Going strong since 2002, a Nebraska group meets monthly to share great stories, delicious food, and powerful bonds.
Credit: Photo: Greg DuPree

Fifteen years ago, Jennifer Allen found herself in a new city (Omaha, Nebraska), with a love of healthy cooking but no one to cook with. She was a fan of Cooking Light and had been a subscriber for years, so she knew about the rising trend of Cooking Light Supper Clubs—groups of like-minded people who found each other through the budding technology of the time, the bulletin boards on cookinglight.com. Allen says she searched the boards for the Midwest and "stumbled upon another gal [Pam Campbell] who also wanted to meet other healthy-cooking ladies." In 2002, she and Campbell gathered some of their friends and got together for their first meeting, bonding through a shared love of food.

Although the online bulletin boards no longer exist, from 1999 to the early 2000s they served as a sort of first wave of social media that allowed people to connect with each other in a virtual realm. Reader Amy Fong Lai is credited with starting the first Cooking Light Supper Club in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999, and quickly more readers in other cities founded their own clubs. The appeal was simple: Meet new people, try new healthy food, and learn new skills.

Allen's supper club had held steady at six members who gathered monthly, with herself and Campbell at the core. Occasionally, when a member would move away, the group would absorb a new one to take her place. And though they now share news through email, the way they approach the menu each month hasn't changed much; they take their cues from the recipes in this magazine. They do this even for their December food gift exchange, "be it cranberry liqueur, homemade granolas, delicious caramel sauces and fudge sauces," Allen says. Or even a decadent cake with a secret (vegetable) ingredient, which we've given a makeover here.

Credit: Photo: Greg Dupree

Despite busy schedules and competing responsibilities, these women make it a priority to stay connected. "Our group has been through many things—moves, a divorce, marriage, births of children, births of grandchildren, new houses, surgeries, and breakups and get-back-togethers," Allen explains. But they still manage to find time for each other. This fellowship at the table has created cherished memories and lasting friendships that have spanned 15 years. "Our group loves to get together," says Allen, "and has no plans of slowing down."

View Recipe: Parsnip Spice Cake with Caramel Icing

Credit: Photo: Greg DuPree

One of the Omaha supper club's favorite recipes is a parsnip layer cake we published in 2003. We took a look at the recipe and decided to update it with less sugar and more whole grains. A few tweaks later, we had a moist, tender, tastier spice cake capped with an indulgent caramel-flavored cream cheese icing.

If you belong to a CL supper club, share a pic with #CLsupperclub.