As a combination memoir / cookbook, “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace” pulled me in immediately. (In fact, I barely noticed that my oil change took twice as long as normal, because I was so content reading.)
Tamar Adler’s chapters range from “How to Boil Water” to “How to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat,” which are linked by her somewhat-zen tone of voice. She views cooking as something everyone does in order to eat — after all, we have all been hungry. You don’t need to know the “professional” way to do something. You just need to get in the kitchen and try.
I found her calmness intoxicating and, at times, funny. In explaining how to make a pickle brine, she writes, “Add one and a half times as much white vinegar to a pot and bring it to a boil. For every four cups of liquid, add a quarter cup salt, and a quarter cup raw sugar, and simmer until they dissolve. Or don’t measure anything and add salt and sugar until the brine tastes like you want the vegetable you’ve preserved it in to…”
Some of her advice is basic (I learned how to poach an egg from her writing, then fell in love with the method and plan to never cook my eggs any other way), but I wouldn’t classify the book as a beginner’s guide. It’s more of an new approach to cooking: We have to eat, and we might as well enjoy it. We ought to try new things, relax about our mistakes and be open to learning.
Instructions about cooking a risotto or slow-roasting meat are mixed in with tips on storing lettuce well, and those paragraphs sit next to stories of Adler’s life. Just before a recipe for olive oil tart dough, she tells a story of a woman her mother met in France who was the best tart maker in the world.
It’s these asides that allow the book to flow, that beg you to read it as a novel or a memoir rather than a cookbook, where you might seek a recipe for vinaigrette, find it and be done. If you like to cook (or watch others cook) and are interested in food, I’d recommend it. It’s full of good advice for eating well and eating consciously, and it’s enticingly well-written.