Cookbook Review: Eating Close to Home

Eating-close-to-home-cover

Helpful guide for anyone trying to eat seasonally and regionally (but especially Northwesterners)

Title: Eating Close to Home, A Guide to Local Seasonal Sustenance in the Pacific Northwest

When you live in Oregon's Willamette Valley, good, locally/regionally produced food is so easy to come by you almost feel like you're cheating. As for eating seasonally, don't get me started on the variety of foods we have available, even during winter. I almost feel nearly guilty. Almost.

Still. Yes, there's produce and meat and grain galore here in the Willamette Valley, but how do you make use of all this good food? How do you know what to look for, and when you should be looking for it?

Enter Elin Kristina England's excellent wee cookbook, Eating Close to Home.

The how and when of good food

England lives in Eugene, Oregon, and has a small family farm. She's used her knowledge of Northwest agriculture and cooking to compile a 228-page guide to seasonally shop, cook and eat in the Pacific Northwest. Cooks and foodies in both Oregon and Washington will find this book highly useful, but anyone interested in cooking and eating more in in-step with season in their own region will find Eating Close to Home helpful.

My wife and I received Eating Close to Home as a wedding gift, and during the 2009-2010 winter season this book has proved invaluable. If you saw my Winter Bean Soup Mix post, for example, you were seeing this cookbook in action (you can even see the cover in one of the photos).

The cookbook

For the cook interested in learning more about the benefits and positives of eating seasonally and locally, England begins with a section called "Eating Closer to Home." This introduction combines research, commentary and personal reflection into excellent food for thought on the benefits of eating regionally and seasonally.

The next section, "The Seasons, What Is Available, What To Do With It", is a Northwest-specific chart that breaks down the seasonal, month-by-month availability of 52 common fruits and vegetables.

From there, it's on to the good stuff.

What I like about Eating Close to Home

Much of what I love about this cookbook can be summed up in 3 points:

  1. The seasonal organization makes it easy to plan a menu and grocery list. The seasonal main sections are broken down into sub-sections including "Nibbles", "Salads", "Soups", "Main Dishes", "Side Dishes", and, last but not least, "Baked Goods and Tasty Treats".
  2. The recipes are easy to prepare, focusing on simple ingredients and techniques. These recipes reinforce that you don't need the Food Network or a culinary school certificate to cook well.
  3. The recipes can be used as-is, but they also are great creative fodder for variances on main or seasoning ingredients.

Some caveats

For all the things I like about Eating Close to Home, I do have to serve up two caveats:

  • Feel free to decrease the amount of meat/seafood. I love meat, but of the recipes we've prepared so far, my wife and I noted we could decrease the meat called for with no taste impact on the dish. Two cases in point are the Pasta with Sausages and Greens (p. 65) and Mom's Favorite Salmon Chowder (p. 53). In each case we felt we could halve the amount of sausage or seafood, and save it for another dish. Your mileage may vary, but if I can use 1 pound of salmon or meat instead of 2 pounds for a dish, to me that's just stretching the family food dollar further.
  • Occasional errata, such as an omitted ingredient or instruction. Read through recipes thoroughly before you begin, as there are some omissions and inconsistencies. An example is the Mom's Favorite Salmon Chowder mentioned above. The instructions mention adding wine to a skillet, but wine isn't listed in the ingredients (btw, pencil in "1/4 c. white wine" and you'll be just fine). This is worth noting, but not a big deal (and can be remedied in a revised edition.)

Conclusion

Eating Close to Home is a damn good cookbook, and I'm most grateful to have been given a copy. While definitely focused on the Northwest and the Willamette Valley, any cook can benefit from England's recipes and advice on shopping, cooking and eating seasonally and regionally. Eating Close to Home's simple, tasty recipes have certainly brightened up our winter table. Now that the season has changed and farmers markets are returning, I can't wait to tuck in to the spring recipes!

Get the book

Eating Close to Home, A Guide to Local Seasonal Sustenance in the Pacific Northwest

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