Friday, October 30, 2009

Body Thoughts

For Christmas last year, my brother and his wife gave us a copy of Holy Sex! by Gregory Popcak.  I am ashamed to admit that I started reading it right away and then just stopped--for no particular reason. Most people know that I'm a huge fan of John Paul II's theology of the body, so there is no reason why I shouldn't have devoured the book, like I have so many others on that topic.

However, in my defense, I recently picked it up again and am still enjoying it.  It got me thinking ("Uh oh," you say, "I'm in for a long read here." Well.. maybe).

The book of Genesis tells us that God created man [i.e., humankind] "in His image."  That is, God image-d part of Himself in the male-and-female-ness of humanity.  As Popcak says, it's stamped on our very bodies.  Furthermore, when he talks about "sexuality" he's talking about "how we communicate ourselves to others and use our bodies to work for the good of others" (p 68).  And so, the theology (the study of God) of the body has primarily to do with how we relate to God in and through and with our bodies.

We obviously relate directly to and with God (worship, prayer, etc) and we do this with our bodies by means of the sacraments.  But we also have a relationship with God through our fellow beings (it is not good for man to be alone).  How do we relate to other humans with our bodies?  The obvious answer (and the most profound example) is the "marital embrace."  But what I've been thinking about lately is all the infinite other ways we relate to people with our bodies.  Because of our unique sexuality (remember, that's our whole-body-ness) we are called to love like God loves, using our bodies.  And we're not only called to love our spouse as God does, but everyone.

Love between a husband and wife has to be free (no one's forcing the Love), total (no reservation or lies), faithful (no cheating!), and fruitful (open to children).  As I've been reading Popcak's book I've realized that we are called to that kind of Love in every aspect of our lives.  I know--you're probably thinking, "How can my 'love' for So-and-So be fruitful if we're not married, or even the same gender?"  I asked the same question :)  But we can all be "pro-creative;" that is, we can bring new life to the world in many different ways, not just biologically.  If your encounters with your fellow beings are positive and uplifting and sincerely Charitable (as in Love), you can communicate God's life-giving Love to them.

I clearly haven't sorted this all out yet (nor have I finished the book).  But it's getting me excited.  I know the goodness of authentic married Love, and I'm positively giddy at the idea of being able to share that Love--the same Love, that is, not by the same means ;)--with others I encounter.  Isn't that exciting?

[it's true--this picture has little to do with the post--but it's hilarious, isn't it?]

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thankful for Warmth

The night my mother died, Daddy and my three older siblings were there with her.  After she died, holding Daddy's hand, he stayed there with her for 20 minutes, stroking her forearm, keeping the skin warm.

When Taylor and I arrived the next day, he told us how she died and how peaceful it was.  He said that at one point she looked straight ahead of her and said, "They won't let me go."  So Daddy said, "Well, Jeanette, you have my permission."  Soon after that, she closed her eyes and died.  He told us about stroking her arm and how, in those 20 minutes, he thought about how much work it was to keep her skin warm, even so small a space, even so soon after she died.  "It took the power of God to keep the rest of her warm," he said.

We spent last Christmas at my parents' house.  It was a beautiful Christmas, even though Momma kept saying she felt like it would be her last (Our Mother, the Prophetess).  I cried the day we left.  I couldn't control it.  I just hugged her and cried... maybe because I missed her already.  I'm so thankful for that hug.  I will remember it forever.  She asked, "Oh, Annie! are you crying because you think you'll never see me again?"  I told her no, that I just loved her and would miss her very much.  But I think my heart was yelling "YES! That's why you're crying!"  I think that's also why I went to visit them for a weekend in February for the CCD congress... a short ten days before she died.

There are so many blessings in this world, confused and distorted as it is.  I am thankful for the lively warmth of those I love--the physical warmth of their presence in a hug or holding hands, and the residual warmth their love sustains after they have died.  I am thankful for (soggy) hugs and final partings.  I am thankful for the stirrings of the Spirit that move us to tears, to longing, to hasty weekend trips, and spontaneous happy memories.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

[Retrospective] Menu

That is to say, I wasn't "on the ball" enough to post this at the beginning of the week, and I haven't planed next week's menu completely yet.  So this past week's will have to do. [click on the menu pic for a larger view]

Part of being a philosopher's wife means living with a budget.. and while I am the first confess I am not good with budgets, menu planning definitely helps me in that area.  It helps me not waste food (another good thing on a budget) and it makes my evenings much nicer--no scrambling to figure out what's for dinner, realizing I have nothing quick to make for my starving husband, and having to rush to the store for something quick or (even worse (for the budget)) going out to eat.

My favorite part, though, is that it gives me a chance to sit down with my Sweet P'Taylor and talk about our week--if he wants to invite people over for dinner, I can plan that into the menu.  If we're going to some school, function, hey! it's a meal I don't have to think about.  It's a lovely, weekly catch-up that's quick and quite functional.

So I wanted to go over my philosophy in menu planning, not because you're terribly interested, but because I like to talk about food :)

I don't usually plan a variety of breakfasts, except on the weekends.  During the week, it's a whole lot of oatmeal, mixed up by what fruit we have on hand (fresh or dried).  Weekends are fun, though. I love pancakes and enjoy trying new kinds on a Saturday morning, when we don't have to be anywhere on time.  Sometimes I'll make scones or waffles.
[Favorite way to eat oatmeal: 2 T milled flax seed mixed in, 1-2 T coconut oil, agave nectar, and sliced bananas on top. It's like a pina colada for breakfast :)]

I don't really plan lunches either.  When we're at home, it's easy--leftovers (mm, and it's always nice to have a warm lunch on a cold day).  When we're going to be at work or school, T usually packs a sandwich and some fruit.  I also make protein bars (recipe forthcoming), and we take those as snacks, too.  I only bring snacks :)  I hate the idea of eating a whole lunch at work, so I bring one snack for work and when I get home, I have another snack and start making dinner.
[Current favorite snack (and seasonable!): apples and cashew butter]

But I do plan dinners. Meticulously. In the interest of both saving money and improving our diet, I only plan a meal with meat twice a week.  Also, in the interest of improving brain function for my smarty-pants-student husband :) I plan fish two nights a week.  Two nights a week, we always have a "vegetarian" meal, and one night a week is leftovers.  [We also eat leftovers for lunch whenever we're home.]  So "leftovers night" may end up being a meat, fish, or vegetarian.  It varies from week to week.

My meal planning revolves around Thursdays--the day of the farmer's market.  I can get meat and fish there, too.  I thoroughly enjoy going to a farmer's market because it's slowly teaching me what vegetables are in season and when.  Can you believe I never knew peaches were a later-summer fruit?  And I didn't even know what garlic scapes were... imagine my deprivation!  Anyway. I really try to only shop on Thursdays and if I forget something on my list, I improvise or leave it out.

Friday is always a fish day.  Monday is usually the other fish day, but fish is a very quick meal, so I sometimes mix up my dinner schedule on nights when I have less energy or time.  (Momma always did that.  When she planned meals, she'd just write out 7 dinners that she had ingredients for and choose which dinner she'd make each night.  That wouldn't work for me, mostly, though.  I would make all the quick-and-easy dinners all in a row and then have several more involved dinners toward the end of my week..)  

Tuesday is our Two's-Day, so that meal, whether meat, fish, or vegetarian, is something we try to make together and sit down and eat together without other distractions :)

Since it's colder now, I'm trying to make a soup (or a chili) once a week.  Soup is a very easy meal to prepare, especially if you have a husband who thinks soup is a meal (keep working on him, R!).

I have often entertained with soup, too.  It's such a comfort food for me, I guess I assumed everyone else likes it as much as I do.  It gives me a chance to be with the company more, rather than in the kitchen making an elaborate meal. And although there are soups that take a while longer to make, it's a one-pot thing and is great for leftovers.  Which brings us to my next point :)

Since my meal-planning week begins on Thursday, Wednesday is usually the leftovers night.  It gives me a good chance to go through my fridge and see what ingredients I may have on hand for the next week.

Another thing I do is save all my weekly menus.  So far (since I haven't been doing this too long), I haven't had to refer back to any menus for ideas, but I'm sure that, once I hit a repeat season (ahem, when it's warm again), I'll go back to some of my summer menus and enjoy my salad-rich/stove-poor meals :)  And as you can see, I put the page number and the cookbook where the recipe's from.  I'm the kind of person that will forget where she found the recipe two days after writing it down...

So that's how I do it.  Interested in any of the recipes we did this week? Let me know :)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tangerine Rye Bread

Remember how I was raving about stuffed bread? Well, I made some last week (while I was "working from home" and having our tub re-glazed) and.. all things considered, it turned out pretty well!  Oh, and so did my stuffed bread.

Tangerine Rye Bread
from Cold Weather Cooking
(by Sarah Leah Chase)

In a small saucepan, heat the following ingredients, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted and the mixture is warm to the touch (about 115 degrees).
1 12-oz. bottle dark beer
1/2 c (packed) brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 T butter

Pour the above mixture over:
2 T active dry yeast
in a large mixing bowl and let sit until quite foamy, about 10 minutes.

Using a wooden spoon, stir into the yeast mixture until smooth:
1 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 T whole fennel seeds
1 T finely zested tangerine peel

Gradually add the following to make a soft dough:
2 1/2 c rye flour
1 1/2 to 1 c (additional) all-purpose flour
Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, 7 to 8 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a buttered large bowl.  Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

[Has anyone else ever noticed that rye bread is very reluctant to absorb moisture? My rye breads are always sticky and I feel like I have to keep adding more and more flour. Any suggestions?]

For my stuffed bread, I then rolled the dough out into a rectangle (I would suggest rolling it on parchment or wax paper) and topped it with:
6 slices of chive goat cheese
Sauted peppers, onions, and leeks
Thin slices of peppery smoked ham
(I think it also would have been great with some sliced pepperoncinis and some spinach)

Follow Ashley's fabulous instructions on closing the bread and shaping. I couldn't give you any better advice (I won't go into details about why I suggest rolling the dough out on parchment, or why you should definitely follow Ashley's instructions, rather than making up your own...)

Let the bread rest while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for 25-35 minutes (depending on how thick you rolled the bread). Serve warm :)

However, if you want to follow Chase's original recipe, she makes Tangerine Rye Rolls (I used half the recipe for the bread and did half a recipe of rolls).

For Rolls: 
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Cut the dough into 24 equal pieces.  Roll each piece several times with the palms of your hands to form a nice roll shape.  Place the rolls about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 to 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Using a razor blade or scissors, cut or snip a small X on the top of each roll.  Beat in a small bowl:
1 large egg
1 T water
and brush over each roll.

Bake until light golden brown and hollow sounding when the roll is tapped on the bottom, 20 to 25 minutes.  Serve warm or cooled with a crock of sweetened butter.  These rolls will freeze well and are great to keep on hand for unexpected entertaining throughout the winter months.  They also make nice bases for turkey sandwiches.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

Two years ago, T and I had our first "on-our-own" Thanksgiving.  I got this recipe from my boss as a variation on the regular sweet potato souffle.  I really liked it--though I would have made the streusel topping a bit more crumbly and crispy.

Boil in salted water for 2 minutes:
6 medium sweet potatoes (~ 3 pounds), peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
Drain and rinse under cold water.

Grease a 9x13 pan and layer sweet potatoes in it. Pour over:
1 1/2 c heavy cream
cover with topping (below)

combine with pastry cutter or in food processor:
2 t butter, softened
2 t flour
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c blended oats

Bake 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes


But now, having a milk allergy, I can't do the whole "cream" thing :(  So I decided to fiddle around and come up with my own "vegan" version. (Incidentally, we had these spuds last night with "Deviled" Beef Short Ribs. Ooh, so tasty!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Boil 3 medium sweet potatoes (probably enough for 4-6 people), peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick, in salted water for about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Grease 8" casserole dish (I used a pie pan) and place sliced sweet potatoes in the pan (at this point, you can place them in the fridge to prepare later).

Saute 1 small onion (optional), quartered and sliced, in some oil until translucent, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Layer onions over sweet potatoes in pan. 

Pour about 1 c coconut milk over potatoes and onions (you may need more or less coconut milk depending on the dish you're using. You want to have about a half-inch of coconut milk with the potatoes in the pan (or 3/4" if it's a small pan stuffed with potatoes).

combine in food processor and pulse until finely crumbed:
1/2 to 3/4 c oats
1/2 to 3/4 c nuts (I used walnuts, but pecans or almonds would work just as well)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice (or nutmeg or cloves--be creative!)
1 to 2 T sugar [if you want to use honey or maple syrup, add it with the coconut oil, after the dry ingredients have been crumbed]

Add slowly, until the mixture starts to hold together:

2 T coconut oil [be sure to add this gradually--the amount of oil from the nuts makes a big difference in how much extra oil you need]

Crumble topping over sweet potatoes and onions.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes (when sweet potatoes are tender all the way through and the milk is bubbly).  Be sure to place a parchment-lined baking sheet under the sweet potatoes, in case the milk boils over the sides!

Serve up and enjoy!

Our "New" Living Room

Some of you have asked to see pictures of our newly re-arranged living room :)  I know it's a little dorky, but you don't have to read it if you're not interested!

Our new buffet. I'm also planning on re-doing the pictures scattered about the wall here.  I'll post pics of that when I get it finished.

Can you believe we fit all the stuff that was in the other dressers into this bitty one? We got rid of a lot, too :)

Shot with my bookshelves, too.  We wanted a much more "open" set up with more room to sit down and add chairs.

From the hallway. The futon couch used to be up against the windows.

From Taylor's "study" (closet).  You can see the nifty icon box-shelf I built on Monday evening. I think it turned out pretty well, huh?

We're also going to take out the a/c for the winter, to let in more light :)

Wanna come over for some tea and hearty conversation?!

Liquid Gold

That is to say, homemade chicken stock!  I love this recipe because it gives the stock time to fill your kitchen with delicious chicken-y fragrance, which is wonderful to come home to on a cold day--whether or not you're having soup for dinner that night :)

I know a lot of women don't have time to make homemade stock--but if you have time to roast a whole chicken, you also have time to make the stock. Be sure to save all the bones people nibble from your chicken (we usually just put the legs and wings back in the pan with the rest of the chicken).

So here's how to make stock:

Pick all the meat off a roasted chicken (there's some on the back of the bird, too!). Reserve the meat for later use (chicken salad, sandwiches, soups, etc).

Place the chicken bones (and skin and "goop" from the bottom of the roasting pan--that's all good fat that you can remove later, but can extract the nutrients from while boiling) in a large (at least 6-quart size for a 5 pound roasting chicken) stock pot on the stove .  If you want, you can even break the larger bones in half so that the marrow is more exposed.

Add to the pot:
4 quarts cool water (preferably filtered)
3 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 large onion
2 T vinegar

Let the chicken and vegetables soak in the cool water with the vinegar for 30-60 minutes.  Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the stock to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the top (discard foam).

Reduce heat and let stock simmer (crack the lid of the pan just a tiny bit--you don't want too much steam to escape) for 3-6 hours (!), stirring occasionally.

This is the part where people usually say "I don't have that kind of time!" But here's the trick: if the heat is low enough to just keep the stock very hot-but-not-boiling, you can go about your merry business while it's "stocking."  I've even left the pot on overnight (is that horrible? we have an electric range--maybe that makes it safer?) and strained the stock in afternoon of the next day.

When you declare the stock done, add a large bunch of parsley and simmer for another 10 minutes (you get more minerals that way), then turn off the heat and let it cool to at least lukewarm.

When cool, pour stock into a suitable container through a strainer (you can use as fine a strainer as you want. I've used everything from a light-weight tea towel to a strainer lined with cheese cloth before for very clear stock, but lately I've just been using our colander which lets more chicken "stuff" through. It's a "personal taste" thing (or, for me, a laziness thing!)).

If you have a compost pile, I'm sure you can add the stuff-in-the-strainer to the pile.  I just have to throw my gunk in the trash (I usually put it in an old ziploc if I won't be taking the trash out in the near future).

Place the container in the refrigerator for several hours (or overnight--it doesn't matter a whole lot).  When the fat has solidified on the top, remove it with a spoon and discard.

Now you have delicious chicken stock!  I put 2-cup portions in a zip-loc bag and freeze it for later use.  If you let the stock simmer overnight, you get a very concentrated stock and can use the 2 c stock + 2 c water for 1 quart of stock in most recipes. The amount of stock you get (and the concentration) varies depending on how long you boil it and how much steam you allow to escape.  So just be sure to have quite a few ziplocs when you are ready to freeze it :)

Now go make some soup!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cream of Chicken and Apple Soup

I was asked (told) to post some of my favorite recipes.  So here we go!  This soup was an instant favorite with us.  In addition to having two of my favorite things (onions and apples), it's so delicious! A very nice soup for a rich evening with friends, tucked away in a warm house together while it storms outside... Serve it as a first course or even on its own (be sure to make a double batch!) with lots of tasty bread.

Cream of Chicken and Apple Soup
from the Secrets of Jesuit Soup Making

2 T butter or olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 medium, tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
2 T flour
1 tsp salt
1 qt. chicken stock
1 c dry white wine
1 c heavy cream (coconut milk works well, too!)
1 c chicken pieces
white pepper to taste

In a 3-quart pot, saute the onion and apple together in the butter (or oil) until the onion is translucent.  Add flour and salt to the pan and stir to coat the apples and onions.  Add chicken stock and wine and simmer gently for 10 minutes.  When the apples are tender, blend the soup until smooth.*  Add the cream (or coconut milk) and the chicken pieces and heat till just warm enough to serve.  Adjust seasonings as necessary (the wine gives this soup a nice flavor on its own and it doesn't need much salt or pepper).

Serve with a nice bread--buttery breads, like croissants, are a particularly decadent treat!  We used a sturdy rye bread, which was pretty good.

*You can scoop out all the solids and put them in a blender (adding enough liquid from the soup to blend), and then return it to the pot... or! you can use a stick blender--my all-time favorite kitchen gadget!

Soup Night

Mm... cold weather. The perfect time for soups of all kinds!  Especially soups made from the lasting produce from the warm summer.  During Lent when I was growing up, our parish would have a weekly "soup night" (on Wednesdays).  We would pack our bowls and spoons (usually we used the "motor-home" spoons--not Momma's good silverware) and napkins and cups into the soup night basket.  (Incidentally, sibs, I saw this lady at the farmer's market with that exact same basket! So many memories!)  Ooh, and then when we got to soup night, they'd have fresh bread! and you could smell it all the way outside the parish hall.  Sometimes Momma would make her pull-apart bread (recipe to follow later, hopefully).  That bread with butter and hot soup is a recipe for happiness in a bowl :)

But I digress.  I decided last year (probably due in large part to the chilly frigid Boston winters) that soup night should be more than just a Lenten thing.  Once the weather cools down, I try to do at least one soup a week, and if I made a big enough recipe: PRESTO! instant hot lunches.


And so... I made beet soup the other night.  The soup was quite tasty, but the real reason I am posting to highlight my favorite kitchen gadget.

I didn't know they had nifty things like this until I read about it in a cookbook.  I had done plenty of blended soups before.  Well I knew the tedious process of scooping out all the chunks-of-whatever in the soup, putting them in my regular blender, and returning the blended soup to the pot.  Of course, you'd have to do this several times if you made a big recipe, since not all the solids would fit in the blender at the same time.

And the results were never uniform.  Maybe I didn't do it right, but I always ended up with only semi-smoothly-blended soups, rather than the sweetly creamed soups in the recipe pictures...

And then enlightenment dawned!  I had discovered the easy way to blend my soups.  My stick blender (which was a present from my Sweet P'Taylor) has been the most labor-saving device (compared to scooping, blending, returning to pot, repeating ad nauseam, and cleaning up the plop mess between pot and blender), at the best cost, and the most convenience.  All I have to do is plug it in, stick it in the pot, and push the button.

I rave about it whenever we have friends over for a blended soup :) In just a few minutes, it turns a chunky soup into a smooth-textured delicacy.  And the only thing I have to wash is the bottom half of the stick blender (which, by the way, is dishwasher safe!).

We have the KitchenAid blender right now, available for $50.  But before this one, we had the Cuisinart blender (for $30), which worked beautifully (until we tried to blend some chunked chocolate into a milkshake... that dinna work so well).

The only real improvement in the KitchenAid over the Cuisinart that I've noticed is that the KitchenAid has multiple blending speeds.  (though I've only ever used one, so far). Maybe the lower ones would be better for mashed potatoes? Maybe the higher power ones are better for breakfast shakes or something?  I'd have to read the "d-istructions" (as Daddy would say) to find out.

But in the mean time, as fall wraps its brightly-leafed arms around Boston and chills the air, I will have a steady stream of quickly-blended soups ready to ward off the cold.

Happy fall! Happy soup-making!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Trippin' the Light Fantastic!

On Thursday last week, Taylor took me to a trance concert :) to see Tiesto.  To clarify, this concert was not a rave!  But it was lots of fun! And the thing about trance is that it's pretty happy music.  It's hard to be in a morose mood when you're trippin' on trance!

Now, many of you know I didn't really like trance before (I would tolerate it--it's great "getting housework done" music (especially for Taylor. If you let him put trance on, he can do anything (probably even fly))).  But having seen Tiesto live gave me a real feel for the music (ha, literally--the bass was pretty intense), I have to admit that I kinda like it...  on Friday (although my ears were still ringing), I set up a Tiesto station on Pandora and listened to trance all morning.  I got a lot done, actually, and felt very energetic the whole morning (yeah.. that's quite unusual for a Friday morning at work!).

I still can't listen to it as much or for as long as my Love :) but... it's growing on me.  Here is one example of Tiesto's sound (at about 2:09 is where the bass hits).

And as for pictures.. well, it's difficult to get pictures when there are so many things to focus on.  Enjoy the few we did get :)


Friday, October 2, 2009

My Heaven

This Is Heaven To Me
[click title to listen on YouTube]
(as sung by Madeleine Peyroux)

When I hear them say
There's better living
Let them go their way
To that new living.
I won't ever stray
'Cause this is heaven to me.

Long as freedom grows
I want to seek it.
If it's yes or no
It's me who'll speak it,
'Cause the lord, He knows
That this is heaven to me.

If you've got your hands
And got your feet
To sing your song
All through the street
You raise your head
When night is done
Shout your thanks up to the sun.

So when I hear them say
There's better living
Let them go their way
To that new living.
I won't ever stray
'Cause this is heaven to me...

'Cause this is heaven to me.