You have most likely been thinking (ok, not really, because you probably don’t spend tons of time reflecting on what I have or haven’t posted), that these Paris posts have been sorely lacking in one of my very most favorite things: food. Lest you be tempted to think that I have not been scarfing my way around the city, I have saved all of the my food crazy photos for this one post so that we can talk about food and books and life. As Simone de Beauvoir said in her memoirs of her earliest years:
Amen girl. An important task indeed.
I love food, I love eating, and I love the community that gathers around the table, the counter, the kitchen floor, the picnic blanket, or the couch. I’ve been pretty open about that on this blog (what? You missed it? You are blind.), and for that reason, many of you have recommended Shauna Niequist’s book Bread and Wine. For those of you who haven’t read it, Niequist proposes to share “a love letter to life around the table,” highlighting the transcendental importance of gathering to share a meal.
There were several things I loved about this book. I loved the introduction, nodding and wanting to underline everything (I resisted, as it was a borrowed book) and considered painting phrases like this across my kitchen walls (also impossible, since we rent):
There were a couple moving or humorous moments in the book, some great encouragements to love ourselves and our friends, and obviously I cried anytime she mentioned miscarriage or infertility struggles, because we are at that stage of life where so many of our friends have dealt with the heartache of childlessness through one way or the other that it always hits close to home.
But I kept feeling dissatisfied with the book, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until this past week. Niequist supposedly is sharing stories, but the chapters didn’t really read like stories, like events that culminated in one dish that held in it’s taste the entire story. I wanted Proust’s madeleine and instead I got a series of mostly similar stories about how the author had lots of dinner parties and traveled a bunch. I can barely remember (and I read it on the flight here) the recipes, or distinct stories because they seemed kind of the same. Moreover, I found myself getting annoyed about the discontinuity that the book seemed to convey between her life and her mission. Her mission was to inspire us back to the table and kitchen to build simple community, to remind us of the “sacred and the material at once, the heaven and earth, the divine and the daily.” Yet her chapters were full of perfect communities everywhere she went, trips abroad, parties with letter-pressed menu cards, and jobs and incomes that somehow facilitated constant entertainment status. And, as a friend pointed out, so much coffee and alcohol.
None of that is wrong, but for me the heart of food is its simplicity, its democracy, and her introduction made me think that was where she was going. Everybody eats. Even the lonely, even the undomestic, even the person who never travels. I felt like that simple message got a little lost in her lofty spiritual ambitions to remind us that the Word became flesh, which became a meal that we are called to remember. I didn’t want a recipe that was at one point served at a dinner party to great success; I wanted a story that evolved into something tangible.
I wanted it to be more like Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, the stories and memories of which are burned so vividly in my brain that I absolutely insisted on eating a salad lyonnaise while in Lyon. She made me taste it with her story of eating it and I had to turn those words into reality.
I wanted it to be more like Deb’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, where, even if not a memoir, every recipe starts with the story that produced it. Because that is what our stories do, they drive us to the table and inspire what we spread across it. In one of my favorite recipes from Deb’s book, she recreates roasted chicken and potatoes similar to something she had in Paris. Not from a restaurant, but purchased from a street vendor that sells rotisserie chickens and the buttery potatoes cooked in their drippings. Deb’s description of that taste, that feeling, that greasy bag that she carried back to their apartment, stayed with me and last week, I had to have one of those chickens. I bought my chicken, carried it home through the cobblestone streets and ate it with two friends at the kitchen table. There were no place cards, no menus, not even any real cooking, since we paired it with salad and baguette. But we stayed around that table for a while, reaching back into the pot to pull out one more potato, one last bite of chicken. And that is the point: to be nourished, body and soul.
There is a beauty in food, in eating, in cooking, and Bread and Wine certainly got that right. But there is also a simplicity in it, a roughness, a reality, a concrete story that I felt she missed. I think by basing her title and premises on the miracle of the incarnation, she forgot that it ended in simple things. Bread and wine, earthly things, un-grand, everyday things. In her focus to drive us back to the table, she forgot that food, the community it inspires, and the stories it brings forth in us, aren’t limited to the table. They are in the to-go meal in the car that you laugh over on a road-trip, the pizza on the couch that is a Friday night tradition, the toast eaten alone with a book and a blanket at the end of a long day. These too are worthwhile, these too matter. Anyone else read it? What are your thoughts?
Or what about Julia Child’s ‘My Life in France’? I love reading about her food revelation– the famous sole meuniere!
I love that one! It is one of my favorite France memoirs in general.
I actually just put ‘Bread and Wine’ on hold at the library a few days ago. After reading your review, I’m really excited to get into it. Beautiful post as always. 🙂
It is still worth reading! Just wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be.
I love to cook and share around the table. Some of the meals have been elaborate and time consuming to make and my friends appreciate it…but I have found that the simple meals are absolutely the best. One of my favorite meals when my husband and I were in Italy was Spaghetti with olio and red pepper flakes. You can’t get any more simple than that. When I make it at home it brings me right back to that wonderful little restaurant in Bologna. Yum.
That sounds so good! And you totally understand the point of food.
Love your thoughts on the beauty of shared food, along w/ the beauty of your photos of food. Speaking of food books, have you read Robert Farrar Capon’s book, “The Supper of the Lamb”? Imagine a book co-authored by Julia Child, GK Chesteron, and Oscar Wild: love of food, love of philosophical rabbit trail-esque thoughts on food & eating & beauty, and love of playful language abound.
Oh that sounds so good!!!! I will have to read it!
Oh, the Smitten Kitchen. If I were only allowed to have one cookbook/food blog, that one is it! I have so many recipes bookmarked, and so many have already been made, and not a single one has even slightly disappointed me.
It is so perfect! I fluctuate between wanting to keep it in the kitchen, or on the coffee table for all to see.
I’ve been on and off again reading your blog for the last year or so and couldn’t resist adding to the conversation here. I read Bread and Wine this spring — like you, I adored the introduction. I live with a half dozen fabulous girls in a DC row house and we love hospitality. I love feeding people (currently itching to get off work and check on my experimental crockpot chicken) and I so related to the beautiful pictures she painted in the beginning of the book. Yet the book didn’t develop how I wanted it too. Books really never do, but I had high hopes. As a young single 20-something with a just-enough income, for me, hospitality takes a very different shape than the stories Shauna tells. But, love the recommendations on books regarding food and hospitality!!
Yay for DC row house living!!!! It is the best. And so are crockpots. Yeah, totally agree with you. Hospitality just can’t look like that for most people our age and that is totally ok.
Unfortunately, I’ve often had an adversarial relationship with food because of addiction and weight issues. But I’ve learned a lot about food this year, and I’m back on track to enjoy it again.
A beautiful post. You’ve made me hungry 🙂
Yay for learning to love it again!
I jumped on to offer up “The Supper of the Lamb” by Robert Farrar Capon as a suggested read and saw someone beat me to it. So, I second their suggestion…. And Julia’s memoir “My Life in France” is good food reading as well, so I second that one too 🙂
Loved Childs’ book so I will have to take your word on the other one!
I really loved the book a lot. I found it to be both encouraging and comforting. I did think it was going to be more like a cooking book than a novel, but I enjoyed the short little recipes. I did feel a little life envy though of knowing that my budget, home, and other circumstances couldn’t entertain and facilitate others in the way the book talked about. I like the basic ideas of the book though and thought it was an important message. I’ll have to check out these other books that you mention!
I mean, there was some stuff I loved about it, and I don’t think it is bad, so I am all about others reading it if it encourages and comforts them. Different things speak to everyone! The basic idea was awesome, it was just the envy inducing application that got to me sometimes.
This is exactly how I felt about Bread & Wine!
I really enjoyed reading Bread & Wine and have a given a few copies to friends, but I understand what you are saying. I absolutely loved A Homemade Life (I read the entire book on a long plane ride and was starving when I landed, LOL!) and was so sad when the book ended. I just bought her new book, Delancey, and can’t wait to read it. By the way, Paris is my favorite city and love all your beautiful photos.
I want to read Delancey so bad!!! I really just want to take a pilgrimage out thee to eat a meal. : )
I have almost finished Bread & Wine, and while I have loved it, I totally get what you are saying. She does romanticize meals quite a bit, and while it’s alluring at first, that’s definitely not real life 100% of the time. You are so right when you say that there are unpretty, rough, and simple meals that can still be good and meaningful. An interesting perspective!
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I think what fascinates me and makes me love this book is the fact that she’s an extrovert and I’m an introvert, and her descriptions of hospitality are something I’ve never thought of…so maybe it’s actually more fascination than love. I appreciate your take on it, though, and at some level I agree, because I have had the thought that her way of doing things won’t fit with me, even if I like her book.
I’m also glad I read your review before publishing my own post about hospitality and home…something I’ve had on a back burner for a few weeks, now. Maybe the toddlers will calm down enough (ha!) to let me finish it tonight.
Looking forward to read what you wrote!
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