I assess our new local heritage pork supply in the freezer, fresh kohlrabi stored in the basement, refrigerator potatoes stashed in a cool closet. Between cookbooks, a messy stack of clipped recipes and and online cooking sites, I select a menu and plan out a timetable. Fresh ham roast with maple syrup and balsamic sauce, cranberry walnut slaw, mashed sweet potatoes and regular potatoes with herbs, topped off with a flourless almond chocolate torte accompanied by maple ice cream. All homemade, with most ingredients grown right here in Fillmore County.
Oh yeah, I also finished reading the assigned book. Books may be the core reason for folks to gather for discussion in bookclubs, but everyone knows the food and beverages often take center stage, at least they do for our gang. Our book is about local people, by a local author, thus the theme for our meal is local food.
More than five million Americans are thought to be in reading clubs, not counting online clubs. All book clubs are different. Some are co-ed or comprised of couples, while many are all men or all women. Some meet in public places, but most take turns hosting in members’ homes. Some members listen to audiobooks, others read on a device, but most of us still like the feel of a real book in our hands.
Choosing the right books is important. A theme may be selected for the entire year, or Oprah’s book choice might be followed, while others select books by voting, or taking turns selecting the next book. I’m sure for every book club, the most important thing is that your friends don’t hate the book you chose, and thereby blame you for wasting hours of their life reading it. One time, one of our members bought The Room instead of Room, books by two different authors—and then convinced us all to read the mistaken book for our next meeting. Both were strange yet memorable reads.
Interestingly, it seems nearly all book clubbers have an open mind when books are assigned. We like to be drawn away now and then from our typical novels into non-fiction, or from raging best-sellers back to the classics. Sometimes we are unanimous in our love or criticism of a book, while at other times opposing reactions spark the best discussions.
On the all-important food aspect, desserts and alcoholic beverages are common, while some do light meals or potlucks. Our group of eight is unanimous in our love of food and cooking, so we tend to linger over long meals.
Our book club is coming up on 12 years old. The membership is unchanged, and it is a wonder to think that we have read 70 books together over these years. My sister-in-law has belonged to her club for 36 years!
Our book this month is an ode to all things local. John Weiss, a recently retired Rochester Post Bulletin journalist, published Back Roads, a collection of the best of his columns. Each is a brief dip into the lives of people who live here amongst the rural roads, rivers, hills and bluffs of southeast Minnesota. We met some old friends and discovered many new stories about the unique history and lifestyles of local people in our small towns and countryside.
Mashed Sweet and Russet Potatoes with Herbs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with one rack in center and one near the bottom to catch juices.
Put 4 garlic cloves, uneeled, in a small piece of foil, drizzle with oil and seal into a packet. Scrub but do not peel a pound of sweet potatoes and a pound of russet potatoes, pricked with a fork. Place garlic and potatoes on the center rack and bake for 20 minutes, then flip over, and continue baking until very tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Russet potatoes may need a little longer to get soft. Remove from oven and let cool five minutes.
Peel cooked potatoes and pass through a ricer or a food mill into a bowl. Squeeze garlic from skins into the bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon butter, 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley and sage, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Stir in 1/2 cup cream or plain yogurt and serve.
This Martha Stewart recipe is easy to make and looks beautiful. You can make it ahead, cover the bowl with foil and chill, and then warm it in a 200 degree oven. Serves four.