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Food for Thought: Book Reviews

Field & Feast Magazine, August 2005

It's summertime and even though we're in the middle of the orgy of fresh fruits and vegetables that hit the garden and market right now, there's still time for a reading break. Our selections this month are perfect to settle down with alongside a bowl of crunchy greens for munching.

MaryJane's Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook by MaryJane Butters. Clarkson Potter, 2005. Hardcover, 416 pages, $35.00.

MaryJane Butters carved out her unique path to success via growing and packaging organic food and clever nostalgic accessories from her northern Idaho farm home which she showcased in a mail order catalog that evolved into a classy and creative magazine, simply titled MaryJanesFarm. Her first book (more are scheduled to follow), this is much like her magazine-packed with information, how-tos, clever projects, and personal stories. It's a gorgeous coffee table book that will follow you into the kitchen and end up on the nightstand.

While the book goes beyond farming, gardening, and cooking, to include handwork projects of all kinds, the food portions are the most valuable. She recounts overcoming difficulties common to organic growers, such as weed control, weather limitations (short seasons in northern Idaho), insect pests, and other hurdles, for which she finds a sensible simple solution. Handling a small organic farm is no easy matter, and by midsummer, many growers are simply overwhelmed and exhausted by the work. MaryJane's breezy style and cheerful photographs make it all look easy and her stories and anecdotes remind us that our quality of life can be our own doing. Along with the gorgeous photos, the book is packed with tips to make the most of small-scale farming, simple living, and fresh foods.

The section on garlic scapes and what to do with them (those curly tops on garlic plants that must be snipped to ensure proper clove development below-ground) is valuable, along with the jelled desserts ideas using agar (powdered seaweed)-which she sells as ChillOver powder-in place of beef-based gelatin (yes, the hides and hooves of even the "downer" cows make it into gelatin).

MaryJane's book is beautifully designed with crystal-clear photographs focusing on the beauty of nature and natural farm life. She's made organic living clever and fun, appealing to our nostalgia for a self-sufficient yet communal American ideal.

Here are two versions of "Flavor Blends" to add to meat dishes. She calls them geographic blends, explaining that, "when I combine seasonings I think in terms of geography. Spices dominate certain cultures, and we've all become familiar with those characteristics." Dry some summer-fresh herbs and make up a supply to keep cooking all winter long. Each makes 1/2 cup of mix, to store in airtight containers away from light, or in the freezer.

European Flavor Blend

2 tablespoons dried lavender
4 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary
2 teaspoons ground white pepper
2 teaspoons salt

Mediterranean Flavor Blend

1 1/2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 1/2 tablespoons dried marjoram
1 1/2 tablespoons dried dill
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 1/2 tablespoons ground mustard
1 tablespoon dried lemon peel
1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt