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December 9, 2009

Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel: A Book that Keeps on Cooking

Posted by webmaster
Author duo Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel teamed up to write The Recipe Club, a "novel cookbook" that combines a story of friendship with more than 80 recipes. In today's guest blog post, they tell us how they came to write The Recipe Club and how it's inspiring readers long after they finish the tale.

Oh, the things you learn when you write a book! When we put the final period on the last sentence of The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship, we knew we had tapped into something even bigger than the 364 pages of our novel-cookbook.

Suddenly we were hearing from people who were relating not only to the story and characters in the book, but who wanted to share their own food stories. Very quickly we discovered there are inextricable connections that exist between the food and our deepest emotions. And to our delight, we realized that we had stirred the embers of a yearning many readers have to connect, to reflect, and to create community.

A Twinkle in the Eye of Friendship

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before we explain what happened after our book was published, we'll tell you a little about how it came to be.

Though the book is in no way autobiographical, it was born out of our friendship. When we began to write it, we were both aspiring fiction writers who wanted to explore the complexities of women’s friendships. Though we hoped that one day the book would be published, we initially wrote it for ourselves just because it was pure joy to share a creative process with a close friend.

The novel's story charts the ups and downs of a lifelong friendship between Lilly and Val.

Lilly, dramatic and confident, lives in the shadow of her beautiful, wayward mother and craves the attention of her distant, disapproving father. Val, shy, idealistic --- and surprisingly ambitious --- struggles with her desire to break free from her demanding, housebound mother and a father whose dreams never seem to come true.

Despite their bumpy relationship, "LillyPad" and "ValPal" stay connected by forming an exclusive, two-person Recipe Club, writing intimate letters in which they share hopes, fears, deepest secrets--and recipes, from Lilly's "Lovelorn Lasagna" to Valerie's "Forgiveness Tapenade." Readers can cook along as the friends travel through time facing the challenges of independence, the joys and heartbreaks of first love and the emotional complexities of family relationships, identity, mortality and dreams deferred.

The Recipe Club sustains Lilly and Val's bond through the decades, regardless of what different paths they take or what misunderstandings threaten to break them apart...until one fateful day when an act of kindness becomes an unforgivable betrayal. Years later, while trying to recapture the trust they've lost, Lilly and Val reunite once more --- only to uncover a shocking secret. Will it destroy their friendship or bring them ever closer?

With this plot in the background, we needed to create a narrative pastiche to reflect the book's dual (novel/cookbook) purpose. So we told Lilly and Val's story using emails between the adult characters, childhood letters, and a third-person narrative to open (and close) it all up. Then we added hand-drawn illustrations and bespoke recipe designs that reflect the characters' ages, personalities and emotional states.

The Book Leaves the Nest

It was our greatest hope that readers would embrace the characters and concept of a novel-cookbook, and we are extremely pleased by how well-received it has been (kind of how parents are proud when their children are accepted and even praised). But the truth is, we never imagined what would happen after The Recipe Club found its way into the world.

Once the book was out, readers began asking us to help run their own, real-life Recipe Clubs. So now we're creating story-telling circles in which small groups gather to exchange food-related memories and the recipes that go along with them.

The stories we're hearing from coast to coast are about anything and everything: food and family, food and joy, food and anger, love, travel, creativity,'s limitless. Whatever the subject, each story has a deep and resonant emotional component. One woman's memory about smashing a baked Alaska (as it was about to be served to an undeserving suitor) was really a tale of unrequited love and seizing back personal power. Another woman remembered pretending to be sick at school in order to be taken home by a beloved aunt, knowing she’d be fed a delicious home-cooked lunch; her story was about craving the comfort and safety of family. You can see some of our Recipe Clubs in action:

Every Recipe Club story is different. But all share a hunger for connecting to memory, to other people, and to self-understanding. That's essentially true of our novel, as well. We're thrilled our book has inspired something so positive and life-affirming! And we're happy to know that a novel cookbook we once wrote only for ourselves now has an energy and life that continues long after the last sentence is read and the final recipe is made.

---Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel