Saturday, July 31, 2010

St. Ignatius of Loyola and Jesuitical conspiracy stuff

It's St. Ignatius' feast day!  He founded the Jesuit order in the 1500's, and for some reason today I kept remembering a scene from The Man in the Iron Mask, when Aramis, who has become a Catholic priest, meets in a secret crypt with his former Musketeer buddies: Athos, Porthos, and D'Artagnan.  He tells them that the wicked King of France, Louis the WhateverNumber, has commanded him to find out the identity of the secret leader of the Jesuits, and kill him.  "Let the secret leader of the Jesuits worry about that," suggests Porthos.  "The problem is," says Aramis, "I am he."  And he goes on to ask the Musketeers to join him in a plot to replace the king with a lookalike.

Doesn't have a whole lot to do with the awesome spirituality of St. Ignatius, but it is an interesting indication of how the Jesuits came to be viewed in certain sectors of the secular world.  St. Ignatius wanted complete loyalty to the Pope to be one of the hallmarks of his order.  In fact he made it a fourth vow, added to the traditional religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  While the Jesuits were still young, St. Ignatius and some of his followers presented themselves in Rome and asked the Pope to command them, and the Pope told St. Ignatius to send missionaries to the East.  So St. Ignatius sent St. Francis Xavier, telling him "Go, set all on fire!" and St. Francis Xavier converted thousands in India, then went on to Japan and died on his way to China.  St. Ignatius in the meantime developed the Spiritual Exercises, which are a series of meditations to help you order the disorder in your life and live entirely for God.  He was big into the question of how to know and do the will of God, and how to recognize when you're being deceived and the impulse you're sensing is not from God.  The fourteen basic rules he wrote about this are explained in a most useful book called The Discernment of Spirits.

Incidentally, the Jesuits were active as missionaries in North America in the 1600's, at the same time as the Pilgrims were settling here.  Some of them were tortured and killed.  One of them was tortured, escaped back to France, and begged to return to the Indians, who killed him.  His journal revealed his burning desire to be martyred for Christ; I think only the Holy Spirit could have inspired it.

But I was talking about loyalty to the Pope.  That came to be viewed as a threat in some countries.  The Jesuits were a big, successful, well-educated order that made a lot of converts and had a lot of influence-- apparently at one time the Superior General of the order was known as the Black Pope because he was supposedly the second most powerful man in the Church (Jesuits wear black and the Pope wears white).  And since their ultimate loyalty lay with the Pope and not with the secular leaders of the various European countries in which they lived, those European leaders suspected them as a source of foreign influence.

So there was some huge conflict involving lots of politics and not enough religion, and the upshot was that for a time the Jesuit order was actually suppressed.  The Pope, to keep the peace with the political leaders in France-- or was it Spain?  I'm telling this history off the top of my head-- shut down the Jesuits entirely.  I think the order never really recovered.

But in the early 1800's an Italian priest named Pio Bruno Lanteri had a Jesuit as a spiritual director.  This was when the order was suppressed, so maybe the director wasn't officially a Jesuit any more, but he taught Fr. Lanteri the Jesuit spirituality-- the Exercises of St. Ignatius, and the rules of discernment and all the rest.  And Fr. Lanteri, influenced by this Jesuit, decided to found a new order that would propagate this spirituality and focus on helping laypeople grow in holiness by teaching it to them.  They'd sort of be Jesuits, but legal.

The order that he founded was called the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, and it still exists today and it's the order that runs my parish. :)  And, mirable dictu, they are still faithful to their founder's vision and they teach the Exercises all the time.  I've done two eight-day Ignatian retreats-- one last summer and one the summer before that-- under the direction of our priests.  It was such a privilege to be able to do that.  They also continuously teach the Exercises in a ten-week format so people who can't take all that vacation time can just meditate for one hour every day and meet in a group every week to learn about Ignatian spirituality and get the meditations for the next week and so on.  I've done that twice too; I'm sort of a Spiritual Exercises junkie.  It's a GREAT program, and for many it's life-changing.  I think a few thousand people have joined in now!  They come from other parishes, from all over the area.  If you live near L.A., you should do it. :)

Update:  Seriously, you should do it, and here's a message from the SPC parishioner who coordinates it all: "To get more information and to register for the next session (which begins the week of September 18), contact Jim Martorana at 562 924 5193 or  The program will be offered at 3 different times each week for your convenience. "  If you're reading this after September 18 has passed, email Jim anyway.  The ten-week cycle of Exercises usually starts again at our church as soon as the previous cycle has finished.  The address is St. Peter Chanel, 12001 E. 214th St., Hawaiian Gardens, CA.

Wow, I wasn't even planning to go into all that, but anyway now you know why I like St. Ignatius of Loyola so much-- the Oblates of the Virgin Mary are pretty good at teaching about him.

Now, to my knowledge the Jesuits have never had a secret leader, nor been involved in replace-the-king plots.  And I don't think anyone has to worry today about their dangerous loyalty to the Pope, because a large swath of the order (which was re-formed once the suppression against them was lifted) went kind of crazy liberal in the 60's and started more or less advocating against certain Catholic teachings of which the Pope is the principal exponent.  A year or two ago they had a big meeting of the order to elect a new superior general, and one of their leaders gave a speech at that meeting explaining that their loyalty to the Pope really means that they're loyal to the Pope of the future, the Pope we're surely going to have one day, the one who will agree with everything the Jesuits are already teaching and doing.  They're not loyal to this current Pope, because heaven knows he's too Catholic for them...

It's so ironic that the Jesuits are like that, because if you Google "Black Pope" you still find some whacked-out conspiracy-theory sites explaining that the Jesuits would kill for the Pope, just like the albino assassin monk in The Da Vinci Code, and they're coming to get us all!!!  If that's the case, they've certainly taken secrecy and disguise to new heights.  In fact, that's rather a neat explanation of the sad changes the order has undergone... they're all just going undercover to fight the Pope's battles in enemy territory... I like it.  One almost wishes it were true.  Like that Jack Chick tract that warns, "The name of every Protestant church member in the world is being recorded in the big computer in the Vatican."  You just wish we were that organized.  I thought the same five years ago when a Democrat congressman suggested that Karl Rove had deliberately planted the Rathergate memos to destroy Dan Rather's credibility.  If that were true, how totally awesome would that be?

Okay, link time.  Here's Laetitia Crucis, who is proving to be very much like me in lots of delightful ways, blogging about St. Ignatius.

And here's a translation of a prayer he wrote:

I love Thee, O Thou Lord most high,
Because Thou first has loved me;
I seek no other liberty
But that of being bound by Thee.

May memory no thought suggest
But shall to Thy pure glory tend,
My understanding find no rest
Except in Thee, its only end.

My God, I here protest to Thee
No other will I have than Thine;
Whatever Thou hast giv'n to me
I here again to Thee resign.

All mine is Thine; say but the word,
Whate'er Thou willest shall be done;
I know Thy love, all-gracious Lord —
I know it seeks my good alone.

Apart from Thee all things are nought;
Then grant, O my supremest Bliss,
Grant me to love Thee as I ought —
Thou givest all in giving this.

I learned that song from the Echoes of Ephesus CD here.

And now I must be going-- we have company tomorrow and I'm in charge of dessert.  Hard life, I know.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us. :)

Take this dumb personality test!

In the middle ages it was popular to classify personalities according to the four humors: phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic, and sanguine.  Without knowing too much about the four categories, I figured I must be phlegmatic because I'm generally a calm and happy person.  Then a spiritual director called me melancholic.  Then I found this 107-question test via Lapsus Linguae and decided to settle the matter.  Result: 88% melancholic and 12% phlegmatic.  "That sounds fine," I thought, but then I read the analysis and nearly gagged.  Who is this irritating person they're describing?  Maybe I didn't understand how they meant most of the questions.  Once I took a joke test that insulted all the takers by telling them the bad sides of themselves (making fun of how most personality tests are relentlessly positive) and even that test seemed more accurate than this one.

Two things are true: I instinctively want to say "no" to any request or proposal the first time I hear it, and I have a double dose of introversion.  :)   And a strong desire to succeed, only if success is defined entirely my way and not the world's conventional way.  But "long-lasting hurts, an erosion of self-confidence and self-esteem, and even depression", "highly attentive to what others need or desire", "a tendency to hypochondria or to genuine physical weaknesses, as well as a tendency to timidity and anxiety"-- where the heck did all that come from?

Having read my ringing endorsement, you should take the test yourself here!  Be sure to log in first or the site will lose your results-- very annoying.  If you wish, sign in as Duckface, password Faceduck.  And I'd be highly interested to hear your results and whether you agree with them-- post your results in the comments or on your own blog.  Consider yourself tagged. :)

Here's my profile (gag gag):

The Melancholic / Phlegmatic
   The melancholic-phlegmatic is tidier, more procedural and less flexible than the phlegmatic-melancholic. He may be slower to take on new projects, as the melancholic fear of new situations and tendency to perfectionism takes over. The double-dose of introversion, along with the melancholic tendency to negativity, makes it difficult for him to give compliments and make upbeat small talk. It also causes him to instinctively say “no” when he first hears a request. Others may perceive this as “snobbishness.” Unless the melancholic-phlegmatic is very comfortable, and is surrounded by understanding long-time friends, he may find himself somewhat isolated and alone, unable to warm up in a social gathering. He is less critical and less grudge-bearing than a pure melancholic or a melancholic-choleric. However, the tendency of the melancholic to dwell on things for a long time in their mind, combined with the sensitivity of the phlegmatic toward interpersonal relationships, can result in long-lasting hurts, an erosion of self-confidence and self-esteem, and even depression. Extremely sensitive and possessing a longing for the ideal (melancholic), they are also highly attentive to what others need or desire, through their phlegmatic aspect. This makes them more than usually susceptible to anxiety and a negative self-image
   This temperament combination is highly driven to succeed—not for success’ sake alone, but because their melancholic nature is drawn to high ideals, and their phlegmatic side will have a strong desire to please. Thus, they are capable of long-range planning, organization, and attention to detail that makes them excellent and conscientious scholars. They are capable of pursuing highly idealistic goals, usually with long-term academic requirements, such as attaining their doctorate. They value their friendships, but can spend many hours alone reading or studying. They may have a tendency to hypochondria or to genuine physical weaknesses, as well as a tendency to timidity and anxiety, especially about new activities or ventures.
One melancholic-phlegmatic we know is highly organized, critical, slow, and dogmatically unforgiving, yet reveals her phlegmatic aspect in her intense discomfort with confrontation (unless she is very at ease among the warring members) and in her strong relationships with her friends. You wouldn’t guess that she is so devoted to her friends, however, because true to her melancholic nature she rarely initiates contact with them – they always have to call her first. A tendency to avoid the stresses of social interaction by spending overmuch time alone—whether in scholarly pursuits or reading for relaxation—is something that melancholic-phlegmatics need to watch out for.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sunrise nectarine cupcakes

The August 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living offers a recipe for nectarine cupcakes.  I added the "Sunrise" part this morning when I photographed them at dawn. :)

Isn't it a joy when a recipe turns out much better than you'd hoped?  That's what happened with these guys.  I got my heart set on making them and went to the grocery store for nectarines, but they were nearly all hard as apples.  So I picked one hard one and some of the softest I could find, but I found when I got home that the soft ones were beginning to rot.  I ended up using the one hard, unripe, tart nectarine-- fortunately it was a big one.  Here it is, cut up and ready.

I put some batter in each cup and piled nectarines on top.

Then I didn't have enough batter left to cover the nectarines.

So apprehensively I stuck the tray in the oven to bake, and here's what it looked like twenty-six minutes later:

Lovely!  They came out very well!

Cheered, I turned to the frosting, which was nothing other than the awesome frosting I'd made once before (recipe here).  I'd already cooked the flour and milk mixture-- it thickens very quickly-- and stuck it in the fridge to cool to room temp.  What resulted was this unappetizing conglomeration:

But just whip it up with butter, sugar, vanilla, and touch of orange gel coloring, and all is right with the world.

Time to frost these suckers.

And now to taste one for quality control...

Yuuuum!  The nectarines inside were perfect!  It didn't matter that they weren't ripe, because they already had nectarine-y flavor and all they really lacked was sweetness, which the cupcake batter provided.  This cupcake was so delicious warm, but as you can see it wilted the frosting.  The frosting still has texture issues and really needs to be kept in the fridge.  If I could somehow dissolve the sugar... this is why most frosting recipes use powdered sugar rather than granulated.  Anyway, no matter-- it's tasty frosting and not as heavy as a traditional buttercream.

I cut a cupcake open the next day for the dramatic dawn portrait:

Perfect for summertime. :)  Here's the recipe:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup whole milk (I used 2% and it was fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature.  (I only had salted butter, so I used that and cut out the 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Salted butter contains 1/4 to 3/4 teaspoons of salt in every stick of butter.)
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 medium nectarines, chopped in little pieces (1 1/4 cups)   The recipe says to peel them, but I didn't bother.
Optional: I had lemons on hand, so I zested one (that is, I used a really fine grater to grate off all the outer layer of skin) and added that to the batter.  Another time I might put lemon juice in the frosting too.

Preheat oven to 350°.  Mix flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir together milk and vanilla.  Beat butter and sugar on medium speed till pale and fluffy, about three minutes.  Add eggs one at a time and mix after each.  (The recipe says to add them with the mixer running, which would guarantee you'd drop shells in the batter-- forget it!)  Beat in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk mixture.

Line a standard muffin tin with baking cups.  The recipe says to fill twelve baking cups with one tablespoon batter each, then add 1 heaping tablespoon of nectarines and an additional 2 tablespoons batter.  What I found was that I had enough batter for 1 tablespoon on bottom, then nectarines, then one more tablespoon on top-- and only if I made eleven cupcakes instead of twelve.  Evidently I was very generous with my tablespoons.

Bake until edges start to turn golden, about 25 minutes.  Let cupcakes cool.

Now, you can frost with the awesome frosting I used, adding just a little bit of orange color (if you have red and yellow liquid colors, I think five drops of yellow with one of red would do it), or you can use the magazine's suggestion, which is:  Whisk together 1 cup cold heavy cream, 1/2 cup sour cream, and three tablespoons sugar until the mixture forms medium peaks.  Top cupcakes with a dollop of cream and a few very thin nectarine slices.  If you're going to store the cupcakes overnight, don't top them with topping until you're ready to serve them.

If you like dogs, this'll make you happy

A video of dogs.

When I see them surfing, riding in a motorcycle sidecar, catching frisbees, and swimming underwater, I think that it's amazing what dogs will do to be close to their humans.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A t-shirt

Pictured is Mike Mason, an author who must be good if he chooses to be photographed in a shirt like that. :)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How to know if you're called

Update 9/14/12:  It seems that quite a few people are hitting this page after Googling some variation of "How do I know if I'm called to be a nun?"  I feel guilty now that the original post doesn't really attempt to answer that question, so I'm going to add this article I came across on a Come and See retreat that breaks it down for you.


   And I now return you to my original post!  :)

I was reading the blog of a Franciscan named Matt who just finished postulancy and entered novitiate a few days ago, and he had a post on the question he's often asked, "How do you know you have a vocation?"  It's hard to sum up, he replies, but there are some things that don't make a vocation:

I'd say that one who approaches religious life and its struggles as something to be "conquered" or "overcome" perhaps doesn't have a vocation. Religious life is not something that's meant to be triumphed over nor is it a competition between who can and can't survive the gauntlet.

My first response was to wonder, "Is that a guy thing?"   I certainly never felt the slightest temptation to tackle religious life as a challenge to beat into submission.  It's more like something God had better help me with, or I'll never make it!  But then I'm a bit indolent.  Maybe there are some women, now that I think about it, who'd approach it in a more competitive spirit.

I have a little story about this question of how you can know if you're called to religious life.  Well, a long story.  Goes like this: three years ago the pastor of my parish pulled me aside after Mass and said he wanted to speak to me.  I didn't know him well at that time, so I was a bit surprised, but I followed him into his confessional.  The confessionals at St. Peter Chanel are on the large side, and they also serve as offices for the priests and meeting spaces for small groups if you shove the screens out of the way.  We desperately need more proper classrooms, but in the meantime I have fond memories of packing thirteen people into a cozy confessional for a talk on the Ignatian Exercises or a discussion of St. Faustina's Diary.  One of the confessionals even has its own bathroom inside-- I kid you not-- and a back door that could allow the lucky priest to escape obnoxious penitents before they get to him, though I'm sure that never happens. :)  Yes, and the rooms are used for their ostensible purpose too; my parish has five Masses a day and there are priests hearing confessions at all of them but the 6 AM Mass.  I'm just bragging now.

I followed the pastor into his confessional, extremely curious about what he had to say to me, and he soon came to the point: "I wanted to ask you if you've ever thought of becoming a nun."

I paused, wondering how to put my whole tangle of feelings into words, and then said simply, "You know, I have."

To be honest I was just a little bit piqued.  I think I'd had an idea that some day I would announce dramatically, "Father, I believe I'm called to be a nun!" and he'd say, "Wow, that's amazing, I'm thrilled!" and shake my hand.  But instead he asked me while I was still unsure, and sort of stole my thunder.  Now I realize that most priests won't jump for joy anyway if you say you want to be a nun.  They take it pretty calmly; I'm guessing that they've known many people who consider the idea and end up discerning otherwise.  Maybe they also understand that if they got really excited that would put pressure on the girl not to change her mind, and then her decision would be less free than it should be.

"Well, I think that would be good," my pastor replied, and he calculated how long I'd been Catholic.  Seven months-- most congregations wouldn't admit me so soon after confirmation, he told me.  But he said that Sister Guadalupe, one of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and a former parishioner of St. Peter Chanel, was coming back for a visit, and if I liked I could meet with her and talk about being a nun.  I happily agreed to this.

So a week or so later I met Sister in the church and we went to Fr. Ed's confessional to talk.  Scarcely had we sat down than I asked her the question uppermost on my mind: "How can I tell if I have a vocation?"

Sr. Guadalupe smiled knowingly.  "Ah, the big question!"  And she told me a story of her own:

"When I was first discerning I went to visit the Missionaries of Charity.  They gave me a nice little room with some videos I could watch, and I sat down, just so happy to be there, and I put in a video of Mother Teresa.  It was an interview that she gave, and they asked her, 'How can a girl know if she is called to be a nun?'  And of course I was just putting my hands on the TV, saying, 'Yes!  Please tell me!  How do I know if I'm called to be a nun?'"

"What did Mother Teresa say?" I asked, as breathless for the answer as Sr. Guadalupe had been.

"She stopped," said Sr. Guadalupe, "and she smiled.  And then she said, 'The girl who is called-- she knows.'"

End of story.  I trust that answers all questions!  Please don't thank me-- it's my pleasure to use this blog to help people discern their vocations.  :)

By the way, the Franciscan whose post I quoted above has been hitting them out of the park lately.  He has another post on what it's like to be young in religious life (he entered at 19), and he just added some reflections on all the changes he's going through (written just before receiving the habit.)  In that last post, he writes this:

One of the things that I learned here, which maybe seems like a no-brainer, is that I need to have a radical dependence on God. Perhaps you're thinking that, as someone who is rather religious and a member of a religious community, I should certainly have known that I needed to depend on God long before I came here to Kansas. The truth is, I think that you're always aware of your need to be dependent on God and yet it takes moments of real stress, when your "cage is rattled" that you realize how important you relationship with God actually is and you begin to find deeper consolation, deeper joy, and deeper need for that relationship to grow.

 I'm constantly surprised to hear that even in religious life you have to struggle and strive to grow in your relationship with God.  My mind tends to keep sliding back into the habit of thinking that holiness will come really easily if I go to a convent and put on a veil.  But then I'm reminded that it takes effort even for religious.  And the equally important corollary is that as a layperson out in the world, I'm not excused from the effort.  Sometimes I feel that my circumstances are less than ideal for growing in holiness-- there are distractions, and all sorts of things I have to do, and difficult people, and many obstacles to prayer.  I told this to my spiritual director and he (a religious priest) smiled knowingly and said that very likely I'd find the same thing in the convent.

Oh, I'm just gonna link to Matt's whole blog.  I'm waiting breathless to hear if he'll learn how to walk around without getting his new Rosary caught on everything.

And if you insist on more serious guidance for discerning your vocation, here's a very clear-cut way to figure things out.


I've been so busy lately, but I hope you all appreciate the clever blog posts I've been composing in my head and never publishing. :)

This morning around 3:50 AM I was gradually awakened by a weird repeated sound very close by-- right next to me on the bed, in fact.  It didn't sound anything like an alarm clock's tone, but it was persistent like an alarm, and like an alarm it was dragging me out of sleep, so I quite naturally attempted to silence it by bringing my whole arm down upon it, palm opened and flat to slap the snooze button.  It wasn't my alarm I slapped, though.  It was the fuzzy wuzzy cat, who'd been repeatedly flexing her claws into my tightly woven comforter.  At any rate, it worked-- the sound stopped and I went right back to sleep.  Forty minutes later the real alarm went off.  That one I couldn't silence with a slap, because (knowing myself well) I'd placed it all the way across the room, to force myself to get out of bed to shut it up.

At least I haven't required the flying alarm clock.  When it starts shrieking, the key that's required to shut it off goes flying away and you have to get up and chase it down. :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Found another order I'm not joining

The scary cat nuns who run hospitals on New Earth.  Just not my thing.  Someone needs to run a caption contest on this picture, though...

Update: This must be one of their adorable novices!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A sign I use the computer too much

My cat has to do this to get my attention:

Big lemons

The lemon tree in the backyard is dropping about eleven lemons a day.  And some of them are... pretty big.

My arms are still sore from lemon-squeezing on Monday, but there's nothing for it-- gotta get these puppies juiced before a few dozen more fall.  So I just engaged in an hourlong wrestling session with the juicer and the ginormous, thick-skinned lemons.

Actually most of them are a more reasonable size.  In fact I'm intrigued by the size variation to be found on one tree:

In my family we make very strong lemonade, maybe three parts water to one part lemon juice, and about the same volume of sugar as of juice.  The result exfoliates in unexpected places and is more acidic than many lab chemicals I handle with gloves.  But for those who can stomach its lemony power, it's FAR more tasty than the silly lemon-scented water currently sold in stores under the name of "lemonade".

Maybe I'll take some into work and see what my co-workers make of it...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Humbly I bow to the master of Catholic desserts

Brown scapular brownies for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  I acknowledge this woman as my superior, and I only hope that she will allow me to live.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Three random things

I have a lot of stuff to do... many emails to answer, for one... but first, some short links!  Here's a property Mel Gibson just sold, and I must say he's got good taste in houses.  I really like that old English half-timbered look, and with Gothic arches too!

Second, just read the bizarre opening sentence of this article.

Finally, I must post a poem I came across in an old book.  The poem was written around 1910 by a student at Eton, the very posh boarding school in England for boys age 13-18 that was founded six centuries ago by King Henry VI and has produced many famous leaders and writers.  The main thing to remember is that the writer of this profound poem was high school age.  He addressed it to one of his teachers.

I, who have made you songs in terza rima,
I, who have droned you dirges for a cat,
Aye, and could sing lamenting for a lemur,
(Well may you wonder what I'm aiming at),

I, who have dabbled in the dreams of Dante,
I, who have gibbered of the Golden Age,
I, though my brain be fatuous and scanty,
Though I be not a prophet or a sage,

I, who of old (the nominative pendent
Is just a joke-- there is no verb at all)
Like some bright planet in the sky resplendent,
Clad in a cloud, empurpled in a pall--

I, who at last have altered my intention,
And like the rain upon the drooping herb,
Gentle geranium or gaudy gentian,
Send you the crowning mercy of a verb,

I, who am I, and no one shall deny it,
I, who am I, and who shall say me nay?--
Yes, on the house-tops and the hills I cry it,
I have forgotten what I meant to say.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Macarons' New Popularity Worries Fans

Little did I know I was stepping into the middle of a passionate culture war:

Mon Dieu! Will Newfound Popularity Spoil the Dainty Macaron?
Parisian Treat Goes Mainstream; McDonald's Recipe Has Provenance 

Once the preserve of high-end French patisseries such as Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, macarons are showing up at retailers like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Starbucks. Even McDonald's is selling a scaled-down version in its McCafés in France, backed by ads showing two hands holding the tiny treat like a hamburger.
Instead of celebrating, however, fans of the meringue-like pastry have been whipped into a frenzy.
"Macarons are not meant to be mainstream," sniffs Laetitia Brock, a native of Paris who has been blogging about French culture from Washington for the past six years...Her negative blog post about the trend elicited a tempest over the tea cake.

There's some useful background in the article, as follows:

The word macaron comes from "the Italian maccherone and the Venetian macarone (meaning fine paste), from which macaroni is also derived," says Larousse Gastronomique, the encyclopedia of French cooking....  The English spelling is "macaroon," but the French confection is not to be confused with the dense chewy treat made with sweetened coconut.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Deacon Quan!

Three years ago in May I joined a group of fifty people, mostly from St. Peter Chanel, for a pilgrimage to Mexico.  In the group I met Quan.  He was on summer break after his first year in seminary, and was still discerning whether it was God's will for him to be a priest.  Our group visited the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a bunch of other wonderful Catholic sites, and as I had only been received into the Church the month before it was all new and thrilling to me.  One night in the beautiful town of Puebla I found myself awake while my two roommates were fast asleep, so I knelt and prayed a Rosary for Quan's vocation and for my own (I had some inkling that I might be a nun.)

I thought of that today while I watched Quan and five others be ordained deacons for the Diocese of Orange.  Lord willing they'll all be ordained priests next year.  Great is God's faithfulness; He knows the path ahead though we do not, and it's astounding to look back and see all that He's done.

It was a fine ordination Mass.  Quintilingual: I think I heard Vietnamese, Spanish, English, Korean and Latin spoken and sung.  The entrance song was "Jesus Christ, You Are My Life", which I've loved ever since I heard it in this video to which Jen once linked.  A Vietnamese song got lots of congregational participation, which wasn't surprising as four of the six ordinands were Vietnamese and it looked like lots of family had turned out.  The Holy Family Cathedral of Orange was packed to the gills (but not to the rafters.  Those rafters were really high.)

One remarkable feature of the entrance and exit processions was the thurifer swinging his censer in a full 360° circle every few steps.  He was precise about it so it didn't look like he was just messing around, but still, aren't there glowing hot coals in that thing?  Anyone ever seen that trick before?

The congregation burst into applause as the new deacons processed out, and no wonder, for they're enriching us all by giving their lives to serve God's Church.  I thought it would have been great if the applause had lasted for the long line of priests that followed behind them, but that would have worn out everyone's hands.  It reminded me of a concert the Alhambra Carmelites gave.  Mother Regina Marie introduced all the sisters in the various stages of formation: candidates in black suits, postulants in blue, novices with white veils, black-veiled sisters under temporary vows, "and then there are the fully professed sisters.  They're not as exciting as the others, but they are the tried and the true."

After Mass I joined up with Diep and Jeanne, two friends who were on that Mexico pilgrimage, and we chowed down in the fellowship hall.  I declared I liked what many of the Vietnamese women were wearing: a long dress, often in lovely sparkly colors, with a skirt slit up both sides and loose pants underneath.  "If it were in fashion I'd dress like that every day," said I.  Diep has worn such a dress, and she commented that the back part of the skirt can end up in the toilet bowl.

On a somewhat more elevated note, we worked our way over to Quan and told him how good it was to see him ordained.  He can't give priestly blessings (yet), but we huddled around while he prayed a really nice prayer for us.  We learned he'll be stationed at a parish this summer and then it's back to the Angelicum in Rome for more seminary study.  But I'm not jealous.

Now we're all supposed to pray for the new deacons that if God wills we'll see them ordained priests next year.  Ha!  You didn't know that reading this post to the end would trap you in an obligation, did you?  Well, too late now!

Update: Pictures of the event here!  I'm in one of them (along with all the rest of the congregation... good luck finding me.)

Raspberry white chocolate ganache

I have an addendum to my macarons post.  I used a raspberry mascarpone filling on that first try, but a few days later I made more macaron shells from the same recipe (here) and filled them with something even better: raspberry white chocolate ganache (recipe at the end of this PDF tutorial).

This time I used only a teaspoon of powdered pink coloring in one batch, and no coloring at all in the next batch.  Here are some of the cookies after I piped them, drying out and forming the requisite shell on top.

Then for the ganache I began with heavy cream, always a great way to start.

I heated it and threw in raspberry jam and white chocolate, which at first didn't look like much:

It got more reasonable once it was mixed:

I then took a break (and a picture of the cat relaxing outside.)  The ganache needed to cool way down before it would be thick enough to pipe.

Piping is a lot easier than spooning the filling out, once you've set everything up for it.


And there we are!  I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of a bitten macaron-- the pink ones were pinker on the inside.  Another time I might add red food color to the filling, because raspberry without coloring takes on that grayish color.  But no matter; it tasted wonderful. :)

I figured I'd better publish this post before I made yet more macarons, which... might be pretty soon. :)  Perhaps I'll even get around to posting about something other than food, one of these days.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Right now!  It just swayed the lab around for about thirty seconds, but never got violent.  I feel like it's still shaking, but that's probably just my inner ear.

Update 9:45 pm: Okay, so it turns out it was a pretty boring earthquake.  Made some lamps swing and some swimming pools wave.  Here are home movies.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A peach of a header

I should be punished for that pun, but Vincenzo made me a lovely header that conveys my blog's food obsession and looks perfect for summer, too!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Georgia On My Mind Peach Crisp

You'd think this was supposed to be a food blog, the way it's been nothing but desserts lately... but look: we have a peach tree, and it is spectacular right now.

That's not the whole tree. That's just a branch that's so laden with fruit that it leaned out to the side and had to be propped up in several places. See:

There's the whole tree. It goes on and on. And it's full of amazing-looking peaches like this one:

And they all seem to ripen at once, and right now if you jiggle the branch they just fall right off.

Soooo many peaches...

(My photographer new-father cousin strikes again.)

It must be some kind of venial sin to waste food, so that means it's morally incumbent upon me to make peach crisp. And here's the best recipe for peach crisp that I've ever found-- except that there's no reason to dilute peaches with apples, and the fruit juice is completely unnecessary; our peaches are so juicy on their own! So I suggest this modified version of it:

Peach filling:
7 medium peaches (or however many you have), skinned and cut in pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup pecans, finely chopped
2/3 cup oats
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
7-8 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°F and cut up the peaches. Spray a 7" x 11" or 8" x 8" pan with cooking spray. Mix all the peach filling ingredients together and spread out in the pan. Mix all the topping ingredients together and spread over the peach filling. Bake until juices start to bubble, 30-40 minutes. Serve at once unless you're serving to fools who'll burn their mouths. It's incredible right out of the oven and also great warmed up the next day in the microwave. Doesn't really travel well-- the topping wants to sink into the filling.

No need for pictures with such a simple recipe, so let's end the post here-- HAHAHA! PSYCH! Of course there are pictures.

So I cut the peaches:

Added the spices and such:

Mixed it all up and spread it in the pan:

Slapped on the topping:

And baked it. You can't tell from the picture, but this was right after I took it out of the oven and the juice was still bubbling. :)

Thirty minutes later it looked like this:

Yeah, it goes fast. I wasn't the only one scarfing it down, but I made the major contribution.

And you can see why:

This would be great with ice cream or whipped cream, but I inhaled it too fast for that. :)

Update: My dad polished off most of the rest last night, but kindly left me a bit for breakfast this morning. I estimate the total survival time of the peach crisp at twelve hours.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Vietnamese Coffee Jello

It's the perfect time for an All-American dessert, so I threw together a little something I saw here, which borrowed the picture from here, which got the recipe here. Apparently Vietnamese coffee is mixed with sweetened condensed milk (what a fine idea!), and the Food Librarian was genius enough to jello-ize it. It's easy and fast to prepare-- a welcome change.

So, first you make strong coffee and dissolve some unflavored gelatin in it. I used four teaspoons of instant coffee in two cups hot water, and that wasn't nearly strong enough; I would at least double that amount. (I know nothing about making coffee because I prefer tea for all my hot-caffeine-drink needs. I only have instant on hand because it's so great in recipes.)

Sweetened condensed milk is just the greatest stuff. I want to use it more recipes now. You pour a whole can in there:

And stir it all in.

Pour it into a pan:

It's soft set after about two hours, but to cut it in neat cubes you'll probably want longer than that so it'll really firm up.

Then just enjoy the mysterious gleaming cubes of goodness!

I think it calls for whipped cream, but do as you feel led.

Want to know the best fireworks display I ever saw? It was the year I was driving from San Diego to Los Angeles on July 4 in the evening. There are dozens of cities on the way, and in each one I could see little private fireworks shows (legal or not). I also passed some big shows (Disneyland's is incredible). Two hours of watching my fellow Americans celebrate in neighborhood after neighborhood. :) Happy Fourth of July!

Saturday, July 03, 2010


Charlie, my first cousin once removed, is the cutest. I got to snuggle him last weekend when his parents visited from Virginia.

This child never stops smiling-- here he is with his mommy:

And on his daddy's first Father's Day:

Those are just two of hundreds of great shots. Charlie's dad is such an inveterate photographer that he snapped a picture of his bride while she was walking down the aisle... so you can just imagine how many shots he takes of his baby son. :) I love to see them all on Facebook.