Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The F-Word

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.    

Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieWe Should All Be Feminists


The other day, I posted on my personal Facebook page a list of the books I had purchased in the last week. Even for a bibliophile, purchasing thirty books in a week was a new low high. Topics ranged from fascism, to discerning propaganda, to racial issues, and to feminism.  

Yes, friends, we're going to talk about the F-word.

I'll be the first to tell you that I got lucky meeting my fiance Rob. I love him for a lot of reasons, but one specific reason is that he is pretty egalitarian. He's not intimidated by my intelligence. He doesn't expect me to cook and clean solely because of my sex. He pushes me to achieve, and he celebrates when I succeed. He doesn't refer to women as "bitches" in casual conversation. (Yes, that actually happened in another relationship - no, I didn't dump the offender right away because I was stupid). Rob views me as an equal whether we are butting heads over Jeopardy or something more substantive to debate.

Despite his character, there are fundamental differences in how we view the world. I didn't realize until this year's election that, for all his sterling qualities - he just didn't see it.

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat. 
- Rebecca West 

I apologize for the tangent here, but there is one thing you must understand about me - I came out of the womb fighting. I burned at perceived injustice and always wanted to fight for what I believed was right. Some would say that I must have been taught this, but my parents are ordinary people. My father is a typical moderate conservative; he is the type of Republican who couldn't stomach voting for Bush a second time. My mother is a moderate liberal; her beloved brother was out and proud, and she would be the first to tell you she "didn't see race."  Neither talked much about politics at home. I couldn't even tell you who they voted for in most presidential elections. Political activism wasn't even on the radar in my home.

When I was five, my grandfather drove us through a very nice neighborhood he was working to develop. The adults admired the houses. All I saw were the numerous trees that had been cut down. I was horrified and immediately started a petition at my preschool the next day that my grandfather replant every tree that had been cut down. I spoke to every parent coming in and our of the building, begging them to sign. I proudly served that construction paper and crayon petition to my grandfather, certain that he would do what was right. 

My petition the next week that he should give some of these houses on the golf course to the homeless didn't go over so well at the school.

Some might argue that perhaps it was a teacher, or a television show that molded my character, if it wasn't my parents. The idea is that children cannot inherently be activists. But as far as I know, neither my preschool nor Mr. Rogers turned out a tiny marching band of environmental socialists. It was just me.


I wish I could say that I retained that sense of purpose as I grew. But although I fumed and even ranted to a few close friends, I did nothing.

Part of it was naivety. Part of it was apathy. Part of it was ignoring my own privilege. Part of it was wanting to be liked. 

I was labeled a bitch anyway. Why did I care so much about being liked?

Source: Wicked Clothes

When a man gives his opinion, he's a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she's a bitch.
- Betty Davis

And then Donald Trump ran for President of the United States.

We had a man running for the highest office of our country explicitly speak about sexually assaulting women - and he won.

Although there are plenty of my friends and family who will laugh at the idea that I've been silent as they have had to suffer through my rants, it took a misogynistic autocrat to force me to reexamine myself. And I don't like what I see. I began life with promise and a desire to fight for those who were less fortunate than myself. And somewhere along the way, I lost that. I am complicit in the state of things today. Sure, I voted for Hillary - but that wasn't enough. I should have spoken up long ago before things got to this point. I should have protested. I should have volunteered more. I should have donated more. I wasted years of my life being absorbed in my own privilege.

A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.
- Gloria Steinem

Which leads me back to Rob. I love him, even though I disagree with him nine times out of ten when we have a political discussion. He's more conservative than I am - most people are. But it broke my heart a little when he couldn't see things the way I did. 

Enter books.

Rob has agreed to read whatever books I set before him so that we can discuss and debate. A selfish part of me wants him to read these books and think what I think. The realistic part of me knows that probably won't be the case. But if I can open his eyes, just a little bit, to issues I find important - I'll consider that a win.

We're starting with feminism, because where else could we start? I was a feminist before I was any other type of -ist, when I boldly told the neighbor boy I could do anything just as good as him. (Provided it didn't involve crossing the street, as I was only four).

Source: Amazon

Please join us this week as we read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists. I'll be asking Rob how he personally defines feminism, as well as sharing my own beliefs. I'd love to hear your own definitions in the comments below, and I hope you join me on this journey. The best way to combat the evils in this world is through education. I truly believe that.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Look Like a Beauty, Train Like a Beast

I thought about calling this blog "Keeping up with the Kettlebells" or "Kipping up with the Kardashians," but I thought that might have been taking it a pun too far. Plus, I don't even like the Kardashians. 


I thought it would be nice to do a semi-regular blog post about my workouts and where I'm at with my goals. Don't worry, I'm not going to be one of those people who goes on and on about Crossfit (or running or paleo or whatever) all the time. But I want to keep a log of my accomplishments, since I've been rocking and rolling the past few months.

Running has been a struggle. I'd set a plan to build my mileage slowly, with two runs a week. I haven't hit that goal as often as I'd like, so I'm trying to hit that this month - and I'm going to ramp up the training in January. The Cap City Half is at the beginning of May, so I have a few months to get myself into fighting shape. The holidays are hard, y'all.

Crossfit has been better. I've managed to go 3-4 times a week, other than last week. (See above for my sentiments on holidays). AND, I've been hitting PRs all over the place. It's fun at the beginning, since you're starting from nothing and it's so easy to improve. I am so, so close to hitting a full pushup where my nose touches the ground. That is insane. This week I hit a major PR in back squats and deadlifts, improving by fifty pounds.

That's right - FIFTY.

That's why I had to make my banner. I know I'm not lifting the heavy weights I see others hitting at the gym, but for me? Adding on fifty pounds since I started is a big deal. I feel like Supergirl.

Here's some stats for the heaviest I've moved to date:

Back Squat: 105 lbs
Shoulder Press: 40 lbs
Deadlift: 155 lbs
Power Snatch: 35 lbs
Front Squat: 80 lbs
Push Press: 50 lbs

Three months in the gym and I'm rocking and rolling. I just want to know when I'm going to look like a Victoria's Secret model (I kid, I kid).

Linking up for Fitness Friday with Jill Conyers, The Jenny Evolution, and Fitful Focus.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tea Time Tuesday

Recently, I've been working my way through Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management - I find old etiquette books, "receipt" books, and household management guides to be endlessly fascinating. Mrs. Beeton's guide has advice for everything from managing servants to bathing children to serving a proper dinner, down to the number of slices of ham.

Naturally, she covered tea.

In order to make good tea it is necessary that the water should be quite boiling, but it must on no account be water that has boiled for some time, or been previously boiled, cooled, and then re-boiled.  It is a good plan to empty the kettle and refill it with fresh cold water, and make the tea the moment it reaches boiling point.  Soft water makes the best tea, and boiling softens the water, but after it has boiled for some time it again becomes hard.  When water is very hard a tiny pinch of carbonate of soda may be put into the teapot with the tea, but it must be used very sparingly, otherwise it may impart a very unpleasant taste to the beverage.  Tea is better made in an earthen than a metal pot.  One good teaspoonful of tea will be found sufficient for two small cups, if made with boiling water and allowed to stand 3 to 4 minutes; longer than this it should never be allowed to stand.  The delicate flavour of the tea may be preserved, and injurious effects avoided by pouring the tea, after it has stood 3 or 4 minutes, into a clean teapot which has been previously heated.

According to Mrs. Beeton, a "little tea" should include a "pretty little afternoon tea service" which is  "placed upon a small table, and there are plates of bread and butter, as well as biscuits and cake." Sandwiches intended for afternoon tea "are dainty trifles, pleasing to the eye and palate, but too flimsy to allay hunger where it exists." The goal was to provide light refreshments which would not soil a person's gloves. 

This would be considered a proper British "low tea" - indicating a more refined environment, with small finger foods, served a low table (what Americans call a "coffee table"). Many people think a "high tea" is the fancier outfit, but in actuality, a high tea is served later, on high-topped tables, with more substantial food. A high tea is not relegated to the working class, but would also be a more informal dinner at home for the upper class during Mrs. Beeton's time. Often, families would take high tea on Sundays, in order to give their servants a rest.

Tea Time by Mary Cassatt.

Although later in time, a few suggested home tea menus are provided in Cookery Illustrated and Household Managment by Elizabeth Craig (1936). This will give you a better idea of the differences between an afternoon (low) tea and a high tea.
  • "Afternoon Tea: Brown Bread and Butter, Potted Salmon Sandwiches, Picklets Rock Cakes, Scotch Jam Sandwich.
  • High Tea: Fried Fillets of Haddock, White Bread and Butter, Toast, Strawberry Jam, Eccles Cakes, Gingerbread. Note.--Serve fish with Piquante or Tomato sauce, and a green salad, if liked."---(p. 619)
  • "Afternoon Tea: Hot Buttered Toast, Mustard and Cress Sandwiches, French Biscuits, Maids of Honour, Dundee Cake. Note--If liked, spread hot toast with butter creamed with caster sugar and ground cinnamon to taste. 
  • "Afternoon Tea: Milk Bread and Butter, Whitstable Sandwiches, Rice Buns, Ginger Snaps, Caramel Layer Cake.
  • High Tea: Grilled Kidneys, White Bread and Butter, Ballater Scones, Damson Cheese, American Doughnuts, Chocolate Nougat Cake. Note.--Serve scones buttered hot, or split, buttered and spread with greengage jam."---(p. 622)
  • "Afternoon Tea: Kentish Oatcakes, White Bread and Butter, Blackberry Jelly, Cornish Splits, Ginger Biscuits, Chocolate Cream Cake.
  • High Tea: Fried Fresh Herrings, Toast and Watercress, Carievale Nut Bread and Butter, Balmoral Tartlets, Chelsea Buns, Raisin Slab Cake. Note.--If preferred, substitute potted meat sandwiches and watercress for the herring."---(p. 623)
  • "Afternoon Tea: Bloater Cream Sandwiches, White Bread and Butter, Lemon Cheese, Rice Biscuits, Meringues, Canadian Layer Cake.
  • High Tea: Fried Fish Cakes, Celery or Watercress, Toasted Brown Bread, White Bread and Butter, Potted Beef or Game, Quince Marmalade, Lemon Cheese Cake, Coffee Cake."--- (p. 625)
  • "Afternoon Tea. Egg and Anchovy Sandwiches, Northumberland Griddle Cakes, Ayrshire Shortbread, Bath Buns, Marshmallow Layer Cake.
  • High Tea: Boiled Salmon, Mayonnaise Sauce, Cucumber Sandwiches, Nut and Raisin Bread, Bread and Butter, Plum Jam, Ayrshire Shortbread, Spiced Raisin Cake."---(p. 626)
  • "Afternoon Tea: Buttered Irish Barmbrack, Abernathy Biscuits, Windsor Cake, Fudge Layer Cake. Note.--If a savoury touch is wanted, serve toast or white bread and butter with Potted Cheese and spring onions.
  • High Tea: Galantine of Veal, Lettuce and Tomato Salad, White Bread and Butter, Brown Bread and Butter, Black Currant Jam, Sponge Sandwich with Whipped Fruit Filling, Scotch Lawn Tennis Cake."---(p. 628)

Source: 123rf.com

After all this talk of food, I can't end without leaving you with a recipe for Mrs. Beeton's Victoria Sponge. It's a bit tricky at first, and you'll need a precise food scale, but it's well-worth the effort. You can't find cake like this in America very easily.


  • Unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing
  • 4 eggs
  • Golden caster sugar
  • Self-raising flour, sieved with a pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • A little milk, if necessary 
  • Raspberry jam
  • Whipping cream
  • Icing sugar or caster sugar, for dusting

Here's where it gets tricky. Weigh your eggs in the shells and measure out the same amount of butter, sugar, and flour. So, if you have 100g of eggs, you would measure out 100g of butter, 100g of sugar, and 100g of flour. It won't work out so easily, but you have the general idea. 

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease two cake pans with butter, and line the bases of each pan with parchment paper.

In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract, and then slowly beat in the flour. The mixture should be somewhat thin and drip off your whisk. If it is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of milk to thin, and mix well.

Divide the batter equally between the two pans, making sure the mixture is an even plane. Use a spatula or knife, if necessary, to even out the top surface of the batter. Bake for 25-20 minutes. You know the drill - it is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanly. Let the cake cook for a few minutes in the pan before turning out onto a cooking rack.

Once the cake has cooled completely, turn one of the cakes upside-down onto your serving plate so the flat bottom is right-side-up.  Spread a generous layer of raspberry jam, and then top with a good portion of whipped cream, spread evenly. Place the other cake on top to make a lovely sandwich, and dust with sugar before serving. If you like, cut the cake into dainty fingers for easier eating.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Living the Liturgical Year: December 2015

Advent Edition!

One thing I like about being Catholic is the liturgical year. I enjoy the ritual, the sense of marking time, and the way I can find something awesome to celebrate in every month. Traditions have always been important to me, from how we decorate the Christmas tree as a family to getting ice cream together on the first spring day it hits seventy degrees. These little traditions add flavor to everyday life, and becoming Catholic opened the door for me to celebrate all sorts of new things.

Each month, I am planning to do a blog post with a few of my favorite feasts, and some suggestions of how to celebrate the day. I know other Catholic bloggers have cornered the market on this already (and fantastically so), but I thought I'd chip in a few ideas for others looking to add a bit of tradition to their lives.

For December, Pope Francis's intention is that we all may experience the mercy of God, who never tires of forgiving.

November 29 - December 24: Advent

Source: Wikipedia

Advent is the big Catholic tradition I always worry that I'm doing "wrong." There are so many unfamiliar things - Advent wreaths, Jesse trees, certain prayers...It can all seem a bit much. What's necessary and what's not? When you're learning the ins and outs of the church, all of the Advent practices are overwhelming.

As I said in my last post, the first thing I did as a new Catholic was purchase an Advent wreath. You don't have buy anything other than candles, as it's quite easy to make your own. You can get as fancy as you want, or merely make do with four candles in a circle. Each corresponding candle is lit for the four Sundays of Advent, with the pink candle being lit for Gaudete Sunday.

I wanted to do an Advent themed pink and purple Jesse Tree this year, but I wasn't able to swing it in the budget. I am working on making ornaments, and hopefully next year will have some great pictures to share. Basically, the Jesse Tree has ornaments or figurines which symbolize the purpose and promises of God, from creation to the birth of Christ.

When December 17th rolls around, I'm going to try my hand at saying the O Antiphons this year. The O Antiphons are a series of prayers leading up to Christmas which are focused on anticipating the Christ child's arrival. I had never heard of them before, but they are beautiful prayers. It's nice to have some balance - I enjoy putting up my tree early and listening to Christmas carols, but having some specific, Advent-focused practices I can do as well helps me keep focused on what Advent is truly about. Advent is meant to be a season of waiting. In a month of go-go-go, it's good to have a reminder that not everything is meant to be rushed through in a flurry of preparations.

Another way to celebrate Advent is to put out a nativity scene. Some people like to put out one figure at a time as part of a physical Advent calendar, saving the Christ child for last. I like that idea, but I don't have a twenty-five figure set. You don't have to purchase anything, either. My family still places out the baby-peanut-Jesus-in-a-cardboard-tube-manger my little brother made when he was four. It's the thought that counts. Truly.

Although Advent is the big focus of the month, there are some individual solemnities and feasts I try to take time to mark.

For other great ideas to live out Advent, check out the always insightful Like Mother, Like Daughter for their linkup. See how bloggers around the world are preparing for the Christmas season.

December 8: Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Solemnity)

Immaculada by Bartolome  Estban Murillo
Source: Wikipedia

Hail Mary, full of Grace...

The Hail Mary is a familiar prayer. It's said by nervous flyers in movies and by athletes attempting a pass in football. It's as well-recognized a prayer as the Our Father in pop culture. But not many people could tell you what the Hail Mary actually means

We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.
— Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854
Catholics believe that Mary was born without original sin, which made her a more perfect vessel to carry Jesus (look it up! Catechism 386-412). Grace is more than just a prayer before meals. Grace is bestowed by God. When we say full of grace during the Hail Mary prayer, we are acknowledging that Mary is - quite literally - full of grace. God had filled her with purity. The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception not only celebrates Mary's status as the Mother of Jesus, but for her state of grace. Without such grace, would she have been capable of saying yes to Gabriel? 

Symbols of Mary include a crown, often of stars, and lily or lily of the valley. If you have a green thumb, you could take the time to plan a Mary Garden for the spring. Put out a few blooms in a vase for dinner, and if you have the time, you could try your hand at a blue and white themed dinner or dessert (although try not to make it mashed potatoes, pasta, and bread!). 

December 12: Our Lady of Guadeloupe (Feast)

Source: Wikipedia

For many people, this is the image they associate with Mary. If you live in the United States, Our Lady of Guadeloupe imagery is prevalent. Who hasn't seen the candles at the Mexican grocery, or printed on shirts at a kiosk? 

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadeloupe celebrates a Marian apparition in Mexico City in 1531 to a peasant named Juan Diego. Mary asked for a church to be built on that site in her honor. Juan Diego tried many times to get the Bishop to believe him, but was only successful after Mary left the above imprint on his tilma. When Juan Diego opened his tilma to show the Bishop proof that Mary had appeared, a shower of roses Juan Diego gathered fell out to reveal this image. Needless to say, the Bishop was convinced and a church was subsequently built. 

There are so many fun ways to celebrate this feast - put out a vase of roses, first, in honor of those Castilian roses Juan Diego found. Then, make a Mexican dinner, from something simple like tacos or classic rice with plantains. Follow that with a rosary, or if you're feeling extra committed, a novena to Our Lady. 

December 26: St. Stephen (Feast)

Saint Stephen by Carlo Crivelli
Source: Wikipedia

I will admit, I didn't know much about St. Stephen. For a long time, all I knew was a reference to him in a Christmas carol.

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel.

Luckily, this doesn't make me an automatic "Bad Catholic," as none of us know much about St. Stephen. He has been traditionally venerated as the first martyr of the Catholic church, who was, according to the Acts of the Apostles, one of the first deacons of the church. Based on his name, he was likely a Hellenistic Jew. His death was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, who later became the familiar Paul the letter-writing Apostle we all know and mostly love.

In Acts, Stephen is known for distributing alms to the poor, which is where the Good King Wenceslas carol comes in, as the King is en route to give his own alms to the poor on St. Stephen's Day. Even though many countries no longer celebrate St. Stephen's Day, you still see this tradition of giving to the poor on the day after Christmas - it's just called Boxing Day instead. 

You can probably see where I'm going with this one. To celebrate? Give. Volunteer your time at a soup kitchen if you don't have the ability to give funds. This time of year is cold - donate coats and blankets for those in need. And - say a prayer for those who are being martyred today. Often, we think of martyrs as a relic of the past. but unfortunately, that's not the case. There are people currently being martyred for their beliefs, whether they are Christian, the "wrong" type of Islam, or nothing at all. Take a moment to pray for those people, and for peace in the Middle East.

December 27: Holy Family (Feast)

The Holy Family by Rafael
Source: Wikipedia

Pope Leo XIII promoted the feast of the Holy Family with the hope that it might instill into Christian families the same faithfulness, devotion, and love which characterized Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Although we don't know much about Jesus's childhood, it is evident that the Holy Family had a strong sense of love and faith in one another. For me, family has always been important, and so it's natural for me to gravitate toward this feast. I love the idea of striving to love my family as the Holy Family loved one another. 

To celebrate at home, cook dinner as a family, or if you're apart, say a few prayers for one another. If you're looking for a more contemplative way to celebrate, read Pope Leo XIII's Encyclical On Christian Marriage. I have come to appreciate and understand Catholic teachings and sacraments so much more when I began to read encyclicals and other papal documents. Sometimes they can be quite dense, but it is well worth working through it.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Seven Quick Takes v. 10

Thanksgiving Edition!

Source: Wikipedia

Since Thanksgiving is upon us in seven short days (where did the time go?!), this week's Seven Quick Takes are seven takes on seven of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes. 

Boy, that was a lot of sevens in one sentence.



Source: Framepool

Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten's Perfect Roast Turkey
Martha Stewart's Perfect Roast Turkey

Tasting Table's Sichuan-Spiced, Dry-Brined Turkey
Paula Dean's Turducken

I Breathe I'm Hungry's Easy Roasted Turkey with Sage Butter

Oh She Glows Glazed Lentil Walnut Apple Loaf

Quick and Easy
Serious Eats Spatchcocked Turkey



Source: allrecipes

Thug Kitchen's Herb and Mushroom Stuffing


Mashed Potatoes

Source: Pixabay

Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten's Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes
Martha Stewart's Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Tasting Table's Aioli Mashed Potatoes with Chives

Nom Nom Paleo's Garlic Mashed Cauliflower
Primal Palate's Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Minimalist Baker's Best Damn Vegan Mashed Potatoes

Quick and Easy 
Food Republic's Easiest Mashed Potato Recipe. Period.



Source: Can Stock Photo

Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten's Homemade Gravy
Pioneer Woman's Giblet Gravy
The Kitchn's Turkey Gravy

Food and Wine's Curry Gravy

Nom Nom Paleo's Umami Gravy

Jamie Oliver's Vegan Gravy

Quick and Easy
Real Simple's Basic Gravy


Green Bean Casserole

Source: French's

French's Green Bean Casserole
Campbell's Green Bean Casserole
Cooking Light's Green Bean Casserole with Madeira Mushrooms

52 Ways to Cook's Doritos Green Bean Casserole

Wellness Mama's Green Bean Casserole

Oh My Veggies Green Bean Casserole

Quick and Easy
Paula Deen's 30 Minute Green Bean Casserole


Cranberry Sauce

Source: 123RF

New York Times Classic Cranberry Sauce
Food Network's Perfect Cranberry Sauce

Food Network's Spiked Jellied Cranberry Sauce
Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten's Cranberry Fruit Conserve

Cook Eat Paleo's Three Ingredient Cranberry Sauce

Thug Kitchen's Cranberry Sauce

Quick and Easy
Ocean Spray Fresh Cranberry Sauce


Pumpkin Pie

Source: 123RF

Martha Stewart's Classic Pumpkin Pie

Food Network's Apple Pumpkin Pecan Pie
Taste of Home's Paradise Pumpkin Pie
Martha Stewart's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Wellness Mama Pumpkin Pie

Oh She Glows Pumpkin Pie, Three Ways

Quick and Easy
Chowhound's Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Linking this post up with others doing 7 Quick Takes at This Ain't The Lyceum.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Living the Liturgical Year: November 2015

One thing I like about being Catholic is the liturgical year. I enjoy the ritual, the sense of marking time, and the way I can find something awesome to celebrate in every month. Traditions have always been important to me, from how we decorate the Christmas tree as a family to getting ice cream together on the first spring day it hits seventy degrees. These little traditions add flavor to everyday life, and becoming Catholic opened the door for me to celebrate all sorts of new things.

Each month, I am planning to do a blog post with a few of my favorite feasts, and some suggestions of how to celebrate the day. I know other Catholic bloggers have cornered the market on this already (and fantastically so), but I thought I'd chip in a few ideas for others looking to add a bit of tradition to their lives.

For November, Pope Francis's intention is that we may be open to personal encounter and dialogue with all, even those whose convictions differ from our own.

November 1: All Saints (Solemnity)

Source: Wikipedia
All the Saints. Fra Angelico

All Saints Day celebrates basically everyone - canonized or beatified, and all those who are in heaven. I love this idea. It's a huge party where you can celebrate so many fine people, from saints you know to others with whom you may not be as familiar. Some of those in heaven may be your own relatives, and you don't even know it. How cool is that? I like the idea of my great-grandmother or grandfather chilling out and getting to do all sorts of saintly things. If they were up there praying for me, I'm sure they were like "FINALLY!" when I went through Easter Vigil in 2013. So this is a day where I can give back to them a little bit, too.

First thing to do? Go to mass. That's the number one, most important thing to do today if you're Catholic. You don't need the fancy foods, or crafts, or any other fun thing to celebrate - those are all extras. You do, however, have to go to mass. It's required!

The traditional thing to do is pray the Litany of the Saints. This is a lovely prayer which lists many saints, and calls upon each of them to pray for us. By the end of the list, I'm always wanting to add in extra names.

Michael Jackson, pray for us.
William Shakespeare, pray for us.
Ethel Merman, pray for us.

I always have to fight a blasphemous giggle as I think about this. But you don't really know - anyone could be a saint. And maybe I'm just trying to excuse that inappropriate giggle I'm stifling during mass, but I'd like to think that unbidden thought is God reminding me that anyone can become a saint, no matter what we think of them.

Anyway, that is a tangent.

There are probably a lot of Irish Halloween traditions out there, but the only one I know is colcannon. Colcannon is a delicious mashed potato with cabbage dish. The tradition is to serve the colcannon with a ring and a thimble hidden in it. Sometimes there would also be coins hidden as well. Stories say the girl who found the thimble would marry the man who found the ring. Blarney, I tell you!

Source: Wikipedia

At the beginning of November when the wind is blustery and the rain is cold, having something warm and hearty is a treat. I like to serve colcannon with some good Irish bangers, or nice beer-braised roast. Sadly, I don't have my own colcannon recipe - I tend to just use what I have on hand, cabbage or kale (both are great together), onions or leeks, milk or cream, bacon or pancetta, etc. etc. It's basically loaded mashed potatoes, so no matter what you add, it will taste great.

Colcannon by Simply Recipes
Colcannon Potatoes by Taste of Home
Classic Colcannon by Saveur
Baked Colcannon by Martha Stewart
Vegan Colcannon by Vegan Yum Yum

November 2: All Souls (Feast)

All Souls Day is the counterpoint to All Saints Day. The previous day, we celebrate those who are in heaven, and so it only makes sense the following day to pray for those who haven't yet reached heaven. Again, what I love is that there is no assumption here. Those of us on Earth have no idea, aside from the identified saints, who is in heaven. Rather than be arrogant and assume, we pray for all - we've got allllll our bases covered.

I have to admit, when I think of All Souls Day, I think of Ursula singing "Poor Unfortunate Souls" in The Little Mermaid.

Source: Wikipedia

A nice thing to do is pray for your deceased family. If you can, visit the cemetery where they are buried and tidy up the graves. Or, if that isn't possible, set up a nice display at home with pictures and flowers. Take the time to remember those who you love that have passed on. This is a big practice in Mexican culture, when they celebrate Dia de los Muertos on this day - the day of the dead. This is something many cultures marked at different times of the year, but the emphasis was always on remembering our loved ones that have passed on.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

You don't have to be elaborate like these altars - a bouquet of flowers or some other decoration is enough. Be careful if you're going to use candles! Maybe I'm a worrywart, but I always look at these elaborate displays and see everything as flammable. So, please be careful and don't make me feel guilty for inspiring you to do something that ended up burning your house down.

November 13: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (Memorial)

Source: catholicculture.org

St. Frances Cabrini has always intrigued me because of an encounter I had about ten years ago - I met a woman who was named Cabrini, and when I commented on her unusual name, she said she had been named after a saint. The name stuck with me, and when I began looking into Catholicism seriously, she was the first saint I looked up. If I'm being superstitious, I'd think that was meant to happen - I'm always impressed by people who do something, rather than just talk about how religious they are.

Francesca Cabrini was born in Italy, and although she was the thirteenth child, she received a good education, leaving school at eighteen. She had always been fascinated by missionary work, and began by visiting the poor and sick, as well as teaching school, to assist in her parish. She eventually established the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. After meeting with Pope Leo XIII and hearing about the horrible conditions many Italian immigrants faced in America, she decided to travel to America to continue her missionary work.

Mother Cabrini landed in New York in 1899, and immediately got down to business. She established schools, kindergartens, clinics, orphanages, foundling homes, and hospitals.

At her death, over five thousand children were receiving care in her charitable institutions...The saint showed such energy and enterprise that everyone marveled. She crossed the Atlantic twenty-five times to visit the various houses and institutions. In 1909, she adopted the United States as her country and became a citizen. After thirty-seven years of unflagging labor and heroic charity, she died alone in a chair in Columbus Hospital at Chicago, Illinois, while making dolls for orphans in preparation for a Christmas party. - via Catholic Culture

If you're looking to have a little feast at home, a heart-shaped cake or cookies would be a lovely symbol of her order (Sacred Heart), and that could easily accompany an Italian dinner. However, for me, the best way to celebrate the day is to do something. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, hospital, or school. Try to find a way to do something, even if it's small, to give back to others. Given the refugee crisis we are currently seeing, there are ample opportunities to donate money if you can't donate time - even five dollars will do. There are so many ways you can help. Please choose one.

November 21: Presentation of Mary (Memorial)

Source: 4enoch.org
Presentation of Mary at the Temple. Paolo Uccello, 1435.

There are a few feasts for Mary in the liturgical calendar - I find the Presentation of Mary the most intriguing. The Presentation of Mary is not something covered in the Bible; however, it is referenced in apocryphal works, such as the Protoevangel of St. James. Tradition has it that Mary's mother, after discovering she was pregnant with the child she had long prayed for, vowed her child to the Lord. As such, Mary was dedicated to the Temple at a young age, and was raised in a a very spiritual and devout environment. This was originally introduced to the Roman rite from Eastern tradition, was celebrated for a time, dropped, and then reintroduced in the 1500s. When I hear more about traditions celebrated in the Eastern rite, or information contained in apocryphal texts, I always want to know more. What was Mary's life really like? There are always more questions than answers.

The simplest way to celebrate this day is to say the Rosary.

Some of you may know this already, but I came to being Catholic through the Rosary. I was going through a difficult time, dug out a Rosary I had lying in a drawer for years that was a gift I had never gotten around to giving, and just started praying. I felt better, so I kept at it. The more I prayed, the more I believed. I went from being practically an atheist dabbling in pagan bits and pieces to believing. It was illogical and I couldn't explain it. But since it was Mary that led me to the Church, her feasts hold a special place in my heart, even if we don't' know much about them.

Other ways to celebrate could be bouquets of flowers, hanging a pretty picture of Mary somewhere in the house, singing or listening to Ave Maria or Salve Regina, or read The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich. For a more light-hearted celebration, wear something blue or bake cookies in the shapes of stars, hearts, or crowns, or whip up some blueberry muffins or blueberry lemonade. You could also get fancy and break out the bacon roses and make a meatloaf "cake" in a heart-shaped pan if you're a savory fan, rather than sweet. Stick a big knife in the side, and you've practically got the Immaculate Heart of Mary right there.

November 29: First Sunday of Advent

Source: Instructables

Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. The first thing I did to add in some Catholic traditions to my life was purchase an advent wreath. However, you could just as easily make one (pictured above). Each corresponding candle is lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas. The first Sunday, light the first purple candle, which symbolizes hope, and say a few prayers.

Advent is somewhat like Lent - it is a time meant to be thoughtful, joyous, and expectant. Rather than the focus on buy, buy, buy which seems to invade Christmas these days, it's supposed to be a time of anticipation and preparation. Traditionally, Catholics celebrate Christmas all the way until Epiphany, so Advent is really a time to prepare yourself spiritually before celebrating Christ's birth in a big way.

That said, I still put up my Christmas tree. I love looking at it, and I find it enhances my excitement and anticipation. I've been toying with the idea of creating an Advent-themed tree this year, all purples and pinks, so expect forthcoming pictures if my idea turns out well.

Another thing I like to do is put out a Nativity scene, listen to Advent music, and try to find ways to give back and help others, like soup kitchens and toy drives. I'm blessed to be able to celebrate Christmas, and so I like to find a way to help others do the same.

I have a lot more Advent traditions and celebrations to cover, but I will save those for the December post. What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate the season?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What I Ate Wednesday

Given the turn to cooler weather, I thought I'd share one of my favorite recipes for What I Ate Wednesday this week. This Roasted Butternut Squash Soup is filling and a great flavor base for all sorts of different spices and toppings. I usually go by sight and taste, so this is a rough approximation of what I make. Enjoy!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 4-6

Base Ingredients:
4 lbs/2 medium butternut squash
2-4 cups vegetable broth or chicken stock
1-2 cups half and half
2 tablespoons ghee/butter/olive oil/coconut oil/etc.


Peel, halve, and cube the butternut squash. Add to a roasting pan with 2 tablespoons of oil of your choice (I prefer ghee, but each oil has its pros/cons depending on the flavor you're going for). Roast at 400 degrees, tossing about halfway through, for 40-50 minutes. Your squash is done when a knife goes in cleanly and the edges have begun to caramelize.

Add squash to a stock pot and thin with the broth/stock. I use an immersion blender, but you could also attempt this with your standing blender at home - just be careful not to overfill and make sure your lid is secure! I like a thicker soup, almost the thickness of a baby food puree, so I tend to add the broth/stock sparingly. You have to use your eyes at this point.

Warm the puree through on the stove, and season with salt, pepper, and ginger to taste. With the ginger, I find the best for this soup are those squeeze tubes of herbs you find in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. If that isn't available, fresh is better than dried, but powdered will still add a good flavor. I like mine very gingery - about 1 tablespoon, but I would start out with a teaspoon to taste and adjust for personal preferences.

Once warmed through, add cream (again, paying attention to thickness and texture). Season if necessary, and garnish with your favorite toppings. Pictured above is crumbled bacon and chives.


Vegan/Vegetarian: Use vegetable broth and olive or coconut oil.
Paleo/Whole30: Use ghee or coconut oil, and replace the half and half with coconut milk.


  • Swap half and half for coconut milk, and add turmeric and curry to season the soup. Garnish with curry roasted chickpeas for an Indian twist.
  • Add some sauteed onions and apples to the puree, add some sage to season the soup, and top with roasted butternut squash seeds.
  • Saute leeks, shallots, and garlic for extra flavor for the soup, and top with some homemade sourdough croutons (this pairs really well with Chardonnay).
  • Add some nutmeg to season the soup, and top with some pan-toasted walnuts.
  • Spice with cumin, coriander, paprika, and cayenne pepper, and top with scallions and cilantro for a more Southwestern feel.
  • Add cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves, and top with honey-roasted butternut squash seeds or pralines for a sweeter take.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tea Time Tuesday

Reviving this topic, as the falling Autumn temperatures are far more conducive to drinking tea. While I do have some more tea reviews in the queue, I also wanted to take some time to explore the practices of drinking tea. Many cultures have created specific methods for drinking tea, from elaborate ceremonies to decorative tea kettles.

I know I'm a big nerd - I find all of this fascinating.

Today I wanted to highlight a more recent discovery that I made. Most people, when they think of a tea practice, would think of Japan's ritual tea ceremony. But there are many cultures that have their own set way of brewing and consuming tea. I have truly enjoyed some of the surprising facts I've learned about Russian tea culture. Rather than the elaborate ceremony of other cultures, Russians lack a set "ceremony" to appreciate the tea - they just brew it and drink it.

Source: Wikipedia
The Merchant's Wife. Boris Kustodiev, 1918

Source: Wikipedia 
A Tea Party in Mytishchi. Vasily Perov, 1862

In Russia, tea began as an afternoon drink, which seems to be a common theme in many cultures. Another commonality is the practice of offering tea to guests, and serving light snacks alongside the drink. Many business deals were conducted over tea, as well as serious conversations about art or philosophy - often at a preferred tea house. These conversations over tea built the backbone of Russian culture and have served as a setting for many a novel.

Black tea is the traditional beverage, and is still the most popular today. Russians prefer a black tea with a smoky quality, with perhaps a hint of Lapsang Souchong. Allegedly, this is because tea was imported over long caravans from China, and the smoke from the campfires infused the tea with a smoky flavor. If you are looking to replicate this flavor at home, look for teas advertised as "Russian Caravan" to best capture the smokiness.

Tea is brewed in a two-step process: first, a strong concentrate is brewed in a small pot called a samovar, which may then be added to additional hot water in each person's cup. This allows each drinker to adjust the strength of the tea to their taste. Multiple flavors of tea, such as Keemum or mint, may be brewed separately and then combined to form the concentrate. The concentrate is called zavarka. Typically, tea is drunk from a glass cup held in a special metal holder. This is somewhat similar to the Turkish coffee cup.

Source: Wikipedia
Russian Samovar

Source: Wikipedia

Common additions to tea are sugar, lemon, honey, or jam. The jam is how I stumbled across this in the first place. I don't remember how I went down the Google rabbit hole, but somehow, I found out that Russians add jam to their tea. I was fascinated - and had to try it. I brewed a strong cup of regular old Lipton's and poured it over a spoon of strawberry jam. I was hooked! It's even better with a Keemum or Lapsang Souchong to hold up against the sweetness of the jam.

Allegedly, Russians in the nineteenth century drank tea while holding a sugar cube between their teeth, but I am going to take a pass on attempting that. Somehow, I imagine I would end up choking to death - or rotting my teeth.