“I always read the last page of a book first so that if I die before I finish I'll know how it turned out” ~ Billy Crystal to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally
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Until recently, a brief history of my involvement in book clubs:
1. Host a get-together with a girlfriend, letting the conversation wander from life to work to dreams of the future to books we've heard about. Get interrupted by a teenager who's headed where for the evening? Forget the conversation entirely
2. Respond to your girlfriend's email a few days later. “This is awful, but tell me again. What was the book that you mentioned? And you know, we should really start a book club!”
3. Pull into your friend's drive at 7 pm on a Thursday, with a pug and a plate of freshly baked cookies in the passenger seat.
4. Realize you forgot the book
5. Realize she forgot to order the book
6. Realize everyone else you invited have canceled
7. Eat your weight in cookies and catch up on life's happenings
8. Stick to your weekly lunch date instead
Six months ago, in my long-standing quest to build community, I decided to try again. I printed flyers and put one up on each floor of our building
“We're starting a book club and would love for you to come!”
— — —
Turns out, one of the greatest rewards of starting a book club is hearing from other book clubbers.
Those who’ve made it work and rally once a month, over a tall glass of Cabernet and historical fiction. Those with bursting schedules and towering responsibilities who still reach over to the nightstand, night after night, and crack open a spine (or two).
Slowly, but surely, we've built a pretty great one, and I'm finally discovering answers to the questions that have eluded me for the longest time. What does a successful book club look like? Does everyone remember the book? Remember to read? Remember the cookies?
It's the first Sunday of the month, a little before 3 pm, and I wait for the elevator, my book in hand
(Someone else had dibs on the snacks)
Pretty soon, men and women alike are trickling through the door, chatting wildly about life, the book, and everything in-between. Eventually, we refill our glasses of wine, snack on something tasty, and settle into some semblance of a discussion. Because a book club isn’t only about books, is it?
It’s about stories.
The ones we read, the ones we live.
The ones we share
A couple of weeks ago, in an effort to expand beyond our immediate circle, I created a Meetup group in the Des Moines area. Now that we're going to have some newcomers(!) I met with a couple of other book clubbers to think through how to keep the essence of this little community we've come to love.
We formalized a process for hosting and picking books. There was brainstorming about discussion prompts and thought-starters. But at the top of my page of notes, this:
Pick a date and write it on your calendar, in pen only. Resist the urge, no matter how strong, to cancel the day prior. Bring wine. Pumpkin bars (or cookies) for extra credit, but popcorn or Pubmix is just as great. Talk about good movies you've seen and funny stories from the week. Then, stop. Shift. Offer permission to talk about yourself and discover something unexpected in an answer. Ask questions, of yourself and others.
Be open. Be a good listener. Be kind, be kind, be kind
— — —
Our latest pick is Kindest Regards, a book of poetry by Ted Kooser. One that reminds me time and time again of these golden rules of life. The simplicity of it all, the deeply-held roots of humanity that are easily forgotten amidst trips to the grocery and the endless loads of laundry.
We've each promised to pick a favorite poem to talk about with the group.
I've been up since before the sun this morning. I pick up our book, snuggle in on the sofa, and watch headlights in the distance as they try to find their way through the darkness. Overnight, the first measurable snowfall of the season. I open to one from his 2014 collection, “Splitting an Order.”
An elderly couple shares a restaurant sandwich; the husband carefully halving the meal and extending a portion to his wife
“.. while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon, her knife, and her form in their proper places, then smooths the starched white napkin over her knees and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.”
It's such a beautiful scene
I refill my water glass, nibble on a cookie, and wonder which poems everyone else will choose. Knowing in the end, it's only us, our words, and our stories.
The ones we read, the ones we live.
The ones we'll share
As far as cookies go, this is a good one. Thick and fudgy inside, with a slightly crispy bottom, and a hint of toffee from the caramelization of marshmallows. The dough is less sweet than you might expect, allowing the chocolate and flavors from mix-ins to shine.
The combination of chocolate, marshmallows, and nuts is hard to beat.
A couple of notes:
The dough spreads very little in the oven and holds its shape so well that you can make them any size or thickness you'd like. If you happen to cut your cookie slices too thick, you may want to flatten them a bit a couple of minutes after they've started baking.
As with most cookies, these are easy to bake to order. The dough freezes well. Bake off as many as you want, then double-bag and freeze the left-over. You can bake these straight out of the freezer, but you'll want to tack on a few minutes of extra baking time.
The recipe calls for date paste. I buy mine at our local Middle Eastern Grocery store, although you can easily make it on your own.
~ Adapted from Sweet Laurel
Rocky Road Cookies
- ⅔ cup date paste
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ⅓ cup coconut oil, melted but not hot
- 1 Tbsp vanilla
- 2 cups almond flour
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- ¼ cup cocoa powder (sweetened or unsweetened)
- ⅓ cup arrowroot powder
- ⅔ cup roughly chopped marshmallows
- ⅔ cup roughly chopped walnuts
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- Preheat oven to 350° F and line baking sheets with parchment
- To the bowl of your food processor, add the date paste, maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla. Pulse until blended
- In a bowl, whisk together the almond flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa, and arrowroot powders.
- Slowly, add the dry ingredients to the food processor and pulse until a dough has formed
- Transfer the dough to the bowl you mixed your dry ingredients in, add the marshmallows, walnuts, and ½ cup chocolate chips. Knead them into the dough and gradually form it into a ball.
- Roll the dough ball into a 2 ½" thick log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or until the dough has set.
- When you're ready to bake, cut the dough into ½" slices and place them on the baking sheet about 3" apart (they don't spread much). Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until the edges have fully set. Transfer to a cooling rack
- Melt the remaining ½ cup chocolate chips and tsp coconut oil in a glass bowl either for 20-30 seconds in the microwave or over a pot of boiling water.
- Use a spoon to drizzle the melted chocolate over each cookie. Let the drizzle set a little before serving.