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Living Large Locally 

Seattle food writer Jess Thomson writes a love letter to the great nearby in her new memoir

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Jess Thomson has always been an adventurer, especially when it comes to food. But she always assumed she had to travel to do it. A visit from a friend changed her mind.

"I watched her traipse through Seattle with this overwhelming sense of excitement. She posted everything she was doing on Instagram, and I watched her thrill unfold with a mix of jealousy and surprise," says Thomson. "I was jealous that she was on a big adventure, but I was also surprised — there was sort of this blinding flash of the obvious — to realize that she could do it in my neighborhood, which meant that I could, too."

She continues: "I had blindly passed the docks in Seattle where you can buy fresh crab so many times. I know exactly where the farmer's markets are and what they sell, but I'm somehow able to forget that I can make rhubarb jam one Sunday, all day, if I want to. I had become so accustomed to living my daily life — like I think we all do — that I had failed to recognize that the adventures I was searching for elsewhere were available here."

That realization planted the seed for her recently released book, A Year Right Here: Adventures with Food and Family in the Great Nearby, consisting of essays which all take place within a day's driving distance of Seattle.

Thomson's journey takes her razor clamming on the Washington coast, truffle hunting in Oregon, and wine tasting through British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. Even closer to home, she adopts backyard chickens and tries her hand at brewing her own cider. But there's more to this book than food.

"At the beginning, it was a book about food told through the lens of my family," she says. "What happened as I was writing is that it morphed into a book about my family told through the lens of food," the author says.

While Thomson is a food writer and frequent restaurant cookbook ghostwriter, she's also a mom to a young son with cerebral palsy. The book is filled with evocative food descriptions and enviable trips, but also encompasses the uncontrollable stuff of everyday life and explores the limits of physical ability, both for her son and for herself.

When Thomson's son Graham needed to have surgery, her plans for a completely local adventure year needed to be adjusted. Her editor weighed in with a suggestion.

"She said, 'Many writers just stop what they're doing and wait a year, and start up again if they need some sort of personal time. We could consider that. Or you could make this part of the story.'"

Thomson chose the latter.

"Ultimately, I was much happier with the final structure, because it did a better job of showing what my life is: this crazy combination of wild, fun, sexy-sounding adventure and tough parenting."

Thomson's book encourages readers to be curious about their natural habitats in a new way, and allows them to shape food and drink choices. "I think just the willingness and eagerness to find out something new can guide what ends up on your plate," she says.

That's an invitation to adventure anyone can embrace. ♦

Find A Year Right Here at Auntie's Bookstore, 402 W. Main, for $28.95.

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