The Turquoise Table Podcast welcomes our guest for Episode 2 who is a kindred spirit; she loves and honors the joys of gathering at the table as much as we do! Shauna Niequist is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Bread & Wine, Savor & Present Over Perfect. She talks about the special bonds that are created over meeting across from each other at the table. She gives us simple tips on hospitality, easy recipes to follow for any level of cook, and lets us in on her cooking club–a gathering of friends who take turns hosting and cooking. In Kristin’s Kitchen today, we’ll walk through the steps to create Shauna’s Magical White Bean Soup while Kristin shares wisdom from Shauna on how some foods, like soup (and fulfilling connection around the table) evoke comfort, bring warmth, and soothe our souls.
Connect with Shauna:
- Website: shaunaniequist.com
- Facebook – facebook.com/sniequist
- Twitter – @sniequist
- Instagram – @sniequist
Intro: Desperate for a way to slow down and connect, Kristin Schell put an ordinary picnic table in her front yard and painted it turquoise. That first turquoise table became a meeting place for friends and neighbors, a place to connect, and a symbol of hospitality. Now, Kristin invites you and her special guests to join her here, at the Turquoise Table Podcast. Welcome!
Kristin: Today’s guest is a favorite of mine. I’ve read all of her books as they speak to me about the power of connectedness, about gathering, and she is a huge advocate of bringing people around the table.
She’s also a speaker, and that’s actually how we met. I may have been fan-girling over her a bit—but we both had the opportunity to speak at Allume a couple years ago in South Carolina. I even have a picture of us that I’ll post in the transcript. Try to ignore my complete freaked-outed-ness that I was meeting one of my “table-gathering” heroes.
What Shauna has to say about the simple, basic things we get out of gathering with people—and not just those closest to us, but casting the net out a little wider—is profound and life-changing. We’re going to talk to her about the joys of gathering, the benefits of drawing folks around the table, but we’re also going to talk nuts and bolts about how anyone can be hospitable and you don’t have to put on a spread like Martha Stewart.
Here’s a quote from her book Bread and Wine about hospitality that I just love: “The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”
“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved.” – Shauna Niequist
Shauna is married and the mom of two boys—her husband is a worship leader at Willow Creek in Chicago.
I know you’re going to get so much out of what she has to say today. Let’s get the conversation started.
Kristin: Shauna, we are so thrilled to have you on the Turquoise Table podcast today. Thank you for being here. It is just an honor for me to have you. I have been a fan of yours for forever, and I feel you have mentored me and encouraged me through all of your words and just watching you live. I’m excited to share you with our listeners today and hopes of that they’ll be encouraged through the conversation that we’re going to have talking about the table.
Shauna: Well, thank you for having me. It’s totally my pleasure.
Kristin: Great. Well and okay, we just have to get this out in the open, your Oprah moment. Oh my goodness, you were on SuperSoul Sunday with Oprah. Tell us what was that like?
Shauna: I mean it really was totally like a dream. It was just everything you think about her, that she’s brilliant, that she’s just this incredible presence, that she’s so warm, all of those things. Absolutely, totally true. She is absolutely stunning in person, yeah.
Kristin: Wow, it was an incredible interview and I just so appreciated your vulnerability and just your openness. I can see why she was so smitten with you too. It was beautiful, so we’ll be sure to post on the show notes so everyone can have a link to that interview. What I am most excited to talk to you about, because I feel we are kindred spirits at the table, and you love being at the table. You say that it is the happiest place that you can be. I want us to go back in time, just a little, and if you can remember an “Aha!” moment or that first moment where the table, where you realize the significance of being surrounded by people at a table.
A Legacy Of Gathering At The Table
Shauna: Well, I grew up in a family that had family dinner, very regularly around the table and I very much appreciated that. As I got older, I wouldn’t say that’s something that I particularly did in college and even when my husband and I got married, I loved to throw parties, but I didn’t really know how to cook. At least, at that time, we were living in Chicago and there’s such a strong restaurant culture in Chicago so there’s great food, there’s great restaurants.
You go out a lot and even for celebrations, you’d have a baby shower or a wedding shower or a going away party and you’d have it at a restaurant. Then we moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan and Grand Rapids is a place where people host each other in their homes around their table and I just fell in love with it. I feel I really learned from the families there. This beautiful pattern of gathering people around the table and inviting people to your family table. Grafting in guests and neighbors to just the plain, old family table. I just loved it.
Kristin: Well, that is so much my experience too. I think once you’re hooked, you’re hooked but I’m going to share a stat with you that I read recently that just shocks me. If you grew up eating around the table in family dinner time, that was important in our family too but let me read this. You’ve probably heard it but 60 years ago, the average dinner time, the time that people spent at the dinner table was 90 minutes.
Shauna: Oh my gosh.
Kristin: 90 minutes. That’s a little ahead of our age but certainly in the era, in the ’60s and reaching into the ’70s, it was 90 minutes. Do you know what it is today?
Shauna: I can’t even guess.
Kristin: No, you can’t. I was boggled, it’s 12 minutes.
Shauna: No way.
Kristin: 12 minutes. You touch on this somewhere in your book, but we’re table people. I think that everyone out there will agree and say yes, they want to be at the table. They want to have family meals. They realize that importance and yet, we find ourselves somewhere in between that 12 minutes and 90 minutes. I mean I don’t know about you, Christmas and Easter, we could probably get close to 90 but that’s because you feel obligated. 12 minutes, it’s shocking, isn’t it?
Shauna: It really is. Yet, my youngest is six years old and I think 12 minutes is about the best he can do right now. That’s interesting to me. It’d be interesting to know how often those dinners happened all those years ago and how often those dinners are happening now.
Kristin: Right. You bring up a great point, we have little children too and so there are seasons, absolutely, of 12 minutes. I mean that’s not to say that you have to be at the table because I believe and I know you believe too that it’s the quality and the consistency of that time, gathered around. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, it doesn’t matter but I just couldn’t believe that. To me, what that represented was that just this lost ability, just the sacredness of family dinner time. When I read into that stat, just holistically what I hear is “Why do you think?” You mentioned even just in Chicago that there’s a restaurant culture. I mean, certainly that plays into it but what are some other things that you think of that may play into that?
Shauna: One thing you and I share is we both love that time around the table, so 90 minutes sounds like a dream to me. I do know that that’s not true for a lot of the people that I’m close to and one thing that I hear from people, so I feel I’m always asking people, “What do you do for your family dinners? What do you like to cook? What are your little routines and traditions?”
When people talk to me about why they don’t, a lot of it is just about scheduling and either a work commute that gets you home so late, that the kids have already eaten or kid activities that take you out of the house for about that five to seven time. There are a lot of families, however many members there are in the family, they’re not all in the same place over that dinner hour, whatever that is.
Kristin: Right, right. With seasons too, we’ve got four kids and so there’s a whole season where I was intent on maybe making Friday night meals our family dinner time. Well, that’s great until you get a high schooler in Texas who plays football because Friday night lights is going to always trump Friday night dinner.
Refreshment and Kinship Around the Table
Kristin: There’s the seasons of that, but tell me what you think is so important though. What has the table become to you, because you have consistently done this throughout your life and tell me what the benefits, though, when we do find the time, when we are able to carve out little pockets of space to bring people together for a simple meal, a big meal, whatever. Tell me what those moments mean to you and why they’re so important.
Shauna: The table is one of the only places in our culture… you know our culture is increasingly transient, people are moving around so much. It’s increasingly isolated and it’s increasingly screen-based so a lot of our “conversations” happen via text or email. I think the table is one of those places, those last remaining face-to-face environments. When I think about the people that I love and why I like inviting them around my table, it’s because I want to see them and I want to listen to them. I want to hear the whole story and I want them to feel they can rest, like they can be nurtured a little bit, like they can be nourished.
“…the table is one of those places, those last remaining face-to-face environments.” – Shauna Niequist
Some of my best friends, their work lives are so busy and people are asking so many things from them. I picture their day at the office or in the classroom or wherever they are as just like thing after thing after thing. Then when they get to my house and I put them in a chair by the table, it’s like, “Okay, stop. You can be here with me, I will take care of you. I want to hear your story. I want to hear your feelings.” You’re almost putting a little protective bubble around the people you love and you’re saying, “Just for this, 12 minutes or 90 minutes or anything in between, I’m holding space for you to rest and be nurtured and heard.”
“I’m holding space for you to rest and be nurtured and heard.” – Shauna Niequist
Kristin: I mean, what time can I come over?
Shauna: Any day, I would love that.
Kristin: Obviously, you have that gift Shauna. That’s why we all look to you of how we can create that space because when we welcome someone into our home, it requires us to have a little bit of the margin or to at least have prioritized a little bit of that margin so that others can come in. It’s hard, even if you’re welcoming them into that space where they can just be present and rest, it takes a little bit of effort on your part. What’s something simple that, without even launching into a huge dinner, or how can we start small to create that sense of just rest and beauty for the people that are nearest and dearest in our lives?
Shauna: I think like anything, you’re exactly right. It doesn’t have to be a “bend over backwards, pull out the stops, cook for five days,” but it takes more work to gather people around your table than to not do it. It does mean having the time in your schedule. It does mean having the time to go to the store or even just make an order for your groceries to be delivered at the right time. It means putting together a plan.
That stuff does take effort. What I have found is number one, it’s so worth it and number two, it gets easier over time. If you were to say, “Listen, I don’t do this right now, but I’d love to work up to it.” If you even said, “Give it a shot once a month for this full year,” at the end of the year, you will have developed some skills and some muscle memory for it.
I would say if you’re nervous about the cooking side of it, take that off the table for a while. Just concentrate on inviting people, having your home ready. It doesn’t mean perfectly clean but where are you going to seat and how is this time going to go and how are you going to invite them into your space. Just start with that part of it and order pizza. Then the next time, try something else and the next time.
It’s so much more about the environment you’re creating, than it is about the food. I love the food part but the environment matters more. The space that you’re holding and I don’t mean the space has to be clean or perfect or fancy, I mean it has to be intentional and nurturing. You have to be the host who’s offering people a compelling place to be. That doesn’t have to be fancy or clean but you have to pay attention.
“It’s so much more about the environment you’re creating, than it is about the food.” – Shauna Niequist
Kristin: Right. I think paying attention that is such a key element because when we’re moving so fast and we have this desire to do all the things and they’re all good, it does require though slowing down long enough just to pay attention to what the needs of those people, perhaps, might be. I have a mentor in my life who helped me kick perfection to the curb and she said, “Kristin, if they cannot see it,” meaning the mess in your house, “From a galloping horse, then they’re not going to see it,” and I was like, “Okay.” If they’re not on a galloping horse seeing the mess, then it’s okay to see the laundry or the dishes in the sink. It doesn’t matter. In fact, sometimes it makes people feel more at home, right?
Shauna: I think that’s absolutely true on a couple different levels. I think it makes them feel like, “Oh good, your house gets messy just like mine does.” It makes them feel we’re more similar than we are different, which is true. It also makes them feel you’re inviting them into the family space, not the performing, entertaining company space. You can feel the difference when you arrive in someone’s house if they’ve been scrubbing all night or if they were like, “You know what? I lit a candle, I wiped down the counters. This is how we live.” I think what people want is that second thing. They want to feel they’re a part of the rhythm of your family life, not like your family life is put on hold and now you’re performing for them.
“[People] want to feel they’re a part of the rhythm of your family life,..” – Shauna Niequist
Kristin: Well, and the performance aspect too. I mean, that is the difference as you know in entertainment and hospitality. Entertainment, just the word entertainment is a performance and it puts it all on me, me, me. How can I perform to entertain you versus hospitality, which is that you’re welcome, you’re welcome into my rhythm and into my space.
I know it’s a mess but we love you enough and to welcome you enough into that. You’re right, that’s what people want. They want us or not, but they want to be together is what they want. You are very lucky and that you have these group that you have called your middle-of-the-night people. These friendships overtime, did it start at the table? Is it part of being in each other’s homes overtime? Tell us about how these relationships have grown overtime.
Building Relationships Around the Table
Shauna: I think a lot of times, people look at a really rich, robust group of friends and they say, “I want that.” What they don’t always see is the hours and years and the amount of time and effort that that takes. This is the town I grew up in, a lot of the people that I’m investing in are my cousins, my high school friends, my neighbors. These are not brand new relationships. You don’t get that stuff overnight. You don’t get it by connecting once a year.
There are a couple of different friend groups that we’ve cultivated. For a while, we had a group that was meeting every week in our home, around our table or another group of friends that meet once a month for years and we always just remind ourselves, “This is money in the bank.” Every time you gather, you’re building something together but it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of effort.
“Every time you gather, you’re building something together but it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of effort.” – Shauna Niequist
There have been some seasons in my life where I’m meeting a lot of new people so it feels like a lot of first dates and then there are other seasons where, really, like right now this season of my life, I’m investing deeply in my long-term friendships. The people that I have a lot of history with and then I want a lot of history with. I don’t have a ton of capacity and so I’m spending, just in this season with the various other things on my plate, so I’m spending what capacity I do have on a fairly small circle of really long-term friendships. For me, that’s really valuable.
Welcoming Friends To The Table
Kristin: I mean that is truly, really, how we were wired, to have these smaller, more intimate long-term relationships. If you can offer some wisdom on the time. Yes, it does take that and we, in this culture, expect almost instant gratification. I think sometimes with all that is good about technology, it also offers us this false sense of connection. Meaning that if we can reach out and touch base and feel like we’re connected with people who we don’t have those intimate long standing, tiny, middle of the night moments if you will, it confuses and it can set us up for someone feeling like, “Well, I tried. I tried to invest,” or “I tried to be intentional in these friendships but it just doesn’t feel like it’s working.” What would you say to someone who’s in a stuck mode? Maybe who has tried to invite people over and it’s just not happening, either as fast as she wants or as deeply as she wants, what are some things we can brainstorm?
Shauna: Well, I would say a couple of things. That’s a great question. One thing is I do think it takes about twice as much time as we think it’s going to. If someone says, “Listen, I’ve pulled together this group. We’ve met three times, it’s not magic yet,” I would say meet six more times and then reassess from there.
The other thing I would say is make sure that you’re the one going first in terms of vulnerability and depth. A lot of times, we create the environment. We ask someone out for coffee or we have a family over for dinner and we expect them to go first, in terms of like, “Let me tell you something difficult,” or “Let me share something important to me.”
If I think you’re going to go first and you think I’m going to go first, nobody’s ever going to go first. If you just decide, “Hey, I’m going to be the one in whatever situation I walk into. If I want to know someone better, I’m going to go first in telling something, either vulnerable or important to me.”
Then, you get to assess. If you see them snapped shut and you’re like, “Okay, that’s probably not a person where we’re going to have that kind of relationship.” Noted, that’s fair but you don’t know until you do that first little stretch of vulnerability. The other thing I would say is not all people are made to be close friends with one another and that’s okay.
“…Making friends [is] a process. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but that’s okay. That’s how you get where you want to be..” – Shauna Niequist
Once you’ve put in a fair amount of time and once you’ve tried to go first, in terms of depth and vulnerability, if you get to a point where you’re like, “I feel like we’ve gotten to just apples and oranges.” That doesn’t mean anybody failed, that’s just how life is. We expect to put a lot of effort into dating.
We go on like 20 dates and some of them are good and some of them are bad and some of them were real bad, but we don’t always think about putting that same amount of effort into making friends. It’s a process. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t but that’s okay. That’s how you get to where you want to be.
Kristin: That is so freeing and certainly the women that I talk to on this mission of living as front yard people, I hear the same thing. There tends to be bumps or roadblocks. You just have to persevere through that and then if it doesn’t work, it’s okay. We cannot be friends to all and I love that you are in a season now of really the long-term.
In my life, I have noticed that, before I had to change my life to this ministry of the turquoise table, I felt like I was going super wide. We had all these friendships with four different kids and different schools and different pockets and different sports things but I wasn’t going deep. Wide–I would choose deep over wide any day.
There are seasons when that’s just maybe where you are but I would encourage people to keep that perseverance. I want to hear about your cooking club because this, to me, I mean I’ve been a fan of yours and followed you enough to know that this is something that has worked in your life. I think it’s so rich and wonderful. Tell us about how your cooking club started and maybe just some of the evolution and highs and lows of it over the years.
Cooking Club Gathering
Shauna: Well, it is my favorite thing in my life. I’m so happy to talk about them. It’s actually nine years ago, I think this month, nine years ago this month, we started our cooking club. It really just started because I was moving back from Michigan back to Illinois and it was something I had wanted to try. My cousin, Melody and I, decided we would just give it a shot.
We looked up online a couple of different ways that people do it and we decided what seemed like the best way for us and we invited a couple of friends. Now nine years later, they really are my closest circle of friends–way beyond cooking. Way beyond the time we spend. We gather once a month for a specific, The Cooking Club Gathering and the way we do that is there are six of us.
We found that six is a really good number. A lot of people can fit six around their table, not everybody can sit eight or ten people but four feels a little bit small. I mean, you can do it however you want but six for us has been a great number. Generally speaking, we pick one theme. We’ll say Italian food or we’ll pick a specific chef or a specific restaurant or a specific cookbook.
Whatever the theme is, generally the person who hosts at their house, cooks the main course and the rest of us fill in around them. We don’t cook together, we bring it already cooked. There’s always something that it has to be warmed in the oven or add garnish or whatever. We do all that and then we go around, we talk about each thing, “I made this from this recipe. This is what I learned about it, this is what I like about it.” Then we eat together. We don’t have a lot of rules but one of the rules is you can’t practice.
Kristin: I love that.
Shauna: Right. If you’re like, “I’m going to make this amazing cake. I’m going to make three of them the next three weeks to make sure I nail it.” That is against the rules. Then you can’t apologize. You can’t practice and you can’t apologize. It has set us free to try things and fail and problem solve together and laugh together. We have had some real successes. I think we would all say from really a culinary skills standpoint, we’ve really learned a lot. There are things that I’ve tried for cooking club that my family would just hate.
Kristin: Like what? What’s something that you would try for cooking club that your whole family would roll their eyes at?
Shauna: Well, basically anything that has two vegetables mixed together.
Kristin: Exactly, anything green.
Shauna: Right. My husband eats gluten-free and he always has so I don’t make huge pastas, I don’t bake bread, I don’t make pizza. I’ll make it for the kids but I’m always in our home, trying to find things that aren’t bread-based, flour-based. Cooking club, every month, I want to do something with bread and pasta and flour.
Kristin: As much gluten, bring it on.
Shauna: Totally and they don’t love crazy, spicy. They don’t love tons of garlic. I make sure to put all those things in when I’m …
Kristin: Try all the curry you can for cooking club.
Shauna: Yes, totally.
Kristin: Who are you crushing on right now, a chef or somebody? Who are you cooking from or finding inspiration from right now?
Shauna: That’s a great question. Let’s see, I’m not going to remember her name, I’m going to have to look it up but there’s a new cookbook. Is it called Salt? Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat?*
Kristin: I got it for Christmas. Oh my goodness, it’s fantastic. Okay, we’ll put the actual name in the show notes because I can’t remember it either. The illustrations and the science behind it, isn’t it the best?
- Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat
Shauna: I think it’s so great. I really have enjoyed that, I think that’s really, really good. I always am a fan of Nigella Lawson and her cookbooks. I just love the way she talks about food, so she’s one of my favorites. Gabrielle Hamilton.
Kristin: Okay, I have to … Oh yeah.
Shauna: Go ahead.
Kristin: No, no, no. Which one of Gabrielle’s?
Shauna: Well, I loved her memoir. What is it called–Blood, Bones and Butter?
Shauna: I think that was fantastic. She is a killer writer and I love the Prune cookbook. Prune is one of my favorite restaurants in New York and I love the cookbook.
Kristin: Okay, I bet our shelves look a lot alike. Okay, so for Christmas, Tony gave me a subscription to Masterclass. Have you heard of that?
Shauna: Yeah. Have you started it? Do you like it?
Kristin: I did. Okay, I love it. I took Thomas Keller’s class, from The French Laundry. Oh my gosh, I mean hello, and it was just beautiful. For me, it wasn’t so much about me being able to execute it all or do whatever but there’s such beauty and art and grace in watching someone like Thomas Keller or any of these chefs that we’ve talked about. For me, it is a love song and if I could replicate just a teeny, tiny, itty-bitty bit of that at my table. It’s a fun one. If you need a gift or if someone needs a gift to give you, I highly recommend Masterclass.
Shauna: Wow, that sounds great. Thank you.
Kristin: Alice Waters has one coming up this spring too and I can’t wait to learn from her, from Chez Panisse.
Shauna: She’s wonderful.
Creating Connection at The Table
Kristin: Isn’t it? I know. Those are some fun things and cool too. Okay, so what’s next month at the cooking club? Tell us a little bit about the theme or what you’re going to be cooking or do you have a recipe for it?
Shauna: You know what? I don’t even know what our theme is for next month. I’ll have to text one of the girls and find out, I can tell you later. It’s in two weeks and I can’t think of it. Usually, we try to decide the theme when we leave the last time so I’m trying to think of what we did last time even.
Kristin: What did you all do last time? Do you remember that one?
Shauna: Well, we did soups and breads and that was really good. Three of us made soups and three made breads.
Kristin: Okay. That’s so nourishing especially for, I guess, in the winter.
Shauna: In January.
Kristin: Yeah, beautiful. That would’ve been awesome.
Shauna: Yeah, it was great.
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Kristin: To me, the encouragement I take away from this, to borrow a phrase. You’ve learned, you’ve grown, you’ve evolved. The six of you are still together but talk about a long obedience in the same direction. I mean, that’s just the beauty of that, that something could last for nine years. It goes back to what you were saying earlier, it’s just keep trying and that these small moments, each one of these cooking club suppers, dinners lasts a couple of hours probably but think overtime, over nine years, that’s remarkable. I mean, I would encourage anyone listening that maybe we should all join stuff and start a cooking club because what we do at our table matters and we know that and we believe that but it can also be super fun, right?
Shauna: Totally. I would say two things, I think a lot of times, people, they want this quality, group of friends or circle to be a part of. A lot of times, they try joining a small group at their church but it’s just a random gathering or they try to gather up people that they know from different spheres of life and sometimes that works.
My husband is a musician, a lot of his closest relationships are with the people he’s been in bands with. The thing that they share is music and so it connects them in a pretty specific way. My brother is a total motorcycle guy and for a long time, he and a bunch of friends had a garage together where they worked on bikes together.
I promise you, they would never go to coffee and look at each other in the eye and have long, serious conversations but they built really serious, meaningful friendships while they worked on bikes together. I think when you’re doing that thing you love, the people that you come across in that sphere might be people that you can have a really long, important connection with.
“I think when you’re doing that thing you love, the people that you come across in that sphere might be people that you can have a really long, important connection with.” – Shauna Niequist
That’s what we found. It started because we love food, but it became very much something else. The other thing that I would say is, especially women, a lot of times we think that when anything goes off the rails in a friendship, that when someone’s feelings get hurt or someone feels left out or someone feels misunderstood, “Oh, we’ve had a good run and now it’s over.”
I think when there’s conflict in a friendship, it doesn’t mean the friendship is over. It means the friendship is normal. In the cooking club, we’ve had a million hard conversations. We’ve had hard conversations as a group, we’ve had them one-on-one, we’ve apologized to each other, we’ve learned new skills, we’ve asked for forgiveness, we’ve cried together.
The expectation that when you hit those little bumps, you stop. Well, that’s a recipe for loneliness for all of us. If you can build into your friendships the idea that we probably are going to get it wrong and we’re going to make it right. We’re going to get it wrong again, we’re going to make it right again. I think that’s a recipe for really durable, beautiful connections.
Kristin: Absolutely. I mean I think those battle scars, that’s what makes us. Yeah, they’re uncomfortable but if we don’t allow for that, if we don’t make space for the failures and the bruises and the hard at our tables, then we do stay in that wide, cocktail party banter. We could go through life like that and what’s the point of that. There’s one quote that I love.
I want to read this because it’s bringing us back to food and to the glue that food is. I love what you’ve said here, it says, “Food matters because it is one of the things that forces us to live in this world. This tactile, physical, messy and beautiful world. No matter how hard we try to escape into our minds and our ideals, food is the reminder of our humanity, our fragility and our creativeness.” I love that, so tell me about where you were, what inspired those words.
Shauna: Well, as a writer, it’s easy to live in your head. I think a lot of Christians think about faith in terms of believing things. It’s an endeavor that takes place in our brains. That doesn’t really connect with me, I have always been drawn toward and fascinated by the blood and guts side of things, the dirt, the smell, the sky, the branches. The physical, tactile world is really, really beautiful and really important to me. Whenever we try to bypass that and just stay in ideas, I think our lives are the poorer for it. I think our lives are benefited so richly when we invest in the tactile, the what can I hold, what I can smell, what I can see side of life.
The Table: A Family Affair
Kristin: How are you doing that, like with your kids? I mean, because this is something I would love to know. I mean, how are you passing this on to them? Tell us what their involvement is in the kitchen or what it’s like for the four of you as a family.
Shauna: Obviously, I mentioned that my Aaron, my husband’s a musician and obviously, I’m a writer and a cook. I cook, I liked to do it. I’m not by any means a chef but we’re really careful. We always want to invite our kids into those things that we love and then we also very much do not want to pressure them to love the things that we love because we love them. I think, if anything, they probably don’t spend as much time in the kitchen as other people’s kids do.
Just because I’m trying not to push them into it. I want them to love it on their own, but one of my kids went through a season a couple of years ago where I felt like he was so picky, I felt like the list of things he was willing to eat was so short. I thought, “Well, maybe if he feels some ownership of trying new things, maybe that’ll help.”
I made him go to the grocery store with me every time and I always asked him to pick three new things that he could try. They were ridiculous. He would pick things at the start that I was like, “There is a 0% chance this child’s going to eat this food.” Mostly, he didn’t but he tasted it every time because he felt a sense of ownership over getting to make that decision. We’re working on it.
When they go to the Farmer’s Market with me every week, twice a week in the summer. They pick blueberries and strawberries and cherries with me in the summer and they absolutely cannot get out of that. One of them hates blueberries and I’m like, “I don’t care. You don’t have to like them. I cook food for you that I don’t like, you’re going to pick berries for me that you don’t like. This is a fair system.”
Kristin: This is a rite of passage, buddy.
Shauna: Totally. We try to be pretty laid back about the food side of it but we are pretty intentional about the conversation side of meal time. Even we’ll do a best part of your day, worse part of your day or what was a funny moment about your day. I always think about this, Jenny Rosenstrach, she has the blog Dinner: A Love Story. I love her cookbooks, I love everything that she does. She had a blog post years ago and her kids are older than ours but she said, “If your kids, they don’t want to talk to you and everything you’re asking is boring and everything is like, ‘C’mon Mom.’ Ask who got in trouble in school and they will always have an answer. That’s genius.
Kristin: It is genius.
Shauna: I’m tired of like, “What did you like? What were you studying? What did you do at recess?” and they’re like, “Blah, blah, blah.” Then I’m like, “Did anybody get in trouble?” They’re like, “Yes, you’ll never believe Mom.” I’ve revealed my secret—‘did anybody get in trouble today’ from Jenny Rosenstrach.
Kristin: No, but that’s brilliant for those moments where we’re tenaciously trying to keep everyone gathered and then it’s just going half because it happens. We sit there and of course, we need conversation starters. That’s a brilliant way. Okay, I’m going to try that although my children are in high school. The older three are in high school and so there may be a window where that’s applicable because now, they might not want to rat anybody out. They’ll be like, “Well, nothing Mom,” but that’s a perfect one for my middle schooler, she would just go Chatty Cathy on that one.
Creating a Space to Connect
Kristin: Oh my goodness, I love that. Okay, if someone is listening and thinking, “Okay, well, I don’t only know how to cook but maybe I really don’t even like to cook,” or “I don’t feel gifted in hospitality or this but I’m craving connection. I’m craving these relationships with people.” What are some things so simple and of course, I believe they can put up a table in their front yard and invite people to gather that way. What are some simple things that you have seen things in talking to people across the country who maybe aren’t quite ready then to bring people inside to cook a meal or invite them into that space?
Shauna: I think, again, like anything it’s a set of skills and it gets easier over time. I would say set a goal for how often you want to do this in a year and then just click them off the list and learn something every time. I mean, certainly if you feel like I’m not even ready to invite people into my home, then you could start with a gathering at a neutral place, a third place. You could gather up a couple of families.
One of my friends in California, they were a group of friends, and I wish we could do this in Illinois, we can do it about eight weeks a year, but there’s several families that all wanted to spend time together. They started doing, and I don’t remember which night, let’s say it’s Sunday nights, Sunday nights at the beach.
Every family would bring their own food and their own blankets so no one’s responsible for feeding everybody but it was this particular stretch of beach at this time on this day. Then so you don’t have to have your house cleaned, you don’t have to think through a menu, but you’re still practicing hospitality because you’re creating a space for people to connect. Wherever that is, inside, outside, over food, not over food, hospitality is about creating and holding space for people to connect.
“…you’re still practicing hospitality because you’re creating a space for people to connect.” – Shauna Niequist
Kristin: I love that. Obviously, that’s what I am eating, sleeping and breathing too. Let’s challenge everyone a little bit. Let’s say, let’s make this the month where you just throw caution to the wind and you kick perfection and fear to the curb and invite someone, one or two people, three people, however many, over. Okay, what would you advise as something simple to have, pull out of the pantry or something simple to have onboard. What’s your go-to fail proof recipe? Something that is tried-and-true over and over?
Shauna: Totally. Okay well, first I’ll give you a couple, these are my super last-minute cleaning tips. I am not a particularly great housekeeper. I don’t love it. We are messy people and so when people come over, these are just the last couple of things I do. Number one, grab a laundry basket and pickup just two kinds of things: Things that people could trip over and things that prevent them from sitting on your couch. That’s it.
If they could step on it or sit on it, pick those things up. Then number two, get a pack of baby wipes and wipe down every surface that looks gross. That’s it. If you’re willing to put a little more effort into it, I always think that putting a pan of bacon on the stove is a good idea.
Even if you don’t know what you’re going to do with it, people are happy when they smell bacon and you’ll think of something. If you’re a vegan, do it with an onion. The smell of both of those things makes people happy and so if I knew, “Oh my gosh, people are coming in 20 minutes,” I would first do the bacon, then I do the laundry basket and then I do the baby wipes. Then I would open my front door and that’s it.
Kristin: Done. Love that.
Shauna: Then in terms of food, I think if each person were to master one pan dinner that can be prepped ahead of time, whether that’s a lasagna, enchiladas, a soup, something like that. If you’re making enchiladas or a lasagna, you can do it the day before. You can have it in the oven when people come. I would recommend doing something where you can do as much pre-work as possible and I don’t think we need to make something new for people every time they come over.
Shauna: I think people like if they come to your house, let’s say you always make this particular tacos, people like the idea of like, “Oh, Kristin’s tacos.” Don’t feel bad about having your special lasagna that you make basically anytime people come over, people like that. When people go to restaurants, they mostly order the same thing from the same restaurant because they like the familiarity of it. The same is true with our homes. Master one good easy thing that you can pop in the oven ahead of time and then just keep doing that.
Kristin: Master, yes, the one. We have this one recipe that we love and it is so deceivingly simple and it’s a French onion souffle which sounds fancy. That is just code for whoever created it and it’s basically, onions and cream cheese. How can you go wrong?
Shauna: It sounds delicious.
Shauna’s Stories of Connection
Kristin: Like you said, I can’t do a lot but I can certainly do that and you’re right, it becomes your trademark. Great advice, great advice. Well, I have so loved talking to you. I mean, I know that everyone’s going to be encouraged. I’m encouraged, I better go make dinner now for the family. Tell us what you’re working on before we wrap up because I want folks to know what they can expect or what season in life you’re in right now.
Shauna: Sure. I’m working on a new book and I am a very slow writer. I am just in the very beginning, baby steps of a new book that’ll be out probably in 2020. I’d be shocked if we can get it out before that. I’m really excited about it, I am not going to tell you the topic or the title right now because I have this terrible habit of changing of my mind and then being like, “Oh my gosh, we already said that on the internet, didn’t we?” It will be very much in the vein of Savor or Bread and Wine. It’d be a collection of stories and it’ll be about the things that I care about most which is connection, meaningful living, what it means to live our faith in tactile, daily tangible ways. I’m excited about the process. The writing part of all this is my favorite part, the speaking and traveling part is the hardest for me. When I have a season where I get to really stay home and focus on the writing, I am just in my glory.
Kristin: I love that for you. Then, do your people take care of you and bring you the food and make sure that all those needs are taken care of while you’re hunkered down writing?
Shauna: Well, I find it’s the opposite. I end up gathering people so much when I’m hunkered down writing because I’m home all day. If I’m alone most of the day writing, then I’m like, “Who wants to come for dinner?” Why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t I make dinner? I think I do a lot more cooking and a lot more gathering when I’m in a writing season. That’s why I like it better. When I’m traveling a lot, it’s harder to find spaces in the calendar to gather people. I like this season a lot.
Kristin: Okay, well then that’s so great. That’s the best. It’s good to be in a good season because highs and lows, right?
Meaningful Conversation Starters
Kristin: One last thing before we wrap up, tell me what is a sure fire conversation starter? What are some of your favorite things that there’s these moments if you don’t know folks very well at a table, what are some of your favorite ways to break the ice?
Shauna: That’s a great question. Well, I would say someone gave us one of those table topic cubes and I give those out all the time. Even sometimes with our kids, I bring them on vacation, for family vacations and then sometimes, for more specific meals, I’ll make our own set specific for that conversation. It was my husband’s birthday and we had a dinner party. Let’s say there were maybe 12 or 14 of us at the table and I don’t usually do place cards and stuff but for this one, I did.
On the flip side of each person’s place card was a question about him. Something they love about him, an inside joke they share, whatever and so we went around the table and answered questions specific to that person. Sometimes I’ll do that, if we do a Friendsgiving, a Thanksgiving kind of thing.
It’ll be all questions about how we want to experience the holiday season. What’s one memory you want to create, what’s one tradition you want to maintain, what’s one meaningful conversation you want to have? Turning all of our minds toward this important season to come. I do think, in some settings, it’s worth making your own little conversation starters specific to that person or that gathering around the table.
Kristin: I love that. How affirming, then, especially around birthday times to let them hear the answers of the people that has been gathered. I love that. Well where, in the meantime, because 2020 is a long time for us to wait Shauna. In the meantime, where can we connect with you? Where do you hang out? I mean obviously, you have your website which is?
Shauna: It’s just Shaunaniequist.com. I wouldn’t say I’m writing a ton on my website right now, that means I’m writing absolutely nothing, but I think probably the best place to follow me would be Instagram or Twitter or Facebook and that’s just @Sniequist.
Kristin: Okay, perfect and we’ll have all this at the end but I just want to make sure that people can just keep absorbing all of the goodness that you have to offer. Thank you. It was such an honor to have you around my table today and I look forward to conversations in the future and to reading whatever you have out next. Thank you for being here today, Shauna.
Shauna: Thank you, it was my pleasure.
Kristin’s Kitchen – Sponsored By Shipt
Kristin: Welcome to the kitchen. This is the part of the podcast where I’m actually in my kitchen and we’re going to cook up some deliciousness. After listening to Shauna, I was so encouraged and I love just her commitment and her lifelong love of bringing people to the table. I thought let’s make one of Shauna’s favorite dishes. She had talked about soup being one of their cooking club’s most recent themes. I went to her book, Bread and Wine and I found one of her recipes that I actually love.
I’ve made this before but it’s called Magical White Bean Soup. She’s pretty famous for this and so you can take a look at the recipe. It’s on page 164 in Bread and Wine. I’m going to talk us through it in hopes that you will be encouraged as well to invite someone over for some nourishing and yummy soup. Before I do that, I wanted to see if you all have the same memory as I do. When the children were little, one of our favorite books was Stone Soup.
I love that story, I love the moral of it but just to refresh your memory. There are some travelers and they come to a village. They’re hungry and so they asked all the villagers for provisions, “Can we have something to eat, do we have a place to stay?” The villagers gave excuse after excuse. They were busy, they didn’t have anything. The travelers have a big pot and they put it out on an open fire in the center of the village and they put a stone in and some water.
This really gets the villagers curious like, “Who are these strange people in the center of our town cooking over an open fire with a stone?” The travelers explained, “Oh, it’s an incredible soup but we might need a little bit of your help.” Through encouragement and just sheer brilliance, actually, they asked the villagers, “Do you have potatoes? Do you have carrots, garnishes?” Before you know it, you all know the story, everyone was contributing to the soup and they ended up with this most incredible yummy, delicious meal.
It’s so encouraging to me because that’s the way we should come to the table, just bring what you have. You may not have everything that you need but together we do. Let’s think about stone soup as we go through this recipe of Shauna’s Magical White Bean Soup, I’m actually chopping. I don’t know if you can hear it. I’ve never done a podcast while cooking before but I’m literally in my kitchen.
Here’s what you’re going to need and like I said, you can get it at Shauna’s book and we’ll have all the links for her recipe. You’re just going to take two shallots and you slice those up and then a half a pound of carrots. You’ll peel those and slice those and then a fennel bulb and you’ll slice the fennel bulb. Four celery ribs, six cans of white beans, cannellini beans or great northern beans, some salt and pepper. That’s it.
That’s it for the soup and then in a minute, I’ll talk you through how Shauna likes to garnish it so that people can add what they like, the fixings if you will. I chopped up the celery and the shallots and the carrots. We’re not big fennel fans in our household and so I have just omitted the fennel. If you don’t like fennel or if you love it, add more. It’s like the travelers in Stone Soup, bring what you have.
I have all of the veggies that are sautéing just in a little bit, of olive oil and I’m going to add my carrots and then we’re going to let this sauté. It’s really simple. It’s about, oh goodness, maybe an hour total. At the end, Shauna recommends serving a little bit of some grated or sliced Parmesan cheese on the side. Then people can add what they want to it.
I’ve got mine, you might be able to hear it, all the veggies that are just starting to bathe in this yummy olive oil. I’m going to let that sit there for a minute while I finish up with you guys.
Here’s what I want to read though. I love this this encouragement from Shauna. This is from her chapter, Magical White Bean Soup and I just want to whet your appetite a little bit with her words because they are so beautiful. “Soup it seems as the ultimate comfort food.
Warm, soft, slipping down the throat with ease. We eat soup when we’re sick, when we’re snowed in, when we’re heartbroken, when even cutting and chewing seems too much, when we need to be soothed in some deep way. Soup is cold weather, dark sky food. Soup is peasant food, odds and ends, bits and pieces, a way to stretch a piece of meat or a handful of rice.”
The best soups are made, I think, when we treat as such: Earthy, simple, slow, soothing. Soup is the wool sweater, not the little black dress. It is the cardigan with elbow patches, not the pressed shirt and tie.
I love that. I hope that you guys are encouraged to make some soup. Make Shauna’s Magical White Bean Soup or make your favorite or experiment with something new.
I truly believe that the table, your table, my table, Shauna’s table, the turquoise table, any table is the great catalyst for community and conversation. Enjoy your soup and let me know. Let me know if you make Shauna’s Magical White Bean Soup or share a recipe with us, one of your favorites. We will encourage each other to bring people together this week. I mean, what are we waiting for? Enjoy, friends.
That’s it for today’s show. Thanks for listening! Visit the turquoise table dot com slash podcast for a complete transcript of this episode that includes everything we mentioned on the show. Also, be sure to subscribe to The Turquoise Table on iTunes and leave a review! Until next time, gather small & love deep!
Show Closer: That’s it for today’s show. Thanks for listening. Be sure to subscribe to the Turquoise Table with Kristin Schell and give it a thumbs up if you enjoy it. Until next time, gather small and love deep.