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An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace [Hardcover]

by Tamar Adler, Alice Waters
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review


Amazon Exclusive: Michael Ruhlman Reviews An Everlasting Meal

Michael Ruhlman is the author of The French Laundry Cookbook and The Making of a Chef.

I'm sent countless advanced proofs of books asking for "blurbs," words of praise that the publisher can use to entice book buyers. I get so many, in fact, that they can feel more a burden than a pleasure. An Everlasting Meal by a writer I didn't know was one such book, so it was all but accidental that it came with me on a July trip to the beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where I opened it, reclined on a towel on a gorgeous stretch of sand. By the time I was half finished, I'd already contacted the editor to say I'd happily write something on behalf of this book, because I love it. It's smart, graceful and strangely, beautifully reassuring.

Tamar Adler, a writer and cook who has logged serious time behind the line in actual restaurants, sets out to model her book on How to Cook a Wolf by the doyenne of literary food writing, M.F.K. Fisher--an audacious, incredibly presumptuous intent. Adler does neither Fisher nor herself a disservice in the comparison. The essays in this book are truly fine, formed from both thought-provoking ideas and practical advice about food, cooking and eating. I've read few books that ask us to think about food with this kind of elegance, whether discoursing on how to cook an egg or how to set a table. I always looked forward to picking this book up, and I always felt an ease and comfort while reading. It's hard to imagine a more elegant book of essays on the subject.

A worthy companion to Fisher, highly recommended. --Michael Ruhlman


Review

An Everlasting Meal is beautifully intimate, approaching cooking as a narrative that begins not with a list of ingredients or a tutorial on cutting an onion, but with a way of thinking…. Tamar is one of the great writers I know—her prose is exquisitely crafted, beautiful and clear-eyed and open, in the thoughtful spirit of M.F.K. Fisher. This is a book to sink into and read deeply.” —Alice Waters, from the Foreword

"It can be tricky, in this age of ethically charged supermarket choices, to remember that eating is an act of celebration. Tamar Adler's terrific book wisely presents itself as a series of how to’sHow To Boil Water, How to Have Balance, How to Live Well—with the suggestion that it's not only possible to do all these things, but in fact a pleasure. An Everlasting Meal provides the very best kind of lesson (reminding us we enjoy being taught), that there is real joy to be had in eating, and eating well." --Dan Barber, Chef/Co-Owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns

“Tamar Adler understands a simple truth that seems to evade a lot of cookbook writers and self-proclaimed ‘foodies’: cooking well isn't about special equipment or exotic condiments or over-tested recipes (and it sure isn't about ‘quickfire challenges’ or kicking it up a notch). It's about learning some basics, respecting the ingredients, and developing a little culinary intuition, or maybe just plain common sense. A book can’t necessarily teach you how to do that, but An Everlasting Meal will almost certainly inspire you to teach yourself.” --Colman Andrews, author of The Country Cooking of Italy and Editorial Director of TheDailyMeal.com

“In this beautiful book, Tamar Adler explores the difference between frugal and resourceful cooking. Few people can turn the act of boiling water into poetry. Adler does. By the time you savor the last page, your kitchen will have transformed into a playground, a boudoir and a wide open field. An Everlasting Meal deserves to be an instant and everlasting culinary classic.” –Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved

"An Everlasting Meal is a great thrill to read. Anyone who cooks is engaged in a re-creation of the Enlightenment Age--beginning with alchemy and mystery, always grasping towards chemistry and a tasty supper. With this book, Tamar Adler has chronicled our epic. Her tone manages to make the reader almost feel like he is thinking out loud. A marvelous accomplishment." –Jack Hitt, contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine

“Lessons so right and so eloquent that I think of them as homilies." --Corby Kummer, The New York Times Book Review

“Reads less like a cookbook than like a recipe for a delicious life.” --New York Magazine

"Reading [An Everlasting Meal] is like having a cooking teacher whispering suggestions in your ear.... Mindfulness, I’m discovering through this terrific book, can be delicious."
--Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City

“Tamar Adler has written the best book on ‘cooking with economy and grace’ that I have read since MFK Fisher.”
--Michael Pollan

"What it really is is a book about how to live a good life: take the long view, give to others, learn from everything you do, and always, always, always mindfully enjoy what you are doing and what you’ve done. The fact you’ll learn to be a great cook is just a bonus." --Forbes.com

"Adler proves herself an adept essayist in this discourse on instinctive home cooking. Though highly personal, it’s much less a food memoir than a kind of cooking tao." --The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Simultaneously meditative and practical, about how to appreciate and use what you have and how to prepare it appropriately with a minimum of fuss, space, equipment, or waste." --The Austin Chronicle

About the Author

Alice Waters is the visionary chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. She is the author of four cookbooks, including Chez Panisse Vegetables and Fanny at Chez Panisse. Known as the Queen of Local Food, she founded the Edible schoolyard at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. She lives in San Francisco.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

An Everlasting Meal

One

How to Boil Water


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When is water boiling? When, indeed, is water water?

— M. F. K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf

There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well. It isn’t true. Most of us already have water, a pot to put it in, and a way to light a fire. This gives us boiling water, in which we can do more good cooking than we know.

Our culture frowns on cooking in water. A pot and water are both simple and homely. It is hard to improve on the technology of the pot, or of the boil, leaving nothing for the cookware industry to sell.

The pot was invented 10,000 years ago, and a simmering one has been a symbol of a well-tended hearth ever since. I don’t mean to suggest that now that you have been reminded of the age and goodness of a pot of water, you start boiling everything in your kitchen—but that instead of trying to figure out what to do about dinner, 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.

In that act, you will have plopped yourself smack in the middle of cooking a meal. And there you’ll be, having retrieved a pot, filled it, and lit a burner, jostled by your own will a few steps farther down the path toward dinner.

There are as many ideas about how to best boil water as there are about how to cure hiccups. Some people say you must use cold water, explaining that hot water sits in the pipes, daring bacteria to inoculate it; others say to use hot, arguing that only a fool wouldn’t get a head start. Debates rage as to whether olive oil added to water serves any purpose. (It only does if you are planning to serve the water as soup, which you may, but it makes sense to wait to add the oil until you decide.)

Potatoes should be started in cold water, as should eggs. But sometimes I find myself distractedly adding them to water that’s already boiling, and both turn out fine. Green and leafy vegetables should be dropped at the last second into a bubble as big as your fist. Pasta, similarly, should only be added when a pot is rollicking, and stirred once or twice.

Ecclesiastical writers on the subject point out that in the beginning there was water, all life proceeded from water, there was water in Eden, water when we fell, then the slate got cleaned with it. Water breaks, and out we come.

The point, as far as I can tell, is that water has been at it, oblivious to our observations, for longer than we know.

I recommend heating up a great deal of it, covered if you’re in a rush, because it will boil faster that way, or uncovered if you need time to figure out what you want to boil. As long as it’s a big pot and the water in it gets hot, whichever technique you choose and however you time your addition of ingredients, the world, which began by some assessments with a lot of water at a rolling boil, will not come to an end.

Julia Child instructs tasting water periodically as it climbs toward 212 degrees to get used to its temperature at each stage. Her advice might be overzealous, but it teaches an invaluable lesson, not about boiling, but about learning to cook: if there is anything that you can learn from what is happening, learn it. You don’t need to know how the properties of water differ at 100 degrees and at 180, but by tasting it at those temperatures you may learn something about your pot or your stove, or the spoon you like best for tasting.

Once your water reaches a boil, salt it well. The best comparison I can make is to pleasant seawater. The water needs to be this salty whether it’s going to have pasta cooked in it or the most tender spring peas. It must be salted until it tastes good because what you’re doing isn’t just boiling an ingredient, but cooking one thing that tastes good in another, which requires that they both taste like something.

All ingredients need salt. The noodle or tender spring pea would be narcissistic to imagine it already contained within its cell walls all the perfection it would ever need. We seem, too, to fear that we are failures at being tender and springy if we need to be seasoned. It’s not so: it doesn’t reflect badly on pea or person that either needs help to be most itself.

Add salt by hand so that you start to get a feel for how much it takes, and as you do, taste the water repeatedly. This may at first feel ridiculous, and then it will start to seem so useful you’ll stand by the pot feeling quite ingenious. Even though the water is boiling you can test it with your finger. If it’s well seasoned, just tapping the surface will leave enough on your skin for you to taste.

When you find yourself tasting your water, you are doing the most important thing you ever can as a cook: the only way to make anything you’re cooking taste good, whether it’s water or something more substantial, is to make sure all its parts taste good along the way. There are moments in cooking when common sense dictates not to taste—biting into a dirty beet or raw potato—but taste anything else from a few minutes after you start cooking it until it’s done. You don’t need to know what it’s supposed to taste like: what anything is supposed to taste like, at any point in its cooking, is good. This is as true for water as for other ingredients.

Boiling has a bad name and steaming a good one, but I categorically prefer boiling.

We think we’re being bullish with vegetables by putting them in water when we’re actually being gentle. There may be nothing better than the first tiny spring potatoes and turnips, their pert greens still attached, or the first baby cabbages, thickly wedged, all boiled.

Salted water seasons the vegetable, which means that by the time it comes out, it is already partially sauced. Additionally, boiling a vegetable improves the water as much as it does the vegetable. Water you’ve cooked cabbage in is better for making cabbage soup than plain water would be, and it’s easier than making chicken stock.

The best vegetables to boil will be the ones in season. They will also be the ones with the most leaves, most stalks, longest stems. Knowing that you can simply boil the expensive, leafier vegetables at the farmers’ market should help justify your buying them. All you have to do is cut them up and drop them in water, and you can drop all of them in water.

When you go hunting for vegetables for your boiling pot, don’t be deterred by those stems and leaves. Though it’s easy to forget, leaves and stalks are parts of a vegetable, not obstacles to it. The same is true for the fat and bones of animals, but I’m happy to leave that for now. You can cook them all.

We most regularly boil broccoli. If you do so obligatorily, I want to defend it. If you don’t do it, because you’ve always held boiling in contempt, I suggest you buy a head of broccoli that is dark jade green, stalky, and bold; and while you’re at it, one of cauliflower, whole, with light, leafy greens still attached; and boil each on its own. If only withered, mummified versions of either are available, they can be improved by slow stewing with olive oil, garlic, and lemon peel, but for boiling, only the best will do.

To boil broccoli or cauliflower, cut off the big, thick, main stem, or core. Cut the remainder of the heads into long pieces that are more like batons than florets, including stem and leaves on as many of them as you can. Cut the stem or core you’ve removed into equivalent-sized pieces and include them in your boiling, or save them to turn into the pesto of cores and stems.

Bring a big pot of water to boil, add salt, and taste. Drop the vegetables into the water and then let them cook, stirring once or twice. This does not, contrary to a lot of cooking advice, take only a minute. You don’t need to stand over the pot, because your vegetables don’t need to be “crisp” or “crisp-tender” when they come out.

For boiled vegetables to taste really delicious, they need to be cooked. Most of ours aren’t. Undercooking is a justifiable reaction to the 1950s tendency to cook vegetables to collapse. But the pendulum has swung too far. When not fully cooked, any vegetable seems starchy and indifferent: it hasn’t retained the virtues of being recently picked nor benefited from the development of sugars that comes with time and heat. There’s not much I dislike more than biting into a perfectly lovely vegetable and hearing it squeak.

Vegetables are done when a sharp knife easily pierces a piece of one. If you’re cooking broccoli or cauliflower, test the densest part of each piece, which is the stem. Remove the cooked vegetables from the water with a slotted spoon directly to a bowl and drizzle them with olive oil. If there are so many that they’ll make a great mountain on each other, with the ones on top prevailing and the ones at the bottom of the bowl turning to sludge, spoon them onto a baking sheet so they can cool a little, and then transfer them to a bowl.

There seems to be pressure these days to “shock” vegetables by submerging them in ice water to stop their cooking. The argument in favor of shocking vegetables is that it keeps them from changing color. If you drop cooked broccoli into ice water, it will stay as green as it ever was.

As a rule, I try not to shock anything. I also don’t think keeping a vegetable from looking cooked when it is cooked is worth...
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