“People aren’t longing to be impressed; they’re longing to feel like they’re home.”
– Shauna Niequist
I HIGHLY recommend grabbing yourself a copy of “Bread and Wine“!
I read Shauna Niequist’s new book Bread and Wine: Finding Community and Life Around the Table on a plane from Long Beach to Seattle and just loved it. I was on my way to Coeur D’Alene to visit my dear friends Emily and Tim. Emily had also read the book, and it was a great conversation piece for us over the visit. We even spent one day cooking some of the recipes from the book. We enjoyed delicious “Annette’s enchiladas”, “Corn Esquites” and “Blueberry Crisp” straight from Shauna’s book, and since they were cooked by Emily and not me, everything was scrumptious! I’ve since also made the enchiladas again and tried the “Mini Mac & Cheese”, which was a spicy delight, for a wonderful birthday dinner party with some lovely friends. All of the recipes find themselves seamlessly interwoven among chapter after chapter of beautiful stories describing the grace that is given and received around the table.
Above all else, Shauna’s book is all about community. It is about coming to the table in spirit and in stomach. In the introduction, she speaks with conviction about the need for us to return to the table in community with one another, the way that people have been doing since the beginning of time. She writes that “the table is the life raft, the center point, the home base of who we are together.” (27) She describes food as a language of care and sharing, and proceeds with the rest of the book to draw the reader in to an idea of what community does in our lives when we practice is openly, honestly, and deliciously.
At the beginning of one of the most personally compelling chapters, “Hunger”, Shauna includes a quote from Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the host of The Splendid Table, who says “there are two kinds of people in the world: people who wake up thinking about what to have for supper and people who don’t.” For the record, I am definitely of the latter persuasion. I love food as much as the next person, but I’m not much of a cook at all. I currently work, attend grad school, and volunteer in a high school ministry, so my at-home cooking time is rare and usually satisfied by top ramen or chicken nuggets. However, reading this book really gave me a valuable insight on what I’ve been missing as a non-cooking person. I’ve been trying, somewhat successfully, to integrate some of her delicious recipes and tips into my daily eating, and am hoping this little burst of inspiration will continue.
I even tried to pay attention to what I ate on that trip, for this specific purpose, and boy, my time in Coeur D’Alene with Emily and Tim did not disappoint! On my first night there, they took me to their favorite restaurant – “Fire” in downtown CDA. I have had a lot of pizza in my life, and this was definitely my favorite. Having just finished Shauna’s book, I was determined to notice what I ate, and truly had no problem with that in devouring these delicious pieces. (You can check out their amazing menu here). We had an amazing salad and then shared two of their thin crust pizzas between us. Tim and Emily assured me that every pizza is great, and we went with the “Camino” and the “Gordy”. The first was one that I would normally order; it was spicy and delicious and covered with chicken, onion, cheese, and a zesty bbq sauce. The second was one that I would have looked at but not been brave enough to try – topped with dates and a perfect balsamic reduction. The pleasure of that meal was amplified by the amazing people that I shared it with, and how refreshing it was to pick up these friendships right where they’d been left.
One of the best things about this vacation was the ability to disconnect from the anxieties of the day-to-day in a way that I haven’t been able to do in several years. Making the choice to value being “present over perfect,” as Shauna would write it, became vividly clear and desirable to me as I spent this time drinking amazing coffee and spending hours catching up with precious friends who have no trouble finding words to exchange with me. I found myself making a mantra of her quote from page 187 and repeating it to myself many times throughout this trip – “It’s better to be in one place, wholly and full-heartedly, than a thousand splintery half places, glamorous as they may be.” The way that I glamorize those “half-places” in which I so often find myself is humbling and convicting and even embarrassing, if I can be completely honest*. I spread myself incredibly thin among people, commitments, and tasks. I am a champion multi-tasker and rarely find myself thinking or focusing on only one thing at a time. I’ve been thinking so much about the gift that full attention and investment are to me, and how much I am short-changing the amazing life that I am privileged to lead by refusing to give that. Sharing a meal with someone is only one situation where this comes into play, but it is a common one and a sacred one that I often miss the beauty of by my errors of prioritizing.
Finally, in the “Open the Door” chapter, Shauna writes 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 and character and creativity and soul, 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.” (95) This sums up a great deal of what I’ve learned from all of her writing, beginning three years ago when an incredible woman who I admired then and admire even more now handed me Shauna’s book Bittersweet and said “I think you should read this, it seems like something that would hit right where you are in life.” And it certainly did. I re-read her books often, and this one will certainly be added into that mix. Each time I try to absorb every drop of comfort that comes from her consistent reassurance that I am not the only one who struggles with the imperfections below my surface that threaten to break through at every waking moment of life. Her words remind me that as much as I desire community over the table with people who admit they are as broken as me, I must first create the space for others that welcomes them in with grace and love and something delectable.
*check out this great article that Shauna wrote for Relevant on how we should “Stop Instagramming Your Perfect Life”