Corn Tortilla Soup
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!
|Creamy Corn Tortilla Soup|
Check out this week’s episode of “Savoring Our Faith”:
Big Fish Story
Originally published August 18, 2010
I know very little about the technicalities of fishing. What I’ve seen on TV about fishing is that it probably requires patience that I do not have. Yet, the call to be “fishers of men” is a responsibility I fully recognize, even if at times I miserably fail at this lofty task.
On a recent vacation, I traveled with some priest friends from my seminary days. If you’ve been part of the Grace Before Meals movement, you know I’ve been traveling with these guys for the past 11 years or so. Every year, we get together in different parts of the world, filling our days with some crazy activities, even if we tend to move a bit slower than in our younger years.
These hallowed days are also filled with reliving memories of our time in seminary and sharing the joys and challenges of the priesthood. We specifically set aside one day and dedicate it to listening to each other’s updates and encouraging each other in our walk – wherever the Lord takes us. These annual gatherings affirm our call to be fishers of men. They also encourages us to keep “fishing” even though it may seem that the fish aren’t biting. And while we are supposed to be experts at bringing in the catch, these days of renewal remind us that the Lord’s also still trying to “catch” the illusive nature in us – His fishermen. While God wants us to be effective in bringing in a large catch, He more importantly wants to bring us safely to the shores of Heaven.
These days are humbling because we share the realities of our struggles in the midst of the stormy waters, which sometimes make our job/vocation to fish a difficult task. While we know our days together are filled with fun, fraternity, and lots of food (we’re all big foodies), we also recognize the necessity to come together and renew our efforts.
We remember the Lord’s words when He counseled His first fishers of men, His Disciples, to cast the nets on the other side. That is basically codeword for, try fishing His way, rather than the old way. When doing anything – like fishing for food or searching for souls – His Way not only leads to a big catch, it also leads to a renewed faith in His plan.
In these winding days of summer vacation, I pray that each of you had some time to renew your faith with some rest and relaxation. You don’t have to go far distances or pay lots of money in a fancy resort to be “recreated.” Sometimes, it simply requires a few moments of quiet prayer in the deep recesses of your own mind, heart, and soul, aided by a visit to a quiet chapel or church on a day other than your already busy Sundays.
Those sacred days of rest, which we call vacation, helped to renew our faith and strengthen our desire to live lives that will catch people’s attention and set examples that they will hopefully follow. And hopefully, these days of rest give all our “Gracers” (i.e., people who are part of the Grace Before Meals movement – yes, I just made that one up) a renewed strength to bring the big catch to the Boat of Peter and to eventually bring that catch to the shores where the Lord awaits with His special feast.
I didn’t catch this fish. It actually “caught me,” or at least caught my attention.
|Me with the big catch.|
A local fisherman noticed us tourists wandering through a city market. It was almost fate how he called out at the time when we were actually craving some fresh seafood. I looked at the clear eyes of this 8-pound red snapper. To determine its freshness, I gave it a good smell all over. There was no “fishy” odor, only the scent of the fresh ocean air, indicating that it was caught just a few hours ago. It was so fresh (and BIG) that I almost felt guilty paying so little for such a great feast!
|Do we totally look like tourists, or what!|
As a way to share the blessing, I’ve provided two recipes in this week’s e-mail. Because of the size, I decided to fillet one side of the fish in order to marinade and panfry it in sections. The other recipe required roasting the fish whole in the oven, finished off with a garlic and chili infused hot oil, which crisped the skin and enhanced the natural roasted flavor.
Prayer for the Fisherman
Let Us Pray: Lord, our God, You called Your first apostles to be fishermen – men who will put themselves out there to bring others to the Boat of Peter and to the eternal shores of Jesus. Help Your Church’s ministers to be loving, patient, and appropriately zealous in bringing souls closer to God and closer to the eternal banquet. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
|One of the Beaches at Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica.|
The Right to be Free
Originally published July 1, 2009
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.”
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
|Perfect for July 4th, enjoy these delicious burgers!|
Menu Inspiration: Olive Antipasta
Originally published June 8, 2011
As you know, I recently returned from our Culinary Mediterranean Cruise.
It was a great opportunity to visit so many different countries, experience the cuisine and also experience the expanse of the Christian Faith. A common Mediterranean food I’d like to highlight in this week’s Menu Inspiration is the olive!
The word “Christian” shares its root with the word “Chrism,” which means “to anoint.” In the Scriptures, olive oil is generally used in this anointing, as evidenced in the prevalent use of olive oil in all Mediterranean cultures.
This week’s recipe is a tribute to the incredibly versatile use of the olive, as inspired by a traditional Italian (go figure?), antipasto.
Fried olives, also known as “Olive Ascolane,” take the olive to a whole new “anointed” level of delicious!
This recipe for an olive ascolana has been modified to keep your preparation for the dish very simple. In other words, when I prepared this dish for a few friends over the Holy Week celebration, I didn’t have time to stuff these olives. But you can stuff these with just about anything that can hold up to the frying process – frozen blue cheese, a gelled puree of veal or pork, even a simple combination of breadcrumb and cheese. Click on the picture above or HERE to get the recipe!
As members of my own family attest, olives are an acquired taste. However, the oil that comes from these olives has become a part of my family through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, the Anointing of the Sick, and for me the anointing of the Priesthood. This summer, try some of these unique flavors and see the blessings they bring to the table.
Have you ever had these deep fried olives? If so, where did you eat these? Do you have a good stuffing for olives you’d like to share? Do you have any special olive dishes you can suggest to our community? Your comments, questions, and responses are important sources of encouragement for our Grace Before Meals team. Let us know what you’re thinking by posting your comments here.
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Let us Pray:
Father, You anoint Your sons and daughters through the gift of Chrism we receive in Baptism. Help us to recall this great gift and to share that gift with those who hunger and thirst for the blessings that come from Your Table.
This week’s episode of Savoring Our Faith features Special Guests Jim and Joy Pinto of EWTN’s At Home With Jim & Joy. Tune in Sunday at 5pm. *
Your comments, questions, and responses are important sources of encouragement for our Grace Before Meals team. Let us know what you’re thinking by posting your comments here.
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