Bread & Wine: a review and a dinner party.

As I mentioned before, Shauna Niequist's people were kind enough to include me in the group of bloggers reading and reviewing advance copies of her latest book, Bread & Wine: a love letter to life around the table.  Last month, I decided to invite a bunch of friends over for a dinner party to taste several recipes from the book. 

I needed a little distance from the evening to do an honest recap.  I didn't want to write something happy-go-lucky; I wanted to write something honest.

So, here's how it went...

~ ~ ~

The day of my Bread & Wine dinner party, I was feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. It was just one of those days we women have sometimes - my face felt puffy, my jeans were extremely tight, and I just felt like I was taking up too much space in the world.  It's the worst way to feel, you know, when you're about to have people over for a feast.  I could feel my excitement about having close friends over for a special night being stolen away quickly.

The truth is, I've been having a hard time lately - emotionally haywire, physically "off."  While I'm working with a holistic doctor to even out these imbalances, underneath I'm struggling with the same old body image stuff that's plagued me my entire life.  Even as I type this, I know it sounds shallow and trivial, but in the moment, it feels real and crippling.

So all afternoon that day, I asked the Lord to help me let go of my self-absorbancy.  I wrestled internally, speaking truth to myself:

You are not defined by how you look.

Don't let your insecurities ruin this special night.

Embrace what's real - these friendships around the table.

No one cares about the size of your muffin top.  Seriously.

And that leads into why I love this book.  Bread & Wine is about food and delicious, easy-to-share recipes. But it's about so much moreBread & Wine is about balance. It's about appreciating food for its sustenance, yet not being afraid to admit that you enjoy eating, that you're hungry, that life is too short to never eat bread again for fear of gaining a few pounds.  It's about finding the balance between "feasting and fasting" (one of my favorite chapters), knowing when it's okay to indulge a little and when it's time to step back and restrain.

In the chapter "swimsuit, ready or not," Shauna says something that really resonates:

Shame wants us to be deeply apologetic for just daring to exist.  I want to dare to exist and, more than that, to live audaciously, in all my imperfect, lumpy, scarred glory, because the alternative is letting shame win...

I'm not going to let a lifetime of shame about my body get in the way of living in a rich, wild, grateful, wide-open way.

I cannot tell you how much these excerpts helped me, as I chopped ingredients for Green Well Salad and methodically stuffed dates with goat cheese.

I thought about how vulnerable we all are.  We are invited to share a meal with someone.  We choose our clothes, maybe some makeup and jewelry.  We make the choice to put ourselves out there.  As we offer ourselves and our hunger and sit at another person's table asking to be fed, we are at that person's mercy.


So as I was chopping and prepping, I had a realization: what an honor and privilege I have tonight.   Every time someone gathers around my table, I get to offer my own vulnerability and meet them in theirs.

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.

If there's anything I want my home to communicate, it's that.  Because Christ gives me that freedom, and I want others to have it too.

So, I stopped trying to "feel myself" and instead focused not on my weaknesses but what I have to offer:

I can be vulnerable. 
And I can feed people.

So I put the prepped dates in the fridge and moved on to setting the table for my guests.

~ ~ ~

Our farm table was set simply - white butcher paper sprawled down the center, juice glasses filled with crayons scattered about (because no day at our house is complete without coloring of some sort), and a few candles.  The placecards were made with memorable quotes from the book mounted on corks.

Here are the recipes from the book that we chose to re-create:

  • Bacon-Wrapped Dates
  • Green Well Salad
  • Mar-A-Lago Turkey Burgers
  • Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee

And of course, bread and wine...

The Bacon-Wrapped Dates were divine. With only three ingredients, these are a great appetizer I'm sure I'll make again and again.  People were lingering around the plate, which is always a good thing.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

The Green Well Salad was crunchy, creamy, and sweet.  Since then, my daughter has fallen in love with red grapes and wants them at practically every meal.  Score.

Green Well Salad // Mar-A-Lago Turkey Burgers

And the Mar-A-Lago Turkey Burgers?  I'm gonna go ahead and use the "M" word: they were MOIST.  Yes, moist.  And that's hard to say about a turkey burger, which is usually slightly dry and lackluster, right?  The best part about the burgers was the "Special Sauce" made from ketchup, mayonnaise, and mango chutney.  The Special Sauce was the star of the dinner.  As in, {slightly panicked} "Where's the Special Sauce?  I need more... "  And, "What is IN this Special Sauce?!"  And, "I could drink an entire VAT of Special Sauce."

Finally, for dessert - Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee.  To me, toffee has always seemed like something one purchases, not something one makes at home.  But this book encouraged me to give it a try, and I had no idea how simple it is!   In all fairness, my husband did have to rescue me about halfway through stirring the toffee because I started to freak out that it was turning into a lumpy mess.  He beat it into submission while I hovered over his shoulder, and all was well.   Just a few bites of this decadent toffee crumbled on top of Jeni's Ice Cream = perfect.

A few variations to the toffee recipe: Melt the butter first, then add the sugar and bring it to a boil.  I dumped the butter and sugar in together and I think that was part of my problem.  Also, I used Pink Himalayan sea salt on top, so there were some small flecks of salt and then some larger pieces.  So good.

Overall, the recipes were easy to make and delicious.  And thanks to Shauna's humorous and helpful blurbs before each recipe, you get tips on how to cook it, serve it, and make it part of your repertoire.

The back of the book also has some handy entertaining tips, such as:

"I think it's totally OK to have the food undone [when the guests arrive], as long as there's music and candles, and the host is ready.  It's not OK to come to the door in a towel, even if the food is ready."

Not that I've done that before or anything. Ahem.

~ ~ ~

Here are the precious friends who gathered around the table...

The night was special, but it was also normal, if that makes sense.  Sharing meals around the table has become so much the rhythm of our home, and for that I am thankful.

So, I would consider our Bread & Wine dinner party a success.  We laughed and enjoyed delicious food.  All the recipes turned out wonderfully.  We had full bellies and full hearts.  And I had a victory that evening in the ongoing war with my body image, because I decided to live wide-open and vulnerable. 

When the night ended, I realized that "feeling myself" has less to do with how my clothes fit and more to do with surrounding myself with people I love.  The absolute worst thing I can do is be "too scared to open the door."  The best thing I can do is gather with them.  Again and again.

* If you haven't yet read Bread & Wine, you can purchase it here on Amazon. 

* This post includes Amazon affiliate links.

Bread & Wine.

It's arrived!  I'm happily in the midst of reading Shauna Niequist's latest book, Bread & Wine.  Shauna's people have once again been kind enough to include me in the group of bloggers reading and reviewing advance copies of the book, and I can't wait to officially share about it here once I'm done.  But let's just say this - this book speaks my language in every way.  I nearly wept reading the intro alone.  As if I should be surprised...

Shauna's first book, Cold Tangerines, taught me that "this pedestrian life" is the best life I've got.  Cold Tangerines began my love story with living more deeply - stopping, pausing my frantic, busy, married working-girl life to be more present in the details, to tell my story and invite others into it.

Her second book, Bittersweet, was read shortly after I became a mother, at a time when I could not be experiencing change more deeply, in the beautifully exhausting hours of caring for a newborn.

Two-and-a-half-years later, I still can say along with Shauna, "I’m so thankful to live in this physical, messy, blood-and-guts world." (Bittersweet)

How I love some bread and wine in my life on a regular basis - yes, I do love bread (hello, I'm Italian) and wine (apparently I also love white wine, who knew?) but together, "bread & wine" is communion.  Community.  This introvert loves having people over, sharing meals around our table.  It's all part of this year's purpose of embracing who I really am

Our home is centered around one very large, rustic farm table that my husband built from salvaged barn wood.  In just a few years, I cannot even count the memorable meals we've shared around that table, crumbs falling through the holes in the table's imperfect surface, elbows touching, glasses being filled and refilled.  So far, Bread & Wine resonates with these passions perfectly. I've already written the name of my friend "Linda" in the margin on page 13. And "Aunt Lucille" in the margin on page 14.

We're off to a good start, friends.  More to come...

* This post includes Amazon affiliate links.