Tag: Reading

Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal”

I have come across a book that has changed the way I think about food and cooking, and I want to tell you all about it. I’m not sure how I came across it, but somehow I did, and when Jonah and I went to Powell’s with a friend, I made sure to pick it up. It’s called An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler.

Tamar Adler

Tamar Adler seems to be the perfect combination of writer and cook. She was an editor at Harper’s Bazaar, and still occasionally writes for them. But she also worked at Prune and Chez Panisse, so clearly has some foodie chops. Unlike most of the other food books I’ve written about, Adler’s book isn’t her life story, the tale of the opening of her own restaurant, or even a cookbook. This book is full of tips and ideas on how to use the ingredients you’ve got to your fullest advantage and make delicious food. (One of my favorite tips on roasting vegetables and vegetables in general: “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.”)

After having fallen in love with this book, I have read more of Tamar Adler’s articles. I recently read a conversation between her and Kurt Michael Friese. Their philosophies about getting people to stop being afraid of cooking, to realize how simple (and inexpensive) it can be, and how food really brings people together are very aligned with my own. These philosophies are a large part of what led me to create this blog. I want everyone to know that it’s not that hard to roast asparagus with olive oil and salt, or to bake some trout in parchment paper. Anyone can do that.

Heavily inspired by M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a WolfAn Everlasting Meal is split into chapters with titles like “How to teach an egg to fly,” “How to build a ship,” and “How to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.” (On Adler’s website, you can find cute little videos to accompany some of the chapters, as well as links to more of her writing.) Subjects like how eggs can be a substantial part of any meal, using bread as a central part of the meal instead of as an appetizer, and entertaining are side by side with recipe ideas and recipes themselves, which are peppered throughout. But her recipes aren’t do or die… they’re more like gentle guidelines or suggestions. Some are written in normal recipe format, and some are in paragraph form amongst the text.

My copy of the book is marked up and dog-eared, with ideas circled and recipes starred on many pages. Jonah is reading it now, and I’ve told so many friends about it who have asked if they can borrow the book when he’s done. I am inclined to say yes, but then I think about how much I’ve used this book since owning it. I’ve used specific recipes as well as referencing sections for ideas and finding favorite quotes for inspiration when I’m feeling too tired to make dinner. And it always revives me, reminding me that all I have to do for a good meal is boil some potatoes and whip up some aioli and eat them with sauteed kale.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from An Everlasting Meal:

“All ingredients need salt. The noodle or tender spring pea would be narcissistic to imagine it already contained within its cell walls all the perfection it would ever need. We seem, too, to fear that we are failures at being tender or springy if we need to be seasoned. It’s not so: it doesn’t reflect badly on pea or person that either needs help to be most itself.”

Talking about making an omelette: “Beat two or three eggs in a bowl, adding a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of heavy cream if you want. This is not a trick, but and expresion of the fact that things taste good with cream added.”

Tamar Adler

And two of my favorites on entertaining:

“We’re anxious about serving, but the simple, blessed fact is that no one ever comes to dinner for what you’re cooking. We are all hungry and thirsty and happy that someone’s predicted we would be and made arrangements for dealing with it. We come for the opportunity to look up from our plates and say ‘thank you.’ It is for recognition of our common hungers that we come when we are asked.”

“I like to serve food family style. It’s pleasurable to spoon a potato onto a fellow diner’s plate. It binds you to her, for the duration of the dinner at least, in a way that makes conversation easy and the atmosphere good.”

She writes a lot about the importance buying locally grown, good ingredients, and most of what she cooks with is good produce. Even though I know it’s a huge part of cooking, I am still in awe of what good fresh ingredients can do. Which is one of the reasons I’m so excited that the farmers market has started again here in Portland. Here are my spoils from today.

Books about food: What could be better?

Lately, the only books I have been reading are food memoirs. And by lately, I mean the past… year or so. I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you as it is the perfect time of year to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. Also, it’s that time when sometimes you buy holiday gifts for people, and I think any one of these would make a lovely present.

Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton: This is the book that started me on this food/chef memoir kick. Recommended to me by my dad’s girlfriend, Darla, this is a very well written story about Hamilton’s journey as a chef, the opening of her restaurant Prune in NY, and her marriage. Because this was the first chef memoir I read, I was totally enthralled and unable to put it down, which worked because at the time I read it I was without internet, without TV, and without a job. Hamilton also went to school for writing (a theme among cooks, I’m finding), so the story is very well written, engaging, and beautiful. No one can write about Italian tomatoes the way this woman can.
J: This book reminded me of the power that food has to bring people together and help us celebrate life.  The chapters about the author’s childhood reminded me of the parties our “yard” of three families used to host in the summer where we would line up tables in the yard and people would bring food, we would grill, and have a good time.

Heat by Bill Buford: This book is all about Mario Batali. Well, kind of. It’s about Bill Buford, a writer at the New Yorker, leaving his job to follow in Batali’s footsteps. First by procuring a job at Batali’s NY hotspot Babbo, and eventually by traveling to Italy to study under the same little old ladies in rural villages as Batali did. This book is a little more academic in some sense, as Buford delves in to the history of Italian cuisine and the methods of certain dishes. He also teaches us how to properly make pasta and how to butcher a pig (brought up to his NY apartment via vespa and elevator).

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg: I went on a trip with my dad this past summer, and he brought this book, which I promptly stole and started reading. Wizenburg is a beautiful writer, which is one reason I love reading her blog. This book is a series of short stories from her life, all of which mention or are centered around food. What I love about this book is that she shows us her connection to food from a young age, and you see her passion develop from her childhood to adulthood. I also love that she provides recipes for the foods she talks about, making it even easier to connect to her and her stories because it’s so easy to go into the kitchen and make her wedding cake, or make her father’s potato salad. The story isn’t necessarily linear, which I actually liked because it was easy to read a chapter before bed without getting totally wrapped up in the story. (P.S. I made her wedding cake, also called “Winning Hearts and Minds” cake for a friend’s birthday. It was kind of like a very cakey chocolate souffle, or just chocolate butter. It was really lovely, and I totally recommend it.)

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl: If you don’t know who Ruth Reichl is, shame on you. She is a very (very) famous food critic for the New York Times, food writer, and editor-in-chief at Gourmet Magazine. In fact, she has another book about being a food critic that I can’t wait to read. This book, however, is similar to A Homemade Life. Reichl tells us about her relationship to food from a very young age: her mother was a self-taught cook, not following recipes, pairing odd ingredients, and often encouraging her family to eat dishes long after they had gone bad in the refrigerator. Reichl, perhaps because of this, learned to cook, and was known amongst her friends as the one to be fed by. Accompanied by recipes, Reichl tells us stories of dishes from her childhood through her adulthood. I haven’t yet made any of these recipes, but I’m sure that when I do, they’ll be good.

Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas: This is probably my favorite chef memoir that I have read so far. Buying this book was hard for me. I was at Powell’s, looking at their little table of highly recommended or newly released or whatever it was, and I didn’t even pick this book up. Why? Because if you click on the link above, you’ll see the cover, where Achatz looks, in my opinion, more than a little full of himself. But Jonah picked it up (yay for him for literally not judging a book by its cover), read the back, and handed it to me. I was then convinced to buy it. A book about two things I have a relationship with: food and cancer? I’ll bite. What I liked about this book is that Achatz and Kokonas aren’t necessarily the best writers ever, but this story is so cool that this book is impossible to put down. Achatz makes a completely different kind of food (big into molecular gastronomy, which some people hate, I know, but it’s extremely interesting), one that is still pushing culinary boundaries. So to read about the development of these dishes and the method behind the food is really amazing. Also, to read about the business side of opening a very risky restaurant was very interesting. Achatz’s cancer, which I thought would play a much larger part in the story, really came closer to the end, almost as a epilogue or afterthought, but made you root for him even more. Bottom line, this is a cool story about cool food.

Hopefully that can add a few things to your “to read” list! If you have any other questions about these books, ask away!