The Recipe Club

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The King and Us

We started our West coast tour in a regal way: as guests on Seattle’s King 5 Morning News. Although the set was big, the mood was surprisingly intimate. Click here to take a look.

Nancy and Andrea on Seattle’s King 5 Morning News

Nancy and Andrea on Seattle’s King 5 Morning News

All Signings Point to Senility (But in a Good Way…)

Here’s the thing about book tours and book signings: the second someone hands over the book to be signed (usually accompanied by a happy, expectant look, as though something good will come of this), the signer’s brain just goes blank. Like milk on snow blank…just blankety-blank.

Over and over we compensated for this phenomenon by brightly asking, “So who are we making this out to? And how do you spell that? We just want to be sure we get the spelling right.” This is fine when you have never met the person before. It’s a bit more embarrassing when they look at you funny and say, “M-O-M.”

But here’s the other thing about book tours: they give you great insight into who your out-of-town friends are, who your friends’ friends are, and who your absolutely-unknown-to-you readers are likely to be. This is especially true when you’re doing a reading-slash-signing. Then you get to look out into the audience as you read from your book, and see real people responding…crying real tears and laughing at the funny parts. It’s definitely worth the discomfort of forgetting someone’s name halfway through signing their book!

Even the sign says we're going to sign

Even the sign says we're going to sign

Yay, Elliott Bay!

Our warm, attentive, and interested audience made us feel very welcome!

Our warm, attentive, and interested audience made us feel very welcome!

At the venerable Elliott Bay Books, we read to a large and lovely audience and sold out every last copy of The Recipe Club!

Of course, the moment of truth was when we left the store, walked into the dark and wet, wet Seattle night….only to find we were the only people for miles around who were hiding under umbrellas.

Talk about separating the hardy locals from us East coast rubes! They chatted casually in the street as if impervious to raindrops, and we acted like we’re made of sugar. Now that we’re home we’re showering a lot (without umbrellas) to toughen up for our next visit to Soggytown.

Ellen’s Recipe Club

Every Recipe Club is different…and every one is special in its own way. Ellen’s Recipe Club took place in a suburb just outside Seattle, in a warm and welcoming home surrounded by skyscraper-high evergreens.

One look up and out the window and you knew you were in the Pacific Northwest, in all its glory.

One look up and out the window and you knew you were in the Pacific Northwest, in all its glory.

The only thing that could compete with the natural surroundings were the touching, funny, emotional stories shared that afternoon. Here are just three: Ellen’s, Nell’s, and Diane’s.

Ellen’s touching tale proves that sometimes the best Recipe Club story can capture the absolute essence of what food can be about–without actually sharing a real recipe. And Nell’s story and recipe are both simply hilarious, and will be enjoyed by anybody with an extended family and an urge to play with food.

Ellen’s Story: Secrets of the Soup Pot

“My grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia who settled in New York City around 1912. My grandfather, Solomon, was a master fur designer; my grandmother, Ella, whom we called Bubsy, was a meticulous homemaker. During the hard times of the Great Depression–when even the wealthy cut back on their purchases of fur coats–Grandpa Solomon was frequently unemployed. Five days a week he would go out, dressed in a perfectly pressed three-piece suit, to seek employment…and most days he would return home having found none.

Ellen's "Bubsy" proves a positive attitude can feed the soul.

Ellen's 'Bubsy' proves a positive attitude can feed the soul.

“Although there was little money to feed the family, Bubsy made do. She turned potatoes into crisp, delicious, lacy latkes. She transformed vegetable greens into tasty soups. But sometimes there was just…nothing. Nothing in the pantry, and nothing in her purse.

“But Bubsy was a proud woman. And she knew that every Friday afternoon the building yentas would make their nosy rounds into other people’s apartments, checking out what they were serving for Shabbos dinner. So my grandmother would greet the Sabbath by putting a starched apron over a clean dress, filling her soup pot with water, tossing in a handful of fragrant, dried herbs, and dressing it all up with a smile. The neighbors never knew the recipe for her secret soup…until now.”

Bubsy’s Depression-Era Soup


  • 4 cups water
  • 1 pound pride
  • Pinch of humor
  • Dash of dignity
  • Handful of hope
  1. Mix ingredients into boiling water.
  2. Lower flame.
  3. Simmer until nosy neighbor leaves.

Nell’s Story: When the Centerpiece Requires Happy Pills

“I have two sisters: one seven years older, and one seven years younger. Our mom died about ten years ago. She was a waitress in her youth and presentation was always very important to her–from setting the table to the centerpiece. She was a good cook, but her big message was: ‘get your table ready.’

“When we were growing up in Minnesota, high school graduations were really big deals; you basically invite the whole town to your graduation party. So when my older sister’s kids started graduating and having parties, my younger sister and I started this tradition of making spectacular fruit kebab centerpieces. And it has turned into sort of the ‘auntie’ thing because my mom’s gone and this is our contribution to the family in her memory.

“But be warned: these centerpieces are really a labor of love. They take more or less two full days, more than a little patience, and some artistic flair. They’re really about coming together with the people you choose to do this with. So choose carefully…and don’t try doing it with just anybody. You’re probably better off with a sister than a sister-in-law, for example. Or a great friend rather than a good friend. And definitely don’t go off your antidepressants before you start this project–you might kill somebody before it’s done.”

Graduation (or Baby/Wedding Shower) Fruit Kabob Centerpiece

Tools and Ingredients:

  • 50 8- to 10-inch skewers
  • Two colors of curly ribbon
  • 1 watermelon, either round or oblong
  • Cantaloupe
  • Pineapple
  • Red and/or Green seedless grapes
  • Strawberries
  1. Start by assembling your skewers. To the tips of the skewers, tie two colors of curly ribbon (ie, school colors for a graduation; pink and blue for a baby shower; or silver and gold for a wedding shower). Make about 50 of them depending on your crowd, and start this the night before the party (preferably with wine and your sisters/girlfriends).
  2. Cut the watermelon in half and hollow out the fruit, cutting it into uniform-sized squares you will eventually skewer. Put the cut fruit into a plastic bag, and refrigerate the watermelon shell.
  3. Cut the cantaloupe and pineapple into similar-sized squares; put into a plastic bag.
  4. Wash the grapes and put them in a plastic bag until you’re ready to skewer. You can prepare all the fruit the night before the party, but not earlier than that because the melon will get slimy.
  5. Flip your refrigerated, hollowed-out watermelon upside down on a tray. The idea is to punch holes in it for the skewers. If your wrists are weak, you can go into the garage and get a drill or an ice pick,or else you can use a metal skewer. Whatever you choose to use, you start punching holes at the bottom of the watermelon shell, working around to the top in a kind of spiral shape.
  6. Then get your sister (or whomever you love the best) and line up all the bags of fruit for the assembly. Try to make each “bob” the same; everything’s got to be perfect. Impale each fruit on a ribboned skewer, and insert it into the pre-drilled holes in your watermelon. Do not allow anyone (ie, bad sister-in-law, crabby friend) to help unless they can be totally accepting of your artistic approach.
  7. In the end, if you have not gone mad or started a family feud, you will have a melon filled with kabobs and colorful ribbons to make a spectacular centerpiece for your table. This is truly a work of love…and might even be the end of your relationship with those you love.
  8. Finally, never expect that anyone will ever make one of these for you–it’s just way over the top, and you’ve got to be a little crazy even to try it.

Diane’s Story: Never Fail Cupcakes…Never Fail Love

“I brought this recipe card for “Never-Fail Cupcakes” because it’s hand–written by my grandmother. Her name was Ida May. She was from Pittsburgh. This recipe is from the 1930’s–she taught it to my father and my father made it as a child. The recipe is designed for children who are just learning how to cook. You can’t mess it up–except the one time my grandmother forgot to put the salt in!

“There’s a lot of emotional stuff around Grandma because she lived close by, and when my parents would go out on a Saturday we would go to Grandma’s house or she would come to our house to babysit. So there was a lot of life around Grandma. She died in 1999 at age 95.

“When my son Ian was about four or five years old (he’ll be 19 soon), Grandma sent this recipe to him with a little note that said, ‘Ian, your grandfather made these cupcakes too, many years ago. They are very good and tasty. Hope you like them. He iced them too, with white icing. Mix with love, from Great-Grandma Jones.’”

“It’s funny, because my mother was a much better cook than my grandmother. My grandmother didn’t really want to contribute in that way, although she was responsible for Easter and Thanksgiving, just those two meals during the year, when we always went to her house.

“But apart from food, Grandma made a lot of contributions. She spoke the truth and had a lot of wisdom. Whenever I wondered what to do I would ask my grandmother. I would call her. And to be honest, I miss her more than I miss my mother. Not that didn’t love my mother. But it was just a different bond.”

Never-Fail Cupcakes

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sour milk
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Put in bowl in order given. Beat well together. Pour mixture into cupcake papers and bake 14 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Makes about 22 cupcakes.

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