Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Virtual Book Discussion: Cooked January 31, 2014

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our virtual book club for January. This month we’re discussing Cooked by Michael Pollan.

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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: Cooking with the Elements

I thought the author’s structure for the book was fascinating. I’d never considered how different types of cooking fit into the categories of fire, water, air, and earth, and it made for an intriguing setup. I also enjoyed the way he showed his own progression from kitchen amateur to apprentice to blossoming cook. I felt like I could relate since he didn’t start out as an expert, and I appreciated his willingness to jump in to various types of cooking with both feet.

Did you have a favorite section? Which of the elements are you most comfortable in when it comes to cooking? Which elements are you least comfortable in?

 

Discussion #2: Cooking and Community

I really appreciated the author’s observations about how the way we cook and the way we eat effect how communal we are as a society. I was especially intrigued by his theory that the style of the cooking itself impacts the way we consume meals. When people prepared food around a fire, they cooked and ate together as an entire community. Then when people started cooking with an oven in individual households, cooking and eating became family-centric events. Now, as microwaves and fast food become the meal-prepping tools of choice, the focus is on the individual. One of my favorite parts of the book was seeing how the author’s various cooking experiments brought his family together and resulted not only in edible rewards but also in intangible gifts, such as bonding and conversations with his wife and teenage son.

As our cooking and eating become more individualized, do you think we’re in danger of losing a sense of community and family? Is there anything we can do to promote these values in our own homes?

 

Discussion #3: Intentional Food Choices

One of the things I appreciated most about this book was the way it opened my eyes to the underlying ramifications of the choices we make about food, cooking, and eating. When we mindlessly stick something in the microwave, pick up dinner at the drive-thru, or prioritize other activities over “scratch cooking,” there are consequences—both for us as individuals and for us as a culture. Although I haven’t necessarily revamped my approach to cooking after reading this book, it certainly has made me more aware and more thoughtful about the choices I make to get dinner on the table. I wasn’t nearly as ambitious as the author (no whole-hog barbecue or beer brewing for me), and I didn’t try any of his recipes, but this book did inspire a few modest “from scratch” attempts. My biggest success was my bread-baking adventure (the first time I cooked with yeast!). I wasn’t ambitious enough to make a starter and baby it for weeks like the author did, but it felt like a step in the right direction.

Did this book cause you to reevaluate any of your cooking/eating choices? Have you ever attempted any cooking experiments similar to what the author describes in this book?

 

Rating

I’d give this book 4.5 stars. It made me think about food choices in a new way, and I appreciated the author’s style. He was at once knowledgeable and brilliant (I was impressed with the historical context and scientific background he offered throughout), but he was also accessible and an engaging storyteller.

 

4.5 stars

 

How many stars would you give this book (out of five)?

As a side note, if you liked this book, I’d recommend Bread and Wine, which we discussed here.

 

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

 

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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!}

 

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!