I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that when, about six months ago, I joined a book club, I’d reached a milestone. To say I’d always dreamed of joining a book club, sounds a bit sappy. But I will say this at least - that I’d always eagerly looked forward to it. My mom’s been part of an incredibly neat book club, for gosh, it’s got to be over ten years. She and her six book club ladies get together at least once a month, to talk a little bit about the monthly book, and a lot more about well, anything but. These six fantastic women have become some of my mom’s best friends over the last few years, and I can tell that their get-togethers are some of her favorite moments of every month. Beyond a doubt, book club is a really special part of her life. Watching my mom and her book club friends, and seeing how much they all enjoy this special group, I’ve always wanted to one day join a book club myself.
And so, when I was lucky enough a while back, to fall into a book club of my own, I couldn’t have been more thrilled! And I just sort of happened into it. Last fall, I was catering a Labor Day party for our then brand-new friends Josh and Dana. It was one of those laid-back gigs where I was the cook, but still more or less a guest. Once the grill was turned off and the food on the table, my apron was off too, and I could join Ben in getting to know all of Josh & Dana’s wonderful friends. It was an instant blast, and we knew right away that this was a seriously fun group. Dana and some of her girlfriends had recently started a book club, and wouldn’t you know it - without a hesitation, or even a vote - they invited me to join! Of course I accepted right away, and called my mom the first chance I got, to tell her the exciting news.
A few months in and I have to say, book club is pretty darn awesome. These girls are great! I’ve loved getting to know them over the last few months, and I’ve got a good feeling that this book club of mine has all the makings for being as special to me as my mom’s is to her.
Last Sunday, it was my turn to host book club. The monthly reading was Ayn Rand’s humongous tome, The Fountainhead, definitely one of our more daunting book club choices. Don’t get me wrong – it’s one of my favorite books (just check out the tattered cover of my well-read copy in picture above) but it’s seven-hundred-plus pages of teeny type make for quite an undertaking! Preparing the menu below was a complete breeze in comparison.
As I put the finishing touches on the sandwich and salads, the girls gathered around the kitchen island, chatting and laughing and helping themselves to the pitcher of delicious sangria. I’m not normally one for mixed drinks, but Sangria is not your normal mixed drink, and I can’t help but adore it. It’s a traditional Spanish beverage, a combination of wine and brandy and sliced fruit. This Sangria recipe is one of the best things I brought home with me from Spain. My flat-mate Anna had made buckets of it one Friday night, for an impromptu end-of-the-work-week party. This stuff was unbelievably delicious, and we all begged for the recipe. She generously shared it with us, including her ‘secret’ ingredients: a pinch of cinnamon, and a good glug of Fanta orange soda! A kaleidoscope of colorful fruit surrounded by sparkling ruby red, no drink could be prettier. But I doubt one could be tastier either.
This grilled chicken sandwich, with all the fixin’s listed above, is one I love to make from time to time. It’s a great combination– the smoky-sweet yellow peppers and spicy green arugula, the pungent goat cheese and garlicky pesto and fruity balsamic vinegar. They all create a perfect harmony with sliced grilled chicken, marinated in lemon and thyme, and a fresh crusty loaf of bread. Gosh, I just love a good sandwich!
For I don’t know how long, at least a few months, I’ve had a package of beautiful black rice camping out on the top shelf of a kitchen cupboard. I finally decided it was high time I did something with it, and that is how this beautiful salad, chock full of lovely fruits, nuts, vegetables and herbs , came into being. Dressed in one of my favorite spins on vinaigrette (that of the sherry-orange variety), the collage of bright spring-like flavors twisted together into something really spectacular, a deserving fate for that top-shelf bag of gorgeous black rice.
For a second salad, I threw together some of my all-time favorite ingredients – strawberries, arugula and radicchio. (You know you see them on here just about all the time!) With a touch of thinly sliced red onion, a handful of slivered almonds, and a drizzling of a rich strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette, it came together into a perfectly pretty spring salad, a wonderful something to have on the table, for any ladies’ lunch.
For desserts, I chose two of the bar variety – seven-layer bars and lemon bars. If you’ve never made seven layer bars, you’ve got to try them out. A perfect treat for just about any occasion – pot luck, bake sale, dinner party or luncheon. And they’re a breeze to make too. It’s funny, I’d always thought this was family recipe, until about a year ago, when I saw it on the back of a can of condensed milk! Oh well, even if they’re not a personal heirloom, they’re no less delicious.
One thing though, I’ve never understood why they’re called seven-layer bars, rather than six-layer bars. There’s the graham cracker crust (1), the chocolate (2), the butterscotch (3), the coconut (4), the condensed milk (i.e. the nectar of the gods) (5), and the chopped nuts (6). Clearly six layers, not seven. The only way I can figure it, you’ve got to count the butter too, which is part of the crust. I don’t buy it though. It’s certainly misleading. Seven seems like an unfair exaggeration to me. But like I just said, they’re no less delicious for it!
Bright, tart lemons bars were a great contrast to the rich, chocolaty seven-layers. The lemon bar recipe below is from my friend Sara. She’d made a batch a few months ago, and brought some up for me to sample. One taste and I knew, this was the only lemon bar recipe I could ever need. Hers was a perfect specimen of the ultimate lemon bar. Delicate and buttery shortbread-like crust, smooth lemony filling with the perfect balance of bright acidity, and a light dusting of powdered sugar. I am a huge fan of all lemon sweets, but this one in particular, is exceptional. My book club girls agreed – These were a hit all around!