Neft, Kenny still keeping it ‘Real’

Cookbook authors pen second farm-fresh recipe collection
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny love the farmers market. The weekly markets, in Auburn and throughout Placer County, have become community gathering places where families and farmers meet to talk about what food is in season and where it comes from.

That farm-to-table concept served as the inspiration for “Placer County Real Food,” a collection of menus for every week of the year. The food, purchased at local farmers markets, was prepared  by Neft and Kenny, photographed by Keith Sutter and served at weekly dinners. The cookbook, released in April 2010, has become a staple in kitchens throughout the country – although its enthusiastic reception came as a welcome surprise to its authors.

“Joanne and I were wondering if we were going to be sitting on 9,000 copies of the book, we truly were,” Kenny laughed.

Two years later, the authors are preparing for the release of “The Art of Real Food,” published by Neft’s In Season Publishing. A similar cookbook to “Real Food,” “The Art of Real Food” features several new twists.

“This book is different in that it focuses on a fruit or vegetable at its peak of flavor that particular week of the year,” Neft explained.

The book is divided into weeks, each featuring recipes that call for that week’s star. All ingredients were purchased at the farmers market. An upcoming week focuses on red chard and rhubarb, offering meals such as Swiss chard soup and fried chard stems with blue cheese. The cookbook also contains cooking tips and an abundance of information about eating healthfully.

“It provides a concrete way for people to understand how to eat seasonally and from local food sources,” said Carol Arnold, general manager of the Foothill Famers Market. “It’s an excellent tool that if they go into the market they can buy foods that are both familiar and unfamiliar, and know immediately how to prepare them.”

Although stocked with healthy recipes, the book also includes a few indulgences, referred to as “love” by its authors. Those sweet and savory treats aren’t forbidden, they say, they should just be eaten in moderation.

Neft and Kenny agreed that a favorite recipe in the new book is for Meyer lemon pudding. Like many of the more than 250 recipes in the book, it was submitted by a friend. Without the help of local farmers, Kenny said, the book would not have been possible.

The book adds several artistic elements. Sutter’s photography graces the pages, and Auburn’s Paula Amerine created 35 watercolor paintings of many foods. Auburn sculptor Anthony Maki-Gill hand-crafted more than 70 clay serving dishes for the project.

“I can’t think of any more purposeful or meaningful project than creating art with and for your community, and having it centered around the creation of food as art,”?Maki-Gill said.

It was the idea of the whole package – art combined with fresh, local food – that prompted Neft to call Kenny and propose a second book.

“I said, ‘I think there’s an opportunity to put together a rather unique cookbook. How would you feel about doing another one?’” Neft said. “And Laura didn’t slam the phone down on my ear.”

Sixteen months of writing and collecting recipes and organizing monthly or bi-monthly photo shoots has culminated in “The Art of Real Food,” which will be released April 28 at the Auburn farmers market. The authors will sign books the night before at “Celebrate Your Taste,” a food, wine and art event at The Arts Building Gallery in Auburn. The book can be purchased at many local stores and at

Thinking about the evolution of healthy eating, Neft, a longtime agriculture advocate, said that in just the past few years, this community and the world have realized the importance of fresh, healthy foods, and have embraced the atmosphere of farmers markets.

“People are growing more, people are more aware that it’s to their advantage to eat healthy food,” Neft said. “It’s really good for their children, it’s important for the people they love, to feed them healthy food.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.



Book release

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 28

Where: Foothill Farmers Market, Old Town Auburn





Fried chard stems with blue cheese love

Serves eight. Recipe inspired by Lynn Archer

¼ cup flour

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Salt and pepper to taste

One egg, beaten

Two bunches young chard stems, cleaned, cut into 4-inch pieces

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine flour, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. In another bowl, place beaten egg. Dip each stem in egg, then flour mixture. Heat butter and oil in a large skillet, fry chard stems until golden brown on both sides, four to seven minutes. Place on a paper towel to dry, season with salt and pepper. Serve warm with Blue Cheese Love.

Blue cheese love

1 cup cream

2 ounces Pt. Reyes blue cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan, heat cream and reduce by one-half. Turn off heat, stir in cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.