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Nobody told me!

ABEL_-_Figure_Kneeling_in_Prayer

 

This isn’t about Communion in the hand vs. Communion on the tongue. This is about the casual abuses we allow ourselves to commit — we faithful ones, we educated ones, we who have been told. We who should know better. Somebody told us. The one up there, hanging over the altar with His arms spread out, open to be abused, open to be misunderstood, open to be ignored — what has He done but tell us, over and over again, that He is here, giving Himself to us, because we don’t care?

Read the rest at the Register.

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Hollywood is Lady Tremaine: Why I love Branagh’s Cinderella

cinderella 2

Saw it, liked it!

I agree with just about everything Steve Greydanus says here. I do think the movie would be judged a bit more critically if it had been made in any other decade. Since it dropped out of the blue into hypercynical 2015, it’s notable mostly for what it refuses to do: it refuses to reimagine, to be sassy, to be in your face, or jarring, or ironic, or myth-busting. It is, in short, a work of mercy offered for an audience who just wants, for once, to hear a story.

It’s not flawless. The dialogue is lackluster: the Captain (Nonso Anozie), resplendent in a brocaded tricorn and silky knee breeches, says to the prince, “We better get a move on, your highness.” Klonk. But every other aspect of the movie is gratifyingly consistent with itself. The world of the movie is fully realized, and everyone involved in it sets out to do something very basic: to tell a pleasant story in an enjoyable way.

The overall look occasionally crosses the line from gorgeous to gaudy, and a few scenes fairly bulge off the screen with sparkles and butterflies, topiary and gilt. But mostly, it just bathes your eyes in sweetness and splendor, because human beings still like that kind of thing. I am grateful to the ten million yards of satin who valiantly gave their lives for this lush spectacle.

The casting was impeccable. Cate Blanchet as the stepmother, Lady Tremaine, is chic, bloodless, and cruel, and she delivers one of the movie’s two memorable lines. As the prince’s retinue is at the door of their house, Cinderella realizes that her stepmother knows she is the chosen one. Her own daughters have no hope of catching the prince, but the stepmother smashes the glass slipper to destroy Cinderella’s chances anyway, just out of pure spite. After years of quiet endurance and attempts to be kind, Cinderella finally challenges her, and cries out, “Why are you so cruel?” The stepmother replies, “Because you are young, and innocent, and good, and I–”  And they understand each other perfectly, for a moment. The stepmother has suffered, too. If her response to suffering has been precisely the wrong one, at least there is a reason for it.

I couldn’t help but think that Lady Tremaine is the embodiment of Hollywood right now. “What have we ever done to you, but buy movie tickets and DVDs and $4 boxes of Whoppers?” the audience cries out. “Why do you keep serving up these crappy, unpleasant, revisionist nightmares?”  And Hollywood replies, “It’s because all you want is a simple, decent story, whereas we–” We, what? We, the movie industry, are a desperate, bloodless widow, still beautiful, but long past the hope of ever being in love again. And we need to take it out on someone.

Well, maybe I’m over thinking it. The second line that caught my ear was spoken by the gawky lizard footman (and the magical coach transformation scenes are some of the best in the movie. This is how to use CGI to show impossible things in a believably earthy way). On the way to the palace, Cinderella admits,”I’m frightened, Mr. Lizard. I’m only a girl, not a princess,” and the footman responds, “And I’m only a lizard, not a footman. Enjoy it while it lasts!”

Good advice! The movie is not a profound existential response about modernity and the legitimacy of the patriarchy. It’s just a pretty movie that wants you to enjoy it while it lasts. So that is what we did.

**
Related: Monique Ocampo compares the animated Disney film with the 2015 live action film

 **
Cinderella 2015 movie poster via IMDB

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Simcha’s favorite passover recipes that will have you schvitzing under the eyeballs

In the past, I’ve written about the emotional and spiritual experience of celebrating the Passover seder as Hebrew Catholics.

passover

This year, I’d like to talk about what’s really important: THE FOOD.

We do not keep kosher, and we don’t clean the house of chametz (leavened bread), and we don’t follow the special, even stricter “kosher for Passover” rules. The foods we prepare for Passover are symbolic and nostalgic, as well as delicious; but I wouldn’t serve them if we had a rabbi for a guest! We serve some homemade and some store bought food.

To keep this post from getting too long, I’ll post all the recipes on a separate page. Click on the names of any of the homemade foods below to get to the recipe page. Here’s what’s on the menu:

 

WINE

For the full Jewish American experience, you should at least know what Manischwitz tastes like.

horror

I’ll save you some trouble: It’s completely awful. With every swallow, you will feel like a giant hand made out of hot syrup is squeezing your brain to death. MD 20/20 (here listed as #3 in the top five Bum Wines) is only marginally better. So unless you’re keeping kosher, which you’re not if you’re coming to me for recipes, then go ahead and just have whatever goyishe red wine you actually enjoy drinking (for cheap and drinkable, I’m partial to Yellow Tail). The seder is supposed to be a spiritual exercise, but not a penitential one.

 

CHICKEN SOUP WITH MATZOH BALLS

You know what schmaltz is, right? It’s anything corny, sappy, sentimental, and overdone (but you secretly love it)

But literally, schmaltz is rendered chicken fat. That’s the secret ingredient in what is sometimes called “Golden Chicken Soup.”

Chicken_fat

That tightness you feel in your chest is just your heart being happy!

Talk about “beaded bubbles winking at the brim!”  You want to give the flavor ple-e-e-e-e-e-enty of time to develop — all day, at the very least. You know it’s almost done when the air in the kitchen is shimmering with a golden, chickeny haze. If you can walk through the room and not come out smelling like a happy childhood in Eastern Europe, keep simmering.

Some years, the matzoh balls turn out fluffy and airy; some years they stay small and rubbery with a dry nut of undercooked matzoh meal in the center. Every year, they all get gobbled up.

 

CHOPPED LIVER

If you can get your hands on one of these:

meat grinder 2

then do!  (The good ones are pretty expensive, new.) You could, of course, use a food processor, but there are few tactile experiences more fulfilling than turning a heavy steel crank and watching the velvety pate come churning out the other end. If, you know, you like that kind of thing. WHICH I DO.

GEFILTE FISH

I was never, ever, ever tempted to make this by hand. Apparently the authentic method is to buy a few live cod and pike from the fishmonger in the Bowery, dump them in your bathtub, and then on Friday morning you head in there with a club and WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK.
Then the real work begins. “Gefilte” means “stuffed,” as in “a fish stuffed with other fish”

gefilte fish whole

For those days when you have seven or eight hours to spend wrist deep in a fish that you have clubbed to death. So, we get it in jars.

gefilte fish jar

I prefer the Manischewitz brand — the other ones I’ve tried are sweeter. I prefer the fish packed in gel, rather than broth. We serve this on top of a sheet of matzoh with a dab of horseradish. It’s likely that, if you haven’t tasted gefilte fish by age five, you’ll never learn to like it. I’m okay with that. More for me.

CHAROSET

Best best best best best. Chopped walnuts, chopped apples, red wine, cinnamon, and sugar or honey.

charoset

The charoset is supposed to remind us of the mortar the Hebrew slaves used between bricks as they worked building Pharaoh’s cities. When I was little, this gave me the impression that maybe slavery wasn’t so bad after all, because best best best best best!

This is the year I finally bought what is apparently called a mezzaluna

mezzaluna

a sharp rocking knife, for chopping all those apples and walnuts. I like this tool very much. It’s heavy and quite sharp. And if this is the year that Elijah comes back and he turns out to be a zombie– wait, no, that’s inappropriate.

 

SPICED GARLIC CHICKEN

I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but it’s moist and yummy, and I only make it at Passover, so therefore it’s Passover chicken. You already know what roast chicken looks like, so here instead is a picture of something that is very, very important to our family:

garlic

We put the lick in garlic!

as well as to this particular recipe. And here is a gratuitous chicken joke:

Tevye: As the good book says, when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick.
Mendel: Where does the book say that?
Tevye: Well, it doesn’t say that exactly, but somewhere there is something about a chicken.

 

SPINACH PIE

A vegetable dish for the times when you can’t bring yourself to say, “But we areserving something green! See? Olives!” It’s pretty, anyway, and doesn’t take much time to throw together, especially if you have a food processor. Bunch of vegetables shredded up, sauteed, mixed with egg and matzoh meal, and baked (no crust involved).

TSIMMIS

not to be confused with tsuris. I don’t actually make tsimmis, but I remember when my mother used to, and it gives me an excuse to tell this joke:

Two old friends reunite after many years. One brags about her children, their professional success, their beautiful houses, their talented offspring. The other one says, “Well, I don’t have any children.” The first one says, “No children? So what do you do for tsuris?”

Anyway, Wikipedia describes tsimmes as “Ashkenazi Jewish sweet stew typically made from carrots and dried fruits such as prunes or raisins, often combined with other root vegetables. Some cooks add chunks of meat.” Am I punchy, or is that hilarious? You can almost hear the sigh at the end. “Look, this is what we eat, what do you want from my life.”

 

ROAST LAMB

Some day, when we win a million dollars or a sheep farm, we’ll serve this as the main dish. As it is, we usually buy the biggest leg of lamb we can afford for the seder dish. Last year, the electricity went out just as we were putting the lamb in the oven, so we ended up grilling it outside

grilled leg of lamb

and it was magnificent. Gonna do it that way every year now.

EXTRAS

Two kinds of horseradish, olives, and dill pickles. We ground our own horseradish one year, and it was unbelievably strong. The air around the dish went all wobbly, and it made an audible snarling sound when you spooned it onto your plate. Call me a coward, but I’m sticking with the jarred kind. I’ve never really tasted bad horseradish, so I don’t have a particular brand to recommend. The red horseradish is just dyed with beet juice, but tastes about the same.

Also, don’t forget a little dish of blonde raisins. These are like raisins, only they areyellow. I know.

 

DESSERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

MACAROONS

macaroons

Not to be confused with macarons, which are an entirely different food! I always think I’m going to make these myself, but I always run out of time, so I buy them ready made. My favorite are the plain almond-flavored ones, but there are dozens of varieties.

HALVAH

Halvah is not strictly a Jewish food, but just a Middle Eastern one. It’s made of crushed sesame seeds, and I’m not gonna lie to you, it tastes kind of like sweet, gritty Play Doh.

halvah

I usually buy a few bars of it, some plain, some dipped in chocolate, and serve it in little slices. You gotta have it, but a little goes a long way.

CHOCOLATE MATZOH CRUNCH

Nice easy recipe. I didn’t grow up with this, but my kids go berserk for it.

SPONGE CAKE

We usually have two kinds of sponge cake made with matzoh cake meal and made poofy with tons of egg whites. We usually make two chocolate walnut cakes and two white ones. So nice with the slightly eggy crunch of the crust and the light, spongy insides.

JELLY FRUIT SLICES

fruit jell slices

 

possibly my kids’ favorite part of Passover.  These symbolic confections remind us of, um, the Land of Caanan, I guess? With fruit? Anyway, I like them, too.

***

Passover begins on the evening of April 3 this year. We always have our seder on Holy Saturday, regardless of when actual Passover is. Since Jesus’ last Passover seder with the disciples (the Last Supper) was on Holy Thursday, it almost works out this year! We usually spend Holy Week cooking and baking, and try to schedule things so the most fragrant foods are already made and in the freezer before we start fasting for Good Friday, because nobody needs to suffer that much.

Again, click here to get to the page with just the recipes.

L’chaim! Let’s eat.

 

***

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Simcha’s passover menu, part two: just the recipes

If you’re here, it means you waded all the way through my last post. Good work!  Here’s your food!

passover lucy


Chicken soup (can be made ahead and frozen)

 

In a very large pot, put one whole chicken, chicken parts, or chicken carcass. Do not include giblets.
Add a quartered onion, 2-3 peeled carrots, a few sprigs of dill and a few sprigs of parsley.
Cover, bring to a boil, cover loosely, and allow soup to simmer for many hours.
Strain the soup with a colander and return the broth to the pot. When the chicken and veggies are cool enough, sort through them and add several handsful of shredded chicken back into the broth.
Cut the carrots into thin discs and add them, too, along with some bits of onion and herbs. Some people like lots of chicken and vegetables, some people like it to be just a tasty broth with a few bits and pieces in it — it’s up to you.
You may want to skim some of the fat off. If so, cool the soup completely. The fat will rise to the top and solidify, and you can scoop off as much as you like. Do leave some, to make the soup “golden!”
When you’re ready to serve the soup, heat it up (don’t let it boil) and then add salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

Matzoh balls (can be made ahead and refrigerated)

 

If you buy matzoh meal or a matzoh ball kit, there will be directions on the side of the box or can! Just follow them. This is time consuming, but quite simple.
Just remember to chill the batter before attempting to form the balls; and rinse your hands frequently.
And don’t crowd the matzoh balls, or they will be dense and rubbery.
I find that it’s easier to make the matzoh balls in a separate pot of chicken broth (made from bouillon) or water and then transferring the cooked matzoh balls into the pot of soup.
Don’t try to make them too many days ahead of time, or they will sit there sopping up the broth and getting all gelatinous and yucky.

 

Chopped liver (can be made ahead and frozen. Just remember to take it out of the freezer several hours before you want to eat! It’s very dense and thaws slowly.)

 

2 lbs. chicken livers, rinsed and trimmed
2 eggs
3 onions
2 cubes chicken bouillon
2 Tbs. vegetable oil salt and pepper

1. Put liver, whole eggs, and 1 whole onion into saucepan with a quart of water.
2. Boil, stir in bouillon, simmer 1 hr. Drain out water and set liver, onion, and eggs aside to cool.
3. Chop the other two onions. Set one aside.
4. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the third onion.
5. When the liver is cool, grind it up together with the peeled eggs and the three onions.
6. Season with salt and pepper and chill.

 

Charoset (can be made ahead and refrigerated)

Peel, core, and chop three pounds of firm apples (like Cortland, Fuji, or Gala) into bits
Chop two cups of walnuts until they are about the same size as the apples
Add several Tbs. of sweet red wine and a few Tbs. of white sugar to taste. It should taste sweet, but more fruity than sugary
Add a tbs. or so of cinnamon.
Mix thoroughly and chill.

 

Sweet garlic and cinnamon chicken (can be made ahead, carved, and then frozen or refrigerated. You can reheat it or even serve it cold.)

Preheat oven to 500.
Mix together:
2 tsp salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp.  nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Rinse and dry a 4 lb chicken
Rub the spice mixture all over the skin
Stuff the cavity with 5 cloves crushed garlic
Put the chicken breast side down on a rack in a roasting oven.

Roast 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to 450, roast another 15 minutes.
Baste chicken with pan drippings, reduce heat to 425, and roast another 30 minutes until the thermy reads 180.
Let stand 20 minutes before carving.

 

 Chocolate Matzoh Crunch (can be made ahead and stored in plastic wrap or an airtight container for good long time)
I just use this recipe from Epicurious. I was going to rewrite it so it seems like my recipe, but why? I found the recipe a little confusing, but then realized you’re basically just making caramel on top of the matzoh. Then you take it matzoh out of the oven and sprinkle chocolate on it. The caramel is so hot that it melts the chocolate while it sits there, and then you can spread it around. This looks nice with almond slivers or slices on it.
Spinach pie (this can be frozen and reheated or served at room temp)

Preheat the oven to 350.
Grease a pie plate.
Cook one package of frozen or fresh spinach and squeeze the water out.
Heat a saute pan, add some oil, and fry up:
1/2 cup celery chopped or grated
1-1/2 grated carrot 1 cup diced or grated onion
When the veg are soft, add the drained spinach, salt and pepper.
Beat 3 eggs and add them to the veggies.
Add 3/4 cup matzoh  meal
Mix this all thoroughly, put it into the greased pie plate, and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until firm and very slightly browned.

 

Roast leg of lamb (you really want to cook this right before you eat it and serve it hot!)

The lamb should be at room temperature. Rub it with olive oil.
Score it all over with a sharp knife and stud it generously with slivers of raw garlic.
Salt and pepper all over. Add rosemary if you like.

Put it in a shallow pan and broil for a few minutes on all sides, then lower the temp to 325.
Loosely wrap the lamb in foil and continue cooking for an hour or so, depending on how big it is, until the internal temp is 135.
Let it rest for 15 minutes before carving. You can serve it with mint jelly if you must, but mint jelly is kind of disgusting. Just eat the lamb. It’s amazing.

 

Sponge cakes. Okay, I can’t find my recipes, so I’ll just link to some that look similar. You can usually find decent recipes on the side of the box of matzoh cake meal, too.

Chocolate walnut sponge cake

Lemon Sponge Cake

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What can Catholic parents learn from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

Dzhokar_Tsarnaev-VOA

Our kids need us. Most of our teenagers are not in danger of becoming violent jihadists like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; but unless we make a deliberate, consistent, sincere effort to live our faith and to make sure that our older kids are well connected with adults who can guide and educate them and answer their questions, and unless we give them many opportunities to practice their faith, then there is little hope that they will still be Catholics when they leave our homes.

 Read the rest at the Register. 

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I refuse to worry about what my kids eat for dinner.

boy eating beet for some reason

If you were a better mom, this would be your kid.

Today, I’m making Zuppa Toscana. When I share recipes I’m trying, people often ask, “Will your kids really eat that?” The answer is: some of them, yeah. Some of them, no way. A few of them, maybe. And I am fine with that. I have two goals when I serve a meal: at least half the family should eat it, and mealtimes should be reasonably pleasant.

My policy is: I decide what to cook, and they decide whether or not to eat it.

We don’t have food battles (or food cold wars). We don’t save plates of untasted food and keep serving them, meal after meal, until the child consents to take just one bite. I know that other parents have done some variation of this, in hopes that a child will eventually begin to develop a taste for some nutritious or delicious food. But I’ve found that learning to eat new foods is a lot like learning to read or learning to use the toilet: you can either teach the kid when he’s ready, or you can teach and teach and teach and teach a kid until he’s ready — but either way, it ain’t gonna happen if he’s not ready.

I guess it’s possible that an especially serene parent would be able to patiently, consistently insist that a child try some despised food ten thousand times; but I do not possess that serenity, and things would get ugly fast. I’m already warping my kids enough over other issues. I don’t need to add “But WHY don’t you like kale?” to the list. The table is no place for guilt trips or power struggles.

So, I bring a dish to the table, and I ask each kid individually if he wants some. They have to say either “yes, please” or “no, thank you” — no retching noises or horrible faces allowed. If they want it, great. If they don’t want it, I just move along. With this approach, and with the passive peer pressure of older kids visibly enjoying different foods, I’ve had kids refuse a dish fifty times, and then gradually develop a taste for it, with no prodding or nagging from me.

If they don’t want what I’m serving, they are allowed to fill up on side dishes or fix themselves toast, eggs, a sandwich, cereal, or leftovers.  A child as young as four or five can get himself a simple meal.

Wait, wait! Don’t I want them to be healthy? And don’t I want to avoid wasting time and money on cooking foods that no one will eat?  Sure. This is why I aim for meals that at least some of them will eat. But I don’t worry about each kid having a balanced meal three times a day. I don’t even worry about having a balanced diet each day. I take the week-long view: as long as they have a reasonably nourishing, balanced diet over the course of the week, that is good enough.

And sometimes kids will just eat one food for a long, long time. This is common, and it is fine. Just keep offering a variety of foods and not making a big deal out of it. Give your kids daily vitamins to make up whatever deficits are in their diet, and don’t keep a lot of complete crap in the house for them to fill up on.  They will survive, and there will be peace in your house. As long as your kids have energy and are growing normally, there is nothing to worry about.

There is (probably) something beyond picky eating called Selective Eating Disorder, where adults not only won’t but can’t get themselves to eat more than a few, bland, nutritionally questionable foods; but I’m 99% sure your kid is not developing this disorder. Keep this in mind: the eating disorder researcher in the article says “Kids are at greater risk of becoming picky adults ‘anytime the food environment is coercive or tense.’” So avoiding that situation should be your first focus if your child is a picky eater.

To sum up: offer variety. Don’t cater to them too much. Don’t make a big stinking deal out of it. Take the nutritional long view. And if they don’t like the tasty soup you made? More for you!