Food by the Book: Author explores Greek myths

Serve your book club a classic Greek concoction with roasted feta soaked in honey. Pair it with fruit and walnuts for a delicious first course or light lunch using 2 ounces feta per person.

How do you retell the stories of Greek women traditionally interpreted by men for millennia? With the absence of female writers in antiquity, women’s voices have gone mostly unheard until relatively modern times. That’s where Madeline Miller, Latin and Greek teacher-turned-bestselling-novelist, fills a void for lovers of classical myths. Her recent release, “Circe” (Little, Brown & Co., 2018), explores the often vilified daughter of Helios and the nymph Perse, whose four children all wreaked havoc among gods and men. 

Far from the often dry translations of myths or historical novels based on them, Miller’s beautiful prose leaves readers as bewitched as if Circe herself had cast a spell over them. An outcast almost from birth, Circe was mocked and ridiculed by a myriad of family members, an easy target for her naïve, tender-hearted outlook on the world. When her brother Aeetes tells her about the power of pharmaka, magic herbs that can bring about transformations, Circe begins to awaken to a new, yet inexperienced consciousness. She changes her love, the mortal youth Glaucos, into an immortal, blue fish-like creature and the beautiful nymph Scylla into a six-headed sea monster, each thought to be manifestations of their inner selves.

But gods fear those who may have the power to afflict pain on them and so Helios and Zeus strike a deal to banish Circe to a solitary island for eternity. Shunned by those she loved on every side, Circe resigns herself to her island exile and learns in depth how to manipulate the plants and herbs. She encounters two legendary figures, Daedalus, whom she helps to contain the Minotaur, and Odysseus, whom she enchants and holds captive on her island until he finally remembers his wife back home in Ithaca. Circe must ultimately decide whether she is strong enough to override her naiveté and face her challenges with true integrity, a character trait often lacking in the gods. In the end, all Circe ever wanted was to love and be loved for her true self. This is a mesmerizing read not restricted just to women or mythology buffs.

Madeline sends this recipe with classical Greek flavors for readers to enjoy. No magic herbs, just cheese, olive oil and honey, but the result is enchanting. Serve hot with bread, fruit and walnuts for a first course or light lunch.

Baked feta toppedwith honey

Ingredients

8 oz. block feta cheese

Olive oil to baste

Honey

Pepper, if desired

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Later you will switch to the broiler. Put a block of feta cheese into a small earthenware roasting pan (I use Le Creuset). Any size of feta block works, but I’d say 8 oz. or up. Also, it WILL stick to the pan, so whatever pan you use, plan to serve in it (a shallow baker works best for caramelizing the top)! Cover the cheese lightly with olive oil and bake until it soft. Usually around 6-10 minutes, but I have found this very variable, up to 15 minutes. Spread the cheese with honey. I warm the honey first in the microwave to make it easier. Broil until the top browns and bubbles. This happens fast, so be careful! Pepper to taste, if desired. Serve hot with pita, or any kind of bread, or even fruit and walnuts. And enjoy!

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