The Feast Nearby

Thursday, February 2, 2012
I did it. I bought and read another book about owning chickens. Andy better watch out because a chicken coop is totally going up in the backyard, sooner or later.

I think Amazon recommended The Feat Nearby to me a while back; probably late last summer when I was busy searching It's the memoir of an out of work food editor (and as a pretty loyal reader of Fine Cooking and Cooking Light, I'm all over that) who moves to her small cabin in southwest Michigan to reorganize her life. With her poodle and parrot as her companions, she lives frugally, but focused on eating locally.  

While Mather's essays, which follow a full year of life in her 650 square ft. cabin (where the nearest stoplight is *gasp!* eight miles away. . .  cynical Ada feels the need to point out that she lives 53-ish miles from the nearest stoplight) are written in lovely prose, the essays are just that: essays. This is no how-to book, this is a chance to wax poetic on chickens, raspberry jam, and the single life.

One thing I was disappointed by was the lack of concrete detail about how exactly she got by on a $40 a week food budget. And frankly, $40 a week for food . . . for one person? As someone who capped her weekly food budget at $30 immediately after college, I'm just not that impressed. Despite what we're lead to believe, it is not that hard to both eat cheaply and well, just buy lots of dried goods - lentils, rice, pasta and peanut butter are your friend - and make sure you eat everything (i.e. produce) before it goes bad. Now, if Mather was living on $40 a week, full stop, then we'd truly have a "hold the presses" sort of thing going on. Hrumph! 

What was I saying?

Right, details. . .

While, I fully enjoyed the book for what it was, with a tagline like "how I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally," I wanted some details. I didn't just want to hear in passing that you set up some strawberry preserves for fresh produce swapping system with your neighbor.

She talks a lot about carefully planning her yearly food supply (which included canning 50 pints of diced tomatoes!), but never gives many specifics. Call me crazy, but I want to see an appendix with information about exact amounts you canned, dehydrated, froze, etc. to get yourself through 12 months.

At the end of the essay she includes a set of recipes related to the essay's topics. We've tried out a couple of the recipes and they are yummy.  I made the lamb and apricot tagine to use up the leg of lamb I picked up on sale after Easter last year and just the other night I followed her directions for stuffing a squash. They're both winners and they make me anxious to try out her other recipes. That said, her directions for yogurt proved disappointing, but then I'm just not sure you're supposed to make yogurt when it's -3F outside. So I'm stalking up that failure to me and not her.

If you're looking for a homey, comforting read (the woman knits, how can you not love her?) for long winter evenings, this is a great choice . . . especially if you have a penchant for reading cooking magazines anyway.

Full disclosure: I did not pay for this book because my fabulous brother gave me a B&N gift certificate for Christmas. (Score!) The opinions expressed in this review are my own and I received no compensation for this review. 

P.S. Happy Groundhog's Day! 6 more weeks of winter where you are? We *always* have six more weeks of winter after February 2, so this day's a total cop-out in northern Minnesota. 


  1. LOL Ada...I don't need her...or her book...because I have YOU :)

  2. I would have been frustrated too. I always prefer the details when it comes to preserving. I made jams as my wedding favours last summer, and I couldn't believe how people fought over the flavours. There is something to be said when so many people love the taste of homemade, but don't take the time to make it themselves. I have a great book on preserves, my mom bought me at a garage sale. And when I lived in Newfoundland I was amazed that they not only preserved fruit, jams, and pickles, but meat, fish and squid! Let me know if you ever need any tips!

  3. Ha, I second the Irish Italian blessing - not her book, but YOU.
    Get your hot water bag out and lets make some yogurt. Get all itchy about you not having freshly creamy homemade yogurt ;-)

  4. sounds like its a good read for inspiration... but not necessarily a how-to :) Maybe you should write that version!

  5. Hmm, sound interesting! But I'm with you, I would expect the details since that is the basic premise of the book. I'm glad her recipes have proven to be good. Love the concept!

  6. Nice to know--thanks for the review. I agree--$40 a week for food?? No problem. Our whole family could manage that and still have beer.
    Have you ever read "Hit by A Farm" by Catherine (K?) Friend? So funny. It's about sheep--it fantastically opens with instructions given to her and her lesbian partner on how to handle ram testicles to tell if he'll be a good breeder. She lives in SW Minnesota. No knitting, but she's a writer and thought she'd be so magically inspired by moving to a rural area. I could relate.

  7. I love book reviews. This one sounds really interesting! I could learn a lot.
    Twitter: @GlamKitten88

  8. Ada, 1 cup of Greek yogurt. Hope it works!

  9. So when's your book coming out? Because I think your's will be better... I mean her's sounds okay, but come on, you live 53 miles from a stoplight. You win.

    PS - Great review.

  10. I want a chicken coop..... I want chickens... badly. Alas, that doesn't seem in my immediate future. The book sounds interesting, but I agree with your take on it needing more details. And I agree with Katie's comment--- your book will be soooo much better!

  11. Just wanted to let you know I nominated you for a little award, find it here:

  12. Hi ! I found you via a blog Hop from Beck Valley Books. You reccomndation sounds like a comfotable read . ( does that make sense?) I had a chicken coop with a family of mini Bantum chickens ( BeBe Reds) years ago and am hoping to have some again one day. Have you ever read Hen's Dancing by Raffaella Barker ? It's a fun read .
    P.S. I live in Iowa , we have 6 more weeks of winter regadless of whether the rodent sees his shadow or not !
    Now following , by the way :)

  13. I'm in love with chickens too. I have two little parrots (not the same I know). But have discovered how wonderful birds as "pets". In my area Urban Chicken keeping is on the rise. The local laws were recently changed so that you can own up to 3 hens and live in the city limits. Last summer I visited several urban chicken coops in the next town over for the Coop Tour. They are allowed more hens. The coops were beautiful and so were the chickens.


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