Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saint Jude, Patron of Hopeless Cases, Pray for Us! Celebrating (Near) Disasters in the Kitchen

When I was in (Catholic) high school, I was graced with a rather eccentric English teacher. At the beginning of every class he started with a prayer (not an unusual thing). He always ended it with “St. Jude, Patron of Hopeless Cases, Pray for Us!” accompanied by a shake of his thick, white hair.

I have often had recourse to this saint in extremis, and I thought it might be appropriate to consider some of the times when divine wisdom or intercession has saved us from what would otherwise be a culinary disaster.

Honestly, we have known so many disasters in our years of food preparation that it is hard to pick just one. But I think our family favorite would have to be the time that a birthday cake, lovingly prepared for the child of the day, was sitting on the kitchen counter. Somehow, someone jostled the spice shelf above it, and down came the pewter pepper grinder: right into the middle of the unsuspecting cake. With no time to do much—let alone bake another, my resourceful mother covered up the enormous hole with a nice spackling of frosting and no one (we believe) was the wiser.

So many times, when following a recipe, it seems like there is just no possible way you’ve done the thing right…and then, lo and behold, out comes your finished product, surprising you! My sister Anna and I recently had that experience with a recipe for Navajo fry bread. It just all seemed wrong, somehow. But at the end of the day, after we decided we’d go ahead and complete the seemingly-failed project, it was delicious.

I encourage you all to post your favorite experiences with “Rescued Disasters”—in honor of St. Jude, that great intercessor in all those “hopeless” cases. If you need a little additional comic relief, I recommend "Cake Wrecks"....

Friday, October 22, 2010

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month--in which we remember and pray for all the women who suffer from this disease, and their families as well.

How can we, on this blog, take up the challenge to honor and encourage these women? Many of them are so heroic in their courage!

I think we will draw on the memory of Agatha, that 3rd century Sicilian martyr, whose torture by the Roman authorities included the cutting off of her breasts. She is an inspiring figure because--like so many other martyrs--she triumphed over her suffering through her faith in God. (We'll return to her on Feb. 5, her feast day.) This is why, in Christian art, Agatha is always shown carrying her breasts boldly on a platter, as in this great painting by Zurbaran. (It is perhaps useful to explain that there is a long tradition, in Christian art, of showing the martyrs cheerfully displaying the instruments with which they were tortured and/or the parts of their body in which they suffered--this, to demonstrate that they rose above that suffering; they are not victims but victors.)

What shall we eat for this commemoration--and to remember Saint Agatha? I vote for foods that remind us of the breast and of Agatha's--and many women's--triumph over suffering!

I propose, for our main dish, ravioli (flat on the bottom, rounded on the top) with Pink Sauce. If you are feeling ambitious, here is a lovely recipe for Lobster Ravioli with Pink Sauce.

For dessert--keeping to our pink theme--how about a nice mound of strawberry ice cream with a strawberry on top?

And let's all raise a glass to the endurance and courage of all these women--and the families and friends who cherish and support them!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our Daily Bread: Celebrating Patron Feast Days

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Isaac Jogues. We named our sweet second born Isaac for this saint who had spirit of courageous apostolate. Many boys have remarked that St. Isaac Jogues is "so cool" or "awesome" and there is no wonder why!

St. Issac Jogues came to the New World from France in the 1630s and was the first Catholic priest to set foot on the island of Manhattan. (A fun fact considering that my husband grew up on that island!) St. Isaac then set out to his mission near Lake Superior to bring the message of Christ to the different Indian tribes there. He was captured, tortured and taken to a town near present day Albany on the Mohawk River where he was enslaved. He managed to escape and was sent back to Europe where he arrived on Christmas morning.

He was allowed by Pope Urban VII the very exceptional privlege of celebrating Mass, which the mutilated condition of his hands had made canonically impossible; several of his fingers having been eaten or burned off.

Then St. Isaac Jogues requested to go back to the missions he had left behind in the New World. He was well received by his former captors and the treaty of peace was made. However, a small group of Iroquois stripped him naked, slashed him with their knives, beat him and then led him to the village. On 18 October, 1646, when entering a cabin he was struck with a tomahawk and afterwardsdecapitated. The head was fixed on the Palisades and the body thrown into the Mohawk.

So why name our son Isaac? While we know that our boy would most likely never be called to be a blood martyr for his faith- we are well aware of the fortitude necessary to be a martyr as we witness our faith in the simple, everyday moments of life. A conversation shared with a friend, a job well done, daily small sacrifices are all ways to give your life to God and witness your faith.

Last year, Isaac's Godfather, Uncle Colin, helped to organize a trip to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs. It was a wonderful place to visit, and well worth the trip!Here is an image from the shrine showing St. Isaac carving a cross and the word "Jesus" into a tree. He was known to carve this into trees as he would pass through the forests to help his contemplative prayer- and he would use it also as a teaching tool!

What to eat? Perhaps your family may enjoy succotash. Our family will enjoy our usual feast day cake!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Celebrating St. Denis, Bishop of Paris

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Denis (or Dionsysius), Bishop of Paris, an early martyr (AD 272) who, along with his companions, was beheaded for the faith. Sent to the Gauls, Denis appears to have had much success in his missionary endeavors. He and his friends suffered under the persecution of Valerian (though it's not entirely certain which persecution). The martyrs’ bodies were originally thrown into the Seine, but they were later retrieved and buried. A couple of centuries afterwards, a church was erected over their graves which became a favorite among pilgrims.

It seems appropriate to mark the feast of this early and devoted martyr with foods typical of the Gauls, the people whom he came to convert. The Gauls were very involved in pig-farming and so the most natural foods to look at are pork products of all kinds. Blood sausage would be appropriate for St. Denis, but for the more squeamish (or those without ready access to blood sausage like most of us living in North America), pork chops, roasts or other pig-products would also make sense. As this is also apple season, I am suggesting a dish that involved both pork chops and apples (and is quite healthy, as an added bonus)!
(This recipe is taking from Cooking Light)

Pork Loin Chops with Cinnamon Apples

Cooking Light says "Warm flavors like sage and cinnamon play up the contrast between the juicy chops and caramelized apples. Tart Granny Smiths and slightly sweeter Braeburn apples both work well for this dish."

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 pork chop and 3/4 cup apple mixture)

1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (4-ounce) boneless center-cut loin pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick)
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon butter
4 cups (1/2-inch) slices peeled Granny Smith apples (about 4 medium)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of salt

Combine first 3 ingredients, and sprinkle over the pork. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add pork; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done. Remove the pork from pan. Cover and keep warm.

Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Add apples and remaining ingredients, and cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Serve the apples with pork.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Little House on the Prairie learns about Our Lady's Victory at LEPANTO

"Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)"

the closing lines of G.K. Chesterton's poem Lepanto

On October 7th, 1571, the "Holy League", which was comprised of forces from the Papal States, Spain, Venice and some other Italian states and led by Phillip II's brother Don John, fought and defeated the Ottoman Empire in the sea battle of Lepanto. In the 1560s, the Ottomans attacked the Christian mediterranean and quickly defeated the eastern islands. Pope St. Pius V saw the imminent danger and in 1570 called on the leaders of the West to put aside their differences and unite against the force that was a threat to them all. His appeal, however, was made in vain. Queen Elizabeth in England was focused on her rivalry with Spain, France had befriended the Turks in the past and was at the time under the reign of a sickly Charles IX, and Phillip II of Spain was preoccupied with his new American empire. Phillip II, however, did send his brother Don John of Austria with many ships and men. Rallying all the different forces, Don John led them into a very bloody (it is said that the sea was red with blood for miles around by the end of the battle), but victorious battle in which 8,000 Christian soldiers died but more than 10,000 Christian prisoners, that had been enslaved on the Ottoman ships, were freed.

Pope Pius V, had a particular devotion to Mary, and placed his hopes in the Lord and her intercessory powers. He made sure that all the Christian sailors had rosaries and that they all prayed the rosary before going into battle. It is also said that before setting out, Giovanni Andrea, the Genoese admiral, hung in his flagship a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which had been touched to the original image on Juan Diego’s cloak. It is for this reason that the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (also celebrated under the name of Our Lady of Victory) falls on October 7th. Apparently, Pope Pius V was in a meeting the moment the battle was won. He immediately rose up and said: "This is not a moment for business; make haste to thank God, because our fleet this moment has won a victory over the Turks.”

I think many meals would be appropriate for this feast day. Maybe something mediterranean? Or Mexican, in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe's intercession. We're having tacos tonight!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Saint Bruno and the Carthusians--October 6

On October 6, we honor the great 11th-century German founder of the Carthusian order of monks, St. Bruno. The form of monasticism that he founded was (unlike the Benedictines) based on a solitary, hermit-style of life, inspired by the early Christian hermits who lived in the Egyptian deserts.

The Carthusians, though always rather few in number, have had great influence on the spiritual life of the Church throughout the centuries.

If you have not yet seen the film "Into Great Silence," this is a good time to do so. It is a truly remarkable film about the Carthusian monastic experience. Note: it is almost entirely silent and it is long, so be prepared to settle in for several hours--but it is well worth it!

Rather than eating something in St. Bruno's honor, I propose that we take a sip or two of the famous liqueur made by the Carthusians ("Chartreux," in French) called Chartreuse. This is a sweet, strongly herbal (130 Alpine herbs to be precise) alcoholic drink, that promotes digestion. (The drink also gave the name to the color: a bright yellow-green.)

Many other orders of monks and nuns have made foods and drinks enjoyed by millions around the world. Soon we'll devote a special post to some of these delicious concoctions.

Monday, October 4, 2010

October 4: Saint Francis of Assisi

I was traveling all day and nearly let the day go by without remembering with you the man who is probably the most famous saint in Christendom: Francis of Assisi, beloved by Christians of every stripe, and many others besides. (In particular, his love for animals has endeared him to a great many people.)

May I refer you to pp. 273-4 of A Continual Feast for a discussion of his remarkable life--and for a recipe for the one and only food that he is known to have loved: Mostaccioli, which are delicious little almond cakes.

You might like to do some reading about this amazing man, and if so I recommend The Little Flowers of Saint Francis--full of anecdotes about his life and miracles, and quite fun to read!

And as you remember him--and that great Franciscan spirit--you can also say the beautiful prayer that is associated with him:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

You can also sing this prayer as the beautiful hymn: "Make me a channel of your peace." You can hear it sung at: