Food Woes and a Mom's Night Out

Photo kindness of

Photo kindness of

I have long been a foodie. Food is my love language. I love to cook. I love to set pretty tables. I love to share food. Sometimes, I even love to eat. I come from a long line of women for whom food is a love language. Then again, they are careful to warn me not to eat too much love (but that’s a story for another day).   I grew up thinking that every family sat down to dinner promptly at six. Until my parents divorced, we always did.  And family dinners have long been the habit in my grown-up family.

Until that commute. The one that has him working until 9:00 and then driving home an hour every night. Until soccer practice four nights a week. Until someone has dance at dinner time every single night. Until youth group robbed me of my teenagers at Sunday dinner. Until a family meal evaporated into busyness.

Still, I persevered. We ate real meals, made with whole food, cooked at home. We might not all be gathered around the table, but usually we hit 4 to 6 of us gathered. That would be considered a full table in most homes, so I cut myself some slack.

I don’t enjoy eating the same way I did years ago. Autoimmune issues have taken some major food groups out of my diet. I eat wheat free and mostly dairy free. Ever since cancer, I’ve avoided sugar like the plague. I’m really no fun to feed, but I feed myself usually and I’ve learned to eat around our family meals. I know how to cook family-friendly meals and just adapt my portion. Very little fuss and it works for me.

Until last week.

Last week, well child visits ended with a doctor sternly warning two of my children not to eat gluten or dairy. He was serious. They were devastated. I wasn’t all that thrown initially. I know how to cook and eat without dairy and gluten and I figured they’d just eat the way I do. What I didn’t count on is that they’d rather starve than eat the way I do. We have a steep learning curve here, folks.

The next day, the dentist told me to stop feeding my “baby” so much sugar and juice. I don’t feed her any sugar and juice. I’m sure he doesn’t believe me.  Two days after the fateful visit to the doctor, my pediatrician called to follow up on some lab work for a third child.  He told me not to be alarmed; we were still carefully watching a pre-existing condition. However, he thought it prudent to seriously limit foods that are high in oxylates. 

This child is my good eater. She’s the one who has spinach and white beans sautéed with garlic three or four times a week for lunch. So healthy, right?  Not on an oxalate controlled diet.  Suddenly, oxylate awareness, gluten and dairy avoidance, and the six-year-old’s dental admonitions made the kitchen a minefield.  By the end of the week, I was literally crying.

I decided that I do not have the time to fuss with this. They’re just going to have to eat for sustenance and if they’re hungry enough, that will work.  Hungry enough and they’ll eat, right? I'll make what conforms to the list and they'll just have to eat it. No one promised delicious meals in life. Food is fuel. I'm tired. Just eat.

On Saturday, I had an evening out a long-planned event. Fr. Leo Patalinghug was speaking at a nearby parish and I’d been invited by the women of Living Advent to sit with him at dinner.  On the last day of what was definitely the worst food week of my life, I’m dining with the Cooking Priest.  God has a very good sense of humor.

He talked about food and the importance of meals together. He talked about loving people by cooking for them. He shared recipes and he relit the fire that I have for family meals and healthy conversation around a table. When he talked to the crowd, he cooked as talked. He sliced and diced and tossed a skillet’s contents into the air. He made the food come alive and he made faith come alive, too. I got lost in thought as I remembered how much family dinners matter to me.

Then he served his creation to the people sitting at his table. I was blessed by a lovely dish of pasta.


Pasta made of wheat.


Pasta made of wheat that, if I ate it, would make me sick until New Year’s. So I picked around it and ate the sauce. Honestly, he had me at the aroma as it cooked. Bacon, brandy, onions, oh my! It was delicious sauce. I ended up with typical sores inside my mouth, but I told myself it was worth it.

As I drove home, I thought about the timing of the message. It was as if the Holy Spirit whispered, “Don’t give up! They have to eat and you need to feed them with love. You’ll figure it out.”

Last night, I made pasta for dinner. I was planning to make it the previous night, but realized too late that (1) the recipe wasn’t in Grace Before Meals, which I own, but in Spicing up Married Life and (2) the recipe calls for brandy and I had rum. Fortunately, my neighbor had both book and brandy, so tonight, I made for my family the dish that Fr. Leo made for me. Frist, I had to quadruple the recipe to feed my crowd.  Then, I substituted gluten-free pasta and gluten-free flour for half the servings. I served the first shift before I drove Nick to soccer practice. I served the second shift after I returned home.


Everybody ate.





The Books


Fr. Leo has written several books. The first cookbook,  Grace Before Meals, predates his fame as conquerer of Iron Chef Bobby Flay in a Food network throwdown. The book is a nice resource for the mom who determines to make meals opportunities for family celebraitons throughout the year. There are feast day suggestions and secular holiday menus. More importantly, there is much wisdom throughout, seasoning the cooking advice with relationship advice, and focusing on the importance of conversation around the table.

I found the recipe for Bacon and Butternut Squash Brandy Creamy Penne Pasta in Spicing Up Married Life. This book is less a cookbook and more a volume of advice on married living. I’ve been married 28 years. I admit that I didn’t think a young priest had much to offer to me in the way of advice. I borrowed the book from a friend because I really, really wanted the recipe. But since I had the book any way, I read it last night. Good book;-).




You’ll have to borrow or buy Spicing up Married Life to light your own fires while you make pasta sauce, but a funny thing happened while I was cooking that leads me to share the recipe below with you. As bacon sizzled in my pan, my child who lives on Ramen noodles, canned tuna, and peanut butter (not all together) texted for a pasta recipe. I was inhaling bacon and far away in the mountains, rumbling around in a  college kitchen, someone I love wanted to recreate a family meal.  I’m not kidding about the timing. See the text stamp and the time on the stove?


It’s God. Telling me it matters and to keep cooking. (Oh, and I texted later to be sure he knew I didn't mean 21 cups cheese;-)


{More about Fr. Leo’s talk tomorrow. I’ve got a little advent challenge for you.}

To feed a crowd the night before Thanksgiving, this is a big winner:

2 pounds bacon, chopped 
1 tablespoon chopped garlic 
Freshly ground black pepper 
2  pounds fresh spaghetti, cooked al dente 
8-10  large eggs, beaten 
2 cups warm half and half or cream

2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

In a large iron skillet, over medium heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Pour off all of the oil except for about a 1/4 cup. Add the garlic. Season with black pepper. Saute for 30 seconds. Add the crispy bacon and the pasta. Stir it all together. Remove the pan from the heat and add the eggs, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble. (Don't let the kids watch if they'll be grossed out). Add warm cream. Add the cheese and re-season with salt and pepper. Mound into serving bowls. This makes a lot of food but it's good the next morning for breakfast.