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Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: An Everlasting Meal - Cooking with Economy and Grace

We all know how cheap frugal I am, so when I tell you I've found a book to buy, you'll appreciate that I think it's worth the money.

Tamar Adler is someone I'd like to meet and talk with someday. Like me, she loves food and words, and her writing reflects that. In An Everlasting Meal - Cooking with Economy and Grace which I happily stumbled upon at the library (always borrow it first if you can), Adler blends ideas and instruction with a bit of philosophy, all crafted with a remarkable gift for turning a phrase.
Regarding beans she writes: "Beyond the indelible stain the poor little things will never shake, the distaste we feel for beans in not unfounded either. Our beans are rarely as good as they can be.  They're usually so bad, in fact, that basing an opinion of their merits on prior experience is very much like deciding you don't like Bach after hearing the Goldberg Variations played on kazoo."  Which is really apt, considering we're talking about beans.  She delicately then goes on to say: "Once the sun has set and risen, drain the beans through a colander and cover them by two inches with fresh, cold water.  What gets flushed out of the beans on their overnight wallow is what inspires musicality in eaters.  Feed their soaking water to your plants, who will digest it more quietly, if you like."  I also likes how she deals with cooking times and the importance of letting things take as long as it needs to to taste good: "If a soup seems thin, let it go on cooking. If tomato sauce still tastes acidic, give everyone a bowl of olives and a stern look and cook the sauce until it mellows out."

Even her chapter titles are clever: How to Teach an Egg to Fly covers, naturally, eggs; How to Catch Your Tail deals with not wasting anything in the kitchen, and the last chapter, How to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat tells how to save a ruined meal or ingredient (and who hasn't had one of those!).   There are few actual recipes in the book, which is a good thing, because most of it is the kind of instruction which leads you to eventually be able to intuit what you need to do to cook and save well.

There was only one place in the book where I disagreed with her despite her phrasing, and that was the subject of some vegetables tasting better pickled than they do fresh: "If creation had had any pretensions of being perfect, okra and green beans would have both grown from seed to fruit full of vinegar and salt."  I think that's highly personal take on their merits, because I would much rather mow my way through a bowl of fried okra than I would popcorn, and French filet beans with a little butter, garlic and lemon juice, or bacon, spaetzle, butter, and Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning are marvelous revelations for one's mouth to get around.

All that aside though, the book would be useful for any scratch cook who cooks from scratch not only for the fun of it but also because of the economy of it.  For anyone trying to get more out of less and live well in the process, having An Everlasting Meal to refer to would be like being able to ask someone whose cooking you admire for their instruction and advice anytime you like.

I'm going to buy a copy, and that's the best recommendation I can make for any book I've borrowed.

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