The Gift of the Body

This is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. On Instagram, I’ve been talking about how, after a six-year struggle with anorexia, the Eucharist transformed my understanding of food (I’m also giving away five copies of The Catholic Table over there this week). But it wasn’t just the Eucharist that helped me. Just as the Eucharist transformed my understanding of food, the theology of the body transformed my understanding of my body.

For most of the first 25 years of my life I equated my body’s value with a number on the scale. I thought it’s worth could be measured and weighed. It was a perpetual problem for me, something I needed to control.

Then, when I was 25, I read Pope St. John Paul II’s theology of the body. It taught me that my body wasn’t a problem to be controlled; it was a gift to be cared for. It was me—as much a part of who I was as my soul and as much a gift as my soul.

Continue reading

The Catholic Table’s Guide to a Guilt-Free Thanksgiving, Part 1

Despite the fact that most of my kitchen is currently packed away in about 464 different boxes, I’m still planning on cooking this Thursday. Not the whole shebang, mind you. Just some of the shebang: sausage and apple stuffing, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, and winter spiced cranberry chutney.


I’ll then tote those delights over to my mother-in-law’s house, where the rest of the shebang is being cooked. These are some of my favorite dishes I cook all year, and I’m not letting some pain-in-the-rear move keep me from happiness.

Moves, however, aren’t the thing keeping many a person from happiness at Thanksgiving. For many of us, it’s guilt…and anxiety..and poorly cooked Brussels sprouts. The devil is always at work, and he loves to turn what’s supposed to be a merry feast into an occasion for sin and fear.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. It is possible to navigate both seasons of feasting and seasons of fasting with peace, freedom, and ample amounts of tasty treats.

In Chapter 9 of The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet, I talk about how I do that. Here’s a small “taste” of my thoughts on the subject. Continue reading

Sometimes You Just Need to Eat the Cheesecake…And Other Important Truths About Food

Let’s talk about food.

I know, that’s what we usually do here. But, I don’t mean, let’s talk about creamy plates of butternut squash risotto…


Or steaming bowls of curried sweet potato soup…


(Both recipes of mine featured in last month’s issue of The Catholic Digest, by the way.)

Instead, I mean, let’s talk about why we care about butternut squash risotto and get all excited about curried sweet potato soup. Why do we cook? Why do we eat? Why do we spend so much time, money, and energy fretting our little heads about food?

My Facebook feed has the answer. Or, rather, it thinks it does.

We’re currently approaching the high holidays of eating, so almost daily, one friend or another, making an attempt at preventative virtue, posts about their new diet and the philosophy of food behind it: “I eat for energy”; “I’m eating clean”; “I’m eating like a caveman.”

Of course, right alongside those posts, are ads for Godiva chocolate, urging me to “Indulge,” as well as images from food blogs (mine included), which post pictures of tasty treats tantalizing enough to tempt even the strictest of ascetics to break their fast.

My own complicity in this  problem aside, the question remains: Who is right? Do we eat for health? Or do we eat for pleasure? Is it right to eat for nutrition, but wrong to eat for comfort? Is it virtuous to treat food as fuel, but wrong to treat it as a reward.

Continue reading

The Catholic Garden

I’m sorry that there’s been precious little food blogging this week. That’s partly because I’m way, way behind on a major ghost writing project and am scurrying to catch up. Mostly, however, it’s because there has also been precious little cooking this week.

Why, you ask?

Because I’ve been busy making this happen:


Continue reading

“Like Life to Man”: The Glory of Wine

On the list of “Things I Don’t Understand,” Pittsburgh traffic tops the list. Bruce Jenner comes in as a close second. Third, I think, is a dry dinner party. Or, more specifically, a dry Catholic dinner party—a dinner party with plenty of Catholics, but no wine (or beer or booze as the case may be).

Such sad affairs are a uniquely American phenomenon—a weird social tick that American Catholics picked up from living alongside tee-totaling Protestants. Elsewhere, they simply don’t exist. Not in Italy. Not in France. Not in Germany or Austria or Spain. Really, not anywhere in Western Civilization that has more than a passing connection to Catholicism. There, if you find food and people, you’ll also find adult beverages.

And that, especially when it comes to wine, is exactly how it should be.

Wine 8

Continue reading

Five Reasons to Fast This Lent

Jesus did it. The apostles and early Christians did it. The Fathers and doctors of the Church and most every saint you can think of — from Anthony and Augustine to Teresa of Avila, and from John Henry Newman to John Paul II — did it

But we don’t. At least, most of us don’t.

What don’t we do?

We don’t fast. We don’t engage in one of the most ancient, fundamental and powerful disciplines in the Church’s treasury of spiritual practices.

Sure, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday you can still find a decent number of Catholics abstaining from meat and limiting themselves to two snacks and a moderately sized meal. But you’ll also find almost as many of us complaining about it on Facebook and fantasizing about bacon.

Continue reading

Good to Eat: How I Said “Goodbye” to Anorexia and “Hello” to Cheese

I was all set to write a fun, breezy little post about one of my favorite things in the universe—wine—when the Great Hive Mind informed me that this is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Thanks, Facebook. Now I feel guilty writing about wine.

Because I don’t do things I feel guilty about—or, at least, I try not to do them—the wine post is on hold. Instead, I’m going to share a few thoughts about how I walked away from anorexia for good 14 years ago.

For those of you not familiar with the disease, the prognosis for those battling eating disorders isn’t exactly rosy. While most people who struggle with anorexia get somewhat better, few get all better. The majority spend their lives waffling on the edge of a relapse. Many fall right off that edge.

But me? You couldn’t drag me back to that edge with a thousand horses. I like cheese too much. And bacon.

I also like myself too much. And my friends and family and every other person on the planet who doesn’t deserve to deal with the horror that is Emily When She’s Not Eating. In my case, Christian charity pretty much forbids a relapse.

That’s not to say I’m not a normal woman living in the 21st century. Air-brushed babes can totally get me down. Skinny jeans can’t go away fast enough. But, regardless of how I occasionally feel about my body, I’m not going to starve myself in pursuit of some unrealistic ideal. At 39, I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to stop feeding myself. Life it too full to spend one minute of it going down that rabbit hole.

So, what made my recovery possible? Lots of things, from my desire to be a mother (although that hasn’t quite worked out) to an increasingly full and fun life. Five things, however, stand out above the rest.

Continue reading

Kitchen Rules: 23 Tips for Sane Eating

I love food. I love bacon cheeseburgers, rare. I love brussel sprouts, roasted. And I love pizza…any way you want to serve it up. I also have great affection for white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, pasta aglio e olio, lamb curry, risotto alla crema di scampi, and blackberry cobbler. I love blackberry cobbler

Blackberry Cobbler

I don’t just love food, though. I eat it. Happily. Gladly. Without guilt or regret. I don’t count calories. I don’t watch my fat intake. And I don’t weigh myself the morning after I’ve polished off a piece of pumpkin cheesecake.

If you had told me, 15 years ago, that this kind of freedom was possible, I would have thought you were a raving, mad lunatic. Back then, there was no freedom. Only numbers: numbers on a scale, numbers on nutrition labels, numbers on my clothing tags.

So, what changed?

Continue reading

Bacon and Sage Risotto

You live, you learn. Case in point? The great cookie disaster of 1996.

In December of that year, during my senior year in college, I decided I wanted to show my friends how much I loved them. With Christmas fast approaching, cookies seemed the natural way to do that. So, in my little residence hall kitchen, I baked up batches and batches of the things. Unfortunately for my friends, I  did that baking during the height of the “lettuce and tuna” phase of my life, which means I baked “healthy” cookies…with applesauce instead of butter…and Equal instead of sugar.

Some of those friends still speak to me.

Eighteen years later, I am a far wiser and saner woman. Now, when I want to show my friends how much I love them, I make risotto.

Fork 1

This little act of generosity is, of course, fine by them. More than fine, actually. That’s because there is nothing that comes out of my kitchen that my friends like better than risotto. They don’t care what kind it is— Sausage and Tomato, Butternut Squash, Lemon and Scallops, Roasted Cauliflower and Pancetta, Spring Vegetables, Seafood, or today’s offering, Bacon and Sage. They eat it all.

The good thing is, there’s also nothing I like cooking better than risotto. When I’m standing over a pot of steaming, bubbling rice, I am Babette, stirring love, not just broth, into the dish.

All food is sacramental—a sign of God’s love and an occasion for grace. But risotto strikes me as more sacramental than most. I think it’s the constant stirring, the constant attention, the constant connection with the food. Cooking risotto demands more of me, and so it ends up giving more of me, more  of my love, to those I serve.

Then, of course, when it comes to this particular dish, there’s the bacon.

Bacon 4

Continue reading

What is The Catholic Table?

Food matters.

It matters because it nourishes our bodies and nourishes our souls.

It matters because it draws friends and family together, around one table, creating community over a shared loaf of bread.

Above all, it matters because two thousand years ago, God became Man. He lived, loved, then died upon a cross. And every day since that day, bread has become God. Wheat and wine have become Body and Blood, an eternal sacrifice of love, offered for us on a table like no other.

In that sacrifice—that Holy Eucharist—we see God for who he is: a generous Lover, a selfless Giver. In that same Holy Eucharist, we see food for what it is: a sign given to us at creation of blessing and gift, nourishment and strength, pleasure and comfort, sacrifice and love.

Stacked Toasted CheeseSpinach






SP 3







Just to see those truths, however, is never enough. With the seeing, comes two challenges.

First, we’re challenged to love God with the same total, selfless love with which he loves us, becoming, in effect, a gift, for him and for others.

And second, we’re called to eat eucharistically (eucharistia meaning, literally, “thanksgiving)—honoring God, creation, and the gift of our bodies by approaching every meal with gratitude, temperance, and joy.

Around my dining room table, those two challenges perpetually intersect. People come for dinner and come back for community. We pray. We debate. We laugh. And, of course, we eat, all the while learning to better love God and one another.

For me and for the friends who sit around my table, food does what it’s supposed to do: It creates family. And it does that not because I’m some Cordon Bleu trained chef. I’m not. I’m just a woman who wants people to know how precious they are—to me and to God. Because God shows us that truth every day by feeding us with his Body and Blood, I do the same by feeding everyone who walks through my door.

That’s really all I do. I love, so I cook. And it works. In a world wracked by loneliness, where more than half of all Americans claim to have no close friends, a little love and a lot of cooking go a long way.


Continue reading