Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Announcing the Virtual Book Club Selection for January January 7, 2014

Congratulations to Cindy, who won the free book giveaway for December!

 

And now, the first book of the month for 2014 is . . . Cooked by Michael Pollan.

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Here’s the description from the back of the book:

 

In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.


Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse–trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius “fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships. Cooking, above all, connects us.

The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.

 

Join us to discuss the book the Boston Globe calls “important, possibly life-altering, reading for every living, breathing human being.”

 

{Remember: There will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}

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Announcing the Book Club Selection for December… December 6, 2013

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Congratulations to Linda for winning the free book for November’s book discussion! (You can check out our conversation about foster parenting and flowers and guys carrying around chick lit here.)

 wonder1

Since December is so busy, we’ll be reading a young adult book this month:  Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

 

Here’s the description from the back cover:

 

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

 

The book received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly:

Auggie Pullman was born with severe facial deformities—no outer ears, eyes in the wrong place, his skin “melted”—and he’s learned to steel himself against the horrified reactions he produces in strangers. Now, after years of homeschooling, his parents have enrolled him in fifth grade. In short chapters told from various first-person perspectives, debut author Palacio sketches his challenging but triumphant year. Though he has some expectedly horrible experiences at school, Auggie has lucked out with the adults in his life—his parents love him unconditionally, and his principal and teachers value kindness over all other qualities. While one bully manages, temporarily, to turn most of Auggie’s classmates against him, good wins out. Few first novels pack more of a punch: it’s a rare story with the power to open eyes—and hearts—to what it’s like to be singled out for a difference you can’t control, when all you want is to be just another face in the crowd.

 

You can click here for a trailer for the book.

 

Hope you’ll join us for our discussion at the beginning of January.

 

{Remember: I’ll send a free book to one lucky commenter!}

 

 

Announcing the Book of the Month Club for November November 5, 2013

First of all, congratulations to Rachel, the winner of the free book giveaway!

 

The selection for November is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Here’s the description of her book, taken from the back cover:

Language of Flowers1

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

 

We’ll discuss the book at the end of November—hope you can join us!

 

Book of the Month Club: Bread and Wine November 1, 2013

Thanks to everyone who joined our book of the month club for October! Our selection was Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, which I introduced here.

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Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few discussion topics, and you can respond about these topics or anything else you’d like to talk about in the comment section below.

 

Discussion #1: A Call to Hospitality

I love the way Shauna reclaims eating together and sharing meals with others as not just something we do to sustain our bodies, but something that feeds the soul as well. “Food is one of the ways we love each other,” she says, “and the table is one of the most sacred places we gather.”

 

Having grown up with a grandma who can do a hundred magical things with a pie crust and her bare hands, and a mom who made every person who crossed the threshold of her home feel welcomed and loved, I have always understood at some intuitive level that the intersection of food and home is where relationships are cultivated and love takes root. But I appreciate the way Shauna puts those feelings into words and affirms the sacredness of hospitality in a world that is increasingly busy and fragmented.

“While it’s not strictly about food, it doesn’t happen without it. Food is the starting point, the common ground, the thing to hold and handle, the currency we offer to one another.”

 

What are your experiences with hospitality and making food for other people? Was that a priority in your family when you were growing up? How have you done things the same or differently in your own home?

 

Discussion #2: A Place for Vulnerability

One of the highlights of the book for me was the way Shauna emphasized that making food and inviting people into your home isn’t a performance; it’s an opportunity to create space for authenticity. When we break bread together, we can slow down, be real, let down our guard.

 

I loved her tradition of sharing toasts on someone’s birthday—saying something that person has brought to your life in the last year or a prayer for the year ahead: “The heart of hospitality is creating space for these moments, protecting that fragile bubble of vulnerability and truth and love. It’s all too rare that we tell the people we love exactly why we love them—what they bring to our lives, why our lives are richer because they’re in it.”

 

I also appreciated the way she made peace with things not going according to her own plans and being open to what God had ordained for the gathering:

“It was just as it should have been, and nothing close to what I could have planned. And that’s what makes a good party—when the evening and the people and the conversation and the feeling in the room are allowed to be whatever they need to be for that night.”

 

Have you ever hosted a party that didn’t go at all the way you planned or expected? Were there any unexpected blessings in that experience?

 

Discussion #3: Embracing a Healthy Relationship with Food

Shauna’s perspective on having a healthy relationship with food was very refreshing, and I especially appreciated her take on how there are some seasons to fast and other seasons to feast.

“I’m learning that feasting can only exist healthfully—physically, spiritually, and emotionally—in a life that also includes fasting. . . . The very things you think you need most desperately are the things that can transform you the most profoundly when you do finally decide to release them.”

 

Do you agree that we all need seasons of both feasting and fasting in our lives? What does that balance look like for you?

 

Discussion #4: Recipes

If I had one complaint about the book, it’s that I sometimes felt like a kitchen slouch when I read it. I know that wasn’t the author’s intent, and I realize the principles apply whether you’re whipping up homemade risotto or making Kraft macaroni and cheese, but sometimes I felt like I couldn’t relate to her stories about dinner parties with lobster and steak au poivre with cognac sauce.

 

That said, I did attempt a few of the recipes, and I appreciated the author’s conversational tone as she talked readers through the recipes. I felt like I had a sister in the kitchen, coaching me through the steps. I made the lentil soup, which wasn’t too hard, even for the likes of me. When my husband tried his first spoonful, he said tactfully, “It tastes like it’s good for me.” But to his credit, he ate it all. I also attempted the blueberry crisp (I made mine it peaches), the scrambled eggs with goat cheese (pretty good, but I prefer my eggs more solid than the recipe calls for), and the toffee (which I’m pretty sure I botched somehow because it just may crack your teeth). There are several others I’d still like to try.

 

Did you try any of the recipes? How did they turn out? Which one should I attempt next?

 

Rating

I would give the book 4.5 stars. I loved the bits about relationships, hospitality, faith, and the sacredness of the table. Maybe I just needed the “for dummies” version for the recipes.

 

4.5 stars

 

How many stars would you give the book?

{Remember: I’ll send a free book to one randomly selected commenter!}

 

Announcing the Book of the Month for October October 1, 2013

Congratulations to Marie, the winner of the book giveaway for September! You can catch our discussion about And the Mountains Echoed here.

 

And now, announcing the book of the month for October . . . Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist.

 breadandwine

 

Here’s a taste (pun intended!) of what you’ll get from Shauna’s latest book.

 

As a follow up to her two bestselling books, Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines, author and blogger Shauna Niequist returns with the perfect read for those who love food and value the community and connection of family and friends around the table. Bread & Wine is a collection of essays about family relationships, friendships, and the meals that bring us together. This mix of Anne Lamott and Barefoot Contessa is a funny, honest, and vulnerable spiritual memoir. Bread & Wine is a celebration of food shared, reminding readers of the joy found in a life around the table. It’s about the ways God teaches and nourishes people as they nourish the people around them. It’s about hunger, both physical and otherwise, and the connections between the two. With wonderful recipes included, from Bacon-Wrapped Dates to Mango Chicken Curry to Blueberry Crisp, readers will be able to recreate the comforting and satisfying meals that come to life in Bread & Wine.

 

Hope you will join us! Remember, there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter at the end of October!

 

Book of the Month Discussion: And the Mountains Echoed September 27, 2013

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club about And the Mountains Echoed, which I introduced here.

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Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few topics for discussion, and you can write your responses about these topics (or others you’d like to discuss) in the comment section.

 

Discussion #1: Family Relationships

This book is stitched together with the best and worst of family relationships—both profound love and the worst kinds of betrayal. It was fascinating to explore what happens to families under extreme circumstances—how some parents gave a child away in hopes of a better life for her and how others sacrificed everything to give their children a better life; how one mother left her daughter to fend for herself while other parental figures stepped in to love children who weren’t their own; how tragedy drew some siblings closer than ever and pushed others apart.

 

I also noted a recurring theme of children being separated from their families (Pari being split up from her biological family and particularly her brother, Abdullah; Pari losing her adoptive mother to suicide; the injured girl Roshi being torn from her murdered family; Talia being left by her mother, Madeleine). The book says that Pari has always felt “the absence of something, or someone, fundamental to her own existence. . . . Sometimes it was vague, like a message sent across shadowy byways and vast distances, a weak signal on a radio dial, remote, warbled. Other times it felt so clear, this absence, so intimately close it made her heart lurch.”

 

This book seems to claim that families can love us the best and hurt us the most. Do you agree or disagree? Do you think there are situations where it’s best for a child is to be separated from his or her family?

 

Discussion #2: A Peek into a Different World

I read Hosseini’s first book, Kite Runner, on a plane ride to Thailand, and when I returned home, I remember feeling like I’d traveled to two different countries on that trip. The author painted such a clear picture of Afghanistan that I felt like I’d been transported to that world. I felt the same way with And the Mountains Echoed. Hosseini has a gift for bringing places to life, and I enjoyed reading about Kabul through the eyes of story and characters rather than just the lens of the news.

 

What did you think of this book’s portrayal of Afghanistan? Did it make you want to visit?

 

Discussion #3: Overlapping Stories

It took me a while to figure out how all the characters and stories tied together. This might have been especially problematic for me because I listened to it and couldn’t flip back to be reminded about certain characters, but at any rate, it took me a while to get my bearings. Once I figured out that the stories were all satellites from Abdullah and Pari, I was able to piece things together, but I wish the author had made it clearer from the beginning.

 

What did you think of the author’s style? Did you like the approach to tell multiple stories, or do you wish he’d focused more on one character’s story?

 

Discussion #4: Right and Wrong

The book opens with Saboor’s bedtime story to his children about the div (which I gathered to be something of an ogre). It seemed like an odd place to start at first, but as the book went on, I decided it was a perfect setup for the difficult decisions the characters (and especially the parents in the stories) had to make. The father in the tale did the unthinkable—he sacrificed his son for the sake of the rest of his family—but the father came to believe that was the safest thing for him. Saboor himself had to make a similar decision to let Pari be raised by the Nila. Throughout the book, other characters are forced to make similar decisions that have no clear black-and-white answers.

 

I discovered that this book’s title is taken from a poem by William Blake called “Nurse’s Song: Innocence,” which refers to hills echoing with the sound of children’s voices. The last stanza has a haunting feel that’s reflected in Hosseini’s book. The children he writes about who grew up on the tumultuous playground of Afghanistan—they were just children, but they had to see so much.

 

Well well go & play till the light fades away
And then go home to bed
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d
And all the hills echoed

 

Were there any characters you were angry with for making wrong choices for their children? Were there any characters you admired for their willingness to do the right thing?

 

Rating

I would give And the Mountains Echoed 4 stars for the emotive storytelling and the vivid way it brought an unfamiliar culture to life.

 4 stars

How many stars would you give this book?

 

{Remember: There will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}

 

Book of the Month Club for September September 3, 2013

First of all, congratulations to Kristy, the winner of a free book for our August discussion!

 

And now, announcing the book for September . . . And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

 

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Here’s a synopsis of the book from the author’s website:

 

Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

 

I hope you’ll join us! Happy reading.

 

And remember: there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!