What’s for supper? Vol. 319: In which I rest on pie laurels

Hap the Friday! I didn’t do a What’s For Supper last week because of course it was the day after Thanksgiving, and I assumed you already knew what we were having for supper. We aren’t amazing turkey leftover wizards anyway, so the following week wasn’t too spectacular. How about if I just do the highlights of the last two weeks? Who will stop me?

Here’s some of what we had the last few weeks: 

Pulled pork, cole slaw, french fries, Hawaiian rolls

Damien made this yummy pulled pork using the Deadspin recipe. For me, pulled pork is what you make when you have lost all interest in life and yet there is this hunk of meat to deal with, so you conceal it inside some kind of pot as quickly as possible and then pull it out at dinner time when it’s too late for anyone to get away; but Damien took a lot more trouble over it, and it showed. 

The next day, Damien also made a gigantic lasagna or possibly two lasagnas, also from Deadspin

Somewhat less photogenic, but ravishingly delicious. This recipe requires you to make a ragù and a béchamel sauce and let me tell you, any time I have to use the ålternate keybœard twïce in a sêntence, you know it’s going to be tæsty. 

Beef barley soup and store bought croissants 

Yaas, beef barley soup. This one, I made, and it was a cold, drizzly day, just perfect for building up a hearty, heartening soup. Garlic, salt and pepper and olive oil, carrots and onions, beef broth and red wine, beef, barley, and then mushrooms. 

Jump to Recipe

That was the week before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving went great! I started baking on Tuesday. On Thursday, all my weird little chickens came home to roost, if temporarily

and my son’s gf also came over, and my brother and his bf, and we all had an excellent time, talking and laughing and shouting important opinions about obscure movies. Damien made the turkey injected and basted with white wine and lime juice and stuffed with sausage and oyster stuffing. I didn’t see or get a photo of it roasted, but here is the carving:

and he also made the gravy. He also made the mashed potatoes at the very last minute, because I put all the food on the table and told everyone dinner was served and then wandered around with a confused expression, and then he suddenly realized all I had done was boil a bunch of potatoes. So he mashed them and threw in a bunch of milk and butter, and mashed them, oops! Everything he made was scrumptious.

You can find the recipes for all my Thanksgiving foods here. 

I did fully made candied sweet potatoes using this recipe from My Forking Life, and they turned out great. This recipe includes a little fresh orange juice, which is nice. I think next time I may include actual slices of oranges. 

I had my annual internal query about what the difference is between yams and sweet potatoes. Sometimes I look it up and sometimes I don’t, but it doesn’t matter, because I never remember. So I thought about it for a while while I was cutting them up, and then I double-checked the bag, and it said “Mr. Yammy Sweet Potatoes.” So there you go. 

I also made parker house rolls using my own recipe, and they turned out nice and cute,

hard as a rock, and dry as a bone, and just about tasteless, so I need to find a new recipe.

I made cranberry orange bread which was fine, a little dry

spanakopita triangles to start us off, which were delightful

and we had a cranberry sauce vortex!!!

and three pumpkin pies, and a festive pecan pie that turned out rather pretty

I learned how to make pie crust roses from this website. Good to know! Very easy.

and I was inspired to make an apple pie that turned out quite lovely.

Refrigerating the pie for half an hour before baking helps all the decoration keep its shape). I gave it a little egg wash and sugar sprinkle and it was nice

Although the apples inside were a little chompy, to be honest. Can’t have everything.

I also made a few quarts of vanilla ice cream, and a quart of butternut squash ice cream with curry candied nuts, following a recipe from Blue Apron. (I ran out of pecans and they were like a dollar each this year, so I made it with 3/4 walnuts.) 

I really really liked the squash ice cream. It distinctly had all the flavors in the title — squash, curry, candied nuts — and it just worked. Really good autumnal flavor with just a little fiery edge from the curry. 

And finally, Dewey brought a lovely dense, moist gingerbread made using the Smitten Kitchen recipe,  plus a jar of heavy cream that the kids shook to whip up into whipped cream, so that was fun

Oh and I made a bunch of mulled cider with cinnamon stick and orange slices. 

And that was Thanksgiving, and it was great! 

Moving on!

Turkey ala king

When I was little, we had turkey ala king constantly, and I really loved it. I don’t know if it was the fun of having toast with dinner or what, but it felt like such a treat, and it was just so cozy and comforting, even with the mushy, muddy peas. So I was determined to recreate it, even though I knew in my heart that not many people would want it. I think my mother used to make it just by adding some cream of mushroom soup to leftover turkey, and throwing in some canned peas and heating it up; so I decided to elevate it by making a cream sauce with real cream, and adding fresh mushrooms, and using frozen peas (well, that’s not elevated very high, but it’s better than canned!). 

And it tasted . . . fine.

I think I was the only one who ate it, except for also one kid who came home super late and would have gladly eaten microwaved roadkill. So I guess I got that out of my system. I’ll probably forget and try it again in five years or so, and rediscover that this is just an intrinsically medium-okay dish and I can just move on with my life. 

Anyway, we used up the turkey. 

I also threw the picked-over carcass in the Instant Pot with water and some carrots and celery, onions, salt and pepper, and a little cider vinegar. I would have added herbs and whatnot, but we were fresh out.

I cooked it on high pressure for two hours, and I got about a gallon of good, golden bone broth, which I put in the freezer for future souping. 

Chicken broccoli stir fry and rice 

Boneless skinless chicken thighs were on sale, so I cut it in strips and fried it up with broccoli spears, sliced mushrooms, and two bottles of teriyaki sauce, and served it over rice.

Right after Thanksgiving, I always jump at the opportunity to buy bottles of sauce, because it’s one of the few weeks of the year I know I won’t give myself a hard time about it. It’s normal and fine to buy bottled sauce. It’s there for a reason, and people should never feel guilty about it. Except me. I’m different, and I should feel bad. 

And that’s it! Today I’m running away to go see the great and glorious Leticia Ochoa Adams speak, so I don’t really know what they’re having for supper at home! Spaghetti, I suppose. Maybe they can have nothing ala king. 

Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion or red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 lbs beef, cubed
  • 16 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
  • 6 cups beef bouillon
  • 1 cup merlot or other red wine
  • 29 oz canned diced tomatoes (fire roasted is nice) with juice
  • 1 cup uncooked barley
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot. If using Instant Pot, choose "saute." Add the minced garlic, diced onion, and diced carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and carrots are softened. 


  2. Add the cubes of beef and cook until slightly browned.

  3. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, the beef broth, and the merlot, plus 3 cups of water. Stir and add the mushrooms and barley. 

  4. If cooking on stovetop, cover loosely and let simmer for several hours. If using Instant Pot, close top, close valve, and set to high pressure for 30 minutes. 

  5. Before serving, add pepper to taste. Salt if necessary. 

How to have a happy Thanksgiving despite the lizard people

Look out! Like a freight train, bearing down on us with gathering speed and menace, I mean twinkling and jollity and goodwill toward mankind in general, here come The Holidays.

Or maybe that goodwill, try as it might, doesn’t quite extend all the way toward those specific people who are going to turn up at your house at 3 PM for the family get-together you’ve been dreading, I mean looking forward to with glee. 

Many of us were lucky enough to find allies and support among family members, and we all more or less banded together and did what we needed to do to get through the pandemic and an extreme silly season in politics safely and sensibly.

But many . . . didn’t. Many discovered, over the past couple of years, that they’re related to a passel of absolute nut jobs who never met an inflammatory slogan to dumb to reject, a conspiracy theory too ridiculous to believe, or a tentacled creature too sentient to struggle up on the side of the petri dish, wave hello, and squeak out in a miniscule voice that only they can hear, “You really need to lay off the sauce, Janet!” 

If the past year or so has left you feeling somewhat bruised and battered in the psyche, and the thought of playing host to a crowd of people who perpetrated that battering just makes you want to scoot out the back door and not stop until you hit salt water, then don’t despair. There are actually strategies you can follow to make the day work well for you. It doesn’t have to be your favorite day of the year, but there are things you can do to survive when the loony tunes you’re related to come to call.

Be respectful. Maybe you’ve spent the last several months reading, with increasing horror, the blithering insanity that streams forth on your family’s social media feed. Maybe you’ve gone from wondering if you should check in on cousin Ted, to wondering if someone should check in on you, because anyone displaying such high levels of non compos mentisemente has got to be some kind of genetic carrier, and it’s only a matter of time before the wack-a-ding-hoy starts to manifest itself closer to home.

But still, family is family, and it’s important to show respect. Practice in front of the mirror if you have to. Make yourself immune, so you can come out with phrases like, “No, indeed, I haven’t yet met any transhuman babies born with pitch black eyes because of the vaccine; how very interesting! Would you please pass the yams?” or “And you heard this directly from the Chair of the Finance Committee; I see! It’s been very humid lately, it seems to me.” It’s a matter of muscle memory, same as learning to ride a bike or manipulate a yo yo. You can do this. 

Dazzle them with compliments.  Even someone who turns up in your living room spoiling for a fight will not be immune to the wiles of a honeyed tongue. The trick is to be sincere, and make sure it’s something you really mean, so it hits home.

For instance, let’s say you’re hosting your cousin Cameron, who drives around town with a flag so huge, it patriotically drags on the ground at red lights, and whose favorite party trick is licking doorknobs to own the libs. Cameron has rune tattoos, his three daughters and his four dogs are all named Dixie, and last Thanksgiving, he rated all the dishes according to how “soy” they were, even though you’re actually a pretty good cook and bought a nice but rather expensive turkey from your farmer neighbor, whereas Cameron lives largely off gas station chicken nuggets which are, in fact, about 68% soy. Cameron is also most definitely going to bring up how thousands of people mysteriously dropped dead after receiving the covid vaccine (which didn’t happen, but then again, neither did important parts of Cameron’s cerebral development, so what can one do).

So what you can say to Cameron is: “Cameron, I know there are lots of people in the world who agreed to get the vaccine, because they think it’s just a little prick. But you’re helping me see that the world is full of much bigger pricks to worry about.”

This is not especially clever, but it’s okay, because Cameron is an absolute moron and has been drinking heavily since breakfast, and it will not even occur to him that you don’t think he’s rad. 

Overfeed. Don’t spurn the age-old holiday tradition of simply stuffing people until they’re comatose. There’s a reason people eat too much over the holidays, and it’s only partially because they’re having such a wonderful time and you’re such a stupendously generous host. The other reason is because, when someone is carrying an extra 23 pounds of partially-digested fats and carbs, they’re way easier to knock down, if that’s how the party goes.
 

You can test out recipes by cooking up a batch ahead of time, loading several portions into a sack, labelling the sack “Cousin Richie Who Believes in Lizard People,” and kicking it. If it falls over easily, you probably have a winning dish. If it resists, add butter.

Don’t despair. Sometimes rifts happen in families, and it feels like things will never be right again, but that may not be so. Sometimes all it takes is for the merest little shift to happen, and people can really gain a new perspective on each other. For instance, you believe that the pandemic was real, but we can learn to live with its aftermath; whereas your cousin Lennie believes the pandemic was fake, and we should learn zero lessons, make nurses cry, and possibly shoot up a hospital. Then one day, the earth opens up and swallows up Lennie. Then the rift in the earth closes again, and that’s the end of your Lennie problem.
You see? The rift is healed. Happy holidays to us all. 
 
 
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A version of this essay was first published in The Catholic Weekly in December of 2021. 
 
Image via openclipart license 

How to pray after receiving Communion

You would think that, by now, I would know how to get through the Mass. I don’t have little babies to keep me trotting up and down the aisles, and I don’t have toddlers that need to be taken to the bathroom three or four times. I’m not even breaking up rosary tug-of-war tournaments or fishing pieces of the bulletin out of anyone’s mouth. I have arrived: It’s finally just more or less me and the Lord.

And I’m finding I’m not exactly sure what to do — especially right after I receive Him in the Eucharist.

This . . . seems like a problem, because I know perfectly well that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life. So it feels weird to receive it and then go back to my pew and not be overwhelmed. I know spiritual integrity is not about emotion, but it really is disturbing that I find it much easier to focus and pay attention at every other part of the Mass. Right after receiving the Eucharist, though, my mind wanders, and I hate that.

There are, of course, prayers for this. It’s never a bad thing to look up prayers written by someone else for a specific occasion, and you get zero points for having memorized a prayer, or for coming up with something original. But somehow I can never find the right page, or it never occurs to me to print something out ahead of time. And to be honest, I have never found one that I really like.

You can see that I have a tendency to fret and interrogate myself over whether I’m praying right, which very effectively prevents me from praying at all. And I hate that, too. Although I take some comfort in remembering that even the twelve apostles, who knew Jesus personally and intimately and were sitting at the same table with Him at the very first Mass, were also pretty confused, and were not sure what to say or think when He started offering them His body and blood. This is strange stuff!

Some people will say “Just tell Jesus what’s in your heart!” Fine, but also not happy with my own extemporaneous prayer. Somewhere along the way, in my efforts to focus my conscious prayer properly and not miss the moment, I started to feel that the miracle of transubstantiation was sort of the main attraction, and that it was this mystery that I must train all my attention and focus on.

Don’t get me wrong; transubstantiation is very cool. There’s plenty of food for thought, as it were, in the idea of Jesus using ordinary, physical food and making it into his body and blood that feeds us. But it would be a mistake to lose sight of the thing that happens whether we consume that food or not: Christ does not die again, but he does give himself to us again. He does not suffer again, but he does come to save us. Right there, at the altar, right in front of us.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life, but we don’t necessarily go to Mass only to receive the Eucharist. We still have the obligation to attend Mass even if we don’t intend to receive; and while we’re there, what we witness and, to whatever extent we’re able, what we join ourselves with, is the sacrifice of the Mass. I have found it very helpful — centering, if you can tolerate that word — to recall and dwell on the unbloody re-creation of the sacrifice of Jesus, rather than on my subsequent reception of it.

In fact, it’s been a relief to put the focus on the sacrifice, rather than on receiving. On Him, rather than on me — imagine that.

Maybe I’m making this sound very theologically elevated. It’s really not.  It’s sort of like realizing that someone has been quietly, faithfully tending and irrigating your farmland, and will continue to do so, should you chose to plant something. 

Here’s a little background:

Several years ago, I got it into my head to interview one of my children on the occasion of the annunciation. I suppose if it had gone poorly — if she had claimed there were four persons of the trinity, or that the middle one was named Jeremy — I wouldn’t have saved it; but as it happens, it went well. So well that it popped into my head the other day, as I was struggling with these questions of how to arrange my heart at Mass.

Here’s the pertinent part: I asked her what day it was, and she said it was the annunciation, “when Mary was told she was having a baby”.

Me: Who told her that?
Kid: A angel.
Me: What did the angel say?
Kid: You are gonna have a baby.
Me: Who will the baby be?
Kid: Jesus.
Me: Is Jesus just a regular boy?
Kid: No.
Me: Who is he gonna be?
Kid: A ruler of the world.
Me: A ruler of the world like a president or a king?
Kid: No.
Me: How?
Kid: He made the earth, he made everything, he even made himself!
Me: Kind of! God was not made. God always was. There was never a time when there was no God, ’cause that’s what we mean when we say ‘God’: That nobody made him. So, when the angel said to Mary, ‘You’re going to have a baby,’ what did she say?
Kid: ‘But I’m not even married!’
Me: And what did the angel say?
Kid: I don’t know.
Me: The angel said, ‘Don’t worry, this baby comes from God, and God will take care of you.”
Kid: But he is God
Me: It’s confusing, huh?
Kid: I know. Maybe God had a duplicator machine.
Me: Okay. So, anyway, so what did Mary say? Did she say, ‘Heck no, I don’t want any part of that?’
Kid: No.
Me: So what did she say?
Kid: ‘Thank you.’

This is not strictly scriptural, but doesn’t it sound right? What do you say what someone offers you Jesus? You say “thank you.” And he will never take advantage of your gratitude, or use it against you, because he’s not a regular boy.

Many times over the years, from many people, I’ve gotten the advice to simply be quiet, simply rest in Jesus. This is not bad advice, but I don’t think people realize how aspirational it comes across, to an anxious person. It’s sort of like telling an unemployed person to have a nest egg for their retirement. That does sound wonderful, but how to get there?

Well, if you’re an anxious pray-er who would like to rest more in prayer, just saying “Thank you” is a good way to start. Or even just remembering, “I am here because someone is offering me Jesus” is a good way to start. You don’t have to know exactly what it all means; it’s more like you’re acknowledging that you’re there in a receptive mode, or that you would like to be. It’s simple, it’s honest, and frankly, it puts the ball in Jesus’ court. When you go to Mass, you show up because you  know (or even maybe you just hope, or would like to believe) Jesus is coming; and when He does, you say, “Thank you.” When the sacrifice of the Mass happens at the altar, I try to remember to say “thank you.” If I’m able to receive communion, I try to remember to say “thank you.”

And that’s it. That’s the whole thing. You can elaborate on this approach and you can certainly grow in sincerity as planted seeds take root; but I suspect you can’t improve on it. Because Jesus is not a regular boy. 

 

 

 

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A version of this essay was first published in The Catholic Weekly on August 9, 2002.

Image: Andrzej Otrębski, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

What’s for supper? Vol. 274: In which we all need a nap

Hey! My apologies for being absent this week. I was working on some other writing projects and then also unexpectedly got ambushed by my dining room. We didn’t end up having any guests for Thanksgiving, so I didn’t end up doing a thorough “HOLY CRAP, PEOPLE WILL FIND OUT HOW WE LIVE” cleaning of the house before Thanksgiving. But apparently the late November cleaning frenzy is baked into my system, so I ended up doing it more or less involuntarily on Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving anyway, and I couldn’t stop thinking about that can of ceiling paint I had bought, and you know how this story goes. I’ve been wanting to redo the floor, which is horrendous, but there’s no sense in doing the floor when you know the walls need painting, and what kind of lunatic would paint the walls when the ceiling is in such a state. So I painted the ceiling, and then while I had the Killz out, I just touched up the trim a little bit, and that made everything else look so dingy, I went out and bought more paint, and now my dining room is Glidden Sunbeam instead of Behr Sea Glass.

And my ceiling is Extremely White instead of Spaghetti Sauce. The floor is Still Horrendous. But it’s a small room and reasonably level, so I’m seriously eyeing some peel-and-stick tiles, for a treat. Of course once you have fresh ceiling and walls, you can’t just put everything back the way it was, so I put up so many hooks and shelves, and I threw out so many moldy backpacks, and I have a whole new theory of mitten storage, and there’s a shelf for plants that doesn’t collapse and dump soil on your head whenever you touch it, and there’s a white board with magnetic markers on the door so people can put down their schedule, and there’s a spot for mail that isn’t the table

But I never did a Thanksgiving food post. So I’ll do a separate post for the dining room. (I know some of you don’t care at all about my dining room, but some of you care very much indeed. I know this.)

Okay, here’s what we ate last week! It was all easy peasy food while I prepped for Thanksgiving, except for one meal, which was Albert Burneko’s sausage bean soup with escarole from Defector. I followed the recipe (or “recipe”) slavishly, except I couldn’t find any escarole, so I used a bunch of mixed greens. This soup was truly delightful to make. Wonderfully pungent and colorful every step of the way.

I think I’ll make it again when I can find some escarole, though, because the greens didn’t quite pull their weight, either with flavor or texture. 

Olive oil, big hunks of loose hot sausage, onions, garlic, pickled peppers and their brine, wine, greens, and cannellini beans. The final soup was incredibly hearty and warming, with a pleasantly sharp and slightly bitter tang in the broth. I served it with freshly-shredded parmesan cheese.

The kids, it goes without saying, did not appreciate it, which is why I made a bunch of buttery garlic knots out of pizza dough. 

And now for the Thanksgiving food! We ended up with mulled cider, cranberry orange muffins, cranberry sauce, parkerhouse rolls, garlic mashed potatoes, spanakopita, and two roast tequila turkeys, one with regular vegetable stuffing and one with sausage oyster stuffing, and gravy. Dessert was pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and apple pie with whipped cream or ice cream. All the recipes for all of these dishes are gathered here.

Corrie helped me make the cranberry muffins, and boy did she talk a lot.

In the background you can see the dozens of gingerbread cookies Clara made to be sold at the tree lighting ceremony to raise money for the D.C. trip we kind of forgot two of the kids will be going on. Damien took the kids out in the dark and the rain while I . . . made myself useful in some way, I’m sure. 

The muffins turned out flat and faintly sticky like they always do, and I guess I just like them that way, because I don’t feel motivated to fix it or seek out another recipe. 

The spanikopita were fab. 

Turkeys were gorgeous and the sausage oyster stuffing was to die for. 

The parkerhouse rolls were an abject failure. I haven’t made them in years and I screwed them up in at least three distinct ways. People ended up gouging out the insides and extracting a few bites of edible bread-like substance from them. 

The pies were a big hit. Well, except for the pecan pie. It tasted great — it’s a nice recipe, and is more muted and less screamingly treacly than many — but I had carefully cut out leaves and branches and arranged a lovely pecan tree, and it quietly sank into the custard and disappeared during baking. Oh well!

The other pies were more successful. Here are the pumpkin pies, with a readymade graham cracker crust and decorations made of standard pie crust dusted with powdered sugar:

I guess I was subconsciously thinking “stars and stripes,” I don’t know

and I was highly pleased with my two apple pies. I did a checkerboard one with butterflies and a fringe

and a basket weave one with leaves and other doodads:

I brushed them both with an egg white wash and sprinkled them with sugar before baking, and this is how they came out:

and

Me gusto. These were baking while we ate dinner, and when they came out of the oven, I felt much better about the parkerhouse rolls. 

Okay, on to this week! Not very many adventurous meals, but some pretty plating, anyway. 

Saturday was burgers, which Damien cooked. 

Right before I went shopping, a giant shelf tipped over and dumped all its contents all over the room, smashing glass, dumping flower vases, and scattering boxes of beads and crafts and miscellaneous junk. Damien graciously shooed me out the door and dealt with the chaos, but I think that may have been what triggered my renovation frenzy. That and Thanksgiving, plus the ongoing seasonal outerwear changeover, and . . . I don’t know, everything. More covid testing. The threat of school going remote again. Fundraising. The footprints, yes footprints, on the ceiling. Somebody Do Something. These kinds of things work out so much better when you have an understanding husband who is willing to cook dinner while you decide the solution is to make everything yellow instead of blue on the same week that we’re also doing Chanukah and the Advent wreath and the Jesse tree.  

SUNDAY
Mexican beef bowls

Also made by Damien. He swears he just followed my recipe, but they were insanely delicious. Possibly it was “someone else made dinner” effect, but he’s a very good cook. It is a good recipe, too, a lovely, zippy marinade that makes the beef very tender.

Jump to Recipe

He marinated the meat in the morning, then roasted it in the evening and sliced it, then served it with its gravy over rice with a bunch of fixings: sautéed sweet peppers, chopped cilantro, shredded cheddar, corn, sour cream, and corn chips, and some wonderful black beans. Wonderful beans, I say! 

Gosh, I love this meal.

I cannot tell you how delicious that meat is. 

MONDAY
Harvest Salad with Turkey and acorn squash

I had, like the rest of the country, a lot of leftover turkey. So I cut it up and served it over salad greens, along with a bunch of other autumnal toppings: Sliced almonds, blue cheese, dried cranberries, and dried sugared dates. I also put out feta and sunflower seeds, and I meant to cut up some green apples and red onions, but I forgot. It was pretty good. 

I roasted up a couple of acorn squashes, correcting guessing that no more than four people would want their own squash half for dinner, despite how ravishingly beautiful they are.

I cut them in half, scooped out the seeds, plunked in a blob of butter and brown sugar, and roasted it at about 400 for about 45 minutes or longer. Could have used a schpronkle of sea salt. You can mash and scoop your own little tender squashy cup right on your plate. I could easily see putting a scoop of ice cream in there, and some pralines, and serving this as a dessert. I threw some almonds and dates in there, and it was very cozy. 

TUESDAY
Pulled pork on potato buns, coleslaw, tater tots

The pulled pork turned out fantastic, and, according to tradition, I didn’t write down how I made it. I think it was a can of Sierra Nevada beer, some leftover onion, some pepproncini and brine, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and . . . maybe that’s it? In the slow cooker all day. 

It was bright and spicy and delicious. I had mine with some bottled Baby Ray or Baby Somebody sauce, and more pepproncini, because it’s cold out. 

The coleslaw was actually a little bland, but the picture was pretty, so here you go:

I made it with mayo, cider vinegar, sugar, and pepper. Couldn’t find the celery seed.

WEDNESDAY
Quesadillas and chips

 Nothing to report, except that I splurged on silly fancy red and green tortilla chips. They honestly taste a little weird, and I probably won’t do that again. 

I also sprinkled cilantro all over my quesadilla, and then it turned out to be parsley. Why did we even have parsley in the house? It was fine, just not quite the olé experience my mouth was prepared for. I drowned my sorrows in sour cream. 

THURSDAY
Spaghetti and meatballs

I guess I didn’t even take a picture. These were honestly the world’s blandest meatballs. I had put all my creative powers into rearranging the pictures on the dining room wall, and formulating new and compelling reasons why the kids should put their backpacks on the backpack hooks which I have installed for them, or at very least, please please refrain from flinging spaghetti at the freshly-painted ceiling. After dinner I fell asleep and it was like sinking into a narrow grave. Just down, down, down, and it was so black and still. In a good way! In the best way. You know the nap grave. It is good.

FRIDAY
Shrimp ramen, I guess? 

I know there is shrimp in the freezer, and all I have to do is defrost it and peel it and sauté it, and cook up some ramen, and assemble a variety of vegetables and crunchy noodles and sauces and sprouts, and then boil some eggs for the top.

Maybe . . .  I will just make scrambled eggs.

I will close with a photo of Benny offering cookies to the family. Maybe she needs a nap, too. 

 

Beef marinade for fajita bowls

enough for 6-7 lbs of beef

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lime juice
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 head garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tbsp cumin
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp hot pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together.

  2. Pour over beef, sliced or unsliced, and marinate several hours. If the meat is sliced, pan fry. If not, cook in a 350 oven, uncovered, for about 40 minutes. I cook the meat in all the marinade and then use the excess as gravy.

Can’t visit family? Interview them instead.

After my father died, my sister called up our oldest surviving relative, my great aunt Bebe who lives in Florida, and they ended up having several conversations. The things she told us about our family have been delightful (and occasionally insane).

We knew, for instance, that my mother was pregnant when my parents got married, but here’s a part of the story we never heard:

When my father was 19, he needed an emergency appendectomy, but his mother was away on vacation. They wouldn’t operate on him without a relative signing for permission, or possibly to pay for it.
 
So my great aunt Bebe goes to the hospital and there is my mother, age 18, in the waiting room all upset, because, since she’s not a relative, they won’t let her up to see him. Bebe had never met her before.
 
Bebe signs the papers and goes up to see my father, and he says, “I want to see my girlfriend.” And Bebe explains that she can’t come up because she’s not a relative. So my father says, “She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my wife!” and passes out.
 

Later he explains that she is pregnant and they had gotten married by a justice of the peace. But when my mother’s parents found out, they put together a fancy wedding with a caterer and a rabbi; so they kept the justice of the peace a secret.

We are not actually sure if this story is true! We talked it over and the details don’t quite make sense. But my Aunt Bebe loves a good story, and this is a pretty good story. 

This Thanksgiving, we’re regretfully foregoing a family gathering because, as much as we love our relatives, we don’t want to host a superspreader event — and spending time indoors, with masks off, with people you don’t already live with, seems to be ideal conditions for spreading the virus, sometimes with deadly consequences for people who weren’t even there

If you’re in the same boat and you can’t spend time with family in person, why not take the opportunity to interview them by phone or video? Yes, even the people you think you already know well. They probably have some stories you’ve never heard before.

I’ve written about this before — how I did some interviews with my father, but not as much as I would have liked, and how I missed my chance to interview my mother. We spent countless hours together, but there are some things I never thought to ask until it was too late.

With a planned interview, you may have a deeper conversation than if everyone were sitting in the same room, but just eating pie and chatting; and the time and attention could be a real boon to older relatives who’ve been especially isolated. Taking time to listen intently to someone’s memories is a wonderful way to show love, and it may very well end up being fascinating for you.

Consider recording the conversation so you can save it for posterity (with the person’s permission, of course!). Here’s how to record a Zoom conversation; an iPhone conversation; an Android conversation;  a Facebook video chat

Here are some questions you can ask, to get things started. And it’s okay if they wander and answer questions you didn’t ask! 

What’s the earliest memory you have? 

When you were little, what was your favorite place to go or thing to do? What was your favorite food? What was your least favorite food?

Who were your friend when you were growing up? What did you do together?

What do you remember about your parents from your childhood? What did they do for work? Did you get along with them? What did they do in their spare time? 

What was your first job? What did you do with the money you earned? 

Who was your favorite teacher? Who was your least favorite? 

Who did you admire when you were growing up? Did that change? 

What (or who) were you afraid of when you were growing up? Did that change?

What’s the first movie you remember seeing? 

How did you meet your first girlfriend/boyfriend? How did you meet the person you eventually married? 

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did things work out as you expected? 

Do you think kids today have things better or worse than you did?

If you have kids, ask them for question ideas, too. They will probably be curious about things that didn’t occur to you. 

The virus is taking so much away from us, but this could be a chance to gain something really precious. If you do it, tell me how it goes! 

Keep It Light, Stand Your Ground, Salt the Earth, or Waldorf

So here is a Thanksgiving essay I wrote for an Australian audience, knowing it would be published after American Thanksgiving. Australians do not, of course, celebrate Thanksgiving, and even if they did, this piece is so intrinsically stupid, it would be stupid anywhere on the globe, at any time of the year. I thought I’d share it today, on Giving Tuesday, as a gift to you. You can read it and think happily to yourself, “At least I never wrote anything this stupid.”

You’re welcome

***
Image via Flickr from page 221 of “Pompeii, its history, buildings, and antiquities : an account of the destruction of the city with a full description of the remains, and of the recent excavations, and also an itinerary for visitors” (1867)

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 194: Cranberry brie tarts! Spanakopita pockets! Sausage oyster stuffing! The Thanksgiving 2019 feast.

Just a one-day post this week, and you know which day! All week we had no-brainer meals like hamburgers and hot dogs while I baked and shopped and cleaned, and then we had a very delicious Thanksgiving. I tried two new recipes this year, and both are keepers. Here’s what we had:

There was so much phyllo dough left over from the youth group shawarma feast, I decided to make two appetizers: cranberry brie tarts, and spanakopita. Both were delicious! They didn’t take much skill to put together, but the tarts were a bit of a hassle. I assembled them ahead of time, and then threw them in the oven when the guests arrived. 

Phyllo dough cups with honey, then brie, then sugared cranberries, baked then topped with fresh sage and a little honey-butter-almond syrup. They would make lovely Christmas party treats, and were just melty and tart and exciting.   

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I wish I had let them sit in the pan a few more minutes before attempting to pull them out, but they eventually all came out intact. 

These are little tarts, made in a mini muffin pan, but I also made some bigger ones in a standard-size muffin tin. I prefer the mini ones, but both were tasty. 

Aren’t they pretty? I may spring for some better brie next time, but the creamy, slightly earthy cheese with the sharp snap of the cranberries was very nice indeed. You could also use thyme instead of sage, but I thought the little breath of green on top of the honey was wonderful. Altogether a really great cold-weather appetizer, very festive. 

While people were eating the cranberry tarts, I baked the spankopita pockets, which people ate while the turkey was resting. I’ve never even seen spanakopita before, but these little pockets were quite easy to make and tasted wonderful. Fresh spinach sautéed in butter with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, mixed with plenty of feta, then wrapped up in buttery phyllo dough, brushed with more butter, and baked. YUHM. Very filling and cozy.

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I read the directions on how to fold them up and just kept going, “. . . what? . . . . WHAT?” so I finally looked up a video, which helped tremendously. I’ve included a link to the video in the recipe card. I need to do this again to get my folding technique down, and maybe use a bit less filling so it doesn’t burst out, but they sure tasted good.

Then of course the turkey. We think brining delivers very little for the hassle, so Damien seasons the birds with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, stuffs them, and cooks them at 350 on a rack, basting every thirty minutes with melted butter and tequila. We had two large birds and they were swell. 

One had stuffing with onions, celery, and mushrooms, and one had stuffing with sausage and oysters. It was freaking delicious. You could skip the turkey and just feast on the stuffing. 

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On Thanksgiving morning, I make a giblet broth with the hilarious neck and any organs they give us, other than the liver, and some celery and onions and carrots, and set that simmering to use later in the gravy. I fry up the liver with with some onions, then cut that into pieces and fry some more until it’s in little crisp bits. Then, in a heavy pot, I melt plenty of butter, then add flour and salt and pepper, then add the giblet broth a little at a time until it’s the right consistency. Then I stir in the little liver and onion bits, and after the turkey is removed from the pan, I shove in a ton of pan scrapings and some of the fat from the turkey. It was some very fine turkey this year, a rich, dark brown and full of exciting savory bits.

My dad brought mashed potatoes made with cheddar cheese, sour cream, and cream cheese. Fantastic. I need to get that recipe. 

My brother’s friend brought some sautéed asparagus, which was very tasty, and we also had roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, broiled with salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar, and a bit charred. I skipped the honey, because there were so many sweet things in the meal, but here’s a recipe that explains how to process butternut squash for cooking.

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See? Vegetables!

Clara made her famous hobbit bread, from An Unexpected Cookbook (Which would make a great Christmas present for Lord of the Rings fans, by the way). It’s a braided loaf (well, three braided loaves) stuffed with mushrooms, onions, herbs, and cheese. I guess the theme here was “every dish could have been a meal in itself.”

A little burnt, as we were cramming pans in on top of other pans. We really need a second oven, or at least a third oven rack. 

Of course we had mountains of cranberry sauce, and I made a ton of cranberry orange bread

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which was a bit dry but still pretty, and some banana bread

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which I was too stuffed to even look at. This was half of the bread pile:

We had wine and various beers and hard ciders, plus mulled cider, which I cleverly set up in the crock pot in the morning with some cinnamon sticks. Dessert was pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and apple pie, with ice cream and whipped cream (both canned and freshly whipped, both!), and some eclairs courtesy of my mother-in-law. See my pies! See my pies!

I’m finally able to make pretty reliable pie crust.

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 The secret is to freeze the butter and shred it on a box shredder, and then just lightly mix it into the flour and salt, then sprinkle with ice water until it’s the right consistency. Then you go ahead and manhandle that crust however you like. I heard a great tip on Milk Street Radio: Lots of people think their pie crust needs more flour or more water, but really it’s at the wrong temperature. My pie crust is often too cold, making it crumbly and stiff, and giving it an extra half hour to warm up before I try and roll it out really helps. 

The lattice top pie came out nice. 

The free-form floral one turned out kind of confusing. 

Then I made this:

If I hadn’t been at a low ebb, I would have made little owls to sit in the holes, or little flowers, or even little tentacles. But the best I could come up with was a sort of progressive eclipse theme, which didn’t end up looking like much. Oh well! IT IS PIE. 

For the pecan pie, I used real maple syrup and whisky instead of corn syrup, and it made it so much more palatable. I made the pecan pie section of this insane mega pie. Still not my favorite pie, but a far more reasonable pie. [Marvin the Martian voice:] Isn’t it lovely, hmmm?

I also made three pumpkin pies using ready-made graham cracker crust just like Squanto showed us. 

I put the pies together earlier in the week and froze them, then thawed them Thanksgiving morning and baked them while we were eating dinner, so they were warm for dessert. I think I’ll be doing it that way every year.

I was planning to make some rolls and some sweet potatoes, but you know what? That would have been too much food. And the last thing we want at Thanksgiving is too much food. 

As you can see, I don’t exactly lay an elegant table. We didn’t have enough seating for everyone at the table, and we couldn’t get all the food laid out at once anyway, because the oven is too small. So we just kept hucking more and more platters of food at people as they finished cooking, and they kept loading their plates and then carrying them off to whatever spot they could find. There was a dog and four-year-old scrambling around under the table. People had birds in their pockets. The cat almost had a stroke. I had crock pots plugged in in weird places. Corrie flossed to “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.” I do believe everyone had a nice day! I hope you did, too. 

And here are the recipe cards:

Cranberry brie tarts

This recipe looks complicated, but you can simplify or alter it however you like. Basically you want some kind of pastry, brie, cranberries with sugar, and honey, and an herb on top. A delicious and beautiful little appetizer, great for Thanksgiving or Christmas parties.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 roll phyllo dough
  • 6-8 oz brie
  • small bunch fresh sage or thyme, coarsely chopped

cranberries:

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • dash salt
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter for cranberries

honey mixture:

  • 2 Tbsp butter for honey mixture
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425

  2. In a little pot, combine the honey, the butter, and the extract. Heat through and set aside.

  3. In a bowl, mix the cranberries with melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a dash of salt. Set aside.

  4. Cut brie into 24 equal pieces and set aside.

  5. Prepare a 24-hole mini cupcake pan with butter or spray. You can also use a full-size cupcake pan, but the tarts will be a little unwieldy and won't hold together as well.

  6. Unroll the phyllo dough and cut it into twelve equal stacks. Cover the dough with a damp cloth while you're working so the dough doesn't get brittle.

  7. Pull out one stack of phyllo dough squares and use half the squares to line a cupcake tin, fanning them out to make a little cup. Make sure the bottom of the tin has several layers of dough, so it won't fall apart when you take it out of the pan.

  8. When you have arranged all the pastry cups, drizzle them with half the honey-butter mixture.

  9. Lay a piece of brie in the bottom of each cup, then put a scoop of sugared cranberries on top of that. Drizzle with the rest of the honey-butter mixture.

  10. Bake for 15 minutes or so until the pastry is just golden brown.

  11. Top each cup with a bit of chopped herbs.

  12. Let the tarts sit in the pan for five minutes before serving. Serve hot.

 

Spanakopita triangles

Ingredients

  • 1 lbs spinach
  • 1 stick butter, plus 1 Tbsp for sautéing spinach
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups crumbled feta
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 roll phyllo dough, thawed

Instructions

To make the filling:

  1. In a big pan, melt the 1 Tbsp butter and sauté the spinach until it's soft. It will be a giant heap of greens at first, but it cooks way down and will fit in the pan when you're done!

  2. Let the spinach cool and then squeeze out as much water as you can.

  3. In a bowl, mix together the cooked spinach with the salt, pepper and nutmeg, and stir in the feta until it's combined. Set aside.

  4. Preheat the oven to 375

  5. Melt the stick of butter and set it aside. You'll need it handy for assembling the triangles.

  6. Unroll the phyllo dough and cover it with a slightly damp cloth to keep it from getting brittle. Take what you need and keep the rest of the stack covered.

To assemble the triangles:

  1. Carefully lay a phyllo dough square on your workspace, long side horizontal. Brush it with melted butter. Lay another sheet on top of it and brush that with butter.

  2. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into three strips.

  3. Put a scoop of spinach mixture at the bottom of each strip. Then fold that section of dough up diagonally, enclosing the spinach, so it forms a triangle. Continue folding up to make triangles, like you'd fold a flag, until you reach the top of the dough. If you're having trouble figuring out how to fold it, here is a helpful video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVwA3i_tmKc&t=2s

  4. If there's a bit of leftover dough on the triangle, fold it under. Lay the finished triangle on a baking sheet, seam side down. Brush with butter again.

  5. Continue until the phyllo dough is gone. I made 18 pockets, two sheets thick, with one roll of phyllo dough, but you can change the proportions and make lots of smaller triangles if you like.

  6. Bake about 25 minutes until golden brown. Let them sit in the pan for a moment before removing. Serve hot or cold.

 

Sausage oyster stuffing for turkey

Ridiculously savory and delicious. Stuff as much as you can in the turkey and bake the rest in a separate pan, covered with tinfoil to keep it from drying out.

Ingredients

  • 16 oz stuffing mix (we used pre-seasoned, for simplicity)
  • 1 lb loose sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 8-oz cans of oysters
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1-1/2 cup broth
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • salt ad pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Sauté the onions, mushrooms, and celery in the butter.

  2. In a separate pan, fry up the sausage, crumbling it as you cook, until it's browned. Combine the sausage, including the fat, with the vegetables, and add in the oysters with their broth.

  3. Put the dry stuffing in a bowl. Add the broth and stir gently until it's all moistened. Add the vegetable-oyster- sausage mixture. Salt and pepper to taste.

 

Cranberry muffins or bread

A pretty, sweet loaf or 12 muffins.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter, chilled and grated into shreds
  • zest of one orange
  • juice of two oranges
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup cranberries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare muffin tins; butter and flour loaf pan.

  2. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients and lightly incorporate the shredded butter.

  3. In another bowl, mix together the egg, orange juice, and orange zest.

  4. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir just until dry ingredients are incorporated. Lightly mix in the cranberries and walnuts. Pour batter into tins or loaf pan.

  5. Bake muffins for about half an hour, loaf for an hour or more.

 

Banana muffins (or bread)

Makes two loaves or 24 muffins. Quick, easy, and pleasant. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium ripe bananas
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1.5 cups chopped nuts (optional)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter loaf pans or muffin tins, or use cupcake papers.

  2. Mash the bananas in a bowl. Beat the eggs and blend the into the bananas. 

  3. In another bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. Add the dry mixture to the banana mixture and stir just until blended. Stir in nuts if desired. 

  4. Pour batter into pans or tins. Bake about 28 minutes for muffins, about 1 hour for loaves. 

 

Roasted butternut squash with honey and chili

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash
  • olive oil
  • honey
  • salt and pepper
  • chili powder

Instructions

  1. Preheat the broiler to high

  2. To peel the squash: Cut the ends off the squash and poke it several times with a fork. Microwave it for 3-4 minutes. When it's cool enough to handle, cut it into manageable pieces and peel with a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife. Scoop out the pulp and seeds.

  3. Cut the squash into cubes.

  4. In a bowl, toss the squash with honey and olive oil. You can use whatever proportions you like, depending on how sweet you want it.

  5. Spread the squash in a shallow pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili powder.

  6. Broil for 15 minutes until the squash is slightly charred.

Basic pie crust

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 sticks butter, FROZEN
  • 1/4 cup water, with an ice cube

Instructions

  1. Freeze the butter for at least 20 minutes, then shred it on a box grater. Set aside.

  2. Put the water in a cup and throw an ice cube in it. Set aside.

  3. In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Then add the shredded butter and combine with a butter knife or your fingers until there are no piles of loose, dry flour. Try not to work it too hard. It's fine if there are still visible nuggets of butter.

  4. Sprinkle the dough ball with a little iced water at a time until the dough starts to become pliable but not sticky. Use the water to incorporate any remaining dry flour.

  5. If you're ready to roll out the dough, flour a surface, place the dough in the middle, flour a rolling pin, and roll it out from the center.

  6. If you're going to use it later, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. You can keep it in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months, if you wrap it with enough layers. Let it return to room temperature before attempting to roll it out!

  7. If the crust is too crumbly, you can add extra water, but make sure it's at room temp. Sometimes perfect dough is crumbly just because it's too cold, so give it time to warm up.

  8. You can easily patch cracked dough by rolling out a patch and attaching it to the cracked part with a little water. Pinch it together.

Sausage oyster stuffing for turkey

Ridiculously savory and delicious. Stuff as much as you can in the turkey and bake the rest in a separate pan, covered with tinfoil to keep it from drying out.

Ingredients

  • 16 oz stuffing mix (we used pre-seasoned, for simplicity)
  • 1 lb loose sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 8-oz cans of oysters
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1-1/2 cup broth
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • salt ad pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Sauté the onions, mushrooms, and celery in the butter.

  2. In a separate pan, fry up the sausage, crumbling it as you cook, until it's browned. Combine the sausage, including the fat, with the vegetables, and add in the oysters with their broth.

  3. Put the dry stuffing in a bowl. Add the broth and stir gently until it's all moistened. Add the vegetable-oyster- sausage mixture. Salt and pepper to taste.

In which I give thanks for the Chicken of Life

Last Sunday, I had the kids in my faith formation class draw a picture of a Thanksgiving feast at their house. Most drew a table, some food and family and friends gathered around. Then I had them draw a picture of the Mass and nudged them toward drawing a similar scene. We talked about how the altar is a table, as well as a place of sacrifice, and how the food is Jesus, and all of mankind is one family.

I was working my way up to the central idea—that “Eucharist” literally means “Thanksgiving.” But the lesson did not really land because most of the kids did not know the word “Eucharist” yet. Also, some of them did not know what “Mass” meant, and some of them did not know what to draw since they were going over to their mom’s new boyfriend’s house for Thanksgiving, and they weren’t sure if he had a table. One child steadfastly insisted that last time he went to Mass they had wine and chicken. The chicken of life.

And, of course, three of the boys were still convulsing on the rug because, during the story portion of class, I had made the tactical error of showing them an illustration of St. Juan Diego in his tilma, and you could sort of see part of his butt. His butt.

Some weeks, my husband says I come home from teaching with my eyes shining and my face alight. This was not one of those weeks.

On a good week, the kids are spellbound while I tell them that God made the world because he is so overflowing with love, that he just wanted to be even happier by making more things to be good and beautiful and true, which is why he made the stars and the animals and you and me, and all he wants now is to get back together with us again.

On a good week, someone wants to talk about the war in heaven, and another kid pipes up, “But Ms. Simcha, the devil didn’t have to go to hell because he had free will!”

On a good week, we read about how Jesus called the shambling, shocked Lazarus from his dark grave, and one of the boys screws up his face with skepticism and blurts out, “Is this a story true?” and I can look him in the eye and say: “Yes, sweetheart. This is a true story. It’s all true!”

Those are the times when I feel keenly what a privilege it is to be there, to be allowed to feed these eager young Christians who are so hungry for the truths they were made to receive. Sometimes it feels like the cluttered little classroom is blazing with light and I am so glad, so glad to be there with them.

But we do have bad weeks . . . 

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image: Dion Hinchcliffe via Flickr (Creative Commons)

 

Even you can make this Thanksgiving centerpiece

The other day, because I was overwhelmed by the way we hadn’t put away sandals and sneakers but we had taken out boots, and the way we hadn’t put away light jackets but had taken out snow pants, and by how all of these things were on the dining room floor and everyone was stepping on them with their muddy feet while eating corn flakes, and also there was a broken washing machine in the dining room, I got out my hot glue gun.

Here, I should warn you that this craft post is just a craft post. I have no larger point about life and failure and beauty and self-knowledge. Sometimes a glue gun is just a glue gun.

We had a leftover pumpkin that nobody carved on Halloween, so I started doodling flowers and leaves on it with hot glue.

When I ran out of ideas, I Googled “quilling flower patterns,” because quilling designs are made with strips of paper, so I figured that would translate well into hot glue lines.

Then I filled in the gaps with squiggles, spirals, leaves, and little chains of circles.

I had the idea that if I spray painted it gold, it would would look like A Thing. And I wasn’t wrong!

I am a huge sucker for anything spray painted gold, and I thought it was pretty like this.

BUT THEN, I realized I could peel the hot glue off, and it would have a sort of batik effect. AND I WASN’T WRONG.

 

I can’t be the only one who’s discovered you can do this, but I’m still very proud of myself.

Plus, it was tons of fun to pull off the hot glue shapes. They held together surprisingly well, and stayed intact.

 

I was afraid the paint on the pumpkin would chip or get scratched as I picked the glue off, but it did not, so I let Corrie help peel.

 

I used Rust-oleum American Accents 2x Extra Cover metallic bright gold, but I have no idea if that’s the only kind of paint you can use on pumpkins or what. Also, I let it dry for three days before I had time to bring it back inside, so I would say “let dry thoroughly” — both the glue and the paint, before you try to peel anything.

Also, I now have these excellent flexible gold shapes to play with. Maybe I will put them on the Advent wreath or something.

So, here it is: My attempt at a fancy centerpiece.

So you could put this in the middle of a wreath, in a basket, on a platter, or whatever, and put greenery or little pumpkins or candles or whatever shit you have lying around. I just grabbed the wool blanket for the contrast, but a smaller cloth in green or purple or brown would look swell.

You can see that I actually had little, centerpiece-size pumpkins lying around, too. If I had actually planned this project out, rather than goofing around to put off work, I would have used them but I still like it. No doubt the kids will have carved “PEE FART” into it before the day is up, but at least my camera beat the little creeps. They haven’t eaten all my flowers yet, so that’s something.

 

You could also write “LIVE LAUGH LOVE” on it, instead of flowers and leaves, what do I care. Write “HAPPY THANKSGIVING.” You could have a series of mini pumpkins laid out across your mantelpiece spelling out “T-H-A-T-S-E-N-O-U-G-H -P-I-E- A-U-N-T -B-R-E-N-D-A.” Be bold and fierce with chevrons; no one’s stopping you.

 

Giving thanks sets our hearts straight

He delights and is glad to hear us thank Him, but it doesn’t encourage Him to give us good things, any more a stream is encouraged to keep on flowing when a deer stops to drink in it. Flowing is what the stream is for, and it’s not going to pack itself up and leave in a huff if the deer isn’t properly grateful.

The deer, however, may suffer if it can’t linger long enough to enjoy having its thirst quenched.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Turkey photo by Alison Marras on Unsplash