southern accent which I can’t quite shake the feeling is fake, and he makes the exact same jokes every time (we have a lot of teeth out). I don’t blame him for that, but they are pretty strange jokes to begin with. Anyway, I had gotten four hours of sleep, and then I was hanging out at the orgal surgeon, and I suddenly realized I was supposed to turn in a book review for a book that I . . . look, I was almost done reading it. I’m not on trial here! So what I’m trying to say is that, no matter what the menu board says, this was no time to whip up a new kind of marinade with hoisin sauce and shred stuff and make lettuce wraps with rice noodles. So Damien just broiled the chicken breasts, cooked up some fries, and washed off a bunch of snap peas. I heated up the leftover deli sandwich bakey thingy, and it was a perfectly good supper for the likes of us.

I guess pasta?

Umph, just two recipe cards this week! Whatcha gonna do. I am feeling pretty okay because, as of this minute, I have nothing due. No articles, no blog posts, no reviews, no interviews, no speeches I’m supposed to be working on. Just the regular old existential dread, but that’s a long term project. Oh, and we haven’t done a podcast in such a long time. There it is, I guess. Also, it is snowing.


Instant Pot Risotto

Almost as good as stovetop risotto, and ten billion times easier. Makes about eight cups. 


  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground sage
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups rice, raw
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • pepper
  • 1.5 cups grated parmesan cheese


  1. Turn IP on sautee, add oil, and sautee the onion, garlic, salt, and sage until onions are soft.

  2. Add rice and butter and cook for five minutes or more, stirring constantly, until rice is mostly opaque and butter is melted.

  3. Press "cancel," add the broth and wine, and stir.

  4. Close the top, close valve, set to high pressure for 9 minutes.

  5. Release the pressure and carefully stir in the parmesan cheese and pepper. Add salt if necessary. 

5 from 1 vote

Deli brunch sandwiches


  • 6 8-oz. tubes crescent rolls
  • 3/4 lb sliced ham
  • 1/2 lb sliced Genoa salami
  • 3 oz Serrano (dry cured) ham
  • 33 slices Swiss cheese
  • any other meats and cheese that seem yummy
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 2 tsp garlic powder, minced onions, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, etc.


  1. Preheat oven to 350.

Unroll 3 of the tubes of crescent rolls without separating the triangles, and fit the dough to cover an 11 x 25-inch pan.

  1. Layer the meat and cheese, making it go all the way to the edges of the pan. This part is subject to any kind of variation you like. 

  2. Unroll the remaining 3 tubes of crescent rolls and spread the dough to cover the meat and cheese. It's okay if you have to stretch and piece it together. 

Beat 2-3 eggs and brush it over the top of the dough, and sprinkle with garlic powder, onions, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc.

  1. Cover pan loosely and bake for 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until dough is slightly browned and egg is completely cooked. 

On St. Joseph’s femininity

The other day, Taylor Marshall tweeted, um, a bunch of things. But stay with me! This post isn’t really about him. I just don’t know how else to talk about what I want to talk about, except by starting with what he tweeted.

First, apparently understandably distraught over an interview with McCarrick’s first victim, he tweeted some foul garbage about how gay it is that seminarians had a gingerbread house-building contest. Seriously, he did the f*ggy lisp and all, and included a name and photos of the men engaging in this “effeminate and puerile” activity, because that’s how you act when you’re a serious Catholic theologian and scholar.

It was wildly gross and offensive (and since he asked, can you imagine Basil and Gregory tweeting at each other?), and insanely insulting to gay people in direct contradiction of the catechism.

But it also threw into high relief how poorly so many people understand what it means to be masculine. Many of his followers apparently believe that any time you’re not studying Latin or logic, building fires, chopping something, or shooting something, you’re a whisker away from of sliding into that dreaded horror, effeminacy.  In order to save the Church, we must stop having . . . gingerbread.

His tweet was thoroughly trounced by many others, so I left it alone. But then he followed up with something that really nagged at me:

“The womb belonged to Joseph and he set it aside for Christ. The tomb belonged to another Joseph and he set it aside for Christ.”

 I guess what happened is he read Fr. Longenecker’s tweet about wrapping Jesus’s body, and thought, “Whoa.  Joseph-Joseph . . .  womb-tomb!” and, despite not being Dylan Thomas, he went with it, rather than doing a quick heresy self-check. When readers responded to that phrase “The womb belonged to Joseph” with revulsion and dismay, he dug in with this:

He clarifies that Mary ruled over Joseph’s body, as well as vice versa: that there is mutual self-gift in marriage. He meant, apparently, that Joseph gave over his reasonable expectations that he’d be able to have sex with Mary, because he was willing to make a sacrifice to God of that privilege. And this is true enough.

But the trouble is first in the way he phrased it. Saying Mary’s womb “belongs” to Joseph is just . . . gross. Things belong to us; people (including their organs) do not belong to us, not even if we’re married. If you want to hear how absurd and unseemly it is to phrase his idea as he did, say instead: “The penis belonged to Mary, so she went outside and peed with it.”

I’m sincerely not trying to be crude. I’m trying to point out that a womb is an almost indescribably personal, intimate thing for a woman, and it’s bizarrely wrong to say it belongs to her husband. It doesn’t. It is hers. A woman rightly gives herself to her husband, over and over and over again, but he never owns her, no matter how much it may feel that way, no matter how many times she gives herself to him.

And there we have the second, much more serious problem with Marshall’s thought. Joseph did not, in fact, consent to give Mary’s womb over to the Lord. How could he? It was hers to give, and she gave it at the Annunciation. Joseph only found out about her decision after the fact. He didn’t give anything, because there was nothing for him to give. The consent had already been given by the time he found out she was pregnant.

Joseph’s choice wasn’t to give or not to give; his choice was either to get rid of her quietly, to get rid of her noisily, or to accept the situation with love, trust, and awe, because God told him not to be afraid to accept it.

And that is what he did. There was no transfer, no consent, no free will offering originating from Joseph. Mary was never going to be “his,” because she had already given herself to God in a real, radical way.

If Joseph gave Mary to God, then what did Mary’s “fiat” mean? Not a hell of a lot. More like when a child is allowed to sign a document that needs an adult’s signature to be official. No, it was Mary’s choice to make, and what she said to the Lord changed the course of . . . everything.

But Joseph’s whole deal reminds me of the concept that “we are all feminine in relation to God.” I’ve been wrestling with this idea my whole adult life, and most days, the best I can do is set it aside and do whatever job’s in front of me.

But so much of being a woman is being asked to accept things after they have already been decided, rather than being asked if you want them to happen or not. Yes, of course we decide many things, and make many choices. But women also very early confront the idea that things happen to them which they are not truly free to change or avoid. Ten times I have labored to give birth, and ten times, when the true agony set in, I have changed my mind. I decided I didn’t want to do it after all. Didn’t change a damn thing, thank God.
It’s not that women are passive. It’s that humanity in general is far more helpless than it realizes. It’s mankind in general that’s the damsel in distress; mankind in general that sits weeping in a tower, waiting for the savior to come. Women’s lives show this reality in high relief, largely because of our biology, and so women tend to realize much sooner than men that none of us is really in control of their lives. On a good day, we’re in charge of slightly changing the trajectory of little chunks of life as they fly past us. Freedom very often consists not in choosing what will happen to us, but in choosing how to respond to what happens to us.
And that sounds very much like what Joseph knew. He listened, a lot. He decided, out of love, not to fight things that had already come to pass. He worked with the system as long as he could, and when it wasn’t working, he gathered his family and ran away. He was willing to play a supporting role. He decided not to insist on taking what he could reasonably argue was rightfully his. And he was silent. In other words, Joseph’s behavior in the Gospels is like what we today normally think of as feminine — trusting, waiting, nurturing, self-sacrificial, chaste, modest, and quiet. This may account for how weirdly effeminate he looks in so much religious art, and it probably accounts in part for Marshall’s weird attempt to put Mary’s fiat in Joseph’s hands: Because he doesn’t behave in a way that checks off boxes in our modern understanding of masculinity.

We get St. Joseph wrong because we grasp that he is not what we commonly think of as masculine; but correct our mistake by assigning to him what we wrongly think of as feminine, or by refusing to face how wrong we are about what it means to be feminine. Mary’s behavior is what we should think of as feminine; but it’s so hard to grasp that we saddle her with a simpering passivity, turning her into a virgin too fragile to deal with men, rather than a virgin strong enough to deal with God.

Hell if I know what it all means, except that most of what we commonly think of as masculine and feminine is garbage, which probably accounts for why so many people think it doesn’t mean anything. In other context, my sister Abby Tardiff said this (and this was just part of a Facebook comment she dashed off, not some polished work of prose):

[S] ex and gender have to be understood first as cosmic paradigms. So, “feminine” doesn’t mean “like a woman.” It’s the other way around. A woman is someone who embodies the eternal archetype of femininity. But she won’t do it completely, because she’s an instantiation [a representative of an actual example], not the archetype itself. She’s a particular, not a universal. Also, her instantiation of the feminine will filter itself through her personality, through tradition, through society, etc. For these two reasons, you can’t pin down any one characteristic that every woman has. Any time you try to say what characteristics women have, you’ll find exceptions (often me).

However, if you start from the archetype, and say (for example) that the feminine archetype involves the taking of the other into the self, then you can conclude that every woman is cosmically called to do this as well as and in whatever way she can. So the point is not to say what women are like, but what their vocation is.

Taylor Marshall and his ilk are rightly angry that McCarrick and others have so smeared and ravaged human sexuality with their crimes and perversions. But Marshall’s brutal, puerile urge to squash all men and all women into small and clearly defined boxes of masculinity or femininity is, in its way, just as disastrous. More than one abused woman has told me that, early on in her marriage, before the beatings began, her pious Catholic husband railed at her for not being sufficiently archetypically feminine, as if any one woman could or should be. As if he had married womankind, rather than an actual person. This is the trap Marshall et al fall into: They want individual human beings to be the embodiment of all of their sex (“all seminarians must be masculine”); but since no one can or should achieve that, they reduce an archetypal reality to a few small, individualistic traits, and then rage at anyone who doesn’t reduce himself to those traits, as if they’ve failed at being human.

It’s a way of making sense of the world, and it’s intensely depersonalizing. We do not love by making what is large small, and we do not love by railing at what is small for not being as large as the whole universe. But people who behave this way don’t think they’re being cruel to individual people; they think they’re being noble by upholding ontological truths. But first they have to squash those ontological truths into bite-sized pieces.

Dressed up as respect for God’s creation, this way of thinking turns men and women away from our vocation, which is, in our particular ways, to be open to God: To be feminine in relation to God.

Yes, that looks different for men and for women, and it looks different for for one particular women compared to another, and one particular man compared to another; but in some very broad way, this is the true feminine, what both Joseph and Mary did.

I saw it myself yesterday, dozens of times, at Mass, at the Eucharist, men and women. They walked up to the front with all the burdens and glories of their particularities, and then opened up to receive God. How? Because He alone can take ontological truths and make them, as it were, bite-sized. He has made small what is larger than then universe, larger than masculine and feminine. Love makes itself small. Never to make others small.

Our vocation is to be open like Mary and open like Joseph, and neither one of the two of them look like anything I’ve ever seen before on this earth, except in brief flashes like at the altar rail. Hell if I know what it means. My kids were asking me about the Second Coming today, and all I could say was everyone who thinks they know what they are talking about is in for a surprise.


Caress: Iconography for the Incarnation

Merry Third Day of Christmas! In haste, in between visits with family, I’m thrilled to share with you this icon of Joseph and Jesus, written by Nathan Hicks, which I hope you can enjoy in leisure:

Note how Joseph’s eyes are perhaps a little wary and uncertain as he holds the Child; but Jesus puts His face right up to his foster father and encircles his head with His arms, totally ready to give all without reservation. Babies and God, I’m telling you, man. Pay attention, and you’ll learn something.

Note also how Jesus’ little legs extend past the interior frame of the image. On his blog, Hicks says:

Icons were ultimately a relational reality. The Kingdom of God  has pierced into our souls through our wounds, creating a dynamic space where the divine reaches to the human.

This divine movement to us is not intrusive and overpowering, but gentle and accommodating. God does not require us to move beyond our nature, but instead asks for us to allow Him to transfigure us as we are. There is no swallowing of identity, which is defined in part by our wounds, but a support of and a strengthening of our identities so that they show forth God. This means that God doesn’t eradicate the things that make us miserable, but instead give us the means to make those sources of misery a source of light and joy.

And that’s why I have the buildings and objects bending towards you, the viewer. God moves heaven and earth out of the way for you and condescends to make you a god by grace.

RELATIONAL. Lots to think about (and I hope you realize how rare it is to find an artist who is interested in sharing more than a word or two about his creative thought process! Most artists I know think with paint, and when they’re done, they’ve already said everything they’re going to say).

Here is another piece that Hicks has shared with us: “Morning Caress.”


Hicks says:

“Morning Caress” is a Byzantine-style painting about the Earth and the environment. The Earth is a creature, just like us, and is in its own society with the other planets But with the sun the Earth has a special relationship. The earth reaches out to the sun and the sun to the earth. Morning Caress is the story of the unconscious love of the world itself.
I’ve been thinking about this lately, how the earth participates in salvation history without the capacity to be conscious of that participation — but it participates nonetheless. It makes me feel better about my sometimes absurdly passionate affection for the natural world, for fruits, for leaves, for textures and colors. It is all right to love the world, because God made it, God loves it, and most importantly, God is present in it.
I read “The Rape of Man and Nature”, a well-written (if somewhat poorly argued) book by Phillip Sheridan, a giant in the English-speaking world Orthodoxy, who finally stated the Orthodox standpoint on nature in a way that I could understand it: God is in nature in a way similar to us wearing clothes. The clothes aren’t us, but we are definitely connected to them and without us the clothes don’t have form.

And in a similar way (with much higher stakes!) we “take form,” and become who we are meant to be by our nature, when we allow God to dwell in us. Joseph was as ready as he could be to become the foster father of the Son of God, but what could he do? Saint or not, he was only a man, and could not possibly live up to the task, any more than a tree can understand the bounty of the warmth of the sun or the miracle of photosynthesis. The best he could do, the only thing any human can do, is to allow Him to come close and do what He will.

Oh, feel that sun.

Oh, time, strength, cash, and patience! I must come back to this later. Do check out Hick’s blog, The Dynamis Project, and his Facebook page, too.

St. Joseph the Window Washer


Happy feast of St. Joseph the Worker! I was a little confused (NOT THAT I’VE BEEN A CATHOLIC ALL MY LIFE OR ANYTHING) about the day. Didn’t St. Joseph just have a day back in March?

Yep, St. Joseph’s feast day is March 19. St. Joseph the Worker is a separate feast day instituted by Pius XII in 1955, “apparently” (according to American Catholic) “in response to the ‘May Day’ celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists.”

I came across this enormously encouraging thought on Facebook, via St. Zita Catholic Worker Community of Green Country:

Barely making it, for a family, is quite an accomplishment.” –A resident at St. Francis House in Chicago.

If you’re not where you want to be, relax! Keep working because God is in the work.

Somehow, that is a tremendous relief to hear. Relax into the work. Even if you’re not there yet, you’re there, because God is there in the work. This dovetails nicely with a quote from Catherine of Siena, whose feast day was yesterday:

“All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, “I am the way.”

To be clear, it may not feel like heaven, but that’s because the world is like a damp spot, and original sin is like a mold that keeps growing over our front window over and over again. It’s hard work to keep clearing it off so we can see, but we do want to see clearly, don’t we? St. Joseph the Worker, intercede for us, so we have the energy to keep cleaning.