Posts Tagged ‘Ina Garten’

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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I love to cook and eating, in my humble opinion, is a form of entertainment.

Some of the sweetest of life’s moments are when I’ve set a fine table. Family and friends are gathered round. Grace is given. Plates are passed. Then, there is that fleeting moment when I can taste the quiet and all are content in their meal.

 Second helpings? I purr like a kitten.

May I have this recipe? A friend for life.

Yes. I like to cook. I often read cookbooks as a bedtime stories .

When Tom’s great-aunt Ethel needed to move into a senior facility from the house her parents built on their homestead, she wrote  asking me if I would like anything. I wrote back my appreciation of the offer and wondered if I could have one of her cookbooks.

Ethel gave me all of her recipes; many written in her own hand, others cut from local newspapers or magazines, small little cookbooks from advertisers and notebook pages with bold penmanship. There is an original Nestles chocolate wrapper with the recipe for chocolate chip cookies and directions on how to score and cut the chocolate for chips. Dandelion wine. Meatloaf for the threshers.

Among these treasures is a “receipt” book from the local church, dated 1883. Inside, on pages of printed recipes, are other recipes on slips of paper, sewn onto the pages with a few well placed stitches. I imagine Ethel’s mother, at day’s end, sewing them in by the light of a kerosene lantern, securing their place in the time-honored ritual of feeding one’s family. A farmer’s wife of one hundred years past would not have had the money for paper clips. Straight pins were needed for patterns and hems. There would have been just needle and thread and tired hands basting page onto page of “receipts”.

My favorite cookbook authors of today?

Ina Garten of The Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes never disappoint. I have and use her cookbooks. I had the pleasure of meeting her with my friend Cindy. We both came home with signed books and smiles.

Alton Brown. He’s goofy and silly, I know, but he makes cooking seem like a fun chemistry project. I enjoy watching him and made his recipe for corned beef hash with the leftovers from our St. Patrick’s Day dinner. It was delicious.

I also enjoy watching Lidia’s Italy.  She inspires me to experiment with simple ingredients. Her love of family hits home with me.

I also enjoy reading Dana Treat. You might like to check her blog and her many vegetarian recipes.

My favorite cookbooks are what I fondly refer to as the “church lady cookbooks”. They are the ones compiled from the PTAs, booster clubs, the Junior League or local fire stations. They have the best recipes, even though you may make only one from the book you bought for $10, spiral bound, a local artist’s rendering on the cover. No woman I know would submit a flawed recipe and every woman I know plumps with pride when told you cooked her recipe with great success.

Do you like to cook or entertain? Do you have a favorite cook or cookbook?

Dana Carvey's "church lady".

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I love the way sunshine sneaks into our home this time of year. Sometimes, a slant comes through the dining room windows and slides to a candle in the living room, making it glow in a way no flame can. Other times it dances down the hallway, alighting upon a small figurine or picture like a spotlight on a soloist. This morning, an angel ray slipped in and touched on a bottle of burgundy that was used in the beef bourguignon – our Christmas dinner. The shadow was so bright and clear, so large and illuminating, I grabbed the camera and tried to capture it.

Angel rays. Such a warm set of words. The term first came to me in a wonderful little called “Evelyn”. I wrote about it here, “Evelyn” is a moving story based on a true event of a man trying to regain custody of his three children when he is declared an unfit father. Evelyn, the oldest child and only girl, is told by her grandfather as she waits to be admitted to the girls’ home that the rays of sunshine coming through the window are the rays of an angel. Thereafter, angel rays appear at just the right moments.

Really, you must see “Evelyn”. Pierce Brosnan is the father and it is set in 1950’s Ireland. He even sings (and redeems himself, at least to me, of his singing performance in Mama Mia).

I was grateful for the shaft of sun, an angel ray, that warmed the kitchen this morning, reminding me of our delicious meal, the family that gathered, the moments together. Like Evelyn’s angel rays, it came at just the right moment.

(Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, has never disappointed me with her recipes. I used her recipe, which is a bit time consuming, but worth every minute of preparation. It can be found here if you are interested. The only thing I would leave out is the pearl onions.)

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We are celebrating the first birthday of a certain little miss this weekend and I offered to bring a cake. I would make it a few days beforehand and freeze it and we would take it up north so that Kezzie’s Mommy and Daddy could frost it. Of course, such an auspicious occasion called for not just any cake, but, a cake made from scratch, so, scratch I did, itching around in my favorite cookbooks, until I came upon an Ina Garten recipe (she never lets me down).

Cocoa powder and buttermilk and freshly brewed hot coffee all thrown into the mix of ingredients – how easy is that?

I decided to used a twelve inch pan instead of two layers for easier cutting and rummaged around until I found one my grandmother used to use to make karidopeta, a most delectable Greek nut cake, laden with a sugar water syrup that I really must make sometime soon. This time, however, it made Beatty’s Chocolate Cake from Barefoot Contessa at Home.

Ina’s recipe calls for the pan to be buttered, then lined with parchment paper, and buttered again, followed with flour. My mother always made her cakes this way. I used to watch her and wonder as a young girl why she did it this way and prefer to use PAM myself these days, but, the recipe called for parchment and butter, so, parchment and butter it was. The cake came out beautifully. Have you ever used parchment paper? There is something that awakened the child in me as I pulled the paper slowly away from the cake. A finality of a cake well baked? Maybe I was just remembering pleasant times with my mom.

Unfortunately, several hours later, as I went to slide the cake onto a cardboard cake round for freezing and transporting, the cake slipped and was rent in half! Sigh! (Well, actually, it wasn’t a sigh, but a few choice words instead as I chided myself). What was to be done?

I cut the “better half” into two large pieces to freeze, and, well, it was ruined anyways, so, I might just have taken a little slice and then Tom might have taken another and, gosh, Jennifer came by and we both ate a few slivers, just to make sure it would taste good. Oh my! This cake is so rich and moist that it really doesn’t need frosting.

Another big, round cake is cooling right now. Beatty’s Chocolate Cake is a keeper, whether whole or in pieces, and I’m mighty determined to get this one up to Minnesota in one piece real soon.

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How Easy is That?

I did not need another cookbook. That fact didn’t stop me. It never stops me. A 40% off coupon from Borders and a little nudge from friend Roz were all I needed.  Besides, Ina Garten has never let me down.

How Easy is That?

A great title for a Barefoot Contessa cookbook as it is a phrase Ina Garten often uses on her cooking show, because her recipes are easy,  and I have been devouring its pages since I brought it home. Pretty tasty pages if I must say so.

While I would agree with some that this is not Ina’s best cookbook of the seven, I still enjoy it and know I will refer to it often. I know I will be making her rich beef barley soup (page 58) one cold and blustery day soon, and the picture of her wild rice salad (page 110) looks good enough to eat right now! Peppered throughout the book and on the final pages are some 68 tips to running an efficient kitchen. I’ve been cooking and baking for a long time now and most of these are things I already do, but, that’s okay. There are new cooks starting out that will take notice and, besides, it is good to be reminded that you are doing something well and tossed in between are some tips. I wish I had thought of myself.

I did laugh aloud at the tips on post-it notes, remembering a time or two that Katy good-naturedly laughed at her barefoot mama for sticking little sheets of paper into bowls and pans: artichoke dip, salad, buns, turkey, spanakopita, paper cookies.

I positioned How Easy is That? on the shelf with my other Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, nestled against a few other favorites. My grandmother’s coffee grinder seemed to smile at me. Or, maybe it was at all the sticky notes peeking out of the pages of favorite recipes.

Now, I ask you, how easy is that?

I guess I better get our supper started!

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