The Recipe Club
A Novel About Food and Friendship
“Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel have written an absorbing novel that reflects the wisdom of MFK Fisher, namely that there is no separating food and dining from family and friends. . . . A satisfying meal for both body and soul. — Sara Moulton
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 eighty delicious recipes.
Lifelong friends Lilly and Val are united as much by their differences as by their similarities. 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." The Recipe Club sustains Lilly and Val's bond across the decades: through the challenges of independence, the joys and heartbreaks of first love, and the emotional complexities of family relationships, identity, mortality, and goals deferred—until the fateful day when an act of kindness becomes an unforgivable betrayal.
Praise For The Recipe Club: A Novel About Food and Friendship…
“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 Rosetto Kasper, host of The Splendid Table, National Public Radio
“I’ve been to many combat zones, so I know a real fight when I see one—and the characters in this book pull no punches. But what surprised me is how their confluct 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
“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. 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. The Recipe Club had me nodding in recognition as I hungrily devoured this satisfying and surprising story.”
— Giulia Melucci, author of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti
“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 Selected Shorts, National Public Radio
“Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel have written an absorbing novel that reflects the wisdom of MFK Fisher, namely that there is no separating food and dining from family and friends. . . . A satisfying meal for both body and soul.”
— Sara Moulton, host of Sara’s Weeknight Meals and executive chef, Gourmet magazine
Harper Perennial, 9780061992292, 352pp.
Publication Date: September 21, 2010
About 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.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Much of The Recipe Club is written in a series of letters and emails. Why do you think the authors chose this format to tell their story?
- Contrast Lilly and Val. What elements made them friends? What did they admire in each other? What didn't they like? How did their perceptions of themselves and each other influence the choices they made? Were you drawn to one woman more than the other?
- What did The Recipe Club mean to Lilly and Val? What might their lives have been like without it?
- Discuss the girls' parents and their home life growing up. What were the girls' relationships like with their parents? How did the parents' behavior influence their bond?
- As an adult, Val claims that her friendship with Lilly "has made me who I am." Does friendship truly have the power to shape us—and change us? How did their Val and Lilly's friendship make then who they were?
- How much loyalty do we owe friends? How much do we owe it to ourselves to be true to what we want, even if it causes pain to those we love? How do these questions affect Lilly and Val's relationship?
- Is it realistic to maintain a life-long friendship? What must friends do to keep a commitment strong as lives change and years pass?
- Do you think Val betrayed Lilly all those years ago—or did she truly have her friend's best interest at heart? Argue the question from both sides.
- Once they became estranged, why was it so difficult for either Val or Lilly to reach out to the other for reconciliation? When Val finally gets in touch with Lilly, she tells her, "The only way I can make sense of what happened between us is to believe that perhaps we needed that terrible fight." Do you agree with her assessment? Do some relationships need a break to make them stronger?
- Val admits to Lilly that she was jealous of the way she lived her life. "You always knew exactly what you wanted, and went after whatever it was. You breezed so easily past all cultural norms, as if they simply didn't matter, while all I ever wanted was a feeling of fitting in, of belonging." Do you think Val is accurate in her perceptions? As children, which one do you think was the outsider—and which fit in?
- Along with friendship, food is central to the novel. Many people have emotional bonds with food. How are these bond fostered and what can they mean for our lives? What role does food play in your life? Do you have any special meals that remind you of particular events in your life? What were some of Val and Lilly's favorites?
- Val tells Lilly that she has a song she sings for every meal she makes. What songs would you choose for your favorite foods?
- Were you surprised by Isaac's revelation at the end? How did this news change Lilly and Val's perception of each other and their relationship? How might their relationship have been different if they'd known the truth earlier?
- Did you try any of the recipes from the book? Do you have a new favorite? Have you ever swapped recipes with a friend? What is the significance of sharing recipes between friends, family, neighbors?
- What does friendship mean to you? Is there a good friend you have now—or someone you've lost touch with that you wish you could connect with again? Share some stories with your group.