Friday, January 16, 2015

things that make you go...

So I have more blather coming. I need to do all of ONE photo - stupid blogger. Anyway. Before I do that, I had to share this. Today's readings (available here) include the lame man whose friends lowered him through the roof of the house where Jesus was preaching. In the homily, our priest quoted something from St. Peter Chrysologus that blew me away. I thought you might find it interesting, too: "Take up your bed. Carry the very mat that once carried you. Change places, so that what was proof of your sickness may now give testimony to your soundness. Your bed of pain becomes the sign of healing, its very weight the measure of the strength that has been restored to you."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

against all odds

...the reflective phase has continued. Indeed, I fear it may  continue into book-length in this little spot, where now (fortunately) I really write only for myself to read. I shall endeavor, at least, to break it into chapters.

I've mentioned before (I think) that I have a therapist. For...almost a year now?  I'd have to look that matter up. I try to go every other week (to match my work schedule), so it isn't a fast process. I think he's really good, and I've learned a number of useful things. I don't know exactly what I thought therapy would be like (something along the lines of: someone to listen to me rant about the things that most bother me, and either tell me that it's OK and I'm not crazy; or that my reactions and behaviors are unhealthy and should be altered as follows; or both), but this is not it. I'm not sure I like it - to find it emotionally painful is normal; to find it dissatisfying and somehow missing the mark, when it is not simply miserable or enraging, is not so typical, perhaps. I intend to keep going. Though I toy with the possibility that I would be better off with a female therapist.

Meanwhile as you know (the hypothetical "you" who has read all my previous posts and also remembers them - this does not describe even me) I finished taking depo at the beginning of February, 2013; thus, my last dose wore off (theoretically) at the end of April, 2013. I first saw signs of my cycle returning December 25, 2013. It varied widely for some time after; in summer, Dr. C told me she thought I was going into perimenopause (I am 32). I disagreed, as my cycle had never regularized post-depo. She told me to keep a chart (which for various sound reasons I had not been doing).

She was right. After various other irregularities, I am now weeks "late" and DECIDEDLY not pregnant. The pain of endo has not returned, and I am going on two years free of the depo. It had side effects I didn't like and it's seemed to have lingering side effects I don't like (which I now suspect are due to the Change of Life, which for me is more plus ca change...). But it has offered me a minor miracle: my own health (largely) back, and now, with the advent of menopause, significant hope that I will never need a hysterectomy, or at least, not in my 30s. Praise God!

And yet...I am 32, headed rapidly toward menopause. And I am grieving, again, for all that I have lost.

All this is perhaps significant enough, but I know one thing is the most significant in my life this past year (and the most significant in many years) and...I am at a loss for words to describe it. I shall stick to the simple facts. I volunteer with my parish's high school youth group. This fall we began a new format for formation and instruction which appears very promising so far. As part of it, we have made a prayer challenge to the teens - which has been of absolutely no interest whatsoever to any of them despite months of exhortation from all involved adults. This will have to be their problem. I, however, concluded that I could not very well ask a bunch of high schoolers to undertake a specific practice of daily prayer that I was not undertaking myself, especially since I had no regular practice of daily prayer (Mass around every other day, many small prayers and petitions, but nothing consistent). So I took it up. I probably manage it five or six days in seven, along with a few other daily prayers I felt moved to add (google "Blessed Is She" if you're looking for a daily reflection, delivered to your inbox), for several months now.

My therapist had told me I would make no further progress with my very long-term issues with a malevolent God unless I increased my prayer time, but I was very inconsistent. This practice is (potentially - it's flexible) brief, and I didn't take it up in response to his suggestion, but to avoid a very just accusation of hypocrisy. And nothing has changed. And everything has changed. And I can feel that it has not done changing, and will be a long road. I won't claim to have a consistent hold on anything as bright as a firm hope, but if I have been walking through an endless dark forest, the trees around me are now thinning just a bit, and I can imagine that at some future place they might abate altogether. But I can't know for sure.

If you think this is the end of my blathering, you haven't read many of my posts (and are unlikely to do so now!). But there will be more blather. Starting...tomorrow? I have a fancy new tablet that can probably upload videos (not mine, of course) and edit text all pretty, for the next phase of reflection, in which I pretend to know something about theology! HA.

P.S. Happy new year!

Monday, December 8, 2014

things that change lives

I seem to have blundered into a reflective phase.  (Don't worry, I'll snap out of it.) 


For whatever reason, the other day the question popped into my head: what books have I read that have had the biggest impact on my life?  Let's say, ten most influential books so far, for me personally.  I'm 32. 


If you'd asked me in college, I would have said The Story of a Soul, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and The Imitation of Christ, while I thought about the next seven spots.  While I stand by the first one, I've spent the intervening decade or so trying to remedy the damage of the latter two.  (Not that I have anything personal against Thomas a Kempis or Joshua Harris, per se.  Just that I think the world - or at minimum a number of its people - would have been a better place had they tossed the manuscripts in the fire.) 


So I'm keeping The Story of a Soul.  I'm adding Gordon Korman's Son of Interflux, because.  If you'd read it twenty times, as I have, you'd know why. 


Keeping a wary eye on my college experience, and therefore considering that I might need some years to mull candidates over before I can fairly judge, I wonder whether I haven't read three of the top ten in just the past year.  That would be Susie Orbach's Bodies, Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples, and Conrad Baars's Feeling and Healing Your Emotions.  Is it interesting that all three are non-fiction?  I guess that was true of my first three, too.  And I claim to read only fiction. 


So from my current vantage, that's five total.  But I'm having trouble with the next five.  I've read lots of books, but which are really the most influential?  I'm inclined toward those I reach to for a quote on a constant basis because they most perfectly capture some idea that is inextricably part of how I view the world - in short, of course, because they are the place I found some notion that has become part of how I view the world.  But in some cases I can't remember the book's title, though the idea is indelible.  The good ideas are funny that way. 


Would love to hear what books others have found to leave a stamp on their lives. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

must-read

This is essential, necessary, life-changing reading.  Great suffering with great love - and a reminder to me of what the next decades of living a holy life as a Catholic woman are supposed to look like (while I fail miserably at the current phase). 


I know that through these pages I have met some of you who have watched your children suffer and die with faith and love, an experience I cannot even imagine.  I am humbled. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

I gave up; chocolate

I gave up, and I'm not sorry. 

In theory it would have been easy to write 31 posts about comfort food.  I have so many ideas.  In fact, it would have been easy to write three or four posts a day and have them pre-scheduled to appear - for example, during the weekend we're traveling to a friend's wedding.  (Note that that has not happened yet.) 

But these good intentions were displaced when I realized that I have ebola I apparently just don't care enough. 

There's no point making elaborate apologies for my failures to post things on this blog.  It's not like I have a giant readership that would be really sad if I stopped writing.  Heck, people who do have a significant readership go into radio silence for far longer than I have.  Granted I was supposed to write 31 of them, but I've already published, what, eight posts this month?  That's not bad!  Especially if you want to read about food.  (It's not necessary to respond to that.) 

But, I do have a (very small) consolation prize. 

Remember when I wrote that I (accidentally) discovered a way to make super-dark chocolate ice cream that didn't even require an ice cream maker for churning? 

That was really good ice cream.  If you recall, the point was basically that it was so thick it was a solid at refrigerator temperature; therefore, it could not be churned.  And that viscosity came from the extremely high fat content, so it was fairly creamy when frozen.  However, churning does add a certain je ne sais quoi to the texture of ice cream - specifically, it makes it creamier.  (OK, so, I do know quoi.) 

Since that time, I have been on a bit of a mission to figure out how to make ice cream that has the same flavor (namely, uses Baker's chocolate instead of semi-sweet or even dark chocolate), but doesn't come out so thick it can't be churned.  I was concerned that dropping the fat content too low would take me back into the low-budget ice cream territory where it's no problem to churn the stuff, but it isn't entirely worth eating anyway, because it's more like ice milk.  (No offense, but that's an inferior product.  No point making something that costs $10-12 per half gallon in ingredients if it's not totally decadent.) 

Anyway, I've done some (tasty) trial and error, and I think I have the proportions down. 

So without further ado...a super-outrageously-chocolate-y ice cream recipe you can actually get into the ice cream maker. 

Start with

2 4-ounce bars of Baker's chocolate (the zero-sugar baking chocolate stuff)

and beat them persistently with a hammer before ever removing them from the package.  Pour out of the package into a Pyrex-type bowl and add

1 cup of heavy whipping cream

and put the bowl in the microwave for two minutes on high (YMicrowaveMV).  Meanwhile, pour two cups of 2% milk into a 2-quart (or similar) saucepan and put it on low heat.  Then, separate

6 egg yolks

(reserving the whites for another recipe) and mix them with

1 1/4 cups of sugar

with a fork.  Fetch the chocolate out of the microwave and stir gently with a spatula until homogenous.  Turn off the heat under the milk before it gets to (let alone past) simmering.  Add portions of first the chocolate and then the milk to the eggs, stirring thoroughly after each addition, until entirely combined. 

Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan and set over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture has a ring of tiny bubbles and begins to steam visibly (it will also noticeably thicken).  Then add

1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Stir, then put the whole mixture in the fridge for 8 hours or until it has become well and truly as cold as the refrigerator.  At that time, you can feed it through your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Note that my ice cream maker (the KitchenAid attachment) requires freezing the "freeze bowl" for at least 15 hours before use, so if yours is similarly picky you actually want to start that part of the process first.  After churning, put the mixture in the freezer for about three hours before first serving.  Enjoy! 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

apple goodness

Before we moved to the DC area, some delightful friends (whom we miss!) gave us a lovely and thoughtful going-away present, which included this beautiful piece of pottery: 


On the bottom, it has a somewhat unusual stamp:


My fastest apple dessert recipe, and just as tasty as the fancy pies. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

roast beast

Almost as much as hearty soups and homemade bread, dropping temperatures put me in the mood to toss a giant hunk of meat in the oven. There are lots of delicious things to roast.

You could roast a leg of lamb (mmmm...lamb).

You could roast a chicken (though I'm lousy at that).

You could roast a duck (I've done it, but it's definitely not an everyday occurrence).

You could roast a whole fish (haven't done that - I find it easier to broil fish, but then again I've never bought a whole one).

But I want to talk about roasting that's EASY.  In my experience, there are two things that are really easy to roast.

The first is pork loin. Specifically, a half boneless pork loin. All of those attributes are important: if you want an easy task, you want a boneless cut. You want a loin, not a tenderloin; tenderloin is delicious (and I love it for the grill), but it's much smaller, and more expensive. And you want half the loin: the whole thing is nearly three feet long and a pain in the neck to work with - even if you're feeding a huge crowd, you might find it easier to work with two half loins than a whole one. (Obviously, if you want to feed lots of people and use two half loins, you could cut a whole one in half. But if you want to buy it ahead of time, you better have a ton of space in your freezer!)

I stumbled upon this easy-roasting project when I found half pork loins on great sales during my student days. In the intervening years I've learned a few things about making it easy.

First of all, you want a piece of even diameter so it cooks evenly. Secondly, you want almost no fat on it EXCEPT that you want a nice even fat cap, about 1/8" thick, completely covering one side. When you roast it, that will be the top; and as it roasts, the fat will slowly melt and baste the meat, so although it's a fairly lean cut, it will be very moist.

Now, about how to roast it. You want to roast meat with a marinade, of which there are three essential components. The first is FAT. A coating of fat will seal in the meat's moisture as the outside cooks. This could be olive oil, melted butter, duck fat - whatever. The second is ACID. The acid will help to start breaking down the meat a bit. You could use vinegar, lemon juice (or another citrus), or even a very tart yogurt. Finally, you want any seasonings you'd like to start infusing into your meat. (At this stage, salt is optional - I would say it's better to wait to add salt until the very end.) So, at the simplest level, the marinade could include just oil and vinegar - that would be effective, but it wouldn't add any extra flavor. And remember, I go for more is more. Of course, that doesn't have to mean more work. If you think about it, salad dressing has all the ingredients (fat, acid, and seasonings). I consider golden Caesar dressing a go-to marinade for all applications - it somehow pairs perfectly with beef, pork, chicken, fish, AND vegetables. I always have a bottle on hand. If you have a few extra minutes, you can make a marinade from scratch. My go-to marinade consists of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic, and freshly-ground black pepper and rosemary. (If you don't have a mortar and pestle, you can chop up the pepper and rosemary with a chef knife.)

I also have a variation on marinade for pork loin specifically: just a rub of oil and herbes de Provence, or even dried oregano and oil. Simple, but delicious.

The traditional method of roasting meat is to start by browning all sides in a skillet in some fat. This searing locks the juices in and prevents the whole piece of meat from drying out during the roasting time, because once the outside is cooked, it won't bleed its juices any more (unless it is cut). But as is foreshadowed in my insistence on a fat-containing marinade, I take a different approach to that. I no longer remember where I read this tip, but I follow it religiously: whatever the rest of the roasting instructions, I start every roast with 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 500F. Then I drop the temperature to the regular roasting temperature (generally 325 or 350 degrees), and give it the rest of its time. About 22 minutes a pound is standard for pork loin (though those first 15 minutes are really equivalent to 22 minutes in view of the higher temperature).

Probably you should use the USDA guidelines on internal temperature to make sure the pork is done, but I'll be honest: I go exclusively by color (which requires either guessing that the meat is done until after it's rested, or cutting it to check doneness BEFORE it's rested, which is a no-no: a roast should sit ten minutes at least after coming out of the oven so that the juices can re-absorb and don't all just run out when it's cut. But I do it anyway, and then smoosh the meat back together to re-close the gash). For a pork loin roast, I want the center to be MOSTLY greige, but in the very middle, I want to see a blush color. Once the whole roast is greige, it's too dry.

So one day I got to thinking: it's too bad that there's not a cut of beef with the virtues of the pork loin. Something without a ton of tough connective tissue that requires long cooking. And without a lot of fat ribbons that need trimming - with the whole diameter of the roast just plain meat. With a nice fat cap for self-basting. Not with a lot of fine marbling to keep it tender, since that's really expensive beef - just a plain, not-super-tough cut with a moderate diameter, so it roasts fairly quickly and doesn't get tough.

Then one day in the grocery store I noticed eye of round roast on sale and realized that I am an idiot. It's beef straight through (no fat to trim out of the middle). It's not too big around. It's not all marbled like a pricey rib eye - but it's a light red color, not too tough (compared to, say, the dark red of a chuck roast, which has to be cooked for hours to be tender).  And while eye of round roasts are cut less uniformly than than pork loin roasts, you can find one of fairly even diameter and with a nice even fat cap. One caveat: if you like your beef well done, this cut may be too tough by the time it's finished. I eat my beef medium-rare, and this roast cones out perfectly. (Not as tender as a rib eye, say, but plenty tender to be delicious!)

I'm not sure this comes through, given the length of my musings on this topic, but you could make either of these with less time actually working than it takes to read this post. A few minutes to slather the roast with marinade and pop it in a roasting pan (while the oven preheats); a few seconds to change the temperature from 500F and then reset the timer. It's ridiculously easy.

And if you want the rest of the meal to be equally easy, you can skip the roasting rack by setting your roast on a pile of winter vegetables (in fact, any vegetable that can handle a long cooking time). I recommend small cubes of potato (3/4"); large cubes of onion (1.5"), NOT slices (onions burn a LOT faster than potatoes); halved Brussels sprouts; and cubes of squash, turnips, or carrots (or all of those). Add a drizzle of oil and salt and pepper. I buy bags of frozen butternut squash, turnips, and Brussels sprouts, so this is barely more complicated than pouring bags into the bottom of a large roasting pan. I'd ballpark it at a pound of veggies per pound of meat, but if you like lots of veggies you could make a separate potato dish (or another starch - or no starch) and just fill the bottom of the roasting pan with the other veggies.

Oh by the way - I know marinade is technically something you soak meat in over time, not something you just slather on meat right before it goes on the heat (the sense in which I've been using the word).  But I think you get what I'm saying, yes?