I take my Book Club very seriously.
I almost always read the book and, when it comes time to pick the book for hosting, I have thoroughly vetted the choices. I scour the New York Times Bestseller list, read Oprah’s and Reese Witherspoon’s picks and talk to friends in other book clubs to find out what books they have loved. In our Book Club, if you host the book club meeting, you get to pick the book.
This year I choose The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. I had sent one of our Book Club books (The Elegance of the Hedgehog) to my friend Katy in Orlando and she loved it. I went to visit her in February 2020 and when we visited Epcot, the Japan pavilion had a beautiful rock garden. I took photos because I’ve wanted to make a rock garden for a while and Katy said:
I think your Book Club would like this book The Samurai’s Garden. It’s similar to the one you gave me- simple and elegantly written.Katy
Shortly after my visit to Katy and our trip around the world (via Epcot), the world as we knew it shut down. My Book Club, however, never stopped. We kept meeting, sometimes outside, sometime inside. This year, we hoped, everything would be different than 2020. Not quite, but we did keep on keeping on with our meetings. Katy sent me The Samurai’s Garden soon after my visit to her. I read it, loved it and picked it for my Book Club Meeting.
I realize why the book occurred to Katy while we were in the rock garden of Japan. While the main character maintains a beautiful garden in Japan at a beach house, his love interest in the book, has a rock garden, just as beautiful, but completely different. When I finished the book, I was determined to make my rock garden a reality by the time I hosted the Book Club.
It wasn’t easy.
First, I had to eradicate all the weeds, next, level out the dirt so it was a flat playing field. After that, I secured black weed blocker material to the dirt with giant metal staples, cutting holes around my two rose bushes and a sprinkler head. The final detail was ordering gravel for the rock garden. For this, I went to Bernie’s Rock and Garden in Homestead. The saleswoman recommended getting a gravel called Zen confetti (black and white), which the Fort Lauderdale Bonsai Garden used for their Zen garden.
The night before my gravel was to arrive, I was like a kid the night before Christmas. So excited to finally complete this project I’d dreamed about for years! Two huge bags of gravel were delivered in the morning and I immediately started spreading it over the black fabric. It looked good! After all the rocks were distributed, a feat accomplished by my sweet husband as I was at a Girl’s Weekend in the Keys, we lugged three huge boulders over to the rock garden in the back of our house. The boulders are supposed to represent the mountains in the landscape and the gravel is supposed to represent the water.
I ordered (for $70!) a wooden rake that rakes the gravel into rows resembling waves. Around the boulders, I raked graduating circles to look like the ripples in the water . I already had a yellow garden stool, and some metal bells hanging in my mango tree for a Zen feel; rattan fencing I hung hid the ugly chain link fence lining the garden. I wanted a bench to meditate on, but lacking a Zen-looking one, I spray-painted one I already had black. Finally, my rock garden was complete! My thoughts turned to what to serve for dinner for my Book Club Meeting.
Food was mentioned a lot in the book, which takes place in Japan. There was a lot of rice, soup, fish and mochi. For appetizers, I made Summer Rolls. These are rice paper discs, soaked in warm water to make them pliable and stuffed with vermicelli noodles, fresh veggies and herbs. I served them with a creamy peanut sauce. Summer rolls were a refreshing and interesting start to our meal and Sumita, who started the club, is vegetarian so I always try to have something she can eat.
Since the dining rule is to follow a cold course by a hot one, I served Miso Soup for the first course when we sat down at the table. I’d set the table with a red tablecloth, aqua napkins and chopstick, with orange zinnias in clear vases as the centerpiece. I bought the Miso Soup at Matsuri, one of my favorite sushi restaurants. For the main course, I decided to have “Make Your Own Poke Bowl“. Jasmine Rice and/or Spring Greens were the base and then I had Ahi Tuna Chunks, Chopped Chicken Breasts and Tofu for protein choices. There were lots of toppings to choose from to accompany the bowls- chopped green onion, cilantro, edamame, fried onions, sliced jalapeno, ginger, chopped cashews and sesame seeds. I offered a variety of sauces- Bang Bang, Ginger Dressing and Siracha- to complete the bowls.
I think everyone liked the Poke bowls. It makes it easy for everyone when they can tailor their meal exactly as they like it. For dessert, I went easy on myself and got Mochi from Trader Joe’s in Green Tea, Vanilla and Mango flavors, served on a banana leaf. I also served sliced orange, as they do in sushi restaurants. Guta brought a coffee cake and I made Hot Lemongrass (from my garden) and Jasmine Tea to go with dessert.
When you make a signature cocktail, even people who have sworn not to drink usually can’t turn it down. The Signature Cocktail I made was called a Sparkling Elderflower Sake Cocktail by Cake & Knife. It had sake, lemon juice, Elderflower liqueur, Pomegranate Juice and was topped with Prosecco and a lemon peel. It was a light and refreshing drink, perfect for a hot night and was also, pretty to look at. It had been raining off and on all day, but luckily stopped just before the first guest arrived. When everyone arrived I led them, signature cocktail in hand, into my new Rock Garden.
We get it almost every night When the Moon is big and bright It’s a supernatural delight Everybody’s dancing in the moonlightKing Harvest
Up Next: Sparkling Elderflower Sake Cocktail