“Dinner Party with the Saints” by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker; recipes by Celia Murphy. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts, 2021). 175 pp., $17.99.
“Gather Together: Recipes and Reflections to Inspire Faith and Friendship Around the Table” by Catherine Fowler Sample. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2020). 180 pp., $17.95.
These two books are new additions to the cookbook field, although neither one is primarily about cooking. Both books are hybrids, being composed of stories and recipes. Both have much to offer the reader.
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker is a journalist who has published several books to support the spiritual journey, including “365 Saints.” In “Dinner Party with the Saints,” she continues to mine the rich Catholic heritage of the holy ones of God. Koenig-Bricker here envisions what would happen in heaven if various saints came together to share a potluck meal for honored guests.
Each chapter contains a part of a continuing story of the saints speaking with each other as they arrive at the party, along with a segment providing historical information about each saint and ends with a recipe for cooking the item the saint brings to the potluck.
The recipes (by Celia Murphy) are clearly written and easy to follow; no special cooking skills or experience would be needed to make these foods. The information about the saints provides a well-researched trove of information that explains who they were and why they are considered saints.
The original story of the dinner party, which provides the focal point for the book, is a clever way to tie the various strands of the book together.
While there is much to like about the story, certain aspects about how one would host a dinner party in heaven are a bit baffling. Would a person be hungry or thirsty in heaven? Does a garden in heaven need the sun? And what’s this about Teresa of Avila’s red high-heel dancing shoes? That said, the story provides an interesting way to learn a great deal about several saints.
Catherine Fowler Sample is a writer for television shows and movie productions. She also is a national speaker on the topics of dating and relationships. In “Gather Together,” she offers 12 personal essays reflecting on personal events in her life (meeting her husband, having her first child, moving, etc.) and 12 recipes for complete meals for eight that one could make when gathering to celebrate such events in our own lives.
The essays are well written and very touching. The reader joins with the author in experiencing the events described. We are not simply told a story but invited to experience what the author experienced. The recipes for the full-course meals are well thought out and written so that even the novice cook will be able to cook the meal successfully.
While all of the meals are inviting, some are truly inventive — have you ever considered stuffing a pumpkin and baking it to make the main course of a dinner? Some of the recipes are taken from other sources (including the stuffed pumpkin) and these sources are appropriately credited. The only downside to the recipes is that cutting them in half for a smaller dinner party would be difficult.
There is much to like in both of these books. You might consider enjoying them with a nice glass of wine — or beer, if you follow St. Brigid.
– – –
Mulhall lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he likes to cook.