Have you ever opened a book, heard the author’s voice as she speaks to you for the first time and thought: “I know her! We must have spent time in my kitchen together. Or…she must be reading my mind!”?
It was just this way for me when I opened Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy & Grace. She had just been there beside me, stirring pots, rolling dough, chopping vegetables the whole time. Why had this connection taken so long? Well, and does it matter? We are connected now through her amazing little book. And here’s the thing: it isn’t a cookbook…not really. It’s more of an enchanted survival manual for anyone who wants to eat well with dignity, reciprocity, gratitude and (wait for it….) inner peace.
Because if this were a traditional cookbook, there would be chapters called “Soups and Stews,” or “Breakfast Recipes,” or maybe “Desserts.” But there are no chapters like that; instead, we read “How to Boil Water” and start a conversation about how we came to think about boiling water and the many wonderful things that you can do with boiling water and eventually we settle down at the table to review ideas around creating meat and vegetable stocks, which Adler insists should be at-the-ready in any sensible kitchen–economy and grace, indeed. We never find a soufflé recipe, but we do discover “How to Teach an Egg to Fly.” And as we get to discussions about frittatas and their global influence, Adler does share a lovely recipe for Tortilla Española, then moves on to all the wonderful variations you might consider. There are no sections on bakeware, techniques of the pros or kitchen equipment must-haves, (In fact, at one point she talks about her favorite well-used pots and blackened wooden spoons, to which I can totally relate!) but there is a chapter called “How to Live Well.” That sounds so much more practical than “how to make Italian wedding cake” or some such, don’t you think?
I have been so inspired by this endlessly helpful, endlessly comforting book, that I find Adler standing beside me in the kitchen all the time now. And, there is room for you to join us! Here are some of the “not-recipes” we are developing daily in these everlasting days of summer and the everlasting harvest that accompanies them…
To make this verdant bowl of intense flavor and silky texture, I took a handful of asparagus, the tops of a bunch of green onions, some chopped up fennel and (maybe) broccoli (or could have been beet greens), plus olive oil, sea salt and pepper. I cooked everything until the vegetables were shiny and soft, added enough vegetable stock to cover by about two inches, simmered till everything was really mushy and pureed. Don’t forget the drizzle of your best olive oil at the end.
Soup De Jour
Much like the pureed soup, the main difference with this soup is that I was not in the mood to puree—seeking inner peace. So this soup started exactly the same way but with different ingredients…just what I had on hand from the market and my freezer—broccoli (for sure this time), carrots, a small bag of freezer tomatoes from last fall (But there are plenty of fresh ones now, so go for those heirlooms!), chopped kale and onions. Cooked it up in oil with some salt and seasonings—what I had on hand—and some leftover vegetable stock and fresh herbs. Cooked it low and slow all afternoon and slurped it up with a big spoon and bread for sopping. Delish!
Throw-Together Salad and Sauté
This came together like magic…and cooking like this is magic, yes? I was in my tiny garden, picking baby kale, arugula and dandelion greens. Came in and started to sauté one zucchini with some onions, and carrots. I marinated all the garden greens with a cute little red radish and diced up broccoli flowerets in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of coarse salt. Threw all this on a plate with some chunks of local creamy cheese cubes and a slice of my whole grain bread. Looked like it came from a high-end restaurant and tasted divine. My only thought since is that I should have sliced a soft-cooked egg with runny yolk over it while the egg was still warm. Ah…next time.
So what have we learned here? That cooking is within anyone’s grasp—no fancy degree required. That access to fresh vegetables, fruits and meats from local sources is a gift and privilege that we should share and celebrate. That economy is gratitude but not lack, that grace is simple and mindful, not saintly. That meals such as these can be everlasting memories without fuss or muss or extravagance.
And, yeah, I realize that there are no measurements here, no heating instructions, no timing. That is the point of Adler’s book—learn to watch, smell, feel and taste. It’s all we’ve ever needed. The more we cook, the easier it will be. Be brave!