Six of us meet every other month, a concession to our busy schedules. We convene on weekend afternoons, taking turns as hostess and relishing the escape from our abundant lives. Collectively, we have two kids, four stepkids, five husbands, a fiancé, six dogs, a bunch of cats, and at least six careers. Some of us have dated the same men, some attend the same church, and two are cousins. Because of these intersections—or despite them—we never, ever run short of things to talk about: upcoming weddings, the presidential election, a child's new frohawk. We chat, we eat, we drink, and eventually, we get to the book.
Gastronomically, our club's approach tends to be low-key (give us guac and chips, and we're good to go), but for Eggers's book we decided to ratchet things up, inspired by the novel's exotic backdrop to serve a pan-African mini-feast. For recipes we turned to Marcus Samuelsson, a Swedish-raised, Ethiopian-born chef who's passionate about melding the flavors of Africa with the three-star cuisine he's been creating in the United States for years. Samuelsson enlists surprising combinations of spices: Sogba , a rum-based cocktail, blends aromatic bay leaves and mint with lime juice and ginger beer. Slices of cornbread are slathered with lemony hummus and tomato chutney spiked with methi, an Egyptian spice. Jumbo shrimp marinate in piri piri—a fiery Mozambican sauce of garlic, cilantro, and chili—before being wrapped in Bibb lettuce leaves. For dessert: a silky pudding of whipped cream and couscous topped with fresh fruit and coconut flakes.
Every meeting comes to this—to moments drawn from our lives more than the book, to the sorrows and triumphs, big and small, that cement our ties to each other. Only when kids and obligations start calling do we adjourn, sufficiently fortified to last us until the next meeting.
All proceeds from Dave Eggers' What Is the What, the novelized autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, (McSweeney's, $26) go to aiding the Sudanese in America and Sudan through the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation. One project well under way is a secondary school being built in Deng's hometown of Marial Bai. To see what you can do to help—both at home or abroad—go to ValentinoAchakDeng.org and click on the Take Action link.