Canadian Aimée Wimbush-Bourque followed a now well-blazed trail to the blogging life, giving up restaurant kitchens for parenthood and homesteading. Based near Montreal, the former chef hosts Simplebites.net, a community blog devoted to “family focused food — with a little urban homesteading in the mix.” As in many bloggers’ first books, Wimbush-Bourque attractively presents that lifestyle change in “Brown Eggs and Jam Jars,” daring you to do the same.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given her home region, Wimbush-Bourque relies on maple syrup as a universal sweetener. Maple cider-baked beans revolve around the same molasses-mustard axis as most baked beans you’ve had. I don’t know whether it was the bacon or the small, tender navy beans cooked in cider, or the three hours in the oven, but these were addictive enough that the leftovers didn’t even last through lunch the next day.
Maple-pepper glazed pork chops are simple enough to cook in your sleep. Brown the chops and then make a cider vinegar and maple glaze. That’s it, but if you do it right it’s perfect for dragging fatty bits of pork through the pan drippings. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, maple-pumpkin chili is appealing in the same way as maple baked beans, just sweet enough, porky from sausage. The surprise ingredient? Pumpkin puree. I had my doubts, having recently endured a disappointing pumpkin pork shoulder no one had the nerve to throw out for a week. But the puree lends body and depth to the chili, though you wouldn’t know it was there if no one told you.
Maple combines with soy in a vinaigrette for a cabbage, carrot, and cashew slaw. They’re bright, easy flavors that go with almost anything, though cashews get soggy if you leave them overnight. You find a similar riot of color and texture in endive, apple, and almond salad. Like the slaw, it doesn’t keep well, but the dressing (almonds blended with cider, honey, and sherry vinegar) stands up well to the bitter greens and sweet apple.
Brussels sprouts with honey and hazelnuts are a reminder that although it may be fashionable to roast your sprouts, they can be just as glamorous in a skillet, with glazed nuts and a surprising note of grapefruit zest lifting their earthy refrain.
Nova Scotia seafood chowder blazes like a sunset in shades of salmon, shrimp, saffron, and orange zest. It’s more assertive than our New England cream chowders, but stops short of a powerhouse bouillabaisse. Balsamic-glazed sea scallops you could probably serve over anything and they’d still be great. Wimbush-Bourque’s choice is a melange of apple, leek, and Swiss chard, all of which have well-matching flavors without being particularly memorable.
Sometimes Wimbush-Bourque’s creations are unobjectionable to a fault. I challenge you to find a 5-year-old who would not eat a shepherd’s pie made of nothing but plain, cooked chicken mixed with leeks and corn and capped with plain mashed potatoes. It’s a rather dry and characterless dish, but it does ably feed even a crowd of picky eaters.
Cinnamon shortbread bars with dark chocolate ganache may not be the most intense, but you still won’t have any left half an hour later.
Like most homesteading blog-to-books, this one is unlikely to make you pull up stakes, quit your job, and grow your own produce. It might make you plant some rhubarb or lay in some supplies of buttermilk and cider. You’ll probably just end up with a few more good, easy weeknight meals to add to the rotation. Who doesn’t need more of those?
Brown Eggs And Jam Jars: Family Recipes From the Kitchen of Simple Bites
By Aimée Wimbush-Bourque
Pintail, 336 pp., $25
T. Susan Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.