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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Monday's Menu: An Essay Review and A Recipe for Alfredo Sauce

I read like I eat, having to decide between the savory flavors of non-fiction and the sweet of a great story. I’ll take the bag of chips any day over a tub of ice cream. Pass the non-fiction, please. And, feeling the pressure of days since past when babies screamed and food got cold if I didn’t gobble it up in three enormous bites, I have the unhealthy habits of eating -reading - too quickly, not letting my body or mind digest the diet I give them. My bedside table is my overstocked refrigerator, and when I feel like munching, there is a book to taste. Right now, you’d find there, along with four back issues of The Atlantic and an article from The New Yorker, which someone has clipped for me:

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Marytr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

Confessions by St. Augustine

Ryan asked me the other night, “How many books have you actually finished this year?” And it’s a fair question because like a bored lover, I cast off books abruptly, jilting them for newfound crushes. My reading habits, plagued as they are by attention deficit, are nothing of which I am proud, and 2012 was supposed to be a year of working to stay faithful to a list of books I’d set down in January as books I’d like to meet and sit with. I’m happy to say that this year, I’ve finished:

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (OK, maybe I didn’t get all the way through.)

Junia is Not Alone: Scott McKnight (an e-book, SHORT!)

Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (uh, yeah, only half)

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

The real truth of it is, only TWO of these books were on that list I made four months back, and they were the two books I didn’t finish.

But I didn’t start this blogpost with the intention of laying out all my dirty laundry when it comes to my failure as a reader, but it makes for a handy segue to the essay I came here meaning to tell you about. It is a MUST READ for the women out there who have, like I, struggled to find meaning in their daily responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and laundry.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work" was the 1998 Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality given by Kathleen Norris at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame. You can’t buy it in print, I don’t think, but it’s a quick download from Amazon onto your Kindle or iPad.

Norris opens with her an experience at a Catholic Irish-American wedding, which began for her a season of re-exploring the childhood faith she’d left behind. She watched with fascination as the priest, in the middle of the mass, washed the chalice. "After the experience of a liturgy that left me feeling disoriented, eating and drinking were something I could understand. That and the housework. This was my first image of the mass, my door in, as it were, and it has served me well for years." When Norris couldn’t sink her teeth into the non-material ideas of spirituality, she lay hold of the housework present in the mass. It became for her a metaphor of the spiritual life.

Her essay brims with hope for a woman like me, who struggles against her desire for contemplative silence and the realities of my noisy family. "I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demand of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self."

She reminds me that making dinner, straightening shoes, and matching socks are not the interruptions I imagine: "But it is the daily tasks, daily acts of love and worship that serve to remind us that the religion is not strictly an intellectual pursuit . . . Christian faith is a way of life, not an impregnable fortress made up of ideas; not a philosophy; not a grocery list of beliefs. . .It is the paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is in the routine and the everyday that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation.”

And she takes aim at my wayward longings for a life that is far more spectacular than the one I lead. "We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were. We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places - out of Galilee, as it were - and not in spectacular events, such as the coming of a comet."

Read the essay, and make dinner tonight for someone you love. Do both for the sake of following Jesus.

Here's an alfredo sauce recipe that is EASY. Make fettucine, boil broccoli with your pasta, and stir in the sauce at the end. Poof. Dinner on the table in 20 minutes. Or, spread it over a pizza crust, and then add your favourite toppings. With alfredo sauce on a pizza, I love chicken, spinach, broccoli, feta, ricotta. Any of the above!

Alfredo Sauce:

  • ½ pint heavy cream
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon garlic powder (to taste, as you like it)
In a saucepan over low heat, mix the cream, butter and cream cheese, stirring constantly, until melted and well-blended. Mix in Parmesan cheese and garlic powder. Continue to cook and stir 15 minutes, or until Parmesan is lightly browned.