The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather

At first glance, The Feast Nearby appears to be a cookbook of sorts, but is way more – it’s a meditation on losses, life changes, and the joys of rural living and the seasons.

The author was a renowned food writer with the Chicago Tribune until a few years ago, when the newspaper laid her off and her husband divorced her.  Left with limited monetary funds but with a vital resource – a small cabin in the woods of Michigan, Mather used her formidable knowledge of food preservation to stretch her food dollars farther than most of us could imagine.  This book chronicles a year in her life. 

Sectioned off by season, each group of essays focuses on the food of that particular season, for the most part, and also touches on Mather’s personal growth, as she learns exactly what it means to eat local.  Does it always require buying organic, or is it better to support local businesses, even if they aren’t completely “green”?  She strikes an interesting balance between the two and provides helpful insights to food labeling. 

The author encounters affable family business people and cranky government officials alike, and wisely strikes up friendships with the few neighbors who share her lakeside sojourn – their skills and garden-growing talents become indispensable to her yearlong survival in her largely isolated cabin, particularly as the testy winter winds of Michigan comes bearing down on her cabin and its questionable heating.

This book is a quiet read, a meditative one, and a sure springing board for recipes and food ideas.  I would have liked a more conclusive budgetary rundown of the author’s food forays, but that is a minor issue when taking in the book as a whole.  Read The Feast Nearby at the very least if you need some cheering up and want to see how someone else succeeds in initially bad circumstances.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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