By Camille Styles, author of Camille Styles Entertaining
- Host a themed potluck. My own book club has grown to a pretty sizable number, and making dinner for such a crowd can be intimidating even for the most seasoned hosts. Recently we turned ours into a potluck, with the theme determined by our current reading selection. If you’re reading The Help, a buffet of Southern favorites with collard greens and sweet tea would be fun; for The Paris Wife think croques monsieurs and macarons. We organize what everyone’s bringing (and make sure there’s not any overlap) by asking members to sign up for a side, main, dessert, or drink using a Doodle poll. Easy breezy!
- Take it outdoors. Sometimes, there’s nothing like a change in scenery to shake up the routine and make a get-together feel really special. Embrace the changing seasons by packing up a picnic with your club and heading to the great outdoors. If the weather’s chilly, bring cozy blankets and thermoses of soup and hot cocoa. Cheddar, Fig & Caramelized Onion Sandwiches wrapped in parchment, and Israeli Couscous Tabbouleh packed in mason jars (both recipes from my book) would round out the menu perfectly.
- Mix up a specialty drink. Make it feel like a party (and surprise your guests!) by mixing up a themed-out drink inspired by your club’s current reading selection. It doesn’t have to be difficult; some of my favorite cocktails call for only 3 ingredients, and can be mixed up in a pitcher or punch bowl well before guests arrive! If The Great Gatsby is the topic of conversation, why not greet guests at the door with a Manhattan in hand? If you’re reading The Lowland, transport your club to India by pouring cups of steaming hot Masala Chai.
- Create a hashtag. Book clubs can be a great way to form lasting bonds of friendship and create wonderful memories, and I’ve found that one of the best ways to preserve them is to create a special hashtag for your club that will help you keep in touch between meetings, as well as chronicle snapshots of your time together. Encourage members to share photos from your gatherings using the hashtag on Instagram, and throughout the month, share their thoughts on the current selection with other members via Twitter. Before you know it, you’ll have built a treasure trove of literary reflections, inside jokes, and unforgettable moments that everyone in the group can go back and enjoy.
Enjoy this yummy recipe!
BITS OF BRILLIANCE:
Caramelized onions couldn’t be simpler to make, yet their deep flavor adds a richness that makes any dish downright luxurious. Don’t try to skimp on the cooking time, since the low, slow heat is what brings out all the sweetness. Make a double batch, and keep the extras in a mason jar in the fridge for a delicious accompaniment to grilled chicken.
CHEDDAR, FIG, AND CARAMELIZED ONION SANDWICHES
This sandwich is a total crowd-pleaser, with figs and caramelized onions that are as sweet as candy, melding with the saltiness of really good sharp Cheddar. If you don’t like the chewiness of a baguette, this would be great on slices of toasted multigrain or ciabatta, too. Caramelize the onions the night before the picnic, and in the morning all that’s left to do is assemble the sandwiches and wrap them in parchment paper for transport.
2 tablespoons butter
2 sweet onions, sliced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 French baguette, split horizontally
16 thin slices sharp Cheddar
8 fresh Black Mission figs, trimmed and cut lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick
A few handfuls of baby arugula leaves
Coarse sea salt
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until just tender, about 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the onions are golden, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle the sugar over the onions and sauté 20 more minutes, until the onions are golden brown, reduced, and very sweet. If the pan gets dry, add a little water. (The onions shouldn’t burn at all.) Set aside to cool. (This can be done a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator.)
Spread the caramelized onions in an even layer on the bottom half of the baguette. Top with the Cheddar, fig slices, baby arugula, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Top with the other baguette half, then use a serrated knife to cut the baguette into 8 equal sandwiches.