The Feast Nearby ~ A Book Review & Its Espresso-Walnut Scones


I am a book person. I’m sure that some day I’ll possess a Nook or something similar, but that will never replace my books. I’m talking turn-the-page, hard cover, fill-the-shelves books. Reading is as integral a part of my life as eating.

Books draw me for several reasons, but the ones that pull me in the most are those with which I can relate. I don’t really expect to be able to relate to books that lean toward the self-help genre instead of fiction. So, when I picked up Robin Mather’s The Feast Nearby at the library, I turned the first page just hoping to glean a couple of ideas on how to put away more summer produce so our family could become more self-sufficient and spend less money. ¬†Little did I know.

Robin has a writing style that engages the reader immediately. She is witty, charming and warm. In addition to the frank and open way she shares her struggles and successes, Robin has the weight of experience on her side. She’s proven that her methods work and her way of chronicling them for us allows us to learn from what she’s done.

There are several pieces to this book. The first is, of course, Robin’s journey toward self-sufficiency. Splitting the book into the seasons, Robin takes us through the joy of growing her own herbs, finding local sources for other fruit and vegetables, and finally the canning, freezing and drying of everything in preparation for the months in which the harvest wanes.

The second comes in the form of personality. I admire (and am a bit jealous of) Robin’s ability to draw a picture of the people and pets in her life. Through her writing I laughed at the antics of Pippin the parrot, Boon the dog and Gruff the cat. Since I have already dipped my toe in the dog ownership department and took a headlong plunge into cat-love, it followed that I immediately wanted to go out and buy a parrot after reading how charming and engaging Pippin is.

Then there are the folk that surround Robin. Over the course of reading, they became neighbors to me. I listened to Tom, owner of an area farm stand as he explained how farmers’ markets are affecting him because the folks that sell there don’t have to pay the utilities, payroll, property taxes and other costs that a more established business does. And I gulped. What a different perspective.

I smiled every time Wally brought over a bunch of vegetables and couldn’t wait to see how Robin was going to preserve them. As he strolled up the sidewalk with tomatoes, I knew (as Wally did) that a portion of the goodies would be headed back to this generous, wonderful man as a thank you from Robin.

The final piece to the book is a collection of Robin’s recipes. The dishes include Lamb and Apricot Tangine, Joe’s Ancient Orange-Cinnamon-Clove Mead, Ginger Fried Rice, Cider-Braised Pork Loin with Apples and Onions, and Peppery Cherry Spoon Bread. Each chapter also has very straight-forward direction on how Robin preserves the foods she acquires. Dehydrating cherries, canning and freezing carrots (as well as a host of other vegetables), as well as making sauerkraut.

It’s a pity that this copy The Feast Nearby has to go back to the library. Since this is the copy with which I discovered Robin, I’ve formed an attachment with it. I’ll be sad to turn it in. It’ll be hard to sit and wait for the copy I’m going to order to arrive. I love this book.

Of course, it’s impossible for me to peruse a book containing recipes without wanting to try at least one (or a dozen) of them. Upon contacting her, Robin graciously gave me permission to include a recipe for one dish without even knowing which I’d try. Being me, I headed directly to Chapter 5; On Chooks and Coffee (the woman roasts her own beans!). The Espresso-Walnut Scones awaited.

Espresso-Walnut Sconesprint this recipe
from The Feast Nearby
used by permission by Robin Mather

2 cups self-rising flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter, cold
2/3 cup heavy cream or whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk or whole milk
2 teaspoons very finely ground espresso-roast coffee
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons salted butter, melted

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 425F. Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper or grease it well.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, granulated sugar, and salt. Using your fingers or two knives, work in the cold butter until there are no more large lumps. Gently stir in the cream, then the vanilla and some of the buttermilk. Continue to add the buttermilk until the mixture is very wet; it will resemble cottage cheese but should not be soupy. Stir in the ground coffee and the walnuts.

Flour a cutting board generously. Tip the dough out onto the floured board and flour it lightly. Without kneading, pat the dough into a round big enough to fill the cake pan. Transfer the round to the prepared pan. Using a floured table knife, score the dough in the cake pan into eighths.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned.

While the scones bake, prepare the icing. Combine the confectioners; sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of the cream in a large glass measuring cup. Add additional cream as needed to make a pourable glaze, but keep the consistency thick, like yogurt.

When the scones are done, remove them from the oven and brush the tops with melted butter. Invert quickly onto a plate, then invert again on another plate so the scones are again right-side-up. Using the sore marks as your guide, quickly cut the scones into eighths. Place the scones on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.

Drizzle the icing over the hot scones, allowing some to dribble down the sides of each scones. Be generous!

Eat warm, or allow to cool completely before placing on a plate and wraping in plastic. The scones will keep for up to 4 days.

The Verdict
Absolutely fantastic. This recipe may be the best I’ve found yet for light, tender scones. Add in the walnuts an espresso and it’s pure heaven. I was hooked on the first bite and tried to think of a way to hide the rest of the batch from Hubby. It didn’t work and I spent the rest of the morning beating him away from the remaining few on the plate. These will definitely be a part of our Christmas morning fare.

My advice; buy the book. Make the scones. Then, work your way through all the other recipes. You’ll be glad you did; tr
ust me.