I assure you, I don’t just read books about cooking. As a matter of fact, I’m usually reading something completely different (a superb history of post-Gandhi India, or an original collection of magical and sensual stories), when a book about food pops up at me from somewhere – offered by a friend’s bookshelf or washed onto the shore by the sea of the internet – and, once I poke my nose into its pages, I can’t pull it out until I’ve sniffed the last one.
Because really, books about food are delightful, and I’m certain that if you love to eat you love to cook and love to read books about food and cooking and eating. One such book, I daresay, hovers high above most of the others in terms of delightfulness and the sheer degree of hedonism (a paradox, given that it’s actually about being economical in the kitchen) that oozes from every word like fragrant olive oil from home-made pesto.
In An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy And Grace, self-taught kitchen guru Tamar Adler doesn’t try to teach anyone anything new. Rather, she unveils a whole world of thinking differently about how you approach cooking. In her own words:
If we were taught to cook as we are taught to walk, encouraged first to feel for pebbles with our toes, then to wobble forward and fall, then had our hands firmly tugged on so we would try again, we would learn that being good at it relies on something deeply rooted, akin to walking, to get good at which we need only guidance, senses, and a little faith. We aren’t often taught to cook like that, so when we watch people cook naturally, in what looks like an agreement between cook and cooked, we think that they were born with an ability to simply know that an egg is done, that the fish needs flipping, and that the soup needs salt. Instinct, whether on the ground or in the kitchen, is not a destination but a path.
One of my favourite things about Ms. Adler’s book was that she gave heaps and piles of ideas on how to cook with practically anything: an abundance of produce purchased at the market that morning, variegated left-overs from half a week’s worth of dinners, down to a pantry empty of everything save a loaf of stale bread and a can of sardines. Following her advice, I’ve stopped worrying about having the right ingredients on hand for a specific meal and begun to improvise with what the harvest of my fridge and pantry have on offer. It’s very liberating. Also, I’ve started using everything from everything. Nowadays, I regularly sautée formerly discarded vegetable greens and use onion peel and cheese rinds to add depth and flavour to my soups, among other things.
For Ms. Adler, cooking is an eternal journey, much like life. Where something ends something else begins, yesterday’s left-overs are reinvented into today’s feast, and what helped make today’s feast is repurposed tomorrow to create the day after tomorrow’s banquet. I was in absolute raptures to see that the scattered recipes she offers throughout her book call, on more than one occasion, for stale bread, left-over pickle brine, and burnt vegetables.
Moreover, with chapter names like ‘How To Teach An Egg To Fly’ and ‘How To Build A Ship’, the books is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Of course, I didn’t agree with all of Ms. Adler’s ideas about food and cooking (and neither will you, which is perfectly fine) and sometimes found her lacking in modesty (then again, whoever knows their way around a kitchen is entitled to a certain degree of self-righteousness). That said, if you’re looking for a source of inspiration, a more spontaneous and wholesome approach to cooking, rekindling your love of preparing food or that one spark that will finally light the fire, this book will be your guide.