After a delightful conversation with Shauna Niequist about her beautiful new book Bread and Wine: A love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, I bought the book for the recipes as much as the prose, and neither disappoint. There are many recipes I cannot wait to try like steak au poivre with cognac pan sauce and sweet potato fries with sriracha dipping Sauce. Unfortunately, I cannot eat some of the recipes I most want like mac and Cheese, watermelon feta salad, bacon-wrapped dates, goat cheese biscuits, and simplest dark chocolate mousse. I have been very sick and must be careful about what I eat.
I crave gluteney, sugary treats with passionate unrequited love. Croissants, French bread, apple fritters, carrot cake, chocolate chip cookies, zucchini muffins. . . . I could go on like this for pages. Unfortunately sugar and gluten despise me. Despite my perfect, constant love for them, they wreak havoc on my system. My cravings for gluten and sugar are partially driven by a health condition that has plagued me much of my life. While it was uncomfortable in my teens, a problem in my 20’s, and a severe problem in my 30, it has become dangerous in my 40’s. The complex carbohydrates I am supposed to eat such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, and beans are just not as sexy as their simple cousins. Although I like them, they are like best friends rather than passionate lovers.
Recently, I had two friends over for lunch. We had black bean vegetable soup, rice pilaf, arugula salad with toasted walnuts, and clementines for dessert. It was so delicious we hardly noticed it was free of gluten, dairy, meat, and refined sugar. These friends too have troubling health issues, even though we all work very hard to take care of ourselves. Creating a lunch we can all eat is not necessarily easy. Sometimes we wish for a little understanding from those who can eat whatever they want without consequence. We would like to be those people too. Tables and meals can be challenging to negotiate for those with sensitive, broken systems. Following unspoken rules about accepting hospitality easily conflicts with allergies and other food-related health problems.
While I sat with my friends after a lunch created from the limited array of ingredients we can all eat, I talked openly about my worsening condition. They listened and cared for me, and there was a sacredness to it. I would not have shared like that in a church or a Bible study or even at a restaurant. This is what Shauna Niequist is really talking about in Bread and Wine. The food, while important, is not as important as sharing our meals and ourselves with those we love and cherish. We sit down in our homes or backyards or cafes nourishing ourselves physically, spiritually, and socially by what is offered and what we offer in return. It is communion. My craving for gluten and sugar can be over-ridden by the satisfaction of a deeper craving for connection. I may not be able to put whatever I want on my table or in my body right now, but I am free to invite whomever I want to the table to eat with me. I hope perhaps, sometime you will join me.