Guess what? I’ve been READING! That’s right: reading. Somehow, in the Taz-style whirlwind that is my personal lyfe, I’ve found the time to read. This pleases me greatly.
Last week, I finished Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, which I received as a gift from my mom (hi, mom!). Unflattering truth: my initial impression of the book was mild dislike. Maybe dislike is too strong a word, even — the feeling was the intellectual equivalent of having the tiniest pebble trapped in your loafer, or making your toast just sliiiiiiightly too dark (not burned enough to toss, but burned enough to prohibit true enjoyment). I felt, reading those first few pages, that the author’s tone was somehow disingenuous — twee pretending not to be.
“Effing Christ,” I thought, “not another person who stores her farro in Weck jars.” BUT, as is often the case when one makes quick judgments, I was wrong. Adler’s work is not twee; in fact, it is resolutely practical. Notably quirky constructions aside, the book is rife with tips for making use of any/all food items, down to carrot greens and parmesan rinds and fish bones (should you have any). It is a book perfect for the collector: for the person whose reluctance to part with things can, at times, present difficulty. It is a book for me.
Adler begins at the beginning, with instructions on how to properly boil water. What at first seems like a no-brainer reveals itself to be a much more complex process. Water must be adequately salted to flavor the ingredients cooked in it; once the cooking is done, the water can be incorporated into sauces or used to water plants. The same goes for fats of all types: cooking oil seasoned with garlic, bacon fat, and so on.
Adler’s reverence for food is infectious; no scrap, it seems, is too lowly. Celery leaves can be used in place of parsley, adding brightness to a hearty dish; the snub ends of turnips can be used to make vegetable stock. I’ve never been excited at the prospect of cooking dried beans — the soaking seems so involved — but Adler’s description of the process has me eager to browse the bulk bins at Rainbow. The care with which Adler describes each step in the process solidifies the necessity of each step; I’m particularly taken with the idea of using the bean-cooking water as a stew base.
Adler’s efficacy w/r/t cooking makes itself plain in her writing: each chapter is gorgeously descriptive but no longer than it needs to be — no wasted words here. Recipes are nestled among technical explanations and well-chosen anecdotes highlighting the merits of an ingredient or dish. This is the perfect book to read during your morning commute, as you consider what you might like for dinner, or as you’re drifting to sleep, your thoughts murmuring about a baking project for the coming weekend.
You needn’t be a masterful chef to enjoy this book. Adler’s writing addresses home cooks of all skill levels, and the author herself admits to using basic, functional tools: wooden spoons grooved by heavy use, battered pots, a few good knives. The reader must only possess a curiosity about and enthusiasm for good food: how to prepare it well and transform leftovers into equally lovely dishes.