Monday, May 26, 2014

With Cauliflower and Kindness

With Cauliflower and Kindness

     I was young and impressionable. A wife at 19, I was collecting impressions. My eyes were wide open to new aspects of living and learning. Dean and I were newlyweds and attending college together in Massachusetts.

cauliflower soup

     The college was an easy walk to Dean’s sister, whose family, at that time, lived in a wing of the Josiah Quincy House (built in 1770).  Her husband was a photographer for the New England Historical Society. When he had gotten the inside scoop about a live-in curator’s position, he jumped on it. It enabled the family to take advantage of low rent with the condition that my sister-in-law would give tours of the Josiah Quincy House during the summer.

     One evening, in 1979, Dean’s sister invited us for supper. We walked through the old neighborhood over crooked sidewalks, past front porches, green grass and flowers in window boxes. The August sun was pink. It cast a rosy glow on the faces of the white clapboard houses. I thought, “I’d like to live in a neighborhood like this some day.”          

     When Dean and I arrived the little nieces were already tucked into bed. Standing in the narrow kitchen we joined in the chatter. Pots were simmering. The what-smells-so-good-odors filled our noses and set our stomachs growling. A minute later we were abruptly ushered out of the room. Puzzled, we followed our brother-in-law across the hall and through a private door. This door was the shortcut into the museum part of the house.

1770s dinning room

     With a wave of his arm, and the pull of a chair, he seated us at Josiah Quincy’s dinning room table. I blinked twice at the china, silver, cloth napkins and stemmed glasses. A snapshot shows the dinning room as tourist saw it then. (Dean’s father probably took this photograph along with the other Kodak pictures we scanned into the computer for this post. The back of the pictures is stamped 1986.)

Colonial Secretary

     In elegant cream soup bowls, on Josiah Quincy’s walnut table, cauliflower soup was served. I held my soupspoon gingerly, conscious to not sip or slurp. Such pampering made me feel a bit nervous. Intuition told me that this would be the pinnacle dinning experience of my life. Thirty-five years later, I am right so far. Eating in Josiah Quincy’s dinning room, by hush-hush special invitation of the curators, in an intimate atmosphere of American history, and surrounded by 200-year-old antiques, was an experience that has never been topped. 

red fireplace tiles

     I don’t recall anything else about the meal except that I esteemed my sister-in-law for her artistic homemaking skills. I thought, “I want to learn to cook like her one day – with fresh wholesome food.”

red wing chair - Colonial

     It was my first experience eating cream of cauliflower soup. Its garnish of herbs was pinched off the steams of plants growing out front, in a little ancient garden, primly bordered by boxwood. Although I cannot recall the other courses  – I was unquestionably enjoying the conversation  - everything was as delicious and as new to me as a Babette’s feast.

18th century tall case clock

     In the story, Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen, middle-aged Puritan sisters Martine and Philippa were used to plain food. They ate plain food all their lives. And they instructed their new cook, Babette, to keep meals properly bland. But after many years in their employ, and to celebrate a special occasion, Babette begged to make a French meal for them. The food brought to the table that evening was extravagantly French, cooked to perfection, delicious, and in every sense, foreign to the sisters’ palates - a pinnacle dinning experience. I finished reading the story recently. Did you ever see the film?

making cauliflower soup

     Dean’s sister is really a casual sort of person. She evidently dreamed up that supper in 1979 as a wedding gift for the newlyweds. It left a welcome impression on me. I’ve been making cauliflower soup ever since.

     While mincing shallots, sometimes the meal in the museum comes to mind. Then, I am encouraged with,

“as ye are pampered, go ye likewise and pamper one another – with cauliflower and kindness”

- a funny little motto I made up. After all, what are blogs for but for collecting impressions and giving them?

A sprinkle of thyme on cauliflower soup made with coconut milk

Thanks for stopping by my place – as well as Josiah Quincy’s,
Karen Andreola

kitchen fireplace
Our kitchen oven is behind these retractable wooden doors

Post Script

     Josiah Quincy was a colonel in the American revolutionary war. Click here to see his house - which looks like those that girls stitched into their linen samplers in the 18th century.   

Colonial green trim
I'm considering green trim like this Quincy bedroom for my parlor trim


  1. Karen - how lovely that you remember with such gratitude the gift of that meal in that beautiful house. Such are the blessings of life!
    Babette's Feast is a favorite book of mine. I also loved the film (I have the DVD) and am always so moved the speech given at the dinner.
    Cauliflower soup is a favorite recipe of my husabnd's - I use potatoes, onion and vegetable broth also. My husband likes to add chopped mushrooms for some chewiness to the soup.
    Warm regards!

  2. Oh, Karen, what a wonderful gift! And you shared it with us too. Many thanks. Whenever I wonder while wandering through a museum, I always imagine a real dinner in the dining room, conversation around the fireplace, actually reading the books on the shelves. You have given us a rare treat today.


  3. I have seen Babette's Feast but not read the book. I love the focus on the gift of what she was doing for them, in making this meal.

    Beautiful Colonial home, yours and Josiah's.


  4. Going into the high 80s here today... and yet you managed to make hot soup sound like a wonderful idea! Now I have to ask... are you willing to share your recipe? None of the ones I've found include coconut milk. Thank you for another lovely post.


  5. Hello Ladies,

    Happy to hear from you.

    My married daughters get their recipe on-line. Their mother still keeps a well-worn copy of Joy of Cooking on the pantry shelf. It taught me by traditional recipe. Using a traditional recipe as a guide I replace the cow's cream with coconut milk to make it dairy-free but use no more than a half cup because even the "plain" coconut milk tastes vanilla-y to me. Lately I've been roasting my cauliflower in the oven.

    Yesterday morning I cooked some pudding made with coconut milk, poured it into stemmed desert glasses and served it cold at supper. My menfolk liked it. They're not as keen on cauliflower.

    Karen A.

  6. Love the little motto of being pampered and passing the pampering on. A special reminder to be kind.
    Sue R.

  7. Cauliflower has not traditionally been a favorite at our house either. However, roasted cauliflower is quite delicious, I think. We also discovered that a good sauce can be made by cooking a head of cauliflower that has been cut into florets in about 2 cups of whatever broth you prefer for around 10 minutes or so. When it is done, puree the cauliflower and broth until smooth. My husband actually enjoyed it. I did add a bit of gruyere cheese on the top of his sauce.

    About 25 years ago, I read a book titled The Subversive Vegetarian. I picked it up because the title was intriguing and made me chuckle. It contains some wise advice for those of us who are trying to nourish our families. The author suggests serving beautiful food in appealing ways without announcing that it is nutritionally superior to or somehow morally better than other foods. Also, sneak in the veggies where and when we can!

    I'm still searching for a way to cook Brussels sprouts that produces oohs and ahhs of culinary delight.


  8. Hi Karen,
    A treat indeed to hear and share such a lovely unique memory! I am so glad you took the time to scan those wonderful images to this post. Your Sister-and Brother-in-Law were honored with a rare opportunity! I imagine it is how musicians feel when they are playing on some of the centuries old instruments that shall be ushered one day to a new generation!
    I have seen and enjoyed the movie (with captions) Babette's Feast, but it hadn't occurred to me to read the book! Now I shall seek to! ;-) (Books are always better then the movie)!
    Many many Blessings, Linnie

  9. I have watched the movie but not read the book. Now it must become a priority. I loved the movie.

    I just roasted cauliflower recently when the days were unseasonably cool and rainy. Hot weather was in the forecast (and we are experiencing it now) so I knew I would no longer want to have the oven at 400 degrees for long.

    I used to think I hated cauliflower but now know I just didn't like the way my mother cooked it when I was growing up.

  10. Thank you for sharing, in words and pictures, fond memories of that time, place, and special dinner.

    I grew up in a small town not very far from the John Qunicy House and am sad to say I never once visited it before moving away at the age of 19.

    Growing up in public schools, I found history to be focused on memorizing names, places, and dates - perhaps for an upcoming test. It just didn't come alive for me. I am hoping to change my perspective on history by reading books recommended here at Moments with Mother Culture as well as in the Parent's Review magazines I recently received.

    My husband and I both enjoyed the movie version of Babette's Feast enough to purchase it. It is also on my list of books to read.

    Warm regards from Lynne

  11. This is one of our most favorite movies of all times! My husband and I both share in the cinematic delights of this is priceless. We own two copies in order to have the opportunity to share it with others. So far not many have become converts to its utterable delights. We literally drool as we watch the characters eat this extravagantly prepared meal. I read the book several years ago and found it as good as any Isak Dinesen story.

    Loved your story. Blessings...

  12. What a very beautiful house! I would love to be there... Thanks for sharing the photos - and also your recent ones of the procedures in your kitchen (it must take quite some care to take them!). I am inspired to make some soup like you... Here, it's asparagus season. I use the liquid in which I cooked them to make soup also.
    I read and liked "Babette's Feast", but never saw the film.

  13. What a sweet post! I like your little motto. I sure was hoping you would share your recipe at the end of the post! Sounds delicious!

  14. What a lovely experience! So glad you shared about it.
    Blessings from Harvest Lane Cottage,

  15. Pssssssssst.....come over to my post!! :-D

  16. I've seen Babette's Feast but didn't know it was based on a book...I hope to read it!!! What a neat post...I love cauliflower soup...I should add it to my soup list for fall!! :)

  17. Oh WOW! What a wonderful post and a wonderful memory! That house is absolutely gorgeous. I knew that dinner must have been so special, to be recalled so fondly many years later.
    I also love New England and all that history....last fall I was able to travel there from my home in Oklahoma and I'm already longing to return!
    I found your blog after buying your book about Charlotte Mason education for children. It is so good and I'm really enjoying it. My daughter is out of school for the summer and we are implementing some of her (and your!) ideas into our daily routine. Its a pleasure to meet you! Heather

  18. Hi Karen;
    We love reading your blog. Thank You for the tour of The Josiah Quincey house. Karen we hope you will have some relief of your pain. Your reviews in CBD were always a joy to read. We wish you a happy,safe and not too hot summer.
    Always you and Nigel in our prayers.
    Marion M and Family

  19. What an incredible experience! What a memory you made.
    Be blessed, try to stay warm!