Headed off today to Tanzania with #CRSMedia!


Can’t tell you how pumped I am to hop on a plane this morning and make my second trip to Africa with Catholic Relief Services.  Last time around, I and a few Catholic media friends went to Ghana to look at the way the Church is combatting HIV and maternal/infant mortality by teaching NFP and other marriage-building principles.  A truly extraordinary experience.

This time around, we get to celebrate the 40th anniversary of CRS Rice Bowl by visiting one of the countries that directly benefits from the generosity of US Catholics. In Tanzania, we’ll meet field workers, school children, and even farmers who have taken your small gifts and, through the work of CRS, have been able to multiply them to aid in the international mission of the Church to feed both body and soul.

And I’m traveling with AWESOME people. I’ve traveled with CRS’s Tom Price and Relevant Radio’s Drew Mariani before, but having Dr Matthew Bunson and Lisa Hendey along this time around will be a blast.

Some highlights:

-Visiting farmers helped by the work of CRS Rice Bowl
-Attending Mass locally
-Participating in a cooking demo with a local chef who’ll show us how to make this year’s Lenten Friday meatless meal, Tanzanian style
-Getting a reminder of the universality of the Church

Pray for me! It’s the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of Catholic media- we sure could use some intercession!

Covington Latin School Named as 2014 School of Excellence by The Cardinal Newman Society

Very exciting news this week – Covington Latin School, the Catholic secondary school where I teach English, was named to The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll as a 2014 School of Excellence for the first time ever. Located in Covington, Kentucky and under the auspices of the Diocese of Covington, Covington Latin School has a classical curriculum that is tailored for accelerated learners in Cincinnati’s tri-state area. It is also one of only two schools in Kentucky to earn the distinction of School of Excellence.

I would encourage you to click through to The Cardinal Newman Society’s site and check out which schools in your own region were recognized.

Chorizo-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

We have one of of the best darn fruit and vegetable markets in the city a couple blocks’ walk from our house, and it also has notoriously awesome specials.

Over the weekend, I scored a $0.49 spaghetti squash and some Italian-style chorizo salame.

Putting the oven on 400, I then proceeded to cut the squash length-wise, scoop out the seeds, and pour a bit of olive oil all over. After a generous dousing of cracked pepper and coarser sea salt, I sliced about half of the stick of salame (although I definitely could have used the whole thing), and then cut it into smaller chunks before loading it into the scooped out halves of spaghetti squash.

I carefully put each half face down in a Pyrex casserole dish, but I think keeping them upright like you would with filled acorn squash would also work and retain the flavors of the sausage a bit better. The squash cooked in the oven for about 50 minutes.

I did end up breaking up the squash with a fork (spaghettizing it) and putting it all back in one of the casserole dishes before mixing up the seasoning and sausage throughout, but that just isn’t as pretty, although it did taste good.

This was our main course, and we enjoyed it with a side of raw baby spinach topped with slices of mozzarella, tomato, and basil leaves.


Our Little Oratory: Before and After


We’ve started reading David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler’s The Little Oratory with our Teams of Our Lady group, and this weekend I got our oratory started.

Here’s the (rather scary) before:

An antique card table with a dirty runner by a northern window, replete with all sorts of cords.
An antique card table with a dirty runner by a northern window, replete with all sorts of cords.
One of Matt's shoes strewn by a cat scratcher and a TV cable cord (um, we don't have cable and never have while living in this house)
One of Matt’s shoes strewn by a cat scratcher and a TV cable cord (um, we don’t have cable and never have while living in this house)

It wasn’t pretty.

We have holy images and sacramentals in pretty much every room of the house, but I am so glad to have put this together last night, coincidentally the eve of the Exaltation of the Cross. Our toddler is already very interested in the oratory area, and it’s the first thing someone is liable to see when they walk in. I already have our television positioned so that it is (hopefully) the last thing, but maybe that’s wishful thinking. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out a good way for it to be ad orientem, but it is in the living room (it was either there or the library), and has so far helped to change the whole flavor of the room.

Here is the after in stages:

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The items on or around the little oratory table include a San Damiano Cross; icon of the Madonna and Child and icon of Christ, each with candles in front of them; RSV Bible; (empty) flower vase, Lourdes water, Czech box with relic of St. Maria Goretti inside; and a large circular vase filled with rosaries. We already had everything but the green runner, however I did spend quite a lot of time moving things around. This is why I am a big fan of Command picture frame hangers – my 1800’s era house’s walls would be a total mess otherwise, as I tend to move things around pretty frequently.

The order of business for tomorrow is have our 2 year old help me cut some hydrangea blooms for the flower vase. At some point, we also might add an incense component, but it may be safer to burn some scented oil on the nearby mantle for the next while.

The Little Oratory

Dough, Dough, and Faux

At one point, I vowed to Matt that I would never fall into Mom bloggery. My, how things can change…

Earlier this week, I had a day of Ridiculous Pinterestness, aided in these pictures by the superior ability to edit out the Leaning Tower of Laundry and, basically, what my house normally looks like during a work week. These moms with crazy backdrops in their houses specifically to photograph their creations just kill me, or I may be slightly jealous – it’s anyone’s guess.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

First, I made a batch of some Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, from the side of the King Arthur Flour, that I’ve raved about before. My devious theory to thwart gluttony results in this plan: I whip up the whole batch (it makes quite a lot without doubling) and then freeze half the dough in the deep freezer in our detached garage while baking the other half. That way, I have the open up three sets of doors plus the container before even starting to defrost the new container of dough. Yes, I know myself.

Clove-scented Play Dough
Clove-scented Play Dough

Later, when there seemed to be a bit too much clambering for television time and I couldn’t find any kid-friendly watercolor paintbrushes, I saw this recipe from Nurture Store. Our Playdoh has been all dried up for a while, so Autumn-scented dough sounded perfect.

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Our toddler helped me measure and stir on a stool by our butcher block and over in the 1970s play kitchen, getting to finally use his kiddie Ikea utensils for something other than pretend. Instead of paint, I colored ours with food coloring, which made them nice and jewel-toned, although less brilliant, also substituting coconut oil for the vegetable oil the recipe calls for.

Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger play dough
Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger play dough

We made all four varieties – ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. Ginger had the most dazzling color, and nutmeg turned out to be the least attractive scent, which was a little surprising. In all, the play dough smells more like (clean, industrious) hippies than Bath and Body Works, but I’m good with that!

So far, we’ve been creating a good number of faces, houses, and churches, although guess what our two year old decided he wanted to make after amassing this number of ginger spheres in the container?

"Let's make a rosary!"
“Let’s make a rosary!”

Lastly, as Matt was out of the house for a series of board meetings, I decided we could get away with smoothies and bananas for dinner. Best of all, our toddler was totally into the process. Our favorite flavor of late consists of one part ice, one part yogurt (I’m a big fan of Mountain High in the gigantic container), a single peach, and a couple of generous handfuls of raw baby spinach. The peach makes the drink plenty sweet, but some honey or agave nectar can also cut some of the possible bitterness from the spinach. When I served it with a straw, my toddler was sure it was green ice cream, and I agreed that it sure tasted a little like it. Thus, dinner became faux dessert, and it was good!

Peachy Spinach Smoothie
Peachy Spinach Smoothie

Sweating the Small Stuff: Eggplant

This past weekend we planted a couple of apple trees, a Gala and a Red Delicious, in our side yard, but, curiously, the domestic advancement that was most exciting to me was finally picking our eggplants (about 80 days from the time we planted our seedlings in the square foot garden) and making some Eggplant Parmesan with homegrown basil.

A Black Beauty eggplant from one of our square foot gardens
A Black Beauty eggplant from one of our square foot gardens

Between picking them and baking the dish, I embarked on the practice of sweating the eggplant – this was totally new to me, and really kind of neat. The claim is that the slices of eggplant will avoid any potential bitter tastes if you sprinkle them on both sides with course salt. It’s an optional extra step, but, since I was cooking a meal for five children to enjoy that evening, I wanted to make sure the eggplant would taste as appealingly as possible.

Just-cut eggplant slices
Just-cut eggplant slices

Mark Bittman recommends one hour, however I left them for a good two and a half hours while picking up my apple trees at the nursery and they turned out fabulously. Within minutes of distributing the salt, the eggplant slices started excreting brownish juices.

Sweaty eggplant slices
Sweaty eggplant slices
This is only after a few minutes, but you can already tell that they are dehydrating a bit
This is only after a few minutes, but you can already tell that they are dehydrating a bit

I had the slices of three eggplants to salt, and so I had them stacked on a cookie sheet with paper towels lining the bottom and between each layer. By the time I was disassembling the slices and preparing them to be put in the colander and rinsed off before the cooking the paper towels were completely soaked. This dehydrating process also made frying the floured slices in olive oil a much smoother, less splattery process, and, even though I rinsed the salt off of the slices, I did not apply any further salt to the dish. The seasoning was perfectly salted as-is.

It takes some pre-planning to get the timing right, but I definitely will be doing this every time I’m cooking with eggplant and it’s feasible.

Here is Mark Bittman’s Eggplant Parmesan recipe that I used. It’s a winner! Sure, eggplant shares the stage with cheese, but it really isn’t overdone, and I promise you won’t feel like you got dragged into an Olive Garden afterwards…

Fr Pontifex’s The Symphony and the Static

Back in December, Matt reviewed Fr. Pontifex’s The Symphony and the Static for the Integrated Catholic Life. I remember enjoying the listen-through via Dropboxed audio files, but who knows where they are… Meanwhile, a lot has happened since December 2013, including our rather verbal toddler becoming a Fr. Pontifex super-fan (Anytime we’re listening to something else, it’s a guarantee that we’ll hear “How about Fr. Pontifex?” from the backseat). We listen to Ordained constantly (skipping over a certain good song that’s very truthful and not very preschool-friendly), but, recalling how cohesive and well done we remembered The Symphony and the Static to be, we finally downloaded it off iTunes this past long weekend during our 2.5 hour trip from Central Kentucky back north to Cincinnati.

I am so glad we did.

Not only is there a more of a noticeably spoken word vibe to the whole album, but Yung PK brings another nice voice to several tracks. Go ahead and check out Matt’s review, and then drop some change for the album (also available on CD). Totally worth it.


"Marriage is a duel to the death, which no man of honour should decline." – G.K. Chesterton's 'Manalive'


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