Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Critical Mom's Cross-Cultural Cheesecake

This delicious cheesecake is ideal for homes like mine that happen to have Nabisco Graham crackers and also German "Butterkeks" or butter cookies, the American version of which might be arrowroot biscuits.  Also heavy, thick, Greek yoghurt--easy to find in the supermarket here--plus Mascarpone, which you ought to be able to find in just about any supermarket in the Western world. 

Pre-heat oven to 350ºF or about 180ºC.

In a food processor, put one package Graham crackers (i.e. one of the wax-wrapped packs in the two-pack box) plus about ten Butterkeks.

You can, if you wish, just use Graham crackers.  Pulverize.  When the cookies are all crumbled, add at least six tablespoons (or more!  I always like more!) melted butter.  Margarine won't do. 

Mix the cookie crumbs and the butter in a pie plate or a medium-sized spring form pan.  Bake in oven for about five minutes.  Remove.  Lower heat to 325ºF or about 160ºC.

In a large mixing bowl, put about 16 ounces (that would be around two cups full--cups the size of coffee mugs) of Mascarpone.  For the very exacting cook, and that would I suppose be my German audience, I used 500 grams of Galbani brand Mascarpone, and 227 grams equals one American "cup."  Add about the same amount of thick, creamy Greek yoghurt--the plain, unflavored variety.  Again, for the exacting:  I used two packs of Elinas "Joghurt nach Griechischer Art," each measuring 150 grams.  Add a teaspoon or more of vanilla.   Here, I rely on the American variety:  Germans might wish to use vanilla bean, since the "Butter-Vanilla" stuff at the supermarket is not particularly flavorful.   Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar. Add one egg and beat well with the electric mixer.  Add the next egg and beat again.  Add the third and last egg and continue beating.  Spoon mixture into the cookie-crumb crust; use a rubber scraper to get all the last little dribbles out. 

Bake for about one hour at 325ºF or about 160ºC.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sex, the French, and the Critical Mom

Look at today's New York Times photo of those angry Frenchmen--and this particular photo does show mostly men--yelling that "Everyone is born from a man and a woman!" a slogan which, though it has a degree of accuracy, seems anything but relevant to marshal as evidence for the notion that gay people should not adopt, or that children should not be raised by gay parents.  Where are their manners?  The French have always understood love, romance and sexuality the way the Italians understand food, the English understand law, and the Germans understand order (or engineering).  Surely the French, of all people--whose vast, flowing, wine-loving culture of philosophs and decapitated kings understand the desire of two responsible loving adults to form a family, including a child?  The French have never seemed particularly Puritanical about family life, what with everybody sneaking off and having an affair all the time.  Gazing at breasts is particularly fine with them.  The family comes into that, naturally.

Where is my evidence?  Well, La Cage Aux Folles, Le Souffle au Coeur . . . or Dominique Strauss-Kahn with his big fat frisky Frenchmen's appetite that just gobbled up the poor maid, at least, according to several former mistressess or victims of him, depending upon whom you believe.  Brigitte Bardot.  Those French.  They've always been fine with cross-dressing bisexuals (Madamoiselle de Maupin, anyone?) so why not homosexuals?  Ever since 1968 when young French revolutionaries demanded "pleasure without obstruction," the French sexual agenda has remained quite clear.   Have you got 72 hours?  Don't get me started.

I can tell you I'd much rather have been raised by a happy, mature gay couple than the paranoid, alcoholic, tantrum-throwing father and desperately childlike mother who were, in fact, my parents.  Children need love and stability, the essential ingredients of family.  Merely being heterosexual offers no guarantee of that.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Critical Mom's Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

I've been tinkering with this recipe for years--the original, the "pure" version is in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, but I prefer my version, which is creamier, more choclatey, and less sweet, unless you add the optional chocolate chips or m&ms.

You will need:

Unsweetened cocoa powder
Baking soda
Vegetable oil (I use rapeseed oil; corn oil is fine, too.  Olive oil is not okay, since it has too much of its own flavor)
Vanilla extract 
Chocolate chips or m&ms (optional)

If you can't get  buttermilk, you can "sour" milk by adding a teaspoon or slightly more of plain white vinegar or lemon juice to milk and let it stand for about 15 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 180ºC (that's 350º F).  Grease (I used butter) a springform pan.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl put 235 grams of flour (that's 1 2/3 cups) plus 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder.  Add 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Mix with a fork or whisk.  Add 500 mil. buttermilk (which is about 17 fluid oz.) and 1/2 cup vegetable oil.  Add two or more teaspoons of vanilla--American vanilla; I recommend McCormick's brand.  Now mix all with an electric beater and pour into the greased springform pan.  Use a scraper to get every drop in there.  At this point, you can sprinkle chocolate chips over the top--the German ones, which usually have a touch of cinnamon, are nice, but any chocolate will do. 

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes.  Poke with chopstick--if it is still very gooey leave in a little longer.  But some enjoy a gooey cake, which will solidify after it cools.  If you like it very dry, keep it in longer--30 minutes or longer.  When the cake cools, it is good with whipped cream on top.

This is our standard birthday cake.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Communication with The Critical Mom

Dear Readers,

I'd love to hear from you, so now you can also find me on FACEBOOK and let me know what you'd like for me to write about.  At the moment, I'm reading and enjoying, and would highly recommend:

REALIZE MAGAZINE, an online publication for the energetic over-fifty woman.  Do subscribe!

ANYTHING by Philip Roth.  Did you know that today is his 80th birthday?  The city of Newark must be overjoyed, not to mention the city of New York.  Happy birthday to the greatest living American writer!

P.S.  Two whole people like me on Facebook.  Just think!  YOU could be the third.  And I have one entire follower.  YOU could be the next.  Third in line, second in line--that ain't bad for a lot of things . . . we were once third in line to see the Empire State Building, and believe me, when I saw the 5,000 latecomers behind us I was real glad we got in early. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Critical Mom's Lemon Chicken

This is a nice dish when you have company.   You will need:

Two small chickens (enough for four or five adults)
Two big lemons (with which the chickens will be stuffed)
Fresh rosemary
Garlic, garlic, garlic
Potatoes--any variety you like
Red bell peppers (and some yellow or orange ones, too, if you like)
Garlic salt 
Olive oil 
White wine (half a cup or so)

Wash and slice the potatoes; peel away any unsightly areas but keep most of the skin.  Peel carrots and slice.  Put both in pot of boiling water (with a dash of salt) and let cook until you can poke the potatoes with a fork--but not until they or the carrots are soft.

Meanwhile, put in a frying pan a tablespoon or more of olive oil, let that get hot, and then add sliced bell peppers and garlic.  Sauté until tender.  

Drain the potatoes and the carrots and put in a large baking dish.  Add the peppers and garlic.  Mix.  Sprinkle garlic salt over all.  Rinse the chickens and place them on top of the potatoes and vegetables.  Rinse the lemons, poke a few slits in them, and stuff one into each chicken.  Stuff into the chicken (with the lemon) a clove or two of fresh garlic and a sprig or two of rosemary.  Add rosemary to the vegetable mixture.  Sprinkle garlic salt (and, if you like, pepper or lemon pepper) over the chickens.

Bake at 180º C (about 375ºF) for about 70 minutes--possibly 90 and possibly more; depends on how big the chickens are.  You can baste everything with white wine about halfway through, if things are looking dry, and you can turn the potatoes and vegetables over with a large spoon from time to time.

There are variations--you could add red onions to the bell pepper mix, or you could use zucchini instead, or add it.  Rosemary, lemon, and garlic remain the dominant flavors, and just think what vegetables go well with those flavors.

Serve the dish with chilled white wine. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Don't Cry for him Argentina: The Jesuit Pope and the Critical Mom

    The best Catholics seem always to be the ones who get excommunicated or at least thrown in prison.  Margaret McBride, the nurse who allowed an abortion in a Catholic hospital to a woman who would otherwise have died, and Daniel Berrigan, whose Vietnam war protests are legendary and earned him lengthy prison sentences spring to mind--and the Jesuits seem near the top of the list of excommunicadoes or at the very least those who push to the limits.  Berrigan is a Jesuit, and then there's Father Andrew Greeley, who drove the Vatican crazy writing novels steaming with priestly and other sexuality, criticizing the Church's position on birth control, taking it to task on the status of women.  Somehow or other Greeley hasn't been excommunicated.  It's almost an insult.   Hey, wasn't he enough of an apostate?
    And can we consider our Jesuit Argentinian pope to be heading in the same honored tradition?  He's not that much younger than his more radical counterparts, Andrew Greeley and Daniel Berrigan.  He's a pro-social-justice kind of a guy but he says allowing gays to adopt discriminates against children.  We didn't expect better in that department, though we can always hope.  
    Reports, however, about his various undercover roles in Argentina's dirty war, about his conventional stance on women, abortion, birth control, and sexuality, are anything but encouraging.  Snce he's a Jesuit and since the concise Oxford still offers Jesuit as a secondary definition of "equivocator" I offer you Macbeth's drunken old porter, who seems to me to have the very best view of the situation:

    Faith, here's an equivocator that could swear in both the
    scales against either scale, who committed treason enough
    for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O,
    come in, equivocator. Knock
    Knock, knock, knock! Who's there?

    We don't yet know who is there--which Francis will face the world.  He's committed treason enough to become pope.  He's got a certain absolute power, the kind that corrupts absolutely.  If one thing's for sure about becoming a politician of any kind, and especially God's politician on earth, you've got to do a powerful lot of equivocating.  As Oscar Wilde remarked, a man who can't talk morality twice a week to a large, popular, immoral audience is quite over as a serious politician. 
    I'm quite sure our Francis can manage Wilde's instructions.  But what he'll really do, we have yet to discover.

    Sunday, March 10, 2013

    Give it a Wuerl? The Donald Duels and The Critical Mom Comments

    Is Donald Wuerl really in the running for Pope?  An American who sends posses after child molesters, putting the victims rights first?  As popes go, that sounds good.  But  Barbara Dorris, of S.N.A.P.  (Survivor's  Network of Those Abused by Priests) says he's "no better than other church officials," and refers to him as the "Teflon bishop," since "little about his poor record on sex crimes sticks to him."   He let Fr. Walter Salisbury, convicted twice of abusing children, move to Maine and continue working there.  Yeah, she says, he's gone after a few bad guys but in the end prefers the cover-up and silence.

    So who is Donald Wuerl?  I'll let him speak for himself.  He had occasion to do so right after Benedict, in a Christmas speech, defamed gay marriage as a threat to Western civilization.  A petition designating the Catholic Church as a "hate group" then went up on the White House's online system that allows citizens to address the administration directly on any cause.   

    On January 25, 2013 Donald Wuerl leaped to Benedict's defense in The Washington Post:

    The church has long been criticized as “too dogmatic.” Demands are constantly made that it change its 2,000-year-old teachings on marriage, family, sexuality, morality and other matters related to the truth about human beings. But even if others do not agree, the church understands that what it proclaims is revealed truth — the Word of God. 

    Does Wuerl really believe that he has a monopoly on the Word Of God?  I'm forcibly reminded of the story of a schizophrenic complaining to his psychiatrist that another patient was claiming to be Jesus Christ.  The doctor asked why that was a problem. Outraged, the patient yelled: "But I'm Jesus Christ!"  As the Austin Lounge Lizards remarked: "Jesus loves me, but he can't stand you."  Well, let's let Wuerl continue:

    The church’s teachings are timeless. They cannot be changed, even though adherence may be upsetting to some. That the church is built on a rock with fixed beliefs is a positive feature, both because it can withstand the shifting winds of public opinion and because of the cherished content of our faith itself, which fosters love among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

    If I were his English teacher and this were a Freshman composition, I'd ask why a "timeless" teaching "cannot be changed."  I'd point out that many "timeless" features of the church have already radically altered themselves beyond recognition.  Take the calling of the priesthood.   Who besides mentally ill persons--many of them child abusers--is entering religious orders today?  As for the "rock" of the church, its strength lies not in its inflexibility but in its power to protect.

    Is it worth quoting the rest?  He says the "fundamental vocation" of the church is to "provide the witness of love and truth to the world" and to "respect the fundamental, inherent dignity of every person, each made in the image of God, and to work to establish a just society."  That's a lot of fundamental.

    So let's define our terms, Cardinal Wuerl.  Give gays love and truth as you marry them and provide them with Holy Communion.  "Love" is acceptance--of ideas and behaviors that you find uncongenial--and "truth"--well, I like Oscar Wilde's definition of it as "one's last mood."  But I hope you don't "love" child abusers, Cardinal Wuerl.

     Wuerl whirls on with statistics about all the money his diocese spends on the poor.  Maybe so, and congratulations.  When you sell those priceless badly-tailored silk robes you wear and give the proceeds to the poor, I'll be impressed.

    Saturday, March 9, 2013

    Le Horse's Posterior and The Critical Mom

     Once upon a time I was vacationing in Switzerland.   I couldn't afford the five-star hotel my friends were staying in, but I did try a few of the pricey local restaurants with my boyfriend--who was soon to become my fiancé.  I didn't speak a word of German at the time, and when I asked him what I might like on the menu, he suggested "Rump Pferde."  It was delicious--like a well-grilled steak at an Argentinian steak house (this was before the Mad Cow scares).  Well, for my German-speaking readers out there, nodding their heads, there's no surprise, but most Americans will be startled to learn that "now you can tell your friends you've eaten horse's ass!"  as my husband-to-be put it.  I'll try anything once, twice if I like it, and three times to make sure.  Horse's ass has an honored culinary history and nutritionally can't be much distinguished from beef.  Here's a comparison for 100 grams (or 3.5 oz) of horse and beef:

    Food sourceCaloriesProteinFatIronSodiumCholesterol
    Game meat, horse, raw13321 g5 g3.8 mg53 mg52 mg
    Beef, strip steak, raw11723 g3 g1.9 mg55 mg55 mg

    Europe and Asia are prime consumers of horse meat, and a glance at Google offers recipes for "Veronese" horse alongside ethical bans.  In favor of horse meat consumption?  See  
    Wikipedia and other sites remain vague on the issue of horse meat and paganism, the point of agreement being that in 732 A.D. Pope Gregory III campaigned to "stop the ritual consumption of horse meat in pagan practice"--that is, the Catholic church turned horse meat into a taboo.  Catholicism loves its taboos.  Then along came sentimentality.  Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, The Black Stallion, Misty of Chincoteague, Mr. Ed--once the horse got to TV, threatening the popularity of "man's best friend," Lassie, well, horse's ass got less popular on the menu.
    But dog meat is a prized delicacy in Asia, as are webbed duck feet.  And according to a favorite book of my children,  James Solheim's It's Disgusting And We Ate It, delicacies that many Europeans and Americans deem revolting abound.  Bird's nest soup complete with birdie spit?  "1,000 year old eggs" aged in mud?  Spiders, grubs, and chocolate ants?  Live maggots, anyone?  All of the above and more have inspired lip-smacking and drooling.   In the Amazon basin there's even a beer-like beverage (a non-alcoholic version is prepared for children) called "chicha" whose ingredients include cassava and spit, the latter an aid in fermentation.   I think that's about where I'd draw the line, personally.  I'll take the horse's ass  (it was delicious with gravy and potatoes) but hold the chicha, chiquita.

    Wednesday, March 6, 2013

    The Secret of Pumpkin Soup, Critical Mom Style

    OK, I stole the recipe.  The recipe belongs to my very nice neighbor, the lady I run into on the tram platform, and it is delicious--especially on cool or wintry days.

    You will need:

    •A hand blender--the kind you can insert right into the pot.  A food processor will do if you don't have this, but it's messier.
    •Olive oil
    •A medium-sized Hokkaido pumpkin (but a big slice of some other kind of pumpkin is also okay).  I'd stay away from the canned stuff
    •A red onion
    •Garlic--a few cloves
    •Ginger--at least a piece the size of half a thumb
    •A cup or two of chicken broth (the instant powder is okay, but of course fresh is always best)
    •THE SECRET: Applesauce--about a cup and a half of it.

    First, heat some olive oil (a tablespoon or two) in a large pot.  Dice the onion and add it.  Dice the garlic and ginger; add the garlic as the onion begins to smell good and then when you can smell the garlic too, add the ginger. 

    Meanwhile, chop the pumpkin into chunks--throw away the seeds, unless you're using a regular pumpkin, whose seeds can be roasted.  Hokkaido seeds don't taste that great.  Add the chunks of Hokkaido pumpkin into the pot and let it all get hot, but not burned.  Add the chicken broth (you can also use vegetable broth) and stir all.  Let simmer until the pumpkin gets soft--about fifteen minutes, but depends on the size of the chunks.  Then add the applesauce.  Blend all with your hand blender.  If you like, add a sprig of mint on top.

    This is truly delicious.  The applesauce adds an unexpected--and usually unidentifiable--sweetness.  But now you know the secret.

    Saturday, March 2, 2013

    The Pope You Always Wanted? The Papal Conclave and the Critical Mom: Advice for the Theologically Challenged

    I don't know who is more theologically challenged--them or me.  Me, I'm an atheist, but all that means is that I think what religious people call "God" or "spirit" means the inner voice that tells you to act like a mensch.  It's your own good sense, and its also "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower." And it is "the confession, not the priest, that grants you absolution." (Oscar Wilde's insight)

    Let's take care of the basics:  

    The word "conclave" means "with a key" because the cardinals--most of them over age 70--who are selecting the next pope get locked up in total isolation and some discomfort in order to make them decide fast.  Once upon a time, back when Pope Clement IV died in 1268, cardinals slowed down, remaining indecisive for three years, so the city of Rome fed them bread and water, and took their roof off.  Then they got busy, but since they say the Holy Ghost infuses them with its own ideas, effectively deciding the whole business, and since the Holy Ghost does not grant interviews, we can't be sure that they didn't themselves entirely select the next pope

    The cardinals believe that the man they vote in as pope has divine infallibility, that according to God he can do no wrong.  So how come he did not de-frock a priest in Wisconsin who had molested 200 children, but instead excommunicated a Ugandan priest who had married?  A child molester is more Catholic than a man who marries a grown woman?

    • Further details are explained in this helpful video, "Exposed:  Vatican Picks a New Pope!":

    And for all you gals out there who think you might want to be pope some day when the Catholic church has an epiphany and admits women candidates to the papacy:

    Now, Benedict's brother says he lay awake at night worrying over the child abuse problem.  I feel so sorry for him.  From 2001-2005, Benedict was in charge of all reported sex abuse cases.  He made some lame apologies and fell silent.  Silence, when you're dealing with the Roman Catholic church, is dross.  As Pope Betty remarks, "Abstinence makes the Church grow fondlers."  Benedict told a bunch of African priests to accept "the gift of celibacy."  I guess it gets easier to accept when you are over the age of seventy, but I can tell you right now that I, age 56, would return that gift, get a store credit, and buy myself something really nice.

    Idealism is one thing.  Many young men and women enter the church with the notion that they'll serve God with all their heart and all their soul and all their mind if they become celibate.  Then it starts to get to them.  They fall in love or they masturbate out of loneliness, not love, or they drink or they molest children.  At least with the first three they are only limiting their own lives.  The fourth option is obviously the worst.  To be idealistic at fourteen or fifteen is normal.  To deem celibacy a gift from God when you are all grown up--and grown old, at 85, can only be a delusion or a lie.  I wish I could say we'd expect better from a pontiff but we can't, because he's a politician--God's politician on earth, is how he must see it.

    And now for one of my favorite Wikipedia entries:

    Celibacy in Africa
    Africa presents particular problems for the Catholic priestly vow of celibacy, as there are cultural expectations for a man to have a family. Early in the 21st century, as celibacy continued to come under question, Africa was cited as a region where the violation of celibacy is particularly rampant. Priests on the continent were accused of taking wives and concubines. Isolation of priests working in rural Africa, and the low status of women, add to the temptation. A breakaway sect of married Catholic priests in Uganda, called the Catholic Apostolic National Church, formed in 2010 following the excommunication of a married priest by Pope Benedict XVI.

    Catholicism in Mexico and Africa is really hopping, that is, if you acknowledge that hybrids are healthier.  All kinds of folk religion, pantheism, and a especially a healthy interest in sexuality infuse forms of Catholicism practiced in those places.  Granted, other problems develop.  Nuns in Uganda and other parts of Africa, thought to be "pure" if they are celibate, are considered safer to exploit than the general population, which has a high AIDS rate.  When nuns get raped or forced into sexual favors, one of those folk beliefs dictates that a "pure" being will somehow destroy any sexually transmitted disease.  Which is better?  A clergy that indulges in married love and rape, or one that goes after children?  If you held a gun to my head I'd take the former, but let's again get back to basics:  the original meaning of the term "Catholic" is "universal" and what is universally needed is love.  A Catholic church that actually follows the teachings of Jesus, and believe me, no institution does, would be a church worth following.  

    The Vatican has known about these sins and crimes for some time. When Benedict XVI traveled to Africa in 2005, for example, he addressed the question of celibacy explicitly. He urged the bishops there to "open themselves fully to serving others as Christ did by embracing the gift of celibacy."
    Indeed, Benedict holds celibacy so high that last year he excommunicated a Zambian priest, the Rev. Luciano Anzanga Mbewe, for being married. Mbewe now heads a breakaway sect of married Catholic priests in Uganda called the Catholic Apostolic National Church, according to The New York Times. "
    - See more at:

    Friday, March 1, 2013

    A Red Snapper Recipe

    This is very easy, and turned out so well that the fourteen-year-old said, "Mommy, did you really make this?"
    "Does that mean I should make this again sometime?"
    "Mmmmph, ummph . . . " (his mouth was as full as Ron Weasley's usually is) GULP, "Yes, definitely make this one again!"


    (for three)

    Rinse three slices of fresh red snapper and arrange in a baking dish.  Sprinkle with garlic salt and dill; drizzle a little olive oil over it. 

    Put in pre-heated oven at 180º C (about 350-356ºF if you're American)

    Mix the juice of one large lemon, about a half cup of rice wine vinegar, and a tablespoon or so of sugar.  You could probably use honey too--I didn't because I wanted to be able to taste the dill.  Mix well so the sugar dissolves.  I poured this over the fish after it had been baking for about 15 minutes, but you could put it on before you put the fish in the oven too.

    Bake about 30 minutes.

    This is good with basmati rice and steamed broccoli.