Friday, April 12, 2013

Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

I was with a good friend recently, who in describing her weekly cooking routine, said that her Sunday suppers were typically more gourmet, because that's the day she has free afternoon hours to spend in the kitchen.

In that moment, I was reminded that I clearly missed that cooking gene, that bent. Because not only would I never, on purpose, spend a Sabbath afternoon - intended for rest - in the kitchen, but I'm also missing the whole weekly cooking routine thing.

However, I do love hosting and hospitality and a home full of people. And since all those people have to eat (darn), I'm committed to trying to set out snacks and and meals and sweets that make our family and friends want to hang their hats and stay awhile. 

In Bread & Wine, Shauna Niequist invites us to her table, to the detailed snippets of her life told through fresh and funny and relatable stories. She infuses hilarious writing with meaningful consideration in short 5-10ish page essays.

In an early chapter on learning to cook, Shauna says,
"It takes some time to learn... But it's a lovely process, with not a minute wasted. If you put in the time, the learning, the trying, the mess, and the failure, at the end you will have learned to feed yourself and the people you love, and that's a skill for life - like tennis or piano but yummier and far less expensive.
I'm not talking about cooking as performance, or entertaining as a complicated choreography of competition and showing off. I'm talking about feeding someone with honesty and intimacy and love, about making your home a place where people are fiercely protected, even if just a few hours, from the crush and cruelty of the day."
Here's the magic - after reading Bread & Wine, along with her other books, I feel like I've enjoyed a number of intimate dinner parties around Shauna's table.
I caught myself the other day, in telling someone about Bread & Wine, that Shauna was my friend. Er, I mean, an acquaintance. Oh wait, a friend of a friend. And then it hit me - I've never even met her! I was quite shocked.

Throughout Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, Shauna recounts her love for cooking for and sharing meals with loved ones around her table. But her newest book just released this month, Bread & Wine, focuses even more narrowly on hospitality as "a love letter to life around the table."

Bread & Wine is an engaging, inviting book to read. The only negative is that you can't read it all at once. While it may initially feel like a book you can't put down, it's kind of like those little molten chocolate cakes, that at first glance you think you'll finish the whole thing because it's hot out of the oven and warm and so yummy. But about half-way through, once the melted chocolate seeps across your plate, you realize the richness, and that by quickly devouring it, you'll rush right past savoring the flavor.
Shauna's stories are a little like that. They kind of settle in and work their way through your mind, because ingesting her thoughts and experiences make us consider our own thoughts and experiences. And it takes a while to digest.

A few things about Bread & Wine that I especially loved -
- "Run" (pg 74) Shauna's story about running the Chicago marathon. I'm not a runner, but this made me a little weepy. In part because I just watched Corbin run a half-marathon last month and understood what that entailed, but mostly because I was privy to Shauna's earlier stories through her two previous books, and I was simply celebrating this victory with her. Because of her transparent communication, we readers are allowed a small window into her soul.
- "Enough" (pg 55). Thoughts on friendship and safety goggles from Home Depot. Keep a kleenex handy. 
- While she concludes most chapters with a recipe that coincides with that story, sometimes she doesn't. Keeps the overall book from feeling forced or contrived in matching every story with a meaningful recipe.
- Includes gluten-free and diary-free recipes. I don't prepare foods that way very often. But I love Shauna's insistence that we are to prepare foods for the purpose of serving and loving others well. So even with the temptation to feel like picky eaters with dietary needs can be a pain, we love them well by preparing foods they can eat and enjoy. It's a gift we get to give. 

A paragraph from "Open the Door," (pg 105) perfectly communicates what I interpret as Shauna's primary message in Bread & Wine -
"What people are craving isn't perfection. People aren't longing to be impressed; they're longing to feel like they're home. If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul, they'll take their shoes off and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd."
So, whether you were born with that cooking-gene or not, we are all created to engage others in hospitality. Shauna's words will simply provide lots of laughter and insight along the way. Enjoy!
To purchase Bread & Wine on Amazon