Posts Tagged ‘Gladys Taber’

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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DSCN6603“But in this season it is well to reassert that the hope of mankind rests in faith.

“As man thinketh, so he is.”

Nothing much happens unless you believe in it, and believing there is hope for the world is a way to move toward it. “

Gladys Taber


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002008There I was, walking around Jackson Square Mall in downtown La Grange with three of my very dear friends;  antique sleuths, each and every one. We were talking and teasing, “Penny, you really need to have this” or “my mother had one of these” in the companionable way of old friends.

As we walked toward my favorite booth crammed with used books, nestled in a nook that was probably a closet in a previous life, I squeezed in and I glanced up at the cookbooks. in the far corner.  What should be staring back?  “The Stillmeadow Cookbook” by Gladys Taber. Well, dear reader, Gladys’ book jumped into my greedy little hands like a puppy who’s been left home alone all afternoon. Squeaking like a mouse, I gingerly opened the pages of this well-preserved, hard bound edition – and promptly declared it was mine, all mine!

You may recall that I adore Gladys Taber and her writings about Stillmeadow Farm. My introduction to her was at the very same Jackson Square Mall where this cookbook emerged, on the same shelf where my first introduction to Gladys Taber’s words was.  When I wrote that first post, I quickly learned through generous comments of others that there were more than 50 books written by Gladys Taber and that there was well-establish organization of Taber fans;  aptly called the Friends of Gladys Taber. I keep meaning to sign up for their newsletter, which I understand is quite wonderful.

Since that first discovery of Gladys Taber and her common sense wisdom and wit and words that are filled with the simpler things in life and country living, I have acquired a baker’s dozen worth of her homespun books, filled with stories and articles that were published in the likes of Good Housekeeping Magazine and other periodicals. How I miss those days of short story installments and serial essays that used to be in women’s magazines. Ah well, dear friend, those days are past, but, we can still find words in books, some of which sit patiently on shelves in used book stores and booths, just waiting to be discovered.




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920“I often get up in the night and add to my list. Somehow the main function of a list is to make me feel well organized. Practically speaking, they aren’t much use as I invariably mislay them. I make careful grocery lists and leave them behind when I go to the village. But it is nice to know that when I get home, I’ll know what I forgot because it is under the coffeemaker right where I left it when I unplugged the pot. I put it back on the counter by the door and add to it. There is hope that I may once catch up with just one list for I notice they are smaller than they used to be. They are only one page. This is because I have discovered if I walk slowly down all the aisles at the market, ideas come to me! I look with interest at the soap shelves and I think SOAP, and get it.”  Gladys Taber. “The Stillmeadow Road”, November. page 246

I had just returned from a marathon of grocery shopping for our Thanksgiving dinner, settling the turkey in the refrigerator, piling sweet potatoes into a basket, placing a can of pineapple on the counter with an orange, an apple and cranberries for the relish. Turning around, there it was; the grocery list I’d forgotten! It was, of course, sitting right where I had placed it; that perfect spot where I wouldn’t forget it.

While waiting for water to boil for tea, I pulled out “The Stillmeadow Road” and turned to the chapter entitled November. I soon came upon the passage I quote. It was as though Gladys Taber was writing about me when she penned this more than 5o years ago. Gladys Taber‘s words still ring true today. I love it when prose is everlasting, don’t you?

It snowed today. Not much. Just enough to set the evening rush hour in a spin. Supper is in the oven. The table is set. Tom will be coming in the door in a bit. Until then, I think I’ll settle in a chair and see what else Gladys has to say about November – and maybe start a new list of all that I forgot.

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My New Year’s resolutions are simple. I resolve to be more patient, less selfish, cherish my friends, and in my small way help whoever needs help. I cannot conceivably influence the world’s destiny, but I can make my own life more worthwhile. I can give some help to some people; that is not vital to all the world’s problems and yet I think if everyone did just that, we might see quite a world in our time!

Gladys Taber. Stillmeadow Sampler. “Winter”. 

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to all of you from here on the Cutoff.

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Have I told you I love Autumn?

Though awakening in darkness is still taking some getting-used-to and the early end of sunlight at day’s end quickens my steps, I still love Autumn.

The crunch of leaves. The surprise of rosehips on the vine.  The sweet smell of apples.The luster of candles glowing through a window warms my soul and  has me leafing through Frost and Thoreau these last days of Autumn.

The fallen leaves still languish in assorted hues and textures on the lawn and in the flower beds, where perennials are spent and pleading for mercy – a hard task to toil when annuals are still blooming and a killing frost is yet to arrive.

It has been a strange fall, much like our past spring and summer. By now, there are usually hedgerows of leaves up and down our road; a sight to behold, I can assure you. Instead, we’ve still some green left on the trees and the magic of asters and mums still give us pleasure. We will surely be out in winter coats and stocking caps raking frosty leaves if we don’t get to them soon.

For now, however, I think I’ll light a candle and open the Stillwater Sampler by Gladys Taber. This latest addition to my Taber collection unexpectedly jumped into my hands the other day while browsing in my favorite little book booth at Jackson Square Mall. Yes, I’ll languish a bit more, like the leaves on the lawn, over the last of Autumn.

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I love Gladys Taber’s writings. She so often expresses exactly how I feel. So it was today as I worked outdoors, pulling weeds and the seemingly hundreds of Rose of Sharon that have sprouted up here and there and everywhere, in stiff competition with the creeping charlie and garlic mustard. There is such a simple sense of accomplishment, isn’t there, in getting things weeded out?

The violets were everywhere, happy in their springtime glory, and they reminded me so of my mom, whose name was Violet, and how our girls picked them come spring and made little bouquets for her. I really must pick a few and bring them in to set beside the lilies-of-the-valley that adorn a vase, reminding me of Jennifer and Jason’s wedding.

As I fussed about, I caught the sweet perfume of Kezzie’s crab apple tree, which we planted last year in honor of her birth. We fretted about the Donald Wyman crabapple all winter after discovering a randy buck had rubbed his antlers deep into the slender new trunk. We are so thrilled that it survived such an invasion.

The Korean lilac is ready to bloom, though it will be a one-sided affair this year. Deer, yes deer, have eaten all of the blossoms off of half of the bush, leaving the other half to fend for itself. I rather painful lopsided affair, but, I guess half is better than none.

It felt good to work outside; snipping and pulling and smelling the scents of springtime, especially after a long week on jury duty, which I will tell you about soon. Until then, won’t you please enjoy Kezzie’s crabapple tree and a little of Gladys Taber’s wit and wisdom below?

“The first time I went to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, I was so overcome by the riches that I felt faint. I managed to

Kezzie's tree, a Donald Wyman Crabapple.

bear it until I got to the El Greco, and then I sat down trembling, and when I could get up again I went right down to the basement and had a pot of nice ordinary tea and a pedestrian, rather stiff, sandwich. For the truth there is a limit to how much excitement one human being can endure. 

I feel the same way about May, when apple blossoms cloud the air, tulips and narcissi bloom, violets are thick enough to walk on, and the lilacs lean above the white picket fence heavy with fragrance. May would be a wonder, I think, with just one blossoming apple tree or one small white lilac. Or one violet plant with purple blooms and heart-shaped dark leaves. I would like to be able to play a lute and sit in the dappled shade and sing the hours away. However, I cannot carry a tune and the only instrument I ever could play was the ukulele, except for a brief struggle to master the guitar. So the music just stays in my heart.”      

Gladys Taber, Stillmeadow CalendarMay, page 95

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It is difficult not to be sentimental about May. It is like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “I am waylaid by beauty.” After a thunderstorm, it is an opalescent world. Lucent drops fall from the lilacs, the young leaves of the apples look polished. The wet grass smells sweet.  Gladys Taber, The Stillmeadow Road

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