Bread & Wine Backstory, Part 1

In about six weeks, Bread & Wine will be winging its way through the postal system and arriving on your doorsteps. I kind of can’t believe it. This week I’ll post a little bit every day about the story behind the book—how the initial idea came about, and what I learned about life and about writing along the way. 

Part One

Bread & Wine is a book about food—about the time we spend around the table, about what we eat and why and how. But under that, beyond that, it’s about how we connect, how we see and hear and help and carry each other, about what it means to be nourished and fed. It took three tries to finish it, and I’m finally starting to learn something about books, and about life: you cannot control nearly as much as you think you can.

The dream for Bread & Wine was first born in a hotel room outside Denver. I was speaking at a retreat, and it was my birthday, possibly my 32nd, but I can’t remember. In between sessions, I went back to my room and forced myself to think through my next writing project.  What I wanted to do was watch about sixteen consecutive hours of CNN and reality tv while reading blogs and trolling Facebook, but I pressed myself into using this rare downtime to peer, as much as anyone can, into my future.

I thought about the advice given to me before Cold Tangerines. Someone, and I wish I could remember who, told me that you cannot select a topic based on market demand, or what you think will get you on Oprah (this was back when you could get on Oprah), or what will make your professors or parents finally, once-and-for-all proud of you. You have to choose a topic that is so deeply meaningful to you that you can talk about it endlessly, think about it constantly, lose yourself to it for more than a year, and then chatter about it with great passion for at least a year after that.

I looked around the room. I generally travel with very few clothes and an insane amount of books–which is why the iPad changed my life, but that’s a story for another time. I’d brought my Bible, and a few books on spirituality. I’d brought a few memoirs, and I’d brought a stack of cookbooks.

And that’s when Bread & Wine was born as an idea, a filmy concept. I read cookbooks like novels, my fingers skimming the pictures, my mind running on the flavors and the textures. I especially love cookbooks that have a lot of text above the actual recipe—the why or the who or the what to serve it with. I dearly love when the author gives you a tiny glimpse into his or her own personal relationship to a dish or a set of flavors.

For this reason, of course, Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks never fail to entrance me, and books that whip together narrative and recipe, like Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life and Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte, struck me as nothing less than epiphanies.

And so I began to think and pray and make notes, my fingers beginning to wiggle and beat against my keyboard with anticipation. I would write the book I wanted to read, a rumination on faith and food, tradition and the table, hunger and health, community and communion. I was thrilled.

To be continued tomorrow…


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