Lent 2013 Challenge Day 7: Some Nights

Some nights you really just have to wave the white flag and make French toast.

Cheese-eatin’ surrender monkeys.

Lent 2013 Challenge Day 3: Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Roasted Fennel and Chick Peas (prep time: 15 minutes)

1 fennel bulb, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
1 can chick peas, drained
3 medium potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into 1″ pieces (leave the skins on)
1 c baby carrots
1 onion, sliced thin
1 tsp each of… wait for it… parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 T minced garlic (or less–we totally overdo the garlic around here, because of, you know, the vampires)
1/4 c olive oil

Dump everything into your slow cooker, being sure to mix well after adding the olive oil. Set your slow cooker on low and walk away for just about as long as you’d like. Give it all a good stir before serving.  The slow roasting really mellows out the fennel, so if you’re like me and more than a little afraid of that much licorice-flavor in your veggies… just put on your big-chef panties and buy the fennel.

Yes, YES, my friends, you can put things in a slow cooker without any fluid. I don’t know where we all got the idea that you must have fluid in your slow cooker. Maybe it was the condensed soup companies or something, but it’s not necessary. You can bake potatoes (white and/or sweet), roast carrots, make puddings… I could go on and on. I’d better not, though, as my family is waiting for me to join them for Netflix and Doctor Who.


Lent 2013 Challenge Day 2: Italian food–it’s what the Romans made Jesus eat.

After discussing with my family what we wanted as our meal for the feast of St. Valentine’s Day…

Thank you, Catholic Memes!

Thank you, Catholic Memes!

…kids and spouse alike unanimously overruled Heart-y Pizzas and opted instead for Pasta Aglio y Olio with Sage.


We made this fit in well within the 20 minute rule by using a TupperWare Pasta Cooker. We also splurged for a $1.91 loaf of heat-n-eat garlic bread from the day-old rack (it was a special day, after all). For dessert we made two “mug cakes” to share between five people; another splurge was $2 on a can of ReddiWhip. This went even father because we included the sweet treats from the kids’ Valentine party from earlier in the day. So when all was said and done, our meatless St. Valentine’s feast for five cost us about $6.

Was using the microwave pasta cooker cheating? Perhaps. How many families on government assistance can afford to dump big bucks at a Tupperware party, really? However, I have a decent amount of Tupperware, most of which I have purchased at thrift stores for no more than $2/piece. Anyway, we’re doing what we can to keep on track! What’s the plural of “mea culpa” ?


A funny thing happened on the way to Lent.


We were all set to start planning meals and recipes for the Lent 2013 Challenge: feed a family of five meatless meals on the same budget that the poorest of the poor in our home state would receive on SNAP, a. k. a. “food stamps.” I was all eager to get in there and experience what it would be like to have to stretch that dollar for forty days the same way another family would need to do every single day of their shared life. So, to prepare, I geared myself up for an appointment with our county assistance office, our local food bank, with whomever could help me find the information we needed to really start planning.

Well, it was far easier than that. A Google search of “food stamp benefits in [insert name of our state here]” gave a handy little table showing the maximum benefit for a household and its members.

We already live on a grocery budget that is $163/month less than the maximum food stamp benefit for a family of five in our state.
Now, before you get all indignant and cry foul on how “the poor are robbing the taxpayers!” let me make it abundantly clear to you, if it hasn’t already been made so by your reading my blog: WE COOK FROM SCRATCH. This makes an ENORMOUS impact on a family’s food budget. Let me make that even clearer: we have the luxury to cook from scratch, because we have the luxury of time. I am trying not to cry as I reread the sentence I just typed, because I’m always complaining about how little time I have, especially after the last week of all five of us being sick, my asthmatic bronchitis heading into its third month, homeschooling not getting as done as it should… and yet, I must bow my head and admit that our family has the luxury of more time, because my job is at home, and part of that job is cooking from scratch. When we were a two-income family five years ago, and I was working full-time, we ate a moderate amount of takeout, and we ate more “convenience foods” from the grocery store: granola bars, boxed cakes, bags of pre-made tortellini, and so on. Those things cost more money. So, really, if two adults are feeding five people on two minimum-wage incomes–or far less than that–while working 40 hours per week or spending all that time looking for jobs… that SNAP benefit might not go so far as our family grocery budget does, what with me making pizza from scratch and kneading homemade vegetable stock into vital wheat gluten to make our own seitan.

So the Lent 2013 Challenge has evolved: can we feed our family from-scratch meals prepared in 20 minutes? Is it possible to choose poverty in order to help those who didn’t choose it to make their own dollars stretch farther? Stay tuned to find out


Black-and-white “Magic” Cupcakes for St. Albert the Great

We’re a Dominican household: a bunch of rosary-praying nerds who can never choose between silence or blabbermouthing, so all Dominican saints, especially great ones, are cause for celebration around here. St. Albert the Great has a special place in my heart because my Dominican name is Thomas Aquinas; we all cultivate a special affection for our favorite teachers. St. Albert Magnus is also pretty special to us because Mr. Mackerelsnapper is a scientist by trade.

We used this recipe here for “Black Magic Cake.” I halved the recipe for starters, eyeing up the flour and cocoa powder so we had enough dry ingredients. Even halved, this recipe made 18 standard size cupcakes, so keep that in mind. Alors, comme ça:


They were done in 15 minutes baking at 350F. Cool before icing. The icing is just your basic Betty Crocker Cookbook White Mountain Frosting. It’s the only kind of icing that Middle Dumpling will eat these days. So between making the cupcakes, the icing, the fried rice for dinner, the NaNoWriMo-ing, and then dashing out to choir, the kitchen looked like some sort of set for a disaster movie.

Thank you, Mr. Mackerelsnapper, for remedying that situation. And believe me, it was quite a situation.

Now, you ask, why would a good Dominican mom, faithful to the Magisterium, feed her children something called “magic” cupcakes, for heaven’s sake? Because, my friends, St. Albertus Magnus was called a “magician” by those who didn’t understand science. These cupcakes are “magically” light and fluffy. How? Through the MAGIC of SCIENCE! The acid in the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda and creates essentially the same froth that you saw when you made your grade school papier mache volcano, trapping those tiny bubbles in a web of rich, chocolately goodness. St. Albert didn’t have time for magic. He learned and taught science as a way of appreciating God’s creativity.

The Dominican colors are black and white. Why? I mean besides the dog thing. Because when you have God’s light in your life, you don’t need to fear the darkness. Science is just the study of how things work, not the meaning of why they work or what they mean.

Thanks, Catholic Memes.


At last, a black bean burger worth blogging about!

You may have wondered (probably not, but maybe you have) why I have been blogging meatless Fridays (not to mention a nearly meatless Lent) for over a year now, and yet I still have not shared a recipe for that vegan/vegetarian staple, the black bean burger.  That is because every black bean burger recipe I’ve tried has tasted more like a breadcrumb burger with the token bean thrown in for legal purposes.  Alas, wonder no more.  We have, somewhat accidentally, discovered black bean millet burgers .

This coming Monday, we are hosting an International Lunch in celebration of International Education Week.  Middle dumpling wanted to make something with millet–not because of a country that fascinates her, mind you, but because our pet cockatiel’s favorite snack is millet.  So she picked Egypt based on our bird’s version of crack cocaine.  So now I have this five pound sack of millet sitting around my kitchen.  Thus we had slow cooker millet porridge for breakfast (meh–it’s okay).  I’ll be making food processor millet flour this weekend, which will then become millet bread on Monday.  So that leaves us with about 4.5 pounds of millet remaining, hurrah.  Google came through again this morning with the recipe linked above, couretsy of No Meat Athlete.

The only changes I made to the recipe was using a blend of olive and corn oil because, come on, grapeseed oil?  I’m not made of money here.  Also, I used less oil than the recipe seems to suggest.  Shocking, I know.  I’m like a Catholic Paula Deen over here.  I fried the patties on a cast iron skillet and I think that got them crispy enough without the extra oil.  Next time I make them, I’ll actually do them the same way I make our baked falafel.

We served these with a recipe for baked sweet potato fries that I found on Pinterest a few weeks ago.  This is the second time we made this recipe, and it’s the first time I pre-soaked the sweet potato slices for ten hours, changing the water once.  I think that made a good difference. The first time, with a soak of about 2 hours, they were crisp and tasty.  This time, with the longer soak and the changing of the water, they were “ohmygoodness, I have to sit down, oh wait, I’m already sitting down” good.

Overall, this was one of the more wonderful Friday night meals we’ve had in a very, very, very long time.  The one drawback:  this was very, very, very labor intensive.  There was a lot more slicing and mixing and mashing and shaking and standing and standing and standing and flipping things than I will usually subject myself to.  The only reason this worked for us tonight is that Second Shift took a later nap than usual and Mr. Mackerelsnapper came home about an hour early.  I’d like to make the burgers again, but I do think next time I’ll bake up the first half of the batch then freeze the second half for another, busier day.

Because of all the work involved in dinner, we did not get to make a dessert in honor of The Feast of St. John Lateran.  So, go make yourself some Golden City Marshmallows, appreciate the Church as people and value the beauty of the churches we share as people.

Who are you calling shrimp?

Last Friday’s dinner was one of the best in recent memory, and I’m not just saying that. I was able to make all of this in our kitchen while hosting ten Little Flowers and their moms for an All Saints Day party.

First I cleaned, trimmed and halved about a pound of Brussels sprouts. I placed them in a cast iron pan and tossed them with salt, pepper and olive oil. Then, frankly, I stashed the pan in the microwave for storage, because who wants Brussels sprouts stinking up the fridge?

Next I prepped that baked shrimp recipe that’s all over Pinterest but now Pinterest is saying the link is spammy. Boo. Anyway, it wasn’t my idea, but here’s what I did: spread one stick of room temperature butter in the bottom of a 9″x13″ pan; covered the butter with the slices three lemons; spread 2lbs thawed, peeled and cleaned shrimp on top of that (there was a keee-razy sale on frozen shrimp, cleaned, easy peel at the market a few weeks ago); then sprinkle a packet of dried Italian dressing mix on top of that. This I covered with aluminum foil and stashed in the fridge.

Next I entertained the girls and their moms. Thanks to our “craft mom” for the meeting, we made “spoon saints,” so easy even Second Shift of Kid could make one.

Then I preheated the oven to 350F. I put the sprouts in for 15 minutes. I then put the shrimp in the 350F oven with the Brussels sprouts and let them all bake for an additional 15 minutes. About ten minutes from showtime, I made up a batch of cous cous; had we had more time, I would’ve made pasta; had we need for gluten-free, I would’ve used rice. Throw the starch in with the shrimp and mix to coat. Serve all. The shrimp were so tender and flavorful. I am not a Brussels sprouts fan, but these were so good that I am looking for excuses to make them again.


Wednesday Dessert: Ss. Cosmas & Damian Healer Cookies

Phew! Where did this week go?

First, another request to vote regarding the Lent 2013 Challenge if you haven’t already done so:

Last Wednesday’s dessert night took place on the feast of Saints Cosmas & Damian. I asked First Shift for ideas on what dessert we could make that would honor a pair of twins who were doctors. They said “made [insert brand name bandage here]-shaped cookies.” So we did. We took a shortbread cookie recipe, molded the dough into a square on a baking stone, dragged a knife across the middle of the raw dough, then slowly dragged the knife perpendicular to that, making narrow bar shapes. Then the kids poked forks repeatedly in the middle of each bar.


Like this

We baked the bars according to the recipe directions, allowed them to cool, then broke them along the score lines.

What do I love about Cosmas & Damian? They were doctors who healed the poor for free. So often, I feel like gung-ho Catholics think that, unless I’m doing, you know, ministry, then I’m not doing ministry. Saints Cosmas & Damian weren’t priests. They didn’t have a music ministry. They weren’t preachers. They didn’t have any money (in fact, they were called “the silverless”). They just did their rather secular jobs in an extraordinary way. That drew people to God’s love.

Do what you love with love, and that is ministry.

“So… is that the good Korea or the bad Korea?”

Don’t mind me. In my little world, there’s no such thing as a gratuitous Lost reference, even less so a gratuitous Hurley reference. I love how Sun handled that, too.

Today is the feast of St. Andrew Kim Taegon and Companions. St. Andrew was the first Korean to be ordained a priest. I like the story of Catholicism in Korea because it was started not by a bunch of rabid priests who were in it for the money or something, as our culture would like to have us believe. Catholicism was brought to Korea by laypeople. I’m reasonably confident they were not rabid. Laypeople make a difference. You don’t need a collar to proclaim to all nations.

St. Andrew Kim Taegon was captured for the crime of being a Catholic, refused to recant, and so we celebrate his courage. Our family celebrated the eve of this feast yesterday with a Korean-inspired dessert porridge. I’ve only ever had Korean food once; it was fantastic, but I don’t remember any sweets at the end. What I do remember is poor Mr. Mackerelsnapper being served an octopus beak, and the Chinese-Canadian in attendance laughed at him for it, remarking something about, “What is it with Caucasians not wanting to eat anything with a head still on it?” Hey! Is that any worse than Brazilians thinking that eating meat off the bone is barbaric? But I love chicken wings! We’re all a little weird here on this globe.

That brings me to how weird I felt about making a dessert… soup. I’ve never made Korean anything before, so I had to do some research. Googling “Korean desserts” led me to Beyond Kimchee, a blog of Korean cooking. On there is a recipe for hobaak jook, a pumpkin porridge thickened with rice. As it’s just starting to turn seasons here, the flavors seemed perfect, but not only had I never made Korean food before, I’d never made a dessert porridge. I was intimidated to say the least. But as I read the recipe, I realized it was similar to Chinese congee, which I have made before. Once I got past that fear, the rest was easy. So, inspired by Beyond Kimchee’s recipe for hobaak jook, I bring you:

St. Andrew Kim Taegon Slow Cooker Pumpkin Porridge


1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and sliced into 1/2″ slices
1 cup cooked rice (all we have is jasmine, so I used that; if you have sweet rice available, I bet that would rock)
3 thin slices of peeled, fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons shredded sweetened coconut
5 c water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the first give ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on low 5-6 hours.


Add the sugars, then puree all ingredients together; if you have a stick blender, use that, but if not, pour it into a large food processor.


If you don’t have either, and you also don’t have arthritis, according to our friend at Beyond Kimchee, you can mash it all together with a fork or other hand-masher.

The coconut and vanilla were additions of mine to the original recipe, as was the slow cooker method. Both cooking and faith have that in common: we can add flavors of our own cultures but still have true nourishment. I love the  statue of St. Andrew Kim Taegon that wiki shows. If my memory of Chunhyang is correct, the hat St. Andrew wears is the hat worn by noble scholars. St. Andrew was surely a courageous and noble priest. We all need more of those in our world, regardless of where we live.




Wednesday Dessert: Miryam Cookies

Last Wednesday was our first choir night and Wednesday Dessert of the year. It was also the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary. First Shift of Kids had also requested to find a kind of cookie that Second Shift (who just turned 2 1/2) could help make without endangering herself or driving them crazy. That’s a tall order and a lot of ground to cover with one recipe.

What cookie can a toddler help make? Aggression Cookies came to mind, but how would one tie that in with the Blessed Mother? The Holy Spirit knows how. Since he let me in on it, I’ll let you in on it, too. Thanks to TMCHAPMAN for sharing the link above. I’d rate the recipe on sparkpeople if I had the time to get yet another login to yet another site.

Miryam Cookies for the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary

First, gather your ingredients

1 c butter, softened (if you’re really looking to make your kids work, give them frozen butter–ha!)
1 c whole wheat flour
2 c quick oats
1 c packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips

Then, talk to your children about how the first girl in the Bible named Mary was not the Blessed Mother! It was Miryam, Moses’ big sister, the one whose job it was to watch over the savior of her people. Then spend a minute daydreaming with your kids about how Sts. Joachim and Anne named their daughter Miryam; did they just like the name? Did they get direct divine instruction to name her Mary? Or did they intentionally name their daughter after a girl whose job it was to protect and nurture the savior?

Next, preheat your oven to 350F. Then have the kids wash their hands and dump the first five ingredients above into the biggest bowl you can find (keep the chocolate chips for later). Now its the kids’ job to pound, smash, smoosh and moosh all the ingredients together in a bowl, just like Miryam and Moses’ people had to smash ingredients together to make clay during their enslavement (charoset, anyone?). Once all those ingredients are mixed together, roll into 1″ balls and place on baking sheets, about 1″ apart. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven but allow to cool COMPLETELY on the cookie sheets before removing. When I say completely, I mean COMPLETELY, or you’ll have a hot, crumbly mess of molten, sugared oatmeal on your now-blistered hands.

No, I’ve never ignored that direction in the past. Why do you ask?

While all these things are cooling, tell your kids that the name Miryam means “bitter.” Bitter! That’s not a very nice name for your baby girl! Well, remember, when Moses’ big sister was born, life for the Israelites was pretty bitter. They weren’t free. I’ve also read (years ago) that the Miryam “bitter” translates to something more like “bitterly desired.” Miryam’s parents bitterly desired freedom for their children. Anne and Joachim desired that and, well, just a child to begin with.

Both Miryam and the BVM covered up the savior of their people. So now we’re going to use semi-bitter chocolate (read: semi-sweet) to cover up our cookies. Transfer cooled cookies to either silicone mats, parchment or waxed paper.


Melt the chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 30 second until the chocolate drips slowly from a spoon.


Or a knife.

Allow chocolate topping to cool before eating. Enjoy! And enjoy celebrating the name Mary!

PS: Gluten free? Try subbing more oats for the flour. Vegan? Use your favorite vegan margarine and make a rice milk and cocoa glaze.