Book clubs are the recipe for years of memories

Over the years I’ve belonged to a variety of book clubs. These gatherings have brought good friends closer and have made friends out of many I might not have otherwise met. One thing they’ve all had in common is good company, interesting conversation, and delicious food.

Besides the fun of (more or less) discussing the chosen book, I love the opportunity to check out friends’ homes and learn more about them by how they decorate. Are their family photos candid or curated? Do they dust every square inch or let it all hang out? Holiday book clubs have involved more formal meals and amazing gift exchanges. You quickly learn who brings the most memorable (and sometimes zaniest) gifts.

Late to the party

My best friend’s book club has been meeting with a core group of members for almost 20 years. As a late addition to this group, it’s been a pleasure being part of their lives. Cora has amazing local art and a dog that loves everyone—except me. Rhonda curiously doesn’t own a cutting board. Beth has a very Zen home, much in keeping with her calling as a yoga instructor. Wendy’s house is beautifully put together and is a busy hub filled with kids, dogs and laughter. Tamara loves serving on her deck and makes a mean batch of sangria. Julie lives in a rustic setting with lots of cats and a gorgeous barn in the backyard. Lisa is the owner of the (very comfy might I say) chair where I fell asleep and missed the entire book club after a long day and a couple of cocktails on an empty stomach. I’ll never live that down.

It’s all about the kitchen

Over the years we’ve shared our lives and a lot of interesting meals and recipes. Despite the size of the home or the largesse of the spread, everyone spends most of the gathering in the kitchen. That’s why when it’s my turn to host, I prefer a buffet-style meal or finger foods served casually, allowing the evening to unfold naturally without requiring folks to sit down.

Some of my favorite book club menus have featured a “bar” focused on a specific food with a variety of toppings—my favorite was a savory mashed potato bar with an assortment of cheeses, bacon, gravies, and finely chopped blanched veggies. A pizza bar was also a smash; guests added their own toppings and the host baked them up in her pizza oven. Yummy!

One gathering featured a cold taco salad bar, with a variety of greens, freshly sliced avocado, homemade pico de gallo, and a selection of interesting hot sauces collected during the host’s travels around the world. It was not only clever, but also a great conversation starter while we ate.

If you’re lucky enough to own (or borrow!) the very amazing Williams Sonoma panini maker, serve up sandwich toppings and dressings and have a hot panini night.

Baby, it’s cold outside

The winter nights are long and cold, so be sure to have hot drinks on hand. Coffee and hot teas are de rigueur, but how about serving fresh cocoa with a variety of liqueurs and Irish creme for an after-dinner drink? Pair it with brownies or cookies (and maybe a scoop of Shatto ice cream) and dessert is easy and done. Pick up some fresh mint leaves to top the ice cream with a splash of color.

Hot cocoa goes great with marshmallows and even better with freshly made whipped cream. See the sidebar for a simple yet impressive recipe for homemade cream puffs that pair perfectly with cocoa or coffee.

Turning the hostess gift on its head

I love reversing the idea of the hostess gift and sending my guests off with a little something themselves. How about buying a batch of decorative thermal cups and sending your friends home with a warm drink as a thank you for venturing out on a cold evening?

Even better, wrap up a leftover piece of dessert in a small cellophane bag, tie it with baker’s twine (available at Pryde’s Kitchen and Necessities in Westport or any craft store) and send them off with a snack for later.

Wine, wine, wine

Seriously though, never show up to a party of any sort with empty hands.

A bottle of wine is a popular choice, but consider a few other options that will make a mark. Pop into any local or discount shop and pick up a simple white bowl. Fill it with some freshly washed fruits of the season or some berries and a bottle of Shatto Cream. Berries and cream? Yes, please! I have a friend who calls me “Pears” because years ago I brought fresh D’Anjou pears as a hostess gift.

Another great choice is a loaf of bread from a local bakery. Fervere is an artisan bakery that makes amazing bread (and in the summer offers incredible cheese slippers). Pair a fresh loaf of pain au levain with their artisan olive oil or regionally made cheeses, such as the Woolly Rind or Dirt Lover sheep’s milk cheese from Weston’s Green Dirt Farm. Fervere is open Thursday through Saturday with varying daytime hours, convenient for a lunchtime run. Check them out at fervere.com.

It’s just an excuse…

Whether your book club focuses on serious literature or doesn’t even discuss the book, it’s all just a reason to gather with the people that matter to you and make memories that last a lifetime.