Thursday, April 24, 2014

Handmade Gatherings by Ashley English, a Review

Photo © Jen Altman & Roost Books
 Handmade Gatherings, Recipes & Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations and Potluck Parties, Roost Books (April 8, 2014) by Ashley English is charming from beginning to end. It was easy for me to feel an immediate kinship with this author because I, too, grew up with parents who were always hosting or going to parties. As a young child on the periphery, I was fascinated by all of the preparations involved. I also loved party food (that seemed just perfect for my pudgy little hands), and the engaging way in which it was served -- threaded onto skewers, speared by toothpicks with fancy tops, or presented in its own individual dish that made me feel a willing participant in a doll's tea party. This book was a little bit like reliving that delightful part of my youth.

But there is a deeper lesson to be learned here other than just how to throw a wonderful party with easy-to-make recipes and delightful crafts that are simple enough for anyone to do. It is about living life, realizing that just about anything is worth celebrating, and actually doing something about it. In short, everyone should read this book.

How many times have you felt blissfully happy over something quite simple, say, spotting that first cucumber on the vine, smelling the heady fragrance of the first summer rose, or receiving a long anticipated book in the mail? For English, these are causes for celebration.

Don't slog along through the year waiting for some traditional holiday, do what English does and throw a party to celebrate the emergence of spring and summer, the welcome arrival of bees, the bustle and homegrown goodness of farmer's markets, or the soul satisfying art of canning.  Each party plan is well described and each features recipes, crafts, and table setting ideas, all of which are very doable. The parties are all interactive with guests, both young and old, participating along with the host, learning and teaching, while having fun and nourishing body and soul.

When I saw the section on making up seed packets of pollinators for the party that celebrates bees, I pulled out my instructions for making seed packets, and rubber stamps that I will use to embellish them. My party will celebrate Zinnias in bloom on the deck, and I'll give away packets of seeds that I have harvested myself.

There is also a party that celebrates canning with a craft of making jar tags that are stamped using an inked piece of okra. As an avid jam and jelly maker (both sweet and savory) I'm going to have a canning party as well, and gift attendees with mini jars of my basil jelly and strawberry margarita jam. I will be trying her recipe for quick pickled ramps as well.

The party celebrating stone fruits had my mouth watering, think peach cobbler baked in a cast iron skillet, bourbon iced tea served with mint and peach slices, boozy maraschino cherries, not to mention chocolate cherry hand pies, and plum liquor.
Photo © Jen Altman & Roost Books
The autumn party will have you longing for fall.  Here she teaches how to make mulling spice packets for mulling wine, or cider, assembling jars of soup mix, and making your own homemade root beer. 
Photo © Jen Altman & Roost Books
Photo © Jen Altman & Roost Books
One cannot help but feel enthusiastic while reading this book, salivating over food, decor, and the sheer brilliance of celebrating simplicity. I can hardly wait to get started!

Photo © Jen Altman & Roost Books
Disclosure: I was given a free digital copy of this book by NetGalley, but the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

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