A Place For Us-Bookclub Guide

Photography by Allyson Regan

My mom, Bev, my sister, Ally, and I absolutely love to do bookclub together.  There’s just something about reading a book that someone else has also read while it’s still semi-fresh in your head that provides a connection that we adore.  I can’t remember when we first started doing this, but since my sister and I both live in Grand Rapids, and my mom in St. Joseph, we try to do this a couple times a year.  

Our bookclubs have become semi-legendary over the years.  We usually kick out the boys, make/go out for some great food (preferably a cuisine that fits in with the theme of the book), and have plenty of wine.  Since we enjoy these bookclubs so much, I thought that I would share what we ate, what we talked about, and what we drank!

Photography by Allyson Regan

Let’s talk about the book first.  We all really liked this book!  I think my mom chose this pick for us.  Sarah Jessica Parker started SJP for Hogarth which is her new publishing company.  This is the first book that she’s published and I think this is why we heard about it in the first place.  And I’m so glad that we did!

A Place For Us is skillfully written by Fatima Farheen Mirza.  In her debut novel, she takes us on a journey through an Muslim-American family trying to balance faith, family, and the crucial different between right and wrong.  The book opens up with a wedding for the eldest daughter and continuously returns to the scene. Throughout the novel, it’s almost as if we are peeking into the families memories in no certain order. We get to see memories that shaped the events that happen at this wedding, from a variety of perspectives.

Photography by Allyson Regan

Overall, the consensus was that we really enjoyed this book and it was a great read! This bookclub was really fun because we were able to discuss the theme of family as it was seen in the book compared to our family.

Some of the questions that we brought up during our discussion are listed below. These are great starting points, but feel free to add your own! When I lead the questions, I also like to start with some broad questions which helps to get the conversation started.

What was your overall impression of the book?

Why was this book chosen?

Did you like the fragmented style that the narrative was laid out?

Would you pursue future books written by this author?

Do you think that showing a brief example of how 9/11 affected Muslim-Americans added to the story line?

How do you interpret the strained relationship between the children and their father?

Because the storyline between Amira and Amar was very Romeo & Juliet-esque, do you think it became a doomed love story?

What could have pushed Rafiq to come to the realization that he experienced in the final section before Amar disappeared again?

How could their family dynamics have differed if they weren’t Muslim?

How much of the Amar-troubles could have been avoided if they had a more open dialogue between the children and the parents?

Photography by Allyson Regan

The menu for our bookclub included this thick and sweet Mango Rum Lassi, delicious and comforting Chicken Tikka Masala, warm naan bread, and a nice warming bottle of Rioja wine. We chose the lassi because it’s something that was featured in the book, without the rum of course, and we had never tried one before! It was quite sweet, and I think each of us only had one small glass before we switched to wine. The Tikka Masala is one of my favorite things to make at home, and since it was also mentioned int he book, it was a natural fit. The naan bread seemed fitting too, and we just warmed it up for a minute or two in the oven before serving. I also made a coconut basmati rice to serve under the tikka. This rice was super easy, just replace all of the water with coconut milk and add in salt, pepper, and fresh or ground ginger.

Because my sister is a vegetarian, I also made a simple cauliflower tikka masala, which I basically just made the same recipe without marinating the chicken. It turned out so good and the cauliflower pieces just steamed in the sauce and absorbed all that flavor.

Photography by Allyson Regan

If you have any other questions about this book or about how to host a book club of your own, feel free to drop a comment or send me a message! I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Reading!

Chicken Tikka Masala

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I can’t even remember the first time I made this dish.  In fact, I think I’ve only eaten it in a restaurant once.  Sometimes trying a dish from an unfamiliar cuisine can be intimidating, but this dish is so simple!  Plus, it’s so much fun to try a new dish, even if you’ve never eaten the dish before.

I’ve seriously made this recipe more times than I can count in the last month, gradually tweaking it until I love it!  It’s so good! My husband isn’t the biggest fan, so I’ve been making this whole recipe at the beginning of the week and then eating throughout the week for an easy lunch.  The flavors get even better towards the end of the week.  If you do this, make sure to keep the rice separate so that it doesn’t get mushy.  Also, it gives me an excuse to have naan in the house which is so good lightly toasted and with a bit of butter!  I’m drooling over here.

The key to success with this dish is to marinate the chicken the day before.  The yogurt helps to tenderize this chicken and all the spices have time to get cozy.  This dish itself is really cozy too, and it’s the perfect thing for a chilly day like today.

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Chicken Tikka Masala

1.5 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 cup whole milk greek yogurt

1 Tbsp granulated garlic

2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp coriander

2 tsp cumin

1 Tbsp kosher salt

1 tsp ground cardamom

3 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 small yellow onion, julienned

1/4 cup tomato paste

1/2 Tbsp red pepper flakes

1-28 oz can diced tomatoes

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup milk

cilantro

Begin by cutting the chicken into 1 inch cubes.  In a small bowl, combine all of the spices.  Place half of the spices into a large bowl along with the yogurt and the chicken pieces.  Toss to coat and marinate for at least 6 hours or up to 24.

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a medium saucepan.  Add the onions and cook until soft and slightly caramelized.  Add the chicken with all of the marinade.  Once the chicken and yogurt start to cook, add in the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, milk, cream, and pepper flakes.  Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Keep an eye on it, and if you see it getting too thick, you can add some stock to thin it a bit.  The sauce should be pinkish-orange and about the consistency of a thin tomato sauce.  My recipe is a little less red than other recipes, but I love the flavor of the increased turmeric spices that I’m okay with the slightly different color.

I love serving this dish with basmati rice, a bit of chopped cilantro or green onions, and some warm naan bread.  You can find naan in most groceries deli sections.  They even make mini ones now!  They are seriously so cute, I’m dying.

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I recently made this for our bookclub, more about that coming soon!  Since my sister is a vegetarian, we just substituted the chicken with cauliflower.  The preparation is a bit different since you don’t need to marinate the cauliflower.  Begin the cooking process the same way as the recipe above, but just leave out the yogurt and add all the spices to the sauce.  Essentially you will just be making the sauce and simmering the cauliflower in it to cook it through.  You can make it a fully veggie dish too, just use cauliflower rice instead of basmati.

Yum!