I’m writing a blog called Cooking for Jesus so think it’s obvious: I like food. I like food way too much. I like food so much that the only thing that turns me off food is food writing. Not all food writing mind you. Food writing that gets in there and gives you all the gory and glorious details but keeps the focus firmly on the fact that, in the end, this is just food is some of the best writing out there. I wish I could write like that.
“Yo, Simeon! Move over.”
Of course, I feel that way because the piece strikes to close to home. It’s a perfect picture of gluttony and worships the sin so completely that even I, a poor, miserable glutton, am repulsed. It forces me to look into the mirror and say, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” And that’s just not fun. Good and necessary, but not fun.
Somewhere amid all the fun he was having, Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone must have looked into the mirror and said the same thing. After all he was more than a bit of jack the lad, a bright young spring dashing about in fancy duds to feast, frolic, or fighting until a stint in the jails of Pisa as a prisoner of war, followed by a serious illness, showed him another way, which he embraced with both an understandable and lovely circumspection.
But when he decided to embrace it, he stuck like a burr, braving his father’s and the world’s displeasure. Francis was not the dippy hippie so beloved by modern culture. Yes, he loved nature and animals and other people, but he loved them because God created them and loved them first. Had loving something or someone been incompatible with the love of God, it would have been incompatible with Francis as well.
Which is why I prefer Giotto’s portrayal of Francis receiving of the stigmata over Caravaggio’s. Caravaggio’s is lovely and that’s the problem. Francis looks likes he’s throughly enjoying the deep spiritual massage whereas Giotto’s Francis has the look of one who is getting what he really doesn’t want, because that’s the difficulty of loving God: you frequently get what you don’t want. As a soon to be celebrated saint observed, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder why you have so few.”
But Francis loved God because God had first loved him. And despite what he may have wanted or felt, Francis let that love flow through him and that is what it takes to be a saint.
As a good Italian lad, I’m sure Francis had his fun with gluttony in his early days. He sounds like the sort of chap who these days would own two burr grinders and make sure his coffee was fresh. In his latter days, he was famously disinterested in food, but apparently one thing that still tickled his palate were a type of almond cookie, which his dear friend Claire, being a good Italian girl, happily made for him. Different cookbooks give different recipes for that concoction. I have gone with the more medieval sounding Mostaccioli from Evelyn Birge Vitz’s A Continual Feast
1 pound blanched almonds (I used unskinned whole almonds instead because I had them and I do not mind the color brown. And as I was not actually baking for Francis, I couldn’t face the work of blanching them.)
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon, or 1 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
Approximately 1 cup of flour
Chop the almonds very fine or coarsely grind in a blender
In a bowl combine the nuts, honey, cinnamon, and egg whites. Mix thoroughly. Gradually stir in enough flour to form a thick paste.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the paste until smooth and stiff. Roll out to about 1/4 inch. Cut into diamond shapes, about 2 1/2 inches long. Place the diamonds on a lightly buttered and floured baking sheet. (I put them on parchment paper.) Let dry for 1 to 2 hours.
Bake in a preheated 250°F oven for 20-30 minutes or until set. Do not let brown.
Yield: @ 3 dozen