Monday, September 15, 2014

We’re making it way too hard, people! Cooking isn’t rocket science. Food is fun (no, really!!)

So I read this article the other day about how the ideal of the home-cooked meal is becoming a major burden for working mothers. 
And—even if I only work part time—I get it. I’ve been concerned about the difficulties facing low income families (especially with single-parent households) for a while. But I’m worried that the truly dramatic burdens facing some households are being used to justify a different kind of burden that other, more fortunate women are facing. In this piece, the phrase that stuck out was, “time pressures, tradeoffs to save money, and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials.” Advocated by foodies? Say what?

Enter the real problem: the idealized version of the family meal. So it's a choice between fantasy and nada.

I try to keep some balance when it comes to food discussions. I am sort of a foodie (ugh). I really love trying new things—whether I’ve made them or someone else has. I love to cook. I love to eat. I love anything to do with food—consuming it, thinking about it, smelling it, planning it. But I also live in reality. A reality that includes 5 children under 12, a husband who hates anything very strong or pungent or spicy or any shellfish that requires work…and kids who change their minds about what they like. And I know not everyone is into food like I am.

I have many good friends who are stay-at-home moms but find the task of cooking meals for their family totally overwhelming. And it makes me unbelievably sad that, as a culture, we have time to teach our kids to play soccer and take dance and music lessons but learning how to cook and enjoy food is too hard. (It tempts me to go off on a rant on our Puritanical culture but I’m trying to stay off that soapbox….)

So, let’s forget about the foodie expectations. Let’s forget the idealized image and shoot for something that tastes good enough to eat, that doesn’t take forever (or can be done in advance in family-friendly way), and that doesn’t cost a fortune, and that’s generally good for you. If you look back to cookbooks from the 50’s and 60’s (and who does?—they rarely have enticing pictures), you’ll see that A LOT of the recipes include a can of this, or a can of that. Lots of those meals depended on basic ingredients and preserved items of various kinds. Not all the burden was on the mom to produce instant magnificence—even if she was the stay at home sort. Growing up, my mother always cooked, even though she had a full-time job throughout my childhood. I am very grateful that my mom was always a good cook, but never a gourmet cook. It made it clear that making food was something we could all do.

One of the real problem facing moms today (unlike our own mothers) is that we’re competing for our families’ attention when it comes to food (since outside food is so readily available to them) and that we have raised our own expectations too high. But, trust me, if you cut off that access to other food, kids still get hungry just like they used to. (In my family, there is some sort of dessert every night—absurd as that is. But it’s amazing what most kids will eat if they understand that not finishing their regular food means no dessert). And they will eat the food we make—especially if we make some effort to make it good. Which is much, much easier than we tend to think.
Lest anybody think I’m all talk, here are a few ideas:

--Marinade your meat. It works wonders. If you have no ideas, try ranch dressing. Or teriyaki. Grill it your meat after you’ve marinated it. If that’s too hard, get one of those George Foreman indoor grills. You can get them used really cheap, too.
--Try a slow cooker. Not expensive, and you can cook something so it gets all saucy all day long. Pulled pork is great in, as are a ton of other things
--Cook your quinoa/rice/other grains in chicken broth. Or add some Parmesan cheese to it.  Or some nuts.
--Roast your vegetables: broccoli, potatoes, carrots, whatever. My children starting loving cauliflower (!!) after I started roasting it with a little oil and salt. Or if buying fresh veggies is too tough, buy them frozen and steam them. Then add breadcrumbs.
--Explore pasta options that include protein. Sausage with broccoli (or broccoli rabe if anyone will eat it. My brother was even willing to eat kale this way) is great. Salmon and peas (try it with a pink sauce—get jar marinara, heat and add a little cream. If you can cook a little garlic in oil before you start, that’s even better. Or add a little wine. Or a little parmesan. But even just tomato+ cream is a winner even by itself).
If cooking at home still seems too hard, start small and slow. Make dinner once a week. Or make some part of dinner once a week. See if you can find a way to actually enjoy it- find something you know how to make that your family likes. Try making things you know someone loves, and let it grow from there. Because, as I have seen time and time again with my family, people learn to like things if we’re bold enough to keep trying them.

Yes, we can!


Saturday, August 30, 2014

In the unlikely event that you're wondering where I've been....(*hint* it's not JUST laziness)



(What do these people have in common? I interviewed them recently. (From Left to right: Lisa Brenninkmeyer, John Waters, and Frank Simmonds)

So I realized the other day that should say something about what appears to be my radio silence on my blog. Especially because it is a radio silence. Lately, I've been focusing my creative energy on a show I'm doing for RadioMaria. It's called Conversion Keeps Happening, and basically, I interview converts and cajole them into telling their stories and try to ask them questions that show how their lives are relevant to ours.

I'm linking to it here in case you're interested.
http://radiomaria.us/conversionkeepshappening/category/conversion-keeps-happening/

And if you're not, I'm sure it won't last forever and I'll be back to blogging when I can't help myself.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Deep and Lasting Mother’s Day Wisdom On Fashion


I was just trying to get your attention with that title
you didn’t really think I was going to share something wise and deep with you, did you? And about fashion? C’mon, now.

I tried to develop this post into something truly useful—you know, like the Top Ten List of Clothing Every Mom Should Own and so forth. But I had to let it go because I was too busy and too uncreative and didn’t want to waste your precious time with “filler” clothing items. But I thus have reduced it to easy reading so you can enjoy those Mother’s Day more mimosas without the distractions of lengthy reading.

The Single-Most Overrated Wardrobe Item for Moms:

The crisp white shirt. Apologies to Anna Wintour. I love the idea of the crisp white shirt. Hell, I even have several “white” shirts hanging up in my closet (though none were purchased recently—my learning curve is finally kicking in). The problem is generally to be found in the whole “crisp” and “white” juxtaposition. For a white shirt to look that good, it needs to be really white. And keep a white shirt really white is not so easy in mom life.  There are so many things that can happen—spit up, drool, baby food, Italian or Indian food, spilling the long-awaited glass of red wine on yourself in sleep-deprived sloppiness. Keeping that shirt white just can’t be a priority item for most moms. And then there is the whole crisp part. Even when you’ve done your damnedest and the shirt is actually, miraculously, white, there is this crisp thing. That involves an iron, and your using said iron--a very hot object inevitably plugged into a socket with some level of precariousness--to continuously press said white shirt until it is crisp.

Need I say more?

The Single Most Underappreciated Wardrobe Item for Moms:

The patterned jersey dress. Hell, the patterned anything, really.

Being from New York City, black has always been the go-to color for wardrobe staples (though, truth be told, I’m a color girl at heart and never fully embraced black the way most of my friends did).  But when I became a mother I discovered the deep dark side of black. As in, it shows an awful lot. Especially spit up. And lint. And dog hair. But lighter colors have their downside, too (see my comments on the crisp white shirt. Light, non-white, colors can be even worse since you cannot bleach them). Enter the patterned article of clothing. When there’s a pattern, it is *way* more difficult to notice spots of any sort. Especially if it’s a pattern that involves both light and dark colors. But the patterned jersey dress is like heaven on earth. If you don’t usually wear dresses, let me recommend them. Amazingly, they look like you’ve made more effort when you’ve actually made less. As in: no coordinating top and bottom. No figuring out appropriate what underwear looks appropriate with the bottom you’ve chosen. It’s true that nursing moms will need a wrap option.  But the jersey dress is really a very happy-making choice when it comes to the style + comfort equation. It feels like you’re wearing sweatpants, but it’s a dress. And if it’s patterned, it will forgive a seemingly endless number of mishaps.  What more can you ask for? (OK, telepathy is not yet available through clothing).

 You’re welcome.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Jimmy Fallon: from altar boy to priest (Picking up where Teri Gross left off….)

If you have any interest in late-night TV or comedy or SNL or just good (mostly) clean fun,  you probably know that Jimmy Fallon took over the Tonight Show from Jay Leno recently (February 17, to be exact). There was some fanfare and, for a few days after his opening night, there was some particular interest in Catholic circles, stemming from the fact that Jimmy Fallon was raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools (included his college experience at St. Rose where he majored in Communications before dropping out), and (at least according to his interview with Teri Gross), tried going back to church while he was out in LA but got discouraged by what he saw there.

(no this video has nothing to do with post. I just like it.)



Teri Gross is a great interviewer and has a wonderfully wide repertoire and rapport with her guests. But I felt like she couldn’t quite get what Jimmy Fallon was saying in his interview—there is a real (albeit surprising) connection between what he does and being a priest. If you look at Fallon’s comments, he is letting Teri lead him to calling himself the priest-performer at church, but what he relates most to is the altar boy role. He loved the way people felt at the end of mass. Either way, what it gets at (and which Teri, understandably, didn’t seem to get) is the unusual nature of the priest’s role: he’s central to the mass, he is the principal agent, but the mass is not really about him: it’s about Someone Else. Fallon is very much like this as the Tonight Show’s host: he’s funny, but he doesn’t really make the show about him. This was particularly obvious on his opening night of the Tonight Show, where there was a lot of very sincere thanking on Fallon’s part and a sort of glad surprise that he had gotten to this place. Fallon is funny, but he’s not that witty. He’s a great comic actor and imitator, but he’s not a verbal jabber.  There is a gentleness, a charity in his dealings that makes the show fun: he wants people to feel good at the end of a show, just like he saw people feeling good after going to church. If I were a celebrity, that would be very appealing to me: a show where I get to have fun and look good to boot. What’s not to like?  Jimmy’s years spent as an altar boy must serve him well: years mirroring the priest at mass, even imitating him, but not really mocking him. That’s obvious in the funny but somewhat wistful nature of Fallon’s remarks to Teri Gross, and it’s exactly what makes him such a great host: he seems to genuinely like and be excited by the people on his show. There is a warmth and humility and generosity of spirit that in his approach that might seem just naïve if he weren’t such a natural. He’s not there to bring them down, he’s there to lift them up. And if he gets to go along for the ride, that’s even better.  No wonder he is so good at it.

Here is the “Catholic” portion of Fallon’s interview on NPR in 2010 with Teri Gross. The entire transcript is available at: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=136462013

GROSS: So you went to Catholic school when you were young.
Mr. FALLON: Oh yeah.
GROSS: Did you have..
Mr. FALLON: I wanted to be a priest.
GROSS: Did you really?
Mr. FALLON: Yeah. I loved it.
GROSS: Why?
Mr. FALLON: I just, I loved the church. I loved the idea of it. I loved the smell of the incense. I loved the feeling you get when you left church. I loved like how this priest can make people feel this good. I just thought it was, I loved the whole idea of it. My grandfather was very religious, so I used to go to mass with him at like 6:45 in the morning serve mass and then you made money too if you did weddings and funerals. They'd give you, you'd get like five bucks. And so I go okay, I can make money too. I go this could be a good deal for me. I thought I had the calling.
GROSS: Do you think part of that calling was really show business? 'Cause like the priest is the performer at church.
Mr. FALLON: Yeah. You know what - I really Terry, I'm, I recently thought about this. Again, I've never been to therapy but I guess that would be, it's being on stage. It's my first experience on stage is as an altar boy. You're on stage next to the priest, I'm a co-star.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: I'm, I've got...
GROSS: Also starring Jimmy Fallon.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: Yeah, I have no lines but I ring bells. I ring bells and I swing the incense around. But it was my - and you know, you are performing. You enter through a curtain, you exit through the, I mean you're backstage. I mean have you ever seen backstage behind an altar? It's kind of fascinating.
GROSS: Right.
Mr. FALLON: So I think it was, I think it was my first taste of show business and I think - or acting or something.
GROSS: And there are comparisons, I think, between a theater and a church. There are just kind of places that are separated from outside reality.
Mr. FALLON: Yeah. And I remember I had a hard time keeping a straight face at church as well.
GROSS: Did you?
Mr. FALLON: Which - yeah...
GROSS: Did you do imitations of the priest?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: Oh, of course. Yeah. I used to do Father McFadden all the time. He's the fastest talking priest ever. He's be like...
(Soundbite of mumbling)
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: And then you leave and you go, that - what was that?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: That guy's the best. I mean that was church? Sign me up. I'll do church I'll do it 10 times a day if that's church. He was great.
GROSS: Do you still go to church?
Mr. FALLON: I don't go to - I tried to go back. When I was out in L.A. and I was like kind of struggling for a bit I went to church for a while, but it's kind of, it's gotten gigantic now for me. It's like too, there's a band. There's a band there now and you got to, you have to hold hands with people through the whole mass now, and I don't like doing that. You know, I mean it used to be the shaking hands piece was the only time you touched each other.
GROSS: Mm-hmm.
Mr. FALLON: Now I'm holding now I'm lifting people. Like Simba.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: I'm holding them (Singing) ha nah hey nah ho.
(Speaking) I'm I'm doing too much. I don't want - there's Frisbees being thrown, there's beach balls going around, people waving lighters, and I go this is too much for me. I want the old way. I want to hang out with the, you know, with the nuns, you know, that was my favorite type of mass, and the Grotto and just like straight up, just mass-mass.





Thursday, April 3, 2014

Do you ever think how needy YOU are?

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/04/jesus-blood-never-failed-me-yet

(Embarrassingly, it took this First Things piece to make me realize I'd never posted this blog entry...But honest, I was thinking about that piece of music in mid-February, though not as thoughtfully as Stephen Webb).

A few years ago, I happened to be sitting next to my favorite Catholic Communist at a university event. One of the speakers was a young woman who shared her experience doing service work in Central America and noted how very, very lucky she felt when she got home and got in her hot shower—a sharp contrast with the reality of the people she’d met. My friend and I looked at each other and sighed --and then had a vigorous discussion about the problem with her attitude. Because it is the thing we both hate about service work. To be clear: I think service work is a good thing; even a great thing. I’d dare say even a necessary thing. Many people do it beautifully and sincerely. But too often, it is undertaken or encouraged in a spirit that is antithetical to the task: It easily becomes a sort of Post-Modern neocolonialism. Oh, look at these poor people! They have nothing. We, on the other hand, are fat and rich and happy. We will go and help these poor people with all our money and talents: they will learn from us. And we will remember how good we have it back home when we return. A win-win: how good we are, and enlightened, too! At the end, we get to come home and live our regular lives, feeling even more smug and self-contented. (Though this recent post really took down the voluntourism phenomenon, in a pretty rough way:  http://pippabiddle.com/2014/02/18/the-problem-with-little-white-girls-and-boys/. She’s on to something, though I’d say Pippa misses something, too).

Another story:   When I was living at home about fifteen years ago, my father got hold of a CD. It’s Gavin Bryars’ recording of “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” and it features a recording of a homeless man singing that line repeatedly to instrumentation. It moves me to sobbing tears every time I listen to it. Music has a power to touch the soul that is impossible to explain, and I won’t try to penetrate its mystery fully. But I know that part of what moved me was the fact of this poor homeless man singing this song of praise and gratitude—a praise and gratitude that is and was much rarer to find coming out of my lips. This man wasn’t grateful for his home or his clothes or his accomplishments or his talents. His gratitude was more elemental: he was grateful for his very being.

This gets to the heart of what service truly is: something I do because I need it. Selfish me, I need to be reminded of my need to give myself by giving of myself. I need to see people who are truly needy and aren’t spending all day faking it so I can remember that I’m needy.  Then, I get a chance to understand who I really am. And my experience with service can become solidarity, self-realization, and true self-giving, rather than naïve and patronizing work which may or may not really help the people I set out to serve.  The more deeply I realize my need, the more I can give myself truly.


The most extreme and beautiful case of this awareness is a place in Kampala, where women afflicted with AIDS live with a tremendous hope: a hope that is visible in their approach to life. I learned that these women, sick with HIV and poor themselves, had taken on extra work to make money to send to the Katrina Victims. And I thought, how lucky these women are! To see the world through the lens of their own need and their own gratitude without polluting influences. I’d like to go there and learn to live like that. Because it’s what I need

Here’s the trailer to a documentary made on the life and hope of these women in Kampala: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfhAGscOam0


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman with Simon Critchley on Happiness

Since what a man seeks in his pleasures is that they should be infinite, and no one would ever give up hope of attaining that infinity, you see why all pleasures end in disgust. It is nature's device for tearing us away from them.  (Cesare Pavese, This Business of Living)
  Amazing video--especially, but not only-- in light of Hoffman's recent death: 
http://explore.noodle.org/post/76982293225/i-dont-know-what-it-means-to-be-happy-pleasure?utm_content=buffer15f34&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

The immediate distinction Hoffman makes between happiness and pleasure reminded me of Pavese. 


 What Hoffman says about acting also echoes Terence's great quote, "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", ("I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.") The greatness of Hoffman's acting seems to come from this tremendous inner humanity and willingness to self-identify with whatever is human, without holding back any of himself. R.I.P.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Marriage *is* for you….just maybe not the way you think...


“Love consists of not looking each other in the eye, but of looking outwardly in the same direction.”
                                                                                       Antoine de Saint Exupéry



Like many people, I first read Seth Adam Smith’s “Marriage isn’t for you” when it went viral last fall.  Every so often, it pops up again as another friend discovers it and passes it on, admiringly.  Every time the piece surfaces I look a little longer at the comments. Some of the feedback is surprisingly negative (though I guess that shouldn’t surprise; there are haters for everything on the Internet it seems—I’m sure there’s someone  out there yelling “Puppies—Boo!!!” on some site somewhere). But the piece is so positive, so generous, so….sweet that I haven’t wanted to criticize without thinking things through. It’s taken me a while to put my finger on the problem as I see it.

Smith’s piece is great because it starts from a selfish point of view: Smith worries about his own marital satisfaction and hopes his wife will make him happy—but thanks to his dad’s advice and his wife’s actions, he realizes that’s not what marriage is about. He concludes that it’s about the person you marry and her (or his) happiness, that it’s about family, “It’s about others….”  I admire his honestly and humility in telling his story. I love the way he stresses the kind and gentle way his wife treated him and the realization and transformation it prompted in him—and I think he’s totally right that a loving response often transforms a hardening heart.

But here’s the problem: you can’t make someone else happy. No, really, you can’t. When you are first in love you think you can because of the intensely blissful feelings of new love. But even those feelings aren’t full happiness. And your happiness is bigger than any person—no matter how spectacularly wonderful and well-matched—could possibly fill.

Smith has been married only a year and a half, and I’ve been married for twelve and a half. He has no kids (yet, anyway);  I have five.  But I’m not saying this because I’m old and cynical and tired. I’m saying it because I want love and openness and goodness like his to last and deepen.  I worry that thinking you can make someone else happy will become just as big a trap as the focus on your own happiness. Worrying only about your own satisfaction isn’t good, but it’s dangerous to think you’re going to make someone else happy. Growing up, my mom would occasionally tell me, “It’s not your job to make your parents happy.” My grandmother had been the clear favorite in her family, and had labored under the burden of that for many years, believing that—as the favorite—it was also her job to do what her parents wanted and “make them happy.” I know that’s a parent-child relationship, but similar things can happen to married people.  You start doing all the things you think should make your spouse happy. You put their needs before yours. And then if they aren’t satisfied, you get angry. “Why the heck isn’t s/he happy? With all I do for him/her?” Or, alternately you get depressed, “What’s wrong with me?  

We can, on the other hand, help each other find happiness. We can accompany each other on this long road; we can love each other madly, passionately, truly. We can walk together, sustaining each other,  encouraging each other, making the journey much more fun--but we can’t be the road.  That way lies madness, not happiness. 

In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Here is the paradox of the love between man and woman: two infinites meet two limits: two infinite needs to be loved find two fragile and limited capacities to love. Only within the horizon of a greater Love will they not devour themselves in pretension, nor give up, but walk together towards that fullness of which the other is a sign.”

Happy, Happy Valentine’s Day!