"You don't always know what's going to come of it, but you put the time in anyway, and then, after a long, long time, you realize with great clarity why you put the time in: for this night, for these hours around the table, for the complexity and richness of flavors that are so lovely and unexpected you're still thinking about them the next day."
- Shauna Niequist, on food, but somehow, on friendship, too... don't you think?
I received an advanced copy of Shauna Niequist's Bread & Wine about a month ago in exchange for writing a review here, on the blog, where I review books without any incentive all the time. And I confess that I'm writing this review now, before I've finished the very last chapter, because Bread & Wine is one of those books I don't want to end. I'm afraid to turn the final page, because I feel like I'm having a conversation with a friend, and when I close the book, the conversation will come to a close, too.
Cooking is not something I consider "my thing." When my friends think of me, they are not prone to reminisce over a particular recipe or meal. Cooking is not what I am known for, and so I eagerly awaited the arrival of Shauna's book, all while knowing, it might not be for me. Bread & Wine might not speak to my soul the way Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet did, books I read over weeks spent at the beach, salt water still scenting their pages, Shauna's words hanging over my dresser in our bedroom at home.
I think, though, I underestimated the power of Shauna's voice. I love her writing style, and it turns out, she could have written a book about the history of spam, and I would have read it. I would have read it, and I would have felt like she was my friend, talking to me, sharing her heart in the middle of my living room, sitting on my couch.
As it turns out, I forgot, too, that while cooking may not be my thing, hospitality is. It is ingrained in me, and introverted though I may be, I love opening my home and gathering my friends around my table. Most often, we do it potluck style, but I have also spent hours pouring over the cookbook and the stove, and I have loved it.
Maybe, then, cooking is, in fact, my thing. Maybe it is still a chore, but aren't we willing to chore and to work and to slave over the hard things for the people and purposes we love?
Shauna's book reminded me why feeding people is a profound yet simple act, a way to show a friend, an enemy, that they are loved and worthy of food, of something that took effort and time.
I thought Bread & Wine would be a book about food, but really, it is a book about community, about friendship and family and why stopping and sitting and gathering and eating is so, so important for our faith and our well-being.
As with Shauna's other books, I began Bread & Wine while sitting in front of the ocean, and I nearly had a conniption when I realized I had planted my feet in the sand without a pen in my hand. I am religious scribbler in my books; I write and make notes and underline, and I know some may think it's sacrilege, but it's how I know my books, it's how we converse together, and to read Shauna's words without a pen in hand... I was afraid I'd forget all the words I wanted to remember.
So I began ripping little tabs in the pages, and now my copy is dogeared and loved, just how I like it, and there are notches covering the margins where Shauna's words struck a chord.
These have been hard months, and opening my door and turning on my stove? Those tasks have proven to be difficult. I am not in the mood for celebration or parties or gatherings, which is a shame, because I love them so. I love planning and prepping. I love cleaning my house and envisioning where people will sit and discovering the perfect menu.
But it's my nature, I think, to clam up when times are tough, to shut the door when a season becomes painful.
Bread & Wine reminded me: It's time to open the door. It's time to plan and prep and gather with friends around the table. And yes, Shauna's book armed me with recipes and menus -- many of which I am confident I will try (Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner, and I've never thrown a fiesta before) -- but really, Bread & Wine is so much more than that. It's a call to generosity of spirit, to the communal breaking of bread, to embracing friendships near and far, to gathering around the table and speaking grace to each other.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I loved sitting with my friends and eating together. I even, in my own, quiet, simple way, loved cooking for them, loved opening my doors and sitting squeezed around the table.
I think I'm ready to try again.
I received a review copy of Bread & Wine, but all opinions in this review are my own. And for the record, I've already ordered copies of this book for the people I love; that's the best seal of approval I can offer, that I intend to share these words with friends and family who need them too.