Dinner with Henrietta

From time to time I tell you about a book that I'm reading or something my bookclub read. The other evening we got together to talk about our latest book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks". Fascinating book, a well told story, the back story to some very critical medical science, and the hard truth of ethics, race, and economics.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor Black woman in Maryland. She was diagnosed and treated for cervical cancer and the tissue taken from a biopsy of her cervix, for diagnostic purposes, was given to a research lab at Johns Hopkins Hospital. These are the infamous cells at the center of the story. These are the cells that have lived on and on and have been a part of medical history in this century. We are all, to some degree, in debt to Ms. Lacks and her immortal cells. You'll have to read the book for the full story, and I think you should. The author did a wonderful job retelling the events of Ms. Lacks life and that of her family and friends. I think she did Ms. Lacks proud in the telling of her story. That's all I'm going to say about the book though because I want you to read it!

Along with the book we share a meal together. Quite often the meals outshine the books, we're spoiled with some pretty good cooks in this group.

My friend Julie made Basic Green Soup from the Splendid Table, using this vegetable stock. It was a brilliantly green soup, velvet textured, and deeply flavored from that fabulous stock. I made a fennel salad with blood oranges (they are in season and oh, are they ever gorgeous), and Susan made caramelized oranges for our dessert. It was a lovely evening all around and we are grateful to Ms. Lacks and her immortal cells, she provided a group of friends a reason to get together for dinner.

Fennel and Parsley Salad with Oranges and Dried Cranberries
4 bulbs of fennel, trimmed of fronds and tough outer ribs removed
2 cups whole leaves of Italian or flat leaf parsley
3 oranges
½  cup pine nuts
½ red onion sliced thin
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
salt and pepper to taste

Remove the root end of each fennel bulb, and then cut each bulb in half.  Lay cut side down and thinly slice. Place in large mixing bowl and set aside.
Wash and dry parsley as you would lettuce. Add to the fennel.
Using a sharp knife remove all the peel and pith from oranges. Then, over a bowl to catch any juice, remove the segments from the membrane, so that each segment is free from any pith or seeds. Squeeze any excess juice from orange membrane into a bowl and set aside for the dressing. Add the orange segments to the fennel.
In a sauté pan over medium high heat toast the pine nuts until lightly browned and fragrant. They burn easily so stir often. Once the pine nuts are evenly browned place in a bowl and set aside to cool.
Add the sliced onion to the reserved orange juice, let sit for 10 minutes then add the onions to the fennel, reserving the orange juice, along with the cranberries and feta cheese.
In a jar with a tight fitting lid place the red wine vinegar, olive oil, reserved orange juice, honey, a pinch of salt and some ground black pepper. Shake the dressing to combine well. Pour over fennel, top with pine nuts and toss well.

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