The panic hit as I stood balanced on a kitchen chair, peering into the black recess of my kitchen cupboard.
I was hunting for wine glasses, when I remembered: I don't have wine glasses. I have chubby water glasses that I pretend are elegant stemware. When it's just me drinking Two Buck Chuck with dinner, it's easy to live in delusion. But that night, I had friends coming over for a dinner party. Smart friends. Talented friends. Friends who can cook and tablescape and make witty jokes. Friends who undoubtedly have wine glasses in their own kitchen cupboards, and who probably drink something more sophisticated than Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio.
What was I doing? My heart started to race. Had I lost my mind? Did I forget I have four kids underfoot 26 hours a day? Did I think my friends wouldn't notice the tumbleweeds of dog hair that drift from under the sofa, that they would think my lack of fresh flowers more laissez-faire than lazy? Did I imagine wine glasses are some sort of frivolous accessory to a dinner party? Might I serve them wine in sippy cups?
Then Shauna Niequist slapped me across the face and chuckled a little at my shocked expression and said, "Get a grip, woman!" Or she would have, had she been standing in my kitchen. Because she knows this particular dilemma, and she is always reminding us that parties aren't about perfectionism (Get thee behind me, Pinterest) and food is about more than flavors.
Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table is Shauna's newest masterpiece. (Have you read it yet?) Like the rest of Shauna's books (Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines, for the uninitiated), this book is a collection of essays about living and loving and learning to grow. But this book focuses on all my favorite things: food and fellowship and how bread and wine are as common as the sunrise and just as transcendent. Naturally, I love it. Each chapter includes a recipe and a story surrounding it, and several of the recipes have become regulars in my line-up already.
But her stories are sweeter than her blueberry crisp, and they sink right down to your spirit, and lay out a feast for our souls.
On her purpose for writing the book:
What's become clearer and clearer to me is that the most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God's presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table. The particular alchemy of celebration and food, of connecting people and serving them things I've made with my own hands, come together and are more than the sum of their parts. I love the sounds and smells and textures of life at the table, hands passing bowls and forks clinking againt plates and bread being torn and the rhythm and energy of feeding and being fed.And a story about how perfectionism wants to paralyze us and steal our joy:
I cohosted a party, and one of the things I brought was frozen meatballs. I love to cook, and I was planning, of course, to make them from scratch. But it was too much for me, too much time and energy I don't have in this time of the year. [She's writing about the holiday season in this chapter.]Ah yes. There it is. The face slap that helped me stop the freak-out the night of my dinner party.
And of course no one cared. That's the lesson in this for people like me who sometimes get wound up about doing things perfectly: 90 perfect of the people in your life won't know the difference between, say, fresh and frozen, or handmade and store-bought, and the 10 perfect who do notice are just as stressed-out as you are, and your willingness to choose simplicity just might set them free to do the same.
Choose simplicity. It sets people free.
So I grabbed my chubby water glasses and set them on the table next to the inexpensive white dishes from Target and the chartreuse paper napkins from Ikea. And then my friends came to the door, with fresh flowers and dishes to share and we marveled over each other's contributions to the meal.
Dana finished the sauce for her homemade pasta while we uncorked the wine and drooled a little over the flourless chocolate cake.
And we sat down to a feast in every way.
Because the quality of the wine isn't measured by what you pour it in, and food and friends are about more than the table before us.