Third Sunday in Advent: St. Joseph’s Staff

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. We rejoice because the Lord is near!

We continue the focus on main figures of our Advent Wreath for the Christmas Story. Last week we celebrated St. John the Baptist. This week, the rose candle, the focus is on St. Joseph, the foster-father of the Child Jesus.

The food we will use to remember St. Joseph this week is the candy cane, either in a cookie, or the simple candy itself. Part of the pious legend of St. Joseph is that his staff is the one that bloomed with lilies so that everyone knew that he was to be the spouse of our Blessed Virgin Mary. So many nativity scenes have St. Joseph carrying or leaning on the staff, which is also a symbol of authority. Although he was not the father of Jesus, only the foster-father, Jesus and Mary still submitted to him.

In March the Sicilian tradition of St. Joseph’s Altar includes Vuccidrato — Joseph’s Staff, bread shaped in the shape of his staff, or other Symbolic Pastries in the shape of a staff. But since Christmas baking is at hand, Candy Cane Staff Cookies will do perfectly to remind us of St. Joseph’s fatherly authority, but his always humble submission to God’s will.

St. Joseph’s Staff — Candy Cane Cookies

Prep Time: 40 min, Total Time: 6 hours
Makes 4 1/2 dozen cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter or margarine, softened (or half butter, half shortening)
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 egg
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red food coloring
2 Tablespoons finely crushed peppermint candies
2 Tablespoons sugar

Stir together 1 cup sugar, butter or margarine, milk, vanilla, peppermint extract, and egg in large bowl. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Divide dough in half. Stir red food coloring into 1 half of the dough. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Heat oven to 375ºF.

Stir together peppermint candy and 2 tablespoons sugar; set aside.

For each candy cane, shape 1 rounded teaspoon dough from each half into 4-inch rope by rolling back and forth on floured surface. Place 1 red and white rope side by side; press together lightly and twist. For best results, complete cookies one at a time–if all the dough of one color is shaped first, strips become too dry to twist.

Place on ungreased cookie sheet; curve top of cookie down to form handle of cane.

Bake 9 to 12 minutes or until set and very light brown. Immediately sprinkle candy mixture over cookies. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. (Recipe from Betty Crocker).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near. (Phil 4:4,5)


Stir-Up Sunday: Jamaican Fruit Cake

Happy New Year!

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and we begin a new church year, another Year of Grace, or Year of Our Lord. This time of Advent we focus on two comings: we remember the longing, the anticipation, the hope, the long patient wait for the Messiah. We also are remembering that Christ will come again at the end of time, and we prepare for that Final Judgment. Our time here is precious! The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this much more eloquently:

When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (CCC, 524)

And so, we need to stir up our hearts, renew ourselves to prepare for His coming. In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the translation of the Collect (or Opening Prayer) of the Mass for the First Sunday of Advent invited that stirring:

O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

A traditional English custom on this day was to make a Plum pudding, with every family member giving a good stir representing their hearts being stirred on that day. Plum pudding and fruit cake have taken a hard rap over the years. There are those who hate them and those who love them, and few fall in between. I know this is a bit late for actually stirring up on Sunday, but all week is a good time to do this. I’m offering this recipe as an alternative to standard fruitcake — because it contains rum AND no candied fruit. Perhaps this will suit someone’s fancy?

This recipe requires soaking the fruit in rum at least 3 days prior to mixing up all the ingredients, so on Wednesday or Thursday before Advent, start soaking. (The years that Thanksgiving is the week before Advent, just plan on having a cocktail with rum to remind you to start soaking!)

Jamaican Fruit Cake

1 lb. each of currants, seedless raisins, prunes, and dates.

Cut with scissors into small pieces.

Mix and stir in, soaking for 3 days:
1 pt. light rum
1 pt. white tablewine

After soaking fruits, sift together:
6 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. each nutmeg, cinnamon

1 lb. butter
2 cups sugar

8 beaten eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix well, then add flour mixture gradually.

Lastly, fold in fruit and liquor, and

1 cup English walnuts, if desired (chopped to desired size).

Grease and line with wax paper 4 bread pans or 2 tube pans. Place cakes on rack in middle of oven. Place shallow pan of water (hot) on bottom or slower oven (300 F.) Bake 3 hours, removing water last 30 minutes of baking.

When cakes are cold, wrap in aluminum foil. Store in air-tight container in a cool place. Allow at least 2 weeks, preferably longer for aging.

(If this is baked in a tube pan, it can be used as the Christ Child’s birthday cake, with as many candles on it as there are children in the family.)

Recipe adapted from Family Liturgical Customs, No. 1: Advent by Ethel Marbach, 1964, Abbey Press.

Second Sunday of Advent: Grasshoppers and Honey

From the Gospel for 2nd Sunday of Advent

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins….
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.

This Advent our family is focusing on the four primary figures of the Advent Liturgy, Isaiah, St. John the Baptist, St. Joseph, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. I shared our Advent Wreath and Poster idea.

This Second Sunday of Advent begins our focus on St. John the Baptist, who ate locusts and honey. Today would traditionally be St. Ambrose feast day, and his symbol of honey (“Honey-Tongued Doctor,”) is also a perfect match for the honey that St. John the Baptist. All the wonderful food posts for St. Ambrose can do double duty.

I also plan on making a Grasshopper Pie for dh this week to celebrate St. John. The simplest recipe would be using mint chocolate ice cream in a chocolate cookie pie shell — easy and delicious. Although has several versions, this recipe seemed to have the most detail. This is a grain and dairy free recipe.

For my allergic son, he would prefer creamed honey on waffles for his treat! But a good recipe incorporating honey, like honey cake that is gluten and dairy free would be delicious!

Now, if you want to be a little more authentic, you can actually order food grade crickets in savory or sweeter flavors.

Prepare the Way of the Lord, Make Straight His Paths!

The “O” Antiphons or Greater Antiphons

This was originally posted at Catholic Cuisine.

Tomorrow begins the “O” Antiphons. These are antiphons in the Church’s liturgy dating from the seventh century that invoke God. Using seven different names from our Salvation History in the Old Testament, each antiphon begins with the invocation “O” and impatiently begging God to come and save His people.

With all the wonderful feasts and traditions in Advent, this one is my favorite. It evokes wonderful memories when our family implemented the ideas inspired by Cooking for Christ by Florence Berger.

By the seventeenth of December, both the Church and the children become increasingly impatient for Christmas. This holy impatience has found expression in the beautiful antiphons which call Christ to come, and to come quickly. It is very natural for children to use the “O Antiphons” for their daily prayer at this time. We say them at the evening meal when the Advent wreath is lighted.

Another old custom which we revived is giving family treats. In the monasteries long years ago, the different monks furnished extra treats on these days before Christ’s birthday. The gardener gave the community some of his finest dried or preserved fruits on December 19 when he called on Christ: “O Root of Jesse, come to deliver us and tarry not.” The cellarer unlocked the best wine or his treat as he called: “Oh Key of David, come, and come quickly.” Finally, on December 23, the abbot gave his extra gift to the brothers. Expense accounts which are still extant show how generous and extensive a list of foods were used on the abbot’s “O day.”

Each one in our family keeps his gift a deep, dark secret until supper time. We begin with the smallest child. Her treat may be only a graham cracker for dessert. Freddie cracked and picked some black walnuts for us. All the pounding didn’t give it away because little boys are so often pounding. Ann made some Advent wreath cookies and used up all the cinnamon drops for decoration — on the cookies, her face and her fingers. Mary made a big casserole of baked beans and we couldn’t quite decide whether she was treating herself or the family. Finally, it was mother’s turn, and then, at last, father’s turn to produce something really outstanding. At dessert time father rose from the table without a word, put on his hat and coat without a smile and left us sitting at the table with our mouths open in amazement. After five minutes which seemed like hours, he stamped back into the house — with a big bowl of snow ice cream. The squeals of delight would have pleased an abbot.

So, with a family of seven children, we were able to assign an O Antiphon day for each person except the two babies. That person then supplied a special treat after dinner for celebration of the Great Os. Mom helped the little ones, but even our father surprised us with a treat on his day. Then at prayer time we opened up the new window of our Advent Tower and sang the corresponding verse to O Come O Come Emmanuel. It was very simple, but it made a lasting impression. I never tire hearing or singing this Advent hymn, as it just conjures all the Old Testament longing with a haunting melody.

The tradition works well in larger families. I find it enjoyable to see the interesting variety of what each person likes as their personal treat, and wants to share for everyone.

For a variation on a theme, how about serving a food that would be a reminder of the O Antiphon of the day? Since there already seems to be a glut of (fattening) sweets around the house, I’m not suggesting dessert recipes, but just a food with either minimal preparation or something that can be incorporated in the family dinner meal.

December 17

O Wisdom (O Sapienta): O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence.

Symbols: Oil lamp, open book, dove (Holy Spirit).

Foods: Incorporate foods that are known to be “brain food”. This list includes blueberries and tomatoes, dark chocolate and avocados, and Dr. Sears provides a whole list. But my top choice for this idea is the egg. Not only is it the perfect food, the wonder of the egg is enough to show us God’s wisdom in our creation. How about serving deviled eggs? I haven’t met many people who didn’t enjoy them.

December 18

O Lord and Ruler (O Adonai): O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai gave him your Law. Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us.

Symbols: Burning bush, stone tablets

Foods: The symbol of the burning bush evokes hot, spicy, or flaming foods. Grilled or flame broiled, Flambé foods, or hot and spicy. How about a simple tomato salsa with a little kick served with tortilla chips?

December 19

O Root of Jesse (O Radix Jesse): O Root of Jesse, you stand for the ensign of all mankind; before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.

Symbols: flower, plant with flower, root with flowering stem

Foods: Root Vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, or yams would call to mind the Root of Jesse. Carrot and Raisin salad or twice-baked potatoes would incorporate this symbol nicely.

December 20

O Key of David (O Clavis David) O Key of David, Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens. Come, and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Symbols: Key, broken chains

Foods: Serve a bowl of unshelled nuts with a nutcracker. Without the “key” (nutcracker) you cannot get inside easily. Breaking the nut can be a reminder of the broken chains.

December 21

O Rising Dawn (O Oriens): O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice; Come, enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Symbols: Sunrise, sun

Foods: Oranges or clementines have long been reminders of the sun.

December 22

O King of the Gentiles or Nations (O Rex Gentium): O King of the Gentiles, Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save poor man whom you fashion out of clay.

Symbols: Crown and scepter; cornerstone

Foods: There have been several crown cake ideas posted here. Something much easier would be a wreath cookie, Rice Krispie treats shaped into a wreath, or some simple butter or sugar cookies (very popular this time of year) in the shape of a wreath. Fresh green wreaths were probably the first crowns. Using the cornerstone as the main symbol, a loaf shaped food would give a visual idea of a brick or cornerstone. How about a pound cake, banana bread for dessert, or meatloaf for dinner (but spare the jokes about how hard the meatloaf is)?

December 23

O Emmanuel: O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations and their Savior: Come, and save us, O Lord our God.

Symbols: Manger, Chalice and host, Crown with tablets

Foods: Considering the symbols, bread and wine would be a simple addition for the meal. Even though the people of the Old Testament didn’t realize that Emmanuel was to come in the form of a baby, we do know that Jesus became man, first as a helpless infant. Think of soft “mushy” foods to serve: mashed potatoes, ice cream, pudding, rice pudding, or applesauce.

December 24
This day doesn’t have an official O Antiphon in the Liturgy, because the Evening Prayer or Vespers is actually Evening Prayer I which is the beginning of Christmas. There are old traditions in some religious orders that include a final antiphon to Mary for Christmas Eve:

O Virgin of Virgins (O Virgo Virginum): O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before you was any like you, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why do you marvel at me? What you behold is a divine mystery!

Symbols: lily or fleur-de-lis.

Foods: The term virgin evokes purity, cleanliness, white. The ideas for white foods for the feast of the Immaculate Conception would be appropriate here, too. And how about clear or pure water, sparkling beverages, clear consomme?

For more information on this treasure of the Liturgy, see my earlier article The Great “O” Antiphons at O Night Divine.

O Come, O Come O Lord, Do Not Delay!!!

(Graphics taken from Family Advent Customs by Helen McLoughlin. Copyright 1954, 1979 by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota and With Christ Through the Year, illustrated by Sister M. A. Justina Knapp, OSB, Copyright 1947, Bruce Publishing Company.) and

Staples of Our Feastday Celebrations Part Two: Wine

This is a revision original post at Catholic Cuisine

Otherwise entitled “Feasting for Adults through the Liturgical Year, Part Two.”

Continued from Part One: Bread.

I just loved Mary Ellen’s Feeling Wine-y. She echoed so many of my feelings about wine and alcoholic beverages in general. It so wonderful that as a Catholic we don’t have to be ashamed to enjoy alcohol. Along with bread, wine is the other component of the Eucharist. All over the world grapes are grown, wine is made and shared. For many years people drank wine (or other alcoholic beverages) instead of water because of poor sanitation.

Our courtship and marriage has been highlighted by the enjoying of various wines, for extra-special occasions and evening hours after the children are in bed. And for family get-togethers the two questions are always raised, “Who is bringing the wine?” and “What kind?” Generally my extended family enjoys reds, usually Cabernets.

Dh and I do try different varietals and various countries of origin. A few years ago we were enjoying all wines Spanish, especially the Rioja. We love trying rich Zinfandels (the red kind). I enjoy finding some French wine that isn’t overpriced. Now that it is warmer we like the drier white wines which are more refreshing sipping wines.

We got over our intimidation with wine after reading the “Tastings” Column in The Wall Street Journal by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. We’ve also read their books, such as:

The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine: New and Improved: How to Buy, Drink, and Enjoy Wine,

Wine for Every Day and Every Occasion: Red, White, and Bubbly to Celebrate the Joy of Living, and

Love by the Glass.

All their books are quite practical and easy reading, helping the ordinary man enjoy wine. There is no snobbery involved, but just help in understanding a bit more about wine, and making memories. I never had the opportunity like Mary Ellen, so I’m no expert, but we do enjoy the adventure.

Wine was used for the institution of the Eucharist, at the Last Supper. Now it is daily used at Mass all over the world, before it is transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus.

I also love to think about Our Lord’s first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana. Jesus and his mother were probably at a family’s, or at least close friends’, celebration, and wine was a necessity, not a luxury! It was part of the social feasting aspect. What more blessing can we have for enjoying wine in social gatherings?

I have a few unorthodox suggestions for expanding and trying different wines, and incorporating them into family and feast day celebrations at home. Of course wine connoisseurs may not agree with some of my suggestions, but truly, we’ve found some very fine wines this way. It’s fun to experiment and wander away from the usual standards.

First start reading about different types of wines, the varieties from various regions in different countries. What piques your interest? Sweet wines? Bold reds? Dry white wines? Traditional varieties, or the new grapes? What countries do you want to “visit”? After all, wine doesn’t only come from France and California.

Then have fun trying out different wines. In my local area Trader Joes, Costco, Total Wine, and even Wal-Mart have many wines priced very reasonably, so one can experiment without breaking the bank. Read labels and descriptions and pick something that appeals to you. I’m in no way advocating buying “Blue Nun” for a blue bottle for a Marian feast or a sister’s habit for a nun’s feast day, but if some of the choices do come down to a choice of a label, go with what appeals to you! There are hits and misses, but the madness of this method is for a twofold purpose: enjoy the wine, and get to know a saint more deeply.

  1. Follow the feasts in the Church that incorporate wine and blessings.The Roman Ritual contains several blessings for wine or the New Roman Ritual. There are specific feast days officially connected to the blessing of wine, such as the feast of St. John the Evangelist on December 27 and St. Blaise, February 3.

    There are also local church traditions connected with wine, such as the upcoming feast of the Transfiguration in Rome. In France on St. Martin of Tours, November 11, Beaujolais Nouveau is drunk. Both celebrate the new wine in various stages. There are also annual blessings of grapevines in spring and of the harvest of grapesin the fall.

  2. Find a winery or type of grapes grown near where the saint was born or lived, or even where his remains are held.

    It’s fun to pinpoint the region of origin or mission territories or relics of saints. Finding out about the wine of the region helps one understand the local climate and geography. Arid and dry? Very wet all year? Mountainous or coastal? I find I can understand the saint and his daily hardships when I learn about where he/she lived.

    How about a Spanish saint, such St. Josemaria Escriva, who was born in Barbastro, Spain? He was born near the Somontano Region, which produces several varieties of wine. For more Spanish ideas see Spanish wine and map of regions. Cava, port, and sherry would also fit into the Spanish heritage.

    Frascati, a refreshing white wine, would be perfect for any pope’s feast day, particularly those that fall during summertime. While on a trip to Rome, we had a day excursion nearby the pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. We enjoyed with our dinner the local wine, Frascati, and found out that it is a favorite with Romans (including the Pope) during the summertime.

    St. Robert Bellarmine was from Montepulciano, which is a town in Florence, but also a type of wine grape is from that area.

  3. Find the type of drink from time period of saint or an old winery that dates from around time of saint. Since the majority of saints on the calendar are mostly from Europe, the choices will generally be European wines. But Blessed Junipero Serra is an outside example. He founded many of the older vineyards during his mission work in California. According to the fun book The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey, & Song: A Spirited Look at Catholic Life & Lore from the Apocalypse to Zinfandel by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak, Mission wines have been used in the United States since 1769. The priests needed wine to say Mass, so they planted their own vineyards. Angelica is the first variety produced. “Private companies raising the old Franciscan grapes include Robert Mondavi and Gallo. Angelica is often bought by churches for use as altar wine at Mass by priests…”

    (By the way, I highly recommend The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey, & Song. Don’t be put off by the title. It’s sometimes irreverent, but nothing sacrilegious or contrary to the faith. It’s an A to Z approach to various beers, ales, wine, etc. with short lessons on the Catholic Church, the Catechism, history, and culture. It’s delightfully written and has good recipes, too.)

    Loosely one could use American Mondavi or Gallo wines to cover feasts like the angels, Saint Anthony, Saint Francis, and any other saints used for Californian missions.

  4. Find vineyards/wineries named after saints, feasts, religious orders, popes, maybe same country of origin.We’ve tried California’s Franciscan for Franciscan saints, Italian Feudi di San Gregorio for our family’s name saint, St. Gregory and other Italian saints.

    One special treat wine for us is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. According to Zmirak, “[t]his spicy, dense variety of wine is usually red, and typically excellent”. The name means “the pope’s new Chateau or Castle”, with the papal keys usually found on the label. The vineyards were established during the time of the Avignon Papacy or Western Schism. So I would consider using this wine for a) French saints near this region, b) for saints like St. Catherine of Siena, who worked so tirelessly to bring the pope back to Rome, and also for c) Papal saints, just because the visual of the papal keys on the label is great for discussions.

  5. Match the wine to the type of personality of the saint.
    For St. Jerome, St. Paul how about fiery, red, bold wines, like Zinfandel? For St. Therese the Little Flower seems fitting to have a dessert or sweet wine. St. Francis and St. John Bosco seem so fun and joyful that a bubbly or sparkling wine would imitate their personality. And for St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas, it seems only a scholarly port would do.
  6. Seasonal saint wine
    Consider cool whites for summer saints and reds to warm oneself during the winter months. Also consider Wassail or mulled wines for those cold times.
  7. Liturgical colors reflected in the wine
    For feasts of Virgins, Popes, serve white wines.
    For feasts of Martyrs, Apostles, Bishops and Cardinals, serve red.
    For the Solemnity of Pentecost, serve red wine.
    For the Solemnities of Easter and Christmas and Epiphany, serve white and maybe white sparkling wine, like Champagne or Cava.

    It does go against our family tradition to suggest whites for the high feast days, because our favorites are reds, and for big feasts and family events, red is the wine of choice. We just spend a little more for a fancier wine.

It looks overwhelming written out, but I’m really not suggesting anything out of the ordinary or difficult. It’s the process that’s fun.

A toast to the love of our Mother Church and her saints!

Staples of Our Feastday Celebrations Part One: Bread

This is a revision of my original post at Catholic Cuisine.

I had sketched an outline for an article years ago on some how-to pointers celebrating with bread and wine for the Liturgical Year (on the back of two envelopes, no less — my greatest brain storms are always sketched on the backs of envelopes).

While some of these ideas can be incorporated in the family, you might also say this series could be entitled “Feasting for Adults through the Liturgical Year.”

Like Mary M mentioned, “Bread is such a significant image in our faith…and it is a staple of life.” I find breaking bread (literally and figuratively) and sharing wine together is such a wonderful social experience. I enjoy baking bread, although I’ve had to shelve most of my interaction with wheat flour because of my older son’s food allergy to wheat and my wheat intolerance. There might be a chance he’ll outgrow the allergy, but for now I enjoy talking recipes and sharing for other people.

Since bread is “the staple of life” it seems so natural to work bread into our celebrations around the year. I mentioned some ideas here on First Communion breads. Some further extensions of incorporating bread for feastdays:

Liturgical Feasting With Bread:

  1. This is the most obvious: bake breads that are traditionally linked with a feast or saint, such as the German Christmas Christollen or Stollen which resembles the Christ Child in swaddling clothes. Or St. Catherine’s Wigs for St. Catherine of Alexandria’s feast on November 25.
  2. Don’t be limited by yeast breads, but remember there are a vast array of recipes for sourdough breads, rolls, quick breads, muffins, gluten-free and wheat free baking, scones, (American) biscuits, etc. In our family dinners I mark the special feasts with some kind of bread, as I don’t serve it every day.
  3. Use bread recipes from a geographic area, region, or culture. For example, for the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Italian bread would be appropriate, but you could also delve deeper and use a bread recipe from the Umbrian region or specifically a recipe from the city of Assisi. The same principle applied elsewhere, such as not confusing Spanish with Castilian saints (St. Ignatius of Loyola was Castilian). France is divided into various regions, each with unique flavors, such as bread from Provençal. Our Holy Father, Benedict XVI is from Germany, but he’s specifically from Bavaria.
  4. Use regional ingredients (grains, fruits, etc.) to mark a feast. Is a saint from Scotland? Oat cakes or scones or bannocks would be a perfect touch. For example, serve the native corn in the style of cornbread on Saint Kateri Tekakwitha’s feast on July 14. For St. Barnabas the Apostle (June 11), incorporate some olive bread, since one of his symbols is the olive branch. Or mix in some appropriate vegetables, fruits, and/or nuts into your usual bread dough to mark the feast.
  5. Use inspiration from other traditions and customs around the world. The food doesn’t have to be applied to the original feast, like Symbolic Breads, which were originally from St. Joseph’s feast day, but the shaping of breads can be applied to various feasts, including Corpus Christi Sunday. Also look at historical recipes, like biblical, Ancient Mediterranean, medieval, etc. Try medieval baking for a saint or feast from the medieval era, or biblical breads, such as Ezekiel fasting bread for ember days and unleavened bread for some New Testament saints. And how about some Jewish kosher cooking for saints like Martha? A Jewish challah bread would be perfect for her day!
  6. Play with words! Sometimes recipes have unique or fun titles, or use proper names. If a bread has a name that fits with the saint of the day, use it! I keep thinking of the story of panettone, Tony’s Bread by Tomie dePaola. Since it’s named after Tony, it would be perfect to serve on St. Anthony Abbott’s feast on January 17th, whose daily bread was brought to him by a raven. Most Italians don’t bake this bread but buy it, so purchase an extra box at Christmas and save it for this feast.
  7. Be inspired by the shapes and colors of breads. A fabulous Easter bread is the Italian Colomba di Pasqua or Colomba Pasquale (Easter Dove). Dh and I have bought this for two Easters from our favorite local Italian restaurant. Although it’s originally an Easter bread, the dove shape makes it perfect to serve Columba Pasquale for Pentecost or Confirmation celebrations.And the same can be applied to Greek Trinity bread — an Easter bread, but triangular in shape would make it perfect for the Feast of the Blessed Trinity. Cloverleaf and Shamrock Rolls can be used for the feast of St. Patrick and the feast of the Blessed Trinity.
  8. Have a blessing of bread when everyone is gathered before eating.The old Roman Ritual has a delightful collection of blessings of foods, particularly breads.

    Lord Jesus Christ, You live and are King forever. Bread of angels, Bread of everlasting life, be so kind as to bless this bread as You blessed the five loaves in the desert, that all who taste of it may through it receive health of body and soul. R. Amen.

    This page has a compilation of the Blessings of Food. Note there are three specifically for bread!

Cookbook Recommendations: The following books are my favorite bread cookbooks, great for inspiration on bread baking throughout the year:

The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Brother Rick Curry. For me there are two types of cookbooks, one is wonderful reading AND good recipes, and the other a great compilation of recipes. This falls into the former. Brother Rick shares the spiritual side of baking bread. He follows St. Ignatius’ rule to make a daily Examen of Conscience, and does it while he bakes bread. “Radical or not, I consider it to be one of the secrets of Jesuit breadmaking.” This is a delightful cookbook, with such personal anecdotes and practical baking advice. He uses recipes from Jesuits from all over the world, with breads for all the seasons: Advent, Lent, Christmas, Easter, and also daily breads, rolls, muffins and corn breads.

The Festive Bread Book by Kathy Cutler. This is an out-of-print cookbook, but very easy to find used copies. It has the most delightful collection of festive breads for all sorts of days, both secular holidays (Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays, Election Day, for examples) and some religious feast days, including ones like St. Barbara (December 4), St. Lucia, and St. Joseph. Not every recipe is illustrated, but the book does include several mouth-watering photographs.

Celebration Breads: Recipes, Tales, and Traditions by Betsy Oppenneer is an excellent, step-by-step cookbook for baking bread. Each recipe has alternative directions for mixing by hand, by mixer and by food processor. The book is organized by country and then breads for various celebrations of that culture, with descriptions and tales for each. It’s a delightful book, with hand drawn illustrations throughout. Check out a preview at Google Books.

Stayed tuned for Staples of Our Feastday Celebrations Part Two: Wine.

1st Sunday of Advent: Sugar Plum Cake

On the first Sunday of Advent, the Collect prayer from the 1962 Extraordinary Form of the Mass prays:

O Lord, stir up Your might and come! May we deserve Your protection. Deliver us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and be our salvation.

We begin our Advent journey to Christmas, and the Church begs Christ to come. Not only do we ask God to to God to “stir up” His might, we also are looking to stir up our hearts, to start preparing ourselves for His coming.

With this request to God to “stir up” His might, this day was traditionally called Stir-Up Sunday. Many families would begin a traditional plum pudding or fruit cake or some other recipe that everyone can take a turn to “stir-up”. This activity of stirring-up the ingredients symbolizes our hearts that must be stirred in preparation for Christ’s birth.

Usually batter needs to be mixed up well, and everyone in the family and guests should give a good stir.

I personally do not enjoy fruitcake or plum pudding, so I’m always trying to think of a different recipe that would need lots of stirring and can be saved and gets better with time. This recipe is a big contender.

This is a delicious, spice-filled, every-so-moist cake! Prunes have never had such a lovely presentation! This is my MIL’s recipe, and a traditional favorite for Christmas brunch. She makes it ahead of time and stores it in the refrigerator. It gets moister as time progresses.

Sugar Plum Cake

2 cups sugar
3 whole eggs
1 cup cooking oil
1 tsp. soda
2 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup cooked unpitted prunes*
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp. each ground nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and salt

*Cooked prunes: Dried plums or prunes, add water and cook in saucepan until plumped up. Measure AFTER cooking. MIL cuts them in half.

Combine sugar, eggs, oil, and buttermilk. Add dry ingredients gradually and mix well. Fold in nuts and prunes. Pour into tube pan. Bake at 325 degrees F. for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool in wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, or add glaze.

Glaze (optional)

1/4 cup cold milk
1/2 powdered sugar

Mix and pour on cooled cake.

Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.