A close foodie friend recommended I read An Everlasting Meal. When I was stocking up on foodie books at a recent visit to Powell's Books in Portland, I picked up a copy. I don't know what to call it: a love affair with food, a lifetime reference, a life-changing read...all of those fit the bill.
Tamar Adler has cooked with Gabrielle Hamilton, Alice Waters, and several other famous American chefs, and she manages to combine thrift with a passion for cooking and eating, something I've never really experienced before, at least not in such a way that was so committed to both using every scrap of food and thoroughly enjoying it at the same time.
I get that. I absolutely LOVE turning a chicken carcass into stock, and picking off all the bits of meat to use for soup. I love reducing a fat, healthy bird to nothing but a tiny pile of bones, knowing that we have enjoyed several meals from it, and that the animal did not die in vain. I petition my dad constantly to save organs and soup bones from the animals he butchers. And I love transforming leftover rice into a pie crust for a quiche, or rice pudding for tomorrow's breakfast or dessert.
But I had never considered half of the ideas in Adler's book for stretching vegetables, beans, broth and meat into amazing and flavourful meals--like turning stems, leaves and cores of brassicas and dark leafy greens into pesto (although I did take great joy in making radish leaf pesto from my garden this year, so I wasn't that far off), or turning fresh pea shells into stock for pea soup. I will have this book on my recipe shelf from now on, and I'm pretty sure it will become studded with sticky notes, to mark my favourite ideas and recipes.
I have already made her recipe for White Bolognese (inspired by Amanda Hesser, but calling for homemade beef stock rather than beef bouillon mixed with water), which, it turns out, is the whole food version of my mom's classic "hamburger goop," otherwise known as ground beef fried with onions and celery and then bound together with a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Using real beef stock, Italian sausage, porcini mushrooms and fresh cream makes it WAY more delicious and even more comforting, which I hadn't thought possible.
Besides some creative approaches to food in general, Adler's approach to sharing food continues to work its way into my mind. She argues it doesn't matter what you serve, as long as you serve something. It's the coming together for the meal that gets your guests excited about a dinner party, more so than the menu itself. She encourages you to offer something—anything—the moment your guests arrived: radishes with butter and salt; celery and carrot sticks with crackers and butter; warmed olives, or stale bread toasted and drizzled with oil and herbs. It got me thinking more creatively about what I have in my pantry and refrigerator that people can eat. Suddenly, the options seem much broader than they did before I read the book.
She also suggests making dishes that allow the host to relax with her/his guests, a lesson which I have yet to learn, since my approach was to redesign my kitchen so that my guests could sit and have a drink while watching me cook. She encourages involving your guests in the preparation of the meal, again, something I need to practice. This quote is echoing around in my head: "Only remember what is plainly and always true: the act of serving fulfills itself. It doesn't matter what you serve."
So my cooking resolution is to try not to be so rigid in what and to whom I serve. I'll embrace the idea of creating meals with what I have available, without running to the store for that one ingredient that will perfect a specific recipe. I'm pretty sure thinking this way will make me a more creative—and relaxed—cook.