To summarize my experience with this book, I keep returning to the word appetite. The author, Shauna Niequist, points our palates to the most important things in life. If I'm thinking along those lines, I can't help but to think of my life-long friend and mentor, Maci Barnett. She has consistently taught me about life, including what to savor. Some of my first memories of our friendship surround the theme of physical appetite. Maci is one of those people you learn from, and she probably don't even know it because you learn just by the way she lives. The richest and the most authentic way to teach someone, by the way. When she and her husband were in medical school, she talked about her nutritional guide---a bigger than two-telephone book reference guide--from the Mayo Clinic. She had me so interested in nutrition and exercise that I ended up reading this for enjoyment. Sounds a little insane, but it taught me about what was good to put in my body, and Maci made it sound so exciting. On the flip side, one night Maci hosted a slumber party for some of the girls at my high school. She didn't blink an eye to serve (and eat herself) waffles TOPPED with Blue Bell Cookies 'n Cream ice cream for breakfast. This is just how she rolls, people. I think I even have a picture of this early morning concoction somewhere. To me, this was a novelty. To her, this was just life--you ebb, you flow--you have discipline in the most important areas, and you live a little.
She taught me the musts of life like learning to salsa dance, that the best meal of my life will be at Christopher's World Grill in College Station, and that when you love, love passionately and hard---especially when it's hard and difficult. Even to those who are hard and difficult. Oh, and when you're paying off student loans and you have very little square footage, just pretend you're in Spain, put the folding table up against the wall, and remake the living room into a dance floor. Just for a night. There's no other way to live.
You see, I could be one of those readers who thinks about me and Shauna being friends. And, yes I'll confess I do that. You can't read her chapters and not think of her as you make your grocery list or plan your next dinner party. But as I write this, I'm more convinced that she and Maci would be such kindred spirits. Both love life, food and love the people who are around their tables.
The stories in Bread and Wine are rich with detail and raw emotion we all encounter. Each chapter a different story, a distinct memory. But the best is yet to come. The chapters conclude with a recipe corresponding to the theme of the personal essay. And these aren't your typical recipes. They've been tweaked and loved on by the author herself. Fun flavors and explanations of her tweaking is included. I love it. I still can't believe I haven't seen a book with this essay-recipe match before. Seamless and brilliant.
Shauna's writing has inspired me to cook more, travel more, and worry less. Fling open my door more for imperfect and impromptu dinner parties. Love my friends and neighbors and really anyone--better. And (I didn't think this one possible)---to love my Pottery Barn dining room table even more. I've always loved that table. It's my favorite piece of furniture in the whole casa. When I grew up, my family had a huge wooden table. For years we sat there for breakfast, after school snack and dinner. Anytime our family had an important decision to make, we sat there together and called ourselves the "Knights of the Round Table." This table was huge. The chairs were made of thick, chunky, solid wood. The table alone sat 10 people and the lazy susan was the size of a small table top. But it could have been the smallest table known to man with very little construction to speak of. What mattered was we were together at that table. When Shauna writes about how much she loves the dining room table because of what happens at the dining room table--I get that. I connect with that because it's exactly how I've felt for a very long time. It's where the meat of community happens. Important words. Cheers. Decisions. Tears. Prayer.
In so many ways her text is "so me." And in a lot of ways it's laughably not. I'm laughing to myself because I know how little I've been able to cook since the Littles have been born. And if you know me, you know I don't really drink wine, so the pairings of food and wines aren't my strong suit. But, if we're talking on bread AND wine, I figure my love for carbs compensates completely.
The best part is it has pushed me to be more instead of do more, which is exactly what I think Shauna and God would want to accomplish. However, I will say, if you don't try to make risotto within two weeks of reading this book, you might want to get your pulse checked.
She makes it sound that good.
And one of my close and dearest friends, Erin, actually made it taste that good when she attempted it for the first time the other night at our "Shauna-inspired" dinner party. Risotto Rockstar you are, you are.
Happy cooking, reading and people-lovin' around your table if you take up this one!