By Christina Krost
I’m balancing my lunch plate on my lap, trying to enjoy a sandwich slapped together after feeding my one-year-old. She toddles up to me, eyes focused on my plate. Her gaze meets mine as if to say, “Some for me?” I tear apart some bread crust and hold it out for her pudgy fingers to grab. She mashes it into her tiny, drooly mouth. Sometimes the youngest among us understand best how to be nourished.
Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist is about the sometimes complicated desire to nourish ourselves and the ones we love. Niequist writes from her experiences as a pastor’s kid, musician’s wife, and mother of two boys. And she knows how to feed her people well.
But it wasn’t always that way. Like many girls growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Niequist’s own mother shooed her out of their kitchen, seen as a place of oppression for many women of her generation. Instead Niequist’s cooking chops were earned piecemeal, by devouring cookbooks like trashy romance novels in her college and newlywed years, throwing elaborate dinner parties, and learning (often humorously) by trial-and error.
Niequist saw her cooking forays as exotic, intense, and satisfying. She tried new-to-her combinations—savory bacon-wrapped dates, simple-yet-impressive mango chicken curry, and rich dark chocolate sea salted toffee—which she shares here. The collected recipes remind her of her travels to Spain, Paris, and Italy alongside memories of home in western Michigan, San Francisco, and Chicago. The variety of tastes and favors she cultivates in her cooking helps her articulate her desires for her family. She writes, “I want my kids to taste and experience the biggest possible world, because every bite of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious.”
For those that don’t find cooking thrilling or easy, Niequist offers some advice: “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…to nourish ourselves in the most basic way and to create meals and traditions around the table and tell the story of who we are….And the only way to get there is to start where you are.” Though this book highlights spiritual nourishment, readers need not be practicing Christians to appreciate her message.
Through different vignettes that jump around her timeline of early marriage and motherhood, Niequist tackles infertility and pregnancy, grief and loss, body image and acceptance, multitasking and being present, fasting and feast. She introduces you to her varied circles of friends: church friends, musicians, family, neighbors, and her cooking club. By the end of the book, you feel as if you know them, and you’ll want to be part of their club. You can imagine yourself, and them, around her table. Though I myself can’t imagine planning and preparing all of her exotic recipes for my own friends and family due to the lack of “fancy” ingredients in my small central Illinois town [population 1600], I’ve learned that what one makes is less important than how and why it is made.
Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes is a must-read for those who love to entertain or those who want to learn. Definitely not a Martha Stewart kind of how-to book, Bread & Wine presents tried and true recipes with helpful guidance from the author. As we grow closer to holiday celebrations that gather our own loved ones around our tables, Niequist helps remind us that the stress that comes with the holidays is often self-imposed. If you’ve ever invited over friends or cooked for any number of people, you understand how much thought and preparation goes into every bite. Niequist gently guides us to the idea that if you are going to feed the people you love, it’s best to try to do so equitably and safely (whether that means gluten free, nut free, meat free, etc.).
Perhaps the most resonant of Bread & Wine’s lessons is that “What people are craving isn’t perfection. People aren’t longing to be impressed; they’re longing to feel like they’re home. If you create a space full of love…they’ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd.”
Take a lesson from my daughter: turn to the ones you love, ask for what you need, and eat.
Christina Krost is an elementary teacher turned full-time mom turned United Methodist pastor’s wife. She lives with her husband and three daughters in rural central Illinois and blogs at thekrostfamily.blogspot.com.