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?