A Feature Review of
An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
Reviewed by Sara Sterley
I used to daydream about writing a different kind of cookbook. Not anymore. Tamar Adler already wrote it, and her An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace is far better than anything I dreamt up. An Everlasting Meal is less a cookbook than an invitation to find the beauty and simplicity in the seemingly mundane act of making a meal. I love to cook, so I didn’t need much prompting, but Adler’s humility and prose could bring even the most reluctant to the kitchen.
While each chapter of An Everlasting Meal does end with a recipe, the book is more of a helpful and poetic “how to” guide to getting around the kitchen and eating well through simple, but helpful tips and tricks. Her first chapter, titled “How to Boil Water” recommends that the first thing you do upon walking in the door from a long day is to set a pot of water to boil on the stove:
There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well. It isn’t true. Most of us already have water, a pot to put it in, and a way to light a fire. This gives us boiling water, in which we can do more good cooking than we know.
After you have a pot of boiling water started, you can decide what to do with it: pasta, potatoes, other vegetables, eggs. In a short chapter, she easily convinces the reader on the subtleties of boiling water and offers literally hundreds of various meal options – all beginning with a simple pot of water.
A few chapters later, she details her plan for vegetables, which has quite literally revolutionized our kitchen. She recommends roasting your vegetables as soon after you get them home as possible; that way, you have an assortment of already-cooked vegetables on hand to accompany any dish imaginable. We belong to a CSA, so, without fail, by the end of the week, I would have a few leftover beets or greens or fennel that I had either forgotten about or didn’t know what to do with in the first place. Now, I take Adler’s advice and roast just about everything the evening I pick up the CSA delivery. I find it much easier to incorporate the vegetables into meals since they’re already seasoned and cooked. “By the end of the week,” Adler says, “you will have eaten vegetables a dozen ways a dozen times, having begun with good raw materials only once.”
I try to only eat meat and poultry when I know and approve of where it came from, but Adler, in a chapter titled “How to be Tender,” convinced me to be more adventurous when it comes to my meat consumption: “Good meat only seems so expensive because we eat meat like children taking bites out of the middles of sandwiches and throwing the rest away.” I think that is the perfect retort for critics of sustainably-raised animals who say that we cannot feed the world in a sustainable, creation-minded way. She offers a few simple recipes ripe for experimentation to help the reader get the most out of his “happily raised animal” purchases.
An Everlasting Meal is chockfull of helpful tips for even the most experienced of chefs, for example:
If you need vegetables to share a roasting pan, choose ones that have grown in similar ways. This rule helps when you want to know which vegetables can stand in for which in recipes as well. Substitute any vegetable that grows with its leafy head aboveground for another: a flower for a flower, a root for a root, shoot for shoot, stem for stem, tuber for tuber.
Best of all, Adler’s advice is unpretentious and approachable, easily swaying critics of the “food movement” who often make accusations of elitism when it comes to these types of books.
I bought several copies as Christmas gifts because I think An Everlasting Meal does what I’ve been trying in vain to do for years: get people to try to cook for themselves and their families. Tamar Adler offers stories and guidance as opposed to strict recipes, which makes the book itself accessible to those who are intimidated by cooking, while not alienating more experienced cooks. An Everlasting Meal is a book that I will be coming back to again and again.
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