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An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace- Tamar Adler

Over the past two years of reading down my Goodreads TBR (it started at a terrifying 332 books; after reading over 200 books and purging about 50, and of course adding a few along the way, it’s now down to a more respectable 65, which is a lot more manageable), one of things I’ve learned about myself is that I enjoy reading books about food. I would have said differently before the start of this project, but a peek through the lists of books I’ve read the past few years says otherwise. I cook almost every night of the week and occasionally at lunchtime as well, so I’m always looking for better, more efficient means of using the resources I have available to me. Thus, when a like-minded friend suggested An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler, I added it to that TBR list.

This book is not so much cookbook as it is the musings of a woman who truly knows her way around food. While there are a handful of “1/4 cup this, 2 T that” type recipes, it’s more a treatise on learning to cook without recipes. Ms. Adler is a proponent of cooking by taste, adding a dash of this and a splash of that (probably olive oil; there’s a lot of olive oil-usage in this book) in order to come up with dinner. No need to buy specialty ingredients; she makes the case that a perfectly acceptable and possibly wonderful meal can be found even when the shelves are looking a bit bare. Almost anything can go into an omelet (and this is something I agree with. I’ve made curry omelets, chili omelets, leftover vegetable omelets…); anything can be mashed and spread on toast; and if it’s edible, it can become a soup of some sort.

This book is probably best read a little at a time, or read for certain chapters (I was a big fan of the chapter titled How to Chase Your Tail, about using up odds and ends and preventing food waste), as reading it straight front to back makes it a bit dry and somewhat overwhelming. She does tend to wax a bit poetic on cooking, turning boiling water and cooking dry beans into subjects worthy of deep contemplation, which isn’t a style I particularly enjoy. If you’re looking for a bit more accessibility when it comes to learning to cook, I would recommend Kathleen Flinn’s The Kitchen Counter Cooking School first; Ms. Flinn rounds up a group of women who can barely boil water and soon has them carving up entire chickens, baking their own bread, and creating gourmet meals from simple ingredients. That book has the immediacy and the friendliness that this one lacks. That’s not to say that An Everlasting Meal isn’t an enjoyable read, but it does skew a bit towards to the more flowery when it comes to food writing. It’s definitely full of inspiration, though, and makes cooking without a recipe seem simple. (I’m not quite a foodie and am not nearly as comfortable as Ms. Adler in cooking without a recipe, but I try, mostly with success!)

It did inspire me to clean out my refrigerator, however! It needed it, and I had a weird, life-stress day on Friday, so I burned off that nervous energy in part by overhauling my refrigerator, an important step in preventing food waste. (The more of your fridge you can’t see, the bigger the chance you’ll let something get away from you.) My fridge is sparkling clean now and I’m ready to create some delicious new dishes out of my fabulously stocked kitchen.

Do you enjoy books about food? How comfortable are you when it comes to creating meals without recipes?

Visit Tamar Adler’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

cookbook · Massimo Bottura · nonfiction

Bread is Gold- Massimo Bottura and Friends

Everyone has a few subjects they love reading about and will devour every single book that comes out about that subject. One of those subjects for me is food waste, and so when I heard about Bread is Gold by Massimo Bottura, the Italian chef and restaurateur behind Osteria Francescana, I slapped it on my TBR list.

The book wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Bottura (who was featured in the documentary Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, which I saw last year and highly recommend) tells the story of how his nonprofit organization Food for Soul, along with David Hertz’s Gastromotiva, opened the Refettorio Gastromotiva, a community kitchen that combined feeding the local needy population (along with others who weren’t needy) and combatting food waste. Another Refettorio was later opened in Milan, and then one in London.

How the Refettorio works is this: a well-known chef, often one that runs a Michelin-starred restaurant, is invited to come cook for a day or two, using only the ingredients on hand and anything specialized they bring with from their home country. And as the Refettorio receives shipments of about-to-expire food from different sources every day, the pantry contents can vary widely. If you’ve ever seen the show Chopped! on the Food Network, it’s like that. Chefs have to work with shipments of fish and dairy that need to be used that day; ridiculous quantities of brown bananas and wilting produce; tropical fruit and other luxury items that supermarkets couldn’t sell; varying amounts of meat, from an overabundance to none at all; and 4372899473284732984832 tons of stale bread. What comes out of the Refettorio is miraculous, meals that are fit for any upscale restaurant, made strictly out of ingredients that had been destined for the trashbin.

Each text-filled page is a story of a chef who came to cook at the Refettorio, their life story, what they cooked during their time there, and the challenges they faced (sometimes the daily shipment was less than abundant). If you enjoy food writing, you’ll probably enjoy their stories. The photographs that follow each text section are lovely, showcasing the ingredients they received and the stunning culinary masterpieces they became, and each section contains recipes for everything the chefs prepared.

This book is part story, part cookbook, and part inspiration. Food waste is an enormous social, political, and ecological issue, and anything that can challenge people to think creatively about the food in their refrigerators and pantries is a good thing, I think. For me, this book serves mostly as inspiration, as I’m usually pretty careful with our food and we waste almost nothing. I do, however, need the occasional kick in the pants to get me thinking in creative ways about how to use what we have. I’m becoming a little more comfortable cooking without a recipe these days (although I’m nowhere near the level of the chefs featured in this book!), and I’ve got plans for a few different meals thanks to reading about the ingenuity that takes place on a daily basis at the Refettorio. (I did, however, write down the recipe for Stale Bread Gnocchi. The vast majority of my bread ends go in the freezer, where I wait until I have enough, and then I toss them in the oven until they’re crunchy and pulverize them in the food processor to make bread crumbs. I’m pretty backed up on bread ends right now, though, and I have an excess of bread crumbs, so this recipe looks like just what I need!)

While there are better books out there for tackling the immediate issue of food waste (and I have plans for a future post about those books!), this is a good book to keep around as a reminder of the importance of using what you have before it goes bad, and an excellent example of the people who are working every day on a massive scale to do just that.

Do you have an interest in food waste? What are the subjects that make you immediately drop whatever it is you were reading before and pick up the new book that covers that topic?

Follow Massimo Bottura on Twitter here.

Follow him on Instagram here.