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Feast of Sorrow: Cook the Books Club

For newer readers, I am a participant in a foodie book club.  What's that? you might ask?  It is a book club that finds books with food inspiration in them that we read, then we cook something that the book inspired us to do.  My 2017 posts are here:

The Patriarch by Martin Walker. I made jalapeno infused vodka!
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I made dairy free ice cream.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Loving.  I made Russian Potato Salad.
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent. I made Paper Bag Roasted Chicken

We get two months to read and cook, then we post our review and our recipe before the end of the two month timeline. It's crazy fun and so inspiring to read other reviews of the same book and then to see how they were inspired.

December/January book was Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King. She has many credentials for her writing, including a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Boston but loves Italy and the food scene there. Our host for this month is Debra of Eliotseats.

A synopsis of the book from Amazon:

Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction. On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome's leading epicure.

Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.

Cool, huh. This is why I love historical fiction so much. Fictional characters set in real events in history and this book is loaded with them. Crystal King takes Rome's most famous gourmand and the (?) creator of the world's oldest and still used cookbook and tells a story of political intrigue and culinary delights. For me, this works, but if you like character development, you might find the characters fading into the background of all the food scenes.

So how was I inspired?

Like everyone else has stated, this book is FULL of food scenes. I am drooling every time I read this. However, these are foods that most of us haven't heard of, with spices and herbs I am unfamiliar with. That's how good this author is at description. My inspiration is coming with more of the plating ideas than of actual cooking. As I continued reading, though, I noticed how many times the guests were treated to honey water and honey cakes. Over and over. I decided I wanted to give a honey cake a try. I researched ancient recipes for honey cakes and I actually found a few recipes. I decided to give this one by King Arthur's Flour a try.

Honey Cake

1 c sliced almonds (I used ground almonds)
 1 1/4 c King Arthur whole wheat flour
3/4 c King Arthur unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 r salt
3/4 c softened unsalted butter
1 c honey
4 large eggs
1/4 c sour cream

Preheat the oven to 325.  Grease a 9" round pan well.  Sprinkle 3/4 c of the almonds in the bottom of the pan, save the remainngi 1/4 c for the batter.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flours, baking soda and salt together.  In a large bowl, mix the softened butter, honey and eggs.  Stir in the flour and then add sour cream and almonds.

Scrape the sides and bowl to be sure everything is well incorporated.  Mix for one minute more.  Pour the batter over the almonds in the greased pan.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the edge of the cake pulls away from the edge of the pan.  Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool for 15 minutes.  Invert the cake onto a serving plate and allow it to cool before serving.

I served it with a dollop of homemade whipping cream.

The cake has a dense texture and is rather dry.  We poured a little whole milk onto the cake before eating.  It does have a nice honey taste.

For making honey water, microwave 4 cups of water until just before boiling.  Remove from microwave and add 4 T honey.  Stir until melted.  Let cool.  Serve cold.

The simple ingredients, the simple preparation and the overall effectiveness of the ingredients gave these recipes an ancient feeling.  I learned that for preparations like these, quality ingredients are a must.  Use the best honey you can find, and the best flours.

I ended up loving this book even though at times it was rather graphic. The Romans are a cruel lot, especially the rich it seems.  It was the first of this type of historical fiction that I have read and I know if I get the chance, I will read more!

UPDATE!  The author read my post and tweeted about it here:  https://twitter.com/crystallyn/status/953620577763422211 
Can you say:  DAY MADE??  

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