“When we cook things, we transform them. And any small acts of transformation are among the most human thing we do. Whether it’s nudging dry leaves around a patch of cement, or salting a tomato, we feel, when we exert tiny bits of our human preference in the universe, more alive.” – Tamar Adler
If you’ve been following along in our book club this year, you know very well that I am an underliner. I very rarely sit down with my book in hand, without a pen or something to scribble with. I usually use my pens as bookmarks, and they accompany me on my journey through the chapters and pages. I love very fine ink pens for writing, but if all I can find is a stubby crayon in a drawer, that’ll do because sometimes it’s just the act of having a writing utensil in hand that I need before beginning to read. For this book in particular, I underlined a lot. Probably too much. An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace is, after all, a cookbook. Each page taught me something new whether it was a graceful recollection of something I had learned in years past, or simple a different technique to try in the kitchen. Either way, I devoured this book for the second time, and wanted to be sure to give my notes and quotes a home for future reference. Perhaps this will not be useful for you, perhaps it will. Alas, here are some sage bits of cooking wisdom from Adler herself that I found to be underline worthy. I do hope you enjoy!
1. What kind of cook are you in the kitchen? How would you describe your cooking style, and what you hope to learn or gain by reading this book?
2. Adler infuses quite a bit of plain ol’ common sense into the way she presents recipes and meals. How does her careful writing style, along with her very detailed non-scientific descriptions, leave you feeling? Do you find yourself drawn to the way she describes things, or do you feel that she complicates simple matters?
3. In what ways do you use economy in the kitchen? What specific ways does Adler help push you along in this area?
4. In what ways do you use grace in the kitchen? What specific ways does Adler help push you along in this area?
5. Why do you think our culture frowns on things like boiling water, bread, and basic homely cookware? What role does consumerism play in how we cook?
6. Write down three things you underlined or learned from the 1st part of this book. Why are they helpful to you and how will they make you a more thoughtful cook?
7. If you haven’t already, I urge you to try one of her recipes. Two or three this month if you have the time! What do you make of it and her directions? Did it turn out like you hoped? Will you be making it again? I tired to make homemade mayonnaise and failed miserably. I will give it another go at some other point when I have more time to whisk by hand. Oof, that hurt! I also tried the salsa verde to put on top of grilled chicken and it was divine! I’ll be making that again this summer for sure.
8. Pg. 35 mentions how Adler meal plans and preps for the week by striding ahead. What do you think of how she does things? Is it similar to the way you do things at home? I love the idea of having one big prep day to create the beginnings for the week. So inspiring! What do you think?
9. Pg. 63 discusses instinct in the kitchen, something Adler clearly has. Do you think that growing your instinct in a certain area requires curiosity of that subject? If so, can we become more instinctual without the element of curiosity?
10. What are your favorite ways to “light up a room” when you cook? I love using fresh herbs and lots of garlic. Whenever I make something more traditional at my parent’s house, they always ask, “What’s in that?” and my answer is always the same, “Fresh herbs and garlic!” I found it rather comforting that Tamar feels the same.
11. How does Alder honor the ingredients she cooks with? How can this book help you foster more respect for all parts of a meal?
12. Lastly, how does Alder pay attention to all of the senses as she prepares a meal? Go through the list (taste, sight, smell, touch, listen) and write a little on how she values each in cooking.
- “When we cook things, we transform them. And any small acts of transformation are among the most human thing we do. Whether it’s nudging dry leaves around a patch of cement, or salting a tomato, we feel, when we exert tiny bits of our human preference in the universe, more alive.”
- “Cooking is both simpler and more necessary than we imagine. If our meal will be ongoing, than our only task is to begin.”
- “Eggs should be laid by chickens that have as much of a say in it as any of us about our egg laying does.”
- “Each week I buy whole bunches of the leafiest, stemmiest vegetables I can find. Then I scrub off their dirt, trim their leaves, cut off their stems, peel what needs peeling, and cook them all at once. By the time I’m finished, I’ve drawn a map of the week’s meals and created the beginnings of a succession of them.”
- “As long as you taste curiously, and watch and feel and listen, and prick your way toward food you like, you will find that you become someone about whom people say that cooking seems to come naturally, like walking. They will say it and it will be true.”
- “Little flourishes, like parsley, make food seemed cared for. They are as practical as lighting candles to change the atmosphere of a room.”
- “He starts it by answering the question all of us who write recipes for meat should: “It seems obvious to me that the morality of meat lies in the factual details of our relationship with the animals we kill for our food. It is what we do to them that counts.”
- “And then there is the art of letting go. Being moved to surrender is an act of grace. Be glad today’s failure is behind you. Know that next time, whether because you’ve learned how to avoid it or just to look at it differently, it won’t be as bad.”
- “Offer something small to eat as soon as someone enters your house. You will have provided the greatest hospitality you can, acknowledging the quiet gurglings we all have and never bother to tell anyone about: we’re supposed to be hungry three times a day.”
If you were a part of this month’s reading journey, what were some of your takeaway quotes or sparks of inspiration? Would you recommend this to a friend? As our other book club conversations go, just leave a note in the comment section below and we’ll go from there. August books are SO good you guys, Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. They are both incredible in their own beautiful ways and I am so excited to dive in with you!
For further reading…
- Here is a New Yorker Article about this book.
- Here is Tamar’s blog about her book.
- Here is where you can purchase this book and read more reviews.