A week ago we experienced an incredible winter storm that set records throughout the deep south. As we shivered through temperatures as low as 18 degrees (an uncommon occurrence in our parts); none of us would have imagined that just a week later, we would have a warm, sunny but breezy, eighty degree Sunday afternoon, to gather on a friend’s back yard deck, and talk about our latest book club read, while enjoying a late lunch.
My friend and neighbor offered to host this month’s meeting, having a cozy outdoor space for our small group to gather. The characters of “The Fifth Avenue Story Society” took turns bringing take out food each time they met in the small back room of the historic library. One of those take out items was pizza, so my friend and her husband decided to make two homemade pizzas for our day. One deep dish Chicago style pizza and a margarita pizza, so I offered to help with a light salad and dessert.
For this outdoor gathering I found colorful large oval shaped paper plates with matching napkins at Tuesday Morning that were the right size and strong enough to hold the pizza. For the dessert I used clear plastic stemmed parfait cups from the Dollar Tree and disposable silver utensils.
No Recipe Salad
1 Napa Cabbage sliced into 1/2 rings; 3 white and 1 purple endive sliced into rings, 1 12 oz. package of frozen artichokes (cooked per package) -leaves pulled from the quarters -sprinkle with salt and pepper and squeeze 1/2 lemon over all; pull leaves individually and place in bowl with greens; 1 jar of sundried tomatoes in olive oil (drain & spread over greens; 3 cups of arugula; using the tomato jar, add 1/8 cup of white balsamic vinegar, to the tomato oil and 3 for 4 tbsps. olive oil and 1/2 lemon juice and 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp pepper shake and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss all ingredients in a large bowl – dot top with colorful edible flowers.
Pizza while delicious and comforting, is also heavy and I didn’t want a dessert with any type of pastry crust or cake. I wanted something light and knowing it would be a warm day, something cold. I found a no bake cheesecake recipe for inspiration, and used the filling part of the recipe, but the other layers were of my own creation.
Yields (8 )1 cup servings. Steps require to make one day ahead of serving.
1 cup of biscoff crumbs (created in small food processor or place in a zip lock bag and crush with a rolling pin)
6 to 8 biscoff biscuits
1/2 stick of butter melted and slightly cooled
zest of 1 of an orange (divided in half)
(1) 8 oz bar of light cream cheese (room temperature)
The bottom crust layer: Process 1 cup of biscoff biscuits in a food processor until crumbly. Add the zest of 1/2 an orange and 1/4 cup of melted butter and process until the ingredients pull together. Distribute equal amounts into the bottom of each dessert cup and press down with the end of a wooden spoon or muddler to form a crust. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
The second layer: Place cream cheese, 1 cup of diced strawberries, 1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier and 1/4 cup sugar into a blender and blend until well combined and smooth. Transfer to a bowl using a rubber spatula to extra all of the mixture from the blender. Gently fold in one cup of fresh whipped cream. For equal portions I used a 2 tablespoon scoop to distribute to all cups over the biscoff crust. Smooth out with the back side of a spoon. Gently tap the cup on the counter covered with a folded tea towel (to avoid breaking the cup) to remove air bubbles in the filling. Refrigerate overnight.
Berry topping: Preheat oven 400 degrees. Drizzle grape oil on to a small rimmed baking sheet. Add reserved 1/2 cup of diced fresh strawberries and 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries, and agave, pinch of salad and black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then scoop roasted berries and all of the juices into a same jar or bowl and set aside.
Top layer crumble: Place 6 to 8 biscoff biscuits into a zip lock bag and seal. Gently crush with a rolling pin or wood spoon to create small pieces (not full crumbs), open the bag and add the reserved orange zest and chopped salted pistachios – seal bag and shake to mix ingredients.
To assemble: Just prior to serving, top the set cream cheese dessert cups with the roasted berries and their juices, then sprinkle each with the biscuit pistachio crumple. Top each with an edible viola (optional).
In this time of quarantines and hibernation, our sunny, breezy afternoon together was just the right dose of social gathering needed to add a little light to our week. As the trees and flowers begin to show the first signs of green buds and fresh blooms, the comfortable warmth of Spring is just around the corner and a great time to safely gather with a small group of friends on a beautiful day.
It’s the beginning of a new year and a new decade. We are reminded daily by the media of the dark forces that lurk throughout our world, and often feel helpless in what we can do to make a difference. A couple of decades back, an old (as in long time) friend gave me this christian fiction novel that had a strong impact on me and opened my eyes to the negative forces that provoke us daily and how the power of prayer may strengthen heaven’s angels to conquer and defeat those negative forces.
While this is a work of fiction, you cannot walk away from this book without re-accessing thoughts and feelings that make you feel unworthy, not strong or good enough, excluded, along with a long list of many other negative emotions, without realizing these negative thoughts are being used to draw us away from our belief system – our faith in good and our trust in what God wants for us.
A brief description of the book found on the “Good Reads” website, states “Ashton is just a typical small town. But when a skeptical reporter and a prayerful, hardworking pastor begin to investigate mysterious events, they suddenly find themselves caught up in a hideous New Age plot to enslave the townspeople, and eventually the entire human race. The physical world meets the spiritual realm as the battle rages between forces of good and evil.
This Present Darkness is a gripping story that brings keen insight into spiritual warfare and the necessity of prayer.”
If you don’t believe in guardian angels now, you should be filled with hope for them after reading this dramatic thriller of a book. It is a work of fiction and creativity that is well worth the read. It was originally published in 1986 and was Mr. Peretti’s first book. As a story about spiritual warfare; he does not place judgment on the characters or determine consequences for those who act out when possessed by a dark spirit. This book offers very interesting “food for thought” that when I first read it in 1998 gave me insight to how our insecurities (if thought of as a dark manipulation) can prevent us from growing in our faith and relationship with God. As a result of my reading experience, I personally fought those insecurities and grew determined to grow stronger in my own faith.
It should be noted that the book was written long before the internet, mobile phones and social media. One of my friends noted that if this book were rewritten today, the demons would have even more resources by which to reek their havoc and do.
When I have anyone come to my house, I always want to make whatever we are doing memorable, even if it is just a bookclub meeting. How often do you see your friends in a given year? I fear my answer would be far less frequent without planning events that give my collection of friends an opportunity to get together on a regular basis. Relationships of all kind take time and commitment. Therefore, it’s important to me to make the time we spend together meaningful, memorable and enjoyable.
With the holidays in full swing, I needed to pick a book for our upcoming January meeting. I had read several fairly good books throughout 2019, but none stood out as one I wanted to share with my club. For some reason, I recalled “This Present Darkness” and the affect it had on me when I originally read it. It lifted my spirit and enforced the importance of prayer that I’ve practiced ever since. This would be a new and different genre than what we have become accustomed to, and hoped my friends would gain their own unexpected insight from it, whatever it might be.
Having the book selection made, but still in the busyness of the holidays, I awaited inspiration to present itself and raised my usual creativity radar – hoping to hone in on something that would give me a direction for a table setting and refreshments for the meeting. I’ve fallen into a habit of trying to create a meeting around the book we’re reading when possible, which is sometimes challenging and not obvious – but I like the challenge. Without a specific plan in mind, one little thing can create the spark I need to build upon.
My first find occurred while browsing through a small antique store. A pair of tall glowing white angels with wings spread wide brought to mind the angels described as watching over the little town of Ashton and its preacher. There were two, but I decided to only purchase one and I placed it in the center of the table with a small church ornament.
On another day, I stopped at a local gift show to browsed through the after Christmas stock, (everything had been marked down 50% to 60%). As I searched through the baskets of ornaments, a large ornament, a pair of golden angel wings, caught my attention. I walked over for a closer look as two employees of the shop worked to remove ornaments from a Christmas tree display and place each into a basket on a large table. I decided the double winged ornament was too large and I only saw one, but it made me think again of our book club selection.
Then I noticed a single golden wing in another basket that I picked it up for closer examination. I stood nearby and kept count as each wing was moved from the tree and placed in the basket. The young lady arranging the ornaments in the basket noticed my interest and asked how many I needed. She searched through the tree to help me meet the count I needed, as I finally decided they would be a wonderful, post Christmas gift to give each of my members that would also (hopefully) help them remember the message of this book each year as they placed it on their Christmas tree.
At another store I came across the cocktail napkin that read “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says ‘Oh crap, she up!” It made me laugh and I thought it was perfect to inject a little humor.
As I reached the end of the book, I read how Tal handed Guilo the trumpet to sound their victory. It inspired me to search for this image of an angel blowing a trumpet (online) that I resized to fit exactly on the reverse side of the store tag that was tied with a gold cord to each golden angel wing. I used a glue stick to adhere each image and then used simple school glue to add large white pearl iridescent glitter as a boarder that for me, evoked the image of the bright light that streamed from the angels when they were glorified and strengthened by the remnants’ prayers.
I then tied a thin gold ribbon through the wire loop at the end of the wing and placed one at each place setting. I pulled out my Mom’s black and gold china to add the “darkness” to the table surrounded by golden halo chargers.
I decided I wanted small bags that the ornaments could be wrapped and carried away in, having in mind small bronze colored bags I’ve often seen at the Dollar Tree. With Christmas having just passed, both stores in my area looked like they had been wiped out of everything and only had lavender colored bags. I was disappointed and not sure what I would find or where, but continued my search.
I finally found a set of 8 whites bags with gold and pink foil dots and decided they would have to do. Since it wasn’t what I originally had it mind, I was a little disappointed. As I started glueing on the clip art of the trumpet blowing angels, I suddenly realized that the foil dots on the bags looked similar to the chunky glitter I had put on the tags I attached to the wings. HONESTLY, this happens all of the time! Oddly, things just come together. I truly do not consciously make things match this way – it just seems to happen.
With the table now set, my thoughts moved on to refreshments. I decided this would be a great opportunity to toast in the New Year and New Decade with my gal pals, as well as the beginning of our 6th year of reading together. January is a month when we try to eat lighter and resolve to take better care of ourselves. I decided to make a light, healthy, but decadent stacked salad of farro with chopped toasted pecans, cajun boiled shrimp salad, asian cucumber salad, grape tomatoes, diced avocado, grated boiled egg topped with sunflower sprouts and an edible viola. Watercress drizzled with garlic olive oil and white balsamic vinegar framed the stack; the plate drizzled with a roasted tomato vinaigrette and chive oil.
The bottom was farro prepared per the package and pecans toasted in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, cooled and chopped. 1/4 cup pressed into the bottom of a 3 1/2″ ring.
Next – chopped grape or cherrie tomatoes sprinkled with a little kosher salt
Next – 1/2 of an avocado diced, tossed in a teaspoon of lemon juice and sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt
Sprinkle the top with grated boiled egg, chopped chives, sunflower microgreens (or alfalfa sprouts, pea shoots) and an edible flower.
The plate was drizzled with a roasted tomato vinaigrette, watercress tossed in a drizzle of garlic infused extra version olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.
1 cup of grape or cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
Preheat over 400 degrees. Drizzle about 1 tbsp. of olive oil on a sheet pan. Slice tomatoes in half and lay in a single layer over olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Tomatoes should deflate and create a brownish coating beneath the tomatoes. Remove from the oven and cool. Place roasted tomatoes in a small food processor or blender. Drizzle the second tablespoon of olive oil over the surface of the sheet pan with browned tomato juices and a tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes and gently scrap the browned juices, oil and vinegar with a whisk – (as in deglazing a pot with fond- brown bits). Attempt to lift as much of the fond as possible as this equates to a lot of flavor. Pour the mixture into the food processor with the roasted tomatoes. Process until smooth. Add additional olive oil or vinegar as desired until the mixture resembles a slightly loose tomato paste. Pour vinaigrette into a squirt bottle to drizzle on the plate.
A cocktail is required to make a toast, so next I was in search of a unique, ladylike cocktail when I found this recipe for a “Whispering Demon” and oddly, as I am writing this I realized the cocktail will be pink – more color coordination! As is my usual practice, I always try to do something a little different to a recipe to make it my own. After tasting it, the name warranted a little surprise of spice to reference the “demon”. I experimented by steeping pink peppercorns into my simple syrup and it added a gentle element of surprise that I was looking for.
A Hushed Whispering Demon
1 oz. vodka 1 oz. pink peppercorn simple syrup 2 oz. Whispering Angel or other Rosé 2 oz. club soda
Directions: To make the simple syrupplace 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Place pan on low heat (on the stove) until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and add 3 tablespoons of pinkpeppercorns. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain the syrup into a jar for storage until ready to use, and let the sugary peppercorns rest in the strainer for about 10 minutes. Move the peppercorns to an airtight container – leave uncovered to dry and cover for later.
Place coupe glasses in the freezer. Combine cold rosé, simple syrup, vodka, and club soda in the chilled coupe glass. Delicately swirl the glass to mix contents, and top with a little cluster of sugar coated pink peppercorns for garnish.
This book about spiritual warfare filled with demons and angels, called for an angelic finale. I made a chocolate angel food cake, filled with a mascarpone, whipped cream, freeze dried strawberries, chocolate shavings and raspberries.
Once baked and cooled the cake was cut in half. I dug a little canal in the bottom half buy pulling some of the cake away. The filling, chocolate shavings and fresh raspberries were added and the top replaced. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
8 ounces mascarpone room temperature
8 ounces heavy cream whipped
1/4 cup chocolate shavings
1/4 cup freeze dried strawberries (pulsed in food processor to a powder) optional
1 tablespoon sugar
Whip the mascarpone and set aside. Whip the heavy cream with sugar. Gently fold 1/4 cup of mascarpone into the whipped cream and continue 1/4 cup at a time until well combined. Gently fold in chocolate shavings and strawberry powder.
This type of cake is a little dry and needs a syrupy sauce and fresh fruit. Slice strawberries macerated overnight in 1/4 cup of Chambord, 2 tablespoons of sugar and (optional) a sachet of 1 tablespoon of pink peppercorns). Before serving remove the sachet and add 1/2 cup of fresh raspberries. Pour a couple of large spoonfuls of fruit and their juices over each slice of cake. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings and curls.
Our meeting concluded and everyone left with their angel wings safely wrapped in their little bags. Until we meet again – on to the next book.
Select the bookclub category on the front blog page for previous book selections and meeting ideas:
Five full years of reading and 25 books later the Social Writes Book Club is in the process of reading our first book for the new decade -2020. Stay tuned for our meeting post in late January. Meanwhile here’s a list of the great books we’ve read over the past five years.
2015 Year One:
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom (Made for tv movie)
CrossRoads, by Wm Paul Young (also author of the The Shack)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer Barrows (Movie on Netflix)
When one of our members read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, she immediately knew it was the book she wanted our club to read. The only problem was that the waiting list at the library was extensive. A few of us bought the book and passed it on to another member over a period of four months until everyone had a chance to read this amazing work of art. Once the club meeting was scheduled, our group of eleven, reduced to only seven in attendance due to scheduling conflicts – but we still had a great meeting.
When a book lends us a theme, we often try to bring it into our meeting. Kya lives in an old shack of a house, with nothing but basics, and sometimes even less than that.
Nate befriends Kya with a variety of beautiful bird feathers that she adds to a collection of those she has also found herself. I ordered a pack of 25 natural bird feathers on Etsy to scatter on the table and tuck into the twine wrapped around our napkins along with a plume from a grass plant that made me think of marsh grasses.
Originally I just sprinkled the bird feathers on both sides of the table, but then I saw these wood disks that I wanted to use for my Gal Pal Alpine Friendsgiving in a couple of weeks and remembered that Nate left a bird feather on a tree stump. I placed the feathers on the wood disks to represent Nate’s gesture, that coaxed Kya toward trusting him.
The member who chose the book brought a textbook from the 60’s, her hurricane lanterns and shells …. Kya’s lessons with Nate, the lantern that she worked to buy oil for and the shells along the beach of the marshes.
Mini Chicken Pot Pies with puffed pastry lids. https://lovelylittlekitchen.com/chicken-pot-pie/ The filling can be made a day ahead and the puffed pastry added the day of. Brushed with egg wash around the sides of the ramekin and top of the dough, an Italian flat leaf parsley leaf on top.
Black eyed pea salad. https://thecafesucrefarine.com/easy-black-eyed-pea-salad/ Also can be made the day ahead. I used frozen peas that I cooked according to the package. They still had a little crunch to them afterwards rather than soggy from the can. I used a peach instead of mango that seemed more appropriate for a southerner, added agave instead of sugar and white balsamic vinegar.
Madeleine corn muffins. 1 box of Jiffy corn muffin mix, 1/3 cup of evaporated milk, 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Mix in a bowl until well combined. Cooking spray on madeleine pan, one full teaspoon of mixture into each mold. Bake 15 -20 minutes.
After a lively discussion about the various characters and events of the unique story, assisted at some points with questions from a book club kit found online, we collectively agreed that Ms. Owens’ book was quite a literary journey that we very much enjoyed.
This meeting would be the last of this our fifth year. We have read a total of 25 books together with a vast variety of tales and topics and look forward to the new adventures upon written pages we will experience during our sixth year in 2020.
The inspirational seed for starting a book club was planted many years ago by the eldest of a family of seven cousins to my ex-husband. As I explained in my post “My Flower Girl’s Wedding”, my life bloomed with culture and creativity from time spent with this extended family. We frequently joined this cousin and her husband for dinners that never lacked in conversations that I found to be interesting and simulating. I learned over time that while she had a wonderful personality, she was also an avid reader. Over the years I found that other people I’ve met who were avid readers stood out in the same way. They were information seekers and the information they gained from reading extended into interesting conversations.
Every book read, slightly changes the reader. It teaches empathy, opening our eyes to situations we may not have experienced; it re-forms our perceptions; it can help us see a situation from a different perspective; it can take us on a journey through another’s eyes; it educates us about history, surprising discoveries, bees or owls, or medical conditions. It helps us grow and in turn, as my mother once said of me, “she can talk a little about almost everything”. These are all of the reasons I love reading.
When I held my first book club meeting, I advised my group that while I enjoy being creative when I have friends over, no one was obligated to follow my lead when their time came to host. I fully understand not everyone as interested in cooking or entertaining, or simply may just not have the time to do so. There’s also the burden of cost, and while the meetings are not meant to be costly, I’ve allowed everyone to put their own spin on our meetings. I also offered by space if there is a conflict with hosting at their own.
We agreed to meet every other month, to allow space for other activities, our last meeting usually held in late October or early November knowing the holidays require other attentions. In all, we usually have at least five meetings per year. On two occasions, our book lent to finding a restaurant rather than meeting at the home of a host. We found a French cafe’ to meet for “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLean. Below we met at Muriels in the French Quarter for “Welcome to The Garden Club” written by a New Orleans author Jenny Tilbury.
If you’ve always wanted to be part of a book club, you can reach out to your friends like I did (see Birth of a Book Club post). If you don’t have a group of friends that are readers, look for one to join at your local library or museum. Barnes and Nobles has a book club that meets over a newly published book every other month. Find a place to meet a group of readers to form a separate club. Don’t avoid starting a book club just because of the limited space or the worries of hosting like Martha Stewart. A book club can meet at a nearby coffee shop or in a reserved library meeting room.
We all gravitate toward different types of books and this club has introduced me to genre’s I would have never found on my own. We’ve read books that taught us to never see a bee the same way again; to remember the sufferings of past holocaust victims; inspire us to travel; realize how society hasn’t changed, it’s just attached it’s judgment to differ issues; the strength of someone who discovers a difficult medical condition can reshape their lives in a better way; the possibility that one apartment somewhere in the world can be ignored for decades and then found to have valuable treasures. Below is a list of some of the books we’ve read:
Sarah’s Key, by Tatiann DeRosnay
The Paris Wife, by Paula McLean
Educating Alice, by Alice Steinbachy
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
The Paris Apartment, by Michelle Gable
The Bees, by Laline Paul
The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
Wesley the Owl, by Stacey O’Brien
Left Neglected, by Lisa Genova
The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
The Gvernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Ann Barrows
I have such deep respect and admiration for a well written book. These authors spend years performing research, applying creativity and intrigue, inventing characters and dialog that don’t really exist, but are so real we think we know them in the end. They describe places they’ve never been to from photos and imagination and make us feel like we are also there. We often take for granted the effort, dedication and time that it takes to write a wonderfully imaginative book, simply for our own entertainment. It is a craft and passion that one is born with and must express. How lucky we are to be the recipients of the fruits of their labor.
It started with an idea that had been brewing inside of me for many years (much like this blog) and I finally decided to put that idea into motion with an invitation letter that I enclosed in the Christmas cards of friends I thought might be interested in participating in a book club.
Below is a portion of that invitation:
“The busyness of trying to balance family responsibilities, build new or maintain ongoing careers; strive for a healthy mind and body and keep in touch with friends can be an overwhelming challenge. I’ve learned that you have to form a plan. Make Time!
For years I have had a secret desire to form a book club. As “life” has made it more and more difficult in recent years to read the many books I at one time committed myself to (mostly before I had cable television and all of those darn cooking shows to distract me) as well as spend quality time with my friends; I have sought to come up with a way to steal some time for my friends in the new year.
My idea is to invite several of my friends to read a suggested book and then collectively gather at my house (or alternate at one of yours) for afternoon tea as the Brits call it to visit and share a group conversation discussing the book we read. Over the years I’ve read many books and I’ve always known that bringing a group together that read the same book, provides a common subject of discussion with different perspectives and ideas that can reap gifts from the read greater than one of us may have gained on our own.”
From there I requested an R.S.V.P. deadline and of the 8 or so invitations I extended, we started with 5 including myself and a light, neutral first read, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”, by Mitch Albom. By the second meeting our group extended to 6 when a friend of one of my members said she would like to join. Hence, the formation of the formation of the..
Social Writes Book Club Est. 2015
This February marks the beginning of our 5th year. Our club has grown to 10 members with 2 alternates. Approximately five times a year (every other month) a different member selects a book and hosts the meeting at her home. We have read a number of interesting books that have informed us, surprised us, and entertained us. The refreshments vary from simple to sometimes when the book lends it, a “themed meeting” like the one below. “The Paris Key” by Juliet Blackwell, inspired a French Bistro meeting.
In 2019 we continue on with memories of great books, loving friendships and great food. Stay tuned. Our next meeting is later this month. If you’d like to read along the book is “Something in the Water” by Catherine Steadman. Until then…. Happy reading!