Posted February 26th, 2014 | CRS Rice Bowl, Epic Food Fight, Events, Faithful Foodie, Video


Dining Diversity

Spice Market celebrating local and fusion flavors

Food has a powerful way of triggering memories.  If we learn how to make foods that bring us to happy places or evoke happier memories, I firmly believe we would be happier people.  The connection between food and memory makes perfect sense when we celebrate the commemorative meal, the time Jesus said, “Eat and drink this in memory of me.”

Celebrating Mass in the tomb of Jesus, Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem.

In this E-mail Blast I’d like to encourage our recent pilgrims and you – our future pilgrims – to consider how the diverse foods can evoke different memories.  In our recent trip, we literally tasted the “bitter herbs” to evoke the passion of Christ.  We sampled different applications of milk and honey that flowed from the Holy Land.  We incorporated the local and imported spices, prepared the fresh picked produce, and learned how to use local foods like dates and sesame seed to create sweet and savory applications.  We improved our palates and learned more about enology while seeing how our faith is very much like a grape seed, which bears fruit, is transformed into wine, and eventually transubstantiated through Grace.

Different flavors – sweet and savory – open market Jerusalem.

At the same time, we fed our souls with different experiences of church styles, architecture, and of course different places that marked the life of Jesus.

The Mount of Temptation – where Jesus conquered the temptations of the devil.

Unfortunately, people may say church is “boring” because it’s “always the same.”  While the tradition has changed very little over the past 2000 years, we can say that we change, and therefore each experience of church ought to be reflective of our lived experience every day. So if people say church and Mass are boring, it’s only because the people in the pews are boring.  And that is not to say that they are boring people, but that they are not engaging the Mass.  They are not bringing anything new to that experience.  They are not evolving in their own prayer life, and therefore, they are “bored” because they are not engaging their senses, i.e., they are “boring” themselves.  People with a true zest for life are never bored. They see each day – no matter how routine or monotonous it may be – to be an opportunity to experience something anew.

One thing we can do is learn how to pray the Our Father in a different language.

On another level, I’ve also heard from people on other tours complain how the food in the Holy Land was “all the same.”  That monotony is certainly a possibility as some trips are “cookie cut” and take pilgrims only to touristic styled eateries.  However, I insisted that should NEVER happen on my trips, simply because our experience of faith is so diverse. God is never monotonous, nor should be our experience of food.  So, I insisted that our foods during this trip reflect the different spiritual experiences we had at the different churches where we had the Feast at Mass.

Pilgrims in the jail where Jesus was “held” on the night he was betrayed.

Creating a forum for diversity worked!  Each day excitement grew with every meal, with every church visit, and with every prayer experience.  While there were certainly some traditional aspects that can never be replaced for the sake of innovation, everyone experienced unique aspects of each church and restaurant.  Diversity in dining, just like the experience of the Divine, is a good thing – as long as it roots us back to the truth of who we are as God’s children. 

Renewing our Baptismal Promises at the more accurate location along the Jordan River.

To help us experience the diversity of the faith experiences as well as the culinary experiences, I listed all the churches where we celebrated Mass along with the different restaurants where we experienced the extension of our fellowship around the dinner table. 

The Church of the Annunciation.

List of Churches:

(1)  Stella Maris Church in Jaifa – where Elijah experienced God in the whisper of the wind, and the center of the devotion of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

(2)  The Basilica of the Nativity – where Mary said yes to the Angel Gabriel and conceived Emanuel – God is with us.

(3)  Cana – where couples renewed their wedding vows.

(4)  Mount of Beatitudes – the hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee where Jesus gave us the Beatitudes.

(5)  Good Shepherd Parish – where the Franciscans run a local parish in Jericho, the oldest city in the world.

(6)  The Grotto – in Bethlehem, near to the place where Jesus our Lord was born.

(7)  The Holy Sepulcher – the actual tomb where Jesus was buried and where he Resurrected.

(8)  The Basilica of the Agony – on the rock near the Mount of Olives.

(9)   Notre Dame – the Romanesque chapel in our hotel.

(10) St. John the Baptist Church – in Ein Karem, where John the Baptist was born.

Flan with sweetened carrots served at the Armenian Restaurant, Old City in Jerusalem.

List of Restaurants:

(1) Amara Brothers – in Cana, where we had local shawarma.

(2) Magdelena – in Migdal, where Chef Yousef prepared the St. Peter’s Fish.

(3) Green Valley Restaurant – in Jericho, where we picked local produce and had a cooking demonstration of a sauté leafy green warm salad.

(4) Grotto Restaurant – overlooking Shepherds’ Field, where we sampled a Bedouin recipe of lamb prepared in a clay pot.

(5)  Eucalyptus Restaurant – where Chefs for Peace provided a feast of local flavors.

(6)  Pasha Restaurant – in Jerusalem, where we ate the traditional chicken dish covered with slow-roasted onions and sumac.

(7)  Notre Dame – wine and cheese on the rooftop restaurant for a private reception.

(8)  The Armenian Restaurant – in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, where Chefs for Peace prepared bulgar wheat inspired dishes.

(9)  A special luncheon prepared by our guides – overlooking the city of Jerusalem; we at local breads, humus, dips; and salads

(10) Rama’s Kitchen – the gourmet restaurant overlooking a mountain pass before our trip back to the U.S.A.

Each day could be just like every other day.  Or each day could be a time to reflect and experience things anew, and see how each day gives us entirely new experiences.  Of course, that is only if we are willing to realize that life is a gift – IT IS NOT BORING!  These 10 days of pilgrimage have forever changed the lives of those who participated.  We all need to do the same.

Selfie at the Wailing Wall, where we were required to cover our heads in humble prayer.




Check out starting next week for Fr. Leo’s weekly recipe from different countries around the world. And be sure to fill your CRS Rice Bowl with change to help those in need this Lent and beyond. 
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Don’t miss out!


  • How do you avoid being “bored” with life?
  • What’s the most exciting trip or life-changing experience you had that convinced you to better each day?
  • What’s the most exotic food you’ve experienced that has expanded your culinary horizons?

Post your comments BELOW and help us spread the Grace Before Meals message.

Let us pray:

Good and gracious God, thank You for giving us a new day and a chance to be renewed each day.  Help us never to fall into the rut of monotony, but to be open to new experiences that will help us be the best versions of ourselves.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Sugar Land, TX
Annapolis, MD


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Relishing Resources and Reminders

Our recent trip to the Holy Land was an amazing experience; a real faith-filled culinary adventure for all the pilgrims who came on the journey. We hope the following trip highlights and resources help you get excited about your own culinary conversion.  


I was inspired to write this blast while watching my pilgrims try to soak up all of the information and inspiration during our trip. Many listened and took notes; writing with one hand, taking pictures with the other, all while trying to sample the cuisine. I know I always have the best intentions of organizing and cataloging all the resources that I gather on trips. But, if these pilgrims are anything like me, when they finally returned home, and the busyness of life began, all of their best intentions ended up on the back burner (get the food reference there?)  



of the Visitation of Mary to her Cousin Elizabeth in Ein Kerem.

One of the many blessings from this trip came from visiting shops, stores, restaurants and food centers that were primarily Christian, or at least “Christian friendly.” This means they hired Christians, provided good wages, and were fair and honest in their dealings with Christians.  Christians in the Holy Land are a minority group, making them easy targets for exploitation, discrimination, and unfairness.  Even though tourism, Christian pilgrimages in particular, is an economic source for Israel, local Christians are the focus of high taxes without representation and therefore subject to all sorts of trials.   


Sam, the Manager for the Jerusalem branch of Voice of Faith Tours, and his family.

Purchasing products from these Christians helps on so many levels.  In addition to supporting our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, these purchases provide tangible signs (i.e., sacramentals) to transmit faith as gifts. They also help you to savor your faith and stay connected to the education and inspiring experiences of your pilgrimage.  


A presentation by Chefs for Peace.

We also spent some time with Chefs for Peace, an amazing group we’ve talked about in previous blog posts that is committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and coexistence through food. Besure to friend and like the Facebook page for Chefs for Peace , and even the individual chefs, such as Odeh Abue El-Hawa, Chef Nabil Aho who also provides fantastic recipes with Moon Valley Products, Pastry Chef Ibrahim Abusheir, and Executive Chef and Owner of The Eucalyptus Restaurant Moshe Basson.



Click the picture to get all of the recipes that Chef Nabil shared with the group.

Our US Tour operator was Select International Tours, and the local operator was Voice of Faith Tours, both groups collaborated so well and provided great service, especially since this was such a unique, first time, out-of-the-box styled pilgrimage.  


At the Spice Farm from the local kibbutz in what is known as the Bethlehem of Galilee, with our presenter.

The Kando Store souvenir shop in Bethlehem allows local Christians a venue to develop artistic crafts and to make a decent life for their families. This store also possesses the largest historical vessel of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 



The Kando Store is located in Bethlehem, PO Box 93, Palestine. For orders, contact Shibly’s email:

In Jericho, we celebrated Mass at the local parish, Good Shepherd, under the custody of the Franciscans. While they didn’t have the same resources as the donations from larger shrines provide, this place did a tremendous amount of good for the locals and for ecumenical and inter-religious efforts. Also in Jericho, we ate at a restaurant connected to a non-for-profit group called Seeds of Hope, a Christian organization to help less fortunate children in that area. 



Our pilgrim group at the Good Shepherd.

Next week, I’ll be sending out a list of all the recipes and food descriptions that we tasted along our delicious discernment in the Holy Land. These resources will hopefully help our pilgrims (and future pilgrims) stay organized, hungry, and faithfully fed!


Almost forgot the delicious award-winning wines from the Salesian monastery!




  • Are you good at organizing your pictures and resources after a big trip?
  • What’s your favorite go-to resource or recipe that you learned from one of your trips that you still use today?
  • What resources can Grace Before Meals provide for you and your family?


Please leave your comments below as these really help us stay focus and true to our mission. 

Let us Pray:  


Jesus, you give us experiences, resources and connections to help us in our faith.  We don’t always use our resources of the church well. Please forgive us for letting these grace-filled gifts go unused.  Give us strength to be truly the Body of Christ by connoting us to the other Christians around the world, supporting each other, and most importantly by praying for each other, learning from each other, and one day, celebrating with each other in the Kingdom of Heaven.  We ask this through your most holy name. Amen. 


Meaningful Souvenir T-Shirt at the Jordan River.

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Feel Good Falafels

Click for this week’s recipe



People joke that the word falafel can be pronounced, “feel awful.”  But the taste of these deep-fried and well-seasoned chickpea croquettes make me feel good – really good – because these remind me of the Resurrection of Jesus.  

Click the button of this flattering picture of me to get a glimpse at the awesome sights (and tastes) of my journey to the Holy Land.


Twenty years ago, as a seminarian studying abroad, I had the chance to visit biblical holy cities such as Nazareth, Galilee, and Jerusalem.  The Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem  is a basilica that enshrines Calvary, where Jesus died; the burial rock where he was laid; and the actual tomb of Jesus, from where Christians believe he was resurrected.  Secular and even non-Christian scientists and archaeologists agree Jesus of Nazareth, the historical person, walked there carrying a cross, died, and was buried at those places where people now worship God and pray.  It’s indeed a powerful place to pray, and I work very hard to try and recall – using all of my senses – to recreate and remember my experiences.

It’s not always so easy to remember these powerful moments.  However, the human sense of taste has helped me remember my spiritual visit.  Outside and around a few corners from the basilica, I saw a man busily scooping up a yellow green mixture, dropping these scoops into hot oil, straining out the cooked croquettes into paper napkins, and exchanging dollars or shekels with the swarm of people around him.  It was impressive to watch, hypnotic-like, especially with enticing aromas and the hum of the bustling crowd.

So I entered into the organized chaos with one U.S. dollar in my hand.  When it was my turn, no words were exchanged.  The man confidently took my dollar in one hand, and with the other he swapped these warm, dark, deep-fried nuggets.  I didn’t know what else to do but walk away and just marvel.  I didn’t even know what I was eating.  But in faith, I ate and was converted.

The open market of Jerusalem

I went back again the next day.  This time, I showed up early and awkwardly waited for him to get his first batch cooked.  He gave me that smile of recognition that gave me confidence.  Somehow, eating his food connected me to his history, culture, and possibly his faith.  He smiled as a father would approve of his child learning something new and important in life.  I felt like I had grown up a little more just by expanding the experience into even more flavors while taking only one bite.

Chef for Peace, Nabil Marcos Aho, demonstrates how to make falafels.

Faith, God’s gift to us, needs to mature, indeed expand, if we are to benefit from this Gift.  It has to become incarnate, that is, take on flesh, because we are sensory people.  We need to touch the rock of Calvary, see the candles compete with the shadows of the darkened tomb, hear the chanting and murmurs of simple but sincere prayers, and also taste the bread and wine to connect us to the last things Jesus tasted on earth.

Wine tasting and lecture at LaSalle Monastery near Jerusalem.


Twenty years later, I now lead pilgrims to share these experiences of faith through food.  To help heighten their experiences I try to offer them opportunities using the senses of taste and smell, but also with practical teaching, so we can eat, remember, pray, and feel God smiling on us with each bite.  

Click Here for the Falafel Recipe and a little history, provided by Chef for Peace, Chef Nabil Marcos Aho.

The Tomb of Jesus Christ.
Enter to Win a copy of Fr. Leo’s newest book!
Enter the contest below or click to pre-order your copy of Fr. Leo’s book, coming out February 11.
Just in time for the release of Fr. Leo’s newest book, Epic Food Fight: A Bite Sized History of Salvation, we want you to promote this book to your family and friends on Facebook, Twitter and your own blog. Embed the code, like Fr. Leo on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to be entered into a Rafflecopter giveaway in which you will be entered to win a copy of his latest book, signed by Fr. Leo!



  • What foods remind you of the Resurrection?
  • Have you ever eaten something “out of faith” and found you loved it?
  • How can you put your own spin into this traditional falafel recipe?

Your comments and questions are an important part of sharing our message and our meals.  Please leave your comments below.

Let us Pray:

Father, You give us so many ways to stay connected to Your love.  Help us never to limit our experiences of faith, but to truly expand our knowledge of You.  May we taste and see Your goodness each day, with every bite we eat and with every morsel of bread we offer to Your hungry children.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Oak Grove, MN
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Posted February 11th, 2014 | Contests, Epic Food Fight, Spicing Up Married Life


Fr. Leo’s newest book

Epic Food Fight: A Bite-Sized History of Salvation is out TODAY and you can order your copy on


To commemorate the occasion, we are holding an EPIC contest to promote the release of the book.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Just in time for the release of Fr. Leo’s newest book, Epic Food Fight: A Bite Sized History of Salvation, we want you to promote this book to your family and friends on Facebook, Twitter and your own blog. Embed the code, like Fr. Leo on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to be entered into a Rafflecopter giveaway in which you will be entered to win a copy of his latest book, signed by Fr. Leo! 

The first 50 orders of “Epic Food Fight” will get an autographed copy from Fr. Leo!



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Posted February 6th, 2014 | Dinner Discussion, Holiday, Spicing Up Married Life


Peaceful Views on Food


The popular and delicious St. Peter’s Fish, aka Tilapia, prepared by Chef Joseph at his restaurant Magdalene, in the town of Mary Magdalene. Recipe to follow in upcoming Blasts.

My recent trip to the Holy Land left me with great inspiration.  I’m dedicating the next few E-blasts to keep you all updated with everything (almost everything) that happened on this trip.  Remember, this is the VERY FIRST pilgrimage of its kind!  Even the security screeners at the Tel Aviv airport were excited to hear of Grace Before Meals’ efforts to bring together faith, food, culture, and cuisine.  

At one of the stops I passed by a small shop and taste-tested crepes made by young aspiring chefs in the Christian Quarters. These crepes were pretty tasty!

As such, we are already planning another trip (or possibly two) to the Holy Land next year.

From the view of Dominus Flevit Church, i.e., “The Church Where the Lord Wept,” overlooking the city of Jerusalem.

What made this a unique trip was its food-centric focus.  My traveling philosophy is to see a country through the eyes of faith and through your stomach. 

At a local farm in Jericho – the oldest city in recorded history. There we worked with local farm helpers to pick our fresh vegetables, which were prepared at the Green Valley Restaurant. Recipe to follow.

In other words, if we really want to get to know a country and see it well, then we have to understand how people pray and what they believe – no matter what religion they profess. At the same time, we must also be willing to taste their local cuisine for ourselves, and in this case, learn how to make some of the cuisine too.

Young Chefs at the Notre Dame Culinary and Hospitality Program teaching and preparing falafels for our pilgrims. Another recipe to come.

Enter Chefs for Peace!

By now, if you’ve kept up with my past Blasts and social media news bites, you already know Chefs for Peace is an organization that started with the inspiration of a Christian man living in the Holy Land.  He discovered a unique phenomenon.  While politicians and military types were fighting with each other, based on their politics or their religion, a group of chefs of different religions and different political backgrounds actually worked together, cooked together, conversed with each other and even fed one another from the kitchen.

The Organizers. Left to Right – Chef George, Ode, Moshe, Nebil, and two assistant chefs from an Armenian Restaurant located in the Armenian Quarter of the Holy Land.

From this inspiration, Chefs for Peace has become an integral part of the peace process, beginning one meal at a time.  For the pilgrims and the Chefs, we were all very much inspired to spread the message.  Eating food that was prepared before our very eyes added greater connection and meaning to the local people and to the faith they celebrated.  

A vendor from the Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem sharing remarkable insights about the concentrate from the citron fruit.

This opened our eyes to the possibility of peace, because as they work with big, sharp knives, they were fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah, “They have turned their spears into plowshares, swords into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4).

Chefs for peace, especially in the Holy Land, recognize that meals, lovingly prepared and shared, are a very viable answer for the peace talks.   

Demonstration of an Iraqi bread-making shop. The word for the type of oven used is translated as a “womb” to highlight how from the womb we are given the bread, which is life.

I pray that politicians, heads of state, and government agencies, as well as leaders of armed forces, will see that differences in religion do not mean a divorce from the conversation.  In fact, Jesus showed clearly that dinner conversations can lead to dinner conversions of the heart.   

The Head Chef and his staff at the wine and cheese reception offered to our group by Voice of Faith Travel and Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem.

It’s said that the way to man’s heart is through the stomach.  That’s certainly true for the dishes Chefs for Peace prepared –  delicious, interestingly unique, and yet very traditional cuisine, prepared in the local customary style or with a little fusion pizzazz.  The result was delicious food that warmed the hearts, minds, and souls.  Hearing their stories, learning about their culture, and celebrating at the table of plenty made this an experience of a lifetime.

Vineyard stop at the LaSalle Academy, which supports itself by selling award-winning wine.

With this FIRST EVER Faith and Food pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we could literally, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 34:8). 

At Grotto Restaurant in Bethlehem, working with staff on how to make fresh pita with za’atar.
Enter to Win a copy of Fr. Leo’s newest book!
Enter the contest below or click to pre-order your copy of Fr. Leo’s book, coming out February 11.
Just in time for the release of Fr. Leo’s newest book, Epic Food Fight: A Bite Sized History of Salvation, we want you to promote this book to your family and friends on Facebook, Twitter and your own blog. Embed the code, like Fr. Leo on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to be entered into a Rafflecopter giveaway in which you will be entered to win a copy of his latest book, signed by Fr. Leo!
Valentine’s Day is next Friday and now is a the perfect time to get Fr. Leo’s acclaimed cookbook, Spicing Up Married Life. For the month of February, if you buy a copy of Spicing Up Married Life, you will get a FREE Wine Pairings insert from Wine Expert John Buechsenstein.


John Buechsenstein, CHE John Buechsenstein has been a winemaker and wine educator in California for many years.




  • Have you ever eaten a meal with someone of a different religion? What did you learn?  Was it a good experience?   
  •  Do you think enemies could ever eat together and help bring about world peace?   
  •  Different religions have different dietary restrictions.  What’s your understanding of pure versus impure foods?

Please post your comments and questions. These mean so much to our Grace Before Meals team and our community of faithful foodies.  

Let us pray:


Father in Heaven, Lord or all, bless all of those who participated in any way in this most recent pilgrimage.  Bless those who served and made this such a wonderful experience.  May the blessings we received, especially at the hands of our fantastic hosts and Chefs for Peace, help us to spread the Good News wherever we go.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Louisville, KY
Towson, MD
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Posted in Dinner Discussion, Holiday, Spicing Up Married Life | 2 Comments »