Once upon a time there were seven women in Chicago who loved food and cooking. Of the seven, each only knew one other in the group, until one fateful evening in October, at a restaurant called Sola on the North Side of Chicago. They met for dinner and talked and talked for hours about food, recipes, cookbooks, chefs, restaurants, the Food Network, grocery stores and specialty markets, cooking and baking techniques, TV food shows, food magazines, cooking equipment, cookware shops - oh, they were in heaven! It was ALL anyone wanted to talk about!
And now we are the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans, meeting every eight weeks at one of our homes to cook, eat, drink, laugh and talk about food. While yours truly (who hosted the inaugural gathering at my home on Dec. 3) forgot to take pictures this time, I will dutifully capture the food fabulosity at our next gathering.
In case you would like to start your own foodie club, let me share some handy tips:
1) Gather a group. Good rule of thumb - keep it smallish at first (or forever). Four to six, maybe seven people is ideal. That number fits around a table or in a living room easily, and you net a dish / course for each person, so consider that.
2) Decide on your focus. What's your group's passion? Dining out and trying new restaurants? Cooking? Ethnic food? Wine and/or beer / spirits? Hamburgers? Specific chefs or cookbook authors? Make sure everyone's on the same page. The Sisterhood is all about cooking and entertaining - ethnic, organic, ingredient-based - whatev - we all LOVE to cook and entertain.
Each volunteer host gets to decide the theme. My theme was winter veg and our menu included:
* kale and white bean soup with sausage
* homemade beet ravioli with poppy seed butter
* chicken in green mole with pumpkin seeds
* butternut, leek and apple casserole
* winter salad of arugula, grapefruit, red onion, fennel and avocado
Our next theme is a little more challenging - the foods of Southeast Asia (anyone have a killer recipe from East Timor?)
3) Pick a name. Preferably something that makes you laugh (In my "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pans?" Yeah, that came to me one day while driving, and I said to myself, "We need a name!"). A name somehow connotes "official-ness" to the group and makes it more real.
4) Figure out a schedule. We meet once every eight weeks or so. With busy schedules, we decided any more frequent just wasn't going to be realistic.
5) Establish a new member policy. Are you going to have an open-invitation policy where anyone can join, or do you want to limit the group in size? We've decided that if a "charter member" wants to invite someone to join, they have to propose that person to the group before extending the invitation. While at first we thought we were being snobs, I have to say - it's bestowed an element of exclusivity to us, as we have one new member already who was very happy to have "made the cut!" We're hot stuff already!
6) Decide if you'll keep records or share recipes. The Sisterhood has set up a fancy recipe-sharing Website, so we all give our recipes to the one computer brainiac in the group, who uploads them and we can all go there and print them out. We're sowing the seeds for a best-selling cookbook, we're sure of it! So if you're doing restaurants or wines, determine how you'll share information, tips, whatever with members, so people have a tangible connection and benefit.
Anyway - this club is a lot of fun and a great indulgence to spend time researching ingredients and recipes and trying new things, and most of all - sipping, sampling and savoring a great meal together! Try it, you'll like it!
by Liz Barrett, Chicago
From @ppetite, The Ketchum Food & Nutrition Practice Blog