Our shelves are filled with DIY books, gardening manuals, and yes, plenty of cookbooks. Each holds a little piece of the puzzle for a healthy, happy, self-sustaining lifestyle. The One-Block Feast by Margo True and Sunset Magazine brings it all together. When I first looked at the cover of The One-Block Feast, my first thought was, "Yeah, right." Yes, if I had a team of enthusiastic co-gardeners and a five-acre lot (in sunny California, no less), perhaps I could also eat entirely off the gleanings from a one-block radius. For the majority of us, this kind of massive garden-to-table undertaking is very much out of our reach.
But that's not actually what this book is about.
Or rather, it is...but the writers, gardeners, and cooks at Sunset Magazine who compiled this manual for DIY living aren't about excluding those of us who live in tiny city apartments or making us feel bad for buying our bread at the store. The whole book is infused with a kind of energetic encouragement that draws readers in rather than pushing us out.
These folks had set backs. They had ants in their bee hives. They were confounded by the act of threshing grain. They had desk jobs that conflicted with cow milkings. They didn't start off as farmers or with any particular knowledge of how to do many of these gardening tasks, and they had to learn as they went. Sharing their learning process was something that I really appreciated about the book and that helped to make it feel more approachable. These people felt like kindred spirits, people I could relate to.
The book is divided into seasons, starting with summer planting and stretching all the way to spring. Each of these sections is further divided into pages that focus on the garden, tutorials on major projects like brewing your own wine and raising chickens, and then recipes for a seasonal feast. There are lots of photographs and information boxes to round out the basic instructions and provide visual inspiration.
Theoretically, you could follow the book from start to finish, gardening and cooking right along with the authors. But you can also pick and choose. You can grow zucchini and then try their recipe for tempura squash blossoms. You can skip ahead to learn about growing your own mushrooms and making feta at home, and still enjoy their description of making olive oil even if you'll never have your own olives to press.
You could also use this book just for its recipes and be perfectly happy. I have their recipe for Quinoa Bites with Walnut Romesco tagged for a future dinner party and I can't wait for the corn to come into season so I can make their Corn Soup with Roasted Poblanos and Zucchini Blossoms. Happily, this recipe for Strawberry Crème Fraîche Sherbet is something that we can all make right now!
Yes, this is definitely a book that's meant to be used. And used season after season, at that. In fact, there are plenty of projects and recipes here to keep us happy for years to come.
• Find It! The One-Block Feast: An Adventure in Farm to Table by Margo True & the staff of Sunset Magazine, Ten Speed Press 2011 ($16 on Amazon.com)
Strawberry Crème Fraîche Sherbet
MAKES 4 cups
TIME about 1 hour, plus time to freeze
4 cups hulled and quartered strawberries
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup crème fraîche, homemade (below) or store-bought
1. In a large saucepan, combine the strawberries, honey, lemon juice, salt, and 1/4 cup water and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the strawberries have softened and the mixture is simmering, about 20 minutes.
2. Remove the strawberry mixture from the heat and puree it in batches in a blender.
3. Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and water. Pour the puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing the mixture with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the contents of the strainer. Set the bowl in the ice bath and let cool completely,
4. Add the crème fraîche to the cold strawberry liquid and whisk until smooth. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Eat right away, or transfer to an airtight container and freeze until completely firm, about 6 hours, before serving.
• Make Ahead: The sherbet can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 week.
• Nutrition Information: PER 1/2-CUP SERVING 144 cal., 36% (52 cal.) from fat; 1.1 g protein; 5.8 g fat (3.6 g sat.); 24 g carbo (1.6 g fiber); 38 mg sodium; 13 mg chol.
MAKES about 1 cup
TIME about 5 minutes, plus at least 8 hours to ripen
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1. Pour the cream and buttermilk into a small bowl and stir to combine. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until thickened, at least 8 hours or up to overnight.
2. Stir well, re-cover, and refrigerate. It will keep for up to 1 week.
• Nutrition Information: Per tablespoon 53 cal., 94% (50 cal.) from fat; 0.4 g protein; 5.6 g fat (3.5 g sat.); 0.5 g carbo (0 g fiber); 7.4 mg sodium; 21 mg chol.
(Reprinted with permission from The One-Block Feast: An Adventure in Food from Yard to Table by Margo True & the staff of Sunset Magazine, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc., Photo credit: Thomas J. Story © 2011)