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Bookmonger: New books look at farming and eating locally in the Pacific Northwest

Maybe you heard about the little dust-up last week when Martha Stewart called out Gwyneth Paltrow for encroaching on her lifestyle empire. I had to laugh. Martha would have a cow if she knew about some of the inspired people in the Northwest who are tromping on similar turf. Except our local folks deal less in lifestyle and more in life substance.

Let me tell you about a couple of them.

MaryJane Butters is an organic farmer, publisher, and entrepreneur based in Moscow, Idaho. With a last name like Butters, she must have been destined to write “Milk Cow Kitchen.”

Inspired by her Jersey dairy queens Sally O’Mally, Etta Jane, Maizy, Miss Daisy and Sweetheart, Butters came up with a lively, folksy 400-page book that starts with a chapter called “Let’s Talk Milk,” and moves on to “Let’s Talk Cows,” “Let’s Talk Bulls,” and “Let’s Talk Business.”

Butters thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to have a milk cow out back, and by the time you’re done reading the book, you may be convinced, too. The book spotlights the joys of “cowpanionship” and the benefits of being an “entre-manure.” It provides illustrated how-to discussions of everything from milking to breeding to veterinary care (with a big tip of the cowgirl hat to Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital).

And finally, there are dozens of delectable recipes — although I suspect the cholesterol count on some of them is off the charts.

If dairy isn’t your thing, let’s turn to Amy Pennington, who a couple of years ago came out with a book called “Urban Pantry.” She was a self-styled “urban farmer” in Seattle by way of New York and when I attended a presentation she gave in conjunction with that book, I came away thinking her advice was callow.

But I like Pennington’s new book, “Fresh Pantry,” very much. This book is about eating seasonally, and she has organized the chapters in rough accordance with the growing season, focusing on a single fruit or vegetable per month.

Without the self-righteous tone of more famous locavores, Pennington makes the case for eating locally, then proves it can be done by jumping into the most challenging season of all, winter, for her first chapters.

Cabbage in December, anyone? Before you shy away, consider the variety Pennington presents: there are recipes for burek, slaw, focaccia, soup, pasta and, of course, sauerkraut. The instructions are solid and the ingredients are available.

Furthermore, every chapter contains a sidebar that gives detailed advice on how to grow the highlighted fruit or vegetable in your own garden, or even in a pot on the terrace or a jar on the kitchen counter. You can’t get more local than that!

“Fresh Pantry” has lots of photos, too, although I found their cheek-to-jowl presentation to be visually overwhelming — a little white space around each image might have been easier on the eyes.

Overall, this is a well-researched and genially presented book. I am happy to recommend it.

THIS WEEK'S BOOKS

“Fresh Pantry,” Amy Pennington

“Milk Cow Kitchen,” MaryJane Butters

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com

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