~post by Sutterfield
I love food, I love books. I love books about food (and food in the shape of books?). My kitchen has become a small temple, where I light little fires and watch the raw earth become food for those I love. Bread and soup and beets. I love to cook.
‘Course, it wasn’t always this way.
When my then intrepid boyfriend and now intrepid spouse and I first moved in together, our landlord came by to install a shiny new stove in the corner of the kitchen. It was a lovely little gas range, and I wish we could have appreciated it for what it was, but at the time we just stared at it. Our landlord said that he hoped we would treat it well, it being brand new and all, at which point we sheepishly confessed that he didn’t really have to worry about that, since we were unlikely to treat it in any way whatsoever. “Should I take it back?” he joked. No, no, we said, we’re sure to use it…sometime. And we did. Twice. I think it was twice. I only really remember the one time, when I baked my first (and so far last) blueberry pie…the inedible one with the burnt top crust and the uncooked, gray, and mushy bottom crust. The intrepid spouse bought a tiny grill while we were in that house, on which he proudly endeavored to cook his first couple of steaks. They were also gray, and had the texture of a gummy eraser.
What I’m saying is that we didn’t really start out as kitchen-oriented people, the intrepid spouse and I. Then, sometime around my mid-twenties, something strange and unfamiliar seemed to click inside my soul, and I suddenly announced that I would Learn To Cook. Ten years and a lot more funny-only-after-the-fact disasters later, the kitchen and I have finally learned enough moves to dance together without too many bruises (and the intrepid spouse has mastered the art of a good steak as well), but even still, anyone who has had to work next to me at BookPeople recently got to hear about the horrible Melted Plastic Spoon Infused Pork Shoulder Incident of 2014 (I suppose the best part about learning to cook is the immediacy of its lessons, which then at least have the grace to mellow into some good stories). I have no dreams of being a professional chef.
But I do continue to aspire towards being able to regularly prepare good, simple food (with the occasional foray into fancy), and I am always learning. So when I recently discovered Tamar Adler’s 2011 book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, I knew this was a book that had the potential to not only kick my kitchen skills up several notches (hat tip to Emeril Lagasse), but to also inspire me for years to come.
Modeled after and inspired by M.F.K. Fisher’s classic work, How to Cook a Wolf, Adler weaves an enormous amount of advice, recipes, and instruction into each beautifully written chapter with abundant style and, indeed, grace. It was Adler’s book that led me to read How to Cook a Wolf in fact, and the two make for a tremendously entertaining and useful pair of books. Fisher’s sense of humor and sassy commentary provides a great dash of spice to Adler’s meditations. Adler’s book also introduced me to The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon, which is so wonderful that I hope to devote an additional review to it sometime in the next few months.
I learned a lot from Adler’s book, and I put what I learned to use and have been delighted by the results. I boiled a chicken. I made an Italian salsa verde and became rapturously fond of parsley. I made a very tasty pot of beans. After one initial epic failure (see above), I successfully braised a pork shoulder. And for several weeks now, I have spent one full afternoon in the kitchen at the beginning of the week roasting root vegetables, steaming beets for pickling, and sauteing greens to be eaten throughout the rest of the week. This latter technique is explained in depth in the chapter “How to Stride Ahead,” and is a wonderful way to keep your kitchen stocked full of tasty, ready-to-eat cooked veggies all week. My favorite part of this process is working with greens. The farmer’s market is a great place to find new kinds of greens to try (we discovered recently that brussel sprout greens are delicious!), but of course a good variety can be found in most grocery stores. This week, I worked with collards, chard, and beet greens:
I love a sink full of clean greens waiting to be cooked:
And of course, after many handfuls of greens have been thrown into a skillet with olive oil, salt, and minced garlic, the result is a bowlful of deliciousness that can then be stored in a glass jar in the fridge for several days:
Perhaps my favorite chapter, however, is “How to Build a Ship,” which focuses on the inevitable burnout all home cooks experience from time to time, when even the thought of walking into the kitchen makes one start looking for other more important activities, like organizing the random stuff drawer (the one with the lint brushes, safety pins, and that single green marble you don’t remember putting there). Here Adler’s prose becomes luminous, as she invites the reader to wander through their favorite food and cooking moments in memory and literature to remind themselves of why cooking is magic and why the kitchen is a temple.
An Everlasting Meal is a book that will inspire those new to cooking and those seeking inspiration to continue making their kitchen sing with good, simple, economical meals. It has helped me find a foundation on which to confidently try new and more complicated ventures in the kitchen as well, and while I still have no dreams of becoming a professional chef, and there are days when the kitchen is an unholy mess and dinner is a disaster fed to the compost heap and the garbage disposal, books like An Everlasting Meal, How to Cook a Wolf, or The Supper of the Lamb make the mess seem merely a part of a wonderful process. I look forward to discovering more books and cookbooks that will do the same, and then sharing them with you here!
Sutterfield is an awesome bookseller who regularly blogs about cooking and food-related books. Check here for he