The Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
Dessert When We Don’t Have Any Dessert
Mastering the Art of Simplicity and Creativity in the Kitchen
Review by MariJean Sanders of Tamar Adler’s The Everlasting Meal
There is a phrase in Italian that doesn’t have an exact parallel in English: L’arte d’arrangiarsi, roughly “the art of making something out of nothing”—a cherished skill in Italy.
Even though my family is not Italian, we are familiar with this concept. One of my most poignant childhood memories was a simple treat that my father named “Dessert When We Don’t Have Any Dessert”: Stacks of toast, buttered while they were still hot and smothered with honey and cinnamon, sometimes with a few walnuts snapped in half and carefully layered over the top. It was the plainest of sweets, yet my four siblings and I savored it with a thrill of indulgence, as thoroughly as any more sophisticated dessert.
This concept, the art of making something out of nothing, can transform the way we approach the problem of waste—and the challenge of what to put on the table. Nudging our creativity out of the cupboard may even help us invent some cherished family traditions along the way.
Reading Tamar Adler’s The Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace fueled my inspiration during the process of learning and practicing this valuable art. Adler’s two loves are food and words. She has worked as a chef at top restaurants, including Farm 255, Chez Panisse and Prune, and has had her work appear in numerous publications, including Harper’s magazine, and Salon.com.
Inspired by M. F. K. Fisher’s classic How to Cook a Wolf (a WWII-era food manifesto that describes how to cook tastefully despite food shortages), Adler is a firm believer that modern cooking is portrayed as far too complicated. She writes her new manifesto for the modern cook, exhausted by too many options and the pervading sense that good cooking must be tediously time-consuming and complicated.
Drawing on historic traditions of Italy, Spain and America, Adler coaxes humble ideas and methods to life with her lyrical narrative style. Her recipes often consist of only the barest ingredients: pantry staples like eggs, beans and bread. In the pages of her book, basics come alive—often with the help of good olive oil, fresh parsley and grated Parmesan cheese.
The Everlasting Meal reminds us of what we already know in theory: instead of stuffing refrigerators with new products every week (much of which will be thrown away or allowed to spoil), start simply. “Instead of trying to figure out what do about dinner,” Adler reminds us, “you put a big pot of water on the stove, light the burner under it, and only when it’s on its way to getting good and hot start looking for things to put in it.”
The dutiful charge to “waste not” transforms into an invigorating challenge to see what new and delightful dish can be created with what you already have. Allowing one meal to flow easily into the next, leftovers and ends become beginnings: of the next recipe, the next feast, and, while you’re at it, the beginnings of a new and daring way to think about how to eat.
MariJean Elizabeth Sanders likes simplicity and starting from scratch, running and reading and sharing dinner with friends. Someday she hopes to have a small farm of her own, or travel the world, or both. She lives in Winona Lake, Indiana, and blogs at welleatyouup.com. Follow her on Twitter @regressada.
Are you tossing inspiration down the drain? Here are some ideas to spark your imagination:
Reserve a bit of water from boiled pasta and add it back to your pasta after tossing noodles with seasonings or vegetables. The starchy water will loosen the pasta and create a thick, creamy “sauce.” You can also add a splash to other sauces or soups.
Cooking water from just about anything can add flavor as well as nutrients to any dish that uses a liquid base. Try using the savory and mineral-packed liquid leftover from boiling or steaming vegetables to cook rice or pasta.
Leftover bones after a roast or chicken can be simmered with onion peel, the ends of celery or carrot peels for several hours and strained for soup stock. Freeze in cupcake tins, then run under hot water to loosen and store in freezer bags for easy portioning.
Slip the peel from an organic lemon or orange into a jar of vodka and let it macerate for several weeks—frugal luxury!
When you reach the end of a jar of pickles, add sliced fresh cucumbers to the liquid and leave for a few days, creating a bright, fresh and surprisingly delicious pickled cucumber.