I don't even know where to begin my review of Shauna Niequist's latest book, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter To Life Around the Table With Recipes. There is so much I want to convey to you about the beauty, the authenticity and the absolute need for a book like this. As its tagline states, this book is a "love letter to life around the table with recipes." Like any good love letter, this one sucked me in, to the point where my eyes welled with tears at nearly every chapter, identifying with some truth and my mouth watered with expectation upon reading the delicious-sounding recipes. With every turn of the page, I found my heart crying out, "Yes! This! This is what I so often try to say but fail to articulate! Yes, this! This! This!" In more ways than one, it was as if I, too were a part of Shauna's inner circle of friends, one of her cooking club girls. Though the names and faces and specifics may differ, I too have been blessed with an amazing gift- a community of friends & believers with whom I "do life."
Shauna writes early on in the book about how she always longed for a home that was bustling with life, people coming through the door at all hours, any day; friends clinging glasses, playing music, telling stories and sharing silence. She writes that she "wanted cars parked all the way down the street, and people who came in without knocking, so familiar with our home that they mixed their own drinks and knew where to put the dishes after drying them." As I read this, my heart swelled to overflowing with gratefulness for our current season of life. We have this right now, and it is something that I, too have long desired. For years, it was my deepest prayer-- that the Lord would bring some really great friends into my life with whom I could just be me. I had only one real friend like this, Tracy, and she lived hundreds of miles away. We lived in California at the time I began to pray this prayer, and I remember the anger and frustration that came with the pressure I felt to "keep up appearances" for my husband's job. You see, he was (and still is) a pastor. There was great pressure on me to perform the role of wife with flawless dedication. I had no one nearby to turn to when I needed to honest and, well... human. God answered so many of our prayers in a huge way. After years in California, we were blessed to be able to move to Indiana, closer to family and back to the lifestyle we had missed for so many years. As we were preparing to move, both Sean and I prayed that I would be able to find some good girl friends and really make a connection in our new church and home.
As we grew to know our new home and church family, God began to bring women into my life with whom I was able to develop friendships. It started slowly at first; I was testing the waters. Would they really like me if they knew my quirks? Can I really be myself around them? Afterall, I love Michael Jackson & Aerosmith... but can I tell them that? Would they still be there if they knew they depths of my saddest day? My answer to these questions came quickly, for which I am so thankful. Just a few months after moving, some friends decided we should all try to get together on Tuesday nights. No agenda or schedule or anything that we had to do, just time to hang out. The first Tuesday was fun. We drank wine, painted our nails and some of us brought our latest Pinterest baked good. We got to know each other a little bit more, and decided to do it again the next week. That was over a year and a half ago, and with with exception of a few Tuesday nights when I was sick out of town, Girls Night has been a weekly must. It is an island of sanity in the midst of a crazy, toddler-filled week. We hadn't been meeting together long before February rolled around, Whitney's birth month. The daughter I carried to near-term, all the while knowing she had a chromosomal condition that was incompatible with life. This would be our first year away from California where she was born, and oddly enough, I missed the things from our old home that had reminded me of Whitney. Though I hadn't known this new group of friends long, they began asking me questions about Whitney. They weren't shy, and for this I was grateful. They asked me questions that many of our long-time friends in California never dared to ask. We sat around Caitlin's table as I told them about our Random Acts of Kindness Day, in memory of Whitney and they all eagerly wanted to participate too. That was when I knew this was the real deal. They saw my brokenness and all that went along with it, and they loved me anyways. Shauna writes, "The table is the life raft, the center point, the home base of who we are together." Her cooking club has soups & breads & bacon wrapped dates. My Girls' Night has Reggae Red wine & strawberry cupcakes & endless manicures. But they both add up to the same thing- the life raft, the home base, the breath of fresh air amidst the stifling heat of life.
Since then, we've added more friends to our group and even a couple of babies. I received my review copy of Bread & Wine the week that my friend Mallory had her baby boy, Cam. She invited me to be in the delivery room so that I could do her birth photography. It was an experience I will never forget- the feeling in the room of great anticipation and the unworldly strength with which she labored and delivered her baby naturally. (I now believe this is a brag-worthy accomplishment. I used to pass it off as no greater feat than birthing a baby with an epidural, as I chose to do. But Mallory's strength and determination corrected this way of thinking in me. So women who have birthed a baby sans drugs- brag away.) Cam was born on a Saturday, and I went up to visit them again on Sunday after church. I couldn't get ahold of anyone to find out if it was a good time to visit or not, but I just decided to go see them anyways. When I opened the door, Mallory and her husband Jess were there, both with their eyes full of tears. I could tell they had both been crying, but I wasn't sure what was going on. I learned that the doctor had detected a problem with baby Cam's heart and they were being transferred to the Children's hospital NICU downtown. Uncertainty swirled around us as the transfer team loaded Cam into a hug space-age contraption. I met them at the hospital later that night, and after learning they were staying in a hotel nearby, a few girlfriends and I headed to the closest store to stock them up on things they might need... fruit, oatmeal, magazines, a soft blanket, drinks, chocolate. Mallory insisted she didn't need anything, but when showed up at their door with bags of groceries, we were glad we hadn't listened. In another chapter of Bread & Wine, Shauna writes "We don't learn to love each other well in the easy moments. Anyone is good company at a cocktail party. But love is born when we misunderstand one another and make it right, when we cry in the kitchen, when we show up uninvited with magazines and granola bars, in an effort to say, I love you." Now you see why with every chapter of this book, my heart cried, "Yes! This!"
I'm not much of a cook. I cook for my family, but wouldn't say I'm great at it. Its mostly a mix of the usual weeknight dinners, with a few "experimentations" thrown in here and there. But the chapter Start Where You Are encouraged me to begin exploring more with my cooking. The chapter ends with a recipe for Basic Vinaigrette. Some Dijon, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. At the end of the chapter, she encourages you to "save a pickle jar or a jelly jar, and every few days, make yourself a vinaigrette. You'll feel like you're practicing magic, or like you've turned water into wine." Oh. Oh, ho ho. How right she is! I whipped up a basic vinaigrette, adding a few chopped shallots, and poured it into a fancy Crate & Barrel bottle a friend gave me for Christmas. (It had homemade Chai in it at the time. That had long since been consumed, but the bottle was too pretty to throw away!) I left it out on my counter all week and poured it over a simple salad each night. Mixed greens, thin sliced red onion and goat cheese. One night, I drizzled it over some pan seared pork chops. It was divine! The simple act of creating this dressing from scratch has given me gumption to try more things. Up next: risotto with mushrooms and bacon. I know, crazy!
This book spoke directly to my heart in so many ways, but my perhaps favorite part comes from the introduction:
Bread is bread and wine is wine, but bread-and-wine is another thing entirely. The two together are the sacred and the material at once, the heaven and earth, the divine and the daily. ... [Bread and Wine] is about what happens when we enter the joy and sorrow of the people we love, and we join together at the table to feed one another and be fed, and while its not strictly about food, it doesn't happen without it. ... Food is a language of care, the thing we do when traditional language fails us, when we don't know what to say, when there are no words to say. And food is what we offer in celebration-- at weddings, at anniversaries, at happy events of every kind. Its the thing that connects us, bears our traditions, our sense of home and family, our deepest memories, and, on a practical level, our ability to live and breathe each day. Food matters. ... At the very beginning, and all through the Bible, all through the stories about God and his people, there are stories about food, about all of life changing with the bite of an apple, about trading an inheritance for a bowl of stew, about waking up to find the land littered with bread, God's way of caring for his people; about a wedding where water turned to wine, Jesus' first miracle; about the very first Last Supper, the humble bread and wine becoming, for all time, indelibly linked to the very body of Christ, the center point for thousands of years of tradition and belief. It matters. It mattered then, and it matters now, possibly even more so, because it's a way of reclaiming some of the things we may have lost along the way.
Two of my Girls Night friends have already bought Bread & Wine, since I couldn't stop talking about it while I was reading it. This is by far the frontrunner for my favorite book this year. When I do a book review, I usually like to read it and review it in a couple weeks or less. But this book was different. I had to take my time working through it. I underlined, highlighted and dog-eared pages. I made notes on recipes to try and the ones I have tried. I savored every well-written word. I hope that you will get this book and savor it over time, like I did. Or perhaps you will devour it in one or two sittings. Either way, I highly recommend this book. And if you do, let me know what you think! I'd love to hear about your community, the type of community you long for, or the recipes from this book that you try!
|These are my people. My Girls' Night girls. Pic is from Baby Cam's baby shower!|