Eat, drink, and meet Ruthie

Ruthie Blacksea at work in the West Coast Jesuit Novitiate kitchen

The past few weeks, I've written about welcoming LGBT Catholics home for Christmas, discerning one's vocation, and the enduring significance of the Salvadoran martyrs 25 years after their murders. This week, I'm changing gears to ... mini turkey quesadillas. Hear me out before you stop reading.

When you picture a novitiate, you might imagine serious young men praying in silence, adjusting to life without cellphones and money, studying the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius with great intensity. But a stylish yoga-instructor-turned-chef cracking off-color jokes while whipping up restaurant-worthy cuisine probably doesn't immediately come to mind. Ruthie, the chef at the West Coast Jesuit novitiate who makes said quesadillas (see video below), is a fixture in the community where I live with 17 novices and six Jesuit priests.

There's a reputation that the Catholic media are something serious, scholarly, and not necessarily approachable to those outside our Catholic tent. There's certainly much value in detailed examinations of the important issues facing our church, country and world from a Catholic perspective, but I'm not convinced we shouldn't look at the seemingly ordinary through that same Catholic lens. It was with that in mind that I commissioned a food series featuring Ruthie, a sort of Ignatian take on Giada De Laurentiis. The niece and sister of Jesuits, Ruthie has been entrenched in the Jesuit world long before working at the novitiate, but she brings something unique to us. In "Pre-Prans"[1], I hope to capture the experience of this laywoman who enhances our community in perhaps unexpected ways.

I should note that the show doesn't preach about community, and I wouldn't dare say it's going to improve lay and religious relationships. But there is something beneficial, I think, seeing lay and religious working together on something as unabashedly commonplace as cooking. No, it's not parish decisions or Vatican policy, but it's still something.

Each episode, Ruthie's joined by guests like writers from the Jesuit Post, NCR's own Sr. Rose Pacatte, and novitiate residents like the director of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, Fr. Mike Kennedy (this week's guest). It's entertaining, at least for me, to put guests often known for their writing or social ministries in an environment they're not known for, and sometimes find themselves out of place: the kitchen. Together with Ruthie -- and often with a few amusing mishaps -- we watch them prepare delicious, approachable recipes you can serve to those you love.

By the way, have you seen the recent stats about American eating practices? About 57 percent of eating and beverage occasions now occur when people are by themselves, according to a recent report from The NPD Group.

Perhaps this light serotonin-booster Web series can bring a family or two together through the most basic way to gather a crowd: good food and drink (at least, that's one of the catalysts to bring my community together). So maybe try something different and check out this quirky show. Make one of Ruthie's fantastic recipes for your community, especially if you normally eat alone. After all, Christians have always seen the sacred in meals with friends.

[1] Pre-Prans is short for pre-prandials, the social hour before dinner where Jesuits gather together for food, drink, and conversation; a custom in Jesuit communities throughout the world.

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