cover of In Season



In Season still living up to its name

In Season: Culinary Adventures of a San JuanIsland Chef  © 1997 by Greg Atkinson

© 2007 Beth Helstien

I warn you: I may not be the best person to review a cookbook. I can’t follow a recipe to save my life. This came up on a recent quiet Thursday evening in the library when a patron showed-off the lovely cookbook she had selected to borrow. As she admired her treasure, she admitted, “I don’t usually follow the recipes: I just use cook books for ideas. That’s why I like Greg Atkinson so much.”

I suspect that Greg Atkinson can follow a recipe. But one of his geniuses is taking ingredients on hand and in season and making up a meal. One learns a few techniques in the kitchen, learns about different kinds of ingredients, and invents from the ingredients and the mood recipes to suit. One gets the idea that proportions count for something, but that fixed measurement isn’t so important. This style of cooking holds enormous appeal for me. My iconoclastic spirit just won’t be held in by the confines of another’s recipe.

Greg Atkinson, however, is more than just a good cook. He is a wonderful writer. As the visitor to the library said, “he writes with such love about his family, and about everyday things and about life on the island.”  One of my favorite pieces in the book is about summer solstice madness--the craziness induced in June when the sun is out too late and up too early for people born closer to the equator to get enough sleep.  The cure?  Eat blue cheese.  The recipes? Oregon Blue Cheese Dip and Salad with Gorgonzola Toasts.

Another favorite is his recounting of a ferry trip during a big winter nor’easter. The reader can feel the ice in her nose. More important, the love in the writer’s heart is palpable. The recipe that follows is for another favorite: Chocolate Cream Pie.

I never knew Greg more than to say “Hi” to, but his weekly columns in the Journal were a favorite. I only tried his recipes infrequently; but I felt that I learned about being an islander in the late 1980s and early 1990s from Greg Atkinson. For instance:

And now, looking back, I realize, I owe much to Greg for what I learned about writing for the Journal, as well.

Whether you follow recipes or not, whether you cook or not, this charming collection of personal essays followed by simple and elegant recipes holds the potential for much enjoyment.

In Season, like all books reviewed in here, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

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