Tasting Life Twice

Author Crystal King muses on life, history, writing and food.

On Writing: The Power of Rejection

On Writing: The Power of Rejection

As you may know from either reading my blog, following me on social or being one of my friends and acquaintances, I'm currently seeking representation for my novel, FEAST OF SORROW. The novel, set in ancient Rome, is about Marcus Gavius Apicius (hear the pronunciation here) , the man with his name on the oldest known cookbook. The story, told through the eyes of the cook that makes him famous, is a turbulent and tragic story of a family in peril as a result of Apicius' ever-growing ego. It's a story full of luxurious food, drama, violence and political intrigue.
The novel is historical fiction, but because of the time period in which it is set, it's essentially genre fiction, that of ancient Rome. Many of the novels set in ancient Rome tend to be mysteries, which my book is not.  Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor, David Wishart and Robert Harris (all fantastic authors!) come to mind.  Other books in the genre tend to be very heavy on the war and/or politics, including a few stand alone novels by some of the previously named authors, but also by others such as Colleen McCullough, Michael Curtis Ford, or Allan Massie.

Glykinai - Sweet Wine Cakes (Crackers)

Glykinai - Sweet Wine Cakes (Crackers)

This is an ancient cracker recipe from Athenaeus, a rhetorician and grammarian who lived in Rome in the 3rd century AD. This recipe is a delightful, snacky interpretation of a cracker that was most likely served at taverns in ancient Greece and Rome. The original recipe doesn't give us much direction, but they were likely somewhat similar to the recipe below.
Glykinai: "The cakes from Crete made with sweet wine and olive oil.”  - Athenaeus in The Deipnosophistae

How Many Writing Rules Do We Need?

How Many Writing Rules Do We Need?

Holy writing rules!  There are so many out there that it's hard to know where to start!  I compiled the quotes that I have run across over the last few months and pulled out the ones that really spoke to me.  The Zadie Smith quote in particular is key for me. I need to eliminate all distractions!  Click on the headline to go to the article for all the rules by that author.
George Orwell's 5 Writing Rules 

The Renaissance Papal Conclave: What Did They Eat?

The Renaissance Papal Conclave: What Did They Eat?


The last month has been a month of massive tumult for the Catholic Church. For the first time in 400 years a Pope is resigning. There have only been five Popes to resign and all of them resigned under great duress, or in the case of Gregory XII, he did it to end the Western Schism. This is the first Pope to cite "health" problems as a reason to resign and the first to revise rules regarding the convening of the Papal conclave so that it can be convened sooner than in the past (usually they have to wait 15 days).  I have a bunch of my own speculations about that, but there are a million other places that the woes of the Church can be debated.

Book Review: All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani

Book Review: All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani

With all this talk of love, I have to begin by saying that in one's life there are always certain people who you feel proud to know, who you want all your other friends to meet, and who you wish could always come to every party. One of those people is Christopher Castellani, who I still thank the stars that I met many years past. Christopher is a rare soul, and the hundreds upon hundreds of people in the book industry that know him (he's a key driving force at the magnificent Grub Street writing center) are likely to tell you that.
I have grown to know Christopher more and more over the years but after our initial meeting, my first foray into understanding a little about him was by reading his first book, which still ranks among my most memorable reads in my life, "A Kiss From Maddelena." In it we meet the protagonist of all three of his books, Maddelena Grasso, a sweet, shy and beautiful woman who is swept away by the circumstances around her-- the ending of WWII and a father who wants to arrange her marriage, but not to the boy she loves. I can still picture Maddelena as a girl, flying through the town on her bicycle. I can feel the emotion of the clandestine moments with Vito, the boy who steals her heart. I can still remember the roller coaster of emotions that first book put me through.

A Bird's Eye View of the Roman Forum - 3D Video

A Bird's Eye View of the Roman Forum - 3D Video

A little while ago I showed you some photos of an incredible miniature of the ancient Roman Forum. Here's an amazing 3D rendered video of the Forum. Talk about sparking your imagination for times gone by! It's such a shame that so much of the Forum fell into disrepair and that eventually medieval and Rennaissance nobility and the Papacy pulled them down for their metals and marble.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4PACYJKxic

Palathai - Easy, Quick and Delicious Fig Cakes

Palathai - Easy, Quick and Delicious Fig Cakes

This is, without a doubt, one of the easiest recipes you could ever try your hand at making. These cakes are still made in Egypt and Turkey, and have been around since early Greek and Roman times.  You can find similar fig cakes sold at cheese shops and Whole Foods for ridiculously astronomical prices for what they are.
A 10th century encyclopedia, the Suda Lexicon, chronicles the ancient recipe as:

Learning More About Renaissance Chef Bartolomeo Scappi

Learning More About Renaissance Chef Bartolomeo Scappi

As readers of this blog already know, the novel I'm currently writing is about yet another cook, Bartolomeo Scappi, who was a Renaissance chef to several cardinals and Popes. The BBC has a great special called Carluccio & The Renaissance Cookbook which aired a few years back. You can check it out here though.


Fascinating! Looks like I'll have to go to Dumenza at some point to check out the Scappi menu at that restaurant! In the meantime, I'll definitely be trying that risotto and the mushroom tart!

A Tiny Tiny Roman Forum

A Tiny Tiny Roman Forum

A few months ago I stumbled upon a site that showcases some photos of an incredible miniature of the Roman Forum made by a Robert Garbisch in 1982. Apparently it "took two and half years to complete. 95% of the 350 statues in the model were made by Robert Garbisch out of clay. There are over 720 Roman citizens living in this model and carrying on with their lives. This particular day in the Forum is the last visit by the good Emperor Marcus Aurelius to Rome during the summer of 179 AD."
Here are some of the photos of this amazing miniature. Apparently it's on view at the Brandeis library in Waltham and that's a stone's throw from me so I may have to call and see if they still have it on display.

The Vestal Virgin Hairstyle, Recreated

The Vestal Virgin Hairstyle, Recreated

The Vestal Virgins were among the most important individuals in ancient Rome. They were priestesses of the goddess Vesta, whose hearth was always lit. Their privileges among women of the day were many. They were able to own property and did not have to bear children, they had the best box seats to any event, they had the right of way in the streets, they had personal bodyguards and they had the ability to free slaves and prisoners with a mere touch or command.
We know a lot about the Vestals but we don't know much about what their hair looked like under the elaborate headdresses they wore. Janet Stephens, a Baltimore hairdresser and amateur archaeologist became fascinated with a statue she saw of a Vestal and decided she would find out. It took her seven years of research and now she believes she's figured it out. Take a look:

Parthian Chicken

Parthian Chicken

When researching my book, FEAST OF SORROW, one of the fun bits was trying out various ancient recipes. The book is about Apicius, a first century Roman whose name appears as the title of the oldest known cookbook. One of the recipes in Apicius is for Parthian chicken. Parthia was part of ancient Persia, now in a region of north-eastern Iran. Much to my delight, it turns out that the Parthians really knew how to make chicken. Hands down this is one of the best chicken dishes I've ever had. It's juicy and tender with a perfectly crispy crust. The original recipe calls for a spice called silphium (also called laser) which went extinct in the first century. Emperor Nero is rumored to have had the last sprig.  Asafoetida powder or resin, common to Middle Eastern cooking, is believed to be the closest approximation to the taste. If you can't find that, just substitute garlic.

When the Past and Present Merge: Finding Richard III

When the Past and Present Merge: Finding Richard III

"Now is the winter of our discontent."
Over the last week or so, the Net has been in a frenzy over the finding of the bones of Richard III (October 2, 1452 – August 22, 1485), who was King of England from 1483 until his death in 1485. He's a famous name primarily because of Shakespeare, whose tragic play about the man fated to bring about the end of medieval times has remained popular since it was first performed in 1591.

The Fun Side of Research

The Fun Side of Research

I'm working on research for my next book, on Renaissance chef, Bartolomeo Scappi. I find the whole research side of historical fiction fascinating. It's like peeling back layers of paint on an elaborate painting to discover the essence of the people who inspired and created such masterpieces.
One of my characters is related to Agostino Chigi, one of Rome's wealthiest bankers in the early 16th century. Some tourists may be more familiar with him as the man who built the Villa Farnesina on the banks of the Trastevere. It sports paintings by Raphael, Baldassare Peruzzi, and Sebastiano del Piombo. But for the most part, it is often left off of itineraries of busy travelers who head straight for the Forum or the Trevi Fountain. This is a good thing, in my opinion, because it makes the visit so much more pleasant for those who want to bask in the sumptuous frescoes without being jostled by too many others.

Italia in Primavera

Italia in Primavera


The planning has begun! For our tenth anniversary (and for research!!), my husband and I have decided that Italy is definitely in our future for a week or so in the spring. We'll spend some time in Rome for sure, because it is where our heart of hearts reside, but Florence is also on the agenda, with perhaps a stint in Siena for a night.

Creativity Begets Creativity: The Writing Group

Creativity Begets Creativity: The Writing Group

For the last four (nearly five?) years or so I've been meeting with my writing group, not quite like clockwork, but about every two weeks. The three of us have hacked and slashed and encouraged each other's novels from start to finish, and gone through query letters, agent pitches and publishing challenges during that time. And of course, best of all, we have become close and dear friends as part of the process, bolstering spirits as we deal with family, illness, relationships, weddings, work woes and the ilk. I will know Anjali and Jen until I'm quite old and wizened, I am convinced.
Awhile back I thought I read that Ursula K. LeGuin has been in a writing group for many many years (if I'm remembering right she talks about this in Steering the Craft). At the time I remembering thinking, wow, someone as accomplished as she is still meets with others to go over her work?! I was impressed, but at the time, I didn't really understand the power of having ongoing encouragement that comes from being part of a small group that truly cares about your work. It's invaluable. Because of my writing group I don't get lazy. I moved immediately from finished to researching my next book. I feel compelled to move on the next chapter. I get excited to turn in work for feedback. I get lost in the worlds of their books. In short, because of this group I am on the continuous hamster wheel of writing creativity and as those of you know, if you fall off, it's a massive PITA to jump back on.

Off to BlogHer 2012! Plus my guilty secret - Martha Stewart

Off to BlogHer 2012! Plus my guilty secret - Martha Stewart


Tomorrow I leave my husband and my kitty to hold down the fort while I head to BlogHer 2012 to check out the action. It's a business trip primarily; some of you may already know my full-time-awesome-paying-the-bills job is managing social media for Keurig, the leading single-brew coffee maker in the world. There will be some Keurig action at the Got Milk booth, so I'm heading down with one of my colleagues to say hi to the crew there.

Renaissance Pizza Delivery?

Renaissance Pizza Delivery?

Over on Reddit, there was a recent tongue-in-cheek post about a painting (displayed below) about how pizza delivery began earlier than we think it did (and was much more classy than in the modern world). Because of the research I'm doing for my next novel, I was especially interested in the painting and wanted to know more about it.