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Set your Catholic mind at ease about Halloween

Are scary Halloween costumes okay for Catholics? Jimmy Akin has answered this common question in a typically thorough and reassuring way. Sexy, offensively disgusting, or occultish stuff is out (gee, what a loss). But everything else, including spooky stuff, is in.

He makes the sensible point that people are attracted to spooky stuff for a reason — that God made us so that we enjoy small doses of peril and tension, because it prepares us to deal with the real thing, which will surely come along sooner or later.  So as long as we don’t spend our lives wallowing in gore and ghoulishness, it’s healthy and normal and perfectly fine to indulge in a little dramatic scaring and screaming from time to time.  Therefore, spooky Halloween stuff?  A-OK.

His argument reminds me of something my sister once pointed out:  that when Daddy tosses the baby up in the air and baby laughs, it’s because there really is a joke there, albeit a very simple one.  The situation says, “You’re in danger!” but the baby knows, “But it’s Daddy!  I’m fine!”  See? Funny stuff right there, if you’re a baby.  And a pretty good analogy for the delightfully childlike question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Whee! And so, scary Halloween stuff might not only be psychologically healthy (and therefore spiritually sound), but they might be a minor tribute to our trust in the goodness of God.

There’s another answer to the question of whether creepy, gory costumes and other Halloweeny practices (or scary stuff in general) are appropriate for Catholics to indulge in. Some Catholics argue, “This isn’t just a little holiday from the somber demands of my Faith; it’s actually my way of laughing at the devil!  I’m spitting in ol’ Nick’s eye and reaffirming the truth of the triumph of the Resurrection when I  . . . um. . . buy this rubber mask of a clown with an axe splitting his forehead open.  See?  Ad majorem dei gloriam!  Wooooooooooooooo!”  I used to roll my eyes over these rather contrived arguments, thinking, “Gee whiz, just admit that you want to have fun sometimes, and stop trying to make some big religious deal out of everything.”

But honestly, now I think that even overthinking it can be a perfectly legitimate Catholic approach, if that’s what appeals to you.

And also legitimate is yet another approach:  skipping Halloween altogether, because it just doesn’t seem right. Don’t be a jerk about it (no training your kids to tell their friends that their Hello Kitty costume is a portal to hell, for instance), and for goodness’ sake let your kids have a cupcake or something. But you don’t have to do Halloween. It’s your call.

Because that’s the nice part about being a Catholic:  as long as we’re living our lives in a way that is pleasing to God, we can either be practical and science-based, or we can be analytical and deliberate, or we can be cautious and guarded, or we can be giggling babies.  We can figure out what Thomas Aquinas would say, or we can just check our Baltimore Catechism, or we can just remember what our moms used to do. Assuming mom was a reasonable gal, you can just go with that and be at peace.

The Church, like all good mothers, knows that all of her children have the same basic needs, but that personalities vary so much that the same approach will not work for everyone — and that every child (no matter what age) should be exposed to some variety.  From this method of mothering, we can take our clue about how to behave on confusing secular/quasi pagan holidays like Halloween, which elbow in and threaten to crash the party of holy days like All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day:  sometimes the ultra-doctrinal route is the way to go, and other times, you can just put on a Bugs Bunny mask and give glory to God by making your kids laugh.  Just keep checking in with your mother, but don’t compare yourself too much with your brother.  You’re a different person, and your mother appreciates that (even if your brother doesn’t).

This attitude is the basic principle behind liturgical seasons:  some of this, some of that, a time for this, and a time for that.  Some people are better at Lent and some people specialize in Christmas.  And some people honestly only feel at home when it’s Ordinary Time.  The only truly un-Catholic approach is to ignore the seasons altogether.

How delightful it is to be Catholic, when so few things are forbidden — so few things are out of the question.  What a wide, wonderful Church!  Some people think of our Faith as a strict and limited meal plan, which, followed precisely, will yield the best dietary results.  But really, it’s more like a bounteous smorgasbord.  It’s possible to overindulge, and if you stay in one spot, you won’t get a balanced meal.  But do it right, and you’ll end up with all sorts of things on your plate — and your plate will probably look completely different from the one the other guy brought back to the table.

Especially if you’re sitting next to Jimmy Akin.  I mean, the man eats brains.

**
A version of this post first appeared under a different title in the National Catholic Register in 2012.)

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What’s for supper? Vol. 57: Simcha Fisher, mummy blogger

I try to make one new recipe every week, and I try not to make anything two weeks in a row. Except for this week. This week, I just tried to get through the week.

***

SATURDAY
Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, salad

If you like meatballs but hate the hassle of frying them up, just do what I do and throw them on a broiler pan. Medium-high oven for 20 minutes or so, and then scoop them back in the pot of sauce. I was rushing a bit and didn’t have enough time to let them meatballs sit and sauce up, but it’s still a swell meal.

[img attachment=”125175″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”spaghetti-and-meatballs” /]

Although some people — pantsless people, no less — must be persuaded to eat even a swell meal like this.

[img attachment=”125176″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”girls-and-meatballs” /]

My daughter made this magnificent garlic bread. Can’t beat real butter, fresh garlic, and a little schprinkle of salt. And the most important ingredient: free labor!

Dessert was Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies (which are now about the size of a quarter. For shame, Little Debbie). It was #2 Son’s turn to pick, and he announced his choice defiantly, kind of like this:

He’s the picker!

***

SUNDAY
Beef cabbage stir fry, rice, pomegranates 

This is one of those surprisingly easy, surprisingly delicious recipes from Budget Bytes. Yum. It was spicier than I remembered, so I was glad to have the pomegranates to cool the tongue a bit.

[img attachment=”125174″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”beef-cabbage-stir-fry-2″ /]

I’m still working my way through my trusty jar of ginger paste from Kyra. It’s a million times better than powdered ginger, and at least to my jejune palate, it tastes like fresh. I really hate prepping fresh ginger. I have no idea what the equvalencies are, so I just scoop up a bunch with a free-wrist motion. (See: spicier than I remembered.)

***

MONDAY
Mummy hot dogs, cheezy weezies

Oh, I lied. This is a new recipe, I guess. I made about thirty of these for the Girl Scout Halloween party, then dashed home and made a dozen more for the kids at home.

[img attachment=”125173″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”mummy-hot-dogs” /]

They are not hard to make, just annoying. If it’s not obvious, you just take a hot dog and wrap it up with some crescent roll dough that’s cut into strips. I wrapped a few of the hot dogs with slices of cheese first, but ran out of time. You put them in the oven for about 15 minutes at 375. Greased or ungreased pan doesn’t seem to matter, but the pastry does puff up a bit, so give them room. The eyes are mustard.

I notice that some amphetamine-addicted ambitious moms are trying to make this project even more impressive by slicing the hot dog to make arms and legs, and then wrapping it in dough. I would like to point out that these are supposed to be mummy hot dogs, not catastrophic ski accident hot dogs. But clap-clap-clap for you anyway.

***

TUESDAY
Waffles and eggs for kids; the finest Aldi delicacies for the adults, who were celebrating their 19th anniversary by locking themselves in the bedroom with food and pretending they were alone. We also had White Russians. I forgot how much fun those are to drink.

Let’s see, we had some kind of steak things wrapped in bacon, cheddar and gouda, scali bread with a little saucer with salted, peppered olive oil for dipping; olives stuffed with cheese, prosciutto, grapes, and smoked almonds.

***

WEDNESDAY
Spicy pulled pork, roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts

I used Pioneer Woman’s Dr. Pepper recipe again, using my new slow cookers, which have already justified their existence via pulled pork alone. I used a different, less fatty cut of pork this time, and it still turned out great. But let me tell you, giving it a couple of extra hours (unintentionally. The van died in the drive-thru lane of the bank, and Triple A took its sweet time coming) together with the adobo peppers made it much much spicier.

[img attachment=”125172″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”pulled-pork-and-roast-veg” /]

I cut the Brussels sprouts and potatoes into pieces and mixed them up with olive oil, red wine vinegar, kosher salt and fresh pepper, and put them on shallow pans under the broiler for about 25 minutes. Gosh, I love roasted vegetables.

[img attachment=”125171″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”potatoes-and-brussels-sprouts” /]

Oh, this is fun: Can you spot the carrot? I was rushing around like a maniac as usual, and couldn’t find the carrots I intended to add to this dish. I left the food unattended for a while, and when I got back, Benny proudly told me, “Mama, I found a few carrots! I cut them up with my teef and put them in with the rest of the betchdables!” So I says to myself, I says, “That’s why we use a hot oven.” Benny is my good helper.

***

THURSDAY
Taco Thursday

I was wondering if Taco Thursday would be as good as Taco Tuesday. And the answer is: When you forget to buy cheese and salsa and taco seasoning, then no, it is not. (Yes, obviously you can make your own taco seasoning. It’s just hard to unscrew all the little spice bottle lids when your hands are full dragging around your crushed and broken will to live.)

***

FRIDAY
Fish sticks, acorn squash, maybe rice pilaf, whatever that is

I have some mushrooms I forgot to use. If I put them in rice, will that make it pilaf?

***
I think I managed to sign up for nothing but cider for all the kids’ various parties next week; but if you got suckered into making a treat, here are some I’ve done in the past, and they are totally doable:

Grinning teeth (apple slices for lips, mini marshmallows for teeth, stuck on with peanut butter)

Pretzel rods dipped in candy coating. I think we ended up using different Halloween-y colors of candy coating (orange, purple, green) and sticking candy corn to them, and maybe colored sugar. (We’ve made variations on this for any  number of parties: light sabers, Harry Potter wands, fairy wands, etc.)

Gingerbread skeletons You can even buy pre-made gingerbread cookies, or use teddy bear or dog or cat cookie cutters. You’ll want to use a royal icing and give it enough time to set, so all your hard work doesn’t smear, though.

And yes, one year we brought in the mini jack-o’-lantern puking hummus onto a tray full of purple tortilla chips. These are times when I discover that there’s a reason I’m self-employed.

Got any swell ideas for Halloween food? I secretly love making stupid stuff like this, so share!

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The love story no one wants to hear: Vaginismus in marriage

Who doesn’t love a good, bracing, honest, personal essay, especially one that tells about awful struggles and times of darkness? We love them, that is, as long as they have a happy ending. I suffered this, we endured that, and now we’ve come out of that dark time and happier, wiser, stronger, and more fulfilled than ever. This is nothing new: In ancient Greece, theater audiences couldn’t get enough of plays that dragged them along with the protagonist through incredible grief, calamity, and pain, only to emerge with them on the other side with . . . something. If not a happy ending, then at least a lesson, or at least justice. We want to come out the other end exhausted but satisfied.

When reviews started to come in for my book about how to navigate the day-to-day reality of natural family planning, many readers were enthusiastic about my honesty — but a few were not. Some thought I was too blunt, even obscene; but some thought all that openness and honesty didn’t go far enough: it didn’t answer all their questions. It didn’t tell them what they really wanted to hear. If they were going to be dragged through a story about the struggles, sorrows, and frustrations that can come along with obeying the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, then they sure as hell wanted to know where their happy ending was. She seems to understand the problem, went the complaint, but offers no real solution. 

And I really didn’t. I talked about insights and strategies and attitudes that can help us love our spouses and God better. But I didn’t “solve” the problem of the difficulty of NFP, and I didn’t explain how to get a free pass out of sorrow and pain.

Instead, I talked a lot about the cross.

I don’t blame people for not wanting to hear it, or for not wanting to understand that this is the unanswerable answer. But oh my friends, any essay that purports to lead you through some great spiritual suffering and doesn’t mention the cross? That is not a Catholic essay. The cross is at the heart of who we are, why we do what we do, where we can turn when there is nowhere else to turn. The cross doesn’t make any sense; but nothing makes sense without the cross. Take it away and we’re truly lost, truly wandering in a howling wilderness of pain, not for 40 years but for eternity.

And if you do turn to the cross and then say, “Yes, yes, but what should I do?” All I can tell you is, turn back. It’s what I tell myself.

This is a tremendously roundabout way of introducing you to an important essay by my friend Ellen, who’s created a blog for one specific purpose: to talk about her marriage, in which she and her husband have never had sex and may never have sex.

Ellen has vaginismus:

a condition where the muscles of the pelvic floor involuntarily contract whenever touched, closing sphincter muscles and preventing intercourse. Sometimes it can be the result of past sexual trauma, sometimes the result of injury in delivering a child, and sometimes, as in my case, it happens for no immediately apparent reason.

No one has been able to solve this problem for them; no one has been able to take it away. There is very little information out there for people who struggle with this rare but not unheard-of condition, and even less information for couples who want to approach their marriage with a Catholic worldview.

Ellen speaks of their struggle and where they are now, a year after they realized something was wrong. She speaks of what they have learned about God and love.

Please do read her essay (there may or may not be more to come), even if you haven’t experienced anything like what they’re dealing with.  Read it not to find out how they triumphed over their difficulties, but to find out how they’re learning to be happy through their difficulties. As with every story about love and marriage, it’s about so much more than sex. Ellen says:

Not everything has to change, and many of our dreams are still the same, and still possible. But the heart and soul of it has had to change substantially. For as long as I can remember, I thought I’d be the mother of a large and healthy family. I thought that that would be the main work of my life, and I was eager and impatient for it to start. Now, realistically, I know that there is very little chance of that happening. The “fruit of our love” will not be in sweet fat faces and sweaty blonde and red curls and utterly dependent, clingy, sticky hands. And it hurts to think that might never happen, and that even if it does, it will surely never be as much as it might have been.

But you want to know something? I see the fruit of our love every day. Love has to produce, you know, or it dies. So when I was realizing that children might not happen, I panicked. What the hell kind of a marriage would that be, anyway? But oh my word, the ways God has let our love bear fruit . . .

This isn’t a “We’ve gone through the darkness, and here’s how we solved it” kind of piece. Not all questions get answered to our liking; but that doesn’t mean there is no answer.

The essay is not only honest about pain and suffering, it’s full of hope and generosity. That, too, is what you will see when you look at a cross: not only true suffering and total, painful giving of self, but a doorway into a new world that we must pass through.

***
Image via Pexels
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Why have I never heard Alex Chilton?

First of all, this is Alex Chilton:

I have heard of him — or I’ve heard this song, anyway, which is very short and nearly perfect. He was barely sixteen when it hit the charts. It was right around this time when the term “blue-eyed soul” was coined, sometimes to refer to white boys who sing soul, but more often to deride white boys who tried their hardest to present themselves as soulful. This . . . is not that. Alex Chilton is the real thing, and I’ve never even heard his name. My loss.

Chilton had a weird on-again, off-again career until his death at age sixty in 2010.  His first band, The Box Tops, had a few hits, including “Cry Like a Baby,” where Chilton displays his endearing penchant for acting out his lyrics

Man, that voice. Normally I shut down when I hear anything that smells like a sitar, but I’ll make an exception.

The band only lasted a few years. Pitchfork says:

In spite of their success, Chilton grew unhappy with the Box Tops and precipitated the band’s breakup by storming offstage in mid-performance in late 1969. After turning down an offer to become the lead singer for Blood, Sweat & Tears– he thought the band was too commercial– Chilton worked to become a better guitarist and began an abortive attempt to record a solo album (the results can be heard on Ardent’s 1996 compilation 1970). Ultimately, he found himself back home in Memphis, where he joined Big Star in 1971.

In Big Star, Chilton dropped the soul-man vocal style he’d made his name on in favor of a reedier, more natural delivery.

Check out “Holocaust” from Sister Lovers (1978). Listen to the spare, meticulous layers in this terrifying song:

Ow. A radically different style from his Box Tops hits, but that arresting directness remains. His weakness for obvious rhymes avoids Paul McCartney-style cutesiness by looking directly at you and saying, ” . . . I know.”

Oh, you need a pick-me-up! Here’s “You Can’t Have Me” from the same album.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? (Okay, except for that bizarro part in the middle with the synth and the drums and the saxophones. I don’t know what kind of music this is.) That’s because everyone was influenced by Big Star. Does it remind you of Cream, The Beatles, REM, and any number of wannabe rough diamond indie bands who try so hard to show up with ready-made mystique? There’s a reason for that. Alex Chilton is in the back of everyone’s head, pouring out his heart and daring you to make a big deal out of it.

Over the next few decades, he produced a jumbled collection of undiscovered brilliance and inaccessible weirdness, both with Big Star and eventually solo, giving concerts and occasionally reuniting with old band members.

Here’s The Replacements, who straight up wrote a song called “Alex Chilton:”

Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ’round
They sing “I’m in love. What’s that song? I’m in love with that song.”

And it would have been true, in an alternate universe, where things (and people) aren’t so difficult. But yeah, I’m in love with that song.

One more: “O My Soul” from Big Star’s second album, Radio City (1974):

People forget that this kind of stuff came out of the 70’s, along with so much that was wretched and ridiculous. Great song, right from the heart of rock and roll, but nothing lazy or rote about it.

It’s never too late to add old stuff to your list of new music, especially if you don’t even know you’ve heard it before.

***
ImagebBy Marcelo Costa (Big Star @ Hyde Park) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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The ultrabonkers genius of Jack Chick

God have mercy on the soul of Jack Chick, the father of countless garish mini comics that litter laundromats and bus stations around the globe. Chick’s infamous cartoon tracts have been translated into hundreds of languages and are meant to terrify unbelievers into a godly way of life.

Chick was 92 when he died yesterday. He had been pumping out his comics for decades and decades, warning people away from such dangers as Harry Potter, Dungeons and Dragons, C.S. Lewis, evolution, Pat Robertson, Halloween, and of course Catholicism. The Catholic Church was a favorite target, and his tracts advance a version of Church history that can only be described as ultrabonkers.

He says, for instance, that the Vatican keeps a “big computer” on which is listed your (yes, your) name, to streamline future persecutions; that the Church created both Islam and the Holocaust to help it oppress the Jews; and that the secret commie John Paul II engineered his own fake assassination attempt. Also, it was the Jesuits who killed Abraham Lincoln.

Even if you do believe that Catholicism is a false, non-Biblical religion that leads Christians astray . . . seriously, Abraham stinkin’ Lincoln.

The comics are flashy and grotesque, full of fat, grinning demons, smarmy tempters, spittle-flecked evildoers with pouchy cheeks and wickedly curling eyebrows, and hapless victims with sweet, vulnerable eyes and gently curling hair. Angels drag astonished souls through the heavens like bundles of laundry; sweaty Arabs wield evil, eastern daggers; the dead pop up through the soil of their graves like jack-in-the-boxes, scratching their heads in astonishment as they come face to face with immortality, of all things.

Chick’s materials openly scream “I AM EXTREMELY CRAZY AND SHOULD NOT BE TRUSTED WITH THE CARE OF A HOUSE PLANT, MUCH LESS YOUR SOUL.” So why did he have such a huge following, and why was his business so robust? What is it that makes functioning adults trust, believe, and even champion a cause led by an obvious lunatic, and what makes them not even care whether he’s telling the truth?

Along with his prowess for crude emotional manipulation, Chick masterfully wielded two powerful weapons: fear and self-righteousness. They work together. You persuade your mark that he is in terrible, imminent danger of something that cannot be reversed (and what kind of fool would not listen to a warning like that?), and then you persuade him that he can find himself securely on the right side of everything simply by checking the right box

[img attachment=”124804″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-12-12-45-pm” /]

(and what kind of idiot wouldn’t want to be on the right side?).

Combine the fear that is too risky to ignore with a prize that is too delightful to reject, and you can say any ridiculous thing, any lie that two seconds of research will refute in a twinkling, and no one will care. Think you’re too smart to fall for an appeal as crude as Chick’s?  Think again, 2016 America. Fear and self-righteousness Trump reason every time.

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Do we still really need news reporters anymore?

In our area, most schools have some kind of garden for the kids to tend. Along with agriculture and botnay, gardens teach lessons about patience, persistence, and teamwork. You can even have the kids prep, package, and sell their produce after the harvest and teach them how to make change for customers for some integrated math.

Gardens also teach kids something that you may not realize they need to know: That food comes from somewhere. It doesn’t just get picked off the warehouse shelves along with iPhone components and graphic T-shirts (which also come from somewhere, of course, but that’s a matter for another day). Seems obvious, but many kids and even some adults never stop and think about it. They see food at the supermarket, and they sort of halfway imagine that it began its life inside a little package of plastic and styrofoam.

It may only be young kids and obtuse adults who need to be educated about the idea that food has to be farmed, harvested, processed, packaged, and shipped before they ever see it. But a good many adults who don’t consider themselves obtuse do think that the news they read online just appears on their screen, pre-packaged, materializing out of nowhere.

And so you see folks who still, after all these years, keep saying that the age of the newspaper is over. We have national or even global news aggregators who can deploy data-collecting bots to find and even write the stories that people really need to know, and it appears before us, all packaged up and ready to consume. who needs those retrograde reporters anymore?

My husband is a reporter. It wasn’t until he’d worked at this career for many years before I really realized how indispensable are people like him.

When you see a story on the TV news or in a larger newspaper, chances are someone has put years of work into that story long before you were ever even aware it existed. Why years? Because when you are a reporter, you don’t just show up at work in the morning and find a list of things to write about. The writing is only the very last step. Long before that, you are responsible for several things:

-Understanding what the people in that community are actually concerned about;
-Understanding what kind of story your editor and publisher want your paper to circulate;
-Getting to know who, in your community, has information that no one else has;
-Getting to know how to signal to those people that they can entrust that information with you;
-Learning how to figure out which information is reliable and which information will take you on a wild goose chase that wastes your entire day and/or gets you sued;
-Learning when to intimidate people and when to allow others to believe they’ve intimidated you;
-Learning how to verify things that seem too good to be true, and having the discipline to leave out details you know are true but can’t verify;
-Learning which stories are things the public really needs to know, even if it will annoy someone important, which things the public wants to know but maybe isn’t entitled to (like domestic abuse situations), and which things the public doesn’t care about but ought to, because it affects them more than they realize;
-Learning how to do favors for people so that they will be willing to do favors for you in the future;
-Learning how to write certain stories in such a way that, when the time comes, they will be willing to trust you with information in the future so you can write other, more important stories;
-Learning how to be compassionate with crazy people, suffering people, and people in unimaginable crisis, and still get the facts of the story without exploiting them;
-Learning how to hang up the phone, take a deep breath, and keep on going when people call you every name in the book, threaten and insult you, and try to get you fired just for doing your job; and
-Learning how to spend the day hip deep in tragedy, horror, and the hideous evils that are buried in every human society, and then go home and ask your kids how was school today.

And then comes the actual writing.

You have to learn the stylistically correct way to refer to a thousand different people and situations; you have to convey the truth of subtle situations without editorializing; you have to learn how to make a dull story interesting and an interesting story airtight. You have to learn how to convey complicated stories with lots of history in a way that careless, uninformed, uneducated, prejudiced readers can comprehend. And you have to do it on a deadline. You have to do this every single day.

This is the kind of work that doesn’t win you prizes or acclaim. It’s just what a decent reporter does.

There are lots of terrible reporters in the world, guys and gals who just slap together whatever falls into their laps. They hit their word count, put their byline on it, and call it “news.” But real news starts way, way back at the farm, where people like my husband are laboring every day.

News doesn’t just appear, fully packaged, in the form most people encounter it. And that’s why, internet or no internet, there will always be a need for newspapers. Someone has to be there, cultivating news stories by hand, one by one.

 ***
photo credit: Jürg The both read – for free via photopin (license)
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What’s for supper? Vol. 56: With a smile on my lips and a knish in my purse

[img attachment=”98244″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”whats for supper aleteia” /]

And then it was Friday. Here’s what we had this week:

Saturday
Chicken enchilada and chips

Well, these were horrible. It was one of those meals where you start out with non-optimal ingredients, then get started late, then have a brilliant idea to cook it in a new way which will surely save time, then realize that it takes way longer than usual, and also doesn’t taste good, and then you finish cooking it in the microwave and throw it together in a panic, burning your fingers and cursing your own thickheadedness. And there really wasn’t enough cheese. Cheese!

For people with normal heads, I recommend Pioneer Woman’s recipe.

***

Sunday
Pulled pork, coleslaw, onion rings, caramel apples
I have a confession to make. I’ve been saying I’ve been making pulled pork for a while now, but it’s really just pork. The “pulled” part is a lie. I’ve been cooking it for as long and at as low a temperature as I can manage in the oven, but no matter how long and how low I go with that pork . . . you know, let me start that sentence over. When the pork is done cooking, it doesn’t fall apart at the touch of a fork. It doesn’t even shred with some vigorous fork-and-knife action. If I put it in the standing mixer and blink, I get something the consistency of tuna fish. So I end up burning my fingers and cussing and ripping and mincing for half an hour with various knives as I reduce an unwilling roast into a disassembled state.
This is not how pulled pork is supposed to be.
And then came the slow cooker. I used Pioneer Woman’s recipe, sort of. Actually I just hacked the pork in half, threw a half in each pot, and glugged in some Dr. Pepper, a chopped-up onion, and a can of peppers in adobo sauce, and I set it to low and walked away.

About seven hours later, I drew out the meat, and it was so tender, it fell right apart. It took me maybe five minutes to shred up the rest with a couple of forks, just like the recipe says.

[img attachment=”124367″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”pulled-pork-with-forks” /]

Delicious. Didn’t need barbeque sauce. It was more of a slow, gathering burn than an explosive spiciness, and that was good.

[img attachment=”124368″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”pulled-pork-cole-slaw-onion-rings” /]

We ate in on sandwiches, with cole slaw and onion rings (frozen).

For dessert, we had the long-promised caramel apples. To my dismay, I accidentally bought the kit where you have to cook the caramel and dip the apples, instead of those stretchy sheets of caramel that you just wrap and heat. I did have fun making the caramel with Irene, who had never used a candy thermometer before. She kep up a running commentary while she stirred: “We don’t want it to get too hot. Not hard ball. Or hard crack. Or . . . [peering at thermometer] fish donut.”

[img attachment=”124371″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”irene-caramel” /]

In this photo, Irene is shown wearing her Rotten Ralph ear. There used to be two ears, but one fell off, so now she just wears the one ear in the middle of her head.

The caramel apples, I was perversely happy to discover, didn’t taste any better than the easy cheater kind that take three minutes to throw together.

We ended up with tons of leftover caramel, so I spread some graham crackers on a tray and poured the caramel over that. It tasted like exactly what it was. They certainly ate it.

***

Monday
Beef Barley soup
I used the crock pots for this, too. Into the pots, I dumped:
Beef cut into small pieces
Chopped onion
Chopped carrots
A few cans of diced tomatoes (and the juice)
Sliced mushroom
Crushed garlic
Beef broth (actually a few bouillon cubes and water)
Red wineI set it to low and let it cook all day.
We got home late and I couldn’t find the little pouch of barley, so I used the little pouch of quinoa and bulgur I’ve been avoiding. Cooked it in the microwave and threw that in the soup right before serving. Barley is better.I’m on the fence about this. I normally make this soup by frying up the meat and veggies first, and then throwing in everything else and letting it simmer all day. The Crock Pot took a little bit of the chomp out of stuff, which made it less interesting; but it was still good.

We also had biscuits, with the help of the four-year-old. The biscuit recipe in my otherwise-beloved Fannie Farmer is the one that always disappoints me, so I thought I’d look around for a new recipe. I came across the New York Times all-purpose biscuit recipe, which instantly provoked me by calling for “5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, preferably European style.” I suppose that means butter with hairy armpits, that lets the kids stay up late. Humph. I used non-preferable American butter, and ignored most of the rest of the recipe anyway. Two stars, New York Times. How dare you. How dare you.

***

Tuesday
Chicken nuggets, rice, peas

Boy, do I not remember Tuesday.

***

Wednesday
Hamburgers and chips

Wednesday I was in Springfield, MA, to address a Legatus group. For dinner, I had a gin and tonic, bacon-wrapped scallops, risotto balls, salmon, fresh rolls, and I forget what else. I declined the chocolate mousse with fresh strawberries. It’s rough, I tells ya.

Lovely people, wonderful evening. Back-a-home, my main lovely people had hamburgers and chips.

[img attachment=”124372″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”hamburger” /]

I’m going to assume from this photo missive that I forgot to buy ketchup this week:

[img attachment=”124373″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”ketchup” /]

Sorry, home people!

***

Thursday
Pizza and carrots and dip

Thursday I was in Hartford, CT, to address another Legatus group. I had salmon again, because I really like salmon (this time in a savory cream sauce), but the pineapple pork tenderloin almost made me question my allegiance. Also the Wompanaoc signature salad, which has walnuts, cranberries, red onions, and I don’t know what-all.  More lovely people and another wonderful evening. Pizza back home.

***

Friday
Pasta
I had a splendid lunch with Peter Wolfgang of the Family Institute of Connecticut, who also invited some Facebook friends Kate and Aaron King and Evan Cogswell. We ordered in from a Jewish deli nearby, and feasted on pastrami sandwiches, a variety of snappy dill pickles, potato salad, chips, and o my heart (and I mean that both in a sentimental and in a medical way): potato knishes. Then I got back on the train and away I went.

Full disclosure: As I write, I’m still on a train, and it’s running a little late. They say that trains can make up lost time during the journey (see: trains are magic), but at this point, dinner is largely a figment of my imagination.

However, I have two leftover knishes in my purse, so I am all set.

Well, what did you have? I can only hope that, given the chance, you chose the salmon.