When was the last time you read a book that made you hyperventilate? One where you had to stop every few pages just to catch your breath and contain your excitement? I just went through a week of that very feeling while reading – no, devouring – Tamar E. Adler’s book, An Everlasting Meal: cooking with economy and grace.
Structured as an homage to M.F.K. Fisher’s 1942 book, How to Cook a Wolf, each chapter focuses on the beauty of the most basic elements of cooking: the boiling of water, the roasting of vegetables. Adler is the champion of the odds and ends of foods (and the liquid in which they are cooked), those disregarded cuts of meat, and of coaxing the best out of what you have. The book will make you walk into the kitchen and apologize to that parsnip that has been languishing there – the one you had in mind to compost, but will now roast and appreciate. Her writing is a beautiful parallel to her philosophy of cooking: accessible, but perfectly crafted, with sentences that elevate the mundane. At its most essential, this book is about finding the sublime in the practice of frugality.
Each chapter is written like an essay, but deceptively full of practical information. In her chapter, “How to Teach an Egg to Fly”, she considers the mystery of the egg and then inspires you to re-think how you cook it. Once you have, you will need to take a break to find your best egg and treat it right. Will you boil it until the yolk is a most perfect consistency? Or will you attempt to poach? Or use it to elevate yesterdays leftovers?
On vegetables, she counters the conventional wisdom that dictates the under-cooking of most of them, espousing the virtues of roasting. One of my favorite passages outlines a method of preparing a week’s worth of vegetables in the direct aftermath of a trip to the farmer’s market. It’s the kind of thing that will revolutionize your possibly fraught relationship with your CSA, just in time for the season to begin. While you’re waiting to get your hands on a copy of the book, the pendant website has a number of lovely videos illustrating the various chapters, such as How to Stride Ahead: Part 2.
You will be tempted to read this book in one sitting – which I couldn’t help. But don’t! The way to approach it is to stretch it out over time. Take one chapter per week. Savor it and let it move you to boil a chicken, make a transcendent omelette, or consider new uses for an olive.
As for me, I’m planning to start it again with the virtual book group organized by one of my favorite blogs, From Scratch Club, through their Facebook Page. Since I can’t manage to participate in the kind of book club where you actually meet at a location, bring the book, and talk to each other – this is perfect for me! And maybe for you, too!