For quite some time, I have been wanting to share some of the books and articles that influence my life. I couldn’t quite figure out how I wanted to do this, so I didn’t. However, I recently came across a book that fits the rhythm of a simpler lifestyle. As I share, keep in mind that I do not intend to critique the book itself, but rather share enough to help you decide if it belongs on your read list.
I recently had a package shipped to our new house. In it, we had tightly packed a series of gifts and personal items that didn’t make it into our suite cases after the holidays. Conveniently, my father-in-law, Chris, chose to include a few unexpected book recommendations. (Much appreciated, thank you!)
One of these was An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. Rather than labeling this a cookbook, I think it would be more accurate to call this a practical guide to cooking and eating. While the pages are filled with food and cooking methods, they aren’t presented in a traditional cookbook format. You don’t need to have it laid out, spine creased on the counter as you work diligently towards perfecting a recipe. In fact, there are very few recipes between its 220 pages. You simply need to read and enjoy all that is food.
The book is broken down into chapters, each of which is focused on a different aspect of a meal. Each chapter is then named accordingly. For example, there is an entire chapter on bread and grains, but rather than naming it so, Adler has chosen to name the chapter for the foods’ value, How to Find Balance. Throughout this and the rest of the chapters, she goes on to explain not just how to make bread, but how to use bread. The chapter explains how to use fresh bread to balance and budget a meal, how to use stale bread, and how to make leftover stale bread soup into cakes. Each chapter follows this pattern, sharing only a few essential recipes and then going on to fill its pages with details of how to taste, prepare, and use each ingredient to its fullest potential. In this manner, Adler is able to cover everything from canning to herbs.
Returning grace to the kitchen is the constant theme. As Adler explains, we didn’t shoot out of the womb walking. We took baby steps and practiced to walk until it was natural. She approaches cooking in the same manner, encouraging each home cook to try something new and taste their way through every meal until it feels so natural that this is no longer necessary. The nature of cooking isn’t just addressed in our abilities, but also in the trends and air that can surround (and drown) the enjoyment of cooking. She reminds the novice home chef that fancy cookware does not make a quality meal, nor do the latest methods from a culinary school. What make a quality meal are the foods and the manner in which they are shared. She even goes as far as reminding you that people rarely accept dinner invitations for the food; we are all there for the company!
Not only does this book return the home cook to grace, but it encourages each of us to embrace cooking quality meals with an economic sense. It is this point that makes this an important read for anyone striving towards a simpler lifestyle. Ways to enjoy foods aren’t shared once, they are remade again and again. In How to Stride Ahead, Adler explains how roasting vegetables one day can go on to feed you for an entire week. Nothing goes wasted in an economical cook’s kitchen: no drippings unappreciated, no end unused, and no flavor unshared.
While each of these things made the book fun to read, one of my favorite aspects was the way it was written. Adler expresses her love for words and food throughout the book. But the way she writes of each smell, memory of a meal, and preparation method is contagious. After finishing a chapter, you can’t help but think ‘I need to get up and chop some parsley… and then make something to sprinkle it all over’.
This book isn’t written for the novice home cook or the expert chef. It is written for anyone who enjoys food and sharing their love of food. And while it isn’t specifically written for the beginning cook, there is a great deal to be learned from her story. It isn’t necessary to read through a long chapter of bean recipes to understand how they are prepared. Simply read through several paragraphs from How to Live Well and you will understand the technique with a new appreciation for beans. The presentation makes the lessons between these covers easy to follow, quick to learn, and natural to put into practice.
This book isn’t merely about cooking or food. It is about enjoying the process of cooking, the company of each meal, and appreciating your abilities. It would be enjoyed by anyone who loves cooking good food and sharing it with great company.
Buy An Everlasting Meal here!
Learn more about the author and the book here.
***As a side note- I highly recommend making the bread recipe on page 81. It is one of the best breads I have ever made, and I’ve made a lot of bread!