All food, all the time, that’s my motto. These last months have seemed saturated with food, either for the cookbook or the string of birthdays and holidays of late. Cooking magazines have begun to take up residence on the coffee table, hoping to be freed from their plastic shroud before another season slips away. My habit of leisurely flipping through their glossy pages on a Sunday afternoon was abandoned in an effort to think about anything else.
But then there was this email from my friend, Mary, forwarding a note about the role of food in connection and life. She gets me. She was right to opened with, “I think you might be blessed by this.” The devotional included a quote from Keeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food and Healing in Italy, by Paula Buttruni, who writes about the role of food and cooking in her efforts to help restore her husband to health:
“So tonight and all the other nights when I may be tired, without appetite, or simply not in the mood to produce even a simple meal. I shall will myself to do it anyway. When ready, I will rush the warm bowl to the dining room and then John and Julia and I, suddenly hungry from the sweetly pungent smell of garlic and clams coming from the kitchen, will sit down to eat. The three of us will be quiet for a moment or two as we twirl our spaghetti into the first near forkfuls that we lift to our mouths. We will chew that first bite hungrily and perhaps, if I have hit all the measurements right, give a tiny sigh of delight. Then, already heartened, we will start to talk and laugh and eat in earnest, keeping the feast that we are meant to keep, the feast that is our life.”
I ordered the book right away for summer reading once the cookbook was finished, as I was in the middle of 830 pages of United States history (like I said, anything other than food).
When I wrapped up the history book a couple of weeks ago, I was ready for a love story. Knowing food would be part but not the whole story, I decided summer wouldn’t wait and dove in. I was not prepared for how deeply I would relate to Paula’s experiences or how inspiring it would be to walk through markets with her and sit at her table. If Keeping the Feast were a movie, the scenes would playfully volley between childhood memories and daily survival. Trauma wrecks their lives with its lingering effects of anger, depression, flashbacks, brain fog, deep sadness, and withdrawal. It was in these cavernous places of pain and loss she anchored her family in the ordinary, steady habit of marking the days with nourishing meals, breathing in and out, together.
She writes, “Like memory itself, this book wanders back and forth between old recollections and new. Food is the thread that connects them, for food has always been my lens and prism, my eye on the world. I may write about the smell of asparagus, the color of polenta, or the taste of figs still warm from the sun, but all of it is a personal shorthand for weighing hunger and love, health and nourishment, secrets and revelations, illness and survival, comfort and celebrations, and perhaps above all, the joy and gift of being alive.”
Paula has a keen awareness of the healing rhythm of a meal—holding it in our hands, sharing space at the table, and the solace of the familiar. Weighty and raw as their life is, as life can be, it is sandwiched in layers of hope, grace, and dogged perseverance.
If you cannot tell, I loved reading this book. Paula Butturini is a gifted and experienced writer, formerly with United Press International and the Chicago Tribune, chronicling her own beautifully transparent story. Her fitting portrayal of the abbondanza of Rome’s marketplace—abundance, plenty, copiousness—aptly describes what the reader can expect from Keeping the Feast.