Dinner Party With the Saints, and How to Make Honey-Almond Cookies
Writer Woodeene Koenig-Bricker and cook Celia Murphy team up to prepare an imaginary banquet with a few of God’s closest friends.
Two Catholic ladies, who love their faith, have put out a book called Dinner Party with the Saints, recently published by Paraclete Press. The author, Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, a Montana native who resides in Oregon, has been a lifelong prolific Catholic journalist who has written other Catholic books and was the editor of Catholic Parentmagazine for its entire publishing history.
“I have always been Catholic,” she said. “My mom was an Irish Catholic, though my dad was not Catholic. Her family name was ‘Mulloy’ and there was a Bishop Mulloy in Washington. It was a very devout family and the kind of traditionally Irish Catholics who go to confession every Saturday. … I cannot ever remember missing Mass on Sunday. Even if you were sick, you sat in the lobby.”
Woodeene’s devout Catholicism explains her Catholic writings, but facing a book with recipes was a challenge. For one, she said, the family cooking gene skipped two generations. “I am not a cook,” she said. “The concept came about as I was thinking about the saints and how we view them. I began to wonder if they could gather together in Heaven, and if so, why they might assemble other than to worship God.
“Of course, this is merely imagination, but I thought a dinner party was an interesting concept. I concluded that playing off the idea of the heavenly banquet would be a way to bring in saints from all eras and tie into Scripture,” she said. “The recipes are there for the same reason the sections on miracles and history are there — to give a broader, more humanizing aspect to the saints, and to expand the idea of saints beyond typical hagiographies. The food part was merely a way to tie into the heavenly banquet, not as the focus of the work. It is a combination of a fictional story with biographical material plus factoids and recipes.”
Woodeene selected the saints from throughout history and wrote a biography of each saint as accurately as possible.
“And,” she said, “I sprinkled throughout the text little facts about saints and their time periods in which they lived.” She also included a section on saints’ miracles and what got them canonized. For her, what she wanted is for people to see saints as real people and not as endless icons.
In the original concept, there were no recipes — just a mention of a food the saint was bringing and some historical notes on what might have been eaten in their time. “But as the book developed, I was convinced that actual recipes might be a fun addition,” she said. After the first plan for the recipes fell through, she said Celia Murphy stepped in to make that part of the book “a thousand times better than my original ideas.”
Fortunately for Woodeene, Celia Murphy happens to be a great cook. A resident of rural Maine, Murphy explained that she has come from a family of phenomenal cooks and she herself has been cooking since childhood. In fact, she has worked in the restaurant industry and even attended the New York Institute of Technology’s Culinary Arts Center.
“Woodeene approached me at the last hour,” she said. “She asked if I wanted to help and she talked about the concept of the book, the joining of saints for a potluck supper. She talked about St. Francis’ honey-almond cookies and oxtail soup. … I said an immediate ‘yes.’
“Woodeene sent me a listing of the saints with appropriate ingredients or specific dishes for each saint,” she said. “The original round was 20 saints, later edited down to the final version of 16 saints. … From that listing, I researched each saint and their time period to get a feel for how they lived and ate, which ingredients would be appropriate, and developed the recipes on paper. The testing rounds followed, a process which took approximately six to seven weeks, with the gracious aid of family and friends.”
And did Woodeene herself end up finding a favorite? “I really like St. Martin de Porres because … he would heal the sick and take them to a sister’s house in the country to help them find a home.”
(Note: Although the book contains recipes, it is not a cookbook per se, but an account of saints’ lives.)
So much did St. Francis love almond treats prepared by Blessed Jacoba that he requested them on his deathbed. They are slightly chewy on the inside, with a touch of honey.
This recipe is lacto-ovo vegetarian. If you do not consume honey, replace it with agave syrup or corn syrup (results may vary). Make it gluten-free by replacing flour with a gluten-free baking flour. Ensure that extracts and all your ingredients are gluten-free. You just need a stand mixer or a handheld mixer.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Bake Time: 10 to 12 minutes
- Yield: about 32 cookies
- 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1-1/2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1-1/2 cups almond flour
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling over baked cookies, about 1/4 cup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper (or spray with non-stick cooking spray, or grease with butter or oil).
In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar for 3 minutes, using an electric or hand mixer. Scrape down sides of bowl with spatula. Add the egg, honey, almond extract, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Mix on high speed for 3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with spatula.
Mix almond flour, all-purpose flour, and salt in small bowl. Add to creamed butter mixture; mix on low speed until just combined. Scoop out a tablespoon at a time (or use a small scoop) onto a cookie sheet, spaced 2 inches apart.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes on the center rack of oven. When done, they will be light golden on top and lightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and let rest on racks a few minutes. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Transfer to cooling racks.
(Excerpted from Dinner Party with the Saints by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker. Copyright 2021 by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker. Used by permission of Paraclete Press.)