I don't know how I've managed to fall in love far more easily with cookbooks than with fiction, but I suppose it's because a good cookbook -- the kind I like -- manages to integrate the best elements of each. To me, it is the loveliest two-in-one, like being at a dinner party and enjoying both the meal and the company. You are greeted with a moving, terrific story, and instead of leaving it at that, you are met with a recipe so that the stories may continue, each stemming from that original, lovely story.
I rarely buy books. I was ordered to get rid of most of them prior to my move from Windsor to Toronto and I've tried to keep my collection modest and limited only to the ones I've loved, the ones I use and the ones I've been given by special people. Despite this, I still have plenty, and I'd like to think one day I will have enough space to house a small library and shelve my favourites. However, I bought Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, and I'm glad I did. It's a wonderful read. Everyone who reads it says that. It's not a glossy, full-colour cookbook filled with a lot of mediocre recipes. Instead, it guides you. Adler helps you along, showing you how to make stock, how to make the most of leftover brines and juices. It's about stretching food, not only to save money, but so that you truly appreciate the value of your food.
Tamar Adler is a former editor of Harper's Bazaar magazine and has cooked at esteemed restaurants Prune, Chez Panisse, and Farm 255.
What follows is one of my favourite excerpts from the book and rather representative of the content.
"We have different loves. Mine are food and words. Others' are how buildings slant away from dark sidewalks, or how good it feels to solve an equation. I say: Let yourself love what you love, and see if it doesn't lead you back to what you ate when you loved it.
It helps me to think of meals I've cooked or eaten before, if not for the food, for the light in the room or in the sky when I ate. What the light looked like, or what music was playing. It doesn't take more than my opening a window, head lifted to the air, for the sound of glass against a marble table, or the rustle of the wind to remind me that I've sat at marble tables outside, drunk out of glasses, listened to their light clatter on the table, noticing a rustling wind.
I may not remember what I ate, or whether it was the lunch where I realized I do not like black pepper to have been ground before I use it, or the one where I spilled water in my lap, but I will remember how the day felt on my face, and my creative soft self will have been awakened. So I listen hard. I listen with purpose of remembering. And this digging into sounds and into days I have heard and felt roots future meals in the unchangeable truths of past ones.
Let smells in. Let the smell of hot tarmac in the summer remind you of a meal you ate the first time you landed in a hot place, when the ground smelled like it was melting. Let the smell of salt remind you of a paper basket of fried clams you ate once, squeezing them with lemon as you walked on a boardwalk. Let it reach your deeper interest. When you smell the sea, and remember the basket of hot fried clams, and the sound of skee-balls knocking against each other, let it help you love what food can do, which is to tie this moment to that one. Then something about the wind off the sea will have settled in your mind, and carried the fried clams and squeeze of lemon with it."