Special Diets & Special Prayers



Thanks to all of you who have sent me e-mails and posts, either on my Facebook page, or Twitter Account, or directly responding to our emails.  This week, I wanted to respond to some special situations – whether it be a special diet or a special occasion that needs some pastoral guidance and sensitivity.  I hope you can share these thoughts with your family, friends, and parishioners.  While I can’t guarantee I’ll have all of the answers, I can at least offer a pastoral perspective – and even a few culinary tips along the way.  And please know that your responses and questions are greatly appreciated.  So please keep them coming!

I’m not a very good baker, but was very proud to make a delicious crust for a plum and Meyer lemon glaze.

Fr Leo,


Have you ever made Bread that is gluten and dairy free?  I make gluten free cakes, pies, and bread for a priest who is a friend, but I can’t quite get a recipe  to come out the way it should.  Can you give me any advice?


God Bless, “LF”



Once again, while I’m not a skilled baker, I was able to produce some delicious apple and sweet gorgonzola cream filled profiteroles for a “Best Buddies” fund-raiser for those with special needs.

Dear “LF,”


As you may know, I’m more of a savory cook than I am a baker.  And, unfortunately, my limited culinary training did not provide me with specialized diets or alternatives.  My culinary perspectives focus on family dinners, celebration meals, eclectic-fusion cuisine, and elevating common foods.  But I’m definitely growing in my appreciation for farm-to-table eating and the Slow Food movement, as long as people don’t treat these as a “religion.”  My biggest culinary disadvantage is dietary specializations – such as gluten-free or other health related cooking.



In an attempt to use even healthier starches, I’m using more quinoa, which requires a good rinsing before cooking. And to help give some flavor to this generally bitter grain, I add a touch of honey mustard and lime, along with grilled aromatics, such as garlic, onion, and carrots.

However, I can at least point those with special dietary needs to a few good and popular websites, such as:







Hope these expert bloggers can help inspire you to more soul satisfying foods that are good for you and your guests, including those lucky parish priests for whom you cook!   


At the Seattle International Food Bloggers Conference 2010, which tries to teach bloggers how best to get their unique culinary perspective to the public. There were many bloggers with unique dietary instructions and tips.

          Fr. Leo –


I have had the opportunity to hear you speak, taste an outstanding monte cristo sandwich with strawberry sauce and to read your many emails.  I say “thank you and thank God for your witness and voice”.  You are completely right that all people need to bring the family back to the table for shared time and shared dining.  It is something we have always tried to do in our immediate family as well as with extended family.


I am a mother of six and my first born son is getting married soon [….and…] I have offered to host their rehearsal dinner at our home; about 25 people.  

My question to you is about the menu.  A wonderful chef friend is making for us a bean and spinach lasagna.  Do you have any other ideas for appetizers and vegetables?  [And, do you have any suggestions for] a prayer for them to [that I can] recite to myself during the ceremony?  My prayer for them is that they find their faith together.


Thank you Fr. Leo for all your work, prayers and enthusiasm.  




At an event at George Mason University, I ran into a former parishioner, a great altar server, and now he’s married! We all grow up! And as a sign of my support, I gave him a copy of my book, Spicing Up Married Life.

Dear “BB,”


Your kind words are greatly appreciated, and I’m glad to hear you’re doing what you can to instill a perspective of faithfulness in your son, who will soon be married!  I know it’s never easy to impart faith to a younger generation, but I can honestly say that our actions (such as you graciously hosting the rehearsal dinner and events) speak loudly, inspire softly, and encourage gently.


So, regarding some menu suggestions.  I can say that I have several on my website and in my books, especially in Spicing Up Married Life (how convenient is that)!  I also have done some simple appetizers on my TV Show, Savoring our Faith on EWTN.  So click on the link to visit the website for even more recipes.



And not to beat the same drum, but building strong marriages and relationships is something I hold pretty sacred.  So to answer your question about prayers you can say on behalf of your children, you can find several of those in Spicing Up Married Life as well.  In fact I’ve often suggested giving this book to newlyweds as a gift.  It comes complete with inspiring theological lessons about marriage, award-winning and home-tested recipes, questions to engage deeper conversation that can lead to a deeper conversion, and of course – PRAYERS they can say together!  In other words, all of your questions can get answered in ONE BOOK!  And it could continue to provide your son and his fiancée with both food and food for thought long after their blessed day.  

This couple preparing for marriage also helped me during my entertainment piece at Steubenville’s Youth Conference in the Northeast. It’s true that a couple that prays together will know how to play and work together!


Let us pray: 


Father, there will always be special events and needs in our lives.  Help us to always turn to You, so that You can point us in the right direction in order to find the best possible solution for these special circumstances.  Grant that we will always be open to hearing Your guidance, even if it’s challenging!  And give us the Grace to always respond, and thus be filled with enough Grace to share it with others.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Do you have questions for Fr. Leo?  Or comments or recipe sharing suggestions?  Post your comments here!

 This Week’s Recipe:


Chilled Honey Dew Soup with Siracha Spiced Salmon



 September 29-October 1


 Sioux City, IA

October 4
Fargo, ND
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Posted September 18th, 2013 | Menu Inspiration, Recipe, Recipes, Savoring Our Faith, Video



Corn Tortilla Soup


View of Bodega Bay, Ca.

This summer I visited the Bodega Bay area in California.  It offers such a different feel from the rest of state that it reminded me how guilty I can still be of stereotyping at times. Stereotypes in general aren’t helpful, so I’m happy to say that this beautiful coastal part of the world really humbled me.  It made me realize (once again) how big our world is.  While I’ve traveled quite a bit to spread the Good News and our Grace Before Meals movement’s message, I haven’t even scratched the surface.

I shouldn’t be surprised, though.  God who made the world reflects His deeply mysterious and beautiful presence in and through His creation.

Natural rock formations high above the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s amazing to drive from a serene coastal area complete with foggy mornings and chilly evenings in July, then drive just about one hour to the almost Tuscany-like Italian terrain and weather of Napa Valley.  Go a different direction and you’ll encounter Giant Redwoods.  Or drive in yet another direction and see the mountain view from a historical lighthouse still in use today!

View of Castello di Amarosa in Napa Valley.


And talk about diversity?  We stopped in San Francisco for a visit and came across goats being used to eat through overgrown weeds and brambles.  Not exactly what I thought I’d see in a big city – but then again, stereotypes shouldn’t apply.

What looks like a difficult task for landscapers, these “hired” goats find this an urban smorgasbord.


Yes, God continues to humble me through my traveling ministry as an “itinerant preacher.”  He reveals His beauty through nature.  It is our job to preserve it and celebrate it.  And, of course, one of the best ways to celebrate God’s glory is through food!



Statue of St. Francis of Assisi located at the Franciscan Winery in Santa Barbara, Ca.

To help get through some of the chilly evenings at Bodega Bay, I made a tortilla soup using leftover nachos.  Our group already had our share of these as a snack, and over a period of days, the chips lost their crispy crunch.  But I didn’t want to waste the chips, even if they aren’t very expensive food.  So, in the spirit of not wasting, and in the spirit of trying to be more like God – who can create something remarkable out of nothing – I let the creative juices flow, and voilà:  creamy tortilla soup.  The creamy deep flavors of a familiar snack, but elevated with white wine, cheese, and fresh cilantro.  It’s hearty, sophisticated, and breaks the stereotypes of how to eat regular store-bought (and leftover) nachos!

For this delicious recipe click the picture below:
Creamy Corn Tortilla Soup

 Check out this week’s episode of “Savoring Our Faith”: 

Posted in Menu Inspiration, Recipe, Recipes, Savoring Our Faith, Video | 2 Comments »

Posted September 11th, 2013 | Dinner Discussion, Events, In Memory, Savoring Our Faith


September 11th – 

A Day to Remember Hope


These teens and chaperones were from the Newton, Ct., contingency for the Steubenville Youth Conference. I had the chance to share a personalized message of hope with them, as they continue to grow in strength and Grace after the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in December 2012. What a GREAT group of inspiring people. I told them that one day, I’d love the chance to visit and cook for them. They were happy to hear it and hungry for it!

The date 9/11 will always be significant for our Grace Before Meals movement.  The first chapter of my first book recalls how this tragic day interrupted a planned European trip with some priest friends.  As a result, an intimately linked sequence of events led to the idea of Grace Before Meals as way to strengthen, heal, and give hope to our human family, beginning with our own families.


I whipped up a meal for my family – pan-seared salmon over a creamy asparagus jasmine risotto, pickled soy beans and radishes.

This date reminds us of some tragic memories for sure.  But it also points to the hope that can come from the struggles of life.  There’s always hope.  We just have to remember that.  God is always working – even when we don’t know it or see it.  Who could ever imagine that after such a tragic day, God would inspire a few priests, who love to eat, to initiate an international grass roots movement sharing hope through the gift of food?


Students at George Mason University, where I did a presentation at the start of their school year. The large crowds really came for the food served by their campus ministry team. But they also got food for the soul with different speakers and presenters.

Today is a NEW day to make good memories.  At Grace Before Meals, one of our objectives is to make sure that we focus a little more on the good God is doing, so that we can help improve our future as God’s human family.


Chef Merten of Cafe 225 in Visalia, Ca., donated his time and efforts, and with the assistance of young volunteers, he helped at an event to raise money for a parish young adult pilgrimage to Rome. What a great investment to support young people to experience the universal Church in pilgrimage.

In that spirit of remembering, we hope you enjoyed our walk down memory lane with our “Blasts from the Past” during the summer months.  Our team needed the time for rest and also some serious discernment about where our movement is going in the future.  God willing, we’ll have some exciting news to share with all of you.  While some of you may remember the dishes and discussions from these favorite Blasts, we believe our Blasts from the Past still provide morsels of truth and inspiration – even if they are “leftovers!”

Over the summer, I “reinvented” a meatloaf into a delicious spaghetti Bolognese. Creativity is an important culinary craft!

In this first e-blast after a summer break, I’d like to share some of my summer memories.  It’s been a whirlwind.  While in the midst of parish liturgies and events, I also traveled to Italy for some work.  I had the honor to be a speaker for a few Steubenville Youth Conferences across the country.  I continued my work on a catechetical video for the Augustine Institute in Denver, while celebrating, presenting, and cooking for other various organizations across the country.


Some of the teens at the “Chosen” conference for Steubenville Conferences in Denver.

On one special occasion, I was even invited to give a keynote presentation for the Department of Health and Human Services on the topic of Healthy Marriages and responsible fatherhood.  Despite some of the Federal Government’s controversial health care programs that force religious institutions to pay for, and allocate tax monies for, abortive inducing contraceptives, they invited me to present on my new book – Spicing Up Married Life.  Like the message of the book, this message of the talk was a hit!  It’s because I’m simply revealing some of the universal truths about a healthy marriage.  Nearly 500 people attended this event, and I even received a standing ovation.  Talk about how God is using our movement to help bridge communities rather than tear it apart.


Posing with some of the conference staff after a busy meet and greet and book signing.

But besides all of the evangelization efforts, this past summer also let me create new recipes, taste new foods, and share the blessings of the food with family and friends.  As I said, it most importantly provided me a chance to discern what I believe God is asking of me and my priesthood in service to the New Evangelization. 

Some of the Stefanik Family. Chris Stefanick is one of the Catholic Church’s most popular and effective apologists for chastity, speaking against relativism, and promoting the New Evangelization. His daughter, Genevieve, even made us a cake for our dessert – as thank you for making them a meal

In upcoming blasts, I’ll share more photos, recipes, inspirations, and memories from this summer.  That’s what this date is all about!  So stay tuned for more each week.

Yes, we can easily remember the tragedy – and we should remember to keep these events in memory and in prayer.  Yet, we also have to remember that God always brings out some good if we allow it.  Remember the blessings and the Grace – including Grace Before Meals!

At a recent fund raising auction dinner for the Catholic Coalition for Education of Children with Special Needs, I cooked for a gathering that wanted to honor the memory of a young special needs child who died from a tragic accident. From this sad experience, family and friends rallied to celebrate the love and memory of this child who taught so many special lessons about life and love.


Let Us Pray:


Father, bless our memories.  Purify them so that even the difficult ones will bear fruits of Grace and trust in You.  Help us to see the past as lessons for the present and to always have hope in the future.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.


Jesus Christ seated on His Throne Statue in St. Francis Church in San Francisco, Ca.


  • What is your favorite summer 2013 memory? 
  • What was your favorite meal that you cooked or ate over this past summer ?
Your comments help us stay in touch with our faithful foodie Grace Before Meals
members.  Please leave a comment, ask questions, or share your ideas with me, and help keep our movement going strong.


Next Week:  Menu Inspiration for Corn Tortilla Soup





 This Week’s Recipe:


Lemon Pepper Crusted Sea Bass


 September 13




September 14

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Posted September 4th, 2013 | Blast from the Past, Chicken, Past Emails, Recipe



Fr. Leo’s summer is coming to a close, and will be back next week to share some new adventures. We have one more Blast from the Past published at the beginning of 2009. You’ll notice references to things that are no longer the case, such as teaching at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary or drafting Spicing Up Married Life, which came out last year (Get your copy HERE). But the lesson of making time to focus on God and reconfirm your faith is a timeless one indeed. 
Additionally, you should check your plans for next January and May in case you are able to make one of Fr. Leo’s pilgrimages before they sell out!
First, Fr. Leo’s January 19-29, 2014 trip to the Holy Land is almost sold out, so you should act fast to sign up before it is too late. It will be a wonderful adventure with food, faith and an opportunity to walk the same places that Jesus did. Click on the banner to find out more:
Second, Fr. Leo is joining popular radio host Teresa Tomeo Pastore (“The Catholic Connection”) and her husband, Deacon Dom Pastore on a Rome-antic Pilgrimage from May 18-27, 2014, visiting Italy and leading a special retreat for couples. Click on the Banner below to get more information:

And finally, it has been long overdue for another Bite-Sized Theology lesson. This week’s Bite-Size Theology Lesson is about Jesus as a Foodie! Click the picture to hear Fr. Leo’s bite-sized tip, only on GraceBeforeMeals.com. 


AUDIO: Click to hear Fr. Leo’s Bite Size Theology for the week.



Retreating to Take My Own Medicine

Originally published January 14, 2009


Each year Catholic priests make a personal retreat.  It’s a time to bring their hopes, fears, and prayers to Jesus.


The retreat is not a helpful suggestion; it’s a mandate enforced by canon law.  Making a retreat is serious stuff.  The reason is simple: we can become so busy that we forget the most important thing we can do in life is pray.

Families tell me how difficult it is to make time for family prayers, weekly Mass, and even to remember to say grace before meals.  If you followed along last year, you will remember how busy it was for us with travels for speaking engagements, taping new web shows, meetings, writing a weekly column, and most important, my day job doing formation work for seminarians.  Believe me; I had all kinds of excuses for pushing my retreat to the last minute.But, with the grace of God I finally fulfilled my 2008 annual retreat obligation.  The last day of my retreat was December 30th, 2008. Talk about pushing the limits!

When the seminarians returned from their Christmas break, they began this year with their retreat, led by Fr. Raneiro Cantalmessa, who is the Apostolic Preacher to the Papal Household.  That means Fr. Cantalamessa preaches to the Pope and all the Bishops who live in Vatican. My retreat and the seminarians’ retreat offered similar themes for reflection, which I’d like to share with the Grace Before Meals family.

One theme was focus on Jesus.  It may seem simple, but it’s quite a lofty challenge. My retreat afforded me the quiet to remember Jesus for who He is: God, the Lord of my life.  That can be a very difficult thing to fully live.  We love to take charge of everything, sometimes forgetting the first commandment. God is God, not me.  Fr. Cantalamessa observed that worldly discussions, whether political, sociological, scientific, or even ecumenical can downplay Jesus Christ. Somehow Jesus remains a very challenging figure for us.  Just consider Christmas; Is it really about the person of Jesus or more about celebrating a happy holiday?  Wouldn’t it be difficult for people today to sincerely say, “I hope you have a blessed Christmas.”  Fr. Cantalmessa’s point accurately describes our “God-lessening” society.  Our busy lives, bad company, expensive or time consuming hobbies, and our own sins can easily distract our focus on the person of Jesus Christ.   That’s why retreats and taking time for substantial prayer is very helpful to regain our focus on the most important person in our faith life.

A second theme was the idea of eating.  On my retreat, I had a small kitchenette to cook all of my meals because the retreat center’s food service was closed.  I actually preferred that because I created some fun, rustic, and soul satisfying food, such as a pan-roasted rib eye with root veggies and fresh romaine salad.

I honestly sensed God’s encouragement to take this Grace Before Meals movement seriously.  I realize that many people may think what I’m doing is just for fun.  I’ve even heard people call it a “priest shtick.”  But, people are truly hungry in body, mind, and spirit, and we have a responsibility to feed them with faith, hope, and love.  This retreat made me refocus my efforts to make sure that we continue to promote this movement, which is now worldwide.  I even used the retreat to finish the first draft of my newest book, Spicing Up Married Life, which contains a combination of essays, questions, and recipes to strengthen a couple’s love for each other. [Editor’s Note: SUML was released in September 2012 and is available here].  So, eating was an important part of my own retreat.

Fr. Cantalamessa also used this theme when he challenged the men to make sure that seminarians are “eating the scroll,” a reference to Ezekiel 3:3.  It’s not enough to just study theology; we must digest it and take it into ourselves as nutrients from food adhere to our very bodies.  He encouraged seminarians not only live in God’s Word, but by eating the scroll we allow His Word to live in us.

When I heard him preach like that I wanted to stand up and cheer. Retreats give individuals and families an opportunity to reconfirm faith.  In retreats, we receive clarity in our concerns.  The quiet of the retreat brings us closer to knowing, loving, and serving Jesus Christ.  I’ll be leading a few retreats and conferences this year. Check out the Events page of the website for details on joining us for these extended moments of prayer.  If you want to make a spiritual pilgrimage with me, please know I have a few spots available for the trip.  We begin in Lourdes, France and make our way to Rome, Italy.  Come and join us. Click here for the information. [Editors note: These trips are no longer available, but you can check out the links above to go to Fr. Leo’s trip to the Holy Land in January and trip to Italy in May].

In these first few weeks of the New Year, there’s still time to look ahead and plan for some retreat opportunities this year (including my trip to Europe).

When I write these weekly blasts, I’m always encouraging families to make sure they have a balanced diet of activities, including time for prayer.  I took my own advice and made the time to go on my retreat last year.  Even though it’s tough to break away from the hectic pace of the modern world, I’m so glad I did.  This retreat left me very satisfied and even hungrier to seek God’s love in my life and to share it with all of you.

Spirit of the Living God


Fr. Cantalamessa shared some of his spiritual renewal experience through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in America during the 1970s.  This much needed life and breath of Catholic spirituality helped many people focus on the Holy Spirit to truly know the enthusiastic power of God in our lives.   During his last homily, he led us in singing a song that asks for the Holy Spirit to fall afresh on us.  At the end of the retreat, the Rector spoke about the privilege it was for all of us, especially seminarians, to listen to the Pope’s preacher.  Both the Rector (left) and our house spiritual director (right), agreed that this retreat was like sitting at the foot of a spiritual master.

Let us Pray:
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.  
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. 
Melt me. Mold me.  Fill me. Use me. 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.

 Rustic Retreat Cuisine


As mentioned before, I had the chance to cook on my retreat.  Don’t worry, I didn’t eat all of this myself.  I was cooking for me and another priest friend, Fr. Tim, who occupied the cabin next door.  He remembered eating my cooking when I was a student in Rome, but hasn’t had the chance to sample my cuisine lately.  Here are some of my menu items: pan-roasted bone-in rib eye steaks with roasted root vegetables and romaine lettuce vinaigrette.  Another evening I made penne with norcina sauce (creamy white wine, sage, and sausage) with a side of sautéed spinach and red onions.

Click here for the Stuffed Chicken with Tomato Sauce.

I also made a stuffed chicken cutlet over spicy tomato rice and steamed broccoli and carrots with a paprika aoli.  The rest of the time, I ate leftovers. Click here for the stuffed chicken recipe. If you have any recipes, pictures, or stories to share, please pass them along to www.gracebeforemeals.com.

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Posted in Blast from the Past, Chicken, Past Emails, Recipe | 1 Comment »