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” ?


So much catching up to do!

I “won” National Novel Writing Month and am now trying very hard to prepare for Christmas. That involves a lot of crafting. Otherwise, here’s what we’ve been up to:

  1. No Advent calendar here. We do a gingerbread sacrifice manger: whenever you offer something up to Jesus, put a “straw” (strip of yellow paper) into the manger, and that will make a nice, soft bed for Jesus when he is born.
  2. For the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas, our Wednesday Dessert were some well-intentioned but badly executed “Saint Nicholas Miter Cupcake.” I used this recipe for vegan white cake, and then I added red food coloring too late in the recipe to make anything but a pink marble cake. Then, somebody on Pinterest said that if you put marshmallows on top of you cupcakes in the last five minutes of baking, you’ll have self-iced cupcakes. Again, well-intentioned but badly executed, to the point that I’ve considered submitting the results to Pinstrosity.

    Well, they were ugly as anything, but they did taste good.

  3. I’ve been known to go through cooking phases. The current phase seems to be called How to Stretch One Can of Black Beans Across Two Meals for Five People. Last week we made a black bean spread for lunch (black beans, minced garlic, some olive oil and lemon juice all smashed together), then mixed the leftovers all up in lieu of the refried beans in our Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie, and we served that for dinner. We had some friends over, and even my self-proclaimed “picky hick” friend liked it.
  4. Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is the day that you can honor Our Lady’s first visit to the Americas by eating chocolate. I told the kids the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe while making hot chocolate.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Heavenly Hot Chocolate

approximately 3/4 c chopped chocolate
3 T butter
3 c whole milk
Optional: marshmallow creme, blue and yellow sprinkles

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over low heat to make a ganache, stirring constantly. Whisk in milk until blended and heated through. Pour into mugs and top with a dollop of marshmallow creme, representing Mary’s purity, come to Earth to be the Mother of God, and come later to the home of chocolate to be the Mother of the Americas. Sprinkle with blue and yellow sprinkles, representing Our Lady of Guadalupe’s blue mantle with the yellow stars.


This was so rich that even I couldn’t finish mine, and that’s saying something. It reminded me of how heaven is so rich that we need to trust that God will give us only as much of it as we need here for our lives now.


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.




Ugly Shoes

Against You, You alone have I sinned. I have done what is evil in your eyes. –Psalm 51: 6

Second Shift of Kid put these things on my feet one morning shortly before we were heading out to a music class.


Oooh!  Minty fresh!

I was so busy that I forgot to put on more sensible less hideous shoes. I really only use these while gardening, because I can hose them off. So when we showed up at class and I looked down at my feet… I cringed, then I offered up my embarrassment. Jesus was stripped of his garments in front of a blood-thirsty audience. Wearing ridiculous shoes in order not to hurt my toddler’s feelings is nothing.

Today many bishops are calling for a day of fast and abstinence for religious freedom. I want to participate, but I’m already doing a modified fast all Lent-long (2 small meals, one moderate meal, no snacking) and abstaining from flesh meats (because it’s Friday). I’m hypoglycemic, so an outright fast while flying solo with children would be unwise. So what should I do? Am I already doing enough? Do I even need to add anything?

So I decided to wear ugly shoes.

Don’t get me wrong: I love capitalism. There are worse ways to fund a culture. The problem with captialism is that it can poison our idea of what is right versus what is wrong. In our quid pro quo culture, we have lost the idea that we could possibly sin and only hurt God by doing it. The cry among even Catholics is, “But it’s not hurting anybody! What’s the big deal?”

Now even when we try to do penance, it has to have some sort of benefit for me: “If I fast, I’ll lose weight. If I stop buying meats, I’ll have more money to give to the poor and won’t have to give up movies or whatever. If I give away my extra clothes, I’ll be more organized.” This may be why we’re having a hard time expressing why we as Catholics think that poisoning a body into malfunctioning is wrong. Life without children seems easier, less risky, and less expensive to our culture’s eyes. Where’s the immediately visible benefit to living in harmony with biological reality? There is none. It’s more expensive.

So I decided to wear ugly shoes.  I get no benefit from wearing these goshawful things. Well, St. Philip Neri got no benefit from shaving off an eyebrow or half of his beard in penance. He got stared at, and I bet I got some looks, too. These shoes won’t help me lose weight, I won’t make any money to give to the poor, and they won’t simplify my life. They will help me to remember that not everything has something for me in it. They will help me to remember that I’m not as selfless as I should be. And they will help me to pray that all of us, no matter what faith we profess, can live more in harmony with our bodies, ourselves, and each other–even in the ways we don’t see we are hurting.


Calzone Catechesis for the Feast of St. Joseph

This is less of a recipe and more of a “how-to,” but feel free to use our recipe for the pizza dough. 

You will need:

1 batch of pizza dough
Shredded pizza cheese
Parmesan cheese (the sprinkle-from-a-can kind.  Yes, it matters.)
A little bit of water
Tomato sauce

Preheat your oven to 425F.  With your kids, divide the dough into eight separate pieces and stretch each piece into a circle.  Say, “This is bread dough, which reminds us that Jesus is the Bread of Life.  But just like we’re forming the dough into circle shapes, St. Joseph, as the foster father of Jesus, had to form Jesus into the good man he was called to be.”

Now ask the kids to think of ways that parents “form” their children:  protect them, teach them prayers, feed them, give them clothes, take care of them when they’re sick… and then discuss how St. Joseph did all of these things for Jesus.  And just like the circles of dough will break if we’re too rough with them, St. Joseph had to be gentle with Jesus.  Then ask your kids, “What are some ways you think St. Joseph was gentle with Jesus?” 

Then say, “One of the things St. Joseph did for Jesus was teach Him how to be a carpenter.  So both St. Joseph and Jesus had wood shavings in their clothes and in their hair.”  Now sprinkle the shredded pizza cheese on the center of each circle.  Then as you sprinkle the centers of the circles with parmesan cheese, say, “They also had sawdust all over the place!” 

Now have the children moisten the edges of each circle with fingers dipped in water.  Say, “Now, we can tell from the Bible that St. Joseph must have died before Jesus began His public ministry.  So Jesus had to take care of His sick daddy and then watch him die, knowing that heaven wasn’t open to him yet, knowing that the Sacrament of Baptism hadn’t been established yet.  How do you think that made Jesus feel?  How do you think Jesus then felt about going to His death on the cross?”

Pierce each calzone with a sharp knife and talk about how much it must have broken Jesus’ heart to see his gentle, earthly father die, knowing He would have to wait to see St. Joseph again.  Then, as you fold each circle in half and pinch the edges together, talk about how St. Joseph would have been wrapped in a shroud just like Jesus was after His death, and both were placed in tombs.  [At this point, put your calzones on a baking sheet and bake at 425F for 20 minutes or until golden brown and they sound hollow when tapped.]  Allow them to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. 

Serve with tomato sauce for dipping.  This next part might gross you out, so feel free to  skip it, but my kids figured it out on their own without any prompting from me.  Anyway, feel free to remind the kids of how the blood of Jesus covers all our sins, even the sins of St. Joseph–who was a holy guy but still an imperfect one.  You can also talk about how St. Joseph is highly revered in Italy, especially Sicily, where his intercession is credited from saving the people from famine. 

Speaking of famine and fasting, traditionally, in our archdiocese, the Lenten fasting rules are suspended for the Feast of St. Joseph in recognition of his special status among the Italian people of our area.  Since we’re holding our Lenten challenge to those standards, we really could have had a meat meal for dinner, but much to my surprise, I didn’t really see the point.  When we first started the PreVII Lenten challenge, I honestly didn’t think we could do it the whole Lent.  How could I feed this picky family without all that meat?  Would we give up by the third week in and run to McDonald’s for burgers and nuggets?  But we’re past the Laetare Sunday midpoint of Lent, and it’s only gotten easier.  I went into this thinking, “Oh, I could never do that,” and here we are, thinking that keeping this up during the rest of the year wouldn’t really be all that hard. 

Some things, you just never know unless you try.

Boxty on the Griddle…

Boxty on the griddle
Boxty in the pan
Learn to make the boxty
Or you’ll never get a man.

I found that rhyme years ago. Boxty is an Irish potato pancake. I first tried boxty at an Irish restaurant and became an immediate fan. Hoping to recreate the taste at home, I thought, “It’s a latke. How hard can it be?” I searched and searched (this was a few years before blogging became the phenomenon it is today) and all I came up with was: boxty is spelled a million ways, cooked a million more ways, and it’s really easy to mess up boxty. You have to have the right balance of cooked, mashed potato to raw, shredded potato. And then you have to have the right level of heat in the pan, the right level of fat in the pan, and your timing has to be impeccable, your rent had better be all paid up, and the humidity can’t be over 73%… you get the idea. The usual result of a first-time boxty attempt is burnt on the outside, raw on the inside, and most of it stuck to the scorched pan.

Fast forward to St. Patrick’s Day 2012. Cooking blogs abound, as do suggestions for how to make one’s first boxty less of a disaster. I wrote up a game plan, and here it is. If you don’t have a microwave steamer, you might need to modify this. You can even use instant mashed. Your secret is safe with me.

Boxty (Irish Potato Pancakes)

They’re not greasy. They just have halos.

5 medium potatoes
1/4 c buttermilk
1 T butter
1 egg, beaten
1/4 c milk
1/4 c flour
2 t minced onion
1/4 t Jane’s Crazy Mixed-up Salt or other favorite savory seasoning blend
oil/fat for frying

Peel 2 potatoes and cut into cubes. Steam in a microwave steamer on high power for 5 minutes, then mash with 1/4 c buttermilk and 1 T butter. Set aside to cool. Peel and shred the remaining potatoes and steam in a microwave steamer on high power for 3 minutes. Combine mashed potatoes, shredded potatoes, egg, milk, flour and minced onion and seasonings. Heat oil (we used olive oil and some–gulp–bacon fat) in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Once a drop of water in the fat sizzles but doesn’t spatter, drop tablespoons of the potato mixture into the pan and flatten slightly. Once these patties start to brown around the edges, flip and fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Repeat until all batter is used. Serve warm. Makes about 20 boxty.

We topped ours with some homemade chive butter (using up the last of last year’s frozen chives before the new ones are ready to harvest). The kids ate their boxty either plain, with ketchup, or with HP Sauce, depending on the kid. I have no idea how legit these condiments are for boxty, but what can you do? This recipe was a little labor-intensive to make just any old morning, but I am interested in making boxty again. The par-steaming of the shredded potatoes really seemed to keep them from burning on the outside before they cooked all the way through.

Yes, bacon fat on a Lenten Saturday. Not very Vatican II, is it? Well, in our archdiocese, the tradition is that the Lenten rules are suspended for St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), so we are holding to that tradition here with our Lent 2012 Challenge. I’m grateful to be Irish, and I’m grateful to be Catholic. I probably would not be both simultaneously if it weren’t for the sufferings and perseverance of Glorious St. Patrick. All hail! He’s the patron of the Irish, and I like to think of him as the patron of people who don’t like where God sends them. If you’re having trouble blooming where you’re planted, get to know St. Patrick. He’s worth a little celebration, at least.

PS: I made a recipe without beer for a beer-related holiday! Aren’t you proud?

“Juan? ‘Tilma’ That We’re Having Sopes for Dinner!”

Tell Ma? Tilma? Juan Diego? Get it?

It’s the feast of St. Juan Diego, so to celebrate meatlessly, we made sopes. I first learned of sopes when I shared an office with a girl who grew up inMexico. Whenever we ordered Mexican for lunch (which was a lot, because there was a phenomenal taqueria a mile from our office), she got sopes. Sopes always looked so good, but I avoided them because where she was from, asking for sopes without the beans would be like asking for a sandwich without bread—what’s the point? Anyway, with my bean sensitivity, I didn’t want to risk losing work by getting bean-sick. Now I know that sopes are made regionally with shredded chicken, beef, cheese, and so on. Today is Friday, so we did a can of refried beans (which I can tolerate to some degree, but I can feel a bit of regret bubbling up in my stomach as we speak).


When making sopes, think open-faced tacos. Think edible plates.

Oven Baked Sopes (modified from the recipe at Vegetarian Times )
1 ¼ c hot water
2 c masa harina
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 large egg, beaten
3 T corn or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350F. Stir hot water into masa harina, salt, and baking powder until a soft dough forms. Let sit for 5 minutes, then mix in egg and oil. Knead with hands until the dough comes together and roll into 8 balls the size of eggs. Between two sheets of thick plastic wrap or a plastic bag split open, roll each ball into a flat circle, then using your fingers, scrunch up the edges of each disc to make a sort of saucer.

20111209-193622.jpg 20111209-193712.jpg
Hand model I ain’t.

Place the sopes on a baking sheet and bake at 350F for 20 minutes. Cool for five minutes before serving to the kids, and top as desired. We spread ours with the frijoles, chopped tomatoes, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, chopped olives, shredded montereyjack cheese, and guacamole. We live in a rural area where that good crumbly Mexican cheese isn’t available at the market where I usually do most of our shopping, so the montereyjack was as good as we could get. There are Mexican markets not too far from here, so next time I’m a little more flush with time, I’ll pick some up.

For dessert, we did have homemade truffles (leftover ganache rolled into balls and then rolled in leftover chocolate cake crumbs). I realize decadent chocolate desserts aren’t much in the spirit of Friday penitence, but it is the feast of St. Juan Diego. Our Lady of Guadalupe came to him, a brand-new Catholic inMexico, the home of chocolate, for lots of reasons. Mary’s a woman. I don’t doubt for a minute that at least one of those reasons was to bring chocolate to the world. She’s a good Mom!

Challah-Back Honey Buns: for St. Ambrose

I’m still working my way back to 100% health, so planning for this Wednesday Night Dessert took some thinking. I wanted it to reflect that today is the feast of St.Ambrose , but I really needed it to be something that wouldn’t take one long chunk of time to do. I had to refresh my memory about St.Ambrose, and it was in doing this that I was reminded of the legend of baby Ambrose being covered with bees, leaving honey behind on his mouth, and his family saying that he would have the gift of sweet speech. Given that my oldest child’s first word at six months old was “poop,” I kid you not, it’s kind of nice to hear a little family story like this that has lasted for over a thousand years.

Now should my oldest becomes a saint, I really hope that her family story doesn’t result in any kind of dessert… So, let’s start with the:

Challah Dough
¾ c milk
2 eggs
3 T butter
3 c bread flour
¼ c white sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp instant yeast

Prepare this in a bread machine on “dough” cycle. Cut the dough in half and bake one half as a braided loaf at 350F for 20-25 minutes, until it sounds hollow when tapped.


Save the other half of this dough for…

Refrigerator “Honey” Buns
½ c packed dark brown sugar
¼ c butter
2 T corn syrup
1 T honey (optional)
½ batch of challah dough
2 T butter
2 T white sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

12-48 hours before you plan to eat these, place the brown sugar and ¼ c butter into a microwave-safe bowl and heat in 30 second intervals until it reaches a boil. Pour this mixture into the bottom of an 8”x8” pan and stir in the corn syrup and optional honey. Roll out the challah dough into a square as big as you can get it without ripping holes in it. Spread the dough with 2 T of butter, then sprinkle with white sugar and cinnamon. Roll up the dough and cut into nine rolls. Place the rolls cut-sides down in the syrup in the pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator.


About an hour before you plan on eating these, heat oven to 350F, remove the pan from the refrigerator, and remove the plastic wrap. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes. IMMEDIATELY upon removing these from the oven, place a heatproof plate or tray on top of the baking pan, and “convert” (get it?)—in other words, flip the rolls onto the heatproof plate, so that the syrup in the bottom of the pan drips over and into the rolls. Serve warm.

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If you read the story of St. Ambrose, you know that his “sweet speech” was instrumental in bringing St. Augustineto Christ. That’s why I like that these rolls grow sweeter if they are “converted,” flipped over, otherwise all that sweetness stays stuck in the pan and doesn’t get into the nooks and crannies. What are some ways we need to “flip” ourselves so that the sweetness of the Word of God can get into our “bread”—the flesh of who we are?


Reviews: The pickiest child asked for seconds and asked to make sure that we have leftovers available for breakfast tomorrow. This is the same child that, should she become a saint, we will hope her childhood story does not become a dessert. The toddler saw seconds being handed around, shoved her last piece of honeybun in her mouth, and held out her hand for more. The child with braces, however, should have been given a less sticky piece. Nothing got broken, but she did need to brush a whole lot before bed. My bad.

Allergy/veganizing notes: Usually this kind of roll is made with pecans down in the flip-syrup, but we don’t do tree nuts here. I can’t see why this couldn’t be made vegan with a vegan bread dough, but keep in mind the rolls probably won’t have the same stretchy tenderness that challah does, by virtue of all the egg & milk protein.