In another life, I would be a food writer.
I would tell you every story from the flavor of it. I would tell you how fennel makes me think of my kitchen in Scotland in the year I lived at the end of the world.
I would retell the discovery of Spanish smoked paprika in the summer we spent near the coast.
Then there was the first chicken in the first French oven in the first month of our marriage, in the days we were casual and free with our sage—both the spice and the wisdom.
I didn’t quite write that book. Not yet. Maybe someday.
The book I wrote first is a book about relationships, the kind that exist between us and between us and the divine. It’s spiritual memoir, but I like to think it’s not memoir the way we usually talk about it, which is really just autobiography with hymns.
Autobiography is the telling of your own story written by you. Biography is the telling of your own story written by someone else. The thing about biography and autobiography, though, is that you have to be interesting. You ask famous people—of varying kinds of fame, but fame nonetheless—to write them.
You don’t have to be very interesting to write spiritual memoir because it is ultimately not a story about you. It’s a story about you and your god or you and your religious experience or you and your understanding and engagement with the divine.
What I hope I did was write a book that was more about the god I believe in than about me, which makes the writing process a curious one: I told my story in a circle, bent the timeline back on itself, because the point is not so much about what I did and when I did it, but about the authentic experience of the journey and the ways it overlaps with the journeys of others.
It’s a book about relationships—relationships between people and relationships with the divine. But in another world, when I could tell you some of these stories in person, unmediated by text, I would ask you to come over to my house and sit in our kitchen.
I would be cooking for you while we shared stories, because there is no way I could not. Everything in me, ultimately, is driven by the texture of flavors that we say makes up our lives. I’d make you rosemary risotto with blackberries folded in, a recommendation from Jody Williams that has endured a decade of autumns in four or five kitchens now.
I’d make the bread I learned from my Muslim friend, who spoke of feminism and cardamom with the same reverence, and over the coffee and the spiced apples and the bread I’d ask you to tell me about your encounters or non-encounters with the divine.
Maybe, somehow, between us there would be understanding, communion, and in the exchange of story and flavor there would be memories made and breathed into being.
I wrote a book about the tangled mess that is the self. It’s tedious in that way, but we are rather tedious creatures, I think. So if you care about such things at all, I wrote a book for you. I wrote a book for you that comes out today, right this minute. Come around and sit for a bit at this table. We can talk about it.
And in a gesture of that table I wish we could share, I’m partnering with Tsh to give to one of her readers a set of four of our house spice blends. One reader will be selected to receive these blends that make the rounds in our home on a weekly basis, each composed by hand, ground fresh with mortar and pestle, and sourced from the highest quality spice purveyor I know: Penzey’s Spices. Notes on what each spice contains, the formulation, and suggested use included—you’ll now be in on a bit of the old secrets, too. The set contains these four house blends: BBQ (smokey old world style), Spicy (distinctly African, heady and sweet), Dressing (think summer in the south of France), and Pickle (surprises in store).
A note from Tsh
In addition to the spices, Preston is offering TEN Art of Simple readers an opportunity to win a copy of his new book, Tables in the Wilderness, releasing today.
Just leave a comment below for a chance to win.