As I write this, I’m visiting my good friends Missy and Kevin in Virginia. I’ve mentioned this yearly visit before because we do a lot of cooking together in their kitchen. We’ll spend hours planning and preparing dishes like Pear with Port & Stilton Cream Chicken. Spending hours in the kitchen may not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing vacation activity, but for me it’s a joy to partner with someone in the kitchen to prepare a big, healthy meal for two families with a brood of growing boys.

Bless This Food bookRight before we left this year, I received a review copy of “Bless This Food: Ancient & Contemporary Graces from Around the World” by Adrian Butash. I threw the book in my backpack thinking it would be a great complement to our evening meals. I was right.

Whatever it’s called — grace, the blessing, a prayer — saying words of thankfulness before a meal is practiced in religions and cultures around the world, and it has been that way since ancient times. “Bless This Food” has 160 ancient and contemporary graces. If saying grace (or whatever you call it) before a meal is a ritual that you participate in, you should appreciate the variety in this book and its ideas for switching up what might have become a rote habit instead of a time for genuine gratitude.

The graces in this book can be used in any of the four principal types of thanks-giving graces: silent, spoken, sung and signed. Two graces in American Sign Language are included.

There are graces from the Jewish, Sumerian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Chinese, Japanese,and Native American traditions as well as non-religious graces from literature and other secular sources.

Tonight, I think I’ll be saying these words from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the father of Transcendentalism, around the dinner table with our friends.

For each new morning with its light

For rest and shelter of the night

For health and food,

For love and friends,

For everything Thy goodness sends

For me and my friends, the “Thy” in that prayer is the God of Christianity, but what’s great about so many of the prayers or blessings in this book is that they aren’t religion-specific. “Thy” could be any god or Mother Earth or whomever those saying the blessing believe it is.

One other thing I like about the variety in this book is that some of the blessings can also make great toasts. These lines from act 1, scene 2 from Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet" are perfect for a toast at the beginning of a meal held at your own home.

This night I hold an old accustom’d feast,

Whereto I have invited many a guest,

Such as I love; and you among them the store,

One more, most welcome, makes my number more.

I’ll be keeping this book by my dining table, and I have a feeling my family and friends will be getting much use out of it.

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