The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendshipby Andrea Israel, Nancy Garfinkel
“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.”
A novel that combines the moving story of a friendship told in letters with more than 80 delicious recipes, The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel (Taking/b>/b>
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“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.”
A novel that combines the moving story of a friendship told in letters with more than 80 delicious recipes, The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel (Taking Tea) and Nancy Garfinkel (The Wine Lover’s Guide to Wine Country) is a wonderful literary banquet. A celebration of female bonding and excellent cooking—with scrumptious dishes developed by New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark—The Recipe Club will satisfy readers who previously devoured The Friday Night Knitting Club, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
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The Recipe ClubA TALE OF FOOD AND FRIENDSHIP
By ANDREA ISRAEL NANCY GARFINKEL
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2009 Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTO: LSTONE@dotnet.com FROM: VRUDMAN@webworld.com DATE: APRIL 6, 2000 SUBJECT: HELLO AGAIN
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
TO: VRUDMAN@webworld.com FROM: LSTONE@dotnet.com DATE: APRIL 7, 2000 SUBJECT: RE: HELLO AGAIN
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
TO: VRUDMAN@webworld.com FROM: LSTONE@dotnet.com DATE: APRIL 7, 2000 SUBJECT: A THOUSAND PARDONS!
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.
TO: LSTONE@dotnet.com FROM: VRUDMAN@webworld.com DATE: APRIL 10, 2000 SUBJECT: WHERE SHALL WE BEGIN?
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
TO: LSTONE@dotnet.com FROM: VRUDMAN@webworld.com DATE: APRIL 10, 2000 SUBJECT: WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?
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
TO: VRUDMAN@webworld.com FROM: LSTONE@dotnet.com DATE: APRIL 12, 2000 SUBJECT: RE: WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME
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
TO: LSTONE@dotnet.com FROM: VRUDMAN@webworld.com DATE: APRIL 15, 2000 SUBJECT: THIS IS SO WEIRD!
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
TO: LSTONE@dotnet.com FROM: VRUDMAN@webworld.com DATE: APRIL 15, 2000 SUBJECT: I FORGOT TO TELL YOU SOMETHING ...
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
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.
TO: VRUDMAN@webworld.com FROM: LSTONE@dotnet.com DATE: APRIL 20, 2000 SUBJECT: LETTERS AND MOTHERS
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.
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Meet the Author
Andrea Israel is an Emmy Award-winning television producer and writer and the author of Taking Tea.
Nancy Garfinkel is an award-winning writer, design consultant, creative strategist, and editor, and co-author of The Wine Lover's Guide to the Wine Country.
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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.
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.
"The Recipe Club" is an engaging, unique novel/cookbook that celebrates the power of women's friendships. It tells the story of childhood friends, Lilly and Valerie, who each have very distinct personalities and live vastly different lives. Separated by distance, they begin exchanging intimate letters, with a recipe included that reflects the events in their lives. Both sets of parents complicate matters for the two. During their college years, an argument leads to an estrangement, which lasts for 26 years. In the end, a secret changes their lives forever. This compelling book is a totally different type of reading experience that kept me turning the pages. The story is creatively told through the two friends' letters, drawings, e-mails, and also a narrator. This allowed me to feel and experience their lives right along with them. I learned about each girl's family and enjoyed watching their friendship evolve. There are more than 80 tantalizing recipes cleverly woven throughout the story. I truly enjoyed reading this entertaining book and look forward to trying some of the recipes. I definitely recommend it for everyone, especially fiction/cookbook lovers!
By about page 20 or 25, this book had grabbed me and wouldn't let go. At first, it seemed a simple story about old friends who had long ago lost touch and regained it at a time of sorrow for one via e-mail. But the hints were there that there was so much more to it than that. The two women (about 25 years later, after some bizarre "incident" that parted them) began to communicate again. They were careful, but glad to re-connect, yet they bickered, cautiously moved forward, bickered some more, argued, made up---all via the e-mails. Their communications began to move back and forth between these adult e-mails and old letters from their childhood and youth that both had kept and they finally re-read. The plot unfolds via the earlier letters and grows to a flourish as the end of the earlier friendship explodes. Along the way, we learn that The Recipe Club was a two-girl club they created in which they would write long letters about their thoughts and feelings and include each time a recipe. They had once gone to the same school, but ended up living far enough apart in the NYC area that long public transport rides were required to see each other. So the letters became their glue. Their families also had an odd and secret connection, and occasional get-togethers, which the girls accepted but did not understand. The girls had very different personalities and lifestyles and both admired and disdained what the other had. They learned from each other, but would never be much alike. They didn't seem natural friends, yet the connection between them was oddly very strong. When family issues came to an strange and volatile head (in their youth), one they still don't understand, they came apart, became angry and took off in their own directions. The gap of many, many years ends with the death of a parent. Then the e-mails begin and tell the story of their adult lives, their former feelings, friendship, suspicions, jealousies and pull the mystery together with a wild flourish. And another explosion and parting. It all becomes clear in the end and the mystery is solved with high drama and emotion and.....I won't spoil the end. But as this bizarre story unfolds, I could not stop reading. At every point I thought I should stop, I would decide to read one more letter or e-mail, and then another, until I had read much farther ahead. And then the book ended and I missed reading it immediately. It's a great, riveting story told engagingly and dramatically all via the letters and e-mails---a unique method that actually works far better than I had expected.
This was a very interesting book, as it is told almost entirely through the two friend's correspondence. Part One starts off the book with the two friends trying to reconnect via email after 26 years apart. Then Part Two goes back to their early friendship and the start of their Recipe Club, where they exchange recipes along with their letters. It takes us all the way up to their big argument which ends the friendship, then we come back to the present with Part Three, which takes place 2 years after Part One. It's not confusing at all, honest! Despite being mostly restricted to letters and emails, we still get to know Val and Lilly and watch their friendship evolve as the girls get older. Both sets of parents play a large role in shaping the girls and their friendship, and I liked the extra touch of having the girl's letters go from a child's scrawl on notebook paper to more grown-up stationary as the girls get older. Same thing with the included recipes. Parts One and Two are strictly emails and letters, but Part Three is a combination of traditional storytelling and emails. Thought the authors handled the transition very well, as I don't see how Part Three could have been told only through emails. All in all, thought they did a great job with the entire book! Gave this book a 4/5 rating as it had a good plot, the use of emails and letters was very well executed, and the writing and characters were also well done. Also liked the recipes sprinkled throughout the book, and have earmarked a few to try. There's even a recipe index at the back, which I thought was another nice touch! I enjoyed reading this original book and look forward to reading more from these two talented ladies!
This heartwarming book was so creative and fun to read. It begins as emails going back and forth through two former friends. We can tell there is some tension and you immediately want to know why. The book then flashes backwards to the childhood of these friends, through Pen Pal type letters. The letters dont tell you everything like a book does. You never are privy to what happens between each letter or when the girls are together unless they write about it to each other. With the letters they send each other recipes. Some of them are easy and quick to make and others become more complicated and experimental. You get to grow up with Lilly and Val, experience love, loss and fun. After the misunderstand separates them, the book transforms into a typical fashion, giving the reader a bit more focus into the life of the two women. It then ends full circle with emails. I found this approach so interesting. If you are anything like me the story will engross you and you will need to clear your schedule to read this book in one sitting.
Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel's new book, The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship is the smart women's book we've been waiting for. It begins with a series of emails, letters and recipes between Val and Lilly. We learn about these two friends and the power of friendship and food to enrich and nourish us. They work through issues of trust, love, anger and betrayal. You will see yourself and at least one or more of your own friends in these two women. The book will engage you from the first page. Without realizing, I completed it straight through in one sitting. The book cover, recipes, quirky drawings- all are just lovely and inviting. I have already recommended this book to many friends - to those who relish a smart and honest book about real relationships.
Valerie "Valpal" Rudman and Lilly "Lillypad" Stone are like close sisters who are totally opposites. They became BFFs forever when they formed the Recipe Club when they were ten years old pen pals; as each letter required a recipe be included. Lilly is a classic extrovert hoping to make it as a singer; Valerie is the centerfold of introvert studying diligently to become a doctor. Over the years they remained friends through all types of family crisis until one incident devastated their friendship. Over a quarter of a century pass with neither communicating with the other until Val's mom dies from cancer and she sends Dear Lilly an email while Lilly's mom Katherine the Great ran away. As they near fifty, Valerie and Lilly write to one another like they used to only using email. Both are stunned with what they learn that could split them apart again. Using email letters to tell the tale of two women and their families, The Recipe Club is a strong character driven drama. The lead duet comes alive through their correspondence and provides enough insight into the support, mostly relatives, to enhance the loving relationship between BFFs. Although gimmicky with the mouth watering aptly titled recipes leading each chapter, fans will enjoy this fine story of friendship. Harriet Klausner