Congratulations on your two new books—they are both great! Tell me about how it happened that you have two books coming out at the same time.
Thursday Night Pizza came about because I was getting a reputation as a gourmet pizza maker. I started making pizzas for our community’s recreation night on Thursdays, and that eventually expanded into pizza parties and fundraisers, so word got around. My publisher was at one of these functions last December, and after he sampled my Carbonara Pizza, he said, “We have to do a pizza book!” So I got to work right away, and finished the book while spending a week in a cabin at Lake Thunderbird near Henry, IL. I finished writing Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery long before the pizza book, but it took a while to find an illustrator and for him to create the artwork. We worked hard to get both books out in time for Christmas.
My children loved Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery. Did you have any kid “testers” for the book, and what was your inspiration in wanting to write a children’s picture book?
Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery started out as a children’s play for my summer theatre program at the Academy back in 2004. So our test market was that audience of parents and children, and the response was so enthusiastic I knew it could be a book. We actually hope to produce an entire series of Brother Jerome stories.
How do you think parents and teachers can use Brother Jerome to teach virtues and values to children?
Brother Jerome is young and lacks self-confidence, but with the encouragement of his abbot and a little help from the angels, his bakery becomes a success. Parents can use the story to teach children about perseverance and hope. The book ends with several people praying in thanksgiving to God, and then Brother Jerome prays the guardian angel prayer, so it’s the perfect bedtime book!
I am so intrigued and interested by the idea of “haustus,” (a weekly time of snacks and relaxing) and how that Benedictine tradition might translate to homes. What has “haustus” meant to you over the years? Do you have suggestions for lay people who might want to begin this kind of tradition among family and friends?
“Haustus” is a monastic tradition whose purpose is to strengthen the bonds of community. As far back as St. Antony of the desert (3rd-4th century AD) monks have had the custom of having common periods of relaxation and conversation, as a way to refresh body and spirit and to promote fraternal love. It’s very much like having a regularly scheduled family game night, or Sunday dinner with grandparents. In a fast-paced culture like ours, these traditions are more important than ever, and we really have to be vigilant to protect those times together.
Several years ago, you wrote a book called Bake and Be Blessed: Bread Baking as a Metaphor for Spiritual Growth. Share a little about how that “spirituality” would apply to the making of a good pizza.
In the final chapter of Bake and Be Blessed, I compare various breads to different kinds of Christian ministry and witness. A “pizza” Christian is the leader (a pastor, parent, choir director, etc.) who can unite a variety of people with diverse personalities (symbolized by the different kinds of toppings). A well-run school usually has a “pizza principal” in charge!
What is your favorite part about making pizza?
Tossing and spinning the crust—I like to try to make maximum height in the kitchen!
What is your favorite pizza recipe from the book? (crust, sauce, toppings)
I especially like the Four Cheese Tomato Top Pizza, because it uses fresh tomatoes and herbs from our abbey gardens. Can’t make it in the winter of course, but it’s worth the wait for the August harvest season.
I notice some of the crust recipes have a slow rise in the fridge, to mellow the flavor. What is your opinion of the no-knead bread recipes and techniques (like Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day) that have been popular recently?
I actually enjoy kneading dough so much that I haven’t really explored the no-knead method yet. But my mom just bought me one of those books for my birthday, so I suppose I’ll give it a try this winter.