Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Kitchen Alchemist: Birthday Cake

"In which I try to make healthful, affordable, easy meals:
in other words, throwing together ingredients in hopes of creating gold."

I made this cake for Afon's birthday (the day of, not the party), and googled recipes literally five minutes before pulling the ingredients together from the depths of my parents' pantry.  I picked this one for easiness and ingredients.  But the majority of my family members are squeamish about whole milk (why?), so when I came to that part, I improvised a little.  In addition to the watery, flavorless skim milk, I added two spoonfuls of sour cream hoping to thicken it up a little.  Oh, yeah.  It thickened it all right.

After the cake came out of the oven (not burnt!!), I googled icing recipes, and narrowed down the results by which ones called for shortening.  I'd always wanted to use the innocent and unused vegetable Crisco minding its own business at the back of the spice drawer.  I actually loved this icing.  I'm not that into buttercream, but this had an almost floury taste to it which I loved.  And it was easy to whip up, easy to apply.

When Afon saw me preparing the cake, he took a full two seconds to register what was happening, turned sharply on his heel, went to the cutlery drawer, and came back with a spoon, ready to dig in.  I was able to hold him off with a compromise: he licked the icing and batter spoons, and I kept the cake intact for later.

Three out of five liked my dense, doughy cake; one of them being Afon, who gives two thumbs up to anything with sugar.  My mom and I liked it (also sugar fans).  But my father and sister thought it tasted weird.  Do with that what you will.

Time  //  A
Ease //  A
Presentation  //  A+
Affordability  //  A-
Health  //  D
Taste  //  B


Sunday, 16 February 2014

Twenty Hobbies

I stole this quote from Sarah of {Little Progress Notes}, and even though I have read it before, it stuck in my flesh like a thorn, sharp, sweet, and chastising, as it did the very first time I read it.  Someone close to me was very upset by this quote at the time, and I couldn't understand why.  Not intellectually.  Intellectually, I could understand how someone, a woman, who aimed for a profession or the perfection of a trade would balk that Chesterton thinks she oughtn't.  But my heart cannot fathom it.

When I read this quote, it's like if someone handed me a translation guide to the language of my soul.  People talk about wanting to be stay-at-home moms, and the majority of that talk revolves around the raising and education of children--which is, obviously, the most important aspect of homemaking if you're blessed to have them.  But there's more to it than that, and I see the fruits of the domestic woman in those who are not able to have children.  They're free to perfect their skills and passions.  They're broadly educated, not necessarily formally.

My own mother is extremely well-informed about current world events; her relatives in high political places talk down to her "narrow" point-of-view and are abruptly put in their place by a southern housewife.  I have a friend university-bound after seventeen years of graduating high school; she speaks with more lucidity and grace than most of my college professors.  My godmother has helped her husband raise the children from his first marriage, run three successful businesses, and start a grassroots ministry addressing the sorely ignored crisis of human sex trafficking.  My favorite women bloggers are, by a landslide majority, homemakers; more than gifted writers, they are photographers, crafters, architects, chemists, seamstresses, artists, philosophers, poets, botanists, activists, farmers, chauffeurs, and cooks.  They're quite literally everything to someone (their families).  And it just wouldn't be possible for them to be that astonishingly versatile in a career.

It's very telling that after a century of liberation, women are choosing to go back to the professions (oppression?) of their great-great-grandmothers.  Instead of being taught in an unbroken chain of mother-to-daughter lore, they're having to re-learn many of those skills that made suppressed Woman so dangerously skillful.  I suppose the feminist movement was necessary because it helped us understand.  For now we have the double benefit of having the freedom to choose and choosing not to be "free."

As for myself, being a Catholic, I have no problem being told what I ought to do and what is good for me.  But then, I believe that the so-called restraints of the patriarchy are not man-made at all, but transcend the world.

I don't think that a woman can't be focused on a single aim to forge a career.  Or that some women are best suited to that lifestyle.  I just know that in my first-hand experience with competent, thoughtful women, and for me personally, that would be sad.  It would be a kind of compromise.

I have so much to offer, so much that I'm passionate about.  God has generously equipped me.  I don't care that my ability to make a dwelling a comfortable home, or the home a place of spiritual peace and healthful stimulation, will go unappreciated by society.  And I grow weary of rationalizing my "career" preferences to that same society.  Like if I don't chose something concrete to achieve and then run it down like a fox, I'm irresponsible or somehow mis-made.  I feel, when I tell the world that I wish not to work formally for a living, a reaction akin to sexism.  If I can chose a lifestyle, God willing--and not without knowledge and acceptance of the sacrifices, as well as the blessings--in which I need not be distracted by the minutiae of the outside world, then that is what I want.  Because this is not a useless, fruitless aim.

Chesterton's logic gives me permission to embrace the scattered person I am; and he gives me comfort by telling me my efforts are not vain, nor shameful.  The domestic woman is unimpressed by the limp equality offered by a world that seeks excellence at the expense of freedom, that considers seclusion oppression and liberality narrow.  Our role model for Womanhood is a virgin and a mother--a handmaid and a queen.  And the domestic woman is the original Renaissance Man.

Thanks to Sarah of {Amongst Lovely Things} for hosting Weekends with Chesterton.

Monday, 10 February 2014

21 Steps to Obnoxiously Catholic

I don't know how I started to first come up with this silly list, but I had a whole lot of fun with it.  Most of these are things I have actually done, thought of doing, or wanted to do at some point in my life.  Twenty steps to obnoxiously Catholic: can you guess which?

1 // Preface every e-mail, journal entry, blog post, written letter, or scrawled note with "Feast of Saint ______ , __th Day of ______ Time."

2 // Wear a Scapular.  Outside your shirt.  Kiss it often.

3 // Insist on referring to every religious-turned-secular holiday with its liturgically historical title, as in Saint Valentine's Day, Eve of All Saints, and Walpurgis Night.

4 // Ask if you can have people's left-over candle stubs, "you know, for the home altar." c;

5 // For your political leanings under the About Me section on your Facebook page, list Catholic. Distributist is also acceptable.

6 // Write the Pope suggesting he make it a rule to see people's baptismal certificates before allowing entrance to Saint Peter's Basillica and the Vatican Museums.

7 // Give your children unmistakably Catholic names, such as Augustine, John Paul, Bernadette, Philomena, and Hildegard.  Also Mary, followed by any traditional name.   (Maria if Spanish.)

8 // Mentally organize your friends and acquaintances under the categories Catholic, Almost Catholic, and Not Yet Catholic.

9 // Spend far too many hours on the internet expounding the deeply Christian aspects of Sherlock, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and Firefly.

10 // Consider an education in world religion taking your children to an Eastern Rite Mass.

11 // Be the person who has a prayer card on hand--for everything.

12 // Under the second languages category in job applications, circle "Other" and write "liturgical Latin."

13 // Explain to people who stare at or make rude comments about your large family of five under the age of five that, "I'll never have to harass them for grandchildren."

14 // Spam your social networks daily with Catholic memes, Crisis Magazine articles, and the Pope's tweets.

15 // Seek out and hoard first class relics.  Do not be at all shy or ashamed to introduce friends to the decayed parts of (holy!) dead people.

16 // Make sure that anyone who knows you for more than five minutes is familiar with the life stories of Cardinal Newman, Fulton J. Sheen, or G.K. Chesterton.

17 // Tell your three-year-old that "Jesus is in the church, inside His golden box," but that, "Jesus isn't in that church; not as His Bread Self, I mean."

18 // When people ask you if you know someone who can get things done, tell them, "You know the Mormon Mafia?  Well, Catholics have something like that, too.  It's called the Mafia. . . Just the Mafia."

19 // Continually confound people by crying, "Oh, I do hope my son becomes a priest!  Or the pope!  Yeah, 'cause how cool would it be to be the pope's mom?"

20 // During the Eucharistic procession, grasp your girlfriend's arm and say, "Oh my gosh, there He is.  It's Him, it's Him!  Can I touch the cloth touching Him?  How does my hair look?"   Catholic fangirls be crazy.

21 // Consider being called a "close-minded Papist" by your college professor a deeply touching compliment.


What kind of crazy-awesome things are you known for doing?  If not a Catholic, as something else (a religion, ethnicity, culture, or fan)?  Have I left anything out of the list?

Sunday, 9 February 2014

A Book to Read // Little Stories

Today, I am tired.  It could be the ear ache I was diagnosed with last week, as I've been irregular about taking the antibiotics.  It could be the suspected-but-un-diagnosed arthritis, coming with the sharpening plunge of the temperature.  Or the equally un-diagnosed fibromyalgia, as yesterday I encountered a bit of stress involving a toddler leased to a table behind the deli counter.  (Bless him, he was so good for Mama!)  Last night, my body ached, and I was physically weary.  I came home and slept.  Today, I wanted to get up and take Afon for a walk, but something held me back, and as the hours wear on, it grows more recognizable: that feeling of unwellness that follows me around like a ghost, overshadowing me on the bad days, almost forgotten on the good.

So I googled "tired" and "G.K. Chesterton quote" and this one came up.  I don't know where it's from, and I don't recognize it, so it might be from one of the more obscure articles.  It's not exactly what I had in mind when I searched for it, but after a moment's thought, I think it'll do.

Chesterton is one of those rare authors who, for me, is both.  His are the books I am eager to read; his are the books I want when I'm tired.  He is challenging and comforting.  Chesterton, always the paradox.

Wishing today I could curl up with Father Brown; but I think it's going to take all I have just to keep Afon from bringing the building shuddering down; we should call him the {Humanoid Typhoon}!

Thank you for your continued prayers while we continue to fight to find out what's wrong.  Is there anything I can pray for you for?  (It's a Divine Mercy Chaplet kind of day.)

Linking up with {Amongst Lovely Things} for Weekends with Chesterton.


Friday, 7 February 2014

The Kitchen Alchemist

"In which I try to make healthful, affordable, easy meals:
in other words, throwing together ingredients in hopes of creating gold."

You know I like my fairy tale metaphors.  c;

There are far better cooks and far better cooking advice out there.  And while I can follow a recipe well enough, my attention is often fragmented (the writer's curse!) and my patience strained.  My favorite type of meal to make is one in which I open the pantry, pull out some ingredients I think would be complimentary, toss them in one pan or pot on the stove, and eat it!

So far, my experiments have been mildly successful.  Probably because of their extreme simplicity.  And I've got pictures.  Lots of pictures.

So I'm going to start documenting my kitchen experiments here, on a not-regular-basis.  I say "not regular" rather than "irregular" because even that word summons an inkling of competency that I lack.  It'll go something like this: ingredients, preparation, and then exams, graded on the rubric of  Time // Ease // Presentation // Affordability // Health // Taste.

 Anyway, stick around for more if you're interested.  It's going to be ridiculous.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Bigger on the Inside

Somehow I'm not surprised Chesterton penned the first "It's bigger on the inside!"  (You know what I'm talking about, Whovians!)

This quote is a follow-up and an embellishment on the first one.  Chesterton affirms the Church's teaching that the family is the most important societal institution--more important than any other, though it works on the smallest scale--in the privacy of one's own house, rarely seen or paid attention by the great political players.

As with the "everything to someone" quote, Chesterton balks at the so-called intellectuals who deem the work of nurses and mothers as somehow trivial and mundane, when they themselves put so much time and energy into the goings-on of the nursery.  It's absurd to find the formation of a human being of the utmost importance but ignore the grave importance of the ones doing the forming.  Yet that is what they do.  It's a common problem, even today, when we see that teachers and childcare providers are paid so little, treated so poorly by employers and parents.  Why should they be any less valued than doctors, businessmen, and senators?  All of those people, after all, were taught and mothered by someone.

This quote also offers an insight into the nature of God.  For, like everything He has made, it reflects the One who has made it.  The God-who-became-Man, entering the world quietly and unobtrusively, the same world He brought into being from nothing, still works quietly, privately; not in the public forum, trumpeting vast truths like the popes; or working staggering, undeniable miracles, like the saints.  No, he works in the quiet of the human heart; wooing wills, loving the lonely, doing the mighty work of redemption, which goes by, day by day, as profound and unnoticed as a flower turning a petal.

He takes a simple circle of bread and empties it, only to fill it with Himself; that tiny white Host, which is quite bigger on the inside; in fact, larger than the world itself.

Weekends with Chesterton link-up hosted at {Amongst Lovely Things}.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Secret of Kells and the Art of Making

The Secret of Kells
 by Carton Saloon, 
image {source}

In honor of St. Brigid's Day, I'm sharing an old post from my other (often neglected) blog, {Spinning Straw into Gold}.  Though the holy marriage of fairy tales and the Faith is not immediately obvious, the signs are there for those who pay attention.  I hope, if you like these thoughts, that you'll consider clicking over to Straw into Gold from time to time, where I happen to headquarter my third of our lively Harry Potter book club.


I've only recently encountered this {delightful animated film} from 2009.  The Secret of Kells is about a boy growing up in the walled abbey in Ireland during the time of the Viking raids, while the Book of Kells was being penned and illustrated.  It was an instant favorite for my family, and we play this song to our little one all the time.
This clip shows the highly stylized animation that evokes traditional Irish art.  Much could be written about these exquisite and deceptively simple illustrations.

The plot is straightforwardly simple, so much so that I was a bit surprised when the credits started rolling.  However, after stepping back from the experience of viewing to examine the whole, a clear theme emerged: that of the perseverance of human nature and its ability to create art in spite of trial.

The Book, not yet known as the Book of Kells, arrives in the abbey fortress with the famed illuminator Aidin, sole survivors of a Viking raid to the island of Iona.  Brendan is told by his uncle Cellach to keep away from the Book, as well as the forest that creeps up to the very threshold of their settlement.  Both are dangerous in different ways.

Cellach's intentions are worthy enough; day and night, he labors over the design and construction of an immense wall, intended to hold out the Vikings and defend the abbey and those who look to it for protection.  But the lure of the Book's mystery speaks to young Brendan.  Once he glimpses the fantastic illustrations, he longs to be a part of its making.  He risks disobedience at Aidin's behest and ventures into the woods to find berries for ink.  There he meets Aisling, a native faerie, who befriends him and teaches him the mysteries of the wood.  As Brendan's knowledge grows in the art of illumination, so does his appreciation for the art of the natural world.


The Secret of Kells is about pushing through adversity to continue making; about the human soul reaching out for beauty, and the way art transforms, even as men and women transform the materials around them into something new, especially works of art.  

In times of trial, we are tempted to point a finger at the dreamers and idealists; it is hard to see what the value of art is in a world of destruction.  Beauty and utility clash.  What good is a lovely song or a moving picture when death lurks at the end of every day?  This is the abbot's unspoken question in Kells.  Cellach, the abbot of Kells, was once an illuminator himself.  Jaded by hardship and worry, he forsook it and took up the task of building a wall to protect those under his care.  So desperately does he try to preserve life at any cost, he shuts out that which does not directly contribute to that aim.  He banishes his sense of wonder and refuses to acknowledge beauty.  One cannot eat a poem, he reasons.  A painting cannot stave off death.

What Cellach believes will protect him, however, ultimately proves useless.  Only, having shirked joy and the hope inherent in creating things solely for beauty's sake, he has failed to treasure the gifts and talents (and people) he had while he had them.  He has neither safety, nor hope.

Fortunately, the film doesn't end on the wasted Kells and the empty abbot.  Brendan, who, with a child's innocent wisdom, recognized in his own way the importance of the Book, facilitates his uncle's reconciliation with truth and beauty before the end.

It's a well-made, thoughtful movie, and I highly recommend it.  Whether intentionally or not, The Secret of Kells speaks to why we should still tell stories, especially fairy tales.   Our voices matter, and our efforts are not made in vain; just as the aged monk's were not, who could not have guessed the profound richness with which he endowed humanity, when he first picked up ink and quill.
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