I love to eat.
I’m the kind of person who will make a scene at a restaurant, raving loudly about the to-die-for truffle sauce until everyone in the room has agreed to order the same meal for themselves. I associate seasons with food (winter = pot roast, spring = strawberry salad, summer = burgers on the grill, fall = pumpkin EVERYTHING), and mark special occasions with food (birthday = ice cream, book deal = champagne, Christmas Eve = homemade white lasagna). Those who have read A Year of Biblical Womanhood know that I recently connected with my inner chef, so when I have time, I enjoy the challenge of working my way through a long list of complicated ingredients and directions to produce a from-scratch soup, roast, pie, or casserole.
But like most Americans, my relationship with food has a dark side. I tend to “graze” on snacks in the kitchen when I get stressed out or depressed. I often eat absently, in front of the TV or laptop. I count calories and then feel guilty when I’ve consumed too much. (I’m looking at you, Einstein Bros Bagels in Concourse E of the Charlotte Airport.) I don’t have people over for dinner often enough, and when I do, I get so stressed out about making everything perfect that it’s unlikely I’ll do it again anytime soon.
So when I learned that two of my favorite writers—Shauna Niequist and Rachel Marie Stone— were releasing books on the topic of food, I had to get my hands on some copies. And let me tell you, these books didn’t disappoint. I gobbled up every word! (Yikes. Sorry ‘bout that; I couldn’t resist.)
First, some thoughts on Shauna’s book, Bread & Wine…
Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist
Shauna, author of Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, is an amazing writer—so talented you hardly notice the precision and craftsmanship that goes into every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter. Her past memoirs have touched on love, loss, balance, beauty, mindfulness, and faith, and in Bread & Wine, Shauna pulls these themes together once again, but in a series of reflections about her true passion: life around the table.
“My prayer is that you’ll read these pages first curled up on your couch or in bed or in the bathtub,” she writes, “ and then after that you’ll bring it to the kitchen with you, turning corners of pages, breaking the spine, spilling red wine on it and splashing vinegar across the pages, that it will become battered and stained as you cook and chop and play, music loud and kitchen messy. And more than anything, I hope that when you put this book down, you’ll gather the people you love around your table to eat and drink, to tell stories, to be heard and fed and nourished on every level.”
I expected this book to be wise, funny, and vulnerable…because Shauna always is. But I was surprised by how practical I found it, how many sentences I underlined and notes I made. Not only does the book include easy, practical recipes at the end of each chapter, it also includes a really helpful appendix with entertaining tips, sample menus, and a pantry list. It’s the perfect book to inspire you to open up your table more often and help you become a better host.
In several chapters, I felt certain Shauna was reading my mind, speaking directly to my deepest insecurities related to food, body image, hospitality, even motherhood. (I cried on an airplane while reading “On Tea and Pajamas,” it so perfectly captured my life at the moment.) Another fantastic chapter is entitled “Open the Door,” and it begins with what Shauna acknowledges is a generalization, but which certainly rings true in my own life: “It seems to me that women typically experience shame about two things: their bodies and their homes.”
She describes how embarrassed she felt when a friend stopped by unexpectedly, in the middle of a writing session, when Shauna’s house was a mess and she was dressed her typical writing attire—no makeup, hair in a ratty bun, crooked glasses, half-zip, and sweatpants.
“I felt within myself the desire to shoo her out, to hide, to keep her from the disorder that is my real, actual life some days,” Shauna writes.
Shame like this can keep us from inviting our loved ones to the table, she says. “This is why the door stays closed for so many of us, literally and figuratively. One friend promises she’ll start having people over when they finally have money to remodel. Another says she’d be too nervous that people wouldn’t eat the food she made, so she never makes the invitation. But it isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about performance. You’ll miss the richest moments in life—the sacred moments when we feel God’s grace and presence through the actual faces and hands of the people we love—if you’re too scared or too ashamed to open the door. I know it’s scary, but throw open the door anyway, even though someone might see you in the terrible ugly half-zip.” (p. 109)
Some other great lines:
From “Jazz and Curry”—
“In cooking as in life, there are some non-negotiables, but not nearly as many as you think.”
From “On Bread and Wine”—
“….Part of becoming yourself, in a deeply spiritual way, is finding the words to tell the truth about what it is you really love. In the words of my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, it’s about ‘letting the soft animal of your body love what it loves.’”
“I used to think that the goal was to get over things—to deal with them once and for all, to snap an issue closed like slamming a locker door, washing my hands of it forever and always. What I know now after all these years is that there are some things you don’t get over, some things you just make friends with at a certain point, because they’ve been following you around like a stray dog for years.”
From “Morning, Noon, and Night”—
“…Love isn’t something you prove or earn, but something you receive or allow, like balm, like a benediction, even when you’re at your very worst.”
“Part of being a Christian means practicing grace in all sorts of big and small and daily ways, and my body gives me the opportunity to demonstrate grace, to make peace with imperfection every time I see myself in the mirror. On my best days, I practice grace and patience with myself, knowing that I can’t extend grace and patience if I haven’t tasted it.”
I highly recommend this book. It’s entertaining, inspiring, challenging, and (at least in my experience), a sort of antidote to cynicism that will help connect you with what’s most real and most important.
Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Good Gift of Food by Rachel Marie Stone
While Bread & Wine is a memoir that focuses on life around the table, Eat With Joy delves more deeply and directly into issues related to the theology of eating, touching on everything from food anxiety and eating disorders, to poverty, to obesity, to just and sustainable eating, to hospitality, to mindfulness, to communion.
Rachel Marie Stone (who you may know as a popular writer over at Her.Meneutics) has written a thoughtful, impeccably-researched, and practical book that cites a movie in one paragraph, a Bible story in the next, a poem in the following, and a scientific study in the next. This lady must read….A LOT! My writing journal is now packed with new quotes and insights I plan to use later. (For example, in Chapter 3 Rachel notes that “our English word companion comes from the Latin for ‘with’ (com) and ‘bread’ (panis)—a companion is one with whom you eat your bread.”)
To give you a sense of this small book’s breadth: Chapter One—“Joyful Eating”—introduces the topic of food and explores how food is meant to be enjoyed as a living metaphor for God’s sustaining love for his people. Chapter Two—“Generous Eating”—looks at the importance of not only serving but also eating with the “least of these.” (I love that Rachel highlights the importance of not only “feeding” people, but also dining with them, in community together.) Chapter Three—“Communal Eating”—further explores the importance of community in eating, with insights into the significance of shared meals in Scripture. Chapter Four—“Restorative Eating”— looks at the healing effects of communal eating, particularly as it pertains to addressing eating disorders. (Fascinating chapter!) Chapter Five—“Sustainable Eating”—addresses head-on the many injustices in food production in the U.S. and around the world. Chapter Six—“Creative Eating”—looks at cooking and eating as a form of culture-making with potential for worship. And Chapter Seven—“Redemptive Eating”—beautifully ties together all these themes and provides practical suggestions for ways to practice joyful eating in the real world.
Eat With Joy also includes recipes at the end of each chapter (we’re going to be eating well at the Evans home!) as well as beautiful mealtime prayers, collected from around the world and from various traditions, which alone are worth the price of the book. One of my favorites:
Behind the loaf is the snowy flour;
Behind the flour is the mill;
Behind the mill is the sun and shower,
And the wheat and the Father’s will.
This was one of those rare books that is both carefully and passionately written. It’s hard to believe this is Rachel’s first book; I suspect it will not be her last!
These books serve as perfect companions to one another, and I’m so glad I read them together. I feel like ditching the internet for a few days so I can chop up some onions, bake some bread, try a new recipe, and invite some friends over.
(One quick note: If you are struggling financially, you may find elements in each book, particularly Bread & Wine, frustrating. I too have been in the place where I was shopping at Wal Mart because it’s all I could afford, working ramen noodles into the weekly menu more often than I preferred. Stories and anecdotes about travelling the world and enjoying European cuisine, buying organic, joining a CSA, or picking out fine wine for guests may make you feel like true hospitality and joyful and just eating are little more than dreams other people get to fulfill. Thankfully, both authors go out of their way to offer practical suggestions that apply to all of us, no matter our socioeconomic situation. So, if that’s where you’re at, try not to let the stories detract from the message.)
We have three copies of each book to giveaway! So I’ll pick three winners to receive BOTH Bread & Wine and Eat With Joy. (Note: If you win, the books will arrive in your mailbox separately, as they come from two different publishers.)
To enter, leave a comment with:
1) Your favorite guilty pleasure food (mine = coffee-flavored ice cream!
2) Your go-to weeknight meal (mine = enchiladas or tacos)
3) Your biggest hang-up or struggle when it comes to food or hospitality (mine = PERFECTIONISM!)
Through random.org, I will choose three winners and contact them. (Be sure you’re signed into DISQUS with an email address.) Contest runs through Friday, April 19 at 3 p.m. EST, at which point I will notify everyone of the winners.
In the meantime, I hope you find the time this week to gather around your table and eat with joy!