Saturday, July 13, 2013

bookish: bread & wine

There are so many reasons why I love being a part of a book club.
Finding books that I love that I may never have read, hearing other people's perspectives, meeting for breakfast, discovering new friendships. It all boils down to the fellowship, and being able to share a piece of literature and bond over it. To hear thoughts and critiques and favorites, things I didn't consider or catch on my own. Words touch people and trickle into their hearts and minds in different ways, and to have the privilege of being exposed to those differences is one of the best parts of group discussion.

So when all of that is combined with home-cooking and new recipes, I am so there. 

This month we picked up Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, by Shauna Niequist.
I loved this book with a simplicity that doesn't often come to me. It was one of those books that I just drank up, like reading a heartfelt letter from a close friend or having a wonderful conversation on the phone for hours and hours.
(Although, honestly, I hate talking on the phone. So that metaphor is for normal people.)

We had decided on reading Bread & Wine after our friend Russanna reached out to Shauna Niequist, requesting a handful of copies for our book club to read, discuss, review and blog about. She explained that we all love to read (obviously), and our book club is made up of college students and stay-at-home mothers and the like... and Zondervan replied, and very generously provided us with free copies of the book!
It was such an exciting thing for us, since most (if not all) would probably not be able to purchase the book otherwise. But I absolutely love having my very own copy of it, rather than borrowing it from the library - a copy I can touch, highlight, page-bend and bookmark and cover in crumbs.
So a very, very special thank you to Zondervan for sponsoring this month's book club!

We each chose a recipe to make, and gathered on a Saturday morning (today) to try them and talk about the book. I chose to make the bacon-wrapped dates, which happened to be filled with heaven's most scrumptious delight, goat cheese.
Shauna (in my head we're friends, so I'm just gonna first-name her) loves goat cheese. Like, a lot. And for that reason alone, I love her.

She even confesses that these dates may sound like a terrible idea, but just stick with her - "perfect these little numbers, and people will be happy every time you walk in to a party. It's like holding a puppy or a baby - suddenly you become irresistible, which is a great feeling, even if it's just because you're carrying bacon."

This month it was just four of us, so it was cozy with warm coffee mugs in our hands and little plates full of treats.
The four recipes we tried were the Gaia Cookies, Goat Cheese Biscuits, Bacon-Wrapped Dates, and Robin's Super-Healthy Lentil Soup.

We gathered at Russanna's house, and munched away while we shared our thoughts. All of the recipes were delicious, and we enjoyed them all, as well as talking about other ones we've tried or would like to try.

This book is honest and thoughtful - vibrant and sensory, good enough to taste.
Little life excerpts mixed with meaningful recipes in times of joy, trial, fellowship and loneliness.
It all boils down to living life around the table. How sharing your home and sharing a meal can so easily strip down the walls of humankind, bring everyone to a clean slate, an equal sitting.
How food can be sacred; how food and fellowship can nourish on every level.
She shares stories of life-defining moments, relationships that last, flurries of beautiful images of fragrant cooking and fancy dinner parties.

One of our book club members brought up an interesting question (via print-out, read by Tess, since the author Emily couldn't be there). Is time around the table any less sacred with a Foreman Grill in a dorm room? In essence, how beautiful does the food have to be for the experience to be beautiful? Does the beauty still apply to the simple endeavors, the non-extravagant meals, the mismatched everyday budget-friendly dinners?
I think the answer is yes, yes. Of course. Because Shauna definitely lives a life that is strange and foreign to many of us. Fresh cheeses and nuts and 5-course meals, extravagant parties with menus and place cards and dessert and fancy dishware, flower arrangements and candles. That is so not my weekend dinner etiquette. Try paper plates and pizza delivery.
The point (and I hope Shauna would agree) is to open yourself and your home. To live a life of openness and hospitality. The author's messages on the book cover put forth her hopes for her readers in a simple way:

"My prayer is will become battered and stained as you cook and chop and play, music loud and kitchen messy. And more than anything, I hope that when you put this book down, you'll gather the people you love around your table to eat and drink, to tell stories, to be heard and fed and nourished on every level."

And then,

"This is what I want you to do: tell someone you love them, and that dinner's at six."

Our everyday life is full of sensory experiences. Things we can easily overlook or forget to appreciate. There are also an endless string of excuses not to open your home - not to be vulnerable, because your house is too small or not fancy enough or is too messy, your cooking isn't good enough or whatever else.

This book brought me back to life, in a way. Not that I was depressed or dead inside, really, but...when I was first married, there were many things that I was excited about. Cooking, decorating, setting up our home, having people over. Being creative.
Over time these things have been pushed to the side in favor of laziness. It's hard to admit, but it's true. Eating out, fast food, quick meals. Cheap, easy, fast, unhealthy. I forgot that I love to cook and experiment, and forgot that I loved the feeling of making a home-cooked meal, even for just the two of us.
This book awakened that desire to cook again, and I couldn't put it down. 

Some reviews of this book took the stance that Shauna is unrelatable, living an extravagant life that only speaks to a tiny percentage of people. She's exclusive...she should expand to include other communities. Her writing only speaks to the upper-class, white, female, married, Christian, blah blah.
I disagree with that. Completely. I found this book to be a blog, a diary - a glimpse into her life. These are her life excerpts. How and why should she write about anything else other than her experiences, in a book about her life and memories?
On the whole, I connected with her because her stories are about passions we all feel and experience. The enjoyment of food, the love of people and relationships, the heartbreaks, the pain of sadness, the joy of family and belonging. She talks about love, faith, sanctuary. Companionship, scripture, feasting, fasting. It's there and it's lovely and compelling, it's personal. 

I found myself reading out sections to my husband, sharing some of my favorite quotes and passages, things I feel I could go back and read again and again. She tops off most chapters with a recipe, often sharing the back story of why it's included in that section, and how it nourished her in a time of joy or need. 
One of my favorite sections is about travel. She talks about how she traveled with her father in junior high and high school, exploring Spain, France, Germany, India, Australia...definitely something most of us have not and may never experience. 
Even so, I love her perspective on the treasures of travel and experiencing other cultures. 

"Now, it seems, it's entirely possible to travel without tasting a new culture, should you desire to do so. There's a McDonald's practically everywhere..."

Cue guilt, since Dusty and I most definitely had McDonald's in Paris. 

"...[my dad] taught me that wherever we are, we eat what they eat, and we eat what they give us, all the we traveled, food became a language for understanding..."

Dusty and I love to travel, it's at the very top of our priority list. Many people don't travel often, especially when they start having children, because of finances or other priorities. I think it's a decision that everyone makes for their own family; where to spend time, what to spend money on. For us, I hope we'll always travel, children in tow, saving and experiencing new things at every opportunity. Even if my life is much different than I plan on and imagine, her words still resonated with me in a powerful way.

"I hold all these places and flavors with me, like a fistful of shiny coins, like a charm bracelet. I want to be everywhere at once. I want a full English breakfast in a pub in London, a hot buttery naan in New Delhi for lunch...I want it all -- all the tastes, all the smells, all the stories and memories and traditions, all the textures and flavors and experiences, all running down my chin, all over my fingers."

"...people ask me why I travel so much, and specifically why we travel with Henry so often (her son)...we travel because it's there. Because Capri exists and Kenya exists and Tel Aviv exists, and I want to taste every bite of it. We travel because I want my kids to learn... I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn't bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see themselves as bit players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful play, not as the main characters in the drama of our living room."

In another chapter, she touches on the fact that her and her husband remind each other that their kids aren't their vanity projects. They're his parents, not his marketing team. Each son is a person, not a paper doll. I loved this - even without having children of my own, the idea and the reminder is important and applies to so many other parents and children that I know. It's so easy to get caught up. 

I could probably go on and on about this book. I think I'll stop, but I recommend you curl up on a weekend and devour this like I did. Stay in your pajamas and enjoy. Read the words of an honest woman, talking about her passions and her struggles and her lifelong romance with food and faith and life around the table.
I promise you won't regret it.

1 comment:

  1. Great photos! I just gave your blog a shout out in my post about our book club meeting.