Recipes with a Hint of Grace: See You On Sunday, Reviewed

A Word of Grace for Home Cooks

Carrie Willard / 2.21.20

For years I’ve said that even if you don’t enjoy cooking, you should consider subscribing to the weekly email from the New York Times’ food editor, Sam Sifton. Sifton sends out several emails a week, actually, and they all contain a few recipes and photos, but also a short commentary on some odd news of the week, or a link to an obscure travel article. In a world that feels overwhelmingly serious, Sifton’s emails bring a whiff of whimsy and some practical advice about what to cook on a long weekend. The word charming is probably overused in life, but underused when it comes to regular emails from editors of world-renowned newspapers. The Sifton missives are simply charming. My friend Allison and I screenshot our favorite parts of these emails and text them to each other, and then we share notes about what we’ll cook from his list that week. Even if we’re eating something from the freezer that we bought at Trader Joe’s a month ago, I feel more homey and wholesome having read a weekly email from my buddy, Sam.

This week, Sifton published a cookbook called See You On Sunday. It begins with a passage from Acts: “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” He describes setting the table as a sacramental act. He talks about failures as naturally as he does successes: “A failed dinner or a not very good stew is as much part of the journey as an exceptional meal or a brilliant dish. Each takes its place in the history of your shared meals, to be remembered by all involved according to its hilarity or excellence. Each is just another stone in the foundation of a tradition. Get cooking.”

As someone who has been in charge of some aspect of cooking dinner since middle school, so cooking for more than 20 years, I can affirm all of this. Get cooking. Hilarity and excellence are all part of the canon. Sure, I come from the privileged place wherein a ruined meal doesn’t mean that my family goes hungry that night. There’s always cereal or eggs to get us through. But Lordy, we need this word of grace for home cooks. At the end of the day, we all need to eat. If we get too caught up in the perfection of it, it stops being enjoyable, and then we end up with takeout more often than not. It’s better to lean in to those imperfections and rely on the forgiveness of your family (who are kind of lucky you even tried, to be honest).

This January, in a bout of midwinter depression and midlife angst, I got a wild hare to make sourdough. Not knowing how to moderate my own behavior, I have extended this hobby to sourdough waffles, sourdough pancakes, sourdough popovers, and one particularly fermented weekend of seven loaves of bread. Bread-baking is not particularly forgiving, if you’ll excuse the pun. I measure ingredients by the gram on an electric scale. I talk to the starter. I wash an unholy number of dishes. I’m on the verge of becoming the favorite customer at King Arthur Flour. I now own a special razor for scoring loaves. But at the end of the day, we eat. Nobody complains about the shape of the loaf when they’re digging into fresh bread, at least nobody who wants a second slice. If you’re looking to make friends and influence people, I recommend baking bread.

And if you’re not into bread or that seems like too much of a commitment, pick up a new cookbook and make something for your friends and family. I recommend See You On Sunday for several reasons. First of all, Sifton’s recipes have never disappointed me. He published a turkey mushroom risotto in Bon Appetit several years ago, which I credit for my husband’s not leaving me for a less complicated woman. The new cookbook is not only filled with that type of recipe, but it also has gorgeous photos and rich commentary.

Sifton comes by his theological chops naturally, too. The grandson of Reinhold Niebuhr and great-nephew of H. Richard Niebuhr, he began this cookbook by cooking for friends and acquaintances in the kitchen of an Episcopal church. In the cookbook, he reflects on these meals as an echo of the Eucharist. His recipes hint at grace on every page — “If you don’t have oyster sauce, swapping in some hoisin sauce instead is no crime.”

Even though I am a naturally anxious person, my anxiety wilts in the kitchen. That’s probably because I grew up with a forgiving family who ate whatever was simmering on the stove. Before the internet, I had the wisdom of the ages in cookbooks and in the worn index cards of my mom’s recipe box. If I had had the voice of Sam Sifton in my ear all along, who knows how calmly I would have mastered Sunday dinner?

Perhaps the best endorsement for See You On Sunday, and for cooking in general, comes from the introduction:

“People are lonely. They want to be a part of something, even when they can’t identify that longing as a need. They show up. Feed them. It isn’t much more complicated than that. The point of Sunday dinner is just to have it. Even if you don’t particularly like entertaining, there is great pleasure to be had in cooking for others, and great pleasure to be taken from the experience of gathering to eat with others. Sunday dinner isn’t a dinner party. It is not entertainment. It is just a fact, like a standing meeting or a regular touch football game in the park. It makes life a little better, almost every time.”

Well, if that doesn’t make you want to hit the store after church and preheat the oven, I don’t know what would.

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2 responses to “Recipes with a Hint of Grace: See You On Sunday, Reviewed”

  1. Linda Klitzke says:

    So true, Carrie, and true to you. Beautifully written with the best messages about life.

  2. DALE E KLITZKE says:

    Thank you, Sam! And thank you, Carrie for discovering Sam, for your obsession for cooking and baking but even more so for sharing your beautiful gift of writing. You are awesome!

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