Review: “An Everlasting Meal”

I was excited to start reading An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler — it’s been compared to (and the author admits being inspired by) books by M.F.K. Fisher, whose The Art of Eating I reread every couple of years to stay inspired about cooking.

My first mistake was reading it on an airplane, nowhere near either grocery store or stove. As Adler described perfect, simple meals such as poached eggs drizzled with olive oil and topped with grated Parmesan, cracked black pepper and fresh herbs, I could feel myself growing hungrier and hungrier.

An Everlasting Meal, like M.F.K. Fisher’s books, is less a cookbook than a reminder about how you should think about how you cook. Chopping carrots and onions? Those usually-discarded tops and ends could be frozen, then eventually gathered with other such castoffs to make vegetable stock, which in turn can be used as a base for soup, or thickened for a sauce. Stale bread can be turned into croutons or breadcrumbs … or bread soup, if you add some of that stock above, some cooked kale and maybe some fried pancetta. Then, save the oil from the pancetta for use when sauteing vegetables.

There’s a recurring circle of thrift that makes using every piece of a food less about necessity, and more about possibility. The book’s subtitle sums it up well: “Cooking with Economy and Grace.”

An Everlasting Meal also features some great writing, like this passage where Adler describes how to make an omelet (the bold is my emphasis):

If the top still seems too wobbly to be quite considered as creamy, smooth whatever still wobbles toward the pan’s margins, where it should finish cooking. Let the inside of the omelet still have softness to it. Whatever you put in an omelet will like having something to grab on to.

There’s also an excerpt from a cookbook by the divinely named Clementine Paddleford, who says that you should cook beans until they “have gorged themselves with fat and water and swelled like the fat boy in his prime.” Adler follows that up by saying that when they cook, “beans should look like they’re bathing. Their tops should stay under the surface of the liquid, or they will get cracked and leathery, and they shouldn’t ever be in so much water that they’re swimming.” Without references to X cups or Y ounces, you still know what you’re doing.

I couldn’t wait to get home and start trying.

But around Chapter 9, I started experiencing Adler fatigue. What at first seemed like a welcome return to simplicity now just seemed repetitive. How many times would she say that the perfect topping for Food X is a healthy drizzle of olive oil, a shaving/grating of Parmesan and some chunks of crusty bread?  I started getting more annoyed every time she referred to Parmesan, Parmesan, Parmesan. (It’s like the Marcia of cheeses: Kindle kindly tallies the four dozen times the word is used throughout the book, while mozzarella appears twice, cheddar once and brie never.)

Soon I was looking forward not to “finishing the book,” but just for it to end. Like an initially delightful new friend who overstays his welcome, A Neverending Feast had lost its charm, and I couldn’t wait for it to take its leave. As it turns out, I took my leave of it instead — I just stopped reading. I’ll pick it up in a week or so to see if I’ve warmed to it again.

What it did instill in me, though, was a craving for bread. I had lunch at Wildflower Bread Co. yesterday and walked out with loaves of rosemary sea salt and levain. Tonight after work I tossed a few slices in the toaster oven, added a generous smear of butter — no rubbing with a cut clove of garlic, as Adler keeps suggesting — and savored. (I just had a third slice about a half-hour ago, too.)

And then I started thinking: “Wouldn’t this be even better with a warm soft-boiled egg? Or soaked with some rich broth and topped with cooked greens, and maybe some bacon?”

It appears that despite my efforts, I’ve already taken Adler to heart. I suspect I’ll enjoy the last chapters of the book more than I thought I would.

WHAT SAM WORE: 1-10-12
The shirt: Dark blue plaid Gothics Mountain flannel button-down,
on clearance for $19 at Abercrombie & Fitch online.
The pants: Slim straight jeans from Lucky Brand, Chandler Fashion Center.
The shoes: “Top Winner” sneakers by Puma, from the Puma store in New York.

2 responses to “Review: “An Everlasting Meal”

  1. I’m so glad you started reading this book and took a turn and pointing out the salient parts. Now I will follow you to the kitchen for some poached eggs topped with parmesan, black pepper, a little salt, and accompanied by a toasty Campagnola. Only thing missing might be some Kale.

    • Sam Mittelsteadt

      Tonight I had toasted bread with olive oil and cracked pepper and that Parmesan powder, THEN a couple of fried eggs. But I am cooking beans right now with pretty much everything I could find in our refrigerator – onion, garlic, Romaine lettuce, jarred roasted peppers, parsley flakes, rosemary from the plant outside …

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