Cooking my way through Bread and Wine (A review of Shauna Niequist’s new book)

goat cheese

goat cheese scrambled eggs and potato pancakes in bed, ala Kel.

Shauna Niequist will always be one of my favorite authors. Her authentic style of essay/memoir blend played a big part in my development as a writer.

She will always be a gracious and unwitting big sister to me in the writing world, I like to pretend she dosn’t mind.

I got to meet her last fall at the STORY conference and I was such a spaz.  I nervously gushed all over her just after meeting Anne Lammott, It’s a wonder I didn’t pass out completely.  I said and did all the typical things ones says and does when meet a personal hero.  But Shauna was gracious about my fan-spasm and eventually my knees recovered from the Anne/Shauna experience.

So when I got the opportunity to receive an advance copy of Shauna’s new book Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes , I jumped at the opportunity.  When it came I skipped from the mailbox to the couch and began to slowly digest every word.

As I moved through the chapters I added the recipes to our menu plan, one by one. They seemed to fit organically into our life, until one day I counted and I’d inadvertently cooked my way through half the book.

Food Collage 1

winter white bean soup, bacon wrapped dates and Nigellas brownies with cream cheese icing for St Patrick’s day.

At that point I decided to keep going, and to cook my way through the entire book, Julie and Julia style (with the exception of 4 recipes, most of which used wheat flour and wouldn’t work well for our GF family)

Why did I decide to do this?  I’m not sure exactly, it seemed like a fun goal and a great way to try new recipes.

Or perhaps I needed something to focus on other than all the unknowns of our impending move.

Or maybe somewhere inside I realized that my cooking rhythm had become rote and monotonous and I needed the creative new life held in these recipes.


Maple Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin, Real Simple Cassoulet, Simplest Dark Chocolate Mousse.

Either way I know that I had a blast trying out all these new recipes and no one complained, except me at cleanup time.

I made Simplest Dark Chocolate Mousse for our Lifegroup and Mar a Lago Turkey burgers as a reward for an exhausting garage sale day.

I whipped up Real Simple Cassoulet on a Chilly Tuesday night (and then a few more times because it’s a new favorite).

These recipes, this book, brought the practice of feeding people out of duty and back into passion and oh how I needed it. 

PicMonkey Collage3.5

Watermelon Feta Salad, Mini Mac and Cheese, Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee, Mar a Lago Turkey Burgers and Sweet potato Fries.

It was also a journey of reminiscing upon how far I’ve come in my culinary journey.  One of my favorite chapters by far is  “Start where you are” Where Shauna urges the reader to start cooking with the tools and know-how they have regardless of how simple.

“It takes some time to learn, to try and fail and make a mess and try again… But it’s a lovely process, with not a minute wasted.  If you put in the time, the learning, the trying, the mess and the failure, at the end you will have learned to feed yourself and the people you love, and that’s a skill for life…”

And that’s precisely what I decided to do at some point in the past… Just start.

When we first got married I had very few recipes in my arsenal, spaghetti, chili, tacos and bran muffins.  And that’s about it.

I remember one night of culinary bravely in particular the winter after we got married. This was back in the day when raw meat freaked me out and I couldn’t chop an onion to save my life.

I set out to try chicken tortilla soup and as I moved through the recipe, I chopped garlic for what seemed like forever.  Where did Rachel Ray get the nerve to call this a 30 minute meal?!

This was my first experience using fresh garlic and after an almost hour of peeling and chopping I finally had the soup simmering.  It was then that a very hungry Kel came out of the office to investigate and my culinary blunder came to light.

I didn’t know the difference between a clove of garlic and a bulb of garlic so I put three whole bulbs of garlic into the soup.

The soup was of course inedible and stronger than straight whiskey, our apartment reeked for a month.  No vampires would have come within a mile of our complex, it was bad.

I cried a little, ordered take-out and took a picture because I knew every new wife screwed up in the kitchen.  I knew something was happening in that failure, that it was the start a journey.

Soup Blunders

Me and those pot holders? We’ve come a long long way together… through the hard times and the good… I have to praise them like I should. And truly I should get a new pair.

So as I cooked my way through Shauna’s book I smiled as I realized that I was able to navigate new recipes with ease having the skill that comes with 6 years in the kitchen.

So my review of Bread and Wine?  It’s fantastic, delicious and you should click over to Amazon and buy a few copies right now.  A few for you and some for wedding shower or housewarming gifts.

And my advice on cooking?  Start cooking!  There is something unspeakably fulfilling about nourishing yourself and the people you love with the foods they adore.

Oh and two tips: If you’re going to cook your way through this book, stock up on Canneloni Beans and buy the BIG bottle of Balsamic Vinaigrette, because Shauna seems smitten with both.

Did your culinary journey start with any hilarious and stinky blunders?  Do share… 

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  • Beth

    I’ve been hearing this same story all over the internets — that Shauna’s book is bringing LIFE in an unexpected, delicious way. I think I’m going to have to read it now… :)

    • Leanne Penny

      Yes, I highly recommend the book from cover to cover. Shauna never fails to satisfy and this time it’s spiritual and physical.

  • shauna

    What a beautiful post, Leanne! Thank you! XO

    • Leanne Penny

      Thank you for your book! Please never stop,

  • Jill Voorhorst

    Leanne, please don’t forget you also knew how to make rice. I remember visiting you in the old apartment complex- used condoms in the parking lot and all- and you taught me to leave the lid on the rice because the steam is continuing to cook it. I don’t actually remember eating the rice, in fact I’m pretty sure we went to a Chinese buffet. -But I have such a clear memory of sharing that moment with you.

    • Leanne Penny

      Oh good, This brings comfort Jill! I love that you remember that moment so clearly and I can’t for the life of me figure out why we still went out for chinese if I already had rice…

  • Addie Zierman

    Love this. Also love your kitchen fail/kitchen success photos. So cute.

    • Leanne Penny

      Thanks. Keeping it real!