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.)

Advertisements

Cheater’s Michaelmas

I know, it’s still a day early for Michaelmas. But tomorrow we have plans that we can’t get out of that involve not being home all day, so we’re celebrating today and hopefully our dear St. Michael won’t mind much. On the up side, since I’m posting a day in advance, you can totally steal my oh-so-complicated and original feast day ideas. 😉 [Edit: It actually took me so long to get this written up that now it really is Michaelmas. Whoops!] Confession: I came up with these very cheesy ideas, did the shopping, and THEN found some super delicious-sounding and legitimately traditional recipes online that I simply don’t have the time, money, or energy to produce. So feel free to call this a “Poor Man’s Michaelmas Dinner.”

Firstly, a little history (because learnin’ is important):

Fierce.

Fierce.

St. Michael the Archangel is the angel who fought satan during the great battle. And won, of course. My favorite tidbit about him actually stems from the fact that he was so named because when the evil one, who was the highest of the Seraphim (thusly named Lucifer, “light bearer”–think the light of God) heard that God the Father intended to have a Son who would be human, a being far beneath the angels in honor and glory, he became enraged. He was so offended because, as far as he was concerned, he was the closest to God and would never be so foolish. He started to believe that he was not just very close to God, but rather like God. Which of course he wasn’t (and isn’t) remotely. “Michael” means “Who is like God?” Please note the question mark. Even though ancient Hebrew has no punctuation, it’s important to establish that it was a (rhetorical) question and not, as it’s often mis-translated, “he who is like God.” Because obviously, no one is. That’s the point, yes? In short, that question became the battle cry of Michael and the other good angels during the battle.

Good story, right? What’s that, you already heard it? Only someone else told it better? Well aren’t we catechized. Good job. 😉 In that case, here’s some other fun facts about the angels that you might not already know.

-You know how every person is assigned a guardian angel when he or she is born? Well, each family is also assigned one during the Sacrament of Marriage. Boo-ya. (Good thing too, ’cause I need all the extra angels looking out for me that I can get.)

-Devotion to the angels is supposed to be a mark of predestination. Which makes me feel like I should start asking for their help a little more often.

-The nine choirs of angels are divided into three hierarchies which are (highest to lowest): Seraphim, Cherubim, & Thrones, Powers, Principalities, & Dominions, Virtues, Archangels, & Angels. Although apparently it’s more traditional to list them in ascending order. But I thought this would make more sense.

-Michael shares a feast day on the new calendar with the other two canonically-mentioned Archangels, Raphael & Gabriel.

* All fun facts from the totally awesome book, St. Michael and the Angels. You should get it.

Beautiful image of the choirs, yes? Can you guess who that is in the middle?

Secondly, here’s some fun recommendations of my favorite angel items from the store. You should get them.

Cold-Cast Bronze Statue. This company has the most detailed statues I've ever seen.

Cold-Cast Bronze Statue. This company has the most detailed statues I’ve ever seen.

An amazing book put out by TAN Book Publishers. It's basically a 30-day devotional to teach you all kinds of traditions about the angels.

An amazing book put out by TAN Book Publishers. It’s basically a 30-day devotional to teach you all kinds of traditions about the angels.

OK, we’re finally on to the food part. Here’s how we celebrated our early Michaelmas this year (in truly cheesy literal cheater’s fashion):

Yummy, yummy, in our tummies.

Yummy, yummy, in our tummies.

Angelhair Pasta with three colors of peppers to represent Michael, Raphael, & Gabriel. It was crazy good. Initially, I’d intended to make my own white parmesan sauce for this, but it was late and I’ll confess I cheated. I got to try out one of those new recipe starters. It was great. And went very well with the wine. Also, it was way less expensive than roasted goose, which is apparently the real traditional Michaelmas dinner.

Drool.

Drool.

For dinner we had–of course–angel food cake! And since my husband informs me that apples are totally in season right now, I cooked some apples in a bit of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. That’s a scoop of frozen coolwhip, by the way. But it tastes like ice cream. And, yes, it was even more delicious than it looks. Especially after we caved and drizzled the caramel sauce on top.

Happy Michaelmas!

St. Monica, Motherhood, & Absolute Hope

Before I catch you up on leg three of our big Summer road trip (which admittedly is not nearly as exciting as the first two legs,) I thought we’d take a little break and I’d just throw out a little thanks to Monica who accidentally (must have been an accident, right?) got me the most views in a single day that I’ve ever had so far. Who knew bragging about what great kids catechesis crafts stuff she comes up with would pay off for me too?

I promise you that it’s merely a coincidence that I’m bragging about my own new favorite Monica in a post about her great namesake.

We’re selling this new book on St. Monica in our store right now. It looks wonderful and this image just captures her so well.

I’ve always felt so drawn to the beautiful St. Monica whose steadfastness, persistence, and simple example of Christian womanhood have never failed to inspire me when I’m feeling my lowest. St. Monica is someone that I strive to be, especially in the workplace each day.

I run a Catholic bookstore, which is simultaneously one of the most fun, exciting jobs I can imagine, and one of the most emotionally and spiritually difficult. As a store, we exist not just so people can swing by and pick up a miraculous medal or baptism gift (although of course they can,) but also as a spiritual soft place to land, a support network, a counselling center, a cheerleader camp, a library and a set of shoulders to cry on. We see people in our little store every day that are suffering and surviving through tragedies and losses far more intense than I can even imagine experiencing. We also see people brimming over, exploding with joy in their happiest moments. It’s an emotional roller coaster every day as we fill the moments between heartbreak and celebration with stocking the shelves, placing orders, restarting the CD player, and checking email.

My job, really, is to help people get to Heaven, however I can. That’s what every task of my day from answering the phone to holding a sobbing customer who recently lost her child in my arms, to selecting the right books, to teaching a new friend how to pray the Rosary is all about. It’s a beautiful and wonderful thing to be blessed with such a vocation. It’s a vocation to do a million little things a day that seem like logistics, but are really acts of great love. It’s a vocation to comfort, to mourn alongside others, and to acknowledge their pain by sharing in it in some small way. It’s a vocation to put a copy of My Catholic Faith into someone’s hands who doesn’t know they need it yet (Ask your local Catholic bookstore for that one please!) It’s a vocation to pray fervently that every person who walks into the store making jokes about being a cafeteria Catholic (I was guilty of this for years) will some day see the light and bask in the fullness of Truth.

It’s a lot like motherhood. I’ve mentioned before that we haven’t been blessed yet with children, but I like to think that Our Lord has given me this job as a way of both practicing for future motherhood and as a way to actively live my vocation as a mother in a way that models His own mother and St. Monica. He challenges me every day to dig deeper, no matter how exhausted I am, to bring consolation, or insight, or at least a smile to the face of every person that He sends through that door. He’s given me a way to care for others and to learn how to love more generously.

Just like the motherhood that I see exampled in all of the women I’ve met online and whose blogs I read, I am called to example love, patience, steadfastness, humility, and simplicity in the same way that St. Monica did each day of her life. St. Monica exemplifies a motherhood spent waiting in absolute hope. I pray that I can learn from her example not only as a mothering caretaker of souls at work, but as a woman who is waiting to fulfill her vocation to love as a mother of children. I pray that I can learn to patiently wait for God’s perfect timing and perfect plan for our lives, all the while remaining steadfast in an absolute and trusting hope. I pray that I might remember always that my every action, no matter how quiet or simple, has the potential to draw me and others closer to Our Lord.

Oatmeal bread is simple, strong, and solid, like St. Monica.

Oatmeal bread is simple, strong, and solid, like St. Monica.

I’ll tell you about our adventures in bread-making soon, but I wanted to share a picture of this oatmeal bread that we made using a recipe from my new favorite cookbook. Baking bread is an excellent way to honor St. Monica on her feast day because very little that you can do in the kitchen requires more carefulness and patience.

St. Monica, ora pro nobis. Please make us good waiters.

St. Charbel & Living the Liturgical Calendar

So I may not have mentioned in my earlier introductory ramblings, but our family has really been trying to immerse ourselves in the liturgical calendar in order to feel better connected to our faith. That means that we do what we can to celebrate our favorite saints’ feast days in big or little ways (depending on who the saint is and how far in advance we remember,) do our best to observe things like ember days, and just generally try to unite our days intentionally to the rest of the Church.

Sometimes we observe a feast day with a whole big meal like Haley does (check out her great ideas for Sts. Anne & Joachim’s feast day,) but often we just throw together a little something to acknowledge its passing. Honestly, we tend to remember the day-of or the day before at best, so we do what we can. Some kinds of living our liturgical calendar are harder than others (I’ll tell you all about ember days later,) but they’re all so fulfilling to attempt.

St. Charbel!

This looks EXACTLY like the picture of St. Charbel that a customer at the store gave us. It hangs right next to my desk every day and in person the details are so lifelike.

Today’s feast is for St. Charbel, who is, to my knowledge, the first Lebanese saint to be canonized. Neither of us are Lebanese, but we have a few Lebanese friends (including the one who gave us a copy of the above lovely icon for the store.) Upon the recommendation of these friends, we picked the yummiest (and most readily available) Lebanese food we know: Hummus!

Store bought hummus

Store-bought hummus. I can’t even take credit for the picture!

I’d like to say that I had the forethought and energy to make my own batch of hummus to bring into work with me today, but that just didn’t happen. We JUST got back from vacationing with my husband’s family at the beach and both the fridge and pantry are completely empty. Let’s just say it wasn’t gonna happen today. However, one of my aforementioned Lebanese friends ran out to the store and picked out a few tubs of this brand, so you know it’s legit. The three of us at the store basically ate 2 1/2 tubs of this deliciousness and called it lunch. (Just so you don’t miss out on this mental image: my friend couldn’t find the pita chips or any regular pita bread that met my current weird dietary needs, so we wound up eating our hummus with Ruffles potato chips and Cheddar Harvest Sunchips. Yum, right?)

Just so you don’t feel like I’ve completely gypped you out of a real food post, I’m providing you with a recipe for it from my new favorite cookbook which hasn’t let me down yet. I’m leaving out a few of the ingredients to make it simpler (and just in case of copyright issues!) Sorry this has turned into lazy steal-it-from-the-internet night, but que sera, sera!

Yummy Simple Hummus

Ingredients:

1/4 cup tahini (I read somewhere that in a pinch you can sub peanut butter for this. I tried it and it was…ok. Lacking though.)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

_______

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic (app. 2 cloves)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon coriander

_______

1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans, rise and drain

The trick, it seems, is to add the ingredients into the food processor one group (divided by lines above) at a time, while processing for about a minute after adding each set of ingredients. That makes it SO much smoother and yummier. Putting the ingredients in in the order listed above works wonders and I highly recommend chilling it for as long as you can stand to wait to eat it (seriously, if you make it the hour that she recommends, you’re amazing.) Also, you can always add more garlic. 🙂

Let’s pretend I made this batch, ok? For the one-step-at-a-time idea, click the picture.

Happy Feast of St. Charbel!

7 Belated Not-So-Quick Takes

First ever 7 Quick Takes!

— 1 —

Sooo the weekend of friends visiting and helping people move got away from me and these “Friday Seven Quick Takes” have turned into “As long as it’s done by Sunday that’ll be good enough, right?” Takes. Sorry for the delay of this exciting post that you did not know you were expecting. 🙂
I’m pretty psyched to do my first 7QT. So psyched, in fact, that I’m not even paralyzingly self-conscious that they might be lame. Because everyone knows that you can’t make random lists on the internet without being held accountable for the level of awesome that you add to people’s day. And let’s be clear about that too: My draw to this lovely method of sharing a little bit with other lovely bloggers is based almost entirely on the fact that I get to make a big list. I’ll do my best to refrain from creating sub-lists.

— 2 —

MY BEST FRIEND IN THE WHOLE WORLD IS COMING TODAY! I’m more obnoxiously excited than caps-lock can convey. She’ll only be here long enough for dinner as she passes through on a road trip to Philadelphia, but I’m over the moon. I haven’t seen her since our wedding nearly a year ago! We met in third grade through sharing crayons in what was supposed to be a gifted class, but was really just about doing those little brain teaser puzzles all day and were…friendly. Not best friends ever yet, but friendly all the same. And then, one horrible day during an assembly on the first day of fourth grade, she sat behind me and must have made a face at something entirely random, but which I thought was directed at me, which caused me to make a face in return, which caused us both to mistakenly think the other one hated us for the remainder of the year. That, folks, is exhibit A of why it’s important to make our assumptions with charity about one another. Because when you don’t, you miss out on a whole year of life-altering best friendship.

Not to fear though, on day one of fifth grade we both quickly looked around the room, realized we knew no one else in our class, and literally simultaneously ran to one another calling each others’ name in great big bear hugs. That’s when our best friendship started. It was magic and I will probably never know what gave each of us the sudden confidence to act like we’d been besties all along. Other than God, of course. Clearly, this was a friendship made in Heaven. We’ve been so blessed over the years to stay close even when we’ve had to go months (or in a few cases, years) without seeing each other or even speaking much over the phone. So tonight we’re gonna party like it’s elementary school!

— 3 —

Thursday was mine and hubby’s 11th “mensaversary” (mens=month…yes, we’re that quirky.) We made a promise when we got married that we would make sure that we gave ourselves a date night at least once a month. To hold ourselves accountable, we decided that we’d set date night on (or as close to when it doesn’t work out) the 4th of the month to line up with the date of our anniversary. So far it’s been working REALLY well. We missed one month entirely back in March because I had just had major surgery, he was starting a new job, and–quite frankly–we had both lost track of what day of the month it was. Our days just blurred together. We made up for it later in the month though when we realized what had happened.

Do you do something like that for date nights?

That said, the fourth of July was date night. We had it all planned to go out for a nice dinner (in our world, that’s Red Lobster) and just spend some time together. What we wound up doing was SO MUCH BETTER. We stayed inside. All day. Just us. It was amazing. It’s only recently since he started the new job that we started getting weekends and holidays off together, so having a whole day to ourselves is still a real treat. We slept in, cooked, watched our favorite tv shows, played on our computers side-by-side a little while, ordered in Chinese food, and basked in the joy of each other’s company. We only walked out the front door in the evening to watch the multitude of fireworks being set off in our neighborhood. These, by the way, included the most awesomely huge and close illegal industrial-type fireworks ever being shot off from the backyard of the house across the street. They were over our heads and HUGE. And AMAZING. They would do them in small batches every twenty minutes or so, but they’d be over quickly, so every time we heard one going off, we’d drop everything, sprint for the door, and run outside to watch what we could. It was a great day.

— 4 —

I was all set to give you a great post about what I decided to do with these bananas:

Sad, spoiling bananas

Sad, spoiling bananas

I actually have a plan and what I think is a pretty great idea. I was all set to do the whole “experiment and take pictures because that’s what blog people do” thing, and very excitedly and proudly told my husband all about my yummy plans. He was super pumped–until he remembered that he had to crush my spirit by informing me that he had been a good and thoughtful husband (and reasonable) and had thrown those smelly suckers in the trash since, apparently, they had attracted a “cloud of tiny flies.” I swear our house is not that nasty. But nevertheless, because I have a helpful husband, you have no banana experimentation. His solution was to buy the ripest bananas from the store, wait a few more days and just pretend I’d gotten busy. He wanted me to lie. :p Which I maybe would have done if I didn’t need to use it as fodder for 7 Quick Takes. But rest assured, there will be new bananas and I WILL make a delicious experiment with them and share the results–for better or for worse.

— 5 —

We helped two of our best friends move into their very first house yesterday! (One more reason for this delayed post.) It’s a beautiful little house for two beautiful people who will, God willing, fill it up with beautiful little people! The whole day was somehow very thrilling. I know most people would rather die a fiery death than move or unpack or help someone else do those things, but I think I get some kind of weird jollies from it. I’ve moved what feels like countless times over my life, most of them over the past 6-8 years of my adult life, and while the moving OUT part is terrible, I really enjoy the unpacking, the settling in, the methodically going through boxes one at a time with a glass of wine and a favorite tv show or cd on. And my favorite room in the world to unpack, the one that I always, always, always unpack first that instantly makes me feel like a billion-pound anvil has been lifted off of my chest is the kitchen. Once my plates, pots and pans are accessible and I can cook, it’s officially a home. Not a moment before. Am I alone in this?

— 6 —

Update on those mushroom burgers that were marinating in their super-photogenic Ziplock bag in the freezer here:

Waiting to become Mushroom burgers

Waiting to become Mushroom burgers

They were delicious. So delicious that we forgot to take any pictures. Sorry. I’m going to have to learn how to grow an extra set of hands so I can take pictures of things while I do them instead of doing a thousand other things and then remembering after we’ve already devoured the food and have nothing left to take a picture of. I’ll do better next time. But for the record, they were incredible.

We stemmed and cleaned out our Portabello Mushrooms and soaked them in the fridge for 2+ hours in a marinade of about 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, a little salt and a little more pepper. Then we grilled them up on the stove until they looked mouth-watering, melted some provolone on top, and stacked it on a toasted Italian bread bun. The only extra that I forgot to do and will try next time is to add some caramelized onions to the burger. I think it’ll be meatless Friday HEAVEN.

— 7 —

It’s harder to come up with 7 of these things than it looks. I almost chickened out and used my “Oops now these are belated” blurb at the beginning as a number one. But that wouldn’t have been fair. So instead, I leave you with this make-believe take while I run off to start some laundry, sun tea, cleaning, and if I’m really on the ball, at least two meals for the week. Enjoy reading all of those other great Quick Takes!

For more Quick Takes or to linkup your own, visit http://www.conversiondiary.com