Celebrating St. Joseph around the family table


Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, patron of the universal Church and very beloved by countless faithful throughout the ages.

Research on the Internet and you’ll find a bounty of customs around the world born from a wish to honor St. Joseph in church, at table with friends and neighbors but most importantly, with family. For, it is Joseph’s role at the heart of his family, protecting them from harm, working hard for them in his carpenter’s shop, that endears him to us and elevates him in our esteem.

He is, literally, the model dad and celebrating his day around a table set with good food seems just the right thing to do.

While combing the Internet for insights about this wonderful feast, this Angelus message given in March, 2002 by Pope John Paul II lifted Joseph up to the faithful in a marvelous way, one which goes right to the heart of this day. The pontiff noted the “extreme discretion” with which Joseph carried out the role entrusted to him.

Joseph’s faithfulness, the pope wrote, “consisted in always listening to the Lord, seeking to understand his will and to obey it with his whole heart and strength.”

The pope wrote that this is why the Gospel describes Joseph as a just man.

In a moving passage about St. Joseph and fathers, the pope wrote of the generations of fathers who have followed in his footsteps, who “with the example of (Joseph’s) simple and laborious life, imprinted on their children’s souls the inestimable value of faith, without which, every other good runs the risk of being in vain.”

Pope John Paul concluded his message by assuring all fathers of a special prayer: “I ask God that they be men of a robust interior life, in order to fulfil their mission in the family and society in an exemplary way.”

Tomorrow, we’ll be gathering in our brother Mark’s home in Delaware to celebrate. We’ll be bringing a couple of dishes to accompany the ones served up by his wife Kate. After Mass, we’ll settle down as a family at the wide, wooden table in the dining room overlooking the small, backyard pond.

If God is good, and I’m sure he will be, a sense of peace will fill the air and good conversation will follow prayer.

The St. Joseph Day recipes that follow are some of our favorites. You won’t find any meat included in the ingredient lists because, even though the feast falls on Saturday this year, we’ll keep the old Lenten custom of feasting the saint with a meatless meal.

But since the culinary traditions of St. Joseph Day make up for the lack of meat with extreme desserts, you will find a favorite recipe for Italian Cream Cake.

Another favorite recipe is pasta with shrimp and artichoke hearts, an especial favorite of my brother Pete who squirrels jars of artichokes in oil away in the cupboard to snack on. This recipe, though not a traditional one for St. Joseph Day, embodies the elements which are staple foods of the day: pasta; vegetables and seafood. The version here is very easy to prepare and a tasty treat. In honor of St. Joseph, I’ve substituted fresh, home made bread crumbs for the topping instead of grated cheese. Bread crumbs are a St. Joseph Day staple as they symbolize his work as a carpenter.

Pasta with shrimp and artichoke hearts

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil; 1 medium red onion, sliced thin; 2 cloves garlic, chopped; 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped; salt & pepper; 1 pound peeled, medium shrimp; 1 can artichoke hearts; 1 lb. linguini, cooked according to package directions; fresh, Italian parsley, chopped; Italian style bread crumbs for topping.

Directions: In a large skillet, saute the onion until tender, add the garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper and heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat and add the shrimp and simmer until they turn pink. Add the artichokes (and as much of the liquid they come in as you want) and heat through. Then, toss the pasta with the sauce until blended. Garnish and serve with Italian bread.

Home Made Bread Crumb Topping

Ingredients: 1 loaf of crusty Italian bread; 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.

Directions: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut the bread into cubs and scatter on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cubes feel dry on the outside. Remove the bread cubes from the oven and let them cool. then put them in a blender or food processor and blend them into crumbs. In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until warm (not bubbling). Add the bread crumbs and stir to coat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the bread crumbs are golden brown and crunchy. I sprinkle in pre-mixed Italian spices such as Mrs. Dash to add a little punch.

Italian Cream Cake

Ingredients for the cake – 1 stick butter, softened; 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening; 2 cups granulated sugar; 5 eggs, separated; 1 teaspoon baking soda; 1 cup buttermilk; 2 cups all-purpose flour; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 1 small can coconut flakes; 3/4 cup peacans, chopped fine.

Ingredients for the frosting – 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened; 1 stick softened butter; 1 pound confectioners’ sugar; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate.

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans. Cream the butter, shortening and sugar together until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix well. Stir the soda into the buttermilk. Add flour to the butter mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour and mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla, coconut and pecans. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg white. Turn into the prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes.

Cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then remove the cakes, invert them and turn the right side up on a rack to cool before frosting.

Cream the cheese and butter together until throughly mixed. Gradually beat in the remaining ingredients. Spread between the layers of the cooled cake and then frost the top and sides.

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