My last post on meal planning got me thinking about Tamar Adler and how I love her books, how I just love her way of writing about food. It’s different.
When I began reading An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace I was a bit put off. What’s this? It at first seemed contrived. Who writes about food like this? How weird!
And then I realized I didn’t care because I loved it.
Adler writes as if each recipe is a love letter to the food itself. And although her books contain dozens of recipes, hers are not cookbooks at all. They’re more like meditations on taste, and on chopping, on picking parsley leaves, and smothering things in oil, coddling eggs, boiling meat. She writes about food tenderly. And maybe that tenderness is what is so different (and what I first thought was weird).
Here’s an example on eggs:
Omelets can take a thousand forms. They can’t, though, very well be made with a single egg: they are good made with two eggs, and at their very best made with three. Two eggs in the morning is a hearty breakfast, but three is an orgy. I usually save eggs for when I’m awake enough to put thought into them, but if you like yours with coffee, boil or poach, or gently fry or nudge and save omelets for later in the day.”
And more on herbs:
“A flourish of fresh herbs does a similar thing when you add it to food while it’s cooking. A little tarragon or basil is wonderful in softly scrambling eggs or little turnips and radishes and peas, cooking in butter.”
Such loving thoughts about little turnips and radishes and peas all nestled and sweet cooking in butter.
“Slow-cooking cuts of meat are neglected when it’s hot out. That makes them especially affordable in spring and summer. Slow cooking them in light liquids like orange juice and beer or white wine, then eating them chilled, or boiling and slicing them and making sandwiches or tacos are good strategies for staying in affordable meat when the weather seems stacked against you.”
I don’t know…is it just me? Food and the art and act of cooking she holds dear. And hmmm…maybe shouldn’t we all? Food is sustenance. Without it, we die, relatively quickly. So, then maybe we should have more reverence for it? Treat it more tenderly – this preparing and eating of food?
She reveres it via the art of frugality in An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, in which prolonging the life of food is paramount (don’t throw the water away that you just boiled your vegetables in! Save it and add it to broth, or boil your meat in it!)
I read An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace some years ago, marking it up like a college textbook. I recently also picked up her latest, Something Old Something New: Classic Recipes Revised, in which Adler takes very old dishes and updates them her way.
A page from Something Old Something New: Classic Recipes Revised where a plate or bowl is a canvas for salad…
But I think moreso than her approach to cooking food, it is her style of writing that keeps me reading. Like Sam Sifton (NY Times food writer/editor) or Natalie Angier (NY Times science writer and author of various science-related books), she writes with great intention, from her depths.
I find many non-fiction writers write as one talks these days, almost without thinking – just sort of blabbing on. (Hey, well anyone can write, right?! Or so the saying goes.) And what gets written is just fine, it makes sense, it probably flows fine, it might even tell a great story, the writer may be a superb storyteller, it’s interesting, it’s fine. It’s just fine. But Adler, as well as the other two writers I mentioned (to name only a few!), write with something akin to calculation; they choose their way of writing, their tone, their style meticulously.
Back in my good old college days, my English lit., journalism, and creative writing professors would say repeatedly, as if it were a recording that was played every few classes: “EVERY WORD YOU WRITE COUNTS, CHOOSE EACH WORD YOU USE CAREFULLY.” One of them said it this way: “Give me more but give it to me with less.”
But in our hurried world, I sometimes feel (and I do it myself – I mean, gosh, just read some of this blog – I’m flying through these posts just to get my thoughts out before the kids come home from school!!! Sorry Professor Nolan!) writers are just trying to get it out there in the world. And like I said, it’s just fine. I read lots of stuff that’s just fine, that tells a good story, that I learn from, that is just fine.
Buuuuuuuuuut, it’s so good to settle into a book in which the writer really took the time and chose her words and how she wanted to convey her thoughts with intention, with care, by pulling from a deeper place (and most likely editing like crazy). And Adler does that. She is not only talented in the art of cookery but her writing! Ahh! It’s so fun to read. It’s a joy and a pleasure to settle into her prose of slow cooking cuts of meat and mustardy onions and herbs, and sandwiches laden in soft eggs and fresh dill.
Tamar Adler! More, please!