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Inviting Our Children Into the Kitchen

I dedicate this post to St. Gianna Beretta Molla, wife, mother, and doctor. St. Gianna is a modern-day saint, familiar with the challenges of modern life and she was a champion of the unborn to the point of sacrificing her own life. She once said, “Look at the mothers who truly love their children: how many sacrifices they make for them. They are ready for everything, even to give their own blood so that their babies grow up good, healthy and strong”.

St. Gianna was a mother of 4. There is no doubt in my mind that this woman knew the challenges of raising children and providing a happy, healthy home. That being said, she loved her children and honored their lives. She died one week after her fourth child was born because she refused to abort her child in order to be fully treated for uterine tumors. She agreed to surgery, but surgery wasn’t going to be enough to save her life. However, it was enough to protect the life of her unborn child.

How do we honor our children in daily life? Do we look at our beautiful gifts and see them as an opportunity to grow God’s kingdom? Do we see in them the potential for greater love, greater wisdom, and greater joy than what we ourselves experience?

I know that I miss this ever-present potential on a regular basis. It tends to get overlooked amidst the daily grind. However, one of the wonderful things about cooking and eating are their unifying power. Cooking and eating together bring us face to face with one another and gives us a common language to speak – flavors, colors, textures, likes, dislikes. These are keys to seeing the beauty and depth of our children’s souls.

There are a few easy ways to include your children in your everyday cooking endeavors safely and with minimal extra work or mess.

  • If you prepare a weekly menu, ask them to suggest a meal or dish.
  • Invite them to smell ingredients and dishes as they are being prepared.
  • Invite them to mix bowls of ingredients after you’ve already gotten the mixture going.
  • Invite them to taste individual ingredients – perhaps even consider letting them taste and make choices between two good options for ingredients like vegetables or herbs.
  • Ask for their help with finishing touches like herbs, cheese, and other garnishes.
  • Invite your child to pray the Our Father with you while washing your hands.
  • My daughter’s favorite thing to do in the kitchen is when I give her small ball of dough – cookie, bread, or pasta – that she can play with. I lose one serving and gain a very happy kid!

Jesus left us a meal because we remember the sights, smells, and tastes of food and we associate lessons and memories with them. As St. Gianna said, “Our body is a cenacle, a monstrance: through its crystal the world should see God”.

Even in the busy moments, let your children in. Keep your temple, your mind and your body, healthy so that they may see God through you.

My Mixer: A Metaphor for My Marriage

…and a great alliteration!

About a year ago, I was just going about my business making a cake for John Ross’ birthday. I was using my KitchenAid mixer to whip up a batch of marshmallow fondant to lay over the cake. Anyone who has worked with fondant before knows that it is a pretty heavy load. I finished my frosting, finished my cake and went on celebrating a sweet little 3-year-old boy.

The celebration ended 2 days later when I went to make a batch of merigues (the lightest possible work load for a stand mixer) and the motor would run, but the paddle would hit the meringue and stop.

Stop.

It stopped.

I got the mixer 7 years ago. KitchenAid as a brand has built its reputation on longevity. Their mixers are meant to last a lifetime. A common wedding gift, one would imagine that it should at least last the length of an average marriage, which in one 2011 study was 8.7 years.

Needless to say, I was annoyed. When I get annoyed, world watch out. I tend to be a bit OCD when irritated. The soupy meringues got pitched and daughter of a mechanical engineer that I am, I delved straight into my mixer.

Yes, I did. I Googled and found out that perhaps my mixer needed cleaning. So with a screwdriver, toothbrush, and popsicle stick, I opened up and cleaned out my entire mixer. It was gross since I didn’t know that I was supposed to clean it every few years. With a fresh coat of grease, I put everything back together, plugged it in and turned it on. Same problem. Argh.

I took the whole mixer to my dad at Christmas. If the daughter of a mechanical engineer couldn’t figure out a simple motor, her dad probably could, right? Well, after a toothpick and some epoxy fixes, the thing still didn’t work. We couldn’t get the RPMs right. We decided to replace the phase controller, but that required ordering the piece. So, I took my mixer home, ordered the $7 piece and replaced it. Beautiful, right? Wrong.

At this point, you are all saying, just buy a new mixer. Nope, not this OCD spendthrift. I’m not buying another $200 appliance.

More research. Perhaps it was the electrical wires. Another $30 piece ordered and replaced and finally the RPMs were correct. I seperate some eggs and go to work on my long awaited Resurrection cookies (also a meringue-type cookie). I add the 1/4 cup of sugar from the recipe and not 30 seconds later, the paddle stops and the motor keeps running.

Mental picture time: 8:30 at night, I’m sitting at the kitchen table which is covered with a Valentine’s Day table cloth, head in my hands, sobbing and cursing at my mixer. Kevin walks in for the night and suggests we just buy a new one. I snap and him and told him that it is just a stupid machine. Just a motor and some gears. I’m not buying a new one. Period.

Instead, I fiddle and futz with the machine for another 3 hours. I open, close, clean, examine and though I am ashamed to admit it, cried and cursed some more.

Then it happened. I realized that there was a piece missing from a very hidden hole that kept the main shaft from slipping when tension was applied. I remembered that the afternoon that I first disassembled the mixer, a small pin had fallen out the moment I had opened it and I couldn’t find it’s home. I assumed it was a stabilizer for the casing and had placed it in a random hole in the casing. I pulled it out and fitted it to the hidden hole. I tidied up the gear box, re-attached the casing, and wiped down the counter. With a deep breath and not much hope, I plugged in the mixer, held my hand to the paddle and turn the well-worn handle to “stir”.

It worked and actually pinched my finger to the side of the bowl. Forget the finger! It worked!

6 months…6 months of trial and challenge. But I fixed it.

I like to believe that this very long process was an allegory for our marriage. Marriages, like mixers, are supposed to last a lifetime. At the core is a sacrament, a motor. It is the divine energy that sustains the marriage. There are gears, spouses, that convert the energy into work that creates beautiful products, children and good works for the world. Sometimes gears are going to slip, sometimes the spark is going to go out, sometimes the pace is going to be too fast or too slow, and sometimes you’re just going to get stuck. God’s energy keeps going, but the human parts just don’t work. It’s not a reason to give up or to buy a new mixer. It’s a reason to seek expert help and put some elbow grease into it.

If this experience has taught me one thing, I believe that whenever Kevin and I hit the metaphorical “7-year-stick” we’re going to be just fine. I’d like to believe it is because we are loving children of God who understand that marriage is sanctifying and always requires effort, in good times and in bad. However, I know better. The truth is, we are both too stubborn and too cheap to start over again.

My Love of Farm Eggs

I have fallen in love with farm eggs.

I have been assured that a photo of chicks is not sadistic when discussion the consumption of eggs because these chicks are not the ones sacrificed for the sake of my eggs, but instead will grow up to lay my beautiful wonderful eggs.

The sweet, variously shaped, beautifully brown, and curiously rich product of local hens.

I keep a dozen in my fridge along side my cheap, white, mass-produced variety.

You may ask: why use more than one kind?

Well, here’s the thing. I have a family and I do a lot of cooking. The concept of two kinds of eggs runs along the same lines as the whole CSA and Sams Club membership paradox. A lot of my baking recipes call for eggs as one of many ingredients which makes the recipe a perfect candidate for inexpensive eggs. However, I have come to LOVE homemade carbonara where egg is pretty much the prima donna of the dish. That would be a recipe that seductively beckons for the rich subtlty of a fresh farm egg.

God has given us so many wonderful gifts in our world from the simplicity of a laying hen to the technological complexity of mass agriculture. Each has it’s place and supports a delicate web of beneficiaries, just as each type of egg can have a place in my kitchen repetoire.

While we’re on the subject, anyone want to teach me how to poach the perfect egg? I’m feeling a round of perfectly pink steak and eggs…

Welcome!

Welcome and cheers! This is a new site dedicated to holistic health. Because I am a young wife and mother, most of my focus will be on diet and nutrition, but I’m also a Catholic Christian with a deep faith and commitment to everyday holiness.

My background is in theology and journalism and I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life serving in parishes and dioceses around the country. I’m particularly interested in the areas of stewardship, women’s ministry, and Catholic spirituality. This particular blog, as well as my cookbook, are the fruits of a beloved program in my own diocese called, “Meals, Mass and Mystics”. Everybody needs to eat and therefore it is a perfect platform for sharing God’s gift of food and health and growing in faith with others in our community.

This is an extension of my communities here in Northeast Wisconsin. This is a place for women (and men) around the world to connect and share. I always tell the women at my events that I am not the expert. We all have life experiences and circumstances that differ and we all bring a particular expertise to any situation we are in. I am an expert in collecting information and facilitating discussion. That is what this site is for – sharing, discussion and dialogue.

I believe firmly in “no judgment zones”. No healthy member of a family is trying to do a bad job. We are all trying to find that magical balance of physical, emotional and spiritual health in the midst of a busy and demanding world. If you feed your child a piece of cheese and a bag of fruit snacks for dinner, we can accept that. If you choose to vaccinate your child or not vaccinate your child, we can accept that. Do we always agree? No. May we feel strongly about something and express an opinion? Yes, lovingly and respectfully, but then we must move on to what is going to unite us. Dignity is at the core of holistic living. Dignity and respect must be at the center of the big picture – dignity to our God-given bodies and souls. Let us not get mired down by the small stuff.

As a wife and mother there are so many everyday “wars” we all face. There are so many areas of criticism. This is a place for encouragement, affirmation, and support. Questions may be asked and suggestions given, but they must be done with charity and not judgment. As such, I will initially moderate comments as we establish a community.

I’m excited you’ve decided to come on this journey with me. I hope to post at least weekly if not more often.

I encourage you to participate in this community and in the Facebook community. Send your friends here and send me your favorite recipes.

This is not a health blog or a site committed to a particular diet. It’s a place to share our lives as we try to find the balance. Not everything is going to work for everyone and I won’t try to make the shoe fit for everyone. Find your spot here and stand in your truth.

Are you ready?

Restaurant Redux Series: Beet Salad and Goat Cheese

This is the first in another series which will focus on recipes I eat or love from restaurants and how to create them and improve them at home.

God doesn’t want us to just be good, but to be great!

I’m not typically a “salad at restaurants” kind of girl. I just feel like I can make a pretty good salad at home and would rather not spend my hard earned money eating greens at a restaurant. However, I make some exceptions, especially when it comes to unique combinations. I’ve ordered this salad on repeat occasions at Parador Restaurant (tapas and sangria) in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin because it is just so good. I had to try my hand at a homemade version.

The key to this salad is the pickled beets – which admittedly take a little bit of preparation. But one hour (maybe 1.5) of preparation gives me enough beets for a year’s worth of mouth-watering salads.

Spiced and Pickled Beets

2.5 c. Apple Cider Vinegar

2 cinnamon sticks

10 whole cloves

1 c. water

1 c. sugar

10 c. prepared beets

*Note: I clean the beets, cut the tops off, leaving about 2 inches of stems and the roots. Placing largest beets at the bottom of a large saucepan, I boil them in water for about 30 minutes. Run them under cold water and the skins will peel right off. Cut of stems and roots and cut into 1 inch cubes and proceed with pickling.

Combine all your pickling ingredients together in a large pot. Bring it to a boil and boil for 15 minutes. Remove the cinnamon and cloves and add the prepared beets, bringing to a boil once again.

Prepare your canning supplies (this typically makes 8-12 half pint jars for me). Fill jars with beets and top with pickling liquid, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace for processing expansion. Wipe jars dry and place clean, dry lids and bands. Tighten bands with a fingertip only until they resist. Process in a hot water bath for 30 minutes. Cool and store in a dry place.

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese

Serves 4

  • 4 cups of your favorite greens, washed, dried and prepared – we LOVE the peppery-ness of arugula
  • 4 green onions (scallions), diced
  • 20 pieces of pickled beats
  • 1 orange, peeled and cut into “supremes” which just means cutting away the pulp and cutting out small wedge shaped pieces
  • 1/2 c. crumbled goat cheese (feta works, but I LOVE the creamy goat cheese with these beets)
  • Your favorite vinegrette

*Note: I use a bit of olive oil mixed with some of the beet pickling liquid and salt and pepper to taste.

  • 1/4 c. candied pecans or walnuts (optional)

Lay your greens evenly on a large platter or in individual bowls. Sprinkle onions over greens and place beets evenly across the salad. Add orange supremes, goat cheese and nuts if using. Dress lightly immediately before serving. I’ve also seen a few of the pickled beets pureed and used to spread on the plate before arranging the greens as a great presentation touch.

My mouth is watering just thinking about my beets. I might need to take a trip to the basement for a jar…

St. Hildegard, Pray for Us!

When I began my journey trying to connect faith and food, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to be able to incorporate the saints. I mean, they ate, of course, but beyond that physical need, did they really have anything to say about the connection between faith and food?

Then I discovered St. Hildegard. I knew a little bit about her – her music, her mystical visions, her Benedictine connection and leadership – but I knew very little about her connection to holistic health.

This is a woman, a saint and a mystic, who wrote about holistic health around 1100 AD. That is nearly 1000 years ago and yet so many of her insights are reflected in our medical understanding today. As a Benedictine Abbess, she was well respected and admired by healers and religious of her time and was sought after by the local communities for both physical and spiritual balance. Dr. Gottfried Hertzka, a medical doctor in Germany, has been working clinically with her works and theories for over 30 years in southern Germany. Today he works with research chemist Dr. Wighard Strehlow at their practice in Konstanz, West Germany. Many of the

Her natural, physical and medicinal works are in parts and pieces and were fairly ignored by the Church until recently. I believe there was even an instance in the 1970’s where a reputable Catholic media outlet called her a fruitcake! However, in 2012, Pope Benedict appointed her as a doctor of the church. According to Catholic Online, a doctor of the church is, “This is a very special title accorded by the Church to certain saints. This title indicates that the writings and preaching of such a person are useful to Christians “in any age of the Church.” Such men and women are also particularly known for the depth of understanding and the orthodoxy of their theological teachings. While the writings of the Doctors are often considered inspired by the Holy Spirit; this does not mean they are infallible, but it does mean that they contributed significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching in at least one area.”

A list of doctors of the church is available here.

Her works have inspired me to jump in with both feet. Her understanding of the maladies of her order and her community intrigue me. She is one of the first people to speak of cancer, though not by that name, in it’s current understanding. She accepts the place of depression and anxiety, but places it firmly in the perspective of imbalance. She acknowledges, through her visions, that the balances of the world and the balance of humans comes through God and are intimately connected.

She coined a Latin term “viriditas” which she defined as the greenness or liveliness of a plant or creature. She called Mary the epitome of viriditas – the fullest of life.

Father William Hart is designing an polyptych icon (multi-frame) for a new environmental building at Loyola University in Chicago and recently unveiled an image of St. Ignatius and St. Hildegard in honor of St. Ignatius’ feast day. As I do not have copyrights to the image, you can see an image of it here.

As time passes, we will dig more into St. Hildegard’s thoughts and insights, but for now, I wish to leave you with an adaptation of one of her recipes, also available in my cookbook, Nerve Cookies! Only a very holy woman could understand the deep-seated emotional healing that could come to a person by way of a cookie!

Nerve Cookies

  • 3/4 c. butter
  • 1.5 c. brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 c. spelt flour (or all-purpose)
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • Sliced almonds for topping if desired.

Cream butter and sugar together. Add the egg. Combine and add the dry ingredients and then add to the wet ingredients. It’s a stiff dough, so kneed in the last of the flour. Shape the dough into rolls and wrap in wax paper. Chill in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Slice cookies thinly, top with sliced almonds (optional) and bake 8-10 minutes depending on thickness.

St. Hildegard recommended eating 3-5 cookies per day and believed they could even help distracted school children!

Heritage Roads Series

This past summer I spent three days with my children in my parents’ hometown – Fergus Falls, MN. We moved around a lot as children and Fergus Falls was the one consistent place I could call home. My grandparents lived within walking distance of each other and we spent many hours in their homes reading books, dressing up, baking, and eating.

While I was there, I intentionally took lots of photos of my childhood haunts. When I posted a few of them on Facebook, a friend of mine expressed hopes that I would write a blog post sharing about these places. However, because these places hold so many memories of family gatherings, faith and togetherness, I wanted to save the stories for a series on this new site.

This is the first installment in this series. I hope you enjoy it!

This is the childhood home of my father. This is where my dad grew up and where I grew up. It was here this summer, on this very stoop, that my grandmother inquired if 3 days alone with my children in their small town was going to be good for me. My reply was, “My soul needs this.”

The Front Stoop

Many an evening was spent on this front stoop. I remember when we would sit on the sidewalk, snapping snapdragons and getting scolded for putting things in the metal milk bin. This summer I watched my children race cars down the driveway and run races around the house with the very same tumbles down the hill to the backyard. These memories, these rituals, are the very foundations of who I am. These familiar places are as holy to me as the sanctuaries of the world’s greatest cathedrals.

No matter where I was in my life, what I had, who I was with, I wiped my feet outside the heavy wood door and was welcomed with open arms into the warmth of the house. I was always met with the smell of something yummy – cookies, crispy bars, turkey soup, fried eggs and toast, or chow mein casserole.

This is the only home from my childhood to which I still have access and perhaps, its residents are the two people in the world who know me best and accept me at my worst. My grandparents. They teach me love, justice, joy, faith, and mercy. They teach me that I am enough.

Chow Mein Casserole (Apparently one of my dad’s favorites – and now Thomas’!)

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 can cream of celery (or cream of chicken) soup
  • 1 can chicken and rice soup
  • 1 1/2-2 c. water
  • 1 c. chopped celery
  • 3 T soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 bag dry chow mein noodles

Brown ground beef and chopped onion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix in cream of celery soup, chicken rice soup, water, celery, soy sauce and uncooked rice. Bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours. Stir casserole and top with chow mein noodles a half hour before to crisp. Serve with more noodles.