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

What’s for Supper? Vol. 108: In which we have two vegetables for Thanksgiving, not counting potatoes!

Just the Thanksgiving food this time! I know it makes more sense to share Thanksgiving recipes before Thanksgiving, but none of this stuff would be out of place for a Christmas meal, either, except maybe pumpkin pie and stuffing.

All of my kids genuinely helped. Except for Corrie. Corrie mainly supervised.

They chopped, sliced, trimmed, buttered, grated, juiced, stirred, basted, and baked, and I would have been a complete wreck without their help. We started baking and cooking on Wednesday evening, and by Thursday afternoon, I felt calm, confident, cheerful, and ready. I highly recommend having kids who are old enough to help!

Here’s what we had:

Turkey with gravy and stuffing. I have no desire to argue with anyone about how to make a turkey. Not Alton Brown, nor his acolytes, nor anyone. I’ve roasted dozens of turkeys. I butter it and sprinkle it with salt and pepper, turn it breast down on a rack for half the roasting, then flip it for the rest of the time, and I (well, my sons) baste it every half hour. It turns out good.

The skin is crisp and varnished-looking, the meat is moist and flavorful. I don’t want to argue about it! Your way is good, too! Hooray for your way! I like my way! Hooray!

I made stuffing (Pepperidge Farm herbed cubes, I think) with sauteed onions, mushrooms, and celery. Not original, but always good.

I wanted to get the gravy over with, so I started with a ton of melted butter, then added a ton of flour until it was a thick paste, then thinned it gradually with turkey stock I had made with giblets and neck, celery, scallions. Then, when the turkey was done, I added salt and pepper, a fried and diced turkey liver, and plenty of pan drippings, scrapings, and fat.

Lyonnaise Potatoes. My father brought this dish. Will add the recipe when I get it! Very tasty, and it reminded me of my grandmother’s cooking, which is high praise.

Sweet potatoes with blue cheese and walnuts. A simplified version of this recipe, which also calls for dates, parsley, and gorgonzola, rather than blue cheese. I baked the potatoes, sliced them open, mashed in the toppings, and then reheated them in the microwave before dinner.

Parkerhouse rolls. I’ve made this recipe before, with good success, but this year we just bought frozen dough. My daughter rolled the dough into golf ball-sized balls and put them in buttered cupcake tins — one ball in the mini tins, and three balls in the regular size.

 

Hobbit Bread (braided bread stuffed with onions, mushrooms, and cheese). This is (according to my 17-year-old) the best recipe in An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery.  I’ll paste the whole recipe into the bottom of this post. She used frozen bread dough for this, too, and added poppy seeds to the top.

Oven roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon. Easy peasy. Boys trimmed and halved the Brussels sprouts, daughter snipped a pound of bacon into pieces, and I mixed it up with oil, salt, and pepper, and spread it in a shallow pan, then roasted at 400 for about twenty minutes. The bacon wasn’t as crisp as I would have liked (I should have laid it on top, rather than mixing it in), but the Brussels sprouts still magically gathered in a ton of bacon flavoring. It was great.

Hasselback butternut squash with bay leaves. This dish puts the hassle in butternut squash, let me tell you. But it was worth it. So pretty and exciting. I made it the night before, then warmed it up for the meal. We ended up using jalapeno peppers instead of Fresno chilis, fresh bay leaves instead of dried, fake maple syrup instead of real, canola oil instead of olive, and salted butter instead of unsalted! Still great! We’ve never had a spicy dish for Thanksgiving before. It found myself cooling my tongue with cranberry sauce in between bites of squash. Here’s the recipe from Bon Appetit.

Cranberry orange nut bread. Worth the trouble to zest the oranges and squeeze fresh juice, especially if you have kid slaves to do it for you. They also chopped the nuts and cranberries with my lovely mezzaluna knife. Recipe from Epicurious. This is very festive-looking, with the bright cranberries and flecks of orange zest, and it makes the house smell wonderful.

Banana nut bread. I always start baking for Thanksgiving with banana bread, because it’s so dang easy. Fannie Farmer has the classic recipe.

Apple pie. I don’t really follow a recipe for the filling – just sliced apples, sugar, a little flour, cinnamon and a little numeg, and dots of butter on the top – but here is the crust recipe I use — except I use butter, which I freeze (or even just chill) and grate it into the flour, so it only takes a few jabs with a butter knife to fully incorporate it. The butter does warm up in your hand as you grip it, so be careful of your knuckles if it slips!

My 17-year-old used cookie cutters to make stars and flowers, and made an overlapping pieced crust, which was lovely. We brushed it with an egg wash (beaten up egg with a little warm water) and then sprinkled sugar on top before baking.

I baked the pies until they were almost done the day before, then put them back in the oven at 250 while we were eating the meal. By dessert time, they were hot again and perfectly browned.

Pumpkin pie. I used readymade graham cracker crust and followed the recipe on the side of the pumpkin can. And yes, I had to run to the convenience store and buy evaporated milk, because all I had was condensed milk. I always know what the difference is, except for two times: when I’m shopping, and when I’m baking.

We had whipped cream and ice cream for the pies. I intended the kids to have a choice, but they intended to have both ice cream and whipped cream on everything. Corrie skipped the pie and just had ice cream and whipped cream.

Crock pots were very useful. I made the gravy on the stovetop, then transferred it to a slow cooker, to free up space and keep it warm, and filled the gravy boat from that. I also microwaved the gravy boat, so it stayed warm while it was on the table. I used my other slow cooker for mulled apple cider.

It was my husband’s turn to worry that there wouldn’t be enough food, so he bought an extra turkey breast, so we roasted that, too. I helpfully added garlic eyes so it could glare at us.

And now for the Hobbit bread recipe!

Next time she makes it, I’ll take pictures at different stages, so you can see how the dough gets that braided effect.

Braided Bread Stuffed with Mushrooms, Onions, and Cheese

This hearty bread is practically a meal unto itself. In celebration of Hobbits well known love of mushrooms, this is stuffed with mushrooms, onions, cheese, and English country herbs. It’s best fresh from the oven while the cheese is still runny, but the leftovers are almost as good served alongside supper to help soak up a hearty plate of mutton or venison gravy.

Dough:
1 ½ c / 300 g water
1 tbsp active dry yeast
4 tbsp / 85 g honey
4 eggs
½ c oil
6 ½ -7 c / 825 – 850 g bread flour
1 tbsp coarse salt
8 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
1 tsp fresh basil leaves, minced

Filling:
2 tbsp butter
2 c / 200 g sliced mushrooms
2 onions, diced
2 c / 250 g shredded mozzarella
2 cloves garlic in filling
1 tbsp rosemary in each
1 tsp basil
1 tbsp coarse salt
To make a loaf , start by dissolving your yeast in the warm water. Feel free to add an extra tsp of honey at this stage to help kick start your yeast. Walk away for ten minutes. When you come back, the yeast should have bloomed so it looks like a mushroom cap rising up out of your bowl. It knows its fate.

Mix in the eggs, oil, salt, and the rest of the honey. When you achieve a soupy mass, add the minced garlic , fresh rosemary leaves, and fresh basil. It should smell delicious.

Now mix in the bread flour. Modern cooks with a stand mixer can attach the dough hook and let it knead away for 6-8 minutes. If you want to get a real feel for the period, knead it by hand for 8-10 minutes. The dough should be soft, pliant, and not too tacky.

Form it into a ball, cover it with a clean dishtowel, and let it rise for an hour, or until double in size.

Meanwhile, make your filling. Melt your butter in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add your onions and cook until they start to brown . You want them to lose a lot of moisture while gaining some flavor.

Once the onions start to brown, add your garlic, rosemary, and basil. Keep cooking for another 3-4 minutes, or until the garlic barely starts to brown . Finally add the mushrooms. You don’t want to overcook them. Mix them in and cook for another 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Take the pan off the heat and finish it with the coarse salt. Set it aside to cool while the dough continues rising.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down. Flour a clean surface and roll the dough into a rectangle . Put that rectangle on a sheet of parchment paper so you can easily move the finished loaf to a pan. Trim away any rough edges.

Now that you have a trimmed rectangle of dough, mentally divide the rectangle into thirds. The center third is where you place your filling. The outer two thirds will be cut into braid strips. To give it an attractive , braided top, make neat, even, 1 inch 2.5 cm wide cuts along each side. Make a bed of cheese in the middle ⅓ of your bread. Pile the mushroom filling on top of that. Cover the filling with any remaining cheese. Fold both end pieces inwards so they cover some of the filling.

To create the braided top, pull the cut edges of dough over the center, alternating sides and tugging tight, so the dough completely covers the filling. This makes a single, massive rectangular loaf . Slide it onto your largest cooking pan. If you don’t have any oversized baking sheets, just slide it into a heavily buttered 9×13 glass baking pan. Either way, let it rise for another hour. You put this much work into it, so you might as well make the bread pretty. Whisk together an egg and 1 tbsp of water to make an egg wash.

Use a pastry brush to paint the surface of the bread. If you’d like, sprinkle another 1 tsp of coarse salt on top. Bake the bread at 350F / 180C for 35-40 minutes. If the top starts to get too brown, cover it with foil.

Due to the moist interior, the bottom of this bread has a tendency to get soggy if you leave it out overnight. That means it’s your duty to consume the entire loaf before bedtime. If you don’t have a party of dwarves or a couple teenagers on hand to help you finish it, you can always use the leftovers to make savory mushroom bread pudding for tomorrow’s dinner.

Hobbit book link and mezzaluna knife link are Amazon Associate links. That means I make a small commission if you buy the product I’m linking to. Or if you buy any product from Amazon, after you get there from using one of my links.

If you’re shopping on Amazon any time, please consider using my links! It should be exactly the same Amazon shopping experience for you, but it really adds up and makes a huge difference for my family. Here are the links for the US, the UK, and Canada. If you could bookmark these links and use them every time you shop, I’d be so grateful! Thank you.

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When it comes to holidays, the Catholic Church has all the chill

Let’s listen in to one happy household, where young wifey is hosting the big event at her home for the first time and her mother-in-law remarks, her voice rapidly rising to an incredulous shriek: “You put nutmeg…in your sweet potatoes?” Everyone knows it was infallibly established during the Ecumenical Council of Our Family and Your Family that if more than three micrograms of nutmeg are found to be present in the entire meal, including appetizers you snuck into the garage but we saw you, the whole holiday shall be declared invalid and we will have to have it at Arby’s next time. That is what this family has come to! Nutmeg, indeed. Anathema!

Gesundheit. And score another one for the church.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image: studio tdes via flickr (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 107: I’m chicken my privilege

This week, I managed to use leftovers from a previous meal in every single new meal. Some of this was planned, some was felicitous. Some was just scallions.

Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Fancy hot dogs, chips, salad

It’s amazing how a few toppings can transform a hot dog meal from shameful to splendid. I got cheapo hot dogs for the kids and Nathan’s for them as appreciate Nathan’s, and I set out ketchup and mustard, of course, and also diced cucumbers, thin-sliced pickles, diced tomatoes, pickled peppers, diced onions, and celery salt for Chicago-style hot dogs, and crumbled blue cheese, hot sauce, and chopped scallions (left over from last week) for Buffalo dogs. Yum yum.

***

SUNDAY
Chicken enchiladas, beans and rice

#1 son has been asking for this dish for a while, and not just so we can quote Dr. Marvin Rubdown.

I use Pioneer Woman’s recipe. I cooked six giant, recklessly seasoned chicken breasts in olive oil

and, after shredding them, set aside the meat from two of them for later. I had thirty-two large tortillas, and, because the gods are cruel, enough fillings for thirty-one enchiladas.

In my neverending but alwaysfutile quest to have more than enough onions for the enchiladas, I diced and sautéed seven onions. I rushed them a bit, so they didn’t really caramelize, but they were still luscious. You cook them up in the chickeny oil, using the same pan.

I shredded up about two pounds of cheddar cheese, which wasn’t quite enough. The enchiladas were a little skinny, to be honest; but also to be honest, I actually like eating up the slightly soggy folded ends of tortillas.

We went through two large cans of green enchilada sauce and two large cans of red. Some tomatoes, sour cream, and cilantro on the top. Or maybe it was scallions, I forget.

Lackluster photo, completely delicious food. I had other plans for Sunday, but the all-devouring enchiladas ended up taking all day to make. Next time, I may try stacked enchiladas, where you use the same ingredients, but just layer them in a pan, rather than rolling them. I want enchiladas, but I want my life back, too.

We had leftover rice from last week, so I mixed it up with a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes with chiles and some of the juice, a can of drained black beans, some jarred, sliced jalapeños, and bunch of cumin, chili powder, and salt. I feel like there must have been other ingredients, but I sure can’t remember them now. It was tasty, and I was proud of not just throwing down a bag of chips.

***

MONDAY
Ham, baked potatoes, peas

Monday is our crazy-go-nuts day, and so we had a meal than involved taking things out of the bag and making them hot. No complaints.

Oh, and we had some yogurt sauce left over from last week’s turmerific chickepea chicken. It smelled okay, so I daringly slathered it on my baked potato with some scallions, and holy cow, it was so good. It was Greek yogurt with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

***

TUESDAY
Chicken tortilla soup, leftover enchiladas

Feeling like a genius, I took the leftover chicken out of the fridge and vaulted straight through to the quick and easy part of this recipe from Pioneer Woman. I didn’t have any masa or cornmeal, so I just decreased how much water I added, and it was plenty thick. Only one child refused to eat it because it turned out the tortilla strips weren’t noodles. Avocado on soup is a revelation.

There were, as I expected, still some enchiladas left, so we had those instead of the rice or corn bread I’d usually make as a side dish. It was a lot of the same flavors as the soup. Not a problem.

***

WEDNESDAY
Grilled pizza sandwiches with olives and pepperoni

Sometimes these turn out delicious, and sometimes they’re kind of bleh. This time the gods ordained that we should have bleh. I used sourdough bread, but I think a softer bread, like potato, would have worked better.

You brush the outside of the sandwich with butter mixed with garlic powder and oregano or basil, and then the inside of the sandwich is sauce on both slices of bread, with cheese and toppings (well, fillings) in the middle. I think I was just yelling so much on Wednesday that nothing was going to taste good. Anyway, I made supper.

For very thick grilled sandwiches, I like to grill them until they look right on the outside, then slide them into the oven for a while so the cheese melts all the way and everything’s hot enough.

***

THURSDAY
Fancy ramen

Yep, I planned a weekly menu that included both “fancy hot dogs” and “fancy ramen.” We’re just that fancy!

I’m always amazed at how popular this dinner is, how cheap, and how fast. It took less than half an hour from stepping into the kitchen to saying grace.

I had a few pounds of boneless pork ribs, and I just browned them in olive oil, then sliced them in thin squares. Then I soft-boiled a dozen eggs and heated up some frozen stir fry vegetables. Then I cooked up a bunch of chicken ramen, just using the little flavor packets, and set the ramen out with all the other stuff in separate bowls, plus some leftover chopped scallions. Tasty and satisfying.

This is a photo from previous ramen. I forgot to get the pics of current ramen off my son’s phone.

Sometimes we add soy sauce, hot sauce, sriracha sauce, sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, or crunchy chow mein noodles, or stir in some spinach. You can make all kinds of fancy sauces and add extra seasonings for the pork, but simple is also great.

This kind of choose-your-own-adventure meal is a great way of compromising with kids. You prepare all kinds of wonderful foods, but set them out separately, and let the kids choose what they like. That way, you don’t have to cook a separate meal for picky people, but you don’t have any horrible battles over “just try one bite.” I generally offer what I consider food every single time, and the picky kids gradually, casually decide on their own to start trying it, even if only because they don’t like feeling left out.

***

FRIDAY
French toast?

I’m sort of pre-resting on the laurels I’ll win next week for Thanksgiving, so I don’t care what’s for supper today.

I will probably skip What’s For Supper? next Friday, because everyone is eating more or less the same thing, right? Here’s the planned menu so far:

Turkey with stuffing and gravy
Cheesy mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes stuffed with dates, blue cheese, and walnuts
Cranberry walnut bread
Parker house rolls
Cranberry sauce in the shape of a can
Olives and pickles
Apple pie, pumpkin pie, maybe salted bourbon pecan pie, and chocolate cream pie with ice cream and fresh whipped cream
Wine and apple cider
And don’t forget! Pie crust is a million times easier and better when you freeze the butter and shred it before incorporating it into the flour.

What’s for supper? Vol. 61: Mango Unchained

According to tradition, I didn’t do a food post last Friday, because it was the day after Thanksgiving and you already know the drill.

For the record, here was our menu:

Turkey with stuffing and gravy
Cheesy mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes stuffed with dates, bleu cheese, and walnuts
Roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash with a honey balsamic dressing
Hobbit bread
Cranberry walnut bread
Hot rolls (from frozen)
Cranberry sauce
Olives
Apple pie, pumpkin pie, salted bourbon pecan pie, and chocolate cream pie with ice cream and fresh whipped cream
Wine and apple cider
Very nice meal, and the house was packed to the gills with family. We began with a prayer:
kids-table
I wasn’t on the ball enough to send people home with leftovers much, but my father did score a loaf of Hobbit bread, which pleased him:
abba-hobbit-bread
A few cooking tips from this year:

You can make the gravy ahead of time and keep it warm in the crock pot, but don’t count on the crock pot to heat up cold gravy in a few hours! Heat it up first.

My mezzaluna knife justifies its existence through cranberry bread alone. The mixing bowl from my KitchenAid (it’s narrow and has a handle) and this knife keep the nuts and cranberries from bouncing and rolling all over the place.

Also, I can never get zesters to work, so I zested the orange using the fine side of the cheese grater, and then got the zest off by using a pastry brush. Fine, I couldn’t find my pastry brush, so I used a paint brush.

To make light, supple pie dough, freeze the sticks of butter and then grate them into the flour using a cheese grater. It’s so much easier to lightly incorporate it into the flour mixture this way.

I’ve never made chocolate cream pie before, and I’m not a fan of slopping chocolate pudding into a crust, but this recipe was very different: immensely rich, thick, and wonderful. The stirring part takes some patience, but is worth it.

I can’t find the pics I took of our lovely pies, but my daughter made a very pretty effect. For one, she cut out dozens and dozens of simple leaf shapes and laid them out overlapping in concentric circles, so the pie looked like a chrysanthemum. For another, she used a flower cookie cutter and covered the pie with flowers, leaving a few gaps. For the pecan pie, I left a wide lip with the bottom crust, which she snipped into strips with scissors; then she folded the strips over each other in pairs, so they made little x’s all around the pie, like a basket. Here’s a short video with 20 ideas for pie crust:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9F7ZDnN2bU
Before baking the pies, I brushed the crusts with beaten egg yolks, for extra color and shine, and then sprinkled them with coarse sugar.

People with tiny kitchens and no storage space can always have recourse to the dryer.

desserts-on-dryer
I guarantee you, this is more sanitary than the kitchen of a typical four-star restaurant, which yes I have worked in.
My husband, who is usually the Thanksgiving turkey man, had to work part of the day. I hate having to baste the damn thing every half hour when I’m busy running around moaning, “I need another oven! I need another oven!” so I assigned the job to my sons, who are at the perfect age to be . . .
moe-basting
 . . . natural master basters.
Sorry.
As you can see, I cook the turkey breast down for 3/4 of the time, then flip it over and finish cooking it that way. You still get nice, pretty skin, but it’s jucier overall if you let it cook mostly upside down. It does have an “executed frog” look in the oven, though.
I can offer zero “what to do with all that leftover turkey” recipes, because I only bought a 21-pounder, ::shame shame::, so we only had enough leftovers for sandwiches the next day; and then I did what I always do with the meaty carcass: I lost track of it. I think it’s still lurking in the back of the fridge. That’s the smell of Advent in our house: Fresh pine boughs, candles burning gently, and somewhere, somewhere, hidden sheltered in the night, a rancid turkey carcass.
The rest of the week was our normal crazy schedule plus what I can only describe as an extended crisis in my extended family, so we didn’t try anything fancy in the kitchen. I would appreciate any prayers you could spare for resolution! It’s been a very tough year.
Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Aldi pizza

Thank God for Aldi.


SUNDAY
Korean beef bowl, rice, chopped salad

Korean beef bowl from Damn Delicious is such a reliably yummy recipe, and so simple.

Aldi had these chopped salad kits on sale for 75 cents, so I bought three. It had a bag with various chopped-up greens and cabbage, and separate packets of some kind of zesty citrus dressing, plus crunchy noodles and maybe almonds, I forget.

korean-beef-bowl-2

Very flavorful, and a nice change from the usual broccoli or string beans that I usually make for a side with this dish.


MONDAY
Pulled pork sandwiches, cole slaw, frozen french fries

Once again, the crock pots are worth the purchase price and counter space just for pulled pork alone. Chuck it in the pot with a can of beer and some salt and pepper and garlic powder, and just walk away.

pulled-pork-crock-pot

I made about 4.5 pounds of pork in two crock pots, and let the kids add BBQ sauce if they wanted.

My cole slaw recipe is here.


TUESDAY
HAM NITE!!!!!!! Also mashed potatoes (we ate ten pounds of potatoes without batting an eye), spinach AND peas

You know what makes an easy meal even easier? Slice up the cooked ham before you heat it up.

ham-sliced-ahead

It warms up faster and you can just throw ham at people without them hounding you while you slice it. And then they go ahead and make Food Santa anyway.

irenes-food-face

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.
It’s made from a slab of ham fat, you know.


WEDNESDAY
Giant pancake! Sausages, and mangoes.

To cut up mangoes! Here is how you do it: Make your best guess which way the pit is situated, and cut off the “cheeks,” getting as close to the pit as you can. Then take a glass or a metal cup with a thin edge, and use it to scoop the flesh out of the skin, rather than trying to get the skin off the flesh. Then you can trim the skin away from the rest and use a paring knife to cut the rest of the flesh off the pit. You get much more intact fruit this way.

Giant pancake is not something I’m proud of, but it’s an okay  meal in a pinch. Mix up one full box of pancake mix. Dump it into a greased pan and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or so. You can add whatever you want: cut-up apples, raisins, chocolate chips, honey, cinnamon, etc. You could even stir in some jam, or maybe even sausage bits. Cut into wedges and call it a meal.


THURSDAY
Chicken burgers, chips, carrots and hummus

Every time I make chicken burgers, I remember when I used to remove the breading from chicken burgers because I didn’t need the extra calories. Well, now I do. Winter is coming. It is nature’s way. I need chips, too.


FRIDAY
Ravioli and salad

I intend to boil the ravioli in a big pot of water. Bon appwhatever to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have one job

Once upon a time, there was a young woman who was hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. She wanted—no, needed—everything to be perfect. She planned and prepped for days, chopping vegetables, rolling dough, scrubbing baseboards, and counting silverware. On the day of the feast, she was up with the sun, full of determination and manic good cheer.

As the day wore on, the good cheer waned and the manic levels rose. Pots boiled over and were turned down; ovens smoked and windows were opened. The clock ticked, and little by little, the meal started to come together. The guests would be there in a matter of hours. Could she pull off the perfect day? She really thought she could.

Then, suddenly: calamity. She ran out of butter! Real butter, creamy and fat, the fuel that makes the Thanksgiving engine run. She had to have some. She shrieked for her husband and sent him out to the store, with instructions to come back as quickly as he could with at least two pounds of butter.

Off he went. And he didn’t come back, and he didn’t come back. She grew more and more frantic and considered her options. She could cook without butter. No, impossible. She could just explain things to the guests. Unthinkable. She could burn the house down and move to Guadalajara. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Just as she began to search for her passport, her husband’s car screeched into the driveway. He was home, home with the butter! Hallelujah, the day was saved!

With trembling fingers, she snatched open the bag . . . and then fell back, the words of thanks dying in her throat. She croaked. She gabbled. She gaped.

There on the table was a three-pound tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!

“Boy, the stores were crowded!” her husband said. ”I guess everyone was shopping for Thanksgiving. But I knew you would like this, because you just wanted two pounds of butter, and this is three!”

What the young woman replied, I cannot record here. But she did point out to her husband, possibly dozens of times, that, “It says right on the package that IT’S NOT BUTTER.”

Well, Thanksgiving happened anyway. The food was hot and bountiful, the guests were jovial, and if anyone noticed that the butter was not butter, no one mentioned it. It was a good Thanksgiving.

You may think I’m going to wrap this story up with a moral about how we ought to be thankful for the best efforts of our loved ones, and that what really matters in the end is family, peace, joy, harmony, and good intentions.

But, no. What I’m thinking is, “Seriously, it said, ‘IT’S NOT BUTTER’ right on the package. Right on there! And he brought it home anyway!”

Know who that reminds me of? Me. Not on Thanksgiving, but every week, every day. Every time I go to Mass, the last thing I hear is, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” God is telling us, “Look, you have one job. One job. Go and serve me.”

And I say, “Amen, Boss!” and off I go.

And then what do I do? I come back with a giant tub of “I Can’t Believe I’m Not Serving God!” And I jog back into his temple, all hopeful and proud with my ridiculous little package clutched under my arm, and I say, “See? Look what I found for you! Good, huh? Just what you asked for, right?”

It’s not what he asked for. It’s a substitute. It says right on the package that it’s not what he wants. And God opens the package, and he says…

“Close enough. Come on in, thou good enough, faithful enough servant. Come on in to the feast I have prepared for you. Sit down with your family in the home of your Father, and let us have a meal together.”

And that, my friends, is why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Not because we have it all together, not because things turned out perfectly, not because we never disappoint each other, or because we always please God. We celebrate Thanksgiving because God loves us even when we fail—especially when we fail.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love is everlasting.

***
***

This essay was originally published in Catholic Digest in 2013.

What’s for supper? Vol. 13: Women Who Love Soup Too Much

whats for supper

SATURDAY
CHILE RELLENO CHICKEN SOUP; CORN BREAD

Saturday is the only day I came close to cooking anything interesting. THIS WAS INTERESTING.

The recipe I used called for roasted poblano peppers, which I’ve never used before. The supermarket’s labels weren’t clear, and I wasn’t completely sure the peppers I chose would be hot enough. They sure looked pretty, though, especially after roasting, which I did under the oven broiler:

food blog roasted peppers

Then I took off the seeds and stems and as much of the skin as possible, and put them in the blender, still worrying that it was going to be too bland.

As soon as I opened the blender lid, everyone’s eyes started to water and everyone’s nose started to run, and everyone in the kitchen started to choke and gag. It was spicyin the same way that the Grand Canyon is deep: Technically, that’s an accurate adjective, but you don’t really grasp the full import of the word until you’re standing at the edge and you can’t actually breathe for a minute.

I started to feel a little nervous about my soup at this point. But at least I knew I had the right kind of pepper.

So I got the rest of the ingredients in and let it simmer for a while, and once it was heated through, the retching subsided, and the kitchen smelled less like, “I said, LET MY PEOPLE GO!” and more like, “Perhaps we can market this as a homeopathic remedy for sinus patients.”

By the time I mixed in the cheddar and the cream cheese, it smelled like the place that poblano peppers go when they have been very, very good.

Verdict: I ate about three gallons of it. I had to steel myself before every spoonful, but it was magnificently worth it. If I serve it again, I’ll have something cooling to eat in between, like slices of mango. We made do with bananas.

UPDATE: Thanks to some sleuthing from my  Facebook friends, I now know that these were most likely scotch bonnets, not poblanos. That explains a thing or two.

The corn bread, I made a double recipe of the one on the side of the corn meal canister, but I decreased the sugar a bit.

food blog corn bread recipe

Also, if you run a pat of butter all over the top of the corn bread as soon as you pull it out of the oven, it gives it a nice sheen.

I like this cornbread recipe because (a) you make it all in one bowl; and (b) everything is in half, quarter, or whole cups. So if you have one of those kitchens where you know you have six or seven sets of cup measures scattered around somewhere, but all you can find is a quarter cup measure, you can still manage fine. If all you can find is a third of a cup, though, you are oodscray.

 

SUNDAY
FAMILY BIRTHDAY PARTY!

Left the kids with three pizzas and Damien and Corrie and I went to my brother Jacob’s house for his birthday, where we had chicken and broccoli divan with rice. Must get my sister-in-law’s recipe — it was delicious. A happy day.

food blog jacob party 1

 

I hope when my kids grow up, they will have parties like this together, with tons of food and tons of kids, and a very pleasant doggie.

I brought four apple pies.

food blog apple pies 1

I’ve been having the worst time with pie crust lately, so I made a streusel topping, and it turned out fine.  I also made twice as much as I need, so I have the extra stored in the fridge for later.

Streusel topping:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter

Rub the dry ingredients into the butter and cut with a butter knife until it’s all crumbly. Sprinkle over pies and bake as usual. 

For Thanksgiving, I’m gonna try again to make a decorative crust, though. Here’s a short video with 20 ideas for decorative crimps on pie crust. A few are brilliant:

Also, I want that green bracelet.

 

MONDAY
BEEF BARLEY SOUP; BISCUITS (from a can)

I never get tired of this soup. Basic recipe here. This week, I used steak (which was cheaper than soup meat, in the quantities I wanted); canned tomatoes, red onions, mushrooms, barley, beef broth, lots of garlic and red pepper flakes and freshly -ground black pepper. Don’t forget, barley isn’t like pasta, and takes a good forty minutes to cook all the way through.

There should be a name for that sensuous moment when the first ingredients start to sizzle and the sound, smell, and sight envelop you in a cloud of fragrant soup anticipation.

food blog soup meat

I Googled “sensuous vs. sensual” just to be on the safe side, but let’s be honest, it’s kinda both. I really like soup.

My only comment about the biscuits is that some people live in houses where otherpeople hear the oven timer beeping, and they just turn it off and walk away without telling anyone that the timer went off. This is not in the best interest of the biscuits.

food blog irene biscuits

 

TUESDAY
HOT DOGS; CHIPS; RAW VEGGIES; LEFTOVER APPLE PIE

Tuesday was a blur. Much of this week was a blur.  My  husband said, “When I think about your afternoon driving routine, I just get mad!”  I did chop up a giant platter of raw veggies, which we ate for three days for lunches and snacks as well as dinner. I’ll spare you the story of the French onion dip with the hole in the bottom, and of all the poor French onion dip-related decisions I made while leading up to the discovery that it was moldy anyway.

 

WEDNESDAY
NACHOS; HOT DOGS; AVOCADOS; GRITS

My 13-year-old son was in heaven. Nachos and hot dogs? Nachos AND hot dogs????

Also, grits are the best. Little butter and salt? Num num num.

 

THURSDAY
GRILLED CHICKEN AND SALAD; HARD BOILED EGGS

Chicken breasts were $1.77 a pound! Haven’t seen it that low for years. I made a quickie marinade out of veg oil, wine vinegar, garlic powder, salt, fresh pepper, and dried parsley, and was really surprised at how tasty it was. Just douse the chicken in the dressing and put it under the broiler for 20 minutes or so, turning it once.  Let it rest a minute, then slice it up and serve it over a green salad.
This is my Meal of Great Virtue, with the lean meat and the fresh greens. The kids compensate by smothering it in creamy dressings.

I don’t know why I made eggs. I think I just noticed we had six boxes of eggs in the fridge, and that seemed silly.  Anyway, we got all protetin’d up for the night.

 

FRIDAY
I GUESS SPAGHETTI

I’m pre-resting on my laurels for all the wonderful things we’re going to have for Thanksgiving. I’ll probably do a food post sometime before Thursday next week, in case people want to share recipes before the actual day. That makes more sense, right?

Question of the week: Do you like Thanksgiving? Why or why not?

Dear Simcha, Vol. 2

irene pie

Dear Mr. Pfischurr, if that is indeed your name,

I was thinking of sending a small I mean very very large sustaining donation to EWTN last year, but then this year I noticed that you’ve been writing for the Register for something like four years, and that certainly explains a thing or two in the downturn in quality that I have definitely noticed a lot; and my accountant, that I definitely have because I am a wealthy donor, feels the same way.  It’s stealth liberals like you who are responsible for at least 90% of the souls who have been lost since the Council of Trent. I don’t know how you sleep at night.

P.S. You have yellow teeth, ha ha, why don’t you get a real job?

In His Name Plus Lots of His Blood and His Mother and His Mother’s Blood,

Albigensius Maximus

Read the rest at the Register.

Dear Simcha, Vol. 1

Happy Thanksgiving!  I know that many of you are very busy and/or really depressed today.  Some of you are alone, and many, many more of you desperately wish that you were.  So, rather than tax you with a challenging or insightful essay, I thought I’d take this opportunity to clean up my inbox and answer a few of the questions that people have asked me recently.

***

Dear Simcha,

By this time of day, I’m supposed to be basting the turkey for the fifth or sixth time so it will be golden and delicious in time for our Thanksgiving feast.  But I haven’t even defrosted it yet, because I spent all of yesterday watching Benny Hill and drinking the rum I bought to make rum raisin bread pudding.  (I also ate all the raisins, which is a separate problem.)  So now I have eleven guests coming in a matter of hours, and all I have to offer them is 22 pounds of solid turkey ice.  I can’t even get the bag off.  I think I may still actually be drunk.  I’m so ashamed.  What can I do?

Signed, Filled With Regret

Dear Filled With Regret,

Lucky for you, I’m an avid historian, so I can save your sorry hide with my expertise!  It’s a little known fact that turkeys aren’t even an authentic Thanksgiving main course, so it’s actually quite acceptable to serve something else.  Forget that boring old bird.  Instead, call yourself a purist and dish up what the original Pilgrims probably had for their main course:  a couple of juicy wild eagles.  If no eagles are available, swan is an acceptable substitute.  Just don’t forget the traditional eel-and-poopberry compote for a side dish.  And they drank hot tar from wooden cups.  Hope this helps, and bon appétit!  Or should I say (since French had not yet been invented in Pilgrim times), Huzzah!

***

Dear Simcha,

I’m eleven months old.  My mother is fairly useful, and I’ve gotten accustomed to her smell.  She can even be kind of funny sometimes, like with that noise she makes when I grab her lips and twist them around. But she has one really bad habit, and I don’t know if I can tolerate it anymore.

Sometimes, when I’m awake, she puts me down.  On the floor.  For minutes at a time.  She does this even though she knows perfectly well that the floor is a completely inappropriate and demeaning location for someone of my social standing (I basically run the household).  Also, it’s harder to bite her nose when she’s not holding me.  I’m at my wit’s end.  What do you suggest?

P.S.   Also, she sometimes tries to put socks on me.  Socks, in November!  How am I supposed to deal with this level of idiocy?

Signed, Benedicta

Dear Benedicta,

The main thing you need to keep in mind is that your mother really loves you and is trying her best, but that, because of the demands of her current schedule, she has the physical prowess and mental acuity of a damp Kleenex.  She knows, deep in her heart, that putting you down is the wrong thing to do, but she feels that she can’t help herself.

What she needs is someone to help snap her out of her pathetic, self-pitying state.  Have you tried screaming?  If that doesn’t work, have you tried screaming more?  I really think you should try screaming, followed by some more screaming.  Good luck!

P.S.  Don’t forget that thing you do, where you put your little head down and then look up with your big, brown eyes.  Once she reassembles herself from the puddle she instantly becomes when she meets your gaze, she will want to pick you up, because you are a cutie wootie wootie, oh yes you are, and Mama loves you very much, oh yes she does.

***

Dear Simcha,

We’re having relatives over for Thanksgiving.  We are polar opposites on just about every issue, and every other year, the feast quickly devolved into a screaming match, and everyone went home furious.  Grandmama has convinced us to patch things up and get together again this year.  We’ve already agreed not to talk about politics, but there are so many other divisive topics of conversation.  How can I be sure that we will have a peaceful and pleasant day?

Signed,
William Makepeace Crackery

Dear Bill,

Don’t underestimate the healing properties of just the right menu.  Here are a few recipes that might just do the trick, and will give you the happy, quiet holiday your battered soul needs.

***

Hey –

Leaving the office in a few minutes.  Will meet you at Mom’s.  Thanks for making all eleven kinds of pie.  It’s so much easier to choose which one I want when I can actually see them, you know?  Oh, some guy was selling puppies out of his trunk, so I picked up a few.  You’re so good with words — you can name the one with bowel problems.  See you soon!

love, D

Dear D,

>>The following address has permanent fatal errors:  simchafisher@gmail.com
(reason: 540 OY-001 (FEH0-GRR4-FU23)
In order to avoid being placed on a permanent block list, please reconfigure your message so that it includes no puppies, and more gin.

[This post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2012.]