Bookshelf: The Feast Nearby

It is not often I read a book which changes my life but this one did.  It is a good reminder that some books, like people, come into our lives  come in to our lives for a reason and exactly when we need them to.

From the book jacket:

Within a single week in 2009, food journalist Robin Mather found herself on the threshold of a divorce and laid off from her job at the “Chicago Tribune”.  Forced int0 a roadical life change, she returned to her native rural Michigan.

There she learned to live on a limited budget while remaining true to her culinary principles if eating well and as locally as possible.  In The Feast Nearby, Mather chronicles her year-long project:  preparing and consuming three home-cooked, totally seasonal, and local meals a day — all on forty dollars a week.

With insight and humor, Mather explores the confusions and needful compromises in eating locally.  She examines why local often trumps organic, and wonders why the USDA recommends white bead, powdered milk and instant orange drinks as part of its ‘low cost’ food budget program.  Through local eating, Mather forges connections with the farmers, vendors, and growers who provide her with sustenance.  She becomes more closely attuned to the nuances of each season, inhabiting her little corner of the world more fully, and building a life richer than she imagined it could be.

The Feast Nearby celebrates small pleasures: home-roasted coffee, a pantry stocked with home-canned seen beans and homemade preserves, and the contented clucking of laying hens in the backyard.  Mather also draws on her rich culinary knowledge to present nearly one hundred seasonal recipes that are inspiring, enticing, and economical — cooing goals hat don’t always overlap — such as Pickled Asparagus with Lemon, Tarragon, and Garlic; Cider-Braised Pork Loin with Apples and Onions; and Cardamom-Coffee Toffee Bars.

Mather’s poignant,reflective narrative shares encouraging advice for aspiring locavores everywhere, and combines the virtues of kitchen thrift with the pleasures of cooking–and eating–well.

It is fairly accurate to say that in this book, Robin Mather, lives what is pretty much my dream life – A small cabin in the woods, by a lake, with her dog, cat, parrot and chickens, growing a small herb garden and getting the rest of her food from local and independent sources…. sigh… someday I suppose…

What intrigued me most was not where or how she lived or even the enticing recipes (Cardamom-Coffee Toffee Bars?  yes please!) but her seemingly deep connection to food and the seasons in which it grows in.  Mather offers a a discussion on the over abundance and over availability of food in our markets.  It may be lovely to have a bright red tomato in the middle of winter but at what cost?  It really made me think.

The change this book brought was not terribly drastic but it did bring about a new shift in my focus about food. Last summer, was the first year I spent time making my own jams.  It was more for fun than anything else and it never occurred to me that I could or would preserve anything other than summer fruit and berries.  But why not?  Why not preserve the abundance of the fruits and vegetables growing now in the months to come to last us through the months they are not in season. Honestly, I couldn’t give myself a good reason not to try.

Following Mather’s approach of small batch canning and preserving -as she says, it’s easier to put up a pint or two each week of something rather than try to tackle a whole bushel at once – seems easy enough to do.  Sure, grabbing a jar of the diced tomatoes I canned yesterday in December may not be the same as grabbing a tomato from the market in December but I have a feeling knowing I made it and knowing that it was originally grown on a small farm just a few hours drive from my house and preserved at it’s peak freshness instead of flown thousands of miles to ripen along the way will be so much more satisfying.

Do you preserve?  If so, what are your favorite foods to put up?

Take care of yourselves

248 pages

my rating 5/5

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