Saturday, April 4, 2015

April/May Announcement: The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather

What if you lost your job, saw your marriage crumble, had to move  to a small abode, and tried to live on a seemingly unrealistic budget?

Could you survive?   Would you prosper?

If I am honest, I really don't know how I would make it.   I know I could eke out a subsistence living.  Would I prosper though?   Could I maintain this lifestyle?

I really don't know how I would do.

Robin Mather not only prospered, she wrote a book about her experience.

In The Feast Nearby, she chronicles "How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week)."

The Feast Nearby is not a preachy treatise on living locally.  Instead, it is an honest collection of essays (with accompanying recipes) that chronicle Mather's journey to experiencing a simpler way of life while, along the way, finding a new self.

I actually read this book a year ago and briefly featured it last April with Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake.   I have revisited it often as the seasons go by.

Please grab a copy and join us for the April/May round of CTB.  Post by June 1st and you are in the running.   I hope you enjoy this practical, informative, and inspiring book of essays and recipes.  If you're new to Cook the Books, please check out About or Guidelines or simply leave a question in the comments below.    Once you post, just shoot me an email ( or leave a comment here.

I hope you pick up Mather's book and are inspired to create something local or foraged or preserved or bartered for the next CTB round.

Debra (Eliot's Eats)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Comfort Me With Apples (and Other Lovely Dishes!): The Roundup

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when Ruth Reichl writes about food we will read it and devour her prose like the feast that it is. Comfort Me With Apples, one of Ruth Reichl's foodie memoirs, was our February/March selection for Cook the Books. While everyone may not have agreed with some of Reichl's life choices, we all certainly were inspired by the food and we ably comforted ourselves with many wonderful dishes inspired by the book.

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm was our first entry in this month and she had a lovely time with Ruth saying, "Here is what happened when I got the book: I sat down one evening and I opened the cover, I read a couple of pages and then there was a knock on my door.  I opened the door and there was Ruth, with a smile and a bottle of wine. We opened the wine, kicked off our shoes, sat down by the fire and began to talk.  Ruth shared her life with me, the good, the bad, the happy and the sad. We laughed and we cried. And then we laughed again. We gossiped about all the celebrities that Ruth has met and we shared our innermost fears and secrets." Amy made Basil and Lemon Pasta inspired by the pasta in lemon butter sauce that actor Danny Kaye served Ruth.

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla says, "While I found myself wishing for a little bit more restraint as she described her personal life, I longed for her descriptions about the food to go on and on." Camilla made Butternut Squash Soup a la Bonneville saying "I was compelled by Ruth and Michael's spectacularly disastrous Thanksgiving dinner at The New Bonneville Hotel. ... Instead, on a chilly, grey evening while the fire crackled in the living room, I whipped up a pot of butternut squash soup. "The squash purée was bright orange with an earthy sweetness. Cream was drizzled through it, making patterns. Chives were strewn across the top. 'Okay,' said Michael. 'I'll admit it. It's the best soup I've ever tasted. I could eat ten bowls." Unlike the Bonneville, I do not have a luscious vegetable garden, but I do have access to amazingly fresh and delicious vegetables through local-to-me farms."

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures says, "... boy, did she lead an interesting life in those years! I could not tear my eyes from the pages as she lived in a commune with her husband, and ate and drank her way through several extramarital affairs.I simply couldn’t put the book down!" Amy made the La Vieille Maison French Onion Soup saying, "This twist on a classic French Onion Soup was included at the end of the chapter and I was so intrigued! I happen to love French Onion Soup, but my recipe used beef stock (this one has chicken stock) and red wine (this one uses white) and there are eggs in the version (waaa???)  I knew it would completely change the flavor profile and I absolutely had to try it! The resulting soup was absolutely amazing and a nice change of pace from the classic. My only complaint was that it looks a little off putting…kinda pale with eggy little curdles floating about. But that’s why it’s covered with cheese!  Mwahahaha!"

Claudia of Honey From Rock inspired this Cook The Books selection when she requested a Ruth Reichl book. She says, "There was much in her memoir to tempt and inspire, as well as challenge our cooking skills. Reichl has the ability to communicate smells and tastes through descriptive writing, aided by an unbelievable palette, which is the premier gifting for a food critic or chef. I sometimes wish mine could be tuned up a few notches. It would certainly help in the area of wine tasting as well. I wonder if there is an herb that would help?? ... Since we have been having cold, rainy weather lately (yes, even in Hawaii), what finally called my name was her Swiss Pumpkin, nicely filled with half-and-half, Gruyere cheese, toasted bread, etc., and baked for 2 hours. I used one of our locally grown Kabocha pumpkins, which are just the right size for for two (with not too much left-over)."

Cook The Books co-host Simona of briciole says that in the book "there is a good amount of one person trying to dazzle another (not necessarily a husband)." So she was inspired to make handmade pasta-- "spindle-shaped, delicate Cecamariti (literally, husband blinders)" uniquely made with bread dough and she assures us that "no husband was hurt in the making of this pasta." Simona also notes that "The pasta cooks quickly and profits, in my opinion, from a light sauce. In the photo you see it dressed with my usual tomato sauce, but I have also made it with chèvre melted with a small amount of butter and also used it in my recipe for poulet yassa (Senegalese chicken)." 

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats noted, "Ruth is an extraordinary writer and it’s a shame that Gourmet Magazine folded so soon. In her book she described a hedonistic life as well as cooking for her father and mother in later years. She reported that her father said that the two most important things in life are imagination and laughter. I can appreciate this bit of wisdom, especially in the kitchen." Cathy made an ultra-comforting Apple, Pear and Dried Cherry Crumble saying, "I love the aroma of apples laced with cinnamon baking in the oven so decided to literally interpret her work through a dish inspired from this book."

CTB co-host Debra of Eliot's Eats is a big Reichl fan and says, "You know that quintessential party-conversation-starting question, “If you could invite any person, living or dead, to your dinner party, who would it be?” My answer is simple. I would love to have dinner with Ruth Reichl. And, what would I cook for her? A simple but hearty dish pulled from her first cookbook. Soon after I immersed myself in my Ruth fanaticism by reading all of her books, I wanted to own a copy of her first cookbook, Mmmmm: A Feastiary, self-published in 1972. This is a pipe-dream of mine because vintage copies are posted on Amazon for $250. (Rachel, if your Old Saratoga Books ever has one in inventory, can you cut me a deal?) Fortunately, Reichl herself has recipes from A Feastiary on her website. This is where I found my go-to Spaghetti Carbonara recipe that I have used for years.

Alicia of Foodycat says, "Funny, warm, occasionally devastating and moving, it's part of Reichl's memoir, charting her rise from Berkley co-op restaurant cook and commune dweller to respected restaurant critic. It's an impressive accomplishment in a memoir: at times she manages to portray herself as unlikeable but it doesn't come across as false modesty." Alicia made Garlic Soup and Gruyere Croutons noting "Unusually for one of the Cook the Books Club challenges, I had no trouble at all deciding what to cook. Among the many delicious-sounding meals she describes, Alice Waters' famous garlic dinners stand out. The mention of garlic soup reminded me of the delicious, pungently wine-flavoured garlic soup we'd had in Switzerland, back in 2007 when I was but a baby blogger. I've tried a couple of different versions but I've never quite nailed the combination of fresh-tasting but cooked garlic and dry wine that I remember." Was this soup the one? Read her post to find out! ;-)

CTB co-host Rachel, The Crispy Cook likes Ruth's vivid and honest writing. She says, "None of the recipes peppering the book particularly grabbed me, but I thought most about how Ruth and her artist husband Doug lived communally at Channing Way in People's Republic of Berkeley in late 70s. Bushy bearded apartment patriarch Nick castigates her new gig as restaurant critic for New West magazine: "You're going to spend your life telling spoiled, rich people where to eat too much obscene food?" You can almost smell the patchouli and alfalfa sprouts." Rachel found her comfort in Carrot Salad a la Channing Way noting, "I was inspired to make a salad that might have appeared on the Channing Way dinner. Carrots are cheap and plentiful all year and would certainly have been available at the local food coop and grocery stores back then. And Nick would probably not have dismissed this dish as being "obscene"."

A new face to welcome to this round of Cook The Books is Amy of Gluten Glory's Kitchen, another Ruth Reichl fan. Amy says, "Re-reading the book reminded me of several things. I miss Gourmet Magazine. The newsstand version dropped off the shelves in 2009 just before the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s seasons. It was the go-to guide for fine food, good living and excellent writing. So, reading Comfort Me with Apples though it’s a memoir of Reichl in her pre-Gourmet days, brings to mind Gourmet Magazine to me." For her inspiration Amy noted, "A recipe that was in Reichl’s book was Dacquoise with Mocha Buttercream. Reichl ends a bittersweet chapter of her life with this recipe. It signifies a memory of hers of passions and emotions that cannot be bottled. My husband declared “only you would find Dacquoise comfort food.” This is comfort food. Food that brings back to you the nostalgia of something that you cannot relive, but you can taste. A taste that invokes a memory." Welcome Amy! We are happy to have you and your fabulous Dacquoise join in the CTB fun!

Finally, over at Kahakai Kitchen, I (Deb) ;-) often find myself lurking on Ruth's website whenever I need a hit of her writing. I love to read her descriptions of restaurants, dinners with friends, the food she is making, and even her simple pleasure in a tiny blue bowl. So when none of the recipes in the book really pulled me in, I headed there to find my inspiration. The recipe for Persian Rice Pudding or Sholeh Zard caught my eye both for the vibrant color and for Ruth's description, "Rice pudding is the chicken soup of desserts. Ultimate comfort food, it's an international dish that changes its style as it travels the world." I totally agree! I made just a quarter of the recipe's 12 servings--for portion control and I was a bit worried about just how sweet and floral it would be--but Ruth was right--it was delicious. Just sweet enough, and the rose and saffron along with the crunchy bits of almond and pistachio were wonderful with the aromatic basmati rice. Exotic comfort food at its best! 

What an array of amazing dishes we have assembled here! I love how everyone found their own inspiration from Ruth's words, and the creativity and passion around each entry. My only wish is to be able to taste the incredible food that everyone made. Someday... That Cook The Books gathering and potluck we dream of sounds better and better with each round that we do.

If you missed out this round and like food, books, and foodie books, consider joining us at Cook The Books for the April/May pick; The Feast Nearby: How I Lost my Job, Buried a Marriage, and Found My Way by Keeping Chickens, Foraging, Preserving, Bartering, and Eating Locally (All on Forty Dollars a Week) by Robin Mather, hosted by the wonderful Deborah of Eliot's Eats

Happy reading, cooking and eating!

Kahakai Kitchen