The only thing better than devouring a book you love is getting to talk about it with others. That’s why I love book clubs. We’re hardwired for connection, so sharing the experience of a book with someone else makes it matter even more. I feel a book’s characters and story more deeply once I’ve discussed it with a friend.
Even better than a great book club is a book club with food. And I don’t mean serving food only when it makes thematic sense, like when your group is reading a book where food is central to the theme (like Tasting Grace, my latest book out in September, since you ask!). I think we should serve food at all book club meetings. Here’s why:
1. Food helps you experience the book more deeply.
So many important life moments happen around meals, which is why food often plays a part in great fiction. Food can show up in books as themes, in pivotal scenes, or in character descriptions. What and how and when someone eats says a lot about who they are. But even if food isn’t called out specifically, you can use your imagination to serve something you think a main character might eat: spicy wings for the gruff cop or apple tartlets on a butter crust for the Parisian ingénue. Food has a way of reminding us that we’re more alike than not. Food connects us to each other and allows us to stand a moment in each other’s shoes, even if those shoes belong to someone imaginary.
2. Serving food to your guests welcomes them, and encourages conversation.
When you spend the time to prepare food for your guests, you let them know they’re worth the work. If you aren’t naturally a cook, don’t let that keep you from opening your home to others. Hosting doesn’t mean you need to spend hours finding the perfect recipe online and laboring in the kitchen! Hospitality isn’t about performance; it’s about welcoming. When people feel welcomed and loved, they let their hair down a bit, and that leads to great conversation and a great book club. A big pot of easy slow-cooker chili served with a joyful heart is more welcoming than a fancy buffet that leaves the hostess stressed out.
(Menu-planning tip: if you aren’t available to welcome your guests as they arrive because you’re too busy in the kitchen making everything perfect, the menu might need simplifying.)
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3. Food brings joy.
We could imagine a world where humans didn’t need to eat delicious food to survive, but that’s simply not how we’re created. We are meant to delight in our food! We’re meant to savor the sweetness of peaches, the juiciness of plums, and the creaminess of avocados. Even a simple snack board of nuts, cheeses, crackers, and fresh fruit and veggies—so easy to prepare—brings joy to palates and hearts. Getting together with friends at book club is one of life’s little pleasures, and food adds to it. You’re spending the time to get together; why not maximize the pleasure by eating together, too?
To get you started on hosting your next book club, I’m sharing one of my favorite dishes to make for guests, book club or otherwise. My Potato-Bacon Torte can be made in advance, served cold or hot, and hovers somewhere in the appetizer-side-main territory, depending on how thick of a slice you cut. And don’t for one second hesitate about using pre-made pie crust (but I’ve added my butter crust recipe too, just in case).
2 crusts, store-bought or homemade, rolled out to fit a 9” pie pan
For the torte:
2-3 large russet potatoes
2 teaspoons dried tarragon, or other dried herb (amount is approx.)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (approx.)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (approx.)
4 bacon strips, halved crosswise
1/2 to 2/3 cup heavy cream, plus 1 tablespoon for the crust
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Gently drape one of the pie crusts over the rolling pin and lift it over and into a 9-inch pie plate. Fit the dough into the edges of the pan and set aside.
To make the torte: Peel and cut the potatoes lengthwise and then slice into 1/8- to 1/4-inch-thick half moons. Arrange the potatoes in the pie crust, rounded edges facing out, until you have a single layer of potatoes that completely covers the bottom of the crust. Season the potatoes with tarragon, salt, and pepper. Repeat, seasoning between each layer, until you use all of the potatoes (you’ll probably have three to four layers of potatoes).
Season the top layer with the remaining tarragon, salt, and pepper. Slowly drizzle 1/2 cup of the cream evenly over the top layer, letting it seep down before adding more, if needed, until the liquid nears the top of the potatoes (you don’t want it to overflow). Lay the bacon slices over the potatoes.
Drape the second rolled pie crust over the rolling pin, and gently lay it over the top of the torte. Press down on the edges to seal and then crimp the edges by pinching them with your thumb and forefinger. Use a paring knife to make two or three small slits at the center of the top crust and place the torte on a rimmed baking sheet.
Brush the top crust with the remaining 1 tablespoon cream. Bake until the top crust is golden brown and potatoes are tender when pierced, about 70 minutes. (Loosely place a sheet of aluminum foil on the torte if it looks like it’s getting too dark.) Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cool the torte for 30 minutes before slicing. Serve warm, chilled, or at room temperature.
Homemade Butter Crust
For two crusts:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
8 to 10 tablespoons ice water
(It’s simpler than you think!)
Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and process just until the mixture resembles wet sand, about six seconds. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition, until the dough begins to come together in large clumps. Remove the dough from the food processor and gently knead five or 10 times. Divide dough into halves and pat each into a flat disk. Refrigerate the dough disks for 10 minutes if dough is soft or sticky.
Remove one dough disk from the refrigerator and set it on a floured surface. Roll the dough into an 11-inch circle that’s between 1/8- and 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with the second crust.
Featured Image: @nei_cruz/Twenty20; Author Photo: Amy Paulson