I’m glad Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal (my Amazon Associates link) was next on my book club’s list. As I hate wasting food and love to stretch a dollar, I’ve wanted to read this book for a while now. Adler’s beautiful message is this: there is no real beginning or end to a meal. The leftover ingredients at the end of one meal are the first step of the next meal. Though I sometimes do not use them, I know that you can cook with things that you might think of as kitchen scraps–bones, beet greens, stale bread. What she talks about that I’ve never thought about using is the oil in canned food, the liquid your jarred olives sit it, the flavorful water you’ve made after boiling food. I noticed I already started incorporating her style into my cooking after only getting through the first chapters. I reserved the oil from my tin of anchovies, as well as the leftover liquid from my stewed collard greens. I threw my neglected pine nuts into a pasta dish that did not ask for them.
But this book isn’t just about being thrifty and using things up–it’s a lovely philosophy on cooking. As long as you have some staples like salt, olive oil, parmesan, and breadcrumbs, you can turn just about anything into a simple, elegant meal. She also gives you ideas on how to elevate your meal with things like vinegar and fresh herbs, and even how to turn food gone wrong into something very right. I’ve always classified my cooking into two categories–recipes I follow or create, or my “ghetto meals”. The latter is when I want to use up leftovers. I completely give up on the idea of making it tasty because I just need to consume fuel and not waste food. An Everlasting Meal has inspired me to never feel the need to make a “ghetto meal” again. With just a little effort, I can take my kitchen scraps and turn them into something delicious that I’m not ashamed to eat. I’m glad I read this book before Hurricane Sandy came to New York–I’ve made surprisingly delicious meals during the hurricane with canned lentils and chickpeas that have been sitting in the cupboard for over a year.
My only issue with the book is also really one of its strengths. I love that Adler floods you with ideas and lessons in beautiful prose. This makes it a lovely read. But on a practical level, my process-driven brain is screaming, ahhh! I need all these ideas and recipes written down in organized bullet points so I can refer to them later. I know that was probably the author’s intentions, but it’s a shame because I’d much rather make everything else she talks about than the actual step-by-step recipes in the book. That’s OK, though. It just means I’ll be coming back to An Everlasting Meal again and again.