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On becoming a locavore

I just ate a book.

IMG_7116Well, I didn’t really eat it; it was more of a pleasurable chew on a good book.

Robin Mather’s book, “The Feast Nearby”,  had been napping on my bedside pile for so long that I wondered if it had  started to ripen. It is one of those books whose cover called to me in the gift shop at the Morton Arboretum. Actually, it called to me on several occasions until I finally gave in to temptation, figuring it had fewer calories than a bar of chocolate. (I can rationalize anything, especially a good looking book.) I plucked it up and brought it home, where it languished, as books often do. It even posed for a photo shoot once before.

After a very busy week, I was ready to slow down a bit and take a bite into Mather’s book, which I did in three delectable sittings.

The full title of Robin Mather’s book is “The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, eating locally (all on forty dollars a week).  A mouthful. Just typing it makes me hungry.

Robin Mather’s book is about her personal journey of discovery after simultaneously losing her job as a food reporter for the Chicago Tribune during the cutbacks a few years ago and her husband asking for a divorce.  A native of Michigan, she returns to their small cabin on Stewart Lake in Western Michigan, with Boon, her dog, and Pippin her parrot, determined to live locally on $40 a week, which she chronicles engagingly in her essays.

“The Feast Nearby” is just that; a book filled with the nourishment close at hand. It is of personal stories about fireflies and cheese, chooks and coffee production, with insightful information on eating locally, canning and preserving, bartering and knitting. Robin Mather writes in  a humorous, friendly, conversational style; one that invites the reader in for a cup of coffee whose beans were roasted in her own kitchen, laced with real cream that she has skimmed from the top of milk.  It is not preachy, nor did it leave me intoning mea culpa over what I purchase or eat. Instead, “The Feast Nearby” invited me, and will you as well, to explore the foods and the services that are closest to us and our tables.

This book is a written invitation to become a locavore.

The bonus? Dozens of recipes for real strawberry shortcake, homemade yogurt and cottage cheese, canning techniques, hunting for morels and finding the best bramble patches. Why, there is even a recipe for knitting a snug cap, which Mather does for Wally, a friendly neighbor who buzzes about the lake helping his neighbors, except in winter when he is busy ice fishing, hence the newly knit hat.

To add to the pleasure of easy, nutritious, recipes with what one has on hand (or in pantry), there is a wonderful conversion chart in the back. I now have an easy find, right where my bookmark is, to convert the recipes of my blogging friends from around the world who tempt me with their delectables.

To say that “The Feast Nearby” is a gentle read would only be half the reason to open this book. It is also a cookbook that follows the midwestern seasons. One does not need to live in the midwest, however, to know the value and pleasure of eating what is growing nearby and of putting up, away, or by for the lean months – or how gazpacho really is better for the palate and the body on simmering, hot days.

A gentle read.  A user-friendly cookbook.  A dash of humor and a dusting of hope. What more can be had from “The Feast Nearby”? Well, each chapter has whimsical titles, such as On snapping turtles and strawberries  or On cicadas, sweet corn, and the pleasure of a job well done. There are locals with whom Mather barters with – and befriends – and reasons for buying Jiffy Cake mixes; even though she bakes from scratch and the flour is harvested elsewhere. She buys the mixes because they are manufactured in a nearby town, providing jobs for many, which has prompted me to check labels and seek products that are manufactured closer to me.

My friends,  you will enjoy this book.

While I gorged myself on its pages in just three days, don’t be afraid to taste it for yourself, for it is a worthy grazing feast that can be picked up at any chapter and read with ease. When I get up from my easy chair, I will find a proper spot in my cooking queue for “The Feast Nearby”, sandwiched among my favorite ladies; Gladys Taber and Ina Garten, Betty Crocker’s “Kitchen Gardens” illustrated by Tasha Tudor and my 43-year-old dog-eared, gravy stained, batter spattered copy of the “Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook”.

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Bryology

Bryology
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PRONUNCIATION:   (bry-OL-uh-jee)

MEANING:  noun: The branch of botany that deals with mosses, liverworts, and hornworts.

ETYMOLOGY: From Greek bryo- (moss) + -logy (study). Earliest documented use: 1863.

USAGE: “The book’s protagonist … spends most of her life practicing bryology on her father’s estate.”Maggie Caldwell; Gather No Moss; Mother Jones (San Francisco); Sep/Oct 2013.

 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bryology

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Monochromatic Days

UnknownThere I was, driving along the byway, “The Rosie Project” on audio, mentally clicking off the things I needed to do, didn’t get done, or would rather be doing, when I saw the pair of black slacks and equally monochromatic shell sitting primly on the passenger seat. I meant to take these items to the cleaners on Monday, and here it was, Wednesday. A quick right. A quick left and a parking space. I whipped out my wallet, grabbed my monochromatic clutch of garments, waddled across the parking lot – and right into Payless Shoes.

Huh? Shoes?

It was just one of those days when my mind stayed home while the rest of me was out to lunch.

Around I turned, to the quizzical stares of the shoe clerk restocking shoeboxes, and continued my Aunt Jemima Puddle Duck waddle into the cleaners, where there was, of course, a long line.

There is always a long line at high noon.

Taking my place in the queue, I tapped my toes to the bouncy, iron pressing music, counting it as my day’s exercise, and inhaled the cleaning fumes, which surely made my brain foggy for when my turn at the checker came up, and she sweetly asked for my phone number, I went blank. BLANK!  The fog of steam eroding my cranium.  I could not remember my phone number. The sweet but clueless girl looked slightly bemused. Honestly, who am I to call her clueless? We stared at each other. “Now, wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait;  I seem to be having one of THOSE days” as I gave her my name, which was surely in the computer. Aha. Just then a phone number popped into my newly fumed brain. “Er, try . . . ” which she did while I inwardly cringed, for I’ve been known to give out my sister’s phone number instead of my own, which my sister finally realized after several months of odd messages from hair stylists and the doctors’ offices looking for Penny or Penelope. That is a story for another day, friend, for this day has a page of its own.

My pants and shell were whisked off to be cleaned, my receipt was firmly in hand, I muttered an “Ach, Columbus” – and off I went to wherever was I going next, which was really not where I was supposed to be.

So it goes on these monochromatic days, here along the Cutoff.

 

 

A Bit of the Irish

Whilst the Irish Soda Bread was baking and the corned beef dinner was  simmering, a few of my favorite Irish films came to mind, and I was wondering what some of your favorite Irish movies might be.

One that always sets me to laughing is Waking Ned Devine

Of course, there is The Quiet Man, which usually shows up in the these parts on St. Patrick’s Day, as it did again this year.

Evelyn is perfect for social justice and protection of children –  and a wee bit of angel rays,

 

and Finian’s Rainbow if just the one for song and dance.

The trailers are from YouTube. A few I couldn’t find but are enjoyable to watch include Da, The Mammy,  The Secret of Roan Inish, and Ryan’s Daughter.

While I’m blathering on about movies, I would like to mention the British import , Moone Boy on PBS? Have you watched it?

What are your favorite films of Ireland?

 

The Ides of March

IMG_7103Most days, when I awake, I look into the mirror, smile or frown, and have a bit of a greeting with my mom.

“Hi, Ma”  I say and she smiles or frowns back at me, depending on my mood, with our likenesses  more profound the older I get – and the closer I come to the age she died.

I think of Ma more vividly on special days; her birthday, mine, holidays, and the Ides of March, which is the day she passed away. It was also the birthday of my Aunt Christine. We had several years in our family where one or the other relative passed on one of our birthdays.

At any rate, I’ve been thinking of my mom and about her last gift to me.

Just days before her death, on a sunny afternoon in her hospital room, Ma patted her bed for me to come over and sit. She was bandaged and bruised where the doctor has attempted putting a port in for her to receive chemo. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread too far and there was nothing to be done but to make her comfortable.

On this particular day, March 10 or 11, Ma was very cognizant and she wanted to talk with me. She made her simple wishes known and then we talked about faith and her dying.

My mother’s faith was simple and unquestioning. She wasn’t all that afraid; just enough so to want to talk about it, and so we did. We talked about God and heaven and those she would see again, especially my father. We cried and held hands and she called me her rock (a title I never wanted) and in those moments together my mother gave me the last gift I would ever receive from her. She gave me her love and showed me how to say goodbye with grace and dignity.

We were all with her when she passed. I was right at her side and I have always known that I caught her last breath before she went home.

It wasn’t until somewhat recently that I realized I gave her a gift as well. I gave her the moments she needed to put her thoughts and beliefs to rest, to talk about dying – and to say goodbye. It is funny, isn’t it, the things we continue to learn from our parents, long after they are gone?

This morning, when I awoke, we smiled at each other, on this the Ides of March.

Strolling

IMG_7091It was such a pleasant afternoon that we decided to take a little stroll around the Dean Nature Conservancy.

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Hello?  Anybody home?

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In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.

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At the tip of the second of the four main branches on the top photo, there is something round hanging. You should be able to see it if you click on the photo. Tom was able to close in on it with the camera. Using my “Peterson Field Guides’ Eastern Birds’ Nests” and the internet, it appears to be the nest of the red eyed vireo. From the ground, it looked like a ball of twine hanging from a branch.

I love these sweet discoveries in life. Having four seasons often affords us the opportunity to see such wonders that are bared to the naked eye when trees and bushes are stripped of leaves. The first discovery was the nest. The second was the swollen buds.

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It was warm enough to walk with fleece jackets instead of winter coats. Here we are playing with our shadows.

IMG_7070The gravel paths were without ice or snow, though it was soft stepping, and the pond was still covered in ice. We could see deer prints and dog prints, as well as rollerblade prints. All sorts of creatures walk these paths in such pleasant weather, while the tips of thistle finish their long winter’s rest and the milkweed pods are as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboards.

Let the new season commence!

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IMG_7000“It was one of those March days
when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:
when it is summer in the light
and winter in the shade.”

- Charles Dickens. Great Expectations.

 

 

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