Friday, May 11, 2012

Just finished reading...

...AN EVERLASTING MEAL by Tamar Adler.

With a forward by Alice Waters, founder of the legendary Chez Panisse and allusions to beloved food writer M.F.K. Fisher, Tamar Adler’s first book is an odd thing. She has written passionately about food from cover to cover and although the book features some recipes, it’s not a cookbook. It’s not really a memoir either (despite the aforementioned references to Fisher), yet it contains a few fleeting reminiscences. It’s not a novel because there is nothing “created,” and no “story line” to speak of, except with the possible exception of the progression of a meal; well, at least the last chapter is about desserts.

No, this is a monotone—NOT monotonous—meditation on food, ingredients, and meals. Subtitled “Cooking with Economy and Grace,” Adler’s book reads like a prayer, a sonorous chant, a breathy ode to the ideas of using every single scrap of food, not letting anything go to waste, and finding delicious uses for everything, even the most mundane of ingredients. She seems to be very fond of using all the leftovers in the fridge at once, drizzling olive oil, herbs, and a squeeze of fresh lemon over it all. This approach could come off as rather inelegant, like a Woman’s Day article from the 70s, but instead, she links this philosophy to the contadina (or peasant) style of cooking in Italy where, for example, stale bread is never thrown away. It can be made into ribollita (that exquisite, thick, almost porridge-like tomato and bread soup/stew from Tuscany), it can be toasted and put at the bottom of a bowl with a heaping ladle of hearty bean soup over it, it can be cut into squares and roasted into croutons.

I really like her instinctive, inventive, and holistic approach to cooking because it seems to match my own approach to food and how I view ingredients and preparing meals. I am known by many to be able to walk into a kitchen without much in it and produce a tasty and interesting meal. Like Adler, I scour the back corners of shelves for forgotten cans and jars, the ends of bags of pasta, rice, or nuts, and a bottle of olive oil. Add in a dozen eggs and some fresh lemons, and chances are she and I could come up with something comforting, filling, and hopefully delicious. She gave me a few ideas though, about new uses for some of these things: a few times this week, I have found myself in the kitchen at dinner time wondering what I am going to eat. One evening, inspired by a freshly-read chapter of AN EVERLASTING MEAL, I cooked two eggs from a local organic farm over easy and put them on top of some leftover brown rice with a handful of chopped cilantro, and some crumbled fresh goat ricotta, naturally topped off with a generous drizzling of olive oil. And voila! Adler is wont to top almost every dish with an egg, a hand full of herbs, a squeeze of lemon or a generous drizzling of olive oil—sometimes all of the above—and it works!

Recommend? Yes, read it and let her put you under the lulling spell of a constant murmur of ingredients, meals, food, and tastes…

P. S.
Adler wrote a thoughtful article in response to the recent flap about pop culture chef Paula Deen's revelation that she has adult-onset diabetes. Read the essay here:

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