Category Archives: Book Reviews

Father Leo’s Fusion Fajitas: Why I Am a Book Blogger and Not a Food Blogger Will be Evident Here

All month long, I’ve been promising to myself make the fusion fajitas that Father Leo Patalinghug beat Food TV Chef Bobby Flay on the “Throwdown” show.  We have watched the episode plenty of times at our house, especially after Father Leo appeared at our parish in May.  What an exciting time we had meeting him in person.

The fusion fajitas appear in Father Leo’s new edition of Grace Before Meals, his cookbook that encourages families to eat and talk together.  Here’s my review from The Catholic Post of Father Leo’s book Grace Before Meals.
The fajitas are thinly sliced flank steak along with sautéed onions & peppers, and served with “Holy Guacamole” and “Screamin’ Sour Cream” dip, and tortillas.
But it’s been a busy month, and I kept making “the usuals.”  Finally, last week I bought the ingredients (many perishable) so I would be sure to make them.  Flank steak was the hardest to obtain; I finally had to settle for skirt steak from a local specialty grocery store, Lindy’s,  in a nearby town.  The helpful staff assured me it would substitute nicely.
So finally, last Wednesday I decided was “the day.”
I assembled the ingredients on the kitchen table.  I thought that would be easier than taking things out one by one, and also I am prone to sometimes famously forget a critical ingredient when I cook (oops!  That hummus doesn’t have any lemon juice! Not so great, trust me).
Next, I mixed up the marinade for the steak and poured it over the steak, reserving some of the marinade to cook the onions & peppers in.
My youngest helped “tenderize” the meat with a fork.  He is saying here, a direct and favorite quote from Father Leo from the “Throwdown” episode, “I don’t want to make it too holy–that’s God’s job.”
Now the steak gets to sit in the marinade while I make the rest of the items.  I was surprised at how much brown sugar (1 cup) was in the marinade, but I don’t often marinade so what would I know?

Next, onto the “Holy Guacamole.”  I started by juicing one lime:
Next, I chopped up two avocados (I’m not sure if I’m spelling the word right, but adding an “e” triggered spellcheck), and immediately poured the lime juice over them to prevent browning:
Next, finely chopped red onion:

Now, some parsley, cilantro and salt is added to the mix and it is all smashed together.
Now it’s time to make the Screaming Sour Cream:  basically sour cream mixed with hot sauce, garlic and a few other ingredients.  Here it is before mixing:
Now, the reason I am a book blogger and not a food blogger should be evident by the fact that I lost steam around here and needed to get “dinner on the table,” and so did not take photos of lighting the charcoal for the grill, grilling the steak and letting it rest, sautéing the vegetables (though the chopped ones are visible in the last photo), etc., etc.
But I did finish the fusion fajitas, and we did have them for dinner.  They were very yummy:

Not everyone tried all of the fajitas as prepared, as I might have predicted.  The skirt steak was a big hit, as were some of the other items.  I filled out the table with refried beans (popular at our house scooped up with tortilla chips), a couple of cheese quesadillas, and some tortilla chips.  Everyone ate well and we had a relatively placid dinner and fun talking about Father Leo.
What I have to confess here is that I ended up making the “fusion fajitas” was towards the end of a day I felt convinced I am a failure as a wife and mother.  Ever have a day like that?  Last Wednesday was one of those for me.  Everyone, just everyone, in our house, yelled and was in tears for goodly portions of that day.  The only reason my husband escaped this fate is he had the great good fortune to go to work, but since he still was available via phone and email he did learn about our exploits at various points.
It was one of those truly horrible days that instead of loving the lifestyle of educating our children at home and being with my children all.the.time, I start researching boarding schools in New Zealand.  That is my big, laughing joke when chatting about homeschooling, “Yes, I love it, except on days when I want to send my children to a boarding school in New Zealand!”   And yet, there are days when that is not a joke.
Anyway, I wish I could say that making the fusion fajitas and eating them together as a family made everything terrific for the ending of that day, but it didn’t exactly do that.
However, it did make it a little bit better.  I didn’t feel quite so much of a complete failure because I tried a new recipe, had fun taking photos of it (until I ran out of time and needed to get dinner finished), and had more of a fun story to tell my husband at the table than a re-hash of the horrible day.
Maybe that’s what family meals together are supposed to do:  make things a little better, make us connect just a little bit more so we don’t despair about the inevitable bad days and bickering that goes on in families.
I think I might try to try one new complete meal recipe, along the lines of Father Leo’s Fusion Fajitas, once a month or so.  But next time, I’m going to do it on a good day.
Do you have any full-meal recipes I should try?  Or, better yet, any good New Zealand boarding schools to recommend?

Meet a Reader: Sylvia Standaert

Here’s August’s “Meet a Reader,”  the monthly feature that also appears on the Book Page of the Catholic Post.
If you have a suggestion of someone that would be a good subject for a future “Meet a Reader” column, please leave a comment!
Who:  Sylvia Standaert, librarian, Our Lady of Grace Academy (formerly St. Anne School), East Moline
I was born with Cerebral Palsy but because of my parents’ dedication and my determination and tenacity, it has never deterred me from reaching my goals.  I have worked in a Pre-school-8th grade school library (Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy formerly St. Anne School) for 43 years.  The kids keep me going.  I have two older brothers, Gene and Jim, and enjoy their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  My hobbies include collecting Longaberger baskets, reading, shopping and travel.  I have visited 46 states and 14 countries.
Why do you love reading?
I have read voraciously since the first day I could read.  It might have stemmed from the fact that it was something I could do despite my handicap, but I can’t imagine being without a book.  Books can take you anyplace you want to go, and make you feel like you are part of the characters’ lives.   Books can teach you anything you want to learn about any subject imaginable.
What is your favorite book? 
My favorite book is The Bears Visit the Library, a book I wrote and my niece/godchild Michele illustrated. (Michele is an artist in Arizona).  The Bears Visit the Library is based on a program I do each year with the kindergarten class at our school.  When we started the kindergarten at the school, I thought using my extensive collection of teddy bears could be a great way to relay the importance of reading and using the library to a group of very inquisitive five-year-olds.   I usually start my bear curriculum in January, about the time the kindergarten teacher is doing something with polar bears.   As the school year progresses, brown bears appear, as do holiday, gardening and sports bears.
What are you currently reading? Mysteries are my favorite genre.   I just finished a Charlotte LaRue Mystery “Death Tidies Up by Barbara Coley.  Charlotte has a maid service and keeps finding dead bodies in unusual places.  I love the Abby and Ophelia mystery series by Shirley Damsgaard, including the latest in the series, “The Seventh Witch.”  Ophelia is a small town librarian, and she and her grandmother Abby have some very “magickal” powers.   Other favorite authors include Joanne Fluke, Mary Higgins Clark, Nicholas Sparks, Nora Roberts and John Grisham.

Meet a Reader: Sebastian Von Zerneck

Here is my interview with Sebastian Von Zerneck, a high school student and the featured “reader” in this month’s “What Are You Reading?” column.  A shorter version of this will appear in today’s print Catholic Post.  I’m grateful to Sebastian for his willingness to participate here, as well as his remarkable work with Project Bright Bookcases.
Who: Sebastian VonZerneck, a 17-year-old rising senior at Peoria Notre Dame. 

Last summer I started Project Bright Bookcases to provide good books to kids in places where kids might not encounter books.   I was at the Peoria courthouse and noticed a room where children go when their parents are in court. My mother was with me, and we had a conversation about how essential quality reading material is at a young age. We also talked about how a lot of teenagers, as they grow up, have no use for the children’s books they’ve accumulated over the years.  I solicited and got donations of more than 2,000 books and several bookcases.  I fixed up the bookcases, and organized the books.  Finally last spring, I sent out letters to various locations organizations in the Peoria area who I heard could use the bookcases. We still have donations coming in and bookcases going out. 

Why I Love Reading:. Until I was 11, I lived in Brooklyn, New York, very close to what I consider the best public library in the world: Brooklyn Public Library. A lot of homeless people hung out or lived nearby, and I remember thinking that it wasn’t a terrible place to be homeless. 

I guess you could say I’ve been surrounded by literature since birth. We’ve always had a lot of books at our house, including several hundred stacked in shelves in the room my brother and I shared.  My grandfather Tom Klise wrote The Last Western; my aunts Kate and SarahKlise are children’s book authors. 

 I love reading because it allows me to experience times, locations, and situations that I otherwise couldn’t. I’ve also learned a lot from reading, probably more than I’ve learned in school. In fiction, what happens is shown to you, rather than told to you. This makes the information much more engaging than that presented in a textbook or class lecture. A teacher can talk all day about a certain time period, say, the Stalin era, but by reading Animal Farm I can honestly say that I have a solid understanding of all the various motives and ideologies that are crucial to knowing why things happened the way they did. Reading is, to me, a way to gain first-hand insight into a situation, which is difficult to gain just from hearing about it through an outside source. 

What I’m Reading Now: The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas, follows a young French nobleman and his three friends in the King’s musketeers trying to protect their King and Queen from the sinister machinations of Cardinal Richelieu. This book is incredible. It’s one thing to hear about the harshness of this time period, the far-reaching influence of certain key political figures, and the chess game that they played across Europe. But to read this book is to experience 17th century France first-hand. The characters are hilarious and memorable, the plot is fast and entertaining, and the politics are totally intriguing. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a good adventure, or is interested in French history. 

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, was written in the 6th century BC China. It’s hard to believe this work was written so long ago because the strategies it presents are still very applicable to modern thinking. Ideas on how to divide your army and how to use spies may seem of no practical use to someone who is not in the military, but if you think about it the tactics that Sun Tzu discusses are universal. A good example is card games. I know a lot of people who buy books about how to win at poker, or whatever. This book trumps all, no pun intended. Things like getting into the mind of your enemy by bluffing or underplaying are masterfully dissected in The Art of War. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has need to think strategically:  In other words, everyone. 

My Favorite Books: Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, is a dark, dystopian novel about a totalitarian government that watches people even to the point of thought surveillance. Two civil servants become fed up with the regime and rebel in secret. To me, the politics were not even the most interesting part of the story. What really made an impact on me was the effect of the government’s mind-washing techniques on the protagonists. I won’t give anything away, but the conclusion was haunting. I thought about this book for a long time after I finished it, and that’s why I count it as one of my favorites. 

Shogun, by James Clavell, is an epic story about Tokugawa’s rise to power in 17th century Japan.  Japan was isolated from Europe for many centuries, and, because of that, Japanese ideas on philosophy and religion bore almost no resemblance to those of the first European visitors. After reading this almost 1200-page book, however, I really began to understand what motivated Japanese society during that era. Excuse the cliché, but it’s one of those stories that I literally could not put down once I became engrossed in the complex plot. The characters become so sympathetic that many of the events in the story become almost as emotional as those of real life. For those reasons, I recommend this book to anyone who can read. 

“Meet a Reader” Feature: Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB

This week’s Catholic Post Book Page features a new article series called, “Meet a Reader”  Each month, we’ll highlight the reading of someone, almost always from within the Diocese of Peoria, who shares a love of books and reading.

Ourinagural “Reader” is Sister Catherine Cleary, and I’ve had a delightful e-correspondence with her in preparing this month’s feature.  I look forward to meeting her someday soon!  Thanks, Sister Catherine, for sharing your selections and your love of books.

Who:  Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB
Spiritual director and retreat leader, Benet House Retreat Center
St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island
Why I Love Reading:
My love for reading developed as I was growing up with my nine sisters and brothers on a farm between Gridley and El Paso, Ill.  Both of my parents read a lot and read to us. Saturday afternoon was synonymous with a trip to catechism and to the library.  My father would often quote a line of poetry and challenge us to finish it and name both author and poem.  The line usually fit the circumstances of our lives at the time.
My childhood reading experience was excellent preparation for Benedictine life, since the Rule of Benedict directs us to read Scripture, to do Lectio Divina and encourages us to read and to study as part of our spiritual life.
I love reading because books can take me to another century, another country, and/or to new areas of interest. Words can transform my day, my thinking and my attitude from the ho- hum to a new level of beauty.
What I’m Reading Now:
­*Mildred Walker’s Winter Wheat tells the story of Ellen Webb, growing up on a desperately poor wheat ranch in Montana in the 1940s. One can see the ruggedness of the land, feel the cold and heat, taste the blowing dust and experience the joy and the pain of Ellen’s relationships.
*Three Cups of Tea, Cups of Tea highlights social entrepreneur Gregory Mortensen’s mission to promote peace by bringing education to children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The writing is lively, but book’s chief value is showing how one person’s passion and sacrifice can make an enormous difference.
*Finally, Hemlock at Vespers by Peter Tremayne, is a collection of mystery short stories, and an enjoyable way to learn about the culture and history of 7th century Ireland.  Sister Fidelma, a qualified attorney, travels about the country solving cases, much to the dismay and surprise of the men of the Church, her own monastery, and the legal profession.
My Favorite Book:
It is difficult to pick one favorite book, but one is Thomas Merton’s Dialogues with Silence; here his writing echoes the conversations of his inner spirit, the world around him and his dialogue with God. What appeals to me most is Merton’s honesty, his sheer truthfulness about his inner self, his seeking his true self and his abandoning his false self.