I have always had a soft spot for foodie books--either fiction or memoir--that involve major life changes and new beginnings. Our April/May Cook the Books selection, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats, is a great example of starting over. The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week) by Robin Mather takes place in essays and recipes, set over four seasons in a tiny Michigan cabin. Although not all of us have the ability and willpower to live as Mather does, it offers practical tips and encourages a simpler, more locavore way of life without preaching, and it also manages to be interesting and engaging.
It's a little embarrassing to note that I ordered this book online without realizing that I already had a copy and had read it back in 2011 and cooked the navy bean soup recipe from it. It wasn't that it was forgettable, it has been a few months where life has spiraled out of control for me and a lot of details have been missed in the process. Anyway, a book return and a quick re-read later, I realized that I enjoyed it just as much as the first time I read it. Mather's words and the food she cooks are simple, homey and great to curl up with at night before bed. It made me want to get a tiny cabin complete with a poodle, a smart African Grey parrot, and maybe a kitten, and try to live on $40 a week too. Since that's tempting but not realistic, Mather's book is the next best thing.
As, mentioned, I have not been much in the mood for cooking, so I went through the many delicious-sounding recipes in the book looking for something very simple. I thought about recreating the navy bean soup I made the first time I read the book--this time making it vegan, or even trying the more seasonally appropriate gazpacho, but soup-making hurts my heart a little too much right now. I kept going back to Mather's recipe ideas for "penniless" entertaining and to the "Ethel Dip" which sounded like a version of Southern pimento cheese. I am not normally a mayonnaise dip person but something about sharp cheese and green pepper in my favorite Just Mayo garlic mayonnaise, sounded simple and that kind of so-bad-for-you-it's-good kind of comfort food. I did increase the cheddar cheese a bit and decrease the mayo by 1/2 cup--which I am glad I did as I think it would have been too 'gloppy' for me with the entire cup and a half.
Mather says that this family specialty is named "for the woman who brought it into our lives" and notes that "it always seems a crowd-pleaser" and "wants toasted thin rounds of bread, please, alongside."
Slightly Adapted from The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather
(Makes about 2 1/2 Cups)
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise (I used 1 cup garlic mayo)
1/2 cup grated sharp cheese (I used 3/4 cup grated cheddar)
1/2 cup green pepper, grated with its juice
a bundle of scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
dash of Tabasco
dash of Worcestershire sauce
Mix ingredients together in a bowl. Serve with toasted bread or crackers.
Notes/Results: OK, if you are not a mayo fan,this dip may not sound all that appetizing, particularly if you have not discovered the delights of pimento cheese, but it is surprisingly good and potentially addicting--especially when served on grilled bread rounds. It is creamy, cheesy, tangy, with sharper bites of green pepper and scallions, savory flavor from the garlic mayo and Worcestershire, plus a touch of heat from the Tabasco. I may have to try it in a grilled cheese sandwich like this Pimento Grilled Cheese. I would make it again--especially with the reduced amount of mayo.
The deadline for this Cook the Books round is tomorrow, Monday June 1st, and Debra will be rounding up the entries at the CTB site shortly after. If you missed out on The Feast Nearby and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for June/July when Simona of briciole will be hosting The Wedding Bees: A Novel of Honey, Love, and Manners by Sarah-Kate Lynch, another fun re-read for me (find my review post with a bagel sandwich and honey mint lemonade here).