Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
As an aspiring writer, there are not many opportunities that I would turn down to translate my thoughts to words. I’ve written for children’s ministry magazines, news publications, online devotionals, book compilations and currently working on my own book. I’ve written music reviews, commentary on current events, book reviews, conducted interviews and posted literally hundreds of blog entries. But as I envisioned my career as a writer and pondered the possibilities of literary endeavors, reviewing a cook book never came to mind.
When I heard that my friend and fellow writer, Mary DeMuth, was looking for folks to read and review her latest book, I was honored to have the opportunity. When I discovered that it was in fact a cook book, my excitement quickly turned to anxiety. I had no idea what to expect in reading a cook book from beginning to end and had even less of an idea of how I would develop a book review worthy of Mary’s status as a writer. So, as is my usual reaction to anxiety-inducing situations, I did what I commonly do: I ignored the task, hoping it would eventually go away. This works quite well with typical avoidances such as doctor appointments, laundry, grocery shopping and my wife’s favorite, having my car inspected.
One of the unfortunate side-effects of anxiety is its ability to produce guilt. As I sat in my favorite corner of Starbucks, I continued to see the PDF file of Mary’s book glaring at me from my desktop. I’ve read several of Mary’s publications and blogs and always loved what she had to say. Why would I not equally enjoy her culinary prose as well? Resolved to accomplish the task at hand, I put down my copy of Writers Who Procrastinate and Let Down Their Friends Who Write Cook Books, and opened the convicting PDF file of The Irresistible Table by Mary DeMuth. After reading the introduction, I gazed out of the rain covered window in front of me, thinking to myself, “Why did I not read this sooner?” This is not simply a cook book. This is not only a collection of recipes. This is a guide to community that happens to have recipes and step by step instructions of how to prepare for encounters with deeper community.
From the very beginning of the introduction, one can easily see that community is the main thrust of this book. “The goal of ‘The Irresistible Table’ is to give the home cook an arsenal of easy, delicious recipes and encourage a lifestyle of community and hospitality for her immediate community: her family. And the community she longs to gather around that family.” While I would have to disagree with her gender direction, (I’m a stay at home dad and the cook of our home), the essential truth of this sentiment rings very true with me as a minister as well. Community is not an activity but a lifestyle. Community is an essential link to faith and a missing element in today’s culture. Community is necessary for holistic spiritual growth and a vital element to revealing the Kingdom of God.
Mary elaborates by reflecting on the essentials of community, revealing how the shared meal is paramount to building healthy gatherings. “Community is a celebration of others. Community can be spontaneous. Community is an attitude. Community involves more than entertaining. It celebrates engagement.” These principles are reflected throughout the book as Mary periodically illustrates how a particular encounter intertwines with the preparation of a certain recipe. Experiences with family, friends and gatherings are intimately a part of her obvious love of cooking and an obvious ingredient as to why she developed this writing project.
Of course, in reviewing a cook book, one would assume that the individual recipes would be considered as well. While I was unfortunately not able to personally review every concoction myself, I chose to sample one recipe from each section. The Table of Contents is a process through community, beginning with satisfying breakfast and progressing through indulgent desserts. Appetizers, salads, breads, soups, various main courses and even drinks, are all are essential aspects of communal gatherings. These are included in an easy-to-reference manner and leave the average cook eager to expand their menu. Mary includes simple recipes that are not only easy to prepare, but are practical and fairly neutral in terms of appealing to most pallets. Each chapter begins with an engaging introduction that ties familiar recipes to her passion for some aspect of community.
Whether stories of family or friends, the imagery that Mary creates helps encourage the reader to imagine similar stories of their own. On several occasions, I found myself drifting back with nostalgia to simpler times and memories of how my mom and grandmother built strong community through cooking. It caused me to reflect on the simple power of the shared meal and the possibility that we are missing something much larger in our fast-food culture. Meals take time to prepare. Meals take time to serve and create an inviting table. Meals take time to enjoy and of course, meals take time to clean up afterward. But is it possible that when we take the time to focus on the communal meal, we open the door to why we are given time on the earth to begin with?
Get to know Mary and her other publications at www.marydemuth.com.