Nourish Body & Soul with Books Great for Gift-Giving {My November column @TheCatholicPost }

Following is my November column that appears on this month’s book page of the print edition of The Catholic Post.

As Advent is right around the corner, it is certainly not too early to consider good books for Christmas giving—both for loved ones, and for ourselves.

At the very beginning of Scripture, God proclaims that everything He created is good.

And as Timothy tells us in Scripture, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

Consider these books a starting-off point for Christmas season for “everything good” in the fruits of the earth.

To my astonishment, my favorite among these is the lovely A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac: Cultivating Your Faith Throughout the Year by Margaret Rose Realy, a master gardener, lay Benedictine, and retreat leader.

Why am I so surprised? Even though I love the outdoors, those who know me appreciate that I am do not enjoying gardening very much, even if I do keep a small garden. I’m the kind of person who enjoys mowing the lawn, because when you finish mowing, it looks finished and tidy (at least for a while). Gardening sometimes seems never-ending.

But this book has me not just considering planning and planting a Mary garden after her introduction to this ancient practice. More importantly, this book has helped me connect, in a fresh way, the seasons and the liturgical year.

A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac is a rich, nourishing book about the spirituality of gardening and how gardening metaphors are so apt for the spiritual life.

Each chapter covers a month in the year, its traditions and feasts, both little-known and popular, and how the weather and climate of each month says something about the spiritual journey. Healy also includes gardening tips and ideas for each month. The book is replete with quotes from the saints, interesting legends and traditions related to the earth, and much more.

Reading a chapter at the beginning of each month would be spiritually fruitful for putting things in perspective, helping a reader to integrate faith into each day, and knowing that every season gives us chances for growth.

My next book selection may not be for everyone, but would be a great gift for those who enjoy and appreciate a wide variety of beers.

The Catholic Drinkie’s Guide to Homebrewed Evangelism by Sarah Vabulas is an entertaining book. And for those who enjoy brewing their own beers, it’s a practical one and a great gift.

It’s fun to peruse the quotes from Catholic notables and saints on libations, and Vabulas’ own experiences with evangelization through enjoying and sharing drinks.

One of my favorite sections of The Catholic Drinkie’s Guide to Home-Brewed Evangelization was a series of chapters Vabulas writes on the new evangelization. Vabulas is active online— her moniker “The Catholic Drinkie” came out of a stray comment she made at a real-life social media conference. She writes well of how Catholics can use social media and the Internet to spread the gospel, and ways for people to be relevant.

But the heart of the book (and more than half the content) offers a comprehensive primer in home brewing—tips, tricks, language, and a recipes for nearly 20 brews with clever Catholic names, such as “St. Isaac Jogues Smoked Red” and “If St. Brigid Had a Lake of Beer.”

Reading this book makes me wish I had more of a palate for interesting beers, but alas, I’m pretty pedestrian, favoring ultra light beer on the rare occasions I enjoy beer with pizza. But I know a lot of people who relish sampling, and even creating, a wide variety of brews. This book would be great for that type of person.

Finally, here are several newer Catholic cookbooks for those looking to add to their cookbook shelves.

Local author and understandably popular cookbook writer Fr. Dominic Garramone, has compiled a wide assortment in his latest book, The Breadhead Bible: Father Dominic’s Favorite Recipes

I’ve always found his recipes to be well-written and easy to follow. More importantly, Father Dominic writes in a natural way about the connection between food—bread, in particular—and our faith.

Another book that includes well-written recipes and food’s connection to faith is Around the Table with the Catholic Foodie: Middle Eastern Cuisine
by Jeff Young.

Young is a foodie and a cook, as evidenced by his popular blog, “The Catholic Foodie,” and both shine through in Around the Table. Young shares his trips to the Holy Land, stories of his family and life in food-rich New Orleans, as well as appealing photos of most of the dishes.

I should have been trying these recipes during Lent, and I hope to next Lent, as many are meatless, and quite a few are vegan. Almost all of them have appealing photos to show how the dish will look. The book features numerous classic dishes home most home cooks are familiar with, such as hummus and crispy oven-roasted potatoes, but also outside-the-box creative one’s I’d like to try: carrots with cumin; spinach & feta cheese pies, and eggplant salad. It’s a good collection of well-written recipes.

Every couple of years, there’s another offering or two in living the liturgical year as a family. When I was a young mom, there was A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year by Evelyn Birge Vitz, and The Catholic Parent Book of Feasts by Michaelann Martin, and From a Monastery Kitchen: The Classic Natural Foods Cookbook.

I especially like one of the most recent offerings in this category: Feast!: Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year by Daniel and Haley Stewart.

Feast! is both a well-designed real-food cookbook and a simple guidebook on how to live the liturgical year in a family setting.

It’s written in an endearing style by Daniel and Haley Stewart, a couple who converted to Catholicism and have three small children. They both are active online in blogging and social media, and their breezy style shows through here.

Here’s one of the best things about Feast!—it’s not “too much” information. It’s a manageable collection. Even selecting a few feasts or recipes to try through the year would be more than enough to get value from this volume and insert more liturgical living into your family’s life. I also appreciate their emphasis on real foods. The book also offers numerous gluten-free and dairy-free options for those families that have food allergies.

Sometimes, people can feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of Catholic feasts through the year, and young moms in particular can feel, “I must do it all.” One significant message that the Stewarts share: you shouldn’t feel compelled to do everything. Pick a few feasts, and celebrate in a small way.

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