The Artist, the Cook and the Gardener:
Recipes Inspired by Painting from the Garden

by Maryjo Koch

Andrews McMeel, 2013. ISBN 978-1-449-42146-5.
Reviewed by Susan J. Tweit
Posted on 02/09/2014

Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment; Nonfiction: Arts/Crafts; Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen;

"Just like a meal stimulates our senses and nourishes our bodies, the garden nourishes our spirits. Our mind's focus on petty problems is pushed aside and is no match for the pondering of miracles found in a garden. The fragrances, hues, shapes, textures, and sounds that emerge from tiny seeds are miraculous and mesmerizing. Walk into a garden and all five senses are aroused: from the fragrance and color of a flower, to the sounds of birds and wind, to the taste of freshly picked produce, to the feeling of moisture in the air or the soft leaves of lamb's ears and the prickly thorns of a rose."

That sensual beginning gives readers a taste of this lush book of recipes from a naturalist painter. Maryjo Koch has illustrated eighteen gift books, inspired by what she sees and collects in her garden in the mountains of California's Central Coast. In the tradition of Victorian naturalists, her studio is full of shells, nests, eggs, mosses, lichens, and dried and live plants of all sorts. The book evokes the abundance of her studio and garden, from hummingbirds and grapes to chipmunks and mushrooms.

During Koch's workshops, her studio is also full of students learning the art of drawing on nature for inspiration. The workshop lunches that Koch serves—described by Gayle Ortiz, author of The Village Baker's Wife, as "the new definition of a tearoom lunch with a contemporary California sensibility"—inspired this book, a luscious collection of recipes featuring ingredients fresh from Koch's garden and the surrounding area. Like this Butternut Squash-Apple Soup, a twist on a classic winter dish:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup maple syrup
3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cubed
4 Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and cubed
8 cups chicken broth
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ cup heavy cream, for garnish

The recipe is simpler than you'd think. Sauté the squash cubes in the butter and maple syrup, add the rest of the ingredients except for the heavy cream and simmer until they're all tender. Then puree the mix, pour it back into the pot, heat gently, and, "ladle it into soup plates. Garnish each serving with a drizzle of heavy cream." Yum!

The book is arranged into chapters by types of dish—Soups; Salads; Sandwiches, Pizzas & Savory Tarts; and Sweets—interspersed with brief meditations on the seasons in the garden. The whole book is generously and gorgeously illustrated with photographs by Koch's daughter, Wendy Candelaria, a photographer, and paintings by Koch and her painter son, Jonathan. Recipes, text, images, font, and design are lush and stunning, appealing to the senses.

I confess to being the sort of cook who regards recipes as ideas, rather than instructions. I rarely actually plan a meal, instead perusing garden, fridge and pantry shelves for what's fresh and interesting and devising dishes from what I find. But after paging through The Artist, the Cook and the Gardener, I may plan more often.

When fresh figs are in season, for instance, there's a mouth-watering recipe for Fresh Fig and Black Forest Ham Sandwiches, baked with soft goat cheese. And the recipe for a pan-seared sea scallop salad with a simple Meyer lemon vinaigrette. And the Curried Chicken Pita Sandwiches with Carrots and Golden Raisins. Oh, and those Dark Chocolate and Orange Pistachio Cookies...

Page through this delicious book to see and drool for yourself!

Maryjo Koch is an accomplished naturalist painter and the author of eighteen illustrated gift books, including the best-selling Bird Egg Feather Nest. She conducts painting workshops in Northern California and abroad, and has exhibited her work at natural history museums nationwide. Koch works from her studio near Santa Cruz, California. Visit her website.

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