The upshot is that it was a damned good idea then, and it’s still a damned good idea, now. Here’s how I know:
In early spring 2007, before … well, before so many, many (many) things that have happened in the past decade, a neighbor asked me to join her book club. I declined, responding that I barely had time to read a cookbook, much less a book-book. That encounter sparked the idea to start a cookbook club, a kind of gathering for which there was no model at the time, at least not that I knew of.
Our first cookbook club meeting was held a month later, and we continued off-and-on for almost two years. There were eight of us, all experienced home cooks who were juggling careers and relationships and young children. Our monthly gatherings rotated from house to house. The hostess was responsible for only two things: hosting and selecting the book for the next meeting. The guests brought the food: two appetizers, two sides, an entrée, a dessert, and a cocktail, all from the chosen cookbook.
We cooked our way through Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Splendid Table, The Neiman Marcus Cookbook, several of Ina Garten’s books (Barefoot in Paris was our favorite), and an utterly forgettable Tex-Mex book written by a handsome but talentless celebrity chef. For Christmas we cooked from A Finnish Christmas and got so drunk from our first sampling of glögg that to this day most of that night remains a blur.
Sometimes we reviewed the recipes and made notes. More often, we ate, drank, talked, and went home without any written record (or photographs).
One month we punted, ordered out from a local Ethiopian restaurant, and considered the evening a spa-like treat. It’s been more than a decade, and I remember that night as vividly as if it had been last month. If that doesn’t prove the power of gathering with friends and sharing food, I don’t know what else would.
Alas, our little group disbanded. People moved; life got busy; things changed. But the memories have endured, for all of us.
It has now been almost a dozen years since I started the cookbook club. In my tiny little section of the universe, I’m still cooking and still writing, and although those two things temporarily wandered separate paths, they are back together again in both thought and practice. I’ve recommitted to a more regular writing schedule and renewed the weekly(ish) dinner plans that include links and suggestions for things that either sound promising or that have proven worth the time.
A few weeks ago a friend waved to me over the bays of produce in the grocery store: “I’m so glad you’re sharing dinner plans and recipes again!” she called. “I’ve been missing them!” Ah, cooking: the great connector, and my life-long love.
Often, the links I include in my weekly posts will feature a recipe from Bon Appétit, a magazine that has lived in my kitchen, literally and figuratively, since the summer of 1987. (That recipe you see in the picture, for lemon mousse with raspberry sauce? Still make it. All the time. That’s what’s in those pretty little cups in the featured picture. Seriously.)
While I do still tear pages from the real, paper magazines sometimes, more often I’ll rely on the online edition. Which is how, with great joy, I discovered YOUR cookbook club.
Your club is entirely different and yet entirely the same. Your revisiting The Silver Palate Cookbook? Magnificent. December’s Martha Stewart Entertaining extravaganza? Oh, you have no idea… (My catering business in Boston in the late 1980s… My mother’s horror that “that IMPOSTER” was making money from plagiarizing Junior League recipes… So much cooking and entertaining; so many memories….)
And so, dear Bon Appétit, as you march boldly ahead with monthly cooking and gathering and writing, perhaps you’ll consider a few suggestions from a woman who has a few years of perspective on this whole cookbook club notion:
- Don’t quit, even when it starts to feel tired. It was a good idea in 2007, and it would have been a good idea in 1987, and it will be a good idea in 2027. Don’t quit.
- Share stories from outside of your little enclave on the Upper West Side. Who’s doing a cookbook club in Kansas City, or Birmingham, or Tucumcari? Are their dinners Instagram-worthy? Probably not – AND THAT’S AWESOME. This is bigger than you, sweet Bon Appétit. Let it be big and messy and organic and real. Just like family dinner.
- Some books you might consider (ones I’d pick if we were still doing our little cookbook club thing, which we might one day, who knows…): Patricia Wells: Bistro Cooking. David Tanis: One Good Dish. Alice Waters: The Art of Simple Food. Marcella Hazan: Marcella Cucina. Bonus round, if you’re brave: Pino Luongo’s A Tuscan in the Kitchen – possibly my favorite cookbook of all time, ever, because of how it’s written. And on that note,
- Write about the writing, why don’t you? The best cookbooks are story books with food and cooking as featured characters. And that’s the thing that has changed and gotten lost in an era of celebrity chefs and cutthroat TV cooking competitions. You could change that by letting your cookbook club stories bring back the stories that are the heart of the books, the best part of gathering to share a meal.
But, most of all, don’t quit. Trust me on this.
Your faithful reader
P.S. This story may sound familiar to long-time readers of Jenny’s Lark, because I wrote about it, back in November 2013, the year this blog started to take shape as something I wanted to continue. Part of what I wanted to continue was writing about food and cooking and the kinds of human connections that happen in the process. The kinds of connections made, perhaps, through a cookbook club. Go figure….
Food | Week of February 18, 2019
Having spent most of Valentine’s week in bed with a cold (that was probably the flu), I’m thinking about foods that offer some comfort and fortitude – both for me and for the people in my house who hopefully will not catch whatever I’ve had.
The Peruvian chicken recipe has been in my NYT Cooking recipe box for months, and I’m finally going to give it a try. If there are leftovers, I may use them for Sam Sifton’s panzanella (I love the way this no-recipe recipe is written, so I hope you can read it through the paywall). Our neighbor brought beautiful eggs home from her farm, so it would only be right to feature them in at least one dinner offering, right?
And no, no one in my house is going to be excited about the cauliflower steaks. But it’s worth a try, anyway.
Herb-crusted Cauliflower Steaks with Beans and Tomatoes
Sam Sifton’s no-recipe recipe for Rotisserie Chicken Panzanella
Chicken and Rice Soup with Garlicky Chile Oil
Peruvian Roasted Chicken with Spicy Cilantro Sauce
Sam Sifton’s no recipe cooking in the Times is my kind of cooking (when I do). Lots of new ideas on how to throw some good stuff together without the intimidation of a recipe. Woo hoo!
Who knew that Bon Appétit would outlive Gourmet? Seems impossible, doesn’t it? For many years, I really didn’t like BA, but it’s been quite good in the past 5 or 10. Tonight we did the formerly-BA-now-NYT-Alison Roman’s chicken leg confit. So delicious. Love your cookbook book club idea, in any decade. Why don’t we live closer?
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First of all: WHY DON’T WE LIVE CLOSER??! Because then we could visit in person and talk about how BA outlived Gourmet. I’ve been thinking about this, actually, ever since the Epicurious post about the Lost Christmas Recipes of Gourmet (https://www.epicurious.com/holidays-events/lost-christmas-recipes-of-gourmet-magazine-article). I wonder if BA hasn’t survived by holding tight in the space between the real cooks and the celebrity cooks (I picture this as Craig Claiborne on one side and Rachel Ray on the other). BA has always been accessible in a way that Gourmet wasn’t. Maybe that’s why it has endured (that, and a design overhaul that appeals to a younger generation).
Hey! I’ve got an idea! (another one!) Maybe we should plan a cookbook club travel event, rent a villa, and invite a handful of friends who’d be fun to spend a couple of weeks with, cooking, and eating, and drinking, and writing, and photographing…. We need a sponsor….
Fab idea! Where is that sponsor??
We met Alison Roman at the Derby back when Steve was doing Eater. I didn’t know who she was at the time, other than that she worked for BA. But she really is the cook of the current moment. Delicious and beautiful food, easily made.
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A cook book club sounds just divine!! I wish I had time to do it! I have been looking up new recipes for my pressure cooker which is really handy. Pork Roast turns out beautifully with a really simple recipe.
I am a member of 2 book clubs NOW that I don’t have time for. One meets at night and I haven’t been since last year. It is never on a convenient night. Like this week… I have a previous commitment for a fundraiser banquet I have to attend. Last month it was something else. The other one meets during the day and I go about every other month. We meet for lunch at someone’s house who provides the meal and we give a small donation to pay them back for buying all the food and preparing it. There can be as many as 15 of us at one time so that’s fair and I love listening to these ladies dissect a book whether I have had time to read it or not. School is keeping me busy and I am involved in several other things that I choose to make a priority. Oh well..
Have a good week Jenny!! ❤
It’s a good problem, having more things we want to do that time to do them! Glad school is going well. Enjoy the week. xo
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LOVE it! Just this Sunday, Lisa (the better half) and I decided to make a homecoming dish of crazy comfort food for our 17 year old. 6’3″ boy making the weekly transition from his father’s house to ours. What better than Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon! Lisa, an overachiever in the kitchen often cooking more than one dish in a night so that it feels like “Alice” made it when she comes home from teaching on a weeknight, and I tag teamed it. Of course, we left it for Monday’s dinner because it is so much better a day later and served creamy polenta AND buttered noodles because you never know which you’d prefer, but we for sure knew the man-child would want both! And he did, and so did we. Delicious! If I lived in Memphis, I would beg to join your cookbook club. Bon appetit!
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