Blast From the Past
On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come!
Remember, feel free to send me your thoughts, prayers, questions and comments at God Bless!

Priests to be with the JPII

Fr. Leo right next to the Holy Father, Blessed Pope John Paul II back in his seminary days.


July has come and gone in an instant, and next week, you will be receiving new eBlasts. As we start moving out of the summer and into the fall, we have much to look forward to. Keep your eye on the calendar, as I will be all over the place (over 20 events left this year alone!). But even if you can not join me at any of them, don’t forget where this movement starts: at the dinner table.

One aspect of food is healthy eating. This week’s “Blast From the Past” is from 2007 and goes over the importance of a taking a healthy approach to eating, as moderation extends past the amount of food we eat, but in the ways we give thanks to God for the gifts he gives us. Unfortunately, we didn’t use to have pictures included in the blast back in 2007, so please enjoy other older pictures throughout the blast.

Need ideas for dinner? Check out the recipes section of the website and hopefully you can find the perfect dish to make with your loved ones. Have topic ideas or recipes that you want to share to be featured in our newsletter? Please feel free to send them our way at


Originally Published: July 30, 2007

Food for the Body

Healthy Approach to Healthy Eating

I’m not an expert on healthy eating.  But I do try.  St. Thomas Aquinas has a healthy perspective on moderation, which not only applies to our spiritual lives but also to our bodies – our physical life.  After all, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit that require healthy eating for the body, mind and soul.  One of our missions at Grace Before Meals is to provide some forum for people of faith to make sure we have a proper perspective when it comes to eating, by avoiding extremes such as militant vegans or unsophisticated carnivores.  We have to eat, enjoy the meal, and at appropriate times make sacrifices and offer fasts.  We live this balanced understanding of eating because we realize our hungers will never be fully satisfied until we partake in the eternal banquet of Heaven.

For that reason I was glad to get a question from someone in our Grace Before Meals family.  We’ve exchanged emails discussing an eating and health situation in her family that needed some perspective of balance and moderation.  She described using a Faith-filled diet program called “Light Weigh,” which has helped her lose 80 of her 100 pound goal!  First of all, congratulations to this woman of Faith and determination!  She wrote to me because her younger daughter (under 10 years old) noticed this obvious life-giving transformation in her mother.  The impressionable child also heard the many compliments her mother received – “you look great” – and as a result started dieting herself, even to the point of not eating certain foods to avoid getting fat.  This would obviously leave a mother a bit perplexed.  All too often do we hear how young children, especially young girls, start believing they are “fat” and therefore will do anything to stay thin, which really is an unhealthy skinny.  This mother appropriately sought a perspective on how to stop this positive experience of weight loss from being misinterpreted in the mind of her young daughter.

Back in my break dancing days, I was clearly getting quite the workout. Check out the jumpsuit!

Back in my break dancing days, I was clearly getting quite the workout. Check out the jumpsuit!
Food for the Body

This situation required a little bit of “Thomistic” perspective.  I’m not a dietician or a health expert.  I’m simply a priest who wanted to offer some faithful perspective of moderation, which I now offer to you.  I recommended the following:

  • Continue to plan healthy meals for your entire family – and be sure to eat three square meals every day.
  • Help your children recognize how food is a “gift” and not a “right.”  That means, by not eating certain foods that are healthy and appropriate, we may be “rejecting” God’s gift.  However, by overeating certain unhealthy foods or “celebration foods” (such as double helpings of fried foods or sweets),without moderation, we may be “abusing” God’s gift.
  • Continue to talk with your children at mealtimes and at family prayer times about the food they are eating, and honestly (but tactfully) discuss how many young people are too concerned with appearances, which could be a sin of pride against modesty.  Our food intake should not be exclusively concerned with appearances, and that is something we should talk about with God in prayer.
  • Include your children in the cooking process so they can see where their food comes from.  We may actually be more excited to eat a meal we prepare, because we’re part of the giving process.
  • And finally, the family could consider offering some time to serve the poor – either by making casseroles for a local soup kitchen, serving at a local food service for the needy, and even sharing a meal with some of the underprivileged.
  • These brief ideas are offered with a desire to bring a balanced perspective of food consumption – ours and others.  This balanced perspective gives us a chance to see the gift God gives to each of us through the food placed at our own kitchen table and the food placed at the Lord’s Table.

    That’s what I call a “high kick.”

    Food for the Body

    Stuffed Fig Appetizer

    In a recent getaway with some priest friends who are part of my Gesu Caritas support group, we went to a very “healthy” outdoor park/resort.  The park theme for that week was downhill cross-country biking.  Needless to say, everyone there was very healthy.  I felt a little “jealous!”  We did our part with healthy mountainous hiking, but definitely no biking!  We didn’t want to test God.  And to practice moderation, we had some celebration foods to “balance” the healthy hiking.  As the resident cook for the group, I tried a different recipe with some of the fresh market ingredients.  In a local market we found some beautifully ripe figs that inspired a recipe of appropriate moderation.  In fact, I’d recommend this appetizer recipe for an outdoor dinner with friends.  For the recipe [click here].

    Food for the Soul

    Wealth and Health for the Soul

    My good old karate days.

    Karate is one way to help to stay in shape.

    How many times do we pray to be healthy in our body?  I’m sure every time we see an attractive, healthy person!  Yet how often do we pray to be healthy in our spiritual life?  If you’re as busy as the rest of the world, you may pray for everything under the sun, but forget to pray for a healthy soul.  Therefore, let’s consider why praying for the health of our soul is just as, if not more, important than a healthy body!  For goodness sake, we  know what happens if a person’s mind is not healthy – they go crazy.  When a soul is not healthy, a person dies a slow and depressed death from within.  A healthy soul, like a healthy body, depends on what you put into it, and how often you exercise your soul, through spiritual practices and spiritual exercises – including rest.

    Let’s pray for a healthy soul!

    Lord of Heaven and Earth, You created us to reflect Your Goodness to others.  Yet we so often depend on the impression we give to others from our physical appearances.  Help our lives, from within – from our very souls – to reflect the goodness, health and true life You give us!  Help us to be healthy from within, and encourage us, with Your Grace, to do the spiritual exercises we need to have a healthy life – body, mind and soul!  Amen.

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    Posted in Blast from the Past, Food for the Body, Food for the Soul, Food for Thought, Grace Before Meals | 1 Comment »

    Posted July 20th, 2011 | Uncategorized
    Fr. Arnold's Fried Zucchini Flowers!

    Fr. Arnold's Fried Zucchini Flowers!

    At a recent dinner party, Fr. Arnold whipped up some batter by combining AP flour and beer, mixing until a smooth consistency. He then took the fresh zucchini flowers, stuffed it with some store bought fresh mozzarella cheese, dipped, fried these delicate leaves until golden brown. He then hit it with a pinch of sea salt. You can add some zing with a pinch of cayenne pepper too.

    Go ahead, and give this classic Italian dish your own spin and share your recipe.

    I love fresh flowers and fresh veggies. I love them better when stuffed, batter dipped and deep fried!

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    Blast From the Past
    On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come!
    Remember, feel free to send me your thoughts, prayers, questions and comments at God Bless!

    Leo with his mom

    Fr. Leo with his mother. Not much has changed, right?

    Come See Fr. Leo

    Even though we are taking a break from new e-Blasts (I know, I know, but I’m moving AGAIN!), it doesn’t mean you can’t come out to see him speak. Be sure to keep up with me by checking my event calendar on the website (or by clicking here) and seeing if I’m coming to a location near you. Up next is a trip to Surrey, Canada at St. Matthew’s Parish and Our Lady of Good Counsel, followed by a trip to St. Paul, MN to help spread Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. So come out and support the movement, or in the very least, get the chance to try a delicious dish as made by yours truly.

    We’re always adding more events to the schedule, so keep your eye on the calendar. And if you are interested in bringing me out your way, just fill out the “Book Fr. Leo” form or contact Joe Hansbrough at

    This week’s “Blast From the Past” was published October 15, 2008 and touches upon the importance of faith over financial woes. Even now, nearly three years later, our economy is still struggling, and our deficit is the worst it has ever been. But despite these circumstances, we can have faith in knowing that God always provides, especially through the gift of family. It is simply up to us to receive His gifts. So next time you are have a financial concern (or any concern for that matter), just take a moment and say a prayer. Trust that God loves you and will never abandon you. And with that, I hope you have a great week and that I will see some of you at future events. Ciao!


    Originally Published: October 15, 2008

    Food for the Body

    Built on Sand?

    This past week, worldwide financial institutions experienced economic downturns, frustration, and for some, complete financial disaster.  This week’s financial mess has left many people worried about their future.  Many families are now wondering how they will pay for college, retirement, even this month’s bills.  In some very sad cases, tragic suicides have been reported simply because people were so fearful of financial instability.  It’s not a pretty picture.  In response to these troubling times, the Holy Father challenges people to ask, “in whom do we place our trust?” and “have we built our success on sand?”

    Interestingly enough, American currency has the inscription (unfortunately less obvious on the new dollar coin) “In God We Trust.”  Yet, the response from media, investors, and public opinion makes me question if that istrue.  It seems that the almighty dollar is becoming more powerful than God – the Almighty Father who cares for His children.

    This question from the Holy Father about whether families put more trust in faith or finances couldn’t have been more visible a few weeks ago when I was invited to some conferences in Roanoke, Virginia.  This event promoted families and the culture of life.  The Richmond Diocese’s Gift of Life Group sponsored my presentations at a few parishes in the area.  Before I continue with my thoughts, I want to thank the pastors and parishioners of Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church, Transfiguration Church, Roanoke Catholic Schools, and St. Patrick’s Church for the wonderful welcome.

    Leo with his mom

    Now, back to the visible sign of faith versus finance question.  If you have ever seen Roanoke’s charming downtown skyline, you notice three uniquely impressive landmarks: the spires of the gothic church of St. Patrick, the European influence of the Roanoke Hotel, and the immense tower of Wachovia’s central offices.

    The skyline made me think of our current financial situation.  While the Roanoke Hotel has been assumed by the Hilton Hotels Corporation and Wachovia tenuously owns its building, St. Patrick’s Church remains the most stable institution of the three.  No matter how impressive these buildings are, the foundations of the hotel and bank have changed, but the church’s foundation stays the same.

    Leo with his mom

    These three skyline institutions pose a question for those who see them: Which do you trust?  The comfort and recreation of the hotel, the financial trappings of the bank, or the faith of the church that gives grace to people who are in crisis?

    I am no financial analyst, so please don’t think I’m trying to advise you on how to invest for your family’s future.  But as a priest, I have the responsibility of challenging families on how they prepare for their ultimate future – eternal life.  I meet so many families, rich and poor, and I see a common trait in those who are very secure with their future: faith.

    Economically challenged families that are faithful are much happier than rich families who seemingly have everything but a religious foundation.  Conversely, rich families that teach their children generosity and help them recognize financial success as a blessing from God are much happier than poor families who think elected officials will provide for them through a welfare system.  The formula for stable and happy families is not investment in finances or promises from political candidates.  Faith is the only real investment.  It provides parents and children a unique and Godly wisdom that helps build homes, not on sand, but on solid ground.

    Leo with his mom

    This Grace Before Meals weekend in Roanoke was a ray of good news in the midst of the tragedy the media tried to convince us was happening.  Listening to sound bites from reporters could leave anyone rather depressed.  Instead, I listened to the Gospel and the laughter of participants.  Despite the downturn of the economy, I met families who were able to smile, rejoice, pray, and be thankful for what they had.  Faithful families realize they possess the greatest treasure of all: each other.

    The three major buildings in Roanoke were impressive.  While each still remain standing, only one really stood out for me.  The only building that had any joyful life around it was the one that was built on a solid foundation.

    Food for the Body

    Soy, Basil, and Caper Basted Salmon!

    I’m not sure if many subscribers are aware of the web shows online.  Many of you only receive the weekly email blast.  First of all, thanks for being part of the Grace Before Meals family.  You can truly help us spread this message by encouraging family, friends, and parishioners to also sign up for the free weekly blast (not a bad investment, if I do say so myself).  Since you are sent the messages, you may not always visit the website.  It has many recipes from me and our subscribers.  Please click here to visit the website and see the webisodes.[Editors note: Or watch more here at Fr. Leo’s Youtube page]

    This week, I’d like to feature a recipe that my mother made for my dad’s birthday a few weeks ago.

    Leo with his mom

    It’s a wonderful salmon dish that was marinated in a mom’s special fusion sauce.  This picture shows my mother’s family style approach to cooking.  She simply used two large salmon steaks and cooked them whole.  I slightly revised her recipe by creating individual portions and adding a bit of sweetness with a syrup or honey marinade.

    Leo with his mom
    4 Salmon fillets

    Ingredients (serves 4)

    1/2 cup soy sauce

    ¼ cup diced tomatoes

    2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

    2 teaspoons fresh basil, chopped

    4 teaspoons capers

    2 tablespoons finely minced red onion

    2 teaspoons honey or syrup

    salt and pepper to taste

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly season salmon fillet with salt and pepper.  Combine ingredients in a separate bowl and pour over salmon.  Bake 15-20 minutes.  Serve with wild rice.

    Food for the Soul

    Prayer for Stability!

    I am sadly very aware of the seriousness of finances and the burdens it puts on families.  Please know of my prayers for you all.  As a parish priest, I struggled to make sure budgets were realistic enough to provide the services families expected from their church community.  As a formation director of future priests, I am trying to encourage them to understand the practices of fiscal responsibility and management.  We are living in tough economic times.  But, would you rather live without a few comforts now or as early Christians in the first three centuries, when being a Christian meant certain persecution or death?  We ought to count our blessings – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which shouldn’t cost us a thing.

    Let us pray: Father in Heaven, You are the almighty one on whom we should place our trust.  Help us to live responsibly and within our means. Help us to avoid the temptation of material greed that places false hope on monetary valuables.  Give us the grace to work and develop the most important investment for our families: a sincere practice of faith!  With the prayers of the Blessed Mother, who we commemorate as “Our Lady of the Rosary” during the month of October, help us to remember that Jesus grew up a poor carpenter’s son.  May we always recognize our responsibility to the poor and may we do what we can to avoid true poverty, which is a life without faith.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

    Click below to follow me @Cooking_Priest!

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    Posted in Blast from the Past, Grace Before Meals, Recipe-Fish | No Comments »

    Blast From the Past

    On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come!breakin

    Check me breakin’ it down.

    Shout out to St. Patrick’s School

    (Me with some seminarians filming some webisodes –salmon Florentine!)

    We would like to give a shout out to St. Patrick’s School in North Hollywood, CA, who we recently donated a number of older editions of Grace Before Meals to. Here’s what Carlos Tobon, their Religion, Science, Spanish, & Music Instructor, shared with us:

    (Me with some seminarians filming some webisodes –salmon Florentine!)

    “Thank you so much for the books!…[We gave] the books out to the families, and we have been hearing nothing but praise for the book’s recipes and reflections!”

    (Me with some seminarians filming some webisodes –salmon Florentine!)

    We are glad to support these great children and their school. Do you know a church group or school that could use or appreciate old books? If so, feel free to reach out to our Project Manager, Joe Hansbrough, at

    Speaking of “Joe”, the following Blast From the Past is from April 30, 2008 and recognizes a number of different Joes: St. Joseph, Pope Benedict XVI (aka Joseph Ratzinger), Msgr. Joseph Luca of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and some “Regular Joes” of the faith. We apologize for the lack of pictures from the original blast, but they’ve either been lost or replaced…but that just goes to show how far we’ve come! Thank the good Lord for organization!

    Remember, feel free to send me your thoughts, prayers, questions and comments at God Bless!


    Originally Published: April 30, 2008

    Food for the Body

    No Regular Joe!

    Tomorrow, May 1, is the great celebration for all those named Joseph and all those who work for their families!  Tomorrow is also a feast day for me, because my name is really Jose-Leo – that’s why my family calls me “Joey”!  (BUT, only family, please!)

    It’s a blessing to be named not just after Pope St. Leo the Great, but also to share the name of the foster father of Jesus.  That simply means I am definitely going to celebrate with Joseph tomorrow!

    But not so fast!  Tomorrow’s feast day actually has a qualifier. It’s not just a celebration of the regular Joes in the world, but Joseph THE WORKER!  Tomorrow’s feast day is a national holiday in Italy, where Catholics have a strong devotion to this saint.  It’s strange, but Italians (like Americans with Labor Day) commemorate work as a “gift” by taking a day off.  All irony aside, I want to dedicate this blast to a few hard working Joes!

    St. Joseph

    St. Joseph the Worker

    First, even though we now call him Pope Benedict, his baptismal name is Joseph Ratzinger.  I don’t want to rehash the papal visit of two weeks ago, but I can’t help be amazed at this 81-year-old pontiff’s work ethic.  Immediately after he returned from the United States, he was granting more audiences, including presentations at concerts, meeting heads of states, and leading liturgical services.  Just the other day I saw him in upbeat form, ordaining about 30 men to the priesthood!  I don’t know about you, but if I had just returned from a jam-packed, six-day, tour on the other side of the Atlantic, I might need a vacation before I got back to the intense work of the papal office!  But not this Joe – now nicknamed the Pope of Hope!  So, when we’re ready to complain about all of the work we have to do, let’s look to the pope for an example of untiring service!  He reminds us that in the midst of all our work, we can dedicate our labors and efforts to God, thus elevating the mundane responsibilities and prayerfully seeing them as privileges and part of God’s plan!

    Joseph Ratzinger

    Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before becoming Pope Benedict XVI

    Another hard working Joe is one of the beloved pastors of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  This man was ordained the year I was born.  Now, I still can’t picture myself having even lived that long, but I’ll bet that many years of service would leave me pretty tired!  Yet, after 30-something years of ministry (and a dedicated and demanding priestly ministry), he’s still building beautiful new churches, renovating historical chapels, leading a humongous professional staff, and shepherding over 4,500 families!  He is also a mentor who works very, very hard to strengthen priestly fraternity.  Msgr. Joseph Luca is the one who actually helps me improve my culinary skills by hosting a monthly prayer meeting with a group of about 15 to 20 priests.  It is there that I have the opportunity to try different recipes and techniques.  But after many years of service, you would think he would rather receive an invitation to these events instead of hosting them.  His work is the catalyst for our gathering.  His hospitality is the reason for guys to return.  Although I do most of the work in the kitchen, Msgr. Joseph Luca is definitely working the hardest to ensure a spiritual fraternity among our priests.

    Msgr. Joseph Luca

    Msgr. Joseph Luca

    Finally, the last Joe I want to highlight are really “Joes” plural.  They are the seminarians with whom I had the opportunity to serve this past year.  As this academic year comes to a close, I will complete my first year as a faculty member at my venerable institution.  I recognize how these guys are working, and working hard!  Beside the rigors stress of post-graduate studies, these guys are also taking their prayer lives very seriously.  Oftentimes I’ll pass by the chapel and see men on their knees in prayer, or sitting silently for meditation.  It’s really quite humbling.  These guys also take time for service in the community and in their various pastoral field education assignments.  Many of them drive about one hour each way for these field education assignments.  They also work very hard to make sure they develop all the effective human skills to make them as effective instruments as possible.  The four pillars of formation (i.e., human, spiritual, pastoral and academic formation) keep these guys from being regular Joes.  These “Joe’s,” through God’s grace, will also be transformed into those Joes of our faith, who are really heroes!

    Msgr. Joseph Luca

    Seminarians at Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte, NC (2009)

    Consider those in your own family those who work hard.  Perhaps you can reward them for their work, or at least thank them!  In an age when the male or “father” figure is either missing from the family scene, or made to look like a bad guy – or worse, to look stupid – let’s consider a dinner conversation about St. Joseph the Worker and see how we can be more like him.  It’s possible to do.  I just gave you three examples of what meditation of St. Joseph’s life did for these men.

    We can all learn much from St. Joseph who – often as a loving observer, which is often also God’s perspective – showed us that he is no regular Joe!

    Food for the Body

    A Double-Stuffed Chicken Parmesan!

    This week’s extraordinary portion of a chicken Parmesan I for no ordinary Joe.  It’s a Double-Stuffed Chicken Parmesan, served over fresh field greens.  It’s prepped in a pan and finished off in the oven to create a crispy outside texture while keeping the inside of the chicken tender, moist and well-seasoned with my version of a quick marinara!  Click here for the recipe.

    Double-Stuffed Chicken Parmesan (Serves 4)


    4 chicken breasts

    Eggwash: 2 eggs beaten with 2 teaspoons water

    1 cup all-purpose flour

    2 cups Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs

    salt and pepper

    4 tablespoons olive oil

    2 tablespoons regular, salted butter

    8 slices provolone cheese

    Marinara sauce

    2 tablespoons olive oil

    ¼ cup minced white onion

    1 garlic clove, finely minced

    4 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley

    1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

    2 tablespoons tomato paste

    ½ cup white wine

    2 cups tomato sauce

    1 teaspoon salt

    ½ teaspoon black pepper


    Preheat oven to 375°.  Butterfly chicken breasts and pound to tenderize.  Season chicken with salt and pepper on each side and dredge in all-purpose flour.  Pass both sides through egg wash and dredge in bread crumbs.  Heat olive oil and butter in a large nonstick skillet, and cook chicken for about 2 minutes on each side, or until each side turns golden brown.  Remove and place on a baking sheet.

    Marinara sauce

    Heat olive oil in a saucepan.  Add onions, garlic, parsley, and pepper flakes and cook until onions become translucent.  Add the tomato paste and wine and mix together.  Let this cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and season with salt and pepper.

    Assembly and baking:

    Spread a tablespoon of marinara on one side of the chicken.  Add a slice of provolone cheese and then fold the chicken over.  Add another tablespoon of marinara on top of the chicken and another slice of provolone.  If necessary, use a toothpick to keep the chicken together.  Cook uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve over field greens,marinated with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  This dish combines the flavors of chicken Parmesan, but with a tinge of white wine in the marinara, and doubled over for an “extra” reason to celebrate!

    Food for the Soul

    Prayers for Workers

    Be sure to say a prayer for all of those in your family who are working hard to keep the family together.  They may be in a “regular job” like all the other “regular Joe’s,” but with faith, they, too, can be transformed into laborers who are building up the kingdom of God, right here and right now!

    Let us pray:

    For the gift of labor, we thank You!  For the gift of the laborer, we thank You!  For those who are treated unjustly at their work, we implore Your mercy; and give them strength and change the hearts of their employers to be fair and kind.  For those who are unemployed, we ask they receive Your help and guidance to find meaningful work.  For all of us, help us to work in Your vineyard so that we, too, can experience St. Joseph’s joy in caring for Jesus by working and caring for those in need.  Amen.

    Click below to follow me @Cooking_Priest!

    Posted in Blast from the Past, Food for the Body, Food for the Soul, Food for Thought, Grace Before Meals, Recipe-Meats, Recipe-Sauce | No Comments »

    Blast From the Past

    Old School Cookout

    On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come!  We will also take this opportunity to review some of our upcoming events and opportunities, like:

    (1) I have finally converted my facebook profile into a public page so please be sure to “Like” our page at!

    (2) I just wrapped up filming the show, “Savoring The Faith” down in Alabama for EWTN. Stay tuned for when it airs!

    (3) Be sure to check out the “Recipes” section of our website, and feel free to send me more of your favorite recipes at!

    (4) I shall be returning to the realm of video soon, including webisodes from the Mediterranean Culinary Cruise and Napa Valley Retreat.

    (5)  And our movement continues to grow when you’re willing to share the website with family, friends, and other parishioners!  Thanks for sharing the good news about our growing movement.


    Originally Sent: July 1, 2009

    Food for the Body

    The Right to be Free!

    One of the greatest culinary experiences I’ve felt is the feeling of being “free” from the restrictions of recipes.  Don’t get me wrong; I still review recipes all the time.  But after a period of studying particular recipes, learning proper techniques, practicing and critically experimenting with different cuisine, and even praying through many trials and errors, I feel confident enough to not be bound by following specific cooking instructions.

    One of the Mount St. Mary’s seminarians from the Archdiocese of Atlanta sent me an interesting article about cooking more with a mentality of ratios rather than being enslaved to a recipe.  It’s something that relates to this week’s topic of Freedom.  The analysis indicated that cooking well has nothing to do with whether or not you are using a recipe.  No, Freedom in cooking is not a matter of “either/or,” but rather of “both/and.”

    (Me with some seminarians filming some webisodes –salmon Florentine!)

    (Me with some seminarians filming some webisodes –salmon Florentine!)

    In a certain sense, this cooking analogy applies to life.  Living the right to be free requires following rules, but also not fearing healthy exploration of things.  Freedom requires learning, study, and practice – as much as cooking, sports, and praying!  Sure, one can cook, play a sport, or go to church without all the trouble of formality and technique.  (And I’m not suggesting we throw away formality!  We need all of that too. )  But we also ought to consider how the true meaning of Freedom in anything requires discipline of learning about it as well as practicing it well enough to the point you’re comfortable doing it without a “recipe.”

    Unfortunately, our modern, fast food mentality expects understanding Freedom to come as easy as ordering a Big Mac or a Whopper.  We don’t’ think twice about Fourth of July Freedom and the responsibility that comes with it.

    Without discipline, Freedom is easily confused and all too often abused.  Without learning about the power of Freedom, it’s easy to turn Freedom into a destructive force.  If we do not practice the virtues that are required of a truly free person – such as patience, compassion, and humility – it’s easy to take our Freedom for granted and to even misuse it.  It’s easy to see how a confused understanding of Freedom leads to the self-destructive abuse of good things.  A poor understanding of Freedom can lead good things such as food, alcohol, beauty, or freedom of choice to turn into obesity, alcoholism, hedonism, and the death of a child.

    We have a lot to learn about the true meaning of Freedom!

    (Mosaic in lower basilica in Lourdes, France. Jesus freely chose to carry the cross for our sins.)

    (Mosaic in lower basilica in Lourdes, France. Jesus freely chose to carry the cross for our sins.)

    This week our country celebrates Independence Day.  It’s a day to remember how Freedom is an inalienable right that comes from God – not from the government.  We don’t learn Freedom from simply listening to political speeches.  To understand Freedom, we have to put it into practice.  Would you reading a recipe but never cook it?  To understand how Freedom is a right, we must also understand how Freedom is a great gift that requires great responsibility.  In this week’s blast, I’d also like to challenge my readers to consider how exercising Freedom is also a skill that requires practice, just like everything else we may consider important in our life – cooking, sports, a hobby, and praying!

    (Young child and mother praying at the tomb of St. Monica in the Basilica of San Agostino in Rome)

    (Young child and mother praying at the tomb of St. Monica in the Basilica of San Agostino in Rome)

    It’s important to make sure that our Fourth of July celebration is more than burgers and barbecue.  Whether your country celebrates an independence day or not, we are all called to live in Freedom.  That that doesn’t mean a life without moral boundaries, legal protections, or even accepting limitations to our desires due to the limited nature of our humanity.  To be free is to ultimately recognize our citizenship in Heaven, and to live our life on earth headed in that direction.

    (Angel pointing to the entrance to the Stations of the Cross in Lourdes, France.)

    (Angel pointing to the entrance to the Stations of the Cross in Lourdes, France.)

    Food for the Body

    Rice’s Cake Recipe.

    Last week I promised I’d provide a recipe for a delicious cake I had at Bob and Jen Rice’s family home.  They graciously hosted the speakers and team members of last week’s Steubenville Retreat for more than 2,000 high-school students.

    While there, I sampled several of Jen Rice’s creations.  If you remember, her husband Bob challenged me to the break dancing competition. She demonstrated some great culinary skills, i.e., freedom in her kitchen, by her ability to be both a “cook” and a “baker.”   As promised, she sent me her cake recipe.  Thank God for that because obviously I don’t have the “freedom” to bake anything near as delicious as that.  Remember, Freedom (like cooking) takes practice!

    Raspberry Lemon Meringue Cake


    3 Cups flour

    1 tsp baking powder

    1/2 tsp baking soda

    1/2 tsp salt

    1 Cup milk

    Peel of 2 lemons, finely grated

    1/2 Cup lemon juice

    2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

    2 1/2 Cups powdered sugar

    4 large eggs

    3 egg whites at room temp

    11 oz. jar lemon curd

    1 1/2 Cups fresh raspberries (I added blueberries too)

    (Jen Rice with her delicious cake!)

    (Jen Rice with her delicious cake!)

    Instructions: Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour two 9″ cake pans.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, and salt.  In a small bowl, stir together milk, lemon peal, and lemon juice.  Beat butter and 2 cups powdered sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Then add half flour mixture, then milk mixture, then remaining flour mixture, mixing after each addition.  Divide batter between buttered or sprayed pans and bake 25 min.  Let cool for 10 min in pans on a baking rack.

    Beat remaining powdered sugar and egg whites.  Place over a saucepan of barely simmering water and cook, whisking until sugar dissolves and mixture is hot to the touch (2-3 minutes).  Remove from heat and beat on high until stiff peaks form and mixture is cool (7-10 min).  Remove cake from pans and place one cake layer on cake plate.  Spread half of curd on cake.  Top with berries, then drizzle remaining curd evenly over berries.  Place other cake layer on top of raspberries.  Top cake with meringue.  Click here for a meringue recipe.  Preheat broiler to high.  Broil cake until meringue peaks are golden (about 2 minutes).

    Food for the Soul

    Praying for Celebrities

    Last week, I called into the very popular Sirius/XM radio show, “The Catholic Guy,” hosted by Lino Rulli.  Even though we’re pretty good friends, I never know what he’s going to say or do on air with me.  In fact, when I admitted that Jared, one of his producers is one of my favorite people on his radio show, Lino hung up on me!  I guess he was jealous that I didn’t say that he was my favorite person on his radio show.

    (Lino sitting across from me, with a group of seminarians traveling through New York.)

    (Lino sitting across from me, with a group of seminarians traveling through New York.)

    The reason I called into the show was because he was asking the listeners about their practice of remembering celebrities in prayers.  We’ve had a lot of deaths of very well known people this past week: Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Billy Mays, and of course, Michael Jackson.  My call to Lino’s show was to offer my thought about praying for celebrities.  If we let our Hollywood people know we’re praying for them while they are alive – not in a judgmental way but as a parent or friend would pray for someone headed down a wrong path – then perhaps they would be more inclined to listening to us while they are alive, rather than listening to our prayers once they are dead.

    They definitely need our prayers, because of their public status and, therefore, their responsibility to the public.  Hollywood celebrities need to understand the privileges they have, because of their popular status doesn’t warrant an unbounded Freedom.  In fact, if they see Freedom as a gift, as a responsibility, and as a skill, then perhaps we would not have as many tragic young deaths of these popular figures.  Hopefully, and more importantly, then they wouldn’t have to live such difficult or conflicted lives.  My suggestion is to remember all of the faithful departed in prayer, especially those who have had influential roles in our world’s history and culture.  May they experience God’s Freedom, which the media seems to rob them of once they become famous.

    Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we pray for all of the beloved dead.  It’s always a good thing to pray for the dead because it helps us not to fear death, and in fact learn something important about life.  Namely, that life is temporary.  No matter how great we are in this world, we are still human and won’t live forever.  Therefore, help me to pray a sincere prayer for all of those who have died, especially those who have influence in culture, both great and small.  Have mercy on their souls and grant them Your forgiveness, which is ultimately an invitation to Your heavenly banquet.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    (Statues in Lourdes, France – Placing Jesus in the Tomb.)

    (Statues in Lourdes, France – Placing Jesus in the Tomb.)

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    Posted in Blast from the Past, Food for the Body, Food for the Soul, Food for Thought, Grace Before Meals, Recipe- Dessert | No Comments »