bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

Gather Together: Recipes for Fellowship

The ultimate challenge in 2020 might be releasing a book about the blessings of gathering as friends … in the same week that several states restricted such gatherings to 10 or fewer — and some cities even prohibited getting together with anyone outside the household.

But we Catholics are people of hope. We know that these measures will not last forever, and we eagerly anticipate the day when we can gather outside our household or social bubble to enjoy food, fun, and fellowship.

In the meantime, there’s no point in wasting any of the wonderful recipes you’ll find in Catherine Fowler Sample’s new cookbook, Gather Together. I always recommend that you try a recipe on your family before serving it to guests — so now’s the time to taste-test these dishes, make note of any “to taste” seasoning adjustments you made, and bookmark the ones you’ll want to use when (finally!) you can invite friends over for a meal or afternoon tea.

In the Introduction, the author offers a few creative ideas for making connections with family and friends we can’t see in person:

You could make the recipes with loved ones over video chat, or plan an evening of reflection by phone based on the questions and prayer prompts. While distance makes forming community more challenging, the consistency of intentional connection can be a unique balm during uncertain times.

I firmly believe that the best kind of cookbook is one I can read like a novel or memoir. Gather Together is that kind of cookbook. Each chapter begins with a story from the author’s life, along with a spiritual reflection, a prayer for gathering, a few conversation prompts, and a soup-to-nuts themed menu for brunch, dinner, or afternoon tea. Each menu offers at least four dishes including dessert. 

Gather Together, which releases Friday, November 20, was written with both the cook’s and the guests’ needs in mind. Author Catherine Fowler Sample anticipated the possibility of substitution of certain ingredients containing dairy, as well as where in your grocery store you should look to find specialty ingredients. There are also prep-ahead tips, and along with ingredient lists for each recipe, there’s a list of kitchen equipment needed. That’s a feature I almost never find in cookbooks (and I have a big collection of cookbooks) — but whether you’re a beginner cook or very confident in the kitchen, having this list handy saves you time. When I taught my children to cook, I told them to always get everything in place (ingredients and equipment) before you start. Gather Together makes all of that easy.

If you think the cover is beautiful, wait until you see what’s on the inside of this book! Gather Together would make a wonderful engagement or wedding gift; it’s also perfect for a young person moving to his or her first apartment. But since it’s about building community as much as cooking, this cookbook is an excellent housewarming gift as well.

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.
I received a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation, for this review. All opinions are my own.

Cookbook Review: Around the Table with the Catholic Foodie: Middle Eastern Cuisine

When I met him at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference earlier this summer, cookbook author, podcaster and contributor Jeff Young told me that he purposely creates his recipes to feed large groups of people–that way, you’ll want to share.

Around-the-Table-with-The-Catholic-FoodieYou’ll definitely want to share the meals you make from the recipes in his cookbook, Around the Table with the Catholic Foodie: Middle Eastern Cuisine.

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of “Middle Eastern Cuisine.” Most of the ingredients in Jeff’s recipes are easy to find. One spice that might be more difficult to get locally is sumac, but you can get that online. I was fortunate to find it in a local Turkish market.

When you make Jeff’s recipes, you’ll be using real foods: fresh ingredients and no chemical substitutes. It’s a healthier way to eat, and I guarantee you that it’s more delicious too. I’ve followed Jeff’s blog for years; I think I found it when I was looking for a jambalaya recipe, but you’ll find much more than Louisiana cooking at his site. Soups, breads, pizza–it’s all there.

Jeff’s directions are clear, and he includes plenty of tips on working with certain ingredients and mixing your own spice blends. But one of my favorite things about this cookbook is the story that goes with each recipe. Stories are part of the fun around the dinner table, and they’re part of the fun of this cookbook as well. Many of these Middle-Eastern recipes originated in the Holy Land, and the first two chapters of the book are all about the family table, food in the Bible and “where food meets faith.” Don’t skip these just to get to the recipes!

sesame tahini cookies (4) FII’ve made several recipes from this cookbook so far:

  • Oven-Baked Salmon (3-ingredient easy and completely delicious)
  • Sesame Tahini Paste Cookies (pictured above)
  • Fish with Pistachios and Dill
  • Crispy Roasted Potatoes
  • Parsley Potatoes
  • Carrots with Cumin
  • Rice Pilaf
  • Lamb-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
  • Israeli Chopped Salad

Some of these recipes have made it into the regular rotation around here. All of them have been excellent, and I have a few more recipes in my meal plan for the coming weeks. (I even planted a grape vine this spring so I could get grape leaves to make one of the recipes, but I don’t have quite enough leaves to do this yet.)

Finally, I’ve given two copies of this cookbook as gifts to people I love who love cooking and trying new flavors. I’m not done trying recipes from this book and I’m also not done purchasing it as a gift.

Note: Your purchase of this cookbook through my Amazon affiliate link helps feed my cookbook habit. Thank you!

I Think I Need to Give This Cookbook Away

Father Leo Patalinghug’s book Grace Before Meals is much more than a cookbook. Yes, there are recipes–interesting ones! But more important than that, there is encouragement. And that’s why I’ll probably be giving away my copy.

Last night we had dinner guests: a mom and her little boy. Her husband works second shift, and I lost count of how many times she told me how nice it was to enjoy a family dinner. We had spaghetti, nothing fancy, but she said that she doesn’t do a whole lot of cooking when it’s just her and her son.

I want to find a way to tell her that she needs to make a point of having a family mealtime even if the whole family can’t be there. No matter how simple the meal–whether it’s a bowl of Cheerios or (shudder) Spaghetti-Os or a gourmet treat, where two or more are gathered for a meal, it’s a family meal. You’re all together at the table. Ideally, the TV is off. You give thanks for the food and the time to be together, and you enjoy your food.

I will say that everyone behaved themselves for company. Middle Sister refrained from regaling us with some disgusting tale in the middle of the meal. (She has a knack for making everyone else lose their appetites.) Little Brother showed our guest how to use the rotary cheese grater. That was fun for the boys, who delighted in making mountains of Romano.

But I want to encourage our dinner guest to have family mealtime. Her son is little now, and she’s with him a lot, so it might not seem so important to her. But she does notice something missing–for her. And as her little boy grows up, she will want him to know what family dinnertime is all about. She will want him to be nourished, not just by the food, but by the shared prayer, conversation, and love at the table. She will want him to have what she is missing now.

I hope Father Leo’s cookbook will help her get there, and that it’s not rude of me to offer it.