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FARM CITY The Education Of An Urban Farmer

By Novella Carpenter

$25.95 The Penguin Press

www.penguin.com

 

If you have ever planted so much as a bunch of herbs or a single tomato plant in your yard or on your terrace, you know the joys of harvesting and eating fresh food. Novella Carpenter, author of the unpredictable and wonderful new memoir FARM CITY The Education Of An Urban Farmer knew this feeling well but unlike most of us it compelled her to take the next step and become an honest-to-goodness farmer in the heart of the inner-city.

 

When Ms. Carpenter and her boyfriend, an auto mechanic who transforms vegetable oil into fuel, first stumbled upon the ramshackle duplex on 28th street in Oakland, California, they knew they had found a little piece of urban heaven. In their minds, the abandoned lot next door, then home to a mélange of garbage and an untenable tangle of weeds, was the perfect vehicle for a large garden. Already an avid bee-keeper, Ms. Carpenter then decided to add a few rabbits, chickens, ducks and turkeys to the mix as well as a couple of pigs and it wasn’t long before she had a real farm. Planning to raise these animals for food, she learned more than a few hard lessons on the way to the dinner table, from keeping her livestock out of harm’s way on the city streets to the enormous task of feeding them. In order to accomplish this, she and her boyfriend become professional “dumpster divers” procuring scraps from trash bins in the alleys behind some of the East Bay’s most exclusive restaurants, eventually meeting a chef who promised to teach Carpenter the art of making salami and proscuitto when the time came. 

 

Along with the beasts and blooms that inhabit this marvelous tale come a host of larger-than-life characters such as Carpenter’s neighbor Lana who runs a speakeasy out of her warehouse-home, a host of Vietnamese monks and the homeless neighbor Bobby who lives in a series of abandoned cars just outside Lana’s door. Written with great panache and humor, this memoir reflects Carpenter’s unwavering belief in her ability to make a difference in her community by raising her own food and inviting neighbors and friends to join her in the bounty of her harvest. I found this novel so utterly engaging that it made me want to travel to Oakland, knock on Ms. Carpenter’s door and hope I’ll be invited to join her for dinner. 

 

SHE SMOKE A Backyard Barbecue Book

By Julie Reinhardt

$16.95 Seal Press

www.sealpress.com

 

With only a few weeks of summer left our minds naturally turn to thoughts of school supplies and storing the patio furniture in the garage. Bu there’s still time to enjoy that good old American pastime: grilling out in the back yard. And if you want to do it up right then you need look no further than barbecue queen Julie Reinhardt and her new book SHE SMOKE A Backyard Barbecue Book.

 

For as long as I can remember, backyard barbecuing has been the perview of the man of the house, but Ms. Reinhardt points out that since the time of hunter-gatherers it was the men who hunted and the women that tended the fires. According to her, we women need to take back our grilling power and man the fires post haste.

 

Starting with the basics, Chapter One deals with Tools Of The Trade where everything from which kind of grill or smoker fits your needs to how to sharpen your knives is covered. And from there, other chapters include tips on how to properly start a fire, what woods to select for optimum smoking and Reinhardt even delves into the regional history of barbecuing which is a real treat. In chapter Four we finally get cooking with Meat Mixology which covers Rubs, Marinades, Mops and Sauces which gives us a slew of great recipes from which to choose as well as great tips on how to use these various mixtures. 

 

Ms. Reinhardt leaves no edible stone unturned in this marvelous barbecue tell-all, and she even regales us with recipes for fish, veggies, duck and turkey as well as side dishes ranging from beans to potatoes and some great looking desert recipes that include Candied Cayenne Pecans and Blackberry Cobbler. As the co-owner of one of Seattle’s best barbecue joints, Smokin’ Pete’s, Reinhardt caters her fair share of large events and includes some themed menus for you to use when the time comes to feed a big crowd of your own. All in all, there’s nothing tame about the author’s approach to throwing a slab of something good on the grill and going whole hog until it’s cooked and ready to serve. I, for one, can’t wait to follow in her smokin’ footsteps.

 

THE WELL AND THE MINE

By Gin Phillips

$15.00 Riverhead Books

www.riverheadbooks.com

 

There’s nothing like opening a book and slipping into it like a warm bath or your favorite pair of pajamas. And that’s how it was for me from page one of Gin Phillip’s debut novel 

THE WELL AND THE MINE.

 

Set in the small mining town of Carbon Hill, Alabama at the height of the great depression, the novel is initially narrated by Tess Moore, a nine year old girl who watches as a woman quietly slips a baby into her family’s well. Trying to make sense of this tragedy, her close knit family begins to survey their small community with new eyes while Tess and her older sister Vergie become obsessed with solving the mystery behind this seemingly senseless act. Albert, Tess’s father and a veteran of the mines, also toils on the family’s small farm while her mother, Leta, keeps the family together with down-home cooking and quiet common sense. But when a near-fatal accident befalls Jack, their youngest child, they find that the hardest work of their lives has only just begun.

 

The contemplative voices of Ms. Phillip’s richly drawn characters carry us along as surely as the creek that runs under the family’s well. We can’t help but empathize with Vergie’s trepidation as she takes her first steps towards womanhood or Albert’s need to try and make sense of the invisible walls that separate the races. And as Tess’s relentless nightmares convince her that only she can save the soul of the baby whose death she’s witnessed, Leta remains the voice of constancy and reason, not only for her family but for the community as well.

   

With dialogue evocative of hot humid nights and the slow-paced life of the deep-south circa 1931, Phillips paints the portrait of a hard working community whose inhabitants are struggling to keep body and soul together during tough economic times. Her vivid descriptions of the backbreaking, day-to-day life of a coal miner is rich in its detail and historic underpinnings, making this story as tangible as it is textural and making us, the readers, long to hear more from her boldly drawn characters long after the last sentence has been read.  

 

THE SECRET DIARIES OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE

By Syrie James

$14.99 Avon

www.harpercollins.com

 

If the famed author, Charlotte Bronte, had kept diaries throughout her life, which she most likely did, what would they have contained? What secrets would have spilled forth from those musty pages were they read in the light of the 21st century? If such a thought makes you curious, even a little bit, then look no further than THE SECRET DIARIES OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE to quench your literary thirst. Syrie James, author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austin, once again brings history alive in this well-researched novel, blending fact and supposition about the author’s life while bringing Bronte and her many beloved works to light. 

 

Living in Yorkshire with her sisters Emily and Anne, her nearly-blind father and drug-addicted brother, Charlotte begins her tale with the sentence “I have received a proposal of marriage.” But Charlotte makes it clear that no good story can begin with a happy ending so we are taken on an emotionally complex journey wherein we become privy to the ups and downs of the first three decades of her life. Although we are quickly introduced to Arthur Bell Nichols, the man she will eventually marry, it is clear from the beginning that her distaste for him is as passionate as her eventual feelings of love. A lowly curate, he comes into her life when hired by her father, the minister of their impoverished and small parish, where she and her family have spent their lives. Throughout the ensuing years, she weaves the details of her life into her diary entries, which include her many stints as governess and teacher as well as stalwart protector of the family she holds so dear.

 

Throughout this compelling story we are swept into the very mind and heart of Bronte’s life as she struggles, along with her sisters, to write and then publish the many works for which they are now famous such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Charlotte’s secret passion for a married man, her heartbreaks and the inspiration for her many works are spilled across every page of this wonderful novel, making you forget that it is Syrie and not Bronte herself weaving this enigmatic and forceful tale. A triumph in every way, this novel will keep you on the edge of your seat where you can almost feel the chill winds blowing across the moors of Yorkshire and hear the voice of a writer who, although long gone, still manages to whisper her every secret longing, thought and desire in your ear.

 

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 100 - June 7990
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