Customer Reviews: 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 $40 a week)
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on May 30, 2011
I just finished this book after receiving it the day after it was released, and my only complaint is that it wasn't longer! I would love to linger with this author a while more. Ms. Mather's story was moving and inspiring, and I really finished feeling that I could move towards a goal of buying my food more sustainably using the book as a guide. Along with the autobiographical essays, there are delicious sounding recipes (I can't wait to start making them!) and practical wisdom offered about how to put food by in more unusual ways than the strawberry jam we're all used to (although there is a a recipe for strawberry jam as well). I also love that the author's tone was not at all self-congratulatory; rather, the author reminds us that this is actually the way people used to live, in a time before huge supermarkets where out of season produce is available year round and when people were more resourceful.
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on August 4, 2011
The subtitle of Robin Mather's The Feast Nearby is a mouthful (pun intended), but it sums the book up nicely: "How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way to keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week)."

Robin Mather is a seasoned food writer and editor, having written 30 years for papers such as Chicago Tribune and The Detroit News and now at Mother Earth News. The Feast Nearby is her second book; the first, published in 1995, Garden of Unearthly Delight: Bioengineering and the Future of Food, perhaps before its time, discussing the two sides of eating locally or eating genetically modified foods.

The book caught my attention for several reasons. I have been eating predominantly locally grown, organic foods for some years now, and find myself as enthused about this food adventure today as I was when I first started. More so. I still can't believe what I've been missing most of my life in terms of culinary joy. But I was also intrigued because the cottage to which Mathers moved was in the neighborhood where I'd lived once--near Delton, in Michigan's Barry County.

I was also curious about Mather's claim to eat local and organic foods on $40 a week. Not that I am not already a believer. I don't spend much either, and I don't even can and preserve, but I do hear that complaint more often than I can count--that eating organic is too expensive. I'm still baffled by that. I spend less on groceries today than I did when I bought my food at the supermarket, packaged and wrapped.

Cooking from scratch is almost always less expensive. Add to that the joys of cooking with friends and family in the kitchen and at the table and, well, you get the idea of real value for your food dollar.

One might say that people tend to compare apples to oranges when they talk about cost. As Mather so well illustrates in her book, eating this way doesn't have to cost more. It tends to cost less. What does change, however, is one's eating habits. For me, this happened quite naturally once I started buying more of my food at farmers markets or even directly from the farmer, right on the farm. It became a new lifestyle, one that I enjoy immensely. It involves community, friendships, the building of enjoyable relationships that revolve around food ... and who doesn't know that when you throw a good party, more times than not, everyone ends up in the kitchen?

Mather's lifestyle change and food adventure evolve from what must have surely been a week from hell. As so many journalists, she was laid off from her newspaper job. That's bad enough, but this happened within days of hearing from her 12-year husband that he wanted a divorce. Ouch and ouch.

Whether Mather really is such a trooper or she just keeps it to a low simmer, but her book does not show much anguish or turmoil at such a double whammy. This isn't a book about shedding tears or general introspection. She simply packs up her dog, Boon, and her bird, Pippin (later to be joined by cat, Guff), and moves to the summer cottage in southwest Michigan the married couple had owned but the now single woman makes a permanent residence.

Time to set up a budget. Mather does what she does best: she shops for good food on a smart dollar, getting to know the locals in the process. As those who eat organic food and shop locally know, you soon learn to change how you eat, planning your menus around what is available when, rather than buying the items to meet the menu. One eats in season, and science is beginning to show that this may prove to be best for our health--and our wallet.

Mather is a good cook, and the 150 or so recipes she intersperses between her seasonal essays are good recipes. That is, I haven't tried them yet, but I plan to, and they were simple enough that I could read them with enjoyment, almost as if part of the preceding essay, a continuation of her story. They mostly use local foods, yet include a pinch of this or a dollop of that, bringing them a touch of the gourmet.

For those who live in the area described, as I do, I especially enjoyed reading about local markets. In fact, as I write this, my plan for the approaching weekend is to find the local butcher shop she describes, Geuke's Market in Middleville, Michigan, and stock up my own freezer. Reading about it once again made me realize why so many are so enthused about local markets. When she described the food available there, she also described the owner, Don Geuke, and the first seed of a food relationship is sown. That's something you never experience in the supermarket.

For those seeking a gritty story about a woman handling life upheaval, this isn't it. Mather's style is gentle storytelling, and she doesn't go deep. Her way is more to skim the fat off the surface and make a fine presentation, leave the rest up to you. The reader doesn't develop an intimate relationship with this author, but that may not have been her intent. Save the intimate relationship for reader and dish. This is a blend of cozy essay and cookbook, a nurturing nudge toward considering a more sensible and more sustainable lifestyle--and leave the excuses about financial constraints behind.

If we are a society that has forgotten how to cook, or how to keep a kitchen and a well-stocked pantry, Mather will be just the spice you need. Pull your chair to the table, read and eat the many flavors you've been missing.
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on June 4, 2011
I must admit that I am very familiar with Robin Mather, who worked at the Detroit News at a time when I was a brand new wife trying to figure out what to do with a kitchen and a husband. An article she wrote about making a vegetable soup out of bits of things in her refrigerator and larder gave me the courage to make a soup from scratch, it was entirely successful. That soup was my epiphany and now I am a very good cook. I thank Robin for that.

This lovely book contains more of the same from Robin Mather, with a heartbreaking and ultimately triumphant story to round out the carefully thought out recipes that accompany each chapter. I plan on using it as a template for the rest of the year, and armed with the knowledge Robin gives on shopping and technique, I can try to cook seasonally.

Robin Mather, along with being a great cook, is a very good writer, graceful and deliberate with her words. Reading this book is like having a relaxed conversation with your (much smarter and more articulate) good friend. She makes a gentle point about what we are doing to ourselves with our over-indulged palates when there are wonderful things to savor with every month. Rural Michigan must seem like a winter wasteland for fresh produce, Robin proves this wrong.

I am glad Robin emerged from her terrible horrible year successfully, and am looking forward to reading more (and more) from this wonderful writer. Buy this book, buy this book for your foodie friends.

(Not really Robert S. Ingalls but his happily cooking wife Barbara)
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on January 7, 2012
Robin Mather is an engaging writer, a talented woman and brave in a way I hope to be in the near future. I have been planning the same lifestyle because I thrive on simple living (that's certainly not to say one without hard work) and am well accustumed to making do. I was moved to read of her first night at her small lake house with the unknown ahead of her. Well, not quite so unknown. Ms. Mather drew on her childhood upbringing and returned to a basic, satisfying life with her animals and her independant spirit.

One of my more difficult decisions has been how will I cope with the fact that everyone I have been reading about raises their own animals to slaughter? I love animals too much to know them personally in my life and on my table. Robin raises a small flock of chickens for their eggs and buys her table chickens already processed from a local source. Her lake property is too shady to grow fruits and vegetables but she manages a dish herb garden in a sunnier spot and has been blessed with neighbors that share their garden bounty with her (recieving the fruits of her talents - canned salsa's, jams, baked goods, knitted hats and such). She buys everything she possibly can from local sources or orders it from small farms and fair-trade like sources. She provides much appreciated advice on how to obtain the best foodstuffs such as humanely raised meat, growth hormone-less milk, local milled gains and organic fruits and vegetables for what she still needs to purchase.

I was encouraged to read how she figured out the quanties of canned/dried/frozen supplies she would need throughout the year and how she was able to plan the cost of these necessities. Ms.Mather came from a career and lifestyle that was filled with lavish and rich foodstuff and wines, including many international varieties. Did she give these things up in the name of thrift and practicality? Not at all. While she no longer entertaines on a grand scale she makes small batches of pate', canned liquored cherries, bursting-with-flavor jars of sauces, pickled vegetables, pie fillings, spiced nuts and other delights. Be aware: This book does NOT read like a Martha-Stewart-dream-summer-at-the-lake book. These small treats appear on her menu next to good old-fashioned comfort food, homemade yogurt, cornbread and (mmm) home-made honey oat bread. The first time she has to entertain people from out of town whom she has never met she does exactly what I would do - panics momentarily and comes to terms with a big hurdle - her home, budget and decor are what they are, small, frugal and homemade. (The evening was deeply enjoyed by all).

I have limited physical abilities but I read nothing in The Feast Nearby that I felt I could not accomplish with a plan and a paced, steady effort. I love the idea of a full, small homestead but it really would be too grand for me to work alone. After reading this true story I know it doesn't have to be that extreem to be successful. I would love to know this woman, I still have questions (does she fish from that very large lake?)and hope she will write more about her life soon. Ms. Mather has done much to allay my insecurities about the future and is the first author that has made me truly feel that I can learn how to preserve, dry and can food so I not only know pantry-security year-round but enjoy various treats, modest but posh holiday meals and celebrations. To paraphrase: Living well, while living modestly, economically and supporting local/small/green, etc. farmers, being happy with your choices, your companions and friends, having warmth, nature and all that makes you well and content, is truly the best and sweetest, revenge. Thank you Robin, for this wonderful, gentle, encouragement and useful advice. I wish you contiuned blessings.
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on June 6, 2011
I love this book. How do you expand on that? Ms. Mather's writing is easy to read, but not to say it's simple. She has a wonderful, flowing style. It's like she's talking just to you. The ideas of living simply couldn't be more universal. Good, fresh, local (for the most part) food is going to be the best and least expensive in the long run. Learning to cook and preserve will do wonders for your wallet and soul. I only wish the book was longer. I will be reading this until it falls apart.
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on February 3, 2012
I expected The Feast Nearby to be a memoir, one that was about Mather losing her job, burying her marriage, etc., as the title says. It's not, really. It's a series of very nice essays that take you through her first year in her tiny lakeside house out in the woods, interspersed with very good recipes and directions for preserving food. She has almost nothing to say about losing her job and her husband, and that's fine. She's not standoffish, just private. Similarly, she doesn't really share much of anything about her emotional journey through what must have been a very hard year. She does write very nicely about settling in to her house and getting to know her neighbors, including her neighboring town, farmers, and shopkeepers. She shares her thoughts on supporting local enterprises and her developing insights and concerns about how that might best be done. I found her thoughtful, balanced discussion of the issues well-done and respect-worthy, even where I have come to different conclusions on some points.

I have a LOT of food allergies, and also a lot of cookbooks, so my first thought was that, when I'd finished enjoying the essays, I'd give the book to the local library, where I think it would be a fine addition to the collection. But, despite her love of sweet things, which I can't eat, her recipes are interesting enough, and her directions and insights about preserving food are good enough, that I think I'll keep the book, at least for a while. She makes canning sound so simple that I may actually try it, and she does a lot of food drying as well, for which she also gives simple, straightforward instructions, as well as instructions for how to use the stuff you've dried. Altogether, a good book.
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on January 1, 2012
I love this book! I thought this book would provide interesting tips on eating locally, which it does, but most of all, I love Robin's conversational tone. I can relate to much of what she says, since I was also born & raised in Michigan. I love how she describes her neighbor Wally, "I looked at that kind man, his legs still spattered with grass clippings from cutting my grass, and said, 'Just a second.' I hopped downstairs and returned with two squat half-pint jars of strawberry preserves under paraffin . . . Wally's always busy, I've noticed. He makes me think of a bumble bee, with lots of stops to make every day to make sure everyone is happily pollinated with Wally dust." She then describes and includes a pattern for a knitted double-layer hat that she makes for Wally, although most of the book is full of recipes, including recipes for jam. I haven't canned anything since helping my mom years ago when we were kids, but Robin's book has inspired me to try it again. She discusses simple country joys, such as acquiring a kitten, gathering eggs from her hens, her small dish herb garden on her patio, hot summer days, and picking wild raspberries. Her recipes make my mouth water.

Robin is re-inventing herself after loss of a marriage & loss of her job, but there is not one word of bitterness, only healing and going on with a simpler life. I think her sense of acceptance of life and lack of bitterness is what struck me most. Many adults these days spend years being single, whether before or after marriages/relationships, so most of us can relate. I also appreciated that her move to simpler living was inspired by economics and neighborliness, and that in her book she is apolitical, which is refreshing in itself these days. Most of all, when I read her book, I feel relaxed and peaceful, as well as inspired to try some of these recipes from local food, and that Robin would make a delightful person to know.

My one regret is that I bought this book for my Kindle, and I wish I had bought it hardcover instead. Kindle seems to work better for reading stories than for perusing cookbooks and recipes -- although I don't have a Kindle Fire yet, so it might be easier to read on that.

Enjoy your visit with neighbor Robin as you read this book! Robin, feel free to write another. :)
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on June 11, 2011
I too live in Michigan (just returned home after 20+ years living in Northern CA)....we moved back and bought a B&B in Bellaire Mi. As a cook, I am interested in the whole locavore movement here in the Traverse City area and when I read a chapter of Robin's book in Hour Detroit Magazine, I immediately pre-ordered it! I have not been able to put it down, and I am so looking forward to trying the Cummin roasted beets recipe! The book is a wonderful read, and I too only have 1 complaint...that is was not long enough! It has been a treat to read!
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on October 22, 2013
I ended up enjoying this book. After the first quarter I wasn't sure I would enjoy it at all. The first bit seems slow and is full of back handed brags where the author discusses past experiences cooking and eating that seem intent on telling us about how great her life was and how much she knows. Initial exchanges at farmers markets make her seem a little pretentious. The tone mellowed throughout the book an seemed more palatable by the end. As it becomes more conversational the book increases in appeal and the stories become more interesting. This book has a wide variety of cooking tips and some intriguing recipes
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on July 19, 2011
I heard the author discuss this book on public radio and was so fasinated with her story, promptly ordered it for my Kindle. I loved it. Not only her story, the recipes, but also the subjects she covered. I want to keep reading on coffee production, maple syrup production, and every other subject she discussed. I didn't want the book to end and can't wait to read more of her. A must buy for anyone interested in buying locally and most of all interested in cooking.
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