A Bit of Light Summer Reading

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As usual I’m acquiring books faster than I can read them, although I have placed a light moratorium on cookbooks. Last year I mentioned a sudden and insatiable craving for cookbooks. A year later and I have no where to put them! The cookbook monster has been placed on a leash for the time being.

What I wrote then about how I read cookbooks has held true. I don’t follow recipes; I look at pictures. I recently followed a recipe to the letter. It was in the book “The French Market: More Recipes from a French Kitchen.” This is a gorgeous book with lovely photos that make me ache to live in France just so I can take photos of bundles of flowers set inside old, dirty creme fresh buckets. Sure, why not. Unfortunately, I absolutely hated the recipe. In all fairness to the author and the other recipes that are probably delicious and perfect, it was for chicken liver pate, which is a very specific and acquired taste. Turns out I do not have a taste for this particular pate and neither do my friends. I now have 2 bowls of the stuff sitting in the fridge.

But you know what? For some inexplicable reason I had it in my head that I would like to try making pate, just for the heck of it. Just to know what that was all about. And I did. And it was greasy and awful. Moving on.

The way I “read” cookbooks is by sitting on the couch and flipping through the pretty pictures. And I dream. Usually the pictures get me thinking in a new way about an ingredient I am currently growing in the garden. In the winter it adds fuel to my excitement about the coming season and how rich my life will be when a specific ingredient becomes available. Sometimes the photos make me want to pick up my camera and take pictures. Sometimes they make me really hungry.

One cookbook author I do read is Nigel Slater. He’s my current favourite. I mentioned “The Kitchen Diaries” last year, a book I still pull out regularly to gaze at lovingly and run my hand over the beautiful paper. Since that post I have also read his autobiography, “Toast“, and book of essays about British food called, “Eating for England.”

And then for Valentine’s Day, Davin bought me the most beautiful book in the history of books, “Tender: Volume 1.” It’s a cookbook, but it is also about his vegetable garden. It’s pretty much perfect for gardeners who love food. The book is divided into chapters, each with a focus on one vegetable. He begins each chapter with personal anecdotes about that vegetable, how he grows it in his garden, and how he prepares it in the kitchen. The rest of the chapter is just one mouthwatering photo after another, and several recipes that feature the vegetable. I could go on about this book for days, but I intend to write about three more today!

Next up is City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing, by my friend Lorraine Johnson. I was reading and loving Lorraine’s books long before I finally met her. I’m not quite sure how I found them or which one I found first; however, she was one of the first garden writers I discovered that was writing about the subject in a way that related to my own experiences. She was the garden writer I most wanted to meet and happily turned out to be the first to offer me a kind word and a show of support. An early book, “The Gardener’s Manifesto“, was well before its time, and remains one of my very favourite books about gardening ever written. Sadly it is now out of print. Her newest book is a tribute to urban gardening in all its forms. It is both a personal account of her own experiences as an urban farmer and an introduction to an assortment of interesting urban food producers. The book is also peppered with little how-to nuggets and words of encouragement to get urbanites started on a new approach to city life. Lorraine is an excellent storyteller; I ate this book up in one sitting.

Look, I’m one of the converted. I maintain four very urban gardens, I have read several books on this topic and generally feel like there is nothing new about urban gardening that I don’t already know, and yet I finished this book with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and excitement. My feeling at the end was, “Yes, let’s do this thing! Oh right, I already am.”

City Farmer is not yet available in the US, but I have a signed copy to give away. Use the comments to share a book the is currently inspiring you. I will randomly choose one winner on Friday, July 9.

It’s been a few weeks since I finished it, and even though it has absolutely nothing to do with gardening, I feel very compelled to mention, The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. What a great novel. I shot through it quickly, taking every spare moment I could find to dive into the story. It’s about slavery in Jamaica and it is not a book that tiptoes lightly around this subject. Be forewarned, there is a lot of brutality and violence. It paints a very real portrait of what life must have been like for everyone caught in this depraved system. There are no clearly defined “bad people” to hate in this story. No simple suggestion that some people are inexplicably evil. It is much more complex and insightful than that and filled with interesting observations about human nature and how we lose our humanity. It was not an easy read, but I got a lot from it. It also lead me to some new historical information that was unknown to me previously.

My friend Barry introduced me to Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perényi. A post I wrote outlining the traits that make a good gardener reminded him of an essay in the book called “Failures”, all about how failure is an essential part of gardening. Unfortunately I am yet to find a copy of the original gem published in 1981, but I scooped up this reissued version on the cheap at a discount bookstore I frequent here in Toronto. Since then I’ve been doling the book out in chunks, opening it up at random pages and reading it essay by essay. The writing is beautiful and I was surprised to discover, very funny. Eleanor Perényi has a wry, sometimes slightly wicked sense of humor and a general ease about gardening that I can relate to. She takes the piss out of herbalists (although I do not agree with what she says about herbs), pesticide use, and sexism in gardening, while making an elegant plea for earthworms and weeds at a time in the gardening world when such things desperately needed an advocate. You’ll like this book.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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60 thoughts on “A Bit of Light Summer Reading

  1. I have ‘Green Thoughts’ — though looking for it now, I realize it must be on loan to someone — and enjoyed it very much. As one of the first books of garden essays I owned, it made me realize that garden writing could be fun and accessible. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys good writing.

  2. One of the books that I love to just sit down and flip through is Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home. It combines delicious looking recipes with some gardening tips. It is also a really beautiful book.

  3. I love all of your suggestions and can’t wait to read them too (after I get though my massive pile of thrifted ones, perhaps)

    Hard to choose my current inspirational books, I’m always stretched between too many. Since I’m undergoing a painful massive purging at the house I’d been flipping through “Collector’s Style” (http://amzn.to/bWECPf) and “Home Cheap Home” (http://amzn.to/3kBdtb) so I’d remember what a clean organized home can look like. It’s keeping me going.

    Just a few more boxes to sort through and donate…

  4. I was so glad to read this post and your recommendation of Green Thoughts. I received a book store gift card for my birthday and was looking for just the right garden book to spend it on!

  5. The Spice Necklace by Ann Vanderhoof. Even the title inspires me! It’s all about eating, traveling, living in the Caribbean with lots of interesting particulars about where the foods/spices originate. I have a spice necklace from Grenada and have always been fascinated by it. It still smells strongly of mace and nutmeg after more than a decade!

  6. A book that I always turn to for inspiration is Elizabeth Bellivau’s “Something to Pet the Cat About”. The lovely drawings and thoughts always make me want to draw more, make more, and do more1

  7. As far as cookbooks go I’m A huge fan of Jamie Oliver. My favorite of his so far is Jamie at Home. I see it’s someone aboves favorite as well. Before I ever picked up that cookbook, I watched the show. I love how he goes straight from the garden to the kitchen. He is the first person to have introduced me to alpine strawberries!

  8. If you haven’t read it already, Farm City by Novella Carpenter is a hilarious book about her adventures in urban farming in inner city Oakland- she even raises pigs!

  9. I loved reading Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. Really funny and inspirational.

  10. It pretty cheesy, but I’m currently inspired by The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve been feeling in a bit of a slump lately, and her book has a real take-control-of-your-happiness vibe. I feel renewed! Second in line is David Liebovitz’s Perfect Scoop. Nothing beats homemade ice cream! Unfortunately my freezer is too full to make any more – anyone have freezer space I can borrow?

  11. One of my favourite books to turn to, either to thumb through or use as a reference book is Illustrated Guide to Gardening in Canada. I have an older black and white version but I know it has been updated. I don’t plan on getting a newer, colourful one as this one was a gift from one of my daughters and has a wonderful inscription on the front cover.
    Thanks for the great suggestions as I have a couple of gift cards just waiting to be spent at two different book stores.

  12. Great recommendations! Not a gardening book, but the most influential read I’ve had lately is Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery by Steve Nicholls… An account of what existed in N. America when European settlement began. A sad story in many ways, but gave me renewed inspiration to embrace what remains and strive to protect it.

  13. i re-read everything i own by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Part travel book part cookbook, ALL good!

  14. I’m reading “Children of Prosperity: Thirteen Modern American Communes” by Hugh Gardner. It’s a super-interesting study of a handful of communes, written in the seventies, and gives an incredible snapshot of what that era of revolution and possibility was like. Let’s do this thing!

  15. Great post Gayla. I’m always looking for something new to read. Eleanor Perényi book Green Thoughts is a classic and one of the first gardening books I read. I’m inspired this week by Linden Hawthorne’s book, Gardening with shape, line and texture, a plant design sourcebook. The first few pages describe the historical idea of divine proportion with examples from nature and how to think about it in terms of Garden design. The rest of the book is devoted to descriptions of plants, grouped according to the shapes they form as they grow, as well the fabulous photos make me wish I owned this book. The copy I’m reading is from the Library.

  16. I love the $64 Tomato by William Alexander, so I’m pumped about reading 52 Loaves, which I’ve just picked up. Non-gardening/food related I’m also in the middle of reading Death and Life of the Great American School System, which is a terrific analysis of the recent reform movements in American schools.

  17. Uh oh, more books to include on my ever growing reading list, I add them faster than I can read them. I’ve been flipping through London Gardens from edition Paumes. It’s all in Japanese, so I can’t read a word of it, but the pictures are beautiful!

  18. Oddly enough, the book that I am currently reading has nothing to do with gardening or cooking. My fiancee is a pastry chef with a collection of cookbooks that would shame most libraries, so I don’t worry about that domain too much.

    I am currently If We Can Put A Man On The Moon: Getting Big Things Done In Government. My garden is my solace, my area for zen. Work can be frustrating and Bill Eggers does a first rate job of highlighting some of the frustrations with government work. Reading this book allows me to laugh at the sometime banality of it all and go back to garden in a healthier frame of mind. What more can you ask for short of putting someone on the moon on demand?

  19. Peace Like A River by Leif Enger…not on gardening or cooking, but a great novel that I am currently devouring. The prose are warm and witty, the characters are unique and there is a page turning belief in miracles and hope (this from someone who has never been to church). A pleasure to read outside, surrounded by my garden, with the sent of tomatoes in the air.

  20. “What you wear can change your life” by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, sounds kinda shallow huh? my project this summer, trying to pare down my wardrobe to things that flatter, need some help with that!

  21. I don’t know how much creative liberties we have to answer this question, but right now I’m not being inspired by a book, but by a movie. I just saw “Shawshank Redemption” this last weekend and it was SO good! It really made me realize how much freedom we have (since we’re not in prison..) and how we should take that freedom and do something with it, something that really matters to us. We definitely shouldn’t waste it. As a college student, that really spoke to me, but really, it applies to people at every age (ie Morgan Freeman’s character).

  22. i recently read and adored the summer book by tove jansson (she of moomintroll fame). a six-year-old girl, sophia, and her grandmother spend a summer together on a tiny finnish island, and their story is told in a series of vignettes. it’s such a perfect summer read – crisp and full of incredible scandinavian imagery, with one of my favourite characters (sophia) in a long long time.

  23. I heard an interveiw on the BBC with the author of
    The Book of Night Women and promised myself to read the book. Thanks for remainding me.

  24. I just finished “Marco Polo Didn’t Go There” By Ralph Potts. I am currently living in Sydney, Australia with my fiance (US Navy)and reading about his adventures across the world re-inspires me about continuing my travels. His stories make me giggle and wonder what it will be like when I get to that spot, or this spot. I now dream of becoming a travel writer myself, although I will have to work out who takes care of my garden while I am away! Although it doesn’t have the elegant pictures, I am still a fan of The Joy of Cooking :-)

  25. Ah yes, the Joy of Cooking, my mother just moved into a smaller place and gifted me with her 1962 edition, what a treat!
    When I want something uncomplicated and essentially “summer” I go to Laurie Colwin’s “Home Cooking”. Each chapter is a story with the recipe woven into the narrative.

  26. I’d love to read City Farmer! I am currently reading Urban Homesteading. I am especially inspired by the sections on lawn removal as I am slowly digging my yard bit-by-bit. I also have run out of room for cookbooks but I always get inspired by pictures of food and new recipes!

  27. Have you read Farm City by Novella Carpenter? It’s a fun twist on urban farming, although she goes as far as raising livestock as well as fruits and veggies.

  28. Whoops…. just read above and realized someone else beat me to the Farm City punch… sorry for being redundant.

  29. i have a huge pile of garden books next to my bed, but it’s 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer that is helping me cook up my overflowing vegetable garden! And I am dying to read City Farmer!

  30. My fiancé and I just bought a house – we move in a few weeks, and though it’s the middle of winter here I am already dreaming of the possibilities in my new all-day-sun backyard. It will my first in-ground garden since our family community garden when I was a little kid! For inspiration, I am reading The Grower’s Cookbook, by Dennis Greville & Jill Brewis – that long-searched-for edible gardening book specific to the New Zealand climate, where winters are mild and the growing never stops, but the summers are not that hot and melons just won’t grow. I am also really enjoying your own Grow Great Grub, even if the seasons are all wrong!

  31. Not as light as many of the other books listed; Organic Manifesto by Maria Rodale is a ‘must read’ book for anyone interested in the relationship between our food, health, and environment, but especially for those sitting on the fence about growing or buying organic. It is a very enlightening read, and you put the book down feeling very well informed and inspired.

  32. One book I keep coming back to time and time again, is Doris Janzen Longacre’s More-With-Less Cookbook. It’s a book that stresses the joys of simple eating and cooking using basic ingredients that one has on hand. There are many anecdotes on cooking and gardening, as well as handy tips included alongside the recipes. (Pilgrim’s Bread on p.58 is really delicious!) Her section on how to start a pantry singlehandedly inspired me to start my own, even though I live in a small apartment. For me, it is the source on how to eat well on a limited budget, while treading softly on the earth at the same time.

    I also love Jake Tilson’s A Tale of 12 Kitchens: Family Cooking in Four Countries, for the unbridled enthusiam Jake has about food. Plus, as an added bonus, the recipes I’ve tried out actually work and taste good.

    Kelly Coyne’s and Erik Knutzen’s Urban Homesteading: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City also gave me a lot to think about, from growing a container garden, to preserving food, making your own cleaning products, living life off the grid, and making your own solar oven. I disagree with their advice on stuffing your containers full of as many edible plants as you can. I’ve had much better results using Gayla’s spacing instructions (i.e. 1 fruiting plant per pot, no matter the size of the container; companion planting with less demanding plants that share the same environmental requirements; and, limiting the number of plants per large container to 5 or 6).

    Happy reading…and eating!

  33. Linda: The recipe for pancakes in A Tale of 12 Kitchens has changed how I make them. Although we don’t follow to the letter. We use butter instead of oil.

  34. Three books are inspiring me right now all by Canadian authors (not listed in any inspirational order):
    1. Locavore by Sarah Elton. What a treat this book has been and what an inspiration. I want to quite my job and start an urban garden… right now.
    2. Ripe Around Here by Jae Steele. This is a great vegan cookbook and a how to purchase local guide. I’m not vegan myself but I love the way Jae approaches local food in this book. I made her Rawsberry Cheesecake on the weekend (with a few tweaks) and it was a refreshing treat from the dairy versions I have grown up with. Next up: watermelon juice – so simple, but I would never have thought of it – and how refreshing in this heat wave.
    3. Grow Great Grub… your book, and I’m not mentioning it here because this is a contest to win a book. It is a very inspiring book and has helped me with my own attempts at a garden this year. The recipes are also a very nice bonus!
    The most inspiring thing about all of these books is that they are written by Canadian women – we have so much talent here :)

  35. I would recommend Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life. I read it a few years back but it is dog earred since I go back to it in all seasons. It is broken into months so sometimes I will just open it to the current month or in the middle of the winter I will open it to July and dream. She has a great writing style that is humorous and human. This book was a real inspiration to me. If I wanted to grow vegetables before this book I was desperate to start after reading it.

    I do plan to bring Lorraine’s book up North to read on my vacation. Can’t wait!

  36. I was very inspired to grow as much of my own food as possible after reading works by Michael Pollan (Omnivores Dilema, An Eaters Manifesto, etc.). It made me realize how important it is to know where your food comes from. I am currently enjoying The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping and Rosalind Creasy ‘s recipes from the garden : 200 exciting recipes from the author of The complete book of edible landscaping (both by Rosalind Creasy).

  37. I’ve been inspired by the well-known Julia Child’s autobiography. The book is short, so I savour it by only reading a few pages at a time. It’s made me regain a greater appreciation for the food I grow, and makes me take a step back to fully enjoy and respect the smaller things in life.

  38. Right now I am being inspired by my copy of “The Backyard Homestead”. I don’t have quite all of my yard used up for farming, but it is a plan!

  39. Grow Great Grub is inspiring me. I always felt like I learned enough about gardening from watching & helping my mom as I grew up, a BSc with a minor in Botany and a ‘knack’ for growing things. Sure, my gardens always did alright but my lazy lack of real investigation didn’t get me too far -hazy childhood memories, knowledge of plant taxonomy and a ‘knack’ have been falling shorter than I’d realized :)

    As I said in Twitter, GGG makes me feel excited and powerful and the feeling hasn’t left once since it arrived in the mail. Already my gardens are doing better than they ever have. :D

  40. i am working my way through the collected short stories of flannery o’connor. her commitment to her craft is definitely inspiring.

  41. I love drooling over Raw Food, Real World and Living Raw Foods, the latter by Sarma Melngailis and the former by Sarma and her then-partner Matthew Kennedy. I’ve used and adapted several smoothie ideas from them, and I’ve learned how to crack coconuts and make nut milk and chia pudding. Mostly, however, I enjoy the food photography and the recipe descriptions.

  42. “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. I’ve read this book multiple times and brought it along on this road trip. It presents a different view of my homeland and the people that shaped it and should be mandatory reading in high school. I was fortunate enough to have a teacher that introduced me to the works of Mr. Zinn and while going to college in Boston I was able to hear him speak. Just amazing.

  43. reading the diaries of elizabeth smart (who wrote ‘by grand central station i sat down and wept’) – i love how she sees the world in poetry.

  44. Just finished Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. Lovely, lovely book about three “loners”, who eventually realize that they are not so alone. There are beautiful chapters in this book about small farms, coyotes and the American Chestnut tree. I picked it up at a library book sale on impulse because I loved Animal, Vegetable Miracle by Kingsolver. I took it on vacation and while I was reading about the coyotes returning to the area in the book, I was vacationing in an area where coyotes had recently returned. One day I read about the demise of the American Chestnut and the way the surviving trees were harvested, the next day I toured a Nature Center built entirely from American Chestnut. It was serendipity at it’s finest.

  45. I got my hands on a copy of “The Bountiful Container” this week – and whoever put the phrase on the front cover, he/she’s right: this truly is a bible concerning container growing. There are some German titles on the topic on the market now, but nothing really comparable (yet) to what you have abroad!
    As to cooking: Today I tried the first recipe from “Meine Gartenküche” by Marlein Overakker and Anna de Leeuw. The book was originally published in Dutch (“Kookboek van het gelukkige buitenleven”) and contains both simple and delicious garden recipes, set in a fine layout and accompagnied by the most beautiful photos…

  46. I have been reading about a book a day (hey, unemployment’s good for something), but the two that have gotten me doing things instead of just reading about them like I usually do were:

    _Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-Shirt_ by Megan Nicolay and _Quick-Fix Vegetarian: Healthy Home-Cooked Meals in 30 Minutes or Less_ by Robin G. Robertson.

    (For light reading of a SF/F bent, I can heartily recommend _Graceling_ and _The Hunger Games_.)

  47. I read Novella Carpenter’s City Farm in the spring and still think about it, still find it inspiring. But I’ve been reading mostly poetry lately. Two of my most recent inspiring collections were Karen Solie’s Pigeon and Sachiko Murakami’s The Invisibility Exhibit. Neither food/gardening books, but inspiring nevertheless!

  48. I”m currently reading My Life on a Hillside Allotment by Terry Walton. This is a book I stumbled upon by searching for the word “garden” in the audible.com audiobook section. Its a memoir of Mr. Walton’s lifelong experience growing food on an allotment (here in the US I think we’d call it a community garden) in the mining hills of Whales. Its been so interesting to read about the ups and downs of community gardening since the 1950′s, since Mr. Walton started gardening as a child. Its also great to hear him describe the true community that’s build up in the allotment and the lifelong relationships he’s had with many of his fellow gardeners. This reminds me a lot of what’s happening–and what I hope will grow stronger–in the community garden in my neighborhood.

    so , yeah, I stumbled on this book by complete chance, but am totally loving it.

  49. Last night, when it was too hot to sleep, I read this post and 50 comments. I now have a long wish list — thanks, everyone.

    Gayla, you don’t just help me be a better gardener but also a better reader. I confess I’ve been neglecting that skill.

    Here’s the reading material (books, magazines) that’s inspiring me this week:
    -”Tending the Earth, Mending the Spirit: The Healing Gifts of Gardening” by Connie Goldman and Richard Mahler
    -”Veg Patch: River Cottage Handbook No.4″ by Mark Diacono
    -The latest issue (#6) of UPPERCASE magazine
    -The latest issue of Edible Vancouver
    -Your books — even if “Grow Great Grub” didn’t have such great content the cover alone would inspire me. I have small bamboo table just inside my front door and it sits on top of pile of gardening books.

    (PS. I won a book from you last year so please don’t enter me in the draw. I just wanted to join this wonderful conversation.)

  50. I’m reading Nigel Slater’s Eating For England, too, even though I don’t know half the things he’s writing about (English candies, biscuits and puddings). But he’s such a good writer, it doesn’t really matter. Along the lines of “Green Thoughts” is Katharine S. White’s “Onward and Upward in the Garden.” White’s book–along with Eleanor Perenyi’s–started my obsession with gardening and garden literature. I now have shelves full of vintage garden books and a garden full of weeds!

  51. Reading is easily one of my favorite ways to relax and indulge in “me-time”. Great suggestions from everyone. My list grows! One book I checked out so many times from the library, I finally bought:

    Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich

    It’s a fun read about the author’s life transition from a 9-5 to simplifying her ife and exploring the farming life. Her practical tips on everything from gardening, sewing, raising chickens and rabbits to even playing banjo have inspired me and reminded me of the fun of this lifestyle.

    I’m reading “Radical Homemakers” now by Shannon Hayes. I think the premise is redefining feminism by becoming self-sufficient and not dependent on the consumerism lifestyle, but I’m not through it yet, so the verdict is still waiting.

    Keep reading and writing!

  52. Jessica – I’m downloading My Life on a Hillside Allotment by Terry Walton from iTunes right now – thanks for the recommendation.

    Gayla – I have the 1981 original edition of Green Thoughts (but someone underlined with YELLOW HIGHLIGHTER) .-Y+.

  53. The book that inspires me right now is ‘Skinny Bitch In the Kitch’ by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, a vegan recipe cookbook with no photos (the only disadvantage, because I love looking at pics for inspiration as well) but some drawings and lots of humor. The Cranberry Orange Muffins and the Tofu “Ricotta” are amazing!

  54. Thanks for sharing these books. I love, love, love books. “Second Nature” by Michael Pollen is currently inspiring me, although I frequently think back to reading “Farm City” by Novella Carpenter (which inspired my own farm: I have chickens and bees). And both of your books are dog-eared: I am a big fan of your simple, accessible, sincere writing style.

  55. I read City Farmer earlier this season, and I loved it! I also had to chime in about the comments on Novella Carpenter’s Farm City – I so agree! I absolutely loved the book, and I now enjoy following the Ghost Town Farm blog.

    I know the cookbook ban is on, but you’ve GOTTA check out Jeff Crump’s book Earth to Table. It’s full of great recipes, but it’s earned the top spot in my collection because of the incredible photography and amazing, inspiring narrative that surrounds the food in the book. It’s a story of local food, relationships with local farmers, and the incredible everyday stories that surround us. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

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