Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Survive Book Club and Throw a Great Depression party

I belong to a book club and it still astonishes me.  When my friend, Katie, invited me to join her book club a few years ago I said, "I would love to, but I don't read.  Thanks for thinking of me though."  Thankfully she encouraged me to come anyway, assuring me that not everyone reads the books every time.  I discovered that although many of the ladies do read the books, this was the most amazing group of women and I felt so blessed to have been invited to be a part of something so enriching.  Book or no book, I learn something new from these women every time we get together.  And, low and behold, I started reading.  I was quickly reminded however as to why I don't read.  My reading time starts after I've crawled in to bed for the night and it ends about two pages later when I fall asleep.  At this pace I would get through a book a year and I would have to go back and review periodically what I had already read, as I would start to forget the beginning.  So, I became an audiobook listener and it has forever changed my life.  I can now keep up with the fastest of readers and have shocked myself to be one of the members in the group who routinely finishes the book.  For you audiobook naysayers...you know who you are (E.I.S.)...don't knock it til you've tried it.  And, if you've tried it and still knock it, then, well, what can I say...it works for me.

As part of our monthly Book Club we all take turns hosting and the host gets to pick the book for her month.  I volunteered for November and the book I chose was "Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles.  It is set in 1930's-1940's and was a great read (by "read", I mean "listen").  I like to use my host months as an outlet for making lots of fun food to share with friends.  With our meeting date being just after Thanksgiving I was trying to build a menu around that...but I was having a hard time.  It just wasn't coming together and I figured no one really wanted to eat my Thanksgiving leftovers.  Finally a lightbulb went on and I decided to do a Depression Era cocktail party in honor of our book.  "Depression Era cocktail party" seems a bit like an oxymoron, but the truth is despite the devastation to so many, there was still a high society who had plenty of reason to drink more Gin.

I had a great time researching menus and foods from that time period.  I was astonished to see how many foods we are so familiar with were actually invented during the 30's & 40's.  The processed food era began much earlier than I realized...much to my chagrin.  I found The Food Timeline particularly educational and helpful in my planning.  And, believe it or not, there is a Great Depression Theme Party planning site out there.  Who'da thunk?

Now that I had some great ideas I got to work washing my grandmother's depression glass and polishing her silver serving ware.  I was admittedly nervous about actually using, and risking damaging, my precious crystal and glass antiques, but what good are they sitting on a shelf?  I'm sure  they were beaming with pride and smiling on the inside to be sparkling clean and being used in the way they were intended.  (Images of Disney's Beauty & the Beast now dancing in my head) I set the stage in our formal dining room complete with a lace table cloth, a side bar for classic Gin Martinis, and my iPod queued up with a couple of hours worth of Big Band music.  I even donned one of my favorite vintage 1940's dresses for the night.  It was shaping up to be a fun evening.

So what of my menu?  Well, here it is including links to the recipes I used.
Chicken Liver Pate (from B.A. Foodist)
Deviled Sardines
Deviled Ham spread (from Umami Girl)
Sherry Cheddar spread
Blue Cheese-Caramelized Shallot spread (made with Hook's Blue Cheese)
Apple-Salami Porcupine
Salmon & Caviar Finger Sandwiches (I made mine as open faced toasts)
Stella's Russian Black Bread & White Bread toasts
Assortment of Crackers
Assortment of olives stuffed with Hook's Blue Cheese, garlic, and pimentos
Death's Door Gin for our martinis
Maple Meringues (from Simply Sifted)
Gingerbread Cake  (see my Gingerbread post for my variations)

The food and drink was a hit and everyone had a good time.  We had a fruitful discussion of the book and our impressions of the lives of women of the time.  One such discussion was the idea of dressing your best no matter what you were doing.  The timeless vision of women from the 50's vacuuming in their heels and pearls.  Our grandmothers refusing to leave the house without lipstick.  Meanwhile, look how we've evolved.  Without intending to be superficial, I believe it's true that how you look on the outside effects how you feel on the inside.  This became ever more apparent to me as I was cleaning up after the party still in my swanky dress and heels.  I did have a soft buzz from the gin, but there was a new swagger in my step.  A kind of, hmmm, I feel kind of feminine and sexy, even though I'm picking up dirty dishes and packing away uneaten food.  Before the real dirty work began I doffed the dress and donned my fleece.  With the dress and heels went my swagger.  Not feeling so feminine and sexy in my baggy pj's.  Maybe there was something to all of the fuss of creating a beautiful and put together exterior, no matter what.  Although oppressive in some regards, I think my grandmother may have been channeling me for a moment to show me the unspoken possibilities the women of the time experienced.

One final thing to share with you is the book within the book.  George Washington's "Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation" is referenced and even read through in this novel.  It is worth your time to look it over.  I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned and reminded of.  Our world could use more of this.  Just a few more things I have learned from belonging to my book club.

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