Reading, Eating, etc.

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Reading

Books:

Still marching through the middle of Middlemarch but I’ve been breaking it up with a few other things:

When Breath Becomes Air: I had high hopes for profundity from this one, but I wish there had been more of an integration of medicine, literature, philosophy, and faith. However, I do realize Kalanithi was actually dying as he wrote this and I imagine writing a book without knowing if you’ll live another week, month, or year makes it a harried process. I did find his wife’s and his largely unquestioning use of ivf out-of-character for him since he had spoken so eloquently about the dignity of human life and he made such a big deal about the need to have a critical mindset when facing possible ethical dilemmas. Otherwise, Kalanithi did come across as a genuinely kind person with both intellectual and personal depth.

La Morte D’Arthur: when Joe and I were dating, we made it a point to read together and some of my happiest memories of the early days of our relationship are wrapped up in the words of G. M. Hopkins, Kenneth Grahame, Josef Pieper, and others. Somehow, between work and babies, we fell out of the habit, but recently we picked up La Morte D’Arthur and it’s been hilarious to read together.

No-Drama Discipline: because it has good reviews and I don’t know the first thing about disciplining children well (how exactly are you supposed to react when your toddler won’t stop gleefully biting you when you’re trying to work out?)

-And some Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers on audiobook.

Articles:

Work, work, work:

The Work You Do, the Person You Are

The United States of Work

The Case for Being Grumpy at Work

-Maybe it’s just because I’m phlegmatic to the bone, but does this just seem more exhausting than laudable to anyone else?

Online life:

Before the Internet: “It was a heady time!” Made me laugh.

My son is a hashtag: “The best we can do is whatever feels OK for us and our children now.” I don’t know. Is that the best? Mightn’t we deeply regret what felt was okay at one point and wish we had thought more critically about it?

More on parenting:

St. John Chrysostom’s advice on raising children

In Defense of Motherhood as Art: I have a lot, a lot of thoughts about this, but I did especially love this part:

“At my most hopeful I think that writing and art are essential to motherhood and vice versa. Each accesses the most ancient, the most universal, the most complex emotions. Each requires the nurturing of a new consciousness, a new being, a new way of seeing. Each is endlessly different and endlessly dull, endlessly challenging and spiked with constant disappointment and beauty.”

Community: Having the Right Intention: lots of ideas here I need to be reminded of for living in my own tiny community.

-And just for fun: If you’re a word-nerd like me, you’ll love this.

Eating

-I threw a girls night a few weeks ago and my sweet friends who knew I’ve been craving Asian this pregnancy all brought me Asian food. The day coincided with National Donut Day and since donuts are one of my two very favorite foods (gnocchi being the other), I made these Vietnamese donuts. (Actually, I made prepped the dough and various friends facilitated the deep frying). I made condensed milk custard dips for them (plain, matcha, and cinnamon flavored) and writing this out makes me really need to get back in the kitchen and whip up another batch.

-We also made Taiwanese popcorn chicken and as a result, a street-food tour of Asia has made its way on my bucket list.

-More Asian yums: crispy ginger tofu. I made ours with stir fried Chinese eggplant and broccoli. Unfortunately, I didn’t dry the tofu out enough to it all got stuck together in one gelatinous mass that I had to cut up after frying. Still good. Still would make again.

-I like themey-ness, so for our anniversary I had originally intended to make something like gnocchi (our wedding day food…because my favorite food) or traditional English picnic fare (we honeymooned in the English countryside). But I had things that needed to be used up in the fridge so it ended up being pan-fried chicken thighs with a white-wine-shallot grape sauce, risotto, and a radicchio almond salad. I wasn’t at all sad for the lack of themey-ness.

-Of course, it’s an unspoken cooking rule that you should always intentionally make too much risotto so that you can make arancini (otherwise known as Italian rice balls of fun).

-Easy weeknight meal: Greek lemon-chicken soup: there was half a rotisserie chicken in the fridge and I had all the ingredients on hand, but I had forgotten how good and simple this soup is. (I made it without a recipe but this is basically what I did.)

Summer eats:

Peach-tomato salad with goat cheese, honey, thyme, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Made to go alongside steaks and smashed red potatoes.

Worcestershire-balsamic marinated flank steak salad romaine leaves, roasted yukon gold potato medallions, tomatoes, sauteed onions, and goat cheese crumbles.

Tomates farcies (stuffed tomatoes). That sounds fancy, but really it was a clear-the-fridge, shop-the-pantry meal because we had tomatoes that were turning mushy on the counter. I mixed tuna (the good jarred kind, not the cat food in a tin kind), cooked rice, freshly grated parmesan, assorted chopped olives, fresh thyme, a few spoons of olive oil and brine from the olive jar. Then after stuffing the tomatoes with said mixture, I topped them with panko, more parmesan, and a few pats of butter and popped them in the oven to roast. Served with a buttery toasted baguette, this meal ended up being infinitely better than a lot of meals I plan out and shop for.

Etc.

Worth a listen. I’m always wary of buzzwords and ’empathy’ is a hot one right now.

“when…you’re imagining to be empathetic or to share suffering you’re immediately incorporating that experience into a view of yourself and your own worldview. What Arendt wanted was actually something a bit more radical than that, is to imagine something that’s not your world, that makes you feel uncomfortable. And that’s where the work has to start. And that’s why she was also very committed to thinking.”

-Do you and your significant other differ when it comes to board games? Joe likes a good strategy game (Risk, Pandemic, Settlers of Catan). I like a good party game (Loaded Questions, Balderdash, Cranium). I’ve been determined to find a game that fits us both and on an online forum, someone suggested Sushi-Go. It’s actually pretty entertaining, but it’s all the more fun when you get sushi to-go alongside it. I really think we could take our sushi game nights to a whole new level with this baby.

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Reading, Eating, etc.

Roast Chicken and Potatoes for a Sunday

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“As we have a right to believe eternity will be one uninterrupted Easter Sunday, so every Sunday throughout the year helps the Christian people to prepare for that great Sunday to come. It is a day of expectation, a weekly reminder that here is only the beginning of true happiness.”
-Maria Von Trapp

These days have been so hot. So very hot. We’re deep into a southeast Texas summer and I’ve reached the point–the unbearably sweat-soaked point–where I begin to make numerous proclamations about wanting to flee to some cool, blue mountains and never come back.

I dread getting out of the apartment to run to the grocery store because getting into the car is a foretaste of hell and the drive is just short enough for the air conditioning not to work itself up to anything resembling relief.

But last weekend, inspired by the desire to savor slower Sundays, I got the idea in my head that we needed a roast chicken. Roast chicken is something my stara mama made on Sundays. (Though she actually did live amidst cool, blue mountains and sourced her chickens locally from her chicken pen.) So, since it is my one true hope to become like her, out into the thick hot breath of summer I went to get my chicken.

I prepped it before 5pm Mass and then popped it in the oven after we came home. Even though it was 9 by the time we actually got around to eating (n.b. get thee out of bed on time to make morning Mass) and the apartment was feeling rather swampy from cranking up the oven for over an hour, the meal was glorious. There are few things more delicious than luxuriously crispy chicken skin and potatoes swimming in the drippings. Simple, juicy, homespun perfection and indeed only the beginning of true happiness.

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Recipe for Roast Chicken (adapted from both Thomas Keller and Ina Garten)

One 3-5lb whole chicken
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Fresh thyme
4-5 peeled cloves of garlic
Softened unsalted butter
5-6 halved medium yellow potatoes

Preheat oven to 450F. Rinse the chicken, remove and throw out giblets, and trim excess fat. Pat the chicken down inside and out with a paper towel. (Removing excess moisture results in a crispier chicken).

Salt and pepper the inside and out liberally. Brush a pat of butter on the inside and then stuff it with the cloves of garlic and thyme. Slightly brush the outside of the chicken with butter. (Thomas Keller famously does not butter his chicken at all because of the moisture, but I like the taste.)

Tuck the wings behind the chicken and tie the legs together (or if you’re like me and don’t keep kitchen string handy, watch this).

Place your chicken in a buttered baking dish and surround with the potatoes. (A roasting pan is ideal, but anything will do in a pinch–see tart dish in picture above). Onions, carrots, parsnips are all ideal and can be added too and sweet potatoes can be substituted easily if you’re making this in the fall.

Brush your potatoes with butter and give them a few shakes of salt and pepper. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of your chicken.

P.S. reserve those chicken bones for broth! And don’t let that chicken juice go to waste! Mix it butter and you’ll have chicken stock compound butter to amp up your dishes all week long.

White Wine Bechamel Sauce
This is a really lovely sauce for both the chicken and potatoes.

2tbs flour
2tbs butter
1 cup warm milk
1/4 cup white wine

Heat milk in microwave for 30 seconds or over stovetop until warm to touch. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and continue to stir until the mixture becomes lightly golden. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Once the mixture is boiling, add white wine and stir until smooth. Season with pepper. (I thought the chicken was salty enough to skip salt in the sauce.)

Green Salad with Homemade Dressing

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of one small lemon
1tbs honey
2 tsp dijon
s&p
Butter, red leaf, or romaine lettuce

Whisk ingredients together. Adjust to taste (Psst…I never actually measure these things out–just adjust from start to finish). Toss in a large bowl with rinsed lettuce leaves. Less is more when it comes to dressing so you may end up with more dressing than necessary. Tossing well and making sure all the leaves are lightly coated is what you want.

Roast Chicken and Potatoes for a Sunday

Weekly Edit

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Gifts from the Internet

On childhood and how we’re overcomplicating it:

  • Completely agree with this. I have very real memories of being stressed out about homework in elementary school.

“I believe that play should be the only work that kids do as homework,” said Karen Fitch, a Silicon Valley mother of a third-grade boy, and a former teacher. “Children are in school for hours on end; they don’t need to work on school subjects at home.”

  • Kids need less. Less toys. Less extracurricular activities. Less technology. This article is feeding my minimalistic aspirations for all stages of life:

“We enroll [sic] them in endless activities. And fill every space in their rooms with educational books, devices and toys with the average western child having in excess of 150 toys. With so much stuff children become blinded and overwhelmed with choice. They play superficially rather than becoming immersed deeply and lost in their wild imaginations.”

  • I don’t know how much I feel comfortable sharing about my child on here, which is why I tend to err on the side of caution. But I do follow plenty of bloggers who share all about their children. Many of these blogs made me less afraid and more excited about becoming a parent, so I’m very grateful to them and I wonder if I’m being too cautious. On the other hand, my child is his own person and I wonder how he will feel ten, fifteen, twenty years from now if I’ve put no limit on what I put out there about him. Of course, his entire generation will probably be dealing with these issues. Here’s some more food for thought on this issue:

“With the first babies of Facebook (which started in 2004) not yet in their teens and the stylish kids of Instagram (which started in 2010) barely in elementary school, families are just beginning to explore the question of how children feel about the digital record of their earliest years. But as this study, although small, suggests, it’s increasingly clear that our children will grow into teenagers and adults who want to control their digital identities.”

  • Lastly, something that I do struggle with. I want to be the sort of mother who can just be with her six month old all day absorbed in the wonder of all his tiny developments buuuut then I’d be a saint. Which I’m not. Technology dependency is such a vicious cycle in which the more I spend on social media, the more I feel the need to be on it when I’m not. I really don’t want my son’s first memories to be his mother hovering overhead eyes glued to the phone in her hand or said phone all up in his business snapping away photos. But this is pretty much the case currently.

Yums!

One of the challenges of domestic life that I tackle with great fervor is the leftover game. I relish the opportunity to upcycle them in as creative and delicious a way as possible. Sometimes, I’m like “Daaaamn girl! You can cook!” and sometimes it’s more like “Well at least we saved on groceries…” This week was all about leftovers.

  • I cooked chicken breasts, the last of an artichoke heart jar, and onions in last week’s aioli with a clear-the-fridge chopped salad (celery, sweet peppers, carrots, grapes, goat cheese-balsamic dressing). It probably would have earned a respectable 3.5 star rating except that I tried to quick defrost the chicken and the texture made me want to swear off chicken for good.

 

  • We made fajitas last weekend. I was in charge of the refried beans and Spanish rice (neither were great for the record.) I only had saffron chicken stock on hand (another leftover) so the rice so was more paella style. And then we just couldn’t seem to eat our way through it over the next few days so I thought: what if Spanish food and Sicilian food had a baby? What would that look like? Arancini de paella that’s what. I just added an egg to the rice, refrigerated it for a few hours, and used this as a guide for the rest of the process. 5 stars (at first it was 3.5 and then I couldn’t stop craving them and they improved upon reheating).

 

  • Then we couldn’t eat our way through the rest of the fajitas (By the way, here’s the secret for impressing people with tex-mex: homemade tortillas. Not actually daunting. You just need this and water and then you’ll be given lots of honor, praise, and glory.) So I made tortilla soup: threw the chicken and vegetables in more of the saffron chicken broth, boiled, simmered, shredded the chicken, loaded with cilantro, lime, avocado, queso fresco, and toasted tortilla strips. I will not lie. I had a daaaamn girl moment. 5 stars.

Other honorable mentions from this week:

  • In honor of Elizabeth’s 90th, we had Queen Mother’s Cake from our fave Queen Mother of desserts.
  • I married into the last name, Ramos, which has, as a perk, being able to call the Ramos Gin Fizz my signature drink. So, this email from a friend for a cocktail based on a Ramos Gin Fizz and named in honor of my son made me laugh (and enlist my resident mixologist to make me one):

“I give you…the Gin Léon

a shot and a half of gin
two and a half shots of almond-coconut milk
a half shot grand marnier
the juice of a large slice of lemon
about a teaspoon of honey

Mix thoroughly and enjoy.

This drink is the child of a Craving for a Ramos Gin Fizz and the Limitations of What I Keep in My Apartment. There’s definitely no fizz, and it’s not a fully grown Gin Ramos. So it’s just a Gin Léon.”

et cetera

 Let’s talk music. Because I love music recs. Which is why it’s helpful to have a friend who writes for an Indie music magazine and a husband who sends you songs while he’s at work with captions that he thinks you’ll appreciate. (e.g.: “If I were a funky astronaut, this would be my jam.”“To brighten your day.”, “Hipster advice to live by.”) Here was our week in music:

  • Monday was rough. I was taking care of my nephew and my son and had plans to load them up in the car, drive to my parents, and enjoy grandparent time. I timed leaving the house perfectly for when they both needed naps…and then I couldn’t find my keys. Which was fine until my perfect putting off of naptime meant errbody was getting cranky. So I turned the house upside down frantically asking…no…demanding that St. Anthony reveal where my keys were. The keys were not found and we all cried it out. Then I turned on some music and we all bounced about and felt better. So if some morning you find yourself a prisoner of your own home treating St. Anthony like a culprit with your charges nonstop howl-whimper-wailing, you might try turning up the music and letting your inner aerobics instructor go wild. This is my go-to Spotify playlist on such occasions.

 

  • On the other hand, maybe you’re looking for something to satiate your inner romanticist. This playlist has been our sweet naptime jam.

 

  • Not music but a further ode to the role Spotify plays in keeping stay-at-home mom life sane–did you know there are audio books on there? Like really, really good audio books. I’ve been trying to decide whether to get rid of my premium subscription because the subscriptions are piling up (but I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate ads). With Ogden Nash poetry read by the man himself and Shakespeare recited by Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes, I think I’m now listening enough to justify the subscription. No more trying to submit my ears to a whiny-voiced (though oh so generously volunteered!) librivox recording for me. The best discovery so far has been the collection of Oscar Wilde fairy tales. These are some of my favorite stories in the world and the recording by Basil Rathbone is sublime. Particularly, The Selfish Giant. Listen and try not to be moved by it.

……………

Happy Feast of St. Pius V, a man whose list of accomplishments is both inspiring and exhausting. And also of St. Joseph Cottolengo, whom I had never heard of before but whose love for the marginalized pulls at my heartstrings.

Weekly Edit