image via Lane Baldwin Photography
Jeff has always said half-jokingly that in his family, love is expressed through food. Good food, and lots of it—the more food you’re presented with, the more you can be sure you’re loved. Whenever we visit his family in Pennsylvania, his dad asks for our menu requests weeks in advance, and regardless of our arrival time—even if our plane touches down in the middle of the night—an entire meal is always waiting for us on the table. There is always a cheesecake (Jeff’s favorite) waiting in the fridge when we show up. His mom has always stocked the pantry with her homemade bread (the likes of which I have never, and I mean never, tasted anywhere else or been able to recreate myself).
When the kids and I flew to New York last spring for my grandpa’s funeral, we didn’t have time to swing down to Pennsylvania but did have a 2-hour layover in Philadelphia where Jeff’s parents met us for a quick picnic lunch. And the ‘quick picnic lunch’ they brought was so extensive that they needed a full-sized rolling suitcase to transport it.
Like Jeff says: in the Brown family, food is love and love is food.
And they’ve more than brought me around. My family certainly enjoys plenty of delicious food too (my mom’s pumpkin bread nearly moves me to tears, and the family cookbook is an absolute treasure trove—my copy is so splattered and worn that I think the pages would crack in two if I bent them), but I don’t think food was as big of a focus for us, or as much of a personal expression as it was in Jeff’s family. I’ve come to appreciate the way his family looks at meals—yes, they are time together as a family, but the meal in itself is a show of love. Dishes are planned and shopped for and prepared, all while thinking of the family and friends who will be enjoying them together.
I’ve heard great things about Bread and Wine (from both Modern Mrs. Darcy and Everyday Reading, and I’ve learned to trust their book recommendations), so when it was on sale for Kindle a few weeks ago, I grabbed it. And then I put off reading it for weeks, because I had built up such high hopes and was nervous about having them dashed.
I shouldn’t have worried.
Bread and Wine is a collection of essays about food and faith and family and friends and relationships and the meals that keep them going. Non-fiction usually makes me nervous, but I think I’m starting to realize it doesn’t need to. Niequist’s writing is simple and beautiful and thoughtful—reading this book made me want to hug my family and invite friends into my home and share my table and my life with people I love. She made me want to grow and change (both things I generally resist as strongly as possible), and to appreciate things like a dish cooked with love and time spent with a great friend and the memories a favorite meal brings back.
Jeff walked by at one point while I was reading, and looked over my shoulder at my kindle screen and asked what was the point of highlighting anything when I was just going to highlight everything? But it’s hard to resist when nearly every paragraph either makes me laugh out loud at Niequist’s spot-on humor (on the idea that skinny people must always be happy: “I know, I know, this or that has got you down, but find a three-way mirror and look at your butt. Don't you feel better now? I know I would.”), or cry with her over the struggles we share as women (“After all these years, the heaviest thing isn’t the number on the scale but the weight of the shame I’ve carried all these years—too big, too big, too big.”), or make sure I’m creating opportunities for the relationships I care about most to develop (on eating together: “It’s not, actually, strictly, about food for me. It’s about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another’s faces, listen to one another’s stories. . . . and while it’s not strictly about food, it doesn’t happen without it.”)
I guess at this point in the post, it goes without saying that I loved this book. I loved it from start to finish, because it made me excited about the things I want to always feel excited about: my family, my friendships, the time we spend together, and the food that brings us together. And the whole time I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been stopping every few minutes to flip through my highlights to try and find a favorite quote to finish with. I’m willing to admit defeat—I might never find one favorite quote to share—so I’ll give up on the search and just go with one of the many:
It’s no accident that when a loved one dies, the family is deluged with food. The impulse to feed is innate. Food is a language of care, the thing we do when traditional language fails us, when we don’t know what to say, when there are no words to say. And food is what we offer in celebration—at weddings, at anniversaries, at happy events of every kind. It’s the thing that connects us, that bears our traditions, our sense of home and family, our deepest memories, and, on a practical level, our ability to live and breathe each day. Food matters.
And no one’s been complaining, of course, that I’ve been so excited about cooking rather killer dinners since I finished reading it (if I may say so myself).
Have you read this book? What did you think?