Shauna Niequist wants her readers’ copies of her new book Bread and Wine to be doggeared, food-stained, and weathered by regular use in the kitchen. She wants this memoir/cookbook to be well-used, both precious and not at the same time.
She would be happy to see my copy. I read it almost straight through, loved it, then installed it on the de-facto recipe holder in the kitchen (what might otherwise be mistaken for a hanging dish rack). In the time since, it has brought forth some delicious meals for my family and friends.
It is a wonderful hybrid of a book. Practical, and beautiful. Eloquent, and straightforward. Imaginative, and pointed. Commanding, and gentle. It is a passionate invitation for everyday cooks to turn off the Food Network and put down the French Laundry Cookbook and grab a knife and make a mess and start cooking. And even more, a clarion call to put down the dust rag (and long list of lame excuses) and open your doors to welcome your friends into the mess of your life. Because it is in that space, close to your heart and inside your home, that real life happens.
To start with, Shauna is a great writer. She tells compelling stories, painting vivid depictions with careful words, revealing herself as she goes. She has a strong perspective, but somehow employs a gentle touch as she calls the readers to action. I found her description of running the Chicago Marathon to be pitch-perfect, for example, and her stories about her son’s harrowing start to life to be heart-rending. She is vulnerable and strong at the same time, giving an inspirational call to her readers to step into a newer, better, more open kind of life.
But further, Shauna is obviously a great cook. Not in the her-food-is-like-culinary-poetry-with-plates-piled-high-and-nuances-of-exotic-flavor way, but just downright good. Unpretentious food with a perfect flair and ready for friends and family to enjoy. I’ve followed her recipes for breakfast cookies (several times, actually), baked sweet potato ‘fries’, basic risotto, mango chicken curry, and simple salad vinaigrette, and they’ve all been gobbled up by friends and family. Her quick mention of roasted broccoli truly is a game changer. Oh sure, the maple balsamic glaze for the grilled pork loin turned to caramel, but how bad of an outcome is serendipitous maple balsamic caramel? And the cherry on top of the many recipes in her book are that most are grain-free for the gluten-intolerant (but they don’t suffer any loss of flavor).
In a surprising and disarming turn, Shauna courageously weighs in on something never done in books on food, and rarely done in books at all– in an early chapter (and returning several times throughout) she writes forthrightly and disarmingly about body image. More specifically, about the way in which many of us devotees of great food live in a constant tension between the foods which we love and our bodies which we don’t. Torn between two loves, we live like fools. Shauna’s honesty and insight shows us a better way, and we are in her debt.