Friday, March 30, 2012
I've been reading this book
...and my brain is all a buzz.
In case you have yet to read the title in the above picture, the book I have been reading--no, savoring--is none other than Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Even though it was published way back in October 2011, it was still unknown to me just two weeks ago. I found Tamar via Louisa, and after a few minutes of watching this video, I knew I had to find a way to read the book, immediately. And so I did.
I am sure Tamar's book is the next culinary classic. It is modeled after M.F.K Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf, and is likewise all about the philosophy and celebration of simplicity, especially in the kitchen. It reminds me of another book, where somehow, onions or boiled water or leftovers are transformed into their most poetic, holy selves. It is a marvel to watch, and to read.
I am only halfway through the book at the moment, reading of thick and undefinable bread soup, but I have learned enough to keep me well fed and happy the rest of my life. The things I have learned aren't so new--things like, mayonnaise is good and aioli is even better, and, use good olive oil, often and in abundance. But maybe I have taken that extra, important step of not just listening to instruction, but also doing it.
Earlier this week I made one of her offal recipes (Cedar loved it), which I hope to share about soon. Today I took her advice and cooked a pot of beans. I scooped out a spoonful of them and a bit of the feathery fennel tops I didn't know what to do with and I added them both to a bowl of tiresome leftover soup.
Such a happy discovery: fennel tops. The sweetness is unexpected. If you chop a bit of the stems too, they lend a pleasant crunch. It is so refreshing to save them for something else but the worm bin. In the past I have kept them in the fridge drawer (that consistently unhelpful 'crisper' Tamar mentions which never crisps anything) until the poor things are browned and turning to sludge. I look at them every time I open the drawer, and I shake with worry over them, not knowing what to do.
Well that trigger for panic is gone as of lunchtime, because now I know what I should have known all along, that fennel is not only vegetable and seed, but also herb. And it is very tasty. Tamar taught me that.
She also taught me to do as I did with the beans, to cook them with a bit of celery, carrot, and onion (which I know to do but never do it), and to add salt until it tastes good. I listened to her advice and had a wee cup of them this afternoon as a snack, with a healthy dousing of my favorite olive oil and a dash of snipped chives (the only herb I can get to grow). Goodness, had I tried this earlier, those lean college years would have been much more delicious! Who knew a bowl of beans could taste so beautiful!
We eat pretty well around here, but it is so easy to forget that food is like people--we are best understood in context and in community, where one's boredom becomes another's calm, and where one's saucy attitude balances another's tendency to be dry. Even good food (and a good person) needs a little help becoming their best self. It is easy to forget, but in An Everlasting Meal, Tamar reminds us with thorough, thoughtful prose, and, not just with solid economy, but grace.