If you're a dedicated follower of Sunset magazine's One-Block Diet blog, where staffers report on tending a backyard-sized plot of land behind their offices where they grow vegetables, raise chickens, and such to create 100% locavore meals, then you probably don't need the magazine's just-released cookbook, The One-Block Feast: An Adventure in Food From Yard To Table. For the rest of us, the book provides a fascinating glimpse at what a group of worker bees can do when they decide to live off the land. Or at least during office hours when that blogroll is being updated.
Though the book doesn't have the raw charm of a true do-it-yourself backyard survival guides, that glammed-up Test Kitchen version is to be expected. As for the possibility of discussing at length, particularly during business hours, how to make salt from seawater (harder than it sounds) and whether that mesophilic type III culture used to make a wheel of homemade Gouda was past its prime, we find that to be a perfectly logical employment proposition.
The book is organized by seasons, with each chapter beginning with a horticultural plan for appropriate fruits and vegetables (yes, the magazine has a gardener on staff). In the summer, they raised honeybees and stirred their golden loot into lemongrass custards (recipe p.79) and honeydew sorbets (p. 80), or spun it into creamy versions, like this recipe for blueberry creamed honey. Herbs, chilis and corn were dried for winter, fruits were preserved, and dried tomatoes were tucked in the freezer.
The fall brought on projects like cheese-making (ricotta, fromage blanc, feta, Gouda), mushroom growing, and even an olive oil attempt. Most were done on-site, but snafus like finding out their olive tree was infested with bugs necessitated a field trip to a nearby farm to pick olives. Sunset staffers even made wine from Syrah grapes harvested at Fat Buck Ridge; Chardonnay grapes came from nearby Thomas Fogarty Winery. Some of those grapes also began a second life as vinegar.
Sure, those cheeses, vinegars, wines and oils may not have been the most beautiful the staffers had ever tasted, but it's hard not to like the sound of that 100% homemade grilled radicchio and fennel salad with apples and walnuts (p. 141), stuffed poblanos with red pepper sauce and homemade Gouda (p. 142), and pickled mushrooms and onions (p. 137).
Does that mean we will try all of the step-by-step recipes for making mead and homegrown escargot? Probably not, as the honey wine requires more patio space than our urban apartment allows, and the idea of purging garden-plucked snails for two weeks on a strict cornmeal diet in one of our favorite roasting pans isn't quite as appealing as the book tries to make it sound. Or perhaps we just have one too many childhood memories of the playground bully torturing sidewalk snails — it turns out salting is the preferred execution method in The One-Block Feast as well. And that's just the sort of flip-through entertainment we crave from magazine staffers adept at filling our afternoon coffee break with quick-but-engaging reads with just a hint of movie-worthy sensationalism.
There is also an unavoidable twinge of culinary supremacy in this book, as truly living off the land at its core is a means of survival, or for others a way to simply eat as nature intended. It's also a heck of a lot of work. When flipping through photos of sassy young editorial staffers decked in Anthropologie's finest and posing next to glass jugs of young, daisy-yellow mead, we are reminded that at this expense account level, it's relatively easy to turn that mountain of work into a fun office-hours hobby. Not that we blame the staffers. We wouldn't dream of giving up our Sunday morning coffee for the boss' pet project, either. Even if it involved mead.