The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship

The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship

3.3 41
by Andrea Israel, Nancy Garfinkel

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Loyalty, loss, and the ties that bind. These are the ingredients of The Recipe Club, a "novel cookbook" that combines an authentic story of friendship with more than 80 delicious recipes.

Lilly and Val are lifelong friends, united as much by their differences as by their similarities. Lilly, dramatic and confident, lives in the shadow of her

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Loyalty, loss, and the ties that bind. These are the ingredients of The Recipe Club, a "novel cookbook" that combines an authentic story of friendship with more than 80 delicious recipes.

Lilly and Val are lifelong friends, united as much by their differences as by their similarities. Lilly, dramatic and confident, lives in the shadow of her beautiful, wayward mother and craves the attention of her distant, disapproving father. Val, shy and idealistic—and surprisingly ambitious— struggles with her desire to break free from her demanding housebound mother and a father whose dreams never seem to come true.

In childhood, "LillyPad" and "ValPal" form an exclusive two-person club, writing intimate letters in which they share hopes, fears, deepest secrets—and recipes, from Lilly's "Lovelorn Lasagna" to Valerie's "Forgiveness Tapenade." Readers can cook along as the friends travel through time facing the challenges of independence, the joys and heartbreaks of first love, and the emotional complexities of family relationships, identity, mortality, and goals deferred.

The Recipe Club sustains Lilly and Val's bond through the decades, regardless of what different paths they take or what misunderstandings threaten to break them apart . . . until the fateful day when an act of kindness becomes an unforgivable betrayal.

Now, years later, while trying to recapture the trust they've lost, Lilly and Val reunite once more—only to uncover a shocking secret. Will it destroy their friendship, or bring them ever closer?

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Editorial Reviews

“Told through letters and recipes, this novel traces the pair’s loving, competitive friendship from 1963, when the girls first meet, to the present. A look at the difficulties of sustaining childhood bonds, it’s also a satisfying meditation on how nourishment for the body can replenish the soul.”

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The Recipe Club


HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2009 Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-199219-3

Chapter One


Dear Lilly, I've started a letter just like this about a thousand times. "Dear Lilly," I'd write, as if I knew what came next. But that was as far as I got. I never knew what to say or how to say it. And I wasn't sure you'd ever want to hear my voice again. But today I know exactly what I have to tell you, and I know you'd want this to come from me. My mother died. Last month, of cancer. Maybe your father already told you; I don't remember what he said at the funeral. It was a hard day. It's been a hard two years. And now that it's over, it feels like walking through a dream-a milky gauze of grief. And relief. And guilt at the relief. Oh, Lilly. This is not how I hoped to find you again. But maybe it's the only way. Death always makes me want to make sense of things. I want to understand my mother's life. I want to understand my own. Perhaps this all feels too raw, too real, too intimate. If so, I'm sorry. But I just had to take the chance that you'd still be there for me the way you once were. I can't begin to tell you how much it would mean for us to reconnect. Even after-especially after-all these many years. Valerie


Dear Val, I honestly don't know what to say.... I'm so sorry about your mother. I hope you find some solace in the knowledge that she loved you and was proud of you. I hope you can carry that with you, along with her smile and that wonderful, raucous laugh that always surprised everyone. Regards to you. And to your family. Lilly


Forgive me for that awful version of a ten-cent drugstore sympathy card and let me start all over: Val, hearing from you has shaken me to the very core. I'm reminded of all we once had and lost. Twenty-six years of silence-and then, at long last, you appear! When I got your e-mail I cried out loud. There you were, or the essence of you, in your brief words. So very palpable. I mean, Christ! Thanks to cyberspace, you were almost here with me in these beloved mountains. Oh, nuts. I'm not very good at this. What I'm trying to convey, in a clumsy way, is that I've spent a lot of time and energy (not to mention thousands of bucks on therapy) convincing myself that our fight was just one of life's many painful lessons. People change, they go different ways. Even the best of friends. I told myself, so be it. "Move on ...," to quote Sondheim. (The very song I once used to open my act.) But the truth is, Val, I can't tell you how many times I've whispered to myself, tonight I'll look out into the audience and she'll be there. I can't tell you how many times I've pretended that somehow, you will just turn up. That somehow we will find a way to be friends again. Look, it's all just a long-winded way of saying: yes, Val, I'm still here for you. Honestly, sweetie, you can count on that. I know when we last spoke, so many moons ago, the problems between us-I mean all of us-were insurmountable (at least they seemed that way to me). Which is why I think you'll find it amazing, if not unbelievable, that at long last my father and I are becoming close. I recently moved back home to live with him. It's temporary. And though it's been good for each of us, it's also been, as you might imagine, less than easy. In fact, right now I'm taking a break at the cabin. (Yes, the family still keeps the place, complete with outhouse and NO PHONE! Can you believe it? So, to get my e-mails I have to trek all the way to Lake Placid, almost forty-five minutes from Keene Valley, to an Internet care-which I thank the techno-goddesses for.) Anyway, at your mother's funeral, you may have noticed my father is a changed man. The infamously stony Isaac Stone is much more vulnerable these days. Your mother's death hit him surprisingly hard. It's the first time I've seen him weep. It must have something to do with all the losses he's facing: a recent retirement. Failing eyes. A broken heart-he's unable to let go of my mother, who's no longer with us. Which brings me back to the real question: why didn't I just reach out to you once I heard about your mother? The truth is, I got scared. I found myself hoping, with all my heart, that you would be the brave one to break our icy silence. And I thank you for that. I've been a coward. Maybe I just didn't know how to express the simple thing you said: I can't begin to tell you how much it would mean for us to reconnect. I won't trouble you with the details of my life right now. In summary: deep love, despair, deeper love, deeper despair, and now ... well, a sort of limbo place thanks to a lover who can't commit and my own confusion about intimacy, I'm trying to figure it all out, even though that's a bit like trying to lasso the moon. My heart goes out to you. My thoughts are with you, and your family. Despite the sad reason for your e-mail, I am extremely happy to hear from you. (Do you remember what loyal correspondents we were when we were kids?) Write again, if you have the time and the interest. Much love, Lilly P.S. How is "Golden Boy" ... Ben? Please send him my love.


Dear Lilly, I'm scattered and unfocused, broken. Losing my mother feels like an amputation. The psychic space within me that she still inhabits-will always inhabit?-has become a phantom pain. Excruciating, agonizing, relentless. And each time I realize she's gone forever-again and again, always as if it's the first time-I feel lightheaded and faint. Heartsick, too, as I obsessively count and recount the many years I spent pushing her away. All in a desperate attempt to "become" the person I, in fact, already was. Strangely enough, all this makes me realize how deeply I've missed you. I hunger for our friendship. Oh God, Lilly, we were so foolish. The only way I can make sense of what happened between us is to believe that perhaps we needed that terrible fight. Perhaps we were so fused at the soul as children that we had to separate in order to invent our adult selves. And perhaps we have both needed these long, dry years to heal the deep wound of rupture? Whatever the truth may be, I am so sorry for my part in all this, sorrier than I can ever say. Can you believe how old we are? Oh, Lillypad, let's be friends again! How are you really? Please write to me. Tell me everything, and then tell me more. Whatever happens next between us, speaking to you feels like a blessing. Maybe a renewed correspondence would be uplifting for both of us. Do you want to try? Your devoted friend, forever, Val


Lilly, I'm so ashamed of myself. I just reread your letter and then reread mine, and I realize that in my terrific preoccupation and self-absorption I didn't at all respond to what you wrote about your mother. What do you mean, she "is no longer with us"? What s going on? I'm filled with dread at the thought of more grief. And I apologize for my selfish letter. Please forgive me. Val


No, "Katherine the Great," as you used to call her, didn't pass away ... she ran away! Just one more act in the Stone family's ongoing saga. Even after twenty-six years, I'm sure you can remember our penchant for high drama. If I sound glib, forgive me. It was just so damn predictable. One morning, about six months ago, my mother left my father after forty-some-odd years of marriage. She just got up from breakfast with the dishes on the table and the kettle about to boil, and walked out the door. Perhaps she'd done one too many productions of A Doll's House. The sad and sorry truth: my mother never should have been married. And my father should have married someone else. She would have been much happier moving from one relationship to another. (Who does that remind you of? Yes, I am truly Katherine the Great's daughter.) And he was always looking for someone to be in awe of him, which she was not. I know I don't have to remind you of the blistering midnight battles that went on in my parents' bedroom, the ones we used to hear through the wall when you slept over. So, my mother is finally free, living on her own, downtown. I think she's dating. Big surprise ... what else is new? She doesn't want to talk to any of us, she said. Not until she "finds the Katherine she lost." It's like she's perpetually acting out her adolescence, even now, at seventy-three! My father spends every day grieving. This whole thing has aged him. Since he's no longer practicing, he spends a lot of time working on his orchids. His eyes always seem to have tears. He says it's the cataracts. I think it's his broken heart. You know, I tell myself I don't care about them splitting up. At age forty-seven, why should it matter? But at two in the morning last night I felt so very vulnerable and alone that I couldn't sleep. It was as if I was longing for something just out of my reach. And everything reminded me of my mother: her Italian shawl hanging on the back of my chair ... the poster she did for that Shakespeare festival, on the bedroom wall, with the picture of you in the corner! (Remember how she used your face for Puck?) The good news: I felt your presence with me and that provided great comfort. Lilly


Memory is so oddly selective. I can't remember the shape or the fabric of your mother's Italian shawl, but I can absolutely picture its blue-gray-purple-brown color. It always reminded me of firm, dirty plums. And then the frightening, strangely thrilling sound of your parents' screaming fights. (In the rooms of my, memory, those fights stand out like some ridiculously romantic 18th-century French furniture: perverse, ornate proof that they loved each other with passionate intensity. Something I felt my parents lacked.) And of course I've always thought your mother was unbearably generous for turning me into Puck. That poster was the first thing in my life to give me a vision of my own immortality. It made me feel so pretty and so important. The truth is, after I gasped in horror about Katherine's quicksilver escape from a kitchen filled with dirty breakfast dishes, I laughed out loud! Is it too soon to admit stuff like that to you? I hope not. You know I've always loved Katherine the Great. I know she was hard for you in lots of ways, but I always envied that your mother seemed more interested in her own life than in yours or anyone else's; I guess it was an instructive counterpoint to my mom's constant, cloistered, cloying over-involvement with me and everyone else. You know, the longer I write the weirder this feels. It's like the last twenty-six years have telescoped into about twenty-six minutes. But look what time has wrought. Our fathers are old and wounded. Our mothers are gone, mine to dust and yours into thin air. And it's just us left standing Oh, Lilly. Can we move past the past and stand together again? Do you remember my mother getting into a certain mood, when she'd get that spacey look on her face and intone in a super-quiet voice that was scarier than a whisper, "Don't look back, girls. It might look back at you." It always freaked us out. I never knew what it was supposed to mean. Or why she'd say such a thing to us. To me. Especially when I was so young. Now that she's gone, I can't help but wonder: was it a warning? God, Lilly, everything always comes back to my mother. But I can't start that again, not now. Please write to me. It would mean so much to hear from you. Val


Lilly, I can't believe I didn't tell you this before. I've slowly been going through all of Mom's possessions (which has been very painful, but that's another story). Anyway, among her many things I found a gorgeous flowered hat box-filled with your Recipe Club letters to me! Remember? They date all the way back to the beginning, when we were about ten years old. They were just as I had left them-a little yellower and crunchier for age, but still organized (even in the infancy of my anal-compulsive style) in chronological order, wrapped neatly in blue and white satin ribbons. Glancing at the postmarks makes me think that a bunch may have gone AWOL. Perhaps they're in a box I haven't yet uncovered. I've been reading them, laughing and crying. I realize now that they were truly my first love letters. You, dear Lilly, were the first friend I ever loved, and who loved me back, and whom I continue to love even after all this time apart. I just had to tell you that I found them. Just like I found you. XXX V.

JULY 22, 1963

Dear Val, Guess what? Daddy can drive me to your house. In two weeks! I think he misses your parents as much as I miss you, and that's a lot. But Mommy won't come. She says to tell you sorry. She has a new show. Don't worry about not knowing anybody yet. You always have me.

I wish I was your sister, too. Here is the recipe for the chocolate icebox cake you love. You have to leave it in the fridge overnight. It serves ten, unless Ben gets to it, and then it only serves him! Love, Lilly


Icebox Cake


2 cups heavy cream 3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 35 chocolate wafer cookies 3 tablespoons semisweet chocolate bits

1. In a large bowl, beat heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla at medium speed until stiff peaks form.

2. On one side of 6 chocolate wafers, spread about 2 heaping teaspoons whipped cream. Place them on top of each other to make a stack. Top the stack with a plain wafer. Continue making stacks like this until all the wafers are used. Turn each stack on its side. Place stacks side by side to make a big log on a plate. Frost log with the remaining whipped cream. Sprinkle with the chocolate bits. Cover and refrigerate at least 5 hours or overnight.


Believe it or not, I have almost all of the Recipe Club letters you wrote to me, too! Mine were tossed into a cardboard box that is now mildewed and falling apart (unlike your neat and tidy system ... therein lies the difference between you and me, right?!). But the main thing is that we both kept them. And that tells me something important: we were always holding onto our friendship, despite what happened.

It's funny to hear you say such reverential things about my morn, the horrific battles between my parents, etc. I don't think you ever realized how terribly embarrassed I was that they fought the way they did.

I remember one time when you slept over, and they started going at it after an endless night of boozing. You sat up in bed, with your legs hanging over the edge, and said, "Lilly, don't worry." That's it. Just those few words. You came over and kissed my forehead. I remember feeling so loved. And then, the next morning at breakfast, you never said a word about their bizarre behavior. You never made me feel weird. I knew that you understood what went on and you weren't judging any of us for it. You taught me the foundation of trust. Was I there for you that way, too? I fear I wasn't. (After all, I come from the King and Queen of Narcissists. Who's to say that I didn't inherit their talent for self-absorption?)

So, enough about me ... what do you think about me? (Just kidding....) In truth, a lot has happened to your old friend since our fight. I went on tour with my cabaret act. I had some success, especially in San Francisco. The Chronicle said I sang a stellar rendition of Harold Arlen's "Blow Ill Wind." (I will admit, it's a song made for me. Nobody does it better.) I fell in love. (And nobody does that worse.) It lasted for all of three months. Yes, she was a singer. (Does the gender thing still bother you? I hope not. I always thought you had trouble understanding my need to love both women and men. Especially in college, when I first fell in love. You were so jealous! Did you feel I was deserting our friendship?)

Fast-forward to the present: I've stopped singing and started catering. Food seems to always be my fallback. As for love, after various meaningless men and women, one day last year I met Bertram. We've been together, off and on, ever since. He restores furniture: hand caning for old chairs. And let me tell you, those hands can work wonders in other ways, too! The thing is, he's married. (I know, I know, what else is new?) Sometimes I think I suffer from a family curse on my mother's side. Always in search of the unobtainable. Always craving something around the corner, just out of sight.

Okay ... so, life goes on. Let me know how you are. Hang in there.



Excerpted from The Recipe Club by ANDREA ISRAEL NANCY GARFINKEL Copyright © 2009 by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Lynne Rossetto Kasper
"Food and love without the schmaltz and warm fuzzies is what kept me turning the pages of this book. Yes, there are recipes, nostalgic and good ones, but the fascination is in how they mark the years of a childhood friendship struggling to become a life long one. If you're lucky enough to have that one true best friend, you'll find all the love, prickliness, laughter, blood curdling honesty, and joy here."--(Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of The Splendid Table®, public radio's food show from American Public Media)
Bob Woodruff
"I've been to many combat zones, so I kn ow a real fight when I see one-and the characters in this book pull no punches. But what surprised me is how their conflict is just as engaging as their crazy humor and deep affection for each other. This book perfectly combines my two favorite things in the world: fiction and food. It's a great read."--(Bob Woodruff, ABC News anchor and journalist)
Isaiah Sheffer
"THE RECIPE CLUB is an extraordinary culinary fiction creation-a main dish consisting of a tender and poignant tale of love and friendship, served up with tasty sides of wonderful recipes. This is more than comfort food, it's haute literary cuisine."--(Isaiah Sheffer, host of National Public Radio's Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story)
Tanya Steel
"This moving story, about two close friends connecting and reconnecting through food and cooking, contains on e of my favorite lines written to date: 'So, how do you fix a broken heart? Maybe with ricotta cheese.'"--(Tanya Steel, editor-in-chief of and co-author of Real Food for Healthy Kids)
Giulia Melucci
"I found elements of every one of my own friendships in the 40-year relationship between Lilly and Val, the heroines of this delicious and delightful novel. I also discovered heaps of recipes that I can't wait to try out. Authors Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel bring to life the joys as well as the disappointments inherent in attachments between women, and the power of food to sustain intimacy when those bonds are strained. I nodded in recognition as I hungrily devoured this satisfying and surprising story."--(Giulia Melucci, author of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti)

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Recipe Club 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
LondonGirl1 More than 1 year ago
Lilly and Val are best friends. They are the typical pairing of friends, as one is dramatic and charismatic, while the other is her other half to include shyness and a lacking of self confidence. The two friends started a letter writing habit at a young age and decided they would call it their Recipe Club and have a recipe included with each letter they wrote to each other. The letters chronicle the happenings in the lives of each girl with a recipe that often has a name derived from that event. Such names include Good Karma Veggie Samosa and Apple and Pear Friendship Fool, with the book containing 80 recipes. Overall, I liked the book. However, it seemed at times the characters were annoying and you wanted to tell them to stop bickering. The characters seemed more enemies than friends for most of the book and the ending didn't seem to fit well with the the overall concept of what had taken place during their lives. I think I would have liked the characters to have more depth so that the reader could have a better connection with them.
Nicole309 More than 1 year ago
I was very disappointed with all the good ratings for this book. It reminds me of something I would have read in Junior High. It was not just the subject matter, but the predictable plot that did not grab me at all. I'm not sure why so many rated this so well. It was not for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was disappointing on many levels.  First, don't read it for the recipes as they are (overwhelmingly) old ones that have been around forever.  Then, I expected the "voice" of the main characters to change as they grew older (as they should have, especially in the adult e-mails) but that never happened.  The family dynamics that ended up being revealed were just weird.  Finally, after much conflict between the two adults the problems are miraculously resolved, without any real explanation.  Bottom line:  don't bother with this book unless you are stuck without anything to read!  
RaeDS More than 1 year ago
The recipes brought back good family memories for me. The story line was a little drawn out but still a good read.
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This is a good book for someone who wants a quick read with a bit of substance. An interesting look at childhood friendship and what makes a friend.
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