I recently read, “There are two kinds of people in the world: people who wake up thinking about dinner and people who don’t” (attributed to Lynne Rossetto Kasper, American food writer and radio journalist). An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, by Tamar Adler, will probably be best loved by those who find themselves thinking about dinner upon waking, though I would suggest it’s a beneficial read for anyone who is interested in eating.
I find it difficult to pin down the genre of An Everlasting Meal. It contains recipes, but it’s not a recipe book. Part collection of essays, part love letter to food – to good quality food, prepared and served both economically and thoughtfully, it also reads like a story book:
“Eggs should be laid by chickens that have as much of a say in it as any of us about our egg laying does. Their yolks should, depending on the time of year, range from buttercup yellow to marigold…An egg can turn anything into a meal and is never so pleased as when it is allowed to” (p. 19-20).
An Everlasting Meal is also a book of food philosophy, as described on the book’s jacket: “Tamar encourages readers to begin from wherever they are, with whatever they have.” Though there is a bit of a “how to” sense about it, Adler’s work really encourages the cook to embrace creativity and to throw away very little, hence the subtitle’s reference to “economy.”
It’s important to note the difference between economically-prepared food, and a menu on a budget. Adler suggests purchasing high quality meats, of animals that have been treated well. That sort of meat is not “budget friendly” in the sense that you can certainly buy cheaper meat. But Adler suggests buying less expensive cuts of this high quality meat, and stretching it out over as many meals as possible. For example, the whole chicken’s bones are certainly used to make stock, but chicken livers are used to make pâté, crispy chicken skin is rubbed on toast, and we haven’t even got to the meat yet, which is stretched out over any number of meals. Any money you might save on buying one happily-raised chicken, and spreading it out over a week of lunches and dinners (rather than a package of chicken breasts used up in one supper), will be spent on gallons of the best quality olive oil, which seems to be a primary ingredient in the recipes included in An Everlasting Meal. I would suggest that the “point” of this book is not to save the reader money, but to introduce the reader to high quality food cooked in such a way that it can be enjoyed with a good conscience, and without a great deal of damage to one’s pocketbook.
The most helpful part of this book might be the chapter entitled, “How to Snatch Victory From the Jaws of Defeat.” Adler was so engrossed in writing on the topic of rescuing overly salty rice, burned vegetables, over-cooked meat, etc., from the fate of the garbage can, the chapter’s subject matter continues in the appendix: Further Fixes. This chapter and appendix is probably most universally applicable, because who hasn’t burned something, undercooked something, or oversalted something?
As someone who thinks about the next night’s dinner before I even go to bed the day before (how can I then help from thinking about it when I wake up?) I found this book charming, the writing-style amusing, and the philosophy it embraces, one that I want to improve in.