Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Feast for the Senses: Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

I had the honor of reviewing an advanced copy of 'Bread and Wine' by Shauna Niequist.  One word:  Love.  Here are my thoughts....

Shauna Niequist’s newest book, ‘Bread and Wine’ is my favorite of her three books. It is a collection of essays about gathering around the table, breaking bread, sharing moments. Before you start to imagine stories about perfectly set tables and intricately planned meals (and panic), read on. This book explores the beauty of the imperfect. The blessing of being present over a meal, around a table. Of starting where you are and growing from there. Often my family dinner table is loud with triplet 9 year olds sharing stories from their day and laughing at things I often don’t understand! Sometimes someone is standing up, sometimes, for some reason someone is even standing up on their chair! Occasionally I have tried to reign it in, quiet everyone down, force them to be seated (yes, there is a time and a place for this) but what I find is that those aren’t the real moments. “You never know while it’s happening what will burn in your memory, sacred and profound. It seems like most of the things we try to make profound never are, lost in our insistence and fretting and posing. When we want something to be momentous, it rarely is. Life is disobedient in that way, insisting on surprising us with its magic, stubbornly unwilling to be glittery on command.” (p. 221-222) This book inspired me to embrace the chaos at our table, it is where we are right now. It’s happy chaos. I believe it will be burned in to my memory as beautiful.

Beyond my own dinner table, this book inspired me to want to share meals with my friends and family. To gather around the table with others as well. My friend Kate, entertainer extraordinaire, and I decided to plan a ‘Bread and Wine’ dinner party using a menu from the book. We began planning with menu selection and invitations. We cooked and baked several of the recipes separately to test them out, excitedly sharing photos and texts as they came out of the oven. The day before the party we gathered at Kate’s home to make the dessert and set the table. The day of the dinner we worked at our own homes on our parts of the meal, again sending photos back and forth as things came together. As the night arrived we were ecstatic to share this food with our friends. The evening was beautiful start to finish. A thought that kept reoccurring as the evening progressed was how all of my senses were being fed in beautiful and fulfilling ways. The quote we used on the invitation mirrored this thought, “I love the sounds and smells and textures of life at the table, hands passing bowls and forks clinking against plates and bread being torn and the rhythm and energy of feeding and being fed.” (p. 13)

See: Before the dinner began, we had so much fun preparing the table. We covered the table with butcher paper and wrote words in crayon that encouraged people to create an acrostic poem. With Kate’s darling daughter on our laps we tied tiny stems of flowers on to beautiful silverware with twine. We set the table with my grandmother’s dishes and Kate’s grandmother’s silver. We wanted a simple but meaningful place to share our meal.

Smell: Before the dinner began, I baked the bread at my home. There are not many smells in the world I love more than that of baking bread. It is the smell that brings my children to the kitchen asking, “What is that wonderful smell?” It is a smell that alone fills my heart with happiness. Arriving at Kate’s the night of our party the smell that greeted us was that of the cassoulet. It gives off the most amazing aroma. Perhaps it’s the garlic in the breadcrumbs, perhaps more than that. The smells of the dinner began the conversations with questions about what will be shared.

Hear: The sounds of our evening ranged from perfectly paired music to the voices of our friends. Conversations flowed and crossed the table. We talked as an entire table of 8 and in smaller pairs. We talked about food, recipes, children, books, and water parks. We laughed and we pondered. We shared quotes that were my favorites from the book typed out and placed on the table. We heard forks clinking and wine bottles lightly touching the tops of glasses.

Taste: We opted for the ‘Cozy Fall Party’ menu found in the book (p. 278) Even though the party was to be held on a cold March night, it was the cozy vibe we wanted to embrace. Keeping in mind the quote, “I believe every person should be able to make the simple foods that nourish them, that feel familiar and comforting, that tell the story of who they are.” (p. 40) We would serve Sullivan Street Bread with cheddar and mustard, Green Well Salad, Real Simple Cassoulet, and with a slight switch from another recipe in the book blueberry crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert. The food was amazing. The bread (that even non bakers can make) was crispy on the outside and airy on the inside. The Green Well (one of my favorite restaurants in Grand Rapids) salad is phenomenal topped with cherries, pears, and goat cheese with the unexpected coming from the caramelized onions and maple vinaigrette. The cassoulet is thick and creamy without any cream. The vegetarian version (minus sausage) is rich and flavorful. Because many at the table were sugar free we opted for the blueberry (and cherry) crisp. We used blueberries and cherries picked by us and frozen. The sweetness comes from maple syrup and is perfect.

Touch: One of the things I loved most about this book was the concept of imperfection. Everything does not have to be perfect to be shared, to make a memory, to be meaningful. This lesson of embracing imperfection has been growing with me this year as I began taking pottery classes. As our guests left the dinner party, I gave each couple an imperfect pottery bowl I had made. These were the first items I had given away. I gave each of them a parting quote from the book and hoped they would remember it as they held the imperfect pot. “My prayer is that we’ll find ourselves drawn closer and closer to the hear of the story, the beautiful, beating heart of it all, that the chaos around us and within us will recede, and the most important things will be clear and lovely at every turn. I pray that we’ll understand the transforming power that lies in saying no, because it’s an act of faith, a tangible demonstration of the belief that you are so much more than what you do. I pray that we’ll live with intention, hope, and love in this wild season and in every season, and that the God who loves us will bring new life to our worn-out hearts this year and every year, that we’ll live, truly and deeply, in the present, instead of waiting, waiting, waiting for perfect.” (p. 170)

Photography by the lovely and talented Kate Bolt.  Leave a comment for more information. 


Unknown said...

Oh, I LOVE this post--thank you! XO, Shauna