Friday, May 16, 2014

Summer is Coming!: Awesome Recipe for Cold Tomato Soup & Grilled Brie Sandwiches

If you ever get tired of the predictable Campbell's tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich combo, why not kick it up a notch? Add a little gourmet to your kitchen by making cold tomato soup (Spanish-style!) and grilled Brie sandwiches on a tasty baguette. With a little time and effort, you can turn tried-and-true into new and exciting.

My husband's family is from Spain, so the cold tomato soup known as gazpacho is a summer staple in my mother-in-law's kitchen. Salmorejo is a lesser known version, which ups the kid-friendly factor by eliminating vegetables like green pepper and onion from the recipe. One of the key ingredients in salmorejo is a good Spanish extra-virgin olive oil. Spaniards and Italians are probably willing to come to blows over which country produces the best olive oil, but for the Spaniards in my family it's no contest. Our relatives actually own olive groves in Spain and produce olive oil under the brand Monte Olivos. The brand is just starting to be imported into the States. Lucky me, I have an entire case of samples in my pantry! My favorite is the unfiltered, a delicate green-colored olive oil that actually tastes like the olives it came from. It adds a terrific flavor to this salmorejo recipe, and you can use it to spray the grill for the Brie sandwiches also. Regardless of which brand you use, choosing top quality olive oil makes a big difference in the taste.

The salmorejo requires about 30 minutes active preparation, and the sandwiches take about 15. Older kids can help with the preparation and running the blender for the soup (because doesn't a blender just sound like a big toy?). The recipes yield four servings. Feel free to double for big families and hungry mouths!

Salmorejo (Cold Tomato Soup from Córdoba, Spain)


2 eggs
2 oz. Serrano ham or prosciutto (don't use for meatless recipes)
1 (8 oz.) baguette, stale
1 large clove garlic
2 lbs ripe tomatoes
8 oz. extra virgin olive oil (Monte Olivos is our favorite!)
2 oz. red wine vinegar
salt to taste


Hard boil the eggs and place into the refrigerator to cool. Cut off hard crust from baguette, then cut into slices approximately 1/2-inch thick. Soak the bread in about 1/4-inch of water for 20 minutes. Mince the garlic. Peel the tomatoes (like you would an apple) and remove seeds (it's easy to do just with your thumbs). Remove excess water from bread when it's finished soaking. Place garlic, tomatoes, vinegar, and bread in the blender. Process.

Slowly pour in oil while processing. Continue to process until smooth. If mixture is too thick, pout in a bit of cold water. Refrigerate until ready to serve. When ready to serve, dice the hard-boiled eggs and garnish the soup with them. If you want to add a little kick, garnish with diced ham as well, but leave it out for meatless recipes.

Grilled Brie Sandwiches


Brie cheese
1 loaf of Italian bread
Extra-virgin olive oil

Slice the Italian bread and the Brie cheese into thin slices. Heat the grill and spray it lightly with the olive oil. There is no need to add butter to the outside of the bread, as you would in regular grilled cheese sandwiches. The Italian bread is very airy and the Brie already has a high fat content, so adding butter results in overkill and unpleasant gooeyness (is that even a word?). Grill the sandwiches for 2 to 3 minutes per side over medium to medium-high heat until the cheese melts and you get some light grill marks. Guaranteed to make you drool.

Some alternative ways to mix up the menu are to serve cold cucumber soup (also great in summer) and to add honey-mustard or apricot jam to the grilled Brie sandwiches. The extra kick to the sandwiches balances out the blander soup.

If you try out the recipe or discover any new variations yourself, please let me know!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Catholic Kids' Book Introduces Teens to Cuban Culture and Faith Under Fire

Threats to religious liberty are nearer to us than most young people imagine, and the story of Castro's Cuba brings that lesson home in a powerful way. Born of Cuban exiles, journalist Liz Lantigua has written an eye-opening fictionalized account of a Catholic family escaping Cuba on a small raft with a mission to achieve freedom in the United States. Lantigua's book, Mission Libertad, cleverly weaves true historical details with a compelling plot and introduces readers to common Spanish words and sayings along the way.

The main character is 14-year-old Luisito, who braves a dangerous sea crossing with his parents in order to reach their relatives in America. Luisito's elderly grandmother has insisted that he carry a secret message to a priest in the United States once Luisito arrives there. The message involves Luisito in a cat-and-mouse game involving Cuban spies, FBI agents, and international smuggling.

Mission Libertad offers teens a surprising view of the United States as seen through other eyes. The desperate economic conditions of Cuba make Luisito amazingly grateful for the everyday material comforts that his U.S. cousins -- and probably most U.S. teens -- take for granted. The religious liberty that we enjoy in the United States also astounds Luisito. In Cuba, Luisito needed to be baptized in secret and he never received First Communion or Confirmation. His teachers there openly mocked and punished any show of faith in God. Luisito's story, based on historical reality, reminds U.S. readers how blessed we are to have stores stocked with food and clothing and churches with doors open to us for Mass every day of the week.

The story gently exposes its readers to the world outside their borders, a world that includes what Pope Francis has called the Church of the Poor. Teens sometimes have a tendency to focus inwards on their own problems and their own emotional roller-coasters, but they have a great capacity for idealism and service. Learning how much less other people have and how much they need our help and prayers can inspire teens to grow in compassion and virtue. Mission Libertad is a great tool for parents and teachers to help teens to see beyond themselves.

Although Catholic culture pervades the book, Mission Libertad never preaches doctrine or theology. The closest it comes to catechism is in a beautiful scene where Luisito says a heartfelt prayer on the basketball court (a setting that will resonate with most teenage boys and a few girls as well!):
"Dear God, I hope this goes in ... for my team and for my sake. Please, God, hear my prayer and, if not, let me cope with whatever happens."

Luisito's wisdom in accepting God's will no matter what happens is a good lesson for adults as well as kids. In short, Mission Libertad should be a no-fail hit for almost any Catholic teen, from the devout to the doubt-filled. Click here to order it from Pauline Books & Media.

My thanks to author Liz Lantigua for providing me with a free copy.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

First Communion, Fourth Time Lucky

Scabbed heads, burned faces, and stomach viruses might not seem like a lucky start to my fourth child Marguerite's First Communion day. Poor Marguerite tripped over the curb at school a few days before her First Communion and went flying up, up, up, and then down onto the pavement. Scabbed knees, scabbed hands, but the worst was a big scab on her forehead right by her hairline. Not the best for close-up shots.

Then there was my husband's burned face. He got scalded in the shower (horrible, I know -- how did that happen?), and the entire left side of his face was covered by a reddish-purplish burn. To disguise it, we had to decide between a Phantom of the Opera style mask, a Middle Eastern veil, or Loreal True Match foundation. We went with the foundation. The whole unfortunate event reminded my husband of the time in high school that he let his brother Tony cut his hair.

Hair buzzer: "Skkkrrt."
Tony: "Uh-oh."

Left with a bald spot in the back of his head, my husband colored it in with a black magic marker so no one would notice. See the parallels? But I digress.

The wonders of modern make-up
Finally, there was the matter of my younger daughter Cecilia's stomach virus. I'll spare you the gory details, but they were -- gory. None of the guests invited to the First Communion party was willing to set foot in the house plagued by such an unpleasant virus.

My mother-in-law mourned the absence of a full-scale shindig like we had for our other children's First Communions. It doesn't matter, I told my mother-in-law, Marguerite will have a party with Jesus. Because when you take away the pretty dress and the pretty hair, the veil, the crown, the gloves, and the festivities, what's behind it all is Jesus. At First Communion, we're not celebrating our children so much as we're celebrating him -- the God of Love who took flesh and blood in order to bring us eternal life. Our eyes and our hearts should be turned to him.

So we might not have been able to bring Marguerite to his altar without blemish or spot (Eph. 5:27). We might not have been able to bring ourselves that way either. But all the minor calamity took our minds off of what we were bringing Jesus and made us focus on what he was giving us -- freely, undeservedly, despite our inner and outer flaws, and despite the masks we wore to cover them. We cannot possibly merit the gift of God sacrificing himself for us on the altar or on Calvary so many centuries ago. We can only receive it with humility and devotion. Realizing the enormity of God's gift in the Eucharist is what made Marguerite's First Communion the luckiest -- the most blessed -- of all.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

My Top 10 Favorite Quotes from Pope Francis (Some Will Surprise You!)

Pope Francis has proved himself to be a revolutionary, setting some hearts on fire with love and other hearts on fire with anger and dismay. After nearly every telephone call or off-the-cuff remark by Pope Francis, at least one Catholic commentator complains that Pope Francis should just stop speaking so freely. I don't see that happening any time soon.

Some of Pope Francis' most controversial comments are actually my favorites. But all of his comments display a clear-sighted vision of the problems facing people today and the immense possibility our Church has to solve those problems through grace and action. Without further ado, here are my top 10 favorite Francis quotes:

1. "In this day and age, unless Christians are revolutionaries, they are not Christians. They must be revolutionaries through grace!" (from The Church of Mercy). Don't be complacent. Speak up. Ask hard questions. Love difficult people. Pray and give til it hurts. Realize that you are already part of a revolutionary movement that has been sweeping the world for more than 2,000 years. People around the globe are martyred every day for their Christian faith. What are you willing to do for yours?

2.  "If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?" (from World Youth Day 2013 press conference). The Church's teaching on sexuality conflicts sharply with modern sensibilities and continues to be radically misunderstood. People think that Church teaching lacks compassion when nothing could be farther than the truth. The Church encourages us to love and understand our gay brothers and sisters, to hear their stories and struggles without fear or judgment, and to give them the affection and acceptance they crave. Chastity is difficult for young, single people. It is even more difficult for people being asked to face a lifetime of sexual abstinence. There are homosexuals in our Church, and they need our support.

3. "God has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: ... Even the atheists, ...everyone!" (from Homily at May 22, 2013, Mass). This makes my favorite list because it caused my atheist friend to perk up his ears and take notice. Is this true, he wanted to know? Yes, especially for those who have not heard the saving news of Jesus, I explained. It's different for those who know God and still choose to turn their back on him. My clarification made my friend a bit sad. But how amazing that Pope Francis' message of love and redemption sparked the hope of being cherished by a God my friend did not even believe to exist!

4. "We think of our parents, of our grandparents and great-grandparents: they were married in conditions that were much poorer than ours .... Where did they find the strength? They found it in the certainty that the Lord was with them." (from Address to Young People in Assisi). Pope Francis' emphasis on poverty reminds us that many of us in the First World have never known and might never know real financial poverty. We fear unemployment, the perceived financial burdens of marriage and parenthood, we fear the future. But we don't realize that earlier generations had much less money and often much less fear. If we're looking for courage, we might not have to look farther than our own families.

5. "An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!" (from Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel). Who wants to be Christian if it means gloomy adherence to a set of kill-joy rules? Pope Francis' plain-spoken words tell us that Christianity is all about joy. If we've lost the joy, that's not the fault of Christianity or the Church. It's up to us to find that joy again and manifest it to others.

6. “If love needs truth, truth also needs love. Love and truth are inseparable. Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives.” (from Lumen Fidei, or The Light of Faith). Real charity means telling the truth, even when it's hard to face. But do we tell the truth with personal warmth and a desire to help, or are we just wagging a critical finger? The truth doesn't oppress people. It ultimately frees them.

7. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love, to you we turn with trust." (from Prayer to the Holy Family). Pope Francis has requested the intercession of the Holy Family for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which will discuss issues such as annulment, divorce, and reception of the Eucharist by divorced and remarried Catholics. The synod's ultimate goal is not just temporary reprieve from pain but the splendor of true love as reflected by the Holy Family. Let us all trust that the Holy Family will guide the synod and any changes that result from it.

8. "This relationship between Jesus and the Father is the 'matrix' of the bond between us Christians: if we are intimately part of this 'matrix', this fiery furnace of love, then we can truly become of one single heart and one single soul among us." (from October 30, 2013, General Audience). As leader of a global flock of Catholics, Pope Francis needs to get everybody together and on board with the program. Easy as herding cats, I know. But the first step needs to be stopping the bleeding or, in this case, the fighting. Wasting our energy fighting each other results in hamstringing our ability to move forward together accomplishing great things for God. So let's try to become one single heart and one single soul, united the way God wants us to be.

9. "The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost." (from the America magazine interview). It takes a great man to descend into the darkness without getting lost. We all need to find within ourselves the strength to do that, because that is our common call in baptism -- to preach the good news to all the nations. If we want people to hear us, we need to meet them where they are. If we want to save them, we need to lead them step by step out of the darkness. As St. John Paul II told us, we need to be strong with the strength of God so that we can help one another.

10. "With this letter, I wish, as it were, to come into your homes." (from Letter to Families). Pope Francis' approach to evangelization is to focus in an intensely personal manner on one soul at a time. He wants to enter into our personal, private space and break bread with us. So does Jesus. Each one of us will have to walk through the gates of heaven alone. There's no separate entrance for bus tours, and we can't expect to achieve salvation because our pope or our priest or our next-door neighbor does. We must open the door to our homes and hearts and let Christ in. Pope Francis is more than ready to show us how.

What's your favorite Francis quote and why? Tell us in the comments!

For more great Pope Francis quotes, check out the new book The Church of Mercy, by Pope Francis, just released by Loyola Press.