The Story of the Giant Easter Bread & Answer Me This #2

So, folks, it’s Sunday (I wrote this on Saturday, but didn’t have time between when the link-up went up Sunday morning and uhhh…Wednesday morning apparently to add the links and finally post… Oops!) Wednesday again and I plan on milking this Answer Me This link-up thing for all it’s worth. But first, how’s about a little story involving the world’s biggest loaf of bread?

Once upon a time, a naive young wife named Theresa was asked to bring food to her grandmother-in-law’s Easter potluck extravaganza. Thinking that it would be lovely to bring a few traditional staples from her side of the family, she began digging through the little cookbook that her family had put together with their very own traditional recipes years before and decided on lasagna, rum pecan pie (the rum was her own addition,) and {drumroll please} Easter Pepper Bread!

What’s Easter pepper bread, you ask? Why it’s a delicious Italian traditional bread made with lots and lots of cheese…and a bit of pepper. Some folks call it Easter Cheese Bread, but her Papa (what she lovingly called her Italian grandpa) always called it “Easter Pepper Bread,” so that’s what it is.

Thus, her adventure began. She had gathered all the necessary ingredients, including the 10, yes ten cups of flour it would require. She began to mix all of these wonderful ingredients in the KitchenAid mixer (after 4+ failed attempts to proof the yeast,) but wait! What was that terrible sound? And the smell of burning, grinding gears? And how did the mixing bowl become detached from the mixer? And why is there half-mixed bread dough all over the place?! She quickly turned off the mixer, looked around, realizing that the dough was too huge for the bowl (although she’d only added 6 of the 10 cups of flour thus far…that’s right,) and promptly had herself a little breakdown. Not a proud moment.

Thankfully, her husband was working from home and since it was Good Friday, an act of penance was probably called for anyway. He calmed her down, assured her that her grandfather was not looking down on her from above, too ashamed to intercede, and began to help knead the giant dough by hand.

Yes boys and girls, the heroic husband fought that giant ball of dough with his own bare man-hands. Can this picture possibly do justice to the sheer size of it?

 

Those are knuckle prints, by the by.

Those are knuckle prints, by the by.

All was well and they decided to only add 9 of the 10 cups because, well, they couldn’t take another break-down. So after several hours of letting it rise and punching it down, it was time to cram that giant ball of dough into this little spring form pan:

It took a lot of squishing to get it in there, let me tell you.

It took a lot of squishing to get it in there, let me tell you. Pardon the blur.

See? it fit. Kind of.

And about an hour later, they had this beautiful finished Italian Easter Pepper Bread loaf (remember that this was with less flour than it called for):

 

Kind of looks like Marvin the Martian's head, right?

Biiig!

Out of the pan! Still huge.

Out of the pan! Still huge.

Doesn't it compare nicely to this lovely Umbrian woman's loaf?

Doesn’t it compare nicely to this lovely Umbrian woman’s loaf?

And they lived happily ever after. The End.

Now kids, story time is over and it’s on to questions time. Good segue? Sure!

1. What did you and your family wear to Mass on Easter Sunday?

As I type this on Saturday, we haven’t been yet, but the plans were set in stone long ago. I have a pretty new brightly-colored dress and the dear husband has been putting together a “stroller” (which is apparently the fanciest thing in the world that you can wear before 6 pm and be legit.) Except that I was supposed to hem the pants on them and fasting days and simple sewing jobs do. not. mix. So I accidentally cut them in a bad place and have to try to fix it. See? It was a VERY penitential Good Friday. Pray for me, please.

Stroller

Classy, yes? He’s excited anyway.

2. Easter Bunny: thumbs up or thumbs down?

I am again neutral on the Easter Bunny issue. Rabbits are actually kind of gross animals, I should know. They poop all over themselves and just sit there, staring at you with their beady little red eyes. However, I do like that this one brings me candy and little gifts. So he’s ok, I guess. Plus I do have to agree with the whole “believing in magical impossible-sounding things reinforcing the Faith” thing.

3. Do you prefer to celebrate holidays at your own house or at someone else’s house?

It’s strange that I never considered this question before I moved away from my side of the family. Growing up, we had a large family party at least once a month to celebrate whatever holidays and birthdays had fallen within it. And no matter where we were, it always felt like home. I never thought about it. We all showed up early to clean and cook, and we always stayed late to clean up afterwards.

But since moving up here, I’m on the fence. I do notice and feel the difference. (Please note, it’s not in any way due to a lack of love or hospitality on the part of the other side of my family. They’re so wonderful to me and make me feel so loved.) I love having events at our house whenever possible because it’s fun to plan and it’s fun to get to make the decisions aaaaand it’s fun to already be home when the party is over. However, it is stressful. So perhaps a combination is the best of all worlds? Some here, some there.

4. What is your favorite kind of candy?

Twix. Original Reese’s Cups (not the weird shapes–they have too much peanut butter.) Twizzlers. Peeps! Oh, and those Queen Anne’s chocolate cherry cordials that only seem to surface around Christmas. Are you buying?

5. Do you like video games?

Yes, yes I do. However, outside of games like MarioKart, MarioParty, and Perfect Dark on our N64 (oh! and the mine cart level on Donkey Kong for the Super Nintendo…I just play that one level over and over and over,) I really prefer computer games. Specifically computer strategy games that I can play cooperatively with my husband. We started doing it when we were dating very long-distance and needed another way to bond beyond “just” talking on the phone. I’m a firm believer that playing games like Starcraft and Age of Empires has been such a great team-building, communication-improving exercise in fun for us that I’d recommend some variation of it for any family. My only rule when we play these games has been that we NEVER play against one another. We’re always on the same team. Because we’re too competitive to be enemies and I don’t like the mood that it fosters. We’re teammates in everything in this life–even our video games.

6. Do you speak another language? 

Not well. I took 3 years of Spanish in highschool, 3 years of Latin and 1 year of Attic Greek in college, and 6 months of the most traumatic French class ever in the sixth grade. I am fluent in nothing but English. In Italian, I can say, “Thank you, grandpa.” But that’s about it.

 

That’s all, folks! Have a happy and blessed Easter! Go enjoy some more Q&As at CAY. (See what I did there? Letters. Also I think I used that same link 3 times in this post.)

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What We’re Doing for Lent

After my last post about my biggest goal for Lent this year, I thought it would be good and fun to share with you what we’re planning on doing as a family this Lent.

Over the years, I’ve found that I really need to challenge myself to commit to both physical and temporal sacrifices during Lent. I can remember after my earliest practicing Lents when I gave up Coke (it’s a big deal for a girl from the South,) when I decided that it would be much better for my soul to give up my time, which I am oh so stingy about. I spent a few years trying out things like the Liturgy of the Hours, Adoration, and reading the Bible daily.

But eventually, I realized that I’d fallen into a trap with that too. It was too easy. Because I am a great big wimp when it comes to physical difficulties. And I need to learn to master physical discipline if I’m ever gettin’ to Heaven. Seriously. So now, I try to make sure that I have a good mix of both things each year. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far this year:

Let's do this.

Let’s do this.

The Physical

Partial Abstinence

For the last three years, my husband and I have followed the traditional practice of partial abstinence during Lent. Partial abstinence means only allowing one meal a day that contains meat (except on Fridays, which have none at all.) We prayerfully considered doing no-meat at all during Lent, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t beneficial for our health at this point, and frankly: it’s a little too much to follow successfully. Partial abstinence for us is hard. Although our regular breakfasts don’t include meat, our lunches almost always do. And finding ways to cook lots of vegetarian/pescatarian leftovers or suffer the consequences of choosing between PB&J and tuna sandwiches every day is very penitential for us. It’s very hard, but it’s been so good for us! It was after practicing this for the first time that I felt really, truly joyous all through Easter (instead of just on Easter Sunday.)

Reducing Sweet Snacks

I can’t really cut out snacks completely due to my medications and health problems, but I can choose to have apple slices or crackers instead of that cookie someone brought into work. We don’t eat a lot of sweets around our house to start with (as evidenced by the stacks of old Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s candies on top of our pantry–from last year,) so giving them up isn’t a very big deal. We actually have been instead making it a point to add a special dessert on days when a solemnity falls during Lent (oh, how I love those days!) Just to make the distinction feel a bit more special.

Giving up Liquor & Cocktails

Oh Manhattans, how I love thee. (But seriously, wikipedia images… who wants to put Crown in a Manhattan?)

If you knew us, you’d know that this is kind of a big deal. Okay, now we sound like drunks. I promise we’re not. We’re just a family that loves the fun of a yummy, well-mixed cocktail over a glass of wine or a beer. We still enjoy wine and beer, but isn’t a Martini just so much better most nights? Or a Manhattan? My husband has gotten pretty good at mixing all kinds of cocktails over the last few years and they’re really our go-to treat. So we’re giving them up. Waaay harder than giving up candy, let me tell you.

The Temporal

Keeping Television Time to about 1 Hour a Day on Weekdays

We have a bad habit. When we both finally make it home on weeknights, as soon as dinner’s on the table, we’re exhausted. Done and ready to snuggle. So we watch one of our favorite TV shows on DVD. We don’t have cable or internet powerful enough to watch hulu on, so we own everything we enjoy watching together on DVD. While this is great, we often don’t keep it to one show (or a long show and a short one,) because we’re just beat and would rather keep watching and eat away at the little time that we have each evening. So we’re keeping it to one hour of TV time together on weekday evenings so we’ll have time to do some of these other fun things:

Reading the Gospels Together Daily

We’ve been wanting to do this for a while. The plan is to just start at Mark and work until we’re done with John (we’ll decide what happens after that when we get there.) We decided against a set amount of reading per night because every night is different in this house. Some nights we might get through a few chapters, but half a chapter might be all we can do on some nights when we work late.

Reading “My Catholic Faith” Together Weekly

I’ve told you about My Catholic Faith, right? If not, seriously, take my advice and go buy yourself a copy of it now from wherever you can get it. It is THE best family Catechism I have ever seen. And I run a Catholic bookstore, remember? Everything is so well organized and clearly written–no fuzzy gray areas for those without theology degrees. Bishop Marrow gives simply the best clarifications and elaborations on Church teachings you can find. Also, the pictures are beautiful and so, so informative. Just go get yourself one, dig? (P.S. I hear that if you get it through that link, they might throw me a couple of pennies. Which is cool. But no pressure.)

Best. Catechism. Ever.

Best. Catechism. Ever.

We’ll be reading at least one lesson per week during Lent, in the hopes that the habit sticks after the season is over. We’re deciding to keep the night flexible because when we’ve tried this previously, all it took was one wacky schedule change (which happens all the time) to throw off the whole thing. This way, maybe once a week will turn into twice a week.

In addition to these hard and fast commitments that we’re challenging ourselves with, we’re also planning to look for little opportunities throughout the day to offer extra little sacrifices. You know, the quiet little gestures of sacrifice for others that we ought to be doing anyway, or little extra penances like standing when we’d rather sit, doing our least favorite chores first, or doing things the hard way when the easy way is still an option. (Or big things like actually going to the gym.) This post has some wonderful ideas for just these kinds of sacrifices. I might even make some St. Therese Sacrifice Beads to help us along. I’ll let you know.

I’m so grateful to have had the season of Septuagesima again this year to help us prayerfully prepare for Lent’s coming. We were reminded with the readings and homilies in Mass that Lent was soon approaching and had the opportunity to do a “trail run” of some of our planned sacrifices to see if they’d really bear good fruit in practice. Isn’t that great?

There’s what we’re aiming for this Lent, what about you?

Epic Road Trip Pt 4: Coming Home

I know you’ve all been such troopers sticking with me through my ramblings about road trip after road trip. Probably you’re just grateful that you’re not anywhere near my laundry pile right now and are ready to hear about something more interesting. Hopefully we’ll get to that. But until we tackle the biggest and most important trip of the batch: our trip home to Atlanta for my birthday.

I’ve mentioned in an off-handed sort of way a few times that I’m a Maryland transplant from Atlanta, Georgia. I was born there, but my family is originally from New York, so I spent most of my childhood feeling slightly displaced. I don’t say “y’all” more than about four times a year when I’m so tired that I’m probably actually trying to say something else anyway. I have no Southern accent. I can put on a decent one, but it’s really not natural at all. (Actually, when I’m really groggy, I sound like I’m from Brooklyn. You can thank my grandpa.) I don’t speak slowly or like to be outside in the Summer (ok–Southerners don’t really like this. They like their air conditioners.) I don’t have a fried chicken recipe that I swear by or eat chitlins or do much frying in general. I have no relatives who fly confederate flags from the backs of their pickup trucks. While I do know how to make a nice pitcher of sun tea, I don’t like to tell people that I’m fixin’ it.

Deep, deep, down, I think I’ve always wanted to try a hoop skirt.

It wasn’t until I moved to Maryland that I began to actually feel Southern. Most likely this is a result of many a heated argument that my husband and I have had regarding whether Maryland can be considered “the South.” He’s from here and defends this little state’s Southern-ness (yes, not really a word, but it’s been too long a day to care) tooth and nail. He argues that they wanted to secede from the Union, but mean ol’ Mr. Lincoln incarcerated the entire voting body so they couldn’t vote to do so. He’ll remind you that it’s technically south of the Mason-Dixon line. He’ll even quote a president as saying that Baltimore was a city of “Northern charm and Southern industry.” (Nice, huh?)

It wasn’t until I moved here that I started getting defensive about what’s really the South. Here’s my argument: None of the cashiers at the grocery store strike up a regular conversation with me while I’m unloading my cart. Eighty percent of the restaurants and fast food chains have pepsi products (shudder) instead of Coke. “Sweet” tea up here tastes like unsweetened tea where I come from. For that matter, in the real South, when you ask for a tea, they just bring you a sweet tea (a fact that used to drive me crazy when I lived there and wanted a cup of hot tea and had to phrase it as such.) Every building there has central ac–no matter how cheap the rent is. The grocery store’s policy is that they carry your bags out for you and you’re not allowed to tip the guy. There is a Waffle House on every exit. The Braves are, and always will be, America’s team. I could go on, but I’m sure you’re already convinced.

Just try to tell me this doesn’t make you want to be a Braves fan.

We usually compromise by agreeing that Maryland is not the “deep” South. For the health of our marriage.

All this is to say that after our miraculously short drive down (13 hours down driving overnight), I was ready to soak up every last bit of my semi-Southern/semi-New York Italian & Irish hometown and family as possible. We did it right folks: two Waffle House trips, a Zaxby’s stop (how I wish they’d open one up here!), two big family parties, and going directly from our air-conditioned rental car to similarly arctic conditions wherever we were going. We had a blast.

The best part, though, was seeing my family for the first time since Christmas. We were supposed to go down for Easter, but between my surgery and the husband’s new job having just started, there was just no vacation time. We made dinner with my mom and sister, stayed up late talking and drinking tea (hot tea with milk and sugar for the record–Irish style) as we’ve always done in my family, and watched baseball movies.

Why yes, my husband did get the owner of Waffle House to personally send me two mugs for Christmas this year. I'm so lucky.

Why yes, my husband did get the owner of Waffle House to personally send me two mugs for Christmas this year. I’m so lucky.

We also had a family party to celebrate all of the birthdays from August and September (5, if you’re curious. Although we added the one October kid in to make it 6). I adore our family parties. There’s something about being just this one simultaneously very important and not really important at all person in a loud, loving, swirling mass of aunts, uncles, cousins, and children of assorted ages. I feel more grounded, more me, and more at home than I do just about anywhere else.

As long as I can remember, we would have one birthday party a month for any family members born during it (hey–it’s expensive to feed that many people,) except for the horrible, sad gap between New Year’s and Easter. There are only four birthdays during this gap and because we’ll have just lugged out the big bucks to afford Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s parties back-to-back-to-back, we have to take a break. It took me years to realize that I would often sink into a mild depression during this time of year because I needed the madness of my beautiful and crazy family to recharge. Turns out, I needed the physical closeness and volume and food and jokes and hugs to feel connected to my sense of self.

Our modern secular culture would not like my family or my reliance upon it. This culture constantly tells us that we’re supposed to be entirely self-reliant, self-contained, and self-important. Our identity should never be wrapped up in someone else, it says. We must be independent! Chase our dreams! Sacrifice for no one!

But guess what? Our faith teaches us that being interdependent, being consistently generous, and emptying ourselves for the love of others is how we get to Heaven. What my family taught me, without knowing it, is that it is better to be part of the love and madness of a family than to be self-contained. They taught me that sacrificing my eardrums and my personal space and spending hours over a hot stove to prepare a meal for twenty-something people to show them that I love them is the best thing in the world. When I’m home, I am just one very loved but singular component of the great, big, wonderful thing that is my family, for which I would give whatever is required of me.

My family prepared me for my vocation as a wife and, hopefully some day, a mother. Because the unconditional and sacrificial love that I’m overwhelmed by and surrounded by during a regular family dinner is a sign, a dim reflection, of the beatific vision that I’m stumbling towards, Heaven. And it’s a great thing if I can focus on yearning for that Heavenly home the way that I yearn for this earthly one.

How the Rosary Fixed Everything

In the last couple of weeks, hubby and I have finally started something new and wonderful: our family rosary.

We used to both try to squeeze in separate rosaries during our commutes to work, sometimes successfully and sometimes…not so successfully. Well, his was pretty much always successful. It’s mine that seemed kind of hit or miss. Sometimes I’d just be so tired that I’d wind up praying so slowly that I’d barely get in a decade during a half hour commute. Ridiculous, I know. I’d lose track of what Hail Mary I was on and pray the same one over and over and over. I’d tried doing other times of day too, but what I discovered is that I’m just the sort of person who needs to move in order to focus my mind enough to pray a rosary. I make it through Mass with minimal twitching, but apparently for me, stillness of heart does not completely equal stillness of body.

Our Lady praying her rosary

This is what I imagine praying a daily rosary is supposed to be like.

In all honesty, it got to the point where I was beyond frustrated and beginning to feel resentful of the time it was taking me to get it done. Which is NOT how I want my prayer life to feel. During a really great heart-to-heart one night while we were driving home, I confessed my frustrations to him and he said he’d been feeling a lot of the same pressure to “hurry up and pray” during his commute.

One of our guardian angels must have whispered in my ear, because out of nowhere, I got the sudden urge to suggest that we try to do our rosary together before bed. We were both very hesitant. In fact, almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I was cringing with regret.

You have to understand: we have very different bedtime needs. My husband gets tired all of a sudden and then wants to go to bed RIGHT. NOW. I, however, need a very deliberate wind down. Then he tends to get maddening second winds while I’m doing my wind down and then just as soon as I’ve gotten myself pulled into the second wind because I feel guilty watching him clean all by himself, BAM. He’s done. Time to crash. And I’m left more wound up than a jack-in-the-box.

Clearly planned bedtime anything did not sound like a good idea to either of us. But we decided to try it. The worst that could happen was that it would be an epic blundering fail and we’d wind up miserable and exhausted for a couple of nights before we gave it up, right?

The very first night we were set to try it out we were already far, far behind (I blame getting out of work late and sheer laziness.) So I asked if he wouldn’t mind if we started our rosary while we did the dishes, thinking we were cheating ourselves into a little extra sleep time afterwards. He agreed, and as we began something miraculous happened: it all fell into place.

As we prayed, we did all of the dishes. And tidied the kitchen. And the living room. And made sandwiches for the next day’s lunch. And folded and put away the laundry. And set out our clothes for the next day and got changed into to pajamas. And I mindlessly filed away the paperwork for our paid bills.

Pretty Pinterest Kitchen

Imagine that this pintrest kitchen is our now beautifully clean kitchen! Imagining is fun. 😉

All of those (stupid) mind-numbing household chores that were stressing us out and there was never time to do got done. But we didn’t feel like we’d done them–we felt like we’d prayed a rosary. Because we had. Our minds and hearts had been focused on the mysteries of Our Lady’s rosary, but our bodies had just gone along doing other parts of our vocation by taking care of our house. We couldn’t believe how peaceful and refreshed we felt, both from the graces of praying our daily rosary together and from the side perk of having finally got caught up.

Needless to say, praying the rosary this way together has changed. our. life. After a few weeks of our new prayer routine, our house is actually under control, our laundry stays (mostly) caught up, our dishes are done and the sink is almost always empty when we go to bed (gasp!), and –drumroll please– I have a really clear idea of when we’ll be done with our tidying and therefore of when it’ll be time to sleep. So I can wind down appropriately and settle my mind to sleep. And he has a clear idea of when it’ll be time to stop all cleaning.

After seeing how well this was working, we made the deal that all cleaning would stop when our rosary was finished, regardless of what was left, and that it would be bedtime once we were done too. I wasn’t watching him run around the house anymore and he wasn’t watching me desperately trying to calm myself down and mentally prepare for bedtime (clearly I’m a night person and have to fight the adrenaline rush that kicks in around 10:30 pm. )

Our Lady and her beautiful rosary saved our peace of mind, our bedtime routine, and our ability to do housework (I won’t get all dramatic and tell you it saved our marriage–this was definitely a major point of tension, but our marriage was not in trouble by any means.) It was truly amazing what she was able to do for us once we just decided to make a shared commitment to our prayer life. We’re no longer stressed throughout our day, wondering whether we’ll get our individual rosaries finished, or get anything else done. I know we’ll pray a focused rosary and that we’ll fulfill our vocation with the work of our hands as we do.

We are so blessed to have found this way of making our family rosary work for us. I’d love to hear how other families do things differently, especially ones that have been blessed with children. If we are given children, I’m sure we’ll have to re-evaluate at some point whether our “active rosary” communicates the right message to them or not, but for now, this is part of our path to Heaven.

Family Rosary!

This is how I imagine it one day. This illustration is from an incredible set of books by Susie Lloyd. I highly recommend them both, “Please don’t drink the Holy Water” and “Bless me Father, for I have kids.”