Those of us who live on the West Coast are familiar with Sunset Magazine, "Your Guide to Living in the West." It's a lovely magazine that coveys a lifestyle through food, design and travel. A few years ago Margo True, formerly of Saveur and Gourmet, came on board as Food Editor and I think the food section really evolved into something interesting and noteworthy. More recently, they began a blog called One Block Diet and I started to take notice. The blog's project was and still is to develop a feast using products grown and raised on the magazine's grounds in Menlo Park, California. They are doing and learning everything - and I do mean everything....from growing a whole variety of fruits and vegetables to raising chickens to making vinegar and salt and cheese and raising bees for honey. It's a locavore's fantasy come to life - raise the food you eat and in the process evolve a deep understanding of the time, effort and ingenuity it takes to achieve such a feat. Of course there are the inevitable twists, turns and failures...but regardless of the issues that come up, there's always a meal - perhaps not the one that was planned, but a meal regardless - to be made in the end. The underlying imperative becomes to create nurturing sustenance with what you have. In the end, it's all good.
The One-Block Feast is at its essence the book version of the blog. Margo True has condensed down the daily experiences of putting together their project of creating an ongoing seasonal, local feast into a compendium of stories and recipes. And, like the magazine, it's colorful and engaging. You could read this book as the narrative of an extended adventure, as a cookbook or as a seasonal gardening journal. And it wouldn't be a Sunset-related book without lots of how-tos, diagrams and killer recipes....check, it's got those too. (The real nuts-&-bolts stuff is usually absent from most of the books of the 'urban farmer' genre).
You may have noticed there's been a number of these back to the land, how-to-do-it-all and grow-it-all books coming out lately, each with its own spin and its own message. Granted, Sunset comes from a bit of a different place than some of the other authors (i.e. Michael Pollan, Noella Carpenter, Kurt Timmermeister), since it's a well-funded organization with numerous staff members eager to play along. But one thing I liked about both this blog and the book is that they're stretching Sunset beyond the boundaries of its carefully manicured magazine image into messier territory where things sometimes work and sometimes don't, and the weather or the bees might not cooperate. I think that's a positive evolution that's bound to engage more readers (be they from the West Coast or other parts of the country), people who are becoming increasingly interested in where their food comes from and want to try to grow it or make it themselves.
-----> Follow the One Block Diet Blog here.
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The One-Block Feast: An Adventure in Food from Yard to Table by Margo True & the staff at Sunset Magazine Ten Speed Press 272 pages hardcover $24.99