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Saints at the Dinner Table
By Amy Heyd
Looking for saints who shared her love of cooking, this mother discovered several, such as Sts. Margaret and Christine, whom she would like to invite to her house.

Q U I C K S C A N


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I REALIZE NOW more than ever that when I pray to a saint, I need to have some connection with that saint. Because I am a mother of three children and enjoy cooking for my family as well as friends, I thought I would research saints who shared my interest in food and caretaking.

I discovered some saints who not only had some interesting commonalities with my own life, but also had great stories to tell. While I was becoming spiritually inspired by each saint, each story made me think of an item of food and, eventually, of meals I have been making my entire adult life, as well as new ones I was creating that were inspired, if you will, by the saints themselves.

What began as a quest to find a connection during my mother’s time of illness resulted in me finding my mother’s soul (and all the saints she is up in heaven with) right here in my own home, my own kitchen.

I invite you now to break bread with one of our most beloved saints, St. Margaret of Scotland, whose meals and generosity for the poor inspired others. And for good measure, consider mad St. Christine.

In 1016 the Danes took control of England. The English royal family was in grave danger and had no choice but to take their young children across the turbulent sea to Hungary for refuge. There they were welcomed to live in the royal court of King Peter Urseolo.

This Hungarian castle offered all of the finer things. Beautiful tapestries hung on the walls made the castle not only more beautiful but also warmer. Sparkling silver trays served aromatic meals. The ladies of the court wore colorful gowns and were covered in jewels. Aristocratic young ladies were trained in Latin, German and English, and taught all of the Christian virtues.

St. Margaret was born in 1045 into this royal English family exiled in Hungary. She, too, learned all of the finer things the court had to teach, and she grew to be an intelligent, refined, devout young lady. She appreciated the generosity of the Hungarian court and fully knew her life depended upon their kindness.

By the time she was 12, around 1056, the political climate in England had changed. Her great-uncle was the king and her family once again ruled England. Margaret and her family traveled back to England to live in the English court and wait for the day that her own father would become king.

The family quickly adjusted to their new life and enjoyed feeling in control of their destiny. Shortly after they settled, Margaret’s father fell ill and died. And in 1066 William the Conqueror invaded England and won the throne in the infamous Battle of Hastings.

Again, Margaret’s family was no longer safe. So under the cover of darkness, the family headed for their ship and made haste for Hungary. The seas were wild and the frigid winds were fierce. The winds took the ship up the coast to Dunfermline, Scotland, where it landed at what is now called St. Margaret’s Hope.

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Began Change With Herself

Malcolm III, the king of Scotland, greeted the family and took them in. Scotland and England had been battling for years, and Malcolm could see the benefit of an alliance with England. Malcolm, a powerful and cunning leader, immediately felt an attraction to Margaret. He respected her intelligence and admired her inner beauty as well as her delicate frame. But he was the opposite of her. He was large, uneducated and almost savage. He wanted her as his bride, and with the situation her family was in, she acquiesced.

Serves: 6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5–10 minutes

1 (5-ounce) bag of spring greens
6 large strawberries, cleaned and sliced
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1/4 cup toasted macadamia nuts
1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles or blue cheese crumbles

When ready to serve the salad, place the greens, strawberries, avocado, cheese and nuts in a salad bowl and drizzle dressing over the salad. Toss to mix. (The avocados and strawberries will be fresher if sliced right before serving.)

DRESSING
3/4 cup sweet onion, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard (mustard made with whole mustard seed)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Place onions and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally so the onions brown, but do not burn. Cook for 5–10 minutes until the onions are soft and caramelized.

Place the onions and oil from the pan into a jar or container that has a lid. Add the remaining oil, mustard, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place the lid on the jar and shake well to combine.

Margaret soon found Malcolm’s inner goodness and returned his love. At 24, she knew this foreign land was now her country. She wanted to make her surroundings more familiar, so she began to bring some of the finer things into her new court. She hung tapestries, dressed in the latest couture and introduced ornate silver serving items. The castle was now a place a king could entertain the most influential people.

As Margaret looked around the kingdom, she felt so much unrest and strife. She longed for her people to get along and treat each other with the respect Jesus taught. To incite change, she began with herself. During Lent and Advent she began each day before dawn praying and attending several Masses. She fasted through the day and then, before she would eat her one paltry meal, she would personally feed poor orphans who had been brought to the castle.

Before retiring to bed, she and the king would wash the feet of some chosen poor people in the kingdom. They then would provide them with food and money to help the families.

Together, Margaret and Malcolm would host large feasts for 300 of the most destitute villagers in the kingdom. The great hall was filled with tables set with the finest silver. The food was delicious and bountiful. Anyone walking in would think the feast was for the richest nobility in the kingdom, not the poorest peasants. No one else was allowed to attend or witness this act of generosity. This was not a public relations stunt to impress; it was their gift. The couple served the food lovingly to the poor as though they were serving Jesus himself.

As Margaret grew spiritually, she began to affect others around her. This was the most evident in her husband. Before Margaret’s arrival into his life, he had never held feasts for the poor, and wouldn’t even think of washing someone else’s feet. As he witnessed her inner peace grow, he began to join in her charity. Others began to help, too.

Yield: 24 mini cakes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Prep time: 30 minutes
Preheat oven: 350° F

1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 egg
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

In a large bowl combine buttermilk, water, oil, peppermint extract, sugar, egg and baking soda. Mix on low speed with mixer for 2 minutes. Add flour and cocoa powder and mix for another 2 minutes. Divide batter into 24 greased muffin rounds. Bake for 15 minutes. The cakes are ready when you lightly press your finger on them and they slowly spring back. Let the cakes sit in the pan for 5 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

VANILLA CREAM FILLING
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 (3.4-ounce) package of instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup whipping cream

In a large bowl mix cream cheese, pudding mix and whipping cream for 2–3 minutes. Scoop this mixture into a large plastic zip-top storage bag. Squeeze the cream mixture toward one corner of the bag. Cut that corner of the bag to make a 1/2-inch opening. Set aside.

CHOCOLATE GANACHE
1 cup whipping cream
8 ounces high-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips

Bring cream to a slow boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate chips until the cream and chocolate form a smooth sauce.

To assemble the cakes, slice a cupcake in half horizontally. In a circular motion, starting on the outer edge of the bottom half of the cupcake, squeeze the vanilla cream mixture to cover the bottom half of the cake. Place the top half of the cake over the vanilla cream. Place the cake on wax paper and pour about one tablespoon of ganache over the cake. (It is easiest to put this together in assembly-line fashion. Cut all of the cakes open first. Swirl the cream filling on the bottom halves next. Finally, place the tops over the cream and cover with chocolate ganache.)

Optional garnish:
Reddi-wip topping
24 mint sprigs

If desired, place a dollop of Reddi-wip on top of each cake and top with a fresh mint sprig.

Margaret made it a custom to say grace before and after dinner, but some of the knights left the table immediately after finishing dinner. She didn’t like the fact that they didn’t thank the Lord after their meal, so she instituted the grace cup. A bejeweled silver cup with handles on either side was filled with fine wine and placed on the table at the end of the meal. Anyone who stayed and said the final grace could partake of the wine. The knights, not wanting to pass up another glass of wine, soon began praying after each meal. This is a tradition that continues today in Scotland.

Slowly but surely, Margaret’s influence began to spread. The people in her court were praying more and becoming more generous. Now she wanted to give all of Scotland more access to salvation. It was common for everyday people to go on pilgrimages to shrines and religious places. It was the belief that at such a holy place only good things could happen. All ills would be healed. All prayers would be answered.

St. Margaret provided easier access to St. Andrew’s shrine in Scotland. She had hostels built and staffed so pilgrims would have a comfortable place to stay and good food to eat. She provided a boat to ferry people across the river to the shrine. The ferry that runs there today is called the Queensferry to honor St. Margaret.

She hosted synods where she encouraged changes that brought the Scottish Church in line with the Roman Church. During the Middle Ages most people felt they were not worthy of receiving Holy Communion. Margaret wanted the people to experience the joy of the Eucharist, so she suggested confession and penance as the path to cleanse the soul and make ready for the Eucharist. This was a radical shift in thought for the times. People slowly began to share her view.

In 1093, Malcolm and two of their sons went to battle against England. Margaret was sick and begged them not to go. Duty called, and they went against her wishes. As she lay in bed, feeling particularly morose, her son Edgar came back from the battlefield. Some time passed before he could find the words to tell his mother that Malcolm and Edward, his older brother, had been killed.

After all of her struggles in life, this was more than she could handle. After hearing the news, Margaret began to pray, “Lord Jesus, who according to the will of the Father, through the cooperation of the Holy Ghost, hast by Thy death given life to the world, deliver me....” With that, on November 16, 1093, Margaret died.

Her feast day, which used to be celebrated on June 10, is now November 16. She is the patron saint of large families, those grieving the death of a child, education and learning, Scotland, widows and queens.

The impact St. Margaret had on her country is amazing. She made great changes, but she started small. So many times I think I cannot effect great change because I am not in a position to affect a lot of people. At first glance it seems obvious that, as queen, St. Margaret could impact many lives. But she didn’t mandate change; she inspired it with small actions that rippled like a drop of rain falling into a puddle.

If I take St. Margaret’s lead and start with myself, maybe my children will follow my example. My actions could have a similar ripple effect.

Today we talk so much about character. Someone once defined character as “doing the right thing when no one is looking.” St. Margaret embodied that definition. She recognized people in need and helped them because it was the right thing to do. She didn’t always parade her good acts in front of everyone. Sometimes she performed her acts of charity publicly to encourage change, but other times she acted quietly, just for God to witness.

Serves: 10–12
Cook time: 45 minutes
Prep time: 40 minutes
Preheat oven: 350° F

MEATBALLS
1/2 pound ground sirloin
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 pound ground pork
1 egg
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl and gently mix with your hands. Once combined, roll into balls about the size of an acorn. Place on a baking sheet that has sides and bake for 15 minutes. Set aside.

Time-saver: Instead of making homemade meatballs for the soup, buy frozen meatballs. They will be a little larger, but still good.

SOUP
1 batch of cooked meatballs (see previous recipe)
1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 (32-ounce) cans chicken broth
1-1/2 cups carrots sliced into 1/2-inch coins
1 bay leaf
1 (14.5-ounce) can petite-cut tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1-1/2 cups frozen baby peas
1 bag frozen cheese tortellini

In a large soup pot, sauté onions and celery in olive oil over medium heat for 5–10 minutes. The onions should look translucent. Add chicken broth, carrots, bay leaf, tomatoes, meatballs and garlic. Bring to a boil and cook on medium for 10 minutes. When the carrots are tender, add basil, peas and tortellini. Bring to a boil again and cook for another 7 minutes until the tortellini are cooked.

St. Margaret's Charity Soup

I first tasted a version of this soup when a dear friend of mine, Christy Pucci, out of charity, made it for my family after I gave birth to my youngest child, Charley. My family loved it and, while I loved the soup, too, I have to admit I mostly loved having a break during such a hectic time.

Now when I make this for my family (with my own additions to Christy’s original recipe), I always make a batch for someone else who might need a pick-me-up. This hearty soup honors the times when St. Margaret turned her home into a soup kitchen to feed the needy.

Every time I use mustard seeds in recipes (which I do in the salad dressing in this meal) I am reminded of the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32) and how our deeds, small like a mustard seed, can grow into the most marvelous actions with faith, hope, charity and love. The dessert is a rich, decadent dessert worthy of a king—or 300 of the neediest people in his kingdom!

St. Christine was a 12th-century saint who suffered a severe epileptic seizure, and everyone thought she was dead. At her funeral Mass, she awoke and reportedly flew to the ceiling to flee the scent of human sin from the people in the church.

Her sister and the priest talked her down from the ceiling, but Christine spent the rest of her life hiding in ovens and other places to escape from overpowering odors.

She is now the patron saint of psychiatrists and those with mental illnesses and—more loosely interpreted—anyone going nuts in the kitchen. Her feast day is July 24.

Dear St. Margaret, your actions of love, compassion and charity were indeed like the tiny mustard seed. They were the seemingly small and insignificant actions of one person, yet these acts of kindness grew in the hearts of many. May all our actions, small and not so small, be carried forward and spread throughout all of humankind. Amen.

Reprinted from Saints at the Dinner Table, © 2008, B16851, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202, phone 1-800-488-0488, www.AmericanCatholic.org, $19.95, plus shipping.

Serves: 6
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Preheat oven: 350° F

1 pound frozen bread dough, thawed to room temperature (It may take a couple of hours to thaw completely enough to roll out.)
1 (4-ounce) tub of garlic herb cheese spread, such as Alouette or boursin cheese
1 egg white
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)

Place the dough on a greased baking sheet. Roll the dough into a large rectangle (about 8 x 14 inches). Spread the cheese over the dough. Taking the long edge of the dough, roll over onto itself. Keep rolling until you meet the other side of the dough. When finished, the dough should form a long cylindrical shape. Brush the outside of the dough with egg white, then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 25 minutes. Bake for 25 minutes until the bread is golden brown.

 

Amy Heyd is a graduate of the University of Dayton and has been a finalist in many cooking contests, including the Pillsbury Bake-Off. She enjoys entertaining friends with delicious food and conversation, especially with her husband, Jim, and children, Abby, Maggie and Charley.


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