Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Burning thoughts on the NYT & Dating

A recent survey's results on dating was picked up and flung broad all over the Internet over the weekend. The very abbreviated version is that "you should" (ahem) have sex on/by the 3.53rd date.

So I posted this on my FB page and a pal of mine acidly noted (and justifiably so) that this makes dating very difficult if one is the sort of person who likes to "save" oneself for some point after the 3.53rd date like, say, marriage. She added: "That's if they stay around long enough to have a conversation after they find out you're not in a hurry to sleep with anyone."

The problem my pal poses is analogous to that of "burning" in real estate.

Let's suppose you buy a house in a pretty nice area. Let us also suppose all the houses are roughly equivalent. Let us further suppose you take good care of your house so as to, in your mind, maximize its resale value, which we will pretend is $100,000.

What happens if other people in your neighborhood with very similar houses start listing THEIR houses for, oh-I-dunno, $50,000? They have an Open House, they broadcast their noticeably lower price, the whole deal. Who will look at your house? 's right. No-body. They may or may not buy the other house, but they will almost certainly not even consider yours, even if yours has a host of unique and desirable features.

And even if the other houses sell (and more quickly!) they sell for lower, and they could very well sell to a purchaser whose main interest was the lower barrier to purchase and who may not have the wherewithal for long term ownership.

That's where we are.

-J.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Not necessarily Lent-only.

Today's lesson is "Kosher Dill Pickles" which is the only pickle worth ingesting.
Start with a clean and sterilized, large (24oz) Mason jar.
12oz, by weight, of pickling or "Kirby" cucumbers.
Slice them on a mandolin. Even a cheap one will work.
I wanted this batch as thin as possible. You do whatever. (You can also slice into "planks" or cut into "spears" etc.)
Clear your prep surface regularly by shoving the slices into the jar as you go.
You'll need garlic. 4 cloves if you're Iberic, 3 if you're Italian. 2 if you're a normal person.
Slice the garlic as thinly as you can without getting fanatical about it.
Add 2 t dried dill. (Make sure it's a fresh jar.)
1 T Kosher salt. (Do NOT USE REGULAR TABLE SALT. Don't be a cheapskate, Kosher salt is, like, only a buck for a silo.)
You'll need plain white vinegar. (If you can find the kind with "cultures" so much the better.)
¾ cup.
...and pour into the jar.
Top off with filtered, room-temperature water.
Shake furiously. Teenage boys you have offsprung may be conscripted for this purpose.
Put it in the corner, unlike Baby. 1-2 days to be "ready" about 3-4 to be ideal. (At which point I put them in the fridge.)
Note the color change. Pretty much ready, will improve with another couple of days, then on to the fridge. (If yours were sliced thicker, it may take an extra day across the board.)

-J.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Helping my pal Kate

The lovely and gracious Kate O'Hare, my co-conspirator in tilting at the windmills of lousy translations by the Vatican of Pope Francis and others, has an excellent blog, Pax Culturati. You should go there.

Anyway, earlier in Lent she asked for help in putting together a piece on grilled cheese sandwiches as she's -- the heart has its reasons, I s'pose -- somehow not fond of dining upon the piscine aspects of Creation. So I threw in this particular gem of mine.

I somehow missed her call for input on her piece on mac-and-cheese, so I was unable to render much assistance. (Mea maxima culpa.)

Now, for a number of reasons (geography, ethnicity, etc.) we-e-e-e-e-ell afield of this post, I didn't grow up eating mac-and-cheese. I didn't get to try it until well into my collegiate years. I prefer it as a side dish, myself, and the best I have ever had comes from Smoque in Chicago.

What a lot of people don't realize is that mac-and-cheese has its roots in penne ai quattro formaggi, which is something in my background from my Italian (maternal grandmother) side. Similarly, the tuna noodle casserole -- and even more alien craft to my palate -- comes from the classic tonnato sauce. This sauce most classically goes over cold poached veal but given the batch sizes of the sauce, leftovers are inevitable, and these find themselves dressing pasta. This becomes, therefore, the ur-Tuna Noodle Casserole.

Here ya go:

¼ c capers (rinsed of brine or salt in which they are packed)
1 T grated lemon zest, plus 3 T lemon juice
1 t anchovy paste (I prefer Amore) or 2 anchovy fillets, drained
2 egg yolks
1 can tuna packed in olive oil (try to find Italian or Spanish brands), drained
1 c extra virgin olive oil
salt and white pepper to taste

Purée the capers with the vinegar, zest, anchovies, yolks, tuna, salt, and pepper in a blender (best!) or food processor (OK) until smooth. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until sauce is emulsified. Garnish with additional capers.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Which got me thinking

I was watching a cooking show from Italy, featuring Spaghetti Puttanesca...which got me thinking. Would the basic components of a puttanesca work in a "salsa" configuration? After all, I'm live in the factory outlet of hyerfresh seafood and I'm sitting on 87 cubic yards of fresh, ripe tomatoes which need using ASAP as the unseasonable winter chill has wreaked havoc with our "seasonlessness."

So I came up with this:

Puttanesca Salsa
2-4 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as your patience will permit (I bought a truffle shaver on clearance just for this; garlic is a staple and truffles not so much)
12 large leaves basil, torn (not cut, tearing makes them mushy)
1 lb tomatoes, roughly chopped, retaining the liquid but jettisoning the seeds (use good canned tomatoes otherwise, the aseptic Pomi brand is especially good.)
½ c extra-virgin olive oil
1½ T capers (I like the salt-packed kind -- rinsed of salt. Either way, make sure they are drained)
¼ c tiny black olives (I like Picholines or Gaetas, anything short of cheap canned ones will work)
½ lemon, juiced (about 1½ oz juice, no need to be fanatical)
2 t sea salt
1-3 t crushed red pepper flakes (I go full-whack)
3 anchovy fillets, mashed into paste (or already in a paste, if you can find the kind made with only anchovies, salt and EVOO...Amore is my favorite brand)

OPTIONAL 1-1½ T tomato paste (I like the Italian stuff in tubes, again Amore is a good brand)

Warm half the EVOO and add the pepper and anchovy. You don't want the oil hot, just sort of at a poaching temperature. Stir until the anchovy dissolves. Let cool. In a large bowl, combine the oil mixture with the garlic, basil, tomatoes, EVOO, capers, olives, lemon juice, salt. Allow to stand in cool place for ½ hour.

Given the amount of liquid AND the salt (which'll draw out even more liquid) this might be a bit too watery for your tastes...I like to add a glob of tomato paste to balance things out. In such quantities it play along well with the other ingredients, "absorbs" any excess fluid, and doesn't overwhelm the salsa with a cooked (as opposed to raw) tomato flavor.

This goes GREAT with a hunk of grilled tuna or swordfish or even those big fat honkin' scallops you sometimes are lucky enough to get. If you live where fresh sseafood is a) not really likely, b) crazy expensive, or c) both, frozen scallops are a good choice, provided the only ingredients are scallops and salt. Scallops and shrimp, if not adulterated with "firming" or "color retention" ingredients are your very best bet in shellfish when your options are limited.

-J.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Asian-ish Shrimp, for Lent

You may have been fortunate to have enjoyed an appetizer of grilled shrimp in an Asian (Japanese, Indonesian, Thai, etc.) restaurant at some point in your life. In discussing this with my beloved, she mentioned that, while yummy, it really isn't volumetric enough to achieve mealworthiness.

So, my mind drifting backwards to those days when I was scrupulously observing an involuntary vow of poverty, I suggested that volumetric mealworthiness could be easily achieved by serving the whole thing on a bed of Asian-ish noodles. Or, as I used to do way-back-when, whole wheat spaghetti because it was far more available and far cheaper and (to the vast majority of the Anglosphere) indistinguishable from, say, soba noodles.
So.
For dinnah, I'm making Asiatic-ish Shrimp with simply dressed fake-Asian noodles (Misura whole wheat spaghetti, which is what I happen to have on hand from a failed experiment with bigoli).

The shrimp bit:
 
2 large shallots, peeled
1 (2") chunk of fresh ginger, peeled (use the side of a spoon or fork) and grated
4 cloves garlic
¾ c soy sauce (I prefer San-J low sodium tamari, you do whatever)
½ c fresh lime juice
2 T light brown sugar (if you can score palm sugar, so much the better!)
¼ c chopped scallions
¼ c peanut oil
¼ t coarsely ground black pepper
2 lb large ("21-30") shrimp; save the shells and tails to make shrimp stock

Put the shallots, ginger, garlic, soy, lime juice, and sugar in a blender and blend until smooth. Then add the scallions and peanut oil and blend until combined. Season with the black pepper, to taste. Place shrimp in a large zippered bag, put the marinade in, squish all the air out and zip it shut. Allow the shrimp to marinate at room temperature for half an hour or so.

Preheat your grill (a grill pan will work) to high. Remove shrimp from the bag, shake off most of the marinade and grill for 60ish seconds (until they JUST turn opaque!) per side.

The noodle bit:

(Incidentally, this can go hot or cold, your call.)

Take one pound of whole wheat or buckwheat noodles, boil in salted water (figure a small palmful per quart/liter of water).

Drain and dress with a vinaigrette made from
Kosher salt
1 c peanut (vegetable if you have peanut allergies) oil
¼ c rice wine vinegar
5 T soy sauce (see above)
3 T toasted sesame oil
1 T light brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced as finely as you patience will allow
1 t grated fresh ginger
3 T sesame seeds (the white ones), toasted
½ c smooth peanut butter (go for the all natural stuff)
4 scallions (white and green parts, stopping where it looks dried or "dusty"), sliced diagonally

Add the vinaigrette in stages, because different noodles absorb vinaigrette at different rates. You want it to have a bit more dressing than you think is right, because as it cools it will absorb more. The remaining vinaigrette refrigerates nicely. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or cashews and/or snipped chives, mound shrimp atop.

There ya go.
-J.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent 2015

Dunno about you, but most of my spiritual progress has come during Lent. Some years it's a few steps forwards, others it's "leaps-and-bounds."

So, having statistically proven that Lent is the time to really get into spiritual shape, I wanted to muse aloud (or, "aprint") on what that spiritual shape should, IMCO, look like.

There are people for whom Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, are not so much reasons for joy* as they are opportunities to "be angry about the right things."

And Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, are not so much about anger as they are about joy. That said, yes there are occasions in which righteous anger is warranted, and even when giving voice or motion to that anger is proper, good, and correct.

But joy, not anger, should be the default.

I grew up with people -- let's just leave that at that -- who were of the "angry persuasion" and for whom the attraction of Catholicism was being, as noted above, angry at the right things.

You see it all over the Catholic blogosphere. And there's a very simple litmus test to see if the blogger in question is "an angry one" or merely expressing her/himself with anger about a particular matter: How many references (outside of the polemical post in question) are there in that blog to: Confession? Grace? The saints? Devotions, novenæ, pilgrimages or prayers? How many posts about Scripture or its lessons for everyday living?

I suspect you know the answer.

So, for Lent, you should seek to "serve" your Lent with joy that is obvious and not, as Jackie Mason would note: "by looking nauseous and disturbed." How?

1- Well, start with your Google alerts. I know that many of you have Google alerts that you have specifically created to inform you of things about which you should be angry. The doings, goings and sayings of Person X are fed to you in a ceaselessly bitter stream of news. Stop that.

2- Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! If you are not going to Confession, you're doing Lent wrong. Period. If Lent is a season where we strive to make better our conversion -- and it is -- and if that requires self-examination and self-accusation in light of God's will -- and it does -- then you have to, out of the self-recognition as a sinner in dire need of God's sanctifying grace and His forgiveness, get thee to the Confessional. There is no getting around this.

3- Having done the above, get a Plenary Indulgence. You really don't want to spend any time in Purgatory. You almost certainly have loved ones who are in Purgatory, and who will not be able to get out on their own. A Plenary Indulgence (or even a partial one) helps these holy souls attain Heaven sooner than if they had "timed out."

Let's get to work.

-J.

*Joy, not happiness. "Happiness is not a condition, happiness is a sensation."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades?

Some assorted thoughts on 50 Shades.

Earlier this week, I was going through one of those forced-march reorganizations of the den, as decreed by my beloved. One of my bookshelves, having been made of particle-board from a now-extinct particle-tree, had decided to return -- without the merest warning or hint -- to its original state of unaffiliated wood-like particles, and the situation had to be rectified.

Anyway, in the process of putting stuff in the new, made from a real tree, bookshelf, I noticed the printouts of stuff I had written. So I decided to separate the "completes" from the "fragments."

One of the fragments was from a very dark comedy I abandoned. It involves a character much like "The Gimp" from Pulp Fiction, and how he, after years and years of wearing chains and leather, admits to all and sundry at dinner one night that he, in fact, is a masochist. (You may readily imagine why this was abandoned, and rest assured it is as dead as a Monty Python parrot. Most of my abandoned stuff is comedy in a very, very dark vein.)

But while I was working on that now-justifiably-abandoned script, I did some research and this ties into my cursory thoughts on 50 Shades.

(Now. I've not read the whole trilogy. I did a 10-10-10 read of one of the books at a bookstore, and was mostly appalled at how poorly written it was and how clearly doomed to failure is anyone whose dialogue is a picometer above The DaVinci Code and 50 Shades.)

What surprised me is that there are people (men and women) who are online, RIGHT NOW, actively seeking (!) what everyone is calling an abusive relationship. It's one thing, I guess, to get into a relationship with "normal" expectations and then having it turn (or realizing it is) abusive. But quite another to make a great effort to find such a relationship.

What to make of this, I know not. But I remember seeing how many of the people seeking this sort of relationship were adamant THEY had the power because THEY were the ones who freely choose to "grant their submission." They call that type of relationship "Total Power Ex¢hange" (I'm messing with the spelling so as not to have this blog overrun by people Googling the wrong thing.)

And then two things struck me at the time (and partly why I abandoned the above comedy) is that those seeking to be abused treated and spoke of the object of their search the way someone else may consider God. They expressed a desire to "give themselves totally and unreservedly" to that special man or woman, they often capitalized "Him" or "Her" or "You" and so forth.

That, for a number of reasons, these people have a God-shaped void in their lives is apparent to me now.