A few weeks ago, my sweet friend Caryn left me a gem of a present in my mailbox. Just a word about Caryn- she has a habit of leaving me gifts, usually including dark chocolate and books or magazines. The kind of indulgent little things I wouldn't usually buy for myself but make me incredibly happy and feel like I just got a sneak love attack. This particular gift was a book called Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist.
In a nutshell, it is a book about food. Making it, sharing it, loving it, fighting with it, but most importantly using it for what it is. Nourishment. Comfort. Celebration. Sustaining. Sorrow. Food is elemental to human life and thus cannot be ignored and should not be over used. There are foods for different occasions and seasons. Food is an equalizer and a barrier breaker and a conversation starter. Food is a gift or an apology or an invitation. There are people who will sit around your table that would never go with you to church. Very few things make the statement that you care about a person like inviting them into your home and sharing a meal with them. I have a bumper sticker from Penzey's Spice Shop on our refrigerator door that says "Love people. Cook them tasty food."
I originally bought that bumper sticker for my friend Bec who knows how to open her door and invite strangers to her table like no one I have ever met. She and her husband Bill custom built their kitchen and I have washed dishes in the gorgeous black stone sink many times. They know how to open a bottle of wine and get people to start talking. Bec doesn't bother with fussy cooking but everything I have ever had in her kitchen has been amazing. Whether we are sitting around the table or leaning against the counter with our forks in the leftovers. I decided to keep the bumper sticker for myself because I felt I needed the reminder more then she did. She already does it so brilliantly.
The book is part cookbook part autobiography part instruction manual. It was an easy read but I found myself going back to re read certain parts because I felt I had missed some hidden nugget, which I usually had. She is raw and honest but hopeful.
I have written so much about my evolving love affair with food. I have gone from being a tortured soul bulimic who hated food so much I made myself throw it up, to a vegan who lived for 6 months on only brown rice, soy milk, almonds and cucumbers (don't ask me why, some kind of self discipline exercise), to a vegetarian who agonized over online restaurant menus to make sure I could order in under 10 minutes, to a person who just EATS- anything and everything, but has a special place in my heart and gut for bacon.
I love how Shauna writes about food in her book. The glorious ways in which food can enrich the lives of people and how beautiful it is when it is made to share. The responsibility of treating it well- respecting ingredients and recipes and traditions. How feeding guests with dietary restrictions is a way to show you care about them. Dealing with your aversion to messes and chaos and focusing on the beauty of a house and table full of people- strangers or friends and everything in between.
My grandmother spent hours with me in the kitchen teaching me how to bake. She made amazing things like ebilskievers and crepes and challah and Danish puffs. But baking didn't take with me. I can make a halfway decent dutch oven bread and flip pancakes like a champ. But I like the freedom to riff in the kitchen, and baking is not conducive to riffing. I have taught myself to cook by reading blogs, watching Food Network, reading cookbooks like novels late at night while Grant is reading The Economist in bed next to me, patiently letting me read ingredient lists like the ultimate literary climax, and sitting on the shoulders of others in their kitchen while they teach me some technique or method. I am definitely a novice chef who finds nothing crazy about tackling a hollandaise sauce for the first time- with a table of 10 new friends waiting to eat. I call it ballsy, others might call it foolish. My bravado is probably a bit of both. And I am definitely still learning.
I still cringe when I think about the lentil spinach soup I served to a young couple at our home in Bellefonte. I thought that if a little spinach was good, more would be better and the texture was something close to what you pull out of the sink after the garbage disposer has backed up. Slimy, stringy, off-putting green color and so thick every bite left an indent in the soup left behind in the bowl. I wish I had been confident enough to call it the culinary disaster it was, but I bravely pretended like the emperor was wearing beautiful clothes. A few years and lots of learning later, I burned a huge pot of potato soup that I was serving to our best friends. I forgot to stir all the way to the bottom of the pan and the cream-based soup turned into a steaming cauldron of ash-tasting liquid. While our friends cackled in the background at the odds of burning a soup, I called the local pizza place and opened a bottle of wine. Food is a journey, not a destination.
I suppose this is a book report/treatise on my feelings about food. Why I love it. Why I think it matters. Why inviting people to dinner in my house is like inviting them into my life. Sometimes it isn't magic and we all say a polite goodnight after an hour or so. And sometimes one hour turns into two turns into putting the babes to bed and making another run to the six pack shop before they close so we can curl up on the living room couches and continue the conversation we started over appetizers. Some people find that chemistry over board games, book clubs, local pubs, playgroups, etc. In the Martsolf home, we try to create community around the table.
Love People. Cook them Tasty Food.
I am trying my best.