nonfiction

Book Review: Hand Made: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Made-from-Scratch Living by Melissa K. Norris

I’m a homemaker- not necessarily by choice, but that’s just kind of how things ended up, so I do my best to lean into my role. I cook almost everything we eat from scratch, I clean constantly (and make my own cleaning products), I craft (for myself, as gifts, and for charity), and I try to do everything I can in the most frugal and most earth-friendly ways. But I get burned out from time to time, as we all do, and a little inspiration is nice. Sometimes that comes in the form of blogs; other times, I pick up a homemaking book. That’s how Hand Made: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Made-from-Scratch Living by Melissa K. Norris (Ten Peaks Press, 2017) ended up on my TBR. We all need a little boost now and then, right?

Home Made focuses mainly on the kitchen, taking inspiration from the pluck and grit of those who weathered the Great Depression, cooking from scratch with the basic ingredients that most of us have on hand and making use of leftovers, ensuring that nothing goes to waste. If you’ve ever felt intimidated by making your own fermented foods, such as fermented veggies, yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, this book has a great section with clear instructions on getting started. And there are recipes- comfort foods, such as chicken and dumplings; homemade cakes and pies; pizzas and pastas; and plenty more. There’s a shorter section on medicinal herbs, and a brief primer on two different kinds of soap-making. This is a decent homemaking book.

What I didn’t love about it was the unexpected Christian content. I’m all for people participating in whatever faith they want as they choose- if you find what works for you, that’s awesome, and I’m truly happy for you. But in terms of this book, I just wanted some inspiration to wash my floors a little more often; I wasn’t looking for a diatribe on how I needed Jesus (I’m good, thanks). There were occasionally several pages at a time with nothing but the author’s particular take on Christianity (which I flipped past; I almost never do this in books. I will occasionally read books marked as Christian, though I’m Jewish- Rachel Held Evans, may her memory be a blessing, was a wonderful author and advocate for her faith, and I’ve even read a few Christian novels that were just fine. I’m truly not opposed to wading through some Christian content; I can even find inspiration in others’ heartfelt commitment to their faith- Mister Rogers, anyone???). I enjoyed the stories about her life, but I absolutely wasn’t expecting and didn’t enjoy the leap from reading about Christmas lights to a multiple-page musing about how Jesus is the light of the world, and how Jesus makes us better homemakers. This Jewish woman isn’t interested, but thanks anyway.

You’ll probably enjoy this book more if you’re Christian and are looking for a faith-based book to inspire your homemaking. If you’re not Ms. Norris’s particular brand of religious, know that this isn’t at all a bad book; just be prepared to flip past a lot of pages. The recipes are really good, however. I wrote down quite a few of them and used Friday’s leftover challah (my Jewish readers are probably going, ‘What’s leftover challah???’) to make chocolate bread pudding from this book, which was absolutely delicious, and I’ll be making this on a regular basis. There’s also a Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe that looked incredible, so I’m looking forward to trying that as well.

To sum it up- this book is probably more fully enjoyable for Christian readers, but it does contain some great recipes.

Visit Melissa K. Norris’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: TREYF: My Life as an Orthodox Outlaw by Elissa Altman

Sometimes it’s hard to write a review of a memoir. The best memoirists are able to craft a narrative of their lives that centers around a theme, that has a direct story arc that continues throughout the story and wraps up in, if not a full conclusion, then an understanding that makes the whole story make sense, that shows the growth and maturity the author has experienced. This is what I hope for from every memoir I delve into (and I read a lot of them; it’s a genre I enjoy, because I appreciate the glimpse into someone else’s life), but I had a harder time with this in TREYF: My Life as an Unorthodox Outlaw by Elissa Altman (Berkley Books, 2016).

The definition of ‘treyf’ is something that is unkosher and forbidden. Ms. Altman writes a lot about what made her family treyf, and what made her treyf: her family’s departure from the religious and ritualistic aspects of Judaism; their consumption of unkosher foods; her preparation of pork products in her deceased grandmother’s kosher kitchen; the dawning realization that she’s not entirely straight (a much bigger issue in the 80’s and 90’s than today).

Despite its occasionally focus on unkosher foods, this is really a memoir of a dysfunctional family. Mom and Dad’s marriage was strained and unhealthy. Mom pushed her daughter towards seriously unhealthy eating habits. Grandma had some seriously repressed sexuality. The creepy neighbor moved away quickly after it became known that he had a thing for little girls; Ms. Altman alludes several times that she was one of those little girls, as well as being molested by a teenage neighbor (neither is written about in graphic detail, but heads up if this is a difficult topic for you). The family is close but struggles in a lot of ways, for a lot of reasons, and their struggles are common to both families from that era, and to families who have survived trauma or who have recently immigrated in the past few generations.

The memoir ends on a depressing note; Ms. Altman remarks that she is exactly the person her family made her to be, and that if you belong everywhere, you actually belong nowhere, a thought that gave me pause. Who do we become when assimilation is the end goal? Should assimilation be a goal at all? Why? Are we stronger instead as separate pieces of a mosaic?

I enjoyed this book as a story of a family with its own deep-seated difficulties, but that wasn’t what I had expected going in. The use of the phrases ‘treyf’ and ‘unorthodox outlaw’ had me expecting a memoir akin to Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox, but instead, this was more along the lines of a random family that just happened to be Jewish and who rarely interacted with the religious aspects of it (which is fine! I’m not at all judging that, to be clear. I had just expected a memoir about a woman who had moved away from the religion she had been raised with, and instead found a story where her father fed her canned Spam as a girl).

So I didn’t dislike this, but I didn’t love it, either. Her descriptions of her grandmother’s goulash sounded incredible, however (even though I don’t eat meat!). Food is always better when it’s cooked with love, and it sounded like Ms. Altman’s grandmother packed that dish full of it. 😊

Visit Elissa Altman’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Miriam’s Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich

Reading lists are both the best thing ever and the bane of my TBR. I don’t know that I’ve been able to look at many lists titled things like, “100 Books Coming Out This Year That You Can’t Miss!” or “You Will Literally Die If You Don’t Read These Books!” without my TBR growing exponentially. It’s really the best problem to have, isn’t it? It was a reading list that introduced me to Miriam’s Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich (Penguin Group, 1997). The premise had me hitting that want-to-read button immediately, and interlibrary loan delivered the book into my hands- in a stack of other interlibrary loan books, of course, because, as we know, everything always comes in at once!

It’s not until she’s an adult and has children of her own that Elizabeth Ehrlich begins deeply pondering what her Jewish identity means. Never fully identifying with the religious aspects, she turns to the kitchen of her mother-in-law Miriam, a Holocaust survivor who still maintains a kosher kitchen and cooks nearly everything from scratch. Homemade noodles, chopped liver, all the dishes that Elizabeth remembers her grandmothers laboring over appear on Miriam’s table, and Elizabeth wants to know more. Something in these old ways calls out to her, and at Miriam’s side, she begins to learn and ponder the traditions that have been passed down for millennia through her family. Little by little, she moves toward a kosher kitchen, toward trying out the religious aspects of Judaism, seeing what fits, seeing where she belongs, all the while recounting the stories of her family members- mostly women, but some of the men as well. These people lived through some of the worst violence humanity has ever perpetrated on their fellow men; the miracle of their survival pushes Elizabeth to look deeper, work harder, to create something to pass down to her children. Even if they ultimately reject it, giving them something from which to turn away- and maybe return to one day- feels right.

This is an absolutely lovely memoir. Miriam and Ms. Ehrlich’s bubbes and her mother are women of valor, women who experienced horrors, who weren’t given many options in their lives, but who persevered anyway, doing the best they could with what they had. They exemplified hard work and honor, working both in and outside the home, without many of the tools we take for granted. Seeing all they did without many of the luxuries I own really made me think while I was reading this.

I deeply identified with Ms. Ehrlich’s draw toward certain aspects of Judaism, that pull without fully understanding the why of it. Sometimes you just feel moved toward something that doesn’t necessarily make logical sense- it’s a bit like falling in love, I think. There’s not always a rhyme or reason to it. When she was faced with the daunting task of kashering her kitchen and living a kosher life, she was somewhat dismayed by all the extra work it will take, all the time and emotional labor necessary to remember which sponge is used for wiping up meat spills and which for dairy, all the strength it takes to tell her children no, that we don’t eat that, and then cooking after a long day at work. But still she felt drawn to do it, even knowing the difficulties, and that is something I understood and felt on a visceral level. (Not for the exact same reasons- I’m vegetarian, so that cuts out like 99% of the problem right there, and I live in a house with three non-religious, occasional meat-eaters, so unless I wanted to maintain my own set of pots and pans and dishes, keeping a kosher kitchen wouldn’t really be possible for me. I *could*, but I don’t know that anyone else in the house would remember which dishes were just mine, and I’d end up having to re-kasher them like twelve times a day…)

She’s hard on herself, seeing all the ways she falls short of Miriam’s ideal, but still forging ahead and jumping in with both feet, which I found deeply admirable. So often, we shy away from what intimidates us- I know I’m guilty of this- especially when we know that perfection is unattainable. But she begins anyway, taking the steps to live the life she feels drawn to, and that’s a message to live by.

I wonder if Miriam ever felt intimidated by the older women in her life, if she ever felt that her cooking, her kitchen, wouldn’t measure up. Will Ms. Ehrlich’s grandchildren feel the same as they observe her preparing Miriam’s recipes? Do we all feel like this to some degree, that we’ll never be the strong, capable women our foremothers were? This book raised a lot of questions about how we connect to our pasts and what we carry with us into our futures, what we pass down, and I’m glad this ended up on my TBR. I don’t know that I’ll try any of the recipes in it- some of them sound absolutely delicious, but in terms of heart-healthy cooking, they’re not something I would normally make (thank you SO much, genetic cholesterol levels!). Perhaps one day, I’ll get up the courage…

I don’t see any websites or contact information for Elizabeth Ehrlich; if you’re aware of any, let me know in the comments and I’ll amend this post. Miriam’s Kitchen is the winner of a National Jewish Book Award.

nonfiction

Book Review: Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation by Sharon Astyk

What does your pantry look like? Do you have a dusty can of beans from a year when One Direction was still together, a package of an ingredient you’ve never used and are too intimidated by to open, and not much else? Or are you like me, with a few months’ worth of food stashed away in various corners of the house? This past year has shown us the importance of being prepared for tough times- job losses, shortages, weather events that cut off power and access to stores, all that and more has plagued us (pun intended) as a society, and being prepared for these terrible events isn’t a bad idea. Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation by Sharon Astyk (New Society Publishers, 2009) has been on my TBR for a while; it piqued my interested because having a fully-stocked pantry has always been important to me (mostly because I’m lazy and don’t ever want to have to make an emergency run for a missing ingredient!). This seemed right up my alley, so I requested it via interlibrary loan.

Think about this past year, when toilet paper, hand sanitizer, yeast, garlic, and various other products were nowhere to be found on store shelves. How did you fare? Having a well-stocked pantry in trying times could alleviate stress and get you through rough patches caused by job loss, weather events, power outages, economic downturns, illness, pandemics, and all the other chaos that disrupts daily life and may make getting to the store or procuring sustenance for your family difficult or impossible. Changing your diet to one more sustainable to your location, gardening, obtaining food and supplies from more local and sustainable sources, and preserving this food in a variety of ways are all suggestions that Ms. Astyk has for creating a better-prepared life.

It’s a lot of work, true, but so is pretty much anything worth doing, she argues, and stocking your pantry is never something you’ll regret if things go sideways. With in-depth discussions on gardening, locating storage space no matter where you live, recipes, the ups and downs of various forms of preservation, and more, Sharon Astyk has created a basic primer for anyone interested in living a prepared life.

This is a pretty good book for anyone starting out on the journey of planning and stocking their pantry. She lays out some pretty compelling arguments for the need for keeping your larder stocked, and a lot of the scenarios she frets about have actually taken place in the years since the book was published. Her pleas to her readers about the necessity of storing water don’t seem so wild after this year’s devastating winter storms in Texas that saw residents without running water for ages, and storing pantry food isn’t at all far-fetched after seeing the shortages on grocery store shelves during this past year. (I keep at least two full boxes of toilet paper from Sam’s Club in the basement at all times; it wasn’t even something I had to think about last year as I watched people all over the country scramble for even the rough stuff. The only thing I lacked was an adequate supply of hand sanitizer, but that’s because it wasn’t something I normally use. Now, though, I’ll always have some on hand!) Some of the Goodreads reviews seem to view her as a kind of out-there prepper, but I have to wonder how those people handled the crises this past year.

If you’ve been serious about storing and preserving for a while, there’s probably not much to learn here, but this is a great resource for anyone who has realized that maybe it’s not so bad to keep a three-month (or longer) supply of food on hand. Ms. Astyk covers all of the why, along with some of the how, and provides a few recipes along the way. This was a nice reminder of why I shop the way I do, and why my kitchen resembles a small overflowing grocery store.

Visit Sharon Astyk’s website.

Follow her on Facebook here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness by Rebecca Lerner

Why is it that I always seem to read gardening and foraging books when it’s cold out? I think I’ve only ever had the sense to read one of these books when I could actually put the information I learned in it to use. Just seems to always work out that way, and on my last library trip before they closed to everything but curbside pickups, I grabbed a copy of Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness by Rebecca Lerner (Lyons Press, 2013). I’ve always been interested in urban foraging and have read plenty of books on the subject, but I haven’t really done much with what I’ve learned, other than make a lovely batch of dandelion jelly a few years ago, with dandelions collected from the surplus in my yard (and only in a year when we had so many, there were tons left over for the bees. My two cups of dandelions didn’t even make the tiniest of dents). The community college here offers walking tours of the prairie outside the school with an expert who points out edible native plants, so I’m hoping to take one of those tours when life goes back to normal. Until then, I read on!

Rebecca Lerner is an urban forager, hunting for edible, usable plants in Portland, Oregon, and the surrounding areas. She begins her story with an experiment, having been assigned an article where she lives solely off of items she’s foraged for a week. The experiment fails massively, since Rebecca is a novice, but she learns from her failure and is determined to improve her skills. Immediately, she pinpoints everything she’s done wrong and sets out to learn from friends and locals who are skilled foragers. She finds new greens, edible berries and nuts (even those that need a lot of work to be edible- like acorns), plants that serve as natural medicine and tea, and a way of living that suits her just fine.

This one was just okay for me. It started out fine; Ms. Lerner’s enthusiasm is admirable, and I appreciated her ability to showcase the mistakes she made- who hasn’t made enthusiastic-yet-massive screwups at the beginning of a new project? I enjoyed following her adventures in the streets and urban landscapes of Portland, the process of learning to cook these new-to-her foods, and her descriptions of their tastes. It was easy to feel as though I was right beside her, tramping through a neighbor’s yard, minding the spikes and thorns of these edible plants, and tasting the explosions of flavor of nature’s gatherable bounty.

Her enthusiasm for her homemade medicine cabinet alienated me a bit, however. I’m not against natural medicines, but she displays excitement for certain things that I 100% know have been debunked by peer-reviewed studies. And boasting that her homemade medicines helped people get over their colds in two to three days isn’t exactly the flex she wanted it to sound like (you know, the normal amount of time people would get over a cold?). Her explanation of why people stopped using these homemade medicines fell flat for me (husband is a molecular biologist; it’s all science, all the time here, and I’ve done a lot of reading in the past on the natural health and supplement industry. There’s no conspiracy or power-grab takeover; many of these natural cures simply don’t show any levels of effectiveness when put to rigorous scientific testing). The placebo affect is real and I’m all for using that to its full effect, but I dislike the more woo-based treatments being passed off as being as or more effective than evidence-based treatments.

This isn’t a bad book, despite my being turned off by her allegiance to her homemade medicines. It’s a fun story of learning to appreciate what the earth offers around us, learning to notice the bounty and learning to take advantage of it in a respectful way. It’s a fairly quick read if you’re into this subject.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

I’m perpetually about ten years behind in my reading. I mean, pretty much every book in the world is on my TBR, so I’m never actually caught up, but if something is popular at a certain point in time, that basically ensures that I will ignore it for the next decade in favor of reading things people read ten years before now. Reader problems, amiright??? I never got around to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper, 2007) when it first came out, but I grabbed a copy at a used book sale last year, since I figured the price was right (man, I miss those book sales, but it’s giving me a chance to catch up on reading from my own shelves!), and this was what came on next on my by-the-TV shelf.

Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved from their home in Tucson to the farm property her husband owned in Virginia in search of a more authentic life in which they could grow their own food and eat more locally, taxing the earth’s resources less. They began a year-long experiment in growing their own food in sizeable gardens, raising chickens and turkeys (and doing the slaughtering themselves), and eschewing almost all food products that didn’t come within a hundred (or so) miles of their home. Starting in the spring, they realized they’d have to give up a few staples- no more bananas, fresh fruit was hard to come by at that time of year and they had to substitute with locally grown rhubarb, etc.- but they soon realized that almost everything they needed or wanted could be grown on their land, obtained from a local source, or foregone entirely. It wasn’t easy- it involved hard word, sacrifice, occasionally paying a little more or doing a lot of research to find a local source- but it changed the way her family saw their own abilities, their community, and the world.

Ms. Kingsolver is a master storyteller; The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favorite books, and I have a copy of The Bean Trees waiting for me on my downstairs shelves. The stories she tells in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle are lovely; they make me want to plow up my entire lawn and plant a massive garden (how is it that I always manage to read these books at the end of the season???), and it definitely got me thinking more about buying local products and paying attention to where my groceries come from. It doesn’t always make sense to purchase products that come from thousands of miles away when there might be a similarly-priced alternative that comes from our own area, that doesn’t have as much packaging and hasn’t used up so much fossil fuels to land on our doorstep (sometimes only to liquefy in the crisper bin, yikes!). Ms. Kingsolver makes a good point that we must do better eating locally; our climate and the future of our planet depends on it.

What I didn’t particularly care for were the sections on meat and her proclamation that vegetarians would totally chow down on meat if they could see the happy lives of the animals on the farms where she purchases her meat products. That felt dismissive and reductive; I stopped eating meat and cut way back on the animal products I consume in general after a bad cholesterol test a few years ago. I don’t sit around eating tofu burgers, as Ms. Kingsolver claims (and what little tofu I do consume comes from about twenty miles away anyway); my diet consists of legumes, vegetables, fruits, and grains (not much of the fancy stuff like quinoa, either, it’s usually outside our budget), and that wouldn’t change even if Happy Lamb Farm took their lambs to Disneyland every other week and bought them all Mickey Mouse shirts and balloons. I’m doing the best I can for what my body is telling me it needs, and I didn’t appreciate having my health concerns dismissed in this manner. It seemed a bit self-righteous and didn’t mesh well with the rest of the tone of the book.

The other bone I had to pick was about farmers’ markets. We have a lovely one here near us that sells a lot of really awesome local produce and locally made products; we haven’t been since last year, because it just gets SO crowded, but I really enjoy going. That said, Ms. Kingsolver seems to be attending different farmer’s markets than I do in terms of cost (as do the majority of people I’ve seen singing their praises). I do understand that local food is often going to cost more, but I can’t afford to pay six dollars for a pound of strawberries or tomatoes. So many of us are doing the best we can with our food budgets; a lot of Americans live life on the edge, paycheck to paycheck, and asking us to pay more for the food we eat isn’t always a tenable suggestion when you can either buy a pound of local strawberries, or apples and broccoli and a head of cabbage from the grocery store to feed your family for the week for that same price. It’s a terrible choice; we need those local farmers and their produce, but we also need full tummies and a varied diet. It’s frustrating to read that her experiment saved her money in some areas and her meals cost so little, when I’ve seen some of the prices of produce at our famer’s market and thought, “I could buy that and no other vegetable for the week.” Doing our best here, but there’s only so much we can do.

But the rest of this book absolutely put me in a warmer state of mind, in lush gardens with sun-warmed soil, in steamy kitchens with pots of tomato sauce bubbling on the stovetop with sterilized glass jars glinting on the counter nearby. The weather is turning here; we’ve got rain in the forecast for most of this week and chilly temps in the 40’s and 50’s, so it was lovely to curl up on my reading chair and follow Barbara Kingsolver into her barn and kitchen as the rain streaked my living room window.

Visit Barbara Kingsolver’s website here.

food · food history · nonfiction

Better Than Homemade- Carolyn Wyman

Food history! The history of food has always fascinated me. Books on cooking trends, food usage and availability, food justice, wartime rationing, and other food-related topics are absolutely my jam (hehehe. Jam. Get it?). And while I’m not exactly a foodie, I’m far from a ‘Break out the processed foods, guys!’ kind of gal. I cook probably about 90% of what we eat from scratch (right down to bread, yogurt, jam/preserves, veggie burgers, etc). I haven’t yet mastered tortillas and my granola bars have been crumbly in the past, but I’m comfortable in the kitchen and love trying new things. That said, Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat by Carolyn Wyman (Quirk Books, 2014) absolutely belonged on my TBR list, because, well, FOOD.

The second World War changed so much all over the world, and American food culture wasn’t exempt from these shifts. Food preservation technology had advanced, thanks to the need to store and ship food to the troops overseas, and the food industry poured a lot of effort into making the American public more comfortable with processed foods in an attempt to unload their leftover stock (and increase profits, of course). Processed foods were celebrated as time savers, as healthier alternatives to fresh (yes, really! Why have the vitamins that are actually in a certain food when you can strip them all out, then spray on a synthetic version? Looking at you, white bread…), and as technological breakthroughs for the modern home. Better Than Homemade brings this era to life in an examination of beloved (mostly) American products that revolutionized- and not necessarily a good way!- the way we eat.

Warning: you may see large portions of your childhood displayed in these colorful pages. Cheez-Whiz, spray cheese, Velveeta, Kool-Aid, snack cakes, the history of all these products and evolution of American food culture are laid out in this easy and fun-to-read book. It’s nostalgia between two covers, although you might be squinting at some of the products in a queasy haze, thankful that your tastes have grown and expanded.

I really enjoyed reading the brief histories of the companies who made some of my favorite childhood foods and viewing the different product packaging (it was kind of neat to recognize the labels and packages from my childhood on the pages that featured a lineup of product packaging). I don’t use many of these products any more- I do keep potato flakes around for a certain bread recipe; I keep a tube of refrigerated biscuits in the fridge for breakfast sandwiches; I do use cooking spray, occasionally I’ll spring for some Aldi-brand Tater Tots, and I still have some seriously ancient boxes of Jell-o in the pantry- but I ate Hamburger Helper, canned pasta in various forms, boxed macaroni and cheese, and crescent rolls as a kid, and my mother still uses Minute Rice, so reading through this book was a food-related stroll back through my younger days, days with far less concern for my own nutrition.

The funniest part of this book was turning the page, seeing a product I hadn’t thought about in years, and then having the television jingle from a commercial the company put out in 1987 run through my head. Like, SERIOUSLY, brain? There isn’t any better use for the brain cells storing that song??? This is why I did so badly in high school chemistry, you guys; my brain is too busy keeping a death grip on the Carnation Instant Breakfast jingle from when I was nine years old, and the rest of me is over here wondering what it was I came into the kitchen for…

If you’re interested in the intersection of food history and pop culture, or you’re my age (39 today!) or older and feel like revisiting the foods you ate growing up, a serving of Better Than Homemade just might hit the spot. 😉

Visit Carolyn Wyman’s website here.

Uncategorized

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.