For the first time in what seems like forever I finally have enough free time to sit down and actually read a book on my own. The past many, many years have been plagued with assigned readings where a 400 page novel had to be completed, processed, analyzed, and written about within a seven day time span. Epic rhetorical essays had to be understood with the expectation that their key points could be regurgitated - eloquently, I might add - on request. Theories about teaching, composition, and how to instruct English-as-a-second-language students were to be compressed in whatever corner of my crammed little mind.
It's no wonder I wasn't doing any pleasure reading. For the longest time my brain simply rejected any written words that didn't have an immediate practical applicability that was somehow related to my GPA. Even reading the most pleasant and beautiful food blogs resulted in mental projectile vomit, my head crying in the spaces between words, "No more!"
Only now do I finally have a moment to breath and read. I can graze over the words and ponder them. I don't have to question what Derrida would think (I'll give those of you who don't know that name a moment to look him up, and those that do a moment to recover from the trauma) or the postcolonial interpretations of what the text is saying and what its greater implications upon society as a whole are; or, you know, whatever stuff like that.
Still, I do crave thoughtful literary discussion. It exercises my brain and gives me a chance to socialize with like-minded people, so it only made sense that I start up a book club. I called a few close friends: a fellow grad student who had graduated before me, a friendly food blogger with Mexico ties, a techie and a few others who jumped at the idea. I proposed meeting in thirty days to discuss our first selection, Amy Tan's, The Kitchen God's Wife.
The book is a wonderful read; thoughtful and dramatic, funny in all the right places and usually leaving me wanting dim sum. However, it was how I read the book that was so staggering to me. I read for fun! I was so proud of myself! I read my book without pen and highlighter in arm's reach. I only noted a few passages I found funny or especially poignant so I could bring them up to fellow book club members and pick their brains. In previous years my books have always ended up marred in annotations and underlinings, or flagged with so many little post-its it looked like the binding was spouting more ribbon than a Mardi Gras float. My copy of Tan's novel only has a few penned in stars and two dog eared pages.
The book club is something I need and enjoy; moments of friendly debate, co-misery, and gushing. The members fill me up and energize me not just for literature but other intellectual activities, like cooking. The club meeting was an opportunity to gather friends together and cook them a perfect little meal.
I was torn between cooking Chinese food, a cuisine I'm competent at and which would have matched the book, or what I considered to be stereotypical book club fare like salads and teeny sandwiches. Taking into account it was dry and 102 degrees outside I went with the latter and developed a menu that, by pure happenstance, was totally designed by my friend David (even if he wasn't aware of it).
David's almond cake is one of those practical recipes that I added to my repertoire a few years ago. It's easy to throw together at the last second and always produces the same amazing result: a cake heady with almond flavor and an incredibly moist crumb. Served with a bit of fruit macerated in sugar and spices it's a simple crowd pleaser that's appropriate for any occasion at any time of year. The fact that it was all almond seemed to also synch up well with the book where almond desserts abound.
Before the cake I served a simple tomato tart that David wrote up a few weeks ago. It was one of those recipes that just hooked me and sat in my brain niggling at the front of my skull knocking around asking, "Ya' gonna' make me yet?" The book club meeting proved to be the perfect chance to serve this. An easy recipe with a big wow factor. It tastes like sun and cool, grassy breezes. Served with chilled Rose wine it was a wonderful way to usher in our first meeting.
Overall, the meeting went well as people felt each other out and learned to express their opinions in the forum. I found how enjoyable a novel really can be and how light exploration can force you to turn over a good book and look at it in a new light. Similarly, it gives you an excuse to exercise your creative juices in the kitchen and fuel your friends for riveting discussion.