Saturday, February 28, 2009

Something Lovely for a Grey Day

I am a truly unmusical person. This is why I tend to prefer comical songs: I can appreciate interesting words (lyrics) better than I can the music itself. But everyone can be moved by some music at some time. I can remember being invigorated by some rousing bits of classical music when I was an adolescent and touched by an instrumental piece called "Vincent" I heard on the radio as a teen, the pleasant near-nostalgia I had as an adult non-believer hearing some of the hymns I'd heard sung in church as a child, the pleasure it always is to get to sing Christmas carols in a group. But nothing is as moving to this non-musical person as hearing someone who's good at it sing Ave Maria--no, not even hearing Amazing Grace, the one hymn that I liked even as an adult non-believer and that gives me a little shiver all down my body even when I sing it to myself in a voice that can't be made good at singing even inside my head. Amazing Grace, lovely though it is, is about the person or people singing--their downtroddeness and transformation through grace. The Ave Maria reaches above and beyond the person singing; it is lofty and inspiring, like a cathedral.

I can't sing it myself, but I love to hear other people sing it. I've often listened to Aaron Neville sing it in my car, through the gift of modern technology; buy a copy of his CD Believe and you can too. Here's a few links so you can listen right now:

The lyrics in Latin, English, German, and Slavic plus a few music clips.

Bobby McFerrin and audience doing an interesting version.

A site that has lyrics and music clips of a number of Catholic hymns (check out the Salve Regina; that is the only song other than the annual Christmas carols that I've enjoyed singing in church since I became Catholic).

And, saving the best for last, Luciano Pavarotti singing Ave Maria.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Religious Craft Done Right

I just wanted to share this link to a pattern for a shadow (or illusion) knit depiction of the Chinese characters for Jesus Christ. I urge you to click on it and read the author's explanation of why shadow knitting is an especially apt way to show Jesus' name. Too often, religious crafts are hokey or twee. It is nice to see a religiously themed craft item that is both attractive to look at and has some thought behind it.

In addition to what the pattern author said, I think there's another reason why shadow knitting is appropriate for the name of Jesus, at least in Chinese characters: to me it speaks of the fact that faithful Catholics and other Christians must be largely underground in communist China.

If I were the creator of this project, I wouldn't use it as a blanket, but figure out a way to hang it on the wall so everyone who visits can see it.

My Crisp Recipe, Such As It Is

I pretty much gave up baking sweets while I was still a bride. I discovered that my husband, Philistine that he is, prefers storebought candy to homemade desserts. Something about having to throw out half or more of a cake that had gone stale was too disheartening. (Pies, I'm ashamed to say, I would likely finish off myself.) My baking has been pretty limited ever since.

One thing I have made a lot of times over the years is fruit crisps. Or maybe, since they're not always the same, I should say "things I've made a lot of times over the years are fruit crisps". It's one of those non-recipes that you can throw together at the drop of a hat; it's not actually any easier, now I think about it, than the cobblers I ate growing up, but somehow I'm far more likely to make it and, with the extra fiber in the oatmeal, I can almost persuade myself it's healthy--you know, if I'm feeling delusional.

Fruit Crisp

Chop fresh fruit into a baking dish.

For the topping, combine equal amounts of
  • old-fashioned oatmeal;
  • flour;
  • white sugar;
  • melted butter or margarine.

Mix those four ingredients together and you have your topping. Pat it onto the fruit. Put it into the oven at 350 degrees or a bit higher and bake until the topping is done.


What kind of fruit? Pretty much anything you like. I usually use apples, but pears are yummy like this and I've done many mixed fruit combos. Berries, if used alone, can be a bit too juicy. The most delicious fruit crisp I ever had was a post-Christmas concoction I made to use up some rapidly over-softening pears. I chopped the pears together with some apples, added some raisins I'd soaked in brandy, threw in some leftover cranberry sauce (yes, really), and added vanilla to the mixture. The result was a surprisingly elegant taste to this usually utilitarian sort of dessert. (If desserts can ever be utilitarian.)

What kind of flour? Plain, unbleached, or even whole wheat. I never buy self-rising, as plain is more versatile, and you wouldn't want the leavening in this, in any case.

Why not brown sugar? Brown sugar tastes good in the topping, but makes for a softer texture.

Why no measurements? Because saying equal amounts of every topping ingredient is easier to remember and more flexible as to size. If you're making a fairly small dessert, use a wee casserole dish for the fruit and use about a half-cup of each topping ingredient. If you want a larger dessert, layer your fruit into a big dish and use a cup (or however much it takes) of each topping ingredient.

Isn't that a lot of butter? Yes. If I'm making a big, cup and a half of each ingredient crisp, I'll usually reduce the amount of butter. Something in me just recoils at the idea of putting three sticks of butter into one dish--it's mostly a Scrooge thing.

Don't I use any spices? With apples, I usually dust the fruit with cinnamon or with a combo of things that I might like in apple pie. With other fruits I might or might not add spices, as the whim takes me. I do not normally use any liquid flavorings.

Anything else? Yes, for years I've been meaning to try this with nuts--probably slivered almonds--added to the topping mixture. I'm sure that would make it extra yummy. Though the nuts might take this out of the strictly cheap, super-easy, always-have-the-ingredients-on-hand category. Also, to give credit where credit is due, I first got the idea for this in one of Amy Dacyzyn's essays, in a passing comment about something she made in the microwave for her toddler.

Random Thoughts


How long before the anti-smoking zealots crack down on those old-fashioned pictures of Santa Claus holding a pipe? And will they expurgate Twas the Night Before Christmas or just burn all the copies?


You know who would make a good Nanny Ogg? Patsy Byrne, who played Nursie in Blackadder.


A good name for a purveyor of modest clothing would be Modest Modiste.


Some men seem to have a greater than average desire to protect people and save lives, and I suspect there's a higher proportion of such men in the emergency response jobs--firemen, policemen, EMTs--than in the general population.

I find I prefer the people who want to save lives to the people who want to run other people's lives.


I (almost) never remember the names of voice actors, but it's absurd the little moment of pleasure I get when I recognize in an anime the voice of one who did a character I enjoyed in some other anime.


It seems the older I get, the more annoying the "trash the conventional", "sneer at the mundanes", "show contempt for the bourgeoisie" schtick becomes. Even though I did my share of it when I was young.


Our popular culture is so steeped in the story of the hero who suffers persecution, or at least opposition, for holding an unpopular view that some contemporary people seem to have drawn the unwarranted conclustion that if a viewpoint is opposed it must therefore be the correct viewpoint.


Since the 1950s the size of the average American household has substantially decreased, but the size of our dessert recipes are still the same.

Should crochet figures that don't partake at least a little of a Japanese pop culture aesthetic still be called amigurumi? If they'd be just as at home in Lady's Home Crochet Weekly, circa 1980, why not just call them crochet toys?


I recently came across a woman saying that she was thinking of crafting a womb to celebrate the Roe v. Wade decision. I do hope she remembers to add a removable partially developed human.