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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
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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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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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“How often it is a small, almost unconscious event that makes a turning point.”
― Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place

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On Monday, the Elmhurst Garden Club celebrated our scholar recipients with a festive, delicious, nourishing “spread”. Tables were adorned with bookish centerpieces and the names of the scholarship recipients. The meeting’s highlights were the creative and informative presentations by these worthy scholars. They give me hope for the future.

On Tuesday, I put a few bits of our home back to order; the “this” and “that” which  become jumbled when one has been laid up for a spell. It feels good, does it not, to slowly get back to normal – whatever your normal may be?  I then doused some “fires” that had been simmering, learning a few new tricks of the technology trade as I did. While I whimper over how many issues seem to cross over my virtual desk, I do love a challenge and the opportunities to still grow and learn and be useful.

On Wednesday, as I wended my way down the Cutoff, a Cooper’s Hawk caught my attention. He was perched on a branch, not ten feet from my car. As I rolled down my winter-smudged window, we stared, eye-to-eye, for a few pregnant moments. He then he tilted his head, shrugged his shoulders and rose, his magnificent feathers barely whispering in the crisp wintry air. I so love the sound of a bird taking flight; that almost imperceptible instant of take-off that catches the air.

On Thursday, which was colder than cold, the Antler Man and I spent the afternoon at the retinologist, heading home as the sun was setting. I iced my knee, then headed back in the same direction I had just come from. Sometimes I wonder if my life isn’t just making a rut in the road with my tires. I nibbled on a few crackers (I’m telling a fib; they were Oreos) parked my car, and was greeted by Marilyn, who always make me feel good just telling me hello. We were headed to Hammerschmidt Chapel at Elmhurst College, picking up other friends along the way, with Bev driving . Like the good little pilgrims we are, we filled two pews and chattered away, not missing a beat, from one conversation to the next, turning left and right and behind, as only women can do.

Our rewards for venturing out on a frigid night were twofold: the first being the rising of our faithful friend, the moon, who crept up over the roof of the student union, round and full, casting its reflection upon the sleak slate of icy snow on the college’s quad. It brought to my mind Corrie ten boom’s “almost unconscious event” as we oohed and ahhed, greeting others who also stopped to look at the moon before heading inside for a most remarkable and challenging lecture by Sister Simone Campbell. Also known as the Nun on the Bus, she was the second reward and the reason for our evening’s adventure. She made us laugh and challenged all in attendance with her faith and her life’s mission of justice.

Now, it is Friday. The week is nearly spent. The sun is shining, defying the mere 10th degree. There are deceptively thin sheets of ice to navigate and shards of icicles hanging from eaves; weapons of nature to avoid. We are still bundled up beyond recognition and so weary of winter we could cry – but our tears would freeze. Our mothers told us so, many full moons ago.

We are, however, at a turning point. There, in the snow and ice and rotting leaves of last Autumn, low on the ground and ever-so-tentative, are the precious tips of daffodils pushing through frozen soil, poking and shoving, demanding this winter to cease.

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Well, not really on bended knee; just a short while before my knee wouldn’t bend. It sounded like a catchy title, so, here you have it. I blame it on the pain medication.

DSCN7478We often stop in the Ginkgo Restaurant and Cafe at the Morton Arboretum for a cup of coffee or chocolate, sometimes breakfast or lunch, depending on what’s on the docket for the day, and we’ll sit at one of the tables, looking out the long expanse of windows that afford a view of Meadow Lake, with its mile or so walking path.

In summer, there are baby strollers – and those who stroll – taking the footpath around the lake, looking for sunning turtles and enjoying the lush colors of the season as the prairie plants reach a crescendo.

In spring, grackles may be nesting. They dive-bomb those walking along the path, especially those wearing red. I always want to jump up at shout “take cover” and bang on the windows, warning walkers of eminent attacks. I don’t, of course, and the birds are just warning passers-by.

In fall, there are the magnificent colors that remind me of why we must suffer the cold of winter, in a “to every season” sort of way. The Morton is ablaze in the brilliance of nature come fall, and the cafe is just the place to stop and catch one’s breath.

In winter, there is a coating of snow and a sheet of ice on Meadow Lake. Whiteness and quiet and the hush-a-bye beauty of snow in its more peaceful mood lend a perfect hand to reflect on through the windows.

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On Sunday, with a pocket of time in our schedule, an unplanned moment, we decided to drive out to the Arboretum after church. I needed to be home by noon in order to meet up with a friend to see her young granddaughter’s art in an exhibit. As we drove through the Piney Woods, all dusted in snow with the ascending trunks reaching toward heaven, it felt like a cathedral. My unsung prayers drifted upward as we slowly drove about.

You know the rest of the story, from my previous post, so, I won’t repeat it here. I am relieved to say that my knee seems to be healing, I’ve made progress in mastering the cane, and am hoping to slowly resume activities and begin to look to what more I made need to do. All that knee jerking activity is what it is and what will be will be. Thank you all for you kind words, thoughts, and prayers.

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Before I turned on a dime (so to speak), while enjoying refreshments in the Cafe, the world outside seemed to glow in possibilities, large and small. The lake before us, just outside the glass. A couple, one with cane and the other helping him along, slowly made their way around. A premonition?

Between the lake, the glass, and me, was the back of a chair with the signature cutout of a ginkgo leaf, just waiting for me to gaze through it, to share a different view of the world.

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I’m dreaming in green; lush, mossy, magnificent green and longing for those first, tentative tips of spring bulbs and pussy willow blossoms.

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While the sun hasn’t shown her rays very often lately, here along the Cutoff the days ARE growing longer and the seed catalogues are tempting us with old reliables and new introductions.

There is a dream of buds swelling here and there. With a hope that is buried and waiting in this long winter, the daffodils and hyacinths are waiting, their tips of buttery yellow and grape are the epitome of patience under the ice and snow.

With our heads bent to the wind, we will brave the gusts and the cold and the snow and whatever else this season may still throw at us. We will layer on extra clothing as the car warms up. Once home again a cup of freshly brewed coffee or a piping pot of tea. Soup is often simmering on the stove, and now that it is Lent, pepper and egg sandwiches are the fare of choice on a Friday afternoon.

I’ve been enjoying tall cups of hot, Mexican chocolate now and again, with my dear friend Kathryn or with my daughter 9781444730302-1-4Jennifer, at a new coffee house that recently opened not far from here. Tom and went there for an afternoon treat on Valentine’s Day. La Fortuna’s owners are third generation coffee producers. Isn’t it amazing how fast a new establishment can become a favorite?

Books, of course, are always at my side. I’ve been reading “The House on an Irish Hillside” by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, and I’ve been pulling out old issues of Victoria Magazine for inspiration . . .

. . .  and I have ben hopping about, chasing sunbeams with my camera – whenever the sun pokes through.

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What are you reading these days?

What are you sipping on?

Where are you going – or where did you just come from?

What are the signs of your season beginning to change?

Will you watch Sunday’s episode of Downton Abbey, the Oscars, or both? Neither?

Are any of you watching in Grantchester?

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2-blizzard-of-1888-nyc-grangerimage from here

I awoke to another gray morn here on the Cutoff.

 I bit my tongue, tried not to complain about the cold, felt mightily for the folks on the east coast; especially Boston.

I remember our winter of ’78/’79, with snow piled so high it bested Tom’s 6’4″ frame. Having “dibs” on parking space even floated out to the burbs that year with folks shoveling snow off their rooftops and the deepening worry of flooding if snow melts too fast.

I will admit to laughing out loud with weatherman, Jim Cantore, who jumped around with unbridled glee at the thundersnow in Boston. Alison of Apple Pie and Napalm recently remarked about weather, that “I never worry until Cantore shows up” in a comment on a recent post. It took me a moment to figure “Cantore” out. I finally remembered.  He is the meteorologist from the Weather Channel who comes out in the worst of storms.

Jim Cantore was enjoying the thundersnow, which is a rare and potentially dangerous phenomenon not often witnessed.  I experienced it for the first time in 2011, and wrote about it here.

But, I digress. . .

. . . as I tickle the keyboard,  snow is sneaking around, barely visible. I knew it was snowing before looking outside, for the room darkened as gathering flakes shaded the skylights; white upon gray upon winter.

I turn to Billy Collins to bring some smiles on yet another colorless, wintry day, where he, too, writes about the sound of snow – and other things.

Snow Day

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows

the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.

In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.

But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news

that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—

the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.

So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.

And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down.
Billy Collins, “Snow Day” from Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems

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