Read & Feed: Honey cake sweetens discussion of 'The Secret Life of Bees'

BOOK: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking Books, 2002), tells the story of a white girl, 14-year-old Lily Owens, whose mother died under ambiguous circumstances a decade ago. Raised by her cruel father on his South Carolina peach farm, Lily has grown close to Rosaleen, her black nanny, who decides to flee the area after being beaten for insulting some white men who objected to her attempt to register to vote. Lily runs away with her, and together they find friendship and belonging with the "calendar" sisters (April, May, August, etc.).

WHY READ? The novel, set in 1964, the year the Civil Rights Act was passed, highlights the vulnerability and resentment of an oppressed minority, but also mirrors the injustice heaped upon Lily, burdened by an abusive and dangerous father. Lily and Rosaleen embody the loneliness of outcasts, and the community they create with their newfound friends underscores the value of mutual respect and concern. The story doubles as a coming-of-age story as Lily discovers self-knowledge and the thrill of first love.

MAKE IT: When Lily, Rosaleen and the "calendar" sisters celebrate a festival involving the Black Madonna, they eat honey cake, which serves as an appropriate snack to nibble on during a discussion of this novel. Serve with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a glass of sweet tea, or a cup of coffee, to which you might add a shot of amaretto, Kahlua, Grand Marnier or some other sweet liqueur.

READ AND WATCH: Now that The Secret Life of Bees has been made into a film directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, you might consider renting it, watching it with your book club, and then discussing how the director (who wrote the screenplay with Sue Monk Kidd) interpreted the story. Dakota Fanning plays Lily; Jennifer Hudson plays Rosaleen. Though the film sticks closely to the plot, the entire book could not be included in the film version. Choices had to be made, and the differences between the book and film might shed some light on what the author (and director) consider the most vital aspects of her story. Watch the movie, have a snack and then share your thoughts with friends. Sounds like the type of evening that the characters in The Secret Life of Bees would admire.

Tom Valeo, Special to the Times

Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send e-mail to features@sptimes.com. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.

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Honey Spice Cake

2 1/3 cups sifted cake flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons butter

2/3 cup clover honey

½ cup sugar, divided

3 egg yolks

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream

4 egg whites

Honey Whipped Cream:

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons tupelo honey

Mint, for garnish

Powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and sugar one 9-inch tube pan or one 8- to 10-cup fluted tube or Bundt pan. Shake pan to remove excess sugar. Sift cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt together twice. In a large bowl beat butter until creamy. Gradually add honey and 1/4 cup sugar and beat on high speed until well mixed, for 2 to 4 minutes. Beat egg yolks in one at a time. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the sour cream in 2 parts. Beat until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. In another large bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating on high speed, until stiff. Gently fold egg whites into batter. Pour into pan and bake until tester comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes and then invert onto the rack and allow to cool completely.

To make whipped cream, blend ingredients with electric hand-held or stand mixer until thick.

Serve topped with whipped cream and garnished with mint and powdered sugar.



Source: Emeril Lagasse, Food Network, 2003

Read & Feed: Honey cake sweetens discussion of 'The Secret Life of Bees' 01/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 3:30am]

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