Carbonara Croque Madames

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“Like all magnificent things, it’s very simple.”
-Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

I frequently feel that if I just buy the organic hand sewn baby clothes, shop at the farmers market, and make my home into one seamless combination of Anthropologie, Restoration Hardware, and West Elm, I’ll be happy. It’s not true of course. If I lived in the perfectly styled photo shoots that paint my social media feeds up and down, I wouldn’t automatically have a meaningful and magnificent life. And when I try to chase after those things, I end up stressed and resentful.

Thankfully, it’s not a question of lavish expense or cheap mass production. Mending, making do, thrifting, and re-purposing can go a long way in adding a little effortless elegance to our lives.

These sandwiches are just that: effortlessly elegant. The bread was a housewarming gift from a friend. The chicken and white wine bechamel were leftovers from this recipe. They came together quickly and easily and only after I pulled them out of the oven, did I realize that what I had on hand was a perfect marriage of chicken carbonara and a croque madame.

If you’re craving something easy but oh so satisfying for a weeknight dinner, pick up a rotisserie chicken and whip these up.

Carbonara Croque Madames

1 large baguette (for four sandwiches)
Chopped leftover roast chicken, rotisserie chicken, or cooked chicken breasts
4 slices of bacon
4 eggs
1 cup white wine béchamel
1 cup grated gruyere (swiss or parmesan may be substituted)

Grease a baking sheet with olive oil and preheat oven to 350F.

Fry bacon to desired crispness. Remove and chop into small pieces. Fry eggs in the remaining bacon grease.

Slice bread into four pieces and then slice lengthwise. Spread béchamel generously on each slice of bread. Sprinkle the gruyere on each slice. Top each sandwich with chicken and bacon.

Place each sandwich half on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Once the sandwiches are finished baking, place a fried egg on top of each.

Serve with a simple green salad and vinaigrette.

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Carbonara Croque Madames

Booklist: Life-Changers

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I’m going through my master reading list depressingly slow, but I still continue to add to it. I do love when people make book lists though, so I thought it would be fun to do my own posting series of themed book lists.

Melinda Selmys recently wrote a list of the books that have changed her life. Not her favorite books, but ones that were pivotal in forming her mind and soul and thoughts and actions. I think tracing your intellectual and spiritual formation through the books that you’ve read is a good exercise, so that’s where I’m going to start with this series.

1.The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum: This series was so formative for my imagination. Apparently some people don’t like them? I was obsessed as a kid. With wildly fantastic characters, plots, and details, these books opened my tender little mind to new vistas of imagination.

2. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: the whole book is the loveliest and my favorite of all time. When I think of eternity in my limited way, Kenneth Grahame’s prose always springs to mind. The Wind in the Willows was life-changing for the chapter, “The Piper of the Gates of Dawn”. The intersection of spiritual ideas in fantasty literature (even in the domesticated fantasy of the Willows) was groundbreaking for me. My earliest literary memories are of being read to from The Chronicles of Narnia but I never thought critically about Lewis’s writing as a child, and I felt like most of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was simple allegory which as a budding young wannabe writer felt inhibiting. So this chapter describing the ache and mystery of beauty with a capital ‘B’ was a revelation to me of the transcendental power literature can possess.

3. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: When I read this in the sixth grade, immersed as I was in Harry Potter and the like, I found it amazing and liberating that a girl could be a heroine in a genuinely good book. So to sixth grade me, that meant it was okay to write about spunky, imaginative girls like me.

4. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken: As a teenager I was hesitant of the idea of marriage because I feared that it might turn out to be quite boring. A little excerpt from my diary at the time reads, “If I’m called to marriage, I hope it’s to a man that has the humor and charm of George Bailey and the holiness of Blessed Louis Martin” #aimhigh. Lucky for me, I got Inigo Montoya meets Alyosha Karamazov 😉 I just wasn’t sure that marriages overflowing with creativity and beauty and adventure, marriages present in the immanent plane but always looking to the transcendental plane, actually existed. Now I’ve come to realize that even marriages that are seemingly uninteresting from a worldly perspective might invisibly be teeming with divine love and grace. As a college freshman, however, I needed A Severe Mercy, the loveliest primer in the possibilities of enduring, romantic love to make me more receptive to considering the vocation of marriage.

5. On Fairy Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien: Not a book but an incredibly significant essay for me. It built off my intuitive experience with The Wind in the Willows: that fantasy literature (particularly written for children) can be a channel of transcendence.

6. The Dream of Gerontius by John Henry Newman: I don’t know when my preoccupied fear of death started but as a mother it haunts me frequently. I read this poem in a college course completely devoted to studying literature as an opening to transcendence (I know–get over this theme already…can’t…won’t). It details the process of a soul leaving this earth and experiencing purgatory. It’s an oddly comforting poem and it has reminded me since the day I first encountered it to try to live out the small acts that compose my day with dutiful love, to pray for the dying and the holy souls in purgatory daily, to pray for a good death for myself and for those whom I love, and to take comfort that our God is a merciful one.

7. Great with Child by Beth Ann Fennelly: I still get babycenter email updates from something I naively signed up for when I was pregnant. I have tried to unsubscribe and I think the unsubscription process was designed by Daedalus himself. Anyway, I could really do without their overflow of information on all the practical, medical, and joyless aspects of pregnancy and parenthood. Fennelly’s luminous words on pregnancy and new motherhood were exactly what I needed one morning last summer at 5am when I couldn’t sleep because of my irrational anxieties about the impending onslaught of frighteningly bright plastic baby crap. Apparently this trend of literature (both non-fiction and fiction) about pregnancy and new motherhood is growing, and I am glad for that. Something so profoundly transfiguring as motherhood demands to be written about with the same seriousness of other great literary subjects.

Honorary mentions: The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis; A Prayer Journal, Flannery O’Connor; The Golden Key, George MacDonald; various poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins

What’s on your list?

 

Booklist: Life-Changers

Checking in

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After many long, loooong nights of painting and podcasting, Pax Paper is open! I am so grateful for the support and excitement you have all shown about it. There are only prints listed in the shop now but in the coming weeks I’ll be adding greeting cards, so be sure to check back!

I have several blog post drafts that are in various states of completion, but for now I’m just going to leave some links that are worth the click.

-Podcasts really are where it’s at when it’s 2am and you are the type to jump at every little sound. It feels like you’re surrounded by these wonderfully empathetic and edifying friends. At least the On Being podcast does which is what has been endlessly streaming from my speakers from about 9pm onwards every night. My favorites thus far: Jean Vanier, Mary Catherine Bateson, Jaroslav Pelikan, Marilyn Robinson and Marcel Gleiser, John O’Donohue, Ira Byock, and Stuart Brown. Not every one of them is created equal though. My husband says Joanna Macy’s translations of Rilke almost ruined Rilke’s poetry for him. Reading the amazon reviews of her translation seems to be in keeping with that (“Not a translation, but an ideological savaging of Rilke“…all the crying-laughing-weeping emojis), so proceed with caution 😉

I’m always taking suggestions for new ones so if there’s a podcast you just can’t live without, let me know!

-Melinda Selmys is writing a book on NFP and I couldn’t be more excited. Because natural family planning, while yes we’re convinced is worth it, is no walk in the park.  Melinda Selmys has this rare ability to combine compassion with honesty with intelligence. The comments on her post were telling for just how needed is a book written from such a perspective.

-I have no clue what we’re going to do about school for our children when the time comes. All the schools I love are pricey and I’m not quite sure I have the temperament for homeschooling. We shall see. Simcha’s post on sending the kids to school was short and sweet and encouraging for whatever we discern is best for our family.

-This pizza dough was divine and easy! If I didn’t have to crank up the oven to 500 degrees, we’d have pizza tri-weekly. We did some fun flavor combinations: kale, honey whipped ricotta, roasted tomato and then roasted beet, broccoli, bacon, and I wish could say burrata for the alliteration but it was ricotta again. Yums!

Happy Feast of St. Clare of Montefalco!

Checking in

Brandy Plum Syrup and Notes on Namedays

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August 4th has always been a favorite day of mine. This might make very little sense considering how hot it always is (and you know I hate the heat) and how close to the beginning of the school year it is (and trust me, I can give you an earful about how much I hated public school). But August 4th, despite its drawbacks, happens to be my nameday.

I don’t know if I was specifically named after St. Dominic Guzman (ahem, Mom?) but according to Slovak rules, I get his feast as my nameday. His feast is technically August 8th on the General Roman calendar, but in Slovakia, namedays are based on the Tridentine calendar on which his feast falls on the 4th. (Does all this sound like calendaristic gibberish? To me too. As much as I want to live by the liturgical year to a t, I don’t understand all the calendar discrepancies. Jessica is your girl for that.)

Slovaks, all of them–practicing Catholics or not at all, celebrate namedays with equal import as birthdays. You get cake and presents and kisses and well wishes. But I had a very Americanized upbringing, so every August 4th, I’d just get something small: roses or a fancy chocolate bar or a pretty little knick-knack to add to my collection and to form me into the recovering maximalist that I am now.

Once, I actually got to celebrate my nameday in Slovakia. I ate my weight in langos (fried dough slathered with butter and garlic and cheese) and happily received all the aforementioned nameday glories. Yesterday afternoon, as I was about to leave my parents’ house, I mentioned that my nameday was today so my mom put a book (that she’s lending to me) in a gift bag and we basically had to drag the rest of my family down from their various activities to eat ice cream together. I don’t know which nameday celebration I prefer. (No, I actually do but the ridiculousness of the latter does make me laugh.)

There’s no connection to St. Dominic in this recipe for brandy plum syrup. You can google St. Dominic feast day food ideas and get boatloads of those I’m sure. I just happened to have very ripe plums that needed to be used up fast and this ended up being the most simple and luxurious way to do so.

Today for my nameday, I’m going to say a rosary and I’m going to have a bowl of cinnamon vanilla ice cream topped with biscoff cookie crumbles and drenched in this brandy plum syrup. I hope for your nameday you do something equally as simple and luxurious.

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Brandy Plum Syrup

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
5 very ripe black plums
2 tbs brandy or cognac

Chop your plums up into large pieces. Stir water and sugar together over medium high heat until dissolved. Add the brandy and the plums and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer for at least 25 minutes or until fruit is completely soft. Once cool, pour through a strainer into a container. Store in the fridge.

Tip: Give the leftover plum pieces a whirl in the food processor and eat as a compote over yogurt or oatmeal.

Some other ideas for using your syrup:


Over spiced meatballs with goat cheese mashed potatoes

Drizzled over french toast and warm vanilla custard
Mixed with sparkling water and garnished with a sprig of rosemary
Poured over a hazelnut sponge cake
Thickened by simmering longer and used as a dip on a cheese board
Stop me or I’ll keep going…

 

Brandy Plum Syrup and Notes on Namedays

An Announcement

For two years, I’ve had this idea to start a creative small business to help supplement our income (so maybe, just maybe, one day my husband can leave the corporate world and get paid to talk about poetry all day), to satiate my need to create beautiful things and share them with the world, and to spread, in a little but tangible way, the peace of Christ.

But all I’ve done is talked and talked and thought and thought about this small business but not actually done much about it. Generally, when I have some life dream, I assume that if my feelings are passionate enough about it, it’ll just happen. And then it doesn’t and then I watch other people succeed in following their dreams and then I despair over mine.

No more. No more talking without doing. No more dreaming and then despairing. This is it, guys. Away we go:

The Concept: beautiful, clean modern Catholic (but not just!) stationery, art, and illustration.

The Name: Pax Paper

Why: Because we can use all the reminders of peace in our homes and in our lives that we can get.

When: Launching on Etsy (fingers crossed!!) August 15, 2016, the Feast of the Assumption, and the first anniversary of my grandmother’s passing.

Hop on over to follow along on the Pax Paper instagram account. I can’t wait to share all the goodies I have up my sleeve with you.

But for now, some photographic teasers:

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Happy Wednesday and the peace of Christ be with you this August afternoon ❤

An Announcement

Grace is everywhere

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When I was fifteen, I very much wanted to be a nun tucked away in some quiet cloister in the mountains spending a life of contemplation and prayer. But if I did get married, I’d have ten well-behaved children, sew all their clothes, speak to them off and on in multiple languages (because I’d be fluent in like five of them, duh), and somehow still manage to chase my dreams of being a published author and wallpaper designer. And of course, we’d be living in a pretty little cottage in some foreign countryside. And I wouldn’t be frazzled and stressed. I would be the most peaceful and collected sweet dreamboat of a mother. I would actually somehow have my sh** together.

Well those potential futures were fun to idly dream about when time was hilariously ample and I should have been drilling myself on declensions and verb tenses. Needless to say I’m on a fast track to neither of those lives. Today, I spoke to my son half in English, half mirrored baby babble. I found a stain on my shirt that might be chocolate, might be poop. I have yet to change out that shirt. Or put my on contacts. Or get out of my jams. Oh and I definitely haven’t published a thing or designed any wallpaper.

I think if you would have given fifteen-year-old Dominika a real depiction of the mother she would become, she would have gone into mourning over the death of her imagined future self, and said in unison with a despairing Gerard Manley Hopkins, “AND WHAT DOES ANYTHING AT ALL MATTER!” But I’m at peace with all this.

There are certainly days when I’m not at peace with it. Days when it feels like my other dreams and ambitions outside of motherhood are increasingly slipping away. Days when I selfishly get frustrated that I actually have to watch my little adventurer like a hawk when just weeks ago his immobility meant I could get things done. Days when I question my parenting decisions because of all the judgment and expectations that seem to float around. Days when I fear having more children because of the fear of having more of these days.

But there’s a strange way in which this vocation of stay-at-home motherhood, which on one hand is so unlike what I desired, is, on the other hand, very much what I have desired all along. I wrote to a friend while I was pregnant that what I desired most about religious life when I was in high school was a quiet place to grow freely toward the light of God (Hopkins got me then too). And how in being pregnant, I got to be a quiet place for a new soul to grow toward the light of the world.

Since my son was born, more parallels between the cloistered life and this one spring up in little places. Like how being with him, really being with him and not being on my phone or computer, means contemplating beauty in places unlooked for: the grain of the underside of the coffee table or the delicious crunch of a plastic water bottle in his small hands.

Or how he shares with us the joy of simply existing in a community of love. Yesterday, before bed, we cuddled with him in our bed and our usually very uncuddly baby snuggled up to us and laughed and laughed anytime we did anything at all. He couldn’t handle us making faces at him or kissing him or even me just laying my head on his little belly. He just shrieked with the most glorious laughter over being with the two people he most loves and who love him the most.

There’s a wonderful line at the end of The Diary of a Country Priest: “Grace is everywhere.” Georges Bernanos’ novel is about the seemingly mundane and ineffective life of a parish priest, and in the seemingly mundane and ineffective life of a stay-at-home mother, these words remind me of how meaningful the achingly long moments of our days can be.

Grace is everywhere. Not just in religious communities. Not just in the life of the instagrammer whose feed most increases our jealousy. Not just in white washed minimalistic homes. If we look with eyes of love, we might see that transcendence abounds and beatific light washes over the crumbs and the messes and the crosses we carry.

My husband and I hope and pray for more laughing little babies, and with more, the days will get harder (and eventually I imagine easier in some ways), but right now I’m thankful for my quiet life with this one who forces me to be still and grow toward the light of God.

 

Grace is everywhere