I was really excited when I found out several weeks ago on Shauna Niequist’s website that I could get an advance reader copy of her new book Bread & Wine.
I had read her other books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, within the last year and couldn’t remember relating to another author so strongly. I know part of it was the timing, being in a beautiful, relatively new place (after moving here a little over two years ago) combined with leaving a place where I had spent most of my adult life and experienced significant life change. The subtitles of those two books were kind of like a summary of what I was feeling: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life and Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way.
A little more of the backstory is that Shauna lived for several years in Grand Rapids and has spent a lifetime of summers in South Haven (both in the same general West MI/Lake Michigan ballpark where I now live). Also, the church I was a part of for many years before moving was one of many that followed in the footsteps of Willow Creek, the church that her parents started. I’ve read several books written by members of her family and church whose teaching I respect and whose leadership I am thankful for, all adding to the connection.
Now, Bread & Wine comes along at also a seemingly perfect time for me. The subtitle is A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes and is filled with the same kind of honest, real life stories as her previous books. While it is a book about food, it is about so much more. As Shauna writes in the introduction, “It’s the thing that connects us, that 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.”
Being able to read this book at this time fits in well with another book I’m reading called Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring by Andi Ashworth about hospitality, as well as this teaching from Hugh Halter about the home being the basis for a missional life.
There is a chapter in the book where Shauna writes that our tears can “show us something about ourselves.” Basically if something makes us cry, it’s probably important to us. For her, one of those things was watching ordinary people cross the finish line of a marathon, so she became one of them! (And that made me cry!)
For me, something that just about brings tears to my eyes is reading the stories and recipes in the Penzeys Spices magazines/catalogs from ordinary people who share why they love cooking and sharing a meal with others. I have always been a picky eater and an introvert, so the idea of cooking and inviting others over to eat seems like an unlikely match for me, but I can’t think of anything that has inspired me more in the food department than their mottos “Love to Cook – Cook to Love” and “Love People. Cook them tasty food.” I have the bumper sticker of that second one on my fridge (though I don’t follow its advice as much as I want to).
Our “table” is more often a campfire out in the woods in the winter or our deck furniture in the summer because we want to take advantage of the outdoor space we have. I have plans in my head for a larger dining table for inside so that we can more often move the “party” indoors, too, but as Shauna points out a few times in her book, we should not let the size or condition of our house (or table in my case) stop us from inviting people in. “What people are craving isn’t perfection. People aren’t longing to be impressed; they’re longing to feel like they’re home.” And “…it isn’t about performance. You’ll miss the richest moments in life…if you’re too scared or too ashamed to open the door.” If this doesn’t speak directly to me, I don’t know what else could. That is how I lived at our old house. Now, I am trying more and hoping that people feel welcome here.
I want to find and get to know whoever “my people” will be, that group of close friends who know which cupboard you keep your glasses in and that you can call when you need help. For Shauna it’s her Cooking Club, for others it may be a small group from church, or a group joined together around some other interest.
There are a variety of recipes in the book from appetizers to main dishes to desserts. Can you say Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee? Some recipes are gluten free (since her husband eats GF) and some are vegetarian. These helped me see that I can be more accomodating towards those who have dietary restrictions, either for medical reasons or by choice. Some of the others simply inspire me to eat healthier and to use the word “virtuous” more often (the toffee is not one of these, by the way ). All of them are tied directly to a story.
All in all, Bread & Wine is a great book about food, friendship, and love, all things I am hungry for more of in my life.
P.S. I was able to hear Shauna speak at a local event just a couple days ago (& get my book signed!). She is just as real in real life as in her books and I am grateful she has written about what is important to her.