TheCrockery

A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Name:
Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hot Stew for a Cold Day


Before I began experimenting with my slow cooker, stew did not interest me one bit. When I heard the word "stew" I immediately thought of the kind of "hearty beef stew" that comes in a can, tastes of chemicals, and is anything but hearty. When I thought of "homemade stew" I thought of plain beef-and-potatoes stew, the kind that needed a lot of added salt and pepper. Does that sound appetizing to you? It certainly didn't to me.

I'm here to tell you that stew does not have to be like that. Stew doesn't even have to contain potatoes, for one thing. It can contain beans or spinach instead. The seasonings need not be limited to salt and pepper: it may have wine in the sauce, and plenty of garlic. And hot stew, served with hot bread and a warm dessert, is an excellent meal for the bitter winter weather that may be headed your way at the time of writing. Try the "Creamy Veal Stew" recipe from a few weeks ago if you want something different. Or try today's recipe: "Beef and Mushroom Stew." I've adapted it just a bit from Crockpot.com's
"Wild Mushroom" stew, which called for a type of mushroom not commonly found in the Midwestern supermarkets I frequent. (Don't worry, the mushrooms won't have the effect of the one pictured to the left.)

Ingredients:

1- 2 lbs beef stew meat. (As with all stews, make sure the stew meat is actually in bite-sized pieces before cooking.)

1/8 cup of flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 can of beef broth (or, about 14 oz.)

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1-2 cloves of garlic, minced (or 1-2 teaspoons minced garlic)

1 bay leaf

1- 1 1/2 tsp paprika, to taste (Some like it hot!)

1 package (8 oz) of fresh, sliced baby portabello mushrooms (You may substitute another type of mushroom, but it will change the taste.)

2 carrots, sliced

2 diced potatoes

1 medium-sized onion, chopped

1 stalk of celery, sliced

Directions:
1) First chop, slice and dice all the veggies; set aside. You can do this the night before and store them in refrigerator until ready to used, if desired.

2) Mix together the flour, salt and pepper in a separate bowl.

3) Put the stew meat into the crockpot. Pour the flour-seasoning mix over the meat and mix thoroughly, until the meat is coated.

4) Add all the other ingredients. Check the level of the food: is the crock pot at least half full? If not, you can add extra water or broth.

5) Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4-6. Better yet, cook on high for the first hour or two, then switch to low. This is a nice trick for those paranoid folk who want to make sure that the food heats up to a safe temperature quickly. It is also a good way of cutting down the long cooking time needed for low heat.

Serve this stew with hot bread. (Don't forget to take the bay leaf out!) Given the cold weather, you might try a different alternative to a salad, though: try serving baked apples or another hot fruit dish for dessert instead. We need fruits as well as vegetables to stay healthy, right? Some may remind you that fruit is better eaten raw, not cooked, but plug your years and have those baked apples anyway. While you're at it, think about this ninteenth-century literary riddle: what character unwittingly sowed jealousy in the heart of his beloved by giving another woman the last of his baking apples?

Oh, and the picture on the left? It's the Tenniel Alice, of course. I chose it because I am a Victorianist- and because those cute little mushrooms from the "Nutcracker Suite" segment of Fantasia were copyrighted. Sadly, the mushrooms in my kitchen never do get up and dance.







Sunday, November 27, 2005

Adoring Fans Have a Place to Go

All of my husband's adoring fans can rejoice, as he now has a blog. No longer do you have to read my blog in hopes of hearing a few words about how he's doing. Now you can hear the story in his own (sometimes confusing) words, over at The Realm of Pseudo-Profundities. (Not to be confused with the Realm of Pseudo-Profanities!) He's blogging there under the pseudonym "Leopoldtulip," in order to protect the innocent. But don't ask me who the innocent are.


Readers may wonder what I did over Thanksgiving break. I'm happy to report that the answer is: nothing. I did in fact read a bit, but I strenuously avoided doing any real work. It was, after all, a vacation.


I did do some Christmas shopping, but sad to say, I think I bought more things for myself than for other people. Such is life when you are selfish and you own too many credit cards. However, thanks to my purchases, I hope to be able to report on the following things in the coming weeks:



1) Whether old-fashioned wooden Christmas tree ornaments are really unbreakable in the paws of demonic cats.



2) Whether Frenchwomen (or American women who eat like them) really don't get fat.


3) Whether Irish Christmas music is better than "The Three Tenors" Christmas music.



4) Whether Playtex bras fit as well as advertised. (Hmmm, maybe it's best I not report on that.)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Singing for your Supper



I can't sing very well, though I certainly wish that I could. My inability to sing means that I can't lead small groups of people in a capella music. Believe me, I've tried. There's many an Advent gathering that foundered because we had no musical instruments and not enough good singers to carry the Advent tunes I wanted to sing. And you can forget introducing a new piece of music to other people if you have trouble carrying a tune.

One of the reasons I wish I could sing well is that, if I have children someday, I'd like to be able to do what was traditionally called "Family worship." I don't mean that I want to make my children do the whole liturgy of the hours, but I'd like to have evening prayers. If you look at compilations of morning and evening prayer from different denominations, however, you'll see that many of them are designed with the assumption that the group will be singing. Probably this is because such books are designed for use in a church or school, rather than in the family, but I keep wondering if the makers of such books just assume that every family has a piano in their home and that they know how to use it.

Fortunately, John can sing quite well (all the more reason fans should adore him, I suppose) and I live in the hope that if we have children, they will inherit their voices from his side of the family. If so, I hope to teach them this alternate grace before meals:


Lord Jesus, be our holy guest,
our morning joy, our evening rest;
and with our daily bread impart
your love and peace to every heart. AMEN.
-from Daily Prayer

I don't know if anyone else in the world has tried to sing this prayer, but you can sing it quite easily to the "Old Hundreth," the tune from the "Doxology." If you aren't sure which tune that is, click here to listen.

I rather like the idea of singing one's grace. In spite -or perhaps because-
of the fact that I come from a family not noted for singing ability, singing as a means of family prayer strongly appeals to me. Many people find that music moves them to worship more easily than words alone. Though it's possible to get "stuck" on the beauty of a piece of music without really praying, it's also possible for the music to give wings to the words, so to speak, and carry the singer (and listeners) to a higher level of devotion. I acknowledge that the affective state brought about by the externals of devotion (music, candles, incense, artwork) is not necessary for prayer, and may not always indicate one's true state of mind. As a Christian with a sacramental worldview, however, I also think that these externals can be powerful tools.

Catholic families are noted for using the "devotional tools" of artwork in their homes. You can usually tell a Catholic home by the crucifex on the walls, or the statuary in the yard. But how many such families sing together, I wonder? Perhaps it's more common than I know, but I wonder if singing at home is something we've neglected.

If so, I suggest that a way to reclaim family singing is to begin singing grace. You don't have to sing the prayer I've quoted above. You can also use the Doxology itself. It has the advantage of being known by heart by most Christians (Catholic or Protestant), and the tune isn't difficult. If you wish to continue use of your preferred grace before meals, try singing the Doxology as an after-meals prayer. (You don't have to hold hands if you don't want to.) Don't worry about sounding bad. Trust me, you can't sound much worse than I did when I tried my new "sung grace" out. You also don't have to wait until you have a large gathering of people to try singing. Two people can sing together, too.

I have not tried singing grace as a regular habit yet, but I predict that it can do two things: 1) make the prayer more meaningful and uplifting. 2) grant more dignity to mealtimes. This second issue is one near and dear to my heart, or at least to my blog. Expect future updates on how to make meal time sacred time. In the meantime, don't be afraid to sing for your supper.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Adoring Fans, Line Up Now!

I knew that my husband hadn't been following my blog regularly, but I didn't realize how irregularly he was following it until today, when he asked me if I had an entry on Corpse Bride. "Well, yes," I said, adding that it wasn't really about the movie. (In fact, it wasn't about the movie at all, so I probably ought to have answered "no." )

"Did you say that you would still love me even if I were dead?" my husband asked.

"Well, no. I don't talk about you much in my blog," I replied.

"I want adoring fans!" he said. "Honey, can't I be a Johnson to your Boswell?" Believe it or not, it took me about 60 seconds to realize that that line was a compliment to him rather than to me. I'd explain this by saying that I'm not that swift before noon, but in fact, all of this took place after noon. I haven't had lunch yet, however, so perhaps I can blame it on that. (And let me add, parenthetically, that only an 18th-centuryiest would have said such a thing.)

So, though I make no promises about playing Boswell to my husband's Johnson (especially since they were both men), here's a post soliciting adoring fans to line up now in order to worship (dulia, not latria) my husband. Actually, he keeps talking about the possibility of starting his own blog, so that he can give updates on his life to all the college friends whom he never bothers to email. If he actually does that, I'll probably put a link to his blog here, so that the Adoring Fans have a place to go.

In conclusion, I realize that I have not quite managed to put parenthetical comments into every paragraph. I consider this a failure, but I'll strive to do better. (You have my word!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Goblet of Fire

I've just returned from viewing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and if you don't want spoinlers, you should quit reading this post until after you've seen the movie.

As those who are fans of the books know, this fourth book was in many ways pivotal for the series, as it contains a major plot development. The fourth book was also a "thick" book, full of different threads that tied together in unpredictable ways at the book's climax.

Sadly, the movie does not pan out in the same way. Some of the subplots are cut, some important information is not revealed, and some characters are never introduced at all. For example, there's no hint that Fred and George Weasley are planning to open a joke shop and need money to do it, because there's no scene where Ludo Bagman pays them with leprachaun gold. (There is, in fact, no Ludo Bagman.) Harry does not give the Weasley brothers his Tri-Wizard winnings. While it's possible that some mention of this will be made later, it really does seem difficult to imagine how the sixth movie can follow the plot of the book, given that Weasley's Wizard Wheezes won't have been set up for us the way it should be.

Some of the other omissions were disturbing for other reasons. Rita Skeeter plays a small role in the movie (though she's not an Animagus, and Hermione doesn't blackmail her), but she writes no article revealing Hagrid's mixed parentage. Nor is there any mention of, or appearance of, house elves, who play important roles in the next two books. Thus, a thread concerning "racial" disharmony in the Wizarding world is dropped entirely. The tensions between the different sentient races -centaurs, elves, goblins, giants, and humans- become more important in the next two books, as Rowling continues to point out that the magical world Harry lives in is also deeply flawed.

I would argue that the racial/social injustices of the wizarding world are precisely what make the Potter books useful as teaching aides. In our world, evil does not wear a snake face or a Dark mark, but we do see discrimination against people based on their parentage or heritage. Sometimes, I suspect, it is easier to talk about such issues through the medium of literature or film. That's why I used the film version of Chamber of Secrets in one of my composition classes, as a "test case" for writing papers concerned with the media and narratives of race and gender. I don't think it would be possible to use the movie version of Goblet of Fire in this way, though. It simply lacks the complexity of the earlier films. I understand that this may be because the novel was too long to be easily translated onto the screen, but it's still a bit of a disappointment. I'm not really sure that I want to see what happens with Order of the Phoenix.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Timothy Jones' Fine Art

The title of this entry will already be familiar to readers who frequent Jimmayakin.org, but for those who don't, I wanted to introduce the art of Arkansas resident Timothy Jones. Mr. Jones describes his art as "classical realism." His paintings are mostly still-lifes, and very beautiful ones at that, I think. You can read his philosophy of art here.

Now, as to the real reason why I'm calling attention to this artist. . . aside from the fact that he quotes Chesterton, I mean. I happened to make a silly comment in the combox at Jimmyakin.org about these pictures making me hungry- which is true. (If you don't see what I'm talking about, go to his website and check out the pictures of plums- do you not want to pluck them off the screen and take a bite?) My assumption is that this is not the reaction Mr. Jones desires in his art. "Your paintings make me hungry" may not seem like high praise. But then again, the comment was coming from someone who blogs about food quite a bit. So- I thought that given that I write about food, and Timothy Jones paints about food, I might have something more serious to say about his work.

As I declared in my overly long "Non-Instant food" post, I think food is one of the good things of the earth, and that it is something to be savored. (I almost wrote "cherished and savored" but I think that's going a bit too far. ) Appreciating good food is one way of appreciating the created world. Cultivating an appreciation of good food -so long as it does not encourage gluttony, nor lose sight of the value of ascetic practice- is a healthy, sacramental approach to life. In other words, liking the good things of the world is a way of being incarnational in one's philosophy of life.

What I like about about the realist work of Mr. Jones is that it very clearly shows the beauty of simple things. By simple things, I don't mean just "fruit," though of course I like that he shows how beautiful the bounty of nature can be. I mean that his paintings -like all still-life art, I suppose- show a single image from common life. This kind of realism glorifies the beauty in things (spilled fruit, a glass of wine) which we may normally fail to notice. Some of Mr. Jones' work shows a single moment. Look at the pictures of Strawberries and Cream, for instance: notice the little droplets of cream on the table. What is captured here is not just a generic concept of "strawberries and cream" but a moment (or an imagined moment) of real life. In real life, cream spills. In real life, apples may tumble out of a tipped bowl. And there is beauty in these moments, if we stop and look. For those of us who don't remember to stop and look, there is art, which stops the moment for us, holds it up, and says: "this is beautiful. Look at this. Look at how wonderful the world is."

And, though I may be guilty of overusing the word incarnational, I don't think I am guilty of doing so here. This is one artist who is very much away of the incarnational aspects of his art. Take a look, for instance, at his painting "Body and Blood."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Lake Serpent season opens

Arrrr, mateys, 'tis time to hunt the great serpent!

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - A mythical monster, believed by some to have lived for hundreds of years in the murky depths of a Swedish lake, is now fair game for hunters — if they can find it. Authorities have agreed to lift its endangered species protection.

Click here for the whole story.

In reality, I don't think any of the fans of the monster are going to be trying to kill it, and most likely, they're the only ones who believe it actually exists, so it does seem that declaring it an endangered species is unnecessary. Besides, what would the poor helpless people who live near Lake Storsjon do if the serpant suddenly ran amuck and began killing innocent people? (Aside from producing a made-for-tv documentary about the incident which filmed like a cross between Jaws and Anaconda, I mean!) I can just imagine the scenario now: noble hunter, Beowulf-like, saves town from evil inhuman monster, only to be clapped in prison or saddled with a fine afterwards for destroying the world's only specimen.

Of course, in Storsjo II: the Brood, a crazy geneticist will use DNA from the monster to clone it, only something will go horribly wrong and the clones will have mutant powers. They'll go on a rampage, destroying much of Northern Europe, but no one in the States will even notice.

In fact, now that I think about it, I don't think any one in the States would even watch a movie set in Sweden. Guess I'd better not give up my dissertation in order to write a film script about the Storsjo serpent and the man who loved it.

However, if there's anyone out there who still needs a plot for National Novel Writing month, feel free to use mine- for a modest fee, of course.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I am a Literature Abuser!

"It's funny because it's true-" my answers are in green.

LITERATURE ABUSE: AMERICA'S HIDDEN PROBLEM
SELF-TEST FOR LITERATURE ABUSERS

How many of these apply to you?

1. I have read fiction when I was depressed, or to cheer myself up.
Yes, of course. It's healthier than binging on chocolate, isn't it?
2. I have gone on reading binges of an entire book or more in a day.
Well, yes. I read the most recent Harry Potter book in about 2 days. Didn't you?
3. I read rapidly, often 'gulping' chapters.
Sometimes. When I was younger, I would "ration" the chapters out so that I could prolong the pleasure of reading a favorite book. I would force myself to read only 3 chapters a day of a book.
4. I have sometimes read early in the morning or before work.
Only in the past. Now that time is taken up by the internet.
5. I have hidden books in different places to sneak a chapter without being seen.
No, not really.
6. Sometimes I avoid friends or family obligations in order to read novels.
Sometimes. Don't we all have days when we'd rather be reading than making small talk?
7. Sometimes I re-write film or television dialog as the characters speak.
No, but I do make fun of bad dialog- does that count?
8. I am unable to enjoy myself with others unless there is a book nearby.
Not true.
9. At a party, I will often slip off unnoticed to read.
Now we're getting silly!
10. Reading has made me seek haunts and companions which I would otherwise avoid.
No, but I like the way this is worded. I picture someone reading in a seedy pub, surrounded by Opium eaters.
11. I have neglected personal hygiene or household chores until I have finished a novel.
Maybe.
12. I have spent money meant for necessities on books instead.
Some would argue that books are necessities!
13. I have attempted to check out more library books than permitted.
I only patronize libraries that allow unlimited access.
14. Most of my friends are heavy fiction readers.
Somewhat true.
15. I have sometimes passed out from a night of heavy reading.
No, but if that's a dare, I'm up to the challenge!
16. I have suffered 'blackouts' or memory loss from a bout of reading.
No, but I think there should be special credit for people who can remember the plots of novels better than history.
17. I have wept, become angry or irrational because of something I read.
Yes. They may kick me out of grad school for saying this, but I cried when Jo died in Bleak House.
18. I have sometimes wished I did not read so much.
Nope, can't say I have. I have wished that there were more hours in the day for reading, though.
19. Sometimes I think my reading is out of control.
Out of control? Certainly not! I can quit at any time.

If you answered 'yes' to three or more of these questions, you may be a literature abuser. Affirmative responses to five or more indicates a serious problem. Once a relatively rare disorder, Literature Abuse, or LA, has risen to new levels due to the accessibility of higher education and increased college enrollment since the end of the Second World War. The Number of literature abusers is currently at record levels.

SOCIAL COSTS OF LITERARY ABUSE
Abusers become withdrawn, uninterested in society or normal relationships. They fantasize, creating alternative worlds to occupy, to the neglect of friends and family. In severe cases they develop bad posture from reading in awkward positions or carrying heavy book bags. In the worst instances, they become cranky reference librarians in small towns.

HEREDITY

Recent Harvard studies have established that heredity plays a considerable role in determining whether a person will become an abuser of literature. Most abusers have at least one parent who abused literature, often beginning at an early age and progressing into adulthood. Many spouses of an abuser become abusers themselves.

OTHER PREDISPOSING FACTORS

Fathers or mothers who are English teachers, librarians, professors, or heavy fiction readers; parents who do not encourage children to play games, participate in healthy sports, or watch television in the evening.

PREVENTION

Pre-marital screening and counseling, referral to adoption agencies in order to break the chain of abuse. Librarians and English teachers in particular should seek partners active in other fields. Children should be encouraged to seek physical activity and to avoid isolation and morbid introspection.

DECLINE AND FALL: THE ENGLISH MAJOR

Within the sordid world of literature abuse, the lowest circle belongs to those sufferers who have thrown their lives and hopes away to study literature in our colleges. Parents should look for signs that their children are taking the wrong path--don't expect your teenager to approach you and say, "I can't stop reading Spenser." By the time you visit his dorm room and find the secret stash of the Paris Review, it may already be too late. What to do if you suspect your child is becoming an English major:

1. Talk to your child in a loving way. Show your concern. Let her know you won't abandon her--but that you aren't spending a hundred grand to put her through Stanford so she can clerk at Waldenbooks, either. But remember that she may not be able to make a decision without help; perhaps she has just finished Madame Bovary and is dying of arsenic poisoning.

2. Face the issue: Tell her what you know, and how: "I found this book in your purse. How long has this been going on?" Ask the hard question--Who is this Count Vronsky?

3. Show her another way. Move the television set into her room. Introduce her to frat boys.

4. Do what you have to do. Tear up her library card. Make her stop signing her letters as 'Emma.' Force her to take a math class, or minor in Spanish. Transfer her to a Florida college.
You may be dealing with a life-threatening problem if one or more of the following applies:

* She can tell you how and when Thomas Chatterton died.
* She names one or more of her cats after a Romantic poet.
* Next to her bed is a picture of: Lord Byron, Virginia Woolf, Faulkner or any scene from the Lake District.

Most importantly, remember, you are not alone. To seek help for yourself or someone you love, contact the nearest chapter of the American Literature Abuse Society, or look under ALAS in your telephone directory.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Non-instant food: Creamy Veal Stew

I am writing this post while my supper simmers on the stove. The recipe I'm making tonight was originally titled "Quick and Easy Veal Stew," but I have changed the recipe's title for two reasons. First, the most noticeable thing about this stew is that it has a creamy base. More importantly, however, I question whether the stew in question is really "quick."

I'm not contesting the "easy" part. Thus far, the stew has been fairly simple to prepare. Chop this, cut that, brown this, stir that. If I had a rating system based on ease of preparation, wherein one star signified "easy as pie" and five stars signified "I can't make this, and neither can you, Julia Child," I'd probably give this recipe about 2 stars.

However, I cannot say that the stew seems at all quick. It takes, in fact, an hour to cook. That's cooking time, not preparation time, and it doesn' t count the five-ten minutes it takes to brown the veal. Fortunately some of the prep can be done during the initial 40 minute cooking stage (see below). Now, in the world of home-cooked stews, an hour is probably nothing. Crockpot fans will now doubt point out that my favored crockery meals take as much as 4-10 times that long. And you would be right, O Crockpotters. [News flash! This following half of this entry has been completed after the eating of the stew, which I must say lived up to its expectations. I can cheerfully recommend this recipe. Now back to our irregularly scheduled blogging . . . .] Although one hour of cook time is not a long time if compared to the time it takes to cook a roast or a turkey, I am from a generation used to instant mac and cheese, microwave meals and frozen entrees. One hour of cooking, plus prep, is not "quick" by my usual standards. Many of my meals take only half an hour to prepare and cook, and in general, that's how I tend to prefer things. This recipe is one which gave me pause- perhaps because I had time to pause.

What I want to argue here -and I'm well aware that it's not a new argument- is that there is something problematic with a culture that privileges instant food prep to such an extent that someone like myself thinks an hour is too long. Food is one of the good things of the earth. From an evolutionary perspective, we can account for the good tastes associated with food by linking them to benefits they provide for us (thus sugar and fat, both valuable in times when calories are in short supply, add much to flavor). From a Christian perspective, though, the pleasures of tastes are also gifts, not merely incentives to keep us alive. We have the pangs of hunger to encourage us to eat enough to live on: the pleasure of good food does something more.

If you're a reader who doesn't like to take much time for cooking complicated meals, stop for a minute and think about the fact that feasting was so important to Biblical cultures that it was used as a metaphor for Heaven. Food carries so much fundamental meaning that it is used for the basis of a sacrament. Shouldn't this indicate that food is worth taking a little time? Taking more time to prepare a good meal is a sign of respect, both to those whom you are feeding, and to the Creator of the food itself. (Incidentally, the former of these two points is made in passing in the romantic comedy Kate and Leopold. Though there isn't much else that intelligent about the film, I thought it deserved credit for pointing out that the amount of time that goes into gourmet food preparation is part of the meaning of the meal.)

I'm not saying that there is something immoral about serving your family frozen entrees. I understand that there is a limited amount of time in a day, and cooking an extravagant meal may preclude other more worthy activities, such as earning the money which buys the food in the first place, or taking well-earned naps. I do suggest, though, that we (we Americans, we Christians, we 21st-century dwellers, what have you) would do well if we occasionally take the time to show our respect for the good things of creation by making meals that may cost a little more time and effort than does that frozen lasagna.

Now, all pontificating aside (at last!) here's my variation of the Creamy Veal Stew.

Ingredients:

Approx. 1 pound of veal stew meat. Get it on sale if you can; veal is expensive. Note that you may need to cut this up into smaller pieces, as the "stew meat" carried in the grocery stew may actually be in chunks too large for easy eating. Look at the pieces of meat: are they small enough to easily fit on a spoon? If not, cut 'em up into bite-size bits. No one wants to eat stew with a knife. (Except maybe pirates. Arrr! )

1-2 tablespoons olive oil or other vegetable oils.

1/2 cup chopped yellow or red onion. (You can use whatever color you want, really; I just don't recommend the white because it'll make you cry.)

1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely, or 1 teaspoon minced garlic.

1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup. You can use a Healthy Choice-type soup, but the lower sodium may result in a different flavor.

3/4 cup of water.

1 bay leaf.

3/4 cup julienne carrots. The original recipe calls for "matchstick carrots." I recommend taking a normal carrot or two and shredding them or peeling and then slicing very narrowly. Look at this picture to see what I mean.

1 1/2 cups sliced celery, cut in 1/2 inch slices.

1 can of cut green beans (not Italian cut or French cut, just plain). Make sure you drain them before adding!

1 teaspoon salt.

1/2 teaspoon pepper.

1/2 teaspoon leaf rosemary. (Optional. The bay and garlic may be flavorful enough for you. Rosemary is a subtle flavor that goes well with veal.)

Rice. (See below).

To cook this stew, you need either a very large skillet with a lid, or a small skillet and a good-size stewpot with a lid. Either way, you start off by heating the oil in a skillet to medium-hot. Brown the veal, turning quickly so that all sides are lightly browned. Then add the garlic and onion and keep stirring until the meat is golden brown. If you are using a separate stewpot, fill that pot with the water and mushroom soup, then pour the contents of your skillet into the pot. Otherwise, add the soup and water to the skillet. Either way, go ahead and drop the bay leaf in and bring the stew to a simmer. Let it simmer for 40 minutes- enjoy the smell! You don't have to keep the lid on while it simmers at this point, but go ahead and do it anyway: it'll keep the pot warm and, in theory, save on your utility bill.

While the stew is simmering, start water boiling for brown rice.
Given the content of this entry, do I need to mention that I recommend not using instant rice? Go ahead and take the 45 minutes needed to make regular brown rice. It's worth it, and you have plenty of time. Follow the directions on the rice package. Make enough for each person to have at least 1 cup. (My husband and I ate a bit more than that, but we didn't have a salad or dessert with the meal, and I for one did not eat much bread.) You'll have to be the judge of how much rice you'll need, but it's better to have too much than too little. I definitely do recommend making more than the 2 cups the original recipe calls for.

When the stew has simmered for 40 minutes, add the carrots, celery, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Bring pot back to a simmer. Put the lid on and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. If you are heating up a loaf of bread, this is a good time to put it in the oven; likewise, if you want to serve a salad, this is your chance to prepare it. Personally, I think this stew doesn't demand bread, but it won't hurt as long as you avoid the horrible flaky "Pane Paisano" bread we had tonight. Get a nice loaf of artisan french bread.

The stew is done when the vegetables are tender, which may not take the full 20 minutes. If you can find it, remove the bay leaf before you serve the stew. (Bay leaves are not for eating, just for flavoring!) Serve the stew by putting the hot cooked rice into pasta bowls or large soup bowls, then ladeling a goodly portion of stew over the rice. (Okay, I admit, the rice doesn't have to be brown rice, and the world won't end if it's instant.) The stew should not need additional
salt and pepper.

This recipe serves 2-3 people, depending on how much everyone eats. If you add a salad, bread, and/or fruit or dessert, I imagine there'd be enough for 4.

Friday, November 04, 2005

November is National Novel Writing Month!



Yes, that's right: this is National Novel Writing Month. Evidently, each November a group of people agree to start writing frantically on November 1st. Their goal: to complete a 50,000 word (175 page) novel by the end of the month. Some of them actually complete the goal each year. Impressive, isn't it? You can read more about it here.

Had I world enough and time, I might enjoy participating in the project, as I think I might have a good chance of cranking out 50,000 words in one month. (After all, in the past, I've written a ~ 20 page paper in one day.) Unfortunately, I didn't read up on the idea in time to start a new novel, and it would be cheating to finish an old novel. Besides, it's probably best for the sake of my dissertation that I not take on an additional huge writing project.

However, I wanted to pass the word along in case there are other aspiring novelists who haven't heard of the program yet and who are just crazy enough to get started a few days late.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Halloween, Or, Christianity and the Creepy Part II


Halloween is over, and so we can reasonably expect debate on the subject to cease for a good ten months, before it resumes again in August or September of 2006. If this is a prospect that makes your heart leap for joy, then you should skip today's blog entry, because, despite today being All Saint's Day, I'm going to comment on some of the anti-Halloween rhetoric out there. (And then I'm going to go to the noon mass, so don't you fret for my soul.)

There are, as I understand it, four possible objections to Christians celebrating Halloween:

1) Halloween is pagan in origin, and Christians must not make use of pagan culture at all.

2) Not all "borrowings" from paganism are bad, but Halloween is clearly occult, and should be avoided.

3) Halloween doesn't just celebrate the occult: it actually IS a chance for spirits to roam free and do bad things. We shouldn't encourage them.

4) Halloween is just too scary.

My previous entry on "Christianity and the creepy" addressed point number 4 while ignoring the first two points. One might think that this is an excellent time for me to go back and talk about the relationship of Christianity to paganism. However, I'm not going to do that, because I feel that plenty of people have already done that. Consider, for instance, this Catholics United for the Faith article.

I'm also not going to address Point #3 in much depth, except to say that this is a superstition, not a Christian teaching, and I'd be very wary of any source which used this as its main argument. Furthermore, even if this were true, there's no evidence that dressing up in costumes and putting out scary decorations actually encourages evil spirits. Since I closed my last post with a throw-away line about gargoyles, I will take the time to point out now that one traditional (though now challenged) explanation of gargoyles is that they were there to frighten away the evil spirits. Gargoyles, with their distorted, sometimes frightening faces, are guardians of the sanctuary. Is it so much of a stretch to think that Jack O'Lanterns and silly outdoor decorations might stem from the same tradition of scaring the devil away with the grotesque? Regardless of whether one accepts the idea that the grotesque can be turned against the devil somehow, it should be clear from the use of the gargoyles that the grotesque (the "creepy" as I called it) is not necessarily helping demonic forces. This means that a simple verision of Point #3 simply doesn't work.

I want to say a little more about point 4, however, because the arguments based on this point are what trouble me the most. I'm motivated to discuss this issue by a comment made in response to one of Michelle Arnold's posts on Jimmyakin.org. One commentor said that "The defence of the whole <*sputter with anger*> holi-day is that its fun for me." And he's right. A lot of the defence of Halloween comes down to "I enjoy it, and I'm Christian, so there must be nothing wrong with it from a Christian perspective." However, what this comment ignores is that the reason many people defend the holiday this way is that there are so many Argument #4 people out there, whose reaction against Halloween simply comes down to "It's scary, and I think it's too scary." These people will sometimes tack on a line like "God is not a God of fear" or "How is it godly to glorify fear?" This is what I take issue with. There's nothing wrong with deciding that Halloween is too scary for you and your children, but there is something wrong with making a theological judgment against the holiday based on its scariness.

In fact, our God did use fear quite a bit in the Old Testament. Sometimes, as in the case of the medium at Endor who summoned Samuel's spirit, the stories are intended to tell us what not to do- but that's not always the case. God was not averse to using fear or the creepy to drive home a pedagogical point. Consider the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians, especially the plague of darkness. Those three days of blackness that covered the land in Exodus 10 must have been pretty scary, I'd imagine. One may reasonably argue that there's a difference between God using fear to motivate the Egyptians to let the Israelites go, and God using (or even allowing) fear to affect his people. But God does, in fact, use the creepy as a sign for the chosen nation. For example, there's also the famous incident of the dry bones, found in Ezezial 37, when God first animates, then resurrects (by returning the spirit to) a pile of bones. Sounds creepy, no? For a moment -before verses 9-10- there were actually Undead on the Earth. (I'm still waiting for a great zombie movie to be made from this passage!) Then God restored the corpses to full life. It was a dramatic sign to the prophet of God's ability to restore His spirit to a lifeless nation- but it definitely makes use of the "creepy" to make its point.

Can I conclusively prove from the Bible that celebrating Halloween is just fine for Christians? No, of course not, and I'm not trying to do that. I'm merely trying to offer more evidence in support of the Chrisitan use of the creepy. God made use of the macabre in the Old Testament to drive home some points, and, as my previous post suggested, Christians made use of it throughout the Middle Ages as a reminder of mortality. Those who are opposed to Halloween on the grounds that God is somehow against "scary" stuff need to work through these aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order to show why we can't use "the creepy" today.

Photo courtesy of this Gargoyle page, which contains many good photos of old churches and other gargoyle-adorned buildings.