An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler is the best food book I've read in a long while. It isn't a cookbook, though there are recipes. It is a narrative about a cooking centered life. Tamar talks about simple food as a source of joy and sustenance. It is a friendly, rambling story about ingredients. The book is full of hints, tips, asides and suggestions about how to use food to its fullest.
I'm the kind of person who saves bones from a roast chicken to make chicken stock. This book felt finding a friend. Tamar writes about the best part of dried beans (the extra broth), the best part of oranges (the zest), and how she won't buy meat unless it makes more than one meal (again, my roast chicken gives me a Sunday dinner, plus leftovers, plus bones for stock).
My only problem with the book is how distracting it is. I've been dipping into it for a month; I'm still trying to finish it. I'm almost done. But I read it for five minutes and see an idea that makes me sit up straight. "Ooh! I need to do that!", I say. Twenty minutes later I'm busily scribbling notes, looking up recipes, or cooking…and I realize that I put the book down again.
*Maybe I'll get back to the pickles chapter after I finish this jar of pickled peppers…
Is this a book for a novice cook to learn their way around the kitchen? I'm not sure. While I was learning how to cook, I wanted to know everything in great detail. I was scared to mess up. My left brained, logical side would have found it maddeningly vague.
And yet...An Everlasting Meal is welcoming, accepting mistakes as a natural part of cooking. Tamar even has a chapter on fixing mistakes - Chapter 16, How to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat. As Julia Child said, “Cooking is often one disaster after another. What you learn is the only thing you can’t fix is a souffle.” That message is important for novice cooks, and it is woven throughout the book. I sure could have used a reminder to loosen up.
Oh, all right, I still need a reminder to loosen up. That's the other great strength of this book. It has a strong streak of making do with what you have. I go all out on a lot of recipes. If I don't have Aleppo powder, Massaman curry paste, lemongrass stalks, or dried shitake mushrooms, I head off for the store. The central message of this book is making do with what you have. I don't need exotic ingredients to cook a dinner that nourishes my family, body and soul. I don't even need a trip to the grocery store; I have what I need on hand, if I open my mind to the possibilities. This book is a constant reminder of those possibilities.
Best of all, An Everlasting Meal is a fun read. Tamar has a gift with words. Everything is explained simply and perfectly.
Here's an example. She's talking about ingredients that can't be bought; they need time, and the only thing you can do is wait for them. Specifically, ribollita, the Italian soup made primarily of stale bread. "As a Tuscan friend witheringly explained to me once, ribollita does not contain any procurable ingredients. "You don't buy ingredients for ribollita. You have them.""
If you love cooking, get this book. Every page reminds me of why I love it so much.
PS: If I haven't convinced you yet, check out her book video on Amazon. Watching Tamar chat while she peels roasted beets explains the book perfectly.
Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
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