Do You Have a Book Group? Some Book Ideas — by Mary Ann Weber

A soldier returns to the United States after the worst day of his life—a day when a fierce battle took the lives of some of his friends. A young woman finds herself working at a police precinct and is mesmerized by the recent hire of a young woman who seems to lead a much more glamorous life. An Indian Catholic sister working in Ethiopia dies while giving birth to twins, one of whom grows up to be a physician.*

These brief plots are from books I’ve read for the book group I meet with each month. Aside from the fact that I love to read, one reason to be part of such a group is that I read books that I might not have chosen on my own. We’re assured of a variety of genres and writing styles because we take turns choosing books.

Thinking about book selection led me to wonder what would happen if a book group read only MennoMedia titles? Keeping in mind a variety of books, what would I recommend?


1. Shine On: A Story Bible. This book might not, at first glance, seem like a good book for adults. In this volume, numerous Bible stories are written and illustrated with children in mind. Yet, the stories are skillfully told and the illustrations are captivating. Each story contains ideas to help readers explore the story further and connect with it. Choosing some of them would generate excellent group discussion.

Extending the table rev

2. Extending the Table. Cookbooks are not traditionally circulated among book groups. But what if everyone prepared their favorite recipe from the book and brought it along to the group? From Afghanistan to Zambia, Extending the Table includes recipes from all over the world. Perhaps some foods will be new, while others will remind group members of travels and of living in places outside of their own context. What a tasty meeting!

recon3. Reconcile by John Paul Lederach. Lederach has worked in conflict situations around the globe and he takes seriously that reconciliation is a central part of the Bible. Using personal stories and Scripture, Lederach illustrates how Christians work toward resolving conflicts peacefully. Practical ideas and resources are included, as well as a study guide for group discussions.


4. Chasing the Amish Dream by Loren Beachy. Amish fiction is quite prolific these days and is written by outsiders. So how about getting the authentic voice by picking up this book? Beachy is a member of the Amish church with a gift for both writing and humor. Book groups will learn about real Amish life from someone on the inside.


5. Making Friends with the Taliban by Jonathan P. Larson. This true story about Dan Terry, who worked as a peacemaker in Afghanistan, is both inspiring and challenging. What does it mean to work for peace in a world of conflict? How do we learn to understand cultures and people? Are we ready to give our lives for peace? This book provides many conversation topics for book groups.


6. Radical Jesus edited by Paul Buhle. Most book groups don’t read graphic novels, and that’s too bad. Many have good things to say in the way they use both words and pictures to tell a story. This book highlights the life and teachings of Jesus, and then features those who have lived by those teachings throughout history. Many elements of the book will spark good conversations and a study guide is available at:

What are some books you recommend to a book group?

I wish to also remind you that most books MennoMedia sells are available at a
25 % discount with the “Study Shelf” discount. See details and book ideas here.

Happy reading!


*Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, Cutting for Stone by Abraham


Mary Ann Weber, Managing Editor, Curriculum

Precious Commodities: Where to Find Ingredients for Extending the Table Cookbook

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 6-week challenge to cook from
Extending the Table Cookbook. See bottom for quick links to each post in this series, with titles.

When living abroad, what foods “from home” do you crave?

Our friends who travel abroad frequently (or those who choose to live abroad for periods of time) likely have a lot of things they miss about home. Yet, whenever we ask what well-wishes or little reminders of home we can send them, they inevitably request peanut butter. It’s strange that a childhood staple we take for granted transforms into a precious commodity when it is not readily available.

This phenomenon became even more evident to Heather this past week as she joined the teaching team for Harvard’s Negotiation Institute. People from 37 countries gathered to learn more about how to “change the game” of negotiation from win-lose to win-win. One of the examples used during plenary involves two people deciding how to allocate between them three indivisible candy bars. A participant from India argued that she deserved the candy bars more because in her country, good chocolate was rare—a precious commodity.

We are admittedly spoiled in the United States and Canada that we can access foods from a variety of cultures and countries. Yet, this week, as we tried recipes that involved ingredients we hadn’t noticed in our “regular” grocery stores, we realized how challenging it must be for people from other countries to find inexpensive, familiar ingredients for their own comfort food.

12_GreekGreenBeans_ExtendTable-535Greek Green Beans

Our household loves green beans, so we decided to focus a few of our meal choices around them. The Greek Green Beans (p. 130) seemed the easiest, as the only “rare” ingredient was mint, and we’d often seen mint at our local chain grocery store. We were shocked, though, when we looked at the price! How could one family buy fresh mint for meals on a regular basis, when it is over $5 for sprigs sufficient only for one or two dishes? It made us thankful that we had planted mint in our new garden, and made us realize a bit more why so many of our global neighbors raise their own food instead of relying solely on grocery stores.

17_WhitePizza_ExtendTable-4022White Pizza

We found a similarly shocking price attached to the feta cheese we purchased for the White Pizza (p. 179). Fresh feta—the kind you think would be cheaper than the stuff packaged and marketed for mass consumption—was still more per ounce than we could imagine most families affording. We certainly savored every slice!

After making these expensive purchases, we stumbled upon an Eastern European grocery store hidden between a paper company and a Dominos Pizza—just down the block from where we’ve lived for two years. Sure enough, the feta cheese and mint were half the price. A good lesson to venture into “ethnic” food stores more often, and take a friend who speaks the language (or be open to making purchases based on visuals alone!).

16_BreadBowlCurry_ExtendTable-1920Bread Bowl Curry

This prompted us to explore other ethnic grocery stores in our area. We were intrigued by the array of spices in the Bread Bowl Curry (p. 174). We cook frequently with turmeric and cumin, but haven’t made anything with anise seed or cardamom pods. After striking out at our grocery store, we ventured into the Asian market down the street. Sure enough, the anise seeds (“fennel seeds” there) were plentiful—and cheap. The only challenge was that they came in a huge container. We’ll be seeking recipes that use fennel seeds for the next five years! Cardamom pods were not present at the Asian market, but the Indian market two neighborhoods over had a few varieties. Once again, they were far cheaper and more fragrant than the hip, foodie pods we might have found at a gourmet food store. Best of all, we could buy them one at a time instead of purchasing 200 in one container!

There were some ingredients in our “traditional” grocery store we did not expect to find there—a good lesson to keep your eyes open and your stomach willing to try new things. For instance, we were shopping for eggplant, determined to use the first fresh tomatoes of the season to make Eggplant Sauce for Spaghetti (183). When we finally found the eggplant, we were shocked. We could purchase Japanese, Indian, or Kazakhstani eggplant along with our now-seemingly-boring Florida Market eggplant. The availability of these rare varieties in the produce aisle we visit every week prompted us to plan a menu around the Iraqi Baked Dinner Moussaka (198) for later this week.

This journey has allowed us to try out our global neighbors’ comfort foods, as well as experiment with favorite ingredients in new ways. As with our More with Less challenge, we have become increasingly aware of our own default tendencies around food when we are busy or tired. Yet, with this challenge, we became more aware that many of our global neighbors cannot (or choose not to) default to restaurant food when they are hungry. Rather, they find community and comfort around cooking for themselves and for their guests.

This lesson will continue to inspire us in the weeks and years to come, as we share their stories—featured in the World Community Cookbooks—with our son and our guests. As we cook more than we eat out, we hope to weave our own stories into the global narratives of food and friendship.

Links to each post in this Six Weeks with Extending the Table series.

1. Extending Our Family Food Challenge: Six Weeks with Extending the Table

2. Extending Beyond Our Boundaries

3. Extending the Table: Honoring Dietary Restrictions

4. Jobs, moving, sickness, four-month-old baby: STILL time to cook?

5. Six Weeks with Extending the Table: A Move in the Right Direction

6. Precious Commodities: Where to Find Ingredients for Extending the Table Cookbook


To buy the new edition of Extending the Table with many recipes illustrated with color photos, click here. All of this post’s food photos come directly from the new Extending the Table.

MennoByte_photoBen Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with a son born February 2014, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

This is the last in Ben and Heather’s special series, Six Weeks with Extending the Table.

Give them a shout out or quick hi, or any comment on what you enjoyed about this series!

Six Weeks with Extending the Table: A Move in the Right Direction

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 6-week challenge to cook from
Extending the Table Cookbook.

Change has always been a constant for the two of us during our time together. We moved to Chicago seven years ago and immediately immersed ourselves in my orchestra job, and Heather’s trip through law school. Heather was very involved in our church council after work, and I started a not-for-profit chamber orchestra group. Although we were “leaning in,” life, at its core, was not satisfying. There was always something else to stay up and accomplish, and we realized on our honeymoon that it was the first vacation we had ever taken with one another in the three years of our relationship.

This past week we moved from one side of Boston to the other. We lived for the past two years in the Allston neighborhood by Boston University. There is an unlimited amount of youthful energy in the neighborhood, and this would continue late into the night as we, and our young son, were trying to sleep.

Our new place in West Medford is quiet, spacious, and it feels like the first time we are living in an adult apartment. The nights are quiet and dark, and there is a minimal amount of noisy people. Fearing that we were losing part of the coveted energy of our 20’s, the two of us reflected a great deal on the past seven years of our relationship. There were many constant themes through our relationship, and one of them was that the two of us have had some of our best memories around food and meals with one another. So, we decided that we were going to use Extending the Table to help us recreate some of these memories.

For anyone that has spent more than an afternoon with Ben, you will know that good coffee is just an expected part of life. It’s not to the point of measuring the grind, water temperature, and using a pour over like you would see at a hipster coffee shop, but the beans do need to be good and freshly ground. Thankfully, the days of drinking two full pots in the morning are behind him, but the taste of a fresh cup of coffee still inspires many ideas and extended cello practice sessions.

178080216 The Cinnamon Coffee (p. 38) was Ben’s choice of drink for the first morning in the new apartment. Although boxes were sprawled as far as the eye could see, Ben had reserved a special spot for his bags of coffee. Next to the coffee box was the box labeled “spices,” and the cinnamon was easy to find. Sugar was conspicuous as well in the large tin container in which it is kept. We put the cinnamon stick and sugar in the pot before the coffee started brewing. As we sipped our coffee and bounced our baby boy, we both meditated on what this new phase of life means for both of us.

“Did we not have an entirely stocked fridge and pantry at our previous apartment?” This question has been asked many times over the past week as we have unpacked in our new place. The carefully planned meals have gone to the wayside while we figure out our new kitchen; as we try to cook our meals from Extending The Table, we look to the beautiful simplicity of the recipes in the cookbook for our inspiration.

The Creamy Carrot soup (p.79) was a favorite this past week. The carrots, butter, and curry powder (from the same box labeled “Spices” where we found the cinnamon) were items easily dug out of the pile of cardboard U Haul boxes. The soup, again, provided us with a quiet and contemplative meal.

A challenging part of our move, as it relates to cooking, was that between Heather’s extended work hours this week, and cooking for the steady stream of people that have come through our new apartment in the last several days, is that it is easy to default to ordering take out. Admittedly, we did order pizza for everyone at the end of eight hours of moving boxes and furniture. After eating the leftovers from take out, it left us with a slightly stuffed and unpleasant feeling. We craved nothing more than the fresh fruits and vegetables that cleanse your mind and body. To remedy this situation, we made the Tomato and Basil Salad (p. 110). We had been able to go to the local store and pick up fresh vegetables, and it felt wonderful to feast on tomatoes and basil. We began to feel our old selves return with the nourishing and healthy food.

Sept12_2013 006As most of you who have been reading our blog know, hosting friends is something that means a great deal to both of us. We are excited to have our friends and family over to our new apartment and treat them to meals from Extending The Table. More on our meals for friends next week in our blog!

To buy the new edition of Extending the Table with many recipes illustrated with color photos, click here

MennoByte_photoBen Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with a son born February 2014, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

Look for their posts each Wednesday thru June 11, under the special series category, Six Weeks with Extending the Table. Or sign up to receive all Mennobytes posts by subscription from the SUBSCRIBE button on the right side of the blog.