How to Host a Foodie Novel Book Club

I have been part of a culinary book club for the past 20 years or so--we can never agree on just when we started or how long we've been meeting, it has been that long.

I think I was just finishing up the Rambler badge in Girl Scouts. Or had I just won the spelling bee? More likely, I was doing laundry on weekends for a college-age child.

But whatever.

This book club has been one of the joys of my life. Eight of us meet in January to select our culinary-themed books--they can be cookbooks, biographies or autobiographies, memoirs, or foodie novels. Each person chooses a book and a month that they can host book club in their homes.

The hostess makes the main dish and provides the beverages. The rest of us bring a dish. The dishes might be from the cookbook or inspired by the novel or biography.

Liz always likes to host when we can be outside. We will read a book, enjoy a gourmet potluck of dishes everyone brought, and then go outside and watch a movie on her patio. We've seen "Moonstruck" (Italian cookbooks) and "Chocolat" (Chocolat), among others.

Roxanne introduced us all to the Pioneer Woman, the Julie and Julia blog, and a to-die-for cookie exchange.

At Gayle's condo, we compared the novels of the late, great Pat Conroy with the cookbook he wrote The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes and Stories of My Life. And, of course, enjoyed coastal Southern food.

We explored the world of Chef Thomas Keller at Kathy's house and we didn't have to book a table a year in advance!

Vicki, a food stylist, always passes along a great tip. At her house, we cooked our way through Virginia Willis' Bon Appetit, Y'All.

We once read Epitaph for a Peach, a memoir from a Japanese-American farmer who grew fabulous peaches that were not tough enough for shipping by truck. The next month when we were reading Susan Herrmann Loomis' French Farmhouse Cookbook, I splurged and had some Suncrest peaches Fed-Exed as a treat and we still talk about how juice-dripping-down-your-chin delicious they were.

Karen likes to host in winter, when we can sit around a table in front of her fireplace. We usually do a comfort food book such as French Comfort Food or something by Julia Child.

Recently, our group was kind enough to read advance copies of The Memory of Lemon and my good friend (and bbq co-author) Karen hosted.

And here's how we did it.

The Drinks

A signature drink for a book club is always fun and generally easy to do. Karen added a jigger or so of limoncello to a champagne flute, then topped it up with prosecco (or other sparkling wine like a Spanish cava or a French champagne). This made an easy and refreshing lemony cocktail for a pre-book club toast.

For a non-alcoholic option, make Porch Swing Lemonade and serve it over ice.

Porch Swing Lemonade

Adapted from Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith Fertig.
Serves 4 to 6
Fresh Herb Syrup:
1 cup sugar
¾ cup water
½ cup packed fresh aromatic herb leaves, such as basil or lemon balm
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 7 large lemons)
1 1/2 cups water
Fresh lemon slices, for garnish
Sprigs of lemon balm or rosemary, for garnish

For the syrup, combine the sugar, water and herbs in a large microwave-safe glass measuring cup. Microwave on High for 3 to 4 minutes or until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture steep for 20 to 30 minutes to extract the best flavor.
Strain the mixture into a bowl and let cool. Use right away or store in a covered glass jar and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Stir the lemon juice, syrup, water, and sugar together in a large pitcher. Add lemon or lime slices and herb sprigs, if you wish.   Serve cold.

What Dishes to Bring

Even if your book club generally only does appetizers or desserts, sometimes it's fun to change things up a bit and offer a light meal. Especially in summer. That's what we did.

Our theme for recipes was lemon.

Karen asked that we let her know what dish we were going to bring ahead of time, so we didn't end up with 8 lemon desserts. (But if your book club just serves dessert, 8 lemon desserts could be heaven or over-kill.)

You can assign recipes and e-mail them to club members or trust members to choose and prepare good ones. Or have people bring prepared food if they don't cook. You can ask or be surprised. It's your book club!

Book club is also a good excuse to use that china or glassware you've been wanting to pull out. You know your book club members will appreciate a lovely table or an artistic gesture. Karen used the pink Depression glass lunch set passed down from her mother-in-law.

We usually serve buffet-style, as this makes it easier on the hostess.

Drool Alert: Here is what we had. . .

The Food

Kathy is our resident bread baker. She adapted a recipe from Heartland: The Cookbook and included honey and lemon zest for a bread with a tender, moist crumb and an aromatic flavor.

Liz brought a shredded raw carrot and raw beet salad dressed with a lemon vinaigrette made with walnut oil from Virginia Willis' Bon Appetit, Y'All.  Liz brought the carrots and beets separately, in sealable plastic bags, to keep the colors intact for as long as possible. Once you toss the salad, the colors start to blend, but it's still beautiful, don't you think?

I brought this Greek Orzo Salad with Cucumber, Lemon, Kalamata Olives, and Feta. It's a great pasta salad that I could just eat all day.

Here's how you make it

Greek Orzo Salad with Cucumber, Lemon, Kalamata Olives, and Feta
Serves 8

½ pound (1 cup) orzo, cooking in boiling water until al dente and drained
1 bunch green onions, chopped with some of the green
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
A handful of baby spinach leaves
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup pitted and chopped Kalamata olives
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dried dill weed
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh spinach leaves to line the salad bowl

In a large bowl, combine the drained orzo, green onions, spinach, cucumber, feta, and olives. In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, and seasonings together. Pour the dressing of the orzo and toss to blend. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Fresh Green Salad with Work of Art Vinaigrette

The simple vinaigrette of 4 ingredients magically dresses a big bowl of salad greens. Fresh lemon heightens the flavor.
Serves 8

8 cups salad greens
Fresh herbs, nasturtium blossoms, or whatever you like in your salad

1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil

Place the salad greens and accompaniments in a large salad bowl.

In a small bowl using a wooden spoon or in a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with the salt until it makes a fine paste. Stir in the lemon juice, then the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to blend. Serve right away.

Karen decided to test a recipe for our upcoming Red, White, and 'Que cookbook (Running Press, 2017), so she made grilled chicken spiedini over pasta tossed with arugula. Fabulous, but Secret. For now.

For more lemon recipes in a colorful downloadable booklet, e-mail me at and I'll send them to you.

Happy Reading!