Not Quite a Failure

Friday, Mar. 01, 2024
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

During Advent I began what I expected to be a year-long project: making every recipe in the book Dining with the Saints, by Leo Patalinghug and Michael P. Foley. Included in this plan was a monthly dinner party, in which I would serve a three-course meal to four people: two guests, my mom and myself, using recipes from the book.

The plan came about after I bought the book, which is a kind of sequel to Foley’s Drinking with the Saints, a volume Mom purchased a couple of years ago and has enjoyed ever since. To my knowledge she’s never made any of the drink recipes from the book, but she likes to read about the saints Foley writes about, and sometimes she shares tidbits about them with me.

Dining with the Saints similarly includes information about the saints, but each is paired with a food recipe – not necessarily something that the saint might have eaten but perhaps a dish from their region, or something inspired by him or her, like eggs Benedict or a tiramisu named after the Italian saint Maria Goretti.

The book is divided into chapters by month, with a half dozen or so recipes each. There also are chapters for liturgical seasons such as Advent, Lent and Easter.

I had a couple of reasons for wanting to host dinner parties and make every recipe in the book. First, almost all of them sound delicious, and when I cook I like to try new recipes. In addition, I thought it would be a good way to learn more about the saints.

I also admit to a more mercenary reason: Not too long ago I read Julie and Julia, the best-selling memoir about Julie Powell spending a year making every recipe in the iconic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child. Using Dining with the Saints, perhaps I also could write a memoir, which would include not only my adventures in cooking and the dinner conversation, but also spiritual observations prompted by the saints’ biographical information as well as the reflection questions included with each recipe.

Setting my plan in motion, I chose the first three recipes and invited two guests, a married couple I’ve known for years. I’m friends with both the wife and the husband, and one reason I asked them is that they’re the type of people who, if my cooking was a disaster, would simply laugh and not be offended when I ordered pizza.

On the plus side, the meal was excellent. On the minus side, the recipes I chose required me to go in and out of the kitchen every 10 minutes, so I missed a lot of the table conversation. That night my journal entry had only information about the food preparation, not about the company.

January’s dinner got postponed because of a conflict in dates, but when it occurred in early February the meal itself had some problems because the recipes were missing information. I did manage to have the food mostly ready when the guests arrived, and so was able to join in the conversation, but we didn’t talk about the spiritual reflections.

The third dinner was just last week, and probably the most successful in terms of my original plan – I could easily write a couple hundred words about the meal, some thoughts about the saints who inspired the recipe, and the dinner conversation. (All my guests were forewarned that I wanted to write about the occasion, so they knew they were on record.)

Looking back on the three dinners, however, I don’t think they’re the stuff books are made of. Most of the conversation was the chatter of friends – enjoyable to those of us at the table as we caught up on each other’s lives, but not of interest to anyone else. And, with the exception of a couple of minor incidents, the food preparation wasn’t anything to write about, either.

Another drawback is that I’m disappointed in the book itself. It’s obvious that the recipes weren’t proof-read: almost a quarter of those that I’ve made so far have at least one mistake. For example, the ingredient list for the lemon meringue pie doesn’t include butter, but the instructions call for butter to be added. The instructions also don’t call for the pie shell to be pre-baked. (I solved the question of how much butter to add by checking a different cookbook, and once I discovered – to my horror only after the pie was served at the dinner table – that the pie crust was undercooked, I instructed my guests to eat just the filling and the meringue, though they were gracious enough to say the crust tasted fine to them.)

Although my dreams of writing a best-selling memoir have been dashed, I enjoyed the three gatherings with friends. I’m not sure I’ll continue the monthly dinners, but then again, I just might, because they’ve been a highlight of this winter season. And I’ll probably make all the recipes in the book, even with the frustration of the poor editing, because with one exception they’ve been really good. Now, though, I don’t have the pressure of getting through them by the end of the year.

I can’t end this without thanking my mom, who suffered through my pressure-cooker temper as I prepared the meals. I also have to thank my friends who were willing to be guinea pigs for this project, and who brought companionship (and in one case a very tasty salad, and in another case allowed the use of their spacious kitchen), as well as conversation and fellowship. I don’t usually make time to just sit and chat, and you all shared this table fellowship, which means more to me than the possibility of writing a best-seller.

And, most of all, I give thanks to God for this experience, for the food, for my mom and my friends. Without God’s grace, none of it would have been possible.

Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at

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