Post 249

Layers: A Recipe for March

It occurs to me that a big component of simplicity is transparency. A simple person does not have layers upon layers of appearances. He either shows his cards or he doesn’t. If he shows his cards, he shows his cards. You don’t get the false deck. You don’t get the mask. A deceitful person, by contrast, often appears to be sharing his ‘true’ self, but he is wearing yet another mask, chosen for the occasion. Rather than show you the truth or refuse to say anything at all, he’ll tell you something that looks quite like the truth.

I mention this in the context of consistency. A consistent person is often not a transparent person. A person who appears always unflappable, and always smooth and poised and composed is a strange creature indeed. A person who seems always kind and gentle and just so gosh golly sweet is all too often the person with the most layers.

Consider a child, held up by Christ as the model for Christians. Here is a transparent human being. What does that look like? Simple: it looks wild. It’s every flavour of the rainbow. It’s a merry-go-round of moods and emotions: natural reactions to life’s joys and sufferings. It’s unrehearsed and here you can witness genuine reactions to the surprises and sorrows of life.

Consider, however, the adult, jaded and shaped by the world. Here is a complex and twisted human being, in many cases. What does that look like? Simple: it looks tame. It looks, as a matter of fact, bizarrely tame. You could dance a jig down the halls of a university and people will barely lift their eyes from their phones. You could carry a casket onto the train station platform and people will pretend they didn’t see a thing. Poker faces to the left and poker faces to the right. You could return from the dead to admonish but the hardened one won’t change his life.

It’s weird but it’s just like Jesus said. He said they were just like those referred to in the song sung by the children: “We piped to you, and you did not dance / We wailed, and you did not weep.” (Luke 7:32)

In other words, nothing moves and nothing satisfies the cynical one, who believes he has seen everything and who believes that he can accurately assess everything. You can sing him a song but he’s heard it before (or something similar); you can show him a vision but he’s seen it before (or something similar); you can make him a dish but he’s had it before (or something similar). Everything’s a bore for the know-it-all.

There’s a Christian version of the same thing. Genuine meekness and gentleness is wonderful but can you tell the difference between what is real and what is counterfeit? The placid smile, the sigh of resignation and self-sacrifice, the passing mention of having recently offered up yet another rosary, the soft voice, the Christian bumper sticker and the refusal to really talk about what’s going on. It’s fake. Don’t be fooled.

Ask any kid.

Ask Jesus.

People struggle to describe him because they want to put him in a box of Niceness and Gentility and Manners All the Time. He won’t fit. He won’t fit because he was as simple and as internally coherent as a child. He praised what was praiseworthy and he condemned what was wrong. He condemned what was fake. He smiled and he wept. He was simple, and so you can’t nail him down. He didn’t play a part. He wasn’t an actor, scripted to be always a charmer. He was all about being genuine. He was all about telling the truth. He told the truth about God and about man. It got him killed, but, well, he saw it coming.

Think about simplicity. Being sweet and lovable and perfectly popular all the time might not be an entirely good sign. Are you honest? Are you honest some of the time, all the time, never? Has “being polite” become your “style” but not an expression of your heart? What’s your act? Are you cheery and bouncy or so smart and so cool or are you just all around fun? Are you devout and so loving, so respectful and caring or are you just all around holy? Are you like this when you’re here and like that when you’re there? Who are you, anyway? Who are you, behind all of these layers, so conveniently put on and yet so easily shattered? Enough with your masks. Enough with your layers.

Layers are for lasagna, not people.

I offer you a recipe for March.

This is America Test Kitchen’s Skillet Lasagna, and I type below the version from The Best 30-Minute Recipe. I love the traditional version of lasagna but here’s a useful and yummy dish when you want something rather quick. It works and proves that you don’t need layers.

Skillet Lasagna
Serves 4

For the jarred tomato sauce, we like marinara, but you can use whatever type you like. Any brand of curly-edged lasagna noodles will work here, but do not use no-boil lasagna noodles. If the pasta is especially dry and shattery, you may need to add extra water to the skillet while the pasta cooks. If you can’t find meatloaf mix, use 1/2 pound 85 percent lean ground beef and 1/2 pound ground pork. Like it spicy? Increase the amount of red pepper flakes up to 1 teaspoon. To make things go even quicker, you can replace the mozzarella and Parmesan with 3/4 cup of shredded Italian cheese blend.

1 pound meatloaf mix (see note)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and ground pepper
6 ounces curly-edged lasagna noodles (8 noodles) broken into 2-inch pieces
1 (26-ounce) jar tomato sauce, such as marinara (about 3 cups)
2 cups water
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded (see note)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (see note)
3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil

MAKING THE MINUTES COUNT: Mince the garlic and measure out the pasta while the meat cooks.

1.COOK AND DRAIN MEAT: Cook meat in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat, breaking it into pieces with wooden spoon, until fat renders, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain meat and return it to skillet. [I don’t have any non-stick stuff so I just use my regular skillet.]

2.SAUTE AROMATICS: Stir in garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3.SIMMER LASAGNA NOODLES: Sprinkle broken noodles into skillet, then pour in tomato sauce and water over top. Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed to maintain vigorous simmer, until noodles are tender, about 20 minutes.

4.ADD CHEESE: Off heat, stir in half of mozzarella and half of Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Dot heaping tablespoons of ricotta over noodles, then sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and let stand off heat until cheeses melt, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with basil before serving.


Skillet Lasagna with Sausage and Red Bell Pepper

Substitute one pound hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, for meatloaf mix. Add 1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped fine, to skillet with meat in step 1.