I just finished a book called Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist.
I was breathing in the words, becoming engulfed by this book to an obnoxious extent, where I finally started prefacing my statements to Thomas with “I’m sorry I keep talking about this book, but…” Finishing it last week was a sad day.
Written in a memoir style, Bread & Wine is about the connection that happens around the table, over food. Shauna recounts recipes that take her back to her childhood, like blueberry crisp. She talks about what her friends (and their famous dishes) mean to her and how she’s learning to maintain a healthy perspective about feasting and fasting. And she includes all the recipes, so it’s pretty much a memoir/cookbook combined, and I was in heaven.
In the book, she emphasizes how she feels the most joy and experiences God most clearly when she cooks for people, when they sit around her table and linger. The company, the nourishment, the flavor – all of it combined makes her feel alive.
It made me think about our current dining room situation. On the rare occasions that we do have friends over for dinner, we sit at the table…with two patio chairs and the office chair on wheels. We have yet to purchase dining chairs. Call us cheap or lazy (or maybe both), but we just haven’t.
So most meals are eaten on the couch. There’s nothing wrong with that. My brother offered us his dining chairs because he and his wife eat at the coffee table every night. We might do that, too…if we had a coffee table (see last sentence of the previous paragraph).
But for now, we practice the art form of balancing plates on the couch’s arm rests, hoping the salsa doesn’t go rogue and passing drinks back and forth, all while we watch the news, or a cooking show, or maybe Netflix. Like I said: art form.
We’re not unfamiliar with sitting around the table. I have many memories of my family eating dinner together, first at a somewhat rickety, wooden table in the kitchen with a long bench, perfect for sharing (read: invading) people’s space. I remember bickering with my brother and convincing Mom to let me have chocolate milk because I despised the plain stuff on its own. Then we had to move to a larger dining table when the family began to grow…boyfriends and wives and now grandkids who are phasing out the airplane-in-mouth technique. Growing still.
Just last week on vacation, we still took up too much space in the condo dining room, and two had to sit at the counter. But still, there’s something special about being all together and having to wait your turn to be passed the salad.
Tonight was particularly tricky for us, though, with grilled chicken and long stalks of asparagus. The couch wasn’t going to cut it, so we cleared the half-open pieces of mail and car keys and books to the other side of our round table (where our patio chairs were not), dusted off the surface, and ate there.
It wasn’t revolutionary or anything. But we looked at each other more. We asked more questions. The Barefoot Contessa and Brian Williams weren’t distracting me. And even though we sat low in those patio chairs, I really enjoyed myself.
I’m not sure I believe there’s some magic in sitting at a table. Community and conversation and hospitality can happen at the table, on the couch, or on a blanket in the grass.
Maybe the key is about our focus. We who cook spend a good chunk of time on the meal, so we might as well be focused enough to really savor it – and appreciate who we’re with.
When I think about the first house we’ll own, I dream of having a big table outside that can seat at least eight, maybe ten. We will string up twinkle lights overhead and offer much dessert to make people feel glad they came.
But for now, I’ll start perusing Craigslist for regular dining chairs to occupy our table meant for four. Patio chairs were meant for patios.