What’s for supper? Vol. 53: It is acorn squash you mourn for

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Well, it certainly is fall now. Oh,what’s that? You live in Arizona and you had to rush over to spend some time in the pool with the kiddies this morning before all the water evaporated? Well, I’m sorry you chose to live in Hell. If you had asked me first, I’d have advised against it.

In the real world, it’s fall, and that means it’s suddenly cooler and the vegetables are suddenly stranger. Here’s what we had:


I don’t remember Saturday at all. Everyone was mad about something, I forget what.

Down the road from us (this is not what we were mad about. I’m just telling) there is a store that is run by Free Staters. They take Bitcoin and everything, and they drive around in retired police cars with bumper stickers telling you how to avoid jury duty. First their building was a thrift store, then they put everything in a giant heap out on the side of the road for free and decided it was a local goods gift shop, and now it is a gift shop with a Vietnamese food truck parked next to it. A mild-mannered collie lolls on the gravel next to a faded bunting of wet towels flapping on the fence.  Signs posted everywhere read, “Only one cook, be patient.” Naturally, I thought, “I need to get me some of that” so we ordered the steak bánh mì.

As we waited, patiently, smelling the smells and thinking of steak, I drooled on the menu. For real. I forgot to eat breakfast, okay? The menu was laminated, no big deal.

It turns out “bánh mì ” is just the Vietnamese word for “bread,” and usually means a kind of baguette, since the French and the Vietnamese have been uncomfortably intertwined for hundreds of years. I didn’t know any of this. For my ignorance, I was rewarded with a foil-wrapped sandwich straight. from. paradise.

This was “careful, don’t accidentally bite your fingers in your haste to devour this” food. I did my best to recreate it for the rest of the family, and started marinating some meat for the next day, which was  . . .


Steak Bánh mì ; and of course chocolate-covered bananas


Here’s the recipe I used from Serious Eats. I used onions instead of shallots in the marinade. For the sandwich itself, I used the marinated meat in thick slices, with matchstick carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, jarred jalapeno slices, and sriracha mayo. In the recipe, there is a link for how to make sriracha mayo, but I says to myself, I says, “If I put sriracha in mayo, it will be good, but if I click, I’ll just feel inadequate because I’m not using tamarind zest or something.” So I didn’t click, and it was good.

The sandwiches were out of this world.

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My husband grilled the meat under the oven broiler, and I toasted the bread before assembling the sandwiches. So good. So, so good. If steak is ever this cheap again, this is top of the list!  (There was actually leftover steak, and it tasted even better the second day and even better the third day. Whoever invented marination, santo subito.)

The chocolate-covered bananas, I had promised Benny last week, but I forgot to make them. These are better than you’d expect. Frozen bananas take on a pleasant custard taste.

Cut the bananas in half, put some kind of stick in them (carefully; they tend to split), and put them in the freezer for a few hours.
When you’re ready to dip them, melt chocolate chips with a little shortening and mix well. The shortening makes the chocolate smoother, and it dries harder.
Dip the bananas in the chocolate, and then sprinkle on toppings. We had rainbow sprinkles because Benny, but nuts would be yummy, too.


Hot dogs, tater tots

Don’t remember Monday. I remember the car didn’t break down like I thought it would, so that was good.


Roast pork, baked potatoes, acorn squash with extra sehnsucht

For whatever reason, all kinds of meat was super cheap at Hannaford this week (hence the steak, above). I bought the biggest hunk of pork I’ve ever seen in a commercial establishment. It threatened to take over control of my daughter’s central nervous system

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but I wrested it into submission, cut it into thirds, glugged on a bottle of Mojo sauce, and let it sit all day. Then I put it under the broiler for a few hours, fat side up, threw a few mushrooms in with the drippings, and then sliced it up.

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Mighty tasty.

We also had baked potatoes and mashed acorn squash.

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Acorn squash is a funny thing. I always get excited when it reappears in the produce section at this time of year. For years, I would buy three of them, and then let them sit on the counter until they were rotten, and then throw them away. Then I discovered that they taste even better when you cook and eat them.

Slice them in half, scoop out the seeds and pulp, and put them face-down in a pan at 350 for about half an hour. Flip them over, put some butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in each one, and bake them for another half hour.

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Then you scoop out the flesh into a bowl and mash it all up.

With this technique, the house fills with a glorious, nostalgic aroma of everything wonderful associated with autumn. It fills you with gladness like a Pilgrim on Thanksgiving morn, your heart brimming with a sense of well-being as you dwell in a land of burgeoning plenty, what with the seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness and butter and brown sugar.

You lift a fragrant, ochre forkful to your lips, and . . . boy, you know, it tastes like squash. It’s definitely the best kind of squash, but still undeniably squash. I always have seconds, because I don’t want to admit that I was really hoping it would be sweet potatoes this time. I would really rather have sweet potatoes.


Tuna burgers, rice, roast sesame broccoli

Boy, this is a long post. Okay, here’s how to make tuna burgers:

For each can of tuna, add one egg and half a cup of breadcrumbs, plus pepper and plenty of salt. You can multiply this as much as you want, and add herbs or whatever seasonings you like. Form the tuna into patties and fry them in a little oil. These are surprisingly tasty if you don’t make them too often. They crack fairly easily, though, so don’t make them too thick, and flip them carefully.

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The broccoli, I broke into small spears and mixed it up with a little sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Couldn’t find my sesame seeds, but I usually sprinkle some on. Then put them in a single layer on a shallow pan and put them under a hot broiler for a few minutes, until the broccoli is slightly charred.

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Buldak (fire chicken) with cheese

Great caesar’s ghost, I wrecked this meal. Here’s the recipe I butchered. I made so many substitutions and ignored so many proportion conversions and fudged so many techniques, there really wasn’t much hope. But still, it might have turned out good, had I not pounded in one final nail in the coffin. And that nail was pre-shredded Aldi cheese.

Aldi is wonderful for fancy cheeses, and the block cheeses are fine. The sliced cheeses are passable, if somewhat interchangeable. But the shredded cheese are really, truly just plastic. You know those melty beads the kids loved last year? Aldi cheese is like that: it will lose its shape when you expose it to heat, but the second you take it out of the oven, it becomes a rigid, oily, almost impenetrable crust.

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Looks delicious. Wasn’t.

I really do know better; but I spent all week leaking money like the woman with the hemorrhage, except leaking money, and except no one was passing by in clouds of glory looking to ease my suffering if I but touch anyone’s hem; and my faith is kind of at a low ebb anyway, so I went for the cheese that is $2.99 a pound. Even though I know better.

Also, it says to slice the rice cakes and saute them. I sure tried, but I’m guessing the things they call “rice cakes” in Southern New Hampshire are not what the Korean world calls “rice cakes.” Not at all.

I had so much chicken, I made a separate recipe for the kids, and just mixed the chicken with tomato sauce and topped it with plastic. They liked it okay.


Pasta and salad IF I FEEL LIKE IT

Ain’t it a cryin’ shame? Let’s face it, I’m exhausted.

Oh! I forgot to tell what turned Corrie yellowish orange last week. It was Goya Sazon seasoning con Azafran. Good old Red #4.

What’s happening at your house? Eating some squash? Tell me all about it, because I have a horrible sinking feeling I have to come up with seven more meals next week.


Terrible crafts, how to do them, and why we bother

We used to do sooooo many crafts. No we do no-o-o-o-o-o crafts at all, hardly. I feel bad about this — not because doing crafts is one of those immutable proofs of good mothering, but because we almost always genuinely enjoy it, if we approach it with the right attitude.

My little guys have plenty of arts and crafts material to mess around with, but what they really want is for me to put my laptop away and sit with them for half an hour while we chitter-chat about the ridiculous things inside their heads. The craft is really about them, and about our time together, and not about the craft itself. So I’m trying to get back in the habit of doing little projects at least once in a while.

Here’s a really easy one I found. I got the idea from the waiting room at my daughter’s hair salon.

  1.  Cut a bunch of Q-tips (ear swabs) in half.
  2. Poke them into a styrofoam ball. The more you poke in, the better.
  3. Roll the finished Q-tipped-ball in paint. (I thought of this afterward. We dipped the Q-tips in paint before sticking them into the ball, which was messier.)
  4. Stick a skewer into the ball, stick it in a vase, and you’ve got a flower(ish).

That’s it. A total success, by my standards — because the kids had a lovely time and I didn’t yell at anyone, and it was over quickly.

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Why do I resist craft time so much? Lots of really reasonable reasons! But I’ve learned to overcome most of them over the years.

There will be a horrible mess. Well, this is unavoidable, so just lean into it. I don’t clear the table ahead of time, but just set up the paints or whatever right on top of the spilled corn flakes and ripped-up mail. This may make you even crazier, but for me, it means there’s one mess to clean up instead of two, and there’s no, “Aughhh, I just got this space cleaned up and now look what happened to it!”

Let the kids wear clothes that you don’t care about. Or do the craft before they take their pajamas off. Or just let them work shirtless. That works, too. If the weather cooperates, move it all outside.

And I cannot recommend a tile tabletop highly enough. After years of struggling with an always-cruddy wooden table, I tiled it myself, using one of those pre-glued mats. Easy peasy, and everything washes off it. Everything.

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Also, I will continue buying scented baby wipes until the day I die. I sometimes even use them for wiping babies.

You’re not crafty.  I avoid this by doing on the very, very simplest of crafts and by not even attempting to make the finished product match the picture on the instructions.

Before you even begin, weed out from your mind every last little idea of what the finished product is supposed to look like. Don’t hope for anything good. Don’t hope for anything in particular. The point is the experience, not the end product. Make an explicit resolve to make it a pleasant experience for your kids, and let that be your only goal.

Your kids are not crafty, or even competent, or even — holy mother of Betty Grable, how do they even get through the day?

So what? If they’re going to cut, burn, or needle themselves, insist that they do it your way. If they’re just plain doing it wrong but they’re fine with it, go make your own flower. Help them if they want help. If they don’t want help, go make your own flower. If they go “off task” and start making something else instead, that’s fine.

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Now, if they insist that you “help” them by doing it for them, you’re entitled to just say, “Oh well, I guess this craft isn’t so much fun. Let’s try again another day” and pack it up. Unless you want an excuse to sit down and make stuff. That’s fine, too; only don’t hog the materials if the kid suddenly becomes interested again.

But don’t let perfectionism or comparison get in the way of trying a project. I’ll say it again: make it be about the experience, not about the finished product.

You don’t want to clutter up your house with a bunch of craft projects. A legitimate problem. We handle this by praising the finished project extravagantly, displaying it for a while, and then throwing it away after it gets torn up or knocked to pieces because of all the hubbub. If it’s really special, take a digital photo and save that.

The most important part: do praise the finished project extravagantly. I know all about the scourge of coddled special snowflakes who have never heard anything but praise, and what useless, narcissistic, entitled adults they become. This is a problem if it continues all through childhood and beyond in every aspect of a child’s life. But a child under the age of ten is not going to benefit in any way from hearing that there is something lacking in his Q-tip flower. And a parent who feels a strong urge to correct said flower is already, believe me, making plenty of demands on the kid in other areas.

And even if you do praise a kid too much, it’s a heck of a lot easier to recover from that kind of childhood than it is to recover from the opposite kind of childhood.

If you really feel like you can’t say something nice about the scroddy little wad of whatever-it-is the kid is showing you, look into her face and say, “How lovely. How extremely lovely” and you will be telling the truth.

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15 Tips for giving a speech (and getting asked back)

Four years ago around this time, I gave my first public speech. It wasn’t very good, because it was my first public speech. Since then, I’ve learned a few things about how to catch and keep the audience’s attention. I’m still relatively new at this game, but I keep on getting speaking gigs, so I must be doing something right.

These tips aren’t mainly about the content of your speech, but about how to convey your ideas effectively and memorably.


1. People generally remember one or two phrases or ideas out of a 40-minute speech, so choose wisely and be in charge of what stands out. It’s okay to tell a gripping story or a funny joke, but understand it will probably be the audience’s take-home, so make it relevant, not just memorable. If there’s something you really want your audience to remember, turn it into a refrain and go back to it five or six times.

2. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell it to them, then tell them what you just told them. This is not because your audience is stupid or dense; it’s because it’s new to them. Go with simple, memorable, and meaningful over subtle, dazzling, or intricate.

3. Skip the visuals unless they truly add something to your speech. Always skip the cheesy animated Powerpoint effects. The word “hope” truly isn’t more meaningful when it goes zooming around the screen like a crazed housefly. Ideally, your words themselves should create visual imagery in the audience’s head.


4. Practice your speech out loud many times, of course, but also practice it out loud to someone else in the same room. There’s no substitute for a fresh set of ears to catch unclear sentences, the inevitable repetitive passages or words, and any weirdness or unfortunate connotations you missed.

5. Work hard at shedding irritating vocal habits. If you keep saying something meaningless (“like” or “um” or “so”), then ten minutes in, it will be all the audience hears. The only way to break the habit is to practice your speech until it makes you want to throw up.

6. Find out as much as you can about your audience before hand — while you’re writing the piece, and even right before you deliver it. The greatest talk in the world is worth zilch if it’s not a good match for that particular audience. Find out the age range, typical marital status, how conservative or liberal they are, income level, what kind of speeches went over well with this crowd in the past, and anything else you can think of, and then make adjustments accordingly, so they know you’re speaking to them.


7. Dress unobtrusively. You shouldn’t be adjusting your neckline, brushing your hair out of your eyes, or smacking the podium with a swinging necklace or jangly bracelet. Wear something simple and professional, and wow everyone with your ideas.

8. Test the mic ahead of time. They vary so widely. Sometimes you have to actually brush it with your lips to be heard; sometimes you’ll get horrible feedback if you hold it too near your face. Sometimes the sound quality is affected by where your hands grip the handle. I prefer a lapel mic if I can possibly get one.

9. If you’re anything like me, you will feel like absolute garbage for 48 hours before the speech, because you suddenly see you are a complete fraud, everyone will hate you, and there is something drastically wrong with your nose and chin, and you’re boring anyway, and have nothing to say, and your voice is weird. Go ahead and cry, then wash your face and get out there. They hired you for a reason. They hired you for a reason! You! So go be Amazing You for 40 minutes, and then you can go back to your hotel and collapse like a bunch of broccoli.

10. Go with the delivery system that makes it easiest for you to give a good speech. Many speakers like to memorize their speeches entirely, or they only bring a few note cards up with them. I don’t trust myself to do this, even if I’ve given the same speech a million times. I bring the full version up with me and I try to memorize it. I always ad lib some portion, and I usually decide to skip at least a few paragraphs on the spot. It’s nice to be able to maintain eye contact with the audience the whole time, but not if you’re going to be stumbling and stuttering and saying “Y’know, y’know” the whole time (which is what I did last time I tried to go off script). It may not look fabulous to walk up with a sheaf of papers, but I’ve never had any complaints, so I’ve stopped feeling bad about it.



11. Speak much more slowly than you think you need to. You will tend to speed up if you’re nervous, so be prepared.

12. Don’t just think about the words themselves, but think about your tone, your volume, your timing. Speak much more expressively and dramatically than you would when you’re talking to someone face to face. The audience paid for their ticket; now you have to take them on an entertaining ride. Silence can be even more effective than words, used judiciously. Take your time. If you get rattled, just pause, regroup, and start again. It’s your room. Fill it up with your performance.

13. It’s okay to look just over the heads of the audience, if their faces are distracting or unsettling. I try to make brief eye contact with people in each part of the room, without neglecting any corners; and I try not to linger on any one person for too long, so as not to freak them out.

14. Don’t take it personally if someone looks tired or bored or angry, or if they are watching you with a weird, fixed grin. People’s faces often do not show a true picture of how they’re receiving your words. And anyway, you can’t reach everyone. Be happy if your words meant a lot to one or two people (and you got paid!).

15. If there’s a question-and-answer session afterward, prepare something ahead of time in case there’s an awkward silence. (An awkward silence doesn’t necessarily mean you bombed or your audience is asleep or hates you. Sometimes they’re just thinking over what you just said.) If no one raises their hand, you can say, “All right, let me ask you something. Who did that amazing mural in the back of the hall?” — or whatever, anything, just to break the ice. One time I said, “Well, I wouldn’t know what to say, either,” and everyone laughed, and then a bunch of people raised their hands.


Don’t leave the building without your check. Trust me on this. If you leave without your check, you will never get your check.


Are you a public speaker? Or have you sat through a lot of talks and wish the speaker would understand a thing or two? What would you add to this list?



Let your sacramental flag fly!

Last weekend, we had a wonderful time at a local Greek festival, hosted by the Greek Orthodox church. Icons! Live bouzouki music! Beeswax candles! Roasting lamb’s legs! Pastries soaked in honey! It was amazing. They also had dancers, who performed pieces from various regions of Greece. The music and style of dance ranged from decorous to intense, reminding me that Greece is European, but it’s also very Middle Eastern. Strange, for both to exist together in a relatively small country.

As we licked the last sticky bits of loukoumades off our fingers, we browsed through the vendors’ hall, where we found more of this odd confluence of cultures dwelling together. Some items for sale (crosses, icons) were familiar to us as Roman Catholics, but some were strange: bracelets and amulets meant to ward off evil eyes, and censers with charcoal and an array of different kinds of incense, meant to cleanse the home of evil spirits.

Our Greek friend hastened to explain that these particular goods are not intended to be used superstitiously, but as aids in invoking God’s blessing and grace. The censers made more sense to me than the eyeball bracelets, but heck, my husband just went to visit Padre Pio’s heart in a glass box, so I’ll zip my lips about weird cultural practices by religious folk.

On the way home, I had a good conversation with my teenage son, who bought himself a blue and white enamel cross to wear around his neck. We talked about sacramentals, and how they are different from magic, and also how they are different from sacraments.

Sacramentals can be things like relics, rosaries, crucifixes, holy water, or blessed salt or oil, used along with prayer; or blessings or prayers can be sacramentals in themselves. Sacramentals may be used by lay people or by religious, depending on what they are and how they are being used.

The Catechism says:

Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. “For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.” (1670)

We do not wear blessed medals and expect them to protect us from falling in a hole. We don’t sprinkle holy water on a garden as a guarantee our pumpkins will win blue ribbons at the county fair. We don’t use sacramentals as good luck charms, amulets, or protective magic spells. We don’t bless a church and assume that only holy things can now happen inside it.

Instead, I think of using sacramentals like planting a flag: “I claim this van, or this child, or this day, or this hospital wing, in the name of Christ.” And after that? It’s His choice to decide what to do with His new territory, with our cooperation.

He can move right in and start building a city that everyone can see. An exorcism is a kind of sacramental that sometimes has dramatic, visible effects like this; or you might hear stories of someone putting a green scapular under someone’s mattress, and the very next day, the sleeper rises and decides to return to the Church.

Or, if you plant a flag, He can bide His time and see what grows up naturally. He can offer His grace and we can take it or leave it, build on it or ignore it. Most often, this is how sacramentals seem to work, and we’ll never know in this world exactly where our efforts ended and God’s grace began.

If you plant a sacramental flag and claim something for Christ, He can turn over immediate control to someone else, for reasons of His own. Goodness knows an endeavor that’s blessed does not always turn out well. Sometimes they go down in flames, just like their unblessed counterparts. It doesn’t mean that God is absent or that the sacramental didn’t “work”; it just means that God is God, and does things His way, not ours.

Failure and disaster come to all things and all people at one time or another. But I’d a thousand times rather fail under the protection of the Lord than do it alone. We know that sooner or later, the Master will come home and make things right on His property. In the meantime, we’ll fly His flag.

Image: fingers in position to make the Sign of the Cross in Byzantine fashion By adriatikus CC BY-SA 2.5



Are Rom Coms porn for women?

It’s a good question, one that turns up every eighteen months or so. Here’s the latest iteration, from Relevant MagazineRom-Coms are perverting the way we think about love.

The author, Melissa Collier Gepford, makes it clear that she thinks the habit of watching silly, trivial romantic comedies is not as bad as the habit of watching porn. But she teases out some excellent points about why it’s still bad for us, bad for our relationships, and bad for our understanding of love in general to spend too much time watching rom coms. She points out that

[w]atching a romantic comedy produces the same chemical cocktail that watching pornography does—dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins. It creates the same longing, the same high …

But these chemicals don’t just produce a type of feeling, they create a habit. These hormonal triggers forge neural pathways the same way a person walking through the woods creates a pathway.

She says:

romantic comedies also create unrealistic expectations for bodies, for relational performance, for immediacy of intimacy without real work.

Romantic comedies perpetuate unrealistic expectations for how men and women should interact, for timing, fate, conflict and connection on a basic level. We want the Pinterest-perfect wedding without committing to the hard work of a real relationship.

[E]xpecting that type of relationship really is a form of objectification. Pornography reduces women to their sexuality, diminishing their multi-dimensional being. In rom-coms, men are treated as a means to an end—a woman’s happily ever after. Women spend a lot of time dreaming about our wedding day—it typically starts when we’re little girls.

I created a Pinterest board for my wedding before I had ever met my husband.

To view someone as a means to an end, is to strip that person of his or her human dignity, the imprint of God’s own image.

Gepford makes some valid points about how something that seems morally neutral and culturally acceptable can actually cause true harm, even devastation, in a relationship.

But I still think she’s wrong, or at least careless.

Make no mistake: I don’t enjoy rom coms. I have no patience with them. The heroines are usually whiny and entitled, and guys are usually swishy and useless. The sound track usually stinks on ice, the story is usually full of holes, the setting is usually as persuasively realistic as a Lisa Frank coloring book. The dialogue usually makes me want to punch a kitten, and the plot twist at the end usually reveals itself with all the subtlety and cunning of a flasher in a subway bathroom. Lots of people know all this and still find these movies enjoyable, but I am not one of them. So I’m not defending rom coms.

But. They. Are. Not. Porn.

There are lots of things that change our brain chemistry and gradually leave us craving more if we overindulge. There are lots of things that can give us the wrong idea about what life should be like, if we spend too much time with them. There are lots of forms of art or entertainment that treat human beings like things, because they’re not intended to be realistic. There are lots of forms of amusement that are so different from the way life really is, that they can mold us into selfish, dysfunctional monsters if we even halfway believe them.

But let’s let porn be in a class by itself, because sex is in a class by itself.

Widespread pornography does so much damage that secular research and even pop culture have started to notice. Pornography use not only damages relationships and encourages an acceptance of deviancy, it makes users less interested in actual sex, and increases premature ejaculation and erectile disfunction.

But even if it didn’t have any of these effects, it would still be murderously, disastrously, shatteringly wrong, because it takes the most singular experience that a married couple can have and makes it the opposite of sacred. This is why deliberately watching porn, even one time, even for two minutes, is a mortal sin: because sex is that important. Sex is that much different from any other human activity.

Every other human activity has some potential spiritual component: eating, exercising, making art, working, playing, giving birth, and so on. We can misuse any of these behaviors and, by doing so, pervert God’s will for our lives. But none of these activities is so intrinsically meaningful that we automatically endanger our immortal souls by deliberately misusing them.

When we call other bad habits or potentially dangerous practices “porn,” we’re downgrading human sexuality to just another kind of optimal pastime that couples ought to be aiming for. And that’s nonsense, tragic nonsense.

I understand why Gepford wrote the article she did, and I understand that using pornography as an analogy is a good way to grab our attention and remind us that a healthy, holy relationship makes demands on both men and women, not just men. It’s entirely possible for a women to objectify a man so severely and profoundly that she is committing a mortal sin. In “How Women Objectify Men,” I outline some of the common ways that women treat men like objects, and how, when these behaviors run unchecked, they can destroy a relationship just as thoroughly as pornography use can.

But when we call every bad habit “porn,” we turn true pornography into just one more bad habit, and it is so much more than that. Sex is in a class by itself, and so is pornography.  The mystery and the glory of human sexuality will remain clouded and distant to us as long as we insist on behaving as if it’s nothing more than just one more healthy habit to strive for, rather than a sacred and unique expression of human love.


Image: Ben_Kerckx via Pixabay

What’s for supper? Vol. 52: Guess that orange glow!

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Busy week! Let’s get to it:

Creamy Sausage Spinach Pasta

Damien and I thought this was great. The kids were not impressed, not even the non-jerk ones. It basically follows the Liz Lemon kitchen tip of using cheese instead of water, so you can’t lose; and it’s one of those wonderful one-pot recipes, where you don’t even have to cook the pasta separately.

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Recipe is from Budget Bytes. I used Italian sausage instead of smoked sausage, and didn’t pay attention to the proportions at all, so mine turned out with a lot more broth than the original recipe, but it was just a different kind of delicious, that’s all. I’m flexible.

I also skipped the scallions, because they hadn’t had sufficient times to gather their powers from their previous incarnations yet. Here’s how they look today, after growing all week:

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This is the fourth iteration of these scallions. Looks like they are slowing down a bit. Next thing you’ll know, they’ll be shopping for high-waisted pants and classifying 79% of everything a shame.


Hamburgers, chips, cookies

Nothing to report. A child requested frozen, chocolate-covered bananas for dessert, but I forgot to make them. I did remember to buy chocolate chips from a different store, because I learned the hard way that Aldi chocolate chips don’t really melt. Isn’t that weird?

For Sunday lunch, one of my lovely teenagers made apple-cherry griddle cakes from her Hobbit cookbook. Here’s the recipe:

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Very well-received.

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French toast, roast apples

Monday was the day I was going to go right home and get a nice dinner made. Instead, I was driving along and a yellow jacket stung me in the back, so I pulled over and started waving my shirt around, which made the bee fall into my pants and sting me again directly in my cleftal horizon.

Somewhat flustered, I continued on my rounds, delivered kids to where they needed to be, and then picked up my daughter from work and continued on to get the others from Girl Scouts, where they were learning Beginner’s Remote Material Participation With Evil and Do-si-dos, and the fuel pump broke.

It was kind of downhill from there. Not literally. It was literally uphill. This particular car is named “Tortuga,” but it ought to be Blanche, because it always depends on the kindness of strangers. Anyway, we had french toast and roasted apples when we finally got home.

I had bought tons of extra hot dog buns, planning to tear them up and make french toast casserole, but there was no time, so we had french toast oblongs.

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The roast apples: quarter and core a bunch of apples, mix them up with sugar and cinnamon, and put them on a buttered tray at 450 for . . . okay, I don’t remember how long. Maybe 25 minutes? Until they are soft all the way through. Yummy.

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Oven fried panko chicken sandwiches with tomato and avocado; spicy fries (frozen)

These panko crumbs I got on sale one time have been clogging up my cupboard forever, so I used them for the chicken. I have it in my head that making breaded chicken is just insanely complicated, messy, and time-consuming, but it’s really no harder than making a marinade for grilling, which is what I usually do with chicken breast.

I sliced the breasts in half the long way, dipped them in an egg-and-milk mix, and then rolled them in panko (which is bread made into flakes, rather than crumbs). Then I laid the cutlets on a greased broiler pan and put them under the broiler, turning once, until they were browned up. They turned out really nice. The chicken was moist and the coating was fluffy.

I had my sandwich with sliced avocado and tomato and ranch dressing. I think next time, I’ll do chicken parm sandwiches this way.


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I don’t know how to take a picture of a sandwich without making the insides escape.


Pizza and salad

I made four extra large pizzas with various combinations of black olive, pepperoni, red onion, sliced garlic, and fresh basil.

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Fresh basil is great on pizza if you put it under the cheese layer, so it doesn’t just shrivel up.


Sweet and sour pork stir fry, brown rice, ice cream pie

Birthday! This is what the dear girl requested for her special dinner. After taking a squint at my mental state, I bought bottled sauce (two bottles, which I’ve been using as hand weights all week). I also bought Aldi’s Asian veggie mix, because even Aldi can’t make raw vegetables taste German, right? It was a pretty nice mix, including broccoli, red pepper, water chestnuts, baby corn, and mushrooms.

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It also came with a little pouch of reddish sauce marked “Asian,” but I took a stand and threw it away. I love Aldi, but they need to stop with the Asian stuff.

I made the ice cream pie the night before. I crushed up a bunch of graham crackers and mixed them in a pot with butter and the chocolate chips I forgot to use earlier in the week, until they made a paste. I pressed this into the bottom of a tray.

It’s easier to get the ice cream into pie form if you mash in it a bowl with a potato masher until it’s the consistency of soft serve. I alternated blobs of different flavors of ice cream, then added marshmallow fluff (because I forgot that I had bought Cool Whip), chocolate chips, and cherries, then put it back in the freezer until it was all solid.

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They informed me that I am the best baker in the world, which I am.


It says “tuna.” Looks pretty authoritative. 

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I think I was hoping the world would come to an end before I had to make dinner on Friday. Instead, the baby is bathed in a mysterious, radioactive, yellow-orange glow.

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As you can see, it’s affecting her personality and making her lethargic and docile.
It’s not marker or paint or food coloring. My husband figured it out. Any guesses? It is food-related!


“A sense of too-muchness”: My husband visits Padre Pio’s heart

Yesterday, my husband Damien Fisher, who is a newspaper reporter, went to see and venerate the heart of Padre Pio at Immaculate Conception Church in Lowell, Massachusetts. I asked him a few questions about his experience.


What made you want to go and see Padre Pio’s heart? 

I really didn’t know that much about Padre Pio, other than the stigmata and “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.” I found out about his heart coming to the area just a couple of days before. The relic’s first stop was in Lowell, Massachusetts, which is a 10-minute drive from the paper’s offices. I figured I could get something pretty interesting out of a saint’s heart, and I would get a chance to go see a relic as part of my job. Maybe not entirely noble, but I’m busy.

I like relics, and I like that Catholics have this weird and intense spirituality that includes things like hearts, and fingers, and bits of the True Cross, and incorruptible saints. It’s hard to describe to outsiders, and it is as strange as anything, but it somehow feels right.

What was the scene like in the church? What was the mood like among the people there? 

The line to get in went outside the church. I was later told more than 3,000 people went to this church to see Padre Pio’s heart. There were a lot of people from different religious orders, and a few oddballs, but I was kind of taken aback by how many normal looking people were there. Lots of senior citizens and moms with kids, lots of guys in suits, stopping by on their lunch break. It was a big mix of people. The folks in line with me were really excited to be there.

Inside the church, the priests were leading a rosary in French, and Spanish, and English. Lowell is a big, old New England mill town, with a ton of French Canadian immigrants from decades ago, and a new influx of Latino immigrants. It’s a very Catholic city. But it wasn’t just Lowell people there. There were people from all over New England making the pilgrimage.


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What did the actual relic look like? How were people venerating it? 

A stern-looking Capuchin held the reliquary that contained the heart, and people would get a chance to touch it. One by one, they would genuflect and either touch the reliquary, or kiss it. Some people brought prayer cards to touch to the reliquary.


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It’s hard to describe, because it was hard to look at. It was red, and in two connected parts. There seemed to be some white bone underneath it. I say it is hard to look at, because I was overcome with a sense of too-muchness. It was too much to see. Not in a gross way, but in a personal way; here was Padre Pio, showing something deeply personal about himself to me.

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It wasn’t until I got outside that I realized I was overcome with emotion. I was happy to nearly the point of tears. I felt like something heavy and difficult had been taken away, but I don’t even know what.


Do you feel any differently about Padre Pio now than you did before?

I’ve been reading about him since yesterday, and I am trying to take the experience I had by touching the reliquary that held his heart, and bring it to what I can learn about him.


Photos by Damien Fisher, used with permission