If you love to gather friends and family around your table for a meal, if you love to cook, if you love to eat cold watermelon in the summer sun with the juice running down your chin, if you love to deliver a hot meal to a sick or hurting friend, if you love to clink glasses of plummy red wine with friends in your living room or surprise a loved one with a rich, stratified birthday cake, you will love this book. If you interested in the "spiritual significance of what and how we eat, and with whom and where," and if you are interested in what happens when we sit down together, break bread together, feed one another, then this book is a must-read.
This is not a cookbook, although there are recipes accompanying each chapter. It is a series of vignettes, read like stories told around the dinner table. It's about communion, in an everday sense.
I know people who don't care about food, who could eat cardboard pizza or who forget to eat. I know people who have unhealthy relationships with food, who eat too little or too much. I know that food in this country is unjustly distributed, so that while I can jaunt over to Whole Foods on a Wednesday for something I forgot to pick up on our weekly trip, other people in my city have to take a 3 hour bus ride just to get to a grocery store with fresh produce.
Bread&Wine is an ode to the table. Shauna explains, "It's not actually, strictly, about food for me. It's about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another's faces, listen to one another's stories. It happens when we leave the office and get a sitter and skip our workouts every so often to celebrate a birthday or an accomplishment or a wedding or a birth, when we break out of the normal clockwork of daily life and pop the champagne on a cold, gray Wednesday for no other reason than the fact that the faces we love are gathered around our table. It happens when we enter the joy and the sorrow of the people we love, and we join together at the table to feed one another and be fed, and while it's not strictly about food, it doesn't happen without it. Food is the starting point, the common ground, the thing to hold and handle, the currency we offer to one another."
I'll admit that there have been a few times that I have wished that I were one of those people who could eat cardboard pizza or forget to eat. The chapter titled "Hungry" really resonates with me. Shauna writes about the way that women especially try to ignore their appetite, to demur about hunger ("I already ate; I couldn't possibly..."). She writes about her liberation when she learned from other women who declared their hunger, who didn't undereat or overeat, who allowed themselves to take pleasure from it. She concludes, "I love the table. I love food and what it means and what it does and how it feels in my hands. And that might be healthy, and it might be a reaction to a world that would love me more if I starved myself, and it's probably always going to be a mix of the two."
Like Shauna, for me, food is integral to how I show other people I love them. Like Shauna, for me, food is an integral part of my memories. When I think about dating Greg, I think about the fat Spanish olives shared on the patio at Mas Tapas. When I think about our honeymoon, I think about the pine sauce on our duck breast at The Inn At Langley and fresh cherry-peach smoothies at Pike's Place Market in Seattle. Every time I make fresh herb bread, I think of weekends at the river house with Julie and Emily, talking all night and drinking wine and dipping Emily's herb bread into bubbly fontina cheese.When I think about home I think about my mom's inimitable chicken salad and thick slices of sun-ripened tomato sprinkled with salt and cracked pepper. I remember how growing up whenever someone was really sick or someone passed away, Mrs. Stinson would come over with a homemade cheesecake, still warm from the oven. You won't know what cheesecake can be until you've had it while it's still warm.
I want to learn how to make cheesecake, not because I want to eat it often, but because I want to be that friend or neighbor who brings over a still-warm cheesecake when everything falls apart or when the deadlines are stacked or when the new baby comes home.
That's a large part of what Bread&Wine is about. It's about inviting people to the table. It's about tossing a salad while your nephew gives an extended presentation about a very small scientific fact. It's about the simple alchemy and restorative properties of baking bread when everything else feels uncertain.
So you see, it's not a cookbook. But the recipes are also very good. Shauna gave me the encouragement I needed for us to make our first risotto, with champagne and parmesan and peas. We felt so excited as we stood there, stirring, while the risotto kept expanding. Now it's in our regular rotation. It's worth mentioning that there are a number of gluten-free recipes in this book, and that it is well-balanced between healthy and comfort foods. I'm looking forward to trying her mango curry chicken next week, which was mentioned in both of her first two books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet.
Go read the book, and gather people around your table, and be hungry, and feed yourself, and feed others.
Also, visit Shauna Niequist's website for more information, to keep up with her lovely blog, or to find out more about her other books.
Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She is married to Aaron, who is a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is recording a project called A New Liturgy. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life--friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God.