When Tamar Adler writes, “The amount of food you have left from a meal is always the perfect amount for something,” it is the sort of guidance that makes her book, AN EVERLASTING MEAL: COOKING WITH ECONOMY AND GRACE, feel like having a good friend in the kitchen with you. It gives wise advice, is highly entertaining, witty, makes you think, and leaves you wanting more; even if it won’t help wash the dishes.
Part thrifty cooking manual, part recipe book, part autobiography, Adler writes conversationally with the smooth palatability of M.F.K. Fisher, whose writings inspired this book; but AN EVERLASTING MEAL is all Adler’s own. Her voice is pure poetry in its intimacy, whether she’s describing how to rescue a panful of burned roasted vegetables, enlivening our salads, elevating simple mayonnaise, or suggesting what to cook from our pot of bean broth or stale ends of bread.
Adler doesn’t just teach us how to prepare meals, she educates us in how to look at, taste, and think about food, fresh and leftover, and that in turn allows us to know what do with it. These skills are obviously important when we’re standing mesmerized before pyramids of glorious summer abundance at the farmer’s market, but they’re equally paramount in the dead of winter when we’re staring at the lone dusty onion in the bin, or a can of green beans in the pantry, with a rumbling in our bellies. She gives a spicy recipe for those beans that’s only slightly more involved than plopping them into a pot and turning on the flame, and it’s delicious. Ever prepared, Adler keeps anchovies, olives, capers and astringent pickles on hand, and when she explains that, “They are not all universally loved, but few powerful things are,” she’s feeding us a life lesson, along with a cooking one.
Do you boil water, beyond that in which to steep your tea or cook your starches, I mean? Adler’s expressive chapter on boiling water will convince you to start doing so, and you’ll be richly rewarded with heady soups, tender greens, and tasty proteins. Nothing is wasted in Adler’s kitchen, and she makes sure that nothing is wasted in ours. You’ll learn how to deal with a week’s worth of vegetable prep in a few hours (her method of roasting beets has become mine), how to handle underutilized vegetables, how to manage cuts of meat, what to do with the leftover bits of this-and-that jumbled in your refrigerator, how to fix your mistakes, and so many good ways to prepare good eggs. Never again will you toss away the stems and cores from the vegetables you’re preparing. Instead, you’ll turn them into a luscious garlicky pesto to spread on toasted bread, or toss with pasta, and you’ll double the amount of service you receive from your vegetal purchase.
After reading AN EVERLASTING MEAL many times, because it is satisfying and also informative, I find myself more easily able to cook something delicious even when it seems I have nothing in the house to eat, or would much rather lay on the couch watching re-runs of Oddities. With its common-sense ease, this book is perfect for both the experienced cook and the novice, and it’s the best antidote to the monotony of preparing three meals a day, day in and day out, because once you’ve read it you’ll see much more possibility in your ingredients, and try things you never thought to try before. In sum, you’ll start cooking more from your heart and less from a recipe, while having more fun and less worry. We have to eat, so let’s enjoy it!
In these days of celebrity chefs, supposedly simple meals that take days to prepare, and precious little in your grocery bag for far too many dollar bills, Adler takes the expense, mystery, pomp, and ego out of feeding ourselves and our loved ones, and brings cooking back to where it belongs . . . our humble kitchens, and very satisfied stomachs.
This insightful, meditative collection of essays breathes life into the belief that we can start cooking from wherever we are, with whatever we have. It is an elegant testimony to the pleasures of home cooking.