Busted Halo

Follow along as Busted Halo writers explore some of the food traditions associated with the season of Lent that can deepen our faith experience and help us draw closer to God.

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January 4th, 2013

Pretzels come in many flavors, shapes, and sizes — not unlike us. These treats are great with cheese or other dips or just by themselves. But have you stopped to consider they actually have an historical place in Lent?

If you take a moment to look at the typical twist pretzel, you can see that it is a model of the common prayer position from the early 600s of folding your arms over each other on your chest and putting your hands on your shoulders.

Pretzels were developed as an option to satisfy abstinence and fasting laws of the time. Eggs, fat, and milk were forbidden during Lent. So, the remaining ingredients that one could use included water, flour, and salt. A young monk baked the first pretzel — making a Lenten bread of water, flour, and salt, forming the dough into the prayer position of the day, and baking it as soft bread. These first pretzels would have been much like the soft pretzels we have today.

Greg Dues, in his book Catholic Customs and Traditions, explains more of the pretzel history:

“These little breads were shaped in the form of arms crossed in prayer and were called bracellae …

April 2nd, 2012

My first ever homemade batch of hot cross buns© 2012 Phil Fox Rose

Every year, I bring hot cross buns to an Easter brunch gathering of family and friends. Sharing food has always been sacred to me, all the more so when it’s around a spiritual event. I don’t know why I started bringing hot cross buns. We didn’t do it when I was growing up; maybe it’s my British roots, but it just seems the thing to do. (Good Friday is the traditional day, but Sunday is when we gather.) This year, for the first time ever, I am making my own, inspired in part by a recent spirituality of bread baking workshop at my church. Based on the test batch, I think it will work out fine.

The hot cross bun is not complicated to make. At its simplest, it’s spiced bread. Flavor and ingredient-wise, its noteworthy for a few reasons. First, traditionally it’s made with currants, an ingredient unknown in America except in its fellow British baked good, the scone. Second, it sometimes includes bits of candied fruit — the same atrocity that afflicts fruitcake and makes it wildly unpopular. (I prefer mine without, if you hadn’t …

March 26th, 2012
Reaching out to a growing number of hungry people

Natalie Garcia, right, chooses food from the shelves with the help of a volunteer at the Sister Regis Food Cupboard in Rochester, N.Y. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi)

In the shadow of what was once a functioning residency for priests, a line forms toward a door. Word has spread by now, and everyone knows the day and time to be there. They also know what to expect to receive.

This scene is a familiar one every Friday in the Little Village neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago. Donna Oborski, R.N., has taken on the health and needs of Our Lady of Tepeyac parish and surrounding neighborhoods since she assumed the role as parish nurse in 2009. The parish food pantry, which opened in 1995, has been growing steadily over the years. Feeling strongly about keeping the pantry open and growing, Oborski took over its operations when she came on staff. At the time, the pantry was serving, on average, eight people during each distribution day. Now, the line has grown to an average of 74 people. “I am proud that we now have ‘one stop shopping’ for the community,” Oborski says. “They can have food, diapers, formula, clothes, and we steer …

March 12th, 2012

Last year writer and brewing expert J. Wilson published Diary of a Part-Time Monk, which tells of his Lenten fast: subsisting on nothing but water and beer. Wilson had heard the legends of the Benedictine monks of Neudeck ob der Au, who were said to have developed a particular beer style — the doppelbock — that is rich in carbohydrates, vitamins, and calories, to sustain them through periods of Lenten fasting.

Wilson was sufficiently intrigued by this legend and he decided to embark on 46 days of beer-and-water for Lent. In the process, he lost nearly 26 pounds, and gained some significant insights into self-discipline, physical and mental rejuvenation, and plenty of media attention.

It goes without saying that such odd and extreme forms of fasting aren’t what the Church envisions for the observance of Lent. Anyone who embarks on a diet entirely free of protein and fiber for 46 days is inviting medical problems. It’s also very unlikely that the 16th century monks of Neudeck subsisted solely on beer and water; more likely they saw the rich beer as a helpful supplement during Lent, but probably not on strict fasting days. In the 16th century, fasting likely …

February 27th, 2012

(CNS illustration/Emily Thompson)

Lent has a way of sneaking up on me. It’s kind of like the Grinch who stole Ordinary Time. I’ve barely recovered from the Christmas season (and I celebrate every last day) and all of a sudden, it’s Ash Wednesday! One of the high school juniors I teach inquired as to what I was giving up “I haven’t yet decided what to give up.” “Perhaps,” replied the same student, “you could give up ending sentences with prepositions.” While I was walking across the room to enter a big, red “F” in my gradebook I thought about how this season of repentance is both difficult and rewarding.

Many of my friends — Catholic and non-Catholic — and even more of the high school students I teach are quite curious about this whole idea of “giving something up” for the Lenten Season. Before I shock you by telling you that it really isn’t about denial but acceptance, perhaps a little lesson is in order. Here now, the history of Lenten sacrifice in a nutshell. In the Gospel, we hear of three penitential acts we must perform in order to do the will of God. They are prayer, giving, and

February 21st, 2012
A guide for the Gulf Coast native living away from home during Carnival

As the plane from New Orleans starts to descend into Tulsa, you glance out the window and notice dunes of powdery white stuff on the ground beneath you. “How did all this sugar sand wind up in Oklahoma?” you wonder. That’s not sugar sand, chère; that’s snow, and snow is what will keep the first king cake you order from reaching your apartment in time for the party you’d planned. Don’t panic. Whip up a batch of bread pudding with the last loaf of Whole Wheat Nature’s Own on the grocery store shelf.

During your party, explain to your guests what a king cake is and why we aren’t having one after all. Say: “It’s like a giant cinnamon roll-slash-Danish-slash-donut — a big ring of braided dough, bready like a brioche, with white icing and purple-green-and-gold sugar on top, and usually some type of filling.”

“That sounds good,” they say. Assure them that it is good. Eat the bread pudding they leave on their plates for breakfast the next morning.

The king cake will arrive, hard as a Zulu coconut, three or four days later, after the roads have been cleared. Eight seconds in the microwave is enough to revive …

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